Can't Stop

You just can’t beat a good dice chucker. One of the classic press your luck games, Can’t Stop, quickly tests how much you can push your luck in order to win. Each turn you roll four dice and pair them by value. Depending on what you roll you slowly move up a game board shaped like a stop sign.  The goal is to cap off three numbers before anyone else.

Each turn you have three safety cones used to indicate movement for the turn. After you roll the dice and pair them you have to move (or place) at least one cone. Numbers that have already been capped become invalid for movement. Once you have all three of the movement cones on the board, those are the only ones that you can move. You can keep rolling as long as you want, but if you ever roll dice and can’t make pairs all of the progress you made is lost. Instead if you decide to stop before you bust, you change out the movement cones for your own and you can never lose that progress.

While Can’t Stop is entirely made out of dice rolling there are still choices to be made. Rarer rolls are easier to cap off while the most common roll of seven takes a lot of rolls to reach the top. Then fun of the game is the tension of deciding whether or not to roll again. Especially when you get close to the top of the column. Do you keep rolling to try to capture the number or do you take the lower risk of waiting until your next turn and keep your progress?

Magic Labyrinth

Try to collect the treasures in the labyrinth sounds simple enough - but the walls are invisible! This game uses a lot of memory to try to remember which paths are safe as you work your way towards the current token everyone is trying to reach. Magnets are used bring some reality to the magical invisible walls.

On your turn you roll a die to see how far you can move. Once you start moving towards a specific square, you have to keep moving (otherwise you could feel for the walls). If you manage to safely get to the next square you can keep moving if you have movement remaining. However, if your ball bearing falls from your pawn you ran into the walls and will have to start from the beginning of the labyrinth at the start of your next turn.

The maze is completely customizable being constructed from wooden pieces that are inserted into a frame below the board.  If you are playing with young kids you can use less walls to make it easier to get around. If all of the players are smart adults then you can put all of the walls in and make it a challenge.

Once a player gets three of the treasures the game ends with them as the victor. The game probably takes at most 30 minutes to play depending on quickly you can get around the invisible walls. If games that test your memory are fun for you make sure to get Magic Labyrinth a try.

Tsuro & Tsuro of the Seas

These two games are quite simple but lots of fun. You are trying to be the last person standing as you build an intricate maze of lines on the board.  In the sequel you are still trying to stay on the board, but now there are sea dragons looking to eat you as well!

On your turn you play one of the tiles from your hand next to the edge of where your pawn is. After that you follow the new lines until their end - hopefully that doesn’t mean the edge of the board because in that case you have eliminated yourself! The game starts getting pretty crazy when other players are bordering the same space because then when they play a tile you have to follow the path that they laid down for your pawn as well. This is generally how you get knocked out of the game as you aren’t likely to kill yourself unless you have no other option with the tiles in your hand.

In the sequel, Tsuro of the Seas, the game plays essentially the same. The board is slightly larger and now there are a number of sea dragons on the board based on the number of players. Before your turn you roll dice to see if the dragons move - they move on the most common rolls so they will be moving quite often. If they move in front of your space on your turn or onto your space than the dragon has ended your chance at winning the game. Tsuro of the Seas can take longer than the original game because tiles are being removed as you go. Eliminated players still get to participate however as they still roll for dragon movement when they would normally have a turn. Which means near the end the dragons will likely move far more often than the remaining players.

Both of these games are good simple fun that plays in 10 - 20 minutes with lots of replay value. We would probably recommend starting with the original but if you like it the sequel is the same fun with a little bit more flavor.

Dominion

Deck building games are one of our favorites. Dominion was the first of its kind to have the deck building happen during the game instead of building your deck before the hand like with trading card games.  Dominion (especially with all its expansions) has tons of different cards you can play with but each time you play there are only 16 options of cards you can buy. Six of those stacks are always the same and the other ten can be selected by the players, chosen from suggested setups, or using the randomizer cards to pick randomly to get great variety in game play.

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Each player starts with the same 10 card hand. The goal of the game is to buy cards that help you make your deck a better point making engine than the rest of the players. With different cards available each game, it can be an interesting puzzle to decide which cards and how many of each to try to buy and shuffle into your deck. Part of the limiting factor of the game is unless you have cards that give you more you can only play one action card per turn and can only buy one card as well.

Since there are so many different card combinations sometimes there can be disagreements over how those cards interact, but over time the designers have gotten clearer in their wordings and also the rules books have a section talking about possible interactions between the available cards to clear up any rules argument that might pop up.

