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I put the words about games in the box and hit publish. Opinions and strong takes abound!

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Ok. Deep breaths. This is gonna be a lot, even if it isn't long.

I've played Dice Realms at least 10 times now. Probably more? Not by a ton if so, I just don't track these things. That doesn't feel like enough to review it just yet (which should tell you how much game is in this box), but it is enough to form an opinion and that's what I've got. It's truly great, even for a Lehmann game, and that's a wickedly high bar. His work is hit or miss for me but when he hits he hits, and my local group agrees with me on this one. I haven't had a game prod my brain the same way since deckbuilding became a thing, and in a way DR's provincial setting mirroring Dominion feels like coming home.

It's come out plenty at our game nights where we play it multiple times back to back, replaying interesting setups as we work through the various preset markets. There has yet to be a single play that hasn't left a unique impression, always positive yet wildly varied. It strikes a seemingly impossible balance of deep strategic choices as you navigate a broad tech tree and the raw thrills of gambler's high with every roll of the bones. I don't care for calling games "addictive" but what else do you call that sensation? If we were trying to keep up with other releases we'd have to regulate the damn box.

Games have also been happening at home, a quick 20-30 at the kitchen table every couple days. Importantly though, there has been no other game on that table since Dice Realms entered our lives. This is The Game Of The Moment, the one Cindy and I keep defaulting to because why pull something else when DR is right there. We've only just started randomizing setups and my god, this game gets buck wild when you let the draw bag take the wheel. It helps that there's so many options for the market that it feels like 2-3 expansions are already in the box.

That last part, plus the production, is probably why this thing's price tag is scary. You all know I'd always advocate for try before you buy and I'm going to do so here, but seriously, try this. I'll review it at some point but given that the thing is seemingly bottomless, who knows when that'll be. That said I absolutely refuse to be alone in my fascination; this game has gripped my attention like a vice. It would take something unholy levels of good to dislodge this from the top of GOTY contention.
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Sat Jun 25, 2022 1:34 am
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Almost Every GIPF Project Game Ranked

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Originally published at PixelDie (https://pixeldie.com/2022/06/08/every-gipf-project-game-rank...) with the wonderful tagline of:

Discs on a Plane


Abstract games are among the most difficult to design. A good one demands lean yet deep rules as well as varied viable tactical and strategic approaches. A great one has these qualities while also possessing arguably the most important one: moreishness. A game that keeps you coming back, that inspires a desire to master it, that leaves you excited to play more, is the best kind. Most designers would be lucky to make one game so strong, but Kris Burm is not just any designer. Kris Burm is a game design genius.

While he has done more, Burm’s most notable contribution to board gamedom is the renowned GIPF Project (I will not be capitalizing these names every time, sincere apologies in advance). Each entry is completely abstract, just pieces on a board between two players, usually discs. Each is also simultaneously completely unique, yet also built on the ever-growing foundation of the project. Standalone, yet intertwined. Basically what I’m saying is you can pick your favorites, which I’ve decided to do! I’ve played all the Gipf games with the exception of one (which will be explained when we get there), and I have opinions on all of ’em. I’m not going to explain all the rules in detail for each because those are readily available, but I will talk about interesting design tidbits and rank them at the end. Enough preamble!

1. GIPF


The original! Arguably the simplest game of the set, and even more arguably the most elegant. Push a piece onto the board from the outside. Line up pieces. Capture pieces. Don’t lose your big pieces if you’re playing the full ruleset. Eventually someone can’t make a move, which means they lose. Couldn’t be easier. And I like it! But I don’t love it.

Gipf feels and plays like the first game of its project. Its ideas, its concepts, its feel, are all iterated on throughout the series to great effect. Not all of those ideas are in any other single box – there is no true “Gipf 2” – but it feels like it has been succeeded by multiple later entries.

My main hitch with Gipf is its pacing. Impactful moves generally require setup turns in advance, with multi-stage reactions to your opponent’s plays. A significant amount of planning is necessary as a result and while individual moves are quick, the overall duration of a full game often feels like it drags. The game length itself is not the issue; 30 minutes or so is perfectly reasonable and some other games in the project take as long, but the game’s arc is often flat and sluggish. Some abstracts speed up with experience and I make no claims at being a Gipf Grandmaster, but even when watching better players play it just kind of plods along.

There is truly nothing wrong with Gipf. It is good. Were it a game entirely on its own I would likely be a bit kinder to it. But it isn’t the greatest of its line, at least not for me, and it suffers for that comparison. Gipf represents potential and that potential was seized upon, just not by itself.

