Introducing Papa “Board Game” Bear

We play board games regularly, and yet my last board game post was an embarrassing year and a half ago. Since there are just so many games I would like to share with you, I’ve enlisted my husband to help me get back on track.

He’s what you might call a “board game enthusiast,” to say the least. “Board game obsessed” may still be an understatement, because Papa Bear lives and breathes board games. As a regular visitor on BoardGameGeek (BGG), he’s a wealth of board game knowledge. He’s plugged in to the global board game community, too, and is the reason we were invited to play games at a stranger’s house in the Netherlands earlier this year. He’s the best. (More on the Netherlands eventually, I promise.)

Needless to say, he was agog at the idea of doing a guest post when I asked him to review The Gallerist, one of our favorite games. Well, “agog” is a stretch seeing as how his outwardly emotional range is that of your stereotypical engineer, but if nothing else, his eyes shone with some semblance of excitement. His gleeful, one-day turnaround was indication enough that I needed his help. Before I publish said post, however, I want to take a minute to properly introduce him in all his board game glory.

Papa Bear: The Board Game Extraordinaire

Jason, because continuing to refer to him as “Papa Bear” feels borderline inappropriate, is worth blogging about for many reasons. After all, he’s an incredibly devoted father, husband, and friend. But his real passion–I say this mostly jokingly–is board gaming. I mentioned a long time ago that our journey into the strategy, or “designer,” board game world began around the time of our wedding more than seven years ago. The obsession grew slowly in those first years, until Jason discovered Power Grid in 2014. Seeking a rule clarification online, he stumbled upon BGG and has never looked back. Now, four years later, he’s an avid user and contributor on the site.

So much so that one the most highly esteemed board game designers quoted him about his own game.


I kid you not, this is probably one of Jason’s proudest moments.

The board game poet

Board games also make Jason’s creativity flourish (as do family bracket challenges, but that’s a story for another time). A year or so ago, he sent me an email with the following board game limericks. Limericks! Just because!


In Hanabi, you can’t see your hand
Others can, and insinuate commands.
They point to a card with glee,
Say, “You have a three!”
Then you play it, there’s no mental demand.

Five Tribes

It’s got yellow meeples, green, red, and blue,
And white, and soon purple, too.
Some applaud the game’s makers;
They added the fakirs.
Gee, who would’ve thought slaves are taboo?

Power Grid

Supplying the most power’s the goal;
Pure strategy, no luck of the roll.
When a good plant is auctioned,
Best proceed with caution,
Lest you run out of money for coal.

Power Grid*

So many expansion maps to be used,
This game never fails to amuse.
But my group still can’t learn,
Is it phase, step, or turn?
Wait, what round are we on? I’m confused.

If you haven’t played the aforementioned games and don’t understand why these are so clever, just take my word for it. If you have, then you can look forward to more of this wit in future post(s). If I’m lucky, he’ll write posts about these games as well. (Hint hint, J.)

*He just really loves this game.

Our Game-Playing Dynamic in GIFs

By now, I’m sure Jason has unknowingly won you over and you’re just itching to read his Gallerist review. Before I let him loose, and because no post as of late would be complete without them, I must first share this series of GIFs to shed some light on what it’s like when we play games together. I promise it’ll make you like him even more, if me a little less.

See, my husband is generally happy to play any game at any time with anyone. He doesn’t want to do poorly and likes to see improvement in his strategy, of course, but he genuinely doesn’t seem to care whether he wins or loses. While I also feel this way when I play in a larger group of people, I’m sadly not always the best loser when it’s just the two of us. Miraculously, he continues to play with–and love–me despite this unfounded and one-sided competitive streak.

It’s kind of like this. Maybe you can relate?

Playing with our friends

When I win

I mean, who doesn’t like to win? [Source]

When I lose

Pretty much the same except with snack sweats and not professional basketball sweats: “Good game, good game. Pass the chips, please.” [Source]

Playing with each other

When I win

When I keep my winning streak going. (Sadly, there aren’t many games like this.) [Source]

When it’s a close call and I pretend I’m not surprised I came out ahead. [Source]

When we total the score and I can’t believe my eyes. [Source]

When I have a snowball’s chance of winning and end up pulling ahead by the skin of my teeth. [Source]

When I finally beat him at a game he always wins. (Even the hair looks the same.) [Source]

When I lose

When he wins a game for the millionth time and I’m not even that surprised. [Source]

When I lose that close game by a couple of victory points, especially if he scored a bunch of those points right at the end. [Source]

When he wins after he totally screws my strategy.[Source]

When I finally am slated to win but then he gets some obscure bonus at the end. [Source]

Obviously, I experience a whole range of emotions when we play games. None of this should surprise you at this point.

When he wins

When he’s happy with himself, but only allows a brief smirk so as not to flaunt his victory to his fragile wife. [Source]

When he loses

When he loses, is happy to have played the game, and congratulates me on my victory. (Side note: this is also how my husband looks in a tux. Me-ow.) [Source]

Really, if this doesn’t convince you how much of a stand-up guy he truly is, then I’m not sure anything will.

Without Further Ado

My next post will be Jason’s review of The Gallerist. I know you’re biting your nails with excitement, so stay tuned! My hope is that you like it–and Jason–as much as I do.



[Featured image source]



Odin’s Ravens: A Board Game Review

If you’re in search of a fast-paced two-player game, then look no further than Odin’s Ravens.

While the original edition debuted in 2002, designer Thorsten Gimmler released this completely redesigned version just this year. Having won the “Best Strategic Card or Dice Game” category at the UK Games Expo 2016, I’d say it’s been a success.



The Basics

Time: 20-30 minutes
Ages: 8+
BGG Rating: 7.2*
Baby Brown Bear Status: On loan

Unfortunately (and embarrassingly), my knowledge of Norse mythology is primarily based on the Marvel Comics movies (Chris Hemsworth, though, amirite?!). If you are in the same boat, please let me refresh you.




The only appropriate response to the above picture.

*The top-ranked games have ratings of ~8.3/10.

Baby Bear’s half-assed refresher of Norse mythology

Odin, also referred to as “Allfather” because he is considered the father to all the other Norse gods, is the multi-faceted god of poetry, magic, and war. According to legend, his unquenchable thirst for knowledge led him to sacrifice an eye (via self-gouging) in Mimir’s Well, whence he gained some sort of cosmic knowledge. Interestingly enough, you can see a replica of this well at the Brunk Children’s Museum of Immigration.

Another, more practical, way he gains his wisdom? By sending out his trusty ravens, Huginn and Muninn, to bring back news from across the world.


Decidedly less swoon-worthy.

In this game, you and your opponent are those ravens, racing against each other to see who can return to Odin the fastest. However, to do so, you may need to enlist the help of the trickster god, Loki (who, I just found out, is actually Odin’s blood brother and not his son, as the movies would have us believe). Check out the section in that link entitled “Loki’s Role in the Pre-Christian Northern European Worldview” for an interesting analysis of Loki’s importance in the Norse mythology universe.


You’re a raven and you fly across the world to bring information to Odin. If you return before your opponent, you win.


The setup is incredibly simple and is shown in the following picture.


At the top of the picture is the stack of land cards. In the middle of the picture to the left are the two wooden raven figures, ready to race. To the right of those are 16 land cards. On the bottom of the picture are the black player’s 25 flight cards and 8 Loki cards, the rule book,  and the red player’s 25 flight cards and 8 Loki cards. The path the ravens must follow is a loop, meaning the white raven on top must go straight in front of him until he reaches the end of the row. Then he must go down to the other side of the card (in this case the forest) and circle back on his opponent’s side until he arrives back at the starting point.

