Friday 27 November 2020

boardgaming in photos: Race for the Galaxy, Le Havre

7 Nov 2020. My wife Michelle and I brought out Race for the Galaxy again, after more than 3 years of having stopped playing. This used to be our spouse game and we played our copy so much that the card edges frayed. I was a little surprised we were a little fuzzy on some rules. I had to look up the rule book. It felt good revisiting this game which was such a staple.  

8 Nov 2020. We brought out Le Havre too. This is a 2-player game setup. We don't use the standard way of using the game board. The many warehouse spaces on the board are meant for the many types of resources in the game. However we use a compartmentalised box for the resources, so we don't need these warehouse spaces. We use them for other stuff. 

The three columns of cards in the centre are the buildings. Normally the spaces for them are just those three yellow bordered construction sites. If we use just those spaces, the columns of cards will spill beyond the game board across the top edge. Now that we have extra space, the columns can be shifted down and placed fully on the board. 

Both during play and storage we use this compartmentalised box for the resources. This is very convenient and saves much trouble, certainly better than storing them in individual ziplock bags. 

The round tiles are not yet revealed at the start of the game. Every turn, the round tiles determine which offer spaces will get more resources. There is a row of offer spaces along the bottom of the game board. On a player's turn, he has only two options, and one of them is to collect all resources on an offer space. As resources pile up on an offer space, it becomes more and more tempting. 

This was still early in our game. Both of us had only constructed or bought three buildings each. Both of us already needed to take loans. The banks in Le Havre are kind. They only charge you a flat $1 interest once a round, no matter how much you have borrowed. 

These were Michelle's buildings. She had both the fishery and the smokehouse, which was a good combination in the early game. It helped with producing food and thus with the feeding phase of every round. She also had both the clay mound and the brickworks. This too was a good combination. Brick production is important because in the second half of the game, most buildings require bricks. 

In Le Havre, not owning a building doesn't stop you from using it. You can still use the building, just that you need to pay a small fee. The main benefit of winning the race to construct a certain building is the point value of the building. The secondary benefit is you get to use it for free, and you receive a fee when others use it. 

These were my buildings. In the early game I did not manage to grab any particularly important building. The marketplace did help me somewhat. It was handy to be able to take three different resources at one go, at least in the early game. One important building I managed to construct was the wharf. Building ships is important in this game. They reduce the food you need to pay at the end of every round. The food requirement keeps increasing. Without ships you will be under tremendous pressure. When you don't have enough food, you pay cash, and if you run out of cash, you take loans. When we played, I remembered the importance of ships and made sure I built them as soon as I could. Even though my first wooden ship only reduced the food requirement by four, it helped. The iron ships I built later helped even more. Michelle was late in building ships, and that cost her much food. 

We placed the matching resources on the round tiles in preparation for future turns. When we had downtime, we did such preparation to help us play quickly and smoothly. 

This was near game end. All buildings on the board had been constructed, leaving the three vacant construction sites. By now Michelle had built some ships, so the feeding phase was not as painful anymore. I had repaid all my loans, which was a relief. Now I was preparing to build the luxury liners which would become available in the final few rounds. Luxury liners were worth many points, but they required much steel, and making steel was a major engineering effort. 

By the end of the game, I purchased most of the buildings which belonged to the city. I had surplus cash, and the victory point values of most of these buildings were the same as their costs, so buying them was no loss to me. The city only had one building left, on the right side of this photo. I didn't buy it because the victory point value was lower than the cost. 

Some buildings score points based on the number of buildings of specific types that you own. So when you have surplus cash, it is good to buy up city buildings. You may earn some entrance fees if your opponents decide to use these buildings. You also save entrance fees if you yourself decide to use them. 

Friday 20 November 2020

passing time: Race for the Galaxy, Splendor challenges, Star Realm challenges

I recently booted up Race for the Galaxy on the iPad and played against AI's. It's convenient. A good way to pass time. It's moderately challenging. The AI's are decent. When this iOS version of Race for the Galaxy was in open beta, I played a lot of it. After it launched and I bought it, I played much less. I had had my fill during the open beta. The physical game used to be the most played game of Michelle and I. We rarely play it now. Playing the electronic version is brisk. You save so much time shuffling cards, especially compared to playing the physical version with all three expansions of the first arc. If you are bored and can't find opponents, this is a good way to pass time. 

