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December 2021 - Puzzles and small card games!

Georg Wolgast
Sweden
Lund
Skåne
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Microbadge: Waluigi fanMicrobadge: I love old-school German-style gamesMicrobadge: I like learning games more than winning them!Microbadge: I keep my ratings currentMicrobadge: Blogger
Here is a short introduction for the blog and myself. These are my impressions of the games I played last month. First an overview using the excellent GCL-tool.

This month for me is obviously dominated by our Exit: The Game – Advent Calendar. While I have my issues with it (see below) I still had a lot of fun doing something together with my wife as our advent calendar this year. Hopefully it will become a yearly tradition!

This also meant that we were in a kind of escape room mood a lot, the calendar didn't exactly whet our appetite most days. So we've been playing a lot of the Exits and other escape room style games that have been languishing on our shelves a bit this year!

Often, this led into playing a small card game afterwards as a sort of nightcap, hence the title of this post.

Board Game: Exit: The Game – Advent Calendar: The Mystery of the Ice Cave
Board Game: TEN
From gallery of cw_ts
Board Game: Eat Poop You Cat
Board Game: Boonlake
Board Game: Lost Cities
Board Game: Import / Export: Definitive Edition
Board Game: Hansa Teutonica
Board Game: Art Decko
Board Game: Northern Pacific
Board Game: Exit: The Game – The Cemetery of the Knight
Board Game: Whitehall Mystery
Board Game: Mogul
Board Game: Concept
Board Game: Maglev Metro
Board Game: The Crew: Mission Deep Sea
Board Game: Isle of Trains
Board Game: Deckscape: Escape from Alcatraz
Board Game: The Game: Extreme
Board Game: Bus
Board Game: Kahuna
Board Game: Chess
Board Game: Shut the Box
Board Game: Rococo: Deluxe Edition
Board Game: The Quest for El Dorado: The Golden Temples
Board Game: The Quest for El Dorado: Heroes & Hexes
Board Game: The Quest for El Dorado
Board Game: Zendo
Board Game: Clash of Decks: Starter Kit


 10   Hansa Teutonica (12 all-time)
The only euro game you'll ever need!

Pros:
I just can't stop thinking about this game. It's so interactive, so strategic and yet so very simple. It has everything that made people fall in love with euro games in the forlorn days when it was more important to play well than look pretty.

While there seems to be a route opening, there's nuance even to that and the game quickly opens up to seemingly infinite strategies that are all informed by the actions of your opponents.

The interaction here is so perfect because you're rewarded for intuiting what your opponents need but you can always change your plans if people get too much in your way.

The balance is perfectly tuned in that even kicking someone out just for the sake of blocking them usually ends up helping both of you ahead of other players that don't interact. I.e. if player A blocks B and player B blocks A and they both pay each other, player C falls behind. This juxtaposition to most other games is a big part of why this game is a masterpiece.

It's a game that I feel compelled to learn and master because I feel like my efforts will be rewarded tenfold. One of the smartest things of the game is that if players focus a lot on building an engine without regard for handing out points, the game will end faster, thereby negating the strength of their engine. It's just one example of hard choices influenced by opponents.

Cons:
Some people won't like the cutthroat nature. The game looks drab and it will probably take new players at least half of a play to start seeing the brilliance and start getting engaged.

Each individual action can seem unimportant and uninteresting until you learn the game. The game system is a bit fragile, a bad player can accidentally end the game early and give someone an easy win.

The entire board won't be used by new players focused on building an engine, not realizing how short the game can be if played this way and how many easy points they're giving up.

 10   Bus (5 all-time)
I instantly fell in love when I played this game the first time.

Pros:
They just don't make games like they used to, this is so pure and interactive with dead-simple rules! I can't believe that this was the first/second ever worker placement game, I feel like they nailed it on the first try!

First off, the theme is brilliant. A satirical London where people just go between home, work and the pub without really caring which home or work as long as they get their pub on is very funny. Add onto that the curve-ball of manipulating time and the game is a genuine blast to teach. It's the only game I own that I'm actually excited about teaching, they managed the impossible and made the worst part of any game another strength!

The game-play itself is brilliant. It's wonderfully mean and focused on a singular mechanism, which means that the game gets out of the way and all of the interaction comes from the other players. Stealing off passengers, building to benefit you and hurt other players, blocking possible build routes and the constant threat of manipulating time, it's all so interesting!

The limited number of workers work really well and I'm surprised the mechanism evolved away from this (only staying long enough for Caylus). It keeps the game short and focused, and adds another level of not only deciding what the best placement is, but whether it's worth the worker at all.

The worker placement area is very intelligently designed, in that you have to weigh doing something first, most, or at all; and the forced order of it all means that you can't always get what you want and may have to rely on other players to play before you. All of the choices are good and well balanced, which is impressive given that the start player spot is there without any other reward. It reminds me of the worker placement choices in Dominant Species, except this does it better and the rest of the game is much more engaging.

Cons:
The only problem I can think of is that the time mechanism isn't used much. That's not much of a problem since the threat of it is enough to affect the game. Its use also highly dependent on the players.

It's also a bit expensive for what it is, which may be a result of a (unjustly) niche product and a history of having a high price. Still, it's absolutely worth it for the gameplay alone and the Capstone version looks great!

In summary, it's pretty much a perfect game in my opinion. It's fast, simple and deep with beautiful production and a reasonable box size. It's such a shame that it was hard to find for a long time as I can't help thinking that if this game had a less interesting more conventional setting and a larger print-run back in the day, this might have been the go-to gateway game instead of Carcassonne after Catan and we would have all been better off (for my tastes, anyway).

 9.0   The Quest for El Dorado x3 (16 all-time)
I love deck-builders, and this is a very well made one.

Pros:
It plays fast, there's plenty of different strategic choices and it has a great arc. I also like that there's some interesting player interaction by blocking specific spaces. The mathematician doctor shows his balancing strength here, where it's an interesting choice whether to rush quickly ahead or stay back to work on your deck to rush ahead in the end with a more efficient engine. I've seen both strategies work and it's always tense in the end.

Cons:
Trashing spaces are way, way too powerful. I seem to recall that Knizia said something about never having played a deck builder before making this game and it kind of shows. The core gameplay is absolutely rock-solid just like many other of his greatest hits, but his math on trashing is off, which is very rare for the good doctor of mathematics.

The main issue with trashing is that it's far too easily available on the start tile. Whoever is first there, which will usually be the first player, can just end their turns on it and trash 1-2 cards every turn the first few turns, which will almost always guarantee victory, especially on longer maps. Sure, there may be other good trash spaces, but this is a race game so whoever gets a good deck is at an advantage and anyway, some important cards may run out before some players get going.

I house-rule away that first trash spot and that is a big improvement of the game IMO.

I'm also not huge on the cave tiles. I like that they add a bit of randomness, it's a fun way to push your luck if you're behind and it adds some nice distraction. But the rewards are way too swingy, it can either be a single machete or a free move, over a mountain with the expansion!

 8.5   The Quest for El Dorado: The Golden Temples
It solves some problems of the original but introduces more new ones of its own.

Pros:
I really like that the goal is split up over the map and that most interactive elements help your enemies instead of hurting yourself. This is a simple twist on the original that feels different enough to warrant ts existence.

I really like the 2-player rules, it seems like a clear improvement to actually have reasons to go in different directions, but still force a central meeting point at the green temple.

Cons:
As a standalone game I think the game lacks some core card concepts compared to the core game, such as cards that draw and trash. I also don't like that almost all cards give more than one symbol, I realize that's part of the balance with adding a new color but it makes turns more complicated and purchasing less interesting. But it's great as an expansion even if you just add the cards from the base game.

I also don't love the branching path. I like the decision of what to do when, but it reduces interaction because people can just take different paths and not block each other, which was the most interesting part of the original.

My biggest issue though is that they haven't fixed a core issue of the base game. My group has settled on a meta where it is agreed that the best move is to race to the trash space on the start board and stay on it a few rounds to ensure you have a better deck than other players. There is no way that the tempo loss isn't worth it in our experience. Unfortunately, this game also has exactly 1 trash space on both sides of the start board, so there's not even an option to block that strategy. I can appreciate that it's not as accessible as previously, but it's still such an easy fix that they missed.

 7.0   The Quest for El Dorado: Heroes & Hexes
It's a good expansion; it adds more variety and doesn't have much rules overhead, but I'm still not that happy with it.

Pros:
I really like the pets. I don't think they're balanced, especially depending on the map, but they're fun and asymmetric and it's an interesting decision to discard it.

I also like the heroes, they're another fun asymmetry that you have to go out of your way to get. I was worried that it was semi-obligatory to get them since they seem so powerful, but then I got trounced by someone that didn't have one.

Cons:
The biggest part of this expansion is the curses. I really like the concept, taking free steps at an unknown risk. The problem is that the punishments are so wildly unbalanced. To be clear, they shouldn't be perfectly balanced, in that case there would be no real risk of the spaces, only an unfixed cost. My problem is the "move back 2 spaces" curse. That just hurts so much, especially because it will usually mean that you have to take more curses to get back, possibly chain reacting. It's not fun and it feels bad. There are other punishing curses, such as discarding a purple and giving other players a free move, but these don't feel as bad. On the other side of the coin, the cave token curse is way too lenient, as most players will either have a bad cave token lying around or not have any at all. I really like the blank card curse, because it works so very well with the core of the game, which already has a lot of culling and discarding mechanisms.

It's a simple problem to solve, either remove the "move back 2 spaces" curse or simplify the game so that all curses give you a blank card. What bothers me is that neither of these obvious variants are in the rules. The good doctor should have foreseen players being annoyed at this mechanism.


 8.5   Mogul NEW!
No Thanks! to No Thanks!, I'd rather play this!

Pros:
This is actually a remake of the original version of the game that eventually became the classic card game No Thanks! I like No Thanks! and think it works very well as a casual game to play while chatting.

This game somehow adds something back that I didn't know was missing from No Thanks! The switch from only one person eventually giving out and taking a card is much less exciting than the last 2 players that stay in getting rewarded. It's sort of a combination of No Thanks! and For Sale, which is definitely a good thing.

I like the choice between getting a stock and placing a house/selling stocks. Most players will have at least some sort of investment in one of these things so bidding is always tense, but there's enough nuance there to guide your hand and anticipate your opponents in a way that's just not present in No Thanks!

While the artwork is destined for the next section, the production choice of the huge wooden bowl and wooden chits making a satisfying noise whenever you bid does a lot for the game.

Cons:
The cover of this game may be the worst cover of any game I've ever played. The odd, jagged beard and brown box is just so hard to put in front of players.

It's also a quite large box, and while I wouldn't get rid of the wooden bowl for anything, it's still a larger box than the gameplay behooves.

Luck is absolutely a factor and games are frequently decided by the order that cards come up and which ones are not in the game.

 8.5   So Clover! x5 (10 all-time)
It's like a combination of Just One and Codenames, but better than both!

Pros:
I feel like the world has only recently gotten on board with the idea of a cooperative party game, and this is one of many that have come out that feel like they could have been designed 50 years ago given the simplicity of the design.

That said, the production of the game is a mix of modern and old-school sensibilities. The game comes with 6 thick and hefty plastic card holders/whiteboards that feel pulled straight out of the 80's when people were less concerned about the use of plastics or shipping costs. Don't get me wrong, they're a great centerpiece and work well for the game, but given that I never usually consider the environmental cost of games since they're non-consumable and nowhere near the villains of this story, this still stood out enough to make me mention it here.

At the same time, the cards in the game have holes in them, which feels very modern. They seem sturdy and of high quality, which is good since shuffling them can get a bit weird when cards snag on the many edges available.

I realise I haven't even gotten to the gameplay yet, but you'll know if this is for you just by reading the short description on its game page. I can tell you that the simultaneous nature of the less-fun-but-still-fun-in-a-non-party-sort-of-way preparatory stage of the game works well to keep players engaged and is also relatively short compared to the rest of the game.

I was worried that it wouldn't be fun to be the silent moderator when people were guessing on my cards, but it is definitely interesting to hear how people interpret your clues.

I also think the most fun part of the game is when you guess for the other players, which is the majority of the game ((n-1)/n turns). This is something a lot of its competitors gets wrong, the most fun part of Just One is being the one player guessing (1/n turns) and the most fun part of Codenames is being the Spymaster (all of the turns for 2/n players and none of the turns for the rest).

Cons:
Aside from if you're a stickler for plastic usage, there's not much in terms of negatives here. Sure the markers will eventually dry up and it will be annoying to change them, but they're of the exact same quality as all other games like this so it seems to be an industry standard.

I guess I find it a bit lazy to not include a victory condition and instead ask people to compare their scores to previous games. I log it as a win if we score more than 4 points per player, which is an easily inserted house-rule, so why wasn't something like that included?

 8.5   The Crew: Mission Deep Sea x22 NEW!
It's even better than its predecessor!

Pros:
I think it makes sense to compare this to the original The Crew, so just go there for the general impressions of the system.

The big difference is of course the task cards and that's a massive improvement IMO. The sheer variety of each individual task, not to mention how they combine to create really interesting and weird situations is a lot of fun.

A part of this improvement is also that the tasks are graded in difficulty according to player count, which is not only a necessity give then oddness of some of the tasks, but it also feels more fair. In the original, sometimes an early mission could be much harder than a later one just because of how the tasks randomly came out, and while there will always be outlier combos in this version as well, it generally felt like the difficulty curve was more consistently going up as we took on more difficult missions.

I also really like the passing rule. Since it's quite common, at least in the first half of missions, to have fewer tasks than the number of players, the possibility to pass on taking a task and forcing someone else to do so is a much more gruelling decision than might first appear. Maybe there's a task out there that's pretty hard for you, but if you don't take it someone else may get stuck with something almost impossible.

Cons:
This improves on my one negative of the original: There's fewer missions! That said, I still don't think the variables being played with are that interesting in terms of the missions, there was more creativity in the original and the new things like real-time missions and choosing your restriction gets old pretty quickly. That said, the tasks do plenty to create new and unique challenges each play anyway, so that's completely fine!

It also does introduce a very avoidable issue: The captain marker is just too big! It does have a nice table presence but it won't fit back into the box once assembled! So you have to assemble and disassemble it each time you play, and that's just not worth it for the minor improvement in table presence.

 8.0   Concept (19 all-time)
It's a brilliant system, just ignore the game part!

Pros:
It's a wonderful evolution on Pictionary. I tend to prefer more cerebral and personal party games rather than skill testing ones, such as Pictionary testing drawing skills and Werewolf testing lying and manipulation skills.

I like getting to know how my friends think, with games like Codenames and Wavelength. Concept is an excellent addition to that list. It's somewhat cerebral and tests your and your friends' associations. The game simply presents a very interesting puzzle.

Cons:
The actual game is not very interesting, but it's easy enough to come up with variants that make use of the system. For example we play quickfire, where you have 3 minutes to get as many of the easy ones as possible. It's a good use for the easy clues, as otherwise they would probably never be used.

The clues also aren't that great, there's too many sayings and pop culture references for me, but again, that's easy enough to ignore and just come up with your own.

 8.0   Deckscape: Escape from Alcatraz NEW!
One of the better Deckscapes!

Pros:
Deckscape has a tendency to be quite easy and that's also the case here, but not to such a degree that the game isn't fun. I think the series makes up for that with more thematic integration and more frequent, interesting and varied puzzles and this delivers on those points.

Speaking of which, this specific Deckscape had especially good thematic integration and integrated it into the puzzles very well!

I think this is one of very few escape room style games where I didn't dislike a single puzzle. There's always at least one that's either super far-fetched or just silly or dumb. But this managed the impressive feat of maintaining a solid minimum quality throughout!

Cons:
That said, it also didn't really have a stand-out puzzle.

Also, this is the first Deckscape game that is hard to reset if playing the game as intended, which was one of its greatest strengths compared to the Exit series. I really hope this trend doesn't continue.

 8.0   Eat Poop You Cat (8 all-time)
It's always fun, a classic for a reason! Will most likely end in laughter regardless of drawing ability.

Pros:
Doesn't require anything but papers and pencils and will almost always get laughs.

Cons:
It's a lot more fun when people can draw to a degree of at least being legible.

 8.0   Maglev Metro NEW!
Gorgeous and fun!

Pros:
I was wary that a network building game where you can't block each other from building routes would lose out on a key point of interaction that I really like, and while it does, it's compensated by other points of interaction (especially the competition over building stations and taking on passengers).

I really like the idea of the unbranching path that you can't easily turn around on, it makes the board play much more interesting than you might expect.

The malleability of your player board and how differently you can play it and pivot using the adjust action is really interesting. It can be AP-inducing for some players, but it really works for me.

I really like the tension between getting robots to get better actions and getting humans for points. It's like the classic pivot-point in Dominion, but with more nuance since the humans have to be unlocked (in stages no less).

The production is obviously absolutely gorgeous with metal trains. acrylic track pieces and thick, recessed boards...

Cons:
But this also means that some of the missteps really stand out. The obvious one is that it's very hard to tell the copper and gold robots apart, and that's definitely an issue.

Another, even more silly mistake is that absolutely everything you can do and get points for is on your player board, even the stuff you don't have to unlock. For example, your base 2 actions are filled in and the passenger VPs are listed separately with and without the unlockable bonus. But there's nothing showing that you always get 1 VP per link and always get to score 1 card. This inconsistency makes missing them a really easy mistake to make for new players, no matter how much you emphasise it when teaching the game.

I also feel like the balance is a bit off, stuff like the first extra action and trying to increase track scoring feels like a trap and some cards are just better than others.

 8.0   Rococo: Deluxe Edition (2 all-time)
It's a luscious new edition of a classic mid-weight euro. The big mechanical draw here is non-random deck building. I love it in Aeon's End, but this does it slightly differently and maybe even better in that it simply lets you choose what 3 cards to "draw" at the start of each turn.

Pros:
I love the deck building mechanism combined with simultaneous selection and am shocked that in 8+ years no one has copied it. The key here is that you still have to go through your entire deck, so all the normal incentives of thinning your deck are still there, but you can be guaranteed to always get your combos regardless of the size of your deck.

The rest of the game also works very well, the scoring is focused and there are a few different strategies to pursue. I like the idea that being first to take a specific action gives you more options, but is more expensive. It infuses so much tension with such a simple rule it's crazy. The money is really tight, which is necessary for the tension of acting first.

It's exciting, there's interaction and competition and you can really screw yourself if you plan poorly. Still, there's a clear focus on what will give you points (hint: dresses and decorations) so it's easy for a new player to know what to do.

Cons:
I'm struggling to find cons as the design is just so smooth. So why not an even higher rating? Well, I'm not seeing myself reaching for it above a bunch of other similar Euro games. It's not really unique, the only unique part is the non-random deck building and while excellent, it's not especially exciting.

 8.0   Zendo x5 (8 all-time)
A very fun logic puzzle that through the magic of competition also becomes a game!

Pros:
I think anyone just looking at this game will instantly know if it's for them. It's a logic puzzle and that's pretty much all it is, but the included pieces, the rules suggestions and rules themselves lead to the best implementation of such a puzzle I've seen.

I've played Eleusis before, which is a traditional 52-card deck card game version of the same thing. One player makes up a rule and the other players have to guess it competitively. While Eleusis has some interesting ways for the Moderator (or God in that game) to score points, it's just not as fun making rules for sequences of cards as it is for different coloured blocks.

I especially like that the designers have made sure that the Moderator role isn't all too passive, in that they have to disprove any guess made. This proves a challenge both in how to actually do so, but also how to do so in a way that doesn't give away too much info, or maybe just the right amount?

Cons:
I don't think the actual game part of it is its greatest strength. I like the rules, that you have to give everyone an opportunity to get guessing tokens for you to get any and that you can hold onto them and guess multiple times in a row if you think you can narrow it down by that. I also like the victory condition, that you don't have to be exactly right just have to make it hard to disprove.

But I would probably just like it more with only 2 players. The tension of another player and making structures that will help you more than them is definitely a good part of the game, I just don't think it's better than the act of guessing and disproving.

 7.0   Boonlake x2 NEW!
Another tempo-driven resource conversion race by Alex Pfister.

Pros:
Pfister is one of my favorite designers and he has a very specific style when it comes to his big-box strategy games. He's mastered creating games with satisfying resource-management puzzles that still manage to be highly interactive without feeling mean by virtue of making tempo a key aspect of the design.

This is true especially for Great Western Trail and Maracaibo, where the players control the end of the game and good play usually demands pushing the game to end as quickly as possible while still doing as much as possible each turn. This is true for Boonlake as well.

A more unique aspect of this game is player-controlled scoring targets, where at the beginning of the game each player chooses what everyone will be forced to score throughout the game, with a bonus/penalty for the one you chose. This, combined with the penalty for missing out on the target, is a smart way to add variability to the game and interesting decisions throughout.

I also really like the resource system, where the different resources are tiered and you can always get the lowered tiered resources for free, but may have to pay a penalty to reset and get the higher tiered resources.

In our 1.5 games of this players with radically different strategies have come very close in score and the better player has won, so it seems so far to have strategic width and depth.

Cons:
This is more complicated than Great Western Trail and Maracaibo, which I think is going to be its big downfall for me. They all give me a similar feel and the action following mechanism here is different, but the other two have snappier turns, just as interesting of a puzzle and end faster.

I like a lot of the parts of this, especially the player-controlled scoring targets and the Terra Mystica-style player boards, but TM does its stuff better and the other Pfister-games do the Pfister-stuff better, so all that's left for this is the player-controlled scoring targets and I don't think that's enough. Especially because the rewards/penalties for this aspect way too small to really swing games, at most it's 1/10 of your score. I would have preferred this to be virtually forced on the players by having much bigger rewards.

The aspect that the TM-part is missing is that the board play here is very loose and boring. You get some bonuses but you rarely care about adjacency or even which region you're in. The reward for placing the expensive, good buildings is also just some point income and maybe flat end-game scoring if you pay extra, so it doesn't feel very rewarding.

One part I don't particularly like is the action following mechanism. I've never liked it e.g. in Puerto Rico, because it means that everyone will be somewhat forced into similar strategies and you can't really specialize, especially because the action you chose the last turn will have a penalty on your next turn. I like that you can usually get something else than the main follow action, but if that is to e.g. just draw a card it doesn't really count. Yes you can get levers to get better options, but then you have to choose to do that instead of other things.

Don't get me wrong, the game is good, but it just doesn't stand out among all its contemporaries.

 7.0   Exit: The Game – Advent Calendar: The Mystery of the Ice Cave x24 NEW!
Great as an advent calendar, less good as an Exit game.

Pros:
The whole concept is great and I love solving a little puzzle with my wife every* morning before we head off to work!

The designers have been smart enough to make short and simple puzzles that you can easily solve on a busy morning before heading off to work/school...

Cons:
...But this also means that most puzzles are obvious just by looking at them since there's not much room for red herrings or more intensive solutions.

I also don't really like the background story. It's not that it's poorly written, I mean it is, but I'm not exactly expecting Shakespeare. I guess it's nice to have and you could always just ignore it, but it kind of gnaws at me that sometimes the little story snippet takes as long to read as the puzzle takes to solve. The focus just seems wrong.

 7.0   Isle of Trains NEW!
Unique and interesting.

Pros:
I really like the concept of getting huge bonuses for loading your opponents' cargo. It creates a interesting dynamic especially for 2 players, where you may be better off keeping your train full to deny your opponent cards.

I always like multi-use cards and RftG-style payment, so the core gameplay engine here is very solid.

Cons:
I would have liked more impact from the caboose cards, they all give you pretty minor bonuses for relatively cheap, but it would be more interesting to e.g. give you double actions.

The game ends very fast, which is generally good but it also means that you don't really get to use your combos a lot. For example, I feel like the level 3 engine is more than you should ever need to end the game.

 6.5   Exit: The Game – The Cemetery of the Knight NEW!
Some fun gimmicks, but poor puzzles.

Pros:
I must say that after playing dozens of escape room games, I never get surprised by how they manage to hide clues and solutions, but this was kind of a best-in-show of interesting puzzle conceits.

We even threw away something needed for a puzzle, which was simultaneously frustrating and intriguing.

I think this is a good EXIT game for people that have played them a lot, but it's a bit too loose and gimmicky to be fun for anyone as a first experience.

Cons:
That said, I didn't like a lot of the puzzles. Some were genuinely dumb, some had solutions much more convoluted than necessary and one spoiled the best part of the puzzle on the riddle card. We also got a completely solvable puzzle before we got to the story-part for it.

 6.5   Import / Export: Definitive Edition NEW!
Better than Glory to Rome (GtR)?

Pros:
This is advertised as GtR and Container combined, but it's pretty much all GtR. I kind of think that's a good thing, because part of the allure of Container is the streamlined economic system and it just doesn't fit this card system.

The production here is 10/10. The box is exactly the size it needs to be and evocative of the setting. Every card has unique details that are highlighted with UV. The metal components in the KS-version are satisfying while still not taking up unnecessary room.

The setting is bone-dry, but Draper has done his absolute best to make it come alive with the art and production.

The differences from GtR is that it's a race to $50, you can use some of that cash to win auctions for resources, and you can't start a new contract/foundation if you don't have boats ready. I like all of these changes.

Cons:
It's a game of interlocking systems and it's really hard to just get your head around how to do what you want. This is often a red flag for me, because it means you're not really playing the game until you've already played it at least once.

I never liked the follow system of GtR because it was annoying to lose out on actions if you didn't draw what you needed. The 2-card wild exists here and in some versions of GtR and it alleviates some of my concerns, but it's still not a favorite mechanism of mine. I think it would be more interesting to just always get to follow, especially because now the only difference between your turn and your opponents' is that you get to pick on your turn and you can combine draw and use crew on other players' turns.

The action system works well but I also find it a bit frustrating how e.g. it's inherently harder to load green cards and contracting yellow cards. It makes certain hands very weird to play just because of that. That's another reason I think it would be more interesting to have an automatic follow.

 6.5   Lost Cities x3 NEW!
Good but a little basic.

Pros:
This plays very fast, is easy to teach but still has some depth.

I like the player-controlled tempo of the end of the game, you can really punish your opponent by drawing a lot just to make sure they don't finish their plans.

I love the idea of expedition costs maybe making you lose points, especially because it also applies to your wager.

In terms of Knizia's classic 2-player card games, I think this slightly edges out Schotten Totten. ST has more interesting decisions and I like the alternate win condition, but it's much slower for not enough gain.

I think playing it best-of-three would psychologically affect things in an interesting way, because you'd be incentivized to take more risks and play for higher point totals if you're behind, but I haven't tried it that way yet.

Cons:
I think too many turns are obvious. Once you commit to an expedition, there's not many different ways to play it and if you have a card that is sequential, you want to play it unless the game is about to end.

The big decision-point is whether to play your wager cards and how long to wait to start playing your other cards if you're waiting on more wager cards. This is fine, but it means that whoever draws more wager cards probably has a better chance at winning, but more importantly they're going to have a more interesting game. It's also just plain good to be the one to draw the high cards, but this doesn't really impact who has more fun.

I think the idea of not wanting to discard cards your opponent wants is fun, but it's better in other games. For example, in Arboretum the final contents of each player's hands determines who gets to score, so there's benefits for you to save cards that your opponent(s) are investing in, both in terms of denial and because you can still get some points. Here, playing those cards may actively hurt you so it's all about your hand limit sometimes causing you to want to give up a card that gives your opponent points, which isn't very interesting.

 6.0   Northern Pacific x2 (3 all-time)
It's a weird one.

Pros:
The rules are so extremely simple and yet there's so much game - and psychology - there! The branching paths seem like they've been thoroughly tested to create interesting choices and chain effects. I can't explain why, but the game totally works.

Cons:
The board could be clearer and the theme and components are dry as dirt, but the game comes alive despite that.

That said, it's a bit too weird for it to be a favorite.

 6.0   Kahuna NEW!
Impressive design, making area control work for 2 players.

Pros:
The theme is a bit weird, but I like the setting and the wooden components. The box is also exactly the size it needs to be.

I like the concept of taking control pushing out the other player, it has interesting ramifications of whether to act fast to take contested spots early or wait so you can punish the already placed pieces.

I like that the cards limit your options...

Cons:
...but they can also be frustrating if you're waiting for several rounds to get a specific card and then your opponent sees it first.

I think the rule about winning by clearing out someone else is a bit weird, it's more of a mercy rule than anything that would actually be a viable strategy.

 4.5   Whitehall Mystery x3 NEW!
I want to like hidden movement games but I think they're not for me.

Pros:
The map is very clear and interesting, there's theoretically plenty of options for evading capture in clever ways.

The game is very streamlined, there's nothing unnecessary but there's still some granularity for e.g. modifying difficulty and making interesting moments.

Cons:
There's no reason to play this with more than 2 players and I actually think it's worse with more players. It's very easy to alpha game as an inspector, because even more so than e.g. in Pandemic, it's important for the whole team to coordinate each movement to successfully corner the murderer. This is made even worse by forcing a player order when moving for no apparent reason.

The game is waaaay too easy for the investigators, even without powers. We played some rules wrong at first, but even when playing correctly it's just not balanced in any way if the investigators play well.

I feel like as soon as the investigators get a sense of where the murderer is, the game is basically over. Unless the murderer is in some very specific parts of the map, there's not a lot of options if you get cornered. I like that the murderer has some limited special powers to use, but that's rarely enough. My issue is rather that the investigators both triple the murderer in numbers and move faster than them, so even without knowing where they're going, you can usually quite effectively cut off all potential options.

This just kills the tension and arc of the game, because there's not much opportunity to slip away in the fog since even if you do, the inspectors will find out very fast and catch up to you.

 4.0   Art Decko NEW!
I've only played this asynchronously online so take this with a grain of salt.

Pros:
I like the self-trashing money cards, it's an elegant way to make money cards more interesting and a way to ramp up the early game very fast.

Turns are very quick and the game doesn't overstay its welcome.

The artwork on the cards look great!

Cons:
I think deck builders live and die by having interesting card effects. This game has no card effects at all, it's all just money. This means that nothing exciting happens all game and every turn feels similar.

I also don't like how every painting is virtually identical. There's 5 different colors, but the only thing differentiating them is player actions and maybe some bonus tiles at the end. This means that there's no reason to buy one card over any of the other available ones and if the colours you happen to buy also ends up being bought and exhibited by other players, you will benefit. I'm not big on shared incentives e.g. in Cube Rail games, but at least in those there's geography to differentiate the different colours.

 4.0   Chess x2 (10 all-time)
I've learnt to appreciate chess for what it is.

Pros:
It's incredibly deep and it's quite fun to jockey for positions with asymmetric pieces.

Cons:
The game is only fun with players of relatively equal skill.

I actually think my biggest problem with the game is rather the meta around it. I hate scripted openings and anyone wanting to play chess competitively has memorized openings because it's just that important and also entirely possible.

There's also a tendency for this game more than any other in the zeitgeist to encourage very slow (or incredibly fast) play. I'm already not a fan of positional abstracts, so if I'm going to play one I'd rather it be quicker and more casual.

 3.5   Clash of Decks: Starter Kit x2 NEW!
It's a very fast and simple 'dueling mages-style' card game.

Pros:
It plays quite quickly and has simple, though poorly written, rules.

It's interesting that playing cards effectively reduce your health and that losing creatures can give you health, it's an interesting balance to strike.

I like how space-efficient it is and how 20 cards is enough for 2 players.

Cons:
I think some cards and keywords are plain better than others and it means that in e.g. the starting decks, some cards are just better off never being played, ever.

It's a bit annoying to keep track of your varying mana each round, the heuristic elegance of e.g. having land cards and tapping them is missing here.

I like that it's fast and breezy, but it's also a bit too light to engage me in a meaningful way.

 3.5   The Game: Extreme x2 NEW!
This comment is for the base game that we played using the deck for The Game: Extreme. We weren't extreme enough to try the Extreme version.

It's a functional game but nothing special.

Pros:
The idea of the game is very straightforward and there's some nice tension between hoping to get 10s to line up or just finally playing those cards that have been stuck in your hand.

The game is very challenging, which is a good thing to keep you coming back and trying to succeed.

Cons:
Man, do I hate the name of the game!

The version of the game I have is also ugly, with skulls on everything to be "hardcore."

The gameplay of the game is basically non-existent. Sure there's tension and decisions regarding how many cards to play and how to coordinate, but it's not exactly transcendent.

Good play in the game also seemingly requires keeping good track of which of the 98 numbers have been played, which really isn't what I'm looking for.

 1.5   TEN NEW!
Random and boring.

Pros:
The tokens are satisfying to play with.

The idea of giving out currency but it letting you possibly get more cards is interesting. The concept of being able to bust in two different ways is interesting in theory...

Cons:
...But it seems very rare to bust by getting too much currency.

The color choices are baffling to me. It's very hard to differentiate them on the desaturated wild cards, and I'm not color blind! I like that they have different patterns so you can differentiate them regardless of color, but it's too hard!

I think it's problematic how the high numbers are very rare and will almost always bust you unless it's your first card, so getting them or not feels very random and it's very good to randomly sit after someone that busted because of drawing a high number.

The auctions for wild cards are the main appeal of the game as it's the only thing that stands out from other push-your-luck games, but they kill the momentum so hard! I hate drawing a wild card on my turn despite it being strategically very beneficial simply because I don't want to be interrupted!

The auctions also mean that it's even hard to have a conversation while slogging through the game and the rules about busting and turn phases are far too complex for what you get from the game, so it's one of those rare games where I'd rather just not play at all.

 1.0   Shut the Box x3 NEW!
It's not a game.

Pros:
Any version of this I've seen looks good, with satisfying wooden blocks to flip.

