As I've done the last two years, It's time for my top five games of 2021. The problem with most top end of year lists is that nobody has played every game of the year or even every year that could potentially hit the list. I've resolved this by completely ignoring the year published. These are the top 5 games that I've acquired in 2021. They might not all have been published in 2021, they might not even be new to me games in 2021. But if it is a new to me game in 2021, unless it's really new or impossible to find, I will likely have purchased it anyway.
5 - 1861: The Railways of the Russian Empire - I ignored 1861 for a long time. I thought it was fired by 1867: The Railways of Canada, a game that, after the shine wore off, was good, but not great. That's a mistake, because I've decided 1861, especially with the new simpler state rules, is a lot more interesting than 1867. The minor trains vary greatly in quality, which means the auctions matter and players will inevitably start in very asymmetrical modes. The more I play 1861 the more interesting strategies I discover, I particularly love all the tricks you can do with train shuffling and loans. You have to keep an eye out for long term strategy, because those big long runs at the end of the game are very likely picking the winner. If you like engineering style 18xx, you really can't do much better than 1861.
4 - The Crew: Mission Deep Sea - You'd think that after almost 100 plays of the original The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine, I'd be tired of it, but I'm not. Mission Deep Sea brings more replayability and a more significant amount of variety in the missions. Sometimes this causes degenerate games (Which is why I might recommend the first title to newcomers first), but other times you get to see something new and fun. There is no way this doesn't reach triple digit plays, like the original.
3 - Maskmen - The second card game on this list, who'd have thought that someone could make a trick taking game with cards that don't have any numbers? While I'm at it who'd have thought someone would make a successful game about partial orderings. Someone did, and it is amazing.
2 - Beyond the Sun - I'm glad to put a traditional Euro game in here. Tech Tree the game is completely in my wheelhouse, and nobody seems to have done it as successfully as Beyond the Sun.
1 - Dual Gauge - Here it is, my 2021 game of the year (Released in 2020). Dual Gauge is the cube rails game I've always wanted. Although its technically more of a hybrid between 18xx and cube rails. I would rather play the blandest Dual Gauge map over any of the popular 3 Capstone games (Two by the same author as Dual Gauge), and the game now has 4 (soon to be 6 maps). Each map gives genuinely different experiences.
This is a very solid collection of games. I want to pretend 2021 was a down year, but I'll take those five any year. Furthermore, I acquired 29 new titles this year and have 13 already on preorder for next year. This is the reason why when I mark as many games as "avoid" as I did last month, I really don't have concerns. Its still a great time to be gaming.
ShipShape reminds me a lot of Friedeman Friese's Fiji. Its a blind bidding game with a chaotic tie breaker mechanism that turns the entire game into chaos.
In ShipShape you're bidding for ship hulls, all of which are stacked so you can see all of the top item up for bid, but decreasing amounts of information for anything below that. Players then secretly bid for items. Any ties are set aside. Then the non-tied players get a tile in score order, followed by the tied players after a tie breaker round. Due to the tie breaker rules its nearly impossible to tell if you're going to end up first or last, even if you bid high.
ShipShape is a lightweight game. The chaos is intended to be a feature. That's fine, I actually like Fiji. It isn't the greatest game in the world, but it does what it does well. In fact, I like Fiji so much that when I'm in the mood for a chaotic auction game, I'll take that one over ShipShape.
Coatl is a drafting, recipe fulfillment game. The highlight of the game is that recipes are fulfilled by completing colorful dragons built with plastic drafted bits. These dragons are stunning to say the least.
The game itself, is unfortunately, nothing particularly special. If you really like drafting recipe fulfillment games, Coatl is competent. But there's nothing to make it stand out. You draft colors of pieces that match the recipes you have, possibly draft more recipes that hopefully match other recipes and then you're done.
I do want to warn that Coatl becomes both too long and too chaotic at larger player counts. I enjoyed it at two players, but found it painful at four.
Unsettled is a highly themed cooperative game about trying to survive strange planets in a bizarre sci-fi universe. Its nice to see one of these games set in a sci-fi world -> I'm getting tired of "Sword of Alagonia: Elves vs Orcs" or whatever you want to call the latest uninspired dungeon crawl. I only played one scenario of Unsettled, but the plot was absolutely hilarious.
Your characters are the worlds worst scientist. And being terrible scientists in a world with a strange alien landscape is not a good recipe for survival. So they get into trouble. Part of me wants the characters to just die due to their stupidity.
That part was satisfied. Unsettled is not an easy game. Players start with a goal, and in about three seconds they are dealing with all sorts of crisis and they don't have time for the original goal. Then you solve the thing that's in front of you and two other problems show up.
A friend described it as an Exploration Catastrophe Puzzle and that's exactly what it is. Just note that the catastrophe word there is the biggest word. If you're not willing to accept the chaos and the luck this won't be the game for you. For me, I don't mind chaos and luck as long as its a good time.
Rating: Play Again!
In Dive, a stack of blue tinted but otherwise transparent cards are stacked in the middle of the table. Some of these cards have sharks or other creatures. The point of the game is that as you look down on the transparent cards you can sort of make out how deep the sharks and creatures are, but not easily. Players then make bids on how deep the sharks are and what the odds are of getting good creatures on these depths. If you're good at it, you get more points than if you're not.
Dive is such a creative idea that I can't help but enjoy its existence. My main problem of dive is that although the first play was great fun, by the end of the game, it had nothing else to offer. You just do the same thing over and over again. Eventually this same thing gets tiring.
Still, I think if it gets pulled out every once in a while, its short enough that I can see myself enjoying it again. It probably works especially well in a family setting as well.
Rating: Play Again.
Master Word is Mastermind with words. Kudos to the designer for making that very clear in the name of the game. It means that players familiar with Mastermind will be able to pick up most of the rules just from the title without needing a rules introduction.
To be more specific, Master Word is a mix of Mastermind and 20 Questions. Players get to write cards with an idea, a word, or whatever, and the mastermind gets to tell the players how many of the cards the players wrote match the secret word. That continues until players decide to guess or they run out of turns.
Master Word satisfies the party gamer. When we played at a con, lots of people kept looking over and watching us play as we were all having a great time. It also satisfies the word and deduction gamer. Trying to figure out which words match with which is not always easy, especially for the harder levels. Its satisfying when you figure it out.
Originally, we meant to play a couple of games and then move on to something meatier. Instead, we stuck to this game for about two hours. Great fun.
Rating: Play Again!
A couple of posts ago, I made my play of the month a trick taking game called Was sticht?. It mixed drafting with trick taking and added variable goals for an unexpected mix that both succeeds and feels very fresh. Strangely, until now, I can't think of anyone else who had tried that mix. Reapers mixes drafting with trick taking and added variable goals!
If you a regular reader of my blog (why?), you're probably expecting me immediately dismiss Reapers as being derivative and not as worthy a the original design. I'm not going to do that. While they share a lot of mechanisms, Reapers is different enough to be worthy.
Reapers mostly simplifies Was Sticht?. The draft doesn't have a deduction element and plays very fast because players draft three cards at a time. The variable goals are simplified and not drafted - essentially there's three options: Get the least tricks, get the second most tricks, and no bid. Each of these give you a varying number of points. You can win by no bidding and trying to take all the tricks and you can win by getting very few tricks and getting the award for that. The important part is that different players have differing goals which makes for a great dynamic.
Its hard to play Was Sticht? with anyone but serious gamers. There's too many rules, too much meanness, and too much confusion. I love it, but it can only be played in specific audiences. I'm all about a simplified Was Sticht? .
The real problem is that Reapers had a very limited print run and I suspect most people won't have a chance of acquiring it.
Tutankhamun is a rework of Tutankhamen with a minor amount of extra rules and a few special tiles. The original Tutankhamen is a fine, but unspectacular game. Its main draw is that it invented the time track, where you can only move forward and anything you leave behind you can never get to.
I really love the time track and I'm happy it has been used in a number of other games because the simple area majority scoring in Tutankhamen didn't do much for me.
Tutankhamun adds special tiles that, sadly, don't add anything interesting to the game. If anything they make it a little worse as it makes it a little less clean. It also uses a much murkier color palette that I strongly dislike over the nice simple look over the original. This affects gameplay - It is much easier to look at the original board and understand what is going on. I'm all for making a game pretty, but it has to be functional too.
You can't help but love these chunky pieces.
I bet you've never heard of this one! I got Malawi off an auction because it sounded and looked different than most other things I have. Its a two player abstract game about getting to the other side of the board.
Malawi has two twists: The big one being that each piece in Malawi moves as many spaces as it has dots. It cannot move less, and pieces block. Players can spend a turn redistributing the dots of a piece but its an entire turn that you don't get to move. The second twist is that when you capture, you capture dots but not the piece and the piece stays in the table blocking everything. It may even come alive again if dots are redistributed.
I know two player abstract games are not loved by most boardgamegeek readers, but my wife and I really enjoy them. We were particularly interested in that Malawi plays very different than the myriad of other abstract games we play.
Our first few games of Malawi were tense and entertaining affairs. Around game four, however, we ended the game in a draw. Game five as well. I'm a little concerned that as we get better, Malawi will always end in a draw. If that is the case, Malawi isn't going to spend much time in my collection.
If I'm wrong and games lean towards being as dynamic as the original games we played, then I'm very enthusiastic about it. I don't think I'm wrong, but I'll give it a few more plays before I give up on it.
Rating: Play Again. (Neutral if draws continue)
The Floor is Lava is a kids game about exactly what you expect. Players can't touch the floor or they lose. The game involves a bunch of plastic pieces of different colors that you throw on the floor. Players are supposed to race to a specific color without touching the rest. As the game progresses you remove pieces to make things harder.
Jumping from one plastic piece to another is fun, but is it more fun than just playing the traditional floor is lava with the couch, a bunch of chairs, and a random destination? No, I don't think so. So why bother getting this?
18FL is a short, low player count 18xx game set in Florida. It is beginner friendly in that there aren't a lot of rules and money is loose. I've mentioned before when talking about other 18xx games that I certainly don't mind beginner friendly games, but they must also be interesting for non-beginners because I'm no longer a beginner. Its not that a beginner only game isn't useful and worthy, its that it's not useful for me and my ratings are personal. Unfortunately, I do not believe 18FL successfully provides an interesting game for non-beginners, at least not in the long term.
Money is so loose that nobody will have trouble getting new trains, and stock shenanigans are mostly non-existent. This means 18FL is an engineer's game. There's some interesting tokening shenanigans that can happen right at middle of the map in Orlando If you're cut out of there, the map is split in two for you, at least for a bit. Orlando itself, however, is not a particularly high value destination however, which means it doesn't become this big vacuum center of everything like many other games (1822: The Railways of Great Britain or 1832: The South for example).
18FL comes with 4 privates with the weirdest bidding mechanism I've seen. You can bid 0 or 10. Everyone who ties in the bid drafts in turn order. 10 isn't a big deal exactly, so why did they not just make it a draft and skip this silly bid?
The privates are interesting, but there's only 4 - one per player which brings me to my biggest problem with 18FL: There isn't much variety between games. 1846 wouldn't have the long legs it has if it only had one unchanging private per player. I enjoyed my one play of 18FL, the map is interesting and the game breezes by. But next time, I'm going to see the same problems and they aren't all that many.
Maybe I'm wrong. A lot of people complain that 1846: The Race for the Midwest isn't replayable which in my mind is ridiculous. Maybe as I play this more I'll find hidden depth. But I doubt it. Its too small a map with so little variety. I'll happily play it one or two more times, but I can't imagine doing more. Doesn't mean it won't work for beginners.
Rating: Play Again.
GAME SESSION OF THE MONTH
This month, I played three games of the original Fresh Fish. One went ok, but the other two went fantastically well. The thing about the original Fresh Fish is that the way roads develop in the game is what makes it special. Its also incredibly hard to parse in the first couple of plays.
Fresh Fish is a game about building a city and placing your outlets as close to the factories as possible. Doing this is tricky because closeness is defined as distance using roads, and roads are dynamically placed as the game progresses. You could have a building physically next to a factory and it could still be miles away by road.
Placing roads is where the game gets tricky. The following two things need to happen: (1) All outlets and factories must have at least one exit to the road, and (2) all roads and grasslands must be connected. If you can prove that building a building on a particular location will break any of the following rules, it gets turned into a road.
First time players are going to have a really hard time figuring how to prove that roads go where they go, and similarly, they are going to have a hard time figuring out what locations to reserve and what to bid on outlet locations. Once you figure it out however, it is a very original and satisfying mechanism. I love it so much that I'm even willing to get past the fact that this is a blind bidding auction game. I strongly dislike blind bidding, but I will play this any time.
There was a remake of Fresh Fish done a few years ago that keeps the auction but removed the road building. It is well loved, but I can't imagine Fresh Fish with its the most innovative feature removed.
This is my blog. I'll post things I feel like sharing here on a irregular basis. So far, I've used it to give my first impressions of new games that I play.
- [+] Dice rolls
I wrote this blog post in September of 2018. As I was going back through my old posts, I had the realization that I never hit the post button. I could dump the post and pretend it never happened, but I don't want to do that.
So... Just pretend its 2018... and I just discovered this set of new games.
I did not expect to like this as much as I did. I mean, I expected to like it - I have Age of Industry and think highly of it. But this is the best version of Brass: Lancashire on the market.
Like Age of Industry, it smooths out some of the wrinkles of the base game and then adds a few more resources types. Without going into detail however, the two biggest changes are not necessarily in the rules, but in the feel of the game. First money: It is much looser than both parent games. I decided to concentrate early on money and was swimming in it fairly early. But then here's the thing: That's not a winning strategy. Unlike the other games, money is worth nothing at the end of the game. More money does not mean more victory points and forcing myself to run a tighter engine would have given me more opportunities for VPs.
The end result, in my mind, is that this game is great for beginners as they won't be teetering on the brink of despair for their first game, but also great for advanced players as, umm, they will.
The second change in terms of feel is the map itself. Its a great big area with lots of juicy places to go in the middle of the map. But you don't want to get stuck in the middle of the map (I did. It cost me the game), because then you won't have access to the coal markets on the edge of the map. This caused much maneuvering on the board as people rushed to get to the places they needed to get to. In these types of games, I like the map to actually matter, and It mattered more than nearly all other maps of the system (Possibly tied with Japan).
I always enjoyed Brass but felt that it was a little too fiddly for its own good. I love Age of Industry but find that the cards that can place in entire regions are less interesting than individually named cards. This game wins on both counts. As a bonus, it also scales well with 2-4 players.
Do I need yet another Brass if I own Age of Industry and 8 maps for it? Yes. Definitely.
After the Virus has everything going against it. First of all, is the horrible bobble-head art. Second, it's made by the same designer as Terraforming Mars, a game that everyone loves but me. Third, it's a cooperative deckbuilder. So far, every cooperative deckbuilder I've played has lost it's luster after a handful of plays.
I can safely say that After the Virus can get past a handful of plays, because we couldn't put it down. In fact, we played it a whopping eight times in a row in order to beat scenarios 1a, 1b, and 1c. Admittedly, some of these plays lasted 10 seconds. (First turn - I drew 4 zombies, you drew 3. Umm. Ok lose, reshuffle and play a new game).
But that brutal difficulty is part of what drew us in. There's no time to build up your engine and set yourself up for the upcoming onslaught. The onslaught is here and it will punch you in the face on the first turn. You don't have time to deckbuild anything and yet at the same time, you really need to get some minimal semblance of an engine going.
