Euphoria: Build a Better Dystopia (Digital Eyes)

Release Date: 2013Players: 2-6
Designer: Jamey Stegmaier, Alan StoneLength: 60-75 minutes
Artist: Jacqui DavisAge: 12+
Publisher: Stonemaier GamesComplexity: 3.0 / 5

You were constantly tired from working endless hours day in and day out. You had very little time to think about the world and when you did, you didn’t have the words to describe what you saw and felt. However, you had used every spare moment to puzzle together scraps of clues into a bigger picture and had created new words with meanings that your heart dictated, but that were otherwise unknown. You felt that you were now so close to wrestling away the power from your oppressors and turn this world into a better place – but you knew you had to make sacrifices to build your Euphoria: Build a Better Dystopia by Stonemaier Games.

Let me start by saying that this review is based on digital plays of the game only. I have a physical copy of Euphoria, so I know what the components look and feel like, but never played it in real life. That’s why this article comes under the new heading of “Digital Eyes”, which are reviews of games I only played online. With that out of the way, let’s move to the actual review.

Yes, this is almost a classic game now, dating back to 2013, and one of the first that Stonemaier Games released. Euphoria is a worker placement game, where workers are represented by dice, and it’s a traditional resource management game, with action spots where you convert basic resources into refined resources which in turn can be converted into something else and so on.

It’s all pretty much what we’d expect from any modern dice placement and resource management game these days, but not quite. Whereas many modern dice placement games make the pip value of the workers integral to every action, in Euphoria it almost doesn’t matter at all how high or low a number you roll. What matters much more instead is how you combine multiple dice to create a higher result, and when it comes to producing resource these dice can be your own or other players’.

Sure, you are encouraged to roll low numbers, which sort of represents how “aware” the workers are of the dystopia they live in – the lower the pip value, the less aware they are, meaning they won’t run away in despair. However, even when you roll sixes, you are probably not penalised and you still won’t have enough pips to make resources in the most efficient way. You will still need to combine with at least one more dice to get to the top tier of resource production efficiency.

It’s really only when you’re greedy and get additional dice in the hope to be able to do more, that you run the risk of losing them if you roll too high. However, even then you can manage the risk by keeping most of the dice on the game board, where the workers are considered as too occupied to worry about the world they live in and therefore won’t run away.

Euphoria is really much more about dice management, than it is about resource management, and that’s my favourite part of the game. You all start with two dice and you can get up to four, but when you do, you have to really think about where you place them, so you don’t lose them again.

However, you can’t forget about the resources either. You can produce plenty of basic resources relatively easily, but it’s a lot harder to then convert those into refined resources that you need to get closer to winning. In fact, I’m using the wrong terminology. The basic resources are called “commodities” in the game, while the refined resources are called “resources”. Putting the terminology to one side though, the concept of resource conversion is pretty common and the better you are at it, the more likely you are to win the game.

The problem is, Euphoria is no engine builder. You would think that you can improve your resource production, and to a limited amount you do via the allegiance tracks, but in reality, it’s not your engine that’s improving, but everyone’s. So round after round, you produce your “commodities”, then convert them into “resources” that you can then use to get “artifact cards”, which ultimately are what allow you to place “authority tokens”, which are star-shaped, and when you place your tenth star, you win the game – immediately.

Let me address the immediate end of the game now, before moving on. Euphoria is just like Scythe in that it immediately ends when someone places their last star – their tenth star in Euphoria, while it’s the sixth star in Scythe. There is no finishing of rounds and there is no attempt at ensuring every player gets the same number of turns. Some people hated it in Scythe, so those same people will hate it in Euphoria. It just takes longer to get there.

And that’s my main issue with the game. It just feels so slow to play and so slow to achieve anything. There is no feeling of it speeding up in any way either. There is no feeling of progressing or achievement. Every star you place was just as hard-earned as the previous ones. It doesn’t feel like you did anything differently. The stars aren’t like the different mini-achievements that they represent in Scythe for example. It’s a slog and it feels everything should be over when someone placed their fifth star – or maybe their sixth, like in Scythe.

The game board also feels very overwhelming. There are so many action spots and it’s not obvious what you should do to finally be able to place your star. You have to work backwards, step by step, and keep reminding yourself why you got the commodities you got and what it was you were hoping to do with them. When you do remember, you have to carefully scan the board to find the action spot you need to do what you had planned. It just doesn’t feel intuitive to me.

Don’t get me wrong, the artwork is amazing and the setting is brilliant. The premise of the game is also really appealing and 1984 or similar stories come to mind when you play. In a way, the gameplay does emulate the drudgery of the workers, the monotony of their lives and the constant need to keep them ignorant really well. Yet, unfortunately, that makes for an uninspiring and unexciting game experience.

Of course, the components of the game are really good quality, as you have come to expect from Stonemaier Games, and as I said above, the illustrations are also really great. You can see more in my unboxing video. Unfortunately, the gameplay doesn’t come up to scratch for me. I really wanted to like this game, and there are many mechanisms and ideas that had great potential and attracted me to Euphoria, but it just didn’t work out.

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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.

  • I bought this game for a significant discount as a review copy from the publisher.

Unboxing Video

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (
Music: Vanishing by Kevin MacLeod (
Sound Effects: BBC Sound Effects (

Brass: Birmingham (Digital Eyes) – Tabletop Games Blog

Release Date: 2018Players: 2-4
Designer: Gavan Brown, Matt Tolman, Martin WallaceLength: 90-180 minutes
Artist: Lina Cossette, David Forest, Damien MammolitiAge: 14+
Publisher: Roxley GamesComplexity: 4.0 / 5

Looking back, building that last pottery had been foolhardy. Investing in the rail network would have been much more lucrative and sensible, but you had wanted to compete with your contemporaries. Maybe if you had been more careful and had planned further ahead when you first started out as an entrepreneur, things would have worked out differently. But then, nobody could have predicted the Industrial Revolution to be so transformative as it had been. Yet, overall you had done well and were certainly top Brass: Birmingham by Roxley Games.

When a game is celebrated as being complex, your first instinct is to be intimidated. It took me a long time to pluck up the courage and suggest to my weekly games group that we should try Brass: Birmingham. I felt that over the years we had tackled more and more complex games and that now we were finally ready to go up to the next level of complexity.

Convincing the others actually turned out not to be too difficult, because after having moved our weekly meetings to an online world, we had discovered more games on the various platforms and were happy to try out new things, provided one of us would learn the rules.

