Britain’s Finest Hour? Maybe, but not this wargames. Thoughts on Operation Sea Lion: Britain’s Finest Hour? (Command Magazine/XTR Corp., Issue 45/October 1997)

I don’t envy wargame magazine publishers. It can’t be easy to consistently meet a production schedule of both magazine content and wargame. Even when using a “tried and true” system I am sure that there is lots of development work needed. To often the delivered product is just not-quite-ready for primetime.

Such is the case with Operation Sea Lion: Britain’s Finest Hour? (Command Magazine/XTR Corp., Issue 45/October 1997). The theme of the game interests me; a hypothetical German invasion of England starting in September 1940. I recently pulled the game off the shelf to play. Rather than give it something like a full review, I am going to note my reactions or thoughts on various aspects of the game.

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Set up and Ready to Play

Components: The game has a very small footprint using an 11″ x 34″ fold-out map. There are 172 counters for units and markers. The rulebook is a short 16-pages in double-column layout. There is also a single page Turn Record Sheet in way-too-small print and with no way to mark off items. Already I can see the state-of-the-art for wargame presentation has come along way since 1997. Today this would likely be a nice cardstock play aid with plenty of graphical hints suitable for photocopy or even maybe dry-erase ready.

Game Length: In the Introduction, it does does say “OSL takes from four to six hours and is suitable for solitaire play.” The game is so small surely this can’t be true? Later, in 4.0 How to Win, I read that the “winner is determined on or before the end of Game Turn 80.” Eighty turns! This means that every turn needs to be no more than 4 1/2 minutes long.

Set Up: Easy for the British. If it has a hex on the unit place it there. It it has a two-digit turn of entry place it in the Misc. Holding Box. All other units to the Reinforcements Available Box. Similar ease for the Germans.

Command Points: Players must use Command Points (CP) to activate their units. Per 6.7 German CP Limits the Germans automatically have two (2) CP each turn and can “earn” up to four more for a total of six per turn (see 6.6 German CP Awards). The British on the other hand roll a die per 6.8 British CP Awards. By the way, the British CP Awards Chart is in the rulebook and not on the map. On certain turns the CP can be affected by 6.9 RAF/RN Surge. If a surge is chosen, then the effect is rolled on the RAF/RN Surge Effects Table (again only in the rulebook). Regardless of the surge effect, the CP awarded via the die roll on the British CP Awards Chart is reduced by one. HOWEVER, Rule 6.11 First Week British Flatfootedness is in effect for Turns 1 through 4 which reduces the British CP die roll by one. All this decision space is presented on Turn 1 of the game; it took far longer than the expected 4 1/2 minutes for the turn just to figure out these rules interactions and determine the British CP.

Reinforcements: Arrive on the map using CP. With so few CP available and with CP also used to activate a unit already on the map it certainly appears the game will be “static.” Maybe that small map is not inappropriate?

Movement: Terrain effects are very limited and generally impact combat, not movement.  +1 for ease of play.

Combat: There is no Combat Results Table (CRT) in OSL. Units roll against an Anti-Armor or Anti-Infantry Rating. Using a d10, if the number rolled is less than or equal to the rating it is a hit and the target unit loses a step. There are rules for Artillery (13.5 Artillery) and Retreat (13.6 Retreat). Modifiers to combat are given in 14.2 Terrain, 14.3 Supply, 14.4 German Ground Attack Support Aircraft, and 14.5 German Super-Heavy Artillery in France. The later rule may be the most useless as the Super-Heavy Artillery can only fire up to four hexes from their on-map site. The range covers exactly six hexes of Britain. Could this be the definition of a useless chrome rule?

Gameplay Experience: I spent about 30 minutes setting up the game and reviewing the rulebook. I then played for about 2 hours. It was a slog. Early turns took much longer than the 4 1/2 minutes needed (the first turn was over 10 minutes) and, although later turns moved faster as more of the rules “clicked,” I still only made it out to just past Turn 15. At this point I was looking at 4.4 Winning which has a method of ending the game early (based on a die roll) if at the end of any turn the German VP is 46 or greater. Personally, I hate a wargame mechanic that artificially ends a game based on a chancy die roll like this. But in OSL the game seems so endless this “early out” mechanic is most welcome!