2. TZAAR


Ah, the substitute. Or if you’re feeling accusatory, the usurper! For those who don’t know, Tzaar was not the first to bear its number in the project. It originally belonged to Tamsk, a game played with sand timers that as a result earned a divisive reception. I don’t know every motivation behind replacing it beyond production woes regarding the consistency of the aforementioned timers, but I know that Tzaar currently stands where Tamsk once stood.

Tzaar itself is a game of constant conflict. The board rapidly dwindles from completely full to practically empty. Every turn requires a capture in a straight line, then a choice: another capture, or strengthening one of your pieces by sacrificing another. What this means is every turn kills two pieces, which is critical when the main win condition is eliminating all of an opponent’s pieces of one kind. As pieces can only capture others that are their height or smaller, tall pieces wield significant influence. The tides of battle wax and wane, but always at the cost of feeding more pieces into the gristmill.

This game is violence. Constant aggression, furious yet measured. Two pieces will die every turn, but which and when fundamentally shifts the board state and decision space. Cannibalizing your pieces to make them stronger is as essential as it is painful, with positioning being a vital part of your considerations lest you be left with a strong piece you can barely use. Playing Tzaar well feels devilish, ruthless. It’s also the shortest to play of the project at roughly 10 minutes (no matter what the box says), meaning rematches are frequent and vengeful.

I adore Tzaar. It’s nasty, brutish, and short, all things I value in an abstract. Although I haven’t played Tamsk as a result of its unavailability and therefore can’t compare the games, I can tell you that I am a proud and dedicated Tzaar loyalist. Long live the new 2, may it reign eternal!

3. ZERTZ


Aha, the 3D discs! Can’t fool me Burm.

Zertz is a game of sacrifice. It plays like checkers, only the pieces don’t belong to any one player. Anything you capture is yours to keep, with certain combinations of captures winning you the game. Placing pieces shrinks the board, making things tighter and tighter, but the game’s big trick is that if a player can capture they must. Those forced captures still count towards winning though, which means the only way you’re going to get anything done is by gifting marbles to your opponent. As a rule I am a huge fan of games where you have to lose battles to win the war. So why is this my least favorite game in the project?

I’m ashamed to admit that part of the reason is the production. Zertz may be one of the most visually distinct of the line, but it’s also the most awkward to actually play as a direct result. Which pieces of the board you remove is a critical part of the game, but scooting circles isn’t nearly as simple to perform as removing tiles in a game like Hive. That combined with constant marble fondling means I find operating the game a smidge annoying in a series that otherwise has splendid production.

That’s small potatoes though. My main issue is that as much as I normally enjoy games of tactical sacrifice, the sacrifices in Zertz feel off. Part of making a sacrifice interesting, in my view, is it being accepted by the other player after evaluating the risks/costs. Mandatory captures take that element away, and the game is fundamentally built on and around that concept. As a result I find a lot of the game just feels like taking the opponents’ turn for them and vice versa. It’s a bit awkward, a bit uncomfortable. Of course I realize that multiple capture opportunities allow for choices within that forced capture, but when the optimal move is often to force specific captures so you can take what are essentially back to back turns I generally find concocting lines of play more frustrating than fun.

There are folks who adore Zertz. When I was working on getting plays in for this piece and mentioned I wasn’t a fan I received a comment from a former top player who did not find it nearly so unnatural. He expressed some fatigue with memorizing openings, as many abstracts force upon their players, but the respect for the design was still evident. I would never imply Zertz is poor – it just isn’t for me.

4. DVONN


Uh oh. This will be the shortest entry.

Let me start by establishing that I am not smart enough for Dvonn. There is a real chance that it is the best Gipf game at a high level. And I like it, truly. But I don’t know if I have the mental faculties get there myself.

Moreso than any other Gipf project entry, Dvonn is opaque. Oh it’s still a pure abstract, don’t get me wrong, but every single play has more long term ripple effects than can possibly be calculated. Every piece manually seeded in setup, every move made, every capture taken, ev-er-y-thing counts in large amounts. It is a temporal mindfield, where any play you make could doom you in 10 minutes and you likely won’t even know what did it by the time it happens. Is it enjoyable? Certainly! Could people get good at it? Probably??? But I’ve witnessed some folks who’ve played close to or beyond triple digits of Dvonn and still come away as confused as I have, so I don’t think I’m alone.

The Dvonn-heads out there are geniuses. A different breed, ascendant. I am not one of their kind, and I am unworthy to speak on it further. Definitely like those lil donut pieces though.

5. PUNCT


Wait, those aren’t discs. What is this?

Truly three dimensional games are a rarity. Some appear to be, only to be perfectly playable on a flat plane. Punct is not one of those. Punct genuinely forces you to think in 3D and that’s a wonderfully twisty task.

