Foundations of Rome
If there was one perfect word to describe Foundations of Rome, that word just might be audacious.
Many of us hobbyists are used to (or even desensitized) by massive Kickstarter games where a single pledge could justifiably be delivered to your doorstep via a hand truck. These projects are typically made up of multiple boxes packed with endless character minis, borderline frivolous add-ons, and more gameplay content than most gamers will ever touch. Yet these types of productions all seem to share a similar DNA of being dungeon-crawly co-ops, large-scale conflicts, or sprawling campaigns featuring a deep thematic ocean for fans to dive into. For many, it’s the theme and the objective that brings life to these endless piles of plastic and cardboard.
So Foundations of Rome appears to be quite the audacious anomaly in that you have a simple, dry Euro parading as baby elephant-sized cube of a box. The game’s contents are enough to singe your eyebrows with individual vacuform trays for each player that are loaded with plastic buildings and heartier than a plate at Chuck-o-Rama. The detailed architecture of these buildings and the way it all comes together is impressive enough to make me want to shake each and every hand of the folks over at Arcane Wonders who brought it to life. I’ve come to learn first-hand that the production and fulfillment of even a small-box card game for 500 backers is much harder than pulling teeth, so I shudder to imagine what was required to get Foundations of Rome into the hands of thousands.
It’s a mighty impressive accomplishment, indeed. But even more than what this game contains, I’m interested in why the game was produced this way. If ever a game could be nominated for the award of “Most Overproduced,” Foundations of Rome would certainly be a worthy contender. Strip away the endless 3D models, wide player trays, and dual-layered boards and you’re left with a simple game of buying lots from a sliding card market—one of designer Emerson Matsuuchi’s favorite mechanisms—and placing polyominoes on your lots to earn money or points.
Your action options are as simple as this: buy a single lot, collect money from your existing commerce buildings, or place a new building on the lots you own of the shared board. Each building will either earn you more money or it will earn you points. The points come in two forms: moving up a majority track (being higher than your opponents will get you more points), or gaining points based on adjacent buildings (1 point for each adjacent building, 2 points for each adjacent building of a specific type, etc.). Finally, you can also score some end-game points by completing private objectives such as having the most buildings along the border of the game board or having more small buildings than anyone else.
And that’s it. That’s the game. It’s so dry and simple that I hesitate to give the gameplay itself full credit for being the primary driver of our enjoyment with it. It’s simply a game of identifying the most valuable lot in the card market, trying to claim it first, and then selecting a building from your personal buffet that fits onto your shape of owned lots.
I can’t help but imagine what this design first looked like when the publisher initially encountered it. I’d wager that it was perhaps the world’s driest prototype. And while it had a solid, functional gameplay loop from a successful designer, the first question that would come to my mind if I were Arcane Wonders is “How on earth do we get people excited about this game?” And now, several years later, as you open the box for Foundations of Rome and slide the gargantuan trays out, you can hear echoes of the answer that they settled upon: “Make the components as outrageous as possible.”
While in some ways it sounds like the most soulless answer ever—one that has surely elicited eyerolls from jaded hobbyists and frowns from the environmentally conscious—from a purely business standpoint, it seems to have been an absolute success. Not only did Foundations of Rome rake in 8000 backers and 1.1 million dollars, but its table presence proved to be a magnetic beacon to seemingly all of the hungry-eyed gamers at the local cafe where we played it.
While it was certainly an epic experience to witness Foundations of Rome in its full glory, it’s ultimately the stark contrast between a jaw-dropping production and the ho-hum gameplay that stands out to me the most. I would certainly play it again if given the opportunity. But at that cost and at that size I would find ownership of the game to be far more a burden than a blessing. Worst of all, I can think of far too many games that do polyominoes or shared-board tile-placement much better, and they all require a fraction of the investment.
Current Rating: 6/10
Excape / Rapido
My journey through the hidden gems and forgotten classics of Reiner Knizia’s ludography marches ever onward, and it has recently led me to the push-your-luck dice race known as Excape (more recently reprinted as Rapido). I acquired a new version of this design (Rapido from publisher Game Factory) and busted it out with a couple different casual gaming groups (a 4 and 6 player gathering).