Cost: OSL has a cover price of $29.95. This converts from 1997 dollars to just under $47 today. Pricey…not sure it is really worth it absent a full play aid overhaul and tighter game development.

Tone: I have very mixed feeling about the editorial tone in the rulebook. The writers try to be welcoming to new and veteran gamers alike. There are Beginners Notes and Old Hands Notes as well as Design Notes and Historical Notes thrown in throughout the rulebook. In many ways the writing seems condescending to new gamers. If one was to follow the writer’s advice, then most Markers (rule 2.9) and rules 8.0 Replacements, 9.0 Supply, good portions of 13.0 Combat and 14.0 Fire Modifiers as well as all of 15.0 Optional Rules are not used. I question what game is left without these sections; simpler maybe but interesting? Probably not.

Bottom Line: Operations Sea Lion: Britain’s Finest Hour? is in many ways a classic hex-and-counter wargame. Classic in most game mechanics and certainly in presentation. Combat is “innovative” in that it doesn’t use a CRT and Command Points limit the amount of “boom & zoom” across the map. But at 80 turns this game is TOOO LOOOONNGGG. If the mechanics could be tweaked to make this game absolutely no more than 3 hours it might match thematic appeal to game mechanics.

Featured image courtesy boardgamegeek.com.

 

 

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Relooking at an older Train (war)game

I AM ASHAMED. Ashamed to admit that I have only one game by designer Brian Train in my collection. Mr. Train is a very prolific designer, having published games and/or historical articles with BTR Games, Compass Games, Decision Games, Fiery Dragon Productions, Flying Pig Games, GMT Games, Hollandspiele, Lock n’ Load, Microgame Design Group, Modern Combat Studies Group, Nestorgames, One Small Step Games, Schutze Games, Simulations Workshop, Strategy Gaming Society, Steambubble Graphics, Tiny Battle Publishing and XTR Corp. He often focuses on irregular warfare, “pol-mil” games, and asymmetric games (his webpage is here). I recently played a Brian Train game and was very impressed by the narrative it created.

The one Brian Train game I have in my collection is Reichswehr & Freikorps: If the Red Army Invaded Germany, 1920 (Strategy & Tactics 273, Mar-Apr 2012, Decision Games).  When I first got this game in 2012 I didn’t like it. This weekend, I pulled it off the shelf, set it up, and played. I was curious to see if I had missed something.

In 2012 I was very much a simulationist wargamer; that is, a wargamer deeply focused on the hardware. Hence my love for games like the Admiralty Trilogy-series from Admiralty Trilogy Games, the Panzer-series from GMT Games, or the Fighting Wings-series from J.D. WebsterRWFK is none of that. RWFK is, “a low-complexity, strategic-level, alternative history wargame of the conflict that would’ve resulted had the Poles been defeated by the invading Red Army in the summer of 1920.”

I am not the wargamer I was in 2012. Indeed, I am not the gamer I was in 2012. These days I play many boardgames (non-wargames) as well as wargames. One consequence of playing a wider variety of games is that I have grown to appreciate game mechanics like I never did before. An appreciation of mechanics has, in turn, allowed me to see many more games as “narratives” that teach me much as I explore them.

When I first looked at RWFK in 2012, the “low-complexity” and abstractions made in the game (Railhead Markers? With no railroads?) turned me off.  Playing it this weekend I discovered a game that is a actually a tense race-against-the-clock with a neat mechanic to model decreasing Red Army effectiveness. The game neatly creates a narrative of a large, cumbersome Red Army trying to suppress the smaller, more agile German forces before time runs out.

