End of March Musings

The Good

Over the first couple of months of 2023, I was steadily plugging away on some significant improvements to my Sword of Severnia fantasy battle game. I was itching to try out the latest version of the game. On Sunday, March 19, my friend Geoff Kyper and I gathered up our tiny painted heroes and finally got to play version 5.5 of Sword of Severnia.

It was a long, but fun affair. Geoff’s usual Elven army faced off against my Norse themed army which featured Krones (Vikings), Gnomes, Dwarves, Ice Trolls, Ogres, and a Giant. Although I took some pictures on my iPad, I haven’t gotten around to organizing and uploading them yet.

Geoff’s Elves pulled out a hard-fought victory, capturing Finnyar the Fearless (my Krone General) after his cavalry unit got outflanked and worn-down by the enemy. Despite some mistakes which I readily own up to (e.g. my experimental deployment of having my Gnome Lord’s Brigade face-off against the veteran Elven Spears & General), the battle ultimately came down to me fluffing my Krone General’s charge late in the battle (rolling zero Hits on 7 dice; a less than 1% chance). That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

Version 5 of Sword of Severnia is shaping up to be great. I’ve got a handful of minor tweaks ready to go for our next game. Hopefully, we can battle it out again soon.

The Bad

2023 hasn’t been a great year of gaming to-date. The games we’ve played this year have all been a blast, it’s just that we haven’t played ENOUGH games. Regular Thursday Night game sessions have been a real struggle to coordinate. I’m optimistic that it will get better soon. We’re planning (fingers crossed) to get a 4-player board game to the table this week.

I’ve also failed miserably with respect to finding my painting mojo. Aside from some finishing touch work on a few models earlier this month, I’ve done nothing else and it gnaws at me. I’m thinking that I need to start PLANNING paint-nights starting in April and moving forward. Let’s see how that goes. I need to kickstart it somehow.

And the Ugly… Err… the Intriguing

I purchased a few books off Amazon over the past month. This includes New Tactical Games with Dice and Cards (by Reiner Knizia), Little Battles (by Ron Emrick), and lastly Wargaming Campaigns (by Henry Hyde).

I’ve lightly perused all of them but can’t provide any gory details. Knizia’s New Tactical Games book is something I wanted to get as an “idea-generator” for game design. It has a fair number of games in it, plus some discussion on game theory and combinatorics & probability. My initial gut-feel is “mildly interesting”, but I’ll definitely give it a deeper look.

Little Battles is a set of lighter, fast-play wargame rules that covers five broad periods (from Ancients all the way up to Modern warfare). There are actually 5 different sets of rules in the book, which are all built around a core framework. I didn’t know anything about this book until I stumbled across a brief mention of it on a blog/forum. Being a wargames rules-junkie, I decided to pick up a copy. My initial perusal showed some promise. My feeling is that these are fairly streamlined, straightforward rules. I’m not sure if they bring anything innovative to the table; I really need to dive in and check them out some more to determine that. Stay tuned.

I mentioned Henry Hyde’s Wargaming Campaigns book in a previous blog-post. It’s a giant brick of a book. It’s very detailed; definitely NOT light reading. It’s on my “read later” when I can carve out adequate time and the campaigning itch starts to get scratchy again.

BeQuest Miniatures has a new Shambling Bones Kickstarter for a range of old-school skeletons. This is a pretty new company and you’re either going to love or despise these miniatures. To me, they have an old school charm that’s neat and hard-to-find in today’s landscape of overwrought hyper-realistic minis. Check them out.

Restoration Games has a new pulp-themed co-operative game on Kickstarter called Unmatched Adventures: Tales to Amaze. I’ve resisted the other Unmatched games, which are generally 1-on-1 skirmishes. I’m not sure with my limited gaming time that I would pick that to play over my bevy of true miniature games. But I really like the look of this new thing because it’s multi-player and co-op, which fills a very different niche for me. I haven’t backed it yet, but man, I’m very tempted. And that Mothman mini is too cool!

