The Ramble Repository

The home of the Cardboard Diogenes Club, in which I consume as little as possible and write as much as possible. Opinions and strong takes abound!

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Toaster

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Furnace looks lovely. Granted the cover is a hair away from just being the poster for Enemy, but that's still striking, and though the bits in the box don't quite match they're still very nice.

I've never seen this bidding mechanism before. I've seen its pieces individually - multiple things up for auction at once, set values for each player, rewards for losing bids - but never together, not like this. Balancing which cards you push for VS what compensation you earn is a fascinating nut to crack. Compensation isn't just a nice-to-have, it's absolutely essential to producing the raw materials your engine hungers for, but you also need an engine to feed that'll eventually pay out. Just a wonderful core mechanism.

Thing is, I just don't think the engine management game attached to this bidding is especially compelling. I'm not huge on efficiency puzzles, it is known, but I've often found exceptions in interactive engine builders. 51st State, Brew Crafters, Exodus Fleet, San Juan and its progeny, what have you. Furnace seemed like it should be another member of this exclusive club, but only half of it is even eligible.

Furnace's phases are completely bisected. Amazing disc placement! Solitaire engine management. Timing and blocking! Hemming and hawing. Joy and agony! Wallpaper paste served as oatmeal. For as great as that first phase is its second feels like a particularly involved scoring phase that takes about as long as the good bits, particularly in rounds 3 and 4. I love writing but the written word is hardly sufficient to express how frustrated I am to have this extremely interesting game constantly interrupted by a boring one. Hrrrrnrnngnnnggg. Hyeererrrgnnggnh!

There's a game I love somewhere in here. Not just like, not just that's worth playing, love. A game that could put most traditional euros to shame. But it isn't the only game in the box, and you can't house rule the symbols on the cards away. Will I keep playing it? Yeah, probably, at least for a while, because I like its core idea that much. But I cannot wait for some enterprising designer to add this game's discs to their tool kit and put them to use elsewhere.
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Fri Sep 24, 2021 12:29 am
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Pilots Take Warning

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Blue Skies, but red skies on the cover. Not sure if it's morning or night so I'll let that joke slide.

I'll open by saying that I think Blue Skies is mostly solid as a design. There's a lot to like about its loop; place gates, play cards, seed passengers. The passengers being mostly static but occasionally cascading, then diluting their position whenever gates are placed, is particularly inspired. I have some reservations on the government assistance kick after 30 points, not because it isn't fun, but because sandbagging for big plays seems really strong. It's borderline Mario Kart levels of incentivizing hanging back. Not much of a complaint, it gives the game some personality.

Not keeping it though.

I'm very glad RGG put this on BGA because that's the only way I'll be playing BS (what an unfortunate initialism) going forward. There few reasons but in a word: admin. You're constantly tweaking income on everyone's turn, dealing with the funky board layout where Florida is in Texas and DC is in the panhandle, the delineation between areas is extremely difficult to parse which makes endgame bonuses a pain to track, and eventually the eye strain of staring at the cube-speckled grid kicks in. Most of us had brain-strain by the end of our play, not due to the game being overly cerebral, but because operating the thing is taxing.

The rough production sucks because I -think- I could like Blue Skies more than I do. It's borderline wacky at times, with players handing points out to each other only to kneecap them at another gate. I mentioned elsewhere that it feels Avalon Hill-adjacent and another play has solidified the comparison. It's decidedly old school and I respect that. I just wish its old-schooledness didn't extend to the usability.
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Fri Sep 17, 2021 12:39 am
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Cheerful Urbanization

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Odd that this used to be called Happiest Town and now that it's a City it's just Happy, but I guess if you're living in the midst of urban sprawl you're used to making consolations.

Playing HC is so simple that I can explain almost all of it in a paragraph. Everyone gets income for the round. Each player takes turns messing with the draft, possibly taking your bonus building for the game if you have enough building types to qualify. Cards give income, happiness, and people. Repeat until someone hits 10 cards in their tableau, finish the round, game's over. Scoring is literally one equation: happiness X people. Done!

