Pax 2017 In The Books – Part One

The third installment of San Antonio’s gaming convention showed the potential that PAX has to energize the gaming community. The crowds this past weekend were large, and there was a palpable buzz when the previously leaked announcement was confirmed: PAX is ramping up its support for table top with a new con, PAX UNPLUGGED, set for Philly the week of BGG.CON.

But enough about future cons, what about this year’s installment? PAX South 2017 was still in the same convention hall, the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, but the newly refurbished center spilled out all over the convention, with plenty of room for table top and an expanded focus on board gaming.  Based on the larger spaces, more numerous venues, dedicated staff to table top and an expanded library, it is clear that PAX’s focus on our hobby is growing each year.

For tabletop gamers, the expo hall and table top area was the place to be each day. 

a. Table top freeplay.

The table top area had a very well laid out and large area dedicated board gamers to play games they brought from home, purchased from the nearby vendors, or checked out of the library.  While not as large in scope as GenCon’s table top area, there seemed to be more available table space on Friday (which could also be the effect of gamers being in school or at work).  Unlike Gen Con, the bathrooms were plentiful and convenient, located right behind the table top area. 

I talked to Matt Morgan, the table top organizer for PAX, and he said there was an even bigger selection of games this year, topping 1000+.  While the library can’t compare yet with BGG or Dice Tower’s massive libraries, there was an ample selection of tried and true favorites as well as a few of the newer games. In all honesty, there may have been more hotness located in the library, but just checked out as I browsed.  The library was stacked on tables and alphabetized, and stayed open until midnight.

On Friday, we tried out Alien Frontiers, a Kickstarter favorite that I had always wanted to try. This was the version with the upgraded colonies and tokens, so it was very pleasing to the eye on the table.  I was warned by Mina from Mina’s Fresh Cardboard that the game was very random, and it certainly didn’t disappoint in that regard. 

We played with three players, and I think that may be the sweet spot for this game. The fourth (dummy) player acts as a barrier to some of the spots, so it made for interesting choices as we placed our ship dice around the board. Yes, the dice rolling can be chaotic, and there certainly is a lot of player interaction, complete with a spot on the board that allows “raiding” other players’ goods / cards if the right dice roll comes out. But, we learned to mitigate the randomness during the game, because the alien artificial power cards and the tiles on the board themselves helped control the chaos.  All in all, a great little 1.5 hour dice chucking fest that looks great on the table.  I’d certainly play it again. 

On Saturday, we tried out Farmageddon, a Grant Rodiek designed game, that I had brought from home. I already owned the original version, but just recently received the new version.  This version is definitely the one to get — better card art, better combos, and the designer got rid of the clunky field cards.  Don’t go into this game unless you have a group that likes a little (a lot!) of take that action and laugh out loud moments. Definitely a keeper for me. 

We also played the inescapable PushFight, a game that is produced or resold (as best as I can tell) by Penny Arcade.  While inexplicably not available at the con, its presence was everywhere.  You could always see tables with the game being played. Some of the Krewe entered a tournament for PushFight, but we also got some free play in, too.  It is an enjoyable and well designed abstract one versus one fight, sort of like a streamlined version of chess. But, it has the satisfying mechanic of pushing pieces around and off the board. There is nothing like pushing a piece off to end the game! I am not a big abstract game player, but I would play this again.

b. Table Top Exhibitor Area.

I spent most of the weekend as a volunteer demonstrator for Indie Boards & Cards / Action Phase Games in the table top area. (There were also some exhibitors in the main exhibit area next door, the one with all of the flashing lights and noisy gizmos.)  That limited my time to visiting the hall until Sunday, but I did get a chance to walk around and see about 80% of the table top side of the Con.  Yes, Pax South 2017 does not have the size and scope of vendors as Gen Con or Essen, but there was plenty to see and demo and buy. From what I can tell, this was the largest table top exhibitor participation at any Pax so far. 

INDY BOARDS & CARDS / ACTION PHASE GAMES:

I spent most of my time here, and got to visit with Tricia, promotions director for IB&C, and Travis, owner of AP. They brought a large selection of games, from the very familiar Coup to the hot games from 2016 like Aeon’s End and Kodama.

