A Night of Stickers & Discs: Unboxing “Catacombs”


Catacombs is a dexterity game in the style of a standard dungeon crawler.  The twist is that in order to move your heroes and have encounters with monstrous foes, you do so by flicking wooden discs.  The game was a surprise hit with tabletop gamers, and sold out several printings following its 2010 release.  In a desire to create an improved, definitive version of the game, publisher Elzra Corp (formerly Sands of Time Games) successfully funded the Third Edition via Kickstarter last year.  This overhauled edition has new artwork, an updated rule system, and better quality components.

…and my copy just came in the mail yesterday!

Here are some unboxing pictures to highlight some the game’s contents and to offer up a glimpse of my evening spent affixing stickers to wooden discs.   Continue reading

Oval, Squiggle, Diamond: A SET Review

If you’ve read anything I’ve written about tabletop games, you’ll know that I tend to favor games with an engaging theme. But that is not to say that I am opposed to playing a good abstract game. Oh no!  On the contrary — there are some that I enjoy a great deal.  One of these such games is SET.


SET is a game of identifying and collecting, well, sets of cards depicting various symbols. There are four features of the symbol(s) on each card:

  1. Shape – Oval, Squiggle, Diamond
  2. Number – One, Two, Three
  3. Shading – Solid, Stripes, Outlined
  4. Color – Red, Green, Purple

The game is played thusly: a grid of twelve cards is laid out in front of two or more players, and the players then rush to be the first to identify a set of three cards.  A set consists of three cards whose features are all exactly the same or all different.  Herein lies the mental gymnastics at the heart of the game.

Let me try to explain the rules in another way — Three cards make a set if the following conditions are met:

  • They all have the same shape, OR they have three different shapes
  • They all have the same number, OR they have three different numbers
  • They all have the same shading, OR they have three different shadings
  • They all have the same color, OR they have three different colors

Confused yet?  While the rules may seem extremely complicated at first blush, they are quite simple once your brain wraps around it.  Let’s have some visual examples:

SET examples

In this photo, the above set is quite easy to identify.  The three cards all share the same shape (diamond), number (three), and shading (outline).  Additionally, they all have different colors (green, red, purple).

The second set is a bit trickier.  The three cards share the same color (green), but all have different shapes (squiggle, oval, diamond), number (one, two, three), and shading (solid, outline, striped).

While our brains are programmed to more easily see matching things, it’s harder to notice when all the features are different.  Combine that with the real-time, racing element of the game, and SET is simultaneously a brain-racking and nerve-racking experience.

Once a player identifies a set, he or she calls out “SET!” and points it out to the other players.  If confirmed to be a legal set, the player collects the three cards.  The empty spaces are replenished by new cards to bring the grid back to twelve, and the game continues.  If all of the players agree that there are no identifiable sets within a grid of twelve cards, three more cards are added to the table.  The game ends once the deck runs out; whoever has collected the most sets wins.

SET is truly an amazing and unique game.  It makes your brain work in a way that it’s not used to; there’s definitely a reason why it received a Mensa Select award.  If you have competitive friends or family, it can get really engaging.  I’ve had a lot of success playing SET as an opener or filler game during game nights, and have whipped it out while waiting around in airports or in long lines at comic conventions.  If you like puzzles or mind games in any way, I definitely recommend you check out SET.

SET was designed by Marsha J. Falco and is published by SET Enterprises, Inc.

On Dice, Dogs, and Mother’s Day

Well, I already messed up the planned MWF posting schedule!  Once the A-to-Z Challenge had finished, I reveled in all the free time I had, which, in typical Wise the Simple fashion, lead to me squandering said free time instead of working on new posts.  So let’s say that that first week of May was just a hiccup — a trial run, if you will.  I hereby promise to post three times a week from now on, even if a post is just to say that I have nothing to say.

I hope you all had a marvelous Mother’s Day! I was fortunate enough to spend the weekend with my mom, dad, younger brother, and older sister — the whole gang! Unfortunately, my brother-in-law was out of town, but it was still fun to just have the immediate family together.

We had a pretty relaxing weekend with no major plans. My parents had just gotten back from a trip to Mexico, where my mom attended a work conference. I picked them up at the airport on Saturday afternoon, and my siblings arrived shortly thereafter. Once everyone had gotten settled in at my parent’s house, we went out to dinner and caught each other up on everything going on in each of our lives.

