Wednesday 31 January 2024

Snow White - unboxing and how to play

As part of promoting Snow White and the Eleven Dwarfs, I made an unboxing video, and a series of gameplay videos, for the basic game and for the many variants that come with the game.  

This is the unboxing: 

This is the basic game: 

More information and videos available at the Snow White game page at the Cili Padi Games website. You can order the game there. If you are in Malaysia, you can also order the game from local boardgame retailers. 

Friday 26 January 2024

The White Castle


The Game

The Himeji Castle is a famous tourist spot in Japan. The game The White Castle refers to it, and is a heavy Eurogame. One thing which surprised me is the size of the game. When I first saw photos of the game, I had thought it was about the size of Ticket To Ride. It turns out to be much smaller. I guess it's because of how many components it has. It gives the impression of being a bigger game.  

The game components are pretty and well produced. The heron is the player order marker. The round token is the player order advantage marker. Every round the player order is determine by the advantage marker. The fan is the score marker. The three meeples are your warrior, gardener and courtier. 

These cards are used during setup, giving players different starting resources and advantages. 

The central chunk is the Himeji Castle. You send your courtiers here. The higher they go, the more points they score. You find cards here listing actions you can perform when you place dice next to them. The section on the left is the garden. There are three bridges with dice. You will be claiming dice from the bridges to perform actions. You also place gardeners in the garden to claim benefits and score points. At the top right you see training grounds. That's where you place warriors. You gain benefits and at game end your warriors score points based on how many courtiers you have in the castle. 

These bridges are the most eye-catching part of the game. Dice are sorted and when you take one, you must take the lowest or the highest. When you place a die at a spot to perform an action, that spot has a die printed. If your die value is higher, you earn money based on the difference. However if your die value is lower, you have to pay. So normally the higher dice are more desirable. However, if you take a low die, you gain a lantern bonus. Sometimes that is worthwhile. It may even be the better choice, depending on your situation. 

These are some of the locations in Himeji Castle where you can place dice and perform actions. The cards tell you what you can do. The little square tiles on the left of the cards tell you which dice colour does what. If the action you want to perform is linked to a red die, you have to take a red die. 

Generally there are two things you do in this game. You are either collecting resources, or you are spending resources to place a meeple. 

This is your player board. The three tracks on the left are for recording three resources in the game - rice, iron and pearl. You can store at most 7 in each type. You have three types of meeples, and five per type, making a total of 15. The two face-down cards at the bottom right are your lantern bonus. You start the game with just one card, but you may add cards here as the game progresses. The lantern bonus will increase over time. 

These are the training grounds where your warriors are deployed. You spend iron to send them here. The rewards for placing warriors are randomly determined at the start of the game. 

This is the castle gate. To enter the castle, your courtier must first come here. When standing at the gate, they are not considered to be in the castle yet. They must take at least one more step to get inside. However even if they are standing here, they do still score 1 point at game end. See the fan icon at the top right corner of the gate. 

This large beautiful fish is the round marker. 

You can have up to two dice per location. When the second die is placed, you compare its value with that of the first die. Whether you earn money or have to pay depends on the difference. 

If you place a die on your player board, you will gain resources and also perform an action specified by that card on your player board. The amount of resources you gain increases as you deploy more meeples to the main board. More icons are revealed as meeples are taken off your player board. 

The game is played over three rounds. You only have three turns per round. That's not a lot. However there are ways to create chain actions and to claim extra actions. After three rounds, the highest scorer wins the game. 

The Play

The White Castle is a pretty typical heavy Eurogame. You collect resources. You deploy meeples. The interaction is indirect. You don't directly attack. You compete over limited resources - the dice and the dice placement spots. There are various ways to score points, but deploying your meeples is the most important one. 

