The March of Progress board game: A four-sided review

The March of Progress board game is a scenario-based two-player micro war game, lasting around 20-30 minutes. It’s listed for ages 12+, but younger gamer kids (say 10+) will soon pick up the reasonably light rules.

It’s very much a war game in feel, but boiled down to the barest set of components. There are no dice rolls, with the tension instead coming from simultaneous action selection. Early scenarios are symmetric in terms of goals and forces. But two offer an asymmetric challenge.

In the box you’ll find 50+ cards, 20+ wooden pieces and six dice (used as value markers), plus separate rule and scenario books. Everything is good quality and while the cards look great, they are very much function over theme. But I think that will suit the crowd the game’s aimed at. The scenarios cover five historic battle themes, from The 30 Year War to The Second World War, with thematic relevance varying between them.

NOTE: This review is of a close-to-production level prototype, so some elements may change. It will be on general release later in 2020 – but you can help make it happen by backing The March of Progress on Kickstarter.

Teaching The March of Progress board game

Each scenario in The March of Progress board game works slightly differently, so I’m just going to go through the simplest iteration here. Others will swap out certain cards for scenario-based equivalents, or even add extra action cards. In addition, the win conditions and ways to score points can also change.

Each player has a hand of eight cards covering six actions. On each turn you’ll both pick one card and reveal them simultaneously. Then the actions are carried out in a set order (there is an initiative rule for times when you choose the same action and the order matters). Your options are move, recruit, fortify, attack, strengthen and score. Once a card is played, it is put to one side. You only get them back after you play the ‘score’ card; which you can’t play unless you’ve already played at least one other card.

The battlefield is made up of either three or four location cards: a home base for each player, plus one or two neutral locations. Dice on your home location show the strength of each of your armies (each player has access to three), plus the victory points (VP) available to you for controlling that location. Neutral locations also have an VP dice. Using the ‘strengthen’ action while controlling a location (meaning only you have troops on it) allows you to reduce the VP value of that location by one – while raising the strength of your troop strength dice by one (which applies to each of your troops).

Into battle

The ‘recruit’ action moves one of your troops from stock to your base. You have two ‘move’ cards, allowing you to move one/two troops to an adjacent location card. If a player attacks, and their opponent has troops at the same location, a battle begins. If a player has ‘fortified’ a troop, they gain +1 strength for the battle (but it can only be used to defend). While one of your two attack cards also gives you a +1. Otherwise, you simply add your current strength for each unit (as dictated by your base’s strength dice). High score wins, with the loser losing all troops. In a draw, both sides lose all troops.

Scoring usually gives you 1VP, plus the VP value of each location you control (only has your troops on it) – using the current VP value of each location. So if you’ve spend a lot of actions improving your troops, your VP for scoring can be drastically reduced. But if you’ve done that strengthening via the neutral location, you can probably hang back and defend your base to grab the win. You then take back all the cards you’ve already played, bringing you back to a full set of options.

The scenarios can really mix things up – but the basics (simultaneous choice and order of the actions) stay the same. So it’s not like learning a new game each time. I won’t go into detail on them here, as half the fun is learning each new rule tweak. But the WW2 scenario, for example, adds extra cards for German V weapons and Allied air power. While the Napoleonic scenario gives the Austrian player just five starting cards – but they can spend VP (when scoring) to add extra cards to their hand.

The four sides

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

  • The writer: What makes The March of Progress board game shine is the order of actions. Movement, recruit then fortify always happen first, meaning you’re rarely sure of that battle or scoring situation. But increasing strength is done post battle, so you can’t be relied on for a quick fix. And as there’s no random element to battles, beyond the action of your opponent, you can’t blame anyone but yourself.
  • The thinker: While fun and well designed, the base game wouldn’t stand up to a huge amount of replay value. So the historic scenarios were key to making this a hit for me: and they largely succeeded. A couple were one-and-done, but there’s enough in the Napoleonic and WW2 scenarios alone to keep me happy over repeat plays. Plus, with such a simple/light rule/component set, The March of Progress is practically asking for expansions – either player or publisher made.
  • The trasher: To draw on an old cliche, this game could just as easily have been named ‘knife fight in a phone booth’. Most scenarios are played over just three locations, meaning one move each and you’re in each other’s faces. And you really want to pillage that central neutral location for its VP, because losing VP from your own base to gain strength isn’t done lightly. You want to do it so bad, but to lose those lovely lovely VPs is such a hard trade off. Clever, agonising and fun.
  • The dabbler: I surprised myself by quite enjoying this. It doesn’t look like much, but the rules are simple and it plays fast. You soon realise the key is reading your opponent, which is of course easier said than done. And unlike ‘proper’ war games you’re never bogged down in charts – while simultaneous action selection keeps downtime to a minimum. Would I pick it off the game shelf? No. But I certainly wouldn’t veto it either.

