Patrick Brennan: Game Snapshots – Feb 2018
The downside of having kids of driving age is that every other week there seems to be a new unexplained (or “it wasn’t my fault”) minor dingle on the car somewhere. The upside of little birdies leaving the nest and living their own lives is that there’s a ton of nights free for yourself. To those of us of like mind, that means more gaming! Over the last month I’m ramped back up to four different gaming groups / nights a week, and with that comes a flow of fresh meaty goodness. Even the duds, I enjoy.
So, games I’ve played for the first time recently include …
CLANK! IN! SPACE!
Given I was disappointed in the original, I had fairly low expectations for this re-themed version and they were pretty much met. Turns feel so incremental that it feels like it takes forever to progress through the map – our 4 player game took over 90 minutes, which was way too long for an Ascension-style deck-builder. The luck of the cards in the draft is still squared by the bad luck of what cubes come out of the bag (the more of yours that come out, the closer you are to elimination), which in a game of this length feels inappropriate. The nail in the coffin is that turns just aren’t that interesting. The game is ok to pass the time if something better isn’t to hand (the design is still solid and well executed for what it is), but I’d rather be playing something else.
The take-that mechanic is best-suited to a 2-player game (as opposed to multi-player games with the commensurate issues of king-making and meta-game retribution) and this game lays it on with a heavy brush. It also has the perfect theming to do so, a pulp-fiction type race to find and collect 2 of the 3 treasures in the deck before the other player. You put things out, you get smacked, they put things out, you smack ’em. It’s all part of the job. Eventually someone will get an advantage through judicious use of card effects and good card-draw luck at the right time, and the game goes from there. It’s probably weighted more to luck over good management, but it still provides plenty of decisions, and we’ve had some fun with it.
The cards just keep flowing into your hand from other players’ turns, so on your turn you spend the cards you have for VPs, and then assess the table for the best play of one of your tiles to get you maximum cards while trying not to give other players the cards they need (so they hopefully can’t trade in point-scoring sets on their turn). This generates a bit of downtime unfortunately because the best play can’t be determined until you know what cards you’ve been given from the previous player’s turn. Also, the decision each turn isn’t that interesting (it’s just placement assessment based on what you’ve got) so the game doesn’t quite fit the fluffy 30 minute niche nor the interesting-decisions 30 minute niche. But it’s ok enough for some replay if you’re ok with a fair swag of your game being handed to you by the other players, and where your turn is simply the job of filling in the gaps in what you’ve been given.
This real-time co-op has each player responsible for their own subset of actions, where each player is dependent on each other player seeing what needs to be done (quickly) and executing quickly. It works well if everyone can get into the zone and collectively concentrate and perform at similar levels – I wouldn’t want to play it with different aged kids for instance. You really need to go through the scenarios as a team, working out pseudo-protocols for the priorities in regards to the order in which to move the meeples, and how to manage the time bonuses. The better you get, the less the urge to communicate (ie cheat), and the more satisfaction gleaned from a job done well. The further you move through the scenarios, the more rules, options, and obstacles the game throws at you to ensure you’re never quite comfortable. I’m looking forward to continuing on and seeing how good we get at the more difficult levels, but I’m not sure how much replay there’ll be after that – the necessary skill will have been acquired and there won’t be much left to prove.
Surprisingly playable for an essentially abstract game. Your game-play is all about assessing the other players’ expected moves and planning far enough ahead to ensure your board position remains dominant enough to harvest continually high resources. You convert those resources into the continuation of dominant position – engine builds a better engine – until the point at which you smash it all down and convert it into points. The earlier you can make that decision without overly affecting board position, the better points you’ll collect. Easy to learn, different things to try, but you should be aware that it’s a look-ahead challenge-work affair rather than cutesy fun.
