Cosmoctopus (Saturday Review) – Tabletop Games Blog

Welcome, everyone. It is wonderful to see so many of you here today. The hour is near and the gaze of the Great Inky One is upon us. We have to be strong and stay true to the cause. It is time to show our dedication, fellow followers. It is time to hail the mighty Cosmoctopus by Henry Audubon from Lucky Duck Games.

Yes. Here we are. It is Cthulhu in all but name – and gameplay. Even though the setting is sinister and the game pretends to turn us all into evil cultists by the end, it is actually quite family-friendly. While the tentacles in the game are disembodied purple moulded plastic limbs, they still belong to an octopus, a celestial one, mind, but an octopus nonetheless. So there are no weird deformities protruding from the place where humans have lips. In fact, the Cosmoctopus‘s head is rather cute. So even though the link to H. P. Lovecraft‘s universe is there, it is very tenuous. Don’t panic!

Cosmoctopus’s Garden

As you read the rules, you realize that it’s basically an action-selection deck-building game with a heavy dose of resource management. The rules are quite simple. On your turn, move Cosmoctopus one space along the Inky Realm grid, which can be set up in different configurations of randomly shuffled tiles, and carry out the action on the space you landed on. You can then play a card, paying the required resources, of course.

So the first order of the day is to get resources. These are readily available from Inky Realm spaces, but the problem is, Cosmoctopus can only move one space, unless you pay extra. Every time you move it closer to where you want it to be, the next player takes it in the opposite direction, undoing your plan. The fact that everyone plays on the same grid and uses the same octopus means there is a constant push and pull until someone relents and spends resources to get to the action space they need.

There is even more direct competition. You want to be the first player with eight tentacles on your summoning grid. You can get these when you play certain cards or collect 13 of one type of resource, but neither is easy. Cards that provide you with Cosmpoctopus limbs aren’t cheap and collecting 13 resources of one kind is hard when at the end of your turn you always have to discard down to 8 of each type. So you have to gain enough resources in one turn to be able to claim a Forbidden Knowledge tile that gives you two tentacles. The best way to get that many resources is by building up your tableau and try and get combos – and I think that’s where Cosmoctopus really shines.

the purple plastic tentacle miniatures
the purple plastic tentacle miniatures in Cosmoctopus are a lovely touch

Deep, Unfathomable Depths

Many of the cards you can play give you permanent benefits, either as resource discounts or by giving you additional resources when you gain anything. Play it right and stack your bonus cards well and you can get 5 or more resources in one turn easily and get two tentacles by claiming a Forbidden Knowledge tile. If you combine that with cards that allow you to play additional ones afterwards or that give you extra Cosmoctopus movement actions, you can pull off massive turns.

It is really fascinating to see how the game develops. The first time you play it, you get an inkling of what’s possible. You start to see what you can do better next time. When you come to play Cosmoctopus again, you really start to lean into getting your tableau built up and choosing cards that will give you massive combos. However, the early game is still quite gentle and turns are quick. As the game progresses and players have oiled their tableau engine, turns will start to take longer.

It’s easily possible to move Cosmoctopus one space, get a bunch of resources, claim Forbidden Knowledge to gain two tentacles, then play a card that allows you to move Cosmoctopus again, which gives you the resources you need to complete one of your objective cards, which allows you to claim another tentacle and move Cosmoctopus another space to get the resources you need to play a second card, because the first card you played gave you that bonus and after about five to ten minutes of resolving all of the combo effects your turn is finally over and you rotate the octopus head to face the next player and indicate that your turn is over.

the purple Cosmoctopus head miniature
if Cosmoctopus looks at you, it’s your turn

Lovely Touches

Oh, yes, that’s one of the many lovely touches in Cosmoctopus. Whoever the head is looking at is whose turn it is. That means, when you’re done, you need to rotate it to face the next player. It’s a neat mechanism to ensure players actively confirm when they’re done and there should be no need for anyone to ask if it’s their turn.

Generally speaking, the game is really well made. The head and tentacles are lovely moulded plastic. The tentacles come in different shapes as well, to keep it interesting. The cardboard components and card stock are really thick and durable. The wooden resource tokens are chunky and very functional. With the Inky Realm, people’s summoning grid tiles and everything else set up on the table, Cosmoctopus looks really interesting and enticing.

The illustrations are clean, yet inviting. The card names and text add just enough flavour to keep your favourite board game cultist happy as well. At the same time, anyone who loves tableau builders with massive combo potential is also well catered for. Even the game length is about right. It does feel a little long for what it is, but it doesn’t actually outstay its welcome. There is a bit of a lull in proceedings about two-thirds through, but most of the time you are kept busy working out what to do on your turn and actively watching what others are up to.

I was really pleasantly surprised when I played Cosmoctopus. I really didn’t expect such a deep and engrossing experience from what’s basically a tableau builder. The game has really converted me to the cause. It’s like the Tardis – a giant game in a small box. It’s out of this world!

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Transparency Facts

I feel that this review reflects my own, independent and honest opinion, but the facts below allow you to decide whether you think that I was influenced in any way.

  • The publisher gave me a discount to purchase this game for review.
  • At the time of writing, neither the designers, nor the publisher, nor anyone linked to the game supported me financially or by payment in kind.

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (https://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/)

Lost Place Atmospheres 001 by Sascha Ende
Free download: https://filmmusic.io/song/7664-lost-place-atmospheres-001
License (CC BY 4.0): https://filmmusic.io/standard-license

Playlist

These are the songs I listened to while I was writing this review:

Flamecraft (Saturday Review) – Tabletop Games Blog

Release Date: 2022Players: 1-5
Designer: Manny VegaLength: 60-75 minutes
Artist: Sandara TangAge: 10+
Publisher: Lucky Duck GamesComplexity: 2.0 / 5
Plastic (by weight): < 10%Air (by volume): 50%

Once upon a time in a magical village where artisan dragons worked at the butcher’s to sell meat, the ironmonger to make metalware or in enchanting shops to bake bread, it was your role, as a Flamekeeper, to find the perfect shop for each dragon. You would visit these shops to gain items or enchant the shops to grow your reputation. Only the best Flamekeeper could become master of the Flamecraft by Manny Vega from Lucky Duck Games.

Happy Dragons

The game doesn’t only have a wonderful setting, but its whole presentation is simply enchanting. As you roll out the neoprene mat, which makes up the shared game board, place the starter shops along with their corresponding starter dragons along the edge and complete the rest of the setup, you immediately feel transported into a fantasy version of a quaint chocolate-box English village. Flamecraft‘s appearance lures you into a wonderfully idyllic small town where everyone knows each other by name. Everyone just goes about their daily business and works happily alongside one another.

To be honest, the gameplay pretty much matches that expectation. The game is a very friendly version of action selection. You place your dragon in any of the shops. If other dragons are already there, you have to give each of them one of your resources. So there is no blocking of other players, unless you’ve completely run out of items to give out. Even then there are plenty of shops for you to visit. It’s impossible to not have anywhere to go. Already it’s clear that this is a very friendly game, even though Flamecraft is definitely competitive. So while you are giving other players some of your resources, you do want to make sure you don’t give them anything that would give them too much of a benefit.