I’ve seen it argued that Punct is the most rules-intensive and therefore most inelegant of the project, but I’m not sure I agree. Manipulating all pieces based on the placement of their “punct” (colored dot) is difficult to visualize at first but far from unintuitive. It also opens up fascinating lines of play as pivoting pieces during a move allows players to attack from completely different angles. The game makes it immensely challenging to see moves in advance because of the sheer quantity of moves available – piece variety, a large board, all potential shifts, etc, yet never impossible.

It’s also just a very aggressive beast, which helps get through learning games quickly. I don’t see how you’d ever play just one game of Punct in a sitting when someone can get zonked by an unseen line of play so easily. Your first plays will somewhat resemble Hex or Blokus Duo, with players racing to build paths while blocking to the best of their ability. Eventually things go vertical as each player gets more comfortable, and it only gets better from there.

Opacity and reactive play does not indicate a lack of elegance, far from it. Punct‘s board state considerations are unique. It has to be approached as a fundamentally different game from its peers because it is fundamentally different. A piece going from an established chunk of path on the board to moving, spinning, and bridging atop other pieces, locking those down in the process in a single motion? That’s wild stuff, the kind of thing that pokes parts of the brain oft left unused. Is it like the other Gipf titles? No, but the results speak for themselves. Very underrated, very enjoyable, Punct would stand tall outside of the project but loses nothing compared to its siblings.

6. YINSH


It’s the popular kid! Just about everyone who knows the project loves Yinsh, and with good reason. It simultaneously feels completely distinct and oddly familiar. I want you to imagine Othello, mixed with Connect 4 (it’s 5 here but you can do it I believe in you), introduced to you at a park table by the coolest old dude smoking a pipe.

Play couldn’t be simpler. Your pieces are 5 rings. On your turn you put a disc down showing your color inside one of your rings, then pick up and move that ring along a line to set up future plays. Any discs your ring travels over flip over to the opposite color, no matter whose color they were showing before. If you ever make 5 in a row you remove those discs and cash them in for one of the three points you need to win, but you have to sacrifice one of your rings to do it!

That last element often contributes a bit of momentum to the other player, who now has one more vector of attack, but that doesn’t mean it feels like rubberbanding. Getting behind in Yinsh is rarely beneficial, unless of course you’ve baited your opponent into clearing an area that benefits you more to have open. But surely most players aren’t so devious…right?

Of course they are. This game has tactics within tactics, just as it has pieces within pieces. While it’s hard to make a long-term strategic plan it certainly isn’t impossible, and making strong reactive decisions that press the advantage without leaving holes in your defense is vital. Few games can make every move feel so impactful, with so many interesting moves to consider, while still being so gosh darn easy to play! It’s a wonder.

Were you expecting a twist here? There won’t be one! I like Yinsh plenty, just like everyone else. The game is just so wonderfully approachable but it loses nothing for that. There are few elements here you wouldn’t immediately recognize and understand when explained in a vacuum, but combined they create one of the most solid entries in the project. Yinsh feels the most like a modern classic, the kind of game that deserves wider success than just the hobby gaming market, and I’d love to see that happen.

7. LYNGK


The seventh entry in a six game line was always going to be an odd thing, and odd Lyngk is. It’s unmistakably a Burm design, and certainly Gipf-y, but it also feels notably distinct.

First, a complaint. I don’t love the color choices here and that’s got nothing to do with the game’s aesthetic presentation. To be clear I understand why these pieces look the way they do; this is intended to be the synthesis game that meshes all the project’s prior concepts into one, from snippets of their mechanisms down to their presentation and color schemes. Unfortunately this led to color choices that just don’t work for the colorblind. White/black/speckled is fine, red/green/blue is not. I won’t belabor this point as I’m not colorblind and was able to play it, but there are folks I’ve played abstract games with that can’t play Lyngk, and that’s a shame.

With that said the game here is compelling. Move pieces to stack them without ever repeating a color, score stacks as points once they get tall enough. The catch is that you initially don’t own pieces but can claim 2 colors as yours over the course of the game, meaning your opponent can’t move that color anymore. The standout mechanism for me is the titular Lyngk rule. It creates incentive to make odd captures in order to set up daisy chained multi-jumps along other pieces of your color, new angles of attack that no one piece can normally achieve. Reading the board is as a result a bit tricky. Your first games will likely feature fewer lyngks than later on, or only use ones that require a turn of setup immediately before. This will change with plays…or at least I suspect it will.

In an oddly appropriate bookend, much like Gipf I think Lyngk is good, but not great. I do like it, just not enough to put in the time to dig deep and see how much it changes with mastery. It’s a bit messy compared to the others, roughly equal to Punct in terms of rules load but not as interesting on the board for my tastes. There are folks with strong opinions on the project that rate Lyngk quite highly but I’ve seen vanishingly few who consider it their favorite, and I suspect I somewhat understand why.

