We’re nearing the finish line now in our 138 Games series. This week we bring you a handful of newer games that you’ve just got to try. There are a couple in here that you’ve likely already experienced, but others that you may not have come across so far. Let’s see what Jeff, Larry, Greg, Eric, and other Erik have to say about these must-play games.
– King of Siam –
Jeff Allers: In 2005, I got to know Peer when we drove together to the Game Designers’ Meeting in Göttingen. He had the prototype with him for this deceptively simple game, and I thoroughly enjoyed my first playtests there. King of Siam demonstrates that there is still plenty of territory for a designer of “standard” Eurogames to explore. Don’t let the wooden cubes and color-coded region cards fool you–this is a very original game. There is an amazing amount of tension created by needing to plan ahead. Every player has a set number of cards, and you can play as many as you wish each round, but when they’ve all been played, the game is over for you! Do you play a card now so that you do not miss an opportunity, or do you wait, hoping that your patience this round will be rewarded later? It’s also a “double influence” game, in that each faction is competing for control of each territory while, at the same time, each player is competing for control of each faction. Gaining influence in a faction actually reduces their strength on the board–an elegant balancing mechanism. Add to that the dual victory conditions, and you have a big-game punch in a small package with a short playing time.
– Agricola –
Larry: I was lucky enough to own an early copy of Agricola well before an English language version was available. I probably shouldn’t have bought it; I didn’t know too much about the game and it had been years since Rosenberg had created anything of interest. But there was something about it that sounded appealing and I was particularly intrigued that it included the first two expansions, which was over 300 additional cards! When a friend who was going to Essen for the first time offered to be a mule for a limited number of games, I asked him to pick up a copy for me. Then all I had to do was find the time to type out the translations and sleeve all those cards!
It turned out to be well worth the effort. Agricola is a magical mixture of appealing theme, challenging mechanics, and amazing variety. As an example of the first of these, what better reason can you imagine for increasing your number of workers in a Worker Placement game than to have children? Awesome. The actions that you can select from are complex and interrelated, but they provide the players with difficult choices and Rosenberg tailors them to provide great balance for any number of players. And when you only see 14 cards a game and there’s over 300 of them, you know you’ll have plenty of replayability. The hand you receive prior to each game has a huge effect on your strategy and truly means that every game of Agricola will feel unique.
These are just some of the reasons that Agicola was the game that ended Puerto Rico’s long reign as the top rated game on Boardgame Geek. They’re also great reasons why you need to try this design out before you, uh, buy the farm.
– Pandemic –
Greg Schloesser: I was one of the few who was not enraptured by Reiner Knizia’s Lord of the Rings cooperative game. I felt it was simply a matter of playing cards if you had them, or holding them for a future confrontation. The proceedings were easily dominated by an aggressive player, rendering the proceedings to one of little more than a “follow the leader” affair. The game caused me to avoid the cooperative game genre for a long, long time.
Pandemic changed everything. The theme was exciting and relevant: dangerous diseases are surfacing across the globe, threatening to devastate humanity and civilization. Players — each with their own special powers — must cooperate to traverse the globe and battle these horrific diseases. There are numerous options, but just when you seem to be getting the situation under control, another outbreak occurs that seems to push humanity to the brink of destruction. It is a very tense and exciting game that truly does require clever thinking and constant cooperation.
Jeff Allers: The mechanisms of this game are so clever and elegant that it could easily be brushed off at first glance as “just another cube-pushing Euro abstract with a pasted-on theme.” But the theme is so incredibly strong, that this may be one of the best Euro-style theme-inspired game designs of the decade. And it’s easily my favorite cooperative game to play even now. Even with all the newer coop games that have been produced in its wake, this one is still hugely popular at the Spielwiese gaming cafe in Berlin and at my own open gaming events.
– Fast Food –
W. Eric Martin: I love to bring games to the table that elicit a WTF response from gamers and non-gamers alike, and Fast Food is great in this regard as it’s packaged in an imitation Big Mac box, each player has a McDonald’s-style French fry holder in which to keep her cards, and the game includes a squeaky hamburger that awaits attention in the center of the table. When you think you can score, slap that meat!
Game play is simple and silly. Someone deals out the ingredient deck face down among the players, then players take turns revealing one ingredient card at a time, covering the ingredient they played previously. Ingredients come in a handful of colors (red, green, yellow, brown, orange), often with two different ingredients having the same color background; both ketchup and tomato slices, for example, have a red background, while mayonnaise, onions, and cheese all have a yellow background. Whenever two identical cards are face up on the table, everyone races to slap the burger, and the first player to do so claims one of these cards – which might then reveal another match and lead to more burger-slapping.
The challenge in the game is two-fold: First, you can easily confuse cards because they have identical backgrounds and because you’re on a hair trigger waiting for something to slap. Feints are allowed – nay, encouraged! – and tricking someone into slapping in error leads to much good-natured razzing. (If someone slaps the burger in error, he takes his top card and places it face-down in his fry holder. Doing so might reveal a match, of course.)
Second, you can’t claim a card that’s the same color as the top card in your fry holder. Ketchup on ketchup?! Nice way to ruin your burger, Skippy. If you do this, you have to place one of the matching ingredient cards face-down in your holder.
Once all the cards have been flipped, you score 1 point for each card properly acquired and -2 points for each flub. High score wins. Playing Fast Food involves no strategy, but it does provide 100% of the FDA requirement of stupid fun.
– Summoner Wars –
Erik Arneson: I love Heroscape, and Summoner Wars is very much like a card game version of Heroscape (although the cards are played on a board…), so it came as little surprise to me that I also love Summoner Wars. Each player controls a fantasy army, such as dwarves, elves, goblins, or orcs. Each of the decks has one “summoner,” and the winner is the first to destroy his opponent’s summoner card. This game is all about attacks; there is very little opportunity to hide or defend in any meaningful way.
The Summoner Wars Master Set, published in 2011, is the best way to get into the game. Numerous expansions are available. You can read more right here on OG with my review of Summoner Wars or Mark Jackson’s review of Summoner Wars.
To be continued…