Patrick Brennan: Game Snapshots – June 2018 (Part 1)
The clear winner from our first batch of Yucata new games has been Mystic Vale, with daily outings for quite a while. Now that we’ve explored different strategies and we’re more experienced with our card valuations (the deck-thinners aka decay-killers are the usual winners, as you’d expect), the decisions are more focused on whether to take a lesser card or not – you don’t want the replacement card to be a deck-thinner that your opponent can grab. This has generated an evolving set of valuations. There’s no way we’d be playing this so much if we had to play with the physical components. Hooray for Yucata!
We’ve explored another batch of new games on Yucata over the last month, but there are face-to-face snapshots here as well. I’d say we’re about done on the Yucata new game front now. I’ve played the remaining known good stuff there (Russian Railroads, Egizia et al) and the games I haven’t played are generally BGG-ranked 5000 or lower. But we’ve found lots of good stuff to enjoy and explore; happy with that.
Our first game here however is not a Yucata game …
Worker placement, where the build action just keeps adding more and more action places (and more build actions) until it starts getting a bit silly. Modifying the workers themselves for additional powers (score VPs for being used, use a place already taken, etc) provide a twist. Making the modifications the same colors as the player colors was daft. While the game provided the usual worked placement challenges, there were downsides. Firstly, there’s no thematic immersion on offer. All the actions are just mechanic manipulations – get resources, get modifications, get points by spending, and so on, which we’ve all seen before. Secondly, the modifications that allowed you to take an already-taken-action twisted the game away from what worker placement games thrive on – the tension of whether to go “now” vs can you wait a turn. Souped up workers can just land on the most powerful, best-scoring spots every round. Out goes the tension, in comes a sense of unfair imbalance. Thirdly, with so many actions and options available in the last rounds, it dragged on. The game was ok to experiment with, but it had too many issues to be more than that.
HUNTERS AND SCOUTS / JAGER UND SPAHER
It’s too long for a 2-player Euro, but it has a mechanic of interest. Each turn you either play a card (usually to move your meeples onto common resource cards that provide various mixtures) or you retrieve your meeples and spend those collected resources to build items (for VPs) or gain more meeples or eliminate hunger tiles (-1 VP). You’ll generally do your major scoring (meeples less hunger tiles) when you have no cards in hand, and then you get to draw cards back into your hand. Here’s the cool thing – the discarded cards are spread across three common discard piles, and you can draw the topmost from each pile, digging down into each, so you’re choosing which powers you want to use next round. Strategies start to diverge. There’s competition for resources, but as you’re never quite sure what your opponent needs, it’s not a major driver. There’s a little bit of hosage at times but not enough to be irritating. It takes a while to get to grips with what all the cards can do which slows things down, but it feels like a game that will reward familiarity and might be worth exploring for a bit.
A game of continual card draw (draw 2, keep 1), hoping you get to choose a card with actions that will complement the pile you’re placing it in (you have 3 piles to manage). You gradually cycle through your piles, playing their cards in order. The actions variously increase your resources, or you spend those resources for advantage or to fulfil point-scoring contracts, first-in-first-served. While managing the piles and their actions is interesting enough, it feels like a game you play in hope – hope that you draw cards that synergise with the cards already in the pile, hope you draw cards that allow you to fulfil contracts, hope you draw cards to get the resources you need, hope that the game gets better, and so on. There’s an option to raid the discard pile for cards if you want to lower the luck factor, but it doesn’t stop the game feeling too limiting, just managing cards across your three piles over and over again in a simple race for 25 VPs.
A nicely thematic walk through the forest. You wander along the path taking the things you need to log the forest, transport the wood, and saw it into timber as efficiently as possible. Repeat 6 times. There’s no real engine build – sometimes you’ll pick things up to use on future turns instead of this turn, but your priority is getting enough money this turn to do even better next turn, and then start spending that timber on the big point tasks once you have them spare. There’s more competition for the important spots each turn than I expected; the race along the path to get key items can be pretty hot. The game will probably swing to those who have a better idea of how to use the hut and planned work “specials”, which newbies might tend to avoid as it’s a bit of overload, meaning game mastery helps. I thought while playing that it only needed to be half the length, (i.e play the same game just the 3 times instead of 6) and I would have been happier with it, but it otherwise provides a decent and meaty time of it if you enjoy games where you need to master the system.