Kodama was a big hit at the con, with tons of players demoing and purchasing this beautiful little thirty minute card laying, secret objectives game. Most players told me they were drawn in by the beautiful, zen like artwork of the trees, branches and quirky little Kodama tree spirits. (We even gave away promo cards of what looked like little alien Kodama cards, and a new first player token, which I dubbed the Kodamameeple.)

But, there was a lot of interest in Aeon’s End and Ninja Camp, too. Aeon’s End is a mind bending, butt kicking coop game where players build their deck to defeat a big baddie attacking the home city. The baddie throws minions at the heroes (who are all distinct with unique special powers), and players construct their decks in such a way as to team up to save the city.

The worst part of deckbuilders is “the shuffle,” and designer Kevin Reilly fixes this.  Con visitors shook their hands in amazement when I explained that there is no “shuffle” in Aeon’s End. Instead, players discard their hands and any purchased cards in any order, and when the deck runs out, players just flip the discard deck over and start again. Aeon’s End had two available expansions for it that brought in more heroes and baddies, with the same great card art.

Ninja Camp is a cute little abstract card game, which looked like a gamer’s version of Hey, That’s My Fish! Instead of picking up generic scoring tiles, I especially liked the special bonus actions that the cards you pick up give you during the play.

Also, Travis was eager to talk about Trickster, which is Daniel Solis’ new design. It was not available for demo, but the Kickstarter is up and doing well.

ASMODEE

Asmodee, and its companies (Fantasy Flight, Z Man, Plaid Hat etc) had promotional style booths, with a large demo team on hand. We tried out Star Wars: Destiny Dice as well as Captain Sonar, and got a glimpse at the demos going on for Ashes:Rise of the Phoenixborn and Pandemic Cthulu, too.

We played two pre-made starter decks with Rey/Finn and Kylo/First Order ST on either side. After a quick rules explanation (there were always two or three Asmodee demo team members near by to address any bugaboos), we were off and battling. I liked the smaller deck components and the highly thematic card play. I also liked the dice — they were chunkier and of seemingly better quality than I expected from the promotional pictures. All in all, SW:DD is a game that I would play again.

Captain Sonar is an awkward game to demo at a large, noisy con, but kudos to their team — they were able to get us up to speed and running quickly. The game was turn based rather than the more compelling to me version with both sides maneuvering at the same time. I was the radio operator, and enjoyed listening in and strategizing about where the other team was located.  Too noisy in the con for my tastes, but if they have any organized play at Dice Tower Con or Gen Con, I would definitely like to try it.

GREATER THAN GAMES / DICE HATE ME

I also got to visit with Nolan Nasser and his brother at the Greater Than Games / Dice Hate Me booth.  He was demonstrating one of my favorite games of 2016, New Bedford (for which he did most of the artwork, especially the stunning box art for the base game and expansion.). Nolan was friendly, and said he has a few more projects in the pipeline.  Keep an eye out on Nolan, as he is a very talented young artist and you can tell that he really enjoys games. 

TASTY MINSTREL GAMES

Right nearby was the corner booth for TMG.  I visited with one of the promo guys, who told me the good news that Colosseum is right on schedule for delivery to Kickstarter backers. Long a grail game for me, this is probably my second most anticipated game of 2017 so far.

c. Exhibitor Hall

Located right at the entrance to the hall was the humongous electronics and analog gaming vendor section. This area had everything from well known game companies (Level 99, Red Raven) to smaller indies either in their own booths, sharing space with others, or picked for big displays at the Indie Showcase.

We’ll cover those companies in our next installment.

Until next time, Laissez les bons temps rouler

–B.J.

Spice it up! with Clank!

When Donald X. Vaccarino unleashed Dominion in 2008, the unsuspecting board gaming world tilted a bit on its axis. Finally, someone had invented a way to scratch the itch of building a deck and competing with your friends in a self-contained game system.

Hyperbole? Not really. Even an esteemed card game designer like Mike Fitzgerald has told interviewers that Dominion changed the way he looked at card games. But as the months passed, some gamers complained that Dominion was soulless, just a mechanic gussied up as a game.

Game companies quickly produced numerous clones, but few games to date (Fitzgerald’s Baseball Highlights: 2045 being one shining exception) have realized the potential that the mechanism could bring to the table. Instead of making the deck build the essential element of the game, in what other directions could designers go?

