images by SnakeKing, obenn, also a drawing of Brian Barling - modified - were used to create this post.
Knizia. Spiel des Jahres. Some other thoughts, but only rarely. I'm not that much of a big thinker, you know - but I love games.
01 Jul 2014
- [+] Dice rolls
23 Jun 2014
And it's Ghost Fightin' Treasure Hunters. Spooky fun! Quote:
In Geister, Geister! Schatzsuchmeister!, four intrepid treasure hunters are on a quest, searching for precious hidden jewels, but the phantoms in this house do not give up their bounty easily. As their ghoulish numbers grow, the treasure hunters must work together to acquire all eight jewels and escape the house before it becomes fully haunted or else face their own gruesome demise.
Players roll dice to determine how many spaces they move this turn and whether a new ghost is added to the board. Players may move up to the number of spaces shown on the die. If they end their movement in a space with a treasure, they may pick it up and place it in their backpack. If they end their movement in a space with a ghost, they fight that ghost by rolling a fight die. If they roll the matching symbol, they remove the ghost from the game board.
If the players must add a third ghost to a room, it transforms into a haunting. A haunting requires at least two people in the room to attempt a fight with it. Players win if they can get all eight treasures and their whole team out of the house; they lose if all six hauntings are on the board.
So I have to hunt down a copy of it for my kids.
The only strange thing for me - this time a game for 8-year-olds won. Of course, this is the game that is the best for adults, but games that have a suggested age of 8+ are usually in the race for Spiel des Jahres (see Qwirkle, for example, a 6+ game that won Spiel des Jahres).
The other nominees were:
Brandon the Brave (age: 5+)
Flizz & Miez (age: 5+)
Congratulations to everyone for making quality kids' games instead of producing easy-to-sell unimaginative roll and moves with franchise themes.
- [+] Dice rolls
18 Jun 2014
Okay, now that I cast my votes at the Spielfrieks voting for the best games of last year, it’s time to publish the recent edition of my yearly list.
Published in 2013: Best and Worst games I've played and what remains to be tried. Opinions & suggestions are welcome!
As it’s already the fifth list I write, I even created a subscription list – a metalist – for these lists.
Published in a given year series metalist
Looking at this one vs. the latest lists, there are some things I must notice. This list is more subjective than the ones before. As my lists are always subjective, it needs some explanation. Before this year, when I rated a game, I put more emphasis on trying to look at the game from the viewpoint of the target group, the players it was designed for. Somehow I’m starting to lose this aim, and what’s more, the BGG ranking explanations (that I always found contradicting – are they about the quality of the game or my wish to play them?) make a bit more sense to me than they did years ago. Now when I give a rating to a game, my wish to replay it (or play it often) has a larger effect on my ratings than before.
And that’s how, in the end, a children’s (and junior) version of a classic abstract ended up at #1. Objectively, I would not say it’s certainly better than the games below. But this one made me go wow, it opened my eyes and did have a strong effect on me (NOW I do want to play games like Chess, games that I never wanted to touch before) while the rest did not.
Also, that’s why I ranked Russian Railroads „only” #10 and Caverna only at #19, even though I have no doubt they have serious strategic depths and they are probably deeper, offer more interesting strategies etc. than the Euros I ranked higher. Even I enjoy finding these strategies and combos somewhat – but still, I don’t find these games as fun as those lighter Euros up in the list.
And, yes, also that's why Knizias are ranked higher than they probably deserve. Even if he's past his golden ages, his design style still fits me more than most other designer's, so I just like playing these more than other games that are objectively (probably) about the same good.
One final note: 2013 was not a strong year, from my viewpoint. I’m not saying “everything gets worse and worse” – 2012 was a strong year, the year before not that much. Except from my #1 that is actually a collection of two earlier designs, I didn’t find anything really memorable, great, something that is still going to be frequently played or referred to in 5 years. It happens. It simply wasn’t a year of milestones. I hope 2014 brings changes; I have already played a few good games published this year.
