Board Game: ConHex
[Average Rating:6.88 Overall Rank:4383]
A connection game combined with some area majority. The board is divided into a number of cells with 6 or 3 spaces on the vertices. On your turn you play on a vertex and you claim the cell if you control half the vertices of the cell. I like the design of the board and the layout of the cells means that most points are in 3 different cells simultaneously.
I love the combination of area majority with a connection game and haven't played anything quite like it before. There are no capture or movement rules so the first to place in a cell can always beat the other player to control that cell, which means you have an ongoing race across the board in multiple cells at all times. The fact that every placement is threatening multiple cells means the game is constantly shifting and it continues to surprise even when I think I'm getting a handle on what's happening. A game that looks like a sure win for red can suddenly swing to yellow because red hasn't quite secured the last link in the chain and allows yellow to snake around the edge of the board.
I'd added this in to an order with Hex because it sounded like a nice novelty but so far, I've enjoyed this more than Hex because of the cell claiming. I've liked it so much that it's probably my favourite abstract along with Santorini at the moment. It is also nicely portable because that's what nestorgames does.
Unlock!: Escape Adventures
We're on a run of escape room games at the moment (the ones this month plus some of the ThinkFun Escape the Room games) and this is definitely the best so far. I can't really talk about the individual scenarios because of spoilers so this is fairly high level stuff.
The art is quite similar to Time Stories (minus the panoramas) and excellent throughout. I love the presentation of the whole thing and it's a big step up on all the other escape room games we've played. In a game where atmosphere is all important, good art goes a long way to making it fun.
Each scenario is only a deck of cards, nothing else, whereas other games have bits of map, some cards, some paper, etc. Time Stories was almost all a deck of cards, this is entirely the cards. The biggest improvement over the others is that a single 'scene' is split into multiple cards, e.g. you walk into the room and draw cards 15, 20, 80, B and F to represent the desk, the computer, the door, a painting on the wall and a weird statue. Players can now pass around the cards and look at them simultaneously so everyone has something to look at at all times. The biggest problem we've had with escape room games so far is that most of them feel designed for 2-3 people; yes, you'd want more but there's one map that you can't read across the table and one card with a lot of information. You could play with more but now you're taking turns and half the table is a bit bored waiting. This system means you can look at one part of the room while everyone else is looking at something else and is the first one I'd recommend as playable above 3 players.
The 3rd scenario (escape from the island) seems ideal with 4 and I don't think would be particularly enjoyable for 2 because it splits you into teams at the start and forbids communication between teams. That's something you see in the rules for the scenario so it's not a spoiler, just something to be aware of.
The puzzles all take a similar form - combine a blue item with a red or green item, add the numbers and find the card with that number. If the number you're looking for doesn't exist, that wasn't an answer. It has some penalties too for trying some stupid things. You also need to find hidden numbers and letters on the cards you have and again, this is much more interesting thanks to the presentation of the whole thing. There's a required app for iOS/Android that tracks time and processes any codes you enter, as well as giving hints if you get stuck.
It feels like Time Stories turned into a straight puzzle game minus the time travel and I highly recommend it. We're totally on board for the upcoming expansions.
Escape Room: The Game
We've only played the first scenario for this so far. It adds a small machine to act as the timer and check your codes. This has the typical problem of escape room games that Unlock! avoided - reliance on few physical components that you can't examine properly across the table - and I wouldn't recommend it at higher player counts. Adding ciphers to the machine and then only using one per scenario feels odd. Why isn't the cipher just part of the adventure envelope instead of having to pick up the entire box to read it?
The first scenario falls back on more maths-ish puzzles, which are fine but not inspiring and the art is functional. It's better than the ThinkFun puzzles and we did enjoy it, it's just that Unlock! was much better. It did feel a little harder than Unlock! but that could be because the hint system leaves you waiting for a while if you get ahead of the timer.
Mascarade meets Love Letter with some great art thrown in. I enjoyed this a lot, particularly the gamble around ending the game. It's likely that someone will have switched your cards since your last look you found so you aren't completely sure whether you still have a scoring set of cards when ending the game. It's not a deep game but it is a fun experience and suitably short.
A two player deduction game with some bluffing and a bit of guesswork thrown in. There's a shared deck of ascending, unique numbers and the fugitive is trying to play a sequence of hidden cards to get to the top without the marshal guessing those cards. I like how new cards are restricted to a narrow range from the previous cards with the option to play a stack of cards to sprint over a larger gap. The marshal is gathering their own cards, which eliminates some possibilities for their guesses, but is mostly relying on reading the fugitive's plays.
