Counter #62

The new issue of Counter has just arrived and has had a cover re-design, as you can see from the image below. This issue runs to 84 pages and has lots of reviews including Bruges (the Z-Man English version of which arrived in the UK this week), Cinque Terre, Eight Minute Empire, Hooyah!, Oddville and Qwixx amongst many others. There are also several articles among which Rick Thornquist has a nineteen step guide (couldn’t he really have made it twenty?) to teaching games and Kendall Johns gives a brief run-down of this year’s UK Games Expo at its new location next to the Birmingham National Exhibition Centre.

Review: Asara

What’s it all about?

Asara is a family game for 2-4 players, designed by Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling and published by Ravensburger. It is set in the Land of a Thousand Towers and players are competing architects who are seeking to build the most, highest and grandest towers in the land. They send buyers to the marketplace to acquire tower sections and workers to build the towers. At the end of each of four rounds, victory points are awarded and, at the end of the game, a final assessment is made to give further points to the architects who built the most and highest towers. The game takes 45-60 minutes to play.

What’s in the box?

As you would expect from Ravensburger, the components are top quality. The octagonal board shows the market-place in Asara with different areas for the tower sections, a building circle where you hire workers to build the towers, a bank from which to gain more money, a house of spies and the Caliph’s residence. The tower pieces and money are sturdy cardboard tokens and each player has a cardboard screen behind which to hide their money and tower sections. There are 45 cards which depict the buyers and these come in five colours. Finally there are wooden score and round markers along with the rules and a separate set-up sheet.

How does it play?

The gameplay is very straightforward. Each player receives nine buyer cards and twenty coins at the start of each of the four rounds (slightly more in the first round for those not in first place in turn order). On a player’s turn, they lay a card into one area of the marketplace and execute the action associated with that area. Play then moves on to the next person in clockwise order and continues until everyone has used all their buyer cards. That ends the round and victory points are awarded.

If the card played is the first in a particular area, it can be any colour of the player’s choosing. However, subsequent cards in that area have to match the colour first played or you have to play two cards of any colour (which then reduces the number of actions you can do in a round as you’re left with fewer cards). Having played a card, you then carry out the action for the area in which the card was played. There are four tower areas from which to purchase tower sections. These are for bases, mid-sections, windows and turrets and the sections come in five different colours. The player selects which coloured section they wish to purchase, pay the cost in coins and place it behind their screen. The next area is the building circle. Here you pay between one and seven coins to hire workers to build your towers, one worker/coin for each section you wish to build. Towers have to have one base and one turret but can have any number of mid-sections and windows, and all sections have to be the same colour. If you are running low on coins, you can go to the bank area to raise more cash. First to visit the bank will get 12 coins, next 10 coins then 8 and any further visitors receive only five coins. You can also visit the House of Spies area. This allows you to bribe an official with 3 or 5 coins and you can then pick and pay for any tower section of your choice. The final area is the Caliph’s residence and going here gives you the Caliph’s patronage token, which makes you the start player for the next round and also rewards the owner with a victory point at the end of the round.

Once all players have used all their buyer cards, the round ends and there is a scoring phase. Each tower a player has built gives them one victory point; certain tower sections are marked with gold ornaments and each one of these earns one victory point; and the Caliph’s patronage yields the owner a victory point. The game then moves on to the next round. After the fourth round scoring, the game ends and a final evaluation takes place. Points are then awarded for the highest and second-highest towers in each colour; the highest and second-highest towers overall; the largest and second-largest number of towers overall; and for each remaining ten coins a player has. Whoever has accumulated the most points is then the winner.

What do I think?

Asara is a very enjoyable family game that is easy to learn, easy to play but has enough to think about to reward good play. I very much like the rule about cards needing to follow the colour first played in an area, as this gives some tactical opportunities to use colours you are strong in to select the more lucrative areas and make it more expensive for those who don’t have that colour. It isn’t going to suit gamers who like a lot of complexity, although it does come with additional rules to add two further elements to the game play. However, it isn’t meant to be a heavy game and is definitely aimed at those who like lighter stuff. The two-player version works well enough although there is less competition for space in the market-place so it is not quite as tense as with more players. With three or four, you really need to prioritise the order in which you visit the different areas in case a vital piece you needed has already been taken. All in all, I would definitely recommend this is an elegant and straightforward game suitable for families and game groups looking for a lighter sixty minute game. The fact that it was nominated for the German game of the year in 2011 is unsurprising because it is a very strong design and looks beautiful.

