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January 2022 review - playing, reading, listening

Martin G
United Kingdom
Bristol
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I'm going to combine my regular new-to-me round-up with some other bits and pieces.

New-to-me games

Sheepy Time - 2 plays -  7 
First Published 2021
Board Game: Sheepy Time


Kind of a push-your-luck racing game where each round you're trying to go round the track more times than the other players do but if you don't 'bank' your score before the 'nightmare' loops the track once you lose everything. The racing is driven by playing simple card effects from a hand of two but it's spiced up by gradually adding special effects to different spots around the track as the game goes on. I really like the way you can set up combos on the board but other players can pay to use them too.

Rail Pass - 2 plays -  7 
First Published 2019
Board Game: Rail Pass


I'm a sucker for anything that sounds unique so when I read about this real-time co-op pick-up-and-deliver game and found a cheap copy I had to give it a go.

Players each start with two trains and a random distribution of coloured cubes in their 'station'. They have to load up the trains with cubes from a queue and physically pass the trains round the table (sometimes over bridges or through tunnels) to get them to their matching-coloured station. There's an additional complication that trains must be manned by an engineer, who can't travel more than one station either side of their home.

It's on a 5-10 minute timer so it would be pretty manic even without the rule that you have to say 'toot toot' every time you want someone to receive a train from you! I'm not convinced the scoring system quite works but it was a good laugh.

Crash Octopus - 1 play -  6 
First Published 2021
Board Game: Crash Octopus


This colourful flicking game is entertaining enough, but is it any more fun than the far simpler Push It? I don't think so.

Full Throttle! - 1 play -  6 
First Published 2021
Board Game: Full Throttle!


This is a funny one - a Friese race/betting game which moves even further towards the players betting on a race they're watching rather than influencing than Camel Up does. The race provided some good drama but it's hard to see much control (if that's what you're looking for).

Ninety-Nine - 1 play -  5 
First Published 0
Board Game: Ninety-Nine


(Not the David Parlett trick-taker!) One of my colleagues was keen to try something new on BGA. I've played similar things before - you're playing cards on to a central pile trying to avoid being the one who makes the total go over 99 with a few special powers to mix things up. Fun enough but not really designed for 8p and player elimination is not ideal for an online gathering.

Balloon Pop! - 1 play -  5 
First Published 2017
Board Game: Balloon Pop!


And he also found this non-interactive push-your-luck game that works a bit like a less interesting Can't Stop. I'll go back to picking the games now

FLY - 1 play -  4 
First Published 2015
Board Game: FLY


One of the tiny 'Pack o'Games' line which is good because it makes it easier to lose. This is just a really, really bad version of FlowerFall.

Other gaming highlights

Doppelkopf was my new-to-me game of the year in 2021 but all based on online play. It was a delight to persuade three friends to spend an evening learning it, with the assistance of a prototype of the forthcoming Doppelkopf 2.0 deck. I'll be writing more about this before the Kickstarter launches in a couple of weeks.

Brian Boru: High King of Ireland missed out on my 2021 list because I only had the chance to play it once. A couple more plays in January have cemented it as a really interesting game that I hope to play much more and will be reviewing for the spring Spirit magazine.

I didn't get to play Tigris & Euphrates at all last year so I'm ecstatic that it's now in alpha on Board Game Arena and I'm in a run of games with three aficionados. There's nothing greater in gaming!

Reading

Ursula le Guin, The Dispossessed
I've liked all the Le Guin I've read but hadn't yet got round to one of her classics. It's a brilliant comparative study of two worlds and their societies: one capitalist with a lot of resemblances to earth, another an anarchist collective founded by revolutionaries fleeing from the former. As befits the subtitle, 'an ambiguous utopia', there are no black-and-white judgments here and the pros and cons of each society are laid bare.

Nghi Vo, When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain
This is the second of the Singing Hill novellas. Like the first, it has some good things to say about the way we tell stories but I didn't find the underlying plot as strong.

Barack Obama, A Promised Land
I lived in Chicago when Obama first came to national prominence and avidly followed the 2008 primary and election. Those parts of the book were the more interesting for me than the exhaustive detailing of most of his first term in office. I grew a bit weary of how he framed every policy issue as acknowledging the arguments of both sides and then doing something in the middle which always turned out to be the right decision.

Nice article on an important topic here. We should all be better at changing our minds and appreciating when others do.

And this is a great commentary from a philosopher of games (and BGG alumnus) on current craze Wordle:



Listening

Favourite new album is Good and Green Again by Jake Xerxes Fussell, a gorgeous slice of Americana.



Favourite old (but new-to-me) album was Pharoah Sanders' Karma. The Creator Has a Master Plan is just a hypnotic way to spend half an hour.
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Tue Feb 1, 2022 4:59 pm
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New to me December 2021

Martin G
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Happy New Year all!

Brian Boru: High King of Ireland - 1 play -  7 
First Published 2021
Board Game: Brian Boru: High King of Ireland


Peer Sylvester, trick-taking and area majority? Count me in! I've only had one 3p game so far but I'm really keen to play more soon.

The trick-taking works as an action-selection mechanism - the winner of each trick gets to claim a town on the map while the losers get to trigger the secondary action of the card they played, allowing them to advance on one of three tracks round the side of the board. This is no point salad though - the marriage, church and Viking tracks all directly play in to the main area majority contest on the board.

Art Robbery - 1 play -  7 
First Published 2021
Board Game: Art Robbery


The only game I got for Christmas was this new light Knizia in which the players divide the loot of an art heist between them by playing numbered cards to take tokens from the centre or from each other once those have run out. Nice hand management and a typically Knizian mechanism where the player with fewest alibis at the end of the game loses regardless of how much loot they claimed. My five-year-old was able to handle it fine too.

Sleeping Queens - 4 plays -  6 
First Published 2005
Board Game: Sleeping Queens


And this was my Christmas present for Effie which we've all enjoyed. A bit of take-that, a bit of memory, a bit of simple maths and some charming fairytale artwork.
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Sat Jan 1, 2022 5:11 pm
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New to me 2021 - best and worst

Martin G
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I wouldn't normally post this so early, but I'm now in voluntary isolation before we hopefully get to fly to the US to see my wife's family for the first time in over 2 years.