Does your board game group say “ho-hum” anytime you pull out Dominion? Are you looking for a great deck building experience like Baseball Highlights: 2045, but want a fantasy themed adventure instead?

Let’s spice it up — with Clank!

OVERVIEW:

Clank! is a deck building, dungeon diving, adventure game published by Renegade Games in 2016, in conjunction with Dire Wolf Digital. The game was designed  by Paul Dennen, a former online game designer for numerous studio who has turned his attention to the world of tabletop, with art from Rayph BeisnerRaul Ramos, and Nate Storm. It plays two to four players, and is listed at 30 – 60 minutes to play a game, but you will probably find that the average time is closer to 90 minutes especially for your first game.

The game is a twist on your classic dungeon delve where four adventurers are thrust into a world of thievery. The quick, the silent and the cunning will slip into the dark recesses of a cave system guarded by an angry dragon with one goal: Gather as much treasure in artifacts and gold as your backpack (or two) can carry. (A secondary but important goal is to come back in one piece.) The adventurers will try not to “awaken” the dragon by playing too many “noisy” activity cards. The thief who has the most treasure points after everyone has exited the cave or been knocked out is the winner.

Renegade has been making big splashes in the board gaming world recently.  From Fuse to Lanterns to Lotus to Worlds Fair 1893, Renegade has made a lot of noise (clank?) with games near the top of the hotness charts on BGG. Does Renegade have another quirky hit here?

INNOVATION:

Clank! gets my vote as one of the most innovative games of the year. The designer took a tried and true mechanic (deck building), and made it a part of the game rather than the entire game.

Clank! feels different from your average deck builder.  First, this is really at heart a board game. The fact that the players use and build up their deck to move, attack monsters, upgrade their “companions”, and gather resources is definitely unique and an interesting take on the genre. The  deckbuilding mechanic is here to supplement the game, rather than be the focus of the game.

Throw in another innovation, namely the clank mechanic, and you have a very fresh feeling game unlike any other in my collection. (I played Tyrants of the Underdark at Gen Con, and yes it has a similar feel, but Tyrants switches out the exploring mechanic for area control.) The clank threat on some of the cards really makes for some tough decisions as the clank box (and your own health meter) starts to fill up.

Although it has been done in other games, I also really appreciate that the publisher included two separate sides of the board with unique elements.  The added replayability that comes with a wholly different board is a welcome bonus, and I look forward to the new expansion currently in the works, presumably another board based with water elements.

COMPONENTS:

This is a great production.  Opening the box reveals a well done board that is snuggly fit into an insert that accommodates all of the game pieces as well as all of the cards (even when sleeved!)

The card board tokens are sturdy and colorful, and the board itself is well laid out with the cave system and treasure spots.  The artwork is typical cartoony fantasy, but not in a schlocky sort of way. There is almost an element of 80s fantasy in the depictions, and I definitely appreciated the fact that the designer did not just copy some of the cards but instead there is a multitude of different cards that have slightly different abilities.
It is not as lavish as some of the recent productions we have seen, but there is certainly nothing to complain about in this production. I really like the addition of the wooden adventurer meeples and the wooden carved dragon rage token.

The cards are just okay from a production standpoint, but the artwork  on the cards is perfect — a little cartoony / whimsical, with just the right gravitas for what is essentially a game more focused on fun than cut throat strategy.

GAMEPLAY:

Players start out at the top of the dungeon / cave with a goal of going as far as they dare down into the depths to steal treasure, and come back out alive. The goal is accomplished with the help of a starter deck of low level (and in some cases, noise-inducing) cards that come standard for each player.  Players get the opportunity to use “skill points” (one of the currencies in the game) to purchase ever more powerful cards. They can also use “swords”, which are found on some of the attacking cards, to face some of the denizens of the deep and earn rewards like extra gold or extra cards.

Being quiet and not making clank! (noise) is important. One of the interesting twists in the game is that your most powerful moves (and some times unintended mistakes) produce something called “Clank!” Each player is given a pile of colored cubes that must be placed onto the clank section of the board if demanded by the cards.

Apparently, the dragon that guards the enormous horde of treasure is alert and aware that there are adventurers afoot.   Whenever an event triggers a dragon attack, the players must throw all of the clank into a beautiful felt bag (emblazoned with the dragon’s image), and then randomly draw clank cubes out.