Furthermore, unlike many other deckbuilders, a thin deck is a bad idea, and you are constantly trying to get as thick a deck as you can before the reshuffle. The reason is that every time you reshuffle, more and more zombies come in to your deck, until they will inevitably overwhelm you. And they will overwhelm you.
On the whole, After the Virus takes tried and true deckbuilding and makes it feel different. The best I can compare it to is XenoShyft: Onslaught. But After the Virus is a tighter package, lasting about 3 times shorter and containing a whole slew of different scenarios that require the players to vary their strategy.
Rating: Play Again!
A microgame very much in the style of Love Letter. In this game everyone is trying to prove that they are the real Cinderella by creating rules on what Cinderella may or may not be. For example, one pplayer may submit a rule: Cinderella is not blonde. And if all your Cinderella candidates are blonde then maybe you might want to veto the rule. Unfortunately you only have one veto.
If you like Love Letter, you should get this. I found the theme and the gameplay both more enjoyable than the groundbreaking microgame. But for me, I've always wanted a little more strategy from my games even if they are 5 minutes long. So I enjoyed playing this, but wouldn't really seek it out
How many times do these designers need to redevelop Twilight Struggle? Its crazy to me that they've done it three times now (13 Days: The Cuban Missile Crisis and 13 Minutes: The Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962). The first two versions were enjoyable enough, so I wanted to see what was done here.
The biggest change is that in the other two games, spatial information is irrelevant. Both games increase the tension by adding the possibility of nuclear war if you play too aggressively. This one ditches that, but brings in the missing spatial element. The map is drawn dynamically by players putting cards orthagonally next to the other, but once it is drawn you can only place units next to a place you're in already. Thus as the game progresses, chokepoints start showing up and you have to protect them.
I admit I really miss the nuclear war part of the series. However, the thing that took the game down some notches from the other two is that a lot of the special actions are specific to a location. Things like "The US places a unit in Iran". If your opponent gets that card before Iran is on the table, then the action is useless for you. This added a sense of luck in the card draw order. It also makes it so that the number of interesting decisions to be made is reduced, which is strange in a game which wants to give you as many decisions in as few minutes as possible.
Don't get me wrong, there are some good fun decisions to be made. And like the other two games, memorizing the deck gives more thought and depth. But in comparison, this comes in third, and I'm ok with just owning two of them.
Rating: Play Again.
Avenue is a "Draw and write" game that contains many of the same ideas as all these roll and write games that are now flooding the market. You are drawing a card and then drawing the road shape of that line on your card. Eventually scoring happens and if your road has connected the city being scored and enough berries, you gain points.
Like many games of this ilk, its all about pressing your luck. You can build segments of your road prematurely and then hope the right card shows up that connects the segments, or you can play it safer and build a less optimal road that covers smaller berries but maybe can connect earlier. You can also pass, in which case you get to peek at a future scoring city.
Basic stuff really, and it works great as an opener for game night since there's no limit to the number of players at the same time. I'm not going to say that this is the best roll and write game I've ever played, but I'd play this any day. Now I'm curious how this compares to new hotness Railroad Ink: Deep Blue Edition.
Rating: Play again.
How many pentominoes games can the market bear? Apparently one every month. Yes, this game does vary up the formula in somewhat interesting ways. What you are trying to do now is surround specific squares of the board that have scarab drawings in areas containing four or fewer spaces (You score the number of spaces, so you really want exactly four). This is actually a surprisingly difficult task, and the game flows very well.
I enjoyed my single play of this game, but it's just one too many polyominoes games for me to get it into my collection. Even if it brings some new ideas to the field. And yet, I would happily play someone else's copy.
Rating: Play Again
You have no idea how excited I am that this exists. Not specifically because of this game, but because this is something like the fifth Knizia game this year. It's no longer a one off thing. The best designer of all time is back and I am ready to consume all his delicious ideas.
Or at least most of his delicious ideas. While quite a bit of Knizia's titles are, for me, in the top tier of games (Ra, Tigris & Euphrates, Blue Moon, for example), some just never worked for me. Through the Desert falls into that category. I understand that it is heavily regarded for being a thematic multiplayer variant of GO. But I think I'd just rather play GO. Blue Lagoon, is essentially Through the Desert with more stuff added, including a second "era" that reminds me of BRASS. That's actually pretty cool. In fact, really fantastically cool.
The thing that isn't so cool is that the game now has gone full point salad. I know a lot of people love point salad and that's fine, but I find that it reduces clarity in a game without necessarily adding depth. Without a good reason, I'd rather have a direct way of scoring victory points.
So, in summary. If the idea of Through the Desert + point salad + multiple era's sounds good, the you should get it. For me, only the latter item sounds good and that's not enough.
This is a solo game pretending to be a cooperative game. The game consists of a bunch of wooden blocks that you are trying to fit in a palette. Every turn you draw a tile that tells you what kind of wooden block you can place and then you do so. Points are awarded for how filled in the bottom 5 floors of the palette is.
So far, I've described a game that, while not bad, is not exactly screaming for attention. There's quite a bit of luck on the order that those tiles are drawn. So here's the bit that I think screams for attention. After you've played the game and put all the blocks in as well as you can, you can flip the same order tile cards and try again. Now that you know the tile order, can you beat your original score?
This detail is a fantastic idea. Makes me wonder why other games of similar styles don't do this. Lots and lots of kudos to the designer for coming up with this, now obvious, solution to minimize luck in these types of games.
Rating: Play Again
Brothers is a variant on your traditional fill the space until you can't place anywhere. Probably the best version of this game is Hippos & Crocodiles by Nestorgames. Brothers adds an extra phase to this game by letting you create the area where you're placing your units as part of the game. Which to be honest is not that interesting. It also adds team based play, but given that there's no hidden information its about as team based as having two players alternate picking the move in any two player game in existence.
The pieces that players are placing are very simple. One side places 3 square straight lines, and the other side places 3 square 'L's. It becomes quite clear that the straight lines are much harder to place. So the game tries to fix this by giving double points to the player who is placing the Ls (points are bad) for each piece they don't place. Additionally, it is recommended that players play two games one on each side and then add up the scores at the end. In other words, the game isn't balanced at all.
Which is fine, I suppose. A bigger problem is that I never found any particularly deep strategy. There are only so many ways to organize these simple pieces. I would do better on my second game than in my first, but I'm not entirely sure that I would do better in my 10th game over my 5th. In an abstract game this short, this is not good enough if you're a gamer. So I recommend you stick with the Nestorgames version.
- [+] Dice rolls
That's not actually true, there are a number of first impression in this post that I actually enjoyed and regard highly. However, I've never actually had four avoid ratings in one post. I've started thinking about why this is the case and I've come up with a number of theories:
First: I didn't do my research ahead of time. Normally I spend hours going through Essen releases deciding which ones I want to play and which ones I don't. This year, since I knew a lot of the Essen games were not going to be available at my local con due to global shipping issues, I didn't bother. Instead I randomly sat down to play whatever was available. This wasn't a bad thing, and I enjoy playing bad games with good people as well as exploring new games for the first time even if they are bad.
Second: Total luck I know the games I'm writing about in the next blog and I currently expect no more than one if any avoids. It just so happened that a set of mismatching stuff.
Third: The industry is producing more games that are less interesting to me. This again is not a bad thing. There's more than enough games that tickle my fancy and if the industry is making games that other people enjoy as well that's fine.
There's also the possibility that this was a down year for Essen releases in general, but that remains to be seen; There's still some real interesting Essen games that haven't made it across the pond that I hope to try.
Regardless. here's my list of this month's first impressions:
Small Railroad Empires is a very small 20 minute pick up and deliver game. Players are given a map with Factory locations and destination cities and they build train lines to connect the two for victory points. Ideally you want to do long connections because they give you more points.
Nothing stands out about Small Railroad Empires. Its a pick up an deliver game like many others. There isn't any particular twist to the game. On the other hand, Small Railroad Empires plays smoothly and fast, and there's no big glaring design mistakes.
I also want to highlight the expansion maps. Each expansion set has four pre-made maps all tied to a particular geographic area. I opened the first set and saw great variety between the maps. This is a pretty fantastic deal - I don't typically see four maps on one expansion set. I also wonder if the expansion maps provide the excitement that the base game does not provide. If I play it again, I'll reassess.
The only reason why I have never played Um Reifenbreite is that at one point I had to chose between one cycling game or the other and I chose Breaking Away. I don't regret making that choice. Breaking Away is a fantastic game that's a little too hard to get nowadays. These are very different games. Breaking Away is all about math, calculating the perfect drafting numbers, and predicting what your opponents are going to do. Um Reinfenbreite instead has two die that you get to roll to determine how far you get to travel.
That's right, Um Reifenbreite is a roll and move game. There's all sorts of ways to mitigate the roll of the dice, however, including special cards and drafting. There's also some really interesting mechanisms involving climbs and descent that certainly add a lot of strategy to this game.
What really makes Um Reifenbreite chaotic are actually the event cards and not the rolling. Event cards range from "Fall and lose your turn" to "Roll an extra dice and move even farther". They change everything. It reminds me a little bit of the new Supercharged game. That one also has some really interesting drafting rules and incredibly nutty event cards. I've been told the game plays fine if you just remove the event cards and I might try that in the near future for less chaos.
Anyway, as long as you don't take it to seriously, I must admit you can't help but enjoy it when half of the bikes crash in a massive pile up. Having said that, I do wonder if this has a permanent place in my collection. I can see how the randomness could get old after awhile. Maybe. We shall see. Enjoying the ride in the mean time.
Rating: Play Again!
Cascadia is a tile laying game that is all about balancing two types of scoring: land and creatures. Every turn there is a draft where you get to pick a land and creature pair. Inevitably the perfect land tile will be paired with an unhelpful creature and the reverse. If you, like me, only concentrate on one side and not the other, you are sure to lose. You need to balance the two scores and, I admit, its quite fun to do so.
Cascadia is a family weight game that compares to the recent Calico in many ways. I personally prefer it to Calico. There's a few ways to mitigate the luck of the draw in Cascadia that does not exist in Calico, and the paired drafting is more interesting than a single tile drafting.
Is it good enough for me to buy? I'm not sure. There's a lot of games in this family weight tile laying category category. The classic, Carcassonne, for example. I enjoyed it nonetheless and in a year that doesn't have a lot of standouts, Cascadia might be one of the better ones.
Rating: Play Again!
Jetpack Joyride is a 10 minute speed puzzle game about placing Tetris pieces sequentially in a board. Each piece needs to be connected to the previous piece, and your goal is to get to the end of the board as fast as possible. This is made a little harder by the fact that the board is full of obstacles to avoid and gold coins to prefer. Also, there's variable goals every game.
Jetpack Joyride is one of those games where the description of the game does a great job at conveying what the game is and what it feels like. If you like speed puzzle games, Jetpack Joyride is lots of fun. If you don't like speed puzzle games, then you should stay away.
Personally, I'm in the middle. I find many of them to be fun, but like saccarin, the fun weans away quickly. Jetpack Joyride was exactly this. I loved two plays of it. After that, I don't think I'll be looking forward to more. Everything Jetpack Joyride offers has been experienced.
My favorite speed puzzle game is Galaxy Trucker. That one has survived the test of time for me. Jetpack Joyride is simpler and more family friendly, so there's room for it, just maybe not in my collection.
Rating: Play Again.
TEN is a push your luck card game. Players draw cards trying to get as many cards they can get that add up to 10 or less. If they draw past that, then they get nothing that round. To add complication the game also has a money economy and you can use money to bid for auctions for wildcards or buy any card that a player failed to get due to a bust.
I wanted to like TEN because its the type of simple creative game that has been a success on my table in the past. TEN is a nice streamlined solid game, but I can't say it excited me. Part of the problem is that in our game, too few of us busted, which meant that we were all cash rich and then the economy wasn't interesting. We kept bidding large amount for most auctions because that was the only use for money.
It made TEN feel off somehow, and not in a good way. It could be that we just had an aberrant play, but as a first impression I can't give its high marks.
I feel a little for the designers of Red Rising. They come up with a great idea and develop it for months, and then it comes out at the same time as Fantasy Realms. They both share the same basic mechanism.
Red Rising adds more complexity and some extra scoring tracks, but none of these things actually add any depth to the game. Surprisingly, the cards for Red Rising are also less interesting that Fantasy Realms which means that even if they were the same length, I'd rather play Fantasy Realms.
But they are not the same length. Fantasy Realms is less than half the length! That means that Red Rising was "fired" before it even started. Like I said, I feel for the designers of Red Rising.
Abandon All Artichokes' best quality is its overwhelming cuteness. Every card contains some for of vegetable with a cute face and some special power. The art screams fun.
The game. Less so. Its a deck building game with the goal being to draw a hand of cards that contain no artichokes. So essentially, the game is the Chapel strategy. The problem with Abandon All Artichokes is that its 2021 and the base game of Dominion has the chapel strategy and a whole bunch of other games built in. Abandon All Artichokes has one set of cards and just one set of cards.
I would forgive it if it was a particularly good set, but most of the cards in Artichokes are really simple and uninteresting. I think the idea of this game is to make a really simple family friendly version the deck builder, but I personally don't need that.
How many polyomino games does Uwe Rosenberg need to make? Apparently one more. This one involves a shared rondel of tiles, just like Patchwork. On top of that it adds a somewhat strange system of breeding animals on top of the tiles in order to get a set of smaller tiles that can fill in the gaps you made due to your lack of ability to organize your polyominos in reasonable ways.
I wish I could say that this extra layer of stuff makes New York Zoo stand out, but I don't think it does. It mostly just slows down the game. I would rather play the funner part in half the time. It turns out I have that game! It's called Patchwork!
Polyomino games are a crowded genre nowadays. Uwe Rosemberg Polyomino games are a crowded genre nowadays! New York Zoo is a fine game, but I can think of at least four games in that genre that I prefer.
I'm sorry to say that Star Scrappers Orbital is arguably my single least favorite game played in 2021. Nearly every mechanism in Star Scrappers Orbital is one that I don't traditionally enjoy. There's exception if they are done particularly well, but Star Scrappers Orbital goes the other way.
In Star Scrappers Orbital players are dealt a set of cards of different colors and powers that they then play on their space station. The goal is to get the majority of a particular color card. In order to play these cards, there's an economy mechanism, but it didn't seem to matter much as far as I can tell. Most turns every player will be able to build a similar number of cards plus or minus one. There's also a docking mechanism where all cards need to fit in your Star Scrappers Orbital that reminds me of Steampunk Rally. Except in Steampunk Rally, its more fun.
Majorities are small and swingy, which is exactly the point when I dislike majorities. You got to build five yellow tiles, but unfortunately for you one player drew 3 yellow tiles in the last round, built up to 6 tiles and cut your victory points in half.
There's also a worker placement mechanism. There isn't really much of a reason for there to be a worker placement mechanism in the game, but its 2021 so every mediocre game needs a worker placement component.
Built cards have special powers, most of which are pretty standard. Draw two cards, draw two coins, get more workers, get one victory point, that sort of thing. I'd be ok with boring, but I'm not ok with the directed take that cards that are all over the game. I found them so frustrating that I actually started discarding them. I didn't want to arbitrarily pick a player to crush. At some point in the game I got ahead in points, so all the attack cards came down to me and then I was last. Nothing I could do about it.
I really wasn't bitter about being attacked. I just wanted this game to end.
