I keep a log of all my game plays in an Access database, and have done since I re-caught the gaming bug in 1999. Being able to *know* things rather than guess them (like how many times have I played that game) has always been of interest to me. One of my favourite books from circa 1980 was The Book Of Lists (for those who remember it!), full of facts, trivia, and opinion lists (eg list the top 10 people you’d have liked to have to dinner, and why). It was always fun to open up anywhere and just read a few lists..
All by way of saying that it’s easy for me to whip up quick lists. Let me throw one at you to give you an idea of what’s happening in my gaming life outside first-plays. For newer readers, it may provide a touchpoint on where our gaming interests align and how much weight to give my various first-play commentaries in each game genre! So, here are the ten games I’ve spent the most minutes playing over the last 6 months:
Designers: Helge Meissner, Eilif Svensson, Anna Wermlund, Kristian Amundsen Ostby
Publisher: Aporta Games
Time: 20-30 minutes
Times played: 3, with review copy provided by Aporta Games
Rebel Nox is an interesting card game that has a bit of trick taking, a bit of social deduction, a bit of shifting alliances, and a lot of influence point collecting. It is a standalone game in the universe of Capital Lux, one of Aporta’s earlier releases.
In Rebel Nox, each round is played over six different locations, each with its own set of rules. These locations are arranged in the shape of a pyramid with three cards at the base level. As five of the six locations are randomly drawn each round; it will always feel different. There is a deck of cards which goes from 1-17 in 3 colors as well as 3 rebel cards. The deck is sized for the number of players and then each player gets a hand of 9 cards. Anyone who is dealt at least one rebel card declares that they are on the rebel side at the start of the round. (Note that they do not tell you how many rebel cards they have – only that they have rebel cards).
Seeing Isaac Newton only makes me think of physics class; this was not a class I enjoyed, but I did have a good teacher who always told us various horrible Isaac Newton jokes. This might explain why I don’t remember much about physics at all, but thankfully no scientific knowledge is needed to play this game.
There are two boards in the game; a map board and a track board. There are various bonus tiles, location tiles, development tiles and other items that go on or near the board.
There are three levels of action cards that are stacked next to the board and the top 3 are flipped over.
Each player is randomly assigned a Study board; the boards are identical save the starting action symbol that is pre-printed on the board.
Players also take player pieces and an identical starting hand of action cards in their preferred color as well as 12 books and 2 coins. There are also Master cards that give you a bonus; you can either deal 4 to every player and that’s what they get, or you can deal 4 and players keep 1 and pass the rest to the left, repeating until all players have 4 cards.
The game takes place over 6 rounds; the start player is randomly determined at the start of the game and then passes to the left. Each round starts with the action phase, during which players play card onto their desk to perform the related action. Every card has a basic action symbol on the bottom and may have a special effect on the top half. You play the card, you take the action and any special effect that may be at the topand play passes to the next player. This will happen 5 times each round.
Before I get to the actions I want to give you a little information that is common to all tracks:
If you pass over a bonus token you take it and get the immediate benefit.
If you land on a space with a scroll you can play one of the Master cards in your hand; the card will give you a bonus as well as the VPs printed on the card.
If you land on a special space by exact count you can take that action or bonus immediately.
The last space is an objective; if you meet the requirements for the objective you can move onto that space and claim those victory points at the end of the game.
So what are the actions?
The Work symbol lets you move your marker forward on the Work track by a number of spaces equal or fewer to the number of work symbols you have showing on your board; you get coins equal to the value of the level of action you too (1 coin for 1 symbol, 2 coins for 2 etc.)
The Technology symbol lets you move your marker forward on the Technology track by a number of spaces equal to or fewer than the number of technology spaces showing on your board. The track splits into 3 different paths; since you can never backtrack you will either follow only one path or you will add additional markers $5 each later in the game.
The Travel symbol lets you move around on the map board the number of spaces equal or fewer to the number of travel symbols you have showing, paying the printed costs along the routes. If you land on a city, ancient land, university, master or objective space you place one of your travel cubes from your board on that space; it is important to know what locations you have visited for your bookshelf (more on that in a minute).
