Pre-Essen 2018: Ponderous Prognostication
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As another Essen draws near, it is time once again for me to skim a bunch of rule books and make grand proclamations about the games they describe. As usual, there are a few things to bear in mind as you read this:
d10-1These ramblings are based, at best, on my impressions after having read the rule book for the game. In most cases, I would call it more of a skim. The Surgeon General has declared that taking them seriously may be hazardous to your health.
d10-2I have been wrong about games in the past and I will viciously defend my right to be wrong about them again in the future.
d10-3My personal preferences are definitely towards the heavier end of the scale and all of the following opinions reflect that. There will be many perfectly serviceable lighter-weight or family games which just wont appeal to me.
d10-4I'll be adding stuff to this list over time, so feel free to suggest games I should take a look at: I've gotten some great tips that way in the past.

The first comment on the list contains a list of all the games that are currently on my radar.

If you're curious about previous years, you can find the lists here: Capoeirista's Essen Meta List
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1. Board Game: Cryptid [Average Rating:7.53 Overall Rank:1635]
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I couldn’t help but remember Tobago while I read the rules for this game. Although I was generally down on that game, I felt the concept was promising, it was only that the implementation was lacking. As such, I’m very curious to see different takes on the same idea. This also seems to blend in elements of Zendo one of my all-time favourite games.

In Cryptid, you are trying to determine where a unique and interesting creature lives. Each player knows one clue (for example, “it is within two spaces of a mountain” or “it is on a forest or a mountain”) to its whereabouts and must try to discern what the other players know without giving away too much about their own clue in the process. Each turn you get to either ask a specific player to tell you the suitability of a particular space, or you get to open it up to all players. The latter is especially interesting since if you get it wrong, you have the potential to give the other players a lot of information in one go.

I do worry about the nature of some of the clues. Based on my experience of Zendo, rules with an “or” in them are often tougher to guess. I’m curious if this will inadvertently give some people an advantage.

I have a definite soft spot for this sort of deduction game and I’m totally up for giving this one a try. Even if I wind up not liking it, I suspect I will find academic interest in the way the game works.

Conclusion: Definitely Try
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2. Board Game: Ceylon [Average Rating:7.44 Overall Rank:4166]
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There’s a lot here that screams generic Euro: you create plantations to make tea to fulfill orders and then gain either money, which can be used to gain special powers, or victory points as desired. That aside, there are a number of points which stand out from the generic euro-soup.

First up is the action selection. You take an action by choosing between two orientations of a card. Each orientation offers a particaular main action. You can then take that main action or one of two secondary actions on the card. Then, all other players get to also take either the other main action or one of the two secondary actions. Depending on the card distribution, this could make action selection a painful tradeoff between getting what you want but perhaps also giving others exactly what they need. Second point of interest is the fact that the harvesting action lets you pick up tea from any plantations adjacent to your worker although if you take from an opponents plantation, they will gain a VP. This means that while you would like to cluster your plantations, others will likely want to try and muscle in so that you’re more likely to give them the bonus while also boosting their own harvesting potential. This could ensure that the board play is actually meaningful. Finally, having the different elevations for growing tea be represented by physically distinct elevations on the board is a neat aesthetic touch.

There’s enough interesting stuff here to warrant at least giving the game a try.

Conclusion: Worth A Shot
 
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3. Board Game: Lighthouse Run [Average Rating:6.43 Overall Rank:9907]
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You are trying to get your boats as far down the river as you can before they all get gobbled up by a storm but boats can only move into sections which are lit by the lighthouses. Unfortunately, only three lighthouses can be on a time. Each turn you play a card which may change the setup of the lighthouses and will then let you move some ships. Some cards only help you but others let you move everyone’s boats. If you help other players, you get to move faster. If the cloud catches up with your boats they move back to the last scoring space they reached and can move no further this game. At the end, the player whose boats reached the highest cumulative score wins.

This might be a fun light game and it certainly has a charming theme. I’m just worried that there wont actually be any real substance to the play. The nature of the turns means that it will be tough to predict what things will look like when your next turn comes around making any sort of forward planning tricky. Since you don’t know what cards people have, it’s also going to be tricky to make any sort of disruptive play. Even though the game is short, I’m still not convinced that just iteratively optimising each turn will be enough to sustain it.

