If I started another blog, it would be about film. I have been a cinephile my whole life. I grew up on It’s a Wonderful Life, musicals, Charlie Chaplin, Star Wars, and smaller independent productions like The Bear & Duel (Spielberg’s first). Then, when I was a little older, I remember when Blockbuster would have the summer deal where you could rent as much as you wanted with just a small monthly fee and I fell in love with 70s cinema like Dirty Harry, The French Connection, Dog Day Afternoon, and THX 1138. I also developed a love for horror as I continued to branch out. Classic horror is nearly synonymous with Universal Studios’ iconic monsters. It won’t be long until films like Dracula, The Wolf Man, and Frankenstein are a century old, but their staying-power is a testament to how their archetypes & legendary themes still resonate so expressly today.
Horrified is a game from Ravensburger, designed by Prospero Hall, that is inspired by these classic Universal monsters. The movies are characterized by great atmosphere, very memorable characters, and excellent musical scores, so it was important to capture the strong themes in this game, and I think it succeeds.
In Horrified, you play townsfolk who must defeat monsters that are roaming the nearby streets & locations. It is a cooperative experience, so everyone will either win or lose together. The 7 monsters that you may encounter are:
Bride of Frankenstein
The Invisible Man
Creature from the Black Lagoon
Each monster behaves differently and must be defeated in a unique way. The objective and tasks that must be completed are laid out on the well-designed monster boards. Items will appear throughout the town and they are the most important commodity. They not only help you defend against monster attacks, but they are the main way to advance toward each monster’s objectives. Villagers will also appear throughout the game, and if you band together and guide them to their destinations, they will reward you with Perk cards, which can provide very valuable abilities at crucial moments in the game.
Your turn consists of an action phase, then a monster phase. The amount of actions you can take are listed on your player token. Some players also have a special ability. The actions are:
Guide (Moving Villagers)
Pick Up (Picking up items)
Advance (Performing monster’s task)
After you perform all your actions, the monsters take the stage. Turn over the monster card and follow its instructions. The monster card shows a few things. First, it shows a certain number of items that will be drawn from the bag and placed on the board. Next, there will be an event. If the event does not pertain to a monster in your current game, just disregard. But if it does, it can swing the game in the monsters’ favor in unexpected ways.
Lastly, the monsters move & attack. If a monster’s symbol is on the bottom of the card, they move the specified number of spaces and attack with the number of dice shown if they land in a character’s space. If you cannot or don’t wish to discard enough items to defend, then you are momentarily defeated and must restart at the hospital. If a Villager is attacked then they are unable to defend and are automatically defeated.
What is the big deal about being defeated after all? Well, there’s this little thing at the top of the board called the Terror Track. Each time a hero or a Villager gets defeated, the Terror Track increases by 1. If it ever hits 7, everyone loses. Also, if the Monster Deck is depleted, you also lose (this effectively means you’ve run out of time). There’s only 1 way to win though: defeat all monsters!
Horrified is the best game I’ve played in awhile. I was already very attracted to the theme, and it delivered on all fronts. The tension is well-balanced, like a strategic tug of war between the heroes & monsters. Each monster feels incredibly different and the events can be game-changers. The rules are simple, so it’s easy to dive right in and smoothly adventure through the game. It also enhances it to roleplay a bit too. In my last game, I was able to defeat Dracula with 2 stakes to the heart, for instance. Then, an event drew Lucy the Villager away from our protection and she was defeated right away. It was fun to imagine why she would have gotten so spooked. We were yelling, “No, Lucy! What are you doing?!”
The components, though nothing too fancy (no metal or wood, etc) are good. But above the actual material, the aesthetic choices & art are excellent I think, and really elevate the experience. I would also recommend playing with a classic creepy soundtrack too.
You should know already if you would like the theme. So if you have any doubts about the gameplay itself, I can confidently recommend it. It has a solid cooperative design akin to something like the popular board game Pandemic, only with the Universal Monster theme. Excellent!
One game that we like in our house is Disney Villainous. It flips the typical gaming narrative on its head. This time, YOU are the bad guy. And whoever can complete their unique objective first wins the game!
Each villain has a completely different goal, but everyone is simultaneously racing to try to accomplish them. It’s not a multiplayer solitaire situation though. There is some dastardly player interaction. But here again, the script is flipped. In order to mess with the other villains around the table, you play Heroes into their world to thwart their wicked plans. These white-bordered cards are from what is called the Fate deck, and they can be played whenever you take that action at a location.
Each villain has a deck of their own though, of course. These cards are what you use to progress toward your goal or to defeat the heroes at your locations. It is in your best interest to do this because the heroes cover the top half of your location and prevent you from performing those actions until they are defeated. What are the actions?
Play a Card
Move an Item or Ally
Move a Hero
What do most villains in the Disney universe (or any universe) mostly want? Power. In this game, Power is the main currency, and allows you to pay for cards and do other things based on which villain you play as. Some cards that you play have a special ability that requires you to “Activate” it with that action. And I mentioned how the Fate deck is comprised of the good guys that other players can play to your area to thwart you. So if you take the Fate action at your location, that lets you do that to others on your turn.
In order to defeat heroes, you must perform the Vanquish action, and compare any Allies that you’ve played to that location to the Hero that you wish to defeat. If your strength is equal to or greater than the Hero, they are vanquished and removed from your board. This then frees up the covered actions once again.