Cons:
It's a bit weird to criticize the mechanisms of this almost 300 years old game, but here goes.

It's boring to wait for other players. There's absolutely no interaction except comparing scores, and while that could involve some interesting decisions of whether to push your luck to try to beat a known score, you can't really decide how far to push in this game.

In theory there's some decision regarding whether to e.g. flip a 9 or 4+5, but you should always just flip the higher numbers due to probabilities. It can be a bit more interesting to choose between e.g. 3+4 and 6+1 depending on what else you have, but even this all comes down to probabilities.

The game can end before your turn if someone shuts the box.

Play of the Month
Board Game: Mogul

Neither my play of Hansa Teutonica or Bus were great (I crushed new players, which never feels great) so it leaves room for Mogul! My first play of this was very tense and ended with a tie-breaker, with many emotional outbursts throughout!

Discussion points:
Which escape room style game is your favorite?

Did you have an advent calendar this year?

Remember to thumb this post if you liked it to help more people discover it!
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Sat Jan 1, 2022 8:20 pm
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Top 25 new-to-me games of 2021

Georg Wolgast
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Microbadge: Waluigi fanMicrobadge: I love old-school German-style gamesMicrobadge: I like learning games more than winning them!Microbadge: I keep my ratings currentMicrobadge: Blogger
This is a companion list to my best and worst list of games that came out in 2021 (according to BGG). I therefore excluded the games of that list from this list, but I included my ratings so you can deduce for yourselves roughly where they would end up.

This had been a pretty good year (in terms of gaming)! A new top 10 game and some potential climbers to get there, which is getting more and more rare over the years. My top 5 is really, really excellent and they're all OG-style games, which is not exactly surprising, but still fun to see in a year where the new OG guild has pointed me towards even more of them (one of which are in that top 3). I also think it's telling that the hobby as a whole is moving away from my tastes given that I could barely populate a reasonable top 5 for this year but could easily find 25 great new-to-me games, most of which are quite old.

Anyway, that's enough reflection, I guess I should let the list speak for itself. Before anyone asks, the reason this isn't a GeekList is because I prefer making GeekLists that are more focused or collaborative.


25
 8.0   Beyond the Sun
Finally a great tech-tree game!

Pros:
First off, the production is absolutely top-tier. Not only does it have pretty art, a simple but functional insert, 8 recessed boards and a bunch of lovely and useful resource cubes, but the box is exactly the size it needs to be and really heavy for its size.

I love the focus of the design, the tech-tree is front and center and you do 1 thing on your turn and your options depend on the techs you have. The tech tree is clearly the focus of the game and the planetary conquest is simply a thing to use your tech and resources on to add more interaction. This focus means that turns are quick and the game is easy to teach.

The resource management is also very smartly designed. The way columns of resources and placing discs on automation/planets intersect means that the thematic implications of sustaining a growing empire are well integrated into the mechanisms of the game. As you use more resources to either build a fleet or research, you will need to sustain your growing population by either automating food production or settling planets that can produce food. While 4X-games like Through the Ages and Nations also model population needs, the system in BtS is much simpler by virtue of the well-designed production board.

I also like that unlike other 4X-games, if you mess up your economy, you don't lose anything, it just limits your future growth. This is still a very real threat in a game as tight as this, but feels less bad if t does occur.

While the wide array of options on the tech tree seems to indicate a low level of player interaction, there is still competition over the best worker placement spots on shared techs and of course the planets. I don't usually like area majority like the planets, but since colonization requires you to sacrifice your fleet, it's more of a resource conversion engine that also has interaction, which I can appreciate.

Finally, the variability deserves a mention. The way techs show up differently every time, the different achievements that guide different strategies and the different events and planets that change your tactical options throughout the game means that every play will feel very different. Add on to that the slight or quite substantial player powers that are available and you end up with a game that seems highly replayable despite its simple core.

Cons:
For such an otherwise low-randomness game, I'm not convinced by either of the different tech rules. I love the simplicity of drawing until you have 2 options and picking between them, but for especially the level 4 techs I feel like you're far enough into the game that you can just pick one or at least get to pick from 3. They're a really important part of some strategies and a bog source of competition, so I would rather them be less random and therefore more powerful.

The low-randomess variant of course exists as a counter for those of us that don't like randomness, but I otherwise really like the simplicity and excitement of the normal rule. Besides, the game is already a bit of a table-hog, and the variant takes up a lot of precious table space. The variant also introduces a lot of possibility for AP, which the game otherwise does such a good job of avoiding.

I feel like both variants are good-not-great and that the designer knew this, which is why both are included.

24
 8.0   Caverna: The Cave Farmers
A side-step from Agricola, but it has both strengths and weaknesses in comparison.

Pros:
I went into my first play with trepidation, given what I'd heard regarding this being a modernization of Agricola that loses its edge. But while some of this is true, I still think the edge is there, it's just less sharp.

I know most love the Occupation and Improvement cards of Agricola, but I'm very happy they're gone. I don't like starting each game reading huge paragraphs of tiny text in isolation before the game can start. I can appreciate the variety and depth of them, but I would also prefer for variety and depth to come from the interactions on the board.

Feeding your workers is still pressing, but slaughtering animals is more prominent and feeding is less demanding, more frequent, and less reliable. I can appreciate all of these changes and the main difference is that fireplaces and ovens aren't in this game, so you have to find other ways to generate a lot of food. In Agricola, you were forced into specific combos to be able to generate enough food, while in Caverna you will probably always make due, but it's a matter of optimization. A competitive game of Caverna will still feel as tight for creating a food engine, but the game hides how successful you've been until the end in a way that doesn't alienate new players as much.

I like the cave system, I like how restrictive mines are to build and how you have to prepare to build a room by first excavating. I thought I would have missed the give-and-take of housing removing space from your farm, but this was rarely relevant anyway and now mines and rooms compete for space instead.

Cons:
I don't like the changes to pastures. I liked the concept of building your own fences and being able to change them in Agricola, but I can appreciate how you have to plan ahead to form bigger pens that will better utilize stables.

I don't really like adventuring. It's an interesting way to specialize, but it's just too open-ended and lets you ignore a lot of the WP spots. Jewels are rarer and more interesting as a wild resource, the game doesn't need more.

The scoring for each part of your farm no longer caps at certain intervals like in Agricola, so you're no longer as incentivized to generalize. This gives more strategic options in that you can specialize in whatever the buildings let you, but also makes the puzzle of maximizing your score less interesting.

23
 8.0   Troyes
My super-long comment on this was somehow deleted so this will be a lot less in-depth.

Pros:
I like how tight everything is, you have a very limited number of actions in the game thanks to the fixed number of dice and rounds, so you have to make each action count. Money and influence can also be very tight, but sometimes they're not not depending on your strategy.

I like that some actions care about high numbers but other actions care about specific numbers, so at the start of each round you can immediately see what options may or may not be available. This means you can e.g. make sure to use specific dice for combat to deny them from your opponents before they have a chance to buy it.

I was wary of the randomness of the dice after reading the rules. High dice will often do more at most actions and while you can buy other players' dice, you'll come out ahead if everyone pays extra to use your dice because they're better. However, in play I realized that I almost like rolling low numbers more. This is because as mentioned, the number of dice are very limited so there's only going to be e.g. 6 white dice available each round. If your white dice are very low, it may not be worth the time and money for other players to buy them off you, but you have the exclusive ability to re-roll your own dice and use them immediately! This means that if you roll low, as long as you have influence, you will be able to buy your opponents' high dice and then save your own low dice for yourself, hopefully doing more on your turns than your opponents, which is a solid way to win. Accordingly, luck of the dice is well mitigated and gives a lot of texture to the game.

I also really like the hidden victory point cards. It's a subtle way to add player interaction and bluffing, but since most cards reward you for doing stuff you'll want to do anyway and because the specific thresholds are consistent and thereby easy to learn, it's easy to hedge and make sure to play around what your opponents may have without losing the game if you're wrong.

Cons:
I mentioned above that both low and high numbers can be good and that the randomness of the dice are thereby mitigated. This specifically does not apply when dealing with the black dice at the start of each turn, which can be incredibly frustrating. It's especially annoying that red dice are much better at this, so if you randomly roll poorly specifically with your reds, it's doubly frustrating.

I think the iconography is awful, many times the rules state that a card does exactly the opposite of what I thought based on the iconography.

A bigger source of randomness in the game comes from card flips. Events can hurt you in ways that can be very hard to plan for, for example you may lose your last few influence right before you counted on being able to use them to mitigate your bad roll. Also, the last few actions get revealed on turn 3 and while there's plenty of game left to pivot to deal with those, you've also already played a significant portion of the game so if the revealed actions fit into your strategy better than the other players', you get a pretty big boost.

I think some events give too little of a reward, which means that as the game goes on, some just always stick around causing the event phase to drag and making that part of the game feel a bit samey.

22
 8.0   Blitzkrieg!: World War Two in 20 Minutes
2-player Dogs of War is unsurprisingly a great game!

Pros:
The core gameplay is tense, surprising and fun. The struggle between closing a theater while you're ahead and opening up more placements for you opponent is captivating, and the tight score limit gives this decision an ounce of urgency that really hits home.

I also like the alternate win condition and how blitz tokens are very powerful, but can spell your doom if you're not careful.

There's a lot of interplay with a very simple rule set in the style of the great OG's of the past.

Cons:
The luck of the draw from the bag, especially when drawing the upgraded tiles and also randomly discarding upgraded tiles, can be a bit annoying sometimes. I don't think it will decide games more than strategy or tactics, but it might decide a very closely matched game.

The rulebook is very poor and doesn't explain all of its icons and rules, which is especially egregious for such a simple game.

I don't like the setting and artwork. The bags are great, but other than that the chits feel small and the iconography is pretty bad (2 different types of ships and tanks, admiral and general are hard to differentiate, colors aren't easily distinguishable, small arrows make a big difference on one of the icons). Especially for the asking price, I feel like this should have been either of much higher quality or ~$10 cheaper.

21
 8.0   Wunderland
Simple but deep, totally OG and close to cube rails.

Pros:
I must say that I really like this setting. It's just so weird and silly, especially as someone that has never been to Miniatur Wunderland. Still, I think the love for the subject-matter shines through here, with the little stickers and many pictures of the park. It was especially fun to see a pamphlet for Miniatur Wunderland included in the box!

The game barely has any rules but does a lot with what's there. The shared incentives of this game is very similar to a cube rails game, just with a different flavor that I happen to prefer. There's no rails being built, but you definitely want to tag along a big group heading to a far corner of the map.

The trick is that you can move with any number of discs but they're very limited in number and knowing how many to move and how to make sure you don't strand them while other big groups are getting payouts is the key to winning.

I also like the end game where the game can end in one of two ways, but sometimes striving to end the game may just put you behind while other players get easier points. So it has this Dominion-style decision of when to flip your gameplan, but with a twist that the change is from ending the game to being more opportunistic instead of the usual other way around.

Cons:
It's hard to know how to play this at first. The destination cards are an obvious guide, but they're a bit of a trap. They're definitely important but the way to win this is getting postcards because that's where the big groups of different players are headed and they usually end up awarding way more points.

Some destination cards are better than others and it can be quite limiting, especially early, to need to have discs waiting in 3 different, useless spots before getting to the fourth destination on your card. The biggest change in the recent re-release of this game besides the theme is the removal of the 4-destination cards and I think that's an improvement.

There's also a lot of times in the early game where you want to have distant discs ready to go to destinations that you may draw later, but if this strategy misses by result of random draws you've "wasted" those discs that could have tagged along with other groups. I think that's part of the risk/reward of the game, but it still feels bad when you get disappointed with those destination cards.

It's a bit weird that all players don't have the same number of turns, but since you do so much on other players' turns I don't think it's unbalanced, it's just weird. Why is there even a first player token?

Like any shared incentive game, there's the possibility for hurt feelings and a frustrating playing experience if you're out of sync with the other players.

20
 8.0   Lewis & Clark: The Expedition
It's punishing but great!

Pros:
In a lot of resource conversion games, you may have a bad round and not really progress much. In this game, if you have a bad round you will actively hurt yourself and lose points.

Interestingly, a bad round is defined by having too many resources and not using your cards efficiently. I like this dichotomy, many actions can give you get a whole lot of resources, but you get punished if you can't use them. I'm sure many people will put this as a con but I really like this twist on top of the otherwise rather standard resource conversion puzzle.

This being a race game, tempo is handled in a very interesting way. For example, it's quite easy to get a whole lot of indians and they can give you resources and stuff! But it takes a whole turn to grab just 2 resources, while a card can get you 10+ if you time it right. You may still want to take those actions though, partly because you may not have the cards you need to specific resources, and partly because you have to get rid of those indians before you camp. To add another wrinkle to this, all indian actions that don't require resources are limited, so if you were greedy and took too many indians you may want to make sure to get there early and get rid of them before they fill up, but this may mess with the best timing for using your cards.

I like the hand building and how it doesn't take a precious action to get new cards, but it does require resources. I also like that you can trash a card whenever you get a new card and can use it to get a discount.

I also like that camping doesn't take an action, so strategies focusing on a lot of cards and on very few cards are seemingly equally valid.

I've always considered Vincent Dutrait my favorite board game illustrator so it's no surprise I love the art here. I also like the historical flair of the setting and the attention to detail that's in the rulebook...

Cons:
...Though it's a bit off-putting that 'indians' are a resource.

The rules are quite bad and there are a lot of weird card effects. These aren't deal-breakers individually, but they combine by having a detailed list of all the cards in the game and their historical significance (great!), that completely fails to explain the cards and how they interact in detail (bad!). This means that whenever someone buys a card I have to look up what they do, but even after all that effort there are usually still things I don't understand regarding the effect.

There's a bit of a fall-away loser issue and there's nothing the game does about that. I mentioned not being too bothered by the game being punishing, but I still would have preferred something that at least kept everyone engaged. I find it odd that the only reason you keep track of camps is due to a handful of card effects, this might have been explored more to great effect to add some catch-up mechanisms.

There's not a lot of interaction in the game. You have to time playing your interpreter depending on the other players, you can get blocked at the village, cards can be affected by what your neighbors have played and someone may take a card you wanted. But you usually have other things to do while you e.g. wait for indians to pile up before you take them or for them to get cleared so none of these points of interaction rarely affect much.

It's not the type of game that really needs a lot of interaction more than that and I wouldn't want players being able to mess with me given how much the game itself is already not holding its punches. Still, I played the original version and in the new one, you jump over other player's pawns as free movement and that might give the game that extra interaction spice and catch-up I feel it's lacking.

19
 8.0   Anno 1800
It's very unique while still being straightforward.

Pros:
I like the core conceit of racing to make your population happy, it's just a very pleasant goal to contrast with the colonialist setting.

I like the competition over the limited factories and the timing of e.g. when to buy from your opponents and when to try to end the game. This game has a lot more interaction that what was first apparent.

In the end it's all an efficiency puzzle. The game is very wide-open, you can pretty much do everything, especially a few rounds in, but the question becomes what to do that helps you the most and what to rely on other players to do.

I like the freedom and control you have over getting resources, except that you're very limited in the amount of trading you can do, so even with infinite workers and gold you still have to do do festival actions at some point.

The game will feel very different depending on the player count given that no matter what, there's always only 2 factories available of each kind.

Cons:
It can be very overwhelming at first with the amount of options available. It's a quite opaque system and there's not a lot of guidance for new players regarding what to focus on.

I don't think there's quite enough of an incentive to end the game. Sure, 7 points can be very impactful but if no-one wants to end the game it can drag quite a bit.

There's a lot of randomness in the cards you draw and the exploring. I think that's part of the game and there's plenty of systems to mitigate the luck, but it will probably be frustrating if you're playing very competitively.

18
 8.0   Lunarchitects
This game is obviously inspired by Glen More but I'm more interested in how it compares to Glen More II.

Pros:
The game has modular scoring conditions and I really like that. Some are less interesting than others and would have probably been cut if not for the sake of stuffing the box. Some are also only useful with new players, like the 1 point per red thing snore. Still, the choice between no punish, regular punish and huge punish for going wide sure makes for great variety.

I guess chronicles in Glen More II are a lot more substantial for variety than the modular scoring and goal tiles of this game, but I will rarely play with chronicles in GMII because they add a lot of set-up and rules grit to an otherwise smooth game.

I really like the hexagonal tiles. It makes astronaut movement much harder and triggering tiles more intuitive. I also like that this, like GM but unlike GMII, has 2 different pipelines limiting placement.

Cons:
The tiles don't look great. I can appreciate the clarity and theme of the blueprint aesthetic, but it's not going to turn any heads.

I think the point scoring opportunities are a bit limited. I usually love focused scoring, but the fact that there's so few point generating tiles that come out early enough to make an impact means that the red scoring criteria are going to be most of your score no matter what, which means that they're a bit too contested and forces strategy too much. The tiles that award immediate points somewhat upsets this, but it's hard to build a strategy around that since you can't be sure to get the right one.

17
 8.0   Scorpius Freighter
Shared rondels as a fast and satisfying contract fulfilment game.

Pros:
I really love Elysium by the same design team for its high decision-density and dickish interaction. This has a similar feel in that while each decision is simple in itself (pick one of 6 available actions and do it), being efficient with your actions and making sure to leave yourself flexible in the future is quite difficult.

I love games that pull me between opportunistic, efficient actions and pursuing a larger strategic goal and the shared rondels does this beautifully. Maybe I don't need to upgrade all of my crew but you did leave me the option to get a great discount...

I also love rondels because they limit options in a really interesting way and this one is quite unique if for no other reason than the fact that the rondels are shared. This means that every move you make changes what your opponents can do and makes the game much more tactical, since you can't really set up to be in a good position to take a specific action next turn.

This also works as a great timer for the end of the game because if people collectively spend too much time building an engine, they leave themselves open to someone rushing the game by the simple virtue of the "engine building" rondel getting full.

The different crews are a fun way to add player powers and provide guidance, and on first blush they don't seem terribly imbalanced.

Cons:
While the shared rondel is an interesting novelty, I still prefer having more control as I would only controlling my own pieces. It's entirely possible to not be able to even do an action on your turn if the players before you conspire to limit your options and while part of the tactics of the game is leaving yourself flexible, it's still not a very fun occurrence.

The crew are fun but they also kind of force you into a specific strategy. It seems very difficult to win the game without the points boost from the one crew you'll have that awards a specific strategy with points, so you'll kind of have to do that.

The shared rondel also opens up for turn order issues, which is one of my most hated issues in a game. Basically if the player before you goes in on a specific strategy, you may be forced to stay away from it because that player will always the relevant action spots on the turn before you and leave you without any good options for actions. This is especially noticeable in the dichotomy of storage vs upgrades, where both the actions of getting new tiles and activating the specific type of tiles are always next to each other on their respective rondels. As moving short distances is almost always best, if the player before you in turn order is getting a lot of upgrades, you will be much better off investing in storage and vice versa. This reduces your options based on what your opponents do and in combination with the crew kind of forcing your strategy, you could be at a disadvantage directly from set-up.

The core gameplay loop is a bit dry. You get cubes and then turn them in for points. The crew and upgrades break that pattern and make the game come alive, but depending on your strategy you may not engage with these parts of the game much. If all crew members gave at least some points the more interesting (and expensive) ones would probably be used more, making the game more interesting. As it stands, I've rarely found it useful to invest a minimum of ~3 points worth of cubes as well as an action into a special ability that may let me get a better turn later. I already sacrificed a turn for that, so it needs to do a lot to compensate for it.

16
 8.0   SCOUT
I like simple card games and this is just enough of a twist on Rummy to be interesting!

Pros:
The double-sided cards and the different end game conditions do a lot to make this game feel unique despite having a very straightforward rule set.

The added limitation of not being able to rearrange your hand is always fun and works well to make this game manageable but still tricky.

I like that you can push your luck to make a big set, but this doesn't gain you points, so it's only good if you can use it to punish the other players.

It also plays very differently at different player counts, as the end game condition will be much more dangerous with more players.

Cons:
It's a bit annoying that the player before you limits how much points you can gain on your turn, if they have a bad hand you can't make much use of your good hand.

As with any card game, luck of the draw can be very impactful.

15
 8.0   Square on Sale
It's like Othello on steroids!

Pros:
The different decision points pulling you towards different options all stem from very simple rules. It's a masterclass in old-school euro design.

I really like the timing aspect of the auction. You may want to plan a one-two punch of first taking over a square on one side of the grid and then on the other the next turn, but as soon as you're outbid the timing is delayed by 1 turn. You might also count on someone else taking over one of your center buildings so that you can reach to the other side once you win you auction, but then that other player's bid is contested by a third player, messing up your timing. It's elegant, interesting and difficult to bid in this game.

The bidding works really well, because of the way you slowly get your money back, but only if you bid for the less valuable, middle spots. It means that even if you overbid, you're not very punished so you're encouraged to play aggressively at the beginning and end of the game. It's also a great way to balance the infamous corner spots, a very cohesive and elegant solution.

Planning for the ending is also fun, since you get negative points for your blocks left in the end, you want to make big plays that place several blocks at once. But these may be more contested and may not net you any points by the end of the game because they're easy to overbuild.

Cons:
I think it's a bit too good to end the game by placing all your blocks. Not only are everyone else getting at least 1 negative point for the ones they have remaining, you also make the last push to take over buildings. This means that everyone must play very defensively at the end of the game, which isn't as fun as the beginning and middle of the game.

It's also very easy to forget to place gems in the beginning, but luckily this becomes moot by the mid-game.

14
 8.0   Tinners' Trail
This game definitely punches above its weight.

Pros:
I'm not a big fan of auction games but this game does them right. There's not a lot of them, they go fast and are punchy. They also usually only go to about 6£, so there's no BS granularity, any sort of raise means something.

I love the development market, the way adits are super-important but very expensive and there's exactly 1 available each round. It's a good reward for being the first player, but you also sacrifice pretty much all other good developments. As a counterpoint, the water pumps are great and cheap, but get more plentiful later in the game.

I like time tracks in most games and this is one of my favorite implementations of it. I love how the auctions work with this, in that you can manipulate other players into spending their time out of turn to get more turns in a row. This comes at a risk however because you have to start the bids yourself. Alternatively, it might be beneficial to win an auction out of turn to be first to a specific spot on the time track so you can pass early without wasting too much time.

Cons:
I don't like the randomness. I don't like the random resources when getting an unprospected mine but at least you know that when bidding. I think the random market prices are just as problematic but less people talk about it. Sure you can wait to mine copper until the price is better, but it may never get better and sometimes you just need to mine to get money. It also allows players to push their luck, waiting to mine pretty much everything they have until the end, which seems counter to the rest of the game.

13
 8.0   Lords of Xidit
I was really pleasantly surprised by this. Every play so far has been really exciting and tense.

Pros:
I've always liked programming, but I haven't really liked any competitive programming game until this one. Maybe it's the simplicity of the actions or maybe it's how you sometimes want to act before someone else and sometimes after, but the programming part is tense in the best way.

The victory condition is what sold me on the game and it's just as good as I was expecting. It's such a simple but engaging system that also means that the endgame will almost always be tense and competitive. It also has some variability as towers (being completely open information) being the last or first condition makes a meaningful difference.

I'm usually not a fan of area majority and in some ways all the victory conditions are variations of area majority, but the brilliance of the valuation of the victory conditions means that it somehow feels less arbitrary when someone swoops in and takes away your majority because it's no longer about being the best, it's all about not being the worst. My feelings might change if glory is the third condition.

Cons:
I don't think this scales well, it's pretty much only a 4-player game to me. With 3 players there are too few things happening on the board and with 5 players it's too chaotic, at 4 there's just the right amount of programming double-think.

Handling the discs and flipping discards takes up roughly a third of the rule book and that highlights how annoyingly complicated it feels compared to the rest of the game.

12
 8.0   Franchise
Another success from Queen Games, taking excellent old-school designs and giving them a fresh look!

Pros:
I love games with simple rules and interesting decisions and this is definitely one of them!

The tight economy, the competition over regions, the possibilities to cut someone off and the unstable alliances that form in cities are all just great.

The game even feels thematic, despite first being designed with a different setting, in the way that competing businesses lowers the income for all of us and the way we're forced to spread our Franchise farther across the USA each turn.

I like that the game is completely deterministic after set-up and the players themselves makes the game different and interesting each time.

The bonus tiles are very interesting, because it's easy to get more than 4 points from them if used well and early to kickstart your economy, but you also want to save them to be reactive and be able to e.g. fill a city or get money for a big play later.

Cons:
One of my biggest pet peeves in board games is present in this game, and if it wasn't for that this would have been at least a 9. I hate it when turn-order is super-important and also fixed. It's fine in most games where you can't don't set up huge plays for each other, but here turn order is a really big deal and it leads to some degenerate play.

The way cities close off and are scored means that maybe player A does something that is in their best interest, but then player B can benefit greatly and even more than player A did and player C can be completely cut off from some huge points later in the game. It's also a game where this will probably happen a few times, but not nearly enough to balance out over all the players, so it becomes far too good to e.g. sit after an inexperienced player just like in Puerto Rico and that's not fun for anyone, especially not the new player.

It's also somewhat of a zero-sum game, where if players A and B compete over a city all the other players will come out on top. I would have preferred some more nuance to this, so that players both help and hinder each other in some ways to make the competition less annoying.

11
 8.5   Mogul
No Thanks! to No Thanks!, I'd rather play this!

Pros:
This is actually a remake of the original version of the game that eventually became the classic card game No Thanks! I like No Thanks! and think it works very well as a casual game to play while chatting.

This game somehow adds something back that I didn't know was missing from No Thanks! The switch from only one person eventually giving out and taking a card is much less exciting than the last 2 players that stay in getting rewarded. It's sort of a combination of No Thanks! and For Sale, which is definitely a good thing.

I like the choice between getting a stock and placing a house/selling stocks. Most players will have at least some sort of investment in one of these things so bidding is always tense, but there's enough nuance there to guide your hand and anticipate your opponents in a way that's just not present in No Thanks!

While the artwork is destined for the next section, the production choice of the huge wooden bowl and wooden chits making a satisfying noise whenever you bid does a lot for the game.

Cons:
The cover of this game may be the worst cover of any game I've ever played. The odd, jagged beard and brown box is just so hard to put in front of players.

It's also a quite large box, and while I wouldn't get rid of the wooden bowl for anything, it's still a larger box than the gameplay behooves.

Luck is absolutely a factor and games are frequently decided by the order that cards come up and which ones are not in the game.

10
 8.5   Pikoko
I was happily surprised that this doesn't feel like just another trick-taking game.

Pros:
This has rocketed straight to the top of my favorite competitive trick-taking games (The Crew holds the cooperative spot). I think I'll get rid of all others that can't be played with a regular deck of cards.

I've played Oh Hell! for years and my favorite part has always been when we got down to 1 card and held it on our foreheads and bet only knowing the other players' hands. This game is a full game of just that.

It's a simple idea but it works really well and doesn't have a bunch of other stuff distracting from that great core.

The betting is tense especially when trying to figure out what the person actually playing the hand wants to do with it. The amount of information that you have when betting makes it more interesting than normal and there's pros and cons depending on where you are in turn order that can influence your bets.

I've always liked betting in these games, but it can be frustrating with certain hands or when things go very wrong. The fact that you're betting on all hands means that you'll likely at least get 1 right and that small change makes the game much more in-depth and interesting. You want to play in a way that not only enables one player to get more tricks, but also prevents some other player from winning a trick so both your bets work out.

I like that there's a lot of power in playing the first card of a round, but to compensate you know the least about your hand when betting. These small details, including how much depth the small amount of multicolored cards add, just shows how well thought-through this game is.

It also doesn't hurt that it looks absolutely gorgeous. The cards are smartly designed designed such that if you can see the eye of the feather of a card back, your opponents can see the number on the front. The setting also totally works, which is rare for trick-taking games.

Cons:
It's a bit hard to get your mind around at first, playing for your neighbor is necessary but certainly unique and a bit weird.

I'm also not a huge fan of trick-taking games with a set number of rounds, but at least it's a reasonable number of 3.

9
 8.5   TransAmerica
If I hadn't already been such a big fan of Pioneers, I would have called this a Ticket to Ride-killer (even though TA is older than TtR).

Pros:
This packs a lot of game into very few rules and a short playtime.

I want to like Cube Rail games but just get frustrated by how their shared incentives interact with group-think to sometimes mean that you can't do anything to advance the game in a way that helps you more than someone else. This game strips out all the stuff I don't usually like in Cube Rail games (shares, auctions, group-think) but keeps the parts I like, i.e. the simple rules and passive-aggressive positive player interaction.

I love how the game is solely focused on action efficiency, so the shared incentive part of the game is about how long you can wait to make your move, hoping someone else will make it for you. This means that every move you make will almost always help you, it's just all about how much you help other people in the meantime.

I think this game is the perfect game to introduce people to our hobby that absolutely no experience with games. It's still a board game and not a card game, a distinction I don't personally put any significance to but have learned may be important to set expectations for new players. It plays up to 6 players and has much simpler rules than TtR. It has interaction, but it's all positive so it usually suits both conflict-averse players and people that want to be able to interact. I recommend playing with gaining positive points instead of losing points as this may make people feel bad, the Japanese version of the game has a solid scoring variant for this.

The Vexation expansion is my favorite type of expansion. It adds barely any rules or components, integrates wonderfully, and makes the game different, but not necessarily better or worse. It definitely ups the meanness of the game and opens up for some creative plays, but it also takes away some of that angst that comes from you feeling forced to help someone else. So I'll use it maybe half the time and love it for that, it just adds some variety to the game!

Cons:
There's some randomness with the card draws, where some sets are just easier than other.

The first player has a slight advantage and most games won't last long enough for everyone to be first.

Placing your start can be quite impactful, but it's really hard to know what to do when you're new so it slows down the start of the game for little gain, since it's not quite impactful enough to really think hard about.

You can get screwed over, especially when using Vexation, so that a single player gets accidentally blocked more than anyone else. This will usually end the game though, so it's not like it will be a slog to sit through the rest of the game for that player, but it's still not fun.

8
 8.5   Hamburgum
Don't judge a game by its cover!

Pros:
I never expected to put the production in this column, but this game is gorgeous*! Sure, the art is drab and that cover is legendary, but this game comes with actual bells and the clay resource is made from clay! :O The wooden components are also much, much bigger and more luxurious than necessary.

I love rondel games and this is a great one. It's hard not to compare it with Navegador so let's start out there: This game is completely deterministic, unlike Navegador, and has a more volatile market to make up for it. Both games let you set out your own scoring criteria, which I love, but this adds a timing aspect to it that is very interesting. Both games are excellent in their own ways and I need to play both more to know which I prefer.

I think the market and boats do a great job balancing supply and demand in a simple way, that also has quite a bit of player interaction.

I like that most actions let you do however much you can afford. It forces a balance between timing, action efficiency and resource efficiency. It's very simple but very engaging choosing how many resources to buy at once or whether it's worth the action to just buy 1 building or church section.

Cons:
Those clay bricks are really cool, but they also started the trend of destroying components while playing, 8 years before Risk: Legacy.

The map is a bit confusing in that regions are important, sometimes, and placement rules become irrelevant quite quickly, usually because you've built a church but also because the board gets full and you have plenty of adjacencies.

It can be hard for new players to get a sense of direction since the game forces you to make your own goals, which is hard to do on your first play.

The game can grind to a halt at the end if the last donation tile isn't very exciting. It's probably always worth it due to the bonus points, but the opportunity cost may still ensure that people take a few extra turns building buildings and getting resources instead of ending the game, which isn't very satisfying.

*Gorgeous except for the board. But it's readable at least, which can't be said for the Antwerpia board.

7
 8.5   Architects of the West Kingdom
This game pulls you into its setting and theme very well.

Pros:
There are plenty of games that punish you for taking efficient actions, one of the early progenitors being the corruption from the expansion for Lords of Waterdeep. But the virtue track of this game is the most visceral and interesting version of this I've played.

I think part of it is that the track is shared by all players on the main board, so your virtuosity is on constant display, making it easy to riff about. Another impact is that parts of the board is cut-off from you if you're high/low enough on the track and that the lower end is further incentivized by letting you skip on your taxes - giving some weight to the track beyond simply being a score modifier.

I like that there's pretty much only 3 ways to get point and most are concentrated on a single Guildhall action. I don't like point salads, I like it when Eurogames have a singular focus and the rest of the game works to highlight that focus.

The other big theme of this game is that larger groups of workers are more efficient, but also a bigger target for other players to take them hostage. It's a bit of a weird mechanism to add player interaction to the otherwise very simple optimization puzzle of just continually stacking workers, but again it incentivizes table talk more than any setting.

Cons:
That said, the grouping of workers is my biggest issue with the game. It reduces the decision space in that once you're invested in a spot, you might as well keep going there until someone stops you.

The kidnapping then opens up for degenerate play because some actions have diminishing returns. So if you want to capture workers as an income strategy, you may be forced between e.g. stopping someone from farming gold for points or getting more money from someone in the quarry that already has a virtually infinite supply of stone.

The other issue I have is that I don't think you have enough incentive to capture workers. You get money for it, but it takes at least 2 actions and someone can get their workers back from you before you have the chance to get paid for them. Those 2 actions could instead guarantee you 5 coins from the money spot that also makes you ready for 4 more coins the round after. So then you only do it to either get your own workers back or to deny other players, but again that denial is a bit degenerate and can feel random and unfun.

So then the real reason to capture workers has to be to get them into the prison so they're punished when the black market rotates. But this happens relatively rarely and may be out of your control, it's not like you can send workers to prison and trigger the black market at the same time. This means that all the other players have the chance to without cost get their workers back. That means player order becomes important, maybe you don't want to capture workers from the player next to you in turn order so they are incentivized to rotate the black market, but again that makes for weird and sub-optimal plays and breaks down if they just don't want to or can't trigger it.

