Chris Wray: What I Enjoyed Playing in April 2018

This is the April 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 believe April 2018 holds the record for the most plays I’ve logged in any one month!  That should come as no surprise given The Gathering of Friends and International Table Top Day, but nonetheless slimming this list down to just five games has been an extreme challenge.

I previously wrote in detail about three games that absolutely should have been on this list — Lost Cities To Go (review published earlier today), Rise of Queensdale, and Ultimate Werewolf Legacy — but I left them off since I could so easily link to them.

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Ganz schön clever

I like roll-and-write games, but I’m far from a roll-and-write enthusiast.  But two things drew me into Ganz schön clever: (1) it came highly recommended from several gamers I respect, and (2) it was designed by Wolfgang Warsch, who is on a bit of a roll lately (no pun intended).

In one sense, Ganz schön clever feels familiar: like Qwixx and a few other roll-and-write games of recent years, one of the big novelties here is that you get to use dice rolled by other players, keeping downtime to a minimum.  But unlike other roll-and-write games, this one is very tense and very think-y.  If you use certain dice your opponents can’t (although there’s an exception to that), so you need to pay attention to what you’re feeding your fellow players.  Moreover, Ganz schön clever can be quite combolicious, and to do well I think you need to plan for big moves where you use the tracking sheet in clever ways.

It’s a bit more complicated than other roll-and-writes, but it is also considerably more strategic.  I immediately ordered a copy from Germany after playing it, and I’m hoping for a U.S. release.

Wolfgang Warsch is suddenly a top designer to watch.  Not only did he do this, but he also designed The Mind and Die Quacksalber von Quedlinburg, both of which are garnering award-season buzz.  He also created Illusion, which was also popular at The Gathering.  Four successful games in such a short period of time is certainly noteworthy!

A big thanks to Dave Arnott for teaching me this.

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Kingdoms

Kingdoms was a very kind gift at the Gathering from Steph Hodge.  I’ve played it twice since bringing it home, and me and my groups have greatly enjoyed it.  The gameplay is tense, and I’ve found myself thinking about Kingdoms long after the games have ended!

This Knizia classic is played on a 6 x 5 grid of 30 squares.  On a player’s turn, he either (1) draws a tile and places it, (2) puts down one of his castles (which have 1-4 towers), or (3) places his reserved tile (each player draws one at the start of the round to hold in reserve).  Most of the tiles show positive and negative points, but a few are special tiles that add novel gameplay elements.  For example, the one dragon tile negates positive point tiles in its row and column, or the two mountain tiles sub-divide their row or column.

When the board is filled, each row and column is scored: the points on the tiles is summed, and each player earns (or deducts) that sum times the number of castle towers he has in that row or column.  This is done three times, and the player with the highest score is the winner, but there’s one final catch: your bigger castles (with 2 or more towers) don’t carry to future rounds if they’ve been used.

If I didn’t know the designer, I would still guess Knizia, because the game feels characteristically streamlined and mathematically-sound.  It’s easy to learn, but hard to master, and it is decently interactive.  Plus, the Fantasy Flight version of the game is beautiful, with attractive tile artwork and molded castle pieces.  I’ve been playing the main version — where you draw tiles at random — but there’s a “no luck” variant where you simply take a face up tile.  I’m really looking forward to giving that a try!

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Piñata

I traded for a copy of Piñata at the Gathering, and I’m glad I did.  I think this is going to be one of my go-to 2-player games in the coming months.  I had wanted to try Balloon Cup for years, but I’ve never seen the game, which is decently rare at this point.  But Balloon Cup was remade as Piñata, and my understanding is that this is closer to the original theme intended by designer Stephen Glenn.

There are five trophies in the game, and to get one, you need to trade in 3-7 candies of the color shown on the trophy.  The first player to get three of these five wins.  To get candy, you play cards down alongside mats, which require 1-4 cards on each side to score.  But there are three twists: (1) each mat only accepts cards of the candy color(s) sitting on it, (2) when you’ve filled your side you can play on your opponent’s side, and (3) the matts rotate between wanting the highest score on the cards and the lowest score.

