Surya's Essen 2013 initial thoughts and ratings
Surya is pure Eurosnoot and proud of it!
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Like each year, I have a geeklist with an overview of my initial thoughts and ratings for the new Essen stuff

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1. Board Game: Agora [Average Rating:5.71 Overall Rank:12228]
Surya is pure Eurosnoot and proud of it!
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tl;dr: meh

A game of vying for power and wealth in ancient Greece... where have we seen that before? A worker placement game where the different actions are executed in a fixed order... where have we seen that before? A worker placement game where you can get more workers to get better... you catch my drift, don't you?
But like I stated many times before, that doesn't have to be a knock on a game. Take La Granja for instance. It's one of my favorite games of last year and it blatantly recycles a number of very recognisable elements with a very bland theme. And Agora comes from the same publisher... and it doesn't succeed in any of the fields where La Granja succeeds in a big way. It's bland and uninteresting. Grab some resource cards, turn them in to points and do some politics. That last bit is what rubbed me the wrong way the most. You can really set yourself up to nominate the dealer you want to nominate... and you have almost no grip on who gets to judge that. I understand you can increase the influence your workers have, but even then it is a crap shoot. And in my mind it brings down the game. And it wasn't high up to begin with.

Disappointing.

Initial rating: 5/10
BGG scale: 4/10
 
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2. Board Game: Alarm! [Average Rating:6.04 Overall Rank:12211]
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Belgium
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Tim & Sander are two designers I know personally. I even consider them to be friends. We go for dinner in Essen almost every year. I like them and their small company. And I quite like their first game Experiment. Which is why I feel bad saying that I really didn't like this game. OK, we played with three, and the game obviously is designed to be played with more. On my turn I drew crap, so I gave the first two cards away. The last card was a dog. The next player drew a dog and gave it to me. The next player drew a dog and gave it to me. Game ends. Not a great experience. I can imagine this game being fun with more players and the right crowd, but I don't belong to that crowd. I like different kinds of games.

Initial rating: 5
 
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3. Board Game: American Rails [Average Rating:7.46 Overall Rank:1286]
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Train games. Some people love them, others hate them, but there sure are a lot of them. And I tend to like them. I knew this game would be somewhat similar to Chicago Express. That is a game I quite like, but I never got a copy, as I already had Steel Driver which, for me scratches the same itch. It's been a while since I've played Chicago Express, so I can't say how similar it is, but let's just say it is very similar. You could call it a ripoff, or a homage, or a variant, but chances are that if you like the one, you'll also like the other. And so do I. In fact, the only thing I can hold against this game is that it doesn't do anything new. It does some things differently from Chicago Express, like the way you select actions, but it certainly has the same feel. So if you can't get enough of Chicago Express, make sure to check this out. You'll probably like it as well. But does one need to own both? Probably not.

Initial rating: 7.2
 
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4. Board Game: Amerigo [Average Rating:7.48 Overall Rank:302]
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Since Stefan Feld is one of my favorite designers, I had to play this as soon as possible. And the cube tower is a very cool piece of equipment that I always wanted to see in more games, and used differently that only for combat resolution. So what better designer to give this mechanism to than Feld? Indeed, the way he used the tower in this game is great. It's a luck factor, but it doesn't have huge swings, it's more or less predicable, but the great thing is that it does give players some surprises every now and then. And that adds some tension which I enjoy to this phase of the game.
This game is a bit of a point-salad-light. There are a few different ways to score points, but not not as many as in - say - Trajan, but it seems like there's still a couple of different strategies to pursue and try out.
I've enjoyed my first plays of this game quite a bit and I'm considering adding it to my collection.

Initial rating: 7.5
 
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5. Board Game: Among the Stars: The Ambassadors [Average Rating:7.34 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.34 Unranked]
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I really enjoyed last year's Among the Stars. It's like 7 wonders, but cheaper and - more importantly - in space! So even though I tend to steer clear of expansions - something I failed to do this year in Essen - I had to get this.
We played with just the expansion cards, to get to see a maximum amount of those. And we added in the ambassadors.
The new cards seem to be more. More expensive, more energy consuming and more points to be gained. Only time will tell if power creep is at work here, because since they are also more expensive they might be at about the same level of efficiency.
I must say that for the most parts combos where harder to figure out in this set.
I did find yellow to be more appealing than in the base came where I hardly build anything yellow.
About the ambassadors: I ignored them. I always checked all the new ones, but none of them seemed worth the time. Myriam did get 4 of them or so. She didn't win, but she did well. So it seems they can help in some situations, but they're not a necessity.
I found my first play of this interesting and disorienting. So I want to play more, but I'm not sure how much I like this expansion. Worst case: it's fine.

