Purple and Scarlet's Adventures at SPIEL'17
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Once more, I went to SPIEL with
Marieke Franssen
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and her SO. It was our thirteenth visit to SPIEL.

We travelled to Essen on Wednesday. On Thursday, we were joined by
Vera van Schaijk
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Woerden
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and her SO.

This is a list of the games we played and bought.
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Emile de Maat
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Geeklist

Throughout the year, I'd been checking out people's Essen lists to see what interesting games they were expecting, but my preparation really started when the SPIEL'17 preview came online. I'd been working on a tracker to follow the most wanted games on that list, and now, I would see if people found it useful. I did, at any rate - it helped me spot the most anticipated games.
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2. Board Game: Unpublished Prototype [Average Rating:6.96 Overall Rank:2242]
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Preparation

As usual, like many other BGG users, I began collecting the manuals for the games that seemed interesting. Scarlet and I read them to determine what games would be worth seeking out at the fair.
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3. Board Game: The Ungame [Average Rating:2.82 Overall Rank:15302]
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No Play

Usually, we have some time to play a game on the evening before the fair. But this time, neither of us brought a small game to play - we'd both expected the other to bring a game. (Scarlet's expectation was more justified, as I am usually the one that brings it.) So, no warm-up play this year!
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4. Board Game: Wendake [Average Rating:7.84 Overall Rank:1341]
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Try-Out

The first empty table we spotted on Friday was for Wendake. In this game, each player controls an American Indian tribe. Each player sends out their hunters to hunt, their canoes to fish and their women to farm. They can also send their warriors to chase off opposing tribe members, to make space for their own - and they can also leave their warriors to guard their own tribe members.

By doing so, the players collect points. The gathered resources can be traded away for trade points (and special upgrades). The number of areas that a player controls will bring military points. The number of tribe members that are still in the home territory brings in ritual points. Finally, through the mask ceremony, you can get mask points. This is the only type of scoring that doesn't tie in with your activity on the map - it is a sub-game where you collect masks and score the sets you get.

So, there are four kinds of victory points. For each game, these are randomly combined into two pairs - only the lowest category of each pair will count for your final score.

The action selection mechanism is what makes this game interesting. Everything mentioned above - moving, producing, scoring - requires an action. Each player has a 3x3 grid of action tiles, each of which shows one or more actions that can be performed. Each turn, you select a tile and perform the actions that are on that tile. Your previous selections restrict your choice: in a round, you'll select three tiles, and they have to be on same row, column or diagonal on your grid.

At the end of the round, the tiles you have used will be flipped. They now show a different action (the front of each tile is different, but on the back, the all show the action for scoring ritual points). Then, you slide your tiles down, causing the bottom row to drop from your grid. You can now exchange one of those tiles that have dropped out for a new (usually stronger) tile. You shuffle the tiles, and place them back in the top row in a random order. So, it can be quite a puzzle to make the most of your turns.

I'd read the draft rules before SPIEL, and this mutating, upgradable action grid drew my attention. But I was unable to determine how much warfare there was going to be. If there were going to be huge shifts in board position every turn in addition to the shifts in the action grid, it could get very difficult to plan things. And it might get a bit boring having to conquer and re-conquer the same territory time after time.

Just as we about to start with the game, we were spotted by Aldie, who had some time to wander the halls - a rather unusual occurrence. After a brief chat, we actually started playing.



The game turned out to be very enjoyable. The grid made it so that you could seldom do things exactly the way you wanted to, but you didn't end up with wasted turns either. Warfare was rather expensive, which meant that there were no big sweeps - a player would often invade only one territory per turn, and only seize one production area within that territory. Still, there was sufficient motivation to do so, as having one more area could help a lot with getting points.

We were able to finish a full game - lucky for me, as I prefer to do so, and get a taste of how the game pans out. However, there was a lot of interest in the game, and the staff at the booth already got instructions to reduce the length of future demo games, by cutting off some of the rounds.