Villainous is a solid game. If you grew up watching Disney films and/or enjoy them with your kids, it enhances the experience that much more. The rule that you cannot just stay at the location where you are on your turn is a good, much-needed aspect that keeps you on the move, and makes the decision-making a bit more interesting. It is not heavy strategy. You more or less know what must be done on each turn, but the interaction of dealing with Heroes really acts as…unfortunate interruptions to your dastardly plans, amps up the tactics, and makes it feel like you are walking in the villain’s shoes a bit.
Concerning the production quality, it is excellent. Art is from the movies, but it’s like they made it look even better. I like the designs on the backs of each villain’s deck (it would honestly make great posters). The only thing that could have been better for me is if they made the cauldron a bit more solid. It just feels like cheap thin plastic.
If you like the game, I REALLY recommend the expansions that have been released. The more the merrier. Or wickeder.
In FlowerFall, you literally let your flower cards fall on the table, trying to claim as many points (represented as neutral green flowers) as you can.
This fun & unpredictable little game is an ingenious design from Carl Chudyk. Many board game hobbyists have heard of Chudyk’s games Glory to Rome or Innovation, but what about this more under-the-radar entry?
It’s quick and action-oriented, which even my young son really enjoys. On the back of each card are 5 neutral green flowers, so you can drop it on either side depending on your intentions. Sometimes, the card flips or glides in a weird way, which makes it interesting. No matter how skilled you might get at it, there will always be a level of unpredictability and moments where turn order is important. It is a simple and effective idea.
We played a couple good family games tonight that are enjoyable by both kids & adults.
First, a sweet speed game called Fast Flip, where you turn over a card and then grab the proper token as fast as you can. Great for flexing your visual perception & processing, and just hectically fun. If you flip a fruit, then you have to grab the NUMBER token that matches how many times that fruit appears on the card. If u flip a number, then you have to grab the FRUIT token that appears on the card that many times. The cards are designed so that there is only ever 1 correct answer.
Next, a dice game called A Fistful of Penguins that is excellent at teaching math! The animals on the dice either score or cancel each other out in various ways, but you can use your penguins to maintain at least some control to reroll your dice & push your luck.
For kids, you can’t go wrong with the vibrant design and the animal & fruit themes.
When times of tragedy or hardship hit, there is rarely an easy resolution. Sometimes the only thing we can do is to come alongside those who have experienced loss, show them love, and help ease the load.
I wanted to link the website for the Jack Vasel Memorial Fund firstly, so you could read for yourself what their mission is. Tom Vasel is one of the most prominent figures in the board gaming hobby, and when he experienced the loss of his newborn son, Jack, he was overwhelmed with the generosity and love from the community during that very difficult time. Now, almost 10 years later, Jack’s legacy lives on as the Fund has been able to help many families during similar times of hardship.
More board games are added to the auction every day, and if you win, you not only get a good game, but you also help out a great cause. The Fund also accepts direct donations as well of course. During these uncertain times, you may not be able to give anything financially and that is totally understandable! At the least, please consider sharing with your fellow gamer friends. No doubt there will be a lot of people this year and next affected by what is going on who could greatly benefit from the Fund.
GAME: Ubi LOCATION: World ASSIGNMENT: Answer cryptic geography/history questions
As part of this series, I will also be focusing on games that cover the entire globe. Aside from games inspired from real locations, there are also some great trivia games that help teach general geography, and are great for all ages. Oh yeah, they’re fun too.
“Ubi how to ubi”…Make sense? In this quirky trivia game, players try to provide locational answers to riddle-like questions in order to be the first to complete their pyramid of knowledge. The game comes with a reticle which you move over the map to answer the questions in a number/letter format. The map has a hexagonal grid that is numbered and the reticle breaks it even further into lettered triangles so you can answer with “Triangular Precision”. Each time you are able to answer down to the correct triangular letter for the 4 areas of the map, you can build a piece of your pyramid. Once you have all 4 sides, you try to answer a final question for the win.
Check it out. Below is an example of how the questions are phrased. See how many you can get, then check the bottom of this post for the answers.
Here is the humongous map:
Talk about a quirky game! Ubi is so weird, even if I disliked it, I might keep it around for the novelty factor. There are thousands of trivia games out there, but this is the only one I’m aware of where you first have to solve the riddle of what the question is even asking. They range from fairly straightforward to cryptic. This and the weird component design is what sets it apart for me. It’s not an amazing game, but the unique questions that you must answer by manually sliding the reticle to geographic precision really appeals to me as a geographer. It’s a good challenge.
Here is the Reticle viewer that you slide over the map. So you can see, for a normal question, you must simply get the larger hexagonal area correct, but for “Triangular Precision”, you must get it correct down to the letter! Can be pretty tough.
Completing your ubi pyramid:
Now here’s the part of the game that befuddles me. So it’s hard enough already, then they attempt to screw you with these occasional random “Caesar’s Ghost” cards that wipe out all your progress. We have house-ruled this out of the game. Ridiculous.
OK, how do you feel about your answers from above? I would say just getting 1 of them correct is a win, and no shame even if you knew 0!
GAMES: Tokaido and King of Tokyo LOCATION: Tokyo, Japan ASSIGNMENT: Experience a Zen-like journey on the ancient road from Kyoto to Tokyo and be the king of all creatures in an epic clash by smashing the city and other monsters
“Tokyo would probably be the foreign city if I had to eat one city’s food for the rest of my life, every day. It would have to be Tokyo, and I think the majority of chefs you ask that question would answer the same way.”
