Timeline: Drop Trivial Pursuit and Never Look Back

Timeline: Drop Trivial Pursuit and Never Look Back

Most of the time, when we buy a game, we’ve either played it first or researched it heavily. Timeline was an impulse buy at a convention and we’ve never regretted it. It’s very portable–it comes in a sturdy tin less than six inches square. It’s dead simple–“place the cards without looking at the backs” is essentially the only rule. Older people have something of an advantage as they’re more likely to know historical details, but that makes it a good learning tool, and anyone is capable of “I never knew that!” at any moment. There are numerous versions—Inventions, Discoveries, and Americana, to name a few—so anyone can shine, and they can be shuffled together if a single version gets too boring or easy.


Each card has two sides which are almost identical—both have the same image and the name of the event/invention/whatever the theme of the set is. The difference is that one side has the year the event occurred and the other does not. The cards are dealt out with the year face-down, and players have to place them in the timeline (get it?) correctly relative to the other cards before flipping to see if they guessed the right time bracket. Wrong guesses are discarded and the player who placed them draws a replacement, while correct placements go into the timeline and are not replaced, so the timeline only grows (and gets harder) when someone guesses right.  The first player to empty his or her hand wins, with sudden death in case of ties.

The events can range from “The Formation of Earth” (hint: it’s at the start) to “Invention of the Violin” (hint: good luck…) so victory can sometimes just be a matter of getting easy cards; of course, what’s easy varies from player to player; expertise in certain subjects or time periods can turn a monster of a deal into a piece of cake or vice versa.. Overall, it’s a great little travel game, plays fast, has a high player cap, and can be genuinely educational while still being entertaining.

Betrayal at House on the Hill: You Never Know What’s Around the Corner

Betrayal at House on the Hill: You Never Know What’s Around the Corner

Let’s lead with this: This game is Steffanie’s absolute favorite (so this is going to be even less objective than normal). The game design is good, it’s paced well, it’s neither too long nor too short, the setting is engaging despite being cliché, and they built in an element to maximize its replay value.


Betrayal takes place at a haunted house that you, as the players, are investigating. There are six character movers with six associated character statistic tiles, but the tiles are two-sided with different statistics on each side, essentially giving you twelve instead. The game has a minimum player count of three for reasons that will be explained in a bit. In the first half of the game, you explore the mansion. Moving through the doors causes you to draw a tile at random (or at least semi-random, some tiles have to be on specific floors) to represent that room. Sometimes you draw cards and/or have to make a skill check. The dice for the game are odd—they only have numbers from 0 to 2, meaning each die has an average of 1 instead of 3.5 like a normal six-sided die. Of course, higher numbers aren’t always better.

The game has three decks: Event, Item, and most importantly, Omen. There are exactly 13 Omen cards, and each time one is drawn, the player who drew it has to roll six dice. If the total is less than the number of Omen cards drawn, which on average happens at the seventh Omen, then the second half of the game begins—and that’s where it really picks up.

Betrayal is a cooperative game, and as the title suggests it’s a traitor co-op, but it has a unique twist on the mechanic—the traitor is not determined at the start of the game the way it is in most traitor co-ops. The game comes with fifty scenarios for the second half of the game. Which scenario you get depends on what Omen triggered it in what room, and the traitor’s identity is entirely determined by the scenario. Often it’s the triggering player, but it can be the player to their left, the one with the highest in a statistic, the one with a lowest in a statistic…you get the idea.

It’s impossible to describe the second half of the game because it plays out differently based on the scenario, but there are some similarities. It starts with the traitor player leaving the room and reading the information about the scenario from one booklet, while the rest of the players read from a different booklet. It’s entirely possible for each side to not know the victory condition for the other side, or at least not how they accomplish that condition. After the non-traitor players agree on their strategy, the traitor is called back and turns begin again. The traitor player will often be trying to kill the other players, directly or indirectly, or will at least win if the other players die even if that isn’t their primary goal, but usually they have a different way to win and/or monsters to help them combat the other players. The non-traitor players usually have to make specific skill checks in specific rooms that may not even have been played at the time the second half begins, so the exploration of the house still continues, just with a frantic edge as they try to stay at least one step ahead of the traitor.

