Vroenis' Recommendations From Recent Releases (July 2017)
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Forehead-slapping, eye-roll-inducing alliteration, guaranteed.

Note: This isn't finished, by the way, but Jules wanted access to it so there you go - I'm opening it up, so you'll have to check back as the commentary appears.

These lists are pretty much custom-made for the various communities I interact with, blow-ins of-course are more than welcome to take a gander, a seat, put their feet up and make themselves at home, but if the assortment of games therein are a bit odd, that's why. Most of the time, people I know or communicate with in various ways ask me about things so I've begun aggregating the answers here.

In this case, here is a list of recent purchases dating back to... eeh... the um... oldest... game... on the list... yep... which shouldn't be too old... and why I dig them so much. Not reviews as such, but a few quick talking-points.

Going back through my play-log, I'm going to cut the list off juuuust at Via Nebula, Burgundy: Cards, Guilds of London and World's Fair - for now anyway. I love all of those games but I feel they've all received plenty of attention and there's enough info on them about - but you can ask me about them if you really want to. If there's enough interaction on the list or if I get bored enough one day, I'll keep adding games and writing about them to keep me from climbing the walls with my teeth.
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1. Board Game: Valletta [Average Rating:7.06 Overall Rank:1933]
Tim Saitta
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2017

This hit my top 10 pretty hard as soon as I played it, though I will kick off this list by saying that these days I do a ton of research before I buy anything, most of the time including reading rules when they become available. That means I usually have a good sense of how a game is going to play long before I get it, which is part of the decision to buy or pass.

Valletta's deck building and action utilisation aspect is fantastic, more Rokoko than Concordia, and thankfully so. While setup takes slightly longer than some games, it's still not too painful and fairly straight-forward, then from that point, the game-flow is fluid and direct. Players are free to strategise and pivot with a fair degree of freedom and actions and tension, both, escalate well in the mid and endgame. I adore engine-building and supermoves and I feel Valletta shows how this is possible to its players, forecasting them well and challenging players to set themselves up for how they can be competitive.

As part of what I'm calling new-school Euro design, rules are simple and easy to teach and learn, yet provide a broad and interesting enough decision-space to facilitate varied and viable winning strats. There's subtle and less-subtle interaction yet still remaining less-spiteful or not "take-that" in nature, and players must pay attention to the actions of others, while spatial placement is important and blocking possible.

Players: 2 - 4
Duration: 20 minutes per player. This is fairly accurate.
Heft: Solid medium.

 
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2. Board Game: Yamataï [Average Rating:7.32 Overall Rank:558]
Tim Saitta
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2017

This is polarising opinions which is great to see. Naturally due to the designer and publisher, it's getting a lot of attention which is part of the hype, but regardless, I want a game that a lot of people don't like - not because I'm facetious for any particular reason (even if I am, hurr hurr), but because if people react strongly to a game, it means it's focusing on specific things in specific ways that will appeal positively to specific people, and simply not appeal to others for the same reasons. That's wonderful. Our games should be as diverse as our players.

People will compare Yamataï to Five Tribes and there are a few similarities, least of all the aforementioned designer and publisher combo, so I'll address those. The strongest similarities are the sense that player actions leave a game-state that assists all players - most significantly the next player in turn-order, and also that there are 'characters' that can be purchased that bend rules and provide bonus VP - Djinns in Five Tribes, and Specialists in Yamataï.

I don't hate Five Tribes at all, but after a few plays, I feel I've seen the extent of what it has to offer. Yea yea it has expansions but I'm not fond of what it offers at its core. Its game-state assessments ultimately aren't very interesting and the way the game is shaped over time isn't, either. There's a mid-game crescendo which begins to grow interesting, except the air is then let out of the game as options diminish, leaving the endgame anticlimactic. Also less of a problem with the game itself but the matching of its players, those who are better at pathing-optimisation will crush those that can't keep up with the tactical nature of seeing what's available, leaving the pool of willing players reduced in the long-term, then even among us, we'd pretty much rather play other games.

Forgive me if you've read or heard my commentary elsewhere, but I may as well post it here - my suspicion on many players' early impressions of Yamataï is that as per Five Tribes, they're wary of other players taking advantage of their labour. I think this is an intentional aspect of Yamataï's design, much more so than Five Tribes (in which you want to consciously control/diminish what you leave for others). In Yamataï, the boat package/next turn draft order tiles offer enough power to manipulate on-board boats to the degree that all players will be able to change the board-state significantly and often. Furthermore, many of the Specialists also facilitate options to similar effect.

