Dice Tower 2017 Convention Report – Final Day and Final Thoughts

Two days of pre-con gaming, four full days of gaming non-stop from morning until midnight, thirty-one different games played — and it all comes down to the last day of Dice Tower Con.

Saturday was bittersweet, knowing that we were leaving that night. Jack and I met a lot of people at the con, and made a lot of good gaming friends. But, on the bright side, Saturday was also the morning of the Very Unofficial Dukes of Dice Baseball Highlights 2045 tourney. Plus, there should be plenty of time for gaming after the tourney ends.

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Lots of Duchy friends. Jack is playing in the back on the left behind the fan with the hat, Alex watching behind the table, Jake from Draft Mechanic sitting across from Jack, and Evan the Organized on the right hand side. (Photo courtesy of “Burky” from the Burky & Badger Podcast).

Jack and I headed to the Con hall with very little sleep between us. He had stayed up way late playing a bunch of big con games like Werewolf, while I stayed up for another Ethnos game.

We ran into Alex from the Dukes and Evan, the organizer of the event, and started setting up tables and decks. We ended up with sixteen players, so four tables of four players squared off. (Brandt Sanderson from Portal Podcast could not stay, and we had a cancellation, so he was gracious enough to take a dive in the first round against Alex.)

Speaking of cancellations, the defending champion who lobbied to be a late add to the tourney didn’t show! When I left Max the night before after we finished Concordia, he apparently kept playing games until the wee hours of the morning. Sorry, Max, we’ll catch you at the next tourney.

Back to the action — I quickly was dismantled by a young fellow from Jacksonville named Jeremy.  He has played many times on the app, but had never played the physical form. He quickly picked up on my plan to draft cards against his natural stacked deck, and then completely ditched the naturals for a spread between robots and cyborgs. I was lucky to beat him in two games, but he eventually finished me off four games to two. The fact that I was buying cheap robot control cards, and then missed the robot check the first five times, really hurt me.

Jack also had to face some pretty good players. He took on Jake from Draft Mechanic and Evan the Organized, before facing Burky from the Burky & Badger podcast show (and from Royals fame).  According to Alex, Burke is one of the best players out there, and won a local Dukes tourney in ABQ as I recall.  It was nip and tuck between them, but eventually Jack out drafted him to win four games to two.

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Evan the Organized, Jeff from Mo, and Alex trying to defend Earth in Flipships by Kane Klenko and Renegade Games.

While waiting for some of the games to finish, Alex set up a game of Flip Ships and played with Evan and Jeff from Mo, while I taught Sean’s buddy, Ellie, Kingdomino in the 7×7 format. Both games look so good on the table, are easy to teach, and have a lot of game in such small packages. I can rate both of them two thumbs up, despite Ellie destroying me in the format!

With Jack’s win against Burky secure, the finals were set!

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For all the marbles, the final World Series of the Basekball Highlights:2045 tourney between Jeremy from Jacksonville (L) and Jack from Louisiana (R)

Jack had to take on the same guy that beat me in the first round, Jeremy from Jacksonville.  What a matchup! Both teams were very good at buying cards and playing strategies. I broadcast bits and pieces of the match on Facebook Live before my battery crapped out. Each team split one game after another until the series was tied at three to three. It came down to the last inning of the seventh game of the World Series — just the way baseball should be played — and Jeremy could not get a visitor’s save.  Jack was the winner!

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Suze fact checking Sean or Alex? Hmm….could be…

The Dukes of Dice were recording right next to the tourney with honorary Duke Suzanne Sheldon from The Dice Tower.  The show ran long, so they missed the final game, but Alex kept tabs on the score and gave updates to the podcast audience.  I had named the episode Rasp of Con! (I’M COMING AFTER YOU, NAME FATHER!!) and Sean was gracious enough to invite me to announce the episode name and talk about the con. Alex even got in a mention about Jack’s win, so he was very thrilled with that.

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The Duchy is strongly represented at Dice Tower Con.

We had a few of the Dukes listeners stick around. Jeff from Mo, Ellie, and many others that I can’t remember all played or watched some of the games. If you haven’t played Baseball Highlights: 2045, you owe it to yourself to try this amazingly well done deck builder by the card guru himself, Mike Fitzgerald.