IN CONCLUSION THESE ARE MY FAVORITES RANKED FROM TOP TO BOTTOM:


TZAAR (the single most brutal game about discs ever made)
YINSH (Othello for cool kids)
PUNCT (oof ow my brain but I love it)
DVONN (oof ow my brain except I don’t get it)
LYNGK (it’s almost a 2p train game, that’s cool)
GIPF (I mean it’s fine?)
ZERTZ (no thanks, marble checkers)


UNPLAYED:

TAMSK
(will sadly likely remain so because it’s way outta print but if anyone wants to let me play the sandtimer game please contact me on the site email please and thank you)
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Sun Jun 19, 2022 5:52 pm
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New News is Good News

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Readers rejoice: I have made a geeklist!

https://boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/297138/ramble-repository-...

This covers every new-to-me game I've played thus far this year, and will be updated as needed. I haven't gotten to try a massive quantity of things thus far which makes doing full on blog posts tricky. This, I figure, will allow me to write a bit more frequently without waiting for "enough games" or "enough plays" or "enough".

See you over there for opinions galore!
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Sat Mar 12, 2022 10:06 pm
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Tomato Town

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Time for me to renounce my high-falutin' games writer cred, and I shall do so with great enthusiasm.

Reign is a game that can only be explained by time travel. I suspect it tumbled off the back of a Toys R Us shelf in the year 2000, somehow slipping into a rift and arriving in the modern day. Inexplicably, it also attempts to capture the decidedly modern trend in battle royale games. The time stream is a fragile thing and I fear that this has caused irreparable damage to our timeline, but if a time traveler insisted I give them my copy of Reign to right this wrong I would only do so begrudgingly.

What I'm saying is this game is not particularly modern. Turns are simple: pick one of your pieces, walk them up to 3 spaces, then optionally pick up any power stones you've landed on and start fights with adjacent pieces. Combat is a straight up roll-off with modifier for how big your piece is (1-3). Those aforementioned stones can be spent to add a d3 to your movement or combat roll, but only if declared before taking the relevant action.

This is very nearly all of the rules with the exception of the battle royale chunk itself. Every X number of turns a slice of the board will be removed, killing everyone still on it. You get warned in advance. Vacate or die. The center of the board is safe, meaning every game culminates in the final pieces of each faction rolling for victory.

And man, I don't know what it is about this game. It's pure junk food, just scooting pieces and starting fights and chucking dice. But this is one I keep coming back to, one I always want another play of, one I choose over games that are "smarter" or "better designed" or "not purchasable for $12 at places like Kohl's".

I don't care. I like this stupid thing. Time capsule qualities aside it does have the advantage of being a functional dudes-on-a-map that plays comparatively quickly, usually 30 minutes or so minus the interactive setup phase where you drop all the stones and your aforementioned dudes one by one. That actually adds a pretty significant amount of variables to consider as you may load up a particular side of the board not knowing if it'll be there for long. Is that a strategy? I dunno, I'm not sure this game has a lot of that. But it feels like you're doing something, and it gives people something to care about. Isn't that enough?

Look, I've always played games with a focus on people first. Board games are inherently social. My favorite games, generally speaking, are the ones that serve as especially slippery social lubricant. Reign is not a BGG superuser's kind of game, but it's beer & pretzels as hell and makes the people I play with smile. And also me! It makes me smile! That's worth something, especially if that something is $12. Where a lot of modern games offer an interesting mechanical twist but lack a soul, Reign barges in half-drunk and mildly concussed just to hang out with you. It feels familiar, like it's always been on the shelf, an old favorite despite not being any of those things.

But when a game works I try not to question it too much. And Reign works.
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Sat Feb 19, 2022 9:08 pm
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Boston Tea Party

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After Shamans so thoroughly blew me away last year I wanted nothing more than to play more of Chaboussit's work. Glow is on my to-do list, but it was Tea for 2 that intrigued me the most. War: The Deckbuilder? A bonkers pitch to be certain, but if anyone could pull it off...

I liked this one quickly. The resolution really is, without a single bit of exaggeration, War. Simultaneously flip cards from your decks, higher number wins, ties go to the holder of The Flamingo. I will not elaborate on the rules much but that's vital to understand; you will crave The Flamingo. It's so simple in fact that Cindy didn't believe me at first, assuming this was a simultaneous selection game using a hand where you'd be forced to play your weak cards before picking them back up. No! It's War! Get flippin'!

And it works.

