On the Tabletop: Cobra Paw

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

 

Now on Kickstarter: Cat Rescue

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Ta-Te Wu seems to be designing games all the time. Just a few months after his Kung Pao Chicken was published, he’s back with Cat Rescue, his latest micro game seeking funding on Kickstarter.

Cat Rescue is a cooperative game about saving and adopting cats. The game consists of 26 cat cards, 1 double-sided delivery card, and four shelter tokens. The tokens are used to mark the corners of the shelter, which is a 4×4 playing field.

By maneuvering the cats on their turn, players will get them ready for adoption and ultimately get them out of the shelter to score points. The more points scored, the better your final ranking.

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After four random cats are dealt to the center of the playing field, two cats are dealt to each player. These represent the player’s foster home. The delivery card is placed on a cat and indicates the direction that cats cannot be moved in the shelter.

    1. On their turn, players will draw a card from the deck or choose a cat from their foster home. They place that cat next to a cat in the shelter and push the cat in any direction except the one shown on the delivery card. For example, if the direction card is pointed up, then a player can push cats left, right, or down.
    2. If three or four cats of the same color are connected in a row or column, then the middle cat(s) are flipped face down. This means they are ready to be adopted.
    3. Whenever a cat is pushed outside of the shelter (the 4×4 playing field), they are either adopted (if face down) and taken out of the game or placed in the player’s foster home.
    4. The game ends when any player has three cats in their foster home or the draw deck is empty.

    At the end of the game, score two points for every adopted cat and one point for every ready-to-adopt cat (that is, those cats flipped facedown but still in the shelter). A scoring chart will rank your effort from “Cat Got Your Tongue?” to “You’re the Cat’s Meow!”

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    Cat Rescue is a fun puzzle game highlighted by its super cute art done by artist Kaiami. The game features a simple turn (take a cat from the deck or from your foster home and place it in the shelter) and the trick is figuring out where to place your cat. You’re trying to get similar cats together so you can flip the middle one(s) over for adoption, so playing a wild cat early can help you out as you get later cats next to them. As you build up facedown cats ready for adoption, you’ll start pushing them out of the shelter to score points.

    Like other cooperative games, there can be an Alpha Gamer problem where one person takes over the game and tells others what they should do on their turn. The game works best when players can work together to find solutions, but quarterbacking can happen. It’s probably why I prefer playing Cat Rescue as a quick and quiet 15-minute solo puzzle.

    One final observation: while marking the 4×4 grid with the included shelter tokens (cubes) is fine, this game screams for a playmat. It’d be easier to keep track of the shelter’s borders this way; hopefully, a BGGer with spare time will make a playmat or Kaiami herself will offer a playmat featuring her artwork (fingers crossed).

    Thanks to Ta-Te Wu for providing a copy of Cat Rescue for review. Cat Rescue is currently funding on Kickstarter. The campaign runs until Thursday, April 19th.

    On the Tabletop: Daemon Trilogy: Subrosa

    On the Tabletop is an ongoing series of board game overviews featuring my thoughts on the latest tabletop products. 

    In Daemon Trilogy: Subrosa players are leaders of the five noble houses trying to recruit mercenaries to complete various contracts. The game is card drafting and set collection game at its heart, with a fair amount of player interaction based on the cards being played, and players score points based on their completed contracts.

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    Players begin with a hand of 15 cards and 1-3 contracts.  Each round of play consists of five phases.

    1. Recruitment Phase: each player places two cards facedown in front of them. This is their “crew.”
    2. Action Phase: players may select one crew member to to activate by pushing it forward. Optionally, a player may instead take two contracts, discarding any one contract.
    3. Resolution Phase: players resolve their activated characters in turn order. Even if a character is wounded, their ability will resolve before they’re removed from the game.
    4. Scoring Phase: players may complete any contracts by revealing the required crew members (cards in hand do not count towards contracts). Completed contracts and the cards used to complete them are removed from the game.
    5. Passing Phase: all players pass their hand of cards to the left.

    The game ends immediately when at least one player has zero or one cards in their hand at the end of a round. Players add the total of their completed contracts, then subtract half the value of their incomplete contracts. For example, if a player has one incomplete contract worth 400 points, then they would subtract 200 points. The player with the most points wins.

