Thursday, January 26, 2023


The 14th greatest board game of all time is, Abyss!

Abyss – Uploaded by Jean_Leviathan – Board Game Geek

In Abyss players compete to take over as ruler of the undersea world. They do this by exploring the depths, requesting the support of the council, and recruiting lords. All of this represented by cards. Abyss is a card game with a central board that's used to make the card play more intuitive.

The central board works really well. When exploring the depths you play cards at the top of the board turning them face up one at a time until you find one that you like. (This card is then added to your hand.) In an interesting twist, you must offer each card flipped up to your opponents before you can take it for yourself. That's not as bad as it sounds, your opponents must pay you for the cards they take, and you can do the same thing to them on their turn.

When you finally pick a card, any cards that weren't chosen, go to the center of the board. These are organized by card type, and this represents the council. When you request support from the council, you go to the middle of the board and take any one stack of cards there. You can potentially get a lot of cards of one type, but the numbers on the cards will generally be of lower value.

All the cards that you're collecting act as currency for the action at the bottom of the board, recruit a lord. While the other cards in the game are mini-sized cards, the lords are big beautiful tarot sized cards. These provide you with special powers and victory points. You want these cards.

There are a few additional actions. At the beginning of your turn you can pay one pearl (Pearls are the other kind of currency in the game. Mainly you use them to pay other players during their explore the depths action, but they can also be used to help pay for recruiting lords.) to add a lord in an empty space at the bottom of the board. Lords cards aren't added automatically, unless a certain threshold is reached, then all empty spaces are filled at once. Usually, this isn't the best when it happens on your turn because it tends to help your opponents more than you. However, you do get two pearls when you trigger this as consolation.

That's an interesting thing about Abyss, you spend a lot of time exploring for cards you want in order to recruit lords, but both of these actions have the potential to help your opponent as much as yourself. This is known in the board game biz as "positive interaction." I love this kind of thing in games.

Once a player has recruited their seventh lord, this triggers the end of the game and the player with the most points wins. There are a few details that I left out, like the push your luck aspect to exploring the depths (You may have to face the Kraken!) and how most lords have key icons on them. When you collect three of these keys you must select a location board. These location boards grant victory points but they are placed on top of the lords who triggered them and those lords lose their powers. 

Abyss is a great card game. The game board keeps the decisions in the game organized and intuitive. The positive interaction in the game keeps everyone involved all the time, and the art on the tarot sized lords cards is beyond stunning. I may have neglected to mention how beautiful Abyss is. The game is loaded with beautiful paintings by french artist Xavier Collette, aka Coliandre, and it's all amazing!!

All of these great things come together to make Abyss the 14th greatest board game of all time!!

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(Except where noted, all images copyright Bombyx all rights reserved.)

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition

My number 15 favorite game of all time is: Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition, which is the "card game version" of Terraforming Mars!

In this game players take the roles of corporations working together to tame the hostile environs of Mars. But, it's not cooperative. You are all working towards the same goal, but of course you want your corporation to be the most profitable.

In Ares Expedition, players have a personal player board to track things that they can contribute to the transformation of Mars into a habitable planet. You can contribute elements of heat to raise the temperature, plants to raise the oxygen, and well ... money, because more money helps everything. You manipulate the resources tracked on your player board by playing cards from your hand. All cards stay in front of you to provide ongoing benefits or just score you points, and all cards cost money to play.

In the center of the table is a shared board that represents the planet Mars itself. Here you spend your resource to actually raise the planet’s temperature, increase the oxygen, and create oceans. This part all feels very as players work together to terraform Mars. What the central board really is, is a progress tracker to trigger the end of the game. It all works really well.

Each turn players pick an action secretly and then reveal them. Then actions are completed in a specific order by both players at the same time. Simultaneous play means that while, Ares Expedition may be a “longish” game, there is very little down time, which is a great thing. Also, if you are a fan of direct player interaction, you won’t find any here. This may be a strike against the game for many, for us this is a huge plus. Finding combos is interesting, the deck contains over 200 cards, so there’s lots of variability and opportunity to explore different strategies.

Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition is a great engine building game! There’s even a two-player cooperative mode that we may try out at some point, but for now the competitive game is great. Oh, and Bernie (our cat) likes it too!

Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition is my number 15 favorite game of all time!

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Sunday, January 22, 2023

Collecting Royalties


(Read CTE's previous entry by clicking here.)

You take a moment to catch your breath and recover from your battle with the skeletons. After a moment you survey the area and smile. It seems the skeletons might have left something of value behind.

What Are Royalties?

In a dungeon crawl adventure game like this, players fight monsters in order to gain treasure. Treasure is referred to in CTE as "Royalties." This is because the Royals - all those cards without numbers (A, K, Q & J) - are considered trump when taking the Royalty action.

In order to generate Royalties, gather up all cards and shuffle them together, then lay out a new tableau of 3 cards. Cards are "played" from your tableau to generate results on random Royalties tables. 

As with all other actions, the Royalties action can be boosted by items that you have equipped. The symbol that represents Royalties is $ - the riches sign. Hint: riches, royals and royalties all begin with the letter R.