The best
Add yours at 10 best "new to you" games of 2021

This turned out to be a pretty great year for me, with weekly games nights resurfacing post-vaccination and the excellent international online trick-taking group we founded during the pandemic continuing.

1. Doppelkopf (16 plays) - the traditional trick-taking game I've been waiting for all my life. I love the initially hidden variable partnerships, the massive trump suit, and the simple bidding augmented by additional 'feats' you can pull off. Looking forward to the new Doppelkopf 2.0 deck with hints on the cards to get over the initial hurdle of getting the card ranks and points in order. I'd love it if I had some face-to-face plays to report on next year.

2. The Crew: Mission Deep Sea (11 plays)- this one was a hit both online and face-to-face. The original is brilliant, Deep Sea is brillianter! It barely even needs the mission structure any more as so much variety is provided by the new task cards. Yes, sometimes it creates an impossible or extremely difficult combination, but it's more than worth it for the fascinating set-ups that do turn up.

3. So Clover! (19 plays)
4. Cross Clues (18 plays)

I do love Codenames but it suffers from the lengthy pauses while the spymasters ponder and the fact that only two people get to give clues each game. These two each solve that problem in different ways. In So Clover everyone writes their clues simultaneously on their own board before taking turns to collectively solve them, while in Cross Clues everyone is both cluing and solving at the same time in a frantic real-time race. I particularly enjoy the way they both focus on coming up with clues for a specific two-word combination and there's a wonderful satisfaction to watching your team-mates latch on to your tenuous logic.

5. Nokosu Dice (6 plays)
6. SCOUT (5 plays)

The innovation in trick-taking/climbing games coming out of Japan really is something to behold. Nokosu Dice is an ingenious thing with partially-public hands (your dice can be seen by everyone, your cards can't) and a bid for the number of tricks you will win that is determined by the one dice you don't play over the course of the hand. Meanwhile SCOUT uses the delicious hand management seen in Krass Kariert/Dealt! of being able to play only adjacent runs/sets from your hand, but streamlines the whole thing and makes it smooth as butter.

7. Space Worm (20 plays)

Got to get a Knizia in! Sadly this seems to have fallen victim to some kind of contractual dispute but it's a cool roll & write take of the old phone game Snake. My 5-year-old decided it's her favourite game (with some bending of the rules) but it also turns into a vicious drafting battle with another gamer at the table.

8. Great Plains (12 plays)

Really love this confrontational 2p area majority near-abstract which can be played in 15 minutes. The modular board provides enough variety to keep things fresh and the three special powers let you get around your opponent's blocks and stop things feeling too calculable even though there is no hidden information.

9. Regicide (16 plays)

The BGG 'hotness' amuses me - they designed a game that's specifically and cleverly tailored to a traditional deck and then had people slavering to get their hands on a proprietary copy. I hope we'll see more innovation in sales models for card games - I'd like to support designers without having to bring unnecessary components into the world. Anyway, this is a decent puzzle as a solo game but really works best with the limited communication at 2p. We found it too hard with more due to the very small hands.

10. Rosetta: The Lost Language (9 plays)

A fascinating asymmetric co-op in which one player chooses a 'meaning' for a given 'rune', taking inspiration from a Dixit-like scene card. The other players have to try to decipher the cluer's 'language' by asking them to draw runes for words of their choice. As in Zendo, the trick is coming up with a clue that hits the sweet spot of difficulty, but when it works it's like nothing else I've played.

Honourable mentions! There really was a lot I liked this year so I squeezed out anything I haven't yet played 5 times and a few others.

Biss 20 (11 plays) - collectively count to 20, gradually introducing new rules that replace numbers with wacky actions. Like a co-op drinking game!

Fiesta de los Muertos (11 plays) - start with a famous dead person, pass them on through a telephone game and then try to piece them back together.

Spicy (10 plays) - lovely stripped-down pure bluff game.

Whale Riders: The Card Game (7 plays)
Whale Riders (5 plays) - nothing in common besides the art but they're both really good. The card game is a remake of Trendy and reminds me of Fuji Flush while the board game is wonderfully snappy and gateway-suitable.

Riftforce (5 plays) - one of what Dan Thurot calls "Schottentots" - 2p games in which you duel over a line of cards with numbers and colours. This one has a good smattering of CCG-like combos too, but with only 8 different ones featuring in each game.

白と黒でトリテ (Trick-Taking in Black and White) (5 plays)
Dickory (4 plays)
Le Plateau (4 plays) - more lovely trick-takers and climbers!

The Bridges of Shangri-La (2 plays)
Dicke Dämonen (2 plays) - hope I'll get to play this pair of wonderful "OG"-style area control games more next year.

Profiteers (2 plays) - and also this cynical and typically interactive speculation game from the La Mame crew.

Faiyum (2 plays) - definitely intrigued by my first couple of games, but it may prove too long to get regular play.

The worst
Add yours at 10 Worst "new to you" games of 2021

Calico

For me, the recent crop (surfeit?) of 'take and make' games live or die by two things: how interactive the mechanism for acquiring stuff is, and how 'readable' the other players' boards are. For example, Azul excels at both - you can easily see what the other players need *and* you can take appropriate action as a result.

Calico failed for me on both fronts. The 'getting stuff' is as bland as they come: play one of two tiles from your hand, then draft one of three from the common supply. And the readability is low too - it's hard enough visualising the colours and patterns on your own board, let alone figuring out what your opponent needs. And even if you did, you'd often be shooting yourself in the foot by hate-drafting, unless you just happen to need the exact same thing. This leaves me feeling like I'd rather play a true multiplayer solitaire like Take It Easy where I don't have to pretend I'm interacting.

And yet... it's currently the #5 ranked abstract game on BGG, so clearly I'm missing something. It does do a lot of things that seem to appeal in today's market: cute theme and art (cats! quilts!), quality components, variable setup (aka a different solo puzzle to solve every time) and the obligatory solo mode (which it's clearly well suited for). But when it comes down to it, none of those are things I care about.