One potential ray of light helping to keep me optimistic is that each player plays from a fixed deck of cards and will play each card exactly once by the end of the game. This means there will be some element of trying to manage which cards you play to keep your options as open as possible as the game progresses. The lighthouses do appear in a random order which should mean that you don't just play the same cards over and over again each time you play. With that said, the fact that you only have three hand cards might leave you at the mercy of the draw.

On the whole this has the potential to be an interesting light game and it is probably worth checking out.

Conclusion: Worth A Try
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4. Board Game: Airship city [Average Rating:7.57 Unranked]
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Collect resources to build buildings/airships to make it more efficient to collect resources to build buildings/airships. It's a familiar formula. The primary gimmick here is the action selection mechanism which is based on moving pieces around a grid of potential actions. People who are already on the space you land in may have the opportunity to piggyback and gain bonus resources. This is further complicated by having actions which cause the tiles to be moved around. VPs basically come from contributing to a set of large shared projects with the people contributing the most getting bonus points on top.

Everything about this game seems fairly well put together. I also think the art style is incredible. For some reason, however, nothing about this game really excites me. The spatial action selection just doesn't seem rich enough to make up for most of the rest of the game feeling so familiar. I wouldn't have minded trying this game, but that's unlikely to be possible given the limited run.

Conclusion: Play If Someone Else Buys It
 
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5. Board Game: Family Trade [Average Rating:3.60 Unranked]
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Pitched as a sort of stock trading game, this in reality is more like a restricted version of rummy where different sets of tiles have different values. As such, it's possible to go out and wind up worse off if the values are bad enough. There are two other game modes, but neither looks any more interesting.

Conclusion: Skip
 
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6. Board Game: Forwarder of Xanadu [Average Rating:7.00 Unranked]
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Pick-up and Deliver is an under-utilised game mechanism, in my opinion, so I had high hopes for this game. In the game you will generate resources and then try to move them to specific regions on the board to satisfy contracts. Satisfying contracts will give you immediate rewards as well as contributing to an area majority competition for the regions. One quirk is that company upgrades, which make you more efficient at producing or moving stuff around, come at a fixed rate rather than being something you buy. There is another gimmick where actions get more powerful the more they have been taken in a round. This means you have to balance doing something now versus doing it more efficiently later.

Overall this game looks reasonably well put together, but a lot of it feels a little shallow. I don't get the sense of a rich strategy space to play in and many of the upgrades just seem to be in the service of saving an action here or there.

I would be willing to try this game if the opportunity arose, but I wont seek it out.

Conclusion: Probably Skip

Aside: this game has an awesome comic-style overview of how the overall flow of the game works that I wish would just become a standard thing everyone does.
 
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7. Board Game: Valparaíso [Average Rating:6.81 Overall Rank:7920]
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This is a curious one. It's another fairly standard Euro with the main focus being the need to pre-program your actions for the round. You setup 4 actions (5 with an upgrade) then you'll execute them one by one interleaved with the other players (i.e. everyone does their first action, then their second and so on). You can pay to program an additional action which can be inserted at any point in the sequence. You can also pay money during execution to perform an action out of order with the cost being proportional to how much you're having to jump ahead to do so. If you don't want to sequence break but also don't want to do they action you have programmed, each action has some weaker fallback actions you can take in its stead.

The intention is that the programming should be done under time pressure once you have experience (you basically get 60 seconds after the first person says they are done). This might cause issues when playing with groups of mixed experience (people who have played before might no longer enjoy playing without the timer).

Although I find having to pre-program stuff to be an appealing mechanism, I worry that there are so many ways of adjusting things after programming that it might almost feel irrelevant. Also, beyond the programming, there's not much to make the game stand out. I wouldn't mind trying this, but it doesn't particularly excite me either.

