Food Chain Island review – eat your way to the top

Button Shy Games is releasing Food Chain Island on May 26 on Kickstarter, a 17-card solo puzzle game! In this Food Chain Island review, we’ll go through a brief summary of the game mechanics, components, and our separate points of view on the game.

Disclaimer: We offer Button Shy Games’ games for local purchase in our online shop. While we promise to be honest in our assessment of the games we review, do take this into consideration as you go through our review.

We own a couple of Button Shy Games ourselves. The games they’ve published have always been fun, relaxing puzzles in a fantastically small package. They called for Print & Play reviewers, and we answered as fast as we could!

In Food Chain Island, you control the local wildlife in a small island in an unnamed ocean. You tell the animals what to eat, with the goal of having only one animal left at the end of the game. (That’s proooobably not very good for the island environment, but it’s a very small island, see? Only one recliner and margarita available.)

Food Chain Island play through summary

There are 17 cards in total in this solo game. There are 15 land animals, ranging from a Plant that Eats Nothing, to a Polar Bear that Eats the Lion, the Gator, and the Tiger. There’s also a Shark and a Whale to help nudge the land animals’ eating habits along.

In the basic game, you set out the land animal cards on a 4×4 grid in random sequence, face up. The two water animals are set aside where you can see and reach them easily.

On each of your turns, you move one of the land animals to “eat” another land animal. You do this by placing their card over the eaten animal’s card (therefore forming a stack under the eating animal).

In most cases, animals can only move one space orthogonally, so they can only eat those next to them.

The bat goes in for the kill…

Each card is also numbered according to their level in the food chain. They can eat animals up to three below them in the food chain.

Who can eat who?

In the image above, you can have the Gator (13) eat either the Lynx (10) or the Tiger (12). They can’t eat the Lion (14) because it’s higher in the food chain; the Rat (6) is also too far below the food chain. It’s not going to be enough to feed this hungry Gator!

In addition, when you move an animal to eat another animal, you also activate their ability listed in the bottom of their card. These special effects start out quite helpful in the early game. You’re still generally working through the lower end of the food chain, after all. But as you go up the food chain, it gets progressively more difficult.

Once you can no longer eat another animal based on your current grid, the game ends. If you’re left with just one animal, you’ve won the game! In most cases, this would be the Polar Bear; but there are card abilities that allow you to remove any card from the play area, so YMMV.

What do I do now? :(

Food Chain Island components

As we tested a Print & Play version of the game that was sent to us, we can’t really comment on the final game quality once it’s released after the Kickstarter. But we do have personal history with Button Shy Games’ Wallet line; and we can see the art on the P&P files we were sent. Because of this, we do have some assumptions of how the game will turn out.

The card art is beautiful. It’s whimsical and colorful, but also relaxing and charming. Each card is numbered to help with the eating rules, which is also reiterated helpfully on each card. (Shown here is a screenshot from the P&P file; we only had ivory cardstock on hand when we made our P&P, so the color is slightly tinted!)

The Wallet line which this game will be part of contains similar card games; all of them are housed in a beautiful plastic “wallet” that allows you to bring them around everywhere you go. Each card is also linen finished, beautiful and durable. I’m showing the Tussie Mussie and Sprawlopolis games below–the Food Chain Island game should be packaged similarly!


I quite enjoyed this engrossing puzzle game! It was easy to grasp, and I slid into the game pretty effortlessly. I hardly had to read the rules, and it was pretty easy to teach it to someone else as well.

I settled in for a straightforward, cutesy game…and I couldn’t have been more surprised. During my first game, I was pleasantly surprised at how long it took me to go through the game. Maybe it says more about how I get bogged down by analysis paralysis; but there was just so many possibilities about which way to go in a game. I did not expect it from such a simple package.

I did find myself wanting a version of this game with square cards, though. There are definitely no issues with the standard poker size cards, but since we’re talking about grids, y’know…

I can also see this as a game that can be easily shared with the younger members of anyone’s family. The kid-friendly art is sure to be interesting to children; and you can definitely turn it into a short nature lesson ;)

Still, this is definitely a solo game worth your time!


This seemed like a very simplistic game–considering the easy set-up, cutesy animals, and its super easy rules. After all you’re only required to be the last animal standing by making your way down the food chain.

But after playing the game several times, I can definitely say that there is an interesting complexity with the game when combining the abilities of the animals and the caveat that the animals only have a particular diet that they prefer (specifically only a number of those below them).

Additionally, the mechanics of the game works well with its intended theme–I definitely enjoyed being a lazy polar bear who needs to rest after every meal.


All in all, the game is like a fun puzzle with enough complexity to it that it makes you want to keep replaying the game over and over until you are able to successfully complete it. I will definitely recommend these to people who enjoy playing puzzles.

Food Chain Island review verdict

Disclaimer: We offer Button Shy Games’ games for local purchase in our online shop. While we promise to be honest in our assessment of the games we review, do take this into consideration as you go through our review.

Food Chain Island is one surprising package. An outwardly simple, straightforward game, it packs a complexity punch that is perfect for solo puzzle lovers. This turned out to be a strategically crafty game; animal actions that scale as you go up the food chain and eating limitations definitely upped the ante.

The simple mechanics, coupled with its cute, friendly art style make this even accessible for children. Parents who would want to turn this game into a teaching moment, rejoice! For younger kids, possibly some minor gameplay changes might be in order.

The small game footprint is a lovely plus. It’s easy to bring everywhere and get folks and kids to puzzle through the grid with you!

Button Shy Games’ Food Chain Island wallet game is definitely a worthy addition to anyone’s wallet! They’re launching this game on Kickstarter on May 26, and we’ll update this post as soon as they do. :)

Orchard review – a swift nine-card puzzle

Shortly after we wrote our review for Black Sonata, I found out about Side Room Games’ plan to open another Kickstarter, this time for BoardGameGeek favourite Orchard, a nine-card solitaire game with only cards, dice, and two cubes. Owing to how we feel about Black Sonata, we decided to check this Print & Play game out. In this Orchard review, we’ll go through the basic mechanics of the game, the PNP resources’ quality, and each of our POVs on how it plays.

Disclaimer: Hey, Meepling is currently offering Orchard for pre-order locally in the Philippines at the Kickstarter price while the Kickstarter is active. While we pride ourselves with making honest reviews regardless of affiliation, do keep this in mind while you read our thoughts on this game.

Orchard, by Mark Tuck, has a pretty solid history already, even though having only been released in 2018: it won multiple categories (including Best Overall Game) in the 2018 BoardGameGeek 9-Card Nanogame Print & Play Design Contest. It was also the BoardGameGeek Golden Geek Winner for Best Print & Play Game of 2018. I’d always enjoyed the experience of making and playing PNPs and this was pretty much enough endorsement for me to want to try it out.

This tile-laying game has the player grow and manage the titular Orchard, trying to maximize their harvest. A multiplayer option is also available, that requires another copy of the game.

Orchard play through summary

In the regular, solitaire game, the player shuffles their nine cards1 and picks the first card as their starting “orchard”, and two more to form their hand. A set of fifteen dice form a pool for their harvest of apples, plums, and pears (five of each fruit).

