Friday 29 March 2024


The Game

Obsession is set in Victorian era England. You are an upstart aristocratic family. You grow your prestige, expand your estate, network with other nobles, climb the social ladder, and you do all of these by holding parties! Technically it's called holding an activity, but it's much easier to understand by calling it what it is. It's a party! You need to have the right facilities, the properly trained servants and enough prestige to invite the guests you want. You'll gain benefits from the party, and you use what you've gained to plan the next party. The game is played over a fixed number of rounds. The highest scorer wins the game. 

At the top left you have a round track. The spaces on the track indicate special rules that apply for specific rounds. On this board there are two cards - the Fairchild kids - a young gentlemen and a young lady from the famous Fairchild family. Throughout the game players will compete to befriend them. There is a reckoning every four rounds, and whoever wins the favour of the Fairchild family gets to invite one of the scions to parties. 


This is the main board, and it is primarily a market for buildings - that row of square tiles along the bottom. Building prices start at 300 Pounds (leftmost tile), and get more expensive as you move right. Whenever you buy a building, all remaining tiles are shifted left, and then a new tile is drawn and placed at the rightmost spot. 

This is the player board. At the bottom left those pawns in different colours are your servants of different types - valets, housekeepers, butlers, footmen and so on. They are needed for different purposes, e.g. some buildings will only work if a specific servant type is present. Some guests require a specific servant type to serve them. Now servants need to take breaks. Working for an aristocratic family is stressful. They can't work consecutive rounds, those lazy bums. The three boxes here are to help manage which servants are available and which are on leave. 

The tiles in five colours on the right are your buildings. Think of them as facilities, rooms and equipment at your estate. I'll just call them buildings. Everyone starts the game with the same set. Building tiles are double sided. Often the front side is worth negative points, and the back is positive. You need to use a building just once to flip it to the upgraded side. The building tile specifies the requirements for holding a party - any servants needed, how many guests, and the prestige level of your family. The benefit of holding a party is also shown, e.g. money, prestige or getting acquainted to more nobles. Some buildings cannot be used for parties. They just give you new special abilities. 

Your hand cards are characters, i.e. guests you can invite to parties. You already start the game with some characters, some of whom are your own family members. During the game you will draw more character cards. Some characters need to be served by specific servant types if they are to be invited to a party. They also require your family to be of a certain prestige level. When then attend your party, they give you some benefit. 

On your turn you do just two things. You hold a party, and you buy a building. Both are optional, but you will want to do both as often as possible. When you invite a guest to a party, you play the character card on the table, and it becomes temporarily unavailable. Imagine being hungover. You need to forgo holding any party for one turn to take back all your played character cards. The whole game is about organising party after party. You buy buildings to hold more happening parties. You increase your prestige so that you can invite even more famous celebrities. You make sure you employ enough servants and get to know enough people to keep throwing fantastic parties. 

When the game ends, you score points for various aspects, including your character cards, your family's prestige level, your buildings and your servants. 

These are the front and back of the same building. The front is -1 Victory Point, and the back is 4VP. That's a 5VP difference. While on the front side, you need a footman (white servant) to hold a party. You need 3 guests. You need to have a Prestige of at least 3 (number in bottom left corner). If you manage to hold a party, you earn 300 Pounds and flip the tile to the upgraded side. From then on you use the upgraded side to hold parties. 

This is the Fairchild boy. If you become his buddy, you can invite him to parties. That little green man at the bottom left means you need to have a valet to serve him. The three lions at the bottom right means he advances your Prestige by 3 steps when he attends your party. Prestige increases one level for every 5 steps. 

These are objective cards. If you fulfil the criteria, you score points. You start the game with some cards. You'll draw some during the game, and will also be forced to discard some. This particular objective card highlighted requires that you own three specific buildings. If you have them by game end, you get 16VP. 

This madame is a big shot and it's not easy to invite her. You need a Prestige of at least 6 (top left corner). She demands two servants (bottom left corner). At game end she is worth 6VP (top right corner). If she attends your party, she gives you a victory card and increases your Prestige by 3 steps (bottom right corner). 

