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.

Every once in a while

Every once in a while we receive a prototype that blows our minds. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. We found Legacy: Testament of duke de Crecy in 2012. Tides of Time happened in 2014. Crazy Karts came to us in 2015…


I remember exactly the first afternoon we played the Crazy Karts prototype. It was during a whole day that we at Portal Games dedicated to playtesting the submitted prototypes. After a few games, I was tired. I was disappointed. I was one step away from leaving the office and going home. There was nothing new, nothing exciting, nothing immersive in the prototypes we played that day.

Greg put another prototype on the table. “It’s a racing game”, he said. Hundreds of little hexes printed on a small board almost made me run away. The player boards were in French. The player screens were slender and tended to fall over. What a mess.

Anyway, we played. Sixty minutes went by like a second.


I remember looking up from the table at the other players. I remember looking at Greg and trying to make eye contact with him. I remember the smile slowly appearing on my face.

I remember thinking: ‘Well, that was actually fun. We’ve got something here. Oh dear, we’ve got something here…’


There were many issues with this game. The board, full of these small hexes, looked super boring. The rules for movement were too complicated. The scoring was… well, there was scoring in the first place! I was surprised. I didn’t race to score. I raced to be the first one to drive my cart across the finish line! I didn’t want to score points…

But, below all of that, below all the mud and dirt there was a gem. There was pure fun. There was a brilliant idea of two drivers trying to steer one kart.

We contacted the designer. The work began. Time to polish this diamond.

[To learn more about Crazy Karts, please, visit the game’s dedicated website]

Try again…

You play TIME Stories, you reach a point when there is not much to do because of your previous decisions. You make a time jump and start over with all the knowledge you gathered during the first run. This game is all about runs. The first, second, third. Time stories, huh?

You play Pandemic: Legacy, you reach a point when there is nothing left to do, the disease will just explode in a second. You shuffle the cards and play the month again…

You play Imperial Assault, you reach a point where the bad guys kicked your ass and are clearly winning the game? Well, sorry, but the game continues. The bad guys get some cool rewards and powers and will make a harder opponent next time but the campaign won’t stop. You just gave them a few additional tools to screw you up.

Yeah, the campaign games. There is some tricky stuff going on there. Let’s talk about our options.


Pandemic: Legacy keeps it pretty simple. Whether the players succeed or not, the story continues. They are—after all—only little human beings trying to stop the unstoppable. Pandemic doesn’t give a crap about those few dudes trying to save the world. Pandemic is marching onwards no matter what. Players struggle, the game moves forward every single round (every other round, to be precise . It’s both thematic and simple. Works perfect.

TIME Stories has a super-smart solution, too. When the players are stuck, they just restart the story and try again. Everybody who plays the game tries to do it in one run, but let’s face it—we know a couple of reruns is needed to finish the story. We know that. We are prepared for that. We don’t complain that, OMG I need to play this again from the start!! The idea of replaying the same scenario over and over is actually at the heart of the game.

Imperial Assault has this very efficient way of resolving the scenario effects—the winner gets a reward. The story continues. Clean and swift.


OK, let’s talk about First Martians now, huh?

An average campaign takes about 5 scenarios. The story evolves, the players struggle, the tension builds up by the hour, with every successful roll, with every emotion experienced, and with every important decision made. Players got attached to their characters, they couldn’t wait for the grand finale and the story’s resolution.

Sorry, but this was not going to happen. In the middle of the fourth scenario, one of the characters kicked the bucket. End of story. He is dead. That’s it. You didn’t finish the campaign. You will never see the grand finale.



This problem is a tough one. Should I ask the players to actually play the whole campaign from the very beginning? Start with Scenario #1 and go through the whole campaign again? Or should I let them replay only the fourth scenario? How would you feel if you were to play again this one scenario that saw you die? How would you feel if you were to do it over and over, if this particular scenario was a difficult one and killed you time and time again?

At this moment—and you need to remember I‘m writing these words when the game is still in development—I managed to teach the players that scenarios goals, the objectives given by NASA are important, but surviving is crucial.

The game’s campaign mode is built in such a way so that fulfilling the Objective is not mandatory to continue the campaign. The setup or the next scenario’s objective will differ depending on the outcome of the previous scenario, but if you didn’t achieve the goal the campaign will simply continue. The only problem is—the next scenario will probably be more difficult. If NASA asked you to give them coordinates for where to drop the supplies and you screwed this up… well, in the next scenario you will need to search for the place of this drop, because the supplies landed somewhere and only God knows where…

So failing one objective doesn’t end the campaign. It only changes your situation for the next scenario.
However, what ends the campaign is getting killed.

Would you restart the scenario you died in?
Would you restart the whole campaign?
Would you just assume you didn’t finish the campaign and moved on to the next campaign?

I REALLY REALLY appreciate your feedback here. Give me your thoughts on the subject.

P.S. First Martians now has its Facebook Page. Check it out!