Tag Archives: Euro

Archipelago – A Written Review



Designer:            Christophe Boelinger

Publisher:           Asmodee, Ludically


“He’s crossed all the oceans all around the world.” ―William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury

Archipelago is an obtuse, conflicted, and wildly engaging Euro game full of chaos and caustic judgment. On the surface it feels like a stream of consciousness design with mechanical quip and obfuscated layers making the journey more difficult than necessary.  The truth is, Archipelago is spiritually the board game equivalent of a William Faulkner novel, with its unrelenting prose proving a forest upon your path.  Like much of Faulkner’s work, beyond the outright chaos and seeming hodge-podge is a deep and enrapturing experience that is exceptionally enjoyable and surprisingly focused.

This is a Euro game as only Christophe Boelinger could fashion. The philosophy behind the design unsurprisingly mirrors the ideology present in its Ameritrash brother Earth Reborn.  Layered mechanics give way to depth and are integrated in a streamlined fashion which beckons you to return again and again.  One could posit that Boelinger is cut from the same cloth as Phil Eklund, although the former’s games tend to have a greater degree of coherency and direction that elevate them to a level of grandeur rather than toil in a realm of overwhelming difficulty.

Archipelago can be dissected into 3 vital organs and spheres of interaction that form the guts of the title. The Action Wheel provides for the turn to turn momentum and pace of player manipulation as each participant places action disks worker placement style.  The hex board is built as players branch out and explore, discovering new vistas and resources to exploit.  The final and most powerful element is the market system which dictates the vitality and health of the raging economic undercurrent that players interact with on a constant basis.  All of these are nuanced and developed, comprising fleshed out interfaces to manipulate and be manipulated by.


The Action Wheel is made up of a plethora of spaces for players to utilize. Each player takes a turn placing one of their action disks (workers) and then executing the corresponding action.  Actions are tight and you will often want to accomplish much more than you are afforded.  Options include harvesting resources, constructing buildings, taxing the locals, birthing or hiring additional workers, and exploring.  Most actions are pretty straightforward and indicative of the typical fare.  Exploration is the most fascinating and reminiscent of Boelinger’s search mechanic from the earlier mentioned Earth Reborn.  When you explore you may either take the top tile from the stack or the tile beneath it.  Tiles are double sided and you are able to attempt to place either side, but you can only see the top-most face which is readily visible.  The difficulty arises in that tile placement is restricted based on respecting land features – so a mountain must connect to a mountain, sea to sea, and so on.  So, when presented with the desire to explore but the only visible tile face is not currently place-able, do you take that risk and go with the tile below it?  If you fail, then your entire action is wasted.  This is a chief example of that aforementioned chaotic current interwoven throughout the game that forcefully shoves the design in the opposite direction of its genre associates.  The risk/tension is fascinating and in no way feels tacked onto the game or shoddy.

One of the most interesting elements of the Action Wheel is the fact that some spaces allow only limited placement while others permit freedom of being able to be repeatedly selected. There is no limit to the number of people that can harvest Exotic Fruit, but if you want to explore you are only able to place your disk on the space marked with your color.  Once you have done this, you may explore with a subsequent action by placing your action disk on one of the multi-color spaces, as long as they haven’t already been occupied.  This hybrid of limited and free action selection adds to the tightrope struggle of balance embedded in the design’s nature.  While this intrinsic elegance is belied by the cluttered and busy graphic design of the Action Wheel, the simplicity and strategic engagement rises to the surface quickly upon engaging.

The map is built of these hexes that players explore and place, branching out and taking shape like watching a map being charted by a cartographer in accelerated real-time. The tiles themselves are beautiful and a joy to gaze upon, erecting a flourishing portrait as players place Citizens, Buildings, and Boats on the map, giving life to a newfound culture sprouting from its energetic roots.  The map is perhaps the most forgiving element of the design as you can readjust, move, and shift focus all at the cost of an action or two.  Placement of your Citizens and the tiles themselves due limit you in scope, but the game offers enough breadth of strategy that you can often make do no matter the draw.



Gorgeous artwork sets the backdrop for the Archipelago.


If there is one key force touching nearly all elements of this game it is the market system. The system is comprised of the Domestic and Export markets, each containing stockpiles of the main resources in the game: Fish, Wood, Stone, Iron, Exotic Fruit, and Cattle.  Players guide this capitalist system by purchasing from and selling to each.  The markets are also shifted in quantity when Crises arise on a turn by turn basis where both the locals and foreign homelands demand goods be provided.  Players must take turns either meeting this demand from the corresponding market, or by providing their own resources to quench the thirst.  Failure to do so results in the rise of Unrest.