Some "friends" you make are not exactly good persons. This lady here is worth -2VP. You will want to try to use an unfriend ability to get rid of her before the game ends. If you invite her to a party, she reduces your Prestige. However parties do require a specific number of guests, and sometimes they require guests of specific genders. So when you are desperate, you might have to invite her anyway, even though nobody likes her. Sacrifices to make for the greater good. 

The Play

Obsession is a pretty typical point-scoring Eurogame. The core thing you are doing is holding parties. You plan and manage your resources to be able to keep holding better and better parties. It's a bit like project management. You have to make sure all pieces fall into place and you are not missing any crucial component. Just one small mishap, and the party may have to be cancelled, or you have to switch to a less wild party. This takes some organisational and planning skills. You have to plan when to not hold a party too, so that you can reset and put all characters back into your hand. 

Players compete for the Fairchild scions. Every season (a series of four rounds) you need to focus on a particular building type if you intend to befriend the Fairchild family. Some objectives require specific buildings too. I don't think the objectives overlap (I haven't checked), so you probably don't compete directly over objective cards. It's just that sometimes others may just happen to buy a building you want. Overall there isn't much direct player interaction. You do your own parties and you have your own hand of character cards. There are a few direct attack cards. I've used one of them. But there aren't many such cards. 

By late game you will have quite many character cards. 

The buildings in the five different colours have different characteristics. The blue ones tend to give special abilities and cannot be used for parties. The purples ones usually improve Prestige. The green ones give you money. 

The Thoughts

Obsession is a BGG Top 100 game. I've heard positive comments, and I was looking forward to try it. Now that I have played it, I find it decent but not remarkable. It's a game about planning and coordination. For every party you plan, you have to make sure all the elements are ready. You have to keep outdoing yourself, increasing your Prestige, inviting more famous nobles and using more fanciful venues. There are many things which score you points, but not really many different strategies. Everyone's central strategy is holding parties. There aren't significantly different strategies to pursue. It is in the small tactics that you try to outdo your opponents. So it's an efficiency game. Do the little things well, and in the long run you win the race. That feeling of climbing the social ladder is nice. It gives you a sense of progress. I would say the theme is executed well. This is literally a party game. Ba-dum-tss! 

Friday 22 March 2024

boardgaming in photos: the fun in making games

A Japanese visitor to Malaysia purchased a copy of Dancing Queen. I always feel excited when I see Dancing Queen reach different countries around the world. The art for the game was done in a Japanese 90's comics style, so it is extra meaningful to see it reach the hands of a Japanese player. 

I met up with my friends from the mobile gaming company, and taught them my third game title Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. If all goes well the game should be out by Christmas 2024. They all enjoyed the game and asked to play again after we finished the first game. That is encouraging. Edwin (2nd from left) is my designated artist for Cili Padi Games now. He has done the art for both my previous games, and will be helping me with the third one too. We met up to have him experience the game, so that it would help him think of ideas and concepts for the artwork. 

I taught Xiaozhu (right) Dancing Queen. When we met up last year he wanted to order a copy. I didn't bring enough then. I said I would certainly keep a copy for him. And then the next time we met was one year later. We should meet up more. 

TTGDMY (Tabletop Game Designers Malaysia) did an annual meeting at FnD Mindspot recently, to talk about what we wanted to do as a community. It was great to be able to meet Evan in person. He came all the way down from Penang. His games won both 1st and 2nd place at the 2023 Malaysian Boardgame Design Competition, and one of them will soon be published by LUMA. 

TTGDMY did a playtest session in Kajang on 9 Mar 2024. I tried quite a few games, but only remembered to take photos of a few. This is Haireey's wedding game. You need to invite guests, of which there are four categories - family, friends, elders and VIP's. You need to prepare services - food, music, photos and decorations. All eight elements score points in different ways.  

This is the player board. You use it to mark who you have invited and where they will be sitting. Some guests don't like sitting next to some others, and you lose points if this happens. Sorry, your elders don't want to sit next to your rowdy friends.  

Availability of services is determined by die roll.

This is Jon's ESG game, about how to be a socially responsible corporation. It's a cooperative game. You run a diamond mining company. You mine diamonds and process them. Decisions you make affect the environment and society. How do you take care of these while maintaining profitability? 

Diamonds are Forever

You'll operate your company for one year, and then at the next Annual General Meeting you need to have achieved an average ESG score of 7. 

