The Kindness of Strangers


Occasionally someone does something that reminds you that there are thoughtful, kind people in the world. Those visitors to this blog who play boardgames are aware of the Freebies page where I share all the PDF rules summaries and reference sheets I have made for boardgames in my collection. Well, out of the blue, a member of BoardgameGeek decided that he wanted to show his appreciation for my work in a tangible way, and made a donation to me for the buying of new games. A completely unsolicited act of generosity.

There are some nice people out there.

More Lovingly-Designed Boardgame Reference Sheets

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For you boardgamers who visit the site, I’ve added several new listings to the Boardgame Reference Sheets page. There’s a rules summary for the new Flying Frog zombie game Last Night on Earth, a rules summary and new reference sheet for the Z-Man Games card game Camelot Legends, a rules summary for Days of Wonder’s latest, Colosseum, and most significantly, a whole pack of reference material for the new Take on You/Fantasy Flight Games alternative-history occult Nazi-themed combat skirmish game Tannhäuser. Zombies, Arthurian knights, Roman impresarios and magic-wielding Nazis—don’t you love boardgaming?

Update: Rules summaries for the superhero mischief of Fantasy Flight’s Marvel Heroes and the Z-Man Games bidding and trading game Silk Road.

What a Geek!

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Back when I was in school I probably would have hated being called a geek, but when you’re over forty these kind of things lose their sting. And besides, it’s almost a term of endearment these days. So allow me to revel in the honour bestowed upon me this week by my most-visited of internet destinations, BoardgameGeek—that of 105th Geek of the Week.

Once a week the boardgame-obsessed community at BoardgameGeek get to rip apart one of their members and see what makes him or her tick, and this week it’s been me. Now’s your chance to learn everything you always wanted to know but were too disinterested to ask about your host, Universal Head!



When good boardgaming goes bad

New Games Reference Sheets

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BattleLoreIf only I could remember that obscure rule … fret no longer, some new boardgame reference sheets have been added to the Freebies section: AT-43, BattleLore, Blue Moon, Blue Moon City, Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Game, Call of Cthulhu CCG, Dracula, Dungeon Twister, Fury of Dracula (2006 version), Jambo, Mall of Horror, Mutant Chronicles: Siege of the Citadel, Nexus Ops, Runebound 2nd Edition, San Juan, Star Wars: The Queen’s Gambit and Zombies!!!. Enjoy!



BattleloreI’m finally having a holiday; very soon my girl and I fly off to New Zealand for a couple of weeks where we’ll drive around the South Island wherever the whim takes us. I can hardly wait to get away from my computer and indulge myself in fresh air, long walks, Alpine-like scenery and no email. My wrist and arm hurt, I’m burnt out, and I’m way, way, way overdue for a break.

In the meantime, have a look around Battlelore Master, a new fan site I whipped up a few weeks ago (probably when I should have been working). You’ll notice I did save myself a bit of trouble by reusing some Headless Hollow code and graphics (I’ll get around to customising it more later).

I’ve sung the praises of a game called Memoir ’44 by Days of Wonder; well, this shares the Commands and Colors system by Richard Borg, but is designed for historical medieval warfare or fantasy-themed battles. Days of Wonder are really going all out with this one, planning a long-term series of expansions, extra armies and figure blister packs. It’s looking incredible.

I’ve done a fan site before (The World of Tékumel) and they not only give me a chance to make a particularly visually appealing site in a fun genre, but are good additions to the portfolio and can lead to client contacts. uses a MovableType shell like Headless Hollow, but also features a set of discussion forums. I’m betting Battlelore is going to be a hugely successful game system, so here’s hoping the site will become the number one stop for fans of the game.

Even when I’m not designing for work, I’m designing for play. No wonder my wrist hurts! Time for two weeks R&R. More when I get back, hopefully refreshed and re-inspired.

