It’s that time again!

The sound of thousands of wallets, credit cards, and bank accounts crying out in terror.

Bones 4 has begun!

 

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Narthrax WIP

I’ve been painting miniatures almost from the start of my life as a gamer, so about 25 years at this point. I’ve painted hundreds of miniatures of all different types over the years, but until recently, I could literally count on one hand how many dragons I had completed. Sure, I have a bunch still sitting unassembled, some more that are assembled and even primed, and a few more that I’ve started but never finished; but actual painted dragons that have gotten their coat of sealer are rare in my collection. Note that I’m not even counting finished bases. If we add in that parameter, the number shrinks down… to one or two.¹ So, it is with much excitement that I share this WIP of my newest  completed dragon miniature, Narthrax.

Narthrax debuted during the Bones 2 Kickstarter and is one of my favorite minis from that bunch. Besides being a rare specimen of a completely finished dragon, this mini also represents a couple of firsts for me, which I will point out in the WIP.

 

Assembly & Prepping
Narthrax comes in six pieces and is simple to assemble. The pieces fit together so extremely well that I didn’t need to do any gap-filling!

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After gluing him together, I added a base from Secret Weapon Miniatures, which I’m using it for its size and shape; the surface details are all going to be covered up shortly. To make Narthax more impressive, I added a customized 3D printed rocky base, making Narthrax the first miniature I’ve completed that incorporates printed elements. It’s not a tall piece, but even the slight increase in height and overall bulk makes a fairly dramatic difference.

 

 

Placing the printed section directly on top of the sculpted details of the Secret Weapon base left a large gap around the perimeter since it doesn’t fit flush. I filled in most of it using caulk, but I left a significant part of it open on the rear side, which will come into play when I finish the base work.

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Caulk is a faster, cheaper, easier solution than greenstuff in situations like this.

 

After adding the caulk, I applied sand over much of the base to give it more texture. This not only makes it more visually interesting and appealing, but it also helps disguise the fact that the lower part of the rocky base is a separate addition.

 

 

Priming & Basecoating
The normal rules for priming don’t apply to Bones miniatures. Unlike other minis (even other plastic ones), spray primer doesn’t typically work because the plastic that’s used for Bones minis usually reacts with spray primers and takes an extremely long time to dry (up to several weeks, as I learned early on). The best way to prime them is using the Liners from Reaper’s Master Series.² For whatever reason, their chemical properties cause them to adhere amazingly well to the plastic used for Bones.

Planning ahead, I used Blue Liner as this would work best with the color I’ll be using for the base coat. The airbrush worked like a dream for this in terms of cutting down time and eliminating visible brush strokes. Priming also results in all of the various basing elements having a more cohesive look.

 

This version of Narthrax is going to be a black dragon. Without getting into a scientific explanation, in nature, colors that we perceive as “black” are rarely, if ever, truly black; in reality, they’re actually very dark shades of brown or blue. Using a pure black on Narthrax would appear too harsh and unnatural, so I went with Nightmare Black (Reaper Master Series). At full strength, it has a virtually imperceptible bluish cast, although the blue becomes readily apparent when it’s thinned down. Using the airbrush, I applied this as the basecoat over the entire model. Another first: using the airbrush for significant portions of work on a model, and not just for priming.

 

 

Painting
Ok, so I’ve technically started painting in the last step, but I’m calling this section “painting” since I’m getting into it proper now, not just priming and basecoating. I decided to finish painting the base before turning my attention to Narthrax himself.

At this point, the Pareto Principle is in full effect. The bulk of the work still remains, but the effects, despite having a noticeable impact on the finished mini, will be fairly subtle for the most part (with the exception of what I’m going to do to finish the base, once painting is entirely finished). It’s difficult to see in the photos, but I added a wash of purple (RMS Royal Purple, I think) to the top and underside of the wings at this point to give them more depth. The purple is also in a similar part of the color spectrum as Nightmare Black, so it adds more color while still having Narthrax read as a black dragon.

