Meet Mage Knight.

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So, what’s the deal with Mage Knight?

You are a powerful mage knight, sent through a portal with a specific mission – to conquer the cities in this distant land at any cost. Travel across the land, collecting resources and gathering power as you go by defeating enemies, conquering keeps and mage towers, and coercing minions to follow you. With the right determination and smart use of your skills, you’ll be powerful enough to take down even the grandest of cities.

What makes Mage Knight special?

Mage Knight has been my favorite game since it was released back in 2011. It evokes the feeling of an epic journey very well. The way in which characters grow in power in small and subtle ways throughout the game is very satisfying, as you go from being challenged by a lowly orc at the beginning of the game to being able to tear down grand cities full of elite defenders.

The game also has a lot of mechanisms that fit together really neatly. Unfortunately, the downside of this is that there are a lot of rules – this is a game that can easily take over 30 minutes just to go over the basics. It’s very helpful if you are familiar with some of the game mechanisms – for example, while the deck building mechanism in this game is very different than that in Dominion, familiarity with Dominion will alleviate some of that learning curve.

Another reason this game is very special to me is that it is one of few games of its length that I enjoy and find engaging throughout. I tend to prefer games that last about an hour with a few favorites that can go about 2 hours. In comparison, Mage Knight tends to be at least a 3 hour commitment, and games can easily go longer. However, the game is rewarding throughout and like any fun activity, I don’t even notice the hours go by.

Mage Knight also has lots of options for how it is played – it is excellent for cooperative and competitive play and is even a superb solo game. I’ve been satisfied with the core game modes, but for those who crave variety can take advantage of the many scenarios offered in the book.

Alright, so what’s the gameplay like?

A very brief overview…

The game is played over 4-6 rounds that alternate between day and night. The mage knights must accomplish their goal by the end of the game in the cooperative version, while in the competitive version all that matters is who comes out most powerful at the end.

You have a deck of deed cards that represent your character’s powers. You start with a hand of 5 cards, which allow you to perform actions by generating movement, attack, block, and influence. Each card has two levels of power – the basic power, which you get by playing the card, and the more powerful version, which costs a mana to use. Players get one free mana per turn from a collective pool but can also build a personal supply by finding mana crystals.

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Movement points are used to move your mage knight across the map and explore new areas. different types of land cost different amounts of movement to cross – for example, it’s always easy to cross plains and always difficult to cross swamps. Forests are fairly quick to get through during the day, but challenging to cross at night, while deserts are the opposite.

Monsters are all over, and as you tread deeper into the core of the land, the simple orcs you fought near the portal are replaced by vicious draconum. Defeat these creatures to clear a path for yourself while gaining valuable fame and increasing your reputation across the land as people begin to recognize you as a hero.

There are a range of sites to visit. Villages and monasteries dot the land, where mage knights can stop for healing and to recruit followers, and various ruins, monster dens, dungeons, and tombs offer challenges and rewards for those brave enough to conquer them. Keeps and mage towers can be captured, though assaulting them does hurt your reputation. Oh, and those peaceful villages and monasteries? You can ransack and burn them, too – only you can decide if the villainy is worth the reward.

As you increase your fame, you gain levels, which reward you with skills that can be used at any time, advanced actions that are added to your deck, bigger hand size, and better armor to protect from wounds – awful cards that are added to your deck and have no benefit. Gaining levels isn’t enough though – be sure to learn spells, claim artifacts (both powerful adventuring rewards that are added to your deck), and recruit followers (who have powers that you can use any time) to accomplish your task!

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I think I get it. Who do you recommend this game to?

This game is awesome for anyone who enjoys an epic adventure and doesn’t mind putting in the time to learn a long, complicated game. Combat, which I haven’t even gotten into, is like a complex puzzle and players that have carefully cultivated their power will find many clever tricks at their disposal to eliminate their opposition.

One downside of Mage Knight is that its rules are organized in a somewhat confusing manner, spread between two booklets and across a small stack of cards. Fortunately, Knight Moves Board Game Cafe has staff that can teach Mage Knight or many of the other games in our board game library – if you’d like to learn a specific game, give us a call at 617-487-5259 so we can do our best to have someone able to teach you the game.

