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April 2022 - playing, reading, listening

Martin G
United Kingdom
Bristol
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New-to-me games

Caesar!: Seize Rome in 20 Minutes! - 2 plays -  7 
First Published 2022
Board Game: Caesar!: Seize Rome in 20 Minutes!


I was expecting this to be a re-theme/tweak of Blitzkrieg!: World War Two in 20 Minutes, which was OK but I didn't love. But it's actually a completely different game and I was really impressed! It's a little area control thing in which you take turns to play double-ended influence markers (e.g. 3/3 or 6/0) on the border of two regions. When a region has all its borders filled, you tot up who has the most influence, but the player who completed it takes the bonus token in it even if they lost the region. You win by getting all your region control markers down first and controlling adjacent regions lets you add extra markers. The bonus tokens give you things like an extra turn or a bigger hand of influence markers to choose from.

Formula Motor Racing - 1 play -  7 
First Published 1995
Board Game: Formula Motor Racing


One of my Knizia blindspots no longer! It's a simple take-that race game in which there's no 'track', only relative position of the 12 cars (two for each player). The clever part is that a lot of the cards advance a particular colour of car but also the car behind it. The dumb fun part is the cards that let you push-your-luck at the expense of blowing up your engine, or just to crash a random car determined by a d12 roll. I enjoyed it, but there wasn't much group enthusiasm for making it a 3-race contest as suggested by the rules.

Paint the Roses - 2 plays -  6 
First Published 2022
Board Game: Paint the Roses


I didn't like this limited-communication co-op as much as I'd expected to but I'm reserving judgment until I play it with more than 2. It reminds me a bit of The Shipwreck Arcana in the way you each set a series of puzzles for the other(s) to solve, but so far I find the puzzle in Shipwreck Arcana more intriguing.

Cascadia - 1 play -  5 
First Published 2021
Board Game: Cascadia


I didn't love it, but it gave me plenty of material Cascadia: anatomy of a modern hit

Long Shot: The Dice Game - 1 play -  4 
First Published 2022
Board Game: Long Shot: The Dice Game


This seems to be getting a lot of love but I loathed it! I love racing/betting games, but I didn't find it combined at all well with an individual board roll & write complete with a bingo-style mini-game. Might be tolerable with fewer players but with 7 it was an awful drag due to the turns which can't quite be done simultaneously because sometimes you really need to know what the players before you are doing. Worst of all, when it looked like it was nearly over, it degenerated into everyone making the horses run backwards just before they could cross the finish line!

Other gaming highlights

A second Doppelkopf night, an evening of So Clover! with old friends and a lovely session of 2p games with Sam.

Reading

Emily St John Mandel, Sea of Tranquility

I would recommend reading The Glass Hotel (which shares characters with this one) and Station Eleven (a parallel universe version of which appears) first. I had, and I really enjoyed this, while wishing it it was longer than a slim 200 pages. That wasn't quite enough to do full justice to four storylines spanning the early 20th century to 400 years in the future. I'll read anything she writes though.

Jo Walton, My Real Children

An old woman with dementia finds she's able to remember not one life but two quite different ones, each of which feels real. This book-ends chapters which alternate between those two lives from WWII to the present day, and the surrounding world events are sometimes strikingly different in each life too. Both lives are drawn vividly in all their highs and lows, and for all the different paths they took, the central character is indisputably the same person in both. For me, the message was that our personalities aren't defined by the choices we make.

Lulu Allison, Salt Lick

A near future 'gentle dystopia' set in England. The sea is lapping at the edges of civilisation, government and most of the population have retreated to the cities while a few choose a life of subsistence in the countryside. Two stories are interleaved, and we only gradually understand their relationship to each other. The countryside is depicted almost as a character in its own right, complete with a poetic chorus of feral cows.

Dawnie Walton, The Final Revival of Opal & Nev

A fictional oral history of a 70s musical duo soon to reunite. Nev is a British singer-songwriter and Opal a black American woman he discovers singing soul. Together they make a couple of albums of proto-punk before a shocking event at a gig causes the partnership to implode. A current-day music magazine editor interviews the people who were there and pieces together the story. For me, Opal worked much better as a character than Nev.

Jennifer Egan, The Candy House

I read A Visit from the Goon Squad when it came out a decade ago and remembered enjoying it but apparently very little else. This one revisits many of the characters and would have benefitted from a re-read first. As it was, I was disappointed. It repeats the stylistic trick of an interlocking array of short stories about related characters but they came apart rather than together as it went on and I ended up not really caring about anyone.

Listening

Musically have been working my way through Uncut magazine's Top 300 Albums of the last 25 years - a bit underwhelming so far. From new stuff I had fun with Wet Leg's debut album and really enjoyed this one from the new Spiritualized:



But the highlight by far was my first live music since Covid started, on two successive nights last weekend. Tindersticks and Low are bands I've been listening to and watching for over 20 years and they both put on 2-hour-long 20-song sets pulling from throughout their careers to reverent crowds. Wonderful!
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Tue May 3, 2022 2:57 pm
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Cascadia: anatomy of a modern hit

Martin G
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Over the years I've talked a lot about the contrast between the accessible, interactive 'old-school German' games from the 90s/00s (and still being made today) and the baroque resource-conversion action-selection 'modern Euros'. But modern Euro design isn't just about complexity; there are also loads of accessible rules-light games being produced which differ fundamentally in structure and interaction from the 'OGs' that preceded them.

Prompted by it (briefly) displacing Tigris & Euphrates from the BGG top 100, I was interested to try Cascadia, and it turned out to be possibly the clearest example of this style I've yet played. In this post, I will break down the elements of the style I'm talking about and why it isn't what I look for in games, but I will first emphasise that I'm not saying Cascadia is badly designed or that there's anything wrong with anyone enjoying this type of game.

Take & make

The most obvious sign of the style is the way the components are laid out on the table. Instead of the focus being a shared map at the centre of the table, it's on individual areas in which players assemble the components they've acquired, free from any interference by other players.

