Through the Ages.

Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization is currently the #2-rated game on Boardgamegeek – a ranking that tends to skew towards longer, more complex games – even higher than the original version, which is ranked #18, so it was perfect fodder for an app version, especially since the game requires a fair amount of accounting work to keep track of all of the resources and options. The app dropped last week for $9.99 for iOS devices and Android, and it is really stunning – great graphics, smooth gameplay, no glitches, and decent AI players – although I have to admit I’m not sure I love the game underneath it.

Through the Ages is essentially Sid Meier’s Civilization in card form, with a few tweaks. Players are competing to build tableaux of cards that represent growing civilizations from the stone age to the present day, playing cards that generate food, stone, knowledge, and happiness; making new workers by growing the population; adding new technologies; developing new military units and growing armies; raiding or declaring war on opponents; constructing Wonders, because every game of this theme has to have that; upgrading their government types; and probably six other things I’ve already forgotten.

On each turn, players get a fixed number of civil actions and military actions that allow them to take cards, grow the population, research technologies, or build buildings. The number of each is tied to the government type, with more advanced governments giving players more actions per turn. Everything in the game is dictated by the cards available on the rolling display; the first few cards cost one civil action to take, then the next group costs two, and the last three, with some penalties for certain card types. You’re really building a giant engine that will produce enough of the different resource types to allow you to rack up points in the end-game without creating unrest or running short of what you need to keep up with your opponents’ armies or feed your workers or lose resources to ‘corruption.’ There are substantial bonuses for finishing Wonders and in the Politics cards that will appear later in the game or at the end.

Through the Ages is incredibly layered, and requires more oversight, active management, and long-term planning than most games I’ve ever played. It has reached the point in some games where I thought, “Maybe I should write down what I’m doing so I remember what to do on my next turn,” which I think is a clear sign that a game has become work. I also had to monitor the AI players’ moves in the game log just to figure out why I was getting so thoroughly trounced (by the medium level, no less), and eventually pieced together a sort of rough strategy that involved getting Knights, Iron, Irrigation, and a couple of key military and science cards; it doesn’t work every time but I did finally beat the S.O.B. by doing that and ensuring I was never at a military strength disadvantage for the entire game.

The biggest bottleneck in the game is the need for an ‘idle worker’ to build or create anything new, whether it’s a building (farms, mines, labs, temples, and later versions of the same) or a military unit. You need a certain amount of food to grow your population, an amount that increases as the game goes on, and then those people need to eat, so you have to keep producing food to grow your population and build more things, or to destroy some of your weakest buildings to put those workers on more productive jobs. (Of course, they don’t actually earn any more for being more productive, as all benefits flow to you, which is one way in which Through the Ages reflects our modern economy.) There are yellow resource cards in the carousel that give you immediate, one-time bonuses of food, stone, or science, but taking one burns an action that you might need for something else.

And those actions are a second major bottleneck. Every player starts the game under Despotism, and can take a unique government card to upgrade to more modern systems that grant more actions – some give more civil actions but fewer military ones, some more military ones but not many more civil ones – and then burn either a whole turn or several rounds’ worth of science points for a “revolution” that changes your government type. You have to do this once to win, I think; I don’t know if doing it twice would pay off. But late in the game you’ll need more than the four civil actions per turn you get from Despotism.

Whereas in Civilization and other 4X (video) games, you can pretty much build whatever you want if you have the resources, Through the Ages dramatically limits your options because it’s card-based. There’s a ton of luck involved in the card draws, because the rolling market turns over quickly, with the leftmost three cards moving after every player if not selected; it’s easy to miss a card you need, especially those with just one or two copies in the deck. (All leader and wonder cards are unique, and you can’t take a wonder card if you have one currently in production.) The political cards aren’t quite a function of luck, but if you end up behind in military strength, your opponents can hammer you every turn, deepening your deficit by robbing you of population, resources, points, or buildings. Players play these cards into a LIFO queue, so playing one into it pushes the oldest one out, and many of those cards really stick it to whoever has the weakest army, more so as the game progresses.

Through the Ages never eliminates anyone, but deficits can grow exponentially, and it can be clear halfway through the game that you’re just not coming back. It also has one of my least favorite game features – players can have actions available without any way of using them. No one likes the frustration of having the right to make a move but not having the ability; some of this is a function of insufficient planning, but you can also just get stuck even if you did the right things earlier.