The winner of each flip either resolves the card's ability or goes shopping for new cards, but their purchase power is the difference between the two cards so it's not always a viable option. As such some turns just kind of happen, and this had me initially concerned. I spent a lot of mental energy in our first game tracking when "real" decisions were being made, looking to capitalize as much as possible.

And I lost.

Now, I wasn't upset by this. I love losing! But I was confused, intrigued. So we played it again a week or so later, and this time we did what I believe to be the correct way: drinking tea, chatting, occasionally yelling at each other when cool things happened, and making the most aggressive plays possible.

And I won.

But more importantly, I understood. Tea for 2 is the farthest thing from a heads-down 2p brain burner, it's a smirking jackass of a game that I enjoy every moment of. It's got those gamblers' high moments in spades as you try to stack powerful effects in your deck knowing that they're never guaranteed, or opt for high risk/high reward means of chasing points over sure bets, or just start killing your opponent's cards only to accidentally make their deck better by culling their trash for them. Sure not every turn has a choice, but I don't care when it plays this fast and its highs are so high.

Tf2 (not THAT TF2 though, this is a different one) is staying in our 2p rotation because it's a joy factory. Sure you could approach it seriously and optimize your every play, but why do that when you can reach out and slap your friend or partner? It's perfect in its niche, and more often than not that's exactly what we're looking for. Sure it isn't Shamans-good but vanishingly few games are; what it is is the poster child for "good-dumb", the kind of silly thing that pokes the happy buttons in your brain. Chaboussit you mad hatter, you've done it again.
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Sat Jan 22, 2022 7:20 pm
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Acceptablelands

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As someone who unironically uses the word "rad" in conversation I need to be careful with its application. I can't quite use it to describe Radlands. Do you realize how much restraint that takes? The taglines write themselves! This is the games-writer equivalent of a day off!

But no. Radlands is just ok. I want to lead off with the opinion because I'm going to gripe a fair bit, but I want to be clear that the game is by no means bad. As far as lane battlers go you could do worse. Or better. That's kind of the problem. See, in a vacuum Radlands is perfectly fine, but as someone who plays a lot of comparable games I just don't think it does enough to justify keeping it. I'm now going to rattle off a few things that bothered me, as well as mention some other games that do those things a bit better.

Oh quick aside: don't think of this as a review. I'd need to play Radlands way more to actually review it proper. This is more an impression after a couple games and why I don't want to put in the time. There's a chance I'd warm up to it more if I did, but I don't wanna and Cindy super doesn't.

CAMPS: I like the camps in theory. 3 super powerful abilities to shape your plays? Sure! But drawing 6 and keeping 3 is far from the most interesting way to do that, and pretty often you'll end up just selecting 3 that are reasonably efficient as opposed to a cool combo. When the cool combos do show up they tend to steamroll, overpowering the normal side of the table. If there was some kind of draft or ability for players to have agency here I'd be kinder to it, but as it stands it's a bit weak.

What does it better: Constructed/psuedo constructed games. I know this is a bit apples and oranges, but even self-contained games with a construction phase make for a much more satisfying start. GKR, Imperium: The Contention, literally any LCG/CCG with identities/characters, you get the gist.

CENTRAL DECK: This is supposed to be a benefit but it doesn't feel like one. To be frank, I think the deck is boring here. The card effects are often impactful, but because of the 1-turn delay most of the time they all end up feeling muted as mitigation is readily available while damage isn't. God help you if you just don't pull damage cards, then you're in for a constant poke 'n' block while you await lucky pulls or a shuffle. It isn't even attritional, it's just kinda limp.

What does it better: Plenty. Innovation (really any Chudyk game), Time Barons, Omen, I could go on but I won't. Cards need to do things!

SETTING/THEMING: I want to be careful with this one. The presentation of Radlands is gorgeous. Incredible art, great components that only improve functionality, attractive packaging with minimal waste. With all that said, I feel absolutely zero post-apoc theming here and I'm typically someone who gets into the "story" of games very easily. Maybe this ties into the lack of splashy effects, but every card just feels like an effect on a stick and not a character. It lacks personality.

What does it better: 51st State, somehow! Despite being a resource conversion game it has an interesting arc, with each player's tableau developing and raids taking out key pieces. You feel more invested there. Also there are several ameritrash-adjacent post-apoc games but that feels like cheating.

ZONES: This is getting into the weeds a bit but did this game need so many zones? Playing it without the playmat suuuuucks. The lanes are manageable, but the event queue and raider/water tower sections feel almost vestigial (despite the queue actually being pretty cool mechanically). I'd have preferred just removing time tokens, taking an action to put a black water token into my supply for later, anything to not have 3 more zones messing with legibility. It feels like the playmats are almost required for your first games and that's a bit crap when the game most (?) people will play won't have them.