Although I respect a lot of Eric Lang's contributions to the game, and also very much enjoy his LCGs, Eric Lang's newest games have mostly been of the type frequently described as dudes on a map. With some exceptions, I am not usually all that excited about that style of game. I knew Ankh wasn't going to be my type of game going into it, but I wanted to try it anyway. I'm glad I played it, but I can confirm that this game is not for me.
Ankh does fit the turtling problem and the gang up on the leader problem that is common in games like this. Unfortunately, I'm not sure if it fixes these problems in a way I find fun.
Ankh is an area majority game where the acquiring of areas is extremely limited and heavily based on the player to your left's actions. This causes the area majority game to be quite static and, I would argue, uninteresting.
Combat is both brutally murderous and super easy to recover from, which made it feel somewhat pointless in the long term. Mostly you want to win to get immediate VPs and not so much to solidify your holdings. Many times, you don't even care what the result of the fight is, you just need to be in it. This made the game a lot more tactical than expected.
In fact, this is partially explains my biggest problem with the game. The way you get points is very obtuse. It feels gamey in that what you have to do doesn't line up with what you think you need to do. Why do I need to be in a battle to create a pyramid? How does that make sense. I got most my points by running up the tech tree and then participating but not caring if I win in battles. It was very strange.
GAME SESSION OF THE MONTH
I gave a positive first impression of Brain Freeze a few months ago, but it needs to be highlighted again. Six months is a long time in child development, and my child has gone to playing Brain Freeze with help from parents and making some very questionable decisions to being able to play all by herself.
Although she definitely makes inefficient decisions still, she is starting to know when she does and has been modifying her strategy over time. I can't begin to tell you how satisfying it is to hear your child yell out F7 as the answer and be correct. I can't get enough of it. Plus I can figuratively see her mind making new connections and growing her deductive prowess. Its a win on all counts.
This isn't just fun for her. Brain Freeze is really the same game as the aimed at adults Magic Minds, just a little smaller and faster. I would play Brain Freeze even if I didn't have a kid. The only thing I do is hold back the answer once I have it so she gets a chance to figure it out herself. I remember as a kid playing Guess Who and being disappointed that it was so simple and straightforward. Telepathy is the game my 7 year old self wanted to play. Now I can. With my 7 year old child.
- [+] Dice rolls
As I write this it is the day after my first board game convention in 2 years. Lots of precautions were taken, and my mask stayed on the whole of 5 days so hopefully that will be enough to keep the event safe. It was glorious. I played 49 games over a span of 5 days. Many of these were new to me, and this is too many for me to write in one blog post without getting tired of writing. So I've decided I'm going to divide it up into multiple blog posts and share them over time.
As a general summary, I will say that I had a great time, but very few if any new games actually made the wishlist. More people were playing classics than in previous years as standouts were limited. I'm not too concerned about this as my wishlist is still larger than my budget.
Imagine, if you will, a flip and write game where you don't actually flip from a blind deck. Instead, when its your turn, you get to pick the tile you are going to use. That sounds silly, doesn't it? It sound like a really easy game, and in looking at some BGG comments, some people seem to agree.
Until you realize that its just as effective to pick a tile that your opponent is going to hate. Then you realize that everyone is going to do that and you have to really think ahead to leave yourself open spots to avoid the worst possible scenario. Suddenly all the luck of flipping is gone and instead there's only player interaction. There's a billion things to think about, and this really simple game becomes a brain burner.
I'm absolutely floored by Savannah Park. Not because its the greatest, deepest game in the world, but because it has perfected the roll and write genre, despite no rolling or writing.
Reiner Knizia turns FITS into a legacy game. Actually My City mostly fails as a legacy game. There's story arc or paths that make your game particularly unique. The legacy is simply that at the beginning of each scenario Knizia adds a new rule to the game, and at the end of the scenario the winning player gets to put a hindrance on the board, while the losing one gets something nice.
As a game, however, My City is great! It starts off with a really simple rule set that lets you jump right into the game. This first play is really simple and fun, but it would never hold up to many plays. Luckily, game two adds a new rule that changes everything. You're not going to get tired of that either, because every play adds something significant.
A few games in, and I have to say that My City has become one of my favorite polyomino game. I love that it especially highlights the difficulty of trying to fit bizarre tiles together. Many polyomino games gloss over that part and highlight something else. For example, Patchwork is about managing your button economy. Patchwork is great, but its nice to finally see a game that's about the polyominos themselves. The balancing mechanism is pretty ingenious too. The more games you win, the harder and harder it is going to be for you to win again. Eventually the game will balance automatically all by itself.
Just about the only thing that makes me sad about My City is the fact that it must be played with the same players all the way to the end the "eternal" game that it comes with is fine, but missing a lot of the later complexity. I wish I could pull this out at game night, but I can't due to the legacy nature. That's a real shame.
Iberian Gauge is a cube rails game that shares the same track sharing mechanism of The Soo Line and Trans-Siberian Railroad. This game is a lot cleaner that those. There's no nationalization track just waiting to gobble up everything you have, or the desperate push to end a game that will inevitably end with everything going bankrupt.
In Iberian Gauge there's just player buying shares and running companies - with each player getting a chance to play a train line for each share they own. Shares that are unowned are paid to the company. The game is mostly about trying to own the most profitable companies, and maybe buying out shares on your opponent's companies to make sure they don't get too rich. Owning two companies near each other is nice too because then they can share track, get to their destinations faster, and shuffle money between each other.
Like many cube rails games, Iberian Gauge is fragile. In our game, players parred too many companies too high which meant money was never a problem for any of them, which in turn made for a very mild play. There was still some stock shenanigans to be had, but little tension. If a game can get more interesting after the first play, then its certainly worth playing, but I point this out because even when Chicago Express gets misplayed, its still interesting.
My main problem with Iberian Gauge is that even if played right, it doesn't seem as interesting as Amabel Holland's other titles. Iberian Gauge seems a little declawed and I'm not sure that's what I'm looking for in a cube rails game. It fits right into the Capstone line and there's entertainment to be had, just for me not as much fun as the Soo Line, Dual Gauge, or for that matter, Chicago Express.
Rating: Play Again.
I'm cheating a little bit here, because I've played Foppen a few times before, and Fool is just Foppen with added rules to rebalance the game for different player counts. Foppen has always been an excellent trick-taking shedding hybrid. It requires different strategies than most other trick-taking game, and that's always a good thing.
The game plays like a standard trick taking game the only twist being that the player who played the smallest value, which includes off suit cards, gets to be the fool and doesn't get to play the next round. Since the goal is to get rid of your cards, being first in a trick is great, but being last in a trick is really bad. You need to keep your options open.
Unlike Marshmallow Test, this redo does not dumb down any strategy, remove rules, or otherwise ruin the game. The larger player count spread can only be a good thing. Great reprint, for a great game.
Rating: Play Again!
When Mysterium came out a few years ago, it was revolutionary. A party deduction game with stunning art and an all around good time. Since then there have been a number of games that have tried to follow the same formula with varying amounts of success. Now, the original designers are trying their hand at copying their game by making something shorter and faster.
For me, the results are.. disappointing. Mysterium Park reduces the length of Mysterium, not by accelerating the game (See Shadows: Amsterdam), but simply by making it a two round game instead of three. Apart from that, there aren't very many differences between the two games. I could always have done that with the original Mysterium components. So the only real advantage I see here is the smaller box.
Unfortunately there's a disadvantage: The artwork is all circus themed. This makes it a lot harder, and not in a good way, to guess the correct cards. Did you mean this tightrope, this other tightrope, or this third tightrope? The non-variety of the location cards means that I can't imagine why I would ever play Mysterium Park over Mysterium. Unless others want to do it, in which case, I won't say no because Mysterium is awesome.
The modern italian-style Euro game has never been one I've embraced. I think the only game in that style I've actually liked enough to play a second time was Alma Mater. There's just too many icons, too many independent paths to victory, and too many rules for the depth the games provide. Golem is no exception. It has too many icons, to many independent paths to victory, and too many rules for its depth.
The main twist of Golem is the action selection mechanism. Each action is made more powerful by the number of marbles marking it. In each of the game's four rounds the location of the marbles get placed on the board. Sometimes the action you want has too few marbles and then you have to compromise. Otherwise you'd probably want to do the same action most of the time.
The actions are, unfortunately, rather dull. Most of them involve going up a track or a virtual track of some sort to gain increasing benefits. Why do so many of these games have tracks? Can't they find something more interesting than that?
If you like italian-style Euros, Golem is another one.
Remember about 10 years ago when people were blaming every other Euro game for being a multiplayer solitaire game. I really miss the player interaction in those games. Khora has a draft at the beginning of the game, and a few minor goals that give you extra points if you get them before the other players. Otherwise you are playing your own game on your own board.
Those old multiplayer solitaire games at least usually had shared actions or maybe a worker placement board that sometimes blocks your opponent from doing what they want. Khora doesn't even have that. It has workers, but they are all on your own board with your own actions.
While I'm complaining about design decisions that annoy me: This game is also mostly a tracks game. There's 8 tracks that you're going up on. You'll be ignoring a few of them tho', because that way reviewers can say that it has multiple paths to victory.
Except it doesn't have multiple paths to victory because at the beginning of the game you get a random race, and you'll do a lot better if you play the fixed strategy of that race. This is a common modern mistake in board game design: providing lots of characters with special powers that reduce your strategy space instead of increasing it. I played the city that gave me extra development powers, so I developed. The guy to the left of me got the city who got military powers, so he went hard on military.
Its not just bad new design ideas tho', Khora also pulled a few old mistakes. Its a worker placement game so, you should get more workers. In our game the two people who uncovered the third worker did way better than the two that didn't. You'll be doing that every game.
To be fair, Khora isn't nearly as bad as I make it out to be. Its fine. Its probably an entertaining solitaire experience. The puzzle is a little dull, but not trivial. It just also happens to contain so many rant worthy decisions that I'm ranting a little.
Hanamikoji is a small card game that fits right in to the old Kosmos two player line. Its a push and pull game where players are trying to get majorities in 7 different stacks of cards. The twist to the game is that there's only 4 actions you get to do in the game, they are all different, and involve possibly giving cards to your opponent or discarding cards instead of just playing on your own side.
The decisions made in Hanamijoki are painful, in a good way. Giving cards to your opponent is always a tough decision. The art is also absolutely gorgeous which helps the presentation.
Having said that, although I enjoyed my few plays of this I don't find myself desiring to go back to it too much. Maybe it plays too fast, normally a good thing. Still, with the upcoming expansion of 7 separate action card set, its quite possible that Hanamikoji actually does rise to the replayability level that I'd like to lift it to my collection.
Rating: Play Again!
Remember that rip off arcade game when you threw a quarter into a plate and if any quarters fall out they are yours? Kabuto Sumo is essentially that, but multiplayer. Players are pushing their quarter-like pieces into a disk, hoping that their opponent's character falls of, or at least that the get lots of other pieces. If they run out of pieces they lose.
Its an interesting idea, previously seen similarly used in Nacht der Magier. I would argue that Kabuto Sumo is the better game of the two, but Nacht der Magier has glow in the dark pieces so I'll call it a draw. That might sound silly, but playing in the darkness is actually really fun.
The biggest problem with Kabuto Sumo is the fact that if you play it with the junior rules for kids it can become a slog. I got this game specifically to play with my 7 year old and it failed I push your character forward a little, then you push my character forward a little, and so on, for way longer than the game should last.
Where the game shines is when you play with the advanced characters (Aka the base game). The superpowers make it a lot easier to knock pieces and opponents out of the game. They add a nice set of variety and dynamism to Kabuto Sumo which makes the entire box shine. I'm glad I played it with the full rules because I was about to get rid of it, but this means that I might have to wait a year or so before my kid is ready to play a game that was intended for her.
Rating: Play Again!
Age of Industry gets no respect. Everyone talks about Brass: Lancashire or Brass: Birmingham, but no one talks about the middle game in the series. This makes no sense to me. It is a great game! Not only that but there are 8 professionally done maps for it. Four official, and four by Claude Sirois and BGG.
The USSR Map is one of the unofficial ones. Apart from an extremely fascinating board, the big twist to USSR is that every turn there are cards displayed representing what the Soviet Government wants you to build. On your turn you can use one of these cards without taking into your hand. This conveys two very significant advantages: First at the end of the game, each of these played cards are worth a point. Second, you don't have to spend a half turn gathering up a new card before playing it.
This is a huge benefit and causes some very positive effects on the game. First, the game becomes much more varied from game to game as what is made available changes dramatically game to game. Second, it causes players to have to maintain a large train system earlier so that you have the flexibility to actually create what the USSR wants you to. It also highlights turn order a lot more.
We actually played with a wrong rule and were refilling the medium term market with the face up cards from the card display. This also caused the side effect of no stalling cards, one problem that sometimes happens with Age of Industry, because all the bad cards were then being used. Wrong rule or not, I personally thought this was a fantastic change and might want to continue using this "wrong" rule.
In the end, the USSR map could become my favorite of the AoI set. It is more dynamic than the other maps and requires more flexibility from the players. I genuinely think that if Roxley gave it a deluxe treatment, it would be as popular as the other games in the series.
GAME SESSION OF THE MONTH
Was Sticht? is billed as a hybrid deduction trick-taking game. I'm a fan of both of these things but I don't think this is a good description of the game. This is because the deduction part of the game is not particularly interesting and I wonder why its there at all.
Each round of Was Sticht? start with a draft of cards. The deduction lies in the fact that all but one player knows what trump is and players are supposed to figure it out based on the information given in the draft. The reason this matters little is that most games, its really easy to figure out what this information is early. I don't think it adds to the game.
The draft, however, is interesting because every player has a different goal and every player possibly wants different cards. Say maybe I want to take exactly 3 tricks, you want the last trick, and a third person wants no green cards. This makes the trick taking part of the game more dynamic and interesting than most other games out there.
Even though I haven't played it in years, it only took one new play to realize why Was Sticht? is one of the greatest trick taking games ever created. The asymmetrical interaction between players is an unexpected twist that elevates Was Sticht? towards greatness.
Its really a bit stunning that it hasn't been reprinted in years. My copy is actually a four pack of games called Mü and Lots More which also contains 3 other excellent games. That box is one of the best deals in gaming out there and I remain a little shocked that it didn't explode onto the scene when it was out. Oh well... I got mine.
Automobile is a mean game. Watch the purple player flood the market with cars just to mess with everyone else. It worked.
- [+] Dice rolls
08 Nov 2021
Living in New England, October is my favorite month. This has nothing to do with games. In fact, if anything it slows down my gaming. I usually limit my blog to 10 games a post mostly for my own sanity. This month, I almost didn't get to 10 new games for the first time in a long time. Next month will be filled with new Essen releases I'm sure, so that should be ok.
No regrets tho'. Hiking up the New Hampshire mountains during the season is breathtaking. Check out these pictures:
And now for more gamery things:
Flourish is an extremely overproduced card drafting game about making a beautiful garden. Don't take that as a bad thing - the game is stunningly beautiful. Stunningly so even. Unfortunately its about as basic a card drafting game can get.
The main twist to the game is the fact that instead of passing all the cards around after choosing one, you pass one to the left, and one to the right. Keep three, and draw a new one. Unfortunately, this idea causes players to see less cards and in turn the draft becomes less interesting. This is especially true when your neighbor players just keep passing the same bad card you gave them back to you.
There's also a spatial element as players place cards in a 3x3 square in front of them. Spatial elements in drafting games can work, but I don't think the added much here. I recommend Warsaw: City of Ruins for your spatial drafting options.
