Up In The Sky – Forbidden Stars review by Chris O’Regan


We’re back! We’re settling in to our new place in the US (in sunny New Hampshire) and as such, it’s time to start spinning things up again on littlemetaldog.com – so here’s Chris with a look at Fantasy Flight’s recent big box launch, Forbidden Stars!


“Oh look, it appears the Chaos Marines are about to get wiped out”, said an observer of my most recent play session of Forbidden Stars muttered. “Actually, they’re about to win”, I replied. This exchange encapsulated my experience with Fantasy Flight’s latest foray into the realms of the Warhammer 40,000 universe rather well. For Forbidden Stars is not a simple area conquest game as the casual observer would assume, but it is in fact a collect token at any cost game instead. As soon as the players around the table understand this, strategies that seem rash and outright ridiculous suddenly start to make sense.

Forbidden Stars is a long form tactical board game that is a rehash of the now out of print Starcraft game that Fantasy Flight made some years ago. The board is made up of double sided square panels that are in turn sub-divided further into 4 quarters. The size of the board varies depending on the number of players, with the maximum being a 5×4 grid for four players. There are four factions that are represented in Forbidden Stars: The Ultra Marines of the Human Imperium, the Eldar race of nomads, the Orks who only live to fight and the Chaos Marines who serve the dark lord of Khorn. Sadly no Tau, Terranids or certainly no Squats are present, but we can but hope for an expansion or two can’t we? Each of the factions plays slightly differently, but all of them are restricted to the rules that run through Forbidden Stars.


Rounds are split into three phases: Planning, Operations and Refresh. Forbidden Stars plays for 8 rounds or until one player holds a number of objective tokens equal to the number of players. The means by which players gain these tokens is entirely up to them, but it normally requires the a fair few military clashes with the other factions in order to acquire the tokens. The Planning phase concerns the placement of orders that come in four varieties: Build, Strategize, Dominate and Advance. Build allows players to construct units and builds, but only in that order as the buildings have an impact on a player’s ability to build units. This rule is one of the many tiered and multi-layered rule set that Forbidden Stars is saddled with that sadly can stifle the play experience, especially for those who are unfamiliar with this type of game. The word ‘no’ is uttered more often than not when players ask a question as to whether they can do something during the game, simply because they fail to meet a seemingly arbitrary rule. But these rules exist to create a balanced environment else Forbidden Stars becomes broken. Thankfully the design of Forbidden Stars is of familiar Fantasy Flight quality with iconography that can be easily read and thus reduces the need to constantly audit your own actions as well as everyone else’s. It does not negate this, however, forcing all participants to be extra observant when others are executing their actions.

Strategize is a rather interesting order in that it doesn’t impact on other players immediately, but does enhance a player’s abilities to execute actions on the board and deal with combat engagements. The player can buy enhanced units for use in their combat and can also buy abilities that have a lasting effect as soon as they are bought, making their purchase early on in the game somewhat advisable. Once completing this order it is possible to place an order token on the event deck of cards that results in the player carrying out additional action(s) during the event section of the Refresh phase mentioned previously. This can bring about significantly game changing actions that can turn the tide of the game very quickly when used judiciously.

Dominate is what can be referred to as gathering of resources and pulling off unique moves to a player’s faction. Once triggered it allows players to reap assets from the systems that exist within quadrant the Dominate order has been triggered in. Assets come in three flavours: Reinforcements, Supplies and Forge. Reinforcements are used in combat, Supplies are used to reduce the cost of buying units and structures and Forge are special tokens that are required to built certain stronger units and also temporarily increase the technological level to allow for the building of stronger units one level higher than would normally be legally built.


Finally, Advance is the order around which Forbidden Stars orbits as it concerns the movement of units and conflict it usually leads to. The timing of deployment has a huge impact on the likelihood of a satisfactory outcome. Movement follows a very strict set of rules, which are often misinterpreted at the frustration of the player trying to execute the order. Ships can only move between friendly quadrants within a system and they cannot cross a warp-storm rift, an obstacle that moves between sectors that is impassable to all except the Chaos Marines once they acquire an upgrade. Units can only be moved from one sector, preventing a massing of units from across the board to a single rally point. This rule confounds many and puts paid to attempts at shoring up forces from spread out installations throughout the board.

