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Toledo box

This week's game session started with Toledo, as I had just received a review copy of the game (it's been published in Finnish by This Martin Wallace game is about the steel and swords of Toledo: players must collect materials, make swords and present them to the emperor.

There's a road, which the players will cover with tiles that provide steel, jewels, sword-making and fencing lessons. Each player has five pawns moving on the road. You move by playing movement cards that make you go 1-6 steps, and you can only play one kind of card each turn: just ones, twos, threes and so on.

Once you step on a tile - it seems players spend the first turns by filling the whole road with their tiles, at least that seems the only sensible way to play, but it's not mandatory - you can use it. If it's your own, it's free, otherwise you'll have to pay to the owner. If the tile is occupied, you can try to push the occupant away, but you must win a duel to do so. Duels are simple affairs where good luck is the key, but learning fencing skills will improve your odds.

Swords cost steel and gems. Once you have a sword, you must take a pawn the whole way to Alcazar to present the sword, otherwise you'll only score half of the value. Once somebody gets three pawns in, the game is just about over. Other than swords, you can score points for collecting paintings by El Greco and by few other minor ways. Best swords win, pretty much.

It's very simple and takes at most 45 minutes to play. Our reaction was lukewarm. It's fun, but perhaps a tad too harmless. It's very much a game of effective actions. I lost the game, because even though I think I was the first one to collect enough stones and jewels to make the finest sword in the game, somebody beat me to it and another player took the second-best sword before I could take that. So, I was stuck with a weaker sword and lost the game.

This is a family game from Kosmos, which explains a lot. Gamers might enjoy it, sure, but I think most seasoned gamers will find Toledo less than hot. I wouldn't mind playing the game if an opportunity presented itself, but I don't see myself actually wanting to play the game.

Miksi juuri Mäntsälä...? box

I asked for a review copy of Fits, but Amo provided me with a copy of Miksi juuri Mäntsälä...? instead. Well, that's an interesting game, too. It's the Finnish version of Ausgerechnet Buxtehude.

These games owe their existence to Anno Domini. In Anno Domini, players must put events in correct chronological order. These games add another dimension: cities and locations must be put in correct geographical order. There's a starting city and the rest will be played on the north-south or east-west axis related to that city.

So, let's say you start with Tampere. I then get a city, and must place it north, south, east or west of Tampere. If someone thinks I've made a mistake, they can turn over the cards and check. The player who's wrong pays a point to the one who's correct, and wrongly played cards are removed. Then it's next player, who gets a card and must place it on the board. Again, it must be placed relative to Tampere so that all cards form a cross on the board (not a matrix, that would be unnecessarily complicated), but of course the new card can be placed between two cards already in play.

This goes on for 15 cards, then there's a "Intermezzo" phase where everybody must guess how many cards are placed incorrectly. Guess right and you'll earn two points, otherwise the closest guess will get one point. The game is reset and new starting city is chosen. This is repeated three times and then it's game over.

It's all very simple and entertaining. This is a family game, so player without points isn't eliminated, they just don't pay (recipient gets the points from the pool in that case). The whole ordeal takes about 20 minutes or so. The game uses 45 cards each time and there are about 200 cards included in the game, so it's not likely to get repetitive soon.

We played the game last Thursday and while everybody wasn't quite as eager to play, I dare say we all had fun. The whole "I doubt you" element is of course familiar and definitely a good one, as it encourages bluffing and table talk. It also encourages interesting play, as often one axis is trickier than the other - everybody knows that Kolari is north from Helsinki, way north, but how about the east-west direction? It's far less obvious.

There are obvious problems with the game, as it's a fairly pure trivia game. If one player is worse than others, the player sitting on his left will triumph as she gets the first call on his mistakes. If one players is much better than the others, victory should be easy.

The first problem can be fixed, sort of, by replacing the rigid turn order with free order to doubt - the first to call it gets it - but large disparities in skill will cause the game to fail in any case. The game is certainly much better when everybody is equally skilled in Finnish geography (of course, if the players know different parts of Finland well - as is often the case in university circles where I play most of my games - that just makes the game better).

Miksi juuri Mäntsälä...? is an educational, yet entertaining game. It has an instant charm I like, the game is easy to play and fun. It is also very good choice to offer for casual gamers and I think the game is more captivating than many people might think - the game is more fun than it sounds like.

