dkeisen@BGG.CON2017
Dave Eisen
United States
Menlo Park
CA
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Another November, another BGG.CON in the books. After a few years of writing sappier and sappier reports about how wonderful it is to spend time with all of my friends that I don't see anywhere else, I really cannot do that this year. I did enjoy seeing my friends of course, but there were fewer of them. Many fewer. Many people I had gamed regularly with for 2 or 5 or 10 years every November in Dallas just were not in attendance this year. Maybe the crowds drove people away. Or the difficulty in getting a room at the host hotel. Maybe the growth of local post-Essen conventions attracted people to competing events. Maybe it's just the simple fact that any group like this attrits over time unless one puts in real effort to meet new people each year and I, well, have turned into an old grump. In any event, I know fewer and fewer people at BGG.CON each year and this year it turned into being all about the new games.

Because of this, I ended up doing just about all my gaming with some mixture of Eric, Quincy, Aliza, and Jerry, three of whom will be at my home this week for a traditional Black Friday feast and gaming extravaganza as they are locals. If it was a five player game, you know who was at the table. Fortunately they are great folks to game with. I did enjoy meeting up with some friends at the Winsome Games fest on Friday. Great t-shirts, by the way.

So the games. I came in poorly prepared, knowing nothing beyond what was needed to write my Essen preview list at dkeisen's 2017 Essen Notes. I knew what I wanted to play and ended up finding no reason at all to go off list. Not all were magnificent but I did in fact enjoy every single game I played making 2017 a nice solid year, if not a year full of classic titles.

The only other new game I heard anything credible and good about was Photosynthesis, which after reading the rules I now regret not trying. It's a zero-randomness game about placing trees in position to gather the most sunlight and to use the received "light points" to do various actions such as grow and spawn new trees. Simple rules. Reminds me of the grail game Symbioz although no reason to think it is as good.

Here's what I played among the new titles (I did fit in a game of 18MEX which was new to me but not to all of you). I have replaced my usual system of IMPORT, BUY, PLAY, SKIP, DISPARAGE with an estimate of the number of plays remaining for me for each game. That's how I think of these things when I play a new game these days so I might as well use it in my writing.
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1. Board Game: Clans of Caledonia [Average Rating:8.17 Overall Rank:61]
Dave Eisen
United States
Menlo Park
CA
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20 PLAYS

Building game with players competing for territory on a shared board. It has been compared to Terra Mystica and the reasons for this are obvious. But the fact that the entire economy is structured around money and that there is a market mechanic which can be used to convert other resources to/from money changes the feel a great deal. It is not as rigid. You are no longer trying to figure out how to grind out the last resource you need to build that crucial trading house, it is more about growing an economy in general and then focusing on the interesting bits of managing board play and most efficiently using your resources along with the timing plays of growing in a way to maximize your in-game scoring opportunities. I'm not saying it's better than Terra Mystica, but it's a nice well-developed take in the same general space which provides a very different gaming experience. Highly recommended.

Moving from kind of sort of like Terra Mystica to...
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2. Board Game: Gaia Project [Average Rating:8.71 Overall Rank:14]
Dave Eisen
United States
Menlo Park
CA
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40 PLAYS

Terra Mystica in space. Well, really, Terra Mystica with entirely different tradeoffs so new problems to solve.

Moving it to space inherently changes the feel as the additional flexibility of movement will reduce the strongly patterned board play of Terra Mystica. I was not one of those who disliked the cult tracks as bolted on, but replacing them with tech tracks which are more tightly integrated into the rest of the game is a likely improvement. The setup randomness touches more areas of the world than in Terra Mystica (bonus tiles, round scoring tiles, end game scoring tiles, advanced favor tiles, assignment of favor tiles to tech tracks) so the core decisions around faction drafting will be more challenging.

The faction that the internet thinks is overpowered did win the game I played, which proves exactly nothing about whether or not it is in fact overpowered. But no doubt there will be issues with one faction or another and some kind of auction will need to be added to the game. But a very strong game for experienced Terra Mystica players. I do not like to think about how it would go for those who had not played the original.

