By: our resident Aussie
Legacy games have been running triumphant this month.
After a rough start with some tough smack-downs, our Pandemic Legacy Season 2 has come good. We’ve been careful and thoughtful with our spend, concentrating on long term advantage, and our burgeoning infrastructure has stood us in good stead with successive wins in Mar, Apr, and May. We’ve also been super-careful with our deck management, and that care is being rewarded … so far. It probably took us a little while to get to grips with the fact that this season plays “short”. Anytime we’ve seen a 4th epidemic, we’ve lost, unable to keep up with the pace of resource loss. So we’re structured ourselves to win in the 4th round as much as we can, all things going okay. It’s still providing us HEAPS to discuss and talk through on strategy (what are our infrastructure goals for this game) and intra-game tactics, and we’ve been enjoying it much more. I’m probably upping it to a 9.
Meanwhile, Gloomhaven’s just been getting better and better. In our last 5 scenarios, one has been a comfortable win, and the other 4 have been breath-taking, last turn, all is lost, snatch wildly improbable victory from the certain jaws of defeat type wins with much high-fiving and joyous celebration. There’s been no dungeon crawler in our experience that’s consistently offered such a fine line between victory and defeat, keeping us engaged and on our toes right through the full 3-4 hours that the scenarios take us (the time we’ve gained by knowing the rules and character effects better is being enjoyably spent discussing tactics instead). The storyline has progressed nicely, and the week to week discussions on where to proceed next, with reasoning deriving from the characters and their personal quests, have been fuelling the fun through our investment in our characters and scenario results. I’m probably end up raising it to a 10.
On other fronts, games I’ve played for the first time recently include:
A FEAST FOR ODIN
The obligatory 8 for a Rosenberg, for providing a plethora of paths to explore and massive replay. I like how we’ve moved away from the race towards building super-power buildings (to gain massive end-game points). Instead we’re building an accumulation of advantage by navigating wisely through an abundance of chosen actions, each providing power variations at different levels. And there are many, many options. For mine, it’s the right level of sandbox – the game provides so many actions that you can always get stuff done, but there’ll come a time when more than one player will want to do a key action. I’m not sure I’m a fan of all the mucking about placing your acquired pieces just so on your board to find the right balance between covering and non-covering of bonus spaces, income spaces, and VP spaces. This involves working out the right balance of pieces to get it just so, and the actions to acquire them, and resolving whether it’s worth the bother, or just continue down your chosen path. It could all get a bit much, but with players who are happy with that downtime, it may be rewarding. The other downside that might hold off a purchase is that to get the most out of this game, you’ll want a group of gamers who really want to explore it, and not just do a couple of games playing at surface level without grokking the whole. The learning curve is up there – it’s not one of those where you feel you understand it after a single play. And that, of course, is the big plus. Worthy of more play.
There are lots of things to like about this card co-op. The aim is to collect sets of cards (colour + symbol ideally) from the 3×3 grid (picking up a row or a column) whilst dealing with the wound cards you’ll also be picking up which, if you get too many, will stop you from being able to play powers that the sets provide. Powers come in three kinds – removing wound cards from the grid, removing wounds that have been taken, and banishing cards altogether, and if you do this enough you’ll win. Each character has a different power for each type of set, so playing with different characters will lead to different experiences, which is a nice start. The more you talk, the better you’ll do, and the discussions are around what cards to leave for the next player, whether to clean a row for the next player, can a card swap help, plans to execute powers, and their ramifications, and the constant trade-off between keeping players healthy (so they can continue to execute powers) vs progressing the win condition. Normally this kind of high-comms game will get an 8 for me, but in the end the lack of theme (it’s just colours and symbols really), the lack of map, and the lack of required cleverness (other than said comms skills) probably moves it to more of an occasional enjoyable play for me rather than a must-have, will-play.
CHRONICLES OF CRIME
The real chronicle of crime is taking a solo follow-the-story app that’s played on a phone and dressing it up as a co-op multi-player board-game. It’s a cross between Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective and the old Scott Adams’ text adventure games. From the latter, go to a location and search everything you can for stuff and clues … and don’t miss stuff because you’ll pay. Like the former game, you get judged on taking the quickest line of investigation and not spending time on the red herrings. But the irritation of Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective is that it’s nigh impossible to know the priority line of investigation from the get-go. Same here. You end up just checking (and scanning) everything anyway. This gets a lower rating than SH:CD though because at least there we have physical things we can peruse – newspapers, clue-books, maps, etc – to keep us active and engaged during the decision making process. All we have here is someone with a phone telling us what’s happening and then we collectively make a decision about how to spend the next 5-minute-segment. There’s little that’s engaging about it. I say just leave it to the player with the phone and play a real game while they sort it out. Furthermore, the makers have gone to all the trouble of app’ing the game with QR scans and so on (which can be irritating doing over and over, but kudos for the effort and the new game direction explored), why aren’t all the interactions voiced by voice actors to help create immersion rather than just providing text on the phone which needs to be read out! I’m glad we solved the crime and made the world a safer place, but I found it hard to stay interested.
