Hemloch Review

In Hemloch you play as the last heirs of two powerful bloodlines. You need power to survive so your goal is to influence the citizens of Hemloch to support you and your house. In order to take control of the city you’re going to command various Minions from the city’s five largest factions. You play these Minions on various parts of the city known as Locations. Every Minion you play performs a special ability when placed in a Location. Each Location has a special ability that can only be used when Minions of a matching faction are placed there. Your goal is to have the most influence in each Location and control the city.

In the box:

60 Minion Cards – 30 white & 30 black. These are identical 30 card decks and one is handed to each player. Each Minion has an influence value, special ability and faction.

9 Potion Cards & 9 Trinket Cards – These are cards that can be taken by using a Minion’s or Location’s special ability. They give you special actions and are worth points in the end game scoring.

4 Location Cards – These represent the four areas of the city. Each one has a special ability and a certain number of Influence Spaces.

1 Festival Marker – When this piece is on a Location you may not play cards there.

4 Night & 4 Day Cards –You must organize the eight day and night cards in two separate piles. You start the game with only the pile of four night cards creating a Week Deck. Each round has two turns, the first and the second players’. You start a round by drawing a card from the Week Deck (with nights only) and you place the Festival Marker on the Location listed on the card. After each player has taken their turn you draw another card and repeat. After four rounds you have the Week’s End step where you count both players influence in each Location and add one day card to the Week Deck. You must also remove the matching Night card from the deck still keeping the number of cards in the Week Deck at four (three Night and one Day). After that you not only do an Influence Check at week’s end but each time you draw a Day card as well. So as the game progresses you’ll have an increasing number of Influence Checks as you add Day cards to the Week Deck.

30 Player Markers (15 Blue and 15 Yellow) – Each player will take all of one color and use them to place in the Influence Spaces of the Locations to control the area and gain points.

The box is your standard Small Box Games VHS box that fits nicely with the other SMG titles.

Set Up:

Set all four Locations in between both players

Separate the Potions and Trinkets

Separate the day/night cards in two piles (start game with only the night cards)

Give each player 15 player markers

Give each player a deck of Minions (white or black)

Draw five cards from your Minion deck and your ready to play

Game Play:

You may take two actions per turn, and you may choose from these available actions.

1. Draw a card.

2. Play a card.

The game ends if:

Either player has placed all of their player markers.

Two Locations have no empty Influence Spaces.

All Potions and Trinkets have been acquired.

Either player runs out of cards.

There are four Days in the week deck.


I really like the way John Clowdus designs games and Hemloch is no exception. There is a reason for almost every mechanic and it seems like a priority to make them work within the theme. For instance when the Festival Marker is in a Location the people in that area are celebrating so they are too busy having fun to be influenced. The Trinkets are like bribes that you pay to an opponents Minion to lure him to your side of the city. The game play just fits so nicely together and it makes sense thematically.

Some two player games can be brief and fun but are too light for gamers who like a “meatier” experience. Hemloch has actual strategy, yes you heard me correctly, a 15-20 minute two player card game where you can use an actual strategy. You can try and get your player markers on the Locations quickly by using Minions, you can stack Minions on a Location to try and win Influence Checks, you can try and obtain as many Potions and Trinkets as possible for a quick win, you can be aggressive and try destroy your opponents Minions, player markers, Potions and Trinkets; or any combination of those things. How John was able to squeeze such a big game into such a small box J I’ll never know.

Hemloch is also fairly easy to learn after you get past the day/night bit which eluded me until I put the game out in front of me. After that it made perfect sense and now I find it’s one of the features that add to the unique quality of the game. The cards are absolutely gorgeous with a fantasy setting that really feels alive and interesting. I’d love to see more coming from the Hemloch universe.

Before I played Hemloch if you were to ask me what my favorite two player card game was I would have probably said Omen. After playing Hemloch……I’ll get back to you on that one. Seriously guys, if you have never experienced a game from Small Box Games you are doing yourself a great disservice. Find someone you know who has one and give it a whirl. I say this with all sincerity; John Clowdus makes some of the best two player games in the industry. Hemloch is one of the most fantastic two player games I have ever played; honestly.

Jump Gate Review

Jump gate is a two to six player space exploration game from MWGames. You play the part of a space ship captain traveling the cosmos looking for new planets and precious resources. There has just been a major scientific breakthrough called the Jump Gate which lets you travel great distances in an instant so the universe is now your playground.

