Art Robbery

3 Plays

I’m both amused and baffled by Reiner Knizia’s spicy new card game, Art Robbery.  Amused because its a delightful game of double-layered thievery—a group of art thieves are fighting over their spoils like two jealous toddlers snatching away whatever toy is in the other’s hand.  Baffled because Art Robbery successfully entertains me while sounding eerily similar to another game which I loathe—Cover Your Assets.

In both Art Robbery and Cover Your Assets, players each have a hand of cards that dictates what they’ll be able to claim or steal.  If I have a coveted 5 card (or gold card) in my hand, I can play that card to steal the 5 (or gold) sitting on display in your possession.  With Cover Your Assets, this mechanism feels like a brainless gotcha game of slap-happy take-that.  With Art Robbery, this mechanism reveals itself to be far more calculated, clever, and engaging.

Upon closer inspection, there are some subtle but critical differences between Art Robbery and Cover Your Assets that dictate why I enjoy the former and avoid the latter.  In Cover Your Assets, a player’s personal stash is always subject to robbery from start to finish.  While you can stack more sets on your stash to protect the sets that are buried deeper, I’ve seen plenty of times where somebody’s entire stash was wiped clean in only a few short rounds because opponents had the perfect card to steal whatever was currently on top.  Meanwhile with Art Robbery, the game is broken up into four rounds where your current goodies are locked in and off limits from thievery the moment the round ends.  Immediately, one game has an important sense of progress and permanence while the other carelessly embraces chaos and frivolous luck.

The next essential ingredient to Art Robbery’s success is the emphasis on timing.  Because each round has a clear ending enshrouded in the mystery of who will trigger it, players must decide when they will pull the trigger and claim or steal a token in hopes of it remaining in their possession until the round end.  If you sit on your best cards and wait too long to retrieve a token, then the round can suddenly end without you putting your hand to good use.  The good news is that your hand does carry over from one round to the next, which provides another layer of long-term planning and hand management.

The rules are simple: play a card to take the matching token from the center supply.  If there is no matching token in the center supply, take it from an opponent instead.  Once the center supply is empty, the round is over and each player locks in the tokens they’ve claimed that round.  As always, the game has a few brilliant Knizia twists including alibis.  Certain tokens (mostly the lower valued ones) have dots on them that each represent an alibi.  At the end of the game, the player(s) with the fewest alibis is immediately eliminated from victory, regardless of their point total.  On top of that, there are a few more unique cards that let you claim a guard dog to act as a buffer for your stash, take any token from the center supply, or claim a boss tile that only scores you points if you pair it with another high value tile.

While the first round of the first game made Art Robbery seem almost as shallow as Cover Your Assets, with tokens quickly bouncing from one owner to another like a pinball ricocheting between bumpers, over time the Knizian layers began to peel back and reveal subtle strategies beneath this chaos.  

For example, if I have multiple fours in my hand, then I can snatch a four early in the round knowing that I have another card ready to steal it back if needed.  If I sit on this five until there are only a couple tokens left in the supply, then the odds are that I’ll be able to steal and keep the five through the end of the round.  If the opponent to my left is sitting on a fat stack of points this round, then they are going to want to end the round quickly, so I better make my move before the round ends or steal from that player to dissuade them from ending the round too soon.  If one player is dominating everyone else by raking in the best point tokens, then it’s up to everyone else to keep the alibis away from them so that they get eliminated at the end of the game.

It’s not the deepest card game out there, but Art Robbery does hit the spot in terms of quick simplicity and clever thievery.

Current Rating: 7.5/10

Twice As Clever

1 Play

I’m about to break the publisher’s code and share a secret with the world that has been eating away at me for far too long… the secret?  Game boxes are a lie.  A whole cornucopia of lies, in fact.  

Is the bean trading game for 2-7 players, Bonanza, really a worthwhile 2 player game?  Of course not.  Can Catacombs actually be won in only 60 minutes?  I doubt it.  Is Twice as Clever really TWO TIMES as clever as That’s Pretty Clever?  No, silly.  I suppose these examples and hundreds more make us publishers a bunch of pathological liars.  But at least our lies are pasted onto boxes of fun (usually).