Ravens start on the left side of the board and must traverse land cards. While there are 40 total land cards, they are shuffled and 16 are placed on the board. Players must make sure no two spaces in a row are of the same terrain (e.g., two fields cannot be touching). All remaining land cards are placed (in this case) on top of the board.


Ready to fly.

Below the land cards are each player’s decks. Both the black player and red player have two stacks: 25 flight cards and 8 Loki cards. Players draw five total cards for their starting hand. They can choose to draw cards from either or both piles. I’ve personally found it best to draw at least one Loki card.


An example starting hand includes four flight cards and one Loki card. Tom Hiddleston is a much more attractive Loki.

Turn summary

The nice thing about this game is that it’s pretty flexible in terms of what you can do, meaning you can play as many or as few cards as you can or want. That said, the basic actions you can take are flight or trickery.

Flight (flight cards)

To advance a raven, players must use flight cards that match the terrain of the next space on their route. If there are spaces of the same terrain in a row (which could only happen after moving cards around with Loki), a player can move his raven to the last card in the row, meaning the raven only uses one of those terrain cards to fly over all of that terrain.


For example, the black raven must play a desert card next. Since there are two desert cards in a row, he will only need to use one desert card to fly over both of the deserts in front of him.

If a player has no matching flight cards, he can use any two flight cards of the same terrain in place of the one flight card he needs.

Once used, players discard flight cards into a pile that will eventually be reshuffled back into play.

Trickery (Loki cards)

There are four types of Loki cards and each card has two different actions. A player can choose only one of these two actions. Once the action is taken, the card is removed from the game. This means each player can use up to eight Loki actions total throughout the game.

The four types of cards are shown below. Their abilities are fairly self-explanatory based on the drawings, but more explicit instructions are in the rule book.


Here are all four types of Loki cards. A player can choose to use the top OR the bottom action. 


One of the Loki cards allows you to build a loop that elongates the route for the other player. For example, the white raven on the bottom is trying to move left. He must now play a forest card, a field card, and a fjord card to win instead of just a fjord card.

Turn end

After you are done playing your cards and have discarded them appropriately, you must draw three new cards to end your turn. You can choose any combination of flight and/or Loki cards.

Note: you can never have more than seven cards in your hand and must immediately discard down to seven if you do. Remember, discarded flight cards are eventually reshuffled into play, but discarded Loki cards are not to be seen again!

Game end

The game ends when a player moves his or her raven into the final space on the opponent’s side. If that player went first, the other player is given a chance to move to the end of his or her track. In case of a tie, the player with the most cards left in hand wins.

My Thoughts


  • Lack of strategy. The only real con is that there’s not all that much strategy involved in this game. You can plan a little bit, but you’re mostly at the mercy of the luck of the draw.


  • Easy to learn. This game is incredibly easy to learn. In fact, you can skim the rules and start playing within 20 minutes.
  • Quick pace. Odin’s Ravens is great “filler game,” as we often call them in our game group. By this I mean that it’s fast-paced, doesn’t take long from start to finish, and isn’t too heavy. You can play it to relax and catch your breath between longer and more strategy-heavy games.
  • Artwork. I really appreciate the illustrations on the land cards. Each terrain is unique, colorful, and surprisingly detailed. They make me wish I could fly over them in real life.
  • Two-player game. While some may view it as a con, I like that this is a two-player game only. It’s a nice option for weeknights when you feel like playing a game, but don’t want to play something that’s really designed for multiple players. It’s a good date night game, too.
  • Lighthearted. I like the theme on this one a lot (as evidenced by my need to go into a little more thematic detail above), but I especially love that it’s lighthearted. I’ve been known to become a little cross when playing more serious games against Papa Bear, but this one is just light enough that I feel like we can challenge each other to multiple plays with no hard feelings. Does admitting this make me overly competitive? Probably, but no one loves to lose to the same person repeatedly.

In short

Odin’s Ravens is engaging and approachable for all experience levels. It’s fast enough to play a few times in a night without growing tired of it, and is very easy to learn. So far, it’s one of my favorite games of 2016!

What say you?


Ticket to Ride: A Board Game Review

Around since 2004, Ticket to Ride is an established fan favorite. I’m often asked for game recommendations for people who like to play games, but wouldn’t describe themselves as “serious gamers.” Well, look no further. Ticket to Ride is a perfect game for novices, experts, and everything in between.



The Basics

Time: 30-60 minutes
Ages: 8+
BGG Rating: 7.5*
Baby Brown Bear Status: Owned (original and Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries)

In Ticket to Ride (or TTR, as we affectionately call it), you and four of your old college buddies are racing by train to see who can visit the most U.S. cities–and claim the most routes– in just seven days. It’s a winner-takes-all competition for a $1 million prize, an especially astounding amount in 1900, when the game takes place.

The main game play mechanisms are card drafting and network building. The object of the game is to score the most points, which is done in three ways: claiming routes, successfully connecting cities on your destination tickets, and/or completing the longest continuous path of routes.

The game ends when any player has only 0, 1, or 2 trains left at the end of his or her turn. Each player, including that player, then has one final turn before scores are calculated.

*The top-ranked games have ratings of ~8.3/10.


The setup is quite simple. Here, you can see the major components.


Below the map, from left to right are: a player’s initial hand of four train car cards; a player’s initial hand of three destination tickets; and the pile of train car cards with the top five face-up.


In the center of the table is the map (in the original game, it is of the U.S. as shown here). On the map are several train routes connecting various cities. The colored rectangles in any given route represent the number and color of train car cards needed to claim that route. For example, the route between El Paso and Houston requires six green train car cards.

Some of the routes are gray. This means that a player may choose any color train car card as long she has the specified number all in the same color.

There are also some double-routes. In games with two or three players, only one of the double-routes can be claimed. In games with four to five players, both routes can be claimed, but not by the same player.

Finally, surrounding the map is the scoring track, where players keep a running tally of the points earned from claiming routes.

Destination tickets

Each player is initially dealt three destination tickets and must keep at least two of them. The discarded destination tickets are placed on the bottom of the remaining cards and the deck is put off to the side of the board.

These cards contain the names of two cities and a point value. If the player successfully connects the two cities by the end of the game, she adds that point value to her score. If she does not successfully connect the two cities, she subtracts that point value from her score. These cards should be kept secret so your competitors cannot see where you are trying to go. This is important because your strategy should be largely based on your destination tickets.

Train car cards

Each player is initially dealt four train car cards. The rest of the deck should be set to the side of the board and the top five cards should be placed face-up on the table. There are eight types of train car cards that represent the colors of routes on the map. There are also locomotive cards that act as wild cards and can be used to complete any route (the locomotive card is the rainbow-colored card in the above picture).


Finally, each player chooses a color and takes the corresponding set of 45 trains and scoring marker. The scoring marker is placed along the scoring track (beginning at zero). Optionally, the trains are lined up in a pretty little row, as shown below.


Always bet on blue.

Turn summary

According to the rules, the most experienced traveler begins. In clockwise order, each player can do one the following. Remember, these are simplified rules to give you a flavor of the game. Before you play, make sure you read the real rule book.

