[Editor’s Note – as some of you have cheekily noted, this really should be September part 1 – but I was so excited to publish Patrick’s thoughts a few weeks ago that I pulled the trigger too early!]
Gloomhaven, Spirit Island, and Pandemic Legacy Season 2 march on. The Oracle Of Delphi has been hitting the table frequently and is my current go-to Euro. But mostly it’s about the new stuff. Not a lot of love in this batch, but these are the grenades we’ve taken and fair warning given.
Short for aggravating. Appropriate title. (OG Review here) The rules are a slog with wibble after wibble to be explained, plus all the effects iconography. It’s as if they went through each aspect and said this seems too straight-forward, let’s add some complexity! The early turns are Scythe-like micro-turns – generate resource, another to convert it into better resource, another to spend it, and so on. We’re dragging from the start. Then the decision tree widens with the development of meditation points (spend them in 5 different actions, mainly to convert and spend resource), and favours (used to generate and convert resources). Now on our turn we have the option of getting nearly any of the 16 resources if we spend enough, so what do we go for? Enter the point salad, and turns drag on in another way while options are considered. 16 resources is a lot of resources to manage, and it seems like everything you want to specialise in requires much of all of them. – the Akbar race, the guild race, the contract race, the building race. At this point anyone can now generate mostly any good if they spend enough, so you have little idea what the intentions of the other players are. You also have no idea whether you’re getting any free meditation points on any given round as other players can deny you (aggravating). While you may be strategically moving sloooowly along your chosen path, each turn can’t really be finalised until you start it (aggravating). The game is one of generate base resources, convert them up, generate other base resources convert them up, spend, rinse lather repeat, find another player just beat you to the contract you’d been building towards, come up with plan B, generate resources, convert them up, repeat for 3 hours … sigh aggravating. Despite the rant, there’s actually a decent game in all of this which players will enjoy if they like developing project plans containing a stream of mini-tasks in their head, and I didn’t mind it. It’s just clouded by all these gameplay issues.
APOCALYPSE CHAOS (2015)
Not much chaos, but certainly apocalyptic to my head. Weird title for what it gives. Once the dice are rolled, everything is known and all options are available. You determine where every monster is going to be at each initiative stage and what damage they’re going to apply to each square. Then you need to move dice between the players to minimise the damage to each player (using move and shield faces) whilst applying maximum damage to monsters at the right place and time (melee and range faces). Keeping all the monster movement and damage elements in your head so as to successfully co-ordinate (and swap) up to 20 actions amongst four different players just does your head in however. Once you start earning powers, the number of possible options explodes, making it worse. You can get to the min/max point each round, but it’s ugly time-consuming work and not much fun. The game provides a number of different scenarios (which is usually a good thing), but the first game left me sucking vacuum unfortunately.
BRASS: BIRMINGHAM (2018)
It played just like … Brass. But with more industries. Here I felt more dependent on my card mix. In the original I remember feeling I could work to a strategy almost regardless of card draw, especially with the free wild action. Here, because the cards are spread over more industries, it’s possible to get shutout of some strategies depending on your draw – you really do have to listen to your cards and go along, developing something coherent based on what you get and hope the cards you get in the second era play along with what you have on the board. As such, I think I like this version more than the original because it feels harder to develop coherency. I certainly preferred having more control over the sales/deliveries through the construction/use of beer barrels (a thematic sigh … just go with it). The components and artwork are top-notch. The game perhaps feels a little dated now (re occasional long lags between turns) but there’s still enough quality there to be a satisfactory addition to the collection if you don’t already have a version.
INDIAN SUMMER (2017)
Another Rosenberg tile placement optimisation piece. To play well, you need to take way longer than is socially acceptable to evaluate all the options on where you’re going to place the next however-many-pieces for which you want to plan ahead. This is ok in solo mode (which is fine, but there’s better things to do in life) but in multi-player engenders ongoing dissatisfaction knowing you can play much better if only you had more time. This is quickly followed by a lack of care in the result. Lining up the tiles with the treasure spaces so as to generate special bonus actions makes it a bit more interesting for gamers (outweighed by the additional complexity creating aforementioned optimisation dissatisfaction) but makes it too complicated for non-gamers. Neither is it a “have fun” game, so it misses out there as well. Not one I need to repeat.