Scarlet had been focusing mostly on two tracks, trying to max them both out - at which she succeeded. It won her the game. All of us enjoyed the game, and we figured that the different combinations of tiles, abilities and score tracks should give the game sufficient replayability. So, we got ourselves a copy of the game. With it, we also received the Wendake: Promo Tiles.

Scarlet's total score had impressed the designer, so she got a commendation in her copy:

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5. Board Game: John Company [Average Rating:7.74 Overall Rank:1903]
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Pre-Order Pick-Up

John Company is a game about the British East India Company. Players all attempt to get their family members promoted to the most profitable position within the company, while also expanding the company. The theme reminds of The Republic of Rome or Kremlin, and appeals to me very much. I also like the "promises" mechanism within the game. When you occupy a high position within the company, you can promote other family members to higher ranks. But if you promote your own family members while other players also have an eligible candidate, you must give them a "promise", which is essentially a debt that you have to pay off later on in the game.

In previous years, the Sierra Madre booth was always rather small, and there would be very little space to actually try out a game - so we never succeeded in doing so. So, I decided to simply pre-order this game. This year, however, it turned out that the booth was much bigger. When we arrived at the booth, there were several empty tables - including one for John Company! So, we could have tried it out. Instead, I simply picked up my pre-order, and we went in search for another game.
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6. Board Game: Clans of Caledonia [Average Rating:8.16 Overall Rank:61]
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Blind Buy

Clans of Caledonia was on our list of potential blind buys. Production games usually work well for our group, and this game also has a market with fluctuating prices, which appeals to us too.

We decided to go scout out the booth of Karma Games, to see if we would have a chance to play the game before buying it. On the way there, I was actually stopped by the games designer, Juma Al-JouJou. He was posting in the galleria when we went by, and he recognized me from back when he visited our games club, and from a Green Deal demo we played a few years earlier. At that moment, I didn't realize he had designed Clans of Caledonia as well blush, otherwise I'd have told him we were on our way to get it.

At the booth, there were few spots to try out the game, and the stock didn't seem to be that large. As Clans of Caledonia seemed to be on many people's wish lists, we wouldn't be surprised if it sold out, and with so few tables to try out the game, it seemed unlikely we could do so. So, we decided to buy the game straight away - one less thing to worry about!
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7. Board Game Publisher: ADC Blackfire Entertainment GmbH
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Encounter

We visited the booth of ADC Blackfire to see if there was a free table for Calimala. There wasn't, but we did run into my brother and his SO there, who were collecting a pre-order.
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8. Board Game: Ex Libris [Average Rating:7.35 Overall Rank:800]
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No Blind Buy

Scarlet and I had both read the rules for Ex Libris. It is a worker placement game in which the action spots change each round. Players are collecting books, and of course, each of them tries to build the most valuable collection. But, the books also have to be shelved in alphabetical order. So, some of the actions are not related to getting more or more valuable books, but to rearranging your shelves in some way. I felt it sounded pretty nice, and Scarlet had decided she'd buy it if the stocks were low and it looked like the game would sell out.

Stocks were indeed low. In fact, there was no copy of the game at all. My brother and his SO had arrived at the Renegade Games booth just before us, and they were able to tell us that several games were stuck in customs - a story they had heard told at other booths as well. The games might arrive later during the fair. Since my brother and his SO only visit the fair for a single day, that would be too late for them. I offered to try and get a copy of the game they wanted, Kepler-3042, if it arrived.
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9. Board Game: The Sanctuary: Endangered Species [Average Rating:7.14 Overall Rank:4045]
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Try-Out

The Sanctuary is a game about building a sanctuary for endangered animals. You get animals into your sanctuary, and try to build up their population and to keep them happy. You can also expand your sanctuary by purchasing more lands and filling them with forests, or flooding them. Furthermore, you can get upgrades, which will give you special abilities or bonus points.

