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Month: August 2016

Islebound Review

Islebound Review

If you haven’t realized it yet, I realllllly like games that have good art. Not just good art, but art that makes them stand out. I love when I walk past a game being played and stop just to take an extra look at the board or the pieces. One designer whose art style I absolutely love, is Ryan Laukat. If I had copious amounts of money, I would buy his games, just so I had extra boards to hang on the wall. Today’s review is one of his designs.


IsleboundIslebound Box

Designer: Ryan Laukat

Player Count: 2-4 players

Play Time: 60-120 minutes

Islebound is a resource management game published by Red Raven Games, where you are trying to increase your influence over an archipelago. The board is composed of 8 different sections that fit together to make the seascape.

Islebound Board

Each player will have a player board, on which they keep their crew, their goods, their money, and other assorted pieces. On you turn, you travel to a new island where you can do 1 of 4 actions. You can either attack the island, interact diplomatically with the island, visit the island, or hunt for treasure. All islands have an action available that can be performed while visiting, which costs a coin and occasionally exhausting a crew member. These range from getting fish or wood, hiring new crew members, increasing your knowledge or renown, or hiring mercenaries to increase your ability to take over new islands, to name a few. Attacking islands and interacting diplomatically have essentially the same result, where you gain control of the island. You can now visit that island for free and the coins that are payed to visit that island now go to you. Lastly, if you’re running low on cash, you can hunt for treasure, where you take all the coins that everyone has payed to visit unclaimed islands. You can always do free actions, where you buy a building for your seaport or you complete an event in the city you’re in. The winner of the game is the player with the highest renown (most points) at the end of the game.

Things I liked

  • The artwork. Let me once again swiftly tap the deceased steed with my foot…
  • Actions. Overall, attack and diplomacy have the same result, but the way that you do each of them is completely different. In the game I played, I focused on attacking, and it was supremely satisfying to send pirates, sea serpents, and Ichon, King of the Sea Serpents, to attack one of the towns. That being said, you could interact diplomatically and still get a great benefit. It allowed each player to have a different strategy, but the game stayed balanced with neither feeling more powerful than the other.Islebound Seadragons and Pirates

The Sea Dragons and Pirates

  • The Renown Track. As you scored points by doing various actions, you move your tracker up the renown track. Once you reached 7, you got a bonus of more resources, money, etc.…, and then you went back to 0. The more points you scored in that way, the more bonuses you could rack up. It was a really neat way of scoring.
  • End Game Rounds. Once a player triggers the end game, you finish the current round, and then play one more round. It doesn’t seem like a lot of games allow you that much time to set up a big last turn, and that felt good.
  • The characters. This had nothing to do with the game, but the back of all the Islebound characters are printed to be an expansion for Above and Below, another game by Ryan Laukat and my favorite title of his. I’d love to use them in that game.

Islebound A&B crossover

Things I didn’t like

  • The Renown Track. While I like the way the renown track operated, I really didn’t like how it ended. In the game I played, all the renown track bonuses were claimed. Once that happened, it felt like we just needed to hurry up and end the game. There wasn’t really anything else to play for. I’d be curious to know if other people encountered this problem.
  • The buildings. Typically I like games where you can buy buildings that give you cool bonuses, but in this game the bonuses didn’t feel hugely compelling. Coins count as points 1:1 at the end of the game, so you don’t get any benefit from buying buildings other than the bonuses, but they were pretty small for us. I think the most end game points one player scored in our game was 5. And the winning score was 111. The other issue I had was that the buildings were the only timer in the game. Once one player built their eighth building the end game was triggered. But with the buildings not being very attractive, no one was in a hurry to buy them, lengthening the game.

Islebound Buildings

Some of the Buildings

Out of all the games I’ve played by Red Raven Games, this one is near the bottom of their library for me. That being said, it was a lot of fun sailing through the different islands with lots of different choices, but like I mentioned, there were just a few things that didn’t sit with me as well. I still had a lot of fun playing it and hope to add it to my collection one day, but I’m not in a huge hurry to get it on my shelf. Still worth your time to check out, and if you’re a fan of seafaring themes, it should fire on all cylinders for you.

