Andrew Zhu

Winter Gaming Frenzy



Over winter breaks, a favorite tradition within our family has been playing tabletop games. This break was no exception, and over the course of two weeks, we played eight different games many times over. 

To celebrate the fun memories we made competing against one another in these games, I decided to go ahead and “knoll all the respective game components. For those unfamiliar with this term, “knolling” refers to the craft of photographing objects at 90 degree angles, particularly from a bird’s eye view. 

The games span different categories, countries, and centuries, so I think you’ll find that there will be at least one that you’ve never played or heard of before!

Board Games List

Let me first clear the air: I know that some people are more particular about terminology. That is, whether a game is defined as “board game” versus” tabletop game” versus “card game”, et cetera. For the purposes of this post, I will simply use the categorization listed in Wikipedia based on components within the game. Therefore, these games can be sorted as card games, tile-laying games, and  strategy games.

I. Card Games

Name of Game Year of Origin Number of Players Complexity Rating*
Imploding Kittens
2 - 6
Gong Zhu (拱猪)**
Monopoly Deal
2 - 5

* Complexity score from BoardGameGeek, scored from 1 to 5 (1 = light, 2 = medium light, 3 = medium, 4 = medium heavy, 5 = heavy).

** I was unable to find a year of origin of Gong Zhu, the Chinese version of Hearts. Gong Zhu is similar in gameplay and complexity, so I provided the complexity rating of Hearts in the table.

Exploding Kittens: Imploding Kittens

The best description of the Exploding Kittens game, made popular from a well-received Kickstarter campaign back in 2015, comes from the company itself:

Exploding Kittens is a highly-strategic, kitty powered version of Russian Roulette. Players draw cards until somebody draws an Exploding Kitten, at which point they explode and are out of the game. To avoid exploding, they can defuse the kitten with a laser pointer or catnip sandwich OR use powerful action cards to move or avoid the Exploding Kitten. Betray your friends. Try not to explode. The last player left alive wins.

Imploding Kittens is the first expansion of Exploding Kittens, released the following year. The expansion comes with twenty additional cards, including the “Imploding Kitten” card that cannot be defused. The game also provides a “Cone of Shame” turn indicator which is not present in the above image.


Game Contents

-56 cards (base)

-20 cards (expansion)

-2 rule sheets

Overall, this game is light in complexity and quick to play. The more people playing, the merrier – watch out for the explosions!

Gong Zhu (拱猪)

Translated as “Chase the Pig,” Gong Zhu is a staple game of our family. The game is a four-player trick-taking card game that is a variant of Hearts, though it varies in that cards are assigned specific point values.

Gong Zhu is a game that is divided into rounds. The goal of the game is to score positive points and avoid negative points. All players start with zero points at the beginning of each round, points accumulate between rounds, and whoever goes below -1000 points loses and becomes the “pig.” The game then ends and points are reset to zero.

As with the game of Hearts, the suit of each trick is determined by the dealer who plays the first card. Players then take turns playing a card, and whoever has the card of largest value in that suit collects all four cards and becomes the next dealer.

With regards to point values, Hearts  are worth -200 points in total: 5 to 10 are each worth -10, J (-20), Q (-30), K (-40), and A (-50). 2 to 4 are not worth any points.


The J (a.k.a. “goat,” 羊) is worth +100 points.

The 10(a.k.a. “transformer,” 变压器) is worth +50 points if obtained alone. Otherwise, it doubles the points of the winner, whether positive or negative.

The Q♠ (a.k.a. “pig,” 猪) is worth -100 points. Ouch!!

All remaining cards are not worth any points.


Before each round, players can also expose (“sell”) these cards to other players to double their point values, making for an even more nerve-racking game. For sake of brevity, further details of the game can be found here.

While I have never played this game other than with my family, it has always been great fun, especially when shoveling off the “pig” card to an unsuspecting, hapless victim! 

Game Contents

standard 52 card deck

J♦ : Goat (羊), +100

10: Transformer (变压器), +50 or 2x


Q♠: Pig (猪), -100

Over this past break, we even introduced a five-player variant of the game ourselves, simply playing with ten cards each (setting two aside).

Monopoly Deal

Monopoly, but in card game form! Well, sort of. While all the properties are still present in this game, much has changed alongside the absence of the board.

In Monopoly Deal, the victory condition is to become the first player to collect three property sets (i.e. monopolies). It is probably easier to learn the game rules by simply playing it once or twice with friends, so I will link the rules here.