When I played, I decided to focus on just my courtiers and my warriors. Warriors score points based on how many courtiers go into the castle, so they work well together. I didn't want to be too greedy. Focusing my energy on two out of three types should be efficient. However this strategy didn't quite work. Han managed to place all 15 of his meeples. Needless to say, he won comfortably. I should have been more ambitious. 

One fun bit of the game is how you can create chain actions. Some actions let you place a meeple. When placing a meeple, you get some reward. Sometimes that reward allows you to place a meeple. This is how you can chain actions. You'll still need the necessary resources to be able to place meeples, so you need to prepare enough before you can pull something like this off. At the end of every round, leftover dice on bridges let you gain benefits. This is another way you get to do more or gain more resources beyond your 9 actions. 

Towards late game, the castle gets busier with courtiers.

I made one mistake. I forgot that courtiers at the gate didn't count as being in the castle. So they didn't help warriors score points. I needed to make them take one more step to enter the castle proper. By the time I realised my mistake, it was too late. I couldn't get them all in (I was green) before the game ended. 

Leftover resources at game end may score points for you. The fan icon means points. If you have 7 of a particular resource, that gets you 2 points. 

The Thoughts

The White Castle is at heart an efficiency game. With your limited actions, you try to collect resources as efficiently as possible, and you try to place your meeples as efficiently as possible. In my opinion the game is formulaic, reflecting the current state of heavy Eurogames. Ten years ago, I would not have imagined myself using the term "heavy Eurogames" as something negative. Today I still consider heavy Eurogames my favourite genre. My issue is I find most recent heavy Eurogames lacking in creativity. Not in terms of setting or story, but in game mechanisms. The White Castle has a Japanese setting, and that's actually quite common. The Western audience likes this stuff. It's a good marketing decision. 

If you like heavy Eurogames, The White Castle is precisely one, and you may like it. It's strategic. There is no direct aggression. What I find enjoyable about it is how you can create chain actions. If you plan well, you can orchestrate satisfying super turns. If you are an experienced gamer, don't listen to me. You can judge for yourself whether this game is your type or not. 

Friday 19 January 2024

boardgaming in photos: Through the Ages - A New Story of Civilization

My wife Michelle and I used to play a lot of Through the Ages. This is a heavy 2-3 hour game. I am blessed to have played it this many times. In 2015, a new edition was released, called Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization. The game was mostly the same. There were just a few minor tweaks. For this edition, there was an expansion released in 2020, containing tweaks, and more importantly new leaders and wonders. I have played the 2015 edition (someone else's copy). Being a big fan of the game, I had told myself I was going to buy the new edition sooner or later. It turned out to be a bit later than I had expected - 2023. I hadn't intentionally looked for it. I was just browsing, and when I saw both the base game and the expansion side by side, I decided it was time. I hadn't tried the expansion at the time. Now I have. 

I wanted to try all the new wonders and leaders, so I played a simple brute force variant, replacing all the leaders and wonders from the base game with the new ones. The leader I picked for the Antiquity Age was Cleopatra. That on the right is the start player marker. Not absolutely necessary, but nice anyway. 

The 2020 expansion tweaked some of the overpowered and underpowered cards in the game. This was game balancing. A digital version of the game was available, and the designer and developers collected data about how players chose cards and how well the cards did. This is the power of big data and data analysis. 

I like the new player boards in the new edition of Through the Ages. Six cards are preprinted on the board. In my previous edition of the game, these were actual cards we had to lay out and arrange. So now the player board is larger. The previous player board was used mainly to manage the blue and yellow tokens. 

In the new edition, the main game board is broken up into several pieces. The idea is you can now organise them in any way that works better for your table size and shape. Do what you like. I'm neutral about this. I wouldn't have minded a single central board. 

The wonder Silk Road is unusual in that once you start building it, one of its powers already take effect. When you play an action card,  the benefit you gain is increased by 1. One annoying thing about the Silk Road is you need five actions to complete it. It doesn't take many stones (a resource), but it takes many actions. 