Until next time… Peace out!

Flashback Friday

When you play a game of something, especially a miniature wargame packed with action, you really should post your recap of it soon afterwards. Don’t wait a month… like me… like a real dumbass. Oh well.

I don’t remember all the details of my Warlords of Hexenstein match-up on February 18 with my longtime friend, Kevin. My 10-unit Elven force squared off against his 12-unit Orcs & Goblins. The Orcs were defending their small village from the invading Elves. I remember that the game clocked in at 2-hours and my attacking Elves lost a close battle when an over-eager unit of Elven Archers moved too close to the defending Orc Warlord and were ignominiously cut-down and apportioned into ready-to-serve Orc Lunchables. At that point, our army broke and fled the battlefield.

I did take some pictures though, so it wasn’t all-for-naught.

My Elves in their pre-Battle Glory…

The Battlefield ready to go in my Game Loft…

Army Rosters, Rules, Cards in hand…

Let the Battle commence!

Trolls.. Orcs.. Hippogriffs.. Wyverns.. Spider Riders.. Elven Cavalry.. and a Hungry Dragon..

I feel like I’ve been saying this often lately: it was a fun game despite the fact that I lost. Ha ha! Despite some bad luck with two units that routed early in the battle, I kept my foot on the gas and attacked, attacked, attacked. In hindsight, I was too aggressive. The numbers disadvantage in units was too great for me to overcome, and I couldn’t bait the ugly Orc Warlord to move out of cover and fight like the black-blooded hoodlum that he is.

The best part for me is that Hexenstein is playing great. Post-game, I only came up with 3 minor tweaks to make to the rules. It’s stabilizing as a fun, fast-play fantasy system. We’re finding the dice-bag unit activation and Fate Card play make for fun decision-making, and the level of fantasy chrome feels exactly right (colorful, but not overburdensome).

Hoping to get another game of this to the table before the end of April, if our schedules work out. Until next time, watch out for those Orcs!

Monster Island Smackdown

I’ve been a bit lax in my blog postings of late, having missed posting about several games that I’ve played over the past month. Our latest tabletop shenanigans saw us battling it out with kaiju (giant monsters) toys in a game of Monster Island on March 5.

Here was my setup of the battlefield for our Monster Island game (see pic below). There were a couple of swamps, a lava field, some boulder piles, and a bog/quicksand area to go along with a river, some hills, and the mountains that lined the edge of the playing area. Terrain does not play a huge factor in Monster Island. Swamps and quicksand slow down monsters, and hot lava can really damage them, but almost everything else is there to simply make things look good. Monsters can throw rocks and trees at each other, which is a nice thematic touch.

This was a 3-player game between me and my friends Kevin and Wally. I worked up stat sheets for 9 monsters ahead of time, and each of us drafted 2 monsters. Wally controlled Zillator and Radiation Man, Kevin had Mogobot and Forkuna, and I commanded Botzilla and Electromoth.

We had them positioned to enter Monster Island at varying points, so that we could easily get three 1-on-1 monster fights going quickly. It was a “Last Monster Standing” scenario, as none of us had ever played this game before and wanted to keep things as simple as possible.

The initial 1-on-1 match-ups broke down as follows…

Electromoth -vs- Mogobot

The giant, colorful moth was able to swoop in and entangle the plodding Mogobot by spitting out her silky webs. Electromoth then violently jabbed Mogobot with her giant Stinger, dazing the robotic monster.

But Mogobot rallied. The robotic monstrosity broke free of Electromoth’s sticky webbing and then grabbed the giant moth, putting it in a deadly bear hug. That proved to be the turning point of the match-up. Turn-after-turn, Electromoth’s attempts to escape the grasp of the much stronger robot proved fruitless. Mogobot continued to squeeze the moth tightly, eventually squashing the wind out of the unlucky moth.

Note to self: Don’t get grabbed! Uggh!

