Tag: deduction

Stew Review

Stew Review

A couple of weeks ago, I did a review of Biblios, a game about trying to curate a monastery’s library in Medieval times. If you thought that theme was more soporific than a turkey breast injected with half a gallon of Nyquil, then get allow Stew liven things up. In Stew, you and up to 3 other players are pioneer farmers, trying to make the best winter stew.

Hmm, yanno, there may be a reason as to why board games haven’t gone quite mainstream yet.

Okay, maybe this bit of info will make it more exciting. In Stew, you and up to 3 other players are pioneer farmers, trying to make the best winter stew and ONLY ONE OF YOU CAN EAT IT. If this were a commercial, this would be the part where the explosions would happen, metal music would start blaring and you’d hear a Wilhelm scream somewhere in the chaos.

STILL not exciting enough? Damn, you must have ice water in them veins. Okay, if the theme doesn’t sell you, at least allow me to explain the game to you and tell you why this game, which is made up of just a mere 18 cards, is one of the most fun and addictive games I’ve played over the past couple months.

Before getting into the game, let me give you a little bit of info about this game because there’s a very good chance you haven’t heard of it, even if you are plugged into the hobby. Stew is a game published by an independent publisher called Button Shy Games. If you don’t know who they are, allow me to change that. They’re a game company that specializes in something called ‘wallet games’ which are exactly what they sound like. They’re games not just small enough to fit in a wallet, they’re literally IN a wallet. Button Shy handcrafts all their games in custom made wallets, meaning their games can quite literally fit in your pocket.

stew wallet
So small you can whip it out anywhere, especially in front of family and friends! Hmm, I dunno why Button Shy hasn’t adopted that as a tagline yet…

I have played a couple of other Button Shy Games and they have ranged from good (the meta heavy In Vino Morte, a party game where you’re poisoning your friends in a style that evokes that one scene from The Princess Bride) to very good (the two player tug of war Avignon: A Clash of Popes, a game where you and your opponent are pushing and pulling cards to get three of them on your side) to excellent (the cooperative city builder Sprawlopolis, a game that manages to pack a crunchy tile laying puzzle in just, again, 18 cards). After playing all these, I’m happy to report that Stew is my favorite of the bunch.

If Stew were an actual stew, the recipe would read like this: add one cup of push your luck, one ounce of deduction and a pinch of bluffing into a bowl and stir for 15 minutes. Serves 2-4 people.

If I had to compare it to a more well known game, the obvious choice would be Welcome to the Dungeon. In Welcome to the Dungeon, players are passing around a deck of cards that’s comprised of creatures. On their turn, they are either adding creatures to the dungeon or tossing them to the side and removing equipment that can help kill said creatures. This keeps going until one player is finally forced to enter the dungeon and take on the creatures everybody else put in there and hoping they don’t die but let’s face it, they probably are going to die and horribly.

The first time I played Welcome to the Dungeon, I reeeaally wanted to like it just fell short. One big issue was player elimination. Sure, it’s a fairly short game, but it’s just long enough that being eliminated early can be a huge problem (which happened to me). It also can be a little fiddly when you actually enter the dungeon and then have to cross examine every creature that pops up with the equipment you’re still holding while keeping track of your health in your head. This all led to an ultimately disappointing experience. Luckily, Stew takes the formula that I oh so wanted to love in Welcome to the Dungeon and makes an actual good game out of it!

Play is very simple. Every one is passing around a deck of ingredient cards and looking at the top card. These ingredient cards all have certain point values and represent the hallmarks of any great stew such as hearty potatoes, flavorful garlic and…a rock?

stew rock
Okay, who the hell invited Charlie Brown?

After looking at this top card, they then have a choice: put that ingredient face down in the stew or put it face down on a vermin card (more on the vermin later). Eventually, the stew will get bigger and bigger until some brave soul yells “STEW!”, which is the universal phrase anyone shouts when about to eat some stew. They take the cards in the stew and reveal them. If the sum of the points on the ingredient cards equals 12 or more, congratulations! You’ve eaten a damn fine stew and earn yourself two points. However, if the stew is 11 points or less then you have eaten a stew that can only be described as ‘not good’. With this, you receive no points, the rest of the players get one point and you are forced to write a negative review on Yelp. First to five points wins.