From gallery of qwertymartin

Spot the difference between two Beth Sobel-illustrated, hex tiling games being played at the same table

Generally the components in the individual area will need to be arranged spatially to satisfy various scoring constraints, and in Cascadia that puzzle is the main draw of the game. The hook is that you are optimising across two dimensions - both tessellating tiles to create large areas of matching landscape, and populating those with animals in patterns that satisfy objectives.

Vestigial interaction

If there's no way to interfere with other players' holdings, then the only place for interaction to occur is through the acquisition of components, which is generally through some form of draft.

Azul is a 'take and make' game that I do enjoy because the drafting mechanism allows a lot of messing with other players by changing the options that are available to them. In contrast, Cascadia uses a bare-bones 'choose one of the publicly displayed options, then replace it', and you're almost always going to do that because it's the one that fits best into your puzzle, not because of anything your opponents are doing. I could imagine occasionally favouring one pick over an over when they're not much different for you but one is more useful for your opponent, but it would be an exception, while in Azul I consider my opponents' boards on every single move.

The other form of interaction in Cascadia that fans will point to is the small points bonus given to the player with the largest contiguous area of each landscape type. However since everyone gets the same number of tiles over the course of the game, it seems these points will usually even out to some extent, with maybe a residual handful of points gained (out of a total of ~100).

Solo mode

I'm seeing more and more threads recently complaining about games being published without solo modes. I understand that there's a growing demand for solo board games, accelerated by the pandemic, but it remains the case that highly interactive games are hard to turn into satisfying solo games.

No such problem for Cascadia and its ilk though; since the primary attraction is an individual puzzle and the interaction through the draft is limited, it's as easy as removing one option from the draft after each player turn and converting the relative majority scoring into an absolute one (2VP for each landscape with 7+ tiles).

It's a general principle for me that if a satisfying solo mode for a game can be described in one short paragraph plus a high score table, the game isn't very interactive.

Variable setup

Another common feature of these games is a variable/modular setup of scoring objectives, often marketed as '16,384 different games in one box!' etc. There are variable setup games I like, but I find it's often used as a proxy for replayability, which I prefer to come from interaction.

Cascadia's variable setup comes in the form of choosing one of four possible scoring objectives for each of the five types of animal. It's rather tame though - the objectives for each animal are all of a similar kind, and there are few interactions between the animals, so I can't see much potential for memorably different combinations from one game to the next.

Circle the Wagons is a game that has several similarities to Cascadia but feels like it has more interesting objectives and more potential for them to combine in unusual ways (as well as a much more interactive form of drafting).

Balanced scoring

I won't get into the details of Cascadia's different objectives, but one thing I noticed on my first play is how many of them follow the same form of a slowly increasing number of points for the number of animals you manage to include in a certain spatial pattern.

Board Game: Cascadia


For example, the salmon objective in the middle bottom of this image gives 2/4/7/11/15/20/26 VP for 1/2/3/4/5/6/7+ salmon in a contiguous chain. Note that this is 'capped' at both ends, and ranges from 2VP to 3.7VP per salmon. You can't completely mess up and get nothing, and you can't pursue an extreme focus either.

Since you collect exactly 20 animals over the course of the game, and each of the 5 types has a similarly-scaling goal, you're going to end up with ~3VP/animal pretty much whatever you do. Indeed at the end of my first game I totted up my types and found they all fell between 2.75 and 3.3. The result is that, as with many other games of its type, it's a game of eking out a marginal efficiency gain over the course of the game, not one of big moments and crushing victories.

I played Calico from the same team last year, and while it follows most of the same principles, it does have harder-edged scoring and some potential to mess up.

Scorepad salad

One of my personal least favourite ways to end a game is running through a spreadsheet-like scoring pad and totting up the three-figure results, which usually vary by less than 10% between players.

From gallery of qwertymartin


In Cascadia we've got the scoring for the five animal objectives, which are very likely going to sum to not far from 60, we've got points for your largest area in each landscape, which are going to come to around 30, and we've got points for majorities, which are going to come to about 5 per player. Even the example in the rulebook has the game ending 98-97-95!

I felt like I'd pretty much cracked the formula on my 2p play, in which I scored 97, and then my solo game (above) ended very similarly too. The one strategy article that's been posted doesn't suggest hidden depths either. I'm just not that interested in puzzling out how to get 3.05 points per animal rather than 2.95.

Marketing

Turning away from the gameplay, the way these games are marketed follows a certain cookie-cutter pattern too. Cute, colourful theme, check! Rockstar artist, check! Kickstarter stretch goals, check! Glowing quotes from the usual parade of 'influencers', check!

But hey, it works. Cascadia is now in the BGG top 100, and (bafflingly), number 1 in the abstract games rankings. I do understand what people see in these games and it is a clever puzzle and a perfectly-executed product. It's just not what I play board games for.
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Tue Apr 5, 2022 11:03 am
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March 2022 review - playing, reading, listening

Martin G
United Kingdom
Bristol
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New-to-me games

Tea for 2 - 4 plays -  8 
First Published 2020
Board Game: Tea for 2


I really like the premise of this - War: the Deckbuilding Game. Each turn each player flips the top card of their deck and the highest card 'wins'. The winner can choose to either use the special power of their card or spend the *difference* between the two cards to buy a new card. There are more bells and whistles around that than I was expecting from the pitch, but the fact that you don't have to decide which card you're going to play keeps it really snappy.

The other feature of the design I really like is the way the endgame scoring works. A randomly-drawn scoring objective is attached to each of the five card types in the market, but only the objectives whose piles are emptied before the end of the game actually score.

Ghosts of Christmas - 2 plays -  8 
First Published 2022
Board Game: Ghosts of Christmas


This is the new version of Taiki Shinzawa's Time Palatrix which I'd enjoyed a few times on playingcards.io. The physical production is really nice and the game remains very clever - the players play into three tricks at once by putting cards into the 'past', 'present' and 'future' slots in front of them, but it only becomes apparent how it's going to play out once the tricks are resolved in 'chronological' order.