Looking at the map, the first thing one sees is a big map apparently with low counter density. The map is 17×24 hexes for 176 counters of which only around 125 are actually units. I can still remember in 2012 being fixated on the stacking rule which allows the Germans to stack up to seven (7) divisions in each hex (8.4 German Stacking Limit). The Red Army gets to stack all units from the same army in a hex (8.5 Red Army Stacking Limit). I seem to remember my 2012 game as a series of large stacks blowing across the map and the war quickly ending with the Red Army capturing Berlin. I put the game away and rated it a mere 5.5 (little better than Mediocre – Take It or Leave It) on BoardGameGeek.

In 2018, I now see I did not give enough consideration to rules 4.0 HOW TO WIN & RED ARMY MORALE, 5.0 THE TURN SEQUENCE, and 7.0 SUPPLY & GERMAN RAILROAD MOVEMENT.

As 4.1 On to Berlin states, “The Red Army player is generally on the offensive during the game, attempting to run a campaign that will, ideally, culminate with his force’s entry into Berlin.” This ties neatly with 4.4 Winning & Losing on Victory Points which states, “In general, the player who has managed to accumulate the greatest number of victory points…is declared the winner.” Rules 4.2 City & Town Hex Control and 4.3 Red Army Southern Front Reinforcements both describe how VP are gained and lost. These rules are very straight-forward and very much what my simulationist grognard mind expects.

The rule I didn’t give enough consideration to before is 4.7 Red Army Morale. This rules is actually a “core mechanic” of the game – maybe even the most important rule. Red Army Morale (RAM) can be High, normal, or Low. When the RAM is High, all combats (offensive & defensive) gain a one-column shift in the Red Army favor. Movement factors are also increased. Conversely, when the RAM is Low, all combats suffer a one-column shift against the Red Army, and movement factors are decreased. If the RAM ever drops below zero, the Red Army is said to have “collapsed” and the German player automatically wins (4.8 Ram Collapse).

RAM is automatically reduced by 2 at the beginning of every turn. RAM is gained or lost based on the capture of Towns & Cities, as well as from the arrival or defeat of various Red Army formations. In order to maintain effectiveness, the Red Army player must go on the offensive and stay there. If the German player can stymie his actions, the Red Army will quickly lose morale and combat effectiveness. This is a neat built-in timer to pressure the Red Army player to act. In effect, RAM acts as the “game clock” in a manner possibly more effective than the Turn Record Track.

Rule 5.2 Game Turns & Player Turn Procedures is the second leg of the core mechanic. After the 5.4 Mutual Railhead Adjustment Phase conducted by both players, the game proceeds to II. Red Army Player Turn. Using a chit-pull, different Red Army Fronts are activated to conduct a Reinforcement & Movement Phase followed by a Combat Phase. At any point during a Reinforcement & Movement Phase or Combat Phase, the German player can interrupt the Red Army player and conduct his own Railroad Movement, Regular Movement, or Combat Phase. The German player only gets one of each phase in every Red Army turn so the challenge is to decide when (and in what order) the phases should be played. This mechanic neatly shows a superior German command & control ability as well as avoids an IGO-UGO turn sequence. It makes the chit-pull agonizing for the Red Army (I really need to get the Southwest Front moving!) while forcing the German player to carefully determine when is the best time in the Red Army turn to interrupt and take his action (Gotta go now before they move away!).

The third leg of game is the supply rules. 7.4 Tracing Supply Lines details what a supply line is with the most important factor being it cannot be longer than eight hexes in length. The supply line uses a mix of railhead supply sources and “ultimate” supply source hexes. The rule ties neatly with 5.4 The Mutual Railhead Adjustment Phase in which each player can place one (and only one) railhead marker in any one city or town they control that does not presently have a marker. Units don’t want to fight when out of supply (OOS) because when they are OOS movement and combat factors are halved! (7.6 Effect of Being OOS).

The combined impact of these three core mechanics is that the Red Army MUST attack while the German player has more flexibility in his campaign. The Red Army is also in a race to win before they lose combat effectiveness as symbolized by their RAM. Finally, in order to stay on that offensive, the Red Army must build supply lines deep into enemy territory. To build supply lines takes time; time the Red Army has precious little of.

