Another BGGcon Played List, 2009 Edition
Mike Haverty
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Oklahoma
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After the smashing success of my first con geeklist, for last year's event, I thought I'd make a tradition of it and post my plays and thoughts on this year's event, my fourth BGGcon.
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1. Board Game: The Adventurers: The Temple of Chac [Average Rating:6.62 Overall Rank:1092]
Mike Haverty
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Oklahoma
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I heard of this new game from AEG prior to the con but didn't know much about it. We grabbed this from the library and set it up. The pieces are great, the rules are okay, and there are some clever mechanisms. The more loot you carry, the slower you move -- but it's based on comparing a load level to the roll of several dice, so it's not entirely deterministic how many action points you'll get from round to round. There is also a neat way to get clues to the locations of upcoming traps that works really well.

The only potential complaint is player elimination. Characters can and will die, but if that happens you get to bring your backup character into play. That's fine, but this can't happen until the rolling boulder passes certain spots on the track, breaking open a new entrance. Brian (McWookie) was eliminated on his first step over the lava pit, but the boulder was slow-moving most of the game and he had to wait several rounds before he could re-enter play, which was a bit of a bummer. In the end, though, he said he still liked the game.

I give this a 7 after one play. Great bits, some clever mechanics and pretty fun to play.
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2. Board Game: Arcana [Average Rating:6.16 Overall Rank:2641]
Mike Haverty
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Oklahoma
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We got this game from the library as well, another new AEG production. Some of us had heard about it previously as a "Dominion with more interaction" and were eager to try it out.

Each player starts with an 11 card deck consisting mainly of agents (personalities) rated in what boils down to three suits -- war, politics and spirit. Each player has a hand of cards, but unlike Dominion's "each player takes his full turn" format, there is a round that consists of each player taking turns playing a single card, until everyone has played out (or discarded) all their cards. Instead of buying from a full menu of cards, there are 5 stacks of shuffled cards with the top-most face-up and available. Each card indicates which of the suits is its arcanum value -- the minimum value required to obtain it, e.g., a card with an arcanum of 4 politics requires a total of 4 or more politics value played on it. Each card is also worth variable VP; VP are not separate as in Dominion.

Players are actively competing with each other to win these cards to add to their decks. There are a couple wrinkles, but that's it in a nutshell. Unfortunately, the game fell rather flat for us. It added a lot more work to the Dominion formula (buying cards with three different suits, plus the option to bribe certain cards for an "instant win"), but without a corresponding payoff in improved game play or options.

* The cards felt rather "samey" to us. Except for location cards, the only differences between them were their ratings in these suits. Granted, one could think of Dominion "suits" as action, buy, card, coins, but a +1 Action is very different from a +1 Buy; in Arcana, a 4-2-3 card looks and feels very much like a 1-5-2 card because the three suits don't inherently function any differently from each other (I'm ignoring the money suit for illustrative purposes here).

* The deck building feels rather weak. There are 12 cards in each stack and one is flipped almost every round, so the game has a fairly fixed duration. I think we each gained about 10-15 cards over the course of the game, which means our deck barely doubled in size. By the end, I think we had all reshuffled our decks only 2 or 3 times. Now, I'm not saying I yearn for Dominion's "shuffle every 90 seconds" format, but when your deck grows so little over the course of the game, and you will only see each new card you acquire once or twice, it just didn't seem gaining those cards was very productive.

I don't want to sound like I'm just going to poopoo every Dominion-like game that comes down the road (disclosure: I do rate Dominion a 10); I agree that there will be some good games coming down the pike based on that mechanic, and I've even tried my hand at designing some. But, the essence of that mechanic (to me) is the deck-building / deck-use, and as you add complexity or work to the system, I expect a corresponding payoff in reward, be that in-game (improving my engine or options) or out-of-game (fun or satisfaction).

I give Arcana a 6 after one play. I am willing to try it again, and especially with the advanced Objective cards that add scoring goals, but right now I'm more looking forward to Arctic Scavengers or Thunderstone to see how they work the deck-building system. (I didn't get to try either of these at the con, sadly.)
 
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3. Board Game: Long Shot [Average Rating:6.72 Overall Rank:1302]
Mike Haverty
United States
Oklahoma
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I can't recall if Rodney got this from the library or bought it unplayed. We sat down with 5 of us to give it a go.

