The Cardboard Hoard: Quick Hits - Kingdomino: Duel, Skulk Hollow, The Sherlock Files
Welcome to Quick Hits, a short-form column where I discuss multiple games I’ve recently played, giving brief thoughts on each game — from the game’s components, theme, and gameplay, to particularly notable experiences during a game, along with any other thing notable aspects that come to mind.
Kingdomino: Duel, designed by Bruno Cathala and Ludovic Maublanc, published by Blue Orange Games
Kingdomino: Duel is a roll-and-write version of Kingdomino that plays exactly two players, features multiple unique custom dice and a magnetic box, and requires three sheets of paper from the scorepad to play one game. I’m not sure exactly who the target market is — although I guess the obvious answer is roll-and write fanatics. If you can accept that it was never going to be as good as Kingdomino, it’s a fun enough roll-and-write puzzle. If you went in expecting otherwise, you were always going to be disappointed, as it’s just too monumental of an ask for this smaller, cheaper version to dethrone the 2017 Spiel des Jahres winner. I played it the other night, and the highlight for me was making single “dominoes” out of two dice and placing them out into my kingdom, while the least satisfying aspect was having to remember to mark off the “spellbook” bonus track, and how little impact it seemed to have over the course of the game.
Skulk Hollow, designed by Keith Matejka, Eduardo Baraf, and Seth Johnson, published by Pencil First Games
This game reminds me of the video game Shadow of the Colossus — although in this case, it is a team of forest critters attacking the larger-than-life threat, making for a cuter, more family-friendly theme compared to the video game. The production is outstanding, the gameplay is straightforward despite being asymmetrical, and there is a lot of variability right out of the box. But, having played a few times, I’ve noticed that while both the minuscule Foxen and the goliath Guardian play smoothly enough, only one seems really fun to play — or much more fun, at least. While the plodding Guardian always seems to have an obvious best move, and hence very little to think about, the multitude of Foxen have many more options to pursue in taking down the Guardian — which is where you find the fun in Skulk Hollow. The real question, however, is if this is just my outlier opinion, or a generally accepted shortcoming of the game’s asymmetry. I suppose the real trick, in my case, would just be to find someone that prefers the Guardian, and then it’s problem solved.
The Sherlock Files: Elementary Entries, designed by Francisco Gallego Arredondo, Martí Lucas Feliu, and Josep Izquierdo Sánchez, published by Indie Boards & Cards
There’s been a resurgence of detective games recently, including the lauded Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game and Chronicles of Crime, following the footsteps of the classic 1985 Spiel des Jahres-winning Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective. Whereas those sleuthing games seek deep immersion and difficult, many-layered mysteries, The Sherlock Files has gone a different route. It plays in an hour or less, and each of its three cases is distilled into a single deck of just over thirty cards. Its main mechanism is hand management, as each card contains a potential clue, but each turn you must play a card to the table or discard a card. Putting frivolous cards on the table loses points, but discarding important clues may make solving the mystery impossible. The deductive possibilities are fewer, making the mysteries shallower, but it’s an acceptable trade-off. This system taps into a different market than those listed above — it’s quicker, more casual, and doesn’t require a commitment of more than one play. It’s an easier-to-digest, watered-down, weeknight alternative — and I don’t say that disparagingly.
On a related note, dV Giochi, the publisher of the Deckscape games, is releasing Decktective: Bloody-Red Roses soon. Decktective is a similarly styled whodunit-in-a-deck-of-cards game, meaning The Sherlock Files won’t have this market to itself for long. I’m looking forward to seeing how Decktective plays with this small-box format, and whether it can best The Sherlock Files’, which is off to a solid start with Elementary Entries.