In the case of Twice as Clever, perhaps a more accurate title would have been “Slightly More Clever, Probably” or “Roughly as Clever as the Last One.”  This standalone sequel doesn’t reinvent the roll & write wheel of combotastic bonuses, but it does approach That’s Pretty Clever’s design style with enough interesting twists to feel fresh and different from the original.  Twice as Clever manages to turn some original tracks on their head.  It also conjures some novel new tracks—ways to apply dice results while exploring the tension between immediate bonuses and end-game scoring.

One of the best aspects of the “Clever” roll & write series remains the tough decision of which dice to draft and which ones to serve up on a silver platter to your opponents.  If you’re a fan of That’s Pretty Clever, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t take a stab at its younger sibling (note: Bitewing Games does not condone the stabbing of siblings).

Current Rating: 7/10


2 Plays

I’m always keen to discover hidden gems in the hobby that have been forgotten or overlooked.  And if you’re wondering where the best place is to start digging for gold, you’d be hard pressed to find a better mine than Reiner Knizia’s ludography.

Orongo is one such “hidden gem” that many Knizia enthusiasts have mentioned, and its history explains a lot about why it ended up in this state.  When this Easter Island game was originally released at Spiel 2014 by Ravensburger, it sort of landed flat on its face due to production decisions.  Tiles blend in too much with the board (making them hard to find), the Moai statues are easily toppled like dominoes waiting to be nudged, the bingo chips give off an aura of… bingo chips, and the sea shells are supposed to rest on board spaces but often prefer to roll across the table.  Add all this together and players can quickly become annoyed with the experience and distracted from the design.

So it seems that the gameplay of Orongo certainly hasn’t gotten a fair shot at attention and acclaim.  Despite all these production missteps, our experience with the design was a pleasant surprise.  This one finds Knizia in his comfort zone with a crisp blend of auctioning and tile placement.  Each round, new tiles are added to the board, and players participate in a closed auction to determine how many of their markers they’ll get to add to the board and who will get to place them first.  The objective is to connect compatible tiles with each other and with coastal palm spaces.  Once you’ve made a proper connection using your markers, you’ll get to place a Moai statue on the board.  The first person to place all their Moai statues, plus the final ceremonial Moai, is the winner.

So Orongo is a race to erect your statues while wisely managing your shell economy.  In classic Knizian fashion, the tile placement mechanism is highly interactive and the auction is not without its twists.  The highest bidder always loses their bid to the reef space; they do get the privilege of placing three markers and doing it first, but it comes at a cost.  The second highest bidder gets to keep their bid and place two markers, so sometimes that can be the better deal.  Every other bidder also keeps their bid and places one marker, unless a player bids zero shells. Any time a player bids zero shells in a round, they don’t get to place any markers, but they do get to replenish their shell supply with whatever ended up in the reef from the highest bidder of this round (and possibly previous rounds).  The problem is that if multiple people bid zero, then they all have to split the spoils!

The beautiful thing about Orongo is that as new tiles come out onto the board and players invest in different opportunities, the challenge of the game becomes hyper-focused on opponent prediction.  If you can accurately predict what spaces your rivals want and how badly they want them, then you’ll be able to harness their behavior to your advantage.  Divining when to bid high, how high to bid, and when to bid zero are critical to success.  And then claiming the best spaces for yourself while blocking your opponents from essential areas will give you the best chance of victory.

Even if each play is riddled with a few pesky moments of toppling statues and rolling shells, the game is packed with Knizian tension that is bursting out of every minute of its lightning fast 40-minute playtime.  You won’t see these minor annoyances keep me from getting Orongo to the table for plenty more thrilling sessions.

