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Board Game Review



Age Rating: 7+

Players: 2-6

Timeframe: 20 minutes

MSRP: $19.99

Style: Educational Learning Game/Resource

Delve into the world of gemstone trading, buying, and selling in a clever game designed to reinforce math concepts and skills.  Give students a real hands on learning experience that will be sure to get them invested in utilizing all of the tricks and techniques they’ve learned in their classroom lessons.


Jewelies Math Game designed by Cindy Huxel was created as a fun and unique way to reinforce Math skills and standards from ALL curriculums with students in a stock market style of game.  Jewelies was designed to be played in any learning environment and incorporates basic finance and economic concepts, as well as introducing kids to simple science and geology, gemology,  and mineralogy.


  • Velvet bag
  • 14 Market Cards
  • Score Sheets
  • 20 Sided Die
  • 24 Jewelies from 6 different types


Each player blindly pulls 4 random gems from the gem bag at the start of the game. They then input the number of jewelies of each type into the start column of their scoresheet and then continue on with the preparation of their scoresheet. The player will input the value of each type of jewelies onto their scorecard according to the rules.  Once they have the number and the value, they multiply and input that information into the totals section.  After the scoresheets are set up, it is finally time to begin to play.  Players roll the die to decide who goes first, the low roller gets that privilege and play continues to the left.  Players take turns drawing Market Cards and following the instructions on the card.  Each Market Card will give you a basic fact about one of the jewels and tell you whether the gem increases or decreases in value.  The Market Card may also tell you to trade Left or Right.  Players then choose one jewelie of their choice to trade in the appropriate direction.  As gameplay continues, players will record the changes in the values of their gem collection FOR EACH TURN on their scorecard, performing the math as they go along.

Family Gaming Assessment

We’ve briefly discussed the differences between a learning resource and a ‘true’ game in various podcasts and articles.  Learning resources tend to be utilized as classroom, homework, or daycare tools to teach kids certain skills or reinforce skills already learned.  While they often and incorporate some game like elements, the pure and simple FUN of the game is often the minor focus and the skill or learning is the major focus.  This game definitely falls into the learning resource category.  It is a great little tool to help your child show off their common core math skills and their abilities to add and subtract and multiply.

As a game, Jewelies was a bit disappointing.  We loved the little facts, tidbits and bits of information on the Market Cards.  We loved the idea of the Market Cards- we just wish they DID more game like things.  The Jewelies were fun to hold and manipulate, but overall the game did not hold our interest beyond a homework aid.  The school aged players were much quicker at solving the basic math involved in the game than our older players who weren’t as quick to group and partner and were relying on long form math.  We found that our older players wanted scrap paper, and our younger players were much more capable of completing the math in their head.

As a classroom, homework, or daycare resource we think that this is a great way to make learning more engaging.  It certainly helped to reinforce learned skills, it was fun to manipulate the components, and it was an interesting way of presenting information about economics, negotiation, trade and finance.

While we wouldn’t pick this up as a game to play on our family game night, this is definitely a great resource to have on hand in a classroom.  It is also a great tool to have at home to help a child who might be struggling with Math and need a more engaging way to practice.

All of our players found it a bit difficult to understand and keep track of the information on the scoresheet we had.  The longplay360.com website states that they reconfigured the rules sheet and that the newere one is a little easier to follow.  The upgrade is free for this much needed change.


Overall, we were very excited about the concept of this game, but it seemed to fall short of the mark.  We would definitely recommend this to any elementary school teacher to have on hand in their classroom, but this was not compelling enough to bring to a non educational game table. There was so much potential with the Marketplace and the cool components, but there were not many interesting or creative things to do with these ideas.  Please don’t hesitate to consider this if you are a teacher,

FCC disclosure: A copy of this game was sent to us by the publisher for the purposes of this review.

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It is hard to take a step in the board game universe without tripping over a dozen card based combat games. This can make it difficult to stand out in the crowd. I get several requests for Kickstarter previews every week. Recently, I was sent a request for coverage for a game called Squirmish that was designed by a gentleman named Steven Stwalley. My heart sunk a little bit when I saw the words “card” and “combat” in his elevator pitch, but that all went away when I looked over the art assets he gave me. Squirmish’s art is juvenile, obnoxious, and maybe even a little gross. In other words? I loved it.

