Treasure Island: Captain Silver — Revenge Island
I’ve always appreciated Treasure Island for its thematic treasure hunt style of gameplay where one player acts as Long John Silver who buries his treasure on a massive island and marks the spot with an X on his tiny secret map. Meanwhile, the remaining players are pirates who scour the game board with dry erase markers as they search for the buried treasure and narrow their search with hints, clues, and bluffs from Captain Silver.
The mere act of tracing routes and circling search areas and sectioning off regions with markers on a game board makes Treasure Island a novel experience. Add in the pirate bluffing, semi-cooperation, and devious manipulation, and this design becomes a real winner for me.
That said, this isn’t the type of game that I would want to play on a frequent basis. I think it benefits most from long gaps between plays, and your mileage will vary depending on whether you prefer to be the deducing pirate or the Captain Silver puppet master.
Additionally, most veterans of Treasure Island will tell you that the game board is too saturated and the markers are too weak, leading to difficult-to-read colors and markings on the board. Up to this point, the suggested solution has been to replace the provided markers with neon markers or dry erase Chalk pens, which pop much better on the components.
Fortunately, the expansion amends this issue by including a game board with dimmed colors that make the standard markers stand out perfectly fine. That’s one base game issue solved, and it’s not the only lifestyle improvement this expansion provides.
The expansion also features a sticker for Captain Silver’s player shield that tweaks and improves his movement capabilities for when he escapes his tower in the late game and books it to the treasure. This is a rules tweak that has been suggested by the creators for years, one that we implemented into our plays long ago, but now the expansion makes it official.
Finally, many groups have complained that the game is too easy for pirates and too hard for Captain Silver to win. I’d argue that the difficulty of the game depends heavily on the cleverness of Captain Silver and his chosen bluffs and clues, although there is certainly some luck involved in a game where players spend many actions tracing search circles based solely on gut feelings and probabilities. But designer Marc Paquien and publisher Matagot heard this complaint and addressed it in a way that works for the entire spectrum of skill levels. That’s because they have provided Captain Silver with ruse cards, and he is allowed to use multiple cards or stronger cards depending on the difficulty level that the group decided on at the start of the game. These cards can allow Long John to dodge defeats or throw pirates off the scent of his treasure, buying him a little more time to snatch the victory for himself.
And some of these ruse cards are really spicy. Such as an accomplice card that lets you move the treasure a short distance from where you initially buried it. Or a traitor card that allows you to secretly recruit another player to join your team and cover your tracks by convincing others to search in dead areas.
Aside from these improvements, the only other feature the expansion provides is a second map. This map comes with a couple unique clue cards, a different island layout, and a couple restrictions for pirates. Specifically, pirates are not allowed pass through Urban areas with a move longer than 3 miles; nor are they allowed to do a large search action in any forested terrain. These restrictions are balanced out in what feels like a tighter, smaller game board compared to the original island. That said, I’m not sure if the changes are worth all the extra trouble of having to remind players what they can and can’t do on this board.
All in all, Revenge Island is an expansion that I feel was a worthwhile addition for a game that I enjoy to break out and introduce to people on occasion. Yet at this point, it seems like Matagot should just discontinue the original game and release an updated version that includes all the improvements and additions in a single box. This expansion is simply a bunch of improved replacements with a few extra cards and tokens thrown in for variety. I’ve already tossed the old components and fit everything into the original box, and I think Matagot should too.
Current Rating: 7.5/10
L.L.A.M.A. has been sitting on my shelf long enough that I finally gave in to the temptation of trying it at 2-players, knowing full well that this is likely the worst way to play Reiner Knizia’s 2019 Spiel des Jahres nominated card game. After three plays in a row, my fears were confirmed. I come away from these plays offering what little praise I can muster, specifically: It’s better than UNO.
The game consists of a deck of cards ranging from 1-6 plus llamas, with eight of each card total. Turns are blazingly fast as players must either play a card equal to or one higher than the number displayed on the discard pile, draw a card, or cut their losses and quit the round. Llamas can be played on llamas or sixes, and ones can be played on llamas, thus resetting the cycle.