Race for the Galaxy box

Race for the Galaxy is one of the hot games right now. The fans - Brian Bankler, for example, his Tao of Gaming is a must read - are babbling about it a lot, and no wonder, as it really is an excellent game. I once said an ideal game would be a quick card-driven development game with a science fiction setting. Race for the Galaxy is all this.

Well, the theme of the game could be just about anything, as the cards and their functions don't really connect. I don't mind, but if you're looking for a strong theme, this isn't your game. At least the card art is quite neat and captures the generic science fiction theme well enough.

Production engines in space

Race for the Galaxy is a card-based development or engine game. Like in San Juan, players both build cards and use them as currency to pay for the cards they build. The goal is to get most victory points. Victory points are mostly scored by building cards, but there are also other means.

Each turn is split in five phases: explore, develop, settle, consume and produce. In explore phase players get more cards. Developments are built in develop phase and planets settled in the settle phase. Consume converts the goods on the planets to victory points and cards, while produce creates more goods.

Each player chooses one phase to do each turn. Only the chosen phases are played. Everybody gets to play every phase that is chosen, but the players who choose each phase get special benefits. In explore, for example, everybody draws two cards and keeps one, but the players who choose the action either draws five more cards or draws one more and keeps one more.

Planets and developments

Both planets and developments give bonuses for different actions. Planets may produce goods and both planets and developments can consume goods to produce victory points or cards. The biggest difference between planets and developments is different phases: planets are settled and developments are developed.

However, some planets are military planets and those are different. They aren't paid in cards, but need to be conquered. Each player starts with a military rating of zero. There are cards that give military bonuses (and minuses) and if your military power is equal or larger than the price of the planet, you can play it for free. That's an effective way to play worlds, but takes some infrastructure.

There are about 30 card powers and most cards have two or three different powers. That leads to a huge number of different combinations, and indeed, all cards are unique (there are two of some basic developments) even though powers aren't. If you've played San Juan, that would mean that each indigo plant, for example, would produce indigo and have another power (or cheaper price).

Simultaneous depth

The play mechanism is based on simultaneous action selection: phases are selected and played at the same time. That can lead to fast games. With newbies, the game can easily take 45 minutes. Really swift players make it in 15 minutes, while most people will probably take between 20 and 30 minutes per game. That's very efficient. Number of players doesn't make a huge difference.

Race for the Galaxy is a deep game, but there's a fairly strong luck element as well. Of course, better player will draw more cards and will succeed, but unusually good or bad luck can make or break the game. That's the price for lots of variability and I for one accept it. Flexibility is more important than a set strategy, but some strategic thinking is necessary to win against competent players.

The deepness means that for most folks, it'll take several games before they get the game. Experience with the cards is necessary and getting hang of the card iconography will take time. Once you get them, the icons on the card are very clear and effective, but it'll take few games.


This all means that Race for the Galaxy is not a good game if you don't want to give it enough effort. It's just not very good for random, casual play. Someone who plays with lots of different people might find the game frustrating, as it is best played with experienced players. Then again, world is full of easy, welcoming games, so I don't really mind. Instead I cherish this gem of a game, as there's plenty of learn and new things to figure even after several games.

Another reason for disliking the game would be the lack of interaction. Race for the Galaxy is by no means a multiplayer solitaire game. Only newbies don't care what their opponents do. However, there are only few things you can do to harm your opponent. Holding on to the key cards they need is one of the most direct actions. So, if direct interaction between players is your thing, look elsewhere.

To me, Race for the Galaxy was the best game of 2007. I'm a huge fan of San Juan, but from the first designer previews at Boardgame News, I knew Race for the Galaxy would be even better. I wasn't disappointed: this is indeed a rare gem and easily in my all time top 10, after only ten games. It's just that good.

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Just 4 Fun

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A review in Finnish of Just 4 Fun.

Just 4 Fun box

Just 4 Fun by Jürgen P. Grunau is a spin on classic Connect 4. Players try to create a line of their tokens on the board by playing cards whose sum matches a square on the board. It takes quite a bit of counting to get through this game! There can be multiple tokens on each square: majority wins the square, and if you get two more than anybody else, you can lock the square for you. Get four in line and you win.

The idea is super bland, as is the game art. I mean, given a description of the game, one would easily think that the game just cannot be good. To be honest, it isn't, but it isn't bad either. Actually, I was surprised at how much I actually enjoyed it, and some of the comments on Geek seem to echo my feelings: this game can actually be fun.