Players then choose a card from their hand to play on top of their current orchard. Playing a card requires that the new card overlap their current orchard either horizontally or vertically, with the underlying fruit matching the fruit placed on top of it. If the top fruit does not match the bottom fruit, a “rotten cube” may be placed, at a maximum of two times per game. Cards cannot be placed on top of rotten fruit.

If the player successfully places a fruit on top of a matching fruit, they are able to harvest from that plant. The first time they overlap, a die with the “1” side facing up is placed on the plant, signifying that they can harvest from that plant. The second time, the die is turned to the “3” side facing up, signifying an increased yield for that plant.

Orchard Print & Play quality

The PNP is pretty straightforward, and the assets are well-done. There is a single-page rules sheet and two pages that contain the 18 cards for the game, designed to be printed back-to-back (for a total of 9 cards and 18 card faces). An optional card back sheet is also provided in case you’d rather print the 18 cards as separate cards.

Printing is straightforward, and the backs and fronts matched up well, though due to the nature of how the cards are laid out, it was difficult to see the cutting lines once you’ve cut the cards in one direction. There are faint lines in the card art that should help, but it was difficult to find once the guiding line was gone. My cards therefore have slight differences in sizes, but these don’t affect gameplay as much since shuffling is only done once at game start (and there are only a few cards to shuffle, anyway).

Players should provide their own dice, of which one will need 15 six-sided dice: 5 apples, 5 plums, and 5 pears. Ideally you have differing colors for them for each, but I didn’t have with my own copy, and it wasn’t too difficult. Two markers are also needed for rotten fruits, but I used a peso coin when I played, haha. What rotten fruit??


I’m really liking this game for what it is. It’s simple, it’s light, and it’s quick, but engrossing in just the right amount. It’s the type of game that, after one round, is super easy to go just one more. At first, I wondered if it was going to be too simplistic, but I think it has the right balance of simplicity and puzzle-y goodness. I also like the “mechanic” of upping the dice value–it feels pretty satisfying after scoring!

Owing to my d6s being in my TRPG “box”, I’ve ended up adding my PNP cards into the vault as well. You know, for those instances when people take so long to get the game started…;)

I can’t wait for this amazing little game to be professionally produced!


It has been a while since a game frustrated me the way that Orchard has, since this game required me to be efficient in the placement of my “trees” for maximum yield. The need to set my score higher than my last2 pushes me to keep playing, and since the game plays so quickly, I get to play at least five more games till my needs are partially satisfied.

So, yes, I really like this game, despite the leading intro. I can’t wait to play the fully produced game once it comes out!

Orchard review verdict

Disclaimer: Hey, Meepling is currently offering Orchard for pre-order locally in the Philippines at the Kickstarter price while the Kickstarter is active. While we pride ourselves with making honest reviews regardless of affiliation, do keep this in mind while you read our thoughts on this game.

Orchard has a lot going for it in the solitaire game category–a light footprint and quick play that’s satisfying and engrossing at the same time.

The PNP is well done and easy to set up, but the Kickstarter is proving to be super exciting, with unlocked custom rotten fruit tokens, engraved dice, and possibly plastic cards for that ultra durability bonus. Check out the Kickstarter, or if you’re in the Philippines, we’re offering local pre-orders too!

Check out these playthroughs and reviews too:


1 As it is possible to print the game as 18 cards instead of the nine back-to-back cards, players still play with nine cards, just setting the other nine aside for a second game. Which you will want to play. For sure.
2 and Angela’s

Board game etiquette – don’t be THAT guy

A year ago, I discovered the local board game scene. I met a couple of new friends and I was reinvigorated with this wonderful hobby of ours. I found out about all the local board game cafes and wanted to try them all.

A few months in, my friends and I heard about Ludo Boardgame Cafe in Makati closing 1. Puzzles followed after a fire sale. Moonleaf + Bunnies Cafe in Binondo and Laro Board Game Cafe in QC sold off their cafes. While their reasons for closing and selling may be unclear, these events happening in such close succession begs a thoughtful pause.

A month ago, the local tabletop RPG community (and by extension all board gamers as well), was rocked with the revelation that a local cafe put in place a policy where tabletop roleplaying games were not allowed in their branches anymore due to an incident that happened in another branch. There were no specifics, but in many other establishments across the metro, groups have been asked to leave.

The importance of open spaces

While many groups may not need these open spaces due to having their own private space, these are still important for our hobbies to thrive.

Having a neutral location to play games in are important, as not all groups would have access to a private space available to game in. Even if there was, a neutral location is also good for safety purposes: not all gamers would be comfortable inviting a stranger to play in their homes, nor would everyone be comfortable just showing up at a private residence to play with near strangers and acquaintances. If we wish to expand our community, public, neutral spaces are important.

Gaming in open spaces also serve to normalize boardgames and tabletop RPGs in our country, as these hobbies, while gaining traction, are still a niche activity and very often misunderstood in our society. How many times have you had to explain how X game is different from Monopoly, or have people tell you that you need to grow up and stop playing “make believe”? It may be slow going, but every once in a while, we hear stories about random strangers telling people they heard this group playing in a cafe and how imaginative and entertaining they are, or people approaching us due to their curiosity with a game we’re playing and developing a genuine interest and understanding with it.

Board game cafes, in particular, have a significant impact in normalizing our hobby, providing not just a venue for public games but also, generally, a variety of gateway games that are designed to bring people slowly into the hobby. I remember the first time stepping into a board game cafe in Singapore and being simply amazed at the vast array of games–so many games!–that I had not known was available. “So this is a thing, huh,” I thought, and realized how so many other people are in this “secret” hobby of mine.

Safeguarding our communities

Thankfully, it’s not difficult to be supportive gamers and take care of our community and open spaces. A lot of the things we can do aren’t very difficult, and help not just to keep these public spaces open and accepting to us gamers, but also our fellow players and the ones that will come after us.

We have three tips for being The Good Gamer:

1. Pick the right place and time.

This is especially important if you’re playing at a venue not catered specifically for tabletop games. That quiet cafe with the comfy chairs right next to your school may be perfect for your social deduction game, but how disruptive are you to other patrons who are trying to study for their exams tomorrow? Perhaps bring a quieter game where emotions aren’t going to run so high, and leave the hidden traitor games for later.

That fast-food place with the large tables for your sprawling euro is a fabulous find, but those people in the thick of dinner service, standing about looking for a seat to grab a much-needed bite, is bound to give your group the stink-eye. Perhaps use that 24-hour chain for a late-night gaming spree when there are empty tables galore, and let those establishment maximize their earnings during peak hours.

2. Support your gaming establishment.

Piggybacking on the above — be good customers and patrons wherever you are gaming. Especially in this financial climate, money is hard to come by, not just for you but for many businesses as well. Over the years, many board game cafes have closed their doors, either permanently or partially, leaving us with only good memories of our own discoveries of this hobby and the games we love to play. The inability to continue to operate seems a paltry return for the experiences we gained within their doors.

This isn’t just limited to board game cafes. Think about it, we spend hours within a cafe for a game or two, taking up space. The servers, the managers, they all need to meet a certain number to break even, to earn a profit. If they see your group taking up six chairs for six hours with one drink between all of you, they’re not going to be super excited to see you again next day.

