175 Snap Thoughts on games from SPIEL 2018


So – lots of gaming done by the Opinionated Gamers this weekend – and though it’s always tough to judge a game by your first play, plenty of opinions to be had.  Sure, it’s not completely fair to a game; there may be rules mistakes, players are not fully aware of all the rules nor nuances of a game, the conditions might not be optimal, etc…

These sort of judgements would likely not be appropriate for a full review, but with many major conventions coming up in the next two weeks – we thought it would be a nice thing to aggregate some of our initial thoughts and simply present them in stream of consciousness format.

Think of this as a bunch of twitter feeds glommed together or maybe kind of like a Robert Altman movie – you’re a fly on the wall at a dinner gathering in Essen, and you’re simply getting snippets of multiple gaming conversations.  Context here is somewhat intentionally left out as is the identity of the commenter. The order of comments has been somewhat randomized and anonymized given the early nature of said comments – but it’s like getting 175 tiny reviews/impressions all at once.  Yeah, it’s like a firehose of information, but we think you’ll like it…  

We’re likely going to start our Essen reviews in earnest following Thanksgiving; but for now, here are our opinions!  This is admittedly a huge wall of text.  I’ll put in a box image every 20 comments to help you navigate this – especially if you can’t take it all in at once!  Just look for the picture where you stopped!

The River – I liked this.  My family loved it. It plays quickly: at one point we literally played in 13 minutes!  We played four times this weekend, and I’m already a bit fatigued of it, but this is probably the consensus favorite of my family, who really enjoys the streamlined nature of it.  

Quantum – This is another family favorite.  I enjoyed this Roll ’n Write more than many in the genre, although it can be a tedious amount of adding.  Five plays this weekend.

The Boldest – maybe my favorite game from Essen 2018 so far.  You secretly and simultaneously play cards to try to get in the right position to draft the cards you want from the array on the table.  Sometimes you have to read your opponents right to take your turn when you want; sometimes it just pays to be lucky. A nice combination of luck, tactics and strategy here.

Trapwords:  I love Taboo. I love word games. Trapwords, as a sort of reverse Taboo, is a can’t-miss for me. One friend pointed out a legitimate complaint, that in Taboo you have the added challenge of trying to clue something while your mind is filled with a list of things you know you can’t say. When those things are hidden from you, suddenly your mind is free to roam and jump to obscure synonyms that would be hard to anticipate. In my play with that friend, there was only one collective failure, which did make it kind of less fun. But I don’t care. The other play I had was great, and featured multiple satisfying traps that were sprung. The best was when our opponents were restricted to saying only nouns, and the first word spoken was “dirt”, a word on our list — instant failure and hilarity!

Smartphone Inc.:  Really liked this one. Someone described it as Fast Food Magnate-lite, which didn’t mean much to me as I haven’t played that. The action selection mechanism was smart, the small (but variable) tech tree felt just right, and there was real tension about what to try to do in any given round. It played crisply, having only one phase that had a potential to drag, and that not by much. I really like this game and will probably be buying it.

Cryptid – More of this pretty divisive game – I really enjoyed it, but others did not.  This time with three players, so once you figure out their rules, you brute force the solution by scanning the board.  It is more satisfying when you find that spot and win, but it is less satisfying when you find that spot and the person to your right wins, just before your turn.  I think it is better as you likely won’t ‘know’ all four of the other rules, but can rely a bit more on intuition. Fun and easy to play a few games back to back.

Pulp Detective – a co-op adventure in a film noir world that felt far too close to Elder Sign.  Without rerolls, it felt like there was no chance of luck mitigation. Maybe we missed something, as the rules were slightly skeletal.

7W Armada – I really liked this expansion; this might be the first expansion for the game that I have truly enjoyed.  We played it with the base and Armada alone. It should work with all the other parts to but I wanted to focus on Armada (and since I didn’t like the other expansions; I have traded them all away).  The extra board is nice; there are more things to do – but my 2 games make me wonder if all-military is the way to go. It is certainly the most straightforward way to points… The REPOS people assure me that it is possible to win while ignoring Red cards completely.  I may have to try that on my next game just to see.

Solenia – I think those who said it was nothing special were right.  It was a beautiful and quite bland game. We investigated the other modes (asymmetric setup and mild special powers) and decided it was ok to judge it on that one play.  In other words, the other modes did not fundamentally change the game.

Coimbra – The very elegant dice mechanism works really well and gives you a lot of tough choices.  The game surrounding this is solid as well. There is the possibility of some AP, but it’s not overwhelming and shouldn’t be an issue if the player count is limited to 3.  Replayabilty shouldn’t be a problem. Really looking forward to exploring this one some more.

Lift Off – game of the show for me so far.  (Well, I like Foppen better currently, but I’ve played Foppen 50 times previously, so that hardly counts.)