Still, my recommendation for gamers is simple: avoid. There's nothing for you here. If you're, however, looking for a game that's dead simple and don't mind the maths (or even actively look something educational), Just 4 Fun might be the game for you. Even still, there are better games around.

Tower of Babel

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Review of Tower of Babel in Finnish.

Tower of Babel is a clever area majority game designed by Reiner Knizia. Players try to complete the eight wonders of the world, including the Tower of Babel from the title. Alas, not all of them will be done by the end. Players try to get the majority of the markers in each wonder that is finished.

The game's published by Hans im Glück, which says something about the quality. The game looks neat, if a bit bland. The components are good, even though they include some rather pointless bits of wood used to denote the turn order - which goes clockwise around the table and remains the same each round. Surely the players are able to remember that?

Together we're strong

The way the wonders are built is cooperation! Each wonder consists of three subprojects. Each has a colour and a size. To build the subproject, you need to play the right number of cards of the right colour. The player who initiates the building doesn't have to provide all the cards: everybody offers a number of cards and the builder chooses whose cards are included. He can add his own or build solo, but he doesn't have to.

Each card is one marker on the wonder: the player with most markers scores the biggest points when (if) the wonder is done. The builder gets the project chit - a collection of several chits of the same colour is worth a lot of points and is a rather significant source of points.

If your cards aren't accepted, you get compensation victory points, one for each card. Not bad! There's also the trade card: include it in your offer and if your cards are accepted, the builder gets the markers from your cards and you get the chit. This makes the offers more interesting, particularly as the builder can only accept one offer with a trade card.

Clever ideas

The game end when one of the colours runs out from the board. This, combined with the need to collect chits, makes the end game dynamic and exciting. It works rather well. I've played with three and four and think both work - with five, there's probably too many cards around. Many people seem to recommend avoiding the game with five.

I like the challenges offered by the system. Trying to maximise your presence on board, while collecting the building chits and making sure the wonders you have built won't get finished too soon or too late, that's a challenge. As a builder, which wonder you want to build? Which chits to collect? There are plenty of interesting decisions to make. Sometimes you suffer from the lack of cards of certain colour - there's some luck effect there, but it's not a game-breaker. Besides, Tower of Babel is a reasonably swift game, which is forgiving.

I've skipped the bonus cards in my review, and I recommend you do the same when you play the game. I've played once with the bonus cards that award rewards for the players who finish the wonders, and I feel they add nothing to the game - instead, they make the game worse in my opinion. According to the legends, the cards weren't a part of Knizia's original design anyway, but even if they were, I think the game is better without them.

Tower of Babel is a subtle game that probably benefits from repeated plays. I enjoy the game, but in the end it's perhaps a bit too subtle: I don't feel the need to get it on the table. If someone suggests this, I'll play, no doubt about it, but as it is, I'm trading my copy away.

End of the Triumvirate box

A review in Finnish of End of the Triumvirate.

End of the Triumvirate is a natural three-player game: one player is Caesar, one is Pompeius and one is Crassus. Unlike in real history, the triumvirate couldn't stop their fighting at the Luca conference, but started a full-blown civil war. Each player is trying to dominate the other two.

The battle is fought on three ways. One is military conquest: the board is divided into 15 regions and each player starts controlling five of them. Conquer four more and you win a military victory. Second way to win is political: game lasts for four years, each one ending in the election of the consul. Become consul twice and you win. Third victory is the competence victory: players advance in political and military competence tracks, get those to maximum and you win.

No extra space

It's a tight fight. There's no useless space on the board, but the players start in full contact. The mechanics are simple: provinces produce either money or legions every other turn (unless a civil servant is present to whip them). Players move around with their characters collecting resources from their provinces, moving legions with them. Step into an enemy province and a fight begins.

War is also simple. Both sides lose as many legions, defending character kills few more and random spice is provided by weapons drawn from a bag. They are cubes that might affect the battle in one way or the other - it's a random element, but the contents of the bag are public and thus you know the odds beforehand.

Actions, actions

Each turn ends in actions. Actions cost gold: more actions you take, more gold it costs, and if you're not leading in competence, you pay even more. Political actions move voters in the consul election, either to you or from other players. Military actions add weapons to the battle bag. You can also increase your competence.

It's a three-way tug of war, pretty much. Anything you can get is taken from another player. Players must form temporary alliances to beat down players close to winning. Games like this can get messy and drawn out, but End of the Triumvirate prevents that. First of all: after four years, someone is voted as consul twice and will win. Probably sooner. Also, when people get more competent, it's rather hard to drop their competence down (it can be done, but it's not easy or fast).