Kabuto Sumo

Looks so colourful and fun but if the basic physical action of a dexterity game is fundamentally unsatisfying, then gussying it up with special powers isn't going to help.

Nachtschwärmer

Speaking of which, a game made of beermats, which you 'roll' around the table sounded interesting. It was not.

Scrabble Duplicate

Each turn you draw to 7 tiles in the middle, then everyone comes up with their best word on their own dry-wipe board within 2 minutes. You both score for the word you made, but only the highest-scoring one gets put onto the central board. Then you draw up to 7 and repeat. So there's no hand management or defensive play - the things that make Scrabble interesting - just a succession of puzzles. The physical production of this one is awful too.

TEN

This felt like a simple push-your-luck game with a lot of added cruft that distracted from the core. Something feels a bit off about its economy too. Knizia would have cut half the rules and made it twice as good.

Draftosaurus

I was surprised this wasn't designed by Phil Walker-Harding, what with its forgettable 'pretty much everything's worth 2-4 points' scoring.

A Gentle Rain

A very simple solo tile-laying game that sells itself as a 'mindful experience', which seems to be a way to put a positive spin on 'very few decisions'.

Colorful
Snakesss
Detective Club

There are so many word and picture association / social deduction games on the market now and some of them are excellent. These three were just rather bland.
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Mon Dec 6, 2021 12:01 pm
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New to me November 21

Martin G
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It was a big month! 97 plays and 9 new-to-me games.

The Bridges of Shangri-La - 2 plays -  8 
First Published 2003
Board Game: The Bridges of Shangri-La


We've been talking a lot about old-school German-style (OG) games in recent weeks and I think there are two main types: those that are more accessible and fun and those that are more opaque and thinky. BoSL is definitely the latter, especially as it has perfect information. It's built on a dynamic I find really interesting: incentivising other players to do your work for you; and the resolution of conflict between villages is a little reminiscent of Tigris & Euphrates. Hopefully the wafer-thin rules and reasonable play time mean I can explore this a bit more.

白と黒でトリテ (Trick-taking in Black and White) - 5 plays -  8 
First Published 2021
Board Game: 白と黒でトリテ (Trick-Taking in Black and White)


New Japanese trick-taker with a twist! This one's really cool as the rules are *so* simple. Each card can be played either as a black or as a white and the values run in opposite orders, so the black 36 card is also the white 1, the black 35 is the white 2 and so on down to the black 1 / white 36. Whoever leads a trick decides whether it's in black or white and everyone has to follow (you can *always* follow in this one!) with the highest card taking it. The goal is to win an equal number of black tricks and white tricks and the penalty for missing, even by one, is harsh.

Faiyum - 2 plays -  7 
First Published 2020
Board Game: Faiyum


There are two main elements to this Friedemann Friese game. One is a big shared hex map (yay!) of a portion of ancient Egypt which players gradually develop with roads, settlements and other structures. Nothing that is built on the map belongs to one player, everything can be used by anyone (yay!).

The second thing is a market from which you purchase cards drawn from a deck of ~60 unique cards. The market works a bit like Power Grid. Eight cards are visible, but the cards are numbered and only the four lowest are available to buy. The higher up cards might drop down into the market if something even higher gets drawn or they might remain out of reach. Although you always use all the cards, this mechanism means that they'll appear at different times each game and some will disappear before anyone gets to buy them.

Apart from all those unique powers (which are covered card-by-card in a glossary), the action structure is really simple (yay!). You get to do one of three things on your turn: buy a card, play a card from your hand into your discards, or 'administrate'.

Administration is how you get cards back from your discards to your hand, and it drives an interesting hand management exercise - you get rewarded for having fewer cards in hand when you re-draw, but you also only get the most recent three cards on your discard pile for free, and if you want any more, you have to take them in order, paying for each of them until you decide to stop. So ideally you want to play your weaker cards first, then your best ones, then get the good ones back and leave the weak ones in the discard pile. But that order doesn't always make sense for what the cards actually do!

Most of the cards are for building and using things on the map and there are also a few that allow you to manipulate your deck. The very highest-numbered cards are always saved for the end game and they have the most powerful scoring opportunities. There are also four 'disaster' cards towards the end, and when the fourth of these appear, you may no longer take the administration action so you just play out what you've got left in hand. The timing of this is very important - you don't want to get left with all your big cards on the discard pile when the lockdown hits!

In the first game (2p, and Joe had only played solo) I didn't look at what any of the cards did in advance (including the big endgame scorers) so we just kind of ambled our way through building stuff for an hour or so, which was quite relaxing, and then all of a sudden the big endgame cards dropped and it exploded into a frantic half hour of trying to cycle them round before the hammer dropped.

In the second game (3p, adding Sam who hadn't played before either) I had more of an idea of how the early and mid game might connect to the end game and tried to spot combos that I could grab and then cycle. The board developed very differently to the first game and different cards were prominent (yay!). We also saw more intentional interaction on the map and particularly in the card market - you really have to watch that you're not letting your opponent grab a perfect card for their deck. I was fortunate to snag the last administrate, getting all my good stuff back and locking Joe out.

I still feel like I'd need a couple more plays to really know how I feel about it, but both games took about 2 hours and I didn't feel bored at all, so that's definitely a good sign.

Great Wall of China - 1 play -  7 
First Published 2006
Board Game: Great Wall of China


My 100th Knizia! This reminded me quite a bit of Condottiere with players gradually committing cards with values and sometimes special powers to try to claim sections of the wall.

Heckmeck am Karteneck - 1 play -  7 
First Published 2021
Board Game: Heckmeck am Karteneck


My 101st Knizia! I hadn't take any notice of this new one until Laszlo wrote it up but it's really cool. It has similar worm tiles to collect as in Pickomino, but instead of push-your-luck dice-rolling to get them, they're assigned by bidding with cards, each player getting one tile each round. As in For Sale, the spread of tiles up for grabs dictates your approach to the round - you might want to just pass early if you can still get something decent and conserve your cards for a bigger fight. The bits it does keep from Pickomino are only being able to add one value per turn, having to have at least one worm to make your bid 'valid' and being able to steal tiles from other players if you hit their value exactly. So bits of Pickomino + For Sale + Taj Mahal? Yes please!