Yamataï to me is a brilliant middle-weight game with fantastic visual appeal that hits its weight and stride perfectly. Again, as you'll see is a recurring theme with the contemporary games I praise, the rules are easy to remember, yet offer solid and varied choices. Players can pursue significantly different strats, still interrupt one another a little without deviating too far from their focus, and still all be in the running for victory.

As for AP (which you will never convince me is a design problem, always a player problem, but yes, one worth covering in detail which one day I will), I feel as though the game nicely takes care of this by enticing players to buy Specialists early. The players still choose what Specialists they want, but these are in effect cleverly disguised endgame goals due to how they function. Deviously clever indeed.

This is considered for my top 10, sure - in part for its aesthetics because aesthetiiiiiiiics aaaaaaaaare impoooooooortaaaaaaaaant!!!!!!!

Players: 2 - 4
Duration: 20 minutes per player quoted, this is probably realistic at mastery. First play is likely to be 30 - 35 minutes per player.
Heft: Medium, no more, no less.



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3. Board Game: Hellas [Average Rating:6.81 Overall Rank:3684]
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This is a 2016 Essen release from Stefan Dorra, published by White Goblin games that just hasn't seen wide distribution outside of Europe.

I bit the bullet and just ordered this from the US for what I deem to be an unreasonable cost. There's nothing to be done - there's just no other way to get it. Considering how good I am at bargain hunting with almost all of my other purchases, I guess I can justify the cost now and then, but it's not about that - the point is one of accessibility. I don't like that cost and cost of distribution continue to be prohibitive barriers to consumers in this industry.

Cost aside, the game is fantastic - I've only test run it with 2p and it's certainly not strong with only 2, but the dynamic emerges enough to suggest 3 and 4p games will be great. I love how clever the game is with players taking sequential actions, often together but sometimes in isolation.

It's quick, looks great and a potential top 10 entrant for me given the challenge it provides in such a short time. If it makes it to the top 10, it'll be Dorra's 3rd to make an appearance! Legend designer.

Players: 2 - 4
Duraton: 45 - 60 minutes, fairly accurate.
Heft: Medium. I suspect the combination of the nature of the actions, the timing and the spatial elements make it slightly more thinky than it may appear, and nicely so.

 
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4. Board Game: Ethnos [Average Rating:7.59 Overall Rank:244]
Tim Saitta
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2017

While I ultimately adore Ethnos, there's something of its awkward beginnings and some potential tribe-draws that can skew the experience which might be critical especially at first exposure. I should explain.

There are twelve tribes in the box and six at random will be used in any given game. Each tribe has unique attributes and behaviours, so a few particular combinations up front could create a game that makes play a little more strange than usual. If players have had a go before, this might be super interesting and ultimately quite cool due to how different it might be. If it's your first impression of the game, you might think it's completely naff, and as a first impression, you'd be right.

Addressing the first point I made, players don't begin with any tribe-cards in-hand, instead, cards equal to the number of players x 2 are laid out in a pool to draft and aren't replenished, leaving players to top-deck when exhausted. This is due to an interesting rule: when a player deploys a band of creatures in whatever configuration (see: rules), any card not included in that band is then discarded to the common pool. In the meat of the game, this means healthy pool replenishment and availability, but early on, there's a lot of top-decking and not a lot of opportunity.

Again, at first it seems strange but as long as you give it a chance, it makes a certain kind of senses. We're just making the best of what we come across until we're in a sense generating or inviting these monsters and creatures to the land who eventually mill about for all to recruit as we become more selective. The issues can arise, though, when certain tribes permit witholding discards, for example, hence causing card-starvation and making the game... less interesting for new-comers at least, and tactically different for those with more literacy of the tribes and dynamics at play.

Nevertheless, when all's said and done, as much as there are some oddities with some of the abilities and the potential peculiar combinations they may form, plus some of the questionable board art, I still love the simple rules yet multiple concerns this game offers. Players score from majorities in ranks over time - at first only one rank in the first age, then two, then finally three, which each age's rank becoming the previous tier offering in the next - the game plays in three ages at 4 to 6p, two ages in 2 and 3p (so only two ranks at those lower player counts). However there are also scoring concerns in the sizes of bands played at the end of each age, plus unique scoring ranks or opportunities depending on certain tribes that may be in play.

