About BoardGameGuru

BoardGameGuru is a UK based online retailer, specialising in board games.

To use the shop, please follow the link below:


To read the full articles below, please follow the link to their own pages.

Masters Gallery - A Family Filler

I’m a philistine. I’ve been to (well dragged round by my art appreciating wife) Momo, Tate Modern, and a few other torture chambers masquerading as temples of culture . It all has the same effect - I get a head ache looking at all those swirls, colour explosions, pictures that look like nothing more than the pavement after a particularly drunken night out. . I just don’t get it. It got so bad that half way round a Brigit Reilly exhibition I had to leave the gallery to lie down - I was just about to throw up.

Go one stare at this for two minutes and see if your lunch stays down

Give me a picture with real things in, people and landscapes, even a bowl of fruit. I can look at one of those for at least ten minutes with out sweating and reaching for the Tylenol .

That’s the same way I feel about Masters Gallery vis a vis Modern Art. I admire Modern Art as a game design and I want to like it but I’m terrible at it. I suspect any game that has inspired geeks to write mathematical valuation formula that makes Black-Scholes look like the two times table is something that is going to be beyond me. So the news that a de-auctioned version of Modern Art was being released with pictures of old masters intrigued me. My initial reaction was ‘Ha, Modern Art for Dummies!’. And whilst Master’s Gallery takes the rocket science out of Modern Art it adds a great deal of game play and not only for the Modern Art challenged. It turns an auction game into a set collection game.

Master’s Gallery is a recent release in the treadmill of Gryphon bookshelf games. It comes in a small box that fits nicely along side the other games in the series. It consists of 100 cards, five place holders for each of the five ‘masters’ (Vermeer, Van Goch, Degas, Renoir and Monet) and ninety five cards divided unequally between the five starting with 21 Van Gogh down to 17 for Vermeer. The cards are made of good quality stock, though I would recommend sleaving them as mine are showing small sings of wear after ten games. The rule book is well written and easy to follow.

Game play is deceptively simple. The five place holder artist cards are placed on the table, Two to five players are dealt a stating hand of 13 random cards and an artist card is drawn and placed face up on the table. Each player takes it in turn to place a card from their hand on to the table in front of them. The round ends immediately when a sixth artist card is played on the table with the initial random draw counts towards the six. Cards are then scored, and a new round starts with players receiving more cards (except for the fourth and last round when no more cards are dealt) and another random card from the draw pile placed on the table. The game finishes after four rounds with the points being tallied and a winner decided.

Some of the cards allow special plays. One allows the player to immediately lay as second card of the same artist face up, the second allows a second card of any artist to be played face down (., another allows the player to draw a card, another has all players simultaneously playing a card from hand to the table and the last allows a 2 point award token to be added to one artist (and each artist can only have one of these tokens place on them).

The scoring at the end of each round is simple. The face down cards are turned up and the artists who has the most cards played (tie breaks are broken in favour the artist which have the fewest cards in the deck) receives a three value token the second a two and the third one. Players then multiply the artist cards (that came in the first three) in front of them by the total value of the points tokens for each artist. Tiles points on the artist place holder cards are cumulative and therefore some artists become more valuable than others as the rounds progress.

Key to success in the game is planning ahead, and trying to draw other players into scoring artists that you can score in later ( and more valuable) rounds. The ‘special’ cards add some spice to the game and timing when to play them can be crucial though I have seen some one win without drawing any throughout the game.

In a few areas Master’s Gallery falls down compared to Modern Art, first the table banter is missing from Master’s Gallery, players don’t talk up the value of their hideous pictures. You can get the hideous pictures in Master’s Gallery’s sister game Modern art the card game (and its a few bucks cheaper). The other area is that you can win in Modern Art without buying many pictures, just selling stuff at inflated prices. In Master’s Gallery you have to play a card each turn. Another concern I have is scalability the game is great with three or four players, Ok with two and poor with five. With five players the rounds finish so quickly you do not have time to play many cards and try and influence the outcome of the ranking. Despite these reservations I whole heartedly recommend the game for families and those who like the idea of Modern Art but not the valuation.