The next level of positive player interaction comes when you enchant a shop. It’s basically a way of upgrading the shop by paying certain resources and gaining victory points as a reward. So while you get the benefit of enchanting the shop, everyone gains the additional resources when they visit it. Again, it’s about ensuring you get the bigger benefit out of it.

one of Flamecraft's shops with a number of artisan dragons
one of Flamecraft’s shops with a number of artisan dragons

Hate Drafting

Yet, not everything is hunky-dory in the Flamecraft village. There are two card rows where you get additional dragons or spell cards to enchant shops. Given that a lot of the information in the game is public knowledge, it is possible to hate-draft here. If you can see someone working towards a specific spell, you can try and stop them by using it first. If someone might benefit from a specific dragon, you could get it for yourself before they get a chance.

Mind you, it’s not quite as simple as that. You can’t just take a spell. You do have to have the required resources for it. So unless two players are competing for the same spell, it’s impossible to stop someone from getting the card they need. It’s more of a race to collect what you need before someone else.

Similarly, there are so many dragons of the same type available that it is unlikely that you will be able to take one that another player desperately needs. Even if you take the last one from the offer row, the one that replaces it could easily be of the same type.

So, even though there is the potential for negative player interaction, it is really very limited. Flamecraft definitely does all it can to be a fiercely competitive game where players have to help each other along the way. Everyone races to get the most points, but everyone is forced to give other players some of their resources at some point in the game.

Yet, it’s not a multi-player solitaire game. Even though nobody can really stop you from doing what you need to do, you are still encouraged to compete and not allow someone to get their points without any work.

one of the spell cards surrounded by heart-shaped victory point markers
spells allow you to enchant a shop in Flamecraft and gain heart victory points

Lovely Flamecraft

It’s really lovely to see a game promoting positive player interaction. It’s rare in our hobby to see players being forced to share their resources with others. Competitive games so often are very cut-throat. Unless they are multi-player solitaire, competitive games encourage everyone to negatively affect the other players’ game. So Flamecraft is a really lovely exception.

It’s a really great family game as well. It’s not only relatively easy to learn, but its cartoon-style presentation and fantasy setting with cute dragons in a world where everyone is friendly to each other really appeal to younger players. They also learn that they sometimes have to share with others to get what they want. The level of competitiveness is just right and doesn’t lead to tamper tantrums – neither from the younger nor the older people around the table.

S0 if you’re looking for a game for all the family, where younger players are enthralled by the lovely artwork and older players are entertained by the gameplay, then Flamecraft is definitely worth a look. If you add the little plastic dragon miniatures as well, you will elevate the enjoyment for the kids even further. Mind you, even I love moving my little red dragon through the village from shop to shop. It’s the perfect game for a fun afternoon when you want something a little lighter. In fact, I would even go as far as saying that Flamecraft is on fire!

Useful Links

Videos

Transparency Facts

I feel that this review reflects my own, independent and honest opinion, but the facts below allow you to decide whether you think that I was influenced in any way.

  • I played a friend’s copy of the game.
  • At the time of writing, neither the designers, nor the publisher, nor anyone linked to the game supported me financially or by payment in kind.

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (https://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/)

Sound Effects: bbc.co.uk – © copyright 2024 BBC

Music (CC BY 4.0): Evacuation by Sascha Ende

Playlist

These are the songs I listened to while I was writing this review:

Fatal Attractions – my fascination with historical games (Topic Discussion)

Historical simulation games, conflict simulation games or war games – call them what you will. There is certainly a huge following of this genre and there is an endless list of these games already on the market, with many more coming out each year. Many people are put off by the idea of replaying a real conflict from history, but of course, these types of games don’t necessarily have to be about war, nor do they have to be set in history. In this article, I want to look at this genre of game and try and work out what it is that seems to attract me to it.

It will depend on who you speak to, but in my view, the genre of what is often simply called “war games” includes abstract games like chess, classic hobby games such as Risk, traditional war games including Squad Leader, anything from the COIN genre of games, political simulations like Twilight Struggle, Die Macher or the amazing Votes for Women, all the way to games set in a fantasy world, such as Root. I know, most purists will probably be outraged that I include such a wide range of games. However, I do want to include them all as part of my article.

Two-Player Historical Conflict War Game Simulations

I think many of us will have played an abstract two-player game, such as chess. As abstract games, they don’t actually simulate a war, let alone a historic one. However, they are conflict simulation games, in that they are not only competitive, but they actively pit two players against each other. Your goal as a player is to defeat the opponent. It’s very direct and almost personal. Beating your opponent tends to be quite satisfying, because it is you against another person. Most abstract games allow you to plan ahead, sometimes many turns in advance, sometimes only one. So when you win, it’s down to your planning and not because someone else helped you. When you lose, it’s your own fault. It’s very black and white.

When you put some clothes onto a two-player game to move away from being purely abstract to something more realistic, things change. In a game with a setting that somehow appeals to you, the stakes are often raised. You’re more invested. There are more emotions involved. For example, many of us will feel weird winning on the side of whatever is considered the “baddy”.

It doesn’t have to be a historical battle either. So while many of us won’t enjoy playing as the Germans in World War II, the same can be true for a science-fiction setting. While everyone wants to be part of Star WarsRebellion, not many relish being on the side of the Empire. Mind you, it can be fun being evil in a game, but you get the idea. There is an emotional attachment.

the silken game board cloth and the small wooden game tokens (photo courtesy of Lemery Games)
the silken game board cloth and the small wooden game tokens (photo courtesy of Lemery Games)

Multi-Player Games

When you introduce more players and allow three or more players in a conflict simulation game, the dynamic changes again. These games can be one versus many or team versus team. There is potential for temporary alliances that break up and reform with different partners. In some games, it can be vitally important that you choose the right ally at the right time. The conflict itself plays a minor part, because unless you work together, you have no hope of winning. Yet, you also want to ensure you’re the last player standing.

It isn’t even necessarily about simulating a war or conflict, real or fictional. There are many political so-called war games and that’s where it becomes about taste. Many people shy away from “playing war”, even if it is some sort of fictional war fought in a galaxy far, far away. These people still have a lot of choice. I already mentioned Twilight Struggle, which might still be a bit too close to home. However, games like Die Macher or Hegemony could be more to their taste. You’re still fighting over political power, but nobody dies and there is no brutality.

So there is definitely a wide choice to cater for a wide range of preferences. Whether you like a straight-up two-player war game, prefer a multi-player game about politics in Germany or want to take an all-powerful ring to a volcano and banish all evil from Middle Earth, there should be a game for you. I must say, that’s really good to see. Our hobby has certainly come a long way.

Personal Conflict

The question remains though. I still need to understand what these types of games offer to me and make them so appealing. So let’s start at the beginning…

I know that chess has a special place in my heart, because playing against my elder brother when we were younger, I always lost. So I practised and read some chess theory books. Eventually, the match to end all matches was arranged and with some flair and lots of nerves, I finally managed to beat my brother, which was a wonderful moment that I will never forget. My brother subsequently retired from the game, but I have been playing on and off throughout my life.

So I definitely like chess, but it wasn’t until I rediscovered the board game hobby that I eventually came across other two-player conflict simulation games. These were less abstract, but just as exciting. I think the key for me is that these games require a mix of strategy and tactics. I love it when both sides have the same starting position and the same abilities. That’s when it’s really down to how well you play and not due to some fluke of choosing the faction with the overpowered abilities. When you pit your wits against another player’s, it’s really exciting.