Blackout Hong Kong – The black artwork is appropriate but boring. But the gameplay is compelling if you can handle the programming of the cards. This may fall victim to AP in the wrong hands.

Underwater Cities – Loved the way one gets a extra action if one matches the coloring the action space.  The build up of the cities seemed slow but that may be because of unfamiliarity.

NEOM – Feels like a cross between 7 Wonders and Suburbia. Has tile drafting and placement for points. I din’t actually get this one at Essen. I’d be happy to play again but not sure I will get my own copy.

Azul Sintra – In this version, the tiles are very nice and definitely look like candies. The tile drafting mechanism is identical but her you place in columns and score as you complete one. I would say the game is nice if not as elegant as the first. Do I need both? Not sure yet as I will need a few more playing to see if this will be played as often as the first.

Shibuya- Cute little connection game. Cool game where the board is made of tiles you place. You are creating a pathway to get your pedestrian across the street by following one of 4 patterns on the tiles. Plays quickly. Keeper

Carreau – nice dexterity game;  feels unique.

Ton Ton – Hmm,  A trick taking game where you don’t feel like you have a lot of control.   Strangely shaped cards that lower the rating a full notch. Scoring system set up where oftentimes you do best by only winning one trick out of the seven each round; it’s all about the timing here.

Gugong – Loved the art and the Chinese theme. Liked the tough card choices, taking a space means having a lower value card next round.

Men at Work –  I wonder if there was something about the grimy copy i played in essen.  My girders are super smooth and it was hard to balance them. the game isn’t as fun when every other turn is a failure.  I only lasted 4 turns in the game due to the slippery pieces.  Very different experience than what I had in Essen. I might try to toss the whole game in a plastic bag with some sand or potting soil to get the shine off the pieces.

The Estates – a very random bidding game where you are constructing levels of buildings. Once 2 of the 3 roads are complete then the game ends with the complete roads scoring positive and the incomplete one negative points. However even if a road is complete it can be extended to make it incomplete which is a step much too far in the randomness for me.

Belratti:  For a game of supposed lateral thinking, it felt like there was very little room for creative play. And only the special power that allowed you to ask directly about a card seemed any bit useful. It’s the kind of game I should like or love, but it just left me feeling like we’ve jumped the shark on Dixit-style clueing games.

Architects of the Western Kingdom:  My memory of the play was that I didn’t dislike it, despite the potential for direct player aggression that I normally loathe. Overall, though, I can’t imagine seeking it out again, plucking it from the sea of new and old titles. So many solid but uninspiring games now in the world. Was it always like that?

Profiteers – a fast playing game with a lot of interaction where you are trying to profit from arms sales during the American civil war. Really enjoyable fun.

Arraial – more Tetris meh-ness.  The game is beautiful, and the mechanic works.  But lots of work/chrome around dropping pieces down your board.  I would have preferred the cards entering the wheel to be determined by luck/random rather than by the previous player.

Reef – Just didn’t like it. Too simplistic. No tension in the choices.

Mercado – I love most of Rudiger Dorns designs and this had elements of Louis XIV but it didn’t seem as good-possibly because we may have had some rules wrong.

Scientia –  super quick turns in an engine builder of sorts.  problem here is that rules aren’t complete – and I am not entirely sure we played the right rules.  Pretty positive after my first play tho.  Will not play again until I get updated rules from the publisher.

Cubiko 10 Anniversary – nice dexterity game, but feels like Bounce-It-In meets Tic-Tac-Toe, which doesn’t help.

Strange Vending Machine – the Wizards game is much better, but still not enough to stick.

Blackout: HK – I like Mombasa more.  Oddly, it made me think of pandemic Iberia with enclosing areas, meeting goals, etc.  I did not feel the theme at all and a few times people thought they had enclosed areas when they had not – so disappointing – I would have preferred if it had been 90 minutes – not 3 hours – but still shorter than 4p underwater cities. :)

Crown of Emara – pretty good – not novel, but a clean design with plan ahead due to minimal interaction.  Worth trying. Modular board likely increases replayability

Cryptid – excellent for a few plays.  Only being able to guess in turn order means first to know the solution might not be the winner.

Fool!/Foppen:  I used to own this game, eons ago, and now the only thing I remember about that is the tagline that we used to say with a silly voice: “Bis du foppen?”. This new version was pleasant enough an activity, though I’m not yet sure if it passes my card game test: a card game is good only if you can be dealt a bad hand and still have a chance to make interesting plays.

Gingerbread House:  Looked cute, but if the right cards or tiles didn’t come up there was little you could do. At least it wasn’t long.

Narabi – an excellent little co-op – if you like little thinky co-ops, definitely seek it out. High replayability, but not as easy to draw inferences as Hanabi.