Just like in UNO, getting rid of cards is great, as cards left in your hand at the end of the round result in negative points according to their face value. Furthermore, you only count each unique card once, so five 3’s in your hand is much better than a hand of 2, 3, and 4. Llamas are the stinkers of the deck, in that they tack 10 negative points onto your score. Yet point chips come in white 1’s and black 10’s, and if you manage to play all the cards in your hand, you end the round and earn the bonus of discarding one chip (black or white) from your score.
The only substantial decision of the game comes when you must decide whether to draw another card to keep your hopes of thinning your hand alive, or cut your losses and quit with the remaining cards in your hand as further dents in your score. If your hand has a lot of duplicates, then quitting can have its benefits… the last opponent still in the round can no longer draw cards, thus they can only play legal numbers from their hand. So I can try to quit early with a decent hand and hope that I’ve left my opponent with an even worse hand that they can’t get rid of.
It’s extremely simple, very luck driven, but again, there’s a least more meat on the bone than UNO. Even then, this is a sad feast for a card game that leaves me wholly unsatisfied, especially having tried it at 2-players. I’m sure that with a few more personalities around the table, things get more lively and decisions slightly more interesting. But such gaming opportunities with others are too few and far between for me to even consider giving L.L.A.M.A such precious tabletop time. The opportunity cost is too great for me to recklessly spend rare gatherings on games that are only mildly amusing at best.
For a game as cheap as L.L.A.M.A, I do find that there is one thread keeping it tethered to my collection… Specifically, five years from now, when I can play it with my wife and our two daughters who will be old enough to understand and enjoy the colorful simplicity of L.L.A.M.A. I can guarantee you that they’ll be deeply familiar with this game long before they’ve ever even heard of UNO.
Current Rating: 4.5/10
Hibachi is a new release from Grail Games that is a reimplementation of 2010’s Safranito by Marco Teubner. Overall, Hibachi is nearly identical to Safranito with a few minor exceptions. It seems that Grail Games has opted to streamline the rules and speed up the gameplay by selecting a standardized setup and flow that keep the game at a more brisk pace of earning ingredients and fulfilling recipes. I haven’t played the original Safranito, but based on my experience with Hibachi and understanding of the differences, I think this new version has the superior ruleset and production.
This game caught my eye on Kickstarter late last year with it’s unique blend of skillful poker chip tossing and tactical sealed-bidding. The objective is to toss poker chips onto a large board, buy or sell the ingredients that your chips land on, and be the first to fulfill three orders using the ingredients you purchase. It’s a race that demands both dexterous prowess and smart budgeting.
The game board is a large square with raised edges to help contain the sliding chips. This board is made up of 9 large circular ingredient spaces, and 4 small bonus action spaces. Players each receive a set of six large, hefty poker chips with a small hole cut out of the center. They take turns throwing one chip at a time facedown onto the board, hoping to get the hole of their chip to stop over a desired space.
I suppose there are different options for how to throw your chip, but most of us opted for a miniature frisbee toss technique. It takes a bit of practice to get the wrist-flick and finger release just right, but we quickly found ourselves landing our chips in the intended spaces roughly 60 or 70 percent of the time. The epic failures are absolutely part of the fun, and seeing a chip end up way too short or far always prompted a lively reaction from the table.
There is certainly the opportunity for opponent screwage, as your sliding poker chip can careen into another well-placed chip and send it far off from where it began. Yet one particularly nice improvement to Hibachi that Safranito lacked is the opportunity to collect a new chili card for each of your poker chips that end up in a dead space. These chili cards can be spent in sets of two to substitute for a single ingredient when fulfilling an order. So even your “invalid” poker chips don’t feel like a total waste. Although another amusing rule here is that when the chili card pile runs out, the player with the most chili cards stashed in their hand must return all of them to the pile, so these wild cards have a frequent “use it or lose it” pressure to them.
