Phrim's Post-BGG.Con Thoughts on 2014 Games
Doug Faust
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Malverne
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Between Origins, FalCon, EuroQuest, BGG.Con, and plays at local events, I've done a pretty good job of playing a lot of the 2014 releases that were of interest to me. This Geeklist is a list of my early thoughts on these new games, in the order of my preference for them. I've posted initial ratings for all of these games, but I do make an effort to revisit my ratings after every play, so these ratings will change after multiple plays.

If you can't tell from my reviews, I like thinky eurogames.
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1. Board Game: AquaSphere [Average Rating:7.33 Overall Rank:355]
Doug Faust
United States
Malverne
New York
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AquaSphere is a game about having your scientists and robots perform various tasks on an underwater research station. Essentially, the scoring boils down to trying to get your pieces (robots and submarines) off your player board and onto the main board and keep them there, but there are a number of other ways to score as well. Each turn, you can do one of two things: either use your programmer to train a robot to perform a specific task, or use your scientist to move to a section of the AquaSphere board and have a robot perform its pre-programmed task there. The programmer is constrained by a randomized track: he can only train three robots per round, and the choice of task limits the next task that can be trained. For scientists, tasks have different benefits in different parts of the station, but moving from one section to the next costs time tokens. Once a player uses a section of the station, his robot token is moved to the active space of that section; if that section is used again, the older robot is bumped to the loading area. Once the loading area is full, each player can only keep one robot there, and the others are returned to the players’ boards. At the end of each round, players score if they control a plurality of the six active spaces with their robots, but also lose points if sections controlled by their robots are infested with octopods. Additionally, they gain points for the number of robots no longer on their player board, but only if the corresponding submarine pieces have already been placed. Players can also gain tiles and cards that provide additional benefits. There are a ton of strategic options in this game, but also a ton of constraints in every direction. The game doesn’t hide much from you, right down to what will be available next round, so there’s a ton of opportunity for multi-turn planning. Trying to make everything work together was really a thinky and enjoyable experience for me.

Play Circumstances: Twice--once at BGG.Con with four new players (I think we eventually got a teacher), once at a game night the next week with four experienced players.

Initial Rating: _9_

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2. Board Game: Captains of Industry [Average Rating:7.17 Overall Rank:2275]
Doug Faust
United States
Malverne
New York
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Captains of Industry is a heavy economic game that allows you to buy and sell goods from others players at prices you determine. I think this game works better than others in the category, including Wealth of Nations and Container. The game strongly incentives players to produce goods that there's a lack of, and the addition of the game buying goods at the end of each round keeps the game moving at a good pace and provides a production target. Turns are pretty atomic, so you're never sitting around waiting for someone to do something complicated, but you're always doing something significant. The whole package is very well put together, plus it has some amazing art.

Play Circumstances: I was a playtester for this game, so I played it 3-4 times as a prototype. I also got a chance to play the final version at a game night (the designer had an advance copy). I think all games were 4-player.

Initial Rating: _8_
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3. Board Game: La Granja [Average Rating:7.74 Overall Rank:114]
Doug Faust
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La Granja is a farming game that borrows extensively from other euro-style games. Like in Agricola, players expand their farm board to automatically produce various crops, as well as pigs if they have a breeding pair. Players are also dealt cards that grant the players rule-breaker abilities. That's where the Agricola comparison ends--the cards are actually multi-purpose cards that get tucked under the player's board depending on how they want to use them, a little like Glory to Rome. Special abilities get tucked on the bottom, crop production gets tucked on the left, income and animal storage get tucked on the right, and wagons for order fulfillment get tucked on the top. The game is ultimately an order fulfillment game, and players have the choice to complete wagon cards for points and placement on a Luna-like center board for point income, or complete orders on the central board for big income bumps and special powers. The main meat of the game comes in a dice-drafting phase, in which players choose dice that represent actions that they can perform on the turn. While this game definitely combines a lot of different mechanics, I actually felt like it tied together very well. The production aspects combined with the order fulfillment provided a lot of rich opportunities for planning, and the special ability cards really helped define your strategy. Enjoyed this one all around.

Play Circumstances: At EuroQuest with one experienced player and three new players.

