Monolith Arena Strategy & Tactics: Harbingers of the Forest

Dark elves from the magical and mysterious forest accompanied by other creatures will swiftly cut their enemies and drive many arrows through them. My personal favorites, they are tricky, they can poke their enemies while keeping save positions, and they are good at keeping their distance. And that’s where they excel if you keep your distance.your enemies will curse the day those damn elves decided to leave the forest and appear at the arena.

Running in circles

Let’s start with Banner – you want to have it in the middle of the board, or at least in the central zone. So how come you aim for the center if you’re going to keep your distance? It’s pretty simple, you want to take advantage of its special Feature. Move your units around the Banner, shot with Sparks over your Banner and don’t let your opponent catch up to your Units. Run and shoot, run and shoot – it’s pretty simple.

Don’t let them see you

Assassins can strike any opponents on the board which makes them deadly and dangerous, and your opponent will hate that and will try to get rid of them as soon as possible. You want to hide them in corners, and cover them with other tiles, preferably with the runes of acceleration. This way, you’re covered from any attacks, and you strike your opponents even faster, getting rid of any dangers before they have a chance to attack you.

Exploding… morlocks?!

Morlocks can make a lot of mess by removing any connected tile along with the Morlock before the fight even begins. They are powerful because they can remove heavy-hitting units or the ones with lots of shields when they oppose any threat to us. Use them even more efficiently, keep Morlocks near your banner, this way, you can switch positions with its feature if an even greater threat appears on the board.

More mystical creatures!

Apart from elves and Morlocks, we have also Hernes and a Wyrm, two mobile units that can hit hard our opponents. It’s best to use them and get rid of any units that try to take out our distance attackers, especially those with additional shields on them, just make sure you’re not caught off guard, because you’re limited to your defenders with melee attacks.

With elves, it’s not a race, it’s a marathon. You want to dominate the arena with your units and keep your distance from any tricky attacks like charge or fire concoction. Remember, hit and run, hit and run. Wear off your enemy and don’t give them a chance to counter any attacks, make sure you stay in shadows as any self-respecting dark elf.

Let us know how you lead your elves, do you prefer this style of game or you try to take out your opponents as fast as possible.

Matt Dembek

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I hate board games!

I hate board games. I am serious. It’s a constant flow of disasters. I see new amazing cover art and I am immediately sold on the game. I know nothing about the gameplay, I did not read the rulebook, but man, I know it’s gonna be great.

Hey, don’t give me that look. Want to talk about your reaction after you saw Scythe cover?

The publisher hires an artist to paint the best art piece possible. It has one purpose – attract. This cover art has nothing to do with the game. This artist never played the game, read the rulebook, met designer. Most likely, he doesn’t even play board games. He is a hired gun. I know all of this. And yet, when I see a new box art immediately all these small meeples start to run all over the place – by the place I mean my head – screaming “OMG, this game is awesome, I want it!!!!”

Stop it, I yell at them. This cover art has no connection to the rules and gameplay. It’s an art piece. Stop it!

“But we want it!” they keep running and my head hurts. “It’s awesome. This game will be awesome. The box says it all!!!!”

So I buy the game.

Of course, I am the only person on Earth who misses the pre-order specials. My Instagram feed has it all. Every gamer on the planet shows all the bits my copy of the game misses. This cover is not that awesome after all, and my bits suck. I haven’t played the game yet, but I already know that without these additional seventy-two scenarios it’s useless. I hate this game. Why did I buy it?!

I delete my Instagram account to stop seeing all these awesome promos I missed. It doesn’t help. People post pics of metal coins on Facebook. I delete my Facebook account, but then I got an email from a friend of mine, he just got his copy signed by the designer. I turn off the Internet and sell my computer.

Brilliant. Now I cannot write articles anymore.

I buy a new computer.

I should buy a poster with the cover art. What I needed the whole game for? I hate it.


I put all components out of the box and try to figure out how the game works. There are spaces on the board that matches the shape of some tokens. I put them there. There are pieces in 4 distinct colors. I give set to each player. We sit and look at each other. I create the bank and put all coin tokens in a big pile.

I shuffle the cards. I separate all wooden pieces by shapes.