I went back to play some Splendor challenges. These are single player challenges with various rule tweaks. Each challenge comes with a short story based on real history, but it's just flavouring and doesn't have much to do with actual gameplay. 

Some challenges have pre-set decks with cards arranged in a specific order. These are like puzzles to be solved. Some challenges have time limits, e.g. 2.5 minutes. I don't like these because I prefer to play at leisure. Also my iPad is old and slow, which means I'm playing at a handicap. There's a short pause between turns. 

In some challenges, gems which are used are permanently discarded. You need to be extra careful with these and build up your production capacity before you use up your gems. Otherwise you won't survive. 

The main menu interface of the challenges section looks like this. Each set of challenges contains six of them, and is represented as a location on the globe. I started from the left, and have completed three sets now. 

I revisited the challenges in Star Realms too. I am still actively playing Star Realms. I played some of the challenges quite some time ago. I probably completed one or two chapters then. Now I am starting from the beginning again, and am up to Chapter 3 so far. I'm not sure how far I'll go this time. I might skip many chapters and jump straight to the newest ones. I recently purchased the Frontiers expansion, so I'm interested to play with the new cards. 

The Star Realms challenges are not easy to beat. It often takes me multiple attempts to complete a challenge, and I'm only playing on normal mode, not hard mode. Maybe it's a skill problem...

In the challenges, the AI usually gets some advantage. I find that the AI ramps up its attack power very quickly. Perhaps this is something I should learn from it.

Wednesday 18 November 2020

Kickstarter: Reckless Sloths (2 days to go)

The Kickstarter campaign for Reckless Sloths, by Sindri Leví Ingason from Iceland, ends 20 Nov 2020. It is 240% funded at the moment of this writing, so it will go to print. If you are into silly, funny games with some take-that, check it out. Yes it has noodle monsters. 

Sunday 15 November 2020

Nithrania Game in a Nutshell Youtube channel

I recently discovered the Nithrania Youtube channel by Branislav Berec. He explains games in a series called Game in a Nutshell, and they are very well done. Clear, concise, professional, well-prepared, well-written, well-edited and very importantly, no rubbish rambling like what I see in many other boardgame explanation videos and boardgame review videos. I watched his explanation of Hallertau, the new Uwe Rosenburg game.  He deserves many more subscribers and I hope many other video makers learn to make videos like how he does them.   

Saturday 14 November 2020

The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine

The Game

The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine is the 2020 Kennerspiel des Jahres winner (German Game of the Year - Expert Category). Even before it won the award, it received high praise. I recently found that it is available at BoardGameArena, So Han, Allen and I gave it a go. Since we were all non-paying users, we could only play up to Mission 10. The base game comes with 50 missions. The BGA monthly subscription is pretty reasonable - EUR 4.00, which is less than MYR 20.00 / USD 5.00. If you subscribe for one year, it's half price. Sorry I'm starting to sound like their salesman... 

The Crew is a trick-taking game. What's unusual about it is it is a cooperative game. When you play a mission, there will be a number of tasks you must complete. To win, you must complete all tasks. Once you fail at any one, you immediately lose. The deck has cards in four suits numbered 1 to 9. In addition to that, there are four rocket cards numbered 1 to 4. The trick-taking mechanism is pretty standard. At the start of a game (mission), you deal out all cards to everyone. Every round there will be one player leading - playing the first card and thus deciding the suit for that round. All other players take turns playing a card. They must follow suit if possible. Only when they don't have cards in that suit anymore then they may play any card. Among the players who have played cards in the suit of the round, whoever has played the highest card wins the trick and becomes the lead player next round. The only exception is when anyone has played a rocket card. Rockets are trumps, and if any are played, the highest rocket wins the trick. So far these mechanisms are all pretty common. 

After cards are dealt and before you start playing, a number of tasks cards are revealed. The player with Rocket 4 is the captain and will also be lead player for the first round. He must pick one task first. Everyone takes turns claiming tasks until they are all taken. There are a few types of tasks. The basic task requires a player to win a specific card, e.g. the Yellow 6. 

