Targi board game: A four-sided review

The Targi board game is a two-player action selection and tableau building game. It plays in less than an hour and has little (sometimes no) direct confrontation, excelling instead in its non-direct interactions.

It is nominally themed around two nomadic tribes gathering resources and expanding their territories. But while the component quality is nice and the artwork well done, it is very much an abstract experience.

The game is part of the highly regarded Kosmos two-player small box line (see also The Rose King, Kahuna etc). These retail at just under £20 – a great price for the life you’ll get from them. The box says ages 12+, but younger gamer kids should have no problems. In the box you’ll find 80 small cards, 11 wooden pieces and 50+ cardboard tokens. It is also worth noting Targi is available to play online for free at Yucata and Board Game Arena.

Teaching the Targi board game

Gamers will find themselves on very familiar ground. But Targi can also work well as a gateway game. It introduces some common gamer concepts, but in a tight environment. And with very little (often no) hidden information, it is easy to teach the finer points as you play. As well as pointing out potential pitfalls as they arise.

The playing area is created with cards. There is an outside frame of 16 that stays throughout the game, with a 3×3 grid of cards inside that are replenished as players take them. Cards in the outer frame represent actions or resources; cards in the 3×3 grid will be tribal cards or resources. The game ends when a player has collected 12 tribal cards. Or if the robber (see below) makes it all the way around the outside card grid. This means a maximum of 12 turns. Because while the outer grid is made up of 16 cards, the corners are not used. They’re just penalty squares players must pay for when the robber passes them.

Players take it in turns to place one of their three meeples on cards in the outer grid. You can’t place on the same spot as another meeple (including the robber) or opposite your opponent’s meeples. Once all six meeples have been placed, you also place 0-2 markers on any intersections between your meeples in the 3×3 grid. Each player then removes all their meeples are markers in any order, taking the actions/resources/tribal cards as they go. At the end of the round, turn order switches and you fill in gaps in the 3×3 grid – then go again.

Actions, tribes and resources

Targi has three basic resources (pepper, salt and dates), plus gold. Gold is hardest to come by, but needed to claim many of the tribal cards. There are just six action spaces. Two allow you to trade basic resources, either for gold, points, or other resources. Two give you ‘lucky dip’ picks from the tribal card and resource card decks. One allows you to move one of your markers to a different spot on the 3×3 grid. While the last lets you play your hand card. During the game, you may always have a single tribal card in hand – useful if you really want a card, but can’t afford it just yet.

The robber blocks off the card he stands on, moving one card clockwise each round. And after each set of three rounds, he moves over a corner space of the outer grid – taxing both players. At first it is just a resource or victory point. But later, it may be three resources or a gold coin. Which can really hurt. Some tribal cards negate the robber, or even let you profit from him. While another lets you share a space with him.

Points come from several avenues, allowing for a surprising number of strategies for a game light on components. Gold and resources can be converted into points via actions, while some resource cards are actually just a point. All tribal cards are worth points, with some giving bonus end-game points if you meet certain criteria. Finally, the way you create your tableau of tribal cards can also score points. As you claim cards, you start to form a personal 3×4 tableau with them. Each card is part of a set, with complete rows of same/all different types awarding even more bonuses.

The four sides

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

  • The writer: As someone who dabbles with game design, Targi impresses me technically. Set collection, recipe fulfilment and scoring are bog standard. So the key mechanism has to be strong. And it is. But it’s also incredibly simple, widening the potential appeal and reach. Plotting axis points is something everyone understands. But the denial it creates with two-players makes the game sing. It’s easy to see what you want. But you need both axis points to get it. Which always leave a blocking move for your opponent. Once again a simple, elegant mechanism makes a great game.
  • The thinker: I see this not as a game, but a series of games played out in turns. When the grid is refilled with cards, you completely reset your plan. Not only on what you received last round. But also by the options now available to you. Direct interaction is done well, with just a few cards having minor impact. Instead, the game is in choosing whether to chase your own goals or deny those of your opponent. And if you can do both at once, more’s the better. This makes each round like its own little chess battle. And for that I find it thoroughly entertaining.
  • The trasher: As an aggressive player, it is strange to find a game where blocking feels like the front-foot tactic! Find what your opponent wants most, then make sure they can’t get it. The fact is, you’ll always be getting something unless you really place poorly. Gold feels incredibly important, so starving your opponent of opportunities to get it feels strong. But then the randomness of the tribe cards can throw up other opportunities, keeping you on your toes. Targi feels like those rarest of games that has much for both the tactician and the strategist. The aggressor and the pacifist. Win-win.
  • The dabbler: It’s a very simple game to learn and looks nice, if unspectacular, on the table. Filling the card spaces each round is a bit fiddly. You need to replace cards with their opposite (so a resource card is replaced with a tribe card), which all feels a bit mechanical. And the meeples are annoying as they fall over a lot. Also, after you’ve added a few tribe cards to your tableau you can have lots of added powers. discounts for cards, free resources if you collect a certain type etc. This is all written out on the cards in words, not symbols, so it’s easy to forget stuff. Which can lose you the game. But despite all that it is a lot of fun, and deep for what it is.