Let’s go back. Several hundred years ago. Japan. Imagine and immerse yourself. Waves lap rhythmically on the black sand beach. The outline of Mount Fuji, enveloped in mist, looms beyond the nearby foothills. At the last few breaths of dusk, you approach the inn. The hearth’s light welcomes you in the warmest way, and you anticipate the rest you will enjoy after a long day on the road. You are a traveler on the Tōkaidō Road between Kyoto and Edo, and over the course of the next couple weeks, you will experience the beautiful scenery, meet eccentric characters, eat gourmet foods, meditate in the temple, relax in natural hot springs, and find well-crafted items that will become longtime mementos of your travels. This is Tōkaidō.
Tokaido is a game for 2-5 players who are traveling on the legendary eastern sea route in Japan from Kyoto to Edo (modern-day Tokyo). Along the road, there were 53 stations of rest and supply and these are approximated on the panoramic board. These locations include Farms, Temples, Hot Springs, Villages, and Inns. These provide things like coins or points in different ways. There are also Panoramas where players will try to collect sets of cards that form one long picture, and there are Encounters where players will run into different characters who provide aid in some way. Player movement is unique. The board is laid out in a linear fashion, like the road, and the player who is in last always goes next. On your turn, you can travel further down the road if you want, but that just means it may take a while before it’s your turn again. Each time you get to an inn, everyone must stop and you may choose to purchase a meal that will give you 6 points. In addition to scoring points as you travel, there are endgame achievements for whoever eats the best food, visits the Hot Springs the most, encounters the most characters, and collects the most souvenirs. Also, players are awarded for how much they donated to the Temples as well. Whoever has the most points is the winner…but everyone wins in some way…
This was my journey…
I am Yoshiyasu, a charismatic functionary who has a gift for making friends. He also starts out with a good deal of coins, most likely a per diem of sorts received from his governmental employer. My wife is playing as Kinko, a lone ronin (masterless samurai) who is able to purchase meals for 1 coin less than normal price. I like to think that this is due to the intimidation factor or a silver tongue. After breaking our fast, other travelers and I set out from the inn at Edo, and make our way toward the first few stations.
I begin by stopping at a shop on the outskirts of Edo, where I pick up a couple really neat items: Konpeito, a type of colorful hard candy to munch on the road, and a decorative piece of Shikki. It will do me well to have a few gifts prepared for my political contacts I am meeting in Kyoto.
One aspect of Tokaido that I love are the panoramas, where you can collect parts of a large picture. I pick up my first of the farmland and mountain panoramas (below).
Further down the road, I meet a Shinto priest named Miko, who kindly agrees to donate 1 coin to the Temple for me.
Though it became prominent in the Edo Period (1603 – 1868), the Tōkaidō Road was actually in use as early as the 11th century. Covering about 514 kilometers (319 miles), the road became well-worn by people of many different stations of life. Speaking of stations, the 53 stations of rest and supply developed almost into a pilgrimage of sorts. In 1601 the shogun, Ieyasu, had these stations established shortly after he began his rule, and he declared it the official route leading to his new capital city of Edo.
The great 19th century Japanese artist Utagawa Hiroshige created a series of prints after he traveled the Tōkaidō in 1832. They are a beautiful glimpse into the culture and scenery of the time. I welcome you to check out the complete gallery below and imagine the pleasure of being able to walk this road as it used to be. A common form of travel, if you could afford it, was the “palanquin”, which was a cart that was carried on the shoulders of a couple bearers. Any kind of wheeled transport was very uncommon. Today, there is plenty of wheeled transport though, as the old road has all but been replaced with a large busy highway connecting Kyoto to Tokyo. There are still remnants of the old road however, and it is popular with hikers and cyclists.
Here is the exquisite series from Utagawa Hiroshige, The Fifty-three Stationsof the Tōkaidō (Note: there may be issues viewing on mobile version):
Speaking of art, I picked up another piece of the mountainous panorama, depicting the beautiful view of Mt. Fuji, and also started a large panorama view of the sea…
We all arrive at an inn and must rest for the night. Each player is presented with meal options, and may purchase one if they wish (each worth 6 points). I choose the Misoshiru or Miso Soup (which I happen love in real life).
After picking up a few more pieces, I finish the mountain panorama and receive the 3-point reward for it.
At the second inn, we rest and I choose a steamy Udon dish. A bit more expensive, but very nourishing and delicious.
Here are some highlights of the next few turns…
After we all reach Kyoto, the rewards are handed out. I receive the Gourmet award for eating the most expensive food overall on my journey. Also, I am given the Collector award for nabbing the most souvenirs as well. My wife wins the Bather award for frequenting the Hot Springs, and she also wins the Chatterbox award for being such a people person along the trail and having the most encounters. After the points are added, including the deceptively important donations to the temple, I take the victory, just barely. This game is special though, because even when you lose, you never feel like a “loser”.