Calculating points is not as easy as just revealing what’s in the stew, however. Remember those vermin I vaguely mentioned earlier? Yeah, they’re a bunch of a-holes and they are gonna steal stuff from your stew if you didn’t feed them. If a vermin is unfed when the stew is taken off the stove, they steal specific ingredients as they pop up. For example, the rabbit steals the first carrot revealed from the stew, the fox steals the first chicken and the gopher steals the first leek (because everyone knows that gophers just effing LOVE leeks). This is bad because those are precious points leaving your stew and in this game, every point is precious. There is even a vagabond who just kinda chills outside and then pops in to see what’s in the stew. If there is a chicken in the stew, he mooches some of it off you and you lose 3 points. If there isn’t, you get a bonus 3 points as he passes it on by because he is apparently the pickiest drifter ever.

These vermin help provide much of the suspense in Stew, as you’re not quite sure what your opponents put in the stew and what they fed to the vermin. You CAN use the stone, which subtracts 3 points from your stew, against these vermin but most of the time you’ll get ingredients which makes every decision tense. Side note: using the stone on the vagabond paints of dark picture of these pioneers just straight up murdering this guy with a rock, making it feel like Stew takes place in a Coen Brothers film.

stew vagabond
No word yet on whether there will be an expansion where you hide him in a wood chipper.


Feeding these blasted vermin is important, but if you’re feeding them high scoring ingredients, then the stew won’t have enough points to put you over the 12 point threshold. Don’t feed enough of them though, and it won’t even matter what’s in the stew because it’s all just gonna be taken by these surprisingly stealthy and precise animals who know exactly what to take from your steaming bowl of stew. All this doesn’t even take into account that every player is side eyeing each other, twitching their fingers like gunslingers in a Wild West duel, wondering who will pull the trigger and yell ‘STEW!’ first.

And so begins the madness and double thought that you’ll be ensnared by for Stew‘s 15-20 minute run time.

This game will have you thinking and double thinking and triple thinking every decision that you and your friends make. The stream of consciousness that occupies your thoughts throughout this game would look like the ramblings of a psychopath if put on paper. ‘Ohh, Sally just put a card on the fox, which means she might know there’s a chicken in the stew and wants to keep it in there but wait maybe she fed the fox the chicken and she’s trying to lead us into believing there is going to be chicken but then again maybe she wants us to think that so that we don’t try to eat the stew and oh look Trevor just put something in the stew maybe it’s a potato those really rack up the points but the raccoon isn’t fed yet so that’s just gonna steal it anyway but maybe that’s what he wants and oh god it’s my turn I just turned over a garlic what do I doooooooo’. The transcripts of your brains thoughts at game’s end will read like a James Joyce novel, but much more enjoyable and less pretentious.

That sort of panicked battle of wits is one of the reasons why I love these types of games. It reminds me of Skull, one of my all time favorites,  with every move being scrutinized and lots of bravado and confidence being deflated with each flip and reveal of the card. Cheers will erupt and groans will echo throughout the game, such as when you angrily shake the Stone card in everyone’s faces, demanding who put it in the stew. It’s an incredibly social game for that reason and helps showcase what makes board games so damn fun.

And you know what? Like with Biblios, I poked fun at the theme earlier in this article, but I honestly love the concept behind the game. It’s so unique and fun, with rustic looking art that really helps add to the pioneer era feel they’re going for. Throw on some bluegrass music in the background, and you’ll be wearing a straw hat and slugging down moonshine in no time.

I honestly don’t have much bad to say about Stew. As I already mentioned, the game will only take around 15-20 minutes, meaning it not only doesn’t outstay its welcome but is perfect for playing back to back (to back). Sure, the strategic depth of the game lives and dies by the meta, but that’s par for the course for these type of games. And really, that’s the only negative thing I can say: if you don’t like these types of games, games with bluffing and misdirection and doublethink, then Stew won’t do anything to change your mind.

I’ll simply end by saying that if this kind of game does appeal to you, do not hesitate to pick this up. You can find it on Button Shy’s site, along with the rest of their wallet game catalog. Tell them Kyle from Boar & Arrow sent you. Actually, they’ll have no clue what any of that means, but I’ve always wanted to say that.