I'm excited to get my 40 plays out of this one.
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3. Board Game: Heaven & Ale [Average Rating:7.68 Overall Rank:579]
Dave Eisen
United States
Menlo Park
CA
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20 PLAYS

The game I was most interested in trying pre-convention. It did not disappoint. It will be the best game of the list for many of you reading this even if I don't think it is my favorite.

Tight tile-drafting/placement game which focuses the tension between gathering tiles to grow your position and taking the strictly limited actions to trigger scoring opportunities. You will need to score some categories before they are really worth much just to keep your economy going because there is no primary income phase in the game. The only way to make any money is to trigger activation of some of your tiles.

Innovative and interesting scoring mechanism as well.

All in all a great game. And a polished great game which is a relatively easy teach which should play in 90 minutes. I've only played it with 4 players which seems to be what it was balanced for, but I am curious about playing it at lower counts where I can justify more effort spent in playing defense when making my decisions.
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4. Board Game: Azul [Average Rating:8.01 Overall Rank:49] [Average Rating:8.01 Unranked]
Dave Eisen
United States
Menlo Park
CA
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25 PLAYS

My one surprise of the convention. I had gone in assuming the game was too simple to be interesting but was going to give it a try because EVERYONE was saying that it was good. I expected to come out of this with the delicious satisfaction that I had better taste in games than the uncultured yahoos I choose to call my friends. But no. It is that good.

Abstract tile drafting and placement game with huge opportunities for meanness. Play it with your meanest friends. I only got to play it with 4, but I expect that it is better with fewer players as you can target your meanness more effectively rather than having it happen seemingly randomly to someone. Seemingly.

I know nothing about how any of this ever comes out, but I would expect this to get serious consideration at SdJ time. The fact that it is probably a fine game even when not played to inflict maximal pain should help with this. But please inflict the pain.
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5. Board Game: Nusfjord [Average Rating:7.53 Overall Rank:1069]
Dave Eisen
United States
Menlo Park
CA
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12 PLAYS

I liked this. I wondered going in what niche this fit into among all of Uwe Rosenberg's many worker placement resource conversion games. The niche is a very simple economy (only 3 resources), quick play time, and still very very tight. Some of his other simpler games feel like you are not particularly constrained in what you are doing. This isn't one of those.

I assume ideal player count is 3 as more players just adds to game length without bringing in anything new. And it should play in an hour with 3 once everyone knows the buildings. I'm going to pick this one up as this fills a useful niche.
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6. Board Game: Keyper [Average Rating:7.56 Overall Rank:1245]
Dave Eisen
United States
Menlo Park
CA
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10 PLAYS

Worker placement building game with multiple types of workers and mechanics around "joining" other players actions to both keep players involved when it is not their turn as well as to give decisions around efficiency of actions vs. keeping actions to yourself. Strong game which ultimately will succeed or fail on the strength of the buildings available and how the growth curve of the game works. My one play left me optimistic.
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7. Board Game: Gentes [Average Rating:7.69 Overall Rank:1356]
Dave Eisen
United States
Menlo Park
CA
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20 PLAYS

A civ game from from Spielworxx designed by Stefan Risthaus, the designer of Arkwright. How could I resist?

Now everyone was telling me that this is not a civ game. That it is in fact a light action drafting game with a clever action time mechanic. But you play over III Ages, the board contains a map of the Mediterranean, and there is a card you can add to your tableau called the Pyramids. This here is a civ game, folks.

Whatever it is, I liked it. The time mechanic was interesting. Good reuse of the mechanic from Arkwright where you can pay various amounts for each action and depending on how much you paid, you got to do better or worse versions of the action. And quick.

To me this is a perfect filler. It's probably 75 minutes once you know what you're doing so not everyone would call it a filler, but it will be a great choice for my group if we finish early some game night or if the tables are out of sync and we want to resync them. Real decisions. Easy teach. Civ game. How can I resist? I can't and will be buying it when available.
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8. Board Game: Agra [Average Rating:7.48 Overall Rank:1084]
Dave Eisen
United States
Menlo Park
CA
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3 PLAYS

Simple low luck resource production and shared recipe fulfillment game with all recipes visible from game start. Yes, simple. The game is structurally simple even though there are a huge number of moving parts and it looks super complicated.

