Board game Top 10: Roll and write games

Welcome to my Top 10 roll and write games. These do exactly what they say on the tin: roll some dice, then write down the result. They were popularised in the 1960s with the massive success of Yahtzee. But like the rest of the hobby, kind of stuck in gear for the next 40 years.

The mid 2000s saw the mechanism reintroduced to hobby gamers with the likes of Catan Dice, Roll Through the Ages and Dice Bingo. But they were really put back on the map in 2013 when Qwixx received a Spiel de Jahres nomination. And there has been a steady (and pretty overwhelming) stream of them released ever since.

Most commonly, roll and write games tend to slot into the ‘filler’ category. The games tend to be fast, cater for a higher than normal variability of player numbers, and have simple rules. Plus they’re usually quick to set up and come in small boxes. Making them perfect to pop in your bag if there might be a gaming opportunity almost anywhere.

What the flip?

I’m also including ‘flip and writes’ here. They basically use the same core idea as a roll and write, but uses cards instead of dice. This can be used to decrease/control the randomness. But also to increase the amount of options available for the designer. The first was probably Traxx (2015), and right now they’re still quite thin on the ground. But it’s a great concept and there have already been a few big hits – especially Welcome To. So expect lot more to hit the shelves in the next few years.

For links to digital versions of some of these games, scroll to the bottom of the page. The only ones I couldn’t find were Traxx and Dizzle – so let me know if you know of versions and I can add links. Thanks!

Note: Both Welcome to and Cartographers list themselves having a player count of 1-100. This is technically true, as they come with 100 sheets in the box (which you could laminate for replayability). But that’s true of many of these games – so I’ve left the gimmick out.

That's Pretty Clever dice, one of my top 10 roll and write games

Top 10 Roll and write games

10. Traxx
(1-4 players, 15-30 mins, 2015)

Players draw a path on their board, a 60-ish space hex grid. Each board is the same except the start point. They are made up of six different colours, with nine spaces also containing a number. In each of 15 rounds a card is flipped containing 4-5 colours. Players draw a line through as many of the colours as they can. But all lines must extend from one end their initial one. Numbers you pass through score points. But all uncovered spaces lose a point. And that’s it. Simple, but surprisingly replayable. And you can teach it to anyone.

9. Roll Through the Ages
(1-4 players, 30-60 mins, 2008)

This is at the heavier end of the roll-and-write spectrum. As well as the standard score sheet and dice you get nice wooden peg boards for each player. You use this to track various resources used to build developments and cities, create monuments, and feed cities. While largely just a resource conversion game, its variety comes in the developments. There are 13 in total, letting players diverge in their strategies. But the dice mean it is very much a tactical game too. Despite the name, it share nothing but theme with Through the Ages. Players take it in turns to roll dice, making the game a lot longer than many here.

8. Qwixx
(2-5 players, 15-30 mins, 2012)

Qwixx is perhaps even simpler than Traxx. Each player has a sheet with numbers 2-12 in yellow and red, and 12-2 in blue and green. You mark off as many numbers as possible – but can only mark them left to right. One player rolls 6 dice (1 of each colour plus 2 whit dice), and each player marks off the sum of the two white on any line they choose. But the player who roles can add one white die to any of the coloured dice, marking off the total in that colour instead. Mark as many numbers in each row to score points. A fun, light, filler game.

7. Steamrollers
(1-5 players, 30-45 mins, 2015)

Steamrollers sees players drawing lines on their sheets to connect cities, after which they can deliver goods (cubes) along those lines. The twist is that a central board has the actual cubes on. So you’re competing to deliver those cubes before your opponents. Some special abilities that can move between players add extra interaction, making this a game where you really have to keep an eye on your fellow players.

6. Utopia Engine
(solo, 30-60 mins, 2010)

While many of these games can be played alone, this is one specifically for solo game fans. And better still it is a free ‘print and play’ game, available here. It has a similar feel to games such as Roll Through the Ages and Nemo’s War, where dice are used to mark off sections of your sheet relating to special abilities or objectives. So if that sounds like its up your street, you really have no reason not to check it out!

Top 10 Roll and write games: The Top 5

5. Reina Knizia’s Decathlon
(1-4 players, 45 mins, 2003)

Decathlon is another free download (available here). But that’s not why it’s so high on my list. Where many modern roll-and-writes take the games in new directions, this keeps that old Yahtzee style ‘push your luck’ vibe and applies it to a bunch of simple dice games. But they do manage to give the feel of the various events of an athletics decathlon. Check out my full review of Decathlon here.

