Catching up on Games

Here’s a rundown of recently played tabletop games.

  1. Terraforming Mars
  2. Cartaventura: Vinland
  3. Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition
  4. Unsettled
  5. Lord of the Rings: The Trading Card Game
  6. Concordia
  7. Everdell
  8. The Unseen World
  9. Viticulture (w/Tuscany)
  10. Merchants of the Dark Road
  11. Oak

Terraforming Mars

We’ve played this several times, and we’ve found our preferred mix of expansions (Prelude and Colonies, not Turmoil). We tried out Elysium this time.

My friend’s copy also has a large mix of upgraded components (he’s spent a LOT of money on TM in total). But it does help. For example, the “board” is one huge mat with the colonies printed on it, and it’s got a sticky-ish surface to help hold the tiles in place. It’s not actually sticky, just a material that helps grip stuff.

My friend usually wins since he’s played it way more than we have (he also looked up strategy tips a long time ago to help him out). I’ve come very close to beating him, though.

While I enjoy the game enough (7/10), it still feels long. Prelude helps, and really, you shouldn’t play without it. But it’s still a bit of a slow game. There are a lot of engine-building-type games out there these days, and nearly all are faster than TM. But my friend loves the theme.

Cartaventura: Vinland

I stumbled on this new series a couple of months before they released. No one was talking about it, but it sounded interesting, and the price point is great. When it came time to finally treat myself to something, I bought the Vinland deck. It’s basically a choose-your-own-adventure style game but presented as cards in a style very similar to 7th Continent or Destinies where you explore using cards. But this series cuts down the mechanical complexity to focus on exploration and story. There are mechanics, but they’re very simple.

Non-spoiler image

I really enjoy what it does, but the writing is a bit weak. Game companies really should go out of their way to hire writers more often, especially for these types of games. It’s always obvious when they don’t.

I’ve still got a few more endings to go after, and it’s been a while since I played, so I may stumble around and die a couple of times trying to remember my way through. So I think the replayability is okay for the price, but you will of course run out of routes eventually. But maybe taking it back out once a year to replay is fine. It plays quickly, in part because of how simple it is. I’ll definitely get some more of these, but I hope the writing improves (I’m for hire!).

Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition

My friend wanted to play this close to when we played Terraforming Mars to get a clearer comparison between them.

The Race for the Galaxy half of it is fun, but I’m not sure it’s better than RftG. The art and graphic design are nicer than TM (and RftG), but the board is far less interesting to interact with. It’s like they cut a little too much out of the game.


This one seems to not get much coverage (at least not that I’ve noticed), and to be honest, before we played, I had pretty low expectations compared to Orange Nebula’s previous game, Vindication (which I genuinely rate 10/10). But sitting down and actually playing it, things clicked together.

Mild map spoilers

This map had a mechanism where there was a storm that would move between elevations, but the characters could also move between elevations or take shelter in certain locations to get away from the storm. I like that each planet seems to do its own thing, like a mini-game within a shared system.

It’s an odd game. And I still don’t like the attempt at humor (it feels like half-hearted irreverent-style humor), it clashes with the hard sci-fi aesthetic. But the mechanics are solid. And I like how the game handles the coop nature of it. You’re not just flipping over a card each turn to see what bad thing happens and running around putting out “fires” all game like most coops (not that it’s a bad thing, but it makes most coops feel very similar). In Unsettled, the game does things as a reaction to the players. And instead of putting out “fires”, you’re solving a puzzle. And like Vindication, once you get the hang of it, it’s a quick game compared to most “explore and uncover story” games.

Lord of the Rings: The Trading Card Game

Thanks to Team Covenant’s series where they open up old booster boxes, make decks, and play through the main trilogy, I decided to get out my cards. I had a lot more than I remembered having. And someone had put together some basic rules for a solo mode, so I wanted to try that out since my brother doesn’t like these types of games (though, I’ll soon have an opportunity to play some 2-player games with my friend).

To try it out solo, I started with a Shadows starter deck, one of the last sets they made. It looked like a very straightforward deck that would probably work well with the simple solo rules.