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Example of near mid-game situation

But what about those stacking rules? One certainly can have large stacks race around the board, but to do so means few VP gained (to offset automatically dropping RAM) and a tenuous supply line at best. Better to spread the armies out, take more cities and towns, and build a supply net to support troops forward. The stacking rule is actually not that important as the game model encourages players to act in other ways!

In the end, RWFK is a very narrative game. Can the Red Army overcome with more units (but generally lower quality and losing effectiness over time) a smaller but more flexible German Army? To really enjoy RWFK one must embrace the abstractions. In 2012 as a simulationist wargamer I was not ready to embrace the narrative. These days I am, and I enjoy the narrative of games. My previous rating on BGG was too low and a result of a lack of appreciation for the game model. Both the rating and myself have changed. I enjoyed RWFK this weekend, and am going to seek out more games by Mr. Train. Publishers of Mr. Train’s work need to be ready because I feel a few purchases are in order!

Featured image courtesy boardgamegeek.com.

A Grognard’s View of Root (@LederGames, 2018)

AS I SIT to write this post, the #1 Games Hotness on boardgamegeek is Root: A Game of Woodland Might and Right (Leder Games, 2018). This Cole Wehrle (@colewehrle on Twitter) design is described by some as a combination of Twilight Struggle (GMT Games, 2005+) and COIN (the COIN-series from GMT Games). As an old wargaming Grognard (playing for 39 years now) this game seems to be right in my wheelhouse. Given it’s pedigree, I am frankly surprised that Root is so popular amongst non-wargamer’s. With Root, Cole Wehrle has done the boardgame hobby a great favor – he has created a “wargame” with broad appeal to general tabletop gaming audience.

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Courtesy BGG.com

Root represents the cutting edge of the “waros” movement. Waros are, according to BGG, “…games which can be described as a fusion of a Wargame and a Eurogame. Waro games thus include aspects of both types of games….” I fully believe that the reputation of Cole Wehrle and the buzz behind Root created expectations of the game.

One manifestation of this popularity can be seen by the forum activity on BGG. As I write this post, there are 605 threads on BGG for Root. Amazingly, 318 of these are in the last 30 days! Of the 605 total threads, 272 are tagged as Rules with around 150 of those in the last 30 days again. I have no scientific basis, but it generally appears to me that, compared to other games, that this is an extraordinary number of threads. Now, understand that I really like Root. I subscribe to the Root feed on BGG. For the last month I have been getting all these threads dumped to my BGG profile. This led to the following Twitter exchange with Tom and Mary Russell of Hollandspiele Games:

In a later response, Joe (@CardboardTON618) righty points that people learn at different rates and goes on to say, “Also, I get the impression that a good percentage (although not the heaviest in the world) haven’t played a game of this weight.” I think Joe is onto something here, but contend it’s not the weight, but the fact Root is a waros game.

As a cutting-edge crossover game, Root is plowing new ground in the hobby. In this case, it is a wargame with strong eurogamer appeal. In some ways, it is similar to Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Norther Theater, 1775-1777 (Hollandspiele, 2017) which is – at heart – more a eurogame with wargamer appeal. In the case of Supply Lines, about 2/3 of the threads on BGG are rules-related. The lesson I hope designers and publishers see is that Waros require tight rules writing – and lots of patience. I believe this is because of the diversity of the audience. Tight writing should avoid much of the rules confusion, but patience is still required to listen to and answer the slew of questions from players who maybe have never played a Waros before.

Players who read – and play – the rules will find Root an extraordinary game. It is a wonderful design and a shining example of what a Waros can be. Just don’t read too much into the rules!

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Courtesy BGG

 

#FirstImpressions of #Villainous (@wonderforge, 2018)

Let’s get this straight first; Disney Villainous: The Worst Takes it All (Wonderforge Games, 2018) is NOT a family game. Although it sports the Disney brand name and is rated for ages 10+, this asymmetric powers, hand-management, and (being a bit evil) take that game is not for youngsters. Villainous is actually a good game for adult gamers but may wear out its welcome a bit earlier than one may like.