The dragon’s bag already contains a bunch of black cubes, which represents the dragon being focused away from the thieves (or maybe missing them in an attack?), but if the player pulls colored cubes instead of black ones, then these will go on the  health track corresponding to that player’s color.  Too many hits, and the player is “knocked out” and unable to continue to collect treasure.

Once all players are accounted for (either exiting or being knocked out), then the points (the accumulation of gold, artifacts, treasure, and victory point cards purchased during the game) are tallied and a winner is chosen.

The game is very easy to teach, especially if the players are already familiar with the deck building mechanic. The board is well laid out with treasure and market spaces, which allow you to purchase equipment that can allow you to carry more artifacts, move through locked doors, or score big points.

Players can get bonus wealth by stealing treasure from various rooms or defeating monsters along the way, but you have to be careful. This is essentially a push your luck game, where players will try to gather as much treasure before the dragon wakes up and knocks out everyone still underneath the castle basement. If you can get out with the required artifact that sent you to the castle in the first place, then you are “eligible” to win the game and get a bonus, assuming you scored enough points to beat everyone. Even if the dragon wakes up and knocks you out before you can get out, as long as you have an artifact in hand and are above the dragon’s cave system, then you will have a chance at the win if you have enough treasure in hand.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

I love deck builders. Baseball Highlights: 2045 is one of my favorite all time games, definitely in my top ten. But sometimes, I just want to harken back to those early days of playing D&D with my friends, exploring giant cave systems, stealing the dragon’s loot, and racing to get out while punching baddies along the way.

After my first couple of plays, I realized that someone had finally improved a game from my youth. What the designer did here was improve that old chestnut, Dungeon! by TSR.  I had so much fun playing this game as a youth in the 80s, but it has not held up very well. Clank! does everything Dungeon! did (fighting monsters, exploring caves, and getting treasure) but does it a lot better. For me, Clank! fires Dungeon! easily (even though I haven’t really played Dungeon! except when I purchased it off Ebay to show my boys when I was introducing them into the board gaming hobby.)

There’s a lot of juicy tension in Clank! that isn’t present in a lot of dungeon games. The addition of the push your luck mechanics with the clank cubes really adds some fun stress to the game, without making it overly competitive. It is definitely appropriate for a family game night, as long as the family is old enough to understand how deck building works.

If I have a complaint, it is that there so far has been very many cards to come out that give you the ability to cull your deck. We’ve seen a few here and there, but a game like this really screams for more deck stripping, because fighting, looting and movement are so critical. As I explore the game with more plays, I am seeing other strategies for affecting the results of card shuffles, so there are ways to mitigate the bad luck of pulling your clank creating cards, but a few more deck cleansing cards would be helpful.

So if your game nights are getting bland, and your game group is looking for that next step up from Dominion (or your family has outgrown Dungeon!) get down to your local game store, and pick up a copy of Clank!

Until next time, Laissez les bon temps rouler!

— B.J.

Pax South 2017 Preview

PAX South, a descendant of the original Penny Arcade Expo (or PAX, for short) is in its third year. By all accounts, both San Antonio’s convention center people and the PAX group are very happy with the attendance so far. PAX is known as a giant celebration of gamer culture, and PAX South continues that theme, although this version does have an emphasis on table top gaming.

The Alamo City is set to become the center of the southwestern board gaming universe once again, at least for three days in February.  Are you heading to Pax South 2017 in San Antonio? Want to know what Pax South has to offer from a table top perspective at this year’s convention?

You’re in luck.

Some of the Krewe of Board Game Gumbo will be in attendance, so we wanted to know what publishers will be there, too, and what they will bring to the demo table. For a complete listing of all things tabletop and board gaming at Pax South 2017, we found this excellent blog entry from Matt Morgan, the Tabletop Deputy Manager for Pax South.

But you want more than just a listing of game companies, right?  Here’s what we found out so far about the potential bits and boards that we may see at Pax South.

Note that the exhibitors will be in two places this year — either in the Tabletop area or in the Main Exhibit Hall (which closes at 6P each day). Also note that I will try to update the blog as I get more info.

The Can’t Misses:

1. Indie Boards & Cards (Tabletop area).


Indie Boards & Cards will be making its first appearance at Pax South after traveling all the way from Indiana, the home of GEN CON. IB&C will definitely have Kodama and Coup available for demoing (I know, because I will be demoing those two games on Friday and Saturday until 4:00 PM).

