Day 3 started the same way as Day 2 – getting up way too early thanks to being right by the elevators where all the noisy Dance girls are… Though tired, it’s still no big deal as I’m pretty excited to get down to the ballroom to play some more new games.
First up was a quick 2p fight called The Cousins War, recently published by Surprised Stare Games. My opponent was Steffan O’Sullivan who was pretty much using the entire convention as a way to find games in which he could kill of Englishmen… In any event, this is a clever little game where you are fighting over three regions of the country. If you are ever able to control all three at once, you win automatically – otherwise, the player who controls two out of three at the end wins. The cards in the game can be used for both Action Points or for the special abilities on them, and it gives an interesting dynamic to trying to choose which cards to use (and when to use them). Over the course of about thirty minutes, my Red Lancastrian forces were slowly but surely outmatched – though I did manage to survive to the end of the game. This probably wouldn’t supplant Rosenkonig as my favorite game about the War of the Roses, but I’ve only played this one once so far, so we’ll have to wait and see…
Having grown weary of killing off little wooden cubes, I then moved next door to a table where Curio (from Wizkids) was being set up. This was one of the games that caught my eye prior to the convention as it’s advertised as a puzzle game which can be replayed infinitely. Once we opened it up, we found that there four or five different modules in the box with a deck of cards for each with puzzles on them.
The puzzles here are less like Escape Room puzzles and more like the “follow-the-direction” type of puzzles seen in Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes. One player has a module in front of him, and one of the other players relays instructions that he finds on the matching card. The difficulty here is that most of the puzzles have weird runic shapes on them, and much of the work here is trying to describe to your partner which symbol you’re talking about.
In the end, each of the puzzles gets you to a five letter word, so you’ll quickly be able to confirm that you got the right answer. While all this is going on, there is also a sand timer which is running down; players need to work together to make sure that the timer is flipped over before all the sand runs out. Each module is essentially a single puzzle with different constraints or directions being given on the particular cards. In this regard, you can do them over and over because you’ll likely not remember the answer words after doing them nor would you really be able to figure it out from a starting position; you’ll have to crank through the directions each time. That being said, once you’ve solved a particular puzzle a few times, there’s not much challenge left other than trying to do it faster.
Keeping to our trend of simply moving to the next available table, we spied the Reef set up on the table behind us, so we picked up and moved there. I knew that this was the release from Next Move games (a new game label from PlanB) – also designed by Emerson Matsuuchi. In this game, reminiscent of Century: Spice Road, players draft cards from a market, placing coins on some of the unchosen cards at times. These cards have two parts, a top part which shows building blocks in some combination of the 4 available colors – and then a bottom part which shows a way to score points.
Keeping with his personal micro-turn style, on your turn you may either draft a single card or play a single card. When you play a card, you first add the depicted pieces to your 4×4 grid, and then you look to see if you have any pieces in matching arrangement as the bottom of the card to score points. Each of the 16 spaces in your board can by up to 4 pieces high, and when you score, you are always looking at the board from a birdseye view.
Turns move super fast, usually in a blink of an eye. The trick here is to get into a situation where your cards and board situation chain together so that you can score each turn. Early in the game, you will play cards that you really don’t have much chance of scoring – yet, you need to play them in order to get pieces onto the board. By midgame though, you’d like to be able to play pieces to set up a later scoring card while also being able to take advantage of the current scoring situation.
This one turned out to be one of my favorites from the week. Like Century: Spice Road from last year, it is super-accesible. You can be taught the rules in less than 5 minutes, the first game will likely take you under thirty minutes, but there’s a lot of game decisions packed into that time. This was one of the few games that I played multiple times during my five days at the Gathering, so that should say something…
After that busy morning, time for a lunch break. We found a nice Puerto Rican/Mexican place, and yummy empanadas were enjoyed by all.
Upon our return, we were quickly asked to try out the new Decrypto expansion. It’s still a work in progress, and I’ve been asked not to say much about it, but I liked what I saw and I think it will bring an interesting new dimension to the game when it’s released. Decrypto remains one of my favorite games from last year, and my current favorite Password-type game.
We headed back into the ballroom and we found the second game of the Century Trilogy available for play – Century: Eastern Wonders. This game is similar in style to the first (Century: Spice City), but in this game, the trading actions are not found upon cards but rather on tiles on the board. You must move your ship around the board to take advantage of the actions on those tiles.
This gives the game a slightly different challenge because everyone has theoretically the same access to the same actions – here, it’s all about timing and location – you need to be in the right place at the right time to score the order chips. Century: Eastern Wonders doesn’t play quite as fast as Spice City, though I’m not sure how much of that was just due to us being new to the game. Having to wait for other players to move on the board did slow things down a bit because you could not fully plan out your turn until you saw the board state.
