Sunday 31 December 2023

my 2023

When I started this blog in 2007, I was still a salaryman. Boardgames was purely a hobby. Blogging was about capturing memories and sharing stories. Now I have left full-time employment and I am self-employed. For many years I have always considered boardgames as just a hobby. However now it has evolved to be also part of work, part of business. Tell me 10 years ago, I wouldn't have believed it. 

Designing and publishing games, starting with Dancing Queen in 2022, is just one part of it. It is not my main business. My full-time work is leadership training. I have now incorporated boardgames into my training programmes. It creates a different, memorable experience for my attendees. By engaging my attendees using giant boardgames, I convey lessons about leadership, communication and organisation culture in an impactful and memorable manner. This year, I started using Pandemic in my training programmes, and it has been very well received. This made me appreciate even more the beauty of the design. Every time I conduct a Pandemic session, there is someone who comes up to me to ask where they can buy a copy of the game. I am now planning to develop a third giant boardgame to be used for training. I have not yet decided whether to design my own or to use an existing game. My first giant boardgame was my own design.  

Giant version of Pandemic

Often when a hobby becomes work, it becomes no longer fun. I am grateful that this hasn't yet happened to me. I greatly enjoy my work and the boardgame aspects of it. 

In 2023 I played more games than 2022. That surprised me. I had thought I played less in 2023 because I have been busy with work. My records tell me otherwise. The games I have played the most of is Race for the Galaxy, which I play against AI's on the iPad. The next two are Star Realms and Ascension, both played on my phone. These three games contributed the most to the numbers, so by looking at the total number of games played, it's hard to tell whether I've played more games in person. I think I have attended fewer gaming sessions in 2023. Thankfully I still find that I have tried many new games. Of the games I have played for the first time in 2023, one that pleasantly surprised me was SCOUT

In recent years I tend to like games which bring something new to the table. I like seeing innovation and new ideas. Something I've never seen before. This is why I like trying games from Japan. They often have some crazy or nifty ideas. I enjoyed this year's Spiel des Jahres winner - Challengers! I think it is a breath of fresh air. 

Whale Riders doesn't have completely new ideas, but it is an elegant and polished design. Quite simple, yet strategic. It reminds me of the classics from the 90's and 00's.  

Faiyum's card market management aspect is a little like Power Grid. It has a deck-building element. What I like most about it is how the players have interdependencies. They are relying on one another despite being competitors trying to outdo one another in front of the Pharaoh. You have to watch what your opponents are doing and adjust your plans accordingly. No man is an island. You are part of the builders ecosystem. I like how organic the game is. 

In 2023 I tried a few popular games, but I didn't enjoy them as much as most gamers. Okay, unpopular opinion coming. I didn't like Ark Nova or Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion. Both are in the BGG top 10. Barrage didn't work for me either, and it's BGG top 50. Weather Machine is another popular game that didn't click with me. I didn't enjoy these games because I felt they didn't bring anything new to the table. I felt like I was playing just another game I had played before, with a different setting. 


Games which I found interesting and fresh include Yokai Septet and Cat in the Box. I admire these designs because they offer some innovation. I get to experience something different. To be completely honest, I don't love them. They please me intellectually but do not captivate me on a more emotional level. Still, I admire and like them, and prefer them over many other better known games. 

I enjoyed Horseless Carriage from Splotter. It very much has their signature - unforgiving and unapologetic. Not as strong as Food Chain Magnate or Indonesia, but I'm happy to own it. I need to play more. 

I'm still working my way through Ticket To Ride: Legacy. So far so good. I shall only comment after I have completed it. It's going to be in 2024. 

In 2023 I spent much time on game design and publishing. I am spending more time creating, and less time consuming. It's a different way of enjoying the boardgame hobby. I thought I must be playing fewer games this year compared to last year, and I was surprised the numbers tell me otherwise. I thought I had fewer gaming sessions, because I spent more time on designing, prototyping and playtesting. I participated in two boardgame events, Any Games and BOXCON

The Cili Padi Games banner first appeared at Any Games

Games I showed off at BOXCON (mostly prototypes)

For the first time in my life I was on national television, and it was thanks to boardgames. I was interviewed about boardgames and parenting (in Chinese). 