There's an element to this that I love, something that other games like this don't typically do. Players aren't drafting from an endlessly flipping display, they're manually picking which decks they want to flip offers from based on what's in their wallet and what they need. This framework means the game pulls off two tricks:

- the game has 0 admin

- the cards on offer are there because -you- put them there

The former is huge because it removes the worst part of games like this. No one needs to play croupier, there are no shuffles, nothing after setup isn't gameplay. The closest thing to "work" anyone needs to do is get their income, but I don't know a single person on the face of the earth who'd be frustrated to have to grab their well-earned money out of the supply. It seems so small as to be insignificant, but modern games often do a bad job of this. Happy City doesn't.

The latter though, the latter is some primo psychological stuff. Being dealt cards in games feels like you're being handed your choices. But drawing them? Handling that yourself? That's on you. You picked the decks, you knew the odds, you chose this path. The game's feather light, don't misunderstand me, but there's a deceptively clever core to it.

Let me set the scene. It's early game, you grabbed an income booster first thing, and you have $4. If you burn one card you don't want from the table you can take two flips, leaving you 3 cards to choose from. Do you flip them both from the cheap deck ($1-3) knowing full well you can buy whatever you reveal, but potentially leaving something good for an opponent? Or do you flip them from the middle deck ($4-5) for a shot at a better card, knowing that they may not be a great fit for you or you may not be able to afford them at all? What about 1 and 1? Which one should you do first so your next flip is informed? How does the card you left on the table influence everything I just said? Again - the game is as simple as simple can be - but there's a push-your-luck-adjacent feeling to every turn as you weigh your options, and it gives the game a fiendishly satisfying loop.

There's a BGA implementation of this that's worth trying if you're curious. It's nice, though seems to lack the expert cards unless that's an option I just haven't spotted, and those add a layer that I think makes the game considerably better (edit: they're in there!). The smoothness of its play is a lot more apparent on a table than on the computer where everything is already done for you, by which I mean the two are barely different aside from whether or not you can taunt your friends when you flip yet another card no one can afford from the pricy stack. Of course this means in-person is preferable.

Happy City is as charming as it is smart. I have some doubt that it'll be an evergreen for me in particular, though only time will tell on that front. Its sheer speed and the added variety of the expert cards may help get it over that line and I'll be very glad if so. Regardless it's charmed me something fierce and that's worth noting.
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Wed Sep 15, 2021 12:15 am
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Crazy Town

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I'm not apologizing for the title. If I had to think of it so do you. Enforced misery.

I've talked about Butterfly before, in the thick of my "don't buy things" year when I was playing it's implementation on Board Game Arena. Well now I own it because I never stopped thinking about it, and it's still a bastard of a game. Moreish to a fault, mean as the dickens, whip smart, just the right amount of luck to indulge a degenerate gambler like me while still offering a strong strategic experience.

Also, knives. Knives everywhere. The core movement/drafting mechanism is simple as it is sharp. Move the hedgehog, decide what the next player can draft from. At 2p in particular it's just ruthless, higher it diminishes a bit as there are more options but that's fine. Point being, spikes to crash into and swords to fall upon at all times. By the end of any given game you'll often be forcing drafts that are nothing but poison. It's great.

Note I said "often". The setup varies so much that it's literally never boring. I'm well over 60 plays and it just keeps slapping. Also ridiculously fast. The box says 30-45 min and...no. Wrong on all counts, it's shorter. Much shorter at lower player counts, a bit shorter at high. You can churn plays of this easily. I've personally never played it just once, online or off, and it just gets better as folks get more confident and comfortable.

If there was any justice this would have blown up. Maybe some big board game thing somewhere will give it the boost it deserves. I like rooting for an underdog and it seems like Butterfly is one. Hopefully that changes.