Mr. Jack Review


When I first got into the board game hobby, I visited a FLGS (or ‘friendly local game store’, to those of you still with lives) in hopes of discovering a cool new game that I had never heard of. Though honestly, at that point, I was spending nearly every waking moment watching board game videos on YouTube and/or lurking on the board games subreddit, so I figured there wouldn’t be too many surprises or games I didn’t know.

I was wrong.

Oh, ohhh sooo wrong.

VERY wrong.

There were just so many games. And so many I didn’t know.

I was overwhelmed when I stepped into the store to find shelves upon shelves upon shelves of foreign names and strange looking boxes. ‘What the hell is an Agricola’ I said as my head spun. ‘Why are there so many trains” I wondered as I stumbled through in a haze. ‘Dear God have I really spent two hours in here, where is my friend’ I worried after checking the time on my phone.

Finally, after cluelessly wandering around for an absurd chunk of time, I decided to sift through games that had interesting looking titles and cover art and cross examine them with their rating on the massive board game site Board Game Geek. If a game didn’t have at least a 7 out of a 10, I kept going. Life is too short to spend your time looking at a mere 6.9 out of 10.

After a while, a game did indeed finally catch my eye. It was called Mr. Jack and the reason it garnered my attention was because it was set in Victorian London (a time period I oh so adore) and the back of the box mentioned deduction. Seeing as how I was still new to the hobby, I had to use touchstones from my years of playing (shiver) mass market games to try and pick games I might like. As a kid, I was obsessed with Clue and since that had deduction, I figured Mr. Jack might be a good fit for me if it too had deduction. It passed the BGG smell test with a 7.1, so I made my first every impulse buy at a FLGS on a game I barely knew anything about.

If you excuse me, I’m going to stick my hand through this time rift I just opened and pat 2015 Kyle on the back because Mr. Jack, to this day, is one of my favorite games I’ve ever played. Hold on, here I go, just gonna put my hand in here and do some patting and AHHHH, WRONG TIME PERIOD, CLOSE THE RIFT, CLOSE THE RIFT.

Phew, okay, if you’re still with me, which means I didn’t create a time paradox so let me get started by actually talking about the game! You know, the whole reason you’re here!

In Mr. Jack, two players take on the role of either Mr. Jack (a.k.a. Jack the Ripper) or the investigator trying to catch him. There’s no mention of the horrendous crimes the real Jack the Ripper committed here, which is probably for the best since murder and dismemberment would be a real downer for this game. Jack’s job is to either keep his identity hidden for the duration of the game’s eight rounds OR escape from the shadows and leave town through one of Whitechapel’s four exits. I’m not sure if the real Whitechapel district in London only has four distinct exits, symmetrically located at its four corners, but I don’t see any reason why the game wouldn’t try to be as historically accurate as possible.

mr. jack board
See? Just like the real Victorian London, but with less lung burning smog and child labor.

Meanwhile, the investigator is trying to determine who Jack is by eliminating suspects one by one until only remains, at which point they need to get another character to hop onto Jack’s head and accuse him like the world’s most eager bunny detective.

The game is played out on a board with lots of hexes, where eight character discs are strewn throughout, patiently waiting for their turn to move. Jack secretly determines which of those eight characters are his secret identity and play begins. Each round, Jack and the investigator move these characters around, and at the end of said rounds, Jack gets asked a very simple question: are you visible or invisible?

While in real life, this would be a weird question for a an actual investigator to be shouting out into the London streets, waiting for a reply like in a childhood game of Marco Polo, it is used here as mechanism in this game to power the game’s deduction system. Jack is visible if his character’s disc is either adjacent to another character disc and/or is adjacent to a lamppost. If he is neither, he is considered invisible. So if Jack takes a look and sees he is currently invisible, he announces as such which prompts the investigator to flip over all discs that are visible to their grayed out side. That means they are eliminated from the possibility of being Jack and the ever shrinking list of suspects gets that much smaller.

Obviously, the deduction in this game is quite simple. It’s literally a 50/50 shot of who gets eliminated and who doesn’t. There certainly won’t be any players standing in front of a bulletin board of multi colored threads webbing out from picture to picture like they’re in a David Fincher film. Even Clue demanded more deductive reasoning than this, but that’s okay. What makes Mr. Jack great isn’t its deduction, but its puzzley gameplay and unique character selection system.