The Lessons symbol lets you take one of the available face up action cards into your hand; the level of the card you take must be equal to or lower than the number of lessons symbols available to you.
The Study action lets you take one of your bookshelf tiles and place it on a bookshelf space in a space of your choice; the space must be at most equal to the number of Study symbols you have showing and you must meet the requirements for that space (number of books in a particular color on the special effect spaces of cards you have played and locations visited on the map). When all the book spaces in a row or column have been filled you will earn the preprinted VPs for that column or row at the end of each round. Every 3 books that you place gives you a bonus.
The Joker action lets you copy any other action that you have at least one symbol of already on your board. Once played the joker reverts back to an unassigned status.
Before, during and at the end of the turn you can always spend coins to perform an unlimited number of quick actions at a cost of 1 – 3 coins, depending on the action; these include:
Turn 2 additional action cards over from a deck
Increase the value of a basic action by one level (you can only do this one once per turn)
Buy a potion token; these tokens can be used as wild resources for meeting objective and bookshelf requirements
Enroll a new student and put your marker on the start space of the technology track
After all players have taken 5 turns you enter the End of Round phase. You have to take one of the cards you played and put it under your desk so that only the action symbol is showing; that symbol will increase the value of future cards with that symbol being played. You take the rest of your cards back into your hand and score VPs for any completed rows and columns on your player board. The revealed action cards are put back on the bottom of their respective decks, the start player passes to the right and play continues.
At the end of the 6th round the game ends. Each player receives VPs for the objective spaces that they occupy as well as the value of any Masters they have played. There are no tie breakers.
My Thoughts on the Game
The components of the game are well-made and the graphics are generally easy to read, even though you are looking at 3 separate tracks.
The theme doesn’t matter much here, at least not in my opinion. The Masters cards are all famous scientists, but that’s about it; I don’t get any sort of science feel to this. It does not affect my enjoyment of the game, however.
Player interaction is fairly minimal; another player could take the action card or bonus tile you wanted, but other than that it’s fairly solitaire.
There are many special tiles included but only a few are used each game, which keeps some of the victory point and special action options different each game.
The action mechanism is pretty cool; there is definite tension in what cards to play and what cards to tuck – you don’t want to tuck a card with a good special effect, but you can only tuck a card you actually played, so you are always thinking about that when you choose your actions.
The game definitely has the tension of too many things to do with not enough time to do them in, so you have to choose a path and stick with it without getting distracted by other shiny options; it’s just not possible to pursue everything.
The first two times I played this game I was completely enamored with the game. I thought all of the things I mentioned above would keep the game interesting for a long time. However, the more I have played it the more it seems that the only path to victory is to fill in your bookshelves quickly ; trying to score points by hitting the special tiles on one or more of the tracks is more work and doesn’t generate as many points. The Master cards can help make the tracks easier, but the points you get just don’t seem to be enough. I still like the game, but this makes me wonder whether I am getting close to wearing this one out. EDIT: After writing this and opening it up to comments I played it again. The other player pretty much ignored the bookshelf strategy and went full bore on work and technology and while the scores were close, that player won. So, I am changing my thoughts on that – it does seem there is more than one path to victory,
Thoughts of Other Opinionated Gamers
Joe Huber (1 play): Newton was not a game I strongly anticipated – while I believe the subject could make for an excellent game, what I heard about the game suggested that this was unlikely to have occurred in this instance, at least for me. At the same time, the game was highly anticipated, so I did want to give it a try, in case there was something that I missed. However, for me the mechanisms just don’t mesh with the subject, and that’s rarely something that works for me – and this wasn’t an exception.
Nathan Beeler: Granted, I have only played once, and when I did I was in that beyond-tired brain space that always seems to hit at some point in a long game convention, no matter how much sleep I get. I did enjoy my one play enough to want to try again, but not so much that I’ve actually sought it out in the months since. Tery’s experience with a dominant strategy smacked me in the face during the game. I tried to zig and more or less ignore the bookshelf in favor of technology. (I think — it was a while ago. But I’m a sucker for tech tracks, so it probably was where I focused.) I was out of contention before the halfway point. Still, even with my addled brain I could tell there was something to Newton: a real game. There was even a hint that it could be a real fun game with interesting decisions, planning you could do turns out, and hidden depths to explore over multiple plays. In other words, I left with the possibility that it might be a great game, that too rare gem in my recent convention experiences. Still, Newton is quite long. And none of my groups have much clamoured for it when I’m around. My guess is the market will ultimately dictate if it really has legs, if it really is all that, and if I will ever be in a situation where I get try it again. For now it goes in my “not a disappointment, would play again” mental pile, which is still no small feat.