Initial rating: 6.8
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6. Board Game: Archon: Glory & Machination [Average Rating:7.03 Overall Rank:1842]
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I like Artipia's graphic style. It usually results in overly busy game boards and components, but I have found it rarely gets in the way when actually playing.
This is a very straightforward worker placement/resource gathering game with some nice twists. Using the upgraded action cards, you can occupy a space that is already occupied or force other people to pay you to do the same action.
You can also build buildings which will help you be more flexible or efficient or score more points.
It all goes along at a decent speed, the rules are not too complex and there are some good choices to be made. But it failed to provide me any fun. It's all very dry and mechanical. That's not something that bothers me in and of itself, but this game just didn't excite me.

Initial rating: 6.3
 
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7. Board Game: Banjooli Xeet [Average Rating:6.46 Overall Rank:4137]
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tl;dr: Meh

A racing game with dice where you have a goal of putting your secret set of colors over the finish first. We've seen all of it before, and we've all seen it done better. It doesn't take too long, but it's a chaosfest and there are other racing games that I'd much rather play.

Initial rating: 5.5/10
BGG scale: 4/10
 
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8. Board Game: Battle Sheep [Average Rating:6.71 Overall Rank:1264]
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Michelbeke
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tl;dr: Hey, That's My Fish! but different

Why do people keep on designing variants of games that do well, but without adding anything new to the genre? It's like deck building. You can just take Dominion, name the cards and the actions a bit differently and switch a couple things up and boom, new game. Or you can take that mechanism and use it to make something new. Boom, A Few Acres of Snow.
OK, so there's no way of taking Hey, That's My Fish! and turning it into A Few Acres of Snow, but taking a game, making it slightly different without making it feel much different doesn't add anything at all. So why would I spend my money on a game that does the same as an other game? That's right, I wouldn't. So I won't spend money on this game either. There's nothing wrong with it though, it works.

Initial rating: 6.2/10
BGG scale: 6/10
 
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9. Board Game: Blueprints [Average Rating:6.88 Overall Rank:790]
Surya is pure Eurosnoot and proud of it!
Belgium
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I tend to be bad at dice games. I tend to enjoy dice games. I tend to be good at stacking games or games with a 3D element. I tend to enjoy those kinds of games. Blueprints brings those elements together with simple rules and nice components.
The interaction in this game comes mainly from avoiding what the other players are focusing on. If someone else is going for green, there's little point in going for it yourself. You will hurt the other player's changes, but your own as well, and someone else will probably take the lead. So the thing is to optimize your own chances rather than hurting someone else's.
The rules for this game are not very good though. They hardly tell you the way the bonus cards work or the exact way you calculate the score. A lot has to be deduced, as it is not explained at all. The effect of the different cards isn't explained either. That could have been executed much better.
But the game itself is enjoyable and fast, with little downtime. It isn't great though, just a solid, but very average game.

Initial rating: 6.6
 
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10. Board Game: Bremerhaven [Average Rating:6.57 Overall Rank:3368]
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I am surprised by how little attention this game has gotten since being released. OK, it's a first time designer, but it's also a gamers game from Mayf... I mean Lookout.
This game combines blind area majority (if there is such a thing) with resource gathering and delivering for points. While the action phase is quite straight forward, the blind area majority part is a real brain twister. Depending on what value cards you hold, what actions/cards you want to get and what value cards the other players interested in those things are holding, you will have to be very careful about what card to place where when. Because you might not want to show interest in the spots you really need to increase your chances.
It reminds me a bit of Hermagor, where the market is a real brain burner, the second part - the delivering of goods - is quite straight forward.
Our first game - with 4 - took about 3 hours. It didn't feel nearly that long, and most of us enjoyed it quite a bit. It was a bit of a brain burner, but as the rules are easy enough, but the choices meaningful, I feel this is a good game. I just wish it was faster.
I look forward to playing this again, hopefully in less time.

