Lorna’s Spiel 2011 Releases: First Plays and Impressions

[Note from the Editor – let’s give a warm welcome to Lorna who is joining our group to give her thoughts on the new games!  She isn’t quite setup yet to post on her own, but this great review couldn’t wait…. Have a great Thanksgiving and enjoy the holiday!  DY]
Well,  it’s a month since Spiel 2011 and I’ve managed to play a good number of the new releases thanks to some game days, BGGCon and willing participants of my own game group.  As a JOG (jaded ol’ gamer) I didn’t find any really -knock my socks off – type games this year (although Vanuatu comes close), but I managed to find plenty that I like and want to play again. None of these games played were review copies. I apologize in advance if I got any major rules incorrect. So here we go:

Have played this new offering from Pearl Games 3 times now. Once you learn the icons it’s a quick game. The game comes with cards, meeples, and counters- no dice. A nice player handout with the icons is included and definitely needed. It also comes with a set of advanced cards.

Game play:
Winner is the one with the most points. Points earned from prestige (bonus points at end game) buildings and points from buildings and characters.
There are 3 types of cards prestige, buildings and characters. Characters and buildings may help you earn money and give you actions to do if the buildings are activated like gain new workers or draw cards. The buildings are placed in stacks.

To play you may pay for a building or character to place in your village – a 9×9 card grid. Then you must perform an action using your worker/meeples. Meeples and cards are color coded so to draw a card or activate it you must have the appropriate color meeple(s).  You can also hire other players meeples. After you use a worker they go to sleep and can’t be used until you wake them.
You can draw cards, activate meeples, earn money, combat events, or wake up your meeples.
There are also events like in Troyes, that affect players that are activated when the town criers (randomly placed in each stack of cards) are flipped. Game is over when a player has 9 cards in their town including 2 prestige buildings and 4 town criers have been found.

All in all a nice tight little game that I think can be played in under an hour easily.  A card combo game that is not as innovative as last year’s offering ,Troyes, but I’d happily play it again.
Master Merchant
This little card game from Japon Brand makes a nice filler. This games distills deck building to the bare minimum in that you are building a hand of cards as opposed to a deck, so no shuffling! The deck is composed of 36 cards of which 8 are starting cards for the players. Then there are 10 different character cards which you can purchase in the city. The art work is nicely done in the style of their previous games Chronicle and Cheaty Mages!.

Game play:
On your turn you may play 1 or 2 cards from your hand either face up to use as the action or face down to earn 1 gold. If you have numerous cards of the same name you may play them as 1 card to do the actions, but not for gold. The various cards let you earn gold, steal cards from other players, take cards from your discard pile, steal gold from other players etc. You play until one player has either 8 gold or 8 different characters.

Very nice filler and I am glad I purchased the game. Hopefully it will be picked up for wider distribution.

One play of this one so far with 5 players. Wow, not what I expected. It looks so friendly and nice with the little islands but underneath is a cruel game. It’ll beat you and leave you gasping. The components are standard quality. The fish and treasure icons on the tiles are small to read but since you put wooden markers on the tiles right away to represent them, it’s not a problem.

Game play:
The goal is to earn the most VP. These are earned by constructing houses on the beach and attracting tourists (a lot of end game points can be earned this way, so don’t let anyone monopolize the houses), drawing pictures in the sand, finding treasures, earning money, shipping goods (when playing with the character cards a lot of points may be earned with one shipping action). The heart of the game is the action marker mechanism. In player order you choose one of the actions to place your marker on (1 or 2 markers at a time). Then you go around again. Players have 5 markers each. Actions include moving your ship, constructing a house, fishing, treasure hunting, drawing in the sand etc. Actions are resolved in player order. On your action you must pick one of the actions where you have majority. Ties are broken by being closest to start player. If you have no majority you can’t take an action and must remove your markers from one of the action spots. This is what makes the game so challenging. You have to anticipate what other players might do so you don’t get screwed over and miss out on an action as well as make alternate plans if you do miss an action. The game is over in 8 turns.

