Gloomhaven continues to rule the roost (we’ve just hit prosperity level 4), but Spirit Island is giving it a run for its money, racking up 11 plays in just a few months with no sign of interest abating in the exploration of character combinations and various scenarios.
Otherwise the month has mostly been about continuing the new game journey …
CAVERNA: CAVE VS CAVE (2017)
It’s worker placement, with its essence being the little races for the desired actions. The attraction is in finding nice combo’s to more efficiently gather resources and do VP conversions – which is generally the construction of buildings to expand your own gathering and conversion abilities. Each game is different as the buildings come out in random order (as do the actions somewhat), but you’ll still be playing in the same action swamp each game, and the relative simplicity of the available actions aren’t going to provide too much mastery challenge after a while. I think 2p worker placement games probably need mastery complexity to really shine (see Fields of Arle) where both your opponent and the game provide a challenge. While it’s finely crafted, as you’d expect from Rosenberg, it feels maybe a touch too small to be an ongoing winner.
CODENAMES DUET (2017)
It works nicely as a 2p co-op, trying to collectively work out the 15 correct required cards from the 25 on the table (each player knows a subset). It still generates the need for (and satisfaction of) being clever, but it misses out on the social fun of the multi-player versions generated by the team discussions on what that clue might possibly mean and thereby what to pick. The version you prefer will probably depend on which of the two aspects you feel is more important to your enjoyment of the system. I like it more for its social, so while I enjoyed this, I won’t be searching it out as a 2-player.
DICE THRONE: SEASON ONE (2018)
It’s combat yahtzee. Unfortunately, giving each player custom dice and different sets of combinations to strive for, plus a card deck that allows them to improve the benefits of those sets (or do actions to manipulate dice and results) does not a better game make. Nor does the standard adding of a cliched fantasy theme. It’s still yahtzee. That means you have nothing to do or think about when it’s not your turn – no planning, no decisions, just a straight defense roll when called upon. That leaves you watching other players pondering their re-roll options. Not sure where the fun is in that. Playing 2v2 makes for a long time between turns, 3v3 would only be worse, and if it were 1v1, there are any number of amazing and rewarding 2 player card-effect games I’d be heading towards instead.
EPIC: CARD GAME (2015)
I’m unsure after our initial games. Playing it in non-variant mode sees each player draws 5 from a common deck, and our experience has been that he/she who draws the best cards / combos quickly overpowered the other. With only 1 gold to spend each turn and no saving up, hand strategy is limited. The other decision is what to attack with each turn, and therefore what to leave for defense, which usually isn’t that interesting a decision either. There’s the inevitable ton of keywords to learn but, having playtested various LCGs for years, it wasn’t a barrier for us. It could be for others though. There were still any number of questions we had in our initial plays that I expected answers to but couldn’t find without resorting to FAQ. Because you’re limited in what you do, turns are fast enough, and I guess that’s the tradeoff the game has gone for. I need to try the other suggested modes (like individual pre-constructed decks) before calling the jury back in for a final verdict though, because it’s a game we should like.
EX LIBRIS (2017)
I wanted to like this more due to the theming. Your aim is to collect lots of books in colours that you score, and you need to place them in correct order in your library. This gets harder as the game goes on. The cards you start with are random, and the cards you draw are random, so for the game to shine what you want is a set of actions that allow you to cleverly manage that randomness. Unfortunately, the random selection of actions each round invariably helps those with lots of cards when you don’t have any, or helps those with fewer cards when you have a lot. Or you get lucky, but then you can’t claim any cleverness. Further, they often seemed to unduly help the first player, exacerbating this traditional worker placement issue rather than working to alleviate it. As a result, it felt like the end-game score mostly inflicted itself on me rather me than majorly influencing it. I guess it’s probably better than depicted if you take it as a lighter romp, but I expected more.