It’s the scenario aspect that really makes this game unique and keeps it fresh. It’ll take quite a lot of games before you start getting repeats of the same scenario, and unless you’re playing those games close together you may well have forgotten how to win a given scenario. Betrayal at House on the Hill may be “just” a haunted house, but it’s a haunted house you won’t soon forget.

(The creepy, old-timey radio in the corner crackles to life.  A strange, deep voice echoes from it.  These must be Austin’s Subversive Comments!)

Betrayal at House on the Hill may be Steff’s favorite game of our collection, but I’ll let you in on a little secret: It’s a better experience than it is a game.

The mechanics of Betrayal are a mixed bag.  They do what they set out to do, but sometimes they don’t run the way you would want a game to run.  Because of how damage and checks work, there are some haunts that, once revealed, it can be literally impossible for one side or the other to win.  I don’t just mean that they have a massive skew, I mean that even doing the math, with perfect dice rolls, this particular “deal” was unwinnable.  That’s not something you typically want to see out of a game!  Yet there’s a reason this doesn’t matter: because at the end of the day, Betrayal at House on the Hill isn’t supposed to be a crunchy, mechanical game where the decision of what to do on your turn is always important and impactful.  It’s supposed to be a Horror Movie Simulator, and to the experience of simulating a horror movie, game balance is a far distant secondary concern.

The most important part of enjoying a game of Betrayal at House on the Hill is to read the cards and, in the end, the entries from the Traitor’s Tome and Secrets of Survival out loud.  Have the most theatrical person who would logically deliver such lines do the reading. Let them ham it up, deliver the story slowly.  If you look at a card, put it down silently, and say “Okay, give me two dice”, roll them, and announce that nothing happens or “I take some damage” you probably won’t enjoy yourself the way you will if you (and those around you) actually narrate the text you’re given.

And, when played that way, Betrayal at House on the Hill is an excellent experience.  It does exactly what it sets out to do, and simulates that horror movie with suspense building as our heroes explore the seemingly haunted house, only to be shocked by the sudden twist reveal of probable betrayal and possible death.  It doesn’t matter if the heroes literally can’t survive the toxic, caustic atmosphere of the Alien World the house has been teleported to long enough to send themselves back to their own dimension. It’s a horror story; they can struggle and ultimately fail and die at the hands of the villain.  Similarly, if a high-school sweetheart decked out in magic armor with a holy spear can carve through demons and destroy their master like a hot knife cleaving butter, that’s OK too.  The heroes win, the story is the important part more than the outcome.

As such, while this is Steff’s favorite game and Austin still enjoys it, it might not be a game for every group or every game night.  It is not a replacement for a meaty co-op or a many-versus-one dungeon crawler.  It’s really it’s own thing, and you should know better than us who would enjoy it, and who might not.

Seventh Hero: Why Would You Change The Name?!

Seventh Hero: Why Would You Change The Name?!

A quick rant first off: This was originally released in Japan with an anime inspired art and theme, then released in other territories by AEG as Seventh Hero, which is the version we have, and has now been re-released by AEG and Iello as…Rent-A-Hero. Why?! Why would they change the name?! Sure, it’s a light game, but that doesn’t mean it has to be silly, and the Japanese Edition art and AEG Seventh Hero art are at least pretty to look at while the art for Rent-A-Hero is rather…bad, to be blunt. If you decide to pick up this game, we recommend going with the Seventh Hero printing if you can.

Seventh Hero

With that done, let’s talk about the game. Seventh Hero is, at its core, very simple. The deck has “hero” cards number 1 through 7. The first player to get 6 out of 7 down in front of them wins. However, the rules make that more challenging than it sounds; you don’t simply play cards in front of you. A player starts by flipping over the top card of the deck, which will have a rule—for example, “Any odd-numbered card.” The player then chooses a card from their hand that matches that rule and places it face-down. Each other player, in order, has a chance to take that card or pass on it before it returns to the first player, and if it returns to the person who played it, that player has to take it. This creates a strong bluffing element, as if you accidentally take a copy of a card you already have, you lose both of the cards. Because of this, it’s surprisingly easy to come back from behind and win; the closer to victory you get, the greater the odds are that a random card is one that will hurt you instead of help you.

