Genotype: A Mendelian Genetics Game (Saturday Review)

Release Date: 2021Players: 1-5
Designer: John Coveyou, Paul Salomon, Ian ZangLength: 45-90 minutes
Artist: Tomasz Bogusz, Amelia SalesAge: 12+
Publisher: Genius GamesComplexity: 2.0 / 5

Progress was slow, but it was very satisfying seeing the little pea seedlings grow and then, eventually, flower before finally producing pods that slowly swelled up to bursting with new peas inside. We carefully crossed different plants in the hope that they would create new varieties and over time we were able to predict the height of the plant, its flower colour, the pod colour as well as whether the peas were smooth or wrinkly based on their parentage. We were finally ready to work out each plant’s Genotype by Genius Games.

The theme is wonderful. It’s the first game I have come across that puts the science of genetics at its heart, using Gregor Mendel‘s famous experiments with pea plants as its setting. The game even comes with a 12-page A4 booklet that explains the science and how it is represented in the game. So you’re encouraged to read and learn more about how the observation of the pea plants’ visible characteristics and how their change in the plants’ offspring, lead Gregor to think about the possibility that there are underlying characteristics, that we now call genes.

There are a lot of things in the game that you probably recall from school biology and that you can recognize as you play, even if the mechanisms of dice rolling, worker placement, resource management and everything else do abstract the science that they represent.

Each round in the game consists of exactly the same three phases, which wonderfully emulate Mendel‘s work of sowing peas, waiting for them to grow, then carefully crossing only specific plants, waiting for their fertilized flowers to mature into pods, before starting the whole process all over again. Each round feels like a gardener’s year.

At the same time, you also feel the limitations that Mendel had to work around. You start with only two plots for planting and only one plant to grow. There are also only five rounds in Genotype and to start with you only have three actions you can carry out per round. So you have to really make sure that every decision you make is the right one.

Of course, like in nature, there is also a lot of randomness. You are at the mercy of the pea plant cards available and they are cleared out and reset each round, so if you don’t grab the plant you need there and then, you won’t see it again. There are also dice in this game, which decide what traits on a plant in your plots you can cover up, which is the main aim in the game, because once you have covered up all traits, you score that card’s points.

However, none of the randomness feels like it’s taking over the gameplay. It feels more like the randomness in nature: you have to work with it and not against it. The randomness never really breaks your plans, but is more there to delay you and force you to think of alternative ways of achieving what you need – and there is usually another way of getting what you’re after.

Overall, Genotype is a lot more about tactics than an overall strategy, not only because of the changing cards available to you and the dice, but also because action spaces are mostly limited to one player or if they’re not limited, they get more expensive if you’re not the first to go there. So you are constantly forced to decide what to do first and what can wait until later.

At the same time though, there are a lot of action spaces to choose from. So the worker placement element in Genotype rarely stops you from being able to do what you need to do, but is more likely to delay you and force you to select a different option. Hence, it’s about tactics more than strategy, as I said – and it’s not really that high on player interaction for the same reason.

Despite all of these pressures of deciding what to do when, finding solutions to the problems the game presents to you and the player interaction that the worker placement slots create, Genotype actually feels quite gentle and slow. Each round you try and make your life a little easier, by adding more plots, hiring assistants or getting more actions, but there is no glasshouse or artificial light that allow you to go through generations of peas more quickly. There is no mechanisation either. So even though you get better at the process each round, it still feels like a manual process, just like it would have felt to Mendel.

I just wanted to point that out, because the game is a sort of engine builder, but the engine never really gets to run at peak performance – and even though this can seem like a bad thing, it’s actually very fitting for the setting. I actually think it’s wonderful that you don’t progress very much during the game, but then I’m a keen gardener and I know how much work you put into your garden or allotment each year and how little really improves. As a gardener, I enjoy the journey and cherish our harvest or the colourful blooms or their heavenly scent.

At the same time, I can see how it can be frustrating to someone who wants to build an engine and see it running at peak performance, at least for one round. So, don’t be disappointed when Genotype doesn’t deliver that. It stays true to its setting yet again.

Genotype plays relatively quickly, because of the round limitation and despite there being so many different options on your turn, you tend to decide what you want to do without too much thinking time. So, if you’re looking for a game that you can play as a family and that does a good job of teaching you about the beginnings of genetics, then I can highly recommend Genotype to 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 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.

Unboxing Video

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (

Istanbul: The Dice Game (Saturday Review)

Release Date: 2017Players: 2-4
Designer: Rüdiger DornLength: 15-30 minutes
Artist: Andreas ReschAge: 8+
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment GroupComplexity: 1.5 / 5

The bazaar was busy. Traders were displaying their colourful wares on their rickety stalls, shouting into the crowd how they offered the best prices and the best quality. It was mesmerizing to watch, but I had to focus and make sure I found the goods I needed to exchange for rubies. If I could get six rubies before everyone else, then I would be the best trader in Istanbul: The Dice Game by Alderac Entertainment Group.

If you have played Istanbul, the full worker placement game, which I haven’t, then you will probably feel right at home with this dice rolling variant. Your aim is to be the first player to collect a certain amount of rubies, based on player count, which sounds simple enough. It is certainly relatively simple to start with, but as the game continues, getting hold of a ruby gets harder and harder.