The app version is extremely well-done, with a tutorial that should be a model for other developers looking to port (or just create) complex boardgames to tablets. (There’s even a clever joke within it.) And the app has built-in reminders to cover numerous situations where you might forget a free action, fail to use all your actions, lose resources to corruption, or lose all production on your next turn due to an Uprising (in essence, if you don’t have enough happiness points to cover your population). There are so many cards with special functions that it’s easy to forget what you can do, and the attempt to render some depth to your civilization means wonders are in the way back, at least one of which, the Ocean Liner, gives you a new benefit each turn, fall out of sight and out of mind.

There's a lot going on here.

I found the light AI to be more of a training module, but the medium AI throttled me repeatedly before my first win. That doesn’t mean the medium AI is good, just better than I am as someone new to the game. It was instructive to watch the AI’s actions, and the game log, available by tapping a button on the upper left, is clear and useful. The game also has an easy undo function that lets you go back as far as your last irreversible move – such as something that involved revealing cards or a battle against an opponent. There’s a lot on the screen, but everything is brightly colored and clear, and once you get the hang of some of the images they’re using – like having a light on in a building to show that it’s occupied by a worker – they’re straightforward.

Through the Ages is above the level of game difficulty I prefer; it’s long and involved, requiring too much thought and planning to make it truly fun for me. I understand why players would love the game’s intellectual challenge and the reward of building something successful, but I prefer games that move a little faster and let me act more spontaneously. If playing a game with a beer in hand would make you demonstrably worse at it, it might not qualify as fun in my book. But if you like Through the Ages, or just generally like intricate games with long cycles, this app is just what you want.

Stick to baseball, 9/16/17.

For Insiders this week, I wrote two pieces, one on eight top 100 prospects who had disappointing years in 2017, and my last minor-league scouting notebook of the season, covering Yankees, Pirates, Nationals, and Cardinals prospects. I held my regular Klawchat on Thursday. My next column for ESPN will be my annual “players I got wrong” piece; if you have suggestions, throw them in the comments. I try to stick to players who’ve beaten expectations for more than just one season, although sometimes I waive that if there’s a particular story I want to tell.

Over at Paste I reviewed Yamataï, the new boardgame from Days of Wonder, which hasn’t fared that well critically or commercially but which all three members of my family really liked. It’s also a gorgeous game, which never hurts around here.

My book, Smart Baseball, is out and still selling well (or so I’m told); thanks to all of you who’ve already picked up a copy. And please sign up for my free email newsletter, which is back to more or less weekly at this point now that I’m not traveling for a bit.

I have a ton of links from the NY Times this week, which requires a subscription above a certain number of free articles. I normally try to spread my links out across many sources, but the NYT had so much great content this week that I stuck with it. I’ve tagged a few of them as such for those of you who don’t subscribe (I do, obviously). And now, the links…

Stick to baseball, 9/2/17.

For Insiders this week, I wrote four pieces. I broke down the Astros’ trade for Justin Verlander and the Angels’ trade for Justin Upton. I put up scouting notes on prospects from the Yankees, Phillies, Jays, and Rangers. And I looked at five potential prospect callups for September. I also held a Klawchat on Thursday.

At Vulture this week, I looked at five major Game of Thrones-themed boardgames, not just reskinned games but several original titles like the excellent GoT Card Game. For Paste, I reviewed the Tour de France-themed boardgame La Flamme Rouge, which is light and good for family play. And here on the dish I reviewed the strong app version of the two-player game Jaipur, a steal at $5.

I’m trying something new this week, and if you find it useful I’d appreciate your feedback. I get a lot of press releases on boardgames from publishers, so I’m including the best of those at the end of this run of links along with boardgame-related news items. These will include Kickstarter announcements that look interesting to me, and if I’ve seen a game at all I’ll indicate it in the blurb.

This is your regular reminder that my book Smart Baseball is available everywhere now in hardcover, e-book, and audiobook formats. Also, please sign up for my free email newsletter, as my subscriber count is down one after I removed that one guy who complained about the most recent edition and called me a “tool.”

And now, the links…

Jaipur app.

Jaipur has long been my go-to recommendation for a pure two-player game, whether it’s as a “couples’ game” or just something light and quick to play with a friend or your kid. The mechanics are simple, the game moves very quickly, yet most turns involve tough decisions around what’s best for you now and setting yourself up for future moves while also avoiding helping your opponent. Asmodee Digital, who have quickly become the top publisher of app version of popular boardgames, released an app version of Jaipurearlier this summer, and it’s excellent across the board, including four levels of AI difficulty that provide me with a real challenge. (It’s possible I’m also just not very good at this game.)