As a legacy from the Star Craft game that Forbidden Stars is based on, the placement of these orders can be on top of other players, resulting in some blockage of play and careful manipulation of order execution at the expense of the players orders. This can force players to miss their turn as they wait for other players to execute their orders, requiring them to react to what their opponents have done in their wake. This placement of orders and their location is pivotal in successful play of Forbidden Stars and it is often that players can mess this vital stage up by placing something in the wrong place or worse, in the wrong order. Many is the time during play sessions that a player will berate themselves for mistiming an Advance order.

Now for what can be described as the ‘elephant in the room’, the combat. I’ve deliberately been putting this off describing it in this review as it is a somewhat convoluted affair that has the first few skirmishes becoming little more than a lot of scratching of heads and wondering ‘is that it?’ by those involved. Combat is initiated by the rolling of 6 sided custom dice, the number of which is determined by the units taking part in the engagement. These dice remain in place and can be added to or removed during the combat, which is split into three execution rounds.

See, I told you it was convoluted!

Once the dice are rolled the results are noted, bolters or guns are attacks, shields are defence against attacks and eagles are morale that come into use at the end of the combat. The next action is for players to elect to use Reinforcement assets. They can only place as many reinforcements as they have units taking part in the combat and they only act as a damage sponges during the fight. Once reinforcements are placed the first execution round begins by playing one of the five cards the combating players have drawn from their combat deck.

Are you keeping up with this? I wouldn’t blame you if you’re not.

These cards are played simultaneously, but resolved by the attacker first. Most cards have bolters, shields and eagles attributed to them that add to the dice results described earlier. Additionally there are actions that are executed by both attacker and defender as they play the cards. These come in two forms, green and brown. The green action is always applied, regardless of the battle conditions while the brown action is only triggered if a certain set of units are present during the combat. No I’m not making this up, this is genuinely how the combat works.


Once all of the actions are resolved, the attacker determines if they have successfully landed any hits against the defender. If they have the amount of damage is compared against the hit points of the units that are participating in the combat. If it is only partially hurt then units are considered to be routed. They are not dead, but they no longer contribute to the morale of the forces taking part in the battle. This has a significant impact on the end phase of the engagement as it is morale that governs the victor, assuming there are units still alive after three execution rounds are over. Yes, that’s right, combat cards are placed two more times to resolve the battle, with the attacker dealing damage and the defender retaliating. This can and often brings the whole proceedings of play within Forbidden Stars to an almost shuddering halt as the combating players try to execute combat cards in a desperate attempt to thwart their opponent while the other players look on and can but stare at pictures of cats on Facebook via their smart phones in order to pass the inordinate amount of time passing. Nothing can be done to speed this process up. Even after multiple plays of Forbidden Stars the combat always slams on the brakes to the point of despair to those not involved with the fight. I’ve even had people leave the table to make a cup of tea while the combat occurs, it’s that lengthy.

The last phase, Refresh, is an administrative one more than being impactful to play, with the exception of gathering objective tokens. This has players taking tokens they earned from gaining control of systems with the tokens of their faction on them, knowing that they cannot by stolen from them in any way. This is a very important point to note as everything is geared towards the acquisition of these tokens in Forbidden Stars and players who recognise this do far better than those who seek to gain territory from others.

Event cards are also played in this phase that sees the impassable warp storms moving across game board and the triggering of actions within them. These can be very powerful, with some being able to be stored for later play in the form of ‘Schemes’ that can earn players an additional action during the Operations phase. This often throws other players off kilter as they see their carefully laid plans obliterated by a well timed play of a Scheme event card. Trust me on this, I have personally benefited and punished by such an action on far too many occasions.