Mind you, I never care too much about the setting of a game. Whether it’s Britain in Saxon times, Germany against the Allies in World War II, like beautifully distilled in General Orders: World War II or a conflict in some far-flung future, when it’s a two-player game it’s all about the mechanisms that allow you to formulate your strategy and adapt it to the situation by choosing the appropriate tactics.

the main game board from General Orders with blue and yellow wooden discs on them
the hex map in General Orders is small, but perfectly formed

Attractive History

Saying that, there are exceptions. I often find that games about Germany’s modern past attract me as well, especially games set any time after I was born. I’ve not yet played Die Macher, but I can’t wait to try it. I enjoy Twilight Struggle and the text on the game’s cards that remind you of what went on. I guess it’s about the actual history for me in those types of games. I was never any good at history in school, so playing a game about events that happened during my lifetime or just before is very interesting. You sort of fill in the gaps in your knowledge as you play. You are reminded of what you were once taught and it all starts to make a lot more sense when seen in context.

I think that’s actually a very important point. Many historical conflict simulations or other war games are able to bring history to life. After playing Votes for Women, I not only learned a bit more about the United States’ geography, but was also able to link what happened in the States to events that took place in the United Kingdom. I appreciate of course that games are rarely a good tool to teach history in detail, but when a game makes you want to learn more about events from the past, it can only be a good thing.

That is definitely another facet of these types of games that attracts me to them. When I can see that a game can teach me at least some small snippets of history and make me want to find out more, while also keeping me enthralled and engaged for a number of hours, I am always intrigued.

How About You?

Now it’s your turn to share your thoughts. Do you like war games or do you shy away from them? Do you even find them distasteful? Are there other historical simulation games that appeal to you? What else do you think of these types of games? Maybe you think recent history should always be left alone. Maybe you don’t mind when a war game is set in some fictional future. As always, please share your thoughts in the comments below. Let’s get a conversation started.

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Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (https://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/)

Music (CC BY 4.0): World Of War (instrumental) by Sascha Ende

Playlist

These are the songs I listened to while I was writing this topic discussion article:

General Orders: World War II (Saturday Review)

The mountains provided great vantage points for both sides. We could easily see what the enemy was doing, but so could they. Providing air support was going to be impossible because of the terrain, but we were still considering paradrops to get troops far into the enemy’s territory. It would all come down to tactics, because we had only been given General Orders: World War II by Trevor Benjamin and David Thompson from Osprey Games.

Generally Undaunted

Maybe my introduction is a little misleading. General Orders, as I will call the game for short, is not an historic simulation. As the rulebook says at the back, “whilst actions and settings are historically based, […] the core mechanic of worker placement is an obvious abstraction from the choices available to generals at the time.” To be honest, when you play General Orders it feels much more like an abstract two-player strategy game. So while the setting is a natural fit for the goals players have and the types of actions they can take, the game engine would work just as well in a fantasy setting or in some other historical or fictional confrontation.

In that sense, the game reminds me very much of Undaunted: Normandy, another game by the same designer duo. Both, General Orders and Undaunted give players a set of mechanisms that are pretty easy to learn and understand and that allow for varied and interesting gameplay with huge depth that can be applied to a wide range of settings and scenarios.

However, both game engines function quite differently, of course. While Undaunted is very much a deck-building card-driven type of game, General Orders is all about action selection. While each scenario in the Undaunted series can take an hour or two to play, General Orders is hugely streamlined and easily plays in half an hour. Yet, both games execute what they do to perfection.

You can see how the designers wanted to create something that was as simple to learn as Undaunted, but would fit into a much tighter, faster game experience where every decision mattered. If that is indeed what they were trying to do, they have certainly achieved it.

Action Selection Area Control

In General Orders, you place your hexagonal commander tokens onto action spots either on the map or on a separate board. With these actions, you can drop some of your troops behind enemy lines or fire your cannon to pummel an opponent’s positions. You can also advance your troop discs towards the opponent’s headquarters and then reinforce them to strengthen your control on the map that is divided into hex spaces, some of which are joined into one area. Of course, while it would be great to march into the opponent’s base and end the game, it’s more likely that you get bogged down in the centre of the board, vying for control of special spaces that enhance certain actions.

Actions also allow you to draw cards, which give you one-off benefits. These allow you to defend yourself, increase your attack strength or otherwise enhance your actions. These cards can be crucial for victory or when you need to reroll dice during conflict resolution. Oh yes, conflict resolution is a simple matter of rolling dice and removing discs until only one player is left in the contested hex.

In fact, the whole game is really simple. Players take turns placing one of their commander tokens, carrying out the relevant actions, resolving conflicts or playing cards. Yet, every decision absolutely counts. Players have only four commander tokens, meaning four actions per round and the game ends after the fourth round at the latest. That’s sixteen actions in total, which is just enough to ensure General Orders is over as it reaches its climax. If anything, it feels like it’s over sooner than you’d like it to. So the game definitely doesn’t outstay its welcome.

some of the action cards from General Orders
action cards can be crucial in General Orders

Tight, Tighter, Tightest

That’s what excites me most about General Orders: how tight it all is. It starts peacefully enough, but soon you and your enemy crowd the map and lay claim to the central hexes. You have little skirmishes until eventually, the big guns lay waste to your enemy’s position. However, before you get a chance to take advantage of a gap in your enemy’s lines, you are yourself at risk of being overrun. So you reinforce your troops and block off the attack the best you can, when suddenly the game is over and whoever has control of the most point spaces wins.

It is really impressive. When you first play General Orders, it’s easy to assume the game will be over too quickly before any meaningful actions can take place. Equally, you might expect the game to last ages and end in a drawn-out quagmire of minimal gains and hardly any movement. Yet, you’d be wrong on both counts.

The game is so tightly designed that you will always get to a point where both players are ready to claim victory, when one gets enough of an advantage to be able to win, only for the other player to take back control and clinch the crucial hexes on their last turn. General Orders ends at exactly the right moment, there is no doubt about that.

In fact, given that each game will take around 30 minutes to play, except maybe your first one, you can easily play two or three in one night. So if anyone thinks luck wasn’t on their side, then you can go for a best of three without any problems.

Luck Mitigation

Yet, I really don’t think luck is ever the deciding factor in General Orders. Yes, there are dice rolls that decide who wins a conflict. Players draw cards from a shuffled deck, so it is possible that you just don’t get the cards you need. However, there is never anything stopping you from drawing more cards to even out the luck of the draw. You can also reinforce your troops to make dice rolls almost pointless, because of the sheer force you have present.

Of course, you do have to consider whether taking actions to draw more cards or reinforce your troops is the right decision. It may well be better to simply force yourself deeper into the enemy’s territory and fight them on several fronts, creating chaos and mayhem in the process. It really is up to you to choose how you want to play General Orders and what tactics you prefer. You can trust your luck to dice or cards just as well as you can to cleverly outmanoeuvring your opponent on the battlefield. You can also block off an action space that is vitally important to your opponent by placing your own token there. However, that action may be wasteful to you.