Conclusion: Maybe Try
 
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8. Board Game: Manitoba [Average Rating:6.81 Overall Rank:9679]
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This game has an incredibly wacky action selection mechanism. The core of the game is trying to collect various resources off a shared board in order to have the right kinds to match the next scoring. Each turn you can move a meeple on the board and/or move them on a set of "vision" tracks to get various bonuses. You can also forgo these actions to instead "wake up" more meeples making them available for use in the other actions. Once you've taken your action, all other players then get to take a passive action which involves either moving on the board or on the vision tracks.

The interesting part is how you select where you move or on which track. The active player has five discs in a stack in front of them. The discs are coloured to correspond to the five different types of terrain and four have paths associated with them. The active player selects a disc and picks it up, along with all discs above it, and flips it over into the center of their board. The selected colour, now on top of the new stack, will dictate where the active player can move or which path they can advance on. The passive players, however, can select from any disc in the new stack (so the selected colour and all above it. The unused discs will be placed on top of the stack before the next players turn. This forces an interesting balance between getting to do exactly what you want but perhaps also giving others exactly what they way. It looks neat.

The rest of the game looks reasonably solid too. The scorings are frequent and are telegraphed in advance forcing you to shift your behaviour as the game progresses and ensuring there will be stiff competition for the resources on the board.

I'd definitely be up for giving this a try.

Conclusion: Definitely Try
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9. Board Game: Blackout: Hong Kong [Average Rating:7.82 Overall Rank:2191]
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Blackout is set in a fictionalised Hong Kong beset by a sudden, total and unexplained loss of power. You play a set of unnamed organisations trying to secure the city. Each turn you can send out volunteers to gather resources (although the available set will vary each turn) these resources can be used to complete objectives which will do things like add new team members or maybe place cubes on the map. If you can enclose an entire area of the board with cubes you will "secure" it allowing you to gain a special upgrade. You can also search unsecured areas to gain bonuses at the expense of taking some of your people out of action. You also have specialists which can do special actions like healing people who have been sent to the hospital.

The game has a simultaneous action selection, but it's fairly forgiving, you select 1-3 (4 with an upgrade) cards to play but they are not in a fixed order. There are also fallback options if the action you had chosen no longer makes sense.

The game also features a campaign mode in which you play a series of games back to back with varying setups, special objectives and victory conditions.

Overall this looks like a very interesting game - meaningful board play and tough tradeoffs throughout - and one I would very much like to try.

Conclusion: Definitely try
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10. Board Game: Solenia [Average Rating:7.35 Overall Rank:4573]
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I'm willing to admit that the inclusion of a "giant airship figurine" was almost enough to sell me on this game alone.

You play cards onto spaces on a board. They must either be adjacent to the airship or to other cards you played before. The cards have dual purpose, on the back they have a number 0-2. When placing a card on a space you will either gain a number of resources according to its number or a number of VPs. The VP spaces also require you to complete a delivery by paying resources. Completing deliveries gets you VPs and a small bonus reward. On the front they have a power which will be activated when they are removed. They get removed when the airship moves which is triggered by playing 0 cards. The board is made up of strips and as the airship moves ever onward, the last strip is removed, flipped and added to the front. This causes the special power of any card on it to be activated.

This game looks neat. I like the conveyor belt style board and the dual purpose of the cards. This is definitely at the lighter end of the spectrum though. It doesn't seem like there's a lot of variety in the core loop. That said, the game should be reasonably fast to make up for that.

I might give this a try if I stumble across it.

Conclusion: Might Be Worth A Look
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11. Board Game: Expancity [Average Rating:7.29 Overall Rank:3739]
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This is a fairly straightforward game in which you try to build buildings to make points. Most points at the end wins. The value of a building is roughly proportional to it's height. Building restrictions are remarkably strict (no more than 3 constructions at once, no more than one higher than your highest construction of that type and so on). The value of a building can be modified by other tiles around it, including negatively which might make for some very mean play once someone has a large uncompleted building around. Building buildings in particular patterns can net you contract completions for some bonus points.

Overall this looks like a neat little game but I suspect that much of the charm is in the physical process of building your little tower of pieces (although that's something I think many of us do in every game). I do worry that the building rules are so restrictive that it might leave little room for creative play.