I think both of my issues come down to the fact that there's a lot of mechanisms that revolve around moving workers from spots to prison and/or back to your supply, but I don't think the supply is limited enough given the length of the game to really make them sing.

With fewer workers you may be happy for someone to capture yours so you don't have to spend money and an action to do it yourself, maybe you already have stuff to do at the prison anyway. This also makes for more interesting decisions when capturing, where you may want to avoid capturing someone that's about to run out of workers. Finally, it makes an early push in the Guildhall more of a risk since you lose out on those workers permanently.

Finally, I'm not big on this type of Eurogames where players have a different number of turns. I really don't think those extra few coins you get for starting late compensates for potentially losing out on an entire turn.

6
 9.0   Mandala
I had heard great things and have loved the designers since Elysium, but was still very positively surprised by this!

Pros:
I like the setting and how the mechanisms reflect the actual theme of impermanence. The components are great, the square cards work for this and the cloth mat is wonderful.

The game is full of tense decisions just like any great 2-player only game. The way both players get rewards means that there's genuine strategy in vying for last place, as long as you ensure the rewards are balanced against each other.

This is further influenced by the harsh hand limit. Even when decisions are "obvious," you still need the cards to execute your plan and need to consider whether your opponent has the cards to counter you. This added uncertainty means that the game allows for risk-taking and means that the game feels less abstract and dry.

This is not to say the game is decided by random card-draws. Whenever you draw cards, you draw 3 (given that your hand limit allows it) so there's a lot of mitigation.

The scoring is brilliant in that the later parts of the game become more important, meaning that it's exciting 'til the very end. It also allows for different strategies, since the game can end based on two conditions. If someone invests in taking different colors to end the game that way, they will not be taking as many cards for points, which means that if you can end the game by running out the deck and take more 3- and 4-value colors, you can still pull out a win. Conversely, you can try to rush the game and hope that an extra 1 or 2 6-point card at the final mandala will give you the win.

Cons:
The only big con I can think of is that the strategies are kind of limited to those 2 options above. Sometimes you succeed with a rush strategy and sometimes you fail, in both cases the resulting win for either player feels kind of cheap. There's a lot of replayability in how each individual fight plays out so it's not like the game suffers from it, it's just a result of a simple game.

The one other issue is that the random seed of 2 cards in the mountain for when replenishing a mandala can really benefit one player over another. One could argue that's a consequence of having an inflexible hand, but it can still hurt to sit on 5 cards of a single color that has started in the mountain the last 3 flips.

5
 9.0   Egizia: Shifting Sands
Tense and interesting throughout!

Pros:
I think the original game invented the mechanism of "One-way movement" that inspired games like Heaven & Ale, Glen More and Tokaido. I really like this mechanism and much like Worker Placement and Bus, the originator simply did it best!

The design is smart in that all the other parts of the game are quite simple and feed into the great core mechanism. Building monuments, collecting resources and managing your workers are all dead-simple and all feed into deciding how far to move.

I like the monuments aspect, I like how they're all different and are grouped so you still compete over building spots even if you focus on different parts. Competing over these spots is definitely the core focal points of the river mechanism, it's all about how many things you dare grab on your way to the next building spot.

I like the different fields, they add another layer of interaction and some risk/reward fun.

For the type of game it is, it scales down to 2 quite well.

Cons:
I really dislike the tracks. There's 2 of them and the most interesting thing they do is give you a discount on the penalty for not feeding your workers, which may not even be relevant for you. They seem extremely perfunctory and bolted on, I feel like they were only added to add variety to the Sphinx goals and to flesh out the card and tile effects. They could have replaced it with almost anything in this remake or just removed them to make the game that much closer to perfect.

The Sphinx cards are a bit swingy. I like the way you get them, I like that you pick from several but also get points for looking at many, this is definitely the way to approach random point draws. That said, sometimes you draw 1 and sometimes that gives you 8 points for stuff you were already doing. So while this mechanism is well-done for what it is, I still don't like it.

The rules aren't great, especially for explaining the modifications for 2 players.

4
 9.0   Samurai
Fast and mean, just the way I like it!

Pros:
This game plays fast and still feels like a very complete and rewarding experience, I usually play 2 players in 20 minutes or less.

The production is great, especially for how few pieces are on the board. The figures from the first edition are especially great!

I like the concept of scoring a figure when the land tiles are surrounded and using boats to add influence without progressing the scoring condition.

The slight wrinkle of playing any number of fast tiles and deciding when and where to place them adds a lot of interesting depth without adding any unnecessary rules.

The 2 tiles that let you swap are a lot of fun and very powerful if used correctly. It's another wrinkle that gives the game a lot of bite and variety.

Cons:
I don't like the RAW setup. Particularly drafting all the different figures, that just seems like a very slow and less interesting and varied start. I can see the merit for selecting your starting hand, but I also see similar weaknesses for that as well.

The random tile draws can definitely be frustrating at times. I like that you can't always plan and play perfectly, but it still doesn't feel great when you're waiting 2 turns to close an area for the win only to see your opponent get there first.

There's hidden trackable information, but you can play without that if you want, it's even in the rules for 2 players.

3
 9.0   Railways of the World
Finally a train game for me!

Pros:
I like network building games in general, mainly because it's all about competing over a shared board and usually has a good mix of both tactical and strategic decision-making.

But train games usually has a complex economic system bolted onto the network building, even simple cube rails games usually have an unintuitive scoring system involving stocks. This, despite being a huge box, is the simplest game system I've played that still offers the competitive network building.

I like the core gameplay loop of doing 1/5 actions, 3 times a round, until the end game is triggered. Its parent-game Age of Steam forces everyone to do a bit of everything and I really appreciate that I can choose what to focus on when.

The economic system here presents such an interesting challenge that is immediately apparent just by looking at the income track. I love that income and points are closely tied and how you eventually start to lose income as you gain enough points. I also really love the bonds system, it's very simple and has fun ramifications. I like that the system allows you to put yourself into debt to do whatever you feel you need to, but it's also a big cost to balance it out.

I really like how the cards add some randomness and spice to the game. They give some early scoring targets, which does a lot for guiding early plays, but they also give some ways to not spend money in order to save money later, which is an interesting allure early but falls off later when the loss of tempo to take a card can be a waste if you already have cash on hand. You also get to see what comes out each round before auctioning for turn order, so you can usually make sure to get what you need if it shows up.

I like how the only thing that counts for delivery is the number of links and not the distance. It makes scoring simple and it makes building tracks more interesting, as you may want to take a less direct route to open up bigger scoring opportunities later. However, then you also have to have a good enough engine, and will you have time to get to that before those cubes are snaked away by your opponents?

Cons:
While I love the income track and how it starts giving diminishing returns, I would have liked this curve to be a bit tighter and have a lower top. Right now, the beginning of the game is by far the most exciting, because money is really tight and there's still goal cards and major routes to compete over. That's when bonds are alluring and being forced to make an inefficient route can be very hurtful, the system just works better when money is tight. I think some of the expansion maps sort of address this, but haven't tried any (yet).

The first player auction is a bit of a mixed bag for me. One of my pet peeves is when turn order is very important, but there's very few way to control or mitigate the turn order. With the first player auction, especially with the rules variant that controls the entire turn order, this is definitely addressed well in this game. But it's a bit of a fiddly rule set, especially with the variant, and it breaks up the flow of the game to have these constant auctions. It's also a bit of a weird cash sink, because as mentioned partway through the game money becomes virtually worthless except for the auction, so a winning bid goes from 2 to 40 by the end of the game in a rather unnatural manner.

It's possible to effectively eliminate yourself from the game if you take out too many bonds, which will not feel great, but I still appreciate the openness of this system. Still, good to know and that means that this game won't be for everyone.

I feel like the different barons aren't really equal, which is weird when everything else is so deterministic.

It's a very big box for what it is. I like the plastic trains, but I'm not sure if the huge empty town markers were really necessary. Rather, I feel like hotel markers are pretty necessary and this is only included in a promo. I also find it a bit weird that the rules encourage you to add dice and beads to make the board more readable and tells you to use an empty city marker for the turn track when they already have hundreds of plastic trains included, why not also add the other pieces acknowledged to make the game better?

The box insert is quite nice, but I don't understand why the paper money is the part that's removable. That's the one component most people will replace, so why not instead have the track holder be removable?

I also think the track pieces are a missed opportunity. They're pretty randomly mixed with 2-sided pieces that can have different bends and background colours. I would have preferred e.g. both sides of the tokens to have the same colour and always matching straight/1-curve together. I'm also not a big fan of the different colours, as it can sometimes make the board state less readable. Right now, building tracks is just a bit too fiddly to feel as good as it should.

2
 9.5   Babylonia
Better than Tigris & Euphrates and Samurai.

Pros:
The production is excellent, I love the round tiles and the holders for them. So much less fiddly than a screen and the tiles are nice to handle and pop on the board.

As is expected by Knizia, this does a lot with a little, but what it does is more in line with what I like in games than some of his other output.

Each turn is full of micro-decisions that flow together to a grand plan, only to be foiled by a single opportunistic placement of an opponent. The game is so finely tuned that each turn you have a litany of great options, but you must choose what to prioritize and what you think your opponent(s) will let you get away with waiting on.

Knizia is known for giving players conflicting incentives and challenging players to navigate when to zig and when to zag. This is true here, but now you can also zug and somehow try to translate short-term gains into long-term points. Stuff constantly disappears from the board and limit your options, but there's always something you can do to surprise your opponents if they drop their guard.

Note my frequent use of opponents, because this game is incredibly interactive in the best ways. You can't do anything that won't cause another player to groan. Yet they can never begrudge you for blocking them because they had the chance to do what you did and prioritized something else.

This has a similar basic interaction and decision space as Through the Desert and Tigris & Euphrates, but with more points of interest and more immediate impact of your choices. Also, no blind bidding is a big improvement over T&E for me.

Compared to its closest relative Samurai, this has less immediate impact and plays slightly longer, but has more conflicting incentives and strategic play that allows for more impactful interactions.

Cons:
I don't like that everyone doesn't have the same number of turns. I appreciate that the agency of being able to instantly end the game is a big part of the end game tactics, but I feel like everyone beyond the first 2 players are at an inherent disadvantage.

The art could be a lot less blue on some of the non-river spots. I realize the symbols are clearer in later printings and my own heuristic that the rivers are always 1 tile thick works well, but someone always stumbles on this and it could have been so easily avoided.

The random tile draw is a lot better than in T&E because the tiles are mainly of 2 kinds at a 40-60% split. Still, I've had games where I've waited on farmers for several turns only to draw them as the last 2 tiles when it's too late.

Game of the Year
Board Game: Brass: Lancashire

 10   Brass: Lancashire
First off, I prefer this to Brass: Birmingham. There are small parts that I prefer in Birmingham, but this game is pretty much perfect in its simplicity and balance that Birmingham meddles with.

Pros:
The brilliance of it all is how everything is interconnected and how you can help people even when trying to hurt them because of how flipping tiles work. There can be cooperation, backstabbing and mutually assured destruction all within this simple economic system.

What I was most positively surprised about is how simple each action is. The actual turn-to-turn play is easy and fast, the complexity and interaction comes from the long term impact of these moves. The hand of cards limit your options, which I think is very important. It reduces AP and keeps the game focused. As someone that hates when turn order matters in a game, I like how manipulating it is an important mechanism of this one, because if it screws you it's your fault.

Cons:
In an otherwise relatively deterministic game, I don't love the distant market tiles. The small difference in income bonuses are fine, but the fact that you can take a risk and not know how many you can sell is a bit incongruent with the rest of the game. That's the one part I don't like compared to Birmingham.

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Fri Dec 24, 2021 10:15 am
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Best and worst of 2021

Georg Wolgast
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It's that time of year when everyone scrounges to come up with lists to garner attention. Unlike last year however, I've yet to play a lot of games from 2021. I think I've been generally less interested in new releases, maybe it's been a bad year or maybe I just haven't gotten to try the best ones from this year yet (I'm holding out hope for Free Ride).

So instead of making a top 3 or whatever, I'll just list ALL the games I've played that BGG consider a 2021 release and rank those.

Stay tuned for a proper top 10 of best new-to-me games from this year (there's over 100 to choose from)!

From worst to best:

 1.5   TEN
Random and boring.

Pros:
The tokens are satisfying to play with.

The idea of giving out currency but it letting you possibly get more cards is interesting. The concept of being able to bust in two different ways is interesting in theory...

Cons:
...But it seems very rare to bust by getting too much currency.

The color choices are baffling to me. It's very hard to differentiate them on the desaturated wild cards, and I'm not color blind! I like that they have different patterns so you can differentiate them regardless of color, but it's too hard!

I think it's problematic how the high numbers are very rare and will almost always bust you unless it's your first card, so getting them or not feels very random and it's very good to randomly sit after someone that busted because of drawing a high number.

The auctions for wild cards are the main appeal of the game as it's the only thing that stands out from other push-your-luck games, but they kill the momentum so hard! I hate drawing a wild card on my turn despite it being strategically very beneficial simply because I don't want to be interrupted!

The auctions also mean that it's even hard to have a conversation while slogging through the game and the rules about busting and turn phases are far too complex for what you get from the game, so it's one of those rare games where I'd rather just not play at all.

 2.0   7 Wonders: Architects
This was so far ahead in the running for my worst game of the year until TEN came along and robbed it from even that one small reason to think about it ever again.

This is a set collection version of a roll-and-write, and I say that as someone that hates most roll-and-writes. I also dislike 7 Wonders, so I wasn't very surprised to hate this.

Pros:
The production is great, I especially like the trays for each player and the deck holders.

The progress tokens give some interesting guidance, though the best choice will almost always just be whatever give you the most points.

I actually think it improves on 7 Wonders on two points: The players not immediately next to you can actually affect you by taking your cat or triggering combat; and it's a lot easier to learn and play.

Cons
This is barely a game and I forgot about it the moment it ended along with the other players that played it with me. The only reason I remembered to rate it was my meticulous logging.

You get a decision between 2 cards or a random one, but the decision is mostly obvious. Of course there's a difference between e.g. taking a military card and a science card, but it all feels the same.

No matter your "strategy," you're mostly sitting around hoping that your neighbours do or do not draw your shared card so you can get whatever it is you need. This isn't meaningful interaction with your friends!

There's a significant first player advantage, but who cares, it's all mostly random anyway.

I understand that it's a game intended for families and children, and it works much better for that than the original 7 Wonders, but there are other, better games out there.

 5.5   Kemet: Blood and Sand
Take this rating with a grain of salt: I don't like multiplayer war games and I actually think it's above average.

Pros:
The core action selection mechanism keeps the game moving and limits options in an interesting manner.

The balance between permanent and temporary points is interesting and provides for tense end-games.

I like that it's impossible to turtle and how the game is designed to promote attacking and being flexible.

I like the power tiles and how you build up your player powers over time...

Cons:
But the plethora of them is really intimidating and confusing on your first few plays.

The production is a bit of a mixed bag: The minis look great and actually mostly fit on the board, but the board is very bland and it greatly annoys me that the pyramids only have 3 levels.

I hate the end-game. Yes it's tense trying to find ways to prevent someone trying to win, but it always just ends up feeling like hot potato trying to be the last person standing in contention for the win after everyone else has exhausted their resources. I hate this dynamic and don't find it satisfying at all, it ruined an otherwise fun game.

 6.0   Great Plains
Tense and competitive, but doesn't transcend the sum of its parts.

Pros:
The rules are very simple and create a lot of interesting decisions from start to end.

The player pieces are absolutely gorgeous, and while the board isn't as striking, it's very readable.

The tokens are a great way to add spice and unpredictability to the game and their component limitation is great fun to manipulate to your advantage...

Cons:
...But I think I would have preferred them more limited or with weaker effects. Sure they add a lot of depth, but they also make blocking almost always temporary and thereby makes the game softer and less interesting. I realize this isn't trying to be Go or anything, but I would have liked more heft to each of my moves.

I also don't like games with such an impactful setup. It's part of the game and I get that, but it's just not my preference.

 6.0   Mini Express
Solid distillation of the cube rails genre.

Pros:
The map and components are absolutely gorgeous.

I like the simple core and the balance between wanting to increase the values of your shares and making sure you actually benefit from that increase.

There's a very fine balancing regarding how to manipulate the tracks available to make your opponents' choices difficult. I like the amount of control players have over this and how you can have turns where you're forced to do something that helps someone else more than you're helping yourself.

Cons:
I mentioned above that manipulating tracks is important, but the way to do that is to place tracks in a very deliberate manner. This will limit your options regarding what resources to get.

I feel like managing these resources is the most important part of the game and it's really hard to know what's good, especially early, so it feels very random what you end up with.

There's no real direction as to what to do, everything is up in the air until maybe 75% of the game is done. You also can't e.g. heavily invest in a specific company and push that, because unless your opponents are incompetent they'll never leave you with cheap shares and if you still buy them you're shooting yourself in the foot. I know that that's the game, but I feel like the balancing of the game also takes a the edge off and results in a game of minor efficiencies rather than big, exciting plays.

I also in general don't like games where one player will set up the next player in turn order and that's pretty much all this is. If someone does something that's good for them and also leaves you something great, that's just as valid as someone doing something mediocre to put you in a bad situation. Sitting next to someone with a predilection towards the former will probably win you the game in the end.

 6.5   Import / Export: Definitive Edition
Better than Glory to Rome (GtR)?

Pros:
This is advertised as GtR and Container combined, but it's pretty much all GtR. I kind of think that's a good thing, because part of the allure of Container is the streamlined economic system and it just doesn't fit this card system.

The production here is 10/10. The box is exactly the size it needs to be and evocative of the setting. Every card has unique details that are highlighted with UV. The metal components in the KS-version are satisfying while still not taking up unnecessary room.

The setting is bone-dry, but Draper has done his absolute best to make it come alive with the art and production.

The differences from GtR is that it's a race to $50, you can use some of that cash to win auctions for resources, and you can't start a new contract/foundation if you don't have boats ready. I like all of these changes.

Cons:
It's a game of interlocking systems and it's really hard to just get your head around how to do what you want. This is often a red flag for me, because it means you're not really playing the game until you've already played it at least once.

I never liked the follow system of GtR because it was annoying to lose out on actions if you didn't draw what you needed. The 2-card wild exists here and in some versions of GtR and it alleviates some of my concerns, but it's still not a favorite mechanism of mine. I think it would be more interesting to just always get to follow, especially because now the only difference between your turn and your opponents' is that you get to pick on your turn and you can combine draw and use crew on other players' turns.

The action system works well but I also find it a bit frustrating how e.g. it's inherently harder to load green cards and contracting yellow cards. It makes certain hands very weird to play just because of that. That's another reason I think it would be more interesting to have an automatic follow.

 7.0   Agropolis
It's a slightly more complex and refined Sprawlopolis.

Pros:
Like I said for Sprawlopolis, it really doesn't feel like it lacks anything despite the micro nature of the game. The double-sided cards has a nice side effect of subtly changing the card set each game.

The smartest idea at play is still the scoring cards. There's nothing innovative here, but the scoring criteria are all very interesting and interact in fun ways. They're also combined with an already challenging base scoring that the bonuses are balanced around. I prefer to have a win condition in solo games and the way it's implemented here is brilliant. I also really like overlapping cards as a mechanism.

Sometimes in Sprawlopolis you get boring goals, either too synergistic or anti-synergistic. This version alleviates some of that with feed scoring that compensates for synergistic goals. This means that the game is always challenging, which is great.

The other change from Sprawlopolis is of course the all-new goals. They seem more complex and makes use of the different pens instead of the generic parks in Sprawlopolis, so this is definitely intended as a sequel.

Cons:
I worry about the longevity about the game, but I can easily play 20+ times before that happens so it's worth the price of admission. Also, there's fewer expansions available than for Sprawlopolis, especially since 1 of 2 expansions require Sprawlopolis.

 7.0   Boonlake
Another tempo-driven resource conversion race by Alex Pfister. This may actually be my biggest disappointment of the year, because while this is still a very solid top 3 game, Pfister's big games are usually my GotY the year they come out.

Pros:
Pfister is one of my favorite designers and he has a very specific style when it comes to his big-box strategy games. He's mastered creating games with satisfying resource-management puzzles that still manage to be highly interactive without feeling mean by virtue of making tempo a key aspect of the design.

This is true especially for Great Western Trail and Maracaibo, where the players control the end of the game and good play usually demands pushing the game to end as quickly as possible while still doing as much as possible each turn. This is true for Boonlake as well.

A more unique aspect of this game is player-controlled scoring targets, where at the beginning of the game each player chooses what everyone will be forced to score throughout the game, with a bonus/penalty for the one you chose. This, combined with the penalty for missing out on the target, is a smart way to add variability to the game and interesting decisions throughout.

I also really like the resource system, where the different resources are tiered and you can always get the lowered tiered resources for free, but may have to pay a penalty to reset and get the higher tiered resources.

In our 1.5 games of this players with radically different strategies have come very close in score and the better player has won, so it seems so far to have strategic width and depth.

Cons:
This is more complicated than Great Western Trail and Maracaibo, which I think is going to be its big downfall for me. They all give me a similar feel and the action following mechanism here is different, but the other two have snappier turns, just as interesting of a puzzle and end faster.

I like a lot of the parts of this, especially the player-controlled scoring targets and the Terra Mystica-style player boards, but TM does its stuff better and the other Pfister-games do the Pfister-stuff better, so all that's left for this is the player-controlled scoring targets and I don't think that's enough. Especially because the rewards/penalties for this aspect way too small to really swing games, at most it's 1/10 of your score. I would have preferred this to be virtually forced on the players by having much bigger rewards.

The aspect that the TM-part is missing is that the board play here is very loose and boring. You get some bonuses but you rarely care about adjacency or even which region you're in. The reward for placing the expensive, good buildings is also just some point income and maybe flat end-game scoring if you pay extra, so it doesn't feel very rewarding.

One part I don't particularly like is the action following mechanism. I've never liked it e.g. in Puerto Rico, because it means that everyone will be somewhat forced into similar strategies and you can't really specialize, especially because the action you chose the last turn will have a penalty on your next turn. I like that you can usually get something else than the main follow action, but if that is to e.g. just draw a card it doesn't really count. Yes you can get levers to get better options, but then you have to choose to do that instead of other things.

Don't get me wrong, the game is good, but it just doesn't stand out among all its contemporaries.

 8.0   Shamans
It's one of my favorite traitor games, don't let it fly under your radar! This actually started out even higher than the next few games and could have been my GotY, but it has dropped for me the more I play it.

Pros:
Let's get the obvious out of the way first: This game is absolutely gorgeous! I really love the art and the production is top-notch, I especially love the UV-coated box, board and role cards.

It's a great core concept for a game, mixing trick-taking and social deduction. It works well because you can always blame your shady plays on a bad hand, but there's still enough agency to make big plays when needed.

I love the different tokens and powers, they're simple and few enough to be easy to teach and understand but just complex and varied enough to create some really memorable moments. For example, when a Shadow accidentally reveals themselves right when another player is about to kill someone else or when a Shaman tanks the game and switches roles with a Shadow at the very last moment.

It's extremely rare to find a traitor game that scales well to low player counts, but this one definitely does! I think it's because of the semi-coop nature of the game, which works surprisingly well as well!

I also think it manages the rare feat of having a great balance between the different roles. It's slightly harder for the Shadow to win, especially if the Shamans cooperate, but there's plenty of incentives to play selfishly as a Shaman and a good trick-taking Shadow will be able to manipulate the game to their advantage. It's also balanced in that the Shadow(s) get more points and are fewer in number, so it should be harder for them.

Cons:
Luck of the cards will always play a part of trick-taking games but the roles sort of elevate that. Sometimes you get a really hard-played hand in combination with your role and there are hands that will guarantee the victory for a shadow, but this is part of trick-taking and the teams help balance this.

The big issue I guess is that there's player elimination, but I don't mind that when the rounds are this short (you'll only be out for at most 2 minutes and usually eliminating a player ends the round). I actually kind of like the player elimination here, because it gives weight to the decisions you make.

The issue is rather when e.g. it's in a Shaman player's interest to eliminate another Shaman because they'll win either way so they want to hurt the player in the lead. This just doesn't feel great when you're the target, because you've been helping your team to victory and get punished for it. It's part of the balance and strategy, sure, but it still isn't very fun.

I also don't think the game is well-balanced at 4 players. If the Shaman player gets a long suit or just a good hand, they'll run away with the game without any interaction or input from the other players. This is mainly a 4-player issue because these hands are more likely at this player count.

 8.0   Maglev Metro
Gorgeous and fun!

Pros:
I was wary that a network building game where you can't block each other from building routes would lose out on a key point of interaction that I really like, and while it does, it's compensated by other points of interaction (especially the competition over building stations and taking on passengers).

I really like the idea of the unbranching path that you can't easily turn around on, it makes the board play much more interesting than you might expect.

The malleability of your player board and how differently you can play it and pivot using the adjust action is really interesting. It can be AP-inducing for some players, but it really works for me.

I really like the tension between getting robots to get better actions and getting humans for points. It's like the classic pivot-point in Dominion, but with more nuance since the humans have to be unlocked (in stages no less).

The production is obviously absolutely gorgeous with metal trains. acrylic track pieces and thick, recessed boards...

Cons:
But this also means that some of the missteps really stand out. The obvious one is that it's very hard to tell the copper and gold robots apart, and that's definitely an issue.

Another, even more silly mistake is that absolutely everything you can do and get points for is on your player board, even the stuff you don't have to unlock. For example, your base 2 actions are filled in and the passenger VPs are listed separately with and without the unlockable bonus. But there's nothing showing that you always get 1 VP per link and always get to score 1 card. This inconsistency makes missing them a really easy mistake to make for new players, no matter how much you emphasise it when teaching the game.

I also feel like the balance is a bit off, stuff like the first extra action and trying to increase track scoring feels like a trap and some cards are just better than others.

 8.5   The Crew: Mission Deep Sea
It's even better than its predecessor! It barely loses out to the next game, it was very close at the top!

Pros:
I think it makes sense to compare this to the original The Crew, so just go there for the general impressions of the system.

The big difference is of course the task cards and that's a massive improvement IMO. The sheer variety of each individual task, not to mention how they combine to create really interesting and weird situations is a lot of fun.

A part of this improvement is also that the tasks are graded in difficulty according to player count, which is not only a necessity give then oddness of some of the tasks, but it also feels more fair. In the original, sometimes an early mission could be much harder than a later one just because of how the tasks randomly came out, and while there will always be outlier combos in this version as well, it generally felt like the difficulty curve was more consistently going up as we took on more difficult missions.

I also really like the passing rule. Since it's quite common, at least in the first half of missions, to have fewer tasks than the number of players, the possibility to pass on taking a task and forcing someone else to do so is a much more gruelling decision than might first appear. Maybe there's a task out there that's pretty hard for you, but if you don't take it someone else may get stuck with something almost impossible.

Cons:
This improves on my one negative of the original: There's fewer missions! That said, I still don't think the variables being played with are that interesting in terms of the missions, there was more creativity in the original and the new things like real-time missions and choosing your restriction gets old pretty quickly. That said, the tasks do plenty to create new and unique challenges each play anyway, so that's completely fine!

It also does introduce a very avoidable issue: The captain marker is just too big! It does have a nice table presence but it won't fit back into the box once assembled! So you have to assemble and disassemble it each time you play, and that's just not worth it for the minor improvement in table presence.

Game of the Year
From gallery of cw_ts

 8.5   So Clover!
It's like a combination of Just One and Codenames, but better than both!

Pros:
I feel like the world has only recently gotten on board with the idea of a cooperative party game, and this is one of many that have come out that feel like they could have been designed 50 years ago given the simplicity of the design.

That said, the production of the game is a mix of modern and old-school sensibilities. The game comes with 6 thick and hefty plastic card holders/whiteboards that feel pulled straight out of the 80's when people were less concerned about the use of plastics or shipping costs. Don't get me wrong, they're a great centerpiece and work well for the game, but given that I never usually consider the environmental cost of games since they're non-consumable and nowhere near the villains of this story, this still stood out enough to make me mention it here.

At the same time, the cards in the game have holes in them, which feels very modern. They seem sturdy and of high quality, which is good since shuffling them can get a bit weird when cards snag on the many edges available.

I realise I haven't even gotten to the gameplay yet, but you'll know if this is for you just by reading the short description on its game page. I can tell you that the simultaneous nature of the less-fun-but-still-fun-in-a-non-party-sort-of-way preparatory stage of the game works well to keep players engaged and is also relatively short compared to the rest of the game.

I was worried that it wouldn't be fun to be the silent moderator when people were guessing on my cards, but it is definitely interesting to hear how people interpret your clues.

I also think the most fun part of the game is when you guess for the other players, which is the majority of the game ((n-1)/n turns). This is something a lot of its competitors gets wrong, the most fun part of Just One is being the one player guessing (1/n turns) and the most fun part of Codenames is being the Spymaster (all of the turns for 2/n players and none of the turns for the rest).

Cons:
Aside from if you're a stickler for plastic usage, there's not much in terms of negatives here. Sure the markers will eventually dry up and it will be annoying to change them, but they're of the exact same quality as all other games like this so it seems to be an industry standard.

I guess I find it a bit lazy to not include a victory condition and instead ask people to compare their scores to previous games. I log it as a win if we score more than 4 points per player, which is an easily inserted house-rule, so why wasn't something like that included?


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Sun Dec 19, 2021 1:27 pm
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November 2021 - 19 new-to-me games!

Georg Wolgast
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Here is a short introduction for the blog and myself. These are my impressions of the games I played last month. First an overview using the excellent GCL-tool.

2 trips to my not-very-local board game café and sort of a discovery of BGA has led to learning many new games this month!

Because of the exploring nature of our trips to the board game café, I've tried a lot of games that are very good, but of genres that I don't typically like. Keep reading to see if any of them changed my mind!

Board Game: Kemet: Blood and Sand
From gallery of Photodump
Board Game: Polynesia
Board Game: Lewis & Clark: The Expedition
Board Game: KLASK 4
Board Game: KLASK
Board Game: K2
Board Game: Five Cucumbers
Board Game: Palazzo
Board Game: Mini Express
Board Game: Thurn and Taxis
Board Game: Anno 1800
Board Game: Troyes
Board Game: Railways of the World
From gallery of cw_ts
Board Game: Project L
Board Game: Project L: Ghost Piece
Board Game: Pandemic: Fall of Rome
Board Game: El Grande
Board Game: Clans of Caledonia
Board Game: 7 Wonders: Architects
Board Game: The Palaces of Carrara



 9.0   Railways of the World x2 NEW!
Finally a train game for me!

Pros:
I like network building games in general, mainly because it's all about competing over a shared board and usually has a good mix of both tactical and strategic decision-making.

But train games usually has a complex economic system bolted onto the network building, even simple cube rails games usually have an unintuitive scoring system involving stocks. This, despite being a huge box, is the simplest game system I've played that still offers the competitive network building.

I like the core gameplay loop of doing 1/5 actions, 3 times a round, until the end game is triggered. Its parent-game Age of Steam forces everyone to do a bit of everything and I really appreciate that I can choose what to focus on when.

The economic system here presents such an interesting challenge that is immediately apparent just by looking at the income track. I love that income and points are closely tied and how you eventually start to lose income as you gain enough points. I also really love the bonds system, it's very simple and has fun ramifications. I like that the system allows you to put yourself into debt to do whatever you feel you need to, but it's also a big cost to balance it out.

I really like how the cards add some randomness and spice to the game. They give some early scoring targets, which does a lot for guiding early plays, but they also give some ways to not spend money in order to save money later, which is an interesting allure early but falls off later when the loss of tempo to take a card can be a waste if you already have cash on hand. You also get to see what comes out each round before auctioning for turn order, so you can usually make sure to get what you need if it shows up.

I like how the only thing that counts for delivery is the number of links and not the distance. It makes scoring simple and it makes building tracks more interesting, as you may want to take a less direct route to open up bigger scoring opportunities later. However, then you also have to have a good enough engine, and will you have time to get to that before those cubes are snaked away by your opponents?

Cons:
While I love the income track and how it starts giving diminishing returns, I would have liked this curve to be a bit tighter and have a lower top. Right now, the beginning of the game is by far the most exciting, because money is really tight and there's still goal cards and major routes to compete over. That's when bonds are alluring and being forced to make an inefficient route can be very hurtful, the system just works better when money is tight. I think some of the expansion maps sort of address this, but haven't tried any (yet).

The first player auction is a bit of a mixed bag for me. One of my pet peeves is when turn order is very important, but there's very few way to control or mitigate the turn order. With the first player auction, especially with the rules variant that controls the entire turn order, this is definitely addressed well in this game. But it's a bit of a fiddly rule set, especially with the variant, and it breaks up the flow of the game to have these constant auctions. It's also a bit of a weird cash sink, because as mentioned partway through the game money becomes virtually worthless except for the auction, so a winning bid goes from 2 to 40 by the end of the game in a rather unnatural manner.

It's possible to effectively eliminate yourself from the game if you take out too many bonds, which will not feel great, but I still appreciate the openness of this system. Still, good to know and that means that this game won't be for everyone.

I feel like the different barons aren't really equal, which is weird when everything else is so deterministic.

It's a very big box for what it is. I like the plastic trains, but I'm not sure if the huge empty town markers were really necessary. Rather, I feel like hotel markers are pretty necessary and this is only included in a promo. I also find it a bit weird that the rules encourage you to add dice and beads to make the board more readable and tells you to use an empty city marker for the turn track when they already have hundreds of plastic trains included, why not also add the other pieces acknowledged to make the game better?