So far in this particular game, both the colonies I won forced me to discard blue tokens. This meant I suffered corruption more easily, and thus I lost stones more easily. 

The end of turn sequence is shown at the centre of the player board. I find this very handy, especially since I am a little rusty. 

Nelson Mandela is one of the new leaders. When Michelle and I play, we don't play wars or aggressions. So we remove these cards from the game. This doesn't make military useless. Military is still relevant because of colonies and events. However some leaders in the game have powers related to wars and aggressions. The next time we play, we should remove such leaders from the game, because they are rather pointless. 

These were my wonders, leaders, colonies and blue technologies.

My mines and farms were still at Level I by the end of Age III. I upgraded them in Age I. Michelle took both the Age II mine and farm. The Age III mine and farm both came out near the end of the game. By then there wasn't much point for me to take and develop them. The game was about to end. To solve this difficulty I had, I took many blue techs. For most techs you need stone production and food production. You need stone to build armies or construct buildings, and you need food to grow your population and have citizens work in the buildings or become soldiers. Blue techs don't need stone or citizens. They just need science. Thankfully I had decent science. 

Tuesday 16 January 2024

Yokai Septet


The Game

Yokai Septet is a trick-taking card game from Japan, by yio and Muneyuki Yokouchi (Cat in the Box). It has some interesting twists. You are monster hunters helping villagers hunt down these naughty creatures which have been terrorising them. Cards numbered 7 in the game are the monsters. In terms of gameplay, you want to win tricks which contain 7's. There are 7 suits in the game, and the interesting thing about them is the number range is different for each suit. E.g. purple cards go from 2 to 8, blue cards go from 7 to 13. To win the game you need to capture a specific number of monsters. However you can also lose the game if you win a certain number of tricks but fail to reach the required number of monsters. I interpret this as you cast many spells and most of them don't work, so you are disgraced. 

The monsters (i.e. the 7's) are the prettiest cards. At the top left corner you can see the number range of the colour. Along the left edge there is a scale with a white dot indicating how strong the card is compared to others in the same colour. For example the green card. The green number range is A to 7. So 7 is the highest number, and you see the white dot at the top of the scale. Since the green monster (7) is the highest card in its colour, it has a good chance of winning a green trick. The blue monster is the lowest card in its colour. When it is played in a blue trick, quite likely it will be lost. 

This reference card shows the number ranges of all the suits. 

This is a 3- or 4-player game. The 4-player game is played in a partnership mode. The trick-taking mechanism is mostly standard. All cards are dealt out evenly. There will be one extra card. It is revealed and its colour will be the trump colour. The lead player of a trick decides the lead colour, and if you have the lead colour you must play it. Only if you don't have it then you can play any other colour. The strongest card in the lead colour wins, unless someone has played the trump colour. Then the strongest trump colour card wins. The A is the strongest card in the deck. There is only one A (green). If it is played, it wins the trick. 

When you (or your team) reach the required number of monsters captured, you win. Or if you win 7 tricks without reaching the target, your opponents win. The winner scores points based on monster cards claimed and also monster cards still in hand (all players). Monster cards have point values on them. You play several rounds, until someone (or team) reaches 7 points. 

The Play

If you have played some trick-taking games, this will be familiar. I did a 4-player game, so we played in teams. There are only 7 cards in each suit. When a player plays a colour for the first time, and every other player is able to follow suit, that's 4 cards of that colour used. There will be only 3 cards of that colour left. If anyone leads with this colour again, for sure someone won't have the colour and will be able to play another colour. 

Team mode is fun because of how you will be able to communicate with your partner through card play. When a round starts, you pass three cards to your partner. That's another way you communicate. When you manage to communicate in subtle ways and cooperate to win, it is highly satisfying. 

Yokai Septet may have 7 different suits, more than typical trick-taking games, and it has this unusual number distribution, but these don't make the play experience very different from other trick-taking games. What stands out more for me is how winning tricks can be a bad thing. If you win too many tricks which do not contain monsters, you're going to lose. So the strategy here is not just about winning monsters. It is also about making your opponents win monsterless tricks. 

