Category Archives: Capsule Reviews

Brief reviews.

Fabled Fruit

fabledfruitFabled Fruit. Stronghold Games, 2016. $45. Designed by Friedemann Friese. Illustrated by Harald Lieske. 240 location cards (60 different cards with 4 copies each), 60 fruit cards, 6 wooden animals and matching tokens, 1 wooden thief, 10 mixed fruit cards, 11 assorted tokens, and 1 rule book. 2-5 players. Ages 8+. 20-30 minutes.

This colorful card game provides two decks, the location cards and the fruit cards, and a wooden animal (meeple) for each player to drive a worker placement set collection game with some unusual twists. During each player’s turn, they will place their marker on one of the location cards in play and either perform the action listed (such as draw 2 fruit cards or trade a banana to another player for 2 cards) or turn in the required set of fruit cards to buy that location card. If you place your marker on a location card with other players, you have to pay them one fruit card. The game ends when one player buys the required number of location cards, which varies depending on the number of players.

How can such a simple single worker placement and set collection game, that lasts only about 20 minutes, be anything novel? The answer lies in the way the game evolves during play. Each time a location card is bought, it is removed from those in play and turned face down as a reminder (fruit juice bottle in game parlance) to keep track of points gained. More importantly, a new location card is drawn off the top of the huge (240 cards!) deck which can introduce a new action and new set turn in cost. So during play, the actions available are constantly changing as players remove locations.

But where Fabled Fruit really shines isn’t just its quick and quirky location actions, but the legacy aspect it introduces. When you finish playing a game, you set aside those purchased location cards and then start the next game with the top (first numerically) 24 cards that were left. Each game sees location cards bought, new actions introduced, and a different end game state. This produces a highly addictive experience that is hard to stop!

While the location cards themselves are tarot sized and seem sturdy, the poker size fruit card deck, which is constantly being handled, shuffled, reshuffled, drawn, etc. seems to be made of flimsier stock and quickly became worn as cards lost their stiffness. These cards should have been made of better card stock. Also, the retail price of $45 for a small game seems rather high, especially when in your first game you only use the fruit deck, animal tokens, and maybe 35-40 cards (only 8-9 different actions) from the location deck. Certainly the 300+ cards must be pricey, but each game using a small subset makes the cost seem very high.

Fabled Fruit is a highly addictive game! If you play one game and walk away you won’t really see what all the fuss is about. It’s just a simple worker placement/set collection game. But if you get hooked on the changing actions during play, which are introduced as surprises every 4th card, and the legacy element which starts each game in a new state which bring surprising changes again during play, it’s really amazing and draws you back again and again. Not only will it take many plays to get through the 60 different locations once, but even starting again will produce a very different, game since different locations will be bought and change the available actions so a different set will be in play every time.

Fast, easy, engaging, fun!

This review was written based on a privately purchased retail copy. No compensation was involved.
c2016 by Richard A. Edwards

Above and Below

Above and Below. Red Raven Games, 2015. $50. Designed by Ryan Laukat. Illustrated by Ryan Laukat. 1 Reputation board, 4 Player boards and matching cubes, 7 dice, 44 House cards, 24 Outpost cards, 25 Cave cards, 36 Villager tokens, 81 Goods tokens, 50 Coin tokens, 31 other tokens, 1 First player card, 1 rule book, and 1 Encounter book. 2-4 players. Ages 13+. 60-90 minutes.

In the fantasy world of Above and Below, the designer has woven a worker placement/resource gathering Eurogame with a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book and in the process created something very interesting. During their turns, over the course of only 7 rounds, each player tries to build the best village they can both “above” (on the surface) and “below” (in the caverns beneath). Players alternate taking actions by assigning their villagers to: Train (pay for a new villager), Build (pay to add a house or outpost to your village), Labor (gain coins), Harvest (gather goods from your houses or outposts), or Explore (enter the caves below and have an “encounter”). Village (victory) points come from building various cards and from placing Goods on your Advancement Track.

While much of the game seems to be a very pretty, but fairly standard Eurogame of assigning villagers to gain more stuff (villagers, houses, outposts, coins, etc.) that translate into victory points, what makes Above and Below really different is the Explore action. Players assign two or more villagers to Explore and then draw a Cave card, roll a die, and read off the cross referenced number to another player who then takes the Encounter book and reads the appropriate paragraph. After a brief, often entertaining narrative, players must choose how they will respond to the encounter and then roll dice to determine how many “lanterns” their various villagers gain. The number gained determines level of success or failure. Succeeding grants the Cave card which is added to your tableau and provides a space on which to build a future outpost.

Much of this rather expensive game feels like all too many Eurogames. Assign worker (villager), build/gain/hire, translate goods and cards into points. Despite the well written rules and evocative artwork, for much of the game play it’s nothing special. But the Explore action, reading aloud a well written, often amusing and interesting short paragraph, and then having to make choices and roll dice, somehow elevates this game into something more.

If you want a light strategy game with a novel narrative approach, check out Above and Below.

This review was written based on a privately purchased retail copy. No compensation was involved.
c2016 by Richard A. Edwards