My wife starts to get impatient. I separate the square tokens by size. To be honest, I have no clue what I am doing.

Wife looks at me and I know this look. I quickly take one piece from each player and put it on space 0 on the track that hopefully is a victory point track. I wink to my wife and smile.

It’s a mistake. I shouldn’t wink at her.

“Did you read the rulebook?” she asks.


“You must be kidding me!” she yells at me and stands from the table. I can tell it – now she is really angry. Every husband knows when his wife is angry. We get this power along with the wedding ring.

“I will figure it out. This cannot be difficult. I played the other game from this designer a few years ago!” I say but she doesn’t listen. She just gives me another look. She has a whole wide arsenal of looks. We are in the ‘You are in trouble’ section.

So I am sitting now reading this damn rulebook. I feel like being at school again. My brain is defending. I want to go to bed. I want to eat. I want to stand. I want to do anything but the homework. I mean the rulebook. It goes slow, but I have some progress – I am 4 pages in. Only 32 to go. Smallest font possible. I can imagine how it was manufactured. Printing machines and the whole factory in the scale of bonsai trees…

I hate board games. I am serious.

(to be continued…? give me your ideas what’s next!)

Ignacy Trzewiczek

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Monolith Arena Strategy & Tactics: Lords of the Abyss

Darkness and hellfire, creatures of the night, simply speaking – Demons. A faction filled with horrors and nightmares that will leave your opponents in total fear. Lords of the Abyss and their champions names are frightening, but what is even more terrifying is their ability to teleport all around the map and to poison their opponents. Their goal is to bring chaos on the battlefield, to leave their opponents confused, but it doesn’t mean their game is chaotic, you must plan your strategy from the very start to make sure that the underworld will be pleased with your results. Control your chaos.

Venomous touch

First, make sure that you take advantage of your most fearsome feature – Venom. Place your banner in a way that you will be able to reach your opponents banner with champions connected to your banner. It’s ok even if your banner will end up adjacent to the opponents banner. Your goal is to inflict poison to your opponents banner as soon as possible. It would be great if even more poison markers lands on their banner, this way, an opponent will think twice before playing their battle orders for the rest of the game.

React quickly

Opponents will try to block you from inflicting any poison, and they will push you whenever it’s possible. You only have two Move orders, but there’s something even better – teleportation. Jumping from one side of the battlefield to another sounds fantastic, and it is. So keep your Runes of teleportation safe, place them far from your opponents, and make sure you have one of your tiles always connected to it. This will allow you to react quickly whenever your opponent use orders like a push to avoid getting hit with your poison, thanks to the teleportation you can reposition yourself and still try to inflict some poison.

Fearful champions

Apart from those tricky features, Lords of the Abyss have quite fearful champions at their disposal as well, that works well with the presented mechanics. Horrors net their opponents while inflicting 2 wounds, use those to block your opponents banner feature and do some extra damage or use them to protect your units that are about to inflict poison. Spikes can inflict poison on their own, try to put them on the other side of the battlefield, away from your banner so that your opponent has to spread their defenses. There’s also Mygalomorphs that works best in the center of the battlefield with their spread attack and high initiative, they can cause quite a diversion.

Drop your weapons!

As if it’s not enough, Lords have another cool feature – Disarmament. Any connected enemy tile to it, cannot attack. Runes of disarmament work best placed in the corner of the battlefield, this way they are protected by the board and can disarm up to two tiles, meaning only one side is open for a counter.

As you can see chaos can be a good thing if you make sure you control it correctly. Let us know how you base your Lords of the Abyss tactics.

Matt Dembek

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Board Games as Art by Phil Eklund

Today I have a pleasure to welcome here Phil Eklund, one of the most prolific designers, famous for his ambitious games that not only have interesting mechanisms, but come with a stunning amount of scientific research. I personally met Phil a few years ago at the convention in Bremen, Germany where he was demoing High Frontier. Without further ado I present you his article! – Ignacy Trzewiczek


My name is Phil Eklund, founder of Sierra Madre Games and designer of such games as Pax Porfiriana, the Bios trilogy, and High Frontier. Often we think of art as paintings, sculpture, literature, music, theater, etc. I want to persuade you that boardgames can also be thought of as art, and why it is useful to regard them this way.