We had spoken about playing Brass: Birmingham for a couple of weeks, but none of us had had the time to learn the rules, ready to teach the others. However, one week it was just the two of us and we decided we were happy to learn the rules together and just go for it. We intended to teach the third person in our group during our next online games night, so investing half an hour going over rules together seemed a very worthwhile effort.

Brass: Birmingham, like its sibling Brass: Lancashire, which in turn is a reprint of the original Brass, is rules-heavy. A large chunk of its complexity comes from the sheer number of rules. The turn order itself is actually relatively simple, consisting of discarding a card and taking an action, then drawing up again, and pretty most of what you do during the game is either build an industry or a network link – but the devil is in the detail of course.

The card you discard defines where you can build and what you can build. There are also things like your network and whether you’re connected to something else to consider. It also matters what resource you produce or consume, because each one works slightly differently.

There is a lot of terminology to learn, the behaviour of the cards and industry to understand and the sheer amount of tiles on your own player mat to grapple with. It feels very overwhelming, but the game tries to help you.

Brass: Birmingham is played over two eras: the canal era and the rail era. Yet, on your first game you only want to play the first era, so you can ease yourself in. The very first time you play, the canal era alone will probably take as long as playing the whole game once you’re a bit more experienced.

So, don’t be put off by the rules complexity. In the end, like with any game, once you’ve played it once or twice, things start to flow really quickly and you’re starting to get a feeling for where your victory points come from. What felt like exceptions or special circumstances becomes second nature and intuitive.

In fact, when I played my third game of Brass: Birmingham, I started to play a bit more strategically, even tactically, looking for opportunities that another player created by their actions. After all, the whole game is very much about being very careful about deciding what to build where and when and in what order.

If you get it wrong, you can set up an opponent for a huge windfall that will not only give them victory points, but might actually completely ruin your own plans and effectively lose you the game – and that’s what makes this game so wonderfully exciting for me. Yet, it’s not just the usual player interaction where your actions just ruin someone else’s game.

In Brass: Birmingham, things are a bit more complex, as you would expect. You often build industries that actually benefit another player, giving them coal or iron or beer. Yet, when these resources are used up, you will gain an even bigger benefit in the form of victory points. It doesn’t end there though, because a player can gain an additional benefit from your benefit by building network links.

It’s a network of dependencies and everyone is trying to snatch a few victory points where they can, in the hope that the final point difference will be enough for them to take the win. In the process, you’re helping others who actually help you, which then helps someone else, in sometimes unexpected ways and at unexpected moments.

If you play really well, and everyone plays really badly, you always help yourself, but in reality, you can’t do anything without considering how it could help someone else. It’s a wonderful form of player interaction that Brass: Birmingham implements excellently.

The whole process is made harder, because you can’t just build anything wherever you like. Your hand of cards limits what’s possible, so from the start you have to work around what options you have been given by fate. It adds another level of strategic thinking, as if the game needed even more complexity. If you discard the wrong card at the wrong time, you may curse yourself later, after already having cursed the cards for conspiring against you.

Yet, the cards don’t actually introduce a huge amount of luck. In fact, I’d say it’s minimal, hardly noticeable. You’ve got a hand of eight cards, which basically allow you plan eight turns ahead. That should be more than enough to come up with a decent strategy, without allowing you to plan ahead too far.

So once you have worked up your courage, worked your way through the rules and made it to the end of the canal era, Brass: Birmingham greets you with another, quite nasty, surprise. Sure, the game will ask you to tot up everyone’s victory points at this stage, lulling some of you into a false sense of security, because they have managed to get a 20 point lead over everyone else, while others are close to giving up, because they are so very far behind.

Yet, the surprise that the game has to offer isn’t the difference in victory points. After all, everyone will score again at the end of the rail era. No, the nastiness in the surprise comes when everyone has to remove pretty much most of what they’ve built on the map so far. It’s almost like a hard reset – except for those among you who have managed to set themselves up for the rail era.

Suddenly, that 20 point difference doesn’t look that big any longer. In fact, the leader will start to sweat a little as they realise that they have to start from scratch, while others are in prime position to really benefit from the age of steam that is coming next.

By now, everyone will also have reached an income level that means money is no longer really of any consequence – except for deciding turn order each round. If not by the end of the canal era, then a few rounds into the rail era, everyone will be so rich that it really doesn’t matter what they build or how much they have to pay. Chances are they either get most of it back at the end of the round or even earn more than they have spent.

Also, money is worth nothing at the end of the game, so when you reach the half-way point in the rail era, you may as well put everyone’s money back in the bank and use it to record how much everyone spends on their turn, so that you can decide turn order for the following round. Money really has no further use now.

I love this. It feels like the game is telling me that for the rich, money loses all meaning. A million pounds is just as unimportant as a hundred million – or in Brass: Birmingham terms, it doesn’t matter whether you’re spending £15 plus some coal from the market or only £5. You won’t miss it and probably get it all back again.

Yet, money still remains important as it pertains to player order, and that’s actually quite a critical point. As the map fills up, it’s increasingly more difficult to find spaces that will only, or at least mostly, benefit yourself. Beer is in high demand for example.

So if you are clever and can ensure you spend the most money in one round, so that you’re last in the next round, then spend the least in that round, you will effectively get a double turn. That can be the only way to build a brewery and immediately use the beer to sell goods or otherwise gain victory points. If you’re clever about it, manipulating turn order can have a huge impact later in the game.

Brass: Birmingham is just a glorious mix of area control, hand management, positive player interaction, which actually and ultimately benefits yourself, turn order manipulation and plenty of strategic and sometimes tactical thinking. It’s an intimidating game that begs you to try it, and when you do, you will just squeal with frustration, enjoyment, anger and pure excitement. You will ask yourself what you could have done differently and whether the canal was actually worth building. You won’t be able to wait for another game where you can test your new strategy and ideas, only for the cards and the other players to spoil everything again.

In a word: Brass: Birmingham comes highly recommended. Go and buy it now!

Useful Links

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 digital copy of the game.

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (
Music: Industrial Revolution by Kevin MacLeod (
Sound Effects: BBC Sound Effects (

Patchwork (Digital Eyes) – Tabletop Games Blog

Release Date: 2014Players: 2 (only)
Designer: Uwe RosenbergLength: 15-30 minutes
Artist: Klemens Franz, Rex Lee, Gru TsowAge: 8+
Publisher: Lookout GamesComplexity: 1.5 / 5

We were sitting quietly at each end of the sofa in the living room, fully engrossed in our needlework. It was so relaxing to use our hands and make something. Arts and crafts. That was the way. We looked at each other for a moment, seeing the contentment in each other’s eyes. I reached into the bag to pick out another piece of material to add to my quilt. It would look all higgledy-piggledy, but that was fine, because I was aiming to create a Patchwork by Lookout Games.