One player (the fugitive) puts out cards face-down to the middle, the other player (the marshal) has to guess all of them correctly before the fugitive can get out their last card. They must be played in number order but can have gaps of up to 3 (or bigger if excess cards are dumped). Both players draw cards from the same pile(s) so the marshal gradually acquires more and more info on what the played cards might be. The occasional bluff by the fugitive (dumping excess cards to simulate a bigger than actual gap) adds a required guess/outguess element. Games can be quick if the marshal gets a few early guesses right, or can go down to the wire. The latter are obviously more enjoyable. The optional events don’t seem to add much, but may be required for variety’s sake once you’ve “done” the game enough. It’s quick enough at 10 mins for a double-play thru, changing roles. Rules are easy. It’s spouse friendly. My fear is that the guess/outguess element will probably grow old after a bit, limiting eventual replay. Until then, it’s cute enough.
This game’s simplicity held promise for me. Each turn, either use a card for its effect (usually to gain money, steal money, gain cards, or manipulate card usage), or play a group of cards to complete a centrally competed-for job for reward. Most money when the common pool is depleted wins, Ascension style. You get played cards back after three rounds, so there’s a small build-your-deck type feel. While there are neat things going on, unfortunately it descends into some salty areas, like take-that effects, and allowing you to use a power on someone else’s board (putting the game on pause while you peruse all). But turns are otherwise quick, the rules are easy, there are decisions to be made, and the theme is a fun one. It eventually became a bit same-y and went a touch long, playing the same cards through and watching money move around between the players, so once done, it didn’t feel like I needed to play again.
Our review here: https://opinionatedgamers.com/2016/09/19/dale-yu-review-of-grifters/
LORENZO IL MAGNIFICO (2016)
This is a really good Euro and back in the day it’d be an 8. The worker placement works well, the card choices are interesting, the engine build is there, there’s a few different approaches to take. The same dice luck is experienced by all, and you’re either built to overcome it – or take advantage of it – or not. I suspect that you need to either concentrate in yellow or green cards and harvest/produce the colour chosen each turn, but that’s something I’d want to explore. It’s an attraction. Turns are quickish, rules good, iconography good, in fact everything’s good. My main reservation though is around the complete lack of match-to-theme, which just doesn’t stand up anymore, and drives away what would usually be an urge to replay. I also fear the potential for aggravation when multiple people go the same strategy and knock each other out, as I’m not sure the game offers an out – that’s something I’d usually want to explore as well. But … that theme. For new gamers who haven’t hit that wall yet, it’s definitely worth exploring though.
NOCH MAL (2016)
This is an excellent roll and write, featuring all the good things the genre can give. Turns are fast, but every turn there’s a good decision for every player to make on how to use the dice (the roller gets to keep 2, everyone else uses the rest), which is basically which areas to cross out on your page that the remaining dice allow. You need to determine which bonuses you’re going for – colours and/or columns and/or stars – and when it’s useful to burn a point to use a wild or not. Rules are easy, everyone’s engaged throughout, it handles 6 players well, and it ends in the right timeframe. The gameplay itself doesn’t deserve this type of rating as there’s nothing really to explore in future games re different strategies; it’s pure time filler stuffing. However it does that very well and the foreseen ongoing replay sees it get up and over the 7 hump to begin with.
SPOTLIGHT ON: CASTLE PANIC (2009)
This has seen a lot of play as a 2- or 3-player with the kids. It’s basically draw a bunch of cards and hope they match the colour and area where the monsters are, which will allow you to smack them, so it’s pretty luck based. You get to discard and redraw a card, and then trade a card to alleviate some of the luck, so there’s co-operative assistance available. You play your cards, all the monsters move one area closer to the centre, and then draw two more monsters. If they get to the centre without you collectively killing them, they start bringing down the walls and towers until they run out of hit points and die. Lose the last tower and you die instead! Turns are fast and pleasant enough. Kids love the theme, love the smacking, don’t mind the luck, and love the idea that they’re likely to win. Adding the Wizard’s Tower expansion certainly added a more enjoyable level to the game and upped its rating and longevity by bringing more card variety and more situational variety. Bigger monsters sure, and a harder game, but more get out of jail cards as well, and it causes the ups and downs to gain magnitude. It certainly added a sense of epic-ness and satisfaction in the wins, and the game still comes out regularly during school holidays as a result. As it did this week!
