Board Gaming the NFC Title Game

Note – Michael Keeley released his 2019 NFL set for Solitaire Football, so I decided to play the Packers-49ers title game as I was watching it.

First Quarter

49ers win the toss and elect to defer. Packers field the opening kickoff and run it back to the 28. The two Aarons, Rodgers and Jones, start off hot. Rodgers hits four of his first 5 passes while Jones runs for 21 yards on the opening drive, the last one he powers into the end zone. Packers up early 7-0.

The 49ers start off by going backwards, with a holding call setting up an early second and long. Jimmy Garoppolo gets out of it by hitting Greg Kittle for 31 yards. From there, the three headed running back monster takes over, as Tevin Coleman, Matt Breida, and Raheem Mostert combine for 38 rushing yards. The second one yard plunge of the day comes Breida, and the Niners tie it up at 7-7.

Green Bay has a quick three and out with Rodgers missing two passes after Jones was tackled for a big loss.

Second Quarter

San Francisco takes over and, again, the running backs are the story, leading most of the drive until wideout Deebo Samuel’s jet sweep scores from the five. Robbie Gould’s point after is good and the Niners lead 14-7.

Needing a spark, the Packers get it in Jamaal Williams. He breaks a 45 yard run to get the Packers into the red zone, but a huge third down sack by Kwon Alexander knocks the Packers back to the 27. The longer field goal is missed by Mason Crosby.

The 49ers’ rushing attack goes back to work with Coleman leading the way with a great 22 yard run. In the red zone, the Niners are hit with their third penalty of the half, setting up another long second down. Just as he had done in the first quarter, Garoppolo hit Kittle again, this time for 17. Three plays later Garoppolo hits Emmanuel Sanders for a touchdown from the three. Gould’s extra point makes it 21-7, and San Francisco is rolling.

At this point, the game itself is at 17-0. Life imitating art. On the field and the game table, the Packers have no answer for the Niners’ rushing attack.

Things are not going the Packers way, and after a couple of promising plays, the Packers are forced to punt again.

Sensing the Packers on their heels, Garoppolo hits Samuel for 23 yards on the first play following the punt. A couple of short runs sets up Garoppolo for a long third down. Za’Darius Smith breaks through the line to sack him, ending the threat and finally forcing San Francisco to punt.

An Arik Armstead sacks ends a chance for the Packers to score before the half.

Halftime Score: San Francisco 21, Green Bay 7.
49ers have already rushed for 123 yards.

Third Quarter

The 49ers take the second half kickoff determined to shorten the game. Runs dominate play calling until a key penalty, the Niner’s fourth, cause Garoppolo to go to the Kittle well for the third time. This time it’s picked off by Kevin King, who returns it 39 yards to set the Packers up inside San Francisco’s 30. A big 18 yard pass from Rodgers to Dante Adams sets up first and goal where Jones runs it in for his second touchdown. Green Bay, unlike their real life counterparts, have life down just 21-14.

Penalties continue to kill the 49ers as their fifth kills a drive, forcing a second punt. The Packers take over at midfield, but this time it’s Green Bay that ends a drive with a killer penalty.

San Francisco’s next drive stalls quickly, and the Packers begin to drive as the quarter comes to an end.

Fourth Quarter

The quarter starts with a terrific pass from Rodgers to Adams that covers 45 yards and sets Green Bay up first and gaol at the 5. Jones runs it in from there, his third, and suddenly the game is tied at 21! There’s life in the Packers here.

The 49ers sense things slipping away, so they go back to their bread and butter. This time it’s Mostert who breaks a long gain for 41 yards. The Packers stiffen inside the 10, but Garoppolo hits Samuel for a 13 yard touchdown to retake the lead, 28-21.

The Packers gain zero yards on the ensuing kickoff and are forced to punt. The Niners start the drive on their own 34 with just 7:30 left in the game.

San Francisco puts the ball in the hands of the backs. 13 yards from Coleman. 8 yards from Mostert. 5 from Breida. Garoppolo throws just two passes on the drive with one hitting Kittle for a first time.

The Packers finally stop the run, but not before Gould’s field goal gives San Francisco a 10 point lead. More importantly, San Francisco drained over five minutes off the clock. The Packers have all their time outs, but now just have 2 minutes to make the comeback.

They can’t.

Three straight Rodgers incompletions sets up a fourth and long. Nick Bosa sacks Rodgers on the desperation play, and the Niners take over. Mostert scores, fitting for his hard work in this game, and with a minute left the Niners have a commanding 38-21 lead.

Rodgers gets the Packers to midfield as time runs out.

Final: San Francisco 38, Green Bay 21. 

Mostert leads the way for San Francisco with 150 yards rushing and a score. In all, the Niners run for a whopping 281 yards. Rodgers went a woeful 14 for 35 for 210 yards. Garoppolo goes 16 for 25 for 191 yards.


Best Played Games of 2019

The first half of 2019 was a bonanza of gaming for me. I was active in my gaming group, got to attend Origins this year, and attended several local gaming cons. Then school started in September and brought some unexpected changes and challenges to my job. Of the 156 logged plays I had this year, only 24 came after September 1st. That is a challenge for 2020, but nevertheless, I still got a chance to play some great new and old games this year. Here’s a rundown of my favorite games I played in 2019. (Note: I just received and have yet to play Nevsky, which is set to be one of my first 2020 plays)


10. Aeon’s End

I have somehow managed to claim the title as the deck building guru of my gaming group, and it may be justified. Marvel Legendary, Clank, and Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle are all on my shelves. I like deck builders because of how the game can fluctuate from play to play and that they all typically solo well, though I am extremely glad my daughter does enjoy HP. Still, I had heard a lot about Aeon’s End. While I realize I am late to the party on its popularity, I am glad I bought it (2nd edition). It’s a fun game that’s not too easy and provides plenty of deck building options.


9. Architects of the West Kingdom

I am primarily a sports and war game player, but Shem Phillips can be credited for getting me into other genres. I absolutely love Raiders of the North Sea, and so I was excited to get a chance to play Architects at Origins. It’s another worker placement masterpiece, with an interesting push your luck mechanism and some solid decision making on how you want to achieve victory points. It’s a stellar game.

8. Statis Pro Basketball

My go to basketball game because of its ease of set up and flow make it the better choice in terms of time when considering it versus Strat-o-matic’s roundball version. Every aspect of basketball is there, though I do play with some house rules. Phil Graham makes some excellent cards to go with the old game. I’ll probably still be running my super league by the time I’m 80, but it’s great fun to run through it now and then.


