Lagniappe! with 7 Wonders: Duel

In Life on the Mississippi, Mark Twain marveled at a Louisiana word he heard used very frequently, called “Lagniappe.”  He called it “something thrown in for good measure,” and compared it to the thirteenth donut in the baker’s dozen.

What is interesting about Twain’s essay is the story he relates about its usage. Here’s Twain: “When a child or a servant buys something in a shop — or even the mayor or the governor, for aught I know — he finishes the operation by saying — “Give me something for lagniappe.”

Notice that the child is asking for extra even though he received his full due.

That brings me to my next topic. In terms of expansions to our favorite games, when is enough, enough? When have we gamers received our full due?? That, my friends, is a question for another time, but today, let’s figure out together whether “enough is enough” when it comes to Antoine Bauza’s top rated civ building game, 7 Wonders.

The original 7 Wonders is a card drafting game similar to Fairy TaleSushi Go! or Magic: The Gathering draft style games, but in 7 Wonders, the admittedly tenuous theme is a competition among up to seven players to score the most points as you build the ancient 7 wonders.  Players take turns drafting their “civilization” out of a shared set of cards. The cards that are drafted generate resources, build up military, garner money, stockpile victory points and eventually lead to the building of one of the great 7 wonders. The player with the most victory points at the end of Three Ages (each with successively more powerful cards, buildings and resources) wins!  Antoine Bauza has released three major expansions for the game, all changing the rules or adding to them significantly. But there was one area he did not address until now.

Look, 7 Wonders is an awesome game, one of my favorites to play.   But the base game is more fun with at least 3 players (I think the sweet spot is 4-5 but it handles 7 quite easily). And it does take some explaining for those new to the hobby.

It also contained a two player variant that…well really wasn’t all that fun. But now,  Bauza’s back, with his fellow game designer, Bruno Cathala(that’s right the guy from Shadows Over Camelot and Five Tribes). 

And the two of them have designed a variant for the game that is so much more than just a variant. It truly stands out on its own as a new game. I am talking about that 2015 release from Repos Productions, 7 Wonders: Duel!

In 7 Wonders: Duel, Cathala injected a unique pyramid building structure for each age (so the shared hand is laid out in front of both players instead of in hidden hands.) Of course, some of the rows of cards are face up (and you can make a plan for how to get them) and some are face down (so it is a surprise to you when they turn over). It plays very similar to 7 Wonders in the respect of drawing the resources, building the buildings, and getting victory points, but they made subtle tweaks to a few areas. For instance, there is a military track where each military card moves the plastic shield piece one way or the other towards the players depending upon the number of shields on the card played. If one of the players can move it all the way to the other side of the track, then the game is over.

They also changed up the way science buildings are scored, and introduced a randomized set of “bonus” cards that can really change your strategy of building your civilization. In the games I have played so far, money has been tight early in the game, leading to a lot of tough choices whether to buy a card or wait for the cheaper one down the road.

So, let’s turn back to that final question. Is “enough, enough?” in the case of 7 Wonders?   Did we really need to ask the designer for yet another expansion to what was already a great game? Did we really need a littler “Lagniappe” for 7 Wonders considering the very well received expansions that have already been produced? 

Absolutely!  7 Wonders:Duel is not only a great addition to the 7 Wonders family, it can stand on its own as a great game. 

If you like two player games, or you like 7 Wonders but can’t always get that big game group together, then 7 Wonders:Duel is for you.

Better rules, better gameplay, great components — 7 Wonders: Duel is the complete package. So head out to your friendly local game store, and ask for a little lagniappe —

7 Wonders:Duel.    Until next time, Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler!

B. J.


Lagniappe! with Takenoko Chibis

There’s a word we use in Louisiana that is very apropos to gaming: Lagniappe.

It means “a little something extra.” What a great word for our board game hobby, especially when a designer gives us a little something extra for a beloved game.

Today, I’ve got a little lagniappe for you — one of the best expansions of 2015 —

Takenoko Chibis, a small expansion for Takenoko. The base game came out in 2011, and was designed by Antoine Bauza one of my favorite designers. As a side note, still not sure how Takenoko was not recognized with the 2011 or 2012 Spiel de Jahres, or at least a nominee.  Sure Quirkle has sold a million copies, and Kingdom Builder by Donald X Vaccharino is more fun than Tom Vasel gives it credit for, but of those three games, which one of the three is going to have a more lasting impression on the hobby (not on the mass market) — yep, Takenoko is still played, still beloved, and the only one of the three to get an expensive but beautiful extra large edition.

But back to our Lagniappe. Chibis is a small box expansion designed by Antoine and Corentin Lebrat (they previously collaborated on “Open Sesame”).  The base game is essentially a cute tile laying game similar to Carcassonne that adds a few thematic elements. The players score points as they build out the gardens, or if the Royal Gardner grows certain types of bamboo, or even if they can entice the Giant Panda to eat the just the right color of bamboo.

IMG_1757This new expansion essentially adds three elements — (1) new specialty tiles (including some beautiful new water tiles); (2) new objective cards to score points, (3) and a giant female panda with her little baby pandas that produce effects to help the players irrigate the plots or improve the tiles. And of course, those little baby chibis pandas also give bonus victory points at the end.

The word LAGNIAPPE implies that the something extra is something “good” (or else it wouldn’t really be LAGNIAPPE.) That’s what I like best about this expansion. It adds more of what we like in the game (unique tiles, cool new objectives, and more Pandas!!) without adding to the length of the game. You should still be able to set up and complete a game in ABOUT AN HOUR.

There is a couple of little downsides.  While the game box is perfectly sized and has a great insert, there are some printing issues on the backs of the tiles that make the new ones stand out. But, Takenoko the base game never really relied on blind draws, since you could pull three tiles at a time and choose the one you wanted to use anyway.  Another downside is that the little panda chibis are just small round cardboard tokens. Sure, Antoine probably needed it this way to make it easier for game play, since the Chibis have little icons on them showing what to do with them. But, it is a little disappointing that the only Panda miniature in the box is the mother panda, when it would have been so much cooler to have her as well as her little chibis babies.

But as you can tell, I am just nit picking here. This is a well thought out, well designed expansion that hits all the marks for me. It provides a little more complexity, a little more strategy, definitely new elements to make it a fresh game again, and all without increasing the length. My wife and I don’t play Takenoko anymore without the Chibis expansion. I give it 3 out of 5 Cayenne Peppers.

I am glad the folks at Bombyx and Matagot got together with Antoine to bring to the Takenoko world a little LAGNIAPPE for the game. If you own Takenoko, get to your friendly local game store and get you some LAGNIAPPE too.

Until next time, Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler!

B. J.