Humans of the Tabletop: June 4, 2018

Inspired by Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York, I present Humans of the Tabletop, an ongoing series about the people I’ve played games with.


“Now that we’re both basically retired, it’s good to get out of the house to meet people and play games. It’s nice to keep your mind active and enjoy the puzzly nature of games. Gaming has always excited us with its friendly competition. Win or lose, you still have friends.”

Isla Vista

The photo above is the Pacific Ocean as seen from Isla Vista, the tiny beach town that’s synonymous with my alma mater, UC Santa Barbara.

On May 23, 2014, my stepdaughter was a student at UCSB when six of our fellow Gauchos were murdered in Isla Vista.

My wife and I were horrified by the news. Thankfully, our daughter had come home early for the weekend. She and her friends still on campus were safe, but my heart ached for the families and friends of those who lost their lives. We knew it could’ve been us that got the phone call no parent ever wants to receive.

A day after the shootings I pinned the photo to my Twitter profile. It was my way of remembering the Isla Vista of my undergraduate days. It meant my stepdaughter was safe.

It became a silly superstition for me: I wouldn’t unpin the photo until she’d graduated.

Tonight I talked to my stepdaughter about what happened on that day. We’ve talked about it in the past and I know we’ll talk about it in the future.

I remember being proud of how the student and Santa Barbara communities rallied around the university. I remember the chants of “Not one more.” I remember thinking about how we honor the memories of the deceased not by reliving the past, but learning from it in order to make a better present and future.

I unpinned the photo today.

As I see my stepdaughter make her way in the world — having graduated, having worked an internship in the Philippines, and having gotten into graduate school — I remember the students whose lives were cut short, whose dreams were extinguished before they could be realized, and whose family and friends must carry the memories of their unrealized potential.

I remember that as terrible as that day was, there were — and are — plenty of awe-inspiring days, too.

I remember that the evil in this world will always be eclipsed by the good.

I remember:

Weihan Wang
Cheng Yuan Hong
George Chen
Katherine Cooper
Veronika Weiss
Christopher Michaels-Martinez

Most importantly, I remember.

Update 6-4-18: You can listen to me read this post on YouTube.

Humans of the Tabletop: April 23, 2018

Inspired by Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York, I present Humans of the Tabletop, an ongoing series about the people I’ve played games with.


“During elementary school sometimes when it rained we’d have indoor recess and play board games or draw, but I would read books. One rainy season I got into reading series of books like The Woodlanders. And once I got into Harry Potter, my love of reading exploded.”

On the Tabletop: Cobra Paw


From the makers of Bananagrams comes Cobra Paw, a light family game of pattern recognition and real-time action. Two to six players (“ninjas”) attempt to be the first to collect six stones and win the game.

There are 21 stones that have different symbols and colors on them. The active player rolls two dice and whoever can match the symbols on the dice to its corresponding stone must grab it to add to their collection.

If the symbols match a stone in someone’s collection, they can be stolen from them. First one to have six stones (or eight stones in a two-player game) wins. (18)

This is a simple and fast game. The components are top-notch, featuring big, chunky dice and solid domino-like stones. The rule book is whimsical and offers a few variants to the basic game.

Cobra Paw is great if you have young ones looking to participate in game night. For more experienced gamers, this might work as a filler between heavier, more involved games.

Thanks to Bananagrams for providing a copy of Cobra Paw for review.

Now on Kickstarter: Mystery of the Temples


In the world of modern board gaming, bigger does not mean better. From Gryphon Games’ Bookshelf games to the small-box brilliance of the Tiny Epic series, games no longer need to be in Days of Wonder-sized boxes to provide a satisfying tabletop experience.

Mystery of the Temples from Deep Water Games is the latest game to outplay its humble size. Players are adventurers exploring wilderness, gathering crystals, and trying to break the curses placed on various temples.

The game features excellent components with linen-finished mini-Euro-sized cards and tarot-sized cards, 60 crystals in five colors, four meeples, and 24 broken curse marker cubes. I was surprised by how many things were packed into the box; it was easy to find and set up everything.

The object of the game is to score the most points by breaking curses, collecting runes, and gaining end-game bonuses via area majority and set collection. (17)

On your turn you’ll move your meeple one to three spaces, either on the large temple cards or the smaller wilderness cards. Temple cards give you one specific crystal or you can opt to break a curse for points. Wilderness cards give you more options for gaining or exchanging crystals.

For the most part, you’ll move on the wilderness cards to collect crystals before moving onto the temple cards to break curses.

As you gather crystals, you’ll store them on your crystal grid. You’ll want to pay attention as you do this since the order in which you place them matters. Why? Because to break a temple’s curse, you must play the crystals in the exact order shown on the card. So if you want to break the yellow-yellow-blue curse for three points, those crystals must be connected to each other on your crystal grid.