Unsurprisingly, the more of these games I play, the more I’m reminded of other similar Knizias. In the case of Rapido/Excape, I find this design to be a connecting link between Pickomino and Family Inc. In both Rapido and Family Inc., you push-your-luck on your turn by trying to get the best results before you bust or voluntarily stop; then you must wait and cross your fingers through your opponents’ turns—you can only cash in your results and race up the point track at the start of your next turn, but that gives everyone else the opportunity to undermine your spoils. In both Rapido and Pickomino, you are essentially rolling dice as much as you want until you bust or settle for their values—each game masterfully evokes the best kind of decisions and drama from rolling dice.
The thing that makes Rapido unique is the interactive hierarchy or ladder mechanism that reminds me a bit of our own Knizia publication, Pumafiosi. This mechanism is all about guts and glory—you can stake your claim on any empty step in the ladder, but a weaker stake makes for a riskier claim. For Pumafiosi, that means that an opponent can place a higher valued stake on your claimed step, knocking you down the ladder and forcing upon you penalty points. For Rapido, that means an opponent can place any dice result on a lower unclaimed step and completely knock off everyone else above them who doesn’t have a better dice result. In both cases, you will be taking less points for yourself by going to a lower step on the ladder, but you are simultaneously hurting others even more.
Ultimately, the competitive ladder mechanism is an engaging blend of interaction and push-your-luck that forms the beating heart of these designs. Yet where Pumafiosi branches off into clever card-play, and Pickomino features a Yahtzee style dice-locking vibe, Rapido is closer to Family Inc. in that both games are more about loud, dramatic, light-hearted moments of swingy luck and mindless hubris. Where they both scratch a similar itch, I think I find Rapido to be my preferred game over Family Inc. because it comes in a much smaller box, requires less math when you score your results, and feels a tinge more dramatic between the dice rolls and the cutthroat ladder.
Current Rating: 7/10
The Voyages of Marco Polo
The Voyages of Marco Polo is a modern, medium-weight, resource guzzling, contract fulfillment Euro that has been ranked in the Board Game Geek Top 100 for years now. That means two things regarding my first impressions of the game: 1) Anything I have to say has already been said a thousand times by others, 2) No matter how I describe Marco Polo, it’s going to sound aggressively generic.
Those who have tried anything by designers Simone Luciani (Barrage, Tzolk’in) and Daniele Tascini (Tzolk’in, Teotihuacan) know exactly what they are getting into with this design. Although, come to think of it, there is actually only one track found in the entirety of Marco Polo (the victory point track), so I suppose you could accuse the designers of really straying outside their comfort zone. But worry not, there is still plenty of worker placement, resource gathering, and contract fulfillment to be had here.
I played Tzolk’in again recently, and it’s a testament to my Euro burnout death spiral that I went from thoroughly enjoying it in mid-2020 to nearly resenting it almost two years later. For my tastes, all of the games in this genre have started to gloop together into a mildly repulsive blob of track traversal, resource gathering, and point mongering—and my patience with them has admittedly run thin. So I suppose that it’s a credit to The Voyages of Marco Polo that I actually enjoyed this design—not enough to crave it further, mind you, but certainly enough to be engaged and entertained.
One highlight of Marco Polo is found in a bonkers, rule-breaking power that each player is endowed with at the start of the game. Plenty of Euros feature this kind of thing these days—an asymmetrically advantageous setup of sorts—but Marco Polo’s powers make most other Euro abilities look like toys for babies in comparison. The other neat highlight comes in the dice placement decisions—a higher value die grants you a better bonus, but it comes at a higher cost if that action space has already been visited by an opponent.
Although it was only released in 2015, Marco Polo has already been followed up by a standalone sequel or reimplementation of sorts in 2019’s Marco Polo II: In the Service of the Khan. That doesn’t make the original strictly inferior, though, according to many fans. Apparently the sequel sacrifices some tension, approachability, and smoothness in favor of more bits and flexibility. I’m not keen on trying it anyway, as it seems that I only enjoy this genre less with each successive play.
