Board Games, Podcast, Reviews

The Initiative

photo: John Gonzalez

This review of The Initiative appeared in Episode 119 of The Five By. The following is the script I used when recording the podcast, and, as such, there might be some discrepancies between the text and audio due to editing for time and flow.

The year is 1994 and you and your friends are at the local garage sale. You know, like most fourteen year old kids. On the radio, Nirvana plays while you sift through the unwanted chotzkies of someone’s life. Nothing’s caught your eye and your friends are ready to head out and bike to the local corner store for some sodas and chips, Dr. Pepper and Funyuns are always a great choice. But before you head out, you spot a dusty board game and decide to buy it on a whim. You hand over a single dollar, grab the game and run out onto the yard to catch up with your friends. But someone is watching you from their car, and they have a keen interest in that board game you just bought.

Hi friends, I’m John Gonzalez. What you’ve just heard is’t the cold open to the next season of stranger things or even someone’s home brew  campaign of Kids on Bikes. It’s the first page of the guidebook for The Initiative. Okay, I might have taken some artistic liberties with the first page of this comic book style campaign book and colored it with my own nostalgic recollections of youth. But I feel the game encourages that.

The Initiative from designer Corey Konieczka and published by Unexpected Games. On the surface, The Initiative is a cooperative game about code breaking wrapped in legacy style goodies that are revealed through the game’s 14 Chapter campaign. You start off with a rules sheet and game overview. A couple pages of exposition in comic book form and bam you’re on your way to uncovering the secrets within. The story revolves around a group of middle-school aged friends who uncover the threads of a mystery while playing The Key. Think of The Key as the fictional game within the Initiative.

You’ll start off The Initiative’s campaign by playing a game of The Key. The rules are straightforward and covered in a two-page rulebook. Players move across the board, revealing Clue tokens, while hoping to avoid traps. The clue tokens have symbols on them that correspond to glyphs on the mission card for that chapter. The mission card holds a secret message and it’s inserted into the plastic mission console. If you reveal a clue token on the game board and the same glyph is present on the mission console, you flip up any windows with that same symbol. The goal, at least initially, is uncover enough windows to let you suss out and unscramble the secret message. Think Clue meets The Wheel Of Fortune.

Moving, revealing and collecting clue tokens, are all actions that require the active player to play a card by placing it on top of the relevant card pile. The only rule here is that you have to play a card whose numerical value is higher than the one currently on top of the pile. Playing cards to take actions in the Initiative involves trusting your tablemates and lots of hoping you didn’t just lock them out of taking an action. You can communicate during the game, but you’re not supposed to declare what cards you have in hand. While this adds tension to the game, there is a way to clear any given deck through a separate action, which is handy.

 After taking one or two actions, a player’s turn is over and they must draw two cards from the deck. Once the deck runs out, four wristwatch cards are shuffled into the deck and if enough of these wristwatch cards are drawn, the game ends. The good news is that if you are able to solve the phrase before the last wristwatch card is drawn, you win! And let me tell you, this comes in real handy especially when you run out of time and you’ve got a master code breaker, like my partner  Lorena, on your side. Our later games were often solved at the very brink of disaster. Which makes for a really fun experience.

There’s a lot more to the game’s rules and mechanics but I won’t spoil any of that here. Not only do the phrases on the mission card become more difficult to decipher, but the board layout changes between games as new elements are introduced. The Initiative is not unlike some of the recent legacy style games in which new rules, components, and other surprises are revealed throughout the campaign.

The Initiative was released in 2021 and kinda fell off the radar a bit. Which is a shame because it was one of my favorite games of that year. Lorena and I really enjoyed the codebreaking and strategy found in The Initiative and it made for a perfect game during those weekends in which we were stuck in-doors. The campaign features fifteen chapters and twenty-four stand-alone missions. Overall, there’s plenty of post-campaign content, so no complaints here. The art style is a mix of comic book art and old school board game art which ties nicely with the game’s theme.

The campaign story in The Initiative includes some interesting character insights and development. In fact the story touches on issues of self esteem and being honest with your friends. Including elements of character development and introspection in a game about deciphering codes was a nice touch. I also love that the game features a diverse cast of playable characters. So if you’re into campaign games and are a fan of code-breaking and deduction, you should check out The Initiative.

For the Five By, I’m John Gonzalez. Find me on Twitter, Instagram, and Twitch as Bookofnerds. Thanks for listening.                

Board Games, Podcast, The Five By


This review of Cribbage appeared in Episode 106 of The Five By. The following is the script I used when recording the podcast, and, as such, there might be some discrepancies between the text and audio due to editing for time and flow.