MONUMENTS: WONDERS OF ANTIQUITY (2012)
Straightforward card drawing and set playing game with a twist – your sets get raided by other players for points. But the more cards you play to a set, and the more it’s raided, the more points that set will score at the end. You also have an option to spend cards to double-score cards in your sets, so you race to do that before they’re raided. Which makes for an interesting enough ebb and flow that allows for different scoring approaches. There’s nothing exciting or flashy about the game, and there’s not a lot of strategic interest to pull you back, but it’s pleasant enough to play because of its non-objectionable card playing set collecting essence.
QUEEN’S ARCHITECT (2015)
Welcome to tile rotation hell (or heaven, fit to taste). You hire craftsmen (hex tiles) in the colours needed to build in the towns that require those colours. The longer they’ve been in the draft, the more uses you get out of them. Each time they’re used to build something they rotate, sometimes to better numbers, sometimes to worse numbers. The goal therefore is to find (hire) a set of colours (craftsmen) that will be able to satisfy a few close-by towns, do actions to rotate them to high numbers, build for VPs, travel, do actions to rotate them to high numbers, build for VP’s … and continue on, hiring new or rotating back as needed, until you’ve built enough to win. The actions are on a rondel, so the turn choreography is pretty defined once you get on a roll – get money, hire, travel, rotate, build, miss the ones you don’t need this turn if you’re in a race to build or hire somewhere first. It all works fine mechanically, but boy it’s dry. While I never felt like an architect or builder, it does seem I’m a pretty good tile rotator. It’s just not something that excites me though, and each game’s going to play identically to the previous, and this excites me even less.
PAPER TALES (2017)
This is the war mechanic of 7 Wonders condensed into its own game. (Earlier review here) You have the draft, you play cards at end of draft, and get points for having higher combat value on played cards compared to your two neighbours. It adds some interesting spice however. The cards have a ton of abilities and production capabilities on them, so you have the choice to pursue points other than via combat, including building perpetual powers (buildings) and via ability combinations. Or a mixture of both. Cards can stay in play for a round allowing you to maintain or alter plans each round. Money is always tight and decisions can be hard. You still have to be careful what you pass to your neighbours, but there’s more than just combat points to consider in the pass. I suspect it may be a touch too long (with respect to the level of combat result swinginess) for players to be fully content with the game, but it seems a fine game to have some fun with.
This game did my head in for a while. You’re collecting sets of tools to be able to claim VP buildings. They’re scattered across the columns. Each column that you jump over to collect stuff further out, the longer it’ll be until it’s your turn again. You need to grok that on each turn your meeples will be able to take stuff from the very first column on; not from the column where they ended up last turn. This is because the turn track with the meeples keeps sliding backwards. It’s a clever mechanic. I’m not sure it shines to full advantage here though because there seemed to be too much hosage – there are numerous buildings that, when claimed, force opponents to lose meeples, move meeples, lose tools, and the like, so your well-crafted plans just get tossed for opportunism. It seems to be that you simply collect cheap tools, and then collect the buildings that are still on offer as best you can when you can. Interesting to explore, but not sure I need to take it much further.
SPY CLUB (2018)
Your co-op activity is to organise which of the five colours (of those you haven’t placed 5-of-a-kind in the middle yet) that you’re going to go for next, and use actions to swap cards around, earn currency, and pay to move cards of that colour into the middle. There’s look-ahead planning involved, and some minor memory elements, but the turns end up being too straight-forward, and (even worse) there are occasions when you have actions left over that you simply can’t use for benefit. There are no knife-edge decisions, you just implement the obvious plan, with the occasional card manipulation to minimise the chances of a bad event. There’s significant luck in whether the cards you want come out nicely and whether the end-of-turn events go how you’d like. A fluxx-style minor rule change enters play after the first 5-of-a-kind is done to mix things up, but it doesn’t save the game. Nor does the campaign mode which requires you to basically win 5 times in a row while the rule changes accumulate. Whlle it’s ok to play and explore a bit, the game falls more in line with the tween art and storyline than I had hoped for.
