A 10 Day Gaming Holiday - Catching up on some old games and Hating on some new ones
John Farrell
Australia
Rozelle
New South Wales
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Every year I get a 10 day gaming holiday. The first week is a private convention, then we head into Canberra for Cancon, one of Australia's oldest game cons. This is a list of what I played with my unrestrained opinions.
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1. Board Game: ZhanGuo [Average Rating:7.65 Overall Rank:395]
John Farrell
Australia
Rozelle
New South Wales
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My contingent arrived on Saturday afternoon and we were recruited by Julian from unhalfbricking.com for a game of ZhanGuo. Julian gave a long but concise explanation of the rules, barely forgetting anything although there are quite a lot of them.

ZhanGuo has quite an innovative card play system where you can use cards for the engine-building component that's printed on them, or as a "lower than some number" card, or as a "higher than some number" card. The lower-than and higher-than stuff are related to running your engine efficiently. Ideally you'd build an engine that could benefit from both low cards and high cards. I didn't immediately understand this (which is only my fault) and built a mono-focus engine which didn't have any reliable way to generate points. About halfway through the game I realised that I'd specialised too much and was kinda screwed. Oh well.

The end game scoring rewards a diversified approach to scoring, and I'd tried to go specialised. I really enjoy games where there's an obvious thing to do and then some other things that work pretty well also, and I like to find those other things. I don't think ZhanGuo is a game that supports that. You can build palaces, walls, or administrators, but if you don't do all three of them you have no hope of winning.

This reminds me of Agricola where the scoring penalises you for not scoring in all areas. I got rid of Agricola, and I see no need to acquire ZhanGuo. If I'm going to play points salad, I prefer something like Bora Bora or Village where you can go hard in one area and win on what you earn there. It seemed to me that ZhanGuo is a game of many different paths to loss, but if you want to win you've got to follow the crowd.
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2. Board Game: Yunnan [Average Rating:7.15 Overall Rank:1219]
John Farrell
Australia
Rozelle
New South Wales
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Another Euro, and another attempt to win by doing the stupid thing. I was 4th player in turn order and started the game with a lot of money. On the other hand, I was required to pay higher prices for being later in the turn order. I decided to try to exploit my wealth to do something unexpected and awesome.

This is a bit of an auction game, with the very cool feature that if you bid 5 or 7 for something, you get knocked out when someone bids higher. However if you bid 9, 12 or 15, you get what you bid for no matter what. And there's also the chance to withdraw from the auction, go to the bank, and receive an amount of cash based on how much the other players were bidding. In the first round I won two bids at 5 - one for improved movement and one for improved priority.

That was my first mistake! Improved priority means you can demote people from spaces they've moved to, but it also means that the wicked overseer picks on you all the time. The last thing my cunning underfunded obtuse strategy needed was some geriatric gray-painted pawn picking on me. Over and over he did worse things to me than I could do to anyone else, and I suffered quite badly from that.

In the second round I defected and went to the bank, which meant that in the third round I had a load of money to spend and could finally get some useful things. That was when I learned the rule that you can't buy two things the same in the same round - there goes *that* cunning plan!

Anyway, the game proceeded with pretty much the same sorts of ups and downs. I generally withdrew from the race to get to the best spaces, achieved some good results, but then something didn't quite work how I hoped it might and I got knocked back. For example, I was in the lead on the score track it was *just* possible I might have been able to finish the game a round earlier than expected and ambush everyone, but that was the round that pretty much everyone gained priority over me and vindictively pushed me back on the map as I had done to them earlier.

Oh well. Aaron won with a "camp everybody in the second zone" strategy. Later in the week Barry beat him with a "camp everybody in the third zone" strategy. I can see there's strategic diversity in the game, and I have faith that my ideas of not competing as hard in the auctions have some merit, but it seems unlikely I'll play this one again.
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3. Board Game: Cheeky Monkey [Average Rating:6.60 Overall Rank:2127]
John Farrell
Australia
Rozelle
New South Wales
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Later that evening Rachel offered me the chance to stick my hand up a monkey's bum. How could I refuse? Well, eventually I remembered I'd played this game before without the attractive packaging, but I played anyway. Meh. It was never designed to be more than a meh game.
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4. Board Game: Diavolo [Average Rating:6.03 Overall Rank:5401]
John Farrell
Australia
Rozelle
New South Wales
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Konrad brought out his late night games. I remembered we'd had another late night session in previous years where we'd played this. This is one of those "random things happen and he who reacts quickest and grabs the right thing wins" games. I never have any faith I'll be good at these games, but I am. In this case it came down to a mano a mano between me and Amanda, and the younger less drunk person won on the day. She's also very smart, and has previously beaten me at Perpetual Commotion, so maybe she's just better than me at such games.
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5. Board Game: Zero [Average Rating:6.42 Overall Rank:3125]
John Farrell
Australia
Rozelle
New South Wales
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I had a Japanese copy of this, which I acquired by accident as I've played quite enough of Reiner Knizia's simple card games. However it's the ideal late night game as it's quite mindless. Rachel fell in love with it - the Japanese packaging is very beautiful - and later in the week I gave her this copy to keep. I can't remember who won, but it certainly wasn't me.

