Compounded boardgame cover.

I got to play Compounded at the International Tabletop Day hosted in Nashville by Emma / Meeple Mountain.  It was one of the play-to-win games so I was super stoked to get a chance at playing it, and even stickered the discs and taught myself the game from the rules.

It took a while to figure it out and then teach everyone else, but once we got going was lots of fun.  Basically the game is all about researching compounds.  Everyone has access to the same compounds in the middle of the table which you can claim and put the correct elements on to complete them.  When they are scored you not only get points, but some of them give you pieces of lab equipment and some have chemical reactions which you use to your benefit.

Depending on whether the compound was a solid/liquid/gas it moves you up on a different one of your research experiment tracks, which are basically the economy of your game.  I found it very beneficial to try to balance these tracks—drawing a lot of elements every turn doesn’t do you very much good if you have to discard the excess, for instance.  So it felt a lot like an economy management game as well.

The rules with claiming compounds were a little confounding; there’s a way you can claim them at the last minute if you score a compound that was unclaimed, and I kept having to re-explain the differences to people.  It felt like something unnecessary that the player has to mess around with and just unnatural.

Overall we really enjoyed the game; it’s very visually appealing and satisfying to take these neat element tokens (odd-shaped jewels of different colors) and place them on the different slots of the compound cards.  The compound cards show you the chemical formula/bonds, so it really feels like you’re learning about chemistry.   The lab equipment was a nice touch as well, as all of these things really enhance the theme: lab goggles, graduated cylinder, pipette, lab book, bunsen burner (to ignite other player’s experiments on fire), etc.  For the most part, the effects of these pieces of lab equipment has nothing to do with the theme at all though.

One player was a runaway leader and there really wasn’t anything to do about that.  No catchup mechanisms (which I’m fine with) and no way to bring him down (which I would have liked).  Most of the game feels like playing solitaire…the only interactions are A) in claiming compounds in the middle, others can’t claim them, and B) with using the bunsen burner to ignite other people’s experiments strategically.  If you can get a bunsen burner.

Overall the theme feels kind of like candy.  Everything looks great and that’s what enhances the theme.  However most of the mechanics and rules don’t feel like they have much to do with what it would be like to be a chemist at all.

Nonetheless, it satisfied two very important things: it was fun to play, and you felt a sense of accomplishment in building your compounds and learning something in the process.

Also the strategy of it was fairly fun.  Although it didn’t feel like there were vastly different strategies you could employ…just different ways to tweak your economy.

So, it was fun, and I would certainly pick it up if I found it for a good price.  And I’ll definitely want to pick this up when I have kids of high school age…hopefully it will help instill in them a love, or at least like, of chemistry.

This game scratches the chess itch, but it’s so much better IMO. This has several advantages because it doesn’t have chess’s set start-up, rigid openings, always the same pieces, and (most importantly!) having to think a lot about each turn, looking forward 2-3 moves on each possibility (if you want to be competitive against people who have played a lot), which results in long games and long downtimes waiting for your opponent.

the duke cover

How It Works:
You start out with three pieces and the game is about capturing the opponent’s Duke. But–and this is the best part–every turn you can choose to bring a new piece onto the field (in lieu of a normal move). And there are a bunch of pieces in a bag, so you never know which one you’re going to get, and each game you find yourself in a new situation, thinking about how to get these pieces to work with each other.

Each piece is a flat tile, and has a small grid on it that illustrates the ways you can move the piece. This is very handy, as you don’t have to memorize how the units work.

Another twist is this:
Each piece has two sides. On one side are some movement options. But on the other side are different movement options. And each time you move, you flip the piece over and have to use the other side next. So your movement pattern is going to be two different sets of options woven together, 1-2-1-2-1-2. It’s very interesting to plan accordingly and figure out possible patterns.

Here’s what it looks like halfway through a game:

the duke gameplay
Types of movement/attack:
Also, there are different types of movement, each of which is represented by a different symbol in the grid diagrams on the pieces. There is simple movement, which requires that nothing is between you and the place you are moving to, and then there is hopping, which doesn’t require that. Then there is sliding, which allows you to move as many spaces as you want in the given direction, and jump-sliding. Then there’s striking, which allows you to attack a piece without actually moving there at all!