...also seriously, the music video for Butterfly (the song again, I'm insisting you remember this shit) is atrocious. The one dude just bouncing around in a flower field while sporting a D.A.R.E. shirt in particular. It's appalling.
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Tue Sep 7, 2021 12:36 am
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A gift of prophecy

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Foresight is a funky standard-ish pack. The counts are the same, no changes in suit or value distribution. Where the funk resides are its card backs, which give some hints as to what's on the front. To sum it up without just putting a bunch of math out there: lower values are more likely to give their suit away, higher ones aren't but that vaguary clues you in that the card is high. Make sense?

I haven't had an opportunity to play the namesake game of this because, you know, plague. Nor have I gotten to do what I wanted to do from the get go, which was play poker with them and see how much they changed things (I reckon it'll be a lot). But you know what card game plays really well at low counts and completely changes when played with a deck that has info on its card backs? Regicide! I have an excuse to talk about it again! Hah!

The main benefit of playing Regicide this way is some communication training wheels. You aren't going to get many warnings as far as the royals you need to murder go since the suit hints are vague on high cards. By the time you get to the Kings there's just straight up no hints. That's fine, it keeps the enemy deck spicy. But being able to look around the table and get a general idea as to what people are holding? Incredible. InVALUABLE.

Mind you, it doesn't make the game overly easy by any stretch. Regicide is still hard as hell (and I still haven't won with the regular pack). But this, this I can win with! Turns out it's a lot easier to combo a noble to death when you know if and when your co-conspirator has an important piece for whatever you're trying to pull off. It's not airtight and that's by design. It just loosens the collar a bit, gives you a bit more info than the game normally permits, penalizes you just a bit less by not bonking you over the head for as many mistakes.

More than anything else it made me want to consider more fun decks to play Regicide with. Of course I'd like to play more stuff with the Foresight deck if only just to see how games designed for it work, but...look, the world needs to calm down a bit more than it currently has before I get to break out my poker chips again. In the meantime this is neat!
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Thu Sep 2, 2021 8:38 pm
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The New Classic

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Martin has an excellent Geeklist and discussion going for folks who're into the older style of euro: https://boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/288449/old-school-euros-p...

If you read stuff on BGG you've probably already seen it. What you might not have seen is how this has led to some amount of arguing, because of course it has, about what "old school euro" actually means. Never change, BGG.

I broadly agree with Martin's criteria and would trust his categorizations as much as if not more than my own, but I figured I would throw my hat in the taxonomical ring. These are the things I look for in a euro:

- light rules (not literal rule-length, but easily summarized and taught)

- clarity of goal (straightforward win conditions, not necessarily easy to achieve, not point salad though there can be exceptions)

- meaningful interaction (things the other players do need to actually matter)

- multiway conflict/competition (are you pulled in different directions?)

- 90 mins or less (longer and you risk monotony)

- strategic flexibility ("what if I try this?", "when do I pivot?", etc.)

- controlled randomness (not necessarily luckless, but often focus on mitigating or reacting to the results of a luck-based variable)

- agony/angst (either "there are so many good options but I can't do them all" or "everything is terrible and my family is starving", take your pick, things need to feel challenging)

- that feeling of satisfaction at the end (at the end of the day it's entirely subjective, none of this matters)

Not all of these strictly need to be true or present for a game to bring those fuzzy old school vibes, but they all contribute to a greater whole. One of the things about age is that it distances us from releases. We forget the also-rans of that era very easily, leaving a rose-tinted view of what we remember VS what actually existed. Calling a game "old school" comes with a certain amount of "this makes me nostalgic/scratches the same itch". At the end of the day it's entirely up to the individual what that actually entails.

But also you should play Field of the Cloth of Gold, it's really good.
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Fri Aug 27, 2021 5:10 pm
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Five

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This isn't really a review. I've only played Ten a few times, in the same way as I did Truffle Shuffle a month ago. It's more some scattered opinions. Maybe they'll be useful?

