Patrick Brennan: Game Snapshots – May 2017 (Part 2)
So this is part 2 of May’s new game adventures.
By: Patrick Brennan
In other gaming, The Downfall of Pompeii proved a hit with my teenage boys. I knew it would, and I’ve been saving it for a few years for the right moment. So that’s had a couple of plays. Who can resist the lure of throwing victims into a seething volcano after all. Flashpoint made a return visit as well. We’ve played this a LOT over the years. Boys, firefighters … it’s all about the theme, baby.
Games I played for the first time during the second half of May though included …
I was disappointed in this one. Basically it’s the same as Ascension, which I like, but adds a map you have to move around. Because the luck of the card draft isn’t enough luck, it then adds a layer more luck on whether you die or not. In my one game I died the turn before I was about to collect over half again of my score, so yeah there are some sour grapes. This kind of design might be ok in a 15 minute luck-fest, but not so much in a 45-60 min long affair. Not one I need to play again, especially when Ascension already fills this niche nicely in a more suitable timeframe.
I appreciated the potential behind having a different power for each of the possible 30 die rolls (5 colors, values 1-6), and building towards that with the options available. It’s very much a case of taking advantage of what’s presented to you in the draft though, and what resources you roll to begin with, so it feels like you’re being led by the nose in the early game. But at least there’s different avenues to explore each game which provides some replay. The one issue is that if you know what you’re doing, there can be some downtime while people analyse dice manipulations and the 8 powers available in the draft, and as a consequence the game goes longer than it should. For which I’d normally mark it down to a 6, but it gets a higher rating because it generates an itch to explore the viability of the different approaches it offers.
LORDS OF XIDIT
I found this surprisingly enjoyable for a dodgy-theme game. I’ve always liked programming games and this does it nicely, with just enough information to provide intel on what might happen this turn, but with some trackable hidden information (which you wouldn’t bother tracking) creating some tension on what other people might do to potentially upset your plan. Upon which you can make a decision to plan safely or riskily. I was impressed by the way the city tiles alternated between getting resources and providing rewards, and I enjoyed the newness of the knockout win conditions over the 3 different races at the end of the game, providing enough freshness to entertain us. A second play for me highlighted that each play is going to be much of the same though, and as long as you’re doing appropriate look-ahead and risk assessment of other players options, there’s not too much clever you can do – try and note what other people can/can’t do, collect as best as on offer, and convert it into rewards as best as on offer. So I feel like I’ve explored it enough after 2 plays and am happy to move on, but would also happily play it if someone wanted to explore it.
I like the concept, using a diminishing dice pool to get a number that allows you to either acquire a new card or activate (if you’ve planned well) multiple cards that you’ve previously acquired. It all comes at a time cost that eventually kills off your meeples, meaning you’re encouraged to spend turns re-acquiring lost capability, and that I’m less enamoured with – 2 steps forward 1 step backward as a game-system isn’t that exciting. And I felt much the same about its ancestor, Village. There’s a few pathways to take, probably led by your early numbers, and you’ll want to maximise each with end-game scoring bonuses. Trying out these different pathways offers some replay, which is good obviously, and the game is different enough to enjoy it for what it is and warrant some exploration, but in the end, the restricted set of cards and powers is going to limit how far the game can take you. Halfway through my third game, it felt like I was starting to see the same things happen again, so I think it’s about run its course for me, though I enjoyed it enough through those plays.
This is a game that I admire more than I enjoy, or want to play. Every game consists of a random selection of 5 of the 16 possible moves, ensuring every game rewards the player who is first to master the move combo’s needed to create a winning board position. On a turn, you have 2 of the 5 move-cards at your disposal, meaning all your pieces can move like (eg) a knight or a pawn this turn. After your turn, that move-card moves to the opponent’s in-tray, and you get the move-card that your opponent used last (which might be like a king say), so you get a turn’s look-ahead as to the possibilities. The move-cards flow between the players like water flows down a babbling brook through a dappled forest … for an abstract game, it provides a wonderful sense of Zen-style graceful martial arts, flowing from one move to the next. For all that, it still feels too abstract for me to want to pull it out and explore, but I can certainly see how it holds appeal to those who like this kind of condensed-board challenge.
