Get rid of Monopoly, Life, Cluedo, Candyland… Recommended Fun Board Games for Family nights

Get rid of Monopoly, Life, Cluedo, Candyland…  Recommended Fun Board Games for Family nights

Some friends have asked me to recommend games for family nights. I thought that I’d put up a post of games with family appeal and I welcome you to add your own recommendations to perhaps create a definitive list.

Its well past the time to get beyond the likes of Monopoly, The Game of Life, Cluedo, Candyland, etc. which are the same poor dross which are churned out regularly by companies like Hasbro and Mattel. The marketing budgets of these companies foist this stuff on the ill-informed masses because they can and they know people will buy them because they are unaware of other choices. The shame of it is that they are poor games which aren’t much fun as attested to by the stacks of them collecting dust in charity shops.

End of mini- rant.

Here are some great games in no particular order which should be currently available through online board game retailers and friendly neighbourhood game shops. Some of these are starting to appear on Amazon and in larger chains such as Waterstones in the UK and Barnes and Noble in the US as well. Trust me, once you play these games, you will want to ditch your copies of Monopoly, etc.


The Settlers of Catan (3-4 players ages 8+, playing time 90 minutes)


In The Settlers of Catan, players try to be the dominant force on the island of Catan by building settlements, cities, and roads. On each turn dice are rolled to determine what resources the island produces. Players collect these resources (cards) – wood, grain, brick, sheep, or stone – to build up their civilizations to get to 10 victory points and win the game. 

This game has won a lot of awards and sold loads of copies worldwide and you may possibly have heard of it. Its not an introductory game but doesn’t take to long to learn and is challenging and fun.


Ticket to Ride – (2-5 players ages 8+, playing time 45 minutes)

With elegantly simple gameplay, Ticket to Ride can be learned in under 15 minutes, while providing players with intense strategic and tactical decisions every turn. Players collect cards of various types of train cars they then use to claim railway routes in North America. The longer the routes, the more points they earn. Additional points come to those who fulfil Destination Tickets – goal cards that connect distant cities; and to the player who builds the longest continuous route.

This is one of my favourite games and is a great game to introduce to those with little experience playing games.


Forbidden Island (2-5 players ages 8+, playing time 30 minutes)

Forbidden Island is a visually stunning ‘cooperative’ board game. Instead of winning by competing with other players like most games, everyone must work together to win the game. Players take turns moving their pawns around the ‘island’, which is built by arranging the many beautifully screen-printed tiles before play begins. As the game progresses, more and more island tiles sink, becoming unavailable, and the pace increases. Players use strategies to keep the island from sinking, while trying to collect treasures and items. As the water level rises, it gets more difficult- sacrifices must be made.

I have never introduced this game to anyone who hasn’t said, “can we play again!”


Escape The Curse of the Temple (1-5 players ages 8+, playing time 10 minutes)

Escape: The Curse of the Temple is a cooperative game in which players must escape (yes…) from a temple (yes…) which is cursed (yes…) before the temple collapses and kills one or more explorers, thereby causing everyone to lose.

This game is quite frankly, stressful (in a good way), loud and crazy fun. My current favourite.


Carcassonne (2-5 players ages 8+, playing time 45 minutes)

Carcassonne is a tile-placement game in which the players draw and place a tile with a piece of southern French landscape on it. The tile might feature a city, a road, a cloister, grassland or some combination thereof, and it must be placed adjacent to tiles that have already been played, in such a way that cities are connected to cities, roads to roads, etcetera. Having placed a tile, the player can then decide to place one of his meeples on one of the areas on it: on the city as a knight, on the road as a robber, on a cloister as a monk, or on the grass as a farmer. When that area is complete, that meeple scores points for its owner.

I love this game. Its easy to learn, interesting, challenging and always different each time you play.


Love Letter (2-4 players ages 8+, playing time 20 minutes)

All of the eligible young men (and many of the not-so-young) seek to woo the princess of Tempest. Unfortunately, she has locked herself in the palace, and you must rely on others to take your romantic letters to her. Will yours reach her first?

Love Letter is a game of risk, deduction, and luck for 2–4 players. Your goal is to get your love letter into Princess Annette’s hands while deflecting the letters from competing suitors.

This is a fast playing, elegant card game which is loads of fun.


Qwirkle (2-4 players ages 6+, playing time 45 minutes)

This abstract game consists of 108 wooden blocks with six different shapes in six different colors. There is no board, players simply use an available flat surface.

Players begin the game with 6 blocks. The start player places blocks of a single matching attribute (color or shape but not both) on the table. Thereafter, a player adds blocks adjacent to at least one previously played block. The blocks must all be played in a line and match, without duplicates, either the color or shape of the previous block.

This is a brilliant, simple and elegant game for families.