Edit: we played this several times more during the week, as there were further occasions when we were too tired to care about skill and sobriety.
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6. Board Game: Royals [Average Rating:7.22 Overall Rank:845]
John Farrell
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Rozelle
New South Wales
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Day 2, and we were up early and doing our duty to try Peter Hawes's latest game. I got myself in an awkward position where Aeos to my right was taking the cards I wanted, and Peter to my left was killing the things I built. I think if I were a smarter person I would have changed my board position so as to not compete with Aeos, but if I'd managed to draw the intrigue cards I needed in two turns rather than 4 I might have even scared Peter off. I did not win this game either.

I don't need to own this game, as I have Heads of State and I think I prefer it a bit better, even with the disappointing art. However this is a very gateway friendly Euro, and so far is Peter's lightest game.
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7. Board Game: Council of Verona [Average Rating:6.40 Overall Rank:1990]
John Farrell
Australia
Rozelle
New South Wales
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Most of Day 2 was wiped out, as it was my turn to cook which meant I had to buy ingredients for 15 pizzas then lead the team that prepared them. Hooray for Pizza Artist Rachel, Loyal Labourer Konrad and Furnace Operator Aaron for making such a huge venture practical! Also hooray for Rachel's Thermomix which made all the dough.

Anyway, when I got a chance I had a quick game of Council of Verona. This is a doublethink game, and as I recall I was on the receiving end of pretty much everything. Oh well, it's quick.
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8. Board Game: Anomia [Average Rating:6.64 Overall Rank:1547] [Average Rating:6.64 Unranked]
John Farrell
Australia
Rozelle
New South Wales
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This is a speed saying-things game, and although Amanda might generally be quicker than me, she is not so quick at saying things and actually I don't think she even played. So I finally managed to win a game, even if it was a game I didn't particularly like.
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9. Board Game: Zendo [Average Rating:7.28 Overall Rank:698]
John Farrell
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Rozelle
New South Wales
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This is one of traditional games, and Aaron and I taught new attendee Michelle how to play. Sadly Michelle didn't get it at all and begged to be allowed to go do something on her computer instead. Two player Zendo is not so good.
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10. Board Game: Maskmen [Average Rating:6.46 Overall Rank:3759]
John Farrell
Australia
Rozelle
New South Wales
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I have this friend Rene, a Mexican gentleman, who's into Mexican wrestling. When I saw this game in a shop in Japan I knew Rene would want it, so I bought it. However before I showed it to him it would be polite to know how to play it. The English rules are not completely convincing, so I explained to the other players what I understood and we figured it out. This is not a game that enthrals me, but it at least works. It's quick and colourful.
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11. Board Game: Imperial Settlers [Average Rating:7.52 Overall Rank:130]
John Farrell
Australia
Rozelle
New South Wales
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Another early morning game. We sat down with the rules and tried to nut it out, but then Aeos came along and explained it all to us. Well, most of it. We missed the bit about receiving production when you build a production building and when you make a deal, so we were a bit low on resources and didn't achieve a lot. Also there wasn't a lot of razing, leaving Peter and Bruce complaining that it was multiplayer solitaire. As if there's anything wrong with that! I came 3rd of 4 but loved it. I played two more games during the week, both solitaire, and then taught it to Rene on the weekend. This was my favourite new game of the week.