The game isn’t purely luck and bluffing. There are two ways to mitigate the randomness. The first is that you can “buy” hints about the identity of a card being passed around. You show a card from your hand to the player passing a card, and they confirm or deny whether the card shown matches the face-down one. This is best saved for late-game when you have to be cautious, since every card out of your hand is fewer cards to send around the table later. The second way to mitigate randomness is that each card has a different ability, ranging from “draw two cards” to “look at the wandering hero.” You can only use each card ability once, so make sure you save those uses for when they count!

Overall, we find Seventh Hero a good light game. It plays quickly once everyone gets the hang of it, with most of the delays being when someone is trying to calculate the odds of a card hurting or helping them. Its mechanics leave it less “left in the dust” than many other games we’ve played, it has a good balance of luck and skill, and the difficulty curve is low enough that even a new player can easily win.

Forbidden Island: Escape Together or Drown Alone

Forbidden Island: Escape Together or Drown Alone

Forbidden Island

Forbidden Island is our first example of a kind of game that generally has people split: the cooperative game. In co-op games, the players are pitted against the rules of the board. There’s no winner; either everyone wins together or everyone loses.  Some people really enjoy the genre, others are quite against it, and more don’t really ‘get’ that it’s a thing that exists since cooperative games have only recently been growing in popularity. We both like this kind of game but Steffanie especially prefers being able to enjoy a gaming experience without the pressure of having to try to beat other players.

In Forbidden Island, the players are explorers who’ve landed on a mysterious island in search of fabled treasures. Your goal is to get those treasures and get off the island, but you have to be fast–the island is sinking out from under you!

Each game is slightly different, as the island is made up of tiles that are dealt out at random; the tiles are flipped between “normal” and “flooding,” and get removed completely if the ocean overwhelms them. There’s a deck of island cards with one card representing each of the tiles. At the start of the game, some island cards are flipped up and those tiles are flipped to “flooding.” If an island card is drawn for an already-flooded tile, then both the tile and the card are returned to the box, leaving you both with less space to move and with fewer cards in the island deck, making it more likely that later tiles will sink.

Each player gets a different role with a special ability, but aside from that, the turn sequence is fairly simple. A player gets three actions, which can be to move from one tile to an adjacent one, to flip their tile or an adjacent one from “flooding” back to “normal,” to hand one of their cards to a player on the same tile, or to turn in four cards at a color of temple to get that treasure.  The maximum hand size is five, which ends up being a large part of the difficulty; you can’t work on multiple sets at once, and it’s time-consuming to transfer cards between players in a game where time is your enemy.

After a player goes, it’s the game’s turn. The player is dealt two player cards. If you’re lucky, both of them are treasures or helpful cards. If you’re unlucky, one (or in rare and extra-unlucky cases, both) will be a Waters Rise card. When the Waters Rise, you increase the Waters Rise meter, causing there to be more cards played from the Island deck, and then reshuffles the Island discards and puts them back on top—if you haven’t fixed those tiles, you’re risking losing them now! Whether or not the waters rose, you then deal out a number of cards equal to the Waters Rise meter from the Island deck (between two and five, depending on your chosen difficulty and how many times it has increased), and either flip or remove those tiles, depending on whether or not they were already flooded.

It’s nearly impossible (and quickly becomes strictly impossible) to keep up with the rate of the island flooding. Fortunately, that’s not your actual goal. You win by collecting all four treasures, getting all players to Fool’s Landing (a helicopter pad), and playing Helicopter Lift to escape. You lose if any of these become impossible: if both temples of one color sink before you get that treasure, if any player drowns, or if Fool’s Landing sinks. You also lose if, as mentioned earlier, the Waters Rise meter reaches the top.