Apples to Apples (4-10 players ages 10+, playing time 30 minutes)

The party game Apples to Apples consists of two decks of cards: Things and Descriptions. Each round, the active player draws a Description card (which features an adjective like “Hairy” or “Smarmy”) from the deck, then the other players each secretly choose the Thing card in hand that best matches that description and plays it face-down on the table. The active player then reveals these cards and chooses theThing card that, in his opinion, best matches the Description card, which he awards to whoever played that Thing card. This player becomes the new active player for the next round.

A fun, easy to play game. There is a “Kids” version for the younger ones.

Boardgames in Blighty – 2013 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

Madison Square Garden can seat 20,000 people for a concert. This blog was viewed about 65,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Madison Square Garden, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Review – Days of Honor: Operation Most (Wildhorn) III from Phalanx Games Polska


Review – Days of Honor: Operation Most (Wildhorn) III from Phalanx Games Polska

Design – Michal Ozon

Artist: Jacek Laskowski • Studio conTEXT

I’ve had the opportunity to play a number of games from the thriving Polish game industry and particularly from Polish designers who are interested in creating games based on Polish military history. It’s been really interesting to learn new stories from Polish history during World War Two and here is another.

From the publisher –


German occupied Poland, 1944. Beyond the reach of Allied intelligence and bomber commands, the Germans establish a secret facility, where a terrifying weapon is being tested. V-2, Hitler’s Wunderwaffe, a ballistic missile able to wipe London from the map and win the war, bringing Britain to her knees. But the deepest secrets of German war technology are revealed by the UK’s staunchest allies – the Poles…


Czas Honoru: Operacja Most III – a.k.a. Days of Honor: Operation Wildhorn III – is a fast-paced, tactical card wargame for two players. The first player takes the role of the Polish commander. His goal is to collect fragments from rockets test-fired from the German missile base. The second player takes the role of the German commander and is trying to protect the secrets of the rocket testing area.


I’d never heard of this episode which sounded really interesting and daring but how to turn it into a game? Let’s see what Michal Ozon has created.



• Rulebook
• 15 black cubes (fragments)
• 55 cards: 5 Rocket cards, 3 Zone cards, 23 Polish cards, 23 German cards, and 1 Player Aid
• 2 dice: 1 black (German) and 1 red (Polish)

The cards are of a good quality with nicely done art which features period photos. The layout of the images and icons works very well and makes things very easy for you to play. I found the cards really interesting just to look at and they are very good at giving you a feel for the events.




Description of card types
There are two major card types in Days of Honor:
• Unit cards – (Soldiers/Partisans – green; Recon – yellow; Unseen and Silent/SS – red)
• Support cards – these represent various supplies and command support.


• Action cards – cards with special and unique abilities, played as an action.
• Immediate cards – cards played for an immediate effect (not played as an action).





The game lay out is as pictured below with the German forces on one side, the Polish on the other and the middle ground where all the action takes place.


Players choose their sides. The Polish player takes the Polish deck, and the German player takes the German deck.
The 3 Zone cards are placed (vertically oriented) in the middle of the table – they will mark the 3 Zones of play:
• The Forest card (Polish Home Zone) is closer to the Polish player.
• The Periphery card (Neutral Zone) is between the Home Zones.

The Rocket Base card (German Home Zone) is closer to the German player.




The game lasts four turns so its fast playing up to about 30 minutes.

1. Draw 5 cards.
2. V-2 fired! Place fragments. Each turn begins with a missile test, which scatters new fragments of the rocket in the peripheral area surrounding the testing ground.
3. Player actions.

The active player performs one of the following actions or else passes:
a) Place a card into their Home Zone.
The player plays one fresh (vertically oriented) Unit or Support card into their Home Zone. During a later action it may be activated.
b) Activate one of their cards on the table. 

The player selects one of their Unit or Support cards to perform its ability marked with a triangle symbol. 


c) Play an Action card.
The player plays an Action card to perform the card’s indicated action.

Players use scouts to collect missile fragments, but they need to be protected by soldiers and partisans because enemy contact can lead to combat. These actions are supported by elite units: Polish Unseen and Silent commandos and German SS Stormtroopers, who are able to penetrate enemy lines. In addition, players build a network of command and support units, which allows them to effectively carry out their actions.


Immediate Cards and Immediate Abilities
In addition to doing actions, players may play Immediate cards directly from their hands and may use the Immediate abilities of their cards on the table.

Players also affect the course of the game during their opponent’s moves, playing cards for immediate effects. And each side has a set of unique events, e.g., Germans can use their logistical advantages while Poles can hide, and even evacuate rocket fragments to England! To determine combat and exploration results, players each use a six-sided die, but they have many opportunities to modify the results, so a good plan should work even with bad luck.