Reiner Knizia does another order fulfillment set collection game. Like many Knizia games the game is boiled down to the core. Players mostly get to decide whether to pick up tiles where they are, or to move and pick up tiles farther down the track. Of course, other players are picking up tiles too and they might get what you want if you hang back too much. Benefit now vs benefit later.
It plays fast and smooth, just like you'd expect a Knizia game to be. There's some real decisions to be had and despite the luck in the contract draw I would expect the better player to win most of the time. Unfortunately for me, this one lacked spark. Maybe I wasn't feeling it that day. Whale Riders works, but it felt a little too bland.
Supposedly the game comes with expansions that make it better. I would very much like to try those. Maybe it will grow on me then.
Juicy Fruits is also a short order fulfillment set collection game. Like Whale Riders, its main decision space involves deciding to benefit now or benefit later. Unlike, Whale Riders however, Juicy Fruits manages to pull this off while providing a completely luck and random free game (except for setup).
You'd think that a game with this name, length, and theme would be light and fluffy, but it is anything but. You really have to consider what you're going to do and what you're setting yourself up to do multiple turns ahead.
The main mechanism of Juicy Fruits involves sliding tiles across your board. The farther you slide, the more benefit you get. But other tiles are going to get in your way if you don't think your turns through. You would also think that a game where players have individual boards and take their actions in them, but you'd be wrong. You see, there's orders you can fulfill that give you quick victory points and there's orders you can do that set you up for later. Which one you want do heavily depends on the length of the game and that is player dependent. Predicting what other players are going to do is very important for your own plans.
A game that provides so many interesting decisions, no luck, and a 20 minute playing time is very impressive. I do have concerns that Juicy Fruits will get old faster than I hope it will. Just sliding tiles for fruits will not be enough for long term interest - but the player interaction with regards to manipulating the end game might.
Canal Mania is a perfect example on why what I write here are first impressions rather than full reviews. This is a game that absolutely requires more than one play before I get to the point that I can accurately judge it. It is a strange collect cards to build routes game that reminds me of Ticket to Ride but with the limitation that you cannot just build routes anywhere. You actually need to pick up one of the available contracts and then you can build between the two cities in the contract.
That is very strange. In some ways it feels that the game is making the decisions for you and the player is "on rails" so to speak. In other ways, I think once you know a little bit of what contracts to expect the game will feel different than what it did to me. Furthermore, its very possible that the way to win or lose this game is the efficiency of collecting the train cards you need at the right time, and not the contracts.
Maybe, I don't know. I am mystified by what makes good plays in Canal Mania. It is strange to have a route building game where the routes are so restricted on you. Further experimentation needs to happen.
Rating: Play Again.
The word party game renaissance continues. Mystic Paths, like Codenamesis a game where players are using a single word to clue other words from the board. Unlike Codenames, however, players can't give any random word that comes to mind, but instead they must select a word from the cards given to them. This change makes this game feel not like Codenames at all.
In fact, I think Mystic Paths fires Apples to Apples instead. The non-freewheeling nature of the word choice makes both games ideal for a lighter setting, but Mystic Paths is actually interesting. If it wasn't for the fact that some family members won't let me, I'd swap them in a second.
I'm a little overwhelmed with guess the word games at the moment so I'm not quite willing to put this on the wishlist just yet. Though I still might later on. However, if you're looking for a game like this, you really can't go wrong with Mystic Paths. Fun all around.
Rating: Play Again!
Camp Grizzly is a silly survival game themed around Friday the 13th with funny references to other horror games. Like some other games of this style (Last Night on Earth: The Zombie Game, Betrayal at House on the Hill, Nemesis), the emphasis here is on the experience and not even remotely on any strategy.
Camp Grizzly is random, silly, and totally unfair. Very few, if any, of the decisions you make have any bearing on the end result. This is not the style of game that I enjoy playing on a regular basis, but as a yearly Halloween treat, Camp Grizzly works great. All the players had a great time watching "Jason" and his evil lover (things happened) kill us one by one.
Of the three games above, Camp Grizzly is closer to Nemesis in style. Nemesis is the better designed game. However, I much prefer the campy Friday the 13th vs the overused Aliens theme. So I'm going to call it a draw. I'm also going to give Camp Grizzly a low rating, because it really isn't a good game, and I don't really want to play it again till next Halloween. But this is a little unfair, since I'm looking forward to next year's game at the same time.
This year's old game I should have totally played 15 years ago award goes to Extrablatt a Karl-Heinz Schmiel game about organizing stories in a newspaper. Really its an area majorities game with some interesting take that elements built in.
Now I have to be honest. I've mentioned in this blog before that I don't love area majority as a central mechanism. Furthermore, I don't particularly love take that elements either. Despite this, it is a well designed game and I'm surprised its never been reprinted.
I do want to mention the take that elements because I both hate it and am impressed by it. Basically you can declare a person you are attacking. Then you trade currencies. Whomever has the biggest currency wins, but the traded currencies stay with the new player. This means that losing an attack also improves your ability to win future attacks. This is a really great way of reducing the feeling of getting picked on. Unfortunately, its also wrapped around blind bidding, which is yet a third mechanism that I don't love.
Extrablatt is never going to be a favorite of mine. But I'm impressed at the design, especially for a 1991 release.
New games need to be one of two things: better than old games, or different than old games. Otherwise, they aren't going to stick around for a whole long time. The Crew: Mission Deep Sea doesn't do anything different, but it does do it better by providing a whole lot more variety than the original game.
Essentially the number cards for scoring are replaced by missions, many of which are quite diverse. Most scenarios involve picking a difficulty level and then drawing that many missions. The game feels very familiar, but this is a solid improvement over the original. It makes me wonder if I even need to keep the space version.
I will keep my 2020 runner up game of the year for now, because its a small box anyway, but it is a testament to the quality of Mission Deep Sea that I'm even thinking about it.
I wanted to like Mechanica, I really did. Its an engine building game with robots and conveyor belts that feels right up my alley. I love the way it looks. It has fairly good reviews from some people I know. But, it didn't work for me at all.
I've mentioned before that I dislike order fulfillment games when you build the engine before knowing what you're ordering. Mechanica does this real badly. You can very much luck into a whole pile of points or not.
I could have forgiven this had the engine building part been more interesting but it wasn't. I think some of the problem is that since the bots have to stop at every engine spot as you improve your engine, you also slow it down. Near the end game, you might as well just trash every card because whatever you upgrade won't really get to run, or will run so little to not be worth it. I wonder if you could just run the engine start to end without stopping if you would have a stronger incentive to do more fun things, but I'm not a game developer so who knows.
Resonym, the publisher, does have a few other games I enjoy, and their upcoming Phantom Ink (Playtested as Ghost Writer) is a lot of fun. No publisher can hit my tastes all the time I suppose.
Ark Nova is a complex game in the style of Terraforming Mars and Underwater Cities. Like those games, players are creating an engine using all sorts of unique cards that improve their actions in the game and hopefully provides them victory points.
Like those other two games, Ark Nova is very pretty and full of crazy card combos. Unlike those other two games, Ark Nova has nearly zero player interaction. Not one time did I bother to look over to see what the other players were doing. It just didn't matter. I was doing my thing, they were doing their thing, and then we scored at the end. There's a tiny bit of player interaction with players collectively controlling when a round ends but this felt minor.
I like a lot of so called "Multiplayer Solitaire" games but this is too much for me. All the other players were there for was to slow down the time between turns. If I was a solitaire gamer Ark Nova might actually provide a lot of value. But I'm not.
Race for the Galaxy keeps its crown for best game with nearly all unique cards. Underwater Cities keeps its crown for best long game with nearly all unique cards.
GAME SESSION OF THE MONTH
Twenty years ago, just after I had purchased Puerto Rico based solely on the fact that I'm from there, I decided that this whole board game thing needed further exploration. Within a few months I purchased about two dozen games. At the time, I didn't really know what I like and nearly all these early games were eventually sold or traded away. Acquire stuck around. Later on, I played some very good Acquire-like games: Stephenson's Rocket, Shark, Big Boss, Chartered: The Golden Age... But Acquire stuck around.
Acquire is a stock market game with a board. Players are buying shares of companies represented by locations on the board that slowly grow over time. When two companies connect, they merge and the smaller company pays out and gets sucked into the big company. Players are generally trying to get majorities in the smaller companies so they can get paid out and have cash to buy more shares. Which companies are going to merge into which is something players have to be thinking about all the time. Eventually, you might also want these large companies because they pay out in a big way at the end of the game. Just don't run out of money before that happens.
There is one major problem with Acquire. If you don't get an early merger you could be out of the game entirely with half of a game to play. You have to be willing to get over that, but it isn't a long game anyway. What I like best about it is watching the companies grow and merge almost organically. Furthermore, you are playing your opponents much more than the game. Players who do well, do well by predicting how the player driven market is going to go. You'll never win going at it alone.
I don't understand how one Sid Sackson invented this, Sleuth, Focus, Bazaar, Can't Stop, and the single greatest board game book of all time: A Gamut of Games. None are derivative of anything or each other. All have been copied many times since. Don't ask me which one of these is my favorite. I'll probably eventually make all of them a game of the month at some point.
This time, however, I want to give credit to Acquire. Mostly because I played it twice this month. Both game were tight affairs. One of them in particular was stunning in that the difference between the winner and the 4th player was $1000. Second and third place tied in the last merger. Had any of them had one extra share, they would have won. It was the closest game of Acquire I've ever seen, and it was wonderful.
Is this the worst opening hand in the history of Race for the Galaxy? I think so. And I'm sticking by that being the reason I lost horribly, not my bad play.
Rattus the base game is a great filler. When you add the variety of characters with all the expansions, its a neverending cornucopia of new experiences.
- [+] Dice rolls
12 Oct 2021
I had a recent conversation about how different board game generations use the word Euro to mean different things. I'm all in favor of a dynamically changing language, but the problem in this case is that people talk over each other and the word has lost all meaning.
Classic Euros, or German-style euros are the games that got me into this hobby. Reiner Knizia games are the perfect example of this style of game. They usually have relatively simple rule sets and short play times. They contain a mechanism, polished to a minimum. This means very few special powers and extra text.
Modern Euros are anything but minimal. They usually contain worker placement, tableau building, deck building, and maybe some other known mechanism all mixed in (hopefully) an original way. They contain more complex rules than Classic Euros, and are sometimes a little bit of a hassle to teach. I'm also not entirely sure why these are called Euros because most game designs of this style does not originate from there. Except for the Italian school of design. The T series of games as well as most other things originating from the boot are all modern style.
The epitome of the Modern Euro in my mind is a Friedmann Friese joke game: Copycat. A game that intentionally takes parts of highest ranked games on BGG at the time to make something new. Also, it highlights the fact that I don't necessarily mean to disparage modern Euros. Copycat is actually a very fun game.
However, there's no question that I prefer the classic style. I like complex games, but if a game can be simpler and equally deep, then I'll take that game first. Keep this in mind if you actually read my blog for gaming advice (You fool!). My game of the month this year is 21 years old. Maybe that makes me a curmudgeon I don't know. Classic style doesn't mean old tho'. There's a lot of great games getting released. I want to particularly highlight this amazing geeklist by Martin G: "Old-school Euros" published in the 2020s.
On to first impressions:
Merv is a perfect example of the Modern Euro kitchen sink game. It contains four mini-games placed around a central action selection area. The action selected determines which mini-game you get to play this round.
It would be a much better game if the designer would pick which half of the game is the most fun and cut out the rest to make a better game. We don't really need set collection AND track progression AND order fulfillment AND a tech tree. To be clear non of these mini games are bad, not by a long-shot. There were no particular parts of Merv that were bad. It was just muddled in overwhelming rules.
The strategy gets muddled too, because as far as I can tell the best thing to do is pick one of these mini-games and push it as far as you can go. What the mini-game does is less important than how much you play it.
The central action selection board is actually pretty fantastic. Players move around a 5x5 board placing houses wherever they want to go but also triggering all the houses in the column or row (depending on the turn) of their own color. Between rounds, some (many) houses are destroyed by the mongol horde and then you do it again. One of the mini-games involves building walls and troops to protect your houses.
I don't think I've ever seen this mechanism before and I love it. If kitchen sink games are your thing, I cannot recommend Merv enough. For me though, the mish-mash feels like a lost opportunity and the awesomeness of the action selection is lost in the shuffle.
GPS is a re-release of Finito! in a smaller box with different components. Finito is a fun little game that I discovered long after it was out of print. It plays crazy fast and is lots of fun, despite being just a Rack-O variant.
I wanted to like GPS so much. It has three improvements over Finito: First it comes in a small box - Finito's biggest failure is how big the box was. The second is that it takes away the completely abstract theme and replaces with a charming story of lining up GPS satellites in a row. Thirdly, its available. Good luck finding Finito! (I've tried)
Unfortunately, GPS completely fails due to the components. Instead of dice like Finito, it uses a spinner. I don't hate spinners, but this particular spinner just doesn't work very well. When you spin it, sometimes it slides and then it ruins your game. You have to hold the whole thing down but that causes delays and frustration.
BoardGameTables.com has been a publisher to watch, and in this case they chose a good game and had good ideas. It just doesn't work. They did a great job in some other releases (Loot of Lima is wonderful), and I have high hopes they will have more successes than failures in the future.
It is hard to believe that Reign of Witches was a freebie promo game. When I get a promo game I hope to get a mediocre game I play a couple of times before giving it away, at best.
Reign of Witches is an attempt at taking a Pax game and minimizing it. It plays in 15 minutes, has a small 23-card set, and can only take two players. I'm not going to say its a minimal game because it has all sorts of confusing asymmetrical rules. But, the actual actions you take are minimal: You either pick up a card, play a card, or put a coin in a card, securing it and getting special powers. Simple, but the decisions aren't as clear as you might think.
In fact, I'm ready to declare Reign of Witches the fourth best Pax game. It is better than everything released after the first three.
I have only two negative comments: First, it uses the four standard card suits to represent the army, navy, political, and opinion. The game would have been better had they had symbols that actually represented those four things. Second, it seems to me that due to the strict win conditions, many games of this will end in a unsatisfying tie. Still, I'm willing to forgive a lot for a game that does this much with so little.
I really want Amabel Holland to design a full fledged Pax Game now. She's clearly good at this. In the mean time, Reign of Witches is getting re-released (Along with The Toledo War, which is fine, but not nearly as great).
I've always enjoyed Steampunk Rally. It is quite chaotic, but a game with the theme of building silly half broken machines has to be chaotic. Fusion is a standalone expansion that, well, doesn't add a lot but that isn't a bad thing.
There are two new maps to play, which is nice. I hadn't yet tired of the two original maps, but more maps is better. There's new scientists to play with. I think this one is a strong point. The new scientists are more varied and more interesting than the original game. I had a lot of fun with Da Vinci. There's a new special power card that provides a way to use up dice you don't use for anything else. I'm a little concerned that some of these are unbalanced, but its nice to have another use for dice.
And then there's a whole pile of new cards. This is where the feel for Steampunk Rally changes a little. The new cards encourage destroying your vehicle parts much more than the previous game. For example, some of the cards now allow you to intentionally destroy them for an extra bonus power. The new Fusion dice also contribute, as once you play a fusion dice in a part, you can never remove it so you might as well trash it. The combination means that players will likely build smaller vehicles than in the original game.