So, in the middle of June, I wish everyone a great new year!
- [+] Dice rolls
19 May 2014
Nothing important, just some observation that I made when playing some recent gamer sweethearts in the past few months - and now that the Kennerspiel des Jahres jury published the nominations, this thing once again became apparent.
In 2012, Friedemann Friese published a game that was kind of a big-box joke (already admitted by the title) designed as a part of his own Friday challenge (designing games for five years, only on Fridays for 5-15-55... minutes or 5, 15 hours, all starting with his trademark "F"). As the game page of Copycat says, "Fremde Federn is about borrowing elements from well-known games (Eurogames) and constructing a new game out of them. For now, it is a deck-building, worker-placement, drafting race game." In this game, you could build your deck (like in Dominion), from a row of cards that were priced depending on their position and filled from a deck of cards divided into 4 different "Ages" (see Through the Ages), and using these cards, you placed workers (in an Agricola-like worker placement way). The game ended when all the cards were bought or when one player reached a certain number of points. The game was not bad, but it was more of a joke than anything to be taken seriously.
One year later, probably as a result of a playtesting period longer than a year, three titles appeared, three games that took this concept seriously: mix all the now-popular Eurogame mechanisms in one game, creating a big mix of these, hopefully resulting in something that works more smoothly than Copycat did.
They did succeed.
Lewis & Clark, for example, is a deck-building, worker-placement, drafting race game (sounds familiar?) where you can build your deck from a row of cards that were priced depending on their position, and you place workers on a common board.
Rokoko, on the other hand, is a deck-building, drafting game which is not really about worker placement, even though you use your worker cards in a somewhat worker placementish way (to place "dresses" - kind of behaving like workers, occupying simple and action spaces). Here you can build your deck from a row of cards where the cards are priced according to how many are left there in the current round, but just like in Copycat and its deck-building original, you have only a few cards that you can use from your deck in a round. For some variety, instead of the race element, you have area majority here, and about a dozen ways to score points.
Finally, Concordia is a deck-building, drafting game that ends when all the cards are bought or when one player builds his last house. In this game, you can build your deck, from a row of cards that are priced depending on their position and filled from a deck of cards divided into 5 different "Ages", and using these cards, you perform different actions, mostly on a map, including adding new player figures (colonists) there or occupying some spaces to produce goods (this is the most worker placement-ish part of the game but it's really not a worker placement game). In the end you can score points for half dozen different things.
Each one of these games are good, well-developed and provide interesting strategies. I'd say Lewis & Clark is the most interesting one of them, although it might drag with 4 or 5 players - I wonder why this one was left out from the Kennerspiel des Jahres nominations and recommendations. On the other hand, it surprises me that both Rokoko and Concordia made it to the nominations shortlist; the jury used to award games that are more different from each other. I know, these don't feel samey, but they just represent a very narrow part, a narrow direction of complex Eurogames.
So, is it the new direction? The second part of the 2000s was about worker placement, then deck building, and now the mix of the two, with a Through the Ages-like card row? Can complex Eurogames evolve to another direction, or is it the end for them? Do they stop here in this strange, complicated megamix state, having reached the ultimate state? I'm just wondering...
(edit: thanks to Chris Puram (see his comment below) I can see there was even a fourth 2013 deck/pool-building, drafting game where you could build your deck(s!) and buy cities from a row of cards that are priced depending on their position and filled from a deck of cards divided into 3 different "ages"... City of Iron is another game with area control/influence listed as a mechanism at its game page. Or maybe this one does not really fit, according to Scott Douglas's comments.)
- [+] Dice rolls
With somewhat, but not completely surprising results.
Two of the nominees for Spiel des Jahres, Splendor and Camel Up had quite a positive awards buzz (although I read many „no like” reviews about the former) and I also mentioned them in my predictions, even though I have not played them. Concept, on the other hand, is a game with an ingenious idea and rather underdeveloped ruleset – it’s a bit strange that this did not matter for the jury this time. Only one of my Spiel des Jahres nominees, Sanssouci made the recommendation list and I guessed only one recommendation (Love Letter) right. It’s strtange to see so many games left out, especially Abluxxen.