If you’re the type who gets a kick out of loads of variability in a puzzly, economic, abstract Euro, then Marco Polo is unquestionably a worthwhile endeavor. Just don’t expect to find me eager to join you for it—I’m much more content playing yet another 2-player tug-of-war game or the eighth iteration of a Knizia tile-placement design or the tenth shared-incentive train game in my collection.
Current Rating: 6/10
Meadow reminds me much of similarly laid-back games with gorgeous artwork including Parks and Tokaido. In these types of designs, the competitive point-rush tends to get buried by soothing scenery, breezy decisions, and gentle gameplay. If you consider yourself the type who craves this style of play, then Meadow absolutely deserves a spot on your wishlist. On the other hand, if you’re more like me, then you’ll likely become bored with the lack of drama and tension.
But Meadow knows exactly what kind of game it’s trying to be, and in that regard it is a total triumph. Publisher Rebel Studio and artist Karolina Kijak held nothing back in their quest to craft what might be the most gorgeous collection of watercolor illustrations in any board game, ever. Even the production is thoughtfully executed with the boards, tokens, cards, and insert being used to their fullest. Rebel Studio has set a high bar for themselves and for every other publisher in the industry, and it makes me all the more excited to see what they put out next (especially Reiner Knizia’s San Francisco).
The gameplay is akin to Splendor, where you’ll be collecting cards into your personal tableau that simultaneously contribute points and resources. Meadow also takes a page out of Quadropolis’s book in how you draft cards into your hand. Each round, players have 4 or 5 tiles that they can slot into the card market board or into the campfire board. Each tile can either let you draft and play a card or will grant you the use of an ability. Usually, you’ll slot your tiles into a row or column of the card display and take the card that is X number of spaces from your tile (X being the number displayed on that specific tile).
While this drafting mechanism is interesting, I found myself rarely feeling regret or pressure for which tiles I used when and where. In a 2 or 3 player game, you’ll have access to a wild tile which can often bail you out when you’ve already spent the exact tile you need. The 4 player game sees players leaving the wild tile in the box, and I imagine I would prefer this added pressure to the experience.
Cards usually provide resources and points when they are added to your tableau, yet they also typically require resources to played. For example, a specific butterfly might require a worm and flower and give 2 points, and you’ll have to decide whether you cover the worm or flower resource and replace it with a butterfly resource. The game is highly tactical in that you are simply trying to make the most of your available resources and the available card market. The most efficient way to play is to always take a useful card and play a card worth points in the same turn, but you won’t be able to pull this off on every turn. Although with the secondary tile actions and the ability to discard two cards to ignore a required resource, there are plenty of ways to accomplish your goals.
The most interaction you’ll find in Meadow (and it’s not much) will be in drafting cards that others presumably want, in claiming spaces where they might wish to go, and in claiming public goals before your opponents. But at the end of the day, the overall experience is a simple cycle of taking a card, playing a card, and scoring 1-4 points. The middle of the game does feature a card market flush where one deck is replaced by a slightly meatier deck of bigger costs and payouts, but it doesn’t do much to change the overall vibe of the game. In this sense, I think Meadow could have benefited from cutting a round entirely from the gameplay. When a design such is this is more cyclical than evolving, I find it’s better to end the game too soon rather than too late. I’m not prone to defiling my games with house rules, but in this case I think it might be easy to simply skip the first or last round of the game.
At any rate, Meadow may not fit my tastes well enough to last in my collection, but it’s a solidly successful offering for its target audience.
Current Rating: 6/10
I’ve come away from my first play of Iberian Gauge with surprisingly mixed feelings. This is my twelfth play of a cube rails game between Irish Gauge, Ride the Rails, Chicago Express, and now this one. While I appreciate the differences that Iberian Gauge brings, I didn’t quite enjoy it as much as I had hoped or expected, and I’m beginning to see a pattern in these games that may be the answer as to why.