7. Second Season/Solitaire Football

I am cheating a little by putting these two together, but I interchange them on my table enough to justify it. Mike Keeley’s Solitaire football is the only sports title I don’t use dice for because the system he created is just phenomenal. It plays a bit quicker than Second Season and does a great job of streamlining a game while still telling you a story. But if it’s a deeper story I want, I pull out Keith Avallone’s Second Season (or the equally awesome Cold Snap for Canadian football). With a playbook where results read “blitz forces runner outside, 2 yard loss”, you can really visualize the game as you play it. I love them both and thankful the two great guys behind them keep churning out interesting seasons to mess with.

6. Horse & Musket

Hollandspiele is a fantastic, small company that I found out about a couple years ago when I ordered Supply Lines of the American Revolution: Northern Theater. Early this year, I bought myself Horse & Musket, designed by Hold the Line’s Sean Chick. Like Hold the Line, you use action points to move your troops around to replay a battle from the 17th and, with expansions, 18th centuries. Special, country specific rules add flavor to a well polished system. The base game comes with plenty of options, and I just bought my second expansion as a Christmas present to myself this year. In a year I sold more games than I bought, this became my go to single battle series.

5. The U.S. Civil War

I did not get to play enough of GMT’s catalogue as I would have liked this year, but Civil War is the first of a few GMT titles I did get to enjoy. The game itself was quite miserable. I was overly cautious as the Union commander in the western theater, resting on my laurels of capturing Missouri quickly and letting the Confederates hang around too long in Tennessee. Still, that’s the fun of this game. The Union need to be constantly pressing the Rebels else you’ll start suffering from their penchant for harassing tactics. I find the game is best with four, allowing you to concentrate on one theater and hope you and your partner work together for the overall goal of winning the war. Brilliant design that I could never play too much.


4. Pendragon 

Between the members of my gaming group, we own about every COIN game produced by GMT, but I am particularly glad this one is in my collection. It’s the meanest one in the family as the Romans attempt to stave off the barbarian hordes. I have several designers I absolutely love that have GMT games. Simonitch, Ruhnke, and Herman are all fantastic. Morgane Gouyon-Rety is climbing that list as well with this great design.


3. Wingspan

Does something feel like it doesn’t belong? Sports. War. A Euro about birds? Seriously, Wingspan was one of those surprises of 2019. I kept hearing the buzz about it to the point I had to give the game a try. I now own it and the expansion. Engine building games fascinate me, and this one is a slick engine builder. Generate resources to play birds that generate more resources or special effects. It’s simple yet engaging, and the artwork is terrific. This is currently in my regular rotation of solo games.


2. Mare Nostrum: Empires

About every 5-6 months my gaming group gets an itch to play this. In fact, there’s already a game set up for the start of 2020. Every game has an epic feel to it, something I can’t say about a lot of titles. This year’s contests were no different, with everyone feeling like they had a chance to win at one time or another. There are multiple paths to victory as you build your ancient civilization around the Mediterranean. Whether you are an aggressive militarist or a peaceful trader, you have to keep your eye out for everyone as you are never quite sure who is one key commodity away from winning.


1. Ancient Civilizations of the Inner Sea

I must be on some sort of ancient Mediterranean kick. This was not just my favorite new game of 2019, but my favorite game I played overall. You play it once and you think it’s just a chaotic mess of how dirty can you be to someone else in the game. Play it again and again, and you see how tight the game plays. Yes, the nastiness of the game keeps someone from running away with the win, but the cards can be used in so many horrible or helpful ways that there really is a considerable method to the madness. Just make sure you play this with a group of understanding friends when you cast that plague against their carefully crafted cities.

Second Season Express


Second Season Express is a quick play version of PLAAY Games’ Second Season football game. I normally stay away from quick play games, but I really enjoy the Second Season system and wanted to give it a try. Also, completing all the projects that float around in my head are completely unrealistic without a quick play or computer option!


The game comes in small folder. You get a few charts to read, a page of rules, and a small field to simulate the action. Note that you do need some seasons from Second Season to play the game, but you do not need to own the original game. You don’t get much, but you don’t need much either.

Score: 8


The Players

I should just copy and past the Second Season review here as its the main game’s charts that you’ll use. You will still refer to the individually rated players from the team charts, with teams that have more of the 2 (better) rated players getting performing better. This 0-1-2 rating system works seamlessly between the express and main versions.

Score: 9

Game Play

The general flow of Second Season is the same, though everything is simplified. You’ll call a run or pass play, while the defense will choose between run, pass, safe, and blitz. It’s a little like the playing the board game version of Techmo bowl, with just a few choices to choose from. From there, the dice roll determines everything. You’ll refer to your team charts to see what the outcome of the play will be. The major difference between this and the base game is you are often looking at position groups to determine the outcome. For example, if you are running against a run defense and roll a 56 (5-6 on two d6), you will check the defensive lineman. If one is rated 0, you’ll have a gain on the play. If not, you are stuffed. It’s a neat way to simulate your offense finding the weak link on the line for a gain, or a stout front stuffing your runner before reaching the first down. If you do make a gain, you’ll roll a d6 to determine how many zones that play gained. You need to gain at least one zone to keep a drive going.

Every dice roll is a simulation of a couple plays at a time. Fail to gain a zone, and you’ll most likely need to punt though you will sometimes get one last chance to gain a zone. Regardless, it takes mere minutes to complete a drive. In game time, every “play” is a minute of action. The entire game takes no more than 20-30 minutes.

Score: 9


Obviously, the biggest sacrifice to quick play is the loss of individual stats. While Express will at least give you an idea of how many TDs and field goals the offense scored — as well as defensive sacks and interceptions —  you won’t get yardage stats. I will cheat a little bit here and plug my own system to generate a few stats here.

Score: 5

Solo Play

Just like its main game, Express is perfect for solo play. There’s a built in defensive play calling system, and you can always use the main game’s offensive system if you want to play against an AI.

Score: 10


I never thought the strength of Second Season was in its head-to-head ability, and a dummied down version of the game is even less so. A quick version is really designed for the solo player that wants to speed through some contests.

Score: 3

Replay Ability:

The weekend I got the game I managed to play 5 complete games. Suddenly season replays seem realistic. You can even mix up your replays by playing one game of the week with Second Season and playing the rest of the week through Express. Express has tons of replay ability, making even just an hour enough opportunity to get a game or two in.

