New Games That I Played at BGGCon
Jeremy Heilman
United States
Denver
CO
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Most of my plays at this year's BGGCon were newer titles... mostly things that were released at Essen. Overall the crop was a mixed bag, for me, but there's a lot that I'm looking forward to revisiting as well. Here are some of my thoughts on the new games that I played, vaguely ranked from least favorite to favorite.
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1. Board Game: Fireworks [Average Rating:6.77 Overall Rank:10854]
Jeremy Heilman
United States
Denver
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I thought this one might be a cool filler, since it combines tile-laying and a mild dexterity element, but in practice it's merely silly... an exercise in extreme luck marred by somewhat bad iconography on the tiles and player boards (the lines between the hexes are nearly invisible under less than perfect lighting!). I could think of several ways to house rule this to make it play better, but nothing would really overcome the components, which require a lot of squinting.
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2. Board Game: Dragon Castle [Average Rating:7.43 Overall Rank:1587]
Jeremy Heilman
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Denver
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This one feels like a whiff to me, despite the wonderful Mahjong tiles. On the surface it's a simple family set collection game, but one of the fundamental scoring elements requires players to remove single tiles from the display, which will inevitably result in players killing opponents' chances of making matches that they need. I'll have to try it again, given the hype, but this did very little for me.
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3. Board Game: The Castles of Burgundy: The Dice Game [Average Rating:6.97 Overall Rank:2079]
Jeremy Heilman
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Denver
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This is fun for what it is, I suppose, but it feels even less like the board game than the CoB card game did. It's really entirely about trying to leave as many options for a roll that you can use each turn open, which limits any sort of strategy. When you do get an actual move, the choices to make are almost always obvious. The dark printing on the pads makes it hard to see your markings with the included pencils.
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4. Board Game: A Column of Fire [Average Rating:6.54 Overall Rank:3819]
Jeremy Heilman
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The third mainline Pillars of the Earth game from Kosmos, and easily the worst of the trio... It uses a unique dice mechanism that oddly takes control of out players' hands during many of the turns... It's not uncommon to have only one main action in a turn, with plenty of bookkeeping in between. Figuring out how to assert yourself around the constraints is where the game lies, of course, and I'm willing to give it another shot just because it's so odd. Nonetheless, this underwhelmed and had usability issues (small iconography, similar dice colors, a rulebook that's a wall of text) that I wouldn't expect from a Kosmos game.
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5. Board Game: Indian Summer [Average Rating:6.91 Overall Rank:1685]
Jeremy Heilman
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Ho-hum puzzler where players race to place Tetris-style shapes in order to complete their gird. Fussier than Cottage Garden. Nowhere near as fun as Barenpark. Less taxing than Patchwork. Not as intuitive as Fits. Not awful, on its own terms, I suppose, but this space has quickly become crowded. I'm not sure that games like this benefit from a plethora of special powers.
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6. Board Game: Transatlantic [Average Rating:7.28 Overall Rank:1343]
Jeremy Heilman
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I'm a big fan of Gerdts, so I'll assume that additional plays will help this one in my estimation (played twice so far), but this was something of a slog. Concordia is the obvious frame of reference, and this is dry and dull in comparison, with a theme that left me fairly cold (Wallace's Ships is vaguely similar and superior). Card luck and and a midgame slowdown are the most negative factors here, but there's a general lack of tension and even less awareness of what other players are trying to do than in Concordia. The President variant adds a slight strategic consideration or two, but it requires so much additional scanning of the cards that I'm doubtful that I'll play that way again.
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7. Board Game: Montana [Average Rating:6.83 Overall Rank:2642]
Jeremy Heilman
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Flows well enough, but this is a lot of clutter and setup for a relatively simple 30-minute affair. I'd like to play more, but it seems like the key consideration is watching your opponents like a hawk and then taking (subpar) moves to build 1-2 tiles before they can slap down theirs, lest they get a 4th tile bonus. Not bad, but the setup suggests something deeper than you get.
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8. Board Game: The Sanctuary: Endangered Species [Average Rating:7.13 Overall Rank:4052]
Jeremy Heilman
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A worker placement game that's relatively light, yet still tight and filled with a lot of mean blocking. The game uses a series of cards to create a row of placement spaces each round, and players activate not only the card that they stand on, but also powers on any cards that their meeple can "see" using a simple line of sight. Meeples block line of sight and therefore placing one can deny other players' multiple actions. The game presents itself as an advanced family game in many respects, but this mechanism feels fresh yet angst-inducing. I wish the card iconography was a little clearer, and I worry about the ease of getting happiness multipliers compared to the challenges of maximizing some of the game's other scoring paths. Still, I liked it more than I expected to.