  • Draw train car cards. A player can draw two train car cards from the face-up pile or she can blindly draw from the top of the deck. Face-up cards must be immediately replaced. If a locomotive card is face-up and a player wants it, she may only draw that one card. If the locomotive card is drawn from a blind draw, the player may still draw two cards (and consider herself lucky).
  • Claim a route. A player can claim a route by turning in a set of train car cards that match the number and color of the desired route. She then places her trains on the route spaces. Finally, she scores her route according to the scoring table printed on the board and moves her scoring marker accordingly.
  • Draw destination tickets. A player may draw three destination tickets, keeping at least one of them. This is a good strategy if the game is still young and she has completed all her other destination cards already.

Again, this continues until a player has only 2 or fewer trains left in her stock. Each player then has one more turn and final scores are calculated (taking into account completed or uncompleted destination tickets and the longest route).



My Thoughts

Another easy one, and I think you know how it’s going to go.


  • Spite. If other players are able to detect where you are trying to go, they are able to cut you off by claiming the route you need. Since there are so many single routes connecting cities you need to reach for your destination tickets, this can be a real pain in the ass, especially when it’s done out of spite and not necessity.


  • Family friendliness. Yes, this is another train game, but it’s a lot easier to set up, learn, and start than Snowdonia. Like I mentioned at the start of this post, it appeals to people of all ages, interests, and game-playing experience. There’s hardly any learning curve, scoring is straightforward, and it encourages a lot of interaction with other players. The theme is light enough to make it fun and engaging, and yet it requires enough strategy to be interesting. This is one of the only family friendly strategy games I regularly play that requires those meaningful decisions I discussed previously.
  • Fast-paced action. Because this game is pretty easy to learn, it means you don’t have a lot of analysis paralysis. In turn, it moves quickly and you’re able to keep up without issue, even if you’re just starting.
  • So many versions! I mentioned above that we have Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries in addition to the original game, and we love it just as much. There are many different versions of this game, with new maps, slightly different rules, and unique player counts.
  • Wanderlust. I always feel a sense of wanderlust when we play this game, regardless of which map we play. I absolutely love to travel, but since it’s not entirely practical (or affordable) to travel nonstop, I can usually–temporarily–scratch the itch with a quick game of TTR.

In short

This is a great game to have in your personal collection. If you’re not ready to commit, check it out at your local game store. No self-respecting game store would be complete without it in their trial library. It’s a classic game, respected–if not loved–by every board game fan I know, yours truly included. I’m already looking forward to the day I can teach Baby Bear how to play.

Are you a TTR fan, too? Which version is your favorite?





Food Chain Magnate: A Board Game Review

Burgers, pizza, beer, pop (cheers, Midwesterners), and lemonade. As an American food enthusiast, what’s not to like?

food chain


Food Chain Magnate (FCM) is a relatively new game, published in 2015. This is the first Splotter Spellen game I’ve played, and since the company has such a reputation for quality games, I was curious to learn more. Amazingly, especially given their success, designers Jeroen Doumen and Joris Wiersinga don’t even design games full time; it’s their night and weekend hobby. Doumen is actually a mathematics PhD and Wiersinga designs computer games to improve elderly and rehabilitation care for SilverFit. By their powers combined, they create notoriously complicated and component-heavy games. After all, their company’s front-page says, “Splotter creates deep, complex board games for strategy enthusiasts.”

It should come as no surprise, then, that my pre-play research concluded that FCM was rather involved. While looking past all the components and (millions of) cards scattered across the table can be hard, I found it to be pleasantly simple to learn. Which is a good thing considering that we decided to learn it at midnight one day. (Note: It is not recommended to start any game at midnight when you have a baby.)

P.S. Remember our friend Tony Boydell? He recently played FCM and posted about it on his blog.

The Basics

Time: 120-240 minutes
BGG Rating:
Baby Brown Bear Status: 
Played a friend’s copy

Food Chain Magnate transports you to the artery-clogging diner era of the 1950s. In it, you are the CEO of a fast food company trying to out-maneuver and out-sell your competitors’ chains. To do it, you must hire the right mix of employees (from kitchen trainees to regional managers) to create an unbeatable production, sales, and marketing strategy. The game’s length depends on how long your fellow food chain magnates want to compete. The show is over when the bank runs out of money and the magnate with the most money wins.

Just as I mentioned in my Dominant Species review, this post is not intended to be a complete explanation of the game. It has far too many intricacies to do that justice. Instead, I’m just here to give you an idea of how it works so you can decide if you want to learn the rest on your own.

*The top-ranked games have ratings of ~8.3/10. That means this is one of the best games according to BGG (as of this publication, it is listed at number 90).


There are quite a few components you need to sort out before you can start. They are as follows.

  • Employee cards. As the CEO of a company, you must hire employees across a variety of departments. As seen below, the employees on the left may be recruited by a recruiting girl or your CEO. To advance them, you must train them. As they move up the ranks, they begin to require salaries.

food chain structure



Our friend saw this genius idea on BGG. Instead of laying each card on the table (and taking up an insane amount of space), he carefully folded a piece of poster board to create just enough slots for each employee card. He even set it up so the hierarchy matched that printed on the player menu (as seen above).
  • Map tiles. The number of players determines the number of tiles needed. Each tile is then placed randomly to form your town. It initially consists of roads, drink stands, houses, and empty spaces.


This map is set up for three players.
  • Milestone cards. Another part of the game that can greatly affect strategy is the milestone card. There are 18 different milestones a player can reach, such as first to place a billboard as seen below. These cards are earned any time a player fulfills a card’s requirements during a turn. If multiple players meet the same milestone during a turn, they each receive that milestone card. Most cards have benefits on them which take effect immediately.


  • Food and drink pieces. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I love the little wooden figures that represent the food and drink: pizzas, burgers, lemonades, sodas, and beers. They signify different things depending on where they are placed. On marketing campaigns, they show both what is being advertised and for how long. On a house, they show that house’s demand. In a player’s hand, they show that restaurant’s available stock.


  • Bank money. Ooh, paper money. So despised by this game’s owner. The bank begins with $50 times the number of players (so $150 in this three-player example). The rest of the money goes into the box at the beginning. Players do not begin with any money.
  • Player markers and restaurants. Each player has three available restaurants. The restaurant tiles have little triangular symbols that mark their entrances. Pay attention to these as distances from the restaurant start from the entrance. To begin, players randomly choose player markers to determine turn order. Beginning with the last player in this turn order, each player chooses an empty square to place his starting restaurant. Restaurant entrances must touch a road and no two restaurants can be placed on the same tile.
  • Bank reserve cards. Each player receives three bank reserve cards ($100, $200, and $300). After all restaurants are placed, each player chooses one of the three cards and puts it face down next to the bank. These cards are not unveiled until later. They indicate how much money will be added to the bank once the initial stockpile runs out. Since the game ends when the bank’s money does, this means players do not know at the beginning of the game how long it will end up being. This makes strategy difficult to determine. For example, in a short game you may want to focus on producing and selling food as quickly as possible, whereas in a longer game you may want to focus on building a larger corporate structure.

Alright! The map is out, the restaurants are placed, and players are ready to start swaying the feeble minds of the town’s citizens.

Turn summary

Okay, here’s where the going gets tough. Here’s a very simplified overview (if you can believe it).


This is when you secretly decide which employees you want to use during the turn. You are only able to use as many employees as you have open slots (the CEO, for example, has three open slots). This number may grow depending on who you hire and put to work. Everyone who is not working during a turn is on PTO (“at the beach”). During the first round, all players will only be able to use their CEOs.