Score: 10


Since I reviewed Second Season, Plaay has added 8 more seasons for a total of 24. I have one I created on this site (with hopes of producing more from the 80s), and this fantastic site has another 13. You have tons of options for seasons to run through.

Score: 10

Final Score (not an average):


No doubt that this game would be worth getting even if you never got the main game. You’d still get a great feel on how a football game unfolds, much like watching an extended highlight. The beauty of the game is really how it enhances Second Season and gives you the ability to interchange them. If you enjoy Second Season, or just want to have a quick play game that still uses individual player strengths, this is a must buy.

10 Top Football Games for the Solo Player – 2019 edition

It’s been some time since I’ve done any significant writing. Admittedly, I got a bit burned out writing for an online review site and just felt like I need to play games I wanted to play for awhile. I have done that, but that itch to write is back, thankfully, so I thought I’d run through the top 10 football games I enjoy soloing.

For me, a good solo game needs to be deep enough I can see the game unfold both statistically and on the field, have plenty of seasons available, have just enough strategy to keep it interesting, and, obviously, be fun to play. That said, you’ll notice two major omissions on this list: APBA and Strat-o-matic. This has nothing to do with them as quality games – I think Strat would be amazing head-to-head – but they don’t lend themselves well for a smooth solo experience, at least for me. That said, here’s my thoughts on some great games to play.

10. 4th Street Football

4th street is one of my top football games I have ever played. It has amazing realism with play cards, individual impact, and situational substitution. I just wish the game was a bit more user friendly in terms of soloing. Yes, there are some rudimentary play calling charts for the offense, and there’s a clunky dice system for calling the defense. Still, all that makes 4th Street great is lost a bit in the solo mode. I would still recommend this to anyone that wants a deep look at the game, but it will be a chore to get through a game solo.

9. Paydirt

Ah, the simplistic chart game that still garner a strong following – it’s even still on the menu at the World Board Gaming Championships – has no official solo mode, though many exist out there. They are decent and will give you a good game to play, but, for me, the lack of individual player impact knocks this one down a bit.

8. Pro Football Fantasm

The most complex football I have ever played has a surprisingly robust solo system that works very well. Make no mistake, 4th Street takes a lot of what makes Fantasm work and cleans it up. Still, the designed of Fantasm created a solo play call chart for both the offense and defense that can provide a real challenge. If you are lucky enough to have the 1989 season cards, pull the team specific charts from BGG that I posted for a real challenge. I have played and lost to the AI using these. I’d rate this game higher, but the game time is a huge turn off. Actual NFL games are quicker.

7. Dan Kerstetter’s Football

A solo game of Kerstetter’s football flows easily after the 10-15 minute set up of rating each team. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you’ll run through a game. But the issue with Kerstetter isn’t the simplicity, it’s the dry approach and quirky results. Since play calling is all based on a number, you can have some screwy things happen, like QBs swapping in and out for passes, or your worst back being given that crucial 4th-and-goal run. It needs some home rules to clean that up, and it’s a good, fast sim for those that like such a thing, but there’s a similar looking, better adaptation down the list.

6. Statis Pro Football

I think sometimes I look at this game through the eyes of my 12 year old self that enjoyed recreating great matchups of the 80s. I still think it’s a great game, but I admit my nostalgia gets the better of me at times. Solo, Statis Pro has a decent defensive play call system, so you just play the offenses for both sides. I admit I like facing off completely against a team, and the offensive play calling systems I have found are horribly tedious. Even the one I made didn’t seem to fit perfectly. This would still be my choice for soloing the NFL in a medium to deep sim, you just need to control both sides.

5. Sports Action Canadian Football

This game just gets solo play very well. You still need to control both sides on offense, but the defensive play calling is a richer experience than any of the deep sims. You really need to know your own team and your opponent to find weaknesses. Scoring in this game is a rewarding experience, and there’s still a following that puts out newer seasons for this long out of print game. I just can’t score it higher since it isn’t the NFL nor is it easy to find if you want your own copy (though print and play versions exist).

4. Inside Blitz

Now we get into the territory of games you simply can’t go wrong picking to play, and, for me, my choice just comes down to personal preference. Inside Blitz uses a matrix system to call plays for both the offense and defense, allowing you to control just one team. You can set difference formations on defense, which is where the game shines. Individual players matter too, but your defensive formation matters just as much. It is a really fun game with plenty of seasons available. I knock it just below the top 3, though, mainly due to the rushing game, which I don’t think works as well here as with the others.

3. Everyday Player

My newest find is one of my favorite games. Everyday player uses a remarkably easy rule set. There’s a little prep work to compare how the teams will matchup, and then you’re off. The play calling is Tecmo Bowl on steroids, with 23 offensive plays and eight defensive alignments to choose from, allowing yourself against an AI or play both teams’ offenses. There are not a lot of seasons available; you’ll be playing the later days of the AFL/NFL years and a few merger seasons. Still, it’s a fun, fast system that is joy to play.

2. Solitaire Football

No game has grown on me more than the Solitaire football system, which, as the name suggests, is designed just for the solo player. At first, I thought it was a bit too simplistic. Defenses are abstracted in an array of random numbers while you only control the offense. But the more you play, the more you get a sense of how good the solo system is. Offensive play calling charts can be set up using the opponent’s tendencies, allowing you to face off against another team. I generally prefer dice to fast action cards as dice provide the varied results you see in real football, but Solitaire’s FAC system gives you just that, especially since the designer, Mike Keeley provides multiple decks you can combine together. For ease of play, speed, and results, it’s really tough to beat this game.

1. Second Season

When I was growing up, choose your own adventure books were popular. You read a page, make a choice, and flip to another page to see what happened. Keith Avallone’s Second Season gives me a bit of that feeling. If you aren’t familiar with the game, everything in Second Season is driven by a book. You make a play call, a defense is set, roll the dice, and then look in the book to see what happens. It may sound like a pain to flip through the book, but once you get it down – and get a good set of tabs – it’s remarkable how simple the game is. You only have a handful of offensive and defensive plays to call, both of which can be automated thanks to some excellent fan made solo systems, yet individual players matter. Stars will make the play the scrubs cannot. The book gives you just enough detail that you can see the action happen, and the book is deep enough that you don’t feel like you are seeing the same play happen over and over again. Also, with that afore mentioned fan support, there’s over 40 official or fan made seasons available. Statistically, the game is spot on, and it plays fairly quickly compared to its counterparts. For the support, fun, and variety, Second Season is my favorite solo football gaming experience.