Initial score: 7.1
 
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11. Board Game: Bruxelles 1893 [Average Rating:7.65 Overall Rank:263]
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While I appreciate the art style for this game, I don't like it. It's just not pleasing. And oh my! some of those icons are tiny. Like I-think-it's-time-to-buy-me-new-lenses tiny. And some of the icons are not self explanatory. But once you get going it they are good enough to remember you about what does what.
I felt like there where a lot of rules for this game, but after turn one, it's clear that it's actually all pretty straight forward.
There are plenty of interesting choices, and there probably are a couple of different strategies to explore.
I did feel the market value mechanism - while original - felt a bit like it was shoved in, just because the author came up with some new mechanism. It didn't blend with the rest, which was all quite nicely brought together.
Another solid offering from Pearl Games

Initial rating: 7.5
 
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12. Board Game: Canterbury [Average Rating:6.99 Overall Rank:2331]
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I'm always looking for new - better - city building games. I like those, but I've yet to find the ultimate one. And this game won't change that, but that doesn't mean this game isn't worth playing.
This game mixes tile laying (on a predefined grid) with area majority and commodity majority. And all of those things grant you points in different ways.
It seems to me that multiple strategies are possible here. I didn't score too many majorities on the types of buildings, but I scored a decent amount on the board, and tried maximizing the in game bonuses you get when starting new areas or upgrading. Other players did try and score as much as possible on the building type bonuses. The top 3 players all where within 2 or 3 from the next player, so a very close score. I came out on top. I was helped by the fact that I was the last player to make a move. I could take my time and calculate which move granted me most points, knowing no one could take any majorities I took away from me.
I liked this game quite a bit, and it certainly deserves more plays. Only repeated plays will clarify if this has any staying power in the long term.

Initial rating: 7.3
 
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13. Board Game: The Capitals [Average Rating:6.99 Overall Rank:1732]
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This was being touted as a heavy city building euro. Sounds right up my alley! The amount of pages in the rulebook sounds a bit daunting, but actually the rules are quite straight forward. The first couple of rounds wend swimmingly. After that things started slowing down. That was mostly due to me having the feeling that if I played just on gut feeling - which I mostly do - I wouldn't stand a chance. So I started planning and calculating. The problem is that with every round the amount of combinations keeps on increasing so the game slows down as the players have to keep track of more and more combos. It reminded me of Suburbia, but slower and more fiddly. You build a tableau of tiles with abilities which can make combos and influence each other. But it's way more tedious to play. I think there's a good game hidden in there, but it lacked development to streamline it. Like that street cross that has to be moved. It doesn't add much to the game.
I was also quite annoyed by the turn order mechanism. If you're in last place and have tonnes of money, that won't do you any good if the players in front all make sure to stay in front of you. Which means there is nothing you can do to make sure you get that tile you really, really need.
So I really wanted to like this game, and I don't hate it either, but it didn't live up to it's potential.

Initial rating: 6.5/10
 
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14. Board Game: Cappuccino [Average Rating:6.30 Overall Rank:4287]
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Michelbeke
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This is not a game that was on my radar. It's an abstract game, and while I enjoy playing those every now and then, there are very few that I consider worth owning.
From the explanation, this game reminded me of Hey, That's My Fish!. You jump from tile tot tile, gaps appear and you can't jump over those so you can cut off other people - or yourself if that is beneficial.
I thought the game worked well, and there are some nifty strategies you can try to increase your chances of winning. But all in all it doesn't stand out for me. It's just not the kind of game that excites me. It's just a bit too one dimensional for that.

Initial rating: 6.3
 
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15. Board Game: Carcassonne: South Seas [Average Rating:7.13 Overall Rank:817]
Surya is pure Eurosnoot and proud of it!
Belgium
Michelbeke
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In my eyes, the classic status of Carcassonne is deserved. And most of the variants I've played are worth playing, though most of them are not different enough to warrant owning all of them.
This version is pretty much the same as the original with different art and a detour for the victory points. In stead of scoring for completing anything, you gain resources, which you can exchange for boats, which are worth points of course. This change also changes the way you play the game. For most boats you need a combination of different resources. And you get different types of resources by scoring the different elements of the game. Which means you can't focus on doing just 'fields' or 'cities', you'll have to do a mix.
This is a fine variant and if you don't own any Carcassonne game and want one, this is a good candidate. After only one game though, I can't say if it is better or worse than the original, especially since it's been years since I've played that.