Boardgame Review: Cleopatra and the Society of Architects


Cleopatra and the Society of ArchitectsRegular gaming readers may have gathered that I’m a big fan of the games produced by Days of Wonder; they make beautiful and fun games that don’t strain the brain and are perfect to play with a few friends and a few drinks. Cleopatra and the Society of Architects is their newest production, and it raises the bar yet again. While some gamers would call it over-produced, since DOW have managed to pack in a lot of plastic components and kept the price at the usual level, what’s wrong with a little bit of overproduction I say?

Cleopatra is a great game to play with non-gamers as well, as the rules are easily picked up. It basically follows the Ticket to Ride model of collecting cards in order to get points, only instead of building train routes across America or Europe, you’re an architect in ancient Egypt building parts of Cleopatra’s palace. First, you turn over the box and it becomes the framework of the palace, along with two boards that go on top of and in front of the box. The players can visit the market (draw cards) or trade combinations of their artisan, stone, marble, lapis-lazuli and wood cards for plastic pieces that are placed on and around the palace—a processional of sphinxes, two obelisks, the main doorframes, the walls of the palace, garden mosaics and the pedestal and throne—receiving money, or talents for each piece they build.

Cleopatra and the Society of ArchitectsThere are ways of speeding up the process with special cards and cards with double the usual number of resources, but they’ll cost you Corruption Amulets, as you participate in shady deals to get ahead of your architect rivals. Your Amulets are kept secret in a cardboard pyramid and revealed at the end of the game, and the most corrupt of the players is immediately fed to Cleopatra’s pet crocodile—or, in less prosaic terms, loses. The richest of the remaining players wins the game.
There are ways of getting rid of Corruption however. Occasionally, an Offering to the Great Priest may be made, where players blind bid Talents in an attempt to lose Corruption. And you can build Sanctuaries in the palace garden where Corruption Amulets are placed at game end.

In our first game, I managed to come out the richest architect—but unfortunately also the most corrupt. Pet food.
Four hieroglyphs out of five.

Cleopatra is a fun game, and well worth purchasing. Some die hard gamers might wish for more choice and strategy and less luck, but this is a game for the family and for a bunch of friends spending an enjoyable hour together. The rules are simple but I’ve whipped up a one-page rules summary that includes the official two player rules posted on the DOW website. As always, it’s available in the Freebies section here.

The Joy of Boardgames

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Just a brief reminder that there is a whole bunch of lovingly-designed rules summaries and reference sheets for many of the most popular boardgames (and some old classics) in the Freebies section. All free to download to enhance your next game (and make re-learning the rules much faster and less painful), of course. I’ve just uploaded some new files.

And don’t forget Boardgamegeek for all your boardgaming needs. My number one internet distraction.

Boardgame Review: Conquest of the Empire

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Conquest of the EmpireI’m a fantasy and sci-fi fan when it comes to games, but after recently discovering the excellent Memoir ’44, which has become a favourite, I’ve begun checking out a few historically themed games as well.

Conquest of the Empire by Eagle Games is my latest purchase, and it’s proved to be a wonderfully strategic and amospheric mid-weight game. You’re thrown into the period of the Roman Empire, there to gather your armies to march on the provinces, attempt to control the Senate, and ruthlessly cut down your opponents through military might, alliances and treachery. If you have any interest in the period at all you’ll love this game.

Eagle Games has gone all out to make a high quality product. The heavy box contains a huge 3.5 x 4 foot three-section map of Europe and Northern Africa, beautifully painted in antique style. It’s also is chock-a-block with nicely detailed, large plastic pieces, thankfully not attached to sprues and already bagged. You get six sets in different colours of your Caesar, generals, infantry, cavalry, two-piece catapults and galleys, plus some generic cities and roads. There is also a deck of well-illustrated cards, a bag of large ‘gold’ and ‘silver’ coins (which are great fun to stack, or cast contemptuously across the board to an opponent), and several oversized—everything about this game is big—special dice.