The box insert is quite nice, but I don't understand why the paper money is the part that's removable. That's the one component most people will replace, so why not instead have the track holder be removable?

I also think the track pieces are a missed opportunity. They're pretty randomly mixed with 2-sided pieces that can have different bends and background colours. I would have preferred e.g. both sides of the tokens to have the same colour and always matching straight/1-curve together. I'm also not a big fan of the different colours, as it can sometimes make the board state less readable. Right now, building tracks is just a bit too fiddly to feel as good as it should.

 8.5   So Clover! x3 (5 all-time)
It's like a combination of Just One and Codenames, but better than both!

Pros:
I feel like the world has only recently gotten on board with the idea of a cooperative party game, and this is one of many that have come out that feel like they could have been designed 50 years ago given the simplicity of the design.

That said, the production of the game is a mix of modern and old-school sensibilities. The game comes with 6 thick and hefty plastic card holders/whiteboards that feel pulled straight out of the 80's when people were less concerned about the use of plastics or shipping costs. Don't get me wrong, they're a great centerpiece and work well for the game, but given that I never usually consider the environmental cost of games since they're non-consumable and nowhere near the villains of this story, this still stood out enough to make me mention it here.

At the same time, the cards in the game have holes in them, which feels very modern. They seem sturdy and of high quality, which is good since shuffling them can get a bit weird when cards snag on the many edges available.

I realise I haven't even gotten to the gameplay yet, but you'll know if this is for you just by reading the short description on its game page. I can tell you that the simultaneous nature of the less-fun-but-still-fun-in-a-non-party-sort-of-way preparatory stage of the game works well to keep players engaged and is also relatively short compared to the rest of the game.

I was worried that it wouldn't be fun to be the silent moderator when people were guessing on my cards, but it is definitely interesting to hear how people interpret your clues.

I also think the most fun part of the game is when you guess for the other players, which is the majority of the game ((n-1)/n turns). This is something a lot of its competitors gets wrong, the most fun part of Just One is being the one player guessing (1/n turns) and the most fun part of Codenames is being the Spymaster (all of the turns for 2/n players and none of the turns for the rest).

Cons:
Aside from if you're a stickler for plastic usage, there's not much in terms of negatives here. Sure the markers will eventually dry up and it will be annoying to change them, but they're of the exact same quality as all other games like this so it seems to be an industry standard.

I guess I find it a bit lazy to not include a victory condition and instead ask people to compare their scores to previous games. I log it as a win if we score more than 4 points per player, which is an easily inserted house-rule, so why wasn't something like that included?

 8.0   Anno 1800 NEW!
It's very unique while still being straightforward.

Pros:
I like the core conceit of racing to make your population happy, it's just a very pleasant goal to contrast with the colonialist setting.

I like the competition over the limited factories and the timing of e.g. when to buy from your opponents and when to try to end the game. This game has a lot more interaction that what was first apparent.

In the end it's all an efficiency puzzle. The game is very wide-open, you can pretty much do everything, especially a few rounds in, but the question becomes what to do that helps you the most and what to rely on other players to do.

I like the freedom and control you have over getting resources, except that you're very limited in the amount of trading you can do, so even with infinite workers and gold you still have to do do festival actions at some point.

The game will feel very different depending on the player count given that no matter what, there's always only 2 factories available of each kind.

Cons:
It can be very overwhelming at first with the amount of options available. It's a quite opaque system and there's not a lot of guidance for new players regarding what to focus on.

I don't think there's quite enough of an incentive to end the game. Sure, 7 points can be very impactful but if no-one wants to end the game it can drag quite a bit.

There's a lot of randomness in the cards you draw and the exploring. I think that's part of the game and there's plenty of systems to mitigate the luck, but it will probably be frustrating if you're playing very competitively.

 8.0   KLASK x2 (6 all-time)
It's just a lot of fun. I already like air hockey and this is like an at-home version of that.

Pros:
The magnets work surprisingly well, I was worried that controlling your piece via magnets would lose much needed tactility, but everything feels good.

The extra point mechanisms are super smart and allow for risk/reward plays and zoning, things that I never would have thought was needed in air hockey but really elevate the play.

The game plays fast and is compelling to keep playing again.

Cons:
The only downsides are the size of the box and the flight risk of the components. It's also fast enough that it won't leave a huge impact.

In summary, I'm hard pressed to say if KLASK or Crokinole is my favorite dexterity game. KLASK is a lot more engaging but also stressful and less impactful, whereas Crokinole has an air of sophistication with all the good and bad that comes with that.

 8.0   KLASK 4 x2 NEW!
It's a more chaotic version of KLASK, but that's not a bad thing.

Pros:
The production value of this version is a lot better than the original KLASK, and KLASK was alright for what it was. It even solves one of the biggest problem of the original in that the legs are removable so storage is a lot easier.

I especially like the little bumpers dividing each player area that perfectly align with the hole if you shoot into it, there's also no annoying corners like in KLASK.

I think the added chaos works well for KLASK because there's many different ways to score, so if you are solely focused on the ball one of your opponents may try to send magnets your way.

I'm not sure how the victory condition is supposed to work RAW, but in this type of game I always play that the player with the most lives when someone dies is the winner, and that's a good way to mitigate bullying and make things competitive.

Cons:
It doesn't fit in a Kallax square.

It's not as competitive as KLASK and quite a bit more expensive than it.

In summary, it's definitely a different mood and they're still big enough to make it annoying to have both, so the one to get is dependent on your tolerance for chaos.

 8.0   Lewis & Clark: The Expedition NEW!
It's punishing but great!

Pros:
In a lot of resource conversion games, you may have a bad round and not really progress much. In this game, if you have a bad round you will actively hurt yourself and lose points.

Interestingly, a bad round is defined by having too many resources and not using your cards efficiently. I like this dichotomy, many actions can give you get a whole lot of resources, but you get punished if you can't use them. I'm sure many people will put this as a con but I really like this twist on top of the otherwise rather standard resource conversion puzzle.

This being a race game, tempo is handled in a very interesting way. For example, it's quite easy to get a whole lot of indians and they can give you resources and stuff! But it takes a whole turn to grab just 2 resources, while a card can get you 10+ if you time it right. You may still want to take those actions though, partly because you may not have the cards you need to specific resources, and partly because you have to get rid of those indians before you camp. To add another wrinkle to this, all indian actions that don't require resources are limited, so if you were greedy and took too many indians you may want to make sure to get there early and get rid of them before they fill up, but this may mess with the best timing for using your cards.

I like the hand building and how it doesn't take a precious action to get new cards, but it does require resources. I also like that you can trash a card whenever you get a new card and can use it to get a discount.

I also like that camping doesn't take an action, so strategies focusing on a lot of cards and on very few cards are seemingly equally valid.

I've always considered Vincent Dutrait my favorite board game illustrator so it's no surprise I love the art here. I also like the historical flair of the setting and the attention to detail that's in the rulebook...

Cons:
...Though it's a bit off-putting that 'indians' are a resource.

The rules are quite bad and there are a lot of weird card effects. These aren't deal-breakers individually, but they combine by having a detailed list of all the cards in the game and their historical significance (great!), that completely fails to explain the cards and how they interact in detail (bad!). This means that whenever someone buys a card I have to look up what they do, but even after all that effort there are usually still things I don't understand regarding the effect.

There's a bit of a fall-away loser issue and there's nothing the game does about that. I mentioned not being too bothered by the game being punishing, but I still would have preferred something that at least kept everyone engaged. I find it odd that the only reason you keep track of camps is due to a handful of card effects, this might have been explored more to great effect to add some catch-up mechanisms.

There's not a lot of interaction in the game. You have to time playing your interpreter depending on the other players, you can get blocked at the village, cards can be affected by what your neighbors have played and someone may take a card you wanted. But you usually have other things to do while you e.g. wait for indians to pile up before you take them or for them to get cleared so none of these points of interaction rarely affect much.

It's not the type of game that really needs a lot of interaction more than that and I wouldn't want players being able to mess with me given how much the game itself is already not holding its punches. Still, I played the original version and in the new one, you jump over other player's pawns as free movement and that might give the game that extra interaction spice and catch-up I feel it's lacking.

 8.0   Troyes NEW!
My super-long comment on this was somehow deleted so this will be a lot less in-depth.

Pros:
I like how tight everything is, you have a very limited number of actions in the game thanks to the fixed number of dice and rounds, so you have to make each action count. Money and influence can also be very tight, but sometimes they're not not depending on your strategy.

I like that some actions care about high numbers but other actions care about specific numbers, so at the start of each round you can immediately see what options may or may not be available. This means you can e.g. make sure to use specific dice for combat to deny them from your opponents before they have a chance to buy it.

I was wary of the randomness of the dice after reading the rules. High dice will often do more at most actions and while you can buy other players' dice, you'll come out ahead if everyone pays extra to use your dice because they're better. However, in play I realized that I almost like rolling low numbers more. This is because as mentioned, the number of dice are very limited so there's only going to be e.g. 6 white dice available each round. If your white dice are very low, it may not be worth the time and money for other players to buy them off you, but you have the exclusive ability to re-roll your own dice and use them immediately! This means that if you roll low, as long as you have influence, you will be able to buy your opponents' high dice and then save your own low dice for yourself, hopefully doing more on your turns than your opponents, which is a solid way to win. Accordingly, luck of the dice is well mitigated and gives a lot of texture to the game.

I also really like the hidden victory point cards. It's a subtle way to add player interaction and bluffing, but since most cards reward you for doing stuff you'll want to do anyway and because the specific thresholds are consistent and thereby easy to learn, it's easy to hedge and make sure to play around what your opponents may have without losing the game if you're wrong.

Cons:
I mentioned above that both low and high numbers can be good and that the randomness of the dice are thereby mitigated. This specifically does not apply when dealing with the black dice at the start of each turn, which can be incredibly frustrating. It's especially annoying that red dice are much better at this, so if you randomly roll poorly specifically with your reds, it's doubly frustrating.

I think the iconography is awful, many times the rules state that a card does exactly the opposite of what I thought based on the iconography.

A bigger source of randomness in the game comes from card flips. Events can hurt you in ways that can be very hard to plan for, for example you may lose your last few influence right before you counted on being able to use them to mitigate your bad roll. Also, the last few actions get revealed on turn 3 and while there's plenty of game left to pivot to deal with those, you've also already played a significant portion of the game so if the revealed actions fit into your strategy better than the other players', you get a pretty big boost.

I think some events give too little of a reward, which means that as the game goes on, some just always stick around causing the event phase to drag and making that part of the game feel a bit samey.

 7.5   Polynesia NEW!
It's good but I wanted it to be better.

Pros:
I love route building games and I was especially excited about the concept of needing someone to guide you if you want to use their route.

I like the variable number of rounds and that each turn one type of stockpile goes bad, which makes the resource management also player-dependent.

I really like the action mechanism, where some actions are more powerful late in the round and some early, but of course you will likely end up wanting to do the actions whenever they're the worst.

I like the setting of routes being sea routes and the volcano randomly ending the game. I don't think the mechanisms fit the setting any better than what could have been done with a more traditional railway setting, but I appreciate the choice they made.

Cons:
I think the board state is a bit too hard to read. Especially checking income each turn was annoying.

This is definitely a nitpick, but I think card 2.5 is very imbalanced compared to the other 2-cards and make masks far too good.

My biggest issue however, was that the game started to feel samey even in the middle of my first game. I realize that the game has a bit of built-in setup variety, but even with that there's very few sources of points in the game so in the end you'll end up doing the same thing every time. I think this was heightened by my one and only game lasting the maximum of 9 rounds, so in the end everyone basically managed to do everything they wanted.

I think the concept of needing a guide is good but in reality it meant that it was too hard to use other player's routes because it will usually be in their best interest to leave without you. It only really matters to move 2 steps to get points for your population, then you want specific locations for income and point. So getting free movements that may not even be in the direction you want isn't enough incentive to leave population standing around for other players to use. Of course, it's also not possible to deny someone a guide so the late game becomes more about maneuvering to not even give anyone the opportunity. So this great mechanism ended up being not much more than a pretty standard blocking move, except that it may even be cheaper to establish a second route on a path depending on when you do it so it's not even much of a block.

The resource scarcity added a lot to the player interaction in the beginning of the game, especially in terms of deciding what resource is required as payment and destroying things other players needed, but after a few rounds you'll likely have enough income to not really be bothered by the resource management.

I also think the lackadaisical nature of the interaction meant that the simple scoring system wasn't elevated by any sort of cut-throated player interaction to give the game legs. This means that all that's left is racing to tokens and then trying to position yourself well for whenever the game ends.

 7.0   Clans of Caledonia NEW!
It's good but Terra Mystica is better.

Pros:
It's a pretty flagrant copy of Terra Mystica and while I believe in crediting your inspiration, I also think that too few have copied the greatness of TM. The creators' own Gaia Project did some good things but didn't come all the way there. While I think this also falls short of TM, it's still built on a very solid foundation and is a good game on it's own.

I will say that the theme is a lot more cohesive and I especially like all the tiles having a fixed cost. This means that each player will fight over the same tiles, which is very nice.

I like the dynamic market, it's a nice way to let players be reactive and to introduce some slight competition about when to buy/sell.

I like that there are bonuses in the corners to incentivise spreading out despite the otherwise beneficial lake in the middle of the game.

Cons:
Most of my cons are just compared to Terra Mystica, these mechanisms work well on their own but pale in comparison.

The most obvious contrast to TM is the many different buildings on your board and how the upgrading structure of TM had been replaced by resource conversion. I think this is a big downgrade for 2 reasons. The most important one is a lack of progression and direction, you can build whatever you want whenever you want in CoC and it's all roughly as good, which lacks texture, adds AP and removes the pacing arc of TM. The other downgrade is that TM has an interesting trade-off of losing one income to get another, and you may have to upgrade to be able to place more of a specific type.

Another clear difference is the neighbouring bonus. They're both directly related to unique aspects of each game, but I think it's a lost opportunity in CoC that neighbours only help the person building and not both like in TM.

I also prefer the way TM handles round bonuses, in that you only score for things done that turn so there's a cap to it and you have to re-evaluate things each turn, in CoC you should play for all 5 bonuses from the start and the order doesn't really matter that much.

I really dislike the end game settlement scoring, in that it feels very unintuitive to only count different settlements. TM just counts the number of connected buildings, which is much simpler and better and I feel like the only reason CoC changed it is to be different.

I know that the contracts are the whole point if the game, but I really prefer favors in TM. Partly because they're the same each game so you don't have to bother with the AP of contracts, but also because getting permanent powers is way more fun.

Finally, the player powers in CoC are way less impactful or interesting.

 7.0   The Palaces of Carrara NEW!
Note: I've only played this as an asynch basic game online.

It's a solid, simple game with some interactive tempo.

Pros:
I think the market is really good. Partly because it's a cool gadget on the board that gives the game a nice centerpiece. But mainly because there's an interactive push-your-luck element to it.

The game is all about efficiency, so you want to draw a lot of pieces of marble at once, but you also want a lot of control over which pieces you get and some colors may be literally worthless to you. This is contrasted by pieces getting cheaper when they're passed over, so you're constantly hoping that other players will overlook the pieces you want but of course everyone will want the same things so can you really wait?

The choice of which action to take each turn is also interesting, because as mentioned the market requires some delicate timing but the same is true for the other actions in different ways. The cheaper buildings are usually more attractive (since they still award the same number of objects, fill out your board for scoring, and are easier to place to the left) so if one shows up you may want to prioritize it. The limit on available objects also mean that you want to score when you can still get the most objects, but you also want to wait to score as many things as possible.

I like the player-controlled ending and how you're rewarded quite highly for ending the game, so you want to strive for it.

Cons:
There's a lot of hidden traceable information in this game. I usually don't mind it, but especially given the abrupt end of the game I think many players will get frustrated by it.

I don't like the option of buying an object each turn. It's a weird added rule that is mostly used to convert 2 points of coins into 3 points of object (in the base game).

At least with the base game, there's very little reason to diversify your objects. If you get the same types of buildings, you get to activate more with a single action. There's also 6 of them for up to 4 players, so there's little reason to fight over them.

 6.5   El Grande NEW!
I've heard many people say that this is an area majority game that even people that don't like area majority will like. While this is an excellent area majority game, it still hasn't sold me on the genre.

Pros:
I think the cards are all really interesting. I like that there's some variety and a few really impactful, cool ones, but mostly each deck will do the same thing.

I especially like how many cards control extra scoring. Otherwise, the game would feel a bit like waiting around until every third round, but now you always have to stay vigilant and of course controlling when and where to score is a great reward to compete over.

The home region just giving a small scoring bonus to a single player is a good way to give some texture to the fight, you'll usually want to defend your home more than any other region.

The castille is very fun, the hidden aspect of it totally worked for the people I played with, where it added some fuzziness without anyone keeping perfect track of it. It's a great way to balance out how limited you may be in your placements because it's always available and almost always a solid choice.

Manipulating turn order and managing your hand of initiative cards is a fun mini-game in and of itself.

Cons:
It's one of the ugliest games I've played and I even played with the big box version with meeples!

Some of the cards are pretty blatantly aggressive towards a single player, which makes sense for the type of game this is, still is part of what I don't like in these types of game.

I feel like the board is a bit too small for 5 players, which is the only way I've tried it. Normally I like games being tight but this combined with the placement limit means the same players will be fighting over the same regions all game, slowly making increasing piles of cubes/meeples over the course of the game, making it relatively meaningless for anyone else to get in on the fight.

I know this is touted as one of the best 5 player games, but I don't like the deterministic way every card will be picked each round with 5. For example, a scoring that that will inevitably help a single player will mean that that player can safely ignore picking it because someone else will be forced to, which feels like a lost opportunity.

In summary, I don't have that many negatives, it really is very good for what it is, I just don't like this type of game. Still, if I'm going to play an area majority game, I vastly prefer China/Web of Power/Iwari because it's faster, simpler and more competitive.

 6.5   Thurn and Taxis x2 NEW!
A simple, fast and engaging efficiency puzzle with some incidental interaction.

Pros:
I think the card puzzle works very well and the 6-card market is a constant source of opportunities that must be resisted for the sake of efficiency! The puzzle gets especially saucy by the restriction that you have to extend your route each turn, so you can push your luck leaving a route unscored with an empty hand hoping to find something to extend it next round!

I really like the idea that you can use 1 advisor each round that lets you slightly bend the rules.

I like the decision between filling a single region or spreading out to different regions, though it seems harder to get cards that work better for the first option. This is heightened by the competition over filling regions, which is basically the extent of the player interaction.

Cons:
I feel like the efficiency puzzle is so tight that there's not much wiggle room in your decisions. You kind of have to do a bit of everything: Progress your coach, place as many houses as possible and fill regions. There's some tension between these goals, but it's also entirely possible to do all of those things at once, depending on the cards that show up. This made me feel that the game is less about using the cards you're dealt to do as much as you can, but rather about hoping to get cards that let you do everything and learning how to pivot if things don't go your way. I simply prefer the former.

I also felt that the incremental points for tiles meant that, while I care about the competition over these, I also don't really mind if I get 5 or 4 or even 3 points for a thing as long as it fits into the rest of the goals I outlined above. Sure those 2 points may make the difference for the win, but I would also never choose to not play a card to my route that would let me get a length-tile and move the carriage just to close the route to get a region tile first. This removes a lot of the interaction that I want from a network building game. I would have liked the game to be more brutal, like only the first person to get a specific tile gets any points at all, or maybe I'm just looking for an entirely different game.

 6.0   Mini Express NEW!
Solid distillation of the cube rails genre.

Pros:
The map and components are absolutely gorgeous.

I like the simple core and the balance between wanting to increase the values of your shares and making sure you actually benefit from that increase.

There's a very fine balancing regarding how to manipulate the tracks available to make your opponents' choices difficult. I like the amount of control players have over this and how you can have turns where you're forced to do something that helps someone else more than you're helping yourself.

Cons:
I mentioned above that manipulating tracks is important, but the way to do that is to place tracks in a very deliberate manner. This will limit your options regarding what resources to get.

I feel like managing these resources is the most important part of the game and it's really hard to know what's good, especially early, so it feels very random what you end up with.

There's no real direction as to what to do, everything is up in the air until maybe 75% of the game is done. You also can't e.g. heavily invest in a specific company and push that, because unless your opponents are incompetent they'll never leave you with cheap shares and if you still buy them you're shooting yourself in the foot. I know that that's the game, but I feel like the balancing of the game also takes a the edge off and results in a game of minor efficiencies rather than big, exciting plays.

I also in general don't like games where one player will set up the next player in turn order and that's pretty much all this is. If someone does something that's good for them and also leaves you something great, that's just as valid as someone doing something mediocre to put you in a bad situation. Sitting next to someone with a predilection towards the former will probably win you the game in the end.

 6.0   Palazzo NEW!
Simple and interactive, but not more than its parts.

Pros:
I really like the money system. It's similar to Alhambra, but I think it makes a few important improvements. For one, it's easier to get the currency you want in this game partly because of how they're dealt out but mainly because there's 3 instead of 4. Also, I really like the concept of always being able to play a set, this means that even a card in a currency you're weak in can be used to full effect.

I like the scoring and how you're extremely incentivized to build a single, tall and cohesive tower. It means that competition over specific tiles will increase. I also like how you're punished for starting too many palaces.

I like the random ending of the game, it means that the punishing scoring may actually catch someone off-guard.

Cons:
I like the idea that you can reconstruct, but I think that results in a lot of tension disappearing. Losing out on an action isn't a huge deal since you'll always be involved in other player's turns.

I also feel like the auctions can feel disappointing because you're kind of forced to focus on certain things and you have to do the auctions in order. So there's a lot of auctions you're forced to have that only 0 or 1 player is interested in.

 6.0   Pandemic: Fall of Rome NEW!
Nice Pandemic variant, but a bit fiddly.

Pros:
The production and art is evocative, I especially like the silk-screened alliance tokens.

One of the biggest changes compared to Pandemic is the addition of dice. I was wary of the additional randomness at first, but I think they add some nice fuzziness to the decisions. The original Pandemic can be a bit deterministic, which can inspire alpha gaming in players with that predilection. In this version, your risk-aversion will be your own and let you stand up to an alpha gamer.

I think the legions are an interesting twist on both the quarantine tokens and the normal treat action. It's a trade-off of demanding more careful planning of a shared resource, with a result of giving you a lot more control over dealing with the board.

I like the geometry of the north being harder to get to and the different colors being differently spread out.

I think the victory condition is a big improvement over the original. I like that there's two different ways to deal with each barbarian tribe, and depending on the board state and your draws you'll be making different decisions each game with regards to how to win, unlike in regular Pandemic where you can sort of just follow a game plan.

Cons:
The other big change is how the cubes act. Each card is a lot less impactful since a lot of times you won't even place a cube where it says on the card, so the cubes get a lot more spread out and predictable and the risk of sacking is lower than the risk of outbreaks in Pandemic. To compensate for this, you draw more cards and there are more riots, the equivalent to epidemics, in the deck.

On the whole, this change is balanced and creates a different, but interesting challenge and adds a nice thematic touch. But it has issues that weren't present in the original.

For one, each card drawn requites just a bit more of mental activity to track back where to place the cube, which in combination with drawing more cards makes this part of each turn a lot more fiddly.

It also means that you don't get to learn the top of your deck in the same way as you would in Pandemic, because there's far more cards to remember and cities can and will have cubes on them without ever having been drawn. This part of the original was one of its greatest features, it seamlessly drew you into its world each play and without even trying you could feel like an expert strategist when you recall that it was 2 shuffles ago that you last saw Riyadh and you've drawn enough cards that it can show up at any moment.

Another consequence is that each card drawn is less exciting, because there's fewer hot zones that can cause you issues and you're in general more proficient at taking out big groups of cubes. So that tension of whether you'll draw the one card that can end you is much more rare.

Some other minor complaints is that the game is ridiculously easy for 2 players, just like all Pandemic games. Also, while the legions look great they are a pain to move along with your player pawn.

In summary, I think this slightly edges out the original Pandemic but Pandemic: Iberia is still the best non-legacy version of the Pandemic System™.

 5.5   Five Cucumbers NEW!
It's deeper than it seems, which still ends up being about the depth of a puddle.

Pros:
The wooden gurkins are very cute and make losing a lot less hurtful.

I like that you're playing most of the round just to get ready for the only trick that matters - the last one. This is not unlike Friese's own Power Grid, but with a much more manageable scope.

There's some interesting decisions whether to get rid of a medium-level card and allowing your opponents to do the same, or to try to force your opponents to discard low cards by raising. You're basically always re-evaluating which last card you think you can get away with.

It's nothing revolutionary, but there's also more to it than it might appear. For example, I don't think you'll win against experienced players by always just raising as little as you can every time.

Cons:
I don't like the player elimination rules, where you keep playing until one player is left. It makes more sense to me to just play until someone goes over 5 and then whoever has the least amount of points win.

There are also a lot of moments where you don't have any decision to make and you can get screwed over and get instantly eliminated by a very bad hand, either in terms of its composition or its play.

I feel like the scoring is a bit pointless and mean. You get more points (bad) by winning with a high card, so if the round you lost just happened to have a large spread of values in play or simply just many high numbers, you'll get extra punished. To add insult to injury, if one of your opponents had a great round and never had to discard a 1, you get double points just because they did well.

There are a lot of simple card games out there, many of which can be played with a standard deck of cards. This is nowhere near the top of the line, but those gurkeeples sure look great!

 5.5   K2 NEW!
It's like a better Flamme Rouge 6 years before it was released.

Pros:
The fast, simultaneous play and the push-your-luck works well and feels very thematic to the setting.

I really like the concept of the biggest risk-taker getting hit, it means that you can never be sure about your plans even when you're first player.

I really like the scoring in general, where getting to the top is worth a big step in points but is also a quite substantial risk. I also like that you don't have to get all the way back, you just have to survive.

I like managing two climbers, so one can play it safe while the other can take risks and try to get to the top for that sweet reward.

I like the way you can block each other and yourself, it really adds to the interaction.

I like that you're forced to play every card at some point and how you can take risks regarding what you'll draw.

Cons:
In the end though, the decisions are a bit too obvious to be interesting. You probably want to make camp somewhere where the cost is low and/or when you plan on staying still for a while, you probably want be at places where bad weather doesn't affect you. You probably want a specific number of movement to get where you want to go and odds are that there's not many ways to get there using the cards in your hand. You will want to use rope to move downwards if you can and you want to use blue cards on whoever needs it most.

The only time these decisions get interesting is when you need to worry about risk and whether opponents will occupy spots that you want to go to. Don't get me wrong, those moments are nice and at least there are decisions, unlike Flamme Rouge as mentioned above, but there's not a lot of them and sometimes those very things force your hand and remove decisions instead.

You're also always doing the same thing: Climbing the mountain as high as you can. There's no alternative scoring to consider that may make you take more risks or weigh different options. You can just always take the same route up and down the mountain and then the game is all about whether your card draws and risk let you succeed. This adds to the feeling of the decisions being obvious.

Also, I don't like the graphic design. The lines all over are busy and the flags are almost impossible to read. The simple graphics of colored circles work fine, but it's not very intuitive to pay green for yellow. It's also baffling that a lack of a number is a cost of 1, why this weird inconsistency?

In summary, it's not a bad game, it's just not very memorable or engaging.

 5.5   Kemet: Blood and Sand NEW!
Take this rating with a grain of salt: I don't like multiplayer war games and I actually think it's above average.

Pros:
The core action selection mechanism keeps the game moving and limits options in an interesting manner.

The balance between permanent and temporary points is interesting and provides for tense end-games.

I like that it's impossible to turtle and how the game is designed to promote attacking and being flexible.

I like the power tiles and how you build up your player powers over time...

Cons:
But the plethora of them is really intimidating and confusing on your first few plays.

The production is a bit of a mixed bag: The minis look great and actually mostly fit on the board, but the board is very bland and it greatly annoys me that the pyramids only have 3 levels.

I hate the end-game. Yes it's tense trying to find ways to prevent someone trying to win, but it always just ends up feeling like hot potato trying to be the last person standing in contention for the win after everyone else has exhausted their resources. I hate this dynamic and don't find it satisfying at all, it ruined an otherwise fun game.

 5.5   Project L x2 NEW!
For a game all about making things out of smaller parts, this ends up feeling less than the sum of its parts.

Pros:
I love the production, of course! The big selling point of the game is the plethora of colourful puzzle pieces and how you're sliding them into recessed shapes.

I like the master build action, it means that you're incentivised to go wide and try to do as many things as possible at once.

Cons:
I think the game ends far too early. There's not enough room to let different strategies breathe. The black stack is very small and it's sure to be popular even early in the game since it's a race for points.

I can see that it also needs to end fast because someone may pull ahead early and if the game took longer this would be much more pronounced. Maybe I just would have preferred a game more focused on how to complete the puzzles rather than how to do it efficiently.

The big nail in the coffin for me, though, is the complete lack of interaction. I know this genre of take-and-make are popular right now but it does nothing for me to just sit next to each other and solve our own puzzles.

 5.0   Project L: Ghost PieceNEW!
Fine but a bit unbalanced and not necessary.

Pros:
The ghost pieces look cool and it's nice to have more different rewards.

Cons:
The ghost pieces are obviously very good, not necessarily for their free master action but mainly because they're 5 pieces big. But I don't like how you can only get them from tile rewards, you can't upgrade to get them. That makes the new tiles far too valuable and for whatever reason you can even get a ghost piece already with a white tile.

The base game was already too fast and this accelerates it even more.

 3.5   Space Base NEW!
This has been touted as a Machi Koro-killer, but I actually prefer MK.

Pros:
It looks quite good on the table, I think the oddly sized cards are quite satisfying to tuck and it works to fit on a table despite the many cards in the market.

I like the choice of either triggering the dice individually or as a group. It does mean that e.g. 5's and 6's are really, really common and that sort of throws off the balance.

In theory I like the variety of card effects...

Cons:
But in reality, it just makes the game messy and slow. There's enough symbology that you will have to look it up your first few games, which doesn't gel with the simple dice game at its core. It also means that it's hard to see what your opponents are doing from across the table and makes buying cards take up around 75% of the game time, which just sucks because that's the non-simultaneous, non-fun part of the game.

The concept of income, points and the way you can't save money if you buy a card just adds the illusion of choice to a game that's still mostly just random. I would prefer 'Roll a six, win a cookie' because this is basically a slower version of that.

I also prefer Machi Koro, because while this game is probably more 'balanced' and has more decisions and more cookies, MK is faster and more honest with what it is.

 2.0   7 Wonders: Architects NEW!
This is a set collection version of a roll-and-write, and I say that as someone that hates most roll-and-writes. I also dislike 7 Wonders, so I wasn't very surprised to hate this.

Pros:
The production is great, I especially like the trays for each player and the deck holders.

The progress tokens give some interesting guidance, though the best choice will almost always just be whatever give you the most points.

I actually think it improves on 7 Wonders on two points: The players not immediately next to you can actually affect you by taking your cat or triggering combat; and it's a lot easier to learn and play.

Cons
This is barely a game and I forgot about it the moment it ended along with the other players that played it with me. The only reason I remembered to rate it was my meticulous logging.

You get a decision between 2 cards or a random one, but the decision is mostly obvious. Of course there's a difference between e.g. taking a military card and a science card, but it all feels the same.

No matter your "strategy," you're mostly sitting around hoping that your neighbours do or do not draw your shared card so you can get whatever it is you need. This isn't meaningful interaction with your friends!

There's a significant first player advantage, but who cares, it's all mostly random anyway.

I understand that it's a game intended for families and children, and it works much better for that than the original 7 Wonders, but there are other, better games out there.

For reference, here is my comment on 7 Wonders:

 3.0   7 Wonders
Quick, simple and plays many, but just split up and play 2 games instead!

I've been goaded into playing this 7 times now, and I'm happy to actively avoid ever playing it again.

Pros:
I like how this game scales and I think the aspect of only caring about your neighbours has really affected high-player count games from this point onward.

I like how even if you don't get any cards that you like, you can always discard for money of build your wonder.

Cons:
It's often touted as a good gateway game but I just don't agree after my own experiences with it. There's way too many symbols on the cards for that and they're hidden in hand and many players will be wary to ask about hidden info.

I also don't think there's anything there for me when playing it with my regular group. I don't like that I'm only interacting with my neighbours despite how "innovative" it may have been, because I want to play with all my friends.

The idea that this game plays up to 7 and that being great is a bit of a misnomer: This game plays 3 players no matter what, it just plays a lot of constellations of 3 players at once. It's also always unsatisfying to lose to a player across the table from you because they were playing an entirely different game than you!

I don't like how the science cards are so very swingy and how it forces weird plays. I don't like how one-dimensional the cards are, which just makes drafting boring (either it's good or bad for you, there's no decision there). I also don't like cards that just give you points, though most other cards aren't much more interesting than that.


Play of the Month
Board Game: Railways of the World

This is the first and probably only time my play of the month was online. I've also played the game IRL, but the online play was my first and I can already see this game climbing into my top 10 or 20.

It's such a great feeling to find a new-to-you game that you really love and this definitely happened here.

Discussion points:
Do you prefer Railways of the World or Age of Steam?

How about KLASK or KLASK 4?

What is your favourite Martin Wallace game?

Remember to thumb this post if you liked it to help more people discover it!
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Wed Dec 1, 2021 12:13 pm
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October 2021 - The strength of short games

Georg Wolgast
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Microbadge: Waluigi fanMicrobadge: I love old-school German-style gamesMicrobadge: I like learning games more than winning them!Microbadge: I keep my ratings currentMicrobadge: Blogger
Here is a short introduction for the blog and myself. These are my impressions of the games I played last month. First an overview using the excellent GCL-tool.