Key observations

As always, there are the strange detractors that say Targi isn’t exciting and lacks theme. I guess these things are true. But it would be like criticising something blue for not being red enough. Or eating something you know you don’t like. Why do people insist on doing things they don’t like to do? And then moaning about it?

Some say the best move is usually obvious. But this isn’t a solo game – you must think about your opponent. Are they going for a tribe set? Or need to lay the card in their hand? Even if there is a ‘best’ card, you’ll need two meeples in the right spots to get it. And I don’t agree the ‘Fata Morgana’ action space is problematic. It allows you to move a token to a space you couldn’t get to, scuppering blocking. But to do this, you are wasting an action – quite a high price to pay. If the start player is always getting what they want, you’re letting them. Or they’re paying an extra action to guarantee it, which can hurt over time.

Too long and too lucky?

Some people think, at about an hour, it runs a little long. Again, I disagree. For me, Targi has a nice curve. Early on its a land grab, as you take the best combo of tribes and resources you can. Then later you are choosing whether to concentrate on your own tableau, or on blocking your opponent. Or doing a little of both. But the too-and-fro is always interesting. But of course, if you’re not really enjoying it, any game is going to be too long. And Targi clearly isn’t for everyone.

Yes, there is certainly luck involved. You may try for four of a tribe for example, get to three, and not see another one. This can be frustrating, but it’s not enough to put me off. However, if this kind of luck element annoys you, I can see it being a disappointment. Also there isn’t a huge amount of variety in the box. I’m a fan, but still deliberately don’t play it massively often. I think a lot of games are like this, and I’m fine with that. But if you have small collection and are looking for games to play very regularly, Targi may not be for you. That said, it does have a very well regarded expansion that changes things up a lot.

Conclusion: Targi board game

As you’ve probably guessed by now, the Targi board game is an absolute keeper for me. It’s an elegant balance of combative abstract and euro mechanisms. I’m happy with the 45-minute-ish game length. And, while the luck of the card draw can get you sometimes, I’m having a good enough time to roll with it. My better half likes it too and is now picking it on game nights. And at close to 50 plays now (on and offline) I’m always happy to play. And that’s without having picked up the expansion. A definite winner.

Cardboard time machine: My 2010 in life and board games

After the crazy upheavals of 2008, then the fresh beginnings of 2009, 2010 was a year of relative calm. Zoe and me were settled in the flat on the edge of Cambridge and work was going well with (then) Broadband Genie. Zoe was happy in her work as a teaching assistant and all was well with the flat (after some teething problems). Life was good.

My 40th birthday saw me hiring the back room of The Portland Arms in Cambridge, with about 100 people turning out to celebrate. In contrast, my 50th was spent in my house with Sarah thanks to lockdown. Still lovely, but quite the contrast. Although due to my rising anxiety, its hard to believe the same me wanted to host a party for my friends just 10 years ago. How can I be such a different person mentally just a decade on?

But when I wasn’t drinking and socialising at pubs and gigs, I was gaming. Zoe was happy to play some games with me (although largely lighter ones); while my regular week-night group with Andy and Carl went from strength to strength. I was happy to buy new games and they were happy to play them! After a relatively slow start to the year, from July on I recorded around 30 plays per month.