Forbidden Stars is a good game, but I say that cautiously as it has a lot of problems that would be churlish of me to ignore. The pace of play for the combat is a blight on what otherwise would be a very slick game to play. The complex and cumbersome rules of movement are also maddening at times that, while needed, are only present because of the base design of the game demands their presence. It’s akin to a self fulfilling prophecy, which is never a good thing. It is because of these aspects that gives me pause to recommend it unreservedly as the both conspire to increase the length of play time. This reduces the likelihood of it hitting many tables as 5 hours is a minimum for a four player game session, and that’s with experienced players around the table.

In summary then, the movement and combat rules bring Forbidden Stars to its proverbial knees. Every action has to be carefully measured, calculated and audited to ensure they are done fairly for all involved as the rules are very finely balanced that one miscalculation can result much gnashing of teeth.

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Metal Guru – Guns & Steel review

Guns Cover

Awareness about Tokyo Game Market seems to have grown rapidly over the last couple of years, much of it probably thanks to the awesome guys at Japon Brand. Their regular trawls of the new and interesting titles that are produced in tiny amounts by the most indie of games makers at the twice-yearly event have brought us some great additions to our shelves – Colours of Kasane and Villanex are just a couple that still get regular play around here following their release at Essen 2014, for example, and many more games are on their way for this year’s Spiel. More and more folks are going to the source though, heading over to Tokyo to see what kind of things are on offer.

I’m not jealous at all.

One good thing though – sometimes folks get in touch with me and ask if I’d like to try out a game, and when I got a message asking if I’d like to see Guns & Steel by Jesse Li, how could I refuse?

A couple of weeks later, a small envelope landed on my (temporary) doorstep. Inside was a plastic baggie containing a deck of 56 cards and a rulesheet, nothing more – the boxed version of the game had sold out at TGM. Of course, having come from Japan, everything was covered in kanji and a slight air of panic came over me, but on closer inspection, everything in the game is also in English – it’s just that the print was a little smaller and I’m getting ever more blind as I grow older…

So unassuming, and yet filled with delights!

So unassuming, and yet filled with delights!

Regardless, Guns & Steel‘s graphic design is straightforward and clear, and once you know the symbols used throughout the game you’ll barely refer to the text on the cards. What’s the game about though?

Well, simply put, it’s the most portable Civilisation Building game I’ve ever come across, and it’s a very clever little bugger indeed. As you’d expect, you start off small with a handful of cards (everyone’s got the same to begin with) and are racing to evolve your own wee culture from riding around on horses to zipping around in space, collecting wondrous buildings and sites along the way that will score points. As you’d expect, the player with the highest total at the end is the winner, but Guns & Steel does that whole “you may have triggered the end of the game, but you may not necessarily win” thing – it’s very much a game of paying attention all the time, though it’s not up to the brain-melting level that many other civ games drag you too. Think of it as an introduction to the genre but don’t take it too lightly, for G&S will bite you if you don’t treat it respectfully.

Each Civilisation card in the game is double-sided, showing the Resource it can provide on one side and it’s Development on the other. The Resources are taken from each of the game’s ages (Horse, Gunpowder, Oil, Earth and Space Ages are all represented), and a large pyramid of Development cards is laid out before play begins with the three Space Age cards on top, down to seven Horse Age cards at the bottom (though there’s one less per row if you’re playing head-to-head with someone else). One Wonder card is placed next to each of these lines; these are also double sided but they don’t provide a Resource, just two time-line relevant buildings or events, each of which you and your fellow players will be fighting to get hold of as they bring in the big points. But how do you get hold of them?

As you’d expect, it’s all about spending those resources to pick up cards, and it’s here where the pyramid layout is important. You begin the game with those five lowly cards which can be used either as Developments or Resources, and each turn must be played out in the following manner:

  • You MUST play a card in front of you as a Resource.
  • You MUST play a card as a Development, but you don’t have to you use the effect on it.
  • You MAY buy one of the cards from the ones on the table
  • …and that’s pretty much it, apart from the thinking that you’ve just done the wrong thing and everyone is secretly laughing at you inwardly.

