Inside the Box: Commands & Colors: Napoleonics: The Russian Army

February 18, 2013

Inside the Box is an in-depth look at the contents of a board game. It covers the quality, quantity, and aesthetic value of what is found inside the game box.

Commands & Colors: Napoloenics: The Russian Army is the second expansion in the latest iteration of Richard Borg‘s C & C system. Published by GMT Games, it retails for $55, but can often be found between $30-35 through the usual online sellers. It was shipped out to P500 subscribers just last week, and mine arrived in the mail on about three days ago.

I don’t want to sound like an mp3 on repeat (broken record?), but the first thing that catches the eye is the box itself. It is incredibly sturdy and bright with an evocative painting of Napoleonic troops charging. The strip at the bottom of the box is a nice dark green, which matches the colors of the Russians. (I was surprised to see in the last expansion that the strip there was brown, which did not match the yellow of the Spanish troops contained within.) However, if you are collecting all expansions in this game set, you’ll quickly realize the mistake seen below:

Notice what I've highlighted in red.

Notice what I’ve highlighted in red.

Yup, that’s right folks, even though the Spanish expansion is clearly marked “Expansion Nr. 1” on the box, and this expansion says “#2” on the rulebook…the cover remains blank. The same goes for the box spine, which means if you store your games on a bookshelf like me, you’ll see “Expansion Nr. 1” next to “Expansion”. Whoops.

Flipping the box over, you get the usual information about playing time, etc. It’s a bummer that Napoleon still is wearing Le Bicorn Invisible. For those keeping score, this is the third time this has happened. Someone nudge their production coordinator; I think he’s asleep at the switch.

Nice hat, Emperor.

Nice hat, Emperor.

Thankfully, once the box is opened, these problems seem to dissipate somewhat. Again we’ve got 220 wooden blocks, some charts, cardboard bits for the Russians, a scenario booklet, and lots and lots of stickers. Again I was hoping for a fix for “Give them the Cold Steal” from the first edition, but no dice.

Get stickering!

Get stickering!

While I’ve already explored at length how the Spanish expansion was a step down in terms of production quality, I think GMT has upped their game once again. The terrain hexes are back to the original thickness, so there’s no cheap feel there, and the same goes for the other cardboard chits:

Ah, back to what we love!

Ah, back to what we love!

Speaking of cardboard bits, you get some new terrain including frozen lakes and redoubts in woods:

Almost siegeworks.

Almost siege works.

The decision was made to continue including the little heavy, light, and cavalry symbols on the unit stickers. From a distance they still look like smudges, but I’ll deal with it. The blocks themselves are gorgeous, with the Russians being a rich, vibrant green:



I also like that the decision was made to stick with the new style of unit reference chart, which is easy to read in the heat of battle. In addition, the scenario book (20 scenarios!) with the new rules about the Mother Russia roll is well-written and the images are sharp. The Russians look like a sturdy bunch who will give the French a run for their money, especially in the larger scenarios, some of which go to 10 victory banners.

One thing that others have noticed is the quality of the paper used. There’s something a bit rough about it; when I handled the scenario book and the sticker sheet, it felt like very fine sandpaper. It’s not overly unpleasant, but it is noticeable and some won’t like it.

Overall, I would consider this a step up from the first expansion, but one step down from the base game in terms of components. Maybe when the Prussians and Austrians come out, we’ll get some of these final wrinkles ironed out.

Inside the Box: Here I Stand, Second Printing

July 16, 2012

Inside the Box is an in-depth look at the contents of a board game. It covers the quality, quantity, and aesthetic value of what is found inside the game box.

Here I Stand (HIS) was originally released in in 2006 by GMT Games. Four years later, the second printing came out, and recently I was lucky enough to get my hands on a copy and have been largely impressed by the value of the contents. It currently retails for $85, but can be purchased for much less through the usual channels. HIS, like its sequel, Virgin Queen, is a card-driven game of war, diplomacy, discovery, and religion.

As with all GMT games put out in the last few years, the 3 inch deep box is incredibly sturdy and heavy. Upon opening it, I realized I was getting a lot of material! 4 counter sheets,  a rule book, a scenario book, a fully mounted game board, two decks of cards, dice, two player’s aid sheets, two sheets for sequence of play, and six power cards. 