Mid-play corporate structure. I really took advantage of the extra spots that came with the junior VPs and management trainees. Those waitresses really came in handy, too, not only because they earn you money but they also help you win business.

Phase 1: Turn order 

The player with the most open slots in his corporate structure chooses his position in the turn order track, followed by the player with the second most open slots, etc. If there is a tie, the player who went ahead in turn order last time chooses first.

Phase 2: Business

This is where you take care of your operations.


I’d use this meme a million times if I could.
  1. Recruit new employees based on the number of recruit actions you have (the CEO always has one).
  2. Train (or upgrade) employees based on the number of train actions you have (the trainer trains one, for example). The person being trained must be “on the beach.” Think of it as “away at a conference.”
  3. Initiate marketing campaign based on which marketing employee is working. As a professional marketer, the overly simplistic view of marketing is somewhat insulting, but it’s supposed to be the 1950s, I guess. This marketer will be away for as long as the campaign lasts, so pay special attention to the type of campaign, placement, duration, and good you choose.
  4. Get food and drinks based on which buyers and kitchen staff you have working.
  5. Place a new house or garden if you have a new business developer working.
  6. Place or move restaurants if you have a local manager or regional manager working.

Phase 3: Dinnertime

Here’s where a lot of the juicy stuff happens because it’s when you find out if your carefully crafted plans have been thwarted by that no-good businessman across the street.

During dinnertime, the town’s citizens finally consume the food and drink they’ve been craving (because of advertising; these people have no minds of their own). Starting with the lowest numbered house, players determine which restaurants have produced the food and drink in demand by that house. For example if there are two beers and one pizza on the house, the restaurant needs to be able to provide exactly two beers and one pizza in order to sell anything to that house. Unless otherwise noted (like with a milestone card), each good sold is $10.

If multiple restaurants can provide exactly what is in demand, the restaurant closest to the house wins the business (connected by a road, of course). If that is still a tie, the restaurant that has the best price (if there’s a discount manager working, it will be a little lower) or the best service (with a waitress) will win the business. If that is still a tie, the restaurant who went first in turn order will get the business. Houses with gardens pay double the unit price for each item (rich snobs!). I haven’t even covered everything here and yet you can already see how complicated it can become!

The first time the bank runs out of money, the reserve cards that were put aside in the beginning of the game are shuffled and revealed. The tallied number shown on the cards is how much money is added to the bank. The second time the bank runs out of money is when the game ends (but not before finishing up the payday phase and making sure all employees are paid for the work they do). Believe it or not, a tie goes to the person who went first in the most recent turn order.


Mid-play shot. Here you can see the goods I produced this round (three sodas), my corporate structure (I loved those management trainees!), and my milestone cards. 

Phase 4: Payday 

First, players must decide if they want to fire anyone (except for marketers who are out in the field). Second, they must then pay all employees who require a salary, including marketers in the field. Each salaried employee earns $5 during this phase.

Phase 5: Marketing campaigns

This is where those advertisements persuade people to want whatever it is you advertised to them. Starting with the lowest numbered campaign (as opposed to house), players place the little food demand tokens on the houses that are within each campaign’s reach. Houses can only have three demand tokens on them and houses with gardens can have five. Therefore some houses may be full by the time a higher numbered campaign takes effect, rendering it (and your strategy) useless.

Here are some examples of houses and the goods they desire. On the left, house five wants exactly two sodas. Billboard marketing campaign 13 is active and eternally promotes one soda at the end of each round. On the right, houses 15 and 16 want exactly one burger and one lemonade. There’s an active burger mailbox marketing campaign that will last two more rounds. 

Phase 6: Clean up

During this phase, players must discard leftover food or drinks (unless they have a milestone that allows them to keep it), all employees go back into their hand, restaurants that are “coming soon” flip over to “welcome,” and milestones are earned and flipped over to signify that they are no longer available. Then the game repeats from phase one.

My Thoughts


  • Paper money. I don’t care about this as much as some people (cough, Nick), but I’ll admit paper money is a little annoying to handle. However, when trying to think of an alternative that would fit the theme, I keep coming up short. It’s a theme-appropriate kitschy detail.
  • Unforgiving with mistakes. This, like many other strategy games, I suppose, is a game where it hard to visualize all that will occur each round. There are a lot of variables that may not play out like you expect, and it’s easy to miscalculate your and your opponents’ moves. Altogether, this makes it pretty unforgiving when you make a mistake. Even if your mistake occurs early in the game, it can be nearly impossible for you to ever bounce back.
  • Loser disengagement. Because it can be so hard to bounce back, it’s easy for the loser(s) to become disengaged. The first time I played, another player and I were neck and neck until the end, making it very interesting for us. The third player was unable to catch up and proceeded to become fairly disinterested. The second time I played, I was that third player and started to tune out once I realized I had a snowball’s chance of bouncing back. Because so much of what you do is based on your corporate structure and isn’t too combative until dinnertime, it’s easier than I’d like to only pay attention to your own board unless you’re doing well enough to be a contender.


  • Graphics. I absolutely love the retro, ’50s-themed artwork. It’s simple but provides a nice flavor for the game.
  • Theme. It’s possible I love the graphics so much because I think the theme is so fresh. Who knew that it’d take a couple of Dutchmen to create such an interesting Americana game?
  • Variable length. The fact that every player has a hand in determining the game’s length but that it’s not revealed until mid-game is very intriguing. During our first game, we decided to play a short one (especially because it was after midnight). During the second game, we didn’t talk about it at all, so I was excited when we had one of each card, meaning it would be a longer game. That excitement waned, however, when I started losing by such a wide margin.
  • Employee cards. The card drafting mechanism can be a little trite, but its execution here is new and exciting. You’re recruiting employees and deciding who works and who gets to go on vacation every single round. You are in charge of their career paths, or lack thereof. Maybe it’s because I was a cog in the corporate wheel myself, but this power went to my head and I liked it.
  • Strategy differences. Since I won the first time, I tried to see if that strategy  would work the second go around and I can tell you it definitely didn’t. While I didn’t enjoy the feeling of not being able to catch back up, I do appreciate that the game forces you to alter your strategy each play. So much changes depending on the placement of the tiles and restaurants, the length, and the other players’ strategies that you must adapt.
  • Competition. It’s quite a thrill when you can accurately visualize exactly what you need to do to win the most business in a round. It’s also thrilling when you can prevent other players from properly executing their strategies. No matter what, I looked forward to the dinnertime phase each round because it was so fun to see who would be able to pull through the most. It was also very apparent both times how meaningful the milestone cards are; the first to $100 card is especially critical to win in my opinion.


What game isn’t more fun when you walk away with loads of cash?

In short

Since I won’t spend my time and energy reviewing a game I hate, it should come as no surprise that I would recommend playing this game.

Simply put, it’s very different from any other I’ve played and that alone makes me like it. Food Chain Magnate is simultaneously complex and simple and demands that each play is different from the last. Yes, it can be frustrating that the rich get richer, but that’s all the more motivation to be in the rich camp. It may sound boring when people listening in hear, “I’m going to train my management trainee to become a junior vice president,” but they don’t know what that junior VP is capable of doing!

I had been told that this is a game for “serious gamers,” but I don’t think that’s necessarily true. There is a lot of planning and thinking ahead, but it’s not so complicated that you can’t figure it out while you’re playing. I think it’d be better labeled as a game for “people willing to invest time and energy into a new game.” It’s not going to take you ten minutes to explain, but it’s also not going to take you an hour. Like anything else, you just have to start. It may be hard to find, but I suggest you go check out Food Chain Magnate and give it a go.