Note: I was provided with a review copy of the game.

The Cast Are Dice 2013

This weekend is the annual games convention in Stoke-on-Trent, The Cast Are Dice. It runs from 10.00am-10.00pm on Saturday 10th August and 10.00am-8.00pm on Sunday 11th August at Stoke on Trent Sixth Form College ST4 2RU. All the details can be found here.

I’ll only be there on the Saturday but am looking forward to the event as always. And Nick should have copies of Robinson Crusoe, Mascarade, Hey Waiter, and the Dungeon Twister Card Game for me to pick up. Anyone want to teach me Robinson Crusoe?

Review: Bora Bora

What’s it all about?

Bora Bora is a complex game for 2-4 players designed by Stefan Feld and published by Ravensburger (Alea). It is set on the Polynesian island of Bora Bora and players are trying to develop their society by exploring, building huts, fishing, collecting shells, praying in the temples and making offerings to the gods. It is typical of the designer as there are multiple strategies to explore and it is really just optimising how you gain the most victory points during the game.

What’s in the box?

The box is really heavy as there are a lot of components. There is a main player board depicting the island and lagoon of Bora Bora as well as a number of separate areas for the various tile displays, status and scoring tracks. There are individual player boards, the right half of which is used to track progress in the various tasks you are trying to achieve; while the left half gives a useful reminder of a number of elements of gameplay. There are wooden pieces in each player colour as well as wooden resources for sand, stone and wood. There is a deck of 60 god cards in five different varieties that are used to help players in achieving their objectives. And then there are over 250 cardboard tiles and tokens representing the various currencies and objectives the players are trying to achieve. These are nice and thick and beautifully illustrated. Oh, and last but not least there are three dice in each of the four player colours.

How does it play?

I’m not going to give a full run-down of the rules because it would take forever and I would point out that teaching these the first time is going to take quite a while – a full explanation could take twenty minutes or more – but that is because there is so much going on in the game. However, the gameplay is pretty straightforward once you understand the basics. You just have to appreciate that there are lots of options available to the players.

The game runs over six rounds and each round has three main phases: a Dice Action phase; a Man/Woman Action phase and a Resolution phase. The Dice Action phase is the key part of a round and involves players allocating their three dice to a five types of actions.

Firstly, you can expand and place a hut in a new area of Bora Bora. This can either be via land or sea and is limited by the number shown on the die allocated to this action. Expansion also yields a resource or an offering to the gods, plus an option to gather fish from the new area by using an appropriate offering/god card.

Secondly, you can recruit a Man or Woman tile, each of which gives you the opportunity to carry out a Man/Woman action in the second phase, as well as the ability to gain status points or shell tokens when you use a Helper action

Talking of which, a Helper action gives you, depending on the value of the die allocated to it, a choice of taking status points or shell tokens (from previously acquired Man/Woman tiles), victory points, offerings to the gods (which are the currency needed to play the sometimes vital God cards), resources (needed for constructing buildings), or clearing a hut from a space on your player board to enable you to recruit more Man/Woman tiles.

Fourthly, you can place a priest in the Temple area of the main player board. A higher dice allocated to this action will mean the priest is more likely to remain in play for longer and priests give you points and God tokens in the third phase of each round.

Finally, you can construct a building by surrendering the resources you have collected while expanding (the first dice action) and this will generate immediate victory points, with building in earlier rounds being rewarded by more points than building later on.

And that’s just the first phase – don’t worry, the other two phases are more straightforward. However, the clever part of the first phase is the way in which dice are allocated. The first player to allocate a die to a particular type of action can choose any value of die. However, anyone who subsequently wants to use the same action can only do so by playing a lower value die than the last one played to that action type. This makes for some interesting decisions where by playing a lower valued die to an action, you can freeze an opponent out of using that action. In extremis, I should also mention that, if you do get completely stuffed and can’t use a die for one of the main actions, there is a consolation action that just gives you 2 victory points for each die not used – not an action to be used by choice really.