Then, it was on to the Stronghold booth, while Jack picked up another game of Game of Thrones. At the booth, I demoed Frogriders, the new Spiel de Jahres weight game from Stronghold. The game plays two to four players, and takes only about twenty minutes. Players jump frogs in a checkers type move, but each frog has a unique power, either giving the player points or allowing them to purchase upgrade cards or even taking another jump and another frog.

img_3383Frogriders looks beautiful on the table. It has a ton of colorful plastic frogs with stylized riders on the back. It has an easy mode, which I successfully taught to kids as young as second graders, but the game also comes with some “advanced” cards which have more gamer effects on them. The combination of the special powers of each colored frog, the public and hidden information regarding objectives and bonus points, and the more advanced cards all allows a family of gamers to play with different levels of interest from the non-gamer all the way up to the serious gamer.

With my shift over, and Jack still playing Game of Thrones, I went back into the main gaming hall and spotted Minneapolis Mike and Ellie’s friend Jay setting up Great Western Trail. I have really enjoyed every play I have had of that Stronghold release, so I was happy to join in when asked.

Great Western Trail is a classic Euro, where there are multiple paths to scoring victory points. Players take turns driving their cattle (in the form of a deck) all the way from one side of the board to the other. Once you reach Kansas City, you total up the cows in your deck and score points as your train takes off to points further west. Okay, thematically there are some holes, but the mechanics of the game are rock solid.

I tried a strictly Engineering and one builder strategy, but as usual lost out to the other three players who were focusing on cowboys.  I’m convinced that the Engineer strategy can win if played by a player with better resource management and efficiency.

And that was the end of the Con for me, as Jack arrived after battling it through with his Lannister House until the very end of Game of Thrones. We said our goodbyes, and then headed back to Louisiana, anxious to book our trip for next year.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

So, after having attended a local con, the spectacle of Gen Con, and the warmth of Pax South, was Dice Tower Con all that Tom Vasel made it out to be?

Short answer, No, it was more than Tom Vasel made it out to be!

If you like gaming, there is NON-STOP gaming in the halls all five days. I always saw plenty of players wanted or teachers wanted signs. In fact, I ended up teaching Viticulture even though I was just passing by a table.  The library is AMAZING especially compared to the one at Pax South, which had a lot more of the mass market type games. Every game I wanted to try was available at the library, although you may have to wait.

If you like shopping, Gen Con obviously has a lot more vendors and newer games. However, people raved about the deals that they got at the flea market. Also, I was able to pick up a pristine copy of Aquasphere in the awesome Virtual Flea Market. Finally, the exhibitor hall and more vendors than I could see in my limited time, plus a full Cool Stuff Inc. presence. I was told that you could even order off of the website and have it delivered to the con if you did not want to search the humongous ding and dent area.

If you like organized play, there was a lot more of that than I was expecting. No, it is not like Gen Con where you can spend tickets on just about any game and likely play with someone well versed in the rules or even the designers themselves!  But, again there was a pre-con sign up sheet for informal teaching of games, and there were daily sign up sheets for numerous games in the Game Zone. I saw everything from New Bedford to Viticulture to some of the latest games all being offered for play.

If you are into the hottest games, or want to try prototypes, then this con is again for you. Tom set up a dedicated “hot games are” where many of the Spiel de Jahres nominated games and the hottest games from Essen stayed permanently set up on the table. You could fiddle with the pieces, read the rules, or join in a game 24-7.

TIPS:

I hope to collect more tips but here’s a few I collected along the way:

  • Go early — we had as much fun gaming with the games brought by Evan, Mariana, Jon and so many other people as we did during the Con itself;
  • Book early — tickets go on sale in November, and they will sell out, plus hotels can be cancelled at any time;
  • Arrive early — if you are at all a morning person, you are in luck! The hotness tables are usually pretty quiet or empty, and you can even play a game with Eric or Tom as they are there just about every morning before 8 am;
  • Play late — again, as the midnight hour approaches, the tables start to thin out a bit, and you are more likely to see a players wanted sign; and
  • Register late — this seems counter intuitive, but unless you have something you really need from the library on Wednesday morning, bring a favorite game and start playing on one of the tables because you don’t need to register right away.  Tom allows people to start playing right away, and by the early afternoon, the register lines were so low we just walked right up and got our stuff.

