Here you find all of my game reviews I translated into English so far. I hope my game reviews are helpful for you!
06. Mr Jack Pocket
05. On the Dot
04. Kill Dr. Lucky
02. Portobello Market
01. Seven Dragons
Mr Jack Pocket
Fortunately, Mr. Jack Pocket by Hurrican is not about performing the crimes committed by Jack the Ripper but about the nonviolent hide-and-seek of Jack and the police. The tasks in this 2-player game are quite intuitive: The detectives want to find the murderer and Jack wants to get away.
This new title of the designer duo Bruno Cathala and Ludovic Maublanc fits into their Mr Jack line in which you can also find the original Mr. Jack, its expansion and the standalone Mr. Jack in New York. Against contrary believe, Mr. Jack Pocket is not simply a down-sized version of the base game. Instead, it is a new game with a few similar mechanisms that fits into a small box.
The thin square box comes with lots of high quality pieces as you can see on the photo. On the left side is the instructions booklet which explains the rules clearly in six different languages using many examples and pictures. The main components are 9 square street-tiles, each of them showing one suspect’s portrait and his color on the face-up side. To the right are 9 corresponding alibi-cards. Finally, there are some cardboard chips: 8 turn-markers, 4 double-sided actions-tokens and 3 chips representing Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson and the dog Toby.
2. Aim of the Game
Depending on which side you chose, your goal is different. As the detective player you need to rule out 8 of the 9 suspects (and therefore prove the guilt of the ninth character). In case you are Mr Jack, you want to prevent the above or gain enough time to flee by collecting 6 hourglasses. How to get these and much more will be explained in detail below.
3. Set up
Put the 9 street-tiles in a 3×3 grid on the table. The alignment of the tiles is not fully arbitrary, since the number and positions of streets that are open to the exterior place make a huge difference. A picture in the rules booklet shows how to arrange the tiles.
The Mr Jack player now secretly draws one of the alibi cards to determine his identity. The remaining 8 form a face-down draw pile that sits somewhere on the table. Next, you need to put the turn markers in numerical order and place the three detective tokens on certain positions (see booklet or picture above).
In general, both players maneuver the three detectives outside around the 3×3 district and try to see suspects through open streets. At the end of each round, Mr Jack must truthfully say if his character is in line of sight of the detective team or not. This information enables the other player to exclude certain suspects (which is shown by permanently flipping their street-tiles).
But let’s come back to the beginning of a round. At start of rounds no. 1, 3, 5 and 7, someone has to toss the 4 action tokens into the air to randomize the actions available for that turn. In contrast, for the even numbered round you simply turn all actions tiles of the former round which results in the exact opposite action selection.
The turn markers also show who may pick one of the available actions first. For example, the detective player starts in round no.1. He takes 1 of the 4 tokens and performs the according action. Then it is Jack’s turn in which he chooses 2 of the remaining 3 action chips. Finally, the detective gets the last action token.
Overview of actions:
- Toby: Move Toby 1-2 spaces in clockwise order (Jack can move him 0-2 spaces)
- Sherlock: as above with Sherlock
- Dr. Watson: as above with Dr.Watson
- Wild-detective: Move one of the three detectives exactly 1 space (Jack: 0-1 space)
- Rotate tile (2x): Rotate one street-tile of your choice by 90° or 180° clockwise
- Exchange tiles: Exchange two street-tiles without changing their alignment
- Take alibi card: Take one card of the alibi pile (the detective player can exclude that character. Jack can take use of the (0-2) hourglasses in the lower left corner for one of his winning conditions.
Toby sees the brown and pink suspect through the open street next to him. Dr. Watson can’t see anybody since he sits right next to a house wall. Finally, Sherlock sees the violet, yellow and (again) the brown guy. If that is the situation at the end of a round, then the detective did a good job since 4 people are in sight and 5 are not. Therefore, he can exclude at least 4 suspects since Mr Jack has to tell him if his character is visible or not.