It's a basic horse racing game that rewards the owners (of the horses that win/place/show) as well as pay out the bets on them. Each turn a pair of dice are rolled that indicates which horse moves and how far, but a nice extra is that each horse has additional numbers that it moves on, but only when the owner rolls it. This has the effect of moving horses more often, which is something I think Winner's Circle was a weak on. Another place this shines is in the large number of action cards played during the game. Some just give you cash in various ways, while there are many that affect horse movement.

The game is relatively simple but very exciting to play with quick turns for each player. Rather than making the game too chaotic, I think we all felt the card play just made the game more exciting as the horses came into the home stretch. I did horribly, but it was fun.

Immediately after finishing our first game, a couple of BGGcon first-timers (I think) joined us for a 7p game -- Jared (Gnomish Mustard) and Sally -- and I think Long Shot played as well or better with the additional players. Jared won this on the 9-horse coming from behind after a lackluster start.

My Dad liked it enough to buy a copy to take home for his youth group. I give it a 7.5 after 2 plays and a "Love to have" on my wishlist -- I think it would make a great gateway game.
 
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4. Board Game: Pacific Typhoon [Average Rating:6.65 Overall Rank:2239]
Mike Haverty
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Oklahoma
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We picked this up last year and we liked it enough that this was one of three games I took to Dallas with me (the others being Struggle of Empires, below, and Titan, which didn't get played).

We were ready to play this Thursday afternoon but I put it off until the evening so we could participate in the GMT-A-THON in the main ballroom. Troy Adlington (Troymk1) was giving out tickets for a drawing to everyone playing GMT games, and then drawing for prizes every half hour or so. We started up a 6p Pac Typhoon in time for two of the drawings. We had fun with the game and my Dad won a copy of Combat Commander: Pacific! He gave that to me to take home since he flew and I drove, and we plan to play it when my parents come to visit for Christmas this year -- woot!
 
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5. Board Game: Carson City [Average Rating:7.28 Overall Rank:337]
Mike Haverty
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Oklahoma
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That damned Rodney.

Rodney Loyd
United States
Louisville
Kentucky
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It was just after the midnight prize drawings (yay Thought Hammer) and everyone had decided to go to bed, including me, when I let Rodney talk me into staying up for a game of Carson City in the hot games room with him and Scott (Landstander). Dwayne (Okiedokie) joined us to make a 4p game and off we went, eventually finishing in time for me to get to bed around 2am -- ugh.

I'd heard it called "Caylus with more player interaction" which intrigued me. It is a worker placement game in which chosen actions are executed in order along a track, like Caylus, but it feels quite different to me.

* The only resource (besides cowboys (workers)) is money, so you're not juggling recipes as in Caylus.

* There is a role selection at the start of each round; these give special benefits rather than execution of a role-specific action.

* There is a grid of land parcels on the board and players compete for ownership of them, onto which they can place buildings bought on the action/placement track. This adds an area of direct competition for the best spots.

* You CAN place a cowboy where other cowboys are located, both on the action track and on the land grid. When it comes time to resolve that action/location, competing players must have a gunfight; the winner carries on, the loser loses out, although his worker returns to his personal supply to be reused next turn, so that's something. But losing out on an action can be brutal, especially when later actions depend on it, similar to screwing up your placements or resources in Caylus.

That last item can add quite a bit of chaos to the game -- when placing your guys, you can never be sure you'll get that action until everyone is done and nobody has jumped your spot. Defending yourself is always on your mind -- at least it was on mine. There are several ways to improve your odds in the gunfights, of course, but in true Euro fashion that means you're not taking advantage of some other aspect of the game.

I will say that I was pleased with the final score. I came in second by 1 point to Rodney; what pleases me about that is that I was totally hosed in the first round of the game (the game only lasts 4 rounds, in fact) so I thought that meant I was out of contention, so doing well by the end was nice.

After one play, I give Carson City a 7.5 to Caylus's 8.5. I'm pretty fond of Caylus, but I would definitely play CC again given the opportunity -- I just don't think it fits into my collection.
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6. Board Game: Ivanhoe [Average Rating:6.54 Overall Rank:1686]
Mike Haverty
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Oklahoma
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We started off Friday morning with this. Our group tends to get going at different times in the morning due to variable sleep and breakfast needs, so we ended up with my Dad (BigJHav), John (Vampy101) and me checking Ivanhoe out of the library. I'd heard several folks in our gaming group (Green Country Gamers) say positive things about this and it was on my wishlist, so it seemed like a nice lighter game to start off with.

