Tag: reviews

Tricky Tides Review

Tricky Tides Review

I’ve had an interesting relationship with trick taking games over my first four years in the hobby. Though unlike most of my relationships, which decay and wither away into shriveled husks of bitterness and resentment over enough time, this one actually improved!

You see, when I first discovered the idea of a trick taking game, my mind was filled with boring looking card games played with a standard 52 card deck. Games that you’d play as a kid with your grandparents to pass the time because they had no clue what a Sega Genesis was. As I played so many new hobby games, experiencing cool mechanics like worker placement and deck building for the first time, the last thing I wanted to do was play a game that was just playing cards, like I was some kind of peasant.

Turns out, I was a moron. Actually, I am a moron, but that’s besides the point. The key here is that I’ve grown to love trick taking games and it’s because I actually went ahead and played some of them. Who’d have thought that experiencing something instead of making uninformed judgments is actually fairly beneficial??

To be fair, I am still wary of playing straight, no frills trick taking games. What I like in my trick taking games are unique twists or cool themes, something that makes them pop when put up against their normal run of the mill card game grandparents, like Pinochle or Hearts. While Pinochle and Hearts are wasting away in their retirement homes, I’m playing hip, young games like The Fox in the Forest and Tournament at Camelot. The Fox in the Forest is a sublime 2 player only trick taking game that is driven by a unique scoring mechanism that makes every card played a nail biting affair. Meanwhile, Tournament at Camelot takes trick taking and turns it into an Arthurian slugfest, like Super Smash Bros meets Medieval Times. It’s a raucous game that revels in chaos thanks to game breaking special powers.

But while those games are amazing, let’s discuss another trick taking game. I’m talking about the star of this very review: Tricky Tides. Designed by Steve Aramini (he of Sprawlopolis and Circle the Wagons fame) and published by Gold Seal Games, Tricky Tides is a game of seafaring merchants in the Age of Sail, trying to make the most gold by delivering goods to certain islands to fulfill rewarding contracts. Players sail around a grid of island cards which all have a certain number of good cubes splayed out on it them. It takes the long standing mechanic of trick taking and combines it with…(checks notes)….pick up and deliver?? Yep, pick up and deliver. And guess what? Not only does it work, but the end result is my favorite trick taking game I’ve ever played.

Before I go into why I love Tricky Tides so much, I should probably describe trick taking to all the normal people out there who don’t have BoardGameGeek set as their internet browser’s home page. Trick taking is a mechanic/type of game whereby cards are played in rounds called ‘tricks’. Generally, the cards are suited and a major hook of trick taking is that when the lead player plays a certain suit, you MUST play a card of the same suit, assuming you have it present in your hand.

The trick taking aspect of Tricky Tides is mostly as described: rounds are played through a series of tricks in which one person plays a card and the other players must follow suit if able. To fall in line with the game’s maritime theme, the suits are various sea monsters. There’s the octopus, whale, shark and…sea dragon? I missed that day in marine biology class, I guess. Anyway, the suits offer the first wrinkle in Tricky Tides devilishly clever design. You see, in Tricky Tides the player who plays the highest on suit card wins the trick, as in pretty much every trick taking game ever, but the person who plays the lowest on suit card gets to trigger a special ability. What’s cooler? These special abilities are the sea monsters themselves.

That’s right, if you ever had the fantasy of being a shark, hoisting yourself on land to eat some tobacco or spice (and let’s face it, who hasn’t), then Tricky Tides is about to fulfill your saltwater drenched dreams. The sea monsters which represent the suits aren’t just there for some old timey nautical window dressing, like some pathetic pirate statue standing outside a novelty restaurant on a New Jersey boardwalk. No, the monsters are actually on the board, represented by little cardboard figures as they roam around, manipulating goods to the whims of the players, like they’re mischievous little elves reorganizing your cupboards or whatever the hell elves do. The player who plays the lowest on suit card gets to activate the sea monster of the suit played, moving them to an adjacent island and firing off their power.