Vanilla Euro. Nice theme. 12 rounds. 2 actions per round. Get resources, and use them to build buildings (which provide more action spaces, more resources, more ways to make money, and so on) and to launch your ships. The more food you spend, the longer they stay at sea, the more whales they catch, the more VPs you’ll score. There’s a lot of randomness in your whaling VPs (they’re pulled from a bag) which you just have to suck up but these can have a biggish effect on your result. There are things you can do to lessen the luck, but that costs actions where you could have been doing other stuff. Luckily the game goes decently fast. What it feels like it needs is player differentiators to drive different action valuations – as it stands, we all want to do much the same things and need much the same resources; we’re just doing them in a different order. As such, it’s too vanilla for me to earn much replay, but the game is fine in what it does.
POLIS: FIGHT FOR THE HEGEMONY
An excellent slightly-asynchronous two player civ-building Athens vs Sparta game. You need to expand out and settle, and then gather resources to build other units and VP projects and trade for enough wheat to feed everyone, and then more wheat to grow your population (aka VPs) – the challenge is to do it each round, all while the threat of conflict looms! I love how the game is structured so that conflict is impossible on the first round, and only likely in the last half of the game … but only if both players have built enough troops in an area to make it worthwhile fighting over. If you don’t build units though, you’re in danger of your opponent taking over your cities. Of course, then they have to find enough wheat to feed everyone! It’s an interesting balancing act. The other balancing act is the spending of prestige each round – it costs VPs for each move and each resource gathering, but moving allows for sieges which will get you VPs back, so rounds can be long if you work it. But the instant your opponent says enough and passes, there’s a resource cost with every additional action you take which will limit how much further you want to go, so that’s another nice decision point. There are some big risk/reward decisions in the early game – going for a big city and missing out on the die roll can hurt; going for a little city is more likely to succeed, but the ongoing rewards will be smaller. Anyway, the gameplay is interesting, it provides the right amount of civ-epicness for its length and weight, and there are strategies to explore, which we’ve already enjoyed a few times.
This is a pick-up-majorities-from-the-draft card game that uses the nice concept of whatever you leave exposed in the draft dictates what gets scored/provided at the end of your turn … by everyone. To get the quickest payoff, you need to look ahead – pick it up at the end of your turn, play it next turn, and then pick up a card exposing something of the type just played. That makes for some interesting decisions because cards rarely fall into line so nicely, and if they do, your opponent(s) will probably mess it up for you anyway. It takes a bit of getting used to (that cards you collect won’t score unless there are more of them coming up in the draft). The game plays nicely but doesn’t quite provide a major draw, possibly because the game seems strategically one-dimensional. In short, collect as much wood as you can, which is the currency of the game (the overlogging of which is nicely outlined by Jared Diamond in Collapse as a major factor in the struggles of the Easter Island civilisation – the theming works as much as it can accordingly), then spend the wood on gaining the majorities on offer from the draft, and then try and max your benefit from them. It’s never that simple of course, and I like the way it disguises what might be a simple majorities game with delayed gratification decisions.
Flip a tile on the grid, and optionally place a farmer, which you can only do twice (or thrice in a 2p game which is how we played). Once all farmers are placed, reveal all tiles and then, vaguely reminiscent of Hey, That’s My Penguin (aka Pingvinas, as the old hands out there would know it), choose one of your farmers and collect all tiles in a row from the farmer in any one direction, stopped by the grid edge or another farmer. Placing farmers to maximise your collection and minimise other players’ collections is in mind. You can’t afford to wait until all tiles are revealed, so most of your placements have more than a touch of hope in them, and you’re never quite sure what will be left by the time it’s that farmer’s time to collect (you’re trying to collect scoring sets btw), so the game seemed pretty random – in both its literal sense and in its teenage slang sense. With that little control, I quickly found I couldn’t care much.