Useful definition of art.

I start with a useful definition of art: „The selective re-creation of reality according to an artist’s value-judgments.“ By this definition, not everything hung on a wall or splashed on a canvas is art! You need (1) selectivity, (2) re-creation of reality, and (3) value-judgements.


All art is selective. Unlike (for example) a photograph, art does not portray every detail. Instead, an artist recreates reality much like a novelist does. To portray what is important, and omit what is not.

Re-creation of Reality.

Because we live in reality, any work of art must help us appreciate it. Even the most abstract game has referents to reality, and is a simulation of some sort. But you must have vision. Which is to say, you must hold in mind the element of reality that is to be recreated in this genre. Without vision, a game becomes merely a vehicle of technical virtuosity.


To be an artist, you need something to convey. You need to believe in something. You need context, principles, and long-range direction; you need connection among your goals, coherence among your days, and a broad overview uniting your disparate experiences, conclusions, and actions into a sum. In short, every artist needs a philosophy, the means by which he comes to make value-judgements.


Many designers do not know in explicit terms what they regard as important. They are unfamiliar with philosophy and hold few ideas on the subject; yet they are able to create and/or respond to art. This is possible because all persons, whatever their conscious mental content, are able to subconsciously appraise values, according to whatever fragments of philosophy they hold. Only a handful of designers hold explicit values and translate them into their art. Your philosophy will set your sense of life, beliefs, decisions, evaluation of good and evil, true and false.

Artist’s Handiwork.

To be recognised by the works of art you create, the player should know something about you after playing your game. Your game’s integration and subject, as well as how it communicates your view of the world, should identify you as the artist. Although it may sound prideful, I can say with some confidence that many or most players can tell a game is mine without seeing my name on the box.


So that’s the goal. To give your products a distinct signature, and avoid copying or fads. The integrated whole must say something about you and your philosophy.


The desirable side-effect in believing in something is passion. As a creator, you will be constantly tinkering with your creation, consumed by its creation. Such is the nature of artists.

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Imperial Settlers Strategy & Tactics: Amazons & 3 is a magic number

Two weeks ago we tackled ‘Why can’t we be friends’ expansion for Amazons, now it’s time to go for their fierce set collections within the next expansion: 3 is a magic number. Harmonia will be watching over our deck to make sure, that we’ve prepared our cards properly to get the most out of Amazons when we decide to use it when building our deck. We could say that with this expansion blue is the new black.  

Like before we present some unique options in our opinion, but those are not the ultimate choices, and you are more than welcome to create your set scoring configurations and share them. So what options do we have when we want to include 3 is a magic number expansion into our Amazon deck to have optimal choices and use set tactics to its best?


First comes a single card with three copies called Harmonia’s Fountain and the cards to replace it with.

Harmonia’s Fountain is a base of this expansion, most cards focus on its set collection effect and since it gives lots of Victory Points its best to replace it for the Flea Market and keep the Mythic Tree card, that provides wood production which is much needed to build other constructions that come within this expansion. The Recon Team is always good to keep that manipulation options, but its also a great alternative to consider, having two scoring options both from Flea Market and Harmonia’s Fountain might be great in the long run.

Blessing of the trees and Tree of wishes are the two cards with two copies each, and here we have some options to include those in Amazon’s deck, but keep in mind blue is the key here!

Tree of wishes

Free Building bonus effect from the top three cards and an extra option to get rid of the cards that aren’t blue and won’t combine with Harmonia’s Fountain effect is a no brainer. We recommend replacing the Statue of Midas with it, sure maybe the statue brings a nice building bonus that Tree of Wishes could use, but since most of the other two copies cards are blue or black and will take advantage from other cards, it’s just safer to go for the only gold one in the main deck.

Blessing of the trees

The Blessing is a fantastic card to be played with Harmonia’s Fountain. Other players tend to raze common scoring cards almost right away when those appear in front of us, but with the Blessing of the trees, we don’t have to worry, it allows us to get something extra from all the Foundations left over inside our Empire. We recommend replacing either Young Warriors or Ambush with it since we don’t need pink cards that much right now.

