Patrick Brennan: Game Snapshots – July 2018
In non-virginal gaming, a number of recent 8’s have been seeing good replay and confirming their credentials for me, including A Feast For Odin, Spirit Island, Lisboa, and Anachrony. All really good games I’m enjoying exploring. Mystic Vale continues to be played ad infinitum on Yucata. Gloomhaven continues ever onwards – I just retired my first character, a Spellweaver, and now have a juicy new character class unlocked to delve into. Pandemic Legacy 2 has hit the backburner due to one of our crew heading overseas, but it remains looked forward to.
Our new stocks in this bat-episode are unfortunately littered with guano that I went into with high hopes and expectations. I’ll let you figure out which they were. I console myself with the thought that jumping on a few grenades every now and then serves a greater good by saving others from the same fate.
It’s a game I wanted to like more. It feels complicated with a ton of rules, but when it comes down to it, there’s not much you do in the game – buy art, boost price, sell art. The complicating bits are in working out how to get extra actions, and the taking of intra-game bonuses and end-of-game bonuses that mesh with the artists you buy/sell to satisfy your secret objective. All ok, and players can choose different balances on how, and how much, to boost, buy, and sell. But all the extra actions (which happen each time someone takes an occupied action spot) means there could be 7 or so turns before it gets back to you, and the downtime is a killer. Each player has no idea if that extra action is coming now, later, or never, so turns aren’t always planned ahead as effectively as preferred, exacerbating the downtime. With such a limited range of actions, the game felt a bit same-y throughout. It also seemed to take a long time to get where you wanted – separate turns to commission an artist, get a contract for that artist, buy the commissioned painting, get extra workers to take advantage of bonuses on the contract, boost the price, etc, and finally sell. Basically everyone wants to do much the same thing, people just do it in different orders. I loved the board, artwork, and theme, but the downtime left me plenty of time to determine that I didn’t really care for doing it all again. If it’d been a more straightforward approach, I might have enjoyed it more – sometimes more makes for less.
It’s a stock market game dressed up in island exploration clothes. You use cards to add map tiles and ships, to put colonists out on production spaces, and to increase the value of goods. Each ship you put out increases the number of cards you draw, and as you can play out your whole hand each turn, that’s an early no-brainer. Then, either join the bandwagon and produce the goods that other people are driving up the price of, or specialise in a good and drive it up yourself. At game end, each good you’ve produced is worth its share price. Turns go pretty fast. The cards give you a decent decision tree each turn without being overtaxing. It can be a bit racey to get your colonists on to the move valuable production spaces, which is good. But whichever way you look at it, it’s still a stock market game, and they’re just not that exciting.
A roll and write game where we’re trying to create the longest low to high sequence across numbers placed across a map of the USA, one number per state (almost), but the numbers are placed as they’re rolled so there’s lots of backfilling. You start with a general approach and try and work the rolled numbers into it as best you can, as they come, being malleable where you have to. Some solo games should never be played multi-player though. This is one of them. Good simultaneous-turn games feature quick turns but here there are a ton of options to consider. You have to place two die rolls, and each can be placed in one of the three provided locations (for potential bonus) or, if not, where’s the best placement across the allowed regions. To play well you want to sit and ponder ideal route options, but this is death to those who want to play at a faster pace with a more laissez faire approach; they’re waiting for you every turn. As such, it’s not a satisfactory experience when playing it at pace because you know you’re playing sub-optimally, but it drawls horribly when anyone is overly playing to win. I’m pretty sure I don’t want to roll dice for half an hour playing it solo either though.
It’s a game that goes too long and seems way too points-swingy in the final era to be completely satisfying, but it’s a game I have an itch to explore. There’s some Amun-Re bidding to get a new tile each round, and working out which of the offered tiles will boost you best, which you can place in your tableau without messing things up, and which you can actually win, is a great way to start each round. You’re juggling 4 different production economies and 4 different state economies, and the constant decisions on where to concentrate is a major driver. There are secret goal cards to work towards, hard decisions on how to spend your action points each round, and some sabre rattling extortion that felt civ-appropriate. Basically it’s a game that had me engaged throughout.
Your pixies move up the board through the action spaces, earning more income the higher they go and ultimately the big points when they hit the top. The game has a nice twist – a promoted pixie means its action space now only requires one worker rather than two. The more promoted pixies, the more actions players can do each round. Obviously you promote into spaces that you’re most likely to do, and not the spaces that others will be doing. Concentrating on pixie promotion seems to be one of the two dominant strategies, the other being just keep raiding the bag for gold and silver and doing conversions to get the resources needed to get points. Why did it fall flat? If the majority of players are committing to one strategy and falling over each other, the others should win, and there’s no falling back to the other strategy. There’s some mean take-that spaces that affect the designated player, who may not even be in the lead. Turn order is too crucial for the pixie promotion players. And there’s a blind bid each round that can prove too capricious – sometimes you win a bonus by bidding just one, sometimes you lose after bidding 5. These issues added up over the game, meaning at the end there was no appetite for future play.
SAILING TOWARDS OSIRIS
A nearly pure worker placement, but it’s disguised well. The action spaces are scattered either side of the river Nile. More become available with each new round as the barge moves along but, cleverly, the resources you gain from the action spaces are used to build monuments on the action spaces which then halve their future output. This generates pure worker-placement tension – there are races to get resources from spaces before they’re covered with monuments, and races to build monuments on resource spaces before they’re claimed. There’s a negotiation aspect that people can take advantage of to spice things up, as well as some card effects, but both complement the main drive of the game without overwhelming it. It’s a pure game – get resources, and build monuments for VP’s. That’s it. Vanilla, yes, but it’s also nice to occasionally play a game that knows what it’s about and gets to the heart of it without a mass of complications.
