Sandiego Inc. Review

Sandiego Inc Title Screen
Sandiego Inc Title Screen
Released 2017
Platform Android, iOS
Publisher Think Tesla Studios (Website)
Developer Think Tesla Studios (Website)
Homepage (Visit Website)
Players 1(ish – can play in teams)
Category Deduction
General Knowledge

How did I not know about this until now?

Many, many years ago when I was still in primary school (gasp!), when we did especially well we would be awarded time on the computer.  Now that didn’t mean time to sit and watch YouTube or catch up on Facebook – this was 1986, these things weren’t invented then!

What we could do was ‘play a game’.  Most of us know educational games tend to be bad at both being education and being a game, but one rose quickly among the ranks.

That game?  Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?

Chasing down a suspect that had stolen some national treasure, you had to piece together a description of the suspect and follow general knowledge clues to find them.

All controls were via a button press – click to search the library for example, and a little animation would appear.  If you were correct, a little trenchcoat-wearing figure may look around suspiciously.  But if you were wrong, precious time was wasted and you had to backtrack quickly!

Today, it was simplistic and the graphics were awful.  But back then all of the graphics were awful – you had to make a fun game to compensate, not the other way around like today!

Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego - 1985
This was cutting edge graphics in 85! Image from gamesdatabase.org

And of course, the series only started here.  Where on Earth, the USA, in Europe, and my personal favourite Where in Time were also additions to the series.

After watching the new Netflix series, nostalgia set in for the old games and I thought I would see what was around.

And I can play the old style game on my phone 😀

Enter Sandiego Inc

I tried what any person driven to find answers would do on the spur of the moment – I typed Googled Carmen Sandiego Game on my phone.

And there it was – on the Play Store, Sandiego Inc.  The tone of the letter from The Boss was right from my memories, but didn’t you get missions from The Chief?

The last line solved that little mystery – a tribute to the Classic Carmen Sandiego.  It’s important to make that distinction because Think Tesla has not made a Carmen Sandiego game.  But what a fun tribute they did make!

The old school Carmen is in full force here, with missions received via old school terminal PC and fax print out.  The case structure is identical, but the locations images are replaced with slightly easier to recognise hi res versions.

Sandiego Inc A Welcome Sight
Oh yeah. People my age know this screen well - and it is welcomed 😀

The simple layout of tapping one of a limited number of choices means that the system holds up well on a mobile screen.  Animations and particularly sounds have been updated a bit, but still have that retro charm very much intact.

The controls are very intuitive, and the tutorial does a great job of walking you through what needs to be done.

All of the original core mechanics are in play in Sandiego Inc.  Get the gender of the suspect from the briefing.  Start investigating for clues as to the next destination and about the suspect.  Get a warrant when you can, and catch the crook.

If you catch up to the suspect without a warrant, they go free.  Solve certain numbers of cases to get a promotion, which makes investigations more difficult as you progress.

What you really want to see is the suspect in cuffs.  Here I remember scuffles slapstick style between the trenchcoat wearer and English Bobbies.  In Sandiego Inc, you are rewarded with a pair of hands in cuffs.  Satisfying that you solved the case – but not as fun to watch.

I do find it a little confusing because the classic trenchcoat suspect and footprints are here – maybe it was easier and less infringement worthy?  Still, as this is the biggest gripe I have, it’s at least a small one!

Sandiego Inc Success
This is what you see when you do the case correctly. Of course, the animations would have been better...

Uh Oh, it’s free with ‘Ad Support’

Yes, there are full-page ads that pay for the game.  So far I have solved three cases, and I have only seen 2 ads.  Both were for about 5 seconds?

There have been plenty of free quick diversion games I thought I would like (and generally did), but any ‘screen change’ meant another ad to sit through.  This was a concern with Sandiego Inc, but I am happy to report on my Android phone at least ads have been minimal and unobtrusive.

The bigger concern if you are looking for a challenge is that Carmen Sandiego has always been aimed at kids.

Geography is a massive gap in my knowledge, but even my minimal knowledge of locations and flags has served me well so far.  I remember having to look up things like different currencies to find what country a suspect had travelled to, but I haven’t had any questions like that yet.

While I am treating Sandiego Inc. as a fun diversion with nostalgia leanings, if you want a more difficult deduction challenge this is not the game for you.

Apart from 2 ads popping up, the biggest intrusion I have found is when requesting a warrant.  If you need more clues, you can watch a video.  Now on my last case, I got the same clue every time, but that would happen in the old game as well.  At least I get to start the ad if this has been rigged, rather than have it forced on me.

Sandiego Inc Get a Warrant
Watch a video, get a clue - and I haven't felt like I have had to yet

Sandiego Inc can be found on the Google Play Store and iTunes.

Until next time,

JohnHQLD
Sandiego Inc.

Final Thoughts

It may not be officially Carmen Sandiego, but Think Tesla Studios has definitely caught the elements of the original and shined them for mobile play.

It’s a quick bit of fun that I would have gladly paid $5 or so for, and I will look for more of Think Tesla Studios games in the future.

If you were never a fan, Sandiego Inc. won’t change your mind.  But if you think back on those games with a smile, do yourself a favour and grab it – you can’t beat the price!

Overall
8/10
8/10

Pros

  •  Same classic gameplay
  •  Clues have been updated
  •  It’s free with minimal ad interruptions

Cons

  •  It is a game aimed at 10-13 year olds, so difficulty isn’t always there.

Choose Your Own Adventure: House of Danger Review

Choose Your Own Adventure House Of Danger Box Art
Choose Your Own Adventure House Of Danger Box Art
Released 2018
Designer Prospero Hall
Publisher Z-Man Games (Website)
Players 1+ (Probably 3-4 max)
Playing Time 40 – 60 minutes per chapter, 5 chapters total
Category Hand Management
Cooperative Play
Multipath Narrative
BoardGameGeek View on BGG

Who wouldn’t trust psychic premonitions?

I have spoken before about growing up with the Fighting Fantasy, Pick-a-Path and Choose Your Own Adventure books.

Back in the 80s, these books were a goldmine for solo gaming.  Dungeons and Dragons was a thing, but without a group, I was a bit stuck.  I had Hero Quest and Space Hulk, but younger siblings made adventuring a bit difficult.

Already an avid reader from a young age, these books let me not just follow an authors tale but let me play my own story.  And I had every single one I could get my hands on back in the day.

So when I heard that one of the best early Choose Your Own Adventure games was being turned into a board game, eyebrows were raised.

What eventually arrived was a retro look and feel game that was both familiar and true to the books, but with a definite ‘game’ structure.

Choose Your Own Adventure House of Danger Components
House of Danger Game Components. I didn't want to show my spoiled open copy :p

So what is the House of Danger?

Well – that’s the question.  You don’t know, and the point of the game is to find out.

Now at this point, I will remind everyone that House of Danger was an early young readers story, so don’t expect an epic storyline!

You play a psychic investigator and aspiring detective that is awoken one night from a nightmare by a phone call asking for help.  The number is unlisted, but after asking friends in the police force you find about the Marsden House.

Your psychic senses telling you this is the source of your nightmares, you go to investigate and solve the mystery of the house.

House Of Danger Story Card
This is the first card you read, and is fairly representative of the amount of text involved.

Playing the Game

I’m not really going to go into a lot of detail on how to play House of Danger.  This is partly because the system is fairly intuitive, but mainly it will be impossible to show the game mechanics without spoilers.

If you have read any of these books, or played games like Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, then the basics are familiar to you.

You progress through the story by reading numbered cards.  Depending on the decisions you make, you will be directed to read a different numbered card.  This continues until you reach your objective, clearly marked at the start of each of the five chapters.

To stop players ‘accidentally’ reading ahead, the pile of chapter cards is topped by a book cover – a nice touch I thought.

House Of Danger Board
Apart from the cards, you will be referencing this board a lot.

On top of this ‘game’ wise there is a psychic meter and the danger meter.  Both are very simple implementations for common systems.

Your psychic level is a kind of experience level.  You start at Level 1, and during the game, you will get different premonitions or bonuses if you are at a minimum level.   There isn’t a guaranteed way of gaining psychic points in the game, but there are ways to lose points!

The Danger Meter is used for the various challenges in the game, broken up in different categories like Fighting, Dexterity and Strength.

The concept is pretty simple – you will read a challenge (e.g. Can you see a secret door?  Try a perception check) and if you decide to take it, roll the six-sided die.  If you roll the number shown on the danger meter or higher, you pass the test!

To help you, before you roll you can use an item add one to the die roll.