Single copy cards include: Little War; Temple of Ares; and Outpost Network, these cards will take most of its advantage from the Black cards and the ones with building bonuses.

Little War

Great card in combination with our black color cards, we gain resources every time we built black cards. That’s why we’ve left most of the blue and black cards in our deck, and we want to have great combinations between those cards. Our first pick to include the Little War card would be to remove The Capital. Sure it’s storage feature is neat, and its a three-color card, but its neither blue or black, so let’s just remove it.

Temple of Ares

Another card that favors blue and black cards in sets and will let us get that snowball effect momentum. Gaining a card and sword for each new set of two blue and a single black card will push forward the game at a fast pace. So what we should give up for this card? We would recommend Secured Garner, another not needed color in our set collection tactic.

Outpost Network

The last card in this expansion will allow us to score some extra Victory Points at the end of the game, for each card with Building bonus in our empire. Here, even though we have some more cards of unwanted color in our deck left, we would recommend Rear Guard to be removed from our deck. Yeah, it’s a black card that works well with the two cards mentioned above, but the effect of it, which strikes our opponents and doesn’t give much of strategy options to us, makes it an optional choice.

So here it is, another Amazon expansion another set of choices delivered to you, to try and have fun with the deck building mechanism in Imperial Settlers. Give us your feedback for those Strategy and Tactics posts and if you would like to see more of those including other factions.

Matt Dembek

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Imperial Settlers Strategy & Tactics: Amazons & Why Can’t We Be Friends

When playing as Amazons, we have a great portion of control over our faction deck. We’re building our strategy throughout the entire game, shuffling back some cards, discarding the others quicker, so that we hit that sweet-spot of what we have planned at the start of the game.

So let’s move back to planning out part, in particular, choosing expansion cards that we would want to include in our deck. There are three different expansion sets in the box for the Amazons and let’s take a closer look at one of them – Why can’t we be friends. If we want to grab this expansion, we should know our options up front, and how these card replacement will affect our game tactics. With this, we hope it will be easier to choose and build your deck to check all strategies.


First, let’s take a look at a single card with three copies, New Roots, and all the cards from the base deck that can be replaced with it.

Amazon cards with a building bonus are great especially when they need only a Foundation to build. We can quickly burn a Faction card for it since it goes back to our deck. New Roots card is an alternative choice for a Mythic Tree card, instead of three woods, you get wood, a coin and a worker, which will give you more flexibility throughout the game. Another interesting choice would be to replace Flea Market with it. You lose some scoring options but more Resource income. However, I wouldn’t go overboard and leave the Recon Team at all cost. We need their deck manipulation options.

Next, let’s take a look at the two cards with two copies, Haunted Ruins and Takeover, and the best options for them.

Haunted Ruins
The core of this expansion, which your opponents will gladly take advantage off, Open Foundation production. If you decided to replace Flea Market with New Roots, then go and replace Statue Of Midas with Haunted Ruins, since you already have more then enough Building bonus resource options. Alternatively, you might be a peace-loving Amazon, that isn’t looking for a fight, then a better choice would be their Chamber of Treasures which give you a feature that push you towards Razing.

For those peace-loving Amazons mentioned earlier, we have a Takeover card, which doesn’t sound peaceful but your opponents won’t hate you for it. You spend a sword and gain resources, and they get a worker, everyone’s happy. If you still didn’t discard the Statue Of Midas, you can do it now, or the other choice would be Young Warriors, both of them provides resources, but you might be okay already. Whatever you do when you take this card, don’t remove an Ambush card. You might need it to activate both the Takeover and the next card that we will discuss – New Allies.

So the last but not least, one copy cards from the expansion and their purpose in your deck.

New Allies
I mean, let’s face it, the expansion is called Why can’t we be friends, so New Allies card fits here perfectly. You basically give your opponent a sword and get three victory points and one wood for it. However, choose allies carefully, you don’t want to find that sword in your back a second later. Here we recommend either a Rear Guard or Encounter, both aggressive play-style cards, because like I said, you don’t want to provoke them a second after you give them a sword.