Patrick Brennan: Apparently we’re playing one of Newton’s splinter psyches each. Rich in theme is this one. Ok, park that. The action card implementation is nice in what’s otherwise a generic Euro. Apart from taking action cards (and different people will want different things from there anyway), and claiming first-there bonus chits on some tracks, the game is multi-player solitaire. I played out my round 6 while others were finishing round 5, as nothing I was doing was going to impact anyone else. I found myself engaged though, liking the puzzley challenge of optimising the points out of my action specialisation decisions, and I’d like to try other approaches. But I have a feeling that ultimately if you don’t invest heavily in books (and I formed this view prior to reading the above) you may be off the pace, and this one-dimensional suspicion may ultimately limit its replay. If others wanted to play I’d happily explore it to find out further, but I’m not otherwise jumping to over-invest in what’s otherwise a (let’s unpark it now) themeless Euro that doesn’t have an apple moment.
Dan Blum (2 plays): I keep hearing that books are the dominant strategy, but while I have seen books win (and have won with them myself) I have seen other strategies come very close and even win. (I’ve seen the ends of games I was not in so my sample set is more than two games.) So I am not entirely convinced.
Aside from possible dominant strategy issues I think the game is fine but not one that particularly stands out from the pack. The action card mechanism is good, everything else is average and somewhat fiddly. I’d be willing to play again but it’s not one I’d likely suggest.
Ted C (1 Play): I ditto Patrick B’s comments. I like the card action idea. The game was very busy. I was given the cog board and as a newbie, assumed I should work more heavily on that board. In the end, I only had two columns of books built for 5 victory points. My points came from reaching the end game scoring tiles. I finished second at 95 points. The winner had 100.
Larry (3 plays): One of my favorites from Essen; in fact, you might say it’s the apple of my eye (sorry for reusing your joke, Patrick). Yes, the theme is thin and there’s practically no player interaction. But the different layout with each game (including the random way the new action cards come out) gives you a wonderful puzzle to solve as you try to figure out how to best play your cards to maximize your score. I find it to be a very enjoyable process, quite challenging, without being overwhelming. Books are indeed strong, since they can provide the majority of your in-game scoring, but the requirements for placing each one are reasonably stiff, so you have to accomplish a good deal of other stuff in the game to do well with them. Despite what many of the others are reporting, I have seen people win who didn’t focus on books, so I feel that the game is well balanced. I particularly like the way that your capabilities slowly ramp up, until by game’s end, you’re achieving a lot each turn, with cascading effects helping you along the way. It’s another terrific title from one of my favorite designers of the decade, Simone Luciani.
I Love it!: Larry
I Like It.: Tery, Nathan Beeler, Patrick Brennan, Lorna
Deckscape: The Mystery of Eldorado (spoiler free review)
Designers: Martino Chiacchiera and Silvano Sorrentino
Time: 45-90 minutes
Times played: 1, with review copy provided by dv Giochi
The puzzle game genre has been rapidly growing over the last few years – there have been many entries in this field over that time period. Likewise, we’ve done our best here to seek out as many of them as we can to try. Many of the initial forays into the puzzle area have been big-box affairs, some with electronic solving devices – allowing for multiple expansions that use the same hardware. The catch with most of these games are that they can really only be played once – because once you know the solution to the puzzle, you can’t really experience the solving of the same puzzle again…
Deckscape from dv Giochi is one of the recurring franchises – we have reviewed earlier entries in this series here at the Opinionated Gamers – HERE and HERE . As with those reviews, this review will also be spoiler-free. All pictures here are taken from the dv giochi website, so everything you see here is what they have allowed you to see…
EXIT Games (The Sinister Mansion, The Mysterious Museum, Dead Man on the Orient Express, The Sunken Treasure)
Designers: Inka and Markus Brand
Time: about 60 minutes each
Times played: 1 with each game (with review copies provided by Thames&Kosmos)
The EXIT series was one of the original puzzle-game franchises to hit the market when the escape room game craze took off a few years ago. To date, my family and I have been able to play all of the ones released here in the US, and this is a series that we continue to look forward to future installments.
