Amsterdam board game: A four-sided review

The Amsterdam board game is a reprint and retheme of one of my favourite Stefan Feld designs, Macao. It is a dice-for-actions euro game with some really nice twists. And while the change of thematic destination hasn’t done much to change things it hasn’t done any harm. It’s a 2-4 player game that takes one to two hours to play, with a suggested age range of 12-plus. This feels about right, as it is a fairly complex medium-weight euro game with a lot of moving parts.

RelatedEssen Spiel 2022: Reviews incoming

In the box, you’ll find a large mainboard, six smaller sideboards, 100+ cardboard tiles, 150 cardboard tokens, 240 wooden cubes, 20+ other wooden pieces, 130+ cards. six dice, four roundels, and a cotton bag. The game is expected to arrive in retail outlets in January 2023. Expect a price tag of around £60-70. Anything above that would seem steep. Because while there’s a lot in the box everything could’ve been smaller (more on that later).

Teaching the Amsterdam board game

I’m not going to do a full rules explanation here as much is identical to the original. If you want more on the base mechanisms check out my Macao review. Instead, I’ll concentrate on the differences. Rolling and choosing dice, choosing cards, and the cards themselves are largely unchanged except for Office Cards (now District Maps). They are still randomised, but you draw them each turn from a facedown draw pile. Also, more expensive (three and four-cost) cards give better rewards.

Balancing is quite a theme overall. A significant change is you can hold one cube back each round, making tougher but more fun cards more alluring. There are now VP thresholds you pass on the turn order track. Plus, the old Joker tiles have been replaced with a Black Market that gives you the same options but at the cost of discarding a good when you pick it up (only one good of each type can be used in this way each game). Card activation and usage are pretty much unchanged.

How has sailing changed in Amsterdam?

One of the bigger changes is shipping, or barging as it is now. Commodities are delivered in the same way and boat movement is also the same, but you need to load them onto your boat at a dock to be able to deliver them. There are also spots that take any good and you can pick up and deliver passengers for additional rewards. You get a VP bonus for the delivery of goods in the early rounds now too. Finally, the annoying VPs for Gold system (where you worked it out from the cards) has been replaced with a set of Market Tiles, some of which offer slightly more interesting rewards.

There are also four mini-expansions in the box, plus solo rules. The solo rules are OK, thankfully avoiding the ridiculously complicated efforts found in most euro games these days. The mini-expansions are largely forgettable, with the only one of note being an extra set of Market Tiles you can use. However, these seem to have been a little rushed and felt too unbalanced for us to want to keep playing with them. Luckily, the basic ones are fine.

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 Macao, but it certainly had its quirky faults. In almost every aspect Amsterdam has fixed them, while also making some old boring aspects of the game more involved. Overall the game feels more polished and a little more thinky while keeping the element of push-your-luck in the dice roundel that really set it apart. I found some of the production decisions baffling (see below), but mechanically it is simply a better game.
  • The thinker: Where Macao seemed like a slightly unbalanced luck-fest, which could degenerate into a boat-moving exercise in the later rounds, Amsterdam is a more measured product that loses nothing in the translation. However, it still isn’t the Feld game for me. Where most of his games have an often annoying push-your-luck element, this one revolves around it. And while Amsterdam does have more mitigation, it is still too swingy for me.
  • The trasher: While there are some elements of interaction in both Amsterdam and Macao, there isn’t enough to keep me interested. It’s a good game, and you do need to keep an eye on your opponent’s movements. But there’s no doubt that the core of the game remains in the engine building. It’s higher up the game list for me than most Feld games, and I’ll play it because it is a good game. But it’s not one I’d choose.
  • The dabbler: Amsterdam is more colourful and approachable than Macao, especially with the cards-with-words being replaced with cards-with-icons. But now everything in it makes you think, whereas before it had some easy bits around the puzzle complex ones. I wouldn’t have voted for that, but get why others like it. Amsterdam is now at the limit of my complexity chart, but I do enjoy playing it when I’m fully awake!

Key observations

Overall I see Amsterdam as being a series of small but significant improvements to one of my favourite games, which is all good with me. However, while I like the more colourful aesthetic generally, the main board is a mess and the cubes don’t stand out at all. And why does it have to take up so much space? You may as well throw the resource board straight in the bin and replace it with some little plastic cups.

