Hard to choose between two games this month, both of which manage to be big improvements on games I already loved. I'll go with...
Scout! - 1 play - 8
First Published 2019
...as it's the freshest in my mind and my other pick has already been added to the list a couple of times.
I don't know whether this came before, after or in parallel with Dealt! (aka Krass Kariert) but they're both built around the same genius core idea: climbing games where the sets you play have to be adjacent in your hand. As in Bohnanza, your hand can never be re-ordered, but in both games you try to play cards out to connect the cards surrounding them into better groups. And in both games you have the possibility of adding cards to your hand in the position of your choice to aid this process.
I've really enjoyed my plays of KK but it has a few wonky features. It always felt a bit strange for a climbing game to only go once around the table each 'trick' and to restrict the size of the sets you can play to 3 cards. There are a few special cards that have to be explained, and also (unless you house-rule it) it produces only a loser not a winner.
Scout! ingeniously does away with all of these issues, resulting in gameplay that's as smooth as the plastic cards in its colourful deck. Instead of playing a series of tricks, you just keep playing round and round, each time having the choice to play a better set of cards than the previous one on the table, capturing those cards as victory points, or to 'scout' by taking a single card from that previous set and adding it to your hand. This balance between building up and knocking down also reminded me of the brilliant Abluxxen/Linko.
Another thing I really liked is that you can finish a round in two ways: the standard ridding your hand of cards, or by playing a set so strong that all the other players are forced to scout rather than play. This is quite difficult to do as each time your set is scouted, it gets smaller and thus easier to beat. But it's really satisfying to pull off! Finally the only 'special powers' are the one opportunity each player gets per hand to scout *and* play in the same turn. Use these wisely...
And I didn't even mention the neat deck yet -- the cards are double-ended, featuring each possible pair of the numbers 1-10 (excluding duplicates). Once you've been dealt your initial hand, you can choose whether to play it 'as is' or to flip *all* the cards upside-down. And when you scout, you get to choose the orientation for the card you add to your hand.
Brilliant stuff -- hopefully it will become more available soon.
The Crew: Mission Deep Sea - 4 plays - 9
First Published 2021
I've talked about The Crew a lot - it was my game of the year in 2019 (though may now have been pipped to that title by Babylonia). My first impressions of the sequel are that it's almost certainly even better, especially for trick-taking veterans.
The core of the game is the same. The team works through a series of trick-taking missions, communicating in a strictly limited fashion about the cards in their hands.
The big difference is the tasks you have to complete on each mission. In the original, the task card deck was just a copy of the main deck, and taking, e.g. the 6 red task meant you had to capture the matching card in a trick.
In the new version, this is replaced by a far more varied 96-card task deck, each of which is rated with a difficulty value from 1-5 on the back. Each mission also has a difficulty rating (starting at 1 but getting well into double figures later), and you draw tasks from the deck until their difficulty values add up to the rating of the mission. This also helps with the player count scaling - one of the slight weaknesses of the original - as the tasks have different difficultly values for the 3, 4 and 5p game.
It's the variety of the tasks that makes this so fun. Examples are "don't win any 1s, 2s or 3s", "win a trick containing the same number of green and yellow cards", "win the last trick" and so on. It feels like this is enough on its own to make a near-infinitely replayable game, without even having 33 missions to work through.
That's also what makes it a more 'advanced' version that is likely to be tougher to take to for new-to-tricktaking players. Although on the other hand, it feels a bit less brutal in that a lot of the tasks aren't obviously failed as soon as one mistake is made - you can find a way to play around them.
Can't wait to buy the English version and play this face-to-face!
To Unlimited, and Beyond - 3 plays - 7
First Published 2014
Another Japanese climbing game and it's entertainingly weird. You can take as many chips as you like from a central supply to 'boost' your cards to higher values to make better sets. But you have to get rid of all your chips (which you can only do by passing on playing cards) as well as your cards to finish the round.
Hardback - 1 play - 7
First Published 2018
New on BGA and I like it better than Paperback (another one for this month's theme!). It's still a word-spelling deck-builder but you buy from a rotating card row rather than static piles, and there's a strong incentive to specialise in a particular type of card. A nice push-your-luck mechanism too - you can spend 'ink' to draw additional cards to spell with, but you *have* to use those letters in your word (unlike the ones in your hand which you can discard or use as wilds).
CuBirds - 2 plays - 6
First Published 2018
Another one just added to BGA, by the designer of the excellent King Chocolate. I didn't find anything particularly remarkable about this set-collection filler but it works nicely enough and the art is cute.
QWERTYmartin's Unabridged Insights On Play
02 Apr 2021
- [+] Dice rolls