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  • Game Profile: Photosynthesis

    Author: Drew Lovell

    This week’s featured game Photosynthesis; designed by Hjalmar Hach w/ illustrations by Sabrina Miramon and published by Blue Orange Games.

    # of players: 2-4

    Length of game: 60 minutes

    Photosynthesis is an incredible area control game in which players are growing trees across the board to collect sunlight. It is hard to know where to start with this one because everything it does as a game it does very well. The art is astounding, it has a great table presence, it is fairly easy to teach and its strategy is deceivingly deep given how approachable the theme is.

    Players begin with two small trees on the edge of the board. At the start of each turn these trees will begin collecting sunlight which players can then spend towards growing existing trees or planting seeds to spread out further. As the game goes on trees will block one another from collecting sunlight by casting shadows across the board. Things start getting really interesting at this point because as the game goes on the sun itself rotates around the board and trees will now cast shadows at different angles. Eventually trees will meet the end of their lifespan which is when players score points by collapsing their trees to make room for new growth.

    Photosynthesis works really well as a cafe game, though the rules are slightly more front-loaded than with most gateway games. The player aids provide a lot of information in a way that is fairly easy to take in but there is a tricky element that involves seeds and trees being in the reserve (on the player aid) OR available for use (next to the player aid but not on the board itself). This is most often the part that trips players up as it isn’t particularly intuitive. The best part with the teach is similar to games like Evolution in that once players understand how to play one round they understand how to play the whole game and there isn’t much need to revisit the table to introduce additional rules. Lastly, area control games are often intimidating and many aren’t presented in ways that make players want to pull them off the shelf; however, that doesn’t apply at all to Photosynthesis and it can work really well as a game that expands the players’ boundaries.

    Bonus points for: Blue Orange has traditionally been a publisher of family / kids games and recently they’ve been branching out into strategy games as well. There’s something about their background with family games that has lent itself well to creating these super solid strategy games that are also easily approachable. Hats off to them for knocking it outta the park!

  • Profile : Dingo's Dreams

    Profile : Dingo's Dreams

    “Gateway games” are boardgames that act as a great entry point for folks when they’re just getting in to gaming. While they might still have a lot of strategic depth to them, in general their rules are succinct and straightforward so that there is less set-up and less to keep track of overall. Getting more people to play more games is one of our largest goals as well as being an incredibly rewarding experience, we highly recommend that you make room on your shelf for a couple gateway games.

    This week’s featured gateway game is Dingo's Dreams, designed by Alf Seegert and published by Red Raven Games.

    # of players: 2-4 [5 with KS version]

    Length of game: 20-30 minutes


    Dingo's Dreams is a beautiful, abstract, puzzle game, where you're trying to "lead" your animal through the dream world, back home. We saw this when it was on Kickstarter, but the theme description didn't quite click with us, because at it's core it's an abstract game so using the theme to describe the game left us unsure if we'd like it.

    Thankfully for us, a friend did pick it up, and it was love at first play for us. Each player has a 5 x 5 grid of double sided titles in front of them, the top sides representing the "dream world" with color & location combinations, and the backs representing the animal you're "guiding home", a dingo, koala, kidna or kanga[roo], and a spare named animal tile. A card is revealed from the stack, and each player flips their location tile over that matches it, so it's now animal side face up. The spare tile is then inserted into a row or column of the player's chosing, and the tiles are shifted accordingly, maintaining the orientation of the ousted tile, location or animal side up. The goal is to be the first to arrange your animal sided tiles to match a pattern on a card, shouting your animal's name once it does. Dingo!

    This is quickly becoming one of our favorite starter/filler games because it's simple to teach, has a little luck, a little strategy, and beautiful art. We tend to skip the theme/story when teaching, and just describe it as bingo meets a slide puzzle. We were able to grab a Kickstarter copy at GenCon, which adds a 5th player, and includes new animal tokens for a more challenging variant. One of the great things about this game is it can be really simple, choosing a card that allows for a Bingo style win for children or newer players, or more challenging with interesting goal layouts and a couple variants that require you to meet a second [or third] critieria.