The powers all involve the goods on the islands, which are represented by different colored cubes and play a big part in the pick up and delivery aspect of the game (which I’ll get to in a bit). The shark gobbles up a cube of the island it’s on, transporting it to your own ship through some sort of nautical blood magic that I have no interest in delving into any further. The sea dragon uses its magic breath to transform one type of cube on an island into an entirely different type of cube. Really wishing I had been in marine biology class that day, that thing sounds badass. Meanwhile, the octopus uses its tentacles to either grab a cube from an adjacent island or throw a cube to an adjacent island. Finally, the whale sneezes and blows three cubes out of its blowhole, adding them in a straight line to the islands of the player’s choice. As a bonus, the whale looks incredibly stoned while doing this.

Tricky tides whale
“Like, hey man, you got any snacks? I am like suuuuuuper jonesin’ for some pork rinds, man.”

This extra little twist to the trick taking formula feels like a fresh ocean breeze sprinkling a mist into my face. A good trick taking game offers tough hand management choices, forcing you to decide when to use your best cards or when to throw away your low cards and surrender the trick. In Tricky Tides, that hand management is made all the tougher by the tantalizing prospect of controlling sea monsters like Poseidon running a puppet show. Suddenly, these low cards in your hand aren’t just useless flotsam to toss overboard. They have actual use and you’re going to want to make the most of them. Quite often I saw players throw down low cards, expecting to get control of the sea monster only to have it robbed of them by someone playing something even lower, causing the winner of the trick to win with little effort as everyone else basically used their lowest cards for no good reason. In this game, you’re tying to constantly balance winning tricks and activating the sea monsters so that you have the most control over the board state.

What’s so important about winning tricks, you ask? Well to answer that, I need to get to the other big mechanic in Tricky Tides: pick up and deliver.

To those unaware of pick up and deliver, it’s exactly what it sounds like. You pick up things and deliver them. If that sounds a lot like Errands: The Board Game, well, I can’t argue that it’s not the most thrilling sounding thing in the world. People see board gamers and think we’re taking on the roles of knights or warriors or space marines and turns out we’re often just glorified Fed Ex drivers. BUT when done right, pick up and deliver can be just as much fun and satisfying as any other mechanic in board games.

In Tricky Tides, the pick up and deliver comes from going around to islands, picking up cubes and then spending them at other islands to fulfill contracts. The brilliant thing about the game is that how you move is dictated by the card you played in the trick. The cards don’t just have suits on them; they also have a compass. The compass emblazoned in the center of the card has certain directions highlighted which shows you in what direction you can move that turn. Turn order, however, is dictated by who won the trick. Winner of the trick goes first, then the person who played the next highest card then next highest and so on. This means the person who wins the trick gets first dibs on the goods and contracts within their movement range and that can be a HUGE advantage. The amount of times I had a contract or batch of goods sniped out from under me had me cursing like a sailor, which is just another wonderful thematic touch that this game was able to provide me and my game group.

The importance of going first and trying to move in certain directions further enhances that hand management I was talking about. Now you’re not just worried about suit and value like in other trick taking games; now you need to think about how the card is going to make you move. There are times where you really need to get to a certain island for a contract, but you only have one card in your hand that’s pointing in that island’s direction and it’s a card on the lower end value wise. Knowing you will probably be lower in turn order means the chance of having that contract removed by the time you’re supposed to set sail makes you think twice about playing the card. But then again, maybe if it’s a low enough card you can get control of the sea monster and use that to your advantage. Or maybe you just forgo that contract and use a better, higher value card to get somewhere else earlier than the others and try and get some points that way. You are constantly checking your hand, the goods you have, and the contracts you can potentially grab while making sure to pay attention to where your opponents are and what they can potentially grab as well. It is in this way that the Frankenstein fusion of trick taking and pick up and deliver shines. It creates multiple layers of tactics, often subtle but incredibly rich and rewarding.