After returning to my parents’ house, my father (a pastor) excused himself to work on finalizing everything for the following day’s church service while the rest of us sat down to play some boardgames. We started things off with some Escape: Curse of the Temple, a current favorite of the Simple family. I’ve played Escape quite a few times now, but our third game on Saturday was the absolute worst game I’ve played.  We lost in the most incredible fashion.  By the time the clock ran out, we still had a generous stack of unexplored temple tiles and had yet to find the exit.  We had only recovered a few gems, and had each lost three dice from our individual dice pools, leaving us with a mere two dice each.

After a few games of Escape, my mother (still feeling a bit jet-lagged) decided to head off to sleep. Left to our own devices, we siblings chose a slightly heavier game – Seasons. This was my sister’s first time playing, but my brother and I (being the cruel, competitive siblings we are) threw her into the deep end and made her participate in the card drafting phase called The Prelude even though she was unfamiliar with the game. I was actually very proud of my strategy during this particular play session. Although I love playing boardgames, I’m actually not that great at them.  But this game, I was able to draft both Necrotic Kriss and Sealed Urn (as well as Runic Cube) giving me a lot of extra points by the end of the third year.  Tallying up the scores, I was pretty confident that I would take the victory.  But as it turned out, my brother and I ended up finishing in a TIE!  Unfortunately, the tiebreaker was the number of summoned power cards and, given the Necrotic Kriss/Sealed Urn combo I had going, I had sacrificed all of my familiar cards, leaving me with far fewer cards than he.

On Sunday morning, we all attended church.  My brother, sister, and I helped to lead worship.  It was a lovely service, particularly because we took time to honor our mothers and mother-figures and pray over them. There are a lot of wonderful people who attend my father’s church, and I am so glad that I have gotten to know many of them throughout the years. There are many amazing women, in particular, who are incredibly strong in their faith, and are spectacular role models for me and the other young women.

After service, my family took my grandma and aunt out for a Mother’s Day lunch at a Japanese restaurant for some sushi, tempura, and hibachi.  It had been awhile since I had some good sushi, and it was all super delicious!

We rushed home after lunch since my dad said that he had a special guest visiting for Mother’s Day that afternoon.  While waiting around for the visitor’s arrival, the sibs and I started a new session of Seasons.  (After the previous night’s game, my sister said, “We need to play again now that I actually know how to play!”)  However, our game was cut short as the special guest arrived — A PUPPY!!

Our visitors were some folks who attend my father’s church. Their oldest son, who was moving to a new apartment, just found out that he couldn’t keep his newly-adopted four-month-old chocolate lab in his new place. Thus, the Simple household gained a new family member! My parents already own a ten-year-old dog, a German Shepherd/Chinese Shar-Pei mix. The rest of the afternoon was spent socializing the two dogs, and getting them used to each other’s company. By the end of the day, the two had become the best of friends. It was all very exciting and super adorable; puppies are the greatest!!

All in all, it was a very fun and relaxing weekend. I love my family so much, and it was wonderful to be able to hang out with all of them. As my siblings and I have gotten older, moved out, and began living our own separate lives, it has become more difficult to arrange times for us all to visit one another. Sure, we get together with the extended family during the larger holidays, but there’s something special about just the immediate family spending time together. I have always been incredibly close to my parents, my brother, and my sister, and feel so blessed that they continue to be a major part of my life.

T is for Takenoko

Happy Sunday, everyone!  I’m doing a little bit of catch-up for the A-to-Z Challenge, so expect to see a few “extra” (read: re-scheduled) posts from me today and tomorrow.  First, T is for Takenoko

Takenoko is a light-to-medium weight euro-style game for up to four players.  In the game, you are a gardener in the employ of the Japanese emperor.  Unfortunately for you, the emperor was gifted a giant panda from his Chinese counterpart.  The panda is now living in the imperial garden, eating all of the bamboo you are trying to grow.

Takenoko tiles

The gameplay of Takenoko is fairly simple. It is a tile-laying and point-taking game. At the start of a player’s turn, he draws three terrain tiles, chooses one, and adds it to the board.  Bamboo shoots automatically grow one segment if they are irrigated and/or next to the garden’s central pond.  The players are all dealt goal cards which offer up a certain amount of points when completed.  There are three types of goal cards: terrain, which offers points for laying terrain tiles in a certain configuration; gardener, for growing bamboo of certain colors and heights; and panda for eating certain colors and amounts of bamboo segments.