Ca$h 'n Guns (Second Edition) - 1 play -  6 
First Published 2014
Board Game: Ca$h 'n Guns (Second Edition)


This wasn't as much worse than the first edition as Samo had led me to believe, but I still found all the changes unnecessary at best.

TEN - 1 play -  5 
First Published 2021
Board Game: TEN


This felt like a simple push-your-luck game with a lot of added cruft that distracted from the core. Something feels a bit off about its economy too. Knizia would have cut half the rules and made it twice as good.

Colorful - 2 plays -  5 
First Published 2019
Board Game: Colorful


There are a lot of co-op word-association games going round at the moment and this one felt a bit constricted to me.

A Gentle Rain - 3 plays -  5 
First Published 2021
Board Game: A Gentle Rain


Sam lent me this as he wasn't impressed by it. It's a very simple solo tile-laying game that sells itself as a 'mindful experience', which seems to be a way to put a positive spin on 'very few decisions'. It was pleasant playing it with Effie (5) though, taking alternating turns.
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Wed Dec 1, 2021 2:25 pm
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New to me October 2021

Martin G
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Profiteers - 2 plays -  8 
First Published 2018
Board Game: Profiteers


I'm a big fan of La Mame Games (previous hits include Coup and Senators) because they clearly design games with player interaction at the forefront of their minds. Profiteers is no exception.

The ultra-cynical theme may be a turnoff for some - the players represent British arms dealers supplying both sides of the US Civil War and only caring about the ultimate outcome of the war in the sense that it affects their profit margins. But it provides the framework for one of my favourite gaming dynamics - temporary alliances between players due to their shared investment in a particular outcome.

Profiteers is a stock-holding game at heart. By producing troops for the Confederacy or the Union, players will also acquire bonds in the corresponding side. The value of the bonds fluctuates based on the outcome of each battle in a sequence of up to seven, so you may well find yourself supporting the Confederates in one battle only to cash out while their stock is high and sell to the Union in the next one.

The outcome of the war is decided by the first side to reach three battle wins - but it's also possible for three stalemated battles to end the war in a deadlock. The long-term strategy of the game revolves around positioning yourself to benefit the most from one of those outcomes and then steering the conflict that way, but various mechanisms give you the opportunity to pivot between those as the war evolves.

It's no more than a 45-minute game even if it goes the distance and we found it very enjoyable with both 4 and 5 players.

Also from La Mame, Salvage was not new-to-me because I'd been sent the rules a few months back to try out online. But it's nice to have the physical edition and it remains a straightforward and fun tricktaker, like Hearts but with a clever bidding system to compensate for bad hands.

Rosetta: The Lost Language - 9 plays -  8 
First Published 2020
Board Game: Rosetta: The Lost Language


A word/language game I acquired during the pandemic and hadn't had chance to play until now, though I hadn't actually realised that it was decent with 2. One player is given a runic "inscription" and a Dixit-like scene (both public) and has to come up with a "meaning" for the inscription that they will try to convey to the guesser(s). The guessers get 10 attempts to suggest a meaning for the inscription: unless the guess is correct, the Author must draw a new rune that corresponds to their guess. The idea is that you can use parts of the original rune in your new drawings to gradually build up a "language" the guessers can use to decipher the original meaning.

This is fascinating and unlike anything else I've played. but being the Author is *hard*. Like the Master in Zendo, you want to come up with something that isn't too obvious (e.g. too descriptive of the scene) but isn't too vague either. You really want the constituent parts of the rune to have distinct meanings that you'll be able to use in your drawings later.

The Game of 49 - 1 play -  7 
First Published 2014
Board Game: Zillionaires on Mars


This is essentially Connect 4: the Auction Game - cards corresponding to spots on a 7x7 grid are drawn one by one, bingo-style, each one triggering an auction for the matching spot with 4-in-a-row winning the game. An incentive to buy early is provided by the spots you own also earning you occasional income, and there are some 'wild cards' that allow more freedom in placement. Things get really crazy when a spot comes up that would allow someone to win and none of the other players want to be the one left on the hook for blocking them.

My session was a bit odd for a couple of reasons: the brand new deck may not have been shuffled sufficiently because we ended up not having an income payout for about half the game, leaving us all very poor; and I only realised afterwards that with 5p you should only play to 3-in-a-row. But everyone enjoyed it and it should get played again soon.

Coiffeur-Jass - 1 play -  7 
First Published 0
Board Game: Jass


Half a session of Sean's 2p variant of this traditional trick-taker but it was enough to intrigue. The hook here is that there are a series of possible contracts a player can declare (generally involving choice of trump) but all players have to play each contract once over the course of a game. You then compare scores for the players' attempts at each contract at the end. I generally struggle with trick-taking games where you don't have to follow suit and this was no exception!

A game about WEE WHIMSICAL CREATURES and trying to identify them after someone makes noises. - 1 play -  7 
First Published 2021
Board Game: A game about WEE WHIMSICAL CREATURES and trying to identify them after someone makes noises.


Bez is a doyen of silly fun and we had a lot of it making weird noises to try to get the other players to guess which monster (from a set of 5 charming drawings) we were imitating.

SWAT! - 1 play -  6 
First Published 2010
Board Game: SWAT!


My 99th Knizia! This is like speed Ra - you still get to take 3 sets of cards in each of 3 rounds and score them in various ways, but instead of bidding, the dealer turns over cards one by one until someone 'swats' the mat in the middle to say they want them. My only reservation was how long scoring the cards seemed to take compared to playing the game.

Raft & Scupper - 1 play -  6 
First Published 2019
Board Game: Raft & Scupper


An impressively-produced abstract that felt like it had one or two too many ideas for its own good.