So the gameplay is an engrossing blend of crafty hand management and efficient movement, but I’ll finish off by saying one of the really BIG things I love about this game is the aesthetics and art. As mentioned more than a few times, the game is set in the Age of Sail and as such sports a very 1600s nautical look. The art, done by Naomi Ferrall, perfectly complements the salty sea dog feel of this game. Her style has an old-fashioned sketchbook look to it, thanks to an art technique known as ‘stippling’ (yep, I had to look that up too). The end result means it’s like you’re looking at illustrations ripped straight from a sailor’s journal. It’s not only beautiful but immersive and I really can’t say enough about it. As someone who has a huge soft spot for anything maritime or nautical, especially of that time period, I am obsessed with how this game looks. It’s so authentic looking, I burst into sea shanties the moment it hits the table.

Tricky TIdes board
“Okay, I’ll be green. Kyle, what color-” “OH THE YEAR WAS 1778, HOW I WISH I WAS IN SHERBROOKE NOW.”

I’ll end this review by repeating what I said in the beginning. Tricky Tides is my new favorite trick taking game. In a market where trick taking games are seeing a bit of a resurgence, that is quite the feat. Its innovative gameplay and gorgeous art combine to make a captivating package that you should definitely check out.


Tussie Mussie Review

Tussie Mussie Review

It’s that time again, everyone. It’s time for me to gush about yet another Button Shy game.

I’ve sang the praises about Button Shy on this blog before. I’ve reviewed both Stew and Sprawlopolis, two games in their extensive library of micro games that I dearly love. If you haven’t read either of those reviews and are unfamiliar with Button Shy, allow me to spread the gospel. They specialize in micro games, games that are small enough to fit in a wallet. That’s not an exaggeration, by the way, they literally come in wallets.

The latest in this line of wallet games is Tussie Mussie, an ‘I Split, You Choose’ card game from Elizabeth Hargrave. If you don’t know who Elizabeth Hargrave is, you probably should. Hargrave is the designer of the recent smash hit Wingspan. Wingspan is essentially the board game equivalent of a piece of toast with an imprint of the Virgin Mary on it because a copy of it recently sold on eBay for over $1,000. If your game sells for 1,000 of anything, you’re probably doing something right.

While I haven’t had a chance to play Wingspan, Hargrave’s name is one of the biggest reasons I was excited to play Tussie Mussie. A collaboration between one of my favorite publishers and one of the industry’s hottest designers? Where do I sign up?? Button Shy was kind enough to send me a review copy and I must say, Tussie Mussie does not disappoint.

Tussie Mussie is about the Victorian era fad of giving and receiving flowers to express feelings. You see, back in Victorian times people didn’t have memes and gifs like we do today, so they had to communicate in other ways. A popular method was by giving bouquets of flowers, or tussie mussies, to each other. The flowers all had different meanings assigned to them, which allowed the giver to communicate certain things. One of Tussie Mussie‘s more subtle but delightful features is that it actually has flavor text on the bottom of each card, displaying the meaning behind that flower. For example, the orchid meant “You are beautiful”, the carnation meant “I do not agree” (which I’m sure led to many a passive aggressive end to arguments), and the hyacinth meant “Please forgive me”.

Nothing says, “I’m sorry for recording over our daughter’s dance recital video with a rerun of ALF” quite like a hyacinth.

This world of flower sharing is explored through Tussie Mussie’s ‘I Split, You Choose’ mechanic. For those unfamiliar with this mechanic, it generally involves the active player grouping sets of things, presenting them to other players and then being the last person to get to choose which set they receive. It rewards players for grouping items in as fair a way as possible so that they don’t get left with meager scraps. It’s a mechanic that feels criminally underrepresented in the industry, with the most popular examples of it being the pizza themed set collection game New York Slice and the beautifully agonizing card game Hanamikoji.

The way Tussie Mussie incorporates this mechanic is wonderfully simple. On your turn, you draw two cards from the deck. These cards all represent different flowers, each with a unique scoring condition or power. You choose one of the flowers to put face up and the other to put face down and give them to the person either on your left or right (depending on what point in the round you’re at). That player chooses one of the cards and you receive the other. Once everybody has four cards in front of them, the round ends and everybody scores their flowers. After three rounds, whoever has the most points wins!