As for Kennerspiel des Jahres, my nominees (Amerigo and Russian Railroads) were both recommended (I think I was right in guessing Russian Railroads would be too heavy for the award). Istanbul is one I correctly guessed while for Concordia and Rokoko, two well-developed but not extremely interesting complex euros (even sharing some basic idea sin common) that I mentioned as "won't be nominated" got the nomination. (These two clearly show the current taste of the jury I think.)
The recommendation for Guildhall surprises me only because I thought it was eligible last year, and Blood Bound is the one I have never even heard about.
I find this year’s choices a bit strange, even though I would not call any of the nominees weak.
- [+] Dice rolls
In the past few years I have tried to guess what the Spiel des Jahres jury likes.
*Predictions before the Spiel des Jahres nominations are out
*Spiel des Jahres - Guessing the Nominations
*Predictions for Spiel & Kennerspiel des Jahres 2013 nominations
I wasn’t completely unsuccessful in guessing, but obviously I could not guess everything right. (Far from that, actually.) This year, there are just too many titles I haven’t tried yet so what’s coming below isn’t more than mere guessing.
Spiel des Jahres:
The three nominated games:
Don’t even try to say that a small-box card game won last year so it has no chance. It has already happened a few times that conceptually similar games won in consecutive years. Abluxxen is novel, and even if it takes a few plays to get used to, it is fun and interesting; probably the best Kramer card game since the best-selling 6 nimmt! which was recommended 20 years ago (in a time when card games had no chance to win). I’m not sure it’s going to be nominated but it would be an outrage if it even missed a recommendation.
I was really hoping I can play this game by Abluxxen co-designer Michael Kiesling before the nominations are out but well, I have read the rules and it really feels like a perfect fit for a nomination. Not too much interaction, but building your own gardens is creative fun, while the game is more of a connection game actually. I like the concept, the look is fine and Ravensburger probably presented a perfect rulebook to the game.
And the third nominated game is… Probably something I haven’t played yet.
There are some that I have played and might hope for a recommendation though. In alphabetical order:
*Carcassonne: South Seas reboots Carcassonne as a colorful, light and beginner-friendly set collection game; I believe this is the first Carcassonne game since The Castle to have a chance to get recommended.
*The Little Prince: Make Me a Planet is a tricky little game that is family-friendly but might be considered too aggressive (confrontative) for families.
*Love Letter (the game that got a German release in the past year) is great but I’m not sure player elimination is something the jury likes.
*Origin is a family game, even with some novel ideas incorporated, but somehow it reminds me of Takenoko, another French family game of its type, a game that got lots of pre-awards buzz but did not even get a recommendation. Maybe, as it is often the case, the poorly translated (French to German) rulebook is there to blame.
*Pasha – Yahtzee meets Poker in Stefan Dorra’s style, I like it more than the average BGG crowd does, it’s also simple and familiar enough for the newcomers.
*Relic Runners – the rulebook is a bit more complex than that would be fine for a family game of its type, but otherwise this Days of Wonder release has some Ticket to Ride-ish qualities. I would be fine with this one getting a nomination, but I’m not even sure about the recommendation.
*Yōkaï no Mori is a collection of two great simplified Shogi variants with a very appealing look; it could be a surprise (but welcome) recommendation.
As for the games I have not played yet, Splendor is often mentioned as a possible nomination, but it is a rather divisive title (edit: I mean it seems players are rather divided over this title) so I guess it ends up only in the recommendation list. Cuatro and Steam Park, two fun-looking dice games might kick Pasha out from the recommendation list while Steam Park is also one of the three park-building games (besides Sanssouci and Gardens) having a chance for a recommendation (and it was even illustrated by Marie Cardouat, beautiful illustrator of the Spiel des Jahres-winning Dixit). Then there is also three-time Spiel des Jahres winner Klaus Teuber’s Norderwind, a family-friendly game with spectacular personal boards, his first non-Catan, non-rework game in a decade or so (well, even if it is said to re-use the core mechanism of a space Catan version…). Also Camel Up, another game (after Reiner Knizia’s Riddit) that reuses the “animals on top of each other” idea of Alex Randolph’s Rüsselbande – it is said to be fun which is one of the most important qualities for Spiel des Jahres. Oh, and there is Limes as well, which might get a surprise recommendation (although Cities did get the recommendation a few years ago, so probably this one won’t).