Each Development card has a cost shown on its right-hand side, but you may only purchase cards that are ‘open’ – in other words, the ones that have no other cards underneath them. (Actually, this is something of a fib – you can buy whatever cards you like in G&S, but each card below the one that you want to pick up will cost you one extra resource, meaning that things can get very expensive). As you start off with bugger all, you’ll be looking to slowly work your way through the cards and, thematically, through the game’s technological ages. Food and Iron could combine to get you a Philosophy card, the reverse of which provides a Horse resource (res-horse?). Combine that Horse with another Iron and a Knight could be added to your tableau. Collect a handful of the correct resources and you could be grabbing a Wonder. It’s a simple but beautiful system that works very well indeed where even the whole ‘pay an extra resource for a higher up card’ thing fits into the game’s theme – after all, civilisations make surprising technological leaps all the time, so why couldn’t a people who are still using gunpowder come up with the concept of a tank? Da Vinci did stuff like this every day before breakfast!

Play begins...

The birth of a new Civilisation! Or several, at least.

No civ game worth its salt would forget combat and with a name like Guns & Steel, this one has it there at its forefront – if you want it. Red cards are for attacking your opponents, and a successful battle is determined by who has the higher amount of military strength symbols in their tableau. Aggressors must be careful though, as their opposition can play cards from their hands in retaliation, so even though someone may look weak and a tempting target they could turn the tables on you – another splendidly sneaky way in which G&S works so well. Of course, you may choose a more pacifist attitude which is a totally viable attitude to take too. Once you start pulling in cards from the Gunpowder Age onwards, you’re immediately scoring points, so quiet development of your own part of the world while others all around you are losing their tempers can prove most fruitful.

I must admit that I was somewhat surprised when I saw that Guns & Steel wasn’t in the Essen 2015 line-up for Japon Brand – to me it feels like the perfect match for them. It’s portable yet deeply satisfying to play. It’s simple to get your head around but lends itself to a higher level of thought that you may initially consider. Sure, it’s not the prettiest game on the shelf, but its stark graphical style means – to me, anyway – that you get to see the information you need quickly, and frankly I rather like the way it looks. This game means business, no screwing around. Set it up, improve the lot of your people, and reach for the stars – or, in Guns & Steel’s case, the International Space Station at least. And all in around thirty minutes? Publishers should be biting off Jesse Li’s hand.

Guns & Steel plays with between two and four people with games taking around twenty to thirty minutes . Designed by Jesse Li, it’s available now through the guys at Board Game Bliss in Canada, and according to the game’s translator (the splendid Desnet Amane) there’ll also be limited quantities soon on the BGG Store in the near future. Best of all, the guys will be making their way to Essen 2015, so you’ll be able to pick up a copy there too. And you should. You really, really should.

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Give Him A Ball And A Yard Of Grass – Masters of Football review


Trying to transfer the thrills and excitement of a sporting event to your tabletop is a very difficult thing, not that it hasn’t stopped countless game designers from attempting to do so. It does seem that soccer is the sport that most people try to transfer from field to table, and many would say that the most successful translation is Subbuteo. While it’s true that managing the on-field movements of eleven separate players is nigh-on impossible, Subbuteo’s simplified extrapolation of soccer’s ruleset makes the whole thing manageable and – most importantly – fun. Rather than try to match up to this, a host of game makers have tried to present a more abstract version of the world’s favourite sport, and the latest effort is currently on Kickstarter: Masters of Football.

Taking a rather more thoughtful approach, Masters puts you in the shoes (boots?) of a manager of a randomly chosen team, each of which start the game with a set amount of resources with which you’ll look to build your squad. Rather than look at a single match, your net is spread far wider as you and your fellow players work your way through a season, with one player ending up as champion. The rules recommend that you generally play with four people but it does cater for up to eight should you so desire, and the game works just like a regular season with each team facing off against each other twice. Of course, you can’t field a team without players, so the whole thing kicks off with everyone selecting players from the available stacks of prospective superstars.