 

 

Next, I built up highlights over the entire mini using the Dark Elf Skin (RMS) paint triad, a series of grays with a slight hint of purple — perfect for highlighting the other colors I’ve used so far. I drybrushed all three colors at full strength over the scales, claws, spikes, and horns, with increasing amounts of pure white paint added to Dark Elf Highlight for the brightest highlights. I pushed the highlights even farther on the claws, spikes, and horns, drybrushing more layers until I was eventually using white with just a tiny amount of Dark Elf Highlight. The drybrushing was by far the most time-consuming part of painting this mini.

 

 

The last phase of painting was finishing the eyes and mouth, and touching up mistakes. I still hate painting eyes.

I used a few layers of various RMS ivory colors on the teeth, touched off with a final highlight of RMS Linen White, to give them a more yellow tone in order to differentiate them from the other light-colored spiky bits on the other parts of the mini.

Painting now complete, I gave the entire model a couple of light coats of matte spray sealer, followed by a light dusting of a semi-gloss sealer on Narthrax himself to make his scales a little shiny.

 

Basework
I really tried to go to town finishing the base. I used a variety of basing materials, starting with a layer of flock, followed by clumps of Super Turf, and finishing with various colors of grass tufts. Finally, in yet another first for me, I applied several layers of Woodlands Scenics Realistic Water to the gap on the rear side of the base to simulate a small stream flowing from under the rock (told you I had something planned for this part!). I’ve only just started using it in the past few months, but so far Realistic Water has proven to be some really cool stuff! I’ve been pleased with the results I’ve gotten on terrain pieces I’ve tried it on, and I really like how it looks here.

 

Closing Thoughts
This was a really fun mini to paint. I rarely paint multiple display-quality versions of the same mini, but I could see myself painting another Narthrax in a different color at some point. There’s an enormous number of dragon miniatures available. Many of them are really good, but Narthrax is one that stands out to me for a number of reasons. He’s big enough to be impressive, but not so big that he’s unwieldy — in terms of both for painting and for gaming. There are many dragon miniatures that are impressive if for no other reason than their size, but they’re too large to be used as realistic foes for anyone but the most powerful adventuring parties. Narthrax could represent a fair challenge to adventurers of various levels. And I love his dynamic pose and the sense of motion that’s captured in his sculpt. It makes it tricky to find a good angle for a picture that captures everything, but it makes it a really interesting sculpt in real life.

I haven’t painted many miniatures in the past few years, and it’s been even longer since I painted one that I’ve been this pleased with.

 

 

 

 

1. In case you’re wondering:

  1. The plastic dragon from the old Dragon Strike board game, painted as a black dragon. I used silver paint for his teeth and claws which I thought looked really cool at the time!
  2. Red Dragon II from the old “Dragon Lords” line from Grenadier — made of lead!
  3. The White Dragon from Ral Partha’s AD&D minis line — the only one with a completely finished base as well!
  4. The Black Dragon (anyone else seeing a pattern here?), also from Ral Partha’s AD&D line, sub-categorized under the “Council of Wyrms” line of miniatures.
  5. The limited edition Ral Partha Dracolich. (Yeah, I was a pretty big Ral Partha fan back in the day). I painted the integrated base, but I never added a decorative base, which I think it really deserves, so while it could technically be considered fully finished, it could still use some more work.

2. As originally discovered and reported by one Buglips *the* Goblin, if memory serves correct.

Some Thoughts on Bones 3

Reaper Miniatures Bones III was a project to continue the expansion of  Reaper's Bones line of high-quality plastic gaming miniatures.

It’s here! It’s finally here!

 

After the typical Kickstarter delays, my rewards from the Bones 3 Kickstarter came in last week. This isn’t a knock on Reaper or any other Kickstarter creator, by the way — timelines for bringing new products to market are notoriously difficult to manage since any bump in the supply chain can have significant ramifications further down the line, regardless of who’s responsible for causing said bumps. And this doesn’t even take into account the added difficulty of not even knowing how much product is actually going to be needed at the time a delivery estimate is set. All in all, if a creator manages to fulfill shipment on a Kickstarter project of this magnitude within six months of their delivery estimate, I’d say they made a pretty good guess, and even being off by a year isn’t too unreasonable, frankly.

Now that I’ve had the chance to spend some time inspecting the goods and enjoying these new additions to my collection, I figured I’d share some of my thoughts on some of the minis that stood out to me. Note that none of the minis in my photos have been glued together, just dry-fitted. Some of them stay together well enough without glue to take photos, whereas other ones can’t be fully assembled without glue (looking at you, dragons). If you want more photos and preview pics, just check the Kickstarter page.