Into the Blue - 4 plays -  7 
First Published 2021
Board Game: Into the Blue


From gallery of qwertymartin
I got this new Knizia dice game for Effie's birthday and all three of us really enjoyed it. It's yet another with one roll and two re-rolls like Yahtzee, but here you're aiming for sequences starting at 1. The theme is deep-sea diving and the length of the straight you roll is how deep you can 'dive'. If you don't roll a 1, you lose your turn, but as long as you do, you can place 'shells' on any of the levels in your straight, as many as you rolled of that number. e.g 1-2-3-3-5-5 would let you place a shell on 1 or 2 or 2 shells on 3 with the 5s wasted because you have no 4 to connect them.

The shells are used in an area majority contest at each level, with the VP rewards increasing the deeper you go. And a 1-2-3-4-5-6 straight lets you immediately take one of the 5 'treasure chests' which have a hidden point value and can't be stolen.

A couple of other Knizian touches are that ties are resolved by looking at the level above, making the upper levels more important than they first appear, and the game can end in two ways: by a player using all their shells or when all 5 chests are taken. In the first game I didn't notice the rule that you get an extra turn if you retrieve a treasure chest. Having noticed it, I'm not sure it's necessary and might be unbalancing - the treasure chests are already pretty powerful.

Effie won two out of three, one in which she picked up level 5 and a treasure while Sarah and I poured shells into the shallower levels and one in which she just absolutely thrashed us everywhere on the board!

It's an attractive looking production, though not perfect for usability (the shells and scoring tokens are a bit fiddly), and I think it'll get a lot of play in our house.

Spy Connection - 2 plays -  7 
First Published 2021
Board Game: Spy Connection


This reaffirms Brett Gilbert's status as a modern OG designer of note (this one is a co-design with Matthew Dunstan).

Like Ticket to Ride, you're building a network on a map (of Europe) to complete cards showing city destinations (2-4 of them). Unlike Ticket to Ride, you have to keep dismantling and reassembling your network because you have a very limited stock of 'trains' (they're agents here). The really neat thing is that those same agents are also used both to mark off the visited destinations on your cards and to pay to acquire new destination cards. So there's a balance to be found between working on multiple 'tickets' (missions) at the same time for efficiency, but not overcommitting and leaving yourself with too few agents to get around the board. The interaction is fairly mild - you can't completely block routes like you can in TTR, but it does take double the number of agents for another player to use one that you're already occupying. And you also acquire the missions through an open draft so there's sometimes competition there. The game ends once someone has completed 7 missions though they might not win as the missions are worth variable VP depending on their difficulty.

There are several parallels with Joe Huber's Caravan, which also does the transitory networks thing and has a similar feel of wanting to work on several things at once but without slowing your movement to a crawl.

We played twice, once with the beginner rules and once with the advanced (draft your starting mission, pay extra to acquire missions so the agent economy is even tighter), and that only took about an hour altogether including learning. Nice!

Fjords - 2 plays -  7 
First Published 2022
Board Game: Fjords


The first game, with 4p, was a downer - we all felt the placement stage dragged, not helped by the new rule of having four tiles to pick from. It was much snappier and more enjoyable with 2 and the original single-tile rule, though I'm not convinced I need it when I already have Great Plains.

The Shores of Tripoli - 1 play -  6 
First Published 2020
Board Game: The Shores of Tripoli


A short, simple asymmetric card-driven wargame about a conflict I knew nothing about. Enjoyable enough but it felt like the events are designed to force the narrative to come out pretty similar every time.

Three Wise Words - 1 play -  5 
First Published 2021
Board Game: Three Wise Words


Yet another word-linking game but a less compelling one. It's in teams - one player writes down three words to clue their team-mate to guess a hidden one. Meanwhile the other teams try to predict the three words that will be chosen and score points for matches. Harmless.

Other gaming highlights

It was great to get Tigris & Euphrates back to the physical table for the first time since before Covid, albeit a learning or semi-learning game for a couple of the players. More please!

Reading

Love Marriage by Monica Ali

Longer than it needed to be, and the main character was a lot less interesting than the side story of her parents.

The Glass Hotel by Emily St John Mandel

Not quite as good as Station Eleven but a clever web of characters linked by a Ponzi scheme. Looking forward to her new one.

Hope: a Tragedy by Shalom Auslander

Darkly funny tale of a Jewish couple who find an elderly Anne Frank living in their attic in upstate New York. It's not many books that you see tagged on Goodreads with 'holocaust' and 'laugh out loud'.

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

Breathtaking weaving together of stories spanning Ancient Greek myth, medieval Constantinople, the Korean War, present-day Idaho and future eco-catastrophe. It takes a while to understand how it's all joined together but each story is so enjoyable in its own right that that doesn't matter. A bit like Cloud Atlas in structure but a lot less showy stylistically.

Listening

Enjoyed Magazine 1 by Wolfgang Flur (ex-Kraftwerk), The Bear by Walter Martin (ex-Jonathan Fire*Eater/The Walkmen) and Course in Fable by Ryley Walker. The song I keep getting stuck in my head is this one though:



Watching

Working our way through the first season of Succession - horrible people doing horrible things but very amusing.
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Fri Apr 1, 2022 10:45 am
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2022 Q1 review

Martin G
United Kingdom
Bristol
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Total plays: 108

Distinct games: 60

New-to-me games: 13

Dimes: 0

Nickels: 1 - Cross Clues (6)

A very quiet February as we semi-isolated in preparation for our first trip to the in-laws in the US since Christmas 2018. Nice regular Tuesday night games nights outside of that, plus some family/kids games at home and a smattering of online trick-taking and BGA with my team at work.

Now a look at the collection.

Acquired: 5 - Rail Pass, Ghosts of Christmas, Into the Blue, Tea for 2, Fjords

Removed: 0

Owned: 259

Unplayed: 2 - Res Publica, Uruk: Wiege der Zivilisation

A couple of Kickstarters from last year arrived, I got Into the Blue for Effie's 6th birthday (she keeps winning!) and picked up a couple of enjoyable curiosities.