That’s what makes the game so wonderfully exciting. Literally, every time you place your commander token you need to make a hugely important decision. Get it wrong once and you might be able to recover. Get it wrong twice and unless your opponent is asleep at the wheel, you will really struggle. Yet, if you have the right cards, you can still turn it all around.

there is another board in General Orders for actions such as drawing cards
there is another board in General Orders for actions such as drawing cards

General Standing Orders

General Orders is such a delicious game. The action selection engine and tight action economy make for an amazingly deep and exhilarating experience. While the game comes with two maps, one will definitely keep you enthralled for many, many games. However, if you want to buzz around the sky with planes, you definitely can. I found playing just the mountain map enough for my purposes, but of course, the choice is yours.

One last thing is the size of the box. It’s pretty small, but perfectly formed. It’s the same size as Village Rails and is filled with a deck of cards, wooden troop and commander tokens, the thick main game board and the equally thick support board and the tiny rulebook. The game doesn’t take up much room on the table and is easy to teach and quick to learn. It’s the perfect game you can take with you almost anywhere.

So, I don’t want to tell you what to do, but I’d like to give you some General Orders.

Useful Links

Videos

Transparency Facts

I feel that this review reflects my own, independent and honest opinion, but the facts below allow you to decide whether you think that I was influenced in any way.

  • I played a friend’s copy of the game.
  • At the time of writing, neither the designers, nor the publisher, nor anyone linked to the game supported me financially or by payment in kind.

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (https://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/)

Sound Effects: bbc.co.uk – © copyright 2024 BBC

Music: “Heroes” by AShamaluevMusic.
Website: https://www.ashamaluevmusic.com

Music: “Hope” by AShamaluevMusic.
Website: https://www.ashamaluevmusic.com

Music: “Valiant” by AShamaluevMusic.
Website: https://www.ashamaluevmusic.com

Playlist

These are the songs I listened to while I was writing this review:

Repeatable Replay – the importance of replayability of board games (Topic Discussion)

I keep hearing people talk about replayability in board games. I’ve talked about the topic a few times in the past. I’ve also clarified the difference between variability and replayability. However, as the topic keeps popping up from time to time, I thought I’d share some more of my thoughts. After all, I think replayability is an important criterion when it comes to buying board games.

Let me temper this a little though. Of course, replayability isn’t the only factor when deciding which board game to add to your collection. Price, complexity, play time, component quality, theme or setting and even artwork all play their part. Yet, replayability does play an important part, at least in my view.

Also, while variability and replayability are related, they are very different things. So just because a game has hundreds of different starting setup combinations, doesn’t mean it’s endlessly replayable. Games with the same setup can be much more replayable than some games with multiple factions, maps or other variations.

Now, with that out of the way, let me start by setting out why I think the topic of replayability keeps coming up in our industry.

Replayability and Art

One argument says that the board game hobby is unique in putting so much emphasis on replayability. It is often felt that people use replayability as the main or most important metric to decide whether a board game is worth their money. The suggestion is that, as a form of art, board games should be judged in the same way as books, films, music or even paintings, sculptures or similar. After all, reviews of other forms of art never mention “replayability”. There is no star or tomato rating for how often you can watch a film before it gets boring.

Other forms of art are judged on how well they were crafted. A book’s writing can be formulaic or revolutionary. It can be engrossing or very hard to understand. A film can have amazing effects with a clever storyline and interesting character arcs. Paintings can be realistic or abstract. They can easily convey their meaning or they have a different meaning to different admirers. Whatever it is, there is never any mention of “replayability” or its equivalent.

So it is quite right to ask why board game reviews often talk about replayability. Board games are just another form of art that should be judged in an equivalent fashion. At least that’s how the argument goes.

Product Reviews

So while the experience of seeing the Mona Lisa for the first time or watching a film is definitely not about “replayability”, when I buy a painting and hang it on my wall or buy a film on DVD, if you remember what these ancient discs are, then I do think about “replayability”. Now, the piece of art has become a product.

I certainly wouldn’t expect an art critic to tell me how often it is worth going to see the Mona Lisa or a film critic to tell me how many times I can rewatch a movie and still discover something new or have a different experience. However, when these forms of art are looked at as products, the situation is different.

Now I want to know that I won’t get bored of seeing the same painting on my wall every day. I want to know if the DVD will still work after I watched the film for the hundredth time. “Replayability” is suddenly really important.

I think that’s where the argument that board games are another form of art and should therefore be evaluated in a similar way splits off in a different direction. I agree that board games as art should not worry about replayability. Yet, when they are seen as products, then replayability and component quality, which often equates to durability, do matter.

a pocket watch on a chain opened up in someone's hand (Photo by Pierre Bamin on Unsplash)
keeping time (Photo by Pierre Bamin on Unsplash)

Replayability in Reviews

I must say, I don’t often talk in detail about replayability in my reviews, even though I do mention when I think a game is likely to keep you entertained for a long time to come. Some games are great for playing multiple times back to back, maybe even several days in a row. Other games you want to play once, then leave for a week or two, but then you can’t wait to play it again.

Sometimes the game experience is the same every time, which is especially true for many card games, but that doesn’t mean the game is boring. It can still be very replayable. Other games are different every time, not necessarily because of their inherent variability in setup or faction selection, but because of the players’ choices and decisions.

Either way, the reason why I think replayability is so important is because games cost money and even if they were free, nobody likes our modern throw-away society. We want things to last and replayability is one of the key metrics here, apart from the durability of components, of course. Games you only ever want to play once have their place, but even legacy games usually last several scenarios, meaning they’re also replayable, even if that’s in a slightly different sense.

Reviewer’s Fickleness

Of course, as a reviewer, I rarely get the chance to play games more than maybe half a dozen times, often much less. I am always onto the next game that’s waiting to be played and written about. There are some games I do play repeatedly and I do sometimes cover these games in a sort of re-review or what I call my “Takeback” reviews.

However, even so, I do critically evaluate whether I think a game is likely to get boring after a few plays or will continue to feel fresh and exciting even after many, many plays. After all, my reviews are here to give you an impression of how a game feels, so that you can decide if you want to add it to your collection or not. I think letting you know when I think a game is going to last you a long time, because it’s replayable, is important. It’s one of the factors you will take into consideration when you decide whether you want to spend money on a game.

How About You?

Maybe I’m wrong though. Maybe you don’t care if a game is replayable. Your criteria for choosing games might be very different. So let me know in the comments below how important you think replayability is for board games. Do you think it’s overrated? Do you like to move from game to game a lot? Or do you prefer to play the same game over and over again? I’d love to hear what you think.

Useful Links

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (https://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/)

Music: “Around” by AShamaluevMusic.
Website: https://www.ashamaluevmusic.com

Playlist

These are the songs I listened to while I was writing this topic discussion article:

Friends with Games – how important game nights are (Topic Discussion)

I know it’s not true for everyone and playing games by yourself is certainly something a lot of people really enjoy, but for me, playing board games with friends or family is very important. I always look forward to the next time I meet friends, be it online or in person, for game night. I get really excited when my wife or daughter says that they want to play board games with me. I always think carefully about what games to take when we go and meet family and it’s wonderful that they enjoy the hobby almost as much as I do. In this article, I want to look at this a little closer.

