Recommended Game: Darkrock Ventures


Title:  Darkrock Ventures

Darkrock Ventures

Game Type:  Worker placement. Think Agricola, except that the theme is mining in outer space instead of farming in the Dark Ages.

Number of Players:   1-5. I’m guessing it’s best with 4.

Complexity of Rules:  Low-Medium. The rulebook is awful. Much more on that in a moment.

Time to Play:   The box says 30-45 minutes. We’re usually running over an hour, even with only two players.

The Concept:  Each player represents outer space mining interests. The object is to make the most Credits by the end of the game, since Credits double as Victory Points. Each turn a couple of dice are rolled. Players then take turns placing workers either on mines, or on bases that offer other advantages, such as bonus dice, dice manipulation, more crew, or increased space in your cargo hold. More dice are rolled, and the player(s) that can manipulate the dice to make favorable outcomes receive resources. The resources can then be “exported” for Credits. We haven’t played with the optional “Hostile Alien” cards yet, though I’m of the suspicion that they’ll mostly just increase the “luck factor” and drive me nuts.

Photo from the BoardGameGeek site.
Photo from the BoardGameGeek site.

Why I Like It: It has an outer space theme, and I’m a sucker for those. It involves risk management/estimation too, which is another plus. Once the rules are understood the game moves fairly briskly, and with low downtime.

Having said that:  The rule book is among the worst I’ve ever seen, period. We learned a lot more about how to play from just from watching a guy do a walkthrough online. The rules feature minimal pictures and illustrations, and the graphics are poorly thought out and not very informative. Many passages are poorly or ambiguously worded. And no, I’m not being too harsh. I get the impression that the developers taught the play testers how to play and didn’t force the players to learn by using the rule book.

Other issues:

  • Worker placement covers up information on the board.
  • The “Captain” meeples are very similar in size to the “Crew” meeples — we’re going to add stripes to the Captain meeples so that they’re easier to tell apart from the crew.
  • If the player cards were larger the game would feel less fiddly.

I know that’s more than a few negatives, but it’s an enjoyable game with a fun theme, and it was a holiday gift so the price was right. It does feel like the game was rushed to market though.


BoardGameGeek page here.

Recommended Game — STOP THIEF!



170206 Stop Thief

Game Type:  Deduction/reasoning.

Number of Players:   2-4

Complexity of Rules:  Low

Time to Play:   30 minutes. Usually less

The Concept:   [From the inside of the box:]


A crime is being committed…but where?

In the jewelry store? The bank? Where will the thief strike next? You and your opponents are licensed private detectives. The thief you’re after is computer controlled and completely invisible. But you can hear him! With your ELECTRONIC CRIME SCANNER you can eavesdrop on the thief whenever he moves on the board. You can hear him in the act of committing a crime. You hear him, too, as he opens a door, crosses a floor, breaks a window, runs on the street and escapes on the subway. Each sound you hear is a clue that will help you track him down. You’ll need all your skills of deduction and logic to follow the thief and corner him. Then you can call the police. With luck, the police will arrest the thief and cart him off to jail. Sometimes, though, he escapes from them. At other times, he’s just not where you think he is! If you can catch this thief, you’ll earn a large reward. If he gives you the slip, he’ll rob again…and again…and again…

Why I Like It:  First of all — Wayback Machine! Our copy still has the original 1980 price sticker from the department store attached.

170206 Stop Thief2

There are numbered squares on the game board. When it’s your turn you press the “C” (Clue) button on the controller and the Thief moves from square to square. Each movement is represented by a distinctive noise, such as a window breaking or a door opening. By process of elimination you attempt to figure out the Thief’s current location and send the cops to arrest him. We’ve always played it without the Sleuth Cards since they make the game too easy. (“Tips” given by the cards tell you exactly where the Thief is, and what’s the fun in that?) Without the Sleuth Cards it can really be a challenge to find the Thief.

I loved this game at the time and I still love it. It’s also nice that we really took care of it when we young and never stored a battery in the controller. Almost everything is near-immaculate.

Great fun!

BoardGameGeek page here.

Recommended Game — 7 Wonders Duel


Title:  Seven Wonders Duel7-wonders-duel

Game Type:  Card Drafting/ Civilization Building

Number of Players:   2

Complexity of Rules:  Medium-Low. Easy to learn if you’ve already familiar with 7 Wonders.

Time to Play:   30 minutes according to the box. I think we’ve been running vaguely longer.

The Concept:   Players take turns drafting cards from the available (topmost) cards in the stack. (See picture, the cards on the bottom and far right are “available”. If the card at the bottom were to be drafted then the next two cards would be flipped over and become “available”.)