Everyday Player Football

Another Delphi Forums find. I was looking for a new system to explore over my Christmas break, and I stumbled upon a discussion for Everyday Player Football. The dice fest that was promised was enough for me to give it a go.

You can get the came as a pdf or order the game to be shipped to you. Honestly, you can’t beat the pdf offer. For less than $15, you get every season EPF has along with the charts and instructions. That’s an incredible deal. Even if you prefer getting the parts mailed to you, you still get three seasons with the game. The charts are bright, colorful, and easy to read. You have starter charts as well laid out in football formations along with an accompanying roster for all players. Updated seasons has starters and backups all on one chart. Nothing fancy but it’s presented very well.
Score: 7

The Players
Players are individually rated on a one to five scale based on ability, with the exception of the quarterback who can be rated much higher. The combined total determines a team’s offensive and defensive strength. You can quickly tell who your stars are, but for the most part, the impact of these ratings is just to determine a defense’s overall strength. Top rated four or five rated players can have an impact. Skill players have an additional letter rating which is used to help get yardage totals on plays.
Score: 8

Game Play
Before you begin a game, you compare the two teams in the match up. A team’s offense and the opposing defense are compared on a chart. That chart gives a team’s offense an overall letter grade. That overall grade is used on another chart to give each skill player an adjustment rating, which will add or subtract from a player’s yardage. It may sound complicated, but it’s really not. It didn’t take me long to jot down the adjustments for both teams. For example, I played an exhibition between the 64 Colts and 64 Browns. The Browns ended up with an offensive rating of X, which meant Jim Brown got a net adjustment of plus two. On every run, Brown would go two lines down on his runs, gaining a few extra yards on each play. Other plays got negative adjustments, which reduces their effectiveness.

Team and play result charts are easy to read. Once you have the system down, it doesn’t take long to navigate the charts provided.

From there, it’s all about picking a play and rolling some dice. The offense has 23 plays to choose from while the defense has eight alignments to choose from. Dice are rolled and you refer to the offensive play chart and find the result under the column for the defensive play call. If it’s a run, you make the player net adjustment and have your result. If it’s a pass, the original result determines if the pass was complete, then you make an adjustment for the player to see the pass’ yardage. There are five pages of charts, but it doesn’t take long to shuffle through them. Injuries and penalties can occur as well. Occasionally, you’ll have run result where you’ll check an offensive lineman or defensive player’s rating to determine a yardage result. In passing, great defensive players may affect a play. You don’t have head to head match ups to exploit, but individual players can make a difference at times.

Score: 9

I was a bit worried at first. In my test game, Johnny Unitas has 250 yards and five touchdowns at halftime. I played on and things settled down. Player adjustments really help give you some realistic results. Brown averaged 5.4 yards per carry in my game, just a tick away from his 5.2 season average. Yet, this game feels like the most sandbox game of any simulation I have played. There are no usage ratings, so you can pass to your top receiver or run your best back as much as you want. This may put off some, but I actually enjoy the freedom. Lots of games base usage on averages, so it’s nice to be able to have a game where you can lean on your best player a little more often. This can be exploited, but I figure you can police yourself. Clearly, the adjustment for the Colts’ FB Tony Lorick made him a more exciting option than Lenny Moore, mainly because Lorick averaged more yards per carry in 64 than Moore did. I ran both equally, but I loved being able to give it to Lorick when I wanted to, especially on key third downs.
Score: 9

Solo Play
You could play the entire game without calling a single play for either day. The game is well designed for solo play. I called both offenses in the first half of my test game. Once Baltimore built a big lead, I switched it up and let the game call all of Baltimore’s plays. Unitas still managed to direct a touchdown drive and tacked on 10 more points to the Colt total.
Score: 9

I generally think every game I have played has a definite slant toward solo or head-to-head play. EDF may be the closest to having benefits for both. With the number of offensive and defensive plays to choose from, you still have a good reason to play a friend head-to-head. You may not be moving players to overload a side of a line or creeping a safety up to the line of scrimmage, but the play calls give you a sense of how the teams are lined up. Not deep but still a satisfying experience.
Score: 8

Replay Ability
This game would work great for a season replay or simply getting it out again to play. The sandbox nature of it may give you some interesting season replay “what if” material. The game plays quickly and is easy to get into, so I would have little problem getting this out again and again.
Score: 9

Currently, the game has complete seasons for 1967 through 71. NFL seasons are available for 64 to 66, and there’s a 74 WFL season. That’s it so far, but the designer has plans to make more seasons. The game itself would need to be overhauled for the modern game, as the passing system is definitely modeled after the older NFL. Still, there’s some good stuff out there, and you can get it all for a ridiculously good price.
Score: 7

Final Grade (not an average)
I love exploring different systems of games, and I have learned quite a bit about football games in general. You have games that are deep simulations that may not be practical to get out often, while others are light hearted affairs that may not be enough to scratch that football itch. Then there are the games that fall into that sweet spot in the middle. Second Season and Solitaire come to mind. So does Everyday Players. The designer markets this game as being fun, which, as he states, is the reason we play. And he’s right. This game is a lot of fun. It’s a dice fest. It’s got great, colorful charts. It plays quickly. You can take it as seriously or as playful as you want. Like the other two games mentioned, EDF is something that can be enjoyed by casual and serious football sim fans, and it may be light enough to use as a gateway to deeper football gaming.


My Favorite Fifteen: Best Games Played of 2018

In some ways, my 2018 gaming year was a bit disappointing. With a week left, I am hovering around 100 plays, almost half of my 2017 total. In other ways, it was a rewarding year. After giving up reviewing games for a company, I found that I got back my freedom to play the games I truly enjoy. The result was some truly rich gaming experiences. So before I make a resolution to play and write more next year, I wanted to look back at my favorite fifteen games I played from this year.

15. History of the World (Z-Man Games Edition)

I have played other iterations of History of the World before, and I was admittedly skeptical that yet another version would hold my interest. However, I walked away from Z-Man’s version pretty impressed. There are fewer epochs, and there are more empires to pull in each. The game feels less predictable as a result. The built-in catch up mechanic keeps the game balanced. The only caveat is that you need a good group to play it with as a poor move can by one player can gift the game to another, completely killing the suspense of the final round.