Final Thoughts: Tokaido is truly a unique experience. It is a zen experience. The way you move down the board is great. Don’t want to donate to the Temple? That’s fine. Skip it. You can try to soak in every Hot Spring you pass. Or you can stop in every Village and browse the souvenir shops. There are certainly times where you may want to block an opponent from a location, but the theme and the overall scope of the game is one of taking in the small moments, encountering unforgettable characters, and in a gaming world that focuses so often on speed, this game awards taking your time. The rules are pretty simple too. After a couple plays, the spaces and what they provide become more familiar. Each character comes with a special ability that does actually feel special. All the different facets come together in a great way.
The game looks stunning and the cards are decent, just a bit small. The graphic design is really well-done and it all adds to the peaceful atmosphere. Kudos to the designer Antoine Bauza, one of the best out there, for creating this unique gaming pilgrimage.
“And now for something completely different…”
Switching gears, and I will make this brief, we have the fast-paced, crazy action-filled family game called King of Tokyo. Each person takes control of a giant monster rampaging around the city and also trying to destroy all the other monsters. The main game mechanic is a Yahtzee-like roll of the dice. The dice have 6 different faces on them. For each Claw symbol you roll, that is one attack and the other monster(s) must take 1 damage. Each monster starts with 10 health, shown as hearts and they will gain and lose as the game goes on. For each Heart symbol, you gain one health. There are also numbers on the dice from 1-3 and when you roll a set of three, that is how many points you get. So if you roll three 2’s you get 2 points. Any additional numbers in the set score extra points. So five 2’s would be 4 points. Lastly, if you roll the lightning bolt symbol, you get an Energy cube. Energy can be used to purchase cool upgrade cards for your monster. You gain points the longer you are able to stay inside Tokyo, but the catch is that you cannot heal yourself while inside the city. If your health drops too low, you can yield the city to the attacking monster who replaces you. If your health ever drops to 0, you’re out. Whoever is the last monster standing or first to 20 points is the winner.
I am playing as Cthulhu, and my wife is The King (let’s face it, it’s pretty much King Kong). I get a few points to start out with, then I crash into the city.
Apparently, in this universe, Cthulhu’s origin story involves human meddling and an escape from a laboratory…
The King takes the city, but watch out! Cthulhu is about to morph into Phase 2…
Tokyo is an electric, modern, densely populated city that is home to more than 9 million people. That’s not even including the many millions more considered to be within the overall metropolitan area. As you may imagine, it is rich with culture, diverse cuisine, bustling markets, and advanced technology. The skyline is dominated by the Skytree tower, which became the world’s tallest tower at the time construction was completed in 2011. The whole city is a great example of modern aesthetics and efficiency. Tokyo’s rail system is one of the most extensive and efficient in the world, with more than 100 routes and 13 subway lines that intersect the city. Use the great transportation system to visit many of Tokyo’s attractions. There is something here for every kind of traveller or resident: immaculate parks like Rikugien or Shinjuku Gyoen, the large Tokyo National Museum, and beautiful historical temples.
Tokyo will host the 2020 Summer Olympics, which will run from July 24 to August 9. The organizers claim the games will be “the most innovative ever organised”. The sports themselves will also be new and different, as they are adding baseball/softball, surfing, climbing, skateboarding, and karate. The medal designs were revealed recently, and the amazing part is that all 5,000 or so of the medals that will be given out at the Olympics & Paralympics will be made 100% out of donated and recycled electronics and cell phones. [https://tokyo2020.org/en/games/medals/project/]
The King is racking up the points the longer he is able to stay in the city. He is sitting at 12 points, and I have 10. I need to focus on Attacks to get him to yield his ground. A few rounds go by though, and I don’t get as many Attacks as I was hoping.
With Cthulhu’s new powers, as a last-ditch effort, he tries to kick up a smoke cloud to confuse his enemy…
But…it’s not enough. Cthulhu gives a final gasp of “fththhgn” and collapses to the ground. The King is (fittingly) the King of Tokyo.
Just strictly going by fun factor, this game is king. It is a raucous dice chucker of a game and the more the merrier as far as I’m concerned. It gets crazy when you have 5 or 6 monsters all vying for control of the city and attacking. Then, sometimes there might be a more pacifist monster who is quietly, sneakily accumulating points and trying to win that way. Then, you have the great upgrade cards. There are a lot of them, and they’re thematically appropriate and all of them are exciting and interesting. For example, if you are able to get the Extra Head for your monster, that gives you an extra die to roll for the rest of the game! I like how you can win in two very different ways and you have to be aware of where people are in points, because 20 points can really sneak up on you. For having so much luck of the dice, there are a good deal of interesting choices available to players throughout the game. And the cool thing is, no matter what you choose, it feels like you’re doing something awesome. Gameplay is quick, rules are pretty simple, and instead of bogging down with a higher player count, it gets better! Because the dice rolling is so similar to how Yahtzee works, I find it makes it really easy to teach to pretty much anyone in a wide age range.
The black & green dice are SUPER great quality, and they’re actually some of my favorite dice from any game I’ve played. This is great, since the gameplay all revolves around the dice. Usually the main game board is crucial, but this is one game where the board itself is barely necessary. It only shows who is in the city of Tokyo. The green Energy cubes are simple but effective. They enhance the sci-fi feel a bit. Overall, this is a top-notch game. As far as light family fun, I’m not sure this game can be beat. Excellent!
Check it out on Amazon (Click below):
*A special thanks to Dr. Hannes Grobe, who assembled the public domain reproduction images of Hiroshige’s artwork.