The whole game is based on rolling dice, as you can probably gather from the title, and using them to carry out up to two actions on your turn. You have to split the dice into at least two groups and depending on the action, you’re either trying to get several dice with the same result or sets of different dice. You won’t always be able to use all dice and sometimes you can apply the dice to only one action and have to forego the other, but pretty much always there is something you can do.

At the core, Istanbul: The Dice Game is an engine-building game, because even though it’s relatively easy to get hold of a ruby at the beginning of the game, you can’t just rely on the dice to give you what you need to add more rubies to your stash later in the game. You need to try and get extra dice or special tiles that give you extra powers or you need to try and store goods in the form of cards, so you can add them to your dice results to be able to trade the dice and the cards for one more ruby.

There is also a lot of player interaction in the game, not in the sense of being able to steal other players’ goods or bonus action tiles, but more in the sense of when one player trades in their dice and/or cards for a ruby, the next player now has to pay more dice and/or cards to get a ruby from the same space. It sort of emulates market forces, where goods become more valuable, the less there are available. So if you trade four pineapples for a ruby, the next player will have to pay five pineapples, the next six and so on.

There is also positive player interaction in Istanbul: The Dice Game. If you draw an action card, other players usually also get a bonus, not just you, but of course, you get a better bonus than everyone else. I think that’s a nice touch and this deck adds to the randomness of the game.

In fact, there is a lot of randomness in the game and even though I appreciate that you’re heavily reliant on your dice rolling luck, you also have to be clever about when to use the dice to improve your engine and maybe forego an action and when to maybe take two less powerful actions instead. It’s all about tactics and making the best of your dice results every turn to stay in the game.

The advantage of everyone rolling dice and all the other randomness is, of course, that over time, the levels of luck will even out and throughout the game it’s rare that one player is way ahead of everyone else. On average, players are maybe one or two rubies apart, but there is always a really good chance to catch up again.

Istanbul: The Dice Game also plays very quickly and is pretty easy to learn. We learned it one afternoon in a games cafe and played it several times. It took us maybe one game to fully understand all the different actions and how the dice worked, but after that, we whizzed through game after game. It’s really addictive to play, probably due to the dice rolling and other luck elements, and everyone won at least one game, making it a very fun experience overall.

So, if you’re looking for a quick game with lots of luck, but also a good amount of tactics, which keeps you thinking but isn’t too overwhelming, then Istanbul: The Dice Game will not disappoint.

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 this game in a board game cafe.
  • 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 (

Board game trailers (Topic Discussion)

We’re used to seeing epic movie-style trailers for video games. They feel like million-pound productions that were directed by a famous Hollywood director with a cast of blockbuster actors. Of course, these are all animated sequences, often showing in-game footage, which makes sense, because modern 3D video games look very realistic and are often set in an epic conflict of some sort. Board games are a bit different though, but because CGI and 3D animation have become so highly accessible these days, many crowdfunding campaigns and some board game marketing campaigns feature these amazing looking videos.

The first and, at least to me, most impressive board game trailer is for the collectable card game Magic: The Gathering. In fact, there are several trailers for this game, which is no surprise when you think about the behemoth that is Wizards of the Coast that sits behind this product – and behind it sits Hasbro, of course. So the budget isn’t particularly tight for Magic‘s marketing team I would have thought. However, I find the animation, music, short story and everything else that has gone into producing these trailers still amazing and the resulting videos are some of my favourites.

If you have a look through Kickstarter campaigns in our hobby, you will find many trailers at the top of the page that aren’t merely an overview of the gameplay, but are almost Hollywood style short films.

Shasn: Azadi

The video for Shasn: Azadi is at the top of my list here. Its production quality is outstanding. The script, the set and the acting are really powerful and you just can’t look away. After the introduction, the video is more like a traditional campaign trailer, outlining the gameplay and showing 3D rendered versions of the components of the game. However, even that part is amazing, using cartoon-style animations and a kicking soundtrack to keep your attention.

It gets even better, because this is actually the second game in the Shasn series. The trailer for the first is even more like a movie trailer. The production quality for this is even higher and there is a much longer introduction that’s like a short film, before it switches and shows you the game itself. It’s absolutely amazing. It surprises me that these two games didn’t get more attention.

Thunder Road: Vendetta

Thunder Road: Vendetta, which was cancelled, has a cartoon-style animation which is wonderful and very quickly gives you an idea of what the game is about. Unsettled‘s campaign video explains the game by taking the in-game events into the real world. The players become the characters in the game and as you watch the video, you immediately understand what this game is about as the players re-enact what they encounter in the game. It’s like watching a short play in a theatre.

Solar Sphere

Solar Sphere‘s trailer is more like a traditional campaign video, giving you an outline of the setting and background story in a cinematic-style introduction, followed by an overview of the game itself. The video for Lunar Base is also a mix of short film and game overview, but rather than doing the usual overhead view of the game board and components, the characters in the film play the game as part of the storyline. It’s a lovely little twist and makes the video a lot more enjoyable to watch. No wonder the game did so well.

Circadians: Chaos Order

Even though the campaign video for Circadians: Chaos Order is more of a slideshow than a short film, it still feels like a movie trailer. The music, the narrator’s voice and the amazing art are epic and really draw you into the world the game is set in.

It’s great to see so much creativity and effort being put into these videos. The board game hobby has come on in leaps and bounds and not only are the games themselves becoming better and better, but their marketing is levelling up too. Of course, seeing more glitzy and high production quality videos is also a reflection of the hype that some games in our hobby receive. A great video alone doesn’t guarantee a great game, just like high-quality components don’t. Yet, when everything comes together in the right way, it’s amazing to see and I’m glad that our hobby is going in the direction it is going.