Core Set
The usual mixed bag of exciting and mediocre, new sculpts and metal conversions. Of course, “exciting” to some people is often “mediocre” or “bland” to others, and vice-versa. I imagine it must be incredibly challenging trying to decide which minis to include in the Core Set for each Kickstarter. On the one hand, you want to have minis that have a broad appeal to bring in more backers, but you want to avoid making everything too generic for the exact same reason, and Reaper does a good job in this regard.

It could be due to me getting more into Games Workshop lately, or because of my changing interests since backing this Kickstarter nearly two years ago; or it could simply be that I’m pretty much glutted on minis in general. Whatever the reason, I’m less interested overall in the contents of this Core Set than I was in the previous two. There are a good number of minis in here that I like, just fewer of them on the whole. This is probably more an indicator of where I am currently because like I said, I think Reaper did a good job with the mix. Or, it could be that they were too spot-on with their choices because out of all of the ones that are conversions from metal sculpts, it turns out that I already own most of them.

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It was either this, or a picture of a big pile of jumbled white plastic minis still in their individual bags. Either photo would have been just as useful for showing you what’s inside.

Goremaw
For those times when your ordinary, garden-variety purple worm just won’t do, or for when even an already impressively huge one still isn’t enough; for those times when the DM wants to add a TPK to their list of accomplishments or wants to let their players know exactly how much they’ve pissed them off, there’s Goremaw. There isn’t much more that needs to be said about this beast. This is the purple worm cranked up to 11, the Shai-Hulud cross-bred with Satan. Keep him on your shelf where he’ll provide a menacing presence as he looks down on your players, but don’t actually plop him down on your table unless you’re willing to let them know just what a malicious SOB you are.

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Size comparison with the D&D Minis Purple Worm. It used to seem like a fairly impressive mini, up until about a week ago.

 

Froghemoth
A great example of how much Reaper responds to their customers and fans. The Froghemoth is a classic D&D monster, dating back to nearly the earliest days of the game. While many of Reaper’s fans may have at least a passing familiarity with this beast’s pedigree, I’m sure that for a lot of them, it will simply be a bizarre, misshapen, vaguely reptilian, tentacled monster. Reaper could have chosen to fill this stretch goal with a mini that would have had broader appeal, but instead they chose to listen to their fans who were clamoring for them to make this classic monster instead. There’s also a great backstory about how this mini came to be (although I was, unfortunately, unable to find it to link to it).

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I also appreciate how feet and the base are completely separate, allowing you to easily cut the tabs off its feet and use a different base if you prefer.

 

Iron Golem
We now have a complete set of the four classic golem types! Original sculpts of a flesh, clay, and stone golem debuted in the very first Bones Kickstarter. There was an iron golem included in that group, but it was a metal conversion, not an original sculpt, and, while acceptable, I always thought that it was a little too small for an iron golem, especially when compared to the other three. This new iron golem surpasses the old one in every way. It’s size, stance, and clenched fists in lieu of a weapon all make it much more imposing than its predecessor.

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You don’t have an official name yet as far as I’m aware. But what else could you be if not an iron golem?

 

Temple Dragon
A Bones conversion from a sculpt originally done in metal, the Temple Dragon stands out to me as one of the cooler minis in this Kickstarter. The texture on his scales and other details hold a lot of visual appeal, but I particularly like its non-static pose and how it looks like it’s ready to pounce on unsuspecting adventurers/prey. It’s unfortunate that in a Kickstarter with so many dragons and other large minis, this one would have been even better had it been a little bigger.

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Air Elemental
In addition to golems, elementals have always been some of my favorite D&D monsters, and I’ve always collected complete sets of the four basic types when I could, dating back to my very first Ral Parthas. The first Bones Kickstarter gave us earth and fire elementals; Bones 2 gave us water; and now, we have Bones versions of all four basic types. Reaper’s take on the air elemental is an interesting hybrid between a vaguely humanoid form and the funnel-cloud design that’s often seen with air elemental minis, and I think they pulled it off well.