Three decks are available to purchase from throughout the game – Gold, Silver and Bronze – and you only need to buy three players to start off with. You can play relatively safe and pick up three Bronze level players (you’re give three Bronze, two Silver and one Gold to choose from) or you may wish to splurge all your cash on a Golden wunderkind, then back him up with a couple of duffers from a fourth deck, represented by Wood. Each player has a specific on-field position and cost to buy, as well as a whole raft of offensive, defensive and tactical skills represented by numbers from zero (meaning they’re awful) to seven (meaning they’re Niall Quinn).

The Bold Quinner, a 7 in anyone's book.

The Bold Quinner, a 7 in anyone’s book.

Once everyone has purchased a minimum three players, they’re given a handful of action cards which help turn the tide in your favour throughout the matches and can be played at prescribed times before or during a match. Once it’s decided who will play against each other, managers place three of their players on the spots on the board and secretly select one of four tactics cards which will determine what footballing skill they’ll be relying on for the start of the match – either Possession, Direct, Aggressive and Defensive. Next up, a “Tactical Battle” happens where the winner of a dice roll (plus all their players’ tactical values) gets to reveal which of the two secret cards will be revealed for the first half of the match. It’s these base stats that will be used when trying to score and defend, but things aren’t quite as simple as that.

Once that half’s tactic has been revealed, the teams’ base values are totalled and shown on Offensive and Defensive tracks on the board, made up of coloured squares – and now it’s time for some luck to enter the game – after all, what is sport without the occasional moment of chance? Each half is made up of six turns where the two managers alternate back and forth, attacking and defending, just as you’d see in any normal match. However, rather than seeing the ball crash into the back of a net through fancy footwork, you’re instead looking to have a higher attacking total than the defending side. The coloured squares, as well as your base stats, also represent specially weighted dice that, when rolled, will add to that base, and the higher your starting point the more likely the dice you get to use being of use to your side.

A poor defence with a base value of only 1 or 2 will be stuck using a pitiful red die that’s pretty much covered in zeroes and will be of little help. Meanwhile, a gloriously strong attacking side could possible be using a powerful purple die, potentially adding 4 to each strike on goal. Basically put, the higher your skills, the more likely you are to score (or from the other viewpoint, save). The previously mentioned action cards can be used to perhaps add to your total as well, adding a little extra spice to matches, but most of the focus will be on these dice rolls.

Curse these feckin' things. Pretty to look at, devastating to any chance of victory (for me).

Curse these feckin’ things. Pretty to look at, devastating to any chance of victory (for me).

Come half time, substitutions can be made (assuming you have extra players) but there’s a second tactical battle to consider first. This adds a rather interesting element to the game – one player knows precisely what the remaining face-down tactics card is, so can potentially switch out a poor teammate for a much more skilled one in that as-yet-unrevealed area. However, if the tactics end up remaining the same, is that substitution such a good idea? It led to a fair bit of thought in games I played, and echoed the hard decisions faced by many a manager as to whether or not a player should be pulled if they’re having a nightmare.

The second half plays out in reverse, working your way backwards around the rondel-thingy, so the home team has a little advantage in the match’s final moments. Once a match is done, the winning side walks away with three points, the losers zero, or you take a point each in the case of a draw. Once everyone has played each other a couple of times, the manager at the top of the table takes the title, and everyone else is probably sacked, as seems to be the fashion in the Premier League these days.

Masters of Football does a few things well and a couple of things terribly, but I think I’ll give it a tacit recommendation – it’s very much an “if you like the theme, the game’s probably for you” affair. Get four people together who love football, have them create their teams and play out a whole season (which comes with a whole raft of rules about earning more money, pulling in extra players and building up your squad) and I’m sure you’ll have fans of the game for life. Matches take about five to ten minutes, and the back and forth of defending and attacking mirrors the real sport quite nicely. The action cards add a nice flavour to the game; they allow you to screw with your opponent to a satisfactory level, but you rarely feel overpowered and without a chance – just like in the real sport, you’re generally evenly matched with only the occasional runaway victory.