I wouldn't object to playing this, but I wont seek it out.

Conclusion: Probably Skip
 
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12. Board Game: Magnastorm [Average Rating:7.04 Overall Rank:6696]
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Explore an alien world with a highly hostile inhabitants to try and uncover what happened to the planet's previous occupants. The theme definitely appeals.

The game is a bit of a muddle of mechansisms, but it seems to all come together. On your turn you can either: hire a commander giving you access to their special power; explore the planet placing labs to advance on research tracks; or just gain credit cubes (this games currency). What makes it interesting is how you do these things.

There are two "action panels" one sits under the commanders and forms a special sort of auction. In order to take a commander you must pay for any crew members (either owned by other players or neutral) in order to take it. Each crew member must be paid with cubes of their own colour, however colours other than your own are surprisingly difficult to come by forcing you to rely on an expensive 3:1 exchange rate. Once you take over a commander you take all the crew members and place them on the second "action panel".

The second "action panel" is how you explore or gain credit cubes. You place a crew member on a free space and take either the exploration action or the gain credit cubes action. The space you select may give you some bonus. The row you select will change the cost of exploration or the amount you get when you take credit cubes and the column will matter because, at the end of the round, the two action boards will swap places causing the crew members which were used to take actions this round to become the ones who need to be paid off to take commanders next round. It's a very curious mechanism and one I'd like to see play out.

Exploration involves moving a piece around the board and dropping labs. Labs serve three purposes: they provide income at the end of the round; they provide an advancement on a research track when places; and they can allow you to complete objectives by getting various arrangements of them in place. Research tracks also have three purposes: they can provide bonuses as you advance; they can allow you to complete objectives by getting various positions; and they award commanders at the end of each round to whomever is highest in each track.

This looks reasonably well put together and I'd really like to see it all in motion, particularly the action boards, to see whether it feels like a cohesive whole or a jumble of parts.

Conclusion: Probably Try
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13. Board Game: Smartphone Inc. [Average Rating:7.75 Overall Rank:5538]
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This game looks like a potentially interesting light economic game that occasionally reminds me of Food Chain Magnate. You manufacture smartphones and attempt to sell them in various regions. However, the other players are also competing for the same limited customer base. You can try to compete on price, expand into regions with less competition or perhaps invest in researching some new tech to give you the edge with more savvy consumers.

There's a gimmicky action selection mechanism where you overlay two cards. Some actions will have their effects keyed off the set of visible symbols and one will key off the number of hidden spaces. It's a neat little thing, but I don't actually expect it adds a ton of depth. One thing I do find out is that there's no inherent penalty for overproduction. It's a strange omission in an economic system like this and it might make things feel a little too forgiving.

Overall, while it's definitely at the lighter end of the scale, I could see this being a fun game with enough strategy to sustain its playtime.

Conclusion: Probably try
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14. Board Game: Trapwords [Average Rating:7.33 Overall Rank:5055]
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This looks like it could be a fun party game. It's basically Taboo with an added twist. One player is trying to get the other members of their team to guess a word without saying it. The wrinkle here is that the opposing team has also set out an additional set of words that the clue giver can't say. It's a neat twist on a existing formula.

There's also a whole bunch of D&D style trappings (no pun intended) around the game with a boss monster that must be defeated and curses which can modify the rules. There's always a danger that these sorts of things can provide a bit too much "game" for what should ideally be a very low-friction experience. I think this game probably still manages to be on the right side of the line.

I could see myself trying this although I don't usually get to play these sorts of things that often.

Conclusion: Maybe Try
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15. Board Game: Junk Orbit [Average Rating:7.22 Overall Rank:4225]
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This is a lighter game about delivering space junk to various cities around the Earth, Moon and Mars. In order to move your ship, you have to shoot out pieces of junk. These will then also cause your ship to move in the opposite direction an equal number of spaces. Deliveries can either be made by having your ship do them directly, or by having the junk you shoot out end up at its destination. If the ejected junk doesn't arrive at its destination, it'll remain lying around for someone else to pick up.