While there are many worthy competitors in the genre, the EXIT series is possibly the best known of the bunch – due in part to the initial set of games being awarded the 2017 Kennerspiel des Jahres award.
Q System (Sherlock: The Tomb of the Archaeologist, Sherlock: Last Call, Sherlock: Death on the 4th of July)
Designers: Josep Izquierdo and Marti Lucas
Publisher: Enigma Studio
Time: 60 minutes
Times played: 1 each with review copies provided by GDM games
The Q System is a new series of puzzle games that I discovered at SPIEL 2018. Or really, I should say that they discovered me. I hadn’t heard of them prior to the show, and the publisher found me as I was wandering through the halls to give me copies of these games. Each game is a single-play mystery – described to me as being like a Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective (SHCD) episode in a small box.
I never set out to make so many tile-laying games, but I always find something new to explore.
Taking a look back through my Top 25 list of games, it’s very apparent that I am drawn to tile laying games, or games with a tile laying mechanism as part of it. Ten of my top twenty five feature it in the game. It seems that if you physically have to build something in a game, I am the target market. Right now, in this design portion of the hobby, no one is doing as much work in revitalizing and refreshing tile laying than, Jeffrey D. Allers. In 2018 alone we were given Pandoria, Gunkimono, and the subject of this review, Rolnicy. Currently Rolnicy is available only via Polish publisher Nasza Księgarnia, but for folks here in the North American market, I hope that changes, and after reading this review, you may as well.
Designer: 与儀新一 (Shinichi Yogi) Publisher: 77spiele Players: 2-4 Ages: 10+ Time: 20-40 minutes Times Played: 4 times with purchased copy Availability Note: The copy I have was acquired by a friend at the 2018 fall Game Market, but at the time of this review, copies are available from booth.pm (transship service such as Tenso required),
Tenka Meidou is probably the first game I’ve purchased that comes in a box, but not a box for which it is intended to be stored. The version I have came in a shoe-box type container, but this allows neither the rules nor the cardstock board to lay flat, and neither are designed to be folded. It comes with a sheet of stickers, including one which has the title of the game and its vital statistics (e.g. player count, game length, etc.) — the shoe-box itself is unlabeled. (As I write this, the game is available on booth.pm, and while it still comes in a container that is not its intended permanent storage, it is no longer the shoe-box.)
TM was first released in the fall of 2017, but a new version, with the same rules, was released at the fall Game Market in 2018. TM won the Game of the Year award at the fall Game Market, and one of the jurors noted that the components (and I imagine the box) were sourced from 100-yen stores.
Tenka Meidou is an area-majority game. The board shows a map of Japan divided into 11 areas. (The map is two sided, blue and yellow, but the maps are otherwise identical.) During setup, tokens with numbers 2 through 12 are randomly assigned to the 11 areas. Each of these areas will be worth an amount of points equal to the value it has been assigned, and half-points will be available for 2nd place in 3 and 4 player games.
Times Played: 4 times with someone else’s copy (mine is on pre-order), plus several times online
I have always enjoyed city building as a theme for many things, from wooden blocks and Legos to playing SimCity on my Mac Classic, so it’s generally something I enjoy in my board games. I also can’t resist a good tile-laying game, so I was very curious to check out NEOM.
The goal of Neom is to build a city using tiles that provide you with housing, resources, industry and income, building up over three rounds. You earn victory points for building particular structures and having certain buildings in certain combinations or particular locations, and to no one’s surprise the player with the most victory points wins.
There are 150 tiles, divided into 3 eras, as well as 30 cornerstone tiles (tiles that give you objectives and bonuses), cardboard coins and resource tiles.