Comparisons with Modern Art are inevitable howeverthese are two different games that share a theme and some mechanics. Master’s Gallery is set collection and manipulation Modern Art other is a valuation and arbitrage game. Both have their place, though if both are on offer I will be found, wearing my dunces’ cap, sitting at the Master’s table.

New Releases : 13th June 2009

With the Expo last weekend this weeks UK board game releases are non existent.

However I did pick up a new game at the Expo and it is a corker - Fzzzt! a simple card game that uses the build a deck mechanic from Dominion. I have written a review here. Everyone I have shown the game to buys it and i have had to re-stock afte ronly 4 days. Only 1500 copies were printed and I doubt they will hang around.


Rather a lot of games arrived in the shop this week, some new, some restocks.

Hab & Gut is a stock market game in which 3 to 5 players attempt to earn as much money as possible from buying, selling and manipulating stocks. What makes the game interesting is that players have limited market knowledge in the form of cards that will manipulate the market (up or down) which only they and their immediate neighbour to right and left can see. There is a further twist in that not only are players out for themselves the player who has donated the lowest amount to charity at the end of the game immediately loses. This game has been receiving a lot of hype on the 'Geek.

We have another two games from rising design star Jeffrey Allers the first is ….aber bitte mit sahne (everyone loves cake?)And the second Circus Maximus (a game about ticket touting in ancient Rome, comes in a metal tin).

I also have El Presidente an expansion forCuba, this is the German version

Boardgamenews has a couple of articles about recent German games here and here.All of these games are stocked by BoardGameGuru

Other games added to the imports range include Kreta from Stephan Dorra, Kutschfahrt zum Teufelsberg (a team game), Die Saulen von Venedig, Via Romana and Bushido.

I also have had a restock of Diamond's Club, which is one of my favourite Essen 2008 releases. From Rudger Dorn it has a feint flavour ofGoa, with an ingenious resource selection mechanism and many subtle paths to victory. It plays inside 90 minutes and works for both gamers and as a gateway.

Games added to the range include Golfprofi and Master Builder

Automobile failed to arrive this week - I am promised it will be with me on Monday. I played it for the second time this week and it confirmed my opinion that it is a great game - for me the best release of 2009 so far by a country mile.

'Prolific' is a double edged word, in the context of Balzac or Haydn it's a good thing, for 'Prince' not so. Recently Reiner Knizia has fallen into the 'Prince' category and his recent (prolific) releases have not been automatic purchases. However, one recent game is a complete return to form, if not in the style we are accustomed to. FITS is a simple work of genius, Tetris meets 'Take it Easy'. It's a huge hit with gamers as a filler and all non gamers I have introduced it to and it's back in stock.

Fzzzt : The perfect filler

When ever I switch on’ Britain’s Got Talent’ I expect to be wowed by the opera singing, super dancing , multi instrument playing candidates. But it’s always the cute young contender warbling their way through ‘My boy lollipop’ that gets my vote - and the same thing happened at the 2009 UK Games Expo. Expecting to come away star struck by the big hitters one gem stood out for me and that was the new card game Fzzzt! from Surprised Stare.

Fzzzt! is a card game about a futuristic production line as imagined by a bunch of 70's computer programmers. 2 -4 players compete over five rounds to assemble a deck (Dominion comparison coming up later...) of point scoring robots, and to produce widgets from machines of varying complexity.

Each player starts with the same hand of a mechanic and three robots. These cards will be used to bid in auctions to buy new robots which will form part of the players deck, production cards which the players place in front of them which will give them bonus points (or negative points) at the end of the game and Frzzt! cards which give minus points at the game end but are useful for bidding for new cards in the mean time.

The robot cards have four values on them. The first is their worth in a auction (they range from zero to five , the second is there victory point value at the end of the game, the third is the component (or components) they can produce for production cards and the fourth shows how many cards are revealed at auction.

After each player has received their four starting cards a random start player is decided. He becomes the 'Chief Mechanic' - the rule book recommends that a spanner is given to the 'Chief Mechanic' - failing that the game box will do. The remaining cards are shuffled to form a draw pile and eight cards are drawn and placed in a row (the ‘Conveyor Belt’). The first card in the row is turned face up and the fourth value is checked - additional cards from the Conveyor Belt are turned up depending on the value and the range is from 0 to all 8.