As I hinted at in the introduction, playing board games with friends and family is the focus here. Even though I probably prefer in-person game nights over online ones, if it allows me to stay in touch with people, playing digital versions of board games and talking over voice chat is also really good. At the end of the day, it’s about playing games, talking to friends or family and just having a wonderful time.

I really noticed it when my in-person game group moved online. We first did that during COVID-19, like so many people will have done. Later on, one of my friends moved away and then the other. So meeting up in person became a lot, lot harder. Given that we had gotten used to playing online games and talking to each other via Discord, switching back to virtual game nights wasn’t too much of an issue.

Shared Experiences

So, yes, the important bit is that we get to spend time together. Playing games is a key ingredient though. While I can see myself going to the pub or a friend’s house to simply chat, enjoying a board game together gives it more of a focus. You all can experience amazing moments together or rib each other. Board games allow all sorts of different ways to interact. So whoever you’re with, you should be able to find a way that works for your group. It can be amazing when someone is really good at putting on different voices or accents to bring a game even more to life.

There is also something special when you can teach a game to someone. There is a certain amount of vulnerability that you show when you do the best you can to explain how to play a certain game. That’s especially true when it’s the first time you are playing it yourself. It can become a team effort, where everyone helps to set up the game, tries to understand the rules, asks questions to clarify things and generally works together with the goal of having the best experience of this game possible.

I also think it is wonderful to watch someone share their enthusiasm for a game. It can be really infectious. Even if maybe you don’t normally like the type of game that’s being presented, you still decide to give it a go, simply because the other person’s fervour sparked an interest of your own. It often doesn’t matter whether you know the other person or not. Sometimes their energy is so wonderful that you can’t help yourself and be swept along.

people playing board games
people playing board games

Shared Games

Picking up on the idea of someone introducing you to their favourite game, game nights with friends or family can be very much about trying out something new. You will have your own favourite games. You probably like certain genres. That’s fine, because it’s the familiarity you like. So when someone else presents something different, it’s not always easy to be enthusiastic about it too. Yet, at a game night, I am always much more prepared to see what others like. I want to try out something new and get the taste of something different.

I suppose it’s a bit like going to a restaurant. While you probably eat similar dishes at home, because you know how to make them and they’re familiar or because you only have so much time to spend on cooking and washing up, when you’re at a restaurant, you’re much more likely to try something new. You don’t have to worry about recipes, time or the stacks of pots, pans, dishes and cutlery that you need to sort out afterwards. You just pick from a menu and simply see if you like what you get.

So when someone else offers to teach a game to you, it’s easier to say yes. You don’t have to read the rulebook. The other person will set up the game and show you what to do. They will answer your questions. There is no stress of trying to find the right answer yourself. It’s a simple matter of sitting back and enjoying. Having friends who bring their own games is like having a much bigger board game collection without needing the space to store them all.

Sharing is Caring

I certainly feel that regular board game nights are very important to me. The prospect of not being able to play games with friends is daunting to me. While it’s nice to play turn-based games online with people I’ve never met, real-time games with friends or family face-to-face or virtually are hugely more important to me.

I know I am very lucky that the people around me enjoy playing board games with me. I can’t expect them to always have the time for games. I can’t expect them to always be around. People’s lives and situations change. Yet, while some friends have moved away, we were still able to find time for a regular game night. That’s very special and I really treasure it.

At the same time, I also need to see what else is out there – or who else. I am thinking about finding board game clubs near me and going to join them after a few taster sessions. After all, you do need to find people you click with. Board games are what bring us all together, but friendship goes a bit deeper. So while I love playing a game with almost anyone, finding people you get on with on another level is very important. I’ll let you know how I get on…

What About You?

Now I wonder what game nights mean to you. Do you have a regular group you play board games with? If so, how often do you meet? How big is your group? Or maybe you have regular couple’s nights. Do you play board games with your partner? If so, how often do you manage to do so? As always, please share all of your thoughts and experiences in the comments below. I’d love to hear what others think about game nights.

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (https://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/)

Music: “Source” by AShamaluevMusic.
Website: https://www.ashamaluevmusic.com

Music: “Legacy” by AShamaluevMusic.
Website: https://www.ashamaluevmusic.com

Playlist

These are the songs I listened to while I was writing this topic discussion article:

Anne Isaksson (Let me illustrate)

Anne Isaksson

Anne Isaksson is a 2D/3D artist living in Stockholm, Sweden. She has a bachelor’s degree in 3D graphics from the Luleå University of Technology and a degree in 2D game art from Future Games. She has worked in the 3D industry and as a freelance 2D artist. She is currently a full-time concept and board game artist at ION Game Design.

Artwork Samples

Audio Transcript

“Hello everyone. My name is Anne Isaksson, but you can call me Annie and I started as a board game artist in 2021, I believe, during Corona nonetheless and I have always loved to draw. I think it was in the 6th grade when I decided I wanted to work with games. And so I started to study 3D and 2D and I went to Future Games to study art there specifically for games for two years and during that time, we got to do an internship and I applied for ION Game Design and that’s where I got my first internship within the board game industry.

“I was very, very lucky to be taken in by ION Game Design. I even got to work on Stationfall as my first board game where I got to do both the box art but also a lot of the characters. There are 30 characters. Madeleine Fjäll gave me a hand with those, so I’m very thankful. That it was such a dream come true. 

“I am best known for I think characters. That’s what I’m hoping for. That’s my love and passion. I think my style is a little bit semi-realistic. However, I try in the future to always create a new art direction, to create an identity for each board game that I have been working on and with Stationfall, it was so fun. It was so fun. All the characters were very quirky and it matched the games so well. The way I would pitch Stationfall is a board game for heavy gamers that want to play a party game.

“I got to also do the box art, which was so intimidating, but I am so happy to see it out in the shelves now. It’s so rewarding to see it. It was a… I would say a team effort with the composition and like the final outcome, but I am so happy they gave me free hands as well to do what I think would fit the game. 

“And the work that I’m most proud of is… that’s so hard to say. I’ve been working on… uh, let’s see here. I don’t remember all of them. So I worked on Stationfall, I worked on DerrocAr, High Frontier: Module 4: Exodus, Interstellar, Fluffy Frontier, Pax Hispanica and the last one is Kartini: From Darkness to Light. Oh, oh, oh boy. I think the ones that I’m most proud of are the ones that got an identity for themselves with a unique art style that I haven’t seen a lot of board games make.

“So that would probably be either DerrocAr or Fluffy Frontier. DerrocAr has like a a style… it’s kind of… a lot of line art, a lot of chicken scratch line art with kind of chameleon eyes with a lot of paper, torn paper and photos smashed together with an arts… like with art… it is just very hard to explain. I would recommend you go and check it out to see if for yourself, but I’m very proud of that. I haven’t seen that art style in any board games before.

“But also my baby Fluffy Frontier that I worked on when… it started when someone asked me what kind of board game would you make? And I said, I think I would just do cats in space. And half a year later, that’s what I was working on and I worked so long trying to figure out an art direction for that and we ended up with kind of like a decent style with a 60s twist on it. A lot of warm colours. Like bold graphics. It was so hard to… nail down, but I finally got something I was very happy with and I’m so glad it pulled through in the end.