    Daemon Trilogy: Subrosa

    Daemon Trilogy: Subrosa

    Daemon Trilogy: Subrosa is a top-notch production, from the terrific artwork to the linen-finish cards. It’s a good filler game, with tactical decisions made every round. Since you’re passing your hand each round, you can’t just hoard the cards you need for your contracts. You’ll have to be flexible in your strategy and will need to adapt as you activate your cards and react to your opponents’ activations. Do you try to complete a smaller contract as soon as possible or do you go for the big points while possibly passing cards that your opponents need?

    There’s a backstory to the game as given in the rulebook, but it doesn’t affect gameplay at all. I am curious, though, to see what the next games are in the Daemon Trilogy and see if/how it expands on Subrosa.

    Final note: there’s an app for the game that’s supposed to enhance game play, but it was buggy when I gave it a test run and I didn’t bother to include it when actually playing the game. Hopefully, they’ll update it soon for a smoother experience.

    Thanks to IDW Games for providing this copy of Daemon Trilogy: Subrosa.  

    Now on Kickstarter: Kung Pao Chicken

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    Last year I met Ta-Te Wu at my buddy Rick’s birthday 24-hour gaming fest, played a few light games with him (my first time playing Ka-Boom, which was a blast, haha), and became Facebook friends shortly thereafter. I’ve liked reading his FB posts about creating games and painting; they’re inspiring and much more pleasing than most of what people share on social media.

    Through mutual friend E.R. Burgess I acquired an early copy of Wu’s latest game, Kung Pao Chicken. It’s a micro social deduction game that’s currently on Kickstarter.

    I immediately loved the artwork: it’s spare and minimalist, yet conveys the theme perfectly.

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    Three to five players take on the roles of foxes or chickens and score points based on who’s remaining at the end of each round. For every chicken that shares a location with a fox, the fox players score 1 VP. For every chicken all by itself in a location, the chicken players score 1 VP.

    There’s one clever twist: each player doesn’t know whether they’re a fox or chicken. At the start of each round, players randomly choose a role card and, without looking at it, place it on their forehead so other players can see it. Players then set their roles face down under their barn card and play begins.

    Each player gets a predetermined number of cards and on their turn plays one card face down to any location (either another player’s barn or the community grasslands). They may choose to reveal a card at that location.

    After all cards have been played, all players close their eyes, count to three and reveal who they think they are: fox or chicken. Check where all of the chickens and foxes were played and score each player according to their revealed role. Highest score after three rounds wins.

    Confession: I’m not the biggest social deduction fan. Werewolf, Spyfall, Coup, and even Secret Hitler haven’t thrilled me. Deception: Murder in Hong Kong is the one exception; I think it’s brilliant and I like its theme the best.

    Kung Pao Chicken, though, is my type of social deduction game since it only takes about 15 minutes to play and the way you try to figure out what role you are is a clever twist. I liked watching others play their cards to certain locations and deducing who were my fellow foxes or chickens for that round. It’s a nice, light game that travels well (takes up the same amount of space as a standard Love Letter game).

    UPDATE: Kung Pao Chicken has been fully funded and you have until Thursday, January 18th, to back it on Kickstarter.

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    On the Tabletop: OK Play

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    Welcome to On the Tabletop, a series of board game overviews featuring my thoughts on the latest tabletop products. 

    While the board game craze continues to grow by leaps and bounds, for most of us the local Barnes & Noble or Target is the closest we’ll get to having a FLGS (Friendly Local Game Store). With the recent news that Barnes & Noble will be cutting down on its game section, Target is probably most people’s initial contact with our hobby.

    Over the summer Target announced over 50 games exclusively sold in its stores. Most are gateway or partygames, but they’re still infinitely better than the standard Monopoly, Sorry!, and the rest of the tired classics. Games like Machi Koro: Bright Lights, Big City and Evolution: The Beginning were two of the first Target-exclusive games and I recently scored one of the new wave of Target games: OK Play.

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    OK Play is a cleverly produced Connect-Four-style game that lives up to its claim that it can be learned in seconds. On your turn you place one of your tiles on the table; a tile must be flush against another tile (no corner-to-corner placement, just like in Carcassonne). If you run out of tiles, then take one of your already-placed tiles and move it elsewhere.