Conclusion: The March of Progress board game

Those used to reading my reviews may have noticed a lack of ‘key observations’. As I’m privileged enough to be one of the first to get hold of the game, there’s obviously a lack of dissenting voices . But equally, I don’t have any complaints of my own.

The March of Progress sets out to be a scenario based micro war game, relying on interaction through reading and battling your opponent. And for me it completely succeeds in this. Sure, I didn’t enjoy one of the scenarios – but there are four I did. If you like the idea of simultaneous decisions which always have big consequences, but packaged in a small box with a small footprint, you can’t go wrong. Add in simple rules and a short play time, plus plenty of replay value, you have a real winner.

The Ming Voyages board game: A four-sided review

The Ming Voyages board game is a small box card-based war game for 1-2 players, taking about 30 minutes to play. The card system borrows heavily from previous Surprised Stare title The Cousin’s War, but is very much its own beast.

Set in the 15th Century, one player takes the role of the Ming Empire as its treasure fleet attempts to make seven overseas journeys. But at the same time they are having to fend off barbarian hordes (the second player, or AI in solo mode) trying to encroach into the borderlands of China.

In the box you’ll find the game board, 50+ oversized cards, 40+ wooden pieces and six dice. Everything is of the kind of quality we’ve come to expect from Surprised Stare Games and the artwork is both gorgeous and evocative of the theme. However, beware if you’re not a fan of ‘cards with words’ – there’s plenty to read on these cards.

NOTE: This review is of a close-to-production level prototype, so some elements may change. It will be on general release later in 2020 – but you can help make it happen by backing The Ming Voyages on Kickstarter.

Teaching The Ming Voyages board game

As mentioned, The Ming Voyages borrows heavily from previous Alan Paull/Dave Mortimer release The Cousin’s War. But beyond this battle card system (also akin to games such as Twilight Struggle) and combat dice rolls (now without bluffing), there are enough big differences to make this stand out on its own.

Each player has different ways to win the game, bringing an element of asymmetric play. There’s a simple points system to work out the winner if the game goes its full distance. But each side has an alternate way to achieve a ‘major’ victory. The game begins with the Ming player controlling its borderlands and having achieved one of its seven voyages. If they complete all seven, a major victory is their’s. The barbarians start in their player’s homelands, bordering the five – you guessed it – borderlands. Take all five, and the major victory instead goes to the barbarians.

A game turn consists of each player playing a single card from their hand. Every card has a CP value (more on this in a minute), while most cards also have specific actions that may affect one of both sides. You choose between using CPs (to do an action) or doing a card’s written action. Either way, if the card also has an action for your opponent, they get to do that too (the active player chooses the order). At the end of the turn players exchange hands, so you can’t hold on to those juicy cards for later.

Taking command

Each card is worth 1-3 CPs, or ‘command points’. These let you do standard actions: bring (1-3) troops/resources onto the board; move (1-3) troops; attack, or (for the Ming player) go on voyages.

Actions written on the cards tend to be slightly better ways to do the same things, or break the rules slightly. Maybe fish a card from the discard pile, or return your opponent’s resources back to stock/to a different area. But the key decision is often more about what your opponent will get, rather than your own benefits.

Here you find more asymmetry. Weak (1CP) cards played by Ming rarely benefit the barbarians, but stronger actions need timing. The actions you may give the barbarians are strong but often situational. Placing a settlement from the supply directly to a barbarian-controlled borderland is strong, for example. But only if the barbarians have a settlement in their supply – and control a borderland.

When the barbarian player is choosing, giving the Ming player extra actions is dependent on whether they’ve completed certain voyages (which are numbered). So no matter how strong a Ming action looks, they won’t get to do it if they haven’t completed that voyage yet. This means the Ming player potentially becomes more powerful as the game goes on (and completes more voyages). But as they do so, the harder they get (they start to run out of ships, making it harder to mitigate the dice rolls – see below).