All players simultaneously bid for the first card on the conveyor belt with one or more of their hand cards placed face down on the table. The winning bid is the highest total value of power symbols. Ties are broken b in favour of the player holding the 'Chief mechanic' spanner, otherwise by the closest player clockwise to the chief mechanic. The losing player in the tie becomes the new ‘Chief Mechanic’

All cards used to bid, and any card won, are placed in a players discard pile - ala Dominion. Unlike Dominion players, at this point, don’t draw a new hand of cards until all players have run out of cards. You want that uber robot a lot? Well use three cards to bid and you will end up missing out on later auctions as you won’t have a card to bid with. When all players have run out of hand cards they shuffle their discard pile and draw a new hand of six cards (or less if their discard pile contains fewer than six cards). These card auctions continue until all eight cards from the row have been won. If the next card to be auctioned in the row is face down it is turned face up and it’s Conveyor Belt value is checked to see how many cards are revealed.

If the card won is a production card it is placed in front of the player. The production cards have component symbols on them (that match symbols on the robots) that are need to produce a widget at the end of the game and the victory points value of producing a widget. They range from the basic one oil needed for three points to the advanced which needs all four types of components (Oil, Cog, nut , bolt - I did say this was the future as imagined by COBOL programmers) which gives thirteen points.

After the eighth card in the conveyor belt has been auctioned all players can place one of their robots from their discard pile and hand on a corresponding production card. Only one card can be placed per round on each production card and they can not be switched around later. From this you will gather there is no point hanging on to your hand cards towards the end of an auction and that placing low power cards on a production unit is a good way of thinning out the weak robots from your deck. But beware! - if you can’t produce a widget from your production card you lose victory points equal to the bonus points of the card (think Ticket to Ride).So you might really want to get the zero power robot out of your hand because it is no use for auctions, however it can produce any one of the components and might be best saved till the end of the game when you can place it on any production card where you are short of a component.

After everyone has placed robots on their production cards they shuffle their discard pile and draw six new cards. Eight more cards are placed on the conveyor belt and the auctions start again. The game ends when the last card of the last conveyor belt has been auctioned.

Players then allocate Robots to their production cards to produce bonus point widgets. A production card can produce multiple widgets if his has multiple, sets of robots on it. Players score points for the value of their robots and the value of any widgets produced and takeoff the value of any production card that has not produced a widget (i.e. has an incomplete set of robots on it).

The game plays in about half an hour and provides some difficult choices for the players, on the one hand you want to have as powerful a deck as possible to win auctions but you must balance that with the need for less powerful robots which help you produce victory points in the end game. The auctions are quick and tense and require you to second guess the needs of the other players as much as your own requirements. Because there are a lot of ties in the auctions use of the ‘Chief Mechanics’ ability can be a boon or a disaster. As some one who feels that Dominion is multiplayer solitaire the auctions in Fzzzt! really work well to create engagement with the other players. More over there is no repetitive shuffling injury!

Fzzzt! Is a perfect filler; quick to learn and play with some depth to the game play. I thoroughly recommend it.

For Heroes: Mecanisburgo

"For Heroes" is our semi regular section on the more complicated (or, heavier) games in the world. These can offer great rewards to the brave gamer, but are challenging and sometimes mystifying to new players. Allow us to guide you through some of our favourites:"

Four games of Mecanisburgo in, I now feel able to write the old review for those who know nothing about it, perhaps, and for those who have heard only bad things about this one - to explain these in some detail and perhaps allay your fears.

So, lets put our opportunity cards on the table - I really like Mecanisburgo, a very early release from GenX Games, it hits a certain niche in my psyche.

=====What is it about?=====

Are you fed up with farming? Tired of trading? How about being the head of an amoral corporation intent on dominating a city and possibly the world? Sound a bit more exciting than harvesting corn? Thought so.

The core of Mecanisburgo is the acquisition and exploitation of opportunity cards, earned by controlling the city's major locations each turn (a new card appears in each every turn), as well as managing your income to keep your agents on the books.