As always, I’d love to know what you think!


Snowdonia: A Board Game Review

Ah, Snowdonia. A train game unlike any other.



Perhaps my favorite part of doing these little game reviews is finding out more of the backstory behind them. Snowdonia’s research didn’t disappoint.

The game is based on the real Welsh mountain of Snowdon, whose Welsh name is the nearly unpronounceable “Yr Wyddfa.” Designer Tony Boydell said he wanted to design a single railway game and was inspired to base it on Snowdon, which he had visited as a young boy. The original working title of the game was Mountain Railway, but luckily the publishers thought Snowdonia had a little more zing to it and rightly changed it before publication. Oh, and for what it’s worth, Boydell says the Welsh name is pronounced “Ear with-fuh.” If you’re interested in reading the full interview, you can find it here.

I also want to drop a quick shoutout to Boydell, of whom Papa Bear is a big fan for his witty BGG blog, Every Man Needs a Shed. It’s fun to love a game and find out the designer is pretty cool too.

The Basics

Time: 30-90 minutes
Players: 1-5
Ages: 10+
BGG Rating:
Baby Brown Bear Status: 

The year is 1894 and you are the head of a company that provides labor for the construction of the great Snowdon Mountain Railway. You must allocate your laborers wisely, perhaps by earning contracts or making use of your additional, drunkard worker, to excavate, lay track, and build the rail and stations up the mountain. The weather is ever-changing, though, and you must pay close attention to the forecast as it greatly affects your construction abilities. Whichever company contributes the most wins all the glory (and victory points).

Snowdonia is mainly a worker placement game. In keeping with the theme, the game ends at the end of the round when the last track has been laid and the railway has completed its ascent.

*The top-ranked games have ratings of ~8.3/10.


Despite its many components, Snowdonia is not a very complicated game. Below, you can see the initial setup for a five-player game.


In the center of the board, you have the stock yard, where you find the following resources: iron ore (orange cubes), stone (gray cubes), and coal (black cubes). Underneath the stock yard is the event track. If a white cube is drawn when you replenish the stock yard, an event space is marked and the game completes the corresponding action on its own.

To the right of this event space is the weather forecast. While it is a little hard to see in this picture, the weather is determined by the back of the contract cards, which are seen here face-down in the bottom right-hand corner of the board. In this example, the next two rounds show sunny weather (yellow discs), which increases excavation and track work rates. Blue discs represent rain, which decreases those rates; gray discs represent fog, which prevents any excavation or track work. These work rates are shown in the two tracks above the contract card deck. The contract cards, meanwhile, have various bonuses both for a one-time boost during the game and extra victory points if they are fulfilled at the end of the game.

Across the top of the board are the action space cards, where you assign your laborers each turn. Surrounding the board are the track cards and station cards. On them are brown cubes that represent rubble to be excavated before track or stations can be built.

Below the board are the train cards, of which each player may only own one. The trains are helpful in different ways, but they all allow you to hire your extra (third) laborer and send him up the mountain to do some work.

Turn summary

Each round consists of the following:

  • Assign laborers. Each player starts with two laborers. In clockwise order, each player assigns one laborer to one of the action spots along the top of the board. Once all players have placed both laborers, each player with a train may spend some coal to hire their third worker from the pub and shoot him up the mountain. Available actions are:
    • Take resources from the stock yard
    • Excavate rubble
    • Convert resources into steel bars or stone
    • Lay track
    • Build stations or buy a train
    • Visit the site office to select a contract
    • Move the surveyor up to the next station
  • Resolve actions. Starting from the left (action A) and working your way to the right (action G), actions are resolved in numerical order. Contract cards may be played during this phase according to the action shown on the card. For example, if a contract card has an A on the bottom of the card, the player can use it before all A actions are resolved.
  • Restock contract cards. Someone needs to shift the contract cards over and discard any card that is in the left-most position. Each space should have a card.
  • Check the weather forecast. Someone also needs to shift the weather discs to the left and look at the top contract card on the deck to see what the third weather spot should show. Take the disc of this color. Then, move the track and excavate work rate tracks according to the current forecast.
  • Restock the stock yard. Finally, someone needs to pull the appropriate amount of cubes out of the supply bag for the number of players in the game.
  • Complete any events if applicable. If any white cubes are drawn, play the next available event spaces.

Any time a player claims a track or part of a station, she places a cube of her color on that box. This is how she will tally up her points at the end of the game.


Here you see the middle of a five-player game. Some of the rubble is gone, some of the stations are built (as indicated by the colored cubes on the station cards), and two of the surveyors are out at stations one and two. Three event cubes have been played so far and laborer assignment has started for the next round.

These actions continue until the last track has been laid as a result of a player action. Then, each player counts victory points by category (station cards, track cards, contract cards, trains, and the surveyor).


This shows the end of the game. As you can see, the last track has been laid by the purple player. 

My Thoughts

This one is pretty simple.


Honestly the only con I can think of is that we have all these other games I want to play, too, so I can’t justify playing Snowdonia all the time. I suppose another is that we don’t have any expansions, but that’s not the game’s fault either!


There’s just so much to love about this game. Let’s see…

  • Weather variables. The fact that the game has a weather component is really interesting to me. In real life, a sunny day would allow you to get more work done, just like a rainy one may slow you down. Apparently there is snow in an expansion that actually forces you to put rubble back on the board, which is a brilliant addition to the theme. I haven’t played that version yet, but I’m excited to check it out.
  • Length. Once you learn how to play, which doesn’t take long at all, Snowdonia is pretty fast no matter how many players you have. Even with all five players, I don’t think I’ve ever played a 90-minute game as stated on the box.
  • Straightforward. I really respect a designer who can create such an entertaining game without making it extremely complicated. Snowdonia is very straightforward but still multi-faceted, and I admire Boydell for that.
  • Player count differences. As I’ve stated before, I love when games play differently depending on the number of players present. Snowdonia definitely does that. The unique thing about this game is that I actually have no preference for the number of players because they all play so well. Yes, they’re different, but they’re all really fun and engaging.
  • Choices. Like any great strategy game, Snowdonia is a game of meaningful choices. One of the neat things here is that when you’re assigning your laborers, you can choose any open spot on the board, regardless of the spot’s number. For example, I may want to excavate the last pieces of rubble off a station so I get those victory points. But I know based on the future weather forecast and the work rates that the second person to excavate will get those points. Well, I can put my laborer on spot two and hope someone else puts it on spot one without realizing my sneaky behavior. It’s unlikely it would go unnoticed, but hey, you gotta try. The surveyor is another neat choice you have. It seems like moving him might be a wasted turn (though not as much so in expansions, from what I’m told), but I’ve been part of many games where that surveyor has crept up enough to score game-winning points.
  • Event cubes. The number one thing I love about this game is that it advances itself no matter what you do. You think you’re competing against the other players, but man, when those event cubes start coming out rapid fire, you realize that you’re all just playing against the game. It’s like a ticking clock, really. A beautifully designed ticking clock.

In short

I absolutely love this game. It’s actually probably my favorite to date. I can’t think of a single other game where I don’t have at least a little preference of how many people play; I’d play this one with any number of people, any time they want to play. This is even a good solo game! And I don’t even like solo games. At $70, it was a little more expensive than most of our games, but its cost-per-play is probably at about $3 now. I’d say that’s worth it.

Any other Snowdonia lovers out there?