The game’s theme is a straight-forward concept. Two to four players lay out cards on the table one at a time adjacent to each other and take turns attacking their opponent’s monsters. The goal is to be the first player to capture three cards. We were concerned off the bat that the game would be confusing since we were laying cards out and had no counters or other ways to indicate who owned which creature. Fortunately, Steven thought of a solution to that problem in the design. As players place their cards on the table they do so in such a way that the rules text is facing them. The cards themselves aren’t square so this makes the play area evolve into a spiral of weird monsters as the game progresses.

I spent an evening playing this game several times with my wife and two sons and we enjoyed it a lot. There was a bit of a learning curve as we learned how to take advantage of the various monster powers. The vast majority of the strategy is found in the interactions between the different monsters and their special abilities. Some of them will heal, let you draw cards or let you deal extra damage under certain conditions. It is important that younger players be encouraged to read their critters’ abilities and make use of them because forgetting them will mean a quick and frustrating game.

The order of play is simple.

  1. Draw a card, if you wish.
  2. Place a card into the Squirmish, if you wish.
  3. Move or Attack
  4. Resolve any creature abilities

The simplicity in the turn orders definitely helps to make up for the chaotic Squirmish that builds up over the course of the game.

The Kickstarter campaign has just started and is already almost a third of the way to being successful. I definitely recommend this one so make sure to back it soon to help keep up the momentum!


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Tasty Minstrel Games

Age Rating: 10 & Up

Players: 2- 4

Timeframe: 45 Minutes

MSRP: $39.99

Style: Civilization Building/Deck Building

Do you want to control the Galaxy? Do you want to rule your own empire? Survey the Cosmos for planets to conquer. Take over civilizations by force using the best spaceships in your fleet. Or, be a gentler ruler and colonize planets by doing research to improve your technological advancement. Discover the best ways to earn influence by harvesting or producing goods. It’s your call! Only you can decide how you will rule!


Eminent Domain is a science-fiction themed civilization building game that is designed by Seth Jaffee. In this game, players grow their empire by collecting a deck of Role cards which they use to perform Action, Role, and Leader effects. The first player to collect the most influence tokens through the effective use of their cards will win the game.


  • 96 Role cards (16 Produce/Trade, 20 Research, 20 Colonize, 16 Warfare, 20 Survey, and 4 Politics)
  • 27 Planet cards (9 Advanced, 9 Fertile, and 9 Metallic),
  • 6 Starting Planet tiles
  • 39 Technology cards
  • 35 Fighter tokens
  • 24 Resource tokens (representing food, water, iron, and silicon)
  • 32 Influence tokens
  • 4 Player Aid tiles
  • 1 Central Card Display board
  • Rule booklet

The components are very high quality. The Central Card Display board is well laid out and the design of all of the cards and tokens are in keeping with the science fiction theme. The cards are good quality and the plastic fighter ships are a really, really neat addition to the game. The influence tokens are very small and can easily misplaced. The biggest complaint about the contents of the box is that the game should be stocked with some card separators and have a better interior design to keep components more organized and make setup easier.

Fun times playing #EminentDomain by @tastyminstrel. Please check out #engagedfamilygaming for our latest review. #EFG #familygamenight

A photo posted by Engaged Family Gaming (@engagedfamilygaming) on


The rules booklet is very thorough, but a bit hard to follow. This is one of those games that is easier to try to set up and play through and reference the rules as you go.

At setup, each player starts with a hand of Role cards(may vary depending on the variant played)- 1 Political card, 1 Warfare card, 2 Colonize cards, 2 Research cards, 2 Survey cards, and 2 Produce/Trade cards. These cards create the players’ starting deck which should be shuffled and placed in front of them. Players will add to this deck as the game continues. Each player also gets a randomly selected Starting Planet tile which remains face-down. Then each player is given a randomly dealt Player Aid card. The player who receives the Player Aid with the “Start Player” noted on it is the first player. Influence tokens are then laid out in a central location without the 8 differently designed tokens. Fighter tokens should also be placed in a central pile that can be easily reached by all of the players. Finally, the technology cards should be separated by type and placed in three piles near the Card Display board.

Eminent Domain is played in rounds. To start, each player draws five cards from their deck and the first round begins! Each player completes 3 phases on their turn- 1 optional and 2 mandatory phases. While each of the phases is common to all the players, what actions a player will take is dependent on the Role cards they play and select. The three phases proceed as follows:

Action Phase (optional)

If the player chooses, one Role card from the player’s hand is played in front of them. The card’s action effect is then read out loud and any actions dealing with that action described are completed. Once completed, the Role card is placed in the discard pile.