Zillator -vs- Botzilla

Elsewhere on the island, a slug-a-thon of epic proportions was taking place. The mighty Zillator with his Atomic Breath and deadly Tail Strike duked it out against Botzilla, the armored robotic beast made in his foe’s likeness, who fired missiles from his fingertips.

This was a back-and-forth tilt. Zillator blasted the armored kaiju with his Atomic Breath, dazing the massive robot. Shaking it off, Botzilla regrouped and pulled off a spectacular Piledriver, smashing Zillator onto the jungle floor. But Zillator’s reputation as the most feared kaiju on Monster Island was not to be denied. The Giant Lizard swept Botzilla off his feet with a sneaky Tail Strike, and bashed the robot until Botzilla’s circuits fizzled out and his lights went dim.

Forkuna -vs- Radiation Man

Just when you think the folks at Kaiju Gamblers Anonymous can accurately pick who will win a 1-on-1 match up, along comes a surprise contender to thwart those predictions.

Radiation Man, hero of the people, was taking on the bizarre fork-handed Forkuna, whose prior claim to fame was serving 12 tons of shish-kabob to camera wielding Japanese tourists on their recent visit to Monster Island.

In the early going, Radiation Man took to the air, flying high over the forked monstrosity, blasting him with Radiation Beams, and evading the enemy’s return Lightning blasts. Forkuna soon got frustrated with his inability to damage Radiation Man and took to the air to engage the red & silver suited hero.

Eventually, the foes landed and that’s when Forkuna’s killer claws turned the tide. The creature raked the flesh of Radiation Man, causing him to retreat and recuperate. Zillator rumbled to the aid of his friend, engaging Forkuna in hand-to-hand combat. That proved to be a colossal mistake, as the dinged lizard suffered massive damage from one of Forkuna’s claw attacks, falling unconscious to the earth with a gargantuan thud. Kaiju Gamblers everywhere let out a collective gasp.

Hanging on to life by a thread, Radiation Man flew off towards the setting sun, living to fight another day. Forkuna and Mogobot, both controlled by Master Kevin, had emerged victorious from the kaiju smackdown.

Opinions of the Game and Lessons Learned

All of us enjoyed Monster Island. This is a genre where we’re looking to engage in some light, beer & pretzels gaming and just have a wacky, good time. This isn’t serious wargaming by any stretch of the imagination. It’s a bunch of grown men, playing with Japanese monster toys, adding commentary and silly sound effects, and having a laugh. To that end, Monster Island succeeds. It’s easy to learn, solidly thematic, and fun.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is monster-island-action1.jpg

There are a few minor niggles that I have with the game. Some of the special powers are unbalanced from a points-cost perspective. It really came to light with Forkuna. For just 4 points (out of 30), the monster got a +8D6 Claw Strike attack, which we discovered was too devastating. It should really be costed at +1D6 damage per 1 point spent (not +2D6 per 1 point). We’ll house-rule that next time we play.

I also added a rule that Recovery can only be done if your Monster rolls 5+ on a D6 at the start of its turn, otherwise it can’t automatically Recover. This prevents players from constantly trying to recover lost Life points and avoiding combat and keeps the game moving along to a conclusion.

The other thing that was mildly disappointing is that the base game doesn’t include any rules for having Military Units fighting against your kaiju, or anything related to City terrain (skyscrapers, nuclear power plants, oil refineries, etc.). Fortunately, that stuff does exist in an expansion to the game (Escape from Monster Island). I don’t begrudge them from trying to make some extra money selling expansions, but for a rules-light game like this, I would have preferred it was all in one bundle.

All things considered, I really enjoyed Monster Island and look forward to playing it again. I’ll tweak the monster stat-sheets a bit and create a couple more kaiju to choose from, as I own around 20 gashapons that we can play with. I would also like to try this with 4-players, because a four-on-four Mega Monster Rumble seems like it would work great.

Until next time… Go go Godzilla and Mothra…. errrr… Zillator and Electromoth!

Thunderous Footsteps

My mind went in a wild direction the other day. I had a hankering to play something big, something big, ugly, and terrifying, with thunderous footsteps. GIANT MONSTERS!!!