To Summarize:
Players: 1-4 (recommended for no more than 3)
Time: Usually 180+ minutes, impacted by player count, experience, and scenario
Strategy: 5
Luck: 2
Complexity: 5
Game Elements: Exploration, Leveling Up/Power Growth, Deck Building, Hand Management, Resource Management, Puzzle-Solving, Indirect Player Conflict, Direct Player Conflict, Cooperation

 

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Meet Gravwell.

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So, what’s the deal with Gravwell?

You are piloting a spacecraft, racing your opponents to escape the overwhelming chaos of a singularity via warp gate. Use elemental fuel cards cleverly to use the gravitational pull of the other ships to rocket yourself to the lead!

What makes Gravwell special?

Gravwell is a chaotic fast-paced race where it is not always the best strategy to take the lead! Since your movement is determined by the gravity of the other ships, you need to use your fuel resources carefully to try to maintain forward movement – or at least make sure any backwards movement isn’t too far!

Alright, so what’s the gameplay like?

The game is played over six rounds. At the beginning of each round, enough fuel cards are dealt face-down so there are three for each player. Then, a face-up fuel card is dealt on top of each. Players then take turns choosing stacks – one card known, one card unknown – and end up with a hand of six cards.

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Next, each player chooses a card from their hand and plays it face down. All players simultaneously reveal their cards. Whoever plays the card that comes earliest alphabetically moves first, and so on until everyone has moved. How you determine the direction in which to move each player is where the twist – and the chaos – comes in.

To determine which direction a player moves, you must first determine the direction in which the gravity is strongest. To do this, find the ship that is closest to that player’s ship. If two ships are equally distant (one in one direction and one in another), keep going until you find the next ship, and so on.

Once you know the direction of the gravitational pull, move – green cards move you towards the gravitational pull, while purple cards move you away from it. Blue cards don’t move your own ship, but rather, move all other ships on the board towards your own, which can really mess with the plans of other players. In all cases, if a ship lands on an occupied space, it keeps moving in the same direction until it lands on an empty space.

Keep going until you’ve played six rounds or someone escapes!

I think I get it. Who do you recommend this game to?

This is a great game for people who enjoy tight competition but don’t mind leaving some of the outcome to luck. While there is a definite strategy in how to ration your fuel cards, since you don’t have full control over what those cards are, many times the best play is not that which most improves your position, but rather that which hurts your position least. It’s a nice balance of making meaningful decisions but also sitting back and enjoying the ride – in this case, the chaotic yo-yo race towards the finish!

To Summarize:
Players: 1-4 (haven’t tried the solo rules myself)
Time: 20-35 minutes
Strategy: 2
Luck: 4
Complexity: 2
Game Elements: Drafting, Hand Management, Risk Management

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Meet Concept.

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This new game from Repos has captured my imagination in a big bad way!

So, what’s the deal with Concept?

Concept is a game in which you try to get the other players to guess a word or phrase by marking different items on the board as concepts related to that word or phrase.

What makes Concept special?

I am a big fan of “guess the word” games, so I’m already on board with Concept from the start. I love the challenge of trying to use the (not so) limited set of pictures to try and communicate complex ideas! It is definitely a lot harder than it initially seems, but it’s just so rewarding when you are able to get your fellow players to guess the word or phrase. The game opens up a lot of ways to be clever and creative in your communication.

Alright, so what’s the gameplay like?

Let’s just play together, yeah? Sorry if my clues are a little wonky – it’s not an easy game!

I check one of the cards to get a word or phrase. Each card has 9 items, grouped by difficulty – green is challenging, red is even more challenging, and grey is for experts only!

Alright, now that I’ve got my word/phrase, I use the green question mark to mark the main concept.

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So the main concept is some kind of animal or wildlife. I also use green cubes to add detail. In the picture above, I’ve marked the “fast” concept. A fast animal? That’s not going to be enough – I need to add more green cubes.

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Black and white…

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…and three cubes on a line?

Alright, so we have here a fast black and white animal with lines. Any guesses?

I was going for zebra. Did you get it?

As the words and phrases get more complex, you’ll need more than just one concept. Fortunately, there are four other colors that can be used to mark sub-concepts. Let’s try another, a little trickier.