The first table you must consult is the "Type of Royalty $" table, the riches sign shown next to the name reminds you that the royals trump suit and riches item bonuses do apply when consulting this table. This table is going to point you to other tables in order to generate a final royalty item result.

Riches $ Bonus

Your base riches bonus is equal to the number of items that you have equipped. Right now, you have your club and your quilted armor. So, you have $2 (two riches.) Since you can potentially equip up to 10 items, you can increase your bonus to $10 if you are able to equip an item to each of the 10 branches. In addition magical items will sometimes include $ bonuses that will add to this total.

Royalty $ Action

To perform a royalty action, play a card from your tableau and add any $ bonuses to the effort. ($ royals: A, K, Q & J are trump.)

Table 1 - Type of Royalty $

(Perform a Royalty $ Action and consult the table below.)

$ Effort Total Royalty Won

Under 15 Base Item Only

15-22 Base Item & Prefix

23-30 Base Item & Suffix

Over 30 Base Item & Prefix and Suffix

Creating a Base Item

To create a base item, first you need to determine the item's branch. To do this, you must perform an ABSOLUTE action.

Absolute Actions

Creating a new item begins with determining the item's branch. This requires a special kind of action called an ABSOLUTE action. When you perform an absolute action, you play a card not for effort, but for the card itself.

When taking an absolute action you choose a card from your tableau and play it. You don't add any modifier to the card, and there is no trump. Instead the card is referenced for its unique identity. This means that every absolute action will result in 1 out of 52 possible outcomes.

The Base Item Branch Table below calls for an Absolute Action to resolve. Absolute Actions are identified by the @ at symbol. Hint: at and absolute both start with the letter A.

Table 2 - Base Item Branch @

(Perform an Absolute @ Action and consult the table below.)

2♣ [HD] 2♦ [OH] 2♥ [TS] 2♠ [FT]

3♣ [HD] 3♦ [OH] 3♥ [TS] 3♠ [FT]

4♣ [HD] 4♦ [OH] 4♥ [WT] 4♠ [FT]

5♣ [HD] 5♦ [OH] 5♥ [WT] 5♠ [FT]

6♣ [HD] 6♦ [RF] 6♥ [WT] 6♠ [NK]

7♣ [MH] 7♦ [RF] 7♥ [WT] 7♠ [NK]

8♣ [MH] 8♦ [RF] 8♥ [WT] 8♠ [NK]

9♣ [MH] 9♦ [RF] 9♥ [HA] 9♠ [NK]

10♣ [MH] 10♦ [TS] 10♥ [HA] 10♠ [BK]

J♣ [MH] J♦ [TS] J♥ [HA] J♠ [BK]

Q♣ [MH] Q♦ [TS] Q♥ [HA] Q♠ [BK]

K♣ [MH] K♦ [TS] K♥ [HA] K♠ [BK]

A♣ [OH] A♦ [TS] A♥ [FT] A♠ [BK]

The two letter code identifies a branch where an item can be equipped. These branches are: [HD] head, [MH] main hand, [OH] off hand, [RF] ring finger, [TS] torso, [WT] waist, [HA] hands, [FT] feet, [NK] neck, and [BK] back.

Each of the ten branches has its own table listing items that can be equipped at that branch and the amount of effort you must achieve with a royalty action to acquire the item.

Stay tuned!

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Thursday, January 19, 2023

The Castles of Burgundy

My number 16 favorite game of all time is The Castles of Burgundy by designer Stefan Feld. Stefan Feld is sort of board game designer royalty. In comic book terms it might be like saying, Steve Ditko (co-creator of Spider-Man), or in RPG terms saying, Dave Arneson (co-creator of D&D.) With over 30 board game designs to his credit, and most of them very well received, Stefan Feld has quite the track record, and The Castles of Burgundy is arguably his most popular game.

The Castles of Burgundy is a dice-placement game. On your turn you roll two dice and who ever is "first player" for the round also rolls a third die. That third die acts to provide some goods to players on their turn and this changes every round. Your dice provide you with actions you can take. You have a number of options here with the dice value determining, the what, where, or how much based on the actions that you choose.

Actions include: taking a settlement tile from the game board with a number matching your die, and placing it in a waiting area on your player board; taking a settlement tile from the waiting area on player board and placing in your "kingdom" in a hex with a number that matches your die; selling goods with a number matching your die, or taking workers that allow you to adjust the number on one of your dice.

Settlements have powers that will help you do more things or earn more victory points, and victory points are how you win the game. The Castles of Burgundy is an awesome kingdom building game. Julie and I love dice games and worker placement, The Castles of Burgundy is both. If the game has any negatives, it would be that it's not the prettiest game. The main board is at once drab and too busy.

Luckily, Julie and I have backed a revamped super-version of the game on Game Found (a crowd funding site specifically for board game projects.) This version promises to improve the functionality of the original game components while making everything look a million times more awesome (and adding a new expansion to boot!)