Wow, that’s a lot of gaming stuff!

Of course, I am able to compare it against the first printing on my game shelf, and I am impressed by the choices GMT made. The most visually appealing elements are the new mounted board and the thicker counters. There is a lot of text on the board, but it is all easily readable. Also, there are several charts that are fit on the board, which means less supplementary charts lying around like in Virgin Queen. No more putting plexiglass over this gorgeous game–you can just setup and enjoy. I also appreciate the thicker counters. I remember punching the counters in the first printing and having some tear at the corners–no problems this time around.  

I am also very happy to have a completely updated rulebook in my hands. Unfortunately, GMT decided not to go to a color copy, but it’s not that big of a deal. The scenario book also has rules for how to play the two-player variant, which originally came out in C3i magazine some years ago and had to be purchased separately. The two-player diplomacy deck has also been included right out of the box, which is a huge bonus. I feel like I’m getting a lot of goodies for just a modest increase in pricing.

An example of a card from the two-player diplomatic deck.

Another excellent addition is the turn sequence sheets. There are two of these (full color), and they include a multiplayer side and a two player side. No matter what version of the game you use, you’ll find them helpful, as they provide a convenient chart on which to lay out the various cards and game pieces that are added to the game turn by turn. This was one of the biggest hassles of the first printing–separating out the deck and pieces and trying to figure out what came in when. Now you can just lay it all out on a side table and refer to it once you wrap up a turn. Simple and effective. This is another case of GMT listening to its customers, as I think they figured out everyone was downloading turn sequence aides on Board Game Geek anyway.

The new turn sequence sheet.

Here I Stand, second printing, is a great example of how GMT’s production values have improved over the years. They’ve also included enough new material to make this worth picking up for people who own the first edition. With a mounted map, thicker counters, and a useful turn sequence aide, the game is pleasing to the eye and a blast to play. And now…with a nice looking board, people will definitely be eyeing this from across convention halls all over the world.

Inside the Box: Virgin Queen

July 9, 2012

Inside the Box is an in-depth look at the contents of a board game. It covers the quality, quantity, and aesthetic value of what is found inside the game box.

Virgin Queen (VQ) was released in May by GMT Games. I was lucky enough to get my hands on a copy recently and have been largely impressed by the value of the contents. It retails for $89, but can be purchased for much less through the usual channels. VQ is a card-driven game of war, diplomacy, science, discovery, and religion. It is a monster like its predecessor, Here I Stand (HIS), both in terms of complexity and playing time.

As with all GMT games put out in the past two years, the box is sturdy and colorful. The cover paintings, an official portrait of Queen Elizabeth I atop The Decisive Action with the Armada off Gravelines, catches the eye, as does the subtitle: The Wars of Religion.

Opening up the weighty box, you’ll find…well, a lot. Five full sheets of counters, 134 playing cards, a sturdy game board, six half sheet ruler cards, two 8.5 x 11 reference cards, four 8.5 x 11 supplementary sheets with various trackers on them, a rule book, scenario book, and ten dice. Whew. I’m familiar with HIS, but this game has got a lot more moving parts. It’s going to take me a while to figure out how to even bag and store this thing. 

A huge amount of game stuff.

All together, I would say the components are a big step up from GMT games before 2010. The mounted map is gorgeous, the cards are thick and glossy, and even the cardboard counters are thicker than they used to be (by about 33%).

Left: Counters from the first edition of HIS. Right: An equal number of counters from VQ.

One new addition in VQ is royals, who you can marry off to each other in the diplomacy phase (frankly, this is awesome and hysterical). I was interested to learn each royal has its own card instead of a cardboard chit. The front side includes game information and a portrait, while the back tells you their historical fate.

Be still, my beating heart.

Each player also gets a nice power card which explains all the actions he or she can engage in. I wish these had been a little thicker (perhaps as thick as the board?). However, they have a clean layout considering how complicated the game is.

Again, a lot going on.

I have only found three minor things to complain about with regards to the components of the game. First, there is a lot of dark text on the game board, which makes some of it hard to read. I would have preferred white text on the board instead. Second, there are a few cards in the main deck that have some pretty poor art on them. If every card was as bad, maybe it wouldn’t be so noticeable, but look at the English home card v.s. Scurvy:

Beautiful card…

…and clip art.