I really really like the opportunities provided given its levity, and it's one I feel can be taught and played quickly with great variety straight out of the box.

Players: 2 - 6 (play it with at least 3 if not 4)
Duration: 45 - 60 minutes, about right.
Heft: Light-medium.

 
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5. Board Game: Jump Drive [Average Rating:7.12 Overall Rank:969]
Tim Saitta
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2017

You should know that Race for the Galaxy is my all-time favourite game (which is a bit of a throwaway award, given that like most people, I have different favourites in different flavours), so it's no surprise that Thomas Lehmann's Jump Drive is a hit with me. While he says he designed it as a kind of trainer for Race, I think it functions fine on its own, solid as a unique experience set apart from its bigger, older brother, for a different kind of session and potentially a different kind of player.

Jump Drive is effectively a third of Race, with no Produce/Consume cycles dramatically reduced Exploration. You can of-course Explore in Jump Drive but do it too much and you're on a fast-track to losing. That's because this cut-down (of a fashion) game escalates hella fast, we're talking turn 3, even turn 2, as the end of every turn has players taking card and VP incomes that aggregate as they build their tableau-engines. This naturally means the earlier you get a card out, the longer it pays you - not that a game is going to last very long at all!

Upon first rules-reading, you may be tempted to think the 50 VP endgame trigger is a far-fetched one, and that will be until you net 15 VP in a single turn, realising that you're about to net that same VP minimum next turn plus whatever you drop down into your tableau. 30 VP clear on top of whatever else you had, plus whatever else you stack on top will almost definitely get you to 50 if not well above. Kaboom.

Mastery of this game, I hope, invites a higher level of play than just the quickest and dirtiest points, though it can still be fun playing the acceleration game. Once a group of players has nailed the race element, I feel the challenge to be to get some clever synergies down. One thing Jump Drive has on Race is there are more opportunities to score from what other players are doing, and sometimes this can net a huge amount of VP. There are also a lot of stacking combos within the cards making discerning choices viable, particularly once you've cycled the deck a few times and you know what's likely to come up.

People aren't kidding when they describe this as Race For The Galaxy on crack - that might be taking it a bit too far but sometimes the escalations hilariously fit the analogy. Good clean fun - he says, after making a drug reference.

Players: 2 - 4
Duration: 10 - 30 minutes, if you're lucky. Yes, you can be done in 10 minutes.
Heft: Light-medium. The synergies keep this from being light, and some of the opportunities potentially push this closer towards medium but they're easily understood, and given how quickly it plays and how fast players are likely to cycle through the deck and see what's on offer, it'll all be understood in good time and delightfully so.

There don't seem to be any good shots of this in play so I might upload one myself at some point.
 
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6. Board Game: Mini Rails [Average Rating:7.07 Overall Rank:1830]
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What a briiiiiilliant game! I like that auctions have been replaced by individual share performance, it's an easier mechanism for new-comers to understand. Also even I'm not always up for the dynamic of auctions, though a lot of this has to do with the difficulty in teaching them and shepherding players to become good at it.

This is short, sharp, and definitely stabby-stabby in the most non-actually-violent-we're-not-playing-at-combat way and I LOVE that. Emergent alliances form and are broken within a matter of actions sometimes, if not turns or rounds, and while there may seem to be little control in the early game, the late game plays out wonderfully as players sacrifice turn-order for control.

A potential top tenner for me!

Players: 3 - 5
Duraton: 40 - 60 minutes, I'm guessing this is very accurate.
Heft: you could say medium, these games tend to have straight-forward rules, but what makes them ingenious is how much depth they offer with such simple rulesets - that such tension can grow from such simplicity. I like that. I like deriving tension from adversarial options rather than rules complexity itself.

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7. Board Game: Century: Spice Road [Average Rating:7.47 Overall Rank:218] [Average Rating:7.47 Unranked]
Tim Saitta
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2017

Inevitably everyone wants to talk about Splendor in the same breath so let's do it. I don't like Splendor, but that doesn't mean I don't think it's a good game. Splendor is a fantastic game that's wonderfully approachable in a way that few other games are, I think that is it's greatest strength, helped along greatly by great tactile components and wonderful colourful art. It doesn't matter that it's an abstract linear engine, what matters is that it makes sense, is easy to teach and learn and is fun to execute.

