Patrick Brennan: Game Snapshots – 2018 (Part 16)
(Let’s move to a new naming convention for this ongoing series so we can move articles around the calendar without hassling about title changes. World-changing, I know.)
We happened to pull out Cuba the other night. It’s been sitting on my top shelf looking forlornly at me, longing for some love, every game night since 2011. Well, I say, that’s the benefit of having lots of games … you can leave some on the shelf and pull them out years later and they feel fresh and shiny new once more. In this case, the passing of time didn’t help it a real lot, but still. It was ok.
With regards to the new stuff, it’s a slightly older mix of games this time around (“wow, there were games before 2017 papa?”), but they still managed to fully cover the spectrum of really good to ugly.
THE BUILDERS: MIDDLE AGES (2013)
A simple affair of using your actions to claim buildings from the draft (they’ll show how much of each of the 4 resource types is needed to build it), claiming workers from the draft (they’ll provide said resources), and applying your workers to your buildings until its resource commitments are met and you can claim its VPs. Be the first to build 17 VPs. An easy concept, but you find yourself with hard choices at every turn because it’s rare that you get exactly the workers you want for the buildings on offer. There’s a nice rule where you can spend as many half-VPs as you like to gain extra actions, for those turns where you really must. The game is analysis-prone while you try to determine best fits across everything in the draft and in your hand, and there’s probably more than a touch of luck involved in the final result if perfect combo’s fall into someone’s lap. But for a cheapish 30 min affair, the blend seemed appropriate enough to keep us engaged and wanting to play it again as a closer in future.
Sometimes something left-field hits you and you wonder how on earth a game came about. I’m not sure if it’s fun, or even if it works that well, but it sure was an interesting design. Your goal is to be the first to remove all tiles from your 12-long personal line of tiles (the tiles come in 6 types). To remove a tile, you play a tile from your hand, call top or bottom, and everyone removes each matching tile from the top/bottom of their line. To make that more interesting, another action is to split your line into two lines to maximise the number of opportunities for other players to help you. And these can be split further as well. Making smart splits seems to be key, and the main decision is whether to split such that other players may help you based on how they’ve split, or to split such that you have different tiles on top/bottom aiming to clear your own tiles first without helping others … and then get help from others. We suspect that the original makeup of your line is a large determinant of your fortune however, together with co-dependency on other players’ moves, and that leads me not really wanting to explore it further. But if I do, it’ll be due to its admirable novelty value.
DICE FORGE (2017)
It almost gets an 8, but in the end it’s just a bit limited and too similar an experience from game to game to warrant it. It has the downside of having us wait while others deconstruct and reconstruct their dice rather than, like most good dice games, just allowing us to get on with it and doing the fun things … like rolling dice and seeing how we progress. But there’s plenty of good here as well. I like how you can plan a dice strategy, moulding one die one way and the other die another way, in the hope of combo payoffs. It’s tricky to get the right timing on when to swing from buying gold upgrades (which allows you to upgrade your dice) to buying other upgrades to buy cards/powers/VPs. Sure, it’s just 9 rounds of rolling dice and working out who managed to roll up the most VPs at the end, but the dice forging provides a fun and interesting means of doing so. May the odds be ever in your favour.
DIE DOLMENGOTTER (2005)
An abstract area-majority game. Not my cup of tea. You move your dudes around lines separating areas worth various points, pooping out a stone in your colour on each spot you leave (so it’ll count towards each area it touches). Then the weirdness starts – a scoring marker gets placed in an area when a majority in stones is generated (ie one player has more than a second player) and also when the second player ties the first player. Meaning your scoring is dependent on other players joining in an area with you and happy to be second, because you won’t score if no one comes. This makes for players being tightly linked in their moving, and for forming rather chaotic results. I’m sure there’s strategy available for experienced players, but that’s an experience I have little interest in gaining. Co-dependent king-making in an abstract area-majority … definitely not my cup of tea.