Last, the number of supplementary charts that you need to lay out around the game board is rather annoying. In Here I Stand, they managed to fit the turn track, VP track, New World map, New World riches table, diplomacy chart, and the Henry’s Wives table all on the main board. Almost nothing gets on the Virgin Queen main board, which leads to the marked increase in supplemental charts. You’ll need a monster of a table to fit it all on the table, that’s for sure.

The rulebook and scenario book are definitely as good at the Here I Stand ones, and again Ed Beach gets the rules right by making them procedural. For such a complex game, the rules are remarkably easy to understand. A big bonus is that both the rulebook and scenario book are in full color, which makes the examples much easier to read.

All in all, I would say this is a success in terms of its production. When this hits the table in my Church History class in March, my students are definitely going to be wandering over to check it out.

Inside the Box: Cosmic Karma

March 18, 2012

Inside the Box is an in-depth look at the contents of a board game. It covers the quality, quantity, and aesthetic value of what is found inside the game box.

Cosmic Karma has recently been released by Cosmic Karma Game Partners, LLC. I was lucky enough to receive a review copy from the designer, Linda Look, two weeks ago and finally got the chance to open it up this week. The game retails for $38.00 and it is available through the game’s website here. (A more traditional review of gameplay can be found here.) Basically the purpose of the game is to get rid of all negative karma you pick up throughout the game, gather three “master tools,” and pick up beneficial cards to help you jet around the board. Each time you go around the circular track, you die and go to the spirit realm, where you have some new choices to make before you are reincarnated. The first player to return to the start space with no negative karma and all three master tools wins the game. I’d categorize it as a “roll and move” game with a few twists.

As I first approached the game, the box immediately caught my eye. It’s sturdy and colorful and weighs about five pounds. The cover features a cute little monk (“Karma Boy”) meditating on a lotus flower. The note on the front says the game is for ages 13+ (in my opinion, it could be played by people much younger), supports 2-4 players (I’d imagine 4 is best), and plays in about 30-90 minutes.

And inside the box I found…wow, a lot! On top is one small rules booklet (full color), a square game board, four pawns, 2 six-sided dice, four “karma account” boards, about 200 cards of various sizes, and a small plastic tray with many small and colorful playing pieces (beads, rings, pegs, etc.)

The contents of the game.

Taken together and individually, the components are of very high quality. I was especially impressed by the eye-catching art on the board and cards, done by artist Crystal McLaughlin. Karma Boy features prominently in all the game materials, and although he’s simply drawn, he is very expressive and is often doing amusing things on the cards. The designer and artist also chose an easy-to-read font throughout the game.

The board.
A sample card.

The thing that really gets my attention about this game is the player aid (“Karma Accounts”). Rick and my wife both commented on how sturdy and helpful they were when we played yesterday. At the bottom of each account is a little depression cut right into the cardboard so your karmic beads and rings don’t roll all over the table. Very handy.

Notice the little holding boxes at the bottom.
Very thick, sturdy cardboard. Thumbs up.
A Karma Account during play. Note the holes to put the “master tool” pegs in.

The last components are the playing pieces–orange and green beads (negative karma), rings (positive karma), and sticks (habits), and black pegs representing the two halves of each of the three master tools (torch, sword, and wand). Again, these are of high quality, and come in a handy storage tray with a lid. Considering the cost of the storage tray, I’m impressed this was included: most game companies would be content with giving you a couple of plastic baggies or letting you figure it out on your own.

Thumbs up for storage!

If Cosmic Karma loses out in any way, it’s in the rulebook. Almost all of our questions were answered, but the arrangement of the rules is not ideal so you need to do some re-reading to figure out how certain rules might interact in play. However, this is not a huge problem as the rules are only four small pages, and a bit of skimming will help you find things pretty quickly.

In terms of its pieces, Cosmic Karma is beautifully presented. High quality components from a small, independent publisher are a welcome treat, and I think the people at Cosmic Karma Game Partners deserve a pat on the back for their hard work while keeping the cost of this game relatively low.

Expect Rick to post a session report in the next few days. I’ll chime in in the future with some further thoughts as well.

Inside the Box: Commands & Colors: Napoloenics: The Spanish Army

February 27, 2012

Inside the Box is an in-depth look at the contents of a board game. It covers the quality, quantity, and aesthetic value of what is found inside the game box.