Simple, right? Yes, but don’t let that lull you into thinking you can just sleepwalk through all the decisions. One of the key rules in Tussie Mussie is that the person receiving the flowers can’t look at the face down card. They either take the known commodity of the face up card or try their luck with whatever the face down card is hiding. This transforms Tussie Mussie from a peaceful game of collecting flowers into a fiendish string of devious mind games.

For example, let’s say you have a Red Tulip, which gives you a point for every red card you have. You already have two red cards and your opponent entices you with another red card as their face up offering. What seems like an easy decision turns into a torturous one as every synapse in your brain is shouting, “WHAT ARE THEY HIDING, IT CAN’T POSSIBLY BE THIS SIMPLE”. Do you take the red card, helping to bolster the Red Tulip’s scoring condition? Or do you take the face down card, hoping that you deny something that the giver desperately wanted? It’s not any easier being the person who is doing the splitting, either. Do you hide cards that benefit you, fearing your opponent will take it to deny you? Or do you flaunt it as the face up card, just daring the receiver to ignore whatever bounty you put face down?

It instills a manic sense of paranoia that I never thought I could feel from flowers. I can now see why nobody ever smiled in pictures and paintings from Victorian times. The cruel meta that develops from repeated plays of this game with the same group becomes a game unto itself and as someone who loves that sort of thing, Tussie Mussie more than satisfied.

Another thing I absolutely love about this game is that every flower is different. Yes, many of their powers are similar (things like ‘score for every purple flower’ and ‘score for every red flower’), but it still feels like everybody is plucking flowers from a garden and crafting their own tailor made bouquet. By the end of the round, you feel proud of your beautiful tussie mussie if it nets you a solid chunk of points, while you can practically see the cards wilt and droop when you have a bad round of flowers that don’t synergize well. The unique flowers also means play doesn’t get stale and you’ll start to develop favorites (“An orchid? Why yes, I’d LOVE to have a flower that acts as any color”) and not-so-favorites (“DON’T YOU DARE GIVE ME THAT MARIGOLD”). It’s as if each flower has its own personality, helped by that flavor text I mentioned earlier.

The only plant I’d be worthy of receiving is poison ivy if I forgot to mention this game’s art. The art is done by none other than Beth Sobel, one of my favorite artists in the industry. Probably best known for Viticulture, Sobel’s warm, comforting style perfectly fits this game’s theme. Each flower has its own illustration and you can practically smell the different fragrances waft off the petals as you sift through the deck. I mean no disrespect to the other games in Button Shy’s library, but this is almost certainly their most eye pleasing one to date.

tussie mussie cards
Who needs actual flowers when you have art like this? All I need is a vase to put these cards in and I’m good to go.

Is there a thorn on the stem of this beautiful rose of a game? I will admit there is one little issue I had with the game and that is with the scoring phase. The game is quick and breezy as players build their collection of flowers, but it grinds to a halt at the end of each round as everybody needs to score their sets. With each flower possessing its own effect that interacts with other flowers and their own effects, there is a lot of mumbling and poking at phone calculators at the end of each round which clogs an otherwise sublimely elegant game. It’s a minor thing and far from a deal breaker, but it did have enough of an effect that I felt it worth mentioning.

Tussie Mussie launches on Kickstarter on May 28th and I wholeheartedly recommend that you check it out. It’s a simple but deceptively tricky game that pops on the table despite being just a small deck of cards. If you have yet to try a Button Shy game, this is a fine place to start.

Sprawlopolis Review

Sprawlopolis Review

A month or two ago, I reviewed a game called Stew. Stew is a brilliant little game that combines bluffing, deduction and press your luck and is brought to us by the wonderful publisher Button Shy. Button Shy is a game company that specializes in making hand crafted games that are small enough to fit in literal wallets. I own five of their games from their vast library and while Stew is my favorite of those, there is a very close second. And that game is Sprawlopolis.