Enjoyable enough co-op, with Ascension-style deck-building designed to kill off monsters that are assigned to each player Ravenclaw / Drizzt-style (keeping it in the D&D family to give it a nice touch of familiarity). A player’s monster needs to be killed off before that player’s turn ends to avoid it attacking, and the decisions are mainly around what can we kill before it attacks vs what do we let through. Loot is shared around with each kill so there’s little motivation to be selfish and every reason to execute for the good of the team. With decent communication on what everyone can do, the best plays become fairly straight-forward though and there’s not a lot of room for cleverness, apart from organising when to finish off each batch of monsters to ensure everyone’s loaded up their hands ready for the next batch. In its favour though, it offers campaign style play with characters that can be enhanced with powers, and a number of different levels of dungeons with different rules and different encounters decks. That’s where the replay will be.
Cards show 2×3 grids of different terrain types, and your aim is to take and place cards into your personal tableau in an overlapping Patchistory/Hanging Gardens style to (mostly) maximise terrain types being together, or acquiring pairs of certain types. Over 12 rounds, each player places a card into play and then in order of highest numbered card played, each player takes a card of their choice. Your first strategic move is to draw high numbered cards so you get earlier choice without having to burn resources! You can sit and agonise over choice and placement if you wish; the game is prone to it. But I didn’t otherwise find it overly engaging or the decisions interesting … simply take the card that you can place best for max points of those on offer. There’s no doubt a few nuances, but there didn’t seem enough to draw me back. Well, as much as I was expecting anyway.
NEW DAWN (2014)
I guess this is the combat version of Among The Stars. Which wasn’t at all what I was expecting given the blurb of how civilisation was almost destroyed by warfare and we now have a new chance to work together and make a New Dawn. Going in with eyes wide open, we’ll pay way more attention to where we place facilities – in each of the 5 rounds, each player puts one out on the 6×6 grid (in 3-player) to seed the battleground – with an eye to consolidated defense. You only get 4 units to attack with and having an advantage of even just one will normally be enough to see you take over a facility. And you’ll want to because takeovers are swing points (they lose, you gain) and swing points are the best kind of points. Especially because buying a facility is using up resources you can otherwise spend on straight VPs, while a takeover is free. Each round you’ll get 3 actions to win over facilities for their VPs. Of special mention are the ambassador powers, which provide a different set of actions to use in every game for different experiences. I really liked the variety, interest, and points of differentiation provided by the different facility powers, but I was a bit put out by the swingyness and pervasiveness of combat. I’d like to play again to see if it’s a game I’ll enjoy when knowing what it is going in, and playing in like manner accordingly.
THREE KINGDOMS REDUX (2014)
This is a game of interest in quite a few ways. It’s for 3 players only. Those three players manage separately defined kingdoms, with different powers, different strengths, and different growth paths, reminding one a little of why Dune is loved. One kingdom starts strong with lots of bidding strength but doesn’t gain much, another starts weak but catches up. This asymmetry makes for a nicely dramatic arc that all players must plan for and manage. The game features up to 12 rounds of worker placement, but with a twist. The action spaces are bid for in two different elements, and the workers (known as the generals) have different strengths in each element. When you choose your generals, you not only choose them for their ongoing powers, but their strength in the elements of the actions you want to bid for. It’s likely that the actions you’re most interested in will be driven by your hand of permanent powers – they’ll need building, but will provide ongoing benefit for doing certain actions and therefore help drive your strategy. The game is a series of VP races for “best in show” across 10 or so categories. There is no overt conflict, but with only 3 to 5 generals to begin with (more come) and 15 spaces to bid for, it really hurts getting outbid on an action. But that’s the crux of the game – it’s passive-aggressive, and keeping a watchful eye on other player’s intentions is paramount. Together with some suitably appropriate table talk! There’s a nice balance in wanting to go first (to win ties and warn people off) and going later (so as to see where others go and either aim for cheap wins or to come over the top). I’m not sure this is a great game – it’s long, the rule book misses edge cases, and when you look under the gloss it’s nothing but bids – but you applaud the design. It’s going to be hard to hit the table given it requires exactly 3 quality gamers and a long play time, but it provides so many elements of interest (in particular the asymmetric kingdoms, within which there are variable powers/strategies to explore) that it feels like it deserves replay rather than insists on it.