Well, that’s our Dice Tower Con wrap up. I hope to see you at the Con in 2018. It will be held at the same July 4th week and at the same hotel.

Until next time, Laissez les bon temps rouler!

— B.J.

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Burky and Alex squaring off right in the opening round. (Photo courtesy of Burky).

Dice Tower 2017 Convention Report — Day Three

Hey board gamers, BJ from Board Game Gumbo here, back with more Dice Tower coverage. This time, we’re talking about Friday, otherwise known as Day Three (although it was Day Five for us pre-conners!)

Another day, another early start. The gaming halls are eerily more quiet around 8 am, especially on Friday, but that just means many tables in the hotness area are empty. I met with Minneapolis Mike and No Twitter Nate, and we sat down to try out a new racing game from Big Kid Games. Gondola is a 2016 release designed by jim pinto where players lay tiles to steer their gondola through five checkpoints.

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Gondola with Minneapolis Mike (L) and No Twitter Nate (R)

We learned the rules in ten minutes, and then headed off on the race. Nate took an early lead, but Mike was able to come back with a few well placed tiles. Applying the tile laying strategies in Carcassone and combining them with other mechanisms (like dungeon diving in the upcoming Delve release) always piques my interest, and Gondola delivers on the tense nature of any racing game.

The downside was the rulebook and the artwork. The rule book needs an editing job and some graphic design help. I did not have a big problem with the card art, but Mike did. He kept looking at a hand of cards that had bridges on them thinking they were checkpoints, but the bridges were not in the center — which in all fairness, is spelled out in the rule book. I had a good time, but this would be a “streaming” game for me (as opposed to a “screening” — thanks Rolling Dice & Taking Names).

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Not Alone with Alex and Max (top to bottom on left) and Oscar and D.J. (top to bottom on right)

I headed back to the Stronghold Booth, and this time I was able to teach Not Alone a few times. I’ve now played this one v. many game bunches of times, but I’ve never been the solo baddie. I’ll have to take on the Krewe de Gumbo at our next game night. Alex from the Dukes came back with his buddy Max (more from him later), but this time the alien got a few licks in early and the astronauts were ultimately vanquished.

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Stronghold Booth is hopping with Frogriders, Not Alone, and Fields of Green.

I also demoed Cottage Garden, the Uwe Rosenberg follow up to Patchwork that is finally making its way to the States. I’ve never played Patchwork, but I like interesting two player games that can sneak a theme into abstract mechanics. Cottage Garden seems to play all player counts well, including two player, and every time I showed the game off, players really got into the theme of planting flowers, placing pottery and “bells”, and chasing cats and mice around the garden.

The game really flows, and I love the end game. Somehow, Uwe snuck in his usual diabolical management mechanic, but instead of “feeding your garden”, you have to watch the end game very closely by not overplanting a garden for the last round. If you do not finish one or both of your gardens, and they have three or more tiles on them, then you must keep playing taking penalty points each turn during the final round! Uwe is an evil genius.

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Brandt Sanderson (R) from Portal Podcast

Brandt Sanderson from Portal Podcast also stopped by. He and I had worked together (virtually) on a little project for The Dice Tower, but had never met. Brandt’s podcast is a great listen because you get the inside look at both gaming and the gaming hobby from a FLGS owner’s perspective with his podcast partner, Bryan. (I met Bryan the next day at the Baseball Highlights tourney, and he seemed surprised that I knew who he was by his voice — Bryan, this hobby is a very small pond!). Brandt is a champ of a guy, and can talk board games with the best so make sure you stop and say hello if you see him.

My son Jack had volunteered at the Tortured Earth booth on Thursday, and so on Friday, he hung out at the demo table all morning trying out the combat system. My high school classmate, KB Kidder, has developed his own RPG system and is hitting the con circuit spreading the word. Jack gave it two thumbs up, and has the books now to start his own group. Jack says it’s a classless, level-less game system, based on an post-apocolyptic earth. It runs off skill points, instead of experience, and the main attraction for Jack was the skill set idea and combat system because of the back-to-back nature of the dice rolls. The beauty also of this RPG is that your character can be transferred to any theme setting — horror, science fiction, etc — these can all be found in “The Mist” which is the background of the game experience.