With the addition of a few other players (notably Howie and Matt), we also started playing on a weekend. And that Andy/Carl/Howie weekend group is still going today (when coronovirus isn’t forcing us online). Howie was also happy to pick up a few games, so I was also getting to see a few more titles I might not have looked at myself. But we still had a relatively small pool to pick from.

My game plays in 2010

2010 saw a new high for total plays: 257, up from 163 in 2009. Different games played shot up to 37 from 14 the previous year. I owned about two-thirds of those, with Howie chipping in with most of the rest. I also went to my first games day at the Cambridge Union, getting in plays of Rattus (which I later bought) and Fresco.

While it dropped off quite a bit from 2009, Race for the Galaxy was still the number one game of the year for me with 41 plays. But it was pushed hard by Dominion, just behind on 39. Four more games made it past 10 plays in 2010: Ticket to Ride (19), Roll Through the Ages (16), Ingenious (13) and Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers (10). Race was the only one Zoe wouldn’t touch with a barge pole – while Andy and Carl turned their noses up at Ticket to Ride!

Of those, Roll Through the Ages is the only one I don’t still own today. It was fun for a while, but fell off a cliff in terms of interest and was sold shy of 20 plays. It was also when I realised I wasn’t going to be a collector. After picking it up, I also grabbed a few more in the Gryphon ‘Bookshelf’ series. They looked great together – but Money! also quickly went on the trade/sell pile. The only one I still own is For Sale.

A new favourite

2010 was the year Ra (9 plays then, more than 50 now) came into my life. I picked it up in October and it became an immediate hit with the midweek group. Ra became a regular and stayed that way for years to come. And it is still one of my favourite games today.

But not every game fared so well. San Juan (9), Thundestone (8), 7 Wonders (6) and Roborally (4 plays) shone briefly before heading for the exit (two from my collection, two from Howie’s). And the less said about Zombie Fluxx and Poo! The Card Game the better…

But some other favourites were introduced to me in 2010. These included Thebes (8), Archaeology: The Card Game (6), Agricola (5) and Macao (4 plays in 2010). While previous favourites Blockus Duo (4), Arkham Horror (3) and Mystery Rummy: Jekyll & Hyde (3 plays) were hanging in there. It was the last ‘big’ year for the last two, both of which were sold after a few more plays. But Blockus Duo is still on the shelves, 30+ plays and counting.

My hindsight Top 10 Games of 2010

After a pretty crappy 2009, 2010 was a solid year for new board game releases. You can check out my full Top 10 games of 2010 here. But briefly (and with shout-outs to near misses Luna, Hanabi and Forbidden Island):

  1. Navegador: Classic Mac Gerdts rondel game.
  2. Lords of Vegas: Fun euro with a big does of thematic luck thrown in.
  3. Fresco: Gorgeous worker placement game with some nice thematic twists.
  4. Dominant Species: Brutal action selection and area control game.
  5. Troyes: Dice placement euro game with some clever interaction.
  6. Firenze: Build towers to score points in this light but tricky euro.
  7. Earth Reborn: A great minis battle game with loads of scenarios.
  8. Onirim: Classic solo card game with unique original artwork.
  9. De Vulgari Eloquentia: A euro at its euro-ist! Loads of chits and points.
  10. The Boss: Head-scratchy and agonising family card game.

I played Fresco in 2010 and still can’t believe I’ve never picked it up. I’ve played it a few times over the years and always really enjoyed it. I do now own Navegador, Lords of Vegas, De Vulgari and Onirim. And previously owned Earth Reborn, Troyes and The Boss. And to be honest I wouldn’t rule out picking up Dominant Species and Firenze in the future…

Other notable 2010 releases included 7 Wonders (mentioned above) and Runewars (never played). Next down the BGG top 2010 Games list are Alien Frontiers, Civ and Merchants & Marauders. People in our group picked all of these in 2011. And while I had fun playing all three, none became favourites. Finally, Mr Jack Pocket shone brightly for Zoe and me for a few months after release in 2010, but we burned out on it soon after.

