New to you July 2013 => Best new boardgame
What new board and card games did you play in July 2013? Please share your experiences of the games you played for the first time this month.
In order to assist with collecting Statistics from these lists, please post an entry with your chosen game of the month, and if possible please use the "insert board game" feature to add other games you mention in your entry.
New To You Metalist 2013
New To You MetaMetalist
New To You Geeklists - Announcement thread
Videogames New To You
Videogames New To You July 2013
Videogames New To You August 2013
Other Great Monthly Lists
New to you a year ago Jul 13 => Has it stood the test of time?
Games only YOU have played in July 2013
Your Most Played Game (and more): July 2013
What games did you acquire in July 2013
New to your kids - New Lease of Life - Gaming with your kids in July 2013
Movies You Watched in August 2013
This month we were fortunate enough to stay for a few days with some gaming friends while we were on holiday on the Scottish borders... 75% of my new game plays this month were played with:
As well as my wife, and her sister who was visiting us from the US.
== NEW GAMES ==
Elfenland - 1 play -
The first night at Eddy's, my wife spotted this on the shelf and said "oh, what's Elfenland?"... Eddy and Helena were happy to teach it, and since it was a SDJ winner that I had not yet managed to play I was also keen to give it a try.
Having played quite a lot of "Eurogames" in the past 10 years, I can pretty safely say that Elfenland still stacks up very well today... it is a clever mix of card management and place to place travel, in which you have to visit every location on the board and end in a certain city to have a chance of winning... points are deducted for each place you failed to visit and also for how far away you were from your destination.
The game plays over a fixed number of rounds, and each round a player can travel between locations by means of various (fantasy) transport cards (e.g. Elf-cycle; Troll Wagon)... certain types of transport fare better over particular terrain, but before cards are played for movement, players take it in turns to assign transport types to routes, restrict what can be used on certain connections... if no token is played on a route, then no-one can use it!
Overall it's a very clever system and you often find yourself having to change your plans in the middle e.g. because someone placed a Unicorn on the route you wanted to use an Elf-cycle!
I'd definitely say there's more game here than in Ticket to Ride (also by Alan Moon), and it plays quicker too.
Two by Two - 1 play -
Next up was a game of Two by Two, which I have previously played on yucata.de once or twice, but this was my first time playing it face to face. It's an interesting game of set collection in the form of matching pairs of animals to take on your ark, as well as a small amount of tile-placement, by putting down water tiles to either drown animals, or allow your ark better access to the more land-locked creatures.
There's definitely an element of screwage too, as you can see what animals are near each players ark and can perhaps steal them out from under their noses! This is because, of the pair you take, only one of the animals has to be next to your ark, the other can be anywhere on the island as long as it's visible.
Overall, a pretty decent game, with cute artwork too.
Die Speicherstadt - 1 play -
Another game that I had played on yucata.de but only once or twice... I actually enjoyed it more playing face to face than I had on yucata, and I understood the game a bit better, so that was good. it's an auction game, but the amount you have to pay depends on how many people were interested after you. So you place your 3 meeples on the auction tracks for the cards you want to bid on and then in the resolution phase whoever arrived first gets first refusal but has to pay a premium for each meeple behind him in the queue. Makes for some interesting placement strategy, especially since money is so tight.
Kakerlakenpoker Royal - 1 play -
This was the only new game I didn't play with our friends in Scotland, and there's not much to say here... it's basically the same as Kakerlakenpoker, but some of the animals have crowns on and when you declare what a card is you can say an animal, or simply say "Royal". Not sure it adds that much to the game really, but it was ok.
Thinking about my next move.
So, if my only options are these, then I shall...
Not that many new games for July, but all, except one, go from great to really good. So, I can't complain!
De Vulgari Eloquentia was the most anticipated game of the year for me. Since I "discovered" it, by the middle of 2012, I talked about it with a friend of mine. I end up buying it, but it stayed in the hopefuls pile until the same friend bought it from me - and still the game waited for a few more months to hit the table. But, alas, in July 2013 it happened!
De Vulgari Eloquentia is a strategy game set in the Middle Ages, in Italy, as it is forming its language - the Vulgare - from the many dialect that existed in its regions. This theme may not be the most attractive for many players, but, for me, it is awesome: I really like the study of old languages is fascinating. Of course, De Vulgari Eloquentia isn't a study per se, but the theme - however thin it is - is a plus for me. And, not only this, but the artwork has that medieval flavor - from the box, to the board and pieces.
Now, on to the mechanics: they are great. When I look at the player aid (which you can download here and it is a must to play the game) I was a little afraid, since I couldn't make heads from tails - and usually, even when I haven't read the rules (like I did for this one), I can "view" how the game might work. This wasn't the case here. And when I started to listen to the explanation... there is just a plethora of options to chose from. But when the game actually started, its brilliance came into view: a dense, strategical game with several paths to victory. And also much less scary as I thought it could be - the flow is organic and things make sense.
The game, in a really brief summary, is: everyone starts as a merchant, with 5 actions to be used all in one turn, and you have a huge amount of choices:
- move (in land or in sea);
- use your small business (to get money);
- study the Salterio (to get knowledge);
- use the Pope's library;
- study the Riddle of Verona;
- use Messengers to acquire data (and, then, use it in Bologna in order to gain knowledge);
- study the Canticle of the Sun;
- study the dialect (by acquiring books written in such language);
- acquire political, clerical, abbess and amanuensis influence;
- do deals and study in towns in order to gain money and knowledge;
- become a Friar in a Convent;
- become a Cardinal (only if you already is a Friar) in a Cathedral;
- use a Abbey to gain influence.
Not a small set of choices, right? And some of these actions can only be taken in specific places or in specific rounds. This requires a high level of planning in order to determine not only what you want to do, but also when, where and also be the first in the place (as the Events are only avaiable for the first player to reach the place and use it) - adding a timming component to the strategy. Also, to study the dialects (acquiring books) requires that you travel through Italy, since you have to be in the region where the dialect is use to acquire a book written in the given dialect.
There are very few hidden information in the game - the order in which the books will appear and the health of the Pope (that marks the end of the game - the last round happens when the Pope dies, something that can happen, as soon as round 14 and as late as round 16).
All of this comes together to make a marvelous game. The best of this year among the euro-crowd, for sure. It is really satisfying to project that you need to be in Firenze, in round 9, with 3 actions to spare, with 45 ducati in order to acquire political and clerical influence, and being the first in the turn order - and you know this already in round 7. Then, by the time round 9 comes, you are able to do all you wanted.
However, De Vulgari Eloquentia has some small flaws: the players shield are almost useless for the information part - it makes the game harder to understand, actually, so use the player aid I commented above. Also, the game could use a scoring board, though this isn't mandatory, as all the scoring happens in the end game - but, I think a handmade one may be a good addition to the game.
Anyhow, an awesome game.
Rate: 8.5 / 10
Terra Mystica is, by all means, a great euro-game on the side of the medium-heavy ones. The game excels in variability: there are 14 groups/races from which to chose from - and the relation they have with each other are different: some will terraform the land in types closer to your own, so you will want to stay somewhat close, others will change easier terrain to terraform into tough ones, so you might want to stay away. And this is only one of the friction points between the groups/races. This don't mean battle - in Terra Mystica everything is friendly enough: the construction of the others near your own give you power points (at the cost of victory points) and the trading posts are cheaper to build when they are made near a construction of other groups/races. So this is a game of low confrontation - the dispute happens for the resources, much like in many euros (although not as cutthroat as Agricola or Caylus).
Every turn you have a selection of 7 actions to take: terraformation, build, special action, upgrade (buildings, terraforming and ships), pray, use power and pass. These actions usually demand a type of resource: workers, money, priests and powers - these are the currencies in the game. There are plenty ways to gain points and to change the enviroment of the game (you can acquire special tiles that give you one-off things or every round resources; the cities give points and one other thing; the round tiles, that you chose at the start of the game, and change for another everytime you pass, also give the player bonus stuff).
All the game is well crafted: things work in a good flow and the players are always wanting something and doing things - you can have rounds where you didn't do everything you wanted (as usual), but you hardly will have a round where you didn't do anything. Planning goes a long way in Terra Mystica, since the game allows only a tiny amount of randomness - and this comes from the actions of the player, not the game itself - maybe someone terraformed a place you wasn't expecting, or took one of the favor tiles that, to you, don't make sense, or upgrade a build into a Sanctuary when you were sure he/she would change that trading post into a Fortress. Anyway this is part of most (if not all) games.
The theme is almost non-existent, even though the groups/races have abilities that have thematic connection with them - dwarfs dig, alchemists turn things into power, and so forth -, but during play I didn't feel that I was an Alchemists, nor that my opponents were Witches or Chaos Magicians - they were just player that could do some things that I couldn't or do better. I don't require theme in my euro-games, but it would be nice to have more.
The pieces are great and, oh, dear, you get a lot of them. A tree worth of them. The art is also pretty good.
A solid game that deserves the attention that it is getting.
Rate: 8 / 10
Kemet is a game of area control and conflict - high amounts of conflict - with an Egyptian theme. The players are Egyptian Gods (Bastet, Anubis, Ouadjet, Sobek and others) that uses their powers to be the biggest of them all.
The players are trying to have 8 (short game) or 10 (standard) victory points by the end of a given round in order to win. Points come from: winning a battle as the attacker, controling temples, making sacrifices at the Temple of All Gods, developing pyramids to their highest level, acquiring blessings, and so on. Some of these are temporary points (temples, pyramids), that others can take from you, others you won't lose (battles, sacrifices).
The game has some similarities with A Game of Thrones: The Board Game (Second Edition): the way the game ends by points, how you can lose them if you lose a certain place or thing, and how the battles takes place: each troop is worth a point, then you must chose two battle cards from your hand, one do discard, one to use. The cards adds strenght to your troops, and can also cause damage and provide protection - the same things you can get with the House cards. Also, you only get the cards used/discard when you cycle your whole hand of cards. But I like that Kemet has permanent points instead of a limit of time. With the permanent points the game is sure to reach a place where is impossible to prevent a win - the victory can change hands, but the game will end no matter who takes it. With only temporary points (as in A Game of Thrones: The Board Game (Second Edition)) you can be facing two or more players and go from 6 to 1 or 2 points. In Kemet you can be beat in the same way, but you would go from 6, to say, 4 points. This is a huge difference in the "I'm still in the game" front.
Kemet has some really nice components, especially the miniatures (even the armies are all different one from another, not only apart in color). The game is easy to teach and to play - most parts are intuitive enough (we understood the players boards without explanation, for instance). The manual is lacking more explanation about the use of the tiles and the FAQ for Kemet is not really a little one (as I have been said, I don't actually see it) - but the game owner make sure to say that is paramount to read the FAQ before playing.
One play took about 100 minutes in the short game (8 victory points). I can't say I agree that the standard game will take only 90 minutes, but it is possible, I guess.
I liked the game well enough and I'm willing to play it again, given the opportunity (as I don't own the game). So, Kemet is not only a pretty face.
Rate: 7.5 / 10
Homesteaders is an auction/building combo game. Every turn, after an income phase, and the workers placement phase, the players bid for a building permit of some kind (some with restrictions to what to build and others with one-time benefits when purchased). After the auction phase, the player who was outbid and passed, advance in a track that give this player with some things depending in the place the player is (he/she can always choose a benefit for the place he/she is, or from any of the places behind). The players that acquire the permits, now, in the permits order, choose a building to build (usually the buildings will allow a player to receive a resource in the income phase, and/or come with a place for workers to be placed, and/or will be worth victory points). When the building phase ends, the same happens to the round. Ten rounds and the game is over. Homesteaders is indeed a quick game, but with a lot of meat in the bones.
The money and resources in Homesteaders are tight, so using the market to sell/buy things happens often (and is allowed at any moment), and acquiring debits (that take points at the end of the game if not paid - you gain $2, but must pay $5) is also usual (but should be avoid to happen often, unless you are sure you will get the Bank).
The are, in the game, four types of buildings:
- Industrial (gold mine, copper mine, forgery, etc);
- Residencial (ranch, boarding house, church, etc);
- Comercial (stables, general store, bank, etc);
- Special (rodeo, factory, fairgrounds, etc).
As I said, Homesteaders is a game to make combo of buildings - be for money, resources and/or points. The types of buildings don't change, but the buildings itself do: they start at the level of settlement, then to town, and finally city - and the requirements to build them gets steeper, and the benefits, of course, are better.