Here is another game I only ever played digitally, which is why it’s in the Digital Eyes category of reviews on this blog. The advantage of the digital game is that you can either play it with another person, or you can play against the AI, which can be set to a number of difficulty levels as well, so that you can ease yourself into the game. The other advantage of the digital version is that you can learn the game that way, without having to read the rulebook, which is always nice. I prefer learning by doing, so this works for me really well.

Patchwork is a tile-laying game using polynomial shapes. The idea is to complete your 9×9 quilt using the patches. The fewer gaps your quilt has at the end, the less points you lose at the end. You gain points by collecting buttons. Different patches have a different number of buttons on them, some even have none. So far, it’s your standard Tetris-inspired game.

However, there is much more to Patchwork of course. What makes the game stand out and what creates the excitement and strategy element is the turn order mechanism. When it’s your turn, you can choose one of the next three patches in the offer row, which is arranged in a circle and which means that from the start of the game you can see all available patches and in which order they will become available.

Different patches not only have a different number of buttons on them, but they also cost different amounts of time to add to your patch, which makes thematic sense, but it’s the time element that decides who goes next. There is a separate time track and as you buy patches, you will move along it a certain number of steps. It continues to be your turn as long as you’re last on the time track.

So your decision as to which patch to buy will depend on the time that patch takes to add, as well as the number of buttons on the patch. Ideally, you want to buy smaller patches that take less time, so that you can continue to buy more patches, allowing you to fill your quilt more quickly than your opponent. However, sometimes the perfect patch that fills the really awkward gap on your quilt is what you go for, even if it means that you only get one go before it’s the other player’s turn.

The time track also decides when you get more buttons to add to your coffers. Buttons are the currency and the victory points in Patchwork, but only the buttons you actually have in your hand. The buttons on the patches in your quilt only indicate how many buttons you get paid out when you hit the relevant fields on the time track. So you do want to get as many buttons as possible into your quilt before hitting the first payout point, but you also don’t want to forge too far ahead.

The game is a good mix of quietly making your quilt, while also planning ahead when to spend your buttons and when to save them and deciding when to buy a large patch that puts you a long way ahead of the other player and when to just buy lots of smaller patches to keep the other player waiting, while you happily fill your quilt neatly.

Speaking of neatly, if you’re the sort of person who likes quilts without gaps, then Patchwork might drive you a little mad, because you will always leave gaps somewhere. However, for everyone else, Patchwork is a wonderfully calm game with just enough excitement and just enough forward thinking required to allow you and another person to have a lovely time.

Useful Links

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 bought and paid for the game myself.
  • 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 (

Doom Machine (Digital Eyes) – Tabletop Games Blog

Release Date: 2020Players: 1 (only)
Designer: Nathan MeunierLength: 15-30 minutes
Artist: Nathan MeunierAge: 13+
Publisher: self-publishedComplexity: 1.0 / 5

I was ready. It seemed like an impossible task, but I was mankind’s only hope. I had to do what I could and fight my way through the ever-increasing number of machine parts, which were making the machine stronger and bring it closer to sentience. It was a matter of taking it one machine part at a time until I reached the core and was finally able to put an end to the Doom Machine by Nathan Meunier.

The theme is pretty incredible and reminds me a little of The Matrix or similar apocalyptic science-fiction settings. The illustrations by Nathan Meunier are also incredible and really bring you into the world this little game conjures up – and when I say little, I am talking about a mint tin game that consists of a deck of cards, two handfuls of dice and some tokens.

I’ve not actually seen a physical copy of Doom Machine, having only played it on Tabletop Simulator, but from what I can tell by having seen a photo of the prototype and knowing how big mint tins are, I do think it will fit neatly into your coat pocket, handbag or rucksack and as long as you have a little table, you can play it pretty much anywhere while out and about.

Now, I’m not a solo-gamer myself, preferring to play games with other people, but I have recently started to play co-operative games more often, and you could argue that all solo games are basically co-operative games, but you’re playing by yourself. So I approached Doom Machine from that angle.

The game is all about the dice. You roll them, manipulate them and then place them. That sounds like there is a lot of randomness in the game, which is compounded by the fact that the deck of cards, which represent the machine’s parts, are also shuffled every game and create more randomness. However, you have a lot of control over the dice and their values, and it is your choice which machine parts you attack, giving you a lot of control over the cards as well.

Each machine part requires a specific combination of dice to break through the defences and allow you to attack it. To help you with this, you can increase or decrease the pip value of up to three dice by one, and you can re-roll up to three dice once. That’s usually enough to get the numbers you need and weaken the machine parts.

Each machine part starts with a different strength, represented by one of the dice, and when you reduce that to zero, the card gets removed from the game and you get another dice added to your dice pool. That means, the more cards you destroy, the more dice you have to attack. So even though you’re not building an engine as such, it does feel like you get more and more powerful, while the Doom Machine gets weaker and weaker.

That simple mechanism creates a real sense of achievement and satisfaction. You feel like shouting “take that, you stupid machine” as you reduce another machine part to nothing. It’s a great feeling.

Of course, the machine isn’t idle and every round a new machine part is added. The machine grows and becomes stronger. As each machine part goes through its program, it can increase the Doom Machine‘s sentience and power, which in turn can make the machine’s attacks more powerful. It’s as if you’re dealing with a thinking machine that’s getting better as time goes on, adding to the sense of urgency you feel right from the beginning.

It’s actually quite amazing to see how the deck has been designed to create lots of subtle interactions between cards, which make the machine more effective overall and which help you decide which part to focus on. If you can destroy a key section of the machine, you can really slow it down.

You can protect yourself from the machine’s attacks by assigning some of your dice as shields, but of course, the more dice you use as shields, the less you have to attack the machine. It’s a real balancing act and very often a tough decision. I was always tempted to assign all dice to attacks, which left me wide open, and the machine took full advantage of that, killing me after only a handful of rounds. It’s clearly a strategy that I need to improve.

The randomness of the dice does add to the excitement. Even though you have a lot of control over the dice results, there are rounds when you desperately need certain pip values to attack a particularly powerful machine part, and when none of the dice are anywhere near what you want. That’s when you start to despair and get really worried. You will end up idling one round and simply assigning all dice as shields, just so you survive a little longer.