4. Cartographers
(1-6 players, 30-45 mins, 2019)

As you may have guessed, this flip-and-write sees each player creating a map on their sheet. Cards reveal polyomino-style shapes you can add to your sheet, as you try to match your map to various scoring cards. But a nice twist sees bandits popping up, where you swap sheets so your opponents can make your life more difficult. There’s nothing ground-breaking here, but it’s somehow a very satisfying experience.

3. Dizzle
(1-4 players, 30 mins, 2019)

Dizzle ticks so many boxes (no pun intended). You mark off spaces on your sheet to score points. It’s simple, has interaction and push-your-luck, plus you’re invested in every moment. And it has four different sheets in the box to add replayability – with four more available as an expansion. The interaction comes from a shared pool of dice. After the initial roll, you take one each clockwise. But if you don’t like them, you can reroll – at the risk of losing one you’ve already placed. For more details, check out my full Dizzle review.

2. Welcome To
(1-6 players, 30-45 mins, 2018)

Another flip-and-write, this time planning out a new town’s houses in 1950s America. The art is a real selling point, but the game is smart too. The cards are numbered, and players try to give each house a street number from left to right on their boards. But each number is paired with a random ability, making the decisions on which number to take much more difficult. Add in shared scoring objectives and you have a great game. Check out my full Welcome To review here. It also has various expansions available, adding little extra rules.

1. That’s Pretty Clever
(1-4 players, 30 mins, 2018)

This is seen a gamer’s roll and write, as it has a little more going on. But unlike games such as Roll Through the Ages, it still keeps the standard abstract feel of the genre. Five of the dice colours match sections of your sheet, but each of those areas scores differently. So often need different numbers at different times to be useful. But areas also interact with each other, triggering opportunities elsewhere. It really is pretty clever. Check out my reviews of both That’s Pretty Clever and its more complex sequel Twice as Clever.

Sheets from That's Pretty Clever, number one in my top 10 roll and write games

Play some of my Top 10 Roll and write games online

Check out some of these games for free, online, at the websites listed below:

Qwixx and That’s Pretty Clever (as ‘Ganz Schon Clever’) have official apps on both the Apple Store and Google Play. That’s Pretty Clever is also available on Steam.

I hope you enjoyed my Top 10 roll and write games. If you think I missed anything crucial, please do let me know on social media or in the comments below. I’m always looking for new games to try! And if you enjoy this type of post, click here for loads more of my board game top 10s.

Tales of Glory board game: A four-sided review

The Tales of Glory board game box artwork.

The Tales of Glory board game is a fantasy themed tile-layer for 2-5 players, lasting up to an hour. The box says for ages 10+, but gamer kids a little younger could probably get to grips with it. There is only a small amount of hidden information, so discussing options is easy during play.

The game was released with a whiff, rather than a bang, in 2018. The initial run was dogged with production issues and the publisher didn’t exactly cover itself in glory sorting them out.

This is a shame, as Tales of Glory is a slick and fun little family game. And while not overly thematic, the fantasy idea works to gel the mechanisms together. You’re essentially piecing together your character’s adventuring legend: the places they’d been, the battles they fought, and the prizes and powers they achieved. But basically, it is an abstract puzzle.

And those production problems are very much behind them. The iconography is simple and clear and the cartoony artwork first class. Which is what you’d expect from Small World/Seven Wonders artist Miguel Coimbra. In the box you’ll find a small tile board, 76 cardboard tiles, 40 cards and well over 200 cardboard chits. The quality is excellent throughout. For what you get the box is slightly oversized, but it has a good insert – and at around £30 it is good value for money.

Teaching the Tales of Glory board game

The game lasts 10 rounds, with players claiming then placing a tile in each. Each player starts with a different character (start) tile, which also gives them some starting resources. Everyone gets some money (used to buy certain tiles – usually characters and places). And you may also get some initial combat and magic tokens, which represent your prowess in the adventuring arts. These are mostly needed to ‘pay’ for creature tiles; but unlike money, they’re not spent. Think of them as you gaining combat experience. And you’ll get some potions – used to make up the difference if you don’t have the skills you need.

