Surya's Spiel in Essen 2017 initial thoughts and ratings
Surya Van Lierde is pure Eurosnoot and proud of it!
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Like each year, I have a geeklist with an overview of my initial thoughts and ratings for the new Essen stuff

2017, 2016 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010

Some games are considered Essen releases even though they're available sooner, but I'll include those as well.
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1. Board Game: Agra [Average Rating:7.47 Overall Rank:1088]
Surya Van Lierde is pure Eurosnoot and proud of it!
Belgium
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tl;dr: solid

When the guy from La Granja puts out a new game, people pay attention. Including me. The game also happens to be published in a good looking edition with nice bits. Maybe they overdid it a bit with the bits though. The large wooden bits are not only big but also not very detailed or functional. I would have preferred regular size meeples. The board is ginormous, but there is not that much dead space on it so fine I guess. The tilted display for the development tracks and stuff is WAY overdone though. Not only does it include a lot of useless cardboard, it also requires a lot of the wooden bits to have this weird angle on one side. And even with that they're still hard to put on there straight.
Also, the artwork, while pretty to look at, could have been a lot clearer in some areas. Not in the least the part with the resource conversions with arrows that are hard to see. I think they should have thought a bit more about having a nicer price point and more functional artwork and less about how amazing it looks.
But enough about components, how does it play?
This game has a pretty nice WP mechanism. Before doing your turn you can lay down some of your previous workers to get a bonus action. Then you perform an action, but you can bump other players off. And that's a good thing for those players, as they get a bonus. Unless that worker was laying down. So you can see how this leads to interesting choices. Do a bonus action now or get a bonus for being bumped?
It also seems like the game offers a bunch of different strategies to explore. Do a lot of building? Or do a lot of trading?
When I played, I didn't have a goal and I wasn't trying to win. I was just exploring a bit and focused on building, but ended up not doing that much. Still, even without trading I still managed to score quite well and surprised the other players.
I look forward to playing this again. I just wish they hadn't overdone the production and made it slightly cheaper.

Initial rating: 7.2/10
BGG scale: 7/10
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2. Board Game: Alien Artifacts [Average Rating:6.97 Overall Rank:1546]
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tl;dr: fun engine builder, not a real 4x

This was pitched as a 4x game in 1 hour. When I hear that I'm always skeptical. Even Eclipse which is the closes thing to a short 4x game, isn't a full 4x game if you ask me.
This game also has ships you can build and use to attack other planets and players. It also has a technology development mechanism. It does not have a map though, everything is done through cards.
I quite like the mechanism where you use cards for doing actions. The way it is set up leads to very quick turns and very little downtime. We had players surprised it was their turn again quite a lot.
We didn't finish in 1 hour, with 5 new players sot it did take a bit longer, but it certainly is a fast game and I quite enjoyed playing it. I look forward to playing it again soon.

Initial rating: 7/10
BGG scale: 7/10
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3. Board Game: Altiplano [Average Rating:7.62 Overall Rank:666]
Surya Van Lierde is pure Eurosnoot and proud of it!
Belgium
Michelbeke
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tl;dr: Orléans but different

This game is clearly built on the same foundations as Orleans. The bag building system is basically the same. And the way you manage the workers is basically the same. It's just that the actions you do, while similar in some cases, are a bit different and interact in different ways. And then there's the thing where you have to move from location to location to be able to perform those actions.
It all works together very well, just like Orleans. It's just hard to say after only one play if this is better or not.

Initial rating: 7.3/10
BGG scale: 7/10
 
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4. Board Game: Azul [Average Rating:8.02 Overall Rank:48] [Average Rating:8.02 Unranked]
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Belgium
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tl;dr: solid abstract

This is one of those games that can stand up to Ingenious and Qwirkle as a multiplayer abstract that appeals to both families and gamers. Again we have nice chunky bits and easy rules that lead to interesting choices. The main difference is that in this game everyone creates their own tableau, and the interaction comes from competition for tiles from the main pool. When do you take what tiles from the tiles in the middle or the big pool that is created by the left over tiles there?
I do have a couple of thoughts on the bits though. For the most part this has been put together with attention to detail, as one would expect from this publisher. But why does every player have their own scoring track that is easy to screw up when you reach for bits in the center of the table? A separate board with 1 score track for all players would have been better. Also: the red and the blue don't have any pattern printed on them, and it looks a bit like someone forgot to print them. It's a weird choice.
But all in all a solid, enjoyable game!