Put Masters of Football in front of your average Eurogamer who is looking for their copy of AquaSphere though, and I fear they’ll run in the opposite direction screaming. There’s just that little bit too much luck in there, and while there’s plenty of opportunity for decision making here, if said decisions can be blocked by something as simple as a dice roll – tactical battle, I’m looking at you – this isn’t one I can recommend to the hardcore gamer. Also, the rulebook for the prototype I received was a horror to negotiate, so I hope that the final version will be a little clearer. Diagrams and icons are great, but clarity in your rules is vital! Finally, if you’re going to play, make sure you’re in for the full season – it simply doesn’t stand up as a way to play a quick match. That’s what Subbuteo is for, remember?

In all, this reminds me of the game I used to play when I was a kid and the new season had just started. Shoot Magazine would give away these League Ladder things, with little cardboard tokens that you could use to track the teams throughout the season. I’d diligently do that for the first couple of weeks, but soon the whole four leagues’ worth of teams (and the Conference) would be thrown into a bag and drawn out, one by one, until I had thirty-two matches written down in a pad. I’d roll a D6 for each team, write down the score, and work out my own little FA Cup on paper. Dream matches could happen. Watford could smash Arsenal 6-1 (we’ll see that next season, I guarantee you). And Masters of Football evokes that, just to a higher level. Nerdy football fans, rejoice – you may have a new champion.

Masters of Football was designed by Pedro Natario, Rafael Pacheco, Luis Rosario and Luis Silva, with art by Rui Duarte – you’ll recognise a fair few faces in there! Check out the game on Kickstarter now, and cheers to the guys for letting me check it out and experience some unexpected warm, fuzzy, football memories.

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On The Road Again – Tokaido review

Tokaido Cover

In the words of noted twentieth century thinker Ferris Bueller, “life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it”. Sometimes it pays to take a moment, relax and take stock of things, and gaming offers people a true opportunity to do this. After all, isn’t sitting down to play a game the ultimate thumbed nose to a busy world? No work, just play, surrounded by friends and indulging yourselves. Of course, travel is another way to get yourself out of the loop, but why not combine the two by setting up a copy of Tokaido next time you’re playing? Prepare yourself for a journey across Japan without leaving your seat!

Designed by Antoine Bauza, Tokaido is a beautiful and actually rather relaxing game that sees between two and five players travel the East Sea Road in Japan. Stretching from Kyoto to Edo (the old name for Tokyo), the road actually gives the game its name, and as you move along the linear board you’ll indulge in various activities that, were they to be part of a real holiday would undoubtedly leave you relaxed and ready for anything. Whether you’re taking time to paint beautiful panoramas or tucking into delicious meals at well-appointed inns that you’ll stay at along the way, this is the kind of break that you’d look to pay thousands for – sadly these are all in your head, but at least you’re in for a rather chilled out experience regardless.

Before play begins, a randomly selected character gives you two things; a special ability that allows a little rule-bending in your favour, and a handful of coins that you can spend on your travels. Every trip needs a little spending money, after all, and travelling the East Sea Road will give you plenty of opportunity to empty your wallet. Once everyone has their money (cute little cardboard coins, reflective of the fanastic quality you’ll find throughout the whole product) it’s time to begin your trip.


The aim of Tokaido is to score the highest amount of points as you move along the road, starting off at the first inn on the left-hand side of the board and working your way along the various spaces, stopping off at attractions aplenty and eating local delicacies. If you’re the person who is furthest back on the road, you’re the one in control; any empty spots between you and the next person can be stopped at and utilised, but as only one meeple can sit on each space, eventually you’ll have to skip over them and hand over the power of movement to someone else. Slowly, you and your fellow travellers will progress across the board, until you all eventually end up at the next Inn space on the road. It’s these spaces that put the game on pause for a few moments as you all enjoy a slap-up meal that will fuel you for the next stage of the trip – and we’ll touch more on those shortly.