My 2023 game publishing project is Snow White and the Eleven Dwarfs. This is a very different game from Dancing Queen. Dancing Queen is a 2-player-only game. Despite being a microgame, it is not actually a simple game. It is tricky to learn. It is unusual. It can be difficult for non-gamers to learn by themselves. I imagine only experienced gamers will be able to quickly appreciate the nuances. Snow White is a game that needs at least 7 players, and it supports up to 18. It is a much simpler game, and casual gamers can pick it up easily. It is the kind of game you play at parties and gatherings. 

I had hoped to release the game in December, but the progress was slower than I had hoped. It was the main project I have been working on this year, but it will be out only early 2024. 

Happy New Year 2024, and Happy Gaming! 

Friday 29 December 2023


The Game

Arboretum is a beautiful card game. You build parks with trees. The trees on the cards are absolutely charming. You create paths in your parks to score points. A path is a sequence of cards where the numbers are in ascending order. This is an abstract game. 

This is what a 3-player game looks like. The number of tree types (i.e. suits) used depends on the player count. Everyone creates his own park before him. You have your own play area and you don't mess with others' play areas. 

You always have a hand of 7 cards. On your turn, you first draw 2 cards. You then must play a card into your park, and discard a card. So you will be back to 7 cards by the end of your turn. 

Everyone has his own discard pile. When you draw a card, you can draw from the deck or from any of the discard piles, even your own. Discarding cards is often a difficult thing to do, because you don't want to discard something that will help your opponents. Since there are separate discard piles, the card on top of yours will be exposed to everyone until your next turn when you can cover it with the next discard. 

The game ends when the draw deck runs out. You have some control over this. If you want the game to go longer, draw from the discard piles. 

Let's talk about how you score points. Every tree type gets one chance to score points. Look for the highest valued path in your tableau for that tree type. For a specific tree type, a valid path starts and ends with cards of that tree type. The middle cards of the path can be of any tree type. The numbers along the path must be ascending. They need not be consecutive, but they may not repeat. A path scores based on the number of cards. Using the green tree type in the photo above, the path starts on the left with a 1, and ends on the right with an 8. It scores 6 points. The blue tree scores 3 points. The pink tree starts with a 2 and ends with a 6. Since the path is all the same colour, and there are at least 4 cards, this path scores double. That's 8 points for pink. 

The 1's and 8's give bonuses. 1's give a 1 point bonus, and 8's give a 2 point bonus. So that green tree path actually scores 9 points, because of these bonuses. 

The main twist in the game is in order to score a particular tree type, you need to have cards of that type remaining in your hand. The card value total must be highest for you to earn the right to score for that tree type. If you don't win the scoring right, the path for that tree type in your tableau is worthless. This mechanism creates quite the dilemma for you. You need cards on the table, but you also need them in hand. There are special rules for the 1's and the 8's here. If one player has an 8 of one tree type, but another player has the 1, the 1 neutralises the 8, making it 0. 

The Play

The gameplay is simple, but the decisions are often not. If you get very lucky and draw many cards of the same type, then it is a no brainer. Play this tree type. You'll have enough to keep in hand for securing the scoring right. Most of the time, you are not that lucky and you will agonise over what tree type to play and to discard. Every turn you must play a card, so you get that feeling of time waiting for no one. The hand size of 7 is a challenge. You need slots for keeping cards you need to win scoring rights. You also need slots to prepare to play your next cards. You need slots to hold important cards your opponents need. You want to deny them from scoring. 7 slots is not a lot with so many things you need to do. 

When you play cards, you are effectively announcing to the world what tree types you will be trying to score. Your opponents are watching and will avoid discarding cards you'll need. If they happen to hold high cards of that tree type, they'll try to hold on to them in order to deny you the scoring right. Yet, it's not always possible to hide your plans, at least not for long. Sooner or later you'll need to play your cards. Playing cards you don't intend to use for scoring is wasteful, so it's not really a good idea to play a card only for the sake of hiding your plans. 