Why I personally don't get into Splendor is I don't like it on my personal teaching trajectory, not even as an entry-point. One day (yes, another one of those), I'll have to discuss somewhere in detail what that actually is, but Slpendor is juuuuust shy of being enough for me... and you guessed it, Century: Spice Road is.

Where Splendor is a linear, non-dynamic engine of diminishing costs, Century is the most basic of dynamic engine-builders that has more than meets the eye rather than less or at best, exactly what it seems. I say more, because there are several trade/conversion cards that at first impression may appear to be useless or not valuable, and these would be those that effectively down-convert the highest value spices into several of lower value. The one key rule that's important to emphasise when teaching is trades can be carried out more than once whereas updgrades are strictly one-off affairs - this is why the triple upgrade card isn't quite as valuable as it appears.

Early impressions may tempt people to think the flop can destroy a game, but think about an early grind forcing people to dump cheap resources to dig into the card-row for favourable trade/conversion cards. Others can then pick up some of those skipped-over while picking up bulk stacks to either similarly dig or similarly convert. The dynamic of each game is actually in part heavily determined by the flop and I really... really like that. After spending my first game observing the pace of the game and underserving myself in VP cards, I totally dictated the pace of the second by setting up down-conversions to dominate for a clear victory. It's all about the timing of card purchases and knowing what will have value. The race becomes real, and sometimes it's worth having an idle card or two in hand to pivot with for when others can out-pace you to VP cards.

Aaaaand yep, it's just as cold and almost themeless - and the designer has discussed this at length in interviews before launch. This doesn't bother me because as a mechanical trainer, the game works beautifully. There are so many engine-building games that will punish new-comers if they aren't used to the beating and pacing of games, but this allows players to sink their teeth into the pure math without any other distractions and work up some skills before diving into longer, more involving engagements.

Players 2 - 5
Duration: 30 - 45 minutes, about right.
Heft: Light-medium, definitely.

 
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8. Board Game: Dice Forge [Average Rating:7.40 Overall Rank:352]
Tim Saitta
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Yea we played it, yea we like it. Sure, it's light, but I've nothing against light games if they're fun and we really enjoyed this. 2 x 3p games and a single 2p game have shown this to be a really delightful little engine builder, probably a great way of introducing people to the genre. Dice forging is great fun, and keeping it simple to gaining resources and spending them effectively on VP is a great way to keep the complexity and play-time down.

A slight word of caution, subbing out all of the alternative cards on offer may not be the best choice, rather having a good read of their effects and then selecting specific session combos might be a better option, as there may be some key engine cards that get thrown out that other sub-in cards may need. There are, however, some alt cards that many seasoned board gamers can probably play with right off the bat.

What's surprising about Dice Forge is that multiple strats are viable and there are some fairly late-game options that don't really get locked-out until four, maybe three turns from the very end. (ie., due to your decisions and commitments and running out of time vs potential VP yield). It's also a bit odd that often the first three to four turns zoom by with only incremental changes, yet those changes make every turn thereafter a supermove.

Pretty much one thing that's important is to have a way to gain sun-stones. You'll note that the game biases moon-stones and makes them more affordable/more easily attainable and this is for good reason - sun-stones can be spent for an extra action, once per turn, for 2 stones. This means it's essential to earn them constantly throughout the game. A word of advice - don't just load sun-stone earners onto your light-die, right from the get-go, to improve your changes, buy a 1 x sun-stone face and forge it onto your dark-die, thus properly increasing your chances. Then if you can earn enough early enough, depending on your strat and gold, either buy a face that gives you options between resources including sun-stones, and/or pick up an owl or a deer, I think they are, one of which gives you the choice of 1 resource (the Owl), or a minor blessing (the deer - 1 die reroll).

Players: 2 - 4, you really want to play with at least 3 if not 4 if you can. Off-turn rolls and some of the interaction makes the game more enjoyable with more dice in the mix.
Duration: 40 minutes, potentially a little more, maybe just under an hour, but not too long at all.
Heft: Light-medium. At first there may not seem to be too many hefty decisions to make, but one play-through even with the basic card setup will reveal there are some important things to get into early and some great scoring possibilities to pursue.

 
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9. Board Game: Master of Orion: The Board Game [Average Rating:6.98 Overall Rank:2277]
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This missed out on printing last year though I managed to pick up a pre-production box from a limited Essen run last year. The game is a great engine/tableau builder with decent interaction while utilising multiple use cards. It has just a enough of that MoO flavour with subtle, asymmetric race attributes. Cryptozoic have since picked it up for production and I think I've seen it available around the place so it's now a 'recent release'.

