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Board Game Review: Steampunked Time Machine

Nord Games

2-6 Players (with Expansions)
Ages 8+
30+ Minutes
COMPETITIVE

Thank goodness it isn’t raining” he thought, as he made his way back to the lab, his arms laden with the final piece he needed for his creation. The metal glinted in the moonlight as he brought the strange canister through the door to the place that would now reside, for all of time. He pulled out an oddly shaped jar full of a strange fluid and began his work. Soon, all of time would be his! Never again would they call him “Mad”!

Steampunked Time Machine is a tabletop card game, recently released via a very successful Kickstarter campaign.  Players take on the role of Mad Scientists hoping to build the first ever time machine in a Steampunk Victorian age.

First, I should probably explain what this “Steampunk” thing is. Steampunk is a literary and artistic movement that has gained prevalence in the last decade or so. It basically erases the late Victorian era and rewrites it as if Jules Verne’s works were fact.  Think of the “Wild Wild West” movie starring Will Smith or “Van Helsing” staring Hugh Jackman – lots of gear-driven, steam-powered machinery and goggles!

The game has all of those elements in spades: strange mechanical devices, body parts augmented by steam-era technology, and more brass goggles and sepia tones than you can fit in your great-grandmother’s hope chest.  So, if you are looking for a game that has the art and the feel of steampunk, this is it.

Unfortunately, if you are looking for it to be a really great game, this game likely isn’t for you.  What STM has in expandability, look, and dedication to its genre, it lacks in its rules and game balance.

First, the rules are printed on the paperboard box provided with the game (I’d assume the retail version would have a better package) and don’t even explain the most basic concepts of the game.  In order to figure out how to play “parts” – a significant portion of gameplay – we had to venture to their Kickstarter page. The rules themselves need major clarification and overhaul to be understandable to a general retail audience at all.

To play the game, players choose a Mad Scientist from a pool of varying size (this changes depending on expansions and booster packs).  We assumed this was a random choice, since their powers vary so significantly; however the rules hold no clarification.  Once the character is selected, each player is dealt 7 cards.

The rules don’t state who goes first, so we chose whoever’s character name was first in alphabetical order.  The game is played in phases.

First, the Quackery phase.  Here you turn over any used Quackery cards (we assumed this meant our flipped characters as well, but again, we aren’t sure), and can play 1 Quackery card, which generates the energy you need to play when flipped.  Magic: the Gathering players might find this to be a familiar mechanic.

Next, we enter the main phase, where energy is used to play cards to build our time machine or to help ourselves/hinder our opponents. Note: There are some cards that can be cast…. errr… played… at any time & it is noted in the text. There are some very interesting cards that steal parts or Quackery or allow some diving in the discard pile, but there are quite a few cards that will more than likely just rot in your hand.

Luckily, there is a mechanic that allows you to spend energy to discard or draw cards.  This is definitely a nice fix to the stale hand issue that erupts from a random deck game that is so similar to Magic: the Gathering.

Once you’ve completed the main phase, you enter the End Phase where you draw up to 7 cards (unless you have cards that change that), and pass your turn.  In the expansions, there are cards called “Allies” and “Villains” and “Inventors” which must be played immediately when drawn.

Allies give everyone a boost, Villains cause global negative effects, and Inventors give alternate win conditions.  Assuming (again) that since this happened as part of the End Phase, we finished drawing to the requisite 7 cards whenever this occurred. This is definitely an interesting mechanic allowing for some environmental change to spice up the game.

Turns keep progressing in that order until someone gets all 9 pieces of the time machine.Note: The list of 9 pieces is not in the rules, nor is the count, it is located on the back of the Mad Scientist cards.

Unfortunately, this game is poorly tested and leaves much to be desired.  It is definitely family playable, but does involve a decently high reading level.  I would recommend it as a precursor to Magic: the Gathering for those children who might be overwhelmed by the breadth of available cards and more sophisticated game play, though you are probably better off with a M:tG starter deck and some patience!