Each round, a number of tiles are placed onto the adventure board. Players have a deck of cards equal to the number of spaces on that board (six or eight, depending on player count). Simultaneously, players choose which tile they want (each space is numbered) and put the matching card face down on the table. Then everyone flips their card and (in player order) takes their tile. If two or more players pick the same tile, it’s first come first served on player order. Anyone missing out gets their pick of what’s left after all first choices have been taken. So no one misses out – and there are always plenty of tiles to choose from.

Telling your tale of glory

All tiles have a ‘right’ way up, and must be placed as such in your tableau. Each also does or doesn’t have a connector; and again, like must meet like. Some connectors also have half a key on them. Get keys on both sides, and you’ll be able to open a chest on one of the two tiles (these contain various bonuses). And connectors may also have rewards directly printed on them; sometimes automatic, while others may need you to connect to a specific type of tile (monster, treasure etc). In addition, the tile itself will usually give you some sort of benefit. Generally, characters give skills; monsters and treasures stuff; and places give benefits when you link them to other tiles.

Each player also starts with a couple of bonus tiles. If you meet the placement criteria, these can be added as extras on any of your turns. And, of course, many tiles also give you points. Some are immediate, while others will accumulate (score X points for each X tile you have in your tableau etc – you know the drill). Finally, there are four ‘majorities’ trophies players compete for: combat, magic, potions and coins. Whoever has the most in each category takes the token at the end of the game (all who are equal first get the same points). And yup – highest score wins.

The four sides

These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.

  • The writer: Some games just have an X-factor that defies description. The Tales of Glory board game doesn’t bring anything new to the party. But is incredibly slick, from the rules to the production. It’s quite simply satisfying. No, it never rises above that. But still manages to be a joy to play. You always feel like you can do something, and that something will be cool. But at the same time, you want to do more. By the end you look at your little tableau and see towns, creatures you defeated, and friends you got along the way. And loot, of course. Lots of loot. It just presses all my nerdy buttons. And I make no apologies for that.
  • The thinker: There is some little strategy here, and some thought goes into taking and placing the right tiles. But this is not a game that will win awards for depth. However, it is a perfectly pleasant experience and at 30 minutes for two players (once you have it down), and very little setup, it fits nicely into the ‘enjoyable filler’ category. Especially as the different strategies seem well balanced.
  • The trasher: With five players, I enjoyed Tales of Glory. Battling for turn order becomes important and you genuinely worry about getting the right tile. Trying to go for a different route to your opponents then has real merit, and sometimes denial is a solid tactic (as no tile is intrinsically bad). But at lower counts, it loses that tension. With two or four players, even if you don’t get the tile you want, you get to pick from five others. So there’s almost always something pretty reasonable. This takes a key tension away for me, so I only really enjoy it with the maximum player count.
  • The dabbler: Great game! The cartoony art is super cute, and it plays fast and fun. There’s a nice feeling of trying to work out what other people want. And placing your tiles to get clever combos is a nice little challenge. This can be a little frustrating at first, but after a few plays you get the hang of it. And it becomes really satisfying when the right tile comes up just at the right moment. It’s not thematic, but if you use your imagination it does tell a story. So for me it is a definite winner.

Key observations

Tales of Glory has two potential issues for me: fragility and longevity. The fragility is evident in the sheer number of tiles that need to be available in each round. There is an enviably large number of routes to take for such a small, light game. But for that to work, you need a lot of choice. Which unfortunately takes the tension out of the clever yet simple auction/draft mechanism. I still really enjoy it, but a few less choices would’ve really ramped this up. I guess the designers thought the game was more in making a cool tableau, than in the fight for tiles. That’s fair enough – but I think they maybe skewed slightly too much the other way.

Which bring us to longevity. Sacrificing tension for variety may hurt the game. Tension keeps players coming back, over and over. I’m thinking of games such as Coloretto, 6 Nimmt, or No Thanks. I think they had the chance to make that kind of impact here. But instead, we got a few more ways to score points. That’s fun, don’t get me wrong. And I’m still really enjoying it after five plays. But I’ve kept those plays spread out. And wonder, without expansions (which don’t seem forthcoming), if this would survive the closer scrutiny of regular plays. Because the different ways to score points aren’t that different.

Finally, it’s always risky putting a fantasy theme on a clearly abstract puzzle game. I don’t mind at all, but there is the danger of people picking it up expecting one thing and getting something else. I don’t see this as a valid criticism, at all. But it is going to happen if you put a dwarf with a sword and a dragon on the box – then give people a tile laying brain teaser.

