For my fellow gumshoes

I very much enjoy a good mystery. I know I’m in good company in loving Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes. Plus, I remember having this book as a kid and loving it so much. (SO MUCH.) Thus, I was incredibly pleased to find a couple of two-player mystery games! Mr. Jack and Le Fantome de l’Opéra pit the players against each other: one is the detective, trying to solve a whodunnit, while the other works on behalf of the criminal. The two games are almost indistinguishable excepting their background story and the look of the game board. In my opinion, Mr. Jack is the better game, but both are worth your time. So let’s take a little tour…

Mr. Jack takes place in London in the neighborhood of Whitechapel, where eight characters have gathered. Unbeknownst to the player acting as detective, one of the characters is actually Mr. Jack in disguise! The player acting as Mr. Jack must protect the identity of Mr. Jack’s character by avoiding being accused for 8 turns (or by fleeing the neighborhood altogether!). Each turn, both players have the opportunity to move some of the 8 characters.

Bird’s eye view of Whitechapel

Above, you can see the game board with some round character tokens (most visible are the red and blue ones, for instance), as well as some yellow light posts. Characters adjacent to the light, or in view of another character are considered ‘visible.’ At the end of each turn, the detective gets a binary piece of information: the other player says whether or not Mr. Jack is visible.

By the end of 8 turns, the detective must use this information to figure out which player is Mr. Jack! If the detective is wrong, or Mr. Jack escapes off the game board (via exits at each corner), the detective loses. But if Mr. Jack is accused before the last turn is up… it’s curtains!

Before Mr. Jack I had never played a game like this before. It wasn’t too difficult to learn or play, and kind of let me feel like I was in the various mysteries I love so much. Also, in this game you can feel super stealthy! (I am probably the opposite of stealthy in real life, so this is quite valuable to me.) I give Mr. Jack a very solid 4 stars.

Now there’s no need to spend very long on Le Fantome de l’Opéra. It is, in many ways, the same as Mr. Jack (although somehow for me it fell a little short). Instead of moving through a town, you are moving through an old opera house:

The famous (and spooky) ‘Opéra Garnier’

Again, you can see the different character tokens in different rooms of the opera house. The detective spends the game trying to identify the phantom (Le Fantome), and the phantom tries to avoid being caught! This game becomes infinitely more fun if you speak in french accents the entire time. Overall, 3 stars.


I’ll end this post with an extra tidbit. For some reason, writing about Mr. Jack made me think about film noir. I kept trying to find ways to include some sort of film noir lingo in the post. But aside from gumshoe in the title I just couldn’t swing it. However, to satisfy my desire for some film noir content, here are some choice film noir quotes:

Johnny Morrison (Alan Ladd): “You oughta have more sense than to take chances with strangers like this.”
Joyce Harwood (Veronica Lake): “It’s funny, but practically all the people I know were strangers when I met them.”
[The Blue Dahlia – 1946]

Monte (Zachary Scott): “Oh, I wish I could get that interested in work.”
Ida (Eve Arden): “You were probably frightened by a callus at an early age!”
[Mildred Pierce – 1945]

Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker): “You’re never around when I need you.”
Velda (Maxine Cooper): “You never need me when I’m around.”
[Kiss Me Deadly – 1955]

Joan to Halliday: “What I like about you is you’re rock bottom. I wouldn’t expect you to understand this, but it’s a great comfort for a girl to know she could not possibly sink any lower.”
[The Big Steal – 1949]

(all quotes [+ many others!] found @


Catching up on games: Tsuro, Quoridor, and Repello

Although I’ve been pretty horrible about reviewing games, I’ve played quite a few (as you can see from my revised to-review list below). It has been supremely awesome. Some of the games seem like they would review well together, so here’s a three-in-one of what I think of as ‘easy-yet-hard’ games: Tsuro, Quoridor, and Repello!

All of these can be learned rapidly, the rules are simple and straightforward, and they are rather quick to play (~30 minutes, give or take). But they are all excellent and are deceptively difficult! As is usual, I tried each game with only two players, but you can play with more. (Tsuro is 2-8 players, Quoridor is 2-4, and Repello is 2-4.) Also as usual, the first time my boyfriend and I played I won handily, and haven’t won since.  D:

Here is a brief run-down of each game!