After three games of Eastern Wonders, I think I prefer Spice City to Eastern Wonders… BUT, wait, the two games can also be combined to form a new game – Century: From Sand to Sea, and I really like this combined game more than either of the separate pieces.
In the joint game, you use the tiles from Eastern Wonders but players also get cards in their hard from Spice City. Now on your turn, you have the option to play cards from your hand, or you can use cards (either from your hand or previously played) to power your boat to move across the map and use the actions on the board.
It’s a neat system to use parts of both games together like this, and like I said, thus far it would be my favorite way to play the Century games…
Having spent most of the day thus far playing games that were new to me, our group shifted focus for a bit to playing some older games that at least one of us (if not all of us) had played before…
(with a special designer selfie included)
With just a little time left before dinner, we managed to snag a copy of Menara out of W. Eric Martin’s stack, and we gave this balancing game a go. From afar, it looks like Villa Paletti, but thankfully, it’s a lot more fun than that.
In this game, the team works together to build a structure of at least four levels. There are different colored pillars, and a bunch of cardboard pieces that show placement spots for specific colored pillars. The team must work through a set of action cards (easy, medium and hard) – following the directions found on them. Some are as simple as “place two pillars on the same platform” while harder ones might ask you to “remove two pillars from the structure and place them on higher levels from where they started”.
You keep building upwards until you have reached at least 4 stories high AND you have used all the cards or the pillars. There is also a wonky end-game rule that says that if you part of the structure falls down, the game automatically ends – though the players can still win if they still meet the right criteria.
Lots of fun, but it gives me sweaty palms just thinking about knocking stuff over.
Dinner was great, though the walk there was a bit treacherous. I’ve been in an immobilizer boot for an Achilles injury, and I was forced to wrap everything up in a bright green plastic bag to keep it dry. Super sexy, I know….
Though the bone marrow was taken off the menu, Savor remains the best place to eat in Niagara Falls NY by a wide margin. The duck breast was great, and so was Lincoln’s pickle!
By the time we made it back, and after a few bottles of wine, there was only brain power left for lighter games. Jess wanted to learn Huns, so I was happy to teach that to my new “Gaming Hun”
And then it was finally time to get onto the Wolfgang Warsch bandwagon. As you may have already heard, at this point of the week, the “It” game was The Mind – a clever design from Herr Warsch where players try to work together to play numbered cards in order – though without communicating between themselves.
As Eric Martin summed up “In more detail, the deck contains cards numbered 1-100, and during the game you try to complete 12, 10, or 8 levels of play with 2, 3, or 4 players. In a level, each player receives a hand of cards equal to the number of the level: one card in level 1, two cards in level 2, etc. Collectively you must play these cards into the center of the table on a single discard pile in ascending order but you cannot communicate with one another in any way as to which cards you hold. You simply stare into one another’s eyes, and when you feel the time is right, you play your lowest card. If no one holds a card lower than what you played, great, the game continues! If someone did, all players discard face up all cards lower than what you played, and you lose one life.”
I’ve tried it, and that game is not for me. I’d rather go play Werewolf than The Mind. But I can definitely see that it has captivated most folks here. So much so that The Mind is currently my personal front runner for Spiel des Jahres at this point – the game incites a passion in those that love it more so than almost any other game I can remember in recent years.
But… to get back to games that are fun and that I enjoy, we broke out Ganz Schoen Clever, the new roll and write by Warsch. This was the other game that seemed to be constantly in play. The board is a bit more complex that most of the roll-and-write genre, and the game itself is also a bit more involved. 30-45 minutes of game here. There are six dice which are rolled, and the active player keeps some for his own use. The other players try to make the best with the dice that are left over (though there are ways to get to the active player’s dice as well).
The player sheet is divided into five different areas, and there are ways to score lots of points in each of them. As you work in each of those regions, you might also score a fox. The foxes are the mechanism which force you to try to spread out your marks on the sheet because there is a possibly huge end-game bonus for number of foxes acquired MULTIPLIED by your lowest area score. Anyways, this is a must have for me, and I have ordered a copy of the game already before I even left Niagara.
Finally, my copy of Karuba the card game got another go – it was often in play – it’s a nice 6 player filler, with the added benefit of being easy to teach as most people here were already familiar with the base Karuba game.
The day had again moved into the next one already, and with all the wine at dinner, it was clearly time for me to hit the sack.
Until your next appointment,
The Gaming Doctor
Another great day, evidently, although I must say that most ‘escape’ and ‘puzzle’ games leave me with an overwhelming sense of ‘meh!’… although ‘Mind’ has my interest piqued…
Reef and Menara both look rather fun, and I quite like the odd ‘tactile game’… while Transatlantic is one of those games I have on my radar as “must play when I can” (I’m genuinely interested in obtaining that booklet about the boats as well – PDFs welcome!)
“Roll-and-write” games seem like a recent trend, but I’m sure we’ve been doing these since the days of Yahtzee, surely? lol