The Big Sky – Tiny Epic Galaxies preview


I’m delighted when I see new designers start to truly make a name for themselves in our little world of gaming, and even moreso when their creations really fit in my wheelhouse. Scott Almes’ Tiny Epic Kingdoms went insane on Kickstarter and is now gracing tables around the world, offering a fantastic gameplay experience that I’ve returned to again and again since getting my copy. Tiny Epic Defenders is currently on the conveyer belt over at Gamelyn Games, but the latest in the series was shown to me while at Essen this year – it’s called Tiny Epic Galaxies and great as they are, this one is easily better than its two predecessors.

Offering a comprehensive but pocket-sized 4X experience in around half an hour, I think that TEG (as it will become known) is going to break the records set by the earlier games in the series. Quick playing yet satisying, TEG will never see you looking to chuck out your copy of Twilight Imperium 3rd Edition – but you won’t have to schedule a visit to IKEA to buy a second table next time you want to play around a mate’s house either.

The game sees players attempting to reach a certain score, racing to utilise and colonise a series of planets that appear on cards in the middle of the table. Each card is laid out in a similar fashion, a numbered ladder on the left hand side, a symbol in the top right corner showing whether it’ll yield you Energy or Culture when you land a ship there, its points value in the bottom right and – probably most vital – the planet’s Colony Action. Players also have a larger Home World card in front of them that acts as a base as well as a way to track your stats and resources (the previously mentioned Energy and Culture).


The grid basically shows how you’ll (hopefully) progress through the game – start at the lowest level with four dice, two ships and zero bonus points. You’ll have to spend either Energy or Culture to upgrade to the next level (only once per turn) and pull in new stuff to use.

Your selections are dice driven with everyone kicking off the game rolling only four dice, but depending on how things turn out you could well be hurling seven of them across the table – and this is one thing you should be aiming to do as more ships mean more options AND more points. At the beginning of a turn you roll your allotted amount then, depending on what’s landed face-up, take actions. A single re-roll is allowed in case what you want doesn’t quite come up (which you will use a lot) and you’ll then, one-by-one, resolve the dice you’ve got. One lovely little element to TEG now shows its face – when you trigger an action, a player may spend one of their Culture Points to trigger that same action themselves, even through it’s not their turn. You might think you’ve got some excellent plan up your sleeve, but a Culture rich heavy player could potentially screw you over over the course of someone’s turn – even your own.

So, what can you do? Well, arrows allow you to move one of your ships around, either to the planet’s surface (which will pull in Energy or Culture if those symbols are rolled) or to the card’s Diplomacy track. Roll those symbols (a $ and ! in the current prototype) and you’ll move up the ladder, claiming the planet for yourself and tucking it in underneath your Home World. The final symbol shows the Colony Action, a potentially gamechanging thing that’s entirely dependent on the planets you’ve added to your collection. Everyone begins with the same ability – spend a set amount of one resource to upgrade your Galaxy (meaning more dice and Victory Points, as mentioned), but with each planet offering some kind of rule bending power, you’ll be seeking out the best ways to turn things in your favour.

A few of the planets you'll hopefully collect. Top right tells you what resource you'll grab, Diplomacy Track is on the left side, bonus and VPs on the bottom!

A few of the planets you’ll hopefully collect. Top right tells you what resource you’ll grab, Diplomacy Track is on the left side, bonus and VPs on the bottom!

As the game progresses, players’ tableaux eventually hopefully grow into a splendid collection of planets, pulling in all manner of useful resources and looking grand, tucked underneath your Home World – but all the while there’s that sneaking suspicion that everything will crumble beneath you, that all your plans will come to nothing thanks to that bloody rule of other people copying your Actions. Got your eye on picking up another planet? Tough, someone else has stolen it from under you, AND ON YOUR OWN BLOODY TURN AT THAT. Notice that someone seems to be running low on a resource? They won’t be for long, pushing their trackers up on your go. And this is wonderful as it means there’s pretty much no downtime in TEG – you’re constantly paying attention to what’s being rolled and when the dice are triggered. Manage to do this well and by the time your turn comes around to you again, you’ll be able to pull off some incredible stuff.

And that, for me, is what makes the game so damn good. Sure, it plays out in about half an hour, but for that whole time you’re watching, waiting, ready to jump while also planning your own strategy out. It’s a glorious, exhausting thirty minutes, fun as all hell, and when it launches in January on Kickstarter, you’d best get in on it. Tiny Epic Galaxies is showing that Scott Almes is growing into a truly talented designer, and it’s so exciting to thing that if he’s turning out games like this now, what kind of stuff will we see from him in a few years? If the game is this good with no graphic design and relatively plain iconography in a PNP, imagine what the end product is going to be like.