I’m finally going to make it happen this Sunday. We’re going to have a Kaiju Smack Down in the Game Loft. We’re going to try out Monster Island: The Game of Giant Monster Combat.

I pulled out some of my kaiju toys (gashapons) tonight and snapped some quick pictures. Not the best lighting and I didn’t get to edit the pics with any gamma-correction to lighten them up. Oh well. Here are some creatures we have to pick from…

And some group shots…

The 10-year old kid in me really looks forward to this. Note to self: I think we’re going to need some beer.

Cult of the Old

One common gaming phrase I’ve heard the past few years is “Cult of the New“. It describes that penchant for constantly acquiring and being infatuated with new games. For these cultists, only the latest & greatest tabletop game releases matter. Anything published over 10 years ago is outdated, and anything over 15 years old is clunky garbage that has surely been surpassed by a more elegant design by now.

New games and BGG

A look at the current BoardGameGeek top 100 ranked games shows that only 23 of them (23%) were published in 2012 or earlier. New stuff rules.

If we add another 5 years and look at games published in 2007 or earlier, there are just 10 games on that list. TEN! According to BGG raters, only 10% of games that are 15 years or older (I’m not counting 2023 since the year is so new) are the Holy Cream of the Crop. Only 2 of those games (Crokinole – 1876, El Grande – 1995) were designed & published before the Year 2000. Old games just aren’t cool.

New games and Sevy

I don’t subscribe to the Cult of the New philosophy. While I buy and Kickstart new games that interest me, I’m pretty picky about it. Looking at commercially published games from 2017-2022 that I played for the first-time last year or in early 2023, I played:

  • Return to Dark Tower – 2022
  • Blitz Bowl – 2018
  • What a Tanker! – 2018
  • Ethnos – 2017

Wow, that’s even less than I thought! New games don’t have a stranglehold over me. That said, there are several games from that time period, as well as a few pending Kickstarters, that are high on my must-play list. These include:

  • Bretwalda – 2023
  • Thunder Road: Vendetta – 2023
  • Gunfight Royale – 2022
  • Mindbug – 2022
  • Ragnarocks – 2022
  • Kemet: Blood & Sand – 2021
  • Fantastic Battles – 2020
  • Horrified – 2019
  • Forbidden Sky – 2018
  • Game of Thrones: Catan – 2017

Perhaps 2023 will be a better year for playing new games. In fairness, I play new games more often if you count my own ever-evolving wargame designs, like Sword of Severnia and Warlords of Hexenstein. I left them out of the above discussion because they’re not commercial games (maybe some day).

It’s Cult of the Old for me

When I look closely at games that I played for the first time in 2022, there was a definite fondness for trying out older, unloved titles, including:

  • El Grande – 1995
  • Big City – 1999
  • Castle – 2000
  • Citadels – 2000
  • Monkeys on the Moon – 2002
  • Fairy Tale – 2004
  • The Downfall of Pompeii – 2004
  • Nexus Ops – 2005
  • Last Night on Earth – 2007
  • Castle Panic – 2009
  • 7 Wonders – 2010
  • Diamonds (2nd Ed.) – 2014
  • Age of War – 2014
  • Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu – 2016

Three of the most recently published games on this list (Castle Panic, 7 Wonders, Diamonds) are not mine. They’re owned by my friends. Very fitting, right?

The amazing thing is that almost all of these are really good games. El Grande is fantastic; it’s a true classic that was an instant 10 for me. Castle, Monkeys on the Moon, and The Downfall of Pompeii were on my Games To-Sell Pile, but far exceeded my expectations, are now safe, and I’ll happily play them again. Nexus Ops was unloved for too long and is Ameritrash at its finest. Although it’s a relative newbie compared to the others, I’m itching to play Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu again because we need to beat those damn monsters.

To me, this is rock-solid proof that you can play older games and still have a blast. They’re often less bloated rules-wise and don’t suffer from the insane component-overload that plagues some new releases.