GREAT WESTERN TRAIL
Ahh yes, let’s ride up the BGG ratings by sucking the punters in with a good ol’ western theme. The game is one of travelling along an action track that varies from game to game (and gets modified by buildings intra-game), ekeing out your point salad while performing actions to allow you to finish the trail with as many high-valued unique cards as possible. Repeat. It’s all about the hand mgt, baby. To some extent, it feels a bit Scythe-y, with so many incremental turns, which can cost you immersion if your plans are laid out but it takes 5 minutes to get there in between all the other players working out their stuff. But hey, immersion, who needs it. Honestly, the theme checked out 2 minutes after I walked in the door. After that it was cards, icons (and that’s almost a Race For The Galaxy level of iconography, so be warned), and points. But it does this stuff really well. Every game will offer a new action track and a new challenge, and there’s a whole bunch of strategic options to explore. It probably suffers from a few rules too many, and will border to the long with the full player count, but it feels like a game that’s worth taking a bit more slowly than we have so far, and really thinking your approach through. It’s kind of a borderline soft 8 … I know I’m going to enjoy the exploration, but will I get there. And in the end, will a game where the purpose is to simply hold a hand of unique cards each trip hold up? Not sure.
KOKORO: AVENUE OF THE KODAMA
The re-implementation of Avenue, now featuring wipe-off boards and rule-change cards. We each want to draw a connecting path between villages on our personal boards, but can only do so in the order and format that each turned up card in turn provides. It has a feel similar to Take It Easy – each players constructs their board to maximise their chance of completing it as best they can given what cards/tiles are left and what they hope/expect to appear (work those odds!), but your score is very much dependent on the order the cards come out (here at least) and what doesn’t come out (true in both). Plot a course, hope everything connects in time, and see what happens. I think the luck factor probably plays too high a part, but it’s pleasant enough to play along for a while. Probably due to its longer play length, this feels like less fun than others in the simultaneous-play personal-tableau niche (another is Finito) – these are generally quiet affairs and they need to be short-ish in nature as the post-game discussion and sharing the hard-luck stories is half the fun.
The aim is to play your cards in correct sequential order as a team, without knowing what cards your teammates are holding in their hands. Which sounds implausible until you twig that the gameplay involves repetitively repeating a mental countdown clock inside your head, playing your lowest card when your countdown clock goes off (eg play your 63 ten seconds after the 53 was played, or whatever other pace your team is playing at) and you’ll win if the pace of that clock is attuned and identical to your teammates. That’s not a skill I need to have, nor is that enjoyable doing it time after time after time, so it won’t be a game I seek out, but will play if someone wants to experience what it has to offer. Which to its credit is different from the norm, and worth playing for that alone. The game has good moments, like when a particularly iffy range of close-ish cards gets played perfectly, with lots of smiles and smug ooh-ahhs. But you can just as easily lose a life when there’s a jump in numbers to a close raft of cards, at which point (unless there’s perfection), it’s easy for them to come out just out of sequence (which may be a good time to call for a throwing star where everyone discards their lowest card!) and it all seems rather random. It plays the same at all player counts, but is probably more fun with more players due to the wider sharing of good moments.
It’s enjoyable enough if you buy into the fact that, if you horribly lose in any one given dice fight, you could be eliminated from the game. That’s a big ask these days. Giving the designer the benefit of the doubt would hope that he’s aiming for a retro touch to find a niche. Given the game’s rating in the 11000’s at time of writing, I suspect not, but … there’s also a ton of 1-ratings from disgruntled Kickstarter backers claiming fraud. I don’t kickstart and I was unaware when trading for it, so the game came at me without taint and I’ve assessed it accordingly. On the upside, the game provides a bunch of ongoing card powers to choose between during setup, so to some degree you choose your own level of elimination risk. After that, the game goes quickly enough to keep it light, with plenty of choices and card effects to keep you engaged. If eliminations do happen, they should happen relatively late in the game at least. Otherwise it’s a straight race to 15 VPs, which are acquired via the planets you travel to (pick 3, choose 1 each time), the cards you play, and how many dice fights (with their consequent risk) you initiate. It really does require a devil-may-care survival approach to enjoy, so it’s clearly not for most groups. But we’ve had some fun with it, and it’s definitely ok for a light ride game.
I’m not a fan of pure auction games, and I dislike blind-bidding games. And yet … this somehow pulls a rabbit out of the hat and generates gaming goodness. There are 16 auctions, and each auction only takes a minute or so so the game is pacey. The items up for bid have three attributes – nation, industry and 1-4 VPs. At the end of the game, there are bonus points for items you’ve collected in your home nation, and for same-industry sets and diversified-industry sets. As each player starts with a secret industry, this auto-provides different values of each tile to each player. The great thing is that the winning bids aren’t revealed – you know the auctioneer’s valuation, but bids are secretly given to the auctioneer and only he and the winner know what the winning bid is – unless all bids are below his valuation, in which case he openly wins it at that price. The opening bid for the very first item can be any value, and that value effectively sets a value around which all other items are evaluated. So if an item worth 2VP goes for 10, then an item worth 4VP might be valued at 20. But of course each player will value each item differently, depending on whether the nation and/or the industry of the item are ones that are wanted for their bonus sets. The final catch is that whoever pays the most throughout the game (it’s recorded on the back of each won item) is knocked out High Society style, and whoever pays the least gets serious catchup points. That I’d be happy to play this again, a game in a genre I avoid like the plague, speaks pretty well to its general likeability I reckon.