Unrest is the main fixture in placing this game firmly in the camp of Semi-Cooperative. A population chart keeps track of the total number of player Citizens (meeples) on the board, as well as the rising Unrest which equates to the local populace’s broiling anger and approaching civil disobedience.  If Unrest ever passes the population marker then the colony falls into open revolt and the game immediately ends with all players losing.  It’s brutal and un-remitting causing all members at the table to continually monitor the rising tide of revolution.

The markets themselves also mettles with Unrest via taking stock of certain supply levels. Once each turn you will check both the Domestic and Foreign markets, and if enough stock exists (meaning the island is oversupplied) the island-wide unemployment will rise giving way to eventual Unrest.  It’s an ebb and flow that requires give and take as you don’t want the markets to become oversaturated with goods, but you also don’t want them emptied so that you can’t satisfy the continually occurring Crises.  This is inexplicably fascinating and the most enjoyable and alluring aspect of the design.  Throughout play I find myself thinking about the impact of our actions on the market which are typically subtle and sometimes difficult to puzzle out.  All of this in combination gives it a sort of living and dynamic feel that is prevalent and immediate.




While it is exceedingly easy to get lost in all of these textured modules the end game is ultimately to score the most victory points by satisfying objectives. Objectives deal with having the most of a resource, having the most of a certain building, possessing the most money, etc.  These objectives are randomly included in the game in one of two ways.  The first being the Trend card, which is a public objective everyone can see.  It sort of determines a general need and inclination that most players will want to gun for.  Secondly, each player is dealt a Hidden Objective card of a similar nature.  Each player’s hidden objective is functionally identical to a Trend card and ALL players can score off it at end game.  The catch is of course that you don’t know what objectives your opponent’s possess so you will have to deduce from their actions and tendencies what they are trying to accumulate.  I first experienced this idea in Troyes and it appeals to the deduction fan inside of me.  It’s a nice clever way to add a bit of depth and color to the game.

This also brings us to the most controversial aspect of the game, which is the Semi-Cooperative element. One of the hidden objective cards is a traitor card, which allows the player to win if the game is lost due to rebellion.  This births an insipid atmosphere of questioning other players if they don’t contribute to the crisis, or if they sell a bit too much Cattle overwhelming the market.  It aligns perfectly with the fact that players don’t exactly know how well they are doing in terms of end game scoring due to the hidden objectives of the other players.  This natural paranoia is a balancing factor in combination with the hidden scoring facet to incentivize all players to stick out the game and feel like they possess a real shot at victory.  If a player does get battered down and believes he is in a horrible position, it is up to the other players at the table to bribe him into contributing positively towards the colony’s health, utilizing the game’s penchant for negotiation.  There’s this lively yet biting undercurrent of tension and give and take in direct parallel to the market system that flows naturally from the hidden objectives and unwieldy Unrest.  Sometimes it feels like it’s hanging together by rubber bands and duct tape but it ultimately works and the game is better for it.

Archipelago is a game to be studied, ruminated, and played. Its depth is in proper accordance to its density and the reward of breaking through to the other side is commensurate of the impact of Miss Quentin stealing Jason’s money and running away alongside the man with the red tie.  “The Sound and the Fury” isn’t for everybody, and neither is Archipelago.  Both have a solid and eternal place in my heart.

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Rating: 5.0/5 (5 votes cast)

Yedo (2d6 Exclusive Content)



Designers:          Thomas Vande Ginste, Wolf Plancke

Publisher:           Pandasaurus Games (2012)


Can you recall the first time you dug your teeth into a hearty steak?  Succulent meat in all its glory, flavorful juices running down your chin, and sensations on your tongue you could only dream of.  Yedo is that filet in all its perfect, unfettered glory prepared by two top-notch chefs and shoved down your gullet in transcendent fashion.

This is an absolutely astounding worker placement experience that is overflowing with theme integrated into an abundance of clever mechanics.  The core of the game is acquiring hidden Mission cards that possess resource requirements you must acquire by placing Disciples (workers), winning auctions, and playing well-timed cards.  From Tom Vasel to Bob the BGG reviewer, everyone compares this game to a souped up Lords of Waterdeep, which I cannot argue with.  The primary mechanic of hidden Mission cards is very similar to LoW’s Quests, however, several layers of additional interactions and mechanisms make for a very different experience.

One of the initial differences is the auction phase, which occurs early in the turn before Disciples are placed.  Yedo auctions are similar to those found in Power Grid, where the current player starts a bid and then players may proceed to outbid each other in player order.  There is one key difference in that bidding does not keep going around until everyone bows out, rather each player only gets one chance to up the ante with the person who initiated the auction getting final say.  Once a category has been bid on, it is no longer eligible until the next auction and each player may only win a single auction.

