Queendomino: A four-sided game review

Queendomino is a family board game for two-to-four players that takes around 30-40 minutes to play.

It is essentially a slightly more complex version of Kingdomino, sharing the faux-medieval theme and dominoes-inspired set collection game play – but with a few twists that raise it to being more like ages 10+.

The artwork is also very similar to its award-winning predecessor, whilst again you’ll get 48 tiles, four little cardboard castles and eight wooden kings. But this time they’re joined by 32 town tiles and a town board you buy them from; a bunch of cardboard coins; wooden towers (15) and knights (22); a handy colour score pad, plus cute wooden queen and dragon pieces.

The box is quite a bit bigger than the original, but the overall production quality throughout is again very high – making it very good value for the price tag, which is around £20. In fact, it makes a mockery of many other games in its price bracket.

Teaching Queendomino

The basic rules of Queendomino are identical to those in Kingdomino (including basic scoring and number of rounds), so I won’t go into depth on them here (please click on the link above to my review of that game if you need to).

Essentially you still do the same basic phases: add your new domino to your kingdom, then choose a new domino by placing your queen on it. What’s new are three optional phases in between them: use knights, construct a building and bribe the dragon (done in that order).

Knights can be placed on the tile you just added (so you can use two on your turn if you have them, one on each side of your new tile) and earn money – one coin per square in its area. Money is used to construct a building (one per turn, built on the only new terrain type, towns), which then give various benefits. Finally, if you don’t currently have the queen in your territory, you may bribe the dragon to remove a building from those currently available (there are six to choose from).

Town spaces appear on 20 of the 96 squares that make up the 48 dominoes in Queendomino; but they’re basically dead tiles until you build on them. Many buildings give you points or new ways to score points (including crowns, as with basic tiles); others give you bonuses when you use your knights to get taxes; plus, some also give you knights and/or towers.

The first player to claim a tower also takes the queen into their kingdom – but don’t get used to her being around. As soon as another player has an equal (or higher) number of towers, the queen will move to their kingdom. The queen gives you a one-coin discount when constructing buildings and counts as an extra crown in your largest area if you have her at the end of the game. On the downside, you can’t bribe the dragon.

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 addition of the 20 town tile spaces reduces your chance to create large scoring areas, but many buildings let you score for having lots of small areas in a colour, rather than big ones. This reverse scoring adds an interesting extra tactical level that was needed and works well. However, it means towns can’t be ignored: it’s not as if you can choose a completely different way to try and win the game. However, as a gateway game, it now comes with a few light euro game elements that will be a good way to take your non-gamer friends to the next level.
  • The thinker: I’m still happy to play Kingdomino as a light filler, as it has surprisingly interesting decisions in a short time span. But the extra play time, setup time and fiddliness introduced with Queendomino seem to muddy the waters rather than expand them clearly. More isn’t always a good thing and for every new potentially strategic element here another random one seems to have been added that balances it out, meaning it doesn’t feel any more controllable. I had high hopes, but surprisingly I think I still prefer the original.
  • The trasher: The dragon adds a nice tactical element to the interactive part of this series, but can only be utilised by one player once per turn – so is better with less players (otherwise you may rarely get to use it). Its similar for scrapping over most towers, or most knights – if a couple of you go for it, it’s likely to simply benefit the other players as you’re watering down your own benefits and clearing undesirable tiles for your opponents. That said, the core element of choosing turn order still works well and its fun to put both games together to make bigger grids.
  • The dabbler: I still love Kingdomino and was looking forward to this – especially after seeing the cute new pieces (some of the things the sheep are getting up to on the new tiles is hilarious). But unfortunately I was disappointed: the game just seems to add complexity for complexity’s sake without adding any extra fun. You definitely wouldn’t want to play with younger children – especially as the little wooden knights are ridiculously small (and, frankly, the wooden towers are too big – you can barely see what is on other players’ tiles if they have one on – and if its two or three, forget it!). The addition of score sheets was very welcome though.

Key observations

It may seem as if I’ve given Queendomino a rough ride, so I feel the need to point out here that in the wider community the jury is definitely out on which game is ‘better’ – in fact, at the time of writing, both games ranked a very impressive 7.4 on Board Game Geek.