Best new-to-me: Tea for 2 (aka War: the deckbuilder), just ahead of Into the Blue and Sheepy Time

 10   6 nimmt! x2 (181 all-time)
 10   Doppelkopf x2 (19 all-time)
 10   For Sale x2 (92 all-time)
 10   Innovation x2 (92 all-time)
 10   Ra (76 all-time)
 10   The Crew: Mission Deep Sea x2 (14 all-time)
 10   The Mind (67 all-time)
 10   Tigris & Euphrates (65 all-time)
 9   Azul (36 all-time)
 9   Haggis (22 all-time)
 9   Just One (33 all-time)
 9   Letterpress (21 all-time)
 9   Lords of Vegas (15 all-time)
 9   Ninety-Nine x2 (15 all-time)
 9   Polterfass (17 all-time)
 9   Res Arcana x2 (41 all-time)
 9   So Clover! x4 (24 all-time)
 9   Spot it! x3 (37 all-time)
 9   Stick 'Em x2 (20 all-time)
 8   Brian Boru: High King of Ireland x3 (4 all-time)
 8   Coloretto x3 (31 all-time)
 8   Cross Clues x6 (24 all-time)
 8   Escape from the Hidden Castle x3 (41 all-time)
 8   Ghosts of Christmas x2 NEW!
 8   Marrakech x2 (23 all-time)
 8   Quirky Circuits (10 all-time)
 8   Space Worm (21 all-time)
 8   Spicy (12 all-time)
 8   Spies & Lies: A Stratego Story x2 (7 all-time)
 8   Tea for 2 x4 NEW!
 8   白と黒でトリテ (Trick-Taking in Black and White) x2 (7 all-time)
 7   Art Robbery (2 all-time)
 7   Diamant (23 all-time)
 7   Dragon's Breath (14 all-time)
 7   Fjords x2 NEW!
 7   Into the Blue x4 NEW!
 7   L.L.A.M.A. x4 (30 all-time)
 7   No Thanks! x3 (79 all-time)
 7   Rail Pass x2 NEW!
 7   Scharfe Schoten (2 all-time)
 7   Sheepy Time x2 NEW!
 7   Spy Connection x2 NEW!
 7   Yokai Septet (5 all-time)
 7   Zimbabweee Trick (4 all-time)
 6   Apples to Apples (13 all-time)
 6   Bananagrams x3 NEW!
 6   Crash Octopus NEW!
 6   Full Throttle! NEW!
 6   Sleeping Queens (5 all-time)
 6   Spot it! 1,2,3 (2 all-time)
 6   The Shores of Tripoli NEW!
 5   Balloon Pop! NEW!
 5   Bananagrams Party x3 NEW!
 5   Exploding Kittens x2 (5 all-time)
 5   Ninety-Nine NEW!
 5   Three Wise Words NEW!
 4   FLY NEW!
 4   UNO: UNOcorns NEW!
 2   Tripoley (2 all-time)
 N/A   Unpublished Prototype (13 all-time)
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Fri Apr 1, 2022 10:09 am
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February 2022 review - playing, reading, listening

Martin G
United Kingdom
Bristol
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Microbadge: Babylonia fanMicrobadge: Babylonia fanMicrobadge: I love old-school German-style gamesMicrobadge: Babylonia fanMicrobadge: Babylonia fan
New-to-me games

None! I spent the first part of the month semi-isolating in the hope of avoiding catching Covid and ruining another attempt at visiting the in-laws in Cincinnati for the first time since Christmas 2018. Thankfully we made it this time and any gaming since then has been family 'classics' like Uno and Apples to Apples.

Other gaming highlights

No face-to-face sessions with gamers but I had a nice BGA session of a couple of games of Res Arcana and Innovation with an old friend. Raring to get back to games night in March!

Reading

There has been plenty of time for reading though...

The Nix by Nathan Hill

A 700-page novel that didn't feel it, partly because it slips down so easily, partly because I had the transatlantic journey to get stuck into it. It tells the story of three generations of an American family with a centrepiece at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, and present-day sections dealing with the Iraq war and MMORPGs amongst other things. I really enjoyed it but he did tend to tie things up a bit too neatly and leave the reader without much work to do -- a good summary I read was "book-club-friendly David Foster Wallace".

Treacle Walker by Alan Garner

At the other end of the length scale, this was barely even a novella. A weird folklore-inspired fable with some memorable language and images but not much in the way of comprehensible plot.

The Sell-out by Paul Beatty

Booker prizewinner from a few years ago which takes on race and racism in America and has a vivid voice. I found the density of cultural references hard work though and no doubt missed a lot.

Authority by Jeff VanderMeer

I enjoyed the considerably shorter first volume Annihilation but found this hard going with a rather unappealing central character.

Games: Agency as Art by C Thi Nguyen

Really interesting book on the philosophy and aesthetics of games and play by a BGG alumnus and Knizia superfan. I hope to go through it again and write up some notes for a future blogpost.

Listening

Spent most of my listening time on two new albums:

Modern Nature's atmospheric Island of Noise



and Big Thief's expansive Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You - my fears that it would be too much of a good thing at 80 minutes and 20 tracks proved unfounded.



I also really enjoyed Summer of Soul, the recent documentary about a mostly-forgotten festival of black music in Harlem in 1969, featuring Stevie Wonder, Sly & the Family Stone, Nina Simone, BB King and many more.
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Tue Mar 1, 2022 1:33 pm
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Doppelkopf (2.0): a brilliant traditional trick-taker with a helpful new redesign

Martin G
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Last year I was introduced to the traditional German trick-taking game Doppelkopf in my online trick-taking group and it's since become my favourite trick-taker, one I'd happily spend a whole evening on. Playing online (on playingcards.io) we were able to use a deck with helper symbols to ease the learning curve. With the forthcoming launch of the Doppelkopf 2.0 deck on Kickstarter, that will be possible for physical play too. I had a test-run of the deck at a recent games night where I taught the game to three friends - here are some reflections on that.

Ordering the cards

The big initial hurdle to learning Doppelkopf is getting the unconventional ordering of cards straight in your head, and the 2.0 deck massively helps with that.

Doppelkopf is played with the cards from 9 up to Ace with 2 copies of each card making a deck of 48. But over half (26) of those cards act as a separate trump suit, rather than as the suit printed on them. From highest to lowest, the trumps are ranked 10 of Hearts, Queens of Clubs/Spades/Hearts/Diamonds, Jacks of Clubs/Spades/Hearts/Diamonds and then the remaining Diamonds in order Ace, 10, King, 9. That leaves the non-trump suits of Clubs and Spades running Ace, 10, King, 9 and the Hearts with just six cards in total (2x Ace, King, 9).