GAME: Le Havre LOCATION: Le Havre, France ASSIGNMENT: Collect raw resources, process & upgrade them, then ship them for big profits
Le Havre is a game inspired from the real namesake port town in France, and contains a lot of complexity and many ways to gain a profit. So in brief, how does it work? In this deep strategy game, 1-5 players will be taking goods that have been shipped into the harbor and using buildings in their town to manufacture them into upgraded refined products. I’m glossing over MOST of the finer details and rules because this game is pretty deep and multi-faceted. There are so many options for things to do on your turn. You can smoke fish, turn clay into brick, grain into bread, coal into coke, wood into charcoal, iron into steel, hides into leather or butcher cattle for meat. Then using all these refined goods, players may build other establishments or purchase ships, which help to feed all your workers who are doing all this cool stuff. The options become more and more lucrative as more establishments are built in the port town. After a fixed number of rounds, whoever has the most wealth is the winner.
The game works surprisingly well with just 2 players. My wife and I were playing in this game session…
After getting a good first haul at the fish market, and with the Smokehouse coming up soon on the Building Proposals lot, I decide to take an early Fishing strategy. The Fishery lets you catch your own fish of course, so you don’t have to just rely on the daily market offers, then the Smokehouse lets you turn your Fish into Smoked Fish, which has double the value in food & Francs.
The first building that the town builds is a Bakehouse, where you can use Energy to make Bread out of Grain. Buildings in town can be used by anyone, but sometimes have a cost (shown in the upper right). In this case, that is one food. If you own the building, you don’t have to pay its cost to use. Energy can be gained from a few different fuel sources. Basic Wood gets you 1 energy, while if you turn Wood into Charcoal, that gets you 3 Energy. Coal starts out by giving 3 Energy, and if you are able to turn it into Coke, that gets you 5 Energy! Speaking of Energy, we’re going to need a good supply, especially later in the game. So I build the Charcoal Kiln, which only takes 1 Clay to build, and is an easy value of 8 at the end of the game.
I then buy the Clay Mound. Yes, basically just a cheap heap o’ dirt. But it gives me just a bit of control over the Clay in the town. My opponent has to pay me 1 Food every time she wants to use it.
The Wharf is incredibly important, as it is the only way to build ships. Ships not only provide food for your workers, but they can also ship goods out for a profit. The fact that I was able to build it myself and claim it instead of just waiting for the town to build it themselves makes me feel pretty good about my chances moving forward. I use the Wharf soon after to build my first ship, a wooden vessel called the Noemi.
Le Havre is a seaport on the mouth of the river Seine in the Normandy region of France. It is hard to say how long it was a small fishing village. There are references to the town’s oldest building, the Graville Abbey as early as the 9th century. In 1517, a new harbor was built by King Francis I and he called the town Franciscopolis, but it was later renamed after the harbor itself, Le Havre-de-Grâce. Increased trade, especially with the West Indies, caused the town to grow throughout the 18th century.
Sadly, most of the town was destroyed or heavily damaged in World War II. The British bombed the city to help prevent the Germans from launching an attack from there, due to its strategic location on the English Channel. The town was rebuilt over the next few decades after the war, and today, its economy still relies heavily on its maritime industry.
“Le Havre is a French city, containing France’s second largest harbour (after Marseilles). The city is notable not only for its size but also for its unusual name. The Dutch word ‘Havre’, meaning ‘Harbour’, was adopted into French in the 12th century, but these days it is considered archaic and ‘le port’ is used instead.”
From the Le Havre instruction booklet
With the help of the Ironworks, I was able to build my 2nd ship, an Iron vessel named the Dunkerque.
Iron can be made into Steel at the Steel Mill, which the town built in our game. However, notice that it takes 5 Energy for every single piece of Steel! It is no great surprise that Steel is the most valuable good in the game, fetching a price of 8 Francs for every piece you ship out.
Here are some highlights of my actions in the late period of the game…
Toward the end of the game is the time to build buildings like the Town Hall if you are able. It is not that valuable in and of itself (6 Francs), BUT it provides bonus points at the end of the game for certain types of buildings that you own.
I also am able to build a couple high-value buildings that will simply increase my overall points for final scoring. Note that any raw resources that you have at the end of the game count for NOTHING. So it is a good idea to either use them to build or ship goods out.
Here is my big shipping run, using the 3 ships I built during the game. Caen, one of my iron ships, will ship out my stores of meat. Dunkerque will take the Leather & Hides, and my ole faithful wooden ship Noemi will handle the valuable Steel.
Everyone gets a final action after the last round has concluded. This is an easy decision for me. I use the Wharf to exchange one of my Iron ships for the much more valuable Luxury Yacht. Ah…after a great career in Le Havre, it is time to retire….
Due to some late maneuvering, I take home the victory. It was fairly close until the last couple rounds, really. My wife focused not so much on shipbuilding, but on goods production and the clothing industry.
Final Thoughts: Le Havre is designed by Uwe Rosenberg and what a design it is. It is a complex, well-oiled machine and all the more impressive considering the variable nature of each game since establishments will be featured in a different order each time. Within that efficient machine, each player has their own engine to develop, so to speak. The game also scales pretty well, as it’s just as fun with 2 players as it is with 4 or 5. There are so many available ventures, but it does not feel like work because it is satisfying to grow your fortune and develop your investments. The theme itself doesn’t even seem exciting—shipping & manufacturing—but it is a complex brain-burner that just feels good, because of the challenge and the many interesting options.