Battles and voyages

Instead of playing a card for its CP or action, a player can ‘reserve’ it. This can later be used to give re-rolls during combat; while the barbarian player can also use a reserved card to make a single stronger move (adding the reserved CPs to those on the card currently being played). The main plight of the barbarians is taking over and holding the five borderlands. They start in a poor position, but can quickly amass troops. However, this need to attack puts them at a disadvantage.

Attacking is a simple affair, with the attacker rolling three dice. Once happy/stuck with the result, the defender tries to beat it. Three of a kind beats a pair, a pair a single; with the higher triple/pair/single winning if you have the same amount. A pair beating another pair, for example, kills one troop. A double beating a single, takes away two troops. Battles continue until all troops from one side are annihilated. This gives the defender an advantage. They know what they need to beat, so know if they need to use up those precious reserve cards. (Note: the secret rolls of Cousin’s War are not repeated here.)

The Ming player has the option to complete voyages. To do so, they must put gold and boats on the board (with different CP actions); then make a roll (which can be completely mitigated if you have enough resources) to complete the journey. The barbarian player can do little to stop these voyages (beyond a few irritant action cards that remove resources). But once they take a few of those borderlands, it would be a foolhardy Ming Emperor who ignored the threat. That said, the Ming player can alternatively bolster their defences from the beginning – at the expense of the voyages.

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 nice design touches add thematic flavour, such as a few subtle nods to the Ming Dynasty’s intellectual superiority. For example, only they draw cards. The Ming player has three cards, draws two, and plays one – giving the remaining four cards to the barbarian next turn. In this way, they always know the options the barbarians have – and always get first choice of cards. Also, quite a few cards let Ming choose which troops/resources are lost/moved – even if these happen on a barbarian action. It’s less common the other way around.
  • The thinker: I very much enjoy playing The Ming Voyages board game. It nicely straddles the war game/euro game divide. Especially when playing Ming, where you can better mitigate the murky randomness of dice rolling by heading off on voyages. Choosing your card never seems easy, as you’re constantly assessing what your opponent may do. But also what cards you may want to leave and tempt them with, in the hope they’ll be greedy and give you a good free action in the process. And the game’s length nicely keeps the pressure on you to progress, never giving you time to rest on your laurels. An impressive package.
  • The trasher: Boy, do I feel for those barbarians! Unfortunately you’re often at the whim of those damned dice, but a few early battle victories can really make it squeaky bum time for those highfalutin Ming explorers. Their unique card reserve action can really help here. A few good rounds and blam! You can be rolling into a borderland with six armies in tow (via two 3CP cards). It’s just a shame they only really have one route to victory – but at least that one route is all out war! Bring it on Ming, bring it on…
  • The dabbler: I quite liked The Cousin’s War. It felt light and breezy and the ‘cards with words’ levels were manageable. Plus the Liar’s Dice-style bluff battles were fun. Here, though, there’s just a bit too much going on – and it all felt a bit more serious. I glazed over during the rules explanation and never really got into it. Clever, and pretty, but not for me. This feels like a deeper, more serious game.

Solo play

The Ming Voyages board game’s AI has its own set of 24 cards – practically half the cards in the box. As the player you must take the roll of the Ming Dynasty, but this simply means more choices – so it’s no bad thing. Your own play is exactly as normal: you’re making the same choices from the same selection of cards to do the same moves. But when you pass your cards to your AI opponent, or play a high CP card, the AI goes to its own special deck of cards to bring you its outcome.

The AI deck consists of three levels of actions, rising in strength through decks one to three. Worse still for you, the deck three events will then trigger an additional deck one event for double trouble. These actions are what you’d expect: gain troops, attack etc. But it isn’t simply ‘deck three equals a 3CP action’. There are four levels of difficulty to keep you occupied, with higher levels dipping more frequently into those more powerful action decks. The order these cards are drawn in can make a big difference to how AI turns play out too, adding a good level of replayability.

Fans of complex card-driven AIs will likely dig this – and are clearly the target audience. But those wanting a less interactive experience may struggle. Battles especially can be a drawn-out affair at first, as you assess where the AI should attack from by working through a series of examples and exceptions. But this diminishes over time, so a bit of patience should see you getting into it after a few plays – even if it seems slow at first. And the rules are clearly explained.

