Thoughts on Feast for Odin

The Economy of Actions in Feast for Odin

Like most Uwe Rosenberg games, in Feast for Odin, the economy of actions underlies the economy of resources.

Once a player is comfortable with Feast for Odin, and knows its swarming action spaces by heart, it isn’t uncommon for them to conjecture, correctly, that the trick to scoring big is island exploration. In a four player game, with only four islands to go around (even the Feast for Odin mini-expansion may leave one or more players wanting another island), this player will snatch two by the end of round two. This “new expert” at Feast for Odin will view the blank squares on their home board as wasted time, despite its unlockable resources, given the wealth of income and bonus tiles that can be more easily attained by development of exploration boards. After maxing out the bonus tiles on their exploration boards and long houses, this player will swoop back to their home board at the end of the game to tile negative points like mad, easily score over 100 points, and think themselves quite the pro.

That this works fairly well is due to the fact that focusing on exploration boards unlocks not only income and resources, but bonus tiles, so that in one strategic activity you save yourself a veritable knarr-load of actions. Instead of hitting the farmer’s market for your beans, peas, ribs, and fish, you make them through strategically placed tiles during the bonus phase, which saves you half a dozen vikings or more during the game. Once the right tiles are laid, all of these things are produced not only without the expenditure of resources, but without the expenditure of actions. By comparison, focusing on your home board only provides you with building resources, the mead cup, rising income (admittedly a lot of it) and the two square blue runestone. The home board is bonus-poor compared to every exploration board. Shetland is probably the best example of this, as in addition to food items, a clever player–particularly one good at whaling (play with the whaling-sized tiles on Shetland for a solid minute)–can quickly unlock lots of free food tiles plus the extremely useful three square blue cutlery and two square oil tiles, both of which fill in hard to fill spots of your boards. While it’s only a measly four points, Shetland produces scads of bonus tiles, and unlocking its bonuses early, combined with a solid upgrade or longhouse game, will net tons of points by the end of the game. And Shetland is one of the three cheapest islands to get in the game. Looking at the vast potential for scoring that you can tap just in acquiring Shetland is one of the realizations that leads the new expert away from home board strategies, because the home board compares, at least in this aspect, unfavorably compared to the exploration boards.

Once you’ve wrestled with different strategies in solo play, or played a lot of multiplayer, however, you realize that while you’re not improving your score by tiling the lower left quadrant of your home board, and while it’s often quicker to improve your income on the exploration boards, by not focusing on tiling the whole home board, you’re missing out on free resources that will save you valuable actions later, so that you can direct your actions toward other point-scoring activities. That is, if you’ve unlocked the free lumber, free ore, and free stone by round three, then you’re going to get four lumber, four ore, and four stone by the end of the long game. That would fuel two hits of the two-stone, two-wood longhouse / knarr action space, or 44 points, plus possible associated bonus tiles, and the ore, which can tile hard to get spots on your boards, or arm your whaling boats or longships.

Which is not to say that exploration boards are not the key to victory that new experts think they are. Simply that you need to keep your eye on tiling both boards. While I often do focus on my exploration boards first, it is a mistake to think that there’s little point in tiling the lower left quadrant by the midgame, because as I demonstrated, even four free wood and four free stone can score you a lot of points. So if i can swing back to my home board in midgame, I often do this, as it will generate lots of bonus points via the ships / houses action space.

(While they provide no income, because the bonus tiles in long houses can be used to cover the squares in more long houses, acquring long houses can be a quick point generator. Additionally, unlike exploration boards, long houses start with two points, and you can increase them to 12 to 15 points fairly quickly if you have unlocked the right bonus tiles on your exploration boards (things like cabbages, peas, and beans).)

Income is not as important as bonus tiles. You begin to realize this as you use your income primarily to unlock new bonuses prior to bonus phase. You can overdo this, especially in the final rounds, when you shouldn’t be using your 12-20 income you should have by then to unlock bonuses, but to emigrate.

Thoughs on Early Emigration in Feast for Odin

Emigration is generally too expensive in the early game, not only in terms of resources but in terms of actions. In round one, you spent one viking getting two wood and two vikings getting a knarr; how expensive it would seem to discard those resources and actions in the second round, even though the cost at that point is only two coins and two vikings. Most players tend to emigrate toward the mid or late game, after they’ve built up a small fleet of two or three ships, so that they won’t miss the ship taken by the emigration action. Unfortunately, by this point the value of emigration–cheaper feasts–is much lower.