Detective Club - 1 play -  5 
First Published 2018
Board Game: Detective Club


Dixit mashed up with Spyfall? One player defines a topic and tells it to all but one other player. Then everyone takes turns playing a couple of Dixit-style artworks in front of them. The keyword is revealed and everyone has to explain why they chose the cards they did before voting on who is the 'spy'. Feels a bit less intimidating to be the one in the dark in this game but it also just wasn't very exciting.
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Mon Nov 1, 2021 12:09 pm
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New to me September 2021

Martin G
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Cross Clues - 4 plays -  8 
First Published 2020
Board Game: Cross Clues


Yet another word-connections game after So Clover last month. Here 10 words are placed around two adjacent sides of a 5x5 grid, the players are each given a grid reference and have to shout out a one-word clue referring to the two words that intersect there. Whether the other players guess right or wrong, you grab another grid reference card and keep going, trying to fill in as much of the grid as possible in 10 minutes. Really fun, especially as the grid fills in and you could be a bit more slap happy with your clues.

Dickory - 1 play -  7 
First Published 2021
Board Game: Dickory


Great to see my buddies Hanibal and Sean team up to produce a clever little 2p climbing game. Hope to play again soon.

Colt Super Express - 1 play -  7 
First Published 2020
Board Game: Colt Super Express


A cards-only stripped-down version of the original that nicely captures the essence in half the time.

Claim - 1 play -  6 
First Published 2017
Board Game: Claim


German whist with special powers. Not bad but a bit bland after all the wacky trick-takers I've played recently.

Silencio - 1 play -  6 
First Published 2020
Board Game: Silencio


Another co-op restricted communication 'put numbers in order' thing but not as elegant as Hanabi or as funny as The Mind

Master Word - 1 play -  6 
First Published 2020
Board Game: Master Word


This is kind of 20 Questions crossed with Mastermind. The team submit a question each to the clue-holder, who tells them *how many* of those are correct but not which ones.

Aqualin - 1 play -  6 
First Published 2020
Board Game: Aqualin


A palatable abstract in which the tiles have every combination of 6 colours and 6 sea creatures. One player is trying to make groups of the same colour, the other groups of matching creatures. The early game is very open but as the board fills up things get locked into place.

Kabuto Sumo - 3 plays -  4 
First Published 2021
Board Game: Kabuto Sumo


Really disappointing. It's a colourful and fun-looking dexterity game but the 'action' involved, pushing discs on to a surface to try to knock others off, turned out to be really unsatisfying. Bolting on a bunch of special powers isn't going to fix that!

Nachtschwärmer - 1 play -  3 
First Published 2020
Board Game: Nachtschwärmer


A game made of beermats, which you 'roll' around the table sounded interesting. It was not.
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Thu Sep 30, 2021 10:25 pm
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New to me August 2021

Martin G
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Games night is back baby! For now anyway...

Riftforce - 4 plays -  8 
First Published 2021
Board Game: Riftforce


Ritforce is a duelling card game that sits somewhere between the elegance of Battle Line and the combo-creation of special power card games. After four plays I'm quite impressed.

There are 10 'guilds' with different powers, from which players draft 4 each at the start to make up their deck. But the cards for each guild are the same: just four 5s, three 6s and two 7s; and each card in a guild has the same power, so it doesn't feel overwhelming to learn.

The three actions you choose between on your turn are really elegant:

1. You can play up to three cards, either all from the same guild or all with the same value, and put them either all in the same location (of which there are 5) or one each in adjacent locations.

2. You can discard a card from hand to activate up to three cards already played, either all matching the guild or all matching the number of the card discarded.

3. You can refill your hand, which also lets you score one point for each location where you have cards but your opponent doesn't.

The special powers of the guilds are variations of dealing damage to cards in your opponent's row, healing damage in yours, and moving cards around. The value of a card is also the damage it takes to destroy it, and you get one point for each card destroyed -- the game is a race to 12VP.

There are some nice thematic touches in the way the powers relate to the names of the guilds (e.g. Fire does a lot of damage to the enemy but also some to your own nearby cards) and some interesting combos to discover. It also seems like a system that's built for expansion without requiring much in the way of new components; just a reference card for each new guild you introduce would do it.

Polynesia - 3 plays -  7 
First Published 2020
Board Game: Polynesia


Probably best to direct you here for my thoughts on this one: Peer Sylvester's Polynesia - thoughts after one (make that two!) plays. I've played one more since and it didn't go all the way to answering the questions I posed at the end of that article. I think it's a clever and interesting design but I'm not yet sure how fun it is.

Next up, a brace of co-op word-connection games which I tend to enjoy (see also Codenames, Decrypto, Just One...).

So Clover! - 2 plays -  7 
First Published 2021
Board Game: So Clover!


So Clover has a neat trick that's best explained with a picture.

From gallery of W Eric Martin


Each player starts with four word cards randomly inserted into their 'clover'. Your task is to come up with a one-word clue linking each pair of words arranged around the edge and write it next to them. Once everyone's done, you take turns working as a group to put the cards back in place next to the right clues, with the additional distraction of a random added card.

I very much enjoyed both the clue-giving and solving halves of the game (though not everyone at the table felt the same). It's nice that unlike Codenames there's no waiting around while someone thinks up a clue, and the cluing feels less pressured as a result. Some pairs of words work out very easy to clue but most allow you to be a bit more creative (I was pleased with my "REM" for Dream and Berry).

For some reason, it's not advertised as a 2p game but it seems like it would work fine. With a big group it is possible for players to get left out during the solving discussion if others are too quick to spot the likely solutions.

Fiesta de los Muertos - 9 plays -  7 
First Published 2019
Board Game: Fiesta de los Muertos


In Fiesta, you each start by drawing a (hidden) card with the name of a famous personality or fictional character. Then you write down one word linked to that person and pass it on to your neighbour. They read that word, erase it, write a different related word and pass it on again.

After four iterations, you put the final words in the middle for everyone to see alongside the original characters plus some random ones that have been shuffled in with them. You each individually have to try to match them up based on what you can see and on the intermediate steps you remember writing. As with So Clover, there's a slightly pointless scoring system but the fun was in the figuring out and then the discussing of what we'd all put and how we'd got messed up.