Homesteaders comes with a ton of components, all of great quality (probably due to the problems that the first edition of the game had), and the artwork works well.
The gameplay is easy to get into and the choices, though not really hard to be made, offers many possibilities. The game last for around one hour to 70 minutes (the 90 minutes playing time seems to happen only if the players really took their time in their plays).
I enjoyed Homesteaders quite a bit and will be willing to play it again.
Rate: 7.5 / 10
Legends of Andor is a light cooperative game with the focus being on theme, not on mechanics. This doesn't mean that the game has poor rules, just that they don't matter all that much, and you can learn them little by little - the game is designed to do this: in the first scenario, you will learn about movement, exploration and using locations; in the second, about fight, the progress of the story in the scenario, the movement of the monsters. Basically, in this sense, Legends of Andor is a lighter version of Earth Reborn.
The setting is the realm of normal fantasy: warriors, wizards, castles, monsters, dwarfs (and, as is old D&D, the name serves both as race and class - not sure how the dwarfs fell about this). The scenarios are story-driven and the heroes are different (in powers and in story) from each other. The art is really well done and thematic as it should be: they are truly the vision of the designer, since, well, the designer is also the artist.
The game bits are good, but not as much as in Defenders of the Realm: the player boards aren't sturdy, nor the game comes with miniatures - for the heroes and monsters the game uses cardboard pieces, which I don't mind because the art in them is good and is the same thing that I had with Arkham Horror, but with better bases.
I liked the game, but, so far, it hasn't posed a challenge yet. I need challenge in my cooperative plays. Though, it is said that some of the scenarios can be really challenging. I don't know if this means "harder than the usual scenario of this" or "at least as hard as to win a game of Witch of Salem". I guess is the former - I'm interested enough, anyway, to try and discover.
Addition: I did manage to squeeze a game of the second scenario - Long Live the King - on sunday, and this scenario really put up a fight to be beaten. We had to think about movement (of our heroes and the monsters) in order to deal with the four demands of the scenario (defend the castle, find the Witch, bring the herbs and destroy the Skrall fortress). I won't rise the grade of Legends of Andor, but I can see that, if the next scenarios are at least as difficult as this last one, I might bump the rate to 8.
Rate: 7 / 10
Can't Stop might just be one of the most frustrating game I have ever played! The frustration is built in the game itself: you roll 4 dices and must use sets of them to form number from 2 to 12. In our turn you have three rows to put your markers - you decide the rows, but the choice is limited by the numbers rolled, so say you rolled 3, 5, 5 and 6 - you could chose to put your markers in the 8, 9, 10 or 11. Once you put all your three markers, the subsequential rolls will serve only to advance the marker in the said roll. You can roll the dice as many times as you wish, but, if happens that you cannot form a duo of dice that advance one of your markers, you lose all the advance you have made so far in said turn.
So your choices are limited by the dice, but also the choices must be made regarding two things: probability and the advance made by the other players. The rows for 2 and 12 are the smallest ones, and the row for the 7 is the biggest. So roll a 7 is a lot easier, but the game requires many more rolls that add to 7 than those that add to 2, 4, 10, 11 and others. Also, you know that a roll of 6, 7 or 8 is easier to get, but what if your fellow players are already well advanced in all of them? Once a player reaches the end of the row (and ends its turn while the marker is in the topmost position - this is important, as the player can continue to roll and lose the advance that would win the row for him/her) all the advancement made by the others are lost. However, having one of your three markers in the said rows, might grant you more opportunities to get the numbers you really want, as they can "save" your turn (for example, you really want a 4 or a 10, but the dice showed 2, 4, 4 and 5 - if you have a marker in the 6 or the 8 row, you could advance it and continue rolling to get the number you want).
All of this makes for some though choices - when you have then - but also for some really frustrating, well, no-choices. No amount of calculation can save you from the (bad) luck of the roll: the blind luck of someone can win a row, that you couldn't manage to win even after 4 rounds, in a single turn. Making you lose not only the row, but could also end your chances. I have games were I was well posicioned in two rows, and I lost both for players that not even started their turns with markers there. In a single round a went from a good position to win one or two rows, to having nothing, being behind everyone else in all the other rows. Sure, this can go both ways - I also won rows and games that I wasn't really invested in.
Can't Stop is a short game, but more than once I had no chance to win after the first round - and by "no chance" consider "I just couldn't stop until amazing results happened", which, sometimes, did, but many more times, don't.
I don't say it is a bad game - it isn't. Can't Stop is easy to teach, to play, have some (light) decisions to the made and you can make (and take) fun of the greed of your fellow players. I just found it a little less fun than I thought (I don't see myself playing this over Unnamed Object, for instance - being a game that is also in the type of press your luck, that accommodates up to 8, with much, much less downtime, and the aspect of the fun is the same).
Rate: 6 / 10
GIR, quickly, ride the pig!
Yaaaaaay! I don't know what you just said!
I thought I had missed my chance to get this after hearing it was out of print and never seeing a copy at any of the local game stores or online. My girlfriend kept looking at the Black Secret expansion box every time we were at Sentry Box but I had to keep reminding her that we didn't have the base game and it was out of print. So imagine my surprise when I found a copy of the game at a little game store tucked out of the way in a small town while we were on vacation, along with the Black Secret expansion! (I've since learned the game has been reprinted, but it really made my day at the time! ) We've only played it a couple twice so far but have really enjoyed it. It's a nice cooperative game that provides a big challenge with relatively simple set of rules which seems like an odd mix but something we immediately liked. It should be pretty easy to bring in new players as the rules are fairly easy to learn. I'm now eagerly trying to get my hands on a copy of the White Moon expansion and grabbed The Guardhouse Expansion from spielbox.
Pirates vs. Dinosaurs
I had been waiting on this game for 3 years and was really excited for it to finally arrive. Rules a fairly simple and plays well making it really easy to introduce the game to new players. Absolutely love the artwork. The biggest grip I have with the game is that the endgame mechanic seems disconnected from the rest of the game. You're trying to race to be the first one to find all of your landmarks in order to get to the dig site, however, being the first one there doesn't hold much meaning as it comes down to a press your luck mechanic; you can really spend as much time there as you want with the game only ending when all of the players finally return to the ship or when the volcano track is filled. It can be a fun game but I'm a somewhat disappointed with how the last portion of the game plays.
First things first: the theme is poorly pasted on and vanishes as soon as you start to play it; the rule book even says that the theme could have been anything and the game would not have changed in the least and I'm inclined to agree. That aside, this is a surprisingly good game. The rules looked a little intimidating when I first glanced at them but we quickly found that it was relatively simple with just a lot of explanatory text which is fine with me. Decent strategy game that worked well with 2 players and should scale nicely with 4. I wasn't too sure what to expect with this one but ended up being pleasantly surprised by the game. My box came with 2 bags of large jade cubes instead of 1 bag of large and 1 bag of small but Game Salute was insanely quick in responding to my message about getting replacement parts and actually shipping them out to me; I had a confirmation of my replacement within 15 minutes of actually raising the issue (Z-Man should get them to help with their Pandemic issues).
First new game this month was Dungeon Petz. A very nice theme for the worker placement genre and a definite favourite with my girlfriend.
Second new game was Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small. Agricola being the awesome game that it is, I spotted this two player version which I thought would be handy for traveling, evenings at the pub etc. Very enjoyable game. Different enough from the original that it doesn't just feel like a cut down version but also similar enough so that it can be learned very quickly.
Third up was Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age. This has been my most significant new play this month. It's reinvigorated my love of civilization games and led to me purchasing (today) Sid Meier's Civilization: The Board Game.
We took this with us to Paris last week and enjoyed games on the plane and at the hotel and it's going to be a great game to take to the pub.
July was not a new game month, so there were only three games to choose from, all with just one play. The winner, mostly by default, was Star Wars: The Queen's Gambit. A thoroughly Ameritrash dice fest, it's an interesting game that I'd play gain, but I couldn't imagine spending the money to get a copy. Interesting design and a pleasure to see on the table.
Ruhrschifffahrt 1769-1890 is an interesting pick up and deliver/ euro hybrid canal themed game. Again, I'd play it, but I don't need to own it.
Dahschur: Die Rote Pyramide felt like a game rushed into production, when it needed more development. Novel mechanics that aren't quite tight enough to make for an interesting game. It felt like a game produced using Kickstarter and not a traditional board game company. Not so bad I'd never play it, but you'd really have to talk me into it.
Here's hoping August and the GenCon goodies are more interesting.
♪ Isaäc Bickërstaff ♫
The results of a five yeer studee ntu the sekund lw uf thurmodynamiks aand itz inevibl fxt hon shewb rt nslpn raq liot.
I found myself at a toy store one weekend this month, and stumbled across this game while browsing through the game collection there. It reminded me a bit of Bongo!, which is a game I really like. I get the feeling it won't improve on the game, I thought, but that's 36 engraved dice for $14, and they'll look nice in my dice jar, even if the game sucks. So here we are.
I guess you might be wondering where the dice ultimately wound up (or not, if you're in the habit of reading my awards), but let's just say that the orange and white dice look nice among all the other polyhedral randomizing devices in the corner of my game room. Because while the game isn't terrible -- you're looking to match faces among the orange and white dice to collect all of that face, unless there are no matches, at which point you yell out "Nada!" and collect what's left -- it's just no match for Bongo!
For one thing, when you make a match in Bongo!, you don't remove the dice from the game; you collect a token, and the point is to collect two full sets of tokens for each face on the dice. In Nada!, you remove the dice as you play, meaning the odds of making a match are reduced the longer you go through a round. That doesn't account for weird situations, like when you roll all twelve dice the first time and there are no matches, nor does it account for ties at the end of the game. There's just not enough to the game to make it all that interesting.
Still, I've paid more than I did for this game for other unique, engraved dice, so even if there's not much to the game, it's at least worth it for the home decor aspect of the dice.
I like trick-taking games, and I used to be one of those people who would back anything on Kickstarter if it looked remotely interesting. That's how I wound up with this game. To be honest, even if I stumbled across it now, I'd probably still back it. It wasn't expensive, and the ideas behind the game sound pretty interesting. It's just that once you see them in action, you realize that this just isn't a very interesting game.
First off, the rock-paper-scissors method of determining trump is too chaotic. It's hard to judge your hand at a glance, since (a) you don't know if that suit you're strongest in is going to be trump, and (b) you can't even determine if it will be trump, since it depends on what suit is led on the trick. Blue trumps red trumps green trumps blue, so if someone leads blue and you have a lot of red, you're screwed.
Secondly, in order to get really good points in this game, you're going to want to win tricks by trumping, since the highest valued cards in the suits have the lowest number of points. This makes sense, but I expect games to reward good players for manipulating a trick in his direction. Since point number one states that trump is never really in your control, the game rewards players randomly. Since you also only deal out part of the deck in each round, you can't even play the game based on what cards you've already seen.
The cards have special powers that can help players, but you have to win tricks with those cards in order to activate those powers, and it's not easy to do with all that I've mentioned above. The game also only has three suits (if you don't count the plague cards), which to me makes any trick-taking game much more limited. Plague tries very hard to be something new in the genre, and while I'll give the designer credit for trying, I can't credit him with making a good game. Casual gamers might like it just fine, but for folks who are connoisseurs of trick-taking games, it's just going to disappoint. Between this and The Hobbit, I think they prove that it's hard to bring something new to trick-taking games.
I mean, don't get me wrong; this isn't a filler game or a light game by any means, nor is it necessarily unforgiving. It's just that the game seems to be getting this reputation as being this huge, sprawling, heavy, deep game, and I don't really see that being the case. If you want to win, then your moves are important, and your decisions critical, but you can fluff around on your turns and still finish the game having accomplished a specific set of goals. You won't win, but you won't be crushed by the game's brutality, either.
That's not to say that I didn't enjoy the game (which is evidenced by the three times I played it this month). It's an optimization game without any direct aggression (once something's built, no one else can take it away; you interfere with other players by how you terraform and by picking actions and bonus tiles before they do), and the game is about determining the best course of action based on your special powers, the board layout, the scoring tiles, the favor tiles, and the bonus tiles. That's a lot of vectors intersecting to create a lot of replayability, which is good, since there aren't any random factors in the game. But I think the game is about looking at all those vectors, determining your best path according to those variables, and then going forward with it, hoping that the other players don't interfere with your plans.