I've played two games of this now, one with 4p and one with 3p and there are strengths in the experience at both player-counts, but you know me, I prefer max players possible.

I really enjoy this game, a whole lot more than I was expecting to and I already expected to like it. There's more interaction available in the cards than I initially expected from just the straight-up combat, and the combat does more to reward the attacker than really punish the defender in any way, plus the 'loyalty' (we call it happiness due to the player boards utilising a smiley face) penalty can be easily mitigated by the Propaganda action that recovers 3 points to the positive. What's great about combat is you really need to shape your strat towards it, otherwise you'll find the actions more valuable achieving other things, and in that sense, while the asymmetry of the available races is mostly subtle, they're important enough to help shape the core strats viable for your race.

As a tableau builder, it's simpler and more logical than both Race For The Galaxy and Deus, the similarity to Deus being stacking cards, but in MoO only the top uncovered card in each stack (System) is active, then all score at endgame, vs Deus' continual combo.

That's fine, though, I don't mind that MoO is a simpler, more stretched out and paced experience than in particular RftG. Players will still benefit from a game or three to mill the deck and understand what's available for potential strats, but I feel the game does a great job of telecasting some of that plus making resource/card gain options viable at all times.

From my pre-production copy, I'd like for the round marker and first player markers to be replaced by wee spaceships and might just do this myself, or, perhaps, a Lego spaceperson! Not sure if Crptozoic's print will differ from this one, I'd be happy to buy it again if there are enough changes - some of the wording clearly translated from Russian could be better from grammatical and structural perspectives, but the manual mostly does a good job of defining terms and nailing-down rules.

Definitely one to try for those who even might be hesitant about player interaction, but certainly for fans of tableau builders. Oh yea, because of the availability of cards in the tableau being restricted to those that are on top of each stack, it slightly de-emphasises engine-building. It can be done, but sooner or later you may have to cover-up a great card with the aim of endgame scoring. I don't mind this at all, plus it's a more gentle introduction to engine-building, assisting in that transition from action to endgame scoring. It also ensures a player can't park on a good engine as sooner or later, others will out-score them if they don't keep building new structures.

This game is just begging for expansions which would simply be decks of cards, and I sincerely hope Hobby World dedicate some funds to it - I guess that'll depend on the sales of the game, and stalwarts of the video game may not like the simplifications of the board game in comparison to its source. I suggest there are other sprawling space games to fill that gap, and as some have commented, a large-scale sprawling 4x game would be super niche and potentially not sell much for its production cost.

As it is, I like the weight at which the game hits, it's far less abstract than RftG and easier to learn, despite its greater action-space. I still love RftG for its speed-aggression, but that's definitely not approachable to all. MoO lends itself for almost half the game of resource build-up and management and a little sparring before the second half of the game where big moves are made and plans come to fruition.

Players: 2 - 4
Duraton: 40 - 60 minutes.
Heft: Medium for sure, and nicely so.

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10. Board Game: King's Road [Average Rating:6.80 Overall Rank:3517]
Tim Saitta
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Another stellar production from Grail Games, King's Road is one third of Knizia's 2001 game Rome - the Imperium element.

Players simultaneously deploy agents to influence cities that the king (previously emperor) will visit. Whoever has the majority influence when he visits a city will score that city's VP reward relevant to its importance (each city has its own reward values and tiers - some rewarding 2nd and 3rd majority places, some only rewarding 2nd after the main majority). The trick is that each player gets to play three cards - one card allows them to place a second piece in a previously selected city, but players will dance around one-another in an attempt to stack majorities in cities yet to be scored. Another key component to the dynamic is the player who wins a city majority at scoring gets to leave a noble in the city once everyone else has to clear-off, and should they score a majority in an adjacent city, all nobles connected in an unbroken chain score a bonus.

The components in this production are once again fantastic as we've come to expect from Grail. The art by Vincent Dutrait is wonderfully colourful and the components perfect for the game.

Ultimately though what I love about King's Road is it exemplifies what I appreciate most in game design - it has rules that are easy to learn and execute, and those rules facilitate the players to fully engage and play each-other. Absolutely brilliant.