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A toy or game…

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…that is electronic.

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Associated with the electronic game is an animal or animals or some kind of wildlife…

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…that flies…

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…fights…and is sad?

This one is definitely trickier. An electronic game with a fighting flying animal…that is sad?

Something might not be as specific as we’d like here. Any guesses?

The phrase is Angry Birds. Did you get it?

That’s really the idea! There is some simple scoring, and the official game rules suggest that 2 people work together to mark the concepts, but for me the real joy is in just playing rounds without caring about scoring.

I’ll leave you with one more – post guesses in the comments!

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I think I get it. Who do you recommend this game to?

As much as I’d like to say it is, this is definitely not a game for everyone. It takes a reasonably high level of abstract thought to communicate the “easy” words and phrases and just gets more challenging from there. The “challenging” words and phrases are just downright daunting! So for anyone who doesn’t enjoy these kind of abstract challenges would probably be dissatisfied or even frustrated.

On the other hand, The game is really unique and if you do enjoy abstract thought challenges, I highly recommend Concept. I always find games that allow for reaching goals in creative ways to be the most rewarding, and Concept has that in spades.

It’s also great for a big group. Players can feed off of each other’s guesses and the teamwork that comes out of solving the puzzle is delightful!

Whether you want to play a full game with scoring or just want to try your hand at cluing with the Concept board to challenge friends or Knight Moves staff, Concept is a lot of fun and its flexible nature makes it easy to incorporate into any game time!

To Summarize:
Players: I say 2 or more. Box says 4-12+
Time: As long or as short as you like! Box says 40 minutes.
Strategy: 1
Luck: 1
Complexity: 2
Challenge: 4
Game Elements: Creativity, Abstract Communication, Imagination

 

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Meet Tapple.

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Tapple just came to us from USAopoly, and I love it!

So, what’s the deal with Tapple?

Ever played that game in which one player chooses a category and you take turns naming things that fit that category without repeating any? My friends and I called it “Categories”, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there are other names for it out there. Anyhow – Tapple is that, but with a small twist, and all the work done for you!

What makes Tapple special?

It’s simple, it’s fast, it’s fun, and with a quick-thinking group, quite challenging! Plus, the contraption used to play is just awesome. But more than that, these qualities – plus the fact that it’s easy to teach – make it a great game to meet new people over. Knight Moves is a great place to make friends out of strangers, and it’s easy to welcome anyone into a game of Tapple!

Alright, so what’s the gameplay like?

Draw a card from the deck and read the category out loud. The cards are double-sided with four different colors total – you can prevent repeats by choosing a different color to use each time you play.

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Press the red button in the middle of the Tapple contraption to start the game! Whoever is going first must quickly name something in the category, press down the letter that corresponds to the first letter of that word, and then hit the red button in the middle to start the timer for the next player!

For example, if the category is “something soft” and I say “teddy bear”, then I push down the T on the contraption and then push the red button to start the timer for the next player.

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Of course, the catch is that you can’t reuse letters, so make sure your answer starts with a letter that hasn’t been used yet!

If on your turn you are unable to come up with a valid answer, you’re out. All the remaining players play a new category – keep going until there is only one person left standing!

I think I get it. Who do you recommend this game to?

Anyone who enjoys word games would get a kick out of Tapple. It has a lot to recommend it – minimal setup, easy to learn how to play, and short play time means that anyone can get playing in a minute or two. Despite it being in a category of games I typically dislike (that category being “games that pretty much existed before someone put it in a box and sold it”), I really appreciate both this crazy contraption that does all the timing and word tracking for you and the great categories included with the game.

The biggest problem I can see in this game is player elimination, which is something some players try to avoid – because who likes being left out? The game is short enough that the player elimination isn’t too bad, but for those who don’t care to engage with it at any length, I can recommend a variant. Rather than eliminating the player who was unable to answer, give them the card. After a predetermined number of rounds, whoever has the fewest cards wins!

So if you’re a fan of word or party games, give Tapple a try next time you’re at Knight Moves! And hey, maybe even use it as an icebreaker to turn some strangers into friends.

