Game Reviews

Unearth and Woodinville whisky: are we archeologists or prospectors?

In Unearth, you represent a tribe of The Delvers, a once powerful people who have fallen in disarray. You compete with other tribes of Delvers to restore your ilk back to power by surveying different environments and unearthing (get it?) sturdy minerals and different technologies from ruins to build your civilization back up.

At its core, Unearth tests your luck in an interesting way with a dice-rolling mechanic. Each of your Delvers is represented by a different type of die (one d4, three d6s, and one d8). Select a die, and a landscape—which is represented by a tarot-sized card—then roll your die for that landscape. Each landscape has a number on it, once all dice rolled on that landscape meet or exceed that number, the player with the highest value on the die with the most sides wins that landscape card for end-game scoring.

For example: If there are two dice on a landscape that add up to 10 to meet the landscape card’s value, one player’s d6 who rolled a 5 and another player’s d8 who also rolled a 5, the player who rolled the d8 would win that landscape.

So it’s a dice battling game?

Sort of, but the theme and some of the counter-balancing mechanics make Unearth a little easier to lick your wounds from a loss. Another element (pun intended) to the game is the collection of minerals, represented as hexes with a cube design on them, which allow you to construct wonders. Wonders grant you special abilities and give you additional points at the end of the game. You can only collect minerals if you roll a 1, 2, or 3, so your turn isn’t completely wasted if you didn’t get a high value. Collecting minerals is also a great strategy if you find yourself unlucky at collecting landscape cards.

If you lose a landscape card to someone else, you also get Delver cards, which you can play to give you a slight advantage or put your opponents at a disadvantage before you roll your die.

For a game that is primarily based around luck, there are plenty of opportunities to try and score points with bad luck.

Doesn’t the artwork look a bit like…?

Yes. The artwork appears to be a rip-off of inspired by Monument Valley’s combination of vivid colors and minimalist “iconography” artwork that purposefully uses color and shape to depict the illusion of depth instead of shading techniques.

It’s a beautiful artistic approach and it’s good to see it embraced by a tabletop game.

Why Woodinville?

We had two drinks, Woodinville neat and mixed with Rachel’s Ginger Beer (lemonade version). Bourbon and Rachel’s Ginger Beer go well together. Woodinville straight also has a great flavor with the punch of whisky and the sweet undertones of Bourbon. Everything from the color to the bottle screams one thing at me: prospecting.

Unearth doesn’t have a theme based on a real location, rather the theme is artfully ambiguous. When I think of this game, I think of gambling; I think of gold digging; I think of prospecting. And I think of whisky. Don’t you?

I thought that you didn’t like games that relied on chance as their main mechanic

I typically don’t but Unearth balances that chance with augment-your-luck opportunities (Delver cards) and benefits to getting low values (Mineral hexes). I’ll admin that while I do like the game and have replayed it a few times, when I look at my catalogue for something to play—it’s not my first pick.

Game Reviews

Century Golem Edition & Field to Ferment: Rethemed Game with a Rethemed Beer

In my last pairing, I voiced disappointment with the form of cultural appropriation that happens in tabletop games with giving games that have a market, buying, or trading system a generic “middle eastern” or “Indian” theme. Century: Spice Road is one of many games which fall into that category, so I was pleased to see this game fitted with a new skin.

Really? Another scalding on cultural appropriation?

I love Century: Spice Road. It’s another European-style (lovingly referred to as a Eurotrash game) game which focuses on gameplay mechanics, balance, and having multiple strategies to gain the most victory points and win. The game focuses on collecting and upgrading different spices in your caravan that you’ll sell to merchants to gain victory points. At its core, Century: Spice Road is a resource management game. You must make decisions on whether to keep or upgrade resources to get that merchant card that you want. Merchant cards are your key path to victory in the game. Using your spices to buy 5 merchant cards ends the game, and the player with the most victory points wins.

Century: Golem Edition’s mechanics are no different from the original. The game is a “retheme,” meaning that the only difference between Spice Road and Golem Edition is the artwork and core story.

(I know the diamonds are upside down here.)

In Century: Golem Edition, you collect gems (equivalent to Spice Road’s various spices) which you can use to power golems (Spice Road’s merchant victory point cards). Here’s my recommendation if you’re wondering whether to buy this game or not:

If you already own Century: Spice Road, I’d recommend against purchasing Golem Edition unless you prefer different artwork.