There is one important detail I haven‘t talked about so far: Every time Mr Jack is not visible at the end of a turn, he gets the turn marker and counts it as 1 hourglass for his winning condition (collecting 6 of them).
5. My Opinion
Mr. Jack Pocket is my favorite Christmas 2011 gift. It gets my thumbs up for the impressive quality, the fresh game mechanic and the fun that is present in every 10-20 minute game. The rules are well-written and describe what to do in special cases I haven’t mentioned here.
I particularly like how Mr. Jack Pocket develops an excitement climb that rises from round to round, since there are less and less false suspects. An additional facet I’d like to highlight is the asymmetric game play. You really have to play and think different depending on which role you play.
The roles are heavily unbalanced. Mr Jack is at a serious disadvantage. But if you know that you can see it positive, too. If you explain the game to a new player, you can play Mr Jack and your buddy may have an easier time with the good guys which might adjust the chances.
In Germany, the game costs 14-15€ which is quite high a price for a small game. Certainly, this is owing to the great component quality but the price is often an important factor.
All in all I can definitely recommend Mr. Jack Pocket due to its great gameplay and components as long as your budget isn’t too tight.
On the Dot (Durchblick!)
Usually, I am not a big fan of games with a speed element. Nevertheless, I thought Dominique Bodin’s On the Dot might be worth a try since its key mechanic is quite innovative. After giving it a try, I can tell you, speed is not everything you need in order to be successful in this game by Cocktail Games: you also need spatial sense and good concentration. But to have fun, you don’t need to be an ace at all.
In the small tin box you find 64 task cards (divided into values/difficulties of 1, 2 and 3 points), a short rules instruction and 16 transparent squares (4 of each basic color) with some dots scattered on it.
2. Aim of the Game
You need to arrange all of your 4 squares to exactly replicate the pattern shown on the current task card before one of your opponents does so to get that card and its points. The player who reaches the point total of 9 first, wins the game.
3. Set up
Shuffle all task cards and put them face-down in the middle of the table. Then, every player chooses one color and takes the 4 associated transparent squares. That’s it.
The youngest player flips the top card of the drawing pile so that everybody can see it. All players now hurry to create the same pattern using their four squares. You need to use all of them and they are not allowed to overlap.
An example of a 2-point task:
In the upper part of the photo you can see the task pattern. A first step has already been done in the lower part. I put two of the squares on top of each other in the way that 6 dots are in the right place.
After I turned and twisted my third square a couple times, it seemed to fit the overall pattern well but some colors were false. Therefore, I needed to change the order of the three squares by putting the third card in between the other ones (see picture above).
The next photo shows the final pattern created with all of my squares. When you think you finished the task correctly you show it by knocking on the task card. Then everybody has to stop immediately. You get the card and its points in case your attempt was correct. If it was wrong, you have to discard one of your already gained task cards (if you have any) and the puzzle continues.
On the Dot supports 2-4 players and takes about 10 minutes (but you can change the winning target to whatever value you want if you want to change the duration). I also enjoyed a solo variant in which you can train your brain against the time (I usually use a 30 second sand glass).
All components are of decent quality. However, you will soon find fingerprints on the transparent squares. That isn’t too bad though since they can be cleaned easily.
My main criticism is that the game doesn’t work with every group of people. If some players are really fast in solving puzzles and some others are not, the former ones will mostly win and the latter ones might get bored. However, if your group is on a more or less equal level of puzzling skills, then it will work fine and is fun for everybody.
I can recommend On the Dot to you if you:
- like to solve puzzles under a time constraint
- want to train your brainpower
- enjoy simple games with few rules
- like to have a game that you can carry around easily
Kill Doctor Lucky
Sometimes it is a good idea to choose a path no one else is taking. This might be the case for the Truant Verlag and its American counterpart Cheapass Games. Both publishers try to minimize costs by selling their games without dice, pawns and tokens which can be taken from other games. The German version of Truant’s Kill Doctor Lucky for 2-8 players will be reviewed today. It is designed by James Ernest and takes an average of 45 minutes although that can vary heavily depending on the number of players.
