March 2021 Picks: Unicorns, Explosions, Spooky Ghosts, Cows, & More!

Unstable UnicornsRyan’s selection

Unstable Unicorns is a strategic card game about everyone’s two favorite things: Unicorns and Destruction!

The goal of Unstable Unicorns is to be the first person to collect 7 Unicorns in your play area, also known as your Stable. You do this by gathering up your own Unicorn army and using a combination of their magical powers and Magic, Instant, Upgrade, and Downgrade cards to hinder the other players’ progress and destroy their Unicorns instead. But beware — each player has all of these tools at their disposal as well, and you may just find your plans foiled by a well-played “Neigh!” card.

Unstable Unicorns plays 2-8 players and game time is 30-45 minutes.

MysteriumJoe’s selection

A horrible crime has been committed on the grounds of Warwick Manor and it’s up to the psychic investigators to get to the bottom of it. In Mysterium, one player takes on the role of the ghost and over the course of a week, tries to lead the investigators to their culprit. Each night the team will be met with visions, but what is the ghost trying to tell you? Can the psychics determine the weapon, location and killer or will a violent criminal pull off the perfect murder?

Unexploded Cow

Picture it: Europe. Summer. 1997.

You have discovered two problems with a common solution: mad cows in England, and unexploded bombs in France.

In Unexploded Cow, you play a savvy entrepreneur who wants to help solve the world’s problems, by blowing up lots of cows. You’ll round up a herd of mad cows, give them a stirring pep talk, and march them through the French countryside. In doing so, you will clear fields of leftover ordnance from long-forgotten wars. And you’ll make a few bucks doing it.

Castles of Mad King LudwigCapie’s selection

In this 1-4 player tile-laying game, players are tasked with building an amazingly extravagant castle for King Ludwig II of Bavaria…one room at a time. You see, the King loves castles, having built Neuschwanstein (the castle that inspired the Disney theme park castles) and others, but now he’s commissioned you to build the biggest, bestest castle ever — subject, of course, to his ever-changing whims. Each player acts as a building contractor who is adding rooms to the castle they’re building while also selling their services to other players.

SmallworldKierstan’s selection

In Small World, players vie for conquest and control of a world that is simply too small to accommodate them all.

Designed by Philippe Keyaerts, Small World is inhabited by a zany cast of characters such as dwarves, wizards, amazons, giants, orcs and even humans; who use their troops to occupy territory and conquer adjacent lands in order to push the other races off the face of the earth.

Picking the right combination from the 14 different fantasy races and 20 unique special powers, players rush to expand their empires – often at the expense of weaker neighbors. Yet they must also know when to push their own over-extended civilization into decline and ride a new one to victory!

Zendikar Rising Limited and the Acceptance of Loss

One of the first questions about the Magic: the Gathering limited format’s metagame is always “fast or slow?” Players want to know where play will fall on a scale of original Zendikar (blazing fast) to Rise of the Eldrazi (battlecruiser). We further tend to assume that if a format is fast, it is aggressive – lots of attacking and little blocking results in shorter games – but it is an error to assume that holds in reverse.

Zendikar Rising [“ZNR”] turns out to be a very aggressive format, but it isn’t necessarily fast. You want to be attacking almost every chance you get, and yet you might not actually be getting damage through the first few times. So what are we actually dealing with, and what does it teach us about Magic in a broader sense?

First of all, let me reiterate that ZNR is aggressive. Landfall encourages players to attack on their turns rather than hang back and block. Relatively plentiful removal (spells that will damage or outright destroy a creature) means that holding back a creature to block might just mean that it gets chucked in the graveyard on your opponent’s turn. But it’s not just mindlessly sending your creatures into battle, hoping that enough of them connect. MDFCs (Modal Dual-Faced Cards) that can act as either a land or a spell create tension in the early game. Perhaps you need the fixing, but the land entering tapped slows you down for a turn. Perhaps the spell is so useful/strong that you’re willing to risk not hitting a certain land drop because the benefits in the late game outweigh a stumble. Either way, you might not be playing your creatures on curve and on time, despite the fact that, as stated above, you probably want to be swinging with them. Kicker creates a similar tension – play a small effect now, or hang onto the card for a larger one later?

What this means, ultimately, is that you have to plan to attack, estimate multiple turns in advance how you’re going to attack, and accept multiple turns in advance that certain of your creatures are going to die. Zendikar Rising limited is a game of managing resources while spending them. That two-drop creature is not going to survive whatever your opponent can do on turn four or five, so know that you will lose that creature and plan how to best make use of it while it’s still on the board.

