Patrick Brennan: Game Snapshots – Jan 2018
After working with the Electoral Commission on three different elections over the last 6 months, where time was not my own, gaming time is gradually returning to normal. When last we met, my co-op group had started a Pathfinders: Wrath of the Righteous campaign to see if the game improved over time. Sadly not and it’s on the trade pile, feeling sorry for itself in the corner. We’ve been working through Tragedy Looper scenarios in the meantime and while still enjoyable, each game seems to come down to a Vizzini moment where we try to outguess what the mastermind did, knowing he knows we’ll need to outguess him. We’ll likely come back to it at some point, but this week we began Pandemic Legacy Season 2 with the prologue, and its novel approach within the same structure is already appealing. Gloomhaven is finally in the house and that’ll start getting runs as well. And some interesting new decks for Lord of the Rings: The Card Game are being explored. Oh, and I sent my uber-solo dwarf deck into the Mountain of Fire for the first time and they got whipped and smacked every which way but Tuesday. Those final scenarios, my friends, are doozies, and provide a worthy finale to the “book” saga! It may be time to send in the eagles instead (which we all know should have happened from the start anyway, but then there’d be no story and so …).
Anyway, games I’ve played for the first time recently include …
CLANS OF CALEDONIA
Good solid Euro. Claim land and put out money generators and/or resource generators – they’re your first decisions, to focus or to spread. Claim contracts, convert resources into contract fulfilments, get more contracts, claim more land, and keep going for 5 rounds. There’s an out in that you can get resources at the market place that you’ve not invested in, and sell excess if you can’t land a contract using that resource. Standard stuff but its clean and it seems like there’s a few approaches to explore. It’s fairly rules heavy, but once you get going the turns go by pretty quickly and that’s a plus. If you love Euros and it’s in your collection, you’d be happy.
So each turn you’re offered a choice of different set of shaped pieces to fit onto one of your two personal boards, and generally you choose the biggest shape you can that will cover the most empty spaces without covering up the scoring spaces, a la FITS, whilst leaving empty spaces in a pattern that are likely coverable later with a minimum number of pieces. Repeat for turn after turn, round after round. That’s it. There’s no sense of critical decision making, or fun making. You enter a game-auto-trance, a la Flowerpower, and eventually come out of it, but only after the game takes waaaay longer than it merits. I was expecting something more interesting given the author, but it felt like other games, only without the things that make them worthy, and came away disappointed.
Much simpler than I expected for a pseudo-legacy game. Really, it’s no different from any other game of card effect ilk. There’s a collection of cards available with powers. Use those powers to get currency cards as fast as possible. Hope to draw currency cards in the sets you need to buy things (ie get lucky). Buy things as fast as possible (which will eventually seed new powers into the game). And before you know it, the game’s over. The only new idea is that you start the next game with the card powers you ended up with at the end of the current game. It’s easy enough to play, but I was expecting more. Each recent Friese game I’ve played lately has been of similar form – interesting idea, but game-play less than hoped. It’s fast and harmless enough to allow replay, so as to see where it takes us, but we’re hoping it develops more interesting decision making.
I’ve been vacillating on whether this will turn out to be an 8. You claim an action card from the draft to expand cards in your tableau, to improve cards in your tableau, or to move markers along cards in your tableau to gain advantage. There’s lots of ways of scoring points, including immediate points, fulfilling contracts/quests, end-of-game bonuses, and first-past-the-post points. You might only get 18 actions, but it’s one of those games where you get lots of bonus actions from achieving things, so you’re trying to set up to take full advantage which will take replay to master. Different strategic approaches offer replay. Different sets of action cards offer replay. But essentially it’s a drafting game, and drafting cards for 60-75 minutes is a long drafting game. It kept my attention though, and I’d like to play more, but it felt like another in a long line, which meant it lacked a certain level of exploration excitement. But it does do drafting very well and I’d be happy to play.