So let’s help them out. Buy a meal, snack, a drink, for every couple of hours you spend enjoying the air-conditioning. For board game cafes, think about it as an investment: if they turn a profit, they have more capital to purchase more games which you can play, too.

3. Play fair both in-game and in real life

We all want to be invited back to our respective gaming groups. Losing our regular games is not an option. We want to have pride in our win. Playing fair in the game is important so we can say we beat everyone else fair and square. We play fair because it is the right thing to do.

That mentality needs to extend to real life, as well. If the establishment doesn’t allow outside food, don’t sneak in your baon and eat it on the sly. If they say they require a meal purchase to play games, don’t attempt to hide behind your group’s multiple orders when they come to collect the bill and say there’s an order missing for your group2. If your group has a birthday celebrant and you want to bring in a cake for them, ask nicely first–and if they say you can’t, don’t push it.

That goes even for when establishments ask you to leave while you’re playing a game. Try to find out the reason and try to explain if it’s a misconception on their part (i.e., if they think you are gambling when you’re just playing a board game3), but do it nicely. If they insist, don’t get belligerent; more often than not, they don’t have a choice in the matter and they’re just doing as best as they are able. Don’t make a scene and make things uncomfortable for the staff and other patrons; people are inclined to remember crazy scenes and they’ll always think gamers are a rude crowd. Let’s not destroy this hobby for ourselves and others!

This last tip might even be the only one you need to remember: play fair, be thoughtful, think of other people’s welfare.

Do you have any other board game etiquette tips to share on how to be a supportive gamer?


1 RIP – Dan
2 you even stand to get your group’s ire if they’re forced to pay for your food!
3 this has happened to us in several occasions – Dan

Sprawlopolis review – a tiny brain burner

Sprawlopolis was a chance find back when Button Shy Games ran their Kickstarter last year. I was on a Kickstarter boardgames spree, and it was affordable and looked interesting, so I took the chance and backed it. In this Sprawlopolis review, we’ll go through the basic mechanics of the game, components, and each of our POVs on how it plays.

In this brain-burning solitaire/cooperative game, 1-4 players are the city planners and builders intent on making the city of Sprawlopolis the best city possible. But each city is unique in its requirements, thanks to variable objectives that change each game.

Sprawlopolis play through summary

Before the start of the game, players choose three cards from the deck of 18 cards, and flip it over to reveal variable objectives, which have numerical values attached to them. The score the group needs to reach at the end of the game is the sum of the revealed objectives’ value.

A card is also chosen as the first “tile” in the game.

After that, each player is given a hand of three cards. The first player chooses a card from their hand and connects it to the city laid out in front of the group, in the same orientation as the starting tile.

Each city card has four blocks. When connecting a card to the city, one may place the card wholly adjacent to the card, half adjacent, or cover one or two blocks from the card (never underneath a card already placed, and never fully covering an existing card).

Base score: zero (sadly)

After choosing a card and playing it, players pass the remaining hand of two cards to the next player. They then draw a card to top up their hand to three, and choose a card to play from his hand.

Play continues until no cards are left, and scoring begins:

  • -1 point for each road (so connecting roads are best)
  • + number of blocks in the largest block of one type (so having blocks of the same type of building connected to each other is best)
  • + variable objectives’ score

If you meet or exceed the total of the variable objectives, you win the game!

Sprawlopolis components

Sprawlopolis comes with 18 linen-finish cards, and a nice plastic “wallet” to store all the cards in (and the in-game expansions cards too). The cards feel durable, which is good since the wallet won’t fit sleeved cards (I tried with premiums). Included is a tiny rules leaflet which fits inside the wallet as well.

The cards have clear art and design, with the blocks on one side and variable objectives on the other, for a total of 18 variable objectives for the entire game in varying combinations. It definitely helps maintain the game’s small footprint! I’ve brought this game along in my purse many times and it takes up so little space, it’s fantastic.


This is a surprising brain burner! I’ve played this with casuals and hardcore gamers and the hardcore gamers themselves have commented on how challenging the game can be. We’ve had lucky games where the combination of the objectives synced well and we were able to meet or slightly exceed the target score, but get a challenging set and…well, we’ve had a few games where our final score was negative!

Initially I was thinking that this would be a good gateway game, especially since it’s so small and easy to whip out at a moment’s notice. But over time, I’ve realized it’s not as “gateway” as I assumed it was, due to the variable player objectives. Possibly doing fewer objectives, or hand-selecting the easier ones, would be key to making it easier to grasp for new players.

Lastly, this Sprawlopolis review isn’t complete without mentioning the fact that there are several built-in expansions that came with the game. The replayability of the base game is great as is, but if you want to spice things up, try playing with Wrecktar rampaging in the city, or starting with Points of Interest, or fix your city’s Construction Zones as they come up.


Who knew that a game that can basically fit in your wallet can have so much value? At first glance, one would expect that the game is designed for new or casual players, but don’t be fooled, dear reader. This game has given me and my friends many instances of “analysis paralysis” in trying to figure out the best possible placement of the cards to score the most points. Additionally, due to its relatively short play time, we would keep on playing again to beat our earlier scores (especially if it was negative).

Being a fan of city building games in its many forms, such as Sim City, Cities: Skylines, Prison Architect, Quadropolis, Suburbia, etc., it was easy for me to like this tiny but meaty game. Especially with its many optional scenarios, this game definitely gives the most bang for your buck.

Sprawlopolis verdict

Small footprint, super mobile, great replayability, and tons of fun–what’s not to like? It’s a fantastic wallet game and definitely one of the must-try games from Button Shy Games’ wallet games line.

Also check out

If you liked Sprawlopolis, also check out these following games:

Black Sonata review – is the Dark Lady a keeper?

I picked up Black Sonata by Side Room Games when they ran their Kickstarter last year. In this Black Sonata review, we’ll go through a brief summary of the game mechanics, components, and our separate points of view on the game.

Black Sonata review

Disclaimer: We offer Side Room Games’ games for local purchase in our online shop. While we promise to be honest in our assessment of the games we review, do take this into consideration as you go through our review.

In it, you are pursuing the mysterious Dark Lady of Shakespeare’s sonnets through London, trying to catch a glimpse of her to gain clues to her identity. Get enough clues, the right clues, and you may be able to piece together who she is and finally confront her. Black Sonata is a hidden movement, press your luck strategy game for one player, or a cooperative group.

It was my first “solitaire” game purchase, though the game can certainly be played as a cooperative one as well. It originally was available as a print and play game, was a 2017 Golden Geek nominee, and revolved around Shakespeare–I was hooked, and I couldn’t resist backing.

I’m very glad I did. It comes in a small box, easy to bring around, has amazing components and a relaxing color theme, and is an interesting puzzle all on its own. Dan and I always marvel at how clever the Dark Lady movement is.

Black Sonata Dark Lady token

Black Sonata play through summary

You start the game by 1) choosing a Dark Lady card, face down, which would be the lady you need to find, and 2) arranging the stealth deck to build the order of the Dark Lady’s movement across London. The front of the stealth deck cards contain eight letters along the top and bottom, seemingly at random, which you arrange in alphabetical order to build out this hidden path the lady takes.