Take Akoum Hellhound, for example. Let’s say you play one on turn one. It sits there as an 0/1, probably not drawing any removal from your opponent on the first turn. On your second turn, you play a land, boosting it to a 2/3, and swing in. Regardless of what else is in your hand, it is time to acknowledge that you are attacking with that Hellhound every turn on which you play a land. Why? It’s no good on defense as an 0/1, which is what it will be 99% of the time on your opponent’s turn. If you play a land, that’s the only time you have an obvious attack. Let’s say your opponent has a 4/4 on their side of the battlefield after a few turns. You play your land. You have no combat tricks. Do you still attack your 2/3 into their 4/4? Of course you do. The Hellhound is useless at doing anything other than attacking, so you may as well bluff the possibility of a combat trick. If your opponent doesn’t block, you sneak through for 2 damage. If they do block, you lose your creature – but your creature couldn’t have done anything anyway.

This is what I mean by the acceptance of loss. We become attached to our permanents in some sets. “Protect the planeswalker.” “Protect the bomb.” But while it can be useful to protect a particularly powerful creature you have, it is more important in this format to represent damage, to get 1 to 2 to 3 life points off your opponent when you can, and, perhaps even more importantly than all these, to manage the board state. If you attack with that Akoum Hellhound and it dies, it dies when you choose for it to die. That’s not just an issue of morale. In a more complicated board state, maybe your bomb is (as mine was) Taborax, Hope’s Demise. By attacking with a Malakir Blood-Priest that I know can’t win a combat, I either get through for two damage, or I get to add a +1/+1 counter to Taborax and draw a card. I need to be ok with that creature dying, which then allows me to benefit from its death.

This is not a sum total of the ZNR experience, and you will find decks that need to delay for a turn or two or three. But the overall force of the format leans towards aggression and a lot of casualties. Embrace it, plan for it, and you’ll gain edges over your opponent in what often feels less like a race and more like a fencing match.


JeFF Stumpo is a poet, author, husband, dad, and Magic: the Gathering Cubist. He lives in Scranton, Pennsylvania and loves limited formats, board games, and creative projects.  You can reach him at stumpo@swordstonegames.com.

Updated Policy: ADA Reasonable Accommodations for those unable to wear masks

INTRODUCTION: ADA Reasonable Accommodations for Guests Unable to Wear a Mask during the COVID-19 Pandemic

As we navigate these unprecedented times, we have operated using the information and best guidance provided.  As you may know, we have many customers who have requested and been granted accommodations including:

  • sight impairments
  • mobility issues
  • intellectual and developmental disabilities
  • mental and emotional health issues

Maintaining and promoting an atmosphere of inclusion is very important to us, but so is keeping our game store family safe and healthy during a global pandemic — which the US Department of Justice has classified as a ‘direct threat’.   

Therefore, upon receiving a recent request for accommodation, we reached out to an expert, Dr. Sanjay M. Udoshi, MD, a local doctor based in Shavertown, who is host of a local weekly video broadcast about the coronavirus pandemic.  He has helped us create an accommodation policy that accomplishes two important goals: (1) Provide a reasonable accommodation that allows participation in our events and (2) Keeps all our patrons and guests as safe as possible.

The updated policy is below.

Thank you for your patience,
The owners and management team of Sword in the Stone Games

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POLICY: ADA Reasonable Accommodation for Guests Unable to Wear a Mask during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Policy Revised 8/1/2020

Effective immediately, Sword in the Stone Games will make the following special accommodation to individuals (“customer”) who would like to attend our events but are unable to wear a face mask.

  • The customer must contact Sword in the Stone games at least 72 hours prior to the event start.
  • The customer must obtain a COVID-19 detection test with results 48 hours prior to the event start and show proof of a negative result.
  • The customer must arrive 15 minutes prior to posted event start time, be asymptomatic, and have a body temperature of less than 101 degrees Fahrenheit.  They will be assigned a special location.  Players competing against the customer will move to their location.
  • Customer and opponents will wash their hands for 20 seconds following any game/match.
  • Sword in the Stone will provide the customer with a plastic face shield which must be worn at all times. 
  • The play area will be set up with at least six feet distance between players.
  • Opponents of the customer will be required to wear face masks.
  • Sword in the Stone will quarantine the play area for 12 hours following the departure of customer and then sanitize it thoroughly. 
  • Customer may bring their own food and beverages and should pack out them at the end of the event.

We would like to acknowledge and thank Dr. Sanjay M. Udoshi, MD, host of #COVIDCAST COVID-19 Town Hall for helping us create this policy so there is a clear pathway to event attendance for all our customers.