Tiny Epic Galaxies will be on Kickstarter in January 2015. You will want a copy of it. Cheers to Michael Coe at Gamelyn Games for handing over a copy for us to check out!

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Build – Tier auf Tier: Das Große Abenteuer review


There’s a saying that goes through the community that regularly pick their way through the games shelves of thrift shops – Gotta Grab A HABA. Where most of the time the selection is a mix of Trivial Pursuits, various Scene Its and busted looking copies of Monopoly, occasionally a diamond will shine through (or in the case of HABA titles, a bright yellow box) that needs to be picked up. Basically, whatever the game actually is, it’ll be worth buying for the great components and fantastic production. The only slightdownside: their games are aimed at players aged zero to four. Doesn’t stop me playing the crap out of them though.

A few of the titles in HABA’s range are properly accessible to older gamers – after all, everyone loves stacking things and even some grown ups can struggle to do it well. The whole series of Tier auf Tier games have legions of fans of all ages – we’ve mentioned that previously on LMDS – but it wasn’t until I had a brief run around the company’s stand at Essen that I realised quite how many games were in the series. Sure, we have a copy of the base game in our Back Room Of Doom, as well as the tiny version, but man… there’s loads of them.

One of my last purchases at this year’s Spiel was the biggest box with the name slapped across the front: Tier auf Tier – Das Große Abentuer. Admittedly, this was mainly down to my wife going HEY DID YOU SEE THAT GET ME THAT NOW – she’s the definite Tier auf Tier fan in this house – but how can you say no to something that looks so bloody fun? Look at the box again:


See? Fun!

Where the original game was simply focused on stacking your animals to get rid of them all, DGA has a bit more complexity which does make it feel like something of a step up. Yes, there are still beautiful, chunky, wooden animals. Yes, there’s still a massive die that will start your turn. However, that’s pretty much where the similarities end – this one can’t be won by simply getting rid of your animals. In fact, you don’t actually have any of your own, and those that you do get will need to be put in very specific places.

Some explanation is probably needed: before the game begins, a bit of set-up is required. First, the box isn’t just a container for bits – it’s actually an integral part of the game, split into four separate sections with a large wooden (well, cardboard) bridge in the middle. The different areas represent four valleys and all of the animals start the game lined up at random around the box, aside from the crocodile who, as usual, kicks things off by being the first to stand on the bridge. Players then take turns at rolling the die and placing all future animals in a stack that must touch either the crocodile or another wooden beast.

The die is different to the original game’s one. Four sides are dedicated to the four valleys, and rolling one means you take an animal from one of those locations, while getting a question mark gives you the option to take an animal from anywhere. The final side, showing the bridge, is probably the nastiest thing to roll – you must then take an animal from somewhere on the bridge and put it back somewhere else.


Why would you do this? Well, if you’ve played the original Tier auf Tier, you’ll be thinking so far, so similar. But this is a step up, remember, so you and your fellow stackers are going to be aiming towards completing objectives as well. Before the game begins, each player also receives three cards that show combinations of animals, and should you manage to build a pile there those animals are touching you flip the card to show that it’s been completed. Flip all your cards and hooray, you’re the winner! However, if you manage to screw up and knock a few of the animals into the box, you’ll be punished with another Objective card to complete. Thankfully, you’re allowed to flip a card when someone else manages to hit one of your combinations so it does make things a little easier but believe me – DGA is WAY more challenging than than any other game in the series.

That doesn’t mean that Tier auf Tier has suddenly become the kids equivalent of Twilight Struggle though – it’s still a relatively straightforward game, just made a little more complex with the introduction of the Objectives. However, in a game that’s just plain fun which manages to put children and grown ups on a level playing field, there’s not much else out there that offers such entertainment. Admittedly it’s not as immediate as the basic version of game, but the trade off is a much more engaging experience which is entirely worth getting. It’s still cute as anything, but just because Das Große Abenteuer is pretty don’t think it isn’t a challenge. This one bites back!

Tier auf Tier – Das Große Abenteuer (apparently out as Balancing Bridge in English) was designed by Klaus Miltenberger with art by Michael Bayer. Released originally in 2010, I don’t think I’ve ever seen this in stores in the UK or US – if you want a copy, I’d suggest heading to Amazon where it’s available for about $35 – money well spent!

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Episode 84 – Essen 2014, Part One!

Welcome to Essen! The first of three special episodes taken directly from the show floor at the world’s biggest gaming event has six interviews with some of the industry’s finest (including one bona fide design legend!). This time around:

- Eric Reasoner from StuntKite Publishing, discussing the new release of Patchistory

- eggertspiel’s Wolf talks about Camel Up (it’s definitely Camel Up, we checked!) and more

- SdJ winner Michael Schacht joins me to talk about his new design, Hellweg Westfalicus

- Pay Dirt, Yardmaster and Yardmaster Express are shown off by Patrick Nickell from Crash Games

- Pierre-Gilles from Mushroom Games unveils their new title, Time Masters

- Matagot’s own Fabien talks Korrigans and the new Cyclades expansion, Titans

There’ll be another special episode with more from the floor coming up soon – as always, thank you for listening!