I reviewed the physical version of Jaipur back in 2011, so I’ll just give a quick overview of the game this time around before focusing on the app. In Jaipur, players try to collect sets of cards, depicting six different goods or gems, to exchange for points. You may hold up to seven goods cards in your hand at any time. Trading in cards first nets you more points, as the point values decline for most goods as more of them are redeemed. The three gems – diamonds, gold, and silver – can only be redeemed if you have at least two cards of that type; you can trade in the other three goods with just one card, which can be a strategic move to grab the highest-point token first before your opponent trades in a big set. There are also bonuses for trading in sets of three, four, or five goods of a kind, the last ones ranging 8-10 points and kept secret until the end of the round.

Players acquire cards from a central market of five, which can include goods cards and camel cards; there’s an end-of-round bonus of 5 points for whoever has the most camel cards. On your turn, you can take one goods card from the market, take all camel cards there (not just one), or exchange camel and goods cards for two to five cards from the market. There’s a tactic here of trying to rig the market so your opponent gets a market of five camels and has no choice but to take them all, which will give you five new cards from which to choose on your next turn. A round ends when the deck is exhausted or when all of the tokens in three different types have been redeemed.

The Asmodee app is just about perfect, other than the lack of an undo/confirmation function in case you tap the wrong thing. The original graphics are bright and easy to see on any screen. The actions are easy – everything is a tap, rather than swiping or moving goods from one spot to another. When you tap on a goods card in your hand, the app automatically assumes you want to sell all of those, which is always the correct move, rather than making you tap all such cards. Animations make sense – you can see what your opponent sold, you can see which bonus token your opponent got – and I suppose you could write down what’s happening to track your opponent’s points. The app offers pass and play as well as online modes, the latter requiring an Asmodee Digital account (which you should have if you like playing boardgame apps at all).

The AI comes with four difficulty settings, and even level 3 is reasonably challenging. The AI is clearly keeping track of the cards you take, and also employs the strategy of exhausting the deck faster if it’s winning and the cards are almost gone. It’ll sell one good of a type you’re collecting to try to grab the highest-point token before you do. It’s particularly good at setting up that tactic I mentioned earlier, trying to force your opponent to take all five camel cards from the market, so you have to change your strategy in turn to avoid it. I haven’t even tried level 4 because level 3 is about an even match for me so far, although, again, I may just be really bad at Jaipur.

The app also includes a ‘campaign mode,’ which presents you with a number of variations on the game’s base rules, like changing the hand limit from 7 to 5, or changing goods values so that they don’t decline as more goods of any type are traded/redeemed. You earn rupees for your points in each game in the campaign, and then can spend those to open up new areas on the campaign map, each of which has a new rules tweak or gives you a harder opponent. There’s a light story in here, but it’s really just another way to play the game, forcing you to try some new strategies and changing up the base game if you get tired of playing the AI (or if you’re just better at it than I am).


Bruno Cathala’s Kingdomino won the Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year) award this year, beating out Reiner Knizia’s Quest for El Dorado and the cooperative game Magic Maze, a result that I thought was a bit of a surprise given how little publicity Kingdomino had received prior to the win. It’s about as light a game as I can think of among winners of the prize, but incredibly fun and quick to play, striking a nice balance between crafting a game where kids can still compete and one where adults won’t be bored.

Each player starts with a single square tile and a castle on it, and will build out his/her “kingdom” from two-square rectangular tiles drawn over the course of the game. Like dominoes, these pieces have two separate images on each half, representing six different terrain types, some with crowns and some without. You must place each tile so that at least one of the terrains matches one tile it’s touching. (The start tile is “wild” and matches all six types.) Players will draw 12 tiles during the game and must not allow their kingdom to grow beyond a 5×5 grid; the castle doesn’t have to be in the center, but the kingdom can’t exceed five tiles in any direction. If you can’t place a tile legally, then you discard it and won’t get points for it.

The scoring is simple: You count up the number of contiguous squares of each terrain type and multiply that number by the number of crowns in that contiguous area. So a five-square water area with two crowns on it would score ten points. You can potentially have a huge area without crowns and score nothing – especially with the yellow wheat fields, the terrain type least likely to have a crown: there are 26 wheat squares in the game, but only five of them have crowns. Seven squares have two crowns and one mine square has three crowns, so those become highly coveted.