As with Wendake, it was the action selection mechanism that drew me to this game. Each round, a number of cards are dealt. Each card shows a main action and a side action. Each player has two workers ("volunteers"), which they may place on the cards. After all the volunteers have been placed, they can execute their actions. Each volunteer may use the main action of the card it has been placed on, as well as the side actions on all the unoccupied cards to their left or right - until they run into another occupied card.



What worried me a bit about the game was the straightforward scoring; there seemed to be little interaction between the categories. Having a larger sanctuary doesn't increase your animal's happiness. Your seals don't care if there is barely any water on the terrain, and they have to live in the forest, etc. Each category stands on its own.



We tried out the game. I messed things up quite a bit. A few times, I forgot that I could not do the side action of my own card, with some serious consequences - I'd not get a resource I thought I'd get, which meant that I could not use the actions that used that resource. Still, I managed to build up a sizable population of very happy Asiatic lions. All of us seemed to have one area in which we scored big. I had my lions, Hekate's SO had a big swathe of land, and Scarlet had a huge amount of resources in her warehouses - it was a sanctuary for the protection of wooden cubes. Scarlet's SO scored big in three areas, though, having a lot of land, lakes and Oriental storks. He easily beat us.

I was somewhat disappointed in the action selection. The amount of side actions you'd get seemed to be a bit of a lottery. First, the cards needed to come out in a way that there were useful side actions next to main actions that were useful to you. And then, you needed to not be blocked by the other players. And that was very hard to predict - if your neighbour would do A, then the next player would do B, and then the next player would do C, and you'd have only a single side action. But if he decided to do B, then the next player would go for D, and the third one for E, and you would get three side actions. Obviously, during a first game, it's more difficult to predict other player's actions, but I suspect it'll still be pretty chaotic even when you've got more experience.
Matters were not helped by the fact that many actions required specific prerequisites, making them useless if you hadn't had those, which increased the impact of the actions coming up at random.

All in all, I would happily play the game again when asked, but I wasn't going to buy it. Hekate and her SO figured that the game could work well with two players, though. I think they may be right there, as that would reduce the chaos quite a bit. Just before the fair closed on Sunday, they went back to the booth of Factory of Ideas to pick up a copy.
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10. Board Game: Invasion: Free State [Average Rating:8.00 Unranked]
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No Try-Out

Based on the little information I had about the game, I'd put Invasion: Free State on the list of games that might be worth to try out. So, when we were near the booth, we decided to have a look. There was, in fact, a table available! However, I'd already forgotten why I'd selected it, and when we looked at the components, it didn't seem like something we would enjoy, so we gave it a pass.

Looking back, it seemed to be a tactical combat game with an interesting simultaneous action selection mechanism - something that we sometimes like to play. I might not pass over a next opportunity to try it out.
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11. Board Game: Azul [Average Rating:8.02 Overall Rank:48] [Average Rating:8.02 Unranked]
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Blind Buy

I had read the rules for Azul. At first, it seemed a bit too simple, but after I thought a bit longer about it, I figured it might actually be very nice for a shorter game. I decided to put it on my list to buy early, so we could play it at the hotel after dinner. So, when we passed the booth of Plan B Games, it seemed like a good moment to pick it up.

With the game, I got a copy of the Azul: Joker Tiles, a pretty luxurious bonus, consisting of several tiles in their own bag.
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12. Board Game: Terraforming Mars: Venus Next [Average Rating:8.13 Unranked] [Average Rating:8.13 Unranked]
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Blind Buy

At SPIEL'16, we tried out Terraforming Mars. We really liked it, but back then, it was sold out. I eventually got the game as a present for my birthday, and it quickly racked up a lot of plays. It is especially popular with the somewhat less experienced groups; the more experienced gamers do feel that the luck factor could be a bit less. (Perhaps we ought to try the variant with drafting.)

