by: Patrick Brennan
[Editor’s note – somehow I have been publishing these out of order. I think we have already seen April’s recap. I blame my lack of sleep from the Gathering of Friends!]
It’s been a busy month of new games.
Gloomhaven has been a treat and we continue to look forward to each play. Pandemic Season Legacy 2 less so – in our last game we had a 1 in 11 chance of losing during the infection step on the turn before we built our final required supply centre and won the game. We lost. Very aggravating. Our other co-op in rotation at the moment, Bastion (2015), is still hitting the table regularly, as we try out the different monsters at different levels of difficulty.
Otherwise, games I’ve played for the first time recently include:
CENTURY: GOLEM EDITION
Pleasant without being riveting. Your cards either collect gems, upgrade gems to better gems, or provide different formulae to trade in gems for other gems. On a turn you either play a card, acquire a new card to help you in future, get all your used cards back, or spend the gems you’ve diligently been collecting, upgrading, and trading for to buy VP cards. This is reminiscent of the old Bazaar, but more interesting here because you build your own collection of trade-up formulae and try to parlay that into point-scoring collections faster and more efficiently than your opponents. The rules are easy, the game is pacey enough with some good think-stuff provided, but it features a fair amount of luck in regards to what cards are on offer to buy on your turn (is there anything at all that can help build a better engine?) and whether the VP cards on offer match the gems that your engine can build efficiently. The real knock is that once you’ve played, that’s it, there’s not much more to learn or experience – you’re going to get the same game next time and the time after that. If you’re ok with that, this does the whole gem tradeup whatsup thang pretty nicely.
I like trick-taking games and this is fine, but without offering spectacular replay. Standard trick-taking, no trumps. Its point of differentiation is that each suit provides a different type of gem-getting (ie score) benefit when you win a trick in that led suit, as well as each time you play offsuit when you can’t follow. Which provides unusually significant benefits for being short-suited (which is interesting). Otherwise though there’s not much “clever” one can bring to it. Good hands will score well, having lots of diamond cards (the best suit) will score well, and low to middling hands without a short suit won’t, regardless of how well you count cards. It’s easy to teach and pleasant to play though, which is always good.
The bastard love-child of Qwirkle and Set. Each turn you play as many cards from your hand to the table as you can, all in one row/column, and score each row/column you made or added to (Qwirkle style). The Set part is that each card has 3 attributes, and the second card in each row/column defines which attributes must be shared by all in that row/column; all other attributes must be different throughout. Adding the 4th (and last) card to a row/column doubles your turn score (which is otherwise the face value of all cards in all changed row/columns). This makes for wild scoring fluctuations and ultimately is the downfall of the game – your best and only strategy is to draw great cards that allow you to finish off rows/columns. Turns are otherwise spent assessing all possible places to play your cards, determining the best, and playing thus, a process which creates untoward downtime. Unfortunately, you can’t escape the feeling that the game is playing you, which makes it a hard-sell for gamers, and the game is otherwise too non-exciting for non-gamers, which makes for a dire double-whammy.
No need to buy this one as I already have FITS filling the flip-a-card, place-the-shown-piece-on-your-tableau niche. This replaces FITS’s sliding tetris feel with a “build a base and then build on top” feel, but it’s all much the same. The issue I have here is that players can over-think each placement and drag everyone down. Especially in the end-game when you’re trying not just to fit this piece for max points, but place it so that each subsequent piece (you know what’s coming) will also fit and score as ‘high’ as possible. FITS doesn’t bog down the same way, and I didn’t feel any higher level of satisfaction for working through the nominally more complex space that this game offers. Doing away with the comparison though, I enjoy games in this niche, and its sandbox feel in a nice filler-type timeframe. This is a nice addition to the field. It’s just not a game I’d pull out much – with non-gamers it’s too abstract, and with gamers we’re usually after something pacier and livelier in our fillers.