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Ma’al Drakar
Before the rumors for Bones 3 even started, I had said that if Reaper did another Kickstarter for a single insanely-large, 5-headed dragon with only one $100 pledge level with no stretch goals, I’d back it for $300. Ma’al Drakar is the apotheosis of Bones miniatures, the epitome of what can be done with this type of plastic miniature. Other companies have released their own versions of enormous dragons, but I can’t think of any that combine sheer size with sculpt quality the way Ma’al Drakar does — and certainly not at this price point! For example, Wizard’s Colossal Red Dragon is at least as big, if not bigger, but it was crammed into somewhat of an awkward pose to get it to fit onto an 8″ x 8″ base for D&D. And while Magnificent Ego’s Viszeralyn may be twice as tall as Ma’al, much of that height is due to its abnormally long tail and torso and unnaturally proportioned wings. By comparison, Ma’al is posed in a way that’s much more visually appealing and is proportioned much better throughout. At an estimated $150 MSRP (or $60 if you got him during the Kickstarter!), I don’t think there’s anything else out there that’s comparable.

Bones 3 created about two hundred new miniatures, but to me, the true sole purpose of this Kickstarter was Ma’al Drakar. Despite all of the other great models to come out of this Kickstarter, if I had to pick just one as my absolute favorite, it would be him.

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A half-assembled, dry-fitted model just wouldn’t do justice here. If you haven’t seen what he looks like assembled, you definitely owe it to yourself to do so.

 

T’raukzul
The hidden gem of Bones 3. There’s no denying the awesomeness that is Ma’al Drakar. However, the competition for the #1 spot in my book was closer than I had anticipated.

It was an open secret that Ma’al Drakar was coming before Bones 3 got underway, and there were plenty of preview pics going around before and after his official reveal (and rightfully so!). T’raukzul made her appearance unannounced as another stretch goal, a Bones version of an older dragon from Reaper’s catalog. However, unlike most of the other older dragons from Reaper’s catalog that were converted into Bones over the course of three Kickstarters, this one was a new sculpt — inspired by the original, but still a fresh, new design. Unboxing this dragon, I was blown away by her size and by what a great sculpt she is; I did not anticipate either of these things when I pledged for her.

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The Kickstarter preview pic was taken at a strange angle, and in no way conveys how great this mini looks, nor how big she is, so I’m really glad that I took a chance and spent a little more to get her.

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Not that my pictures are a whole lot better. For whatever reasons, it seems like it’s really hard to take a good photo of this dragon.

 

I’m not sure, because I didn’t get all of the dragons from this Kickstarter, but I’m fairly certain that after big Ma’al himself, she’s the largest miniature from this Kickstarter. You can see that her body isn’t actually that much smaller than Ma’al’s, and her wings are nearly as big as his.

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Ma’al on the left, T’raukzul on the right. Ma’al is bulkier given that his torso is supporting five different heads and necks, but overall length isn’t that much greater.

 

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Ma’al on the left, T’raukzul on the right. Although Ma’al’s wing is clearly bigger, again, there isn’t a huge difference.

 

Closing Thoughts
It took nearly two years, but it was worth the wait. Reaper once against delivered a great product at an incredible price. The minis themselves haven’t changed much (aside from some experimentation with more rigid plastic for certain ones), so if you’re already in one camp or the other regarding Bones minis, these new ones probably won’t do anything to change your mind. The soft details on smaller sculpts will still be an issue if you’re looking for a piece for competition or for display and want the highest quality possible.

Like many people, I still think the best use for Bones minis is creating large minis that would be too cost-prohibitive to do in metal. Reaper appears to have been thinking along these lines as well, as this Kickstarter seemed to place more of a focus on large and downright huge minis than the previous ones. If I had to find something to criticize, it would be that things went a bit too far in that direction. While the froghemoth, Goremaw, and the iron golem are among my favorite minis from this Kickstarter, they’re also examples of minis that are just a little too big.

Whatever your opinions about Bones or Reaper in general, it’s undeniable that Reaper’s projects are the perfect fit for Kickstarter: a product that has steep up-front manufacturing costs (the molds) with a very low material/manufacturing costs for the actual product. This is the key factor that allows them to offer such amazing rewards relative to the pledge amount required.