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9. Board Game: The Palace of Mad King Ludwig [Average Rating:7.04 Overall Rank:2548]
Jeremy Heilman
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Possibly a game that I'll enjoy more than its predecessor, primarily because it removes the market pricing phase from Castles, which either lead to AP or was a crapshoot in most of my previous plays. The sense of satisfaction in seeing the results your construction come to life is significantly reduced, though, which was half of the appeal of the original. It's replaced with player interaction and that player interaction can be quite mean, usually in the form of preventing others from completing rooms. It's also fiddly as heck, with each turn requiring several small bookkeeping steps.
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10. Board Game: Kitchen Rush [Average Rating:7.61 Overall Rank:1601]
Jeremy Heilman
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Denver
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Quite fun, but also likely too hard to be fun for the people that I would be most likely to play it with. The extended planning stage seems to bring potential alpha gamer tendencies back into the realm of real-time co-ops, but I suppose given that you're playing chefs, that's arguably thematic!
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11. Board Game: Pulsar 2849 [Average Rating:7.79 Overall Rank:557]
Jeremy Heilman
United States
Denver
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About 70% of this dice drafting game seems like a sound design to me, but many of the decisions here baffle me. Turn order, for example, arguably makes the first position the worst place to be, depending on what was rolled, since dice are selected Catan-style and the first player will get last pick. Beyond this, dice mitigation options seem awfully slim, given that every player will only get two out of 9 rolled dice each round and given that most actions require an exact pip count to complete. There are always multiple things that a player can do, of course, but much of the game feels like dealing with the dice that have been rolled. A tech tree offers some interesting options, but some of the most useful powers seem stashed out of reach until the game's midway. I didn't play using the individual player boards, but the last thing this game needs is more options and player powers.
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12. Board Game: Doodle Rush [Average Rating:6.67 Overall Rank:6331]
Jeremy Heilman
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Denver
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Inoffensive Pictomania clone with simpler rules and a more structured divide between drawing and guessing. Players that can draw well will definitely have an advantage. That games last six minutes long is a plus.
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13. Board Game: Santa Maria [Average Rating:7.77 Overall Rank:746]
Jeremy Heilman
United States
Denver
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A better Castles of Burgundy Dice Game than the real thing. This is downright Feldian in its combination of scoring options, player powers, dice modifiers and spatial optimization (La Granja might be an equally good frame of reference). There are some production issues in the first edition (some, like the misprints on the back of half of the building tiles) will presumably be corrected, but I doubt the tiny iconography will get bigger or that the art will be made brighter and more appealing.
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14. Board Game: Amun-Re: The Card Game [Average Rating:6.83 Overall Rank:6749]
Jeremy Heilman
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Nice distillation of the board game into card game form. Ironically, the game removes the power cards from its big brother, removing some excitement. Another odd omission is one of the original's best rules -- that once outbid one can't bid again directly in the same province. This makes bidding low just to see what other players do inordinately more powerful and makes low cards more valuable as a result. I think this might need a variant or house rule to correct this?
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15. Board Game: Calimala [Average Rating:7.27 Overall Rank:1567]
Jeremy Heilman
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Probably significantly better with 4 or 5 than 3, where there's a guarantee to score just for showing up. The action selection mechanism is great, but all of those actions don't seem to be deployed to the most interesting of ends. Some action spaces seem to outlive their usefulness by the game's midpoint. I'll withhold final judgment until I can play this with 5, because I suspect that's where this shines.
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16. Board Game: When I Dream [Average Rating:7.29 Overall Rank:1060]
Jeremy Heilman
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Denver
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Initially, this looks like Dixit, but in practice it's closer to Insider, which is a plus. It plays like the classic TV gameshows The $10,000 Pyramid or Password, but with traitor elements, where some players will be trying to get the (blindfolded!) guesser to say the wrong word. More fun than I expected it to be.
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17. Board Game: Reworld [Average Rating:6.84 Overall Rank:3621]
Jeremy Heilman
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Denver
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Plenty to like here... The game is divided into two distinct phases... The first a tile drafting phase with some nice potential blocking and planning, and the second, essentially an elongated scoring phase/race in which players place said tiles into a tableau. There are many ways to score, but most of them only award the first player to accomplish them, so planning a perfect system might not be the best route to victory. The graphic design (shockingly from Menzel) is somewhat bland and inefficient, with much of the important game information relegated to small details on the tiles. Vaguely recalls Vikings.