Dominant Species: A Board Game Review

Though it was published in 2010, another old game by board game standards, Papa Bear and I just recently started playing Dominant Species. Because it is so vastly different from Dominion, I wanted to review it next.

dom species cover.jpg


Interestingly enough, when I looked for more information about the designer, Chad Jensen, I found a 2006 interview he conducted with Dice Tower founder Tom Vasel. In it, he said that he started “tinkering with existing games […] 30 years ago! [He] would invent games using a simple deck of cards and parts from Monopoly or Risk, for example, and them try them out with [his] friends.” He said he started designing games in earnest around 1995.

This interview came out shortly before his war game, Combat Commander, debuted. He also mentioned in the article that he would soon begin “casting [his] Euro-themes around and see if any of those publishers bite.” Well, it turns out GMT Games bit Dominant Species only four years later. Nominated in several categories, it won the 2011 Golden Geek Best Strategy Board Game award.

The Basics

Time: 2-4 hours
BGG Rating: 
Baby Brown Bear Status: 
On loan from a game group friend (thanks, buddy!)

Dominant Species is set in year 90,000 BC. You represent an animal trying not only to survive but also become dominant in as many different terrains as possible before an impending ice age, when the game ends. In the meantime, your goal is to accumulate as many victory points as possible. You do this by having species present in different terrains and by being dominant in some of them.

Although this is primarily an area control game, it does use card drafting, tile placement, and worker placement mechanics as well.

Okay, I’m not going to lie to you. This game is much more involved than Dominion. After all, it has a 20-page rule book. It’s so involved that our friend gave us homework to watch a run-through video and then surprised us with real homemade aptitude quizzes before we started.

Therefore, my “overview” won’t be a complete explanation of the game. If you are interested, I would be more than happy to start a dialogue with you. Otherwise, you can find numerous videos and rules summaries online.

*The top-ranked games have ratings of ~8.3/10.

Here is one of the aptitude quizzes. I was so impressed that he took the time to create, administer, and grade them. Very clever. There was also a true or false page and the final statement was, “[Baby Bear] is cute.” I obviously put, “VERY TRUE.” It’s incredibly heartwarming to me that these guys enjoy (or at least pretend to enjoy) the babe so much. He’s become a board game group mascot of sorts, and I couldn’t be prouder.

A throwback to 9th grade biology

In this game, it is helpful to remember the animal taxonomy system: animal (kingdom), phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species. Remember, your “animal” is what you represent broadly. In food chain order, they are: mammals, reptiles, birds, amphibians, arachnids, and insects. When the game refers to “species,” it means your cubes, since they represent different kinds of species within your animal classification. Phew. I hope my biology teacher would still give me an A today, but I think that might be a stretch.



All of the following pictures (except one) show the two-player version of the game. This is the initial setup. The hexagonal tiles represent different types of terrains.

Basically, each player chooses an animal and each animal is represented by an equal number of species on the earth. Each animal is able to survive in a certain type of terrain based on what elements are available there. For example, in the above picture, the amphibian is able to survive on terrains where water is present (as evidenced by the three blue circles on the player board).

Turn summary

There are three phases in this game:

  1. Planning phase
  2. Execution phase
  3. Reset phase

Planning phase. This is where players choose what actions they want to take in this turn by going in initiative track order and placing their action pawns on available “eyeball” spots. A detailed list of what each track does is available in the rule book. For now you’ll just have to get a taste from my picture. Otherwise we’d be here all day.


Domination was strong this turn. We obviously needed points and wanted domination cards.

Execution phase. Once all action pawns are placed, the execution phase begins. Going in top-to-bottom and left-to-right order, each action pawn is removed from its eyeball spot and the corresponding action is performed by the owner of that pawn.

Reset phase. During this phase you remove species that go extinct (are on terrains without any of that animal’s elements) and one animal may gain victory points from the Survival Card (related to tundras). This is also when you reset the board (draw new dominance cards, flip wanderlust tiles, etc.).


It’s a big, sturdy board that gives you most of the information you need. If not, the player boards are extremely helpful.
A lot of speciation occurred. A lot of amphibians became dominant. A lot of points were scored.


Here you can see how many points are awarded to the animals with the most species on a terrain. Not shown: tundras earn the animal with the most species one point and that’s it.


My only picture of our six-player game to show you the difference with the species on the tiles and the action pawns fighting for their placements on the right.

My Thoughts


I like starting with the negative first, especially for games I really like.

  • Learning curve. Okay, obviously this is a long game and it has a fairly steep learning curve. This is another case of “I’m glad I watched a run-through video and had friends teach me,” because solely relying on the rule book would have been daunting. I like to think that I understood what I was doing very well the first half of the first game I played (especially since I won), but it was probably a little longer than that. However, I will forever deny that luck was on my side. It was all strategy, baby. Don’t worry about the second time I played (when I lost).
  • Scoring. At the end of the game, you score each individual tile for victory points based on the number of species of each animal on the tile. A tie always goes in food chain order, so the mammals (the highest on the food chain) gain first place points, and so on. While I tried to circumvent this problem with the dominance cards so that I had the most species on any given tile with a lot of potential points, I still found it a little irritating that some of those points went to something basically determined by the luck of the draw. I suppose it’s just one more aspect you need to keep a close eye on towards the end of the game.


Now we can end on a good note.

  • Control of destiny. Yes, your turn order is first determined by food chain order. However, the initiative track allows you to change your turn order if you so choose.
  • Dominance cards. In both plays, I found the dominance cards to be incredibly powerful. Some players may argue that these cards give players too much power, and that if you’re higher up the food chain, you likely won’t get first dibs on the best ones. However, to my point above, you can change the turn order, albeit incrementally per turn. And you can place your pawn on the domination spot early on if you really want a card. I’ve only played twice, but I think it’s critical to take advantage of these cards.
  • Level of engagement. Surprisingly, Dominant Species has never felt like a long game despite its considerable length. Both when I played the six-player game and when I played the two-player game, I was interested in everyone’s turns, not just my own. In so many games, especially once you understand the rules, it’s easy to zone out when it’s not your turn. That’s probably one of my biggest complaints about games, actually. I don’t want to be bored, even when I’m not playing. Which is what makes me love this game even more.
  • Theme. I think the designer put together a thoughtful, well-crafted theme. I love how the animals need certain elements to survive in their respective terrains. Amphibians and water? Check. Insects and grass? Check. I also love the choices you have during the execution phase. Speciate to spread yourselves across new terrains? Adapt to survive on new elements? Yeah, that makes sense. When I played the six-player version, we brought up biology a few times. You have to appreciate a game that does that.
  • Player count differences. As I mentioned in the Dominion post, I really love when a game plays very differently from one player count to the next. Now, I’ve only played with the two extremes, but they were markedly different. In the six-player version, you only have three action pawns and the board can change so drastically by the time you need to play your next pawn. However, you generally always have an idea of what your strategy is because you have so much time to plan. In the two-player version, you have seven action pawns, meaning you have so many actions and decisions to make each turn. It was overwhelming trying to figure out first what I absolutely needed to lock down, then what I didn’t want my opponent to do, and finally how all of the action pawns would play out in order. I felt a lot more pressure in the two-player version because of this.

In short

Play this game. It’s long, yes, but it’s interesting and unique. It has a little bit of everything: battles (or at least a good amount of competition), cool mechanics, and an on-point theme. It provides good fodder for table conversation and keeps everyone involved throughout the game. Plus, the player boards help you remember what each track does, so it’s not like you have to remember all the rules to be successful.