But I’d say that the truly spicy mechanism here lies in the sealed bidding. Poker chips range from 1-6, they’ll be flipped face up after the tossing phase is finished, and the player with the highest sum on a space gets exclusive rights to the bonus action or first dibs on the ingredient. The only catch is that the ingredient will cost you the total value of your chips on that space, so you constantly must decide whether to bid high and guarantee yourself one of the precious few ingredients available, or bid low and hope that nobody swoops in and steals your desired card away.
But before the purchasing of an ingredient can happen, players have the opportunity to sell that ingredient from their hand for a price equal to the sum total of all players’ poker chips that are displayed on that space. So when you see loads of chips aiming for the same spot, and you already have one or more ingredients of that type, you’ll find yourself tempted by the lucrative opportunity of selling your hard-earned cards for cash rather than saving them for victory.
The small bonus action spaces are not to be ignored either, as one of these spaces ended up winning me our first game. One space allows you to toss an extra, unused chip from your hand after the tossing phase of a round is finished; this can turn the tide of a round in your favor, assuming your aim is true with the bonus toss. Another space lets you draw as many ingredient cards as the value of the chip thrown so you can keep one in your personal stash. The third space grants you a private recipe card that can be fulfilled at the end of a round and at the same time you fulfill a public recipe; where three fulfilled recipes instantly wins you the game, this is one space that can really give you a competitive edge. Finally, the fourth space lets you steal the “master chef” token (a delightful wooden soy sauce bottle) mid-round, which means that ties and turn-order go in your favor for the buying and cooking phases.
In our first play of Hibachi, my wife, Camille, caught an early lead and was the first to fulfill two recipes. We were fortunate that later rounds were less successful for her and soon all players were tied at a sudden death standoff of two fulfilled recipes each. Suddenly, the soy sauce bottle was the most vital space on the board, as the owner of the bottle would get to fulfill an order first to win the game. Since Camille currently possessed the bottle and I sat to her right, I would be the last player to make a toss onto the board. I managed to knock her own chip off the soy sauce bottle space and replace it with my own, and nobody had a chip on the bonus toss space, meaning I was able to snatch away the bottle and cross the finish line first by default of stolen turn order.
For a novel game that frequently makes you feel both intellectually clever and digitally gifted (and by digital I mean physical fingers ;), I’d say that Grail Games nailed their company mission of breathing new life into a hidden gem.
Current Rating: 8/10
Uwe Rosenberg has yet to disappoint me after all of his designs that I have tried (I’ve now played 7 of his games). Nusfjord doesn’t stray from this pattern of success, yet I’m beginning to see another pattern in Uwe’s design style.
You see, I can’t help but shake the feeling that many of Uwe’s design children merely exist to cannabalize each other. His farming games are overshadowed by his legendary farming games, his polyomino games are crowded out by his better polyomino games. And while most of them are solid experiences in their own right, they all scratch nearly the same itch within their genre.
Why would I play Cottage Garden or Indian Summer when I can instead play Patchwork or New York Zoo? Why would I play Nusfjord when I can instead play A Feast for Odin, Agricola, or Le Havre? Why indeed.
For those who are mega fans of Uwe Rosenberg and his style of game, like I am of Reiner Knizia, these questions are silly and pointless. Why own both Blue Lagoon and Through the Desert? Or both Yellow & Yangtze and Tigris & Euphrates? Or both Babylonia and Samurai? They’re basically all peas in the same pod, right? And you certainly don’t need all six of those tile laying Knizia designs in your collection, right? WRONG. Now get your disgusting insinuations out of my face and leave me and my precious collection alone.