From gallery of qwertymartin

The giant trump suit ordered, with help from the 2.0 deck

In the 2.0 deck, the trumps are indicated with a crowned circle containing a number indicating their rank within the trump suit, from 20 for the 10s of Hearts (the 'Dulles') down to 1 for the 9 of Diamonds. This makes it vastly easier to sort your hand and figure out how strong it is, and to avoid accidentally playing a trump when a side-suit is led and vice versa.

Secret partnerships

A 'normal' hand of Doppelkopf is played 2 versus 2, but the partnerships are initially unknown to everyone. That works by pairing up the two players who are dealt a Queen of Clubs ('old lady'). In the 2.0 deck these are helpfully labelled 'Re', the name given to the partnership which plays against 'Kontra', the two players without a Queen of Clubs. If one player gets dealt both, they can either play on their own (unusual) or declare that they need a 'marriage' in which case the first other player to win a trick becomes their partner on the Re team.

From gallery of qwertymartin

If you're dealt one of the 'old ladies', you've joined Team Re for the hand

Taking tricks

Tricks are played in a familiar manner - you must follow the lead if possible and the highest card in the lead suit or the highest trump if one is played takes the trick and leads the next.

The objective of each partnership is to capture between them more than half of the card points available. Aces are worth 11, 10s are 10, Kings 4, Queens 3 and Jacks 2 for a total of 240 card points. Again the 2.0 deck helpfully marks these, making an easier job of summing the points at the end of a hand.

From gallery of qwertymartin

The object of a hand is to capture 121 or more card points, indicated half-way down the side of the 2.0 cards

When the points are totalled, the result is translated into victory points - 1 VP for winning (121+ points), and additional VP for limiting your opponents to less than 90, 60, 30 or even no tricks at all. Doppelkopf is scored zero-sum, so if the Re team takes 155 card points and the Kontra team 85, each of the Re players would score +2 ('game' and 'No 90') and each of the Kontra players -2. There's also one additional point for winning as Kontra, known as 'against the old women'.

From gallery of qwertymartin

It's best to settle in for a lengthy session to let the luck even out and allow some of the crazier things to happen

We played our first hand with these basic rules, before introducing some of Doko's finer (and funner) points.

Foxes and Charlies

Three ways to score a bonus point during a hand are described as optional extras in the 2.0 rule book, but I'd highly recommend including them. Each is worth one point to the team that achieves it and minus one to the other team.

1. 'Catching a Fox' - winning a trick with an opponent's Ace of Diamonds in it.

2. 'Charlie Miller' - winning the last trick of the hand with the Jack of Clubs, or capturing the opponents' Jack of Clubs on that trick

3. 'Doppelkopf' - winning a trick that consists of only Aces and Tens.

The Foxes and Charlies are given helper symbols in the 2.0 deck too:

From gallery of qwertymartin

Charlie Miller and the foxes add a lot to the fun

Re and Kontra

There are other ways to increase the points you gain for a hand - by declaring 'Re' or 'Kontra' prior to playing your second card of the hand you not only indicate which team you are on but also add 2 points to the value of the hand (win or lose). You can even go on to declare 'No 90', 'No 60' etc. giving an additional point for each successfully achieve declaration. This is high-risk though, as if you fail to achieve what you declared, the opposing team get all the points for the hand, even if they had fewer than 120 points.

Going solo

Finally, if you have a particularly strong hand, you can bid to play a solo against the other 3 players. There are four types of solo:

- Queen solo in which only the Queens are trumps and everything else goes back into Ace/Ten/King/Queen/Jack/Nine side suits.

- Jack solo, which is the same but with Jacks as Trumps

- 'vegetarian' solo in which there are no trumps at all and every suit is ordered Ace/Ten/King/Queen/Jack/Nine

- suit solo which has the normal 10 of Hearts/Queen/Jack top trumps but you can switch the lower Diamonds to Clubs or Spades. This is the most confusing to play with the 2.0 deck as the crowns on the Diamonds are no longer correct.

Solos are hard to pull off so to force the players to attempt them, each player is normally required to play at least one solo in the course of a game (16-20 hands).

You declare any Solo attempts or Marriage requests before the first card is played in a hand.

Summing up

I wouldn't recommend Doppelkopf as anyone's first tricktaker; there's so much going on that it will be more enjoyable for aficionados of the genre. I'd also suggest it's better played in a session that takes up most of an evening rather than a few hands here and there. That's because the luck of the deal needs a while to even out and the fun mandatory solo rule doesn't work unless you're playing a good number of hands.

From gallery of qwertymartin

The Doppelkopf 2.0 deck has been designed by lovers of the game to help spread the word.

But if you're a trick-taking fan with time to dedicate, you will hopefully find Doppelkopf rewarding. The 2.0 deck makes a huge difference to the initial learning curve of figuring out the suit ordering, trumps and card points, though it's still not as easy to pick up and play as a modern game.

For a learner's perspective, see Sam's account of our Doppelkopf night here: Tricktakers with a Twit

And the Kickstarter for the Doppelkopf 2.0 deck launches tomorrow (February 15th), preview here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/studio-trojan/doublehea...

Thanks to Joerg for providing me with a prototype to try out.
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Mon Feb 14, 2022 11:10 am
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January 2022 review - playing, reading, listening

Martin G
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Bristol
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I'm going to combine my regular new-to-me round-up with some other bits and pieces.

New-to-me games

Sheepy Time - 2 plays -  7 
First Published 2021
Board Game: Sheepy Time


Kind of a push-your-luck racing game where each round you're trying to go round the track more times than the other players do but if you don't 'bank' your score before the 'nightmare' loops the track once you lose everything. The racing is driven by playing simple card effects from a hand of two but it's spiced up by gradually adding special effects to different spots around the track as the game goes on. I really like the way you can set up combos on the board but other players can pay to use them too.