Barak Engel (Lightnng, I think) happened by and offered to join/teach us, so that worked out well. It reminded me of a cross between Condottiere and Beowulf: The Legend in terms of hand management and one-upmanship. We all enjoyed it -- in fact, we ended up playing it twice more on Saturday and twice more again on Sunday.

I give it a 7 and wouldn't mind owning a copy.
 
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7. Board Game: Triumvirate [Average Rating:6.75 Overall Rank:2076]
Mike Haverty
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Oklahoma
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Travis Worthington (T Worthington), the designer/publisher of this gem, was doing demos all day for this two-player card game, offering a free copy of the game to anyone who could best him in a 2-out-of-3 round of play. I had gotten split from my group in some way I can't recall, so I decided to track him down. He was explaining it to someone else when I came by so I sat down and listened in.

It's a trick-taking game, but the tricks don't give you points. Instead, it determines which of three colors is advancing toward winning. Over the course of several rounds, you have the opportunity to set aside point-cards in the three colors, and at the end of the game only the points in the winning color count toward victory. The real constraint here is that you can only set aside a maximum of three cards during a game, so it is difficult and very risky to try bluffing or speculating on which card(s) to set aside. This is a trick-taking game with bluffing, outguessing, card-counting and manipulation -- and it works wonderfully.

I took the first round -- while I'd like to think it was brilliant play on my part, it is more likely that I caught Travis unawares with unorthodox (or stupid) play when I changed my mind on what color I was backing part-way through the round. He came back and beat me rather solidly for the next two rounds to defend his honor, and then I bought a copy of the game off him anyway because I enjoyed it so much.

This game is also pretty easy to teach. At the beginning of our match, Travis had to step away momentarily, so I taught a nice couple (Kevin and Lizzie, I think, from California?) who had come to the table how to play, without having an actual game under my belt yet. I think I got most of it right, too.

I give this an 8 after one match. I hope I can get my wife or one of the guys to give it a try soon.
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8. Board Game: Summoner Wars [Average Rating:7.31 Overall Rank:366] [Average Rating:7.31 Unranked]
Mike Haverty
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Oklahoma
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I had heard about this right before the con and while wandering among the vendors earlier had bought a copy of the Elves/Orcs set, while talking Brian into buying the Dwarves/Goblins set. The rest of my group was still enmeshed in Dungeon Lords after my Triumvirate experience, so I went back to the Plaid Hat area to get a demo to save myself from learning from the rulebook (in general, not because the rulebook is bad or anything -- I haven't even looked at it yet, heh).

The designer, Colby Dauch (screamingtruth), had just started a demo game with one Lance Bailey (Ebonwoulfe), so he gave up his seat so I could play. They gave me a quick summary of play and off we went.

The rules really are simple and the game moves with good pace, and there is some nice hand/deck management forced by the magic system. I enjoyed it and was glad I'd already bought a copy. It simultaneously scratches the CCG itch with the individual decks of units and events (although card complexity is much simpler than a regular CCG), as well as the tactical miniatures itch since the units face-off on a 5x10 grid and try to fight their way toward the opposing Summoner to kill him off for victory. Combat and most special abilities are based on dice rolls, so it's not entirely deterministic.

I give this a 7.5 after one play and look forward to more, especially once some extra cards are available for tweaking the decks.
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9. Board Game: Crokinole [Average Rating:7.79 Overall Rank:75]
Mike Haverty
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Oklahoma
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This is a perennial favorite among time-killers for us. I played a short match with my Dad on Friday afternoon, and then later in the evening we played a short two-bracket tournament with John and Brian as well. Brian took top honors, beating John in the semi and me in the final.

I would really like to own a nice board (like a Hilinksi, say), but just can't justify/afford the price right now. My biggest hope each year is to win one in the prize drawing on Saturday night at the con, heh.
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10. Board Game: Witch of Salem [Average Rating:6.65 Overall Rank:1548]
Mike Haverty
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Oklahoma
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I hadn't actually heard of this prior to the con, but John is a huge "theme game" type guy, especially for Lovecraft, undead, et al. He checked this out of the library and had it in tow for a while, then caved and bought a copy from the Thought Hammer guys, so we sat down for a 4p session.

