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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Wednesday 16 September 2020

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Tellstones: King's Gambit

Game: Tellstones: King's Gambit

Publisher: Riot Games

Year: 2020

Video game giant, Riot Games, catapulted into the board game space with Mechs vs Minions in 2016. Mechs vs Minions was a super high-quality game at a more than attractive price point, set in the world of League of Legends. This huge box contained a mixture of pre-painted and inked minis and gave players a cooperative campaign experience which really suited a family audience and avid board gamers alike.
After waiting a few years for another game from Riot Games, you may have been forgiven for thinking that Mechs vs Minions was a one-off, but earlier this year, they announced Riot Tabletop and set out an intention to continue to publish accessible, innovative and beautiful games. Their second game is Tellstones: King's Gambit. A small tin, only around 4" square, but certainly in keeping with their intent to create games with high component quality. Once again, the game is set in the League of Legends world, but this time the theme is not at the forefront, this is simply a battle of wits.


Tellstones is not a complex game to play. On your turn you can do one of six things and then it's your rival's turn. The first three actions consist of the majority of the game and involve manipulating the large symbol stones. At the start of the game there is only one stone, face up, on the play area. You can use your action to tell your opponent to add a new stone to the play area, to tell your opponent to swap the places of two stones on the play area, or to tell your opponent to flip any one stone over, hiding its symbol. The core part of these three actions is that you tell your opponent to do it and they must do as you say, you cannot do them yourself.

By performing these first three actions you'll be playing a "shell game" with the face down stones, if you ever feel like you have lost track of the stones then you can spend your turn to peek at one of the stones secretly. Once you think you have confused your opponent then you can start trying to score points. You can either challenge them to name one of the face down stones - should they guess correctly they will gain a point, but if they are wrong then you will earn a point instead, with the game going to the first player to get three points. Alternatively you can boast. When you boast you are claiming that you know what all of the face down stones are.

After boasting, your opponent gets to respond, they can believe you, in which case you earn one point and the game continues. Alternatively, they can disbelieve you, in which case you must correctly name all the face down stones and flip them upright, if you are correct you instantly win the game, but make a single mistake and you instead instantly lose. Alternatively they can counter boast, claiming that they know where all the stones are, in which case you have the choice between believing them and giving them a point or getting them to prove their counter-claim. The game will end either after a successful/failed boast or a player reaches their third point.

Amy's Final Thoughts

Tellstones: King's Gambit reminds me of The Mind, in that looking at the rules it's extremely hard to understand how the game will actually play. The key to Tellstones is the fact that you don't do actions yourself, but instead tell your opponent to do them. All the time you are thinking in your head about which symbols are fact down in which location, which shouldn't be that difficult a task even with the occasional movement of stones. But the simple act of being told what to do and then having to do it is enough to make your brain get distracted and easily lose the order. This elevates what seems like an easy game to one where you will make mistakes and feel stupid for having done so. Beyond that there is the bluffing element - sometimes it's worth boasting when you've actually lost the plot, or peeking to make your opponent think you are confused. There is an element of psychological warfare in this game which feels deeply personal in a two player game.

I have to take a moment to talk about the quality of the game, The included mat is completely unnecessary, but it's the first sign of the overproduction in this game, the score trackers are decent quality glass baubles, but the true quality comes in the stones themselves. They are the chunkiest game components I've ever handled, they feel and look great, The whole presentation gives Tellstones the instant feel of class. It's subtitled King's Gambit for a reason, it feels just like a game that a King would have played.

But that raises a question, is this game for the modern game, or does it sit more aptly as a game you bring out for the D&D players when they want to gamble at an inn? Tellstones feels like it's trying to compete with the likes of Hive, being a clash of the mind, only being a clash of your memory rather than your tactics, this places it in a unique place, it challenges your brain in a different way than most abstract games would, it scratches an itch rarely scratched by board games. For this reason I would be extremely hard pressed to say that Tellstones isn't a good game. It's quick to learn, the gameplay is unlike anything else and it looks and feels great. I genuinely think for the right people Tellstones could be a revelation, the board game they sit down to three games of every weekend. But that's not how I digest games, so I have to come to the conclusion that it isn't going to stay part of my collection.

Fi’s Final Thoughts

Tellstones is a very simple game with a very simple rulebook, but it's one that made me do a double take while reading. When explaining the game to Amy I laughed and told her - 'For some reason you have to ask me to move the stones for you'. After our first game my very confused brain knew exactly why! Tellstones is a basic memory game - just remember the order in which the symbols appear in the line-up, no matter whether they've been flipped over or changed places during the game. However, my method of remembering is to continually chant the symbol order in my head and when you have to interrupt this to say, for example , 'please flip over the horse', all sense of of memory goes out of the window!

I like to think I've got a good memory, but most of my wins have been the result of a double bluff - boasting that I know the order when I don't have the slightest idea, and then allowing Amy to get the order wrong. It's tricky to really identify where the game is here. I might be really good at the memory aspect, but how am I supposed to judge at which point you will have forgotten one of the face down tiles? It all seems like a bit of luck really when it comes to getting points. You're generally going to be better off if you are good at memory games and there are some bluffing opportunities that you can try to make the most of, but sometimes you won't have a lot of control over your victory or loss.

I'm glad that Tellstones is a quick game, because you can lose in a matter of just a few minutes, with the boasting option being an all-or-nothing situation. It's quite addictive and we've never sat down and played just a single game. The biggest question for me though, is who is Tellstones for? It reminds me a lot of games like Skull or Liars Dice - the kind of game you might sit around a table and play with friends and a few drinks, but I can't imagine bringing out a game with just one friend at the pub. However, if you're a person who really likes to outwit your friends, and you have two-player occasions in mind, then Tellstones is a game that you can put on the table with pride. It really looks the part and is an interesting, fast filler game.

You Might Like...
  • What Tellstones lacks in component quantity, it certainly tries to make up for with quality.
  • The core mechanism of telling your opponent what to do is a really clever twist that makes the memory aspect of the game a real challenge.
  • The game really captures the feeling that it could have been played in its medieval setting.
You Might Not Like...
  • If you were hoping for a game to follow in the footsteps and Mechs vs. Minions, this is not it.
  • You are simply guessing at whether you have a better memory than your opponent.
  • The game feels like a bar game, but is a two-player only experience that you might not play with a group at the pub.

The Verdict 
6/10 Tellstones: King's Gambit is a rather odd little game. It feels like a bar game, or even the traditional market game where the stall-holder hides a ball in a cup, but it's only for two players. For two friends or a couple, this could be come their game of a choice - an intense battle of wits that is forever returned to. It looks like an heirloom and feels like a classic game. It's core mechanism is simple, yet clever. But, for us, it feels a little like a game for a party atmosphere, but only two people are invited to the party.

Tellstones: King's Gambit was a review copy kindly provided to us by Riot Games.

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