It’s brutal and we played the easy game with the character roles! I am strangely drawn to replaying this game. Money can be very tight and you must be very careful with turn order and board position. A lot to think about in this game. We played a 5 player game which went long as expected but competition was very high for the actions. I suspect 4 is the sweet spot. I think with 3 there won’t be as much nice fighting for actions. I am really interested in another play with 4. I normally don’t care for games where you can be stuck with doing nothing but this one is so challenging I like it. Glad I got it. Played/taught another 5 player  game at BGGCon and enjoyed it just as much.  Probably my hit of the show this year.

Colonial: Europe’s Empires Overseas
We played a 4 player game. The board is one of the most attractive ones I’ve seen. The advancement tracks might have done well with a separate board to make keeping track of them easier but they actually aren’t that fiddly. The bits are nice and the wood ones come sorted by color!

Game play:
Play to 10 VP. You earn VP by exploring new countries, creating colonies, and winning wars. Each player has 6 cards with 2 actions/roles on each. Players may choose an action from the 12 roles of which you may simultaneously select 4 and play them in player order. You may choose either role on the card when it comes to your turn although most of the time I stuck with the one I had initially planned on. After everyone has done their 4 roles each player gets one additional action from the 2 cards they have left. Actions include advancement tracks which increase your navy, make exploration easier, improving trading capacity and logistics.

There is some interesting cooperative selling and trading that can occur during the game which are other actions. Of course, you can also wage war and cause rebellion and strife. You can explore and colonize countries. You can try and take over other countries with your logistics. So you get the picture, lots of choices on your turn.

This games plays much faster than you might expect. It plays very much in the Euro camp. In our game the war happened at the end when people started getting close to winning. Cary and Robert assured me that if I play more war games losing dice rolling won’t bother me. A bad die role in exploration may hurt you although in our game it didn’t make a difference to the leaders in VP. So despite the war game aspect, I liked it and am looking forward to another play although I am a little bit worried about the end game dissolving into repeated bash the leader turns.

Walnut Grove
One of the new Look Out games. Production-not so good. My tiles are misprinted/miscut so the pics don’t line up with the cuts. Per Hanno there will be some replacements at some point.

Game play:
Most VP wins. Earn points with end game bonus tiles, coins, fenced in areas, # of workers.
Flip a disk, which tells you how many tiles to look at and how many you get to keep, if there are any bonus resources produced, also if there are any extra costs associated with workers. You play the tiles to your area. Tiles have colored areas which correspond to resources and fences to make areas. When you produce resources you produce the number equal to the number of tiles in that color area. Next you move your workers to areas where you want to produce and get the resources. Next you can go to town and move around the board to spend your resources on more workers, shelter for your workers, more storage areas and bonus tiles. Then you must feed your workers and keep them warm.

So I’m kind of lukewarm on this game so far. I will give it another try. It is not quite multi-player solitaire like some players  say. The puzzle aspect is pretty minimal. A solid game but not that exciting to me so far. A few in my group don’t like the random effect of drawing the coins out of the bag during the end game as this may cause a significant shift in points if your draw 0’s vs 2 pt coins.

Last Will
I think there has been a lot written about this one in it’s prototype form. I played one 3-player games so far.

Game Play:
Goal to spend all your money first! I like it! The only problematic part is the spending money on games wasn’t one of my choices.  You think they could have printed up an expansion card for buying a game shop or something!

On your turn you choose how many cards you wish to draw and how many actions you wish to take, as well as player order. These are all tied in together with generally more cards = less actions etc.

Then you choose your actions which means choosing cards that allow you to spend your money! The cards vary in cost and how much money you can spend when activating them. The main trick is that land cards let you spend nice amounts of money but you can’t go broke if you own land so you have to sell it before you go out.

Plays fast, streamlined, thought it was a fairly engaging theme. Not a lot of interaction that was obvious to me but still enjoyable. Another card combo driven game with a bit of fun to it. Same weight as Walnut Grove but for some reason I enjoyed it a lot more. Have since played a few more games and found it fun to play with enough differences in choices to keep it interesting.

Tried with 3 players. Definitely some down time the first game. A solid Euro. The game comes with player boards of nice thickness, lots of little tiles and wood bits. Some of the tiles are difficult to see across the table. Nice production over all.