I like it so far, but even after playing three different races, it's clear that I've only just scratched the surface of what this game has to offer. For one, I have yet to play the game without using the suggested setup for x-number of players, since each game so far has included some new players (such is the curse of being the only one in the group who owns it). I think we have all of the regulars familiar with the game, so maybe the fourth play will include random draws. I'm looking forward to it!
By now you've probably heard this described as "Dominion with a board," and that's about as accurate a description as you can get. For one, the game does, in fact, come with a board (truth!); for another, most of the card sets in the game duplicate exactly some of the cards in the base game (because if it's proven to work, why mess with it?). The question arises: If the game is so much like Dominion, why all the kerfuffle over it?
Well, for one, the board really makes a difference. It creates more interaction between the players without having to beat up on them, since you can get a good number of points off of the board. While it's not possible to cut folks off completely from places on the board, you can at least make it more expensive for them to get into those places. For another, the game takes away things like Curses and replaces them with Waste, which will take up space in your deck without costing you negative VPs. Since building on the board will always require you taking a Waste card, and since there is a dearth of cards that allow you to trash cards from your hand, that Waste will build up in a hurry. Luckily, the game gives you options to get rid of them throughout the game.
Trains seems to take the engine (ha!) from Dominion and make something more closely approximating a game with it, since you use the deck to navigate the board. There are certainly other ways to make points in the game, so that if someone wants to play a big money game, they still can (there are cards to buy that are just worth VPs, so you can mostly ignore the board if you want), but if you're going to do that, why not just play Dominion instead? I'm not sure if there's enough game here to convince the Dominion-haters to like it, but it's certainly different enough to justify it being a different game on the market.
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I don't know if this is the best game I've played in July but it certainly left an impression on me. Not sure if the KS is still going but I'm very tempted, this was a lot of fun and I enjoyed the double-ended card mechanism.
Other games I've played this month:
Cavum - a game I've been wanting to try for years, and finally got my chance. I enjoyed it a lot, I really enjoy these spatial awareness/brain-burning games, not all the time but I do like it.
La Boca - genius game, I'm useless at it, but lots of fun.
Niagara - I thought this would be fun but it ended in a stalemate with three players basically being d*cks to each other to prevent them from winning. I eventually scraped over the line but the damage was done. The mechanisms are too similar to Fast Flowing Forest Fellers which I think it way more fun.
The Gardens of the Alhambra - abstract tile laying game. I like it a lot.
Alchemists of Venice - I think that's the name. Playtest meetup, has a lot of promise and I look forward to the next iteration.
Constellations - another playtest. Good, quick fun. Great family game of matching patterns in the stars.
Castle Panic - "Didn't expect to like this particularly and I wasn't disappointed in that regard. I suppose the fact you have an incentive to collect monster tokens means the co-op bossiness is mitigated somewhat, but still it was very meh for me and we only won by getting lucky. Not something I'm rushing to play again."
Hearts - yep, never played. But I liked it! Plays quick and fairly simple, good to have in the repertoire.
23 - fun but unmemorable. However I'd play again for sure.
Sushi Go! - most fun for the casually racist accents when using the chopsticks card. OK but nothing special.
Every Man a (K-State) Wildcat!
"Just get that sucka to the designated place at the designated time and I will gladly designate his ass...for dismemberment!" - Sho Nuff.
I really like the system. The chit pull is a blast. The facing rules are clever. This is a light, fun series with plenty of goodness. I wish more battles were covered. We need Glory IV, V, VI, etc.
The only downside is that a) The battles are a bit long and b) Maybe not the best battles. Antietam seems to capture the nuances, but can bog down. Cedar Creek is a lot of fun, but is basically unwinnable by the the Confederates.
The Testimony of Jacob Hallow:
It's more fun than you might think and if you have your hopes set high, it will take you down a peg. The combat system might be a little shallow and random, but it has a solid theme and the gameplay works, so long as you keep the number of players low. I played it with 2. I would stop at 3, because at 4+, it's going to give the player too much downtime and too much "gang up on the leader." Keep the partipants low, and I'll gladly play.
Good old hex-and-counter game. Good theme. We played it wrong, which tilted the balance. It needs a little tweaking for the game that we played: more green units, less turns to completion.
The core is solid. Hex-and-counter games, by-and-large do not excite me as they once did. I'll always play them, but it's harder to get me to play them 2,3,4,5+ times.
The game is solid, yet unspectacular -- more in line with a Metagaming game with a better map and without the clever mechanic that you see in them.
Being a Lions fan is a gift...
...and a curse.
July was a full month of gaming. We found lots of time to hang out with friends and play games. And, while we were gaming all that time, I managed to slip in a few new games. I am not much closer to knocking out my unplayed games list, but at least we're having fun. As for selecting a best new-to-me game, it wasn't much of a challenge. This game is not only tops of this list, but is also my most-played game for the month too. It's apparently good enough that my wife wants to keep teaching it to all our family and friends...
= Elfenland - I honestly don't think I have been more puzzled by a game than I am by this one. I have already played it a handful of times, and I'm still not certain whether I love it or hate it. I like the tactics required to plan out a good route, and maximize your cards and tiles. However there is so much analysis-paralysis, huge swings of luck based on the cards you receive, and big opportunities to destroy your opponents' game. I'm leaning towards liking it because I still find myself wanting to play, yet when playing it seems like every time someone gets aggravated. I often get frustrated with the amount of time it takes people to make a move. Some of my family members get annoyed when their entire turn is destroyed by a single obstacle, or by an opponent dropping the wrong travel type onto their planned path. Then there's those turns where you draw nothing but trolls and not a single troll tile shows up. Again, I get agitated when playing this game, but I think that's because it is so easy to create a plan, and so hard to adjust that plan once you've committed to it. I'm going to continue investigating this game, but I don't know if it will ever be a favorite simply because there are so many aspects that threaten to annoy the players. Initial Rating = 7
= Word on the Street - In general I avoid word games. It's not that I have a horrible vocabulary, but it just seems like there is always dispute over the validity of words. Not to mention how much people can get annoyed when their vocabulary doesn't match up with the other players. But this game kind of fixes those problems. The categories lead to lots of obvious answers, and the obvious answers can score just as easily as the obscure. Also dividing into teams allows every player to feel involved and avoids singling out one player as the worst. It was actually a fun game, and I liked the tug-of-war aspect. The timer is really short as well, so it keeps the game rolling and stops the teams from spending massive amounts of time debating the best word to use. It is hilarious watching a team go into a round saying things like "We need a word that has a W in it!" and then completely forgetting that once the timer starts. Definitely a good party game. It probably won't go into my Top 10 favorites for parties, but I will often bring it along for something just as social but a little more strategic. Initial Rating = 7
= Take a Chance - Taking a chance on this game was probably a mistake. Essentially the rules involve trying to accumulate money, but you have to decide when you want to forego money-making in order to increase your future odds. So you have the luck of dice-rolling, and some luck of the draw, plus luck of the deal with the Take a Chance cards. The game gives the illusion of decisions because you can do one of 3 things on your turn. But there is a big flaw in this "decision." The Take a Chance cards vary in value tremendously. Some cards are virtually useless while others can throw a player a $20,000 turn. For instance there's one that allows a player to have a $6000 card for free, and since you score for those cards at the end it's basically a $6000 boost to their score, and they get to roll to make more money, and they get to play another Take a Chance card which could lead to even more cash! Also the cards are so cluttered with choices that it is often hard to sift through everything and find what is the best option you should score. Finally I just feel like it's wrong to only roll the dice twice. I know I'm biased by so many other games that allow 3 rolls, but only 2 just feels wrong. While I was holding out hope after the first time I played this game, I have now given up and will get rid of it. Initial Rating = 4
= FlowerFall - I don't get this game. People are going nuts about it as the new dexterity hotness, but I get nothing special from it. You randomly drop a card, hope it lands in the way you'd like, and usually it doesn't so you end up hurting your potential score. Then the scoring is so frustratingly tedious, it takes 4 people 10 minutes to sift through everything, which is longer than the gameplay took. I just don't get the love, because there are countless other dexterity options that are better. Frankly I'd rather play Jenga, because at least knowing who won and lost is obvious when the game ends. I do appreciate that this is a small box, extremely portable, which is rare for most dexterity games. However I just don't see myself wanting to bring it along. There were 4 of us who played and no one got any thrill from the game. It was simply, drop, drop, drop, drop, etc. No shouts of excitement, no held breath in anticipation, it just happened. It's like drinking water, sure you quench your thirst, but it does nothing for your taste buds. Initial Rating = 4
Cute as a button, easy to explain, some interesting decissions. This drafting game is clearly better with only 2 or 3 players, because luck is a smaller factor.
Liked this game more than I expected it to. Was afraid that players would only focus on their own shipping lanes, or that the combat option would turn it into a game of social negotiation. But players all focused on developing their tracks, meaning you only battle for that one city that'll give you an unclaimed chip, and players will gladly join forces to finish shipping lanes, just to get acces to the cards and to new cities. Great experience.
Infiltration surprised me. It has the usual Fantasy Flight feel to it, with a lot of beautiful components and lots of small cards with lots of text. Something I usually don't like. But the gameplay is quick and smooth. And fun.
I know little of the Pratchet books, so a lot of the flavor was lost on me. Very chaotic game, where luck of the draw and dicerolls play a big part. Game still had quite a few rules, and comes down to
One of the hottest titles out now, but I just don't find it interesting. My first play (well, technically met 1.5st) didn't leave me with any urge to play it again.
Back in the days when there were less maps we played every map back to back
Ooh a little higher, now a bit to the left, a little more, a little more, just a bit more. Oooh yes, that's the spot!
Only played it two player so far, but it was fun.
Chronicle - The first hand/meeting was a little weird, but then we got that hang of what was going on. An interesting little card game.
Cluedo Suspect - Daughter the Younger chose this when she was spending a gift voucher. Surprisingly good for a little card game. She requested this a lot recently.
Zombie Dice I had thought that this was just a differently themed Martian Dice but I was wrong. A dice game that Daughter the Younger doesn't always win!
Unpublished Prototype - Not mine - hopefully I will remember to come back and edit the entry towards the end of the year once the embargo is lifted
Power Grid: Australia & Indian Subcontinent - It has been released, so the embargo has lifted. Playtested this.
Big month for new games - I spent the first half of July in Melbourne and was working with someone who had brought a bag full of filler games, and then I got back home in time for my birthday where I was gifted many games by super lovely friends.
Dominant Species is the one that's really taken my breath away. Played a half game to learn, and then a full game, and even with two players I'm quite in love. The mechanics are so well grounded in the theme, and tightly fitting the biology. I love how the small changes in animals result in big changes in playing styles. I can't wait to get this on the table with more people and learn more about its dynamics.
I found Set very fun, but more than two games in a row cooks my brain something awful. In exciting news though, it turns out my girlfriend is freakishly good at this.
Love Letter got a lot of plays, and everything I'd read was right - it's very fun and engaging. I love all of the forced plays, even when I'm five cubes down because I keep getting both Barons at once.
I picked up Hive (Pocket) and I'm really enjoying how quick and transportable it is - I've been working on an island the second half of the month, so being able to play it on the ferry over was pretty great. I haven't put in the ladybird and mosquito yet, but I understand that helps alleviate first-player advantage a bit?
The friend with the fillers bought Space Alert while we were in Melbourne, and we played a few games of that. We never got to the missions that completely obliterated us (like Galaxy Trucker, I imagine there's a special kind of joy in that), and the group never felt confident enough to plan well together, but it was quite fun. I find action-programming an interesting mechanic, and this felt like as far as one could reasonably take that.
Onirim is really lovely - I played a couple of 2 player games and one by myself. Want to get myself a copy, it was a very enjoyable experience.
Played Coloretto a couple of times and very much enjoyed that one too. A lot of engagement for such simple mechanics.
Ra was a birthday gift, and certainly consolidated my love of Knizia. Only realised at the end of a second game that I'd misinterpreted the rules about Ra tiles ending epochs, which was embarrassing, but I think I'll really love this game.
When staying in Melbourne I found out that my host was a big fan of Talisman, so I suggested he teach me. We played one game that went for 3 hours and no one got anywhere (probably adding 3 expansions for a first game wasn't a great idea), but then a few nights later we got through a whole game in around 2. I found my enjoyment of the game was in strong proportion to how well I was doing, and I didn't have enough control over the latter to make the former very strong.