Players: 2 - 5, and it'll definitely shine with 4 and 5.
Duration: 30 - 40 minutes. Some newcomers may push it out to 45 but even then, it's still swift and dusted fairly quickly.
Heft: Light-medium, but in the best way possible - the rules aren't complex, but playing the other players - *that's* where the game is at, and that's where it should be.



 
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11. Board Game: Santo Domingo [Average Rating:6.56 Overall Rank:4341]
Tim Saitta
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Designed by Stefan Risthaus, this was previously released as Visby with limited distribution. A game of simultaneous action selection, second guessing and timing-play, I'm glad Pegasus picked this up and hope they pick up his newest game Tallinn. Fingers crossed.

Now that I've gotten it played, I love the game, but in particular after having played it with 4 players, it feels like it will be best with the maximum of 6 players, which is rare and welcome. 30 VP is a pretty swift game for 4p, some may feel like pushing to 45 or 60 might be more interesting which is certainly possible. For 6p, the 30VP endgame trigger is probably fine as there'll be greater points-dispersion.

Players: 2 - 6
Duraton: 20 minutes for 4p to get to 30VP.
Heft: Lighter side of light-medium, most of the challenge comes from the double-think adversarial play.

 
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12. Board Game: Pyramids [Average Rating:6.90 Overall Rank:2547]
Tim Saitta
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2017

Designers Matthew Dunstan and Brett J. Gilbert may be familiar to you if you've play one of my top-ten games from 2015 Elysium. Then I bet they thought - hey do you think we could make this game shorter and more compact? And the answer is 'course you can! Enter Pyramids, by the same designers!

Pyramids has players draw a number of paired cards relevant to the number of players, then draft turn-order tiles that also dictate how they can use those cards - sound familiar? Depending on what turn-order tile they end up with, players will then use the cards to build either their Pyramid (this is mandatory from memory), their Obelisk or entomb them, each scoring in unique ways. Naturally the later your turn order, the greater your options, but naturally your choices will be diminished so aaaaaah the good ol' draft tension from Elysium is back. The three building sites are kind of like your legends in Elysium, too, you just don't have an engine-to-legend transition is all, as part of the cut-down.

I love love love this game as a quick, little version of Elysium. Scoring is clever (there are some extra bonuses available via various means) and draft tension is totally my thing. The art is great and the multi-use cards in their various locations is clever. Wrap it all up in fantastic iello production including a great box and an inexpensive RRP and bam, you've got a great lighter game for your sessions or travels.

Players: 2 - 5
Duration: 30 minutes, pretty spot-on.
Heft: Light to light-medium. At this point you may ask what I regard a straight-up light game - something like Love Letter or the up-coming Fantasy Realms which I'm keen for, where your decision space is really limited and there really isn't much else going on and hey, ain't nothing wrong with that. Anyway - there's enough happening in Pyramids to push it up above just light.

 
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13. Board Game: Azul [Average Rating:8.01 Overall Rank:48] [Average Rating:8.01 Unranked]
Tim Saitta
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What a brilliant game! Yes, it may seem a little abstract but the simplicity of the rules and its great tactile nature and sheer beauty bridge any potential gap easily, and all elements combine to create an elegant and joyful experience. Azul exemplifies the importance of aesthetics and presentation in board games and just how much they matter.

One of the better games out from Essen - well done Mr Kiesling! You've done it again!

Eric has written up a fantastic summary of the game here and it sounds absolutely brilliant.

Players: 2 - 4
Duration: 30 - 45 minutes.
Heft: Light - likely to be a family game given that quoted duration and that's fine, as long as it's fun and looks great.

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14. Board Game: Pulsar 2849 [Average Rating:7.79 Overall Rank:552]
Tim Saitta
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Got this played with 3p and was delightfully surprised. Yep, it's a point salad. Yep, it has Euro underpinnings of passive-aggressive blocking... if that... otherwise no interaction. Nevertheless as far as point salads go, almost everything you do is actually thematic, it makes a lot of sense and hooks into a good sense of fun.

Between three of us for our first play, we all took fairly different strats, I mained Gyrodynes and lost by 2 VP to the player maining Distribution Stations, tho their strat also was complimented in part by Gyrodynes. 3rd place only lost by 14 points and excluded Gyrodynes all-together and their strat was the most interesting in that we all want to know whether it's viable to ignore Gyrodynes all-together, and by rights, if it's a good enough game, this should be possible.

