Dale Yu: My Thoughts on New Games Played at Gulf Games (Karnaxis, Lancaster, Rising Sun Railroads, Alien Frontiers and more!)

I just got back from a fun weekend in Gatlinburg, TN at Gulf Games.  I got a chance to play a number of games that were new (or mostly new) to me, and I thought I’d say a bit about them.

Karnaxis – I’d been wanting to play this one for awhile now.  It was apparently all the rage at the Oasis of Fun last month, and the gamers in Atlanta really seem to be talking it up.  After my first play (5p game), my reaction is that it’s an interesting game, but something that I would need to play again before making up my mind.  It’s kind of like a gamer’s version of the game of Life, except that it’s way longer and still has event cards that will swing the game more than I’m willing to accept in a 2+ hour game.  The goal of the game is to go through the twelve years of the game and earn the most money at the end.  Each player gets a “role” card which gives them some initial attributes and gives them a Karnaxis, or life goal, to accomplish.  Then, by going to school to improve themselves, holding different jobs, starting/franchising different businesses and saving for retirement, players try to make more money than everyone else.

Despite my dislike of the swingy cards, there are a lot of interesting elements in it.  I do enjoy games where you know how many actions you have (like Princes of Florence), and Karnaxis presents you with a simple format of 2 actions per round over 12 rounds.  So, at the start, you know that you have 24 things to do, and you need to optimize those actions.  My beef with the event cards is that they seem overpowered in their effects – though I only have one game’s worth of experience to reflect upon – and that may not be enough to give the game a fair shake in that regard.  I think that there are multiple strategies to try out, and it was interesting to see the paths that different players took in my single play.

I did enjoy my one play, but it’s not something I’m dying to play again right now in the 5p version – it was just too long for me. And this is more of a fault on my part than Karnaxis!  I’ve been told the 3p game lasts just more than an hour, and that would be a better sweet spot for me (though I’d have to see if the game lost anything with the reduction in job and business cards).   If I had a copy, I’d actually be most interested in playing the solo game, as I think this is where the game might have the most potential for me… The game seems to be extremely well suited for that, and I might try to find a copy to borrow to try it on that basis.

I’m pretty sure that the OG will be reviewing this one in the coming weeks…

Lancaster – this new Queen release was one of the finalists for the Kennerspiel this year, and I was definitely looking forward to playing this one.  This was probably my favorite “new-to-me” game of the weekend.  It’s a complex, but not overly complicated, game that mixes elements of worker placement (deciding which counties to try to take actions in) with area control (deciding which battles to fight in).  In each turn, you take turns placing your knights onto different spaces on the board in order to take advantage of the special ability there.  The knights have 4 ranks, and you can be displaced from your chosen spot if your opponent plays a higher ranked knight.  During the game, you have to balance the need to enlarge your army – both the number of knights as well as the strength of those knights – with the need to take advantage of other actions, with the ability to score VPs and collecting tokens for the huge end-game bonus.  I think it definitely merits the nomination it received for the Kennerspiel as my initial impression of it is very positive after my first play.

Alien Frontiers – A decent dice game.  In short, you roll your dice and then place them on the different areas of the board to take specific actions.  Each area on the board has a different combination of numbers that it wants (some want pairs, some want straights, others just need numbers higher than the last die placed, etc.)  It started out great with quick turns – as each player only starts with three dice.  However, the downtime near the end of the game was almost too much to tolerate.  Once you have six (or even seven) dice – and possibly some action cards which can modify the die roll – there’s a lot of mental computation that needs to happen in order to optimize your turn.  I definitely enjoyed the challenge on each of my turns when I got to do the puzzle, but not so much when I was sitting there watching someone else do it.  By the end, I think that I wasn’t the only one who was looking forward to the end of the game, regardless of winner.

Secret of Monte Cristo – One of my favorite games from the 2011 class so far.  It’s not new to me, but I thought I’d mention it here as I haven’t talked much about it lately.  In many ways, it’s kind of a typical Euro… You place your meeples in the different areas of the dungeon (area-control) to collect different gem chits which are worth a variable number of points.  Of course, it’s more involved than that… and the action selection mechanic using the marbles is just way cool.   I played it twice this weekend, and the response from the other Gulf Gamers was mostly positive.