In any case, with the game getting played a lot, I figured it might be worth getting the expansion. I'll have to see if that was a wise decision; it may be that Terraforming Mars will see a lot less play now that the next batch of games has arrived.
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13. Board Game: Terraforming Mars: Hellas & Elysium [Average Rating:8.37 Unranked] [Average Rating:8.37 Unranked]
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Blind Buy

I wasn't entirely sure if Terraforming Mars would get enough plays this year to warrant purchasing Venus Next, so it was perfectly logical to also get the variant boards.
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14. Board Game: The Sands of Time [Average Rating:7.50 Unranked]
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No Try-Out

We spotted a table for The Sands of Time, a game that I've been following for a few years now - despite knowing very little about it. We were told that there was nobody available to explain the game at that moment. We decided to give it a go anyway - trying out a game was still better than wandering the halls in search of a game, even if we'd have to do some more work by learning it from the rulebook.

However, after a while we came to the conclusion that we wouldn't have enough time to figure out the rules and play enough of the game to get a deep enough impression for it. We'd be able to learn the mechanism of the game, and nothing more. So, we decided to go in search for another game after all.
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15. Board Game: Calimala [Average Rating:7.27 Overall Rank:1566]
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Try-Out

The search didn't take long, as there were four seats available at a table for Calimala, just a few meters from The Sands of Time. The other seat was taken by another Dutchman, Bob.

In Calimala, each player is a cloth merchant from Florence. They collect building materials and produce cloth in their workshops. The building materials can be donated to the construction of three different churches, or they can be used to create workshops, ships and trading outposts. Cloth can be delivered to various cities, provided you have the ships or trading houses to do so.
During the game, each of the cities and churches gets scored (and there are some additional "group" scorings as well). You get points for having delivered the most cloth to a city, or having donated the most materials for a church, at the moment it gets scored.

Again, it was the action selection mechanism that made the game interesting. The actions are arranged in a 3x3 grid. On your turn, you place an action marker between two actions, and then get to do them both. If you cannot do an action, you get a random action card instead, which allows you to take an action later on. Now, if there already were action markers of other players on that space, the two most recent ones also get to take the action. If there's a third one, that one is moved to the town council, becoming a tie breaker for that player, and triggering one of the scorings.



During the first rounds of the game, I was pretty enthusiastic about it, though Scarlet quickly ran into a bit of a last-player disadvantage. The actions to collect building materials were quite close together, and they were quickly occupied. As last player, she could choose to give the earlier players a lot more resources, or to take less resources by taking a spot that combined a building material with a (for now) less useful action. Both options resulted in her actions getting re-activated less often. I'm thinking that this won't happen every game; if the tiles get distributed in a different way there may be less concentrating on a specific combination.




I myself wasn't too happy either - my first few action cards were pretty unusable, getting trade actions that I couldn't use yet, while my opponents got resource actions that helped them set up their economy. I still won the game, so perhaps my complaints about poor cards were unfounded.

In the end, I was mostly disappointed in the sheer chaos of the game. Between two of your turns, so much could change, because so many actions could get triggered each turn. A player could find himself solidly in the lead for an upcoming scoring at the end of his turn, and then find himself pushed back to third place and the location scored before he could do another action.

So, despite the original enthusiasm, neither of us decided to buy the game.
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16. Board Game: Transatlantic [Average Rating:7.29 Overall Rank:1329]
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Try-Out

Transatlantic was the next game we could try out. I had recently read the rules, and was able to explain them.

In Transatlantic, each player exploits a steam ship company. You purchase steam ships, which you put to work on various shipping lanes. There, they generate money for you, until they are pushed out of the market by the competition from newer, better ships. At that point, they score a number of points for you, and then they are gone.

Each player has a hand of action cards. Each turn, you play one of your cards, which is gone until you play the card that allows you to take back all your previous cards. At that point, you may also select a new, often better, action card from a display. This is very similar to the designer's previous game, Concordia.