To Summarize:
Players: 2-8 (or more but it can get wonky)
Time: About 10 minutes, but depends on number of players
Strategy: 1
Luck: 1
Complexity: 1
Game Elements: Words, Speed/Quick Thinking, Player Elimination

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Meet Takenoko.

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So, what’s the deal with Takenoko?

The Chinese emperor has gifted a giant panda to the Japanese emperor as a symbol of peace and the Japanese emperor has entrusted the care of the panda to his royal gardener. Unfortunately, this giant panda wants nothing more than to eat all of the gardener’s carefully cultivated bamboo! Manage the growth of the royal garden and care for the panda to be successful in Takenoko.

What makes Takenoko special?

Well, the game is SUPER CUTE. I find it absolutely delightful to play with the tiny panda and gardener figurines and to use the exquisite wooden bamboo pieces to build stalks of bamboo on the map. It’s really easy to want to give the game a try because it’s clearly fun to play with. Fortunately, the game is also a great design that is a lot of fun to play.

Alright, so what’s the gameplay like?

The game starts with the panda and gardener standing on the lake, the only tile on the board at the start of the game. During the game, the players expand the garden, irrigate water from the pond to other tiles, grow bamboo, and feed the panda in order to complete task cards.

There are three types of task cards, and each player starts with one of each. Task cards instruct the player to build the garden in a certain pattern, grow bamboo to specific heights, or feed the panda certain colors of bamboo.

On a player’s turn, they first roll the weather die (except on the first turn), which gives a special benefit to the player for the turn. The player then takes two different actions out of five choices:

  • Cultivate land – Draw the top three tiles from the face-down stack of garden tiles, choose one, and add it to the garden. If the new tile has water, it grows bamboo!
  • Irrigate – Take an irrigation piece and either add it to the board immediately or save it for later. Irrigation delivers water from the pond to tiles that are not adjacent to the pond. A tile must have water for bamboo to grow!
  • Grow bamboo – Move the gardener in a straight line as far as you like. The tile on which the gardener stops and all adjacent tiles of the same color all grow bamboo as long as they are watered.
  • Feed the panda – Move the panda in a straight line as far as you like. He eats one piece of bamboo from the tile on which he lands!
  • Get a new task – Choose one of the task decks and draw the top card. You can never have more than 5 tasks at once, so make sure to complete tasks to make room in your hand.

Players each have a personal board to track their action choices and to keep game pieces they have earned, like irrigation pieces or eaten bamboo.

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When a task is complete, the player reveals the task and removes it from his or her hand to score the points printed for the task. The game ends after one player completes a certain number of tasks. After everyone gets one last turn, whoever has the highest score wins!

I think I get it. Who do you recommend this game to?

Takenoko is certainly lighthearted but really chases that fun factor of playing with charming little pieces on beautifully illustrated boards. It’s hard not to develop an affinity for the pudgy little panda and his frustrated gardener caretaker. However, there’s still a lot of opportunity for strategizing and for interfering with your competitors in the game. It’s important to plan ahead to try and complete your task cards as fast as possible.

Because tasks are distributed fairly randomly and they are all worth different points, there is a luck element that can be unsatisfying – if you end up drawing only 2 and 3 point tasks, it’s hard to be competitive. In fact, that’s Knight Moves owner Devon’s biggest grip with Takenoko. For me, it’s easy enough to overlook in favor of the joyful feeling I get while playing the game.

Takenoko could be a great introduction to strategy games as well. It’s not quite as straightforward as something like Ticket to Ride (one of my favorite games and one I’ll sure write and introduction to in the future), but options and winning strategies are not as obtuse as they are in some strategy games, and the game’s art and components offset any added complexity and rules explanation by getting an early buy-in from anyone who wants to play with a tiny panda figurine – which I can only assume is pretty much everyone.

To Summarize:
Players: 2-4
Time: 45 minutes
Strategy: 3
Luck: 3
Complexity: 3
Game Elements: Planning, Pattern Building, Optimizing Opportunities

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Meet Rattus.

A plague of rats has never been so fun!

So, what’s the deal with Rattus?