Quarriors – full review coming this Monday…  This one is really growing on me.  It’s a dice game that combines elements of Dominion, Thunderstone and Magic: the Gathering.  When I first started playing it, I wasn’t sure if there was going to be enough depth to it, but after a weekend of playing it, I can see how some of the dice/cards work together.  There is never going to be the same sort of synergy that you’ll find amongst Dominion cards, but there are definitely strategies that can be formed with the different dice.  It seemed like my copy of the game was always in play, and I know of at least 3 gamers who got in around 10 games each during the weekend…

Rising Sun Railroads – this is one of the new Essen 2011 releases which fellow OG member John Palagyi brought to the convention… I was excited to see this new take of the Gulf, Mobile and Ohio idea.  After one play, clocking in around 2.5 hours for a four player game, I must admit that I prefer the original.  This one seemed to be more of a churning game with plenty of slow turns.  It was an extremely “math-y” game which also slowed things down.  Our game seemed to go through cycles of building track followed by a turn buying more engines to allow us to build more track then back to building more track.  The incremental gains each turn were very small, and the game felt more tedious than anything else.  There was also a snowball effect as the players who got off to a better start (even if only slightly better) ended up earning a few dollars more each turn which turned into an extra track segment every three or four turns which in turn led to an even higher buying capacity.  In our game, the two players that had a faster start inexorably pulled away from the other two.  While I didn’t get a chance to play Colorado Midlands, it seemed to get a better response from the gamers who tried that.

Launch Pad – a new card game from Stratus Games which will be well suited for family play.  It kind of feels like Milles Bournes though players are trying to build rocket ships here instead of racing across France.   Essentially you play basic cards from your hand to build a rocketship.  You can also play cards that act as experts to allow you to get your rocketship to the next stage.  Without this expert, you’re kinda stuck – and this is the analogy to Mille Bournes where you can’t move forward without a green light card…  In addition, there are plenty of cards that you and your opponent can play to thwart the development of the rockets.  If there were only some catchy phrase like “Coup fouree” that you could yell out!  Some may find the game a bit too take-that or “gang up on the leader”, but it’s an enjoyable enough game.  I might not recommend it for gamers with thin skin or for younger kids who may not be able to handle the sometimes brutal nature of the adverse cards.    A full review of this to come in the next few weeks as I more chance to play it with my usual group… (all adults).

Until your next appointment,

The Gaming Doctor

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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9 Responses to Dale Yu: My Thoughts on New Games Played at Gulf Games (Karnaxis, Lancaster, Rising Sun Railroads, Alien Frontiers and more!)

  1. Chuck L says:

    Thanks for the reviews….some of these games were on my list to try.

  2. Dale Yu says:

    Chuck, you say that some of them “were” on your list to try… I’m curious to know which ones dropped off the list!


  3. huzonfirst says:

    I’ve only played two of these games and will reserve more detailed comments for the reviews, but to summarize:

    Lancaster – I love it!
    Karnaxis – Neutral/Not for Me, although like you, I’ve only played it once. It did make me wonder a bit what they’re smoking down in Hot-lanta.

    • Joe Huber says:

      Sure, if Larry’s doing it…

      Lancaster – Not for Me. Lots of churning, and I’m not a big fan of churning.
      Karnaxis – Neutral. Better than Lancaster, certainly.

  4. Pete says:

    Alien Frontiers is fun. I can see it getting tedious if you’re playing with a crowd of AP-prone people, but if you’re not worried too much about uber-optimization, it’s fun. I don’t really see the “math” issue you spoke of, though.


    I rated it very highly.

    As for Karnaxis, Michael Barnes likes it so it must be completely epic, right? [*computer voice: “Sarcasm Detected”]

  5. Tom Rosen says:

    I hate to say I agree with Larry, but I agree with Larry.

    Lancaster – Love it! My favorite game of 2011 so far definitely. It’s hard to pin point why since there’s nothing particularly new that stands out in the game, but it just all works so well together for me that I’ve really enjoyed my couple plays and am looking forward to more.

    Karnaxis – Not for me! I think I’m even more down on this game than anyone else has mentioned so far. I thought it was miserable. I’ve only played once (with 3 players), but it was horrendously boring. It was random and tedious and the strategies seemed very confining/restrictive. I might give it a second shot since so many people are singing its praises, but so far I definitely don’t get how anyone could enjoy this one.

  6. jeffinberlin says:

    If you are going to redesign The Game of Life for postmoderns, you need to offer viable alternatives to the “make the most money” winning condition (that’s sooo Baby-boomer). I know there are still people infatuated with making money, but “multiple paths to victory” might better reflect our world as it really is today (and make a much more interesting game). For example, one player could attempt to capitalize on a reality show appearance and seek fame through Hollywood connections and the tabloid press, while another could make his life’s work about building schools in Pakistan.

  7. Eric Brosius says:

    Oddly enough, Careers got the “multiple paths to victory” thing right, so it’s not exactly a novel concept.

  8. Ken Hill says:

    I’m a bit puzzled by the good buzz for Monte Cristo. Our 4p game was a complete bust. The game fell over in the final turn and no one wanted to even touch the box. We ran out of cards at the beginning of the final round and the rules had nothing about what happens in that situation. I could be convinced that we were playing wrong but it immediately went on the trade pile.

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