There is a little hint on the box that you need additional items to play the game. The picture below shows 9 pawns that are needed by all means as well as a twenty-sided die and 4 tokens that will be used for an unofficial 2-player variant.
The title says it all: you need to kill the unpopular Dr. Lucky in his manor. To do that you need to be in same room as him without being in line of sight of someone else.
3. Set up
Shuffle all cards and deal one after the other face-up in front of the players until a room card is visible. Put the Dr. Lucky pawn into that room and designate the player who received that card as the starting player.
Collect all cards again, reshuffle and deal 6 of them to each player who will hold them hidden in their hands. The remaining cards are put next to the board as an uncovered draw pile.
The game is played in multiple turns in clockwise order. The starting player is the first to decide which of the two actions he wants to perform:
- “snoop around” or
- “do something“
Snooping: You can move your pawn to an adjacent room (stairs and hallways count as rooms) or stay where you are. If you end your turn in a room with a name, you get to draw a card from the pile.
Doing something: This action consists of two parts which are both optional.
- a) You can go into an adjacent room and/or play additional movement or room cards to move Dr. Lucky or yourself. This can be performed in any order.
- b) In case you are alone with the Dr. in a room and no one else can see you, you can start a murder attempt as blue in the picture below (max one per turn). You can either try to kill him with your bare hands (attack value of 1) or use an additional weapon card to increase your attack value. You are not allowed to play more than one weapon card all of a sudden.
Foil a murder attempt: After a player has attacked the doctor, everybody in turn order has one chance to play failure cards off his hand. You don’t need to play them if you want save them but if the combined players’ failure cards are lower than the attack value, then the game is over and the guy who attacked the doctor wins. If you foiled successfully, then Dr. Lucky flees to the next room in order.
It is quite important for the game that you separate discarded failure cards from all other used cards since those failure ones are not shuffled back into the pile when the original draw pile is depleted.
Dr. Lucky‘s Movement: The old man is in excellent form, he moves continuously through his mansion following the room numbers in ascending order after each player’s turn. After the 19 he starts again at the 0.
Interruption of player order: Normally, you follow clockwise order around the table but when the doctor enters a room in which a player stands around it will be that player’s turn then (which offers the possibility of double or triple turns). If there are multiple players in the room Dr. Lucky has just entered, then it will be the turn of the one being closest to the last active player in clockwise order.
5. My Opinion
When I opened the box of Kill Doctor Lucky I was quite disappointed by the low quality of the components. The fact that there are no colors at all on the paper-board and cards doesn’t really make this game visually appealing.
For 11€ I expected a bit more, especially compared to games in a similar price segment. As a quick example I’d like to mention Forbidden Island which comes with 6 painted miniatures, 24 large double-sided tiles, plastic treasure pieces, dozens of cards and additional stuff; everything very colorful for just around 14€. But well, I also like the idea of producing a game as cheap as possible so that many people can afford to buy that game.
Let’s turn to the actual gameplay. There are some really nice concepts here. I especially enjoy Dr. Lucky’s movement and its influence on the player order.
However, there is definitely a caveat that appeared to be quite large for my gaming groups: If some people are too canny with their failure cards, they put the last player on the spot who needs to spend all his failure cards to foil the murder attempt. So far so good, but more often than not in our games the last player didn’t have any or not enough of those cards and Dr. Lucky was killed after few rounds. Sometimes even with bare hands.
In addition, I experienced some problems with the number of players. It simply doesn’t seem to scale very well. With only 2 players, there is not much excitement at all (winning is very easy and happens fast) and with more than 6 players the game can drag on quite a bit to a point where people reject to play their failure cards just to finish the game.