As you discover various opportunities arising across the eponymous city for your company to exploit, ignore or defeat, you must also maximise your company's resources to complete major projects like New foodstuffs, a Space Elevator or even a Giant Robot who can assist you in future conflicts.

And don't mistake - there WILL be conflict.

All those lovely opportunities, be they new agents for your company, new properties to build and exploit or even a riot, rest assured the other players' companies will want to exploit them as well.

At the beginning of each turn the companies will, in turn order, place one agent on any free space of their choice - essentially identical to countless other "worker placement" games. Unlike many other examples of these games, one company's presence in an area does not block out all other players. In fact anyone can go there.

Of course, this begs the question -

=====How do you determine who controls the area?=====

To answer this question we have to look at agents and properties - two of the opportunity classes you'll be competing for.

All of these types of cards share a format.

And this is where things get tough - the cards show an absolutely incredible amount of information, most of which is in language free, symbolic formats.

In various ways the character cards tell you the individual's job, skills, statistics, wage cost, victory points value and crucial conflict statistics.

The player whose agent was placed first in an area chooses whether the conflicting corporations negotiate to establish control, or have a good old fight. The method for doing this is the same for both, the difference is that in negotiation, all involved parties can walk away afterwards. If you are unsuccessful in combat, one of your agents will be killed and lost for the rest of the game (they go in the box).

SO in detail, the method for conflicts for area control is that the negotiation or combat strength of your chosen "lead agent" is added to by support values of any other agents present, and bonuses from your properties, and any other bonuses that apply.

This gives you your strength in that area.

Each company has a standard set of cards that are added, in secret, to this strength to give you your final conflict value - they are numbered 1 to 6 (with two fours). The cool thing here, is that the higher valued cards are also your income for the turn (i.e. at the end of the turn you will only recieve income for unused cards).

After this is added, the company with the highest conflict total wins the area. Simple.

OK, well, it may sound simple, but in practice it's more time consuming than that sounds. The property bonuses and extra strength gained in certain areas makes for some involved totalling of strength.

To see just how complex a conflict can be, here's an example:

R.U.R.'s player has sent Flash Cannon (a human agent) and Nexus 7 (A Cyborg Agent) to Robotown to try and obtain a valuable resource property, Cavorite. His opponents have both sent one of their own agents, but since R.U.R. placed him first, he gets to decide the nature of the conflict - he decides on a negotiation, using Flash as his leader.

(Flash has a 0 strength in combat, so will usually negotiate if he can, where his strength is 5)

So Flash takes his base negotiation skill (5) and addsNexus 7's support value (2), giving a strength at this point of 7.

A blind bid of "peripherals" (bonus strength tokens) is made at this stage, and R.U.R. bid 2 of their possible 3, this conflict's success being a crucial part of the corporation's game plan. These 2 points are added to the corporation's strength giving a running total of 9.

The companies can now commit properties to this zone for the turn - their values apply for the whole turn. R.U.R. commits their Android "Magnus" to the fray, adding its support value (1) to the running total (now 10). The android is "tapped" (turned on its side) so cannot be used again this turn.

At this point, the player suddenly realises he forgot that both cyborgs and robots get a +1 bonus in Robotown (appropriately) so both Nexus 7 and the Android get an extra point of strength - so his running total is, in fact, now 12.

Looking at his opponents totals, he realises that they are way behind and that he can therefore afford to choose his weakest action card (value 1) to ensure he loses no income as a result of this conflict.

This means his final strength is 13. His opponents are easily defeated, and R.U.R. controls Robotown, receiving the Cavorite card they wanted, adding it to their hand.

I should also mention that a drawn conflict requires a second conflict; costing you another valuable action card. Heaven help us if you draw twice! Well, actually, you'll just have to fight again, but you'll be haemorrhaging income.

Also note that in these conflicts there is no random element, and only two hidden elements (your bid of peripherals and your action card) the first of which is revealed before selecting the second.

This is, actually, a fairly common example - that is to say this is no more complicated than you will usually see. If at this point the game sounds hideous, it's important to address your concern now.

=====How will I ever learn all these icons?=====

This need to look up the cards specifics for each new opportunity is one of the major complaints I have heard about this game, and to an extent I can sympathise. However, for myself, after two or three conflicts it became pretty much second nature.