I have been playtesting with the TTGMDY community for quite some time. It has been a fun and fulfilling journey, supporting and helping one another, and together learning to be better. I am grateful to have this circle of friends. 

Friday 15 March 2024

The Search for Planet X

The Game

The Search for Planet X is a deduction game which uses a mobile phone app to handle the mystery you are trying to solve. Scientists have discovered a mysterious Planet X in the solar system. It cannot be detected directly using conventional equipment, but based on the movement of celestial bodies, we know it is out there somewhere. In this game you are the scientists. You do your respective observations and detections, and you compete to be first to accurately locate Planet X. You also publish scientific journals. When someone finds Planet X, the game ends. You add up your points, and the highest scorer wins. 

The game is for 1 to 4 players. These are the game components of the purple player. The square tiles are theory tokens, i.e. scientific papers, you can publish. If you think a certain sector of the sky has a particular type of celestial body, you can announce your theory. If you turn out to be right, you score points. If you are the first to publish, you score more. 

The game has two modes, and this above is the easy mode. The sky is divided into 12 sectors. In hard mode you have 16 sectors. At the start of a game every player gets a different set of information. In the night sky there are many types of celestial bodies - gas clouds, asteroids, comets and dwarf planets. They all have different characteristics. A section of sky has at most one object. A gas cloud is always next to an empty sector. A comet can only be found in specific sectors, e.g. sector 2, 3, 5, 7 and 11. An asteroid is always next to at least one other asteroid. You know how many of each of these objects there are in the sky. You need to piece together all this information, and also gather more data, to work out where Planet X is. 

This is one set of information that one player gets at the start of a game. 

The player pieces are observartories

There is no fixed player order. This game works like Tokaido and Thebes. It is always the player furthest behind a track who takes the next turn. Here, the track is a circular one around the game board. When you perform an action, it costs a certain amount of time, and you move your pawn that many steps along the track. At the centre of the board there is a disk which covers half of the sector numbers. This is called the earth board. Sectors with their numbers covered by the earth board are temporarily not observable by the players. At any time, only half the sky is accessible. The earth board rotates in response to player actions. It has a little arrow which will always point at the last player on the action track. Whenever that player moves, and there is no other player in the same segment, the earth board rotates, changing which sectors become available to everyone. This is nifty and thematic. 

The Search for Planet X is a deduction game. It is a puzzle solving exercise. You get a note sheet to help you record information you collect. Most actions in the game are related to gathering data. You can sweep a section of sky to see how many of a particular object type there are. You can target one specific sector to see what object it has. This of course is very powerful, so you can do this at most twice. Also this focused observation won't help you find Planet X, because it is not detectable. That sector will just appear to be empty. You need to know where the other objects are in order to calculate where Planet X is. 

You can research a particular object type. In game terms, this is looking at specific clues set up at the start of the game. The last thing you can do is to attempt to locate Planet X. You need to know not only its location. You must also know the objects in the two adjacent sectors. If you get this right, the game ends and everyone scores points. 

When the earth board rotation reaches certain positions (the easiest way to think of this is in certain months of the year) everyone gets a chance to publish theories. You attempt to guess which section has what object. You do so by placing one of your tiles facedown. You won't know yet whether you are correct. You have to wait for a future theory publication round before you know the results. The truth is handled by the app. You will use it frequently. 

In addition to piecing together the data you collect, you also have to watch what your opponents are doing. From their actions you can make guesses about what they might know, and also how close they are to finding Planet X. Whoever solves the position of Planet X has a good chance of winning, because the point value for doing that is high. Not a guarantee, but quite likely. 

The Play

I played the solo game and have not experienced a proper multiplayer game. My guess is playing with other humans will be more fun. In the solo game you still compete with a bot, so it's like playing a 2-player game. The bot's actions are managed by the mobile app. 

You start the game with some information already, and this is the basis from which you investigate further. The game is a process of elimination. You want to work out what object is in which segment, until eventually you find the only possible location of Planet X. Your opponents' action will give you some clues. The earth board restricts your actions and is something you have to plan around. If you miss an opportunity, you'll need to wait for the next cycle. This fits the setting very well. 

When you are ready to take a guess on Planet X, this is where you do it in the app. 