Commands & Colors: Napoloenics: The Spanish Army is the first expansion in the latest iteration of Richard Borg‘s C & C system. Published by GMT, it retails for $55, but can often be found between $30-35 through the usual online sellers.

As with all GMT games put out in the past two years, the box is sturdy and colorful. The cover painting, a group of beleaguered Spanish troops around a battery of cannons, really catches the eye. The back boasts a playing time of 1 hour, which is, I think, rather optimistic. The only eyesore is a graphic of Napoleon with a transparent bicorn hat on his head. Whoops.

Opening up the box, you’ll find a bag of 210 unit blocks, colored blue for the French and a dirty yellow for the Spanish. You also get 3 sheets of unit sticks, a rulebook with 18 new scenarios, 2 National Unit reference cards (one with all the Coalition forces, one with the French forces), 2 unit reference cards in a new style, and 1 sheet of terrain hexes. (Secretly, I was hoping for a correction for the card “Give Them the Cold Steal,” but no such luck.)

The contents of this expansion.

All together, the components are a step down from the Napoleonics core game, unfortunately. There are three reasons for this. First, the muddy yellow color for the Spanish blocks was a poor choice. Compared to the rich brown of the Portugeuse, the bright red of the British, and the royal blue of the French, the Spanish army looks…well, pretty bad. Even a few more coats of yellow would have worked, but it looks like the paint is so thinly applied that the dark grain of the wood comes out and the effect is not pleasant.

Spanish and French blocks.

Second, a decision was made to include small identification symbols on some unit types. Grenadiers now have a silhouette of a bomb, heavy cavalry have a trooper’s helmet, and light infantry have a bugle. This seems to me unnecessary–each unit already has its name printed at the bottom of each block–and from a distance, these symbols look like smudges. Worst of all, in scenarios that combine the base and expansion sets, you’ll now have some units with symbols and some without, which will probably just cause confusion.

Third, the terrain tiles, square track, guerilla tokens, and victory banners, which all come from one cardboard sheet, are incredibly thin. GMT has stated this was a mistake on the printer’s part, one that they decided not to rectify. The result is some components that feel very cheap when you’re handling them.

The new terrain tiles (left) v.s. the old terrain tiles (right).

While these three definitely detract from the over quality of the product, I think the uniqueness of the Spanish army still shines through. Just glancing over the rules, I could tell these guys would be very fragile in the field and yet powerful because of the guerilla special ability. I am also very happy that GMT made the choice to include two kinds of player aids: I do not like the original style (which you still get here) because of all the flipping you need to do to get some basic information. The new style, however, is excellent. The new handout is just 1 double-sided sheet, and actually easier to navigate than the larger one.

The new charts (left) v.s. the old charts (right).

Overall, I’m feeling a bit iffy on this expansion from a components perspective. Unfortunately, it feels like a rushed product when you consider the cardboard thickness, the paint quality, and the strange unit symbols. The system is still great, however, and Mr. Borg’s design is strong. It’s just that the execution on GMT’s part leaves much to be desired here. Let’s hope they get the Austrian, Prussian, and Russian expansions right.

Inside the Box: Space Hulk: Death Angel – The Card Game

November 5, 2010

Inside the Box is an in-depth look at the contents of a board game. It covers the quality, quantity, and aesthetic value of what is found inside the game box.

Space Hulk: Death Angel – The Card Game is a mouthful. It’s also a one of the latest games in Fantasy Flight’s Silver Line series. A group of games that are on the “lighter side” and can be “set up and played within an hour.” These games are generally found in small boxes and have relatively small price tags: Death Angel can be picked up for only $20-25. In this game the players use squads of space marines cooperatively to fight off the alien horde. Here’s a look at what you get.

The box cover sums up the game well: two space marines being swarmed by what seems like an unlimited number of genestealers.