TIDES OF TIME (2015)
Effectively a 2-player micro Fairy Tale, as it only has 19 cards. Each card lists various means of scoring VPs, such as score X for each card you have in this suit, or Y for each suit you don’t have, and so on. You play one, pass the hand over, play one, pass back and so on, until all 5 cards are out, and then score. The rule that elevates the game is that at the end of each round, each player keeps one card in play, removes one from play, and shuffles the rest back into the deck, so strategies are set. More cards are then introduced, a new deal happens, and another round played. Score, keep another card back, further locking in strategy, and play a third round. I found it enjoyable with some decent decisions on what to play and what to hold back (as you know the cards you’ve just passed over). Ultimate replay will likely be limited by the 19 card limitation – you’re going to know those cards and the score styles pretty thoroughly by the time you’re done, and that meta may even enhance the game. It’s a spouse friendly 20 min affair, with gorgeous artwork, for when a nice, easy game is required.
SPOTLIGHT ON: COLORETTO (2003)
50+ plays. This has proven strong as a 15 minute filler over the years, and my rating has steadily climbed. It has a nice watchfulness required – whether to take a decent set now before it collects damaged goods, or if you add to it, will someone else take it before your turn comes around again. You need to be careful not to create sets too attractive for other players. It has a positive groan element as good/bad cards emerge and a small push your luck aspect to be chosen when you’re the lucky last and there’s a spare card slot to fill. Scoring is easy and intuitive. Nothing but a simple draw and collect sets game, but nicely done and fills its niche well. I’ve tried the more complicated money-grabs triggered from this game – Zooloretto, Aquaretto et al – and none of them have convinced me that adding complications improves on the base. Sometimes simplest is best!
Thoughts of other Opinionated Gamers:
Honshū: This game provides an interesting abstract puzzle coupled with a bidding mechanism. Honshū got a lot of plays following its Essen release a couple of years ago but not recently. I think the quirky puzzle/bidding isn’t to everyone’s taste.
Coloretto: I agree completely with Patrick in this timeless classic. It is streamlined, easy to explain and fast to play whilst providing sufficient interest for even hardened gamers. I did own Coloretto Amazonas for a short while but sold it as the gameplay just didn’t match up to the original.
Honshu – I think there’s more to this than Patrick indicates, including the cube play and the variable scoring rules. It also usually plays quite quickly. Not a game I’ll request, but one I’m happy to play.
Coloretto – Clearly, I’m in the minority here, but this has always seemed like a big nothing to me. Mostly obvious choices and luck of the draw. It’s never engaged me at all. Zooloretto isn’t much better. With Aquaretto, Schacht finally added enough to hold my interest, but it’s still not a favorite. Sometimes, simplest is best, but this family of games is way too simple for my tastes.
I think I have played at least two of the Builders games, basically a retheming with a twist from recollection. I agree with Patrick, they are short, reasonably challenging and nice little engine builders.
From memory I liked Die Dolmengotter, my notes say it is a colourful abstract and plays quicker than you would expect. That said, I haven’t played it since 2006.
Dice Forge: I love the concept… but there isn’t enough “there” there in this design – it works, but it feels like it goes on a bit long and yet you don’t have enough time to really build up a meaningful engine.
Tides of Time: I like it a lot – though I’ve never broken down and bought a copy.
Coloretto: I’ve always said that Coloretto is a mechanism in search of an actual game… I much prefer Zooloretto & Aquaretto, which give it some depth & theme.