Game play:
Goal to get the most VP. Multiple ways to score. The key mechanism is using the mancala which allows you to do actions and gain trajan tiles which give you little bonuses and points. True Euro with lots of little ways to get points in various set collecting-cards &tiles, placement on the board for points on tracks etc.

For example: you can move your generals on the board with the army action to pick up tiles which may help you feed your people and then move soldiers to gain points. You could also use the worker action to construct other tiles for points and bonus actions. You can use the ship action to draw cards/goods or ship them for points. You can go to the senate and earn points and end game bonus tiles. You can also collect tiles to feed your people.
In addition, the number of pieces moved on your mancala speeds the game along a time track. As you pass “go” on the time track for the 4th time(the end of the year) you have to feed your people.  The game ends after 4 years.

A Euro in the tradition of Caylus, a bit dry, lots to do and not enough actions, felt like it could have been a bit streamlined. The mancala action is a neat take on worker placement x rondel and I enjoyed that part. So I’m interested in playing again and see if I can manage the mancala better. Nothing terribly exciting here but the mancala makes it worthwhile. My second play with 4 players did not improve my ability to manage my mancala but I still like the game. Maybe next time I’ll do better!

Mondriaan 2020
I can only assume inspired by the Dutch artist, Mondriaan is a very nice 2 player abstract from Cwali. Plays in about 10 minutes. The tiles are good sized and the colors nice and bright and the final appearance of the game is cool. Players alternate placing tiles. You score points for color areas of the tile placed equal to the number of previously played tiles in the adjacent area of that color. The box is a nice travel size. Another easily explained, yet challenging and fun to play winner from Cwali. One of my favorites of the year.

Meltdown 2020
This is a short filler. Pick up your meeples and deliver them to the rescue pad before the nuclear reactors explode. Nothing complicated here and the game plays very quickly. Production values are fine.

Gameplay: The tiles come with preprinted icons to show where to place your meeples. Each player receives a bus, a car and a helicopter to pick up people to save them from the radiation leaks by dropping them off at the airfields. They each have different movement and holding capacities. Each round an 8-sided die is rolled and if the 8 comes up nothing happens. Any other roll and one of the reactors start leaking and a marker is placed on it. The game ends when either the last reactor marker is used or one of the reactors gets its fifth marker. Players with the most survivors wins. Some of the survivors may be worth less points if they took too much radiation exposure.

A fast filler that plays in under 30 minutes. This may play better with more people we only had 3 in our game. Some people may find the theme a bit uncomfortable.

Ok finally played the monster box, my back still hurts when I think about carrying this one around the halls of the Messe. Loads of tiles of adequate thickness and the thin cardboard player mats. Comes with nice plastic space ships of 3 sizes and wooden cubes and discs. With all the tech tiles, it seemed a little intimidating at first. Luckily, Robert had read up on it and was able to get our game moving.

Game play:
Mainly consists of exploring, researching tech to upgrade ships and combat. Earn VP from all of the above. Players can do as many actions per turn as they can afford. Exploration allows you to earn more income and more resources if you colonize. There are 3 different tech lines. Researching tech makes the next tech in line less expensive. Combat is dice driven with modifications from tech. The game ends after 9 rounds.

We played a 4 player game in about 3.5 hours including explanation. So for its genre I think this game does a good job. If I were going to play a 4X type game regularly, it would probably be this one. It seems fairly streamlined and a nice combo of AT and Euro.

Old Men of the Forest
Cute little card game from Martin Wallace. Kind of a trick taking game. You don’t have to follow suit. The winner of the hand takes a card of their choice as does the player with the second highest card. You use the cards you take to trade for VP cards. I didn’t find much here very interesting but the cards with the orangutans are very cute and the money for the game went to help them so it was for a good cause.

Drum Roll
I love the artwork for this game and I like the theme quite a lot too. The game comes with lots of cards, no linen finish but seem of adequate thickness and durability-you don’t handle them a lot, the thin cardboard player boards that seem more of the norm these days and the requisite wooden discs and cubes .

Game play:
Earn the most VP. VP can be earned from personnel, performers, bonus cards and points from the 3 shows over the course of the game.

Each round players choose 3 action to gain a resource, hire personnel, hire performers, earn income, gain investment/bonus cards. There between 5 and 7 rounds before each show, the number determined by player vote.