“Both of those games are were they kind of were completely alone and with the Fluffy Frontier I did have some help, but I was the art director or the art lead, whatever you want to call me. I think it turned out very well and I hope you guys get the chance to enjoy it as well.

“I do like creating different styles. I want each game to stand on their own legs and feel different from the other. If I got to choose what I got to draw all day it was 100% doing characters. I love characters. They’re so fun just creating someone and I want to want people to be able to see their personality, what they do, where they grew up, like just throughout the design. That’s my bread and cheese here.

“Another thing that I really find important is getting a… how should I say… getting the player like into the game, getting the thematics right and hopefully the player gets sucked into the world and get the… and feel like they are the character and are in this story and can create this story for themselves while playing the board game.

“Where I get my inspiration from is everywhere. I… is honestly my job every day to just find inspiration at different places, different experience. When I made a Pax Hispanica, I asked my boss if we could go to Vasa Museum in Stockholm.

“Oh yeah. I’m from from Sweden. I live in Stockholm. So we have a museum where there was a just a a ship that the king built in the 1600s. That’s just immediately sunk and they managed to pick it up 300 years later and it’s preserved beautifully. So that’s is one. I looked at a 1600 ship for this 1600 based game. I, like I said, I try to find inspiration every day from different sources. The… obviously different board games as well.

“While making artwork for board game is very, very important to find the balance of readability versus art, I would say. It’s way harder than it looks. I find that clarity and a piece of art doesn’t necessarily go hand in hand. So finding the right balance where the player understands what they’re supposed to do and also find it beautiful, like a card…. just the back of card can be super, super beautiful and also readable. That’s that’s the goal, right? And making that is such a balance and back and forth and play testing and try to see where you can push the colours and the artistic language versus the clarity and the icons and just the readability of the token or card or whatever you’re making, essentially, it’s just important.

“To have a I think a beautiful and distinguished game, but also a very clear game where player are never confused about how to play the game right, and that can be, honestly, also just as challenging to have that balance and it can take a long time to get that right, but what take the longest in my opinion is illustrations for a deck of cards. A deck of cards can be like 60 to 100 to 130 different cards and when my boss told me, oh, we’re gonna have individual illustrations for these. Oh, OK, clear my schedule. Time to grind.

“When you want every illustration to have a certain quantity, but also you need to do a hundred of them. It’s a very hard balance and that can take… it can take months, honestly. To have them, it needs to be good enough, right? It has to be a certain quality, but you also need to realise, OK, I need to make a hundred of these. So you know, I think what I spend is like around two to three hours per illustration per card, essentially, give or take, depending on how challenging it is and then just move on because there is no more time. If you do the math: three hours times 100, there you go. While, but it’s also very fun and you learn so much finding way, finding shortcuts. I would say to get it done in time, but that takes time.

“Another thing that takes time is was in Stationfall with thirty characters, were the characters was kind of the selling point and they needed to look good and we also picked like some realistic style, which takes a little bit more time. So I gave myself two days, so it was… I spent three hours on concept art. Each character got three different designs and we picked one of the designs and then I spent another three hours and another eight hours to polish that. So two hours per character and there is 30 characters. So that you can do the math how long that took, but that is honestly, like I mentioned before, my bread and butter. So I could do that all day, every day. It is what I live for. It is so fun to make characters, so I that I don’t mind. It can take as long as it wants.

“I think more board games, when it comes to artwork, they should try to find their own identity. There’s a lot of board games that looks very similar and when I look for inspiration, when I look at other board games, I see it’s like, I’ve seen that before seeing that before. They should explore more to find their own identity, their own language, that makes them stand out from the crowd.

“Again, I also think board games can be pieces of artwork, right? A lot of them make the bare minimum and I think a lot of them can benefit from just make the board pretty. And make the world pretty make. Make the cards pretty, make it pretty, right? Add flowers, add tiny details. If it’s a line you can stylize the line. It doesn’t have to be a straight line, you know. Obviously, there are time restraints, I understand. Try to see where you can really find the language for your game and I promise you it will stand out from the crowd.

“Artists’ styles that I admire, it kind of depends. Honestly, when it comes to board games, I would really look a lot at Hidden Leaders. It’s such a beautiful game with interesting characters, beautiful colours, beautiful shapes. It just comes together as a cohesive piece that I always admire. So I look a lot at Hidden Leaders, but honestly, mostly I look at other media for inspiration.

“I look at a lot of digital games. I look at movies I look at LP, CD covers. I look at a lot, a lot of ads and commercials how they portray and create a design for their products. I don’t follow specific people per se, but I try to find inspiration in different places.

“Something I do come back to though, is a lot of League of Legends characters with their splash art. There are so talented artists there who spend like a month on this one art piece, right? And you can tell the composition, the colours and the story they’re telling in just one image is so inspiring, so impressive, and that’s something I strive to and I usually come back to to see how it was made.

“That I would recommend if you… you’re a board game artist yourself, then don’t just look at other board games. Try to avoid that. Try to look at movies, concept art, classical paintings. Advertisement. Look at places other board games have not looked, right, and

Buy, Buy, Buy – my love affair with economic simulation board games (Topic Discussion)

There is a type of board game that I absolutely love. In fact, I’ve always loved it. Economic simulations somehow activate a certain part of my brain that is really stimulating. These games not only activate my brain’s reward centre, but their competitive nature and the element of bluffing all scratch the right itches for me. In this article, I want to look in a bit more detail at which games fall into this category of economic simulation and what it is about them that I enjoy so much.

There are certainly some obvious candidates that are definitely economic simulations, at least in my view. Some of these are all about market manipulation, such as Hab & Gut (or The Rich & The Good), or have banking as their setting, such as Pingyao: First Chinese Banks. Then there are industrial revolution simulations, such as Brass: Birmingham, and the whole genre of train games, going from 18xx all the way to cube rail games and everything adjacent. I’ve already played the cube rail game Luzon Rails, so am familiar with train games. I’m yet to set foot in the world of 18xx games, but with Shikoku 1889 now in my collection, it won’t be long.

But let’s start at the very beginning…

A Childhood Love Affair

I think it all started for me when our neighbour gave my parents a copy of Das Börsenspiel (or Broker), which was branded for the bank he worked for. It’s a very simple game, where you buy and sell shares and play cards to influence their value. You have so many cards in your hand and draw a new one each round. So you are able to plan ahead a little bit, but there is always an element of surprise, because you don’t know what cards you might get into your hand next.

As a very pure market manipulation card game, it was very quick to learn, didn’t take long to play and with the amount of randomness involved, I stood a good chance of beating my parents or even my brother. So that was one of its appeals. Yet, ultimately I think there is something else that attracted me to this game. It’s something that is clearly quite core to me.

The realization that you can make money if you invest wisely, was certainly a huge draw. I mean, it’s a lovely idea that you can get rich without doing any work. What attracted me even more though was the risk involved. You always stand to lose as heavily as you can profit. Deep down I’m a risk taker, so games with risk do tend to appeal. However, add market manipulation, meaning making money out of money, and you’ve got me.

