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    SmorgasBoard — Articles

    Smorgasboard - Sorcerer City

    Smorgasboard - Sorcerer City

    If you thought Sorcerer City was a sequel/expansion for Sorcerer, you’d be wrong. If you’ve seen pictures of the components and thought it was a dull dungeony retheme of Carcassonne, you’d be wrong, too. 

    It turns out that Sorcerer City is a clever and original mix of tile-laying and something like (but not exactly the same as) deck-building. Over five rounds you and up to five opponents (there is also a great solo mode) compete to amass the most prestige by building and re-building your district of the city using the tiles you start with plus others you buy and are given during the game.

    Each player starts with the same set of twelve tiles, each of which is split into up to three regions using the game’s four colours: red for Influence, yellow for Gold, green for Prestige, and blue for Raw Magic. Some of your tiles have scoring shields on them which are also colour-coded; at the end of a building round, you’ll score points in your four stats depending on whether and how much those shield score. 

    Players shuffle their face-down stacks and then whoever has the sand-timer that round shouts “Go!” and turns it over, and building commences. Oh, did I mention you only have two minutes to lay your tiles?

    At the end of the round everyone figures out their scores. Influence is used to gain bonuses and determine buying order from the central market. Gold is used to buy new tiles from the market. Prestige is cashed in for points. And before any of that happens, players secretly and simultaneously decide what stat they’ll boost with their Raw Magic--which makes for tantalizing decision-making.

    You can start to use tiles you buy in the central market starting the following round. Some tiles have spells on them which let you manipulate your layout during the build phase, score extra points, or give you extra buying power. Others have shields on them, which “just” give you more opportunities to score points.

    Finally, at the end of the round, monsters enter the realm. There are fourteen to choose from randomly when you set up, and they range from simply annoying to downright ugly. Each player must take a copy of the next round’s monster, and therefore must take its powers into account as they build. Fortunately, monster tiles have identifying icons on their backs, so if you’re paying attention you know when you’re about to draw one--you just may not know which one it is…

    All in all Sorcerer City is really a great addition to the tile-laying genre. I would definitely recommend it to lovers of games like Carcassonne who are looking for something next-level, but it’s easy enough to learn to make it a good gateway game as well. If you find the time-limit too taxing you can always ditch it. In my opinion the timer helps keep things moving and removing it takes the edge off a bit too much, but then again having unlimited time really gives time for you to think through your moves and maximizes the puzzly aspect, so if that’s what you enjoy then have at it I say.

    It’s always a treat to be pleasantly surprised by a game like Sorcerer City. Click here to order your copy of Sorcerer City now.

    Smorgasboard - Imhotep: The Duel

    Smorgasboard - Imhotep: The Duel

    Imhotep: the Duel embodies the qualities of good two-player design. You don’t have to have played or enjoyed its 2016 predecessor, Imhotep, to enjoy it. Both were designed by Phil Walker-Harding, whose pedigree includes many excellent and well-loved games such as Sushi Go!, Bärenpark, and Gizmos. The man knows how to make a good game.

    A good two-player game has to be tight; there should be no room to hide. But it can’t be a simple zero-sum game either. There should be opportunities for players to control the tempo of the game, and for one player to wrest initiative from the other. Otherwise, the game will feel monotonous and bland.

    I:tD borrows the theme and basic ideas of its predecessor. Players take the role of opposing builders in ancient Egypt, competing for resources to build four different types of monument. Each monument scores in a different way at the end of the game. Claiming these resources is the crux of the game, and the mechanism for doing so is original and simply elegant.

    The focus of the game is a small central board divided into a 3 x 3 square grid representing a harbour, with spaces for six boats along the outside each row and column. Each boat holds three tiles--usually monument resources, but also various action tiles that can be used to break the rules of the game in some way.

    On your turn you have to choose between playing one of your “workers” (ie slaves) into the grid, offloading a boat and clearing the workers from a chosen row or column, or using up one of the action tiles you’ve claimed earlier in the game. Each worker in a row or column gets to claim a tile in order from front to back, but because of the square grid each worker can potentially claim from two different boats. Either player can choose any row or column that has at least two workers on it regardless of who they work for, so you may not get the tile you want. 

    When a boat is unloaded, new tiles are drawn to refill it, and when the tiles run out the endgame is triggered, with the game ending when all but one of the boats empties for the last time.

    One of the great things about I:tD is how much depth there is for such a simple setup. Plus, each of the monument scoreboards is double-sided so there are actually 16 different possible games to play. 

    Imhotep: the Duel is a great choice for a quick and cheap two-player game with a minimal footprint that is  easy to learn and play. Click here to order your copy of Imhotep: the Duel.

    Smorgasboard - The Taverns of Tiefenthal

    Smorgasboard - The Taverns of Tiefenthal

    Wolfgang Warsch has had quite a streak. Since 2018 That’s So Clever, The Mind, The Quacks of Quedlinberg, Illusion, and Brikks have all been published to considerable success and acclaim. Only Subtext failed to catch fire.

    Now, with The Taverns of Tiefenthal, Warsch tries his hand at a more traditional, heavier Euro. Up to four players (no solo mode, alas) take the role of tavern owners competing for customers and ultimately victory points over eight game-days. The game’s main mechanics are dice drafting, action selection, and deckbuilding, but there are other lots of things to take into account too.

    Warsch clearly felt the game would be better served if players eased their way in, so the rules are split into two parts, with the first laying out the “basic game” and the other layering on four additional “modules” one at a time. Experienced players can try diving in at the deep end; n00bs should definitely take it slow.