If you like economics and related activities, this one is great. Or if you really like Catan and are interested in a heavier weight Eurogame, this is one of the best. There are a ton of components, nothing too fancy, but they get the job done. The symbology is useful once you get used to it. This one scratches the itch when you’re in the mood for a heavy strategy game. Excellent.
GAMES: 221B Baker Street & Mr. Jack LOCATION: London, England ASSIGNMENTS: Solve various mysteries in the style of Sherlock Holmes, and ascertain who Jack the Ripper is disguising himself as.
First, let’s look at this classic game from 1975: 221B Baker Street
So, how does it work? In 221B Baker Street (the famous address of Arthur Conan Doyle’s sleuth Sherlock Holmes), the players travel around to the different London locales acquiring clues to help them solve a particular Case that is chosen at the beginning of the game. There are 20 different Cases included in the base game, with many more that were released as expansions later on. Each Case is a completely separate storyline with varying questions that need answered. Some may be a simple whodunnit, others are more complex, or may involve secret codes, like the one I’m going to highlight here. The gameplay itself is incredibly simple, but putting the clues together to solve the puzzle is where the rub is. Now, some of the Cases are much simpler than what was usually found in Doyle’s writings, but fun nonetheless. Everyone starts with 1 key and 1 badge. Badges let you block other players from entering an establishment, unless they possess a key to open them. How quickly you are able to travel around the board all depends on how well you roll the dice, and that can be annoying. But for what the game is, and when it was released, it is an enjoyable time. Move around, collect clues, then be the first to return to 221B Baker Street and announce the solution. Be warned—I know that it is unlikely that many readers will pick up this old game anyway, but there will be major spoilers about the Case #5 story specifically: The Adventure of the Coded Message. Let’s get to sleuthing!
“My mind,” he said, “rebels at stagnation. Give me problems, give me work, give me the most abstruse cryptogram or the most intricate analysis, and I am in my own proper atmosphere. I can dispense then with artificial stimulants. But I abhor the dull routine of existence. I crave for mental exaltation.”
– (Sherlock Holmes), Arthur Conan Doyle – The Sign of Four
In summary, Rafer Harmon, the proprietor of a pawn shop, was found dead when his canary’s song alerted the landlord. Harmon was in reality a petty thief whose real name was Rudolph Hickel. He was involved in a grand heist at the London Museum some years ago where he made away with the famous Eyes of Lucifer pearls. Before he died, Hickel penned a note that presumably was meant for an old friend set to be released from jail soon. For this game, the only thing we need to do is crack the code:
As we set out from Holmes’ place, I try to determine the best place to stop first. I assume that the Pawnbroker building is crucial to the solution, so I move straight ahead, down the street a couple blocks and knock on the door (and refer to Clue #196 in the booklet)…
Of course! The code MUST reveal where the Eyes of Lucifer pearls are hidden, which Hickel was trying to relay to Harry Blake, his old friend.
Just around the corner is the Boar’s Head Inn & Pub. This is an old mainstay of the town—the musty air filled with smoke and of course, gossip. It is here that I find from a former accomplice who was familiar with Hickel’s methods that the code will most likely need to be read backwards.
The Boar’s Head Inn was a tavern that existed by the time Shakespeare was writing and was featured in his play Henry V as Falstaff’s meeting place. An amphitheater was installed on the premises, and was a popular venue for playgoers. This is likely why the inn was a particular inspiration for the bard. The building was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, then rebuilt, and eventually demolished much later in 1831, and the Boar’s Head sign was moved to the Globe theater. You can visit where it once stood near 20 Eastcheap street in London.
This is good. I already know what the message is meant to reveal and how it must be read. I head over to Scotland Yard to grab another Badge and see what those numbskulls can offer in the way of information.
Turns out Scotland Yard has already given me all they know (which admittedly isn’t much). Meanwhile, my wife has gone completely in a different direction to the west side of the board—a path that she’s fond of—that leads by a couple businesses in short succession and features a narrow bridge that puts you right at the entrance of the grand Hotel. You can really knock out a few locations very quickly this way.
Next, I turn the corner and head into the Apothecary’s. Aha! A clue to the code that suggests it might be a simple shift cipher…
After a couple more clues, it becomes clear that this IS just a simple shifted alphabet style of code.
So, when you shift every letter up 1 in the alphabet, the code becomes:
Then, when reading it backwards and adding spaces, it reads:
PEARLS INSIDE CANARY
Should’ve known the canary would play a part here. Hickel, you old predictable bird. I beat my wife back to 221B Baker Street and announce the correct solution. Because she went to to the other side of town first, she didn’t see the crucial clue that the code must be read backwards, so she was close but not quite there.
Arthur Conan Doyle used many real-life locations in his Sherlock Holmes adventures, including the street itself where the famous sleuth resides. Baker Street at the time Doyle penned his stories did not go as high as 221 though, but later, when the street was extended in the 1930s, 221 came into existence! Just down the street is the Sherlock Holmes Museum [of course!], and there is also a popular Beatles memorabilia shop on Baker Street. Beginning as a classy residential area, it is now mostly lined with businesses.
Final Thoughts: 221B Baker Street provides high replayability that fits inside an incredibly simple frame of gameplay. Too simple really. You’re just rolling and moving, and the Cases provide the flavor. Its mechanics lack depth and interest, so that drags the game down a bit in my view. So it doesn’t blow you away, but its puzzles and race-like pace still make for a enjoyable time.