If you’re really good at unlocking your bonus tiles early, and have income left over in the midgame, you may want to think about buying a knarr with coin to emigrate early. 5 coins is five victory points, but you’re turning it into eighteen victory points with the emigrate action, plus cutting down on the feast phase consumption of your valuable bonus tiles. The earliest you do this, the cheapest it is. If you can buy a ship in round two, you pay a total of 7 coins/VP (5 for the knarr and two for the emigration) for 18 VP, and save a total of twelve squares worth of tiles on top of that (one emigration saves, at minimum, a peas or mead, or two squares a round; doing this in round two will save you twelve squares, or more if you’re ever forced into using ribs or cabbages for the feast), so that not only will feeding your vikings be cheaper for the whole game, but you have more resources for upgrades to tile home boards / exploration boards,or if you’re hitting the houses whole hog, your food can go straight inside.

Another way to do this–somewhat cheaper too–is to buy a whaling ship for three coins which you’ve taken from mountain tiles or generated as income, then hit the 4 viking spot, which will upgrade that whaling ship to a knarr, then to an 18 point emigration. Plus, it lets you play an occupation card. It is often a struggle to play an occupation card early, and this is a great way to do this.

Some Interesting Multiplayer Openings with the Four Coin Mountain Strip

A great opening, if the four coin mountain strip is available in round one: 1 viking–four coins from mountain strip, buy whaling ship as anytime action; 1 viking–grab Shetland; 4 vikings–emigrate for 1 coin and play starting occupation card. If you’re lucky enough to have Refugee Helper, you save the coin. If you’re lucky enough to have Sober Man, you get your coin back. (Sober Man is an undervalued occupation card, which not only has good VP but also gives its player a free coin in feast phase, essentially equivalent to a “half-Emigration” for purposes of the feast for the remainder of the game.) There are other valuable starting Occupation cards that are great to have in play early in the game. While you’re heading into round two without any income or bonus tiles, feeding your vikings will be super cheap and you have a head start in victory points (you just got 18 points for 4 coins). You also have shetland, which has the easiest bonuses to unlock. This will also upset the strategy of the whaling-focused player in your group, who tends to get Shetland as their third action (Shetland fills up fast with upgraded whale meat)–you just got it in two.

(If the four coin mountain strip isn’t available in round one, you could still grab Shetland in your second action by grabbing coins from two strips in your first, but you won’t be able to then hit the emigration. You could, however, explore in the first round, and emigrate in the second, after taking the whaling action space too.)

Another great opening contingent on the four coin mountain strip: 3 vikings–grab six coins, one wood and one lumber; anytime action–buy a knarr; 1 viking–grab shetland; 2 vikings–grab Iceland. You could either save the one wood and one lumber for buying a whaling ship in round two, or place the ore on the home board, giving you a 2 income. Otherwise, you have a 1 income just from having Iceland. Unless you plan on doing a lot of the overseas trade actions, you can retire the knarr in round two by emigrating it. If you only have one income, you still have the coin left over after buying the knarr, so there are your two coins for the round two emigrate. If you pick this for your opening round, then in round two you probably want to focus on whaling to unlock the bonuses on shetland, unless you’re lucky enough to draw swords, in which case, go for plundering (in which case, go for two lumber in your first action rather than a lumber and a wood).

The four coin mountain strip has the potential to generate such a significant advantage for player one that skilled groups may consider removing it from play. I would never recommend this, but I read the forums on Board Game Geek, and know what sets off balance-minded tabletop gamers. The lopsided games that might result when these openings become common knowledge will also have the side effect of shaking up players whose games become too staid and stiff, and you could see players start heavy animal strategies, go for the generally less strategic Orkney, Tierra del Fuego, or Faroe, or hog up all the longhouses.

These are, of course, multiplayer openings. In the solo game, there isn’t any urgency in grabbing islands, save the advantage of producing bonus tiles early.

A Feast For Odin

Must-Haves and Atalantean Apples: The Importance of a Want List

In the myth of Atalanta, the runner must conquer her impulses or risk losing the prize. Golden apples, strewn on the race course, delay her from her objective.

Objectives are important in any activity, even hobbies. If you really want a big game like Caverna or Terra Mystica, but never pull the trigger, only to buy dozens or scores of impulse buys at Barnes and Noble, Target, or Amazon, simply because of the convenience, the availability, the bargain or the pretty packaging, you’ll never get closure on your Caverna or Terra Mystica research, and you’ll never have the collection you want, but a kind of Trash Heap that takes the shape of what you didn’t want, and makes your collection more of an adversary than a resource. A bargain that you never wanted isn’t a bargain, it’s an Atalantean Apple. And no matter how many times you pat yourself on the back for your bargains and your accumulation of games, it still won’t shape itself into the collection you want. Unless you change the way you buy games.

