First Thoughts – Critters, Encounters, and Rice!

Things have been a bit light in the gaming department recently, but over the last two months I have managed to get a few new games to the table. So, as I find myself with a little unexpected computer time – Yasmin’s finished her schoolwork and thus been booted off the computer – I decided to share my first thoughts and take a break from all those painting posts.


I’d been drawn to this game for some time; it has a wonderful table presence about it, what with that lovely Everdell Tree sprouting out of the board and some gorgeous card-art. But would the gameplay stand up to its top-notch presentation? Well, I can happily report that, yes, this game is more than just a pretty face!

At heart it’s a worker placement game, it also involves a little tableau building, and on top of this is laid the lovely theme of critters.

Gorgeous Meeples!

You take on the role of a team of critters, hedgehogs, mice, squirrels, or my favourite, turtles. You use your workers to visit locations around the forest to collect resources, and with these resources you can build ‘critter constructions’ like a farm, university, and even a dungeon. You can also entice other critters to come and live in your town, and like the buildings, they’ll bring something useful along with them.

Some will provide extra resources, others enable building costs to be reduced, whilst the best ones to look out for are those that give you a much-needed Victory Point boost. The problem is, well, there’s more than one problem actually – resources can be hard to come by, and you’re limited to a total of 15 critters and buildings within your town.

Sometimes, though, you can recruit critters for zero cost. Most buildings are just crying out for a certain someone to come and live in them, and if that critter should be in your hand, or even in the Meadow (basically a face-up market place in the middle of the board), then they can be played to your town for free.

Have the Inn? Then recruiting this Critter won’t cost a dime, well, a berry actually!

I’ve played four games so far, at 2 and 3 players, and I love this game, my daughter loves this game, and even my non-gamer wife loves this game!

The gameplay is really tight – you only get one action per turn, and at the start of the game you only have two workers. As you progress, and this bit I find fascinating, each player will advance through the seasons at a different pace, gaining workers with the turn of each season. By the end of the fourth season you find yourself armed with six workers and some difficult choices to make.

The intensity of the game builds steadily, reaching its peak in those final rounds, as you try to eek out as many points as you possibly can. The Meadow may contain that building you’ve been looking for, as you have a critter that’d love to move in just biding his time in your hand; but you have no pebbles to build it. Pebbles are scarce and hard to come by, especially if you try to rely on the forest locations to provide them, but there are ways around this.

Maybe you could ruin one of your buildings (by placing the ruins card) and use its resources to build the one you want? Or did you store some in your storeroom, knowing this moment would come? It’s these choices that make this game so great to play, and looking for ways around problems, trying to figure out how best to gather those much-needed resources, make the game much deeper than one might think at first glance.

Now, that’s what I call table presence!

I’ve yet to play the accompanying solo mode, as so far every time I reach for the box I find an orderly queue for choice of meeple standing behind me. I’m sure I’ll get to sneak a game in at some point, and I’m really excited about getting into the nitty-gritty of the game.

Legendary Encounters: The X-Files Deckbuilding game

I really wanted the Alien version of Legendary Encounters but trying to find it for sale from reputable source seemed to verge on the impossible. So, when this one popped up it immediately caught my attention, I love the X-files.

Legendary Encounters: X-Files

Still, it took some time before I parted with my cash and I was quite excited to get it to the table for the first time.

Reading the rules through only added to the vibe – the theme game appeared to have the theme nailed. Strange things lurking in the shadows, slowly becoming a greater threat until, at last, you manage to reveal them and can now start working against the threat. Maybe, though, you were lucky enough to stumble on lead, but can you make good on it and turn it into evidence?

And what about those rogues who have infiltrated Bureau? Will they make themselves known and wreck havoc with your plans?

There’s the Lone Gunmen, Walter Skinner, Monica and John, and many more besides, all there to help, and of course, the game wouldn’t be complete without Mulder and Scully.

The rules seemed straightforward enough, and so, when an appropriate moment came along – in other words when the dining table was free – I unloaded the contents of the box and then… wasted far too much of my precious gaming time sorting out the cards.