When you have too many colours, that can be bad. You will often be forced to play a specific card. If you have a monster in a specific colour, you'd hope to have other cards in the same colour to protect it. For example in the photo above I have the blue monster (7). I also have the blue 8, 9 and 10 which will protect the monster. If an opponent plays a high blue, I can still play my 8, 9 or 10, thus keeping my blue monster in hand. 

When you have only two colours, you will have more flexibility. When other players lead with other colours, you don't have those colours so you can play any colour. However this situation can be bad too. If you are the lead player, and no one else has the colour you lead with, you will keep winning tricks. If you win too many tricks which do not contain monsters, that's bad news. Your partner will need to be smart and feed you monsters if he or she knows you're going to win the trick. 

The Thoughts

Yokai Septet is a trick-taking game with a twist. Japan makes many such quirky little card games. I have not tried it with three, but I suspect it is best played with four. Compared with Cat in the Box, it is closer to typical trick-taking games, so it will probably be easier for casual players to learn. This is a good game to introduce to people outside the hobby who like trick-taking games. They are familiar with trick-taking games, and Yokai Septet will show them how modern game design can add interesting twists to traditional games. 

Friday 12 January 2024


The Game

Biblios was first published in 2007. It was an indie game from Dr Steve Finn, originally named Scripts and Scribes. There was a version called Scriptorium. Eventually it was picked up by a larger publisher, IELLO. It was published by other companies in different languages too. The game is doing well. Up till now it is still regularly reprinted. I heard of it when it was first released, but only recently I tried it out, 16 years after the first edition. 

Biblios is a card game. It has dice, but they are not rolled. They are used as a tracking tool to indicate the point values of the five colours in the game. During game setup, the dice are all set to 3. During play, the values may change, depending on player actions. Cards in the game include those in the five colours, money cards, and bishop cards. You want to collect cards in the five colours. They have different value distributions. Money is used to bid for cards. Bishops are used to alter the point values on the dice. 

At the end of the game, for each of the five colours, you compare total card values held by players. If you have the highest, you win that colour and score points based on the die in that colour. This is the only way points are scored. After checking all five colours, the highest scorer wins the game. 

The game is divided into two halves. The first half is about card distribution. Within a round, the active player draws cards one by one from the deck, and decides how to distribute them. You must claim one card (face-down). You must set aside one card (face-down) for the second half. You must also set aside enough cards (face-up) so that your opponents will claim one each, in player order. Cards are drawn one by one. If a card you draw looks good and you take it, the next one you draw may be even better, but you can no longer take it. You will have to set it for the second half, or make it available to your opponents. You have to decide what to do with the card the moment you see it. Players take turns being the active player, until the deck runs out. By then every player will have the same number of cards, and there will be a pile of cards set aside for the second half. 

You shuffle the deck for the second half before proceeding further. The second half of the game is about bidding. Every round a card is revealed, and everyone bids for it. Normally you bid money. However if a money card shows up, you bid with cards. You decide how many cards you are willing to discard to win that money card. 

Throughout the game, whenever you claim or win a bishop card, you must use it immediately to manipulate the dice. The card is then removed from the game. You will want to increase the value of a colour you are confident to win, or you decrease the value of a colour which you expect an opponent will win. 

The second half ends when its draw deck runs out. You then reveal all your cards to see who scores which colour. Highest scorer wins the game. This is a pretty straight-forward game. 

The Play

Biblios is an area majority game without the map. The five colours are your five areas. You collect cards in specific colours to compete. You have to choose where to invest effort and where to concede. You know the card value distribution, so you know how much strength you need to achieve to secure a colour. You are constantly watching which colours your opponents are competing in. This is a game about resource management. You can't compete in all colours. You probably want to focus on just two. But which two? There is some luck in the draw, but broadly speaking everyone has about the same amount of resources. You manage your luck and your resources. 