    That’s it. Easy, right? The first player to connect five of their tiles in a row wins.

    OK Play is a fast filler and I liked the familiarity of the connect-five goal along with the tile-laying mechanism. The game gets interesting once you’ve used all of your tiles and must move one of your already placed tiles.

    Best of all, it’s packaged in an easy-to-carry case that can be attached to your gaming bag and easily transported during your next trip.

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    One quibble: colorblind players may have trouble with the tiles. I suffer from red/green colorblindness and when I played my orange tiles, at certain angles they blended in with the green tiles.

    A friendly reminder to game companies and designers, it’s such a simple fix: use a unique icon for each color, like Ticket to Ride. That’s all. This one little change will increase your game’s accessibility (and audience) by making it easier for colorblind players to play your game.

    Disclosure: Thanks to Bananagrams (the distributor for Big Potato Games) for this copy of OK Play.  

     

    Kingdom Builder: When Insomnia Pays Off

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    I couldn’t fall asleep Wednesday night so I started reading my Twitter feed when I came across a link to an Amazon deal. It was for Kingdom Builder, an abstract game that I’d first played over a year ago. I remembered liking it then and for less than $9, I couldn’t resist. I bought it then fell asleep about an hour later.

    When I woke up it felt like a dream. Did I really buy a Spiel des Jahres winner for less than the cost of a meal? I re-checked my account and, sure enough, it was already on its way.

    Today it showed up at the front door and after punching out the bits and reviewing the rules, I was ready to play. But first, dinner with my wife at our favorite local Thai restaurant. When we got home I wanted to see if the game was as good as I remembered.

    It was!

    Kingdom Builder is a terrific gateway game, with excellent components and an easy-to-learn ruleset. Players are trying to build the most valuable kingdom by laying settlements throughout the land. The simple turns make for a quick game: draw a card that determines your placement, then do any additional actions you’ve unlocked during the game.

    It’s not a brain burner, but it does force you to plan carefully, especially during your first few moves. Thanks to its handful of different scoring rules and extra interlocking game board pieces, there’s a lot of variability since you won’t be trying to score in the same way and the board will be different each time.

    This was Donald X. Vaccarino’s follow-up to Dominion and while Kingdom Builder didn’t set the gaming world on fire like Dominion, it’s still worthy of being on any gamer’s shelf. Especially when its price is a single digit.

    Riverside Startup Week Highlights Local Entrepreneurs

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    When it was time to name his company’s first product, recent University of California at Riverside graduate and Nex Move Games co-founder Mark Gilpatrick thought back to his travels abroad.

    “In Middle Eastern cultures you’ll see people playing games like backgammon all day,” he said. “We wanted to reference this and we found the name Kumasi, which was a village that I backpacked through when I traveled through Ghana.”

    Gilpatrick and Nex Move Games are part of ExCITE, a collaboration between business leaders, UCR, and the city and county of Riverside. ExCITE was founded to accelerate startup companies in Riverside, with the focus being on development of advanced technologies to create high technology jobs.

    ExCITE is among the participants at this week’s inaugural Riverside Startup Week, a free, five-day event featuring local entrepreneurs, keynote speakers, and demonstrations. In addition to learning from CEOs, inventors, and investors of companies such as ESRI, Airbnb, Uber, and iRobot, attendees will also benefit from mentoring and networking opportunities.

    “During Startup week, my interns and I will take advantage of the different modules that are available,” Gilpatrick said. “We all learn something and bring it back to help develop the company.”

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    According to Steve Massa, Economic Development Coordinator for the City of Riverside and one of the organizers of the event, “This regional event will allow all Inland Southern California entrepreneurs to come together and learn how to pitch to investors, build an MVP (minimal viable product), monetize their apps, and source new team members for their startup,find talent from nontraditional channels.”

    Massa noted that Riverside ranked #13 in Kauffman’s Startup Activity Index in 2017, moving up five spots from the previous year. Entrepreneur Magazine also recognized Riverside as a top city for minority entrepreneurs.

    “The ecosystem we are building fosters mentorship and increases investment opportunities for entrepreneurs who are committed to building and scaling businesses in our region,” he said.

    Riverside Startup Week joins more than 600 other Startup Weeks around the world to foster the growth of the entrepreneurial community.