And full-size cards? Really? They’re a ridiculous space hog which does nothing but makes the game hard to fit on all but the biggest of tables. And with all that space, why not also put text on the cards? It would beat the constant rulebook dives the unclear symbols create. This brings us to the price. Macao was pretty ugly, but it was at the right price point. Here you have loads of everything, including pointless expansions, all of which add to the price point while offering very little actual play value. It’s a shame that these production decisions take the shine off what is otherwise an excellent game.

Conclusion: Amsterdam board game

While it is going to be a genuine wrench to do it, I’ll be parting company with Macao and replacing it on my shelves with the excellent Amsterdam board game. The few issues I have with it are far outweighed by the positives. But would I pay what might be £80 to replace it if I had to pay for it? No. But if I had neither, I’d flinch but pay it because for me it truly is one of a top designer’s finest moments.

Electropolis board game: A four-sided review

The Electropolis board game is a light-to-medium-weight tile-laying game for two-to-four players that takes about an hour to play. While the box says ages 12-plus, gamer kids as young as eight will probably be fine with it. Thematically, each player is trying to balance the power needs of their own town against its pollution output by placing power stations and public facilities, while collecting energy tiles. But in essence, this is an abstract game with a theme that gives what you’re doing a thematic hook.

RelatedEssen Spiel 2022: Reviews incoming

In the box, you’ll find eight sturdy boards (one per player, two support tracks, plus turn order and score track), 38 cards, 144 tiles with a tile bag, 20 chunky wooden tokens, and a few cardboard tokens. All the components are of high quality and the iconography is simple to follow. However, the overall look of the game is a little grey and drab for my tastes, although some find it charming. Comparison site Board Game Prices shows it for around £35. However, for the UK, you’ll need to import it which adds another £10 or so.

Teaching the Electropolis board game

Electropolis is a simple game to teach, which is made all the easier by there being no hidden information. Each player gets their own 5×5-space player board, with the central space only used to show your player colour. Before play, you’ll reveal thereof the six Trend Cards and place them face up. These are end-game scoring cards for all players, so add a little extra variety to each play. A game lasts eight rounds, with four Development Cards being revealed each round. You also draw 14,16, or 18 tiles from the bag, depending on the player count.

The tiles are randomly placed in a circle (in the same way as Patchwork, if you’re familiar with that). Players then place their player pieces on one of six spots on the Turn Order track, which will indicate how many tiles they’re going to take this round (between two and six, with two ‘three’ spaces). The fewer tiles you take, the earlier you’ll get to place on this board next time. Then, in the new turn order, players take exactly their allotted number of tiles from the circle, plus one of the Development Cards. The wrinkle is the tiles you take can be from anywhere in the circle, as long as they are all in a row.

Placing your tiles on your player board

Development Cards have two pieces of information on them; either an immediate or end-game scoring condition/bonus, plus information on which section of your player board you have to place this round’s tiles. The size of the placement areas gets more generous as the game goes on, with unplaced tiles drawing a penalty. Only buildings (power stations and public facilities) go on your board, with energy tiles going to the side. You’ll want matching power sets to score (eg. a coal plant, plus a cola energy tile), but you must also manage pollution (most plants create it, while public facilities balance this by giving public support).

Points come from your development Cards, the shared Trend Cards, and power plants (if you have matching energy tiles for non-green plants). You may lose a few points for empty spaces on your board, and potentially big points if your pollution outnumbers your public support. The number of points lost is the square of the difference, so if you have a deficit of five pollution, you’d lose a whopping 25 points. In a game where scores come in around 100, this can make the difference.