I got to play quite a few 2-player only games with my wife at our non-local friendly board game café. I also got to play a lot of OG's, which I always like, and another Rosenberg farming game that I actually liked this time! All-in-all, a very good and varied month!

Board Game: Shamans
Board Game: Deckscape Crew vs Crew: The Pirates' Island
Board Game: Babylonia
Board Game: London Dread
Board Game: 7 Wonders Duel
Board Game: Zendo
Board Game: SHH
Board Game: Louis XIV
Board Game: Coyote
Board Game: Majesty: For the Realm
Board Game: Hansa Teutonica
Board Game: The Quacks of Quedlinburg
Board Game: The Quacks of Quedlinburg: The Herb Witches
Board Game: The Quacks of Quedlinburg: The Alchemists
Board Game: Perfect Alibi
Board Game: Spies & Lies: A Stratego Story
Board Game: Great Plains
Board Game: Blitzkrieg!: World War Two in 20 Minutes
Board Game: Caverna: The Cave Farmers
Board Game: Samurai
Board Game: Dominion
From gallery of cw_ts


 10.   Hansa Teutonica (11 all-time)
The only euro game you'll ever need!

Pros:
I just can't stop thinking about this game. It's so interactive, so strategic and yet so very simple. It has everything that made people fall in love with euro games in the forlorn days when it was more important to play well than look pretty.

While there seems to be a route opening, there's nuance even to that and the game quickly opens up to seemingly infinite strategies that are all informed by the actions of your opponents.

The interaction here is so perfect because you're rewarded for intuiting what your opponents need but you can always change your plans if people get too much in your way.

The balance is perfectly tuned in that even kicking someone out just for the sake of blocking them usually ends up helping both of you ahead of other players that don't interact. I.e. if player A blocks B and player B blocks A and they both pay each other, player C falls behind. This juxtaposition to most other games is a big part of why this game is a masterpiece.

It's a game that I feel compelled to learn and master because I feel like my efforts will be rewarded tenfold. One of the smartest things of the game is that if players focus a lot on building an engine without regard for handing out points, the game will end faster, thereby negating the strength of their engine. It's just one example of hard choices influenced by opponents.

Cons:
Some people won't like the cutthroat nature. The game looks drab and it will probably take new players at least half of a play to start seeing the brilliance and start getting engaged.

Each individual action can seem unimportant and uninteresting until you learn the game. The game system is a bit fragile, a bad player can accidentally end the game early and give someone an easy win.

The entire board won't be used by new players focused on building an engine, not realizing how short the game can be if played this way and how many easy points they're giving up.

 9.5   Babylonia (3 all-time)
Better than Tigris & Euphrates and Samurai.

Pros:
The production is excellent, I love the round tiles and the holders for them. So much less fiddly than a screen and the tiles are nice to handle and pop on the board.

As is expected by Knizia, this does a lot with a little, but what it does is more in line with what I like in games than some of his other output.

Each turn is full of micro-decisions that flow together to a grand plan, only to be foiled by a single opportunistic placement of an opponent. The game is so finely tuned that each turn you have a litany of great options, but you must choose what to prioritize and what you think your opponent(s) will let you get away with waiting on.

Knizia is known for giving players conflicting incentives and challenging players to navigate when to zig and when to zag. This is true here, but now you can also zug and somehow try to translate short-term gains into long-term points. Stuff constantly disappears from the board and limit your options, but there's always something you can do to surprise your opponents if they drop their guard.

Note my frequent use of opponents, because this game is incredibly interactive in the best ways. You can't do anything that won't cause another player to groan. Yet they can never begrudge you for blocking them because they had the chance to do what you did and prioritized something else.

This has a similar basic interaction and decision space as Through the Desert and Tigris & Euphrates, but with more points of interest and more immediate impact of your choices. Also, no blind bidding is a big improvement over T&E for me.

Compared to its closest relative Samurai, this has less immediate impact and plays slightly longer, but has more conflicting incentives and strategic play that allows for more impactful interactions.

Cons:
I don't like that everyone doesn't have the same number of turns. I appreciate that the agency of being able to instantly end the game is a big part of the end game tactics, but I feel like everyone beyond the first 2 players are at an inherent disadvantage.

The art could be a lot less blue on some of the non-river spots. I realize the symbols are clearer in later printings and my own heuristic that the rivers are always 1 tile thick works well, but someone always stumbles on this and it could have been so easily avoided.

The random tile draw is a lot better than in T&E because the tiles are mainly of 2 kinds at a 40-60% split. Still, I've had games where I've waited on farmers for several turns only to draw them as the last 2 tiles when it's too late.

 9.0   Samurai x4 NEW!
Fast and mean, just the way I like it!

Pros:
This game plays fast and still feels like a very complete and rewarding experience, I usually play 2 players in 20 minutes or less.

The production is great, especially for how few pieces are on the board. The figures from the first edition are especially great!

I like the concept of scoring a figure when the land tiles are surrounded and using boats to add influence without progressing the scoring condition.

The slight wrinkle of playing any number of fast tiles and deciding when and where to place them adds a lot of interesting depth without adding any unnecessary rules.

The 2 tiles that let you swap are a lot of fun and very powerful if used correctly. It's another wrinkle that gives the game a lot of bite and variety.

Cons:
I don't like the RAW setup. Particularly drafting all the different figures, that just seems like a very slow and less interesting and varied start. I can see the merit for selecting your starting hand, but I also see similar weaknesses for that as well.

The random tile draws can definitely be frustrating at times. I like that you can't always plan and play perfectly, but it still doesn't feel great when you're waiting 2 turns to close an area for the win only to see your opponent get there first.

There's hidden trackable information, but you can play without that if you want, it's even in the rules for 2 players.

 8.5   Majesty: For the Realm (9 all-time)
It's everything I wanted Splendor to be.

Pros:
It's a fast and simple engine builder with beautiful components. However, unlike Splendor, the decisions are actually interesting.

There's a bunch of different things to consider when taking cards, between maximizing your scoring this turn, planning for opportunities later and considering what you're leaving for other players. The end game scoring and multipliers from the card effects are at constant conflict that pull you in different directions. It's also interactive, because you're competing for majorities and thinking about attacks.

It's not going to blow anybody's mind, but it does what it does very well and with more meaningful player interaction than most of its ilk.

Cons:
It's a card game, so there's going to be randomness with regards to what shows up and when.

You can fall behind and there's nothing in terms of catch-up, but the game is breezy enough that hopefully no-one will mind.

It's a bit annoying that there's no 5 coins. I like the 2's but 5 is a surprisingly common value and it's annoying to grab 3 chips for that.

 8.0   7 Wonders Duel (10 all-time)
Great reworking of 7 Wonders into a 2-player game.

Pros:
The different win conditions as well as being able to see what is coming up leads to much more strategy and interaction than its parent. I rarely spite-drafted a card in 7 Wonders in order to hinder someone else, but I do it all the time in this game since it is zero-sum.

Cons:
The game is cut-throat and one of very few games I've ever seen anyone literally table-flip over.

Luck of the draw will have a big impact on the game. Sure it's always a risk to reveal a face-down card and you shouldn't allow your opponent to get close enough to an insta-win condition that you have to worry about every flip, but it's still annoying when you opponent flips the perfect card. Even besides that, the 3 cards discarded every era are necessary to muddle the waters, but they may also wildly benefit one victory condition over another.

 8.0   Blitzkrieg!: World War Two in 20 Minutes NEW!
2-player Dogs of War is unsurprisingly a great game!

Pros:
The core gameplay is tense, surprising and fun. The struggle between closing a theater while you're ahead and opening up more placements for you opponent is captivating, and the tight score limit gives this decision an ounce of urgency that really hits home.

I also like the alternate win condition and how blitz tokens are very powerful, but can spell your doom if you're not careful.

There's a lot of interplay with a very simple rule set in the style of the great OG's of the past.

Cons:
The luck of the draw from the bag, especially when drawing the upgraded tiles and also randomly discarding upgraded tiles, can be a bit annoying sometimes. I don't think it will decide games more than strategy or tactics, but it might decide a very closely matched game.

The rulebook is very poor and doesn't explain all of its icons and rules, which is especially egregious for such a simple game.

I don't like the setting and artwork. The bags are great, but other than that the chits feel small and the iconography is pretty bad (2 different types of ships and tanks, admiral and general are hard to differentiate, colors aren't easily distinguishable, small arrows make a big difference on one of the icons). Especially for the asking price, I feel like this should have been either of much higher quality or ~$10 cheaper.

 8.0   Caverna: The Cave Farmers NEW!
A side-step from Agricola, but it has both strengths and weaknesses in comparison.

Pros:
I went into my first play with trepidation, given what I'd heard regarding this being a modernization of Agricola that loses its edge. But while some of this is true, I still think the edge is there, it's just less sharp.

I know most love the Occupation and Improvement cards of Agricola, but I'm very happy they're gone. I don't like starting each game reading huge paragraphs of tiny text in isolation before the game can start. I can appreciate the variety and depth of them, but I would also prefer for variety and depth to come from the interactions on the board.

Feeding your workers is still pressing, but slaughtering animals is more prominent and feeding is less demanding, more frequent, and less reliable. I can appreciate all of these changes and the main difference is that fireplaces and ovens aren't in this game, so you have to find other ways to generate a lot of food. In Agricola, you were forced into specific combos to be able to generate enough food, while in Caverna you will probably always make due, but it's a matter of optimization. A competitive game of Caverna will still feel as tight for creating a food engine, but the game hides how successful you've been until the end in a way that doesn't alienate new players as much.

I like the cave system, I like how restrictive mines are to build and how you have to prepare to build a room by first excavating. I thought I would have missed the give-and-take of housing removing space from your farm, but this was rarely relevant anyway and now mines and rooms compete for space instead.

Cons:
I don't like the changes to pastures. I liked the concept of building your own fences and being able to change them in Agricola, but I can appreciate how you have to plan ahead to form bigger pens that will better utilize stables.

I don't really like adventuring. It's an interesting way to specialize, but it's just too open-ended and lets you ignore a lot of the WP spots. Jewels are rarer and more interesting as a wild resource, the game doesn't need more.

The scoring for each part of your farm no longer caps at certain intervals like in Agricola, so you're no longer as incentivized to generalize. This gives more strategic options in that you can specialize in whatever the buildings let you, but also makes the puzzle of maximizing your score less interesting.

 8.0   Shamans (4 all-time)
It's one of my favorite traitor games, don't let it fly under your radar!

Pros:
Let's get the obvious out of the way first: This game is absolutely gorgeous! I really love the art and the production is top-notch, I especially love the UV-coated box, board and role cards.

It's a great core concept for a game, mixing trick-taking and social deduction. It works well because you can always blame your shady plays on a bad hand, but there's still enough agency to make big plays when needed.

I love the different tokens and powers, they're simple and few enough to be easy to teach and understand but just complex and varied enough to create some really memorable moments. For example, when a Shadow accidentally reveals themselves right when another player is about to kill someone else or when a Shaman tanks the game and switches roles with a Shadow at the very last moment.

It's extremely rare to find a traitor game that scales well to low player counts, but this one definitely does! I think it's because of the semi-coop nature of the game, which works surprisingly well as well!

I also think it manages the rare feat of having a great balance between the different roles. It's slightly harder for the Shadow to win, especially if the Shamans cooperate, but there's plenty of incentives to play selfishly as a Shaman and a good trick-taking Shadow will be able to manipulate the game to their advantage. It's also balanced in that the Shadow(s) get more points and are fewer in number, so it should be harder for them.

Cons:
Luck of the cards will always play a part of trick-taking games but the roles sort of elevate that. Sometimes you get a really hard-played hand in combination with your role and there are hands that will guarantee the victory for a shadow, but this is part of trick-taking and the teams help balance this.

The big issue I guess is that there's player elimination, but I don't mind that when the rounds are this short (you'll only be out for at most 2 minutes and usually eliminating a player ends the round). I actually kind of like the player elimination here, because it gives weight to the decisions you make.

The issue is rather when e.g. it's in a Shaman player's interest to eliminate another Shaman because they'll win either way so they want to hurt the player in the lead. This just doesn't feel great when you're the target, because you've been helping your team to victory and get punished for it. It's part of the balance and strategy, sure, but it still isn't very fun.

I also don't think the game is well-balanced at 4 players. If the Shaman player gets a long suit or just a good hand, they'll run away with the game without any interaction or input from the other players. This is mainly a 4-player issue because these hands are more likely at this player count.

 8.0   So Clover! x2 NEW!
It's like a combination of Just One and Codenames, but better than both!

Pros:
I feel like the world has only recently gotten on board with the idea of a cooperative party game, and this is one of many that have come out that feel like they could have been designed 50 years ago given the simplicity of the design.

That said, the production of the game is a mix of modern and old-school sensibilities. The game comes with 6 thick and hefty plastic card holders/whiteboards that feel pulled straight out of the 80's when people were less concerned about the use of plastics or shipping costs. Don't get me wrong, they're a great centerpiece and work well for the game, but given that I never usually consider the environmental cost of games since they're non-consumable and nowhere near the villains of this story, this still stood out enough to make me mention it here.

At the same time, the cards in the game have holes in them, which feels very modern. They seem sturdy and of high quality, which is good since shuffling them can get a bit weird when cards snag on the many edges available.

I realise I haven't even gotten to the gameplay yet, but you'll know if this is for you just by reading the short description on its game page. I can tell you that the simultaneous nature of the less-fun-but-still-fun-in-a-non-party-sort-of-way preparatory stage of the game works well to keep players engaged and is also relatively short compared to the rest of the game.

I was worried that it wouldn't be fun to be the silent moderator when people were guessing on my cards, but it is definitely interesting to hear how people interpret your clues.

I also think the most fun part of the game is when you guess for the other players, which is the majority of the game ((n-1)/n turns). This is something a lot of its competitors gets wrong, the most fun part of Just One is being the one player guessing (1/n turns) and the most fun part of Codenames is being the Spymaster (all of the turns for 2/n players and none of the turns for the rest).

Cons:
Aside from if you're a stickler for plastic usage, there's not much in terms of negatives here. Sure the markers will eventually dry up and it will be annoying to change them, but they're of the exact same quality as all other games like this so it seems to be an industry standard.

I guess I find it a bit lazy to not include a victory condition and instead ask people to compare their scores to previous games. I log it as a win if we score more than 4 points per player, which is an easily inserted house-rule, so why wasn't something like that included?

 8.0   The Quacks of Quedlinburg (9 all-time)
It's the only bag builder I've played that actually uses the unique properties of the bag itself instead of simply being a deck builder with different components.

Pros:
It's fun, fast and exciting. There's some strategy, but it's mostly tactics and luck. This is usually not something I like, but the mechanisms and theme just make it work.

I like the variability of the ingredients (once again using the bag building mechanism to its fullest) but some setups are less interesting than others as a result.

Cons:
If I have to complain about one part of the randomness, I don't like the die. The point reward is actively a downside in the early game and the only thing of values late, it just feels weird. I would have preferred a choice between 3 roughly equally valued options instead.

 8.0   The Quacks of Quedlinburg: The Herb Witches x1 (3 all-time)
It's more Quacks and more choices!

Pros:
The additional effects for the old ingredients are fun and add variety and the new ingredient is weird and interesting. The new player simply adds to the fun of the original game as it's mostly simultaneous anyway.

The focus of the expansion is the witches though, and I'm very happy with them. They add some tough decisions to the game, as you have to find the best opportunity to use them. Their effects are powerful and timing them well can decide the game, which rewards experienced players in a way that the original game didn't. This also means that players will generally have stronger bags by the end of the game, making the whole experience more rewarding.

Cons:
Locoweed and the new 6 pumpkin are very swingy, but the original game wasn't exactly an abstract strategy game so some more luck just increases the excitement.

 7.0   The Quacks of Quedlinburg: The Alchemists x1 (1 all-time)
Not as good as the first expansion, and doesn't integrate well with that one.

Pros:
The essence generation adds a lot to the decision-making of the game, I like that you're incentivized to diversify your ingredients and that blowing up has more impact in the beginning of the game.

I like the new cards, they add some much needed variety to the one part that was lacking in variety. The new Locoseed books also add variety, it just wasn't as needed.

Cons:
This absolutely does not work with the Herb Witches. It's not that it becomes too complex, though that doesn't help, but mostly because you get way too good way too fast. Both expansions make players better and in combination, you'll max out your cauldron halfway through the game and this makes the game much less interesting.

The essence board itself is a bit hard to read and it's a bit annoying for each player to find the right card and reference the same, single reference board.

 8.0   Zendo x3 NEW!
A very fun logic puzzle that through the magic of competition also becomes a game!

Pros:
I think anyone just looking at this game will instantly know if it's for them. It's a logic puzzle and that's pretty much all it is, but the included pieces, the rules suggestions and rules themselves lead to the best implementation of such a puzzle I've seen.

I've played Eleusis before, which is a traditional 52-card deck card game version of the same thing. One player makes up a rule and the other players have to guess it competitively. While Eleusis has some interesting ways for the Moderator (or God in that game) to score points, it's just not as fun making rules for sequences of cards as it is for different coloured blocks.

I especially like that the designers have made sure that the Moderator role isn't all too passive, in that they have to disprove any guess made. This proves a challenge both in how to actually do so, but also how to do so in a way that doesn't give away too much info, or maybe just the right amount?

Cons:
I don't think the actual game part of it is its greatest strength. I like the rules, that you have to give everyone an opportunity to get guessing tokens for you to get any and that you can hold onto them and guess multiple times in a row if you think you can narrow it down by that. I also like the victory condition, that you don't have to be exactly right just have to make it hard to disprove.

But I would probably just like it more with only 2 players. The tension of another player and making structures that will help you more than them is definitely a good part of the game, I just don't think it's better than the act of guessing and disproving.

 7.0   Coyote (3 all-time)
A better version of Liar's Dice, but I still prefer my poker dice-variant of Mia.

Pros:
The gold foil on the cards are gorgeous and the production overall is great!

The added mystery of the middle card and the wild effects of a select few of the cards means that the game has a lot of suspense and opportunity for fun and weird plays.

I like it more than Liar's Dice because you have a lot more information to base your bets on. Also, losing early is much less punishing than in Liar's Dice and starting with fewer lives means that even if you get a bad start you're not out for as long.

Cons:
Most rounds don't last long enough to really make use of either peeking or a good bluff. You have enough information to make reasonable guesses, so the number gets to the place it should be to trigger call-outs very quickly.

Bluffing is basically a one-shot, it almost always immediately ends the round and tricking someone is just a question of who loses. I would have liked more build-up for a bluff, so that it could go around some before getting called out, maybe even back to you. This is one part where Liar's Dice is better, your bluffs will a lot of times come back to you so you can bask in your own brilliance - or get caught out by your own hubris.

Peeking is almost a trap, because you have to raise no matter what you see and chances are it's never going to come back to you so you can't use the information anyway.

It's better to be the person holding some cards more than others. The ? card is as much of a mystery to you as the other players so it's really good for whoever has that cards, and holding a 20, -10 or a max 0 card can be very hard to account for when betting.

 7.0   Dominion (23 all-time)
The original deck builder!

Pros:
This inventor of the mechanism is still a fine game and the ridiculous amount of expansions mean that it'll never get old.

The core of the game is tight and fun, I like the simplicity of the turn structure, the economy and the end game goals, with the only wrinkle being the variety in action cards that have gotten more and more involved over the years of expansions.

The main decision point is deciding when to stop building your engine and when to start destroying it by clogging it up with the victory point cards necessary to win. I doubt it was the first game to create this sort of tension between the victory condition and the means to get there, but it does it in a very intuitive and interesting manner that I always come back to when thinking about game design.

This is combined with the shared control over the end game trigger and it means that you can never truly know if you made the right choice to start pivoting and may have to pivot back depending on what the other players around the table do in response. The game has attack cards and I'll get to that later, but the main interaction of the game is that of shared tempo. This is a special type of interplay that I can appreciate a lot, it's also very pronounced in my favorite game Race for the Galaxy.

I don't think it's fair to say that the mechanism as a whole has moved on from Dominion because it's still among the best of them exactly because it got the core so right: its greatest strength is its simplicity and speed and it's still among the best for that.

Cons:
However, the mechanism has evolved throughout the years and especially the minimal player interaction has made me sour a bit on this game. Yes there's plenty of attack cards, but that's not the type of interaction that really interests me and they make my opponents feel more like obstacles in my own little race than people sharing a competitive space with me.

I mentioned earlier that I really appreciate the shared tempo, but that will only really be present with a table of very experienced players. Maybe it's my own fault for defaulting to this as an introduction for new players rather than a competitive star when my regular group meets, but in my defense there are a lot more alternatives for the second group.

I also rate this as a base game and I think many will agree with me when I say that this gets a lot better with expansions. Not just for the sake of variety, but also because the original base game action cards are a little weak compared to simply buying money and they also don't do enough to change up the gameplay to make it feel considerably different each time.

 7.0   London Dread NEW!
Unique, weird and unpolished.

Pros:
I like the combo of real-time and programming. As long as the timer is correctly tuned, it means that players make mistakes and that's always the most fun part of programming games.

I think the component limitation of using your numbers as directions and only having 2 of each number is a fun way to challenge players and cause mistakes during the time pressure.

The fact that flipping the cards and seeing the challenges you need to face is part of the real-time portion is great, it means that you have to plan on the fly and react.

The core gameplay of matching symbols is very basic, but it works for the game as the main focus should be the programming anyway. Drawing cards to boost your symbols and feeding successful tests back into the deck is a fun concept that introduces a bit of push-your-luck.

Cons:
The character diversity and representation is a farce. The only two female player characters are a nun and a burlesque dancer and there are no player characters that are POC.

The finale is lackluster, you just do some tests but with a hand of cards instead of random draws, so there's even less excitement than normal, and then do a roll to see if you win. Some hate that finishing roll and I can agree that it feels a bit random to end it all with a simple dice check, but I see it as an exciting end and don't take it too seriously if the results don't go our way.

The dice bother me more during the story cards, because those results actually impact the game. They're quite swingy, with just a 2-4 split between success and failure. I would have preferred something more granular, with maybe a 2-2-2 split of failure/success/double success and modified values to compensate, that way the dice results will be more evenly distributed. I guess that's not the designer's intent though and I can agree that the unpredictability is especially well-suited for the finale.

The rules are quite poor, they don't fully explain everything and are poorly formatted.

I like the idea of flipping the cards, but since you need to flip quite a few just to find all the plot cards and with fewer than 4 players there's also allies to find, it was rarely an interesting decision whether to stop flipping or not. Maybe one or two cards remain face down each round and that's a shame, with more there's an opportunity to flip one and hope to beat it if you have an extra action somewhere, but this rarely comes up in my limited experience. It's a big missed opportunity.

 7.0   Louis XIV NEW!
Ugly but tense and quite unique!

Pros:
The core of the game is a tense fight for influence over nobles and there's not much more to it than that, which is great. I love the card play limiting your placements and how the economy of influence tokens is balanced just right so you always run out just short of your ambitions.

I like that you never play all of your influence cards, so you can save a card if you need to be reactive or discard a card for income that doesn't help your plan for the round.

Most rewards of the tiles are also dead simple, half of them give tokens that let you fulfil missions and the other half gives resources and advantages for next round.

The spice is the mission cards themselves, which beyond being the main source of points also provide ongoing benefits and they definitely guide your strategy differently each game.

It's an odd combo of OG, highly interactive competition over spots on the main board and more modern tableau building as a reward for succeeding in that competition. It's a combo that still feels fresh 15 years after it first came out!

Cons:
I think you can tell by looking at this game if it's not going to be for you. If you're scared off by a bunch of wooden tokens and a baroque setting, the gameplay won't convince you otherwise.

There's some luck of the draw in the game and also luck from coat of arms and I feel like it's too easy to get money. The abundance of money also means that the random income feels less impactful and that some of the cards lose their lustre.

The production isn't great, the cards were a bit scuffed even when new and the cardboard is very thin. I also don't like the graphic design at all, the symbols are too similar and the symbol for coat of arms doesn't match the components.

It's fiddly to remember to flip the tiles all the time and the indication that a tile has been flipped is too subtle. I also feel like almost all of them should get flipped in a 3+ player game, so the static setup is a bit of a missed opportunity for these.

If someone has a bad start and doesn't get a good mission to build from, it's hard to catch back up. Of course there's a lot of interaction in this game so players can even that out, but sometimes that's not in your best interest.

 7.0   Spies & Lies: A Stratego Story NEW!
A great novelty, but probably loses its luster.

Pros:
Bluffing with 2 players can be difficult and this game does it well. The small wrinkles of semi-randomly forcing you to reveal some numbers and the 4 being able to mess with your opponent adds just enough to let you be creative.

The production is great, the Stratego pieces are satisfying to move and the art is well done.

Some of the cards are clearly better than others, but that's by design to let you bluff more easily.

Cons:
I feel like the card effects are a bit too much. Some cards do 3 different things and while each thing is simple, it takes away from the elegance of the rest of the game.

 6.5   Perfect Alibi NEW!
I've only played the normal mode and without the rivals it's pretty much just an average deduction game.

Pros:
I like the simplicity of the questions and how you can make some really insightful deductions based not only on what you know but also based on what other players have said and asked.

The limitations on the questions and who to ask works well to challenge you and make sure everyone's involved.

The characters add some interesting twists on the core gameplay, but they sometime feel a bit messy.

Cons:
I hate the iconography for the clocks. It would have been so easy to e.g. shade a quarter of a clock instead, but right now I always have to pause and make sure I have it right and if I mess it up it can ruin the entire session.

Most modern deduction games let you guess small pieces of the puzzle to keep players engaged throughout and find ways to not have player elimination, but this game doesn't have any of that.

I assume the game will open up a lot when playing with the rivals, but I also don't know it the base game was interesting enough to get me excited to try it.

 6.5   SHH (2 all-time)
Fun exercise!

Pros:
It's more of an interesting team building exercise than a game, but it is a good one!

I really like the artwork in the game. The cards are vibrant despite being very small.

I like the tension of trying to understand what the other players want to write and the very limited options both regarding what word you can even end up with but also what to do on your turn.

Passing is very limited, but it may be worth it to be able to spell a word that gets rid of a few hard letters.

Cons:
It's a bit weird playing in silence.

Some deals will be much harder than other.

The play sometimes feels obvious, there's not a huge amount of words you can even spell with no repeat letters and once a few letters are unavailable it seems very hard to get creative.

 6.0   Great Plains NEW!
Tense and competitive, but doesn't transcend the sum of its parts.

Pros:
The rules are very simple and create a lot of interesting decisions from start to end.

The player pieces are absolutely gorgeous, and while the board isn't as striking, it's very readable.

The tokens are a great way to add spice and unpredictability to the game and their component limitation is great fun to manipulate to your advantage...

Cons:
...But I think I would have preferred them more limited or with weaker effects. Sure they add a lot of depth, but they also make blocking almost always temporary and thereby makes the game softer and less interesting. I realize this isn't trying to be Go or anything, but I would have liked more heft to each of my moves.

I also don't like games with such an impactful setup. It's part of the game and I get that, but it's just not my preference.

 5.0   Deckscape Crew vs Crew: The Pirates' Island NEW!
The team-based concept just didn't work for us.

Pros:
The puzzles are actually really good in this one, it's a good mix of difficulty and some are quite unique.

The best part are the two mini-games that the teams play against each other, the second one is almost good enough to be a standalone game.

The puzzles that mostly revolved around finding a specific thing first worked well competitively, since speed is integrated into it and the competition made it tense in a way that it otherwise wouldn't have been...

Cons:
...But most of the time, competing to solve a puzzle where there's usually some weird or cute quirk that you need to realize means that they don't work well competitively. When under time-pressure, it's easy to ignore that a solution doesn't quite seem right and go for it anyway, meaning that the other team gets the points without anyone feeling satisfied.

Worst of all, a lot of the more interesting puzzles no-one solved, because even though the game encourages the other team to continue working on it they probably won't put too much work into it if the other team got it quickly (and wrongly).

Play of the Month
Board Game: Samurai

Even though I got to play the IMO improved sequel Babylonia, the several, quick games I got to play of Samurai left a more lasting impression.

I've heard about this game from the Knizia-heads for a while now and I doubted it would be better than Babylonia. I still think the connected scorings of Babylonia is more interesting than the more isolated fights in Samurai, but the fast play and different scoring still makes Samurai stand out.

Discussion points:
Where do you stand in the Agricola vs Caverna debate?

Which of Babylonia and Samurai do you prefer?

Which is your favorite deck builder?

Would you rather play 5 short games or 1 long in the same time?

Remember to thumb this post if you liked it to help more people discover it!
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Mon Nov 1, 2021 1:02 pm
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September 2021 - Huge games and Controversial Hot-takes

Georg Wolgast
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Microbadge: Waluigi fanMicrobadge: I love old-school German-style gamesMicrobadge: I like learning games more than winning them!Microbadge: I keep my ratings currentMicrobadge: Blogger
Here is a short introduction for the blog and myself. These are my impressions of the games I played last month. First an overview using the excellent GCL-tool.

This month has had continued play at the recently re-opened game group and I also went to a board game café for the first time in 2 years! This month has been great and made everything feel like it was back to normal again! Partly thanks to that café, I've gotten to try a lot of huge games I've been meaning to try for a long time, so get ready for some controversial hot-takes to come!

Another thing that happened this month was the end of the playtesting phase of the Design Contest I'm in, so the last few weeks I've been playtesting my own and other designer's games with a very friendly group of international designers! I haven't logged those since they're not published games, but I recommend checking out the contest and trying some games, they're all really interesting and fun!

Board Game: Babylonia
Board Game: No Thanks!
Board Game: Caylus 1303
Board Game: Race for the Galaxy
Board Game: Race for the Galaxy: Alien Artifacts
Board Game: La Isla
Board Game: Egizia: Shifting Sands – Kickstarter Edition
Board Game: A Feast for Odin
Board Game: A Feast for Odin: The Norwegians
Board Game: Copenhagen
Board Game: Ricochet Robots
Board Game: Hansa Teutonica
Board Game: For Sale
Board Game: Love Letter
Board Game: Wunderland
Board Game: Eclipse
Board Game: SHH
Board Game: Franchise
Board Game: Coyote


 10   Hansa Teutonica (10 all-time)
The only euro game you'll ever need!

Pros:
I just can't stop thinking about this game. It's so interactive, so strategic and yet so very simple. It has everything that made people fall in love with euro games in the forlorn days when it was more important to play well than look pretty.

While there seems to be a route opening, there's nuance even to that and the game quickly opens up to seemingly infinite strategies that are all informed by the actions of your opponents.

The interaction here is so perfect because you're rewarded for intuiting what your opponents need but you can always change your plans if people get too much in your way.

The balance is perfectly tuned in that even kicking someone out just for the sake of blocking them usually ends up helping both of you ahead of other players that don't interact. I.e. if player A blocks B and player B blocks A and they both pay each other, player C falls behind. This juxtaposition to most other games is a big part of why this game is a masterpiece.

It's a game that I feel compelled to learn and master because I feel like my efforts will be rewarded tenfold. One of the smartest things of the game is that if players focus a lot on building an engine without regard for handing out points, the game will end faster, thereby negating the strength of their engine. It's just one example of hard choices influenced by opponents.

Cons:
Some people won't like the cutthroat nature. The game looks drab and it will probably take new players at least half of a play to start seeing the brilliance and start getting engaged.

Each individual action can seem unimportant and uninteresting until you learn the game. The game system is a bit fragile, a bad player can accidentally end the game early and give someone an easy win.

The entire board won't be used by new players focused on building an engine, not realizing how short the game can be if played this way and how many easy points they're giving up.

 10   Race for the Galaxy x2 (63 all-time)
This game is perfect.

Pros:
It's my favorite game, and I suspect it always will be. It's just so packed with interesting decisions in such a short playtime with plenty of variety and interaction while not being mean or random. It's unique, absolutely brilliant and maybe one of very few perfect games. The cards as currency is a great conceit and makes the whole game feel very smart and streamlined.

The ratio of interesting decision-making to playtime is the highest of any game I've ever played, which makes it such a force to be reckoned with. Why play Terraforming Mars or Wingspan when I could play this in an eighth of the time and make more interesting decisions?

It has simple but deep tableau building with cards with multiple, interesting effects. I love that not only does each card have different uses as both a currency or its printed effect, but the printed effects can fit into your engine in a multitude of different ways because of how much utility is packed into a single card. Maybe you care about the color of goods it produces, maybe it allows you to leech off of a phase your opponent will call often or maybe it's just worth the most points and you know you'll fill your hand later in the round.

I think it's one of the most interactive games I've played where you can only affect each other in a positive way. The phase system works really well and is one of my favorite mechanisms in any game. The bluffing and double-thinking is such a subtle but strong interaction point that newer players don't realize even exists, but is a big part of why experience players will almost always crush a newer player. If you can play around what your opponent(s) have played, you have a huge advantage and it's all about reading your opponents and understanding their intentions based on their open board state.

The game scales excellently. The 2PA variant is my favorite version and the most strategic, but I like all player counts and I appreciate that they all feel differently. Sure 6 players is pretty chaotic, but it's still a fun game that just has a bit more of a lighthearted feel.

Cons:
A lot of people complain about iconography, but I think that's more of a meme than actual fact. It's a bit hard to teach, but I think that's more because the decision space is so large. Your tableau can become quite complex quite quickly and the iconography is in fact the only reason this works so well, with poorer iconography the game would be unplayable. The fact that you have 2 hands and both need to be hidden at all times also makes the game hard to teach, since many players don't want to ask about hidden information. The game is best after you've played it more than a dozen times and that is a hard sell these days, but it's just so worth it.