The art is gorgeous

I kept the 1's with the intention to neutralise my opponents' 8's

I had a path of pure sakura (pink) trees, which meant I would double the points. I kept the sakura 1 and 7 in hand. The 1 will protect me from an opponent holding on the the 8. The 7 was strong and hopefully would give me enough to secure the scoring right. 

In this game you play through the deck, so you can card count. If you never see a certain card until the deck is almost out, chances are it is being held by one of your opponents. 

With 3 players, we had 8 tree types in play. At the end of our game, only 3 tree types scored. The other 5 types were blocked by players who didn't have paths of those tree types. We actively denied one another from scoring points. What nasty people! 

The Thoughts

Arboretum is a light card game, but it is not simplistic. Despite the simple rules, it has plenty of player interaction and many tough decisions. It reminds me of the classic Lost Cities. This is very much an abstract game and the setting feels very much pasted on to me. However the art is lovely and that adds to the play experience. I'm certainly glad it isn't put together as just a numbers and colours game. 

Tuesday 26 December 2023

Cat in the Box

The Game

Cat in the Box is a trick-taking card game from Japanese designer Muneyuki Yokouchi. I just realised he also designed Yokai Septet, which I also played for the first time recently. Both of these are unconventional and clever trick-taking games. Cat in the Box was first released in 2020 in Japanese. The international deluxe edition was released in 2022 in multiple languages. It was nominated for and won a few awards. 

The game components are lovely.

This is a trick-taking game, but the cards don't have suits, only numbers. The idea of this game is based on quantum physics, specifically on the thought experiment Schrodinger's Cat. When you put a cat in a box with something that can kill it, and close the box, you don't know whether it's dead or alive until you open the box to check on it. So until you observe it, it is both alive and dead. In the game, your card can be any of the four colours. You don't need to decide what it is until the moment you play it. This is the most unique premise of the game. 

The basic trick-taking mechanisms are still there. The leading player of a trick decides the colour of the card he plays, and everyone else who "has" that colour must play it, and anyone who "does not have" the colour may play another colour. After everyone has played a card, compare the cards in the lead colour. Highest card wins the trick. If a red has been played (red is the trump colour), highest red wins instead. The concept of having or not having a colour is up to you to decide. Now this will be weird until you grasp the idea. It is as if you can freely decide the colour of your card. However that's not entirely true. As you play a round, you keep track of the cards you have played and announced, using a common board, as follows: 

When you play a card, you declare its colour, and you mark the spot on the common board for that specific colour and number. From then on, no one can play that specific card anymore, because you have already played it. Using the photo above as an example, by now no one can play any yellow card because they have all been played before. So there are still some rules around how you announce the colour of your cards. 

You have the option of declaring you no longer have a certain colour, so that you then may play any other colour if the lead player leads with this colour you do not have. In trick-taking games, ridding yourself of one colour is a basic tactic. In Cat in the Box, even though it's something you can do any time, there are risks associated with it. Every player has one small player board, shown above. When you play a card and announce the colour, you place in next to the edge with the declared colour. The player board has four spaces with X's, which are initially covered by your player tokens. The moment you declare that you do not have a specific colour, you remove that token (in the photo above, the example is green). From then on, you may no longer play a card of this colour, because you have claimed you no longer have this colour. 

Why can this be risky? One of the ways a round in this game ends is when a player creates a paradox. The more conventional way a round ends is when everyone has played his second last card. You score points based on how many tricks you've taken. However if anyone is unable to play a card, the round ends prematurely, in a paradox. Let's look at this example: 

I only have a 1 and a 4 in hand, but by now the 1's and 4's in all four colours have been played. I am supposed to play a card next, but I am unable to. Thus a paradox is created, and the round ends. Instead of gaining points, I lose points. Sometimes within the same trick two or more players may be out of cards they can play. In this case, the unlucky fellow is the one earlier in turn order. 

Player tokens on the common board may score points for you. At the start of a round, after looking at your cards, you must make a prediction about how many tricks you will win. If your prediction comes true, you get to score a bonus. Look at your largest group of connected tokens on the common board, and score that many points. Using the photo above as an example, if the red player gets his prediction right, he scores a bonus of 5 points. 