GLG Rating 6.5/10

Making Games Fit

Making Games Fit

When you travel around the country, there are certain limitations on your gaming that you need to impose upon yourself. One of the biggest struggles is what to do with your board game collection while you travel around. Let me start by saying that the thing that takes up the most space while we travel, are our board games. Sure, we take clothes and toiletries, but inch for inch, board games are a definite space hog. Every time my wife and I pack up to head to a new location, we have to decide which games stay and which games go. I don’t want to say it’s like picking between my children, but considering I don’t have kids yet, I’m going to count it. Between job placements, we go back to Michigan where our families are, along with the rest of our belongings.

Then the debate begins.

I’m usually on board with bringing every game we own, but in order to do that, we’d need to buy a much bigger vehicle than we currently have. Thank god for my wife. At that point, she becomes the voice of reason and cuts through my decisions like a hot knife through butter. We usually pair it down to 35-40 games, and then things get serious. This is where my wife goes on the offensive. She’ll take a game, like Dead of Winter for example, which is one of our favorite games, and start pitching why we shouldn’t bring it, saying things like “It will make us more excited to play it the next time,” or “It’s such a popular game that somebody will have to have it where we’re going.” Eventually we pair it down to around 25-30 games. At that point, our creativity has to kick in. We have very few games remaining that have their original insert in the box. We pull any insert that isn’t explicitly necessary. Next comes the reboxing. We packed Race for the Galaxy in the box with Roll for the Galaxy. We were able to not only fit all of Euphoria in its box, but also The Grizzled, Tiny Epic Galaxies, Welcome to the Dungeon, AND No Thanks. Some boxes end up with two large games, and that’s all they’ll fit. In the box for Spector Ops, we also have all the components for Steampunk Rally.

Reboxing Example

Here’s an example of our reboxing. In the box for Royals, we have all of the Royals components, plus Little Devils, Arcadia, and the Codenames box, which contains all the components for both Codenames and Codenames: Pictures (Sorry for the bag glare)

When it’s all said and done, we have a pretty decently sized collection that we’re able to conveniently transport. The games that don’t make the cut usually head to our friend’s houses. We have a few friends back at home that are very involved with our gaming group and we let the gaming group have access to them, while other friends have favorites that they specifically request to hold onto. While it’s difficult to leave games behind, it does give my wife and I something to look forward to when we get back home. We get to rediscover old favorites and there have even been occasions where we have forgotten we’ve even owned a game until we start going through our collection.

Overall, traveling with our own board games has been a lot of fun. We’re forced to decide which games are the ones we want to play and teach, which games we just want to have with us, and which games just aren’t good for traveling. Inevitably, we end up taking more games than we’ll probably play in a 3 month period, but it’s fun to dream. And we never know, but maybe we’ll get through everything we brought and then the next place we go we can take a whole new set. Either way, the important thing is that we get to take a piece of home with us and have fun doing it.

What games would you make sure got to travel along with you?

Onitama Review

Onitama Review

Today’s review is going to be a game that isn’t the style I usually play. Abstract strategy. I tend to be more of an Amerithrash gamer, who also likes a steady dose of Euros. I don’t have the mind or the desire for most abstract strategy games, but this one caught my eye.

OnitamaOnitama Box

Designer: Shimpei Sato

Player Count: 2

Play Time: 10 minutes


Onitama is the 2nd game in the Dice Tower Essentials line of games published by Arcane Wonders. In this game, you have 4 basic pieces and 1 master. The game is played on a 5×5 grid with the 5 pieces lined up on your side of the board, with the master in the center. The game comes with 15 cards that all depict different movement patterns allowed, and you start the game by dealing 2 to each player and 1 face up to the side of the board. These use a grid to tell you which directions, and how far, you can move. The five that you deal are the only movement patterns that will be allowed in the game. On your turn, you move any of your pieces according to one of your movement cards, then you place the movement card you used to the side of the board and take the one that was there previously. Then your opponent does the same. You continue doing this back and forth, swapping the 5 cards between the 2 of you, until one person wins by capturing the other master or moving his master to the opposing master’s start space.

Things I like

  • The production level. This game is one where you can pretty easily say it is over produced, but in a good way. There are many small games that run you anywhere from $20 to $40, and most times I feel jipped with the amount of stuff you get. This isn’t the case here. You get a nice neoprene board, good quality cards, and the pieces themselves are really good quality.

