PAX East 2022 – The Board Games Post

A look at the board games I played at PAX East, 2022.

While PAX East doesn’t focus on board games in the same way as Gen Con, or PAX Unplugged, they’re still there! Despite having a smaller presence, PAX East’s tabletop sections stays open late into the evening. So let’s go over the fun board games I played at PAX East.

Disclaimer: This list is no particular order, but I have listed bigger/released games closer to the bottom of the list. I played Dominion. It was fun. But it’s been out for 10 years, it doesn’t need top billing.

So let’s get right into it. Drum roll please!

1. I ripped this image straight from the Space Lion site, and 2. Pretty sure this is a concept box, even if the art is somewhat finalized.

First up, we have Space Lion! It’s an asymmetric bluffing/placement game. At the show, I only played the demo which used a single army. The full game is supposed to include four armies, if I remember correctly? The general gist is that you have a hand of cards, which are your units. Each round, you and your opponents place cards face down at various locations, and after placement is finished, you flip them up. Whoever has the highest unit value wins that battle, and the goal is to destroy the opponent’s base. While this sounds simple, I’ve completely skipped unit abilities, exhausting units, and the fact that each army is supposed to play differently.

Unfortunately, the game isn’t actually out yet. There was a Gamefound campaign running, but it was canceled. Still, if you’re interested in the game, there’s hope! The creators announced they were taking the lessons they learned from the first campaign and planning to try another at some point. If that all sounds interesting, you can sign up for their mailing list here. I hope it succeeds, as it was one of my favorite games from the show.

Another unpublished game is Small Time Crooks. I found this one in the Unpub hall. If you’re not familiar with Unpub, it’s a small area where you can play test board games in various states of development. The games can vary quite highly in their levels of completeness. You’ll find folks looking for publishers sitting next to a first prototype of a hand made deck of cards.

Small Time Crooks though! It’s a hyper-lite GM-less RPG? The mechanics are pretty straight forward. You have a character, and you have a randomly generated target to rob. The target consists of a series of random rooms. Each room contains a skill check, which you make via dice rolls.

I’m honestly not sure how well it would work with multiple players, but the demo was neat. I think it’s worth keeping an eye on. And if you want to do that, here’s the link to their website. My notes say that they’re planning a Kickstarter at some point in 2022? Weirdly enough I could never find who is actually making the game.

Update: You can also find them here, on Twitter! Thanks to the Unpub hall for pointing this out for me.

Leaving the indie and unpub space, let’s head over to a game that had its own massive booth.

Calling Dice Throne an incredibly polished “Push-Your-Luck” dice brawler is underselling it a bit, but it feels fairly accurate. I only played a single 1v1 game, but it worked like this: each player picks out a character to play. The character determines the starting health, energy, hand size, and most importantly, your attacks. Each attack consists of a matched pattern of dice rolls. On your turn, you have three sets of rolls. After each roll, you can choose which dice you want to reroll, and which to keep. The end result is that you’re generally trying to roll specific patterns to inflict damage, while using your own abilities to keep yourself alive. You can also use your hand of cards to modify dice rolls, and upgrade your abilities.

It’s very polished, and the two characters I saw seemed pretty different. I didn’t rush over to buy a copy afterwards, but I’d play it again. Also, the game box is massive, and I’m not sure I have space for it. Like, much bigger than other board games.

Of games I played though, the last one is one I owned: Dominion.

A deckbuilder like Tanto Cuore, Dominion is over 10 years old and is the OG of OG deckbuilders. There’s not much I can say that hasn’t already been written about, but let me summarize it anyway. Each player starts with a deck of cards, and a shared market. The market consists of 10 of 21 non-starter cards, and also a few more. Your goal is to spend the currency you get from you hand to buy cards from the market and add them to your deck, and improve your deck’s efficiency, so you can buy victory point cards. But as victory point cards only give VP at the end of the game, you want to avoid buying them until you have to.

Overall, it’s a very solid game, and playing it with someone who hadn’t played before gave me a solid appreciation for how well it’s held up all these years later. It also gave me a sense of nostalgia for a time 10 years ago. Y’know, back when you could just go places, the world wasn’t falling apart, and my parents weren’t divorced!

How time flies.

In any case, that’s what I played at PAX. This was only a microscopic sample of what was available, but as I tend to focus on video games while at East, it’s all I have to write about today.

Oh, and I also played lot of MTG, but that might just end up being its own post.

Tanto Cuore

A deckbuilder that will have you collecting anime maids, and also judging looks from anyone who sees you playing.

I like Tanto Cuore and I’m not afraid to say it. Many of the mechanics feel like a upgrade over Dominion, and while it doesn’t have some of the variety of Ascension, it does avoid the randomness. If you haven’t played either of those games, that’s okay. I’ll talk more about the mechanics in a bit. But first, a brief diatribe.

Something I thought about while preparing to write this article was the fact that I have different standards for when I feel like I can write about a game based on format. For board games, a single full play session is usually enough for me to feel like I can offer an opinion. On the flip side, I’ve recently played like 40 hours of Bloodborne, but because I haven’t beaten the game, I don’t feel like I can offer thoughts yet.