Conclusion: Tales of Glory board game

Despite a few worries about how long the relationship will last, right now I love Tales of Glory. The gorgeous cartoon art and simply, puzzley play have won me over. And the game is also the perfect length (including simple set up) for what it offers. If you enjoy light drafting and tile laying games, I would urge you to check this one out. And if you like a bog standard fantasy them pasted on op, even more so. It found its way into my last annual Top 40. And I can see it staying there for some time.

Top 10 board games of 2011

Welcome to my top 10 board games of 2011. The games released that year I like the most today. It was the first year I logged more than 300 plays on Board Game Geek, with more than 50 of those being Race for the Galaxy. But I played more than 60 different games in total. And went to my first board game convention, LoBsterCon. I was officially hooked!

Today I have five 2011 games in my collection (four below, plus BraveRats – a clever two-player micro game that didn’t quite make the list). While I’ve previously owned the likes of King of Tokyo (below), Pergamon (decent tile game you can try at Yucata) and Mage Knight (solid, but too long and dry for me).

Rhino Hero was probably number 11 – a fun balancing game for kids and adults alike. Euro games Hawaii (also on Yucata) and Walnut Grove don’t quite do it for me, but are popular with friends. While I enjoyed my play of light euro Airlines Europe – but no one I played with did. Also worthy of checking out, if they’re your thing, are Sentinels of the Multiverse (excellent co-operative superhero card game), Mansions of Madness (equally excellent horror co-op) and Infarkt (a comedy/medical worker placement game where you try not to have a heart attack – you have to play it to believe it…).

My Top 10 board games of 2011

10. King of Tokyo
3-6 players, 45-60 mins

This is one I owned, but not enough friends liked to bother keeping. Luckily it proved a massive hit, so I still get to play at cons – there’s usually a copy around. It’s a light Yahtzee-style dice combat game, with a great table presence. Lime green dice and chunky cardboard standees really add to the experience. While the mass of special powers (via cards) give the game plenty of variety. Really needs 4+ players to sing, due to the game’s core ‘king of the hill’ style knockout combat mechanism.

9. Friday
1 player, 30 mins

Friday is a great small box solo card game. Through a clever multi-use card system, you go through the card deck attempting to beat challenges to improve your character. You choose which of two challenges to face each time. The ones you beat are added to your own deck. But the ones you fail, or ignore, will come back harder the second time through. And the third. This keeps the game surprisingly varied each time. And the fact it packs down small makes it a great travel companion.

8. Drako: Dragon & Dwarves
2 players, 30 mins

Drako is a great two-player only asymmetric abstract game. One player plays the dragon; the other a set of three dwarves hunting it. Each side has a unique card deck they play through (once), trying to defeat their opponent. Otherwise the dragon escapes (and wins). The game plays out in a small arena and is cleverly balanced. The dragon is a single target, but dwarven hits can take out one of its powers – rendering some of its cards useless. While the dragon can move well, so ca try to target one dwarf at a time – or can just try to evade. Play online at Yucata.

7. Village
2-4 players, 90 mins

Village is a medium complexity euro game that still holds a place in the BGG Top 200 games. While largely a standard worker placement/contract fulfilment game, it stands apart thanks to its generations mechanism. Over time your workers grow old and die, leaving behind a legacy for latter generations of workers. This twist is enough to make it stand out, and stand the test of time. As does its really well-balanced mix of tactical and strategic decisions. Play online at Tabletopia.

6. Letters From Whitechapel
2-6 players, 1-2 hours

Now for a one-versus-all co-operative game. Essentially Scotland Yard on steroids, one player is Jack the Ripper attempting to avoid the authorities. London is represented on a huge, gorgeous map containing 200 locations. Over a series of rounds, Jack announces where his latest victim is – and then tries to get back to his set hideout. Each murder should let the investigators narrow down where they think the hideout is. But if Jack escapes after his fifth murder, he wins. Brilliant with the right crowd.

Top 10 board games of 2011 – The Top 5

5. Artus
2-4 players, 60 mins

Somehow this little abstract ranks a lowly 3,537th in the BGG listings. Especially when you note it is designed by famed pairing Kramer and Kiesling. But I’m really fond of it. Players jostle for the best seats around King Arthur’s round table, with different seats being worth points. You play cards each turn to manipulate positions, but also to trigger scoring. You all have the same set of cards, and have to use them all, so it’s a constant battle trying to set yourself up to score. A unique, chaotic and fun experience.