Current Rating: 8/10

Bear Raid

2 Plays

Of the three games that publisher Board Game Tables launched in a bundle on Kickstarter last year, Bear Raid was the game that most caught my eye.  Of course it helped that they recruited artist Nick Nazzaro to do the stylish box cover and player screens which add vibrancy to an otherwise highly transactional experience.  Beyond that, I’ve enjoyed Ryan Courtney’s other designs (to the point of publishing his next puzzly pipey game, Trailblazers), and I had the impression that Bear Raid could be another game in the same vein as The Estates—a cutthroat romp of calculated savagery.

My first two plays of Bear Raid have confirmed that hunch and delighted me with the tactical possibilities.  Ryan has called this design his take on a “party game,” but this definitely isn’t your stereotypical game for parties.  This fills a more specific niche of being a thinky party-style game for hobbyist gamers and/or wistful investors.  There are still dramatic moments of luck featuring sighs of relief and groans of pain, but that is all intermingled with a heaping of careful computations.  While a cold-blooded tension lurks underneath, Bear Raid is delightfully coated in a playful personality of shared incentives and tongue-in-cheek flavor.  The companies are shamelessly titled things such as “GameStart” and “Nile” and “Banana” and “Edison,” while the forecast cards feature a wide range of events from Internet Memes to CEO Scandals.

Players are on the hunt for the most profitable ventures, and after a specific number of rounds you’ll cash in your stocks, pay back your shorts, and determine which player is wealthiest.  Shorting stocks is ironically the most confusing concept for newcomers yet simultaneously the most delicious mechanism to explore.  Essentially the way it works is you sell stocks you don’t technically own (based on the company’s current stock value) for instant cash with the promise of paying back those stocks based on their end-game value.  This incentivizes shorting players to gang up on those companies and, like a twisted puppet-master, guide them toward destructive bankruptcy.  If a company goes bankrupt, then you’ll be free of your shorted debts while invested players lose all their stock in that company.

Like the best tug-of-war games, Bear Raid makes friends of enemies and enemies of friends depending on how each player interacts with each company.  When the snaking turn order gets around to you, you’ll have four options for spending your turn wisely: buy stock in a single company, short stock in a single company, take dice from the available pool of a single company, or add up to three dice to the rumors card.

The dice, and how you can interact with them, are the keystone that holds this design together.  Each company has eight dice in its pool, yet those can either be sitting out influencing the stock change (based on their rolled value), hiding in the draw bag waiting to be pulled, or tucked away behind a player’s screen to be withheld or released as that player pleases.  After each action phase, plays can dump dice into the draw bag, but importantly, they can only hoard up to 5 dice behind their screen during this step.  Then 12 dice are rolled and added to the companies—any guaranteed dice on the rumor card plus the remaining of the 12 randomly drawn from the bag.  The sum of each company’s dice will move a tracking cube along a forecast card, and this usually results in a stock increase or decrease to the delight or dismay of each player.

While there are a few highs in Bear Raid of seeing your invested stock soar in value or your shorted stock plummet toward bankruptcy, more often you’ll feel like you’re taking an unending beating from both the dice and your opponents.  But just like The Estates, giving each other one smack down after another is kind of the whole point—it’s hilariously painful and mercilessly entertaining.  On top of that, Ryan Courtney fans will still get their AP-inducing fix as they try to navigate the best maneuvers through the varied forecast cards and dice manipulation opportunities. 

I wouldn’t call Bear Raid a game for everyone.  It’s pure stocks and shorts to its core with a hearty dose of nasty interaction in a tense tactical game that tends to go far longer than its forecasted 60 minutes.  You’ll also have to be constant and vigilant to help remind each other to adjust your stock/short trackers behind your screen where there is still the possibility of accidental (or intentional) errors.  Meanwhile, folks who can better track and remember the previous actions of their opponents will have a definite advantage at the table.  But despite its more niche appeal, I find myself well within the target audience for this game and loving every minute of it.

Current Rating: 8/10

Ghosts of Christmas

1 Play

We managed to play Ghosts of Christmas the day after Valentines Day, so that’s something.  Actually, the game does contain a heart suit which just so happens to be the trump suit of this trick-taker, so if you’re going to have a festive session of Ghosts of Christmas then Valentines isn’t the worst time to break it out.

