Chris Wray: Quick Thoughts on 10 More Essen Games

I’ll begin churning out reviews soon, but I’ve enjoyed playing more than 50 Spiel ’17 titles since the end of October.  I wrote a list a few weeks ago with quick thoughts on 10 Essen games, and this is a follow-up post with quick thoughts on 10 more games/expansions.

These are just my personal initial thoughts, and some of the ratings below are after just one play, so keep that in mind.  Also, to cover all of these titles, I’m skipping any rule review and going straight to my opinion.

Included below are the new Agricola expansions, Druids, Finished!, Meeple Circus, Memoarrr!, Noria, Pulsar 2849, Queendomino, Sticky Chameleons, and Zooloretto Duell.

Agricola Expansions

There have been seven total expansions releases for Agricola in recent weeks.  The most notable expansion is the Artifex deck, which includes 120 new occupation and minor improvement cards.  Agricola is my all-time favorite game, so I was always going to love the expansion, so the question is, is this worth the MSRP of $15?  I think so: the cards were cool, seemed balanced, and they interact nicely with the revised version of the game.  (FWIW, I don’t think the Artifex Deck can be easily used with the previous edition of Agricola.)

The other six expansions are the color expansions, available in the following colors: red, yellow, green, blue, purple, and white.  Each expansion comes with five miniatures and a small deck of 20 cards.  The MSRP on each set is $25, so these are bit high, so only the most hardcore Agricola fans will be drawn to it.  But I don’t regret purchasing all six sets; the miniatures are beautiful, and the decks are cool, even if they did feel familiar.  (These cards will reportedly be available for sale without the miniatures at a future date.)

My Initial OG Rating: I love it!

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Druids

Regular readers know that I love trick-taking games, and Amigo has published some cool ones over the years.  One of my favorites trick-takers is Null & Nichtig, so I was excited when I heard that Druids uses a similar mechanism.  In short, that mechanism is that whenever you take tricks, you sort the colors into stacks, and the number on the top of the stack counts as points at the end of the round.  So if, for example, somebody has a high card showing, you want to feed them a low card of that color to hurt their score.

Unfortunately, Druids fell flat with me and my group.  We liked the mechanism in Null & Nichtig better, and I didn’t see what some of the special cards in Druids added to the game.

My Initial OG Rating: Not for me.

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Finished

If you like solo games, you’re going to really like Finished!, which Friedemann Friese’s new one-player title.  I’ve played six (yes, six!) new Friese games/expansions from Essen 2017, and this is one of my favorites.

The BGG description is perfect: “You start Finished! with a shuffled deck of 48 cards and try to sort these cards by cycling through the draw stack during eight rounds. You may sort cards only in your “present” area, but helpful actions will let you manipulate your cards in many different ways. If you sort all cards starting from card 00:01 up to card 00:48, you win the game! If this is too easy for you, the game offers four difficulty levels.”

It was a cool, fast-paced, challenging puzzle that took me about 20 minutes.  I managed to win my first game, but I played on the easiest setting.  I’m not much of a solo gamer, but I could totally see myself taking this on long airplane rides, since it has a small footprint and can be played alone.

My Initial OG Rating: I like it.

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Meeple Circus

I’m starting to get annoyed that my family won’t play any game other than Meeple Circus.  I got my copy a couple of weeks back, and they’ve all enjoyed the meeple-stacking fun a bit too many times.

It’s a cool game.  I’m not a big dexterity guy, but this one will have a place on my shelf.

Players compete over the course of three rounds.  The player with the most points at the end of those rounds wins.  Everybody begins with two meeples, a blue one and a yellow one.  At the start of each round, players draft their resources and — in some cases — restrictions.  There are various pieces in the game, everything from different colored meeples, to donkeys/elephants, to circles and planks.  Once the draft is done, everybody gets a set amount of time — Matagot has provided music for download, or you can just set a 2 minute timer — to arrange their meeples and other pieces in the best possible combination.  There are three placement rules: (1) everything must fit in your play area, (2) pieces must have a piece on top of them if they’re on the ground, and (3) pieces can’t be placed on their side.