Next, let’s look at Mr. Jack, a cat-and-mouse game of deduction for 2 players only. One player is Jack the Ripper and the other is the Detective chasing him. The game is set up the same every time with 8 characters in designated spots on the board, which is a small generic representation of London. Before the game starts, the player controlling Jack randomly draws one of the 8 character Suspect cards to determine which character he is disguised as. This is secret information and what the detective is trying to ascertain. On each turn, the player draws a character card and performs that character’s actions. Each character has movement and an ability. There are lanterns, manhole covers, and police cordons that all can be moved by different characters. At the end of each round (thematically represented as an hour), the Jack player must reveal whether his character is seen or unseen. “Seen” means that Jack’s character is next to a lantern or directly adjacent to another character. By revealing this information, the detective may rule out certain characters and continue to narrow down the suspects. After the first few rounds, lanterns are removed from the board, making it easier for Jack to remain unseen. Jack may also move through the sewers by entering/exiting any manhole, but NOT through ones that are currently covered. There are 4 open corners of the city, but 2 of them are blocked by a police cordon at any point. Mr. Jack wins if he is able to escape out of one of the non-barricaded corners of the city following a turn where he was unseen, or if he remains undetected the full 8 rounds. The Inspector wins if he is able to find the identity of Jack and capture him by moving one of the other character tokens on top of him.
I play as Mr. Jack, which my wife usually prefers. The card I draw is Sir William Gull, which means that is the character that I’m disguised as for this game. This is of course kept secret from my opponent. Sherlock Holmes’ special ability when played is that he allows you to draw from the deck and eliminate a character from suspicion, which is why the card says “Innocent” underneath his name. Oh, Sir William Gull is all but innocent tonight, I assure you.
Right after the first couple rounds, my wife is able to narrow down to only a few characters already. Yikes. It is also important to note that she has already used Sherlock Holmes’ special ability to secretly confirm someone’s innocence, unbeknownst to me.
You can see I camped myself near an open manhole in case I need to make a quick escape through the sewers (Gull is the purple token at the bottom of the board). After the next few turns, I try to make all the suspects Seen, which works. She is not able to eliminate anyone this time, but I feel a sense of urgency. Now, to slip into the shadows and hopefully on my way outside the city…
For a brief period in 1888, 5 gruesome murders rocked the area of Whitechapel in London. The killer was never identified, only nicknamed as Jack the Ripper. “Jack” has been studied extensively, written about, portrayed on film, and parodied, and the supposed evidence of his crimes investigated still. Because of the media attention, pop culture legends and fluff, we have probably become desensitized to the heinous reality of his crimes. His victims were mutilated in an extreme manner that suggest that Jack had a severe amount of hatred in his heart, presumably directed at women in general. At the time, Whitechapel was already not a stranger to crime: you know, your “everyday” variety of robberies, violence, public drunkenness, and prostitution. So you know the murders in 1888 must have been that much more disturbing and different than the commonplace crime, as all the major newspapers were feverishly covering it on their front pages. This effectively notified the public of potential danger, but also sent some into a frenzy of fear, and spurred others into unhealthy vigilantism. The last murder widely believed to be performed by Jack was just a couple months later than the first one on November 9, 1888. So just as mysteriously as they started, they ended. And a sinister legacy was left by an unnamed individual.
Modern-day Whitechapel is more hipster than gangster, the flophouses & whorehouses of the old East End have all but given way to art galleries, great ethnic food, and has undergone some gentrification, though still retains some of its grungy past, which to many has a rough attractiveness to it. If you’re there, crave then rave about some good Indian food at the famous Tayyabs restaurant, visit the Whitechapel Gallery for some of London’s best art, or tour the Whitechapel Bell Foundry that made the historical Big Ben bell AND the Liberty Bell!
The Detective narrows it down to just me and Jeremy Bert (the orange character). Uh-oh, time to escape. She still is not certain which of the two I am, right? I get near an exit, out of the light, to prepare to escape in the next hour or so when WHAM! She uses Sherlock himself to accuse my character. Turns out that 1 card she had drawn early on confirmed that Jeremy Bert was innocent. What luck. It was an exciting finish to a great game though.
Final Thoughts: This is such a great cat-and-mouse game. It is very different playing as either side, and there is always a great tension as Jack sneaks and the detective snoops. Playing as Mr. Jack, the trick is how and when do you blend in with the crowd, staying in the light, or try to stay in the shadows and make an escape. Sometimes things just don’t go your way depending on the cards drawn, and you have to just make a break for it. As the detective, you are playing a game of deduction, trying to position the characters in a way that you can rule out some of them and keep narrowing down the suspects. The game rarely makes it the full 8 rounds, as Jack either escapes or is captured. We have found that the game seems skewed in the detective’s favor, which is actually fine. It makes for a good challenge, and a little more special when Jack escapes. And in this way, you can maybe account for skill level too, letting the more experienced player be Mr. Jack.
I hope you’ve enjoyed visiting these two deductive games with me.
GAME: 10 Days in Africa LOCATION: Africa ASSIGNMENT: Connect African countries by land and air to create a 10-day continuous journey.