Each person is given a player mat (shown below) which lays out the possible actions that can be played each turn:

  • Placing another terrain tile (by, again, drawing three tiles and choosing one to play)
  • Taking an irrigation piece (which can be laid down at any time)
  • Moving the gardener figurine (who, when placed on a tile, causes the bamboo to grow one segment)
  • Moving the panda figurine (who, when placed on a tile, eats one segment off the bamboo stalk)
  • Drawing another goal card

There is also a “weather die” which determines an additional action to be performed during the turn (such as allowing the player to perform two of the same action, causing all of the irrigated bamboo shoots to grow one segment, etc.)

The game is over when one person has completed a certain amount of goal cards (dependent on the number of players).  The points are then added up, and the player with the most points wins.

Takenoko board

I was initially drawn to Takenoko because of it’s adorable design and theme. (I love pandas! They are so cute and pudgy!!) The thought of playing a game where a panda eats pastel-colored bamboo was just too wonderful to be ignored. What’s more, I thought the segmented bamboo stalks were brilliant. The game is just a box full of delightful colors and cuteness.

In my opinion, Takenoko is a perfect game for introducing people to designer boardgames. Sure, the mechanics may be simpler and a bit more random than, say, Settlers of Catan (thought by many to be the gateway game), but it’s also a game that grabs your eye. Takenoko is always the game that friends pull off my shelf and ask me to teach them. “I want to play the panda game!” they say. Who can resist those colorful components and that adorable panda figurine!

Earlier this year, game designer Antoine Bauza announced an upcoming expansion for the game, thought to be ready for release by GenCon 2015. It includes a female panda figurine, nine baby panda tokens, and is called Takenoko Chibis.  …Just take my money now, Bauza.

Takenoko was designed by Antoine Bauza and is published by BombyxAsmodee, and Matagot (among other international publishers.)

R is for The Resistance (and The Resistance: Avalon)

As far as party games go, a favorite among my family and friends has always been Mafia.  Mafia, also known in some circles as Werewolf, is a social deduction game wherein certain members of the group are secretly members of the mafia (or werewolves, alternatively).  Through rounds of secret voting, the mafia try to kill off the members of the party until they outnumber the innocents.  There are other special roles, such as the Governor/Detective (who can identify whether a player is mafia) or the Doctor/Nurse (who can heal another player possibly marked for death.)  It’s a game of deceit and trying to determine who you can trust.  Within my gaming group, it has caused many arguments as well as inspired many fun memories.

Continue reading

M is for Mahjong

There are certain sights, sounds, and smells that remind me of childhood.  The smell of autumn leaves, the taste of blue moon ice cream, the exciting flurry of a first snowfall.  One of these sensory memories is the clattering shuffle of mahjong tiles heard over the laughter and cheerful conversation of relatives and family friends at parties held when I was young.

Mahjong is game that originated in China, but now has many variants.  The gameplay is similar to rummy in that a player needs to get sets of matching numbers or suits.  Filipino-style mahjong, the way I was taught by my lola (grandmother), is a much simpler form of mahjong than other variants.  In Filipino mahjong, only three suits are used: bamboo/sticks, stones/balls, and Chinese characters.  All other tiles are considered “flowers,” and are taken out of play as the game progresses.  (I’m sure anyone who plays any other form of Mahjong is shaking his or her head in bewilderment and horror right now.)  The goal of the game is to complete five sets of three matching or sequential tiles and one pair, or seven pairs and one set of three.

Mahjong tiles

I love playing mahjong.  My older sister, younger brother, and I were all taught how to play by our lola and our parents.  As such, the game is more than just a fun activity, rather, a piece of our cultural heritage passed down.  It’s also just a great reason to sit around a table together and have a relaxing time talking and having fun.

No blog post of mine about tabletop gaming would be complete without me going on about my love of components, and mahjong tiles have to be among my favorites.  I love the sound they make when you stack them together or shuffle them around on the table.  I love the weight and feel of them in my hands.  My lola (who, even in her 80s, can still beat the snot out of anyone in a game) can tell what tile is in her hand without flipping it over to look at it.  When she draws a tile from the stacked wall, she merely grazes the pad of her thumb over the etching, and can figure out what it is — it amazed me as a young girl and continues to do so to this day.  I suspect magic. 