Those who love it appreciate the extra play time, see it as having deeper planning than the original, while adding the elements they thought were lacking. Those who don’t (like me), amusingly, simply say the opposite: the extra play time feels unnecessary, while the extra bits are over-complicated and weaken the game’s fantastic core. Is it deeper – or overblown? I’m afraid that’s simply a matter of opinion.

The ability to combine Queendomino with the original is great if you like both games and has been very well conceived. I do enjoy making a 7×7 grid (rather than 5×5) when playing the original two-player and having both games means you can do this all the way up to four players. Also, this waters down the town tiles sufficiently to make them have a little less impact, bringing the original scoring methods more to the fore.

When combining both games, in fact, quite a lot of things seem better balanced. When playing just Queendomino, the town tiles seem to have been given a bit too much weight in terms of the numbering – but this makes sense when playing the bigger game: town tiles are rarer, so feel more desirable. Unfortunately though, if playing two-player, this combining of the games is only an option if you go for a player-created variant that makes 10×10 grids – quite the undertaking!

Conclusion

I was happy to see Kingdomino win the Spiel de Jahres award and over a year on from my review of the game I’m still very much enjoying it. I looked forward to Queendomino and was still excited about it as I was getting it out of the box.

But I won’t be keeping it in my collection. I am definitely in the “it’s over-complicated” camp and, with its extended setup and play time, I have many family weight light euro games I’d rather reach for (both my recently reviewed Thurn and Taxis and Maori spring to mind).

But this shouldn’t be seen as me giving Queendomino a ‘bad’ review. It’s high average ratings and scores of fans are genuine, while the production quality is high. The game is well designed and also works/flows beautifully; it simply isn’t for me. If you love the original, I suggest you try this one out – and if you thought the original was simply too light, again, this is worth a look. Just be aware of its Marmite nature going in.

* I would like to thank Coiledspring Games for providing a copy of the game for review.

Caverna: A four-sided game review

Caverna: The Cave Farmers, to give its slightly pointless full name, is a one-to-seven player worker placement euro game. Game length very much changes due to player count, but tends to work out at around 30 minutes per player. I’d tend to agree with the 12+ age range too, as the game’s choices mushroom as the game goes on.

The game was released in 2013 and is still easily available for around £55. This may sound quite expensive, but you get a mass of wood and cardboard in the box: 16 game boards, 30 cards, 60+ plastic pieces, 300+ wooden pieces and 400+ cardboard pieces. Yes, really.

Caverna is very much the spiritual successor to designer Uwe Rosenberg’s award-winning classic Agricola, and I’ll talk about the comparisons later. In terms of theme though, Caverna is still a farming game but adds a slight fantasy theme. You’ll be building a cave rather than a house, while also mining in caves alongside raising cattle and planting crops – all in the name of victory points.

Teaching Caverna

Anyone who has played Agricola will find learning Caverna a breeze, as it has the same turn flow and structure. A game is usually played over 12 rounds, with each player starting with two workers (or ‘dwarves’, theme fans) and being able to increase that to a maximum of five before the end of the game (each worker you have gets to do an action each round).

There a number of worker placement spaces available on the central boards (varying due to player count) and each space can be occupied by a single worker, including a space that lets you become start player. Each round a new worker placement space is revealed, opening up stronger actions as the game moves towards its conclusion.

Each player has their own board, depicting a mountain ready to be dug into to create caves and a forest ready to be flattened to graze cattle or plant crops. Cave spaces can be turned into dwellings (to house more workers), rooms (giving various benefits) or mines (giving resources). Everything from gathering/trading resources; furnishing rooms or clearing areas; planting crops; gaining animals or extra workers, and going on expeditions is achieved by using your workers.

On a round, the start player places one of their workers on an available space and does the associated action. The player to their left then does the same with one of their workers, continuing clockwise until all workers have been used (if a player has more workers than everyone else, they may end up placing several workers in a row at the end of the round). Once this is completed, the round is over: all players retrieve their workers from the board, the next worker space is revealed, and the next round begins.

Between rounds, the main board will tell you whether there will be a harvest. If there is, all players get to gain food and additional animals if they have crops planted or pairs of particular animals. Certain buildings will also give you bonus resources each round. But it’s not all good news, because those workers need to eat. Harvests also mean you need to feed your workers, so you need to ensure you’ve left aside enough money/food/resources to keep them happy – or pay a hefty victory point consequence.