I have no place to judge… I can only speak for myself. My problem is that I own and enjoy both A Feast for Odin and Agricola—both are incredible economic Euros—and I don’t play either of them nearly enough. So when I’m hungry for a meaty Rosenberg game, which again is not nearly as frequent of an occurrence as my Knizia cravings, I’m already forced to decide between two underplayed classics. On top of that, I desperately want to purchase Le Havre, and the urge has been with me for months since I first tried it, yet I haven’t been able to talk myself into it because I already have two underplayed Uwe economic classics. Adding a third one to the mix is just asking for even more sadness and neglect.
All this is to say that I had a great time playing Nusfjord, but I would never proactively choose to play it over the above mentioned Triforce of A Feast for Odin, Agricola, and Le Havre. Regardless, let’s talk a little bit about what still makes Nusfjord, the overshadowed younger sibling, a joy to play.
Do you like fish? How about little blue fish meeples? How about a pile of a hundred of them?!? Now we’re talking.
Nusfjord is all about clearing trees, building a harbor, and being a fisherman in Norway. Just like any good economic Rosenburg, the worker placement gameplay is tight & interconnected while the cards are varied and plentiful.
The standout aspect of this design in particular (besides the oodles of fish) is perhaps the opportunity to sell and buy shares of each other’s fishing companies. Selling shares will instantly earn you ever-precious money, but buying shares will nab you more fish from those players’ nets for the rest of the game. The fish in this game are just as oily as fish in real life, keeping your economy smooth and flowing from one upgrade to the next.
While you’ll only ever get to use three workers each round, you’ll open up more opportunities and bonuses for using them with the help of local elders and erected buildings that you’ll add to your personal board. Elders act as private, extra worker placement spaces that you’ll need to keep feeding in order to use them. Buildings function as point and resource generators that can also improve your standard action options.
It’s a well-balanced sandbox of economic efficiency entertainment, something that Mr. Rosenburg has practically trademarked at this point, although Nusfjord is perhaps a bit more easy-going and luck-influenced than average. Cards emerging from the decks and from under other cards can have a massive effect on the outcome of the game. Major scoring objective cards are randomly dealt out in the late game, and it’s possible for one player to end up with a useless hand just as easily as a game winning one. This is probably most people’s main complaint about the game.
At the end of the day, Nusfjord is still miles better than most of the resource exchanging Euros that have flooded the market. Its only problem is that it will forever live in the shadow of its older, more interesting siblings. As it’s supposed to last only 20 minutes per player, I hear that it’s particularly good as a fast 1-3 player game. So perhaps there is hope for this game yet…
Current Rating: 7/10
5 Classic Games—Lightning Round
I’m still waiting for some delayed preorders to show up, so that’s all I have (this time) for impressions of new-ish games. But I’ve been playing loads of classics lately, so let’s do a lightning round featuring some of these…
1 Play of 4 Games (Scores added together)
Wildlife Safari is not my favorite Knizia filler, but it’s definitely one of his better dead simple card games (I would play this over L.L.A.M.A., Whale Riders: The Card Game, Modern Art Card Game, etc.).
Simply play an animal card (number 0-5) and take any animal token. The game ends once all animal cards of one type have been played, and the last card played of each animal determines the scoring value of their matching tokens!
While I didn’t feel I had as much control over the game state as I tend to prefer in these types of games, it’s still a thrill to invest in certain animals, influence their values, and save a juicy card for a final boom or bust.
Current Rating: 7/10
I’m a big fan of Paolo Mori’s work (we even had another great session of Ethnos this past week), but Libertalia feels its age in board game years. The gameplay of simultaneously selecting a card to bid for token drafting order was merely ok for me. I get the appeal starting with the same hands and having unused cards carry over from one campaign to the next, but I still don’t think the design merits the length it took to play. I would have much preferred to play a faster 2-campaign game or 3 speedier campaigns.
It seems as though the game possesses a variety of reasons to keep you coming back for more, but then it blows most of it’s surprises in one play and overstays its welcome by a lot. I realize this one is still ranked in the top 500 on BGG, but I think Ethnos and Dogs of War wipe the floor with Libertalia.