I think "Arkham Lite" is an apt description. The game has a fraction of the cards and tokens and a corresponding decrease in setup and play time. Arkham has more theme in the form of all the card text, but since I don't like how long it can go sometimes, I definitely prefer Witch of Salem.

One odd thing though is the cooperative aspect. There are 6 face-down portal tiles, with from 2-4 of them being open portals and the rest blank walls (no portal there). To win, the players must ultimately seal the open portals before banning the GOO and closing the final portal. Players use magical glasses at each site to peek at the tile -- and you are NOT allowed to talk about each tile you've seen with the other players. At the end of the game, if a blank wall was "sealed" with an artifact, you lose the game. So we have a coop game in which players cannot discuss the most vital information in the game.

I'm not sure what to make of that. In our game, we got toward the end and were on the verge of losing due to time (the Necron track was almost to the last space in which the GOO is summoned), so we decided to just blindly seal the last couple tiles that we thought might be open portals, so as to have even a shot at victory. We lost anyway, and when we checked, we had accidentally sealed a non-portal, so we would have lost that way, too. We talked about it afterwards and I wonder if we should have basically cooperated more on the non-portal aspect (defeating/eliminating monsters) and then make each person responsible for sealing any portals he discovers.

Anyway, I liked the trade-off of depth/chrome for a more streamlined playing experience and would be happy to play John's copy again. I give it a 7 after one play.
 
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11. Board Game: Nottingham [Average Rating:6.26 Overall Rank:2390]
Mike Haverty
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Oklahoma
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I got this in the math trade this year, as a light and possibly family oriented game. It feels very much like a game from the designer of Bohnanza. The cards are all dual purpose: suit/value for set collection, or an action. On his turn, a player flips a card and decides to add it to his hand for collecting purposes, or immediately use its action portion; he may then turn in one set per turn if he wants.

That's it in a nutshell. The actions do a lot of things that involve stealing or exchanging cards with other players, but even the "attack" cards still result in the victim replacing his lost card, so it doesn't feel as "take that" as I was expecting.

I give this a 6. It's about on par with Bohnanza for me, which I'm not a huge fan of but everyone else in my family, including those in Korea, is bonkers for "the bean game." For the weight and play time and numbers, I think I'd rather play Ivanhoe.

 
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12. Board Game: Jamaica [Average Rating:7.09 Overall Rank:402]
Mike Haverty
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Oklahoma
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I grabbed this out of the library because we were looking for another light/medium game and I'd had this on my wishlist for quite a while based on GB comments and ratings. It's basically a race game with some resource gathering along the way (gold, food, gunpowder, treasures), but only gold and treasures count for victory at the end, along with a bonus for final position around the island.

I like the simultaneous action selection going on here, with some variability from the dice rolls each turn. We had a lot of fun with this on Friday, and it got another play on Saturday as well. I give this a 7 and wouldn't mind owning it; I think it could make a great gateway game.
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13. Board Game: Struggle of Empires [Average Rating:7.51 Overall Rank:335]
Mike Haverty
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Oklahoma
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This has become our Annual Epic Game of the Con. It's a beefy Euro with tight resource management and only 30 actions per player taken over the course of a 6-player game. It's an area-majority scoring game, but obtaining those majorities requires waging war, which requires raising troops, which simultaneously reduces income and increases expenses, and you're rewarded with unrest every time one dies, etc.

This is probably everyone's favorite Martin Wallace game, although Brass comes close (for those in the group that have played it). I still rate it a 10. John won this year -- his third consecutive BGGcon win, and a 4-3 record overall, the only player in my group with a winning record in SoE, and all the more impressive since we usually play from 4 to 7 people each time. We knew this going in, but my Dad jumped to a nice lead after the first war, so of course everyone piled on him -- and he extended his lead after scoring the second war! This was very alarming and he was attacked even more in the third war, opening the way for John to swoop in for the victory. CURSE YOU, Johnny B! I haven't won this game since our first play, in March 2005
 
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14. Board Game: In the Shadow of the Emperor [Average Rating:6.93 Overall Rank:840]
Mike Haverty
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Oklahoma
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I was very happy to get this in the math trade as it has been on my wishlist for quite a while. It's a full-on Euro with a unique theme, I think -- the main pieces are Barons (or if they are married, they become Couples with double the power) who have four age steps (15, 25, 35, 45 years old). They vie for power in each of several electorates in (is this the Holy Roman Empire?), which yield VP and a vote to cast if there is an election for a new Emperor. You check to see if you have a boy or girl each turn, which allows placement of a new 15 year old Baron, or an offer of marriage to someone else's Baron, giving him a Couple and you a VP (or a trip to the convent for 1 thaler, if declined, heh). Everyone ages a step each turn, of course.