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 addition of adventuring spaces in Caverna is a clever one. When you send a dwarf adventuring, they can gather a certain number of resources (one to three) depending on the action space used – and these are chosen from a list that is adventuring level dependent. Each time you adventure with the same dwarf they improve by a level, giving them better options to choose from next time – so ultimately letting you bypass popular worker spaces by adventuring instead.
  • The thinker: Personally I’ll happily play Caverna, but prefer Agricola. Caverna is a more tactical game, allowing you to easily switch paths turn-by-turn with many ways to achieve your goals. In Agricola you live and die by those early decisions to keep certain cards, also allowing a certain level of mystery as players slowly play more powerful cards into their tableau as the game goes on. I find this much more satisfying, but this is still a very enjoyable if more chaotic game.
  • The trasher: I really didn’t click with Agricola: there was too much going on all at once, the theme was boring (farming? Yay!) and I’d often feel like I’d lost 10 minutes into a three hour game. Here the theme is slightly better, the adventuring is fun, it feels generally less punishing and also more cohesive somehow. There’s not much interaction, but taking spots at the right times can make a big difference. Overall still not really for me, but I’ll play it on occasion.
  • The dabbler: While I didn’t struggle as much with this as I did with Agricola, there’s still too much going on for me. I actually think the game looks nice, especially with the wooden animals and individual building art, but there’s just so much to remember and take into consideration. It’s a pleasant enough experience, but it’s the kind of game I’m pretty sure I’ll never win – so wouldn’t choose it.

Key observations

While rather ambitiously listed as a one-to-seven player game, for me it is a two-to-four player game – potentially raising to five if you’re all happy to play a game with quite a lot of downtime that will probably last at least three hours. I’ll talk about the solo game below, but with more the game just becomes unpleasantly and pointlessly long.

The game does play in a very similar way to Agricola, and I think only Rosenberg’s biggest fans will find the need to own both games. That said, I do think it is different enough to merit its existence and I don’t feel, as some do, that this was the designer ‘phoning in’ a new version to make extra cash. I’ll talk about which is my preference below, but I don’t feel the need to have both (despite both being great games).

Criticisms of the game being overwhelming are a fair warning to the feint of euro heart, and only the hardier of gamers should apply. Yes there’s an awful lot going on here, but I still find Rosenberg’s ‘Le Havre’ a more taxing game (the decision space by the end of that baffles me). But I don’t buy it as being bloated or convoluted: quite the opposite, in fact. The things you do make sense and the game runs long enough to get any of the various strategies going in a satisfying way.

Is the game multi-player solitaire? I suppose that depends on how you interpret what really constitutes the game here.

While it’s fair to say you can’t mess with other people’s player boards, that’s only half the battle: the real interaction is in gaining, or denying, particular worker spaces at the right moments to perfectly execute your strategy. I know I have lost games because someone has spotted what I needed to do, jumped in before me quite deliberately, and beaten me long term. That for me is not a solitaire game.

And I suppose I should address the people who played it and didn’t like it who didn’t do their homework (sigh). Yes, it’s a resource gathering game where you turn some things into other things to get points. Thing is, giving it 1 out of 10 for being exactly what it sets out to be is childish. Caverna is a great example of this genre – so it’s your fault for playing a game in a genre you don’t like, not the game’s.

Caverna: Solo play

Sadly I can’t recommend Caverna as a solo experience – but it might work for you. Here, I think Agricola is king because of the random card set up at the start. Each time you play Agricola solo you have a unique set of cards to try and combine to get a great score. This makes each game different and its own challenge.

In Caverna, all the rooms are available to build in every game, taking that random element away. Some players I’m sure will be able to work out a way of doing this to limit themselves in some way, or just try to get the best score without using certain types of building etc. But having to fudge things in like this isn’t at all appealing to me.

Caverna vs Agricola: My opinion

I just wanted to tough on what I see as the key differences between the two games. Each of these I see as Caverna pluses over Agricola, but for other players this is very much the other way around – so don’t take my opinion as gospel!

In Agricola, you start the game with a number of cards you can later play that give your player tableau a unique feel. This front-loads a lot of difficult decisions and can make it feel like you’ve lost before you’ve even begun if you get a poor blend of cards – while often forcing you down a particular path for that game.

