A Conversation With … A.J. Porifirio of Van Ryder Games

I’m once again joined by AJ Porifirio of Van Ryder Games. AJ has a couple of games coming up. And we talk about If I’m Going Down, VRG’s first game.


Let’s talk about Tessen and Cardboard Edison for a minute.  How did you find out about Tessen?

AJ: I went to UnPub 3 in January to test a game and check out games from other designers. I had a mission to sign a game from UnPub and it wasn’t until the very end of the event when I found Tessen.

Tom: Give us a brief rundown?

AJ: Tessen is a real-time 2 player card game where each player is drawing and playing animals in front of them as fast as they can. Once they have 3 or more of the same animal in a pile, they can save those animals to their score pile. But here is where it gets interesting… each player has warriors they can use to “attack” his opponents warriors and take the animals if the opponent is unable to defend with a warrior of their own.

Tom: What about it made you want to bring it into the Van Ryder Games family?

AJ: It was just a great game, but most importantly the designers were great people. Chris and Suzanne Zinsli have such a great attitude. They are confident, humble, and very open to feedback and criticism.

Tom: What’s unique about it?Tessen-Cover2

AJ: I think the way it mixes the key elements is what makes it unique. None of the elements on their own is necessarily new, but how they have been combined makes it the best real-time card game there is in my opinion. It is a great blend of set collection, hand management, real-time play, and an interesting theme.

Tom: Chris and Suzanne were recently guests on Go Forth. How has it been working with them? How’s the Kickstarter going?

AJ: Chris and Suzanne are amazing to work with. We’ve had frequent conference calls to discuss the project and they have done whatever I’ve asked. But it is mostly just us collaborating to make Tessen what it is today. I am very proud of them for the game they have created and how they have represented Van Ryder Games.

Tom: All right, let’s talk about Hostage Negotiator. First, tell us about it.Proto-Cover2

AJ: Hostage Negotiator is a solo game that pits you against an abductor who has taken hostages for some reason. It is your job to save the hostages and eliminate or capture the abductor. The game uses a sort of deck building mechanic with a twist… there is no deck, the cards go straight into your hand.

Tom: I’ve played an early version and REALLY like it. It’s a lot of fun and difficult.

AJ: Thanks, I have gotten the same reception from most of the folks who have tried it out. There is even one of my testers that is doing a 100 game challenge with the game! http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/142757/item/2775755#item2775755

Tom: This is your second solo game, counting IIGD’s solo mode. Why the focus on solo games? Why this theme?

AJ: I got back into gaming because of solo play. A lot of my game design ideas work best with solo play. It is just something I enjoy, the freedom to get a game out and play it at any time with no dependency on others. The Hostage Negotiator theme was just one that I thought of and I couldn’t think of any games using that theme. When you think about it, it is an amazing theme and particularly suited for solo play.

Tom: Give us a IIGD update.If-Im-Going-Down-Cover-1024x1024

AJ: IIGD is doing pretty well. I’m going to make some decisions soon on whether the demand justifies a reprint and/or expansion but I’ve nothing to give you on that front at this point. I will say there is a very special Promo character for IIGD that backers of Tessen can get as part of the Kickstarter campaign.

Tom: You’re pretty active in the game design community. What do you see as the greatest benefit of being a part of it?

AJ: The connections made and the mutual support we all give one another. It is quite incredible what people are willing to do with no expectation of anything in return.

Tom: What would you like to see happen in the design community?

AJ: I’d like to see it continue to grow.

Tom: Next projects – what’s in the hopper for VRG?

AJ: Nothing I can talk about yet, but there have been several exciting developments.

Tom: What blogs and podcasts do you follow?

AJ: Oh gosh putting me on the spot here… well yours of course 🙂  I listen to a lot of podcasts but my favorites are The Secret Cabal and Building the Game.

Tom: Any last words?TessenTournamentBanner

AJ: Thanks for the opportunity to speak with you…and everyone go back Tessen! it is just $12 for a great game you will get a lot of use out of! http://kck.st/14dQuyF

Tom: What’s one thing the general public would not know about AJ Porfirio?

AJ: Despite my Italian name, I am also Cajun and LOVE crawfish. If anyone has a boil, hit me up!

It was awesome talking to you AJ. I appreciate you taking time out to give us an update. I am looking forward to Tessen and Hostage Negotiator.


And thank you for visiting. Come on back for more interviews and reviews.


Under The Microscope – A Review of King’s Forge by Nick Sibicky


Note: This review is of a prototype of King’s Forge provided by Game Salute for this review.


King’s Forge is designed by Nick Sibicky and published by Game Salute. It is a resource management and dice rolling game  of crafting or making items for your king.  To be crafted, an item needs a certain combination of dice (both color and number). You acquire these dice by spending them. Wait, what?! There’s the beauty of the game.

Materials & Methods: Components

King’s Forge comes with a lot of components, especially dice, 91 in total. Ninety one dice in six colors. These dice represent the resources needed to craft the items the king is seeking. There are also fifty-three cards made up of craft item cards, Gather cards, Black Market cards, storage cards, and a player marker card. There are also a few tokens.