I guess, there is one more element at play: bluffing. I like it when you have to play your cards close to your chest and try and misdirect other players, without outright lying. Bidding up other players or buying lots of shares in a company and then dumping it all make for a fun game experience for me.

close-up of the game board around Birmingham with a number of industry and link tiles on it
Brass: Birmingham getting busy

Modern Economic Simulation Games

So if you look at the sort of games I like, you will find all or at least most of these elements present.

That’s why I’m so very excited about venturing into the world of 18xx games. There is market manipulation, bluffing and a certain pinch of risk as well. Sure, you can use the current game state and plan out your next steps, because there is no randomness in this genre of train game. However, the risk is in the timing of your decisions and the bluffing. If you can convince other players to leave you alone or make them believe that they should invest in your train company, before you dump the lot and block everything off, you’re good. Get it wrong and you’ll probably lose.

I guess there is actually one more ingredient when it comes to the enjoyment of economic simulation games for me. It’s the player interaction. In Brass: Birmingham, for example, you sometimes want others to use your coal or iron, at other times you need it for your own plans. If that doesn’t play out as you’d hoped, your plans will be in tatters. So if other players can spot what it is you’re trying to do, they can really scupper your game.

Player interaction is also about table talk for me. Making agreements, that in these types of games are hardly ever binding, to try and benefit yourself and maybe another player, but to a much lesser degree, is a lot of fun. Seeing how two allies suddenly betray each other with devastating consequences is always a moment to remember. All of this makes for an exciting game experience.

Other Games

Of course, there are other games that also have most of these ingredients, but when it comes to it, it’s really all about market manipulation and risk. So while I love the scheming and plotting, the plans within plans within plans, of Gale Force Nine‘s 2019 Dune, which leads to a lot of table-talk and risk-taking, the lack of market manipulation is missing for me. Except maybe when you play as the Emperor or Space Guild.

There are plenty of push-your-luck games that I enjoy, but again, a lot of the other ingredients aren’t there. So, I’m really at my happiest when I can play with poker chips, buy and sell shares, build an industry of some sort, make pacts, betray other players and generally do all I can to come out of the shark tank alive – and be the only one to do so.

Saying all of this, I’m not necessarily very good at these games. That’s no different to many other games though. However, playing these games isn’t about winning or losing as such. It’s the clever plays, the perfectly timed actions and the amazing moment when someone pulls off the perfect turn. Even if I was to go bankrupt during a game, I will have had a fantastic time with friends.

How About You?

What do you think of economic simulation games? Are there games that I haven’t mentioned that you think fit into the category? What are they? Do you have a favourite economic simulation game? As always, please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below. I’d love to hear what you make of this type of game that I enjoy so much.

Useful Links

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (https://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/)

Music: In The Moment by Sascha Ende
Website: https://filmmusic.io/song/287-in-the-moment
Licensed under CC BY 4.0: https://filmmusic.io/standard-license

Playlist

These are the songs I listened to while I was writing this topic discussion article:

Votes for Women (Digital Eyes)

Release Date: 2022Players: 1-4
Designer: Tory BrownLength: 60-75 minutes
Artist: Brigette Indelicato, Marc Rodrigue (II)Age: 12+
Publisher: Fort Circle GamesComplexity: 2.5 / 5
Plastic (by weight): n/aAir (by volume): n/a

The Women’s Suffrage Movement in the US started small, very small in fact, in a tiny hamlet in New York State. Over time, it spread from state to state across the whole country as its following grew. Their fight for equal rights culminated in the ratification of the 19th Amendment after a seventy-year battle. However, while this monumental achievement was a vital step, it did not guarantee every woman access to the ballot. The story continues to this day across the globe and the fight is still fought to achieve Votes for Women by Tory Brown from Fort Circle Games.

I mean, it’s a challenge to live up to a story as important as that of the Women’s Suffrage Movement, whether that’s in the USA, UK or anywhere else in the world. The struggle to finally establish and enshrine in law a fundamental right for half of the world’s population was never going to be easy. Navigating politics, both within the Movement itself and in the country as a whole is always a tightrope. So when a game proclaims that it allows players to follow in the footsteps of these amazing women and relive the fight that went on, it’s important to take note and see what it is all about.

Votes for Women’s History

I haven’t played Votes for Women solo, so I can’t comment on how it feels to play against the so-called Oppobot, but to me, these types of games are best at the two-player count. Sure, everyone wants to be on the right side of history and represent the Suffragettes. Nobody is ever happy to try and squash the Movement that was not only epic in scale, but so very vital in history.

Yet, when two human players pit their wits, and their decks of cards, against each other, history seems to really come to life for me. Both sides can share actively their experiences during and after the game, which isn’t possible with an automa opponent. It’s so much more interesting to discuss how it felt to finally win the vote or how awful it was being the one that stopped the Movement. After all, Votes for Women is definitely the type of game that encourages discussion and makes players want to learn more about the real-life historical events that took place.

Every card in the game has a short paragraph describing what happened. They make you wonder who these people were that are depicted. You only get a glimpse, a mere snapshot, of the person’s life, their goal and hopes in life, but it’s just enough to make you really curious and want to find out more for yourself.

some of the cards from Votes for Women
some of the cards from Votes for Women (photo courtesy of Fort Circle Games)

Card-Driven Votes

As a card-driven game, there is a certain amount of randomness. However, as each deck is divided into three eras, which create the timeline, you have a rough idea of what cards you will draw next. You can never be sure, but you are also never completely surprised, except maybe in your first game.

The effects in each deck are also designed in such a way that wonderfully emulates the slow beginning of the Suffragette Movement that gets more and more momentum as time goes on. Meanwhile, the Opposition starts rather strong and then peters out later in the game. In fact, the decks are so wonderfully designed that timing is very important. You don’t necessarily want to overstretch yourself as the Suffragettes early on, while also ensuring that the Movement starts to spread. It’s such an incredible tightrope act that is very hard to execute to perfection.

There is further randomness in the form of dice rolls. Dice rolls are often considered to be too unpredictable and to create too much chaos, but I think Votes for Women uses dice to perfection. In a game like this, there does need to be a certain amount of luck. In reality, best-laid plans don’t always work out as intended. However, the better prepared you are, the more likely they succeed. The same is true in this game. Make sure you have plenty of buttons to be able to reroll your dice and improve your chances.

Speaking of buttons, they are really crucial. They allow you to not only influence your luck, but also steer historical decisions in the direction you want them to go. They are another thing you have to consider carefully in the game, which adds to the richness of Votes for Women.

Women on the Move

The game is surprisingly easy to learn. In fact, it sort of teaches itself as you play. Everyone plays a specific card as their first card, which is a way of introducing you to how card-driven games work while also completing the setup. At the beginning, there is very little you can do, other than play cards for their event. After a while, you will have gained some buttons, which then allow you to play cards as actions instead. It really starts quite slowly and eases you in very nicely.

As the game progresses, the tension increases. While the Opposition player will feel their influence ceaselessly draining from the board, the Suffragette Movement can see signs of a huge swing in their favour. Yet, it’s not quite enough to force a vote. It’s close though and that’s where the tension is. Both players frantically try to pull the advantage back in their direction. As one makes sweeping gains, the other undoes them on their turn. It’s a constant see-saw.

As the game gets closer to the end, panic starts to set in. A good number of states will probably have cast their vote already. While the Suffragette player has a bigger mountain to climb, the Opposition can never be sure that they will win. In most of the games I have played, it came down to the very last card. Up until then, it was always much too close to choose who would come out the victor.