Newer games have given the deck building style a little more polish in our opinion. However, the designers have also worked to add polish to Dominion itself - with a great many expansions and more likely to come. If you want to see where this great style of game started make sure to give Dominion a look!

Race for the Galaxy

One of the tougher games for new players to get into because of its iconography, but once you can get past that issue (which doesn’t take too long) there is lots of depth, strategy, and choices in this card game. It is impressive the amount of choices one game can have without a board or resource tokens.

At the start of each round the players will secretly choose which of the five actions they want to perform. Each of the actions selected by players will be part of the round. Part of the game is trying to guess what actions your opponents will select because then you can select one of the other actions instead. If you can manage to do all of the things you wanted to do in your turn then you’ve played your opponents well.

The five different actions are explore, develop, settle, consume, and produce. Explore lets you draw cards which can be used either as new planets to conquer/settle or as the currency to build developments or settle new planets. The second action (if selected) is develop, which lets you  purchase development cards from your hand that will make other actions more powerful for the rest of the game. Settlement is the third of the possible actions. It allows players to either settle planets by paying with cards or conquering them with previously acquired military might. The next of the possible actions is consume, where you get points from certain cards and by selling the resources your planets have acquired. The final action is fairly simple - some or all of your planets produce goods again for later consumption.

Race for the Galaxy is full hard choices since most costs must be paid for with cards from your hand. When you draw new cards they will likely almost all look super tempting to get into play, but most of them you have to give up to get the other ones. Once the point tokens have been exhausted or when people get enough cards in play the game ends. The player with the most points at the end of the game is the winner.

Once the new players get past the iconography (which is all explained on a good player aid) this game can be played over and over again to discover all the complex strategies that can lead them to victory.

Indigo

Interesting decisions to be made in this tile laying game where you are almost always forced to help your opponents in order to score points. But which one to help in your quest to have the most points in gems at the end of the game.

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The goal of the game is to get gems off the board through various exits that form around the outside edges. You do this by playing tiles from your hand anywhere on the board. If your tile play is next to a gem then it will follow the paths on the tile going to the new end of the path. When a gem reaches the end of the board then two different players will score that gem. Each exit off of the board is labeled with two colors one for each player that scores for that exit.

During the game you will find yourself trying to use your tiles to make sure that the gems get to the exits that get you points so the gems are twisting around the board on their way to their goals. You aren’t allowed to use tiles to remove all possibility of the gems going to specific exits. But if you are experienced with the game you can make it almost impossible!

The game can wind up getting a bit cutthroat as you guide the gems across the board. Also when you have to choose which of the people you help when you score points! The game is pretty quick with lots of choices to make. If you enjoy some of the other path making games similar to Tsuro then this be the next one you want to try!

10 Days in the USA

Lots of games try to be educational, but many wind up not being fun. 10 Days in the USA, however, is lots of fun while also teaching geography. This edition covers the 50 states, but there are a few different editions that also cover different areas of the world!

The objective of the game is to arrange your 10 cards into a reasonable path for your best road trip! To create a valid path each of the cards next to each other have to be neighboring states. Thankfully for people who haven’t had to look at a US map lately, the game does come with a board that has a map of the United States on it. There are also special cards that make it a little bit easier to make a successful arrangement cards.

One of those cards is a car, these let you skip over a state but the states on either side of the card need to be at most one state away. And obviously since Hawaii and Alaska are included there are plane cards as well! They have restrictions on when they can be played as well only flying to and from certain states. But because we in Alaska (and Hawaii) are so special all of the airplane cards work for our states!

On each turn you can either draw a card from the deck or the top card of any of the three discard piles. After you change one of those out for a card in your hand, you put your discard on one of the three piles. Instead of drawing with a card you can also swap two cards in your display to make them be better arranged.

Simple enough for all ages this game is a great family activity to see who can plan a great trip across the United States first. It does all this while also teaching some geography on the periphery.

T.I.M.E. Stories

T.I.M.E Stories presents an unique twist to the cooperative game genre.  Instead of a game you expand and play over and over, T.I.M.E Stories is a legacy game, where you play, win/lose, and then you’re done.  Space Cowboys has been releasing expansions every six months, so players can dip back into the game mechanic, however they will be playing different characters, have different powers, and the scenarios give different twists to past eras to make them not 100% straightforward.

The main story thread is the same:  In the far future, you and your group are time cops, recently graduated from the academy, and ready to start your first mission.  The goal of the Time Agency is to send agents back into time to fix temporal faults before a ripple effect disastrously ruins the future.  You are greeted by Bob, your boss, who will give you the bare bones explanation of what is going one, you then get a briefing from an android, before your characters are placed into pods and your consciousness is beamed into a person living in the era you're headed to.