I’d briefly like to highlight the awesome 2-player variant posted on www.boardgamegeek.com in which you imitate two virtual players. One of them has their turn after real player A and the other one after real player B. During their turn they move to a random room (determined by a dice roll). They also have 2 tokens that they use as a kind of failure card if one of the real players attacks Dr. Lucky.
All in all, Kill Doctor Lucky is one of the very few games that didn’t work at all in my gaming groups. I pointed out some problems above that make the game inferior to so many other great board games that are out there. That is why I can only recommend this game for people that like to play games with a whacky theme.
(6/10 Points with additional components and BGG rules variant)
Penguin-Party – 3rd English Review
Game designers like to implement animal themes in their kid and family games. You can find monkeys, chicken, mice or even penguins as in Reiner Knizias Penguin-Party which I will review today. This is a simple card game published by Amigo Spiele in Germany that supports 2-6 players who use their cards to build up a pyramid of different colored penguins.
2. Aim of the Game
You need to get rid of as many of your cards as possible, since the remaining ones count as negative points against you. The player with the fewest negative points after the last round (you play one round per player) wins!
3. Set up
Setting up this game is very easy. Shuffle all cards and distribute them equally to all players who will hold them covered in their hands. In a game with five players there is one left over card, put it in the middle of the table. In a two-player game, each of you only gets 14 random cards and the rest will be put aside. The point chips should be somewhere on the table as well. That’s all, now you can kick things off.
The one who saw a real penguin most recently starts and the other players follow in clockwise order by playing a card in the middle of the table. At the beginning, players can only put their penguins in the first row (which is allowed to expand to up to 8 cards with 3-6 players and up to 7 cards with 2 players).
As soon as at least two penguins lay in a lower row, they can carry one of their fellows above them. To do that, simply put a card centered above the two carrying penguins. But you can’t place any penguin on top of another and this is the central aspect of this game: The upper cards needs to match one of the two colors of the cards directly below it.
Example: The picture shows a bottom row with 4 penguins. The active player could either extend that row (by placing a card left of the blue card or right of the purple one) or start a new row above, alternatively. The upper part of the photo demonstrates which colored cards would be legal to place above the three intersections.
After some rounds a pyramid of penguins arises, which has a single card on its peak. However, in many cases you won’t be able to complete the whole pyramid due to a lack of fitting colored cards.
When a player can’t place any of his hand cards, he puts them down face up and will be skipped in the next turns until no one can continue. Then, everybody receives the negative point chips: a small one for each of his unplaced card. The bigger chips count as 5 small ones and can be exchanged for clarity.
In case you managed to get rid of all of your penguins, you can put up to 2 of those small chips back into the supply.
5. My Opinion
I have rarely seen such a simple game system. Basically, you only find one piece of information on each card and there is only one kind of action to perform. Nevertheless, there are some tactical opportunities to discover. You can block certain spots and exclude colors your opponents seem to have a lot of.
Still, Penguin-Party is nothing more than a decent filler, which offers 10 to 15 minutes of light entertainment. Kids ages 6 and up can join this card game easily and adults can have fun with an occasional game of it. But compared to other light fillers (e.g. 6 nimmt!, Archaeology and Seven Dragons) it definitely lacks variety and diverse decision-taking which is why Penguin-Party is not one of the first games I pull out when I need a quick filler.
Portobello Market – 2nd English Review
Although you inform yourself regularly about the newest and hottest games, you might miss out on the one or the other great title. I experienced such a situation lately with Thomas Odenhoven’s Portobello Market which is published by Schmidt Spiele in Germany.
Its beautiful design, the simple rules and not to forget the fair price drew my attention into this game quickly. In Portobello Market 2-4 players are set into the early 20th century London where they compete against each other for the best places to put down their market stands.
The middle-size box (similar to the one of Finca) contains a bunch of high-quality components: A huge board with incredible art by Michael Menzel, a cloth bag, 12 pawns and neutral action chips. Furthermore, in four different colors you find player tableaus, cube counters and a total of 96 wooden tokens that are shaped like market stands. Finally, there is a colored rules instruction with examples and pictures on four pages.