The year’s end

The year ended as calmly as it had begun, with life ticking along in a fittingly stable, middle-aged way. But plans were already afoot for exciting trips to Barcelona and New York – and my favourite band were about to reform! I was about to start commuting to London a little more for work too, where a certain board game club had made a name for itself. And I was also about to start writing some board game reviews – and later that year, my own blog. Exciting times. See you in 2011…

Kahuna board game: A four-sided review

Kahuna board game box

The Kahuna board game is a two-player only abstract game. It comes in a small box and takes around 30-60 minutes to play. It’s listed for ages 10+, which is probably about right – although It’s potentially 8+ for a gamer kid.

The two-player line of small box games from publisher Kosmos has great pedigree. Games such as Targi, Lost Cities, Jambo, The Rose King and Balloon Cup have really stood the test of time – and Kahuna is no different.

What these games share is a light set of rules. But enough variability and randomness to draw in a wider group of fans than traditional ‘perfect information’ abstracts. Kahuna itself is a re-implementation of 1997 title Arabana-Ikibiti. Two players fight for control of 12 islands, which they take by owning at least half of the bridges connecting to them. In the box you’ll find the playing board, 24 cards, 50 wooden (Catan style) bridges and 20 wooden player control pieces (10 per player). At around £20, it’s solid value for money.

Teaching the Kahuna board game

As alluded to earlier, the rules to the Kahuna board game are simple. On a turn, you’ll either take a card or play some of your cards, then draw a card. You have a hand limit of five, but only ever draw one. So often you’ll just keep taking cards in the hope of playing a big round later; before building up again. When taking a card, you either take blind from the top of the deck or from one of three face-up cards.

The 24-card deck consists of two identical cards for each island on the board. A game lasts three rounds, with a round ending when all cards have been drawn. So a certain level of card counting skill is very helpful. The player winning round one (by controlling most islands) scores one point; and round two, two points. In the final round, the player who controls most islands scores the difference (so eight islands to four scores four points). If tied, the win goes to the player who scored in the final round.

To place a bridge, a player discards a card for one of the two islands the bridge will connect. To remove an opponent’s bridge, a player must play two cards from the relevant islands (either one of each or both of one island). Once a player has at least half the bridges to an island, they place one of their markers on it. And as they do so, they remove any bridges the opponent had to that island. Similarly, if you lose control of an island you remove your control marker. So clever play can lead to an opponent losing several markers at once, as bridges are removed from other islands as you take over connected ones.

The four sides

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

  • The writer: The Kahuna board game does what every good abstract should do: makes you think in a different way to other games. Everything about the game feels tight, and big moves can be hugely satisfying. It’s the kind of game that makes you feel clever for pulling off a great combo. But the next minute your mouth is dropping open as you realise what your opponent is doing back to you. And all that with just a small board, 24 cards and a few wooden pieces.
  • The thinker: There are clever strategies available to you in Kahuna. But you need the right cards to pull them off. And there is no way to mitigate against not seeing the cards you need. This can make it a very frustrating game. But at about 10 minutes per round, so 30-ish minutes per play, you can simply play again. And I’m very keen on the clever way the islands/bridges/cards interact and the cascading effect control can have. So overall, this is a game I’m always happy to play.
  • The trasher: The pretty blues and greens of these pacific islands hide a viscous little area control game. Card counting isn’t crucial but can give you a big advantage. There’s nothing like knowing you have a big move planned – and your opponent can do nothing to stop it until the next round. Even then, you draw all the cards each round but don’t necessarily play them all. Cards in your hand at round-end stay there – so you can technically hold some power here too. A great game with hidden depth.
  • The dabbler: I do love the look of these pretty small box games and Kahuna is especially lovely. The cards are nicely done, with the way up to look at them indicated for both players (depending on your side of the board). Plus the island is marked (Ticket to Ride style) on a map on the card itself. One down side is it can be easy to misjudge how many bridges you need to control an island. And forget if all its cards are gone! But the fun level is high enough to cover these small frustrations.

Key observations

Kahuna is a mean, cutthroat game. Build something nice and your opponent is obliged to destroy it. Make something flimsy and risky, and your opponent will take joy in ripping it to shreds. There is no turtling in this game, as you will never be able to build a strong enough base to get enough points to take a victory. As clever as it is, the game will not win over those who simply hate aggressive area control games. But as someone who is not keen on them myself, I’m proof that it will certainly win over some.

