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First Take Friday – Land vs Sea, Cat in the Box, Dulce, Bag of Chips, and The Spill

In First Take Fridays we offer hot takes on games that are new to us. This week we have Cat in the Box, Dulce, Land vs Sea, Bag of Chips, and The Spill.

Land vs Sea – Bob Pazehoski, Jr.

Tile-laying is not my favorite mechanic, but the concept of a two-player tug-of-war between land and sea was simply too interesting to ignore. Plus, the vibrant color scheme and low-key bizarre artwork just begs “Play me!” Land vs Sea is rather simple to teach and easy to get started, but it’s also quite obvious from the outset that the game holds more than meets the eye. In the base setup, players lay tiles one by one into a shared map in an effort to create finished clusters of land and sea. The tiles also allow for expanded scoring considerations by linking Mountains and Coral or Caravans and Ships during play.

The two-sided tiles mean each turn contains four options. The fact that the tiles are drawn and kept with one side hidden introduces the frustration of partial information for both sides at different points. No matter who finishes a cluster, Land always scores land and Sea always scores sea, but the presence of bonus icons means it is sometimes worthwhile to finish off your opponent’s cluster at the opportune moment. In short, there are just enough quirks to give this one all the right tension. There’s a lovely pace and non-stop interaction. Land vs Sea has certainly earned a place in the immediate rotation.

Ease of entry?:
★★★★★ – No sweat
Would I play it again?:
★★★★★ – Will definitely play it again

Read more articles from Bob Pazehoski, Jr.

Cat in the Box – Andrew Lynch

The latest Japanese trick-taking game to sweep the nation, Cat in the Box is as excellent as they say. Someone in the depths of BGG once referred to trick taking games as “a genre of minor variations,” and Cat in the Box has two: your cards don’t have a suit until you say they do, and there is scoring for area majority (don’t ask, I’ll explain in my coming review). The rulebook is written in an unusual voice that makes the game feel slightly harder to learn than it is, but within a round you’ll have it all firmly in hand. There’s drama, there’s tension, there are smart plays galore. Cat in the Box is a blast.

Ease of Entry?
★★★★☆ – The odd bump or two
Would I play it again?:
★★★★★ – Will definitely play it again

Read more articles from Andrew Lynch.

Dulce – Justin Bell

“Would you like to play a heavy, 15-minute brain burner?”

That was the introduction I was given to the beautiful puzzle game Dulce, which friends of mine acquired at Gen Con 2022. There was plenty of truth in that advertising too, as I was very surprised by how much crunch came with determining how to best solve the riddle of the game’s choices. Playing as confectionery sweets factory owners (!!!), one player will announce the card that all players will pull out from their common deck to either plant, harvest, or build into a simple tableau before taking actions. These multi-use cards can be flipped to plant, built into a confectionary store, or discarded to harvest goods from your fields.

There’s more to it than that, certainly, and while I had lots of questions throughout my first game this would smooth out quickly with some investment. Determining how to make your ingredients cascade between your stores (you’ll build a few of the stores into your tableau, but balancing how many to build was a fun act) is the best part of the game, but a close second is the beautiful card artwork and handsome box art. Dulce is a Stronghold Games production, which shocked me a bit; I’m used to the publishers of Terraforming Mars, That’s Pretty Clever! and the first edition of Great Western Trail going, well, light on the artwork!

Ease of entry?:
★★☆☆☆ – Not an easy onboard
Would I play it again?:
★★★★☆ – Would like to play it again

Read more articles by Justin Bell

Bag of Chips – David McMillan

In each round of Bag of Chips, a push-your-luck/betting game, each player is given six random Objective cards that feature some sort of scoring criteria on them (more yellow chips than red chips, for example). Then one person begins drawing potato chip tiles and placing them out onto the cards that dictate the four phases of the round. As each card fills up with chips, the players have to discard a number of Objective cards from their hand. Eventually, they’ll be left with only three. Two are added to a positive pile and one is added to a negative pile. If the cards score, they reward their owners with the point value shown on the card (if they are in the positive pile) or subtract from the total points earned (if they are in the negative pile). The player that wins the round collects a couple of victory tokens and the game ends once a player is the first to collect a set number of these.

The game comes packaged in something that closely resembles a bag of potato chips, so that’s cool. The packaging interested me enough to tear it open and get it to the table ASAP. There were a few rules hiccups as we muddled our way through the first couple of rounds, but it all started to click just as the game was winding down. At first, the game felt like a total luck-fest, but there is an underlying strategy that isn’t readily apparent until you dig into it.

It was a good experience overall even though Bag of Chips isn’t a game I would normally volunteer to play.

Ease of entry?:
★★★☆☆ – There were a few questions
Would I play it again?:
★★★☆☆ – Wouldn’t suggest it, but would happily play it

Read more articles from David McMillan.

The Spill – Tom Franklin

You’re part of a four-person team working to clean up an ongoing oil spill in the middle of the ocean, while also trying to rescue the wildlife around you. As with most cooperative games, things quickly go from bad to worse as you try to avoid any of the three losing conditions.

The (literal) centerpiece of the game is the two-tiered plastic dice tower. At the start of each turn, players must drop dice into this tower/oil drilling platform. The bottom section is angled in four directions, one for each quadrant of the game. It’s one of the biggest draws the game has, especially for those who love to chuck dice.

Look for my full review, coming soon.

Ease of entry?
★★★★★ – No sweat
Would I play it again?
★★★☆☆ – Wouldn’t suggest it, but would happily play it

Read more articles by Tom Franklin.

Related board games

About the author

David McMillan

IT support specialist by day, Minecrafter by night; I always find time for board gaming. When it comes to games, I prefer the heavier euro-game fare. Uwe Rosenberg is my personal hero with Stefan Feld coming in as a close second.

About the author

Andrew Lynch

Andrew Lynch was a very poor loser as a child. He’s working on it.

About the author

Justin Bell

Gamer / husband / dad / DEI champion / foodie / hoop head / cinephile / travel enthusiast. If you're in Chicago, let's meet up and roll some dice! @justinbellsays

About the author

Bob Pazehoski, Jr.

On any given day, I am a husband and father of five. I read obsessively and, occasionally, I write stories of varying length, quality, and metrical structure. As often as possible, I enjoy sitting down to the table for a game with friends and family. I'm happy to trumpet Everdell, in all its charm and glory, as the insurmountable favorite of my collection.

About the author

Tom Franklin

By day, I'm a mild-mannered IT Manager with a slight attitude. By night I play guitar & celtic bouzouki, board games, and watch British TV. I love abstracts, co-ops, worker placement and tile-laying games. Basically, any deep game with lots of interesting choices. 

You can find my middle grade book, The Pterrible Pteranodon, at your favorite online bookstore.

And despite being a DM, I have an inherent dislike of six-sided dice.

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