Is this bad? Not necessarily. I miss the larger craft but, the decision on when to remove your cards and when to hold back for later is quite lovely. And if it was exactly like the original game, then there wouldn't be a reason to get it.
If you didn't like the original Steampunk Rally, don't get this one. It doesn't improve on the formula in any significant way. That's fine for me. I did like it, and I like the new variety that this new expansion provides.
I'm not entirely sure if I should rate this, given that its a subset of Friese's 504, but I'm doing it anyway. I really want to like 504. The idea is wacky, and picking 3 mechanisms then seeing what game comes out of it is very appealing. However, more often than not the end result runs too long and has some clear flaws. It makes you feel like you just played a prototype.
If I were a game designer, or if I enjoyed the process of game designing, then I suspect starting with a random number and then smoothing out the edges to make a fun game would be interesting. I am not a game designer.
721, an area majorities race game with some minor pick up and deliver, is no different. The idea of racing for majorities is interesting, but doesn't actually work. In fact, I'm skeptical that any of the 7xx games work. The problem is that scoring happens during an arbitrary round. Some players get to play just before scoring and others don't. Not surprisingly, the ones that played just before scoring did better than the ones that didn't.
Furthermore the pick up and deliver aspect didn't work either. It was too easy for all the players to do the same thing and then you have a massive tie for first place for the cities reachable by pick up and deliver. Unless you got to move after the scoring is triggered. Too bad for you, you don't get to win.
This is my fifth game type I've played of the series. I've had one success (862) with the rest all ranging between 'ok' to completely broken. This random exploration of titles would feel better if the game was a half hour and not two. It's just too long for a likely yet another mediocre game.
I don't think I'm completely done with 504. At the very least, I want to explore more of module 8 before I finally get rid of it. But I'm certainly done with 721.
Rating: Avoid (Specifically for 721, not all 504).
Calico is a set collection tile laying game. Its main attraction is the fact that you are building a quilt, and cats like to lie down on said quilt. In other words, its beautiful to look at.
It isn't just pretty tho, it has gameplay. The main idea being that each tile has a color and a pattern. Players are trying to line up tiles to score both things as well as some extra scoring rings on the board. It is really hard to score all three things at a time. So players have to make the decision on what to give up on and what to push your luck on.
It works, and there's certainly decisions here. Its a great family game too, as the kids I was with loved it. However, I wasn't personally excited about it. It felt a little like a prettier Take it Easy!, but otherwise it felt a lot like Take It Easy. There you're also drawing tiles to balance three separate scoring things. I've never liked enjoyed Take it Easy in the first place, and this doesn't improve on the formula apart from the artwork.
One of the biggest problems with drafting games is the fact that sometimes by the third round there's no non-obvious decisions to be made. You've already set up your engine and you get to be on autopilot for a time. Dice Miner solves this in two ways.
First, its a 15 minute game. There's no downtime to be had. The original drafting game Fairy Tale is equally short, which is why this they are both better than the longer 7 Wonders.
Second, you draft dice. Then in between turns, you re-roll all the die you draft. Your perfectly tuned point scoring engine has now been completely scrambled and now you have to work on something else. What a great and original idea! It works very well. The drafting is done 7 Wonders Duel style. You get to see all the die available immediately in each round. They are set up like a pyramid, and when you draft something, you open up new dice to be drafted by your opponents. That means there's more to think about than the specific die you want.
While I'm being rather positive about Dice Miner, I have big concerns about replayability. I played one game and I feel like I've seen the full experience. Maybe I'm wrong and my inevitable future plays will discover more hidden depth, but right now my initial impression is that this will be forgettable.
Rating: Play Again.
Like Dominion, Kokopelli comes with an assortment of cards with each game including a random subset of them. The instructions recommend a suggested set of start cards, but we decided to just go with a random set instead. After all, who wants to play with introductory cards? Huge mistake. About half the cards chosen were nearly entirely useless as what they required didn't line up with what was available. This meant that the game slogged down until we got to the few cards that were useful, but it was a slog.
I want to say that it was our fault, but Dominion plays well with most sets of cards in the base set. Kokopelli should too. Or at least if it doesn't it should give us more than just a single suggested set.
To be clear, Kokopelli is nothing like Dominion except for the card randomization. But this one game went so badly that it tainted everything. If at some point I play Kokopelli again, maybe I'll get a better experience and feel differently. Someone else is going to have to put it in front of me tho', I'm not making the effort.
After so many years of trying, I got to play the classic Merchants of Venus for the first time. It was an experience with lots of warts and rough edges, but that didn't stop it from being a fun experience.
Starting with the bad: Merchant of Venus clocks in at about an hour longer it would had it been designed today. The group I played it with are very fast gamers so I personally never felt it drag, but it will certainly not work for every group. Second, for such a long game luck is everywhere, especially in the beginning. You can easily get a bad draw in your first couple of rounds and now you're behind the curve on everything. Not a good place to be for a three hour game.
Having said that, the actual puzzle of pick up and deliver, especially in the mid game when half the board is revealed is quite wonderful. You must plan may routes ahead, make educated guesses, and adjust when other players change the board. Most pick up and deliver games don't have such a large search space.
I had a lot of fun figuring out my routes even if I was out of contention after the first move. I won't rate this higher because I wouldn't want to play Merchant of Venus except with a very specific subset of people, but I certainly will want to play it again with them.
Rating: Play Again.
I've mentioned this before: Martin Wallace's best quality is the fact that he tries out all sorts of new things. Some of them fail, badly. Some of them are amazing. He reminds me of Friedemann Friese who similarly tries all sorts of off the wall ideas. I much prefer this type of designer, even with the failures, over the ones who keep making the same style game over and over again.
Tinners Trail is a very strange economic game. Players bid on mines that produce metal that they can then sell for profit and victory points. The strangeness comes in that the mines have a varying number of metals and a varying cost to extract the metals. When the auctioning happens, however, most players have no idea what those values are! You might be bidding on the greatest mine that ever was, or you might bid on a total dud.
This is such a strange idea, but it's not as random as you might think. Players can improve mines using all sorts of varying technologies, so even a dud mine can be profitable to an extent.
One interesting part of Tinners Trail is the fact that you make victory points by converting money into them at an exchange rate commensurate to the current round. This means that you could wait until later in the game to get VPs and that will allow you to improve your mine before digging it out, but then your exchange rate for points is less favorable. Finding the right balance on getting points now or later is absolute key to this game.
Tinners Trail game is no Brass: Birmingham or Age of Steam or Automobile. Those three are Wallace's holy trilogy. I'm still completely fascinated by it. If you like dry economic euros, here's one that is completely different.
Note for owners or players of the previous version: It is my understanding that the original version had more randomness and less opportunity to mitigate said randomness. I have never played the original game but this new version seems like a solid improvement.
GAME SESSION OF THE MONTH
Back when Princes of Florence was first released, it was regarded an absolute force by the niche board gaming world. Nowadays, however, there's a lot more board games and a lot more competition. A few of my friend wonder if Princes of Florence would have been so successful had it been released now instead of 20 years ago.
I can't really answer that, since the mainstream has moved away from the streamlined designs I prefer as mentioned in the intro. Princes of Florence is not a kitchen sink game. In fact, I have a hard time finding a game that packs so much in so little. In each game of Princes of Florence, each player gets to win 7 auctions and take 14 actions. That's it. There's no extra fluff here. Every single auction and action is absolutely critical for victory.
Nowadays, Princes of Florence comes out about once or twice a year every year. It has never lost its shine to me. Every time I play it I remember how much I love it and yearn to play it again.
One thing that makes Princes of Florence interesting is the battle for Jesters, the best pieces of the game. I usually open up my purse for them but one other player went one farther than me... and then got two jesters at a price. I went with recruiters because if you can't have the best work, you might as well have strength in numbers. This is the type of asymmetry I can get behind.
It was close, but quantity beat quality this time. Princes of Florence, however, is all quality low quantity. As it should be.
Few games can master turning cubes into other cubes than the Century: A New World series. This is my least favorite of the series and its still great.
I taught 1846: The Race for the Midwest to new players and it went great. Tokening was less harsh than normal partially because I didn't want to be too mean, but also because I owned two companies and leaving open spaces was cheap and easy.
Concordia's Hellas map was a new experience for me. It was a tight experience and we all scored way less than normal. Meaning: Its a great map!
I finally got a copy of North American Railways after searching for a year or so. A cube rails game without a board with all sorts of really interesting decisions.
Art Decko isn't out yet, but our group keeps playing Promenade. One of the most original deck building games out there.
- [+] Dice rolls
07 Sep 2021
Next month is October. The greatest month for gaming releases of the year. It is about at this time of the year that I start getting excited for new games and what the future holds up. Also, the leaves start changing color and I get happy that I live in New England.
I have a large list of games I'm watching. I'm sure many will not meet expectations, but as long as some do, I'm happy. I don't really feel like sharing my large list without comment, so instead I'm picking five games that I think are worth looking out for:
Dice Realms - The idea of changeable die face is such a great idea, but so far none of the published games have met my expectations. Tom Lehman gets to try now. If he can't do it no one can. The price tag and the huge box are negatives, so it better be good.
Stichtag - This is 504 for trick taking games! I can easily see people complaining that they'd rather have 1 good game than 504 mediocre ones, and I see the point, but I like the exploration that this gives. Always a new game to play!
Radlands - Everything Roxley game publishes needs to be explored. With Brass: Birmingham, Steampunk Rally, and Santorini, their ratio of hit vs miss is impressive. This new game is a two player dueling game that visually looks both stunning and very original. On the other hand, two-player games I buy must be (my) wife friendly and I'm not sure this is.
Stationfall - Might be too chaotic for my tastes, but this looks like a hoot. Its a more complex "CONSPIRACY" with a sci-fi theme and a giant monkey. The stories this game is going to create are certainly going to be memorable, but is the game?
1860: Railways on the Isle of Wight - 1862 is my favorite 18xx game of all time. 1860 is the only other published game by the same designer. Although there are no mergers it feels like a similar game where you try and build up the best company and use other company investments to feed into your primary money maker. The expansion looks great too, with every train in the game being unique with special powers. Also it works with two and three players.
And now for the usual first impression of games that have already been published:
Feels strange to put a fish pond on the highest point in your map. That's probably why I lost.
Its been a long time since I've played a good pure tile layer. Miyabi isn't the greatest game in the world but it does some very original things in the genre that are worth your while.
Tiles are drafted between players with a six turn lookahead to allow for some strategic planning (One of the problems with many tile layers, is the lack of this). However, where you place tiles is very restricted. You can only place a tile on the row that the tile is marked on, and you can only place one tile per column every round. Also, you can go up for more points, but only on flat ground and sometimes covering up symbols will hurt you. There's so much to think about here with all those restrictions.
I have to be honest, I liked Miyabi more than I should have because of this relative lack of good tile layers in the last few years. Still, Miyabi is so much deeper than what you'd expect a HABA game to be.
I haven't even explored the five included expansions! Certainly a game like this has a place in my collection.
Before Ystari was purchased and subsequently shut down by Asmodee, Ystari steadily released quality games including the great Caylus. Metropolys was one of their less popular games, but it quite a bit of followers. I'm glad I got it played, especially now that it is being reworked as Skyrise.
Lets start with the good: Metropolys central premise is an auction game that is both extremely original and a lot of fun. The idea is that you auction off plots of land, but to outbid someone you must outbid on an adjacent plot of land, making the original location no longer biddable. This makes for some really interesting situations, such as a player underbidding for a desirable location knowing that all locations next to it are undesirable. I love that, and I also love that the rest of the game doesn't overwhelm with extra rules and crazy unnecessary things.
On the other hand, all your points are acquired from secret goal cards. I don't love secret goal cards. You have to spend your time trying to figure out what other players are going for, and that's not something I've ever cared about. It's fine if you don't mind that type of thing, but I do.
To be honest, I'm hoping this new Skyrise release keeps the wonderful bidding and changes the scoring conditions. I'm suddenly looking at that version with great enthusiasm.
Rating: Play Again!
Sheep & Garden is a tile placement game in the vein of Carcassonne except with hidden scoring. Everyone is given a card that tells you how you get your points along with cards that you share with your left and right opponents.
I thought the tile placement was actually very fun. It felt like it had more restrictions than Carcassonne which meant you could really mess with other people's plans. If you know what they were.
As I mentioned in Metropolys above, I don't like hidden scoring mechanisms as I don't find the act of trying to figure out what everyone is scoring fun. Therefore, I can't foresee asking to play this in the future.
You have to love the Japanese love for big games in small boxes. My collection would be triple its size if Americans and Europeans followed the same custom. Perfumery is a engine building worker placement game that feels just as deep as most larger counterparts.
In Perfumery, players are collecting cards. Some of these cards are recipes you want to fulfill to get points. Some of the cards are engine parts which generally consist of eating a type of thing in order to create other things. The game consists chaining all these parts together so you can get lots of resources and fulfill more victory points than your opponents.
Sounds pretty standard, but it plays very smoothly and the chaining of engine parts is really a lot of fun. It plays fast as well, ending just at the perfect time. I do wonder about replayability since there won't be a huge amount of engine building difference from game to game, but there may be enough player interaction (Gasp! In a worker placement game!) to make it work long term.
I didn't expect much from Perfumery, but I must say I'm pleasantly surprised. You can do a lot worse with much larger productions.
Rating: Play Again!
Isn't this the cutest fox you've ever seen?
Frank's Zoo is a climbing game with a circular climb. Like most climbing games, the goal is to get rid of all your cards before your opponents. The circle is very strange for examples, it has two separate loops, one for aquatic animals and one for land animals. There's also the hedgehog which is in the middle of the food chain but is very powerful as it can only be beaten by a single animal (foxes).
As far as I can tell, the result is that, while some hands are certainly better than others, individual cards become more or less powerful based on what was already played. For example, if the foxes are all out, then the hedgehogs become awesome. You really need to card count to figure out a path to victory.
The biggest negative of Frank's Zoo is that the cards, while beautiful, are hard to read. Clearer Icons would have been nicer. I also had to keep a cheat sheet in front of me to keep which animal beats what straight, but I'm certain I won't need it for the second game.
Rating: Play Again.
Your ship has crash landed in an alien planet and you need to get into the planet's underground cave system before nightfall where everything in the planet freezes. In order to do this you must send out your crew of drones to... worker placement spots that collect resources or turn them into other resources.
Don't get me wrong, I love turning cubes into other cubes, but I've been doing that for years. If you're going to add a new one of these, especially a worker placement game, you need to introduce something new. Cryo does not.
To be clear, Cryo is a competent enough game, and it plays fast. It just drowns in a sea of other competent enough games.
Cross Clues is a word based party game that is very much in the vein of Codenames, or more accurately Codenames: Duet since Cross Clues is best as a cooperative game. Like Codenames, players are giving one word clues in order to get others to guess what set of cards are being asked.
Cross Clues improves on the Codenames formula by allowing all players to give clues at the same time. Everyone has a clue to give and contributes to solving everyone else's clues. I've had games of Codenames where nobody wants to be the clue-giver due to the pressure of being more responsible for success or failure. Admittedly this is more of a non-gamer thing but this is the type of game that is meant to thrive on that situation.
The question of whether or not Cross Clues is different enough from Codenames to be worth getting is a good one. I think the differences are just enough to be worth it, particularly at the low price and easy entry point, but barely so.
Back in the 90s, Games Workshop made these set of games that had really fun ideas but were terribly and fatally balanced. For example, Doom of the Eldar, could arguably be one of the greatest siege games ever, if it wasn't for fact that the entire game is decided on a single die roll that determines whether or not the game ends early or late.