Initial Rating: _8_

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4. Board Game: Castles of Mad King Ludwig [Average Rating:7.67 Overall Rank:82]
Doug Faust
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Malverne
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Castles of Mad King Ludwig feels a lot like Alspach's earlier game, Suburbia--each turn, you buy a tile to add to your castle, trying to get it to align to both public and personal goals. In this game, however, you're not trying to build up your income; instead, the game features a (mostly) closed economy--the "master builder" player sets the prices for all of the tiles, and players pay that player for the piece that they choose. The castle tiles come in a variety of shapes and sizes, makes the game visually interesting as well as provides tile placement challenges. These rooms all have a type, which determine what kind of bonus a player earns when the room is "completed" (all of the doors lead somewhere). Some of these bonuses include another personal goal card, taking an extra turn, money, or points. I really enjoyed this game--it was fun trying to figure out what tiles were worth to other players, and trying to build up my own castle. The puzzle of putting my castle together to fulfill goals, complete rooms that were important to complete, and maintain flexibility for future turns was really engaging to me.

Play Circumstances: At EuroQuest with one experienced player and three new players.

Initial Rating: _8_

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5. Board Game: Tragedy Looper [Average Rating:7.32 Overall Rank:509]
Doug Faust
United States
Malverne
New York
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Tragedy Looper is a cooperative deduction game with a mastermind player, a little like Scotland Yard. This is a scenario-based game in which the players have to prevent a certain “key person” character from dying. However, if that key character dies, the players enter another “time loop” Groundhog Day-style and try to prevent it again. The game ends if the players can successfully make it through a scenario without the key person dying, or if a specified number of time loops elapse. Neither the players nor the mastermind are represented by specific characters; instead, they play action cards on characters and locations to affect them in various ways. I’m not usually a big fan of cooperative games, but this one really got my brain going. Trying to figure out why the mastermind player did certain things, and use logic to figure out which characters play which roles was really engaging for me. Easily the best deduction game I’ve played. My only caveat is that the scenario-based nature of the game makes it difficult to play with different sets of players each time.

Play Circumstances: Back-to-back games in the first two (learning) scenarios at BGG.Con, with an experienced mastermind player and three new players.

Initial Rating: _8_

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6. Board Game: Fields of Arle [Average Rating:8.17 Overall Rank:54]
Doug Faust
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Malverne
New York
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Fields of Arle is a 2-player-only game in the same vein as Rosenberg’s other worker-placement farming games, Agricola and Caverna. Here, there are two distinct groups of actions spaces that can be taken--one representing summer, the other winter. You can do one thing “out of season”, but it costs you turn order. Additionally, the action spaces often had a “tools track” associated with them--the higher you are on a tools track, the better the action will be. In addition to the usual fields (which don’t need to be sown) and animals, you can also acquire buildings, which usually provide points and a one-time benefit but take up space, and vehicles. The vehicles allow you to either transport your wood/clay to upgrade them to lumber/bricks, or visit nearby towns to sell your goods for tons of food. On the whole, this game maintains the feel of a Rosenberg farming game, but seems to have a lot more going on (which is probably why it doesn’t play more than two).


Play Circumstances: At BGG.Con with both inexperienced players, learning from the rules.

Initial Rating: _8_

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7. Board Game: Panamax [Average Rating:7.38 Overall Rank:466]
Doug Faust
United States
Malverne
New York
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Panamax is a business game with some really good money management decision points. Players take on the role of a shipping company, obtaining contracts from four countries to move goods (dice) across the Panama canal. However, unless you've delivered a die this turn, you need to pay a storage cost for each die at the end of the turn, whether that die is in your warehouse or on a contract waiting to be loaded (high costs), or if it's on a ship on the canal (lower costs). You need to constantly evaluate whether it's best to try to avoid crippling storage costs or try to actually complete your shipments. You're pretty much forced to help your opponents with every move, as you'll often load your goods on their ships, or "push" their ships along the narrow track, but fortunately you can invest in them, too. What really struck me about the game, though, was how much it really seemed like a busy shipping corridor.

Play Circumstances: At FalCon with four inexperienced players, and a non-playing teacher.

