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, 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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Party Games, Podcast, Reviews, The Five By

Token Mind Meld – Review: Medium

This review of Medium appeared in Episode 80 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.

Sarah Kelly’s art for Medium is an eye catching mix of neon, pop art, and Patrick Nagel. Outstanding!

I’m always on the lookout for games that can accommodate larger groups of people. Games that can spare us from an evening spent pairing up funny/offensive cards for hours on end. I was glad to find Medium, a game that touts itself as a mind reading party game. Medium is the first game from designers Danielle, Nathan Thornton, and Lindsey Sherwood. It features art and design by Sarah Kelly. It’s published by Greater Than Games and plays two to eight players. 

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Deck Building Games, Podcast, Reviews, The Five By

Legendary Encounters: An Alien Deck Building Game

This review of Legendary Encounters: An Alien Deck Building game appeared in Episode 78 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.

Back in 2012, Upper Deck Entertainment released the prolific and long-titled deck builder, Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game. The game, designed by Devin Low, resonated with fans of card games and Marvel comics so much that at the time of this recording, there are about a dozen small box expansions and six, big box stand-alone games that can be mixed in with the original game. In 2014, Upper Deck Entertainment released an Alien movie franchised themed version of its legendary deck building game, the equally long-titled Legendary Encounters: An Alien Deck Building Game.

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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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Board Games, Reviews

Review: Teotihuacan: City of Gods

In this wonderful hobby where we move wood and cardboard pieces across the table, we’ve collectively accepted a decision to designate some games as Euro Games and others as Ameritrash. Whether or not these labels are apt, fair, or even accurate is a topic I’ll leave to the etymologists. I do love a good irony though, so I’m always happy to find Euro Games with decidedly non-European themes. Teotihuacan: City of Gods by designer Danielle Tascini (The Voyages of Marco Polo, Tzolkin: The Mayan Calendar) happens to fall within this designation and naturally I had to play it for myself and see how it stacks up.

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Board Games, Reviews, Worker Placement

Review: Architects of the West Kingdom

The closest I’ve ever come to designing a building was that time I drew a picture of a fort and recruited a couple friends to build it out of the discarded couches behind the apartments where I lived as a child. I’ve also never tried my hand at designing a board game (wait, does misinterpreting board game rules count as game design?) And yet, I feel that architecture and game design share similar end goals. Architecture and board game design both involve designing and creating works that seek to strike a balance between function and aesthetics. With Raiders of the North Seas, designer Shem Phillips struck a nice balance between content and presentation by combining euro-game mechanics with outstanding art. Being a big fan of Raiders of the North Seas, I was eager to check out Phillips’ latest collaboration with artists Mihajlo Dimitrieveski, Architects of the West Kingdom.

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Board Games, Reviews

Review: Viticulture Essential Edition

IMG_2177      Viticulture Essential Edition, published by Stonemaier Games and designed by Jamey Stegmaier and Alan Stone, is a game that sets out to extract, distill, and bottle the challenges of running a vineyard into a clever worker-placement game. Admittedly, I don’t know much about wine. Just a few weeks ago I was at a bar waiting to watch a magic show. While the bartender was

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