With 4 players you contribute to every word so I found it much easier to come up with the right answers; with 7 it was less analytical and a lot of my guesses failed. You can also mix things up by using one or more of the included restriction cards to limit the clues that can be written, e.g. 'your first clue must begin with C'. This seems like it will be a good way to avoid predictability as you go round the character deck again.

Daring Dustbunnies - 1 play -  7 
First Published 2019
Board Game: Daring Dustbunnies


A 'race' game in which you only know which your own colour is (a la Heimlich & Co), and you also don't want to race too far ahead because your 'fluffball' will get sucked up into the hoover and be eliminated.

Basic movement happens with colour/number cards played from hand but there are also three different types of special power (one individual permanent power, one triggered by landing on different board spaces and one on cards drawn from a separate deck). Very silly but with some smart design choices. I reckon the designer is a Cosmic fan...

Dragomino - 3 plays -  6 
First Published 2020
Board Game: Dragomino


This keeps only the domino-matching from its parent Kingdomino - each time you make a match you earn an 'egg' which might or might not contain a dragon (worth a point). The colours are distinguished by having different numbers of tokens but the same number of dragons, so you're more likely to hit with some colours than others. Worked well with my 5-year-old and her non-gaming grandparents!

Regicide - 2 plays -  6 
First Published 2020
Board Game: Regicide


It's nice to see a standard deck card game topping the hotness and I was impressed by how well connected the mechanisms are to the structure of the deck. It's a co-op in which players take turns playing cards (from 10 down to Ace) to attempt to kill the 'bosses' representing by the Jacks, Queens and Kings. The numbers determine attack and defence strength while suits correspond to different helpful special powers.

So far I've played 4p which seemed incredibly difficult and solo which I won first time (but using both Jokers for help). I suspect the sweet spot is in between those. Solo it's really just a hand management puzzle while 4p is overly tactical as you have such a small hand. I'm interested to try with 2 and see if some restricted communication/signalling emerges.

Next come three trick-takers (who me?)

Nein Nine - 1 play -  6 
First Published 2021
Board Game: Nein Nine


A work-in-progress design that seemed quite promising. As the name suggests, you particularly want to avoid taking 9s, but there are a couple of twists that allow you to get them foisted on you.

Anansi - 1 play -  6 
First Published 2020
Board Game: Anansi


This is a 'hitting a moving target' game where you want to end a hand with the same number of tricks won as 'followers' acquired. You get followers by ducking out of a trick, but only one player can do that each trick so turn order is very important. The trump suit can also change during the hand but in a controllable way - it's determined by the suit with most cards that have been used to duck tricks for followers. Overall I felt it had some neat ideas but didn't quite come together as well as similar games I've played recently.

Take The "A" Chord - 1 play -  5 
First Published 2015
Board Game: Take The "A" Chord


Take the A Chord has a really cool theme. You're jazz musicians and the cards represent playing in different styles (suit) and keys (rank). Certain plays will change the key (a different rank becomes highest) or let you 'improvise'. Unfortunately it doesn't seem to work very well as a game. Unlike Anansi, the changes of trump during a hand feel capricious and there's too little control for the plays to feel meaningful, especially with only 8 tricks per hand.

Snakesss - 1 play -  5 
First Published 2021
Board Game: Snakesss


Mehhh. One of many social deduction combined with a traditional activity games, this time it's multiple choice trivia questions. The 'snakes' are told the real answer and know who each other are, the 'normal humans' don't know either of those things. Everyone then has a discussion before individually picking the answer they think is correct; snakes get points for wrong answers, humans for right answers. The problem is that the fun is very dependent on the quality of the questions - sometimes we felt we all just knew the answer, other times we didn't really believe it!
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Thu Sep 2, 2021 1:47 pm
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New to me July 2021

Martin G
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Great Plains - 3 plays -  8 
First Published 2021
Board Game: Great Plains


From the team that brought us the excellent Mandala comes this brisk new 2p hex-grid-placement area-majority game. If you've played Blue Lagoon, it feels a lot like playing just the second half with just the area majority scoring, but the addition of some little special powers that let you spread your pieces further or mess with your opponent.

The playing area is assembled from seven double-sided segments giving lots of possible setups. Each of those segments contains the same distribution of terrains but in different configurations. There's always 'meadow', which are the areas to be contested for majorities, 'lowland' which is where you gain the special power tokens and 'mountains' which can't be crossed except with the special 'eagle' power.

Depending on how the mini-boards are assembled, you might get a giant meadow that becomes vital to fight over, or you might get lots of little ones that you might hope to sneak with only one token. Turns are as a simple as placing a single token adjacent to any of your ones already on the board, and with only 20 tokens each we got through three games in 45 minutes. Blocking is really important, as are the special powers which also include a 'bear' that lets you push one of your opponent's pieces into the mountains or off the map entirely. A neat little tactical battle!

Hashi - 2 plays -  7 
First Published 2021
Board Game: Hashi


This is a flip & write by Jeff Allers based on a genre of Japanese puzzles my wife enjoys. The idea of the puzzles is that a group of 'islands' on a grid each have a number printed on them representing the number of bridges that can connect to them. Your task is to fill the grid of bridges in such that all the numbers are satisfied.

To convert it into a game, Allers has cleverly made both the numbers and the bridges player-controlled. Each turn you draw a card which depicts a number from 1-6 and a number of bridges from 1-3. You have to write the number on an empty island and draw the bridges connecting to islands that already have numbers. As well as getting points for each island that ends up with the correct number of bridges, there are three 'races' to complete certain islands which give more points to the player who does it first.

Aside from that, it's multiplayer solitaire - there's no drafting nor interference with other players' boards. I really enjoyed the thinkiness of the spatial puzzle - of the roll/flip & writes I've played it reminded me most of Rolling Japan/America.

Wind the Film! - 1 play -  7 
First Published 2016
Board Game: Wind the Film!


This Japanese card game cleverly combines Bohnanza-style queue management with Keltis-like scoring for ascending/descending sequences. I enjoyed the hand management but the game as a whole felt slightly over-engineered compared to its inspirations, with a grid-drafting system and partial information on the card backs.
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Sun Aug 1, 2021 9:26 am
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New to me June 21

Martin G
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(apologies again for the overlap with previous blogposts!)