What does it better: N/A

LANES: Why can cards attack the frontmost in whatever lane regardless of where they are? Why have lanes at all then? I understand it matters for defense later in the game but it barely comes up for the first half, aside from defending whichever camp is your favorite. This is the nitpickiest of the gripes but it never stopped standing out to me that your lanes barely matter to you, only to your opponent.

What does it better: Fight for Olympus, Omen again (weird how that keeps coming up), Air Land & Sea, Schotten Totten, Summoner Wars 2nd Edition if you just want to see positioning done well as opposed to "lanes" specifically.

CONCLUSION


Man I dunno, I guess I'm just disappointed. I feel a bit alone on not vibing with this like so many folks I normally see eye to eye with. I don't doubt its competitive viability and that it's been well developed, but I can't pretend I care for what's on offer here. Dang.

You disappointed with this outro? So am I! I guess mediocrity loves company. Sorry about that. Next writeup will be more exciting.
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Wed Jan 12, 2022 3:57 pm
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My favorite new-to-me's of 2021

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Hey! How's it going? You want yet another 2021 games writeup? Sure ya do.

This was a heck of a year. Where I was broadly not impressed with the crop from 2020 (though a 2020 game does make the list) 2021 came out swinging hard enough for both of 'em. I'm not especially interested in ranking them (ranking a set list of things is fun, arbitrarily ordering a selection of things not so much) but I'll give you some games to check out, cool?

But first, some games that I think could have made it. Not a ton to say on any of these just yet. I like them, that much is for sure, but I just haven't played them enough to give them any kind of verdict. Not even gonna tag 'em in the post so I don't bother people who care about 'em! That's how short this section will be.

Need to play more but positive first impressions:

Mechanica - I don't necessarily think this has the longest legs (or...any? do the roombas have secret legs?) but I've enjoyed my plays of it so much that I have trouble caring. Thing is, it also hasn't hit the table more than a couple times and even in those there are some tiles that seem notably dominant. We'll see!

Mind MGMT - I've played this like twice and it's probably excellent, but a game like this demands far more time than I've put in.

That Time You Killed Me - We've broken out 2/4 boxes and I like it a whole lot. Cindy isn't so hot on it but other folks I've introduced it to have found it fascinating, so I'm probably going to see the rest eventually.

G.I. JOE Deck-Building Game - I have no affection for G.I. Joe beyond the PSA dubs but I've never not enjoyed a T.C. design and this doesn't break his streak. You wouldn't know it trying to learn the game from the rulebook, but this thing plays really smoothly and offers some quality decision-making alongside some primo ameritrash flavor. Just need to see if it keeps being interesting, as well as try the harder scenario.

And hey, we still aren't starting! I also have an honorable mention, and it makes me sad.

Honorable Mention: Summoner Wars 2nd Ed.

There's an alternate timeline in which Summoner Wars 2nd Ed is my GOTY. I wouldn't go so far as to say I yearn for that timeline, but I wish I could visit sometimes. The world, or at least my current situation, just isn't conducive to giving this gem the dedication it deserves. I believe the game is worth that time, but playing it digitally just doesn't hit the same for me and without a dedicated scene to really dig deep I can't in good conscience put it on the list. Frankly it's ridiculous that it isn't, but 2021 was extremely strong. Game's good, that much I know, but it demands play I just can't seem to give it.

THE ACTUAL PICKS




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This is one of those games where I'd say you just have to try it to get why it's here, and to its credit the BGA implementation is really good for that purpose. Most new "filler" games tend to be dull set collection affairs with a single interesting mechanism that doesn't make it worth the 20ish minutes it demands. Happy City is better than that. I think it's the fact that you have agency at every step, filling the supply with cards of your choosing and selecting from your (often meager) options. That combined with extremely simple scoring (happy x people) helps players never lose track of what matters to the benefit of anyone else, or split down weird strategic paths and reduce the meaningful interaction. This is the kind of "filler" that can easily become a main as it's played again and again, and that's a sweet spot for me.



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Lovely dexterity game that does something notably different, focusing on careful pushing of pieces over application of force or gentle placement. This has won friends everywhere I've taken it, in large part thanks to its gorgeous presentation and the moment where I hand everyone their bug's special bits. Also a fantastic spectator sport. One of the few games where "optional" asymmetry does not feel quite so optional. Reviewed here: https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/2755822/kabuto-sumo-1-2-dos...



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This was a great year for trick takers and this was my favorite at 2p, a niche that's extremely hard to pull off. Asymmetric scoring conditions are all this needs to offer meaningful differentiation as well as a surprisingly well integrated theme. It's a strange one-sided tug of war, easy to learn and hard to master, and always interesting no matter what's dealt. Far more than a novelty, this 2p TT has legs.