The four sides

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

  • The writer: While it doesn’t look like much on first inspection, the Electropolis is one of my favourite tile-laying games of the past few years. While the rules are simple, the decisions always seem tricky. Design-wise everything slots together perfectly, with just enough going on to keep you thinking but nothing extra thrown in for the same of it.
  • The thinker: While not deep enough to keep me coming back regularly, I did enjoy the game. The fact that you don’t know what tiles you’ll get if you’re not first is delicious. Taken with the fact early choices get you first dibs on a card, but that leaving blanks on your board means you want lots of tiles, is a fun conundrum. A good-looking, clever, and surprisingly interactive game that I’ll definitely come back to.
  • The trasher: From a distance, Electropolis looks like a heads-down boring euro-style game. But the importance of turn order, especially once the game has been going a while, really ups the score for me. You start to see what people need, and where they need to place. So going early and taking a particular card can mean a big point swing. This isn’t going to be a go-to game for me, but I’ll certainly always be happy to play.
  • The dabbler: While the look is a little dull (a bit more colour would’ve helped!), it only takes a few minutes to get totally engaged in this puzzly little game. You have to be aware of other people, sure. But just solving your own little board dilemmas was fun enough to keep me engaged. A really good game.

Key observations

One thing I really noticed is how different Eloctropolis plays with different player counts. There are no changes to set up or gameplay with fewer players, so only two Development Cards are taken with two, which makes it a lot easier. It also removes the tension of turn order choice, as there are so many spaces. But on the flip side, you won’t see all the tiles which means it is possible for things to get a little lopsided distribution-wise. I still enjoyed it at all player counts, but a bit more development to detail could’ve removed this quite easily.

I’m a little worried about replayability, largely due to the low number of Trend Cards. These make each game feel different, shifting the focus for everyone. But there are only six in the box, where it feels it would’ve been pretty easy to at least double that without much thought or added cost. Finally, while I really like the game, it didn’t wow many people. however, I only played with one person who was meh about it out of more than 10 who tried it.

Conclusion: Electropolis board game

Electropolis has been a hit for me and most people I’ve played it with, making it a definite keeper for me. It’s relatively small, simple to teach, and broad-ranging in terms of the types of players I would teach it to. While I would’ve preferred a bit more colour, the art, production and design are also top-notch. Overall, a pretty fabulous little package.

Space Expatriate board game: A four-sided review

The Space Expatriate board game is a sci-fi card game in the vein of Race for the Galaxy for two-to-four players. It takes around an hour to play, and the suggested age range of 12+ feels right. Players choose roles to take actions, playing cards into their tableau to chain effects and then banking them to claim colonies for end-game points.

RelatedEssen Spiel 2022: Reviews incoming

In the box, you’ll find 160 cards, 43 cubes, around 50 cardboard tokens, four thin cardboard player mats, and a slightly ridiculous yet equally glorious sturdy metal start player token. Looking at comparison site Board Game Prices you can find it for around £40 plus shipping, which is a bit much for what you get. Also, unfortunately, at the time of writing it is not available directly in the UK.

Teaching Space Expatriate

Teaching the Space Expatriate board game is relatively straightforward for anyone who has played a game such as Race for the Galaxy, or other action selection engine builders. The biggest issue is the rulebook, which was clearly written by someone new to the idea of rulebooks and then translated very poorly into English.

The game has four types of action cards (delivery, engineering, terraforming, military), plus colonization cards. Each is shuffled into its own draw deck, with a few colony cards always face up (player count dependent). Players get one card from each action card deck to make their starting hand. Players then draft four more cards from the four action decks until each has a four-card starting tableau, called your space station. To finish setup, turn over one card from each action deck to begin the first round.

During a round, each player will take one of the available action cards and place it into their space station before doing the related action. You’ll get to do the action you choose with a small bonus, then every other player gets to do the same action. Rounds continue until one player has 10 colonies, or all players collectively have 10/15/20 (for 2/3/4 players). You then work out your final score by cross-referencing your victory points gained versus your colonies created.

Card actions

Delivery cards represent goods you can collect, which come in six types represented by cubes. The delivery action sees you collect the cubes on your station’s Delivery cards, minus those in space garbage (we’ll come to that). As part of the same action, you then run them through your cube engine – which is all the Engineering cards you have on your space station. Taking the Engineering action itself allows you to play a card from your hand to your space station. Engineering cards allow you to turn cubes into better cubes or victory points.

Taking the Terraforming action gives you a card you can spend cubes on when you run your engine. But it also allows you to remove cards from your space station to form colonies. These buy you a colony card, giving both an ongoing bonus plus a victory point multiplier for the end game. But also reduces your station’s ability to create cubes and points. Finally, the Military card/action allows you to get more cards into your hand from the draw piles. Each military card has a symbol, and having supremacy in these symbols makes your military action stronger, sometimes allowing you to steal cards from another space station.