Golem Edition is a great retheme. I didn’t own Century: Spice Road, although I have played it a few times, so I leapt at this game when I saw it at friendly local game store (FLGS). I think that the artwork on the cards (especially the golems) and replacement of spices (which were painted, wooden cubes) with gems (which are translucent hard plastic) is for the better. I’m glad to see this resource management and trading game take on a new life with these fantasy elements.

I played this game with one other person—this game works well with two players but can support up to six.

What is Field to Ferment and why did you pair it with Golem Edition?

Just as Century: Golem Edition is a retheme of a tabletop game, Field to Ferment is a retheme, of sorts, of a beer. It’s a beer with three different variations, which are each brewed the same way but with different types of hops added! We performed a tasting of all three variations.

Field to Ferment has three variants: one made with Centennial hops, another with Simcoe, and one with Citra hops. I love all three versions of this beer. Field to Ferment is a nice, well-rounded (but on the lighter side) ale with a great finish that reflects hops from the Pacific Northwest region. It’s brewed by Fremont Brewing, which I consider to be one of the best breweries in the PNW. This beer is interesting, because the only difference in flavor is the hop variation.

Each variation brings unique notes to the taste:

  • Centennial hops have a smooth, slightly herbal taste with a clean finish
  • Simcoe—my favorite of the three—has a strong pine flavor but also with a clean finish
  • Citra hops, to me, had a similar taste to the Centennial but with interesting citrus notes

Just as Century: Golem Edition is the same game with a new skin, Field to Ferment is the same beer with a different flavor.

I get it. But why care so much about these variations on the same thing?

You can gain a lot of insight by looking at the same thing with a different perspective. Making slight variations on the same thing, whether it’s making a small change to something that you’re creating or making a minor change to your daily routine for the better, you can stimulate yourself such that you think outside of the box. To me, this can turn a fun game with a common, Indian goods and spices trading theme into a fun, whimsical game about powering friendly golems with gems.

In the same vein, hop farmers who dared to innovate on selectively cultivating their hops have produced interesting flavors which create a trademark for a great beer three times over.

Thanks for reading! Until next time…

Game Reviews

Jaipur and Papaya Rum Lassi: Western Cultural Appropriation at its Finest

In Jaipur, you compete head-to-head against another merchant to make phat stacks of coin and receive two seals of excellence in order to be invited to the court of the Maharaja.

Lassi is an Indian drink made from blended dahi (yogurt), spices, and sometimes fruit. Traditionally, lassi isn’t an alcoholic beverage, but this blog wouldn’t live up to its Under the Tabletop name if I adhered to that tradition.

Mango is a fruit native to Southern Asia, the pulp of which is sometimes blended with lassi to make a delicious treat. Unfortunately, I was in such a rush to get my groceries and leave that I accidentally grabbed a papaya.

How could you possibly confuse a mango for a papaya?

It was in a bin labeled “mangos” OK?! I literally didn’t even check to see if it was ripe. Look, papaya looks exactly like mango except for the size, shape, color, skin texture, and country of origin—get off my back about it!

Yikes, not going to touch that mess…Was it even any good?

Yeah! I’m not even a fan of papaya and I found it good. Full disclosure, there was rum in it. Blending rum, lassi, and ice made it into a sort of semi-sweet rum margarita.

They were actually pretty good!

I decided to pair lassi with Jaipur for an obvious reason—one is a game that contains the name of a city in India, and another is a drink that is popular in India. But for a far less obvious reason, I paired these two because I found a recipe for rum mango lassi online, which is a culturally appropriated version of the original drink…sort of like Jaipur being a culturally appropriated game.

Oh, this is one of those…

Yes, and no. I think that we should talk about these things so that we can create more inclusive games in the future. But I love playing Jaipur; I’ll probably continue to play it. You know what? I also enjoyed that bastardized lassi. (Although I think it would’ve been better if I had grabbed a mango instead.)

How does Jaipur work?

There are five resource and/or camel cards available for players to potentially collect on their turn. The goal of the each round is to have the most coin. Strategies for getting the most coin include:

  • Collecting a lot of combo chips (sell any set of the same 3, 4, or 5 resources)
  • Selling any one resource first (the top resource chips have a higher value than the bottom ones)
  • Having a shit ton of camels (there’s a special camel chip which gives you 5 coin)

The combo chips have a varying range of worth to reflect the constant change of the market—but if you’re able to collect a 5 combo chip, it can be worth up to 10 coin at the end of the round. Combos are difficult, as players are limited to having up to 7 cards in their hand.