Useful Links

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (

Dune: A Game of Conquest and Diplomacy (Digital Eyes)

Release Date: 2021Players: 2-4
Designer: Bill Eberle, Jack Kittredge, Peter Olotka, Greg Olotka, Jack RedaLength: 30-60 minutes
Artist: Casey DaviesAge: 12+
Publisher: Gale Force NineComplexity: 3.0 / 5
Plastic to Non-Plastic: n/aAir to Components: n/a

Spice, the final frontier. These are the adventures of the Houses Atreides and Harkonnen and the Imperium their five-round mission to explore Arrakis, to seek out new territories and new Spice Blows, to boldly go where no Fremen has gone before. This is Dune: A Game of Conquest and Diplomacy by Bill Eberle, Jack Kittredge, Peter Olotka, Greg Olotka and Jack Reda from Gale Force Nine.

Forgive me for using the very popular introduction to a now-classic 1960s science-fiction TV series to set the scene for this re-make of a re-make by Gale Force Nine of the 1979 epic game Dune from Avalon Hill. I just couldn’t resist using the famous prologue of a long-standing TV and film franchise that has survived several decades, reinventing itself multiple times to try and keep with the times, and apply it to a game that itself was reinvented a couple of times and whose story is based on a book that was adapted for TV and film, most recently for an epic two-part film, the first of which was released in 2021 and which is a great spectacle that fans of the books and lovers of great cinema absolutely lapped up the last drop of.

Gale Force Nine followed Hollywood’s example, but instead of creating a two-part film, they first remade the original 1979 game Dune from Avalon Hill into a much more streamlined version of the game which they released in 2019, forty years after its original release. That version of Dune by Bill Eberle, Jack Kittredge and Peter Olotka is amazing and I reviewed it a couple of years ago. It’s epic, like the book and the films. You can feel the sand under your feet and smell the Spice as you play it.

However, the designers clearly felt there was more they could do to make the game even more streamlined while keeping its essence. So instead of a 1 to 2-hour game, we now have a 30 to 60-minute game, which means it will appeal to a different audience. I reckon there are more people in the hobby who are happy to sit down for a 1-hour game than there are people who love 2-hour games – but I might be wrong.

In any case, Dune: A Game of Conquest and Diplomacy or Dune 2021, as I will call it from here on in, is basically the same Dune from 2019, but with all the complexity removed so that you can play it in half the time. Not only that, teaching it is a lot easier, not only because people are happier to give it a go because it is a quicker game, but also because the rules are actually a lot simpler.

The bidding phase from the 2019 version, where you blindly bid on a card that might be absolutely game-changing or could be completely useless, is gone. Movement is a lot simpler, because there are no ornithopters: everyone just moves a fixed number of territories. Battle is also a lot simpler and actually really sleek, while keeping the 2019’s mechanisms of battle strength, leaders, weapons, shields and, of course, traitors.

The game length is now also compressed from 10 to 5 rounds – or should I say, a maximum of 10 rounds down to a maximum of 5. Even though you can still win by holding a certain number of strongholds, the focus really is much more on collecting as much Spice as possible and being the richest at the end of the game. It is rare that a player can control three strongholds until the end of a round. Other players will swoop in and flush them out to prevent a victory, after which the player who was hoping for a military win will be in too weak a position to have any chance of coming back.

So the pace in Dune 2021 is really fast and you have to really get a move on: blink and you’ll miss the game. At least that’s how it feels for me who has played the 2019 version a lot and enjoys the long, drawn-out game where you slowly build up control and carefully advance into new territories. However, the quicker game is really appealing to people who are put off by longer games. As a friend of mine put it: Dune 2021 is the game to get people started on before tempting them with the longer and more involved 2019 version. So, owning both copies can be a good choice, if you can afford it, and you may be able to convert your games group to enjoying longer, more complex games.

Dune 2021 is quite a different beast and even though the essence of the 2019, and consequently 1979, version is there, it does feel really different. At no point did I feel grains of sand in my mouth nor did my nostrils fill with the sickly sweet scent of Spice. It was very much about dropping troops, heading towards the nearest Spice Blows, killing your opponents in the process and harvesting as much as possible. It was a lot more about battle and market cards.

There is no strategy to worry about and while the 2019 version of Dune is also quite heavy on the tactics front, the 2021 game really puts the focus on putting out fires and responding to the situation on the board when it’s your turn. There is no planning really, but even more crucially, there is no diplomacy at all, even though the game mentions it in its name – and that’s probably what I miss the most in the latest version of the game.

I really enjoyed all the subtleties in the 2019 Dune, how some factions have access to certain information that other factions don’t and how the rules even say that one faction can take notes and make the most of the information they gather, while the other factions aren’t allowed to write anything down. Additionally, being able to form an alliance with another faction and be able to use some of their special powers adds another really exciting level to the 2019 game that makes for uneasy pacts that both sides know will eventually be broken, because ultimately, there can only be one winner.

One last thing to note: I only played Dune: A Game of Conquest and Diplomacy in digital format. A friend of mine has the physical copy, but I’ve not seen that yet. So this review focuses purely on the gameplay and not the components, table presence or anything else that a physical board game has to offer. I also found it hard to play online, because the cards have a lot of text on them, which isn’t easy to read on a computer screen. However, if you have the physical game, you will find it a lot easier and I don’t think it will be a real problem.