A friend bought Eclipse and invited me over for a game once he'd digested the rules. We only played a two player game (I'm excited to play with more, allegiances and other multiplayer dynamics would really shift the game's narrative) but it was really enjoyable - I love the economic management, and I'm hoping that it's not too weighted towards military strategies.
So there, a big month for new games. Got other games as gifts that I haven't had the time to play yet, so there's more to come for August!
I didn't know what to do with my UberBadge, so I left it as a GeekBadge.
-7- Map It! World Edition
Caveat: I like geography games. In Map It!, players compete to identify the positions of cities around the world in relation to each other. The game starts with a city in the middle of the table, on your turn you draw a new city card and have to decide whether it's north, south, east or west of the starting city. Future placements have to be in relation to all other cities placed in that particular compass direction. By the rules of the game, anyone can challenge a placement by shouting out their objection - the winner of the challenge takes a VP token from the incorrect player. After a couple of games, it was decided that the option to challenge should go in clockwise order around the table, to prevent one quick, loud-mouthed know-it-all from making all the challenges. This wasn't an entirely satisfactory solution, but it went some way towards what we wanted to achieve.
I like this game, but it is very unforgiving of differing knowledge levels. Maybe we need to play with the black-bordered "easy" cities so everyone has at least a rough idea where the places are. It's no fun when one player is self-conscious about getting a placement wrong. Having said that, there are some opportunities for bluffing and risk-taking if you do know where some of the more obscure places are. At the end of each round (15 cards) everyone gets a chance to say how many cities they think are placed incorrectly, with extra VPs up for grabs. If you're sneaky about it, you can try and make an incorrect placement unchallenged in order to get points at the end of the round for knowing its wrong. In summary, it's good but crowd dependent.
-6- City of Horror
I don't like zombie games as a rule. I find the use of this theme to be a good indicator of the sort of game I don't get along well with, so it took some persuasion for me to play this. I was pleasantly surprised, as it's nothing like any other zombie game I've tried before. It's more of a negotiation survival game, similar to Lifeboats and is perfectly playable. It's one of those games where bad things are going to happen to someone every turn, you just have to try and minimise the number of times they happen to you.
There are lots of cards and special actions available in the game, but you don't get to bring many of them into play in any particular game. On one hand, that leaves you with tough decisions over how best to use your resources, on the other hand I felt quite restricted in my choices. Cards in hand seemed to be more valuable than any action you could take on the board, yet the board actions require you to discard a card to use them. In my one play of this, I didn't realise the importance of getting syringe/antidote tokens until too late. I expected the game to generate more of them as it went on, to promote a last-minute scrabble for them rather than, as happened in our game, a final turn realisation that there were no good choices left for you. So the arc of the game didn't quite work out as I'd hoped.
-5- Geek Battle
This is a weak design but we had fun with it anyway. Roll and move around a board, Trivial Pursuit style, then answer Geek-related questions (no board game ones that we found, sadly). The best bits were the Geek Battles themselves, where you were pitted against another player and had to take it in turns to name items from a list until one of you failed. Examples included signs of the Chinese Zodiac, provinces of Canada, chemical elements with single letter symbols, the Seven Wonders of the World (a cinch for 7 Wonders players) and Stephen King books that have been made into films.
-8- Age of Steam: Four Corners
A good map for beginners or people who haven't played for a while. The only twist with this one is that once you've delivered a set of four different-coloured cubes, you get a +4 Income bonus. It incentivises Urbanisation and encourages spreading across the map and there's some interesting terrain configuration to consider.
-7- Dominion: Guilds
I love how prosaic some of the card names are: Baker, Doctor, Taxman. There's no attempt to glamorise or make the cards thematically exciting, they're just some job titles. We played the three standard setups combining Intrigue and Guilds, all of which seemed to have several interesting interactions and routes to victory. There are two new major abilities, cards that give you coins you can save from turn to turn and cards that let you overpay for them to get some additional effect. I enjoyed the latter type of cards best. It was an exciting revelation to realise I could pay 5 for a Stonemason (normally costs 2) and get two free Great Halls. So, it looks like a good set, played very nicely and I'm sure I'll enjoy using these cards in future games.
-7- Power Grid - Quebec
Lots of ecological power and very few cheap connections made for a fun game with a tense ending.
-6- Age of Steam: Italy
Interestingly, the tile limitations really came into play, much more so than with other Age of Steam maps. By the end of the game, the board was so crowded that all possible connections had been built. There's a twist to this map where you can deliver black cubes along other people's track to lower their income by one for each link you cross in this way. That sounded mean when we read the rules out, but in practice it often seemed better to gain income yourself rather than try to hurt your opponents. Later on, when useful cubes were running out, the black cubes became more useful.
7 Wonders - Wonder Pack
Too early to decide about this one. The one game we played had Stonehenge and The Great Wall of China, but they were both across the table from me and didn't impact my game much.
Mage Knight Board Game (1 play) - _7_
Mage Knight is first and foremost a solo puzzle game. In a way that is not too dissimilar from e.g. Dungeon Lords where the apparent core game (there Worker Placement, here Deck Building) merely serves as trappings for solving the challenge presented to you on the board. Mage Knight is probably a little more successful in hiding this simply because of the wealth of trappings thrown in the way of the players.
That said, all those trappings come for a price. Even though most of the rules are fairly intuitive there are many of them, and that results in a steep learning curve at the beginning. This is clearly a game that rewards repeated plays and benefits a lot from not having to learn the rules from the rulebook. The wealth of options provided by those rules on one hand creates lots of interesting choices and opportunities for clever play, but on the other also provides lots of room for mental breakdowns and excessive downtimes, so it's no wonder the game is usually considered better with fewer players. Since it's mostly solo play anyway, that doesn't seem like too much of a disadvantage, though.
What kind of impresses me most about Mage Knight is how the designer succeeded to make this mostly mechanical puzzle still feel like a very thematic fantasy romp. It obviously has a lot of appeal for both gamer factions but I'm still not quite sure how he managed to pull that off.
Comuni (1 play) - _7_
Comuni manages to build quite an interesting game from a couple of standard cube-pushing mechanisms. The major challenge is timing your moves correctly in order to develop your city and still defend yourself from the frequent invasions. I like that the timing of the game end and all the invasions are very much in players' hands and the path you decide to follow has an immediate and very palpable effect on everyone else.
Roma (2 plays) - _6_
Players begin a game of Roma in a position where they lose victory points each turn. It's quite possible to be unable to get out of that downward spiral. In this case, the game is over after a couple of minutes.
If both players do manage to make the turn-around it becomes a vicious tug-of-war over a very limited pool of victory points, large swings of luck and swearing at the dice included.
Merchants of Amsterdam (1 play) - _6_
You don't see Dutch auctions being used in board games very often and the annoyingly noisy clock is most certainly part of the reason (and not because it is annoyingly noisy but because a gadget like this is necessary). There's no denying that it works quite beautifully, though.
The game built on top of the auction, however, is just a bog-standard area majority game with a few Knizian niggles thrown in for good measure, and therefore not quite up to the level of many of his other auction offerings.
Mystery Rummy: Jack the Ripper (3 plays) - _6_
At the end of the day this is still just Rummy (once you've worked your way through the fairly horrible rulebook, anyway), but it's Rummy with a couple of twists and special cards and an interesting if somewhat odd attempt at applying a theme.
So, how much of a difference does it make, then? I don't like Rummy very much but Jack the Ripper spices things up enough that I can see this being played every now and then. There is a nice tension between keeping cards and going out, some means to sabotage melds played by your opponent and additional ways to end a round. Well worth a look if you do like Rummy, and maybe even if you don't.
Fauna (1 play) - _6_
Fauna is a trivia game that actually deserves being called a game. Due to the adjacency rules you don't need perfect knowledge (although it certainly doesn't hurt), there is some punishment for too many blind guesses, and there is a host of animals included that you've probably never heard of. As far as trivia games go, it probably won't get much better than this.
Prêt-à-Porter (1 play) - _5_
For a game that lasts several hours (I don't think anything shorter is reasonable for the first few plays) there is surprisingly little long-term planning in here. Almost every decision is tactical in nature and coupled with lots of very situational and fairly imbalanced cards the game simply takes far too long, and that situation certainly isn't helped by a less than helpful rulebook and lots of different and not exactly self-explanatory card powers.
Prêt-à-Porter is fiddly. There are more fiddly games around (like, say, Mage Knight) but the administrative overhead felt a lot bigger in this one, most likely because many of the effects aren't very intuitive with regards to the thematic integration. To a large degree you don't do stuff because it makes sense thematically, but because the mechanisms demand it or because "it's in the rules." Despite the unusual theme the game really doesn't provide anything new or different when compared to other worker placement games.
All of that is not to say the game is broken. With the exception of the imbalanced card powers it is solidly built. It does, however, resemble day labour a lot more than craftsmanship or even art. There may be a succinct statement about the fashion industry in there somewhere but it provides little reason to choose this game over the competition.
Trajan (1 play) - _5_
Trajan shares a lot with Castles of Burgundy. So much, in fact, that I'm going to claim it's pretty much the same game with just the action selection mechanism exchanged for the mancala-style rondel. There are a few other minor differences (CoB has a stronger spatial aspect, for example) but in both games the focus is essentially on solving a micro-optimization puzzle. Perhaps not surprisingly it feels rather similar to Macao in many respects, too, again with another way to select actions.
Macao at least has a bit of uncertainty and some sort of risk/reward or short/long-term tradeoffs whereas Trajan is just straight point-mongering from start to finish. I have no idea why people get excited by playing solo mancala in order to compete in various mini games, but apparently they do.
Ranking (1 play) - _5_
A bit of an odd party game that looks like a bluffing game at first. Later on it becomes clear that (at least with many players) there is very little opportunity to actually follow through or reveal a bluff, considering that with the full complement you only make one move in five and the round is usually over after going around the table two or three times.
The reasons players are supposed to give when moving items up or two can be quite entertaining but are entirely irrelevant to the game itself which more or less simply rewards random behaviour (unless everybody plays that way in which case, well, it becomes fairly random...).
Honeypot (1 play) - _4_
Honeypot is pretty much not my kind of game. It's an abstract strategy game with elements of the classic Othello but a lot more tactical in scope, primarily because you can only ever flip immediately adjacent pieces. What I found most surprising is that one of the major design elements, the directional influence exerted by the pieces, becomes almost entirely irrelevant after you have placed a piece on the board. In effect, at any point in time, play seems to focus on a very small part of the board only, and I doubt you can meaningfully plan ahead more than two moves at most.
Learned quite a few new games this month. Seven new ones, and one new expansion.
Battle Beyond Space - A new acquisition, one that I have been interested in for a while. Each player has 20 ships, 3 fleets of 6, and 2 large capital ships. On your turn, you draw a card, choose which fleet moves and shoots, and then choose a capital ship to do the same. You get points for everything you kill, as well as some points for collecting probes from the middle of the board. It's a simple game, but the decisions can still be quite tough. You don't want any of your ships running into each other or asteroids, and you want to kill what you can, all the while setting those ships up for a future turn. Very fun!
Eight-Minute Empire - This was a pretty cool and fast area control game. You select a card which lets you add more armies to the board, move armies, or build a city. Each card also has a resource on it, so it is also a set collection game. You get points for controlling areas and continents, as well as for the sets of resources you have. I liked this one quite a bit for such a short game.
Libertalia - An interesting game similar to Citadels, but everyone has their own cards and can choose the same role, but only one time each. The order of selecting treasure often depends on the card everyone else picks, so it is tough to plan around. But not taken too seriously, it is a fun and chaotic time.
Clubs - An easy and fast trick-taking game. There is a little more strategy than there seems at first, as everyone wants to go out first to get the bonus points. However, a few clubs can be worth more than being the first one out, so if you can get those clubs, you're in better shape overall.
Yspahan - A dice game, where a bunch of dice are rolled and determine what resources/actions are available for the turn, and each player gets to select one. There are upgrades that make actions more valuable, and the goal is to get lots of points, which can be done in several ways.
Fleet - Kind of a simpler San Juan without the role selection, but the cards all have multiple uses, which can be money, boats, or captains. You have to balance using money to get licenses and setting up boats, both of which bring in points. Licenses also provide special abilities, and setting up an engine that allows you to draw more cards is very important.