Death Angel Contents

Death Angel Contents

The great artwork continues on all of the components – most of which are cards. There are 128 cards that are divided into 7 card types:
• Each Genestealer and Brood Lord card is used to represent an enemy alien unit. These creatures are vile and frightening and you certainly don’t want to mess with them. Each card also has a symbol on it to help with gameplay.
• The Action and Space Marine cards represent your forces. These guys look tough enough to take on anything. The marines are broken into 6 different combat teams represented by 6 different colors. The action cards also have a symbol on them, but this symbol isn’t found on the corresponding marine cards. Because the colors aren’t vivid or don’t contrast enough to be easily differentiated this makes game play a little difficult at times. Not putting the symbols on the marines was a big mistake.
Card Examples

Card Examples

• The space marines fight and move through the levels through the use of Location and Terrain cards. Although the some of the Terrain cards you see the most, like the Vent or Corridor, are a bit boring, the Artefact looks good. There are also 3 different randomly chosen location cards for each level to allow for lots of replayability.
• The last deck of cards is the Event deck. These cards are resolved at the end of each round to spawn new enemies. They also offer up some special events that can help or hurt the team.

The only other components is one counter sheet with support and combat team tokens and a die.

The Tokens and Die

The Tokens and Die

The combat tokens only purpose is to be placed in front of each player to remind the others of what units are his. The main feature is the symbol of their units, which as I already mentioned, should have been included on the marine cards. The support token guns are simple but effective. The custom die included in the game goes from 0-5 (and you thought rolling a 1 was bad!) as well as having three sides with skulls on them. This one die can then be used for the various types of rolls used in the game. This die is also very cool – it is certainly the coolest die I own.

The rules are… well… Fantasy Flight rules. For whatever reason this company makes great looking games, but their rulebooks have always been a problem for me. I think my main problem is that their rules don’t read front to back. They offer the game rules in more of a summary format and then direct you to other pages for more details. In theory this should be great. But for whatever reason I felt like I was constantly searching for sections and pages, then flipping back to remember why I was trying to find them. For example, just to setup the game you need to flip back and forth 8 times. I think if the rules were presented in a more linear fashion they would make for an easier read.

Overall, the presentation of the game is fantastic. There are almost as many unique artworks as there are cards in the decks. The cards and token quality is very good and did I mention the die is cool? The rules can be grasped after one or two plays so they aren’t a deal breaker. The non-colorblind friendly marine cards are a big disappointment especially considering they created symbols and chose not to use them. However, I certainly felt like I got my money’s worth and I look forward to checking out some of their other Silver Line games.

Inside the Box: Memoir ’44

October 4, 2010

Inside the Box is an in-depth look at the contents of a board game. It covers the quality, quantity, and aesthetic value of what is found inside the game box.

Memoir ’44 is the 2nd game by Richard Borg to use his Command and Colors system. The game puts you in command of either the Axis or Allies during the beginning of the US entrance into World War II. Published by Days of Wonder it retails for $50 but can be found online for around $35.

As with any Days of Wonder game, you get a great looking product. The cover depicts the US forces storming the beaches on D-Day. The box quality is similar to most board games.

Memoir '44 Contents

Memoir '44 Contents

Inside the box is a large plastic insert that holds the board, 2 cardboard tile sheets, a deck of command and reference cards, 8 battle dice, two armies and of course the rules.

The large, hex-grid board is actually double sided: a field of green on one side for inland battles and a beach on the other for landing scenarios. Each side is divided into three sections with red dashed lines. The red on green is not very easy to see for a color blind person but is usually not an issue during play.

The deck of cards contains 60 command cards used to order your troops and a set of reference cards. The latter are used to help the players remember the special rules for different unit and terrain types. The command cards contain illustrations of generic leaders, troops and vehicles in various action poses. They certainly add visual interest while you are staring at your cards planning your tactics.

The 8 dice included are – like it or not – wood. Each side has a different color and more importantly symbol so they are easy to read and great to look at.

The two thick cardboard sheets contain the hexagonal terrain tiles, some victory medals and special unit badges. The badges are quite colorful: red-white-and-blue for the French Resistance, purple for the Panzer grenadiers, orange for the Rangers and red and white for the British special forces.

The terrain tiles are very sturdy and should hold up well over time. The different terrain types are each visually distinct – there’s no question as to what type your unit is on. The city tiles are my favorite as they don’t all look the same. Some show a small village center while others depict a single fortified compound or even a church. They all add some interest to the board without being distracting.