EXIT jigsaw puzzle – pretty excited about where this is headed.

Key flow – It isn’t Keyflower the card game! It has similar art and the cards have similar actions but the drafting and the use of the Meeple cards makes for a completely different experience-one I am very happy to repeat!

Layers – beautifully done speed game which is visually striking.  But it’s still a speed game. Which in my opinion is damning (not just of Layers, but of the genre in general).  

Orbis – Love the art and the gameplay but to me it is a very abstract game with little connection to the theme. Still enjoy playing it.

Captains of the Gulf – Pick up and deliver game. It has multi use cards which is always interesting. I think we over fished in our game which hindered our progress. Interested in more play.

Brikks – my respect for patchwork grows with each subsequent polyomino game.

1906 San Francisco – a fine example of a bigger game in a small box.  Will have to see how it holds up.

First Contact:  Communication games are my jam, so I should have loved this. But the odd semi-cooperative-semi-competitive thing, combined with no way to take useful personal notes as the alien side (I heard the same complaint from a human), completely ruined it for me. I think a good game could be developed from the idea, but this didn’t seem to be it.

Blue Lagoon:  It’s Through the Desert with a dash of Amun-Re. If that sounds appealing to you, you’ll probably like it. For me, the combo was better than either of them, which only meant I didn’t run away screaming and flailing by the end.

Reykholt – How many times can Rosenberg reuse his game themes and mechanisms? Infinitely it appears. And how many times will I keep buying his games? You guessed it! Reykholt is a fun little race game. Uses the garden part of Loyang without the cards. This really works for me as I could never quite get a handle on the card part of Loyang.

cool running – glad I had a chance to play; don’t need to play again.

Trade on the Tigris –  I liked a lot of what it did but the way you get the development cards – draw two, choose one – is maybe not ideal early on and really is not good late when you get to pick from the more powerful decks. The cards in those decks are very swingy so the game was decided in large part by who got at least one card that worked well for them and who didn’t.

Verona Twist – Fun two player game. It’s a deduction/logic game that plays pretty quickly over 7 rounds.

Realm of Sand – Laying down the single tiles after choosing your Tetris type tile is a little irritating and seeing the card patterns if you are on the wrong side of the table was difficult, but constructing the patterns was a lot of fun.

Globe Trekker – an interesting logic/spatial relationship puzzle.  Could be played as easily solo as with others. When I saw the game, I thought that there would be many different maps to play, but there are only 2.  Thus far, it hasn’t been an issue, and in the end, it’s all about the puzzle solving, not the pictures. I really like this one, but my games have shown that if a gamer doesn’t see the puzzle, this will be a 15 minute episode of total frustration.

Coimbra – I like this a lot and it played very smoothly, but it reminded me too much of Leonardo Il Magnifico to warrant buying.

Carreau – Another wonderful hand made game from Gavin Birnbaum. This one is a dex game where you try to catapult blocks toward the ball.

Underwater Cities – suchy + terraforming mars -> more chrome + more AP = not a better game

Newton:  Every once in a while, especially at a con, my brain shuts off completely when playing a game. I think a lack of sleep finally caught up to me, and I just couldn’t hold any strategy or even the rules in my head. That happened in my play of Newton. I got to the end of the game, struggling mightily in the last round (of a set number) just to score a few points so as not to completely embarrass myself, only to find that we had one whole round left. At that point I just had to laugh at myself and settle into the embarrassment. As for the game, I think it’s probably pretty good. I will be seeking it out and trying it with a fresh brain.

Arraial:  It’s Tetris. Not in real time, but with the restrictions the game puts on you it simulates a normal brain’s ability to cope with the video game’s twitch element. It even “speeds up” in the last round by giving you fewer options. So yay for that bit of cleverness, I suppose. But I can’t really say it was fun.

Reykholt – a nice idea, but really a game of churning resources that feels more like a race game.  Not enough there to want to play again, but worth playing.

Fantastic factories – pnp – dice manipulation and conversion chain game.  Meh

Chronicles of Crime – I was surprised at the love it is getting.  The QR code system felt clunky and probably best as a solo game other than the odd VR sequences where you are calling out what you see and others are pulling the cards.  If you want to see what a point and click adventure would be like in a partially physical implementation, try it.

Fast Forward: Fortune:  This was my first Fast Forward game (I didn’t even know they existed), so I didn’t know what to expect in general. It took about three quarters of the game to figure out that there was no game winner, and that each hand was its own game. Cute, but no thanks.