14. Men of Iron

When I made the list, I did a double take. Did I really play so few hex-and-counter games in 2018? Sadly, I did. Men of Iron was the best of a small sampling of old school style games I played, but it is a good one. Men of Iron has a very simple system that’s easy to jump into (or jump back into after a long hiatus in my case). The games are meaty enough to be a challenge to hardened grognards. This medieval edition has some particularly brutal engagements to echo the chaotic nature of the warfare of the day.

13. 1750: Britain vs. France

1750 was a low key Kickstarter in 2017 that turned out to be one of my favorite games I have backed. Cards are used to generate the board, a series of colonies that Britain and France fight over. Players collect resource sets to generate income. Military units are moved around to protect or conquer, while you can use influence to rally allies to your side. It’s a light game, somewhat reminiscent of the beefier Pax Renaissance, and its artwork is phenomenal.

12. Pendragon: The Fall of Roman Britain

I have really come to love GMT’s COIN series. Cylinders and prisms of various colors, intermingling across beautifully illustrated boards can seem chaotic to those unfamiliar with the premise, but once you understand the flow of the system, everyone fits together perfectly. Every turn of a card presents some interesting decisions. Even if you are out of one turn, you are thinking about your next. Pendragon feels the most warlike of the COIN games I have tried, with the marauding Saxons and Picts engaging in raids, attempting to establish footholds on the Emerald Isle while the loose Roman alliance try to hold on for dear life. I find playing the invaders more fun than the Romans, which is why other COIN games are higher on the list.

11. Star Wars: Rebellion

Ah, there’s a lot to love about this game. I enjoy playing the Empire, with their great resources that try to stretch to the far reaches of the universe to find the Rebel base. I also love playing the pesky Rebels, who have a lot of ways to harass and annoy the Empire’s plans. I have yet to play a game of this that hasn’t come down to the final turn or two. Is it as good as War of the Ring (which I did not get to play this year)? No. But Rebellion is its simpler cousin. Not as deep, but loads of fun.

10. Space Empires

Midway through the year, I discovered a video game called No Man’s Sky and was immediately immersed in the exploration of a vast universe. I have always wanted to have that feeling of exploration in a board game, and I found it in Space Empires. There’s something fascinating about sending your fleets out into a space that becomes more perilous the further you sail from home. Even its straightforward solo scenario captures the feel for scrambling to secure the resources needed to fuel your expansive empire. It’s a game that makes bookkeeping fun as your balance the decisions of when to upgrade and when to expand.

9. 878: Vikings

Academy Games’ Birth of Europe series if off to a great start with 878 Vikings. Four games into the system, and Academy has managed to find ways to keep it fresh by evoking a feel for the era. Here, the game swings on a pendulum, with the mighty Vikings wrecking havoc early on with the roving hordes, and the English kingdoms try to survive till Alfred the Great can lead to armies to push the Vikings back. Your strategy seems set, but event cards can throw off your plans. 878 is one of those games where hope seems lost, but fortunes can turn before you know it.

8. Conquest of Paradise

Conquest of Paradise has a lot of similarities to Space Empires. Instead of space, you are exploring the tiny Polynesian islands that dot the Pacific Ocean. As vast as the ocean is, it isn’t as vast as space, so conflict can come fast. You really need to decide quickly what your strategy is. Precious island resources are gobbled up. Can you stretch to the far reaches to find a hidden paradise, or quickly consolidate and try to overtake your neighbors? GMT does a great job of letting the theme shine through the use of cultural innovations, which can be added to your empire for powerful benefits.

7. Whitehall Mystery

Growing up, I played a lot of Scotland Yard, a fun cat-and-mouse game where one player tries to elude other players across a map of London. Whitehall is the adult version of that game. Now, one player plays a brutal killer, leaving body parts across the city. Police are tasked with hunting the culprit down before the crime is complete. The killer only appears when they commit part of the crime, and the other players must work together to try to corner and guess where the murderer is. Don’t let the macabre theme put you off, it’s a wonderful game of deduction and teamwork, and playing the killer is a thrilling game of matching wits.

6. Raiders of the North Sea

Raiders of the North Sea is an outstanding game that’s been in my top ten since I first tried it. Players are Vikings, attempting to impress the Chieftain by raiding settlements. The heart of the game is worker placement, placing a Viking to work one resource then picking up another to work a second. You may feel like there’s little player interaction until you realize every turn directly affects the next. This means you end up constantly having two plans because one can easily be eliminated by the previous player. From there, the game is about timing your raids, balancing resources, and taking risks. You get a lot of decisions from such a simple mechanic.

5. Falling Sky: The Gallic Revolt Against Caesar

I have enjoyed every COIN game I have played, but Falling Sky would be my favorite. The game has an intense push/pull of four factions each with their own agenda that directly conflicts with another’s. The Romans have some considerable military advantages, but they are dealing with a wave of insurgency across the map. Even their so-called ally cannot be trusted, and everyone has to watch out for the Germanic tribes. The map is so tight, and there’s no buffer between you and a potential enemy. Falling Sky is a masterpiece of gaming, a must play for anyone interested in the concepts behind COIN.

4. 1754: Conquest – The French & Indian War

I will sing the praises of this game to anyone who will listen. Academy Games’ final installment in their Birth of America series is their best thanks to a few tweaks to the system. The general premise is much like its predecessor 1775. You must control the majority of victory point locations to claim victory. Added are ports, forts, and muster locations. British and French regulars must arrive at port locations. Forts add defensive bonuses to areas. Muster areas are where your provincial units appear. Native Americans also play a significant part, often tipping the balance in battles along the frontier. These may not seem like major changes, but they are enough to give this game more of a war game feel than others in the series. It also feels true to its historical material. The French must hold the ports to maintain their supply of reinforcements, while the British need to push their three prong strategy to put pressure on Canada. It’s not just my favorite Academy Game, but it’s an outstanding French & Indian War game.

3. Table Battles

My first introduction to Hollandspiele’s catalog was Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Northern Theater, which did a great job of making a war game with an emphasis on supply. My desire for a quick battle game led me to Table Battles. Cards represent units within an army. Each unit has a dice result tied to it. On your turn you have to decide how to allocate your dice. As dice get placed, you can then attempt to attack your opponent’s units. Players can screen or absorb attacks. The game is about feints and probes, looking for cracks in your opponent’s defense till you can start breaking their flank. It’s part puzzle part, part dice fest, making it fun both against an opponent or solo. It’s an engaging quick battle game, just as advertised.