Onitama Figures

  • Varying movement cards. Because you only use 5 movement cards each game, the strategy changes every time. When I learned this game, the man who taught me stated “you can play a best out of 3 series and never use the same card twice.” I like that. The cards can be asymmetrical or very patterned and it feels different with each play.
  • Rotating movement cards. This aspect makes the game a real brain burner. Every time you make a move, you not only have to think about what your opponent can do next, which you can easily see because the cards are left face up, but whatever move you make, you will be giving your opponent after their next turn. It forces you to be forward thinking in a refreshing and different way.

Things I don’t like

  • This game can be punishing. If you make one small mistake and your opponent captures one of your pieces and you can’t get one of his, it feels like you’re at a big disadvantage. This shouldn’t weigh too much on you though, because I’m not good at these games. Maybe this isn’t a factor if you don’t stink. Another nice thing though is that a game takes about 15 minutes so if you’re terrible like me, you can reset soon after.
  • Some of the movement cards. This is probably a nit-picking point, but some of the movement cards are boring. I like some of them, that allow you to jump 2 spaces forward or make diagonal movements, but the ones that allow you to move 1 space laterally or 1 space forward just aren’t as “fun.”


Things I don’t know how to feel about

  • The Box. This is both a major annoyance for me and something that is really cool. It frustrates me. I mentioned that the production quality is awesome. That holds true for the box. The art is fantastic, the finish is great, and the box is held together with a magnetic strip that holds well. But now for the other shoe. I’m a uniformity kind of guy. I like my boxes to be similar in shape and size. The shape of this box drives me crazy. It is roughly a 3.5×3.5 square that stands 10 inches tall. It doesn’t fit anywhere. I don’t own this game, but if I did, I wouldn’t know which shelf to place it on.

Onitama Nasty Box

Ugly Box Shape…

Onitama is a fun game and if you like abstract strategy I think you’d be remiss to leave it out of your collection. At the very least, you have to give it a try. It’s a beautiful looking game that is fun to play and super quick. Both of which are good things when you’re talking about a guy who tends to stay away from abstract strategy. I may even bite the bullet and pick up a copy someday, even though that dang box will throw off my shelf feng shui.

GLG Rating 7.5/10


Onitama Set-up

Back in the Saddle

Back in the Saddle

As I type this post, I’m currently riding in the car while my wife drives us through the flat land of Iowa. It has been a whirlwind of a fortnight. That makes me sound cooler than I am. It’s been a crazy 2 weeks. We have been busy basically nonstop and are now starting the long drive West to Oakland, California, where I start my next placement in the middle of next week. Due to this, I’ve been a little bit MIA. Let me give a quick recap.

From August 2nd to August 7th, my wife and I were in Indianapolis for Gencon. Gencon is the biggest board gaming convention in the United States, and I think I saw that the attendance was around 65,000 people this year. We were volunteering with our friend’s company, Underbite Games, helping demo and present their new digital project, Super Dungeon Tactics. I’ll do a complete post on that game in the future, when it goes live. Not-actually-a-spoiler-alert, but it’s awesome. While at Gencon I was able to connect with some great friends, play some awesome games, and meet some really cool people. I’ve got lots of new and interesting ideas for all new types of content that I’m really excited to share with you all, and that couldn’t have happened without the opportunity to go to Gencon.

We got back from Gencon and spent 2 days washing our clothes and repacking the car before we left for Northern Michigan where we camped from the 10th of August to the 14th. My wife’s father’s side of the family does a large reunion/campout once a year in early August. As they describe it, it’s a weekend of Polacks in the woods. It a fun weekend of camping, relaxing, and getting to catch up with family that is typically only seen once a year.

Both of these events were awesome, but we finished camping on the 14th, went to my parent’s house for a day, and then had 1 day to pack all of our belongings and hit the road.

Like I said. Crazy.

Now that we’re on our way to a little more normalcy, I can get back to things with a little more regularity. I’ll get back on the “1 new blog and 1 new review” per week schedule. I’ll also be spending some time trying to continue to work on the actual format of the website, so expect a few changes, but nothing drastic.

I’ve also got some other small projects coming down the pipeline and things are really getting exciting behind the scenes of the Great Lakes Gamer. I’m excited to continue to grow and develop these projects and share them all with you along the way. Thanks for reading and as always, feel free to comment and let me know what you think!!

D&B TTR Route

P.S. Some awesome friends of ours created this pic to show our route that we are taking to the Bay Area from Grand Rapids!!! It’s not quite exact but it’s as close as you can get, and we loved it!!