Space Ninja, review

Slightly obscure review today: Space Ninja from the English-language friendly Japanese company Group SNE.

The box art is way more violent than the game

The game is a worker placement, your workers are agents placed onto various planets in order to influence their individual politics. At scoring time, they earn you points based on who controls planets: player with most agents getting one point for every ‘civilian’ living on the planet, second place getting half that. In case of ties, the earliest agents win.

The heart of the game are the different planets available. 

The game comes with 6 though not all of them are used in each game, and they are very unique. They all follow the same basic format:

  • an area for the population to live on, with a maximum size
  • a row for the player owned ninjas to line up on
  • the effect that happens when you place a ninja
  • and the effect that happens at the end of the row

Most of the planets involve a ‘programming’ mechanic where placing ninjas gives you a say, either by moving populations to voting areas, or paying off officials to pass legislation, or rolling a dice to determine what the fate will be unless someone else shows up and rolls as well. I’m making these sound kinda plot driven, but they’re very euro in practice, heh.

Which leads us to the core mechanic: more population is more points, but only up to the limit. If the population ever crosses over it, the planet ‘explodes’. Half the people die, and more importantly, half the agents die, oldest first. This means that the game is an endless balancing act between the people earning points trying to keep the population high but not too much so, and the players whoa aren’t earning points who are trying to either crash it, or grow it over the limit. And with the complex actions possible on the planets, predicting which is easier is non-trivial.

Programming example: the mandarin planet is set to export a pop counter-clockwise, then shrink their own population while giving everyone a free ‘placeholder’ ninja. Meanwhile, Enlil in the back is at it’s final state where it grows slowly and kills of pops in the neighboring planets.

Btw, did I mention the game is very low luck? Two planets involves a die roll (one to determine the population limit, one to determine how it will behave at turn end), but generally speaking you have a very good idea of what will happen at the end of turn and the only difficulty is predicting the actions of your fellow players. I definitely would not recommend this at 2p since I have a feeling it’d turn into an AP fest.

A very good game, recommended. It takes us about 2 lunches to get through the full 4 rounds, but well worth it if you like the more experimental Japanese euro-game scene.

Carcassonne review

Carcassonne is relevant to me as it was the first ‘real’ board game I bought and played. It was an impulse buy from a mall board game store back when those existed still.

The game is a quintessential ‘euro-style’ game in that it’s really a graph optimization problem with the thinnest veneer of medieval Europe on top. Tiles are flipped and added to previous ones, workers are placed, victory points are scored.

Carcassonne. “My First Euro”, but also my first euro.

It ended up being an excellent purchase cause the game ended up teaching me the other half of what makes a euro game a euro: great strategic depth. Carcassonne gets competitive very quick as players start to steal cities, set up complex road networks to define the farms, and all hope that that one “1 road abbey” comes up for them.

It’s genuinely a great game. It’s also a great introduction to modern board games as there’s no secrets (no hand of cards, no hidden information at all) so a player teaching the game can openly give strategic advice and clarify rules in real time.

The pretty constant playtime (there’s only so many tiles) means that it also never stretches too long, making it a go-to at my work for lunch play.

Quick post-scriptum thought: the expansions are definitely not “must-buy” as they all add either randomness or complexity. They’re great if you get bored of the base game, but by no means necessary. The only one I would even remotely consider for your first play though is “The river” and that’s it.

The Gallerist review

From the makers of Kanban: The Heaviest Euro comes a new extremely intimidating euro game, The Gallerist.

Gallerist, early game, only 5 artists discovered
Gallerist, early game, only 5 artists discovered

First, it’s a beautiful game. Everything feels and looks perfect, which makes sense for a game about art. The art pieces are genuinely interesting, though entirely cosmetic.

That out of the way, the rules are intimidating. Not in a sense of hardcore depth, which exactly is very nicely balanced, but in the sense of looking at a busy board and making sense of it at a glance. There’s also a bit of “surprise side effects” in the game that while documented well in multiple places are still sometimes forgettable.

Gameplay wise it’s a variation on worker placement that’s more “worker movement”. You have just one worker and they walk around the board activating various actions. One catch is that if you use a building with someone else currently in it they get a “kick out” action as a response to you. Keeps people from super zoning out.

Gallerist. Easiest than it looks, I swear
Gallerist. Easier than it looks, I swear

The game is also almost totally luckless. About the same level as Russian Railroads and less luck driven than even Village. It really rewards awareness of others and playing to the goals that no one else is competing in. A very satisfying part of a strong euro design.