Caverna takes the functions of these card and puts them on buildings that are available for all players to buy. This means you can choose to add them as they begin to support your strategy, spreading the decision space further through the game – while also allowing competition for them to add a little more player interaction and tension.

‘Feeding your people’ is a common bugbear for Agricola haters, and with some good reason. While there are a couple of ways to do it, getting a food engine going early in Agricola is pretty much essential. While Caverna also has the need to feed, it is far less punishing in both what you can feed them (dwarves clearly have stronger stomachs than those puny humans) and how easy it is to gather resources. Feeding still feels like a burden, in a good way, but there’s a far wider range of ways to get it done.

Finally, the biggest addition in Caverna is adventuring. While just an alternative way to gather resources, it adds a very different path to victory while also creating some extra challenges in terms of your worker placement (your adventurers are marked and have to be placed last – leaving other players the chance to take the good adventuring spots before you do). It’s a small addition in terms of rules and game space, but adds some genuinely interesting decisions to an already thinky game.

Conclusion

While I can’t go into a game lightly, meaning I don’t end up playing it that often, I always thoroughly enjoy my plays if Caverna. It sits alongside Through the Ages and Terra Mystica as my favourite heavier euro games and I can’t ever see it leaving my collection.

Every game feels like a fun, puzzley challenge and while the decision space opens up a little each round in literal terms, it never feels as if it gets out of hand. For me, it is a true classic of euro games from one of modern gaming’s finest designers.

Thurn and Taxis: A four-sided game review

Thurn and Taxis is a family board game for two to four players aged 10 and up, that takes around an hour to play. It cleverly combines hand management and route building, seeing it win the coveted Spiel de Jahres (German Game of the Year) Award in 2006.

This is very typical of games coming out of Germany at the time and thus often divides opinion: the game’s ‘theme’, which is very thinly pasted on, covers the establishment of German postal routes across Bavaria and beyond in the 17th Century – not one to get the heart racing!

The brown of the box continues inside, with many of the components sporting ‘the beige, with more beige’ colour scheme derided by some (particularly in the US); but if you can see past the colour scheme, the artwork and graphic design and clear and simple. In the box you’ll find a beautiful (if very beige) board, 86 small (Ticket to Ride sized) cards, 80 small wooden post offices, 20 cardboard chits and four cardboard player aids. You can still easily find the game for around £30 new (or £20 second hand), which is cheap by today’s standards.

Teaching

Thurn and Taxis is in the same family as Ticket to Ride, Catan and Carcassonne: classic German games you can pretty much teach anyone, as they have familiar and simple rules – but that also enough depth to hold the attention of more experienced gamers.

The board has 22 locations and each player starts with 20 post offices they will try and place on them (so you can’t complete them all). You’ll lose a point for each unplaced office at the end of the game, while each city falls into a region – and completing these regions will score you some bonus points (decreasing for players completing them after the first). There’s an additional bonus for placing in all the different coloured regions.

Each location has three identical city cards (so a 66-card deck). Six of these are visible at any time (think Ticket to Ride), or you can draw blind from the top of the stack. What really makes the game sing is the order in which a turn is structured: draw a card; play a card to your tableau to continue your route, then choose whether to complete your current route (by using all the cards in your tableau).

All the cities are linked to at least one other (up to seven) by roads. Any card you play into your tableau (after the first) must continue the route you start in either one direction or the other – but you can only add to the two ends. This means that, if you didn’t have a card in hand at the start of your turn you can add – and if you get unlucky with your card draws – you may have to discard your route and start again.

You can only lay a route once you have three cards in your tableau, but waiting longer gives you point bonuses (a seven-city route is very lucrative). When you turn in your route you can place an office in any towns you don’t yet have one, but you can only place either in one colour (so ,for example, four grey cities), or only of each colour (so a grey, a blue, a red etc). Regardless of the amount of cities you place, all the cards in your tableau are discarded and you’ll start a fresh route next turn.