It’s an interesting dichotomy, and it would be relevant to the rest of this article, because while I’m playing the digital edition of Tanto Cuore, the game itself is a board game. So even though I haven’t beaten all the single player levels, or even a majority of them, I’ve played several more rounds then I might have if it was a standard board game. At the same time, I would usually feel a bit weird reviewing a game with only five hours played.

The key phrase here is “would usually.” Because 98% of the human population is going to decide that they don’t want to play Tanto Cuore after the next sentence:

Tanto Cuore is a deckbuilder in which all of your cards are anime maids.

Have we scared off the normies with this photo? Good.

Cool, so yeah, now that no one else is going to read the rest of this article, let’s get going, starting with a short definition of the deckbuilder genre.

If you haven’t played a deckbuilder before, they generally work something like this: each player starts with a simple deck of cards. On your turn, you play those cards to take actions, and generate resources to buy more cards from some form of central supply to add to your deck. Cards you buy or play go into your discard pile, and when you run out of cards to draw from your deck, you shuffle your discard pile and it becomes your deck again. Unlike a traditional collectible card game like Yu-Gi-Oh or Magic: The Gathering, with deckbuilders you create your deck each time you play the game. You start from scratch with the same deck of simple cards each time you play.

The goal of Tanto Cuore is to have the most victory points at the end of the game, because of course it is. Now that we’ve talked about the most boring part of the game, let’s move onto the maids cards.

Tanto Cuore has four types of cards. There are love cards, general maids, private maids, and events. Of those four, private maids and events are the simplest to explain, so we’ll start with them.

Private maids don’t go into your deck. Instead, they go into a scoring zone. When you buy a private maid, it enters your scoring zone, and until you buy another private maid, or something else special happens, you can use its ability. They also tend to be worth victory points at the end of the game. While the abilities can appear small at first, they tend to be mechanically impactful.

Events also don’t go into your deck. In fact, they don’t go anywhere related to you at all. When you buy an event, you play it onto another player, or one of that player’s maids in their private quarter. Events tend to either disable abilities, or be worth negative victory points.

Of the remaining two card types, the simplest cards are Love cards. Love is the currency you use to hire maids, and love cards can be played without spending any resources. In any other game, these would be called “Gold” or “Money.” But yeah, here it’s Love.

Which brings us to the last card type: the maids themselves. The maids are the most complex and as such covering them all in detail isn’t possible. Instead, I’m going to give a general overview of the sort of things they do and how they get used.

There are three resources that you have on your turn. They are Love, Hires, and Servings. Love is used to pay the cost to get maids. However, in addition for each maid you get, you also need to spend a Hire. The last resource, Servings, actually has two uses. You can spend Servings to play maid cards, but you can also use them to send specific maids to your scoring zone. Doing this removes the maid from your deck, but allows it to potentially also score bonus end game victory points.

It’s this mechanic that I think really makes Tanto Cuore stand out to me as a different from other deckbuilders in a meaningful way. Almost all deckbuilders have some form of victory point card that sits around and does nothing, or cards that are useful in the early game, but clog your engine in the late game. In Tanto Cuore, many of those cards are actually your primary method of scoring. Colette Framboise is the best example of this. You can spend two Servings to remove her from your deck, which scores you points. And since your deck starts with only 10 cards, removing her can vastly increase deck efficiency.

So, now that we’ve finally finished talking about Tanto Cuore’s mechanics, let’s talk a bit more about the digital version of the game, since it’s probably the easiest version of the game for you to currently get your hands on (and forcefully gift to your friends in order into guilt them into playing with you).

Overall, I think it does a fairly good job as a digital port of a physical game. While some things do feel a bit barebones, none of those are the actual game itself. There’s also an extensive singleplayer mode/tutorial with a variety of levels that seems to unlock foil versions of the cards as you clear the levels will completing various objectives. The video and audio sliders actually work really well, and the game has ultra-wide monitor support for some reason. Protip: After launching the game, go in and just… slide that slider for voices all the way off. Thank me later.

I do have one gripe with the digital version of the game though: as far as I can tell, there’s no way to see a list of all the cards in the game. See, at the start of each game, you pick several different maids to be placed into the central buy row. The rest of the cards aren’t used for that game. But this means it’s entirely possible to start a game and see a few cards you haven’t ever seen before. It’s not a massive annoyance, but I really wish there was an in-game card browser, or like… a PDF.

So yeah, that’s Tanto Cuore. A really cool deckbuilder about collecting maids that none of your friends will play with you, either because you had no friends before getting the game, or you won’t have any after trying to get them to play it. Remember kids, Settlers of Catan and every other Euro-game that promotes colonialism and hyper capitalism is a-ok, but god forbid you have skimpily dressed anime women. That’s simply a bridge too far.

Tanto Cuore is $10 on Steam, $42 on Amazon on the physical copy, and apparently like $1800 for the Japanese edition? Yeah, I don’t know either. It’s good though, and worth playing (although probably not for $1800).