SPOTLIGHT ON: ROMA / ARENA: ROMA II (2005)
50+ plays: Very clever design and I thoroughly enjoy the game every time I play. It has a lovely balance between weight of attack vs VP gathering, oftentimes with games hanging in the balance and dependent on what can get activated when. The cards provide lots of different options in how to go about the win, providing the variety needed for replay, with enough luck to keep things interesting and unpredictable even when you feel you’re in a winning situation. Some games are fast, some are momentous see-saws with multiple changes in strategy. There’s a learning curve involved in the cards and games can be slow until you’re up the curve, but it’s a worthwhile climb. The Arena cards seem to be cheaper and attackier than the original Roma, which makes for more volatile and swingier games, but this isn’t a bad thing at all. In a recent series of games I’ve been experimenting more with non-attack approaches and surprising myself with how many different ways there are to win, giving the game even more legs than I first believed. It’s one of my favourite 2-player 20-min games.
Thoughts of other Opinionated Gamers:
I like this quite a bit better than Patrick*, but not as much as Cottage Garden. There’s more going on, but it’s a teeny bit fiddlier. That said, I know how popular Patchwork is with non-hobbyist gamers who are looking for something to play with their partner after dinner; these definitely hit that same market.
* “than Patrick likes it”, rather than “than I like Patrick”
PB: We recognise that Melissa has to pretend not to like me too much when Fraser’s around, but secretly, just between us, we all know how things really lie ;-).
DY: This is clearly an example of “what happens in Oz, stays in Oz”
I picked this up on spec at the UK Games Expo in 2016 and have played it once or twice a year since then. Is that a ringing endorsement? Not really, but it’s a solid endorsement. Have played with a range of people and it has always been enjoyed. Works well as a convention game where it’s just a little too noisy and last night was a little too late for anything deeper.
I quite like this fast playing filler game where your tableau of cards has a limited lifespan and you need to develop an engine to get the VPs rolling in. Ignore military strength at your peril as there are a LOT of VPs to be had.
I still really enjoy this game. The rules are definitely a slog and it takes a play or three to get your head around, but once you do the game plays very well. There are so many interesting choices and ways to create engines that it doesn’t get old.
I do not enjoy this game. Try to get some resources to buy building. Spend everything to get said building. Start over. Ho hum.
I really enjoyed the game. I like the different ways to progress and the worker placement/displacement system. My only reason for not rating the game as a top echelon one are the component choices. The sloping board, while clever has a tendency to fall; the expansion chips for the farms would have been better as cubes; and the white connections between locations on the board are indistinct. All of these are really only minor distractions from a very good game.
I appreciated the changes between the original game and this version. The game has sped along in my 5 games and although some decisions are difficult to take, the game retains the feel of the original and is still a good game. The production values are superb.
I had a totally different feel about this game from Patrick. I have only played twice, about two years ago, but on each occasion the puzzle of how to make progress, avoid being shot, help your partner was interesting and enjoyable. Having been reminded about the game, It might be time to get it back to the table.
Patrick and Alan must have much better eyes than I have, because I think the artwork on this is dreadful. It’s so dark! Even using the “light” side of the board, it’s a huge strain figuring out where things are, which really detracts from my enjoyment of the game (as well as adding to its duration). The player boards, OTOH, are excellent. Components aside, there are some interesting ideas here, although I missed the ports from the original game. I agree with Patrick that the cards seem more important than in Brass Senior, although I consider that to be a mild negative. The importance of canal/train scoring seems greater, which I’m also not wild about, as it seems the game should focus on getting your buildings flipped. I can see where the different strategic paths for the three industries, as well as requiring beer for deliveries, would be appealing to a Brass veteran looking for new challenges. But since I’m barely competent with the original game, they just make things more difficult and opaque to me. It’s basically a solid expansion of a great game and were it not for the components, I’d be happy to explore it some more. But that horribly dark artwork makes return visits to Birmingham much less likely.
Agra – Liked the game, but it was a tad long for me.. and I really don’t like the slanted board which always seems to want to topple over.
Paper Tales – I really liked this game when it first came out, and it still gets occasional play here. I am waiting for an expansion to adda few new cards to the mix…