Lots of Euro-y decisions and management, direct competition for electors in each area, and managing the age and placement of your Barons and Couples. I really look forward to playing this again; in our first game, I think we underutilized the Rival card that forces an Emperor election each round. As far as we can tell, there is no downside to forcing an election each round, so you might as well do that to make sure the current Emperor doesn't get a free ride on his privileges each round.

I give this an 8 after one play, and it may go up a little with further experience.
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15. Board Game: Waterloo [Average Rating:7.01 Overall Rank:2682]
Mike Haverty
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Oklahoma
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Woohoo, Martin Wallace does a wargame, complete with Wallace fiddliness and clever bits and abstraction. This is one of the games Brian brought with him to the con; we had already played it once a couple weeks earlier and we had a date to play it again in Dallas.

I played the Allies again and lost again. In both games, I've lost by 3pm (the end of the third turn). The French have so much more command capability than the Allies -- I'm thinking they should play defensively until the Prussian reinforcements start entering the game at 3pm. I just have a hard time doing that, especially when I see a shot at wiping out some juicy lightly defended artillery, for example. Damn me, and the dice.

Great game. I've upped my rating from 8 to 9. It is a different but equally satisfying experience to Napoleon's Triumph for me and I look forward to lasting long enough to get the Prussians in the future.
 
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16. Board Game: To Court the King [Average Rating:6.47 Overall Rank:1411]
Mike Haverty
United States
Oklahoma
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I played this light dice game with my Dad at the con two years ago. It's a Yahtzee-like filler in which you start with 3 dice and the end game is rolling 7-of-a-kind or better. You do this, of course, by using your rolls to buy personalities that grant you dice manipulating powers such as rolling more dice, rerolls, changing values, etc.

I like this enough that I grabbed it in this year's math trade and we busted it out to fill some time for three of us this year. I've bumped my rating down a tad to 6.5, where I think it will stay.
 
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17. Board Game: Dungeon Lords [Average Rating:7.44 Overall Rank:182]
Mike Haverty
United States
Oklahoma
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This was one of the top-rated games coming out of Essen this year, so all of us were interested in checking it out. As I alluded to above, some of the guys played this on Friday already and they all liked it, so my Dad (who played Friday) played this with me, Ralph (MrChucho) and Ben on Saturday.

This is a hardcore Euro -- do not be fooled by the theme. It has a tight economy with resource management, simultaneous action selection and worker placement. You have virtually no effect on each other once the actual combat begins (each player has his own party of NPC adventurers to contend with), but there is a large amount of jockeying for worker positions in the building portion of the game.

In fact, I think the worker placement is one of the more clever parts of the game: each action can accept 3 workers, but there are many places where you don't necessarily want to be the first or last person to place there. This means you are evaluating your position in the turn order versus what you think the other players are going to be choosing for their actions, to try getting the ideal spot in each action placement. I like the way this tickles the gamer's brain when deciding on your actions each time.

I give this an 8 initially; I suspect it may go up or down a bit depending on how the replayability comes out after everyone gets a little more experience with it. John ended up buying a copy after playing the library's copy.
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18. Board Game: Infinite City [Average Rating:6.22 Overall Rank:2454]
Mike Haverty
United States
Oklahoma
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This is a nice little tile-laying game from AEG. The whole game consists of 120 tiles and 15 tokens per player, and the rules are among the shortest I've ever seen for a professionally published game. Your turn consists of (1) play a tile, (2) place a token on it, (3) follow any instructions on it, (4) refill your hand to 5 tiles. There, now you know how to play the game, too.

Scoring is simply 1 point per tile in an area of 3 or more orthogonally contiguous tiles, plus any tiles with bonus points on them, plus whoever has the most silver ring tiles scores a bonus equal to that number. There, now you know how to score, too, heh.

We played this as a 5p game before we called it quits on Sunday and headed for home. I think we all enjoyed it, although it had some amazing similarities to a design that Brian's been working on for a while. I know that happens, but it felt weird reading the rules the first time and getting that familiar feeling.

I give this a 7 after the first play. I've played it once with my wife and a friend since I got home and it still stands.
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