Initial rating: 7.2
 
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16. Board Game: Caverna: The Cave Farmers [Average Rating:8.07 Overall Rank:23]
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Belgium
Michelbeke
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Few, I finally got to play the big one, the perceived nr 1 from last years Essen.
Let me start by reminding you that I like Agricola, but I prefer to play it without the cards. My favorite Uwe Rosenberg game is actually Le Havre. And I chose that last tile over Agricola every single time. Which is why I don't play Agricola almost ever. Which is why I didn't get Caverna. I wasn't ready to fork out all that money for a game that is based on a game that I like a lot, but never play because an other game just pleases me a lot more.
Caverna does away with the cards and replaces them with a fixed set of buildings that are available to everyone. This will reduce the variability between games, but since I don't play with the cards in Agricola that often, that probably won't bother me in the long run. The biggest difference for me, therefore, was the vastly simplified scoring. A few other things have been streamlined as well.
At heart this game is very similar, but it's not just more of the same. It is a very solid game in it's own right. And the buildings and different strategic possibilities, still offer a very good amount of replay value I expect.
So, do I like it more than it's predecessor? One play isn't enough to know that, but I do like it quite a bit. I don't expect this game to kick Le Havre from it's nr 1 spot for me though.
Production wise this game is top notch, just like all Lookout titles. But why oh why did they include all that material that I'll never use? We play with mostly 3 or 4 players, almost never more. So I'm paying a lot of good money for cardboard that is of no value to me. That is a very sad thing, because I expect this to be the case for most people.

Initial rating: 8.5
 
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17. Board Game: Citrus [Average Rating:7.09 Overall Rank:1562]
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Belgium
Michelbeke
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I have yet to play a game from Jeffrey D. Allers that I didn't enjoy, so I had to give this a try as well. Like most dlp games titles it is a well developed family friendly strategy game. And this one has a very classic feel to it. Like those games they made about 10 years ago. I quite enjoyed it, just like enjoy those games from back then. The only knock I have against it, is that it's happy being what it is, not trying anything new, not trying to stand out. And I wish it did try a bit harder, because it now gets lost in a crowd of perfectly fine games that fail to stand out. But it's a fine game that is certainly not a waste of time!

Initial rating: 6.7
 
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18. Board Game: Coal Baron [Average Rating:7.30 Overall Rank:504]
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Any K&K game will show up on my radar. They usually aren't exceptional, but they almost always play very well. This game is no different. It doesn't do anything new, it doesn't have anything unique. But it does everything it does very well. I don't mind owning this.

Initial rating: 7
 
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19. Board Game: Coconuts [Average Rating:7.07 Overall Rank:811] [Average Rating:7.07 Unranked]
Surya is pure Eurosnoot and proud of it!
Belgium
Michelbeke
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After the success of Click Clack Lumberjack people wanted more. And this game gives you more: simple rules, silly game play that is pure dexterity. And again it works great. It's just silly fun! I can see this wearing off quickly, but for the time being I can see this getting a good amount of plays as a way to top off an evening.

Initial rating: 7
 
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20. Board Game: Concept [Average Rating:6.89 Overall Rank:631]
Surya is pure Eurosnoot and proud of it!
Belgium
Michelbeke
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tl;dr: fun passtime

This game is enjoyable. We had a lot of fun and it can be a challenge. But in the end I must echo the opinion that this is more of an activity than a real game. It's more of a puzzle. A 2-way puzzle. The puzzle to put together the right clues on the one hand and the puzzle to figure out the clues on the other hand.

Initial rating: 6/10
BGG scale: 6/10
 
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21. Board Game: Concordia [Average Rating:8.10 Overall Rank:19]
Surya is pure Eurosnoot and proud of it!
Belgium
Michelbeke
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I haven't played all of Mac Gerdts games, but all of the ones I have played I have very much enjoyed. So this is a game that I was very much looking forward to trying. It having only 4 pages of rules was quite a surprise. And 2 of those 4 pages are the explanations of what the cards do. In fact, the rules go like this: on your turn play one card and do what it says. That's it. Of course the devil is in the details. How do the actions on the cards interact with each other? What strategies emerge from those actions? And what emerges is a very strategic resource gathering, city building, hand building (not really deck building, because you get to choose from your whole deck) game that is so simple in rules yet quite complex to figure out how to play. Especially the first few turns. All of us just tried some stuff. One player started buying cards only to figure out she needed the resources to build cities to get more resources. She recovered though and scored well (but not well enough, haha!). After about 75% of the game I was comfortable enough with the way the game played to start worrying about the score. So I took a look at my deck and figured out what I could do maximize my score, starting from where I was at that point.
I was very pleasantly surprised by the depth and different strategies the game offers with such simple rules. The fact that I won, might have helped, but while I had a good feeling about the outcome, I thought some other people where in the running as well, yet it felt very good. Looking forward to the next session!