Cryptid:  I’m no fan of deduction games normally. For me, to do one correctly you would really need to give each person serious time to think through all the subtle ramifications of each bit of information. I would find that fun as a correspondence game, for instance. Done live, it is just way too much downtime. So generally people seem to play them with some combination of logic and intuition, which usually makes it feel rushed and the results kind of random. Maybe that’s just me. Anyway, Cryptid takes that as a base and makes the rules you are trying to puzzle through completely unintuitive (you can be within one space of a certain land type or within three spaces of a kind of monument, I vaguely recall). The only way to refer to these is on sheets filled with mind numbingly miniscule text. With better presentation and some iconography, this could move all the way up to ‘meh’ for me, but it’ll never be my kind of game.

Forbidden Sky – I was fine with Forbidden Island and played Forbidden Desert once, so I barely knew this co-op was out, but someone wanted to play it, so great.  It was surprisingly good. It is has bling, high end production values, decent choices, etc. It is a tile laying game, rather than a flipping game, so the goal is to complete a rocket and escape before anyone dies.  I don’t think I would seek it out after having played it, but suggest you try it once to see Matt’s electifying new game.

Fuji – Amazing art and style, but a lackluster co-op dice game from Wolfgang Warsch – First – the goal is to escape a volcano, so your goal is to run to safety.  Why not doing something good instead of avoiding something bad? Next it is a dice game where you plan to have a higher total than your neighbors, but if they have to reroll and beat your score, you cannot move and are injured.  The end is also anticlimactic because once you are safe, you just try to stay out of the way of those who need to come back into the village. Maybe we were not in the right frame of mind, but played analytically, it has the same issues as other games with rules about limited communication.

Raiatea – The artwork put me off at first but I watched a full play through before Essen so I knew what to expect. It did not disappoint. I love the seeding of the bag for the rituals. Tough choices and psyching our players.

Fuji – Loved the art and thought the coop gameplay worked really well. The way players have to interact, without disclosing their dice values is engaging and resulted in some misunderstandings…which is no doubt what the designer intended.

Chronicles of Crime, Chapter I – I wandered around talking about CoC and how the first mission was really disappointing.  Several folks suggested I try it beyond the tutorial, as the tutorial does not represent what the game has to offer. I took that to heart and we dove into Chapter I.  They were right. It is a stark contrast to Escape Tales: The Awakening and I think both are successful in what they are trying to do. CoC has virtually no physical items – people cards, item cards, location pages, and a basic board.  Due to the simple nature of the cards, it can be used for a wide variety of mysteries. The best advice is not to overthink CoC. If you learn the suspect was right handed and someone says they are left-handed, don’t wonder if they are lying to you.  The design is such that the game is telling you this person is not the suspect. Unlike Escape Tales, the phone is vital to this game. The person with the phone controls the action, reads the text, and often can take steps impulsively without always consulting the group.  I would consider getting this game if they have a way to synchronize the app on several phones, so everyone can be in control/read the text at the same time, even if control over scanning is passed from phone to phone. I am excited for the future of this type of game, but CoC is really a 10,000 page CYOA that leverages QR codes to permit far more granular choices than CYOA books.

Layers-was good for some laughs

Crosstalk:  It’s Password, but with a clever twist. Each team can give a secret clue to their team before the round. To avoid letting a team give two clues in a row, though, the rules let your opponents guess after you give a normal clue instead of your partners. This means you need to craft the secret clue really well so that it works with your hopefully obscure public clues to come. A real winner!

Abra Kazam!:  Draw a shape in the air with a wand while everyone else is trying to interpret that shape and call out the associated spell word on the grid in front of them. Throw in some goofy restrictions (like holding the wand in the crook of your neck), and you’ve got some quick silly fun. Not a world beater, but different enough to justify its existence.

Magnastorm – This game has development tracks but no tech tree. It’s a race to get to X number of points dependent on # of players. There is a bit of back and forth as one way to get points is you take control of leaders or scientist and then another player may take them from you. The other game end if 4 rounds so it will move pretty quickly once people are familiar with it. There seems to be a campaign mode you can do as well.

Underwater Cities – The rules took a while to get through. Interesting mechanism with the card and actions. I didn’t do well my first play (have to remember to go for points) but I am interested in giving it another go. Would avoid if you have AP, there are a lot of choices to be made here.

1906 San Francisco-another ok card game

Forwarder to Xanadu-Yokohama stripped down to just contract cards

Lost Cities: Ravels (yes, I know it is Rivals), but it has the Ra elements in it.  I cannot say I loved it, as much of the game felt like denial or leaching money from others so you could by the awesome cards coming up that never appeared.

Lift Off! – you will hear both sides on this one and I think they are both correct.  It is a logistical simulation with eight rounds to build up your launch pad, rocket design, payloads, funds to launch, etc.  So you draft experts for the turn, apply their skills or take money, choose a deck to draw payloads from, hope to get what you want/need, launch and collect benefits, do it over again.  I found it a bit repetitive and although payloads get heavier and earn you more point, the launch of the final rocket was not more exciting than the first one. In addition, you needed certain color cards to launch certain payloads, which felt fiddly to me.  Think of a streamlined Leaving Earth or a super streamlined High Frontier. So some math, maybe at the Power Grid level, but the rockets did not go anywhere, so it was really about launching satellites (Blue Origin, SpaceX, etc.)