There are a number of card abilities including:

Attack, Search, Command, Volunteers, Sturmwind/Spy, Movement, Assistance, Escort, Good and Bad Luck, Ambush, Witnesses, Nurses, Motorcycle movement and there are special Events as well.

 4. End of turn.

At the end of the game, the player with more rocket parts wins. This means the player successfully stole (Polish) or concealed (German) the secrets of the V-2 weapon.

Although there are a number of different types of cards and icons, I found that it was easy enough to refer to the rules and not long before I knew what the cards meant with less need to refer.

This game process works very well and smoothly, without getting bogged down in what is actually a lot of historical detail. Michal Oraz has managed to distill the events and history into a very playable system which feels quite elegant in what its trying to portray.


Did I enjoy Days of Honor: Operation Most (Wildhorn) III?

I really enjoy this game. It is very interesting from the start and is a race to pick up and deliver the rocket fragments whilst fighting off the enemy troops. Both sides have the same goal in effect and cannot just rely on picking up the fragments. Combat is a necessity so there is a balance of choosing when to fight, and when to grab fragments if you are lucky enough to get a good amount.

In four pressure packed turns, you don’t have much time to mess about and have to go for it or you won’t stand a chance of winning. Your cards give you a number of options so you will have to make effective use of the cards you have chosen. As in war, the random card draw means things may be well placed for you or you may have to work with less resources for example. As its a short game, there won’t be deep, long turn planning. You are on a tactical situation and need to make the best of what is available to you in actions and resources.

I found the experience of playing Days of Honor: Operation Most (Wildhorn) III to be very interesting and a load of fun. I really enjoyed trying to figure out how best to get my troops into the field and give them the support they needed. I enjoyed the history lesson as well and the advenure of heroic Polish troops striving to achieve such an important mission. Its a challenge for both sides and well balanced. There are good options and challenges for both players.

This game has a very specific war gamer audience or at least, those interested in the historical events. I would say that its not necessarily for gamers who don’t have an interest in the theme although I would encourage them to give it a try.

What I find really impressive is the amount of historical detail that has been been distilled into a few pages of rules and yet provide you with the story and key elements that impacted events.

Days of Honor: Operation Most (Wildhorn) III is a really well done game that is fun and very interesting.


For more information go to –

Review – Camelot: the Build from Wotan Games


Review – Camelot: the Build from Wotan Games

Designer: Julian Musgrave
Artwork: Ed Dovey, Dan Peterson, David Powell

I remember Wotan Games. Yeah you know, they published a few historical games based on the Arthurian legend such as Excaliber, King Arthur & the Knights of the Round Table and others like Sorcerer King, Robin Hood and Merlin. Old skool games that attracted those of us who were into war games and historical games. They went out of business unfortunately as has happened to so many other publishers.

2013 and rising from the proverbial ashes like a phoenix, Wotan Games is back and with a new game, Camelot: the Build. This is a fast-playing tile-laying board game for 2-8 players (recommended 3-5) where you are laying out tiles to build the legendary seat of Arthur’s power, Camelot. 

From the Wotan Games website –

A game of medieval interior design with all sorts of dubious stratagems, dirty tricks and subtle ploys designed to challenge all ages and types of players.

Designer’s Comments: having only three rules, a playing time of a half-hour, and bright, humorous graphics — it is the first title in “The Camelot Chronicles”, a series of easy-to-play games with a target of three rules, maximum playing time of one hour, and universal playability and appeal.


Camelot: The Build comes with the following components –

Game board showing the proposed layout of the foundations of Camelot


80 tiles depicting walls, buildings, gardens and grounds which you will be laying out on the board as you build Camelot. The art has a very nice Medieval look and feel which is understated but suits the game well. You also get a nice cloth bag for your tiles and scoring markers.



The rulebook is nicely laid out and easy to follow with a number of useful illustrations. The production quality is very good and will stand up to many plays. A nice package altogether.


The rules for Camelot: the Build are relatively short. In fact there are 3 rules…

Set-up is slightly different depending on the number of players. Each player then starts with 10 tiles.

1. Turns: A player in his turn may place up to three tiles onto the plan. At the end of his turn a player draws tiles to make up to 10, until the bag is empty. A player may keep up to 3 tiles face down (hidden) and the rest must be face up. The game ends when all squares have been covered by tiles.

2. Laying tiles: Tiles may be laid on on any square on the plan provided and black walls on the plan match those on the tile. If there are no black walls on a tile it may  be laid on any plan square with no black walls with the exception of the 2 fireplace tiles which can only placed in a particular location. You may place 1-3 tiles in a turn.

3. Scoring: Players score in a number of ways each turn.

– the point values on the tiles plus the point values of adjacent tile (not diagonally)

– laying three tiles in a row, column or L-shape doubles the total scored that turn

– Garden tiles score diagonally as well only on the turns placed

– The score from the final tile placed by the player is doubled and then subtracted from his total

Its that simple, but the challenge is not finding the highest score alone but in thinking about when and where to place tiles. There are a number of blank tiles which can be used to cut down on you r opponents options, making it more challenging  for them. So you will need to think about placement defensively as well.