The four sides

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

  • The writer: There are so many good ideas in the Space Expatriate board game. But these are overshadowed by a lack of finesse. Ideas that stick the landing are held back by those that don’t. If they’d tried to reinvent the spokes rather than the whole wheel, this could’ve been a success. Instead, it is a brave attempt that stumbles over its own ambition.
  • The thinker: The central conceit of building/keeping your engine vs dismantling it for colonies, knowing you need to do both to score, is a fascinating one. some of the engine ideas also work well, such as space garbage. Cubes you produce but can’t use in your engine go in the garbage, and all players subtract all the garbage from the cubes they can produce next time. This can result in complex strategies, as the garbage empties after the next Delivery action. But unfortunately, too much else is either too random, ill-conceived, or underdeveloped to make the game fun overall.
  • The trasher: The competitive idea of the military cards seems sound, but it is a fiddly thing to work out every round. This is made worse by the fact you’re largely getting random Military cards, so you rarely get to choose who you’re getting ahead of. And I usually love a good dick move but being able to take a card from a player’s space station? It doesn’t fit the rest of the game’s feel and can be devastating. While again, who you do it to is rarely something you can dictate.
  • The dabbler: No thanks! And what a terrible name…

Key observations

The Space Expatriate board game has 17 ratings on Board Game Geek at the time of writing. This tells you just how under the radar this one flew at Essen 2022. I was talked through the rules at the press preview having heard nothing about it previously. And the clear comparisons to Race for the Galaxy sold me on the spot. Reading the rules gave me a good vibe, so I also looked forward to playing it.

The idea of engine construction, then deconstruction, is excellent. It is a hugely tactical game, with a large amount of randomness meaning you’re largely trying to make the best of the situations you find yourself in. Again, this is a lot of fun in theory. The engine itself is nice and simple, so you’re not having to construct something complex. Sometimes luck means it won’t work well at all, but hey – just deconstruct it for a colony and go again.

The problems

The problems start with the Military cards, which also dictate turn order (a very poor design choice). Working out who has supremacy each turn is boring and fiddly, and can swing between being completely arbitrary to creating (often accidental) game-changing situations. Working out the next turn’s start player can really screw you over, especially with four players. And military is powerful enough, without needing this extra bonus.

With four actions and four players, every action will be played each turn. This means the last player has no choice, which is a poor design choice. Also, there is no jeopardy the action you need won’t happen which removes the joy of this mechanism when compared to Race or Puerto Rico. Finally, the final scoring of the game feels underwhelming. Everyone ends up with between 0-9 points as you look along your number-of-colonies line and see what your victory points tally to on it. I expect this has been worked out through testing, but I’m not sure it ever feels legitimate. We were never left convinced the best player had won.

Conclusion: Space Expatriate board game

I wanted to fall in love with this game and so nearly did. But in the end, the poorer elements were enough to overtake the good ones and mean I’ll be moving Space Expatriates on. It leaves me wondering what would’ve happened if a top developer had got hold of the core concepts. Because the good ideas here are fantastic. Who knows? Maybe a bigger publisher will get a sniff of this and take a second look. I hope so. Because there’s a great game in here that I’d love to play.

The Two Heirs board game: A four-sided review

The Two Heirs board game is a one or two-player tile-laying game that takes around 30-60 minutes to play. The box suggests an age range of 10-plus, which feels about right. Thematically you play as two heirs vying to take your father’s throne by proving you’re the better ruler. You do this by laying tiles into a shared area, attempting to score points from your placed tiles while cutting off opportunities for your opponent.

Related: Essen Spiel 2022: Reviews incoming

In the box, you’ll find 54 cardboard tiles, 18 cardboard chits, and a scorepad. The tile art is as nice as the rather ordinary theme will allow, and the iconography is clear. It looks nice if unspectacular on the table, and needs a little more space to play than the short component list might suggest. The tiles are 6x6cm and you have no idea in what shape your tile area may end up. Looking at comparison site Board Game Prices, you can find it for around £20 but unfortunately, it is not currently available in the UK. At £20, it offers pretty good value.

