In spite of its gruesome premise — nobles lined up to get their heads chopped off — Guillotine manages to be a fun filler game, with stellar Disney-esque artwork. Set during the French Revolution, players are trying to collect the best-scoring heads at the guillotine.

The game is played over three rounds. Each round there is a row of seven nobles lined up ready to meet The Executioner.

During their turn, a player:

  1. May play an action card. These typically manipulate the line so that you’re able to score the highest-ranking nobles.
  2. Must take the noble at the front of the line.
  3. Must draw two more action cards.

When there there are no more nobles in line, the round is over. Seven more nobles are dealt out in a row and the next round begins.

(One interesting note: game designer Paul Peterson once said of the Callous Guards card, “That’s the biggest mistake I ever made as a game designer in my life.” Basically, it stops other action cards from affecting the line and Peterson recommended taking it out of the game. “That card taught me a lesson: Don’t stop players from playing the game.” While I can’t get myself to throw it away, I never include it during play.)

Way back in the late 90s, I worked with a guy named Angus who was a huge RPG fan. Although I never got to play D&D or any of the dozens of games he played, he did introduce me to this nifty little card game and many of our lunch breaks were spent playing Guillotine. Angus was the best to play it with; he’d make hilarious comments in French accents for the characters and we’d laugh ourselves silly.

While I don’t miss that particular job, I do miss gaming with my buddy. We live too far away now to do so, but I think about him and his boisterous laugh whenever I bust out my well-worn copy of Guillotine.




Codenames was a welcome gift and nice addition to our games library last year (by the way, I prefer library over collection  because when I hear collection, I think of a group of objects displayed for the sake of observing and admiring, whereas a library is something that is actively used. I want our games to be played, borrowed, and played some more. I’m not looking to keep everything in pristine condition and I certainly don’t want our games to be off-limits to the youngest members of our extended family. Okay, rant over). It’s one of the most popular party games ever released, one that gets love from both the hardcore gamers and the casual crowd.

Designer Vlaada Chvatil might not be a household name, but for gamers, he’s a legend. Chvatil has designed some of the most popular and respected titles in the hobby, including Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization, Mage Knight, and more. These are deep and complex titles that gamers love, but Chvatil proved with Codenames that he could appeal to the masses as well.

In Codenames, two teams are trying to uncover their secret agents before their opponents do. A 5×5 grid of cards is set up, with each card containing one word. One member of each team (blue and red) is the spymaster and has access to the key that contains the identities of all the agents, innocent bystanders, and the assassin, on the grid. The spymasters will give clues about who their agents are and the teams will guess which ones are theirs.

Easy, right? Not so fast, Mr. Bond.

The spymaster is only allowed to say exactly one word for a clue and exactly one number that tells the team how many words are related to that clue. For example, the blue team’s spymaster could say, “sport, two.” It’s up to their team to figure out what two words on the 5×5 grid are related to “sport.” The words “ball” and “bat” might be the most likely answers, but what about “plate” or “pitch?”  Team members talk amongst themselves while the spymaster remains poker-faced.

When the team guesses, they touch the word on the grid. If it’s correct, the blue spymaster will cover that word with a blue agent card. If it’s incorrect, then they will cover the word with a red agent, an innocent bystander, or worst of all, the assassin. If it’s an opposing team’s agent, then that team now needs one fewer correct guess. If it’s an innocent bystander, no harm done, but it’s the other team’s turn now. If it’s the assassin, though, you lose instantly. Game over. Good night.

It’s easy to get distracted while trying to figure out the perfect clue for your team. There’s also a timer so if you’re taking too long, your opponents can put you on the clock. I prefer playing with the clock, since spymasters can take awhile trying to find that perfect word for their teammates. The game box says the game takes a minimum of 15 minutes, but it could take much longer if the spymasters are too intense. Hence, the clock.

Although I don’t enjoy Codenames as much as others, I usually won’t turn down a match. It’s a treat to play and it’s fun as either the spymaster or as a guesser (field operative).

(By the way, compare the photo below to the one above. Is it just me, or does one of the red team’s agents look like Team U.S.A. goalkeeper Hope Solo?)


Hope Solo, soccer player and/or Codenames character

Dastardly Dirigibles

Dastardly Dirigibles

Dastardly Dirigibles

My gaming buddy Mike did a demo of Dastardly Dirigibles at 4 Color Fantasies in Rancho Cucamonga on Sunday. After I’d attended a picnic nearby, I stopped at the store to chat with Mike and his wife Cami. He gave me the rundown of the game and we all played one turn.

Dastardly Dirigibles is a steampunk-themed game and it was a breeze to learn: it’s a set collection card game, with a few special cards that can influence the action. The box says it’s a 60-minute game, but it seems like it could be faster after everyone’s learned the rules. Mike, his wife, and I played one turn in about 15 minutes and the game lasts for three turns.

Players are trying to build their own dirigible on their play mat to earn victory points. Each dirigible is made up of seven cards representing everything from the nose to the tail. Players start with five cards and before each of their turns they will draw up to their hand limit of five, either from the face-up stock of three cards (the Emporium) or the deck.

There are seven “suits” of cards, as indicated by familiar steampunk icons like a top hat, gear, etc., and one suit of wild cards. There are also special cards that are actions that can help you and/or hinder your opponents. For example, you can swap parts with another player or force others to discard some of their cards.