In this screenshot above, there were three tasks we needed to distribute - Yellow 9, Pink 8 and Pink 4. Han (top right) had the captain marker, which meant he was holding the Rocket 4. I had Pink 7 and 9, and Yellow 7 to 9, so it would be easy for me to complete those two high numbered tasks. However there were three of us playing, so each person must take exactly one task. I couldn't claim both. 

When we played we used only 3 suits, to make it more challenging. 3 players playing 4 suits tends to be easy. 

One key rule in this game is the restriction of communication. Without this the game would be too easy and would not work at all. Players are not allowed to discuss their cards. There are specific rules to allow limited communication. In the screenshot above you can see that each player has one green round token. These are communication tokens. Every game you are allowed to communicate exactly once. You'd better make good use of the opportunity. When you decide to use your communication token, you place a card from your hand face-up in front of you, and put your token on it. Where you place the token communicates some information to your teammates. If the token is placed at the top edge, it means this card is the highest numbered card you have in this particular suit, and you have other cards of this suit. E.g. if I reveal a Yellow 4 and place my token at the top edge, it means Yellow 4 is my highest Yellow, and I have one or more other smaller Yellow cards, so don't expect me to win any high Yellow cards. It would be very difficult for me to do. If the token is placed at the bottom edge, it means this is your lowest card in the suit. If the token is placed in the middle, it means this is your only card in the suit. 

At the top left of this screenshot you can see Allen had revealed a Blue 4 and placed his token at the top edge. That meant 4 was his highest Blue card. His task (the smaller card) was to win Blue 4. This was going to be challenging since 4 was a small number. On his task card, the purple 2 meant the task must be the second one to be completed. At this point the first task had been completed (by me, lower left) so the order of task completion was not a problem. Now we had to be careful so that Han and I would not accidentally win the Blue 4. 

Instead of the exact order of completion, some tasks only specify the relative order. E.g. A must be completed before B. Let's say you have four tasks, A, B, C and D. In such a situation you can complete the tasks in the order of A-B-C-D, A-C-D-B, or D-A-C-B. As long as A is before B, you are fine. Sometimes a task is required to be completed last. There are also some tasks which don't come in the form of cards. These are weird ones which have to be described in the mission briefing. Some missions further restrict communication. 

The base game has 50 missions. Generally they get harder as you progress, but the card draw does affect the difficulty, making some missions much harder or much easier than normally expected. A mission takes 5 to 10 minutes. If you sit down for a game session, you can comfortably play 5 to 10 missions. 

The Play

I don't often play trick-taking games. We were rather slow when we started off, needing some time to grasp the tactics. One key technique is getting rid of one colour as soon as you can. Once you do that you gain much freedom. Whenever a teammate leads with the colour you don't have, you can now play any card in your hand. You can allow a lower lead card of one colour to win a higher card of another colour. It is important to remember which teammate has run out of which colours, so that you fully utilise this freedom. 

The moment the cards are dealt, you already need to roughly plan how to play out your hand. You need to analyse your hand to determine how to pick tasks from the pool to maximise your chances of completing them. 

In this screenshot, my (bottom left) task was to win Yellow 9. At the top right, Han had used his communication token to tell us that he was holding Yellow 9. His task was Pink 2. Allen (top left) had communicated that he had only one Pink card - Pink 3. This was a highly useful clue, because I now knew exactly what other Pink cards Han had, Han knew exactly what I had too. 

This was the 10th mission. It came with four tasks. We had completed both the Pink tasks. The remaining two tasks were both mine (bottom left) - Yellow 6 and Blue 1. Allen had just played Yellow 4. If Han had Yellow 6 and played it, I would be able to win it by playing my Yellow 7. However he might not dare to play the Yellow 6 even if he had it, because he could not be sure I had a high Yellow card. 6 was a moderately high card. If I did not have any Yellow higher than a 6, his 6 would win the trick, and we would lose immediately. 

Playing The Crew was a fun exploration for us. It was interesting trying out what worked and what didn't for the various situations we found ourselves in. We gradually developed some unspoken rules in how we played. We overcommunicated from time to time, not intentionally, and had to catch and stop ourselves. While we played on BoardGameArena, we had video conferencing on to allow us to chat. 

