Musings from a not-so-serious gamer

Random thoughts from someone who loves the idea of games, spends way too much time on BGG, does actually play games, but isn't all that passionate about them.
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March Gaming Retrospective

Kevin B. Smith
United States
Mercer Island
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I enjoy reading other blog posts about what folks have played, so I'll try one of my own. March was quite a good gaming month for me, with 36 plays of 24 different game titles. Of those, several were games I had played before, but felt like new:

Homesteaders: First play with actual opponents. Earlier, I played a solitaire game just to understand the mechanics. In March, I played it twice, and enjoyed it both times. It's a very well-designed game, combining interesting auctions with buildings and resources. You have to do a lot of mental conversions, like: "Trade chit plus 2 silver will give me a food, which with a trade chit will get me a steel. And then I can convert my gold to a cow, so I can afford to build that building. Now, if I do that, how much can I afford to bid at auction?)." It requires a lot more thought than Agricola, to take one example, even though Agricola is more complex. I don't need to play it again, although I won't refuse a game.

Fzzzt!: First play with 3+. Definitely better with 3 or 4 players, which is not surprising since it is an auction game. I still don't have strong opinions of the game one way or the other, so I hope to get it to the table a couple more times. Fillers with a little meat, that don't have a lot of "Take that!" play are hard to find.

Oltre Mare: First play with 3+. Definitely better with 3-5 players. Also it would definitely be better with people who already know the game, because it would encourage trading, and avoid the lengthy rules intro. The game isn't really complex, but it sure seems complex at first. It seems like the game would be ideal for a group that meets regularly and enjoys playing the same game at least once per session. It has trading in common with Settlers, so might appeal to fans of that game. Hoever, with a lot of negotiations it could get long, so I would always leave out the 20 grain cards with any player count, until the game became "too short". I don't need to play this one again.

Thunderstone Advance: Towers of Ruin. This really was a first play, but I had played Thunderstone before, so it felt familiar. I really like the new 4-card monster lineup, and the new curses are great. The rest of the game still just doesn't work for me. It's too long, and the hero upgrades are annoying. The theme is not quite coherent ("Dungeon Dilbert" really is accurate). If I had to play one, I would definitely pick Advance. But I will only play reluctantly. During the game, I kept thinking "I would rather be playing Dominion", which I rate as a 7.

Lord of the Rings. First play with 3+. It's quite different with 5 than it is with 2. The cost/benefit trade-offs are different, and some of the tactics won't work because the cards are spread out, and the ability you might want to use might be 3 or 4 player turns away. It's still a classic co-op, and even with Sauron starting at the easiest level, we only barely won.

Ok, now on to the games that I *really* never played before last month:

The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game. I got this in a Math Trade. It was a bit of an impulse click, and I probably should have re-read more reviews first. I have never done deck construction, and don't really have an interest in doing so. I'm not sure you can really enjoy the game without constructing a deck. You can use a deck that someone else thought of, but you're still having to pull the cards.

If you use a different deck for each scenario, then you're having to re-construct decks a lot. Plus it kind of feels like cheating to me. I would want a generic deck that could take on any scenario, but the scenarios don't seem to be built like that.

The game feels a bit like a video game to me, where you try something, lose, learn, and reset to try again. And again. And again. I never felt that way with Pandemic or other co-ops.

I am going to play this a bit more (so far I have played once 2p and 4 times solo), but I suspect I will end up trading it away. My copy includes a full second core set in the box, in case anyone wants to make me an offer (via geekmail please).

Dragon Rampage. I like the dungeon theme, and I like dice. I don't like games based on scoring for majorities (or pluralities), which is what this game is about. I think it is a very well-designed game, and I love the multiple ending conditions with different scoring bonuses. The character decks are very diverse and interesting. The level of "take that" play is a bit high for me, but not too bad. I just don't like majority scoring. I played it twice, and would only play it again somewhat reluctantly.

Elder Sign. Our first game started with about 8 terrible turns in a row, and multiple deaths. Then our luck changed, and we won. Our second game was a pretty smooth win, start to finish. It's not a bad game, but it's too long for a light dice-roller, and it's inexcusable that there is no way to adjust the difficulty up or down. The text is in a font that is impossible to read in dim light, and if you read all the flavor text, the game would go from long to WAY TOO LONG. I'm a huge fan of co-ops, but not this one. I enjoyed my one game of Witch of Salem much more than Elder Sign.

The Game of Life: Card Game. This has been on my wishlist for many months, and I finally snagged a copy in a math trade. Based on 2 plays, it has lived up to my expectations. It is light, but still has interesting decisions, and it's fun to see an entire life arc described through the cards you have played. I wrote up a session report: Life can go in very different directions. This should be a good couples game for us for a while.

Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of Ashardalon Board Game. Disappointing. I guess it lived up to the reviews, as a brutal depressing slog. It would have been ok at 45 minutes, but our 5p game took 2 hours. I don't need to play it again (nor Ravenloft or Drizzt).

Galaxy Trucker. I didn't expect to enjoy it, and I was right. It's not horrible, but during the 2 hour game, I kept thinking how I could be playing a "real" game. The real-time construction phase is not really my thing, and the highly-random flight was annoying. It would be tolerable as a 15-minute-long filler.

Nefertiti. I didn't know a lot about it, and didn't really end up enjoying it much. At first, it's very intimidating with all those open spaces to put your meeple. The auctions are too hard to close, so there is a long gap between placing a bid and getting the reward. By then, the good you thought you wanted might not be desirable any more. It's kind of a reverse-majority mechanic (bonus for uniqueness), and offers some pretty strong attack cards, neither of which I like. With a lot of plays the strategy might get clearer, but I don't really want to play it again.

Power Grid: Factory Manager. Despite what you may have read, this game is nothing like Power Grid. Seriously. It has rounds with phases. That's it. Although I loved aspects of PG (the plants and the auctions), there were things I hated (stages, city competition, end-game trigger, and end-game scoring). Fortunately, PG:FM has none of the those. It's a straight "most money wins" game played over a fixed number of rounds. I want to play it again a few times to see if it remains "fun" or if it ends up feeling like a dry optimization exercise.

Finally, the games I played in March that I had played before:

Martian Dice. Still a great filler.

NCIS: The Board Game. Still a good co-op mystery game, except for case #5 (Some content may be disturbing).

Terra Prime. Still a solid euro space game with exploring, fighting aliens, colonizing planets, and delivering goods.

7 Wonders. Still a great choice if you're stuck with 6 or 7 players, and I still don't love the card drafting mechanic. And it's still harder to teach than its weight would imply.

Flash Point: Fire Rescue. Still an excellent co-op.

Pandemic. Still a solid co-op.

Ra: The Dice Game and Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age. Still nice light-medium dice games.

San Juan. Still a solid card game, although the leaching is not my favorite mechanic.

Vanished Planet. Still one of my favorite co-ops, despite being fiddly and swingy, and too long with 4+ players.

World Without End. Playing it a second time didn't really change my opinion. It's still a very clever design, and I enjoy playing it. I still wish it were a bit shorter, and I'm not convinced the different ways to generate points are balanced. Would like to play again, but I'm not sure anyone else in the group is interested.

Upcoming in April: Walnut Grove and Lords of Waterdeep for sure, and hopefully many more.

EDIT: Improved formatting, using "micro" images and some floatleft (which usually works but sometimes doesn't). Thanks to Bobby4th for the formatting tips!
EDIT2: Even better formatting, thanks to [ clear ]
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