Rail Pass - 2 plays -  7 
First Published 2019
Board Game: Rail Pass


I'm a sucker for anything that sounds unique so when I read about this real-time co-op pick-up-and-deliver game and found a cheap copy I had to give it a go.

Players each start with two trains and a random distribution of coloured cubes in their 'station'. They have to load up the trains with cubes from a queue and physically pass the trains round the table (sometimes over bridges or through tunnels) to get them to their matching-coloured station. There's an additional complication that trains must be manned by an engineer, who can't travel more than one station either side of their home.

It's on a 5-10 minute timer so it would be pretty manic even without the rule that you have to say 'toot toot' every time you want someone to receive a train from you! I'm not convinced the scoring system quite works but it was a good laugh.

Crash Octopus - 1 play -  6 
First Published 2021
Board Game: Crash Octopus


This colourful flicking game is entertaining enough, but is it any more fun than the far simpler Push It? I don't think so.

Full Throttle! - 1 play -  6 
First Published 2021
Board Game: Full Throttle!


This is a funny one - a Friese race/betting game which moves even further towards the players betting on a race they're watching rather than influencing than Camel Up does. The race provided some good drama but it's hard to see much control (if that's what you're looking for).

Ninety-Nine - 1 play -  5 
First Published 0
Board Game: Ninety-Nine


(Not the David Parlett trick-taker!) One of my colleagues was keen to try something new on BGA. I've played similar things before - you're playing cards on to a central pile trying to avoid being the one who makes the total go over 99 with a few special powers to mix things up. Fun enough but not really designed for 8p and player elimination is not ideal for an online gathering.

Balloon Pop! - 1 play -  5 
First Published 2017
Board Game: Balloon Pop!


And he also found this non-interactive push-your-luck game that works a bit like a less interesting Can't Stop. I'll go back to picking the games now

FLY - 1 play -  4 
First Published 2015
Board Game: FLY


One of the tiny 'Pack o'Games' line which is good because it makes it easier to lose. This is just a really, really bad version of FlowerFall.

Other gaming highlights

Doppelkopf was my new-to-me game of the year in 2021 but all based on online play. It was a delight to persuade three friends to spend an evening learning it, with the assistance of a prototype of the forthcoming Doppelkopf 2.0 deck. I'll be writing more about this before the Kickstarter launches in a couple of weeks.

Brian Boru: High King of Ireland missed out on my 2021 list because I only had the chance to play it once. A couple more plays in January have cemented it as a really interesting game that I hope to play much more and will be reviewing for the spring Spirit magazine.

I didn't get to play Tigris & Euphrates at all last year so I'm ecstatic that it's now in alpha on Board Game Arena and I'm in a run of games with three aficionados. There's nothing greater in gaming!

Reading

Ursula le Guin, The Dispossessed
I've liked all the Le Guin I've read but hadn't yet got round to one of her classics. It's a brilliant comparative study of two worlds and their societies: one capitalist with a lot of resemblances to earth, another an anarchist collective founded by revolutionaries fleeing from the former. As befits the subtitle, 'an ambiguous utopia', there are no black-and-white judgments here and the pros and cons of each society are laid bare.

Nghi Vo, When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain
This is the second of the Singing Hill novellas. Like the first, it has some good things to say about the way we tell stories but I didn't find the underlying plot as strong.

Barack Obama, A Promised Land
I lived in Chicago when Obama first came to national prominence and avidly followed the 2008 primary and election. Those parts of the book were the more interesting for me than the exhaustive detailing of most of his first term in office. I grew a bit weary of how he framed every policy issue as acknowledging the arguments of both sides and then doing something in the middle which always turned out to be the right decision.

Nice article on an important topic here. We should all be better at changing our minds and appreciating when others do.

And this is a great commentary from a philosopher of games (and BGG alumnus) on current craze Wordle:



Listening

Favourite new album is Good and Green Again by Jake Xerxes Fussell, a gorgeous slice of Americana.



Favourite old (but new-to-me) album was Pharoah Sanders' Karma. The Creator Has a Master Plan is just a hypnotic way to spend half an hour.
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Tue Feb 1, 2022 4:59 pm
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New to me December 2021

Martin G
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Bristol
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Happy New Year all!

Brian Boru: High King of Ireland - 1 play -  7 
First Published 2021
Board Game: Brian Boru: High King of Ireland


Peer Sylvester, trick-taking and area majority? Count me in! I've only had one 3p game so far but I'm really keen to play more soon.

The trick-taking works as an action-selection mechanism - the winner of each trick gets to claim a town on the map while the losers get to trigger the secondary action of the card they played, allowing them to advance on one of three tracks round the side of the board. This is no point salad though - the marriage, church and Viking tracks all directly play in to the main area majority contest on the board.

Art Robbery - 1 play -  7 
First Published 2021
Board Game: Art Robbery


The only game I got for Christmas was this new light Knizia in which the players divide the loot of an art heist between them by playing numbered cards to take tokens from the centre or from each other once those have run out. Nice hand management and a typically Knizian mechanism where the player with fewest alibis at the end of the game loses regardless of how much loot they claimed. My five-year-old was able to handle it fine too.

Sleeping Queens - 4 plays -  6 
First Published 2005
Board Game: Sleeping Queens


And this was my Christmas present for Effie which we've all enjoyed. A bit of take-that, a bit of memory, a bit of simple maths and some charming fairytale artwork.
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Sat Jan 1, 2022 5:11 pm
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2021 Q4 review

Martin G
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Bristol
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Total plays: 186

Distinct games: 82

New-to-me games: 19

Dimes: 3 - Cross Clues (14), So Clover! (14), Midnight Party (10)

Nickels: 4 - Rosetta: The Lost Language (9), Whale Riders: The Card Game (6), Doppelkopf (5), 白と黒でトリテ (Trick-Taking in Black and White) (5)

The highlight was an actual real-life games weekend away in Wales in November. December was less good with half of it spent in covid isolation...

Now a look at the collection.