You use resources to improve the performance by your performers which give you bonus actions when you put on a show. Personnel can help you gain more resources, earn money etc. Investment cards may give more income or resources or earn VP at the end of the game. Of course you must pay everyone when you put the show on!

Not much innovation in the way of mechanisms here but I am really enamored by the theme and the game plays smoothly. Money can be a bit tight and you always want more actions than you have. This game is like comfort food to me. It is easy to play but still gives some interesting choice while not being excessively accessorized and  I am glad I picked up the game.

The set up rules for this one leave much to be desired, be sure and read the forums before trying the game. This is the second for me in the worker placement/put on a show game from 2011, along with Drum Roll and Dungeon Petz. It’s amazing how diverse the themes are in these 3 games. I must confess, that I am much more partial to monsters and the circus than the world of high fashion, no surprise there I’m sure! But I did try and set aside my biases to give this game a fair shake.

Gameplay: You use your workers to select action to put on the best possible show. These actions include taking loans, hiring improved designers, models etc., buying buildings to improve, and getting contracts. You also must buy resources and get new lines of design. You must also pay for all these things! After 2 rounds you put on a show and try to earn the top awards or stars which get you extra money and VP. You also get to sell your line. Money at the end becomes VP as well. Most VP wins.

Pret-a-Porter is interesting and more complex than the other two in its class this year. After one play I can see some potential here but I’ll need to play it again to see if the complexity is worth it or just too much thrown on top of the basic mechanisms.

Dungeon Petz
The last in the line of worker placement and put on a show games. I like the theme and nothing more fun than watching your minions do the dirty work-literally! Could you clean up a little more of that manure for me?

The game has a few small differences from the others in that you must meet the requirements of your petz like having a clean cage or certain cage strength etc.  But the main premise is the same trying to get a pet that matches the show’s or buyer’s requirements.
Anyway Dungeon Petz is a fun game and I like the theme so it’s probably a keeper.

So the first of a few games that involves reproducing that are out this year. I haven’t got around to playing MIL (1049) yet, but that will be soon I hope! Typical Kosmos production, nice chunky wooden bits and nice tiles. It’s a bit difficult to tell the boys from the girls at a glance though.

Game play:
The winner is the player to have at least 20 VP (and the most VP) during the scoring at the end of a round. Yet another worker placement/action game. You spend coins to do actions- you can build buildings, you can produce things from your buildings, you can get married and you can have babies and you can wake your workers. When you use a worker in your buildings they then fall asleep and can’t be used again until they are woken up. When all of the players but 1 are out of money the round is over. You figure out who gets the bonus action tiles, and calculate the VP each player has earned from producing, buildings bonus tiles. VP is not cumulative from round to round but rather you count from zero each time as who owns certain bonus tiles change frequently.

Another solid Euro although I have to admit I was much less enthused about growing wheat and feeding cows than hiring tiger tamers and magicians. I enjoyed our one play with 3 and the game was very close in scores.

Coney Island
Played this one at Essen, but haven’t gotten a copy. Nice theme park art with standard player boards, wood cubes and main board. It’s by Michael Schacht who will forever be one of my favorite designers on the basis of Web of Power alone.

Game play:
Earn the most VP from building attractions. Points can also be earned from newspapers at the end of thee game and your workers may earn you points from other players building attractions. A few points may also be earned during the game.

On your turn you earn income, which is comprised of points, money and resources. Then you may do any or all of the 3 actions-place a site tile, place a worker or build an attraction using your worker and/or possibly other players workers. The attractions must be built in size order with the largest being worth the most points at the end of the game. Taking workers off your player board and putting them on the main board will let you earn more income but workers left on the board at the end of the game are negative points.

We played a 4 player game. The last tiles are worth a lot of points so the goals is to try to set yourself up for a big score. The problem is that someone else might be able to steal it from you by building before you. Plays quickly and might be better with 3. Haven’t picked up a copy, not sure yet about this one. Game is on the lighter side.

Space Maze
This game comes with funny shaped wooden aliens and a nice wooden alien artifact or “hat”-it’s silver so think of all those aluminum hats people wear to keep ETs from reading their minds. The tiles are of nice quality as are the cards.