From the description on the box:

The fast-paced, addictive card game where your luck can change in the play of a card! Collect 3 complete property sets, but beware Debt Collectors, Forced Deals and the dreaded Deal Breakers, which could change your fortunes at any time!

Game Contents

-110 cards

-1 rule sheet

I’ve only played this game a handful of times, as it was introduced to me only a month before the winter break. I like the change of pace from the traditional Monopoly board game, though in many of the games thus far, I feel that one player soon builds up insurmountable momentum on their way to victory.

II. Tile-laying Games

Name of Game Year of Origin Number of Players Complexity Rating
2 - 4
Mahjong (麻雀)


Blokus, pronounced “block-us” is a gamed played exactly as it sounds. Played on a 20 x 20 square game board, players take turns placing down one of the 21 pieces of their color onto the board. The piece cannot be placed edge-adjacent to one of the player’s preexisting pieces, but instead must be placed touching at least one corner of a player’s piece already on the board. The winner of the game is the player with the fewest number of unit squares in their hand at the game’s end. Additional points are rewarded if no pieces remain, and if the 1 x 1 tile was the last placed down by the player.

Game Contents

-1 game board

-84 game tiles (21 per color)

-one rule sheet

I first played this game many years ago, and when I had the opportunity to pick it up at a local Half Price Books for only a couple of bucks, I couldn’t pass up on the offer. Over the break, we played a three-player variant, in which each player took turns placing down a piece for the fourth “player,” whose points were not ultimately scored.

Mahjong (麻雀)

Mahjong originated in 19th century China, and since has spread all throughout the world. Over the decades, numerous variants of the game have taken shape, from the number of starting tiles to how a tile is drawn or discarded to even methods of scoring. 

One common variant, Old Hong Kong mahjong, is played with a standard set of 144 tiles. Additional components may include dice for deciding the starting dealer and counters to keep track of the score. While detailed rules can be easily found online, I will summarize the basics. After building a wall of facedown mahjong tiles in a square pattern, two tiles in height, players take turns drawing from the wall until each player has 13 tiles (the starting player takes 14). Players take turns drawing a tile from the “mahjong wall” and either discarding the tile just drawn or one from their hand, thus maintaining a hand of 13. Other players then have an opportunity to claim the discarded tile to obtain either a meld of three in a row or three of a kind. A legal winning hand consists of 14 tiles, consisting of four melds and a pair of identical tiles.

Game Contents

- 144 tiles

- 4 blank tiles, extra

Dot Suit (36 total)

-4 each of 1 - 9

Bamboo Suit (36 total)

-4 each of 1 - 9

Characters Suit (36 total)

-4 each of 1 - 9

Winds (16 total)

-4 of each direction

Dragons (12 total)

-4 each of red, green, white

Bonus Tiles

-Animals/Flowers (4 total)

-Seasons (4 total)

Mahjong is a beautiful, colorful game with a rich history. In Asian cinema, mahjong often plays a prominent cameo, and I’ve always viewed it as depicted the way Hollywood would depict Texas Hold ’em. Movies that come to mind include In the Mood for Love (2000) and Crazy Rich Asians (2018).

One of my favorite aspects of the game is actually the “washing” of tiles between rounds, when players put all the tiles back in the middle to mix them up. One factoid of mahjong is that the sound of clinking, bumping tiles served as the inspiration for the game’s original name of 麻雀, or little sparrows, given the similarity of sound to the animal as it fluttered its wings.

III. Strategy Games

Name of Game Year of Origin Number of Players Complexity Rating
Blitz Bowl: Ultimate Edition
Fast Sloths
2 - 5
Ticket to Ride: Europe
2 - 5

Blitz Bowl: Ultimate Edition

Blitz Bowl: Ultimate Edition is the third edition of Blitz Bowl, a game designed by Games Workshop, a company better known for such tabletop games as Warhammer 40k. I have previously made a few posts on the Warhammer universe, specifically on custom 3D printed Warcry Dice Trays and the game of Space Hulk.

Blitz Bowl can be thought of as the younger cousin of the well-established Blood Bowl, first launched in 1986 and now in its 4th edition. Blood Bowl is the literal representation of “fantasy football;” essentially, American football played with 28 mm miniatures of fantasy archetypes. While a Blood Bowl team consists of 12 players per side and can run multiple hours per game, Blitz Bowl is six players per side and can be finished in half an hour.