Still, I just have no idea which game is going to get the third nomination; I make a guess that it’s going to be one of the dice games mentioned.
Kennerspiel des Jahres:
I have played probably more games that can get nominated for this award. It’s just a bit hard to guess the complexity level that fits this award (that is not for hardcore gamers but players who want something meatier than Ticket to Ride). Last year, this is why Tzolk’in and Terra Mystica only got recommendations and that’s also why I can’t be sure if Russian Railroads gets only a recommendation or a nomination. For sure this one has one of the best rulebooks and is the critically most applauded one, so if the jury thinks this complexity fits the award, this is my first guess for nomination.
Amerigo is one of the Stefan Feld titles that is close to what Kennerspiel represents in my eyes. I don’t know about replayability, but it’s spectacular, thematic, fun and even the central mechanism can be called novel. If I had to decide, this one would surely be one of the three nominated games. (Probably I'm wrong here, but this time I vote for what I would vote for. )
And then, once again, I don’t know about the third one (or even the second one, if Russian Railroads only gets the recommendation because of its complexity).
It seems to me that the three titles I haven’ played yet might fit the nomination criteria better than any other that I played – games like Kashgar: Merchants of the Silk Road, Istanbul (without playing it, I would vote for this Dorn title) and Helios (which does not seem that spectacular but Hans im Glück games have always been the jury’s favorite).
What I have played and probably won’t be nominated:
*Caverna: The Cave Farmers – too complex, too expensive, too much like Agricola; possibly a Tzolk’in-like recommendation is in store for this gamer favorite, maybe just to please gamers.
*Glass Road –this Uwe Rosenberg game is a lot closer to what Kennerspiel des Jahres represents. Too bad it has just a bit too much resource conversion (with too many resources); if it weren't like this, I’d say it could get even a nomination.
*Concordia – if Navegador wasn’t nominated (nor recommended), this one won’t be either.
*Rococo – if Concordia won’t be nominated, this one won’t be either.
*Spyrium– I’d like this one to be nominated but it won’t, and if it has a (French to German) poorly translated rulebook, it might even miss the recommendation mark.
*Lewis & Clark – another French game: I don’t know about the rulebook, but the complexity might be a bit too high and with 4 or 5 players the downtime too much. Otherwise, one of the best complex Euros released last year.
*Prosperity – and another French to German translation which is also not novel enough for the award; probably not even a recommendation.
*Legacy: The Testament of Duke de Crecy – might be a bit too fiddly for the award. It could get a recommendation though; it’s a good game with a strong sense of theme.
*Coal Baron – is often mentioned as a possible nomination. I hope it won’t be nominated, possibly not even recommended. This is a good game but it’s too much like Asara and no difference makes it better than Asara, which was nominated a few years ago.
*Nauticus – is less liked at BGG but I’d say it has a slightly higher chance to get recommended at least. (This is the fourth Kramer and/or Kiesling game in this list, by the way). It’s a cleaner design that is different enough from the other Kramer-Kieslings.
*Bruxelles 1893 – is, in some ways, like KdJ winner Village, another game with a worker placementish core and lots of small ideas added to spice things up. The big difference is that while it was thematic in Village, here it remains a bunch of disjointed ideas. No recommendation.
*Nations – a gamer sweetheart that I don’t think would even get a recommendation.