It's a very simple game that manages to make bluffing work with two players, which is a rare feat. I haven't tried the events yet because I'm not convinced the game needs them, but maybe when we're more experienced they'll add some legs to the game.
Wow, this was a little overwhelming. It's effectively a simulator of being a CCG player with all that entails and it feels a lot like trying to get into a CCG for the first time. The game has two main phases, tournament play and deck building.
Tournaments are fairly simple to play. You've chosen your 8 card deck and now you need to play 6 cards to score points. The order of cards feels fairly obvious because the combos you can play with your 8 cards are well defined. There's a little interaction but not a lot and the tournament can feel quite solitaire. I think that sufficient experience will make this more interesting but there are so many unique cards with weird effects that we largely had no idea what everyone else was doing, just how many points they were on. It's definitely the less interesting part of the game and felt a little long.
The deck building is the real meat of the game - all real time, card buying, selling and trading for about 20 minutes a time. The game definitely captures the feel of collecting an LCG here with lots of blind buys and trying to figure out which of your cards to keep and which have value in the secondary market. The game adds a cap of how many cards you can have listed on the secondary market at once, which encourages you to sell good cards that other people will actually buy and trade directly. You're going to be reading a lot of cards and, much like a CCG, some cards are strictly better. It seems like you can build a wide variety of decks from the card pool and the collection is a nice touch to give you an alternate goal even if your deck isn't changing much.
I think that I'd enjoy this much more with repeat plays but as a largely one-off exercise it's simply too much too fast. I don't think I'll get to play it regularly to see it at its best, which is a bit of a shame because I love the theme here.
Only a few plays of this and it is not an obvious game at all. The rules are very simple, it feels like it could be very clever indeed and I simply don't know what to do early on. At some point the possible moves narrow down a bit and things become clear but until then we've been playing quite arbitrary moves. The stacking movement means that typical moves for a connection game don't work so well and the board can change dramatically if a large stack is built and moved later on.
I think this will be good with experience. However, it is much more opaque than most abstracts and isn't too friendly to new players. We don't have the time to put into this at the moment with Gloomhaven still ongoing so I suspect it's going to have to wait a bit before I can form a full opinion on it. The other connection games this month are much easier to get into, even with mistakes being made.
Mansions of Madness: Second Edition – Beyond the Threshold: Expansion
Not technically new this month but I forgot to add it last time. A new boxed expansion that adds two scenarios and a few components to Mansions second edition. It's a little pricey for what you get but I enjoyed both scenarios a great deal. The first does something entirely new, the second is a scenario type rarely seen so far and both feel suitably different to the existing scenarios. I don't really want to get into either of them because of spoilers but I'd highly recommend this if you want more Mansions. They appear to have some replayability to them even once you've completed them but we've replayed these less than the base ones so far.
Mansions of Madness What Lies Within
A digital DLC scenario for Mansions that doesn't seem to have an entry. Again, a little pricey and very enjoyable. It's not quite as good as the Beyond the Threshold scenarios but it is better than the scenarios they added based on first edition content. This one is a more typical Lovecraft story - a mansion with mysterious deaths and things that go bump in the dark - but it does it well and there's a small new mechanic that I liked. If this style of scenario and price is the future of Mansions then I'm in for more.
Pax Pamir: Khyber Knives
An expansion that adds a few extras to Pax Pamir because it was definitely lacking rules before. The main bits as I remember them:
The chieftan of each location is now the Wazir of that location, which gives you two new abilities. The first is to pay 6 to trigger a regime change to a set regime and the second lets you pay 2 to add units to that location, which can be a mix of spies, tribesmen, armies and roads. The regime change is powerful but very expensive and seemed mostly relevant for trying to win a topple. Adding units to the map is hugely flexible if you have a 3 star card to use and makes managing tribes and armies much more important. I like these a lot and would always use them, even without the rest of the expansion.
There are new capability cards that are dual purpose. You can attach them to a card to add stars (still capped at 3) or you can activate the capability to give yourself a permanent special ability for the game. Each capability has activation requirements, often focused on having certain combinations of stars in your tableau, and they're all hugely powerful. A few examples we saw were having no hand size limit, allowing your tribes to fight as armies and having patriots count double for topple supremacy checks. I also love this because I like asymmetric powers in games and these are interesting trade offs. They don't go into your hand and they're lost if you can't activate them before the next topple, but if you wait until you can activate it someone may buy it first just to stop you.
New headline cards are added to the deck, which remind me of the event cards in the COIN games. The card is typically good for one or two players or bad for one or two players so it's very clear who wants them to go off. The only way to stop a headline is to buy it yourself and then sabotage it so it doesn't trigger, which costs actions and often money. These were fun but I wouldn't mind if they were left out either. They're a little swingy compared to COIN events because they're much more limited and taking normal card slots. It does make the market a little more interesting.