Pleasant enough to play if someone brings it to the table, but the decisions are not interesting enough to seek it out or buy it myself. Choose a tile from the draft and add it to your tableau, wanting tiles with crown symbols (your score multipliers) and to link terrain together to make big tracts of similar terrain (your other score multiplier). Repeat. The tile you pick also dictates the order of choosing in the next round (the least valuable, the earlier). The recurring decisions are simple, but enough to keep you engaged for the 10 minutes or so it takes to play. But I’d class this as more of a waiting game. As in, ok, let’s do this while we’re waiting before we can start a real game.
5 is a top rating for me for a children’s game, as that rating says the game almost stands up with adults. This does a great job of taking a mediocre educational game in Guess Who and turning it into a fun co-op. It requires a bit of memory concentration to win now and it provides some cheer/groan factor with the dice. For adults, the game devolves into how lucky you get re rolling 3 of the same kind after 2 re-rolls. Each time you fail, the Fox aka Midnight Party’s Hugo aka the loss condition moves along, but if you succeed you get information that helps you eliminate suspects. If you succeed faster than you fail, you win. Otherwise you can still win by taking a guess between those that are left once you’re about to lose. There’s no clever or interesting decisions, just the luck of the dice and some memory, but there is a “clever” mechanism which reveals information, like whether the suspect is wearing glasses or not. Anyway, if my kids were young again, this’d be a great pickup, but we’ve outgrown it.
POWER GRID: THE CARD GAME
I’m not overly a fan. Whilst always enjoyable, I’m not blind to the fact that Power Grid is flawed as, with experienced players, the end result is often the result of a chicken auction – do I bid this higher (in case the next card is crap) or do I bail out (because the next card is even better) – and it’s all a guess. This card game beautifully captures this same flaw (sigh), and does away with the feature that makes the board game palatable, being the ebb and flow of board position and site purchase. Meaning the essence of the card game is distilled to auction after auction after auction, which is probably our least liked aspect of the board game. Given it also brings nothing new to the table, there’s no desire to explore this further.
I had no expectations going in, and I guess they were met. You pick up lots of cards Ticket To Ride style, or you spend a turn buying as many tiles as you can in one foul swoop (and yes I mean foul swoop, as it’s usually foul for the other players!). Which makes for the occasional long turn waiting as a player uhms and ahhs on whether to buy one more tile this turn or not. You’re mainly picking up cards in the hope that they’ll be useful in a later turn, because their usefulness depends on what tiles are available for purchase later in the round – the cards aren’t sought and acquired with the same directed purpose that a specific track section in TtR demands. So you meander along, gathering as you go. At the end of the round, players secretly arrange their tiles in patterns and, effectively in a blind bid, reveal them to determine the value of each and then be awarded VPs for best in show. Ahh, blind bidding, the champion of urgh mechanics! The game goes for three rounds, and yep, you’re playing the same game three times. We gave up caring well before then.
SPOTLIGHT ON: SENTINELS OF THE MULTIVERSE
100+ plays. This isn’t a game I talk about a lot but it just seems to come out regularly all year, every year. It’s a light romp co-op, another of those “let’s see what happens” games (which you’re either fine with, or not, so the game’s not for everyone). Each player gets a pre-made deck, and out comes a boss villain, a baddies deck, and a pack of environment cards to fight against. On your turn, you’re trying to inflict as much damage on the baddies as you can – you win if you kill the boss – and after everyone’s had a shot, baddie cards get flipped and enacted, usually inflicting damage back on you. Win before you all die. There are two main issues with the game. Firstly your turn is very straight forward – pick your best card and play it, and then pick your best power and use it. Maybe you’ll hold back if your best card might be even better later, so play something else instead. But most decisions are things like inflict 1 damage to everything or inflict 3 damage to one thing. Not that hard. Secondly, there’s little tension in the game because there aren’t risk/reward tradeoffs to be made. It’s not like you’re weighing up actions and cards based on the odds of whether something will happen or not – you just weigh in and play what you’ve got. So the gameplay itself isn’t that interesting, but it plays fast and works because it’s fun to get your combos out and live and die together as a team, making it a positive social experience with a great theme that I’m always happy to play. The huge number of combinations of player decks vs villains vs environments makes for a ton of different situations to overcome together, so while the game’s simplicity means it’s not for everyone, for us it’s one of those games where the social environment it generates overcomes any mechanical downsides.