The kicker is that all those impulse buys may one day be played with reluctance or regrets, or build a shrink wrapped wall of shame, of virginal games.

In 2019, decide how much you want to spend on games in advance, make yourself a short want list, and try to buy everything on it. Then, make yourself a deal that you won’t buy any other games. Thank me later.


Caverna Play and Strategy Notes, Part I

Caverna: Cave Economics

The main reason why Caverna has so much replay value, despite its Puerto Rico-like sameyness—each reset varying only by player count, and being otherwise identical—is due to the union of several important economies: not only the economy of resources and the economy of food, but, what may be the most important and is definitely the least visible and talked about, the economy of actions.

In Caverna, if you use only the two meeples you start with, you get 22-24 actions depending on the player count. While you can increase this number of actions by reproducing more meeples, it costs many actions to do so, and your first additional meeple is created while other players are creating very important agriculture, animal breeding, or adventuring engines. While it is possible in the opening rounds of a 4+ player game to spend your first five actions to create a new meeple, and thus gain eight actions, it may not be the wisest use of those opening moves, when after your sixth action, you will have to pay five food.

On the other hand, the players who have plodded along with more conservative engine-building moves will soon be envious of your extra actions. By investing your initial actions in a third meeple, you already have four (or six if you went on the Supplies / Growth action, due to the 2 gold) victory points, plus you will have a total of 30-32 actions compared to two meeple caves with 22-24 actions. While you invested five actions to get the extra eight actions, it isn’t like those initial actions were thrown away, as you scored some points, probably tiled your mountain and possibly tiled your forest. Still, when your opponents have armed dwarves, stacks of wheat and pumpkins, an early mine, or a pair of sheep already (which after seven harvests will be nine sheep, and nine VP, assuming they get all the fence and dogs they need) you may feel a little pinched due to the exorbitant cost—not only in terms of food, but in resources, and your limited number of actions—of your third meeple.

The Birds and Bees in Caverna

Unlike many other worker placement games, your meeples don’t get reinforcements, but actually reproduce other meeples. While making these other meeples will be expensive in terms of the economy of actions, typically requiring an investment of five actions to create a meeple that will be around for eight actions, and with a diminishing return on each meeple thereafter, they also come with victory points (three for the dwelling and one for the dwarf).

Unlike Agricola, you can only buy one furnishing room at a time. So there’s no reason why you shouldn’t save for your first dwelling right away, rather than saving enough supplies to buy two at a time, as you do in Agricola.

If your strategy consists of mobbing the board with your meeples, you want this first furnishing room by generation 4 in three players or less; in higher player counts there are multiple places where your meeples can reproduce, so you could even get your materials earlier if you can. In four players, the soonest you can build a dwelling is by generation two. 3 Lumber + Growth action + Drift Mining + Furnish Dwelling. This will mean you can have three meeples by generation three, although this will also mean that you will need five food for your first harvest, so your second action in generation three will be to get food or rubies.

In three players, it is difficult to get your first dwelling before generation three, and you can’t make the meeple until generation four.

Unfortunately, if you rush to your first dwelling this way, you’re bypassing other important early game opportunities, like setting up wheat and vegetable agriculture, or animal breeding.

The Wood Economy

While there are many resources in Caverna, none are more important than food, your buffer from getting negative victory points, but the secondmost important resource is wood.

Most things worth positive victory points in Caverna have a wood complement, which means that one essential struggle is getting wood. When in doubt, grab logs. You not only need wood for dwellings (to make more meeples, so wood directly feeds into your economy of actions), and other furnishing rooms, but for fences to hold your sheep, donkeys, boars, and cows.

If your goal is to make three dwellings and build three large fences, that’s twenty-four wood. If you’re lucky enough to get the carpenter round one, you still need eighteen wood. If your first furnishing room is the wood supplier, you still need seventeen wood from action spaces, and you’ll have to wait for the others to trickle in. This pile of lumber doesn’t include what you need for other strategic furnishing rooms.

Hitting the wood often is also a good way to make sure that your more opportunistic opponents, who like to wait for stuff to build up, never get enough wood until late in the game, when it isn’t worth nearly as much to start amping up their economy of actions or animal breeding.