Doom Machine is a really tense and exciting game. The puzzle the deck of cards and the dice present is always changing and will keep you on your toes. Yet, it’s not too thinky and is something you can play of an evening, after work, when you’re tired, just to wind down. Just don’t expect to defeat the game on your first try – or your second – or even your third. It will take some time before you finally manage to destroy the doom core – and when you feel like you’ve mastered it, there are variants to raise the difficulty another level or two.

Useful Links

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.

Playthrough Video

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (
Dramatic Trailer Logo 01 by TaigaSoundProd (
Dark Viking by Frank Schröter (

The Cost (Digital Eyes) – Tabletop Games Blog

Release Date: 2020Players: 2-4
Designer: Armando Canales, Lyndon M. Martin, Brian A. WillcuttLength: 60-75 minutes
Artist: Harald LieskeAge: 12+
Publisher: SpielworxxComplexity: 3.5 / 5

“Asbestos and its use have a long history. A naturally occurring mineral, asbestos was once celebrated for its seemingly wondrous resistant and strengthening properties until it was declared a human carcinogen by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer in 1987. […] This odd dichotomy between the recognition of the harmful effects of the mineral and lure of the potential to make a profit on it is by no means new to industry or unique to asbestos. As game designers and game players, however, this is thought provoking.” From the rulebook of The Cost by Spielworxx.

It took me a long time to pluck up the courage to write a review about a game that deals with such a controversial topic. I wanted to have played it often enough and with enough different people to make sure I would understand how the game deals with the topic and how it works from a gameplay persepctive, as well as hear how playing The Cost makes people feel.

After all, as the player, you’re trying to make as much money from mining, milling and selling asbestos in order to win, without paying any attention to the very real human cost this activity had. The Cost is not your usual action selection, area control, resource management game, where you’re just pushing cubes around the board. It’s not going to be for everyone. So I always made sure to let people know what this game was about and the real-life events that it is built around, allowing everyone to decide for themselves if they wanted to try it.

The Cost is, as I said, an action selection game with area control and resource management. All the mechanisms in this game are a little different to other games, adding more interest to The Cost and giving it a strategic element.

For the action selection mechanism imagine a grid of hexes, like in Catan. Players select one corner where three hexes converge to take the three actions displayed on them. Once a corner has been chosen, it’s blocked and other players have to use a different corner. Already you can see that you need to think about what actions you want to carry out and what actions you might want to block for other players.

The area control is about where you build your mines and mills, the railroad tracks you lay or the ports you build. Railroad tracks and ports can earn you money if other players use them. Mines and mills are your main source of income though, and mills can be used by other players, except that you end up with the refined asbestos to sell yourself and make money from.

Resource management is about investing in countries to give you local currency that allows you to mine, mill and sell your asbestos there.

Even the flow of the game is a bit different. There are basically four phases, two of which are more to do with housekeeping than anything else. First, you select your actions, via the hexes, as explained above, but these actions are all about getting money or building mines, mills, railroad tracks or ports. They have an effect on the game boards and even though the choices you make during this phase are vitally important, it doesn’t feel like anything much is happening.

That all changes in the third phase, where players take turns to mine, mill or move/sell asbestos, or pass. Players have to continue taking one of those actions until nobody can do anything else. It is in this phase that you run your engine, so to speak. Mine some asbestos, move it to a mill, mill it, move it to a market to sell for a profit. You can see the asbestos move around on the board until nothing is left and the third phase ends.

So already it’s clear that The Cost is different from other games. The graphic design actually adds to this feeling. It all feels rather industrial, a little bit dusty even and the pattern of asbestos fibre panels can be seen throughout, constantly reminding you what this game is about – that is, if you do actually need reminding.

The thing is, when you mine or mill asbestos, you always have to make a choice – do it safely and protect your workers, but pay a fair bit of money, which erodes your profits significantly, or do it unsafely, putting your workers’ health at risk, but costing you nothing and therefore giving you the most profit. The decision seems very clear here, but The Cost makes it harder by making the real-life implications obvious. If you want profit, one of your workers dies and is moved to a coffin area on your player board, where that worker will stay until the end of the game, as a constant reminder of the choice you made.

That’s where the game starts to make you feel uncomfortable, if you weren’t uncomfortable enough from the beginning when you heard what The Cost is about. It gets worse though. Once you go down the route of letting your workers die, you need to get new workers, of course. The thing is, hiring workers doesn’t cost you anything. You don’t even have to pay them anything when you put them to work, if you accept that one of them will die. You really feel how cold this industry was – or in some places still is.

People, the little worker meeples in the game, are just a commodity, with new workers being readily available to take the place of others who didn’t make it. It’s all about profits and making the most money. Unless you completely divorce yourself from the theme, you do really feel that as you play The Cost.

The game then ratches it up one notch. When the game ends, you don’t get penalised for the dead workers you have on your player board. There are no negative points, nothing. The designers intentionally didn’t want the game to get involved in the decisions you make. They didn’t want The Cost to chastise players. They wanted the players to make the decisions in the game themselves – and even though that’s probably one of the more controversial decisions the designers made, I do actually think it works.

However, to make it work, I think it’s vital that all players read the rulebook, especially the introduction and all the call-outs that describe how your actions in the game relate to real-life events and what the consequences were. Without that, the game could feel more like any other game where you just try to make the most money, even though I’d say that the artwork, such as the coffins at the bottom of player boards, are by themselves very clear as to what you do in the game and what effects your actions have.

Yet, when you read the rulebook and learn about asbestos, then play The Cost, you can see how the world changed from wanting as much asbestos as possible to some countries banning it completely, making it harder for you to make a profit. If you’re not careful and too greedy, you can even force an early game end. If too many workers die, it is possible that all countries ban asbestos, at which point it’s all over and whoever has the most money at that point wins. Otherwise, the game ends after four rounds – yes, only four rounds.

One last thing about the rulebook, before I close. I found it very hard to read, but once I set up the game and followed the steps through, it all made sense and the gameplay flowed really well. Yet, every player gets a double-sided A4 reference guide, which gives you an idea of the complexity of this game and that it will take a while to play well and quickly.

I also want to say that I have a physical copy of the game, but all my plays have been via the free Vassal module online. So I can vouch for the component quality of the game from the printed game I own, which is high and what you would expect from Spielworxx, and my experiences of the gameplay from my digital exploits.

So, let me finish by saying that it is very clear that The Cost was cleverly put together to create a mechanically interesting and challenging game, while treating the serious subject matter with respect and even trying to teach players about asbestos as they play. If you can stomach it, then I highly recommend you try The Cost for yourself.

Useful Links

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.