The only thing I’m not sure about in Votes for Women is when the game gets to Final Voting. That’s when influence is added to dice rolls to decide which way each state voted. It feels a little too much of an anti-climax to me, but maybe that’s how history actually went.

the US map from Votes for Women with regions colour coded
the US map from Votes for Women with regions colour coded (photo courtesy of Fort Circle Games)

Women Have My Vote

I only played Votes for Women online, so I can’t comment on component quality. However, I have noticed that knowing where the various US states are isn’t always easy. I believe the second printing comes with a useful player aid that addresses this. Saying that, while it slowed down the game for me a tiny bit, it didn’t detract for the amazingly wonderful experience I had playing it.

In fact, while in theory the game should get boring quite quickly, because the cards are the same every time and the map doesn’t change, in reality, Votes for Women has the opposite effect. The more you play it, the more excited you get about it. Not only do you want to play again on the same side, but eventually you want to try playing as the other side in the conflict. You also think the next game you will be better at controlling your dice luck. Either way, you are always looking forward to playing again. As a game that takes around an hour to play, once you’re more familiar with it, having several games in the same evening is actually very doable.

So if you ask me, I strongly recommend you take a closer look at Votes for Women. Maybe try it online first on the Rally the Troops website. It’s a really great implementation of the game. Then, if you do like it, and I think you definitely will, then get yourself a physical copy. I reckon actually having the map in front of you and facing off with the Opposition will create an even more engrossing experience than playing online. So, yes, please cast your Votes for Women.

Useful Links

Videos

Transparency Facts

I feel that this review reflects my own, independent and honest opinion, but the facts below allow you to decide whether you think that I was influenced in any way.

  • I played a friend’s copy of the game.
  • At the time of writing, neither the designers, nor the publisher, nor anyone linked to the game supported me financially or by payment in kind.

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (https://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/)

Music: “Wounded Heart” by AShamaluevMusic.
Website: https://www.ashamaluevmusic.com

Music: “Memorials” by AShamaluevMusic.
Website: https://www.ashamaluevmusic.com

Music: “Wonder” by AShamaluevMusic.
Website: https://www.ashamaluevmusic.com

Playlist

These are the songs I listened to while I was writing this review:

Diatoms (Saturday Review) – Tabletop Games Blog

Release Date: 2024Players: 1-4
Designer: Sabrina CulybaLength: 30-45 minutes
Artist: Nim Ben-ReuvenAge: 8+
Publisher: LudoliminalComplexity: 1.5 / 5
Plastic (by weight): n/aAir (by volume): n/a

There. It was done. The mosaic was complete. It was tiny, about the size of a full stop. However, under the microscope, it glistened and glinted, it sparkled and shined. It was a wonderfully symmetric arrangement, forming the overall shape of a circle, intersected into various quadrants. Yet, it was more than just geometry and scientific fascination. It was art. There they were, the wonderful Diatoms by Sabrina Culyba from Ludoliminal.

These tiny pieces of artistry that were so popular in the latter part of the 1800s, have now become the setting for a new tile-laying, pattern-matching and algae-arranging family game. As the winner of the 2023 Cardboard Edison Award, Diatoms has received high praise. The game has now gone from being unpublished, which is a requirement for the award, to finishing a very successful Kickstarter campaign. So it won’t be long until the game is in people’s hands.

I was privileged to have been given a prototype copy of Diatoms to play and review. So I can’t comment on the components, but if the prototype is anything to go by, the final product will be amazing. The love and attention are very clear. There are plastic Petri dishes, which hold sparkly and shiny diatoms. The player boards are dual-layered, with cut-outs for one of two specific types of diatoms. Setting up Diatoms alone is a real pleasure and at the end of the game, you have a beautiful mosaic that you will be proud of and that you want to take a photo of to share.

sparkly, star-shaped diatom tokens in a plastic Petri dish (prototype components shown)
the sparkly, star-shaped diatom tokens in a plastic Petri dish are gorgeous (prototype components shown)

Calico meets Applejack

Maybe it’s a bit unfair to describe Diatoms as “Calico meets Applejack“, but I did get those sorts of vibes. Of course, Diatoms is a very different game.

As you’re placing your hexagonal water tiles, you not only need to ensure that the colours on the edges match, but that they give you the diatoms you need to score the most points. Ideally, you want to place your hex so that it gives you multiple matches, which will give you even more diatoms, which will hopefully give you even more points. That’s what reminded me of Applejack.

Placing the diatoms you gained into your personal mosaic is the next challenge. You’re aiming for point symmetries, matching colours and as many different types of diatoms as possible all at the same time. It’s going to be very hard to achieve everything, but if you achieve it, you’ll score big. That’s the part that reminded me of Calico, where you have many, almost contradictory, goals.

Yet, Diatoms is a much more gentle game. It is almost a multi-player solitaire game. The only real interaction is in the placement and drawing of water tiles. If you can work out what others need, you are theoretically able to block the space they have their eyes on or draw the tile that they need. In reality, it’s not that easy and there are usually plenty of options for other players to get the diatoms they want. So while you can hate-draft a little in Calico, in Diatoms that is not quite so easy.

a cardboard magnifying class held above the hexagonal arrangement of water tiles (prototype components shown)
a little magnifying glass helps you work out what diatoms you need to take (prototype components shown)

Beautiful Diatoms

As it is, the game is really quite gentle and while it will seem a bit confusing the first time you play it, you’ll get better at it quite quickly. In fact, with the basic scoring goals alone, you will probably get bored after probably only a handful of games. Luckily though, the game comes with so-called guest judges, which will throw spanners in the works by trying to get you to score in new and different ways. Those will keep you busy for quite some time, for sure.

However, even without the extra objectives, Diatoms is always fun to play. It’s always fun to work out how to get the diatoms of the right type and colour. Taking the gorgeous diatoms from their Petri dishes is a pleasure. Placing them into available slots in your mosaic is very satisfying. Looking at the final result is a joy. So it’s quite tempting to play just to build the prettiest mosaic and completely ignore the scoring goals.

I certainly think Diatoms is the perfect game for people who love pattern-matching, puzzly styles of games. Despite there having been so many titles in the last 12 months, this game has managed to find a gap and offers a different experience. Of course, it will depend on what you’re after. If you prefer the excruciating pain of trying to find the right tile to complete your Calico quilt and hate-drafting the patch that you know someone else desperately needs, then Diatoms isn’t for you. However, if you want something gentler, that is still challenging, then definitely check out this wonderful game by Sabrina Culyba.

Useful Links

Videos

Transparency Facts

I feel that this review reflects my own, independent and honest opinion, but the facts below allow you to decide whether you think that I was influenced in any way.

  • I was sent a free review copy of this game by the publisher.
  • At the time of writing, neither the designers, nor the publisher, nor anyone linked to the game supported me financially or by payment in kind.

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (https://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/)

Music: End Titles Extended Version (Romeos Erbe) by Sascha Ende
Website: https://filmmusic.io/song/3158-end-titles-extended-version-romeos-erbe
Licensed under CC BY 4.0: https://filmmusic.io/standard-license

Playlist

These are the songs I listened to while I was writing this review: