- Action / Movement Programming
- Action Drafting
- Action Point Allowance System
- Action Queue
- Action Selection
- Added Mechanics
- Area Control
- Area Enclosure
- Area Majority/ Influence
- Area Movement
- Auction: Dutch
- Automatic Resource Growth
- Bag Building
- Campaign / Battle Card Driven
- Card Drafting
- Card Placement
- Catch the Leader
- Chit-Pull System
- Command Cards
- Commodity Speculation
- Communication Limits
- Cooperative Play
- Crayon Rail System
- Cube tower
- Deck Building
- Deck Constructing
- Delayed Purchase
- Dice Building
- Dice Movement
- Dice Rolling
- Dutch Auction
- Dynamic Currency
- End Game Bonuses
- Engine Building
- Feeding Workers/Characters
- Force Commitment
- Grid Coverage
- Grid Movement
- Hand Management
- Hand-Eye Coordination
- Hex and Counter
- Hexagon Grid
- Hidden Movement
- Hidden Objective
- Hidden Roles
- Hidden Traitor
- Hidden Victory Points
- I Split, You Take
- Increased Value of Unchosen Resources
- King of The Hill
- Line Drawing
- Line of Sight
- Lose a Turn
- Map Addition
- Map Reduction
- Modular Board
- Move with Cards
- Movement Points
- Narrative Choice
- Network and Route Building
- Once per game ability
- Order Fulfillment
- Paper and Pencil
- Pattern Building
- Pattern Movement
- Pattern Recognition
- Pick-up and Deliver
- Player Elimination
- Point Salad
- Point to Point Movement
- Pool Building
- Press Your Luck
- Random Production
- Ratio / Combat Results Table
- Real Time
- Relative Movement
- Resource Gathering
- Resource to Move
- Role Playing
- Role Selection
- Roles with Asymmetric Information
- Roll / Spin and Move
- Roll and Write
- Scenario / Mission / Campaign Game
- Score and Reset Game
- Secret Unit Deployment
- Set Collection
- Simultaneous Play
- Simultaneous action selection
- Skill with a Doubling Cube
- Social Deduction
- Solo / Solitaire Game
- Square Grid
- Stacking and Balancing
- Static Capture
- Stock Holding
- Sudden Death Ending
- Tableau Building
- Take That
- Targeted CLues
- Targeted Clues
- Tech Trees / Tech Tracks
- Tile Placement
- Time Track
- Tower Defense
- Track Movement
- Tug of War
- Turn Board Game
- Turn Order: Auction
- Turn Order: Claim Action
- Turn Order: Pass Order
- Turn Order: Progressive
- Turn Order: Random
- Turn Order: Roll Order
- Turn Order: Stat-Based
- Variable Phase Order
- Variable Player Powers
- Variable Setup
- Victory Points as a Resource
- Worker Placement
- Worker Placement with Dice Workers
- Zone of Control
Popular Events Board Games (Mechanic)
Board game cafes are on the rise. And it's not a new story, either. Since the sudden surge of popularity of board games in the last decade, these delightful avenues have been popping up all around the world providing a safe haven for us to enjoy the dangerous yet perfect combination of food and games. But what is the reality like for those who have to clean up after us?
Hey Robert, thank you for making your time! First up, could you tell us a bit about yourself?
After graduating from university, I worked in film and TV costume departments for over fifteen years on all sorts of projects. My partner (Terry Chiu) had been working in DVD and BluRay menu design and implementation for various companies in the Los Angeles area for years.
It seems quite commonplace that people in the board game industry come from very unexpected backgrounds. Could you share what led up to the decision to open up a board game cafe?
Terry and I had both been working in these different aspects of the entertainment industry, and we both wanted a change. Strangely enough, we both had the idea individually and separately at about the same time. We had heard of the first major board game cafe to open in North America, Snakes & Lattes, so we were aware of the concept. So a few months later, Terry had been mussing around with preliminary numbers and business plan stuff, and he said, “hey, what do you think about this idea?” So we put our heads together and started comparing notes and figuring it all out in February of 2012, and here we are today.
What was your main resource in figuring out all of the ins and outs of a board game cafe? Did you contact any of the well established cafes at the time (i.e. Snakes & Lattes) and what was the most valuable advice to this day?
When we were planning it all out, there really was only one example – Snakes & Lattes. We did a trip up to Toronto in the early planning stages, to see it for ourselves and to get a sense of things – what they were doing, how they did it, why they did it, etc. I do remember speaking with the owner one morning we were there, and it was interesting hearing his thoughts about it all. Apart from that, the vast majority of the research was dealing with the food aspect of it all – how do you create and build a food-service establishment? How do you run a coffeehouse or cafe? So we started researching all that, talking to SCORE and taking seminars there on things like cash flow projections and business planning and how to interview and hire people and labor laws and all sorts of legal/business things that no one ever thinks about until they’re starting a business. I still remember a two-night course on the basics of accounting for non-accountants, and I use that a good deal of that info to this day.
(Editor's note: SCORE offers business mentoring and education for entrepreneurs).
Before GameHaus Cafe came around, there were no other board game cafes in Southern California. How confident were you that there would be enough of a demand?
We knew there would be a demand – Los Angeles is huge with a “ven diagram” of different groups, so the demographics were good. Plus the population is large to begin with – this isn’t Smalltown, USA or Grover’s Corners. I remember that we sat down with a SCORE business adviser who reviewed our business plan and went through a bunch of stuff with us, and he said that we had probably one of the most prepared plans he had ever seen, so that gave us the confidence that the research and planning we had done (as well as our approach to it all) was solid. So we were prepared for every single possibility.
How was the launch day/week and what was the biggest surprise or any unexpected events that you encountered? Any big complaints or praises from customers?
I think the thing that struck us most early on, and not only in the first months, but the first weekend we were open, was that we had such a good amount of repeat business. I remember one couple that came on our first Friday night, and they were back two days later on that Sunday afternoon – and I still see them at the cafe even today, six years later. We saw people that first weekend who were back the next weekend. We see this a lot when we do events, like our Tabletop Day event or the annual New Years Eve events – we’ll get the same faces every time. So that’s a good feeling that people like what you’re doing so much that they want to keep coming back again and again. As far as complaints, we didn’t have too much “push back” about the per-person cover charge – once people were keyed into what we were as a business and what we have to offer, it made sense to them. Part of that is the fact that this is a new concept for the vast majority of people – so you have to walk them through what it is and why it’s set up this way, etc. Two months into the business, I think our biggest complaint was that we were always full on weekends – despite being able to seat as many people as we do, we were habitually waitlisting Friday nights through Sunday nights because of how popular it was! If that’s our biggest problem two months into the business, it’s a good problem to have, as we always say.
It sounds like you struck the right chord with the crowd. So what is the demographic of your customers like?
All sorts – as far as age, the biggest slice of the proverbial pie is the 18 to 30-somethings. A lot of them have either heard of or have played a number of the standard new wave of games – Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, etc. We get a whole range in terms of experience and hobby interest – any given day, we’ll see Candyland or Cards Against Humanity being played side by side with things like Eldritch Horror and Mysterium. Just last week, I saw a group playing Sequence sitting next to a table with two people playing Twilight Struggle. Some days it’s lots of big groups and other days it seems like every table is a couple out on a date. We’re a great first date spot, we’ve had quite a number of those.
I visited a few months ago, actually. I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to introduce my wife to a bunch of gateways while also getting a firsthand experience before the interview. (Highlights include experiencing a crushing defeat by my wife in multiple rounds of Love Letter and purchasing Azul after getting home).
So, what is the challenge behind serving such a wide variety of customers and what sort of solutions have you come up with to best serve their needs?
We knew that because you have a large range of hobby interest and experience, you need an appropriate range of games to serve those different levels. So in the beginning, we set up the library so that it had both classics and old standards like Clue and Scrabble and Connect Four, and more hardcore stuff like Agricola and Puerto Rico, and everything in between. We knew we were going to get people that wanted something that was familiar or easy or quick, just as much as we were going to get people who wanted something new to them, complex, and/or with a larger investment of time. Like any library, if you’re going to have people with varied interest or dedication, you need to have titles that appeal to that whole range.
We have found that on the restaurant side of things, including more gluten-free and vegan items (particularly because this is Los Angeles) has been important. I remember after a couple months of selling our chocolate-covered Oreos stuffed with peanut butter or cookie dough that we get through our bakery vendor, a customer told me that the cookie companies had recently started selling gluten-free Oreos. So after a discussion with our bakery partner, we figured out a way to include them, and we had them in the bakery case a week later.
Is it a requirement for some of your staff to be board gamers? If so, how do you figure out that kind of info during the hiring process? Second, what do you think are the most valuable traits for a staff to have at a board game cafe?
No, not a requirement – but that question usually comes up in the interview process. We have had great luck with hiring when it comes to gamers, as well as not-so-great luck. So being interested in board games isn’t enough to get a job – you need to be able to do what needs to be done during the shift, and that’s everything from taking orders and liaising with the kitchen, to making and serving drinks, to keeping things clean and tidy, to cleaning the restrooms, to wiping down and busing tables, and everything that any other normal cafe employee would do. Will it help when a customer asks if you know how many points the castles are worth for the farmers when you do your end scoring for Carcassonne? Sure, but it’s not a requirement. I remember in an interview with a really good former employee, he looked at all the games and said, “do I have to know anything about all these?” He was genuinely concerned walking into this whole new world as a neophyte whose last game played was probably Monopoly at the age of ten. So we always tell people that you learn about it just by being around it – you get a sense of what people play, what is popular, where it is on the shelves, etc. so you pick it up through “osmosis.” And very often, non-gamer employees become gamers just by being around it all the time. Regarding the former hire who asked about the games, within three months of hiring, he was extremely well-versed in it; he even ended up trying D&D after a year of hearing about it and seeing it played.
For those new to the concept of a board game cafe, could you share what are the primary ways for the cafe to earn revenue?
Though there is a cover charge per-person to play, the majority of the revenue (not to mention the effort and expense that come with it) is the food and drink aspect of it. Some other cafes have a retail element, selling board games and all that, but we don’t – an additional revenue stream, sure, but for us it’s a matter of resources (management, space, capital, etc.)
Within the food and drink category, having a beer and wine license is a great revenue stream – however, it’s a lot of setup and front-end expense for the approvals and permitting, not to mention the annual expenses involved for the license, insurance, etc. It’s not as easy as putting a sign out on the sidewalk that says, “Beer here,” and then watching the money roll in.
Have there been any foods that got taken off the menu because it just didn't work out? What are the most popular foods?
In the beginning we had a pesto pizza that needed to be cooked at a substantially different temperature than all the other pizzas, so during any particularly busy times, fluctuating the oven temperatures up and down and working that into the line of food items to be cooked was too much; it just created too many delays. Interestingly enough, we just recently added a chicken and pesto pizza as a special item on the menu – this time with a pesto that we’ve made especially so that it can be cooked without tweaking the oven temperature. We used to get a root beer float flavored cake through our bakery partner – some weeks we would sell a bunch of slices, while other weeks it wouldn’t move at all. As far as specials, we have had one special sandwich which was so popular that we folded it into the main menu – that one is called the Ace of Clubs, a chicken breast style sandwich with bacon and honey mustard. Some specials last longer than others – if one is particularly popular, it might be with us longer than one that undersells. Our most popular sandwich is the roast beef and cheddar one, with Sriracha mayo – people just love their Sriracha. We sell so many more of those compared to the others.
Food and board games--while a great combo for entertainment, not so much for keeping the games pristine, I'd imagine. What are some ways you keep maintenance of your games? How often do you have to get replacements for a game?
In any business like this, you’re going to have some loss and damage – it’s just a matter of fact. We always say it’s like a plate chipping or a glass cracking. You just have to accept it’s the cost of doing business.
You can certainly mitigate it – sometimes there are situations where you need to prevent someone from using the rulebook as a coaster for their coffee cup, or something like that. And certain games you can prolong the shelf life by taking preventive measures to wear and tear – games that involve a lot of card shuffling can be helped by using card sleeves, popular games can have certain components replaced with ones that are more durable, etc. Often we’ll laminate game rules if they need to be reprinted and replaced - if the game is so popular that it is being completely replaced, we’ll laminate the rulebook on the new copy. We have a list of popular games that I often reference and do a “welfare check” on – if the components are getting really worn, or if the board is splitting or the box is crumbling and all that, we’ll replace them outright. We’ve had at least a dozen copies of Catan on the shelves over the years, it’s played so often. I’m usually keeping an eye on that, while Terry is usually adding stuff to the shelves – new titles, Kickstarter stuff, etc.
We have a little bowl up at the service counter for lost pieces – orphaned stuff found on tables or under chairs that we might not recognize or realize to which games they belong. We go through it every week or so, and try to repatriate as many as we can. Some stuff has been in there for what feels like years; with over 1500 games in the library, it’s hard to remember which tokens or bits or coins go with which.
The upside to replacing games is that you can then use the old salvageable pieces. If you toss out a copy of Ticket to Ride because the board is split into four pieces, the cards are scratched up, and the rulebook is in tatters, you can still salvage those little plastic trains. So now you have a supply of extra bits for when something goes missing or counts come up short – because that’s always going to happen. We have tons of that stuff – spare cars for Life, extra beads for Mancala, little plastic organs for Operation, dice and sand timers, etc. (Operation is the worst offender in this regard – the writers cramp pencil and the spare ribs are frequent losses, in addition to the lead pipe from Clue.) If you’ve replaced these games multiple times over, you have all the extra bits on hand from prior copies that can come in handy.
What are some of the most popular/frequently played games among your customers and how do you decide how many duplicate copies you need?
The old standards and family favorites that we all grew up playing – Monopoly, Clue, Sorry, Trouble, Life, Checkers, Connect Four, Guess Who, Scrabble – and part of that is familiarity and nostalgia. As for the newer wave of hobby and strategy games, it’s titles like Catan, Ticket to Ride, Pandemic, Dominion – these are the heavy hitters. King of Tokyo, Splendor, Carcassonne, and Betrayal at House on the Hill, too. Nearly all of these more recent titles are in their own special section of “frequent flyers” on the shelves.
Having duplicate copies often presents a new set of problems – especially when you find a piece or card from the game and now have to figure out which copy it belongs to. For some games it won’t matter – if you have one extra dollar bill in one of the copies of Monopoly, it won’t be a make-or-break game-losing situation – but with a copy of the Park Place deed from Monopoly or the Chicago city card from Pandemic, you’re going to be opening each copy of the game until you find which one has it missing. For games where specific components have specific counts – Catan with its roads and settlements and cities, Pandemic with its four disease cubes and location cards, Ticket to Ride with its sets of trains, etc. - it can throw the game off.
Multiple copies also means you need to make sure they’re not getting “merged.” We used to have two copies of the base game for Dominion, but people were constantly pulling both copies off the shelf, pulling cards from both, mixing them together, and then putting them all back in just one box without separating them out; so we would have one copy of Dominion with all the estates and provinces and currency cards, and another set without any of them. We would sit down and recount everything and split out the sets, only to find that it would happen again a couple of weeks later, and we would have to do it all over again. For each of our copies of Catan, we included the 5-to-6 player expansion, and we thought we wouldn’t have this problem because we tagged them in multiple places on the box that the game already included the 5-to-6 player expansion. But we would still find that people would grab both copies off the shelf, mix them both together, and we would have one copy with all the cards and bits, and another copy missing them. So eventually we just gave up on it, and now have a single of Catan. Even with games like Ticket to Ride where you might not have duplicates but different editions (with different maps or cards) we find that they get jumbled up sometimes – we often find a ruleset for TTR Europe in the wrong box, or a Dominion expansion ruleset in the box for the base game. It’s just unavoidable, but we try to prevent it as best we can, and that sometimes means not having as many duplicates as we would like.
With games like Pandemic and TTR, I often find myself suggesting for customers to count their trains or cubes before they’ve started, because running out of them triggers game endings or certain conditions. And also, because I have spares at hand, I can replace them and get the counts back to where they need to be so that the customers can play them correctly and not at a deficit. There was one group last year that had a copy of Pandemic that was short six blue cubes, and when we found out and replaced them, it made a world of difference to their next attempt at the game.
As far as maintenance, we do checks on certain games frequently to make sure they’re all good – do the copies of Clue have all the right cards, as well as the score sheets and pens? Does each copy of Yahtzee have five dice? And I have worked my way through a huge portion of the library from time to time doing a “quality control” check – making sure everything is there, and seeing if anything might need to be replaced, repairing boxes, and all that.
That honestly sounds like a nightmare to deal with! (Especially the bit about customers combining multiple copies).
To add one more question about inventory, I noticed that your customers can suggest new games to add into your collection through the website. What are some of the most frequently requested titles? Do you keep on a lookout for any trending games on Kickstarter?
As mentioned before, Terry has his ear to the ground on new and Kickstarter stuff, moreso than I do. He’s more of the Acquisitions Department of the games, whereas I’m the Maintenance Department. Sometimes we get requests for games that we know won’t get played very often, and that their cost would make it prohibitive for us having them on the shelves. We’d love to have everything, but we have budget and spatial limitations. If we hear enough about a game or hear a lot of people talking about it, we’ll check it out and see if it will work for our cafe. Games recently added that we’ve heard requests for include Cryptid and a game themed to the movie Jaws.
What are some of your favorite light/medium/heavy weight games that you'd love to see your customers playing more often?
There are certain games that I’m always happy to see hit the table, because I think they’re terrific games, but sadly they don’t see much table time. I’m downright ecstatic when a group plays Acquire – because I think it’s fantastic and more people should know it and try it and be aware of just how much it influenced modern gaming. I’m always recommending Tammany Hall, Chinatown, and Thurn & Taxis, because I feel like they should get more play. (Chinatown does okay, and every group who has tried it on our recommendation has loved it.) The trick is that sometimes there are some games that aren’t “sexy” - i.e. things like Acquire or Thurn & Taxis don’t have gorgeous boxes with lush components and thousands of shiny bits and miniatures, but they are really solid games. Or the theme may be something off-putting – Bohnanza is a fantastic game which scales well from three to seven players, but it’s about farming, raising, trading and selling beans. On paper it sounds almost ridiculous, but the gameplay is great and for the groups who have tried it on our recommendations, they’ve loved it.
The flip side to that is that sometimes a game is “too sexy” - a person might grab the game off the shelves because it looks great (beautiful box art, tons of components, dripping with theme), but they might not realize how complex or involving it is, because they’re just evaluating it based on the box and not the game – they are expecting it to be as easy as Risk. The game might have a gorgeous cover of barbarians slaying goblins in some dark subterranean cavern and it might look fun and fast-paced, but when they take out the twenty-page rulebook, their eyes glaze over. So they put it away and then play Taboo, which is fine; nothing wrong with Taboo.
Ultimately we never judge you based on the game you’re playing – we might joke with customers about certain games (“oh, you guys are actually playing the Doctor Ruth game?”), but when it comes down to it, there’s no wrong answer to what you want to play. If you want to come to the cafe and play Trouble or Chutes & Ladders and have fun, that’s just as valid as coming to play Castles of Burgundy or Wingspan or Scythe. Everyone has a different idea of fun when it comes to this, so there’s no “wrong answer” to that question.
Since launch, what are some major adjustments that the cafe has gone through to solve any recurring issues?
About a year of operating, we started directly seating people during the busy times. Usually Friday afternoon through Sunday night, but sometimes we do it on the busy weeknights, too, especially during the summer months. It requires a great deal more effort on the front end than self-seating, but it allows us to maximize the number of people in the cafe and prevents us having to shift people from table to table as frequently as before we did it once things got busy. Much like in any restaurant, a host or hostess seats people, and we need to do so even more because we don’t turn tables like a normal restaurant. Plus it avoids a group of five people having to stand around on the waitlist because a group of two people decided they want to camp at a five-seat table, when there’s an empty two-seat table right next to them. We can’t seat the five people at the two-top table, so we would have to go through the motions of shifting them. Granted we have to do this from time to time, as the room fluctuates, but seating people during the busy days and evenings helps mitigate that and manage customer expectations. On a slow night, it’s fine for a couple to be at a four-seater, but on a busy Saturday night, we need to be able to seat according to group size.
What sort of impact (if any at all) has the opening of your cafe had on the community, including the local game stores?
This is a hard question to answer, especially not having an outside or neutral perspective on it. I do recall talking with one of the owners of Emerald Knights Comics & Games ages ago when we first opened, and we were musing over the fact that despite a huge overlap of interests of both of our clienteles, we weren’t in direct competition – since we don’t sell games while they do, and they don’t sell food and coffee while we do. We both offer venues in which to play and experience and share in the hobby, but our revenue streams are very different.
What was the most memorable event that your cafe has hosted?
We’ve done a New Years Eve event every year, and those are always great; and we usually do something for Tabletop Day every year, with giveaways and prizes. Those are ticketed events, and they usually sell out. We see a lot of regulars at them. We’ve had the tail end of a wedding reception for one group; the couple got married, bought out a movie theater for a movie for all their guests, then ended their night at our location playing boardgames, so that was pretty unique. We’ve had different groups do corporate or team building events for their employees. In our first year, we co-hosted a fundraiser event in coordination with the designer of Pandemic, to raise money for Doctors Without Borders. That was pretty cool, to see eleven different games of Pandemic going on at the same moment in the cafe!
What has been the most rewarding/fun part of running the cafe?
When we look around on a busy night, when we are at capacity and everyone is having a great time, and no one is on their phones or devices. That’s pretty extraordinary – I remember being stunned by it on one of our first Saturdays when we opened. To see nearly a hundred people all sharing the same fun in different ways, and not one person was texting or surfing on their phone. That was great. And to see regulars who have visited us since those first days, coming back year after year, that’s a good feeling too. We’ve had people who came for first dates, who are now married and have children – so being an albeit small part of their life story, that’s great too.
And lastly, are there any exciting developments in the works you would like to share with us?
We’re always analyzing it and examining it from different angles to see how we can improve. For anyone interested in news, we recommend subscribing to our social media accounts – that’s where you’ll get the latest when it comes to events and new food or drink specials and any other developments on the horizon.
Thank you Robert for the great insight into the world of running a board game cafe! Next time when I visit, I think I'll be extra courteous and buy more food and drinks :)
Readers, here are some additional info on GameHaus Cafe:
- Website: https://gamehauscafe.com/
- Social Media: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram
- Board Game Collection: https://www.boardgamegeek.com/collection/user/GameHausCafe
- Address: 1800 S Brand Blvd #107, Glendale, CA 91204
Thanks for the read as always and you can find more of my interviews here!
ProtoATL is a game event dedicated to marketing unsigned games and teaching new designers about the business of board games. We are dedicated to getting be best marketable games to the publishers and have had great success helping designers find publishers for their games. We also offer a series of seminars for both veteran and new game designers The event is free for publishers and we cultivate an atmosphere of camaraderie and fun with special events such as escape rooms and publisher diners.
By Mr. Saint.
I have a confession. I said in our Spirit Island Review that one could easily get dozens of plays out of the base game before looking to expansions. Yet, when I had the opportunity to late-pledge on Kickstarter for Spirit Island’s latest expansion, Jagged Earth, I jumped at the chance with only a handful of games of vanilla Spirit Island completed. It didn’t take many plays for me to fall in love with the base game, so there was no chance I was going to miss out on its first big-box expansion. As an act of contrition, I’ll play solo against Level 6 England on the Thematic Map later. But for now, Spirit Island: Jagged Earth has arrived. And I’m here to tell you, it might just be the new bar by which I measure other board game expansions.
Included in Spirit Island: Jagged Earth are ten new Spirits, two new adversaries, three new scenarios, and dozens of new major and minor power cards. There are enough additional components included to allow Spirit Island to be played by up to six players (including orange presence discs, the superior player color that was noticeably missing from the base game). Honestly, with the amount of content on offer here, if they had added a couple of additional island boards and invader pieces, Jagged Earth could have been a standalone expansion instead of requiring the base game.
Events and tokens make a return from the Branch and Claw expansion. For those unfamiliar with Spirit Island’s first expansion, events add an extra step to the Invader Phase, after any Blighted Island effects and before Fear cards are resolved. Most Event cards key off the status of conflict on the island, increasing in severity (sometimes to the invaders’ benefit, other times for the Spirits) based on things like the health of the island, the current terror level, the stage of the invader deck, etc. Some ask the players to collectively make a choice, and these are often closely balanced enough that there usually isn’t a clear right answer. Events serve to make the Invader Phase less predictable, and they were a bit of a divisive addition to the game when Branch and Claw came out, as many people disliked adding variance to the otherwise predictable nature of the island’s antagonists. Personally, I love the dash of added uncertainty the Event cards provide and would never play without them.
There are five types of tokens that can be added to lands with various effects: beasts, disease, strife, wilds, and badlands (badlands being the new token type added in Jagged Earth). Beasts have no intrinsic ability, but instead key off many power cards and events. Disease prevents the next build in a given land and then is discarded. Similarly, wilds prevent the next explore in a land and then are discarded. Strife affects individual invaders rather than an entire land, and reduces that specific invader’s damage to zero the next time it would deal damage. Badlands, the new addition, represent areas that have become inhospitable to human life. When invaders or Dahan would take damage in a land that contains badlands, that damage is increased by one.
The two new Adversaries, the Tsardom of Russia and the Habsburg Monarchy, feel refreshingly different from Spirit Island’s previously introduced enemies. The Tsardom has a big-game hunter vibe, sending explorers into lands to destroy beast tokens and ending the game early if they overhunt the island. Conversely, the Habsburg Monarchy represents a livestock colony, forsaking the establishment of cities for heartier rural towns. They’re a new challenge that I’m looking forward to exploring repeatedly.
The island has constantly been under assault from various invaders since the conflict began. Every successful defense simply brings a new challenger, eager to colonize the Spirits’ bountiful home. It’s no surprise then, that the Spirits from Jagged Earth feel a bit harsher. They’ve become battle hardened over the years through countless campaigns and have learned that there is no place for passivity or capitulation in their continuing war against the invaders. The conflict has become protracted, and the attitudes of many of the new Spirits reflect a darker reality of constant, tenuous survival.
Take Stone’s Unyielding Defiance, in contrast with Vital Strength of the Earth (from the base game). Where Vital Strength of the Earth was primarily concerned with preserving the land and healing its wounds, Stone’s Unyielding Defiance is less concerned with defending the island directly. Rather, Stone’s Unyielding Defiance damages the invaders in retribution as they attempt to harm the land. It’s like Batman played by Ben Affleck versus his portrayal by Christian Bale. Same character, very different feel.
Each of the ten new Spirits is thematically on point, and mechanically very different from any other Spirit. Many Minds Move as One unsettles invaders with swarms of smaller animals, generating fear and pushing them out of lands. If you don’t involuntarily shudder at the name and art of Many Mind’s unique power card, “A Dreadful Tide of Scurrying Flesh”, you’re made of sterner stuff than I. The polar opposite of Ocean’s Hungry Grasp, Lure of the Deep Wilderness tempts invaders ever further inland, where they mysteriously disappear and are “never heard from again” (the name of one of Lure’s innate powers). The new Spirits are a joy to explore, and are absolutely the highlight of the expansion for me.
It’s great to see Spirit Island’s designer, Eric Reuss, really flex his design muscles with some of the new Spirits. The unique power cards for Fractured Days Split the Sky had to use a smaller font because of their complexity. Playing as Shroud of Silent Mist was the first time I actually used the recommended method for tracking damage on invaders (see page 15 of the base game rulebook). Starlight Seeks Its Form is an altogether unique design: a build-your-own Spirit. Jagged Earth pushes the core design of Spirit Island to its limits, and I am here for it!
The above point results in my one caveat for unqualified recommendation of Spirit Island: Jagged Earth. Spirit Island is already a complex game, and Jagged Earth was very much made with the enthusiast in mind. If base Spirit Island is already a stretch for your complexity comfort level, Jagged Earth may overwhelm. Even Mrs. Saint and I, who have played Spirit Island (with Branch and Claw integrated) many times before this expansion, noticed our average playtime increase with the added complexities brought by Jagged Earth (from approximately two hour games to around two and a half hours).
There are no low complexity Spirits in Jagged Earth. Quite the opposite in fact, Jagged Earth contains a set of Aspect Cards, which make changes to the special rules and/or innate powers of the low complexity Spirits from the base game. The majority of these Aspect Cards increase the complexity of the Spirits that they alter. They are a welcome addition for a Spirit Island aficionado such as myself, enticing me to revisit Spirits I haven’t had much interest in playing recently.
Spirit Island: Jagged Earth is a wonder. The base game of Spirit Island contained enough content for dozens of plays, but combined with Jagged Earth, it is not an exaggeration to state that I could see a triple digit play count before Spirit Island started to feel stale. In addition to everything we’ve already covered, Jagged Earth’s rulebook includes six pages worth of variant play options. These include things like alternative island layouts, balancing the game to play with a larger island, and playing against two adversaries simultaneously. This expansion adds an unparalleled amount of new content, and Eric Reuss and Greater than Games should be proud of what they have accomplished with Spirit Island: Jagged Earth. If you’re a fan of the base game, and the added depth and complexity aren’t deal breakers, then you should put Spirit Island: Jagged Earth at the top of your wishlist. It’s that good.
If you enjoyed this post, please check out the review with more images on our website: www.gamingwiththesaints.com, and be sure to follow us on Twitter to get updates on when new content is released @Saint_Gamers.
(This review was originally published on our blog . Two Moms Game. Follow the link to read it in it's original, recommended format).
Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization
A card drafting and resource management, tableau building civilization game for 2-4 players
Published by Czech Games Edition
We couldn’t start reviewing games without hitting one of our favorite brain-busting games – Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization. This is a Euro-style civilization building game where players must balance creating both a resource/technology/military engine while managing a card deck through drafting and card play.
Play begins with your civilization in the Greco-Roman Age of Antiquity and progresses through the history of the largely Western/Euro-centric world and into the Modern Era. In this review we’ll talk about the new (2015) release of the base game and the New Leaders and Wonders expansion.
Through the Ages is, at its heart, a card game. Sure, there are a series of individual boards that keep track of points and various game mechanics, but the soul of the game lies in drafting, managing, and playing cards to create an engine that progresses your civilization through history. Players take a number of actions during the course of a turn to try to advance their civilization by way of culture, science, and military tracts from the Age of Antiquity to the Modern Era. On their first turn of the game, players only take cards from the card row based on turn order. The remainder of the turns go as follows:
1. Reset the Card Row
In the base game, there is one board for cards that is renewed at the start of every turn. With the expansion, there is a game variant where specialty cards called “Leaders” and “Wonders” are displayed to give players a heads-up for what’s coming later in the game (green and purple card rows in the image).
2. Political Phase
Put an event or territory into the future events deck.
Flip over an event from the current events deck and execute.
Play an aggression
Propose/cancel pact (3+ player games only)
Players choose based on the number of actions they have available. They may be taken in any order – do not need to do all civil actions before taking military actions
Civil Actions – Take a number of actions based on government type and card bonuses. All actions have inherent cost of 1 unless otherwise noted.
Draft cards from card row
Cost 1-3 actions
Leaders (green) – give special abilities or scoring opportunities
Action cards (yellow) – one time bonus
Tech (blue, gray, red, brown, orange) – ongoing bonuses and scoring
Wonders (purple) – ongoing bonuses and scoring
Play card from hand
Complete a stage of wonder
Change government peacefully
Change government via revolution
Military Actions – Take a number of actions based on government type and card bonuses. All actions have inherent cost of 1 unless otherwise noted.
Build military unit
Upgrade military Unit
Disband military unit
Play tactics card
Copy tactics card of another player
4. End of Turn Wrap-Up
This is where you move a million things around – pay special attention to the end-of-turn instructions on the player mat.
Discard excess military cards
Score culture and science points
Check for corruption
Check for starvation
Draw military cards, if applicable
What do we think?
First, the bad. Through the Ages is a nuanced game with many details players must manage and pay attention to throughout the game. It can come off as disjointed, overly complicated, and fiddly. It is not kind to new players and there will be an obvious experience gap between new players and those who have played before. But that’s also part of what makes it fun for us.
Now the good! As you play the game, the actions and game sequence come together in a cohesive flow that sucks you in. The game demands your total attention and becomes an engrossing experience. If sometimes you like playing a game in 80% silence as you both are wrapped up in your heads and only emerge for brief conflict, this is for you! The first time we played, Emily didn’t speak for nearly the entire game and stared at the table with a very serious expression. Turns out, she was having the time of her life.
Through the Ages has a number of unique elements that both complicate the game and make it fascinating from a strategy perspective. There are many different strategies to try, and the game is balanced enough that we haven’t found one overpowering “best” strategy.
One interesting element are the culture, science, and military tracks which act as a scale to determine each player’s resources (science and military) or points (culture). Players’ individual positions on each track can be modified by gaining/playing specific cards or through management of a player’s engine. At the end of each round, players gain culture points based on their position on this track and their culture point total at the end of the game determines the winner. Therefore, balancing the acquisition of resources (science), military, and points (culture) is a delicate and difficult procedure and the success of different strategies can vary widely by what the other players are doing.
Corruption and uprisings are other interesting concepts, as they limit what players can do with their own resource engines. Build up more resources than you can handle and you get corruption penalties. Forget to keep your population happy and they become unruly and refuse to work.
In the two-player version, the military element is less important (but we are both conflict avoidant players). Typically, one of us tries to overpower the other, we both balance out to be nearly equal in strength, and then we abandon the effort to focus on other things. In games with more than 2 players, military becomes much more important.
One last bad thing: We do have a thematic complaint that we know has been raised previously about this game being incredibly male and Euro-centric. It does a better job than similar games at avoiding blatant whitewashing of history (lookin’ at you, Maricaibo), but when the bar is on the ground it’s not that hard to raise it.