So, in short, my list for SdJ is Abluxxen, Sanssouci and, er, Cuatro, while for KdJ it’s Russian Railroads, Amerigo and Istanbul (and Helios if Russian Railroads is considered too heavy for the award). But I can be happy if I am right in one of three guesses for both awards...
- [+] Dice rolls
08 Apr 2014
2011 – Reiner Knizia’s weakest year for board games since… when exactly?
2012 – Reiner Knizia and his variations on mass market-friendly tile laying
Err, it seems I wrote a kind of summary about Knizia's previous years in this blog which I did not do this year - so I write a short one because
a, why not
b, it's interesting to find a common thread in his big box games again
c, I want to promote my review written about one of these games.
Kyoto, a simple and typical tile laying game and Kto z Kim? which looks a bit like Knizia's answer to Dixit); some very simple, somewhat Pickomino-like dice games (Hook 'em published by ThinkFun and Gold Nuggets, the more interesting one of the two) Sherlock Kids, a social memory game and Disney Planes Air Champions, a tactial dexterity game).
Also, something less usual for Knizia, an expansion was published, this time for one of the 6 big box titles mentioned in my above linked blog post about his 2012 games. Qin: Toad and Dragon Turtle Game Boards reinforces my opinion that Qin was one of the best Knizias of the decade.
And there were 4 big box games this year. One is based on an old kids' literature franchise, two are based on two episodes of a movie trilogy monstrosity and the last one is a gamer's game published by Ystari, even if not a very complex one. Three of them are cooperative games based on known franchises. But there is one thing common in each of these four games: they feature event cards/tiles.
When it comes to Knizia games, events are something you can count on. They don't bring totally uncontrolled randomness to the game - maybe you can count on when they come, or you can count on what they will be, or maybe there is one negative event in the beginning of each turn, or maybe the event deck is very limited (in variety or card/tile number) so you can be prepared for the events yet to come. Knizia usually uses events to strengthen the thematic feel of his games (and also add some unexpected to the way the "AI" works in co-ops). So no wonder that now, having designed games with a theme, he used them generously.
Maybe it was the design experience of Star Trek: Expeditions (2011) that helped him want to keep toying with the co-op idea (and events) - his 2011 game got somewhat warm reception from the gamer crowd and the fans. Since The Lord of the Rings in 2000, it was his first complex co-op - and yes, probably it also helped that there was a new Tolkien trilogy in the works.
Well, it was planned to be a 2-part movie back then, and Peter Jackson announced it would be a trilogy only in August 2012, a few months before the premiere of the first Hobbit movie. It didn't make Knizia happy (he was openly grumbling) as the game was also planned to have two parts and now it had to be redesigned to have three parts.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was released this March. Probably the game is going to be overly long but epic when all the episodes (three boxes instead of two) are played in sequence, just like the movies, but well, that really fits the movies. This is a cooperative game based on a Risk Express/Age of War-like mechanism with helper cards/items and events added in a Lord of the Rings fashion. This results in an Elder Sign-like game which is not that surprising given even the rule book of Elder Sign says "Original dice game mechanism: Reiner Knizia".
Luckily it was successful enough so the sequel, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug was released in December 2013 (and probably we'll see episode 3 this December). This game features more of the same on board 3 (although things get slightly harder) and adds a fun dragon mechanism for board 4 (why a dragon token and not a minifig?) while it also has new event decks for each board. For those who like the story or the movies, it's enjoyable and already epic - now it takes 90 minutes, so I'm a bit afraid it would be too long to play the complete trilogy frequently.
Die drei ??? und der Feuerdiamant is the big box game I did not play (and unless it gets an English language, maybe rethemed edition, I won't play). It's based on an old and very popular young literature franchise. The game has somewhat mixed reviews mostly because of the technical problems (it can be played using a smartphone but I don't know the details). It's also a cooperative game with cards, tokens, dice and so on, but this time events are handled differently. There are four different tracks where markers are moved based on the die rolls, and these have some spaces where you place event tiles in the beginning of the game. This time it's the timing of the events that is somewhat random: it is dictated by die rolls - when a marker is moved on the events, they are solved.
