Patrick Brennan: Game Snapshots – April 2017
A few years back I used to do a monthly column (on the old BoardgameNews.com site) that compiled my thoughts on each of the games I’d played for the first time that month. This used to be a fairly decent number because I used to average something like 120+ new games a year – I’ve now rated and commented on roughly 2300 games on BGG, plus numerous expansions. For a while that number’s diminished while one of my gaming groups has concentrated on campaigns – Pandemic Legacy, LotR LCG, Gears Of War, Zombicide, Seafall, and any number of campaign-based Ameritrash efforts. But it seems the new game mojo’s come back somewhat, and I’ve been encouraged to give it another crack, so let’s go at it. I hope you enjoy.
Games I played for the first time during April …
From the makers of Onirim and Sylvion. I’ve only played the easiest level, but it’s neat and pleasant. I enjoy dice games and this does something interesting and enjoyable despite a simple rule set (which is another positive: it’s easy to teach and get started). Having a bunch of different modes to play, and different objectives within each mode, provides a ton of replayability. Which is a must-have in the solo/2-player niche. And the game flows quickly as well. A nice addition to the genre.
This is a nice blend of Dominion-style deck-building with the Monza mechanism, one of our all-time favourite littlies’ games (where you roll coloured dice and move along the spaces that match colours on the dice). Here you’re pulling cubes out of a bag and advance along the coloured spaces matching your cubes. Cubes you don’t spend moving give you money to buy more cubes, so there’s some nice tradeoff decisions to make about whether to move or improve. The addition of cubes that allow additional types of actions, like boosts and repairs, provide more decisions on how to balance your cube/bag between movement cubes and action cubes. My fear is that it’s a bit samey after a few laps, and despite the available actions being different from game to game, that it will nevertheless feel a bit samey from game to game as well. Still, enjoyable enough.
BEYOND BAKER STREET
By way of background, I rate Hanabi a 10 and have played it 200+ times. This has a few more rules than Hanabi, but the clue-giving is much simpler, meaning the strategy and fun of deriving successful protocols is missing and makes for a lesser game by way of comparison. The theme could be said to be a touch richer, but really, it’s still abstract – you’re analysing card numbers and colours and giving clues to simply get them into the pile you want. Standalone, it’s still a fine game that I would otherwise be playing a lot, but … no need for us.
I like the timed aspect of organising the best order to resolve cards – determining what you can do yourself, and what you need help with, and co-ordinating other players to be in the spots you need them (and vice versa) at the same numbered action (thematically, the hour you need them). Which makes for a lot of hurried co-operative discussion with no possibility of alpha direction, and the time pressure makes it tricky to determine any optimal order of resolution for each player. Do the best you can. Then, resolve all the actions you planned at your leisure and hope no mistakes were made. You earn cards and stuff, and then use it in the end game to earn dice, and – in either the biggest climax or the biggest anti-climax in gaming depending on your point of view – you roll all the dice you earned to see if you win. Yep, it all comes down to one dice roll. You can make it a deterministic win via variant if that’s your thing though. It’s not a game I loved, but one I enjoyed enough to play again if others were willing, as it goes pretty fast once you know what you’re doing. The suspicion is that games are going to be repetitive though given it comes down to matching your icons with icons on the board as fast as possible, repeat.
Very clever, very neat co-op (from a New Zealand production house btw, where I spent a year living back in the day and have a soft spot for), and it comes in at the right timeframe. You “Mancala” your guys around the board to pick up chits (too many chits at a spot and it explodes, more are added each turn), and gradually turn in more and more collected chits to advance the win condition by moving guys off the board. But moving guys off the board means there are less guys available to pick up chits, just when you need to collect even more chits to win! Horribly delicious. It’s easy to do one good move, but to plan ahead enough moves to ensure the first one is the right one is, as Mancala experts would know, just a little tricky. There’s no hidden information, so it’s actually a solo game with a potential alpha director issue, but Mancala is hard so having multiple heads discussing options works for us. And just when you think you’ve almost won, it starts spiralling out of control!! Nice theme, nice artwork, nice components – nice production.
THE ORACLE OF DELPHI
Few Euros get an 8 from me these days, but this was one of them. Lots of things to gather and process to win, lots of ways to go about it. You’re restricted by dice rolls but it has the required Feld dice manipulation tweaks which work nicely and you never felt too badly done by. Lots of tech powers to contemplate, and combos to explore. Turns go fairly smoothly because you can study and plan during other players’ turns. I enjoyed it.