Why, oh why, couldn’t they have sealed the cards up in their respective decks? Instead, half of one deck is mixed in with that deck over there whilst this deck is split into at least three, and this one is, whilst in the same pack, has half another deck inserted in the middle…WHY!

The rules have a section on sorting cards, and it amused me to read, “Most cards have a Deck Label at the bottom…” Most, but not all, again why? Label them all if you’re going to instead of making a first time player try to guess what cards belong where – Aaargh!

Okay, mini rant over. Now, rewind a second and let’s start again.

Lifting the lid of the box in the first place gave me shock; the box was practically empty. It’s a fair sized box, approx. 38 x 26cm, and contained four or five packs of cards, the playmat, six foam block and two hefty pieces of packing paper. What a waste!

Legendary Encounters: X-Files

Admittedly, the box needs to be that long to accommodate the lovely rubber playmat, but there must have been some other alternative. I did wonder if the box was so large as to hold upcoming expansions, but the game is now almost 2-years old an there’s been no mention of any coming out. And so, whenever I open the box, I’m confronted with a very sorry looking game indeed, lost in all that packaging.

The playmat, though, is a lovely addition, one that could easily have been replaced with a small board for the Shadows and Bureau; the decks could have been plonked on the table nearby.

Legendary Encounters: X-Files

Anyway, after sorting the cards into their respective decks, I then had to prepare the decks for the game. This involved taking various cards, often at random, putting some on the playmat and making up a Conspiracy deck and an Academy deck from others. This took some time, as it was my first game, and I had to keep referencing the rules. Next time I play this should only take a couple of minutes and it’s all part of learning a new game.

Finally, finally, I got to start playing, and so, what do I think? Well, it’s hard to say really, because I only managed a couple of rounds before the table was needed and I had to pack up again; I’d been at it for over an hour!

First impressions were good, though, and there were definitely some aspects of the play that I really liked. Though it’s a co-op game at heart you can play solo, and what I really liked here was that you can play solo with just one character rather than, as is quite often the case with co-op games, needing to play with two or more. It makes it feel a little more real – you haven’t got another character to rely on, to help out when the going gets rough, it’s just you.

I liked the combos you can create by playing cards that belong to the same class, and this creates some interesting choices when putting together your deck. Though I never got so far as discovering a Lead, that part of the game also intrigued me. You may uncover a lead but you still have to follow it up by achieving the requirements set on the card. Do this and you flip an evidence card over – now you’re onto something. Complete the next part of the Lead card and you’ll have done enough to collect that piece of evidence, but there’s a problem. The lead card will slowly be emerging from the shadows, and if it enters the field you’ll have missed your chance, so you need to work at both trying to keep it safe in the shadows, by dealing with other cards behind it, and to try and work towards collecting the evidence – no mean feat!

At the end of the conspiracy deck is the big bad, something that has been lurking with intent, deep in the shadows and you must defeat it to win the game. If you’ve failed to collect any evidence of this big bad, then it will be armed to the teeth and deadly. You see each uncollected piece of evidence aids the Big Bad conspiracy with special abilities, so you see why collecting it is so important.

I really want to get further into this game, but so far time has held me back; that and the fact that everybody wants to play Everdell, that is!

Oh! And you can play it as a campaign too, ah… so much to look forward to, so much to speculate on.

KeyForge: Age of Ascension

I wasn’t sure about this. I’d read various reviews and watched a few videos, and I was somewhat underwhelmed by what I’d come across.

Playing the part of an Archon, you lead your company of houses forward with the aim to be the first to forge three keys. To do this you need to collect Aember, usually gained by playing certain cards or using creatures to Reap. At the start of your turn, if you have it, you must spend six Aember to forge a key.

From Richard Garfield, the creator of Magic: The Gathering, KeyForge has a very similar grounding – each player has a tailor made deck and they slog it out with creatures, upgrades, artefacts and more, by playing cards from their hand to the battlefield.

But there’s a twist, well, several actually.

First up, there are the decks. As I said, they’re tailor made, but not by the player. Each and every deck you purchase is different, nobody else will have a deck like yours, nobody, and unlike Magic, you can’t use cards from one pack in another.