It's a simple system, but one that works well given the theme. There are also a variety of ship powers to spice things up a little (including some advanced versions which up the direct interaction). This could make for some nice light entertainment.

Conclusion: Maybe try
 
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16. Board Game: Decrypto [Average Rating:7.80 Overall Rank:315]
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Another team based party game. In this one you are trying to pass secret codes without giving the other team enough information to solve the codes for themselves.

Each team has four code words each associated with a number. One player will then receive a set of three numbers they have to try and get their team mates to understand. To complicate matters this process will be repeated over a number of rounds without changing the set of code words. Each round the opposing team gets the chance to try and guess the code. If they can do this twice, they win. This means you have to avoid being too obvious with your clues or they will quickly home in on your code.

This looks like an interesting team game and one I wouldn't mind trying. I do worry, however, that it might not do so well with people who don't all speak the same native language.

Conclusion: Might Be Worth A Try
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17. Board Game: Cryptocurrency [Average Rating:5.98 Unranked]
Gareth
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One of a handful of games with the same theme, Cryptocurrency sees you speculating (and manipulating) the cryptocurrency market. You can mine coins - earning both coins and the transaction fees - or you can buy and sell them on the market. Your success in mining or the quantity that you buy/sell is determined by how much power you through in from your employees. Better employees will offer more power and perhaps even special powers, but will cost more money to hire. Rumours will be added to coins to boost or depress their market value.

The game really leans into its theme. The way mining is handled particularly stands out in that regard. One really cynical twist is that, at the end of the game, the coin with the lowest value is declared a scam and becomes worthless.

This looks okay, I could definitely see playing it once to appreciate the theme. That said, much like the coins its based on, I don't know if this game would have the staying power to have really long term appeal.

Conclusion: Maybe Try
 
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18. Board Game: Raccoon Tycoon [Average Rating:7.19 Overall Rank:7567]
Gareth
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I'll admit this only caught my eye due to the awesome title. It's a fairly abstract economic game. You gather resources and manipulate prices in a market. Resources can be sold for money or used to buy town cards (VPs). Money can be used to build buildings which provide special powers or to auction off railway cards (VPs increasingly valuable as you collect sets). Most VPs at the end wins.

This looks like a solid little economic game, but despite the awesome title and artwork, the whole thing seems incredibly abstract. It's like the game got a little too polished along the way and lost all its texture.

Conclusion: Probably Skip
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19. Board Game: Chronicles of Crime [Average Rating:8.34 Overall Rank:720]
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In recent years, I have come to appreciate the investigative and storytelling aspects of games like Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective or T.I.M.E Stories. One thing they have often lacked is the ability to adapt to information the players have acquired (Mythos Tales tried to do a bit more of this, but it didn't always work well). The idea of using an app and putting QR codes on everything opens up a ton of possibilities for the game to be more responsive to the information you have. It also makes the end game more interesting as you can't just guess, you have to show the evidence that supports your case.

The VR crime scene exploration stuff is just the icing on the cake. I'm definitely up for giving this a go.

Conclusion: Definitely Try
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20. Board Game: Escape Tales: The Awakening [Average Rating:8.46 Overall Rank:5022]
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Along with enjoying investigative style games, I also really enjoy Escape Rooms. Since I can't always do the physical ones, I've found the board game versions to be a reasonable substitute. I like the idea of this game as it focuses more on the story than just the escape aspects which feels like a good use of the medium. I'll probably grab this if I can.

Conclusion: Probably Get a Copy
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21. Board Game: Captains of the Gulf [Average Rating:7.85 Overall Rank:5996]
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This game looks it could be interesting. You play ship captains in the Gulf of Mexico trying to catch various forms of seafood to feed the insatiable appetites of the land lubbers.

You take turns moving around a roundel to take various actions like sailing, fishing or upgrading your ship. Most actions use your hand of six, multi-function cards (similar to Glory to Rome). These cards can be purchased as fishing licences, hired as crew, installed as upgrades or used to determine what your catch is. Embarking on a fishing trip means ensuring that you have enough fuel, the right crew, space in the hold and the cards to pull that particular type of fish out of the water. There are enough things to juggle that planning an expedition should be engaging enough and there should be enough different viable strategies to make things more efficient.