A Bones Kickstarter is more than just a transaction between a company and its customers. They’re funded in minutes, if not seconds, and early stretch goals are demolished in the early minutes and hours of the campaign. The excitement is palpable as new stretch goals are revealed and met in the early days, followed by the long lull in the middle, only to inevitably pick up intensity again in the last day or two. A Bones Kickstarter is a cultural experience for the gaming community, and a clear sign of how spoiled we are as gamers in this day and age.

I don’t need or even really want more miniatures at this point. But I’m eagerly looking forward to Bones 4.

 

I’m not sure I’m even going to *attempt* a Will save on this one

After much deliberation, I’ve decided that I’m not going to back the Kickstarter for Heroes of Land, Air & Sea. Based on Gamelyn’s record, I’m willing to bet that it’ll be a solid, fun game, despite being a radical departure from their tried and tested “tiny, epic” scope. Furthermore, I think it’s possible that it may even turn out to be a great game. However, $159 (after shipping) is too much coin for me at this point to plunk down for a single board game that hasn’t been critically examined and reviewed yet, especially considering that I currently have a backlog of other boardgames in my collection that I have yet to play, both ones acquired through Kickstarter as well as through traditional means. Not to mention that Games Workshop is going to be getting another chunk of my money very soon when 8th Edition 40K drops next month. I have to at least keep up the appearance of being judicious with how I spend my money.

So naturally, a scant few days after I settled on my decision, the next threat to my wallet and cash reserves emerges:

From the Kickstarter: “Rise of the Necromancers is based on a classic fantasy narrative with character development as well as territorial strategy. The objective of the game is to develop your Necromancer and take control of the lands. Each player starts out as an aspiring Necromancer who can study spells, craft artifacts and eventually graduate from one of four academies. In time, your Necromancer can attract their own apprentice and assemble an undead army of minions to rule the lands.”

This game looks and sounds like it ticks the correct combination of boxes to make it really appealing to me. Evil wizards who specialize in the dark arts, growing in power until they become strong enough to conquer the realm? Good-looking, thematic artwork that’s sufficiently creepy but doesn’t tip over into being gory or disgusting? Gameplay that involves raising an army of undead minions and marching on cities? Horror theme with a touch of humor? Yes, please!

Mechanics-wise, I really like the theme of having lots of options for developing your character — choosing to either specialize in a particular branch of necromancy, or become a jack-of-all-trades. Furthermore, one of the reviewers says that you can even go so far as choosing what aspect of the actual game to focus on — area control, deck-building, or worker placement — which will presumably have a significant impact on your experience of the game.

It’s also reasonably priced at $67, including shipping to the U.S. The more I write about this game, the more excited about it I become. I’m going to do my due diligence and try to find out more about it so I don’t back it impulsively, but I can already feel my will crumbling under the sway of the necromancers’ influence.

Well, it *has* been a few weeks since I backed a Kickstarter

I really don’t need more board games or other things to spend money on at this point. Naturally, just when I’d thought that I’d gotten away from going overboard with Kickstarters, I see this.

Actually, I was aware of it the last time around with the previous KS campaign which was cancelled, but I made my will save to resist backing it then. I’m currently looking at almost an entire month of additional will saves at this point, and I can feel my resolve eroding — I mean, it’s freakin’ Warcraft in boardgame form!

Some Thoughts on Villages of Valeria

I’ve been making an effort the last few months to reduce the ratio of played to unplayed boardgames in my collection. One game that made it off the shelf recently after arriving as a Kickstarter reward several months ago is Villages of Valeria from Daily Magic Games. My wife and I recently put it through its paces a couple of weeks ago and it was the game that the guys and I chose to play at our game night last night.

We played two games and the consensus at the end is that we all enjoyed it. Then again, we’re a fairly easy-going lot, so it typically doesn’t take a much for us to find a boardgame enjoyable. I’m probably the most critical in our group, so the real measure is probably whether or not I enjoyed it, which I am happy to report that I did.

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Game one, about mid-way through. A bunch of buildings on the board, but we didn’t end up recruiting many adventurers during this game because most of the ones that were available didn’t work well with the buildings that we had chosen.