A clever 2-player with likeable aspects. You take turns claiming 3 cards (and their respective abilities) around the edge of a 5×5 grid, which also gives you access to 2 cards in the middle, being the cross-cards indicated by your outside placements. It’s the competition to get these middle cards that makes the game, as you’re racing to collect specific card-types (for bonus VPs) and card abilities in your personal tableau, and oftentimes you want the same card so there’s various blocking maneuvers to be conscious of (which can trigger frustration at times). The other card actions are to variously collect (or exchange for) the various goods and gold needed to pay for the collectable cards, so it’s a game of collect and spend, collect and spend. I like the card effects, but it drags on a bit for a repeating collect-and-spend game, and I felt it was largely explored halfway thru, and the turns became gradually less interesting as a result. Likeable still, but no need to take any further.
SPOTLIGHT ON: PRINCES OF FLORENCE
50+ games. One of the best 5p auction games out there. It really shines when played amongst experienced players where the valuations are broadly known and tightly contested – how far over general value consensus can you afford to go (without throwing away the game) given what other people have done so far and what’s likely to go for dear and cheap next round? There’s exactly the right balance between actions and auctions to keep the game flowing rather than being repetitive. With a fixed 7 rounds, we suspect player 2 gets a little too much advantage with their extra profession (it’s half a jester, cheap-cheap), but it’s a minor flaw that’s never troubled us. Every game offers hard choices on how much you’ll pay to commit to your desired strategy (for your profession mix this game), or whether to bend with the wind for lesser. And every now and then you get the beautiful game where everything comes together just right. It’s been a constantly returning game whenever any five of my original core gaming group come together once again, with high nostalgia value to boot.
Thoughts of other Opinionated Gamers:
Mark Jackson: I’m Mark Jackson… and I heartily endorse Patrick’s mash note to The Princes of Florence.
Larry: I’m a fan of three of the 2-player games Patrick cites here: Kashgar, Rapa Nui, and Targi. I’ve only played the first of these with paste-ups, but it’s still been enjoyable and clever. Rapa Nui might be my favorite Wrede design, with its constant tension and solid theming. And Targi is always a lot of fun, a game I’ve gone too long without playing. Princes of Florence is brilliant, one of only five games I rate a perfect 10. It’s a title that seemingly never lays an egg, with every game being hugely enjoyable. I wish it hit the table more often.
Tery Noseworthy: Princes of Florence continues to be one of my favorite games. I am not generally a fan of auction games, but this one works for me. There is a lot of strategy involved in deciding what to put out for bid, and since there are generally at least two things that would be useful to you, strategy and angst about how when and how much to bid on things.
Lorna: Targi is one of my favorite 2 player games. I love the grid mechanism. Plenty of choices to make whether to block or advance your position. The new expansion is a nice addition. I think think there will be a reprint and English edition of the expansion. highly recommended.
Princes of Florence is one of my all time favorite games. I wish I could get it to the table more often.
Joe Huber: I recently played Kashgar for the second time, with an English copy, and was – rather whelmed, on the whole. I pursued a fairly basic strategy, based upon my initial cards, and it worked very well; I reached 25 points while everyone else was in the low teens. Now, hopefully this was just an aberration; there’s still a lot that I like about the game. But it moved from my “maybe I’ll pick up a copy now that it’s in English” list to my “maybe try a third time to be sure” list.
Jonathan Franklin: I’m a fan of Targi, New Bedford, Jaeger und Spaher, and Princes (even though I don’t like auction games that much). New Bedford might be the fastest of the four and offers a good range of decisions, variability, and a nice blend of easy enough to be a gateway without being mind-numbing in either direction. Targi’s mechanism is really great, enough that it is one of the few games where I pasted it up (the expansion). I am pretty tired of set collection, so that is the one piece that is a bit meh.