I had heard that Balloon Cup (and therefore this) was inspired by Lost Cities, and I can completely see it: while the underlying mechanics are different, this is an interesting duel between two players.  Piñata feels deep and intricate, and several of the aspects of gameplay are devilishly clever, most notably the hand management aspect.  I’m excited to have this as part of my two-player collection.

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Texas Showdown

Texas Showdown is one of the better trick taking games I’ve played recently.  It is also very special in two regards: it has eight suits, and playing off suit can be dangerous.  After I played this at the Gathering of Friends I immediately ordered a copy!

One suit has 11 cards, the next 10, all the way until the eighth suit, which has only four cards.  The BGG description perfectly captures gameplay: “Once a player leads a single card for the first trick, all other players must play a card of the same suit, if possible. If a player can’t play on suit, they can play a card of any color — but after they do this, all subsequent players can play a card of either matching color (or possibly a third color if they have neither of the first two).  Once all players have played to the trick, you see which color has been played most frequently in the trick. Whoever played the highest card of this color wins the trick. If two or more colors are tied, then the color with the highest sum counts as the winner.  You play several rounds until someone reaches the target number of tricks taken. At that point, whoever has captured the fewest tricks wins!”

Gameplay feels fresh, think-y, and just a bit mean.  I always say the best trick taking games avoid (a) a feeling of chaos, and (b) a feeling of obviousness. This hits the perfect mark on both fronts.  I’m thrilled to have it in my trick taking collection, and a big thanks to Tom Felber for teaching me this.

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Think Str8!

Earlier this month I hosted a deduction game day, where we played just pure deduction (not social deduction) games.  We played Alchemists, Battle Line, Code 777, Decrypto, Herbalism, and Tagiron, but the real star of the show that day was Think Str8!, a Leo Colovini title released back in 2015.

Each player has six cards — one in each of six colors — facing away from him.  The goal of the game is to deduce what numbers are on the cards.  The numbers go from 0-7, and one of each color is in the box, so there’s never perfect information.

In a round, three dice are rolled, and players gather information — and points — by guessing the sum of their three cards shown by the colors on the dice.  They can guess with a narrow range, earning several points if they’re correct, or guess with a wide range and earn fewer.  Either way, they’ll be told if they’re correct, too low, or too high.  A respectable portion points tend to be earned in game from correct guesses, and the other part comes from making the correct guess at the end of the game.

This is rapidly becoming my go-to deduction game.  Good players can typically solve the puzzle by the end of the game, but to do so, did they sacrifice too many in-game points?  Plus, it is easy to teach and plays in an hour.  If you like deduction games, I enthusiastically recommend this one.  I’m very grateful to Opinionated Gamer Jonathan Franklin for bringing this one to my attention.

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12 Responses to Chris Wray: What I Enjoyed Playing in April 2018

  1. Ken Fisher says:

    Try the card game “Wizard”:
    Really big n Europe with over 2 million sold.

  2. Jacob Lee says:

    Thanks for highlighting these games. Kingdoms has caught my interest and Texas Showdown sounds exactly like something I’ve been seeking for years.

  3. huzonfirst says:

    Always loved Balloon Cup and it’s long been a staple of my 2-player boardgaming.

    Ganz schoen clever sounds very promising. Can’t wait to try it out.

    Finally, I’m thrilled that you included Think Str8! in your list, Chris. I discovered this a few years ago and think it’s the best new deduction game I’ve played in the past decade. All sorts of clever touches and it gives players an alternative way of scoring while still keeping the deduction front and center. Not at all a typical Colovini design, but more power to him for working so well out of his comfort zone.

  4. Bob Kamp says:

    Seems like I read recently about a trick-taking where scoring is based on separating the taken cards into stacks by their suits and you score the value of the last card on top of each stack. Does anyone know the name of such a game? Thanks!

  5. Bob Kamp says:

    Does anyone know of a trick taking game where you separate taken cards into stacks by suit and you score for the last/top card in each stack?

  6. Johan Berglind says:

    UGO! from Playthisone

  7. Steph Hodge says:

    Glad you are enjoying Kingdoms so much! :D

  8. Pingback: Chris Wray: What I Enjoyed Playing in June 2018 | The Opinionated Gamers

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