What makes the game challenging, though, is that you can only either sell one type of resource on your turn (discard cards from the same resource and take that amount of chips and the respective combo chip), or collect resource cards on your turn.

The number of resources chips are limited and the person who can sell one type of resource first gets the highest values for that resource…the more players sell, the more a resource depreciates in value. (Except silver, silver is always a cool 5 coin.)

There are also camel cards, which are great to collect just so that you can trade them for resources. (They don’t count as a part of your hand, so you can collect as many as you want!) If you happen to have the most camels at the end of the round, you get a bonus of 5 coins—but I wouldn’t bet on that as your primary strategy.

When three resources have been drained of all of their chips, or the resource card deck has been drained, that round is over. Flip over all of the chips and add the values on the back. The player with the highest value wins the round and collects a seal of excellence. Two seals of excellence, and you win!

Give me the fun stuff first, then hit me with a dose of reality

On Jaipur

Jaipur, in my opinion, is one of the most well-designed games I’ve ever played, both mechanically and artistically. The game comes in a beautiful, compact box that reflects the colorful tapestries, spices, precious metals, and gems that you must trade in order to be a well-respected merchant.

Jaipur checks all of the boxes for me:

  • It’s two player only, which is a harder type of game to come by
  • It’s quick (~30 minutes)
  • The rules are easy to pick up
  • The artwork is beautiful and easy to decipher
  • It’s compact (only cards and game chips)
  • There are multiple rounds, so if you didn’t do well in the first round, you have an opportunity to be the comeback kid
  • Once you know the rules well enough, you can play in near silence (it makes you feel like you’re at a silent auction)
  • The game is well balanced
  • There’s a fun element of chance to the game, but it’s not so overwhelming that you feel like you’re getting the shaft if luck isn’t in your favor
  • If luck isn’t in your favor, there are several plays that you can make to come out ahead

What makes Jaipur fun is in your ability to remember what actions your opponent is taking and to be able to make counter plays to those. For example, if you notice your adversary taking a lot of gold cards, they’re probably going for a combo. If you have at least two gold cards, you can sell on your next turn and take the top chips, which are worth more than the chips underneath them.

On the Mango Papaya Lassi

Lassi is an interesting drink. Popular in India and Punjab, lassi has many variations. Traditionally, lassi is savory but more recently has been made with sweet fruits. There’s even a Bhang (cannabis) lassi that some Hindus drink during certain holidays, like Shivatri (a holiday for the goddess Shiva) and Holi (where they throw all of the bright colored paint at each other). Apparently, the Bhang lassi tastes like trash.

The last words that came out of the English backpacker’s mouth were, ‘Make mine extra strong.’ Well, that and, ‘Ugh, it tastes like the bottom of a garbage bag.’

Vice, circa 2015

I opted for the sweeter, non-get-you-high lassi. Mango, being a fruit from the region, seemed like a good idea but the accidental papaya version wasn’t a bad alternative. It was not as sweet as a mango lassi would be, but I think the rum made up for that.

Here’s the recipe that I used, try it for yourself!

You can pick up most of the ingredients at your average grocery store, except the ancho chili powder.

Allow me to throw in a plot twist—I made a vegan version of the lassi drink:

  • Rum is naturally vegan
  • There’s a cashew substitute for Greek/honey yogurt (I found a great one called Ripple at my local grocery store)
  • All of the other ingredients are already vegan

Great! Now’s a good time to end your blog without talking about any cultural appropriation

Nice try. Look, as a white person, it’s not really my place to delve into the aspects of appropriation of a culture that isn’t mine whatsoever but I think that it’s important for me to think more inclusively about aspects of my “culture” if it can even be defined as such—tabletop games.

Jaipur is one of many tabletop games that take the great mechanics of a resource and market management game, then slap a stereotypical Indian or Arab bazaar trade market theme on it. Jaipur, Istanbul, Taj Mahal…they all have this type of theme and all are heavy on allowing players to set markets.

Furthermore, Jaipur is make by Gameworks, a Swiss company.

Fun themes that are also identifiable to players are important components in artwork and design. I would argue, that theme is the most important aspect of a tabletop game. If your theme (including your artwork) is uninteresting or disjointed, your game won’t be fun to play, regardless of how awesome your mechanics are.

To reiterate, I love Jaipur and will continue to play it. I would like to see more games with a unique theme and the market setting component.