4. Trajan
2-4 players, 2 hours

Trajan is a typically point salady euro game from Stefan Feld, with a tricksy mancala mechanism. The game is really in the mancala, as you try to manipulate different coloured stones into the right places to pull off powerful actions. This is a clever, brain-burning challenge. But the rest is a little bit bog-standard (claim board spaces, gain bonuses, get resources etc). It’s good, but it is telling I’ve never picked it up – and it’s not even (spoiler alert) his best game of 2011. But then I’d never turn down a game and always enjoy it.

3. Castles of Burgundy
2-4 players, 60-90 mins

Considered by many to be Stefan Feld’s best design, Burgundy still ranks in the BGG Top 20 games of all time. A simple dice mechanism sees players competing for tiles, which they place on their own board to score points. Players are largely doing the same thing. But it is the ebb and flow of point scoring, and how timing is so key, that makes it sing. It has the classic Feld euro tropes: loads of ways to score points, plus lots of luck – alongside time/action consuming ways to mitigate it. Play online at Yucata.

2. Vanuatu
2-5 players, 90 mins

Beating the two Felds to ‘number 1 euro of 2011’ is this gem. It looks friendly, with pretty islands and turtles. But just below the surface is a mean and interactive worker placement game. It’s kind of an action auction, as you have to have the most workers on an action to do it next. This means you can risk spreading your workers thin, but if you get to your turn and don’t have the lead on any actions – you can’t do anything. And worse, you have to remove a worker from the board. Tough, clever, brilliant. Play online at Boite a Jeux.

1. Kingdom Builder
2-6 players, 60 mins

Kingdom Builder is somewhere on the family game/light euro spectrum. But whether you like it seems to very much black or white. The divisiveness stems from the central mechanism: draw a card, and place pieces on board spaces matching that colour. People have issues with this, because once you’ve places pieces you have to build out from those if you can. This means bad early placement can really limit your options – making for a bad first experience. But it really is worth sticking with. Check out my review for more (linked in the game title). Play online at Board Game Arena.

Notable titles that didn’t make my list

Overall, it was a strong year for releases. There are still 30 2011 games in the Board Game Geek Top 500; with 4 in top 100 and one of those in top 20. Of those, games notable for their absence below include Eclipse (OK space 4X, but soon became tedious and predictable); Ora et Labora (resource conversion ad nauseum); and A Few Acres of Snow (clever historical deck-builder that just didn’t grab me).

Top games in the ‘I need to get around to playing those’ list were Lord of the Rings: The Card Game and Sekigahara. But if I missed anything let me know and I’ll give them a go.

Gods Love Dinosaurs board game: A four-sided review

Gods Love Dinosaurs board game box

The Gods Love Dinosaurs board game is a family board game that is suitable for 2-5 players and takes around an hour to play. The box says for ages 10+. But I’d say eight-year-old gamers, maybe even younger, will have no problems.

You should largely ignore the title and prominence of the ‘D’ word on the box, monster fans. Because this is an abstract game about ecosystems, not dinosaurs. You’ll be laying tiles into your own tableau, then populating them with creatures (mainly rabbits, frogs and rats). Then occasionally you’ll let the few predators you’ve collected (eagles, tigers and the odd dinosaur) have a bit of a munch on them. Someone clearly did their marketing homework.

But it does have some pretty nice T-rex bits in the box, as part of a set of 200 wooden creature meeples. The prey ones in particular are pretty small, but they work well enough on the table. You’ll also find a small board, almost 100 tiles and a little volcano standee. The artwork is abstractly cartoony and is colourful without getting in the way. While the limited iconography is clear throughout. At around £40 it feels just about reasonable. But if I’d had to have a stab in the dark, I’d have guessed a price point nearer £30.

Teaching the Gods Love Dinosaurs board game

There are a few concepts in Gods Love Dinosaurs that may be new to family gamers. And it would be easy to play badly and end up with very few points. But there is no hidden information. And what you’re doing makes thematic sense. So it will be easy for a half-decent teacher to walk everyone through the first game. After that, it should be plain sailing.

You start the game with a circular seven-space tile containing one of each ‘prey’ (rabbit, frog and rat), plus a dinosaur in the middle. In play, you take it in turns taking a tile from the animal board and expanding your tableau. They don’t need to match up in any particular way, but matching terrain types makes sense. Most of these hexagonal dominoes tiles have an animal on one of their two spaces. When you take one, you place an animal of that type on the allocated space.