Once time is up, each ring in the circus is scored.  Players get a point for their blue meeples if they are on the ground, a point for their yellow meeples if they aren’t on the ground, and a varying number of points for red meeples depending on how high they are.  Additionally, there are public demands, and if players for the various shapes (such as meeples stacked in a pyramid) they earn extra points.  Finally, some of the cards you drafted at the beginning might have goals that score points, and points are awarded to the first two players to have completed their circus act.

It’s cute and fun.  There’s a certain amount of dexterity required, but it is more of a puzzle game, as you have to find out the best way to arrange your meeples under time pressure.  There’s a high degree of replayability here, which isn’t always the case with dexterity games.

My family loves it, I like it, and anybody can play it.  That’s a pretty cool combination.

My Initial OG Rating: I like it.

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Memoarrr!

I could potentially see Memoarrr! getting a Spiel des Jahres nomination, although the fact that it is a simple card game without the “toy” factor probably works against it.  From what I’ve seen by the SdJ jury members, though, they’re enjoying the game.  And after I played it, I saw that this is definitely in their wheelhouse.

Memory games aren’t my favorite, but this one works exceptionally well.  There are 25 cards on the table, and you get to look at three of them.  Each card has both an animal and a background color (represented by different landscapes).  On your turn, you have to turn over a card that matches either the animal or background of the previous turn.  If you miss, you take a volcano card and are out of the round; if you’re the last person standing, you get a treasure card with a variable number of rubies.  The person with the most rubies at the end of the game wins.  There’s also a variant where each animal type has a special power, though I haven’t tried it yet.

It’s simple, but it’s fun.  As a friend said, it is the card game version of Simon.  I’m not sure when it’ll get a US release, but I plan to pick this one up when it does.

My Initial OG Rating: I like it.

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Noria

Noria’s a cool game, and I look forward to trying it again.  At the center of the game is a wheel with three rings; the first ring (in the center) has two spaces, the next ring has four, and the last has six.  You can activate a piece on each wheel once or twice per turn, depending on whether it is upgraded, and you use those actions to further develop your wheel (most spaces start empty), earn resources, and score points.

It’s clever.  It’s really clever.  Using the wheel is a bit obtuse at first, but the game is actually straightforward once you’ve got it down, even if the rulebook was a bear to read.

I believe this was desisgner Sophia Wagner’s first game, and she’s off to an amazing start.  And it continues the streak of Edition Spielwiese’s Essen success, as they released this, Memoarrr!, and Indian Summer.

My Initial OG Rating: I like it.

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Pulsar 2849

Many, many gamers will enjoy Pulsar 2849.  BGG explains the game well: “Draft dice to explore the universe in Pulsar 2849. Each round, roll dice based on the number of players, sort them based on their values, then draft dice to take actions, such as adding another spaceship to your fleet or visiting (or flying through) an unexplored star system or tagging a pulsar with one of your identity rings or advancing on your personal tech track, which differs from those of other players.”

This game has some really clever parts: I enjoyed the dice drafting in particular, since drafting specific dice above or below the “median” value takes you back in turn order or earning helpful engineering cubes.  The technology track was cool, and so was the exploration element.

But this played slower than it should have, and it felt a bit too “point salad” for my tastes.  I also worry about the balance of some of the strategies: I spent a lot of the game trying to earn points by traveling, but looking at the final scores, that wasn’t really a viable option against people who focused on other game elements.

Overall, it was interesting, and I’d play it again, but I wouldn’t ask for it.

My Initial OG Rating: Neutral.

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Queendomino

I’ve heard Queendomino described as the “gamers” version of Kingdomino, but I think it is better described as a longer-and-more-complicated version of Kingdomino.