The thing to understand about cube rails games is that while they have a short set of rules (one sheet of paper for this Iron Rail series from Capstone), they are typically quite opaque in their strategies. I’m no stranger to opaque strategies and objectives… Cole Wehrle is one of my favorite designers and he never shies away from making an opaque game. Part of the fun of opaque games is exploring different routes and discovering decisions that aren’t immediately apparent.
What I’ve found with cube rails games is that typically, as you peel back the layers to uncover the optimal strategies hidden beneath, you find that the best way to play is by being shamelessly, brutally savage. This typically takes the form of me acquiring a little bit of stock in a company that you are heavily invested in so I can derail your plans (no pun intended) by sabotaging your resources. I can’t lie, when this sort of opportunity presents itself to me, I gleefully and graciously accept it every time. Those who know me know that I tend to misplace my kindness any time I voyage to a chair at the game table.
The problem with these kind of deliciously evil opportunities in cube rails games is that they are buried beneath the opacity of the gameplay where players can easily miss them. And typically, if I am leading the pack in a particular session because I happen to have the best investments and earnings throughout the game, then I have no incentive to start sabotaging others. This was the case with our first play of Iberian Gauge, and what resulted was something much closer to a cooperative game than a cutthroat bloodbath.
The reason I now recognize this pattern is that we’ve had a similar type of experience with some plays of Ride the Rails. In games where everyone plays nice and nobody recognizes or seizes the opportunity to sabotage, the overall experience ends up far more rote and uninteresting. In a genre where you spend as much time executing financial transactions as you do actually playing the game, more rote is the opposite of what you want.
Seriously, I wouldn’t be surprised if we had at least 200 transactions during our 5-player game of Iberian Gauge. If I’m spending my single build action to lease track from two other companies and construct rail at a new city, then I’m usually paying unique amounts of money to three different places. Toward the end of the game, there will be roughly 25 building turns. That’s 25 transactions that can involve up to 3 or 4 different payments each. On top of that, each building round sees the 5 rail companies paying dividends to up to 5 different players plus their own treasury. So in our final building round, we probably executed over 100 transactions. The previous rounds have less, but there are still 6 total building rounds that require a whole ton of money going back and forth between 11 different sources. This resulted in one of our players (the one who was closest to the money) playing the role of banker first and strategist second. We used Iron Clays (poker chips) instead of the provided card money, so at least that eased the transactional pain a bit.
The other thing I found surprising was that the railroad companies never hurt for money. While there is the chance that a railroad can run low on money and be unable to execute a desired build, that situation never occurred in our friendly play of the game. So there was never much tension or thrill to the game aside from the decision of which rail to buy more stock in, and even that was predictable thanks to our group’s friendly style of play.
I guess what I’m saying is that I see the potential here, I really dig the unique concept of leasing track from other companies so you can leapfrog your builds, but none of this promising potential came to full fruition during our session. The experience you get out of this design appears to quite fragile and highly dependent on the group. Cube rails games are coming to be a tricky genre for me. I believe they’re best played with a group full of vicious barbarians, like myself. On top of that, I must ask myself why I keep playing cube rails games—with their risky range of satisfaction per session—more than the consistently tense and satisfying Age of Steam or Stephenson’s Rocket.
Current Rating: 7/10
After enjoying other hidden gems in Knizia’s catalogue including Orongo, Stephenson’s Rocket, Quo Vadis, and Tajuto, I was predictably eager to give Rheinlander a try. Yet after playing it a couple times at the ideal player counts (4 and 5), I come away more disappointed than anything.
Rheinlander is smooth, simple, clever, and enjoyable as most Knizia designs go. A deck of 54 cards and a matching river board with 54 regions is the springboard from which this area control game jumps. On your turn, you’ll simply a play a number to claim a spot in that numbered region or play any card to spread your influence laterally from where you are already established.
Reiner of course brings a nice fistful of wrinkles to the gameplay to make emergent strategy a joy to explore. You can play on either side of the river, and sometimes even connect an area or “duchy” into one larger region if you get the right card at the right time to play a disc onto the river itself. You can also find the occasional clever opportunity to block an opponent with a well-timed disc or bastion.