2. Mare Nostrum

I talk a lot about game balance, and that’s important in a game. A good game should feel like everyone is in the hunt. Mare Nostrum goes a step further with everyone having a legitimate shot to win at some point. Mare Nostrum is a civilization game with limitations. You cannot simply spread yourself indefinitely across the board. Piece limitations limit your scope of influence. Empires ebb and flow throughout, growing and shrinking as alliances form and crumble. Conversely, you rarely see anyone completely wiped out. Like the warlords of Europe’s history, players are always keeping each other in check, never letting one become too dominant. I say dominant, but dominance can mean different things in Mare Nostrum. Maybe it’s your military might, surging economy, or impressive cities. Part Euro, part economic engine, part war game, Mare Nostrum provides you with a different experience with each empire you play, not to mention multiple paths to victory. With the right group, Mare Nostrum can be an amazing gaming experience.

1. Pericles

Three years ago, I was blown away by GMT’s Churchill, a war game more about the political power struggle of the Allies rather than their struggles on the battlefield. Enter it’s spiritual successor, Pericles, which takes the political drama and adds in the perils of warfare. This makes Pericles feel like two games in one. First, you battle with your own ally for political control, debating in the Senate of Athens or Sparta to be the one to lead your legions or fleets. Then, the drama moves to the map, where your put your political plans in place in an attempt to maneuver your armies to victory. To win, you must not only win the war, but also win the most honor within your own faction. It’s a deep, thematic game, and because of that, I feel like I have only scratched the surface on how good this game can be. I am hoping 2019 includes more than a few plays of this game.


Dan Kerstetter’s Football (6.5)


I follow a number of football gaming discussion sites. Delphi Forums, Facebook groups, and BoardGameGeek posts are all ways to discover some obscure games. Even then, I have heard little about Dan Kerstetter’s game from the 70s. I managed to land an inexpensive copy of the ’77 season to learn more about this forgotten game.

A couple things jump out at you when you look at the components. One is the odd looking field board. Ball position and first down distance is tracked on a circle dial. It’s a nice space saver, but you can accidentally move the first down marker as you are trying to turn the ball marker. Quarter, down, and time are also kept on dials, and those work well. The other are the team sheets. The game has all 28 teams from the 1977 season, and if you have played Solitaire Football, you would be excused for thinking the games are similar. Finally, there are a deck of FAC cards with all sorts of numbers on them. It’s a no frills package that looks intimidating at first.
Score: 6

The Players
Team sheets include all the skill players for a given team with several ranges to show who passes or runs with the ball. I don’t mind these ranges for rushing, but they seem unrealistic for passing. Only in rare instances have teams subbed quarterbacks in and out during a game. DK Football promotes itself as a game with excellent statistical accuracy. Range finders do that, but passing ones seem off. There are no defensive players in the game; ratings for defense are generic that can affect various aspects of the offense.
Score: 7

Game Play
Before you can even get to the game play, you need to get your team ratings sorted, and this will take some time. You need to adjust quarterback completion ranges based on the strength of the opponent’s pass defensive raring. You do the same for rushing. And for penalties. And interceptions. And fumbles. And if those fumbles are lost. Thankfully game includes two copes of a score sheet, one of which is filled out to show you how the ratings look. Even then, you’ll still need to refer to charts for long gains with running backs, field goal adjustments, and other items. It’s not difficult, just tedious.

An example of the stat sheet with all the pregame adjustments included. 

Once you get to the game, though, it is ridiculously simple. Everything runs of the FAC cards, and you’ll run through the deck quickly. A random play call number (RPC) determines what play it will be. The next determines who will pass or run. Then you’ll determine the play’s outcome. If it’s a pass, you have more draws to determine the pass result if completed. It sounds like a lot, but it really isn’t. Once you have the abbreviations down for the various lines you have to check, the game flows really well. Without stats, I could run through a drive in just a few minutes.

But you do sacrifice some control for such simplicity. I mentioned Solitaire Football earlier, which uses team sheets with skill player ratings and general defensive settings. However, I feel Solitaire Football has more options for play calling. Here, play the game as intended, and you really are nothing more than a spectator, especially with the basic game. The advanced game gives you some options to call different defenses or adding another tight end to block, which does help a little. Still, your biggest decision may be picking the teams to play. The game seems dry, but it game play does work exactly as intended.

If Cunningham had the carry on this FAC draw, he would lose two yards by combing his -2 grade with the 0 on the Rush line (even column). He could lose more if the defense had a negative adjustment as well. 

The FAC cards work very well, though I do have a slight issue with the numbering. FAC numbers go to 112. This may be a personal preference of mine, as I like to be able to simulate a game with dice to add more variance since FACs tend to play to averages. This is hard to do when going to 112.

The game does have a unique advanced rule. The game comes with some team ratings you can use when replaying actual games from 1977. Teams are compared against each other from the real game’s point differential. If a team won in real life by 7, you could use the advantage column on a FAC card until that team is up by 7 to help simulate their historical advantage. Alternatively, you can use it as a catch up feature for any team that starts trailing by 10 or more during a game.
Score: 7


The game is based on actual stats, and my run through had some pretty good stats for the era. Pass completions floated around 50%, and the teams seem to run the ball at the appropriate rate.

Score: 10

Solo Play
While the rules favor neither play method, this game seems best suited for solitaire play. You can keep the action flowing, keep stats, and recreate some games. There’s no hidden information or adjustments where you’d need a chart or real opponent to simulate.
Score: 9

That said, I am really not sure why you would want to play this against an opponent. Maybe to have someone to talk to as you are rolling through the FAC cards? You’d have to allow each side to call their own plays to make it of any interest.
Score: 5

Replay Ability
For a season replay, or recreating a particular matchup, this game works very well. For replay ability? Maybe it’s not as strong since you have few choices to make. But it does play quickly, and if you are just wanting to watch a game unfold in front of your eyes, it may be worth putting on your table.
Score: 7

I have found that there are several years available for the game from the late 70s back until the 50s. I haven’t seen anything available yet after 1979.
Score: 5

Final Grade (not an average)
6.5. Reading through that you may have expected a lower score. Solitaire Football does something similar to this, and it does it better. And if your goal is to watch a game unfold, then Second Season is your pick. Still, this game grew on me the more I played it. The one thing you can say about good solitaire games is you can often outthink the AI if two teams are similarly rated. Here, you can just play a game to see how two teams stack up against each other. Don’t get me wrong, there are many other games I would prefer playing. But in it’s simplicity and ease of play, DK football is not a bad effort.