The Thoughts

I feel I missed Biblios at its best era. My first thought after playing it was this was a game from a bygone era. It has its charms, but it doesn't feel like a contemporary game. I get a feeling I would have enjoyed it more had I played it 16 years ago. This is a little weird, because it's still a clever little gem. You need to read your opponents. Luck of the draw creates interesting decisions. There are fun tactics. There is good player interaction. The word it reminds me of is "classic". It's an evergreen game. It keeps getting reprinted. So it's definitely doing something right. This is exactly the kind of game I want to learn to design - evergreen card games.  

Wednesday 10 January 2024

Snow White is released!

Woohoo! I am super excited because my second game Snow White and the Eleven Dwarfs has now landed in Malaysia and I can officially announce that its status is released. 

This time round I looked for a game manufacturer in China to produce the game for me. They are more experienced and I can get the game produced at a reasonable cost, even though I am only doing a low volume, and I need to consider shipping costs and bank fees. 

It's a great feeling seeing the Cili Padi Games logo on another game box. 

Back of the box

This time round I don't pre-sleeve the cards. The box is slightly bigger than the cards that come with the game, so that if you sleeve all the cards, they will still fit in the box. The manufacturer I work with is Magicraft, and they have been supportive and responsive. They calculated the box size perfectly for me. 

Opening a box to this view is a wonderful feeling! 

The rulebook is full-colour

This is the card back. This time round I asked Edwin to do a design without borders on all sides. Mass production is not always precise. If the card back has borders, and the printing is slightly off centred, the problem can be obvious. By removing or in my case reducing borders, any off centre printing issue will not be so apparent. This is a lesson I learned the hard way when I did Dancing Queen

I am now busy scheduling stock deliveries to the various game retailers in Malaysia. Busy busy busy! In time for Chinese New Year! Snow White worked very well when I introduced it to friends and family during Chinese New Year gatherings last year. So I wanted to get it released before Chinese New Year this year. 
Dancing Queen has a little brother now, which is slightly bigger in size. 

See more information about the game at the Cili Padi Games website

Tuesday 9 January 2024


The Game

Barrage is a recent and popular heavy Eurogame. Set in a fictitious 1922, it has nations vying for power, literally. They compete to build hydroelectric dams to generate power. You will be constructing all sorts of structures and completing hydroelectric projects. You compete for choice locations for dams and power stations. You will get to manipulate the flow of water. The core mechanism in the game is worker placement. This is a development game. 

This is the main game board. On the right you have a map with four rivers. They begin as four rivers upstream, but they will gradually merge, and by the time they get downstream, there are only two rivers. There are lakes along the rivers, and these are where you will build dams. The left side of the board has the worker placement spots. The actions you can perform are listed here. 

This is a player board. There are four types of structures you can build. These game pieces are unique for every player, but the functions are the same. 

The four structure types are dams, dam extensions, conduits and powerhouses. You need dams to hold water. Without dams, water simply flows downstream. To generate hydroelectricity, the first thing you need to do is to capture water using dams. A basic dam stores one ton of water. If you add extensions to a dam, you can store up to three tons of water. If the water flow exceeds the capacity of a dam, the surplus water continues to flow downstream. Conduits divert water to powerhouses, and the powerhouses generate electricity. 

The icons on the left side of the player board show the costs for constructing each type of structure. The costs vary depending on where you build. It is generally more expensive to build upstream in the mountains. Above some of the pieces you can see rewards shown. You gain these rewards when you build those specific pieces. You must build starting from the leftmost piece. 

Those on the left are your workers. At the top right you have money. At the bottom right you have tools. Tools are a resource type. They don't behave like a currency though. 