STAR WARS: REBELLION
Asymmetry is always valued in a balanced game. I can’t speak to the overall balance, but can speak to the really nice decision matrix the game provides. It has an eerie sense of LotR LCG. There, leaders choose to quest, defend, or attack. Here your leaders quest (do a mission), trigger a move/attack, or hang back to defend. This similarity is a good thing – it’s driven 500+ games of the LCG after all. It makes for continual hard and interesting decisions. These are influenced by how much energy you’re putting into your strategic vs tactical imperatives, and there are different strategies to employ which will certainly engender replay. I also like how the space/ground theatres in combat drives what systems you want to “colonise” so as to build the units you want and when you want them. And the components are top class, as you’d expect from FFG. All good stuff, and looking forward to more play.
A beautiful looking game, and after our first play everyone was wondering how we could get hold of a copy. Everyone has a unique 5×4 grid with varied dice requirements on it – this spot can only be yellow, this spot a 2, etc – but no die can be orthogonally adjacent to a die of the same colour or number. The aim is to get as many dice out as possible, and over the 10 rounds you claim 2 dice each turn from a draft, settlers-style. Each round your options diminish as to what dice can validly be placed on your board, and the game feels more and more like Take It Easy – how long can you keep your perfect board going. It’s got variable Kingdom Builder type scoring options for inter-game variety, a big plus. The only reason for not rating it higher as that I suspect your score can bust pretty easily on the final rounds, out of your control (again, much like Take It Easy). But it’s certainly enjoyable in the playing.
As long fillers go, this is decent. It’s a set drafting game. To play well, each round you need to analyze what sets the other players will likely want. If they probably won’t take the set you want you can afford to take a lower rated turn order card – later choice, but you get to play more cards out that round. If others will likely want your desired set(s), you’ll want to take a higher rated turn order card that gets an earlier pick but plays out fewer cards. That’s the game in a nutshell, repeat for 10 rounds. It’s more work than I want in my fillers, and the game is more enjoyable if everyone only glances at other boards rather than studies them so as to keep the game moving along at tempo. Nothing mind-boggling, but enjoyable enough for what it is.
So I finally got to complete the trilogy, 9 years after release. This is probably the pick of them, but I’m not a huge fan of any of them. This is closer to a gambling game. The decision crux is whether I settle on claiming this ship now or wait for something better suited later, and will I be able to claim a better ship if it comes along anyway. Sometimes you get lucky, sometimes not. Like Medici, it pays to focus on specialising on collecting one type of resource for bonus points, so players tend to differentiate themselves and want different things which makes the claiming decision a bit easier, probably to the game’s detriment. The rules are easy, and it’s decent enough for the occasional whirl I guess, but not something I need. Interestingly, the players at the table who were newer to the hobby all enjoyed it more than I, which I suspect is a function of not having seen the same ol’, same ‘ol as much.
BATTLES OF WESTEROS
I’ve read the books and seen the mini-series, so one could say I’m a fan of the back-story. This has a pretty thin thematic linkage – at heart it’s just a system – but I finally picked it up in a Maths Trade so on we went. Despite using the same system, it has a different feel from Memoir ’44 et al. The requirement to keep units within range of your commander(s) in order to do multiple move/attacks on a turn must be kept in mind throughout, and this does away with the three zone structure. The engagement / parting blow / flanking rules allow pinning of troops, which can waylay plans effectively. There’s more luck involved in what you can move each turn (as set by dice rolls and a card draw, with a smaller hand size), but hits are harder to come by so battles tend to go longer before there’s death involved. There’s a round based structure meaning units only get to act once (usually) each round, as opposed to the fluidity of repeatable Memoir troop movement. On the downside, setup takes longer and the components are damn fiddly enough to turn off all but the hardiest of system / theme lovers – fiddling with units not sticking in bases and the continual rotation of banners creates a frustrating sense of slowness which is out of keeping with what’s meant to be a frenetic melee battle scene. As such, I’d choose Memoir ’44 over this just for better thematic immersion, easier setup, and the faster pace of play. Still, this has a big plus in how all the different troop and commander effects can give different feels to different battles, which is in contrast to the same-ness of Memoir battles where terrain dictates activity. Not sure there’s a need for both in the collection, but happy to explore further for a while.