If the game had more consistent levels of Characters and if there wasn’t SO much guessing and research required to play, it might have a chance to be one of the only lights in the steampunk card-genre.  Unfortunately, there is a lot of revision and fine-tuning needed before this game can really stand the test of time.

clenbuterol reviews
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Yacht Club Games
Reviewed for WiiU (Also on 3DS and PC)
Rated E for Everyone

Release Date: 06/26/2014

Overall Review

Many of us have been playing games for more than twenty years. There are a lot of games in the rear view mirror for us. So many, in fact, that we just don’t remember how they actually played. We love them so much that we forget how absolutely soul crushing they could be. Shovel Knight is a rare game that evokes all of those positive memories without constantly slapping its players in the face with archaic game mechanics.

Shovel Knight was a massively successful project on Kickstarter and it feels like the entire gaming population has been waiting with baited breath for its release. That time has come and I am pleased to report that Shovel Knight delivers on all of its promises.

The most noteworthy feature of Shovel Knight is its 8-bit retro aesthetic. It draws inspiration from the pixel art used in classic NES era games like Mega Man, Castlevania, and Ducktales. The environments are stunning and the monsters are crafted to remind us of the games of our youth.

The premise of the game is straight forward. Players control the great hero Shovel Knight on a quest to defeat the members of The Order of No Quarter and reach the evil Enchantress and rescues his beloved Shield Knight. The Order of No Quarter is a nefarious team of evildoers made up of the likes of Plague Knight, Treasure Knight, Mole Knight, and Propeller Knight (among others). Anyone who noticed the familiar naming convention gets bonus points for paying attention! The different stages and their  boss encounters match up very well with those that we will remember from the Mega Man series. Each boss has a specific theme and their stages are masterfully built to match.

The different boss stages are well balanced and full of challenges. Each of them forces you to learn a new set of tricks and continuously build on it until the end. The good news here is that checkpoints are spread generously through each of the levels; many of them placed immediately after significant challenges. This is one of the most welcome design decisions Yacht Club Games has made. Spacing the checkpoints out even a little bit more might have taken the game straight from “difficult” to “frustrating.” Instead, we are treated with a smooth cadence of challenges that keep us motivated to push forward as opposed to recoiling from them.

The entire game is masterfully built in a way that invites players to achieve as opposed to punishing them for failure. That, in and of itself, is perfection made real in modern game design.

Family Gaming Assessment

Shovel Knight does involve combat, but it is abstracted by an 8-bit animated aesthetic. Outside of a few creepy moments in Specter Knight’s level there is nothing that should concern parents from a content perspective here.

Further, Shovel Knight is a true hero. He attempts to make peace with as many of the foes that stand in his way as possible. In fact, his hesitation to do battle in favor of talking this out is a pleasant change of pace as so many “heroes” rush in swords drawn or guns blazing.

Playability

There is no sugarcoating this folks. Shovel Knight is very difficult. It is rated E for everyone by the ESRB, but this is a game that can be discouraging to inexperience players. Yacht Club Games was gracious enough to provide me with a copy of the game for my eight year old son’s 3DS so I could have him give Shovel Knight a whirl. He found the character and the story interesting from the outset, but he grew frustrated within a few minutes of starting the game. His biggest challenge came from dealing with the downward shovel/pogo bouncing that is required to advance through certain challenges.

Put simply, this is not a game for novices. With that said, the game is inviting and is possessed of a light sense of humor that youngsters will enjoy. I noticed him picking the game back up when I wasn’t watching to try and master some of the challenges. He may not be playing it for long stretches, but if he earns his platforming chops from Shovel Knight I am terrified for my ability to compete when he is older.

Much of the game’s story is delivered through text so children who have a difficult time reading may miss some of the finer points of the story, but a parent sitting beside them and reading the dialogue (with exaggerated voices of course) is as good as many story books we will read to them.

Conclusion

Shovel Knight is now on the short list for my game of the year. It is just that good. I recommend this for anyone who enjoys challenging platformers.

Parents of young children will want to keep this game on their radar for the future and buy it up once you feel they are ready for a real challenge.