I really enjoyed my play, but that's because I enjoy working through rules and figuring out the implications of them and what levers the game provides. I have doubts that the game will work out once I know what I am doing because of some issues around right/left binding, because it will always be a difficult teach, because recipe fulfillment is not generally my favorite mechanic (although the lack of hidden information removes my usual biggest complaint about it), and because I have some doubts about the price change mechanic where the most valuable good which can be used to provide an extra action can be reduced in price to that of the most basic good which can be produced in bulk.

The graphic design and usability are actively hostile. The board is optimized for aesthetics, and it does look nice, but it is almost impossible to see what is happening at a glance and surprisingly difficult to parse even after looking closely. It really is simple but the mess of a board hides this. The orders board is slanted to permit easy viewing by all, but all that does is make it easy for the pieces to fall off and force you to try to reproduce the position.

So I liked this and would definitely play it again. But do not recommend that you work too hard to find a copy to get a play in. And my doubts are going to keep me from buying this until at least I've gotten in at least a few more plays.
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9. Board Game: Altiplano [Average Rating:7.62 Overall Rank:671]
Dave Eisen
United States
Menlo Park
CA
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1 PLAY

Orléans with changes.

The move to full-fledged Dominion-style chit management worked well and will make the game easier to teach. The need to move your pawn to the correct location before taking an action added to the planning required and the random layout of locations will lead to different games playing out differently. The addition of cash as a non-bag resource to manage was fine, but fundamentally didn't change the game. The removal of the deck thinning board removed the part of Orléans that I liked the least, but also (along with some other changes) removed almost all of the player interaction. This is more puzzle than game.

A candidate for the best start player marker of any published board game.

But it reminded me why I ultimately stopped playing Orléans. A game which feels like it should be a nice medium weight 90 minute game has the unfortunate property of taking 4 hours or more to play way more often than you'd expect. This one too. I will gladly play this again with a group I know will keep the game moving, but otherwise, no thanks.
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10. Board Game: Noria [Average Rating:6.77 Overall Rank:2157]
Dave Eisen
United States
Menlo Park
CA
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2 PLAYS?

Hard to judge as this is the one game I played at BGG.CON which did not go well. I walked up after the rest of the table had been taught by someone who didn't do a very good teaching job so my opponents were both lost and poorly focused throughout. So I don't know.

This game brings two things to the table.

1. Innovative and unique action selection mechanism based on markers on a three-wheeled disk, each wheel precessing independently each round. This is going to get the lion's share of the attention as it is possibly interesting but in reality cumbersome. Either way that was not what drew me in to the title.

I suspect this mechanic will add a nice planning element to the game once you know what you're doing, but until then you're fighting the game more than your opponents and I believe most people will not give the game enough chances to make the simple part of the decisions here second nature and allow the planning aspect to come through.

2. Scoring by advancing on tracks each of whose value is completely under player control. Still potentially interesting, but in fact in our game not very interesting at all. The moment anyone advanced anywhere, the track he or she was on was pounded mercilessly. This is in fact not best play: I believe you need to focus more on how other players' economies are developing and use that information to know what is likely to happen in the future and thus to know where to hit. The fact that someone has gotten to step one of a potentially long track doesn't really matter that much in the scheme of things. But again, will require more plays than most people will give this game to be used effectively.

So I have not given up on this and hope I get another chance with the title in a group that knows what it is doing. But that in fact is unlikely to ever happen because the game has been so roundly panned. And even another play or two won't be enough as this won't be fun as long as I am still clumsy with the action management facet of the game.
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11. Board Game: Calimala [Average Rating:7.27 Overall Rank:1567]
Dave Eisen
United States
Menlo Park
CA
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0 PLAYS

I had been focused pre-convention on the action selection mechanism where you place a player piece on the board to take an action (really, two actions) and other players who had already been in that location also get the action. I had been concerned about this as it looks to snowball too hard.

But no. It's just fine. Even mildly interesting, but I'm not ready to remove the mildly. The problem here is that the rest of the game is an ordered series of known majority contests along with endgame scoring which is a few each-known-to-only-one-player majority contests. Blah. Nothing really wrong with it, and it works, but nothing drawing me in to play again either. My 0 plays could well work its way up to 1 play but it's not going to replace The Great Zimbabwe as my favorite game.
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