This takes the old Tutankhamen / Marco Polo mechanic (moving along the same line, the player last in line goes next), and updates it with a Japanese theme and new things to collect. Mainly their cards that provide VPs in different ways – straight-up points, money to earn points, various sets to earn points, and so on. The mechanic is non-exciting (as evidenced by the fairly low ratings of its predecessors) and unfortunately there’s not a lot of tension – you can roughly tell where other people will want to go and plan your plays accordingly. Your strategy is to collect stuff other people aren’t collecting. Everything’s roughly balanced in true point salad form, so the winner should be the person who’s least interrupted in their approach. The game is one of watching the processional play out across the board, and is somewhat saved by its beautiful artwork. I’d play and still enjoy it if others wanted to play, but it feels explored after a game.
SPOTLIGHT ON: SCHNAPPCHEN JAGD
98 plays (almost there). We pulled this out again recently because it really is one of the best 3 player card games out there. Two things make it special – the choice of trumping with ANY offsuit, and the junk / treasure pile score mechanism. Together they provide a unique feel. In the early hands you’re trying to win to collect potential treasure (collecting as many cards as possible in a select bunch of numbers). In the latter you’re mostly playing misere because it’s easier to collect junk (cards in numbers you won’t be able to score anymore) than treasure. Keeping a close watch on what people are collecting is key, as you’re trying to discard cards onto them that they haven’t been collecting, and being careful here can be the difference between winning and losing. After 20 years, we’re still playing this regularly as a 3 player closer, multiple times every year. A classic.
Thoughts of other Opinionated Gamers:
Dale Y: Hmm, Feast for Odin is a game I want to love, but one that has never made that final jump into that status. Like many Uwe games, there is a lot to explore and digest – and the open-ness of the choices can lead to some severely long turns; and I think this is what keeps me from loving it. Unlike Patrick, I love the puzzle solving portion of the game where you have to find the right pieces to cover up the right squares on your landscape tiles – but it’s the sort of game where you almost want to have a set of Button Men around so you can do something else while waiting for your next turn to come up. Despite that, still a solid “I like it”, and a game that remains in my game collection.
Tokaido is one which has since left the basement, despite its good looks. I found that I can be super competitive by simply taking the maximal number of actions – that is, always going to the first available space and doing whatever is there. Now, maybe it’s just been weird gaming luck – but I’ve talked to a few other gamers and they have found the same experience. When two people do it, it often comes down to a lucky tile draw between the two. Beautiful to look at, great to introduce people to gaming, but something that I can live without now.
I haven’t played the Mind with the real cards, but I’ve tried a mock up with The Game, and I’ve watched a few videos, and frankly, I would rather watch paint dry or watch more first-class cricket. I just don’t see the fascination to the read-my-mind co-op game. (And, to put it in perspective, just to see what it was like, I did watch the entirety of Day 5 of the recent ENG-NZ test match, and it was interesting at times, but mostly managed to be even worse than baseball. About 45 seconds of sporting enjoyment spread out amongst the first FIVE hours of tv coverage. The final few overs were surprisingly interesting as the bowlers suddenly started to challenge the batter on nearly every delivery, but my brain couldn’t get back into it after watching maiden after maiden go by. And… I really do think I’d rather do that than play a read-my-friends-mind game)
Mark Jackson: I’ve only played one game on Patrick’s List’O’Fun… and it’s a doozy: the classic Uwe Rosenberg trick-taking game for three players: Schnäppchen Jagd. (It’s been released in English as Bargain Hunter.) I taught this one to my two boys last year and we keep bringing it back to the table – cuz it delivers excellent gameplay every time.
Joe Huber: I had the chance to play The Mind recently, and my reactions largely mirror Patrick’s; I found it quite amusing to play, and feel absolutely no need to secure a copy, or even play it again, though I would be willing to do so with the right group. I’m more enthused by Q.E. than Patrick, though to be fair I’m perhaps more open to auctions. I think it’s rather brilliant that the game adjusts, just fine, to any silliness. If the first open bid is $10, the game works. If it’s $1000, it works just as well – though the experience may feel very different. Finally, I’ll third Patrick and Mark’s comments on Schnäppchen Jagd which is a brilliant trick-taking game for three (and not bad for four, though there are better choices for that count).
Eric Martin: My play count on The Mind stands at 69 as of late March 2018, so clearly I love it more than everyone else above me. I would discourage players from counting seconds as Patrick describes above and instead proceed by watching your fellow players closely and playing your cards when you feel the time is right. You might not do well the first time you play with someone, but if you play again immediately, you will inevitably do better. To pull out the (possible) Knizia quote: “When playing a game, the goal is to win, but it is the goal that is important, not the winning.” If you just want to win, you might be missing the joy of playing.