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What a lovely 2p game. A little bidding, a lot of hand management, and heaps of conflict in its own reserved way. The notable gears here are twofold: not being able to play duplicate colors to areas, and your scoring conditions being determined by your choices during the game. It demands both players put some time in to really suss out how to advance their own board state without setting up their opponent, or at least how not to give them too much. Very much my kind of thing, and if you have a 2p partner who likes a good conflict I'd bet it could be your thing too.



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This is the first boxed narrative game I've truly liked. Not classic ameritrash "story generators", where the tale you remember is that of the actions you took and the dice you rolled, but the more modern category of games with stories to tell in a more "choose your own adventure" kinda way. Most of them are limp and their writing doesn't help. Forgotten Waters may mostly consist of quick worker placement and skill checks, but it uses that lean framework (and a well voice-acted app that doesn't make you read at everyone for two hours) to push its narrative forward, constantly giving everyone something to care about for its entire runtime. Relentlessly charming, never completely removes its tongue from its cheek, good stuff.



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If you haven't played Bullet then you haven't played anything like Bullet. That's some of the highest praise I could possibly give, but not only does it innovate, it also fully delivers on its concepts. I've played this game more than almost every other game listed here combined, in large part because it's nigh impossible to just play one game of it in a sitting. Brilliant design, I look forward to seeing where it goes with the new sets. Reviewed here: https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/2685324/bullet-click-click-...



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I finally got my fighting-game-card-game. I've been playing these for well over a decade, searching for the one that captures everything I love about the genre without all the hand pain. Yomi was almost there but is very much its own thing, BattleCON got a lot right but Exceed kinda limply flopped, and none of the others have ever come close. PP, using fewer components than any of its competitors, delivered an authentic adaptation like no other before it. Previewed (all of which holds as a review) here: https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/2505939/pocket-paragons-pre...



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I don't think I've ever had a more painful experience with games writing than when I finally, laboriously, locked out Sheepy Time so I could finally finish my GOTY writeup for PixelDie. I cannot emphasize enough how much I love this game. It deserves the limelight, and lots of it. This game has been an endless source of joy at every table we've put it on, and there have been many. I say more in the review, but seriously, Sheepy Time is one of the better board games I've had the pleasure of playing in years. Reviewed here: https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/2697583/sheepy-time-sweet-d...



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And then there was one. A trick taker, but only kind of. A social deduction game, but where you have no true friends. A great game? Absolutely. This one keeps mutating for our group with every play and I'm not sure it'll ever stop presenting new angles to attack from. Not much else to say here beyond that this one feels truly otherworldly, and that's worth the time. Written about here: https://boardgamegeek.com/blogpost/124713/shank

As a last note, if you're interested in some weird video games we also covered a bunch of those over at PixelDie: https://pixeldie.com/2021/12/29/the-2021-pixel-die-game-awar...

Thanks for reading! I'll be around.
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Fri Jan 7, 2022 2:23 pm
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Geometry Wars

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Quick note, wrote another review! This was for The Loop, a rare coop that actually won me over thanks to remembering to be fun: https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/2772262/loop-lets-do-time-w...

Anyway, blog!

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Earlier this year we played several games of Square on Sale week after week, and while we haven't played it recently (or much else to be honest, life has been busy) I wanted to put some thoughts out there.

Auctions in this are high-impact. SoS's system is fairly simple but unconventional: you can only bid once per turn, on one space, and then you set a turn 2 timer on it. When it gets back around to you it ticks down to 1. One more round, then congrats! You win the thing! But at any point in those two rounds someone can come along and outbid you, and if they do they steal the timer -where it's at-. Having a one round timer yanked out from under you feels agonizing. Sure you get all your money back, but your tempo! Your precious tempo!

Winning spaces is where your points are going to come from. Where things get spicy is the chaining. If you win a spot and there are any un-won spots between that space and another one you currently own, you get to plop squares on ALL of those. It's by far the most efficient way to get your pieces out, and since leftover squares all ding you for -1 at the end you'll want to make that happen. This is a major motivator to outbid people, even if it's expensive, because any given win could compromise your board state. The game swings back and forth constantly, repainting the blocks throughout, but losing a foothold in key areas makes swinging it in your favor particularly difficult. So it's a game of picking your battles, writing off acceptable losses, and knowing when to take a hit to stake your claim.

There are a lot of little things that I've glossed over. The way recollecting your money works (in a word, slowly), how different areas of the board lock your cash up, the initial seeding of bonus point "beans" to incentivize people playing for the center of the board. All of these matter in play, but writing about them too much distracts from the feel of the thing. Keeping your head about water, counting your rapidly dwindling dollars, evaluating the board for chain opportunities, scanning your opponents' coffers to figure out how high you need to go to get that critical spot without tossing your whole bank account at it. And all while keeping pace, maintaining tempo. Always tempo. It's a balancing act where everyone will fall off the tightrope a couple times only to bounce right back up from the net, socking an opponent on their way.