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18. Board Game: Altiplano [Average Rating:7.62 Overall Rank:671]
Jeremy Heilman
United States
Denver
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A mixed bag (har har). Stripped down in comparison to Orleans, in that it's both less thematic and less likely to generate big combos or exciting turns. The event tiles in Orleans are one thing that's sorely missed here, and the "map" play is not very compelling at all. There's very little direct interaction or outside interference to mess with your plans (even the changed bag shuffling rules even out the luck of the draw), which makes this senseless as a game for more than 3 players.

... and yet, I found it a fun little puzzle. Many people complain that this feels too long, but I appreciated that it's the rare engine builder where you can fully exploit the engine that you've designed (to the point where you're likely to run out of available resources if you aggressively collect a type). The asymmetric setups are a huge plus as well, presenting you with a scenario that you must scheme your way out of from the start.
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19. Board Game: Tybor der Baumeister [Average Rating:6.89 Overall Rank:3356]
Jeremy Heilman
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More like 7 Wonders than Oh My Goods... Lighter, quicker, and (slightly) more interactive than either, though. Myriad ways to score points, with randomized setup from game to game shifting goals slightly. Time will tell if this has staying power, but it's very conceivable that you can finish this in 20 minutes, and for that play time it's packed with decisions.
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20. Board Game: Keyper [Average Rating:7.56 Overall Rank:1245]
Jeremy Heilman
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Some flashes of brilliance here (the folding boards, the follow mechanic) that might be better in concept than execution... The folding boards, for example, don't give as many options as they might appear and the follow mechanic means asking other players after most of the in-game actions if they'd like to copy you. This would probably feel less tedious if it were in service of something other than a simple resource conversion engine or if the "lay-down" actions were more of a factor in practice. The myriad tiles all with special abilities also remind me why I prefer Key to the City's streamlining over Keyflower's mess of player powers. Despite all of this, I want to give the game more plays to see how much the play experience smooths out over time.
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21. Board Game: Istanbul: The Dice Game [Average Rating:7.23 Overall Rank:1626]
Jeremy Heilman
United States
Denver
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Removes the spatial puzzle of the original, focusing instead on the race aspect, waged on multiple fronts. The bazaar tiles seemingly have increased importance here, allowing players to build an engine as they play, yet more than one or two don't seem to be necessary to succeed. Decidedly different in feel than its big brother, yet a surprising amount has made the transition to the dice game format. Overall, better than Dorn's other major Essen 2017 release, Montana.
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22. Board Game: Clans of Caledonia [Average Rating:8.17 Overall Rank:61]
Jeremy Heilman
United States
Denver
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Terra Mystica similarities are present, but this seems like a more straightforward design overall. I suspect future plays will really rely more on market manipulation than my few have thus far. My only real concern is the extent to which your special Clan power might dictate your strategy. Most of them seem so powerful that you'd be stupid not to abuse them!
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23. Board Game: Iquazú [Average Rating:6.81 Overall Rank:5294]
Jeremy Heilman
United States
Denver
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Hilariously overproduced area majority game that doesn't do anything particularly new yet flows quite well. The ersatz Avatar theme is silly, but the board itself is pretty and amusingly unnecessary... It's 2017's Niagara. This seems quite solid for what it is... a game that awards players' skill level yet still can work well for families.
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24. Board Game: Riverboat [Average Rating:7.57 Overall Rank:1548]
Jeremy Heilman
United States
Denver
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While you're still competing for majority bonuses on multiple fronts, this feels less like a Kiesling game than a Feld game at times, since it has so many mashed together mechanics. Still, the mix is enjoyable enough, with the round tiles cleanly laying out the flow of the game. Something this convoluted shouldn't feel so effortless.
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25. Board Game: Pixie Queen [Average Rating:7.51 Overall Rank:1885]
Jeremy Heilman
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Denver
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Extremely interactive and surprisingly fun worker placement. I am not a huge fan of the genre, but this one seems tighter than most of its kind. The incessant punishment isn't demoralizing, since everyone's roughly in the same boat. I played a rule wrong the first two times that made blocking in this much meaner. Now, playing correctly, I'm consistently scoring near the 20 point area, even if I get a few whip dice tossed at me. Maybe this needs to be more punishing still?
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