The premise of the game is that these two teams are in the “minor leagues,” and players on the team hope to gain promotion to the big stage of the Blood Bowl through completing “Challenges” from their coach. These challenges include completing passes, injuring other players, and scoring touchdowns.

For more details, the full rules can be found online.

Game Contents

-1 double-sided game board

-1 rules booklet

-2 player dugouts

-1 throw ruler

-67 game cards

-12 miniatures

-6 game balls

-2 team coins

-2 score markers

-7 game dice

Displayed are the Human Team and Orc Team

(note that the Ultimate Edition has a Skaven team in place of Orcs)

67 Game Cards:

- 19 double-sided Team cards

- 40 double-sided Challenge cards

- 1 Rookies to Watch card

- 7 Drill cards

Blitz Bowl has turned into my favorite board game, and over the break we played more than twenty games of it. I participated in half the games and finished only with a .500 record (4 – 4 -2) but with 100% satisfaction! While I still have to paint up the Skaven team, I also have an eye towards designing and building my own customized Blitz Bowl pitch.

Fast Sloths

I am drawn to fun game themes, and Fast Sloths provides such a premise. To keep in line with the theme, I will simply copy and paste “The Sloth Race Story” synopsis from the game rules themselves:

You are sloths — cuddly, lazy, and, oh well, slothful.

All animals (including humans) like to take vacations, so everyone is together at a country resort. We sloths are sitting around, of course, while all the other animals are running throughout the resort. We want to look around, too, and traveling around the resort to pick up tasty leaves would be great — but running around ourselves is just too tedious. All the other animals are having fun, and we want that, too, but…we are so slothful.

And then we have an idea: We’ll let ourselves be carried around by the other animals, thus getting around nicely. The other animals have so much energy that they’ll even gladly carry us. They aren’t slothful! Which of us sloths will be the first to get through the entire country and be victorious? We are ambitious, but so lazy!

I could go into greater detail about the rules and gameplay… but nah, I feel somewhat slothful, so here is a link to download the rules.

Game Contents

-1 two-piece, double-sided board

-1 rules booklet

-1 animal movement sheet

-5 sloth boards

-5 wooden sloths

-45 wooden leaves

-34 animal discs

-120 animal cards (10 per animal)

34 animal discs total

- 1 eagle

- 1 dolphin

- 2 mountain goats

- 10 ants

- 2 elephants

- 6 orangutans

- 1 unicorn

- 2 giraffes

- 1 human

- 3 donkeys

- 2 crocodiles

- 3 jackrabbits

We picked up this game as a mystery box from the local board game score. No one in our family had heard of the game, let alone played it. We only played Fast Sloths once, and I personally liked the game mechanics quite a lot, and I think during the next holiday respite, this game will come back out to make another appearance. 

Ticket to Ride: Europe

All aboard – last call for the train!

Ticket to Ride: Europe is the first expansion of the classic board game Ticket to Ride. In the game, players compete to connect cities by railway routes on a map of Europe. Points are earned through connecting adjacent cities on a map, as well as completing a continuous path of routes between cities listed on the Destination Tickets. Beware, however, as uncompleted Destination Tickets count as negative points to subtract from one’s total at the end of the game.

Compared with the original Ticket to Ride, the Europe edition implements a few new gameplay elements: train stations that allow the station owner to use a route of another player to help complete Destination Ticket(s), tunnel routes that may require additional trains to complete, and ferries that require locomotive cards to complete.

The complete rules of the game can be found on the Days of Wonder website.

Game Contents

-1 game board

-1 rules booklet

-260 game pieces

-96 train cards

-14 locomotive wild cards

-1 scoring summary card

-1 longest route bonus card

-46 destination ticket cards

240 colored train cars

- 48 per color

15 train stations

- 3 per color

5 scoring markers

- 1 per color

96 train cards

- 12 of each color

14 locomotive wild cards

40 regular destination train cards

6 long-route destination train cards

Ticket to Ride is often seen as one of a classic trilogy of gateway games, alongside Carcassonne and Settlers of Catan, for beginning board gamers to get more into gaming. I have previously made my own set of Carcassonne, and now I have a 3D printer handy, I may still try my hand at recreating the other two games.


Well, those are all the games we played (not counting video games), so if you have any other board game suggestions, let my family and I know!


Happy holidays and New Year! Best wishes, be happy, and stay safe, dear reader!