Shovel Knight Screen Capture
Shovel Forth!!
Shovel Knight Screen Capture
Yes. You can go fishing in Shovel Knight, too!
Shovel Knight Screen Capture
The action in Shovel Knight is instense!
Shovel Knight Screen Capture
Some of the monsters are MASSIVE!
Shovel Knight Screen Capture
Mole Knight!
Shovel Knight Screen Capture
King Knight!
Shovel Knight Screen Capture
Some enemies are a challenge to defeat!
Shovel Knight Screen Capture
You'll have to dig for your treasure!
Shovel Knight Screen Capture
Those are some pretty trees!
Shovel Knight Screen Capture
Gears and conveyor belts huh? Where's Metal Man?
Shovel Knight Screen Capture
The Phasing Bracelet is an amazing tool!
Shovel Knight Screen Capture
Those pages aren't going to last for long! Get ready to jump!
Shovel Knight Screen Capture
Shovel Pogo off of floating jellyfish? Sure! Why not?
Shovel Knight Screen Capture
This is one of the tougher monsters in the game! (and it looks it)!

 

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Homeschool Games
2-6 players
10+ minutes (depending on player number and skill)
COMPETITIVE

 

“….Texas has Austin, then we go north

To Massachusetts’ Boston, and Albany, New York

Tallahassee, Florida, and Washington, D.C.

Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Nashville, Tennessee.

Elvis used to hang out there a lot, ya know.” – Wakko’s America

 

Who can forget the immortal words of the genius that is Wakko Warner, as he fiddled his way through the capitals of all 50 states? Sadly, since the retirement of the Warner Brothers (and the Warner sister), there has been a severe lack in fun ways to learn geography!

Have no fear!  State Master is here!

State Master is a quick competitive game that allows children to learn state trivia in an engaging way! It’s like the U.S. State version of trivial pursuit with the initial roll mechanic of most board games.  Each of the 50 state master cards are double sided, with the state flag & name on the front and six state facts on the back.

To play State Master, five cards times the number of players are placed flag side up ten for two players, thirty for six, etc.) as well as a blank political map of the United States (which is labeled on the back). Players then chose their dice and roll, seven dice are provided, six different colored dice that basically act as player’s pieces and one special die.  The person that rolls the highest places their die on the state of their choice and so on down – the instructions do not provide any guidance on ties, so we rerolled ties – though whatever your house rules for ties are would work fine.

After all the dice are placed, the first player for the round rolls the special die which chooses the category of trivia. The categories are:

  • Abbreviation
  • Capital
  • Largest City
  • Year of Statehood
  • Nickname
  • Population Rank

Each player must then answer for their state.  If they are correct, they must then chose their state on the map, in order to win the card.  Each round progresses the same way until their are fewer cards on the board than there are players in the game.

State Master is overall a pretty fun game in the educational realm, and I was surprised at how little I knew, even about my home state! It definitely has some great learning and memorization potential and the cards could even double as flash cards if you were so inclined.  Replayability will likely be high for a while until your children have mastered most of the data, however; in a classroom setting, this game could be fantastic and would likely never grow old.

There is no age range for this game, which makes sense, as you could easily read the answers to a younger child, though reading at a moderate level would be required to play independent of an adult.

All in all, State Master is a fun and well thought out game that has a price point of $15 or less (if you get in early) and is worth it for helping your child learn more about the country we live in. State Master is currently on Kickstarter and will end its campaign (appropriately) on July 4th!  As Wakko would say it’s “Faboo”!

 

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Math 4 Love 2-4 Players Ages 10+ 15+ Minutes (Highly dependent on skill) COMPETITIVE/KICKSTARTER

Racing into a growing spiral, faster and faster as the magnitude increases monotonically. Decahedrons, your only ally to your nigh indivisible goal, the Prime goal, one-hundred-and-one.

Prime Climb is a game of decision making and strategy that has you competing with your opponents to get your pawns to the safety of the board’s final number. As if it were the progeny of Sorry! and Chutes and Ladders, Prime Climb employs both the sequential numeric board, a single occupant mechanic (where you might be compelled to say “Sorry!”) and a “Home base”-esque aspect for the space labeled 101. Prime Climb utilizes all of the simplicity of these classic games, but it offers far more depth!

The first main difference is the dice, Prime Climb shirks the standard six-sided be-pipped cubes we are all so familiar with in exchange for two ten-sided dice. These dice are used to move around the board and can be added, subtracted, multiplied or divided against the number a pawn currently occupies. Since each die is counted singly and can apply to either of your two pawns, turns can take some time as children mathematically plot the best next move. (Make sure to be patient!)

Doubles also provide a twist, when two identical numbers are rolled, players have four copies of that number to use on their turn! Roll two 9’s, you can take one pawn to 81 from 0, and the other to 18, and so on. The single occupier rule also applies to your own pawns, so it’s worth remembering especially in this case.