Kodama is a card laying, collection type card game designed by Daniel Solis with some interesting hidden objectives. It has beautiful art, and plays quickly through three seasons.

Coup should not need any introduction. Millions of players have battled wits in this amazing micro game hidden role experience.  Can you be the last person standing after outwitting your friends? Can you bluff your way to victory?

Indie Boards & Cards will also have other games available in the booth. Expect to see fan favorites, Flashpoint Fire Rescue (a cooperative game about fighting fires) and The Resistance (a hidden role / traitor type game), but also look for Aeon’s End and Ninja Camp.

We got a chance to bring Aeon’s End to the table recently; it is a great new cooperative style game by Kevin Riley that incorporates deck building elements, but has asymmetric powers for the different players and is really tough. It has great artwork and good card combination play — definitely one to ogle at the booth.

There is a chance that Delve, the latest project Indie Boards & Cards has on Kickstarter, will be demoed at the convention, too, which should excite game players just based on pedigree. The game is designed by Pete Shirey and Richard Launius. Launius, of course, is the legendary designer of Arkham Horror, Defenders of the Realm, Elder Sign, Run Fight or Die! and many, many more.

Delve is a tile laying game with a twist. Players play adventurers exploring the dungeons of Skull Cavern.  Each turn, players place dungeon tiles and explore in search of loot. Each room will have different encounters depending upon the number of “delvers” in the room. I would love to get a demo of this game myself.

2. Red Raven Games (Booth 10011).


Ryan Laukat’s team has been on a roll. From the recent releases of Islebound and Above and Below to the giant Kickstarter that was Near and Far, Red Raven Games has created a lot of noise in 2016. Can they follow it up in 2017? Come by booth 10011, as rumor has it that the team will be demoing the latest production copies of Near and Far.

Is there a chance that Haven, the expected 2017 release from Alf Seegert, will also be there in demo form, too? That would definitely call for a pass by…just in case.

3. Tim Fowers Games (Tabletop area).

Rumor has it that Tim Fowers, the designer of such well regarded titles as Burgle Bros., Paperback, and Wok Star, will be present at a booth in the tabletop area demoing a new game. Could it be Fugitive? Come by the booth and find out — and if we find out sooner than that, we will update the blog. Heck, just the chance to visit with Tim about Wok Star, one of my grail games, would be a thrill.

4. Gut Shot Games (Tabletop area).

Gut Shot Games, a design studio based in Washington State, appears set to demo its 2017 release H.E.A.D. Hunters, a card driven miniatures game designed by designed by Ben Cichoski and Danny Mandel. The game has been hitting the convention circuit, most recently at OrcaCon, and is getting some good buzz.  More info on the game can be found here.

Update: Sean from Thing 12 Games let us know that they will be demoing their new game, Dice of Crowns, in the Gut Shot Games booth. The game was successfully funded last year on Kickstarter and is billed as a “fast paced blend of luck and strategy”, so if that sounds like your kind of game, make sure you make a pass and get a demo. 

 5. Level 99 Games (booth 10425).

Those game-making gurus from New Mexico, will be there this year. I expect that they will be demoing the latest Mega Man Pixel Tactics games based on their blog, but Millenium Blades still has some buzz going for it.  Will the Set Rotation expansion be on display?  Let’s find out.

If not, you can still check out Witch Hunt, their version of the big group Mafia / Werewolf style social deduction games, which promises that the sniped characters can still play and influence the outcome.

6. NorthStar Games

UPDATE: Bruce Voge  with NorthStar Games confirmed that Evolution: The Beginning and, of course, Happy Salmon, are scheduled to be demoed at Pax.  By all accounts, the Target edition of The Beginning is selling well, and of course, Happy Salmon is inescapable at any game night.  He also confirmed that Evolution: Climate, the 2016 release that BGG describes as a “standalone game that introduces Climate into the Evolution game system” will also be there for demo, as well as digital implementations of Evolution.