The gameplay moves along nicely, the system is very solid and if you are familiar with other tile-lying games like Carcassonne, you will get into it quickly.

Did I enjoy Camelot: the Build?

This is a very solid game which is simple, yet challenging. It is attractive looking without going over the top and has a nice feel. The system will appeal to those who like tile-laying games and a much broader audience. In fact, I would definitely recommend Camelot: the Build as an excellent game to introduce to non-gamers as you will be up and running in 10 minutes. The fact that you will want to keep 3 tiles hidden from your opponents is neat as you will be trying to assess what your opponents have left to play as the board builds up and this may give you ideas on how you might limit their opportunities. So there is a nice element of “gotcha” which adds to the tension.

Most importantly, this is a fun game not a dry exercise that will lead to analysis paralysis.  You will enjoying trying to outwit each other in making the best tile placements and confounding your opponent’s opportunities.  Having the castle design may seem like it limits your placement and on the one hand it does, but the other players are also constricted and so rather than a free wheeling tile-placement game, you have here a slightly more linear one which may very well come down to the final play or a key play and that make the game interesting.

There is a growing desire for simple, fast-playing games with friends and family and Camelot: the Build fits nicely into this arena.

For more information go to –

Review – Dawn of the Zeds second edition from Victory Point Games


Review – Dawn of the Zeds second edition from Victory Point Games

Design – Hermann Luttmann

Art – Tim Allen, Vinh Ha

Its taken quite a while but I find myself finally being drawn to Zombie Apocalypse games at long last. I’ve played and enjoyed games designed by Hermann Luttmann so I finally had a look at Dawn of the Zeds with a swanky 2nd edition that looks the business, and Victory Point GamesStates of Siege solitaire engine, I was very excited.

From the rules –

Dawn of the Zeds is a States of Siege™ series solitaire game of survival after the world has gone crazy – apparently some kind of virus or poison has turned ordinary people into vicious, zombie-like killers. It is not clear how the disease spreads (though it seems that physical contact is one way), but it is obvious what the illness does to its victims. And now the undead, nicknamed “Zeds,” are converging on your corner of the world.

As best as you can tell, you have been left to your own devices to stop them while the National Guard organizes a relief column and fights its way to you – but that could take days, maybe even weeks. You must coordinate the defense of the town of Farmingdale and its surrounding villages, utilizing the good citizens and emerging heroes of these communities to halt the Zeds’ advances by (re)killing them, discovering and implementing a cure to this vile scourge, and preserving as much of the area and as many of its inhabitants as possible.

I will say up front that the States of Siege system was made for a Zombies game. I haven’t played many Zombies games but  the tension of the other games using the system means this should work really well.

Dawn of the Zeds is at the more complex end of the scale of the States of Siege games and looks to really bring out a strong story, back up by a solid system, and attractive components.

Let’s see what my experience was…


•  One 11” x 17” Game Map (very nicely done with an A and B side, one for new players, the other for the more advanced rules)
•  One 8.5” x 11” Player Mat (nicely organised and very helpful)
•  One 8.5” x 11” Player Aid
•  One 8.5” x 11” Quick Play guide and one Quick Play Set Up sheet (this is great as you can use it to get up and playing quickly)
•  19 regular Zeds and 5 Super Zeds units*
•  12 Heroes, 7 Civilians, 5 Villagers/Refugees, 1 Raiders, 1 Bubba’s Band, 1 Dr. Marteuse, 1 VIP Survivors, 1 Rangers, and 2 Green Diamond Security Guards units*
•  1 Supplies, 1 Ammo, 1 Infection Level, 1 Super Weapon, 1 Research, 1 Final Component, 1 Ferry/Collapsed Bridge, 1 Premonition, 1 Player Actions, 1 Noelle, 1 Minefield, 1 Artifact, 11 Casualties, 8 Dead Zeds,18 Chaos, 1 Infected Vermin, 1 1st Player, 1 Loaded, 1 Secret Entrance, 6 Zeds status (Toxic, Zeds Stench, etc.), 1st Player, and 3 Civilians status (Well-Armed, Explosive, and Civilian Leader) markers* (The art is very good indeed and brings out the theme really well)
•  5 Barricades and 1 Strongpoint (minor assembly required)*
•  59 Event, 29 Fate and 12 Hero cards (There is a lot of necessary text on the cards and its all well laid out and is the core engine of the game that brings the story to life) 
•  2 six-sided dice (boxed edition only)
•  This Rulebook

The counters are colourful, easily functional and the images are terrific.

