In this video, Dave and Chris discuss this lower player count version of Ticket to Ride. They share insights and discuss strategies for the game
Game: Visitor in Blackwood Grove
Designer: Mary Flanagan, Max Seidman
Players: 3-6 Players
Playtime: 5-15 Minutes
Play Type: Deduction/ Hidden Information
On a dark night in the small town of Blackwood Grove, the peace is disturbed by a sudden crash. Luckily only the Kid is around to see the chaos unfold. Government agents rush to the scene to try to get to the UFO, but there is a force field around it. The Kid and the Alien must build trust to help make a speedy escape before the Agents figure out how to work around the force field.
In Visitor in Blackwood Grove players will take on one of three roles, either the Kid, the Visitor or one of the Government Agents. The Visitor and the Kid are working together to be solve the mystery. All Government Agents work alone, not on a team with the other agents. When setting up, each player will draw a starting hand of seven cards. Then the Visitor will draw two face up cards and place them near the force field. Looking at those two cards, and the seven cards in their hand the Visitor will create a rule for the game. It could be something like, “Things that are red”, “Things that are natural” or “Things that have strings”. The Visitor can make up any rule, but it shouldn’t benefit one party over any one else. If the Visitor is struggling to come up with a rule, there are a deck of examples that can be tweaked to fit the situation.
Then the Visitor will place the two cards according to whether they would fit the rule or not. Cards that fit the rule will be placed face up on the eight card spots in the force field. Cards that do not fit, will be placed face up on the outside of the board. Imagine there are eight spots outside the board as well. There can only ever be eight visible cards surrounding the board. The rest will be stacked on other cards.
Now players will begin playing. The goal of the game is to be the first player (or team for the Kid and the Visitor) to correctly guess the passrule. When it comes time for any player to prove the passrule, they will do so NOT by guessing the rule verbally, but instead by drawing 4 cards and correctly guessing whether they would pass through the force field or they would be repelled by it. Each type of player will have their own actions. Let’s take a closer look at those.
Government Agents will start the game. If you have more than one Government Agent, the one sitting to the Visitor’s left will start. Agents always only have two options on their turn. First they can test an object. They do this by handing the Visitor a face down card. The Visitor will then look at the card, and place it face down on the edge of the force field if it fits the rule, or face down on the player mat if it does not fit the rule. After the card is placed, the Visitor will put that player’s marker on it to differentiate the different piles. Then the Agent will draw up to seven cards.
Once the Government Agent feels they understand the passrule they can instead use their turn to prove the passrule. They will draw four cards and line them up with the four rows on the forcefield board. The Visitor will then take their UFO chips behind the screen and place them to determine whether the items are correct or not. UFO chips on the board are admitted, UFO chips off the board are not. The Government Agent then pushes the cards they feel would be admitted towards the board. The Visitor reveals their answers. If the Agent was correct they win the game. If they were incorrect, the face up cards go into their correct space on the board (face up in the 8 card slots on the board if they were admitted, face up on the outside if they were repelled). When an Agent is incorrect, also move the Trust up between the Kid and the Visitor two spaces.
That is all for the Government Agent. Next let’s take a look at the Kid. The Kid’s available actions are dependent on their position on the Trust Track. They start up being able to predict objects. When the trust track is low, the Kid will do this by placing a card from their hand face up and guessing whether it will be admitted or repelled. The Visitor will then place the card in the correct spot. If the Kid was correct they will get to place another card and repeat the process a maximum of three times, or pass and instead gain one trust for the number of cards they have guessed correctly. If they guess incorrectly, their turn immediately ends and they gain no trust. The Kid only draws cards when they gain trust, so it crucial to gain trust. Once the Kid and the Visitor have two or higher trust, the Kid may also prove the pass rule. This works the same as the agents, but if the Kid is wrong they do not get trust.
As the Kid gains trust, they get additional benefits as well, such as being able to play cards facedown, being able to prove the passrule directly after passing or having agents reveal their face down cards.
The Visitor’s turn is simple. If the Kid’s trust is 0-2 the Visitor takes one card from their hand and places it according to the passrule on the board. If trust is 3+ they do the same thing, except their card is secretly shown to the kid, then placed face down according to the passrule. If the Visitor has no cards at the beginning of their turn, they lose and the agents win.
Turns continue with the Agents going, then the Kid, then the Visitor until someone correctly guesses the passrule or until the Visitor is out of cards.