From a thread on this:
Quote:
The icons of RftG being an impediment to learning it is propagated mostly by its status as a meme in the community. If you introduce the game to someone that hasn't been on BGG and heard the decries of the "iconography hell" they won't have any trouble learning the 8 or so icons of the base game with the help of the excellent player aid. This isn't some argument I'm pulling out of a hat either, I've taught this game to dozens of relatively novice gamers and iconography was never where they stumbled.

(As an aside, most instead stumbled getting an economy going and exhaust their resources and end up exploring throughout the mid-game. I can totally understand complaints relating to the difficulty of learning to play well, but that's not what's being discussed here.)

I think a lot of people are influenced by e.g. the SUSD review of RftG, where they, perhaps unintentionally, showed a bunch of admittedly very intimidating icons that were all from expansions. I found most of those difficult to learn as well, but I expect a higher learning curve from the third expansion so the point is moot and honestly quite misleading.
A weird problem I have with this game is that it's so skill-intensive. Yes, you can get a god-draw that ends a game quickly without the other players having a chance, but I don't think that's an issue for such a fast game. Rather, the extremely large amount of cards you see compared to how many you play in a single game means that luck of the draw is rarely a game-deciding factor. The reason this is a problem for me is that the game is best with players of equal skill. Many people just won't have fun playing a game they know they're going to lose even before it starts. It's one of the reasons I don't like to play chess, the big difference here being play time.

The other, more straightforward, problem I have with this game is that the setup is a bit too long and cumbersome, especially the part about shuffling in the start worlds. Other games in this series, like Roll for the Galaxy and New Frontiers have separate start worlds that don't get shuffled and that would have been a nice change in the second edition.

 10   Race for the Galaxy: Alien Artifacts
It's pretty much just more cards, you can safely ignore the orb module.

Pros:
I love it for what it is: more cards to keep experienced players interested, but without any added mechanisms and complexity so that it's still possible to play with new players.

I use it frequently with mixed group of new and experienced players and it fulfills its purpose perfectly!

I also frequently play it with more experienced players because the core RftG is still just as good or better than the other expansion arcs and this does the least to mess with it. More cards will never disappoint me after hundreds of plays, but I'm still impressed by how many interesting interactions Tom Lehmann was able to put into this expansion without adding extra rules.

Cons:
The orb module isn't great. I don't think it's bad, it certainly makes the explore phase more interesting, but it adds quite a lot of time to a game where its speed is one of its greatest strengths.

It's also quite random. I love how RftG has very little luck despite being a card game with random draws because of its economy and the card effects. This is the only part of RftG where I can confidently say that luck is likely to determine a winner. The artifacts are simply too varied in their scoring and effect, you can either get something completely useless and even pointless or get 6-8 points.

There are maybe 5 or so cards that interact with the orb module. I like that this means that they're not in your face when trying to play without it because it makes it easier to play this with new players, but it's still a bit annoying whenever those cards do show up for a new player and they're confused and maybe afraid to ask. There's also the issue that the cards are still interesting when not playing with the orb, so when actually playing with the orb they're almost too good and they're also very rare, so they can greatly swing the relevance of the orb module and the potential winner.

 9.0   Babylonia x2 NEW!
Better than Tigris & Euphrates.

Pros:
The production is excellent, I love the round tiles and the holders for them. So much less fiddly than a screen and the tiles are nice to handle and pop on the board.

As is expected by Knizia, this does a lot with a little, but what it does is more in line with what I like in games than some of his other output.

Each turn is full of micro-decisions that flow together to a grand plan, only to be foiled by a single opportunistic placement of an opponent. The game is so finely tuned that each turn you have a litany of great options, but you must choose what to prioritize and what you think your opponent(s) will let you get away with waiting on.

Knizia is known for giving players conflicting incentives and challenging players to navigate when to zig and when to zag. This is true here, but now you can also zug and somehow try to translate short-term gains into long-term points. Stuff constantly disappears from the board and limit your options, but there's always something you can do to surprise your opponents if they drop their guard.

Note my frequent use of opponents, because this game is incredibly interactive in the best ways. You can't do anything that won't cause another player to groan. Yet they can never begrudge you for blocking them because they had the chance to do what you did and prioritized something else.

This has a similar basic interaction and decision space as Through the Desert and Tigris & Euphrates, but with more points of interest and more immediate impact of your choices. Also, no blind bidding is a big improvement over T&E for me.

Cons:
I don't like that everyone doesn't have the same number of turns. I appreciate that the agency of being able to instantly end the game is a big part of the end game tactics, but I feel like everyone beyond the first 2 players are at an inherent disadvantage.

The art could be a lot less blue on some of the non-river spots. I realize the symbols are clearer in later printings and my own heuristic that the rivers are always 1 tile thick works well, but someone always stumbles on this and it could have been so easily avoided.

The random tile draw is a lot better than in T&E because the tiles are mainly of 2 kinds at a 40-60% split. Still, I've had games where I've waited on farmers for several turns only to draw them as the last 2 tiles when it's too late.

 8.5   Egizia: Shifting Sands NEW!
Tense and interesting throughout!

Pros:
I think the original game invented the mechanism of "One-way movement" that inspired games like Heaven & Ale, Glen More and Tokaido. I really like this mechanism and much like Worker Placement and Bus, the originator simply did it best!

The design is smart in that all the other parts of the game are quite simple and feed into the great core mechanism. Building monuments, collecting resources and managing your workers are all dead-simple and all feed into deciding how far to move.

I like the monuments aspect, I like how they're all different and are grouped so you still compete over building spots even if you focus on different parts. Competing over these spots is definitely the core focal points of the river mechanism, it's all about how many things you dare grab on your way to the next building spot.

I like the different fields, they add another layer of interaction and some risk/reward fun.

For the type of game it is, it scales down to 2 quite well.

Cons:
I really dislike the tracks. There's 2 of them and the most interesting thing they do is give you a discount on the penalty for not feeding your workers, which may not even be relevant for you. They seem extremely perfunctory and bolted on, I feel like they were only added to add variety to the Sphinx goals and to flesh out the card and tile effects. They could have replaced it with almost anything in this remake or just removed them to make the game that much closer to perfect.

The Sphinx cards are a bit swingy. I like the way you get them, I like that you pick from several but also get points for looking at many, this is definitely the way to approach random point draws. That said, sometimes you draw 1 and sometimes that gives you 8 points for stuff you were already doing. So while this mechanism is well-done for what it is, I still don't like it.

The rules aren't great, especially for explaining the modifications for 2 players.

 8.5   For Sale (14 all-time)
Very quick and very fun.

Pros:
There's a mix of strategy and luck that everyone can enjoy. It scales well and plays many. The two phases gives the game a great arc and work well together.

I love the way bidding works in this game, the way you're incentivized to be the second best in most bids and the tension between not wanting to overpay but also not wanting a bad card when you're already invested.

Cons:
It can be frustrating to be screwed by player order at times, but it's quick enough not to ruin the game.

The box I have is way too big, but I've actually ordered the small-box iello version just for the box.

 8.0   Franchise NEW!
Another success from Queen Games, taking excellent old-school designs and giving them a fresh look!

Pros:
I love games with simple rules and interesting decisions and this is definitely one of them!

The tight economy, the competition over regions, the possibilities to cut someone off and the unstable alliances that form in cities are all just great.

The game even feels thematic, despite first being designed with a different setting, in the way that competing businesses lowers the income for all of us and the way we're forced to spread our Franchise farther across the USA each turn.

I like that the game is completely deterministic after set-up and the players themselves makes the game different and interesting each time.

The bonus tiles are very interesting, because it's easy to get more than 4 points from them if used well and early to kickstart your economy, but you also want to save them to be reactive and be able to e.g. fill a city or get money for a big play later.

Cons:
One of my biggest pet peeves in board games is present in this game, and if it wasn't for that this would have been at least a 9. I hate it when turn-order is super-important and also fixed. It's fine in most games where you can't don't set up huge plays for each other, but here turn order is a really big deal and it leads to some degenerate play.

The way cities close off and are scored means that maybe player A does something that is in their best interest, but then player B can benefit greatly and even more than player A did and player C can be completely cut off from some huge points later in the game. It's also a game where this will probably happen a few times, but not nearly enough to balance out over all the players, so it becomes far too good to e.g. sit after an inexperienced player just like in Puerto Rico and that's not fun for anyone, especially not the new player.

It's also somewhat of a zero-sum game, where if players A and B compete over a city all the other players will come out on top. I would have preferred some more nuance to this, so that players both help and hinder each other in some ways to make the competition less annoying.

 8.0   No Thanks! x7 NEW!
A classic for good reason.

Pros:
I've played a lot of derivatives of it but this is the best implementation of this simple idea.

I like that the game is simple enough that it's easy to hold a conversation while playing it and yet it has plenty of interesting moments.

I like the simple fact that whoever takes a card gets first dibs on the next card. This seemed like a downside when reading the rules, making someone instantly pay one of the chips they hopefully just got. But it's frequently worth it in a relatively low player count game to e.g. take another player's connecting card to deny them a gain of ~25 points so having first dibs can be huge.

The edition I have has some copy written on each of the cards and that's a wonderful touch to make the game pop. Some of it would be perfect for a sarcastic birthday card for a gamer friend.

Cons:
The edition I have has an absolutely enormous box and it frustrates me so much I'm going to slice it up to a more reasonable size.

Luck is absolutely a factor and games are frequently decided by the 9 cards removed each game.

It doesn't rise to the absolute top of simple card games for me, games like For Sale simply engage me more. But it's cheap and good enough to always hold a place in my collection, as long as the box gets to a reasonable size.

 8.0   Wunderland x2 NEW!
Simple but deep, totally OG and close to cube rails.

Pros:
I must say that I really like this setting. It's just so weird and silly, especially as someone that has never been to Miniatur Wunderland. Still, I think the love for the subject-matter shines through here, with the little stickers and many pictures of the park. It was especially fun to see a pamphlet for Miniatur Wunderland included in the box!

The game barely has any rules but does a lot with what's there. The shared incentives of this game is very similar to a cube rails game, just with a different flavor that I happen to prefer. There's no rails being built, but you definitely want to tag along a big group heading to a far corner of the map.

The trick is that you can move with any number of discs but they're very limited in number and knowing how many to move and how to make sure you don't strand them while other big groups are getting payouts is the key to winning.

I also like the end game where the game can end in one of two ways, but sometimes striving to end the game may just put you behind while other players get easier points. So it has this Dominion-style decision of when to flip your gameplan, but with a twist that the change is from ending the game to being more opportunistic instead of the usual other way around.

Cons:
It's hard to know how to play this at first. The destination cards are an obvious guide, but they're a bit of a trap. They're definitely important but the way to win this is getting postcards because that's where the big groups of different players are headed and they usually end up awarding way more points.

Some destination cards are better than others and it can be quite limiting, especially early, to need to have discs waiting in 3 different, useless spots before getting to the fourth destination on your card. The biggest change in the recent re-release of this game besides the theme is the removal of the 4-destination cards and I think that's an improvement.

There's also a lot of times in the early game where you want to have distant discs ready to go to destinations that you may draw later, but if this strategy misses by result of random draws you've "wasted" those discs that could have tagged along with other groups. I think that's part of the risk/reward of the game, but it still feels bad when you get disappointed with those destination cards.

It's a bit weird that all players don't have the same number of turns, but since you do so much on other players' turns I don't think it's unbalanced, it's just weird. Why is there even a first player token?

Like any shared incentive game, there's the possibility for hurt feelings and a frustrating playing experience if you're out of sync with the other players.

 7.0   Caylus 1303 NEW!
I had high hopes going into this that weren't lived up to.

Pros:
I always like worker placement games where players have agency over what spots are available. This does this in several ways, not only can players build up to 4 new buildings each round, they can convert and remove old ones and control which buildings get activated each round.

The different resources are well-defined and have nicely controlled scarcity that varies with setup and player choices. They're not just different to introduce granularity in costs.

The favor mechanism is a fun way to make the resource sink of donations be more interactive.

The way buildings activate in order leads to some interesting decisions where you might go to a highly contested spot you can't afford and hope to get the resources by the time it's activated.

The production is excellent, I love the resources and the clean and very clear graphics.

Cons:
I like mean games but this game does meanness in a way that rubs me the wrong way. I liked the idea of the provost when first learning about it, but in practice the game revolved around 2-3 people ganging up on whoever was greedy enough to approach the end of the line and leaving that player without any possibility of countering.

That type of interaction isn't interesting, it just means that people stop going to the last 3 buildings and then building new buildings gets less interesting and the Provost never moves.

The player power tiles didn't quite do it for me. They're definitely interesting and create cool combos and competition over them, but some are better than others so the best ones just go in a circle and the rest stay pretty stagnant. Above all they're inelegant, the game is so streamlined aside from them and it didn't need player powers.

I don't like the point chits. I get that it's good to have some obfuscation of the points, but it's a pain to dole out a bunch of 1s every time someone goes to am owned building.

 7.0   Coyote x2 NEW!
A better version of Liar's Dice, but I still prefer my poker dice-variant of Mia.

Pros:
The gold foil on the cards are gorgeous and the production overall is great!

The added mystery of the middle card and the wild effects of a select few of the cards means that the game has a lot of suspense and opportunity for fun and weird plays.

I like it more than Liar's Dice because you have a lot more information to base your bets on. Also, losing early is much less punishing than in Liar's Dice and starting with fewer lives means that even if you get a bad start you're not out for as long.

Cons:
Most rounds don't last long enough to really make use of either peeking or a good bluff. You have enough information to make reasonable guesses, so the number gets to the place it should be to trigger call-outs very quickly.

Bluffing is basically a one-shot, it almost always immediately ends the round and tricking someone is just a question of who loses. I would have liked more build-up for a bluff, so that it could go around some before getting called out, maybe even back to you. This is one part where Liar's Dice is better, your bluffs will a lot of times come back to you so you can bask in your own brilliance - or get caught out by your own hubris.

Peeking is almost a trap, because you have to raise no matter what you see and chances are it's never going to come back to you so you can't use the information anyway.

It's better to be the person holding some cards more than others. The ? card is as much of a mystery to you as the other players so it's really good for whoever has that cards, and holding a 20, -10 or a max 0 card can be very hard to account for when betting.

 6.5   La Isla NEW!
Very JASE, much wow.

Pros:
I like multi-use cards and this one implements them well. Sure sometimes you have boring or dud draws, but most turns you have interesting decisions based on the cards you draw.

I like the temporary engine building. I like how you have to decide between building for a combo and utilizing it long-term or being opportunistic and taking a card that works for your plan that turn. and immediately replacing it.

I like the idea of the "stocks" creating player interaction both in terms of shared incentives and pushing the end-game.

Cons:
The system works well and creates interesting decisions, but it never transcends beyond this. There's a bunch of micro-decisions regarding which cubes to take or what animal tile to go for, but it all ends up feeling the same. The player interaction is limited to the stock part but it's nowhere near as robust as a proper stock game.

The other interaction point is grabbing tiles before someone else, but since player order is stagnant and you have to plan for what cubes you get before you know if the players before you will get there, it just feels bad whenever this happens and it will mostly happen to the same player(s).

The card effects are all super-minor and boring, you either get cube efficiency or some extra points. There's a single interesting card that lets you have another explorer, but by the time you run out of explorers you're bound to have one that is useless.

 6.5   SHH NEW!
Fun exercise!

Pros:
It's more of an interesting team building exercise than a game, but it is a good one!

I really like the artwork in the game. The cards are vibrant despite being very small.

I like the tension of trying to understand what the other players want to write and the very limited options both regarding what word you can even end up with but also what to do on your turn.

Passing is very limited, but it may be worth it to be able to spell a word that gets rid of a few hard letters.

Cons:
It's a bit weird playing in silence.

Some deals will be much harder than other.

The play sometimes feels obvious, there's not a huge amount of words you can even spell with no repeat letters and once a few letters are unavailable it seems very hard to get creative.

 5.0   Copenhagen NEW!
Way too basic.

Pros:
It's like a way simpler Ticket to Ride and i like that. Very easy to teach and play, doesn't outstay its welcome and has some neat decisions.

Cons:
I feel like there's some objectively good plays here that remove a lot of the decision space. It's a very tight race for a specific goal and it's all about efficiency. That combined with the tight hand limit and the discounts for adjacency means that you usually know whether to pay or play depending on whether colors you already have on your board are available and your hand size. Picking cards is also obvious so the only other decision left is how big of a tile to get (hint: the smallest available) and where to place it (hint: next to the same color and not leaving unfillable space).

Besides, the bonus that lets you do both is objectively better than all the others and there's so many bonuses and it's so easy to not need 1x1 tiles that you can do both almost every turn and still grab additional bonuses to be even more efficient.

Grabbing small tiles with a discount gets you way more squares and this is supposed to be balanced by the bigger tiles having more windows. But because you get bonuses for filling squares, the points for windows are not huge and since every tiles still has a bricked square, this balance is just off. Grab small tiles until they run out, fill your board mindlessly using a bunch of discounts and get a bunch of bonuses to play efficiently and end the game before dummies hoarding cards can even play the big stuff.

The big tiles also require almost all your hand space, so if you go for them and the right cards don't show up, you're screwed.

 4.0   A Feast for Odin NEW!
To try to be cool and also date this post, I'm going to reference Bo Burnham's Inside: It's like Uwe was extremely inspired by the line: "A little bit of everything, all of the time!" from 'Welcome to the Internet,' but totally missed the directly following line: "Apathy's a tragedy and boredom is a crime."

I've only played this with the Norwegians expansion.

Pros:
I like the polyomino part of this, and actually think it's better than a lot of its spin-off titles. It's very intuitive to internalize that bigger tiles are better, so despite the plethora of options and numbers of resources, it's all very easy to understand at first glance. Why is this spot more expensive? Oh, because I get a bigger tile, that makes sense!

I also love the concept of spending resources exploring a new land that nets you negative points immediately, just to have more places to put your garbage!

I really like the feeding mechanism, it's intuitive that the vikings want a varied diet and it just feels right. I also love the little detail that you can never get tired of beans!

I also don't mind the random card draws or the dice rolling. Maybe it's because I'm apathetic to the whole game anyway, but the generous re-rolling, generous compensation for failing and the relative cost of drawing cards vs playing them meant that, much like the rest of the game, the random results didn't really matter much, you just slightly have to realign your plans sometimes.

I understand why people like this so much, it succeeds at creating a sandbox of options that all feel balanced and thematic. It's just not for me and the length of it means I have little predilection towards playing it again.

Cons:
This game fundamentally misaligns with what I like in Worker Placement games. The whole point of them to me is competing over a fixed number of spots, groaning when another player takes what you need and constantly evaluating what you can afford to risk leaving for next turn based on both your own game state but also your opponents'.

Instead, this gives you a ridiculous number of options and if someone takes what you want, just get something else that's almost as good. There's only competition over some stuff if you decide to specialize in something very specific someone else is also doing, but why would you do that when there's so much else you can do?

So if I don't care what my opponents do since I can always just do something else and I have to wait ages for them to puzzle out their own little board that doesn't affect me in any way, why am I playing this with other players?

Another aspect of my issues is that it's almost impossible to fail at something in this game. I love the constraint of feeding my workers in Agricola, but here you're showered with food every other turn so you barely have to consider it. I like trying to fit tiles in other polyomino games and the constraint on green adjacency seemed like an interesting wrinkle, but then the game just showers you in coins to create any bridge you may need, completely destroying the adjacency puzzles. You may roll poorly in that important whaling action, but at least you only spent a single worker and got a bunch of resources to ensure you succeed next round!

It's also incredibly boring that the only way to get points is to just fill in spots. So everything you get is just: Hey look, I got 6 squares, what about you? Oh, I spent 2 coins to get 8!

So much of this game, I was saying to myself what's the point? It's just so easy to get a bunch of stuff, it loses all meaning. Add to that that the game takes fucking hours and it just annoyed me.

I won't lie, I was having fun fitting things onto my board and getting the dopamine kicks of collecting my income and bonuses for all the nice squares I've surrounded so very intelligently. But then I had to wait 30 minutes until I got to do it again and it's not like my opponent ever looked over and marveled at my wonderful creation, they were playing their own game.

 4.0   A Feast for Odin: The Norwegians
I've never played without this expansion, so I'm not really sure exactly what this adds, but one thing is obvious: The modular action board with the pass actions.

These are great and I understand that this expansion rebalances the original, which is why I played it with this expansion. I like the pass action, it's the only part of the action board that has any semblance of player interaction.

 4.0   Eclipse NEW!
It's at least twice as good as Twilight Imperium 4, but it's still not for me.

I played this the same month as trying A Feast for Odin, both for the first time, and I'm going to give them both the same rating for very different reasons. Eclipse is a much better design and achieves exactly what it sets out to do with fresh and interesting mechanisms, but I hate the genre. AFfO is much more to my tastes and plays faster, but it completely lacks character and player interaction so fails in another way.

Pros:
It's crazy that this can be a pro, but it's only 1 hour per player! TI4 was over 2 hours per player, so that's an improvement right there!

I think the action selection economy is brilliant! The first few actions are free and then slowly increase in cost, but as you expand your empire you start farther along this track, mimicking the growing administration costs.

The economy is general is great, I like how the income increases non-linearly and how the 3 different resources are very limited in their purpose.

The big selling point is ship customization and it's fun. It's fun to research a cool new thing and install it in your ships as you prepare for a big fight and there's a lot of interesting choices to be made...

I like a lot of what the research does. I like the increasing discounts that can only be applied to the more expensive stuff, I like the points that you get for specializing and I like how most of it feeds back into fighting so you're motivated to get into fights just to have something to do with your new toys...

Cons:
...But I HATE the random market. The one game I've played of this was absolutely decided by what came out when in the research market and I doubt any future would be different. Maybe one player got an amazing fighting technology and none of the counters showed up until 4 rounds later? Maybe you have problems with your economy but none of the economic techs came out? Maybe the one time the kingpin for your strategy shows up is also the one time you didn't want to pass early and there was no way to know that? It's way too random for something that will decide a 4-hour game.

...I don't like the arms-race that comes from ship customization. It's great fun in theory, but the ship-pinning mechanism means that you can know you're going to be in a fight at the beginning of a round so each player can spend the entirety of the rest of their actions reacting and countering to each other while the other players gain. Not only does fighting almost always come with a cost in ships for both players, it also drains actions because of this. It also takes time trying to count and re-count initiative and figuring out how to best counter, so half the game length comes from this part that only 2 players at a time are involved in.

I also don't like combat that amounts to rolling a 6. Of course there's modifiers, but it's just so archaic and random when the target is that high. There's also nowhere near enough dice rolls to balance out the luck factor and some dice will matter way more than others because of initiative and strength.

The exploration tokens are also wildly imbalanced. If you get the power source with 11 power early you will dominate the game. But you may instead get a 2-cost tech. I don't mind the randomness that comes from which resources you can get or how many neutral ships show up because that's part of the spirit of exploration. But the tokens swing too much.

I don't think the factions are remotely balanced. For one I don't like how some are incentivized to turtle and some to attack, I think that reduces player choice too much. But mainly some bonuses will always be better than other. Losing 2 action disks for the entire game just to get some random points at the start that you will quickly replace is absolute trash. Being friends with the neutral player that everyone else hates is boring and not very good. Having better and cheaper ships or more efficient research, explore or upgrade actions are huge boons both early and late in the game.

 4.0   Ricochet Robots (8 all-time)
Wonderful game to play when drunk or with large groups, it's a simple idea that's well executed, but can get boring after a while.

Pros:
The puzzle is plain fun and solving it competitively genuinely works because there's usually a simple solution that someone fast can find and a more advanced solution that's better that needs to be found under time-pressure.

Cons:
This game gets less fun the better you get at it, especially when playing with new players. As I've played it a few times and are generally good at these types of puzzles, I don't really want to play this more.

 2.0   Love Letter
It's barely a game, but at least it's fast.

Pros:
The deduction aspect that the Guard allows for at least lends the game some actual gameplay.

There's some fun bluffing to be done with the Courtesan.

Cons:
Well, the game has player elimination and take-that. People don't usually care because the game is so fast, but I still don't think it's good design.

It's also so feather-light that we might as well, you know, actually just talk to each other? If you want something to play while talking, there's plenty of simple card games that allow for much more table talk because they don't have hidden information to keep track of. The game doesn't add anything to an evening and mostly feels like a waste of time.

I have the Wedding Edition that we got for our wedding and despite it being a cool thing unfortunately it's kind of the worst version of Love Letter. Unlike all other reskins it doesn't have any unique rules or does anything fun with the theme. It would have been so easy to just have "the bride or closest equivalent is the start player" to at least do something.

Play of the Month
Board Game: Babylonia

Even though I got to play my top 2 games this month and they were both great, it's hard to compete with finding a new potential favorite!

I've heard about this game from the Knizia-heads for a while now and I was a bit reticent, given that I'm not huge on T&E (enough controversy yet?) but this one absolutely did not disappoint!

It's so good that we're excited to show it to more and more people both to see how it plays with different players and of course getting to play it more!

Discussion points:
Are there any gaming cafés near you? What are they like?

What do you prefer, playing a game you've loved for years or discovering new great games?

Am I completely wrong about AFfO, Eclipse, Caylus and T&E?

Remember to thumb this post if you liked it to help more people discover it!
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Fri Oct 1, 2021 8:07 am
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August 2021 - Back to Normal?

Georg Wolgast
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Microbadge: Waluigi fanMicrobadge: I love old-school German-style gamesMicrobadge: I like learning games more than winning them!Microbadge: I keep my ratings currentMicrobadge: Blogger
Here is a short introduction for the blog and myself. These are my impressions of the games I played last month. First an overview using the excellent GCL-tool.

This month our gaming group started up again after everyone had gotten their vaccines. This means a lot more games got played, and also more games that I don't love since the game group has a different collection than I. Hopefully that makes the blog more dynamic and interesting, we'll see.

Board Game: The 7th Continent
Board Game: Pendulum
Board Game: MicroMacro: Crime City
Board Game: Jump Drive
Board Game: Clank! In! Space!: A Deck-Building Adventure
Board Game: Clank! In! Space!: Cyber Station 11
Board Game: Bananagrams
Board Game: Regicide
Board Game: Lockup: A Roll Player Tale
Board Game: Nusfjord
Board Game: Circle the Wagons
Board Game: Circle the Wagons: Lone Cowboy
Board Game: Agropolis
Board Game: Lords of Xidit
Board Game: Fast Forward: FORTRESS
Board Game: Homesteaders
Board Game: For Sale
Board Game: Secret Hitler
Board Game: Wingspan


 8.5  For Sale (13 all-time)
Very quick and very fun.

Pros:
There's a mix of strategy and luck that everyone can enjoy. It scales well and plays many. The two phases gives the game a great arc and work well together.

I love the way bidding works in this game, the way you're incentivized to be the second best in most bids and the tension between not wanting to overpay but also not wanting a bad card when you're already invested.

Cons:
It can be frustrating to be screwed by player order at times, but it's quick enough not to ruin the game.

The box I have is way too big, but I've actually ordered the small-box iello version just for the box.

 8.0   Clank! In! Space!: A Deck-Building Adventure (8 all-time)
This feels like what original Clank! should have been from the beginning.

Pros:
It's basically a balancing of Clank!. I like the modular board, the factions allow some balancing of the most OP cards in the original game and the force field guarding the artifacts as well as the general layout of the board makes the game flow a lot better in terms of movement.

The Eradikus track's red guards also allow for better pacing, making the game much more intense in the end. The market items are also more interesting, which makes players even more diverse depending on who decides to go for which items.

It also feels like the deck has more Eradikus attacks, which is balanced by them not being as dangerous in the beginning. This once again helps with the pacing and balancing of the game.

Cons:
The problem is that the added rules and length doesn't really equate to more fun, which means that this is tied for me with the original Clank! and more of a variant than a straight improvement.

 7.0   Clank! In! Space!: Cyber Station 11 x1 NEW!
It's entirely unnecessary.

Pros:
I like the idea of all of the new stuff, but I also don't really think they impact the game very much. It's a fine expansion, but not one I would buy unless I had played the base game a lot.

The Cyberware is a great concept, I love that crystals have an additional use that will hopefully lead to them being more available throughout the game. Without them, the crystals usually get snatched up pretty quickly and someone is always left without any chance to get one.

The new station layout is a nice change of pace, but I'm not sure how much it really impacts the play. The added escape pods are interesting but takes away some of the risk/reward trade-offs.

Cons:
The Cyberwares are statted so that they suck unless you can install them. This means that they're in general quite weak, especially later in the game, and you son't take them unless you know you'll have a crystal. There are also a lot of other cards that reference them, but they're quite uncommon in that big deck so I feel like the potential of them is lost.

It's also disappointing that no market item was added, it seems like such an obvious inclusion, especially given the number of different market items original Clank! has in their expansions by now.

 8.0   Jump Drive (18 all-time)
I just like RftG so, so much more than this.

Pros:
I love the idea of having a simpler version of RftG to introduce people to the concepts and then "upgrading" them to RftG, but that's just it, this will never be more than a stepping-stone.

It's different enough and it's fun and quick. But the exponential character of the economy makes it so that usually the player with the best start wins.

Cons:
The game is too quick, there's never really a chance to catch up if you have a bad start. It just doesn't feel as polished as its big brother.

 8.0   Lords of Xidit (2 all-time)
I was really pleasantly surprised by this. Every play so far has been really exciting and tense.

Pros:
I've always liked programming, but I haven't really liked any competitive programming game until this one. Maybe it's the simplicity of the actions or maybe it's how you sometimes want to act before someone else and sometimes after, but the programming part is tense in the best way.

The victory condition is what sold me on the game and it's just as good as I was expecting. It's such a simple but engaging system that also means that the endgame will almost always be tense and competitive. It also has some variability as towers (being completely open information) being the last or first condition makes a meaningful difference.

I'm usually not a fan of area majority and in some ways all the victory conditions are variations of area majority, but the brilliance of the valuation of the victory conditions means that it somehow feels less arbitrary when someone swoops in and takes away your majority because it's no longer about being the best, it's all about not being the worst. My feelings might change if glory is the third condition.

Cons:
I don't think this scales well, it's pretty much only a 4-player game to me. With 3 players there are too few things happening on the board and with 5 players it's too chaotic, at 4 there's just the right amount of programming double-think.

Handling the discs and flipping discards takes up roughly a third of the rule book and that highlights how annoyingly complicated it feels compared to the rest of the game.

 8.0   Regicide NEW!
One of my new favorite games to play with a 52-card deck.

Pros:
It's genuinely impressive just how different this game feels despite being played with a 52-card deck. It's also extremely customer-friendly, as I just pulled out a deck of cards and tested it without having to pay anything.

It's rare to find cooperative 52-card deck games and this one is better than many cooperative games with custom cards.

The difficulty is tuned just right, it's challenging without feeling unfair, you always feel like you have a chance to win.

Cons:
The rules are simple but I'd still be wary to introduce the game to someone that I would normally play e.g. Oh Hell!, Poker or Rummy with. It's not hard to understand, it's just fundamentally different from what you would expect.

It may be difficult to track damage and heath. There's a companion app to help but an app just doesn't fit with the charm of a simple 52-card deck game.

 8.0   Secret Hitler x3 (16 all-time)
Better than The Resistance?

Pros:
The chancellor/president power split works well and forces lies. There is also more open, tangible information, which is very important for social deduction games. I also like the randomness of the deck as it helps newer players lie better.

I don't get the complaint about player elimination because in The Resistance, you can be effectively eliminated by everyone at the table not trusting you and that feels a lot worse than someone shooting you.

The biggest improvement compared to Resistance however, is that you're forced to change teams around, so you're incentivized to learn something about almost everyone. Sure there's still randomness of killing or accidentally electing Hitler, but it's alright.

It also plays faster than Resistance in my experience, because there's less mind games and more objective facts to talk about.

Cons:
The setting definitely isn't great. I like that there's official re-themes out there, but I think they could have chosen a better setting from the beginning.

It needs a lot of players to work well, but that's true for most social deduction games.

I think it's pretty boring to play as Hitler, as you're basically forced to play nice at all times. This means that very few players have the opportunity to actually make interesting choices and create drama.

 7.0   Agropolis NEW!
It's a slightly more complex and refined Sprawlopolis.

Pros:
Like I said for Sprawlopolis, it really doesn't feel like it lacks anything despite the micro nature of the game. The double-sided cards has a nice side effect of subtly changing the card set each game.

The smartest idea at play is still the scoring cards. There's nothing innovative here, but the scoring criteria are all very interesting and interact in fun ways. They're also combined with an already challenging base scoring that the bonuses are balanced around. I prefer to have a win condition in solo games and the way it's implemented here is brilliant. I also really like overlapping cards as a mechanism.

Sometimes in Sprawlopolis you get boring goals, either too synergistic or anti-synergistic. This version alleviates some of that with feed scoring that compensates for synergistic goals. This means that the game is always challenging, which is great.

The other change from Sprawlopolis is of course the all-new goals. They seem more complex and makes use of the different pens instead of the generic parks in Sprawlopolis, so this is definitely intended as a sequel.

Cons:
I worry about the longevity about the game, but I can easily play 20+ times before that happens so it's worth the price of admission. Also, there's fewer expansions available than for Sprawlopolis, especially since 1 of 2 expansions require Sprawlopolis.

 7.0   Bananagrams x3 NEW!
Great idea that falls a bit short in execution.

Pros:
It's a very simple core conceit that works very well. If you like word games like Scrabble, this concentrates it on the fun parts without any of the boring parts. I particularly like that you're kind of rewarded for making long and complex words because it's easier to expand on those, but it's not at all required to win the game. 2-letter words are still OP though.