On each round, the Dark Lady moves first, which is represented by moving the top card of the stealth deck to the bottom of the deck and moving the lady to an adjacent location on the map that contains that symbol1.

After that, you are free to do any one of four actions:

  1. Move – you can move to an adjacent location, and “unlock” the location if you have not done so yet (you get a free clue if you unlock all locations)
  2. Search – if the Dark Lady is in the same location as you are, you can search for her2
  3. Use a Fog Card – over time, the stealth deck will also fill with Fog Cards which make the Dark Lady more difficult to find–but using a Fog Card may also assist you in your search (…or drastically make it more difficult)
  4. Pass – you can opt to stay in your current location and do nothing, essentially just letting the Lady move again.
Black Sonata keyhole

Searching for the Dark Lady entails taking one of the limited Fog Cards and slipping it underneath the stealth card that is topmost (so that you hide the card below, and then combining the topmost stealth card with the location card (with the keyhole). You flip this card over, and check through the keyhole if the lady is visible through it. If she appears in the keyhole, you have glimpsed the Dark Lady and you can take a clue from the clue deck. Afterward, she flees–and you move the stealth deck forward by how many clues you have obtained, essentially skipping several hidden movements that she takes to flee.

The clues take the form of symbols–deduce all three symbols in the Dark Lady’s card, and you have successfully figured out the identity of the lady3. In addition, each Dark Lady card contains clues to the other ladies, in the form of her similarity to the lady you are trying to find.

Black Sonata Dark Lady cards

Once you have deduced all three symbols and are ready to unmask her, catch her one last time to confront her and win the game. But make sure that you don’t dally–using up all your available Fog Cards or taking too many revolutions of the deck will lose you the game as well, and she will be shrouded in mystery forever (or until the next game).

Black Sonata components

This is one example where Kickstarter really shines as a channel for publishing a game like this. With this game being available as a Print and Play game, “official” components like these are pretty much what you back the Kickstarter for. And they definitely delivered.

I love the aesthetic and the feel of the final components. It’s light–both visually and in weight, giving the game a relaxing, country-style feel. The wooden components, from the pawn to the tokens and the Dark Lady silhouette tokens feel good to the touch and is definitely a beautiful upgrade over the Print and Play tokens available. The cards feel great, linen-finished and with a good thickness to them.

I especially love the way you peek through a keyhole in the card to see if you’ve spotted the Dark Lady. That is such a cute, cool way of doing the check and gives a bit of suspense especially for us (we usually have one person do the stealth deck and another manage the location deck, and the latter always does the keyhole-checking).

Black Sonata keyhole

I’ve also checked the available free Print and Play file and it is definitely playable, so you should give it a whirl if you’re interested. In addition to this, while I have not made this PnP game, I love the way they’ve laid out the PnP–it’s one of the better laid-out ones and is a true PnP you can print and get done right at home with just a few common household stationery tools.

There also needs to be a special mention that Side Room Games also included a beautiful booklet on the historical background behind Shakespeare’s Dark Lady, which is worth a read and a definite plus.


I was definitely impressed when I received my copy of the Kickstarter box. It was sturdy, components are amazing, and it just felt right. I proceeded to play a couple times right then. The rules did confuse me for a bit (we seem to keep forgetting how the fleeing Dark Lady mechanic exactly work whenever we haven’t played the game for a while, and have to reread again) but that was the only hiccup.

But the game is just. so. clever. The puzzle itself (and the rng of which clues you get, etc) is definitely worthwhile, but even how one goes about getting those puzzle pieces is ingenious. The peeping through a keyhole, the Dark Lady’s multiple paths through London, the way you can adjust your game’s difficulty–everything is very well thought out and cleverly put together.

The normal difficulty is pretty balanced–it’s pretty equal how many times we find her versus not, and we always have a good time discussing the game afterward: what worked, what screwed us over. The symbol puzzle is interesting on its own, but getting too many 0/2 clues and it becomes really hairy.


I am generally a fan of hidden movement games, such as Fury of Dracula, Scotland Yard, Specter Ops, etc.. These games usually require a group of players, trying to figure out where the “culprit”, played by a different player, is. Never in my wildest dreams, have I ever conceived that a game from this genre can be turned into a solitaire/solo game4.

Like a broken clock, I would like to reiterate what Angela kept saying once again…this game is really clever. From the way how the Dark Lady moves, to finding the right combination to figure out the Dark Lady, the game is just so darn clever5 in how everything works. That is why, when we finally figured out who the Dark Lady was after multiple games, it was a really satisfying experience.

We really enjoy playing this game, even though it needed a few play throughs at first to figure out how everything works6. Additionally, the gameplay is quick enough that squeezing in another round after losing or winning, almost always becomes the case for us.

Black Sonata review verdict

Disclaimer: We offer Side Room Games’ games for local purchase in our online shop. While we promise to be honest in our assessment of the games we review, do take this into consideration as you go through our review.

A hidden gem, this understated game is one that will definitely stay in my collection. It fills that literary and puzzle itch, and has afforded both of us many satisfying endings to a chill night out.

The best part is that it is available as a free Print and Play over at BoardGameGeek. Check out the game and try it yourself, or get the premium copy over at the Hey Meepling online shop! Let us know what you think in the comments below. Have fun!


1 some movement variants may have the lady stay in the same location, which makes the game slightly more difficult
2 technically, you can search even if she is not in the same location, but what would be the point?
3 the clues actually do relate to the actual woman in history
4 If there are other solitaire hidden movement games, let me know.
5 one more for the road
6 unlike the game, we are not that clever apparently

Session Zero’s coming up: We’re so excited!

Finally, it’s Session Zero time this Sunday, August 25! Session Zero is an event that shines the spotlight on local game designers and makers, and there is a lot on offer this weekend! There has been so many people on the #RoadToSessionZero and we’re so hyped to check out all the awesome stuff available during the 11am – 8:30pm event. There will be game designers selling and playtesting their games, artists showing their work and open for commissions, merchants selling their awesome geeky wares, and streamers and many more besides!

Hey, Meepling will be there, too! We’ve been busy at work with the stuff we want to bring to Session Zero, and here’s a quick lowdown of what you might expect from our table at Booth 23 (straight on from the entrance doors, our table is on the right side!).

Character notebooks galore!

We’re definitely bringing a selection of our D&D character sheet folios and tomes to Session Zero. Tomes will be in faux leather, bewitching black, bravest blue, and radiant red, plus our last two stock of our gold filigree limited edition tomes.

We’re also bringing along a few mini notebooks if you’re like me and just want that mini notebook itch ;)

We will also have a little extra personal pet project on show, and will also be accepting orders for customized notebooks during the event (though not making during the event–you can order the notebooks during, and we’ll work out the schedule with you).

Notebook accessories, wut?

So we’ve come bearing a few cute accessories for your character sheet notebooks! Behold:

Spell slot clips come in 10/pack, and are available in black, gold, rose gold, silver, purple, and green. They’re perfect for the spell slot trackers, or just to make your notebooks pretty.

Item sheet and animal companion sheet stickers! They’re just the right size for half a page of the character folio and tome. While they aren’t going to be fountain-pen friendly, they most definitely are pencil-ready! And of course there will be some cute dice stickers available as well.

