This is the March entry for my series where I post five games I enjoyed playing in past month that I didn’t have time to do full reviews of. As always, I limit it to five titles, of which there’s a combination of old and new games.
I generally game with a combination of the classics and the recent hotness, but this month I seemed to veer towards the classics. I played most of the SdJ winners this month (as part of an ongoing project), plus several other family favorites. After I assembled this list, I realized that three of the games on it are by Reiner Knizia, and looking back at the past month, I’ve unknowingly been on a Knizia kick.
Dale Yu recently published a great write-up of Decrypto, and I had written about it at the Gathering of Friends last year. As I described it then: “Each team has four words known to both team members but not the other side. Each round, you get a card showing three of those words in a set order. For example, you might get a card that says 3-1-2, which would mean the third, first, and second words on your screen. Your teammate then has to give three words or series of words that will lead you to say “3-1-2”. But the other sides hears — and writes down — your clues, and before your partner can guess, they get a shot at guessing the number combination. The first team to guess the other side’s combination a set number of times wins. Alternatively, the first team to mess up their own combination a set number of times loses.”
It’s tense. It’s think-y. And it is simply one of the best word games I’ve ever played. The final version is exceptionally well-produced, complete with a cool spy theme and a large stack of words. It should be hitting retail shelves in the next few weeks, and I enthusiastically recommend it.
Mystic Vale was recently added to Yucata.de, so I’ve been playing it quite a bit. Dale did a review a few years ago that I recommend, but in short, Mystic Vale is a “card-crafting” deck-building game. The cards are sleeved, and throughout the game, rather than adding new cards to your deck, you simply put in clear overlays that add to the cards you already have. It’s a novel concept in game design, and it works well here. If you like deck builders, this one is worth checking out.
I had been eyeing the 2016 re-release of this Knizia classic for a while now, but I finally took the plunge and bought a copy. It’s beautiful, and it has rekindled my love of this great auction game. I’ve introduced Ra to two different groups in the past month, and both of them loved it, so it seems this game is aging quite well!
If you’ve never played, Ra is an auction game mixed with a press-your-luck game. Players draw tiles from a bag, and sets of these tiles are worth points at the end of an epoch. The tiles drawn are auctioned off, and the auction can be triggered by drawing a Ra tile, or by a player calling Ra.
The auction is simplified because there are 13 auction (or 16 in a 5-player game) tokens in the game — numbered 1-13 (or 1-16) — and the auction is simply a once-around event in which players can use one of the tokens they have. The winner of an auction takes the auction token from the previous round, making the auctions exceptionally simple.
I’ve played it with my family. I’ve played it with gamers. And both groups loved it: this is a very versatile game.
Samurai: The Card Game
Samurai is one of my favorites, but I recently was introduced to (and then traded for) a copy of Samurai: The Card Game, which is a streamlined, card-driven, and faster version of Knizia’s original tile placement game.
The cards are put out in a checkerboard fashion. The cards from a player’s hand either show (a) a samurai and a number, or (b) a shape and a number. Samurai can influence all thee shapes in the game (circle, triangle, or square), and the other cards showing shapes only influence those shapes.
Interlaced with the player’s cards are another set of cards showing the shape or shapes to be influenced. When one of these is surrounded on all four sides, the player with the most influence takes the appropriate tokens. In this regard, this is a bit of a majorities game.
The interesting thing is the scoring: if a player captures the most tokens in two shapes, he wins. If not, all players capturing the most tokens in one shape are eligible for victory, and their score is determined by the tokens of the shapes they don’t have a majority in.
It sounds simple, and it is, but this is one of those games that naturally draws people in. The group I played with yesterday just had to play again immediately. BGG ratings are low for this game, but for the life of me I don’t see why! I might be starting to like this more than its predecessor, Samurai.
Reiner Knizia’s Essen 2017 trick-taking game is quickly becoming one of my go to games. I’m not a fan of the art, which will probably be offensive to many people, but I do like the gameplay. In short, every player except the final player will capture three tricks. After you capture your third trick, you get as many points as the other tricks captured around the table, but if you’re the last person standing (i.e. you’re the person who doesn’t capture three tricks), you only get as many points as tricks you’ve captured. That means you need to really time the tricks you win: you want to go out second-to-last. It’s tense, and it’s clever. I’ve repeatedly said that good trick takers avoid an “autopilot” feeling while also not coming across as chaotic, and this design does both. I’m looking forward to more plays.