Prosperity. It's an Ystari game, something like a city building game without the spatial aspect - and with events! Events are used mostly like the tiles in Knizia's Gravediggers - there you revealed one of 7 tiles (4 different types) in the beginning of your turn and when the tile stack was depleted, you reshuffled the tiles and formed a new pile. Or like in Municipium where you had 12 event cards (3 different types) to draw from. Here you have 5 different event types that all happen in a decade and then a new decade is started; well, this time the event tiles also become technology tiles that become available for purchase, so you don't reshuffle the event tile but have one 5-tile stack for each decade.
Prosperity is a fine game (with some artwork problems), even though it won't be everyone's cup of tea and it even took me two plays to decide I want to buy it. More about it in my review.
So, how was Reiner Knizia's 2013 from a gamer perspective? Quite interesting and quite special. (Too bad each one had some production quality issues.) Strangely, simple big box family games, that were the norm in the past years, were completely missing this time. And what does 2014 bring? Apart from the third Hobbit game and some Fantasy Flight releases/rethemes (I'm really looking forward to putting my hands on Age of War and Blue Moon Legends) nothing is known yet. I guess it doesn't remain like this for long...
- [+] Dice rolls
07 Jan 2014
Today it happened.
The best game (well, the best game designed by a known designer) has left the top 100. Yes, you heard it, Samurai is #101 now.
On probably the same day, the most lauded Knizia (his second best in my opinion), Tigris & Euphrates, long time gamer favorite, has moved to #25.
Seven years ago on this day, Samurai was #25 and you had 10 Reiner Knizia games in the top 50. It shows the strength of Samurai and T&E that they stayed so long in the high ranks - there is only one more Knizia game left in the top 100: Ra, also a beautiful design (my third favorite Knizia and 7th favorite game overall), is #69 right now and probably leaves the top 100 in a year. Others, like many that you have icons for whenever you want to post anything - , , - have left a long time ago.
Of course, times are changing and it's very easy to find a handful of reasons behind all this happening... But for me, it's still a sad day to see these great games slowly getting abandoned and forgotten.
- [+] Dice rolls
28 Oct 2013
Everyone is doing it right now, it's very trendy, so why would I not do it?
Well, because I did it last year :
Lacxox's top 50 after 500 games rated
Of course I could update that one if I wanted to. I think a few games from last year would make the list (last year was a strong one, I don't think this year or 2011 came even close). I guess if I updated the list right now, I would say good-bye to 6 games.
Let's remember them now:
Dominion - which I still like but it just can't get love from me, especially without the expansions.
Chicago Express - which is great but unforgiving, also I rate Stephensons Rocket a bit higher.
Airlines Europe - which is fine but just not great; it really feels like Alhambra played on a Ticket to Ride map.
Blue Moon City - which is a tiny bit bland even with the expansion tiles
Rheinländer - which is fun and underrated, but sometimes the role of luck can get too high
Sankt Petersburg - which was the hardest to say good-bye to as I love the central mechanism - but the rest of the game is not that exciting.
And which are the newcomers?
Terra Mystica - which would surely make it to my top 20. A great game by any means: complex but with a nice structure and just enough theme so it does not feel dry at all.
Hanabi - which is one of the most innovative games of the past years - and also very good.
TZAAR - which is a great GIPF game I learned only this year. It is a pure abstract with an enjoyable chaotic feel, a counterpart to DVONN (also in the list) which my wife wins all the time - TZAAR seems to fit me more.
Legends of Andor - which is a rare fantasy adventure game made with Euro sensibilities: interesting decisions and puzzles combined with the heroes on a quest theme.
Love Letter- which is just fun and enchants my non-gamer friends. This is a game that no one can take seriously in the beginning, seeing how luck-dependent it is - and everyone takes seriously in the last rounds, seeing how much there is to this game actually.
Palaces of Carrara - which is a tricky and tense old-school Eurogame. Hats off to the great duo of Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling!