Zeds_countersheet_front v0-8

Zeds_FULLBLEEDmap (Side B) v1-02

This B side of the map is for beginners as it leaves out the Tunnel area of Farmingville.

Zeds_FULLBLEEDmap (Side A) v1-02

Here is the map Side A of Farmingville including the Tunnel area. Everything is clear and laid out well with a great look.


The Event cards are well done and are easy to follow the game process with.


The components certainly are very good and meet the high benchmark that Victory Point games has set for itself. Just looking at the components was a treat and so onto the game.


First off, this game is nicely set up for different levels of gamer. There is a Tutorial scenario, a Classic scenario (the original version of the game), and an Advanced scenario (which also comes in three lengths). This Advanced scenario uses the new expanded map and provides some additional rules, new types of units, and enhanced procedures.

The game map depicts the town of Farmingdale and its surrounding communities with the Town Center as the central hub that belongs to all Tracks leading up to it. This is the same format used in all of the States of Siege games with the target to win the centre hub and the paths for the attackers the spokes in the wheel. If you are familiar with these games, you will know how the Zeds will travel immediately. On Side A, there are five Tracks leading to the Town Centre. Side B contains four Tracks and is used to play the Tutorial and Classic Scenarios.

The set up for each scenario takes a bit of time but its worth it as although there aren’t many starting pieces on the map, you have specific instructions to set up the Event deck for each scenario. The instructions are easy to understand and well explained and it doesn’t take too long but it needs to be done right as this deck is the engine room of the game.

The rules give you all the information for the various set ups with illustrations and there is even a very nice quick-start guide for the basic scenario. This is excellent.

The coolest part of the game presentation for me is that the Event cards have the Sequence of play so you will find that you will be able to follow it pretty smoothly.

The gameplay basically has the Zeds moving inexorably towards the town centre. You will be effectively fighting and running to kill off or at least hold off the Zeds and escape back to the ton Centre until the National Guard. If the Zeds get to the Town Centre, you are toast.


Game Sequence

1. Draw Event card: Draw the top Event card from the Event Draw pile.

2. RRR Phase: Raiders, Rangers, and Refugees units are moved as listed on the Current Event card. You want to save the refugees by getting them back to the town centre where you need to decide to protect them or equip them to fight.


3. Outbreak Phase: Consult the Current Event card to determine if an Outbreak occurs. If it does, immediately conduct the Outbreak procedure. Inevitably Outbreaks occur and bring more trouble for you in the form of more Zeds!


4. Supplies Consumption Phase: Consult the Current Event card to determine if a Supply Point is
consumed. If so, adjust the Supplies marker accordingly. (This is the most stressful bit actually. You need to keep trying to forage for supplies and ammo if you want to stand a chance of winning and things don’t always work out).
5. Zeds Phase: The Current Event card indicates which Zeds unit(s) are moved one (or more) space(s) towards the Town Center. Resolve resulting fighting immediately. The fighting is either ranged or hand to hand which automatically raises the potential for an outbreak.
6. Action Phase: You may conduct up to the number of Actions indicated on the Current Event card. Each Action is fully resolved before the next is performed. Ok this is stressful too as you have a limited, sometimes very limited number of Actions available.

There is a good choice of Actions to choose from, but the trouble is its unpredictable how many actions will be available each turn and if you get a few turns in a row with low actions available, its not pleasant.
• Free Actions (if available)
• Fight the Zeds – hand-to-hand or shooting from a distance
• Move
• Building a Barricade (eats up supplies though…)
• Search & Retrieval Move
• Forage Action
• Healing the Wounded (Healing Action)
• Research Action (Find a Cure!)
• Manhunt Action (find Dr. Marteuse!)
• Special Unit and Hero Actions

Yes, this is a game of high tension and violence, and hungry Zeds eating brains and the like and the game process works well although it takes a few turns to get with the flow. As the Event cards have pretty much what you need, you will refer to the rules themselves less and less as you go which makes the the game move along nicely.


There are lots of elements in the rules that add a lot of texture to the atmosphere and story such as –

– Different tracks for the Zeds to travel, my favourite of which is the Tunnel track. This is crazy fun as units and Zeds can get lost in the catacombs and there is the secret lab of the crazed genius behind the Super Zeds, Doctor Marteuse. Hilarious!

– Different types of Zeds from Super Zeds, to Wer-Zeds, to Leapers, each with their special qualities.

– Heroes of course. Each of which has their own special capabilities. They all feel like they come out of any classic Zombies film. Great fun.

– Events – There are plenty of events, each with special rules that don’t take a lot of time to go through, and and more interesting stuff.

– Fighting – easily handled via a hand-to-hand combat chart and a Gunfire table.

– Fate cards – Occasionally, you will need to draw a Fate card which will add extra wrinkles to the proceedings.