The cards themselves represent either economic advancement, a stronger military, scientific advancement, or Victory Points (or a combination of those things.) Like the original game you can also “burn” a drafted card for gold or to Build A Wonder. The strategic part is picking the right combination of cards that allow you to acquire the “best” civilization, represented by having the most Victory Points at the conclusion of the game. Alternately you could buy a big stompy military and beat your opponent into submission, or advance far enough in science that you win outright.

Why I Like It:  It’s a fairly deep two player game with many possible ways to attempt to win. There’s some real strategy in card drafting to optimize your potential outcomes while damaging the other player’s as much as possible.

My one concern is that as we gain experience – we may find that trying to win with science is a high-risk idea. You really need to commit to science, and if the cards don’t fall right then you’re screwed. Basically any other approach is “safer”.

Overall though, it’s a very fun game.


BoardGameGeek page here.

The CheapSeatEats 7 Wonders recommendation page here. (I had/have concerns about the “science strategy” on that one too.)

A Blast From The Past: Revolt On Antares

by A.J. Coltrane

Back in the early 80’s TSR (the D&D people) published minigames. A minigame would come in a small plastic case with dice, a short rulebook, and a small map:

For scale: An over-exposed nickel on the left
For scale: An over-exposed nickel on the left

If you look closely at the top of the picture you’ll see the hole used to hang the game for display and sale. It’s a clever all-in-one package.

We played a lot of Revolt on Antares way back when. (It was published in 1981.) It’s a fun (if oversimplified) war game in the style of Axis and Allies. Little chits represent troops. You make little stacks of chits, move them around the hex map, and use them to attack other little stacks of chits/troops. Here’s a mid-game picture:

Note that same nickel, now up at the top of the photo.
Note that same nickel, now up at the top of the photo.

The symbols on the map represent terrain features and resources. If you squint really hard at the light blue chit on the brown island at the bottom center you’ll see that it says:  “Hovercraft”, and, “2-8”.  That troop unit has 2 attack and 8 movement. “Laser Tanks” are 6-4. “Jump Troops” are 3-5 (and can ignore rough terrain). And so on.

I gave up my original copy for lost years ago. I got the bug to play it again, so I bought a copy online. Naturally it was at that point my own copy resurfaced in an old D&D box.

Then I mostly forgot about the whole thing for a while. Periodically I’d see the game the closet and want to give it a go, but I didn’t get around to playing until very recently. I invited a buddy over and we tried out the most popular of the old scenarios.

The scenario calls for the “Terrans” to fight the “Rebels”. The Terran player starts out at a numerical disadvantage but gets more reinforcements over the course of the game. The game lasts ten turns, and the object is to control the most resource nodes and capitol cities at the end.

I believe that when I was younger my opponent and I would set up on opposite sides of the map and be tactical about it. Unaware of the finer points of these strategies, my buddy and I both set up in the center of the map and got into a giant slugfest.

The fight went back and forth. He was massing for another assault when I loaded a nuclear bomb onto a hovercraft… and directed the hovercraft into his two biggest stacks of troops.

And that was that.

It may be that if we played a few more times then some real strategy would kick in. Our strategies basically consisted of making the biggest piles of force we could and using those to smash smaller enemy forces.

I think we had fun with it.


In a related note:  Shopping for games used to be a lot easier, but a bit of a crapshoot at the same time. If the game was by TSR or Avalon Hill then you were likely spending your money wisely, though without online reviews there was always an element of- “You pay your money and you takes your chances.” Still, the minigames were a cheap gamble, in contrast to some of today’s $60+ games..

BoardGameGeek page here.

Recommended Game – Deck Heroes: Legacy

by A.J. Coltrane

Deck Heroes: Legacy  – An android-based free-to-play collectible “battle” card game.

Basically, you collect creature and hero cards, assemble a mini-deck of 7-10 creatures and one hero, then battle computer-run decks. When in combat the object is to either eliminate all of the opposing creatures, or reduce the opposing hero to zero hit points. There’s a campaign with around 100 nodes to clear. After that their idea is that you’re hooked enough to spend money in the pay-to-win endgame.

The creature and hero cards fall into one of four factions — human, faen (elf), mortii (undead), and neander (beast). Heroes are functionally “generals” — they don’t directly fight, but they can buff your creatures, or damage or impede the opposing creatures.  Cards from the same faction tend to have synergies, such as “all cards of this type get +100 damage”. The cards can be upgraded (leveled), and can be augmented with collectible runes.

A couple of minuses:

Deck Heroes can be played as free-to-play, though the progress gets pretty slow after a while.