Key observations

I’m glad the design team moved away from the Liar’s dice-style hidden/bluff dice battles of The Cousin’s War. While fun, they did seem like a gimmick that worked in one game but didn’t really need to move into this iteration. But without that, does it have enough to carry all the battles? As a namby pamby euro guy I baulk at this level of randomness, especially when playing the barbarians. They tend to be attacking, so usually roll first. This means you put up a target to knock down – so it’s impossible to know if you should use those reserved cards for re-rolls. This seems fine – you’re attacking a position, so should be at a disadvantage. But as you’re almost always the aggressor, starting with no territories, it can become a hard pill to swallow after a few defeats.

Also, when playing the barbarian, it can feel as if you only have one strategy. Attack the borderlands. The Ming player can decide whether to go on voyages or bolster against you, with both being possible routes to victory. Sure, you can argue the barbarians can opt to use as many chances as possible to disrupt the Ming Voyages. But this is dependent on the Ming player taking them – and you getting very specific cards. But if you do start to get a few victories, forcing the Ming player to have to start worrying about you, it can be a very satisfying experience. And while you’re slightly more limited in scope, the choosing of action cards is equally mind-bending – and crucial.

Conclusion: The Ming Voyages board game

I enjoyed and admired The Cousin’s War, but don’t find myself drawn back to it often. It packed a smart game into a small box, but I’m not easily swayed by a small footprint. I don’t need games to be tiny, as I rarely find myself forced into a position of limited table or luggage space. But The Ming Voyages board game punches above that weight, feeling like a proper grown up game in a small box. The asymmetric sides, different paths to victory and clever solo AI take it to the next level. And repeat plays reveal the game genuinely feels different each time you play, despite having just 27 cards.

Welcome to… Summer thematic expansion review

The Welcome To… Summer Thematic Expansion is one of several small expansions for Welcome to, released in 2018.

When Welcome To… came out I thought, “How has no one thought of this before?” It took the Yahtzee-style roll-and-write idea but swapped out dice for cards. This made it possible to ensure all the options would come up, and at a set frequency (as you go through the whole deck of cards).

It also had a great theme and art style (building a 50s-style housing project), with the cards having an obvious advantage over dice in terms of artistic footprint. It won several awards alongside four Golden Geek nominations, and is currently sitting just outside the BGG Top 100 Games list. For the full lowdown and rules explanation, check out my original Welcome To… review.

What does the Welcome to… Summer expansion bring to the party?

The Welcome To… Summer thematic neighbourhood gives you a new set of 50 scoring sheets. There’s also three city plan cards that only work with this expansion (so you’ll need all the cards from the original game too). The sheets are remarkably similar to the originals. Three streets, each the same length as before. The parks, pools etc are worth the same victory points. Even the pools are in the same places. But what’s that noise I hear in the distance? Oh my… ice cream van!

The top two roads have an ice cream van at one end, while the longer street has one at both ends. And there’s an ice cream scoring column added. 20 houses also have an ice cream cone added to them, with 1-3 scoops of ice cream in each one. The three new cards involve – surprise surprise – ice cream. All are number 3s, so you play with one per game. Although I guess you could go maverick and use them all.

For solo play, nothing changes – odd, as you don’t have an opponent to race to street bonuses with. Annoyingly there are rules for a solo variant using AAA cards, which come with the Easter/Doomsday expansion. That then adds a way to cross off those bonuses – but you need those mysterious cards. This is poor form, as I can’t see many Welcome To… completionists popping up. It’s also pretty lazy and tight. So if you’re here for a solo expansion, you’ll want to avoid this unless you have those AAA cards.

How much does it change the game?

As mentioned, the game plays exactly the same as the original – but with two added scoring wrinkles connected to the ice creams (and associated vans). When you mark off your first house on a street (whether it is marked with an ice cream cone or not) you draw a line from that street’s truck to the house (the bottom line has two vans, so you choose which direction to come in from – and ignore the other van). If it has an ice cream, you also ring it (as you would a swimming pool).

With the trucks route predetermined (or set by that first placement), it can’t go back on itself. So when you mark off an earlier house with a cone, sorry – no ice cream for them (gutted). When you mark off the next house in that street’s van direction, you continue its line (marking off an ice cream if it is at the new location). If it’s the last house on a street with an ice cream cone, you also mark off a bonus square – but only the first person to do so for each street gets that bonus. In final scoring, you score a point for every circled scoop. If you marked off the bonus for a street, you add a point for each cone you circled in that street too.