Competition for the highly consumable wood resource in Caverna is one of the things that takes it out of the multiplayer solitaire model and into true competitive multiplayer. The other competitions that can arise in Caverna are very situational, such as when two or more players 1) arm dwarves and compete for the limited adventuring action spaces, 2) desire heavy agricultural engines, or 3) have read the same articles on Board Game Geek and think they know the must-have furnishing rooms. (There are no must-have furnishing rooms.)

The Stone Economy

By comparison, you only need nine stone for three dwellings, plus one more for each stable you need to contain your animal population. You will easily get this much just by laying five double mountain tiles, so there’s usually no urgency in stone acquisition like there is in getting enough wood. If you buy the stone cutter first (-1 stone per dwelling / furnishing room / stable, making stables free), you only need a total of six stone for the entire game, two of which you get from the stone cutter, so you’d better get the stone storage spot next, as you’re going to end the game with a heap of otherwise useless stone if you simply lay down all of your mountain tiles.

Even if you don’t have the stonecutter or the stone supplier, you’ll get the stone you need for your dwellings, furnishing rooms, and the occasional stable simply by tiling your mountain.

Any urgency in acquiring stone in Caverna is a side effect of competition for the two mountain tiling action spaces. So long as you’re not one of the ones excluded from grabbing mountain, you’ll have more than enough stone.

Mayfair Games Caverna: The Cave FarmersCaverna: The Cave Farmers – The Forgotten Folk Expansion

Terraforming Mars Colonies

Terraforming Mars Colonies Preorders (U.S./Can/Mex) Open At Stronghold Games

Stronghold Games has opened preorders on their website for Terraforming Mars: Colonies. Preorder purchasers enjoy a free shipping coupon code (U.S.) or a discounted shipping code (CAN/MEX), listed in the description of the item.

Here’s the link:

While you’re on Board of Life, check out my Terraforming Mars posts.

Great Western Trail

Great Western Trail: Play and Strategy Notes, Part I

Great Western Trail: The Overture

Having become ensconced in a group of hardcore Eurogamers, you’ve arrived for your first play of Alexander Pfister’s Great Western Trail. Bragging a strong Board Game Geek rating (currently #10), and enthusiastic players who not only love to play this game, but see how many different ways they can deconstruct the gameplay, you’re curious about how well Great Western Trail could possibly hold up. Surely, with so many games co-opting the medieval or fantasy theme, a tabletop Euro with a Wild West backdrop can’t be all that, can it?

You’ve seen bigger boards; heck, you’ve assembled bigger Catan worlds in Seafarers and Explorers and Pirates. Nonetheless, it’s a majestic sheet of cardboard covered with cryptic iconography that looks like it might have been recovered by Colonel O’Neill through the Stargate. An experienced Euro player, your mesmerization disintegrates as you absorb the game’s language, and become hungry to play.

While much of Great Western Trail is very fresh, you can’t help but notice traces of other tabletop games. And the comparisons aren’t always flattering. While your first trip to Kansas City is uphill Chutes & Ladders, with a deckbuilding twist from Dominion, by your second trip, players have unloaded their toll properties, and your second trip reminds you a bit of Monopoly, albeit with the added possibility of choosing to throw yourself in river rapids, deserts, or sharp, vulture-covered rocks to avoid paying rent to other players.

Then the Great Western Trail veteran, after a few slow crawls to Kansas City, starts pounding discs down in rodeo-worthy gallops across the board, skipping so many cash and point generating opportunities that you wonder at the game’s end less how they won than what in tarnation did you just play?

Movement, the Cattle Economy, and Skydiving Cowboy Meeples

Great Western Train opens with two to four players receiving fourteen (14) monochrome discs, one (1) choo-choo meeple of the same color, one (1) cowboy meeple, one (1) starting objective, 14 (14) cattle cards, one (1) player sheet encoded with sufficient iconography that one could either a) reverse engineer the game or b) summon Cthulhu. If a player can do anything not encoded on this sheet, it’s encoded on a building tile or the board.

Having placed their discs on their spots on the player sheet, shuffled their cattle cards, then drawn four, each player takes their initial turn by placing their cowboy meeple on any building tile and performing the action allowed by the tile. While this will usually be the first tile, as you start the game resource-poor, and it’s good not to miss any opportunities initially, your cowboy meeple is a skydiving cowboy meeple (my term, not Alexander Pfister’s), able to choose any building tile at all for your opening move. So if your opening cattle card hand is a perfect hand of four different cows (more on that later), you could start right next to Kansas City, and be the first one to have a crack at the second row of workers (a good strategy if you want Cowboys and they’re all in the second worker row). So–never, never forget that you start with a skydiving cowboy meeple; like the pawn’s en passant in chess, it may rarely be used, but every now and then that ability to jump forward in your opening move should be enjoyed.