Current Rating: 5.5/10
Blue Moon Legends
I’ve been wanting to talk about Reiner Knizia’s famous Blue Moon Legends for a while now, but this is one meaty game that I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of. We’ve merely dipped our toes in the shallow end of the pool so far, sticking to the two recommended starting decks. Where I haven’t even jumped into the advanced rules or decks yet, I doubt I could offer much valuable input here.
But regarding our first couple plays, I’ve found Blue Moon Legends to be a tight, engaging game of chicken featuring a very Knizian flow of battles in the form of auctions. I’m not a fan of the artwork, and it is all the more disheartening to hear that a publisher nearly produced a new version (one that would presumably have more imaginative illustrations), but I’ll take what I can get at this point.
For those who enjoy diving deep into dueling games such as Summoner Wars, Magic: The Gathering, or other Living/Collectable Card Games, this might be a great option for you. On the other hand, Blue Moon is probably much more streamlined and subtle than what many CCG/LCG fans have come to expect from the genre, so I could see them coming away disappointed instead of delighted. I think this game is likely best for people who become intimately familiar with the decks where they can fully mine its tactical richness.
Current Rating: 8/10
Bohnanza is a solid, accessible negotiation game, and you could certainly do much worse for a gateway card game, but I find that Chinatown & Quo Vadis scratch the same itch in roughly the same time much better. Both games offer more lively and interesting negotiations, more strategic flexibility, more tension, more drama, and they are equally accessible gateway games.
I suppose the main thing that Bohnanza has to its advantage is its wider player count and much kinder gameplay (in groups where that matters).
I think the art is better than people give it credit for (particularly the bean illustrations), but perhaps the core color palette (neon yellow) could be more… palatable. I also appreciate the novelty and pressure of the unadjustable hand sequencing—this is perhaps the most clever and interesting aspect of Bohnanza.
On the flip side, my least favorite part is how hosed you can feel when the game ends before you’ve had an equal number of turns. The only thing that counteracts this significant advantage is that ties go in your favor, but that’s little consolation when you had a couple cards in hand ready to score you more points on your turn.
As there are both faster card games and meatier negotiation games in my collection, I just don’t see this one getting played very often. At the same time, I’m reluctant to get rid of it, because I agree that it’s something special and worth breaking out every once in a while.
Current Rating: 6/10
Tower of Babel
I hate nearly everything about the look and production of this game, and the theme doesn’t do much for me either, but Knizia is onto something here with the design. We ignored the unsanctioned special/action cards as others have suggested and stuck with the pure Euro goodness of contributing building cards to wonder construction and competing for the most contributions.
I like how quickly Tower of Babel plays and how it keeps players active throughout. I dig the offering mechanism with the interesting wrinkles of adding a trade card to your offer or gaining points for rejected offers.
On your turn, you’ll simply propose a wonder to progress the construction on and select one of the discs at that wonder to be both the building requirement and the scoring bonus of your turn. Your opponents can simultaneously offer matching cards from their hand, and you have the freedom accept any of their offers and/or add cards from your own hand. The catch is that you must accept every card in an opponent’s accepted offer, meanwhile rejected opponents score points for every card they offered. Indeed, rejection has never felt so good as it does here in Reiner Knizia’s Tower of Babel.
If your opponent adds a trade card to their offer, and you accept it, then they’ll get to keep the end-game scoring disc (instead of you) from a successful construction, but you’ll get to place your color of pieces instead of theirs for even more control of that particular wonder.
I think currently, part of me wishes there was more to earning the disc tokens than simply hiding them for set points at the end. But perhaps with more plays the layers will peel back and I’ll be fully satisfied with this aspect.
For those who enjoy uncovering hidden Knizia gems, I’d say this one is worthy of your radar. But I’d love to see this game get a full makeover where Dr. Knizia expands on the concept and the publisher makes it look like anything else besides this (I say this knowing full well that Tower of Babel was reimplemented into Planet Rush in 2016… but from the sound of it, most people prefer Tower of Babel).
Current Rating: 7/10
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. 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.