Role Phase (mandatory)

The player must select one of their Role cards on the central card display, place it in front of them, and resolve the role effect with any Leader bonuses that might also be included. If there are no more Role cards left in that stack, use the information on the central card display instead.

Now each player, in turn order, may choose to “Dissent” and draw 1 Role card from the central card display of their choice or “Follow” and make use of the drawn Role card effect (but not the Leader bonus). Cleanup Phase (mandatory)

Once all the players have decided to Dissent or Follow, all players place any played cards in their discard piles except those cards that are being used as colonies. The player whose turn it is may also discard any cards in their hand they do not want at this time. The player then draws back up to their hand size limit. Note that none of the other players can discard or draw cards during this phase.

The turn then passes to the next player. The game continues until either met the supply of Influence tokens are exhausted, the endgame is triggered OR if a stack (or 2 stacks, depending on # of players) of Role cards is depleted from the Central Card Display board. Once the endgame is triggered, players have one last turn to ensure that every player has had an equal number of turns. After the last turn is complete, all players count their Influence tokens, Technology cards, and face-up Planet cards. The player with the most Influence points wins the game. In the event of a tie, Fighter tokens and Resource tokens are counted and added to the total to determine the winner.

Family Gaming Assessment

The 10 & Up suggestion for player age seems right on target for this game because it requires a moderate amount of reading and some advanced gaming skills such as: advanced logic and critical thinking skills, the ability to make independent decisions, the ability to understand risk vs. reward, and a basic ability to strategize while managing your resources and hand of cards.

The most difficult part of the game for younger players is developing an understanding of the Role cards and the ability to comprehend that they can be used for multiple things in multiple ways.

We found that the game took a while for children to get into, but once they understood the game, it played much more quickly. We definitely recommend starting with the Learning variant, and then playing with the standard rules once they’ve got a few games under their belts.

Our adult players found both the theme of the game and the actual gameplay enjoyable. We liked the strategy of the deck builder and the fact that there was very little downtime for players because we all had actions to complete during each player’s turn. But, there were a few complaints stating that it got a bit repetitive after multiple playthroughs. Tasty Minstrel Games has created an expansion which may address this issue, but we haven’t had a chance to try it yet.


Eminent Domain is a complex and fun game that has mechanics similar to other familiar games. But, this game combines these mechanics with an interesting Science Fiction theme in an original way. We found this to be a fun and unique game play experience which we have gone back to many times. The MSRP is $39.99, but it can be found for significantly less on Amazon, and is well worth the price.

Disclaimer: a copy of this game was provided to Engaged Family Gaming for purposes of this review.

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Kids Table Board Gaming

Age Rating: 8+

Players: 2

Timeframe: 20 minutes


Style: Battle Game

“Late at night, your kitchen comes alive in a food-flinging battle to rule the table top. The Meats march into battle against the Veggies, and food fly as the factions clash! Who will emerge as the top banana, the big cheese, the cream of the crop, the burger king? That all depends on YOU!” ~ Kids Table Board Gaming

food fighters


Food Fighters is a 2 player game designed by Josh and Helaina Cappel. Josh is an experienced game designer (Wasabi, Bomb Squad Academy) and popular game artist (Belfort, Garden Dice, Scoville, Kings of Air & Steam, Pandemic, etc.). Helaina is an educator and founder of Kids Table Board Gaming. This game is a player elimination style of game with some fun dice rolling mechanics as well as a bit of card drafting and component collecting opportunities. The official retail release date is March 7, 2016, but this game is already a successfully funded Kickstarter campaign.


● 18 cardboard Fighter tiles (9 Meats, 9 Veggies)
● 3 dice (2 regular, 1 bonus)
● 30 wooden Beans
● 2 wooden Pans
● 4 wooden Spoons
● 6 wooden Crackers
● 6 Power cards (3 for each faction)
● 1 Price card/Player Aid card
● 18 Thought Bubble Clings
● 1 Rule booklet

The components are very high quality. The tile drawings are fun and in keeping with the food theme. The hands on the characters are perfectly drawn to appear to hold the components and be ready for battle! The cards are good quality and the wooden tokens/weapons are cute, also in keeping with the theme, and great quality. The wooden tokens are appropriately sized for the age of the players of the game. Keep them away from children three and under,


The rule booklet is fun and well laid out. The game mechanics are clear and well balanced(though the power cards initially felt uneven, further game play changed our opinion). On their turn, each player completes three actions- a) Roll for Beans or Swap fighter tiles or Attack b) Spend Beans to buy a tool from the pantry c) Allow opponent to repair their formation. After these actions are complete, play passes to the opponent. The ultimate goal is to be the first player to knock out three matching enemy fighters.