For their second turn, each player moves their cowboy a certain number of tiles. While all cowboys can move at least three tiles if they choose, often a player will only move their cowboy only one tile, because skipped tiles equal skipped opportunities; that said, it should be obvious that in any timed game the winner’s speed controls the available opportunities for all players. No, there is no timer in the box; Great Western Trail‘s timer is concealed in the Job Market on the left side of the board. Every trip to Kansas City pumps out more workers, and every dip in the worker row moves the game closer to its conclusion. While it’s fun to play Great Western Trail as Slowpoke Rodriguez, hitting every stop, Speedy Gonzales can win this game if you let him, as while you’re taking every available opportunity, he’s eliminating the stops that don’t feed into his strategy. While Slowpoke is selling that cow for $2, Speedy has the first crack of the $5 workers, and Slowpoke’s extra $2 are counter-productive when they arrive at the worker row and find nothing cheaper than $8.

As Great Western Trail progresses, and more building tiles enter the game, your move becomes less powerful, because you don’t count board spaces, you count building tiles. Moreover, many of these tiles cost a toll to pass, paid directly to the owning player. Unlike Monopoly, there are alternate routes in Great Western Trail. Not only are there diverse city routes that might be more or less hospitable to you, but there are hazard routes, which charge a toll payable to the bank, so that you can at least not enrich your competitors with your hard-earned play money. Also, it is possible to improve your movement rate as the game progresses.

To make money, you discard a cattle card of the right color, which pays in dollars indicated on the building tile. So if the building tile says “discard a green cow and gain $2,” and you have no green cows, you don’t get income on that tile. If you do, you discard it, and at the end of your turn, you draw up from your cattle card deck until you have a full hand. If all of your cattle cards are in your personal discard pile, then you shuffle them and draw up. In such a way, the contents of your hand are always changing. At the start of the game, you have access to four of your fourteen cattle cards, each one of which has a variable value when trading at building tiles, and when arriving at Kansas City. As the game progresses, you can expand your cattle hand to five or six cards by moving discs from your player sheet, and you can buy new cows with not only victory points but higher dollar values, so that you can hit more valuable deliveries, thus scoring even more victory points. Once you’ve played Great Western Trail a few times, it should be obvious that one of the primary keys to victory is buying tons of cattle cards, not only for their victory points, but for the additional victory points unlocked by powerful deliveries, as well as the objective cards contingent on cattle cards. Not that it’s the only powerful strategy, but it’s a good one, and probably the easiest for a newbie to latch onto: hire cowboys, buy cattle cards, make deliveries, get cattle card objectives, then toss that point salad ad infinitum.

What’s a delivery, you ask? When you arrive at Kansas City, you count the numerical value of each different colored cattle card in your hand to determine your breeding strength, select a city with a numerical value equal to or less than that, drop a disc from your player board on that city (also uncovering a new ability on your player sheet) if you have not delivered to it before (with the exception of Kansas City and San Francisco, which can be delivered to an unlimited number of times), then receive cash equal to your breeding strength minus the distance between your train and that city. (Breeding strength can also be modified by certificates, which I’ll more or less ignore today, except to say that you should grab these when you can).

Oh yes, trains. Some building tiles allow you to move not your cowboy meeple, but your train. As your train advances on the track, it allows you to unload additional discs from your player sheet, thus unlocking more covered abilities, plus adding points to your point salad at game end. Most importantly, there are five bonus tiles on the train track, and these go first come, first serve. While three of these are so-so, two are very strong: one which gives you a bonus point for each worker on your sheet, and another which gives you three points for each pair of certificates, temporary or permanent. While the others usually score from three to six bonus points, these two can easily be worth ten or more points each, plus the associated points from the disc drop.

A Word on “Weight”

Some tabletop gamers might get scared off by the weight (complexity) assigned by Board Game Geek, and I’d like to stress here that while Great Western Trail does have a new iconographic language for you to learn, it’s only a little harder to assimilate than the language of 7 Wonders, and, in my opinion, more intuitive than the symbology of Castles of Burgundy. Learning the language of Great Western Trail will take you about ten minutes if you’re familiar with eurogames, and about twenty minutes if you’re not, but have a good teacher that’s less interested in an easy victory than in creating new Great Western Trail players. If your introducer is of the “sink or swim” variety, that snickers and tells you that you’ll learn it as you go, you will still learn it by the end of the game, although this is probably the worst way to learn Great Western Trail.