When you publish a theory, you place a square token in the outermost position. Every time there is an opportunity to publish theories, the tokens are moved one step inwards. When they reach the innermost position, they are revealed, and you use the app to check the correctness of the theories. When the game ends, all theories are revealed and scored, even if they have not reached the innermost positions. 

The rulebook has suggestions for now to take notes, but you can do it your own way. 

The Thoughts

The Search for Planet X is a clean design. There aren't many components. The rules are almost minimalistic. Most of the tedious stuff is handled by the app. I appreciate that. Some may feel that a boardgame should stay pure and not involve electronic devices. In this case, I like that the advantages of an app is utilised well to create a fresh experience for players. This is certainly not using an app for the sake of having it. 

This is fully a deduction game. There is not a lot of player interaction. You don't know a lot about what your opponents know. However you do feel that you are in a race to find Planet X. This is a game of logic and reasoning. If you like solving puzzles this will probably be your thing. I like that many elements of the game match the astronomy theme well. If you are into this kind of theme, this will be fun. 

Friday 8 March 2024

Super-Skill Pinball 4-cade

The Game

Super-Skill Pinball is a roll-and-write game about pinball machines. It is essentially a solo game, just that up to four players can play at the same time, and you compare scores to see who wins. Pinball machines are a relic now. People who have experienced the pinball machine era should be doing regular medical check-ups now. 

The game is pretty simple. Every turn you roll two dice, and you move the ball around the board to score points. The longer the ball stays on the board, the more points you will score. Eventually you'll lose the ball as it falls to the bottom. That's when a round ends. You get to play three rounds, and after that you compare to see who has the most points. 

You set up your player boards like this. The horizontal piece above is mostly decoration. Only the segment on the left is for scorekeeping. The vertical piece is your actual game board. That's where the ball moves about. 

You play using dry erase markers. During play you will cross out boxes and also erase your crosses. There are dice icons on the board. When you use a die value to move the ball to a particular dice icon, you cross out the icon. You've used that icon and it cannot use it again, unless there is a way to erase the the mark. Gradually you'll run out of dice icons to cross out. Then the ball won't be able to go anywhere except down to the bottom, i.e. you will end the round. 

The board is divided into four sections from top to bottom. The ball enters at the top section. Normally each time you move the ball, it must go to a lower section. It's called gravity. The ball can only go upwards or stay in the same section if specific components allow it. 

At the bottom section there are two levers, red and yellow. If you manage to catch the ball with one of these levers, on the next turn you can flick the ball upwards to a higher section. Just like in real life. 

The various components in the pinball machine have different behaviours and provide different benefits. This yellow duckies component is a set of three. If you manage to hit all three, they reset (i.e. you can send the pinball here again) and also you get to activate one special power. For example you can get an additional ball, or you can use the red and yellow levers interchangeably. Star icons scattered around the board mean victory points. In this game you will be scoring points all the time. It's a little tedious. 

That silver sphere is the ball. It's actually just half a sphere, so it stays still and doesn't roll about. At the top left you can see the numbers 1 to 6. This is a feature called the skill shot. When you hit all three of the Ferris wheel cars near the top, you gain a skill shot. You may circle one of the numbers. From then on, if there is a specific number you want to roll but fail to do so, you may choose to set a die to a circled skill shot number. This gives you some control and predictability. Once you use the skill shot, you erase the circle. If you hit all three Ferris wheel cars again, you can claim a new skill shot. You can save multiple skill shots of different numbers if you complete the Ferris wheel set multiple times. 

Resets are helpful. Whenever you reset a group of components, you are reopening opportunities for your ball. You'll be able to last longer and score more points. 

The game has a nudge feature, just like in real pinball machines. This basically allows you to cheat. If you really want a specific number, you can change a die to that number by performing a nudge. Doing a nudge comes with some risk. If you nudge hard, i.e. you change the number by a lot, you may lose the ball next turn. If the difference between the dice rolled is smaller than how much you nudged on a previous turn, you lose the ball. In the whole game you may only nudge three times. 

This set of three components allow the ball to bounce between them instead of rolling down to the next section, provided you roll the numbers needed. If you manage to cross off all twelve dice icons, they reset. Notice in this photo I have two balls in play. 