Rating: 7 (8 with the Wizard’s Keep expansion)
Thoughts of other Opinionated Gamers:
Mark Jackson: I’m a big fan of Star Realms (as a 2 player battle) and Hero Realms (as a co-op or 1 vs many), so I expected to like Epic much more than I did. We actually had a similar experience to Patrick… but I haven’t managed to get it back to the table.
We go through phases with Castle Panic… it’s a pleasant and enjoyable cooperative game that really shines (like Patrick said) with the Wizard’s Keep expansion. (The other two expansions are fun but are not as necessary.) My review of the Wizard’s Keep appeared here on the OG a number of years ago – https://opinionatedgamers.com/2011/12/30/review-the-wizards-tower-castle-panic-expansion/, as did my reviews of the Dark Titan expansion – https://opinionatedgamers.com/2015/05/14/castle-panic-the-dark-titan-an-expansion-review/ and the Engines of War expansion – https://opinionatedgamers.com/2016/12/09/castle-panic-engines-of-war-expansion-review/.
Ex Libris. While I enjoy the concept and flow of Ex Libris, there is a lot of luck involved. It can happen where cards appear that simply are of no use to a player. Also, as Patrick pointed out, there is usually a big advantage for the first player. These are significant issues that one thinks should have been caught during playtesting. Still, I do enjoy the game, but it will probably be moved on after a few more plays.
Lorenzo il Magnifico. I think this is a brilliant, although quite involved and difficult-to-teach game. It has a lot of moving parts, and it is difficult to get one’s head wrapped around all of these. As Patrick indicates, there is a danger of a few players pursuing the same strategy, which can result in the player or players who are not in that bunch having an easier time of it. So there are some concerns, but all of the games I have played so far have been tense and exciting.
Matt C: I also enjoy Star Realms and cooperative Hero Realms (although I was disappointed in the shortness of campaign play.) I Kickstarted Epic so was not expecting another Realms title. It is touted as Magic the Gathering, with every card being overpowered. Our first plays were amusing due to the extreme power of the cards. Old MtG players would enjoy reading the hilarious overpowered nature of the cards, 18/18 trample on turn one anyone? Every turn felt like you were dead until you pulled an overpowered card out of your hat – which did keep you on the edge of your seat. However the game was somewhat lackluster until we realized we could use one gold card per turn (one for your turn, one on their turn) which really upped the pace and made the game slightly more balanced. I have mostly played with solid color decks or with a modified draft and still think its fun. I have since decided there is a bit of luck when we play with the solid color decks, but the game goes fast enough that it isn’t much of a problem. We could often complete 3 or 4 games in a half an hour. The game allows far more combo interactions than Star Realms and seems to scratch that Magic the Gathering itch without requiring such an investment in time and money. On a 1-10 scale I’d give Epic about 8.5. As for Codenames: Duet and Caverna: Cave vs Cave, my feelings are similar to Patricks (enjoying Duet slightly more hand he did.)
Jonathan: I adore Codenames Duet and have played it 4p, which does make it more social than 4p regular Codenames. For a word/party game, I enjoy the co-op spirit, but that might be because the more social the game, the less competitive people feel.
I’m not sure about Fugitive – liked it the few times I played and ended up with a copy. It does tension really well, but I am not sure if it is a game you ‘get better at’ or if external factors, such as card draw end up determining who wins. I’d be interested in what others think.