Grab the episode from your favourite podcast listening thing or grab it directly from here:

Thanks to all the folks for coming on the show – you can find them online in the following various places:

StuntKite Publishing –

StuntKite on Twitter –

eggertspiele –

eggertspiele on Twitter –

Michael Schacht’s own site –

Crash Games –

Patrick on Twitter –

Mushroom Games –

Matagot Games –

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Baby, It’s Cold Outside – Dead of Winter review

Stuart has been a busy chap, attempting to keep his own little corner of the world from falling apart following the recent zombie apocalypse. You missed out on that? Oh.

Dead of Winter

I’ve owned Dead of Winter for ages, and have now played it close to a dozen times with two, three, four and five players. I’ve sat in front of this keyboard several times and tried to summarise these thoughts into a coherent and entertaining form, and it’s really difficult. Why has this been a challenge? Is it because I am a mediocre writer? Almost certainly, but also DoW is full of contradictions and problems that should hold it back…

(Heads up – there are no rules descriptions or gameplay examples here. Go watch a video if you want that – this is analysis.)

Firstly, I’ll focus on the bad.

Any way you cut it, the ‘survive the zombie apocalypse’ theme is a tired one. This is not entirely Plaid Hat Games’ fault, but I can’t help but wish that had the ever growing threat had been criminals (Assault on Precinct 13?) or even the popular suggestion of wolves at the gates as opposed the commercial decision to tap into the zombie phenomenon, the game would have felt fresher.

DoW is mechanically simple. To a fault? Well, one of the highlights and real hooks that differentiate the game from the throng of co-ops that are released each year are the player specific hidden goals that force players to look after themselves, as well as the communal goal. The vast majority of these hidden tasks are simply requisites on what you can and can’t have in your personal inventory at game end. There’s nothing particularly interesting about ‘have a book’ or ‘don’t have anything except medicine.’

On that note, much of the game does boil down to going to a location (effectively a deck of cards) then rooting through to find items. Once again – pretty mundane.

Finally, the social contract that players enter into when sitting down at the table has to contain a couple of amendments for DoW. If a player – traitor or otherwise – wishes to take the attitude that if they can’t achieve their own specific objectives then the world can burn, tanking the game for everyone else isn’t going to be that difficult and can leave a sour taste in the mouth of the other players at the table.

Oh God Oh God OH GOD (Thanks Daniel Thurot for the image!)

Oh God Oh God OH GOD (Thanks Daniel Thurot for the image!)

So, in summary… Dead of Winter is my current game of the year.


Yes. This is one of those beautiful games, nay pieces of art where analysis of the component parts in isolation doesn’t change the fact that as a whole, this is a masterpiece. It’s a mess, but a beautiful one that simply works.

No matter how clichéd, old or passé the zombie theming is, this is a proper thematic game that generates the most fun I’ve had around a gaming table this year. Is it the best designed? No. But that doesn’t impact a genuine sense of fun that permeates the games’ soul. DoW draws you in and puts you at the very heart of the narrative – rather than being a third party that watches someone else’s story – this is YOUR story and you and your friends are living it.

The traitor, or threat of one, fundamentally changes how players feel about other players going about their mundane tasks. Is Neil going to the library for the good of the team? Is it for his personal task? Is it because he wants us all to fail?

When decisions are made by the group, you have to live or die (or un-die) with the consequences. If the players choose to bring in another helpless survivor to the colony and you were the only dissenting voice then you have a right for some moral indignation when it is a lack of food that saps away that all important last piece of morale. Even more so when Hamish, that traitorous bastard, wanted us all to fail all along. These moments are crafted by the players, interacting with each other and the mechanisms of the game. These moments are also truly things of beauty and will live long in the memory of this gamer.

Just go and buy Dead of Winter. No funny closing line. Just get it. Even if you wouldn’t be seen dead playing a zombie game.

Cards DOW

Dead of Winter is available now and yes, you should get it, for it is wicked awesome. Designed by Jonathan Gilmour and Isaac Vega, it was released by Plaid Hat Games at Gen Con earlier this year (where it promptly sold out). Between two and five can play with games taking a a good couple of hours at least, and though a lot might come across as pretty straightforward it really is a brilliant, immersive experience.

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Maps – Cartography review

Give Emma a game that the enjoys and you’ll get a well crafted write up. Give her a game that she loves and her mind will explode over the keyboard. We gave her an advance prototype of Cartography, currently on Kickstarter, and it ended up like that old advert for Maxell tapes from the eighties.