Initial rating: 7/10
BGG scale: 7/10
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5. Board Game: Bärenpark [Average Rating:7.41 Overall Rank:388]
Surya Van Lierde is pure Eurosnoot and proud of it!
Belgium
Michelbeke
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tl;dr: more fun than expected

Yay, an other family friendly tile laying game. That's a rare thing, no? No? Oh, never mind then
This game gives you some tiles, and by laying tiles you not only score points, but also get new tiles. The order in which you place the tiles and puzzle the different shapes is what this game is all about.
This is what it is: a family friendly game that doesn't offer 10 different strategies to explore, but hey, this is good fun, so I wouldn't mind playing this a couple more times!

Initial rating: 6.8/10
BGG scale: 7/10
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6. Board Game: Brides & Bribes [Average Rating:7.36 Overall Rank:5502]
Surya Van Lierde is pure Eurosnoot and proud of it!
Belgium
Michelbeke
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tl;dr: solid design, not for me

When I got the first part of this explanation it sounded like a solid area control WP type of game. Then the action resolution was explained. And that's where I lost interest. Play this action to block the player, play this action to counteract the block, steal from that player... That doesn't fit my eurosnoot tastes. But I must admit that the game plays well and that the design seems pretty solid.
Disclaimer: I only played 2 rounds of the game.

Initial rating: 6.5/10
BGG scale: 6/10
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7. Board Game: Cat Lady [Average Rating:7.35 Overall Rank:1565]
Surya Van Lierde is pure Eurosnoot and proud of it!
Belgium
Michelbeke
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tl;dr: very light and forgettable, but enjoyable

Cat ladies get as many cats as possible. So that's what you do in this game. Of course cats need to eat, so you also get food. Just having players grab cats and food, so some special cards are added to spice things up. This allows players to try scoring in a few different ways, especially with the stray cats. It's all quite nice and easy. It's quite enjoyable. It's also quite forgettable. But if you have a copy, I'm sure you'll play it a couple of times. But don't expect me to invest in a copy for myself.

Initial rating: 6/10
BGG scale: 6/10
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8. Board Game: Chimera Station [Average Rating:7.54 Overall Rank:1023]
Surya Van Lierde is pure Eurosnoot and proud of it!
Belgium
Michelbeke
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tl;dr: pretty cool worker placement system

This is a pretty standard worker placement game with a fun twist: you can customize your workers to get better abilities and bonuses on certain actions. There is a good amount of turn angst going on. The length and complexity are average and thus the game doesn't overstay it's welcome.
I'm not sure about the end game though. There is one spot that will give you significantly more points the later you use it. So everyone will try and activate it on the last turn, and more than once if possible. It feels a bit like the rest of the game is setting yourself up for that big last turn. This could be a wrong impression though, after just one play.
I enjoyed this and would like to play it again.

Initial rating: 7.3/10
BGG scale: 7/10
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9. Board Game: Clans of Caledonia [Average Rating:8.16 Overall Rank:61]
Surya Van Lierde is pure Eurosnoot and proud of it!
Belgium
Michelbeke
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tl;dr: a more accessible Terra Mystica

When I say this is a more accessible Terra Mystica I don't mean it's a dumbed down or light game. It does however have a lot of similarities while doeing do away with the terraforming and the building tree (you can just build any building right away). But also, just like Terra Mystica every player has some special character abilities, the board is made hexes with some water here and there that requires shipping abilities to cross and players must extend their current network to build new things. Also, there are bonuses for building next to other players. You know, kinda like Terra Mystica.
So yes, lots of things that feel like other games (mostly TM) but it is a very well put together design. Everything makes sense and blends well. Also, while maybe not as deep as TM, it is still a good strategic game with lots of depth in a manageable play time. Good stuff!