There’s also fear, which paralyzes enemies, sauron but it’s not used much. And there’s also commanding, which moves friendly units around you.

There are also a few units which have unique abilities.

Here’s the movement reference card:

the duke movement reference

What I Think:
Even without the two sides, most of the pieces would be more complex than the average piece in chess. For example, one piece might be able to move to four different squares and hop to two other squares. And then you flip it over, and the other side is different from that. Some units are pretty simple, but that’s not the rule of thumb.

Having two sides which are both complex doesn’t feel very elegant to me. I wish that there weren’t quite as many options on each piece. That makes it hard to conceptualize, between the two sides, exactly how this piece is meant to be moved around. I REALLY LIKE the two different sides AND the different types of moving/attacking. I just wish that each side didn’t have as many options in general–that feels overwhelming and not elegant.

Aside from that one thing, I like everything else about the game. The components are high quality (wood pieces, thick board, and BONUS: a couple of blank pieces with stickers that allow you to make custom pieces). The design & art is minimalistic but I think that fits for this game.

Also I’ll mention, it has some alternate ways to play, with the flag or dragon or mountain. I’ve played with each once and they’re okay–not a way I want to play all the time, but definitely felt different and worth doing sometimes.

This game is one of the best strategic 2-player games in existence. I love playing this with my brother. We both used to play a lot of chess and don’t really anymore. This game is short, and feels really fun because you don’t know what pieces you’re going to be dealt every time. For all the reasons listed above, and because of only having 1 thing I don’t like, I rate this game a 9/10.

My Chess Story:
I stopped playing chess years ago because I didn’t have the patience for running through all the possibilities, looking 2-3 turns ahead every turn. And that was the only way I’d be able to beat my brother or dad, and if I can’t ever win, forget it. I used to miss chess quite a lot because nothing else quite scratches that itch. But now I’m happy to say that that itch has not only been scratched, but I really can’t think of a better way to scratch it.

Gratuitous picture of the pieces:

the duke pieces

If you love chess or if you’re post-chess, definitely buy this game. If you just need a really good 2-player strategy game, you probably want to buy this game, although there are other good options with totally different feels–like Summoner Wars, or Go. It just depends on what kind of flavor you want. Personally I like having multiple flavors.

Disclaimer: this wasn’t meant to be a rules reference, but a review; I’ve abbreviated some of the details for conciseness. Please read the rules for accuracy.

Stone Go Boards

Engraved 17x17 go board

Gretchen and I have been working on stone Go boards.  For some reason, no one is making Go boards on stone.  So she made me this one for my birthday.

go board with a few stones

We did multiple processes to get the final product, starting with a tile, and then cutting it to the right dimensions, cutting the grid into the stone, and then painting a silvery color on the lines.  One of the most interesting things we discovered about Go boards is that the tiles are not perfectly square–there’s actually an optical illusion to overcome in order to make them appear square.

go board close

Anyways, as you can see, the final product was AMAZING, so we’ve been looking into making them to sell as a product as well.  It’s really a refined furnishing; a functional piece of art.

We posted this ebay add to see if there was interest, and there is–in fact one person said he would buy it if it were at a lower price–so we’re going ahead with this.  The current process is quite expensive, but we have plans for lowering the cost to make it more accessible.  Stay tuned, and you too could have one!

We also have plans for using different kinds of tiles for the boards.  The above picture is our favorite slate tile, but it would be really fun to have a marble line, jade line, and others we have in mind.

With that being said, we’re still gauging interest.  Can you help us by taking a one question poll below?

Board game design

Lately I’ve been re-discovering my love of designing board games…I’ve been very lucky to run across a fellow board game designer who can also do graphics, so I’m hopeful of getting a kickstarter campaign on at some point.

Here’s a couple pictures of my latest design…I don’t want to give too much away, but I’ll give you a hint…it involves a rotating labyrinth.   🙂

labyrinth nodes

labyrinth sections

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