The tiles go to players in a draft where the order changes in each round. At the start of the game, you shuffle enough tiles so that you have 12 per player (there are 48 total, so a four-player game uses all of them) and then divide them into stacks, three for three players and four for two or four players. In each round, you reveal new tiles and order them on the board based on the numbers on their backs – one tile per player for three or four player games, two per player in a two-player game. The order for the first round is random, but after that, it’s determined by the previous round’s choices: If you took the lowest-numbered (top) tile of the ones available in that round, you get to choose first among the next set of three or four tiles. (In a two-player game, each player chooses two tiles per round.) That means the person who chose or ended up with the highest-numbered tile – probably the most valuable one for points – ends up with the last “choice” in the next round, which isn’t a choice at all because you’re stuck with whatever’s left. That internal balancing mechanism tends to keep anyone from running away with the game by racking up too many crowns.

I played the game for the first time at GenCon, when I happened upon the mini-tournament (which only had about a half-dozen players) Blue Orange was holding for the game, and two players who’d lost their round invited me to play and offered to teach me as we went. Once you know what you’re doing, an entire game takes about 15-20 minutes. We played a three-player variant, although I didn’t realize it at the time, where instead of removing 12 tiles for a 3-player game, we played with all 48, and in each round revealed four tiles; each of us chose one, and the fourth was discarded. The rules also describe a two-player variant using all 48 tiles, expanding the kingdom size to 7×7. There’s also a variant rule for any number of players where you get 5 bonus points if you never discard a tile – in other words, if you fill every square of your 5×5 grid.

The game lists the age range as 8+, but I don’t see any reason a child of 6 or 7 couldn’t play along – it’s color matching at heart, with some spatial relations stuff and a little strategy around the crowns (just tell your kid “crowns are good” and s/he’ll probably be fine). It’s also quick enough to play any time or to reel off a few games in a row, unlike most of the best family-level strategy games I recommend. There’s a standalone sequel, Queendomino, coming this fall, adding more features to the game to make it a little more challenging, but I recommend Kingdomino because it’s so elegantly simple. You can teach it to anyone in a few minutes, and it brings replay value because the order of the tiles determines the flow of the game. It’ll be a regular in our game rotation for weeknight plays for a long time.

Friday boardgame and app.

The boardgame Friday is a bit of a unicorn, pun intended, as a truly solo boardgame – there isn’t even a coop mode shoehorned on to it as in some other one-player titles – in a field of games that really play best with three or more. Taking a Robinson Crusoe theme, the game forces you to build your deck in large part by destroying it, working to remove unfavorable cards (but at a cost) so that your deck is strong enough to survive the greater challenges you’ll face at the game’s end. The game is now also available as a fantastic app, one that handles the nuisance of accounting for points and is a perfect experience even on the small screen of a phone, available for iOS devicesand android.

All cards in the Friday deck have two functions, shown at the top of the card and the bottom. The top gives a point total you must match to obtain the card – like a challenge to defeat – by drawing cards from your deck and adding up the values from the bottom. The bottom parts of most cards also include special abilities, like regaining lost life points, destroying a card you’ve already played this turn, doubling the value of a card you’ve already played, or drawing two more cards from the deck. The totals on the top of the card come in three colors, representing three rounds; in each round, the number you have to match with your drawn cards to ‘defeat’ the challenge card increases by a lot, so if you haven’t dispensed with most of the negative-value and 0 cards in your deck by the time you reach the third round, you’re probably screwed. And if you survive that third round, then you have to defeat two pirate ships in the same fashion.

Each card you have to defeat also comes with a fixed number of cards you can draw to try to match its point total. Up to that number, every card you draw is free, but beyond that you must give up one of your “life points” to draw each additional card. The number of points you have at the game’s start varies by difficulty level, with the app giving options from 16 to 20. If you succeed in defeating the card, you get to take it into your deck. If you fail, you get a certain number of points to use in destroying cards you’ve played that turn – usually your negative-value cards first, then the zeroes. The basic deck has mostly cards with -1 values and I think one -2, but higher difficulty levels add cards (with fun titles like “very stupid”) with values of -3 or worse.