We might have one or two more things in store — it will be a surprise!

Terrain coasters for everyone

These aren’t going anywhere, but it will help your adventures get that extra mile! These double-sided cork coasters protect your tables from guests’ drinks on one side, but also enable the best adventurers on the other! We’re bringing the usual favourites!

Alignment perfume, what’s that?

Are you a neutral, lawful, or chaotic? Perhaps a dash of good and evil? We’re bringing a small batch of our new alignment perfume at Session Zero. We’re starting off with the basics: Neutral, Lawful, Chaotic, Good, and Evil.

  • NeutralFlexible in your own skin: musk and bamboo.
  • LawfulPrim and proper, but with a backbone of steel: tea and metal.
  • ChaoticA heady carousing, free and unpredictable: sweet rum and tobacco.
  • GoodA clear soul: crystalline white musk and holy sandalwood.
  • EvilA sweet black temptation: dark chocolate and sticky caramel.

Unfortunately we can’t mix during the event, but if you don’t mind the multi-week curing time wait, we can also take orders for making your perfect alignment mix during the event.

So we’ll see you, alright?

We hope to see you at Session Zero this Sunday August 25, 2019! Event is at Green Sun Hotel Focus Rooms 6-7, and starts at 11:00 am until 8:30 pm. Registration is currently open, but walk-ins are very welcome!

We will be at Booth #23!

Hope to see you there!

Five for Five: Our Top Gateway Games

We all have different games that brought us “into the fold”, so to speak. I personally still like gateway games for the gems they are: quick setup and play, and honestly, I really need a bit of a light, in-between game when you’re doing some heavier games back to back.

I honestly don’t remember what my first boardgame (modern or otherwise) was, other than it’s probably either Ticket to Ride or Catan (as those are some of the first modern games my parents brought home)1. Dan’s first was Flip City, followed quickly after by crushing defeat at Kemet, which ironically made him fall in love with boardgames.

In no particular order:

Angela’s Five

Pandemic, where you race to save the world from four deadly diseases. This is always the first game that comes to my mind when talking about gateway games. I love cooperative games and think that they are a good way to ease people into modern boardgames. Pandemic is probably not the easiest coop out there, but I find the theme more accessible than something like Forbidden Island or Forbidden Desert and gives players more choices and agency.

Azul, for the pretty pattern-matching tiles. Azul is such a pretty game. The components are pretty, they feel great when you handle them and put them together, the gameplay fairly simple. But this prettiness is not just tile-deep: there is quite a bit of strategy in which tiles to get and keep from other players, that this seemingly peaceful game can be quite competitive after all.

Coloretto for the beautiful rainbow of colors you try to collect. I know it looks like I’m just moving into colors at this point, but Coloretto is such a hidden, understated gem. It’s a good intro to set collection, and comes in such an amazingly small package that it’s definitely one you can whip out at a moment’s notice because you had it on you all along! It’s easy to explain and plays out quickly, and once they’ve got the hang of it you can very easily do another round of the more complicated side. Win!

Werewords, where you try to find the secret word from the Mayor who suddenly has super limited speech. Another recent addition to our roster of games, I love Werewords ever since the first time I’ve played it with friends. I loved it so much I got my own copy as soon as I could. We could play this game endlessly, over and over. I personally love this over the more ubiquitous Werewolf, because there isn’t any player elimination, and you don’t have the whole awkward silence when playing with a group who don’t know each other2.

Dixit, for pretty cards and knowing what weird things your friends fixate on in pictures. An older game, and one that admittedly doesn’t get played as much as it used to with my groups, but I think it’s one of the best games to introduce to a family or group of established friends who hasn’t really started playing boardgames yet. It’s like in any game of charades where people who know each other so well would have an advantage–most groups I’ve played this with, they usually feel so awesome and get so invested in the game because of this, that it’s so fun to watch.

Dan’s Five

Clank! A Deck Building Adventure scratches that deck-building and dungeon-delving itch. This interestingly high-action deck building game has such a cool premise: steal the best treasure from the dragon and become the Master Thief. Dan’s family loved this game so much when he taught it to them that he almost missed a plane flight trying to finish a game!

Lords of Waterdeep, the classic fantasy worker placement game. Dan swears by this game, having easily taught this to his family and it does remain a classic there and elsewhere. There may be simpler worker placement games out there, but this strikes a good balance, and the theme is fairly accessible with even just a little fantasy exposure.

Potion Explosion, an analog Candy Crush. Don’t lose your marbles! This game feels so good to play with. And the theme? Teach it to anyone, and thanks to the popularity of games like Candy Crush, they get it immediately. So much that Dan has played with kids who have totally destroyed him in this game.

Century: Spice Road has merchant players plying the road to finish the most lucrative spice orders the fastest. The first Century game by Plan B Games is also the simplest and most accessible of the trilogy, and is good as a first peek for the kind of players who may really get into engine-building as a mechanic. It’s simple and satisfying enough as a deck- and engine-builder game that Dan’s mom immediately wanted to have another round as soon as she finished her first game of it!

Hardback, a new and modern twist on Scrabble. It’s a really easy game to get into since games such as Scrabble has been in circulation for a very long time, and in a way, it is a bit more forgiving because you can use any letter as a wildcard as well in lieu of points. The deck-building aspect also makes it more engaging than just drawing tiles in Scrabble.

So there’s our five. It was so difficult picking out just five, and no doubt after this is posted, we’ll end up thinking of other games that we should have put into the list instead. How about you, what’s your favorite gateway game to introduce to new people into the hobby?


1 And to pick which was my first boardgame ever is a bit difficult…probably something like Snakes and Ladders or such.
2 “So who do we think might be the werewolf?” *crickets*

[Pulp COC] Masks of Nyarlathotep, Session One

Excerpts from the journal of Caridad Benitez, M.D., found in the year 2019 in an old abandoned house in Tangub, Bacolod, Negros Occidental, Philippines.

17 March, 1921. Lima, Peru.

An afternoon cooler at Hotel Maury (Photo by Angela Sabas)

Perry is late as usual, but I don’t mind. I’m a bit tired from the voyage, so this unexpected respite from the hurrying-about is welcome. We’d been booked into Hotel Maury, though we are meeting the explorer Augustus Larkin later tonight at Bar Cordano. I only hope that Perry won’t be too late for that meeting.

I have to say, this is quite an intriguing proposition, even if it’s meant to be a first foray/trial period for Caduceus. A hidden ancient pyramid here in Peru? Sounds innocuous enough. Although that brings me to–should I have left word of what I was going into, back home in Bacolod? Sure, they know it’s medical assistance on this expedition, but perhaps I should have been a bit more forthcoming with the possible dangers… but then again, what is there to say? I don’t even know what we’re heading into, just that this is supposedly more than just your run-of-the-mill expedition.

Perhaps I should write a letter to my sister. Just in case.

Where is Perry?

18 March, 1921. Lima, Peru, in a prison holding cell.

Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos (Photo by Angela Sabas / Silliman University)

Well, what a predicament. I don’t suppose Papa will be thrilled to hear about his eldest daughter being thrown into prison! And I’m doubly glad about writing that letter, though I suppose I should have posted it… I suppose tonight’s one good reason to actually be keeping my journal.