The animal board has five columns (with two/three tiles in each, depending on player count). When a column is empty, the animal pictured at the bottom of that column activates for all players. If it’s a ‘prey’, that specific animal type multiples. For each you have, you can add one extra on an adjacent space – as long it is the right terrain type. If it is a ‘predator’, move each you have up to their movement limit. For each prey they eat along the way, you get a new predator of that type. And the viscous circle of life goes on.

Do the dinosaur

In addition to animal activation, a dinosaur starts the game occupying the left-hand column on the animal board. If that column is activated, players’ dinosaurs also activate after the animal. They eat any prey they move through (but you gain nothing). But if they eat any predators, you gain a dinosaur egg.

Dinosaurs must also stop on special mountain spaces. And if you’ve freed up that central space on your start tile, you can spawn a new dinosaur at the start of this dinosaur phase. More dinos equal more eggs – and dinos/eggs are worth a point each. As that’s the only points there are, it’s pretty important. But on the flip side, anything that can’t feed dies. so if you put too many dinos out and don’t get your animals going, they’ll starve and die. Aww.

After dinosaurs activate, the board is refilled with tiles and the dinosaur moves to the next column. There are four stacks of tiles (presumably to keep an even-ish distribution of animal types throughout the game). And when you can’t refill the board, the game is over.

An image of an eagle set to its its prey in the Gods Love Dinosaurs board game

The four sides

These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.

  • The writer: I love the idea behind Gods Love Dinosaurs and looked forward to it. And the game is well produced. But beyond the artwork it lacks personality. Because unfortunately it’s a theme that demands a level of interesting gameplay this rather linear abstract fails to deliver. Everything works. With each tab fitting sleekly into its slot. But there is no game arc and no variety, leaving little of interest for a gamer over multiple plays.
  • The kids: We love dinosaurs! And the pieces are cool. It’s fun to make new rabbits and rats and then have the tigers and dinosaurs and that eat them up. But you must be careful where you place the tiles and have enough creatures so that everything can eat otherwise some of your animals may die. It is a hard game and there is a lot to think about. But it is really good fun and I want to play it more and beat dad.
  • The trasher: The Gods Love Dinosaurs board game is purely tactical. Because there is only one strategy (collect eggs and dinosaurs). In a two-player game, this makes things nip-and tuck. You have some level of control, so can create shortages and trigger animals when it is of little use to your opponent. But with more players control is lost and it can become of a bit of a luck fest. More about making the most of what’s available than anything else. But even with two, games tend to get rather samey and predictable. OK, but not really for me.
  • The parents: This is a pretty good family game. We could easily teach it to the kids, but it also offers us a bit of a challenge. Sadly it isn’t very educational, except for a very basic demonstration of how an animal ecosystem works. You’d think they could’ve put a bit more in the box in that respect. And it isn’t a game we’ll reach for if the kids don’t request it. We enjoyed the first few plays, but the decisions aren’t really interesting enough to keep us interested if its just the two of us. But it’s certainly one of the better options on the kids’ shelf!

Key observations

Adding dinosaurs to the game, and then pushing them in the title, may well have been a mistake. Because it adds an expectation that the finished product in no way meets. It’s a pretty clever and workable abstract design, but not an exciting aggressive one. This is a game of clever tile placement and resource management. Some find that fun, but it’s not ‘FUN!’ fun. This is particularly frustrating as there are so many ways they could’ve injected some personality into the mix. But they chose to use none of them.

The lack of game arc is particularly galling. I’d hoped the ‘A-D’ tile sets may have injected this, but instead they’re only there to enforce the status quo. So every player is always getting prey, then predators, then feeding to then dinosaurs for points. This means the real game is in starving players of options by taking the right tiles at the right time. But behind that the multiply, eat, repeat engine just chugs along relentlessly in the background.

Even some of the positive (8+) reviews say the game has a single strategy and may become repetitive. But this is in part what can make it a great family game. While the tile draw brings a bit of luck, largely it’s a game of meaningful decisions in terms of tile placement. This means parents will be engaged. But the kids don’t have any extra levels to get to – meaning they’ll be catching up their parents first in terms of ability. They’re going to enjoy eating the animals too. So it can really work well in this environment.

One final issue we had was around the scoring system. There are precious few points and play is pretty linear. Which meant all our games were close. In fact, several were draws. This points to a game that is too well balanced, which may well explain a lot of the criticisms above. Also, the tiebreaker gives the win to the player who went latest in turn order – which just seems pointless and irrelevant.