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Courtesy wonderforge.com

Out of the Box Impressions

When I first walked the aisle in Target to find the game, I thought I had found an opened copy. Villainous does not come shrink-wrapped but is sealed using four tape tabs. The one copy on the shelf already had some scuffs on the matte finish box. I still bought it, but wonder just how much “shelf life” was lost even before my purchase.

The artwork in Villainous is very impressive as one expects from Disney. The color palette is a bit muted for my taste but is in keeping with the “darker” theme of the game. Appropriate quotes and card art goes a long way towards building the atmosphere of the game; a bit sinister but not horror.

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Hook rocks back….

My initial impression of component quality is less-than-impressive. The player boards seem a bit thin while the Villain Movers (pawns) are chunky with some unsightly flash. In my game Captain Hook seems unbalanced and is always falling over backwards. The cards in the Villain and Fate Decks seem ok with great art but I worry that the finish might not last; is sleeving necessary? The Tokens seem about the right weight but the Cauldron is a thinner plastic than I expected. I really worry about the folded Villain Guides because they seem so fragile being printed on glossy paper not cardstock; not sure how long they really will last.

Gameplay

Villainous is in many ways a set of solo mini-games with shared game mechanics and just a few chances for player interaction thrown in. Every turn you move your Villain Mover (geez, just call it a pawn!) to a new Location in your Realm (player Board). Then one executes as many of the Actions at that Location that you can pay for with Power Tokens or Villain Cards. Sometimes, your opposing players will draw from your Fate Deck and reveal Heroes to hinder your progress. If one pays close attention to the Villain Cards in their hand there may also be opportunities to play Villain Cards during another player’s turn.

While each Villain will generally use the same shared game mechanics, each has a unique Objective they must accomplish to win the game. This means players must discover the right strategy and play-style for each Villain; what works for Prince John may not work for the Queen of Hearts. In our first game, I played Jafar and failed to carefully read my Villain Guide as I was too busy trying to teach the game to the RockyMountainNavy Boys. As a result, I did not optimally sequence my strategy and failed to even come close to accomplishing my Objective before the Middle RockyMountainNavy Boy won as Captain Hook.

What Others Say

As of the date of writing this post, there are five reviews of Villainous in the BoardGameGeek.com forums for this game. I read some of the comments there with amusement:

  • Loophus continually points out how much trouble kids may have with this game. (HINT – Just because it’s Disney does not mean it is a kids game! Accept that Villainous is an “adult” game by Disney!)
  • LonoXIII believes the game lacks replayability – “One complaint, however, is that the game only comes with six villains; each villain only ever has one goal, and once you’ve beaten the game with them, there’s little replay with that character. Once a player has won with all six villains, the replayability drops notably, and I could see the game ending up shelved after a while.” (Since when does winning a game once make it “solved?” The random shuffle of the Villain and Fate Decks alone will ensure that no two games are identical. Sure, once you learn the necessary strategy it becomes easier (faster?) to execute play but by no means is it “solved.”)
  • TheHumanTim points out – “The only part of the physical game production that felt poorly designed was the box insert.” (Yeah, the insert doesn’t hold its shape well but at least they tried….)
  • Dismas gets the theme – “The theme comes through very well in this game. Yes, what it boils down to is your gathering power to play certain cards to win the game, but it feels like so much more. It feels like you are actually trying to rewrite the script to the movie. I think that is what I like best about this game. It would have been so easy (and lazy) to make this a game about “misunderstood” villains who aren’t actually evil. No, this game you are evil and you are trying to succeed in your plot.” (As the box back states, “Be a Villain…Defeat the Heroes…Enact Your Evil Scheme!”)
  • mattlowder also gets it – “I have to begin the review by saying this is not a light game. Do not be fooled. This is a richly complex games that will not click with you immediately. Strategy blooms in this one as each character you play has different goals, despite the mechanisms of triggering actions and movement being mostly identical for each player. They feel different, have asymmetrical powers, and the experience wholly satisfying if you are willing to grasp it and understand that this is not a light and fluffy game.” (“Richly complex may be overstating it but agree it is not a light and fluffy game.)