In brief, how does it work? In this game, the goal is to connect locations to make a cohesive 10-day journey. The game uses a Rack-O mechanic where you draw a location and swap it out with another location on your journey. You may also swap 2 tiles on your rack. You must start and end in a country, and you can connect any countries that border each other normally, use colored airplanes to fly between two similarly colored countries, or use a car to travel through a shared border country. The winner is the player who first strings together a 10-day journey that is completely connected.
Now, here was our journey. On the opening draw, each player selects one tile at a time and can place it on any of the 10 slots. If you get lucky, you may even form some valid connections from the get-go, as I did here:
So I’m going to try to begin my journey in Botswana, and catch a plane to Cameroon.
Botswana is a landlocked country that is South Africa’s northern neighbor. Cameroon lies at the crossroads of Western & Central Africa, situated in the corner of the Gulf of Guinea. Botswana gained independence from Great Britain in 1966, and today is Africa’s longest continuous democracy. It is home to a wide array of wildlife, and one of the best places to book a safari. However, tourism is still only secondary to their main export: diamonds. Approximately 85% of Botswana’s export earnings come from the diamond trade. Botswana’s economy has been ailing a bit since a downturn in 2010, despite efforts to decrease their heavy reliance on diamonds.
A couple turns later, and I was able to book a ride through the country of Chad and into Sudan. Now, you do not have to create your 10-day journey in order—that is not a rule. Mine was just working out that way. On your turn, you may either draw blindly from the deck, or take one of the top cards from the 3 face-up stacks. Of course, your opponent’s goals are hidden, but you can sometimes gather just an inkling of where they’re going by observing what countries they take. Half my trip is done…but how does that compare to where my wife is? It’s still early. I feel pretty safe.
Sudan has seen major changes just since this game was released. South Sudan split off and gained independence in 2011. This did not occur without conflict however. As of 2019, both the north and south have been involved in a civil war for several years. Sudan touts that they have more pyramids than Egypt, and though this is true, none come close to drawing as many visitors as Giza. They are remarkable though and hearken back to a time when African & Mediterranean cultures converged. However, any and all travel is advised against this year, due to the coup d’état that occurred on April 11, 2019. Omar al-Bashir, who had been in power since 1989, was deposed. Despite the extreme instability right now, there is some hope for democracy moving forward, as the military & civilian leaders have agreed, albeit not without some turmoil between the Forces for Freedom and Change and the Transitional Military Council, to a power-sharing deal.
South Sudan’s reasons for independence stemmed largely from ideological differences, as most of the South’s population is Christian, while most of the North is Islamic. The two countries are also markedly different geographically. The North is dominated by desert landscapes (as pictured below) and the South contains much more vegetation, in swamps, grasslands, and jungles. The whole region desperately needs peace and long-desired stability, and I pray that that happens soon.
Sudan makes me hopeful though, because I see that it borders quite a few
countries, increasing my odds of finding a connection. But wait, I
already have the small country of Eritrea (which borders Sudan) on Day
8, so I switch it with my Day 6 country. I also notice that I already
have a yellow-colored country on Day 8, which means if I just find a
yellow airplane, I can book a flight between the two countries. Before
that though, I decide to replace my yellow country on Day 8 with Mali,
which has more connection opportunities. I then find my bright yellow
plane I’ve been looking for, and complete my trip all the way to Day 8.
Eritrea lies in eastern Africa, on the shore of the Red Sea. Incredibly, they have had the same president, Isaias Afwerki, since they declared their independence in 1993. However, the UN has accused Afwerki of serious human rights violations. Evidence supports this as the state of religious freedom in Eritrea is not good. Christians around the country are persecuted both at a local & governmental level. [https://news.un.org/en/story/2019/06/1041041].
Eritrea, only slightly larger than Pennsylvania, has a remarkably diverse geography that features desert along the Red Sea, rolling plains, and the Highlands mountainous region
This is where the game can get tense. Generally, both players start noticing that each of you are immediately discarding most of the tiles you draw, which means that you’re only looking for 1 or 2 tiles to complete your trip. It’s also like Rack-O in this regard. Sometimes you unintentionally back yourself into a corner, creating a connection that will be hard to complete, especially depending on what tiles have long since been discarded. I have another yellow country (Zimbabwe) in my Day 10 slot, so if I can get ANOTHER yellow plane, I can win. I can’t remember if there have been other yellow planes lost to the discard piles. Uh-oh. Fortunately My wife discards one, and I take it to win the game. My wife also only needed one tile, but just could not find it in time.
Here is my final 10 day journey in Africa:
Just because I was curious, below is a rough estimate of how much my hypothetical journey might cost. This would just be a baseline, with no luxurious additions at all.
Final Thoughts: I am a geographer, so this one appeals to me on that personal level. It is simply fun, and I stress the “simply” part. The simple gameplay can be taught in a minute. This is a great one to introduce to your family, including grandparents, or kids who may not be avid gamers. It is also greatly educational, because the game board is a large labeled map, the informative tiles list the capitals and population, and after a few plays, you become much more familiar with the geography of the region. These games would also be great in a Geography class setting. The components are absolutely top-notch. You know, they could have gotten away with mass market quality. What you have instead are thick tiles, a large quality board, and solid wood racks for holding the tiles. The game looks splendid and is fun for all ages. Highly recommend! I hope they reprint these soon, because as it stands it is hard to find a used copy for a good price. Any version you can find is great though.