The art can be sexist, with ridiculous boobs everywhere. Here’s one of the tamer cards:

flame brave

Flame Brave is a caster. The pictured card is level 0, with 238 attack and 849 health. A level 10 version of that card would have 428 attack and 1399 health.

All of the cards gain more and better abilities as they level up. Her level 0 version also deals 150-250 damage to one random enemy creature. At level 5 she gains the “deal 210-350 damage to all enemy creatures”. Then at level 10 she gets “inflicts ‘flaming’ on all enemy creatures, causing them to lose 120 HP after their action.”

Overall Deck Heroes has some decent depth and strategy for an Android title.

Recommended game if you can put up with the artwork.


Recommended Game: Bang!

by A.J. Coltrane

Title:  Bang!  (We own Bang! The Bullet, which includes the expansions.)

Game Type:  Shoot ’em up card game.Bang Bullet

Number of Players:   4-8. Better with more.

Complexity of Rules:  Low. It’s a party game rather than a “deep” game.

Time to Play:   The box says 20-40 minutes. With our group it’s usually 30 minutes or less.

The Concept:   It’s a spaghetti western! One player plays as the Sheriff. All of the players know who the Sheriff is. Everyone else secretly plays either as a Deputy, an Outlaw, or the Renegade. The Sheriff and Deputies win if they kill the Outlaws and Renegade. The Outlaws win if they kill the Sheriff. The Renegade wins by killing everyone except himself. In addition to that, each player plays as a random (in)famous person from the old west — all featuring different bonuses and drawbacks.

At the start of the game you only own a pistol, and you can only shoot at the person next to you. You can increase your reach around the table by drawing a rifle card, or a scope card. If you get a horse card it effectively makes you further away from your enemies. You can hide behind barrels. You can pass lighted dynamite around the table. You can recover health by drinking beer..

Why I Like It:  It’s fun, fast, and violent. A big part of the game is figuring out Who is Who, or at least Who you think is Who. The secret roles mean that there’s often a feeling out process before the shooting begins in earnest, but once it does the game can get really chaotic. It’s light on strategy, but playing smart still helps.

We bring it out almost every GNOIF, and it’s always a hit.

No pun intended.


BoardGameGeek page here.

Recommended Game (Assistant) — Roll20

by A.J. Coltrane

Over the years my old D&D crowd has become scattered around the country and around the world, but we can still play, thanks to Skype and Roll20. (Roll20 supports video chat — our group is more comfortable with Skype.)


Roll20 allows for most everything we could do if we were playing over the table, including making dice rolls, moving characters and monsters around, and the gamemaster can present downloaded maps:


Roll20 handles macros too — you can create buttons that handle common dice rolls. I’ve made a macro to roll for Initiative (1d20+3), another for attacking with my sword, and so on. To some degree it takes the fiddly math out of the game. I’m all for that.

Here’s an excellent introduction/tutorial:

It’s free. There’s also subscription service available if you love it and want to support the developers.

Highly recommended.

Marvel Puzzle Quest — Where The Iso Is Going

by A.J. Coltrane

Character Rankings, based on community voting, from this excellent D3 forum post. There’s a cool heat map of the voting results near the top of the thread, and an excellent discussion on all of the characters. I’m going to focus on Tiers 1-3 or 4 going forward, at least until I get Iso-positive again:

Tier 1
1. 4* Wolverine (X-Force)
2. 4* Thor
3. 3* Thor
4. 4* Nick Fury

Tier 2
5. 3* Daken
6. 3* Black Panther
7. 3* Captain America
8. 3* The Hood
9. 3* Magneto (classic)
10. 3* Blade
11. 3* Wolverine (Patch)

Tier 3
12. 3* Deadpool
13. 3* Hulk
14. 4* Devil Dinosaur
15. 3* Captain Marvel
16. 3* Human Torch
17. 3* Sentry
18. 3* Punisher

Tier 4
19. 3* Falcon
20. 3* Mystique
21. 3* Black Widow (grey suit)
22. 3* Rocket and Groot
23. 3* Loki
24. 3* Colossus
25. 3* Psylocke
26. 3* Daredevil

Tier 5
27. 3* Gamora
28. 3* Doctor Doom
29. 2* Black Widow (original)
30. 3* Iron Man (Model 40)
31. 3* Spider-Man
32. 3* Storm (Mohawk)

Tier 6
33. 2* Ares
34. 3* She-Hulk
35. 3* Ragnarok
36. 4* Invisible Woman
37. 3* Doctor Octopus
38. 2* Storm (classic)