Filipino-style mahjong is relatively easy to learn.  But it is still an excellent game of decision-making and strategy.  For me, it is also something more than that.  It is a game learned from family and for spending time with family.  When I hear the clacking shuffle of mahjong tiles, I’m reminded of my childhood, of my loved ones, of home.

D is for Dice

I love dice.  I love how they feel in my hand as I shake them; I love the anticipation that builds before letting them roll free.  As far as random number generators go, dice have got to be the best.

There are six-sided dice, three-sided dice, 20-sided dice.  Dice with numbers, dice with pips, custom dice with special symbols or words.  Multicolored dice, dice in black and white.

Dice!  Dice!  Dice!

Pile o' dice

Because of the element of chance that they bring to the table, dice are frequently pooh-poohed by those gamers who seek to eliminate as much randomness from play as they can.  Over Christmas break, I purchased Escape: Curse of the Temple with the thought that I could play with my family and friends over the holidays.

“You just roll dice?” my eurogame-loving brother asked, a tad dismissively.

“Yeah.  You have to roll certain combinations in order to make your way through the temple,” I explained.  “But there’s a time limit, so you have to roll as fast as you can.”

He was hesitant, but I dragged him to the table anyway.

Escape!” boomed the game’s soundtrack/timer.  And we were off.  The sound of dice clattering on the tabletop was punctuated with squeals of joy and groans of frustration throughout the ten minutes of gameplay. The game ended with my cousin, Christina, trapped in the temple.  We had lost.

“This is so dumb,” my brother laughed.  “Let’s play again.”  And again we did.  Five more games that night alone.  We added the curses and treasure modules, proceeded to lose some more rounds, and then win a few.  It wasn’t until a few months later that I knew my brother had been won over.  As we packed for a weekend visit at my sister and brother-in-law’s place, he asked me, “Can you bring Escape?”  I smiled in triumph.

(Photo via Wikipedia)

I love dice games.  I love that dice can be the entirety of the game, such as in Yahtzee or craps.  I love games that utilize dice in creative ways like using d4s as pyramids in Kemet, d6s as literal building blocks like in Blueprints, and even dicebuilding games like Quarriors! or Marvel Dice Masters.  And I love games with custom dice.  I think I’ve mentioned it before, but I adore quality game components, and those wonderfully chunky, colorful dice from Seasons are among my absolute favorites.

Sure, dice bring randomness to gameplay.  But they also bring excitement, tactility, and suspense.  If you’ve played any sort of tabletop game before, odds are you’ve had a memorable experience with dice  — whether it was a victorious moment when you rolled exactly what you needed, or a moment of utter calamity when you cursed your misfortune and the piece of plastic that caused it.  If you do, I’d love to hear about it in the comments!  What are some of your dice-related memories?

A is for Android: Netrunner

Happy April 1st, everyone!! Today is the first day of my first attempt at the A to Z Challenge!  Throughout the month of April I will be blogging every day, except Sundays, for a total of 26 days.  The topic of each blog post will correspond to the subsequent letter of the alphabet.  And today we will kick things off with the letter A! A is for Android: Netrunner Continue reading

I’ll Never Be Bored with Board Games…

Only three of the six Knights of the Round Table remained.  One had perished in battle, and two had heroically sacrificed themselves in order to protect the realm.  Hordes of Saxons pillaged the coastline.  Siege engines dappled the land surrounding the castle; with the arrival of just one more, the castle would surely fall.  But there was a glimmer of hope amongst the disorder — Excalibur was nearly in hand.  The remaining knights stood shivering on the precipice of battle, nervously awaiting the progression of evil.  Sir Gawain began plotting his next move when Morgan appeared out of nowhere to land her final blow.  With that, eternal darkness fell as shadows over Camelot.

This is a true story.  It happened this past April during International Tabletop 
Day.  My friends and I reached the endgame of Shadows over Camelot, and found that our victory or failure would be decided with the flip of a single card.  The reveal caused us to burst into screams and laughter — we had died, but oh boy, did we have fun doing it.