And yes, it is an abstract game. Turns are short, there are no dice, and there are no cards with words. There’s no asymmetry, no modules, and no minis. That’s just not for everyone. Yet it can still feel confusing. It’s amazing that, with so few components, it is easy to completely miss things. The board itself doesn’t help in this regard. The islands are all the same art style/colour, just differently shaped. So it’s easy to see why some players just end up seeing white noise and can’t really grock what the hell they’re meant to be doing.

Randomness and card counting

While the cards add randomness, they are also very limiting. If you don’t see what you need – and your opponent just keeps picking up what they want – it can be frustrating. But this tends to balance out and I find, in shorter games, I can take the pain. But others will find this very frustrating. I should also point out that card counting doesn’t need to be a skill you have. If both players agree, you can play one of the variants in the rulebook. Now, any card taken face-up stays face up, so you don’t have to remember what your opponent has taken.

One small negative from me is the latest edition has slightly lower quality pieces than earlier versions. Once player stones were chunky and had a nice print. Now they’re just basic cheap discs. It was similar with the last Rose King printing, where nice wooden discs were replaced with cardboard. It seems strange that, at a time board game component quality is largely rising, Kosmos is cutting corners.

Conclusion: Kahuna board game

Kahuna is a fantastic two-player area control abstract game. The cards add a layer of luck but also variability. And the spatial element makes it an absolute brain burner to play well. I think you need to enjoy the push and pull of a tight one-on-one game to appreciate it. But if you do, you should absolutely make sure not to miss this one. It has been a big hit with both me and my better half and is a definite keeper.

  • I would like to thank Kosmos UK for providing a copy of the game for review.
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Which board game to buy? Comparing two ‘Top 100’ lists

A 'top 10 games' image for my which board games to buy article

When you first start in this hobby, you soon realise the huge range of choice – so which board game to buy? Like many, I first turned to the Board Game Geek Top 100 list. But I lost my faith in those rankings several years ago.

Don’t get me wrong – I love the website. It’s just the game rankings I no longer trust. There are simply too many games high on the list I really didn’t think deserve to be there, where years earlier it did largely ring true. There had been games I didn’t like, sure. But I understood why they were popular. But in recent years that has really started to change, in my opinion, for the worse.

Previously, I’d actively seek out games in the top 100 I hadn’t played. I’d sometimes regret it, but usually because it wasn’t my thing. But largely I found some great games. Many of which are in my collection to this day. But now, it’s rare to find a new gem in the same list. Most games that have arrived in the upper echelons in the past few years feel like flashy looking parodies of better games from the past. Or games which seem to have a high rating purely because there’s a metric ton of stuff in the box.

Why has the BGG top 100 list faltered?

The main reasons I think this has happened are:

  • Ratings creep: In recent years there seems to be a trend of rating games higher, generally. This is noticeable particularly in re-releases of old games, which tend to get quite a big bump in numbers for a new edition. Partly this comes down to these re-releases having shinier components. But should the fact a game looks pretty give it a whole point (or more) bump on a 1-10 scale? Not for me.
  • Kickstarter: Around the same time, the board game Kickstarter boom began. This has seem a lot of unscrupulous tactics used by publishers in manipulating BGG stats. Many games have been pumped up by one-and-done accounts rating games highly. And many of these games have seen massed high ratings before the game has been published. Sometimes by backers hoping to increase interest to unlock stretch goals.
  • New gamers: This same period has also seen a massive rise of new players joining the hobby. Brilliant, yes. But it has also meant thousands of new gamers playing new titles and rating them incredibly highly, when they haven’t got much to rate their experiences against. BGG’s rankings also bias towards games with more rankings – giving an unfair bump to recently released, heavily purchased games.
  • The cult of the new: So many new games, so many new publishers – and such a great resale market. Where game collectors were once a rare and strange breed, it is now far more common for people to buy a game, play it a few times, and move it on. This means people are rating games often on first impressions and moving them on before even considering things such as replay value. And/or, they don’t come back and change their rating later when they tire of the game.
Gloomhaven box image - top of the BGG top 100 list in July 2020, so on many people's 'which board game to buy' list

So, which board game to buy? Alternative lists

In February 2020, friend and fellow board gamer/blogger Martin (qwertymartin on BGG) came up with an alternative way to rank games via BGG’s stats. This list was based on play data from thousands of BGG users to work out game popularity over time. In this way, he hypothesised, you form a list of games many people are actually playing, rather than ones they just whack a high rating on. Surely a better measure of what gamers should check out?