Embracing the Old

I’ve still got plenty of old games to try out this year. Whether I get them all to the table is an entirely different story. But the big stuff I would like to try includes:

  • Twixt – 1962
  • Aladdin’s Dragons – 2000
  • Monster Island – 2002
  • Pirate’s Cove – 2002
  • Wallenstein – 2002
  • Feudo – 2004
  • Saboteur – 2004
  • Battue: Storm of the Horse Lords – 2007
  • Tide of Iron – 2007
  • Age of Conan – 2009
  • Warlords of Europe – 2010
  • Belfort – 2011

We are a society that’s constantly bombarded by NEW, NEW, NEW. Gotta be bleeding edge. Gotta be cooler than your friends by getting that new & shiny thing that they don’t have. Gotta win, win, win no matter what and amass more, more, more stuff.

It’s sad. We frequently abandon our old loves, turn our nose up at classics & nostalgia, and discard older things with the ease of flicking a booger off our finger.

Why do we continue to chase the shiny? Why can’t we take time to thoughtfully evaluate things, acquire those that truly grab our interest, use them, and KEEP them? I’m not advocating hoarding stuff. I’m just saying that when you find something of interest, don’t be so quick to immediately dump it. The discovery of something cool & fun that you’ve ignored for a while can be invigorating. It’s like finding treasure.

Miniature wargamers are much better at this than board gamers. Wargamers are used to the multi-year project, slowly building their Lead Mountains, collecting figures for the day when They Just Might paint those tiny soldiers and play that new-to-them period. How many of you have figures you’ve owned for over 20 years that you’ve still not painted? My hand is raised firmly in the air, I can tell you that.

OLD is not bad. The world of the NEW is built firmly upon the OLD. I’ll be the first to admit I love to check out what’s new in the gaming world. But I’m also someone who will tell you that there’s absolutely no shame in exploring the classics during your gaming life. Being your own person is really what makes you cool.

Feeling Bookish

One thing I told myself at the beginning of 2023 was: play more of your unopened games and use more of the figures/terrain you already own rather than buying new ones.

So far, so good with regards to keeping that promise.

That said, it doesn’t mean I can’t look at books about games does it? Ha ha! I think I found a loophole! Here are a handful of gaming related books that sound interesting and are on my radar to acquire at some point down the road.

Dice Men: The Origin Story of Games Workshop

The first set of miniature wargaming rules I ever owned was WRG 7th Edition. While I didn’t actually play them, the mere fact that they didn’t completely turn me off wargaming forever says something about my intestinal fortitude. I got my real start playing miniature wargames with Warhammer. That game, along with White Dwarf magazine and board games such as Talisman, Chaos Marauders, and Blood Bowl were my introduction to Games Workshop.

Those early days of GW were the best. That was back when the company was much smaller and lovingly made colorful games filled with a sense of humor. Back then, GW was all about FUN, not all about money, money, money.

At some point last summer, I became aware of the pending publication of a new book entitled Dice Men: The Origin Story of Games Workshop. This seems like a good read because it harkens back to the start of Games Workshop and is a story told by Sir Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson, the company’s founders. Ah yes, the glory days. Fun!

On several accounts, the Kindle version of this book has terrible formatting problems, so I’ll be picking up a hardcopy when it’s released (end of February 2023).

Everybody Wins: Four Decades of the Greatest Board Games Ever Made

British author James Wallis discusses the board games that were up for and won the coveted Spiel des Jahres (game of the year) award over the past 40 years.

I love board games and board game nostalgia, so this looks to be right up my alley. The Kindle version of Everybody Wins is out now, while the hardcover will be released in mid-March 2023. The preview of the book looks gorgeous. Count me in.

Wargaming Campaigns

Henry Hyde is at it again. The well-respected British wargamer and all-around nice guy who wrote the 2013 behemoth, The Wargaming Compendium, has recently published his treatise on wargaming campaigns.