2. Aim of the game
As soon as one player places his last booth, the game end is triggered. The current round will be finished and then (surprisingly!) the player with the highest score wins!
3. Set up
The not very felicitous picture above shows a 2-player game. Each player gets three action chips and 30 market stands in red or yellow, respectively (less booths are used with more players, therefore only 20 green booth tokens are included and 16 blue ones). Then, cube counters are placed on the 10 of the score track which leads around the board. Next, you need to form a pile of the neutral (grey) action chips with the lowest numbers (1) being at the bottom and the highest (3) being on top of the pile. Finally, you need to put the 10 grey and pink pawns into the cloth bag and the black one aside on the table. The remaining pawn is a special one: the Bobby. His role will be explained later.
The players alternate in turns. Before the very first turn, you decide who will be the starting player and who will place the Bobby on one of his spots within a district (areas embedded by three alleys).
The Bobby determines where booths can be build. Players can move him in their turn as often as they wish from one district to another. This doesn’t cost actions (see below) but you lose scoring points every time he crosses an alley on which you do not have the majority of booths.
Now we can take a look at a typical turn: First, the active player chooses one of his free action chips. In the first round that is the 2, the 3 or the 4. This determines the number of actions he can perform. There are two ways to spend actions:
- Placing a booth in an alley of the Bobby district. You need to start at one of the two ends of an alley and everybody needs to continue alleys in the direction it was started.
- Pulling a pawn out of the bag and putting it on an unoccupied plaza.
All possible distributions of actions are legal (as long as enough pawns are there to draw), i.e. you can use all your actions to place market stands, or you can only draw pawns or divide your actions between both options. When you spent all your action points, you need to flip the chip you used to its inactive side. As soon as all your chips are inactive, you simply turn all of them back to their free side.
How to score Points
- Alley scoring: When all spots of an alley are occupied by a booth and there are pawns (customers) on both of its ends, then the scoring of that alley will take place. Every player, who owns at least one of the market stands in that alley, gets some points. The persons concerned add up the values of their local booths and multiply their result with the customer value which depends on the color of the two pawns.
- District scoring: This special activity can be performed twice by each player during a game: once with the 2-action chip and once with the 4-action chip of his color. To do that, a player puts the chosen chip in a district of his choice at the beginning of his turn. He (and none of the others) immediately gets points for all of his booths around that district. The total value will be multiplied with the number of the chosen chip. As a replacement, the player takes the neutral action chip from the top of its pile. Then his turn is over (i.e. he can’t place booths or draw pawns).
The black pawn allows the largest multiplier for the alley scoring. But it cannot be drawn like the pink and grey pawns. Instead, it will directly put onto the last free plaza after the 10th normal pawn has been placed.
An additional effect of the lord emerges after the last game round. All normal alleys which are not completed to that point do not give any points. But the ones coming from/leading to the lord will be scored!
5. My Opinion
Tactics, strategy and diversity without brain burning… and all of that within 25-35 minutes! Portobello Market is beautifully designed in terms of both art and mechanics. Nobody ages 12 and up will be overstrained but in the same time even hardcore gamers won’t be bored. It is really a pity that so few people know about this gem.
My points of critique are quite minor. I miss some kind of a starting player token, since it is important to know who will have one more turn at the end of the game and who won’t. Additionally, some point markers would have been nice for people who rounded the score track (which has a strange maximum of 130) once or even twice, similar to the ones in Carcassonne.
It won’t be hard to guess that I absolutely recommend trying this game. You don’t need to be a fan of the theme nor of the rout-building genre. This game really appeals to a wide audience.
Availability: At the moment there are 2 copies left at www.amazon.de for 16.80€. At www.buecher.de it costs 22€ but ships for free (in Germany). As always I am not very informed about the availability in the US, but at least www.funagain.com offers Portobello Market for 32$ right know which is in my opinion still a good price.