Initial rating: 7.5/10
BGG scale: 8/10
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10. Board Game: Cosmogenesis [Average Rating:7.71 Overall Rank:2921]
Surya Van Lierde is pure Eurosnoot and proud of it!
Belgium
Michelbeke
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tl;dr: super cool concept!

In this game you get to crash asteroids into each other or planets to create/grow planets or moons. How fucking cool is that? And it puts this cool concept and puts it into a game that is both thematic, not overly complex and strategic!
At the core of the game is a worker placement mechanism. Each location has a couple of items of you to pick on a first-come basis. And you can only visit each location once per round. So this obviously leads to some nice turn angst and such.
I was really pleasantly surprised by this game. Going in I didn't really know what to expect and I didn't do particularly well, but I did really enjoy playing it.

Initial rating: 7.3/10
BGG scale: 7/10
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11. Board Game: Doppel X [Average Rating:5.12 Unranked]
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Belgium
Michelbeke
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tl;dr: stupid, but effective

Throw some dice, score some points. This is kind of an affordable mix between Crokinole and Tumblin-Dice. It's a bit stupid, but it's also very enjoyable and effective.
What is also nice is that there are 2 double sided boards for variety and adjustable difficulty level.

Initial rating: 6.5/10
BGG scale: 7/10
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12. Board Game: Dragonsgate College [Average Rating:7.00 Overall Rank:4668]
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Belgium
Michelbeke
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tl;dr: but not original

Oh look, an other game where you select actions using dice. But like (almost) every game this one has a new twist. Some dice belong to players. If you use a die from an other player, that player gets to perform an action with the same value. So this already leads to interesting choices: do you take your own dice, not letting other players benefit from you taking their dice, or do you leave your dice for other people to take them so you can benefit? This also has to do with what amount of actions you will need. Having other players use yours, means you get more actions.
But on top of this solid mechanism, there is a game of course. You get some students (one time use) or teachers (every time use) to increase your skill level on three tracks to acquire tokens linked to those tracks. The different types of tokens help you in different ways and grant bonus income and points. There are also buildings. You want to build them because having unbuilt spaces will cost you points at the end. They also help you during the game. But they also cost you maintenance cost.
So there's a bunch of different intertwined mechanisms. It all works together quite well. A game worth exploring.
A point on the graphic design: not everyone will like the purple hue that is all over the game. It didn't bother me, but that's just taste. What will bother most players is that some information should have been represented by icons where there are none (like recurring income vs one time income on the buildings). Some icons look exactly like other things but work in different ways (like the student and teacher heads on the buildings). This should have been thought out better.

Initial rating: 6.9/10
BGG scale: 7/10
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13. Board Game: Exodus Fleet [Average Rating:7.59 Overall Rank:4708]
Surya Van Lierde is pure Eurosnoot and proud of it!
Belgium
Michelbeke
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tl;dr: solid resource management game

We have seen Puerto Rico in space before but while this game has some of that, this certainly is not that. I has Puerto Rico style role selection, but the role is then auctioned off (in most cases) and this is pretty cool. It adds to that a resource management system that involves mining resources on planets and managing your storage capacity by building new ships (that of course cost resources to build). But in the end it's all about loading passengers onto your ships for points. Of course you need room for those on your ships as well.
I quite enjoy the puzzle this game provides. What ships to buy, when to select what role...
When I played this at Spiel with 3 players it worked very well and moved at a brisk pace. When we played this with 5 players though, it did slow down a bit too much. Also I think getting to select 1 out of 3 actions leads to a better game than selecting 1 out of 5 actions. Some of the slowing down was due to the fact that the resources and special abilities on the ships are printed too small and people loose a lot of time going over the available ships again and again.
So I would recommend this game with 3, maybe 4, but not 5.