We met Mr. Larkin as planned, along with his bodyguard Luis de Mendoza and a Mr. Jessie Hughes, who introduced himself as a folkorist there to document the expedition. Mr. Larkin looked rather sick, as if from opium withdrawal, but otherwise was very passionate about his expedition plans, even if the documentation and research notes appeared to be rather thin. He showed us two items he obtained from an Ernesto Molo, a farmer near Lake Titicaca: a pendant and a golden cup. They seemed rather incongruous, however; not the same time period, I daresay. He talked about how he burned his research due to people who wanted to get at it, but told us we could get information from the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos and the Museo de Arqueologia y Antropologia, which is inside the university.

Larkin and de Mendoza left early, wherein the table’s mood lightened and, over drinks, Jessie Hughes told us that his name was actually Jackson Elias, and he was there researching Peruvian death cults and the “kharisiri”, and that de Mendoza seemed to be connected to these. He was in contact with a Nemesio Sanchez, a professor at the university who also works at the museum, who might have some information about this expedition. He had seemed very keen to contact Larkin, but had been ignored until now. I voiced a worry about his safety, and Mr. Elias suggested we visit him tonight.

Professor Sanchez at first seemed disgruntled at being woken up after retiring, but he understood our concerns for his safety and told us that he had tasked one of his interns, Trinidad Rizzo, with the translation of a document they possessed, and that she was likely working on it as we spoke. We went to the student dormitories and were directed to her room, where the door was ajar… and we saw de Mendoza in the room, but in a form that Mr. Elias refers to as a kharisiri.

It was definitely de Mendoza, but his mouth and jaw–it was elongated and filled with teeth. It is difficult to describe. He had been behind the girl and turned around and attacked us at the sound of the door opening. It was a blur, Ms. Rizzo was screaming, Mr. Elias was shooting–it was quite a disaster. Perry killed it with a blow, I was able to calm Ms. Rizzo down somewhat, and the police came.

We’ve reached out to Larkin, Professor Sanchez promises to help, Ms. Rizzo is still distraught (I told her it was a masked man come to burgle her; I don’t know what the police told her), and we are still here in the holding cell.

Ugh. We’ll find out more tomorrow, I suppose.

18 March, 1921. Lima, Peru, grabbing a quick lunch.

So many things happening, so many questions. We were released from prison, but no one is telling us how or why. De Mendoza’s body isn’t in the morgue, police are pretending ignorance, and Larkin… who is Augustus Larkin? We met him after the prison release but…

Anyway. Professor Sanchez gave us a copy of the survivor account Ms. Rizzo was translating last night, and a gold slab with etched symbols that apparently comes from the temple that the survivor desecrated with four other conquistadors. A name–Luis de Mendoza–comes up in the account.

We’re about to meet with Professor Sanchez again in less than an hour to talk about what to do with all of this new information.

18 March, 1921. Lima, Peru, a run-down motel near the docks.

The dockside (Batam, Indonesia / Photo by Angela Sabas)

What a day.

We left Hotel Maury this afternoon, after calling Larkin and making our excuses. I said Caduceus needed us for an urgent medical mission in San Francisco–I’m not sure he bought it, plus there’s that Spaniard-looking man following us from the university, so I had to buy two tickets to San Francisco to throw him off, and rely on the good graces of the kind man at the ticketing booth who thought Perry and I were runaway lovers.

We did buy tickets to Molendo and we’re leaving tomorrow morning. We plan to head straight out to Puno once we reach–hopefully we won’t be tracked getting on the boat–we need all the lead we can get. From the translated account we received, hopefully returning the gold slab Professor Sanchez entrusted to us is enough to set things right. Jackson has a possible contact in Puno we might be able to get more some more help from, a wise woman of sorts.

That survivor account we read this morning–it was rather chilling. It reads almost as a fantastical story, were it not for the events of last night. A Gaspar Figueroa shares how he and four other fellow conquistadors looted the temple in search of richness, and how the others were overcome with horrifying hunger and he was almost devoured alive “like a human leech”. It is too close to what we saw of de Mendoza last night…and especially that his name comes up in that account? It has to be more than a coincidence.

Anyway. We did also manage to hire a man Professor Sanchez recommended to us as an additional bodyguard of sorts–Mr. Pranit Singh Dillon, who will be heading to the Molendo boat separate from us. We need him, but I fear that we may be leading him to his death, too. We did not tell him to full extent of our expedition, and he did not ask any questions, but I feel horrible about not being forthright…

So many questions that need answering. Where is de Mendoza? Who is that man following us? And Larkin…who is he, truly? He could only say that de Mendoza sometimes does this disappearing act, but couldn’t give an account of where he was, and I daresay he seemed unconcerned his man is being accused of murder. His strong cologne can’t hide the scent of rotting meat wafting around him, he even seems to have a tattoo of sorts on his chest, hidden under this clothing. Is he one of these death cultists Jackson is talking about? Or is de Mendoza using him and controlling him somehow? Are there truly three more like de Mendoza still roaming Peru?

I wish tomorrow brings us some answers…but the chances are very slim. I’ll settle for not getting waylaid or followed further.

About this campaign

Daniel runs a Call of Cthulhu Masks of Nyarlathotep campaign for Angela roughly once a month (when they get the time). She’s a scaredy cat and can only do Call of Cthulhu when it’s Pulp, so, yeah. Catch the next installment of the campaign next month-ish under the tag Masks of Nyarlathotep Campaign!

The Ancient World (Second Edition)

The Ancient World, second edition

I’m a huge fan of Red Raven Games and Ryan Laukat. The first game I’ve tried of theirs is Above & Below, and since then I’ve been so enchanted with the art and general gameplay style that I’ve ended up with a number of their games.

The latest is the second edition of The Ancient World, a beautiful game where developing civilizations are beset by Titans–and they must be vanquished if they are to thrive and grow. This worker placement, card drafting, set collection game is beautiful and elegant and plays fairly simply but with a lot of thematic strategies to be made.

Playthrough summary

Beautiful player boards

The player who ends the game with the most influential civilization wins the game. However, the road to prosperity is wrought with danger–titans threaten the land, and in fact, every civilization starts the game with a titan threatening their cities. Players vie to build either the largest civilization or vanquish the most titans…or more likely, a careful balance of both. Buildings and titans award banners when built or defeated, the quantity and color of which form the basis for scoring.

Each player may do any one of four actions, taking turns to do one action until everyone passes:

  1. assign a citizen to a task
  2. attack a titan,
  3. build stored plans,
  4. and pass.

Each player initially has three citizens available to send to work, choosing between the following possible tasks:

  • Build lets you improve your city by paying for the construction of a new building;
  • Rebuild is important if you ended up with a titan rampaging across some of your buildings;
  • if you’ve reached the limits of your city, Expand allows you to add more space for more buildings;
  • and if none of the buildings on offer are to your taste, try to Explore other possibilities;
  • Learn nets your city some extra knowledge for coins;
  • and you can get more workers by Growing more citizens…
  • …which you can push to Labor a bit to gain some extra money;
  • If you’ve got a titan on your tail, you can add to your current military by Recruiting more, or…
  • …get temporary help by Drafting mercenaries.

