I finally got to unwrap my final four Essen purchases, which I had honourably set aside for my family to give me as Xmas presents. So far I have played three of them (but I had played the fourth at Essen already). The games are: Keyflower, Snowdonia, CO₂, and Il Vecchio. As a pleasant surprise, I was also given 7 Wonders: Cities, which we played eight player yesterday.
And the verdict so far? Two turkeys, two hits, and one yet to play.
Turkey #1 for us was Keyflower! This will go against the opinion of a lot of other gamers, who appear to be raving about the innovative bidding mechanism this game employs. Agreed, it adds interest to the game, but we felt the end game scoring was unbalanced. One winter tile gives 3 VPs for having five meeples (aka keyples), i.e. slightly better than half a VP per meeple, but then one of the boats gives 1 VP per meeple. One tile allows unlimited VPs for resources stored on it at game end, but then other tiles give a limited number of VPs for a specific number of resources.
This means that scores can vary wildly according to success or failure in bidding, particularly in the final round. Having been given two winter tiles at the start of the game, we presumed a good strategy would be to target them for VPs at game end. But that turned out to be a waste of time. We would have been better off not having that strategy, but sticking to tactical play from round to round instead. My eldest son did not enjoy the game, because his strategic goal was to collect skill tiles, which he did exclusively (and tediously), only for him to come in second.
I hope a second play of this will prove us wrong, but several of my family won't choose to play this again soon.
Turkey #2 was Snowdonia, owing to the randomness of the events (not the weather). With a five player game, the chances of drawing a white cube are low and hence events are not expected to happen too rapidly. And they didn't in the early part of the game. So we did not make fast progress, and that allowed us to build up plenty of resources (stone and rails).
Then, when we finally got near to the end of the game, two came out together, completing the last rail section and the final station - leaving two of five players with no way of cashing in their resources. Getting the start player the turn before was a waste of time for me, when all I could do was move my surveyor (twice). In fact, final turn all five player took a double or triple surveyor action (which merely favoured those who had contributed least to the building of the railway).
So, my daughter won with 120 points and I came in last with about 45. Yet I had built far more of the railway than anyone and would have built almost all of the final station had the game not ended suddenly. I had two rails and six stone left at the end, with nothing to show for it.
There are too many VPs awarded through the contracts and too much luck in the game to make this satisfying in the long term.
The hit of our Xmas gaming has been 7 Wonders: Cities. It allows for eight players, which is much more sensible than seven, and nicely weakens the military strategy that can dominate the base game. The expansion adds very little by way of complexity and has rekindled our interest.
My second hit is CO₂, which I have only played solitaire so far. The rules are very simple - I couldn't believe how easy this was to pick up first play. However, I can see that the strategy is going to take some working on. My world crashed and burned at over 500 ppm pollution before I could prevent it (but I wasn't too far off avoiding disaster). I suspect I should have used the summits to move along the expertise tracks quicker. Definitely will pay this again and in a hurry. Hope to get my kids playing soon.