So Dune: A Game of Conquest and Diplomacy will appeal to people who want to play a game set on Arrakis and whose artwork is taken from the latest film and who want something quick and… well… dirty. Just don’t expect any diplomacy and instead prepare yourself for brutal conquest.

However, for me, the 2019 Dune is still my favourite and even though I’ll always be happy to try the 2021 game, if I have the choice, the earlier Dune is what I will always choose. I just need the extra depth that the element of information gathering and brokering presents.

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 (
Second Intro Music: Theme from Star Trek by Alexander Courage

Root: A Game of Woodland Might and Right (Saturday Review)

Release Date: 2018Players: 2-4
Designer: Cole WehrleLength: 60-90 minutes
Artist: Kyle FerrinAge: 12+
Publisher: Leder GamesComplexity: 3.5 / 5
Plastic to Non-Plastic: unknownAir to Components: unknown

It was quiet in the deep, dark wood. Everything was still and nothing stirred – but everyone was ready. The cats had taken up their position in every clearing, six birds were waiting patiently by their roost in one corner of the forest, the racoon had taken cover deep in the woods and the crows were biding their time in a handful of clearings of their choice. The moment was near. It was time to decide who was the best animal in the woodland, who was the Root by Cole Wehrle from Leder Games.

I previously reviewed Root in digital format, when my games group was unable to meet in person, but now I have finally been able to play the physical version of this game, thanks to a friend of mine who has bought the base game, plus pretty much every expansion you can get for this great asymmetrical, area control, hand management, set collection, programming kind of a game.

Yes, Root is very hard to put into a pigeon hole, not because pigeons aren’t currently a faction in the game, but due to the fact that every faction does things quite a bit different to every other faction. Sure, everyone plays on the same map, everyone tries to get to 30 points first, everyone draws from the same deck of cards and everyone has wooden and cardboard tokens to manage, but how all of these are used and what they can do is vastly different for everyone.

So yes, Root can feel very much as if it is mostly a programming game if you play the Eyrie Dynasties, it can feel like an area control game if you play one of the factions that want to place their buildings on the map, it can feel like a set collection game if you’re playing the Vagabond and for everyone, there is a good amount of hand management involved too. It sounds confusing, but it is absolutely glorious!

Learning Root can be a bit tricky, but consider downloading the digital version and playing its tutorials. That’s the best way to learn the game, in my view, if you have nobody to teach you. However, if you already know the rules, then introducing someone to Root isn’t too much of an issue, because every faction’s player board has the setup printed on its back, alongside an outline of what the faction does, and then the front of every faction board describes in enough detail what you can do and in what order. You basically read what it says and then do what you can do and what feels right. After a handful of turns and with a little help from the rules teacher, everything will make sense.

For someone who has played the digital version a lot, seeing all the rules for your faction clearly printed on your player mat is also a godsend, of course. It can be quite daunting trying to work out what you can and can’t do on your turn, if you’ve always relied on the computer to tell you your possible options, but there is nothing to worry about when you play the physical game. As I say, just read what it says on your board and you will be absolutely fine. It’s all there, from the different phases to how many cards you need to discard down to at the end of your turn and everything else.

Another reason that makes Root easier to learn for new players is that there are so many factions. The base game comes with four and there are plenty of expansions that add many more. So it shouldn’t be too much of a problem to find a faction that suits a player’s style, which makes it easier for them to learn how to play and which will make the whole playing experience a lot more enjoyable.

So, growing your Root fan club shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

Root cards and player board

The physical components in Root are absolutely wonderful, of course. All the components are high quality, from the super thick game board and player mats, the thick cardboard tokens, the wonderful stock for the cards, to the wooden custom animal warrior meeples and the super chunky dice. It looks great on the table and nothing feels fiddly or cumbersome. It’s a pleasure to plonk your warriors on the board and move them around. Holding the cards in your hand is really enjoyable too.

My friend, whose copy we played, also bought the card sleeves, which have a custom printed back, which makes them all look very appealing. Personally, I prefer to play without sleeves, but if you want to protect your financial investment in this game, then protecting the cards does make sense, of course.

Something that you don’t notice in the digital game, but that feels really horrid, is that the battle dice are rolled by the attacker. The defender will not get the satisfaction of rolling a dice, which makes sense, because the attacker gets the higher result, in most cases anyway, so they should roll both dice. It’s a little thing, but I think it’s so fitting that the defender just sits there, hoping that the attacker has bad dice rolling luck. Other than playing an ambush card, there isn’t really anything else you can do as the defender. It’s perfect!

Another thing I think is worth pointing out, and that’s not limited to the physical version of the game, is the fact that Root can feel like a multiplayer solitaire game, because everyone is occupied with working out what their faction has to do to win. It’s only halfway through a game that you start to look at others and then start to try and stop the faction in the lead from winning. Of course, once you’ve played your faction a few times, when it has become almost second nature, the meta of the game develops and you will focus more on what others are doing and how they’re scoring points.

However, even when you lose by a mile, which you usually don’t in Root, you don’t mind, as long as you feel you’ve done the best you can with your faction. The multiplayer solitaire feeling helps with this. You can focus on your faction and try and play it better than you did before and as long as you do that, you have a really good experience and will enjoy the game, irrespective of how many points you have gained.