NEAR AND FAR
It’s a point salad dressed up as a scenario-based adventure campaign. You’ll do a combination of moving around the different action spaces in town to earn different types of resources and/or earn VPs, and moving around the map outside town to earn different types of resources, and/or earn VPs. Then convert resources into points by buying artifact cards. It’s a matter of preference and opportunity (in terms of what skills are available from the draft of adventurer tiles) that define your strategy, and then maximise their utility. You can invest a bunch in town before leaving, or race out of town early – it all seems to generate about the same points. Turns go fast, but every now and then the game comes to a crashing halt when someone enters a quest space, taking the necessary time to resolve the paragraph flavour with a dice roll to earn rewards. The paragraphs don’t seem like they’re progressing much of a cohesive story; just your typical set of fantasy encounters to justify the appropriateness of the rewards, but I haven’t got into the game far enough to assess its long term effort. It’s mostly a race to get out your campsites (either in town or on the map), and to get enough resource to buy your artifacts before the campsites run out, but there’s not a lot of tension – there always seemed to be alternatives to earn equivalent points. I’d summarise it as being enjoyable to play, but non-compelling. In the end it has too many rules for family, and the cartoon art makes it hard for gamers to take its campaign credentials seriously given its competitors in its market.
Cross Dominion with Scrabble … and you get a lesser version of each. It’s slower than Dominion (which is a downside as Dominion’s pace is one of its primary selling points) due to the need to analyse your hand of 5 cards (which contain letters or letter combos) to form the best scoring words. The higher you score, the better scoring card you can buy (Dominion-style) to add to your deck, and if the bought card has a bonus effect on it for each time it’s played, even better. When you start scoring really high words, then start buying VP cards – these double-up as wild card letters, which is a good improvement on being otherwise useless hand fillers. I wasn’t a fan of the slow pace, nor the unspoken pressure to give in on finding the perfect word and accept a lower score just to keep the game moving. As a result, it’s not a game I’ll seek out, but it was at least an interesting design tangent to explore.
POWER GRID: THE ROBOTS
Basically it’s an automated player – mainly for 2 player games but it can be added into multi-player games to provide some variety. You randomly pick one of the 6 rules defining how it bids for cards, another defining what resources it will pay for, another determining where it’ll start, how it collects money, plus a special ability. It doesn’t compete that well, but it does provide another variable that the players need to plan for and work around – after all, it may potentially scoop up cards, cities and resources that you’d prefer to have. It’s ok for a slight change of in-game scenery, but it doesn’t present much of a challenge – definitely a non-compulsory expansion.
WEALTH OF NATIONS
A dry economic game of building factories to produce goods, which are then used to build more factories to produce more goods, finishing when the map is filled in. The problem you face is that you need nearly all the different goods either to build (which is settlers style, this+this+this gets you that) or to run the factories, but you can never produce all the different goods you need. Your turns are therefore spent trading, trading, trading, or selling/buying/selling/buying/… from the market until you get what you need. It gets repetitive over the long haul. It’s interesting how the player decisions on what to invest in, and the choices on generalising vs specialising, drives the market prices and ongoing player behaviour, but not enough to save it compared to today’s fodder. I’m looking forward to trying the War Clouds expansion however in the advised expectation of improvement.
SPOTLIGHT ON: CROKINOLE
100+ plays. Timeless. After a long hiatus, I pulled out the ‘ol Croke board last weekend, dusted it off, powdered it up, and re-introduced it to the kids to most excellent and triumphant acclaim. Sometimes you forget how good the good stuff is. Crokinole is excellent with both gamers and non-gamers – there’s just something pleasurable in sitting down and flicking pieces around, being social and competitive at the same time, sharing good shots and disasters with a partner, without the pressure or expectation of perfect play! It also provides the perfect vehicle for when your wildly mishit chaos shot rebounds off three posts, smacks 4 opponents discs off the board, and plops into the middle, to dryly drop “exactly as planned”, with the resultant plaudits!
Thoughts of other Opinionated Gamers:
Joe Huber: It’s odd – I don’t disagree with a single thing you say about Nmbr9, but somehow for me it’s taken greater root – in a way FITS never did. I’ll be curious to see how long it lasts – but I’m definitely susceptible to true multiplayer solitaire games, to the extent that I’ve got two sets to allow for play with eight (or playing through a double set with four adventurous players).
Simon N.: NMBR9 has gone down well both at home with my family and with my gaming group. At times it is one of the most frustrating games to play when you have just positioned a number only to find the ideal one becomes available in the next turn – but such is life with a random draw game. This hasn’t stopped the enthusiasm for repeated plays and I’m with Joe on this one.
I want to like Iota; it’s in a very portable tin, and I like both Qwirkle and Set. However, something about the combo just doesn’t work for me. It’s too dry and so far hasn’t been fun for either gamers or non-gamers.
NMBR9 is popular with my gaming group as well. I don’t mind a little multi-player solitaire, and I like the puzzle aspect. It’s a good filler game.