This is the construction wheel. Everyone has one. When you perform the build action, you need two things. First you need one of those fan shaped tech tiles, which specify what kind of structure you can build. You also need some tools. The brown ones are excavators, the grey ones mixers. To build a structure on the main map, you place the tech tile and the required tools into one segment of the construction wheel, and turn the wheel one step. The tech tile and the tools are now temporarily tied down in the wheel. They need to go full circle before they are released. The wheel normally only turns when you perform a build action. However there is a type of action which let you turn the wheel to speed up the release of your tech tiles and tools. You don't actually expend your tools like a currency. They are just temporarily committed to the wheel. 

The worker placement spots for the build action is on your player board, so you don't need to compete with your opponents. Most worker placement spots are on the main board. The first time within a round you perform a build action, you only need to place one worker. The second time round you'll need two, and the third time three. You can do it a fourth time. It'll still take three workers, but you'll also need to pay money. 

This section of the main board tracks how much power you have generated during a round.  Every round there is a minimum requirement to meet. If you achieve that, you get some benefit. If you don't, there's a penalty. Every round the player who generates the most power gets a prize. 

These are the worker placement spots on the main board. The number of workers needed vary from one to three. The spots with red borders require an additional cash payment. 

This small side board has worker placement spots too. You use this to buy new tech tiles. They are better than the basic tech tiles you get at the start of the game. You will be able to build more efficiently, and you will have more flexibility. 

These are contracts. When you generate power, if the amount of electricity generated meets the requirement, you may complete the contract and claim the associated rewards. Rewards can be victory points, money, water, resources and other bonuses. Taking a contract is one of the worker placement actions in the game, so it's something you need to compete in too. 

The lakes in the game all have two dam construction spots, one upstream and one downstream. The upstream spot costs money and is the better spot. You have priority in catching water. Only surplus that you cannot store flow through to the second (downstream) dam. If you can afford it, it's probably better to pay for the upstream spot. Conduits will divert water from the upstream dam to a powerhouse, and this water will not reach the downstream dam. The conduit paths in the game usually cross to other rivers. 

The Play

The game is played over 5 rounds. You have 12 workers to use every round. However this doesn't mean you'll perform 12 actions. Many actions take more than one worker. To be able to generate power, you need quite a few things in place - dam, conduit, powerhouse, and of course water as well. You will be performing actions to put things together. You compete with other players for choice locations and water. During game setup, you already know the rainfall for all five rounds, so you can somewhat plan ahead. One action in the game allows you to create rainfall, so you are not relying only on the predetermined rainfall. 

We played some rules wrong, which made the game easier for us. We misplayed the construction costs. In the early game we all built in the mountains (upstream). It should have been quite expensive. Normally players would start construction on the plains (downstream), then expand upriver as they became wealthier and could afford it. This expansion would normally lead to disruption due to how water from rivers will get diverted by conduits. This disruption is what makes the game challenging and interesting.  In our case, we started development upstream then expanded downstream. So we didn't have the kind of disruption I'd expect to see in normal games. Our later expansions let us use water more times for generating power. 

Another rule we played wrong was the special player abilities. We used them right from the start. Normally we should have access to them only after we build our third powerhouse. We made ourselves more powerful than we should have been. 

The game components are pretty

By late game the board was quite full (4 players, i.e. max player count)

By game end there were still some structures I hadn't build

The Thoughts

Barrage is the quintessential heavy Eurogame. It's a worker placement game and a development game. You patiently build the multiple structures needed to complete hydroelectric projects, and you generate power. There are several ways you earn points. On the map you compete for locations and water. 

I don't find anything particularly new or interesting in Barrage. I can understand why it is popular. I can see the strategic elements. The setting is interesting - an alternative universe set in the 1920's. Hydroelectricity is a rare topic in games. Barrage doesn't entice me to play again because I prefer to experience something new. I like games which surprise me. It feels too same-old to me. If you like heavy Eurogames, you will find the game familiar and comfortable. It's currently ranked 34 on