Generally speaking though, Root is the sort of game that gets better, the more you play it and as so often with these types of games, I strongly advise you play the same faction a few times back-to-back, so you get used to it. Only then change to another and try and learn that. That way you can help anyone who plays your faction after you and give them tips. It’s a great way of learning the game together and exploring the factions.

Of course, if you do get bored with the base factions, which will probably be many dozens of plays later, there are many expansions that add a lot of interesting new animals to the woodlands which will keep your interest going for a very long time to come.

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 (

A game about quickly grabbing creatures that are totally different & counting your beetroots (Saturday Review)

Release Date: 2021Players: 2-3 (per pack)
Designer: Andrew Beardsley, Behrooz ShahriariLength: around 5 minutes
Artist: Behrooz ShahriariAge: 12+
Publisher: Stuff By BezComplexity: 1.5 / 5
Plastic to Non-Plastic: <1% (by weight)Air to Components: <1% (by volume)

Shuffle your deck of creature and vegetable cards, put the pile facedown on the table and spread the cards out, so everyone can reach them and after explaining a handful of rules, you’re ready to play A game about quickly grabbing creatures that are totally different & counting your beetroots by Andrew Beardsley and Behrooz Shahriari from Stuff By Bez.

Yes, it really is that simple. The rules are also very simple, taking less than a minute to explain. Everyone basically picks up a card with one hand and either adds it to their deck of cards that they hold in the other hand or they put the card back onto the table, leaving it faceup.

When you add a card to your deck, make sure it doesn’t match the previous card in any way. The majority of cards are creatures with a combination of different numbers of eyes, arms and legs. So putting a creature with four arms on top of a creature that also has four arms isn’t allowed, even if the two creatures have a different number of eyes and legs. As long as all three, the number of eyes, arms and legs, are different, you’re allowed to add the card though.

Vegetables, in this case beetroot, are like wildcards and can always be added to your deck, unless the top card on your deck is a beetroot. You are also limited to no more than five beetroot in your deck.

If you don’t want to add the card to your deck, because it has matching features, then you just place it faceup back on the table, at which point the card becomes available to everyone again. So it’s possible you give someone else a card that they desperately needed, or you might be lucky and you can add the card to your deck a little later, when you’ve found a creature that you can add to your deck for example.

The game ends when everyone has stopped taking cards – and everyone can decide for themselves when they want to stop. Of course, you want to keep taking cards while you can, because the person with the most cards in their deck wins – provided their deck doesn’t have two creatures next to each other with the same number of eyes, arms or legs and also don’t have two beetroots next to each other.

Actually, that’s not quite true. Everyone who didn’t mess up their deck wins, but the person with the most cards wins more than those who have fewer correct cards in their deck. So, everyone wins, but only one person wins the most. We’re all winners!

Yes, it’s all really simple – yet, it’s also really difficult. The number of times I was sure my deck was flawless, but it turned out that I had not one wrong pairing of creatures, but two, in my deck, is crazy. After all, you’re going as quickly as you possibly can and after a while, you can’t see the wood for the trees – or more to the point, the legs for the arms or the eyes for legs or… well, you get the idea.

As you can imagine, the whole game is a lot of franticness, grabbing cards, checking them, putting them back, taking another card and so on. You need to also keep an eye out for cards that other players have put back faceup, because one of them might be exactly the card you need to continue your deck, without having to rely on beetroot.

If you’ve ever played a game from Stuff By Bez, then you know how wonderfully imaginative the games are and how much love and positivity has gone into them. A game about quickly grabbing creatures that are totally different & counting your beetroots is no different of course. The illustrations are wonderful and the fact that this game is basically a deck of cards, its price is set accordingly. It’s really affordable. It also means it’s easy to take with you and play while you’re out and about, as long as you have an average size table, it’s dry and it’s not too windy. As you probably know, I love games that are easy to carry, easy to explain, quick to play and a lot of fun and this game ticks all of those boxes.

The best thing about A game about quickly grabbing creatures that are totally different & counting your beetroots is that you can mix multiple decks together if you want to play the game with more than 3 players. Alternatively, if you want a longer 2-3 player experience, then mixing two decks together is also an option. It’s really up to you how many cards you think you can shuffle, how big your table is and how many cards you can comfortably hold in your hand.

So, I can only say good things about this wonderful game from Stuff By Bez. Get yourself a copy and let the craziness ensue.

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 (

Board game relief (Topic Discussion)

Hobbies are known to be a way to reduce stress and can improve feelings of anxiety and depression. Board games are, of course, no different. In this article, I want to look at how playing board games can help your mental health.


Let’s look at solo games first of all. Very much like the classic game of patience, many modern solo games can give people some “me” time, during which they can focus their mind on solving the puzzle that the game presents them with. Solo games, like other games, will occupy your mind to a lesser or larger extent. So there will be a solo game that gives you just the right level of challenge that you need. After all, sometimes your brain is already overwhelmed and for those times the perfect game will be something light, maybe something visually engaging, where you don’t have to think too much, but your focus is still kept on the game.

Generally, all games can also give you a sense of achievement, which is probably more pronounced in solo games, because it’s just you against the game, but multiplayer games can also give players the feeling that they’ve really had an effect on something and that their actions and decisions led to a positive outcome. It’s not even all about winning, but could be a matter of improving on your previous score, discovering an interesting strategy or something similar that lets you feel that you’ve really achieved something.

The Social Aspect

Board games can also offer a social aspect. Sharing your problems and worries with others is often really helpful and board games can give you an excuse to meet up with friends and they can be the catalyst for conversation, not just about the game itself, but because everyone is probably relaxed, it will be easier for you to openly share your thoughts with the group.