He had two criteria for a game to be included. It had to be published at least five years ago (to demonstrate longevity); and be in the Top 100 games played by unique users in at least five different years. This skewed the results towards the amount of people playing games, rather than total plays. Firstly, because obsessives can radically bugger up this kind of result and secondly, because that is another way the system can be cheated.

Of course, completely removing the hotness from the past five years is daft in terms of players looking for new games. It’s only natural to want to explore games hot off the presses and I do it as much as the next gamer. But I think you need to do a bit of both. And in truth, as most gamers gain experience, their collections start to lean much heavier towards those older classic titles. Because, a lot of the time, they’re simply better games.

BGG’s cult of the new…

I looked at Martin’s list from February, comparing it the standard BGG Top 100 list from July 2020. There are some interesting parallels and differences. If you take out titles from 2016-2020 from the BGG Top 100 you remove 40 games – including a frankly ridiculous seven of the current top 10. Then take out the 15 (?!) 2015 releases, and you’ve accounted for more than half of the ‘best ever’ board games. Imagine looking looking at a ‘best bands of all time’ list and finding seven from the last five years?! You’d think the world had gone mad.

Looking more into the numbers, only three of the BGG top 100 games are from before the year 2000. The mid to late 90s saw an amazing renaissance in board and card games, many of which are best sellers still in print today. Worse, only 15 games on the currently list are from 2000-2009 – and only two of those (Twilight Struggle and Brass) are in the top 20. I doubt you’d find anyone who could justify these numbers in real terms.

…versus qwertymartin’s filler games of old

On the flip side, Martin’s list has its own problems. Half the games would be considered ‘fillers’ – games you can squeeze in at any opportunity to kill a bit of time. These are often picks of convenience, or lowest common denominators. What can we quickly pick off the shelf that no one will really hate? And if they’re not keen, it only lasts 20 minutes. Some of these are truly great games worthy of the list – but there is some rubbish here too.

Maybe 20% of the games on Martin’s list are made since 2010 – and almost all of those are light family games. While I understand the rules for his list, they seem a little too balanced towards older, shorter games. Two of his games were actually outside the current BGG top 1,000 (Saboteur and Bang). While the likes of Roborally, Tikal, Descent, Guillotine and Roll Through the Ages are showing their age. These games have better alternatives now.

Some recent games are clearly instant classics and should be on any list: Azul, Codenames, Terraforming Mars. And in future, they will make his list. If you do want a list of what’s currently being played to death by users, you can find those too with a little bit of BGG Fu (thanks Martin for the link).

But what Martin’s list has that BGG’s doesn’t are the genuinely massive games of our hobby: Catan, Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride. The older classics: Can’t Stop, Acquire, Perudo. And the lighter games that really do deserve recognition as much as any minis or euro game: For Sale, 6 Nimmt, No Thanks. As well as party games such as Dixit and Apples to Apples.

The consensus

Believe it or not, despite these huge disparities, a healthy 26 games did make it onto both lists. I think it says a lot that I have played all of these games (all well before doing this post). And I own (or have owned) half of them. There’s only one I’d refuse to play (can you guess?) and a few more I’d probably veto. But this is a genuinely great list of titles if youre trying to decide which board game to buy (links go to my full reviews):

Twilight Struggle board game box - which came top of the combined 'which board game to buy' list
  1. 29 – Twilight Struggle 9-20
  2. 30 – Puerto Rico 25-5
  3. 43 – Agricola 29-14
  4. 43 – Power Grid 36-7
  5. 51 – Castles Burgundy 14-37
  6. 63 – Race for the Galaxy 51-12
  7. 76 – 7 Wonders 50-26
  8. 90 – Terra Mystica 15-75
  9. 93 – Concordia 17-76
  10. 94 – Caylus 61-33
  11. 100 – Tzolk’in 39-61
  12. 101 – El Grande 63-38
  13. 102 – Dominion 87-15
  14. 104 – Pandemic 88-16
  15. 107 – Lords Waterdeep 58-49
  16. 107 – Through the Ages 40-67
  17. 114 – Le Havre 45-69
  18. 117 – Stone Age 100-17
  19. 119 – Battlestar Galactica 73-46
  20. 121 – Robinson Crusoe 47-74
  21. 122 – Tigris and Euphrates 83-39
  22. 124 – Orleans 26-98
  23. 136 – Five Tribes 57-79
  24. 164 – Dominion: Intrigue 70-94
  25. 176 – Patchwork 77-99
  26. 181 – Roll for the Galaxy 81-100