Actually, I’d argue that there is never really a bad time to whip out Ghosts of Christmas, despite it being themed after A Christmas Carol.  The reason for that is because this card game offers a clever twist on trick taking by allowing players to play three tricks out of order—into the past, present, and future—before resolving them in order.  If I start a round by playing a candle suit into the future, then players must play a candle suit into the future if they have one, otherwise they can play any card suit, as is common in trick taking.  But they can also ignore the future for now and fill in the past and/or present first.

So the first time any player plays the first card in a time period, that sets the lead suit for everyone in that period.  What makes things interesting is that you can use other time period slots to drain your hand of a suit so you no longer have to play that suit into a time period that has already been set.  On top of that, the lead suit during the playing phase is often different from the scoring suit during the scoring phase—the ‘scoring suit’ being the suit that determines who wins the trick.

You see, whoever has Mr. Scrooge’s top hat will determine how tricks get scored during the scoring phase.  The past trick is resolved first, and the highest number of the scoring suit takes the trick.  The winner of that trick now claims the top hat, and whatever they played into the present becomes the scoring suit of that trick.  Likewise, the winner of the present sets the scoring suit of the future trick.  If you’re clever enough, you can manage to set yourself up for easy trick wins by playing different suits from your opponents and keeping control of the hat.

The catch is that the heart suit trumps all, including the scoring suit, so heart cards are always the best ones to have in your hand, right?  Not necessarily.  After players are dealt their hand of 12 cards each, and before playing 4 rounds of 3 tricks each (past, present, and future), players must wager how many tricks they’ll win with their hand, and if they want to score any points, they must hit that wager with exactness.

But being that precise across 12 wonky tricks is, you guessed it, tricky.  That’s why you’ll play as many hands as there are players, so you can certainly bust in one or more hands and not be totally out of it.  But that’s also why your wager comes in the form of taking purple or red door tokens.  Each purple door token you take represents a trick you must win in order to score anything this hand.  But you can also take an additional, single red door to give yourself a little more wiggle room.  Each trick you win earns you a wreath to place on an empty door, and you don’t have to cover the red door to score points for your wreaths.  But, the final stroke of brilliance to the game comes in the fact that taking a red door—whether you wreath it or not—will cut your wreath points in half.  Each wreath will only score you one point instead of two.

And so each hand goes: Deal 12 cards, make your wager at how many tricks you’ll win, and then claw your way to the precise amount of wreaths you need before slamming the breaks and dodging every trick victory after that.  And of course, do your best to sabotage your opponents by making them overshoot or undershoot their wagers.

There are plenty of trick taking games out there that offer a similar style of precise wagering on trick wins.  So Ghosts of Christmas mainly stands out with its past/present/future conceit.  Some will understandably worry that this concept is too complex for folks who aren’t trick-taking experts, but I disagree.  We successfully introduced the game to two non-gamers who only had a vague idea of trick taking.

I think the key to teaching Ghosts of Christmas is to first explain the rules of standard trick taking, then explain the twist in this design, then play a single practice round (deal three cards to each player) to demonstrate how things play out through the playing and scoring phases.  After that, we had no problem tossing them into the deep end with door bidding and all.  Our play of the game was competitive, too.

Ultimately, Ghosts of Christmas has earned itself a spot in our collection.  I like a solid trick taker, and while this one isn’t my absolute favorite of the bunch, it’s one that I could see us breaking out as a yearly Christmas tradition thanks to its cozy theme and clever twist.

Current Rating: 7/10

Factory Funner

3 Plays

After my first play of Factory Funner (the updated version just barely released by Board Game Tables dot com) It didn’t take me long to be reminded of Calico—the popular puzzly game of quilts and cats from the hotness of 2020.

Calico is one that remains a strong favorite for many gamers.  Yet it’s a box that I quickly passed on from my collection after only three plays—like a new pet owner who quickly regretted his decision after having to constantly feed a hungry mouth, clean a smelly litter box, and deal with a moody animal.  The main problem was that by my third play of Calico, I felt there was nothing new for me to discover or overcome.  I had found my optimal strategy for the game and there was nothing within the system (and certainly no form of player interaction) that would push me out of my comfort zone into interesting new experiences.