The Thoughts

The Crew is certainly fresh, because it combines trick-taking and cooperative games. In a way this is like an exit room game. You are trying to solve a series of problems together. I can't say I'm a big fan. I was curious, and now that I have played it, I'm glad I have experienced it. It's that kind of game for me - I'm happy to have tried this gourmet food, but it's not something I keep going back for. Still, if I get a chance to try the harder missions I will go for it. 

Friday 13 November 2020

Kickstarter: Reckless Sloths

Sindri Leví Ingason from Iceland is running a Kickstarter project for a quirky card game about saving sloths. Whenever I hear of sloths, the first thing that comes to mind is always this sloth from the movie Zootopia.  

If you are into crazy, rowdy games, check this out: Reckless Sloths. It is already funded and will go to print. Kickstarter campaign ends 20 Nov 2020. 

Thursday 12 November 2020

webinar: Boardgames and Family Bonding

I was invited to do a webinar about boardgames by a group of entrepreneurs - 100X Learn and Earn. I introduced the more modern boardgames which are not yet mainstream, and various genres available to families. I spoke about why people play and what people get out of it. I shared some tips for people who are interested to get into boardgames. Basically stuff you likely already know if you are a follower of this blog. It was good to introduce this hobby of ours to people. Maybe I have helped create a few more boardgamers. The recording of the session is here. Start watching at the 10:30 min point. If you have friends who might be interested, share the link with them. 

Saturday 7 November 2020

boardgaming in photos: 7 Wonders Duel, Machi Koro, Twilight Struggle, Splendor, Ticket To Ride London

25 Oct 2020. Ticket To Ride: London. The COVID-19 situation in Malaysia turned bad recently and the Movement Control Order has been tightened. We try to stay home more. One upside is there are more opportunities to play boardgames with my family. 

This is a short game and the luck of the draw is significant. It's a filler-length game, so the luck factor is not an issue. At least you feel like you've done what you can to improve your chances of winning. There are meaningful decisions to be made and you do have some control.  

7 Wonders: Duel is a 2-player-only game. I played this with my wife Michelle. Although there are three ways to win, I suspect winning by victory points is the most common and also most practical. If you want to attempt the science victory, you need to work on it right from the start and you must not waver. It takes significant commitment. However, if your opponent knows you are shooting for it, he can stop you by spending some effort, but not a lot. Your efforts would come to naught. My feeling is the science victory is not a good deal. It's high-risk. The military victory is not much better. It too requires much effort and dedication, and it can be stopped without too much difficulty, as long as your opponent is paying attention. However going militaristic gets you some benefits even if you don't manage to capture your opponent's capital. You can force your opponent to lose money, and you earn points too. So it's a bit better than the science option. With the science approach, you have to collect many different science icons. This diverts you from earning Progress tokens (the big green circles), where you need to collect pairs of identical science icons. By attempting the science victory, you may have to sacrifice winning Progress tokens. Isn't that counter-intuitive?

These are cards from the second era (blue). In 7 Wonders: Duel, double turns are very important. Some wonders give you such powers. In this game you are always thinking a few steps ahead and calculating the back-and-forth card picks to see who is going to grab some highly desirable card. Being able to break the sequence can mean grabbing that crucial card you want. 

These are cards from the third era (purple). The dark purple cards are the guilds. When flipped over they show the guild card type - purple. In the photo above there are two face-down guild cards and one face-up guild card - 5th row, rightmost card. Guild cards are usually worth many victory points. The VP value depends on the player tableaus. 

One thing that helps keep the game fresh from one match to the next is the combination of wonders. There will be some variation from game to game because you will draw different wonders and you will end up picking different combinations. There is variety in the Progress tokens. There is also a slight variation in the cards. A few cards from each era are removed from play during game setup. Only a subset of guild cards are in play each game. 

29 Oct 2020. I played Machi Koro with Michelle and younger daughter Chen Rui. We used the Harbour expansion. Machi Koro is a game that both my daughters and I enjoy a lot. Michelle has played Machi Koro Legacy with us before, but she had not yet tried the original. This was her first time. 