While Terraforming Mars and Caverna have BGG weights similar to Great Western Trail, the latter is by far the easiest to pick up. Don’t be intimidated by this great game.

That said, if you insist on learning Great Western Trail from its hermetic rulebook, heaven help you. While this is the way that I learned the game, I would never recommend it, as the rules were compiled not by grammar and logic, but by fashion sense, as if the writer inserted paragraphs where they would bling the best. You’re best off having Great Western Trail taught to you, or using online resources.

Texan Point Salad

Great Western Trail is a point salad game, which means that, like 7 Wonders and many other euros, it comes with a score sheet you use to count up all the generated points. You get points not only for deliveries, but for cattle cards, stations, station bonus tiles, building tiles, hazard tiles, dollars, and objectives.

With this dynamic, you would expect that there are many paths to victory in Great Western Trail. While this is theoretically true, the game’s bias leans toward a few basic strategies, which I will call Cattle Bandit, Boxcar Tycoon, and Rail Baron.

With Cattle Bandit, you’re mainly hoarding Cowboys and Cattle Cards, and getting whatever incidental victory points that will round out that beefy sandwich. While this is a great strategy for newbies, it’s limited by the relatively few high point cows in the deck, unless you’re extremely good at disciplining yourself not to sightsee along the trail, and always moving your maximum move, so as to rush the game. Cattle Bandit must rush the game to win, and it’s extremely desirable to have four or more Cowboys.

With Boxcar Tycoon, you’re also buying Cattle Cards, but only until you have a great deck that will allow you to cram as many discs as you can into San Francisco (9 victory points each). Trimming your deck, by the ability unlocked in the bottom left of your player sheet, often goes hand in hand with this strategy. If you also pick up all of the San Francisco objective cards, that makes each of those deliveries worth a total of fourteen points each (9 for the disc, and 5 for the card).

With Rail Baron, you’re hiring all of the Engineers that you can and dashing for the station master bonus tiles and the big victory points just past the kink in the tracks. Rail Baron may be better off leaving the three mediocre station master bonus tiles for the other players, grabbing the two that count for the most, and heading for those big points on the right-hand side. If you’re lucky enough to get a lot of engineers, note that the first five stations are only worth 9 VP total, while the next five are worth 35 VP. You won’t have time to stop at all of them in a typical game of Great Western Trail, so it’s better to get the bonus tiles you want, race for the right-hand side, then use the “teleportation” ability unlocked at the end of the track to get a few of the cheap ones you missed. It’s easy to grasp that the Rail Baron has the potential to be the best strategy, as they’re not also enjoying the largest point salad, they’re also unlocking more of their player sheet with their grind on both the train and delivery tracks. That said, this strategy is vulnerable; just as Cattle Bandit must rush the game, Rail Baron usually only has time to deliver to six of the ten stations, at most, and they must pick which ones they want the most. Also, if Rail Baron gets greedy, and goes for all the bonus tiles, they play the rest of their game relatively worker-poor compared to the other players. (Every time you take a station master bonus tile, you must permanently station one of your workers on that spot.) It’s better to grab the two strategic ones and head for the right hand side, where the big VP don’t require the loss of a worker to acquire.

Note that all of these strategies are actually strategic foci, so that Cattle Bandit and Boxcar Tycoon are also moving their train and Rail Baron is also buying cows and making deliveries. You can’t be a Great Western Trail Rail Baron without playing Great Western Trail. But these strategic thrusts are so distinguishable that you can soon differentiate between each of these play styles.

Great Western Trail Board GameGreat Western Trail: Rails to the North (Erweiterung)

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The Tabletop Bestiary: The Monsters and The Cheaters

The Monsters

The Terrorist

Given a choice between scoring five points, or one point for themselves and making every opponent lose two, the Terrorist will always choose the latter, and as there is no logical reason for this behavior, we can only conclude that the Terrorist feeds on these negative energy blasts. At some point in the Terrorist’s gaming career, their victory wires were crossed, so that they either 1) truly believe that creating a one point deficit across the board compared to a five point deficit is better for them, or 2) are nourished not by a victory dance but by sinister chuckles.

The Tiptoe Terrorist

Like the terrorist, the Tiptoe Terrorist prefers attacking opponents to scoring points for themselves, but due to a greater timidity, will look for a weaker attack, or better yet, make a play that inconveniences their opponents more than sabotages them, such as blocking, or strategically depleting a resource to undermine an opponent’s following play.