I think the game is rather neat. I'd love to like it, but in the end, I'll have to say it's cool, but not my cup of tea. If you like euro war games with perfect information and lots of interaction and are looking for a game for exactly three players, End of the Triumvirate is an excellent choice.

Hart an der Grenze box

I've written a review in Finnish of Tiukka tilanne rajalla. Here's the same in English - this'll be my 99th review on Geek, one more to go before the magical Golden Reviewer badge!

Hart an der Grenze is a game of bluffing, lying, haggling and negotiating. Players are crossing a border and taking turns acting as a sheriff. The other players stuff their bags full of goodies - legal and illegal - and then declare their contents. The sheriff can choose one player for an inspection.

If sheriff finds undeclared goods in the bag, the player who's caught must pay fines: more for illegal exports, less for legal yet undeclared goods. The undeclared goods are tossed out. Everybody then gets to sell the goods they exported and whoever has most money in the end, wins.

Bribe me!

Well, it's not quite that simple. The player chosen for inspection doesn't need to open their bag, if they can bribe the sheriff. That's pretty simple: after all, if the sheriff catches something nasty, the fines go to the goverment. If sheriff extracts a bribe, that goes directly to the sheriff's pocket. So, bribing is the best way to go for both parties. It's just the exact amount that's the problem...

If players calculate cold-heartedly, this might get quite boring, but fortunately most players rather pay the fines than pay lots of money to the sheriff - even if paying to the sheriff would be a better move. A good sheriff will be able to extract bigger bribes, while a slick haggler will fly cross the border with just few bucks left to line the sheriff's pocket.

Few more twists

There's an interesting alternative scoring. After a full round of everybody being a sheriff, players sell their cards - but they can keep up to three cards. Those wait for the end of the game, which happens after few rounds. In the end, the goods set aside are sold for double price - but only a limited amount can be sold, so it's a bit of a gamble.

There are few more twists, but that's basically it. The game works pretty well, but with more players, it can break down a bit. If all players decide that the risk of getting caught is small enough - and the bribes do work well - they can choose to all put five cards - the maximum - in their bags. That sucks the enjoyment out of the game and will lead to cards running out before the game is over.

Then again, if that happens, the group is probably playing a wrong game and will enjoy something else better. Hart an der Grenze is a light game and best played with a light attitude. If the players can't help but calculate and think about efficiency, the game doesn't work too well.


The game looks gorgeous: it's a small card game in big box, but the bags players get are beautiful tin suitcases. The components work well and look great. In a game like this, presentation is important, so I give this one a full marks on that.

Hart an der Grenze is a good game in a genre I don't love or need that much, thus my lower rating. If you're looking for a light, fun game that works with a group of five or six and features haggling and bluffing, you can't go wrong with Hart an der Grenze.

Fairy Tale

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Fairy Tale box

I wrote a review of Fairy Tale in Finnish.

Fairy Tale is a drafting game with a very superficial fantasy theme. There are four rounds: in the beginning of each, five cards are dealt to the players. Each player takes one card and passes the rest to the next player. Of the four cards they receive, players keep one and pass the rest, and so on, until all players have five cards selected and none left in hand.

Then comes the second part of the round: players play three cards, one by one, revealing their cards simultaneously. The two extra cards are discarded. This is repeated four times, leaving the players with twelve cards played . The player with the most points win. So far so good!

Card tricks

Of course, it's not that simple. The cards have more than points. There are four suits, three of which are practically identical. The cards build up on each other: each suit, for example, has a card that has a value of n, where n is the number of those cards you have in play. There are cards with the value of n*3, where n is the number of certain other card.

Advanced cards bring even more options in the form of conditional cards. With those, you can score large amounts of points, if you can fulfill certain conditions: have most cards in a suit, have certain cards on the table and so on.

It's not that simple, however. You are not guaranteed to keep all your cards! Some cards close other cards: a closed card doesn't score any points, unless you can open it somehow. The fourth suit, shadows, is particularly full of cards that close cards from each player. These cards bring some player interaction to a game that is otherwise fairly solitaire-ish.