Wargaming Campaigns is another giant tome of knowledge (a whopping 582 pages). I wonder if Henry has ever written a short story? Much like the Compendium before it, Campaigns just feels like one of those classic books that every respectable miniature wargamer should own. The 1970’s had Donald Featherstone, Joseph Morschauser, Terry Wise, and Charles Grant to guide the way. I feel like Henry Hyde is the Wargaming 101 guide for this generation of gamers.

One can certainly argue that the Compendium had more to offer to newbies of the hobby, rather than experienced wargamers. But the history of wargaming, the ideas and perspectives, and overall breadth of subject in a one-stop-shop format still made it highly appealing to me.

I’m thinking that Campaigns won’t be like the Compendium with respect to its usefulness to veteran wargamers. To be fair, I haven’t read it yet! Campaigns are the Holy Grail to most established wargamers. To play in a well-run campaign with regularly scheduled linked games is wargaming nirvana. The sad reality is that few of them are successful. Getting it organized takes a lot of prep, running it is time-consuming, and getting folks to play on a regular schedule is akin to herding cats. I’ve tried it a couple times; after promising starts, my campaigns have always fizzled out. So, I’m eager to know what I could change and do better. That’s something I hope I can learn from Henry’s book.

And there you have it, three books that are on my radar. Hopefully, I’ve alerted you to at least one that you haven’t heard of before. Until next time, have fun painting and gaming.

Trying out Blitz Bowl

Virtually everyone who lives in the United States knows that tomorrow, February 12, 2023, is the Super Bowl. It’s like a national holiday in the USA, even if it does fall on a Sunday. I have a rooting interest in this year’s game, as my favorite football team, the Philadelphia Eagles are playing the Kansas City Chiefs. Fly Eagles Fly!

Last Sunday, in anticipation of the big game, I thought to myself “you know, NOW would be the perfect time to finally get Blitz Bowl to the table.” So, on Sunday, February 5th, my friend Wally and I finally got to play the first edition of Blitz Bowl.

Box cover for Blitz Bowl – Season 1

For those not familiar with this board game, Blitz Bowl is a streamlined and faster-playing variation of Games Workshop’s venerable fantasy football/rugby game Blood Bowl.

Blitz Bowl is a 2-player game where each player (or Coach) fields a team of 6 players that are competing against the opposing team to score touchdowns, injure enemy players, and complete challenges to wow the fans. A typical game plays in about 40-60 minutes.

The miniatures in the game come on plastic sprues, so assembly is required. These models are Push-Fit models, so you can snap them together. I found that using super-glue on some of the models (especially the bigger, more complex Orcs) helped make for a stronger join. The figures are of a nice quality, as you would expect from Games Workshop, and should paint-up nicely if you’re so inclined to do that. I wanted to see if we really liked this game before worrying about painting anything. Interestingly, in all the product shots I’ve seen of 1st edition (Season 1), the models were yellow and red. Not mine. My set had blue Humans and gray Orcs.

Product shot of the 1st edition of Blitz Bowl

I won’t get into the nitty gritty details of how the game plays. Check out Sam Healey’s YouTube video that explains how-to-play for a helpful explanation and game review. But I will hit the highlights and share some quick thoughts:

  1. Scoring touchdowns is easier than in Blood Bowl, but still fairly difficult. I understand that in the newest edition of the game (Blitz Bowl Ultimate Edition), passing has been made a little easier and TD’s were increased from 3 to 4 points. Both are great changes which I plan to incorporate into our future games of Blitz Bowl.
  2. The custom Block Dice are cool and blocking is a hell of a lot of fun. One thing I felt was missing from the game was the option to block a prone opponent to try to injure him more easily and force him to the bench. It just seems thematic. Well, in the Ultimate Edition, they added a FOUL rule to the game which does just that. Perfect!!! It’s like they had a Vulcan mind-meld with me! That’s another new rule that we’re going to adopt.
  3. I like the Challenge Cards and the various ways that you can score points with them. The only downside is that teams scored more points from them than from TD’s, which irks my football sensibilities a little. But it’s a minor quibble. We didn’t try the special Endgame Challenge cards, so that’s something to look forward to next time.
  4. There’s just enough variation in the player abilities & stats to make the teams feel different and enhance your tactics, without overburdening the rules. Well done GW.
  5. The fact that GW included player cards for a variety of other teams is awesome. Whether it’s Skaven, Dwarves, Undead, Elves, Chaos, Halflings, etc., there’s something for everyone there. Now, I just got to find some reasonably priced Team Boxes on eBay.