Setup is fairly easy. Resource tiles and coins are sorted near the board, and the cornerstone tiles are shuffles and stacked face down. Era tiles are divided by era (with some potentially removed depending on the number of players).
Each player gets a random player board; all boards are the same except for the starting resource printed in the middle of the board. Players also get $6.
Before the game begins each player is dealt a hand of four cornerstone tiles (the rest of these tiles are removed from the game). Each player chooses one tile to keep and passes the other three to the player on their left; repeat until all players have three and then discard the remaining tile.
At the start of each era players are dealt a hand of eight tiles. Each player selects a tile they want to play and passes the other tiles to the left. Players simultaneously reveal their selected tiles and take an action.
Tiles come in several different flavors:
Green Residential Tiles have no effect other than giving you VPs. If you do not have at least two green tiles on your board at the end of the game you will lose VPs. In addition to the VP value of the tile in the upper right corner residential tiles you score for the number of tiles in each grouping/neighborhood of connected green tiles – the bigger the better.
Blue Commercial Tiles give you income; some give you immediate one-time cash, some give you income at the end of each era and some give you both.
Grey Resource Tiles produce raw goods, which are used to build other tiles.
Yellow Industrial Tiles produce either processed or luxury goods, but they can also give you negative points if placed adjacent to a residential tile, since they cause pollution.
Orange Public Tiles give you victory points for meeting certain conditions at the end of the game or give you an advantage or protection during the game. Cornerstone tiles are mostly, but not all, orange public tiles.
Place the tile:
Play the tile on your city board. The cost, if any, is printed on the upper left of the tile. If it has a cost in coins, you spend the coins. If it is has a cost in resources you just have to be able to produce that resource; you don’t actually “spend” it. If you don’t have that resource you can buy it from another player at the base cost plus $1 for every step between you and that player – so buying a raw good from a player next to you would cost you just the base cost of $2, but buying it from the player one person away would cost you $3. If you’ve managed to connect the middle pre-printed tile to the road printed on the edge of the board your cost is reduced by $1 in that direction, since you have developed a trade route.
The tile has to be played on an empty space or you have to replace a previously-played tile, and it cannot be rotated. While not all roads have to match up with other roads, you must be able to trace a path back to the pre-printed center tile on your board.
Discard the Tile to Place a Cornerstone
Discard one tile from your hand and instead place one of your cornerstone tiles; the number of times you can do this is equal to the era number, so you could do this once in Era One or, if you haven’t played any yet, three in Era Three.
Discard the Tile to get $5
If you can’t or don’t want to place a tile you can discard one to get $5.
There are also three disaster tiles in the game – a flood in the first round, a fire in the second round and a crime spree in the third round. If you choose to play a disaster it doesn’t affect you (other than it being your only play that turn) but does affect all other players, who must pay the associated cost or discard tiles. The cost is $1 per residential, commercial or industrial tile in the first two eras and $2 for each of those tiles in the last era or you must sacrifice the specified number and type of tiles.
After all play is resolved you pick up the tiles passed to you and lather, rinse and repeat for a total of seven turns. At the end of Eras One and Two you collect income and then deal out the tiles for the next round. At the end of Era Three you collect income and then calculate VPs.
You get VPs for the following:
VP values printed on tiles, both straight values and condition-based
VPs based on the sizes of your neighborhoods – one tile gets you 1 point, two tiles gets you three points etc.
VPs based on the types of goods you produce – 1 for each type of raw good, 2 for each type of processed good and 10 for each type of luxury good.
1 VP for every $2
-2VPs for each orthogonally adjacent and -1VP for each diagonally adjacent residential tile next to a tile with pollution.
-10 VPs for no residential tiles and -4VPs if you only have one
5 VPs if you do not have any tiles with the power symbol on them
The player with the most points wins; there is no tiebreaker, so if there is a tie the victory is shared.
The rules are slightly different for the 2 player game in that the era tiles are distributed in stacks; each player takes a stack, picks a tile and discards the rest. Also, goods can be bought from the bank as well as the other player. The game includes a solo variant as well, but I have not yet tried that.