Tiny Towns – More Board Games!

A simple looking and enjoyable board game about making a better town then everyone else.

Another week inside, another board game! I actually ended up playing Tiny Towns about a week ago at this point, but it was a bunch of fun, so it’s still worth talking about. You can find the game here.

So lets talk about the game. Why is Tiny Towns fun? Well, at part because everyone is on the same playing field. In Tiny Towns, each player has a 4×4 grid, and on your turn, you choose a resource, and place it on a square on your board. Each square can only have one resource, and you’re trying to use this to complete patterns to make a building. When you finish a pattern, you remove the resource squares from the board, and place a building on one of the squares that you removed resources from to make the building.

Which is all very simple, except for one little thing: Whenever any player selects a resource, every other player takes one as well. And you will almost always have to immediately place it. So all of a sudden, two things are happening. The board is a lot smaller, and the selection of building material becomes very important. What are your opponents going to take? Does it look like they need wheat, so you can grab stone? Will giving them brick let them finish another building?

Now, if you’re thinking “Why doesn’t everyone just build the same exact thing?”, I was wondering that too. And that’s where a mechanic I haven’t mentioned yet comes in: Secret Buildings.

Each player starts the game with a single secret building. On the whole, theses buildings can swing the balance of the game quite a decent amount just based on their point value, which is pretty good. Even more importantly though, you can use them to throw off your opponents on what you’re planning to build, and what resource you might be choosing on your turn.

So, that’s your overview of the mechanics. So why is it fun? Well, in part because it’s straightforward. I’ve mentioned I like systems where you make a simple choice with complex outcomes. On your turn, you will pick a building material, place it, and then build buildings. And that’s it. There is no upgrade phase, there are no special materials that act as wildcards, just three simple actions. In choosing your material you have to deal with both what you’re trying to build while figuring out what it gives your opponents. At least for me, a lot of the fun of the game is in trying to read other players boards, and figure out what material they’re going to pick.

Oh, and the game is quite fast. I think the round we played was under 30 minutes? I enjoyed it quite a lot. Thanks for reading, and if you have board game suggestions for stuff to play while we’re all locked up trying to not die, please feel free to hit us up on our Twitter!

Glory to Rome

Let’s talk about a great game you can’t buy unless you want to sell your kidneys.

As we enter another week of quarantine, I’ve spent a lot of time playing games with people over the internet. This week, it was Glory to Rome in tabletop simulator, a board game with a really weird ass history. While I could spend time writing about that, I’d just be retreading ground already covered by Cyrus Farivar, in his article on arstechnica. So yeah, if you want to see how a Kickstarter can go horrifically wrong, and why being in a relationship with your only translator for your production line might be a bad idea, go read his stuff instead. It’s fascinating.

(Side Note: I find the failure of Glory to Rome especially interesting as the only components for the game are paper and cards. It’s all cards! No complex inserts, no expensive plastic models, nothing. Where’s the Jason Schier of the board game industry? There’s probably a fascinating and horrifying story about global supply chains in this thing.)

So instead, lets actually talk about Glory to Rome. I had a lot of fun with it. I was playing with three other friends, one of whom had played before. I also got crushed, coming in last place. Generally speaking, I get pretty salty when I lose games, and while there was some of that, I mostly want to play it again.

Probably the thing I find the most impressive about Glory to Rome is the same thing I sorta mocked it for up above: the only component is cards. The cards are your resources. The cards are your buildings. The cards are your victory points, your actions, and clients. The game manages to pack a stupid amount of functionality into each card WITHOUT making them illegible or hard to read. (Unless you’re playing on tabletop simulator with blurry scans. In which case, yeah, they can be a bit hard to read.) But the fact of the matter is, the game feels like it does a lot with very little.

The second thing about Glory to Rome that I find interesting, and would be helpful if I played it again, is how fast the game is. Most building games I’ve played tend to sorta drag out near the end, getting to the point where you’re playing kingmaker, or where you’ve lost, but the game keeps going. Glory to Rome ends with a bang. Of the four people in our game, I would say the two highest scoring players earned most of their points in the last two to three rounds of play, in one person’s case, scoring around 20+ points in one turn. (My end game score was 12 total. 3rd place was 13.) There’s an explosive energy to it by the end.

I honestly don’t really have any nitpicks with the game, and honestly, if I could, I’d go out and buy a copy. But you can’t, and no one can. At the time of writing, Ebay shows maybe two copies of the first edition, clocking in at about $130, and a single copy of the “Black Box Edition” at $425 (To be fair, that’s including the $50 shipping. To be unfair, that’s probably more then it would cost you to go and get an entire copy of the game professionally printed.) The next several results are all for games that describe themselves as “Glory to Rome-like”.

If you want to play it though, there is still a way to do it. First, you’d need Tabletop Simulator installed, and then, theoretically, you would need to go and find a mod version of the game in the workshop. You know. Theoretically. And playing this way would still cost about $20 per person, since you’d all have to buy a copy of tabletop simulator.

But it would still be cheaper then buying the actual game.