But.  There is always a but.  If you roll a 1, that is an automatic failure.  Think of it as a critical failure if you play a lot of roll playing games.  Oh and if you were using an item?  That card is now removed from the game!

House Of Danger Ready To Play
Ready to start Chapter one, items ready and the unknown waiting

So why am I playing this again?

This is going to be the reaction of a lot of people.  Without getting right into the nitty gritty of House of Danger it’s hard to justify why someone should buy it.

If solving an interactive story sounds good to you though, then House of Danger is more designed for you.

For older players or buyers due to nostalgia, House of Danger may be a game better suited to solo play.  I played solo, with another player and with two others and I enjoyed each experience, but each experience was very different.

Playing by myself and with Alpal, we both kind of went the ‘one straight run’ approach.  Playing with Alpal and Rabbit, the chapters took a lot longer but we explored most if not all options available to us.

My best advice would be to play with people that would play similarly to you.  Playing with strangers, this won’t be easy, but it would be easier playing with friends.  If you have someone that doesn’t want to do optional challenges or loop back and explore different areas, this could dampen the experience for everyone.

House Of Danger Story Cover
The only card that will make it through the entire game - and it's the cover!

An older player or two with some younger players though would be a different story.  Now by younger players, I don’t mean six-year-olds.  While the older players could do the reading and explain some concepts, House of Danger has a supernatural horror element that could still be considered too much for some.  But I think the recommended age of 10+ is a good guide if you wanted a game with your kids.

Until next time,

JohnHQLD
Choose Your Own Adventure: House of Danger

Final Thoughts

House of Danger is a great idea and in a lot of ways the Board Game equivalent of the NES Mini and similar consoles.  Changing the format of the original book does open up possibilities for other players, and was a novel experience.

Playing as a group, it’s a fun shared story experience and a better gateway than the Consulting Detective series, and as such remember that this won’t be a challenge for a lot of people, just a bit of fun.

I don’t regret buying House of Danger, but I might recommend the Fighting Fantasy books for better bang for your buck, especially solo.

Overall
7/10
7/10

Pros

  •  Interesting Nostalgia Twist
  •  Turns a stand-alone book into a cooperative experience
  •  Light RPG Gateway experience

Cons

  •  Limited replay value, maybe twice through the whole story
  •  Potentially better solo, but then you could just get the book

HMS Dolores Review

HMS Dolores Cover Art
HMS Dolores Cover Art
Released 2016
Designer Bruno Faidutti, Eric M. Lang
Publisher Asmodee (Website)
Players 2 – 4 (Really want 3-4 though)
Playing Time 10-20 minutes (About 5 min per player)
Category Hand Management
Set Collection
Negotiation
BoardGameGeek View on BGG

Salvaging goods from a shipwreck is one way to make a living.  Wrecking the ship first comes with a different name though…

Combining the design talents of Bruno Faiduti and Eric M. Lang, HMS Dolores was a game that I had my eye on for quite some time.  All I knew about it at the time was the name, so I was expecting a shipping game of some sort.

What we ended up getting was a quick filler game of negotiation and risk.  Like so many small packages, things are not always as they seem.

Setting the Scene

For such a small quick game, the basic theme of HMS Dolores is quite dark.

Players take the role of shipwreckers – thieves that lure ships onto dangerous coasts during bad weather to salvage the cargo.

Each turn will always take place between 2 players that divide up four crates that have washed ashore.  Feel free to talk out your strategy and wishes for how to divide the loot, but be careful.

The final decision is made by a game of Rock Paper Scissors, where greed will be swiftly punished.

HMS Dolores Components
Except for the manual, HMS Dolores is just a small stack of cards. Ditch the box and bag it.

Playing HMS Dolores

Setup is pretty simple but has a few steps.  Shuffle all of the crate tiles together, and deal some cards to each player (the number depends on the number of players).

Now, add the five message cards to the remaining pile, and shuffle the deck once more.  Finally, take the bottom 15 cards, add the sunset tile (the end game timer), shuffle this smaller deck and put it back under the deck.

Once this is done, you can begin playing the game.  Each round, there is a dealer that deals out four tiles on the table, and plays against the player on their left.

The goal of the game is to get as many points as possible, with the score of your highest item and the lowest item being added together.  This will be explained in detail later, but for now, think that you are trying to make as many even scoring piles of items as you can.

HMS Dolores Almost Setup
Setup is a bit fiddly as you need to sort out the cards, but the distinct art makes this easy

Looking at the ‘salvage’ on the table, you and your opponent decide how you wish to split the bounty.  In general, you will take the two items on each player’s respective side – but there are other options.

You could choose to go first and take one item from the board, leaving your opponent whatever remains on their side.  There is also war, where you try and take everything.

All of these options are freely discussed beforehand, but it’s what you present in the final phase that counts.  This phase is played like Rock Paper Scissors, and you have three options.

Peace (an open hand) means you are happy to let things stand, and take your respective halves of the board.  If both players take peace, everything is quickly settled.

War (a closed fist) means that you want everything.  If your opponent counters with peace, you have everything.  If you both go to war, everything on the table is discarded – no one gets a prize.

HMS Dolores Hand Combinations
Keep this page out for new players, but it's Rock Paper Scissors, with a thumb instead of scissors

Going first (thumbs up) means you wish to only take a single tile – but you can take this tile from anywhere.  If your opponent played peace, and you took from there side, they will also only get one prize.  If they played war, you pick first but they get the remaining three crates.

Harshest of all is if you both decide to go first.  Similar to a dual declaration of war, the crates on the table are all discarded.  Both of you will also have to discard a crate from those before you as a further penalty as well!

Once you have split the bounty, the player on the dealers left becomes the dealer, and the process continues until the sunset tile is drawn.

This is the heart of HMS Dolores.  Similar to the prisoner’s dilemma, do you watch out only for yourself?  You may get more than the others, but you could also lose everything as well.

Do you decide to play ‘straight’ and share a victory with others?  This makes honest negotiation the better play but leaves you open to betrayal.  How do you convince a player that both of you discarding a crate each will actually help you both?

HMS Dolores Typical Hand
How much do you want the salvage? Or do you want to wipe it and score nothing?

End Game Scoring

Once the sunset tile is dealt, the game is instantly over – do not finish the round.  Each player sorts their tiles into the individual commodities and adds up the point score on the cards of each item.

As previously mentioned, you then add the point scores of the highest and lowest amounts of stock, this combined total being your score.

For example, the top player has 3 + 2 + 2 + 1.  The highest score is 3, and the lowest score is 1, so four points total.  The middle scores are disregarded.

The middle player has 2 + 3 + 3 + 1, and scores 7 points – the two 3 stacks and the 1 stack.

The bottom player though has scored big with the bonus double trick.  They have 4 items as well, but each is worth 2 points – 2 + 2 + 2 + 2.  Two being the highest value, they score 8 points.  2 is also the lowest value, scoring another 8 points for 16 in total.

HMS Dolores Scoring Example
Scoring sounds complicated, but once it's been seen once it tends to click with players

Everything about HMS Dolores is about balance.  Having only a couple of items of equal value can lead to a decisive victory as illustrated.

Achieving such a balance requires quick thinking in negotiating the split, and going back on your word can destroy your opponents’ score.

Only want the one crate, but you know that any crate is bad for your opponent?  Convince them that you will both play war and wipe the table, then pick first and let them take the remainder.

Desperate to get rid of that one item that is throwing your score balance?  Convince your opponent that you want as much as possible and will go to war, so they should pick first to get anything.  When you both pick first, you can get rid of that score destroying item easily!

This is how HMS Dolores is meant to be played, and it holds a lot of appeal to me.  But I need to be playing with the right people.  Not everyone is comfortable with bluffing and deception, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t play HMS Dolores.

HMS Dolores Message Powers
I have skipped them, but there are 5 player power cards included in each game as well. I usually add them on the third game.

Forget the Prisoner’s Dilemma, what about the Player’s Dilemma?

If you play with ‘kind and honest’ player types, the cooperative puzzle of maximising scores has its own appeal.  It also helps to play teaching and learning games like this.  Players can listen to your advice without needing to weigh up a ‘deception’ factor and can get a fast handle on the scoring of HMS Dolores.

Mixing the gentler, more cooperative players with the more backstabbing kind is where I see games of HMS Dolores fall down the most.  Because you only interact with the player on your left and right, someone that always ‘honest’ or always out to mess with you can be disheartening, even in such a quick game.

And this is where I think HMS Dolores biggest weakness – you need to be with the exact right group for you.

Now this common among many forms of entertainment, so I don’t count it as a con of the game as such.  But you can easily spot the right and wrong group at the end of a game.