The solo mode works, though you may have to make some calls that it doesn’t cover, but making a simpler shadow deck to play against helps. Some of the cultures can get a bit technical and probably wouldn’t work well. I’ve already started coming up with tweaks to cover more of the effects and possible situations not covered in the solo mode.

The elves got absolutely trounced. I was trying to make a deck limited to the first set, but I don’t think elves can cut it against the Nazgûl. But I have a hobbit deck that might be able to do it.

I really liked the game back in the day, but was disappointed that it was too long (couldn’t play it during lunch break at school) and took up too much space compared to Magic. But going back to it, especially watching TC play through the trilogy, the game has its own weird charm. And playing solo has been a lot of fun.


Here’s a classic(?) Euro game. I think I enjoy it the most in our group, but no one dislikes it. I suspect though that enough games have come out with similar card mechanics that we may eventually be done with Concordia. It’s not exactly a knockout theme. We’ll have to dig into the other maps and expansion content at some point.


We hadn’t played it before, but my friend backed the collector’s edition with everything included. It’s a LOT of stuff, and it took us a bit to figure out what was just the base game.

We all enjoyed this one. It’s very interesting how you feel like you get nothing done in round 1, but by the end of the game, your town is filled up and you’re running out of things to do with resources. Searching for combo cards can be a little frustrating at times, but when things click, it’s very satisfying. Since my friend has everything, we can explore the expansions at our own pace.

The Unseen World

Available now

This game is one I started designing early for a Halloween release. It just squeaked in but made it in time for Halloween. It’s a solo paranormal horror/investigation gamebook set in Japan. I wanted something quick and easy to set up and play that you could play in short bursts or in long sessions. Below are pictures of the early prototype I playtested with. I have a proof copy for print coming, so a print-on-demand version should be available before too long (by Christmas maybe?).

Viticulture (w/Tuscany)

After getting my friend to try out Viticulture online, he’s become pretty obsessed with the game. He bought Tuscany, the coop version, and various upgrade pieces. We’ve played a handful of times now both online and in person.

Tuscany definitely improves the game. We also played with specialists and structures which were both interesting. Actually, of all the things we’ve played with in Viticulture, the Tuscany influence map is the one disappointing addition, but it’s not a module you can “turn off.” We might use the optional rules to remove the points for the map.

While Viticulture is still fun, we also started using a house rule that when drawing cards from a deck, you draw +1 card and discard one. The randomness is difficult to mitigate without this, and it’s definitely the worst part of the game. Previously, almost every game we played, either someone fell way behind because their card draws didn’t work out or someone was way ahead of everyone else because they had perfect card draws that lined up exactly with what they needed. I think this recent game was the closest we’ve had between all three of us.

Merchants of the Dark Road

We were close to Halloween, so I wanted something with a spooky atmosphere (we don’t really have much in the way of spooky horror-themed games, certainly not ones my friend would be interested in). MotDR isn’t a horror setting, but it has a dark and spooky atmosphere. I was also interested in getting it out again to see how my thoughts may have changed.

My friend actually has the deluxe version, but he wasn’t sure if he was going to like the game so he wanted us to play the retail version (which he also bought) first in case he decided to sell the deluxe version. Even the retail copy is a nice production, but there are so many components and no insert. It didn’t even come with adequate baggies.

After playing it a couple of times before, I was suspecting that replayability might be low. I think I enjoy the gameplay enough that I’m okay replaying it, but it certainly lacks depth for all the complexity they stuffed in there. For such a big game, you’re going to do mostly the same stuff from one game to the next. It’s probably not enough for most people, but I do like what the game does. Maybe they can make an expansion that adds a bit more depth.


This one recently came in. None of us had really looked into it much, we just knew it was a Game Brewer game, and we’ve previously liked their stuff, and it looked neat.

Our first impressions are very positive. The card mechanism in the game is fun and difficult, not in that it’s hard doing what you want but that you want to do more than is possible. And unlike Merchants of the Dark Road, there definitely feels like there’s depth to explore in Oak. We all went with different strategies, all enjoyed what we got to do, and there’s still more that we didn’t do.

We might have to get a copy for home to play. I’ll probably do a longer first impression for this one.

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