Initial Rating: _8_
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8. Board Game: Pay Dirt [Average Rating:6.85 Overall Rank:2209]
Doug Faust
United States
Malverne
New York
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In this game, you're operating a modern-day gold mine. You have three pieces of equipment, each with 3 slots, and you have to move dirt from your claims over those 9 slots conveyor belt-style in order to flip it over and see how much gold you get. You have a number of workers that you can use to advance the dirt or repair the equipment once you've used them too much. Each turn, you'll auction off new equipment (that might have fewer slots to move things along quicker, or maybe more durability), new workers (that might also have special abilities), and new claims with various qualities of dirt. Additionally, you'll have to deal with a hardship each turn, which are drafted in reverse-winning order. This was my favorite game of the con, I loved planning out my moves and dealing with the unexpected.

Play Circumstances: At Origins with four inexperienced players, and a non-playing teacher. This was a pre-production copy of the game.

Initial Rating: _8_
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9. Board Game: Deus [Average Rating:7.36 Overall Rank:302]
Doug Faust
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Malverne
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In Deus, players play cards to activate its ability as well as the abilities of all the other cards of that color that they’ve previously played, as well as place a token on the map board. However, a card cannot be played if the player doesn’t have a corresponding token in his supply--and you only start with two of each. To gain more tokens, players must discard one or more cards in his hand, which also grants a special ability based on the color of one of the chosen cards. The interaction on the map board is not very confrontational--not only can you not destroy another player’s token, you can even put a token on a space occupied by an opponent, as long as it’s a different token type. The game really is about trying to create card combos, and figuring out ways to use them as many times as possible, which can present a conundrum as the card that you’d play to activate the combo is also the card that you’d play to gain more tokens of that type. I found the breadth of card combos that you could create and the interesting decisions that the game presented you to be very engaging.

Play Circumstances: At BGG.Con, with four inexperienced players and a non-playing teacher.

Initial Rating: _8_

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10. Board Game: City of Iron: Experts and Engines [Average Rating:7.63 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.63 Unranked]
Doug Faust
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Malverne
New York
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The expansion adds two main things to the game: Steambots and more cards. The Steambots I could've done without--they mostly just add a little more complexity to the game without much gameplay benefit. The extra cards are really nice though; they give you lots more options for your card purchases, and drastically help make the various factions unique.

Play Circumstances: At FalCon, with four inexperienced players (nobody had even played the base game) and a non-playing teacher.

Initial Rating: _8_
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11. Board Game: Sail to India [Average Rating:6.80 Overall Rank:1115]
Doug Faust
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Malverne
New York
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This one is component-light in the tradition of Japanese micro-games, but the gameplay feels more like a medium Euro. You're operating a trading company out of Portugal, and you sail along the queue of cards, stopping to claim goods or buildings. Your pawn at that point becomes that good or building, so you have to create a new ship to advance again. It really becomes a game about managing your pawns, as not only do you need them to claim items in the card queue, but also to mark your money and even victory points.

Play Circumstances: Twice; once at Origins with four inexperienced players and an AEG demo person teaching (and not playing), and once a few weeks later at a game night in which I was the only experienced player among the four.

Initial Rating: _8_
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12. Board Game: Kanban: Driver's Edition [Average Rating:7.77 Overall Rank:221]
Doug Faust
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Malverne
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In Kanban, players are ultimately trying to get a blueprint for a car, upgrade it with a part, then get that particular car out of the factory and onto the test track, get another another blueprint for that model of the car, and then turn in the blueprint to move that car into their garage before another player can grab it. However, the game is so full of mini-goals along the way, from manager evaluations to meeting goal cards to end-of-week scoring that you're always juggling myriad things you need to do. The actual gameplay reminds me a little of Shipyard, in that each turn you interact with a different room that has a different mechanic to gain particular items, all of which tie together in the end, but this game is much more complicated. There are really a ton of things to keep track of in the game, but most of the tension comes from trying to achieve the meeting goals, as well as gaining seats at the board room table with which to claim them. This is a big, complex game, but if you can keep track of everything you need to do, it can be a good experience.

Play Circumstances: At EuroQuest with four inexperienced players and a non-playing teacher. I also taught the game (but didn't play) the next morning.