Each round, place 4 cards out. Geschenkt style, and either pay 1 on the lowest scoring card or pick it up and keep the money that’s been placed on it. But this is only allowed if it has money on it (or it’s the last one left). This ridiculous rule means if the player to your right keeps picking up just before you, you’re forced to pay on your next turn and not pick up a card you may have wanted. Double smack. It also makes for a seemingly random game where a number of your collections feel more forced than you’d like. At least it lasts the right amount of time for what it is and the 10 rounds go fairly fast. I’d reach for others before this though.
THRONE AND THE GRAIL
Not bad for a 15 min 2p filler. Draw 5-card hands, and then alternate putting cards into the draft until you like the look of the last 5 cards played into the draft, and take them. But continue playing cards out as your opponent will need to take 5 cards as well. You’re trying to have the most in each set to earn its points, so the winner will be the player who picks up the best 5-card lots over the game. If you have crap cards in hand, pick up early and feed the crap out to your opponent. If you have good cards, the question is whether to play them early and take early, or whether to tempt your opponent into an early take – it’s a guess on whether your opponent will be playing their good cards or their crap early or late. Each hand is a gamble basically, determining the point at which it won’t get any better. It doesn’t provide any compelling decisions, but it’s enough to keep you engaged for its short time span.
At about the halfway mark I quite liked the game. You choose an action to place ships on the board, and then either clear some adjacent spaces (in order to buy an ongoing power that has some VPs) or use a cleared space to build a building (for slightly more VPs). But the game dragged on, dropping rating points with the realisation that every turn is the same as the last – determine which of the available actions gets you the most points and take it. Early on you might sacrifice some VPs to get ongoing powers, but otherwise if you’re not making 3 pts each turn you’re off the pace. And that soon got random given new buildings and specialists were revealed after turn order was decided. Some of the actions are cool, switching things around on the board and the like, but analysing their possibilities becomes more and more time consuming as the board fills up. Downtime accordingly escalates, aggravated because you can’t fully analyse until your turn starts. It also gradually turned into a game of denial, trying to ensure that not only were you maximising your points, but that you were doing so in a manner that didn’t open up big point possibilities to your opponents. Further increasing downtime. Further dropping the rating. My 6 is giving it the benefit of the doubt that it might be better (and ok) as a 3-player.
SPOTLIGHT ON: KLUNKER
133 plays. In 20 years of rating games, this takes the trophy (which went straight to the pool room btw) for the game I got most wrong. It just rubbed me the wrong way (and it can do that if the cards don’t fall right in your initial plays) and came in at a 5. But it somehow developed into our regular late night closer and I began to “see” it. There’s a heap of luck, but it’s fun to tempt people into purchases, it’s fun when you’re spurned and have to suck it up, it’s nice when you get great cards, and groaning fun when you get one of everything. The sell/take feature makes this game significantly different from others, and once you’re past the initial weirdness, it’s highly attractive.
There tend to be two workable strategies:
1) Get most if not all your hand out each turn, happy to score 1’s, get the 5 or 6 card re-draws, plus the occasional gold if someone takes your window. If cards work well, you may eventually transmute into strategy 2, being …
2) Target scores of 4, 3 and 2, playing carefully, happy to donate gold to others to keep your scores clean. But you’ve got to know your other players. If they’re going to play dirty and not offer good stuff, you’ll eventually be forced into strategy 1 when the redraws don’t go your way.
There’s definitely an art to the offer. We’ve found:
- a) If two people are building the same jewel, you can contemplate placing 1 of that jewel, but you only want to do this if they’re getting close, they’re keen to build, they won’t be drawing many cards and there’s something else out there you can take. Otherwise, 1 card is a dangerous offer. It’s usually more advantageous to force someone to eat their own dog food to screw up their future scoring potential, especially if you’re drawing lots of cards.
- b) targeting 1 player, say offering 1 of each when they’re on 2 of each, is seen but again only if there’s something else out there you can afford to take and opponent is not drawing many.
- c) offering a pair is the most popular and safest, especially when there’s little you want on offer from the others. You can safely keep and play it yourself.
- d) offering a mix of junk that you’ll be happy to take yourself because you’re playing the cleanout strategy.
We’ve found the charm of Klunker to partly be the reading of other players – as in, how prepared will they be to not take your decent offer and head down strategy 1 instead. So the game is more about the player interplay than the cards themselves.
Thoughts of other Opinionated Gamers:
Mark Jackson: Klunker IS delightful… I posted some of my notes about Klunker on my personal blog back in the day – http://akapastorguy.blogspot.com/2009/08/game-central-station-klunker.html.
Doug G: Shelley and I are Michael Schacht fans, so Smile is a nice, light filler that fits well on our shelves. We talked about it on episode 601 of the podcast.
Brian L: The Gallerist is a game I thought might have potential the first time I played, but haven’t made the time for in the two years since. I agree that the downtime can be a killer, at least with a table full of new players.
Patchistory is a Love It game for me. It combines clever mechanisms, a sense of story arc and a balance of building up your own position with maintaining strength relative to your neighbors. I have played about a dozen times and seen both peaceful and warmonger strategies succeed. The end game can appear points laden (and therefor swingy) but with experienced players it also allows for the possibility that everyone is in it to the final auction. I have seen blow outs, but usually it’s down to an action or auction and occasionally all three players are within a few points of each other. Which brings me to the advice: personally I like it with three and we play Amun-Re style auctions, where you cannot raise your bid on the same card when overbid.