Everything Else
39. 2* Thor
40. 3* Beast
41. 2* Daken
42. 2* Magneto (Marvel Now)
43. 2* Wolverine (Astonishing)
44. 2* Hawkeye (modern)
45. 2* Human Torch
46. 2* Captain Marvel
47. 2* Captain America
48. 1* Juggernaut
49. 2* Bullseye
50. 2* Moonstone
51. 1* Black Widow (Modern)
52. 1* Storm (modern)
53. 1* Iron Man (Model 35)
54. 2* Bag Man
55. 1* Hawkeye (classic)
56. 1* Venom
57. 1* Yelena Belova

If you need roster space and only have room for one 1* character, I’d recommend Juggernaut. Everybody hates pulse damage by the opponent.

Recommended Game — 7 Wonders

by A.J. Coltrane

7 WondersTitle:  7 Wonders

Game Type:  Card Drafting/ City (Civilization) Building.

Number of Players:   2-7

Complexity of Rules:  Medium-Low. With a little explanation it’s a good gateway game. (A gateway game makes for a good introduction to “modern” boardgames, without being too crazy complicated or having a million rules.)

Time to Play:   60 Minutes. The box says 30 minutes, which might be true with just a few players if everyone recognizes all of the cards and their implications on sight.

The Concept:   7 Wonders is centered around Card Drafting. What that means is that each player starts with a hand of seven cards, selects one to become part of their civilization, and passes the remaining cards to the player on their left. Rinse, repeat. Many of the cards have a cost (in wood/ clay/ gold, etc.) that needs to be met in order to buy them. The strategy is to purchase cards that help you advance your civilization the most and deny cards that help your neighbors.

7Wonders Cards 2

Why I Like It:  Like any good game, 7 Wonders requires a series of interesting decisions. There are lots of ways to win — players can receive victory points by focusing on any of:  Improving Science, having a powerful Military, becoming an economic juggernaut, building an ancient Wonder, building Civic structures, and more. Or by doing any combination of those things in the right doses. The trick is that it’s a multiple player game — you have to decide how much you want to screw your neighbor at your own expense, and what form that screwing is going to take. You can lose both by ignoring your neighbor, or by giving them too much attention. It’s a balancing act.

I’m big fan of limited downtime, and in 7 Wonders all players make their plays in unison. The decisions to be made aren’t simple, but they’re not crushingly complex either. As a result the game moves reasonably briskly — our 2nd playthrough with three players took an hour, and that was with us consulting the “Description of Symbols” sheet on multiple occasions. The symbols can be somewhat arcane early in the learning process.

7 Wonders is fairly easy to learn, and we’re a long, long way from mastering it. It’s the #17 ranked game on BoardGameGeek and the winner of multiple awards. Highly recommended.

Bonus Flowchart from BoardGameGeek. It’s funny if you’ve played. Focusing science is a high risk/reward strategy:

7 Wonders Flow Chart

Recommended Game — Star Realms

by A.J. Coltrane

Star Realms — A space-themed deckbuilder available either as an android app or as actual physical cards. The full app version is $5. The base set of cards runs around $15.

Like Dominion, the object of Star Realms is to build an efficient deck from a selection of cards available on the table. You can buy Outposts, Bases, and different varieties of ships, each of which provide some combination of offense, defense, buying power, life restoration, or deck thinning.

In contrast to Dominion, you and your opponent start the game with 50 life (“Authority”). The winner is the last player with Authority greater than zero.

An example of a ship that might be available for purchase, the Ram:

150119 Ram

The Ram costs 3 “Trade” to buy. (The number in the upper right corner of the card.) It does 5 damage. The green circle on the card indicates that the Ram is also part of the Blob faction — if other friendly Blob faction are in play the Ram does an additional two damage. Finally, the Ram can be “trashed” (removed from the game) at a gain of 3 Trade.

Pictured next is an Outpost — War World. A big advantage of outposts and bases is that they stay in play until destroyed, in effect thinning your deck. They also provide some measure of defense.

150119 War World

War World costs 5. It does 3 damage unless it has an ally in play, in which case it does 7. It also has 4 defense, and must be destroyed by the opponent before they’re allowed to damage you.

The app is free to play. Spending $5 upgrades the game to include harder opponent AI options and turned-based asynchronous matchmaking. (In other words, your opponent sends a move, then you log in and play your move, and so on.)

I’ve played both the over-the-table game as well as the online app. The games go fast, and while it’s not quite as “deep” as Dominion, there’s still plenty of strategy, lots to learn, and there’s always the possibility for making a big stompy combination to win the game.

Highly recommended!