Initial Rating: _7_

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13. Board Game: La Isla [Average Rating:6.94 Overall Rank:730]
Doug Faust
United States
Malverne
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In La Isla, players claim animal tokens by surrounding them with their scientist figures. The animal tokens work a little like a stock market--players must bump the price of one animal every turn (depending on what cards they draw), and receive points for the number of that animal they have. At the end of the game, players get points for their collected animals according to their price, as well as a bonus for having sets of different animals. The real interesting thing about this game, though, is the card play. Players receive four multi-use cards each turn that they must assign to gaining resources (used to play scientists), playing a scientist in a specific spot, bumping an animal price, and gaining a special ability. I really liked the special abilities, as they let me build interesting card combos. This was a pretty light and easy game, but building card combos kept me engaged.

Play Circumstances: At EuroQuest, with one experienced player and three new players.

Initial Rating: _7_
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14. Board Game: Arkwright [Average Rating:7.90 Overall Rank:622]
Doug Faust
United States
Malverne
New York
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I’ve only played the “Spinning Jenny” (easy) version of the game, so my feelings may change when I get a chance to play the “Waterframe” (full) game. In Arkwright, players set up factories that sell four different goods, the demand for which is determined by the number of pawns employed by the factories. Goods are sold in a system reminiscent of Automobile, and those goods that have a higher “appeal” (which incorporates player-set price) are sold first. Each round consists of four turns, at the end of which one type of good will be produced, so if you’re not in that market, it’s basically a set-up round for future production turns. Selling goods effectively give you bumps on the share track, which at the end of the game is multiplied by your number of shares to determine the victor. Shares in this game really feel more like loans, as you can only invest in yourself, and you’re forced to sell some at the game’s onset for initial capital. This version of the game is really arithmetic-heavy, and forces players to plan out multiple turns to stay solvent while investing in shares and assets. The Spinning Jenny game provides a difficult economic simulation, but lacks the bells and whistles that might make it more interesting.

Play Circumstances: At BGG.Con, with one experienced player and three new players. Like I mentioned, this was Spinning Jenny.

Initial Rating: _7_

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15. Board Game: Paperback [Average Rating:7.32 Overall Rank:307]
Doug Faust
United States
Malverne
New York
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Paperback is a combination of the games Dominion and Quiddler. It's a deckbuilding game where you draw a hand of letter cards and try to make the best word possible, with rarer letters being worth more money. That money is then used to buy new letter cards (a variety of which are available for purchase) or VP cards that count as wild but don't give you any money when used. Some cards have special text that can increase the money you get or hurt other people's turns. The game takes a little longer than it looks, as people go through permutations to come up with the best word. I think it's one of the more entertaining word games out there, though.

Play Circumstances: Twice; once with five inexperienced players at a game night, and another time at another game night in which I was the only experienced player out of five.

Initial Rating: _7_
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16. Board Game: Istanbul [Average Rating:7.62 Overall Rank:91]
Doug Faust
United States
Malverne
New York
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Istanbul uses Dorn's patented "stack of discs" also found in games like Genoa and Robber Knights. Here, you're moving around a 4 by 4 grid of tiles that you can interact with. You have to leave a disc on each tile you use, giving you a limited time before you have to go back to the Fountain to collect all of your discs. However, if you use a tile you've already used, you can pick up a disc you left there previously instead of leaving a new one, extending your run. So you're incentivized to use the same tiles over and over, but the scoring system really encourages players to use lots of different tiles. You get a ruby (victory point) for obtaining various sets of special abilities, as well as trading in your goods or money in increasingly difficult contracts--first one to a set number wins.

Play Circumstances: At Origins with one experienced player and two new players.