Still, I guess I should not make that Top 50 right now. Maybe I'm going to come up with a Top 100 when I have played 1000 games. I expect (hope) to reach that number in 2016...
Until then, be patient. That list is under construction.
- [+] Dice rolls
Yesterday I played two thematic cooperative games. One of them was Reiner Knizia's brand new dice roller The Hobbit - An Unexpected Journey which gets the theme from the (bloated) movie version of the first third of the movie with the same name. The other one was Mice and Mystics, a very popular and highly rated dungeon crawler with a cute theme from Jerry Hawthorne who's participated in the design of quite a few Heroscape expansion sets so it's not surprising this game bears quite a few similarities to Heroscape (again, from my point of view, and I have limited experience in AT/thematic games).
I played with gamers who really like AT games more than Euros and they obviously really liked Mice and Mystics while they were meh about The Hobbit (and a hardcore Eurogamer who didn't like The Hobbit but would never play Mice and Mystics). Also you can see the current ratings show almost 2 whole points difference between the two games: The Hobbit is rated around 6 while Mice and Mystics is rated almost 8.
Yet I like The Hobbit much better.
That must show (me) something about my gaming preferences, so I should analyse this a bit.
So, what is NOT a reason behind this?
1. I don't care about stories - completely untrue. In books and movies I look for good stories. I tell stories to my kids. I love good stories! And yes, Mice and Mystics does offer stories interesting enough. I even like the world created. (This is one of the redeeming qualities of the game, actually; some months ago I got bored to tears when we played Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of Ashardalon Board Game where I just could not see any interesting story or characters).
2. I'm a Knizia fan - is completely true but that does not mean I like his games without criticism; also I'm a Knizia fan because even his weaker games offer more to me than many other designer's game - I don't like games because they are designed by Knizia but I like games designed by Knizia because of the gameplay fits me more.
Well, have a look at the gameplay of The Hobbit and that of Mice and Mystics.
In The Hobbit you have a number of challenges which are abstracted to their very basics: roll X symbols of this and Y symbols of that (there are symbols for running, diplomacy and fighting). Some challenges must be accomplished in order (storyline) and some others can be done in any order. Each turn you have to accomplish a challenge or you lose one of the resources that you could get from this board - which is bad for two reasons: one is losing the resource for the next board and the other one is that after the sixth fail on one board you lose the game. You can aid your rolls with helper cards (the 13 dwarves and Bilbo) that give you different benefits like a stronger 5th die or additional symbols, and you can use the resources on the resource board, commonly available for everyone - but the more you use the less remains for further challenges, also the fewer points you score in the end. Event cards (drawn in the beginning of each player's turn) stir things up a bit: some of them provide limitations for the turn (don't use companion cards, have one fewer die etc.), some ask you some given symbols and many of them provide additional challenges (that also have to be finished by the end of the game) or upgrades to challenges. That's it in a nutshell.
In Mice and Mystics, like in most dungeon crawlers that I have ever played, you have a character (abilities expressed in numbers) and some equipment in the beginning of the game. Then you roll the die to decide how far you can move in this turn; attack the monster if it's close to you (it's pretty basic: you roll as many dice as your ability and equipment allows you to, and then someone rolls the dice for the monster; successful hits are subtracted from the monster's life points) or use your rarely-to-be-used special ability or, once on a location tile, try to search for something (die roll tells you if your search was successful or not; if it was, you take the topmost card from the item deck). That's it, your turn is over. There are some additional mechanism ideas that are actually pretty good, like the player/monster order (character cards are shuffled and placed below each other, randomly) or the use of cheese (you get them when you roll cheese but not during movement) - you can use them for your special abilities, or the monsters get them and if they collect 6 of them, a big monster appears and stakes get higher.
I'd say Mice and Mystics is pretty good for what it is. Still, I don't have half as much fun playing it as playing the other game. And I think the most important reason gets visible when I look at what one player does in their turn.
What is the decision/turn ratio?