It takes the gameplay you know from Kingdomino — building a 5×5 grid, with turn order being determined by the rank of the previous piece taken — but with several extras.  There are now “red” spaces that let you buy tiles from the bank, and these tiles give you points, extra scoring opportunities, or extra resources.  You can also now “tax” regions by putting out a knight, earning you one dollar per square in the region you taxed.  You’ll need that money to buy the red pieces.  And there are other additions as well, such as the addition of a Queen (which gives you a discount on the red tiles) and a dragon (which lets you remove a red tile from the market).

It seemed cool in theory, but in practice, it bogs down an otherwise fine game.  It also makes Kingdomino feel a bit more “point salad”-esque, and the new pieces didn’t exactly mesh well in my mind.

I’m a Kingdomino enthusiast.  I even spent my birthday this year hosting a Kingdomino tournament!  So I was excited for Queendomino, which I think many gamers will prefer, but in the end liked the fast-paced and streamlined gameplay of its Spiel des Jahres-winning predecessor better.

My Initial OG Rating: I like it (but love Kingdomino).

Sticky Chameleons

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I haven’t laughed this hard in a long time.

Each player gets a sticky chameleon “tongue,” which resembles those sticky, rubbery devices you used to be able to buy at quarter machines as a kid.  Two dice are rolled, and using that tongue, you need to grab the cardboard insect shown by the dice.  There are several possible insects in the middle of the table, plus there are obstacles (hornets) to avoid, so it’s harder than it sounds.  First player to catch five of the correct insects wins.

Imagine the following scene at my house last night: four grown men — all of which ahve pretty serious personalities — gather around a table to play some Eurogames.  At the end of the night, we pull out this 15 minute game.  What ensues is one of the funniest gaming moments of my life.  The dice are rolled, and the competition is on.  People start slapping their sticky tongue everywhere, and cardboard is flying around the room.  One guy is screaming “spider, spider, spider,” and I hit myself in the face with flying cardboard.  One player gets the desired piece, and we turn on him, sending the tongues at him in an attempt to steal the prize.  Meanwhile, we can’t stop laughing, and tears are in my eyes and I’m out of breath from the hilarity.  (There’s a tweet of a later situation showing the chaos.  I’m the guy in the green shirt on the right.  It wasn’t as comical as the “spider, spider, spider” event moments before, however.)

It’s not going to be loved by all people, but it is great for a good laugh.  We had a blast.

My Initial OG Rating: I love it!

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Zooloretto Duel

My parents LOVE Zooloretto (it might be their favorite board game) and all its spinoffs.  I bought my Mom Zooloretto Duell, the new two-player version, for Christmas.  Unfortunately, she found out about it and didn’t want to wait until Christmas to play it.

Duell is exactly what’s advertised: a two-player version of Zooloretto.  On your turn, you can either put a card on one of the trucks, take a truck, or take a money action.  The difference here is that you’re competing directly against another player for a majority in each type of animal, so there’s a heavy “majorities” aspect to this.  There’s also interim scoring: as soon as a pre-set number of each animal are on display, the majority is determined, and points are doled out.  Lastly, having combinations of certain animals (denoted by lightening symbols) can earn negative points, while animals denoted with hearts can have babies (just like in Zooloretto).

If you like Zooloretto, you’re going to like this two-player version.  If you don’t like Zooloretto, nothing here will change your mind.  But it is a clever version with a majorities twist, and I know my parents will be Zooloretto Duell-ing for years to come.

My Initial OG Rating: I like it.

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2 Responses to Chris Wray: Quick Thoughts on 10 More Essen Games

  1. Glad you appreciate the BGG descriptions of Finished! and Pulsar 2849, Chris, as I wrote both of them. I wish that I had time to write descriptions of every game on BGG, but until we perfect cloning technology (which would allow time to learn every game firsthand), that’s not going to happen.

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