If a game is supposed to walk players “through the ages” and include historical leaders and events from all over the world, it can’t be so…white and male. Even with the addition of a couple (white) women – you could maybe argue about Cleopatra being Egyptian though she was ethnically Greek, but that’s missing the point – and a few (male) POC leaders in the new Leaders and Wonders expansion, this game is still severely lacking in diversity. We aren’t really history buffs in general (does watching Drunk History count?), but we’re nearly certain there wasn’t a 2:1 ratio of white men to literally everyone else (and I’m pretty sure POC women existed throughout history as well). There are a TON of great leaders, innovators, etc. throughout history who could have been chosen, so it’s definitely not too much to ask that game designers make more of an effort.
Compared to similarly themed games, Through the Ages does take tiny baby steps in the right direction, but we’d ask that the industry please take bigger steps.
This is a hard one to rate for me. I really enjoy the card row and the engine building aspects, but man am I bad at this game. I have only ever won once, on our first full playthrough…a full 4 years ago. We’ve played 10+ times and no wins for me.
It’s a good game, but it is long and I’m not sure I have the patience or the planning skills required to really excel at this game. No matter how well I think I set myself up with an early engine, I still end up getting absolutely ROCKED by Emily about 2/3rds of the way through. Like, man, I just want to win once then I will live in peace.
One big con for Through the Ages is the player mats. They are thin and not dual layered so the cubes slide everywhere. Literally, every time I lean forward to take card, or you know play the game, I bump the pieces. I call it the “boob bump”. Yep. You read that right. The height of our current table means that anytime I lean over all my tokens get pushed up and around by my chest. Gee thanks, I really needed the reminder they are there.
When this happens, the proper Minnesotan response is "Ope"
I have played the app version many times and for me, the app wins out every time. The ability to have the app manage all the fiddly, time consuming bits while I just sit back and play is wonderful. Admittedly, I play the app on easy mode (I just want win every now and then, okay?) and I am not always the best at paying attention to what the AI does on it’s turn. BUT it is still better than the the physical game.
Can you more than love a game? I adore this one and I can’t put my finger exactly on why I feel so strongly. It might be the great 2-player balance of the new release, the complex strategy, or the fact that I absolutely crush Sarah. Every. Single. Time.
See…the trick is the military. Don’t tell Sarah, but when she ignores military, I can go nuts building an engine and I have that figured out for this game so that I can do it very quickly. Above we said that military isn’t as big of a thing in 2-player, and it isn’t. But ignoring it completely means you’re basically playing a game by yourself, and whoever plays it better wins. When Sarah goes harder on military, I’m forced to as well or risk losing a ton of resources, workers, points, etc. and I can’t build up my engine as quickly.
Fun fact, the first time we played the original Through the Ages it took us about 4 hours to learn and play the intro game. For first time players, especially if no one has played before, this is a definite weekend activity unless you’re a normal person and can stay up later than 10pm (don’t judge us, the kiddos wake up at 5:30am).
CGE and Vlaada Chvátil games tend to have some of the best written and easy to understand rulebooks, and this one is no exception. The biggest complaint is the size, it’s like reading a novel, but that’s typical of a game this heavy.
Most experienced gamers should have no problem learning the game from the rulebook. If reading rules isn’t your thing, there are numerous “how to play” videos available online, including directly from CGE.
Through the Ages is a game that rewards repeated plays. With more plays comes an understanding of which cards are available when and how to use them. One of the biggest barriers, and in-game surprises, is not understanding when your cards or leader become antiquated. Players can lose significant ground by not planning for antiquated cards correctly. As we played more, we quickly became much better at understanding this concept.
Play Time, Best Number of Players
We play this almost exclusively at 2 players and can generally play through the full game in about 2 hours. Newer players and those of us that need a rules refresher before games should plan on 2.5-3 hours. Plan on an additional 60 minutes or so for each additional player. Setup/takedown for this game is also pretty long if you didn’t contain your cards right and they’re all mixed up in the box because you accidentally turned it upside down, *Emily*.
Through the Ages is a commitment with at least a 2 hour play time, not including set up and tear down. It’s also complicated enough that multiple interruptions throughout the game can make it very difficult to play, so not a good one for when the kids might interrupt to show you a dinosaur 400 times. The time commitment puts this in the weekend night game or kiddos are at a sleepover with Nana category.
4: Likely to play again (Emily would give it a 5, Sarah a 3)
*See our rating scale on our site
Is Through the Ages worth the barrier to entry? Definitely. Yes, repeated plays and familiarity are rewarded, but familiarity comes quickly as the many moving parts of the game meld together into cohesion that makes sense. This familiarity drives a desire to keep playing and to keep improving once you start understanding how each card works. We really like the emphasis on long-term strategy planning. It’s often favorable to make sacrifices in the early game in order to gain points or abilities that pay off much later, and so each turn you have to keep the bigger picture in mind.
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