Rolling for Beans is self explanatory and simple. The active player rolls the dice and tallies the number of beans (you can re-roll any splats). You collect your beans which you can later use to buy a pantry item. Beans are the currency of the game.

Swapping is also very simple. Players can have any two Fighters (on their own side) switch places or have a Fighter move to an empty spot in the same row. Fighters bring along any items they have. Don’t forget- swapping gets you a free bean!

Attacking your opponent is slightly more complicated. Players attack their opponent by declaring which fighter is attacking which component and then rolling the normal dice for splats. Splats knock out the opponent and allow the player to claim the card for the defeated Fighter. There is an option to purchase a bonus die which can help your chances along the way. Don’t worry too much if your attack isn’t successful. You still get to keep the beams you rolled!

During the player’s buying action the player spends their beans to buy pantry items. Crackers let your Fighter take an extra hit, spoons let them hit targets further away (but still in a straight line) and pans let them attack any enemy that is in range. Players could also purchase and use one of the special power cards. Each card is unique and has its own price, abilities, and flavor. These purchases allow for some of the deeper strategy to come to the table.

Finally, the opponent must fill in any gaps in their play area by bringing a Fighter forward from the furthest bottommost row with Fighters left in it.

Fun times with a new game courtesy of @kidstablebg. Review to follow soon. #FoodFighters #snowday #familygamenight #EFG

A photo posted by Engaged Family Gaming (@engagedfamilygaming) on

Family Gaming Assessment

The entire concept of a food fight is inherently appealing to children and the myriad of choices and surprising complexity makes the game appealing to adults as well. Though the game is rated for 8 and up, the reading is minimal and the mechanics are clear enough that a player as young as six can join in the fun. We played this game with a variety of ages ranging from six to adult. Each game was different and the players got better at strategy each time they played. We LOVED the clings which allow you to add even more variety to the game without damaging the tiles. Our kids giggled constantly at the artwork while playing, and food puns flew across the table. We are also super excited about the Grains and S’Mores expansions which will allow for even more variety. Our only wish was that there were more Power Cards to draft. We think this would extend the length of the game along with adding more options and variety.


This is great strategy battle game that plays quickly and is easy to learn and explain to other players. We found this game to be very replayable without getting boring for ALL of the members of our family. This game has quickly become a new family favorite and we are thrilled to have it as part of our collection.

FCC disclosure: A copy of this game was sent to us by the publisher for the purposes of this review.

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Election years can be nerve wracking as our country prepares to transition to new leadership, but they also present an excellent opportunity to teach our kids about how the process works.

These are becoming increasingly more important lessons for parents to teach because schools have started to reduce their focus on civics and social studies.

The Presidential Game is a board game that brilliantly illustrates the game-like strategy that plays out as presidential hopefuls hit the campaign trail in and try to win the election. The game board is a map of the United States and players take turns fundraising and campaigning in the various states in an attempt to lock up the appropriate number of electoral votes. The genius behind the game is that it forces smart players to put significant effort into the so-called “battleground states” without directly labeling them as such.

A typical turn will play out as follows. First players will choose to either fundraise or campaign. If they choose to fundraise then they will choose one of the larger states like California, Texas, and New York and roll dice to determine how many of their influence chips they will place there. If they choose to campaign they will then be asked to choose three states and will roll three six sided dice. They will then place a number of influence chips equal to one of their die rolls on each state. The next player will repeat that choice, but can also campaign in states where their opponents have already built influence because each chip they WOULD place there will instead remove one of their opponent’s. This continues until a predetermined number of turns has been completed.

The back and forth battle between candidates may not match the political reality that we live in (none of the states have any political predisposition on the game board), but that actually helps to illustrated the process better.

We will be receiving a copy of this one soon and will post a detailed review in the coming months. So keep your eye on Engaged Family Gaming for more information!