Pretty much everything you do brings in points that are totalled on the score track that runs along the top of the board, and as you’d expect there are many things you can get up to on your journey. Perhaps you like to paint? Well, some spots offer the chance to get out your canvas and work on three different panoramas – in other words, should you stop at these places, you get to take a card showing your artistic skills (and granting you some points). Should you be the first person to complete each of these three glorious vistas, you’ll also score bonus points, so racing to finish these can be lucrative. If you’re a social type, you may encounter other people walking the road who will grant you a buff of some kind. Temples can also be visited along the way but you must donate some of your money to fund their upkeep; each coin gives you a point, and the more you’ve put into the box, the more likely you are to receive a hefty bonus when the game is done.

Should your funds run low, you may help out at a local farm that will pay you for your work; very useful when you want to go shopping! This is a major part of Tokaido, as purchasing sets of items will give you a big boost along the score track. Four different types of item exist, so while picking up multiples of each type is a good idea you should really be aiming to pick up groups of four separate things – that way you’ll be pulling in big points as you look over the souvenirs you’ve collected on your journey.

Play 2

Now to the previously-mentioned Inns. When players reach them, the game takes a turn for the culinary. The first player there takes cards from the food deck (the amount of players plus one) and then may buy one single meal for between one and three coins. Each Inn you stop at gives you the chance to eat something, but you must always try something different – after all, there’s no better time to experiment with your food preferences than when you’re on vacation! The next player then gets to choose their meal from the cards that you didn’t like the look of, and so it goes until the final player reaches the Inn and is left with only two options. This presents a great opportunity for screwing over players who are dawdling a little, because if they’ve already eaten the options that are available, they can’t buy anything – and if you can’t buy anything, you’re losing ground on the other travellers.

One good thing about being last at the Inn – you’re the first person to leave the next day. Getting the first pick at the upcoming locations can be very valuable, and it’s a great little catch-up mechanism that keeps things relatively even as the game progresses. In games with more players, some locations have multiple spots which mean more than one player can visit there at a time; the game rules that when two players are at the back of the line, the one furthest from the road must be the first to move. These multi-spot locations add a level of strategy to the game, but far from complicate matters – if anything, having more options that don’t put you at the front of the queue is way better than just constantly racing to be the first at the inn. Tokaido encourages you to do as much as possible on your journey through the game, performing as many activities as possible in that hour or so that you’re sat at the table, and the more you do, the better your likelihood of victory.

Tokaido is a gentle affair, and honestly, that’s probably why I hold it in such high regard. It’s a great game to break out with people who aren’t au fait with the hobby – with such straightforward rules (take your meeple, move it along the road as far as you like, stop at the Inns) Tokaido is accessible and easy to understand, and the relatively short playtime won’t terrify new gamers. On the flipside, it’s also an ideal title to bring to the table for experienced folks who are looking for something gentle, either as a palate cleanser after a day of gaming or simply something different when you’re looking for a bit of a change of pace. A friend of mine has described Tokaido as the simplest Worker Placement game ever, and I find that’s a perfect description – with your sole “worker” progressing slowly across the board, you score points performing your actions until you reach the end of the game. Bauza’s simple yet pleasing design coupled with the beautiful work of Naiade make Tokaido a near-essential addition to your collection. Take some time to relax next time you hit the game table and enjoy spending some time on the East Sea Road!

Tokaido was designed by Antoine Bauza with illustrations throughout done by Naiade. Originally released through Funforge in 2012, between two and five people can enjoy a leisurely hour travelling the East Sea Road. The game can be bought for around £30, and should you wish to expand your Tokaido experience, two expansions are now available! Enjoy your trip!

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Careless Whisper – Witness review


So, anyone in the crowd ever heard of Blake and Mortimer? While it’s true that many of us over here had a bit of a love affair with Herge’s Tintin books as kids, I’d never heard of Blake and Mortimer until relatively recently despite them having a similar kind of gung-ho adventure vibe and even appearing in the Tintin comics. Knowing what I do now, I’m frankly baffled as to why they weren’t bigger – checking out the Wikipedia entry on the comic, its mix of time travel, sci-fi and ludicrous spy antics (thanks to Blake working for MI5 and Mortimer being a scientist) would have appealed to me hugely as a child. Now I’m working through the English translations of the many available books, and it’s all down to a little game called Witness

Released last year by Ystari and designed by Dominique Bodin, Witness was a glorious surprise. After getting roped into a game of it at this year’s Tabletop Day I had little idea of what to expect, but twenty minutes later – it’s a quick little bugger – I had fallen in love with this simple, social co-operative puzzler. Strictly for four players, it’s best described as a hardcore variant of Chinese Whispers with an exam at the end. Set yourselves down at the table, empty the box of the many books within and let’s start the action: it’s time for us to solve some crimes!