Visitor in Blackwood Grove comes with 142 object cards, a force field board, a Visitor shield, trust board and wooden meeple, 6 player mats, 10 card markers, 13 example pass rule cards, 4 UFO guess tokens and a component bag.
Overall the components are quality. Everything feels like it will hold up to wear and tear. I really like that the trust board and player mats have clear reminders of what players can do on their turns, and what happens at each stage of trust. It makes explaining the game a easy and painless process. Also, the art is wonderful. It is thematic, yet easy to decipher.
Players who do not like mini cards may be disappointed that the object cards are relatively small. Luckily there is no text included on the cards, so players won’t be struggling to read off the small cards. I do wish that the force field was just a little bit bigger, as it does have a tendency to feel a little crowded towards the end of game play.
Bonus points? The box glows in the dark, which is a pretty cool touch.
Many people know, I really enjoy both asymmetric and social deduction games. It should not come as a surprise that I enjoyed Visitor in Blackwood Grove. I think it is a game that can easily be taught to anyone (even non gamers) because turns are simple and options will be right in front of the players because of the player mats. I would even say that you could probably teach a child as young as 6 or 7 to play the game. However, I would suggest having the most experienced player be the Visitor, at least until players grasp the concept of the game. Despite the fact that it is mechanically simple, it can be very difficult to actually win.
You need to be able to predict how another person is going to view the card that you hand over. Some objects can be open to interpretation throughout the game and that can be difficult. For instance, yesterday I played a game where the passrule I created was objects you can find in a school. One of the Agents passed me a card with Saturn on it. I repelled it from the force field, because you won’t find an actual planet in a school. He insisted after the game that you could find them on posters or models. This adds an extra layer of difficulty that players won’t necessarily think about until they are actually playing the game.
I already mentioned that the artwork is beautiful, but it is also colorblind accessible. Any cards that have a color reference will also list the name of the player it is associated with. Thus meaning that color plays almost no role in the mechanics. Unfortunately for some, the game has a minimum player count of at least three players. This makes it not a good fit for players who look for solo games, or for people who just live with one other person. It was something I struggled with while trying to play it for the review. During the week, I am normally only with my husband, so we had to wait until game night to play it.
Visitor in Blackwood Grove felt very similar to Mysterium to me in gameplay. While not exactly the same concept, the Visitor took on a similar role to the Ghost. Both games have similar tension, and in both games the person in this role could choose not to talk at all. In addition to mechanical differences, Visitor in Blackwood Grove is also a lot shorter than Mysterium, allowing players who want a strong deduction experience to do so in a short period of time with limited set up. The set number of rounds ensures that this game will play in under twenty minutes, and set up is easy and does not take up much space. I could easily see taking this to a brewery or public space to play.
In addition to Mysterium, I could see players who enjoy games like Dixit, Muse or Whitechapel enjoying Visitor in Blackwood Grove. It has a similar feel to many of these deduction games but it provides it in a much quicker experience. It also focuses heavily on the visual element of game play similarly to Dixit or Muse. Also, if you enjoy movies like E.T. or Paul, you might enjoy this game themeatically. The idea of taking the role of the alien escaping can be very appealing. Overall, I have found that Visitor in Blackwood Grove will be a keeper for me. I enjoy that it is quick to play and provides an asymmetrical game play experience, but I do wish that it had a two player variant. It will be available to purchase as a Target Exclusive on August 1st, 2018.
Designer: Danny Devine
Published: Renegade Game Studios, Fever Games
Players: 2-4 players
Playtime: 15-30 Minutes
Play Type: Abstract Strategy
It is a bright and sunny day, and a new topiary garden has opened up in town. You plan on visiting the garden, but know it will be crowded on a day like today. You will have to place your visitors carefully to get the best view of the garden, and rearrange the garden so that nothing blocks the spectacular view.
Set up in Topiary is pretty simple. First players will each take a set of visitors in their color, checking to see how many they get based on how many players there are. Then players shuffle the sculpture tiles and create a 5X5 grid in the center of the table, turning the center tile face up. Then deal 3 sculptures from the deck to each player, returning all other sculptures to the box. Set the scoreboard and scoring markers aside, as they will not be used for the time being.
Turns are very simple in Topiary. There are two steps players may do each turn. First, players MUST position a visitor. They do this by placing a visitor so that it has line of sight done a vertical, horizontal, or diagonal row. Only one visitor may be placed on each line of sight. Then the player has the option to rearrange a sculpture by picking up one of the face down tiles in the sight line they picked, and they may then replace it from one in their hand, returning it back to the grid face up. Play continues like this until all players have placed all of their visitors.