Other times, you don’t really want to talk, at least not about your problems. You just want to spend time with friends. You want to talk to them to distract yourself from your day-to-day worries. The game itself might become just a background to having fun and being silly with the people around you. The game can also become the focal point and lead to really exciting moments or real hard laughter. It basically becomes a form of escapism.

There is another social aspect to board games, which Tabletop_creature from Twitter shared with me. They said “joining a playtesting boardgame group really helped me to find new friends and going to these sessions has become a permanent fixture in my life.” OK, maybe you’re not a board game designer yourself, but I think joining a board game club can also be a really great way to use board games to deal with stress and anxiety.

Board games and mental health (Photo by Big Potato on Unsplash)
(Photo by Big Potato on Unsplash)

On the one hand, you have the social aspect, that either allows you to switch off from your worries and just have fun with like-minded people for an hour or two. On the other hand, being part of a board game club also gives you something to look forward to every week or every month or however often the club meets. That’s also true for regular game nights with friends, of course. Knowing that you will have a fun-filled evening ever so often can really help manage your stress or anxiety, because you have something to look forward to. You know that you will have fun again soon and you can put your feelings of stress and anxiety into perspective.

Ask for Help with Mental Health

Of course, board games can’t always help with stress, anxiety or depression. If you’re struggling to cope and things you tried yourself aren’t working, please reach out to a medical professional who will be able to advise you further. Your mental health is as important as your physical health and you’re never alone – help is always at hand.

How About You?

So, have you found that board games help you with stress or anxiety? If so, in what way? Are they a stress relief for you? Do they allow you to escape into another world far away from your day-to-day? Is it the social side that board games give you? Do you play solo games that allow you to focus on something else for a while? Please share your thoughts in the comments below. It would be wonderful to hear what board games offer you.

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Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (

A game about stuffing balloons as a team, without talking. But it’s a card game – there are no actual balloons (Saturday Review)

Release Date: 2022Players: 2-5
Designer: Bez ShahriariLength: 5-15 minutes
Artist: Bez ShahriariAge: 8+
Publisher: Stuff by BezComplexity: 1.0 / 5
Plastic to Non-Plastic: <1%Air to Components: <1%

I thought long and hard about how to start this review. Usually, the introductory paragraph of my reviews is like a short story, setting the scene of the game and the experience you’re likely to get. I finish by linking back to the title of the game, making it part of the short story. Yet, for this game, its name is a little short story in itself. So I might as well just go straight to the title. Here goes… In this review, I look at A game about stuffing balloons as a team, without talking. But it’s a card game – there are no actual balloons by Bez Shahriari from Stuff by Bez.

There you go. The title tells you what the game is about. That’s not unusual for Stuff by Bez. Most of their games have names that outline what they’re about. It makes them a bit of a mouthful to talk about, but it certainly helps convey the gameplay.

So in A game about stuffing balloons, as I’ll call it from here on in, you work together to stuff balloons. Everyone gets a deck of cards, representing a different creature who helps to stuff those balloons. The decks are functionally the same, so what creature you choose for yourself is purely about which one you like best or maybe your favourite colour.

Every card has two numbers, a weight and a spikiness value, and shows the item you’re trying to stuff into the balloon. It could be a small game, which isn’t heavy and not spiky. It could be pins, which are very spikey while being light. Bubblewrap has a negative spikiness value and is very light, allowing you to counter the spikiness of pins.

Stuff those Balloons

At the beginning, everyone shuffles their deck and draws four cards to form your starting hand. The game is played in rounds. In the first round, you’re trying to stuff one balloon, in the second round two balloons and so on.

There is no turn order in A game about stuffing balloons. You play your card when you’re ready. In the first round, if it’s the first card played, then you play it face up. After that, all cards are played face down. That means nobody can be sure what others may be playing. If you have bubblewrap, you might want to counter someone else’s pins, but nobody is allowed to talk. So it’s possible that you play your bubblewrap face down, but nobody plays any pins, wasting your bubblewrap.

After everyone has played a card, all cards are flipped face up and the spikiness values and weight values are added together. If the spikiness and weight values each are no higher than the number of players, then the balloon is safe and counts as a point. If one of the values is too high, the balloon pops and you don’t get any points for it.

an example card from "A game about stuffing balloons"
an example card from “A game about stuffing balloons” (Photo by Bez Shahriari)

Then everyone draws back up to four cards again and a new round begins. In the second round, the first two cards played are face up, representing the beginning of two separate balloons. In the third round, it’s three cards for three balloons and so on. You can see that this can become quite hard, quite quickly.

Do Mind Me

As nobody is allowed to talk, you have to try and somehow communicate to your fellow players what cards you’re playing. You all work together, so if you have a card with pins on it, you would love someone else to play their bubblewrap, for example. A bit like in The Mind, your group will start to develop a way of working out what the others are thinking. You’ll slowly start to sync your minds and guess when it’s time to play a light card that has a negative spikiness value or if it’s safe to play a heavy item.

A game about stuffing balloons is also a little bit chaotic, because there is no turn order, but in a good way. It takes a little encouragement to get people out of the habit of waiting for their turn, but it doesn’t take long. Once everyone gets it, everyone will just chip in when they’re ready and think they’ve sussed which card is the best one to play onto which balloon.

examples of most of the cards
there are lots of different cards in the game (Photo by Bez Shahriari)

Balloons for all Ages

The rules are so simple, the game is just a deck of cards and it’s over so quickly that it’s great to take with you anywhere you go. It’s a game for all ages. Younger players can practice arithmetic, provided they have learned about negative numbers, of course. Older players will love trying to work out what others are thinking and which card to play.