The game seems to have various strategies that you could try. The ships are divided in five colours, and you can get upgrades that make a certain colour more valuable to you, at which point it seems smart to collect many ships from that colour. On the other hand, you could get an action card that makes it efficient to have many ships of different colours, or to have only a few ships that yield a very high profit.

I would have bought the game without trying it, and Scarlet had already decided that she'd not buy it, because she first wanted to play Concordia a bit more often. So, our primary reason for playing was to give Hekate and her SO a taste. Scarlet and I figured they might like this game. However, the lack of a game board made the game too dry for Hekate's SO. He just saw a bunch of ships sliding down a grid. Scarlet figured that that was partly because we couldn't complete the game, so that the different routes to victory (which are introduced by the upgraded action cards) didn't become apparent. (Of course, Scarlet and I knew about them, because we had read the rules, including the complete card overview.)



So, I was the only one who bought this game. Like some of the others, it came with a promo: A fridge magnet showing one of the cards - Rotterdam, in my case.

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17. Board Game: Altiplano [Average Rating:7.62 Overall Rank:666]
Emile de Maat
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Sold Out

Altiplano was also on my list. It's a close relative to Orléans. In the game, you have a bag of goods tokens. Each turn, you draw a random set of tokens from the bag. You can then use them to produce other goods and to buy upgrades. You don't lose the goods that you use to produce; eventually they'll find their way back into your bag. So, as you produce, your bag will contain different tokens, you'll draw different tokens, and can do a different set of actions. So, you'll want to manage the contents of your bag so you'll draw a useful combination of tiles each turn.

Instead of using a good, you can store it in your warehouse or use it to fulfill orders. That removes it from your bag, and gives you victory points.

I was a bit apprehensive about this game. On the one hand, I was rather curious about it, on the other hand, I didn't want it to replace Orléans.

The game sold out on the first day. So, I didn't need to worry about this game replacing Orléans yet
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18. Board Game: Nusfjord [Average Rating:7.53 Overall Rank:1066]
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Uwe Rosenberg's production/harvest games are always rather successful with our group (though Hekate and her SO do tend to grumble a bit about At the Gates of Loyang which they didn't like as much). The past few years, we do wonder: do we need another one? Nusfjord is a bit shorter than the other games, filling a different niche, and it seemed to have sufficient new twists. All in all, Scarlet and I decided to just buy it - it doesn't take much to convince us

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19. Board Game: Agricola: L-Deck [Average Rating:5.66 Unranked] [Average Rating:5.66 Unranked]
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Promo

With Nusfjord came a Nusfjord-themed promo card for Agricola.
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20. Board Game: Azul [Average Rating:8.02 Overall Rank:48] [Average Rating:8.02 Unranked]
Emile de Maat
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Play

That evening, at our hotel, we tried out Azul. In this game, you are basically trying to fill a grid with tiles. To do so, you first have to fill up a production row with tiles. For example, to place a red tile on the fourth row of the grid, you first need to collect four red tiles in the production row. One of them then goes on your grid, and the others are discarded.



You score points for placing tiles next to each other, with bonus points for completed rows and columns, as well as for having five tiles of the same colour in your grid.

Each turn, there are different sets of tiles on offer. There are a number of factory tiles with four tiles on it. You choose one factory tile, take all the tiles of one colour from it and place them in one of your rows, and move the others to the center of the table. Any tiles that do not fit on the production row give you negative points, so you should avoid taking too many tiles. Alternatively, as soon as there are tiles in the center, you can take all the tiles of one colour from the center.



The game surprised me in a positive way. Though there is quite a bit of luck involved, there is some interesting planning going on. It's not always best to take the tiles you need the most. You'll also need to consider what you give to the other players, and what you'll be able to choose from on your next turn. As tiles get moved to the center of the table, the available options shift all the time.
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21. Board Game: Keyper [Average Rating:7.56 Overall Rank:1233]
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On Friday morning, we managed to find an empty table for Keyper (and by that, I mean completely empty - it didn't even have a game on it yet). Given that there were only two tables for Keyper, this was rather fortunate.