Not an overly complex game but there are loads of bits and pieces to be honest and new gamers or those unfamiliar with the States of Siege engine will  find the going slow until they come to grips. The rule book is really well done with lots of visual examples and the tutorial level and the different  levels of difficulty are presented well so you will have a progression of learning.

Did I enjoy Dawn of the Zeds, second edition?

Out of all of the games over many years of gaming, I would have to say that this is one of the most thematic games I’ve ever played. It is also a ton of fun and the combination of strong theme and fun makes Dawn of the Zeds, second edition an absolute winner. Hermann Luttmann and Victory Point Games have really brought the best out of the States of Siege system and created a game that makes you feel like you are experiencing a Zombies film. Love it!

The mechanics work well and the Event cards really make things flow pretty well. You will feast upon the visuals and the production of components are at the highest standards that VPG are capable of.

The flow of the story starts off at a high tension rate and then it kicks you and slams you and beats you up and down as you fight off the hordes and try to survive. The Heroes jump in and do their thing in the most hollywood-ish ways adding to the strong sense of fun. Every Zombie movie cliche is there and works with style and outrageous craziness. The sense of fun is lovely and silly and over the top but thats what you want from a Zombies game.

The key test for me that makes Dawn of the Zeds, second edition stand out in this lovely second edition is that I want to set it up and have another go. There is a load of re-playability here as no two games will be the same. There are loads of discoveries and it will take many plays to work through the myriad of story journeys.

Easily up there with the best of VPG’s creative stable of games for sure. I highly recommend this game if you  love Zombies. I haven’t played loads of Zombies games at all and to be honest, I don’t really think I need to as I can’t see Dawn of the Zeds, second edition being bettered at all. In the States of Siege system, Victory Points Games, in my humble opinion, are the benchmark for bringing theme and story out in a very playable game to which all other publishers should be measured against and Dawn of the Zeds, second edition is their flagship.


For more information, go to -

Review – Theseus: The Dark Orbit from Portal Games


Review – Theseus: The Dark Orbit from Portal Games

Design – Michal Oracz

Art – Mateusz Bielski, Piotr Foksowicz, Tomasz Marek Jedruszek, Maciej Mutwil

Portal Games brings us a new SciFi Space game called Theseus: The Dark Orbit and me immediate thought was cool, although I am not a fan of Euro Games, perhaps this one will be something that I am attracted to. After all, they did produce Neuroshima Hex, which is pretty cool. Well, I did some reading and watched a couple of videos and it looked different and fun so let’s see what I’ve discovered.

Theseus: The Dark Orbit puts players in the heart of a conflict between five factions trapped on a space station in deep space. Only one can survive…

  • Command the marine forces! Use deadly weaponry, setting traps and mines in corridors to defend the human race.
  • Command the alien race! Use secret passages and ventilation ducts to launch surprise attacks and grow small aliens to take control of the station.
  • Command the scientists! Use computers and technological devices to gather data and record information about other inhabitants of the station.
  • Command the Greys race! Use their mind powers to control the enemy and use them for your own purposes.
  • The fifth faction? It’s a mystery. It’s precisely why you made the trek to Theseus, and it’s precisely why you will die…

Ok so that’s the blurb from the rules which gives you an idea of the theme and backstory. What you don’t have here is a universe and an Ameritrash approach like Space Hulk here. In fact, it sounds more abstract and apparently a Mancala mechanism for movement… uh… ok, that’s different. So I was a bit hesitant as I do like my theme as critical to my enjoyment but the art work drew me in…


Component list

  • 1 life and data board where you keep track of who is winning
  • 4 faction sector boards
  • 3 different sector boards

These sectors will include such things as:

– Pending card slots for placing cards which you would like to install

– Installed card slots where you will choose where to place pending cards

– Units areas where there are rooms, connected by passages, for placing your units

– Trap tokens area where you place traps

– Sector action symbol

  • 1 rulebook
  • 12 unit pawns
  • 24 faction stickers
  • 58 various tokens
  • 14 pandora army Tokens
  • 110 cards (44×68):
  • 25 marines cards
  • 25 scientists cards
  • 25 aliens cards
  • 25 greys cards
  • 9 bonus cards
  • 1 turn card

The components are solid and well produced on cardboard stock and will survive many plays. The information and icons is clear, although the print on the cards is rather small for my eyesight and therefore difficult to read. The cards should have been a standard deck size I would argue, not the smaller size found in the game.

The artwork is pretty nice on the box cover which is very atmospheric. The images of the faction tokens are ok as is the rest of the artwork on the components and cards which are colourful and functional but for me, disappointing overall. I had hoped for more theme to be depicted in the space station and cards at least. As it is, function has overruled theme here and although not a problem in game functionality, is really a lost opportunity.