In Mice and Mystics first you roll the dice and move, mostly to an obvious direction; no real decision there. Then you decide if you want to fight or search but most of the time it's also a very obvious (non-existing) decision, and dice decide everything (they decide if you find anything - and if you do, you just draw the topmost card in the rather large deck that has lots of cards you just can't use in your situation - and they decide if your attack was successful or not; there is nothing to be decided after you rolled them).
In the Hobbit, however, you first decide if you want to use the golden die or not (5 of the 14 helper cards offer this so there is quite a good chance you have one of these), then you decide what to do with the die rolls, where to place the dice and attempt to accomplish the challenge (taking the risk, trying to minimize the risk and maximize the potential of having a successful turn), which dice to re-roll, then what to do with the results, which of your company cards to use (and whether you should use them at all or save them for later turns) or possibly ask for help from the people you are playing with, or, worst case, use the commonly available resource cards (lessening the final score and making subsequent turns harder)... Or, possibly, not completing a task and giving up a future resource card...? It offers many decisions in one turn, and while (depending on the situation) one or more of them is obvious, it still offers quite many interesting decisions as well, each turn.
I might be a decision-addict; I prefer interesting and meaningful decisions in my games.
In both games, however, there is also some cooperative element. It means an increased level of interaction: you can take part in the decisionmaking of other players as well, and also help them with your own items/resources. I'd say this aspect works pretty fine in both games, but while these helping decisions are more thematic (and sometimes, even spatial, something I like in my games) in M&M, there are a lot more (and more meaningful) turn-related decisions that you, as the non-active player, can take part in when playing The Hobbit.
What's more, I believe there are a lot more decisions to be made (and a lot more risk to be taken) during the 40 minutes of The Hobbit than the 120 minutes of Mice and Mystics or Dungeons & Dragons and so on. On the other hand, of course, I get a stronger sense of theme in the latter (even though I do sense the theme in Hobbit a bit more than anyone who got used to playing thematic games).
But... isn't it like... watching movies?
Obviously I'm not saying M&M is inferior to The Hobbit or vice versa but while the greatest joy many AT games offer is living through the story, I just don't really need to use my brain while playing them - and while I don't necessarily want to use my brain while watching a Hollywood blockbuster, I do want to be strongly involved in what happens when I play a game.
However, while I like brainy movies, sometimes I really just want to have fun and leave my brain at the doors of the cinema. AT games don't provide this fun: I constantly have to keep doing repetitive things without real decisionmaking BUT still must use my brain to get all the rule details like the special rules for given monsters, objects or the given location's story and aims, read from the rulebook. I don't want to constantly refer to the rulebook when I'm playing a game as that just takes my attention away from the game, even if these rulebook details are just the game missions and details of new stuff happening. I prefer games that tell the rules in the beginning and then they just... work, without constantly interrupting the gameplay.
While I know I'm unfair to AT games, I find it takes more skill from a game designer to make a game system that, once starts, works smoothly from beginning to the end, than a game where you are constantly giving new directions and instructions just to keep it moving. (Insert car metaphor here.) Obviously AT games need a different kind of skill, this is some storywriting skill and a skill to set up things to remain interesting (story-wise) from the beginning to the end.
(And what about the Eurogamer that didn't really like The Hobbit? One of the reasons is he loathed the movie, and the other one is that it's a dice roller combined with hand management, and dice rollers are really not for him - which is true for many hardcore eurogamers as well, but not me, I like simple but interesting dice games.)
So, in the end, this is all about my personal preferences: I like good stories to my game (more than a typical Eurogamer) but I don't like it when the story is more important than a really good decision space. (Now one might ask which approach is more fortunate when you make a board game adaptation of a movie, but I just say it depends on what you want to achieve.) I also must add that quite probably as an adolescent I would have loved quasi-no-brainer dungeon crawler games and probably my son is going to enjoy them in a few years too.
Until then... I try to stick to my old-fashioned and "dry" Euros and let adolescents (and grown-up adolescents ) play their great thematic games.
- [+] Dice rolls