Scoring is the most involved part of Topiary. Players will first check all of their line of sight rows and score the points written on the tile for the sculptures they can see. Larger sculptures (determined by the higher numbers) will block line of sight of lower numbers. Then players get points for type bonuses. If a player can see two or more of the same type of tree in a line of sight they can an additional point. Players can gain a type bonus for multiple types of trees in one row. Finally players reveal the card types in their hand. Players will score the face value of their tiles, if they can see at least one of that kind of tree from their lines of sight.
The person with the most points at the end of the three scoring categories is the winner.
Topiary comes with 40 sculpture tiles, 32 wooden meeples, and a scoreboard with 4 colored score markers. Everything about the game is quality, with all pieces being vibrant and sturdy. I was especially impressed with the meeples chosen for Topiary. They come in four different colors, but also in four distinct shapes. One of the shapes also depicts a meeple in a wheelchair. This focus on accessibility made my heart warm as a special education teacher who could potentially use this in a classroom. More functionally, the different shaped meeples also make the game colorblind accessible. The different shapes are also represented on the score tracker, ensuring that the game is completely accessible.
Easy to Teach
Topiary is a deceptively simple abstract game. New players will feel comfortable with their turns quickly, as there are only two steps to them. However, as players go on to master the game it becomes very thinky. Players not only have to consider how they place tiles in their current line of sight, but also how it effects their other line of sights, and how other players might in turn change their line of sights in reaction to the move. Every move will count in this game, which is something that I very much enjoy. Players who are planners like me, will also find enjoyment, as there is some variability based on the facedown tiles, but because of the tiles in hand, players to have the capability to plan ahead.
Players who do not enjoy “take that” may become frustrated with Topiary, because there is the potential for players to purposely mess with one another’s scoring by placing sculptures in their line of sight. While I believe that this adds to the strategy and overall enjoyment of the game, some people may not enjoy that.
If you enjoy abstract games like Azul or Photosynthesis, I would suggest Topiary as well. It has a very similar feel to Photosynthesis in many ways, but it is quicker to set up and easier to explain to new gamers. As a teacher who is concerned with making all of my students feel welcomed, I may include this game in my classroom library due to its focus on colorblind accessibility and depicting meeples who are physically disabled. While that might not mean very much to everyone, knowing how it would effect some of my students makes me happy they included that small detail.
Overall Topiary is a quick thinky game. Despite the fact that the game is a filler game, it provides players with the feeling that they are playing a much more substantial game because of the thought that goes on throughout the game. It makes a great opening game for a game night, or a great quick after dinner game.
Game: Shaky Manor
Designer: Asger Harding Granerud, Daniel Skjold Pedersen
Published: Blue Orange Games
Players: 2-4 players
Playtime: 10-20 Minutes
Play Type: Dexterity
The manor at the top of the hill has a reputation of being haunted. Things seem to move in the night, and not just ghosts either. The house itself seems to move and tilt. However there are treasures to be had in the mansion. Will you be the first person to break the curse, get the treasure and escape the mansion alive?
There are two modes of game play in Shaky Manor, but they both have the same basic concept. The first mode of play is where players are drawing a colored room card and trying to get the meeple and three treasure chests into that colored room before their competitors do. In order to do this, players must shake their mansion until all other elements are out of the room listed. This is considered the “easy” mode, great for young kids because they are always working towards the same goal.
The hard mode is mechanically the same, with players trying to shake their manor to get certain elements in a colored room. However, in this case the elements change based on the card listed. When players draw a room card, the deck will show a new card faced up with various items that can be found in the house. The players must race to get all of those objects in the room, while ensuring that no stray objects end up in there. The first player to do so takes the room card.
Once a player has six room cards they win the game.
Components in Shaky Manor are fairly simple, but are very eye catching. There are the four room boards (two of which will need to be assembled when opened), a variety of different chits that go into the mansions, and a deck of cards. Players should check to see that all players have the same amount and types of chits before starting the game.
One fun thing about Shaky Manor is that players can actually see and “try” the game through the box, as there is a see through area on the box. While it does not actually effect game play, it was still an interesting component decision.