Sprawlopolis is a cooperative tile/card laying game where you and your teammates are building a city together. The game, like almost every Button Shy game, is comprised of just 18 cards. Those cards are double sided, with one side containing scoring objectives and the other side being the actual city cards. Those city cards contain each of the four districts in the game (residential, commercial, industrial and parks) as well as a combination of streets snaking through in various directions. The game begins by setting aside three of those 18 cards and putting them scoring objective up. The prompt has a rule for scoring (such as 2 points for every Residential district adjacent to two Industrial districts, to pick an easy example) and a number. You add the numbers of the three cards together and that makes the final score you need to beat for that game. Then, after shuffling the rest of the cards, you and your other budding civic engineers try to make a city that doesn’t completely suck.

(Psst…chances are, it will suck. This game is hard.)

The game plays like many tile laying games, where you simply place cards adjacent to other cards to form a continually growing landscape. But! There is a twist. In this game, you can actually cover parts of already placed cards, even the entire damn thing. This opens things up considerably as you can try to overlap parts that are disadvantageous to your scoring while improving other parts of the city to improve said score. It’s like this game’s version of gentrification, only with much less of the sociological and moral ramifications that usually come with that.

It also leads to some very interestingly shaped cities. The first game I ever won of this, our city ended up looking like a duck.

sprawlopolis duck
I thought this was Sprawlopolis, not Quacks of Quedlinberg! Hahahaha oh god someone help me

The amazing thing about Sprawlopolis is that despite it being a mere 18 cards, the game gives you a lot to think about. You’re not just trying to score based on what the objectives have given you, but you also score based on how big certain blocks in your city are. The biggest continuous area of each district type gets gets one point per block in it. For example, if the biggest area of parks in your city is five blocks big, you get five points for your parks district. This extra scoring mechanism means that even as you’re focusing on the scoring objectives dealt at the beginning, you also have to keep in mind that you want to build up at least one big area of each of the district types. Focusing strictly on the objectives and ignoring the district scoring will rarely result in a win, but the rub is that often times the objectives don’t jive with making large masses of single districts. This creates a great decision space where you’ll be agonizing over how to maximize your overall score. It’s a balancing act akin to walking a tightrope while juggling Molotov cocktails. Also, there are puppies below you as you do so. Do you want to burn a bunch of puppies, you psychopath? Didn’t think so.

There is one more bit of scoring in the game, making it the thick syrup on this stack of scoring pancakes. The streets department of Sprawlopolis must be very lazy and cranky, because for each road in your city you lose one point. Joining together roads to make them longer and therefore less present in your city is the best way to minimize this damage. The worst thing you can do is to have lots of tiny little roads twisting and turning around your city, leading to nowhere like it’s an MC Escher fever dream. But again, trying to build long, continuous roads doesn’t always work with the city you’re trying to build for the objectives. Maybe there’s a great play you can make that will score you some extra points from the objectives but you notice that it will open up two new roads or even break apart a long connected road you had worked so hard on keeping together. As I said, it’s a balancing act and it packs so many great hair pulling moments in what is just a 10-15 minute card game.

When you deal with a microgame like this, one of the biggest concerns is its shelf life. As in, how many times can you actually play this thing before you realize it’s a much more shallow, and repetitive experience than you first thought? No disrespect to microgames, I love them, but it’s definitely a prevalent problem in a genre that is built around incredibly simple rulesets and low numbers of cards/components.

(I’m looking at you Coup and Love Letter.)

I’m happy to report that, maybe more than any other microgame I’ve played, this is not an issue with Sprawlopolis. One of the big reasons why is the different scoring objectives. Not only do the scoring objectives all feel different and varied, but you’re using a different, random combination each time. This, along with the fact that the city cards are all shuffled and come out randomly as well, means that every game of Sprawlopolis is going to feel unique and fresh. Sure, you may run into a couple games where two of the three scoring objectives have been paired together before, but it’s rare enough that it rarely feels stale. I mean, just do the math. With 18 scoring objectives, and a combination of 3 every time you play that’s like…uhh…umm…a LOT of combinations. Yeah, let’s go with that, ‘a lot’.