The number of rounds to play depends on the player count. The cards, common board and player boards to be used for different player counts vary too. The game comes with more advanced rules if you want more challenge. 

The Play

This is an unconventional trick-taking game. You do generally want to win more tricks, but a big part of the game is managing your hand well so that you don't cause any paradox. Paradoxes are often disastrous. You will be thinking about how to make your prediction come true. You will be fighting for positions on the common board. In theory it may seem you have much freedom to declare your colours, but in practice there are many restrictions and tactics you have to consider. The advanced rules make paradoxes even more likely, so it becomes a game of outlasting your opponent. 

You get nervous towards the end of the round because the risk of a paradox increases.

We did a 3-player game

The Thoughts

Cat in the Box is an innovative game. If you like trick-taking games, you must try it. 

Side note: No physicist actually did any such experiment with a cat, so no cat was harmed. 

Friday 22 December 2023



The Game

Faiyum is a 2020 title from Friedemann Friese (Power Grid, Friday), our mad scientist of a game designer who often comes up with crazy ideas. I've seen many Egyptian-themed games from Reiner Knizia. This is the first time I see one from Friedemann Friese. In Faiyum, you are advisors to the pharaoh, and you have been tasked to develop the Faiyum basin into farmland. Everything you build belongs to Egypt. They are not your private property. That means everyone else can make use of your hard work, and you theirs too. You are developing the country together, yes, but ultimately you are still competing to be the most accomplished advisor to the pharaoh. 

This is the game setup. A small settlement has been built - the red hex. Four brown hexes have been designated as plots for monuments. The yellow, purple and grey hexes can produce grain, grapes and stone respectively. The green pieces are crocodiles. Before you develop anything, you need to chase them away. 

At this particular monument land plot, you can do construction up to 5 times, after which the monument would be completed. 

On your turn you have only 3 options. The first is to play a card. At the start of the game everyone has the same set of cards. Every card specifies what you can do. Whatever you play is stacked before you. You won't be able to use these cards for the moment, until you take them back into your hand. So the second option on your turn is to claim played cards back into your hand. This is a reset. Normally you try to reset when you have no or very few cards in your hand, because resetting does take up one full turn, and the fewer cards you have left, the more money you can earn during a reset. When you claim cards back into your hand, only the top three cards, i.e. the most recently played cards, can be claimed for free. If you want to claim more, you have to pay. With this mechanism, you need to plan your card play carefully. If there are weak cards you don't want to keep around, play them early, so that by the next time you reset, you can intentionally leave them in the stack. If you have good cards you intend to claim, play them late so that you can take them back for free, or at least not have any weak cards blocking your way. 

The third option on your turn is to buy a new card from the market. The core mechanism of this game is the cards. They determine everything you get to do on the board. If there is something you want to achieve on the board, you need to make sure you buy a card which lets you do that. The three options on your turn are all related to cards. 

These are the starting cards. The farmer card lets you place a worker next to an existing worker, and then harvest one resource. The settlement card lets you pay resources to build a settlement. You then gain points and money. 

I play my cards like this, so that I can easily tell which are the cards I intend to claim and which are the ones I plan to abandon. I need to make sure I will have enough money to claim all the cards I plan to use again. 

This was still the early game - more crocodiles around than workers

You buy cards from a market which displays eight cards. When you draw cards to add to the market, all cards must be arranged from low to high. Higher cards are stronger. Only the four lower cards are available to be purchased. Prices are set based on their positions. This is a little like Power Grid. Generally you get weaker cards in the early game, you can see what cards may become available next, and you can prepare yourself for the stronger cards in the late game. 

By buying new cards and abandoning weak cards, you are constantly adjusting your hand of cards. This is the deck-building aspect of Faiyum. What the cards allow you to do all happen on the board. So this does not feel like a deck-building card game. It very much feels like a boardgame. You will be collecting resources, building stuff, making money, and earning points. These are nothing unusual. However the aspect I like about the game is how the player actions have interdependencies. You can only build a workshop if there is a road. Some cards let you score points but you can only do this at settlements. Some cards let you produce many resources, but you can only do this at specific workshops. You can't build all the infrastructure by yourself. It's going to be a group effort. So you need to watch what kind of things your opponents are doing, and adjust your plan accordingly. If nobody is spending effort on grain farms, getting the grain farm scoring card will not be very useful. Rarity and abundance are determined by the collective actions of the players. 