Conclusion: Gods Love Dinosaurs board game

Ultimately, for me as a gamer, Gods Love Dinosaurs was a disappointment. As we started playing it felt like a good mix. I love a good tile-layer and the (actual – not dinosaur) theme worked. The first game was fun, learning what we’d done wrong and looking forward it fixing it. And fix it we did, in game two. By the end of which the cracks were beginning to show. Game three was actually pretty boring – which is when we reached out to get the family vote. Luckily, kids dig it so the game will go to a good home. Which is great news.

But I don’t buy I’m not the target audience. I love a good family game. I’ve got over 150 plays of Ticket to Ride under my belt. Fifty-plus of Carcassonne. And there are plenty more light games on my shelves. Those family games offer a little extra something. Whether it be variety, or extra levels you can reach with repeat plays. Or, with the best examples, both. Of course, those games benefit from years of expansions. And the Gods Love Dinosaurs board game has so many ways it could be expanded. But for me, at least one of those should’ve been explored in the box. Because as it is, it’s lacking that crucial spark.

Game retrospective 2020, #2: My top gaming moments

2020 eh? One quarter normal, three quarters stuck at home. But thanks to a bunch of online platforms, my board game play count was up versus 2019. I got to play a bunch of slightly older games that had passed me by; several of which became instant favourites. While I soon learned to cherish those few opportunities to physically sit around a table. So despite the obvious, 2020 ended up being a pretty good year for my board gaming.

The year started well, with Sarah, me and two friends (Karl and Ann) doing a bit of gaming in a New Forest Air B&B. While I also got a couple of good game days in. February was SorCon, and March AireCon – but the country was literally locking down as I returned from Harrogate on the train. Sarah and me managed a couple of weekends away late summer, and we had a few local well ventilated sessions then too. But that was it for ‘real’ gaming.

2021’s SorCon has been cancelled, while any hopes for AireCon recede by the day. So it will be at least a full year without normality. But let’s not dwell on that. And instead get back to my gaming highlights of 2020. (Note: See end of post for links to online versions of many of the games mentioned.)

My 3 best ‘real’ gaming experiences of 2020

  • SorCon: AireCon was weird. There was a strange atmosphere and low attendance due to the rising Covid tensions. Several people I’d hoped to game with didn’t come, leaving me a little rudderless. But SorCon the month before had been great. There’s something reassuringly average about a Holiday Inn. And it’s a con with a very friendly atmosphere. I got to play several favourites (Thurn & Taxis, Delphi, Pharaon, Snowdonia, Heaven & Ale). Some sillier games I rarely get to air out (Junk Art, Celestia). While also discovering an odd little card game (#MyLife).
  • Lazy Sundays: I only really see Sarah properly once every couple of weekends, when she doesn’t have her kids. Which often end with a lazy Sunday morning rounded off with a few games. Early in 2020, I also got into the habit of going to my local pub on Sunday evenings to game with the landlord’s family. While Sunday also often includes an afternoon session with my Cambridge group. So a good Sunday could include a lie in, cooked breakfast, a proper beery evening and a good five games or so. That’s the life!
  • AlexCon: OK it wasn’t a con. It was just a visit from main co-LoBsterCon organiser Alex. But in a year where I didn’t see some of my favourite people face-to-face at all, it felt significant! And he’d never been to my house, so the pressure was on. I even had a bath (no I didn’t). But whatever it wasn’t, it was a good two days of gaming. Ten games, including first plays for me of the marvellous Brass: Birmingham and Antiquity. While Sarah managed to pop over and beat us at Pharaon. We also played Azul, Pickomino, Bonfire and more. And I learned I don’t need to own Parks or Fox in the Forest (meh both).

Best individual plays: January to June 2020

January: Very much enjoyed a long 7th Continent session with Andy; while I lost a nail-biting Flamme Rouge when not drawing my final 7 on my last card draw. Either would’ve won most months – but a game of Concordia will live longest in the memory. It finished with scores of Karl 122, me 121 and Ann on 120. Absolutely epic play of one of my favourite games.

February: I don’t play my own games often, but really enjoyed my one 2020 play of Armageddon. It was with Dave, Lyndsey and Benjy upstairs at my local pub. Lyndsey got off to a flyer and looked to be coasting, but it pulled it back to only lose by 5 in the end (120-115). Dave and Benj niggling each other added comedy value and it’s always nice to teach people your own game and have them really enjoy it.