This particular game was an epic fail for me. It was disastrous to the point of being comical. I bought many red cards, numbered 7 and 8. Red cards are attack cards. When an opponent rolls these numbers, you get to steal money from him. When rolling two dice, 7 is the most likely result. 8 has good odds too. The problem for me was, Chen Rui had this building below: 

The Publisher is an offensive card too. If you own a Publisher and you roll a 7, you steal money from all other players who have retail buildings or F&B (food and beverage) buildings. The more such buildings they have, the more money you get to steal from them. My red buildings were all F&B buildings. I had many retail buildings too. Building powers are resolved in this order: red, blue and green, purple. Whenever Chen Rui rolled a 7, it was a death knell for me. Yes, I was going to steal some of her money using my red-7 Pizza Joints, but right after that she would take all that money back, and steal more of my money using her purple-7 Publisher. I had 15 retail and F&B buildings. One reason I had so many was Michelle's purple building, the Business Centre. You use the Business Centre to swap buildings with another player. When Michelle picked my buildings, she took the Forests and the Mines, blue buildings which generated income on any player's turn, which fitted into her Furniture Factory strategy. When she gave me buildings, she gave me the outdated Bakeries which were retail buildings. Gosh, I was hammered from both left and right. 

In the early game I bought many convenience stores. They generate $3 each whenever you roll a 4. They are normally a good early investment because most early buildings only give $1. Unfortunately I kept rolling everything except 4's. I was so frustrated that my 7-Eleven's were not making me any money that I insisted on rolling one die until they started doing so. In Machi Koro, generally you want to upgrade to rolling two dice if you want to make money more efficiently. I stayed at one die due to being stubborn. My chain of 7-Eleven's not only did not help me generate income, they cost me a lot of money every time Chen Rui rolled a 7. Eventually I did roll a 4 (photo above). It only happened once in the whole game. By then it was already near game end. Well, at least I could die in peace now. 

Michelle should have won this particular game. She had built the airport, but had forgotten to use its power. The airport's power is if you forgo buying a building, you earn $10. She had certainly forgotten to claim this $10 reward more than a few times. By the time she realised it, Chen Rui had caught up to her. Eventually Chen Rui won, and she was delighted. Normally she doesn't expect to win at boardgames because she is the youngest in the family. 

A few days later we played again, this time using the other expansion Millionaire's Row. I wanted to let Michelle try different buildings. This time Chen Rui bought the Tech Start-Up early in the game. She had once used this building to soundly defeat older daughter Shee Yun and I. However this time she got confused about the mechanism and didn't use the building properly. She thought that she had to roll a 10 to be able to place $1 on the building. She could actually do it every turn regardless of die roll. By the time she rolled a 10, she could already steal money from everyone, amounting to whatever the total was on the building at that time. For a long time she didn't place any money, and she was in no hurry to upgrade to rolling two dice. She bought the Tech Start-Up very early in the game and it could have been a killer strategy. What a pity. 

28 Oct 2020. On a whim, I launched Twilight Struggle on the iPad. Playing it again reminded me of how much I admire Playdek's handiwork. Such good user interface design. The background music was highly evocative too. I only played against the AI, which was not particularly challenging. I was a little rusty, but I managed to win without too much difficulty. 

I played the USA, so the early game was slightly tough. This screenshot above was taken in Turn 2 (out of 9 Turns in the whole game). Towards the end of the Cold War, the situation became more advantageous to the USA. 

This was taken in Turn 9, the final Turn. The USA score was at 18, which meant I was 2VP away from an instant victory. Throughout the game I had been steadily securing my influence around the world. At this point I had the advantage in Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe. USSR had the advantage in Central America. We were roughly equal in South America. I established dominance in Asia and the Middle East relatively early in the game. Europe was a stalemate for most of the game. I only managed to gain an advantage in the late game. 

This was the scoring card that won me the game - Middle East Scoring. This gave me 5VP, pushing me past the 20VP threshold, thus giving me an instant win. 

30 Oct 2020. I felt bored stuck at home due to the Movement Control Order, so I dug up old games on the iPad to play. Splendor can be played in a casual manner to pass the time without taxing the brain too much. It suited my needs. This app is quite well done. It is certainly pretty. 