All this largess wouldn’t be much good without a rules system, and Eagle Games brilliantly hedges their bets by giving you two! The first ‘Classic’ set of rules is the original Milton Bradley Game Master series game from 1984 of which this is a reprint, with a few tweaks. I have yet to play this system as apparently it’s showing its age. The other rules booklet is completely new, based on another game called Struggle of Empires. It works perfectly for the theme. The game is divided into four Campaign Seasons, during which players work out their alliances and turn order using a simple but clever bidding system, and complete other once-a-Season actions such as calculating Victory Points. But the heart of each Season is four rounds in each of which players get to choose two actions: either buy a Conquest card, move or battle their forces, recruit, raise funds, or buy Influence tokens to control Provinces. It’s this range of choices, and especially the limited amount of opportunities available to make them, that make developing a well-timed strategy so interesting.

Victory Points are received by having Influence tokens in a Province, but of course you can’t buy them if a non-allied military force is there with you. Time for battle! The combat system is simple but effective; players roll a number of dice, adding dice if they have a general or their Caesar present, are defending a city, or if they have a relevant card. For each symbol on the dice that matches a piece in your army, you destroy an opponent piece. It’s basically the reverse of the Memoir ’44 system, where symbols indicate which opponent pieces you have destroyed.

Ancient Rome wasn’t just about armies however. You can also buy Senate Vote cards, and then call a vote on, for example, who receives an Emergency Tax of 50 talents (coins). Players vote using Senator cards—in addition to a starting hand of these you can buy more during the game, or ‘steal’ them from other players. A player who has the most influence in Italia gets to keep one of their discarded Senator cards after a vote, so controlling Italia and the Senate is a good recipe for overall victory. Get too cocky however, and the other players are bound to ally against you …

I’ve played this involving game with three and four players and it has been a great success; I can only imagine it gets better with the maximum six players. If you like a bit of strategy, high quality game components, just the right balance of luck, strategy, ease of play and complexity—and the thought of becoming Emperor of the Ancient Roman world—this game’s for you.
Four Caligulas out of five.

As is my want, I’ve made a colour Rules Summary and a Reference Sheet (in two flavours, light or dark background!) you can download here. The Reference Sheet in particular makes play go a lot more smoothly.

The Game of Life


Memoir '44

Once a week, on a Wednesday, I meet a friend of mine I’ve known for about 25 years for a few games of squash. After pushing our nearly-40 year old bodies to breaking point running around a few square metres of court chasing a little rubber ball, we head back to one of our homes, where we order pizza, have a few beers, and our lovely and extremely indulgent female partners put up with us laughing, shouting and having a great time over a boardgame.

Tonight we got out Memoir ’44, a simple but always enjoyable game that elegantly recreates and commemorates the battles in Northern France in 1944. My friend played the French, attempting to re-take Toulon on August 20-26 (I just realised—our timing is impeccable). My German infantry was well placed in defensive positions, aided by an artillery piece in Hyéres on the right flank. The battle was hard fought; I was outnumbered from the start, but gave as good as I got as I was pushed back to Toulon and eventually beaten. Shouts of victory and despair went up as the dice rolled. Cards were slapped down with gusto and discarded in disappointment. Many old in-jokes were rolled out for the umpteenth time. At least one uncontrollable fit of laughter was inevitable. My friend had spent the last week painting the little plastic pieces on his kitchen table, and the game looked great. To an observer it looked like some little army men, a colourful board with terrain pieces on it, some cards—but to us, we overlooked a sweeping battlefield alive with desperate combat.

(And in the case of this particular game, you can learn a little bit too—about the battles where men fought and died so we can laugh and joke with our friends well into old age.)

But next week, it might be gangfights in an undercity of the distant future, or steam-powered giant robots smashing into each other with spells crackling overhead, or marines battling aliens in the depths of a drifting space hulk, or cars bristling with weapons speeding across a post-apocalyptic landscape, or hunting Dracula and his minions the length and breadth of Victorian Europe, or …

Wednesday nights—I love ’em.

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