Initial Rating: _7_
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17. Board Game: Orléans [Average Rating:8.08 Overall Rank:26]
Doug Faust
United States
Malverne
New York
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Orleans is a "pouch-building" game--throughout the game you acquire tokens of different types to go into your pouch, and each turn you pull a certain number of tokens out of your pouch which determine what kind of actions you can do. Players have a player board where they assign their tokens to various actions, all of which require multiple different tokens to fire. Most of the action spaces allow a player to take a new token of a specific type, and advance on that token's track, each of which have different abilities. Some of the track abilities include taking more tokens out of the bag each turn, being able to choose a building tile that gives you another possible action, end-game multiplier bonuses, etc. There were a few action spaces that didn't give you more tokens--these let you move your pawn around a map board to pick up goods chits (worth points) or establish trading posts (for the end-game multiplier), and a final action spot let you "retire" tokens to a central board for a couple of points (this seemed more aimed at giving players something to do on the last turn, rather than allowing a hardcore pouch-thinning strategy). Overall, I really enjoyed this game--it's not really too ambitious, but it executes the pouch-building idea really well, and it was fun to build up on the tracks and gain new action spaces. I worry about replay value though, as some tracks and buildings seemed a lot better than others.

Play Circumstances: Twice; once at EuroQuest with four new players learning from the rules, once at BGG.Con with me teaching three new players.

Initial Rating: _7_

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18. Board Game: The Staufer Dynasty [Average Rating:7.20 Overall Rank:873]
Doug Faust
United States
Malverne
New York
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In The Staufer Dynasty, players claim spaces on the board to try to earn majorities as well as claim special ability tiles associated with those spaces. Payment for these spaces is a little strange though. The board is arranged in a circle consisting of six regions, and the King token is assigned at the start of the turn to one of those regions. Payment comes in two parts: you have to pay the travel cost (distance clockwise from the King), and the cost of the space. These costs aren’t paid to a bank--they’re paid in the form of pawns placed one by one on the travel area of the regions, clockwise from the king for the travel, and clockwise from the region for the space. At the end of each turn, one or two regions score (claimed spaces in non-scoring regions stay claimed, others are returned), and then the King moves clockwise a number of spaces, and the spent pawns in the travel regions passed by the King are returned to their owners, ready to be spent again. I felt like this was a pretty solid middleweight Euro, but the mechanisms used by the game were very strange and unique. I don’t know that they made it a better game, but they definitely made it different.

Play Circumstances: At BGG.Con with four new players, learned from the rules.

Initial Rating: _7_

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19. Board Game: Praetor [Average Rating:6.67 Overall Rank:1924]
Doug Faust
United States
Malverne
New York
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Praetor is a really interesting worker placement game in which, as workers are used, they gain experience and are able to do their actions better. However, once they get to a certain level, they retire, meaning that you can't use them any more but you have to keep paying their "pension". I really liked the concept, but the resource management aspects of the game didn't seem very tight, as some tiles/strategies didn't seem particularly well-balanced. There were also some graphic design issues, specifically with the tile corner patterns.

Play Circumstances: At FalCon with four new players and a non-playing teacher.

Initial Rating: _7_
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20. Board Game: Hyperborea [Average Rating:7.29 Overall Rank:521]
Doug Faust
United States
Malverne
New York
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Hyperborea is a light “dudes-on-a-map” type game in which the actions you can take are governed by a pouch-building mechanic. Each turn, you pull three tokens from your pouch, which you can assign to various actions (two or three tokens per action), such as producing a new figure, moving a figure, attacking with a figure, advancing on tracks that will eventually add tokens to your pouch, gaining crystals (points), or acquiring special rule-breaker cards. Each player starts with a special ability that allows them to perform one of these six actions a little better. Players expand from their initial space on the board, first attacking neutral pieces guarding key spots on the board, and eventually attacking other players. These key spots include ruins, which grant a one-time use token, and cities, which can be used once per round for a minor benefit. At the end of the game, points are earned according to number of figures defeated (neutrals are worth more than opponent’s pieces), number of game board tiles controlled, number of tokens in your pouch, crystals, and point values printed on rule-breaker cards. While this is a multi-player combat game, combat is very streamlined (you attack, you win) and it’s not worth it to go after opponents until there are no neutral targets. Games based on producing and moving guys around a map attacking each other isn’t really my style, but this one was okay.

Play Circumstances: At BGG.Con with one experienced player and four new players.