The showboater prefers the tactical to the strategic, and will sacrifice long term gains in order to score quick points. If the showboater has a choice between playing Physics Complex (2 VP / turn, potentially, and science resources are less vulnerable than animals and microbes) along with Pets (invulnerable animal VP), or placing a city, they will pick the latter, because it looks cooler to tile the board, and adds some theater to their turn. The showboater detests endgame scoring, and as they will pour all their energy into the visible VP track and game board scoring, eschewing any covert or postmortem VP opportunities, you can easily win against Showboater by dogging their tracks in terms of visible VP scoring and latching onto all the endgame opportunities that will swing the score in your favor.


Because the packrat is a poor planner, they hoard things more accidentally than intentionally, such as the Splendor player who often has four green chips without a single bit of green on the tiers of available cards. Packrat wonders why they lose when they always have resources, when other players can see that the Packrat saved lugnuts when they should have been saving nuts.


Unlike the packrat, the packdragon is an intentional miser that sees hoarding as a way to cripple their opponents; said player in Splendor sees green everywhere on the available tiers, starts by saving two green, then adds a green to this fund every round, and never spends green if they can help it, so that the rest of the table has to make do without green for most of the game.

The Cheaters

The Cardsquatter

Cardsquatters are not only the most common monster in the tabletop bestiary, but it appears to be a kind of lycanthropy contracted by playing Settlers of Catan.

If you have ever sat on a portion of your resource cards to save them from the robber, you are unfortunately a victim of the Cardsquatter curse. That it is an irrational disease that attacks the wits can be seen in that Cardsquatting is rarely necessary behavior when there are four diverse projects upon which to spend your resources.

Cardsquatters are rarely seen outside of Settlers of Catan, so the best way to avoid them is to put different games on your table.

The Moneydiver

No matter how much space you allocate between the bank and The Moneydiver, they are adroit at making McDuck-worthy leaps into the coin stash.

Both the Moneydiver’s tendency towards impatience and their ability to bank-hover leads them to dash in 22 MCR for a 23 MCR tree. As The Moneydiver thinks that speed equals concealment, once you have spotted a Moneydiver, you can rest assured that any quick motions towards the bank are hustles one way or the other.

Moneydivers also like to lean back in their deck chair and forget to pay for things.


Like the Moneydiver, only with a Gollum-like tenacity, Stickyfingers makes gradual, tiny withdrawls throughout the game.

Stickyfingers also likes to exchange cards in play with cards in draft when they think no one’s paying attention. To Stickyfingers, all game materials are fair game at any time, making any game a very different beast.

When playing against Stickyfingers, due to Stickyfingers’s compulsive cheating, you only ever win playing Stickyfingers’s game. As the game on the table is so obscured by Stickyfingers’s deception, that game is never won or lost when Stickyfingers’s manipulations are in play. Settlers of Catan played with Stickyfingers becomes Stickyfingers Settlers of Catan at best, or, at worst, simply Stickyfingers.

While you don’t need a Ring of Power or Sting to defeat Stickyfingers, you do need a subtle mind capable of threading a way to victory through the many posers caused by adjusting your strategy to the ever-adjusting riddle of how to win against Stickyfingers. The temptation to cheat yourself should be resisted, as we know very well how hobbits can easily slide into gollumses with the temptation of an easy win.

Level Ten Stickyfingers, on the way back from a bathroom break, makes a withdrawal from a spare copy of the game, or another game with similar resources.


The cardswapper seems harmless at first glance, and is difficult to detect, as their powers are activated by your trust. In any game where new cards are dealt, the Cardswapper sees the new cards not only as new point-scoring opportunities, but as a chance to rid themselves of uncompleteable and unplayable cards while you’re paying attention not to them, but to your own cards and your own strategies. Cardswappers are hence very common in games like Ticket to Ride, in which the Cardswapper wants not so much new routes to complete, but a screen by which he can pass back the two blocked routes he claimed earlier. Due to rising global requirements, Cardswappers are also common in Terraforming Mars. A variant of Cardswapper also likes to double dip in 7 Wonders by mingling the hand they’re passing with the hand they’re receiving, whenever you afford them the opportunity by taking a few extra moments to select a card.


The Meeplemitt can’t keep their hands off of the Meeples, or the wooden discs used on score tracks. When the Meeplemitt earns two points, they like to move the Meeple four spaces, or even more depending on how audacious their Meeplemittery. In endgame scoring, the Meeplemitt’s hands keep fidgeting and darting toward the markers, so that you’re wondering how a player moved from 36 to 50 with nine points of Milestones and Awards.