You can’t win without making frequent use of the special abilities on the cards in the deck, and learning how to use them and combine them is a big part of the game. The Vision card lets you see the next three in the deck and rearrange them however you’d like, so you can do that and follow with an Equipment card that lets you draw the next two – or one of the destroy cards if you want to ensure your next draw is a card you need to trash. Destroying cards is particularly powerful, but most destroy cards carry 0 point values for the direct approach to meeting a challenge, so you need to strike some balance in deciding which cards to acquire and when. There is a particularly powerful card that lets you use the point value of a challenge card from a lower round than the one you’re in (first-round value in the second, second-round value in the third), but that also carries a 0 value.

The app lacks sufficient undo functions if you tap the wrong thing, but otherwise is an excellent adaptation that takes the annoying accounting aspects of the physical game out of your hands – especially in terms of ensuring that, for example, you’ve used all your potential to destroy cards when you fail to defeat the challenge. I’ve also had some issues with resuming games if I switch out of the app for any reason, but it doesn’t seem to be a consistent problem and I’m not sure what triggers it. I’d still recommend it but would only try to play it when you’ll finish a game (10 minutes or less) in one shot.

A Feast for Odin.

Well, boardgamers, I think that with A Feast for Odin we have finally achieved Peak Uwe.

Uwe Rosenberg is one of the most acclaimed designers in this golden era of cardboard, the man behind Caverna (ranked #10 on BGG’s global rankings, which skew towards longer and more complex games), Agricola (#14), Le Havre (#30), Patchwork (#45), Fields of Arle (#53), and Ora et Labora (#77). A Feast for Odin, itself ranked #38 on that list, is his latest title of long, intricate engine-building games that take the general feel of Agricola and make it fussier and more involved. Agricola grew on me with repeated plays, thanks in part to the incredible app version of the game, but at heart the rules of that game are pretty simple; you have a lot of choices to make and several factors to manage, but what you’re asked to do isn’t that difficult. Le Havre and Caverna increased the complexity in different ways, but A Feast for Odin is over the top, turning a boardgame into real work, both in managing the accounting and in figuring out what you want to do.

As the name implies, we’re talking vikings now, and apparently vikings were big-time farmers. A Feast for Odin has, I believe, 36 different resource types, four of which are used like currencies with the remainder used as crops or food or for scoring. Each player starts with a player board that is covered with tiny squares, some of which are blank, some are worth -1 (yes, negative) point if uncovered at game-end, some of which can award you a bonus resource, and some of which, those on the x=y diagonal, represent potential income for you in each round. You take green and blue resources and place them on your board to cover as many squares as you can; there are eight different shapes, so you’re playing a little light Tetris (or Patchwork) and trying to cover the board as efficiently as you can. If you cover everything below and to the left of a specific income square, then that’s your new income, from 0 coins to +18 coins, with the potential for even more if you expand to other islands … but we’re going to just set that aside for the moment. There are also a handful of higher-value, unusually-shaped special items that cover lots of squares but which you can only get via a couple of actions you’ll reach later in the game, if at all.

A Feast for Odin. This is way over the top.

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You also have to feed the multitudes at the end of each round, and while it’s not as difficult as in Agricola or Le Havre, you still have to pay attention to it. There’s a “banquet” track on your board, and you have to have orange and red food tokens to fill the track, but can’t have two tokens of the same color touching each other – there are a lot of placement rules like that, one of the game’s worst features – and can use silver coins instead of food if you don’t have enough.

AFfO takes place over seven rounds, and in every round, each player uses his/her viking meeples to claim action spaces on the shared action board – which has, no shit, 61 different options for players on each turn. The action board has four columns, and each column as you move to the right requires more meeples to use it, so it’s one meeple in the first column and four in the fourth one. You can use actions to upgrade resources, to ‘harvest’, to buy and sell, to collect wood/stone/ore/silver from the mountains, to buy boats, to go raiding, to go pillaging, to hunt game, to go whaling, to plunder (whom, they don’t say), to add occupation cards that give you more benefits, to add islands, to build sheds or additional houses, and so on.

Needless to say, I wasn’t a fan of AFfO – it’s the fussier Le Havre, if that’s even possible, with more rules and more things to track, and a whole lot of “why can’t I do X?” or “how can I get this resource I need?” I’m sure it’s balanced, because Uwe is certainly a smart and careful designer and his games always ‘work’ in that sense. But I also don’t know who the target audience is for this game, which retails for $90+, weighs 7 pounds, and will probably take 90-120 minutes for 3-4 experienced players. (It plays with two and there’s a solo mode, but I haven’t tried either.) If you love Uwe’s games, and the whole idea of games that require obsession to detail with long-term planning and short-term demands, sure, this is probably right up your alley. I think it’s beyond the pale.