(Ranked by totalling each game’s position on both lists)

Which board game to buy: Conclusion

There are several things that I think skew people’s game rating in unhelpful ways. Some of which I’m also guilty of. If it’s really pretty, really clever, or really ‘deep’ – you’ll see those games go up as few points. While if it’s basic, short and small – down a few points you go. And of course anything that takes risks (politically, mechanically etc) is also likely to see more big negatives from the haters. But equally you can’t just go on plays, as it throws up too many average family filler games. So what to do?

If I had to pick one list to recommend to a new gamer, I’d go with Martin’s list – with one big caveat. There are, of course, loads of great games from the past five years. The problem is finding them. For me the most sensible thing to do is start with the classics, find you and your group’s range, then research further. Look for new games in the same categories, by the same publishers/designers, or played by reviewers/BGG users/bloggers whose tastes you start to respect. That should lead you to a great board game collection.

* Like for more lists to help decide which board game to buy? Check out all my board game Top 10s here – as well as my own Top 40 games of all time 2020.

Skulk Hollow board game: A four-sided review

Skulk Hollow board game box cover

The Skulk Hollow board game is a two-player card-powered grid combat game. It takes 30-60 minutes to play and is suitable for gamers aged eight and up. At the time of writing, it is not available to play online.

The game has a solid level of asymmetry, with a clear ‘good versus evil’ element at its core. One player takes on the unlikely role of the foxen heroes, taking on the equally unlikely bad guy – a large forest guardian. But whatever you make think of the politics, it’s refreshing to see a beautifully created set of components and artwork around a freshly designed setting.

In the box you’ll find five game boards, five player mats, 100 cards, 60 wooden pieces and 25 plastic cubes. Everything fits in its place, the graphic design is clear and the component quality is through the roof. I didn’t care for the art style of the foxes – it’s a bit too Disney. But the art quality is first rate. And the wooden figures – especially the 10 foxen heroes and the four large guardian pieces – are so much better than any skanky plastic minis would’ve been. They’re super cute, while the wooden guardians figures are suitably large and foreboding.

Skulk Hollow board game in play, with guardian Grak

Teaching the Skulk Hollow board game

I don’t tend to talk about setup but think it is worth mentioning here. Each guardian, and the foxen heroes, have they’re own tuck box snugly packed into the game box. That box contains all the cards and wooden pieces the player will need – plus two faction specific rules explanation cards. This makes setup a cinch and means each player has a compact, easy to read list of what their opponent is capable of. It’s beautifully done and makes a genuine difference to play.

The game board is a 3×3 grid so you’ll be getting in each others faces pretty quickly. The job of the foxen player is to defeat the guardian. And, depending on which of the four leaders they choose, they’ll have a different special ability available. The four guardians all work very differently and have a different win condition. But any of them will win by defeating the foxen leader. The guardians feel unique, all be it within a pretty tight system of actions. Similarly, this changes the foxen challenge significantly – but the leader abilities feel pretty minor.

Game play is straightforward. Each player draws a small hand of cards and you take it in turns to use those cards to do actions. Most card have two options, allowing you to move (in limited directions), attack, heal, gain power (get extra actions later), or put pieces on the board. Once done playing actions, you simply refill your hand. The foxen deck has 29 cards, the guardians only have 14. But this reflects the fact the foxen player needs to play (and replace) their troops regularly, as they’re pretty squishy.

