Patrick Brennan: Yucata Game Snapshots – Apr 2018
A few years back now I used to play on Yucata, nearly always with gaming buddies I knew, during periods we knew we could finish it together in much the same timeframe as if we were playing face-to-face. At one point we even had an ongoing virtual gaming night, linked up so we could see each other and chat during the games. But it lacked the same charm and feel as our regular gaming night, and real life imposed itself after a while.
This month I came back to Yucata after a brainwave. How do you get teenage boys out of their rooms, off their devices, and spending time playing games with you? Well we’ve taken to gathering in the same room, each with their own laptop, and playing a game on Yucata together! They get to spend time on their devices so they don’t feel so deprived, I get to play games, and we’re spending time together socially! A win-win for the modern age, where you take your wins where you get them!
I say this somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but we’ve had some good fun together, and I’ve enjoyed exploring new games with them. I must say I was impressed with the high number of new games on the site since last I looked, and a ton of those are high-quality games as well. I don’t bother with the point-scoring meta there at all – adding pressure to win detracts from my enjoyment of exploring and experiencing the game with my friends and family. Neither do I join up in random games with strangers just for the sake of playing a game. But I’m enjoying playing on the site our way!
Here’s my take on the first ten we’ve tackled this month. I’ve tried to (also) assess them on how they’d feel if being played face-to-face rather than online, which I think I can manage fairly given I’ve rated and commented on 2378 games at last count, not including expansions. If you’d like access to that pool btw, the easiest way is to set me up as a GeekBuddy on BGG, use the Geekbuddy Analysis link at the top of the page whenever you’re looking up a game of interest, and up will come my rating and comments together with those of any other GeekBuddies you have. It’s my way of giving back to the hobby.
Anyway, here we go.
CASTLES OF BURGUNDY: THE CARD GAME
I think I prefer this over its weightier parent. The core process of deciding how to use your available dice numbers to collect and then invest cards/tiles, and when to spend and collect workers accordingly, remains. This is the core aspect of the original I enjoyed, the continual puzzle decision, so keeping it alive here is a tick. Getting bad numbers in a big meaty Euro gets irritating and marks it down, but getting bad numbers in a card game feels more acceptably appropriate and that’s probably the main reason for my preference. The game does away with the map aspect and it doesn’t feel like a big loss. Instead you’re competing to be the first to collect triplets in each of the seven card types, with the smart addition of wilds to add flexibility in the race(s) you wish to compete in. The game captures the essence of the original, with good race tension and good decisions to be made each turn, but has the advantage of playing faster. It’s a fine implementation that I’d be happy to play over the original, excepting those times when only weighty meat will suffice for a fuller sense of fulfilling fulfilment.
Teenager Rating: Dad rates this too high! (and thinks I may be right)
It’s not the first lemming race game I’ve played, but this does some cute stuff. The map features common spaces and five terrain types. The cards come in the terrain types – playing a card equal or lower to the last played card in that terrain type means you can move one of your two lemmings (the goal is to be the first to get both of them to the finish line) spaces equal to the summed value on all the played cards of that terrain type, and you can move on either common spaces and/or on spaces of that terrain type. This mechanic allows some BIG moves which adds a sense of drama. Or you can play a higher card to ditch all the played cards in that terrain, re-setting the pile, and add a hex to the board in that terrain type, either to help yourself (as you still get to move) or place it in front of an enemy lemming (I never thought I’d get to use that phrase in this lifetime!) to hopefully put a spanner in their works. I suspect there’s too much luck in the cards, and that good cards largely dictate the result, but each turn provides a nice decision to make which is unusual in a race game. It’s a nice, simple game that I quite enjoyed, but it’s probably just a bit too studied to catch the right feel for a race game, missing the a-ha, take-that, here-I-come moments and faster pace that the best race games generate.
Teenager Rating: Dad rates this too high!
JUST 4 FUN COLOURS
It’s Connect 4 using cards from your hand to place your stones on coloured spaces on the board. The key feature is the ability to place one of your stones on top of another player’s stone if you play an extra card in the space’s colour for each stone already on the space. This changing of board position makes the game more dynamic and winnable than Connect 4, pending getting good cards in the colours you want as you need them. But that’s the whole issue – just get lucky with your drawing. As such, it’s an ok game to pass some time with younger players, but not something to search out.