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Kosmos Games
Age Rating: 10 & Up
Players: 2- 4
Timeframe: 30 – 60 Minutes
MSRP: $39.99
Style: Adventure Strategy Game/Card Management

The research teams are outfitted and ready to embark on their adventures to find five forgotten cities. Who will lead the way to fantastic discoveries? Lead your team of explorers on up to five expeditions! Along the way, be sure to search for artifacts and interesting shortcuts. Be careful! If you take too long, your competition will discover the forgotten cities first!


Lost Cities- The Board Game (please note that there is a 2 player card game version of this game) is a light & simple to understand family game designed by the famous game designer Reiner Knizia. It is based on the 2008 Spiel des Jahres winner Keltis. It’s pretty much the exact same game with a different skin. While Keltis had a traditional and very *green* celtic look and style, this has more of an Indiana Jones type of explorer theme.

lost cities  board image


  • 1 Game board
  • 110 Expedition cards (2 of each card in values from 0 to 10, in each of the 5 colors)
  • 25 Event tiles
  • 4 Sets of explorer pieces (4 Adventurers and 1 Researcher per color)
  • 64 Victory point tokens
  • 27 Artifact tokens
  • 1 Rule booklet

The components are very high quality. The board is bright and colorful and is in keeping with the adventure theme. The cards are good quality and the explorer meeples are cute and also great quality. Some of the tokens are kind of small, which may be troublesome to younger players.


The rules are very clear and well laid out. The game mechanics are quite simple and consist of basic counting, card management, and a bit of strategy and luck. Each lost city is found at the end of a path of 9 stepping stones. Players play a card numbered from 1-10 of the correct color to to move their explorers along the corresponding colored path to get to the city. It’s important to play lower numbered cards first because each subsequent card placed to move your explorer on the path must be equal or higher than the card facing up. As explorers move along the path, they can encounter events which add excitement and a bit of challenge to the game. The strategy and tactics involved come into play when choosing which cards to hold onto and which cards to discard. There is a bit of risk assessment involved. Do you select the specific cards you need to move forward? Do you hold on to cards that your opponent needs to move forward? The player who wins the game has the most victory points after three expeditions. Some of our adult players were frustrated because they weren’t able to keep track of scoring to see how well people were doing until the very end. That may or may not be a problem for your group, depending on the type of players you have.

Family Gaming Assessment

This game is very easy to grasp for younger players. There is no reading involved, so as long as your child recognizes numbers and can handle number sequencing well, then they should be able to play this game. We’ve played with our 7 year old and he did well, though we had to use the shorter variant in the rule book because he lost interest fairly quickly. The 10 & Up rating seems to be a bit of a stretch since a group of 8 and 9 year olds were able to play independently after the rules were explained. This might not hold the attention or be super replayable for older children, especially those well versed in Euro games.


If you are looking for light and casual game that is easy to learn and explain to other players, then this is a game for you. While replay value for older players only isn’t particularly high, this is a great go to game to play with your kids that doesn’t leave the adult players bored and frustrated. It’s a fun game to pull out on a rainy afternoon or a snow day that to whole family can enjoy together. Though the MSRP is a bit high ($39.99) it is in line with many other Euro games. It’s important to note that you can find the game at a much more reasonable price online.

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Cheapass Games has brought a new project to Kickstarter in an attempt to bring pack their very first game with a new coat of paint. It was first released in 1996 and they have undoubtedly learned a lot since then so this is a great opportunity to revitalize a well loved game.

Take a look at the KickStarter video below for their pitch.

The Engaged Family Gaming staff was lucky enough to get our hands on a beta version of the game from the Cheapass games PR team. We gave it a few playthroughs and we loved every minute of it.

The first thing that struck me when we opened the box and set the game up was that the game board was very evocative of Clue. What was interesting about the Clue observation is that Kill Doctor Lucky is inverse Clue. Clue STARTS with someone’s death whereas Kill Doctor Lucky ends with one. They aren’t even a little bit similar otherwise, but man is it hard not to make comparisons right off the bad.

The board is essentially a mock floor plan of a massive 1920s mansion. The palatial home is sprawling and the floor plan is awful, but that makes the moment to moment gameplay that much better as each player is competing to get a chance to be in a room with Doctor Lucky alone

The Kickstarter campaign calls this a light strategy game and I think this is a valid description. Each room is numbered and Doctor Lucky moves from room to room after each player’s turn. His movement is predictable as he simply steps through his rooms one by one in numerical order, but you can only take one step at a time without discarding movement cards. This means that while you will definitely be able to predict his movements you need to predict where your opponents will be going as best as you can. That is, frankly, where the real challenge lies.