Although this is supposed to be a 2-4 player game with 2v2 play, from what I have read, it seems that 2 players is the best way to play so that’s the perspective that I will give here. The main objective of Theseus is pretty straight forward – the Marine and Alien player each start with 20 life points and you simply want to ensure that your opponents runs out of life points first. If you play with the Greys or Scientists, they begin with 0 data points and want to be the first to reach 20.

The sector boards are set up in a circular formation surrounding the scoreboard. There is an initial setup recommended for new players (a good idea) and with familiarity this can be altered. There are also some introductory suggestions to make the game a little more accessible until players get used to the system, which actually isn’t too difficult at all. Its more a case of learning what the cards do as they are the key engine of gameplay and decision making.

Starting bonus cards are placed. Then the players will take their faction starting card hand. They then place their starting units in the sections and have the rest of the game tokens ready to use.

The game sequence is as follows:

Movement phase – you move your units around the space station sectors. You move a number of sectors equal to the number of units in the sector currently being moved from. If there is no room to place a unit in the sector being moved too, one of the units in the full sector gets ejected into space! Units can also end in a sector where they must undergo the effect of a trap left by their opponent. A unit can trigger a Lesser Onslaught as well if it is the last one into a room.

All kinds of risks are here…

Action cards phase – After finishing their move, a player then resolves the actions of all their installed cards in the sector arrived in.

Sector Action phase – the player performs the action indicated on the current sector board

Pending cards phase – the player may opt to take actions regarding pending cards

Note – there are a number of Bonus cards placed in the beginning of the game which you will want to try and pick up as they can prove very useful.

Ending the game

As the players go through their limited Faction decks, the time marker will be moved forward as the first player to need to reshuffle their deck does so. When this happens for the 4th time the game ends and the winner declared. The game can end earlier if one of the players gets to zero life points or 20 data points.

The rules go further into rules for the sectors, attacking, and so on.

It takes a number of turns to get comfortable with the system which isn’t in itself difficult, but there is a lot to take in and get used to. Especially the faction cards as it takes time to see ow the cards can work together to benefit or threaten.

So overall, Theseus has a relatively simple in structure but I don’t think that players will be comfortable without a number of plays as there are a lot of little features which will just take time to get used to and learn.

Did I enjoy Theseus: The Dark Orbit?

This is an unusual game and I can’t reasonably compare it to anything else. For this alone, I would recommend it as an interesting and challenging game. It seems to be more of a puzzle than anything else as you try and work out the best way to use your cards.

A lesson that I learned is that time is not your friend. you need to be decisive and take actions to quickly damage your opponent as soon as possible. It is very dangerous to give your opponent the opportunity to build up cards in any one area so you need to be looking to interfere with your opponent and not let them get too many installed cards in any one sector as the cumulative effects of getting a good combination of damaging cards can be fatal for you. At the same time you need to look for opportunities to place a couple of good combos if you can.

A game for thinking gamers as you figure out optimum card placements but be prepared to be frustrated as you are subject to the cards available. But planning ahead is not very possible and down time due to AP can be difficult in this game. But there is definitely a fun payoff if you get the right cards in the right places and can set up good attacks. Placement of your figures is key as well as it affects combat and movement. Having different factions with different strengths and weaknesses is interesting and makes for differing choices and adds to the challenge for sure.

The downside of the game for me is that the story is rather missing amongst the mechanics and system. You spend more time playing the system than bringing a feel of an epic fight for survival on a space station to life. I enjoyed playing it but it feels too abstract for my Ameritrash leanings I’m afraid. The artwork is mostly vague and doesn’t help although it looks nice.

So if you are looking for an interesting abstract puzzle with enough randomness to keep things spicy, Theseus: The Dark Orbit is definitely worth playing but if you are looking for an epic space battle with heroic deeds and strong theme, this is going to be disappointing.

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Review – Seven Swords from Gen-X Games


Review – Seven Swords from Gen-X Games

Design – Oscar Arevalo

Art – Victor Perez Corbella

The Magnificent Seven is one of my favourite films and its based on Kurosawa’s classic Seven Samurai which is great. So along comes Seven Swords from Gen-X Games, and I am SO interested. It was number one on my Essen wants list I have to say.

Seven Swords is a 2-player game with one player controlling the Seven Samurai and the other controlling the bandits trying to steal supplies and tools from a village.


The production quality of Seven Swords is very nice. AND you get a different village on each side of the game board – SCORE!

1 Reversible game board (with a different village on each side)
6 Six sided dice
7 Samurai cards
7 Samurai cardboard stands
7 Action area cards (Bandit player)
5 Samurai action tiles
7 Combat action tokens
7 Leadership action tokens
7 Movement action tokens
6 Palisade tokens
1 Turn counter
14 Bow tokens
8 Bandit tokens
4 Veteran bandit tokens
6 Archer bandit tokens
3 Veteran archer bandit tokens
6 Mounted bandit tokens
3 Veteran mounted bandit tokens
5 Supply tokens
5 Equipment Storehouse tokens
5 Villager’s houses tokens
1 Action counter (Bandit player)

The standard of the cardboard components to very good. The various shaped tokens – Houses, Supply tokens, store houses, etc are brill. You get a lot for your money I think. My sense is that this production is a labour of love. Gen-X Games are clearly fans of the Seven Samurai film.