Tsuro is a game of tile placement, and depending on the tiles you play, you move your token along different paths. The goal is to keep your token traveling along a path (without hitting either the edge of the board or your opponent) longer than anyone else. Tsuro tiles look like this:

Tsuro tiles

You have a secret hand of tiles, and each turn you place a tile on the game board, and then move your token as far as it can go along its path. Each token starts at the edge of the game board, and moves as each new tile is placed. In the image below, you can trace the routes that have been taken thus far by each piece.

Tsuro board and tokens

So… you pretty much already know enough to play, but if you want to watch a cheesy how-to video, you can do that right here. In addition to being a pretty great game, I also really like its aesthetics. It evokes a sense of old Japanese art (at least to me).

Tsuro art!

This game is surprisingly easy, but also strategically challenging and lends itself to playing multiple times. 4 stars!


Next up, I want to talk about Quoridor. Quoridor also falls into this lovely category of easy to learn, yet deceptively difficult to play well. It’s an abstract strategy game in which you try to take your pawn from one edge of the game board to the other. You are also simultaneously trying to stop your opponent from completing this goal, and can do so by placing little walls to block their path. However, on each turn you can only take one action: move your pawn OR place a wall. The board looks like this:

Ready to play!

That is what the start of the game looks like. From then on you are allowed to move your pawn or place a wall, so long as you don’t entirely block all possible paths for your opponent. Here’s an example of a game in progress.

The blocking has begun…

This game can be a little heart-breaking depending on when and how your opponent uses their walls. Or a lot heart-breaking if you get really invested in your games. Not that I know anyone like that. (Disclaimer: I’m totally like that.) Lots of fun to play, and can be surprisingly dramatic! 3 stars.


Last but not least: Repello. I would say Repello falls into this ‘games based on abstract strategy that are easy yet hard’ category. That’s a mouthful, but I’m not sure how else to describe it. (Other games like this include Hive and The Duke.) Repello is maybe slightly more onerous to learn than Tsuro and Quoridor, but is certainly not that difficult compared to most board games. The overall goal in Repello is to score more points than your opponent(s). You score points by knocking black, silver, and gold tokens off the board (worth 1, 3, and 5 points, respectively). Each player starts with a stack of black tokens, and some black, silver, and gold tokens are laid out on the board. Each turn you move your stack some number of spaces in any direction, dictated by the game board. Here’s an example:

Repello board

Now ignore the mysterious blurry finger moving a black token in the picture. The stack of black tokens on the clear plastic stick is the blue player’s stack. All around the stack are numbers, and these are the numbers that dictate the number of spaces the stack moves in each direction. The blue stack can go 2 spots to move “down” in the image. Or 3 spots to the left. 4 to the lower left, etc.
Each time you move your stack you leave behind one black token from the stack in the spot the stack started. This is where things get interesting! Every piece on the board repels each other. (Hence the name Repello!) So if your move results in two tokens being adjacent to each other (including diagonals), one of them must be moved.

Below is a small example of a section of Repello board. If it were red’s turn, and red moved two spots (down and to the right in the image), it would end up next to blue. But they can’t stay like this because they repel!

Repello example

So either red or blue would need to move one space away from each other to resolve this repulsion. (And since it was red’s turn, red makes that decision). What you see above is a simple example, but when you have a whole game board with many different tokens you can create this fantastic chain reaction of repulsions that has far-reaching effects. It makes you feel all powerful! (Or maybe that’s just me.)

Anyway, super fun game. I’m actually really excited to try this with more people; I imagine play would progress differently with more tokens being left all over the place. Overall 3.5 stars!


Lastly, mostly for my own reference, here is my increasingly long to-review list!

1911 Amundsen vs. Scott
Carcassonne: South Seas
Castle Panic
Damage Report
Dominion (original, seaside)
The Duke
Le Fantome de l’Opera
Forbidden Island
Kittens in a Blender
Mr. Jack
San Juan
Settlers of Catan
Smash Up
Spot It
Ticket to Ride

A quickie: Castellan!