Flip two cards to reveal two prompter subjects (like frat party and Star Wars), and be the first to come up with a witty pun that combines the two elements. Hmm. This might well be fun for a group of comedians who’ve trained their brains to quickly arrive at witty jokes and puns, but for your ordinary group of people there’s a lot of non-fun silence before someone eventually comes up with a pun that’s decent and clever. Which can be rewarding when it happens, but not an overly fun time between times. Especially if the group consists of gamers whose brains are wired analytically rather than free-associatively. Pass.
For a short abstract game, this is a pretty good rating for me. At the start it feels like you’re wandering around a bit, just trying different things, and then as the game develops shape, you see possibilities and develop a plan to win. I’m sure that point comes much earlier with mucho experience, as it feels like there’s depth to the game. And yet it’s so simple. Turns are as fast as you want depending on if you’re playing by feel or thinking options through. The beautiful components elevate the game. The god cards, providing special powers, extend the game’s replayability rather dramatically, adding a layer of fun via each player testing one asymmetric power against another, and lifts the game to another level. It’s not a game I’ll seek, as it’s not a genre I seek, but I’ll enjoy playing it if someone’s keen.
Nice game that comes in a tight little package that provides lots of hard decisions in a decent timeframe (making it a mid-weight Euro). Draw tiles to expand your farm, decide which fields (colors) of the farm you’re going to harvest to gain resources, travel around the board to a free spot (turn order is crucial here) where you can convert your resources into victory points or into expanding your capabilities (judgement calls galore here), and then feed your dudes with leftover resources that you better make sure you didn’t accidently spend. With only 8 rounds, and hence only 8 actions to buy stuff, it really is tight. I like it for that. Punchy. My main trepidation is that the collateral damage of someone taking the space you want/need in the town has too large an effect on your result given how few turns you get, and that fear drives the rating down a bit.
Thoughts of other Opinionated Gamers:
Dale Y: Punderdome sounds like it would be a close second or third in the contest of “Which game on the table is most likely to make me just leave…” – competing with Insider and Werewolf. Egads. On the other hand, Walnut Grove is one of those quirky games that really captured my eye. I think I’ve conservatively played it 30 times now. I love the super tight limitation of actions – only 8 per game! It can be super punishing because missing even a single round can hurt your chances of doing well, but we’ve had games where everyone missed out at least once, and that was a very dramatic game. It plays in under 30 minutes which makes it a little less painful if/when you get hosed.
Mark Jackson: I’m already on record as a huge fan of Clank… and especially when you compare to Ascension. I find Ascension to be clever but the theme to be murky at best… while Clank is rich with theme and humor.
Walnut Grove is just OK – I could go a long time before I need to play it again.
Clank – This was a game I avoided for a while, as it combines two things–deckbuilding and dungeon crawl–that I’m not really fond of. But when I finally played it, I liked it more than I thought I would.
Dice City – Played once and wasn’t particularly impressed. Nothing critical, just not that engaging. I seem to recall I tried something straightforward and dominated with it; of course, with more plays, we’d probably find a counter to it. But I have no desire to play again; there are plenty of other dice games which are shorter and better.
Lords of Xidit – I’ve played this version, as well as the game it was derived from, Himalaya. Both are good and the programmed moves concept is challenging. However, in both cases, I wasn’t really moved to get it to the table again. So, good, but not quite good enough to make me want to explore it. I’d happily play if someone else wanted to, though.
My Village – I’ve played two partial games of this (both times, taking over for someone who had to leave early). That makes this a bit hard to judge, but I can give my impressions for what they’re worth. I think the game is clever and probably more varied and more interesting mechanically than Village. The problem is its length. Every game of it I’ve seen has fallen into the 3+ hour range and there’s just not enough here to support that duration. If this could be played in 2 hours or a bit more, I’d be very anxious to check it out. But if what I’ve seen of its length is accurate, I’ll probably pass reluctantly. Too bad, it’s very promising.
Walnut Grove – I’ve played this half a dozen times or more. It’s an interesting, solid design that really scores with its speed of play. It’s really fast, but there’s still plenty of interesting decisions to be made in that time. As Patrick and Dale mentioned, it’s very tight, which I love. A game I’m happy to play anytime; it’s fallen victim to the Cult of the New, like so many other titles, but thankfully, it still gets pulled out from time to time.