As Faiyum was further developed, we had three settlements (red discs) at this point, and a humble road network. More crocodiles had been chased away. 

The card deck is your countdown mechanism. Near the bottom there are four disaster cards. The game ends after all four of them show up. Near game end there will be powerful cards which help players score many points. You have to be prepared and save money for them. 

The Play

The first time you play, be prepared to refer to the rulebook frequently. There are many card powers, and they are all presented in icon form. Once you get familiar with them, there are some general rules and conventions that help you remember what they do. Just that when first time playing, there is a learning curve.  

There is a cycle in how you manage your cards. You will keep playing and buying cards until there are only a few left in hand, and then you will do a reset. You keep repeating and tweaking this. You will adjust your hand of cards by abandoning some cards (playing them early in a cycle with no intention of claiming them back) and buying new cards. You must deck-build and make your hand more efficient. Here you have more control than a conventional deck-building game, because you don't random draw from a deck. You have all your cards in hand. 

You play cards to collect money and resources. You spend money on new cards (and some other things). You spend resources on construction. Construction often gives you points. There is high player interaction. No direct aggression, but often there are limited opportunities you need to grab before your opponents do. The keyword in this game is organic. You are building Faiyum together. How it develops is entirely up to player actions. You must pay attention to what your opponents are doing, in order to find the best opportunities. Some cards which are not purchased will be permanently removed from the game, augmenting what players can do as a collective. If not many people can build settlements, then those cards which score points based on settlements will not be very useful. If many players are building homesteads (farms), the card which generates a lot of wheat from homesteads will be more reliable. 

Card powers depicted using icons

In our game no one bought the bridge building card and it was removed permanently. The result was we had no bridge except for that starting bridge at the bottom right. This affected some of the scoring cards near game end. Since the two banks were not connected, some cards which scored based on the largest connected network were less powerful. 

Roses (the first resource above) are the wild card resource. The other two resource types here are wheat and stone. The rectangular tokens are money. 

This particular monument is now complete. It requires only three slabs. 

These are the four disaster cards which trigger game end. Some have point values. If you are early in exiting the game, you can claim one of these. When the game end is triggered, you may no longer do reset. At most you can play out all the cards still in your hand. 

The mummy card is used for scoring points. Circle means points. 

These were my cards by late game. The older ones are those abandoned. 

The Thoughts

Faiyum is one of my favourite new-to-me games in 2023. I wonder whether it's because I have a soft spot for Friedemann Friese. I always say a good game should bring something new to the table. I don't enjoy many of the currently popular heavy Eurogames because they seem to be doing the same thing over and over, under different settings and artwork. Yet Faiyum seems to be just another one of these. It is about collecting resources then spending them to build and score points. The deck-building aspect is something a little different, but not exactly something completely new. So why do I like it so much? I enjoy how organic it is. It reminds me of Le Havre. There is a general outline to the story, but player actions will collectively steer the game. You have to watch what your opponents are doing, and you play a part in modifying the arena of play. I enjoy this player interaction. Developing Faiyum is a group effort. You do have to rely on others, and you try to use them. Everyone is using one another. You have to do it more efficiently than your opponents to win. 

Tuesday 19 December 2023

Nuts A Gogo

The Game

Nuts A Gogo is a lovely dexterity game from Japan which plays in 15 minutes. The nuts in the game are supposed to be peanuts, but somehow it makes me think of nuts as in nuts and bolts. You don't actually see peanut shaped components in the game. You do see wooden pieces in various shapes and sizes. The core idea in this game is you need to pack as many wooden pieces as possible into a small paper cup. This sounds like the kind of game people come up with at a game jam when the organisers throw a few random ideas together. Crazy! 

A game is played in two stages. The first stage is about claiming wooden pieces, and it is done in real-time. You put all the pieces in the box like in the photo above, and once you say go, everybody grabs pieces from the box to put in their own cup. You want to take as many as possible. The pieces come in five different general shapes. They are not exactly the same, just similar enough that you can tell the type. They also come in different sizes. Smaller is better, because it means you can squeeze more into your cup. 