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The amazing Flip Ships from Renegade Games. Alex from the Dukes of Dice (L) and Jack (R)

When he finished, Alex and I grabbed him and Max to play a game of Flip Ships, the 2017 release from Renegade Game Studios. Wow, was I disappointed that this sold out the first day and couldn’t get a copy!

It’s a dexterity based table top co-op with a space invader mechanic of invading aliens attacking our world. The flicking mechanism from Rampage is easy to pick up, but what shines is the additional powers that your ships get (including additional ships) to help your squadron defeat the advancing hordes. I played once, and watched two other games, and it always seems to come down to the last one or two ships to win! Kane Klenko has a winner here.

Next up, Bruce from Northstar Games invited us to play Vegas Wits & Wagers. So, one of the group is not big fans of the party style of the original, but decided to try it anyway. This latest iteration of W&W is the best yet….by far.

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Grandpa for the win! Vegas Wits & Wagers at Northstar Games. In order from L to Right, Jack, Alex, Max, demo person from Northstar, BJ, and Bruce from the PartyGameCast featuring the PartyGameCast (and Northstar Games)

It melds the fun elements of guessing who is closest to the right answer on obscure trivia with the excitement of playing long odds to catch up to the leading person. This is a hoopin’ and hollarin’ trivia party game, and does not overstay its welcome (the reason Trivial Pursuit is buried in thousands of landfills everywhere.) The Kickstarter is out in mid-August, which provides you with this awesome neoprene mat with a Vegas style board with colorful graphics. Can’t wait to try this back home with some friends, a couple pounds of boudin and an ice chest of Abita (root beer or otherwise.)

On the backside of Northside was the Attack Dice group. They were showing off two little micro games, When Zombies Attack! and Dungeon Attack! I tried Zombies, with one eyebrow raised up in hesitation, but it was actually fun for a little beer & pretzels dice game. Players toss dice and try to avoid zombies or send them to the other players. The game time is short and the take that is just light enough that I think it would work as an opening night filler for any group.

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Shadowscape at the NKSN Booth

I stopped by NSKN Games to check out Shadowscape. (Ran out of time, and didn’t get to visit the new Strawberry lineup unfortunately). This one really looks interesting. It is a compact looking dungeon dive with little minis (redundant? No!) and an interesting skill / combat system. After being hands on with my demos for three days, I was hoping to grab some pieces and fight some creatures, but this demo team had more of a rules oriented approach. We were a little disappointed, but maybe we can try again at Gen Con.

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Crusaders: Thy Will Be Done at the TMG booth.

Next up, we checked in at Tasty Minstrel Games for a quick demo of Crusaders: Thy Will Be Done. We had an excellent teacher, and were up and running in minutes. This rondel action based DOAM game with a little engine building to boot was a lot of fun. We played a nearly production ready version, but I’m told the Kickstarter will give it the full enhanced treatment. This is one to watch out for as we get closer. We snuck in another quick visit with Lance while we were there.

Next door was the Meeple Source booth, and with the Baseball Highlights tourney approaching the next day, we picked up some cool runner/batter colored meeples. So much better than playing with bowling pins, right?

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Ready for the tourney! Runners and batter meeples.

After a tremendously good bacon and cheddar hamburger (with chipotle mayo of course) from Tropicale, the casual restaurant in the hotel, I headed back for a game of Concordia. I’ve been wanting to play this Mac Gerdts game since the Secret Cabal started raving about it. Jonathan Howe saw my request on BGG and agreed to teach it to me and Jack. Max from the Dukes of Dice wanted in, too, and already knew the game well, so we really had some good instruction.

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Jonathan (lower R) teaching Max (upper L) and Jack (lower L) and me how to play Concordia.

Concordia is an action selection exploration and trading game in the Mediterranean that seriously lived up to the hype. I don’t know that I have played a more elegant game. Each action I took seemed to make sense, and unlocked other combinations. I told Max that my intent was to try out each of the actions, even if they didn’t make combo-tastic sense, just to see the whirring and purring of the engine. By the end of the game, I was finally seeing some of the VP strategies, but of course, it was way too late, and Max cleaned our clocks. But, he and Jonathan were kind enough to walk us through their strategies in the post-mortem, which really helped us. Now, if the rumored re-printing from Rio Grande (or another company perhaps) would happen….