Unboxing Video

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (

Oath: Chronicles of Empire and Exile (Digital Eyes)

Release Date: 2021Players: 1-6
Designer: Cole WehrleLength: 45-120 minutes
Artist: Kyle FerrinAge: 10+
Publisher: Leder GamesComplexity: 4.0 / 5

The Chancellor’s new reign had begun, as the Exiles had fled to the far reaches of the land. They had failed in their attempts to usurp the ruler, but here was another chance for them. They would muster their warbands, campaign against the Bandits, explore the world until eventually, they were strong enough to try again and finally succeed in overthrowing the leading power. Yet, they could never be sure if their fellow Exiles would deceive them and maybe even swear allegiance to the Chancellor, instead of staying strong and following the Exiles’ code of honour, sticking by the sacred Oath by Leder Games.

The game hasn’t been release yet, but I’m already writing a review. That’s only possible because the publisher released a Tabletop Simulator version of the game that I was able to play with my games group. I’m sure the game will be tweaked a little bit more before the official release, but it’s more or less finished, so any changes will be minor, which is why I think it’s all right to review the game in its current state.

Of course, I will only be able to speak about the gameplay experience in this article, as well as maybe the artwork, but because I’ve not seen the actual, physical components, I can’t talk about how these feel or how good they are, even though I can talk about how well the virtual components work – and this last point is quite important.

The reason is, that I’m really impressed with how few components there really are to build a world that feels like it has a lot of depth and subtleties. There are eight location cards, which make up the three regions of the world. These alone already create depth, as they will have certain benefits or disadvantages, which will have a direct impact on how you will interact with them – or if you’d rather avoid them.

Add to that a deck of cards that you can either use to give yourself abilities or that you play at a location so that everyone can use them. These “denizen” cards add more depth and interconnections to this world, which is really awe-inspiring to watch.

Yet, on the table, this very detailed world takes up very little space. It’s rather crazy, because if you’ve seen how the game looks on the table, you will think that the world of Oath is rather boring and bland, when in fact it’s really deep and what denizens you play where and what locations you try and control will have a huge impact on the game.

In fact, it does feel like every decision counts and the timing of your decisions count too. You have to think ahead and try and predict what the other players might be doing next, so you are prepared for it. After all, even in a three-player game, the world is very small and you are forced to attack other players or otherwise interact with them. There is no avoiding it. Actually, even if the world was much bigger, if you want to win, you do need to interfere with what other players are doing, making your proximity to your competition absolutely vital.

It sounds like Oath is very hard to master, and that’s certainly true. It’s also quite difficult to learn, at least from the materials available online at the moment. The final rulebook and guides may be different and may make learning to play the game easier. It also doesn’t help that the online game has things set up for you, so you miss out on learning the names of the components in the game and what they do.

Speaking of names, Oath does introduce quite a few terms that all have a specific meaning and it’s important that you learn those terms and understand them. Once you do, the game does start to flow actually quite well, but it did take me about three games before things fell into place and it was only during the fourth game that I felt I knew what I was doing.

At the same time though, when you play the game for the first time, it already feels like you have control over what’s happening and even though the flow is slow and you probably end up referring to the rulebook quite a few times, by the end of the game you do feel like you’ve achieved something, even if you didn’t win. You will have gotten a sense of what adventures might await you the next time you play Oath. You will certainly know, if the game is for you or not, but do give it some leeway, as it’s one of those games that will take a while to learn fully and even longer to master.

There is one thing though, that’s left me a bit deflated. I love playing as an Exile, where you have so many ways of winning, allowing you to try a wide range of different strategies or playing in a way that suits your style and giving you a feeling of satisfaction and achievement, even if it’s very hard to win.

However, as the Chancellor, I felt like I didn’t really do anything to deserve a victory. It ended up being decided on the roll of a dice that I won. All I did was survive long enough to continue my reign into the next game. I suppose, surviving six or more rounds is achievement enough, but for me, it didn’t provide any satisfaction and even though I enjoyed the game itself in the role of Chancellor, my victory just wasn’t deserved in my view.

There is one more thing that I’m not sure about and that’s the luck of the card draw. Another player and I both, and independently during two different games, noted that you really struggle to catch up with everyone else if you simply don’t draw denizen cards with suits matching the locations. The suits are important to gain favour, which is basically money, or secrets, which are the other currency in the game. If you don’t have matching suits, you will take a long time getting enough money to do anything meaningful in the game.

Saying that though, even when the suits didn’t match, we were still able to run grand campaigns and come close to winning. I guess, like in so many games, there are different ways to victory and you have to play according to what the game presents you with. If the card suits don’t go your way, you need to find a different way to win.

Yes, despite all my concerns, I really can’t wait to play Oath again, even if I do take on the role of the Chancellor again. I love how the world is different every time and how cleverly everything is linked together. I love how the outcome of one game influences the next, if you play through a campaign. I love how a relatively small setup creates such a deep, complex and wonderful world that you can explore. I love how you have so many different ways to victory. I just love Oath.

Useful Links

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 used the official Tabletop Simulator mod to play the 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 (
Music: Village Ambiance by Alexander Nakarada (

Tapestry: Plans & Ploys (Digital Eyes)

Release Date: 2020Players: 1-5 Players
Designer: Jamey StegmaierLength: 90-120 minutes
Artist: Andrew Bosley, Rom BrownAge: 12+
Publisher: Stonemaier GamesComplexity: 2.5 / 5

We were at the dawn of a new civilization. We didn’t know it yet, but we were going to embark on an exciting adventure that would offer us a lot of new opportunities, some challenging times and many new discoveries. It would take a very long time indeed, but we would not only master fire, but eventually reach the stars. We would explore the world and stamp our mark on it. We were ready to make a reality of our Plans & Ploys by Stonemaier Games.

If you like Tapestry, then you will be interested in this first expansion. Plans & Ploys doesn’t add completely new mechanisms and otherwise doesn’t extend the gameplay as such, but it does add a couple of new things that fill in a couple of small gaps in the base game, as well as more of what you already know.

Also, please note that this article will directly name some of the additional civilizations, tapestry cards, etc. So there will be spoilers, but that’s unavoidable, because I want to explain how the expansion makes Tapestry feel more rounded, more complete. So, if you really don’t want to know anything specific, then don’t read on.

I have to say that I have played the expansion only online, but I do have a physical copy of Plans & Ploys, so I can attest to the component quality. I might as well get it out of the way. As you come to expect from Stonemaier Games, the components are very high quality, just like for the base game. The colour matching to the base game is pretty good, even though the new tapestry cards’ backs don’t blend in perfectly with the original ones. Yet, the colour mismatch is tiny and quite hard to see, but when you compare old and new side by side, you can see the difference. I don’t think it’s a major issue, but something to bear in mind.