Initial rate: 7.5
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22. Board Game: Cornish Smuggler [Average Rating:5.95 Overall Rank:6901]
Surya is pure Eurosnoot and proud of it!
Belgium
Michelbeke
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I almost got this in Essen, but in the end I didn't. I don't remember why. Now a friend finally got his Kickstarter copy.
We where a bit surprised with some of the components. It includes wooden tetris pieces that are partially cut. That makes them weaker. I hope they won't break with repeated use. A printed line would have been better I think. The game also includes wooden sails and other boat bits that seem like they can be put together to form a 3D sailing boat, but the shapes are not very consistent, and it's not clear how to assemble them. And the pieces look like they could break if you look at them for too long. So we used the standard ships included with the game.
The rest of the components are standard China quality: great, but no match for what the Germans can do.
The base mechanisms and ideas are quite straightforward and work well. Load up some goods, and transport them to where they will give you the most money or points. There are different cards to help you do things better, or screw the other players over. And that's where the game fell apart completely for us. Some of the cards are completely out of whack. We laughed a number of times when we read them and though 'Oh my god, really?' Yes, they ruin the game. Not that it was great to start with, but it was decent enough. By about halfway through all of us where wishing for the game to end, and two of us started playing with that goal in mind. The last couple of turns I just started playing as many of my cards as I could. I wasn't scoring anything with them, I was just hoping to get some enjoyment from messing everything over.
No, this was neither good nor fun. This game clearly lacks the development an established company can offer. It felt a bit like a bunch of friends thought up new elements and cards while they where drunk. Some of those cards might sound like a good idea then, but they are not.

Initial (and probably final) rating: 3.5
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23. Board Game: Corto [Average Rating:6.70 Overall Rank:4286]
Surya is pure Eurosnoot and proud of it!
Belgium
Michelbeke
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Besides games, I'm a big fan of European comics (some would call them graphic novels). Corto Maltese is one of the classics of the genre but I have never read any of the issues. I do appreciate the artistry of Hugo Pratt, he was very good at what he did (graphically at least). But I don't know the material so I can't say if this game does the comics justice. I hope the comics are better in fact.
Visually they took some of Pratt's art, slapped it on the boards and cards and added a background color. And even though the artwork is nice, the graphic design is very bleh. This is not a pretty looking game at all. And the Chinese printer is not the best you can get in China. And the best from China isn't as good as German. So it's not great at all.
But it's more about game play than looks of course. Unfortunately this game has some very generic, abstract mechanisms that don't really tell a story. And there's a good amount of luck in which cards you draw. I know this is a fairly light game, but it still gives you the false feeling that your decisions are important. And they are, until get unlucky with the card draws. So they're not really that important.
I didn't care for this game at all. I didn't like the component quality. I didn't like the game flow. I didn't like the luck element. I didn't like anything about this game except for the Pratt art.

Initial rating: 3.5
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24. Board Game: Craftsmen [Average Rating:6.63 Overall Rank:3601]
Surya is pure Eurosnoot and proud of it!
Belgium
Michelbeke
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tl;dr: would be great if it took 90 minutes

When I read the rules for this one, it surely sounded like a not very original but solid game. And that's exactly what it is.
It's a worker placement resource generation game with some nice combinations of familiar mechanisms that, when combined, do something fresh and interesting. This results in some interesting decision points each round, which is good. What is not so good is that this game should take 90 minutes and it takes at least 60 more minutes with 3 fast players.
If only this game was developed further so it wouldn't stay out it's welcome, because it has some good stuff in there. Too bad.
At least it wasn't as boring as Urban Panic from the same designer.

Initial rating: 6.4/10
BGG scale: 6/10
 
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25. Board Game: Dig Mars [Average Rating:6.13 Overall Rank:7397]
Surya is pure Eurosnoot and proud of it!
Belgium
Michelbeke
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Space! Nice artwork! Good quality components! Totally forgettable game!!! This is one of those games that works but completely fails to do anything new, original or just executes it very well. The looks and components are what they should be, the game could have been just fine as one of those Silver Line games 10 years ago, but today we expect more, way more from a game.

Initial rating: 5.8
 
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