The items you can bid for include:

Action Cards, which are used to perform special interrupts and break the rules in interesting ways

-Bonus Cards, which are hidden and worth points at the end of the game if you meet their conditions

-Weapons, which are used to accomplish Missions

Annexes, which are special tiles you can acquire that are required for Missions but they also offer an additional space to place a Disciple on and can offer powerful benefits

Geisha, which are used only for Mission and Bonus cards

Disciples, which allow you to acquire additional workers (you start with 2 and can get up to 4)

Mission Cards, which allow you to gain Money, other cards, and the primary way to gain Victory Points

What’s very interesting about the auction phase is that some very difficult decisions are packed into a tight space and elegantly integrated into a worker placement whole.  I’ve seen players attempt to up-bid a player to drive up the cost, only to have the original bidder let them take it – which means the winning bidder cannot bid on another auction this round.  I have seen people purposely maneuver the turn order so they are last, which allows them final choice on an auction category without any opponents, although their choices are reduced.  I’ve also seen players offer fistfuls of coins for seemingly small benefit due to their desperation.  Certain resources are also limited (Annexes, Geisha) which makes passing them up early possibly burdensome.  All of these decisions are not terribly easy to make and this tense phase is ultimately very interesting because of this.




The second half of the game is the Assign Workers phase, where you place your Disciples on the board, one at a time.  The board offers many thought provoking effects which results in players sometimes colliding and jockeying for certain spaces early.  The areas you can place Disciples in are organized into five unique Districts.  Actions performed in each District are very different, but more importantly, Mission Cards require you to expend actions in specific areas of the board.  Some Missions require you to possess workers in two different areas as well as possessing certain weapons, annexes, geisha, etc.  You can see how things quickly get dicey with the more complicated requirements and juggling these priorities of resource acquisition is the heart of Yedo.

The majority of District options offer resource acquisition at a cost that is typically greater than what is paid in the auction phase.  This makes for juggling your limited actions and money with resource needs a difficult task.  Other spaces on the board allow you to look at and arrange the top 3 cards of different decks, change the player order, gain a single VP by visiting the Shogun, and many more interesting options.

There is also this really cool mechanism which has a guard token in the middle of the board, moving each turn in either clockwise or counterclockwise direction.  If the guard is in a District where you have placed Disciples, the workers are arrested and returned to your board (if you have 2 workers or less) or to the supply (if they are your third or fourth worker).  This effectively shuts off certain Districts in a dynamic fashion, which is further enhanced by players using Action Cards that can move the guard additional spaces or change its direction.  It can be absolutely brutal to unexpectedly have the guard move into a District where several players have Disciples, which enforces a sense of caution and respect when placing workers on the board.



The guard can be a cruel bastard.


I am a huge fan of this game because of how solid and streamlined the different mechanics are in combination with how well they play off each other.  You have dynamic auctions, sometimes game changing events, stalking guards, tight worker placement, and hidden objectives that make for this absolutely phenomenal game that is astoundingly rich and meaty.  This game repeatedly delivers small moments of triumph and story that keeps a smile firmly plastered to your pale geek face and you can’t help but enjoy it.  It decidedly is a Euro, but it’s the best kind – one that not only espouses a great theme, but one that lives and breathes it with each passing second.



The game is beautifully designed and illustrated. This is one of the player boards which boasts colorful background and does a great job of organizing all of your different resources and cards.


Yedo is a somewhat complicated game mechanically that I would compare to something like Troyes or Power Grid.  It’s firmly in that middleweight category between heavier titles like Mage Knight The Boardgame and lighter fare like Stone Age.  It also can take quite a long time to play, clocking in at 2 to 3 hours with four players (which is the optimal amount).  Five players can take 3-4 hours which is why I would hesitate to recommend it at that count.  The play is deep and pace pretty steady so I would not hesitate if you don’t mind spending a couple hours engaged with a few of your good buddies.  When Matt flips the “Assassinate the Shogun” card midway through the game and does a fist-pump and an air-katana slice, you know you’ve hit on a great experience that produces memorable stories and a strong thematic narrative.


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The Castles of Burgundy (A Video Review)

The game is set in the Burgundy region of High Medieval France. Each player takes on the role of an aristocrat, originally controlling a small princedom. While playing they aim to build settlements and powerful castles, practice trade along the river, exploit silver mines, and use the knowledge of travelers.