Orbis:  I’ve now played this as a three, a two, and a four player game. The first time I thought it was fine, but uninspiring. The second play made it clear it was not a good two player game, but I still had some hope. This last play made me realize it’s just not very fun at all. Your decisions are entirely dependent on which tiles come up, when they come up, and what the board state is like when it gets to you. All of this changes, sometimes drastically, with each action. Randomly randomized randomness. Then there are the god tiles, which could have been interesting but end up mostly serving as a pause move at some point. I’ve given the game enough of my time now.

Magic Fold: Clever and unique. I like little speed puzzle games, and this one has a bit of wow-factor to it. Don’t know that I need to own it, because I have plenty of games that fit this description already, but I do admire it.

Skies above the Reich: maybe not new to you but someone kindly brought a copy from America for me. It’s a solitaire game of defending Germany by shooting down B17s with your fighters. The game play is very good and the stories that emerge are very immersive. Possibly not one for many in this group.

Magnificent Flying Machines – an incomplete play suggests my initial assessment (fun, but best with fewer than five) is correct.

Coimbra – Really like the mechanic here of using the dice to place your workers in choosing order and all that.  Did not like the AP in the final round as there are a lot of options to consider. I was in love with the game at the midway point.  I was less enamored after the final round as that round took as much time as the rest of the game prior to that point. Still a solid game.  Just bring a book for the end.

Foppen – the new edition makes the game work with other numbers; both 7 and 8 player games were quite fun.

Crime Hotel – It felt more like a betting and guessing game than a deduction and trick taking game.  I like the idea and do feel it is a bit cleaner than Spy Tricks, but I am not sure it works for me. I like Pikoko too, but would prefer games of this genre not be based on betting.  Both Crime Hotel and Pikoko are definitely worth playing.

Ramen – an ok card game, but the theme is pasted on and the tips/scoring system is a bit non-sensical.  You try to make the best ramen you can, but you can earn tips by using almost any card (6, 7, & 8) guarantees a 1 coin tip while the lowest total in each of the five ingredients offers a tip of 7-3 coins at the end -not sure if it was trying to represent fast food or not.

Gugong – A very well-crafted game with clever card play and about the right level of complexity.  I appreciate it and would play a few more more times, but I am not sure it is good enough to request. I know lots of games, esp. following Village, have these modular zones, but they often feel disjointed.  Gugong does a nice job of adding region activation to the cards, so you might play a card to the shipyard and also trigger the Great Wall sector. Lots to think about, but it sometimes slowed me down.

Futuropia – my first play of the published game (third play overall) still has not settled me on just what I think of the game.  Will play more.

The River – it’s fine.

Keine lahme Agame – while the idea of a trick taking game based upon the Fibonacci sequence is fine – the game doesn’t play as well as the idea.

Planet – eh.

Fuji – A new game from the king of the light games Wolfgang Warsch. This one is a very pleasant co-op dice game. You are trying to work together to escape the erupting Mt Fuji. It’s fun and great presentation. I only wish they could have condensed the size of the box with a foldable board and screens.

Blackout Hong Kong I liked the game. It’s a bit hard to explain in a sentence or two. I’d say if you like GWT you’ll probably like this as well. We made the game a bit harder by forgetting to use our transport tokens. I’m looking forward to playing again after I see what else I forgot to do.

Great City of Rome – a fine Dunstan/Gilbert production that reminded me of Capital (which was rereleased as Warsaw).  Build a 4×4 city with cards where each turn cards are revealed, players place on a strip and get more goodies for going later in the choosing.  After you get a card, you may build a card (the one you just got or one from a previous turn). Any you run your city to get money and other goodies.  A light city builder where each building does something different, but not exciting.

Belratti – which fell flat for us.  If you like team mysterium with random cards added and a final score, it is worth trying.

Poc! – flipping beer mats into the game box! Move along please there’s nothing to see here.

Sissy: Die Bohnenkaiserin – another Bohnanza variant. Nothing special.

Lift Off – with fantastic artwork from the 1960s this space race game has theme embedded throughout. A thoroughly enjoyable Gamers game. I can’t wait for the English language version.

Carpe Diem felt like a more advanced city builder.  Enough said about it already, but I found it uninspiring.  I’m not sure if this is right, but someone called it Advanced Carcassonne.

Strange Vending Machine – We tried both games within of Strange Vending Machine.  Both were fine and I love the idea, but ultimately, this game was the same as the studio – soso

Hokkaido – I liked Honshu, but this is much, much worse, with a surprisingly terrible rulebook.