I fully expect the new deluxified version of The Castles of Burgundy to push the game even further up the list of my favorite board games, but for now being the number 16 greatest game of all time isn't too bad!

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(Below are extra pictures from the Gamefound Campaign for those who are interested!)

Tuesday, January 17, 2023


My number 17 favorite game of all time is Wingspan. I remember writing a rather involved review of Wingspan on Facebook back when we ("we," being myself and my wonderful wife, Julie) first played the game. So, I have decided to share that here.


Wingspan (from a Facebook post on October 18, 2020)

If you are a board game enthusiast, then you have heard of the board game: Wingspan. Wingspan has been the object of a lot of positive hype over the past year or so. It won the German hobby game of the year award in 2019 (the Kennerspiel des Jahres.) It also won the Board Game Geek board game of the year award (the Golden Geek Award) and the Dicetower Game of the Year Award for 2019. These are just a few of Wingspan's accolades.

The thing about hype is ... it can be misleading. Take the above mentioned awards. In 2019 the Dicetower award for best family game went to: Point Salad. I purchased Point Salad based on this, and Julie and I like Point Salad well enough, but is it award winning? I don't know. Not for me, I guess. So, hype: Wingspan gets so much of it, that I almost don't want to play it, just to be contrary. But, I gave in to the peer pressure and purchased Wingspan while on vacation in Michigan.

I don't know what I was thinking. Nothing can live up to the amount of hype that Wingspan has been getting. So, with ridiculously inflated expectations, I opened up Wingspan, and Julie and I played it last night.

And, then we played it, again ...

And again ...

And again.



In Wingspan, players attract birds (a.k.a. cards) to their own personal bird sanctuaries (a.k.a. player boards.) You do this by putting out food (a.k.a. dice) in bird feeders (a.k.a. really cool birdhouse shaped dice tray.)

Each player's sanctuary (player board) is made up of three distinct habitats: woodlands, grasslands, and wetlands. Birds will only move into the habitats indicated on their cards, and each habitat will hold a maximum of five cards.

These three habitats are arranged on your player board as three rows of five columns each, creating a 3x5 grid. When you add a card (bird) to your player board, you place the card in the left most open column for the habitat (row) where that bird belongs.

The first card (bird) in a column must be purchased using the food cost shown on the card. (Food resources are rolled on dice in the aforementioned really cool birdhouse dice tray.) After that, later cards in the same row (habitat) will also cost you some eggs. (One egg for columns 2 and 3; two eggs for columns 4 and 5.) This reflects the growth of your habitats as the birds living there lay eggs and their populations grow.

This brings us to the actions that you can perform on your turn, and this is a really cool part of the game. Each row that represents a habitat also corresponds to a specific action that you can take on your turn.

The top row hosts the "Gather Food" action, which allows you to take food from the bird feeder. The middle row hosts the "Lay Eggs" action, which allows you to place a few eggs (cool little miniatures in Easter colors) onto some of your bird cards. The bottom row hosts the "Draw Cards" action, which allows you to put more cards in your hand, thereby increasing your options for attracting birds. (There is no limit to the number of cards you can have.)

Now for the cool bits: When you choose an action, the strength of that action (how much food, how many eggs, how many cards you get) is based on the information printed in the left most open column of that row. This means that as you add cards (birds) to your habitats, you automatically make these actions stronger.

But, wait ... there's more.

Many of the bird cards include special text that say, "When activated, do this thing ..." A bird card is "activated" when you take the action in the row of the habitat where that bird lives.

Let's say you take the "Gather Food" action. This action aligns with the top row of your player board which is the "Woodlands" habitat and you have two birds (cards) living here. Since the two birds occupy columns one and two, the strength of your "Gather Food" action comes from the first open column, column 3. This says that you can gather two foods.

However, in addition to getting the two foods, you now work your way from right to left back tracking in this row and performing any "When Activated" powers on your bird cards. Maybe one card allows you to get additional food when activated, and another card lays an egg in their bird nest when activated. All of this happens as a result of your single "Gather Food" action, because of the cards you have placed in this row (habitat.)

The engine building in Wingspan is cool and intuitive. Every bird that you add to a habitat has the potential to make the action in that row exponentially better. Perhaps best of all, the layout and design of the player board is such that the game play seems simple, while the vast variety of cards and special powers available is such that your options seem limitless. (There are 170 unique cards each featuring a different bird.)

The theme is so awesomely realized here. A bird's special power may be to lay eggs in another bird's nest, and this is based on the actual bird's behavior in nature. Birds of prey might capture mice or fish or other birds, and the mechanics of the special powers allow you to do this seamlessly. Carrion eating birds like Vultures have powers that activate when another player successfully hunts with their birds of prey. It all just makes so much sense. Every card featuring every bird has flavor text that describes something special about that bird.

Wingspan earns every ounce of praise and positive hype that it has received. To be honest, I am a little bit in awe of it. Wingspan is something of a masterpiece. In a year or so, should I get around to posting a board game top 100 again, I expect that Wingspan will land very near the top of the list.


And it has, landing at number 17!

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