The AI's are not that strong though. I must admit my benchmark for whether an AI is strong is whether I can defeat it. If I can beat it, it's weak, because I'm not that good at these games I have been playing. I am rusty. Even for Splendor I had forgotten some of the rules and I worked them out as I played. I didn't mind the mediocre AI's, since I wasn't looking for intense competition. I just wanted to pass the time doing something moderately challenging and not completely brainless. 

Sunday 1 November 2020


The Game

AIEOU is a local Malaysian design, by Nicholas Hing. At first I kept thinking the game is called AEIOU (E before I). It took me a while to realise I had it wrong. The name of the game is pronounced as "Aiyo!" and not letter by letter: "A-I-E-O-U". 

AIEOU looks like an educational game, but it isn't really one. There is an educational element, but this is primarily a speed game. It works as a party game, as a casual game, and it works for children too. The game comes with four sets of rules, so it is four games in one box, a little like Spot It. The games are more different than those in Spot It though. 

The top row is the card backs. They come in different colours, with different vowels, and the vowels can be either black or white. There are three card types in the game - bronze, silver and gold - corresponding to different difficulty levels. However you can't tell the type from the card back. You can only tell it by looking at the front. The bottom row are the vowel pieces. 

These are the bronze cards. All of them have simple words missing just one vowel. The pictures on the cards are necessary, so that there is no ambiguity what the missing vowels are. C_P is missing an A and not a U. It's CAP, not CUP. The colour of the card edge indicates that these are the bronze cards. 

The silver cards are missing two or more letters. 

The gold cards are missing even more letters. Some are missing consonants in addition to vowels. TOOTHBRUSH is not only missing O and U, it is also missing B and H. The choice of card type affects the difficulty of the game. Some game modes allow using more than one card type. 

Let's look at the four game modes one by one, starting with Grab It. You set up a game by shuffling the deck and putting it face-down in the middle of the table. Put all five vowel pieces around it, leaving space for a face-up card. Your objective is to claim as many cards as possible. When a round starts, draw one card from the deck and place it face-up next to the deck. Everyone tries to identify the missing letter as quickly as possible, and grab the corresponding vowel piece. Whoever grabs the right vowel piece first wins the card. 

That's the basic idea. Now here are some complications. In the photo above, there are actually two missing letters, A and I. You need to look at the colour of the vowel of the draw deck. If it is white, you refer to the first missing letter of the word. If it is black, the last. So in this example, you should be looking at A, the first missing letter. The next complication is this. You need to consider the vowel on the card deck too, in this case an E. If the missing vowel and the vowel on the draw deck are the same, you don't race to grab the vowel piece. Instead you have to shout AIEOU (Aiyo). 

The next complication is the mistakes. If you make any mistake, i.e. grabbing the wrong vowel piece, grabbing a vowel piece when you should be shouting Aiyo, or shouting Aiyo when you should be grabbing a vowel piece, you will be penalised. You not only don't get to claim the card of the round, you also have to give up one of your cards to the winner of the round. So you have to be careful. 

In this situation above, instead of grabbing the A piece, you have to shout Aiyo to win the card. 

You play until only one card remains in the draw deck. Whoever has the most cards at that point wins the game.  

Let's look at the second game mode - Speed Spells. This is the opposite of Grab It - you want as few cards as possible. Every round one card is revealed, and everyone must identify the missing vowels as quickly as possible. Whoever is slowest is penalised. He must claim the card of the round. 

Before playing this mode, a hand of five cards - A, I, E, O, U - must be prepared for each player, assembled from unused cards. For example if you are playing with gold cards, you can use silver cards for these. The hand cards are turned face-down and shuffled. They will only be turned face-up once a round starts. Once a round concludes, they are turned face-down and shuffled again before the next round starts. 

To set up a game, a number of vowel pieces are placed on the table - one fewer than the number of players. When a round starts, a card is flipped open and placed at the centre of the table. Everyone races to identify the missing vowels. You pick them from your hand, lay them down, then grab a vowel piece (any one will do). Whoever is slowest will not have a vowel piece to grab and will thus be penalised. 

In the photo above, the word WATERMELON is missing A, E, E and O. The word is missing R too, but that's a consonant so you ignore that. E is missing twice so you ignore the second occurrence. The right way to lay out your cards is A-E-O. The player at the top left has the wrong combination and will be penalised. The player at the bottom right has the right combination but the wrong order, and will also be penalised. Here the penalty is taking extra cards, not giving away cards. 