Once you break a curse you’ll score victory points and gain a rune card. These cards offer special abilities and additional crystals whenever you land on a card that has the matching rune. As the game progresses, multiple rune cards may be trigger simultaneously.

After a player breaks five curses, then the rest of the round is played. Players then check for end game bonuses. First, three of the five temples offer bonuses points based on who has the most broken curse markers on them. Next, players check their rune cards and gain points based on the number of unique runes they’ve acquired. The player with the most points wins.


I was impressed upon seeing the quality of components inside Mystery of the Temples and was equally impressed by its game play. The turns are simple (move your meeple and either collect crystals or break a temple’s curse), but there are decisions to be made throughout the game.

Since players can’t share spaces (they leapfrog any player on a card), not everything you attempt will go according to plan. You can even block an opponent from a temple by landing on it before they do and it’s not uncommon to find another player beating you to a temple.

The crystal grid makes things interesting by forcing you to be aware of how you store your crystals. I like that you can’t just hoard crystals; you can only keep a dozen and if they’re not in the right order to break a curse, then you’ll have to spend clear crystals to re-arrange them.

I also liked the asymmetry built into the game; each player has a special ability they may use on their turn. These abilities may shape your early strategy and it’s a nice way to ensure everybody isn’t trying to land on the same cards in the opening rounds.

Don’t let the size of Mystery of the Temples fool you: the box may scream “filler,” but the game has enough meat on its bones to satisfy hobby gamers.

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Colorblind-friendly cards and crystal tokens (prototypes)

A note on color blind accessibility: if you follow me on Twitter, you know I’m an advocate for making games more accessible for color blind players. When Deep Water Games contacted me, they said they were updating the original game to be color-blind friendly, which was an absolute godsend.

The temple cards and wilderness cards have been replaced by cards with unique icons for each color. And instead of using different-colored crystals, you can use the included tokens with those same icons on them.

Kudos to Deep Water Games for making Mystery of the Temples color-blind friendly. I hope more publishers follow their lead in thinking about accessibility.

Thanks to Deep Water Games for providing a copy of Mystery of the Temples for review. Mystery of the Temples is currently funding on Kickstarter. The campaign runs until April 17th.

Now on Kickstarter: Highways & Byways


Highways & Byways prototype

In Highways & Byways, you and your opponents have scored your first used cars and take to the road to explore America. You each start at a home base and have a set of routes you’re trying to complete and return home. Whoever does this first, wins.

The highlight of the game is the Driving Phase, where players are allowed to move up to six times on their turn. This is more than enough to complete your routes, but thanks to the random Construction and Event cards played before each turn, you may have to do some maneuvering around blocked paths or take a different route altogether.

Along with the point-to-point movement mechanism, there’s also the hand management aspect of Event cards. Each player has a hand of five Events and one is chosen randomly before their turn. A bad Event hinders movement while a good Event can help you overcome obstacles on your route. If you’re ever short on movement, you can discard one Event card to gain one movement action; it’s also a good way to get rid of those bad Events from your hand.

Each player also has their own special ability, which can make their travels go a lot smoother by ignoring some events, drawing extra Event cards, and so forth.

Special Abilities prototypes

Special Abilities prototypes

The game bills itself as a gateway-style game and if it was merely the Driving Stage, then I’d tend to agree. Unfortunately, the Planning Stage was entirely too long for my tastes. This is done before the Driving Stage and consists of a card draft that determines your routes for the Driving Stage.

The first player draws two cards from the deck, keeps one, then passes one to the next player. That player then draws one from the deck, chooses which one to keep, then passes the other to the following player, etc. This is done a total of 12 times and while I understand that players work on their Driving Stage strategy during this stage, it felt like an interminable wait before you could select your card.


Highways & Byways prototype

(Note: Since I was given an early prototype of the game, I shared my thoughts regarding the Driving Stage. Developer and publisher Brandon Rollins said that he may be adding a Planning Stage variant that would consist of each player drawing 14 route cards and simply discarding two of them. This is a welcome change and I hope he makes it an official variant during the Kickstarter campaign. Speaking of Rollins, he shares a lot of his game design process and thoughts on his website. If you’re an aspiring game designer, you should check out his site or follow one of his social media accounts.)

Overall, Highways & Byways offers a gateway-style experience during the Driving Stage and I’d like to see what, if any, tweaks are made to the Planning Stage to smooth out the game.

Thanks to Brandon Rollins for providing a copy of Highways & Byways for review. Highways & Byways is currently funding on Kickstarter. The campaign runs until Friday, April 20th.