There are no worker lockouts, exactly, though you cannot place a citizen of lower power on a task when another citizen (yours or another player’s) is already there.

If they decide to attack a titan, they can choose to attach the one threatening their city (this refreshes every round, if the city had vanquished theirs in the previous round) or one of the faraway titans on the board, after which they can take that titan’s remains as a kind of trophy. If the round ends and they have not killed the titan threatening their city, it may wreak havoc on their city’s buildings unless placated by offerings of ambrosia…but the titans grow every hungrier with each passing round and it becomes more and more expensive to placate them.

The game ends after the sixth round.


The Ancient World tokens

One thing I’ve liked about Red Raven Games’s crowdfunding stage is that the upgraded components within the Kickstarter run are not limited to the “Kickstarter edition”–the Kickstarter edition is the retail edition. The same is true for The Ancient World–the components are premium for basically everyone, except that Kickstarter backers get to have metal coins free, which otherwise can be purchased separately.

Cardboard tokens are still provided (even for other tokens, not just coins), but otherwise we have custom ambrosia tokens and wooden tokens for the rest: citizens, scrolls, first player and round counter. As usual, I was stressed with making sure that the art stickers line up on the token while putting it on, but nothing too bad (a few might have been lopsided, sigh).

Titan dice

The dice are etched and feel amazing. It’s beautifully marbled and feels good to roll–almost makes one want to keep attacking titans!

Metal coins

The metal coins are just really lovely and feel beautiful. Prior to this, I’d only been able to try out the Near & Far metal coins from a friend’s copy of the game, but I’d been hankering for my own set of N&F metal coins since then. They come in denominations of 1, 3, 5, and 10, and can very well grace a different game, too.

The rulebook is pretty well written and organized well–it didn’t take long to understand how the game plays and we were off and running fairly quickly (erroneous start notwithstanding–that was totally our fault).


Interestingly enough, The Ancient World fills an interesting niche in my gaming shelf that I had only until recently realized…I didn’t have any solid worker placement games. :O So I was extra excited to get my copy, and I’m pretty pleased with the gameplay turnout. The first time we played this, actually, we had a rule oversight and didn’t roll the titan die every time we attacked a titan (only when he’s rampaging the city), so we were pretty keen to try another game with the correct rules ;)

It’s a fairly friendly game since there are no punishing player lockouts, though it still pays to be careful when assigning workers. Money feels quite tight for us in this game, oftentimes we’re ending the game with juuuust enough, and we’re frantically computing if our resources can make our plans work.

I’d definitely keep playing this with the city-state ability variants–the various abilities feel quite balanced, and while it definitely points one’s gameplay toward a particular trend, it allows for a bit more strategy and some initial focus (which I always like having in a game).


First off to state the obvious, this is such a pretty game, from the game board to the components. All this put together, eases the players into the mysterious and wondrous setting called the “Ancient World”.

Secondly, being a fan of thematic games and having enjoyed the fantastical worlds created by Laukat, from Near & Far, to Megaworld, and other titles, this time we are set in the distant past. We are playing out the struggles of some ancient civilization to progress, in the face of the cyclical onslaught of Titans roaming their world and threatening the rise of these civilizations. Should they fight back or placate these forces of nature with gifts? This really reminds me of the sea monster that besieged the ancient kingdom of Aethiopia from the Greek myths.

The mechanics are quite easy to grasp, such as worker placement and set collecting, and overall, I really enjoyed playing the game, and with its various variant rules, really brings a lot of replayability.


We’re pretty pleased with this game, and I’m chuffed to have this as part of my collection. Definite thumbs up! :) Have you played The Ancient World? What did you think of it?

[TOR] The Darkening of Mirkwood, Session One

The darkening of Mirkwood (Photo by Angela Sabas / Danjugan island lagoon in Negros, Philippines)
The darkening of Mirkwood (Photo by Angela Sabas / Danjugan island in Negros, Philippines)

The year was 2946 of the Third Age, around summer, five years after the Battle of the Five Armies. Rumors circulated among the Free-folk of the North, even reaching folk as far as the Shire, of a great feast which will be hosted in Dale for the first time. They said that King Bard will host envoys from Lake-town, the Woodland Realm, and the Kingdom Under the Mountain on the fifth anniversary of the Battle of the Five Armies, around the last days of November.

This tale opens in Dragonsbone Inn, one of the prominent buildings in Esgaroth, also known as New Lake-town. A unique site, it was rebuilt to thrice the size of the old Lake-town that Smaug destroyed five years prior.

In attendance is our cast:

Our Cast

  • Eothain Son of Eofor, a king’s guard of the Riders of Rohan, he was sent north by his king to investigate the Grey Wizard’s warning to the Riddermark about the necromancer in the woods;
  • Galdor, a Mirkwood elf struck by wanderlust and interested in seeing the world beyond the woods where he had been all his life;
  • Hanar, a dwarven merchant from the Blue Mountains, interested in finding treasure and business opportunities;
  • Miriel, the Mirkwood raft elf who, while dealing with the Men of Lake-town on behalf of her king, developed a love for nature and the outside world;
  • Poppy Ruby Rose Brownlocke-North-Took, a hobbit of the Shire who loves food, similarly struck by wanderlust and a desire to find the honey cakes her distant cousin Bilbo talked about;
  • Rory, a dwarf from the Lonely Mountain who discovered a love for pipeweed and a desire to sell this along with his family’s wares;
  • Targon, a Ranger of the North who specializes in herbs and whose life’s goal is to heal those in need using his knowledge.

The story begins

Having arrived at Esgaroth the previous night, Poppy Rose came down to the dining area for breakfast, which consisted of fish, fish, and more fish. Curious for the cuisine of the area, she requested for fish cooked in different ways. The innkeeper offered her four: steamed, fried, fermented and raw. At this, a nearby elf, Miriel, warned her that the fish may be bad, so she passed on the raw fish, but had the rest.

As she was having her meal, a human seated at the next table expressed his surprise at seeing a little girl eating such a large meal all alone. She went over and sat next to him to correct him, and they introduced themselves: Poppy Rose and Eothain, who was very curious as it was his first time seeing a hobbit.

At a nearby section of the dining hall, two merchant dwarves were also having their breakfast, and some thinly veiled insults started to fly between the elves and dwarves in the hall, while the rest of the non-dwarf and non-elf customers attempted to ignore the growing tension.

In the midst of this, Poppy Rose overheard from the two dwarves, Rory and Hanar, that Gloin, the emissary of the King Under the Mountain, is looking for help in finding two missing dwarves. Intrigued upon hearing the familiar name, and in an attempt to cool down the tension in the room, she tried to come over to their table to ask about the missing persons, but was rebuffed by Hanar. As she turned to go away, Rory was quick to make amends and told her that they were planning to visit the emissary to offer their assistance. She decided to join them and they headed out, while just behind them a good number of the customers of Dragonsbone Inn also started for the Town Hall, having heard rumors from elsewhere about the missing dwarves.