I’m curious to know what you think. What’s your take on Dominant Species?

Dominion: A Board Game Review

As mentioned in my intro to board games last week, I first dipped my toes into the pool of strategy board games with Dominion.



Categorically, Dominion is a deck building game. Thematically, it transforms you into a medieval monarch racing to collect land before your peers can lay claim. Introduced in 2008, this 2009 Spiel des Jahres winner is noteworthy not only for its fun factor, but also because designer Donald X. Vaccarino actually invented the deck building mechanism. Seriously. If you, like me, are fascinated with this kind of something-from-nothing creativity, I highly suggest reading his thoughtful article on the origins of Dominion.

For beginners, I’ll start with the basic mechanics of the game. For people who have already played Dominion and are just here for my pretty pictures and review, feel free to scroll ahead for my final thoughts.

The Basics

Time: 30 minutes 
BGG Rating: 7.7/10*
Baby Brown Bear Status: Owned (base set plus Seaside and Alchemy expansions)

The goal of Dominion is to buy and use treasure (money) and kingdom (action) cards to acquire land (victory point) cards: Estates (1 point), Duchies (3 points), or Provinces (6 points). The game ends immediately when all Province cards are gone or when any three card piles are empty.

*The top-ranked games have ratings of ~8.3/10.


The following image demonstrates the setup for a two-player game.


The supply

As shown above, the “supply” refers to all of the cards in the middle of the table, between both fanned-out hands. The green cards to the left (read the designer’s interview above to learn why they are green!) are the land (victory point) cards. The gray cards with illustrations are kingdom (action) cards. The gold cards are the treasure (money) cards.

Kingdom cards come in a few flavors. Some are straight action cards, some are action-attack cards (like the dreaded Witch, who gives you curses), one is an action-reaction card (the Moat, which protects you if in your hand when being attacked), and one is actually another victory card (Gardens). There are 25 different types of kingdom cards in all.

To begin, players must choose 10 sets of kingdom cards (of which there are typically 10 cards each). The rule book has a great recommendation on which cards to use for the first game and suggestions for subsequent games as well. After you start to get a feel for the different cards and how they interact when played together, I suggest using an online Dominion card randomizer. That way, you can input which expansions you have, if any, to help you get the most out of your Dominion experience.

In the above picture, you’ll also see a purple card. This is a curse card (and, in this example game, was the bane of my existence). Though used with other cards in the expansions, the Witch is really the only card in the base set that requires the curse card.

Player hands

Each player starts the game with minimal resources: just seven coppers and three estates. Each player must take his or her cards, shuffle them, and place them face down. These face-down cards are the player’s deck.

Turn summary

For each turn, a player will draw five cards from the deck to form her hand (let’s use feminine pronouns today, shall we?). Even as she procures more cards, she will always deal five cards to form her hand. More cards may be called into play depending on action cards used, but we will get to that in a second. After she is done with her turn, the player will discard her hand to a face-up discard pile. 

Unless you must “trash” something, your cards are yours until the end of the game; they are not consumed like in other games. This includes treasure cards. Once your deck is empty, you shuffle your discard pile and start again.

There are three parts to each turn:

  1. Action phase. The player may play one action card (potentially more if that action card leads to more actions).
  2. Buy phase. The player may buy a card (again, potentially more).
  3. Clean-up phase. The player must discard both played and unplayed cards into her discard pile.

While players can plan privately, they must lay their hands down and show their cards as they play their turns. It keeps that player honest and organized and helps the other players stay engaged.


Each kingdom card has a rather complex and beautiful illustration. It also says what that card actually does.
For example, when played, the Woodcutter gives you an additional buy and adds two monies to your hand. The Village, on the other hand, gives you an additional card and two additional actions.
So if you are dealt the Village and the Woodcutter, you want to play the Village first since it will allow you to play the Woodcutter as well. If you play the Woodcutter first, you can play no other actions.

Example hands


Early in the game, you will have a small deck. That means two things: 1. Your three Estates will pop up frequently and dilute your hand. 2. You will have to reshuffle your discard pile quite frequently. So if you want to really get full use out of a particular action card, you may want to buy it early on so you can actually use it a lot (without waiting for the entire deck to run out).
 My standard Dominion strategy is to load up on treasure cards. This almost always helps me win because I’m able to buy Province cards before anyone else can afford them. However, you have to be careful when you use that strategy because cards like the Thief allow your opponents to steal your treasure cards. In this particular game we did not include the only real defense card, the Moat, so I was forced to choose Papa Bear’s favorite strategy: buying a lot of action cards.


This is the kind of hand I dread since it is almost entirely diluted with victory points (and a curse). I have no action cards, and there are only a few cards that only cost two monies, so I cannot do much. 


Any time you have eight or more monies, BUY A PROVINCE CARD. Even if you have 11 monies and only one buy. Trust me.


After each turn, deal yourself the next turn’s five starting cards. If you can only deal yourself one card (like above) because the rest are in the discard pile, deal that card first. Then shuffle the discard pile and deal the remaining four cards. 


My final tally for this game. Unfortunately my opponent’s Thief stole too much of my money for me to recover in time. It wasn’t that big of a point difference, but it did remind me that I need to vary my strategy occasionally when the cards are what they were.

My Thoughts

Dominion will always hold a special place in my heart because we received it for our wedding and because it was what made us interested in exploring the world of strategy games. But I’ve said that. So what else do I think?



Let’s start here.

  • Weak combat. It’s a pretty lighthearted game overall, so if you like games that have a lot of battles or head-to-head combat, this isn’t one for you. There are attack cards, and they can feel a little personal sometimes, but there’s no physical representation of the attack so it just doesn’t feel as menacing (as in, no one places a pawn in your territory and makes your stomach lurch).
  • Routine. Once you’ve played enough, your turn can be played in 10 seconds or less. Even though we play face up, this can make it easy to tune out what other players are doing.
  • Player count differences. There are certainly some small differences when playing with two, three, and four players. However, I really enjoy when a game makes me play completely differently depending on how many people are playing. This just isn’t one of those games. I think it’s largely because the action-attack cards that you use to affect your opponents are typically in their hands too. So while each player has a different deck, the cards that can affect other players are also going to be used on you and ultimately you’re still just racing to buy the most victory points.
  • A lot of expansions. Now, this is kind of a pro, but there are so many different expansions that I feel like I will never get to them all.
    • Speaking of expansions, we have Alchemy and Seaside. Of the two, I prefer Alchemy (even though it’s not the popular opinion) because Seaside has too many delayed effect cards and little components (like coins and player mats) for my liking. I just can’t keep track of those things in a card game.
    • I’ve also played Prosperity and really enjoyed it–my favorite strategy is to get rich, after all.
    • Note: The Dominion seen here is the base set. However, Dominion: Intrigue acts as another base set. Then there are six large (e.g., Seaside) and three small (e.g., Alchemy) expansions. See? SO MANY OPTIONS!


Here’s what I really like about the game.

  • Length. It’s short, consistently clocking in around 25-35 minutes depending on the number of players. Because of this, we often use Dominion as what my game group calls a “filler” game, meaning it’s a good, fun option to play between long, less lighthearted games.
  • Replay value. The base set alone comes with so many kinds of kingdom cards that you never have to play the same game twice. Like I mentioned already, I typically use the same money-grabbing strategy and it usually works well for me. However, different combinations of cards make me get out of that comfort zone and I like that.
  • Widely known and respected. This game is pretty old by board game standards, meaning a lot of people know how to play it by now. That means a lot of potential teachers for beginners or a lot of fellow board gamers willing to jump in and play right away. As the first in its category, it’s also highly respected (case in point, its high ranking on BGG).
  • It’s approachable. Once you understand the basic mechanics of the game, it’s easy to play. Yes, there are a lot of different cards, but they are self-explanatory once you know what the terms mean. This makes it a hit for everyone, but is especially appealing for beginners. After all, it’s nice not to have to consult a rule book every five seconds before you grab a card. The info is right there!