Folks who've read my stuff know that I have a soft spot for cards and numbers. Ten is that to a T all the way down to its aesthetics. I like the presentation and the plastic currency pieces but it feels...off somehow? I'm not exactly sure how to explain it, it's as if the game's aesthetics were designed by a bot. I do like the detail of having the same number of shapes on the card as the number itself. Beyond that it feels disjointed. Currency being a bunch of disc pictures as opposed to a number, wilds being a bit tough to parse if you're not the active player, etc. Certainly not bad looking, and the card quality is notably excellent.

The flowchart reads wonky and teaches worse, but in play it smooths out after about 1 full round of learning turns. We recently had a similar experience with Wind the Film. Actually, this is kind of like that in terms of feel if not mechanism, pushing how much stuff you take with failure only benefiting everyone else around the table. The difference is that Ten really doesn't care about your well-being.

There's a glaring issue with Ten that I struggle to look past. It's a push your luck game where you might just not be allowed to push. You can bust in two cards and it's not even especially unlikely. On a mechanical level the game addresses this - you get a decent amount of cash on a bust - but that makes the entire PYL element feel wonky. Players can easily get scared off and have the game dissolve into topdecking. Yes that's a choice on the part of the players, but it's also a design crit because the reason for that choice being made is the game's willingness to beat you over the head through no fault of your own. I turn into a degenerate gambler in most games like this and even I reel it in a bit for Ten.

Let's chase the negative with a positive. While the game's PYL feels a bit off-kilter, its auctions are on point. Once-around helps keep things fast paced and bids aggressive but more importantly, the game can explode into an auction at any moment. It's an ever-lurking threat of interruption that demands players pay constant attention in a genre that normally doesn't require it. That's great!

On the Flatout Games scale from Point Salad (good!) to Truffle Shuffle (bleh!) Ten sits in the middle but hangs out with Truffle Shuffle on the weekends. It's interactive in much the same way as the others, which is to say there's blocking and outmaneuvering rather than overt aggression, but in play it feels nothing like its siblings. PS and TS are both smooth-playing rules-light games with involved scoring, meanwhile Ten is the exact opposite. Explaining it is tricky, playing it feels a bit...off somehow, but the win condition is so straightforward that solid tactical decisions feel more in reach than they do in Flatout's other games. It doesn't obfuscate its information behind variable scoring or fast-moving drafts; everything is made transparently clear to everyone at all times. It's still Flatout doing "acquire these cards to make points happen", but different!

I have trouble imagining Ten becoming someone's favorite push your luck game. It isn't mine, nor is it anyone's that I played it with. It lacks the excitement, the tension, the risk that makes these kinds of games so replayable. There are certainly clever elements that are worthy of commendation but I can't look past its weaknesses: numerous unexciting turns with unpushable luck, wonky currency distribution that affects your ability to participate in the auctions, and an endgame that just kind of arrives with a slam of the brakes. For cards and numbers aficionados it may be worth a few plays to see its gears turn but I don't think we'll be talking about it long-term.
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Fri Aug 20, 2021 7:57 pm
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Some thoughts on Mariposas

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Disclaimers: In the interest of clarity I'm going to refer to the butterflies as Monarchs and the game as Mariposas. This game was sent as part of a media pack from AEG. Some sources are linked at the end.

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I'm going to briefly talk about two things in this post. First some thoughts on the actual game of Mariposas, then some notes on its handling of its subject matter. My thoughts on the former are broadly positive, the latter less so.

As a game Mariposas is solid! It lacks interaction by design with the exception of city bonuses going to the first player to flip the tile. Normally I don't enjoy games as heads-down as this very much, but thanks to cards that let you leverage each other's previous plays and the race for various goals it's kept engaging throughout. Season cards offer tricky scoring conditions to plan around and the cardplay does a good job of making the act of movement interesting turn to turn.

For me the most notable mechanism is its use of aging generations. Older butterflies die (jokes were made about butterflies rusting, shoutout to train game folks) season to season, forcing you to locate and leverage milkweed to get new generations into play and set up long-term moves. There is a bit of a thematic disconnect in how it often makes sense to have your older generations lay eggs before they fly up to Canada as there's strategic benefit to giving your 4th gen butterflies a shorter route back to Mexico, but aside from that I quite like the game's arc.