Close-up on some of the Components

The real draw to this game is the plastic figurines. Each side gets 6 artillery, 2 dozen tanks and over 40 infantry units in addition to some obstacles. The plastic used is soft so they shouldn’t break, although some of the gun barrels and other smaller features may get bent in the packaging and then never stay straight. I also have to complain about their color choices. The Allies appear to be dark green-blue while the Axis forces are dark blue-green. Even normal sighted people may have a hard time telling who’s who in less than ideal lighting. Fortunately the infantry and tank units use different molds for each side to distinguish them and make them look a historically accurate. Each army also has a plastic insert to hold them in. These inserts were tossed after only 2 tries of trying to get the infantry back in. Plastic bags work just as well and make clean-up go a lot more quickly.

The rule book walks you through the set-up and and how to play with illustrations. There are also several examples of what is and is not possible for most rules. There are some interesting historical facts included as well. All this and yet the rules are clear and don’t seem cluttered. There are 16 scenarios in the 2nd half of the rule book that reflect actual battles. Each is presented with the historical facts and outcome of each battle and then present you the challenge of keeping or changing history.

Sure there are a few color choice problems and other nit-picks, but overall I like the components and artwork. Setting up a scenario of Memoir ’44 takes a while but is actually enjoyable with the great pieces. Placing the figurines on the board remind me of playing with little, green army-men as a kid. The nostalgia factor probably adds to the worth of this game for me – although I think most people would agree they get their money’s worth with Memoir ’44.

Inside the Box: Washington’s War

August 24, 2010

Inside the Box is an in-depth look at the contents of a board game. It covers the quality, quantity, and aesthetic value of what is found inside the game box.

Washington’s War is Mark Herman’s re-imagination of the first true card-driven wargame, We the People. It is a medium complexity war game of area control set during the American Revolution. I glimpsed the prototype at the  WBC 2009 and have been interested ever since. It retails for US $60, but can be found online for around $40 or so.

As with all of GMT Games’ recent releases, the box is sturdy and appealing, boasting a beautiful detail of John Trumbull’s Battle of Princeton. The back of the box states that the game can be played in 90 minutes, but in my experience, this would be after a few longer plays of 2-3 hours.

The box itself contains two counter sheets, a large poster-sized map, 110 cards, full-color rule and play books, two player aid cards, and two dice. In all, the production quality is very high for a war game, rivaling the components of most Euro games (minus the wooden pieces, of course).

The contents of the box.

The rulebook is slightly above average in terms of its style and layout. I always like to see a table of contents and index, and the color illustrations break up the text quite nicely. I also appreciate the section defining terms. However, some of the section placement seems odd. For instance, there is a whole section on movement which talks a lot about moving into battle, then there’s a break for how to place reinforcements on the board, which is then followed by those battles that were talked about earlier. Here I Stand is my gold standard for a rulebook with its easy to reference bullet-pointed procedures, and Washington’s War isn’t quite up to the task. There are a few mechanics that have different rules for the Americans and British, and it would have been nice to see a summary table of the differences between the two sides and ditto for the player aid cards. Also, there are several exceptions buried in the rules which did not make their way onto the final map, and a small reminder box would be very helpful.

The playbook is excellent, and it comes with a lengthy example of play, two pages of strategy tips, and two pages of design notes. What I like about the example of play is that it shows a few blunders on the part of the players, and this represents a real departure from the latest Twilight Struggle playbook, which shows two world champions duking it out. The player aid cards are also in color, and help out with the combat, but still don’t contain the key differences between the two sides. (I’d suggest Major Sholto’s Player Aid instead, which quickly summarizes the differences.)

The 110 cards are usual GMT fare–rather thick and glossy, with some nice period artwork. The layout is reminiscent of  We the People and Wilderness War, and they aren’t as clean as Here I Stand. I’d recommend putting these in card sleeves as soon as possible. The cardboard counters are of very high quality. Generals have nice portraits with detail and depth, and the round army counters are bright without being garish. My bad eyes have no trouble distinguishing any of the counters at a glance. There was one misprint; some of the square colony control markers weren’t printed correctly, which means you’ll have to use extra hexagonal ones. This is a small gripe, but with such low counter density, I’m not sure how that one made it through the final editing process.

One of the two countersheets. Dig that French navy!