Stick to baseball, 8/12/17.

I’m back from a week of vacation in Aruba, which was lovely, not least because I turned my phone off when we took off from BWI and didn’t turn it back on until we landed on US soil seven-plus days later. That means my last Insider posts were at the trade deadline, including breakdowns of the Yu Darvish trade, the Sonny Gray trade, and the Justin Wilson/Jeimer Candelario trade.

I’m back at Paste with a new boardgame review, this time of the two-player variant of Uwe Rosenberg’s massive Caverna, Caverna: Cave vs. Cave.

I appeared on the Ringer’s Achievement Oriented podcast, co-hosted by Ben Lindbergh, to discuss the current golden age of boardgames and how that might be affecting videogame funding. I also spoke with Jeff Krushell, who worked for the Blue Jays for some of the same years I did, about my book, Smart Baseball, and the role of analytics in the sport.

While I was away, the Washington Post ran a favorable review of Smart Baseball.

I’ll be at GenCon 50 in Indianapolis starting on Thursday, appearing on a few panels, signing copies of Smart Baseball on Friday at 2 pm (or if you see me walking around), and trying lots of new boardgames. I hope to see a bunch of you there.

And now, the links…


Onirim is a solitaire card game app from Asmodee Digital, based on a solo or cooperative card game previously published by Z-Man (now part of Asmodee’s growing empire). It’s simple to learn and very quick to play, but calibrated to be reasonably challenging through several plays, especially with the Glyphs expansion. It’s available for free on iTunes and Android with in-app purchases of expansions for $0.99 apiece.

Onirim is played with a single deck of cards that, in the base game, contains cards of in four different colors with three shapes apiece on those colors (sun, moon, key), as well as eight door cards (two in each of the colors) and ten “nightmare” cards. Your goal is to unlock the eight doors before the deck runs out of cards, working with five cards in your hand at any given time. Every time you play or discard a card, you replenish your hand by drawing from the top of the deck.

You can unlock a door by playing three consecutive cards with the same color but different symbols – sun-moon-sun is fine, but sun-sun-moon is not – or by playing the correct color of key card from your hand when that color door appears from the deck. You can also choose to discard a key card to look at the next five cards in the deck, rearranging any four of them and restoring them to the top of the deck while trashing the remaining card. When the next card you draw to refill your hand is a nightmare card, however, the trouble begins, and you can dispense with it in one of four ways:

* You can discard all remaining cards in your hand.
* You can discard the next five cards from the top of the deck. Nightmare and door cards are ‘recycled’ rather than discarded, but color cards of any shape are gone from the game.
* You can discard a key from your hand.
* You can recycle a door card that you’ve already unlocked.

When you unlock a door, the remainder of the deck is reshuffled, so if you played a key and knew what was coming, well, now you odn’t.

The game is balanced enough that I could win comfortably more than half of the time, but rarely won by much (going by the number of cards remaining in the deck, which is one of the ways the app determines your score). Onirim requires sacrifices; it gives you enough ways to unlock doors that you can plan around the nightmares, but have to make tough choices, often discarding cards you were about to use because a nightmare appeared. There are more sun cards than moon cards, and more moon cards than key cards, so you’ll probably find yourself ditching sun cards to get something better in your hand, or playing a moon card just to ‘reset’ the board, since the last card you played in the preceding triple (to unlock a door) still factors into the rule that you can’t play two consecutive cards of the same shape.

So far I have only tried the Glyphs expansion, which adds a fourth shape, glyphs, to the deck, but also requires you to unlock twelve doors rather than eight. You can use a glyph as you might any other shape card, but you can also discard a glyph card to reveal the next five cards in the deck. If one of them is a door, you can unlock it immediately, regardless of color. All non-door cards then go to the bottom of the deck, which can be good (nightmares!) or bad (that moon card you were waiting for!). Unlike the rules for doors unlocked with keys or card triplets, the deck isn’t reshuffled after you open a door with a glyph. Playing a key card and then a glyph can be powerful if the key shows you a door in the next few cards, but doing so knocks out two cards that might otherwise have been useful in completing sets of three. The expansion makes the game a few minutes longer, but I think it’s better; there are more decisions to make and the challenge of completing that many doors is harder, while recycling an unlocked door becomes a much more reasonable choice than it is in the base game.