Symphony No 9 – decent game which really turns out to be a stock/economic game despite the musical theme shown on the box.  Strategy was obtuse at first, but I got a handle on it by my second game.

Sherlock: Tomb of the Archaelogist – a one-deck game sold to me as an escape room game.  More like a one-deck episode of Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective. Players take turns to play or discard cards while trying to learn the story.  The team must discard (i.e. not read aloud) at least 6 cards to contend for a victory. Once cards are played, open up the envelope and try to answer the questions.  Just like SHCD, I am simply unable to make the logical (or non-logical) jumps needed to extract the story from the cards. Even when I laid the entire deck out on the table and read everything, I couldn’t answer the questions.  Others have had less awful experiences than me.

Reykholt-I liked this one, nice race game

Trapwords was a hit with our hosts on vacation last week.

Narabi – a hit of the con for me – a tiny 30 card game where you pair the back and front of the cards for each play, so the four will have a different condition on the back every time you play. it is a co-op where you know your conditions, but no one else does, until you swap your card with one of theirs.  The goal is to play with 12 or 15 cards and by swapping them around, move them into numerical sequence clockwise or counterclockwise. Fun and easy to play a few times. but there might be a better way to design the parts to make the card back swapping process easier between plays.

Teotihuacan – I appreciated the design but did not really enjoy it.  I felt that going for the tiles to build the pyramid would be important but rotated them in my head to plan what I would take and do with the tile, only to have someone else use it and have to start the process all over again.  Several of us rushed up the Road of the Dead by building houses, so that who path to victory was quickly devalued by the tragedy of the commons. I like the trend of dice being used for tracking values, like in Ruhrschifffahrt, but the game was not really for me. AP potential caused me to play suboptimally so it would not drag on.

Arraial-ok polyomino game, a bit forced with the wheel

Terraforming Mars: Colonies:  I love TM. I even really liked what the Colonies expansion did for the game. Unlike Venus Next it felt like a new type of mechanism that was cool and different. However, our game ended up being extraordinarily long — like five hours long. I’m hoping it was just one of those things and not the expansion. If the next play is like that it’ll be a hard pass.

Master of the Galaxy:  Oof. Just a brutal experience. The rules and iconography were really unclear and unintuitive. What we were certain of was it is highly luck driven (draw black cubes instead of the ones that built something — sucks to be you). There’s also a large element of debilitating direct player aggression, which not only felt mean spirited but meant that the game could drag on and on as someone on the cusp of winning was held back by everyone else. Thankfully, we agreed to stop after only an hour and a half of this misery.

Underwater Cities-rule book was a bit obtuse, I thought the game was ok

Newton – A adore the tech tree vs. map vs. linear track juxtaposition in the action choices. You cannot to do everything, but loading up on one type of action will lead to inefficiency as well. I think the shelving books action is necessary to win, and you have to get some new cards along the way, but the other 3 action types are not mandatory. Another winner for me from the Italian school of euro design.

Wonderland Xiii-cute, but was lacking fun factor

Majolica – I hated this.  Played it with my Jefferson City game group, and I thought it was fiddly and didn’t work at all, although that’s probably because it feels like programming, which I detest in games.  

Ton Ton – I agree that the size of the cards was obnoxious.  I liked it otherwise, although it is nothing special for a trick taking game, so I won’t play it much.

Fast Forward: Fortune – a fun card game to play through once. I had not anticipated the amusement of seeing cards you had never seen before, even if the game was not great.  Imagine picking up a deck of cards and being dealt a Duke – wha? what does it do? Oh, look here, it tells me how to use a duke card in some wacky combo. Fun idea. We played through the deck, so don’t believe the 15 minutes on the box, it is a 2 hour game to borrow, play once, and return.

Downforce – the re-implementation of Daytona 500 with unnecessary twist cards that adds little to the original.

Pechvogel – it amazes me that this game managed to be published. I’m hoping there is a gross mistranslation in the rules.

Bloxx! – a Tetris based roll and write.  The option of choosing the active players dice, though at a handicap, keeps players from getting stuck.  Does it stand out from the other tetris games? Sadly, no. They all kinda run together in my head now. Apparently, I’ve been calling this one Brikks as I’ve been describing it to people, and I have to be constantly reminded that this one is Bloxx!

Gingerbread House – Just like all PW-H games, very clean design, but ultimately not that fun.  I was surprised the 15 tiles each player gets are totally random. So you cannot have a strategy because you don’t know what is in your tiles and they are not balanced.  If I play again, I’d like to either draft the tiles or look at them all before starting, then shuffling them up. Nate crushed it with lots of small contract and multipliers, as I recall, but it overstayed its welcome for me – a common theme this Sasquatch.