At the Town Hall, the hobbit and the dwarves were shown in to Gloin’s office first. After introductions, Gloin told them about how Balin and Oin left three to four days ago to invite the Lord of the Eagles to the gathering in November, as well as to check on the condition of the Old Forest Road. He also insinuated that he wouldn’t be surprised if the pair found themselves as “guests” of the elven king Thranduil once again.

Realising that there may be a need for a bigger group to assist in the search for the missing dwarves, Rory suggested to Gloin to allow him to recruit the other people in the waiting room, whom he had overheard also planned to ask about lending their assistance. Agreeing they could be useful, Gloin asked Rory to tell the other group about the mission, as he did not want to talk to elves; Rory agreed, and the party was formed.

Travelling down the Running River

The darkening of Mirkwood (Photo by Angela Sabas / Danjugan island in Negros, Philippines)
The river journey (Photo by Angela Sabas / Danjugan island in Negros, Philippines)

Gloin gave Rory a commendation letter to the Lake-town wharfmaster, to procure for the group two dragon-headed skiffs for the travel to the Old Forest Road through the Long Marshes via the Running River, a route that is expected to take about four days. Upon presentation of the letter to the Lake-men, a small commotion ensued: Eothain’s horse would be accompanying the group, which would be a challenge due to its heavier weight.

Eventually, the group settled on a solution, possibly not enjoyed by many: Eothain, his horse, the lightweight Poppy Rose, and Targon on one boat, and the dwarves and elves on another. Nevertheless, the boat travel commenced shortly after, through the swiftly flowing dark river, accompanied by the foul stench from the Long Marshes. The first day passed uneventfully, eventually coming to the Stair of Girion near where the Lake-men kept their huts.

The boats were soon brought down the Stair via rolling logs and they met the rest of the Lake-men, along with old Nerulf who proceeded to give them a warning about gallowsweed. Targon and Poppy Rose started preparing the group’s dinner: they boiled some taters and Poppy Rose was able to fish in the river, and seasoned these using some herbs Targon found and oranges from Dragonsbone Inn that she had brought along.

The second day

The group continued down south the next day, via the river. The currents became more of a challenge and slowed the travelers down, and on mid-day Targon noticed people following them on the banks, and after signalling to the other boat, Rory sent his raven to scout. The raven returned, and Rory revealed that there were four elves running alongside the skiffs on the western banks.

Hearing this, Miriel hailed the elves and their leader stepped forward: Galion, the former cupbearer of the elven king. He was demoted from his position and sent to patrol after a bout of drunkenness, and while he looked sourly upon the dwarves and Poppy Rose, Miriel awed him and he divulged that he had been following two dwarves that had been traveling downriver that simply disappeared from their camp. Pressed by the group, he led them to where Balin and Oin last camped: a patch of dry land a few miles north of where a stream from the mountains join the Running River.

Investigating, they discovered that Balin and Oin did camp in the clearing, but they seemed to have left in a hurry. Rory also found a box in a tree stump, protected by spells: a small ivory jewel case, carved with the Great Eagles of the Misty Mountains. Rory took the box for safekeeping, in the hopes that Balin and Oin’s quest may still be fulfilled.

Eothain, while searching, spotted light similar to will o’ the wisps out in the forest, but Miriel urged against following it, which the group wisely agreed to. However, as they were discussing, Eothain noticed something coming up from a pool in the side of the clearing–a troll! The group quickly subdued it, and decided to camp for the night, keeping careful watch.

The searching continues

The Marsh Bell ruins (San Jose de Ivana Church ruins / Photo by Angela Sabas)

The group pressed on the following day, not finding any trace of the missing dwarves. However, the succeeding day, with some of the party weary from the rigorous travel, Galdor spotted an overturned boat on the banks. Of a similar make to the ones the group were using, but with slash marks against the sides, the group surmised that this must have been used by Balin and Oin on their own travel down the river.

Disembarking to continue the search, the group remembered old Nerulf’s warnings about gallows-weed and were able to avoid the hanging vines about the forest, until they came upon the old ruins of a town. They pressed further in, discovering that this was likely used as a waypoint by men from Dale, based on the pillars, arches, and gargoyles that were staring down at them from the ruined buildings, where crows with a weird sheen on their feathers cawed and croaked as if in warning.

In the center of town was a dark pool that Eothain drew closer to, while Miriel started to hear a very soft bell that seemed distant and remote, as if coming from under ground.

Eothain continued to draw closer and closer to the pool, until to everyone’s surprise, he jumped into the pool and disappeared under the dark waters. Then one after the other, each of the companions jumped into the pool in pursuit of Eothain, except for Poppy Rose who decided to stay and guard the group’s ponies and supplies.

Down below the pool, the soaked adventurers discovered an underwater opening that led to a half-flooded chamber underground. Here, they saw Eothain lying on the cold stone floor, unconscious. Targon brought the Rider of Rohan back to consciousness and helped him up.

The underground chambers

The underground complex (The bat cave at Danjugan / Photo by Angela Sabas)

They looked around the half-flooded chamber and saw a dark doorway that led further into the underground complex. Cautiously, they headed toward the doorway to investigate further, and their senses were bombarded by the reek of death and rot as they continued. The dark doorway led to a vaulted chamber, presenting six arched openings, three on the right side and three more on the left. The farthest doorway on the right side was much larger, its arch decorated with stones of various colors.

They scouted further which revealed that four passages led to several cells, and after investigating they noticed that the cells contained some unknown creatures. They decided to leave those passages behind and head straight towards the farthest doorway on the right.

The decorated archway led to short flight of marble steps that descended toward a reinforced door defaced by claw marks. Hanar and Rory headed toward the door, knocked, and whispered the names of the two missing dwarves. After a short while, they heard a response from Balin and Oin. From inside, the two dwarves opened the door, but there was a loud racket that echoed throughout the underground complex.

Balin and Oin were ragged and clearly in need of food and water. The group assisted them back towards the flooded chamber, only to find six shambling humanoid creatures with clammy pale flesh, like that a corpse left to rot in the water. Clearly, the creatures were roused from the noise and shambled toward the company.

Everyone, except Balin and Oin, drew their weapons and a skirmish ensued, but even in equal numbers the marsh-dwellers were clearly no match to the tenacity of the company, loosing arrows and hacking their swords and axes. They did short work of the enemies, but due to the sound of battle, they heard more shambling noises from the first passage on the left, seemingly drawing more of these creatures to them. Hurriedly, they headed back to the flooded chamber and swam back to the surface, along with Balin and Oin.

Quickly they readied their ponies, and started their trek thru the Long Marshes once again, back to Esgaroth. In a few days, thankfully without any significant delays, they found themselves back in Lake-town and in front of Gloin the Emissary, who thanked the company for their services, and of course were given their promised reward.

With this, the company temporarily disbanded. Galdor, Miriel, and Hanar headed to their respective homes to have their well earned rest. Targon stayed in Lake-town to study medicinal herbs under Oin the Healer. Last, but not the least, Poppy Rose, Eothain, and Hanar decided to head back to Dale in preparation for the upcoming Gathering of Five Armies.

About this campaign

Daniel runs his The One Ring Darkening of Mirkwood campaign once every month. The campaign started with The Marsh-Bell introductory adventure last June 2018. Catch the next installment of the campaign right here next month under the tag The Darkening of Mirkwood Campaign!