Acquired: 10 - Salvage, Profiteers, 白と黒でトリテ (Trick-Taking in Black and White), The Bridges of Shangri-La, Maskmen, So Clover!, Heckmeck am Karteneck, Brian Boru: High King of Ireland, Art Robbery, Doppelkopf 2.0

Removed: 4 - Yellow & Yangtze, Scrabble Duplicate, Medici vs Strozzi, QE

Owned: 254

Unplayed: 3 - Res Publica, Uruk: Wiege der Zivilisation, Art Robbery

Went a little bit crazy (plus some gifts), but shifted a few things too. Also had a big reorganisation of the games cupboard and cut the unplayed list down to size.

Best new-to-me: Rosetta: The Lost Language is fascinating. 白と黒でトリテ (Trick-Taking in Black and White), Profiteers, The Bridges of Shangri-La and Brian Boru: High King of Ireland all promising too.

 10   6 nimmt! x3 (179 all-time)
 10   Baseball Highlights: 2045 x2 (42 all-time)
 10   Doppelkopf x5 (17 all-time)
 10   Kingdom Builder (92 all-time)
 10   Ra (75 all-time)
 10   The Crew: Mission Deep Sea x3 (12 all-time)
 10   The Mind x2 (66 all-time)
 10   Tichu (57 all-time)
 10   Time of Crisis: The Roman Empire in Turmoil, 235-284 AD (24 all-time)
 9   American Bookshop (17 all-time)
 9   Biblios x2 (36 all-time)
 9   Decrypto x2 (21 all-time)
 9   Eggs of Ostrich x3 (56 all-time)
 9   Fuji Flush (65 all-time)
 9   Haggis x2 (21 all-time)
 9   Just One (32 all-time)
 9   Letterpress x4 (20 all-time)
 9   Lords of Vegas (14 all-time)
 9   Mamma Mia! (29 all-time)
 9   Maskmen (22 all-time)
 9   Modern Art (12 all-time)
 9   Montage (7 all-time)
 9   Senators (17 all-time)
 9   So Clover! x14 (20 all-time)
 8   Cross Clues x14 (18 all-time)
 8   Dickory x3 (4 all-time)
 8   Escape from the Hidden Castle x10 (38 all-time)
 8   Las Vegas (16 all-time)
 8   Mapmaker: The Gerrymandering Game x2 (4 all-time)
 8   MarraCash (6 all-time)
 8   Marrakech (21 all-time)
 8   Nokosu Dice (6 all-time)
 8   Profiteers x2 NEW!
 8   Push It (22 all-time)
 8   Quirky Circuits x3 (9 all-time)
 8   Regicide x3 (17 all-time)
 8   Rosetta: The Lost Language x9 NEW!
 8   Space Worm x2 (20 all-time)
 8   Spicy x3 (11 all-time)
 8   Take it Easy! (13 all-time)
 8   Team Play (16 all-time)
 8   Texas Showdown x2 (26 all-time)
 8   The Bridges of Shangri-La x2 NEW!
 8   Whale Riders x2 (5 all-time)
 8   白と黒でトリテ (Trick-Taking in Black and White) x5 NEW!
 7   A game about WEE WHIMSICAL CREATURES and trying to identify them after someone makes noises. NEW!
 7   Ambiente Abissal x2 (7 all-time)
 7   Biss 20 (11 all-time)
 7   Brian Boru: High King of Ireland NEW!
 7   Colt Super Express (2 all-time)
 7   Dicke Dämonen (2 all-time)
 7   Dragon's Breath (13 all-time)
 7   Faiyum x2 NEW!
 7   Great Wall of China NEW!
 7   Heckmeck am Karteneck NEW!
 7   Hit Z Road (6 all-time)
 7   Hurlyburly x3 (12 all-time)
 7   L.L.A.M.A. x4 (26 all-time)
 7   No Thanks! x4 (76 all-time)
 7   Salvage x3 (7 all-time)
 7   Stinker (9 all-time)
 7   Strohmann Jass NEW!
 7   The Game of 49 NEW!
 7   Whale Riders: The Card Game x6 (7 all-time)
 6   Ca$h 'n Guns (Second Edition) NEW!
 6   In Vino Morte (5 all-time)
 6   Quoridor (9 all-time)
 6   Raft & Scupper NEW!
 6   SWAT! NEW!
 6   Sleeping Queens x4 NEW!
 6   Yahtzee x2 (6 all-time)
 5   A Gentle Rain x3 NEW!
 5   Blink (2 all-time)
 5   Colorful x2 NEW!
 5   Detective Club NEW!
 5   Pylos (3 all-time)
 5   Swipe NEW!
 5   Swish NEW!
 5   TEN NEW!
 5   Toss Up! x2 NEW!
 4   Shave a Sheep (4 all-time)
 N/A   Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 1 – Team Asia & Legendary Asia (7 all-time)
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Fri Dec 31, 2021 8:32 am
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New to me 2021 - best and worst

Martin G
United Kingdom
Bristol
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I wouldn't normally post this so early, but I'm now in voluntary isolation before we hopefully get to fly to the US to see my wife's family for the first time in over 2 years.

The best
Add yours at 10 best "new to you" games of 2021

This turned out to be a pretty great year for me, with weekly games nights resurfacing post-vaccination and the excellent international online trick-taking group we founded during the pandemic continuing.

1. Doppelkopf (16 plays) - the traditional trick-taking game I've been waiting for all my life. I love the initially hidden variable partnerships, the massive trump suit, and the simple bidding augmented by additional 'feats' you can pull off. Looking forward to the new Doppelkopf 2.0 deck with hints on the cards to get over the initial hurdle of getting the card ranks and points in order. I'd love it if I had some face-to-face plays to report on next year.

2. The Crew: Mission Deep Sea (11 plays)- this one was a hit both online and face-to-face. The original is brilliant, Deep Sea is brillianter! It barely even needs the mission structure any more as so much variety is provided by the new task cards. Yes, sometimes it creates an impossible or extremely difficult combination, but it's more than worth it for the fascinating set-ups that do turn up.

