Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Friday 13 April 2018

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Spires

Game: Spires

Publisher: Nevermore Games

Designer: T. C. Petty III

Year: 2017

From the publisher: A royal family with a penchant for towers has decreed the builders of the kingdom – the players – to perk up the kingdom's skyline with new spires. In answer to their call, players compete to catch the eye of the royal family and ultimately, the title of Royal Builder. Players must be careful though. If they build a spire taller than the royal palace, they'll be penalized instead of praised.

Spires is on my radar thanks to listening to a podcast (I think it was Draft Mechanic) who said it was one of their favourite trick taking games. We've been exploring the world of trick taking games recently, with the goal of finding out what people actually mean when they use the term (!) and so I was delighted to find that Nick from Board Deck & Dice managed to get hold of a copy of Spires from the USA. Spires combines a few different mechanics and has its own twist on tick-taking, so let's take a look at how it plays.


To start a game each player will be dealt 5 cards from the deck, along with a set of 3 cards in their player colour to allow them to select from the 3 markets. In the centre of the table there are markets labelled from 1 to 3, each turn these markets will be given a new card, up to maximum of 3. Each round players will secretly choose a market to play on and, once all players are decided, they reveal the market they are aiming for. Should any player be the only person at a market then they will gain all the cards there and add them to their tableau.

If you happened to aim for the same market as one or more other players then you will have to bid for the card(s). To do this each player selects one of the 5 cards in their hand in secret, all players reveal at once, and the winner gets the cards at the market, plus all of the cards that were played to try and win the market. In this way players may lose on purpose in an attempt to poison your tableau with cards you don't want.

Winning a market is fairly simple, the most recently placed card on the market dictates the active colour in play. The winner of the round is the player who played the highest card of the active colour. However, each colour can be undercut by one other colour, so if someone played the active colour then they would lose to someone playing an undercutting colour. If no-one played the active colour then the highest numbered card wins, regardless of colour.

At the end of the game, players count up the value of the tableau. For each colour you count up the number of cards you own, if you own 3 or less then they are worth 5 points each, but should you own 4 or more then they are each worth -1 point. In addition there are 3 special guild symbols found on cards - swords, crowns and feathers - the player with the most of each of these gains bonus points. Finally there are a few scroll cards which give you extra points, or the ability to discard some cards, potentially turning a negative stack into a positive one.

Amy’s Final Thoughts

The thing I like the most about Spires is the variation in perceived value of cards. For one player, gaining a red card is a boon, 5 healthy points, while for another that could be the card that tips them over the edge, taking their +15 points and turning it to -4 and 19 points swings are nothing to ignore! This gives an interesting flow to the game. Early on you may feel fairly haphazard about what cards you play, seeking to win as much as you can. But come the late game, every clash you have is a chance for your opponents to send more poison down your throat!

Central to this is the fact that a lot of information is available to you, you can see your opponent's tableau, so you know what colours they want, and which they don't. In addition you know what colours are being bid on and therefore when picking a market you know if you will be able to bid the active colour, undercut, or just play a high card. All assuming that you want to win in the first place! With 3 or 4 players this makes for a great game as you will almost always be clashing, sometimes with multiple opponents. Managing to win that 1 card you wanted because no-one else was after it is a rarity and feels great.

This does fall apart somewhat in a 2 player game, where clashing over a market only really happens when it is obvious what both of you will want. Especially when there are scrolls out, being able to make that discard at the end of the game to turn a 4 into a 3 makes a huge difference so you can be sure you will both go for it. Unfortunately this makes the game predictable, with only 2 players there is precious little room for bluffing and making unpredictable plays. Spires is certainly a game I'd recommend trying, but even for a filler game it lacks some replay value.

Fi’s Final Thoughts

I am bad at reading other people in this kind of game. In Spires there is a lot of open information, but I still struggle to predict what people will bid on, often ending up in a conflict over a card I thought nobody would want. I have spent a few games of Spires completely unable to win cards for most of the game, but in two player games, this has often been to my advantage because my opponent ends up with too many cards and negative points as a result.

For me, playing Spires is about identifying my opportunities for a dead certain win based upon the cards in my hand and then crossing my fingers that I was right! As the game progresses, it becomes much easier to read other players because you can identify cards they definitely don't want to bid on based on the tableau they have built up. You can also really start to manipulate your opponents in tie break situations by bidding with cards you know they don't want, especially in a situation where you feel you have nothing better to bid.

Spires has some really clever design elements, but games where you bid on locations and try to outwit your opponents just aren’t for me. With two players, when you are bidding on just two bases, the game also seems to fall particularly flat. I'd happily play Spires again if the opportunity presents itself, but it's not a game I'll be recommending to all of my friends and seeking out to play.

The Good
  • There's a few interacting elements that can affect your choice on where to bid each turn, not limited to just the card colours.
  • There is a good amount of shared information that allows you to read your opponents quite well.
The Bad
  • In a two player game we can often avoid each other entirely on most turns.
  • The game has lovely art, but very little theme, which means it can be a hard sell when trying to get people to pick a game to play.

The Verdict
5.5/10 Spires is a great looking game and it plays well for three players who are into this style of card game. With two players, we didn't find that there was much interaction and the game fell a little flat.

Spires was a review copy provided to the Board Game Exposure reviewer collective.

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