If the group played similar styles, they will shuffle around a bit to change player order and have another go.  If the group is too disparate in their gaming choices, the minority if not the whole group will shuffle off to other games.

HMS Dolores Hand 2
It's quick, it's fun, but the game is the same rough decision over and over again

Find the right group though, and you have a fun little filler for any occasion.

The other weakness is player downtime.  HMS Dolores is a quick game, but waiting for your turn to come around can take you out of the game a bit.  There isn’t much that can be done about this, but I tend to stick to 3 player games for this one.

Until tomorrow,

JohnHQLD
HMS Dolores

Final Thoughts

Teaching players HMS Dolores is pretty simple – it’s a variant on Rock Paper Scissors, with combination consequences.

Playing with like-minded players is a fun diversion, but playing with someone that enjoys backstabbing friendly players kills the mood for everyone.

I have found my favourite plays to be with people that are working to get the best score.  When I see a player pointing out combinations that help maximise their opponent’s score makes me happy.  This style makes HMS Dolores suitable for mixed ages as well, as you can help younger players optimise their set collection strategy.

Not a game that I will reach for constantly, but a game I will usually be a part of if it’s on offer, and quick enough to be a different filler experience for many games night.

Overall
7.5/10
7.5/10

Pros

  •  Easy to teach
  •  Simple premise allows for fast gameplay
  •  Easy to take travelling for instant filler game

Cons

  •  Negotiations can break down
  •  Some player types can drag a game out (e.g. Analysis Paralysis)
  •  Downtime as each round is only between two players

Tsuro of the Seas Review

Tsuro of the Seas Cover Art
Tsuro of the Seas Cover Art
Released 2012
Designer Tom McMurchie, Jordan Weisman
Publisher Calliope Games (Website)
Players 2 – 8 (Really want 4 maybe 5)
Playing Time 30-45 minutes
Category Hand Management
Tile/Path Laying
Player Elimination
BoardGameGeek View on BGG

Does making a game more complicated make it better?

Last Friday I reviewed Tsuro, an elegantly simple game of laying paths and being the only player left on the board.

Then in 2012, Ray Wehrs kicked off Calliope Games first Kickstarter campaign with an update to the original – Tsuro of the Seas was introduced to the world!

Building on the same ideas as the original, Tsuro of the Seas has the same strong Asian influence, the same art style and the same path laying tactics.

This time though, instead of being a mythical creature enjoying yourself in the air, the much less abstract theme of being a ship captain trying to get back to port comes into play.

So you would think that avoiding other sailors would be enough, wouldn’t you?  Now you also have to dodge daikaiju (giant monsters) that are roaming the seas and making your journey much more interesting.

Tsuro of the Seas ComponentsZ
On the surface, what can some tiles and a pair of dice add?

Playing Tsuro of the Seas

The first thing a player does on their turn is roll two die and see if the daikaiju are activated.

The number of daikaiju in the game are dependant on the number of players, but in a lot of ways the daikaiju are extra tiles on the board that move.

If the daikaiju are activated, then you need to roll die to see if they rotate/move or if a new daikaiju is placed.  With a lot of daikaijuon the board, this can take quite a while. And there are movement rules just for the daikaiju to remember.

Tsuro of the Seas Initial Setup
The Daikaiju are waiting. White seems to be in trouble already though...

If they travel off the board, then the daikaiju is essentially eliminated (just like a player in normal daikaiju).  They also destroy players Wake Tiles (the tiles placed for Player Movement).

If a daikaiju is in front of a player (i.e. making it impossible for the player to place a Wake Tile), that player (or those players) are eliminated.

Once all of this is done, the player then takes their turn by placing a Wake Tile before them, similar to the original Tsuro.  Once placed, you follow your trail and follow the path to its conclusion.

Just like the original, if you leave the board you are eliminated.  If you sail boats into each other (or cause other players to do so) then those boats are eliminated.

If you sail into a daikaiju, you are eliminated.

Once you are the last boat on the board, that player wins – simple!

Tsuro of the Seas Movement
The core of the game is fully intact, even if the patterns have changed

The Good points of Tsuro of the Seas

There is a lot to like of more of a solid game.  The simple movement mechanics of following a path are always welcome, and the art style is still great to enjoy while not detracting from play.

The components are also very good, with the boats quite nice especially for the time.  Today you would probably have some more finely detailed pieces, but that is just the advantage of new production processes.

The idea of the extra random elements of the daikaiju are also great in theory.  When you have players that are very familiar with possible paths and forward planning, the random element they introduce is a great challenge for players.

Another welcome addition is you can play essentially the original game if you just don’t include the daikaiju tiles – great for introducing new players.

The core of the game is fully intact, even if the patterns have changed Ship Tokens
The ships are nice, but I don't have the same urge to paint them as the original tokens

But…

Tsuro of the Seas feels like a game made for the hardcore fans, even though it is a stand-alone expansion or sequel.

This is something that I see a lot in Video Games – take Destiny 2 for example.  Destiny had a core community that kept playing long after the main crowd came and went.  Bungie made Destiny 2 and streamlined a lot of the mechanics and gameplay lowering the barrier of entry, and then the core community screamed.  My thoughts on this can be found here.

The additional bookkeeping and slow down of the gameplay with the introduction of the daikaiju feels very similar – the crowd wanted more, so more was added, but not in a way that made Tsuro of the Seas is friendly towards new gamers.

If you are introducing new players to gaming, who wants to spend more time messing with the board than just having their turn?  Great for veterans, but not so much for new players.

Tsuro of the Seas Daikaiju
The daikaiju are great for veterans, but add a lot of extra mid turn admin

This is where Tsuro of the Seas is let down.  It is a game for fans adding complication to a simple premise, for the sake of adding complication.

As a fan of the original Tsuro, I do appreciate the added ‘game’ of Tsuro of the seas, but the problem is there are so many games that do something similar today and at a much faster pace.

But when I can play 2 games of Tsuro for every game of Tsuro of the Seas, with no administrative downtime, I know where my vote is.

But a new version is coming

But all of this said, the new iteration of Tsuro to celebrate Calliope Games 10th anniversary – Tsuro: Phoenix Rising – seems to have taken the cons of Tsuro of the Seas into account.

More strategy has been added needing to get your Phoenix to specific areas of the board, rather than the overhead of added randomness in Tsuro of the Seas.

For this, I am looking forward to playing Tsuro: Phoenix Rising, but I will talk about that in more detail later in the week!

Tsuro Phoenix Rising
New game, but same core rules. Image from the Kickstarter page https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/781219801/tsuro-phoenix-rising

Until next time,

JohnHQLD
Tsuro of the Seas

Final Thoughts

Tsuro of the Seas shows what happens if you add too much or not enough to a base concept.

While it is a lot of fun, the slowdown in play due to the daikaiju adds for me unnecessary overhead for the sake of a new mechanic in gameplay.

Tsuro of the Seas is still a good game overall, but I would much rather play the original game.

Overall
7/10
7/10

Pros

  • Beautiful art and attention to components
  •  Core game still very much present
  •  Can still play essentially the base game if you remove a row and column from the play area

Cons

  •  Addition of the daikaiju slow gameplay
  •  Not the best written rulesbook
  •  Not quite as gateway friendly as the original

Tsuro Review

Tsuro Box Art
Tsuro Box Art
Released 2004
Designer Tom McMurchie
Publisher Calliope Games (Website)
Players 2 – 8 (Really want 4-6)
Playing Time 15-20 minutes
Category Hand Management
Tile/Path Laying
Player Elimination
BoardGameGeek View on BGG

Just like in life, there are multiple paths.  Can you find the right one?

The Game of Life.  Not the Hasbro one, the actual day to day we all navigate through.  No matter who you are or what you believe, we all play the same central game – pick a path, follow it, and hope we all come out of it alright.

Saying it like that does not make for an interesting or uplifting theme, does it?  It may be a reworking is in order.  What if you were a glorious dragon, making your way through the path minding your own business, occasionally conflicting with other dragons?  Doesn’t that sound interesting?

Both paragraphs accurately describe the gameplay of Tsuro: The Game of the Path.  Each player has a token and three tiles, and on their turn, a tile will be placed that will create a path for the token to follow.

With luck, you will continue to journey and be the last dragon happily navigating the board.  But occasionally you will have no choice but to fly into other dragons or off the board, ending your run for the game.

And that is it – that’s almost all there is to tactics and objectives in Tsuro.  Be the last dragon on the board, and you win – job done!

Tsuro Components
I've said it before and I will say it again - you don't need a lot of parts for a good game

Playing Tsuro

Tsuro is incredibly easy to teach and pick up.