Once one player decides they have enough, they declare the end of the first half. What you do is you claim the Mr Peanut token from the box, and then count to ten. Once you reach ten, everyone else must also stop taking wooden pieces. Whatever is in your cup is yours now. If anything falls out, sorry, you must return it to the box. This is the first stage. 

The cup is small

At the start of the second stage, you empty your cup and hide all your wooden pieces behind your hand. The player with the Mr Peanut token is the start player, and you take turns playing start player. As start player, you get to issue a challenge. You discard one piece, and everyone else must discard a piece of the same type. If anyone fails to do so, they are eliminated from the game. One by one players will get eliminated, and the last person standing is the winner. 

The Play

Nuts A Gogo is quick an easy. It's the kind of game that you'll pick up by just watching others play. It's an excellent casual game. You barely have to learn. The second stage can be quite funny. There is a little bit of psychology. You try to guess what pieces your opponents do not have. Winning is not necessarily about having the most pieces. Even if you have the most, if you happen to be short of a certain type, you can still get eliminated early. 

The Thoughts

For experienced gamers, this can be a good filler because it's something very different from the typical heavy games we play. It's quick. It's a nice change of pace. It's a good break between heavy games. For casual gamers and non-gamers, this game is painless to learn and engaging. 

Friday 15 December 2023

Zombie Cats Daring Contest

The Game

Okay I know the name sounds weird. I'm fully responsible for that. I came up with this English name in order to upload this game to the BGG database. Zombie Cats Daring Contest is a family game from Taiwan. It is a push-your-luck game. You are constantly risking your earnings so far to gain even more. If you fail, you lose what you have just earned. 

The metal box is pretty

This is a card game. On your turn you flip over cards from the deck. You must keep flipping until the card values add up to at least 7. As long as the total is between 7 and 10, you can earn victory points. If it exceeds 10, you go bust and leave empty-handed. This is very much like Black Jack. When you do reach 7, this is when things get interesting. You can decide to play it safe and end your turn there and then, claiming the cards you have flipped over so far as victory points. However you can keep drawing and hoping to earn more points, at the risk of going bust. 

Once you get to 7, it's time to make decisions

If you manage to reach 10 exactly, in addition to claiming cards worth 10 victory points, you also get to claim a trophy worth 10VP. That's a total of 20VP. There are only three such trophies in the game. If all have been claimed and you need to get one, you steal it from another player. You are not only gaining 10VP, you are also forcing an opponent to lose 10VP. 

When you get to 7, there is another option. You may discard your cards to roll a die. There is a one third chance that something bad will happen (you lose cards). There is a two thirds chance that you'll gain something. You may win a trophy, or you may steal cards from an opponent. 

The game ends when the deck runs out. You add up your points on your cards and trophies, and the highest scorer wins. 

The Play

This is a very simple game with a large dose of luck. If you draw cards until you get to 6, and then next draw a 5 to go bust, there is nothing you can do. It's just bad luck. To get to exactly 10 points certainly needs some good luck. Still, throughout the game you will come to decision points. You regularly need to decide whether to gamble and test your luck. You may not have much basis on which to make your decision, but it is an exciting experience. 

Since there is a huge luck element, there is not much to overthink. You can play in a relaxed manner. There is some targeted aggression. You can decide who to steal cards and trophies from. If there is an obvious leader, they may get ganged up on. The draw deck is your countdown. If you want to target the leader, better do it before time runs out. 

There are five mystery box tiles in the game, numbered 1, 3, 5, 7, 9. By default they are face-down. When you draw a mystery box card, you must flip over one of these tiles. The number is then added to your total. Your turn works in the same way, but if you claim the card, it is not worth anything. 

The mystery box card is worth 0 VP

Five cards revealed, and we're not even at 7 yet!

The zombie cats are cute

The Thoughts

Zombie Cats Daring Contest is a simple push-your-luck game. It is a party game which does not require much brain usage. It is easy to learn and will work for casual games who do not want to learn complicated games.