Teaching the Two Heirs board game

The Two Heirs is simple to teach. It has largely face-up information, so it is easy to step in with advice or clarifications and the few tiles a player may have in hand will always have been seen when picked up, so even then there’s there is no need to be secretive. Players take turns taking a tile (mandatory) before playing as many tiles as they like, or can, from their hand to the shared play area (the hand limit is three). Each game uses 27 tiles and ends when the available stock of six can no longer be replenished, as the draw pile is empty.

Twenty-seven tiles are shuffled into a draw deck, with one placed face down in the middle of the play area as starting tile (each tile has one of three terrain types on the back). Six tiles are placed face-up in a circle, along with the Royal Shield token. The shield represents the one point of ‘reach’ players are always guaranteed on the circle, while also being the start point from which a player can choose tiles (clockwise) around the circle.

Each player starts with two soldier tokens within the circle and one on the start tile. The two in the circle can be moved to empty tiles in the play area, and back to the circle, but the one out on the board must always stay there. Once one player has moved their soldier from the start spot, no two soldiers can ever be on the same tile again. Each of your soldiers can only be moved once per turn and a soldier can occupy any tile it can get to (each can move one space per turn).

making and placing tiles

To take a tile you count your soldiers in the circle, add one for the shield, and take a tile with that number clockwise from the shield. Remember, you can bring soldiers back from the table to the circle if required. To play tiles, you have two choices. You can play a tile face down for free, or pay a tile face up for its cost. This cost will be up to four resources. The resources available to you are those within reach in the circle, plus any on the board your soldiers occupy (tiles you’ve already placed may offer bonus resources). Again, you may be able to move unmoved soldiers to make up for any shortfall.

Tiles placed face-up need to face you, as most will score you points at the end of the game. all tiles must be placed orthogonally to at least one already on the board, but have no other matching requirements, even if they have roads on them. Most tiles score differently, with a large variety of options available. And any of your tiles with one of your soldiers on it at the end of the game will score double. The player with the most points 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: Visually this is a hard game to love, due to the drab theme and overall beigeness. But it sets up fast, plays smoothly, and offers a lot more interesting choices than you’d expect. It builds tension nicely too, as you hope your opponent misses your master plan. It’s a shame scoring takes so long, but the scorepad helps. And it is worth it, as the game wouldn’t be as good without the variety that makes it such a pain to add up.
  • The thinker: What looks quite simple is in fact quite the brain teaser. There are many moving parts for so few components. With just nine terrains of each colour, it is simple to keep track of what has and hasn’t appeared. Although parsing all the scoring opportunities can get a little much. A bad tile order early on can make for a tedious beginning to the game. But otherwise, I have very much enjoyed my plays of The Two Heirs.
  • The trasher: It’s rare that a game tries to be both puzzley and interactive, but this one gets the mix just about right. Better still there is plenty of variety in the box, with six sets of nine tiles, and only half of the sets are used each game. some are actually viscous, allowing you to remove the opponent’s tiles. But even without those, you’re always having to think whether a block or a points play is going to work out for the best. A surprise hit.
  • The dabbler: I quite enjoyed The Two Heirs board game but it took a whole game to win me over. While the tiles have pretty art, it’s so brown and boring looking. And the volume of icons is baffling at first. But, once we got going, I found myself enjoying it. That said, the boring theme and presentation meant I soon forgot about it. I’d happily play it some more.

Key observations

Unfortunately, The Two Heirs board game made nary a ripple at Essen 2022. A the time of writing it has just 36 ratings on Board Game Geek and only 13 comments. Publisher Albi is only now making inroads into the hobby market, which isn’t good news for the game. And I can only hope it somehow manages to get a bit of a push, as I feel it deserves one. Sure, the market for bland-looking two-player tile-laying games probably isn’t huge. But it is certainly bigger than the reach it has managed so far. I agree with the few comments it does have. Lots of interesting choices in a constantly shifting arena, only really let down by some slightly suspect production and symbology.

As for the solo version, it adds a whole other layer to the puzzle. You play a two-player game against a basic AI opponent. However, its simplicity means you can think about what move the AI will do depending on the tile you take, and where you place it. This is hugely AP-inducing, but as that’s what a lot of solo gamers want I can see it being a big hit. If you like solo puzzle games, I’d certainly suggest you take a look.

