board games

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).


Castellan
 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:
Castellan
Mr. Jack
Babel
Le Fantome de l’Opera
Legacy
Rockwell
Castle Panic
Forbidden Island
Tsuro
Quoridor
Repello
Pagoda
Concept
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.