Things have been bonkers busy lately (is that always the case? I feel like I’m always saying things like that) so I haven’t had time to make progress on my to-review list. Ugh! Plus, I moved and now no longer live a block from the magical center of games and delicious food/drank that I love so much. (It’s now like a 15-minute walk away. My life is SO HARD, guys.) Anyway! I thought a quickie would be perfect (an appropriate descriptor of both the review and the game).

 is a two-player game that is super easy to learn, but also fun to play. I’d say you get a fair amount of bang for your buck in fun per time spent learning/reading rules. Plus, the game revolves around these castle pieces that you have to physically link together to form courtyards and it is totally reminiscent of playing with legos or blocks as a kid. Bonus points for nostalgia. Here are all the pieces in the game (minus some cards):

As you might surmise, the walls link up with the round towers, and the colored pieces represent the two players and their claims on courtyards. When a player completes a courtyard they claim it with their piece, and the score for that courtyard is the number of tower pieces that touch the courtyard. So for example…

The courtyard with one blue piece has 4 towers, so its worth 4. The one with two blue pieces is worth 7. Easy peasy. (In each game you can claim one courtyard with two of your colored pieces and it nets you double the points.)

Ultimately, this game is certainly not one you’ll likely go and rave to your friends about. But it’s easy, it’s fun, and it’s kind of hard to tell who is winning until you count up everything at the end. (Okay, sure, you could count as you go, or just crush your opponent, but it’s much more fun to be surprised by the outcome, I think.) As a little filler when you only have a short amount of time, or if you want something easy to teach to friends, it’s a really solid option. Plus, again: lego nostalgia!

Overall, 3 stars.

P.S. I found this video that explains the game. How much does that background music add to the video? SO MUCH.

P.P.S.  Fun fact! Castellan means governor or captain of a castle. Comes from Latin.


The Duke: best chess substitute

Let me tell you: although there’s been a shortage of updates here, there has been no shortage of game-playing! Oh, I’ve been a super slacker at cataloguing my gaming thoughts. I’m going to make a little list to keep track, but today I will be focusing just on a game that I really enjoyed called The Duke!

The Duke is a game that feels a bit like chess, but with some luck and memory components that stop it from feeling entirely strategy-based.

The game starts with a board that is smaller than a chessboard, but otherwise quite similar:

The Duke setup

The game starts with your duke (equivalent roughly to the king in chess), and two footmen (like pawns). Although there are actually a number of other pieces, you only start with these three. You can randomly draw other pieces to add to the board throughout the game — this is where some of the luck comes in!

Each piece (whether it be the Duke, footmen, or any of the others) is a little wooden square with symbols on the front AND back. Like so:

Example pieces!

As you might have guessed, part of the image on the piece is a map of the game board and represents what this piece can do! Different symbols mean different things. For example, the closed circle means the piece can move to that square, while the open circle means the piece can jump to the indicated square. (It is, of course, all relative to where the piece is.) There are some other fancy moves too, like the general being able to move other pieces. (Full description of rules and gameplay here.)

We’ve pretty much covered the major aspects of play except for one other tiny little thing. Every time a piece moves, you have to flip it over. This is super important because both sides of the piece are NOT the same! So, this is where the memory part comes in: it is crucial to remember what your pieces’ other side shows, so that when you move a piece it is well-positioned to utilize its other side. Make sense?

These extra elements which combine strategy with a bit of luck and memory make The Duke a lot of fun. It can help match up two otherwise unmatched players (i.e. my boyfriend and I — I’ll leave it up to you to guess who is the better strategist). The game is easy to learn, and fun to play. It also feels well-made. The wooden pieces make the game feel much more substantial than using plastic or paper markers.

Overall, I highly recommend, and enthusiastically give 4.5 stars!