When you complete your first three-card route, you receive a bonus carriage (worth two points). If you later complete a four-card route, it will be replaced with a three-point bonus and so on – right up to a 10 point bonus for completing a seven-city route (having also done a five and a six – you can’t skip these bonus levels). If someone claims their 10-point bonus, this also ends the game (as does someone placing all of their offices), so you have two routes to victory. Finish the round, 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: While many disagree, this is one of my favourite Spiel de Jahres winners (just behind Ticket to Ride). It’s a very simple game to teach, can be played by players of all abilities, and has enough luck in it to turn up some surprise results. But at the same time, an experienced player will begin to find more strategic and tactical depth that should, in the long run, give them an advantage over time. Despite being well over 10 years old now the game is still in print too – not something some of the other previous winners can claim. For me, that is for one simple reason: it has easily stood the test of time.
  • The thinker: While Thurn and Taxis ha a lot of luck in terms of the random draws, with a deck of just 66 cars it is quite easy for a player with good memory to follow certain cities and to know the chances of what you need coming out soon. You can also play safer by playing slower, but this of course opens you up to defeat by more reckless (and of course lucky!) players. The two ways to win can also make for interesting pacing, as a player rushing to victory via completing the bonus carriages can devastate those playing the long game – but not every time, as the slow player can collect some large bonuses too. A very good tactical game.
  • The trasher: Each turn you can use one of four officials as a bonus action: take two cards instead of one; play two cards into your tableau instead of one; refresh the six visible city cards, or get a bonus carriage even if you’re up to two cards short of the amount you need (when you complete it at the end of the turn). This makes every round really tactical, while also giving you a better chance of flying by the seat of your pants if you want to push your luck to get that exact card you need. But you can also clear the decks if there’s a card there you’re pretty sure the next player is going to need!
  • The dabbler: I wasn’t wowed by the beige and typically German box cover of Thurn and Taxis, but at least the lady on the front is smiling: a fair reflection of what turned out to be a thoroughly enjoyable, if themeless and bland looking family game. You have to wonder a how a re-themed version in space, or a board that pops a little and some nice plastic pieces (a la Ticket to Ride) may liven things up a bit – but really, who cares? It’s a simple teach, easy set up and plays fast – yet every turn you have genuine decisions to make. Against the odds on first viewing, this is now right up there on my list of favourite games.

Key observations

Even Thurn and Taxis detractors don’t claim it is a bad design, but you see phrases such as ‘puzzle’, ‘optimising’, ‘themeless’, ‘abstract’ and ‘low/no interaction’ in the same sentences as those branding it ‘boring’. As I often say to this kind of criticism, you’re not judging the game, you’re judging your tastes.

No, it isn’t for everyone – only family gamers who like a thoughtful euro element need apply. And I do feel, more than any other game, it suffers for its similarities (and closeness of release) to the behemoth that is Ticket to Ride. Interestingly people almost equally describe it as both TtR+ and TtR Lite, which probably just proves that while the games share similar basic components they are actually very different beasts. Generally though, I would definitely suggest trying the other: but I find the experience they bring very different. They share a similar level of luck and planning, but TtR is much more combative and obviously interactive.

Speaking of luck, while Thurn and Taxis definitely has it, an experienced player who reads the deck will tell you that there’s much less luck here than in Ticket to Ride. I’ve had games of Ticket to Ride where I know I’ve lost due to a colour simply not coming my way, or because of accidental blocking; where in Thurn and Taxis it will be because I’ve taken a risk and it hasn’t paid off – or someone else has simply played better than me. Again, this is either going to appeal to your or not.

Finally, despite it having some seriously harsh detractors giving the game more than the average very low scores at Board Game Geek, the game is still ranked well inside the Top 100 family games and inside the top 350 games overall.

Conclusion

Thurn and Taxis could well be the most euro-ey euro of them all, while also being the more euro and worse looking cousin of one of the most celebrated games in the hobby (Ticket to Ride): neither of which enamour it to many modern gamers. But for thoughtful family and light euro gamers this is a genuine classic you should definitely try.

While I have quite deliberately not played it to death (once per month feels about right for the base game), this has become one of favourite family games. But it also has two expansions which add a little extra to the mix, so if it does become a favourite there are options to add a little variety too. Highly recommended.

Ancient Terrible Things: Madness of McGuffin – MEM review

Welcome to my first ‘mini expansion mini review’ for this little £10 dice and card expansion for the excellent Cthulhu-meets-Yahtzee push your luck game Ancient Terrible Things.