You are provided with extremely comprehensive player aids which will assist you no end in your first few turns, explaining each skill and job individually.

The symbology, while intimidating, is now committed to my memory and I have no trouble recalling, for example, that a steering wheel represents a Racing Driver, A star represents a media star (celebrities, if you will) and beakers of various sizes show scientists.

The logos are actually fairly easy to recognise as the symbol of the job - with only the really esoteric examples (Mystechs, Dopplegangers) taking real thought to recognise because they are so rare.

What is harder to remember mid-conflict is the more passive abilities of skills - e.g. each robot in an area or committed to an area as property adds one to the strength of any agent who works as a mechanic.

This is harder to excuse, and a tasteful use of some "+1" imagery would be helpful on the property cards in particular since they rarely work on their own in conflict situations.

Now, for some a learning curve is something they want to avoid, but I see no greater difficulty here with the symbols than with, off the top of my head, the various abilities of monsters in Descent, or weapons in Tannhauser. I just don't find it that much of a problem. I don't think you will, either, after your first two turns.

=====How easy is it to learn?=====

Those folks who read my review of Supernova (another fine, oft-overlooked game) know if there's one thing guaranteed to annoy me, it's a poorly organised rulebook.

Unfortunately Mecanisburgo has a similar problem - while all the information you require to play the game is there somewhere, the effort required to find it amongst all the randomly placed examples and extraneous detail will be the first obstacle to overcome.

It results that there is no conceivable way to understand the game as a whole by reading the confusing rulebook - you must learn by actually either playing it yourself, or talking to someone who has.

=====So how do you win?=====

Well, this is a points game, with points supposedly representing the influence and power of the corporations at game end.

Every card in the game has a points value, with individual properties and agents being worth low amounts, but the real values are found in defeating threats (essentially combats against an NPC) and completing major projects - completion of these is down to your agents totals in two statistics and paying some money. You have this opportunity every turn, and to have the best chance of winning you need to be trying to buy one every turn. This may mean you need to cut down your wages bill to afford that Mars Base you want.

There are also several "instant win" conditions in the game, usually involving the collection of a number of the same types of characters (4 politicians, including one elite, for example).

While on the face of it is hard to win this way (other players will be doing their best to block you!) it is actually possible to win immediately upon setting up the game, or at least halfway through round one.

Now, for some folk this may be OK, but I personally am tending towards the variant whereby achievement of these conditions can only come at the end of a turn, and only be worth points (the suggested value is 25) and you have to given up the involved cards.

=====In Conclusion=====

In conclusion, despite the iconography and the rulebook, I believe that this game has a place in your collections.

Firstly, the world is full of more balanced, mathematical and certainly more simple games - but this means that there is more than enough room for something like Mecanisburgo on the market, where there's a lot of hidden information, backstabbing, surprises and mistakes can happen frequently. It really feels like you are marshalling your men, assigning resources with a view to maximising income (the more powerful action cards doubling as income is a nice touch).

You can choose your battles carefully, plan for situations that may arise, but even though people's employees and properties are public information you can never be sure just who your rivals have sent to the zone in question.

I find the decisions interesting, the conflicts surprisingly tight every time, and enough options, certainly on turn 2, to customise your own style of corporation.

And I haven't even touched on the little flourishes that are the zone abilities - for example in the Palace Of Justice you can try and send one of your opponents' "criminal" agents to prison so long as your agent has the "Lawyer" job. An Assassin can kill a chosen agent in crowded locations, the racing drivers can face off at the Anficirco, you can gamble at the Casino etc etc. In these "mini conflicts" a random element is added, provided by a random number value on the opportunity cards' bottom right hand corner, but they also involve less adding, only using a base strength of 0 (or 1 if elite) and adding an action card followed by the random number.

I really like Mecanisburgo. There's a lot to learn, and oodles to do. Each corporation is different from the start, and have their own flavours. I'm impressed that so much value is included and look forward to playing again.

I can highly recommend this game to anyone looking for something a little different. Sure, it requires a little more work to learn than the cookie cutter offerings of most publishers, but I reckon it's much more rewarding.