Seven Dragons – 1st English Review
In real life – or at least in the cinema – people sometimes experience a love at first sight. I felt similar when seeing a video (thank you Eric Summerer!) about Seven Dragons by Looney Labs. This card-laying game is designed by Andrew Looney and features fantastic artwork by Larry Elmore. 2-5 players can enjoy this mostly language-independent game of color connection and bluffing.
The small cardboard box comes with 66 dragon cards in different color combinations, 5 goal cards, a silver starting dragon and the rules which are well-arranged and easy to learn with many examples. Furthermore, variants for preschoolers and a helpful FAQ are included into the rules sheet.
2. Aim of the Game
The name speaks for itself: You need to connect seven dragons of your color (see your goal card) vertically and/or horizontally. But look out; your goal color can change multiple times during a game!
3. Set up
- Put the silver dragon in the middle of the table
- Shuffle the goal cards and deal one of them covered to each player while the unused goals need to lay somewhere on the table as well
- Shuffle the other cards and deal 3 of them to each player, once again covered. The rest of them forms the draw pile.
The oldest player starts and the other ones follow in clockwise order. A turn always consists of two parts:
- Drawing a card
- Using one of the hand cards (either connecting a dragon card or using a special card and put it face up on the discard pile next to the draw pile).
Don’t forget to draw a card before you play one (which happens to me about every second turn). You are not allowed to draw cards from the special card discard pile.
In the picture above you can see that the dragon cards not only have different colors but also differ by the number of dragons between 1 and 4.
General card placing rules:
- The silver dragon starts as a multicolor joker that can be regarded as any color at first. As soon as at least one special card lies on the discard pile, the silver dragon adopts the color of that special card only. When a new special card is put on top, the silver dragon changes its color immediately.
- All cards must be placed in the same direction as the silver dragon (i.e. rotating by 90° or 270° is not possible while a placement upside down (180°) is valid!).
- You can only put a card down when you connect at least one color with a neighboring already placed card. Check again the picture above to see that the new card doesn’t need to share colors with all surrounding cards, just one is enough.
- If you are able to connect multiple colors with the card you lay down (e.g. upper right corner of the picture: green and yellow are connected), then you are allowed to immediately draw bonus cards from the pile. If you connect 2 colors +1 card, 3 colors +2 cards and 4 colors +3 cards.
The picture below shows the five special cards. You can see that each of them is dedicated to a certain color for the silver dragon.
- Rotate Goals: Everyone gives his goal card to the player directly left (or right) of him (you decide the direction).
- Trade Goals: Exchange your goal card with another one. This can be a goal of other players or a one that has not been active in that game yet.
- Trade Hands: Exchange all your hand cards with a player of your choice.
- Zap a Card: Take any displayed dragon card, except the silver dragon.
- Move a Card: Take any displayed dragon card, except the silver dragon, and directly move it to another legal position.
You can alternatively put the special cards below the discard pile if you do not want the silver dragon to change its color.
5. My Opinion
Seven Dragons perfectly fits in the filler or travel game category. Its rules are easy to learn and explain and a game only takes 5-20 minutes. Due to that short length I can overlook the not very low luck factor of drawing cards. Normally, we play multiple games consecutively which balances out the luck.
I must admit that I haven’t played the variants for smaller children yet. But the fact that there are special rules for preschoolers alone deserves special credit.
In spite of the simple rules this game can make you think. Usually, there is no optimal position for your card since you can follow diverse strategies. One aspect you learn after several games is the bluffing. There is a good reason why the goal cards are covered. Keep your real goal secret as long as possible or the other players will mess with you.
Undoubtedly, Seven Dragons is no heavy strategy game that engages a hobby game group all evening long. It probably rather aims to be a good-looking and fast playing filler game for the lunch break, on vacations or between some heavier games.
I am not informed very well about its availability in the US but at least funagain games has it is stock at the moment for 12$. In Germany it is quite hard to come by this game. The best chance is in my opinion amazon.de, usually for 12-15€.