We actually played so quickly that we were getting confused about whose turn it was. Konrad would be finishing off some bookkeeping for his turn, Peter and Bruce would take their turns in 3 seconds each, and I'd wait till Konrad looked like he was done. I'd take my turn in 3 seconds, and tell Konrad it was his turn, but he'd say he'd just had a turn. At times we lost track of whether he'd had a new turn since the turn we were waiting for or not. It got a bit confusing.
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12. Board Game: Diamonds [Average Rating:7.01 Overall Rank:663]
John Farrell
Australia
Rozelle
New South Wales
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Barry taught us this odd trick-taking game with special powers. I did fairly badly so apparently I didn't understand it as well as some others did. It didn't excite me at all - I was still getting the special powers confused at the end of the game. I have no need to play this game again.
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13. Board Game: Unpublished Prototype [Average Rating:6.98 Overall Rank:2206]
John Farrell
Australia
Rozelle
New South Wales
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Day 4! I was up bright and early, but Peter Hawes had been up most of the night and had been working on his new prototype. We gave it the first ever play-test, then had a long long discussion about the good bits and the bad bits and what other sorts of things could be done to replace the bad bits. Some of our ideas were radically different to anything Peter has done before, to it will be interesting to see what comes of this.
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14. Board Game: Tajemnicze Domostwo [Average Rating:7.32 Overall Rank:410]
John Farrell
Australia
Rozelle
New South Wales
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Kevin was playing this with all and sundry, and I liked the idea that it used Dixit mechanics for something which might actually resemble a game. i don't want to blame Amanda the Ghost for our loss, but I do wanna say that if you give someone a card with a picture of a letter on it then they might choose the other card with the picture of a letter on it jus' sayin'. It's a decent party game, and I am not a party game person.
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15. Board Game: Bucket King 3D [Average Rating:6.25 Overall Rank:4113]
John Farrell
Australia
Rozelle
New South Wales
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If you've played Bucket King then this is even more annoying. I didn't like this one at all and was happy to be eliminated early.
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16. Board Game: Linko! [Average Rating:7.06 Overall Rank:706]
John Farrell
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Rozelle
New South Wales
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Kevin had a rethemed game of Abluxxen, and I found it to be yet another trick-taking game with a twist, approximately the 100th such game I've played and basically as good as any other. Which is to say it might be a fine game in its own right, but I'm over it.
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17. Board Game: Prolix [Average Rating:6.47 Overall Rank:4128]
John Farrell
Australia
Rozelle
New South Wales
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I didn't like Prolix when I owned it, but Rachel or someone had brought it along so I played anyway. As with most speed word games, I won, but I still don't like it.
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18. Board Game: Tragedy Looper [Average Rating:7.32 Overall Rank:509]
John Farrell
Australia
Rozelle
New South Wales
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Another of Kevin's strange games! This is sort of an anime-inspired deduction game with a dungeon master. I can't say what happened as that would spoil the scenario, but as it turned out the team of Rachel, Gerald and me figured out what was happening and managed to crush Kevin's dreams at every turn and won in the first round. Other plays during the week were not so successful. Kevin even managed to win once thanks to a team that didn't really get what was going on. I recommend this game!
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19. Board Game: Concept [Average Rating:6.93 Overall Rank:567]
John Farrell
Australia
Rozelle
New South Wales
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Another late-night session and I didn't feel like thinking, but Concept is the sort of game where that's not really a requirement. Julian wanted to learn how to play, and it was the matter of a couple of minutes to teach him. Although this isn't a super game, it is a tolerable one that can be played in most states of consciousness.
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20. Board Game: Spyfall [Average Rating:7.07 Overall Rank:394] [Average Rating:7.07 Unranked]
John Farrell
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Rozelle
New South Wales
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Aeos dragged me off the sofa to play this one, after I'd decided that Concept had drained the last shreds of thought from my wine-addled skull. This is a very cunning game. Players are dealt secret role cards which say either "you're the spy" or tell the players a location that they're at. The players then have 8 minutes to ask each other questions to find out who's the spy who doesn't know where they're at. The art is to ask a question that fits the location, but to give an answer that shows that you know what the location is but doesn't give enough hints to the spy.

When I was the spy I managed to give a suitably un-vague answer to the only question I faced to keep the detectives off my trail. This was one of my favourite games of the week.
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21. Board Game: Enigma [Average Rating:6.49 Overall Rank:2712]
John Farrell
Australia
Rozelle
New South Wales
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This is a game where a few small puzzles have been packed into a single greater game. There are 4 puzzle types - mathematically balancing weights, laying pipes, tangrams, and 3D block puzzles. On each round each player gets a different type of puzzle, then they have a minute or so to solve the puzzle. If they do they can add the tile the puzzle was on to a network to score some points.