Dale Y: Ex Libris was a decent game, but usabilty issues with the graphics will keep this from regularly hitting the table. Reading the titles on the books was fun for the first few plays as well. I actually now like Codenames Duet more than the original version. The back-and-forth nature of play as well as the unknown pattern where some cards can be the assassin for one side but a scoring card for the other heightens the strategy and suspense. Noch Mal is still one of my favorite roll and writes. There are at least three different expansions out there to give some variety to play, but I’m still satisfied with just the basic sheet included in the main game.
James Nathan: I love Lorenzo. Patrick’s comments about the theme are true, but I hadn’t noticed it. For me, theme mis-fits are only exposed when a game has unintuitive rules where the theme can act as a mental aid to remember why things happen. In Lorenzo, I felt things were intuitive enough that I’ve never noticed the theme (other than the ex-communication piece). I find it deliciously tight – in resources, in choosing which actions to take, and in which order to take them. I love the ex-communication track and choosing whether it’s worth it to suffer the penalties or “waste” actions moving up the track. I don’t disagree with reviews I’ve seen elsewhere that say “there’s nothing new here”, but I think that’s a specious argument. I enjoy new things – I’m a sucker for new flavors of things at the grocery – but that new flavor of oreo or new flavor of salsa…did I buy them again? It’s like an old Taco Bell comedy skit about two people in charge of new menu items coming up with a new way to combine the same six basic Taco Bell ingredients into something exciting. Sometimes the same ingredients are put together in a brilliant way and you do buy that new bag of potato chips for years to come. (I did try that new trademarked cherry cultivar the other day. Not the kind you get in the bag, the kind in the fruit clamshell. Sort of a crunchy yellow rainier. Not in the potato chip sense, but the flesh had a certain strength to it – more like an apple – but the inside was still like a cherry. I liked it. My wallet, however, would rate them a “Not for me…”)
Doug Garrett: Quick rundown of the above titles which Shelley and I have reviewed on various podcasts:
- Lorenzo: Solid title, but not one we need to own
- Caverna Cave vs. Cave: Good game that remains on the shelf, but I’d rather get its big brother to the table more.
- Codenames Duet: Fantastic re-implementation of the Codemanes idea for couples to play.
- Ex Libris: Convoluted and already sold – I don’t understand the hype.
Larry: Lots of games this month that deserve better than Patrick’s humble 7, IMO:
Cave vs. Cave – This is probably my favorite of Rosenberg’s 2-player ports of his multiplayer hits, which is saying something because I like just about all of them. It plays quite differently than the original, which is good, and is a very nice mental workout in a short duration. It probably doesn’t have Chess-like depth, but I’m not really looking for something to master (I don’t play any game often enough for that, much less one for 2 players), so that doesn’t bother me at all. One of my favorites from last year.
Codenames Duet – Another great 2-player redesign of a great multiplayer game. I find it very challenging and stimulating. I probably slightly prefer the original, because it’s so wonderfully flexible, but this is still one of my top titles from last year.
Ex Libris – I haven’t played this, but while Patrick found the theme appealing, I can’t imagine a theme more boring than sorting books! Different strokes, I guess.
Lorenzo il Magnifico – I love this game! It’s another one of the terrific designs to come out of Italy. And while the theme is hardly original, the actions and the card text actually do fit the theme, even though it’s easy to ignore it. Anyway, thematic disconnects rarely bother me when the mechanics are this good. My game of the year for 2016.
Noch Mal – I like most Roll & Write games, but this one doesn’t do much for me. It seems to outlast its welcome and most of the decisions seem pretty obvious. But a lot of people whose opinion I trust speak highly of it, so maybe I should give it another chance.
Caverna Cave vs Cave: I probably prefer this to the Agricola or Le Havre two player versions, but it doesn’t come out often. Lost Cities and Balloon Cup still shine for two player goodness.
Ex Libris: I played this at Essen last year. It looked good, the book titles were amusing and it played quite well. However it was hideously expensive so we walked away. I’d play somebody else’s copy.