In the box:

6 Space ships & Marking Chips – You choose a ship along with a stack of chips in the same color when you start the game.

48 Resource Cards – These are the various resources that can be found on a planet.

48 NavComp Cards – Each player will have a hand of these. They allow you take certain actions during your turn. Each card has two symbols and some have a special action on the top right corner.

1 Jump Gate Board – This will act as the center of the game. Every time someone jumps to a planet they will place one of their marking chips here.

1 Black Hole Board – On some of the resource cards there is a black hole icon. You place one of your marking chips here when you take one of those. If players gain too many cards with black hole icons it triggers a game ending condition.

12 Planet Boards – You shuffle and place eight of these in a circle around the Jump Gate and Black Hole. These are the planets the players may travel to.

Each planet has a jump code, a scan code, and a land code listed on the card. This tells you the correct NavComp card(s) you need to take those actions.

Game play:

To play you take two actions per turn of the following:

Research – Draw until you have a full hand of five cards.

Fly  Move your ship to a neighboring planet

Jump – Discard a NavComp card with the Jump Code of a planet to travel there.

Scan – Discard a NavComp card with the Scan Code of a planet: flip over one face down resource card, and place a marking chip in lower right corner.

Land and Claim – Discard two NavComp cards with the Landing Codes of a planet; flip all face down resource cards, place marking chip on top of planets name.

Harvest – Collect one Resource card on the planet your ship is currently at. Planet must be already claimed to Harvest.

Special Action – Discard a NavComp card with a special action and perform that action.

The game ends if there are nine marking chips on the Black Hole or if all planets have been claimed and the only Resource cards left have black hole icons.


I was immediately intrigued by Jump Gate after playing my first game. The rules felt finely tuned and the mechanics just worked so well within the theme. It was a very satisfying game experience. Jump Gate is long enough to get a good strategy going but short enough that it doesn’t over stay its welcome. After everyone memorizes the available actions turns just seem to fly by and you rarely have to wait too long to make another move.

When playing Jump Gate make sure to utilize the Special Action cards. They keep the game interesting and can give you an edge if you use one at the right time. For example using a Special Ability costs one of your two available moves on a turn, but with the Inside Info card you get a full hand of cards and an extra action so you effectively get a full turn with a fresh hand of five cards. The Special Abilities give you a good amount of control over how you play and can also let your opponents surprise you with a neat maneuver.

The different kinds of Resource cards are interesting as well. You can collect Gems, Water, EnerGel and Famous Finds. Each category has a different way of maximizing point values when collecting them. I’ve always been a fan of this type of set collecting game and Jump Gate does it as well as any I’ve played. Jump Gate is a very well designed and extremely satisfying game experience. I have been continuously impressed in the quality of games that are coming from independent developers this year and Jump Gate may be one of the most impressive of them all.


The Speicherstadt Review

The Speicherstadt is an auction game by one of my absolute favorite game designers Stefan Feld. It’s based on the Speicherstadt which is a huge warehouse district in Hamburg. In it you play the head of a large trading house and your goal is to have the most successful business through the buying and selling of goods with careful bidding and taking on contracts.


In the box:

54 Trade Cards – There are four card classifications

A) Winter

B) Spring

C) Summer

D) Autumn

E) Fire (one card)


These are separated by season, shuffled and stacked in one pile starting with the Fire card, then Autumn, Summer, Spring, and Winter.


45 Goods Cubes – These are randomly placed on ships. They can be collected, stored, and used to fill out Contracts from customers. In some instances Goods Cubes can be exchanged for coins.


20 Workers – Each player is going to select and take four of one color. Three will be used as your bidding markers, one will keep score on the side of the board.


25 Coins – Each player starts the game with five coins. You’ll mainly use your coins to pay for your winning bids.


1 Game Board – This is a nice sized, classy looking board with a subdued color scheme. The warehouse itself not only looks good, it serves a purpose in the game play. The green tracks on the sides are where you’ll place your meeples when declaring a bid.


There are five Market Hall Cards which are dealt out to each player at the start of the game and one metal coin which indicates the stating player.


Game Play:


Each turn has a total of five steps. The start player will act first and others will take their turns in clockwise order.


1. Supply – From the top of the card deck you take as many cards as you need to fill the card slots according to how many players you have. The board has icons letting you know how many cards you need to place.


2. Demand – Starting with the first player you place one worker on the lowest available slot above a card you would like to bid on. If another player has already bid on a card you would like to bid on as well, you may place your worker in the slot right above them. You may only play one worker and pass, you continue until all players have placed all three of their workers.