That does, however, tie into my issues with this box. The subject matter here is the sticking point: Mariposas does a poor job of being a game about Monarch migration in particular. I'm not inclined to think this is intentional - this is a complex topic with a lot of inconsistent information around it - but as presented it's far closer to ecotourism in game form than being a game "about" its subject matter.

Let's start with a very high level mechanism-adjacent crit: the cities. Cities are weighted heavily in the game; high priority areas that grant valuable cards as well as flowers. Broadly speaking they're better than wild areas unless you're looking to breed new butterflies. They're also core to many of the scoring conditions, with city adjacency/relative placement being a common goal. This is the opposite of reality in almost every way. Habitat loss is a primary cause of the massive decline in Monarch population (along with pesticide use, parasites, and poorly handled mass-breeding) and creating tourism spots out of their roosting habitats has actually done significant harm. The most help we can offer is to plant pesticide-free milkweed on property and otherwise not interact in any way, but that is not what Mariposas portrays.

Moreover, the game's use of the word "waystations" is odd. Many of them are set up in the manner I described above - natural areas maintained by humans, but with otherwise 0 interaction. They're immensely valuable in giving Monarchs places to stop in areas that have otherwise been destroyed. The conflation of these with cities is awkward at best and inaccurate at worst. Noting arboretums, conservation areas, etc. as major landmarks would have worked, but this centers our own urban landmarks and therefore larger facilities instead. I realize that's for easy recognition and geographic shorthand but Chicago isn't exactly a butterfly sanctuary.

If Mariposas was created from a perspective of conservation, it misses the mark. If it's intended to be a game "about butterflies" it would have been better served by not being about Monarch migration in particular. Mechanically the game could have been about collecting the same resources and reproducing in a garden, or a habitat, or something to that effect, and it would have lost nothing. The game would still be fun! But by choosing to center Monarchs it grapples with all the issues that topic presents, and in that regard it is wanting. I appreciate the Zoobooks-esque page towards the end that notes the struggles Monarchs have had over the last 25 years. I wish that came across in the game.

Sources:
https://www.nwf.org/Educational-Resources/Wildlife-Guide/Inv...
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S14701...
https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/article/monarch-b...
https://www.monarchwatch.org/waystations/
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Sat Aug 14, 2021 6:12 pm
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Front Bumper is Stuck

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Y'all want some real fresh first impressions? I've only played this twice! That's practically none! But I have thoughts about Mechanica, overwhelmingly positive ones, and I want to share.

Mechanica doesn't exactly hide its setting from you: adorable doombas churning out of a factory at an ever-increasing rate is your raison d'etre and it translates perfectly to the mechanisms. In motion it feels a bit like playing an old school factory sim on the PC, with its cool conveyors and adorable automatons scooting from spot to spot, encouraging you to slam strange pieces into your tableau just to see if they'll work and ideally even work well. It's playful in a way most tableau builders don't bother to be, which I appreciate.

The production isn't just a highlight, it's core to the experience. With the exception of each player's factory everything else is accessed from inside the box insert during play. Money can be a bit tough to grab out of its relatively tiny compartment but otherwise this works perfectly. But the most impressive piece is the shop wheel. Rather than move all the tiles to adjust prices after each player shops you simply turn the thing, and in an especially clever bit of product design, pieces that hit the end of the wheel are automatically dumped into the recycler (an otherwise empty section of the insert) never to be seen again. It might be the best production in terms of usability that I have ever seen. Not having to shove tiles around to adjust prices every turn is an improvement so significant that it makes other games with variable market rows seem worse by comparison. And to cap off the impressive production, this thing is so well built that putting the game away SETS UP THE NEXT GAME. You can literally start playing the moment you hand everyone a factory board.