The biggest difference is the board, it uses six different space colors (seven if you count black at the 0, or starting space). Grey, orange, green, blue, purple, and red adorn a black board arranged in an Archimedean Spiral, however if you were looking for a Candy Land-esque repetition you are in for a surprise!

Prime Climb uses these colors to represent the first of the early primes. Orange represents 2 and all factors of 2 that follow have an orange segment in their space. So, four would be split with two (2×2) orange halves. Three is green, so the six space (3×2) is half-orange, half-green, and so on! Red spaces are reserved for primes, and as numbers increase to have higher magnitude prime factors, those numbers printed in the red space of the factor. Primes have the added bonus of allowing you to draw a card that adds some additional effect to your turn (or a future turn).

That’s right, Prime Climb uses color to represent prime factorization! This innovative method of teaching children how to multiply and divide allows even young minds to engage in learning via pattern recognition.

To test out the idea that this could work with a younger child, I played with my four-year-old daughter, who loves patterns and can only add and subtract numbers up to 10. After studying the board and explaining to her how it worked, she invented her own basic game — she decided to determine the factors of the numbers in her fortune cookie (You know, those 6 lucky numbers that are printed under the Chinese word for Shoe).

She was able to follow the spiral, and identify all of the factors of each of the numbers (though I’ll admit that the first three were 7,19 and 43 so that did make it easier)! When we played the game we had to assist her with determining where she should move, since the decision making process with two pawns is far harder than you’d expect once you’ve made it to the larger numbers! But we were able to show her where she could move by teaching her to look for the colors!

As an example, let’s say you were on 6, it has factors of 2 (orange) and 3 (green), and you rolled a 7 (purple). To determine where 7 would take you if you multiplied, you just need to find the first space that has three segments in orange, green & purple which is 42, the product of 6 x 7!

It takes patience to play it to a younger audience, but it is definitely a possibility to help introduce the artistry of mathematics to a child before they learn it as rote memorization and “plug and chug” problem solving.

All-in-all Prime Climb is a fantastic family game for the mathematically inclined and for those who like fun. I was lucky enough to get a print-and-play review copy to check out while it runs on Kickstarter, and you could too! The print and play runs $15 and comes with a matching multiplication table and hundreds chart, for the full game experience you can back at the $35 level and get those same printable files!

Prime Climb is fully funded and on their way to some great stretch goals! Check them out before the campaign ends June 6th!

Looking for more games and math? Check out more articles here!

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2-4 Players
Ages 10+
10-15 minutes

COMPETITIVE

Have you ever dreamed of being an enzyme? Do your thoughts drift to Adenine, Guanine, Thymine and Cytosine more than you’d like to admit? Have you ever wished you could act just like mRNA? Well, you’re in luck!

Linkage is a fast-paced game of DNA transcription… that’s right, DNA transcription!  Players create a shared strand of DNA from a deck of beautifully designed nucleotide cards, and then use their own hand of RNA nucleotides to try to match it.  It’s as easy as protein synthesis!

I know what you’re thinking, “I left my DNA Helicase in my other genome”! It’s OK, you won’t need it with this game!  Gameplay starts with each player drawing 4 cards from the RNA deck, and laying out the DNA promoter next to the DNA deck.  The promoter starts the nucleotide sequence that you will need to try to match to when transcribing your strand. Each subsequent DNA card has a secondary color that corresponds with the color of the RNA nucleotide cards in your hand.

Play starts by laying the first card of the DNA deck next to the promoter, the oldest player then must draw a card and must play a card.  Of course, the goal is to match the laid down DNA card, however, that may not be an option! Once a card is played, the next player completes a draw-play turn.  The turn ends and the next nucleotide is drawn in the DNA strand.

Since RNA transcription is never as simple as it sounds, there are some other mechanics at play.  Chaperone cards act as a wild card and can replace any active nucleotide in your strand, DNA Mutation allows a player to switch out a card in the DNA sequence and any RNA card marked as a Mutation can steal a card from someone else’s RNA strand.

The round continues until the Terminator (no relation to John Connor’s T-800) is drawn.  Players then add up their points for the round, gaining points for each card in the sequence that matches the parent strand, and racking up bonuses for long strands.