Skulk Hollow foxen pieces - cards and wooden meeples

The four sides

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

  • The writer: Skulk Hollow is a beautiful game. It sets its stall out as a light, introductory battle game and proceeds to nail those credentials. Great art, simple iconography, well produced rulebook. There’s even a few extra components thrown in to create a rudimentary handicapping system. The little wooden foxes are so gorgeous my girlfriend even wanted to play it. Unheard of, as ‘battle’ and ‘cards’ are usually turn-offs for her when choosing games. But none of this gets away from the fact this is a game for a parent and their child, not for two grown gamer adults.
  • The thinker: The Disney-fied art was an early warning that proved correct. While well constructed rules-wise, this is very much an entry level experience. The tiny card decks make for a tight game play experience. But they also show the one-dimensional construction of each force. You’ll soon find what’s really driving the game is the order in which you get your cards. Especially for guardians, certain moves and combos are hyper important. Meaning they are few and far between in your deck. So decision making soon gives way to frustration and too many ‘best of bad bunch’ turns.
  • The trasher: I’ve really enjoyed the Skulk Hollow board game. It’s a purely tactical experience, as things move incredibly quickly. But you’re immediately in the action and always moving towards a quick conclusion. The focus is clearly on aggression, so its hard for a player with a cowardly turtling heart to slow things down too much! And the differences between guardians genuinely mean you have four unique challenges in the box. But it is a light game. Yes, it has some mildly complex ideas and you can pull off some very satisfying combos. But the older you are, the less distance you’ll get from it.
  • The dabbler: Wow, what a cute looking game! It’s also easy to learn and play. However, you’re still going to have to like this sort of game. I don’t think it will be an, “Oh, I don’t like that sort of game but I liked this” experience for many people. For example, I like abstract 1-vs-1 games. But this is too fiddly and restrictive to appeal in that respect. While I also like action selection games. But this is too tactical, too back and forth, to appeal on that level. it is what it is: a two-player battle game with cute art. I just wish I could keep the foxes to use in another game…
Guardian board for Apoda

Key observations

The most common Skulk Hollow observation I’ve already covered pretty comprehensibly. After a play of each guardian, it becomes clear there’s not enough here for experienced gamers to keep exploring. Once you know what you need, until you get it the game kind of plays you. However, if you have gamer kids or are new to the hobby and like the idea of a two player battle game – don’t be put off. You could get a lot out if this game. Being well designed for its target audience should never be used as a criticism.

Another issue is the disparity between the guardians. The fact the four foxen heroes are barely different isn’t a big deal, as you have a lot more going on as the foxen player anyway. But the guardian player has a tight deck which can feel a bit of a one-trick pony. So the four options feel more important for replayability. So its a shame that the first, Grak, is pretty much a one-and-done learning character. I found one of the others one-and-done too (tastes may vary) – leaving just two to flip between. But again, millage will increase across the board with players less used to these kinds of mechanisms in games.

Alternatives and customer service

I also feel I should mention an older game, Drako, and it’s 2019 follow up Drako: Knights and Trolls. You can play the original Drako free online at Yucata – and I’d advise you to check it out if you’re looking for this kind of game experience. It has a similar level of asymmetry and tight play area. And again you’re playing cards to do actions for either a small troop of warriors or a single larger creature. The key difference is Drako is simpler in terms of being more a typical abstract. But this lack of extra bells and whistles creates a much more strategic experience. You feel far more in control, as you’re not so dictated to by the card draw. But the draw does still limit your options in interesting ways.

I’d also like to note my rulebook had half the pages repeated/missing. One quick Facebook query, followed by a requested email, and we were away. The new rulebook – plus a replacement card for one misprinted (I had no idea) – arrived just a few days later. Sure, most people wouldn’t have this issue. But good customer service should always be noted. (At no point did I mention this was for a review copy. The game had been provided by Asmodee; the replacements came from Pencil First direct).

Skulk Hollow board game in play, with guardian Tanthos

Conclusion: Skulk Hollow board game

Skulk Hollow is an excellent game for the right audience. The production quality is wonderful and you can feel the love that has gone into creating a fantastic product. I think it is an excellent game for a parent to pick up if they have a child who likes gaming, especially if ‘beating mum/dad’ is a thing – and if they dig an animal/fantasy setting. However, as a gamer, there’s simply not enough here to engage after my initial plays. I’ll be sticking to games such as Drako for a more controlled and strategic experience.

  • I would like to thank Pencil First (via Asmodee) for providing a copy for review.
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Guardian Apoda, with its action cards