Dicke Dämonen - 1 play -  7 
First Published 2004
Board Game: Dicke Dämonen


I've been wanting to try this for ages and it was just as good as I expected. It's an area-majority game where the areas are created by overlapping four loops of different coloured string. Each corner is a spot where a pawn matching one of the string colours can be placed, and each enclosed area is controlled by the colour with the majority of pawns inside it. There are also white pawns which can 'lock down' an area from further additions.

That's already interesting, but on top of that is a push-your-luck game. At the start of the game, neither player knows which colour they want to win, but whenever they feel ready they can declare their allegiance. Going early means you get the biggest choice, but it also makes your colour a target and reduces your hand size from 4 to 1, leaving you at the mercy of fate for the rest of the game. Really interesting stuff, reminiscent in some ways of the excellent König von Siam and Clans.

Spicy - 2 plays -  7 
First Published 2020
Board Game: Spicy


Really enjoyed this little Cheat-style bluffing game. There are three suits with numbers 1-10, you have to play (or say you're playing) a higher card of the same suit as the previous card. But all cards are face-down and can be challenged. The neat thing is that when you challenge you have to say if it's the suit that's wrong or the number, so the bluffer can get away with, say, a 7 blue for a 7 green if the challenger challenges the number.

Reign of Witches - 2 plays -  7 
First Published 2020
Board Game: Reign of Witches


This is Amabel Holland's attempt to squeeze the soul of a Pax game down into the format of a micro-game. And she manages to get an amazing amount of it into two dozen cards, a handful of coins and a tiny ruleset. Present and correct are a sliding card market from which to buy cards that you play into your tableau and then activate; competition for points across multiple arenas; periodic game-changing events; and lots of attention to historical detail. The only thing that stopped it being a smash for me was my complete lack of knowledge about the history involved; a bit of research will be required to bring it to life I feel.

Kompromat - 1 play -  6 
First Published 2020
Board Game: Kompromat


There are lots of 2p games where you put a set of things to fight over in the middle and you each build a 'formation' on either side to try to win them. The trick in this one is that the formations are Blackjack hands (closest to 21 without going over) where only the first card is face up, bringing in a bluff element. You each have a personal deck (a 1/11 card, 2-10 with three 7s, and a '0.5') so you know what you might draw especially if you manage to remember what you've already seen.

The 'prizes' are quite varied - some are pure points but others give you special powers to be used in future rounds. And there's also a big push-your-luck element. Every time you go 'bust', you get a 'notoriety' token. They're worth a point each (good!) but if you ever get 9, you lose the game immediately. Silly and fun.

Paris: La Cité de la Lumière - 1 play -  6 
First Published 2019
Board Game: Paris: La Cité de la Lumière


The nice thing about this polyomino-placing game is that it takes place on a shared map not individual player boards, and even better that shared board is collectively created by the players in the first half of the game. The weird thing is that you don't actually get to place very many polyominos (only 3 or 4 each) and a lot of the focus in the second half of the game is on drafting special powers instead. It felt slightly awkward as a result.

Project L - 1 play -  6 
First Published 2020
Board Game: Project L


Another polyomino game but in this one you place a lot of them, and on the more usual individual player boards. The players draft little recessed shapes to fill with their polyomino pieces. Each one you complete adds another Tetris piece to your personal supply, giving it a bit of a Splendor-like engine-building feel. Once you've got going, you'll be working on four puzzles at the same time, trying to maximise your once-per-turn 'master action' which lets you add one piece to each puzzle. It's got the buzz of an addictive app game but no real interaction at all so I doubt it'll be something I keep coming back to.

Calico - 1 play -  5 
First Published 2020
Board Game: Calico


I was pretty sure this wouldn't be my kind of thing. I was right, though it's largely inoffensive.

There are just *so* *damn* *many* of this type of game around at the moment, so it's surprising that there isn't (as far as I'm aware) a commonly-accepted term for them. I'd like to propose 'fiefdom game', though Rob has suggested the snappier 'take & make'.

Defining characteristics:

1 The mechanisms can be neatly separated into those that deal with how you 'get stuff' and those that deal with what you do with that stuff once you've got it.

2 The 'getting stuff' involves some form of competition between players over limited resources (e.g. worker placement, drafting, auctions); true multiplayer solitaire is excluded.

3 The 'doing with stuff' involves some decision-making (not just set-collection) but all those decisions take place in an individual player area (the 'fiefdom') and usually involve some spatial arrangement.

4 Other players can't affect your fiefdom in any way - once you've 'got stuff', it's yours to use as you like.

5 The stuff you get doesn't fundamentally change what you do in the game (unlike tableau/engine-building), though it might have some minor effect on the way you get stuff.

For me, these games live or die by two things: how interactive the 'getting stuff' mechanism is, and how 'readable' the other player's fiefdoms are. For example, Azul excels at both - you can easily see what the other players need *and* you can take appropriate action as a result.

Unfortunately, Calico fails on both fronts. The 'getting stuff' is as bland as they come: play one of two tiles from your hand, then draft one of three from the common supply. And the readability is low too - it's hard enough visualising the colours and patterns on your own board, let alone figuring out what your opponent needs. And even if you did, you'd often be shooting yourself in the foot by hate-drafting, unless you just happen to need the exact same thing. This leaves me feeling like I'd rather play a true multiplayer solitaire like Take It Easy where I don't have to pretend I'm interacting.

And yet... it's currently the #5 ranked abstract game on BGG, so clearly I'm missing something. It does do a lot of things that seem to appeal in today's market: cute theme and art (cats! quilts!), quality components, variable setup (aka a different solo puzzle to solve every time) and the obligatory solo mode (which it's clearly well suited for). But when it comes down to it, none of those are things I really care about. Oh well, plenty more games in the sea!
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Thu Jul 1, 2021 12:06 pm
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New to me May 2021

Martin G
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Apologies for some recycled content from the last post!

A fun month with lots of new-to-me face-to-face games, for the first time in a long while! Lots of 'need to play more to decide how good' so I'll go with the one I played most times.