The art is very nice and evocative, cards are good quality. Even the cardboard characters are nicely done although it would have been amazing to have pre-painted minis but of course this would have increased the price significantly.

Overall, a very nice production without over-producing on an FFG level.




The game board has a village on each side that has spaces that regulate movement and serve different purposes such as bandit deployment, villager houses, equipment storehouses, supply areas, Bows squares, village spaces and palisades squares. Its really cool and gives the sense of the village being fought over.

The game board also shows the cost that must be paid to bring bandits into play, an action track and a turn track. All compact but nicely done.

The character pieces show the Defence, Leadership, Movement and Combat skill. The character cards show the same plus area of actions per turn.

Action Area Cards show number of bandit actions on one side and the bandit deployment area on the other which is cool as the bandit player has knowledge of his deployment that he keeps hidden from the Samurai player to keep them guessing.

There are 5 different Samurai Action tiles with different actions that can be taken.

Bandit tokens provide bandits, mounted bandits and archers with veteran versions on the flip sides.

You get other tokens and bits which are clearly explained in the rules. There are a lot of bits but they all make sense and are used easily as you play through the game.


Essentially, The Samurai player has Seven Samurai who are trying to fend of bandits from attacking a village and making off with supplies. The bandits can attack from any direction and are trying to get  through the defences. The rules give you instructions to set everything up. Its very straightforward.

The game lasts for 18 turns. (Except if all samurais are killed beforehand). Seems a lot doesn’t it? But the turns play quickly so its not a problem at all. Each turn has two phases: the bandit phase and the samurai phase.

Bandit player phase
The bandit player discards an action area card from his hand and he gets as many actions as indicated by the number of the discarded card. He places that card in a visible but apart area with the A side up so the samurai player cannot see the area of that card. Actions available are deploying bandits, movement, combat and taking control of a supply token.Bandits can attack Samurai, an equipment storehouse, a supply token, or a palisade. In the 6th, 11th, 15th and 18th turns the bandit player chooses and discards an Action Area card. To see if one of the Samurai is randomly killed. Seems unfair but actually this puts pressure on the Samurai player and also balances things between the 2 players.

Samurai player phase
At the beginning of the samurai player phase, he chooses a samurai action tile to get as many actions for his turn as the number on the tile, and turns it over. If the action tile has a combat, movement or leadership icon on it, the samurai player removes all the action tokens of that icon from his samurai cards and gets so many actions as the number on the tile as usual. Samurai actions include attack, movement, and using Leadership. Samurai’s use their leadership to get the villagers to attack bandits from the palisades or villager houses.

Its pretty much that straight forward. There are choices to make and there are limitations as to how much you can do.

End of the game and victory points

The game ends if all samurais are killed or at the end of the 18th turn. If all samurai are killed, even if it is before the end of the 18th turn, The winner is the bandit player. If at the end of the 18th turn, the samurai player has at least 1 samurai alive, players must count their victory points.

Overall, the game system works very well. It takes a bit of effort but once you are a couple of turns in, its pretty smooth.

Did I enjoy Seven Swords?

I LOVE SEVEN SWORDS!!!!  There, I said it. This is easily the best game that I’ve played from Gen-X Games. 

Oscar Arevalo has done an outstanding job of bringing the Seven Samurai film to life. The look and feel of the game really suits the theme. Nice touches like the different buildings and supply pieces, the abstracting of the villagers in combat, the upgrading of standard to veteran bandits, the palisades… I could go on, all come together very nicely. turns play fast, there is a good level of tension for both players and a number of choices in terms of your strategy. The art is lovely, the Samurai each have their own strengths and weaknesses. Very nice.

There is good replayability, especially as there are 2 villages to contest. The theme is very strong with this one without going into meticulous detail that would drag the game down. The pace is good, the theme is just enough to feel for the Samurai. Very much an American style design with Euro type components and relative simplicity. The rules are thorough enough and give you what you need in some detail but after a few turns you won’t have to keep looking up rules as the system works well. The combat works well, the choices as to how to gain victory points via combat and defending/stealing supplies is really cool. SEVEN SWORDS IS LOADS OF FUN!

Easily my choice for the game of Essen 2013! If you like Samurai, lots of interaction, American style games, this may very well be the game for you.

BRAVO! to Oscar Arevalo and Gen-X Games! You couldn’t do a companion game based on the Magnificent Seven could you?

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