This also translates into wildly different looking cities every time you play. One of my favorite things about Carcassonne, perhaps the most popular tile laying game in the hobby, is that no matter how many times I’ve played it, the landscape me and my opponents had created always looked different game to game. That is very much the case with Sprawlopolis. I mean, I already showed you that damn duck. Depending on how the scoring objectives shape out, you can end up with smaller more compact cities, larger more sprawling (hey, that sounds familiar) cities or just some downright weird looking ones.

sprawlopolis city example
Well, it’s layout and design still makes more sense than Boston’s.

The last thing I’ll rave about is this game’s solo mode. I have been getting into solo gaming a lot over the past year (probably has to do with that whole ‘no social life’ thing I’ve got gotten on) and Sprawlopolis is easily one of the three best solo experiences I’ve ever played. The gameplay is completely unaffected. The only difference is you just simply keep a hand of three cards at all times since there are no other players to pass cards to. Which is completely fine, as it removes the one fiddly thing about the game anyway (in the multiplayer game you play, pass, then draw one card for a future turn, which for whatever reason has always felt clunky to me). This means the solo experience is just as enjoyable as playing the multiplayer game, something a solitaire game should ALWAYS strive for. In fact, in some ways it’s better, because playing solo means you don’t have to deal with your friends passive aggressively sighing at your placement of a card because you missed something obvious. It’s lack of a long time commitment makes Sprawlopolis the perfect bite sized solo game as well, meaning it’s super easy for me to pull out and kill 15 minutes with. All in all, if you are an avid solo gamer, Sprawlopolis is as good as it gets.

I really don’t have much in the way to criticize with Sprawlopolis. It’s variety game to game, elegant and simple ruleset, addictive solo play and its portability make it a game that anyone should have in their collection. It doesn’t quite beat the tile laying greats such as Carcassonne, Lanterns and Isle of Skye, but it’s damn close to their level. And that’s some high praise if you ask me.

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!

Welcome to Boar & Arrow, The Latest Sensation (Probably, Maybe) in Board Game Blogging

Hello! Hi, yes, hello there. I’m Kyle Hanley. I like board games. Like, a lot. Too much, some (mainly my girlfriend (and other friends (and my parents))) might say. When I’m not playing board games, I spend my time wanting to play board games. When I’m not doing that, I spend my time watching board game videos on YouTube. When I’m not doing that, I am buying board games, often online and without adult supervision (big mistake). When I’m not doing that, I am eating Taco Bell.

But yeah, mostly the board game stuff, though.

For too many months, I’ve needed an outlet for this passion (maybe obsession? Nah, passion just sounds much nicer and less serial killer-y, so let’s stick with that). Too long have I been hosting a one person podcast in front of my bathroom mirror, with no microphones, with the faucet running so no one else can hear me, talking about board games to absolutely no one. My sharp critiques, witty banter and contagious enthusiasm is reaching no one through this method. Unless you count the spider in the corner of the bathroom, but I don’t think he even speaks English, so likely not?

That’s where this blog comes in. As a Creative Writing major, I know what it’s like to have a lot of repressed feelings and regret and disappointment that can only be softened through the power of written expression. While this blog will do nothing to help the regret and disappointment, I intend on FINALLY getting my love for board games and my various opinions on them out of my brain and into your eyes. If I have to strap you to a chair and pin said eyes open, Clockwork Orange style, you better believe that I will. But hopefully it won’t come to that!

This blog will be home to reviews, thoughts on news and developments within the board game world, and….uhhh…actually, I don’t know exactly what kind of content I plan on creating for this blog outside of those two things, but I imagine I’ll have plenty of other things to write and say along the way. Worst case scenario, when I run out of board game ideas, there’s always Taco Bell reviews. I am really gunning for this Taco Bell sponsorship, guys.