Biss 20 - 4 plays -  7 
First Published 2020
Board Game: Biss 20


I spotted this in the SdJ recommended list and thought it sounded like something fun to try with Effie (5) and Sarah. I was right!

The game consists of cards numbered 1-20 plus 40 cards with different 'rules' on them. Each round you're just trying to count from 1-20 as a group, taking turns to say a number. But each time you get to 20, you flip a new number card and rule card to add to the next round - e.g. wave your hand instead of saying number 8, change direction when you reach 15 and so on. The rules are cumulative so it gets harder and more hilarious the longer you go.

The rules suggest only leaving the latest rule face-up and memorising the rest but so far we just have them all face-up and point to the right one if Effie needs a little help. You can either play fully co-op, collectively losing a 'life' when you make a mistake, or you can take the lives off the specific player who messed up. I think this'll be fun as a games-night closer too - glad to have picked it up!

The Key: Theft at Cliffrock Villa - 1 play -  7 
First Published 2020
Board Game: The Key: Theft at Cliffrock Villa


This was also played at home but just with Sarah. It's a clever implementation of those logic puzzles you get in magazines where you're given a series of clues and eliminate possibilities on a grid until you find the solution.

Here we're each trying to find which of three characters stole which object, when and how they planned to escape afterwards. There's no turn-taking - you each just grab clue cards from the middle when you like and work on your grid behind a screen. There's a small bonus for getting to the solution first, but mainly you're trying to do it efficiently - the fewer clues you use, the better. There's no interaction besides the racing but we both enjoy this type of puzzle so it worked well.

An ingenious feature is that the same set of clue cards can be used to play nine different mysteries - a grid of colours on the back of each card shows which of the mysteries it is valid for. So if you're playing the red case, you only grab cards with red on them from the middle, etc.

Whale Riders - 1 play -  7 
First Published 2021
Board Game: Whale Riders


My 97th and 98th Knizias played! And I've got a couple more waiting in the wings...

A new big-box Knizia is always something to look forward to, and this one doesn't seem that closely related to any previous design. It has the Knizia hallmark of giving you 2 actions from a simple menu (of 5 in this case) but leaving you wishing you had more. The main actions are here are moving your 'whale' from port to port, buying goods from the port you're currently in and cashing in goods to fulfil personal secret contracts.

There are lots of interesting touches. You can only ever move in one direction, so you have to decide whether to push forward to grab juicy goods before other players or hang back where there will be less competition. The goods are bought from a sliding market so you have to manage money too, and the markets gradually fill up with unpurchasable 'storms' which makes this harder. And once you reach the end of the coast, you turn around and come back, crossing over with other players along the way and having first access to some lucrative victory point tiles if you get back earlier.

I don't think 6 players will prove to be optimal but it was still pretty snappy and I look forward to trying it with fewer.

Whale Riders: The Card Game - 1 play -  7 
First Published 2021
Board Game: Whale Riders: The Card Game


The card game has only artwork in common with the main game; it's actually a remake of Trendy which I've been keen to try for years. Not everyone was wowed but I really enjoyed it. In Knizia's ludography it's probably closest to Modern Art Card Game - you want to be in on the sets other people are pushing too - but even more stripped down. But it reminds me most of Fuji Flush - Friese was surely inspired by it.

Scape Goat - 2 plays -  7 
First Published 2020
Board Game: Scape Goat


I don't normally like social deduction much and especially find it hard being the 'imposter' who has to lie convincingly. The really cool thing about this one, by the designer of the excellent Air, Land & Sea, is that even the imposter doesn't know it's them! At the start of the game you roll two dice, then each player references a personal grid which tells them which player is the imposter. All but one player get told the right player, but the imposter themself gets told it is someone different.

The 'action' of the game mainly consists of swapping cards depicting the player colours around openly or secretly between the players. The aim is to 'frame' the scapegoat which requires everyone else to have a card of their colour in hand. But if the scapegoat figures out it's them, they can 'go to the police' first and win alone. I hope this one gets enough play to come to life; it has a lot of potential.

Vira - 1 play -  7 
First Published 1818
Board Game: Vira


The latest traditional game Sean has introduced our little group to, this one a 3p that is apparently the national game of Sweden. It's a bit bonkers! The trick-taking is straightforward enough but you preface each hand with a bidding round where you're choosing between 40 different possible contracts. Raymond (rayzg) has done some great work streamlining the rules and putting the contracts into a handy reference that makes them much more intelligible and as a result the game was really enjoyable despite my terrible performance.

What makes the game interesting is the variety of contracts: some to make a certain number of tricks, some to lose all the tricks, some which let you exchange almost your entire hand with the undealt cards, some that let you gamble on choice of trump.

Le Plateau - 1 play -  7 
First Published 2021
Board Game: Le Plateau


Speaking of Raymond, this is his clever hybrid of tarot-deck trick-taking and spatial connection abstract. The tricks you take earn you spots on the hexagonal board, and you bid for how many sides you think you can connect. Neat!

Renature - 1 play -  6 
First Published 2020
Board Game: Renature


I was keen to try this recent Kramer/Kiesling but we found it a slightly awkward mix of family-friendly look and theme and fairly feisty area-majority gameplay with an awful lot to think about.

Of the K&K games I've played it's definitely closest to Mexica. Like that game, you have pieces of size 1, 2, 3 and 4 that can be deployed into different areas to contest majorities (with bigger areas being worth more). You also get bonuses in both for being the first to close off an area.

The big difference is that here (as in most other area majority games) the areas are pre-defined on the board, while in Mexica the players gradually determine them through their placement of canals. Unfortunately for Renature, that's the best thing about Mexica! On the other hand, Renature does have the interesting feature that ties for majority cancel each other out completely (like in Las Vegas) and also there's a neutral faction that can be used to create beneficial ties (like in Las Vegas!)

All in all, I liked the confrontation on a central board and the sneaky possible moves, but couldn't help thinking I'd rather just be playing the superior Mexica.
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Wed Jun 2, 2021 3:55 pm
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