Board Games

A few board games that my brother and I keep at our parents’ house (Much to our mother’s vexation…)

There has been a renaissance in tabletop gaming over the past fifteen years or so.  Sure, we all grew up playing Monopoly and Scrabble, but board games have come a long way since then.  I, like many others, first encountered this new wave of board games in college via Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne.  These are fine examples of the German-style of game design.  No “introduction to board games” post would be complete without a discussion on these European-style games as compared to their American counterparts.  Eurogames, as they are often known, are strategy games.  Often designed very mathematically, they are games in which skill takes precedence and the best player always wins.  These games are usually quite abstract in their overall theme (with most, I find, being vaguely about either farming or colonizing new territories).  American game designers, on the other hand, pushed for games rich in theme, with components of high production value and lush storytelling elements.  While these games were much more immersive than eurogames, some argued that the actual gameplay (which often relied on “randomness”) was lacking.  This lead to many eurogamers referring to thematic games as ameritrash, or AT.  While this began as a pejorative, many who love thematic games have embraced the term.  (That said, some gamers still take offense at the label, so use it with caution.)

My brother, who has a much more calculating mind than I, is the very essence of a eurogamer.  He scoffs at the word “randomness” and recoils at the sight of dice.  I, however, lean more towards the thematic/ameritrash side.  I love playing a character and getting emotionally invested in a game’s backstory.  He loves the feeling of winning with a well-planned out strategy;  I fly by the seat of my pants and let the narrative arc of the game lead me.  Also, I am a total sucker for good game components.

Board game components

The beautiful artwork of Dixit, transparent cards from Gloom, stackable flying saucers from Fantasy Flight’s Cosmic Encounter, and segmented bamboo shoots from Takenoko are among some of my favorite board game components.  Those custom dice from Seasons, though…  Mmmm…

While I enjoy games with interesting themes, I won’t be won over by pretty artwork and good backstory alone.  I will usually take my leave if the game has downright poor game mechanics (e.g. the mind-numbing waste of time that is roll-and-move games).  Luckily for me, and for the board gaming community as a whole, the division between eurogames and AT is no longer so strongly defined.  Most games released now are hybrid games that take the strategic game mechanics of European-style games and the engrossing themes of American-style games and combine the two.

All that to say, there is a tabletop game for every type of person.  Board games, card games, pen-and-paper role-playing games.  There’s something for everyone.  You just need to find a game that tailors to you, your skills, and/or your interests.  Then, when you feel more comfortable, you can try games that challenge you — testing your skills, expanding your worldview.  It’s a terrible bit of wordplay, but I honestly don’t think I’ll ever be bored with board games.  There’s just too much to learn and experience.

Which brings me to my final point: tabletop games are just a microcosm of life and are thereby a conduit for human interaction. Board games are inherently social activities.  In a world where we spend so much time plugged in, it’s easy to forget what actual, personal interaction is like.  There’s something entirely simple and beautiful about sitting around a table playing a game with friends.  I know I went off on roll-and-move games earlier, but even a game with such lazy mechanics as that can be fun if you’re playing with the right people.  Last summer, my cousin and her fiancé sat some friends and I down to play a game she had bought, and I figured out the one possible strategy immediately. Other than that, the rest of the game was simply to roll the dice and move your pawn towards the finish line. Nevertheless, I had fun (and not just because I won). To overcome the blandness of the game, I spent the duration of the game engaging in conversation, cracking jokes, and role-playing as my character — a garden gnome. Overall, I had fun because I was spending time with loved ones.

I am a shy introvert (self-typed as INFJ, if you’re familiar with MBTI), and am fairly certain I have social anxiety disorder.  The process of talking to others, especially strangers, is exceedingly difficult for me.  But I’ve noticed that while I will struggle making conversational small talk, if we’re playing a game, I open up surprisingly easily.  I’m not sure why.  Maybe it’s because the game provides an illusory disconnect between myself and my character, allowing me to playact in a way. Maybe it’s because games bring out a necessity to talk in order for gameplay to proceed. Whatever the reason may be, I think board games tap into a certain aspect of my personality which allows me to be more social.

In the same way, I think you can learn a lot about someone by the way that they play games. As we grow older, play often loses out to work. Playing tabletop games gives us indoor kids an outlet that the more athletic types can find through sports. Play gives us a sense of fun and freedom absent in most aspects of our adult lives. For that reason, I think gaming can be a very special, even important, thing.

I love board games. I think they are great. But more than that, I love board games because they allow me to spend time with other people, especially family and friends. I hope to post some write-ups/reviews of specific games that I love (and some that I don’t) in the future; so watch this space!  But how about you, Internet? What/how/with whom do you like to play?