Currently, there is no suggested “best play” number of rounds, but our test went well with three.  Playing like a classic card game, Linkage is very much a learning game that puts the entertainment in edutainment. Color matching lends to play with younger kids interested in science, while the more complicated strategic mechanics will keep older kids ribosomes revved up for transcription!

I can’t imagine a better game to teach budding scientists (or even those struggling with the concept of Uracil as a general agent of confusion) some tough concepts through play.  Though many of the mechanics seem advanced, little reading is necessary, as the game can be played via symbol and color recognition.  Children who have mastered games like UNO and Phase 10 might struggle a little with the DNA Mutation and Chaperone cards, but would be able to grasp it after a few rounds of guided play.

Now that the Kickstarter has ended, Linkage has a $19.99 price tag and is available here!

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There is nothing in this world that a child loves more than playing a game with their parents… Except dinosaurs.

I was lucky enough to have a chance to play Super Tooth this past week with my family. I’ll admit that I had my doubts when the game arrived. It looked too simple. But, Super Tooth hides its complexity well. So well, in fact, that you might not notice it if you aren’t looking for it. That is one of the secrets of a good family game in my eyes.

Super Tooth is, at its core, a matching card game. Players are tasked with collecting matched sets of plant eating dinosaurs. Each turn a “landscape” of three cards is laid out on the play area. Players will then resolve event cards (like the egg that lets the player bring back a card that had previously been discarded), feed or chase away meat eaters, and then ultimately choose one type of plant eater from the board. There is some luck involved here, but it is important to choose carefully to make sure that you are getting matched sets and not just random cards.

The game itself includes the cards (the number will vary depending on how many expansions you are using, and “Cretaceous Coins” that are used to help keep score. The cards were thick enough that they would survive through a lot of play, but it would be best to protect them from little hands whenever possible. They would fit very well in standard card protectors.

My youngest son feels left out of a lot of gaming sessions because a lot of the games that cycle through our home require reading or advanced strategies that he struggles with (being five). He was in all his glory while playing Super Tooth. He was able to grasp the basic gameplay mechanics quickly and was able to implement his own strategies after his first game.

What turned this pleasant surprise into a best case scenario was the level of engagement from everyone playing. My brother was playing with us and he tends to stick with “deep strategy” games and he enjoyed himself (even if he was getting beaten by a five year old)! Super Tooth may be a matching game at its core, but the way that it is played turns it into a sort of drafting game. Players who pay attention to what other players are picking up and discarding will be able to employ strategies like counter-drafting (taking a card that your opponent needs even if it isn’t beneficial to you). My eldest son did that without giving it a name.

I’ll cut to the chase here folks. Super Tooth is an amazing game, but it might not see the light of day without a little help.  Do yourself a favor if you have younger kids and buy this game. You will not regret the chance to play this great game with them (and lets admit it… you like dinosaurs too.)

Supertooth was picked up by Gamewright for 2015!  Find out more here!

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Hero Generations: Bringing New Life to the Strategy Game Genre

“What is worth our limited lifetime?

What do we sacrifice to pursue the things we love?”

These are heavy themes that are not commonly explored in video games, but Heart Shaped Games plans to do just that with Hero Generations. The game is currently on Kickstarter and is approaching its goal (90% at the time of this writing) with less than two weeks to go.

Hero Generations is a strategy game that forces players to make very careful choices. Each turn represents one year of a characters life so you need to think carefully about each move in order to keep your character’s family line continuing forward.

The harsh reality of Hero Generations is that if you fail to have a child to take your place before you die then it is Game Over. This means you can’t just ride off into the sunset at an old age, or go out in a blaze of glory. You need to balance your wild adventurous side with your inner homebody to make sure that you are able to attract a bride (or groom) and have a successor.

Players will be presented with FAR more than they can accomplish in one lifetime and will be forced to make tough choices along the way. Should they develop their kingdom and infrastructure (making it easier for their offspring to move around)? Should they go on a wild adventure (and have a greater chance to bring back wealth)? Should you settle down and have a child early (making it more likely to carry on the family line)? These are the kinds of gameplay decisions that players will be asked to make.

Most strategy games are so grand in scope that the value of time and of the day-to-day human experience is lost. Hero Generations does the opposite. It pleads with its player to remember that life is precious and to cherish every bit of it.