The players each assume a role (Blake and Mortimer, or their colleagues Nasir and LaBrousse) shown by a little punchboard standee placed before them but frankly these aren’t important – it’ll be easier for the sake of this write-up to refer to them as 1, 2, 3 and 4. The game comes with a book filled with numbered adventures, ranging from straightforward and simple to brain-destroyingly wretched, but they always start the same way: with one of the players reading from the main text. A paragraph or two will set the scene, giving the group a little collective information but then everyone must refer to their own character’s book (from the same numbered page!) to get more details that are specific to themselves. Now the curiousness begins – as does the whispering.

There are, in fact, four rounds of whispering. For the first, player 1 will quietly say what they know to player 2, while 3 will give their information to 4. The players who are receiving the information must say NOTHING at all – no verbal cues can happen whatsoever as the focus is entirely on remembering what you have been told, and no notes can be taken… yet. Once the speaking players are both satisfied that the listeners have taken in all the information, everyone resumes their seats and round two takes place. Things are now turned on their head – players 2 and 4 are now the informants, quietly passing not just their own information but also what they’ve just learned on to player’s 3 and 1 respectively. Again, once the givers are OK with the receivers’ understanding, you sit down again.

Speakers and listeners alternate again for rounds three and four, until eventually everyone should hopefully have the information from all four characters’ books for this adventure. Players then have the opportunity to scribble down a few notes, generally what they believe to be the salient points that will help solve the crime, which could include sketches, words, timetables… all manner of things could help when it comes to the final part of each game of Witness – the questioning!

Another book is used here, generally giving a little more flavour text before we get to the meat of things – three questions are asked that all players must write down their answers to on their note sheets and the more correct responses (found in a final booklet), the better the players are judged to have done. For example, getting a collective score of ten correct answers or more is pretty decent – less than that and it should be generally accepted that you need to work on your memory, your ability to share information, or a little bit of both.


So as not to spoil anything in the game, here’s a picture of a cat playing Agricola.

I realise that this is a spectacularly vague review but seriously, writing about any of the adventures or puzzles in Witness could potentially give away information that’ll screw up your enjoyment of the game – and you WILL enjoy this game. I’ve said many times that the reason I love to play games is because of their social aspect, and there’s little more social than whispering sweetly into the ear of a fellow gamer sat at your table. Witness is such a simple affair when you look at it objectively – all you’re doing is either sharing a little more information or listening and trying to remember as much as possible each round – but when you’re in the thick of it and desperately trying to recall a name, a time, a picture in your mind, then discovering that all the stuff you’ve remembered is absolutely useless when it comes to answering the questions the game throws as you, you quickly come to realise just how bloody good this is.

The game could have been built around any franchise with a detective story background but as you play more and more (especially with the same group of players) you’ll get much more of a feel for the Blake and Mortimer characters. You won’t need to have had any prior experience with the stories – I certainly didn’t prior to my first plays – but a good mix of logic solving and trivia knowledge will certainly see you do well in Witness. My only negative point is rather obvious – there’s absolutely no replayability here at all, and once a group has attempted an adventure it’s very much done and dusted even if you didn’t get everything right, but all it will take is the release of another set of books from Ystari and I’d be straight in there again, happily cursing my lack of short-term memory and laughing at the ludicrous evolution of our whispers as we fail to successfully solve another case.

Witness is available in stores now and will set you back approximately £20-25. Go get it, for it is pretty excellent, and even more accessible than Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective.

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