Thoughts of other Opinionated Gamers:
Greg S: Interesting that I feel very similar to you regarding many of the games you mention. My thoughts:
Fabled Fruit. Eh. It is harmless enough, but it is really nothing more than a simple set collection game in efforts to fulfill “contracts,” something seen in many, many other games. I have a friend who really enjoys this, so we play whenever we are together. I have no need to play it more than that.
Power Grid: Card Game. I certainly don’t see what all the fuss is about. This strips out much of what makes Power Grid so brilliant and distills it down to round-after-round of auctions. I would MUCH prefer to play Power Grid.
Quilt Show. A decidedly klunker of a game … in the bad sense. I really wanted to like it, but the game is really heavily luck-laden and, well, boring. The game could have used more rigorous development as there are numerous flaws that experienced developers could have easily fixed.
Cottage Garden. Here is where we differ. I find the game engaging in a puzzle-like fashion. It has been popular around here with both gamers and friends, as well as my wife. I think it makes for an excellent gateway game.
Fabled Fruit. We made it all the way through the deck just a couple of weeks ago… it’s been one of those “wax & wane” games for us. In other words, we play it a good bit for a few weeks… then it sits for a while… then we play it multiple times again. I put it in the “better than Uno” category – it’s not deep but we have a lot of fun with it.
Sentinels of the Multiverse. I’ve played 80 games with the physical cards – and at least double that with the excellent tablet app. Some of the fiddlier combinations of villains & environments are better on the app (especially if you’re playing in Vengeance/team mode) – but like Patrick said, with the right crowd we’ve had a wonderful time playing this superhero game.
Clans of Caledonia: I’m really enjoying this one. It took a little while to learn, but once you know it, the game moves right along. There are interesting decisions to make and there seems to be more than one path to victory.
Cottage Garden: I am normally an Uwe Rosenberg fan, and I like Tetris, but this game does nothing for me. Take a piece that covers the most spaces, wait while other players do that, take another piece. The scoring track mechanism is cool, but I feel like whether you can manipulate a particular color is very luck-based.
Kingdomino: Meh. Not enough decisions for me. I think this would be a good intro game, though.
Sentinels of the Multiverse: I was not a big fan when this first came out, but my husband was, so I ended up playing it a bunch and now I like it. There are many character/villain combos, so the game changes all the time. Many of the characters have cool card interactions that can be awesome (assuming you manage to draw them) and even if you die you aren’t out of the game; you still have actions you can take.
The one game I differ on with Patrick is Cottage Garden. I find the gameplay engaging, particularly the lookahead. But the most interesting part of the game for me is the scoring, with the big boost in VPs for the last space. It ain’t rocket science, but it’s a nice little game, best with 2, but pretty good with more as well.
By the way, my favorite way to play Power Grid is to reveal the next card, to minimize the guesswork of the Chicken Auction that Patrick talks about. When I played the card game version, I thought a similar thing would work as well.
Oh Errol, I’d give anything just to be like him….
I enjoyed Cottage Garden but ultimately sold it. I still enjoy it on the tablet.
Fabled Fruit – the game that finally closed the FF door to me. We played 14 games of it, and there was no sense of wanting to push it through to the end. The game stagnated due to the animal mix and a couple of stages, which didn’t help.
Clans of Caledonia – totally derivative, but derivative in a good way. I really like this.
First Class – indeed, first class. Very nice.
Kingdomino – perfectly harmless and works very well.