To begin, each player starts at a marker on the outside of the board.  This is where your dragon will start the game.  Technically, you can start on the same square but the second marker next to another player, but maybe not while you are learning the game 🙂

The oldest player going first, you then place a tile in an empty square adjacent to their marker.  The idea of the placement is to continue the natural path you have started on.

Once the marker is placed, the player then moves their token to the end of the natural path.  At the start of the game this is usually to the edge of the tile that was placed, but later in the game these paths can go quite a ways!

Once this is done, any other markers that may have had paths put before them are now moved.  Then the player takes a tile so that they always have three tiles, and the next player clockwise has their turn, following the same rules.

Tsuro First Move
Your opening move is the safest in the game. That doesn't last long though!

A common way of being eliminated is if you make two markers meet, both of those markers will be eliminated.  At the start of Tsuro it’s pretty easy to see this coming, but as the number of tiles on the board increases, you can get caught out!

If you place a path that guides you off the board, there is a small reprieve.  You may not willingly do this, so there is room to take back the tile for a mistake.  But be careful – if you have no choice but to eliminate yourself in this fashion, then the elimination is final.

Once a player is eliminated, their tiles are shuffled back into the draw pile, and play continues.

Tsuro Check Your Strategy
So the red player thinks that this tile will send yellow off the board. But it will knock them both out!

Once there is only one marker left on the board, that player wins!

There are some other rules in terms of the draw pile being empty and multiple final players being eliminated on the same turn, but this is all you need to know to play Tsuro.

Once you have the basics down, there are even some variant rules like being able to swap some of your tiles with those of a player you eliminated.

Who would play Tsuro?

Honestly, most people that I have introduced to Tsuro have thoroughly enjoyed it and all for different reasons.

Some people enjoy the maximisation factor of laying the ‘perfect’ path early game to reap the benefits later.  Others enjoy moving their marker towards other players and messing with others as soon as possible.

If you start a game and another player puts their token right next to yours – expect shenanigans the entire time.

Tsuro Starting Shenanigans
You won't go out first turn (usually), but this kind of proximity can be an aggressive move.

But that is part of the beauty of Tsuro – the game is so simple it can be the sort of game you want it to be.

Yes, there is strategy involved, but you can ignore it.  There is luck in the cards you pull, but the game is so quick a bad draw doesn’t hurt too much and three cards to play helps as well.

Moving a piece along a line is easy to do, so even adding younger players into a game will work well.  To play Tsuro a lot though, like the main game on a game night, players will usually need a little bit more – but I will get to that in a minute.

The Game Itself

The components are fine for what they are. Essentially it’s a baseboard and thick cardboard tiles, so there isn’t much to rave about.  The markers for the dragons are solid plastic pieces and are nice to move around the board.

One day I will get around to painting mine.  Golden dragons in the imprint with colouring on the outer marker.  One day 🙂

But the art.  Heavily influenced by the Asian dragons, the art in Tsuro is as elegant and understated as the gameplay mechanics, and works so well.

Tsuro Tokens
The tokens are nicely weighted and good to use, like quality poker chips. But I still want to paint them 🙂

A big part of my attraction to Tsuro is its simplicity – but this is also its downfall.  Tsuro is a game that is great for 30-40 minutes at a time, but not all afternoon/evening/whenever.

Luckily, this is where Tsuro of the Seas comes into play, and I will be reviewing that next week.  Same basic gameplay, but with added mechanics making it more ‘gamey’ or a bit heavier for people that are looking for it.

And the sales pitch (well, as close as I get anyway)

On Kickstarter right now is the third game in the Tsuro legacy – Tsuro: Phoenix Rising.

Taking the same base gameplay described here and adding some twists and refinements, more ‘game’ is added while at the same time remaining accessible and fun.

I will be doing a more formal write up on Tsuro: Phoenix Rising soon, but if Tsuro looks interesting to you I would highly recommend checking out Tsuro: Pheonix Rising.  Kickstarter ends Sunday, February 10 at 5 am AEST!

Tsuro Phoenix Rising
New game, but same core rules. Image from the Kickstarter page https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/781219801/tsuro-phoenix-rising

Until next time,

JohnHQLD
Tsuro

Final Thoughts

Tsuro is a great simple concept that makes for a great filler game.  The only real downsides are you really want 4-5 people to make the game really interesting.   And playing with 8 people is somehow just so slow 🙁

While an older game Tsuro is still fairly easy to get, but newer versions are available that add a bit more for people looking for a heavier experience.  Tsuro is such a classic base to build from though, and as such, I think a great addition to every collection.

Overall
8/10
8/10

Pros

  •  Surprisingly satisfying puzzle
  •  Manages to build excitement and tension in a short time format

Cons

  •  Newer versions are both easier to buy and improve on game play
  •  Players can be put off by ‘unlucky’ draws
  •  While techically playable with 2 players, preferable with more players

Fireball Island: The Curse of Vul-Kar Review

Fireball Island Box Art
Fireball Island Box Art
Released 2018
Designer Rob Daviau, JR Honeycutt, Justin D. Jacobson, Chuck Kennedy, Bruce Lund
Publisher Restoration Games (Website)
Players 2 – 4 (5th player expansion available)
Playing Time 60 minutes
Category Hand Management
Set Collection
Light Dexterity (Interactive Board)
Take That
BoardGameGeek View on BGG

No one is going to call this The Curse of Vul-Kar – it’s Fireball Island all the way!

There is a category of game known as Roll and Move.  Examples of this are Snakes and Ladders or Monopoly.  When you talk about ‘old’ games, these are usually the type of game that people remember and compare new games too.

1986’s Fireball Island was a game like this – roll the die, move your piece.  But there was a twist – your playing pieces could be knocked over by a fireball!

Fireball Island was a game aimed at families with younger players (7 and up), so the game mechanics were going to be simple even for the day.

But this didn’t stop the popularity of Fireball Island.  As you can see in the US commercial, selling the adventure of exploring an unknown island and collecting the treasure was key.

A big part of the draw though was the vacumould playing board.  This was a huge draw, where you didn’t just have a folded board but a three-dimensional island to move around!

YouTube source https://www.youtube.com/user/wheezebucket

And atop the island sits the imposing figure of Vul-Kar, who would throw marble fireballs down the moulded paths to mess with your opponents.

It was different, and it was loved.  In today’s language, we would call a game like Fireball Island a Gateway Game – a great game to introduce new players to the hobby.  Except it’s been 30 years, and board games have gotten a lot better.

Restoration Games to the Rescue

As you may have seen on this site on a few occasions, I am a fan of Restoration Games.  They have a simple motto – ‘Every game deserves another chance’.  And they deliver on this time and time again.

Thanks to Fireball Island being a nostalgic favourite, kind of like the Nintendo Classic consoles, this was one Kickstarter basically guaranteed to be a hit.

And now it has all been delivered, and I have been able to play the new and improved Fireball Island.  And it’s great 😀

Fireball Island - All Arrived
I have some sleeves and other bits and bobs, but all of the game is here!

Some things change, some things stay the same

Bottom line – Fireball Island: The Curse of Vul-Kar is a bigger and better version of the 80’s classic.

The vacumould board remains, but is now larger and built up in three distinct parts.  The detail on the island itself has also been much improved as well, with a lot of great and humorous areas of the island.

This has allowed for more paths on the island as well from the looks of it.  I don’t have the original island myself to compare, but there seems to be more room and paths to follow.

The marbles naturally follow these paths, but there is a new twist of trees added to the island, meaning you can steer likely paths of fireballs as well.

Fireball Island - Don't you want to play it?
Fireball Island's biggest draw even today - the board itself

There is also the change to Vul-Kar itself.  Where in the original game there was one opening in the mouth, now you drop your marble in the top of the statue and there are three possible exits.  This helps add a bit of randomness and unpredictability to the game, making it more exciting.

Not only the components got a makeover – the dice for movement mechanic has been completely replaced with card drafting!  You will always have two movement cards in your hand, making strategy and planning more important than the original.  Of course, you still need luck to draw the right cards, but unlucky draws can be somewhat mitigated now.

Fireball Island Cards
Two decks - Souvenirs (Powers) and Movement. Still simple, but so many possibilities

So what do you actually do?

At the end of the day, Fireball Island is a set collection point scoring game.  As you explore the island, you can pick up treasure and try to make a set of five of most of the items lying around.

You also take holiday snaps of the island.  Once you have collected three holiday snaps, you are able to try and make it back to the ‘Hello-copter’ to escape the island.  First player back to the chopper gets a nice little bonus score as well!