For some reason, possibly its small size, Forbidden Island’s card deck seems particularly spiteful. Like many co-op games, it can go from “under control” to “we’re all doomed” in a single turn, but Forbidden Island has a frustrating tendency to not just do that, but do it multiple times per game. Part of what contributes to this is the distribution of the Waters Rise cards; in genre-cornerstone Pandemic and many of its imitators, this kind of card, the one that accelerates the rate at which you lose, is divided more or less evenly in the deck — say, one somewhere in each quarter if there are four, and the deck is never reshuffled, but in Forbidden Island, it’s completely random and has a nasty tendency to come back in a deck that’s perilously thin because players are holding on to cards in later shuffles.

The game can get tense, especially in the late game, but at the same time, it’s a fun kind of tense, with the players madly scrambling about to get the cards to the right people and places to claim the treasures. It is very similar to Forbidden Desert, Pandemic, and several other games, but Forbidden Island is probably the shortest of the lot with some of the simplest rules, so if you think this style of game might be your cup of tea, this is a good one to start out with.

Shadow Hunters: Mafia If It Wasn’t Boring and Didn’t Need Twenty People

Shadow Hunters: Mafia If It Wasn’t Boring and Didn’t Need Twenty People

Shadow Hunters

Steffanie isn’t fond of Mafia (as the title might suggest; also called Werewolf); the atmosphere the game tends to create is aggressive, unfriendly, and untrusting, at least in her opinion. So comparing a game to Mafia wasn’t a selling point for her, but when we tried out this game, we both found we liked it immensely.

Shadow Hunters has Mafia-like elements, but has many advantages over those kinds of games. For one, it runs from five to eight players (in our opinion, it’s best at seven), meaning you don’t have to gather a huge group. For another, it’s not a large group against a minority; there are two equally balanced sides, with the rest of the players filling out a Neutral faction.

Each player is assigned a secret Role card, which gives them a specific character that is part of one of three factions. The two opposing sides are the Shadows and the Hunters, hence the name. The Hunters win by eliminating the Shadows. The Shadows win by eliminating the Hunters (or, in the seven player game, either both Hunters or all three Neutrals). Each Neutral player has their own victory condition; some are “just survive” passive, while others are actively aggressive. Players’ roles are hidden from each other at all times, so even the teams don’t know who their allies are without extra information—it’s not uncommon for two people to spend a few rounds beating each other up, only to then learn that they were on the same side the whole time.  Each character also has a special power that can only be used when their identity is revealed.  Thanks to the game balance, becoming a known factor isn’t Game Over, and in fact might just be the beginning.  Play continues until someone has achieved victory, which often requires some good time spent damaging one another.

Barring a dramatic reveal, information about each other’s identities is gained through one of the three decks of cards, the green Hermit cards. Each card has a statement on it, for example, “I bet you’re a Shadow. If you are, take 1 damage.” This card will be handed face-down, in secret to another player, who will respond with action, not with word. For the above example, they would move their damage counter up by one if they were a Shadow, and say “Nothing happens” if they were not. Either way, the card is discarded, also face-down. The first player then knows something about the second player…but there are quite a lot of players, and you don’t get Hermit cards every turn.It takes some time to deduce who everyone is, and in the meantime you have to decide on whether or not you want to act on whatever incomplete information you have.

Some people compare Shadow Hunters to the venerable “BANG!”, and while they do seem to share some of their DNA, having played both we rather favor Shadow Hunters. So, how are they similar? Well, in both games the ‘sides’ are typically more even in number than they are in Mafia.  Both games feature some degree of randomness rather than being ‘pure’ deduction — very spotty draws in BANG! and some draws and some dice rolling in Shadow Hunters. But Shadow Hunters adds some significant meat to the bones in the form of the White and Black item cards — rather than everything being one of a few basic card types and drawn from a single communal deck, Shadow Hunters utilizes two decks (three, if you count the Hermit cards) that roughly segregate the many, many unique cards that you can come across. While deduction games naturally have a high replay value, Shadow Hunters extends its life further with the fact that you are highly unlikely to see all the White (Defensive and/or Hunter-favoring) and/or Black (Offensive and/or Shadow-favoring) cards in one, or even a few playthroughs, and they’re very distinct and impactful cards.