The rulebook introduces the game: “Europe, 1347. A disaster is about to strike.” That disaster, of course, is the Black Death, and players struggle to keep their population alive while the plague runs its course.

What makes Rattus special?

Rattus brings about one of my favorite feelings in a game – that of struggle against seemingly overwhelming odds. When a plague strikes, you just hope against all odds that one or two of your people in the ravaged region will survive.

The main mechanism driving the gameplay is a clever risk/reward system in which the choices that would otherwise be most advantageous also come with increased susceptibility to the plague.

Alright, so what’s the gameplay like?

The game takes place on a map of medieval Europe, with the map size scaling based on number of players. Each region starts the game with one rat token, though the rats spread quickly, and along with the rats, so does the Black Death.

I love how streamlined the gameplay is. On your turn, three things happen:

First, you may choose to take one of six class cards – the King, Knight, Merchant, Monk, Peasant, and Witch all provide special abilities to the player who currently controls them. Players can hold multiple class cards, but each increases the risk of having your pieces struck by the plague.

Next, you must place new cubes, representing your population, on the board. Choose a region and add one cube to that region for each rat token in that region.

Finally, you must move the forboding Plague Piece. The region to which the Plague Piece is moved is then ravaged by the plague. First, the rats multiply, and then the rats are turned over one by one, killing people in the region until either there are no rats or no people remaining.

The back side of a rat token shows two things. At the top is the limit for this rat – if the population of the plagued region is equal to or higher than this limit, then some population is going to be lost. The rest of the token shows who is lost – each class has a symbol, and if this symbol appears on the back of a rat token, then the player controlling this class must remove one cube from the afflicted region. Furthermore, for each M on the back of the token, the player with the most cubes in the region must remove one, and for each A on the back of the token, all players must remove one cube from the region.

Rattus

The game ends either when all rats are gone, or when a player has all of his or her cubes on the board at the end of the turn – though the rulebook notes that the latter condition is quite rare!

I think I get it. Who do you recommend this game to?

This is a great game for anyone who enjoys the tension of trying to balance maintaining a strong advantage while trying to mitigate the risks associated with this growth – not the least of which is becoming a target for your fellow players. It plays quickly and there is a lot to consider when deciding where and how to expand, and whether or not the benefit of taking a class card is worth the additional population loss during the plague (not to mention relieving an opponent of this drawback!).

Unfortunately, the theme only feels halfway there. When the rats spread and population dies, the theme is very strong and it feels like a game of survival through the plague. However, the fact that players add new population cubes to the board every turn also feels like growth – and considering that the population of Europe was halved during the Black Death, that feels at odds with the game’s theme. For players who enjoy investing heavily in a theme, this may be a barrier.

The game has a lot of strategy in a small package and while it is easily to explain the rules in such a way that anyone can play, it is a bit more opaque in terms of strategy; that is, it’s a little tough to see how to manipulate all the parts of the game into a successful strategy. As such, it may be a little frustrating as an introduction to hobby board gaming, but is a rewarding choice for players familiar with games that ask you to explore in order to find strategies.

To Summarize:
Players: 2-4 (recommended for 3-4)
Time: 45 minutes
Strategy: 4
Luck: 2
Complexity: 3
Game Elements: Risk Management, Survival

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Knight Moves Designer Showcase

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March 26th Knight Moves will be hosting some of Boston’s finest indie board game developers from the Game Makers Guild. From 6PM till close, five designers will be showing off their latest designs.

Events like this are a good chance to get to know the folks behind the games and the process it takes to make those games happen.

Furthermore, this gives you the chance to be a part of the process. Designers need your critical feedback to improve their games and find out where they break. These games are close to finished, but that means your feedback will provide that necessary polish before the game goes to market.

The Designers and their Games

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-Aerjen Tamminga “Pleasant Dreams”

-Don Mitchell “Clairvoyance”

-Joe Mclintock “Ore: The Mining Game”

-Mackenzie Cameron “Killer Croquet”

-Gene Mackles “3″

Help us to celebrate our local game designers. We’ll see you there.

Are you a game designer yourself? Want to playtest and share with some of the brightest designers in Boston? Or maybe you just like playing the latest and greatest games. Either way you should check out the Game Makers Guild of Boston.

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