I know it sounds like I am glossing over most of the gameplay, and I am to an extent.  There are some little rules I am not even touching on, because honestly it’s not really important.

Fireball Island is a fun entry-level game, but for players my age and experience that’s not what makes it a good game.  What makes Fireball Island a great game is the experience of playing, both the game itself and the friends you play it with.

Players that have played Ticket to Ride will have a good idea what I mean.  The idea of Ticket to Ride is simple – collect coloured cards to switch for trains to make routes and score points.  Anyone that plays the game will tell you that maybe the mechanic, but it’s not the game.  Same for Fireball Island.

Fireball Island - Summary
You just need to get off the island with the most points to win - and most things give you points

Should everyone rush out and buy Fireball Island?  No.  It’s a great bit of fun and a trip down memory lane for some, but for others I would rather start them off with Downforce or Stop Thief!.

If you play with younger players a lot, then I would say Fireball Island is more likely a better buy for you. The simple rules and fun of dropping marbles into Vul-Kar make for a great time for everyone.

On the flip side, if you remember the original fondly and really want it in your collection again, you would have already bought it. Nothing I can say now would influence you.

If you’re on the fence, play it first would be my advice.  You will know after the first game if you are likely to pull it out again or not, and that should be the clincher.

Even if buying isn’t really your concern, play it if you get the chance.  Sure there are ‘better’ games out there, there always are.  But get a few friends together and enjoy a silly hour – you are unlikely to regret it 🙂

Fireball Island - What could go wrong?
The player on the bridge is safe, but Vul-Kar has turned towards the player stuck on a ladder

Longterm – the expansions

I backed the pledge level that gave me basically the lot.  I think there is only a Secret Cabal promo card that I am missing.  And by the lot, I mainly mean expansions.

Everything I have discussed so far has been the retail base game with no additions, and to date I haven’t played with any expansions.

I will be, and they will be getting their own reviews soon, but if you need a game for 5 players I would suggest buying ‘The Last Adventurer‘.  On the surface, you can then just have an Indiana Jones-inspired 5th player, but there are some rules additions and extra cards to increase the gameplay options as well.

The other two main expansions are ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Bees‘ and ‘Wreck of the Crimson Cutlass‘.  Both add new rules and twists, and like most expansions should probably be added once you have gotten the most out of the base game.

Fireball Island - Expansions
The ideas sound great, but I need to play them all to find out what they add

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Bees adds more marbles to pour through Vul-Kar as well as a true dexterity challenge in the tiger.

Bee stings can be collected by players, and essentially they halve movement.  The tiger can net you three treasures from your opponent – if you can hit them!

Wreck of the Crimson Cutlass adds a new play area in the form of a pirate ship.  There is a push your luck aspect of marbles in a collapsable crows nest, and the ability to fire a cannonball – always a bit of fun!

Fireball Island - Packing is tight
The other small issue with the expansions - there isn't much room left in the main box!

While in theory these all sound like worthy additions, I think only the potential 5th player has an immediate benefit.  Extra powers and mechanics can be a lot of fun, but they can also be situational which I think these may be.

And they weren’t exactly cheap add-ons either.  For the cost of the Crimson Cutlass, I can buy another game – always something to make you stop and think.

Until next time,

JohnHQLD
Fireball Island: The Curse of Vul-Kar

Final Thoughts

I really like Fireball Island: The Curse of Vul-Kar – but there is a major caveat to this.  Personally, I have fond memories of the original Fireball Island.  Coupled with ‘Nostalgia Hype’™, this makes me biased towards the new game.

That said, while I don’t think every gamer must have a copy of Fireball Island in their collection, a great fun time will be had by almost everyone that plays it – even if it’s only once.

Great to play with younger players or to catch up with friends while playing, Fireball Island is a great experience for a wide audience.

Overall
7.5/10
7.5/10

Pros

  •  Quick to teach, game moves at a good pace
  •  A game that attracts an audience
  •  Beautiful component quality
  •  Nostalgia in full swing!

Cons

  •  Basic gameplay can put off some players
  •  Large play area even for ‘just’ the base game

Stop Thief! Review

Stop Thief Cover Art
Stop Thief Cover Art
Released 2017
Designer Rob Daviau, Robert Doyle, Justin D. Jacobson
Publisher Restoration Games (Website)
Players 1 – 4
Playing Time 45 – 60 minutes
Category Deduction
Hand Management
App driven
BoardGameGeek View on BGG

Just because an idea is old, doesn’t mean it’s not fun

Way back in March 2017, I looked at a new Kickstarter called Stop Thief! from Restoration games.  It was a new Kickstarter, not really a new game.

Stop Thief was a game released in the late 70s with many new ideas.  It had hidden movement deduction, at a time hidden movement games weren’t exactly the rage.  It had an electronic device to take the place of the thief, so everyone could play as a detective.  This was before PC’s and Smartphones – you needed to build a dedicated device!

Players would gather around a board and try and capture the thief from the sounds from the ‘crime computer’.  It was a great idea and a possible inspiration for the other ‘before it’s time app game’ – Dark Tower.

Stop Thief Original
The original 1979 Stop Thief - way ahead of its time *Image Source: https://boardgamegeek.com/image/128363

Playing with the new Stop Thief!

The core of the original game is still completely intact.  Players take the part of private investigators and use sound clues and logic to try and anticipate the location of a hidden thief on the board.

The layout of the board has changed from the original game, but not how it works.

As you can see in the photo, there are a series of dots connected by footsteps.  These footsteps represent the paths that the thief can take.  The thief will travel on their turn between a numbered dot to another, players must travel along each dot (empty and numbered).

Red dots represent places robberies, and the square locations with the circle around them in the center and corners represent the subway used to fast travel.  That’s it mechanically – there are also heaps of jokes and references in the art!

Stop Thief Components
The new game - almost the same layout, but a few new twists

Each dot has a sound clue provided by the app.  A door opening is a doorway, echoing footsteps are walking inside.  Glass breaking means the thief has entered a window space.  Busy rushed walking means they are outside.  Muffled announcements mean they have taken the subway – the thief has moved to a different part of the board!

The sound you don’t want to hear is the alarm – that means another robbery has taken place!  Upside though the places these can occur are limited, so you will have a good idea where the thief is.

To capture a thief, you need to be on or adjacent to a location you think the thief is at.  You then attempt to make an arrest using the app.  To do so, you just enter the three-digit number you think the thief is on.

Then you just need to wait for the app to tell you if you were successful or not.

Stop Thief Every game begins with a robbery
The good part of a robbery is you know what building the thief is in

And that wait can feel like forever.  If you are correct, you get a reward for catching the thief – but if you’re wrong, you have to pay a $1,000 fine for wasting the police’s time!

The first player to reach a set money goal (between $25,000 and 45,000) retires to Hawaii and wins the game!

But there is more – there are different modes of play!

Catching the thief is almost always the same type of game, but one of the additions made to the new Stop Thief! was new play modes.

You can play cooperatively – great for teaching new players, especially if you want to stay in the game as well.

The basic differences from the base game are that there are seven thieves that are operating as a single entity, and each time you make an arrest you make the gang smaller.

Catch all seven and you win!  However there is a pile of cash at the side of the table, that is used by the group and goes down when more robberies occur.  If this stash runs out before you capture the gang, it’s game over.

Stop Thief Different ways to play
Pick how you want to play - even old school!

There is also a solo mode and a one-vs-many mode – these are great additions for even more gameplay options!

Solo mode is basically co-operative mode but with a single investigator.  It works, but it’s a little harder as you can’t ‘hedge your bets’.  Even when you narrow in on a thief, there are plenty of occasions that they can be in one or two locations – this coin flip can ruin competitive games, but is manageable in the coop game.

One-vs-many is similar to the cooperative style of gameplay where there is a single gang running around, but this time the group is being controlled by a player!

The device is always held by the thief player, and the app shows all legal movement and plays the clues appropriate to the selected locations.  This is great, and is something I wish would be done for more hidden movement style games.  This way, even if you are mostly new to the game, you can take the part of the mastermind without making a mistake that can ruin the game for everyone else.

Stop Thief Select your move
I wish more hidden movement games had an app like this for movement

So it sounds like a simple gimmick game

I can’t avoid that – in a lot of ways, that’s exactly what Stop Thief! is.  The original game was a pioneer in using electronics with the game, so it was essentially built around a gimmick.

That said, this is a game that will fit many players of many ages, and while it may not be a Friday night regular, Stop Thief! is a game that I will stop and play anytime.

Younger kids want to play?  Walk them through the first few games in cooperative mode, and then when they get it, let them loose on the competitive game.