7. Greater Than Games / Dice Hate Me Games

UPDATE: We have confirmed with Craig from Greater Than Games / Dice Hate Me that the publisher will be at the con with some new games to check out.  We have confirmed that they will be demoing Fate of the Elder Gods, the new Cthulu based adventure card/dice game for 1-4 players designed by Richard Launius, Darrell Louder, and Chris Kirman. It successfully funded back in July of last year on Kickstarter, so I am anxious to see how it turned out.

img_1403Dice Hate Me is the publisher of one of my top Euro games from 2016, New Bedford, and it will be at the con for demo and purchase. New Bedford is a smaller box worker placement game with some unique innovations, interesting theme, amazing artwork, and great production.  New Bedford is very thematic and easy to teach and plays in roughly an hour.  This is a great way to introduce the “Euro” concept to your friends, but has plenty of meat on it for any serious gamer. (Note, the coins in the picture are from SeaFall not New Bedford, but everything else comes standard!)

Plus, we expect some of the games from the “Meta” games line to be there, as well.  I will definitely pass by the booth, because Mike Fitzgerald said on a recent podcast interview with the Dukes of Dice that there was a rumored new expansion for BoT9 that could include stadiums, and let you know what I find out.

The Big Guns:

And of course, there will be some big hitters at the convention.

Steve Jackson Games will be there in the tabletop area. According to their blog, the team will be demoing the new Bill & Ted’s Excellent Board Game. There will be lots of Munchkin demos, including the latest releases, as well as sneak peaks of Ghosts Love Candy, an expected 2017 release. You can also try out the licensed Batman The Animated Series Dice Game, another entry in the hit Zombie Dice series, but this time in a partnership with Crypotzoic Games.

And Fantasy Flight Games  is expected to be there in one of the larger booths on the tabletop area floor.  Fantasy Flight is usually pretty tightlipped about what it will bring to a game con, but it would be a safe bet to think that there will be some games themed with Star Wars or Arkham Horror in the mix.  I fully expect to see some demos of the new Star Wars Destiny Dice as well as Arkham Horror LCG at the con.

img_1627-2In fact, according to Matt’s blog, many of the other design studios and companies in the Asmodee line up will be there. Expect to see demos from Z-Man Games and Plaid Hat Games, too, although no word yet on what they will be offering.

Companies to visit, with no other info posted yet:

There’s a whole host of other board game publishers that you will want to check out, but we have not yet found out exactly what they will offer at the con:

  • Tasty Minstrel Games is always a favorite stop for convention goers. I kickstarted their update of Colosseum, and I hope to get some news on its progress. (Lance has been giving us some excellent updates as it progresses along). If they have a copy of The Oracle at Delphi by Stefan Feld, make sure you walk with a purpose directly to the booth. The “Feld that’s not a Feld but is definitely a Feld” (according to Jason Dinger) is a must-play.

Other areas of interest:

Last but not least, at this year’s con, gamers can expect a few surprises. True Dungeon will be there, and for those not in the know, it is the massive hit program at GenCon where gamers roll through a series of rooms and engage in the inhabitants either through puzzle or through D&D style combat.  From what we have read, True Dungeon will be demoing bite sized versions of the big experience, and that is probably a must see for anyone interested in live action D&D.

There will also be some interesting vendors who supply great components for the board game fan. Check out The Broken Token for all of your board gaming storage needs, and the hand-crafted dice trays and accessories from Wyrmwood Gaming is definitely worth a look.

Plus, the board game section has put together a ton of great board game panels. One of the highlights for any gamer should be a visit by Mike Selinker, the head guy at Lone Shark Games, who created Paizo’s Pathfinder: Adventure Card Games. Check him out on Saturday at 7:00PM at the Bobcat Theater.  Between the stories of Gary Gygax, will there be any chance he discusses an update on the Apocrypha Adventure Card Game?

That wraps up our look at the upcoming Pax South 2017 convention. If you have news to share, or questions about the demos, contact me at @boardgamegumbo.

Until next time, Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler!

–B.J.