The tax action is changed to focus on tableau cards in the location instead of pieces on the board, which is an easy bit of streamlining. You need to be the Wazir to tax just like you had to be chief before.
As a whole, this is a great expansion that adds a lot of new, interesting cards to the game. There isn't a lot of rules overhead but there is much more to think about with all the headlines and capabilities added in. It still doesn't surpass Renaissance for me.
We played the nation building variant for the first time and I don't enjoy that with 5 at all. Successful topples now award points per influence within that empire and the game ends after the last topple or if one empire wins two topples in a row. The change to points handout takes away a lot of the thrill of topples because players are more willing to settle for a topple that they aren't 'winning' if they're still going to benefit - I'm mostly ok with you taking 3 points because I'm getting 2 points and everyone else is getting 0, so let's work together to topple while we're ahead. Regular topples normally provoke a great power struggle within the empire as the losing players suddenly try not to let their empire win the topple because they're behind and this spoils that. It also seems to encourage players to gather into fewer empires to harvest points early on. This isn't new for the expansion but we'd never played the living rules version so it was new to us.
Hex uses a very simple rule set that manages to offer many choices during the game. We're still learning basics and so the losses are often obvious in hindsight - you completed a foolish ladder that made you lose the game - but I can see the depth even if we're not there yet. There doesn't seem to be a good way to handicap the game, which makes playing with new players a little unfortunate.
I'm playing the nestorgames edition so it's nice and portable too, which is convenient for such a simple game. I'm surprised I'd never heard of this before because it seems to be well established. I don't know that I'll ever become 'good' at it, it's a lot of fun though.
Not strictly new because I've played this before on a Yavalath board. This is the first time I've played it on the original Pentalath board though and I like having two corner shapes instead of a regular hex. It's not made a huge difference to the game - it's fundamentally still 5 in a row with some capturing - but it's better than the hex board for me. I'm not sure you need it if you already have a Yavalath board. I found it worthwhile because I enjoyed Pentalath a great deal and this is a slightly better version of it. Repeating last month's comments on the basic game:
Apparently best played on its dedicated board but I've only played it on the hexagonal Yavalath board. Take turns playing pieces to make 5 in a row with Go's capture rules added in. If a group of pieces has no liberties it's removed from the board. The endgame is containing and capturing a piece that blocks your 5 in a row and leaving no non-suicide move to block it. I've enjoyed this more than Yavalath so far and I'm seriously tempted to get the proper board if it's a better experience. Capturing pieces is significantly harder than go due to the hexagonal spaces and takes much longer, which means it isn't just a go derivative. I like it equally with both 2 and 3 as well, which is unusual for this kind of abstract.
I've somehow managed to avoid seeing anything about this until now, which is a shame because I really enjoyed it. We played with 4 using salt on Gallia. I think the balance between cards and pieces on the board is my favourite part of the game.
The cards you acquire during the game score multiplicatively with the pieces on the board. Getting more cards is an obvious source of points but at some point you also want houses on the board to make use of all the cards you've acquired. Getting more cards also gives you more actions, some of which are definitely more powerful than the base ones, but pieces on the boards makes the individual actions on many of the cards more powerful too. It's a very nice balance between both and it didn't feel like going card heavy or house/worker heavy was more powerful. Scoring is a little odd when you start lapping the board, but it works.
I don't think I'd enjoy this as a 2 player game. The Corsica map looked like it might get close enough but most of the others were far too big. The owners said that it was often solitaire with 2 on most of the maps, which would spoil some of the competition over building houses and the shared benefits of producing in a province.
We didn't play with the special powers module (the forum?) and that made me a little sad because player powers is my favourite part of games. I definitely want to play it again using those. The fact I'd want to buy the base game, Salsa and the Corsica map to make it a 2 player game I'd enjoy does put me off a little, but I'm tempted even then because it was very good.
A quick tile laying game of building animal habitats. I like that each tile is both a potential scoring opportunity and a way to score other tiles, which leads to a nice balance between taking tiles you can complete for points and taking tiles you'll never complete just because they're the terrain you need right now.
I'm less sold on the method of acquiring new tiles. In theory it's a nice almost-draft but in practice with 4 it changes quickly and is hard to plan if you aren't left on your own. I think I'd enjoy the game much more as a 2 player game because the board changes far less between turns, even if it is a smaller board.
Overall, I enjoyed it and I'd play it again but it's far too short term with 4. It does at least move quickly and the tile scoring is interesting. Bonus points for little porcelain animals that could easily have been wooden counters.