Even as a fan of the game (which is in my Top 50 games), I found the original re-rolling mechanism a little frustrating. Most of the time you could only reroll individual dice (by spending tough-to-get tokens), rather than being able to ‘lock’ dice and reroll the rest – so if you already had a totally crap roll it cost a lot of tokens to try and make it a better.

Recognising the problem, they did release a downloadable ‘version 2.5’ rule update that changed this to allow you to spend tokens to reroll or lock dice, but it’s fair to say a lot of owners of the original game would never have seen it.

In the company’s recent release, Konja (which uses the same ‘dice quest’ dice system), the designers added two extra dice and some cards that dialled-up the reroll system a step further. These white dice are used to activate cards that let you either reroll or lock – but if you don’t need to use them, there’s a 50-50 chance per dice (three sides are blank) you’ll have rolled a symbol which will let you instead take much-needed bonus tokens. It’s a small change, but it works really well.

What Madness of McGuffin does (you guessed it…) is introduce this system to Ancient Terrible Things.

Each player starts with two extra cards that represent these two re-roll options: the lock option card doesn’t ‘exhaust’, so could be used twice in a round (with both white dice) – while the standard reroll card does.

Another nice twist is that the reroll card can alternatively, at any time, be ‘sold’ to give you two cash. Money is often hard to come by in the game (especially using scenario two), and some of the loot is super tempting, so this gives you the option of giving up a nice reroll ability to grab that swag item you’ve always dreamt of owning.

Eight cards for £10 would be a bit of rip off. But don’t worry – you also get a complete new set of 16 dice for the game, including the two new white dice and three purple ones (used with the Lost Charter expansion). Unfortunately these dice are a little smaller than the awesome ones in the original game, but frankly the little skull pips totally make up for that in terms of theme – and despite being a little smaller they’re still high quality.

Conclusion

If you’re a fan of Ancient Terrible Things, I think this is worth picking up. It certainly makes the reroll situation more interesting, while adding a little extra theme for those who want it. I think my only lingering problem with the game now is the swag cards, which seem so much fun but are generally hard to get. I think I’ might draft some $1 items at the start of the game, and perhaps allow players to trade in unwanted items for half their value when shopping at the store. Maybe I should go try that out…

The Ancient Terrible Things: Madness of McGuffin mini expansion is available direct from publisher Pleasant Company Games, which has a lot of great little add-ons for its games over at its online store. Thank you to them for providing a copy for review.

Konja: A four-sided game review

Konja* is a two-player only dice and card game from the same design/art team (Simon McGregor and Rob Van Zyl) that brought us Ancient Terrible Things and Snowblind. A game lasts 30-60 minutes and while the age on the box says 8+, that may be a little low (I’d probably guess 10+ unless they’re a full-on gamer child).

Players are duelling wizards; a popular theme, but as usual with Pleasant Company Games the art style makes it stand out from the rest. Also like the aforementioned games, this is a dice-chucking push-your-luck game with cards throwing in special abilities and one-off powers along the way.

In the box you’ll find 11 custom dice, 40 cards, five wooden idols, five thick cardboard tiles that make up the play area, and about 100 cardboard chits in various shapes and sizes. All the components are of the usual high standard: fair value at around £20-30. There’s also a handy card effects cheat sheet separate from the rulebook.

Teaching

Konja is a straight race to 21 points. Between the two players are five god tiles (inspired by African mythology, which makes a nice change), one of which the active player uses on their turn.

Once all five have been used, they’re reset and the players go through them again (and again, until the game ends). These powers grant a special one-off ability to the player choosing it, then another ability that both players benefit from.

Next the active player rolls five dice (plus any extras they may have accrued), using various cards/tokens to change or reroll the results until they’re happy – or out of options. Their opponent then gets a chance to mess with them by rolling a dice that can cancel one of these results. Finally, the active player ‘spends’ their roll on various benefits: end game points, tokens to help in future rolls, or both.

The meat of the decision making comes in what you spend your tokens on. Magic tokens help you cast spells (instant discarded effects that can do everything from steal from your opponent to make your rolls better); while money can buy/upgrade victory point tokens, or buy new and improved ancestors (each player starts with three of these, which may be activated for various dice rolling effects). Finally, power tokens are used to power (der) the ancestors.

When one player’s end game points hits 21 or more, the round is completed and the player with the most points is the winner.