3. So Clover! (19 plays)
4. Cross Clues (18 plays)

I do love Codenames but it suffers from the lengthy pauses while the spymasters ponder and the fact that only two people get to give clues each game. These two each solve that problem in different ways. In So Clover everyone writes their clues simultaneously on their own board before taking turns to collectively solve them, while in Cross Clues everyone is both cluing and solving at the same time in a frantic real-time race. I particularly enjoy the way they both focus on coming up with clues for a specific two-word combination and there's a wonderful satisfaction to watching your team-mates latch on to your tenuous logic.

5. Nokosu Dice (6 plays)
6. SCOUT (5 plays)

The innovation in trick-taking/climbing games coming out of Japan really is something to behold. Nokosu Dice is an ingenious thing with partially-public hands (your dice can be seen by everyone, your cards can't) and a bid for the number of tricks you will win that is determined by the one dice you don't play over the course of the hand. Meanwhile SCOUT uses the delicious hand management seen in Krass Kariert/Dealt! of being able to play only adjacent runs/sets from your hand, but streamlines the whole thing and makes it smooth as butter.

7. Space Worm (20 plays)

Got to get a Knizia in! Sadly this seems to have fallen victim to some kind of contractual dispute but it's a cool roll & write take of the old phone game Snake. My 5-year-old decided it's her favourite game (with some bending of the rules) but it also turns into a vicious drafting battle with another gamer at the table.

8. Great Plains (12 plays)

Really love this confrontational 2p area majority near-abstract which can be played in 15 minutes. The modular board provides enough variety to keep things fresh and the three special powers let you get around your opponent's blocks and stop things feeling too calculable even though there is no hidden information.

9. Regicide (16 plays)

The BGG 'hotness' amuses me - they designed a game that's specifically and cleverly tailored to a traditional deck and then had people slavering to get their hands on a proprietary copy. I hope we'll see more innovation in sales models for card games - I'd like to support designers without having to bring unnecessary components into the world. Anyway, this is a decent puzzle as a solo game but really works best with the limited communication at 2p. We found it too hard with more due to the very small hands.

10. Rosetta: The Lost Language (9 plays)

A fascinating asymmetric co-op in which one player chooses a 'meaning' for a given 'rune', taking inspiration from a Dixit-like scene card. The other players have to try to decipher the cluer's 'language' by asking them to draw runes for words of their choice. As in Zendo, the trick is coming up with a clue that hits the sweet spot of difficulty, but when it works it's like nothing else I've played.

Honourable mentions! There really was a lot I liked this year so I squeezed out anything I haven't yet played 5 times and a few others.

Biss 20 (11 plays) - collectively count to 20, gradually introducing new rules that replace numbers with wacky actions. Like a co-op drinking game!

Fiesta de los Muertos (11 plays) - start with a famous dead person, pass them on through a telephone game and then try to piece them back together.

Spicy (10 plays) - lovely stripped-down pure bluff game.

Whale Riders: The Card Game (7 plays)
Whale Riders (5 plays) - nothing in common besides the art but they're both really good. The card game is a remake of Trendy and reminds me of Fuji Flush while the board game is wonderfully snappy and gateway-suitable.

Riftforce (5 plays) - one of what Dan Thurot calls "Schottentots" - 2p games in which you duel over a line of cards with numbers and colours. This one has a good smattering of CCG-like combos too, but with only 8 different ones featuring in each game.

白と黒でトリテ (Trick-Taking in Black and White) (5 plays)
Dickory (4 plays)
Le Plateau (4 plays) - more lovely trick-takers and climbers!

The Bridges of Shangri-La (2 plays)
Dicke Dämonen (2 plays) - hope I'll get to play this pair of wonderful "OG"-style area control games more next year.

Profiteers (2 plays) - and also this cynical and typically interactive speculation game from the La Mame crew.

Faiyum (2 plays) - definitely intrigued by my first couple of games, but it may prove too long to get regular play.

The worst
Add yours at 10 Worst "new to you" games of 2021

Calico

For me, the recent crop (surfeit?) of 'take and make' games live or die by two things: how interactive the mechanism for acquiring stuff is, and how 'readable' the other players' boards are. For example, Azul excels at both - you can easily see what the other players need *and* you can take appropriate action as a result.

Calico failed for me on both fronts. The 'getting stuff' is as bland as they come: play one of two tiles from your hand, then draft one of three from the common supply. And the readability is low too - it's hard enough visualising the colours and patterns on your own board, let alone figuring out what your opponent needs. And even if you did, you'd often be shooting yourself in the foot by hate-drafting, unless you just happen to need the exact same thing. This leaves me feeling like I'd rather play a true multiplayer solitaire like Take It Easy where I don't have to pretend I'm interacting.

And yet... it's currently the #5 ranked abstract game on BGG, so clearly I'm missing something. It does do a lot of things that seem to appeal in today's market: cute theme and art (cats! quilts!), quality components, variable setup (aka a different solo puzzle to solve every time) and the obligatory solo mode (which it's clearly well suited for). But when it comes down to it, none of those are things I care about.

Kabuto Sumo

Looks so colourful and fun but if the basic physical action of a dexterity game is fundamentally unsatisfying, then gussying it up with special powers isn't going to help.

Nachtschwärmer

Speaking of which, a game made of beermats, which you 'roll' around the table sounded interesting. It was not.

Scrabble Duplicate

Each turn you draw to 7 tiles in the middle, then everyone comes up with their best word on their own dry-wipe board within 2 minutes. You both score for the word you made, but only the highest-scoring one gets put onto the central board. Then you draw up to 7 and repeat. So there's no hand management or defensive play - the things that make Scrabble interesting - just a succession of puzzles. The physical production of this one is awful too.

TEN

This felt like a simple push-your-luck game with a lot of added cruft that distracted from the core. Something feels a bit off about its economy too. Knizia would have cut half the rules and made it twice as good.

Draftosaurus

I was surprised this wasn't designed by Phil Walker-Harding, what with its forgettable 'pretty much everything's worth 2-4 points' scoring.

A Gentle Rain

A very simple solo tile-laying game that sells itself as a 'mindful experience', which seems to be a way to put a positive spin on 'very few decisions'.

Colorful
Snakesss
Detective Club

There are so many word and picture association / social deduction games on the market now and some of them are excellent. These three were just rather bland.
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Mon Dec 6, 2021 12:01 pm
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