Initial rating: 6.9/10
BGG scale: 7/10
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14. Board Game: Gaia Project [Average Rating:8.71 Overall Rank:13]
Surya Van Lierde is pure Eurosnoot and proud of it!
Belgium
Michelbeke
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tl;dr: the same, but different

Yeah, I know, everyone is asking how different this game is to Terra Mystica. I had the same question. A lot of it is very similar. But some things are significantly different. The 4 temple tracks are gone, and replaced with 6 technology tracks that give you benefits that are not to be ignored. The question is which ones to invest on.
An other big thing is that there is A LOT more 'water' in this game, and that changes the game in a way that should not be underestimated. Most races can do pretty well in Terra Mystica without ever investing in ships. In this game that will be hard to pull off.
An other big change is that there now are ways to gain extra purple disks that can enter the game in specific ways.
Oh, and there's more changes: you can not partially terraform. There are no tiles to do so, so you just pay the entire cost in one go and plop down your building.
And of course there's the Gaia Project part of the game: a new type of 'landscape' (planet) that doesn't 'belong' to any race that has to be terraformed with a new type of resource.
So you see, there's quite a few changes, most of them quite interesting and well integrated into the system we know and love.
Is this game (not) as good/better? I don't know. I really like the new elements a lot. One play is not enough to say, but they might help me enjoy this more. But it certainly is a very good game. Maybe better, but probably as good.
Do you need to own both? Dunno, that's for you to decide. I don't know yet, after one play.
One point on the components: I understand why they went with plastic bits for the buildings and such, but why oh why are the cubes and cylinders also in (ugly shiny) plastic? For this price they could have made those from some nice wood, as it should be.

Initial rating: 8/10
BGG scale: 8/10
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15. Board Game: Gier [Average Rating:6.22 Overall Rank:7923]
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Belgium
Michelbeke
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tl;dr: OK, brainless time killer

This game has some collection of cards with an efficient push-your-luck mechanism in a very light, quite random but luckily short game. I can see why some people would be put off by the chaos in this game, but it can lead to some fun moments sprinkled throughout it's short play time.
I don't mind it and it's fine to finish out the evening with one last game, but absolutely nothing more than that.

Initial rating: 6/10
BGG scale: 7/10
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16. Board Game: Harvest [Average Rating:7.46 Overall Rank:2577]
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Belgium
Michelbeke
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tl;dr: fine

Oh, what happened here? This game is from TMG, but somehow it looks like it could have been published by Mayfair! Everything is dark green and brown! Ugh!
OK, so I'm not a fan of the look of this game... at all. Luckily, the game is more fun than the artwork. The action selection mechanism and planning involved make this a fun puzzle. Do you go for a lot of buildings? Do you just grow as much as possible for big harvests? So it seems like there are different strategies to explore. Having a ton of different unique abilities available will change things up from game to game, so there is some replay value there.
But I do have to say: maybe it's overkill. I can't see anyone loving this game enough to play it 15-20 times. It works, it's enjoyable, but it's also nothing too new or exciting. So maybe there are more special characters then one will ever need. That being said: better to have more than not enough.

Initial rating: 6.7/10
BGG scale: 6/10
 
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17. Board Game: Harvest Dice [Average Rating:6.82 Overall Rank:2915]
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Belgium
Michelbeke
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tl;dr: nothing new to see here, move along, unless you want more of the same

Roll some dice, choose where to fill in the result on a score sheet and try to do better then the other players. We've had these kinds of games coming and going for a while now, but we're still getting new ones all the time. Most of them are quite fun and very forgettable. Some, like La Granja: No Siesta, do a bit more with the concept and stand out, most don't. This one doesn't. But that doesn't take away from the fact that it's quite fun and a good filler to close out an evening or get warmed up.