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Alex (far L) and Sean (L) presenting the Best Art award at the Dice Tower with help from Tom (far R) and Eric (R)

It was time for the Dice Tower Awards. As usual, Eric Summerer and Tom Vasel were breezy and fun, and kept the show moving. There were a lot of first time award presenters, as well as some old favorites. Singing happy birthday to Brian Counter (“and he’s counter-productive) might have been a highlight, until Jason Levine goofed on Eric by exchanging the certificate for game of the year with a movie reference to La-La-Land.

Back in the main gaming hall, I ran into some Louisiana pals (Jesse, Melissa, and Ronald) who needed a fourth for Word Slam. Sorry, no pictures, but this game was right up my alley. Team captains take turns giving clues to a secret word to their team members using only decks of cards with nouns, prepositions, and verbs. The words scale up in difficulty and of course, there is a dreaded timer. I really enjoyed Word Slam and need to find a copy for our scouts game nights and family holiday game days.

We grabbed a couple of people walking by, and laughed when one of them was from New Orleans. Six people at the table, only three of whom had met before the Con, and now five out of six are from the same small state — and the sixth one traveled through the Bayou State on the way to Texas one time. I think we ended up playing for about an hour, cycling through a bunch of words, before Jesse suggested that we check to see if Ethnos was available.

It was! Ethnos went back on the table again for the second night, this time with Windfolk and Giants added. Again — the board is ugly, the pieces are chincy, but the gameplay is rock solid. This one is on my list to pick up.

Not counting demos, that’s six games played in one day — not bad considering my commitments to demoing games at Stronghold! I think I played more this day than I did in three days at GenCon!

 

Next post, we’ll wrap up the convention for me and Jack, since we were leaving Saturday night. Any questions about the games we saw or about the convention in general? Send me a tweet @boardgamegumbo, and I’ll do my best to answer.

Until next time, Laissez les bon temps rouler!!

— BJ

Haithabu

Board Game Gumbo is pleased to present another post from our friend, Jason Dinger, a board game designer from Morgan City, Louisiana. He is the designer of the upcoming Spielworxx release for Essen 2018, Captains of the Gulf. He previously blogged about his trip to HeavyCon here.   

It can be disappointing to buy a game that had so much buzz, only to find out that it doesn’t deliver once you get to play it. The excitement is quickly diminished when all the bling and hype aren’t matched by the experience on the table.

By contrast, it’s a shame that good games sometimes get overlooked simply because of assumptions made in haste. Haithabu is one such game. Published in 2015 by Spielworxx, Haithabu is a medium-heavy economic game about Viking traders working to acquire goods, transport them, and cash in on lucrative contracts as the seasons progress.

When the initial press releases of the game were sent out, several reviewers and many gamers focused on a single aspect: event dice – and wrote the game off from the start without ever giving it a chance. “Random event dice in a heavy economic game?!”, they scoffed.

The truth is that the dice and the events they *might* bring about are minor and are not often experienced in the game. The truth is that Haithabu is a fun, challenging game that rewards proper planning and strategic adjustments. It provides a wonderful experience for those who actually give it a chance without any preconceived biases.

There are a few primary complaints made about the game that I have heard and I will explore them here – explaining why I feel they are unfounded and simply not true.

The misconceptions about the dice seem to be the biggest cloud of negativity that surrounds this game. There several reasons why this is not a problem, but in fact adds a layer of enjoyment to the game.

The main action selection wheel is divided into 8 spaces. At any point in the game, 4 of these spaces are on the “day” (safe) side and the other 4 of them are on the “night” (dangerous) side. Thematically, it makes sense. Performing a task at night with less light / low visibility is going to be risky.

The thing is you don’t ever have to perform a task at night. Haithabu, much like Lignum, is a game that is all about proper planning. You know the things you need to get and tasks you need to complete in order to be able to deliver your goods. You can see what actions are in the night side and you know the timing and pace of when those actions will rotate to the day side.

In all of our plays at 2-player, we average no more than two to three rolls of the dice TOTAL between both players in the entire game. This is a negligible amount and hardly enough to warrant the fears that “random event dice rolls” will have such an impact on a strategic, economic game. So, you will only HAVE to roll the dice if you’ve failed to plan properly. In that case, it makes sense that you’d have to take a risk.