Takenoko - Takenoko looks great, but I wasn't too impressed with its gameplay. A dice determines your extra action or special ability for the round, which adds a luck factor. But it seemed like the easiest way to get points was to choose the cards that score for landscape formations. It seemed like once the board was big enough, those were automatic points for not having to do anything. At least with the eaten bamboo cards, you had to get rid of those when they scored, so you couldn't use them over and over.
Thunderstone: Starter Set - Used some of the cards from this set. Cards are a little simpler overall, but when mixed in with everything else, still provide some good choices. I'm a sucker for more Thunderstone Advance!
Only one new game to me this month. 1849: The Game of Sicilian Railways.
This makes 1 game more than the last 2 monts
This is a different 18XX game than most of the ones I use to play.
This one is really unforgiving. One small mistake and you're doomed.
I enjoyed it. The others said the game is better with 3 players (we played it with 4).
Johannes cum Grano Salis
"It's not hard to design a game that works, the real challenge is making one that people want to play again and again."--Martin Wallace
This year's Winsome Essen Set has this little game in it. It's a map of the Northwestern US, from Minneapolis to Seattle, showing various unbuilt & potential routes between cities along the way. On your turn, you do one of two things: 1.) place a cube in a city, indicating that you are "land speculating" that the Northern Pacific Railway will go through that city, or 2.) place a train, thus completing a connection, and each player with a cube in the new city takes their cube back plus a new cube from the stock as a payout for speculating correctly. Player with the most cubes over the starting number wins. That's the game.
My take on it is that it is extortion and incentive management boiled down about as far as they can go without ceasing to be a game any longer. It's quick (10 minutes or so), it's simple, and a lot of fun. I've now played it 3p, 4p, and 5p, and I've played with the starting cube supply of 4, 7, and 10. I prefer 5p, and I prefer 7 cubes. Everyone I have taught this to has loved it, from age 8 all the way to 65, gamers and non-gamers alike.
I had played Coup in June, and really liked it. When a guy in my normal group brought Love Letter one night, I was a little more enthusiastic to try it. Love Letter is obviously light, and somewhat silly (my very first hand, I was eliminated before doing anything). The deduction element is not terribly strong, but there's a hint of thought involved. Sometimes you do get to pull off a Priest-Guard 1-2 punch of seeing a hand one turn and then "guessing" their card the next. Still, pretty fun. My wife likes it as well. I'm not sure how much fun it is at 2p, but at 3p and 4p, it works great.
Played this with my family. You're dealt a hand of invention cards and your job is to slot them in a common row on the table in front of you based on what year you think the invention was invented in. If you guess correctly, you play the card and play moves to the next player. If you guess incorrectly, you place the card where it ought to go and then draw a new card, thus replenishing your hand as punishment. First person to go out wins. One of our games bogged down at the end as we all guessed badly for a few turns. I'm sure that, as a game, you can get to the point where you have all the dates memorized and things won't be challenging any more. But at that point, you will have done what is called "learning," which is not so bad.
I played this 2p at the FLGS one afternoon when I gave myself some time off. I honestly liked it more than I thought I would. It has a reputation as a lighter, more beginner-friendly 18xx, which it is (very flat, 1 Dimensional stock market, 4Ts are permanent), but it also has some nice decisions around transforming companies from 5 shares to 10 shares, and in when to place hotel tokens, and how to deal with a track laying in a funny-looking skinny state. I liked the Key West/Havana connection that gets destroyed and must be rebuilt, and I liked the focus on operations as a nice change of pace; operations to me are the least interesting part of an 18xx game, and if I'm to play an operations 18xx title, I at least want the game to be fast (18EU is excruciating). Certainly a light game, certainly not something I'm going to dream about. Good weeknight candidate, and good lighter candidate. I enjoyed it quite a bit.
Samarkand: Routes to Riches
Been holding on to this one for a while, and was hoping it'd function as a decent family-style intro to cross-incentivization investment train games. Which it kind of is, but Paris Connection is better in every way. Still, Samarkand is not awful. It is light, it is rather easy to explain, although a little bothersome to set up. I only played it 3p, but I'd like to at least try the 2p variant to see if it's any good -- it looks a little unpredictable, which is going to blunt the cross-incentivization/parasitism thing more than a little. I kept marrying into families that were going to connect with another family next turn. That was nice. Family Treasuries were absolutely loaded by the end of the game, though, so we kept thinking we were doing something wrong. Maybe we were, but we couldn't find it. Anyway, if the 2p variant works OK, I'll keep it. But I'm not sure I'll ever choose to play this over the actual train games I already own and play. The theme is bizarre, and I'm not sure an 8-year-old is going to fail to understand the stock holding element of Paris Connection but really identify with the idea of paying to marry into multiple Middle Eastern merchant families.
A buddy of mine bought this new family game the other day, and I played it Monday. It's a perfectly fine, low-conflict, low-interaction, no-interference game with a pretty fun standout gimmick mechanism (the Rock Quarry Pusher Thingy). I ran away with the game since I built a huge amount of the road. Key words here are "light" and... no, just the one keyword. "Light." It will not blow you away with originality, but that is not the point. I could see it easily being a good game with kids: simple to explain, easy to play, easy to understand how well you're doing, generous catch-up mechanism for stragglers. Pretty classic family game qualities.
Age of Empires III, aka Glenn Drover's Empires: The Age of Discovery was one of the best games I tried for the first time in July. It moves quickly with lots of decisions to make. I look forward to trying it with more people.
Keyflower was another fun game I tried this month. It will take me a few more games to wrap my head around the strategy, as it offers an unusual mix of auction, worker placement, and city-building mechanics.
Rialto takes third place for the month, though it may move up with repeated plays. Gameplay is simple — almost too simple — but I get the feeling there is more than meets the eye. It requires you to figure out what your opponents are up to, and that's one of the things I like most about games.
Board Game: Scopa
[Average Rating:6.55 Overall Rank:2661]
Don't fall in love with me yet, we only recently met
This month was dominated by traditional card games. I spent 10 days on holiday in Italy and bought a couple of different designs of Italian cards. We learnt several games to play with them.
My favourite was Scopa, a simple fishing game that's taken over Cribbage's place as the go-to for my wife and I (at least for now). Like Cribbage, there's enough skill to make it interesting but enough luck to make it relaxing to play over a coffee or a beer. I tried the 4p partnership version (Scopone) last night and that was excellent too.
Briscola is an odd trick-taking game in which you don't have to follow suit, which means it's usually better to not have the lead. In the 2p game you have a 3-card hand that replenishes after each trick, so you can play the odds. The excellent 5p version, Briscola Chiamata, has a bidding process by which 2v3 teams are set for each hand, but only one player starts off knowing who's on which team!
I also learnt a 3p no-trump trick-taking game, Calabreselle, which isn't in the BGG database.
As well as the Italian games, I learnt a few standard deck games this month too. It's surprising that I'd never played Spades before, but it was reminiscent of one of my favourites Oh Hell so I took to it straight away.
Piquet is a very precise 2p trick-taker involving a declaration phase where players score points in return for revealing information about their hand, before playing their cards out in tricks. I liked it but my wife didn't, so I can't see it getting much play.
Also using a standard deck was my friend George's memory game Sweet16: Matchmaker. It's an adaptation of the game Calcory, included in Mu and More, and I enjoyed it, though three beers hampered my performance. And I played Ligretto for the first time, though it's really just a proprietary version of Racing Demon which I have played.
I'm a big fan of the Japanese microgames I've encountered so far and In a Grove was no exception. It's a minimalist bluffing/deduction game that plays like an even simpler version of Divinare.
So after all the card games, I guess my favourite board game of the month is La Boca. Temporary partnerships try to build a structure up from 3D objects that matches two views, each of which only one player can see. A lot of fun, and would have been a much better nomination for the Spiel des Jahres than Augustus.
Speaking of which, Qwixx is a neat little dice game that could have been designed by Sackson or Knizia, but it felt a bit lacking in the 'oohs' and 'ahs' that the best dice games generate.
Lancaster didn't look like my sort of thing (I'm not generally a fan of worker placement) but I found it surprisingly enjoyable. The rules are super smooth, there's not too much cube-churning and a decent amount of interaction. I'm not sure it's even worker placement really - more like an Amun-Re-style auction with multiple (and upgradable) bidding chips per player.
I picked up a cheap copy of Niagara which looked like a fun family game. That it may be, but my first play with gamers degenerated into an unsatisfying stalemate.
Shoot Out came free with the Going Cardboard documentary DVD. Let's just say you get what you pay for and move on.
Finally, Cavum is a Kramer/Kiesling, which are always at least worth trying. It was far from one of my favourites from the team though, reminding me most of Java with its combination of brain-burning spatial relationships and a pot-pourri of other mechanisms that distract from them.
Alright, so this was one of the first games I saw on BGG that I really wanted to pick up when I joined this site about 2 years ago or so. But I wasn't willing to pay the OOP costs that were showing up in auctions. Then aong comes FFG and saves the day.
We've only played Letters from Whitechapel once in July but that was all we needed to know that this is a game that will stick around in our collection. We like deduction games around here it seems. My wife played as The Ripper and in her words, "She's never had so much fun murdering women of the evening". She got away, I had her narrowed in on the first evening but through some sneaky moves and some deception she got away from me and I wasn't even close the rest of the game.
Next in line is Hanabi, such a fun/aggravating experience. We've played this a few times, never with the same exact group, but the best score we have gotten so far is a 19, and that's with me trying to nip some bad table talk and facial gesture in the bud while playing. I can see this one being played for a long time, easy to teach, difficult to master and it promotes the interaction aspects of gaming that I love.
I finally played Agricola and finished it with a respectable 32 points, all be it I had a little help from a couple folks at the table who knew it was my first time playing it face to face. I enjoy it, just not sure that I'll ever be able to get my wife to play this vs Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small, but it will be a game that never leaves my collection, just in case. Lots of decisions to be made and you can get stuck doing non-optimal things for a bit if you aren't going early enough in the turn, but I liked it a lot and thought that it lived up to it's reputation.
Ligretto Dice-Not a bad game, just not all that exciting, but we had fun playing it with our daughter a couple times this month.
Ascension: Deckbuilding Game-Played this one 2 player with my daughter and it was good, but it just felt like there weren't all that many decisions to make, I wonder if the expansions add to it or just make it a busier game of no decisions.
Race for the Galaxy-I guess this would be my loser of the month, but I know it's not a bad game, I was just taught it in a hurry towards the end of a gaming evening and I didn't really grasp it. I am definitely going to give it another shot or two, may even try it out on BoardGameArena.com
Hopefuls for next month:
Usually I play 0(mostly)- 2 (rarely) new to me games each month. July was different. 5 new games - wow. Too high number for my standards. But what can I say - fun is fun, now lets get to describing how I felt and what do I thing about each of these games.
New Game of the month - Libertalia
My expectations towards this game were high. I've heard it to be compared with one of my all time favorite games Citadels. And Libertalia didn't disappoint me. It has high productional qualities (I enjoy the box insert, card design, player tokens), maybe except the box art. It just seems too dark and dirty for my taste. OK, but it's about pirates not about staffed animals and balloon party. Rulebook is well made, structured and understandable. But the best thing is gameplay - it offers lot of tactical choices and very much differs depending on player count. 2 player game feels like almost an abstract with lots of counting, what and when opponent will do. 4 player game is different and sometimes you can gain advantage doing something out of the box and typical moves.
What I didn't like - my gaming group wasn't too excited about it because of one reason (and actually I agree about this one) - player colors are unballanced. Yes, they are ballanced mathematically, and I totally understand - there are no bad roles, just bad players. But still - some of the roles are more useful and universal. And player colors, which have higher secondary number, have bigger chances to win the game. Since player colors can (and must) be changed each game I don't see this becoming a problem for me. But I can't say it for others. So, we will see, if this game will be asked to play.
Overall - great game and it gets rating 8 from me and might even get 9, if will be played more.
Closest follower - Revolver
The game's not new at all and actually there is even its second version published last year - Revolver 2: Last Stand at Malpaso. But I've been looking at it long time and finally bought Revolver last month.