Initial Rating: _7_


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21. Board Game: Fleet: Arctic Bounty [Average Rating:7.68 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.68 Unranked]
Doug Faust
United States
Malverne
New York
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Woah, there! While the Fleet base game is fairly straightforward (if a little opaque), this expansion makes the possibilities explode exponentially by pre-seeding the game with a random assortment of ships that's a little like the Dominion setup. It also adds a variety of other features like Captain cards, and the variety of things that the new ships let you do is quite a few steps beyond the base game. The result is a deeper, more thoughtful game that many may prefer, but the rules complexity is also about three rungs up. I'd say this is for Fleet aficionados only--casual players will probably be befuddled, even if they've played Fleet before.

Play Circumstances: At a game night, with two experienced players and two inexperienced players who had played the base game once.

Initial Rating: _7_
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22. Board Game: Helios [Average Rating:6.84 Overall Rank:1352]
Doug Faust
United States
Malverne
New York
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Helios is a short resource gathering game with an intriguing "sun" mechanic. You collect tiles and place them on your player board; when you move your sun token next to a tile it produces a resource. The more tiles you collect, the longer it takes for your sun to go around your mass of tiles. However, there are lots of incentives to keep adding more tiles, including getting a variety of resources, resource collection limits per tile, and bonus resources and points if you build out your land mass in certain ways. You use the resources to erect buildings (printed on your player mat) that might give you points and other advantages like making your sun move faster. You can also use your buildings to create mana, which is mostly used to recruit character tiles that provide end-game points. Oddly, the game is structured such that the character tiles are all bought up in the first turn or two, making late-game mana not as exciting (it's only worth points). I really like the whole sun mechanic, and the benefits and drawbacks of expanding your landmass. However, it really seemed like the game was too short to fully explore how this might play out. I really wish this had been implemented in a deeper game.

Play Circumstances: At a game day with one experienced player and two new players.

Initial Rating: _7_
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23. Board Game: Machi Koro: Harbor [Average Rating:7.13 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.13 Unranked]
Doug Faust
United States
Malverne
New York
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I played this with a draft variant, in which the establishment cards are shuffled into a giant deck, ten are placed face-up as available, and purchased cards are replaced from the deck (a little like Ascension). While I found the original Machi Koro to be very static and have very few strategic decisions, the addition of the extra cards from this expansion (many of which combo with each other) and the constantly changing card availability enabled by the draft made this a very engaging experience. In my opinion, these changes move Machi Koro from a bland game to a plus filler.

Play Circumstances: At BGG.Con, with one experienced player and two inexperienced players who had played the base game once.

Initial Rating: _7_

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24. Board Game: Alchemists [Average Rating:7.73 Overall Rank:80]
Doug Faust
United States
Malverne
New York
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Alchemists is a competitive deduction game in which players are trying to figure out the composition of various alchemical elements based on the effects they produce when mixed together. The game uses a mobile app to randomize the setup and administrate the game (alternatively, a non-playing person can do this). Combined elements (called “potions”) can be tested on students (who may charge you), yourself (which may have very adverse effects), or customers (who cost more action points and may either give you money or cost you points). Either way, the resultant potion will have a color and a sign, which can be marked in your screen. Once you have enough information about a given element, you can choose to publish your findings for victory points. There are incentives to publish before your information is complete, but if you’re wrong then other players can choose to debunk your research which gives them points and costs you points. On top of this game lies an action selection system that’s very reminiscent of Dungeon Lords or Dungeon Petz. I enjoyed the deduction elements of this game, but some of the chrome didn’t sit well with me--the publishing system had a “get there first” kind of feel, and action selection mechanism seemed a little overwrought and fiddly.

Play Circumstances: At BGG.Con with all four players and two teachers who were simultaneously trying to play another game while tag-team teaching us. We didn't finish because the hot games room closed.

Initial Rating: _7_

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25. Board Game: Impulse [Average Rating:6.92 Overall Rank:1163]
Doug Faust
United States
Malverne
New York
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This game has the crazy card combos of Chudyk's previous game, Innovation, with more different ways the cards can be used, but less variation in the actual card texts. This is layered on top of a space combat game with a spatial element. The key feature here is the "Impulse", which is a queue of cards that all players must add to and execute in order, forcing players to really think about what they put there. I enjoyed the card combos and the many ways that cards can be used, but I wasn't a huge fan of the PvP combat bits or the player-enforced balance.

Play Circumstances: At FalCon with two new players and a non-playing teacher.

Initial Rating: _7_
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