The city plan cards are tricky, but one really goes against the main way to score points from ice cream (wanting you to score no ice creams in three estates). But they’re all strangely low scoring for the challenge they offer. One needs you to get all the cones in a street, while the last requires three four-house estates with three cones sold. We don’t tend to go for them, as the rewards don’t seem to fit how hard they are to do.

Is the Welcome to… Summer expansion value for money?

Frankly, there’s not much here. The expansion came wrapped in cellophane (unboxed), and has no new art on the cards (and half the amount of sheets versus the original) – so seems a bit steep at £12. Especially as a fresh set of 100 original scoring sheets is considerably cheaper (lets not mention laminating…). 

Looking at Board Game Geek, 10 expansions are listed for Welcome To… – some seemingly sold as double packs (such as one with Ice Cream and Outbreak). So it would seem, depending on region, you’re going to get more or less value. And sadly this seems like one of the worst examples.

Is it essential?

This is going to be hugely group dependent, so I’m going to break it into three scenarios. Also, I’m talking about getting ANY Welcome to… expansion – not this one specifically. As mentioned above, you can probably get better value form one of the other thematic expansion packs (if you can find them).

First, if you’re happy with the original and have plenty of sheets – no. Second, if you have run out of sheets but were still happy with the original – yes. And third, if you want a little extra challenge from the game – maybe. 

All round, it’s a tough call. There are 100 sheets in the original box – that’s a lot of plays. But if you’ve gone through them, you could comfortably play on new sheets without the new rules (as the rest is as-was) anyway. So why not get a new version for the variety it offers, just in case? But if you have plenty of old sheets, and like the original game, there’s really not much extra offered (by the summer expansion at least).

That said, what there is amounts to extra decisions. And the more gamery of you out there are going to dig that. Oddly, the hardest decisions come right at the start. Once the trucks start moving, decisions become easier (you may give up on a street in terms of ice cream, for example). But if the first card draws are all 6s and 7s, it’s a nightmare. But throughout, each time you look at the cards, you have one extra variable in your head. Personally, I prefer this to the original. But will keep the original sheets for teaching (or ignore the ice cream part if I’d run out of originals).

… and does it fit in the original Welcome to… box?

You should (exaggeration alert) be able to squeeze the three cards into the box… and the sheets are the same size as the originals. I’ve used about 20 of each, and still managed to fit them all in with the box lid fully closed.   

Board game Top 10: Sci fi games

Welcome to my top 10 sci fi games list. Finding good sci fi/space-themed board games can be a real minefield. Fans love the big franchises such as Star Trek and Star Wars. But they also know TV tie-in games have an extremely chequered past in terms of quality. So what is a geek to do?

All the games I’ve featured below are reasonably big box games – so no tiny games or collectable/expandable card games (sorry, you’ll have to go elsewhere for those). But I’ve added little sections for both Star Wars and Star Trek games below the Top 10, to cover those markets in a little more detail.

There are three games I’ve really enjoyed that aren’t on my list: Gaia Project, Fallout and Xia: Legends of a Drift System. I really want to play these more, but so far only have one play – which doesn’t feel enough to give them a place here. And I should also mention Board Game Geek Top 100 games Nemesis, Anachrony and Clank in Space – none of which I’ve played (but that are highly regarded).

Board game Top 10: Sci fi games

1. Race for the Galaxy (1-5 players, 30-60 mins, 2007)
When it comes to tableau-building card games, Race has no equal – once you get past the game’s graphic design/icon learning cliff. Build out from your home world, conquering/expanding to new worlds and creating new technologies. This fantastic engine-builder plays fast, with simultaneous action selection giving some nice poker style moments. Luck of the draw plays its part, but it’s short enough to just play again.

2. Terraforming Mars (1-4 players, 120-180 mins, 2016)
Many fans of Race thought there was a bigger, more epic board game version just waiting to happen. But they had to wait a decade for it to happen. Terraforming Mars gives a similar tableau/engine building experience but adds area domination and direct competition to the mix. And it feels epic, as players race to get the most points as they make the red planet habitable along three different routes.

3. Merchant of Venus (1-4 players, 120-240 mins, 1988/2012)
This won’t be the last oldie getting a mention. And for me, this is still hands-down the best space pick-up-and-deliver game. It has the usual tech/ship improvements, but the innovative movement system and fog-of-war map make it stand out. Just make sure you skip the truly horrific design fart that was Firefly. It looks beautiful and on theme. But plays like you designed it when you were 10.