Teenager Rating: Thought it was ok!
NATIONS: THE DICE GAME
An excellent dice-roller. I liked the tile draft where the tile’s base cost is multiplied by its row, ensuring competition and hard choices. I liked how building upgrades made you replace dice, but you had the option of replacing used dice, which has the advantage of elongating your turn nicely and providing new turn options. I liked the ability to earn permanent dice (ie chits) for use each turn. And I liked the tradeoff decisions between intra-round buying and going for end-of-round points. No dice game ever really imbues theme, so I don’t mark it down for that. If you haven’t gathered, I really liked it.
Teenager Rating: Fair assessment!
This one I’m enjoying. Like Dominion, it feels like you want big turns / small turns rather than a series of average turns, and there’s the obvious card draw luck in that. Knowing this, it has a neat push-your-luck feature to shoot for a bigger hand and a bigger turn, but at the risk of missing your turn altogether. Risky, but sometimes worth it, especially if you’re counting down your deck of 20 cards and you know the odds. It’s more like Ascension in that you can only buy what’s in the draft, so you need to be comfortable settling for what’s on offer, and being comfortable with it probably dictating the result. It feels like you want to ramp up some super cards and get to those quickly rather than have lots of average cards, and that you’ll want to deploy a strategy of decay removal, which in effect thins your deck by allowing more cards to be drawn each turn. The turns in the first 3/4’s of the game feel largely incremental but travel along at a decent speed, building towards your end-game turns. And then they explode, building anything you want – downtime analysis is required, but it feels good when it happens. At this point the game is suddenly hurtling towards a quick and climactic crescendo of point gathering. My main concern is that ongoing replay might be limited by the lack of variety in purchases, giving each game the same feel, but I’m enjoying exploring variations on the primary strategy in the meantime.
Teenager Rating: Fair assessment!
A cross between Shipyard and Puerto Rico, which works fine in a JASE way but without capturing the charm of either. It does some nice things though. The aim is to build ships made up of hull parts, masts, and sails (a la Shipyard), for points, with the option of then loading the ships with goods and delivering them (a la PR), for another avenue of points. You can focus on the former, or try a bitser approach. It borrows the Puerto Rico everyone-does-the-action mechanic, but here the first player bonus changes each round. The number of free workers (aka how may uses of that action you can do) also changes for each action in each round as well, so the start of each round has you assessing all the actions with new eyes as to what’s powered up and attractive, and what bonuses would be useful. It’s a game of attempting to be set up to take advantage of every other’s action as much as possible, and that’s the game – assessing what everyone else is likely to do and acting accordingly (and hopefully making it tricky for other players by instigating actions in an order that’s less useful for them). Now that I know how it all hangs together, I’d play it again to ride the learning curve and see if I can do better, but without a strong thematic pull or tantalising drama, I feel no immediate draw to do so.
Teenager Rating: Dad overrates this!
It’s Yahtzee, but with 3 re-rolls, and every combination has a reserved space on the board. Your aim is to claim spaces so as to form rows of 3 in any direction. The harder the combinations were to make (odds-wise), the more the row will score. The downtime is pure unfortunately, and turns can be longish while you’re assessing all the possible spots you could go after each roll and determining what dice to re-roll and what not (for which the determination of how much risk to take vs the potential reward is at least semi-interesting). The scoring can also be fiddly when multiple rows are formed by a placement. The game is much better played online where all the placement options are highlighted for you and the scoring is automated. But to say there’s a bit of luck in your result would be an understatement, and it just drags on too long for a game where much of the result is outside your control.
Teenager Rating: No need to play again!
THE VOYAGES OF MARCO POLO
Worker placement in another guise, which makes it difficult to rise to any great heights. Instead of meeples, you place your dice. High values are good if you’re first into an action place because it’s free and the high value boosts its power, but you want low values otherwise because you’ll pay gold to use the action (to the value of your lowest die used). There are various get-outs to modify and re-roll dice, which is a two-edged sword in that it provides options to ponder but lengthens downtime. As you can imagine, it’s a game of assessing what the other players are likely to do and determining if you need to do it first or if it can wait. What stood out was the ability to add to your choice of available actions by choosing where to travel (each location provides a new and different action). You’ll want to choose your path wisely so as to complement your character’s VP strategy, and that’s the guts of the replay, trying different approaches to VP accumulation. It’ll get a few more plays to that end, and to give it further opportunity to grow on me.