The basic idea here is that you are creating your own small pockets of point-scoring areas along a winding track, and your “duchies” slowly begin to collide with other player’s duchies. Conflict results in one player getting their duke ejected from a duchy and scoring a few points for their troubles while the winning opponent tries to retain their territory until the end of the game to score even more points. Certain sites are more valuable than others, depending on how the city, castle, and cathedral tiles come out during setup. Towns score more points, castles strengthen your grip on an area, and cathedrals can help you earn the powerful archbishop which grants the ability to replace opponent discs with your own.
It’s a smart area control system that incentivizes players to establish many small duchies (because each separate duchy you own at the end of the game grants a whopping 5 bonus points), yet smaller duchies are easier targets for your opponents, and this tradeoff is where Rheinlander shines.
Unfortunately, this design feels like it has aged the worst compared to all of the other Knizia games I’ve ever played. Part of that is simply because it’s a victim of being from a highly successful family. Where Rheinlander presents little interesting nuggets of conflict and planning, Tigris & Euphrates or Yellow & Yangtze present those same interesting elements on a comparative platter of brilliant gold. Where Rheinlander starts slow and ends abruptly right as things are getting most interesting, Through the Desert or Babylonia seize you with a death grip from turn one and don’t let go until the end of a fully satisfying game.
The other issue here is that while I enjoy my time with Rheinlander, I’m still not sure who I should be playing this game with. It seems like the competitive challenge would shine best with a group of cutthroat, cold-blooded, calculating gamers, yet the game dresses itself in a light, breezy jacket of luck-of-the-draw that restricts your ability to influence the map. It’s too subtle for most non-gamers and newcomers to sink their teeth into, yet it’s too mild for most hobbyist gamers to crave more of. While many Knizia games are able to expertly straddle this fence and ride it off into the sunset, Rheinlander is more clumsy in its attempt.
I’m still holding out for hope that Reiner revisits this idea—not just with a new coat of paint, but with a generous makeover of the design itself. While the premise is interesting, to me the game lacks a strong personality with a focused target audience. I imagine that’s why it has faded into relative obscurity as its siblings continue to receive love from fans and publishers alike. Then again, perhaps Rheinlander doesn’t need a makeover. Perhaps it served its full purpose as a necessary stepping stone toward many of the great Knizia designs which have been created since its original release in 1999.
Current Rating: 6/10
Prescott, Arizona, is known for being a city where seasoned humans love to settle after a long career. The scenery is vibrant, the climate is pleasant, and the outdoor activities are plentiful. The median age of Prescott is roughly 58 years old, which is dramatically higher than Phoenix (34) or New York City (37). What this means is that Prescott is great for dentistry, as the older you get, the more likely your teeth or mouth will develop problems that need to be addressed. It also means I’ve had the pleasure of discovering and joining a group of retired folks who game together on a weekly basis and love their Euros. It’s uncanny how their tastes in games parallel your stereotypical senior’s preferences in food: They prefer straightforward gaming meals over more complicated combinations of mechanical ingredients, they avoid spicy player interaction, and they gravitate to themes and presentations that are bland and unseasoned. But even if my grandmother prefers a plain McDonalds cheeseburger over a juicy, spicy SmokeShack burger from Shake Shack, that doesn’t mean she can’t appreciate a phenomenal apple pie.
While your typical, modern Euro doesn’t excite me as much as other genres, I find it helpful to explore these designs (both old classic and new hotness) to help me maintain a well balanced gaming diet and a well rounded perspective on the hobby. The hope is that such exploration will make me a better publisher both in terms of project selection and development skills. I’m always surprised to hear when another publisher doesn’t play or explore many games in the industry. How do you know if a designer is pitching a real gem if you have relatively little to compare it to? Yes, perhaps you and your limited pool of playtesters enjoy playing it, but what if it’s merely a weaker version of an existing game that scratches the same itch? Alternatively, what if the game fits in a genre that you don’t absolutely love, but it’s among the best games in that genre that have ever been designed? How do you know the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of your potential product if you don’t understand its market and target audience? Besides, the act of playing published games is as fun as market research gets, so I’ll never understand why certain publishers don’t make time for it.