If we find it's just not, then I'm not sure I'll keep the game. Even as I say that though, it iiiiiis very tempting to keep because there's such a great variety of things to do on offer, and it just looks great on the table. Time will tell, but so far, I really like it for what it is.

Players: 2 - 4 (Really wish these games went to 5 but appreciate the time concern).
Duration: 60 - 90 minutes quoted, which seems accurate for this kind of thing.
Heft: Solid medium. I wouldn't call it medium-heavy as I believe there needs to be more tension and longer-term complexity (not initial complexity) to bump a game into medium-heavy, but that's fine. I'm all into lower complexity/higher player-action dynamics.

It even looks like a salad (main boards/components):


Player boards down the bottom - unsure which of these are prototypes and which are final, but either way, it looks nice and salady (yes - this is now an adjective!):


Board close-up with dice, even though the dice don't belong here - they go on one of the main boards for action selection and turn-order tracking etc.
 
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15. Board Game: NMBR 9 [Average Rating:7.03 Overall Rank:816]
Tim Saitta
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2017

This is one of those brilliantly simple designs that makes you think to yourself "Whyyyyyy didn't I think of that?" Well we didn't, Peter Wichmann did, and a damn fine job he did of it, too.

NMBR 9 (number nine... number nine...) can feel frustrating at first (or perhaps at every play XD ), and you'll likely score 40 VP or under. Then comes the game you score over 80. The concept is simple: tiles are oddly shaped and depict numbers, build a foundation of tiles on the table which score zero, then score in floors as you stack up, each floor increasing the multiplier by one. One siiimple rule - you can't place a tile on the next floor unless it's fully supported underneath, and you can't place a tile on the same floor as another tile unless it's touching at least one other tile.

Each game contains 20 cards, with tiles numbered 0 - 9, each appearing twice - yes this means two of those tiles are worthless regardless of where you place them. This also means two of the tiles are potentially worth lucrative points, the eponymous number 9... but you'll find it's also the most useful in building foundations, and the 8 isn't too far behind. The cards are shuffled and drawn, one by one, and everyone receives the tile depicted as they're drawn before the next card so try not to cheat with placements - you shouldn't anyway because that's just bad form.

Super simple rules and super difficult play, this has to be one of the most clever geometric puzzle games to have come out in a fair while. A word of caution playing with younger-ones, though, if players have mastered some of the tricks of the trade - try not to steamroll them in the points, yea? Be generous.

Players: 2 - 4... per box (hurr hurr - it's simultaneous, so I have two games to run 8 player games! WOOO!)
Duration: 20 minutes, on the button.
Heft: Light. You might clench your fists in frustration sometimes but it's still light.

What your final stack may look like.


Check this fantastic insert, too.
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16. Board Game: Kanagawa [Average Rating:7.23 Overall Rank:523]
Tim Saitta
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2016

It took me a while to run this charming title, and charming it is. In many senses, all board games abstract certain things in some ways, but Kanagawa really lends itself to its theme via its wonderful art, and just in the details of its components.

Oddly for a game with such simple rules, it has a decision-space slightly broader than I was expecting, not in the least just the push-your-luck element. There are more than a few timing concerns at hand, firstly in what you risk to lose if you're not first in turn order should someone take an offering that you pass up, secondly that turn order will change the next turn - and also in that turn order really matters in this game as it determines how achievements (diplomas) are awarded as players are often likely to achieve them in the same turn. This is particularly why two turn-order markers are included with the game - a Master live-turn marker, and an Apprentice that indicates first player for next turn, to whom the Master will be passed to, the Apprentice then returning to the centre of the table.

The multi-use art-panorama cards that can be inverted to form skills are ingeniously implemented and form the heart of the game, and players will make decisions based on the sum-total potential value of the offerings at hand. Ultimately the gentle engine-building is super-rewarding, again, surprisingly so for a game of such levity, and the sum of its parts is competitive and delightful.

Players: 2 - 4
Duration: 45 minutes.
Heft: Light-medium.

Lessons/Painting panorama pieces on offer


Player studio/panorama
 
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17. Board Game: Medici: The Card Game [Average Rating:6.91 Overall Rank:2078]
Tim Saitta
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2017 (Published), the listed date for this is 2016 and to be fair, there were photos of this knocking around at the time so the good Doctor must have had it done then.