Teenager rating: Fair assessment!
WAY OF THE DRAGON
There are 5 symbols on the dice matching the 5 race tracks. After rolling, with two optional re-rolls, move your marker of choice up one track by the number of dice showing that track’s symbol, trying to get into the last non-scoring space as fast as possible and then do a big move into the scoring spaces (the last 5 spaces) – because once scoring, that marker can’t move any more. And there’s your strategy. Oh, and roll well. Simple re-roll games aren’t that interesting, and this one induces pure downtime for the other players. It gets laced with irritation each time you can’t move your best result, as you must either land on an empty space or not move at all. With each player added, both the downtime and the irritation factor ramp up. There’s an option to roll for dragons and do some marker positional swapping as well but it’s high risk, and likely irritation-inducing as well. The game ends when one player has a marker in a scoring space on each track, and this takes way too long for what is a non-interesting, pure-downtime, high-irritation event.
Teenager Rating: It sucked, never want to play it again.
ZOOLORETTO: THE DICE GAME
When the place-or-take mechanic is stripped down to its core, I believe Coloretto is a better choice as it allows you to compete for cards coming from a known deck. This dice version replaces the deck with random things to take, where it’s unknown if taking something now or not will hurt you being the first to complete a set or not, because what’s coming is unknown. It makes it a less interesting game, and competing on strips of paper doesn’t have the same satisfying feel as reviewing more tangible card collections around the board. I also have an expectation with dice games that players will be able to do interesting things with the dice, which this fails to do – they’re just things to collect and a means to an end. So this one I can live without.
Teenager Rating: I still don’t think it’s a good game!
Thoughts of other Opinionated Gamers:
Matt Carlson: I am a fan of electronic editions of boardgames, it gives me a chance to play them without setting up a game night. However, I also do not like playing against nameless faces. I feel pressured to perform, not necessarily to win, but I don’t want to be responsible for some nameless person’s enjoyment of a game. (Hmm, yet I don’t mind imposing on friends…) Some of this rises from parenting young kids, I can’t predict when I might suddenly become unavailable. So, I tend to play digital versions of boardgames against the AI. Even if the AI is poor it still allows me to explore the game.
Aside from solo play, I find electronic versions of boardgames to be very handy. The most popular boardgames tend to get digital versions (either mobile android/iOS or PC or both.) Buying the virtual games is pretty much alway cheaper. I now have a large collection of boardgames I can play at any moment if I simply carry around my iPad. With the digital version of a game, I can get things set up in a flash and games go so much faster when the bits and pieces of a boardgame are managed by the computer program.
When used as a portable gaming library, my iPad works best with only 2 players although a 3 player game is possible. For more players, having a way to have a larger screen is valuable. I’ve found playing with my boys (pre-teens at the moment) using Apple TV or an equivalent to broadcast from an iPad or Android screen is a great way to play. For games that have little or no private information, I might even say it is better since there is little or no setup. My prime example would be Small World. The actual game (with all those expansions) is quite fiddly, but playing it on a big screen with 3 or 4 players is a blast.
Bottom line, I agree with Patrick in that digital gaming has some distinct advantages. Setup and take down are eliminated, and digital implementations of games play much faster. The core limitations to my gaming lie in the lack of hidden information (if we’re playing on a big screen) and game that require players to be able to survey the entire board at any time. Ironically, games with lots of little bits are great to translate into digital form, but by the same token if there’s lots of little bits floating around it can be harder (especially for players new to the game) for someone to access how the game is going. I’m not going to sell my boardgame collection, but I have made it a point to keep tabs on good digital versions as they become available.
Games with little or no hidden information that play just fine on a big screen: Small World, Pandemic, Suburbia, Ra, Carcassonne, Stone Age, Spendor, Puerto Rico, and Patchwork.
Complicated games that play well on a big screen if everyone is familiar with the title: Le Havre,
Agricola (if you don’t mind showing your cards), Through the Ages (some cards again).
Games I’d generally avoid as multiplayer would be heavies like Terra Mystica, Steam, Brass, and Sentinels of the Multiverse. There is simply too much going on at once to hide on a small screen – they play best when one can scan the board to get a feel of the situation.
Dale Y: While I don’t play online at all right now, I was really surprised at the full list of current offerings…