I digress, but the reason for my ramblings is because my weekly Euro group broke out Mombasa recently and I was keen to understand why this game has been lauded and loathed for its gameplay and theme, respectively. I came into the game relatively blind except for the vague understanding that it is one of Alexander Pfister’s (designer of Great Western Trail, Isle of Skye, Port Royal) most popular games and that it has a controversial theme related to slavery and exploitation.
After a thorough rules explanation, the first thing I found odd is that there were no obvious indicators of thematic insensitivity. On the surface, the game appears to be your standard economic experience of trading banana, coffee, and cotton to acquire shares and strengthen companies. The problem isn’t in the gameplay itself, but more in the setting it uses as its wallpaper; and that problem sneaks under the radar unless you have a better understanding of the history and geography that Mombasa is based in.
If you happen to be the one who reads the rulebook, then you’ll encounter the issue on the very first page:
“In Mombasa, players acquire shares of chartered companies based in Mombasa, Cape Town, Saint-Louis and Cairo and spread their trading posts throughout the African continent in order to earn the most money.
Chartered companies were associations formed for the purpose of exploration, trade and colonization, which links them inextricably to a very dark chapter in human history: global colonialism. This period lasted roughly from the 15th century to the middle of the 20th century and is associated with exploitation and slavery.
Although Mombasa is loosely set within this time frame, it is not a historical simulation. It is a strategy game with an economic focus that roughly refers to historical categories and places them in a fictional setting.
The exploitation of the African continent and its people is not explicitly depicted within the game play.”
As a result, Mombasa has widely been regarded as a game that whitewashes history and dresses the horrors of colonialism in a fictionally positive wardrobe. That’s not to say that the opposite solution is the better option either, where a game like Puerto Rico blatantly features wood tokens as resources that are effectively slaves within the theme. Nor does this mean that all publishers should avoid historically sensitive themes entirely. I’m the equivalent of a buffoon when it comes to my historical knowledge, so you’re not likely to see Bitewing Games venture into these topics with our publications, and anything I say about the theme of Mombasa is precarious at best. But from listening to the historical experts in the gaming industry, my understanding is that games like Mombasa or Puerto Rico don’t give their themes the mechanical depth, respect, and accuracy that such sensitive subjects deserve.
For years, many publishers have used topics such as colonialism in history to have their cake and eat it too. They want all the thematic convenience of attaching historical events to their economic puzzle while insensitively overlooking the human exploitation within the working cogs. This kind of behavior needlessly propagates ignorance in those who aren’t close to the subject material and carelessly evokes pain for those who are. It seems that a more appropriate approach to these topics is to harness the gameplay, emotions, and experience in a way that gives gamers a deeper understanding, appreciation, and reverence for its subject material. For folks who want examples of games that do this well, I hear that An Infamous Traffic, This Guilty Land, The Cost, and Pax Emancipation are a few good examples.
So while Mombasa is fundamentally flawed in its choice of theme, the good news is that it will soon be replaced with a reimplementation titled Skymines, releasing this year. Rather than exploiting 18th century Africa and its inhabitants, you’ll be exploiting a large lifeless rock most commonly known as The Moon. While it will feature some gameplay modifications and modular additions, the design will remain largely the same, so I do find some merit in discussing the playing experience of Mombasa here.
While this is one of Mr. Pfister’s heavier designs, the complexity arises mostly from the long-term planning and strategy of a game which is relatively straightforward in its action and round structure. The objective is to make money, and this can be done through three primary strategies: gain shares in companies while helping them expand, mine diamonds, and… perform bookkeeping?? That last one doesn’t totally compute for me, but it kinda works like a contract fulfillment track. To be honest, all three of these objectives are rather boring and overdone at this point. The real magic of Mombasa’s design lies within the rotating hand mechanism.