Another improvement, at least in our opinion, is the combat system.  Both games feature Range and Damage mechanics (as opposed to Mafia’s “you’re out” mechanic), but while BANG! features range determined by the order in which players sit at the table and a very punishing damage system, Shadow Hunters uses a game board to determine range (with the exact conditions of the board potentially changing each time you play) and a more D&D-esque “the only hit point that matters is the last” sort of life system… combined with variable and hidden values for the amount of damage you can take.  Lastly, while damage is fairly bounded (on a bell curve; technically 0-5 but hits of more than 2 are very rare) the fact that it is a random single roll makes, while perhaps not a better experience on its lonesome than BANG!’s cardplay and counter-cardplay, at least a more fulfilling game of cat and mouse where you feel like you can do something any given turn. BANG!’s fighting is more like Lunch Money (a game we’ll talk about later) where if you’re stuck with a bad hand you will often want to spend a lot of time attempting to sculpt it while being beaten (or gunned) to death by your rivals. In Shadow Hunters, you are never deliberately encouraged to waste a turn: even a late game trip to the Hermit’s Cabin, when everyone is revealed, can do something valuable by putting you in (or out) of another player’s range or the ‘telling’ effect of a Hermit card.

Which brings us to the biggest difference between Shadow Hunters and most Social Deduction games… the deduction. It doesn’t seem like much, but the ability to assemble clues (as well as the continued ability to attempt to divine the tells of your friends from their gameplay or mannerisms) gives Shadow Hunters a new dimension, one of using logic and evidence to narrow down not just the possible alignment but potentially the exact role of your rival, rewarding diligent investigation even if someone has a really great poker face.

One of the big advantages this has over not just BANG! but most other Hidden Role games is the balanced sides and steady accumulation of evidence we mentioned earlier. There aren’t accusations of someone “acting like a traitor” or the table’s behavior devolving into witch hunts. It’s more purely deductive and ends in less bitterness around the table. In addition, the special powers that each character has give the game a fun edge, and the fact that the available characters are randomized means every game is different even with the same group.  Further, the individual roles make the endgame, where people basically know who is on what side, a fulfilling light tactical brawler on its own.  Indeed, in a genre of games where keeping yourself secret is typically paramount, It’s nice to be able to decide, fully strategically, to stomp out into the open in favor of having the power, but no secrecy. This brings Shadow Hunters to a unique and fulfilling conclusion where players are legitimately ‘in’ until they drop dead.  And as far as the player elimination aspect goes… the game seldom goes too long once the bodies start hitting the floor. If you like the thought of crossing Clue with Mafia to make a game better than either, then this is the game for you.

Fairy Tale: Do I Go for Dwarves Riding Dragons or Seven Faeries?

Fairy Tale: Do I Go for Dwarves Riding Dragons or Seven Faeries?

Fairy Tale

Fairy Tale is a fast-paced card game centered around “drafting.” For those unfamiliar, drafting is when you choose a card from your hand and pass the rest to the next player, and do so until all cards have been chosen.

In Fairy Tale, you get five cards for each of four rounds, and play three of those five; the goal is to combine your cards to get the most points. It has a slight sabotage element as black cards will force players to flip over cards, rendering them useless, but for the most part it’s just about trying to get the cards most beneficial to you while denying your opponent the ones most beneficial to them. It can get very competitive, but the games tend to be short enough that the competitiveness isn’t bothersome even to easily-stressed Steffanie.

Other than someone having difficulty with the concept of drafting, this game isn’t difficult to learn, either in gameplay or in strategy. There are only really three strategies for scoring (that can be combined): exponential (a card type that scales to X squared: 1 of the card is worth 1, 2 are worth 2 each so total 4, etc.), paired (one card type is worth 3, with a second being worth 3 times the number of cards of the first type), and high points (cards worth a flat 6 but that turn a member of their own faction, including themselves potentially, face-down). If that still sounds complicated, don’t worry–it’s very obvious once you’re reading the cards.