Are the paths to easy to work out now?  Increase the difficulty.  Playing at higher difficulty levels means the thief can stop or double back on themselves.

Stop Thief Gimmick
Is it a gimmick? Of course it is. But 40 years later, Stop Thief is still fun.

Stop Thief! may not be the flashiest game with the deepest story or branching elements, but it is a game that has stood up over the years and will continue to be played for years to come.

Until next time,

JohnHQLD
Stop Thief!

Final Thoughts

It just goes to show that a great idea will hold up over time.  There aren’t many games that people today will look at if you tell them it’s over 30 years old, but Restoration Games has managed to do just that.  Stop Thief! was the game that had me first interested, and they have kept me hooked ever since.

Using an app to replace the original crime computer was a great idea and the feeling of dread as you wait for the app to tell you if you found the thief or not is real.

A great game and a fun time no matter how you play, Stop Thief! is highly recommended.

Overall
9/10
9/10

Pros

  •  Multiple modes of play
  •  Deceptively simple premise
  •  Great for social play

Cons

  •  If the app becomes unsupported, manual play becomes problematic

Pokemon Let’s Go Review

Pokemon Lets Go Eevee is Happy 20181119
Pokemon Lets Go Eevee is Happy 20181119
Released 2018
Platform Nintendo Switch
Publisher Nintendo (Website)
Developer Game Freak (Website)
Homepage Pokemon.com (Website)
Players 1 (2 player is a little deceptive)
Category Light RPG
Collectables

Let’s Go on so many levels indeed!

To call Pokemon a marketing phenomenon would be fair.  Even if you are not into games, it’s even money you know Pikachu.  You may not realise what Pikachu is, but you know the little yellow mascot by sight and possibly the call.

This all came to a head a couple of years ago with a massive surge in popularity due to Pokemon Go.  Droves of people were walking everywhere trying to catch all the Pokemon.  True, initially it was probably the sizable number of fans that always wanted to catch a Pokemon themselves, but the media frenzy that followed definitely got a lot of people that had never played a Pokemon game loading Pokemon Go onto their phones.

So what is Pokemon Let’s Go?

To say Pokemon Let’s Go is a remaster of the original Gameboy Pokemon Yellow isn’t quite right.  A lot of the story elements are there, the basic map and abilities are all present, but a lot of the game has been modified as well.

Pokemon Let’s Go is a new gateway game to the world of Pokemon, with many nods to the old school fans.  Gameplay has also been tuned to make the game accessible for the players that Pokemon Go is their only background to the world of Pokemon.

Pokemon Lets Go Meeting Oak
Your first meeting with Professor Oak! This time you don't pick your partner Pokemon first.

This made the initial reception to Pokemon Let’s Go mixed for some.  The hardcore audience screamed that the series had been dumbed down, while some new players were overwhelmed with the adventure and complexity of the world compared to Pokemon Go.

My take: Game Freak, Nintendo and the Pokemon Company took the opportunity to not only update a 20-year-old game, but to update the entire series in such a way that a whole new way of playing was introduced.

And it works well.

The Story

I’m not going to beat about the bush – the story isn’t anything super special.  If you want a deep narrative that rivals the greatest literary works, this isn’t it.

Yes, you get to beat the 8 gym leaders and then take on the elite 4 to become a Pokemon Champion.  You get to stop Team Rocket and their ‘evil plans’.

The overall story is enjoyable but predictable.  As I said – kids game.

But.

There are moments that are beautiful.  Playing with your Partner Pokemon is adorable, even if it’s not part of the story proper.  And reuniting Cubone with its mother pulled more heartstrings than a story like this deserved.

Pokemon Lets Go Facing Brock
80's kids already know all about Brock, the first Gym leader you meet on your travels.

Describing the story of Pokemon Let’s Go is like describing a day out at a park or something similar.  You remember the highlights and the individual moments and somehow gloss over the mundane things that you did for most of the day.

Yes, like any adventure game you grind facing other trainers to be strong enough to battle the next leader.  You run around for hours catching various Pokemon.  But the individual moments make it all worthwhile to see it through to the end.

The old school changes – the story run

One of the biggest changes to a traditional Pokemon game (even ones as recent as Pokemon Ultra Sun/Moon) is the random battles required to capture Pokemon.

You used to walk around and wander in fields of grass and hope that the Pokemon you wanted to catch would appear.  Then you had to battle it, and hope you didn’t knock it out, then when you wore it down, you could throw your Poke Balls at it to try and catch it.

This worked and allowed you to give your Pokemon experience to level them up and improve their stats.  Just like any other RPG, your individual stats don’t matter, it’s your parties stats that count.

Unlike most other RPG’s however, you aren’t the hero of the quest battling whatever comes along – that’s what your Pokemon do, so they need to increase their skills.

While fun, this quickly became repetitive, the very definition of ‘the grind’ of RPGs everywhere.  Coupled with the random chance of Pokemon appearing, this quickly put off a lot of casual gamers in the past.

Pokemon Let’s Go takes advantage of the much-improved graphics and storage capabilities of the Switch to change this up.  Now as you explore Kanto, you can actually see the Pokemon inhabiting the land around you.  Don’t want to capture any more Weedles?  Don’t walk into them, and problem solved!

Pokemon Lets Go Seeing The World
Being able to see the Pokemon around you makes it both easier to collect them, and more immersive.

You also don’t have to fight the Pokemon first.  Taking inspiration from Pokemon Go, if you see a Pokemon all you have to do is capture them.  Better Poke Balls give better odds of capturing them, and you can use different berries to stop Pokemon from running around the screen or like you a little more to help.

Pokemon can run away, which can be frustrating.  You can throw a lot of Ultra Poke Balls at a Pokemon,, run out and capture the same Pokemon with a standard ball first time.  But what you can’t do is accidentally knock out the Pokemon, stopping you from attempting the capture at all.

Pokemon Lets Go Catching Pokemon
Catching new Pokemon is almost the same as Pokemon Go - just time the throw with the circle, and see how you go!

The Old School Changes – Post Game

For those that screamed ‘It’s too easy!’ when Pokemon Let’s Go launched, this is where they should probably have stuck with it.

A lot has been added to the post-game content.

You can hunt down and catch some legendary Pokemon, such as MewTwo, Articuno, Zapdos and Moltres.  Not that unusual as post-game content, but it’s there!

Finding the Mega Evolution stones should also be on your list.

Also on the cards are the original two rival trainers, Red and Green as well as Blue.  Finding more powerful trainers sounds standard as well, but these aren’t the only three.

Pokemon Lets Go MewTwo
The legendary MewTwo. Guess who I am running around with post game?

Pokemon Let’s Go also has Master Trainers.  These are trainers that have trained one specific Pokemon to level 75.  Not only do you have to beat them with the same Pokemon, but without any items or assistance as well!

Now people were complaining about levelling up Pokemon as the main experience source was catching Pokemon, and Poke Balls cost.  Unlike any other Pokemon Game I have played, you can continue to face Gym Leaders and the Elite Four for experience and a cash boost at any time!

Pokemon Lets Go Master Trainers
Not only do you have to train all of the Pokemon, you have to find the right trainers as well

While not everyone will want to do these activities, this should be what every hardcore Pokemon player was hoping for.  Yes, you have to finish the game to get to this, but this becomes the biggest collectible/side quest Pokemon I have ever seen!

And fair, I have only finished Yellow, Sun and Ultra Moon until now – but that’s kind of the point.  Pokemon has been almost the same game for over 20 years – it’s great to see something new in the mix!

Pokemon Go Integration

A game heavily influenced by Pokemon Go, many including myself were intrigued by the idea of importing between the two games.

I managed a connection once, imported Ditto, and then didn’t do it again.

Don’t be put off by this though – if you are a keen Pokemon Go player with all of the Pokemon to transfer, the ability to play with Pokemon in Let’s Go is amazing!  You just don’t need to do it to play the game, and I found the process annoyingly unintuitive.

Pokemon Lets Go Transfer with Go
Exchanging Pokemon is a whole lot of fun. There are even cool descriptions I won't spoil 🙂

Biggest issue – Pokemon Let’s Go doesn’t like sharing Bluetooth connections.  If you have a Fitbit or similar tracker, prepare for some issues.  But once it was working, the experience was fun, and it’s a great way to bring in some missing Pokemon if you don’t have anyone to trade with for the missing Pokemon between Eevee and Pikachu.

Poke Ball Plus

I already talked about this in my Poke Ball Plus review, but this was a fun add-on to the whole game.