The map itself is very thick with a nice black border running around it. I’d say the board is on par with Power Grid or several over Euro games. It’s beautifully done, and it feels like you’re looking at a quality color map out of an encyclopedia or textbook. The artists avoided putting similar colors next to each other, and it doesn’t feel too busy like the Wilderness War map. I think the low counter density helps a lot too; you can just sit and admire the map, and unlike a lot of earlier GMT games, this will definitely get people’s attention if you’re playing in public.

Overall, I am very impressed with the artwork and production value of Washington’s War. Upon opening the box,  most people will think, “Wow, I got my 40-60 bucks worth here.” Hopefully this is just another sign of where GMT is headed with all their future games!

Inside the Box: Leonardo da Vinci

March 3, 2010

Inside the Box is an in-depth look at the contents of a board game. It covers the quality, quantity, and aesthetic value of what is found inside the game box.

The MSRP for Leonardo da Vinci is $45 but it was on sale for $10 !? I went to BoardGameGeek to check this game out. Leonardo da Vinci is a worker placement game where you compete with others to be the first to finish certain invetnions. The reviews were mostly favorable. The game images also looked interesting so I had to pick up a copy and check it out. It certainly wouldn’t be the worst $10 I’ve ever spent…

Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci

There’s an illustrated drawing of an inventor with some of Leonardo da Vinci’s more famous works on the front cover. The artwork catches the eye, but doesn’t offer any clues as to what the game is about. The back gives a brief description of the game and lists the game components. The box is a bit flimsy, not as thick as some of the other games I own, but adequate.

Leonardo da Vinci

A mistake? Nope, just the designers being clever.

After opening the box and pulling out some components I notice a manufacturing error… oops! Or so I thought. It seems the designers cleverly added a molding of the name “Leonardo” into the insert in mirror writing – just the way Leo would have actually signed it. Besides being clever, the insert does a good job of holding all of the components with a larger area to store all of the bits. Included are plastic bags to hold them, but only 3 bags. I added a few more to make 6: 1 each for the five player colors and 1 for the other bits used during play.

The game board is illustrated in the a similar style to the box cover and is interesting to look at. Unfortunately, all of the artwork is covered by boxes that hold the invention cards, resource cards, money cards (florins, of course), and other components. While playing the game you never get to look at the artwork. I’m sure the artist was a bit disappointed all his hard work would just be covered up.

The player tokens are fun. Each player gets one Master token and 9 Apprentices. The 9 apprentices remind me of meeples from Carcassonne, but with more pleasing, human-like proportions. The Master dwarfs his apprentices in size and wears a hat and robe. They are wood bits painted red, green, yellow, blue and purple. Not my ideal choice of colors, but they aren’t too difficult to distinguish. There are also some other plain cylindrical tokens (in the player colors and brown) for keeping track of things on the board.

The cardboard components are heavy duty – as thick as the game board. There are two laboratories for each player, two invention player aids, some mechanical men tokens, arrows markers, and a Leonardo token and a Lord of the City token with plastic stands. Each of these look nice and are very durable. The Leonardo token is held by the player that acts first each round and the Lord of the City token… well it isn’t mentioned other than in the set-up. An actual error. The token is supposed to be used to highlight which area of the board is being resolved.

The game also comes with 3 decks of cards: two mini-European sized decks that make up the money and resources and one standard-American sized deck for the inventions.

Leonardo da Vinci

Resource and Florin Cards

The resource cards are color coded and have symbols on them so they are easy to read. The Florin cards are adequate, but color coding these would have added a little more appeal to them. They did color code the 5 zero florin cards – one for each player to use for bluffing – so they had the ability and chose not to do the rest of the cards. The backs of both sets of cards have a self portrait of Leonardo, a nice touch.
Leonardo da Vinci

Invention Cards

The invention cards contain all the important information needed for the players: how many weeks it takes to invent, what resources are needed, the invention type and the value of the invention. I really like these cards. The backs have a sketch of Leo’s Vitruvian Man. Sketches of each invention on the card fronts are made to look like they were done by Leonardo. The name of the invention, which really isn’t important to game play, is written on the card in Italian. But I’m happy to say they have a list of the invention names in English in the instructions. I generally look these up so I can proudly announce when I’ve just finished work on the Automatic Hammer (top right) or Burning Mirror (bottom left).