Production quality is great for a card game. I like the metal box, card design and box insert. Maybe guys on the mexican border could look more like guys on the border not wooden cubes. But it's OK - in our games they didn't play almost any role anyway. Rulebook is easy and understandable and last page with all symbols helps a lot. But again - the best thing about Revolver is gameplay. That was first time I played something like this, so hard to compare. I've heard that Neuroshima: Convoy is like improved Revolver and maybe some day I will find it out. But the game is quick, fun and I see it getting played often.
The biggest minus might be replayability. Even after 7 plays I already see that Revolver has nothing new to offer. So, when will the crucial moment come when game becomes boring? Hopefully not soon, because I really enjoy it. And there always are expansions.
Overall - one more great game which also gets rating 8 from me. But won't get higher.
Honourable mention - Rise of Augustus
I don't think theres much to say about Augustus what haven't already been written somewhere. Yes, it is like bingo, but there still is some strategy involved. You have to evaluate starting cards and at least determine some close term goals to achieve. And the theme is not so bad. It's always fun to remind someone that in this and that region he may produce olive oil or sheep, but yes - "it will be one great sheep for you there, although completely useless". Pulling tokens from the bag is also very interesting thing. I usually pull out like 15-20 tokens before reaching the joker (once the only 2 tokens left in bag for me were jokers). On the other hand - one player from our gaming group in all games has gotten to 6 max (usually 3-4). I just can't define, which of us could be called the lucky one.
Overall - game's a great gateway and will be played many times, but rating from me - 6. I just can't give more.
Best New Expansion - Dominion: Cornucopia
I had only base Dominion, but our gaming group partners got crazy and bought Dominion: Intrigue, Dominion: Prosperity and Dominion: Dark Ages. So actually, when we realised that one expansion for our Dominion might work well, there was not much of a choice left. Dominion: Hinterlands seems like a little bit boring, Dominion: Seaside wasn't available, no idea, when Dominion: Guilds will reach my country, Dominion: Alchemy has some bad reviews, so Dominion: Cornucopia it is.
What I like about this expansion - it pushes players towards variety. And that's what I look for in Dominion. I know that best for winning usually is grabbing silver, +Cards, then gold (in big money strategy) or +actions, +cards for engine building strategy and so on. But usually all the deck is made like from 4-5 different cards. But there are so many interesting Kingdom cards on the table! I always want at least to try each of them. So, Dominion: Cornucopia rewards players like me and I'm glad about it. Expansion also introduces some powerful cards (at least they seem so after 4 playes): Jester, Young Witch and others.
Overall - rating 7 from me, but might go up to 8, if played more.
Closest follower - Thurn and Taxis: Power and Glory
I've always thought that Thurn and Taxis does not need any expansions. And actually I haven't changed my mind. The game's good by itself and Power and Glory expansion just seems like more family like variation. Author heard that people don't want their chains to be destroyed? OK, here you have horses you can put on the table so you can wait for city card needed. Somebody ends the game too quickly getting all carriages? OK, no more carriage man and game ends only when all houses are put on the map. And so on. The last mentioned rule change seems to drag the game much longer than it should be - close to 2 hours in 4 player game.
Overall - need to try this expansion more, but at the moment not liking it very much - rating 6.
# Before reading some GeekList in BGG (I had already played both of the games) I didn't know that Rise of Augustus and Libertalia are designed by the same person. Yes, I know - it's bad and it's like reading the book without knowing the author. But I was so eager to try the new games, so it is forgivable. Anyway - good job Paolo Mori!
# Can someone say - are there more city cards in Thurn and Taxis: Power and Glorythan in base game? I'm too lazy to count or check the rules, but it seemed that getting city you need takes longer, espacially when need to wait for re-shuffling.
# The older guy on Libertalia box cover looks like Gendalf.
No big hits for me this month...
My favorite of the games new to me was Decathlon, a clever little card game which I like almost, but not quite, enough to pick up.
Kola was perfectly harmless and mildly interesting - which is about how all of Vogel's games strike me.
The Junior Police Five Game wasn't bad, really. Wasn't quite good, but for a TV tie-in game from long ago, it's rather clever.
Rialto - for a long while, all of Feld's games struck me as having one clever, new central mechanism. The game around that mechanism varied widely, but the central conceit always stood out. Here - not so much. It's not a bad game, though there is an annoying intersection of randomness that makes it not for me. It's not that different from Brügge, really, except that game was consistently more interesting as I played it.
Rise of Augustus wasn't horrible. But - it's close. Very busy graphically, and without sufficient control to have many interesting decisions; there are a lot of things that look like decisions in the game, but which would only matter if the game lasted twice as long. If you want gamer Bingo, Finito does a much nicer job.
Edit: Aargh - missed two.
Bohn To Be Wild! was bad enough to convince me to stop collecting Bohnanza stuff, and start clearing things out.
I don't design games, I play them!
July was a weird month for me regarding new games! I did play my usual ~15 new games, but none of them were exceptionally good, and none of them were really bad. Most ranged between “ok” to “quite good”, and my pick for the best new game this month was very hard to make as four games are tied with a 7.5. Ultimately, I decided for the one I feel is the better and deeper game, but the small card game (see below) is a close runner-up!
Keyflower. Plays: 3. Rating: 7.5.
Keyflower features a mix of auction, worker placement and spatial element – lovely! It’s a very good game, but after 3 plays I decreased my rating by 0.5. Why? Because the game ends too soon! It feels like you don’t have time to build up your engine, and in autumn and winter you’re rushing to activate a lot of your tiles in order to get VPs. It almost seems as if the game would have been better if it lasted for 6 seasons instead of 4… And there are certainly not many games which would get better by an extended playing time, that’s for sure! I and the rest of the players don’t feel you had time to do much if anything – and this isn’t meant in the good way as in Agricola, where you can never do anything you want. Here, there isn’t that much interesting stuff to do I think, and the seasons end too rapidly so you don’t really get to do much during the game.
Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that I’ve only played it with 2 and 3 players, but I cannot imagine 5-6 players would increase my enjoyment and fix my issues with the game; on the contrary, I think it would bog down with many players, and only the auction part of the game would perhaps be slightly more interesting. Not that the auction doesn’t work with fewer players, it actually works very well which I was surprised by.
I normally like games in which I place my tiles in certain patterns to benefit the most from them, and while this game features this mechanic, I didn’t think it was that exciting or well-deployed. Partly because you don’t get that many tiles and partly because you always know how many roads the tiles have in each season.
What I did like about the tiles is that only part of them come out each turn, so each game might be vastly different from the previous one, so the replayability is great (though I do need to say that many of the tiles are almost the same, but just concern the different kinds of resources etc). I also loved the fact that you get some secret winter goal tiles before the game, of which you choose at least one which is then auctioned off in the winter, so you can make a strategy about these tiles; just be sure you actually win them… Oh, and this is probably one of my favorite things about the game, and what makes the game feel new and refreshing: how you bid for tiles. You don’t have a specific player color, but instead you make a bid on a tile with one of four colored meeples, and then everybody else has to use that same color if they want to outbid you! You can also use the same color to activate a tile which is on auction, but the winner of the tile is going to get that meeple for the next round! The same applies with tiles in your opponent’s villages; you can use them, but if you do so, they will keep the meeples for the next round, so it’s always a hard decision what to do!
Now, Keyflower is still the best ”new to me” games this month, but only by a tiny margin, and it’s definitely one I would be willing to play quite a bit, but is it really one I need to own when I own 200 games? I don’t think so, and neither does my wife, whose main critique equals mine; the game ends way too fast before you feel you have done anything.
Archaeology: The Card Game. Plays: 6. Rating: 7.5.
This game took me by storm. Yes, I’ve only rated it a 7.5, but for a filler that’s like a 9. It only takes 10-15 minutes to play, and it’s a great game! It plays 2-5 players, and I’ve only tried it with 2 and 3 as I haven’t had the possibility to try it with more yet, but I’m sure it is pretty good with higher player counts too. I can honestly say that it’s a great filler game with 2 or 3 players. Dare I say that it’s almost on par with the great couple’s game Jaipur…? At least to me, Archaeology has some of the same qualities as Jaipur in that it’s a genius, light game which plays extraordinarily well with 2 players. Archaeology even plays in about half the time as Jaipur, and you can play it with 2-5 players!
It’s such a simple game, but there’s something enjoyable about it. Sure, if you hate luck, you might have a problem with this game; it’s a card game with random card draws after all. Personally I despise luck in my games, but for a game which lasts 15 minutes it’s perfectly fine. If you constantly draw low cards you’re going to lose (like I demonstrated in two of my games in which I didn’t draw any 3 or 4 value cards), but you can always just get in a second game right after the first…
What I like about the game is the short length and relative simplicity combined with an actually quite interesting gameplay; you draw a card and can then trade in your cards with the market or sell your cards to the museum. It’s a set collection game with some trading going on (not between the players but with the market). There’s some player interaction in the fact that the other players are able to get the cards you trade to the market, and furthermore the “thief” cards add some interaction because you steal cards from your opponents. The sandstorm cards also constantly add tension because you don’t want to collect too many cards before you sell them as you might lose half of them to a sandstorm… All in all I think it’s a great filler which can be enjoyed by both gamers as a casual filler between bigger games as well as non-gamers and wives (those who aren’t that much of a gamer but whom you want to introduce to the hobby!).
Enigma. Plays: 1. Rating: 7.5.
I hadn’t heard anything about this game (even though it’s a game from the designer of Eclipse), so I didn’t have any expectations when it hit the table. It turns out that it’s a game of four small tasks you need to solve before the time runs out in order to place tiles (each round you choose one of the four puzzles to solve, and there are 24 or so of each). On these tiles you can place your pawns and score points depending on the paths the tiles are forming (not the actual tiles, but what’s depicted on the tiles), and the first one to reach 15 points is the winner. While this spatial element is quite cool, what really make the game interesting are the puzzles. I love these, and I’m positive that my wife will too.
I’m very good at the math one, and I’m very poor at the last one (the one with the shapes)… The “view from the top” and “aqueduct” tasks are probably my favorites, not because I’m better at those (which I’m not), but they are the most enjoyable. Even though you are good at the four tasks, you still need to place the tiles wisely in order to win, and other players can block you or sneak into your paths so they score points too, so there are really two different games going on in this one. It’s a very different game, and it’s definitely not a “normal” game, but if you like puzzles and has a good “visual/spatial” IQ, this game might be something you enjoy. I know I do! I am somewhat concerned about the replayability, though, as there is a limited amount of puzzles in each of the four categories, so after a handful of plays you might be able to remember how to solve most of the puzzles. But for the first couple of games it’s really enjoyable!
Reef Encounter of the Second Kind. Plays: 2. Rating: 7.5.
If you think that Reef Encounter is a perfect game as it is because of the small amount of luck and how you are able to plan a lot of what you and your opponents are able to do, you might not like this expansion as it introduces a lot of chaos! The expansion consists of several parts which you can add as you wish; there are a bunch of new tiles with special abilities and a lot of special cards and blue shrimps.
I definitely prefer the various new types of tiles as they don’t change the base game *that* much. There are tiles which can have two different colors, tiles which can only be attacked from 2 of the 4 sides, tiles which have double value, shrimp tiles, deep water/rock tiles and the nastiest tile of them all: the crown of thorns! This tile is very powerful and can mess with your carefully laid out plans as it eats the coral tiles when placed next to them – so your reef might suddenly be divided in two parts right before you want to eat it – oh the horror! The deep water and rock tiles are probably the most insignificant tiles as they can be handy but are very situational, and I feel the other tiles are more useful. The ½ value tiles are very defensively minded tiles which can protect your coral tiles before you eat them, as can the blue shrimp tiles. The double value tiles effectively add between 1-5 points at the end of the game. The versatility of the double colored tile is huge; you can decide which color they are when playing and at game end! I really like these double color tiles – or, well, I actually like all of the tiles! They add a lot to the game, and now it’s even harder to pick your action 10!
What I don’t fancy about the expansion are the cards… They add too much randomness to a game that is otherwise actually very low on randomness, though you might not feel that way when your opponent eats your coral tiles… Anyway, the new cards certainly aren’t balanced (I really do think there is a big difference in the strength of the cards, though of course each card might be good under some circumstances). In the base game you know approximately what your opponents are capable of doing (not that it’s like chess or anything, it’s still not calculable in any way or form!), but the cards can cause your opponents to make totally unpredictable moves; for instance, they can remove a algae cylinder from one of the 10 tile so that the colors isn’t locked anymore, so while you thought your coral reef would be safe because it is a stronger color than one which is nearby, you need to think twice now as all of your hard work can vanish by a random card… The positive things about the cards are that you cannot hoard them as you can only ever have 3, and that you need to pay with tiles/larva cubes – in the base game, you always end up with a bunch of tiles you don’t need or cannot use for anything useful, so it’s a good way to actually spend those tiles.