Paco Ŝako — in “peace chess”, you don’t capture and remove an opposing piece, but rather embrace it, standing on the same spot; that combined piece can move like your piece on your turn and like the opponent’s piece on their turn; if you “attack” a combined piece, you free your piece in that union to make a move of its own, and you can chain several movements together. Embrace the opponent’s king to win. The only chess variant I’ve enjoyed, mostly because it turns chess into a combo game

Escape Tales: The Awakening – no spoilers, but it is quite a dark game with some narrative, but ultimately a puzzle room-style game.  I don’t really need to play it again but admire the creation and expect future versions will continue to get better and better. It does have many branches, so you could ‘play-through’ a few times to see what you missed or could have happened, as there are branches in the story.  I am just not clear which decisions mattered and which were more flavor text to give the appearance of choice. The app was quite good, in that it was unobtrusive and had a wonderful feature that told you how many pieces there were to the puzzle, so you did not start a solve without all the parts of the puzzle.

The Table is Lava – Fun once or twice, but like most dexterity games, this is a one trick show.

Crime Hotel – supposed to be an improved version of Spy Tricks.  I did not finish my first game of Spy Tricks as we just didn’t see the game in it.  Slightly better here, but same fate – felt more like guessing in the dark than deduction.  Also, quite possible to get a hand where you never get the opportunity to make a guess; and that’s not fun either.

Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra – I continue to think this is a significant downgrade from Azul.

CrossTalk – a fun Password variant with two nice twists – you get to give your team a secret one word clue and then you are giving clues to the other team, so the goal is to give your team a secret word that will help them with a word that you give the other team that is of no use to them.  Not an every-day party game, but seemed fun for a while.

Captains of the Gulf – excellent planning game using multi use cards (like La Granja) set in a fishing environment that has many good decision points.

Azul Stained Glass: I liked it but not as clean as the original and more gameified.

Fuji: played once and I really enjoyed it. The decisions were cooperative and the game systems worked well.

Key Flow – I did not really like Keyflower or Keys to London.  I liked the town, but not the nasty auctions. Key Flow feels like advanced/better 7 Wonders, so it plays 6 as quickly as 2. Your villages have nice logistics and the ability to leach off your neighbors while giving them potential points is great.  Worth trying and I’m glad I have a copy coming. Could easily fit in a much smaller box.

Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra – using the same tile selection mechanic as its predecessor but with a more intricate scoring mechanism. It’s still light but this version should appeal more to Gamers.

Crown of Emara – a double rondel (one for resources, one to engine build and get victory points). A fast playing and smooth enjoyable game.

X-Code – A real time card swapping co-op game to get sets of the same digits and place them on a large board.  It was fine as an activity and clearly had more advanced rules and then secret compartments with added twists, but I am not really a real-time person.

The River – nice entry level worker placement game.  Exceeding simple to teach and grok –this could end up being a 20 minute game if everyone is familiar with it.  A nice super filler that stays in the collection, I think.

Planet –  fast game about placing magnetic pentagons on a dodecahedron. trying to make areas to score points.  didn’t have as much control as i’d like, but I wasn’t concentrating on the upcoming scoring cards as much as I should have.  One player scored more points on his collected cards than I got from my secret habitat. I misjudged the importance of the cards

Brikks – man, a lot of work just to play tetris.  This feels like the fifth game I’ve played that riffs on Tetris, and none of them make me want to give up my Gameboy

Cool Runnings – I can see where this would be interesting, but not sure of the execution.  Melting other people’s ice cubes seems fun, but lots of direct attacks and take that. I respect the innovation, but this is one that I’d be happy to trade away.  Also, who makes a game with melting ice cubes but has regular cards that will get water warped?

Belratti – still enjoy, still don’t love

Ton ton – Ugo! > Ton Ton > Druids

The Quest for El Dorado: Heroes and Hexes: The base game was a big favorite and this, combined with the 4 new promo cards, really breathed some fresh air into the game. The familiars differentiate your start, the heroes do as well as they are gained early if at all, and all the new cave tiles make the game feel more variable. There is more luck, but it doesn’t feel overwhelming. The curses are fun, and not overbearing, and make the tunnels a lucrative but risky proposition. Highly recommended for fans of the base game, and for those that thought the base game didn’t have enough variability, game to game.

Tsukiji – if you like market manipulation with simultaneous card selection adding some chaos, give it a shot.  

Belratti – the cards in belratti are much more simple – just a simple clip art image of a thing so, the interpretation is different than mysterium here, it’s not like – oh, well maybe it’s the blue background… or that painting has a ship in it… instead, it’s a pair of scissors.  You might be able to use color as a comparison, rarely you can use a shape. BUt there is a lot more discussion along the lines of… “well, how would XXX make this wine glass relate to a windmill? Much laughing ensued. For a 10 EUR game, I’ve already obtained much more fun than I had expected.