Next, you have to consider the impact of the penalties themselves. There is a 1 in 6 chance that nothing will happen. There is a 2 in 6 chance that your opponents will be affected and a 3 in 6 chance that you will be affected. Taking those numbers into account, you can look at the actual penalties themselves to see that they are minor: lose one good, lose one point, discard a transport, discard a character, pay the cost of mead (usually a few dollars).

Characters are a nice addition to the game, but hardly the heart and soul. Having to discard one is not a big deal. I don’t believe I need to explain that losing a single point is not a major problem. Losing a good can wreak havoc on you if you have just enough to fulfill your order cards. Again, this is where proper planning comes into place. Simply buy a few extra mead for $2 (or whatever the current price is at that point) to have as insurance against this penalty. Losing a transport could be painful, but again careful planning ensures that you only have a transport long enough to use it and then it’s gone – minimizing this risk.

You can also claim a character that allows you to roll two dice and choose the one event you want from what is rolled. If that character isn’t available, you can pay $20 to roll a second die.

Clearly, all of the early reviews that put so much emphasis on the event dice did not truly explore the game nor dig into the details of their frequency, use, and penalties. The dice are not used often, the penalties are not game changers, and they are easy to mitigate or avoid.

One last statement that I’ve heard about the dice is the idea that “what if you’re playing with someone who purposely uses lots of night actions to roll the dice a lot and increase the chances of them negatively affecting you”. To that I say, don’t play games with people like that.

Seriously though, if someone chooses to try to ruin the experience and try to tank the game with bad dice rolls, there is a much greater chance that they will be hurting themselves with the rolls. Also, that likely means they aren’t taking optimal actions, but picking whatever is available on the night side. I see this as a “player problem” and not a “game problem”.

The other main complaint that I’ve heard about Haithabu is that “you aren’t building an engine” – which is something you typically see in economic games. To this I’d argue that you are in fact building an engine, just not one that is laid out in your tableau so easily recognizable.

Instead, you are building an economic engine the same way that you do in a game like Lignum. You invest money in goods and transports to fulfill order cards. The money you get from fulfilling the orders allows you to further invest in even more goods, higher quality goods, larger transports, and in turn, fulfill larger more profitable orders.

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With all that out of the way, what is there to like about Haithabu? Quite a bit actually. The action selection wheel (not exactly a rondel) with half the actions on a risky side that rotates is a nice feature that really emphasizes the need for good planning. In my opinion, that is the heart of this game: proper planning, both short term and long term.

This is a game that gets better with repeated plays. Each time it hits the table, I am trying to optimize my moves and plan better than last time. Can I use one transport to bring over enough goods to fulfill two order cards at once? How can I better make use of a certain character’s special ability this time? Lots of great challenges and lots of fun. Each new play opens me up to more refined play and the rewards that come from it.

I love games that require planning. This is a big plus and one of the things that I enjoy the most when playing Haithabu. In our last play, I was twice able to transport enough goods to fulfill two order cards simultaneously. That level of efficiency gave me nice, big payouts in fewer actions and gave me a nice lead towards the end of the game.

One of the key elements of the game is that the transport do not exactly line up perfectly with the order cards. You are never stuck without the ability to move your goods to the trading post, but the challenge comes in doing so as efficiently as possible. Each transport allows for a certain combination of types and quantities of goods to be shipped – along with an additional amount of goods limited by quantity but not type.

Being able to secure order multiple order cards that line up with a single transport can reap big rewards as you cash in for a nice score from only a handful of actions. Alternatively, poor planning will mean wasted space on transports when you ship only what you need and neglect the chance to complete multiple orders at once.

Haithabu is a game that features a unique action selection wheel, a nice “live” market of goods, characters with special abilities, financial management, and just enough risk to add some spice. It’s the kind of game that leaves me wanting just one more turn and I love that. Plus, it’s got art from the amazing Harald Lieske – one of my favorite artists in all of the board game world. His illustrations and color choices make it a beautiful game to behold on the table.

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Spielworxx is a company that has published so many games that have provided me with hours upon hours of enjoyment. Haithabu is without a doubt one such game.

— Jason