Every round you’ll pick a few cards to be your available resources and actions for that round. All players put them facedown and reveal them simultaneously. Then, you’ll take turns flipping one or more of these cards facedown to use them as actions, resources, or gaining influence and shares in a company. Once all players have passed, these used cards are moved above your player board into separate columns where they’ll be stuck there until you select that column to replenish your hand.
The challenge of the game comes in planning out which cards you will use in a round and when you’ll pull a column back into your hand for future use. There are benefits to revealing more of a resource type than your opponents in a given round, and there is also an exciting market of cards where you can purchase stronger opportunities to add to your cycling hand. This design checks all the boxes of engaging players with crunchy resource management, thinky long-term planning, impactful engine building, and meaningful game board interaction.
While Great Western Trail still wins out as my favorite Pfister design, I see a lot of potential within the design of Mombasa and I’m eager to explore it further in the upcoming and more appropriate reimplementation, Skymines.
Current Rating (of the gameplay): 7.5/10
Long Shot: The Dice Game
It’s been nearly a year since our podcast episode where Kyle & I discussed all things Roll & Writes. It was an interesting conversation to have, as Kyle and I had contrasting opinions and preferences on the genre. I’ve grown increasingly tired of them over time, while Kyle finds that they still hit the sweet spot for him and his gaming groups. Yet one thing we could agree on, even back then, was that Long Shot: The Dice Game looked very promising. That’s because this one promised much more player interaction than we’ve ever seen in a roll & write.
We finally got the chance to circle back (no pun intended) to Long Shot when Kyle brought his recently released copy to Arizona Game Fair. It was quickly apparent that Long Shot: The Dice Game is absolutely a hybrid between a racing/betting game like Camel Up or Winner’s Circle and the combo box-marking style of roll & writes. Yet where I already own and love both Camel Up and Winner’s Circle, it’s important that Long Shot distance itself from the pack, otherwise what would be the point?
If Camel Up is on the party end of the spectrum and Winner’s Circle is on the cutthroat strategy end of the spectrum, then Long Shot is somewhere in the middle. I could certainly break it out with a larger, more casual group and get them into it, especially where the roll & write style means that everybody is participating on every turn, but Long Shot also requires way more rules than either Camel Up or Winner’s Circle.
Each player gets their own dry erase sheet with the potential for bets, combos, advantages, and bonuses galore. The eight competing horses also have their own unique abilities which are granted to the player who purchases them during the game. Much like Downforce, you’ll be able to spend money (which equates to points) to purchase one or more horses so that their ability can give you an advantage and their placement of first, second, or third in the race will pay out a big bonus.
On your turn, you’ll simply roll the two dice—one will determine which horse moves, the other will determine how far that horse moves around the track. Every horse card will also trigger the passive movement of one or more other horses; and in a clever use of dry erase cards and markers, players can fill in more boxes on a horse card so that it will trigger even more horses to move along with it.
Long Shot: The Dice Game takes the dubious “roll to move” mechanism and expertly gussies it up with the help of strategic betting and odds manipulation. The biggest payouts come from buying and placing bets on winning horses, but doing so will also put a target on that horse’s back for your opponents to fire at—thus hurting its chances of actually winning.
I find it funny that Long Shot: The Dice Game manages to be the most engaging roll & write I’ve ever played by affixing racing and betting to the genre, yet by doing so it enters an even more crowded genre in my collection. Do I really need another one of these games when I already have Camel Up for large casual groups and Winner’s Circle or Equinox for more cutthroat groups? Perhaps not. But I certainly wouldn’t turn down the chance to play Long Shot: The Dice Game again.
Current Rating: 7.5/10
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Article written by Nick Murray. Outside of practicing dentistry part-time, Nick has devoted his remaining work-time to collaborating with the world’s best designers, illustrators, and creators in producing classy board games that bite, including the upcoming Trailblazers by Ryan Courtney. He hopes you’ll join Bitewing Games in their quest to create and share experiences that, much like a bitewing x-ray, provide a unique perspective and refreshing interaction.