I’m not sure what I think of this. So far, we’ve only opened the two packs that came in the starter set, and fortunately, they’ve been entertaining to play and actually very closely matched. However, I have read that some decks are just duff, no good, a waste of money, and of course, some are all powerful, destroy anything decks, all of this creates a headache for tournament play.

For myself, I’m not keen on the idea of paying money out for a deck that I may not enjoy playing, but then, on the other hand, part of the fun is discovering how to get the best out of what you’re given – as you can guess, I’m on the fence at the moment.

Then there are the houses. Each deck is made up of cards representing three out of the currently available seven houses, and the cunningly brutal thing is, at the start of your turn you have to nominate a house, and any cards you play for that turn have to be from that house.

This is a great little game mechanism that brings a creative spark to how you have to approach the tactics of the game. You could try and concentrate on working just one house, but what happens if you just don’t draw them? You could play whatever house you have most of in your hand at the time, but then you’re likely to see the creatures you have in play washed away by your opponent before you have chance to use them. Decisions, decisions.

This one game mechanism appears to be the centre-pin of the gameplay. I felt that bringing creatures out knowing I’ll use them next turn, and discarding cards to draw more with the hope of being able to concentrate my efforts on what I had in play, seemed like the way forward, and worthy of further exploration.

At the moment we’ve only played a couple of games, and both have gone right to the wire. Yasmin’s deck, Illusilor, the swindler of the Aquarium, against mine, Rice of Polthorpe. So far Rice has reigned supreme, but we’ve both enjoyed the game – I think Yasmin deliberately lost the second game, she’s looking for an excuse to open another deck!

KeyForge: Age of Ascension
Rice Rice Baby!

Waiting in the wings

I have a few other games just waiting their first trip to the table, Scythe: Rise of Fenris, being the main contender.

Rise of Fenris brings a campaign element to Scythe, one that contains several surprise boxes to open as you progress. We’ve been itching to play this since it arrived; we just haven’t found the time. We want to savour the moment, no rush, no pressure, just enjoy the game and take our time.

Nusfjord, by Uwe Rosenberg wasn’t a game I deliberately set out to buy, it just happened to be at a price I couldn’t resist – £16.99. Considering it originally retailed at around the £50 mark, that’s a fair old saving. The game has suffered somewhat over time and prices have fallen, mainly, I think, due to the similarity in gameplay to some of his older games (or so I’ve been told) and many who own those games have given this one a miss.

The majority of the reviews on the game appear quite positive and though the theme doesn’t really grab me (building up a fishing village), the gameplay certainly does, we shall see what happens.

Finally, I think, as there may be some other game lurking on the shelf that I’ve forgotten about, is Tiny Epic Tactics. Do you know, I can’t remember why I actually backed this on Kickstarter in the first place! I’ve taken the time to read the rules, and there’s what sounds like a pretty decent solo mode, but there’s something about it that just doesn’t want me to take it out and play. Probably because I’ve other games that call to me that little bit more.

Well, that’s a round up of the new games I’ve been playing, all I need to do now is start the ball rolling on the backlog of games I want to review…


There should have been more pictures for this post but alas, I managed to throw my camera across the room… Sad face me!

The flash gun was torn away from the camera body with its hot shoe snapped in half. The camera flash mount was also bent and the camera, a Pentax K-x DSLR, was doing a few strange things when switched on.

Fortunately, I managed to get the camera working again and the flash mount bent back into something resembling its original shape. The Flash, however, is proving difficult to resurrect. So far I’ve glued the pieces together three times, each time using a different glue – plastic can be a right pain to glue – and I’m currently using Araldite, which is my last resort really.

I’m not holding out much hope, as the bit that has broken holds the flash in place and needs to be strong. The plastic isn’t thick enough to pin together and I can’t see how else to reinforce it, so I might have to bite the bullet and buy a new flash.

Oh, well, worse things happen at sea and all that.

3 thoughts on “First Thoughts – Critters, Encounters, and Rice!

  1. Sounds like you’re enjoying your games, Justin! 🙂 Shame about your camera!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks John.
      The flash is holding together at the moment, and with a bit of creative soldering things seem to be working… for now!

      Liked by 1 person

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