The theme of the game is, starting with your castle and the resources it provides, to expand your village one building and one adventurer at a time. Buildings and adventurers are worth victory points at the end of the game and during the game provide either a one time immediate bonus or a recurring one that’s triggered by certain actions. The game ends when one player accumulates a set number of buildings and adventurers. In a surprise twist, the goal of the game is to have the fewest victory points at the end. Actually, it’s not. But that would be a surprising twist, wouldn’t it?

Gameplay is smooth. The core mechanic is reminiscent of Puerto Rico where the lead player chooses an action that all of the other players follow, with the player who chose the action receiving a bonus. The core mechanic is action-selection, but the depth of the game comes in determining which buildings to construct and which adventurers to recruit.

You must build your economy from the ground up, first developing the raw materials needed to construct your buildings, which are in turn used to recruit adventurers, all the while trying to find the best combos and synergies with the options that are currently available. There is a large variety of buildings and adventurers, but only a few of them will be available at any given point in the game. Good decision-making goes a long way in converting the random arrival of cards into winning plays, and your success will largely depend on your timing and the ability to determine when to switch over from low-value buildings and adventurers that provide immediate benefit to more expensive buildings that are essentially dead weight and resource hogs during the game but which have a higher payoff at the end.

Despite the depth of interaction between the different buildings and adventurers, there was little downtime, even with our most analysis-paralysis-prone players. The lead-follow mechanic is a key feature in keeping everyone involved at almost all times since it means that there’s less downtime in between turns.

One of my favorite parts of the design is that you can pay gold to another player to use the resources that they’ve developed to construct your own buildings. This deprives them of the ability to use those resources for a turn, but the sting of this inconvenience is mitigated by the that the gold they receive goes into their coffers for their own use. The net effect of this is that it creates an actual economy and a greater level of interaction between players.

Thematically, it feels like there’s a difference between buildings and adventurers. Both are worth points at the end of the game and either provide an immediate benefit or an ongoing one that’s triggered by different conditions, yet they somehow feel distinct. Part of it probably has to do with the fact that the mechanics for building are almost completely different from those for recruiting. Another factor is that there are multiple copies of most buildings but only one copy of each adventurer. Mechanically, having each adventurer be unique also leads to a little bit of asymmetrical gameplay and strategy as the game progresses.

The only place where the theme breaks down a little is in situations where the cards representing buildings and adventurers are themselves used as a resource, needing to be discarded in order to complete certain actions, or traded for gold. It all fits mechanically, but I’m not sure if it’s supposed to represent something theme-wise.

We played with the Guilds Halls expansion in the first game, minus the event cards, and we used all of the expansion content in our second game. Out of all the expansion material, we found the event cards to be the least interesting. They’re highly thematic and easy enough to implement, but in terms of actual impact on the game, they’re fairly lackluster. They typically involve a minor penalty or bonus to one player, although they sometimes have global effects. In fairness, it was probably a prudent decision to err on the side of limiting their effect, lest luck have too much of an impact on the outcome of the game. The guild building cards themselves add more flavor and asymmetrical play since, unlike the other buildings, they are unique, but they don’t add any new mechanics, meaning that it’s just as easy to use them when first learning the game, which is something I recommend.

The Monuments expansion adds some new mechanics, but they’re easy enough to learn and aren’t complicated. The monuments themselves are a welcome addition, adding another layer of depth and decision making. Do you focus on keeping your economic engine humming along, erecting new buildings and attracting new adventurers to your village, with more instances of low-scoring moves, or do you devote the necessary resources to completing the high-cost, high-value monuments instead? I’m not sure if well-played games always incorporate completing monuments or if ignoring them to focus on other scoring methods is considered a viable way to play, but for what it’s worth, in a four-player game, only one of us had managed to complete one by the end, and it was a different player who won the game.

The length of the game is just about perfect. You get enough turns to allow you to feel like you were able to accomplish some things, but it’s short enough to create that tense sweet spot where you’re hoping that the game will last just long enough for you to see all of your grand plans come to fruition. In terms of real-time, it feels just about right and avoids overstaying its welcome.

Villages is my gaming group’s and my first experience with the games in the world of Valeria. Based on our experience, I’m eager to explore more of it, and I imagine that they would be willing to come along on the journey.