In this photo, the word DUMBBELL is missing U, B, E and L. Ignore the consonants, so the correct combination is U-E. The player at the top left has the wrong order and will be penalised. 

The third game mode is Match'em. As preparation, you deal all cards in play equally to all players to each form a face-down deck. Place one vowel piece at the centre of the table. When a round starts, everyone flips open one card from his deck and places it in front of him, possibly covering any cards left over from previous rounds. Now you try to find a pair of cards among those just flipped over which have the exact same combination of missing vowels. If you can find such a pair, grab the vowel, then point out the pair of cards. If you are right, you claim both cards and any cards stacked below them. If you are wrong, you will be penalised. The game ends when everyone's card deck runs out. The player with the most cards wins. The face-up stacks in front of players sometimes can become quite thick, which makes the game very exciting. Everyone will be eyeing and trying to win the thick stacks. 

The fourth mode is Memory Buzz. This is a memory game instead of a speed game. You need to memorise a sequence of numbers and objects, which keeps growing. Players take turns memorising the sequence and extending the sequence. At any time, anyone may challenge the active player if he believes the active player has made a mistake. The sequence is checked, and if a mistake was indeed made, the active player is penalised and must take all face-up cards. If it turns out to be a false accusation, the challenger is penalised instead. When the deck runs out, whoever has the fewest cards wins. 

For Memory Buzz, the letters A, I, E, O, U represent the numbers 1 to 5 respectively. 

When a round starts, you flip over the top card of the deck. Using the example above, the card being flipped over is the DUMBBELL. At this time the draw deck shows an A, which represents 1. The active player must say, "One dumbbell". 

The next player now flips over another card. It is WATERMELON. The draw deck now shows A. The active player must say, "One dumbbell, one watermelon". The previous card is fully covered and you can no longer see what it is. 

The next player must say, "One dumbbell, one watermelon, four butterflies".  O is 4. 

The following player should say, "One dumbbell, one watermelon, four butterflies, four teapots". Let say he makes a mistake and says something else. Someone else challenges him. Now all the cards in the face-up stack will be examined to see whether a mistake was indeed made. Once confirmed, the active player is forced to take all these cards. 

The Play

I played the first three modes with my family. My children are secondary school students now. When I first saw the game components, I was concerned whether this was a game meant to teach primary school students English words. If so, my children would not be in the right age group. Only after reading the rules I understood that this is not a game to teach English. It is a speed game (and one memory game) and not an educational game.  It is a game of quick thinking and fast reactions, and not a game of English competency. 

Since it is a speed game, it naturally demands full attention and tends to be exciting. The penalty aspect is a key element. That is what makes you hesitate. It torments you. You can't just randomly grab a vowel piece or scream Aiyo. Due to this tension of needing to tread carefully and wanting to be fast, sometimes you hesitate for just one split second and someone else grabs that vowel piece from under your nose. You know you are right. You have the answer in your mind. But you just want to double check to make sure you are not making a mistake. It's quite funny to see people agonise over this. 

The game forces you to consider many things at once - e.g. whether the draw deck is showing a black or a white vowel, whether the missing vowel is the same one as on the draw deck. None of these elements are difficult. It is the concurrent thinking and the race element which make the game exciting. A number of variant rules are provided if you want to adjust the difficulty level.

The Thoughts

AIEOU is the type of game you'll find at boardgame cafes. It is easy to learn. It works for casual players. It is noisy and absorbing. It works well as a family game too. 

The game is easy to expand. There are only 36 each of bronze, silver and gold cards. Play a few games and you will have seen all of them. 36 is not a lot, but due to the combination of factors you need to consider when you play, it is sufficient to keep the game varied. You can't just memorize the missing vowels of each card. Still, I wish there were more. When expanding the game, the trickier aspect to consider is the balance for the Match'em mode. There needs to be a balance in the combinations of missing vowels. E.g. if only one card in the deck has the combination of A-E-U then it becomes a meaningless card because it will never match with any other card. Also there can't be too many combinations, otherwise there will be too few matches when the game is played.