It’s a genuinely fun game, with beautiful layout. If you’re willing to put in the time it takes to set it up each time, it’s a very streamlined and balanced worker game.

Takenoko Chibis review

We played the Chibis expansion of Takenoko with Erin and Mikey last night. While the stars are obviously Ms Panda and the cubs, the real unspoken game changer is the statue tiles that make much larger bamboo forests possible.

Takenoko Chibis, with the new taller bamboo forests
Takenoko Chibis, with the new taller bamboo forests

See the absurd swath of 4-tall green and blue? That’s expansion growth. When the gardener steps on the statues, all irrigated hexes of that color grow by 1. You can grow 7+ tiles in a single turn. No panda can eat that. The second pond also makes irrigation chains less crucial, if it gets placed in a good place, which makes the least appealing part of the game even less so.

Game is still just as random as before, and still fun.

Robinson Crusoe review

Did a playthrough of Portal’s fantastic Robinson Crusoe coöperative, on the Cursed Island scenario. Almost got the rules perfectly right this time, heh.

The exorcists of Cursed Island

We tend to play with Dog for the “slightly easier” mode. Our main screw up (that probably allowed the win) was that we built the sacred bell while the fog was on the only hill hex which is not allowed: once a hex becomes unexplored, all tools that rely on it become unavailable. We also got incredibly lucky in a few places, top decking a hatchet and the adventure bell exactly as needed at one point.

It’s a very good game that clocks in at around 2 hours. Very nice art, very thematic, and genuinely fun as long as you’re willing to put in the time to learn the rules up front.

And we didn't even have to use the hourglass

Didn’t even have to break the hourglass.

Lords of Waterdeep + Scoundrels of Skullport review

Also brought Scoundrels of Skullport to table for first time. Excellent expansion with a genuinely fun mechanic in the corruption track.

But you probably already knew that, if not, check it out on iPad. Really, I’m posting this post to show off that second photo of Angelica.

Lords of Waterdeep + Scoundrels of Skullport
Lords of Waterdeep + Scoundrels of Skullport
The aforementioned very good photo
The aforementioned very good photo

(this was my only win in an otherwise incredible 9 game losing streak)

GenCon: Village + Inn review

We did a session playthrough of Village with the Inn expansion.


While the inn adds a lot of new mechanics, it also makes the game feel really arbitrary. I can see it being popular with people who want to add some randomness to it, but I think I prefer it without.

Angelica was interested in the sea expansion though, seeing as traveling is her favorite part of the game.

GenCon Library: Spyrium review

Another pleasant time passer: a worker placement mini called Spyrium that I totally missed hearing about when it came out. Thank you to Andarel for introducing me to it and playing the game through with me.


Really similar conceptually to Sail To India in the sense of being a mini game with cards as board that uses workers in a clever way, and a constant rushed feeling of always being on the edge of running out of time.

Lords of Waterdeep

We sniped a copy of Lords of Waterdeep during their weird 66% off sale and finally had time to run a playthrough. 


Really pleasing how everything in this game has a place
I was familiar with the digital version but not the physical copy. Love how well everything fits in the box. I always appreciate that


You can see our custom coins in this shot too
Visible in photo, our replacement metal coins. I really like using those for the feel-y mini immersion aspect. In the game, I got lieutenant in the opening quests so it was a pretty good run for me.

Sail To India

AEG’s Sail To India at work during lunch. I like the game, but within reason and hard to recommend cause it suffers from two very odd qualities:

  • it’s short, and
  • it’s non random

This means that you have very little time to develop a strategy and start moving towards a win. If multiple people in a 3 player game start exploring at the same time, the game can be over in I think 6 turns, and possibly 10-15 minutes if there’s little hesitation.

Sail To India
Sail To India

That makes for a surprisingly stressful game if you’re the sort of person who needs to get themselves into a frame of mind as you start playing and likes games that ramp up. While Sail To India definitely has a “power” ramp up as you play, the decisions you make in turns 1 and 2 can greatly outweigh anything else you do later.

Again, assuming exploration race. A 4-player game with no one going for an exploration win can take much longer and end up with much higher scores at the end. Hard to tell which game style the designers favored.

A clever game mechanic I first saw in this game is the re-use of your units as your score and money keepers: to be able to record a VP you have to convert one of your ships into a historian who can store up to 5 points. To go above that, you’d need a second ship converted and this one can take you to 10 points. Clever mechanic where theoretically the more you’re ahead, the weaker you get. I can see it definitely being put into a game that puts it more at the forefront of its design.