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Svarog's Den - Board Games

Earth, Kiri-ai: The Duel, Tokaido Duo, Scram!, Rauha, and In the Footsteps of Darwin: Games Played at GAMA

by W. Eric Martin

I was at GAMA Expo 2023 for three of the four game nights and got to sample a few new and upcoming releases. I’ve already covered Disney Lorcana, and here’s a round-up of everything else:

Maxime Tardif‘s Earth from Inside Up Games seems to follow in the footsteps of Terraforming Mars, Wingspan, and Ark Nova in giving players a metric ton of icon-laden cards and saying, “Have at it!”

To begin, everyone selects a couple of starting cards that affect hand size, etc., then you start taking turns. When you’re the active player, you take one of four possible actions, and everyone else takes a lesser version of that action, then everyone activates all of the cards in their world that match the color of that action.

As in all such games, you want to maximize what you’re doing while not giving others a chance to build, but in at least the first few games, you’re probably barely looking at what others are doing because you are overwhelmed with puzzle parts that require your attention.

After the first few turns

You need money to put out cards, and you want growth to place mulch and plants on those cards, and those elements all spiral into one another as cards let you transform plants into money, mulch into cards, etc.

The game has random shared goals akin to Trailblazers, which I covered here, and you can play on friendly mode in which everyone scores the same for reaching a goal or antagonistic mode in which points drop for each subsequent player who completes a goal.

Note that I’m probably not using the right terms for anything in all of these descriptions, but the gist of what I’m saying is what matters.

My final board

When someone fills their 4×4 card layout, you complete the round, then score points for a bunch of things: played cards, plants on cards, compost, personal goal cards in your layout, completed goals, etc. Earth seems tailor-made for those who like optimizing a hundred opportunities for scoring as every turn gives you options for what to keep, what to play, where to play, what to spend, and so on.

Kiri-ai: The Duel is the debut title from U.S. publisher Mugen Gaming, with this two-player game apparently being a reimplementation of Kamibayashi‘s 曇天/斬合 Legend from 2019.

In the game, you and the other samurai start at opposite ends of the dueling area, each with a hand of identical cards. Each round, you program two cards from your hand by placing them face down on the table, then you each reveal and resolve the first card, then reveal and resolve the second card.

With the cards, players advance or retreat in relation to the opponent or strike high or low, attempting to cause damage. You need to be a certain distance from the opponent to use each strike, and the movement cards are double-ended, giving you options for how to use them. The first card you play each round is set aside for the next round, so you each now have information about what the other player cannot do. Strike your opponent twice in order to win.

Image: Mugen Gaming

I played Kiri-ai: The Duel twice with CEO Ai Namima-Davison, with one game ending after only a few turns and the other having us parry and move almost in synch for at least a dozen turns. I took fencing in college, and this game has that feel of measuring the opponent, anticipating, and pre-countering.

Kiri-ai: The Duel includes a set of unique action cards, and for more variety you can deal some of these to each player, leaving others out of play, thereby giving you imperfect information about what the opponent holds. These cards can be used only once and do not circulate back to your hand, unlike the regular action cards, so use them with care!

Tokaido Duo is a two-player-only version of Tokaido from Antoine Bauza and Funforge that I first covered one year ago to the day! Tokaido Duo will debut in the U.S. at Gen Con 2023 in August, with North American retail availability coming later in August.

As in the original game, in Tokaido Duo you score points in multiple ways, and you want to have more points than your opponent. What differs is that instead of moving only a single figure on a linear path and jumping ahead as far as you wish to grab something, the distance you travel is now specified by a die roll, but you have three figures available for movement. Games are often about managing restrictions, so here Bauza has effectively reversed the restrictions from Tokaido.

As the active player in a round, you roll three dice — one for each type of figure: artist, merchant, and pilgrim — then choose one die and use its value with your matching figure. The opponent chooses one of the remaining two dice, then you use the third die.

The merchant walks on a linked network, picking up goods at central locations, then selling them by visiting coastal locations that specify how much they’ll pay for which item. Every ten coins transforms into a gold brick that fills one of the scoring slots on the merchant card. Max out the merchant, and that triggers the end of the game.

The artist moves through fields around this network, revealing tiles (i.e., creating works) based on the number of figures in surrounding spaces, then giving away the art one by one by visiting a field that matches the lowest tile. The more you give away, the more you score. Max out the artist, and that triggers the end of the game.

The pilgrim circles the fields, ideally seeing torii gates and greenery because it scores the sum of these items (gates multiplied by greenery). When you max out one of these two categories, that triggers the end of the game. (The pilgrim can also pick up bonus tiles that modify actions and do some other stuff.)

In my first game of Tokaido Duo, my opponent seemed like he wasn’t paying attention and let me draft the merchant die over and over again, hitting 45 points in no time. (You score for all three of your figures.) I wanted to play again immediately for more of a “real game”, and my second opponent was a little more confrontational, but I once again maxxed my merchant and won. Hmm. Ideally I can get this game to the table again before too long. I like the system, but I need to play someone who’s also looking at what I’m doing…

Scram! is a card game for three, four, or six players from Ted Alspach and Bézier Games that will debut at Gen Con 2023 in August.