4. Galaxy Trucker (2-4 players, 60 mins, 2007)
At the other end of the spectrum comes Galaxy Trucker. Each player manically builds their ship (out of cardboard tiles) versus a timer. Then you send them off into space to be hit by asteroids, aliens and who knows what else. It’s daft, frenetic, often hilarious, and a real breath of fresh air. But there’s plenty of game there too. Plus several expansions have added more mayhem for those bored of the base game. A top 10 sci fi games must.

5. Star Wars: Rebellion (2-4 players, 180-240 mins, 2016)
This was billed to me as the original trilogy in a box, and didn’t disappoint. I’ve only played once, but as that play took five hours I felt it could make the list! We played in two teams, splitting ground/ship forces. All the original events can happen, but often with different characters. The rebels hide their base, the empire arrogantly crushes everything in its wake. But who will win out? Truly epic.

6. Cosmic Encounter (3-6 players, 60-120 minus, 1977/2008)
A hobby game doesn’t stay in print for 30 years unless it has that certain something. Cosmic pits players/alien races (each with a game-breaking special ability) against each other on a roller-coaster of combat, bluff and diplomacy. It’s simply perfect with the right crowd. Talking of retro, I’ll also give Space Hulk a mention – still fun after all these years (if you want minis around and lots of dice).

7. Space Cadets (3-6 players, 60-120 mins, 2012)
The Space Cadets series also includes Dice Duel and Away Missions. These are the games to go for if you want to live out that Star Trek bridge experience in a completely non-franchise environment. Each player gets a ship job, represented by a mini game – after which everything can (and probably will) go wrong in real-time. Dice Duel pits two teams against each other, while Away Missions adds a scenario-based story.

8. Android: Infiltration (2-6 players, 30-45 mins, 2012)
If you like push-your-luck games, Infiltration adds a nice sci-fi theme for an enjoyable genre atmosphere. Break in, steal stuff – but get out before the police arrive to bust you. The player who escapes with the most stolen data wins. But you’ve got to escape to be in with a chance of winning. Think of it as a more cinematic (and complex) version of light games such as Deep Sea Adventure and Diamant.

9. Magnastorm (2-4 players, 120 mins, 2018)
I think dry euro games must excel to justify using the sci fi genre. Sci-fi suggests action and adventure, rather than pushing cubes. But Magnastorm does it really well, bringing the theme to life with a dangerous planet where you have to keep moving to avoid its weather. And a cast of experts who can change allegiance, adding a bit of drama. I’ll also give a little nod to Artemis Project, another euro that has that little bit of cinema.

10. Orbital (2-4 players, 30-45 mins, 2018)
Finally, a nod to a small publisher game that went largely unnoticed that I still champion when I can. This clever little abstract sees each player building a space station. You’re essentially placing coloured triangles on a board to score points, but the clever tile buying system makes it a really tricky puzzle. Could this city-builder be set quite literally anywhere else? Sure. But it’s not. It’s in SPACE.

Star Wars board games with good reputations

  • Imperial Assault – Looking for a dungeon-crawler, but in the Star Wars universe? Build up your character and take on the Empire in a series of minis/dice/map-based scenarios.
  • Star Wars: Destiny – A light two-player collectable dice and card game with each match lasting around 30 minutes.
  • X-Wing Miniatures – Choose your ships then act out epic space dog fights in this minis war game style space shoot-em-up. (see also Star Wars: Armada for the fleet experience).
  • Star Wars: Outer Rim – Yearning for the Han Solo experience? Equip your ship, deliver cargo and avoid the authorities to gain fame and fortune.
  • Star Wars: The Card Game – A collectable one-versus-one card game set in the Star Wars universe (original trilogy). Use your cards to complete objectives in a race against time for the rebel player.

Star Trek board games with a good rep

  • Fleet Captains – Using Heroclix style ships on a hex grid, players build their fleet and head out to complex missions (and blow each other to bits).
  • Star Trek: Attack Wing – Moving the Star Wars: X-Wing game into Star Trek territory, Attack Wing adds exploration to the war game/minis mix.
  • Ascendancy – A big civ-style epic of exploration and expansion between the Federation, Klingons and Romulans (for three players).
  • Star Trek: Frontiers – Evolved from complex euro game Mage Knight, with solo, co-operative and competitive scenarios. A heavy but thematic experience.
  • Star Trek Panic – This ‘Original Series’ take on classic game Castle Panic sees you defending the Enterprise from enemy attacks in tower defence fashion.