All strategy aside, the absolute best part of this game is the ongoing tension being built as the game progresses. It is inevitable that different players will get their time alone with the good doctor. When someone attempts to kill him other players have to help thwart these attempts by discarding “luck” cards from their hands. There are so many cards in everyone’s hand and you can only draw one card per turn IF you are alone and no one can see you. This means that early kill attempts are a great way to pull luck cards out of your opponents.

Hands are hidden so it behooves each player to bluff their way through each kill. The goal is to have everyone else expend more cards than you in order to stop the kill. The tension that builds with each hand leads to some great opportunities for skillful play.

The Kickstarter campaign lists the game as being rated for 12 years old or greater and that definitely makes sense. The theme is somewhat macabre to begin with, but it is really the gameplay challenges that push the Buy Steroid Cycles age upwards for me. There are a lot of moving parts to keep track of like Doctor Lucky’s movement, yours, your opponent and that is on top of hand management. It would get very overwhelming very fast for all but the best younger gamers.

The Kickstarter is already funded at the time of this writing, but now is a great time to get in on it to help unlock stretch goals. Head on over to the page and support them if you can!

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Mars vs Earth, by Geek Fever Games, is a hidden allegiance game set in the 1950s with a War of the Worlds theme. It has been carefully crafted over the last few years by a small team based in Connecticut. The development process has been a family affair as their playtesting team has included the designer’s wives, children, and closest friends. Forgive my sappy phrasing, but this game was obviously created by a family to be played by a similar type of group.

The bottom line here: If you are looking for a game to add to the rotation for your regular play group or to play as a family, then this is a very good choice. Just be prepared to question everything they ever say again.

The bulk of the game play works as follows.

Each player is secretly dealt a DNA card at the start of the game. This card will determine whether you are a human or an alien and will likewise determine your overall goal.

The players, as a unit, will be given a series of missions that will need to be completed. Humans want missions to succeed as completing twelve of them will eliminate the alien invasion. Aliens want to see them fail and thus weaken the human race for the ultimate takeover.

Completing missions requires players to discard skill cards into a collective pool. These discards are done blindly, meaning that an alien among the players could easily put the wrong skill type into the pool as sabotage. They can’t be too obvious though because after each set of missions is completed (whether they succeeded or not) players can accuse other people at the table and potentially reveal them.

After four missions have been successfully completed a new round of DNA cards is distributed (secretly) that will either turn loyal humans into Alien clones OR make already existing aliens that much more powerful.

I had the pleasure of sitting in on several games of Mars vs Earth with the designers and it was a blast. It only took them five minutes to teach me to play and I was engrossed in the action. This is a very “mechanics light” game so people who are easily intimidated by other board games should be put at ease.

It is also worth noting that the artwork in Mars vs. Earth is incredible. Each Agent card features carefully crafted illustrations and the game board, while a little chaotic, gives players a clear view of their objectives.

As for families with younger children: There is very little reading involved, but playing the game successfully does require that players have a reasonable poker face. Young children who have trouble keeping secrets will struggle with this one. This experience is ideal for a group of players that can all bluff their way through the different scenarios. Even one player who giggles in the face of accusation (or has any other obvious tell) will hurt everyone’s enjoyment.

Mars Vs Earth

Mars vs. Earth can be purchased here.

Disclosure: The artist on Mars vs. Earth is Ben Foster who is one of the writers on Engaged Family Gaming. 

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Kickstarter Review: Cogs in a Machine

2-6 Players
Ages 12+

The machine whirred loudly, a perfect musical backdrop to the ears of the factory employees.  As the harmonious percussion of gears and steam-powered whistles reach what should be the crescendo of engineering-melody the Gnomish mechanical symphony sputters with a discordant CLANG!  The Gnomes spring into action to repair the very machine that keeps them all employed and tinkering.  But who will manage to build the most interesting and complex fixes for the machine? What fun would it be if it wasn’t every Gnome for himself?


Cogs in a Machine is the fast paced game of invention, repair and and displaying your Gnomish chops as you race to be the best Gnome you can be.  There are six different Gnome roles you can play, all with different abilities and very appropriately themed skills.