There aren’t many good solitaire boardgames out there, and only a few I know – Friday is another, and I’ll review that soon – so Onirim would be an easy recommendation even if it weren’t free for the base game. The screen layout is different on the iPhone vs iPad, but both work – the iPhone makes good use of the space and I preferred having the doors laid out along the topic so they were always in sight. The publisher really could get away with charging a buck or two for this given the amount of time I’ve already spent playing it.

Minneapolis eats, 2017.

Minneapolis-St. Paul is a tremendous food town (or two towns, technically), thanks to its proximity to great farms, the efforts of a few high-profile chefs there (notably Andrew Zimmern), and an increasingly diverse population that’s supporting all of these new restaurants. I was only there for about 30 hours around my book signing at Moon Palace Books, but managed to squeeze in a few good meals and some great coffee.

The big meal was after my book signing at Revival, which several readers recommended and my friend Evon, who lives in Minneapolis and took me to nearly all of these spots, loves. It’s unabashed Southern cuisine, just done really well. The fried chicken is outstanding, with a crust that shatters with each bite; it comes in three varieties, plain, Tennessee hot, or “poultrygeist,” a sauce with ghost peppers. They will offer you that ghost pepper sauce on the side; don’t do this. I tasted a single drop, and I could feel the lining of my mouth and esophagus melting everywhere it made contact with the capsaicin. The sides are what you’d expect to find at a good southern restaurant; I’d recommend the mashed potatoes + gravy as well as the collard greens, the latter made with apple cider vinegar and cooked well without being cooked like a British vegetable. The biscuits were a little dense (but perfect for soaking up the ‘liquor’ in the greens); they’re served with sorghum butter, which you could really put on anything. Come to think of it, that would have been great on the fried chicken. Also, don’t miss the banana cream pie for dessert. Revival is so popular they’ve just opened a second location in St. Paul.

Zen Box Izakaya is a new Japanese sake house and ramen shop in the Gateway District in what appears to be a converted industrial or warehouse space, offering some pretty impressive ramen that I would say compares well to what I’ve had on the coasts. The pork ramen’s broth was the standout element, as it should be, but I wish they used better-quality noodles in the dish – these tasted fresh from the box. I also tried the server’s suggestion for a starter, the takoyaki, breaded and fried octopus with Japanese mayo, tonkotsu sauce, and bonito flakes; the flavors worked, but there’s definitely more flour than fish in these bites.

Patisserie 46 is a bakery and coffee shop whose chef was nominated for the James Beard Award for Outstanding Baker in 2015, and while I only had one thing, it was outstanding – a strawberry-rhubarb croissant, which was a classic croissant with layers like mica and a filling like you’d find in a fresh strawberry-rhubarb pie. They use Intelligentsia coffee for their espresso. They do some light breakfast and lunch fare and sell whole bread loaves as well.

A couple of quick hits – I found The Humble Cup just because I was staying at the Courtyard across the street (one of the nicest Courtyards I’ve ever stayed in, BTW) and was pleased to find they offered pour-overs using beans from local roaster True Stone Coffee. I’d skip the baked stuff but this is good coffee done correctly … I’ve mentioned George & the Dragon here before, but ate lunch there before heading to the airport; the food has always been excellent, and the pork banh mi I had this time was no exception, mostly because the pork, from local purveyors Compart Duroc, was so flavorful thanks to the five-spice seasoning. If you go and see the owner, Fred, tell him I sent you (he’s a fan too).

Finally, I ended up eating lunch at an unexpected spot: the boardgame cafe at Fantasy Flight Studios in St. Paul. FFG, now part of the Asmodee group (which also includes Days of Wonder, Z-Man, and Plaid Hat), operates a huge gaming space that has a real restaurant in it preparing most dishes from scratch and offering local craft beers on tap. Kyle Dekker, who runs the space and has been a longtime reader of my baseball work, gave me the tour; among other touches, they operate one fryer just for French fries, ensuring no cross-contamination with gluten or other allergens/problem foods. There’s a boardgame store in front and a huge library in back for folks to hang out and borrow a game (or three) and play while they eat, and both sections include games from other publishers. It’s an incredibly impressive undertaking and Kyle said they can be packed on weekends when the weather isn’t great. I’d be there all the time if I lived in the Twin Cities (which I might if it wasn’t located inside the Arctic Circle).