The roundel feels a little thin, to be honest, especially since the game's length is directly related to how many times you spin round it. As such, progress round the roundel seems like it will more be a factor of opportunity (i.e. only skipping actions if you can't do anything useful) rather than a strategic dimension in and of itself.

Also, although the multi-function cards are clearly inspired by Glory to Rome they don't seem to offer the insane combinations that that games buildings did.

Overall, I still feel like there's enough here to make for what could be a very interesting game if it all flows together.

Conclusion: Most Definitely Try
 
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22. Board Game: 5 Minute Chase [Average Rating:6.55 Overall Rank:7174]
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A simple asymmetric game where one player (or team) is a runner trying to escape by placing tiles and the other player (or team) is trying to catch them by placing particular markers on the runner's tiles. If the runner can place three item tiles and then the hideout they escape. If they chaser can place a marker on the current tile, they win. The notable thing is that all this happens in real time.

The runner has to place tiles in accordance with several restrictions (roads on adjacent edges must meet, no adjacent police blockades, etc.) and the chaser must place their markers according to witnesses on the tile which face different directions. They must figure out which section of the tile has the most witnesses facing the direction the runner went and place the symbol matching that section.

It's an interesting little pair of puzzles and I could imagine there's some simple fun here. However, it does feel like this is really a 2p game with 3 and 4 player modes added on. They do try to do interesting things in those modes, but they still seem a little questionable. Since I don't get to play 2p very often, I'll probably pass.

Conclusion: Pass
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23. Board Game: Pikoko [Average Rating:7.04 Overall Rank:4777]
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Hanabi: The Trick-Taking Game? This is a fairly standard trick-taking game where you don't get to see your own hand but can see the hands of all your opponents. To complicate matters further, you wont even get to play your own cards, but rather those of the player to your left. Each round begins with players bidding on how many tricks they think each player other than themselves will take. Get it right for 2 points, get withing 1 for 1 point and get it wrong for no points. You can double down on one of your bets with "confidence" cards revealed at the end of the round.

I do like a good trick taking game and the inability to see your own cards seems like just interesting enough of a gimmick to make this worth a look.

Conclusion: Worth a Shot
 
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24. Board Game: Rebel Nox [Average Rating:7.08 Overall Rank:8809]
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Another trick-taking game. You are dealt 9 cards and will play 6 of them over the course of a round. The wrinkle is that some of the cards will put you on the Rebel team. Any player without a Rebel card is on the opposing Loyalist team. The tricks you play are battles for one of six locations. Each location gives a variable amount of influence to the team controlling it at the end. At the end of the round, the team with the most influence wins.

There are opportunities to make other players draw cards from another player's hand, so there is opportunity for people to change teams as the game progresses. The different locations also offer different effects when they are won which means teams will also have to think about when they want to take tricks, not just how many.

This doesn't look too bad, but the whole shifting loyalty thing doesn't really appeal to me. I might give it a try if I run out of other things.

Conclusion: Maybe Try
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25. Board Game: Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game [Average Rating:8.39 Overall Rank:692]
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What is it with the sudden deluge in investigation style games? This game looks absolutely insane. On top of a deck of cards representing various leads, the game also relies on a custom built website containing all manner of files and information that you must discover and consume in order to solve the cases.

This is definitely the most game-y of the investigation games as you have to allocate your limited amount of time to do things like move around, follow leads, visit the lab, etc. It does slight run the risk of the game getting in the way of the investigation part.

I like that they explicitly make use of real world knowledge too, with some information being flagged as something you might want to look up more information about to understand the case. They also indicate that the cases form a linked campaign and clues from one case can feed into another. This is a fantastic idea although in practical terms its a little bit of a turn off for me - I play so infrequently these days that it will be tough to recall meaningful info. For those who play more regularly, this is likely to be all bonus with no drawback.

It is worth noting that there's always the danger that the game will become unplayable at some point if the website is taken away. Aside from that, this looks like a very interesting bundle.

Conclusion: Definitely Try
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