Co-Op Cardswapper

The Co-Op Cardswapper is an unusual two-headed beast that sees no problem in playing all games cooperatively. Usually a codependent couple, one of the heads in the Co-Op Cardswapper will pass points, coins, cards, or other point-scoring opportunities under the table to their spouse, which is the other head, once it becomes clear that there is no longer any way they can achieve victory by themselves, but might arbitrarily confer it on their spouse by a sneaky pooling of resources.

Co-Op Cardswappers are, suprisingly, the most troublesome Cheater on the list, for they have rationalized this behavior and feel unconflicted about it. “These are my points, cards, and coins to play, so why shouldn’t I pass them to my better half?” It never enters their minds, or at least never triggers an ethical response, that allowing one player access to the resources of two players not only puts the hard-fought victory into the lap of any player, no matter how poorly planned their strategy, making the time invested in the game meaningless (and makes the Co-Op Cardswappers feel or look really, really dumb if they still manage to get beat while giving themselves such a ridiculous advantage), but also distorts the game into something unrecognizable by the game designer.


If you recognize yourself in more than one Tabletop Monster, or feel yourself to be a different Monster depending on the game, this is normal, as gamers have a touch of lycanthropy and have learned to change their roles and adapt their strategies due to the fluidity that comes from playing so many games. So you can be a Showboater in Terraforming Mars and a Tiptoe Terrorist in Settlers of Catan and that is perfectly normal. Some games, like wildlife preserves, nuture different breeds of Tabletop Monsters, so that when a player says they prefer this or that game to another, what they’re really saying is that it is a prefrrable habitat for their preferred Monstrous behavior. Alternatively, a Terrorist may dislike a game like Munchkin, for instance, because said game is a habitat that brings out the Terrorist in everybody and reduces the value of Terrorist behaviors, as everyone is doing it.

However, if you recognize yourself in more than one Cheater, it may be your inferiority complex that you’re pushing around these games, not a Meeple. Despite their slightly more inocuous name, the cheaters are more destructive and parasitic than the Monsters. While the Monsters are killer strategists, the Cheaters are time parasites that see no problem in making a one, two or three hour game meaningless by adding or subtracting to the score as they see fit. Even if you win, playing games of any length with a cheater feels like time you will never get back. While defeating Monsters will make you a better player, defeating Cheaters results in a conflicted victory, as the cheating player was stealing resources and opportunities that your honest competitiors deserved. Even if you get a rush from knowing that your skill was able to surmount the point cushion stolen by a cheater, your win is undermined by the knowledge that things would have played out differently withiout the arbitrary advantages awarded to themselves by the cheater. (With cheaters that lurk until endgame scoring, the cheater devalues the efforts of all the players by levelling their game arbitrarily.)

Monsters are also only in-game behavioral sets, while Cheaters are real-world monsters, for cheating signifies bad character in the real world. They who are faithful in little are faithful in much, and someone who can’t be trusted to play a board game without cheating can’t be trusted.

Never Nerf, Never Buff

Imagine that you’re twelve years old, and invited to your friend’s house to play your favorite video game in the world. You arrive to discover that your friend has hacked the video game to deliver the game in the way that supports their personal style of play, or to buttress their arbitrary vision for “balancing” the game. While you’re in admiration of your friend’s hacking skills, you can’t play your favorite video game in the way that it was created.

Imagine that you’re invited over to a friend’s house, only to find that there are plastic bag dispensers taped above every doorknob and drawer handle with the expectation that you use them to prevent the transmission of your cooties. Moreover, all the sharp corners in the house are covered with Nerf foam, and, to put a cork in it, your friend asks you to cut a bag of artichokes, or a mango, or some other particularly resilient fruit or vegetable, and presents you with a butter knife. You ask for a sharp knife only to be told that there are no sharp instruments in the house for safety reasons.Then, when you get particularly flustered, you go to the bathroom to check yourself, or reapply, only to discover no mirror. While you’re pondering the reason for this, you sit down to take a well-deserved crap for this crapfest, reach for the toilet paper, and touch air. There’s a bidet! WTF? This isn’t France!

Imagine that you are reading Harry Potter for the first time. Having finished the sixth book, you head to one library and bookstore after another for the seventh, only to discover that some well-meaning critic/fanfic writer has sliced out the last forty pages of all copies of the book to insert their “better” ending.

Homebrew versions of board games and nerfed and buffed cards or rules are just as ludicrous.

(If you’re unfamiliar with the words nerf and buff as they’re applied to gaming, you can find a basic definition through this link.)