Initial rating: 6.5/10
BGG scale: 6/10
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18. Board Game: Heaven & Ale [Average Rating:7.68 Overall Rank:571]
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Belgium
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tl;dr: very good

Hurray, yet another game about making alcoholic fluids. I don't drink those ever, so the theme doesn't appeal to me. But then again I haven't been bothered by theme a lot. Themes that don't appeal to me usually don't appeal to me because of mechanisms that are usually involved. Like pirates = stealing and stuff, maffia = screwing other players and stuff. Brewing ales? That sounds like gathering resources and converting them to VPs. Works for me if done well.
This game has a number of action spaces. Each player progresses over those in a clockwise direction. If you reach the end of the track, you'll have to wait for the other players to also finish. This leads to interesting choices: do I go slow and pick up a lot of stuff (if there is anything left) or do I jump ahead and grab the best stuff first, picking up less in the end?
Also, there are interesting choices to be made with everything you pick up. Do you place your tiles to advance your markers or to gain money? You need both, but striking a good balance is very tricky! What monks do you take and when do you activate them? How do you place your tiles to have sheds that activate more tiles or let you advance your brew master faster?
As you can tell, lots of choices with everything you do. But it all falls into place quite intuitively and moves at a brisk pace. This leads to a very enjoyable, pretty deep strategy game.
One point on player count though: I have now played this once with 3 and 4. With 4 it felt very natural. With 3 you only play 4 of the 6 rounds. That sounds logical since the amount of spaces on the board remain the same, but the thing is you regularly have to skip over spaces because you don't have the money to do them. That is the same in a 3 and 4 player game. So it feels like there is less time to do stuff with 3, and it feels rushed. This could just be this one play though.

Initial rating: 7.3/10
BGG scale: 8/10
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19. Board Game: Iberian Rails [Average Rating:6.95 Overall Rank:4263]
Surya Van Lierde is pure Eurosnoot and proud of it!
Belgium
Michelbeke
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tl;dr: better then expected

This game is one of those more accessible 18xx inspired train games. It does involve track building (though that part looks more like Chicago Exporess) and share auctions. There are some aspects to this game that are pretty unique.
Every round each player gets to chose one of the available character cards that gives certain advantages but also determines how efficient things like track building will be this round.
A big restriction that most games don't have is that only the CEO of a company can decide to auction a new share on that company's turn. This gives the CEO a lot of control over the company. Also, this auction is the only way to trigger dividend payout. And that in turn is the main source of income for both the players and companies (unsold shares pay out to the company).
There's a bunch of other aspects to the game, but all in all I would say this is a pretty nice design that leads to a nice and tight game that plays very well with up to 5 players.
The amount of different character cars should also provide good replay value.
One negative point though: this game is very brown. Not the prettiest thing to look at.

Initial rating: 7.3/10
BGG scale: 8/10
 
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20. Board Game: Ilôs [Average Rating:7.05 Overall Rank:4217]
Surya Van Lierde is pure Eurosnoot and proud of it!
Belgium
Michelbeke
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tl;dr: nothing new to see here, move along

This game has some tile laying with an exploration aspect, but at it's heart is a resource generation system where you get to influence the value of those resources for end game scoring. It all runs on a card mechanism where you have to pay for your action cards by discarding other cards. So it has a lot of things going for it. I quite like what they were going for, but in the end the game fails to excite. It works, it's kind of enjoyable but also quite forgettable. I was hoping for more but only got middle of the road.

Initial rating: 6.5/10
BGG scale: 6/10
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21. Board Game: Indian Summer [Average Rating:6.91 Overall Rank:1682]
Surya Van Lierde is pure Eurosnoot and proud of it!
Belgium
Michelbeke
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tl;dr: OK puzzle game

I quite enjoyed Cottage Garden when I played it. I quite enjoyed this game when I played it. But not as much.
So you place some tiles on the board, trying to puzzle them together in the most efficient way and score bonuses where possible. Bit it just didn't have the spark Cottage Garden had for me.
But if you want more of the same but different, give it a shot. Maybe I'm wrong!