To be reviewed:
Mr. Jack
Le Fantome de l’Opera
Castle Panic
Forbidden Island
Damage Report

Carcassonne South Seas

A couple of weeks ago I went to Cafe Mox (my amazing local game library) with my boyfriend to have a night of tasty foods, excessive drink, and a bunch of 2-player games. It was much fun! And we were 2 for 2 on great games for the night. So, here are my thoughts on the first great game we played that night:

Carcassonne: South Seas
This game is a spin-off of the original Carcassonne (which has quickly become one of my favorite board games!). One of the great things about Carcassonne in general is that the game can be really different each time you play — you are assembling the game board as you go. It’s a tile-laying game where you try to complete various structures (islands, bridges, markets, and seas), but it’s complicated by the need to have claimed these structures in order to get points for them. Here’s an example of what the game board can look like:

South Seas game board

Clearly visible in this shot are the islands, bridges, seas, and the islands that are only one square (called markets). Thus far the description of South Seas is almost the same as the original Carcassonne, but here is where the two games diverge. You also must acquire resources (bananas, fish, or shells) to gain points, and all points are counted only at the end of the game. There are NO points counted throughout. In some ways this greatly simplifies things, because the need to carefully count points throughout the game (as in the original) disappears. You just do some pretty easy mental math at the end to add everything up.

Ultimately, much like the original, I think South Seas is a highly successful game. It’s straightforward enough to learn pretty quickly, but variable enough to be fun for a long time. Really good for 2-5 people, which means it’s quite flexible, too! I think I’m still partial to the original Carcassonne, and am a little disinclined  toward all the extras that complicate it (like the need to collect/trade resources). I do wonder, though, if I had played this before the original if I wouldn’t feel differently… maybe I just get attached to whatever version I play first. Anyway! I sincerely recommend this or the original for a unique board game whose simplicity and variability make it a great and accessible game.

3 out of 5 stars.

New blog series; San Juan review!

Firstly: wow, it’s been awhile since I’ve blogged! Since I last posted I’ve passed my general exam (and am now a Doctoral Candidate!) and applied for my first big girl grant (an NRSA through the NIH). And now that I am pretty literally counting down the hours until my official vacation it’s time to get back on the horse. And what better way to do that than by starting a new type of blog entry: board game reviews!

This may seem slightly esoteric, but I know a lot of people who enjoy games and cafes & bars that feature board games are becoming more and more popular. Well, that’s a made up statistic, but too bad. This will be fun, I promise.

San Juan:
This is a resource management type of board/card game that can be played by 2-4 players. If you’re wondering what ‘resource management’ really means, join the club. This is just what the clerks at my local game library call it (seriously, I won the jackpot by living a block away from this place). I think it roughly means there are different types of goods/resources you can have, and you must successfully manage them to win. WOW. Insight of the century.

Anyhow, the game looks like this:

San Juan: the game (not the city)!

Overall I would say I was a bit underwhelmed by this game, but I think resource management games aren’t so much my favorite. Here’s a quick and dirty summary of how the game works. The goal is to have the most victory points (aka points… that can lead you to victory!) at the end of the game (when someone has built 12 buildings). You amass victory points by constructing buildings, for which you pay by producing and trading goods, and collecting cards in your hand.

Although you are playing with/against others, your actions don’t much affect the other player. You can’t sabotage them in any way, really. This probably encourages more civilized play, but I really do enjoy a good sabotage (mostly when I’m not the recipient, of course). Anyhow, it’s a little more creative than some other similar card/resource management games. There’s some strategy involved, but it’s relatively straightforward to learn. And not too much lingo to acquire. Also, it is not too cumbersome in terms of space required, thankfully.

All set up and ready to go!

Random +1: They have these nifty score cards for the end of the game. Actually super helpful in counting up victory points because there are some sneaky/confusing ways to earn points!

Random -1: The slot for the cards in the box is oddly slanted so it’s hard to fit everything back into the box. Or I am just seriously spatially challenged. Or both, frankly.

Certainly worth checking out, but I wouldn’t add it to my wish list. (Unlike this magical gem, which I thankfully already own!)

2 stars (out of 5, I guess. I don’t know. Let’s go with 5.)