You'd think that almost 40 years later Games Workshop would have gotten better at making games, but WAoS:tR&FoA is in this exact same space. The basic idea of players placing both troops and structures in a central area that is being attacked on all four sides has a lot of potential. It is similar to GHOST STORIES but bigger and more impressive.
And also, way worse balanced. Everything in this game is determined by random selection. The die rolling implementation is pretty terrible, but that's not the problem here: the problem is card draw. If you need to play troops and you didn't draw any, then too bad. If you need victory points and you don't have the right combination of resources or points, too bad. The whole thing becomes one big random mess.
As fun as it could be, with very little strategy, Anvalor has legs for a single play. That play has passed for me.
Imagine if Tutankhamen was mixed with a cube rails stock game. If the things you pick up are stock, and the price for the stock is determined by the order that the path is traversed, you get Bites.
I have to admit that I've been looking at stock style games a little closer lately. With the recent explosion of cube rails releases by Capstone, Hollandspiele, and Rio Grande Games, there's a lot to explore in this space.
Bites has one major benefit: The theme is not trains. Some people will refuse to play these stock based train games, but they will play stock based games about ants in a picnic! Fools! While Bites is not the deepest cube rails in the world, it is way deeper than the fluffy nature it reveals. It also plays well with two, not a common thing in a stock game.
Imperium's main premise is pretty fun. Its a deckbuilding game where the starting decks, themed to different past empires, are wildly different. This completely dominates your play throughout the game and creates some pretty impressive variety in the box.
Imperium is a rather complex deck building game. This isn't a bad thing. There's too many copycat deckbuilding games flooding the lighter game market. Imperium's play arc, while having familiar elements, feels different than those, and the change is welcome.
Oh the other hand the cost for this complexity of is high. After a substantially long rules teach, our first play of Imperium took two hours. I'm sure we could get it done faster moving forward but as it stands now it feels too long for what it provides. Possibly the game is better with less players, as player interaction is minimal anyway.
As it stands now, I do want to play Imperium again, if only to experience some of the other empires. But I doubt I would want to do much more than one or two extra plays.
GAME SESSION OF THE MONTH
This is an older picture of my mother and my grand aunt playing dominoes. At the time, my aunt had late stage alzheimers, but she never forgot how to play dominoes.
At the time that I'm writing this, Dominoes was ranked 5,445 with an average rating of 5.48. The problem is that Dominoes is not a game. It's a game system. If you read the low reviews they talk about lining the tiles up and knocking them down, as well as other somewhat boring ways to use Dominoes. The actual game played in most of Latin America is anything but. I'll come back to those rules in a bit.
The thing that makes Dominoes stand apart from other quality games, however, is actually the components. There's a very limited number of very chunky pieces that are both wind and water resistant. You can bring a card table, put it in the beach and play Dominoes right there without fear of any components getting damaged. There are very few things in this life that is more enjoyable than playing a board game in the middle of a beach right under a palm tree so you can have the perfect amount of shade.
You don't even need the card table as dominoes can easily be played right on the sand. You don't even need sand. My sister recently purchased a floating card table so you can play Dominoes while in the pool (Harder in the ocean, with the waves and all).
The most common, and best game, played in my island of birth has simple rules. It is a four player partnership game. Each player gets 7 dominoes and partners play across from each other. The goal is for you or your partner to get rid of all their dominoes.
Before you think that these rules are all about luck, let me tell you about my next door neighbor who had what seems like an acre of championship titles. Tile counting is critical, but with 28 tiles, this is a lot easier to do than with a regular deck of cards.
Imagine that your partner opened with a 4/4 domino. Your opponent plays a 4/2. You have a single 2 domino: 2/1 and two 4 pip dominoes: 4/1 and 4/6. What do you play? If you're trying to win, you might go with the 4/1 as this way you still have dominoes of every color. But you should note that you are third in turn order so for you to win your partner has to pass and one of your opponent has to pass. So you play the 2/1, leaving the other side of the 4 open. Furthermore, the fact that you have two fours and your partner played the 4 means that its good odds you have 4 of the 6 remaining tiles that have fours. I would hope your partner played a double of a number she has a lot of.
Think about all you can learn from just two plays on the table. Good players (not me) figure out everyone's hand by the second or third time around. Then they can control the narrative.
There's no denying that Dominoes is an integral part of my culture and that plus the outdoor play raises its rating. But by itself it is still a wonderful game.
Michael Schacht knows how to make pick up and deliver games. Africana is not his best (Hansa), but my wife and I enjoy it.
Pandemic Iberia is the best version of Pandemic. Believe it or not we won this game on the last card.. And as you can see, the map wasn't looking so good either.
Pax Renaissance is my third favorite Pax game, which means its amazing.
I hadn't played Organic Soup AKA the eating poop game in 10 years. I hope it doesn't take another 10 years to bring it out.
Former game of the month winner Chariot Race is still hitting the table. Two out of three of these racers didn't survive.
The moment you realize you have no chance in this hand of Maskmen. Purple was the weakest color.
- [+] Dice rolls
Back when I started my blog, I named it what I named it, because I started realizing that many new games were rehashes or combinations of older games. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but if you're going to steal old ideas and get me interested, then you need to make it better, or provide something new and different.
I note, of course, that publishers are most certainly not catering to the single person audience of myself. But I have my blog, and I get to talk about my personal opinion on games discounting everything else. See my first impression of Ares Expedition.
Nowadays, this whole rehash old mechanisms are worse than ever before. Take a look at most kickstarter descriptions, and they are going to look something like this: "This is a worker placement area control game with deck building mechanisms.". Great! You still haven't told me why I should be interested in your game. All I hear is: "This is a game, its just like every other game, check out the pretty pictures".
Obviously, not every game falls in this category. There's still a lot of innovation out there. It's just a little stunning to me how the same old, same old, has become an actual selling point and somewhat succeeding.
Luckily the game market is big enough that I can mostly ignore those games and still find a few titles worthy of long term exploration.
Oath: Chronicles of Empire and Exile
The art of Oath is fantastically whimsical
Cole Wherle fans are going to go crazy about this title. It sits somewhere in between Root and Pax Pamir: Second Edition in terms of feel and experience. Noting that I loved Pax Pamir, but didn't care for Root, I have very mixed feelings about this title.
The good: Oath feels like a Pax game. There a nice mix between engine building and map positioning that reminds me a lot of Pamir. Players find and play cards to their player board, giving them permanent powers, and to locations, giving them powers if they control the locations. The cards are varied enough that within just a single turn the players had wildly different abilities.
These abilities in turn make the storytelling that occurs in the game rather stunning. For example, in our first game the king was deposed by a band of zombies (The player had the ability to revive the fallen enemies), which stampeded through the countryside like whitewalkers. He (me) would have won, if it wasn't for one player with no army, but who was collecting faith. With the goal to become a religious ruler, he pushed back the zombie hoard and has now set up the next game with a country ruled by the church.
Speaking of setting up the next game. Oath is being pushed as an infinite legacy game where the previous events feed future play. gameplaywise it's just a change in setup but with some narrative built in. Think of how the Pax games only use a subset of the cards, but instead of randomly choosing the cards, they are picked from the last game with some changes based on what happened in this game. It is a nice idea.
On the negative side, like Root, this is a game about bashing the leader. I hate direct bash the leader mechanisms. It might be my single least favorite mechanism of all time. One player described it as Kill Doctor Lucky the legacy game, and that description isn't wrong. While I thought the mechanisms in Root were fantastic, the incessant beating on the perceived winner got old and ultimately, I stopped wanting to play it. On the other hand, while there is bash the leader in Pax Pamir, there is enough control that the leader isn't so easy to displace, and there's other win conditions that players might want to go for instead. Oath lies somewhere in between these two titles.
If Oath had had just a smidge less direct combat, and a smidge more engine building, it would have been perfect to me. I would be rushing to get a copy and convince all my friends that they want to keep playing it over and over again. As it is, I give credit to Oath, as a game that is clearly not designed for me but I still want to play it some more.
Rating: Play Again.
Not a winning hand.
Fantasy Realms caught my attention as a game that was nominated for the Spiel de Jahres and nobody expected it. It is, admittedly, way lighter than your average Spiel de Jahres winner. Each game takes about 10 minutes, and doesn't hurt your brain much, putting it squarely in the filler category.
In Fantasy Realms you are given a hand of 7 cards. Each turn you draw a card then discard a card. Then when the game ends, which can be as quickly as two turns, everyone scores the 7 cards they have. Cards usually have a base score and some sort of bonus or penalty based on what other cards you have in your hand.
That's it. That is the entire game. Not much to it, but the act of trying to improve your score is quite enjoyable. Especially when you're looking at a 10 minute delay in order to sync up with the next table.
Rating: Play Again.
Outpost is a tableau building economic snowball games that spawned two very similar games: The Scepter of Zavandor and Phoenicia. I have played both child games and enjoy them both.
Both Zavandor and Phoenicia try and present themselves as Outpost but shorter. For that reason I always believed Outpost to be a very long game. It wasn't. We played a five player game in two hours. That isn't much longer than Zavandor . And the Sci-Fi theme is certainly more fun than generic high fantasy. Also Zavador suffers the flaw of having multiple characters, all of which push you towards a fixed path to victory, decreasing the exploration space. Outpost does no such mistake and lets players dynamically expand their own path.
Phoenicia, however, does succeed at being much shorter Outpost, clocking in at less than an hour. Phoenicia however, is full of sharp corners and players can easily fall behind with no chance of coming back even five minutes into the game. You'd think the shorter game would be more beginner friendly, but no, for beginner's I'd pick Outpost. Still, you can't beat cutting a game in half without removing much depth.
Either way Outpost is not soft and friendly. This is an economic snowball game. Players are bidding for technologies and building factories as efficiently as possible in order to get more money which in turns lets them bid and build for better and better technologies faster. If you fall behind, you're not coming back. The auctions are harsh, and they really make the game. If you end up needing something, expect your opponents to force you to pay through the nose. Outpost is a nailbiter from beginning to end and I love it.
If it wasn't for the fact that I already have Phoenicia, I'd get this one.
Rating: Play Again!
In 1998, Director Gus Van Sant got the bizarre idea that he could make Psycho better than Alfred Hitchcock. It wasn't a bad movie if taken independently, but why would you bother when the far better 1960 exists?
Hopefully you know where I'm going with this. Ares Expedition is a shameless ripoff of Race for the Galaxy. It also turns out that like Hitchcock, Tom Lehmann is hard to beat. If you want a worse balanced, less strategic version of Race for the Galaxy. I've got the game for you.
Also, shame on the designers for not attributing Lehmann for their "design".
Reiner Knizia takes on the combat genre (No minis included) and takes it in places I haven't seen before. In Clash of the Gladiators players are filling up chariots with attackers, defenders, and maybe some other types of people. Then the chariots are placed on the board along with a few animals and then they attack each other until there's one left.
There's a lot of games that have this description, and I don't like most of them, but Knizia has some good tricks up his sleeve. First of all, when you die, you come back as the animals and can get more victory points that way. Thus, bashing on the leader is not as effective as you might hope.
Second, and this is where the game is most interesting, there are five different types of people you can put on a Chariot, and the composition selected will make a huge difference in how you play. There's a little bit of a rock paper scissors mechanisms as some Chariots will be better at some things and not others. I had a great time selecting a group of characters that I thought would beat the chariots near me.
After you do that and you get into the slugfest that is die rolling, luck will reign supreme, but there's still room for a little bit of thought - some push your luck and some positioning in deciding who to attack and who to move towards.
All in all, Clash of the Gladiators is not a deep game. But it plays fast, has all sorts of moments of excitement, and rolling dice is always fun.
Rating: Play Again!
SpaceCorp is a long 3-4 hour space game that is nothing like High Frontier. If anything, it felt more like Destination: Neptune (Second Edition), where players are racing to find all the best locations on the maps. Although in SpaceCorp's case there quite a bit of luck in that you don't actually know how good a location is until you get there, though in general the farther locations are better than the nearer ones.
One interesting thing about SpaceCorp is that the game is divided into three separate epochs each with their own boards. I've never seen something like this before and it was fun. One less fun thing, however, is the fact that the first epoch seemed like an extended setup phase. You can't really get any amounts of significant points and you're so limited in what you are allowed to do that I repeatedly wondered what the point of it was.
The main strategy concern in SpaceCorp is managing your cards. All actions go through these multi-use cards and you must continuously weigh what you want to do with what you can do, and when you should hold back to get more cards. In retrospect there were many decisions I made with regards to hand management that were clearly wrong. There's clearly some significant depth here.
On the other hand, there's also a lot of luck. A bad draw, especially at the end phase can have significant differences in your final score. I don't know how it would work, but a little bit of look-ahead would have been nice. Especially for a game this long. It reminded me a little of many Phil Eklund designs, where there's a lot of depth in decision making, and you can make bets on odds, but sometimes the odds don't go your way and chaos takes over.
This used to bother me a long time ago, but it doesn't anymore. I do wish the game was shorter tho'. I'd play it a lot more if it was.
Rating: Play Again.
Paleo is a cooperative game about managing a deck of cards without actually knowing what is in the deck of cards. Players get to decide what kind of card they want to play every turn and then once everyone has chosen you flip the cards over and figure out what you actually played.
Most cards have a cost to get a benefit or avoid a penalty. The major decision point in Paleo is deciding which cards to pay the cost and which cards to hold back to avoid overextending yourself. Sometimes, due to the card flip this is obvious, but not all the time. There are some very real decisions here and experience will help.
Paleo is a fun game. In fact, after I played it multiplayer, the next day I played it again on TTS solo to see if I could do better (Yes, yes I could). But this brings me to my biggest problem with Paleo: It is entirely a solo game. Players need to decide collectively what to do and if you have an alpha gamer problem, then you're just there for the ride.
We have a group that tries really hard to not alpha-game. But even then, it just felt off. I wouldn't say no, but I can't say I have much interest in playing this multiplayer. On the other hand, there's a whole pile of scenarios and if I was more into solo games, there's a huge amount fun to be had.
18xx in a little bitty bite size game. 18Zoo shrinks the game to a forced three stock rounds (6 Operating rounds), and removes all the medium trains so the game essentially shifts from the early game to the late game quickly.
Many people argue the middle game in 18xx games is the least interesting part of the game, so getting rid of it isn't such a terrible thing. This is a very impressive design effort. Shrinking and re-balancing 18xx like this could not have been easy. There's a private draft that's full of all sorts of interesting special powers. I enjoyed that part of the game. Also, just because its a short game, doesn't mean train rusting and token wars won't happen.
On the negative side, 18Zoo changes the wording for a lot of things. It isn't money, it's nuts, it isn't trains, its squirrels. As an experienced player, I found the term switching confusing. Furthermore the theme makes no sense to me.
I personally don't have any interest in an introductory 18xx game. I do have rooms for short 18xx games because they are more likely to hit the table. While 18Zoo isn't the pinnacle of all 18xx games, it is impressively fast, sharp, and entertaining.
Rating: Play Again.
I'm always impressed with Amabel Holland's cube rails games. She has this capability of making a game that is interesting the first time you play, and then the 10th time you play, despite the fact that what you actually do or think in those two plays are very different. I haven't played Trans-Siberian Railroad more than once, so I can't speak for how they are going to be different, but I can already see all sorts of interesting paths.