Solving small puzzles in a hurry is something I can do, and I did very well at this game. On the other hand, I didn't solve any of the pipe or tangram puzzles. Luckily the other guys were worse at it.

It's a functional game, but not one that really excites me. If you're into Ubongo or La Boca, this might appeal to you.
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22. Board Game: Let's Catch the Lion! [Average Rating:6.67 Overall Rank:2926]
John Farrell
Australia
Rozelle
New South Wales
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Buster Keaton from 'Go West'
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This is a very cute game designed for babies, to be played in the nursery as they're falling asleep. Or so you'd think.

No seriously, it's actually a mind-eating virus from the pits of Hell, but IN PASTEL COLOURS.

This game is hard. It's based on Shogi, which is like Chess, but it's on a 3x4 board so there's no room to hide. Also, if you've captured a piece you can place it back on the board rather than moving a piece. That's the bit that messes with my head.

I played this against Aaron and Rachel during the week, and they both beat me. Several times I could tell as soon as my fingers left the piece that I'd made a serious mistake, so maybe I should have thought a little longer.

This is a great game which is available for $10 from Amazon in Japan. There are also two larger versions, the largest of which is actual proper Shogi for your sleepy baby.
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23. Board Game: The Staufer Dynasty [Average Rating:7.20 Overall Rank:874]
John Farrell
Australia
Rozelle
New South Wales
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OK, time to get nasty. This is rated quite highly on BGG, but I found it to be an almost worthless game. There are a limited number of special power tiles, so I figured one strategy would be to grab a special power tile and exploit that power. I went for the -2 cost to movement tile, and then the "get one more chest" tile. Then I discovered that other people had picked up "free movement" chests, and that chests were piled up in plague proportions in every corner of the game. So despite my plan of attack I was pretty much in the same position as everybody else strategically, and was left fighting the same fight for the same points.

Whenever I find myself in heavy traffic on a road I get a sinking feeling in my stomach, because I'm pretty sure that if I'm going to the same place as everybody else I won't like it when I get there. This game is very much a case of All Roads Lead to Rome, and All Paths Lead Back to the Road. you just can't do anything that differentiates what you're doing from what everybody else is doing. So, on your turn, just do anything really. It doesn't matter.

This game and ZhanGuo were probably the most standard heavy Euros I played during the week, and I found them extremely disappointing. The games didn't have many ideas, they just had a lot of moving parts that didn't matter so much. I've played a lot of point salad games, so I'm not against them per se, but I am against false choices. I know in a game like Trajan or Navegador that I can focus on a particular means of scoring and do well if I hammer that better than everyone else hammers their thing(s). However I don't at all like that everybody can do whatever they want and still be a contender at the end, nor do I like games where everybody must do the same thing or else not be a contender at the end. Please, make my choices matter!

Although this was not the worst new game I played, it was the biggest disappointment.
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24. Board Game: Red7 [Average Rating:6.99 Overall Rank:545]
John Farrell
Australia
Rozelle
New South Wales
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Ho hum, another day another card game. Due to some whim of the gods I won three games of this in a row, despite the rules getting more complicated each time. I don't need to play this again.
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25. Board Game: Istanbul [Average Rating:7.62 Overall Rank:91]
John Farrell
Australia
Rozelle
New South Wales
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I'm *way* behind in my plays of Essential Euros. I needed to play this just to see what it was about. As with Die Staufer Dynasty, this game has special power tiles that you can go to get, so I did that. Brendan and Rachel rushed off doing whatever it is you do in this game - getting a bigger wheelbarrow, getting goods, etc, but I got this tile that said I could turn a die into a 4. Then I found out what it might be for and where I could use it - the Black Market or the Tea House.

The Tea House was far so I went to the Black Market and turned a die into a 4 and got a load of stuff. As the game went on I discovered a viable loop where I could go to the Black Market, a warehouse, the Jail (to send my relative out to sell my stuff), and the Jeweller... and just cranked that loop to gather gems. I was just about to win when Brendan pulled off some tricky manoeuvre which allowed him to grab a tile which gave him a gem to win the game.

I had no idea how he'd gained that gem, so I asked him to explain it. Oh, when you get both tiles you get a gem! Well... I should have got a gem earlier then! So I won the game on a recount.

I liked this game because my strategic choices mattered. Beating Brendan at a game he understands is a pretty rare thing. I also bought this one on the weekend, as I'd like to play again.
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