The illustrations are wonderfully crazy and colourful. Bez‘s creativity definitely shows through and invites you to give the game a go. It’s just glorious.

So, if you want a quick game, that’s easy to teach and easy to carry with you, then A game about stuffing balloons is one you should take a look at.

Game Overview

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 (

Enough is enough – minimum board game review requirements (Topic Discussion)

Reviewing board games is something I take quite seriously. It’s important to me that people reading my reviews know that what they read are my own, independent thoughts. I also want to ensure that my views properly reflect my experience of a game. I want my reviews to be relatively thorough and a fair assessment of the game. In this article, I want to look at how often I feel I need to have played a game before I’m ready to review it.

It is clear that every reviewer approaches their articles in their own way. Some people think it’s important to talk about a game’s rules, components, player count, game length and other statistics. As I wrote in my previous article Reviewing games – the importance of gameplay experience, my reviews focus on my experience when playing the game. I want to convey how the game made me and the people around the table feel. At the end of the day though, it doesn’t really matter how you write a board game review. What does matter is how well you know the game when you write about it – and that is partly based on how many times you’ve played it.

As you can imagine, there is no specific number of plays that’s correct for every game.


As a rule of thumb, a game that is light on complexity will need to be played less often than a game that is very complex. The reason is that when playing lighter games, it will become clear very quickly what the game is about, how it works and how it makes you feel. Lighter games tend to behave very much the same even after many plays. Sure, there will be replayability, usually in the form of some randomness, but overall the game will not be much different the 100th time round from how it was the first time you played it.

Let’s take Yahtzee as a rather simple example. You probably only need to play it once or twice to really understand what it’s about. Maybe you want to play it a few more times to see what it’s like when people get a Yahtzee and therefore win – or when someone else beats them despite them getting such a large bonus. Ultimately though, I do think we all agree that playing it for 100th time feels pretty much the same as it felt when we played it the 1st time.

hand rolling dice (Photo by hidde schalm on Unsplash)
(Photo by hidde schalm on Unsplash)

If anything, lighter games lose a fair bit of interest, the more you play them. At the same time, these are the sort of games that become evergreens. You play them a few times, put them away for a bit and then take them out again and play them again.

From a review perspective though, you don’t need to play less complex games a lot to have enough information for your article.

Rules Overhead

Similarly, a game with a lot of rules will need to be played more often than a game with fewer rules or less housekeeping or fewer other things that make a game harder to learn. In this case, it’s more about ensuring that you have played the game without making rules mistakes. No reviewer wants to write an article that is based on playing the game wrong. If you don’t play a game as it was intended by the designer(s), then your review will be skewed one way or the other: it’ll be better or worse than it would have been if you’d played the game correctly.

Of course, having lots of rules or long, complicated turn structures or lots of upkeep every turn or other things that make a game harder to learn is also a form of complexity. However, this form of complexity is more about making a game hard to learn. It’s not the complexity that leads to giving players lots of different choices to make on their turn.

When you review a game that is difficult to learn, you immediately know that you probably need to play it half a dozen times before you can be sure you got it right. Sometimes you’re lucky and you get it right in your second game and if the game isn’t too complex otherwise, you might be ready to write your review. In general though, chances are you need to play it a few more times.


Games that are deep will definitely need to be played a lot more than those without much depth. Deep games aren’t necessarily complex or have lots of rules overhead. They may be really easy to learn. They may have only one or two rules. Players may not even have a lot of choices on their turn. Instead, it’s the decision tree that opens up when a player evaluates one of their choices against the opponent’s possible responses and then their counters to the opponent’s responses and so on.

Let’s take draughts as an example. The rules are pretty simple, even though there are plenty of regional variants. On your turn, you immediately know your options. What you need to think about though is what your best option is. To decide that, you need to think about how your opponent is likely to respond and then look at how you would respond to that and so on.

At the beginning of the game, the white player has 7 possible moves. The black player can then also respond with 7 moves. That alone gives you 49 possible board states in just two turns. That shows you how much depth there is in draughts.

a board of draughts (Photo by Leonard Reese on Unsplash)
(Photo by Leonard Reese on Unsplash)

So if you want to write a board game review about a game with a lot of depth, you will have to play it quite a bit. The deeper a game, the more often you need to play it. Luckily, a lot of board games aren’t actually that deep. Sure, a game like Brass: Birmingham is pretty deep. There are a lot of possible ways that you can start the game and there are even more ways in which other players can respond to your opening move.

Strategy Guides

In reality though, when I write a board game review about a deep game, I don’t intend to write a strategy guide. In fact, I think I’d be the worst person to write strategy guides. I usually don’t have the insight needed for that sort of thing. However, I can still thoroughly review a board game that’s quite deep without having to play it dozens of times and exploring all the possible strategies or opening moves.

As long as my review explains that the game has a lot of depth and is therefore likely to still be challenging when you have played it many, many times, then my review will be thorough and fair. I don’t think anyone expects my reviews to explain how to play a game or what strategy to follow. Readers want to know if the game is for them. Just saying that a game is deep may be enough for some readers to know that it’s for them.