Hero Generations is being developed for PC, Mac, Linux, and the Ouya. It is expected to be delivered sometime early next year (but that could change). This game needs to exist and it might not see production without our support. Get on over the Kickstarter and be a hero!

 

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Protean Games
Ages 8+
2-6 Players
30+ Minutes
COMPETITIVE

This weekend at PaxEast the EFG team had the overwhelming privilege of getting to try out some fantastic new games prior to release. Even better… we finally got to try a game that is currently on Kickstarter. (Why don’t you go ahead and back it now. You’ll want to at the end anyways. Then come on back and read about it.)

Mix! is a Card Game of Tactical Color Theory. (Don’t worry, I had no idea what that meant either until I played!) The goal of the game is simple. Players make moves that place game pieces in strategic positions on the palate play board by mixing colors. These colors are used to earn Victory Points which decide the game.

In starting the game, each player draws one two-sided goal card with a primary color on the front and a secondary on the back. The card is places primary side up in front of each player, giving other players the opportunity to counter their quest for obtaining points. What their opponents don’t know is what the color they lose points for is, which creates an interesting counter strategy for players.

Then players draw two pattern cards. Pattern cards make up the major strategic plays of the game and depict a grey version of the palate board with variable objectives. These objectives can be applied to any color, as long as you can turn it in some way to match the configuration. These cards are kept secret to start and are nor revealed until they can be scored. Since these cards might be more difficult to understand with smaller players, this dynamic can be removed or graduated to in advanced play.

A number of Painting tokens are handed out, based on the number of players in the game. These are used to actually tally the score in the game. (We’ll explain these more in a bit.)

Finally, each player is dealt three cards from the draw deck. These cards represent the colors they have available to Mix! as well as some special cards that clear or reset pieces on the board. One of the coolest design elements of this game is now in the players hands: each color card is unique a unique brush stroke even among identically colored cards! The beautifully simplistic card composition will make you feel as if you looking at a new piece of abstract art with every draw.

Game play is turn-based, with the order consisting of a mandatory play phase, an optional action phase and a mandatory draw phase. When playing a card, each player chooses a primary color (or one of 2 special cards) from the masterpiece that is their hand to the play area. They may then choose to pass, “Mix”, “Paint”, or choose another pattern.

Mixing involves taking two (or more) primary colors and combining them to create a color.  Two blue cards move a token from the center of the palate to the blue area, a red and a blue move a token from the center to the purple area, and so on. While most older kids will get more strategy lessons out of this piece of the game (making patterns, setting up to score, etc.), allowing a younger child to assist in the possible identifying color combinations could be a fun “little sibling” activity (even if they try to make purple out of red and yellow). While tokens move around due to mixing, the score doesn’t change while players jockey for position, until someone takes a Paint action.

Scoring is player driven, with players using their action and spending a Painting tokens to update the score. What this means is that each color that has at least one game piece in it scores one counter (and only 1), and anyone with a pattern card that can be completed may complete it at that time. Scores for players are not tallied or recorded in this phase, as secondary colors are not revealed until the end, but score tokens add up! This is one of the most unique aspects of this game (and possibly the most difficult for younger players to grasp); wisely spending your Painting tokens to maximize your own points is harder than it sounds.

Choosing a pattern is always the same: draw two, chose one, put the other on the bottom of the deck. You don’t lose points for uncompleted patterns, but you are limited to 2 unplayed patterns at a time, so it’s important to choose the ones that seem most likely to be completed. The harder a card is to complete, the more it’s worth in Victory Points.

Play continues until the draw deck empties, which went pretty quickly, even for our group of brand new players. A final score phase happens, and the points are tallied. All players receive 1Victory Points (VP) for having Painting tokens remaining, 2 VP for each score counter in their primary color, and -1VP for each in their secret secondary color.

Mix! is a very fun game that is not only aesthetically interesting and well thought out, but also a fantastic strategy teaching tool for children who have mastered more complex strategy games like UNO. While reading is not necessary, some modification might be necessary for play with children who have not yet reached this gaming milestone. This game was designed to be played with children, and seems like the kind of game that would lend itself well to house rules and even adult only play!

Kickstarter is a tricky creature. If we don’t put the effort into helping Protean Games this amazing game might not see the light of day. That would be a shame, so make sure to check out Protean Games’ Kickstarter and help them get it made!

 

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