Greek Jewellery
Another card manipulation option, which your opponents will love. Open production that allows drawing 2 faction cards, keep one and discard the other. That’s a fine alternative for the Council card, you get a steady production, instead of a building bonus option that would need to be cycled to work best, and works excellent with Sage card.

Works amazingly in combination with Haunted Ruins, and you want to get this combination in front of you as fast as possible. You remove Foundation and gain two victory points, and you can do it twice per round. However, what should you sacrifice for it? Here not lose any other good options, we recommend The Capital, its the safest exchange for its feature that allows you to store some Resource. Alternatively, remove either a Rear Guard or Encounter mentioned earlier if you haven’t already.

So here it is, all of the strategies, and the propositions of how to build your deck with the use of Why can’t we be friends expansion, you can try and exchange all of them, some of them or create your own strategy with the use of those cards. Whatever you do, don’t be afraid to explore the options and let us know how your Amazon peace-loving strategy worked.

Matt Dembek

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First Martians: will they differ?

It was late at night, a few minutes after midnight. We’ve just finished the fourth game in the Lost signal campaign and we were preparing for the final episode, for the fifth, closing scenario. I was busy setting it up, while most of the other players went to get something to drink and took just a few minutes’ break before the final game. Two of us stayed at the table, David and me. He was helping me with the setup, and we were talking about the game.

After these four scenarios we were both impressed how the story developed, how the astronauts’ situation has been changing for the last two days of our playtesting and how many things happened in the HUB during this time. It was a crazy roller-coaster.

David asked: ‘How much will the gameplays of different groups differ?’.

That was a very good point. Let’s talk about this today.

The stronger story you put into the game, the more interesting and better-designed turning points and twists you want to incorporate, the less freedom you leave for the players’ choices. That’s the main difference between books and board games. A writer creates an immersive story and puts the protagonists into it, while keeping a full control over every single decision a character makes. A designer creates conditions, a framework for the immersive story to emerge, then gives it to the players. They come and act like a bull in a china shop.

Now that board game designing trends change and players’ expectations evolve, we see more and more board games drift towards story-driven experiences.

The most famous last year’s examples are surely Pandemic: Legacy and Time Stories, but of course we’ve been seeing story-driven games for years. My personal favorite of all time is Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, but we definitely should mention Tales of Arabian Nights, the upcoming This War of Mine, or my very own Robinson Crusoe (especially with the HMS Beagle campaign expansion).

The question remains legit for First Martians as well as for every other game I mentioned. Can we solve Case #1 in Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective in any different way? Can two or three groups have truly different experiences? Different paths to victory? Can we solve a Time Stories mystery in a few different ways? Can two groups of players discuss the game after they’ve finished it and tell each other two different stories?

The real question is actually different—the question is: ‘Do we need to have unique experiences?’.

What would you choose if you had a choice: to have a freaking awesome story to discover but one that is pre-constructed to some degree with the main twists and plot points already fixed or to have a slightly less immersive story and experience but to have a full control over every single moment of the game and have no pre-constructed plot?

I put strong plot points into the campaign, I design epic events that will throw new tasks and quests at the players. They are scripted, they are the plot points, they are my huge story elements. At the same time I shuffle a ton of random shit into the event deck, hundreds of cards that will surprise the players. In Scenario #2, every group will face a sandstorm that will turn off the solar panels for the whole scenario. It’s scripted. One group, though, started this scenario with a destroyed oxygenator (a result of them playing Scenario #1), the other had a seriously sick astronaut in their HUB, the third one had a very low food supply because of a previous scenario’s pest.

The plot point remains the same, big and epic. The details, the scenery, the conditions—they differ. Two groups will, hopefully, tell a different story that took place within the framework I prepared for Scenario #2.

It’s hard. It’s like combining fire and water.

As always, I am super eager to hear your thoughts on the subject. Is pre-contructed immersive story good or bad? What do you think about Time Stories and its scenarios? Would it be a problem for you if you knew that a different group played exactly the same way? Is having only one way to solve a Sherlock Holmes case a problem for you? Have you ever thought about it when you played the game? Have you ever felt that playing a game with scripted events is just like reading prepared stuff?

Give me your comments. I need them. I need your feedback on the subject. Thank you.