As far as the quality of the components themselves, I would say that they will hold up to the violent shaking that they will be forced to endure. The cardboard is sturdy and the chits are all either wood or strong plastic. My only component complaint is that two of the room tiles are very similar in color and can only be distinguished by a slight change in color and tiny symbols within the room. I would have liked to see the floors be more distinguished (maybe having different types of flooring, or more easily discernible colors)
Shaky Manor is a game that is great for families. It can be taught in under a minute, and has both an easy and hard mode so that the game can grow harder as children seek more of a challenge. Kids will be engaged as soon as they see the box and are able to shake it around and see the objects moving. The fact that it is so short also may be great for busy families looking to spend some time together on the weeknights. Set up and take down is especially fast, because all of the components should be set up after the first play through, meaning all players will need to do is open the box and shuffle the cards.
While Shaky Manor is definitely engaging for children, and provides short term competitive enjoyment for adults, I am not sure that it will provide long term engagement for adults without children. While fun to play with a group of friends for a short period of time, adults may find the simplicity of rules and the amount of luck involved in where items start to be repetitive. It will be enjoyable to play occasionally, but may not see the table as often as other dexterity games that provide more variability and control.
That being said, if you are a fan of dexterity games, this would be an enjoyable addition to your collection. It looks and feels great. It is much quicker to set up than some other dexterity games making it great starting game for a game night. I would suggest it if you enjoy games like Meeple Circus, Ice Cool or Dr. Eureka. It is still very much a dexterity game, however set up and take down is much quicker than these other games so it is great for a busy family.
Game: Maki Stack
Designer: Jeff Lai
Published: Blue Orange Games
Players: 2-6 players
Playtime: 10-20 Minutes
Play Type: Dexterity
It is time to show off your sushi stacking skills. Compete against the other team as you race to have the best presentation in the shortest time. The players that can complete the pattern first will win be the culinary masters.
The game play in Maki Stack is very simple. Players will divide into two teams and compete with those teams to replicate stacks of sushi depicted on cards. There are two kinds of cards: Chopsticks and Blindfold.
When players draw a chopsticks card, they must work with one other teammate to stack the sushi as depicted. Each teammate is only able to use one finger, imitating the idea of using chopsticks to stack the pieces. In blindfold mode one player wears a mask and listens to the directions of their other teammates to complete the task.
In both modes, the goal is to be the first team completed with all the elements in the correct spot. Players may add additional rules to make the game more challenging like only using specific fingers as chopsticks, or using non-dominate hands. The first team to six cards wins the competition.
The game comes with a deck of cards, two foam masks, two player mats, and 10 wooden sushi pieces. The pieces are high quality, and will stand up to being knocked over multiple times. The only thing I am not sure would last over a long time, especially with kids using them are the two masks. If I were to play this game with young kids frequently, I may consider replacing the two masks with sleep masks or another substitute.
As a teacher, a game like Maki Stack stands out to me as a great game for a classroom or family with young children. The game play while very simple, is also addictive and fun. This is especially true when there is a large group playing because the audience adds a lot of energy to those who are competing. It also allows kids to develop crucial fine motor and gross motor skills while having fun. The blindfold modes focuses on direction giving and listening skills which may be frustrating for some people, especially in a loud area. However, it makes for a great ice breaker when working with new people.
That being said, while Maki Stack can be played at two players, I would not suggest it. The game loses a lot of it’s interaction when playing with two players, because all of the modes are simply how quickly can you stack the image. In fact, I would really suggest Maki Stack only for four players or more, as with three players there are not equal teams.
Overall I think that Maki Stack is a lovely addition to my dexterity collection. It provides a interactive experience in which players must pay attention to one another and work together. As an educator, I plan on using Maki Stack in the classroom as an ice breaker early in the year. As an adult, Maki Stack is equally engaging with competitive people. Players will get very focused on how they can win, and may be even more engaged than if playing with children.
I would suggest Maki Stack if you are a teacher or parent. Additionally, I would suggest Maki Stack if you enjoy dexterity games like Ice Cool, Meeple Circus or Rhino Hero or if you enjoy games where you must work as a team like Captain Sonar, Codenames or Pandemic.
Designer: Jake Given, Zach Given, and Jonathan Ritter-Roderick
Published: Lay Waste Games
Players: 2-4 players
Playtime: 45-60 Minutes
Play Type: Area Control/ Take That
Where once lay a pleasant island, filled with peaceful and content dragons has been awakened by a human invasion. Now the four dragon’s instincts have kicked in, and the competition to be the dragon overlord has become fierce. You must fight to dominate the most human civilization and hoard as much gold as possible. As you know, the most powerful dragon is the one with the biggest hoard filled with the most shiney gold.