Initial rating: 6.5/10
BGG scale: 6/10
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22. Board Game: Istanbul: The Dice Game [Average Rating:7.23 Overall Rank:1614]
Surya Van Lierde is pure Eurosnoot and proud of it!
Belgium
Michelbeke
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tl;dr: enjoyable dice game

One of the main mechanisms that makes Istanbul great and as popular as it is, is the way you have to move over the different locations and manage your disks. This dice version retains almost all elements of the game except that one. You roll the dice and get resources and money and what not that you can eventually convert into gems, like in the original. You can also build some tiles that give you permanent or one-of benefits, like in the original.
This game certainly is not as deep as the board game, but it is quite enjoyable and works well and for once we get a dice game version that is not a roll-and-write. A welcome change, even if you like those games.

Initial rating: 6.8/10
BGG scale: 7/10
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23. Board Game: Keyper [Average Rating:7.56 Overall Rank:1233]
Surya Van Lierde is pure Eurosnoot and proud of it!
Belgium
Michelbeke
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tl;dr: yet another excellent game in the series

Man, Richard Breese always finds ways to cram new mechanisms into his games. Ways to do things differently from other games. But he does it in such a way that those unique elements don't call attention to themselves.
This is mostly a WP game where the color of your meeples affects the efficiency of your action. And other players can join you and then both players can benefit off of each other. Cool stuff that leads to interesting choices. Especially since every player gets to claim one of the action boards and with it all meeples (current and future) on it. Then it becomes a question of do I join in on the action I really want to do, or do I do it on an other board so I have access to the colors of meeples I want next round?
But not having a lot of meeples can be very nice as well as you get to reuse already placed meeples from yourself or (when you run out) other players.
All very interesting stuff. And that's all thrown into a game where you need to gather resources to convert into VPs because that's how games work of course.
But it's all very well done again (apart from the rule book apparently). The first game with 4 took a bit over 2 hours, but that's fine. It doesn't outstay it's welcome at all. It's engaging from start to finish.

Initial rating: 7.3/10
BGG scale: 8/10
 
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24. Board Game: Lisboa [Average Rating:8.24 Overall Rank:132]
Surya Van Lierde is pure Eurosnoot and proud of it!
Belgium
Michelbeke
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tl;dr: solid deign, but where's the fun?

Vinhos is a game from Vital Lacerda that I quite enjoy, but it's also complex, heavy and feels a lot like work. This game seems to continue further in that direction. It feels even more like work. Maybe that's because this was only my first play though. But yeah, this game has a lot of mechanisms and it takes a good while before you start having an idea of how things interact and how to archive things. This game has a player aid that actually is an 8 page leaflet! And it doesn't even include things like end game scoring!
Yeah, this is definitely one of those games where the designer and developers didn't bother finding ways to streamline it a bit while retaining the depth. Now, don't get me wrong. This is a solid design. It is clearly well thought out. But I found it lacking in the fun department.
A word on production: the artwork is ugly and the board is too busy. Especially the part where you build the tiles. And it seems like the publisher actively looked for ways to include more pieces to jack up the price needlessly. I would put this in the 'overproduced' box.

Initial rating: 7/10
BGG scale: 6/10
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25. Board Game: Majesty: For the Realm [Average Rating:7.15 Overall Rank:818]
Surya Van Lierde is pure Eurosnoot and proud of it!
Belgium
Michelbeke
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tl;dr: the next Splendor/Century: Spice Road

I played a card game where you strategically use cards and gain plastic, over produced chips. It plays quite fast and has easy, well developed rules. But enough about Splendor... Boom goes the dynamite!
Anyhow, I can see why people are comparing this to Splendor and Century. It's a similar complexity and play time. It's all about using a limited amount of variables but combining them in such a way the players get meaningful choices and a number of different strategies to explore.
I'm not sure how huge the replay value is, but this certainly is a fun game that is easy to get to the table.

Initial rating: 7/10
BGG scale: 7/10
 
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