The twist to this game in comparison to other cube rails game is a brutal nationalization system. Players need to keep companies they have interest on set to an ever increasing stock price or it gets nationalized and they get a fraction of the actual value of the company. You really don't want that to happen, but sometimes, you can't avoid it. Especially if you threw away the entire company coffers in some silly over-aggressive idea.
There's some really interesting knobs in Trans-Siberian Railroad, and I very much want to try more of them. Amabel's Dual Gauge has the reserved spot for my next cube rails game, but I can easily see getting this one after.
The action wheel.
Nauticus is an action selection game about building tall ships and shipping goods with them. Players need a hull, a mast, and a sail in order to make their ship. They have two resources, workers, and money that they are going to need to balance correctly while making all these things.
Each round every action space is randomized in the amount of intrinsic power they have, how much it costs, and what the bonus is for selecting such action. Players need to optimize and balance everything I've just mentioned. Player interaction is mostly based on looking at your opponents and making sure the action you selected doesn't help them more than you.
In many ways, Nauticus reminds me of another action selection game: Carnegie. I think Carnegie is the superior game. The reason being that the level of randomization in Nauticus is much larger round to round.
I had fun with Nauticus, and if others want to play it I wouldn't say no, but I won't seek it out given other action selection games that I prefer.
GAME SESSION OF THE MONTH
Tribune: Primus Inter Pares
I prefer the art of the original game, but the new version still looks quite nice.
The new faction, the Christians, was heavily fought over. This was the bid that won it on the last round, for the win.
The designer of Tribune never got the memo that worker placement games are supposed to have multiple paths to victory and minute amounts of player interaction. As a result, Tribune is still one of the greatest, if not the greatest, worker placement games ever made.
In Tribune, players are collecting sets of cards in order to dominate certain factions, all of which give abilities you want. To take over a faction you must have a set larger than the previously played set. This idea is genius. Everybody is fighting for these factions and you are always looking over at what other players are doing.
Furthermore, there are multiple paths to victory, but like Agricola, you need to travel many paths to win. You can't just sit around your little corner and play your little solo game.
Did I mention that most games last not much more than an hour? The depth to play time ratio here is amazing.
This year there's an new version of Tribune that includes the expansion in the same box as well as a few new mechanisms. This scared me. Did they ruin it? Well, I'm happy to say they didn't ruin it. I don't think the mechanisms make the game any better, but they don't make it worse either. I also think the original game looks a little nicer, but it was never a looker anyway. If you don't have Tribune, get this copy. If you do, don't bother.
I blame Tribune for the reason I don't like most Worker Placement games. After all, why should I play them over this one?
The Prussians break through the center line, and route Bonaparte in Bonaparte at Marengo. A game that really should be reprinted.
Yoda, despite his tiny legs, reaches the temple first in Knizia's The Quest for El Dorado.
Lots of luck and player elimination, but King of Tokyo's theme alone puts it high on the fun factor.
- [+] Dice rolls
This month, I've decided that I'm going to do an introspective on my favorite publishers. In order to do this, I took a look at the last 50 games I've acquired and see if I can find a favorite publisher. I didn't find a favorite publisher, but what I found gave me hope for the health of this industry.
Over last 50 games I have purchased, only one publisher owns three titles. That being All-Aboard Games, which has been publishing 18xx games faster than I can get to them. Only seven other publishers own two titles. That being AMIGO, Cephelofair Games, IELLO, Ion Games, Pandasaurus, Quined Games, and GMT. That leaves a whopping 33 publishers with one title each. At no other time in history has there been such amazing variety of publishers. Of course, the elephant in the room Asmodee isn't so much a publisher but a collection of publishers but even adding up all the publishers under their umbrella, I only count 7 titles on my list that they are responsible for. Though of course, I'm extra picky now of buying games published by Asmodee due to their lack of support. Of note, there wasn't a single title from Fantasy Flight Games. I know they've moved away from my style of games but I was really surprised that I haven't acquired anything of theirs since early 2019, when I acquired KeyForge: Call of the Archons in a trade. If I only count purchases, then I have to go all the way back to 2017 and Arkham Horror: The Card Game.
This is amazing, and any fear I've ever had of a situation like the Avalon Hill crash that set the industry back years is long gone. I expect more consolidation in this industry, but if every publisher on this list merges with another publisher, there are still 20 publishers left to satisfy my gaming purchases.
Here's the list:
All-Aboard Games x3
Cephelofair Games x2
Ion Games x2
Pandasaurus Games x2
Quined Games x2
Czech Games Edition
Days of Wonder (Asmodee)
Fox in the Box
GMT Games x2
Golden Spike Games
Grand Trunk Games
HeidelBAR Games (Asmodee)
Holy Grail Games
Moaideas Game Design
North Star Games
One More Game!
Pearl Games (Asmodee)
Plan B Games
Pretzel Games (Asmodee)
Rio Grande Games
Saashi & Saashi
Sand Castle Games (Asmodee)
Smirk & Laughter Games
Z-Man Games (Asmodee)
With that, here's some first impressions, all by different publishers:
Early game, Africa was good to me. Other continents, not so much
Imagine, if you will, a trick taking game with cards that contain SIX different values and a simultaneous twelve different tricks, each corresponding to a high and a low bid of a value. Sounds crazy, and it is. But I haven't even gotten to the twist yet.
The cards represent individual countries. And the six values are actual values from said countries! Area, Population, Highest Elevation, Average Temperature, Life expectancy, and average annual income.
This is awesome. I love looking at the values of the cards and how the different countries compare to each other. It is also, admittedly, not particularly well balanced. If you draw a hand that includes Monaco, Nepal, and Canada, you're going to be doing a lot better than someone who drew three average countries in Europe.
There's also an area majority thing at the end of the game, which seemed unnecessarily tacked on. I would have removed this part from the game if I was designing it.
It felt to me that I could mostly predict the end results of my drawn hand before I even play it. Maybe more experience would change Unless I'm wrong, I think this is a great game to play once or twice, but it won't have legs to got the distance.
Still, absolutely worth playing that once or twice.
On your marks! Get Set! Nevermind... I can't roll a two.
Dicycle Race is a collection of similar dice games centered around bicycle racing as the theme. I can't speak for all the different variants and some might be better than others. We played a standard race on medium difficulty.
The general idea for the game is that you roll six dice in order to make what is usually a 2 dice combination in the card you're trying to get. If at the same time you get the combination on the card after the current card, you get to move twice. So, when doing your standard Yahtzee roll and reroll you have to decide how many die you're willing to die roll.
Unfortunately, it is actually really hard to get even one card in a turn. It took us three turns to get through the first card (A pair of fours). At that point, we all gave up on the push your luck part and just hoped to get through the current card.
Dicycle Race is a good idea that needed massive development work. Maybe more dice to roll, maybe more interesting dice manipulation? It's too bad because the theme and the artwork is very cool, and there is definitely a basis for a good game here. Instead of making ten billion variants, they could have playtested one good one?
The tree strategy
Rudiger Dorn has always been a designer worth looking into. I remember playing Diamonds Club back in 2009, putting it in my wishlist, then waiting too long and realizing that the game went out of print and was quite difficult to get. Thanks to a lucky auction, I have finally corrected my mistake and Diamond's Club has been added to my collection.
I remember nothing about Diamond's Club. This brings me to the question: was it worth it? Yes, I think so. Not necessarily because Diamonds Club is the greatest game of all time, but because its a good solid game that does something different and original.
Diamonds Club is a worker placement game with coins as workers. The board is a 6x6 grid. The number of workers required to be placed in a spot is the number of orthogonally adjacent workers plus one. So, you have your usual decision of where do you want to go, with an extra decision of what do you want to make more expensive. Then later on, you have to decide to go to the few remaining cheap spots that aren't all that great, or to the more expensive spots that might suit you better.
The spots themselves are very simple. Mostly you are collecting sets of spots for gems of specific colors so you can buy the right tiles to give you the most victory points. There's also a minor tech tree and a few easy point tiles. Nothing special there, but also without any added complexity mucking up the works. If this game had been done today I could have easily seen all sorts of crazy worker placement spots muddled into a longer, and less fun, game.
It's a little sad that Diamond's Club has mostly disappeared. It has very few rough edges and is very pleasant to play. I'm glad I finally got my copy.
This was the perfect hand. a near perfect distribution and very few very low or very high numbers. I scored 0 points here.
Before I get to the gameplay, the elephant in the room is so huge I need to talk about it first. A long time ago, Reiner Knizia made this trick taking card game themed around a tightrope. Then a slightly less longer time ago, Uberplay ruined it by adding a theme that is both offensive and confusing.
Confusing because anyone who looks at this title thinks that it is a two player game. It is explicitly not a two player game. It does 3-5. Offensive, because the theme is about balancing a relationship between things he wants to do and the things she wants to do. You guessed it, every stereotype possible is represented here in the most terrible way. I'm sure the re-themers thought they could make this funny, and they tried (The guys want to fart, the girls want to go to bathrooms in a group), but they failed miserably.
On to the game, which is actually pretty good. This is a trick taking game where there are two "winners" per trick: the high value and the low value. If you win the high value trick you get blue points. If you win the low value trick you get red points (or the reverse, I can't remember). Red points cancel out blue points and points are bad. Its a very interesting dynamic when different players are trying to get different things based on what they have already picked in front of them.
Separately, Relationship Tightrope, also contains the greatest rule ever invented in a trick taking game. If you score zero points in a round then not only do you get to revel on your nice round, but you also get to cancel out a previous round. It isn't easy to do, but what it does is that it gives everyone a chance to come back from a bad round. Furthermore, I did so in my play and came back to win the game. Scott is still seething about my victory
Relationship Tightrope needs to be reprinted with its original theme.
Rating: Play Again!
Brain Freeze is a childen's version of Telepathy: Magic Minds. By children's version, I mean it is a 10x10 grid instead of an 18x18, and the theme is moved from the occult to delicious desserts. Otherwise the game remains exactly the same.
I love Telepathy. My child is 6, and this game says age minimum of 6. This is the ultimate no brainer purchase.
As a six year old game, Brain Freeze is certainly a little harder than what she is used to, but by her second play the child already understood the rules and how to play. She hasn't figured out strategy yet, but I'm excited to watch her develop as she plays with it more. I think teaching logic to a 6 year old is going to pay off very quickly.
As an adult game, I admit, its also awesome! Just because it is smaller doesn't mean the strategy goes away. All it does is take away the amount of time it takes to play. In fact, I'd say that with the smaller map it really only takes 6-7 moves to get it most of the time so the pressure is on. There's a lot of thinking involved in trying to figure out where the right place is as fast as possible.
Because it is so short, you might want to add an equal turns rule - start player becomes a bigger deal now. But otherwise this really doesn't take away much from the full game. Love it.
Start your engines
That corner was crash central
I would like to describe Supercharged using a single card from the game. "3rd racer retires". This means that whoever is currently in third place immediately loses - nothing to be done about it. That seems extreme, doesn't it, it must be a special circumstance when that happens. No. Not really. It just happens because you randomly drew an event card that said so.
You can't stop it. You can't push harder or slow down to make it not happen (Other place players might be retired as well). It just kicks you out of the game. Furthermore, play order is randomized every turn, so you could be in third place (or whatever place the racer got retired) simply by the random turn order. You might be leading the race and it will happen. You might be leading the race and about to win and it will happen!
I don't want to make this about the one "broken" card. It is not broken. It's just that this card represents what you are going to have to expect when playing Supercharged. Absolute chaos will own any amount of strategy that you might have. You have to go along for the ride and not take it personally (Or pretend to overtake it personally because that's fun too).
Having said that, the race is actually quite entertaining to watch. There's all sorts of fun moments that go with the chaos. The narrative the game develops is very well done. The race feels exactly like a car race should feel. More so even than any other car race game I can think of. I genuinely had a good time even though I'm not sure if much of what I did was of any consequence.
Warning: The rule book leaves a lot to be desired. In particular we are not entirely sure if we played with the right drafting rules.
Rating: Play Again.
Fast Food Franchise
Not your grandfather's Monopoly.
Finally, after so many years, I got a chance to play Tom Lehmann's take on Monopoly. Personally, I think Monopoly is underrated. People pay the game with the wrong rules, and then complain that the game is broken with the wrong rules that they played. When played with auctions and without the extra money, Monopoly is brutal economic game that is chaotic that is full of genuinely consequential decisions and doesn't take longer than your average heavy modern game.
Fast Food Franchise is, in fact, Tom Lehmann's take on Monopoly. It removes the auctions, which speeds up the game but limits the depth. And then it changes the way houses and hotels are managed, adding a pretty fun connection mini-game in the central part of the board. The game also ends when a player reaches a million dollars, instead of when everyone gets eliminated, which I think is a better end condition.
It also retains some of the negatives of Monopoly. It includes as much luck in the roll and write part of the game as Monopoly does. There's also a lot of luck in the events, which are certainly stronger than the chance cards in Monopoly. It includes player elimination game, and if you get eliminated early then hopefully you have a different game lined up.
All in all, I can see how this is a game that cannot be easily published in today's gaming market, but I had a good time playing it and would certainly play it again. Monopoly is good too.
Rating: Play Again!
The custom deck is very pretty.
Regicide is a cooperative card game, playable with a standard deck of cards, that involves killing all the royalty in said deck. The game rules are free online though they do offer a deck with nice art if you want it that way.
Each suit has a different special power. One shields, one does extra damage, one moves discarded cards to the draw deck, and one lets players to draw cards. If at some point a player can't play a card they lose, so those last two abilities are absolute key. Additionally each royalty is immune to the suit that they are, which means, for example, that when the king of diamonds show up, you won't be drawing cards. Hope you have enough!
I was a little disappointed that we beat Regicide on our first go around - coop games are better when you fail and then want to try again, but all in all I found it to be a very original game and certainly fun to play.
The special deck they offer looks really nice and has some very thematic art. However, I wish they had gone a little farther and had extra text in each card stating what they did. It isn't hard to remember that hearts move cards to the draw deck, but if you're making a custom deck, why should I have to remember it?
All in all, if you don't use the special deck, Regicide is free, and more than worth it. I don't know if it has long term staying power, but at this price, it doesn't have to.
Rating: Play again.
Go Nuts for Donuts
I had more points on turn 5 here, than I did at the end of the game. This didn't go well for me.
This is an incredibly short and light set collection game that plays different than Sushi Go! but plays in the same space.
Every round, six donuts (In the form of cards) are placed in a line. Each donut has varying abilities and different scoring options. Players have cards numbering one to six. They secretly select a card with simultaneous reveal. If you selected a number that any other player selected, you get nothing and the donut is discarded. If you selected a unique number, you get the donut.
This is repeated until the card deck is complete and then you compare scores. Just in case the chaos wasn't clear, some of the cards have serious take that abilities, and you can easily take a person out of contention if you get lucky with the right move.
Which is fine, this is a light quick game that is trying to provide groans and cheers over strategy. Under that vision, Go Nuts For Donuts does extremely well. I prefer a little more strategy, even on my fillers, but I can't help but admit that Go Nuts is a fun experience.
Rating: Play Again.
It looks like a race. None of these cars are going to make it.
The graveyard at the end of game. Nineteen dead cars.
Apocalypse Road looks like a race game and uses the same mechanism as Thunder Alley, but it is most definitely not a race game. The goal of the game is to get a certain number of victory points. You get victory points every time one of your cars finishes a lap, and every time you blow up someone else's car. Very quickly we realized that it is much easier to blow up a car than to do a full lap around the board.