RockyMountainNavy Verdict

While I am not thrilled with the component quality of Villainous, I am generally pleased and greatly impressed with how well the theme integrates with art and play. Then again, for the $35 price-point the game is actually a bargain; just how many $35 games have this great art and chunky pawns to go with a better-than-average game mechanic?

Like LonoXIII, I too worry about replayability but not for the same reasons. To me, it is not the number of Villains but the strategy for each that limits replayability. A cursory look at each Villain Guide reveals an “optimal” strategy. Once this strategy is “known” the only difference in each game becomes how well the cards allow you to execute that strategy. If Villainous is played too often this could make the game challenge seem stale.

Finally, games like Villainous are not necessarily in the RockyMountainNavy Boy’s wheelhouse (preference being to lite wargames). Nonetheless, the combination of theme and game play makes Villainous enjoyable on the table and will get played. After all, we all want to misbehave once in a while!

 

When National Security & Wargames Collide – the 2018 China Military Power Report and South China Sea (Compass Games, 2017)

Every year, the US Department of Defense must prepare a report to Congress titled “Annual Report on Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China,”

The report shall address the current and probable future course of military-technological development of the People’s Liberation Army and the tenets and probable development of Chinese security strategy and military strategy, and of the military organizations and operational concepts supporting such development over the next 20 years. The report shall also address United States-China engagement and cooperation on security matters during the period covered by the report, including through United States-China military-to-military contacts, and the United States strategy for such engagement and cooperation in the future.

The 2018 China Military Power Report was released this past week. I decided to read-through the report while having my copy of designer John Gorkowski’s South China Sea: Modern Naval Conflict in the South Pacific (Compass Games, 2017) nearby.

Making a modern wargame is difficult as so much changes so rapidly. The hardest part may be the military hardware since games are based on open sources and not privy to the latest classified assessments. Wargames may rapidly become OBE and not of relevancy (and interest).

South China Sea does not suffer from this problem, at least yet. This may be because SCS actually is two games, one political and one military.

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Arms Exports & Sales

As I read the 2018 China Military Power Report, I found myself flipping through the Political Cards in SCS. I found many cards directly related to events in the Report. Previously, I stated that I found the Political Turn in SCS not necessarily to my liking. After looking at the Report and comparing it to the SCS Political Cards I now see that the game actually does a very good job at capturing the political factors around the issue. Indeed, if one really wants to understand why a fight may happen in the South China Sea, one really needs to play the Political Turns in SCS and not just focus on the military.

That is not to say the military is not important. The Report also lays out the high-level factors related to combat in the South China Sea. The Report makes it clear that China is on a ship-building spree; a spree that may not be fully captured in SCS. While one can argue about the order of battle in the game, the underlying truth is that the game system accounts for the growth of the PLAN. More importantly to wargamers, the underlying combat mechanics of the Military Turn in SCS, that of detection and strike, remains a useful model of modern naval conflict.

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CV Liaoning

Reading the 2018 China Military Report has convinced me I need to get South China Sea to the table a few more times. Most importantly, I need to give the Political Turns more attention.  I am also now even more anxious to see how Harold Buchanan’s Flashpoint: South China Sea currently in the GMT Games P500 (Not There Yet) looks at the same subject.

 

 

 

“Hey! I’m walking here!” – First Impression of Ticket to Ride: New York (@days_of_wonder, 2018)

BOTTOM LINE UP FRONT: DEFINITE BUY FOR ALL GAMERS!

IN THE RockyMountainNavy household, the Ticket to Ride series of train games has proven popular over the years.  Not only was it a gateway game into the boardgame hobby for the RMN Kids, it has proven popular with other family members as well. Alas, over the years these games have been “demoted” from our first-tier gaming selection and usually called upon only when we are playing with younger players or trying to introduce new gamers to the hobby.