The interesting part about all of this is that Factory Funner is in many ways a similar style of game to Calico, yet it is one that I plan to keep around much longer.  In both games, players have a personal hex board where they’ll be puzzling out the optimal way to add tiles to its spaces.  Each turn consists of drafting a tile that will be added to an increasingly tighter player area.  What starts as hope and ease quickly turns to pain for current options and regret at past decisions.  Factory Funner even now includes a “No Speed Required Variant” where the drafting mechanism is structured the exact same way as Calico; but the standard, real-time drafting mechanism (and the rest of the game, really) is where Factory Funner diverges from Calico.

In each of the 8 rounds of Factory Funner, players start by revealing machine tiles equal to the number of players.  Every player will get one tile, but the options are first come, first serve.  The first player to snatch a machine that looks like the best fit for their own board will take 1 penalty point, and the last player to get stuck with the leftover tile will earn a bonus point and can choose to not even use the machine with no added penalty.  Everyone else must either fit their machine onto their board or lose two points for being too trigger-happy.

Once a machine is added to a board, it can never be adjusted or relocated.  But the thing that really puts the “funner” in Factory Funner comes from the ability to rearrange everything else on your board every single round, and the fact that this flexibility comes with a cost.  

Each machine will come with input and output requirements: put in two units of green on this side, two of yellow on this side, and output three red on that side… that kind of thing.  Each player starts with a supply reservoir of each color—a bottomless vat of vibrant goop that can be connected to the matching inputs of machines.  There are also 154 connector tiles of various shapes and bends that can be snaked across your board and even criss-crossed with each other.  Finally, there are output reservoirs that you’ll have to connect your machine outputs to if you can’t efficiently connect one or more machine’s output to one or more’s input.

But efficiency is the name of the game here.  While you’re welcome to remove connectors and reservoirs from your board for free, every time you add a piece to a space, you’ll lose yourself a point.  Placing a machine will grant you the amount of points that it displays on the tile, but that might be a bad machine for your board if it costs more new connector and reservoir tiles than it is worth.  Fortunately, it feels extra good to connect the matching colored inputs and outputs of different machines because doing so will grant you significant bonus points at the end of the game.

Fuse this tense spatial flexibility with real-time machine drafting and Factory Funner provides an engaging roller coaster of emotions from start to finish.  You’ll feel like a an evil genius when you snatch a valuable machine from the table before your opponents, and then you’ll feel like a complete fool when you realize that the colors on the machine are oriented in the opposite way from what your board needs.  Your heart will drop to the pit of your stomach as you can’t find a single possible way to fit your latest machine onto your board, but then the lightbulb moment comes where you finally crack the code and you are back to being a spatial genius as everything fits nicely onto your board and you scrape out another profitable turn.

It’s a blast of a puzzly 30 minute session, yet it’s also true that Factory Funner has barely any more player interaction to it than Calico.  So what’s my beef with Calico?  Am I just one of those icy-hearted people who has something against cozy quilts and cuddly cats?  Maybe it’s true.  I certainly don’t enjoy dandruff or constant sneezing.  And quilting was never my forte. But after giving it some thought, I think there’s a deeper reason why one game clicks for me while the other does not.

When it comes this hobby, my standard preference is for a high interaction experience where I can game the other folks at the table.  But, if I can’t play against my opponents, at least let me play against my ego.  Much like a wily fellow human with a mind of their own, my ego is a constantly morphing specimen that I must wrestle with.  This waltz between pride and sensibility, greed and reservation, glory and safety is one that becomes particularly potent in games of push-your-luck.  For those designs that bring it to the forefront, including Factory Funner, this internal struggle has proven to be a satisfying substitute to the void of longevity that multiplayer solitaire and low-interaction designs leave.