SID MEIER’S CIVILIZATION: A NEW DAWN
It will be inevitably compared to a civ game experience, both video and board, and it may fall short of people’s expectations in both given a 30-min-per-player game with abstracted combat and a limited tech tree can’t meet that. But when looked at as a standalone game, it does some pretty good things. It’s really a race game – minimising the number of turns to get to the victory condition and forgoing the natural inclination to do everything else that seems natural to improve your civ. The focus row (a neat concept!) encourages you to be an all-rounder across the 5 activity spheres, but winning the game requires you to specialise, so your main decision focus is how often to go back to the well in the spheres you need to concentrate in – the longer you don’t use them, the more powerful they get! The game will never provide an epic experience (it’s really quite Euro) but there are different victory combinations and different terrain to manage each game. On the downside, most of the victory conditions centre around the focus card that allows you to build cities or wonders, making each game feel roughly the same, and focused (ahem) on how often and when to use that card. I wish these cards were more balanced in importance, and that the victory conditions were varied enough to provide different game feels. I’m not falling into the trap of buying the inevitable expansion to improve longevity which should have been there to begin with, but we will get some decent play out of it as it is before moving on.
A pick up and deliver game with some mind-twisting stuff. Movement is really cheap if you follow other people around, but you’ll be second to pick up and get leftover, non-easily-delivered stuff. If you go out on your own, movement is expensive but you get first pick at the more easily delivered stuff. Which makes it a hard game to understand how to play well and how to position yourself to take advantage of the other players’ moves, and it deserves some replay for that alone. There’s some analysis required at the beginning to determine decently efficient routes, but it flows alright after that. The rules aren’t great – repeating stuff out of sequence, and forcing you to deduce if some move options are legal which could have been spelled out and clarified. But now the learning curve is over, it’ll get some play as it comes in at a nice timeframe and generates some interesting post-game analysis.
We all know that any game that replaces an S with a Z in the title bears the hallmarks of class and quality. We know what to expect. Here, there’s a simultaneous blind revelation of cards each turn to determine turn order and smack-strength, and then you just roll dice at each other to wear down hitpoints, with players being eliminated once hitpoints are gone. Last one standing wins. If multiple people are left standing after the last round, the player with the most hits wins. Or in other, simpler words, the players who win the most in the meta are picked on and eliminated first, meaning this is great game choice for those who win less often in the meta. It provides some random fun as a one-off if played at pace, but it brings little new to the table and I have no need to go back to the well.
SPOTLIGHT ON: THE GAME
40+ plays. I really like this as a pleasant filler, and it’s proven a popular and seeming perennial favourite as a closer (particularly when there’s not enough time for a game of Hanabi!). Each turn there’s a nice decision to make, there’s a bit of groan factor, some hand management, and every card draw holds interest. The communication requirements are simple, yet vital. And you’re never completely sure how well you’re doing, which provides interest throughout. The replay proves surprisingly resilient given there’s no theme to bring it on home, explained in part by its perfect length and by avoiding the director problem. The variants (to play 3 a turn, or with reduced hand size, or both) provide a further boost to longevity. It may be the hardest game to find on BGG due to its stupid name, but it’s a winner at our table!
Thoughts of other Opinionated Gamers:
Mark J: I couldn’t disagree more about Clank & Clank! In! Space! We’ve found Clank to run 45-60 minutes with 4 players and Clank! In! Space! To run about 70 minutes with a full table. It has tension, variety, and some really nifty combos you can build. It’s been a hit with pretty much every group I’ve tried it with. (We also really like the free app that Renegade has created that adds solo modes and multiplayer variants to both games.)
Clank in Space – I haven’t played Space yet, but I agree with that Mark J. said above; I have played six times and all of our games have been around 45 minutes and have all been different and interesting.
Lanterns – I really enjoy this one. There is an element of randomness, sure, but there is still planning involved in trying to place your tile in the optimal place and trying to choose between placement and taking a bonus tile.
Clank – I haven’t played Clank in Space but I’ll show a little solidarity with Patrick in that I found the original to be a bit too dependant on which cards appear in the tableau and the swing-y ness of cubes falling out.
Dale Y –
Lanterns: I liked this one – here is our review of it
Ultimate Warriorz – I liked this one originally, but now it’s kinda just Neutral
Photosynthesis – I still love this one. It’s a beautiful game for sure, but man, there’s a lot of thought that can go into this one trying to get your own trees in the sun whilst blocking everyone else!
Magic Maze – This one is still fun, but the novelty is wearing off a bit. I have not yet had a chance to play the expansion which might inject more life into it. Still a solid keeper though, and a co-operative game that I like to play.