An interesting exercise in game design that I’ve been hoping I might get a chance to check out since it was published, but playing it feels like you’re testing unfinished prototypes – runaway stuff might happen, or insufficient catchup, or turn order advantages too hard to overcome, etc – all issues that testing and development would normally fix and overcome. I also found the rules too vague or confusing in places, trying to address too many situations that weren’t relevant to me right now, and not enough detail for the situation I had right now. I thought it might get a few plays just to see what kind of experiences it can generate, as exploring a new approach is always interesting after playing so many different games over the years (I can appreciate something new even if it doesn’t quite pull it off as well as I’d like), but my enthusiasm to get it to the table diminished with each new page of the rulebook.
THOUGHTS OF OTHER OPINIONATED GAMERS
504 is a game that I love the concept of, and I love all the bits inside of it – it is a game developer’s dream… However, to date, I haven’t found a variation of the game that I’ve found compelling due to gameplay alone.
Sagrada is becoming a fast favorite around here. The changing board cards make each game different enough as do the different tool cards. Daryl has like 20 games coming out in the next 18 months, and I honestly think it’s gonna be hard to top this one.
London Dread – I haven’t played, but I should say that the one game that I watched also came down to a single die roll. They could have saved themselves two and a half hours and just rolled 1d6 to start…
Andrea “Liga” Ligabue:
504 is one of the best ideas of the last few years, but a game that does not hit my table too often … what I think it really lacks is “a story” and a single game that really hits me.
Star Wars:Rebellion is one of the best 2-player games ever. I like it as much as Twilight Struggle. I really love asymmetric games where the two factions play differently. I also like how well the mechanics fit the theme, starting with the secret position of the Rebellion’s base.
Automobiles. I actually quite enjoy this one, although one must be wary of the combination of special power cards, as they can create a dominant strategy. Yes, there is a healthy dose of luck, but the game is fun and there are often numerous leader changes and tense moments.
Oracle of Delphi. I was not as smitten with this one as most seem to be. It is essentially a race game, which is fine, but it just seemed to be missing that “spark” that elevates a game to greatness for me.
Sagrada. This certainly has that “Take it Easy” feel where things are going well until you bust. I enjoy the theme, the challenge of optimum dice placement, and the relative simplicity of the rules. Plus, I know my wife will enjoy it, which is always a big plus. I can see this being a BIG hit as a closer with game groups, as well as a nice game to play with non-gaming friends and family.
Oracle of Delphi – Very happy to once again see a meaty game from Herr Feld. Lots of ways of achieving the tasks and my plays have been enjoyable. One of the best from last year, IMO.
Sagrada – Very nice dice placement game. A reasonable amount to think about, but it still plays quickly. And it’s just gorgeous.
Strozzi – In contrast to Patrick, this is my least favorite of the Knizia Medici/Strozzi trilogy. Medici is an evergreen that still gets plenty of table time and Medici vs. Strozzi is one of my favorite (and most intense) 2-player games. Strozzi, OTOH, seems very pedestrian and luck-driven. Definitely weak beer when compared to its older brother Medici.
PB: You’re probably right, but I’ve never been a Medici fan either – I have issues with its harshness. For me, I think Strozzi might fall over the line as the least offensive! Damned by faint praise though, to be sure ;-)
504 – A grand experiment and one that Friese obviously couldn’t resist. And I doubt any other designer could have done as good a job with the concept as he did. But, almost by necessity, what it generates (in the best case) is hundreds of pretty good games and there are no shortage of existing pretty good games available to me. What I really want is a few great games and I’ve yet to experience or hear of any of the 504 possibilities that meet that description.
Oracle of Delphi (1 play): I was optimistic about the lack of point salad in the game, but it still disappointed me – it’s an overly complex race game, and those never really hit home with me.
Sagrada (1 play): I can see the comparison to Take It Easy, but for me Sagrada is a far less interesting game, being naturally slower. Not an awful game, by any stretch, but not for me.
Pyramids (3 plays): This game I found enjoyable – but having played a few times, it wasn’t getting any better. Fun for those few plays, though.
504 (6 plays): I admire 504 quite a bit, and I’m happy to play – but as for others, the lack of a strong theme left it short of a game I want in my collection. I still do like the game.