Speaking of the instructions, I’m not sure if they were written poorly to begin with or much was lost in translation or some of both. I will give them credit for the illustrations and examples in the instructions as these which definitely helped my understanding of the game. However, it took me a couple of read throughs and a solo play to figure out the basic game play. After I played, I hit up Board Game Geek to find the answer to a couple of questions and found out I played incorrectly. The game is actually fairly straightforward, but the instructions just don’t quite convey the simple mechanic.

For example, in the Worker Rules in the Assignment Phase section, the rules state:

Your mechanical men can only be placed in the designate spaces of your laboratories

But in the Employment Phase:

Important: you cannot take a mechanical man and save it to place later!

So one section seems to imply the mechanical man is placed like a worker and another states the opposite. Fortunately the designers put out an FAQ which addresses this and other issues.

Overall, I felt like they paid extra attention to detail in some areas: insert, invention cards and card board quality, but missed the target on others: art on the game board, box quality and rules. However, I think the pros out weigh the cons for the components. Leonardo da Vinci is well worth the $10 I spent and not only for the components; the game is enjoyable too.

Inside the Box: Tobago

January 16, 2010

Inside the Box is an in-depth look at the contents of a board game. It covers the quality, quantity, and aesthetic value of what is found inside the game box.

I first saw images of Tobago posted on BoardGameGeek and I instantly had to learn more about this great looking game. Tobago is a treasure hunt game. Each player narrows down the location of any of 4 possible treasures on the island. Once it is found they drive over in their ATV and raise the treasure. It’s been a hit with everyone I’ve played with and, like I’ll explain, looks great.



The box is of standard quality and does the job. The cover art shows an Indiana Jones-like character and his companion hunting for treasure. It gives a feeling of adventure.

Inside the box is a plastic insert that holds all of the components – most of them neatly in place. There is a spot for the amulets, palm tree and statue tokens, cards and board. My only complaint with the insert is the large bin that holds the rest of the small bits and tokens – which there are a lot of and need to be sorted each time you play. I highly recommend picking up 8 little plastic bags to store the 4 player and 4 treasure tokens in separately.

The board is actually 6 pieces: three double sided sections of island and three clamps. This allows for 32 different island layouts. The clamps do a nice job of holding the board together and also serve as a place to set the cards and amulets while playing. The island itself is made of hexes that are broken into different terrain types: lakes, mountains, jungle, etc. Most of the hexes are very simply done with just a few little details, like shells and crabs on the beach, that add some interest.


Rules, Set-up Guide/Player Aid and Cardboard Tokens

The set-up guide is clear and concise. The rules on the other hand are cluttered. There are plenty of examples of game-play and diagrams of how things work, but these immediately follow each basic action and make the game seem more complicated than it actually is. The first page could have simply listed the basic rules and actions while the other pages cover them in more detail with examples.


Clue Cards


Treasure Cards

There are two small decks cards. The clue card deck consist of symbols that show where the treasure can or cannot be. In the image above, the top left card shows the treasure is not in a lake while the top right tells us the treasure is within 2 hexes of a statue. The other deck makes up the treasure. Each card has a certain victory point value, from 2-6, except two curse cards. The meaning of any card can be determined clearly from the effective illustrations.


Player and Landmark Tokens

The tokens are where this game shines. They really did a great job of paying close attention to detail with these. There are 5 different kinds of tokens included in the game:
Site Markers:These are small wooden blocks of 4 different colors: black, gray, white and brown. These are used to note the possible locations of each of the 4 treasures on the map.
ATV: The all-terrain vehicle (or ‘jeeple’ as I’ve seen it called) is the player token. These wooden tokens have been painted in four bright colors which are easy to distinguish. There is a windshield and front grill painted on the ATVs which give them a great look. You can’t help driving these around the island as if they were actually traversing the terrain.
Huts: These along with the palm trees and statues act as additional landmarks in the island. Simple, wooden, brown shapes, but effective.
Palm Trees: These are great tokens. They are wood and carved beautifully. Notches in the trunk give it texture. The details in the palm leaf make the trees come to life.
Statues: And the best token in the game are the statues. As well as being another landmark, the gaze of the statue is where amulets wash ashore to the island. These are ceramic and give the statue weight. The texture and color make them feel like they were carved from stone centuries ago.

Other than a few minor criticisms of the rules and storage, this game looks amazing. The game is fun to play, but I think part of the appeal is the great game components. They make the game fun to look at the get your hands on.