In short

It’s pretty obvious, but I would highly recommend playing Dominion if you haven’t already. It’s an easy-to-learn, fast-to-play option for experienced board gamers and newbies alike. It’s the kind of game that we play whenever we’re not sure what else to play because: 1. It’s short; 2. We know it will be slightly different from the last time we played; and 3. We know we have fun playing it.

As a bonus, many other games nowadays (like Lewis & Clark) include some kind of deck building mechanism. Why not first learn and master it with Dominion?

Join the conversation. Tell me in the comments what YOU think about Dominion.



An Intro to Board Games

Both Papa Bear and I grew up playing board games. In fact, when asked if he liked growing up with three brothers, he says, “Yes, because we always had a perfect amount of people for games.” I’m sure he likes his brothers for other reasons too, but it’s hard to say.

As an only child, I prefer to think that I was just super creative when I wanted to play a game and couldn’t wrangle together anyone else. After all, playing by oneself is almost a surefire way to win.


I’m also going to lose, unfortunately.

Though we grew up with games like Mastermind, Scrabble, Life, and Monopoly (So. Much. Monopoly.), our tastes have changed in recent years. It all started when a good friend gifted us with Dominion for our wedding.


More on this later.

Any good game involves a certain level of strategy, but what Dominion introduced us to was a whole new world that took those strategies to the next level. (For what it’s worth, bad games involve strategy too, but the goal is usually to end the game as soon as possible. Here’s looking at you, Candyland.)

In this new world, games are more complex. When I asked my game group to describe what makes these games different, they said that, unlike Monopoly or Life, for example, these require “meaningful decisions.” Because there is much less left to chance (e.g., rolling a die or spinning a wheel), you are responsible for your outcomes. Each action must be carefully planned as it can greatly affect your and your opponent’s future strategies. In turn, each time you play is very different from the last.

Now, I don’t mean to sound snobbish. There is a time and a place for games like Monopoly and Life. To me, one of the greatest things about board games is that they encourage conversation and interaction. Nearly any game allows for fun interchange, even those where “fun interchange” may be better described as “contentious debate.” Plus, many of us grew up playing these games. Playing them later in life can be fun for purely nostalgic reasons. Furthermore, they are great for teaching both kids and adults how to play board games. They introduce turn order and help people learn how to read game rules, win and lose with grace (sometimes), and generally have fun playing games.

guess who

These faces strike a chord with my sentimental heart.

Let me step back, though. Before we go too far down the board game path, let’s start with some basics.



A Quick Board Game Primer

A board gamer’s best friend: BoardGameGeek

Simply put, BoardGameGeek is a database for board games and it pretty much contains anything you’d possibly want to know about any game. I like to use it to research games before we buy them, read forums for recommendations of what to buy next in any certain category, search for rule clarifications, and log my game plays. If you think that’s a lot, you should see how Papa Bear uses the site. He basically lives and breathes “BGG.”

Board game categories

BGG helpfully classifies games in a few ways: type, category, and mechanism. Here are BGG’s “types” of games:

While these categories and descriptions are generally helpful, and will earn you points if you use them correctly in the gaming community, it’s important to remember that some games span across categories. So if you think you only enjoy party games, you may be surprised to find out that some of your favorites are also considered to be thematic games. You may be a bigger board game geek than you thought!


This guy is so excited about games that he decided to dress up as a blue meeple at the beach!*

Where to begin

Based on the above descriptions, you may be drawn to a particular kind of game. You’ve likely already played a party game in recent years. If you have any friends who like to play games, ask them to play. I’ve never met a board game fan who will turn down a game night. If you don’t know any game lovers, check out a local board game store. For me, it’s the Chicagoland Games: Dice Dojo on Broadway and Bryn Mawr.

Going to your local store is great for a few reasons: 1. Any purchase would help support a local business; 2. They usually have demo libraries full of games you can try before you buy (with no pressure to buy at all); and 3. They typically host open game nights. The Dojo, for example, hosts an open board game night each Wednesday. There, you can meet like-minded people and try your hand at a new game. You are most likely not the only person unfamiliar with the game, so the environment is very conducive to learning and asking questions.


Open game night at the Dojo. You can see a sliver of the demo wall on the right. They have so many games to try.
[Source: Me, after participating in a great open game night at the Dojo]

Now, since I tend to like strategy games (and party games) best, and since that’s kind of what I started off talking about here, I’d personally recommend starting with Dominion. Admittedly, I have no other frame of reference, but I think it’s a fun game that’s easy to learn and play in a relatively short amount of time. Another popular starting point for strategy games is Catan, formerly known as Settlers of Catan or “Settlers.”

Learning to play a new game

I’ll admit, when we first started playing Dominion, I found the eight-page rule book to be rather daunting. Now, I find eight-page rule books to be refreshingly short.


“Time out. I don’t want to read eight pages of rules. What else can I do?”

There are several ways to learn how to play a new game. Over time I’ve realized that, in order of preference, I like to:

  1. Play with someone who already knows the game;
  2. Watch an overview video; and/or
  3. Read through the rule book.

Playing with people who know the game. Assuming your friends are somewhat articulate, it’s easiest to learn how to play a game from people who have already played it, especially if they’re played more than once. After a brief summary of components and rules, I often find that it’s easiest to just start playing and asking questions along the way. Sure, you may not be able to form a solid strategy yet, but there’s no better way to improve than by making mistakes. Plus, if you totally suck it up the first time, imagine how surprised they’ll be when you dominate the second time around.

Watching an overview video. Now, let’s say you know you’re going to play a game but you don’t own it and your friends aren’t with you yet. Save everyone the time and energy of having someone explain it by watching an overview video first. Good ones (like the Watch It Played series) will provide a succinct review of the basic game play and may even throw out a few ideas for strategy. The Dice Tower also has some nice videos.

Reading the rules. Finally, it never hurts to learn a game by simply reading the rules the designers took so long to write. In my experience, they become easier to understand the more games you play and rule books you read.

Regardless of how I initially learn a game, I find it to be very insightful to read through the rule book again after playing once. With a basic understanding of the game down, it’s easier to understand some of the intricacies of the rules. It’s also helpful because you realize what you did incorrectly the first time. Oops.

Ready to Play?

Enough talking about what kinds of games are out there and how to learn how to play them. It’s time for you to just start playing!

Have no friends? There are several solo games. Have a lot of friends? Grab a party game. Have just a medium amount of friends? You’re in luck, because there are a gazillion for two to four players.

Because I talked up Dominion a couple of times throughout this post, look for a follow-up that gives a little more detail about the game and why Papa Bear and I like it so much.

(Edit: Here’s the Dominion review.)

Again, the best part of playing games is the social element (although I do love a good mental challenge and some healthy competition). So while you (eagerly) wait to learn more about Dominion, feel free to ask questions or comment with your personal favorites.


Yes, I’m using a Monopoly board as the final image on a post where I kind of bash Monopoly. 

*A meeple is a little wooden figure used in board games.