Phase two of a round allows players who have collected Man/Woman tiles to use the actions of those tiles. Each round, a player can choose to use one Man action and one Woman action and these give a multitude of benefits – there are twelve different benefits depending on the tile acquired.

Then the final phase, the Resolution phase, involves four things to be resolved. The Status track gives victory points for progress along that track during the round. The Temple track gives victory points for each priest in the temple and a God token (a wild God card) to the person with most priests in the temple. Each player has the chance to buy a Jewelry tile by spending shells and these give victory points at the end of the game. Then, finally, each player has the option of completing a task tile. Players have three task tiles allocated to them at random at the start of the game and should work towards completing them through the other achievements they fulfil during the game. Fulfilling a Task tile gives victory points and a new task is chosen so the players always have three tasks they are working on.

After six rounds, there are some end-game bonuses and whoever has accumulated the most points is the winner.

What do I think?

Phew! There is definitely a lot going on in this game and it is not one I would recommend for the typical family gamer. It is a serious game and players need to think about the plethora of choices that confront them and try and work out a strategy they think will work. Not that there is one obvious dominant strategy to my mind. To an extent, you are forced to work with what the dice rolls present you and where you are in turn order. Although going first gives you an advantage for choosing your first action, if people have played low dice before it gets round to your next turn, that’s going to make life difficult, although certain God cards can help.

I’ve played the game with both two and four players and each worked very well. The Dice Actions available in the first phase are modified dependant on the number of players and this ensures that there is still enough tension in the two-player game although four-player leads to more crowding, particularly on the Temple track.

This is quite a long game so you need to be prepared to invest some time in it. Our first four player game took three hours and the two-player was well over ninety minutes, although familiarity will obviously bring the time down. That said, the game has so much going on and so much to think about that it doesn’t seem that long when playing. I think this is a great choice of game for the experienced game player who doesn’t mind the abstract nature of Eurogames. The theme works ok but, as with most Stefan Feld games, it is the mechanisms that make the game rather than the theme. However, I’m quite prepared to forgive lack of theming for what I consider to be a very solid and thought-provoking game

Note: I was provided with a review copy of the game.

Wayback When? – August ’93, ’98, ’03, ’08

Wayback When? is a review of the games I was playing five, ten, fifteen and twenty years ago with me highlighting the most memorable titles of each particular month in the vain hope that I might dig out some of them to play again. This month we’re looking at August 1993, 1998, 2003 and 2008.


August 2008 saw me play a respectable eleven games during a traditionally slow holiday month. The two highlights were clearly Tinners’ Trail, the Martin Wallace game about pasties and tin mining in Cornwall, and Sushizock im Gockelwock, Reiner Knizia’s slightly more interesting dice roller from the same family as his earlier Pickomino.

2003 had a very poor August for game playing with only four recorded for the whole month. However, among these were the distinctly average Ad Acta and Cannes and the slightly better, but still not great, Crazy Race from Michael Schacht.

If 2003 was poor, 1998 was worse with absolutely nothing new played during a month when I only played five games.


1993 was a much better month helped by attending the second of the short-lived Stakiscon conventions in Nottingham. Twenty games played during the month with a number of good new ones: $GREED was for a long time our go-to holiday dice game, Café International is a nice tile layer which won the Spiel des Jahres, Shark is a good business game reminiscent of but not quite as great as Acquire, and Tutanchamun is another of Reiner Knizia’s clever set-collection games where you move down a path to collect the tiles you want but can never move back.

July 2013 roundup

In July, I managed to play 23 games of 20 different titles, 6 of which were new to me. The new games were The Manhattan Project, Dicht Dran, Legendary: Dark City, Space Hulk: Death Angel – The Card Game, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and Diavolo.

I added ten new titles to the collection which were The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey, Escape: Quest, Space Hulk: Death Angel – The Card Game, Oddville, Masques, Diavolo, Legendary: Dark City, Dicht Dran, Sonne und Mond and a review copy of Bora Bora that turned up on the last day of the month. My unplayed games list stands at 26 this month and game of the month was a close call with Space Hulk: Death Angel narrowly missing out to Legendary: Dark City.