Quick and fun

Fairy Tale is a reliable game: unless the players are really, really slow, a game's over in 15 minutes. There's a fairly hefty dose of luck involved and some of the decisions are pretty trivial, I'd say, but it doesn't really matter. There's at least an illusion of control and it's enough. I always have a good time playing the game and choosing my cards. I don't care about the lack of interaction: I'm happy when I'm able to keep an useful card from an opponent every now and then.

I haven't yet tried the game with two players, but the game definitely works with three, four or five players. Many people prefer the partnership game, which is good, but I like the game both ways. Fairy Tale is a perfect opening game while you're waiting for more players to arrive and a perfect end for a session when you have only fifteen minutes left.

Portobello Market

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Box cover: Portobello Market

Review of Portobello Market in Finnish.

Portobello Market won the Hippodice game design competition as East India Railways. Schmidt picked it up, switched the theme and here we have a game set in the London's famous market street. was quick to publish this in Finnish.

Portobello Market seems to be designed for Spiel des Jahres. It's family-friendly, easy and accessible; it plays fast, looks neat and simply works quite well. In the other hand, it might feel a bit too safe and familiar, especially if you're an experienced gamer.

Streets of London

Players try to place their stalls on the streets. Each spot on the streets is worth 1-3 points. Once a street is opened, players must play their stalls in order, so you can't automatically rush to the best spots. When a street is full and the squares in its both ends have a customer on them, the street is scored. There are three kinds of customers: gray servants, pink bourgeois customers and one lord. The combination of customers determines the factor, 1-4, which is then multiplied with the point value of the stalls.

The main ingredient of the game seems to be lack of time. Each turn one can take 2-4 actions, which are used to placing stalls and drawing customers out of a bag (the only random element in the game). Twice during the game you can use your entire turn to score a whole district, which can provide a huge number of points. You want to save the district scoring as late as possible, but if delay it too much, you might miss it.

Quick action

You see, the thing is, the game's over pretty swiftly. Especially with four players, when each player has only a small number of stalls. Once someone places their stalls, the game's over. You can expect about six turns, and that's an awfully small number of turns to have. Since unfinished streets only score if you get the lord to score them, it definitely takes some cooperation with other players to score major points.

There are nice ideas in the game. You can only place stalls where the bobby, street police, is. He moves around, with a point cost you have to pay to other players when you cross the streets where they have a majority of stalls. The bobby placement offers some interesting possibilities.


So, what's good about this? Portobello Market plays fast, has no big random elements, there are some clever ideas and I definitely like the way the game puts on tension by limiting the number of actions. In the other hand, the game does feel a bit like yet another Spiel des Jahres contender. Nothing too special here, really.

While I didn't keep the copy I had, I still recommend this as a quick family game. Experienced gamers probably won't be too excited, but if you have less experience of games and are looking for a quick, easy game that'll still challenge you, Portobello Market is a good choice.

Caylus Magna Carta coverCaylus Magna Carta reviewed in Finnish.

Caylus Magna Carta is the card game version of Caylus, the big hit from 2005. Caylus is a good game, but for some reasons it just didn't work for me that well. One thing is definitely the length: 30 minutes per player is just too long.

Magna Carta definitely fixes that. By removing some of the elements from the board game (royal favours, for example) the game has been shortened to about 15 minutes per player and probably less with experienced players. There's also some new interesting twists that make the game even more attractive than the original Caylus was.


First of all, there are cards. Instead of common pool of buildings, each player has a deck of cards. All decks have the same buildings. You start with three random buildings and can use money to draw more or discard and redraw your hand. That's a good change - sometimes you might end up with bad luck and not have the building you need, but the deck is small and pretty easy to cycle through if necessary.

Otherwise the game's like before: players take turns to build buildings, place workers in those buildings (which costs money) to get resource cubes, which are then used to build new buildings and the castle. The castle is slightly different and works now as the timing device: the game is over when the castle is done.

The tension is there: the resources run out, money is important and tight, you have to pass early to get a chance to earn a gold cube from the castle (the new reward for the best castle builder each turn) and so on. All the good stuff in Caylus is still there.


The only downside I can see is the lack of fifth player. For some reason (I'm guessing this was a handy number of cards to print and adding fifth player would've cost more) the game supports only two to four players. It works with the whole scale, I'd say, but if you're looking for a five-player game, you'll have to look elsewhere (well, it's probably possible to hack, but still).

Since I rarely have five players playing, I don't mind that. To me the shorter playing time that still offers pretty much the same amount of tension and tough decisions to make means that Caylus is now obsolete. Magna Carta is just so much better.

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