It is important however, that my review points out if a game is broken. By that I mean, if a game has a specific strategy, tactic or faction that will guarantee a win 99% of the time. At the same time though, there are games where you will most definitely lose if you don’t make the right decisions on your first and second turns. These games may feel broken, but are intentionally made this way. You have to learn what these mistakes are and then you will succeed. It’s a bit like chess where some openings are known to be inferior and most likely lead to a loss.

What About You?

Now I want to know what you think. Do you expect reviewers to have played a game a certain number of times before they’re ready to review it? How would you decide when you’ve played a game often enough to be able to write about it? Do you think it’s enough to sometimes play a game only once or twice? Is there a minimum number of plays in your view? As always, please share your thoughts in the comments below. It’d be interesting to hear what you think.

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Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (
Main Music: Namaste by Audionautix is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.

Uncertain death – end game triggers (Topic Discussion)

It’s always interesting to see how different games decide when they end. There are so many different ways of ending a game. Some games are played over a fixed number of rounds and others end when a certain goal or goals are achieved. There are also games that have a slightly more random timer. What happens when a game ends is also not always the same. In some games, all players get one more turn or the current round is played out. Other games end immediately and nobody gets another chance. In this article, I want to look at how all of these different endings create different player experiences.

Fixed Number of Rounds

Let’s look at games where the end of the game is triggered after a fixed number of rounds. In these games, everyone will get the same number of turns. Just think of games such as Sagrada or Aquamarine. Nobody can complain that they didn’t see the end coming, especially not if there is a clear round tracker. Everyone should be able to map out how many actions they have and roughly plan what they’ll be able to do from start to finish. I know, most games don’t allow you to plan everything in detail, but at least you do get a sense of what might be possible.

That’s especially useful when you know how many points you’re likely to get from which parts of the game. It also helps if you have a sense of the number of points you’ll have at game end. Dividing the potential points total by the number of rounds or actions gives you a useful average to aim for. It also allows you to track your progress during the game. You will roughly know if you’re ahead or falling behind.

Sagrada's translucent, colourful dice on the player board (photo courtesy of Floodgate Games)
Sagrada’s translucent dice look amazing (photo courtesy of Floodgate Games)

So games that end after a fixed number of rounds are pretty predictable and predictability creates a sense of comfort. It’s the unknown people don’t tend to like. As a player, you will know how much longer you have to endure this game, if you don’t get on with it, or how little time you have left to win. On the whole, games with a fixed number of rounds allow you to plan better. They therefore tend to feel more enjoyable.

Goals and Objectives

Games that don’t have a fixed number of rounds, but that end when one or more objectives are met, either by a single player or several of them, are a lot less predictable. Games with these sorts of end game triggers include Undaunted: Normandy and Adventure Games: The Dungeon.

However, there is still usually a way of working out how close you are to the end of the game. Often you will be able to tell how close to completing a goal players are. So you still get a sense of how much time there is likely left.

There is still more of a sense of surprise when a player, whose goal seemed to be way off completing, pulls off an amazing combo and suddenly finishes the game. Your hope of getting two or three more turns to finish your own goal is dashed. All you can do is try to get as many points as possible to pull into second place.

That level of uncertainty creates excitement and tension. When the tension is suddenly released, it usually creates strong emotions. When everyone is on the edge of their seat and itching to take their turn to finish the game, but someone else gets there first, it’s just glorious. Usually, it creates feelings of joy and happiness, but of course, it can also turn into disappointment. I hope as adults we’ve learned to deal with it, especially in the context of board games.

Random Timers

Some games don’t have a fixed number of rounds, but also no specific objectives. Instead, there is some sort of timer. It might be a deck of cards, where the bottom so many cards contain an end-game trigger at a randomly shuffled position, like in Dominant Species: Marine. Timed games give you a rough idea of when the game is likely to end, but you can never be sure.

When these games end, there will be a similar sense of happiness or disappointment, as there is in objective games. The main difference is that nobody will ever get a sense of how close they are to finishing the game. Instead, everyone will hope that the game continues just one more round. Everyone just wants to complete their plans and score a few more points that might clinch victory.

Finishing the Round

Irrespective of how end game triggers are decided, there is then still the question of whether the game ends immediately or if the round is finished – or if every player gets one more turn.

If you finish the round or everyone gets more turn, you tend to feel like you at least have another chance at getting a few more points to get to second place. The game sort of gives you a second chance. Some games even have the option of you winning, if you get the most point. You don’t necessarily win just because you’re the first to finish.

All of these things give you a sense of control. You don’t feel cheated out of victory. You don’t feel like you were unable to see through your plan.

That’s opposed to games that end immediately, like Scythe. Most people think that this sort of ending is unfair. You want to be able to at least have one more turn, just so that you can carry out the actions you had planned for so long and get the points you think you deserve.


Games that end immediately create a sense of resentment and I’ve heard quite often how games groups houserule them to allow everyone on more turn. I think games that end immediately are absolutely fine. As long as you know that’s what happens from the start, you can plan for them.

What About You?

As you can see, there are many different ways a game can end. End game triggers vary quite a bit and create quite different gameplay experiences. What do you think about the way games end? How do you feel about different end game triggers? Do you hate it when a game ends suddenly and unexpectedly? Maybe you feel you deserve one more turn? Do you like games that have a fixed number of rounds? As always, please share your thoughts in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.

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Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (

The following music was used for this media project:
Music: Silent Alpha by MusicParadise
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