Let’s continue with the new tapestry cards actually. They add more interesting benefits, but they also add a twist to the trap cards, making them feel less of a sure way of preventing an attack. It’s now riskier to play a trap during a conquer action, as the attacker might trap you in your own trap. That’s nice and spices up that part of the game, allowing for some extra strategies and tactics.

The new space tiles are also nice to see, giving you more of an incentive to try and get into space. However, the benefits of the new tiles seem to come a bit too late in the game, unfortunately. You basically get the opportunity to score 5 victory points every time you advance on a specific track, but chances are you can only use them once, because, by the time you’ve reached space, the game is nearly over. It feels like it would have been better to just get a one-off 5 points, but I suppose it’s nice to try and time it in such a way that you can get more than just 5 points.

The expansion also contains the corrected version of one of the space tiles from the base game, which is nice. So you can get rid of the misprint and avoid confusion.

Plans & Ploys also adds a new civilization, the Aliens, which start with four space tiles that they can explore each income turn. That’s really nice, because suddenly the space tiles are a more integral part of the game, rather than just something that you might be able to achieve at the end. It might be just one civilization that does this, but it’s great to see.

The new landmark miniatures also look nice on the table, but my gripe with them is the same as for the base game. Using them to fill territory in your capitol city seems a bit of a waste and some of them don’t quite fit, making it hard to place them correctly. That’s not specific to the expansion though, so if you didn’t mind it in the base game, it won’t be a problem for you in the expansion either.

Landmarks play a bigger part in Plans & Ploys. There is a tapestry card that gives you a landmark, but there are also now blueprint cards, which are a completely new addition. At the beginning of the game, the players draft one blueprint card each. Each card comes with a landmark, which you can place in your capitol city at the end of your turn, if you achieved a certain goal. There is a good mix of these cards. Some require you to have the same type of income building in your city a certain number of times, others need you to complete a certain number of districts or rows and columns.

They all encourage you to fill your city and reward you with a landmark that allows you to fill your city even more. Suddenly, you pay more attention to your capitol city, which I think is nice. In the base game, the points you get from the city never seemed enough and not quite worth the effort, but now it feels like a viable strategy to win the game.

The expansion also comes with a cloth bag for the land hex tiles, round tokens that represent the landmarks you can get as you progress up the relevant achievement tracks on the main board, so that you can quickly see if a landmark is still available, as well as more automa cards, all of which are nice additions to round off what Tapestry has on offer.

There is one more gripe I have with Plans & Ploys though, but like with the landmarks, that gripe is also present in the base game. There are still a fair few edge cases where it’s not clear how to interpret the rules. Some new factions have abilities that aren’t clear or that can sometimes be confusing when applied to specific game states. Yes, Stonemaier Games has FAQs, but there just seem to be too many questions that aren’t answered out of the box and require you to look them up online.

I know it’s hard to playtest a game that has this many different civilizations, tapestry cards and other variables. It’s not easy to find every edge case, but I can’t help but feel that some of these questions should have been spotted before the game went into production. It leaves a bitter taste in your mouth when you have built your strategy on your interpretation of a vague edge case, and when you finally pull off this amazing feat, the rest of the group denies you it, because the FAQ explains it differently.

I know the rulebook for Tapestry, as well as Plans & Ploys, is intentionally short, to allow you to start playing very quickly, which is something I love, but in reality, it’s too short and actually slows down the gameplay overall and even a first play of the game.

However, as I said, this gripe exists for me in the base game just as much as in the expansion, so if you didn’t have any problems with the base game, you should be fine with the expansion too.

Despite my gripes, I still really enjoy playing Tapestry and now that I have the expansion, I would never play it without Plans & Ploys again. There are just so many little additions that give you a much more complete and interesting game experience. So, if you have played Tapestry a lot and really enjoy it, but feel there is maybe something lacking, then give Plans & Ploys try. You shouldn’t be disappointed.

Useful Links

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 (

Root: A Game of Woodland Might and Right (Digital Eyes)

Release Date: 2018Players: 2-4 Players
Designer: Cole WehrleLength: 60-90 minutes
Artist: Kyle FerrinAge: 10+
Publisher: Leder GamesComplexity: 3.5 / 5

It was an outrage! The Eerie had invaded our peaceful clearing. They blatantly ignored our sympathy. Those feathered warriors would regret it. The next birdsong would be full of revolts and they would rue their decision. Using guerrilla tactics, we would show everyone not to mess with us. We weren’t as defenceless as we looked. We would solve the problem and get to its Root by Leder Games.

Root is another great game in Leder Games‘ series of four-letter games titles where the base rules are the same for everyone, yet every faction plays very differently. It’s almost as if everyone plays a different game, yet we all play on the same map and are pitted against each other. It shouldn’t work, but it does – and it does it very well. It’s very clever and hurts your brain when you try and work out how Cole Wehrle has done it again.

The game is set in a woodland, with a number of clearings, which are connected by paths and the factions are woodland creatures. It all looks very cute and cuddly, but these woodland creatures can be fierce fighters and happily backstab you, while at the same time giving you a big smile. Don’t trust any of them, because everyone is in it to win it.

In Root, you basically try and control as much area as possible, but that in itself doesn’t actually give you any points. Actually, unlike in other area control games, you can easily have your warriors in a clearing that is controlled by someone else, and in theory, you both can peacefully co-exist.

The thing is, one of the ways of getting points is by attacking other players and removing their tokens from the board in battle. So, even though you do actually happily share clearings with other factions for much of the game, you will also have a lot of fights with them so that you gain points.

The battles themselves are very simple. The two players taking part in the battle roll a twelve-sided dice, which will result in anything between 0 and 3 hits. The attacker will be allocated the higher result, the defender the lower – unless you’re the Woodland Alliance, who have the guerrilla war ability, giving them the higher roll in defence.

Your hits are then limited by the number of units in the clearing where you’re fighting, so if you only have two units, then rolling a 3 will still only result in 2 hits. You can also play certain cards to increase the hits you achieve as an attacker or defender. Then you remove the relevant number of units from the board and the battle is over.

It’s really pretty quick and simple, but gives you enough tactical choices to make battles an interesting event. The dice rolls introduce just enough randomness to make fighting quite exciting, sometimes leading to really memorable moments.

Another way of gaining points is by “crafting” cards. Depending on which and how many clearings you control, you can craft certain cards from your hand. So area control is important for this, but again it’s not about sole control, but having a majority in a clearing.