"What's a tape, Michael?" - Countless LMDS Readers

“What’s a tape, Michael?” – Countless LMDS Readers

Shut up, insolent children! Shut up and read!

Right, no more review openings where I want to provide you with some context for who made the game and when, and then realise I know nothing whatsoever about anything and have to go and do research before I can actually write. I know exactly when Cartography came out, because it hasn’t yet. Currently on Kickstarter/soon to launch on Kickstarter/recently on Kickstarter/currently shipping from Kickstarter (delete as appropriate, depending on when Michael puts this up) [Oi, I’m on time for once! – Michael] Cartography is a tile-laying abstract strategy game for two players, with games taking anywhere from ten minutes to an hour, depending on how bloody-minded the players are. The most distinctive components in the game are its lovely triangular tiles – they’re made of a pleasingly-weighted wood and interlock, giving the whole thing a very satisfying jigsaw puzzle feel – each of which contains a varying number of dots, separated by walls and towers. The rules are simple enough – on your turn, you add one of these tiles to the table, then place one of your counters on a dot. Dots you play on have to have empty spaces connected to them, and if you surround a group of your opponent’s counters with your own, theirs are removed and added to your score. Players can pass if they don’t think any move will benefit them, and the game ends when both players pass, after which you score the number of counters you have left on the board, plus the number of your opponent’s counters you’ve captured. That’s it.

Now, those among you more well-versed in the history of board games may here be pointing out that those are basically the rules of Go, and the ‘designer’ of this game and its supporters are clearly uneducated philistines who won’t consume any media older than they are. In which case, wow, you’ve got a bit of an anger issue. But you’re largely right about the rules – as acknowledged in pretty much every piece of writing about Cartography, it is heavily influenced by Go, with Jon Adams (the designer) seeking to make something between classical Go and Carcassonne, but I think the complete transformation of the board from a 19×19 grid to a shifting array of triangular tiles and walls has completely changed the game, if you’ll pardon the semi-pun.

As an aside to those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about – Go is an East Asian strategy game, originating in China about two and a half millennia ago, and it’s like a thousand years older and orders of magnitude more complex than the (in my eyes) overrated exemplar of classical strategy, chess. Plus, what other game can boast this much history/mythology, including one famous game where one player was given three moves during the game by ghosts, and the other vomited blood on the board, then died after conceding? [That happened to me in a My Little Pony CCG tournament – Michael] What I’m saying is, you should probably check it out.

Anyway, to get back to reviewing games that didn’t come out thousands of years ago, Cartography. Yes, a lot of the gameplay feels a lot like Go, but let’s look at the things that make it different. Naturally, this is the board, as its constant evolution during play means that a) you’re never totally sure of your position, as your opponent could suddenly open up new fronts you weren’t expecting, and b) every game is different, offsetting a lot of the dry mathsiness you get in abstract games. Also, the change from a square-based grid to a triangle-based one, as well as the addition of walls (which stop adjacent spaces being counted as adjacent) means that any of your friends who do play Go won’t just steamroll all over the newbies, as a lot of the standard strategies and shapes don’t work any more. Also, I like the simplicity of the scoring as opposed to Go – in the latter, it’s all about the empty territory you have (either actually or effectively) surrounded, and calculating that can be a bit of a faff, but here, it’s just about stones on the board, both making counting up easier and the gameplay more aggressive, as players have more of a tendency to fill up spaces in their own groups for more points, making them more vulnerable to attack. Another advantage the modular board brings is the variability of play length – a game of Go can take anywhere up to several days, depending on how hardcore the players are, but here, the rulebook states that you can effectively create a time limit by putting a cap on the number of tiles that are available, with each adding about a minute to play time. Now, I’ve only been able to play short games, since my demo copy only has like 15 tiles instead of the full 40, but I cannot wait to get a full copy and see how quickly I can melt my brain with the whole set.

Normally, this is where I’d be listing the game’s shortcomings, but I’m having trouble on that front. Probably my biggest problem is that the rulebook’s a bit fuzzy on some points, but that’ll almost definitely get ironed out when it goes to publishing. Apart from that, the only reservation I have is that it might be a little too heavy for some people – this is definitely on the brain-burny end of abstract strategy, but if that’s your bag (and oh, is it mine), Cartography should be right up your alley. If, however, you prefer not to think series of moves ahead in your games, and hate the idea of somebody resigning because they can see how one bad move will come back to bite them in eighteen turns’ time, maybe not the one for you. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to write some new Problems of Life and Death…


Throw your money at Cartography here! Designed by Jon Adams, the standard set plays with two people only, but there’s also a four player set available. As an aside, I played against Emma and lost my mind as well as the game. I assume the four player game would have driven me to murder (in the best possible way, of course).

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