The artwork is fantastically thematic and adds to the gameplay. CiaM is a competitive dice and resource management game played in turns and phases.  To start the game, players have 6 dice; characters start with the same five dice and one die unique to them. The board has an empty “machine”, three possible components to build and nine upgrade dice available for purchase.

Rolling your six dice is the first phase, each type of die has various possible outcomes. Build cog(s), build teeth, reroll (wrench), wild (star), auto-upgrade and blank-sides.   Phase two is the rerolling phase where you can reroll any wrenches (with another die) or stars (wilds) that you choose, and/or use a rerolling ability.  Next up, players get to supervise you! They can use an ability to affect your dice roll by spending a previous roll or resources you’ve gathered. After that, you get your parts, which consist of two resource types: cogs and teeth.  

Teeth are personal resources and are stored on your character card.  It takes more teeth to build components than cogs, and you can have a maximum of 10 of them at the end of your turn.  Cogs are what makes this game unique; a cog that is built goes into the “machine” and is now accessible by any player on their turn.  

Cogs and teeth can be spent them to build components in the following phase.  Components give special abilities (like upgrading dice, trading in teeth for cogs, etc.) and are used toward your final goal.  In the end phase, you trash excess resources and set up for the next turn.

The game ends when one Gnome builds five components, and lets everyone else have a chance to build one last time. Component points are counted up by their cost in cogs (like mechanical victory points) and the Gnome with the fanciest array of parts reigns supreme.

All in all, gameplay goes pretty quickly, and with symbol usage and rules cards, it’s relatively easy to follow for even a younger gamer.  Some reading is needed, but there aren’t enough cards to cause it to be cumbersome to explain to a smaller gamer, far younger than the suggested age of twelve. The game plays two to six, however one of my chief complaints is that there are in effect only five rules cards.

Let me explain.  The game plays up to six Gnomes, and there are six rules cards; unfortunately one of those cards is meant to be used as the machine. Normally, I wouldn’t be bothered by that, and would just use a table for a six player game, of course.  But the tokens for cogs and teeth are very thin card-stock and difficult to pick up if they aren’t on some sort of backing.

Component-wise, the cards are well made and descriptive with fantastic well-thought out artwork (though, adding a female Gnome or two would be nice).  The game comes with 20 dice with sticker sides including white starter dice, white upgrade dice, black general dice and a single colored die associated to the Gnome of that color.  As well there are the aforementioned component tokens, which could use some thickness.

Overall, this game is well thought out, the characters seem balanced in two to three player games, and I would assume the same for larger games. The theme is cute and it’s a quick game to learn, the shared/personal resource split is a fun strategy that helps younger kids grasp the basics of strategy.  Plus, it has Gnomes.

Cogs in the Machine is currently on Kickstarter ending 9/22/15.  You can get a copy of this game at the $45 backer level.

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Board Game Review: Flash Point: Fire Rescue

Publisher: Indie Boards & Cards

2-6 Players

Ages 10+

45+ Minutes

MSRP: $39.99


Jon clutched his axe as he made way through the smoke filled room. With the roar of the flames behind him muffled by his mask, the sound of his own breathing echoing back through his respirator became the only sound he could focus on. He stepped over the charred door, blown off it’s hinges from a recent explosion, and entered the next room, scanning intently for survivors. The walls seemed to buckle with the heat, and he knew he only had a few minutes left before the structure became completely unstable. It was then that he noticed the gas can across the room, seconds before the ensuing explosion knocked him off his feet, and darkness engulfed him.

Flash Point: Fire Rescue is a cooperative board game in which players take on the roles of firefighters, making their way through a burning building to investigate “Points of Interest” and locate survivors. Players are constantly battling back smoke and flames, moving about, and even manning the deck gun on the fire truck outside.

How Does it Play?

The goal of the game is to rescue at least 7 of 10 victims from the burning building, before the building collapses. The 2-sided board has an “easy” building layout and a “hard” layout, allowing the difficulty curve to be modified. On each turn, players are provided a certain number of action points to use on their turn, and a variety of actions they can spend on those actions. Moving, opening doors, and extinguishing smoke/fire all have associated action point costs, and players are even able to “bank” unspent action points to use on their next turn. At the end of each players turn, they roll dice to determine where smoke or fire appear, and then apply rules based on conditions on the board (if the space was blank, smoke appears. If the space was smoke, it turns to fire. If it was fire, an explosion happens, etc). As it should, the fire feels random and unpredictable, and yet organic.