3. Purchase – The cost of the card is equal to how many workers occupy the green track above it. The player on the lowest space gets to decide to bid or pass first. If they bid they must count how many workers are above it and pay that amount of coins and that space is then resolved. If they decide to pass, they remove their worker and the player with the second lowest worker may now decide to bid or pass.


4. Loading – This only really happens when you purchase a ship with Goods Cubes on it. All you do is take your cubes and decide what to do with them. So you can fill out contracts, store them, or sell them.


5. Income – Each player receives one coin and if you were unable to purchase a card in a round you’ll get two coins instead.


*Fire Cards – There is a Fire Card in each season of cards. Once a Fire Card is drawn you count who has the most Fireman Cards and they get the points located on the top of the Fire Card. This works like the Pharaoh tile in RA or the Military cards in 7 Wonders.


The game ends when the final Fire card is used and the player with the most points at the end is the winner.



The most interesting part of the game for me is the type of cards you bid for. There are cards you collect sets of to score points, cards that let you sell Goods Cubes for money, cards that are worth points, cards that give the owner an exclusive way to score points and much more. One of my favorite characteristics about a Stefan Feld game is the ability to play creatively with his elegant and non limiting rules. For example in the Loading step you’re pretty much free to move your freshly purchased goods around, selling and storing them at your discretion.


Ships are very important to the game and with the Goods Cubes randomly pulled from a bag during the Supply step they are always an unknown. So you may see a ship with goods that you need badly or ships with goods one of your opponents could use to score big points and you’ll have to decide what to do on the fly. Should you bid on what you need or bid on what you can’t let someone else have. It’s always a tough decision and I really enjoy the type of control you have over what type of points generating system you have in your tableau.


The Speicherstadt is one of my favorite games of all time. The bidding system is absolutely brilliant because it actually lets you use your brain to win bids not just your coins. Placing your bid markers is so much fun and involves careful consideration. You can’t let someone run free by buying up cheap cards. Making your opponent sweat; not knowing if you really intend on buying a card, or if you’re just bluffing and jacking up the price trying to get them to abandon a bid is intense and can really test your poker face.


Everyone I have introduced to this game has really enjoyed it. Most of the time they play it at least twice; the first time to learn how to play and the second to try another strategy. It kind of feels like mixing an auction game with some of the abilities of a card game like Dominion. The Speicherstadt is a criminally underappreciated game from one of my absolute favorite game designers. Do yourself a favor and at least try it out even if you think you’ve had your fill of auction games. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised in what Stefan Feld has done with the genre.

Omen: Shattered Aegis

The Kingdoms of Crusaders is two player card game from Rightgames. The box says you can play up to four but you would need another copy of the game. In order to win you must create the most powerful kingdom using soldiers, knights and leaders. The game supposedly takes place during the Crusades and it has nice looking pictures on the cards but it’s mostly an abstract card game.

In the box:

56 Unit Cards – These are what you’ll be using to try and create a bigger and better kingdom than your opponent. Each card has up to five icons showing the grouping of units the card represents. The icons are of ascending power from left to right.

2 Location Cards – Both players lay these out mirroring one another lining up the five sectors. You’ll only play twenty cards per game and four cards per sector. These keep track of how well you’re doing against your opponent in a particular sector.

15 Victory Markers – These are mainly for multiplayer games of more than two.

In the two player game the winner is the one who wins the most territories.

Game Play:

To play you draw a card and play a card on each turn. Your goal is to have the highest number of a single icon in a sector. Here are the possible army squads:

Company – two symbols of the same kind

Battalion – three symbols of the same kind

Regiment – four symbols of the same kind

First you compare Regiments in a sector. The if only one player has a Regiment in a sector they win that sector. In the case of a tie you then see who has the most powerful Regiment. You then do the same thing with Battalions and Company’s. The player who wins the most sectors is the winner.


The box that holds the game is a little flimsy, the cards are on stock that feels a touch too light for heavy use and the broken English on the instructions can be hard to follow in some areas. But even with all those things the game itself is pretty solid. I played quite a few games in one sitting with a friend of mine and after struggling a bit with the rules we flew through a few games and just kept playing while we talked. The Kingdoms of the Crusaders almost reminds me of some of my favorite Knizia two player games like Battleline or Lost Cities. It’s not quite up to that level but it is a solid title and one that I may break out in more casual company.