Let’s talk about the character selection first. Every round, four of the game’s eight characters are randomly selected and available to draft. Players draft two of them one by one, in a snake draft fashion. Meaning, the first player in that round takes a character, uses him or her, then the 2nd player gets to take and use TWO characters followed by the first player taking the last remaining. Snake drafts are used in plenty of games (Sagrada and The Grand Austria Hotel come to mind) and I love that drafting system, but the REAL reason why I fell in love with this game is because I’ve never seen another game implement character selection like this. Oh sure, there is role selection in lots of board games, like in the fantastic area control game Mission: Red Planet or the card draft driven Citadels, but in those games you’re simply playing a card and resolving its affects. In Mr. Jack, you aren’t just trying to pick characters based on their triggered ability but also based on where they are on the board.

None of the characters’ activated abilities involve smiling, however.

For example, let’s say you’re Jack and you want to draft Sherlock Holmes to prevent the investigator from taking him and using his ability. Holmes’ ability allows him to look at the top character card from the suspect deck, the same deck Jack drew his initial character from. Seeing which characters are left in this deck allows you to whittle down even further who isn’t Jack. Obviously, this isn’t great for Jack so it’s often a shrewd defensive move to draft Sherlock. Ahh, but maybe Sherlock has already been flipped to his gray side, showing he’s not Jack while the other characters available have unresolved statuses. It seems risky to allow one of those unrevealed characters in the hands of the investigator to move them and ultimately determine their visibility status. But what if they don’t have useful powers for the situation, or their board position doesn’t make for any powerful, swingy moves to your advantage. Deciding a character to draft is often an agonizing choice, because there are so many ripple effects that can occur. And that brings me to the next thing that makes Mr. Jack one of my favorite games: the delightful puzzle that this game presents.

When I introduce Mr. Jack to new players, one of the statements I often start with is “this is basically Clue meets Chess.” No, before you start chortling, this game is not as deep as Chess and that’s not what I mean. What I mean is, it takes the deduction of Clue and puts into a Chess-like puzzle, where certain pieces do certain things and managing them on the board is the key to victory. The above scenario I described is just one of many of these types of decisions. Do you take the character who can move lampposts, using his ability to light a whole group of characters to visibility status? Or do you use the agile Miss Stealthy and use her long range of movement to your advantage? There is a character who is a cop who blows a whistle that allows you to move up to three characters closer to him (because apparently people in Victorian London were part dog).

If you choose him, who are you whistling closer? Every movement is important, and as the investigator you never want to leave anyone too close on the outer edges of the board since that allows Jack to slink into the shadows and escape off the board in a following round. But then that means you’re clumping people together in the center of the board which is a field day for Jack since that means it’s easier to keep as many people visible as possible, meaning you may go an entire round without eliminating any suspects. It’s this hair pulling, teeth clenching tactical Rubics Cube that makes Mr. Jack such a satisfying nut to crack. And despite all these tough decisions and torturous choices, games rarely last more than a half hour, meaning it’s the perfect, “Whaddya say, wanna go again?” game that 2 player games should often strive to be.

Ultimately, if this sort of puzzley game of cat and mouse sounds at all interesting to you, then I can’t recommend Mr. Jack enough. It’s not too complex and while it has a couple of fiddly rules here and there, it’s not enough to dissuade me from even recommending this to gateway gamers. It’s also co-designed by Bruno Cathala, who has since turned out to be my favorite game designer. He has many games that feature tactical and puzzley gameplay loops, so Mr. Jack is a great entry point if you have any interest in joining the Church of Cathala with me. It’s not super expensive to join, and the blood pact we demand requires barely even a quart of blood, so there’s really no excuse to not at least look into it.

Anyway, that about does it for my first review for this blog! I figured Mr. Jack would be a perfect first post since, as I mentioned, it was my first impulse buy when I got into the hobby and it holds a huge nostalgic place in my heart for that reason. If you liked this review, like and subscribe and hit that bell icon and dammit there I go again pretending this is a YouTube channel, ignore me, I’m a moron. If you DO like this though, consider following me on social media (@ElHanlo on Twitter) and staying tuned to future posts and reviews. My plan is to try and post something every Wednesday, so hope to see you there!