Current Rating: 7.5/10

Pickomino Deluxe / Heckmeck Deluxe

3 Plays

Pickomino/Heckmeck is among Knizia’s best selling games of all time (at least according to Board Game Geek stats), so it’s about time that a shameless Knizia fan like myself got around to trying it.  The nice thing about the “Deluxe” version is that it uses weighty components and includes the solid expansion.

Pickomino is exactly the type of light, push-your-luck, Knizia filler that I’ve been exploring lately with the likes of Excape (Rapido), L.A.M.A. Dice, Family Inc., and more.  After trying all these games within the span of a few months, it has become blatantly obvious that Reiner is a master of these simple, family-friendly luck-fests.  I’m typically the type of gamer who runs and hides from relatively mindless games such as Uno, Phase 10, Yahtzee, Cover Your Assets, and the like, so it should come as a huge compliment to Dr. Knizia’s designs that I am happy and proactive about getting these alternatives to the table.

Pickomino is simply another great example as to why his games have a magical appeal to them over similar competitors.  Here, you’ll be taking turns rolling 8 dice in an effort to claim a precious domino that contains game-winning worms.  With your dice, you’ll need to roll the domino’s number or higher to claim it from the central “grill,” or you can try to steal a domino from the top of another player’s stash by rolling the sum of its exact value.

The thing that makes Pickomino far more interesting than mindless dice rolling is that after each roll, you must choose a number (or the worms) to lock in.  Whatever you choose, all the dice that show your chosen number (or worms) can then no longer be re-rolled, and you cannot choose that value again when locking in your other dice in later rolls.  On top of that, rolling worms is essential because you need at least one die with a worm result in order to not bust, and the worms rolled are worth a whopping five points each toward your domino drafting options.

Whenever you choose to stop rolling, you’ll then claim a compatible domino based on your results.  But if you push-your-luck too far and roll results that only match dice that you’ve locked in, then your turn is over and you lose your top precious domino back to the central “grill.”  

So if you start your turn rolling two valuable worms, you’ll be tempted to keep them.  But if you lock in the two worm dice and then roll four more worms with your remaining six dice on your next roll, then you’ll quickly find yourself sliding down the path of regret toward an inevitable mid-life crisis.  Of course, that can also happen if you don’t keep the two worms and then never roll another worm for the rest of your turn.  While luck of the dice ultimately reigns supreme, your decisions still feel impactful as you anxiously determine which values to lock in, which dice to re-roll, and when to stop rolling.

The included expansion really hits the spot for me, because it gives you a strong incentive to keep multiple value-1 dice results (by rewarding you with a victory point known as a bratworm!), and it keeps rotating powers jumping between players and the low-value dominos.  Best of all, the game + expansion is still easy to teach to non-gamers (the main type of folks I would play this one with).

I believe where Pickomino suffers the most is in two ways:

  1. It seems like higher player counts could be far too sluggish
  2. There always seems to be one player who gets completely wrecked by Lady Luck

Fortunately, Pickomino is a relatively quick one with 2-4 players, so I don’t foresee any major obstacles to our enjoyment of the game as long as we stick to that short and sweet spot.

Current Rating: 7/10

Libertalia: Winds of Galecrest

2 Plays

To tell the truth, I did not expect to be buying another title from Stonemaier Games, especially so soon after having my fill of Scythe and Wingspan, growing weary of Tapestry, losing interest in Pendulum, and completely bouncing off of Red Rising.  There’s nothing necessarily wrong with these games, it simply felt like my tastes and their offerings were diverging further apart.  That is until the head of Stonemaier, Jamey, announced Libertalia: Winds of Galecrest—an updated design from one of my favorite creators, Paolo Mori—and he suddenly had my attention again.

But even then, I had actually tried the original Libertalia for the first time ever last year and thought it was ok at best.  My main gripes were that the design seemed to age poorly in terms of game length, graphic design, tiebreaker resolutions, strategic depth, and so on.  Lo and behold, Winds of Galecrest was revealed along with what appeared to be smart solutions to all of the problems I had with the original game.  So despite my primal instincts warning me to stay away, I couldn’t help but give Stonemaier Games and Libertalia another chance.  In the timeless words of Aragorn: “For Paolo.”  …or Frodo.  Why not both?