MY THOUGHTS ON THE GAME
The game gets compared to 7 Wonders due to the draft mechanism. While the drafting of tiles is quite similar to the drafting of cards, it just doesn’t have the same feel to me. While you will be passing tiles to the player on your left you are less concerned about what you are passing them and more concerned about maximizing your own board, at least most of the time. One could argue that the goods and the color combos are also similar, but those are elements in many games and without the drafting no one would think twice about it. I am not a big fan of 7 Wonders and I do like NEOM, so that may color my opinion that they are not that similar.
The components and the box are all of good quality. The graphics are generally clear, albeit very small in some cases. The different symbols were a little confusing at the start of the first play, but by the end of the game everyone had picked up on them.
I enjoy the gameplay. The tension of not knowing what tiles you are going to have to choose from and trying to decide to whether to keep something or hope for something better continues to be interesting to me in every replay, in part because you always have different objectives. It bothers my OCD side to not have all road tiles match up, but it is actually a good feature here, since it doesn’t limit you so much when you have fewer tiles to choose from.
The disaster tiles are also an interesting mechanic. You know what the disaster is going to be and what the potential penalties will be be, so it’s possible to plan for it, especially if you have a public building that gives you some protection. When you have a disaster tile do you play it, earning the enmity of the other players who really have no way to exact revenge, or do you pass it along, hoping no one will play it? You don’t get to play a tile when you play a disaster, so you are affecting your score, but the tile might hurt you more if someone else plays it.
The game does play in the given time frame, and once you are familiar with the game it can move really quickly, but there is the possibility for analysis paralysis.
My final thought is that I am anxiously awaiting my very own copy which has been on preorder for quite some time – expected US release is now February 2019.
THOUGHTS OF OTHER OPINIONATED GAMERS
Dan Blum (1 play): I agree that it’s not really all that similar in feel to 7 Wonders, which is good in general (nothing against 7 Wonders but I don’t think we need minor variations on it). I liked NEOM fairly well, but with some reservations. The resource production is interesting – I like that you get points for producing things in addition to being able to use them – but after the first few turns there didn’t seem to be a lot of tension around resources. This is a case where NEOM definitely feels different from 7 Wonders, in which resources are often an issue all game, but I am not sure that NEOM benefits from the comparison. My bigger reservation is the way the disaster tiles work – they seem really devastating, particularly the one in the third era, and while you can in theory plan for them if you don’t get the right tiles there’s not much you can do. Losing points is one thing but losing tiles is another.
That all being said I’d definitely be willing to play again, but I am not sure how many times.
Craig M (1 play): The first thing I should say is that I can’t believe I have only played this game once. It is way better than a single play. The comparison to 7 Wonders is apt, but like Tery said, it doesn’t have the same feel. You are really focused on your board and my one play found me paying very little attention to what my neighbors are doing. I agree with Dan that the resources in seem much tighter in 7 Wonders than NEOM which makes the latter feel less tense. Also like Dan, this is probably a negative. The game adds tension back in with the disaster tiles. You can try to plan, but there is a fair amount of uncertainty. I disagree with Dan that they are devastating to the point of ruining the experience. The game hums along and is short enough to play a second time.
Joe Huber (1 play): While I’m not a fan of 7 Wonders, I had hope for Neom, but was left rather flat by it in the end. The actions of each tile are tricky to sort out, getting a little easier as the game goes on – but still requiring a lot of lookup. This slows the game down – and is likely to be an issue whenever playing with new players. As Dan mentioned, the disasters can be devastating – but more critically, they have a wide range of impacts, and they just aren’t fun. It’s still not a bad game – I’d consider playing it again, but I haven’t sought a second play, and don’t expect to.
Gugong deserves better than its BGG ranking at number 493 as at the time of writing. It is a great Euro, simple to explain but with seemingly many viable strategies for achieving victory, and in my opinion it is Andreas Steding’s second best design, after Hansa Teutonica.
I am a Steding fan, owning all of his games except Norenberc, and I believe the Staufer Dynasty, with its clever ‘action queue’ mechanic is highly underrated, so Gugong was on my ‘almost definitely buy’ list and was one of the first games we tried at Essen 2018. It was an instant hit for me, marrying highly thematic gameplay with a wonderfully tense action selection mechanism.