I really like the standard original board version of Medici and its sole focus on auctions... but the thing about auctions is, folks need to know what comparative values are worth. This can be brutal to newcomers to the genre or even the individual games themselves sometimes, as being unfamiliar to what potential score groupings they can net or what value they can recover and when can set them at a massive disadvantage. This is particularly true of a game like Medici in which operating currency is also scoring VP - I feel Medici is a masters' game which doesn't make it bad at all, rather it makes it quite good... just not one that's terribly approachable to everyone. I actually like that - we need more masters' games, but that's the point of difference with the card version of the game.

Utilising a little sprinkling of push your luck, I like how quick and direct this version of Medici gets goods into players' boats, per se, by limiting their decisions. The auction round is replaced by a sectioned-off drawn "offer" in a sense, that can potentially leave goods open to the next player in turn-order. Players need to decide, turn to turn and round to round (the same 3 rounds/days) whether to go directly for the end of day majority, work on their goods majorities or if they can, both at the same time.

The player-count will also make a significant difference towards both card and awarded points dispersion and this will influence decisions accordingly. The lower player-counts will afford a little more freedom as far as aggression goes, whereas higher player-counts will lend folks to more exciting gambits when they pay off.

Great art, simple rules, quick and easy to play, and as a part of Grail's always fantastic production, shiny high-gloss metallic finish cardboard coins!

Players: 2 - 6, 3 minimum makes this interesting and the 4 to 5 mark is a good aim.
Duration: 30 minutes, the 6p games might take a while but I probably wouldn't want to run 6p unless everyone's played before and knows what they're on about.
Heft: Light-medium. The only thing keeping this from being a straight-up light game is the importance of knowing what to do. You could try playing it like a light game, but then it'd just be random actions without any agency and those who set their mind to it will win outright. There are some good thoughts to be had behind the decisions in this, few as they may be.

 
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18. Board Game: Fantasy Realms [Average Rating:7.38 Overall Rank:1758]
Tim Saitta
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I wanted a replacement for Love Letter - not because there's something wrong with the game, just because we've played it to death.

Fantasy Realms is absolutely brilliant for its heft - sure, you may spend more time reading the small amount of text on each card after the initial deal, then again, time scoring at the endgame than actually playing it, but that's all part of the fun.

Players receive 7 cards each, the first player has to top-deck and then discard. From then on, all players may choose any card in the discard display or top-deck, however if they top-deck, they'll end up adding a card to the display. When the 10th card hits the discard display, the game ends.

This is a game where every card combos in some way with either another card or several types of card. Effectively they're all really just suits, but they're made easy to manage by painting them with the fantasy theme - there are Lands, Leaders, Beasts, Armies, Weather etc. Each card has a base strength read: VP value, then will score or not, or in some cases penalise you depending on what else is in your hand.

The best thing is the theme isn't actually that pasted-on - Weather cards like Floods will cancel some scoring elements from certain cards, but will reward others like Ships and cancel negative effects from a Wildfire. This can be handy because the Wildfire has a very high base-strength. Some Armies, for example the Dwarves, will penalise you -5VP for each other Army in your hand because of the trope of Dwarves just not getting along with other races. It's just a tiny bit of flair but it's actually just enough to give each hand of cards a loose narrative that's entertaining, no matter how much it scores.

Sure, there's a fair amount of randomness in the draw but no more intolerable than drawing the wrong card in Love Letter that auto-outs you. Games are quick and easy and usually at least one player gets a massive score blow-out which everyone appreciates and all involved have a laugh. It's like a *next-level* filler where the next-level isn't really that far above the previous one.

Players: 3 - 6
Duraton: 20 minutes.
Heft: Light as a feather but good spirited fun.



 
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19. Board Game: Dokmus [Average Rating:7.19 Overall Rank:1923]
Tim Saitta
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20. Board Game: Portal of Heroes [Average Rating:6.80 Overall Rank:2143]
Tim Saitta
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2017 (Australia)
 
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21. Board Game: First Class [Average Rating:7.60 Overall Rank:347]
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(2016)
 
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22. Board Game: Kingdomino [Average Rating:7.43 Overall Rank:186] [Average Rating:7.43 Unranked]
Tim Saitta
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2016
 
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23. Board Game: Dogs of War [Average Rating:7.55 Overall Rank:635]
Tim Saitta
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2014
 
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24. Board Game: Rival Kings [Average Rating:5.91 Overall Rank:11887]
Tim Saitta
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2016
 
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25. Board Game: The 7th Continent [Average Rating:8.73 Overall Rank:16]
Tim Saitta
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