That is not to say, though, that Fairy Tale is too simple — there is enough strategic depth, in the very nature of drafting if nothing else, that the game actually has some staying power, and the Black cards complicate strategies. Similarly, while the best ways to score points are the geometric sets, cross-faction partners, or big-point cards, a combined arms strategy is often needed to win the game: you can’t rely on getting nothing but Baby Dragons so you have to make the best use of the cards you do get.

For those desiring even more layers, there are an extra few cards that are “Advanced” cards.  They allow the game to support up to five players instead of four, add a new mechanic called the Hunt (A pre-emptive offensive flip), and feature cards with alternate scoring opportunities such as having the most of a particular faction or card type, the latter of those features being marked but unused in the base game.

As is often the case, since the game is physically small (though I believe more recent editions have a larger box for shelf presence), it also tends to play quickly, and it’s not uncommon at our gaming table play Fairy Tale two or three times in a row.

Miskatonic School for Girls: Cackling Madly Is in the Rulebook

Miskatonic School for Girls: Cackling Madly Is in the Rulebook

Whoever came up with a game concept of having an all-girl boarding school run by the monsters and villains of H.P. Lovecraft? It sounds ridiculous, and it is, but that ridiculousness is part of the fun.


Miskatonic is a deck-building game, where each player has their own deck that they buy cards for to improve–but unlike most deck-building games, you also buy negative cards for your opponents, and the weight of the negative cards starts to outweigh the benefit of the positive ones as the game goes on. It becomes a struggle to stay sane (20 starting sanity, 0 loses) while hoping your opponents’ decks fail them first.   Each turn you’ll draw five cards (starting with whatever is in your purchase pile), use them to buy a Student for yourself and a Teacher for the opponent on your left, and then put any teachers in your hand into your classroom, where you’ll flip up one card from the top of your deck for each, hopefully getting students strong enough to fend them off.

The game doesn’t take itself seriously–like the title says, the rulebook actually instructs you to cackle insanely when you lose certain amounts of sanity–and the artwork varies from silly to sinister while staying light-hearted. Despite being elimination, players are rarely sitting around for long; once someone goes down, the other players are usually in precarious positions and will only take a couple more rounds. The average player can enjoy it on its own merits, while fans of the Mythos can laugh at students like “Charlotte” Ward and Keziah Mason and teachers like Crossing Guard Dagon and Headmaster N.R. Lathotep.

In general, the play experience is one that has a good pace to it: In the early game, sanity loss will be minor since players can’t buy the best cards, resulting in a lot of minor advances, Substitutes (Filler, 0-cost teachers for your opponents that are rather trivial to defeat) or Transfers (The same, but for students).  As players build up their generation of Friendship and/or Nightmare points, each card potentially having production of both but only being usable for one or the other on a given turn, the better students and more potent teachers begin to enter circulation.  The key to Miskatonic’s flow, however, is the simple fact that your student is never going to be as good for you as the teacher the House right before you handed you was bad.  That is, your deck was never better for your survival then it was at the start of the game (When it contained no teachers) and the purchase of students serves, largely, to attempt to slow the rate at which you hemmorage sanity.  Often, decks reach a tipping point where they have too many teachers that are all too powerful, and the sanity loss starts coming by the bucket load.  As such, despite being a player elimination game, it’s usually over VERY shortly after the first House goes stark raving mad since everyone else will either be on small numbers or primed to end up that way.

Overall, I’d call Miskatonic School for Girls a light game.  It is far less fiddly than traditional deckbuilders, the core decision points being what to buy from column A and what to buy from column B.  Which is not to say that the game doesn’t have its complications: the plethora of special abilities on the cards, particularly “Pre-Class” abilities of students that you may use when you draw them.  Further, Locker Cards, Pet Teachers (Teachers you draw when trying to fight teachers; they don’t help but you get to send them to someone else’s discard pile), and events can bring actual strategic thinking into the mix.  Still, it’s a game we can play with the somewhat less game savvy on a fair level, which you can consider either in the game’s favor or against it depending on what you’re looking for.