Controller wise, it worked reasonably well.  The motion controls I actually found better than the single Joy Con.  I wasn’t as happy with the fact that you had to shake the ball to use the Y button though.  Overall this isn’t an issue, but because shaking in battle brings in a partner, if you don’t know exactly what a move does (bought up by the Y button) you are in trouble.

But taking your Pokemon for a walk makes up for all that in a lot of ways.  Read the review for my full thoughts, but if you are only going to get Pokemon Let’s Go, it may be an expensive luxury.

Poke Ball Plus Battery Level Check
If the light is green, the trap is clean! Wait, wrong franchise...

What’s this about 2 players being deceptive?

The one thing I was hoping to try was playing with my Partner, but timing kind of killed that.  In some ways though, it’s kind of lucky it did.

It’s true you can have a helper in the game, the second player.  But that player controls one of your party and uses your Poke Balls to try and catch Pokemon.

They don’t get any benefit at all other than helping you out, and you don’t even need another person.  Pokemon is turn-based, so if you are having trouble in a fight you can just play both ‘trainers’ yourself with a second controller.

Now this is great if you have little ones that are having trouble in a fight or catching Pokemon.  You will be playing together and helping rather than taking over the game.  But playing the whole game like this?  I feel it’s a little less than advertised.

Pokemon Lets Go Two Player Roaming
The help works, but it's not what I would describe a true two player game

Until next time,

JohnHQLD
Pokemon Let's Go

Final Thoughts

I didn’t play constantly, but I enjoyed Pokemon Let’s Go every time I picked it up.  Personally, I don’t have a preference for Eevee or Pikachu so my choice was dictated by my partner getting Pikachu.  Both games are almost identical, with a few Pokemon only available in the other game.

If you are interested in Pokemon or are curious about turn-based role-playing games, Pokemon Let’s Go is a great choice for you.  Light enough with a little handholding in-game to teach you the ropes, but enough in it to keep the interest intact.

Even as a relatively hardcore RPG player, Pokemon Let’s Go was a fun experience that I will probably keep picking back up to beat all those Master Trainers for some time to come.  It has a surprising amount of depths and layers around it, making it one of the better examples of ‘the game you want it to be’ for quite some time.

Overall
8.7/10
8.7/10

Pros

  •  Modern take on a beloved franchise
  •  Playing with your partner Pokemon is amazing
  •  Great to pick up and put down as you need to

Cons

  •  Music is so repetitive
  •  Second player isn’t really a second player
  •  Veterans may not see it through

Deep Sea Adventure Review

Deep Sea Adventure Feature
Deep Sea Adventure Feature
Released 2014
Designer Jun Sasaki, Goro Sasaki
Publisher Oink Games (Website)
Players 2 – 6 (4+ probably best)
Playing Time 30-40 minutes
Category Competitive Cooperative
Push Your Luck
Resource Management
BoardGameGeek View on BGG

If I just go down one more step, I will *cough* get the better stuff. I am sure *gasp* it will *wheeze* be fine…

Getting rich by claiming the buried treasure.  It’s a theme we all know, and as such it’s one we can all grab onto instantly.

Extending this theme though, the theme is also relatable especially today.  Each player is a diver that is trying to earn their fortune, but they don’t have enough right now to pay for the expedition that should secure it.

So the idea of the game is that all of the competing divers have pooled their resources and hired a submarine and an oxygen supply to get the expedition underway.

Deep Sea Adventure, like almost all Oink games, is visually striking even with very simple components.

A tiny box, a submarine, and a trail of markers is all that makes up the board.  A few colourful meeples mark the players progress.

Just look at a setup game – don’t you think you already have a bit of a handle on what is going on?  Sure you may not realise the buried treasure aspect initially, but you know your going swimming!

Deep Sea Adventure Components
In a box smaller than 2 decks of playing cards, a lot of game is contained within

And that is a real part of Deep Sea Adventures appeal – it’s a game people want to be interested in, and because it’s quick and works with higher player counts (up to 6) resetting is a breeze!

Setting up the game

Setup is incredibly simple.  Let everyone pick a diver meeple.  While they are picking colours, put the submarine at one end of the table where everyone can reach it and place the round token on 25.

Now group all of the relic tokens (different shapes with pips from 1 to 4) into the four piles, and shuffle them up in the different groups.  Starting with one, place them face down in a trail from the submarine.  It doesn’t matter how the pattern works, as long as it’s a single line that doesn’t cross itself.  Because of this, I normally hand over the four piles to different players to shuffle and place.

Deep Sea Adventure Setup-Begins
While other players start setting up the board, you can start to explain the rules

That’s it – setup is complete.  As I said, nice and simple.  Getting people to lay the treasure path (even without knowing what it is) keeps people involved as well, so it’s a good way to let players setup the board while you explain the rules 🙂

Speaking of which…

How to play

Deep Sea Adventure has a very simple set of rules, but they must be done in the right order.  Upfront, it’s hard to see why until situations arise, but like any game, if you want to play a little relaxed you are more than welcome to.

The last person in the sea goes first, but the order is the same for each player.

First, reduce the oxygen by the relics you are carrying.  If it reaches 0, this will be the last turn.

Then, decide which direction you are going – further down, or back to the sub.  You can only change direction once though, so timing is everything!

Once you know your direction, roll the dice.  There are 2 three-sided dice, so you will always roll between 2 and 6.  Now, move the number of places you rolled, minus the number of relics you hold.  Also, no 2 players can share a space, so jump over any other meeples on your move.

Deep Sea Adventure Turn One
So the first round is all but set - roll the die, and try to get as far ahead as you can

You can never move backwards, and you can never move more than the trail of relics allows.  You have to be careful how many relics you pick up though – if you pick up 6 pieces, you will never be able to move again!

If a player rolls before declaring their direction, they must continue going down this turn.

There also used to be a rule where you had to have picked up a treasure before turning around, but this rule has been relaxed.

Once you have moved, you have a few choices to end your turn.

You can decide to do nothing and end your turn.

If you landed on a relic, you can take it and replace the section you are on with a round X token.  If you pick up a relic though, do not look at its score value!

If you landed on an X token, you can switch it for a relic, lightening your haul. This is where not knowing what you picked up makes which item to drop a little risky.

Deep Sea Adventure Treausre-Grabbed
The first two players dived and waited, but Purple took a Relic - so the clock has begun!

And that’s pretty much it.  Play continues until all divers are back at the submarine, or oxygen has reached 0.

Once this happens, any divers that have returned with relics can now inspect them (turn them over to reveal points).

Any other divers have unfortunately drowned, and their haul drops to the bottom of the ocean.  Starting from the player furthest from the sub, their relics (still unseen) are grouped into piles of three and placed on the end of the trail.  These piles are now considered a single relic, but the points will be the total of all three tiles.

Finally, all round X tokens are removed, and the holes in the trail are pulled back in, shortening the board.

This formally completes the first round – play 2 more rounds, and the player with the highest score wins!

Deep Sea Adventure Round One Ends
So purple managed to grab two relics, and one was worthless! Unlucky, as it cost the two other divers dearly.

So you just grab all you can?

You can play this way – or rather, Deep Sea Adventure can be played this way.  The thing is though if all players are only working in their own interest, it all but guarantees that no player will get a great score, and lots of divers will be lost.

The secret to how the game works is buried in the background of the game.  All of the rival divers have worked together enough to pool their resources and rent the sub and get some air.

To get some truly high scores though, all of the players have to still work together to maximise your oxygen resource, and this can be hard to explain to people up front.

This means that if players work together, truly high scores can be reached by all.  Winners will be determined by the luck of the relics that are retrieved, which is also incredibly thematic under the circumstances.

But.

If there is one backstabbing evil genius in the group, they can play along just long enough to get what they need, then get themselves back to the sub – everyone else can fend for themselves.

Deep Sea Adventure Round Three Cooperative
If everyone works together, everyone can come out with a haul

And this is a hidden gem within Deep Sea Adventure – there are different play modes, either by design or by accident.  If everyone works together as a group, everyone will get away with a points haul, making it more a cooperative puzzle.  But add that you can stab everyone in the back and work for yourself element,

A game this relatively cheap and fun looking shouldn’t have such depth to it (no pun intended) – but it does, and it works so well.

But there is a downside

My biggest issue with Deep Sea Adventure is it’s a game you almost need to trick people into playing one way so the true game reveals itself to them.  Apart from not liking to anyone into playing games they don’t want to, this can backfire a lot.

If the proverbial penny doesn’t drop, people will just walk away with the wrong idea of Deep Sea Adventure.  But if you try to tell people everything upfront, they can feel trapped into a ‘this isn’t a game’ mindset.