    Each turn begins by moving the Moon marker to the following day, with players getting whatever little bonuses appear on the track. Then each player simultaneously starts pulling cards from their deck and playing them into their appropriate places on their personal tavern boards. Servers, dishwashers, brewers, and deliverymen are free draws, but each guest card has to sit at their own table, and you only start with three. When all your tables are full, you have to stop drawing. Clearly, buying more tables and upgrading your serving area is a priority. (Later on, the big-VP noble cards all congregate at a single table, freeing up space.)

    Next players roll and pass-draft sets of dice, each of which is then used to activate a space or card in your tavern, generating one or the other of the game’s currencies: money and beer. Money is used to purchase new cards for your deck and upgrades for your tavern; beer is used to attract guests, who have powerful activation abilities and are worth VP’s.

    The modules add extra complications. A new currency, schnapps, is used to pay special entertainers that provide extra actions. A reputation track appears, which provides benefits as word of mouth spreads about your tavern. Players begin with different starting resources and cards in their decks. Finally, you get a guestbook which arriving guests “sign” (using cute little signature tiles) which gives bonuses to players as it fills up, rewarding players for attracting both a diversity of and a lot of the same cost of guest.

    So: does it work? It does. It is very much in the vein of recent games like Maracaibo, Black Angel, and Trismegistus which force players to optimize their play across several mechanics all at once. Is it fun? It is--if that is your jam. If you were hoping for another Quacks of Quedlinberg, you will be challenged and perhaps disappointed. This is not a gateway game, even just with the basic rules. But if you were wondering whether Warsch was capable of something meatier, wonder no more. Click here to order your copy of The Taverns of Tiefenthal.

    Smorgasboard: Azul - Summer Pavilion

    Smorgasboard: Azul - Summer Pavilion

    2017’s Azul has already rocketed to the top of many all-time lists—and it’s already the #1-rated abstract on BGG. Its sequel, Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra, didn’t quite tickle people’s fancies to the same extent. But, as is true with many trilogies, the newly-released third game Azul: Summer Pavilion has recaptured the magic of the original and then some. 

    All three games use the same core tile drafting mechanic. Each round starts by filling up a number of “factories” with four tiles drawn blindly from a bag; the tiles come in six colours. Players take turns taking all tiles of one colour either from one of the factories or from the centre. If taken from a factory, the other tiles move to the centre. The first player to take from the centre gets to go first next round--but they also incur a penalty.

    Summer Pavilion adds a twist in that every round one colour is considered “wild”, a different colour in each of the six rounds. When you grab tiles you also must grab exactly one wild tile as well (if you grab the wild colour, you don’t get to do that).

    After tile drafting comes placement, which also happens in turn order in Summer Pavilion. Each player has their own board consisting of seven sextets of spaces each numbered from one to six. Each group of six looks like a pinwheel or flower, with six of them arranged around the seventh. On the basic side of the player boards, each outer pinwheel is devoted to one colour and the seventh is neutral; on the advanced side, there are no pre-set colours.

    To place a tile on a numbered space your board, you must have that many tiles (plus possible wilds) of that colour. Only one of them gets placed; the others are tossed into the tower discard. You score immediate points based on how many other tiles your newly-placed tile touches, and you may earn bonus tiles by surrounding special areas on your board. Those bonus tiles come from a separate area and every round it’s first-come-first-served. Getting bonuses can set up awesome combos. At the end of the sixth round players score additional points for flowers they have completed as well as covering all the 1’s, 2’s, 3’s or 4’s on your board.

    If you are a fan of the original Azul I think you will love Summer Pavilion. You get a much deeper strategic depth for just a few extra rules. If you haven’t played any of the Azul games, Summer Pavilion is not that much harder than the original and in fact may be more approachable and forgiving, in that you have a lot more options to place tiles, which means fewer go to waste, which means fewer lost VP.

    Click here to order your copy of Summer Pavilion, and all the best for 2020!

    Smorgasboard - Reavers of Midgard

    Smorgasboard - Reavers of Midgard

    Reavers of Midgard hopes to duplicate the success of Grey Fax Games’ Champions of Midgard from 2015, although both the designer (JB Howell) and illustrator (Yaroslav Radeckyi) are different.

    Reavers is at heart a role selection game in disguise. Over six rounds, two to four players will take turns choosing one of the actions on the board. Whoever chooses the action gets a bonus, and going clockwise around the table the other players follow, sometimes also getting a bit of a boost. Once an action is taken, it’s unavailable for the rest of the round. That part is Puerto Rico in Viking garb. (No doubloons on unused actions, though.)

    Bolted onto this are two main sub-systems: custom dice and multi-use Reaver cards. Dice come in three different colours with each colour having different faces. When you acquire one you roll it and place it on your player board, where it can be spent in various ways. Reaver cards can be used to get more dice, or extra actions you can trigger, or boosted into leadership where they give you onetime bonuses plus ongoing wildcard abilities.

    The rest of the actions are about acquiring different kinds of territory or treasure. There are always tons of decisions to make. Do you conquer the farm for food, or loot it for treasure and acquire Terror, which are negative VP at the end of the game? Do you toss your current leader over the side (where he joins your Glory pile for endgame scoring) and replace him? (The answer to that is generally yes.) Do you bribe the town to join you, costing you resources, or risk combat? Treasure is a set-collection deal with its own set of risks and rewards.

    All in all, if you like games with a lot of moving parts and tons of decisions you will probably also enjoy Reavers. But beware of playing with players with Analysis Paralysis: it will turn a ninety-minute playing time to easily double that. Click here to order your copy of Ravers of Midgard.