In the first case you go to a creepy asylum, to prevent a temporal fault from happening.  You have little information to go on, and so must investigate your surroundings, staff, and patients.  Its creepy, and becomes creepier as you move along.  And that’s where I have to stop because anything more would probably be spoilers.

Overall we like the T.I.M.E Stories mechanic.  It's a one shot cooperative game, so if you like roleplaying and working with a group, but don’t have the ability to set up a long running RPG game, this is a good alternative.  You will get one use out of it, unlike other games like Imperial Assault or Descent, but after each story players accrue points and boons to help out when playing future expansions.  

That said, Asylum was poor choice to set up the game.  We were frustrated playing it the first time, twice as frustrated when we were playing it a second time, and I know of other groups who became so frustrated they never finished the first game and the experience soured them for playing future expansions.  There is one puzzle where, in other games, you could probably brute force your way to a solution.  That wasn’t the case, and when we finally figured out what the solution was, it used up a lot of time and frustrated the group more than the other red herring plot bits we came across.  So be aware that you can’t half ass note taking in this game, otherwise you might end up stuck and backtracking through areas you’ve been before.  

The first expansion, The Marcy Case, runs much smoother and the story is really enjoyable.  It's worth playing through Asylum, just to get to play the Marcy game.  We highly recommend T.I.ME. Stories for a great night of sleuthing, investigating, and time travel.

Mystic Vale

Deck building games have become quite common since the first version of Dominion came out in 2008. Many different designers have made their own changes to those base rules to create new and exciting deck builders. Mystic Vale is changing those rules in a large way by moving away from building your deck to building your cards that are in the deck. People who enjoy deck builders will likely enjoy card building as it obviously has its roots in the deck building system.

In Mystic Vale instead of adding or removing cards from your deck you buy transparent cards that slide inside of the sleeves to increase the strength of those cards. One of the few rules about the ways you can build those cards is that you can’t cover anything up so preprinted information and prior upgrades are stuck in your cards once you get them.

The beginning cards and even some of the improvements have red tree symbols on the cards and those can cause you to lose all of your resources and your turn. So the game has a bit of a push your luck mechanic. When you get yourself ready for your next turn you flip over cards until you can see three of those symbols. If you ever can see four that is when you lose everything for the turn. Sometimes you really want just one more buying power or one of your powerful cards so want to flip over one more card. Will you get the resource you wanted or wind up wiping out for the round?

There are lots of different improvements you can get for your cards. Some let you get more buying power, others cancel out the red trees, and others get you points every time you play them. The game runs until the victory point pool based on the numbers of players is exhausted. After that you total up the points you have between tokens and the points on the cards that you bought over the course of the game.

Mystic Vale keeps the spirit of deck building while never increasing the size of your deck to dilute the powerful improvements that you buy. It is always lots of fun and we are looking forward to where this designer and others take this type of game play in the future. Especially after seeing all of the inventiveness people have had with the deck building system.

13 Clues

Deductive games are one of our favorite styles. Something about the puzzle of trying to find hidden information is very enjoyable. 13 Clues is a newer deduction game where you are trying to solve a murder assigned by Scotland Yard.  The name of the game comes from the number of cards with possible clues players use to solve their mystery.  

Each player has 3 cards that are in front of them facing away so that they can’t see what they are. Among those three cards is a weapon, a place, and a person. Each of the types of cards has attributes you can use to determine which of the cards are part of your case. Locations can be inside or outside, weapons can be ranged or melee, individuals can be male or female, and all of the cards have a color as well.

 On your turn you can spend clues to ask people questions, look at face down cards in the center, or attempt to solve your case. When you ask questions you can ask a broad question like how many people do they see or something more specific like how many ranged weapons do you see. One of the tricks of this game is that all of the players have two pieces of evidence that only they can see hidden behind their player screens. So if they say they can see a ranged weapon it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is part of your case - it could be hidden behind their screen!

 Like most games you have to get all three aspects right to win the game and you don’t get to find out what you got wrong if you failed to guess correctly. You do get to continue playing however which is a nice difference from other deduction games! Also every question asked tends to help you in your search as there are no secret answers.

 13 Clues removes many of the problems that some other deduction games have. It lets everyone play until someone is the victor and it lets everyone get information from all of the questions asked. If you want to try to solve a puzzle before your friends can solve theirs then give this game a try.