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 this series of games stand out, Konja included, is the wealth of mitigation on hand for those pesky dice. This also has a nice blend of visible (ancestors) and hidden (spell cards), so you never quite know what your opponent may do. I think I’d mix it up even more, giving each player a replacement choice in round one for one of their starting ancestors. But, with all that in mind, it was a shame the player who won most times simply hoarded money for buying points, rather than buying ‘fun’ stuff like ancestors.
  • The thinker: While there are many interesting ways to mitigate your dice rolls, Konja still felt much like an exercise in futility. You can add as many bells, whistles, twists and turns as you like, but if one player rolls ‘well’ and the other badly – guess who is going to win? Sure, I’m not the target audience here and I certainly didn’t have a bad time playing – the game is short enough that the high level of luck is acceptable. But there doesn’t seem to be a viable, more strategic option available here. For me the best dice games have a ‘roll and hope’ model that may win you the game, plus a slow and steady one with less outliers.
  • The trasher: I’d really looked forward to Konja, as the thought of a straight push-your-luck dice battle always excites me – but I was a bit disappointed. There’s hardly any real interaction between players and it certainly doesn’t feel like the advertised ‘dice duel’. Sure, there are some spell cards that liven things up but beyond that – how is ‘roll dice, mitigate bad roll, repeat’ a duel?! A duel should be action packed! This game is ponderous, with a player’s turn feeling long and convoluted even after repeat plays. Not for me.
  • The dabbler: As always, I loved the artwork and effort put into the components. The little skulls on the dice are adorable, which sounds weird – you’ll have to check them out. We really didn’t like the red ‘screw you’ dice power, which lets you mess with the other player’s results. Luckily there is a variant included where, instead of removing a dice from the other player, the red dice is used to upgrade one of your own dice if you roll something better with it. We found this also sped the game up a little, rather than slowing it down and frustrating us. Played like this, I found plenty to love in the world of Konja.

Key observations

For a game that revolves around a one-on-one dice chucking mechanism, Konja is actually a slow and thoughtful game. This thematic break can be hard to overcome and feels like a misstep for some players. This is not King of Tokyo.

While the god abilities is a good mechanic, the five choices are so specialised that they rarely feel like choices. Normally one choice is the obvious one, no matter what style of play you choose – at least one tends to be pointless, for example, or one may clearly favour your opponent. It also feels like a very mechanical step that breaks game flow for what is often a very small payoff.

Some have said that the card powers are unbalanced, but I can’t say this is really something I noticed – and even if it is a bit of an issue, the game is short enough that it is unlikely to be much of an issue. spell cards are one-and-done, while players start with identical ancestors: those you buy later will only be used a few times each, so are unlikely to have a massive impact – especially when you’re rolling a load of dice, which are pretty random themselves…

Conclusion

When a design team decides to keep revisiting the same mechanism, as a punter you hope they’ll continue to refine – or adapt – to create a set of games that fans of the original will love. Mac Gerdts and Uwe Rosenberg are the obvious proponents of this design ideology, and who can argue (sensibly) with their results?

Pleasant Company are doing it with this ‘dice quest’ game system and while I loved the first two offerings (reviews linked above), for me Konja feels like a small misstep. But hey – you can’t win them all, right? And I’m sure some players will prefer this to the others – if you like puzzley, gorgeous push-your-luck dice games you should definitely seek it and give it a try, especially if you haven’t played anything in this series. But why wasn’t I sold on it?

For me, a great two-player experience means getting inside the head of your opponent. This can be done in the simplest to most complex games: I love anything from The Rose King to Race for the Galaxy two-player. I want to be worrying about what the other player will do next but here I didn’t feel that. Take other Yahtzee-style games, such as Heck Meck or Decathlon. These aren’t ‘two player’ games, but when played with two you need to think about what the other player is up to: can I steal their tile, do I need to go for it on this event etc. Konja feels too restrained, despite all the mitigation. I just didn’t feel as if there were any truly satisfying ‘Hail Mary’ moments.

I know the guys have another game in the works with the same dice mechanism. Titled ‘Grim Heroes’ and slated for a 2019 release, it takes this dice system into the co-op fantasy realm – where I have high expectations for it working wonderfully.

* I would like to thank Pleasant Company Games for providing the game for review.