Gameplay: Space maze is a race/puzzle game. The cards may be played to manipulate the tiles in the game. Each alien is limited to traveling through certain color-coded passages. For example the purple aliens can only go thru red and blue passages, the orange aliens thru red and yellow passages etc. If they have the hat they can go thru any passage. Card play and movement is determined by dice which are drafted by a player on their turn. The game is over if one player gets the hat back to their own spaceship or if they manage to control the hat 3 different times.

An interesting game although seems like it might bog down a bit in trying to steal the hat from other players if they are too far away of lack the cards to do things. But since my aliens managed to whisk the hat away, I’m convinced it’s all good.

So I have been more into abstract games lately and since I was heading to Essen, I thought I could pick up a few of the games nestorgames produces. I opted for this, as one, and while spendy, you can play numerous games with it, so it’s really a deal right?

This set came with the nice phenolic spheres kind of like small billiard balls in quality. Very nice to use.

I tried a few of the basic games Spargo and Sphex. Both are a lot more difficult than they look! We played Sphex to a draw in one game. I’m pretty happy I decided to pick up this set and look forward to trying the other games I got from Nestor.

Recicle: Tempos de Crise
Ok, just back from BGGCon and Managed to play most of the new games on my list I hadn’t tried yet. This Brazillian game about recycling was one of the first. Component wise, it seems to fit the theme, nothing too shiny here but all perfectly functional.

Gameplay: the game involves picking up trash of various types and carting them to a recycling center to turn them into profit. On your turn you may spread your 3 movement points amongst your 3 workers. You pick up trash where your worker ends up. The trash goes into your cart where it may be purchased. Your trash may be sold to the big warehouse, and in the next phase you may purchase trash from there after you have collected. You may also buy recycling machines and ateliers to process your trash for a profit. During the game you may also use action cards to give you special abilities. The money is converted to points. You may also receive points from machines etc.

Over all impression, I’d be happy to play again but it didn’t seem like there were that many interesting choices.

Upon a Salty Ocean

Tried this one too. Standard wooden components, the buildings on the board are small and difficult to see the abilities. The main goods are 2 types of fish represented by pinkish and purplish cubes.

Gameplay: There are 4 basic sets of action represented on a table. Each time a player takes one of the actions, the cost to do that action increases. Money is VP so you are balancing spending money on actions vs keeping it for victory points. The main actions are building buildings, sailing/fishing, building ships/docking, selling/buying on the market. There are some random events which can affect these actions. Building certain buildings can allow you to build ships, and protect you from events and some give you VP/money for the end game.

I found this game very dry. I think the main problem is that there is really only one economic engine-fishing. There is not enough market changes to really use that to too much advantage. The only other way to gain lots of points is to build Notre Dame but of course you still need money to build.  Note:  I did hear from Jesse that he won only using the market and never went fishing in his game so maybe it depends on the game and the event tile  and the players. I’d be willing to try this one again to see the other option in engine building work.

Kingdom Builder
Tried this new Queen release. The games comes with a modular board and different tiles for special actions and a bunch of cards for end game scoring of which 3 are randomly chosen at the beginning of the game. There is also a deck of terrain cards.

Gameplay: Each player stars with a bunch of houses and a terrain card. On a player’s turn they show the terrain card and place 3 houses on that terrain. then they draw a new card and the next player goes. If you build adjacently to a special tile you may pick it up and use it’s ability (such as place an extra house in a certain terrain etc) each turn starting on the next turn. The trick is that if you can place next to the houses where you have already built, you must, otherwise you can start on the terrain of your card anywhere else on the board. There are also some castles or something on the board that give you two points if you are adjacent at the end of the game. Game is over when someone runs out of houses.

So the game is very dependent on which cards you draw. You can mitigate this somewhat by which special tile you might initially chose to get but there is not necessarily a lot of control. I think it’s a very nice nongamer level game or a quick filler.

Tried this one that wasn’t on my original Essen list. The game consists of a small central board with SIberia divided up into areas and each player has there own action board. Each player also has some pawns. There are several action chits in a bag. Ok production but nothing special.