    “ExCITE and Epic [Entrepreneurial Proof of Concept and Innovation Center at UCR] are awesome and led by some talented people that have a lot of faith in the Riverside community,” Gilpatrick said. “People like Taj [Ahmad Eldridge], and Mark Leibowitz give us invaluable advice. It’s a great community to be a part of. They’ve taken a well-rounded approach to guiding me and developing my company.”

    For more information on Startup Week, visit https://riverside.startupweek.co/

    Challenge Completed

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    Over on boardgamegeek.com they run a 10×10 challenge, in which participants attempt to play 10 different games at least 10 times each during the year. I did it last year and like the Lakers winning championships back in the day, I repeated the feat this year.

    Here’s are quick thoughts on the 10 games on my list. Thanks to my wife, nephew and niece, and regular gaming buddies (two on Twitter: Daryl and Oscar) for helping me finish my list.

    Santorini. One of my favorite abstract games ever. The game is ridiculously easy to learn: on your turn you move to any adjacent square, then you build on any adjacent square; to win, you must move up to the third level of any building. That’s it. It has surprising depth and lots of replayability due to its God Power cards, which add new moves, abilities, and/or win conditions for each player. Simply brilliant. (25 plays)

    Mint Works. Everyone I’ve played Mint Works with has loved it. It’s a stripped-down-to-basics worker placement game that fits inside an Altoids tin. Games take no longer than 15 minutes, but it always manages to satisfy that worker placement itch. (10 plays)

    Karuba. This was an insta-hit with my wife and our extended family of gamers. The tile call-outs reminds me of bingo, while the puzzle-like game play is always a blast, as each player tries to guide their adventurer to their temples while scooping up gems. (10 plays)

    Onitama. Another abstract that gets bonus points for its terrific, road-trip-friendly packaging. While Santorini provides more depth and replayability, Onitama is even easier to learn: play a card and move any of your pieces according to the card’s directions while trying to capture your opponent’s master pawn or moving your master pawn to your opponent’s side. It plays faster than Santorini and I’m happy that both are in the Gaviola Game Library. (18 plays)

    Red7. Any fan of card games should give Red7 a try. It’s a quick filler-type game, but has lots of interesting decisions throughout a game, thanks to its unique card play. Each card can be used in multiple ways so you’re always trying to find just the right card to play on your turn. The win condition is simple: be the last person standing. (17 plays)

    Tiny Epic Quest. I love the Tiny Epic series of games. Scott Almes and Gamelyn Games manage to pack a lot of game into small boxes and Tiny Epic Quest is the best of the lot. I enjoy the puzzle-like nature of the Day Phase as you try to complete Movement Quests, but it’s the dice-chucking, push-your-luck Night Phase to complete Treasure Quests that’s an absolute blast. (28 plays)

    Guess Who? My wife and I took a weekend cruise to Mexico earlier this year and the ship had a lounge that had a few shelves of board games. Unfortunately, it was multiple copies of chess, checkers, Connect Four, and Guess Who?. Thankfully, we were too busy chillaxing and enjoying the trip to care about how shoddy the selection was. We did, however, play 10 straight games of Guess Who?, so at least I was able to get my board game fix. (10 plays)

    Tiny Epic Galaxies. No surprise here: I played another Tiny Epic game 10 times this year. This was my favorite in the series until I got Tiny Epic Quest. Galaxies is a lot of dice chucking, which always makes me happy. The solo game is fun (although TEQ has also supplanted it as my favorite of the series) and the Beyond the Black expansion added some nice touches to it, including new ships and abilities, and set collection and push-your-luck mechanisms. (14 plays)

    Imperial Settlers. I’m not sure what I expected with Imperial Settlers, but I heard a lot of good things about it and won an auction for it last year. I like the civilization building aspect, along with card drafting. As the game progresses it becomes a good brain-burning exercise as you try to squeeze as much as you can out of each of your cards. (16 plays)

    Viticulture Essential Edition. I lucked out last year and found a BGG user who had a brand new copy for half price. Not sure why I waited until this year to play it, but it was love at first play; the theme and mechanisms blend in so well together. It’s a classic of the worker placement genre and easily makes it into my Top Five Games Ever. When I added the Tuscany Essential expansion a few months later, it took the game to a whole new level. (36 plays)