That said legibility is an initial concern. The text on tiles and contract cards is tiny and you're not going to recognize what anything does at first. This is somewhat alleviated after a game or so as there's only 9 kinds of tile that show up in the market (plus some generics that are always available). In another engine builder having so few varieties of machine would be an issue, but Mechanica is so focused on positioning and orientation of its puzzle pieces that it ends up being more varied game-to-game than that would imply. You can spin them, place them throughout the grid, and order them differently, so I'm inclined to give it the benefit of the doubt.

I've barely even touched on how it plays! In a word: smooth. Simultaneous factory running to make robots, sell robots, and ship robots. Turns taken to go shopping for upgrades and scoot the wheel. An option to recycle tiles from the shop instead of purchasing them for an immediate bonus, meaning hate drafting is ALWAYS a possibility. There are certainly more interactive games out there but this one's use of the shop is so solid that I have little to complain about on that front.

This is one I'll be tabling for the foreseeable future. It's immediately charming and surprisingly sharp, plus it plays faster than most games of its ilk. Will it last forever? Dunno, but I also don't really care. I'm happy playing it now.
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Thu Aug 12, 2021 2:00 am
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I will not eat a single morsel of food until a eurogame makes me laugh!

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First we set the mood.



Scoffton is the rare board game that's actually funny, and not in the Munchkin or Cards Against Humanity way where each card contains a single consumable joke. The actual game radiates playfulness, its goofy premise and tone comes through in the actions you take. You score points by shoveling crappy food well past the point of excess, because you gave these people $5 and you're going to make sure they lose money on you god dammit. You take first player by bitching to the staff. You can choose to sit in your booth and prod your stomach to rearrange sets into better ones. They aren't safe if you get distracted either, because fucking around with the claw machine is a shockingly effective way to take more of the restaurant's money too. Even eating spoiled prawns can't save them from destitution; you hit the bathroom and trundle back to the buffet. Every player represents a restaurant owner's worst nightmare, a horrible insatiable beast concerned only with making food go to the dark beyond, and the only reason it's tolerated is because Scoffton itself is a shithole fated for closure. And it's hilarious.

Points are basically bullshit from a thematic perspective in every game and Scoffton doesn't magically solve that, but it does ground its "value for money" points in an understandable way. You ate more and/or better! Of course that's worth more! Deepthroating an entire loaf of bread is a bad idea when you're trying to financially ruin a restaurant, but if you plop it in soup suddenly it's classy. Dispensing soft serve directly into your coffee counts as an affogato, and those are nice right? Eating a whole cow's worth of steaks is fine and all, but chase it with some lobster tail and here comes a very special boy. The word of the day is "scuzzy". Learn it, live it, love it.

Mechanically we have some interesting divergences from traditional worker placement. Gone are the days of "place piece receive good", instead we have phases. Everyone places their pieces, then an event happens, then your meeples are resolved and removed. Crucially the resolutions are taken in turn, but not required to be in the order players placed their pieces. This serves two purposes: being able to claim things aggressively in the placement phase even if you don't want them right away, and reacting to the aforementioned event shaking things up. If you drew the bread waiter event and had irresistible rolls slammed in the back of your jugular it may behoove you to settle your stomach before actually taking that food you sprinted towards earlier, lest you digest a suboptimal combo. The event deck isn't a perfect addition and - it often unevenly affects players through no real fault of their own - but A) you know that's a factor going in and B) there are item cards aplenty to mitigate or preempt shenanigans, both from players and the game itself. It's not intended to be a hardcore strategic experience, it's intended to be a crappy buffet simulator run by staff who (mostly) hate their job and you, in which you play a black hole on legs. If you were looking for serious I'm not sure how you ended up here.

Every game is designed with at least one goal in mind. Euro and euro-adjacent games tend to have very mechanically oriented goals: a challenging optimization puzzle, making resource conversion interesting, a key twist on an established mechanism, what have you. Scoffton isn't concerned with any of that mess. Instead it repurposes parts both euro and ameritrash in service of achieving a different effect. Its goal is simply to make you laugh, and it succeeds. For me that's more valuable than any number of clever mechanical twists.
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Fri Aug 6, 2021 8:58 pm
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