With that background in mind, the newest game in the series, Ticket to Ride: New York would seem an unnecessary addition to the game collection. After all, it is a smaller version of TTR that plays in 10-15 minutes. Most egregiously it has taxis instead of trains!

It may just be the best version yet.

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Courtesy Days of Wonder

What Ticket to Ride: New York lacks in size it makes up for in gameplay. While some may deride this game as simply an “intro” or “stripped-down” version of the original, the pleasant reality is that by reducing the game to the barebones the true genius of the design comes through.

 

Ticket to Ride: New York focuses on the core mechanics (set collection & hand management) by reducing the mapboard, the “fleet” of taxis, and Destination Tickets. As experienced TTR players we can get close to that 10 minute playtime but we actually take our time when playing because it is such an enjoyable experience. The RMN Boys are already deciding which of Mrs. RMN’s students will be introduced to the game. The game will also likely become our “gateway to the gateway” game in the Ticket to Ride-series.

It really doesn’t matter what type of gamer you may be. This easy, filler game deserves to be in every gamer’s collection. If there is a negative, it’s that there is no version of the most famous New York taxi movie scene in the game:

Stomping out a hit – Kingdomino Expansion Age of Giants (@BlueOrangeGames, 2018)

Kingdomino (Blue Orange Games, 2016) designed by Bruno Cathala was the 2017 Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year) winner. The game has also been a winner in the RockyMountainNavy house. We love this simple domino-like tile-laying game, so much so we also invested in Queendomino (Blue Orange Games, 2017). Of the two, we tend to prefer playing Queendomino as it is more a “gamer’s game” whereas we use Kingdomino as a gateway or filler game. This summer when Mrs. RMN and the Boys visited family in Korea they took an extra copy of Kingdomino to play and leave with the niece. It was very popular. So when I saw an expansion coming on sale I was interested.

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Courtesy Blue Orange Games

In Kingdomino Expansion Age of Giants the major change is the addition of Giant meeples. Thematically, certain tiles bring the Giants to your kingdom, and others chase them away into another player’s kingdom. Mechanically, Giants cover up scoring crowns and take away VP. The expansion also features a neat Domino Dispenser (tower) that makes dealing the tiles that much easier. With the additional tiles a fifth player can also be added.

 

I really liked the Giant meeple idea so that alone was enough to sell me on the game. To be honest, as much as we like Kingdomino it was dropping in popularity in part because the RMN Boys and myself had “solved” the game. We had reached the point that every game we play ends up with the scoring bonus for Middle Kingdom (bonus points for having your Castle centered in your grid) and Harmony (complete grid with no gaps). It is the very rare occasion that we don’t get the full 15 point bonus. The Giant meeple mechanic looked to be a great way to reinvigorate the game.

In looking at the publisher’s blurb for Kingdomino Expansion Age of Giants I totally glossed over this part:

End of game bonuses are eliminated, instead, before the start of each game, players must draw 2 challenge tiles. These provide additional ways to get points. For example, get 5 bonus points for each lake tile that surrounds your castle, and get 20 bonus points if your castle is located in one of the 4 corners of your kingdom.

This, my friends, it the true hidden gem of Age of Giants and the real reason Kingdomino will be back on the table with a vengeance. The game includes 17 Challenge Tiles, each with a different bonus scoring condition. Middle Kingdom and Harmony are just two of the possible bonus scoring means; there are 15 others.

Upon getting Age of Giants we immediately played several games. In our first game we all fell back on our “solved” approach – and failed to actually score many points. Midway through my second game I realized I had to “unlearn” what I “know” about Kingdomino and state with a new strategy to fit the scoring bonus. Rather than playing Kingdomino by reflex, I really had to think!

Bottom Line: The Challenge Tiles make Kingdomino really fun again.

Designer Bruno Cathala deserves great respect for what he has done with the Kingdomino line. From the “basic” Kingdomino to the “gamer’s” Queendomino to the renewed challenges in Kingdomino Expansion Age of Giants, a game for every skill level of gamer is present. This entire series of games are deservedly core members of the RMN gaming collection.

Featured image courtesy Blue Orange Games.