Table Battles



Quick battle games are a bit of an oxymoron. They can be quick in comparison to traditional battle games, such as the Commands and Colors or Hold the Line series, but they still require a solid 60 to 90 minute time frame. Could a truly quick game actually have depth? I had heard enough buzz about Table Battles from Hollandspiele that I needed to find out for sure. Table Battles comes with eight battles spread across three centuries of warfare. Armies are divided into formations, and the goal is to deplete your opponent’s morale by routing formations. Individual battles are quick, yet strategic, engagements that can be completed in 15 to 20 minutes.

In the Box

The small, yet spacious, box includes a deck of cards, several dice, a few wooden cubes, and elongated wooden blocks in four colors. There are eight scenario cards in the deck that give you the setup for the battle. The rest of the deck are double-sided formation cards, each of which can easily be identified by a number/letter combination. There are no maps. Instead, battles are constructed using the wooden blocks. Every formation has a strength number, so a four strength formation would have four blocks attached. I really liked the nostalgic feel of these as they resembled the formation blocks of traditional battlefield maps.

Once they are lined up, you get a real sense of the battle’s scale. Belligerents on either side are split into formations, with one side being different shades of blue and the other red or pink. I would have liked a couple extra blocks, but that’s just my OCD coming through. The box has plenty of room for future expansions, for which there is one already available.

Score: 8



This is a dice driven game. Each side gets six dice. You begin a turn with actions, but since you won’t have actions on your first turn, let’s look at how dice are used to set up your actions. All dice are rolled and you assign some to your formations. Formations have a number on them that let you know which dice they can take. A ~4~ on a card means that any or all fours rolled can be placed on that formation. Some cards have ( ) around the number and those can only be assigned one die per round. Other formations are assigned doubles or straights of three or four dice.

Generally, your formations will have color bands that are all the same (say all light blue), and your big decision will be where to assign your dice. You can only assign dice to one formation per color group per turn, so there’s much to consider from formation attack strength, odds of building up particular formations, or ability to counter opponent actions. Leftover dice are saved to be rolled in the next turn, and you will eventually get the assigned dice back once the formation they were attached to performs an action.

In the action round, you have the option to activate a formation, which invariably means you’ll attack. Each formation has an opposing formation assigned to it, which mimics battlefield positioning. When you attack, all the dice on the card are used to perform it. Some formations are more effective than others, with some hitting for each die on the card while others simply hit once. Some even inflict hits on themselves when they activate, so you’ll need to build up a powerful attack to ensure you do more damage than you cause to yourself.

Often, your opponent will have a formation that can react what you do. Screening your opponent negates an attack. A counterattack allows you to immediately strike back. Formations can even absorb the hits normally assigned to another formation. The important thing to note about all reactions is that they are usually mandatory, and they will always consume your action sequence on your upcoming turn. This turns the game into a series of probes and feints where you use attacks to disrupt your opponent’s turn or force screens to push through bigger attacks later.

When a formation has lost all its blocks, it is routed and removed from the field. You begin the scenario with a limited number of morale cubes, and one is lost for a routed formation. Lose all your morale cubes, and you have lost the engagement. Some formations allow you to retire them from battle to save those precious morale cubes.

Some scenarios also include reserve formations. These are thrust into battle by hitting certain dice combinations on other cards, or when a particular formation is routed. Reserves cannot use dice until they are activated, and it adds another facet to your decision making in battles where reserves can be brought on.

If that wasn’t enough, you will occasionally have special formations that grant useful abilities in battle. These formations use cubes instead of dice and can be activated by using a solitary cube. Special formations usually represent generals, like Wolfe at Quebec, or artillery batteries, such as Knox at Brooklyn Heights.

Seems like a lot for a 15 minute game? It is. The depth of the system is astonishing, and every turn will present you with problems to solve or areas to exploit. Still, this game flows remarkably well, and there’s no downtime when it’s not your turn.

Score: 10

Replay Ability

There are eight battles included, and each has a different feel to it. You may think there is little incentive to play a battle once it is done, but I would disagree. Some of the bigger battles can be approached in different ways, and the dice may change your strategy unexpectedly. The main box alone has enough to keep your interest for some time, and there’s bound to be more than one expansion to such a versatile system.

Score: 9


Some of the battles in the box were historically lopsided affairs. The Plains of Abraham was a decisive British victory that played out in about the same time as the game will. But every real life loser has a legitimate chance at victory here. Hollandspiele’s Tom Russell had an interesting blog post about victory conditions for overwhelming underdogs, and it plays out wonderfully here. The onus is on the British to humiliate the French at Quebec, while the French need to just break one British formation. You always have a chance regardless of which side you take in any battle.

Score: 10

Overall: 9

I had debated buying this for some time, and I am glad I finally dove in. Table Battles is the quick playing wargame I was looking for. There are no combat charts, movement allowances are the like, yet you don’t feel like you’ve been swindled into a cheap system. There’s real depth here, and there’s plenty of strategic decision making on tap. The probing and strength building makes for an intriguing two player game, but since you’ll often react to what the other player does, it also solos surprisingly well.  Throw in the versatility of having it for a series of battles on a game night or a quick game during lunch, and there’s a lot to love about this game. I highly recommend it.

Another Set of Downs: Revisiting Solitaire Football

Have you ever watched a movie a second time and came away with a different feeling that you had the first time? Maybe that lost element of initial surprise soured the movie a bit for you, or perhaps you picked up on nuances you missed the first time that enhanced its appeal. While your first impressions of something may not swing to the extreme, there’s no denying they do change over time.

That said, I decided to go back I wanted to go back and look at some titles I had previously reviewed, and I couldn’t think of a better start than Mike Keeley’s Solitaire Football game.

You can find my original review here, and it will be helpful if you are unfamiliar with the game’s mechanics. To summarize, I left Solitaire football game feeling in awe of the smoothness of the system — everything fits together so succinctly that even after considerable time I had no trouble diving back into Keeley’s system. While I loved the system, I originally felt like I needed a tad more in terms of both control and immersion. Did my impression change? Well, there’s a reason I picked this game first for a second look.