What?! You didn’t include X?!?!!!22!?

Quit your whining. Scythe didn’t make my top 10 sci fi games because it absolutely bored me to tears. Twilight Imperium and Battlestar Galactica didn’t do it for me either. Both are incredibly long for the level of game play on show and really need people to get into character and invest in the experience to make them shine. Finally, Eclipse is also highly regarded, but while I enjoyed my first few plays it quickly fell off a cliff for me. It felt a little crude and scripted for a 4X, but I’m in the minority on that (and the others).

One play: No Return board game

Every now and again, a game comes along that just rubs me up the wrong way. Spoiler alert: the No Return board game is one of them.

To get the basics out of the way, it is a two-to-four player abstract tile game that plays in around 30 minutes. It will set you back around £25 and is very much a traditional style family game (ages 8+).

In the box are 132 Bakelite tiles: 22 tiles (numbered 1-11 twice) in six different colours. Which is where we come to our first problem. Two of these colours are red and pink. Even in good light, it is hard to tell them apart. In slightly poor light, and with even slightly dodgy eyesight, it is a genuine barrier to play – and very much to enjoyment. I’d go as far as to say this print run at least is essentially, for me, faulty.

I’ve seen a BGG thread where someone has had to paint their red pieces orange. I tip my hat to them – but the game would have to be very good for me to go to that effort. So, what is it like to play and is it worth getting your repair kit out for?

No Return board game: Game play

The game is simple. The cards tiles are shuffled put into the bag and each player is dealt draws eight. Playing clockwise, you choose to either play some of your tiles in front of you or discard some and draw new ones. If you play, you can place as many tiles as you like of the same colour into your tableau in a row. The restriction is you can only have one row of each colour, and they must be in descending order.

So, on a following turn you can add to a row – as long as the tiles you add are the same number or lower than those already placed. Here there are clear similarities to Knizia classic Lost Cities. You can see what other players are laying, but you don’t know what they have in their hand. Is the tile you’re waiting for even left in the bag?

You can choose to switch from laying tiles to scoring them at any point. But once you do, there is ‘no return’. The game continues to work in a similar way – you draw or play tiles. But now, you discard tiles from your hand (in a single colour) and can score that value of tiles of a single colour (not necessarily the same one as you’re discarding) in your tableau. However, you must score from the bottom of each tableau row (so, the lowest numbers).

The point being, you can feel how many tiles are left in the bag each round – and the game is going to end abruptly when they run out. So the trick is, time your decision to switch from amassing to scoring just right. If it all goes to plan, you’ll run out of things to score just as the bag runs out of tiles and the game comes to a conclusion.

So what’s the problem…?

For me, No Return is a £10 card game in a £25 box with a pretty serious production issue. Now don’t get me wrong – I understand a lot of people like a fancy version of simple game. I totally got it when Hanabi got its deluxe version, for example. But the important distinction is that Hanabi had earned the right to get that edition. It won awards, sold tens of thousands of copies – people loved it and wanted a posh version.

No Return is a well designed filler card game, put into a big box and sold at a higher price point. In fact, if I’d received it as such, I’d probably still be playing it and would be going on to give it a favourable review. I’d probably keep it too. But, as I said earlier, the production here has just annoyed the hell out of me – both for its OTT nature and the publisher’s lack of attention (and care) to detail.

And so to the final nail in the coffin – and another comparison to Deluxe Hanabi. Even if they’d managed to get the colours right, you could still forget playing No Return if you were colour blind. All the tiles have is a coloured number – there’s no other way to tell them apart. Hanabi’s deluxe tiles had each colour depicted by a different symbol which, let’s face it, isn’t rocket science. In the modern era of gaming it should be standard.

Slight return

So in conclusion, No Return is a solid filler game design (from Marco Teubner). It borrows its feel from Lost Cities, but is more forgiving and accessible in a ‘family card game’ kind of way. If you want to check out a more positive review, take a look a this video from Eric Martin.

But for me, beyond the game’s basics, everything about the No Return board game feels a little dishonest. I feel cheated that the game is ‘deluxe’ before it is out of short pants – and that punters have to pay £25 for that. But worse, that ‘deluxe’ has been done in a shoddy fashion. And one that excludes players with an array of very common sight disabilities through a simple lack of thought from the publisher. Shame.