Based on my above-mentioned thoughts, I am probably only going to add the new tiles in my future games and remove the cards, unless I’m playing with persons who like a bit more of randomness and unforeseen events.
Summoner Wars – Second Summoners. Plays: 3. Rating: 7+.
Just a quick entry as I saw that I forgot to include it in last month’s list! I got to play with all of the 4 new Second Summoners; I played TO, PE and GD myself and played against CG, so I have seen all the races in play. Overall, these second summoners are extremely enjoyable, and if you like SW, you need to get these! I think they are slightly stronger than the original summoner factions, but future plays will tell. PE, TO and CG all have some of the same qualities as their predecessors.
- PE: I didn’t really get to try the Phoenixes, but besides that they seem very powerful.
- TO: they fit the faction well as there are some very powerful but random units. Furthermore there are some interesting event cards concerning their walls (of which they have even more than the original TO summoner deck).
- CG: they need to rush like the original CG faction. There are some great units like Oaf and the champion The Feeder. The Clinger can be a strong and very annoying common unit, because if you’re able to play it well, it can suddenly be at a totally new spot on the board. Smeege is a weird but situationally good champion.
- GD was probably my favorite faction of the four new ones. They are very sturdy and tough, and I loved how totally different they play from any other faction with their new stationary towers which can be upgraded with even cards to make them devastating.
The Palaces of Carrara. Plays: 3. Rating: 7.
PoC is a solid, light-medium eurogame – but that’s perhaps its biggest problem; there are hundreds of games which fit into this category, so a game really has to feature something unique in order to be interesting. While I do think it has some interesting stuff going on, they aren’t so exciting that I want to play it all the time. I obviously played with the advanced rules as I’m sure the game is too boring without them. The game is not Le Havre-fiddly, but it is fiddly that you constantly need to refill the wheel up to 11 marbles and that you need to remember to flip a building each time one is removed.
The “pricing wheel” mechanic a la Vikings was good, and I actually prefer it in Palaces of Carrara. The rest of the game doesn’t remind me of Vikings. I loved the various goals you have for each game as they make each game totally different, and I think this is the game’s biggest asset. The game is also quite tense when you need to decide when to score a city; I think it’s a good move by the designers that only a single player can score a given city in the entire game! It certainly adds tension, and it’s sort of the same feeling you get when there is only one route in Ticket to Ride left which you really need to claim (not that the two games can be compared in any other way, though). One final thing I want to mention is that the endgame criteria works well; the game ends either if all of the buildings get bought or if you have fulfilled the goal cards (not that you instantly win when doing so, but you get 5 points for this before you tally up your points).
Caylus Magna Carta. Plays: 3. Rating: 7.
Caylus is one of my favorite games. Therefore, I was looking very much forward to play the card version of it. Having played it a couple of times in July for the first time, I think I can say that it’s a good game, but if you already own Caylus, it’s not mandatory to own this one, and I would probably choose to play regular Caylus over Caylus Magna Carta most of the times.
I was surprised to see how much the game actually reminded me of Caylus! It’s not just a spin-off which plays radically differently than the original game, no, CMC actually feels a lot like Caylus! As we all know, Caylus is devoided of any luck, and given the fact that CMC uses cards, I thought it would add a lot of luck. I’m happy to say that this is not the case! There is far less luck than what I expected from a so-called “card game” – in reality, it’s not as much a card game as it’s more of a board game that uses cards as tiles. The only luck is basically which buildings you draw, but this doesn’t have a big impact on the outcome of the game as it doesn’t cost much to draw new cards, you can discard your whole hand for a small cost and the fact that you can discard your starting hand once for free.
While the gameplay plays much like Caylus, there are actually several small differences which make the game different. To me, most of the differences make the game worse than Caylus. For instance, CMC features no favor track, has a fixed turn order, has a different and more boring castle batch-mechanic, has fewer resources (no cloth), fewer workers, a limited amount of buildings as they are determined by your hand, the carpenter/stone mason/architect buildings don’t exist so you can build more freely, no “time limit progression” as you don’t have to wait until the bailiff reaches a certain spot on the road (as there is no bailiff) and finally, you don’t get VPs when your opponents use your buildings. These are just some of the subtle changes, and though it might seem like there are many differences, the gameplay feels a lot like Caylus.
The best thing about CMC is probably the faster playing time compared to its big brother, but actually the game isn’t that short even with 2 or 3 players. It lasts for about an hour, and after my three games I’ve always felt it overstayed its welcome by about 10-15 minutes; it’s not a filler card game of the original game, like San Juan is to Puerto Rico; CMC has a listed time of 75 minutes, and my 2p and 3p games have lasted for 50-65 minutes, and we’re quite fast players. Therefore I think it’s perhaps slightly too long for what it offers. My biggest gripe with the game is probably this: why would I choose to play CMC instead of Caylus? They are so much alike, and even though CMC is the shorter game, I think regular Caylus offer much more interesting decisions during the gameplay. As the games remind me of each other, I don’t see a reason to own both (unless you’re a collector and own 500+ games or so), so I’m probably going to sell this game – even though it’s actually a quite good “card” game! If I didn’t own Caylus, this would definitely be staying in my collection.
K2. Plays: 4. Rating: 7.
K2 is a very different game; the mechanics differ from any other games I can think of, even though it’s actually a very simple game. The race aspect of the game is what makes the game interesting along with the fact that you can block people off - especially with 5 players I would guess; have yet to try it, but I think it would be extremely chaotic in a good way! However, I still think that or or perhaps 4 players is the best number for me personally. As a 2 player game (or even solo) the game wasn’t that interesting.
The hand management was good though nothing spectacular as you basically run through your deck 3 times and that’s it. I loved how you are able to see the weather forecast a few rounds ahead, so you can plan after that and make the best possible moves (that is, unless your opponents block your way so you stay a long way up on the mountain and freeze to death).
It was perhaps a liiitle weird that it could pay off not to reach the summit as you would then face the risk of dying and hence only score 1 point instead of 10. So sometimes it might be better and just reach 5-6-7 points with both of your climbers. But overall the game felt unique, and though it’s not a game I would play all the time, I can see myself play it a few more times before eventually selling it off. Oh, one final thing I need to mention is that the game comes with four different difficulties, so you can always adjust the difficulty based on how many players you are or with whom you’re playing.
Titan. Plays: 1. Rating: 6.5.
Titan is one of those games you need to have played, so I’m glad that I finally got to try it. I was very surprised by the gameplay; it wasn’t anything like I had imagined. I don’t really know what I had expected, but certainly not this. The game was actually quite interesting, and my somewhat low rating is only because I didn’t really understand what was going on (played against three experienced players and one other beginner) and because I rolled poorly. The movement on the board is quite confusing for new players and decreased my rating of the game a bit, but I’m sure it will be easier to maneuver and plan ahead after repeated plays.
I loved the tech tree and how to get new creatures; tech trees and upgrades like that is always something I enjoy! Oh, and the actual combat with those creatures was quite cool! I think the different terrains for each of the battles add to the enjoyment and replayability of the game. However, there is some downtime as the other players need to watch your battle and vice versa.
Also, the length of the game and the player elimination truly sucks – therefore we played with the variant (just this time, normally the guys play the full game!) that we count up points after one Titan is dead. I would like to try the “real” game in full, but most likely just with 3 or max 4 players. I’ve heard so many stories about the game taking 8-12 hours, and that’s obviously way too much, but if it can be done in 3 hours or so I am intrigued. Even though the player elimination is a bad mechanic in the game, I guess you can just play another game when at least two players are eliminated. An interesting game which I will have to explore some more; my rating is likely to slightly increase.
La Boca. Plays: 1. Rating: 6.
Haha! I just saw at the game’s page here on BGG that there is actually a *theme* in this game… Wow, I’m baffled by this! Somehow, it’s about building aesthetic new apartments/houses in Argentina?! Compared to this, Stefan Feld’s game ooze theme… Really, chess or checkers has more theme than this game.
Having said that, it’s actually not a bad game. It’s an abstract in which you team up with one of the other players and try to place the buildings blocks in a way that they resemble the picture you’re looking at, but at the same time your opponent needs to do the same from his side of the board, and you only have 1 of each piece, so you need to place them correctly while communicating about what to do! The game actually reminds me about one of the tasks from Enigma, but in La Boca this is the entire game. As a real game I don’t think it has legs, especially not since you get points depending on how fast you finish it, but of course, if this time element wasn’t a part of the game, it wasn’t really a board game but more like a normal boring puzzle.
One of the worst things about La Boca is that it says it can be played with 3-6 players… We played La Boca with 4 players, and the downtime is pretty bad – you have absolutely nothing to do when it’s not your turn. I guess I would play it with 4 players max, and I think 3 is the best number. Or, actually I think it would make for a good game with my wife, who seems to enjoy these kinds of games.
Royal Palace. Plays: 2. Rating: 5.5.
The gameplay of Royal Palace is a little too simple considering the amount of AP it provides! We’re definitely not prone to AP, but in this game you have some movement points for your servants, so you need to think about where you want to place them in each round, and if you place them in that and that room, you’ll get this and this, and then you can go and get this noble from the garden to score points (yes, the game has no theme). You need to plan a bit. It’s not brainburning or anything, it just takes a while!
I’ve only played two games of this, and none with 2 players as my wife refuses to play it as she finds it very boring. So, even though I haven’t experienced everything the game has to offer, I don’t think it’s a very deep game. Strategy wise it definitely seems like a good idea to, as early as possible, get a noble who gives you a bonus each round rather than one which gives you a lot of points (it might seem like a commonplace, but it’s really important to get extra income or movement etc. - you are going to have a much easier time playing the game!
I think it is a clever idea how nobles decrease in price if other nobles around them are removed; however, I don’t really think money is as big an issue in this game as I had initially thought. It wasn’t that hard to come by; the same goes for the seals. This made the game a little uninteresting as it wasn’t that difficult to get what your wanted. Maybe it is harder with 4 players as it might be harder to get the majority, but to be honest, it was often possible to get the majority on your own turn if people had bought a noble on their turn, because they would then have removed servants from the king’s and queen’s rooms.
I loved the additional endgame scoring of the garden; this made it much more interesting as to which nobles you wanted to purchase! Maybe you could get a cheap noble with a permanent benefit in the middle, but on the other hand you would also want to buy that expensive noble in the corner for endgame scoring purposes! Interesting decision I think.
After my first game I actually thought of which strategy I would pursue next time, which is obviously a great sign. Having said that, however, the gameplay isn’t really that exciting, and I’m sure that it’s not a game I would enjoy playing more than a handful of times; the replayability seems limited. After my second game I’m not in a hurry to revisit it again, and while it’s certainly not a bad game, it’s not exciting either. And I own too many games to keep those which aren’t interesting!
Civilization. Plays: 1. Rating: 5.5.
Ouch – this game is by far the hardest for me to rate of any game I’ve played… The reason is that the gameplay was very good, but on the other hand it’s not likely a game that I’m going to play again (at least not the full game)! The reason is that the game is simply way too long… We were 5 players (only 1 experienced players and 3 beginners), and we had to stop after 9 hours, even though we still were a few rounds from finishing the game… I still feel I can rate it as I played it for so many hours, and I feel I experienced what the game had to offer. I am sure that the game can be played a lot faster, but I cannot see it last for less than 7-8 hours unless you’re experienced, and that’s something I’m never going to be with this game!
So even though the game as such was quite enjoyable, and while I do understand why some people think it’s epic, it’s not a game I want to play a lot in the futures because of the extremely heavy time investment! You really have to set a whole day aside for this game… And that’s when I’m asking myself: is 8+ hours of Civilization really better than playing 4 games of Agricola or 3 games of Terra Mystica? No, it isn’t in my book, and I’m always going to compare games like that (what I am I able to play in the same time).