Game Play

The game play is straight forward. It is played in rounds and each round is divided into phases. These phases are Gather, Crafting, and Clean-up. In the Gather phase, you may either take a Gather card, discard a Gather card to claim a Black Market card, or pass.KF1

To claim a Gather card you take it and place the dice indicated on the card. Then you perform the action on the card. This may be taking new dice from the stock or some other action.  These dice are locked in place and are not available for crafting in the Crafting phase.

You could choose to take a Black Market Action in this phase. To do this you place the indicated dice on the action on the card that you wish to take. These dice are lost at the end of the turn.

The Crafting Phase – in this part of the game you may use your remaining dice to make one of the displayed items. To do this you roll all your unused dice and match the rolled dice by value and color to the dice on the item you wish to craft. If you have cards or tokens that allow you modify the dice you can use them now.  If you are able to match you take that card. It counts as one of the four items you need to craft to win the game. One interesting thing about the Crafting phase is stealing. Once you gain a Craft card it’s not secure until the end of the Craft phase. That means it can be stolen by another player if that player allocate their dice that match your dice with at least one higher die. After all players have had a chance to craft that phase is complete.

Now comes the Clean-Up phase. In this phase you now claim any crafted items. You now clear your Gather cards and return the dice not on an ‘X’ to your Storage card. Dice on an ‘X’ are placed in the dice stock area. The Black Market cards are cleared of dice and  are placed into the dice stock area. The start player card is passed and that player collects, shuffles, and places the 11 Gather cards face-down in the center of the play area.

The first player to craft four items wins the game.

What Do I Think About King’s Forge?

Now remember this is a prototype that I’m evaluating.  Keep that in mind.

Nick Sibicky has designed a pretty good game. There’s a lot to like about this game. The theme is attractive. The idea of competing artisans vying for the king’s favor fits well. I liked the use of dice as a resource. The decisions of whether you will use them for to get Gather cards, enabling you to get more/different dice, or save them for crafting are tough at times. And you know me. I really like hard decisions. There is a good variety of items to craft. The game is a dice fest which is fun. There can be some good ‘take that’ and confrontation with the stealing and potential to devastate other players by taking the very items they are attempting to craft.

Now there are a couple of things that turned me off about the game. First, the game can go long. Our three player game took about an hour but it seemed longer. The other  four guys in the group were playing a second copy of the game. Their game lasted almost 2 hours. That seems really long. The game can be a bit swingy. My son lead for most of the game up until the very last few turns when the other guy in our game was lucky enough to get favorable dice on a couple of turns. It looked like he had gotten his engine finally running. He was able to craft two items in his turn. My son was next and he rolled well and had enough dice of the right color and value to steal one of the crafted items to win the game. I was never able to get enough of the correct dice at the right time to craft any items. So the luck factor is very high.

We all concluded that it would be nice if there were more Gather cards and Items available. The limited choices caused some turns to be empty, unable to do anything.

All in all we liked the game a lot but all felt like it was missing something, like it wasn’t quite done. It has a lot of potential.

We feed our ideas and thoughts back to the publisher and I’m quite sure that they are being addressed.

But with that being said I like King’s Forge. It was fun and interesting.

Who Will Like King’s Forge

– diceophiles. It has a lot of dice.

– people who like interesting choices in their games.

– gamers who like a good dose of luck in their games.

– those who like some confrontation in a game.

If you fall into any of those categories I would recommend King’s Forge to you.

King’s Forge has funded on Kickstarter. It will be published AND there will be some sweet bonuses like more craft cards, special dice, and upgraded tokens. If you are interested in supporting it you’ll find it right here. There are only three days left so you better hurry.photo-main

A Review of No Thanks!

No Thanks! Review

Review: No Thanks!pic117996_md
Designed by Thorston Gimmler
Published in English by Z-Man Games

The Basics:
No Thanks! is a card game in which players pay a chip not to take a card from the middle of the play area. Each card has a certain amount of points on it. By taking the cards from the middle players add points to their ‘hand’. The idea of the game is to have the fewest points at the end of the game. So you must pay to keep your point total low.

The game consists of 33 cards numbered 3 through 35 and 55 playing chips. That’s it.
Oh, and a rules sheet.

Deal 11 chips to each player. Shuffle the cards. Deal 24 cards face down to the middle of the play area. The remaining cards are not used this round and are placed back in the box.

So How Do You Play No Thanks!?
The first player turns over the top card of the deck. He has the option to either take that card or pay a chip not to take it. If he chooses not to take it, he places a chip next to the card and play moves to the next player. This player has the same options – take the card AND the chip or pay a chip not to take it. Play continues until someone decides to take the card. This player takes the card and all the accumulated chips. He then flips another card from the deck face up. He now has the same options – take it or pay. Taken cards are placed in front of the player. Taken chips are added to that player’s pool. One twist to play is that consecutive sequences of cards score only the lowest card in the sequence. Also if a player has no chips he must take the card in play. Play continues until all cards are taken. Players then calculate their final score by adding up the points on the single cards and then adding the points from the lowest card in each sequence. Then they subtract a point for each chip they still have.