Dragoon is extremely easy to set up. Each player will take a dragon and all tokens in their color of choosing. Then according to diagrams in the rulebook, players will set up for a 2, 3 or 4 player game by placing their dragon and cave on the board. Then all players will take their dragon skull scorekeeper and place it at the zero on the scoreboard, also making sure to put the human skull there. The human skull represents the amount of treasure the thief has. Finally deal three cards to each player.
Each round in Dragoon is played in a series of three steps. First players will populate the board. Players will roll both the red and black dice to determine the coordinates where humans will choose to create their civilizations. The black die corresponds with the black side of the board, and the red dice with the red side of the board. Players will populate the board the number of players plus one per round. When populating there are three possible outcomes for what might happen:
The next stage is the action stage. This is when the players will take their turn and do any actions they choose to throughout the turn. The player who is currently in last place will go first. Each player will get three action points per turn, and all three of those actions must be used. Players will first draw a card, then do any combination of the following actions:
While all the different actions and values may seem complicated to remember at first glance, it is not as bad as it seems. Mostly because Lay Waste Games included handy player aids that outlines that actions that can be taken as well as the different phases of gameplay.
Finally the tribute phase will occur. This is where all of the dragon’s hard work conquering the humans pays off (well hopefully). There are three things to consider when doing a tribute. First, if any dragon is on another players settlement, that settlement will not produce tribute. Second, if you are standing on a population tile that you own, you will automically be given tribute for that space as if you rolled a 3/4/5 (1 gold for villages and 3 gold for cities). Finally, for all other claimed population tiles the player will roll one die total.The number rolled will apply to all population tiles you have claimed. You will gain money based on what you roll:
Once again it may seem like a lot to remember, but all of the information is on the player aids. Players continue going through rounds until someone has reached 50 gold. Then players will finish the round. If two or more players reach 50 gold, the player with the most gold will win.
The components in Dragoon are what make it stand out from other area control games. Dragoon is released in two different formats, the gold edition and the standard edition. The difference between the two is only that the gold edition comes with metal dragons and tokens, and the standard is in plastic.
I personally own the gold edition and love the look and feel of the metal dragons. It gives a lot of character to the game and a lovely table presence. The dragons are not the only thing adding table presence though. The game comes with a cloth board, high quality linen cards and a scoring board that is also a cloth bag to hold components. In addition, each player recieves their own cloth bag to hold their individual dragon pieces, making set up very quick and easy. The cloth board is especially nice because it holds up to wear and tear better than a traditional cardboard board.
The component quality is honestly hard to beat. However with quality also comes cost. The game could have been significantly cheaper if Lay Waste Games decided to use less quality of materials, and the Gold Edition is rather expensive for a light to medium weight game. If you are looking to spend less and still enjoy much of the same quality I suggest taking a look at the standard edition.
Dragoon is a game that I have now owned for over two years and it still is my favorite choice for area control and take that gameplay. This is mostly because I love how much direct player interaction the game allows for. Players are able to interact with other players in any of the following ways: playing cards, stealing from caves, combat, stealing claimed populations, or even destroying population tiles. Almost every turn players will be engaged because they will want to see what their opponents are doing, as it may have an effect on them. However, with that much player interaction also comes plenty of take that. If you are a player who does not enjoy direct conflict in a game, I would not suggest Dragoon as it is a major part of gameplay.
The mixture of mechanics also provides unique gameplay that is a balence between strategy and luck. Players are able to strategize as they move their dragon, trying to control the most benefical areas and defend their populations from competiting dragons. However, even with great planning if they roll poorly on a tribute phase they may be out of luck. Arguably though, there is a greater focus on strategy than the luck aspect. Players have control over most aspects of the game with only the dice rolls and card draws adding a luck aspect.
Due to the fact that Dragoon is an area control based game, it does play best at four players as it forces the most player interaction. While it is still enjoyable at two and three players, I would suggest picking it up if you frequently play with four players. Additionally if you play up to six players frequently I suggest checking out the Rogue and Barbarian Expansion which allows for play up to six players and adds unique mechanics to gameplay. After trying it once, it has become high on my list to add to my collection!
I would suggest taking a closer look at Dragoon if you enjoy area control games like Blood Rage, Ethnos or Tyrants of the Underdark. Additionally you may enjoy Dragoon if you enjoy games with heavy player interaction/ take that like Cash and Guns, Colt Express, or Imhotep. Finally if you are someone who enjoys games with high component quality or great table presence, I highly suggest taking a look at the Gold Edition.