Inevitably, we forgot about racing, and blew each other up continuously. You only get points for a kill, so if you injure someone, everyone is going to go after it to get the easy kill shot. I don't love this type of point system, but you can't take this game too seriously anyway. This is completely beer and pretzels. In fact, we were appropriately, having beer and pretzels while playing the game.
I admit I had a hugely fun time with Apocalypse Road. It entertains all the way through. If the game was a little more strategic, I would be rushing to buy it. Which leads me to Thunder Alley, the original game that uses the same mechanisms but is a straight up race game. I've never played Thunder Alley, but now I feel like I must.
Rating: Play Again!
GAME SESSION OF THE MONTH
This little town of 3 people turned into...
That monstrous 27 person town in the middle. How pretty is this game?
For years, game designers as well as game players have been on a search for a civilization game that plays in less than two hours. La Citta was released 21 years ago, but it very well could be the perfect version of Civilization.
In La Citta, players start with two tiny cities and slowly, hopefully grow them into metropolises. They will want the cities to be near mountains, so they can collect coins, farms, so they can feed their people, and water. They will also want to be desirable cities in order to attract higher population.
Unlike many Civilization games, La Citta has no combat whatsoever. And yet, it is one of the meanest games in my collection. You see, desirable cities don't just magically gain population. They steal them from neighboring cities. In turn if neighboring cities don't have enough people to maintain all their facilities, they shrink, which will make them less desirable and in turn shrink further, until you have a sad shell of a city, and you wonder where you went wrong.
That new big city now needs to feed all these new residents, which brings its own problems. You're going to have to waste valuable actions to build farms, and if you run out of space for these farms due to other cities encroaching, you have even more problems.
The most amazing thing about La Citta is that it doesn't waste time. There are only 30 actions per player in the entire game. Each one is extremely valuable because you're going to run into conflict on the first turn.
It is a crime that La Citta has mostly disappeared. It hasn't been reprinted since the initial release, although I see some cheap copies in the marketplace. Instead, you get Kickstarter after Kickstarter of pretenders. None of which are ever as good.
Factory Funner is great, but I think I prefer the original.
Gods Love Dinosaurs is a very photogenic game.
Ra just got a new life thanks to Geekup bits.
A friend made a Spongebob version of Deep Sea Adventure. It's amazing.
The aliens in Under Falling Skies are very intimidating.
Ticket To Ride: London. A good train line will cross the city and hit all the good spots like blue. I don't know what red was doing, but I didn't win.
- [+] Dice rolls
Locally, groups are opening up for vaccinated people, and living in pr-science Massachusetts, this is pretty much everyone I know. I hosted my first game night in one and a half years, though with limited attendance. I can't tell you how awesome it was. It was smiles all around by everyone.
Of course, my pandemic group will continue to meet, giving me more gaming options in the future! Hopefully variants don't screw anything up, but I'm not taking any gaming for granted and I'm enjoying every minute of it.
Since I still have this new camera and and can take pictures of real games, I've added a new section down at the bottom with photos and single line captions sometimes. This section might not be a regular thing moving forward, depends on how motivated I get that particular month to take photos.
First impressions, however, is a regular section:
This is a prototype of the fourth expansion for High Frontier 4 All. It is still in development so I will follow my usual not useful to you lack of information sharing. I will say that I think Exodus has the potential to be my favorite expansion of the game.
Rating: No rating given for prototypes.
I've played a number of Unlock! games in the past, mostly because I prefer their non-destructive nature over some other escape the room type games. Overall I certainly find them enjoyable, but not outstanding.
While Heroic Adventures is still not in the outstanding category, the three adventures included are a clear step up from the older adventure sets. All three are quite unique and are interesting in their own way, though I have to give particular props for the Sherlock Holmes mission which is a real satisfying mystery to solve.
My rating system fails for one shot types of games. The real question is do I think the experience is worth running once. Well, I'm not sure. $30 for 3 hours of entertainment seems like a lot. However, if you can finish the set and trade it with someone else then it is $30 for 6 hours, and that seems more palatable to me. I'm hoping someone local will want to trade their set of puzzles for mine, or I get to sell it locally for half the price and use that money to buy another set.
Rating: Play Again! (Sorta.. Other scenarios)
13 Clues is a light, fast deduction game currently available in Boardgame Arena. I've mentioned before that I like fast deduction games, but I've also been blessed with a good number of fast deduction games over the last few years.
Most deduction games cause variance by limiting the possible questions that one can ask your opponents, usually by some randomized way like card draws. 13 Clues does away with this idea. This makes question asking a little bit more thinky and consequential, which is great. On the other hand, on my one play with, admittedly players who are very good at deduction games, literally every player figured out the solution at the same time. Then it was just up to turn order to determine the winner.
I should be ecstatic about another short deduction game that works, but I'm not. I think part of this might be the online play versus live. I really need to play this live. Part of it might also be that there's so many other games in this space that I might be a little overwhelmed with them at this time.
Still, I think I'm going to keep this game in my list of things to play a few more times. If I'm lucky I'd love to play it live as well. There's some interesting choices here and I'm a sucker for deduction.
Rating: Play Again!
Vying to take the light worker placement game from Stone Age. Quetzal is a simple game with the twist that you literally roll your worker meeples, and then whichever side they end up on is the type of worker that you have. It is a cute gimmick that does nothing for the game except unnecessarily make it longer. 90% of the time, you have enough wild meeples (These are meeples that landed on their side) that flipping meeples around won't make a difference. Furthermore the few times that it does make a difference, it's more annoying than anything else.
Outside of that gimmick, however, Quetzal is a solid if unspectacular game. Note, however, that I am generally prone to dislike worker placement games, so if you are more amenable to that style you should rate Quetzal a little higher.
I like that some of the worker placement spots are actually auctions, but worker placement auctions are done better in Keyflower. I also like that the worker spots are well fought over, as there aren't many of them and there is no multiple paths to victory buffoonery here. There's a game here, to be sure.
The theme, however, ugg. It's about European traveling to the New World, stealing artifacts and taking them back to their European museums. This probably won't bother most people, and I'm certainly not judging those who just want to play the game. But Quetzal is seems to be aiming for the family game market, and I would not play something with this theme with my family. If you can get over that, I suppose there's a solid, unspectacular game here.
This is another of the 10 minute Ticket To Ride series of games. Personally, I think 10 minute Ticket To Ride is fantastic. Luck is more prevalent, and it isn't as deep, but it doesn't matter because it plays in ten minutes!
In the London game, there is the added wrinkle that you get extra points if you connect all cities in a district. This wrinkle made little difference in our game, but I do like the London map a little more than the New York map. Having said that, one of either one of these games is more than enough. They are very similar. (I have not tried Ticket to Ride: Amsterdam yet, but it looks quite similar as well).
One one side, you get zombies. On the other, some tasty Ice Cream. I'll take the Ice Cream, thank you.
I've never played Flick 'em Up!. In retrospect I think this is because of association. A lot of people compare this game with Catacombs, and I don't like Catacombs. In retrospect, this was a silly comparison. The reason I don't like Catacombs is that the play area is tiny. Flicking games are better when they are expansive. Flick em' Up takes up my whole table, as it should. Therefore, it is infinitely better than the Catacombs and I was silly for having lumped them together.
Dead of Winter replaces the original western theme, with a zombie themed game. There's enough zombie games out there, and I prefer the original Western theme. However, it also adds two things: a cooperative mode, and a zombie tower.
Both additions are excellent. I think more dexterity games should be cooperative. Its more fun to cheer your friends on when flicking than to root against them. This goes double when playing with varying degrees of flicking skills, such as little kids.
The zombie tower is also a lot of fun. Basically, if you make any noise, and you will because doing any action requires noise, you get to place zombies at the top of the tower and haul them down towards your characters. Any characters that fall down, get hurt. It is genius in its simplicity, but also ads a surprising amount of strategy in trying to manipulate the game into getting the zombies in the locations that you want.
Flick Em Up is not going to surprise anyone. It delivers exactly what it promises. What it promises is a lot of fun. I might have to consider acquiring the original game as well, though many of the original game scenarios can be easily converted and played with minimal changes to this version of the game.
Given that 1861 and 1867 have nearly the same rules, and that 1867 is the newer and higher rated game, I never bothered to play 1861. However, I just got into an 1861 tournament on 18xx.games and have now realized the folly of my ways.
I actually think I like 1861 more than 1867. The rules are nearly entirely the same and it is still a game about doing lots of minor trains shenanigans before merging them into companies that hopefully have good long profitable routes. However, the 1861 map is a lot more interesting than the 1867 map. I originally thought I would prefer the floating starting positions of 1867, but the result is that companies are more even in '67. Companies with varying values are more interesting in a game when these companies are auctioned off.
There are some advantages to 1867: The simpler stock market and the simpler national railway speeds up play without reducing much strategy. These games were never about the stock market anyway. However, the new combo release of 1861/67 allows both of these rules to be played in the 1861 map. That's the way to go.
18Ireland is what get when you mix 1849 and 1861? What a strange mix of games. 18Ireland, operationally, plays mostly like 1861. It is a game where you are, early on, starting minors and maximizing their earnings then merging your minors and maximizing your earnings on hopefully bigger routes.
The difference here is that minors are regular 5 share companies. Inevitably as soon as you start one, your opponents will buy out the remaining shares not letting the company slowly gain cash unless you withhold. Also unlike 1861, you can't get out of your obligation to keep a train in your companies. You will be buying a permanent train. Somehow. Don't really ask me how because money isn't magically showing up - even mid game most runs barely break $100.
There's also, like 1849: The Game of Sicilian Railways, two separate types of track, though they work differently here. Essentially every town connected to a town using narrow gauge, raises the value of the town. It also blocks other track from going there which makes for some really interesting operating round shenanigans.
I love this game. Every aspect of 18Ireland is interesting. Both the operational and the stock round matter. The game is short and sharp and delicious. I really did not expect to like 18Ireland as much as I did.
Middara is a dungeon crawl game that has been appropriately described as a mix between Descent: Journeys in the Dark and Gloomhaven. I enjoy this type of game as a form of role playing game with just a hint more strategy than your average role playing game. Middara is competent at what it does. If you like big sprawling role playing games, then you will enjoy it. If you don't, you won't.
Lets start with the good. Middara is a big sprawling game with lots of characters, a whopping triple digits of missions and a huge branching story. Combat is nice and streamlined with most being resolved in a single roll of the dice (Some exceptions might require a second role). All in all, it plays quite smoothly, which is nice in this type of game. It has a big JRPG feel, which serves as a reminder to some great video games in the past. I haven't gotten to it, but I've also heard that character customization is fantastic.
Now, moving on to the bad. Middara is immature to the extreme. The characters are oversexualized to the extreme. One of the starting characters has a piece of lingerie that lets her dodge and gives her more hit points. The other one has the smallest mini-skirt in the world. Clearly this is quality adventuring wardrobe.
Worse than that tho, the writing is both immature and terrible. Its like a bunch of valley girls and dudes decided to grab some weapons and do RPG things. Yes, I'm aware I'm dating myself with a valley girl reference, get off my lawn.
The items and abilities in the game are unnecessarily complex. Every item has icons with some plus or minus symbols that you have to add to your own symbol to figure out what your actual stat is. Let me see, I have 12 base HP, plus 3 for the lingerie, plus 1 for the earrings, plus 1 for this special power I just got. That's 17. I'll try and remember that, since there's nowhere to record it in the game components. Furthermore, there's lots of keywords that you have to go through the rulebook to find. This monster is ELUSIVE. What the hell does that mean? Why couldn't you just write - immune to counters and avoid me looking up the rulebook?
Also, the turn order mechanism is suspect. It is simple: you essentially randomize cards every round and whomever cards are drawn goes first. Nice, except there is a huge amount of game variance if the bad guys go first, or twice in a row (If they went last in the previous round) versus if we get to kill them before they go.
This leads me to the difficulty. So far we have played the first three missions. Easy doesn't even begin to describe it, unless the turn order cards go against you. We actually killed a big boss on turn 1 without him even getting a turn. I'll give it a minor pass for now because it is possible the game gets harder later, although I've heard others in the BGG forum mention that the game is too easy as well.
All in all, if you like dungeon crawlers, Middara will do. I'll keep playing it, but it won't turn the world on its head like Gloomhaven did.
Rating: Play Again.
A while back, I reviewed The Reckoners, a cooperative games that includes a circle of locations and a big bad that you have to kill. I did not give it a good review. My main problem with The Reckoners is that is a very shallow game that plays in 90 minutes. It drags, badly, and with no payout.
Marvel United feels very similar, and it doesn't actually add any depth, but it does shrink the play time to 30 minutes at the most. The game itself is follows your standard players do good thing, then the enemy draws a bad thing that has been popular since Pandemic. As expected with this type of game players need to balance managing the bad things so they don't make you lose, with the long term goal of winning. This will all feel familiar, but it is done competently.
Marvel United does add a very fun wrinkle in that the last card played is added to the card being played now. Thus, you have to consider not just what you are playing but what you want your partner to play after you. I would like to see more games follow this mechanism - it makes for really interesting situations.
To be honest, I've grown a little tired of the simpler cooperative games like this, and as much as I like superheroes, the Marvelverse is so overdone that I care little for this theme. This was never going to be a big hit for me, but its good enough as a light end of night snack after the good games are done.
GAME SESSION OF THE MONTH
One of my favorite podcasts, So Very Wrong About Games, had a recent episode discussing how games need to put their best foot forward immediately. Most players are going to give a game one play. If it doesn't leave a lasting impression, it is gone.
This means that if your game has a "beginner" mode, that should be awesome. If it is not, gamers are not going to get to the advanced game that might be better. There's a lot of positive and negatives examples I could give, but the podcast goes through a whole list of them, and I see no need to repeat them.
The reason I mention this is because K2 comes with two sets of cards: Summer and Winter. It also comes with a two sided board, one easier than the other. The recommended first play for the game is Easy/Summer. This is a pretty boring way to play K2. Everyone is going to be able to get to the top and nobody is likely to die.
If instead, you go with the winter pieces, maybe with the extra Avalanche expansion, and the hard side of the map. Then the game gets interesting. If you, like we did, then play with the full player count without the optional extra space on the board, then the game gets both interesting and cutthroat.
Take, for example the situation in the picture above. Yellow was very proud of reaching the top of the mountain. Green, you might notice, decided to place both his units in the spot where yellow set up his camp. Yellow's celebration was short lived, pun intended.
In fact, a whopping four out of the ten climbers died in the mountain. Only one climber actually made it all the way to the top and lived, but that player didn't win - Green won by getting close enough with both climbers. This is the way K2 should be played. Such a wonderful game.
I almost made this play of The Princes of Florence the game of the month. It is still one of the greatest Eurogames of all time, and gorgeous
It's so nice to see Ginkgopolis back in print after so many years.
The Golden Spike variant of Mini Express was of no consequence in our game. Also, discovered that five players is not the ideal play count.
This is a terrible out of focus picture of my hand in SCOUT I wouldn't have shared it if it wasn't for the fact that the bad picture is representative of the disaster I made of that hand. What I wouldn't give for a 7.
Beyond the Sun is one of the highlights of the year for me. Early on games were dominated by colonizing. Now the fighting for those colonies gets hard, fast. Sirius here changed hands six times before it got colonized by a player with a value of 7.
It is impressive how many cards you can build in It's a Wonderful World in just four turns.
- [+] Dice rolls