So How Do I Like No Thanks!
This is a very fun and surprising game. The rules are so simple yet the strategy involved with keeping your point total low, trying to get sequences, and keeping some chips makes for hard decisions. I like this. The fact that you do not use all the cards ensures that you can’t card count as you never know which cards are in the deck and which are in the box out of play. This is a good mechanic. There is a take that element in the game that is fun. You can drive play around to the guy who has no chips left, forcing him to take the card in play. You can take a card to keep it from someone need it for a sequence. You can take a card just to keep the next players from getting needed chips. All of these tactics come into play to add fun.
My group was very surprised by this quick filler. It has unseen strategy and tons of fun. It is a regular filler at Hypermind and one I will be teaching at work soon.

No Thanks! probably the best game to introduce to new/non-gamers. I’ve never had anyone not like this game. It’s a game that should be in every collection.


Under The Microscope – Magnum Opus by Ian Stedman

This time I’m previewing Magnum Opus, the new game from Ian Stedman and Clever Mojo Games and powered by Game Salute. This review is based on a prototype of the game. Please take that under consideration when reading this review.


Abstract: Magnum Opus is a deck-building and set collection game about alchemists racing to discover the secret to creating the Philosopher’s Stone. It has a neat matrix of cards that hides the clues to creating the much sought after Stone.

Materials and Methods:

Components – This is a card game. It has a lot of cards comprising multiple decks. There are green topped Mystic Components, blue topped Alchemical Components, and orange topped Trade Skill cards. You’ll also have Research cards, Clue cards, and Discovery cards. The cards in the prototype are well made and the art is nice. There are also Experience and Coin tokens and one eight sided die.

Game Play – The object of the game is to collect components needed to transmute components into various other items to help you in your quest for the Philosopher’s Stone.

I’ll mention the set up briefly because it is essential to understand the game. The major unique mechanism of the Magnum Opus is the Discovery Matrix. This matrix is made up of the Discovery cards and Research. These cards set up in a 4×4 matrix that consists of one Research card under one Discovery card. Outside of the matrix are the Mystical and Alchemical cards, each on one of the axes of the matrix. The picture below shows what it looks like.


After an extensive set up, the game proceeds through three phases – Trade Skill, Table, and Experimental. In the Trade Skills phase, players play cards to earn coins or more cards. In the Table phase, they place components needed for Transmutations on their tableau or lab bench. In the Experimental phase players attempt Transmutations, play other Action cards, buy and sell components, or draw cards.

In the Experimental phase, players have a chance to use their components to attempt a transmutation. They pair one Mystical and one Alchemical component and then flip the Research and Discovery cards at the intersection of the components on the matrix. If the transmutation is successful, the player takes the Discovery card and follow the instructions on the Research card. The Research card remains in the matrix for everyone to see. If the transmutation fails the Research card only is revealed but the instructions are not followed at this time. The player takes one Experience token.

Players continue through the phases with transmutations, buy and selling components, drawing cards, etc. eventually discovering clue cards. Successful transmutations listed on the cards enable a player to take one of the Clue cards. Clue cards each contain one component of the Philosopher’s Stone. Once a player has one of each of the three clue types he knows which components are needed to create the Stone. He then collects those components and attempts a three component transmutation. A successful transmutation triggers the end game. Each other player gets one chance to create their Stone.


Discussion and Results:

Magnum Opus is a new twist on deck-building. It’s deck-building mechanic is one part of the engine that drives the game. But it’s not the focus. At its core, Magnum Opus is a set collection game. It’s the collecting of the components to discover the Clues that is the driving force of the game. It’s a goal based game as opposed to a points based game. This race to discover the secret combinations is what is unique about Magnum Opus.

Now there are a couple of things that need some work that may be related to this being a prototype. Some of the iconography is inconsistent or not explained. The rules while doing a good job of explaining how to play the game, they leave some key information out or are unclear at some points. Example: In the Trade Skill phase players may choose to draw cards. But the rules do not tell you where to draw from. In one play we mis-played this by drawing from the Research and Trade Skills decks. Clever Mojo has posted a rules set on the Kickstarter page. I checked the current rules .pdf and it seems that a couple of these issues have been addressed. The set up is extensive and long. And the game does seem to run a bit long.

Who Will Like This Game: Players who like deck building games, people who like set collection games, gamers who enjoy hidden information and discovery of clues

Who Should Avoid This Game: Players who do not like extensive set up, people who despise deck building games, new gamers and non-gamers


All in all though I like Magnum Opus. I think the Discovery matrix is pretty cool and sets the game apart. I see a lot of potential in the game. The Kickstarter for Magnum Opus is currently active and has funded so it will be produced. You can pick up a copy for $35. And that includes several stretch goals. Clever Mojo Games has taken a page out of the Stonemaier Games book by offering a 30 day money back guarantee. You should check out the Kickstarter campaign and see if Magnum Opus is for you.