Back in the beginning of 2020, my partner Lorena and I decided to take up a gaming challenge. A few months earlier we had started playing Cribbage and so we decided that we would play Cribbage every day for all of 2020. It seemed like an ambitious goal right off the bat. After all, Three hundred and sixty five games of anything might be a bit much. We started off pretty strong, keeping up with our daily games, making up for days missed by playing two or three games on some nights. Then in March of 2020, well… we all know what happened then. Here in Los Angeles, a stay at home order came down and Lorena and I hunkered in to stay indoors whenever possible and played Cribbage.

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Board Games, Board Gaming Life

How to Use a Second Monitor With Tabletop Simulator in Three Easy Steps.

I’ve been doing more gaming online during these last six months. Heck, I’ve even started streaming games with friends on Twitch. Spending more time at the digital board game table has me constantly looking for ways to make digital board gaming a more pleasant experience for myself and my needs. In particular, I really have trouble scrolling back and forth in games, and keeping track of various board states can be exhausting.

Luckily, I have access to a second monitor from time to time so using a two monitor setup to keep an eye on different parts of the gaming table can be useful. I dug around online and found that there’s a way to get Tabletop Simulator use a second monitor to display a different camera angle and create on screen buttons that let us change which camera is active on your secondary screen.

Continue reading “How to Use a Second Monitor With Tabletop Simulator in Three Easy Steps.”
Board Games, Solo, The Five By

Review: Sonora

This review of Sonora appeared in Episode 92 of The Five By. The following is the script I used when recording the podcast, and, as such, there might be some discrepancies between the text and audio due to editing for time and flow.

It’s dusk in the desert and the sun hangs just above the horizon, seeming to linger just a moment too long. The last traces of the golden red desert landscape finally give way to a deep and inky purple. In this newly dark world, insects buzz and chirp the same dirge they’ve practiced since time immemorial. An owl hoots overhead as a giant wooden disc flies across this idyllic landscape and ricochets against a nearby cliff. It careens at a sharp angle, throwing   sand dozens of feet into the air as it comes to stop. You walk up to the disc and notice there’s a giant number five on top of it.

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Board Games

Review: Flamme Rouge

This review of Flamme Rouge appeared in Episode 84 of The Five By. The following is the script I used when recording the podcast, and, as such, there might be some discrepancies between the text and audio due to editing for time and flow.

The French countryside scrolls past you as you pump harder and try to catch up to the pack of riders ahead of you. In the distance, further down the road is the flamme rouge, the red flag that signals the last kilometer of the race. It’s time to give it your all and cross that finish line.

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Board Games, Podcast, Reviews, The Five By

You’re a Traitor, Harry – Review: Obscurio

This review of Obscurio appeared in Episode 82 of The Five By. The following is the script I used when recording the podcast, and, as such, there might be some discrepancies between the text and audio due to editing for time and flow.

So you thought it would be a good idea to sneak into what you and your wizard friends thought was an abandoned library and help yourself to a tome of ancient spells. Unfortunately, there’s an evil sorcerer that’s that kinda sore about the whole stealing-his-rare-and-powerful-fancy-book-of-spells and he’s set up various traps to stop you and your friends from escaping. To make matters worse, one of your wizard pals has been corrupted by the sorcerer and is actively trying to sabotage the team. Fortunately, the book you’re stealing is determined to guide you out of this labyrinthine library.

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Board Games, First Impression, First Play

First Play: Cthulhu: Death May Die

First Play is an ongoing series in which I write up some initial thoughts about games that I’ll likely only get to play once.

Facing down The King in Yellow, Hastur on a beautiful Sunday afternoon at the board game cafe Game Haus

I recently got the chance to play Cthulhu: Death May Die, CMON’s massive 2019 game of cosmic horror. Designed by Eric Lang and Rob Daviau, Death May Die is one of those Kickstarter games that are packed to the brim with miniatures, tons of content, and upgraded everything.

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Board Games, Reviews

Escape Plan (Solo)

This review of Escape Plan appeared in Episode 76 The Five By. Check out Meeple Lady’s review in Episode 59 of The Five By for a more thorough look of the game at higher player counts.

 Escape Plan

It’s been three days since the police made you and your crew for that big heist that was supposed to be your last. You and your former heist-mates are on the lam, twenty-three skiddoo, you’re Paul McCartney and Wings circa 1973. All that stands between you and sipping Bahama Mamas on the beach is a city full of cops…a city full of cops AND your table mates. You glance around the table as the final round begins and you try to figure out who’ll be the first one to make their escape. The board is littered with map tiles, cubes, and way too many cops. You take a deep breath, one last look at your escape plan…screw it, you’re getting out first.

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