The game is about placing settlement tiles into the princedom. Every tile has a function that starts when the tile is placed. The princedom itself consists of several regions, each of which demands its own settlement tile.

The core game mechanism involves two dice. The pips show the kind of action the players are allowed to do (example: roll a 2 and a 5: using the 2 the player buys a watch tower and places it on a 5 city tile which triggers the function of the tower with additional advantages).

It is also possible to influence the dice, so the player is not completely subject to luck.

~ Ravensburger


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The Downfall of Pompeii (2D6 Exclusive Content)


Designer:            Klaus-Jürgen Wrede

Publisher:           Mayfair Games (2013)

Space Alert makes people cringe, Mascarade makes people confused, Diplomacy makes people angry, and The Downfall of Pompeii makes you yell “AAAHHHHahhhhahhhhh” as you vigorously toss Roman citizens into a volcano.  A light family Euro where you get to burn down your friend’s pieces is a game worth owning.

Pompeii was originally released in 2004 and has been brought back from its ashen grave by Mayfair with only a couple of minor changes.  The reissue now contains an even 30 pieces for all 4 colors, allowing you to play whichever color you like in a 2 player game.  Previously, you were stuck between only 2 color choices due to an uneven distribution of pieces.  It also contains a clever mini expansion that contains 3 dual vent tiles.  These tiles are double sided, containing a different symbol on each face.  You may decide which side to use when placing them, providing for some additional variety and an interesting choice.




For those who have not had the pleasure of enjoying this game upon its initial release, inside you will find quality components Mayfair has become known for, including thick tiles and sturdy cards.  The player pieces representing the Roman citizens of Pompeii are wooden and of good quality.  The volcano is the one item that stands out, a plastic sheet that is curled into a funnel shape and slides together easily.  It provides a very stimulating visual on the edge of the board, a constant reminder of the impending doom and carnage.

The rules are relatively simple and can be easily explained to new players.  The game takes part in two phases, the first being a turn-by-turn placing of pieces on the board followed by a destructive volcano eruption where you place lava and evacuate your hapless bystanders.  Each phase is simple enough to grasp, but allows for some depth and interesting choices that are not altogether obvious.

On your turn you play a card from your hand which dictates where you are able to place a citizen.  The card will give you a number and color, the number being the specific building you must place inside.  Most buildings span multiple spaces on the board, and each has different positions within the space where you may place.  Placement is important, as you are able to chain additional actions by placing figures in already populated buildings.  This gives way to some strategic depth where you attempt to place into populated buildings while also weighing your figures proximity to the city exits which you must escape out of in the second half of the game.




After you have played a card you refill your hand to 4.  After the first 8 or so cards, you will come to the first of two AD 79 cards, which signals a shift in the parameters of the game.  In addition to opening up the chaining rules I mentioned previously, powerful Omen cards enter play.  If you draw an Omen, you reveal it immediately and then are able to remove a single piece from the board – tossing it into the volcano and giving your best Wilhelm scream.  When the second AD 79 card is revealed, the volcano erupts in a flurry of violence and second half begins.

After the volcano erupts, you discard all of your cards and now simply take your turn by drawing a random lava tile, placing it on the board, and then move two of your pieces.  Placement of lava is restricted to placing your tile adjacent to lava with the same symbol.  There are several different symbols and this will restrict placement so that you are left with sometimes tough decisions.  Do you encroach towards the city exit where the yellow player is planning on rushing out several citizens, or do you take a quick fix by deluging the square with 2 of blue’s pieces?

After placing your lava tile, you move two of your pieces 1 square each.  The goal is to move outside the city and save as many of your citizens as possible.  You must be clever and efficient in your movements as you don’t want to find too many of your pieces cut off and facing a molten grave.  The winner of the game is determined by who has the most pieces escape, tie breaker being who has lost the least pieces to the volcano.




The Downfall of Pompeii fills a niche as a great cut-throat family game that is easy to learn but allows for wide strategic breadth.  For this reason, it is reminiscent of Carcassonne in its ability to be enjoyed by lovers of Monopoly as well as the type of person who owns Puerto Rico or Troyes.  This will certainly not be the deepest game in your collection, but it’s a game that can be pulled out and enjoyed by virtually any crowd.  It can also be played in an hour and taps into your inner 10 year old that lights up and is giddy when playing with a plastic volcano eating alive Roman citizens (well, maybe my child-hood was different than yours).

An enjoyable, fun, easy to teach game that packs good replayability is not an easy find.  Pompeii delivers on all of these and is wrapped up in a pretty package of quality components and solid artwork.  This is a game that I will proudly display on my shelf, sitting between Eclipse and Claustrophobia.

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