I took the 1987 and matched up the Colts against their week one foe, the Bengals. The Colts were led by Eric Dickerson, who arrived in a blockbuster trade that turned the moribund Indianapolis version of the Colts into a division winner. My game plan was simple — run Dickerson early and often and spell him with the underrated Albert Bentley. It was here that the story of a game unfolded.

I picked the offensive plays for the Colts and Solitaire football handles the rest. The Bengals were a middling run stopping team, and the overpowering Colts’ combo sliced through them to an early lead. The ability of Solitaire’s FAC (Fast Action Card) keeps the game from having too much downtime. There’s not a lot of looking up details in this game. Running back and QB/WR ratings are pretty much memorized as you work your way through the contest. A Bentley touchdown run followed by Boomer Esiason’s answer with a scoring pass barely took 15 minutes, and this was early in the game when I was still shaking the rust off.

Immersion is something I have long associated with deeper games, but that is a gross generalization. Solitaire’s FAC system handles everything from play results to penalty situations.  90% of your plays will be handled between them and your team charts. Because the game moves at a steady pace, you get immersed in how your drive in going. Even on defense, where your ability to slow down the team is completely controlled by FACs, you become invested, just hoping for that one stop to kill a drive.

There’s also subtle things about the game that pop up the more you play. As the Colts’ bled the Bengals with a thousand paper cuts, pressure mounted on Esiason to produce a comeback. Down in the fourth quarter, Esiason moved to a quickened offense that enabled the Colts to automatically use the better of their two pass defense ratings. It’s a minor thing, but it shows how one team adjusts to a prevent situation as the other becomes desperate for points.

Now, this still isn’t the game you are looking for if you want to move linebackers to blitz or call specific inside or outside running plays on third and short. But those games can play in twice the time of Solitaire football. Those items may be abstracted into the system, but there’s more here than you think. Where is your opponent weak? What call should I make on third and one? How do I best use my players so that best goal-line runner is available to pound the ball into the end zone?

I ended my game with a 34-13 Colts romp in just under 90 minutes, and those 90 minutes provided me with a visual of a ground game that abused the defense and a quarterback under constant pressure to come up with answers. Esiason may not have had any, but this revisit gave me some.

NEW RATING: 8 (Up 1) 


Falling Sky Review


Falling Sky is one of GMT’s COIN games, a rapidly expanding genre that covers counter-insurgencies throughout various periods of history. Falling Sky centers on the Gallic Revolt against Caeser. Gaul’s factions are set to fight against Roman rule, and the backdrop fits COIN’s system perfectly.


I have yet to see a COIN game with anything less than optimal components, and Falling Sky is no exception. The mounted map is stunning, with its detailed areas and vibrant colors. The place names are easy to read, though the home territory symbols can get lost once the board is full. The map is small compared to other COIN games, but it has ample space for sizeable armies. Faction pieces are wood with clearly distinguishable shapes and colors. Even the cardboard counters are well done. The game is a sight to behold once it is set up.

Score: 10


Each faction’s unique abilities and victory conditions highlight the game’s replayability, not just in playing the same faction but in trying each one. 




The four factions come to the table with different agendas. The Romans are looking to subdue the land to reinforce their rule over the area. The rebellious Belgic, led by the skillful Ambiorix, are looking to overthrow their oppressors. Meanwhile, the opportunistic Averni yearn to build a mighty confederation to push the Romans back. Even the Roman sympathetic Aedui want to cut out their own claim to the land. Each has their own winning condition, and you’ll keep as keen an eye on your opponent’s progress as you will your own.

This is a card-driven game, and a card flip will determine player order throughout the game. Along the top of each card is a symbol representing every faction in varying order from left to right. Every faction is eligible to start the game, and the first on the card has several options at its deposal. Every card has an event, and the first player may choose to do that. They may also choose to do a command action as often as they able to afford it using resources or meet the requirements of the action. Commands allow factions to recruit troops, bring allies to the cause, move armies, or battles. There are some subtle differences, but the factions are generally the same here. Additionally, a faction may choose to do a command along with a special ability. This is where each faction’s personality comes into play. For example, the Belgic’s closeness to Germanic tribes allows them to manipulate Germanic forces while the Averni can convert other warbands to their side.

Once the first player is done, the second player on the card can choose an action, but what they can do is completely dependent on what the first player did. If the first player took the event, the second player is free to do a command and a special ability. However, if the first player chooses just the command, then the second player can only do a command in one area. The first player dictates the flow for that particular card player.

Further deepening your decision making is the fact that the next card is always visible to you. A particular event coming up may give you cause to pass on the current turn. Passing is always an option, which allows you to skip the current card and be active for the next. Passing up a potential move now could be advantageous if a better move will be available later.

Speaking of decision making, you’ll find that events are an ever source of consternation. Many events have two events available. One may be a positive for you, which means the other will invariably be against you. Deciding when to block an event is often just as important as deciding when to play one.

Only two factions will play on a given card, meaning the other two will be active for the next card play. Playing off one card automatically makes you ineligible for the next (though some events can make you immediately active again), so it is wise to keep an eye on not just what is coming up, but your order on the upcoming card as well.

Mixed in with the deck are winter cards, where the game’s victory conditions will be checked. Should a faction meet them then they win and the game concludes. Otherwise, the Germanic tribes run through their bot phase to cause havoc.

There is a lot to consider on each and every turn. Even if you are out on a current card, you know what is coming up for your next play. The game has a masterful flow to it, and you never feel like there is any downtime.
Score: 9


Replay Ability

Before each day you’ll create your deck of cards. Even with the full deck, the random order will determine a new game each time. Events or faction order that affected one game may show up later or not at all in another game. Your basic premise for your faction may be the same, but card play will ensure your path to victory will fluctuate.

Score: 9


A friend of mine referred to the playing board, with factions in place, as “tight”, and this is meant as a complete comment. There is no slow build up or skirmishes in this game. You begin right in the thick of things with immediate decisions — and enemies — to face. The game has a push and pull to it that sees factions drift toward and away from victory from card to card. The variance in the card play, and the fact that you cannot simply hide from anyone or runaway with the lead will keep the game very balanced.

Score: 10


Overall: 9.5

I certainly need to catch up on reviewing COIN games, because this genre really appeals to me. While I have only played a few so far, this is my favorite one to date. The theme is well presented with card text and faction goals. The conflict begins immediately, and you feel like even your opening decisions matter — setting the tone for how things will play out. This is a tremendous game that feels well balanced, entertaining, and challenging all at once.