Regarding the actual gameplay, it was far more simple than I had feared (I hadn’t read the rules). It was actually quite easy to dive into and we didn’t have many questions. There was an ebb and flow feeling of your empire which worked well, but I don’t think that the progress of the game was that big, it’s really just more of the same in the last few rounds. You can be hit by disasters, and they can punch you hard in the stomach and face (and possible even your b*lls) at the same, but then you just have to regroup and rebuild and start over. But these disastrous catastrophes… They are what I hated the most about the game (except for the length). They hit randomly (unless you count the cards which is quite hard to do) and can be extremely crippling if you’re hit by the worst catastrophes. And you’re not only “just” targeted by this catastrophe, you’re also losing the normal trading card you would receive, so you’re actually hurt even more! Furthermore, from a non-game play perspective, it’s very hard to avoid seeing the red cards if you’re the one shuffling, so it gives a significant strategic advantage which is too bad (the person who shuffled the cards admitted this problem too).
As said, Civilization was more simple than I had thought, and it’s certainly one of the game’s strengths! It’s so lovely simplistic that you only have 1 military unit available, that he can move 1 region and kill 1 other unit (of course this is adjusted with modifications you get from technologies, but it’s still very simple). Speaking of technologies, the tech tree was pretty cool, but perhaps there were actually too few cards and a little less meat than what I would have preferred (regarding the number of technologies and the prerequisites and requirements for those etc.). But on the other hand it’s so streamlined that it’s easy to play and get a good overview as you don’t have to learn a ton of technologies. I liked that not every player is able to get every technology (which I understand is different in Adv. Civ. as all players have access to all of the techs, so I think I prefer regular Civilization).
Generally speaking, the races seemed balanced even though I think it’s a little weird that there is a difference of two AST requirements on some of the lowest civs compared to those in the top; the top-civs are having a much easier time getting two cities, getting 3 different colored cards etc. without having to “pass” for a turn. Furthermore, ties are broken from the top of the AST tree, so these civs have an advantage I think (though it obviously depends on the number of players and which races they choose). Yes, I know that those civilizations in the bottom of the AST get to buy technologies first, but I still think those in the top are slightly stronger. But of course, this is only based on a single play, so I might be way off here (I played Egypt myself and did pretty good). Regarding the picks of your civilizations, it is quite bad… You randomly get a turn order to pick your civ. We were 5, and the last one had the options of choosing Crete (as a new player = tough!) or Assyria which was boxed in by Asia and Babylon… I think this player was at a disadvantage before the game had even started!
The micromanagement of moving your pieces around in order to survice in the different areas is something I found interesting, and it was a pleasure when you were able to make a city in a size 1 dessert by spending 12 men!
A negative to the game was that the trading phase can really drag! We were only 5 players, and after the first couple of rounds we decided to set a time limit of 10 minutes. With so many rounds in the game, this adds up, but I cannot see how you would be able to make trades in just 5 minutes or so, especially as you cannot say which cards you want to trade, so you always need to calculate if there is a disaster among them. Another negative is the actual design of the game board; it’s extremely hard to see the different regions around Greece when there are many chits. I understand that it’s because of balancing issues, that there are so many areas there, but it’s extremely unmanageably and confusing...
Bottom line: is 9 hours of Civ more fun than 6 times 1.5 hours of other games? No, it isn’t, and that’s why I’m not going to play Civ a whole lot, though I would be willing to play it again with the alternative end-game conditions which shorten the game.
Qin. Plays: 1. Rating: 5.
I don’t agree with those who claim that this is ”Tigris & Euphrates light”. There are some vague similarities, but I honestly don’t think you can compare the two games. Yes, there is some interaction and you can remove other players’ pieces, but that’s it. The scoring mechanism is vastly different as are the tiles you are laying down, there are no leaders, monuments or catastrophes etc. If I hadn’t heard about the connection before, I probably wouldn’t have made it myself… Now, Qin might of course still be a good game on its own, but to me it was just too simple and not fun. I guess the good part was that it plays very fast which is a plus, and while I’m not going to refuse to play it a couple of times, it’s certainly not a game I would actively seek out.
The main reasons are that it’s a too simple game and that the double tiles are too powerful compared to the tiles which have two different colors (and the player who only drew double colored tiles except for 4 in the entire game did win in a convincing way). Sure, the two different colored tiles can be handy in situations too, as sometimes you don’t want a double time, but we all thought the double colored tiles were stronger – and “luck of the draw” is not a great mechanism…
Letters from Whitechapel. Plays: 1. Rating: 5.
Letters from Whitechapel reminded me of Scotland Yard, but it took around 2 hours more… Not cool! 3+ hours is too much for this game, but I still enjoyed myself and would like to try it again. Still, I have a few concerns:
Letters from Whitechapel seems to favor Jack by quite a bit. I’m not saying Jack is going to win every time, not at all, but I’m confident that Jack has the upper hand throughout this game. My only play was with 3 new players against an experienced Jack, and we searched a lot of places except for the right ones in the two first nights… And this is one of my main criticisms; there are just too many options/paths Jack can choose, and it comes down to chance which way the investigators think Jack went; yes, I know, they can try to deduce, and most certainly it will help them, but there are just so many times Jack can move either to spot A, B or C, so you need to take a chance, and you might get lucky or not… This isn’t something I fancy in such a long game! The actual deduction is also limited because of the sheer amount of places Jack can be. And if you think you have a clue about where he is, he can just use a double move or diagonal move and be gone quite easily… We did play with some minor house-rules which make it a little easier for the detectives, but I understand that they are universally accepted, and I wouldn’t ever play without them as the game favors Jack from the beginning.
So, all in all, because of the length and because the game is heavily skewed in Jack’s favor (this is not just my opinion but seems to be the consensus here on BGG), I cannot rate it more than a 5… I am going to try to get it to the table in August to verify my first-hand impressions, and if I still feel the same, I am probably going to lower my rating by one.
Qwixx. Plays: 3. Rating: 3.5.
Qwixx is tailor-made for non-gamers who have only played and like games like Yahtzee and the like. This little filler doesn’t offer many interesting decisions, and even though it isn’t entirely random and some tactical decisions are required, there isn’t a lot you can do to influence the game… After my first game we played it twice more, which is often a promising sign, but I think it was more because of the fact that we didn’t have time for any other games before one of the guys had to leave (it’s a very quick game which lasts for 5-7 minutes). Having played the game three times now, I don’t need to play it again, but if we have 5 minutes I guess I would be up for it if the other people insisted.
Love the world.
(image credit: lacxox)
SR is a share-holding, network building, set collecting game, themed around early railroad development in England. It has a lot in common with Acquire (including spatially-based company mergers), but has zero luck after the initial seeding of the map.
Despite getting crushed, I enjoyed it a lot. It's surprisingly quick (75 min. with four?) and has a nice wide-open feeling at the beginning of the game. You have a lot of choices, and few constraints. But as the board develops, it becomes more interesting and difficult to figure out which actions will improve your position relative to your competitors.
This is a strong, well-developed game. A definite keeper.
(image credit: bkunes)
Or as my wife calls it, "moo-cow."
We've played it twice now, with two-players. It's a solid, attractive, and enjoyable point-salad euro with an interesting resource mechanism at its core:
Each turn one player rolls a set of six differently colored dice. Everyone then selects two of those dice and draws resource cubes of the same color, equal to the number of pips on the matching dice. So if you've selected a blue 4 and a red 2, you'll receive four blue cubes and 2 red.
The interesting thing is that you won't be able to use those cubes right away. They get stashed for use in a future turn, with the delay based on the number on the selected die. So those red cubes can be used in two turns, but you'll need to wait four turns to use the blues.
This produces two interesting effects: (1) You need to balance the need to get resources soon, against the need to get more of them. You can't do both. (2) You also need to constantly look ahead to future resource needs. Do you want to buy that city district that costs two purple cubes? Then you need to get some purple into your future resource stash. You might also keep an eye on what other people are squirreling away, as you'll sometimes be in direct contention to buy something, and getting the right resources before an opponent may be important.
It all works well and is relatively quick (60-90 minutes), interesting, and fun. There's a fair amount of inter-play variability, as each game will use a random subset of a large number of special ability cards.
My only concern is that some of the cards might be a bit overpowered, tilting the game toward the player fortunate to be first to choose when they pop out of the deck. (E.g., in both of our games, I got the "crane" card very early and it provided a large advantage over the course of the game.)
(image credit: lacxox)
This is a very attractive, very simple tile-laying, route development game. It's Tsuro, without being stupid.
Players take turns placing hex tiles on the board. Each hex depicts a mix of straight or curving paths. As the tiles are placed, a network of routes develops. If one of those routes connects to one of the pre-positioned glass "gems," the gem moves down the route. If two gems meet, they're destroyed. But if a route takes a gem to a game board edge, the player or players who owns that edge gets to keep the gem for end game points. (Different colors of gems are worth different point values.)
Depending on player count, a board edge may be owned individually by a player or ownership may be shared by two players. This creates interesting incentives and opportunities for cooperation.
It's not something that's in my sweet-spot for regular play, but it's very easy to teach, plays quickly, and provides opportunities for cleverness. Indigo is probably an excellent gateway game, but it's also pretty good for gamers looking for a light snack.
Upon a Salty Ocean
(image credit: fabricefab)
This is solid, good looking (in a muted, antique way) resource conversion, action drafting game. I've only played it once, a while ago, so my recollection of the mechanisms isn't super clear. My general sense of the experience is that it was an interesting logistics puzzle that slightly overstayed its welcome.
The game's thematic heart is fishing in the Atlantic. You build and maintain a fleet of fishing ships, load them with salt to preserve the catch, send them out of the harbor, fish, bring them back to harbor, sell the catch, make more salt, etc. Timing is crucial, as the cost of taking actions increase when other players select them; and the prices paid in the market go down after other players sell.
That was all pretty laborious, so I largely sat it out. Instead, I chose to concentrate on investing in various buildings in the harbor town, to get money and/or victory points. With that land-lubber strategy, I managed to come in second.
I'd probably play again under the right circumstances, but won't seek it out.
Le Havre: The Inland Port
(image credit: JonBen)
I've only played this once, which wasn't enough to get a solid impression. I'm almost reluctant to say anything more, but I'm not sure when/if I'm going to play again. It was reasonably fun, but I'm not feeling a desire to jump back in.
If you don't already know, this is a two-player only distillation of Le Havre. You accumulate and spend resources to build buildings that help you accumulate more resources and VPs.
The game is very tight, both in the game-economy and the highly condensed bookkeeping mechanisms. (This was the first time I've understood the complaint that a game resembles a spreadsheet -- there's a "warehouse" matrix, where you move blocks around in rows and columns to show accumulation and cost payment. It really does look and feel like a spreadsheet.)
The game is highly polished and clever, but pretty dry. Meh?
Serenissima (second edition)
(image credit: itiswon)
Strictly speaking, this isn't new to me. I played the First Edition many years ago. But my only recollection of the experience was (1) torturing myself by putting hundreds of little sticker flags on little plastic flagpoles, and (2) the game was way too long.
I'm happy to say that the 2d Edition cured both of those problems. No flag poles, and a reasonable 90 minute length.
This is a "merchants in the Med" game, where you're moving your fleet of galleys around to ship resources to cities that don't yet have them. Along the way, you can conquer cities (to get revenue in the scoring rounds, based on how large they are and the number of unique resource types they have in storage) and fight other player's ships and cities. (If you sink another player's ship, you get to take its goods, so there's even a slight opportunity to commit piracy. Nice.)
The distinguishing feature of the game is the big chunky plastic galley pieces. Each has five slots, which you can fill with sailors or goods. If you have more sailors, the galley can travel farther and fight better. But that means carrying fewer goods. So there's a nice trade-off between loading up slow moving cargo ships, balanced jack-of-all-trade ships, or fast moving warships (to seize vulnerable ports or weak ships).
In our one play, this was *mostly* a game about shipping. But there were a couple of attacks, one of which proved pretty decisive. Combat is dice based, which injects a dose of uncertainty into combat.
And that led to our one sour point in the game. I sent a five-sailor warship to an adjacent space where my wife had 3 (!) lightly crewed galleys and a lightly garrisoned city. Because of the way the combat system works, I had an edge, but not a huge one. I rolled dice well. She didn't. I took out everything in the hex. That pretty much decided the game, which wound up with me winning in a landslide.
We concluded that the game is probably a bit too zero-sum to work as a two-player game. I'm interested to try it with more players, as I think the decisive lucky battle scenario would be less likely to arise.
Physically, the game is a great production. It's got the sort of spartan wood-cut antique art style I always like, and very sturdy and functional pieces.