Scram! falls into a similar bucket as Cabo and Silver, two earlier Bézier releases, in that it’s a golf-style card game in which you want the fewest points possible. Where it differs from those games is that with four or six players, you compete in teams, and your team needs to have the lowest score to win the round.

Each player starts with three face-down cards and two face-up cards. On a turn, you can swap the top discarded card for a card in your tableau or draw the top card of the deck; you can then swap this card for a card in your tableau or discard the drawn card to use its power. Card powers let you look at cards, swap cards, share info, etc.

Alternatively, when you keep a card, you can discard all cards (minimum two) of the same number from the tableaus of you and your partner(s), but if you’re discarding face-down cards, you have to correctly identify those cards or be penalized.

If you think your team has the lowest total, you can call for the end of the round, but each other player takes a turn before you compare totals.

Me vs. two Bézier reps

In the three-player game, one player starts with a larger hand size and they take every other turn in the game, with the players on the opposing team alternating turns. I played Scram! once with four, then again with three, which had a very different feel given the flow of the game.

• My short description of In the Footsteps of Darwin by Grégory Grard, Matthieu Verdier, and Sorry We Are French is “smooth”.

Here’s the central game board: On a turn, you draft a tile from the column or row where the ship is located, then you move the ship clockwise 1-3 spaces depending on the location of the tile you picked. Fill the empty space with a new tile from the deck. Do this twelve times, then count your points.

Each player starts with one guide — the tokens in the upper left — and you can spend a guide to either move the ship one space in either direction prior to drafting or flush the current line of tiles in front of the ship and draw new ones.

When you take a tile, it goes into a specified location on your personal board. People go in the left column, while animals go into a 4×4 array with the columns representing the continent and the rows the animal type. If you fill all four spaces in a row or column, you score 5 points. If you place a tile on top of another tile, you draft an endgame scoring tile. If you draft a tile with a guide or compass, you take those tokens from the central board.

At game’s end, you tally stuff: visible points on tiles, 5-point bonuses, endgame tiles, and the sum of compasses multiplied by visible scrolls (12 points in the image below). Stacking stuff can cost you points or scrolls, but ideally you’re making up for the loss with better endgame scoring.

Yay, newts and North America! Boo, where’d Australia go?

I played In the Footsteps of Darwin twice with four people, and the design is like the Platonic ideal of a Eurogame. Each turn you have three choices, albeit with a guide giving you a few more, and you make the best you can of what’s available. You’re mostly focused on your own growth, but sometimes you do consider where you’re placing the boat for the next player and how it might benefit them.

The two-player game would make each choice matter more for both of you since your choice would then determine where the opponent might leave the boat for you.

Rauha (pronounced “ROW-uh”) from Johannes Goupy, Théo Rivière, and GRRRE Games is a card-drafting game for 2-5 players, and I got (sort of) half of the game played before we had to pack it in for the evening.

The game lasts four rounds, with each round lasting three turns. Each turn, you pick up the cards from your left or right as indicated on your player board, choose one, place that card in any space on your board or in the central discard area, then return the remaining cards.

After this, you resolve the column or row indicated by the avatar token surrounding your game board. (In the image below, I’ve already placed my first card, and the leftmost column will be resolved.) Some spaces on the board give you money or points, others let you convert something for something. You can gain spore tokens that activate spaces extra times. If you create a line of three colored symbols or weather icons, then you receive the matching deity tile, which gives you an immediate bonus.

We messed up the timing of how cards are resolved, so we didn’t play correctly. Multiple players can form a line of the same color on a turn, and the deity passes from one player to another, with all of them getting the bonus, but only one of them ending up with the tile.

This matters because after three turns you have an intermediary round with deities providing bonuses once again and spore tokens triggering bonus tile actions. Players also compare their water holdings, scoring points based on their relative strength.

You need to maintain a flow of money so that you can pay for cards, although some are free.

My board at the halfway point

It’s interesting to see game elements or details repeated across even this small range of games, with Rauha and In the Footsteps of Darwin both lasting twelve turns and allowing you to stack items on your board, with Earth having a different type of stacking. Darwin and Earth have you build in a 4×4 grid. Kiri-ai: The Duel and Rauha have you choose and resolve cards simultaneously.

• One non-GAMA Expo item that made it to the table was Vegetable Stock from Zong-Hua Yang and Taiwanese publisher Good Game Studio. Dan King had a copy and insisted I should play, so we met and ran through four three-player games in roughly a half hour.

The game is incredibly simple. Set up the initial value of vegetables, with something at 0, something else at 1, etc. In each round, deal out one more card than the number of players. Each player drafts a card, then the remaining card bumps up the value of the depicted veggies by 1 for each occurence on the card. If a veggie is maxed out at 5 and would go up, it crashes to 0. After six rounds, everyone scores points based on the value of what they’ve collected. High score wins.

The design doesn’t give you a huge amount to think about or plan for, but it’s a quick dose of fun when you can squash a veggie’s value and tank an opponent, and you get a lottery-style buzz in the later rounds as you hope for certain cards to appear. C’mon, broccoli!

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