You do have to decide which cards you want to craft, because many factions will want to use their cards for their faction-specific ability. Each card belongs to a suit, just like each clearing is allocated a specific suit, and it’s those suits that will decide some of the things you can or cannot do on your turn. As so often, you have to decide whether to craft a card for an immediate point, or keep the card for its suit. You also have a certain hand limit, which again will make it hard which cards to keep and for what purpose.

Overall, hand management is actually really important in Root. You want to keep certain cards to help you in battle or to craft for points, but those same cards can also be very useful for other actions, depending on the faction you play. The cards are almost the most critical part of everyone’s strategies.

Of course, there is a lot more to Root, because a lot of the gameplay results from the interactions of the different factions. Depending on which animals are in play, the game is very different. So even if you play the same faction every time, you will have to adapt your strategy based on which factions you’re up against.

The base game comes with 4 factions, which will keep you busy for quite some time, and there are a number of new factions available and more in the making, which will keep changing how you play Root. It’s one of those games that is likely to keep evolving over time, even though it will always remain the same game at its core – which is amazing.

Even though I can’t comment on the component quality, because I only played Root in digital format on Steam, I can say that the artwork by Kyle Ferrin is amazing again. His style is always so very recognizable, fits really well with the setting and nicely ties the various Leder Games games together.

Speaking of playing Root only digitally, it’s the way I suggest you learn to play the game. The Steam implementation comes with a really great tutorial mode that makes it really easy to learn the basic gameplay principles, as well as how to play each of the four factions.

I must say, I’ve never been a fan of Leder Games‘ rulebooks, as I find that they don’t teach me how to play very well. You have the rules, a “learning to play” guide and a walkthrough, each giving you some glimpses of what you need to do, but none of them working coherently to help you fully understand the game. So I do strongly recommend you learn from the digital tutorials, because playing Root is actually a lot easier than it might seem.

The complexity of the game doesn’t come from the rules, but how you need to play each faction in such a way that you win while stopping someone else running away with a huge lead. It’s that part that creates a lot of wonderful table talk, as players form temporary alliances to stop the leader from gaining any more points, until the time is right for the alliance to be broken and players trying to aim for victory for themselves.

So if you like a game where everyone is out for themselves, but chances are you do have to form some uncertain truces to stop someone else from winning before you, then Root is definitely worth a closer look.

Useful Links

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 bought and paid for the game myself.
  • 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 (

The King is Dead (2nd Edition) (Digital Eyes)

Release Date: 2020Players: 2-4 Players
Designer: Peer SylvesterLength: 30-45 minutes
Artist: Benoit BillionAge: 12+
Publisher: Osprey GamesComplexity: 2.0 / 5

The country was divided again. The Scottish were biding their time in the North, the Welsh were ready to pounce from the West, while the English tried to show some sort of semblance of the controlling power in the rest of the British Isles. At the same time, foreign countries were keeping a keen eye on the developing situation, ready to take advantage of the chaos that was about to ensue. It was up to us to marshal our troops and exert our influence, trying to ensure that the resulting dominant power that would eventually claim the throne was in our favour – and all of this only happened, because The King is Dead by Osprey Games.

Let me start by saying that I only ever played the digital version of The King is Dead (2nd Edition), so I can’t attest to the component quality or the tactile feel of the game. Yet, I don’t think the quality of the components will hugely affect the enjoyment of the game, because it’s much more about strategy, tactics and trying to bluff and surprise other players with your own actions. It’s almost as if you play this game more in your head than on the table.

The setup for The King is Dead is pretty simple and the rules even more so. All you need to do on your turn is play a card from your hand to effect a change of influence in one or two regions of Britain, then take an influence marker, called follower cube in the game, off the board, thereby further exacting your influence. It’s really simple, but of course, it isn’t. The devil is, as so often, in the tactics.

The thing is, there really shouldn’t be any surprises. Everyone can see what faction, the Scots, Welsh or English, has what amount of influence in each of the regions. Also, every player starts with the same hand of cards, at least when you play with the base rules, so everyone knows exactly what everyone else’s possibilities are.

It’s very much like a game of chess, but one that can be played with more than two players. Everyone can see the games state and can work out what options everyone has. Everyone can plan ahead, evaluating what another player’s best or most likely action will be on their turn and how that will influence the board. Yet, just like in chess, playing contrary to what everyone else expects you to do can sometimes win you the game.

Also, the decision tree in The King is Dead gets rather large fairly quickly. So there really is only so much forward planning anyone can do in their head. At the same time, and as I alluded to at the beginning of this article, a lot of the time you spend playing this game is in your head. The thinking time hugely outweighs the time you spend placing your cards or moving cubes. Again, that’s very much like chess.

What makes The Kings is Dead so interesting for me, are the victory conditions. One of them is that, at the end of the game, the player who holds the most cubes of the faction that controls the most regions wins. To achieve that, everyone plays cards, all of which somehow change the number of follower cubes in the regions, thereby changing the influence of factions for those regions.

Your goal is for a certain faction to control that region when it comes to resolving one of the eight so-called power struggles. At that point, if that specific region has the most control cubes of a certain colour in it, they’re all removed and replaced with a control disc of the same colour, indicating that that faction now controls that region.

So it sounds like you should simply move the cubes around on the board so that your favoured colour is most represented in most of the regions. The problem is, you also need to remove a follower cube from the board every time after you play a card. So you’re actually reducing the influence of that faction on the board, but you want to have more cubes of that colour, because only the player with the most cubes at the end of the game for the faction with the most control wins the game.

So the more support you show for a faction, the less powerful that faction will become on the board, thereby reducing the chance of that faction controlling enough regions by the end of the game. It’s a real balancing act. You will want to take cubes of other colours as well, so that you don’t weaken your favourite faction too much.

Additionally, you don’t really want to show your plans too early. If you always go for the same colour cube, then the other players will know who you want to win at the end and will either also support the same faction in the hope that they have more cubes than you at the end of the game, or they will start to support a different faction and hope that one will control most regions when the game is over.

However, it is also possible to show your hand early, but actually bluff. After all, the more cubes of one colour that you remove from the board, the weaker that faction will become. As long as you can gain cubes of other colours in time, you may actually turn out victorious and have successfully lead the other players a merry dance.

There is another victory condition though. If, when a region is resolved in a power struggle, the number of cubes in that region are the same for at least two colours, then there is a tie and the region becomes unstable, resulting in control of a foreign power – and once three regions are controlled by a foreign power, the game ends immediately and a new victory condition is in force.