The threat of fire feels ever-present throughout the game. Explosions (or even the firefighters’ axes) can create holes in the walls that firefighters can use as doorways, but too many damaged walls and the building collapses. Fires, when left unchecked, can rapidly burn out of control and explode into surrounding areas. Gameplay is quick and collaborative, and leads to lots of choices to be made on a given turn. Best of all, it’s encouraging teamwork and group decision making. When we played with a group of 9 year old boys at cub scouts, the tension was evident, but the boys quickly found ways to talk through their decision making and thought processes, and offer suggestions to each other how they might work together better.

Top down view

Things are starting to get hot…

Choose your Difficulty Level

One of my favorite things about Flash Point: Fire Rescue, especially as a family game, is the ability to customize the challenge and complexity of the game. As mentioned, the board has an “easy” and a an “experienced” side of the board, which changes how many entrances to the building the firefighters have access to, as well as ( on the experienced side) a building layout more prone to wall damage from explosions and difficult choices to create paths into and out of the building. In addition, though, the rulebook does a great job of providing a set of rules for “family” games, and then a separate set of rules for more experienced players. The experienced rules add more complexity, but also thematic content as well: a more random setup for fire placement, vehicles (both an ambulance and fire engine) that can circle the building, hazmat dangers and “hot spots”, and even specialized abilities for different firefighters. While it may seem like a lot of moving parts, the different mechanics are all relatively balanced, and so can be added piecemeal depending on what you are comfortable with. This level of choice in ramping up the challenge and difficulty really allows parents to customize based on who is at the table, and allows the game to play well with a variety of age groups.

Component Chaos

Let’s get this out of the way: there are a fair number of pieces in Flash Point. For the experienced gamer, the wide array of tokens and markers may seem like child’s play, but to folks coming from less complex games, it can seem overwhelming at first, and certainly something to be aware of if there are small children in the household. Additionally, the box that comes with the game is woefully inadequate at keeping the pieces organized, and so setup for the game can take extra time as you sort through the chaos of the box to sort out pieces. I went so far as to build a custom insert for the box (something we will discuss in detail in a future article on Engaged Family Gaming) but this could also be controlled through the liberal use of plastic baggies or other containers.

The components themselves are of decent quality. Most of the tokens and markers are double sided cardboard, though the damage tokens for walls are represented with wooden cubes. Early editions of the game came with Parcheesi-esque, wooden tokens for the firefighters (not very thematic!) but have been “upgraded” to plastic firefighters in more recent editions of the game. We usually try to avoid harping on art direction for a game, but I will say this is one thing that strikes me as odd for Flashpoint (and perhaps only because I come from a visual arts background). The tokens and gameboard take on a very simplified, semi- abstract reality for their design. The specialist cards feature fantastic, realistic and almost gritty illustrations of the different firefighters. The sculpts for the figures, however, have somewhat cartoonish proportions and feel “cute”. The three elements are quite disparate, but not enough to affect any enjoyment of the game.

Not the original insert!

Our reviewer Ben gets creative with foam-core to keep things organized

Teaching Opportunities

Like any good co-op game, Flash Point encourages kids to work together and made collective decisions to achieve a common goal. Communication is necessary to plan moves and ensure that all of the different threats are covered. Strategic thinking is required, but kids will also need the flexibility to adapt to changing conditions, as a sudden explosion of fire can quickly change the dynamic of the gameboard and force new plans on the fly. Additionally, the game does a great job of making kids realize the danger that firefighters go into daily on their job, and hopefully instills a little more respect for the difficult job those men and women do.


Family Gaming Assessment

Overall, our family loves Flash Point: Fire Rescue. It’s intense, fast paced, and fun to play. The recommended age of 10+ seems a little high – we’ve played the “family rules” with a group of 8 year olds of mixed gaming backgrounds and had no trouble. The game can even play much younger if an adult or older child manages the “advance fire” portion of the turns, simply because those rules can get a little more complex, but even then our 6-year old was able to understand the patterns after a few turns. With the scaling difficulty and complexity, the game can easily keep the adult gamers in the family engaged and entertained while still making a great family game. With four expansions already released, adding new buildings and more complex and thematic rules, there’s plenty of variety to enjoy, and keep your family fighting fires for years to come.

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