Deep Sea Adventure Round Three Mutual Backstabbing
But if everyone is out for themselves, this is actually a high scoring result

This doesn’t mean that Deep Sea Adventure is a bad game – it’s just a victim of its own presentation.  Small box and cute pieces surely mean a simple little fun game, right?

Having this presentation where you have to manage a group resource (oxygen) as well as try to optimise your play at the expense of everyone else means you are pushing other player’s luck more than yours.

Until next time,

JohnHQLD
Deep Sea Adventure

Final Thoughts

I have heard many people describe Deep Sea Adventure as a simple push you luck game.  This is being unfair.

Deep Sea Adventure is best described in my opinion as a competitive coop game.  Sure, you can look after yourself and try for a score, but everyone doing this is all but guaranteed to lead to zero scores all around.

If you have the people (you really want four or more players), Deep Sea Adventure is a great game – but there are drawbacks that as the host or teacher you will need to navigate.

Overall
7/10
7/10

Pros

  •  Compact for easy transport
  •  The premise is simple and easy to attract players
  •  Great quality components

Cons

  •  Can be hard to teach and learn
  •  Players can be lulled into being betrayed, hurting the experience

That’s Not Lemonade Review

That's Not Lemonade Cover
That's Not Lemonade Cover
Released 2018
Designer Matt Fantastic
Publisher Tuesday Knight Games (Website)
Players 2 – 6 (Best with 4+)
Playing Time 10-15 minutes
Category Push Your Luck
Social Game
Filler Game
BoardGameGeek View on BGG

Who hasn’t thought about ‘switching drinks’ with someone?

In the US, the idea of the corner lemonade stand and the red plastic Solo cups are icons.  The rest of the world has seen this perfect image of innocence thanks to many, many forms of media, and is the basic premise of this That’s Not Lemonade.

There is a competition between the local kids as to who can drink the most lemonade (Make the best lemonade?  Something like that.  It’s not really important).  But the nefarious ‘Little Johnny’ has decided to spice things up by switching some drinks for something That’s Not Lemonade!

Rounds are simple – drink the most lemonade by having the most lemons in your hand at the end of the round, but if get something That’s Not Lemonade you are out immediately.

Win 3 rounds, win the game.  Simple, quick and easy!

That's Not Lemonade Components
The box is as big as a soft drink can, and the play while simple is dceptively fun.

Setup

Setup is incredibly simple.  Up to 6 players pick up a cup and pick a character.

The characters don’t really add anything to the game.  There aren’t special powers or rules for different characters, just grab the one that puts a smile on your face 🙂

The information at the top of the card shows how many of each card type is in the deck, so that’s handy to know.

If you are playing with 2 people, pull out one of the That’s Not Lemonade cards from the deck.  Playing with 3 people, take out 2 That’s Not Lemonade Cards.  Pick a dealer, and let them shuffle the deck.

That's Not Lemonade Characters
The Characters are cute, but no player powers make them laregly summary cards only.

You will probably be ready to play in less time than it took you to read this explanation!

Playing the game

The easiest way to think of the mechanics of That’s Not Lemonade is to think of Blackjack.

On your turn, you can Hit or Pass.  Hit means you are dealt a card, pass means that you turn over your cup and can no longer drink any more Lemonade.

If you Hit, the dealer deals you a card and you look at it secretly.  If it’s a That’s Not Lemonade card, immediately turn over your cup and put the That’s Not Lemonade Card face up on top of the cup.  This means you are out of the round as you recover!

Don’t show the rest of your hand if any though – the only card that is revealed is the That’s Not Lemonade card.

Now the rules do say to put your cup on its side, but we had a bit of rolling so went with the ‘card on top’ rule.  Go with what works for you would be my advice here.

That's Not Lemonade Card Types
As long as you don't pull That's Not Lemonade, you can continue. It's this simple decision tree that makes for such a fast game.

If you get Lemonade or Ice, you are safe and the dealer proceeds to the next person.

If you decide that you are comfortable with the number of lemons in your hand, you can decide to pass on your turn which you indicate by flipping your cup.  You are still in with a chance to win, but you can relax a little bit and watch everyone try and work out what you have.

If there is only one person that hasn’t got any That’s Not Lemonade cards, they automatically win the round.

Otherwise once everyone still in has Passed, everyone shows their hands and counts the number of lemons.  There are 2 cards with Double lemons, so don’t forget to count 2 with these cards!

The winner puts a single lemon card under their character card to show they have won, and everyone resets their cups and play begins again.

That's Not Lemonade End of Round-Scoring
So two players have 3 lemons, but the top right will win as Ice is a tie breaker!

The quick amongst you will have noticed though that you have set back up for round two with one less lemon card.

That’s right – the more you play, the more likely you are to take a hit of Ice or That’s Not Lemonade as the lemonade runs out!

Winning The Game

Winning is simple – the first person to win 3 rounds, wins the game.  As I said, That’s Not Lemonade is quick, simple and fun – there is not a lot to get your head around!

The Good

That’s Not Lemonade is a game that is incredibly simple, but this is a good thing.  On each player turn, there is only one decision to make – Hit or Pass.

Analysis Paralysis is all but eliminated, but the social pressure of encouraging someone to drink and their squirming in indecisiveness is always fun to watch.

Each round only lasts a minute or two even with 6 players.  Only having a deck of 18 cards with 4 ‘dangerous’ cards means rounds cannot last a long time.  Almost everyone has been exposed to Blackjack, but even if they haven’t the Hit or Pass mechanic is easy to pick up on, and only counting lemons makes objectives simple to grasp as well.

That's Not Lemonade All Cards
There are only 18 cards, and as you play this amount gets whittled down. Play is amazingly fast.

Like many games, the first round will be the longest, but That’s Not Lemonade has the advantage of thinning the deck everytime someone wins, guaranteeing that games wind up quickly.

The cups are more than a nostalgia item or gimmick.  If your cup is ready to drink from, your in.  If it’s upside down, you don’t want to drink.  If it’s on its side (by the rules) or covered with a card (my rules) you are busy recovering from a bad experience.  This makes the game state easy to take in with a glance, even with 6 players.

Also, each game takes 10-15 minutes even at high player counts.  That makes for a great social filler experience while waiting for people, and as the game is about the size of a can of soft drink, easy to have on standby for such occasions.

That's Not Lemonade State of Play
While all together, I bet you can tell which player is doing what just from this snapshot.

The Bad

That’s Not Lemonade is a game with a lot left to chance.  It has to be, or it couldn’t be the type of game it is.

Even knowing this, going out on your first card is never a fun experience, and this is something that can happen multiple rounds in a row if you are really unlucky.

It’s chance, and not likely to always happen to one person, but be prepared to potentially counsel players that could be hit by this.

That's Not Lemonade Unlucky Run
You have to be really unlucky, but this is a potential win scneario.

But really that’s the only real downside for me – there is the potential you can get hit with a run of bad luck run in a 10-minute game.

There are people that may look down on a such a simple filler game, but as a general rule I would guess such players would object to most games described as ‘Filler’, ‘Social’ or ‘Party’ games.

There are always exceptions to such rules though, so let them try it.  Even players I have met completely opposed to filler games will give one a try if it’s only a few minutes long.  But like any game, there is an audience for it and That’s Not Lemonade may have wider appeal to U Mad Bro, there are some that just won’t like it.

Wait, U Mad Bro?  What’s that got to do with That’s Not Lemonade?

Ahh, well a lot actually.  You see on a simple level That’s Not Lemonade is a retheme of Matt Fantastic’s U Mad Bro.

Gameplay is pretty much identical from what I understand, but instead of lemonade stands players were Jersey Boardwalk Bro’s trying to impress the Babes with washed up bits of Cthulhu.  Get the most pieces and win, but if you go Mad – you’re out.

Personally, I prefer the lemonade theme, it feels less forced with the mechanics and eliminates the eye roll that some players show with Cthulhu themed games, not to mention the Jersey Bros.

Until next time,

JohnHQLD
That's Not Lemonade

Final Thoughts

Want a game that’s quick, fun and takes very little brain power to play?  That’s Not Lemonade is probably right up your alley.

I cannot imagine game nights filled with just That’s Not Lemonade, but something to occupy the table while the new game is being set up, an opener, closer or straight-up time passer is the perfect time to pull it out.

Setup time is almost non-existent, and the combined social experience is silly but enjoyable at the same time.

Overall
8/10
8/10

Pros

  •  Easy to Teach and Learn
  •  Great for conversation during play
  •  Fun filler format

Cons

  •  Not for people wanting deep gameplay
  •  Going out first card is a real possibility