In Keyper, players collect resources, which they can then ship for points, display at fairs and use to create buildings. The buildings can give you better actions, or award points - often for collecting more resources. Each player starts with ten meeples, which are called keyples in this game. On your turn, you can play one of your keyples on one of your buildings to use that building's action. Alternatively, you can send it out to the main board to do an action there. If you do, another player can join you, and you'll both get an increased yield from the space. It's good for you, and it's even better for the player helping you, because he gets something during your turn as well as from his own turns. He'll run out of keyples sooner, but each keyple can be used twice. A player that has run out of keyples may reactivate a keyple that has already been placed to get the action again.

Each round, you'll also place your "keyper" to claim a section of the board. At the end of the round, you'll take all of the keyples that have been placed on that section of the board, as well as the keyples that you have on your own buildings. Together, those will be your keyples for the next round. The keyples are specialized; some are better at gathering wood, others for shipping, etc. So, it is useful to get some keyples that fit your strategy. You might end up with fewer keyples than the other players, but that doesn't have to be bad; you'll get more re-activations to compensate.

I had read the rules, and would have bought the game without trying it. Scarlet already had Keyflower and I saw some similarities in the scoring and in the way you essentially gave some of your keyples away to the other players. I wondered if it was different enough. Hekate and her SO had no idea of the game yet, and needed to find out if it was any good for them.

The game was explained to us by Richard Breese himself. We played only the first round. By then, everyone was convinced that they wanted to buy the game. We broke off the game, bought multiple copies of the it, and went off to find other fun things.



I'm pretty curious too see how well you'll be able to get specific combinations of buildings and keyples going.
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22. Board Game Publisher: BoardGameGeek
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Important Stuff

Now that we were near the BGG booth, it was time to pick up some GeekBuzz codes, so we could enter our picks.
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23. Board Game: Dawn of Peacemakers [Average Rating:8.82 Unranked]
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We spotted a table for Dawn of Peacemakers being vacated, and grabbed our chance. This was not yet for sale, and no rulebook was available for the game, so I knew little beyond "it looks rather nice".

In this game, the players are a couple of adventurers that try to end a battle. To do so, they must reduce the motivation of both armies. They have to be careful, though. If the motivation of one of the armies drops too low, that army will surrender, and though that ends the battle too, it's not the desired outcome.

The game is not about preventing casualties; one of the more common ways to get motivation to go down is to have the armies suffer casualties. You just want to make sure things go down in a controlled way.

Each turn, a player can use his cards to move on the board, place fortifications on the board to protect units, and to check and manipulate the orders the units will receive. Cards can also be played for more fun special effects. For example, in our game, we fed one of the army leaders poisoned food to weaken him, while we guided units into isolated positions were they could be defeated more easily.

After the players have made their moves, both armies receive their orders and act. Then, it's the players turn again.



We played a very small demo scenario. Both armies in the battle (it was macaws fighting ocelots) already had low motivation, and the armies were very small. We managed to get them both to retreat.

I liked the premise of the game, but the gameplay felt a bit lackluster. Each player receives only one card per turn, but most meaningful actions take at least two cards. So, you'd often do nothing between two army turns. That did not seem unbalanced, but it was a bit boring. I'd have preferred more action.
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24. Board Game: A Feast for Odin: Lofoten, Orkney, and Tierra del Fuego [Average Rating:8.03 Unranked] [Average Rating:8.03 Unranked]
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Blind Buy

Scarlet did not join Dawn of Peacemakers. While we were playing, she went out to buy the new mini-expansion for A Feast for Odin.
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25. Board Game: The Bloody Inn: The Carnies [Average Rating:7.63 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.63 Unranked]
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No Blind Buy

Scarlet also attempted to get us a copy of the expansion for The Bloody Inn but found out that the English version had already sold out. (That evening, I read on BoardGameGeek that it had already sold out on Thursday morning - or that it had never been available.)
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