March: Despite AireCon, my favourite March play was a virtual game of Agricola on Boite a Jeux with Howie and Andy. It’s a game I enjoy but very rarely win. But this time I managed to get out of sync with my actions, allowing me to have little competition over my placements. I ended up seven points ahead of Howie on 40, which is the equivalent of a landslide victory for me.

April: I had some great online plays of some of my favourite games, including Terra Mystica and Concordia. But April’s highlight was learning to play fantastic solo game Nemo’s War. It follows the adventures of Captain Nemo and The Nautilus, with a variety of scenarios and story cards adding variety and flavour. The game is hard and puzzley, but the great art and use of text on the cards give it just enough theme and character.

May: I’m going to mention Fertility here. It’s a great, quick tile-laying game with very simple rules but lots or tactical and strategic depth. But just beating it to play of the month was an online game of Vanuatu with Chris and Jonathan. Neither of them had played it before, but it was a smooth teach and we all really enjoyed the play. It’s a super interactive worker placement game where clever play can really screw your opponents over.

June: One advantage of lockdown was looking elsewhere online to find games I’d never played, mostly with Alex. This included my first plays of many games in the Gipf series of abstracts (which are free to play on Boite a Jeux). They were all clever, but largely not my bag. But the exception was Dvonn. It’s fast with simple rules, but every move counts and if you’re lucky you can line up some killer moves. One I need to get in my collection.

Best individual plays: July to December 2020

July: An easy one, thanks to a five-game session of Race for the Galaxy with Howie and Andy. Yes, it’s my favourite game. But that wasn’t the reason it made this list. The credit here goes to the fantastic Steam implementation (which is less than £10). It makes the game a real pleasure to play online, with the first three expansions also available as DLC. Honourable mentions for learning games of the excellent Kanban and Mandala.

August: Several to choose from here, including my first plays in years of two games I really like. Firenze is up top of my wish list – a light euro which feels to me like an interactive and prettier Thurn and Taxis. While I also really enjoyed my re-introduction to worker placement classic Pillars of the Earth. But the win (just) goes to Nippon, another excellent worker placement game.

September: A lovely evening with my better half saw us play three great games. And it was a rare day when I won all three! I got a one-point win at Downfall of Pompeii; and put together a crushing final round in Azul. But topping that was a rare win at Targi. It’s a great two-player tableau-building gateway game. Resources can be tight, making every decision count. And you can really interfere with each other’s plans.

October: No Essen – boo! I really enjoyed learning new CGE games Arnak and Under Falling Skies, which gave me that new game vibe. But again it was two super close games with Sarah that stood out. We had a great game of Kingdomino (mighty duel), which she won by a point. But it was here two-point win at Thurn and Taxis that was the real highlight. It went right to the wire, being decided in the last couple of turns.

November: There’s something special about bringing someone into the board gaming fold. So this month’s pick goes to my first two plays of Ticket to Ride with local drinking buddy Vince. I don’t think he’ll ever be a ‘gamer’. But he’s taken to this and it has helped us both through the tough winter lockdown months. We’ve played four different maps now and he’s had his first win. And I can see a lot more defeats in my future…

December: Alex and I got a weekend of gaming in just before lockdown hit again. There were some great plays, but we agreed on the highlight – Brass: Birmingham. The original is the most criminally underplayed game on my shelves. So it was great to try this version. And what a great version it is. Route building, a tight economy and a good sprinkling of luck via the cards. I taught Sarah the original the next week, and she didn’t hate it!

Board game lockdown links

I linked to Boite a Jeux a couple of times in this post, and Steam; then realised there are several more of the games above that can also be played virtually. So rather than fiddling about trying to force links in, I’ve listed them below:

  • Brass: Birmingham is available on Tabletopia.
  • Concordia is at Boite a Jeux (including the Salsa expansion).
  • Downfall of Pompeii is available on Yucata.
  • Kingdomino is on Board Game Arena (you need a paid subscriber to start a game).
  • Nemo’s War is available on Tabletopia.
  • Nippon is surprisingly well implemented on Board Game Arena.
  • Targi can be found on both Yucata and Board Game Arena.
  • Thurn & Taxis is available on both Yucata and Board Game Arena. But the Yucata version has a far superior implementation, as well as the expansions.
  • Ticket to Ride has a fantastic app that can be played on mobile (Apple and Android/Kindle) or via Steam. All the links are here.
  • Under Falling Skies is free to try on Tabletopia.
  • Vanuatu is available at Boite a Jeux.