Now that you have an idea about what this is all about, let me tell you about myself. As I mentioned, I’m Kyle Hanley. You can call me Kyle, you can call me Hanley, whichever you prefer. I like board games. I mentioned that already, didn’t I? I’m no good at this introduction thing. If you think I’m awkward here, try meeting me in real life. By this point in the conversation, I would have started and stopped crying at least three times.

But in all seriousness, some more things about me. As I briefly touched on, I am indeed a Creative Writing major so, as I’m sure you expect, I don’t have a job in writing. I am in fact a substitute teacher. Don’t ask me why anybody would trust me with the lives of 20-25 children on a daily basis because I can barely make a grilled cheese without a trip to the ER. But hey, I don’t complain!

This isn’t my first attempt at blogging. Years ago, I ran a blog where I posted comedic essays and the occasional Onion style satire. It was fine, but I posted far too sporadically to create or maintain any sort of audience. ALTHOUGH, on that very site, I once wrote a blog post about Miley Cryus that got performed by a sketch comedy troupe in New York City. It was pretty neat.

Unfortunately, that blog has become dusty and cobweb ridden, like the salad section at Golden Corral. A lack of focus and consistency made me lose drive for the blog. I would occasionally post about video game things, sometimes a sports thing, and maybe a pop culture thing here and there. There was no theme to the site, and I rarely got more than like 5-10 views per article. It got me down, I’ll admit, and I just didn’t have the motivation to keep it going. That’s where THIS blog comes in.

Gone are the days where I write a blog post about something random every six months and then get down on myself because two of my high school friends are the only people who decided to read it. I have decided I will cultivate a blog with a strong theme and consistent content because life is coming at me fast and I am terrified I will die with absolutely nothing creative attached to my name. Well, except for that Miley Cyrus blog post I mentioned earlier, but who wants Miley Cyrus to be the main part of your writing legacy??

With that idea, I was at a crossroads: what do I focus on in this blog? Then I remembered that I spend almost waking moment thinking about, reading about, and trying to play board games. I realized my decision was kinda made for me.

Here’s what you can expect from this blog. I feel like so much of board game content is video or audio driven. I love me some YouTube videos and podcasts BUT I haven’t seen many people out there creating longform written content. My aim is to fill that hole, writing a blog post on here on a weekly basis. A lot of these will likely be reviews, but I’ll also maybe post essays about news going on in the industry or maybe a list here and there. Whatever it is, it’ll be about board games and it will hopefully be awesome. If it’s neither of those things, I’ll try and do better the next time I make an ill conceived decision to cover board games in the dying form of written media..

Other random thoughts: I’m currently doing this through Word Press because that’s what my last blog was done on and I have experience with it and that’s why I don’t have that whole ‘.com’ thing in the domain name. I know that’s terribly unprofessional and if I can get this site chugging along, I plan to actually spend the money to get that changed. As for the name of this blog itself, it decidedly has nothing to do with games. So many board game content has some sort of pun with ‘board’ in the title or the word ‘meeple’ included somewhere and I have NO problem with that, but I was aiming to have something a little more unique so I don’t get lost in the shuffle. I had a few game based ideas that didn’t include board puns or meeple in it, but ultimately decided to go with Boar & Arrow. What the hell does that mean anyway? Well, my last name is Hanley and the Hanley family crest is a boar sandwiched between two arrows. I quite like the family crest and as a matter of familial pride, I decided to name the site after it. It’s also one letter one away from having ‘board’ in the name, so maybe I will give into societal norms and come up with a board pun at some point. But anyway, we shall see if giving this site a name better suited for an Irish tavern than for a board game blog is the first nail in the coffin!

But that’s about it for now. My plan is to have a review up here very shortly, (MAYBE EVEN TOMORROW??) to give better insight to how my writing style will translate to board game reviews so that you can decide right away whether you wanna board this train. I may not have a British accent like the guys at Shut Up and Sit Down, I may not have as many hats as Tom Vasel, and I may not be as Canadian as Rodney Smith, but I will do my best to give you some great written board game content. I hope you’ll join me on this adventure that will hopefully last for more than three weeks!