Overall, this is a FUN GAME and I would recommend it to gamers who enjoy sports games, albeit on the light, non-simulation side. I rated it an 8 on BGG, which is a B+ in my book. It’s certainly not a brain-burner and your best laid tactical plans can be thwarted by chaotic events and wild swings of fate. But honestly, that’s not a problem for me in a quick-playing game.

Wally and I played 2 games. I lost both of them; GAH! The first game came down to the wire. We ran out of cards in the Challenge deck and he eked out a close victory. In the second game, I got absolutely slaughtered. Craptastic dice rolling while going second each-turn just killed me. Oh well, it was a learning experience and we’ll get ’em next time!

Getting our Greek on!

This week was BIRTHDAY WEEK. I turned 59 years young on January 18. It has been a truly excellent week so far, filled with a holiday, several tasty meals, two sessions of gaming, and a Philadelphia Eagles 38-7 win over the New York Giants in the NFC Divisional Playoff. Woot woot!

Did I mention there was gaming? Monday, January 16 was Martin Luther King Day in the USA, which is a work holiday for me. On short notice, I was able to get two of my close friends to join me for a game of Cyclades. Despite having never won it before, Cyclades is still one of my favorite board games. It’s rich in theme, looks good on the table, is elegantly designed, and features an auction-mechanic that’s the best of any game I’ve ever played.

That said, the base game of Cyclades has its weaknesses. In a game where you’re warring over the Greek isles to win the favor of the Gods, there’s not enough combat occurring, using the big monsters doesn’t work as well as it could, and there’s often a surprise winner which can be a bit of a letdown.


There are two expansions for Cyclades that really improve the game (Hades and Titans), albeit in diverse ways. On Monday, we played with parts of the Cyclades: Hades expansion.

There are 4 different expansion “modules” in Hades. The best one by far is the introduction of Hades as a God that can come up for bid on the auction-track. His undead minions can enable the player who wins his favor to mount a big 1-turn attack on your enemies. We also used the Heroes module, which adds a handful of Greek heroes and couple new monsters to the Creature Deck. This is a cool & thematic addition, but the Heroes are costly to keep out on the board and you should really use the Divine Favors module with them as I discovered. We skipped using it since we hadn’t played in a while, and I wanted to keep things streamlined; looking up what each Divine Favor (magic item) does slow down the game.

Monday’s game was fun, and it was great to finally get a beloved game back on the table. Still, the game wasn’t as aggressive as I wished (I seemed to be the only person attacking) and it ended with a sudden/surprise victory (the “All Philosophers” route to victory). I came away from that game feeling two things:

  1. I’ll bet Cyclades is better with 4 players.
  2. If you’re using the Hades expansion then use Hades + Heroes + Divine Favors (using the Free Positioning rules as optional) -OR- use Hades + new Monsters (ignore Heroes) + Priestess cards (instead of Favor tiles).


On Thursday Night, we played Cyclades again. But this time, we played Cyclades: Titans which is the second major expansion to the game.

Wow! This was by far, the best game of Cyclades we’ve ever played. Everyone had a legit chance to win the game. Just when we were sure Bob was going to win, he was stopped. Just when I was ready to win by conquering a 2nd metropolis, I fell 1 gold short of pulling it off. Just when Kevin had a power-play to pull off a win, he fell short. Wally eventually won the war of attrition, thanks in large part to his giant Greek Bank Account.