Anyway, I’ve been pleased to discover that Winds of Galecrest lives up to its promise in being an evolved and improved version of Libertalia.  Not only that, but it is perhaps the most un-Stonemaier-like game in their entire product lineup.  Against Stonemaier’s usual tropes and their stated tenets of game design, Winds of Galecrest is inorganically round/phase-based and highly interactive to the point of potential hostility.  Indeed, it appears that Jamey Stegmaier is willing to make exceptions to his carefully crafted brand when it involves a favored classic—and thank goodness for that!

Despite the many changes, tweaks, and additions that have occurred between Libertalia and Winds of Galecrest, it’s clear to me that Jamey and Paolo understood the strengths of this design and kept its spirit vibrant while breathing new life into its old bones.  Some folks are getting so hung up on the subjective art makeover from gritty Pirates of the Caribbean to colorful anthropomorphic sky pirates that they’re completely missing the objective improvements under the hood.  Fortunately, Jamey makes it blatantly easy for us to see the changes with a Publisher’s Note on the last page of the rulebook:

  • Character card variety is increased by a whopping 33%.  
  • Loot token abilities can be explored and modified to the group’s preferences for gentler effects, nastier effects, or a mix of the two.  
  • The game length has been nicely shortened with each voyage ramping up in length and complexity.  
  • Arbitrary tiebreaker numbers within player decks have been replaced with a deliciously dynamic reputation track.  
  • A surprisingly solid 2-player mode has been introduced as well as a solo mode for those interested.
  • The game board and graphic design are aesthetically basic yet fully functional and much clearer than the original production.  
  • In other words, literally everything that has been changed about the gameplay itself feels like a huge step-up for me.

I prefer stylish and creative art styles over ones that feel like a blatant rip-off of a major IP (Pirates of the Caribbean), so I even prefer this new art style to the original.  Does that mean I think the Winds of Galecrest is the most beautifully illustrated game ever?  No.  But I dig its personality, it still feels like a pirate game, and I find it to be a swashbucklingly good time with me hearties.  Anyone that reflexively claims the original is the better game might want to put down their rose-tinted spyglass.

An important change to re-emphasize here is the Reputation track.  One worry I had coming into Libertalia 2.0 is that it would still feel overly chaotic and random at the expense of strategy, particularly at higher player counts.  In both editions of Libertalia, players are simultaneously selecting a card from their hand, revealing it, and then resolving the day phase abilities in one direction before resolving the dusk abilities and loot token drafting in the other direction.  My one experience with this system in the original game (at 4 players) felt a little too slap-stick random for my tastes, especially with the arbitrary tiebreaker numbers on cards resolving frequent ties.  With Winds of Galecrest, I can’t reiterate enough how the Reputation track is an absolute game changer.

Both ends of the Reputation spectrum have their benefits.  On the low end, you get to start each of the 3 voyages with more doubloons than your opponents (and doubloons convert to points!); you also get to trigger your day abilities first when tied with another player.  On the other end, ties go in your favor when determining who gets to draft a precious loot token first.  What makes this Reputation track really fun is how you can manipulate your position on it throughout the game with the effects of character cards and loot tokens.

Specific cards and abilities reward you for being at one end of the track or the other at precisely the right time.  This jockeying between rival Reputation tokens fills the gaping strategic void that I had found in old Libertalia.  In my second play of The Winds of Galecrest (this one at 4 players), I traveled the whole spectrum of Reputation thanks to intentional planning on my part and on the part of my opponents.  There were more than a few times where Reputation made all the difference in my ability to snatch the perfect loot token right out from under my opponents’ noses, and that made my experience all the more satisfying.

After my first two plays, I’m mightily impressed with what Paolo Mori and Stonemaier Games have managed to do with a 10-year-old design.  They took a game I was lukewarm about and turned it into one that I love.  Not only is The Winds of Galecrest one of the best reimplementations I’ve ever seen, but it might end up being one of my favorite releases of 2022.

Current Rating: 9/10

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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.

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