Now, the player who has a the most evenly balanced follower cubes in front of them wins, that is, you count up how many sets of the three colours every player can make with the cubes they have so far removed from the board and whoever can make the most sets wins.

It’s another viable strategy as well and allows someone who seems to be way behind in owning enough follower cubes of a specific colour to win, because they can try and get more sets than players who have put their eggs in one or maybe two baskets.

There is one more twist in The King is Dead that will influence your strategy. Every player gets only eight cards that have to last them the whole game. Players take turns playing a single card, carrying out the action, as much as that is possible and then taking a follower cube off the board. Alternatively, a player can pass and either join in again or keep passing. When all players have passed, one after the other, a power struggle happens and a region is resolved, which will result in a control disc to be placed, be it from a faction or a foreign power.

The trick is to choose your battles, or power struggles, and decide whether you want to play more cards at the beginning, running the risk of having no cards left at the end, or focus on the middle of the game, or maybe make sure you have most cards at the end so you can do what you want then. The problem is, some battles can sometimes be vital to two players who will force each other to play cards, therefore making it impossible to do much later in the game.

In fact, sometimes players intentionally play more cards to keep changing a region that is vital to another player, so that they have to play more cards, making them weaker later. So what cards you play when is important, but how many cards you play when even more so. Ending up without any cards at the end can be fine, but more often than not, it can also mean that someone else can wreak havoc on the board and take the victory for themselves.

So The King is Dead is a really deep, strategic game. You do need to plan ahead as much as possible, but there is also a lot of bluffing and forcing of hands. Be ready to change your plans halfway through the game, if things just aren’t going your way, or you will definitely be left behind. You are still in with a chance to turn things around and get the crown for yourself.

Useful Links

Rules Video

Playthrough Video

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.

  • A friend of mine owns a copy of the game, so we were able to play online.
  • 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 (

Survive: Escape from Atlantis (Digital Eyes)

Release Date: 1982Players: 2-4 Players
Designer: Julian Courtland-SmithLength: 45-60 minutes
Artist: David Ausloos, Julian Courtland-Smith, Stéphane Gantiez, Jean-Brice Dugait, Andrew WhiteAge: 8+
Publisher: Stronghold GamesComplexity: 1.5 / 5

It was panic stations – everyone for themselves. Even though we had arrived on the island in groups, all of that went out of the window. If you saw a boat, you did all you could to get on it and sail away from the island. There was no time. Bit by bit, the island was sinking. Some poor souls jumped into the water in a desperate attempt to swim to the mainland, but they had to contend with sharks and sea monsters. Nowhere was really safe. All we could do was Survive: Escape from Atlantis by Stronghold Games.

It sounds terrifying and is almost as if you’re watching a disaster film – and it sort of is. In Survive, as I’m going to call this game for short, everyone has a group of people that are on an island that’s slowly sinking and it’s your job to get as many of your people to the mainland as possible. Your best bet is to reach a boat and steer it to safety, but you can also take your life into your own hands and try to swim across the sea, and more often than not, that’s your only option.

The island is made up of different terrain tiles, representing sand, jungle and hills, which in turn stands in for low ground, middle ground and high ground. The low ground is going to be near the sea and therefore likely to be near a boat. It’s prime land for your people to be, but it’s also the terrain that’s going to be swallowed up by water first.

The middle ground is a bit further away from the water, but there is usually time to race past other people and make it to the relative safety of a boat, even if you might have to wait a little longer to find your opportunity. At least, you’re not going to be one of the first to land in the water and have to fight off sharks and sea monsters with your bare hands – which is futile of course and you’ll die trying.

The hills are last to go, but they are also much further in the centre of the island, making it much harder to get to a boat early on. However, sometimes it’s worth waiting for longer, hoping that the early boats will be bait for the attacking sea creatures, leaving a clear path for you to make it to safety with your people.

It’s all pretty straightforward so far, but the game isn’t that simple. On your turn, you do decide which meeple to move across the island, or which boat to steer, assuming you have the most meeple on it, or even which of your swimming meeple to push one hex space towards safety – or away from danger. However, the other thing you do on your turn is decide which part of the island sinks next, thereby probably dropping someone into the water, maybe even summoning a shark that gobbles them up straight away. It can be brutal for another player, but feel great for yourself. Similarly, it feels great when you roll the dice that decides which sea creature you can move and get to push other people off a boat or even destroy them and the boat in one foul swoop.

It’s only when you realize that the next player will be able to do something very similar to you that it dawns that this is really a terrible thing. You suddenly regret that you killed one of your opponent’s meeples. When it’s that player’s turn, it’s like being in a horror film. You know that you definitely must not get into the water, because that’s where the shark will attack you, just for another player to pull the land tile from under your feet and drop you in at the deep end. All you can hope is that a boat will swoop by and save you or that you can somehow safely swim to shore, and therefore to safety, praying all the while that everyone is busy attacking the bigger targets and leaving you alone.

Survive is absolutely ruthless, because it is so high on player interaction. Everyone is literally out for themselves. However, at the same time, it’s a really good family game. Maybe it’s cathartic, because the grown-ups are no better off than the kids, or because you can finally let your anger out at your sibling, without it coming to physical fisticuffs. Having a shark gobble up another player’s swimmers is harsh, but also feels devilishly good, even though you know for certain that they will pay you back.

It’s this tit-for-tat that I think reduces the meanness of this game. It’s because everyone is expected to be mean to everyone else, it’s as if nobody is actually that mean to anyone. At the same time, you will make uncertain truces with other players, that are likely to fall apart as soon as you get your people to the shore of the mainland and send a sea monster to destroy the remaining people on the boat, along with the boat itself.

The game also really captures the feeling of panic. The meeple you place on the island at the beginning of the game have different point values. You are supposed to remember who is who, but in the general confusion of getting to shore, you quickly forget that your most valuable person is on a boat that’s currently being steered by another player and heading for certain doom. You try to remember where the next highest value meeple is, but will find it hard to keep track, as there is so much happening as another player takes their turn. By the time it gets round to you, chances are that all you can do is get at least one of your people to swim to safety.

Let me finish by saying that I always only played the game digitally, so I can’t attest to the quality of the components or how the experience changes when you remove physical island tiles and drop “real” meeples into the water, or have a shark meeple gobble up one of your opponent’s survivors. However, I can only imagine it heightens the experience even further, adding to the feeling of evil pleasure and sheer panic.

If you want a fun game that’s really easy to teach and has a huge amount of schadenfreude, then Survive is definitely for you.

Useful Links

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 (