The Titans expansion is terrific. It directly addresses my biggest gripe with basic Cyclades: not enough combat. There are three glorious reasons that Titans fixes this problem:

  1. A new God, Kronos, is introduced into the auction. If you win him, you get a free building to place on the board (it varies depending upon where he appears on the auction-track). Not only does that save you money to take more actions later on, but it makes your territories even more ripe for your enemies to conquer.
  2. In some cases, Kronos grants you a free Titan. Or you can buy a Titan for 2 gold. What’s great about Titans is that they let you move troops across the map even during turns when you normally can’t do so. Now, you can always be aggressive and move your troops around the board. Sweet!
  3. The best part of Titans is the new board (see pic below). It’s built for confrontation. YES!! It lowers the barrier to attack. In the basic game, you have to spend a turn getting fleets and chain-linking them to build naval bridges between islands. Then you spend another turn getting troops and moving them. It’s much harder to coordinate your attacks. In Titans, you’re in each other’s faces more often.

After playing the Titans expansion, I’m not so sure I want to play basic Cyclades again. I could see playing with the island-heavy map of the base game but using Kronos and the Titans. That would be a pleasant change of pace occasionally.

Picture of TITANS map for 3-4 players. Shamelessly stolen from BGG and cropped.

Before I declare that Titans has solved all of Cyclades’s weaknesses, I must mention a few particularly important additional details:

  1. We played with 4 players. That was our first time playing with 4 people. I wasn’t convinced it would make that much of a difference. I was wrong. Cyclades shines with 4.
  2. We still used parts of the Hades expansion. We used the god Hades + the extra Hades Monsters + the Priestess cards (placed beside the God above Apollo). It worked great. Hades is a tremendous addition to the game; the threat of someone gaining his undead minions and laying waste to territories is exciting & fun. Plus, getting the Necropolis building can be huge (it was a key factor in increasing Wally’s bankroll on Thursday). Using the Priestess cards is a nice, low-overhead option. They aren’t used often but are spent to keep a big monster out on the board longer, which fixes a small gripe I have with basic Cyclades.

Despite its flaws, basic Cyclades was a game that I rated a perfect 10 on BoardGameGeek. After our play on Monday, I felt like it had dropped a point or two for me. I was starting to see some recurring patterns that I didn’t especially like. But that changed on Thursday. I still didn’t win; man oh days, do my friends pick on me in games of Cyclades (well, make that EVERY GAME)! The combo of 4-players, Titans, and a couple of elements from Hades made this one of our best multiplayer gaming experiences in a while, and easily the best game of Cyclades ever.

Aw, Snap!

The other day, I shared a brief look at my favorite tabletop games. One rating that I didn’t touch on is something I’ve coined the Snap Score. It’s a streamlined rating that takes just four major factors into account for each game that I own, regardless of whether I’ve played it or not:

  1. How Fun & Engaging is the game?
  2. How Satisfying is it to Win the game?
  3. What’s my Level of Interest in playing the game?
  4. What did/would I Rate the game on BoardGameGeek?

A 3-point penalty is applied to games that I haven’t played yet because I’m more likely to change my mind about them once I’ve actually played them.

Here’s my Top-40 games ranked by their Snap Score. Games in red are those that I haven’t played yet.

I love this list because it cuts right to those games that I most want to play today. I would play any of them in a heartbeat.

Of the games listed, 8 of the Top-13 games are 2-player games. I’m a huge fan of head-to-head games, so this comes as no real surprise to me.

However, only 16 of the Top-40 games listed here are 2-player games. That means a whopping 24 games are multi-player games! I’m surprised by that, yet happy at the same time. It bodes well for those planned weekly Game Nights when we usually have 3-4 players around the table.

What feels a little bit odd is what’s missing. There are some great games that just missed the Top-40 cut. If I extended the list to 50 games, then Nexus Ops, Downfall of Pompeii, Wizard Kings, Castle, Blitz Bowl, Through the Desert, Thud & Blunder, Mindbug, Game of Thrones Catan, and What a Tanker! would round out the list.

There are so many great games to pick from, 2023 should be a fun year of gaming. Or should I say, picking a good game should be a SNAP!