    Bonus points for: the art is really beautiful, have I mentioned that yet?

  • Profile : Splendor

    Profile : Splendor

    “Gateway games” are boardgames that act as a great entry point for folks when they’re just getting in to gaming. While they might still have a lot of strategic depth to them, in general their rules are succinct and straightforward so that there is less set-up and less to keep track of overall. Getting more people to play more games is one of our largest goals as well as being an incredibly rewarding experience, we highly recommend that you make room on your shelf for a couple gateway games.

    This week’s featured gateway game is Splendor, designed by Marc Andre and published by Asmodee.

    # of players: 2-4

    Length of game: 15 minutes per player.

    Splendor is a game of mining, collecting and refining gems so that you can turn around and sell them allowing you to invest in your gem-bound empire even further. The theme in this game is extremely light and not particularly necessary but having some gorgeous artwork certainly helps draw people in. The gems are all represented by poker chips which adds a very tactile element to an otherwise dry game. It is pretty entertaining to just play with the chips while waiting for others to make their decision.

    Gameplay is where Splendor truly shines! Each player is racing to acquire 15 points and once someone does the game will end within a couple turns. On a player’s turn they choose to take one of three different actions:

    1. Take some gems: either two from the same color, or one each from three different colors.
    2. Purchase a card: there are a variety of cards and by cashing in some of your gems you can acquire one. The game revolves around purchasing these cards because having them means that you get a permanent discount on the gem cost of all future cards you might take. The cards come in 3 tiers, with the lower tiers requiring fewer gems to purchase and the higher tiers being worth more points!
    3. Reserve a card: sometimes you’re worried that someone might grab the card you’re working on before you are ready to purchase it. In those instances you can reserve a card so that you alone are able to complete it on a future turn. As a consolation for spending your turn reserving, you are also able to take a gold (poker chip) which counts as a wild of any color!

    In addition to taking those actions players are working to gain the favor of nobles. The nobles each want you to collect a specific number and color of gem, the first player to do so is able to claim the noble which is worth 3 points.

    Nobles and cards are the only source of points, so working on each is important if you want to claim victory!

    Splendor is a game that is hard to turn down the opportunity to play, it plays so quickly and the balancing is so tight that we’re always down for another round. As a gateway game, you should bring this to the table for folks that might enjoy set collection / strategy / math / planning. Additionally, the game plays well whether you’re playing with 2-3-4 players and slightly alters the setup for each accordingly. Splendor’s simplicity means that it works well across all ages, but despite its simplicity it retains a lot of strategic thinking which is what makes it such a great game.

    Bonus points for: great components, the chips really bring it all together!

  • Profile : Trekking the National Parks

    Profile : Trekking the National Parks

    While looking for new games to play at GenCon in 2015, I stumbled across a game called Trekking The National Parks. I pretty much instantly bought my seat at the table, and eagerly awaited the convention and chance to play this game. Trekking the National Parks is a simple set collection game where each hiker is tasked with visiting America’s National Parks and collecting their corresponding park cards for points. The game is self published by Charlie Binkele and his family, who wanted to “create an educational game that would allow us to revisit the exceptional experiences we’ve had while embracing these natural wonders.“

    We’ve brought this game out to a lot of events, and it’s always a hit. It plays up to 6 players, and serves as a great “gateway” game. Trekking’s mechanisms and theme both lend themselves well to people who might not play many board games. With that said, it still has enough strategy involved to keep veteran gamers interested. I generally recommend it for: families, outdoorsy people, and beginning gaming groups.

    Courtney’s bonus points: It comes with a Park Guide Book, which gives tips, history, and details about our nation’s most beautiful landscapes. And it’s available in National Park gift shops!

    Drew’s bonus points: There’s a lot of fun packed into this surprisingly fast game.