Gameplay: The goal is to collect resources to sell on the market and earn the most money. Each player starts with one worker to move around the main board in Siberia collecting resources and one stockbroker to sell the resources. On each turn players draw 6 random action chits from the bag and allocate them to several actions such as collecting a specific resource, moving a worker, getting a new worker, getting a new stockbroker getting a permanent action chit etc. You may only take one of these actions if you have two chits of that type. Some chits have more than one action on them. There is also one chit the manager which you can use as a wild of something else. The game can end rather suddenly when a certain number of areas resources have been used. I got up and came back to find the game over!

So the neat part of the game is allocating those action chits to the best of your ability. The rest of the game is rather pedestrian. I’d like to try it again but suspect the intrigue would wear off with another play or two. It does play quickly.

Fun filler with nice components including a rhinoceros and elephant poop tokens. What more can a girl ask for?

Gameplay: Each player has cards 0 to 9. The player tokens are lined up on the board in a conga line with the Kali in the lead and Mambo the rhino behind. Players and Kali simultaneously play a card and that determines who moves to the front of the line. If you step in poop you get 3 pts. If Kali steps in poop the player with the lowest card gets 3 pts. If a space develops between Mambo and the last player, the rhino charges and gives points equal to the number of spaces charged. Player with the least points wins.

Silly fun but it’s cute. Must have.

Ora et Labora
Impatiently waiting for the English edition, I did finally get to try this one at BGGCon. You can definitely see the relationship to Le Havre x Agricola. The components are standard, with lots of double sided chits.

Gameplay: The goal is to try and get the most points from buildings. In order to build you have to gather resources. In this game, the rondel is a bit more obvious than the one in Le Havre and less fiddly. After you collect the resources you can build. You build on a plot of land like in Agricola. You must clear some of the spaces of peat or wood before you can build and you can purchase extra land. Some buildings require special land types to build them. The buildings give you other resources and abilities which you work to convert to points. You don’t have to worry about feeding your people in this game which makes it slightly more streamlined.

I liked it and will be picking up a copy as soon as they come out in the US. It definitely has a Le Havre feel to it. I am hoping it may play a little faster since you don’t have to worry about   feeding your people and can focus more on building for points.

One of the last Essen releases I got to try at BGGCon. Typical quality we’ve come to expect from Hans im Gluck as far as components. Looks like the feet from Pantheon ran away to Hawaii. It has a modular board.

Gameplay: Seems kind of like a cross between Vikings (the way you build villages in rows from a starting L shaped tile x worker placement. Players move their workers around the board using feet as movement points and collect buildings or god tiles or fruit tiles etc by paying for them with shells or fruit. The tiles of course give bonus such as extra feet or shells, ways to get VP, bigger boats etc. Lots of different ways to score. Most VP wins.

The game has some nice little subtleties to scoring but overall feels like a very standard Euro. I’d be happy to try my hand at it again.

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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6 Responses to Lorna’s Spiel 2011 Releases: First Plays and Impressions

  1. Dale Yu says:

    Kalimambo was one of the games that I wanted to bring back from Essen – but simply ran out of space! Sounds like it is still worth trying to track down though!

  2. huzonfirst says:

    Great to have you with the group, Lorna, and with this article, you’re clearly off to a wonderful start!

    I’ve played a few of these games, but none of them more than once. Trajan was probably my favorite, despite a truly horrendous score. But I really like the Mancala mechanic and the different ways of scoring. It could easily become one of my favorite games of the year.

    Vanuatu is indeed vicious and it remains to be seen if the players can control the action selection mechanic sufficiently. Still, it’s a very innovative system and I want to play it again.

    Colonial is a game I desperately want to like, but currently it’s in “we’ll see” mode. We also had some issues with the impact of the die-rolling and the potential for endless bashing of the leader. It’s a very ambitious beast and has the potential to be great. I’d be happier if the designer wasn’t making rule changes on the fly, but I do want to give this game a fair shot.

  3. Jacob says:

    Thanks for this writeup. Next to finding a review of a game I’m looking at getting, this kind of article is my favourite to read.

  4. Great write-up Lorna! Did you find Helvetia too fiddly? I heard that from more than one person.

  5. EPRON Alain says:

    Thank lorna for your review of Vanuatu.
    Very happy that you like this game.

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