A player may perform up to 3 actions per turn and they may do the same action multiple times. The actions are:

  1. Play an airship card (one part of their dirigible) or a special card
  2. Discard a card
  3. Swap a card with one from the Emporium
  4. Replace the Emporium (discard the three cards and reveal three new ones from the deck)
  5. Pass

What makes this game fun is the fact that every time a player plays a piece of their airship, any player that has that same piece (such as the nose cone) must play it onto their own play mat. This can mess with your plans of building the perfect blimp of all matching icons, which matters because you score points based on the most common suit in your ship. So, if 4 of my 7 pieces have the top hat icon, then I will score 2 points for each top hat (thus, 8 points in this case). Any wild cards are worth one point each and any other suits do not score. If you triggered the end of the round by completing your dirigible first, you also gain 2 points (and anyone else who completes their ship gets 1 point). After scoring, wipe the play mat clean, shuffle the cards, and repeat the process until three rounds have been played.

Dastardly Dirigibles has terrific artwork and an easy-to-learn rule set. I could play this with both newbies and seasoned gamers alike and I don’t think I’d hear any complaints.

GenCant 2016 Day 1: Egypt and Rome

Valley of the Kings

Valley of the Kings

Day 1 of Gen Con was today and it looked awesome (although I have no desire to be in this). I loved seeing all of my online gaming buddies posting photos and reporting the latest and greatest from the con.

Valley of the Kings

It was also Day of GenCan’t 2016 and I participated in the #GenCantSoloCon by playing a solitaire game of Valley of the Kings. I’ve  played this deckbuilder several times solo and I enjoy it as a get-your-highest-score game. Set in ancient Egypt, it’s a deck builder with set collection, in which you only score points by putting cards in your tomb (trashing cards) and you earn more points for collecting similar items. This sets up interesting choices throughout the game: do you play your card for its money value, its action, or trash it to start accumulating points?

Valley of the Kings is one of two deck builders I recommend to Dominion fans (the other being Trains).

Rome: Rise to Power

Rome: Rise to Power

Rome: Rise to Power

After my solo game, I went to my Thursday night gaming group and I was able to get Rome: Rise to Power to the table. I’ve had the game for a few months and have been itching to play. Unfortunately, it’d been awhile since I’d gone through the rulebook (which isn’t exactly the easiest to follow), so there were a few pauses during the game to clarify some points. I’m usually pretty good at explaining games (I’m the designated rules guy during family game night), but I wasn’t at my best tonight. Thankfully, my gaming buddies are smart enough to figure out things on their own and we were able to play the game within the suggested time (45 minutes).

Rome: Rise to Power is a game that combines dice allocation, card drafting, set collection, area control game with variable player powers. Players are in ancient Rome trying to use its military to win regions throughout the Roman Empire, win influence with senators, and put on the best arena battles.

The dice allocation system is unique and it’s what appealed to me most when I’d heard about it. Yes, there’s luck involved with dice (duh), but there are several ways to mitigate the luck factor, mainly through the special powers each player earns through their combinations of senators and regions won. The third way to earn points, through the arena battles, is sort of wacky, but somehow it works: you buy cards to build a poker-like hand and play them after rounds three and five (the final round). So, three barbarians and two beasts are the “Battle Royale,” which is a full house in poker, and there other hands that score.

The overall consensus was okay. I liked it and agreed with two of my buddies; we’d like to play it again now that we have a better understanding of the game. The fourth guy didn’t care for it, but I’m thankful that they were all up for playing. I’ve got more than a few games in my collection that I haven’t played so it was good to scratch this one off the list.

Solitaire For Sale

For Sale

For Sale

While getting ready for #GenCantSoloCon (here’s my schedule of games for this weekend) I wanted to see if there was a solo variant for one of my favorite filler games, For Sale. A few clicks and clacks on and I can now play For Sale by myself.

For Sale is an auction-style game played in two rounds. During the first round, players bid on properties (numbered 1-30). A few properties are dealt out and players begin the auction by using their allotted amount of money tokens.The highest bid takes the current highest property, with the second highest bid taking the second highest property, etc. A player can drop out of the bidding at any time and receive half of their bid back along with the current lowest property. They can also pass (i.e., not bid on a property) and take the current lowest property for free. This process is repeated until all properties have been bought.

In the second round, players try to sell their newly acquired properties for checks (valued at $0 to $15,000). This time, the checks are dealt out and players secretly choose one of their properties. After everybody reveals them, the highest valued property earns the current highest valued check, the second highest property earns the second highest check, etc. This process is repeated until all properties have been sold. The player with the most money at the end wins.

For Sale is always a hit whenever I play it. It’s a fantastic quick play that also makes for a great introductory game for new board gamers.

Here’s the link to the original post of the solo play rules. And here’s my rewritten version; the technical writer/editor in me couldn’t resist streamlining the text and making things more consistent and orderly.

Day 222: Card Games


Our latest game night was with the youngest members of the family. They liked these three card games the best: Sushi Go!, Pit, and Milles Borne. The most popular was Sushi Go! and we played it numerous times. It was the perfect combination of easy-to-learn rules, fast play, and fun player interaction.

I’ve had the Milles Bornes game sitting in storage for years, so it was nice finally playing it. We did one run-through to figure out the basic game play. We’ll figure out scoring and strategy the next time it makes it to the table.

Pit is always a popular choice with any crowd I play it with and especially with the kids since it gives them an excuse to yell while playing.

I’m pretty sure it’s the same reason why adults like it, too.