The game comes with four different pinball machines, with different themes and art styles. There are some common features in all the machines, but each of them has some unique elements too. The circus themed machine is the simplest one. The others are more advanced. 

The Play

Super-Skill Pinball is a risk management game. You will gradually run out of spaces to cross out and eventually you'll lose the ball. You try to prolong the play as much as possible. You plan ahead a little, strategising where you will move the ball depending on what numbers you roll. You try to make use of the resets as much as possible. A turn is simple. The game mechanism matches the theme well. 

You do some long term planning, e.g. saving up the skill shots, and making conscious effort to complete sets. You roll dice a lot, so there is certainly some luck. Your job is to manage that luck as best you can. 

When special powers are activated, I circle them

At this point if the ball is to fall to be bottom section and I roll a 1 or 5, I can still catch it with the right (yellow) lever. If I roll neither, I will lose the ball. 

These are the other three pinball machines which come with the game: 

A hacker / cyberpunk machine

A disco themed machine. It used to be called "disco". Now it's called "clubbing".

Fantasy / dragon-slaying theme

The Thoughts

Super-Skill Pinball has a unique setting, and it is designed to capture many elements of pinball machines. That part is certainly done well. It is a theme first game. It is mostly a solo game. There are some tactics to explore. Give it a go if you find it interesting. I'm not specifically a fan of pinball machines, so for me the theme is novel but not compelling. I'm not a big fan of solo games either. I'm content to have tried it out to understand how it works. 

Monday 4 March 2024

Heat: Pedal to the Metal

The Game

Heat: Pedal to the Metal is the major release from Days of Wonder in 2022. It is a game about car racing. I have never been a particular fan of racing games. But this is Days of Wonder. That means quality products. The initial reviews have been positive. So I have been curious to give it a go. I arranged a time to try it on

I asked Allen and Han to play with me. Although we had only the three of us, we were able to fill the game to 6 contestants by adding three bot players. I think this works best. The basic structure of the game is straightforward. Every round, everyone simultaneously selects cards to play. Then in order from leading position to last, everyone plays the selected cards to move their car. The first to cross the finish line wins. If two or more cars cross the line within the same round, the car which overshoots by the biggest distance is considered the winner. To understand the nuances of the game, you have to understand the card play.  

Every player has their own deck of cards. The decks are the same for everyone, unless you play with the advanced rules. With the advanced rules, three cards will be swapped out, and you'll get three cards which are unique to you. Every round after you have played cards to move your car, you may choose to discard some cards before you draw cards to replenish your hand. You always replenish to 7 cards. 

On your turn you may play 1 to 4 cards. That corresponds to the gear you use. Your car is manual (of course), and you have only 4 gears. Normally you shift gears one step at a time. You can choose to shift by two steps, but doing so costs you a heat card. 

Heat cards are the most important mechanism in Heat (hah!). It's a little abstracted, but generally heat cards represent you doing risky stuff with your car and pushing it to its limit, for the sake of being just that little bit faster than your opponents. In the game, it is sometimes a resource, and sometimes a handicap. As a resource, you can spend it to do things you normally can't. E.g. turning a corner faster than the safe speed limit, forcing you car to go some additional steps, and shifting gear by two steps. When heat cards are in the engine area on your player board, they are resources you can spend. When you spend them, you move them to your discard pile. You will later need to reshuffle your discard pile to form a new draw deck, and you will eventually draw heat cards into your hand. When they are in your hand, they are a problem. 

Heat cards in your hand clog it up. You can't do anything with them. They reduce your options. They may even make you unable to drive at a higher gear. To get rid of heat cards in your hand, you have to perform the cooling action. The basic way to do this is to drive at a low gear. When you do cooling, you get to move heat cards from your hand to your engine area on your player board. When moved to the engine area, the heat cards become your resource again, allowing you to do fancy things. 

Now you have seen the life cycle of heat cards. In this game you are constantly managing this life cycle. 

This is the player board. That row at the top lists the actions you perform in a round. It looks like a lot, but only a few are mandatory steps. Others need to be checked and performed only when applicable. The three rectangular areas are your draw deck, your engine area and your discard pile. On the right you have your gear box. 