Square on Sale is just fascinating. There aren't a lot of completely deterministic games that feel this breezy without sacrificing an ounce of strategy, manage to never have a dull turn. Winning feels like you've pulled one over on everyone else, losing always comes with clear feedback in hindsight, and regardless of the result it's a good use of a game night.
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Wed Dec 15, 2021 1:50 am
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Shank

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Real quick aside, I've written a good amount of stuff recently and make a point of crossposting on BGG but I haven't been announcing it here lately because I don't know what "self-promotion" means. Here's some recents:

Kabuto Sumo - https://pixeldie.com/2021/09/29/kabuto-sumo-review/, https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/2755822/kabuto-sumo-1-2-dos...

Cuphead: Fast Rolling Dice Game - https://pixeldie.com/2021/11/03/cuphead-fast-rolling-dice-ga... , https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/2755824/cuphead-fast-rollin...

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Now this, this is something special. Cards and numbers afficionados take note, this one's claims of being different are not just marketing fluff. I've never played anything quite like this and several plays have only left me wanting more.

Shamans is a fusion of trick taking and hidden roles, but it doesn't play like a social deduction game. Think of your role as an assigned bid: most players are shamans who want to follow suit and play nice, but 1-2 (depending on player count) are shadows that are looking to play off-suit and tank the hand. The game isn't a must-follow meaning you can just play whatever at any time, and every card that doesn't follow the lead moves the group closer and closer to a shadow victory.

There are, of course, some additional bits. The player who tossed in the lowest on-suit card each trick gets a token. This could let them reveal their role to the table, or help earn them additional points, or nudge the track, or even give them a knife they can use to just eliminate a player later in the hand. There's more rules to that than I feel like summarizing, but the exciting part is that if a shaman is killed the track gets shoved as far as the number of cards they're holding. This means both sides very much like knives for very different reasons, and hands often involve some amount of cold war-esque arming of weapons just to signal to the table that you mean business.

But what really makes this is that, like any trick taker, you're playing several hands. And that means the roles are also re-dealt. So instead of being stuck hiding your role for 20-30 minutes you're given the fullest extent of the excitement both genres can offer. At the end of the day the winner is the individual who hits 8 points first, not a specific "side", so it's likely you'll end up on different teams from hand to hand and need to balance helping your pals with looking out for #1. Selfishly grabbing points from tokens or bonuses can be worth more than winning a hand, especially if it means you don't have to share with your "friends".

Shamans has lodged itself in my brain like a ritual dagger. It's our group's current obsession, one that's hit the table several weeks in a row and that we are nowhere close to fully understanding, much less fatiguing on. It's the rare case of a genre mashup highlighting the strengths of all its parts, while also creating something truly original, and I'm grateful it exists.
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Tue Nov 30, 2021 1:39 am
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Swamp Ass

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Man. Maaaaaaaaaan. Remember when I wrote about Furnace a while back I said I adored its core mechanism but not the game around it? This is that again, but possibly even more painful. This game was announced almost 5 years ago and I have no idea why it took so long, but I guess it wasn't in development hell because this thing has problems.

Folks who've read my stuff know I love to see inventive ways of utilizing roll & move. Bayou Bash, to its credit, has an excellent one. Combinations of dice and resources are on cards, which are drafted from last place to first. This means first player is typically handed the dregs. It's a very organic, interesting way to approach rubberbanding that never feels forced like many catchup mechanisms do. Add in that the deal is players +1 so the last player also gets to burn a card for additional control and wow! That rules! Surely the actual game will too, right?

No. Wrong. Absolutely not. The enjoyability begins and ends with the draft. Turns are slow, chockablock with fussy rules and far too many triggers to resolve. Combat feels like an obligation rather than a priority. The dynamic of fans (VPs) storming the track and being vulnerable is interesting in theory, but in practice it just means everyone's score is ambiguous until the end. And perhaps most egregiously, the terrain obstacles do nothing but frustrate and potentially force turn-loss. That's not something the draft can solve either, because even if you're in last you still may not be able to unstick yourself from a crappy position without using racer abilities that may not be availed to you.

It sucks because BB is so close to doing something really cool with that core mechanism. I think some heavy house ruling and shorter tracks than the rulebook recommends could make it much more enjoyable. But there are already far better racing games, games with quick turns, games that feel more like a race and less like constantly adjusting a common ledger. I'm not going to spend more time on one that still needs work.
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Sun Nov 21, 2021 2:30 pm
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