Spice it up! with Karuba

Has it really been 17 years since  Carcassone stormed the board gaming world? By now, every game group in America has been exposed to the classic tile laying game. Likely, your group plays the original mixed in with any of the dozens of expansions that have come out.
(Side note: Did you know that even after all these years, the original two expansions, Traders & Builders and Inns & Cathedrals, are still the highest rated by BGG?)
If you are looking to introduce your family to the tile laying genre, or if your game group is finding regular Carcassonne a little bland, well then, let’s Spice it up! with Karuba!
 img_1785
OVERVIEW:
Karuba is a tile laying, racing game for two to four players published by HABA USA. It was released in 2015 and designed by Rudiger Dorn,  with artwork by Claus Stephen.  It was nominated for the Spiel de Jahres in 2016, but lost to the convention juggernaut that was Code Names.
The set up of the game is unique, but easy to teach. Players each have identical boards depicting a mysterious jungle bordered by a beach (reminiscent of the opening scenes in Indiana Jones). Each player gets the opportunity to set the adventure for all players by placing one adventurer and one like colored temple.
The object of the game is to use the tiles depicting trails in the jungle to connect all four of your adventurers with all four temples faster than the other players, collecting gold nuggets and crystals for extra points along the way.
Collect more points than the other player — before the players run out of tiles or one player lands all of his adventurers in their respective temples — to be the winning adventurer.img_1787
INNOVATIONS:
Getting your family and friends to play this game is easy if they are familiar with Carcassonne. The designer has taken the very player friendly mechanic of laying tiles to build routes and castles, and twisted it into a racing format. Plus, the board is so much smaller (since you are playing on just your player board instead of the entire Carcassonne lay out), so the connections make sense even to first time gamers.
The racing aspect is not that unique, except for the fact that adventurers have to have a way to get off of the beach, and can’t cross or pass each other up. This makes for some interesting decisions, and may even lead to players creating side routes just to park an adventurer or two while running another to the temple.
I love the fact that the players are in control of setting up the objectives. Other tile laying games like Castles of Mad King Ludwig have replayability because of the changing objective tiles, but those are randomly generated. In this game, each player has a hand in creating at least one (and perhaps more, depending on player count) adventurer/temple set up.
 img_1789
COMPONENTS:
Haba is known for its gorgeous productions for kids games, so it should come as no surprise that the company went all out for this foray into gamer games. The player boards are thick and playable (I am looking at you Terraforming Mars), and the adventurers and temples are nicely designed and colored wooden bits. The location tiles are sturdy, and even have little pictures of jungle fauna and flora on them. The crystals and gold look like little diamonds and nuggets. And the treasure cards are all unique. In short, this is a game with excellent production.
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GAMEPLAY:
The gameplay is simple. Players can only take one of two actions: (a) place a tile on their player board (and a crystal or nugget if one is shown on that tile); or (b) discard that tile to move one adventure up to a number of spaces. The amount of movement has just a few easy rules — adventurers can move the same number of spaces as the amount of exits shown on the discarded tiles, and they can’t occupy or cross over the space of another adventurer.
As you can see, these are the kind of basic rules that allow a broad spectrum of players to easily jump in and start playing. But, just like any classic Euro, there is so much depth in that simple starting play.

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Do you immediately connect one adventurer to a temple as quickly as you can so that you can be the first (and claim the highest treasure?) Or do you try to build a framework of trails that allows multiple adventurers to make their way on shared routes (taking care not to create traffic jams?) Do you build your routes while keeping an eye on the other boards, and then discard a few tiles to ‘snipe’ a treasure right before another player? Or do you focus on getting as many gold nuggets and crystals to supplement the mid level treasures you will probably get?
All of these are valid strategies, and make for very tense decisions especially in the last third of the game.
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FINAL THOUGHTS:
Karuba had been on my radar, because there was a lot of buzz about it following the SdJ nomination. Haba’s reputation as the top producer of children’s games had me thinking that this would be “just a kid’s game.” The nomination changed that, and I am glad I sought out a copy.
This is not just a children’s game. This is a game that we can bring out with new gamers, old and young alike, as an introduction to our hobby. But, I have brought this game to the table at two game nights, and had the gamers up and running in a minute and diving into all of the different strategies.
Overall, the excellent production, easy rules to teach, replay ability due to the different adventurer/temple set up, and interesting decisions all add up to a first class experience. Plus, the game plays in less than hour, which really hits a home run in this category. While it may look like Carcassonne Solitaire at first glance, it is most certainly not solitaire. You must keep an eye out for each other player’s adventurers to decide just when you should start throwing away good tiles so that you can steal the five point treasure right before your mom does (did I say that aloud?).
If you need a great two to four player game, with a good racing element and some light hearted tension building in the back end of the game, head on down to your friendly local game store and pick up a copy of Karuba.
Until next time, laissez les bon temps rouler!
–B.J.