By making the game real-time, there's no sitting around trying to optimize your hand like in Scrabble, you just make words you can think of. I also like that nothing is fixed in place, so you have full freedom to be creative.

Cons:
It's baffling to me that there's no indication which direction the tiles are supposed to be. Sure the M's and W's and Z's and N's look different if you know what to look for, but when going fast it's easy to miss and it came up a lot of times when playing.

I don't think the rules for exchanging tiles are particularly balanced. You may think me silly for even bothering with considering balance and strategy for such a single game, but my game group is highly competitive and will take every advantage.

The issue is that it's easier to make a good grid with a lot of letters. So good early game strategy is to get rid of a few random letters to start with twice as many letters, confident that you'll make up the lost time by the end by having a very open and big grid you can easily modify to add those last few letters. If only one player does this, they will easily win because no-one else is putting on pressure. If all but one player does this, that one player may just rush the game and win, especially if the other players are too careless. This makes the game less about making words and more about posturing for when to take tiles and who ends up with the "bad" letters once the supply starts to run too dry. While this functions as a game, it's a less interesting game than what was promised.

The frustrating part is that it would have been easy to limit the exchange in some way, e.g. a limited amount of times depending on the player count.

 7.0   Homesteaders NEW!
Shows its age, mostly in a good way.

Pros:
I feel like only Knizia still makes games that are short, punchy yet satisfying. This game barely has any rules, plays in an hour and has tough decisions influenced by other players.

I'm not huge on auctions, but my favorite type of auction is one with bid tracks. I also really like when all players can't win something, it creates great tension of when to take your lumps and regroup for another turn. Money is incredibly tight so saving money is always an alluring choice.

The market mechanism is really interesting, the game is balanced around it being impossible to produce all the types of resources you need. So you need to trade, but trade tokens are a precious resource and selling resources is always good as well since you get those precious $ and also points!

I love the debt mechanism in that the game gladly lets you dig your own grave. There is no limit to how much you can bid or pay, you can just always take some debt. And that debt will only cost you a single point at first. Then the next one costs 2, then 3, then 4.... I definitely feel that some debt will always repay more than it costs, but finding that line is always interesting.

I have the first edition and the components are definitely mixed, but I really appreciate the different wooden resources. With such a focus on the plenitude of different resources, I like that they all feel great to get and handle.

Cons:
The game can feel a bit slow. Especially since someone will have to lose that first auction and not do anything their first turn. Also, someone will have to lose the last auction, leading to a fizzling end.

Also, the game isn't super-exciting. Even when you win a hard-fought auction, you only win the right to spend your hard-earned resources on yet another thing. And the most exciting thing that building can give you is probably an income.

The game is tight, focused and fun but it's also just boring and brown sometimes.

 7.0   Lockup: A Roll Player Tale NEW!
Great ideas, poor execution.

Pros:
The core gameplay loop is really fun, I love the competition over the different spaces and the hidden information. It allows for a lot of interesting plays.

The production is great, I love the tile holders and artwork.

The different spaces are all interesting and feel different and there's a great decision between not just which but how many locations to go to and when.

The scoring in terms of items and goons are mainly plain resource conversions, but they work well and most have interesting extra effects to influence your decision.

It's hard to express just how much I like the actual core of the game because it saves a lot of the below stuff for me to still result in a 7. Without knowing how this game was actually made, it seems to me like a great design that fell short in development.

Cons:
I have fundamental issues with a few minor details in the game that together hinder quite a lot of my enjoyment.

I hate the tie-breaker when evaluating rooms. I frequently talk about how much I dislike when seating-order plays a big impact in the gameplay and this is the case here. Whoever won the first location gets first player and all ties resolve in player order. This is meant as a compensation for having to play earlier in the round, thereby revealing your plans. But it feels incredibly arbitrary and ties happen a lot in this game. I'm fine with the part that whoever invested in a certain spot gets a reward for it, but the remaining players are just arbitrarily given priority going from there. If the player before me goes for the same strategy as I do, I'm just always at a disadvantage. To make matters worse, the spot hat gives you start player simply has certain natural synergies with e.g. specific goons, so it's always going to be in a specific player's interest to go there and this may lead to a game where first player never changes, especially given that they have the tie-breaker if they tie for getting it.

I don't like the way the different goals each game influence play. It's a nice idea to get variety, but the instant goal goes lightning fast so just awards someone with e.g. natural synergy based on asymmetric starts. The end game goal is quite boring most of the time and the leader goal may quite often decide the game because it's a 16 point swing if you manage to steal it so you have to either go all-in or ignore it, neither of which allows for very interesting strategy.

The library cards are very swingy, some do barely anything and some can swing a raid or a location. They're also never fun to get even when they're good.

I also think the game is way too long for the core gameplay loop. It may seem like 6 rounds should be fast, but there's so much hidden information and mind games that the game wouldn't be as fun it you tried to play it super-fast and if you do play competitively I'm exhausted by the fourth round. Meanwhile fewer rounds wouldn't let you get enough done to compete over goals and build up power, so that's not a good solution either. It's just slightly off in a way that I don't think can be solved.

Beyond that there's a lot of parts of the game that are great ideas but don't really result in anything great. The bonuses for items and goons don't feel big enough to impact my decisions, there's too few ways to manipulate suspicion to make the raids interesting, half the goons are just boring, static point values and the storage limit and increasing it with certain items is far too generous to ever impact play.

 7.0   The 7th Continent NEW!
This is a first impression based on the beginning of the first scenario.

Pros:
The game has a lot of character. I love that some cards reference the players themselves.

The rules get out of the way quickly and lets you focus on the exploration part. I love that there's no explicit turns, you just do stuff in whatever order you like.

The crafting system is a lot of fun, I especially like combining items.

I love the way there's multiples of some cards and how such a rich and varied narrative can be implemented using only cards.

Finding details on the cards and learning to notice certain plants to get rewards in the future is very thematic and fun.

The action deck is a nice way to implement time pressure in the game...

Cons:
but I don't like the skill-check system. To be fair, I don't like any skill-check system so this is as good as any. It just feels very frustrating that there's relatively few ways to influence the draw after it's happened, I would have much rather see you flip one card at a time until you reach both requirements, or may quit as a failure at any time. Sure that wouldn't lead to many failures, but there's few things less fun than drawing 10 cards and missing out on your target by 1 star.

The game is too hard and it's no fun dying and restarting. Luckily the expansion introduces an immortal mode and a more interesting way to make the game easier, but I don't like games that are balanced around learning by failing and restarting, I like it when failure is allowed and part of the whole experience because it makes the narrative and experience way more fun.

 6.5   Wingspan (4 all-time)
It's a brilliant family game because it's beautiful, has an appealing theme and is easy to teach.

Pros:
Despite the simplicity there's a lot of decisions and strategic play. Most decisions are very small, but you should always plan for future round bonuses and e.g. try to only draw cards when you can see that there are good cards for you in the open market.

Most rounds you probably know how many of each action you will take, you just need to figure out the order of them. That's good for a family game because you feel like you're making decisions even if they're very basic.

The game works well, there's an efficiency puzzle to solve and it requires both strategy and tactics to solve well.

Cons:
I like the game, but I don't love it and I kind of don't know why everyone seems to love it. That's because it's too smooth, there's nothing really unique or special that you can latch onto. I have similar problems with other Stonemaier games, I think they're very tightly developed into a gaming experience that flows well, but there's nothing there for me afterwards.

I think part of my issue is because the card effects and bonus rewards are so simple. I don't feel good when I execute a good combo because I didn't have to put any effort into building that combo, it was just always kind of there - of course the birds that spend cards to do stuff work well on the row that gives you cards! I don't feel like I've achieved anything when I score well on a round bonus, because I just put an egg where the bonus told me to. To reiterate, this is great for families, but it's not enough for me. I really hope there's more advanced effects in the expansions, but I don't like the game enough to buy them.

It's almost entirely multiplayer solitaire and most of the time on my opponents' turns I'm just waiting for them to do their thing so I can go again. The game's just not rewarding to play and I can't look back after a session and think "that was a great move," "next time I'm going to try that" or "that was the difference between winning and losing," I just think "yeah, the player that won played slightly more efficiently than the other players overall."

 6.5   Fast Forward: FORTRESS x8 NEW!
I love the Fast Forward part, but the actual game is just ok.

Pros:
I love the concept of just opening a game and playing it. It handles it well and introduces new, fun stuff in an exciting way.

The game plays very fast so you can get through the entire "campaign" in a single session.

There's some fun bluffing and double-think in the game, but it's quite weird in that you don't even know what's in the deck each game so someone may have a much better defence than you even knew was possible.

Cons:
I don't like the victory condition. The game somehow always ended way too early so whoever got a good hand first won. That's sad, because there's a lot of promising stuff here about posturing and waiting to strike that never came to be in our games.

There's a lot of luck of the draw, and that's fine in this kind of game, but the game also has an aspect of runaway leader. Whenever you successfully attack or defend, you get to increase your hand size and may continue attacking. This means that the luck of the draw is increased by players bashing themselves against an unreasonably good draw and feeding that player even more.

 6.0   Circle the Wagons x2 NEW!
I've only played this solo with the Lone Cowboy expansion.

Pros:
I like the core gameplay but there's similar stuff in Sprawlopolis and the additional road puzzle in that is more engaging IMO. Comparing them, this seems much better suited for 2 players and Sprawlopolis seems best at 1, but can't really comment with authority as I've only played them both solo.

The draft is added compared to Sprawlopolis and it works well and adds tension.

Cons:
You only draft around 7-8 cards so there's not much puzzling to do with those cards. Most of the town building part of the game is quite obvious.

The solo mode isn't great. It's a bit confusing with the stacked priority rules and it's too mathematical. Scoring the Cowboy is annoying and some deals seem impossible to win.

 4.0   Circle the Wagons: Lone Cowboy x2 NEW!
I don't like the solo implementation, it's fiddly and annoying.

Pros:
It's nice to be able to play this solo, but I would rather play Sprawlopolis.

The different scenarios have different difficulties, which is nice...

Cons:
...But there is no indication of this when fist playing them, you just have to figure it out.

The scenario cards have such synergy that most of the symbols and terrains on the cards mean nothing. It makes the drafting much less interesting.

The sequential rules for drafting are annoying to figure out and the scoring for the bot is fiddly.

 6.0   MicroMacro: Crime City (5 all-time)
It's definitely more of an activity than a game, but I don't really care about those things.

Pros:
It's relaxing. It reminds me of doing a jigsaw puzzle in that you basically just look for things and I also find those relaxing. I like that there's plenty of different cases in the one box, that way it's way more "replayable" than a single puzzle.

It's very clever and innovative. Even if it's not much of a game, it's still an innovation in the puzzle activity genre - it turns out multi-layered Where's (Wally, Waldo/insert your regional name here) is quite captivating!

Cons:
The introduction is a bit slow. I realize the target audience is probably less experienced than I, but I still found the first few cases very uninteresting.

There's not quite enough there. In fact, I would rather just lay a jigsaw puzzle. At least then you can make a pleasant picture and the pacing of a jigsaw puzzle is quite well-tuned: It's hardest in the middle and you always feel like you're making progress. In this game the difficulty spikes and you can get stuck, which harshes my cool, relaxing vibes.

I also feel like the gruesome theme is at odds with the family-friendly mechanisms. Not a big deal for me, but something to be aware of.

 6.0   Nusfjord NEW!
Workmanlike but lacks that spark so ends up being JASE.

Pros:
It's an Uwe-game that feels like a proper "full" Uwe-game but plays in just 20 mins/player. To manage this you have very limited options on your turn and a total of 21 worker placements.

The big selling point in this Agricola-variant is the fishing. It's like any normal income/harvesting phase, but this one has shares! It's a small difference but it leads to some interesting decisions and interactions in the game.

I can appreciate the focus here, there's no way to increase your workforce, there's only 3 resources and your board starts half-full. There's a number of seemingly well-balanced paths to victory.

The limit on wood and the way you have to go collect your fish from storage means that you're always strapped for resources and have to alternate getting resources and spending resources, there's no hoarding.

Cons:
While I really appreciate the concept of being a "full" Uwe-game that plays in under an hour, I would still prefer the bigger versions. It simply leaves me feeling unsatisfied.

My biggest issue is that lack of engine building. You can increase your fishing, but that doesn't necessarily reward you in terms of available resources. You can build buildings, but most have very minor effects. This means you just grab whatever points you can, it's the most point-salady Uwe games I've played and I mean that as an insult.

The elders seemed like a great concept, you get an exclusive action and some passive income, but their effects are so minor and they don't award points so it's barely worth getting them.

 5.0   Pendulum NEW!
Some huge caveats here that I've only played this once at 2 players in the basic mode, playing turn-based to learn it and then switching to real time.

Pros:
The production is excellent, just like I've come to expect from Stonemaier. From the metal achievement marker to the coarse player mats making it hard to bump your markers but still let you quickly update them, it has both style and function.

The core gameplay loop is satisfying, with the different actions activating a differing amount of times each round and with different opportunities to move between; the puzzle of when to place in which area of the board is interesting, with the added wrinkle of course that other players can and will get in your way, meaning that you may need to sacrifice some "free" activations in the black area to make sure you're the first one in the purple area.

The rules have just the right amount of strictness that a lot of the fuzziness that comes from real-time competitive games are dealt with in the rules, without it feeling overwhelming or pedantic. For example, I love that there is nothing that forces you to refill the territories or flip the timers, so these simple things that can be missed are part of the strategy instead.

Cons:
I mean, there's no theme but I'm not too bothered about that in a real-time game where I'm mostly focusing on icons anyway.

The sand timers seem to be of good enough quality, but they've stopped on more than one occasion and I feel like this is inevitable in a game like this. It feels worse when it happens here than e.g. in Kitchen Rush because this is a competitive game and it may inadvertently help one player.

But the game is smooth and challenging, I have very few problems with the actual design of the game. My issues are with balance.

The basic rules are completely broken. Maybe I just "figured out" the game too quickly on our first play and I should have played with the advanced variants before ever encountering this, but I maxed out all of my scoring by the third round, leaving me nothing to do in the last quarter of the game.

Of course there's a possibility that I made some mistakes in the rush of the real-time activations, but I think there's a very simple strategy to follow to easily get a bunch of points when playing without the advanced variant rules.

Here it is, in spoilers in case you don't like this sort of stuff:
Spoiler (click to reveal)

*Always rotate a small worker at the yellow income space. You will need a lot of gold for this strategy and this lets you get that with minimal mental effort, letting you optimize other things.

*Get to 4 workers ASAP. I played the character that got a new worker by paying 3 votes, which seemed extremely cheap and easy to come by.

*Always get the achievement. This costs nothing and will get you free points or resources and of course the legendary point, so always do it.

*Upgrade your red banner with 2 point generating territories. These are relatively rare so sometimes you'll have to settle on some other engine-building resource instead, but the red banner is easy to activate relatively often and getting 2 points every time while also giving you the resources to get even more territories, which will be important soon, is huge.

*Keep mashing the red banner, using your remaining red resources to fill the brown and blue flags and maybe get some nice economy in yellow, votes is ideal for yellow since you'll be activating it a lot and votes lets you get the required grande worker.

*Always be at the blue banner when the purple timer flips, then use the resources to get your cards back and immediately reclaim your worker from the rewards area. This lets you get "free" blue points and cubes (red or blue is usually the best choice) and will combo nicely with any council card that gives you points.

*Get any point stratagem card and your second Grande worker from the first 2 Council rewards, preferably in that order but it depends on other players and what's available.

By the start of the third round you should have 2 small workers and 2 grande workers, 2 stratagem cards that gets you points (1 of which you started with) and be part-way up the points tracks but not near the top. Preferably you also have a lot of cubes saved up, which shouldn't be a problem since you've been hammering the red banner to get points and yellow is fast. Blue is harder to hoard, but hopefully you've gotten some blue territories along the way to help with this.

*Begin the third round getting 2 more territories under brown, activating red and getting a fifth territory and then put at least both your grande workers on the brown flag before purple flips the first time, preferably also a small worker if you can get there first. Even better if you started with a worker here before the round started, but waited to activate it until you get all your territories and before the timer flips. This will get you at least 20 points and usually 30+ in the third round (2 grande workers x 5 points x 2+ purple activations (you should also be able to use your stratagem card to get back a grande worker at least once, up to thrice if you start with 10 blue, you can also start with some workers here and get them back and replace them during the round, so you can get at least 2 "full" activations here and usually 3). Add to this the points you're getting for the red flag, achievement, priority track and stratagem cards, some extra final points from your remaining small workers cashing in wherever they can and the possibility to get even more territories under brown after you bounce back your grande and have time before the next purple flip and you can pretty much max out all tracks in a single round.

Of course the advanced variant completely blocks this strategy by not letting you stack several of your grande workers on the brown flag and also makes it slower to amass a lot of territories in a single round. It also lets you do something once you've maxed out the tracks and I hear the advanced characters have some other quirks that may throw a wrinkle into this.



Play of the Month
Board Game: Secret Hitler

This was definitely boosted by getting to play with a big group for the first time in over a year!

I really like social deduction and I've missed the genre immensely! Shamans has somewhat satiated me as a great alternative for lower player counts, but it's just a different energy with 8 players as we were with this.

Discussion points:
I played Homesteaders in honor of TMG's unfortunate demise. I really like most of their games. My favorite is Yokohama, which is yours?

Have your play groups gotten together again?

Remember to thumb this post if you liked it to help more people discover it!
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Wed Sep 1, 2021 10:28 am
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July 2021 - Distracted by prototyping

Georg Wolgast
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Microbadge: Waluigi fanMicrobadge: I love old-school German-style gamesMicrobadge: I like learning games more than winning them!Microbadge: I keep my ratings currentMicrobadge: Blogger
Here is a short introduction for the blog and myself. These are my impressions of the games I played last month. First an overview using the excellent GCL-tool.

This month I haven't been playing a lot of published games as I've been busy playtesting my game Haute Garbage for this design contest. I've pushed it in front of many of our friends and it's been very well received, which has been great!

Board Game: RoboRally
Board Game: The Lady and the Tiger
Board Game: Codenames: Duet
Board Game: Arena: For the Gods!
Board Game: Castello Methoni
Board Game: Nova Luna
Board Game: Ilôs
Board Game: Scorpius Freighter
Board Game: Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar
Board Game: KLASK
Board Game: TransAmerica
Board Game: Obsession


 9.5   Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar (6 all-time)
It's a quintessential worker placement game. It's got everything you expect: feeding workers, different resource cubes, technology and tracks! The difference here is that it uses all the elements at an extremely high caliber and with the best gimmick in any board game ever.

Pros:
The game is balanced on a knife-edge. I'm happy in most games when picking between 2 engaging options on my turn, but this game will usually make me pick between 3-5! Despite that, the design feels focused because there's not a lot of ways to get points so you still don't necessarily feel overwhelmed or lost.

The gears are so much more than a gimmick. They're a wonderfully thematic connection to the setting, a solid showpiece that makes any bystander curious and an excellent mechanism. I love the way time works here, it's so much smoother and more engaging than e.g. Teotihuacan: City of Gods or Village.

I love the decision-space that opens up from either placing or pulling any number of workers each turn. The different gears that award different things, the blue gear that rewards you for investing early and being patient means that the game is very readable and simple to teach despite all the different options. The balance that having high tempo will always come a a high corn-price means that there's no obvious moves.

I also love the little tricks, like leap-frogging over other players to save time at the cost of food, angering the gods to burn the resources another player was waiting for or the rare but always looming threat of someone double-ticking the time.

Cons:
The temple tracks are a bit old-school, these days they would probably have bonuses on every step instead of every 2-3 steps. So sometimes they can feel like a bit of a grind, but I think it's worth it to not clutter everything with symbols and they're obviously well-balanced.

I don't generally like when there's an action to get new workers in WP-games, it seems like an obvious strategy. This game somewhat mitigates it by not having traditional rounds, so you don't necessarily get more actions with more workers if you can't pay for the privilege.

The resource cubes are a bit boring I guess, but they're also clearly differentiated from other types of resources so it helps a lot with clarity.

There's not much that drives you to different strategies each game, your starting conditions will differ but you can pursue the same strategy every time if you want to. Sure you want to play for the monuments in some way, but they're not vital to win and many are quite flexible.

 9.0   Codenames: Duet x4 (29 all-time)
I think this is a straight improvement on regular Codenames, which I already really like.

Pros:[b]
The best part of Codenames is giving clues and this makes everyone be able to be the spymaster. It's also more satisfying to cooperate and win against the game rather than another team.

The difficulty also forces taking risks, in the original you only had to keep ahead of the other team, sometimes rewarding careful, boring plays. To balance this, there are 3 assassins, which is another improvement since sometimes in the original, the assassin was really easy to play around, but in Duet there's always at least 1 assassin that's annoying.

Finally, the fact that each codex card has specific colour matching rules on the other side just makes the game that much more strategic.

[b]Cons:[b]
You kind of have to be in the right mood for this. It's quite thinky and it can be frustrating if it goes badly, so you have to be ready for that.

 [b]8.0
   KLASK x2 (4 all-time)
It's just a lot of fun. I already like air hockey and this is like an at-home version of that.

Pros:
The magnets work surprisingly well, I was worried that controlling your piece via magnets would lose much needed tactility, but everything feels good.

The extra point mechanisms are super smart and allow for risk/reward plays and zoning, things that I never would have thought was needed in air hockey but really elevate the play.

The game plays fast and is compelling to keep playing again.

Cons:
The only downsides are the size of the box and the flight risk of the components. It's also fast enough that it won't leave a huge impact.

In summary, I'm hard pressed to say if KLASK or Crokinole is my favorite dexterity game. KLASK is a lot more engaging but also stressful and less impactful, whereas Crokinole has an air of sophistication with all the good and bad that comes with that.

 8.0   Scorpius Freighter x2 NEW!
Shared rondels as a fast and satisfying contract fulfilment game.

Pros:
I really love Elysium by the same design team for its high decision-density and dickish interaction. This has a similar feel in that while each decision is simple in itself (pick one of 6 available actions and do it), being efficient with your actions and making sure to leave yourself flexible in the future is quite difficult.

I love games that pull me between opportunistic, efficient actions and pursuing a larger strategic goal and the shared rondels does this beautifully. Maybe I don't need to upgrade all of my crew but you did leave me the option to get a great discount...

I also love rondels because they limit options in a really interesting way and this one is quite unique if for no other reason than the fact that the rondels are shared. This means that every move you make changes what your opponents can do and makes the game much more tactical, since you can't really set up to be in a good position to take a specific action next turn.

This also works as a great timer for the end of the game because if people collectively spend too much time building an engine, they leave themselves open to someone rushing the game by the simple virtue of the "engine building" rondel getting full.

The different crews are a fun way to add player powers and provide guidance, and on first blush they don't seem terribly imbalanced.

Cons:
While the shared rondel is an interesting novelty, I still prefer having more control as I would only controlling my own pieces. It's entirely possible to not be able to even do an action on your turn if the players before you conspire to limit your options and while part of the tactics of the game is leaving yourself flexible, it's still not a very fun occurrence.

The crew are fun but they also kind of force you into a specific strategy. It seems very difficult to win the game without the points boost from the one crew you'll have that awards a specific strategy with points, so you'll kind of have to do that.

The shared rondel also opens up for turn order issues, which is one of my most hated issues in a game. Basically if the player before you goes in on a specific strategy, you may be forced to stay away from it because that player will always the relevant action spots on the turn before you and leave you without any good options for actions. This is especially noticeable in the dichotomy of storage vs upgrades, where both the actions of getting new tiles and activating the specific type of tiles are always next to each other on their respective rondels. As moving short distances is almost always best, if the player before you in turn order is getting a lot of upgrades, you will be much better off investing in storage and vice versa. This reduces your options based on what your opponents do and in combination with the crew kind of forcing your strategy, you could be at a disadvantage directly from set-up.

The core gameplay loop is a bit dry. You get cubes and then turn them in for points. The crew and upgrades break that pattern and make the game come alive, but depending on your strategy you may not engage with these parts of the game much. If all crew members gave at least some points the more interesting (and expensive) ones would probably be used more, making the game more interesting. As it stands, I've rarely found it useful to invest a minimum of ~3 points worth of cubes as well as an action into a special ability that may let me get a better turn later. I already sacrificed a turn for that, so it needs to do a lot to compensate for it.

 8.0   TransAmerica x2 NEW!
If I hadn't already been such a big fan of Pioneers, I would have called this a Ticket to Ride-killer (even though TA is older than TtR).

Pros:
This packs a lot of game into very few rules and a short playtime.

I want to like Cube Rail games but just get frustrated by how their shared incentives interact with group-think to sometimes mean that you can't do anything to advance the game in a way that helps you more than someone else. This game strips out all the stuff I don't usually like in Cube Rail games (shares, auctions, group-think) but keeps the parts I like, i.e. the simple rules and passive-aggressive positive player interaction.

I love how the game is solely focused on action efficiency, so the shared incentive part of the game is about how long you can wait to make your move, hoping someone else will make it for you. This means that every move you make will almost always help you, it's just all about how much you help other people in the meantime.

The Vexation expansion is my favorite type of expansion. It adds barely any rules or components, integrates wonderfully, and makes the game different, but not necessarily better or worse. It definitely ups the meanness of the game and opens up for some creative plays, but it also takes away some of that angst that comes from you feeling forced to help someone else. So I'll use it maybe half the time and love it for that, it just adds some variety to the game!

Cons:
There's some randomness with the card draws, where some sets are just easier than other.

The first player has a slight advantage and most games won't last long enough for everyone to be first.

Placing your start can be quite impactful, but it's really hard to know what to do when you're new so it slows down the start of the game for little gain, since it's not quite impactful enough to really think hard about.

You can get screwed over, especially when using Vexation, so that a single player gets accidentally blocked more than anyone else. This will usually end the game though, so it's not like it will be a slog to sit through the rest of the game for that player, but it's still not fun.

 7.5   Ilôs NEW!
Fast, pretty and engaging.

Pros:
I always like using cards as payment because you get too see a lot of cards to make more informed and less random choices.

I like the way that cards drive your engine and you can quite easily invest in drawing more to do more each turn, but this doesn't award any points.

The scoring in the game works very well. I like how, apart from one interesting difference, all resources must be earned from production over time, making early risks and investments vital to success.

The market manipulation also works well in the way it forces interaction with shared incentives and competition for the limited manipulations.

The game looks absolutely gorgeous.

The game plays super-fast and ends just when you get going, which is a good thing given the production-based economy, so those early sacrifices really make an impact.

Cons:
I'm not a fan of the pirates. Not because they're annoying or mean, but because they are way too much of a sacrifice to make. I feel like it's a mistake to not award card income for pirate ships, as it means a big opportunity loss just to be annoying to other players. I may try it as a house rule next time.

EDIT: I have now read the forums for the game and apparently it's a misprint in the first edition rules that pirates don't award card income.

While you draw many cards in the game, you can't always keep cards between rounds so there's still some luck of the draw for actually drawing what you need the turn you need it.

 7.5   Nova Luna (3 all-time)
I like it better than Patchwork, but less than Azul.

Pros:
It's a very interesting puzzle that is engaging and challenging to work through. The rest of the game has simple rules that get out of the way to let you focus on the puzzle in front of you. It plays fast and has a simple victory condition. The game knows what it wants to do and it does it well.

It has a surprising amount of player interaction because of turn order manipulation and forcing your opponents to pick up stuff you don't want.

Cons:
As far as similar games, I prefer Azul as another fast abstract puzzle game because Azul has a simpler puzzle, so you can more easily keep track of what other players are doing and play around that.

So, the big question is: Do you have room for both Azul and Nova Luna? Because they're both excellent, but I'm not sure how often I'd pick this over Azul.

 7.0   Obsession NEW!
I've only played this solo on the Windows app, so take this rating with a grain of salt.

Pros:
The game oozes with theme and realizes its setting very well. I especially love the rule that you have to announce any card you draw to the table, I find any game that makes me read its flavour text - even if it's enforced by a rule - makes me appreciate the setting (and thereby the game) way more.

I like the core gameplay loop very engaging, the puzzle of how to time the use of your servants and trying to flip all your tiles while still getting the most of all effects is great fun.

The tile flipping is especially smart, because it makes it more of a decision to buy new tiles (sure it's cheap, but it will cost you points until you use it and you already have a few unflipped ones and courtship is coming up and what if that one point will cost you the courtship and there's not a lot of turns left...) and also keeps some effects in balance and forces you to be relatively balanced with what you do.

I like the prestige limit, it's a great source of tension that makes you take opportunistic and suboptimal moves to open up your options for later. It also gives the game an arc that feels satisfying as you get to play increasingly better stuff.

I haven't played the physical version but it looks great in pictures. It's very obvious that this game has been a labour of love from the designer/publisher Dan Hallagan, from the many small quality-of-life production choices to the best costumer service in the industry.

Cons:
I realise I've only played it against a computer, but I also think that's the best way to play this because it commits a sin that I sometimes feel only I consider a sin: There's not a lot of player interaction, but you have quite complex turns. I think a game can be good with either of these "issues," but together they amply each other in a way I really dislike because it means you sit around a lot doing nothing without even being able to fully follow what other players are doing on their turns.

The setting may completely nullify this issue for many people, including me, as I think I'd have a lot of fun listening to my friends describing the events they put on with horrible British accents, but as I haven't played the physical game I can't really tell.

The computer has saved me from another issue though, which is that the game seems fiddly as hell. There's a lot of mini-steps with shuffling around meeples, markers and tiles and since most of this happens on your personal player board it's likely someone will forget something without anyone noticing.

The game has a lot of sources of randomness, from random tiles on offer combined with goals that want you to find specific stuff to the random guests that beyond fitting your game plan or not can also award anything from -3 to 5(?) points in the end. There are variants to modify the amount of randomness and you still have a lot of control so I don't mind it, but it might still put some people off.

 6.5   Castello Methoni NEW!
Note that this rating is based on a single 3-player game.

Pros:
The game plays very fast without feeling like a small game.

The game looks beautiful, I love the plastic pieces and the board manages to be vibrant despite mainly being a grid. As you play, the board will grow in an organic manner that is satisfying.

The rules are simple and motivate you to make enticing areas that an opponent wants to buy off you so you can invest in something else, which is a very interesting kind of interaction.

The closed economy is interesting and allows for some fun plays, like emptying the bank before someone gets their income or hoarding money to prevent people from annexing your domains.

The cards limit your options in a way that constantly challenges you and means that you can take risks, hoping that opponents don't have a specific card...

Cons:
But being that opponent not being able to do what you need to because of your hand can be very frustrating.

Putting a cube of an opponent on your turn allows for some interesting play to create villas in your new area, but if you can't specifically do that it feels quite arbitrary and annoying when you keep getting overlooked.

I also think the bonus terrain cards feel arbitrary. They may break ties when deciding where to build, but it seems impossible to plan to end the game with a specific domain. This means that some will just get a few more lucky points than others, and it adds rules without really adding any meaningful decisions to the game.

My biggest issue however, is that I worry the game has a runaway leader problem. It's possible to create a domain big enough for no-one to be able to buy it from you and then you can spend the rest of the game extending it until it's more valuable than the entire bank of the game. Sure this requires both luck in the necessary cards, timing of when to be able to get away with it without someone being able to buy you out and a sizeable money reserve, but it's not unreasonable to e.g. be able to buy a big area from a player that just spent all their money to buy it and combine it with another of your domains.

I think some of these issues will be helped by a larger player count, helping keep players in check and making the cube placement more limited. But more players may make the game last longer and make it feel more chaotic, so we'll see.

 6.5   RoboRally NEW!
It's a silly and fun game that is a bit too slow to be really excellent.

Pros:
The boards and your annoying hand do a great job of challenging you to think differently and make lemonade out of lemons.

The other players will also throw a wrench into your plans, even with a lower player count which I was worried about!

The simple fact is that mistakes are funny and the game does a good job of letting you make mistakes both due to your own stupidity and the actions of your opponents.

It's rare to have games that play up to 8 and while it may be too chaotic and slow at that player count, it's nice to have the option.

The robot names and personality are great and shows that thought and care has been put into the game...

Cons:
Though the components aren't great. The robots are unpainted in this edition, the boards are paper thin and the art just isn't very vibrant or interesting.

Also, it has player elimination. You can get really screwed over in this game and it has a bit of a tendency to kick you when you're down. You sort of need to be okay with that going into the game and just appreciate the chaos of it all.

The game can be very long and it's easy to make mistakes with which card triggers first, leading to re-dos and further time. Again this is mitigated by knowing it going in and choosing a track of suitable length.

 4.0   Arena: For the Gods! NEW!
It's dumb fun that is a bit too clever for its own sake.

Pros:
There's a lot of variability in here with the different equipment and arenas and I like that there's multiple modes of play.

The production is gorgeous, I love the 3D-effect of the towers and the art is vibrant and fun. The small touch of including a bowl for the life cubes is great.

You have just the right amount of control over the dice to make it interesting.

Cons:
Then big issue is that the winner is whoever took the least damage, meaning that the best strategy is to just run away. I feel like a simple house-rule that your score is your life + all damage dealt would improve this game a lot.

The equipment is a big part of the game in that they determine what you can actually do. This is a problem because some is just much better than others. This is a problem not because of balance, because the other players can just gang up on whoever has the best stuff, but because whoever has the best equipment will have the most fun. They will have more options on their turns and feel more powerful, even if they won't actually win.