Conclusion: The Two Heirs board game

The Two Heirs is an excellent two-player abstract puzzle game with an impressive solo variant. It is highly competitive, either passively or also aggressively depending on which tiles you use. Highly recommended and a definite keeper.

  • Thanks to Albi for providing a copy for review.
  • Follow this link for 200+ more of my board game reviews.

Triggs card game review: A four-sided review

Triggs card game review, box

The Triggs card game is a 20-30 minute family card game for 2-4 players that are aged roughly eight and up. It’s a colorful abstract game you can teach to anyone, and is undoubtedly family-friendly. Plus, the kind of addition players need to be doing during the game makes it a perfect teaching tool to use in the classroom.

Looking at comparison site Board Game Prices, you can find it for around £20. It is only currently available in the UK as an import from Germany. However, despite that, it’s a pretty reasonable price for a card game now and it is unlikely to be much less if it gets an official UK release. The card stock is the typical sound quality you’d expect from publisher NSV. Unfortunately, while the cards are colourful and clear they are also lacking in any kind of style or imagination.

Teaching Triggs

Triggs is a very simple card game to teach. Each player takes a score sheet, finds a pen or pencil (nope, none are provided), and is dealt five cards. Three draw piles are then created in the middle of the table from what’s left of the game’s 108 cards, two face up and one face down. Players take turns clockwise until one of you completes their sheet, winning the game immediately.

Each game sheet is identical, having the numbers 1-12 descending down the sheet in an increasing number of boxes. There are two boxes for one, two, and three, going up to five boxes for the numbers 11 and 12. On their turn, a player must take one of three actions:

  • Draw two cards from any draw piles
  • Discard any number of cards of a single number (you have a 10-card hand limit)
  • Play cards to cross off numbered boxes

You can only play cards that equal one number, but you can add two cards together to do so. So for example, you could play an 11, a five and six, plus a three and eight, to make three 11s. You would then cross three 11s off of your score sheet. If you finish a number, you get to cross off any other box of your choice as a bonus. And that is basically that.

The four sides

Triggs card game review, cards and scorepad

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

  • The writer: Triggs is a simple mathsy card game that you can teach young children and grandma alike. It’s a clever design that works well, and it can build tension as you near the end as it is essentially a race to the finish.
  • The thinker: There is nothing at all for me here.
  • The trasher: Triggs has no real interaction. As there are nine cards of each value in the deck and cards can be added together to make the numbers you need, even hate drafting is largely off the table. Especially as the bonus move lets players get the numbers they’re missing.
  • The dabbler: This is a nice little filler game to play with the kids, or maybe at a family birthday or Christmas. It’s nice to have a few games that anyone can pick up quickly, and there’s enough luck involved to mean the cleverest players aren’t necessarily going to win.

Key Triggs observations

Nice is the word that keeps coming up when talking about Triggs. A nice little game. A nice little mechanism. A nice little filler. But is ‘nice’ enough in such a crowded market? Especially with such a bland if colourful presentation, it isn’t going to win many over by looks alone.

There are definitely choices to make, but how much effect they have on the outcome remains uncertain. I’ve seen players take all the obvious routes to victory, including going low numbers first, high first, or filling the sheet with all but one of each number and cascading most of them with bonuses to finish. But luck isn’t the enemy of a short family card game, so that’s not really a problem.

I think it will really find its mark as a teaching tool, and as a nice addition to the ‘play with non-gamers toolbox. It will also make a nice little stocking filler in the lead-up to Christmas, especially for kids who have a bit of trouble getting excited about maths and you want to do a bit of stealth addition training. But I can’t see it replacing anything in a gamer’s library.

Conclusion: Triggs card game review

Instead of staying in my collection, Triggs will be winging its way to a local primary school classroom to give some teachers a welcome break during the occasional maths lesson. It’s a solid game, but not one that provides enough to ever get pulled from my shelves to the table. It’s a sold six-ish out of 10. But a small box card game needs to be a little more than that to hang around these days. Hopefully, it will instead engage some maths-averse kids.