Car racing is won and lost at the corners. Heat captures this very well. There is a safe speed for every corner on the track. When you pass that corner, your speed (i.e. the number of steps you move that round) needs to be less than the speed limit. If you go beyond that, you need to pay a number of heat cards equal to the difference between the speed limit and your speed. You probably need to lower your gear at the corners, because gear = number of cards you play. The struggle is always between low and high gear. You do want to be in high gear as much as possible, so that you play more cards and move further. Ideally along the straight stretches you draw lots of high cards and you play many of them, and at the corners you draw the low cards, and you can still maintain a high gear and play these low cards. But life is not perfect, and the fun is in dealing with what life gives you. You have to decide how low a gear you want to switch to when you make those corners. Remember the other advantage of low gears - you get to do cooling, sending heat cards from your hand to your engine area. 

One card type is stress cards. They represent the stress you are under as a driver. They are movement cards, but when you play them, you don't know their movement values yet. Only when you need to resolve movement you'll draw cards from your deck, until you get a basic card (between 1 to 4). Stress cards create uncertainty and risk. It's dangerous to use them at corners, because you may end up going too fast and you may lose control of your car. Spinning out of control is bad news. You will have lost all your heat cards, and your car is reset to the space just before the corner. Your gear is reset to 1. This is not just about wasting one turn. This is putting you at a huge disadvantage. In Heat, every turn counts. 

This is a game about hand management. The racetrack looks straightforward. However planning how to make one corner after another is not as simple as it looks. You have to decide when best to use your heat cards. You have to deal with good and bad draws. Heat cards and stress cards normally cannot be discarded. You need to decide when to do cooling, and when to use those stress cards. You have to handle them sooner or later, else your hand will be clogged up, and that diminishes your options. 

Everyone picks their cards at the same time, so there is some double guessing. One mechanism in the game is slipstreaming. If your car stops next to or right behind another, you can choose to slipstream and move two extra steps. Trailing players can make use of this to overtake opponents. If you are good at guessing where your opponents will move to, you can reap the benefits. 

There are four racetracks in the base game. This above is Italy. The other three are USA, France and UK. You get two game boards, both double-sided. 

When using the advanced rules, three of the cards in your deck will be swapped out. You get to play with unique cards. Players will have different abilities. The two white cards above are examples. The first one has a speed of 1, and it allows you to discard up to three stress cards. The second one lets you choose between using it as a 1 or as a 5. 

The Play

I played on, so most of the admin stuff was handled by the computer. When reading the rules, I just skimmed and didn't try to remember all the details. It seemed pretty straightforward, so we learned while we played. Unfortunately for Allen, while still working out the implications of our actions, he found himself losing control of his car at an early corner. He wasted all his heat cards, and his car was reset at the position just before the corner. We learned the hard way how bad spinning out can be. And this is absolutely thrilling. It means we have to be constantly on our toes. One mistake can mean never being able to catch up. We have to be in top form all the time. This is exactly what car racing should be like. 

You have to take risks all the time. Safe drivers do not win races. Heat cards are the resource which allow you to take risks. Some risks are calculable and you know you'll spend heat cards to break limits. Some risks are not exactly calculable, e.g. when you play stress cards. You are always thinking about when to take risks and how big they should be. You are always on the edge. You want to squeeze every bit of performance out of your car. Things as innocent as whether to discard cards at the end of a round and which ones to discard are not always simple. If your cards are poor and you decide to discard them, you might end up getting worse cards. 

The green player board

The bot players follow specific rules. Since we played on, we didn't bother to understand how the bots worked. We just let the computer handle them. These above are the components for bot players. 

The Thoughts

I really enjoyed Heat. The names of the designers, Asger Harding Granerud and Daniel Skjold Pedersen were not familiar, but when I looked them up, I found they are veteran designers and have quite many published games, including one I have played before - Flamme Rouge, a bicycle racing game. Heat certainly piqued my interest in their other games.  

Heat is a family strategy game. A little more complex than standard family fare like Ticket to Ride, but it will still work for families. Gamers will enjoy this too. Despite the simplicity, there are interesting and agonising decisions. There are fun tactics. It is simple enough that you can choose to play it in a casual manner. Yet there is some depth to it and you can do a bit of strategising. You can do your card counting and probability calculation if you want to. Whichever way you play, I suggest play with 6 cars, using bots if you are short on humans. It's a lot of fun.