The equipment is gotten either through pre-sets, which has the benefit of being fast but has inherent balance problems, or through blind auctions. The auctions are interesting, specifically because some equipment is worth spending a lot for, but it's also slow and the blind bids can be frustrating - especially in the case of a tie.

In summary, the game feels like less than the sum of its parts. It has these interesting card effects and cool components, but the gameplay is more focused on running away instead of playing and having fun. The game also incentivizes you to have not get the cool equipment and interesting synergies, since otherwise you'll start the game at a disadvantage in life just to paint a target on your back. So the way to win is to not have fun.

 3.0   The Lady and the Tiger NEW!
I've only played the 'Doors' game so that's the one I'm rating.

Pros:
The art is absolutely gorgeous!

Cons:
The only thing you can do as the Collector is to try to bluff or not. The only thing you can do as a Guesser is to call a bluff or not. The time limit means that there's not much room to bluff so you either go for it or not.

The only choice is how specific you want to be in your guess, which is interesting but not enough when compared to other bluffing games.

Play of the Month
Board Game: Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar

The real answer to this would be one of the many great playtesting sessions I've had, but that felt kind of cheap so I'll just go with Tzolk'in.

I love playing a game I haven't for a relatively long time and being reminded why I love it so much. This was recently pushed out of my top 10, but this play makes me rethink that decision. It felt like an obvious cut at the time because it doesn't really do anything unique, but damn if it isn't just too good to cut despite that.

As an aside, my wife really wants to paint the gears and I really want her to as well, so hopefully that will be her next painting project after she's done with Tidal Blades: Heroes of the Reef.

Discussion points:
Have you ever designed a game? How did you find the playtesting process?
Have you painted your Tzolk'in gears?

Remember to thumb this post if you liked it to help more people discover it!
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Sun Aug 1, 2021 2:53 pm
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Board Gaming Retrospective

Georg Wolgast
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Today I got my 5 year veteran microbadge: Microbadge: 5 Year Geek Veteran

That got me thinking about getting started in the hobby and BGG's role in it. A summary of my history with board gaming is as follows:

I played a lot of mainstream board games and classic card games growing up. I've just always liked playing games I guess? I remember being amazed by Carcassonne and Blokus when I first tried them, not knowing anything about modern designer board games.

When I started at Uni in 2012 there was a board game club that met every Wednesday and I started going semi-regularly. The people there were pretty hardcore, I remember being overwhelmed by Imperial and Chicago Express. I played a lot of Dominion, Puzzle Strike: Third Edition, Pandemic and Galaxy Trucker and loved them.

I particularly remember seeing Race for the Galaxy being played a lot, but was never invited to play. I guess they didn't think I was experienced enough to understand it, to my great frustration. I was very drawn to the game, I particularly liked all the detailed and colorful symbols on the cards and the way players were playing more and more cards down in front of them as the game went on.

The group kind of died down in 2013, with many of the regular members graduating and moving away. In 2014, I made a push to revitalize the group and succeeded, it's still going strong today. In those early revitalizing days, I took it upon myself to learn the rules for that card game with the colorful iconography I never got to play before. Perhaps because of those festering frustrations, I played RftG every Wednesday and introduced it to anyone willing to learn it. It quickly became my favorite game, and a staple of the club.

In late 2015 I met my now-wife and she introduced me to the concept of actually owning your own games. Previously I had always just played whatever was available at the club, but she owned Shadows over Camelot, Pandemic, Talisman: Revised 4th Edition, Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries, and Betrayal at House on the Hill and we had a lot of fun inviting friends over and playing them on weekends. Playing on non-Wednesdays - what?!

In early 2016 I got a health condition and spent a lot of time in the hospital on my tablet. Somehow I stumbled onto Shut Up & Sit Down and their top 50 list from 2015. Needing something to do at the hospital, I ended up buying a lot of the games on that top 50 list and playing them. I have fond memories of playing Arctic Scavengers, Tokaido, and 7 Wonders Duel at the hospital. I consider that the true start of my board gaming hobby - I quickly fell down the rabbit-hole and found the Dice Tower, Rahdo etc.

In that top 50 list from SUSD, they made some one-off remarks about the BGG top 100. I remember being interested in the site and googling the "BGG top 100" a few times when I was at my FLGS wondering what to get, but not really knowing how to navigate it, e.g. not finding the top 100 without Google.

I remember lurking and not making an account until wanting to download a rulebook, which I guess was 5 years ago. There's a lot of prejudice against BGG by people in the hobby. BGG only likes heavy or new games, people and the site are not welcoming and so on.

But I want to take this moment to highlight the many positives BGG brings to the hobby. I think board gaming is the only hobby I know of with such an absolute central point of interest and focus. We have all announcements, collection management, trading, reviews, rules, user-submitted files, videos, podcasts, blogs, and discussions all in one place; with publishers, designers, and gamers all interacting and helping each other.

I don't think I can understate the importance of this: If I have a rules query I know where I can ask it and chances are that the designers themselves will answer it!

This is a niche hobby with a relatively small community, but by the fact that almost the entire hobby is in one place, it can still feel big and make the most of its size!

So let me take this moment to say "Thank you!" to BGG, for collecting us all in this one place, to share the hobby we love with each other!
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Thu Jul 29, 2021 12:33 pm
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June 2021 - Great Games, Old and New!

Georg Wolgast
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Microbadge: Waluigi fanMicrobadge: I love old-school German-style gamesMicrobadge: I like learning games more than winning them!Microbadge: I keep my ratings currentMicrobadge: Blogger
Here is a short introduction for the blog and myself. These are my impressions of the games I played last month. First an overview using the excellent GCL-tool.

This month had plays of some of my favorite games and discoveries of new, amazing games. We played Architects of the West Kingdom 3 times in a week, which is pretty much unheard of. This means that not only did I like it, but my wife and game group loved it!

Board Game: Race for the Galaxy
Board Game: Race for the Galaxy: Alien Artifacts
Board Game: Spirit Island
Board Game: Shamans
Board Game: Rail Pass
Board Game: Walnut Grove
Board Game: MicroMacro: Crime City
Board Game: Mia
Board Game: Clank!: A Deck-Building Adventure
Board Game: Clank!: Sunken Treasures
Board Game: Clank!: Adventuring Party
Board Game: Concordia
Board Game: Architects of the West Kingdom
Board Game: Architects of the West Kingdom: Age of Artisans
Board Game: Magic Money
Board Game: Hamburgum



 10.   Race for the Galaxy x2 (61 all-time)
We played this without the orb this time and didn't regret it.

This game is perfect.

Pros:
It's my favorite game, and I suspect it always will be. It's just so packed with interesting decisions in such a short playtime with plenty of variety and interaction while not being mean or random. It's unique, absolutely brilliant and maybe one of very few perfect games. The cards as currency is a great conceit and makes the whole game feel very smart and streamlined.

The ratio of interesting decision-making to playtime is the highest of any game I've ever played, which makes it such a force to be reckoned with. Why play Terraforming Mars or Wingspan when I could play this in an eighth of the time and make more interesting decisions?

It has simple but deep tableau building with cards with multiple, interesting effects. I love that not only does each card have different uses as both a currency or its printed effect, but the printed effects can fit into your engine in a multitude of different ways because of how much utility is packed into a single card. Maybe you care about the color of goods it produces, maybe it allows you to leech off of a phase your opponent will call often or maybe it's just worth the most points and you know you'll fill your hand later in the round.

I think it's one of the most interactive games I've played where you can only affect each other in a positive way. The phase system works really well and is one of my favorite mechanisms in any game. The bluffing and double-thinking is such a subtle but strong interaction point that newer players don't realize even exists, but is a big part of why experience players will almost always crush a newer player. If you can play around what your opponent(s) have played, you have a huge advantage and it's all about reading your opponents and understanding their intentions based on their open board state.

The game scales excellently. The 2PA variant is my favorite version and the most strategic, but I like all player counts and I appreciate that they all feel differently. Sure 6 players is pretty chaotic, but it's still a fun game that just has a bit more of a lighthearted feel.

Cons:
A lot of people complain about iconography, but I think that's more of a meme than actual fact. It's a bit hard to teach, but I think that's more because the decision space is so large. Your tableau can become quite complex quite quickly and the iconography is in fact the only reason this works so well, with poorer iconography the game would be unplayable. The fact that you have 2 hands and both need to be hidden at all times also makes the game hard to teach, since many players don't want to ask about hidden information. The game is best after you've played it more than a dozen times and that is a hard sell these days, but it's just so worth it.

From a thread on this:
Quote:
The icons of RftG being an impediment to learning it is propagated mostly by its status as a meme in the community. If you introduce the game to someone that hasn't been on BGG and heard the decries of the "iconography hell" they won't have any trouble learning the 8 or so icons of the base game with the help of the excellent player aid. This isn't some argument I'm pulling out of a hat either, I've taught this game to dozens of relatively novice gamers and iconography was never where they stumbled.

(As an aside, most instead stumbled getting an economy going and exhaust their resources and end up exploring throughout the mid-game. I can totally understand complaints relating to the difficulty of learning to play well, but that's not what's being discussed here.)

I think a lot of people are influenced by e.g. the SUSD review of RftG, where they, perhaps unintentionally, showed a bunch of admittedly very intimidating icons that were all from expansions. I found most of those difficult to learn as well, but I expect a higher learning curve from the third expansion so the point is moot and honestly quite misleading.
A weird problem I have with this game is that it's so skill-intensive. Yes, you can get a god-draw that ends a game quickly without the other players having a chance, but I don't think that's an issue for such a fast game. Rather, the extremely large amount of cards you see compared to how many you play in a single game means that luck of the draw is rarely a game-deciding factor. The reason this is a problem for me is that the game is best with players of equal skill. Many people just won't have fun playing a game they know they're going to lose even before it starts. It's one of the reasons I don't like to play chess, the big difference here being play time.

The other, more straightforward, problem I have with this game is that the setup is a bit too long and cumbersome, especially the part about shuffling in the start worlds. Other games in this series, like Roll for the Galaxy and New Frontiers have separate start worlds that don't get shuffled and that would have been a nice change in the second edition.

 10.   Race for the Galaxy: Alien Artifacts x2 (12 all-time)
It's pretty much just more cards, you can safely ignore the orb module.

Pros:
I love it for what it is: more cards to keep experienced players interested, but without any added mechanisms and complexity so that it's still possible to play with new players.

I use it frequently with mixed group of new and experienced players and it fulfills its purpose perfectly!

I also frequently play it with more experienced players because the core RftG is still just as good or better than the other expansion arcs and this does the least to mess with it. More cards will never disappoint me after hundreds of plays, but I'm still impressed by how many interesting interactions Tom Lehmann was able to put into this expansion without adding extra rules.

Cons:
The orb module isn't great. I don't think it's bad, it certainly makes the explore phase more interesting, but it adds quite a lot of time to a game where its speed is one of its greatest strengths.

It's also quite random. I love how RftG has very little luck despite being a card game with random draws because of its economy and the card effects. This is the only part of RftG where I can confidently say that luck is likely to determine a winner. The artifacts are simply too varied in their scoring and effect, you can either get something completely useless and even pointless or get 6-8 points.

There are maybe 5 or so cards that interact with the orb module. I like that this means that they're not in your face when trying to play without it because it makes it easier to play this with new players, but it's still a bit annoying whenever those cards do show up for a new player and they're confused and maybe afraid to ask. There's also the issue that the cards are still interesting when not playing with the orb, so when actually playing with the orb they're almost too good and they're also very rare, so they can greatly swing the relevance of the orb module and the potential winner.

 9.5   Spirit Island (8 all-time)
After a rough play of this game last month with 2 new players with the expansion, my wife wanted to play this without the expansion and just the 2 of us to see why she even liked it in the first place. It turned out that we really just don't like the expansion, I still love the game, though my wife is reticent to forgive that easily.

I think Spirit Island is really special. It's big and complex and unique and one of few coop games that feel like it really fights back. While it's quite rules heavy, I feel like not a single rule is wasted because it all feeds into interesting and tough decisions every turn. There's also some true cooperation required here, everyone has their own powers and resources to deal with, but the board and events are very much shared.

Pros:
The euro-inspired mechanisms are just solid, light engine building by spreading your influence, deterministic combat, hand and resource management and hand building. I especially adore the card flowing system that means that you can always plan at least 2 turns ahead and still allows for an unpredictable enemy that will create a slightly different puzzle every time.

I like the asymmetry of the different and plentiful spirits. Even after 2 expansions and 2 promos worth of spirits, there's still no 2 spirits that feel very similar to play. Sure there are more than one defensive spirits for example, but the difference between them will become apparent.

I love everything about the setting. All of the spirits are very thematic to play and have close connections between theme and mechanisms. It's great to finally subvert the colonialist tendencies of the board game industry and the production is excellent.

The pacing of the game is great, you feel weak in the beginning and the game seems impossible, but at the end you will feel powerful and unstoppable.

There's a great push and pull between dealing with current threats quickly and planning for upcoming threats slowly and the card system works well into that.

I really like that there's very little and very manageable randomness in the game, especially without the event deck introduced in the expansions. It may seem like this would make the game boring and "solved," but there's just enough there to always be exciting, it's just that you can plan a bit more long term than many other coops, which is great given its weight and playtime.

There's also a ridiculous amount of customization possible, between adversaries, scenarios, thematic map and different spirits. This is great for making the game infinitely replayable, but more than that it means that you can get exactly the kind of challenge that you want.

Cons:
There's not really anything here to prevent alpha players. There's very little luck, especially without any expansions, so players may insist that there's a "correct" play that should be made. This is mitigated somewhat by semi-hidden hands and high asymmetry and complexity, but it's there.

Winning the game is sometimes not very satisfying. Either a win just sneaks up on you and doesn't feel earned, or you reach a turning point where you're starting to wrestle back control over the board and don't feel very threatened but have to still go through the motions of a few turns until you actually reach a win condition.

This is quite minor though, because the first part will go away with experience and the second part is helped by increasing the difficulty. Actually, since losing is always tense and exciting, increasing the difficulty is never a bad idea.

 9.5   Concordia (9 all-time)
The rules are simple, the interaction is passive and the whole thing plays fast and smooth.

Pros:
The card system is just brilliant. I love rondels and this game is a rare detraction from rondel-master Mac Gerdts, but a welcome one. The simple quirk of using cards for both in-game actions and end-game points is easy to teach but incredibly engaging and gives depth to each card purchase action.

The limited options presented to you by your hand means that the game move along quite quickly. I also always like when seemingly open-ended games have very focused scoring, which definitely fits this game.

The board play is more than just something to do with your cards to make the card system work. There's shared incentives, resource management and competition to get to places first, everything I want in a eurogame!

The multiplication of colony costs means that there's some real stakes for getting there first. The rising coin reward for producing means that there's some push-your-luck in how long you dare to wait until you take it. The sliding card market means that you may want to hold off getting the cards you want because you'll really help someone else getting the cards they want for cheaper. The region production is amazing and forces players to interact.

There are simply so many timing concerns that makes it impossible to play optimally and makes each play feel differently.

I especially like the diplomat card, it's a fascinating decision of when to use it. You'll want to use it eventually and it can potentially be a copy of the best card in someone else's hand, but you can't necessarily control when that card will be played so do you play inefficiently to make sure you're ready for that opportunity or just hope they'll hand you it when you're ready enough? This whole interaction is precisely as fun for the people you're targeting, thinking about whether they should play a card that's good for them even though it will also be good you someone else.

I also really like the expansions, the team play is especially interesting, though it does add a lot of play time. It's rare for team-based eurogames and this does it very well. All of the shared incentives and blocking mechanisms are given an entirely different light when playing in teams and it really shows how well-tuned they are that they still work great!

Cons:
It’s trading in the Mediterranean! The setting is only window dressing, and it’s a trite, boring one. The setting works, and is well integrated, but could have been anything. The setting is implemented using the card actions, but there’s nothing that roots the mechanisms to its setting. You’re Romans sending out architects to create colonies and using senators and consuls to influence and bribe important people to work for you. Your prefects determine which colonies are allowed to produce resources, your diplomats copy what everyone else has done and sometimes you call everyone back to a tribune. It works, it just doesn’t click and you don’t feel the setting.

I really don’t like the bland, washed out art in the game. You spend a lot of time looking at your cards and there's not many redeeming features there. Fair's fair, the card quality is good and the graphical design does a good job of at least highlighting the scoring. The wooden pieces are also great, but the board is boring though functional.

The set-up has random placement of the cities that will change what resources are available and the randomized cities will influence the first few turns and perhaps impact the value of a specific Minerva card, but otherwise not make a noticeable impact on the game. Some regions may be “better” than others which will lead people to colonize there, but this will always be the case no matter the result of the set-up.

The stacked deck also works well for balance, but lowers variability of the game. The result is that while the set-up variety impacts the beginning of the game, eventually the game settles into a groove with certain standard strategies. The big benefit here is that there's a plethora of expansions available to change things up, but that's not the best solution either.

The way blocking roads works in the game is a bit annoying. You can theoretically predict where your opponents want to go and go there to block them, but most of the time it happens accidentally and that isn't rewarding for the playing doing the blocking and frustrating for the player being blocked.

Another problem is that at least in my group, there’s a standard opening: Architect followed by a round of Diplomat. It’s just one turn and at least by turn 3 strategies start to divide, but it’s still a weird thing to have to teach new players and makes the first player’s options for the early game significantly different from the rest of the players.


 9.0   Hamburgum NEW!
Don't judge a game by its cover!

Pros:
I never expected to put the production in this column, but this game is gorgeous*! Sure, the art is drab and that cover is legendary, but this game comes with actual bells and the clay resource is made from clay! :O The wooden components are also much, much bigger and more luxurious than necessary.

I love rondel games and this is a great one. It's hard not to compare it with Navegador so let's start out there: This game is completely deterministic, unlike Navegador, and has a more volatile market to make up for it. Both games let you set out your own scoring criteria, which I love, but this adds a timing aspect to it that is very interesting. Both games are excellent in their own ways and I need to play both more to know which I prefer.

I think the market and boats do a great job balancing supply and demand in a simple way, that also has quite a bit of player interaction.

I like that most actions let you do however much you can afford. It forces a balance between timing, action efficiency and resource efficiency. It's very simple but very engaging choosing how many resources to buy at once or whether it's worth the action to just buy 1 building or church section.

Cons:
Those clay bricks are really cool, but they also started the trend of destroying components while playing, 8 years before Risk: Legacy.

The map is a bit confusing in that regions are important, sometimes, and placement rules become irrelevant quite quickly, usually because you've built a church but also because the board gets full and you have plenty of adjacencies.

It can be hard for new players to get a sense of direction since the game forces you to make your own goals, which is hard to do on your first play.

The game can grind to a halt at the end if the last donation tile isn't very exciting. It's probably always worth it due to the bonus points, but the opportunity cost may still ensure that people take a few extra turns building buildings and getting resources instead of ending the game, which isn't very satisfying.

*Gorgeous except for the board. But it's readable at least, which can't be said for the Antwerpia board.

 9.0   Rail Pass x6 (15 all-time)
I can't really explain it, but it's just so much fun!

Pros
The simple tactile pleasure of pushing toy trains around and shouting "Toot toot!" is joyful. It's super fast, only 10 minutes, it's pretty and compact. The game is challenging and interesting and the simple ways to increase difficulty works...

Cons
But I worry that we may become too good at this game. I guess we can always push the time down, but at a certain point it gets a bit ridiculous. It's also more fun in the beginning, when you make more mistakes.

 9.0   Shamans x2 (3 all-time)
It's one of my favorite traitor games, don't let it fly under your radar!

Pros:
Let's get the obvious out of the way first: This game is absolutely gorgeous! I really love the art and the production is top-notch, I especially love the UV-coated box, board and role cards.

It's a great core concept for a game, mixing trick-taking and social deduction. It works well because you can always blame your shady plays on a bad hand, but there's still enough agency to make big plays when needed.

I love the different tokens and powers, they're simple and few enough to be easy to teach and understand but just complex and varied enough to create some really memorable moments. For example, when a Shadow accidentally reveals themselves right when another player is about to kill someone else or when a Shaman tanks the game and switches roles with a Shadow at the very last moment.

It's extremely rare to find a traitor game that scales well, especially to low player counts, but this one definitely does! I think it's because of the semi-coop nature of the game, which works surprisingly well as well!

I also think it manages the rare feat of having a great balance between the different roles. It's slightly harder for the Shadow to win, especially if the Shamans cooperate, but there's plenty of incentives to play selfishly as a Shaman and a good trick-taking Shadow will be able to manipulate the game to their advantage. It's also balanced in that the Shadow(s) get more points and are fewer in number, so it should be harder for them.

Cons:
Sometimes you get a really hard-played hand in combination with your role, but this is part of trick-taking and the teams help balance this.

The big issue I guess is that there's player elimination, but I don't mind that when the rounds are this short (you'll only be out for at most 2 minutes and usually eliminating a player ends the round). I actually kind of like the player elimination here, because it gives weight to the decisions you make.

The issue is rather when e.g. it's in a Shaman player's interest to eliminate another Shaman because they'll win either way so they want to hurt the player in the lead. This just doesn't feel great when you're the target, because you've been helping your team to victory and get punished for it. It's part of the balance and strategy, sure, but it still isn't very fun.

 8.5   Architects of the West Kingdom x3 NEW!
This game pulls you into its setting and theme very well.

Pros:
There are plenty of games that punish you for taking efficient actions, one of the early progenitors being the corruption from the expansion for Lords of Waterdeep. But the virtue track of this game is the most visceral and interesting version of this I've played.

I think part of it is that the track is shared by all players on the main board, so your virtuosity is on constant display, making it easy to riff about. Another impact is that parts of the board is cut-off from you if you're high/low enough on the track and that the lower end is further incentivized by letting you skip on your taxes - giving some weight to the track beyond simply being a score modifier.

I like that there's pretty much only 3 ways to get point and most are concentrated on a single Guildhall action. I don't like point salads, I like it when Eurogames have a singular focus and the rest of the game works to highlight that focus.

The other big theme of this game is that larger groups of workers are more efficient, but also a bigger target for other players to take them hostage. It's a bit of a weird mechanism to add player interaction to the otherwise very simple optimization puzzle of just continually stacking workers, but again it incentivizes table talk more than any setting.

Cons:
That said, the grouping of workers is my biggest issue with the game. It reduces the decision space in that once you're invested in a spot, you might as well keep going there until someone stops you.

The kidnapping then opens up for degenerate play because some actions have diminishing returns. So if you want to capture workers as an income strategy, you may be forced between e.g. stopping someone from farming gold for points or getting more money from someone in the quarry that already has a virtually infinite supply of stone.

The other issue I have is that I don't think you have enough incentive to capture workers. You get money for it, but it takes at least 2 actions and someone can get their workers back from you before you have the chance to get paid for them. Those 2 actions could instead guarantee you 5 coins from the money spot that also makes you ready for 4 more coins the round after. So then you only do it to either get your own workers back or to deny other players, but again that denial is a bit degenerate and can feel random and unfun.

So then the real reason to capture workers has to be to get them into the prison so they're punished when the black market rotates. But this happens relatively rarely and may be out of your control, it's not like you can send workers to prison and trigger the black market at the same time. This means that all the other players have the chance to without cost get their workers back. That means player order becomes important, maybe you don't want to capture workers from the player next to you in turn order so they are incentivized to rotate the black market, but again that makes for weird and sub-optimal plays and breaks down if they just don't want to or can't trigger it.

I think both of my issues come down to the fact that there's a lot of mechanisms that revolve around moving workers from spots to prison and/or back to your supply, but I don't think the supply is limited enough given the length of the game to really make them sing.

With fewer workers you may be happy for someone to capture yours so you don't have to spend money and an action to do it yourself, maybe you already have stuff to do at the prison anyway. This also makes for more interesting decisions when capturing, where you may want to avoid capturing someone that's about to run out of workers. Finally, it makes an early push in the Guildhall more of a risk since you lose out on those workers permanently.

Finally, I'm not big on this type of Eurogames where players have a different number of turns. I really don't think those extra few coins you get for starting late compensates for potentially losing out on an entire turn.

 9.0   Architects of the West Kingdom: Age of Artisans x2 NEW!
It's a very minor expansion and is the better for it.

Pros:
I had a few minor issues with the base game and this fixes almost all of them. One was that you had too many workers, so the expansion lets you permanently lose more of them to the guildhall. Another was that money was slightly too useless and now you can get points for it with the adornments. A final issue was that you don't need to care about being captured, but you definitely care when your artisan gets captured!

I also like that everyone starts with an apprentice, but the real benefit is that it balances out turn order slightly.

A few things I didn't have a problem with but that I like once experienced is the addition of the apprentice reset and the player aid with hand and apprentice limits.

Cons:
I mean, the board additions don't look great and it's a bit fiddly to stack the workers in the guildhall. I don't think the new symbology is that great. But overall it seems like a simple patch to the core game that just makes it better.

 8.5   Mia (23 all-time)
I play this by passing around 5 poker dice (to make it easier to understand the hierarchy of sets and have more dice), some hidden in the cup and some not, and the next player has only one re-roll of any dice of their choice to try and beat the previous hand.

Pros:
It's interesting due to what you can choose to show with the cup, you can re-roll openly and thereby not be able to bluff or you can roll in the cup but then have to show all the dice you're not re-rolling. Great with many people as a lie can easily propagate as you don't have to show any dice unless a bluff is called.

It's a simple but engaging game that scales well and is always fun. The luck makes it easier to bluff big.

Cons:
It's more of an activity or drinking game than a game, we don't exactly keep score.

Sometimes a round just ends when someone gets a lucky roll, which isn't very satisfying.

 8.0   Clank!: A Deck-Building Adventure (13 all-time)
Very simple, quick and thematic deck builder. It's quickly become one of my favorite deck builders, it's just so fun to play! But if you want to get into this game, avoid this box and go with the legacy version instead!

Pros:
The clank mechanism works well both as a balancing mechanism for e.g. buying points and as a point of interaction between players. There is also a lot of interplay between players regarding scarcity of resources - secrets, artifacts and market items are all limited and can be vital for a specific strategy. There's also the question of when to rush back up.

All of this adds to a relatively fuzzy interaction between players where you can't really affect their choices but need to be wary of how they might affect yours, which works well for this type of game.

The core concept is simply an approachable and fun way to use deck building for push-your-luck dungeon delving. It means that you can sort of sacrifice building your deck to instead rush the game or compensate for a bad hand with risky plays.

Cons:
The big problem I have is that I sometimes find it incredibly frustrating to play. Someone will take the card you want before your turn, you'll buy cool synergies and never draw them together and you'll die next to the exit even though you have the least amount of clank. This frustration is part of what makes the game fun because it creates an easy going, interactive experience but it's not something I'm always in the mood for.

It's a 'dump your hand' kind of deck builder by design, which is fine but not the best. The Sunken Treasures expansion add discard cards that alleviates some of this.

I don't think the cards are particularly well-balanced, I usually play with the deck from the Legacy version of the game because it's much better balanced.

I think it's problematic that Explore is so much better than most market cards. It means that most early turn buys are scripted and leaves decks and strategies very samey in the beginning of the game. It's like they didn't learn from the silver strategy in Dominion.

The secret tomes are also far too efficient for a card that's always available, you can basically almost ignore the rest of the game and go for a "big skill strategy" of only buying explore and secret tomes. I have substituted the secret tomes in my copy with the 5 point ones from Clank Legacy, which strikes a better balance IMO.

It has player elimination. The game is smart enough to start an end-game timer as soon as someone is out of the game, but it's still a bit boring if players are slow their last few turns. You can also end up with 0 points, which is also not very fun IMO., though it's a necessary balancing to actually give weight to the push-your-luck.

 8.5   Clank!: Adventuring Party (2 all-time)
Very good, but could have been excellent!

Pros:
I really like the player decks and player powers. The characters and new art and meeples are cute and flavorful!

I really like the react cards and the arrive choices, even with fewer players it's just more fun when engaged on your opponents' turns. We had a lot more banter and bluffing about having relevant cards in hand.

Cons:
The player powers are not at all balanced. Their power will depend on the player count, where e.g. D'Allan is much better with more players than with fewer, but characters like the Monkeybot Prime are just plain OP. It's such a shame because the flavor of the characters is well done and I love the asymmetry, but it's not fun when the game is decided during set-up.

 8.5   Clank!: Sunken Treasures
The best expansion until Adventuring Party came out.

Pros:
The new cards are great, discard-mechanisms work great with Clank's core and the integration is seamless.

The new maps are interesting and add variety.

Cons:
I'm knocking down my score a bit for the worst sin a deck-builder expansion can make: The new cards have a different back color than the original cards!

It's a shame that the new cards are just added to the deck, it dilutes the market deck a bit. It's more of a problem when adding more expansions though and at least these cards aren't expansion-specific.

Compared to the other expansions, the new item added only works on the included board, which is a shame in terms of variety. However, it's a quite interesting item!

 7.5   Walnut Grove NEW!
It's a laser-focused farming euro.

Pros:
You do very few things in this game, you do 8 actions and place 9 tiles in total. Despite that you still have to feed and heat your workers a whopping 8 times, meaning that there is no room for inefficient actions.

The game plays fast but still has interesting decisions and a feeling of growth throughout the game.

I really like limitations in this type of games and this game is all about limitations. Some turns, since you do so little, you can spend your entire turn having to make sacrifices to stay afloat. Some will find that frustrating but to me that just makes those turns when you've been able to build up some leeway and get to use it to cash in on a big point gain that much more satisfying because you really have to work for it.

I think it would be hard for this to be someone's favorite game and I don't expect it to ever come back - it's just not special enough for that - but it does what it does very well and that's enough for me.

Cons:
I really like the idea of the rondel in this game, in that you can go anywhere but it may cost you a bit extra to go far. But I don't think the cost is impactful enough or the spaces different enough to make this a meaningful part of your decision, yet I don't think I would change it in any way because the cost is perfectly balanced for the tightness of the game. It's just an awkward fit for the game, despite being a great idea. I've only played it at 2 players and this part of the game doesn't scale, so maybe it would be more interesting with more players blocking you.

I'm not huge on tile-layers and while it's not the biggest part of the game, that kind of works against it because it feels very perfunctory. For example, you can't really invest in this part of the game, everyone gets the same amount of tiles. The fences can incentivize you to place sub-optimally to get more points, but they're not worth enough points to do that. The storage is also somewhat less important than I feel like it should be, so the tiles end up just being about the distribution of colors, which makes this part of the game lose all of its texture.

There is quite some randomness in the game. I think tiles are handled well in that you usually will e.g. draw 3, play 1, which reduces randomness. However, randomness from the year-tiles may be a bit annoying, e.g. you buy a blue worker and the next 3 turns the blue workers require extra food while other players get extra cubes for their yellow and white workers.

But the "worst" randomness is in the coins. They can be worth between 0-2 points and while the game does a great job at giving you other uses for 0-coins and lets you make more coins than you can store so you can filter for 2's, but the game can still be randomly decided by the coin distribution of a last turn sale.

 6.0   MicroMacro: Crime City x4 NEW!
It's definitely more of an activity than a game, but I don't really care about those things.

Pros:
It's relaxing. It reminds me of doing a jigsaw puzzle in that you basically just look for things and I also find those relaxing. I like that there's plenty of different cases in the one box, that way it's way more "replayable" than a single puzzle.

It's very clever and innovative. Even if it's not much of a game, it's still an innovation in the puzzle activity genre - it turns out multi-layered Where's (Wally, Waldo/insert your regional name here) is quite captivating!

Cons:
The introduction is a bit slow. I realize the target audience is probably less experienced than I, but I still found the first few cases very uninteresting.

There's not quite enough there. In fact, I would rather just lay a jigsaw puzzle. At least then you can make a pleasant picture and the pacing of a jigsaw puzzle is quite well-tuned: It's hardest in the middle and you always feel like you're making progress. In this game the difficulty spikes and you can get stuck, which harshes my cool, relaxing vibes.

I also feel like the gruesome theme is at odds with the family-friendly mechanisms. Not a big deal for me, but something to be aware of.

 5.5   Magic Money NEW!
Fun concept that works better than it should.

I should note that the core idea here is very similar to Q.E. but I haven't played that so I can't really comment on the differences.

Pros:
The one comparison I can make is that I have been wanting to get Q.E. for a while now, but this was less than half the price and has a more appealing setting.

I like the effects on the cards, there are some interesting stuff in there that can change up the game and the symbols mean that some creatures have different values for different players and that's always fun in auction games.

Cons:
This is mainly my own issue: I'm just not that into auctions and especially not blind bidding. They have their place and can be done interestingly but they're the entire game here so there's nothing else to feed into it.

I also think it's annoying that you pay for your bid no matter what in a blind auction game. It incentivizes people to bid 1 and it makes bidding less fun.

I hear about hyper-inflation and making crazy high bids, but I just don't see what the game does to incentivize it? I've ignored the opening bid limiting rule but if someone goes crazy everyone else might as well just let them lose. Sure you can't win without points but then you're forced to start the game with a bid for millions to prevent other players from getting points and then you just change the base line for bids.

The only pure auction game I like is For Sale and it plays the same number of players in slightly less time than this, so this pales in comparison.


Play of the Month
Board Game: Architects of the West Kingdom

This game made an amazing first impression by how thematic it was - we were jabbing at each other about our positions on the virtue track and generally chatting way more than usual! It's made me rethink my opinion on table talk: I think while some players will do it more than others, there are also games that promote it more than others and this is an excellent quality to have!

Playing it with different groups has also made me realize that some appreciate this quality more than others in my gaming group and especially my wife really loves it, so I'll try to seek out more games and opportunities for it!

Discussion points:
What game do you have that promotes table talk the most? Do you have any recommendations for me?

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Thu Jul 1, 2021 9:18 am
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