Rukuni — delightfully simple abstract strategy game from Clemens Gerhards; on a hex grid five holes wide, start with a red tower in each corner; on a turn, move a red tower in a line as far as you like, then place a piece of your color next to that tower; when no red towers can move, the game ends, and each group of your color scores points equal to number of your pieces in it times the number of red towers that group touches.

Bingolino – cute little filler – choose how many dice to roll, then everyone can flip over sum if they have it; active player can choose to pass, remove one die from roll, and flip over new number (kinda feels like noch mal?) – just enough strategy to make it interesting, but it’s a 10 min filler, so just right.

Belratti – moving down in love; it’s still a fun filler, but after five plays, the cards are becoming a bit samey samey. Also, very dependent on the players in the game.  I’d still rather play this than dixit or mysterium though

Dice Hospital – another dice as counters game where they are not rolled other than in the setup phase.  If you like creating optimal sequences to use your special powers to the best of their abilities and/or Favor of the Pharaoh/To Court the King, try it. It is an excellent special power drafting and manipulation game where using powers in a certain sequence is better than using the same powers in a different sequence.

Men At Work – I played Men At Work and I have some reservations that it is much too difficult, as every other turn seems like a fail. Trying to get the bricks onto the “men” was very difficult, as the surfaces did seem slick (and were sloped) and if they stayed on initially, the next player might bump the girder just enough (or the table) to make the brick fall down. Do I need to sand some of the pieces? Will try again. Maybe need the Tokyo Highway tweezers? It’s a beautiful-looking game, though, and looks like it would be fun if there weren’t so many fails.

Blackout Hong Kong – such an original theme…but sadly, barely a connection to the theme in the rules. It doesn’t have to be highly thematic, but the theme actually gets in the way of all the little rules you have to remember, rather than helping you remember them. The card mechanism is nice, but collecting tiny tiles and placing cubes to surround areas of a board aren’t original or interesting enough to warrant the work in trying to learn all the rules and icons on the cards. A “Cones of Dunshire” game.

Trapwords – so much fun with any group. It doesn’t require a theme, but the theme is a nice enhancement to the game play.

Storeiz – it’s basically a storytelling version of “I pack my suitcase.” Each player draws a card in turn and adds to a story until someone says “stop” and challanges the others to remember all the cards of the story, in order. A good game in a small package to bring on road trips or play with large groups.

Underwater Cities – too much repetitive plays with very little development as the game slowly progresses.

Gugong – apart from the gift exchange mechanic and the artwork there is not much that appeals to me with this game.

Blackout: Hong Kong:  I had to ask twice at the beginning to make sure it wasn’t a co-op, so much did it look and smell like Pandemic. But instead I got a nice competitive resource management game, with enough flexibility to overcome most of the randomness of the few dice involved.

Men at Work:  The game just looks awesome in progress, like a construction site for a Salvadore Dali designed building. Not sure the play is amazing or fair — more plays needed.

CuBirds – a cute game that is actually pretty decent.  I enjoyed the game as well as the awesome art. More like an after dinner card game with friends.

Teotihuacan – how did “Tzolk’in without the gears” seem a good idea?  Painful – would not play again unless really well paid.

Blöde Kuh – my second play earned a third.  For a game that just scraped a second play, I’m curiously optimistic about this one.

Fast Forward: FORTUNE — I’ve liked exploring this over four games, but my tablemates have not. “It feels like you spend more time learning new rules more than playing a game.”

Knapp Daneben – another roll and write.  There were plenty this year. Each player is assigned a color.  All 5 dice are rolled and you make a sum with your color and any other die rolled.  Plug the number into your grid. You score for having adjacent numbers in grid exactly one away from each other.  Bonuses given if you use 2, 3, 11, or 12. It can go a bit long for a roll and write, and my two games have been dominated by people who were able to write down a bunch of 6s, 7s, and 8s.  The jury is still out on this one.

Q.E. 5 player expansion – it’s an expansion, all right.

Crime Hotel – I think this was a considerable improvement over Spy Tricks, although in the end, on some hands, there is more guessing than deduction (as some have pointed out).  Nonetheless, it works well enough for me.

Blackout-the Mombasa card management mechanism is still interesting, didn’t really feel the the theme here.

Smartphone Inc – a pretty good economic game with some nastiness and good economic modelling.  I suggest that if you like FCM and its ilk, but don’t have that much time, that you might really like Smartphone Inc. At the start of each round, you choose how many of each action type you want (lower price, higher price, improve tech, improve market reach, etc.  The way you do this is by taking two double sided boards and patching them, so the two 2×3 boards with ~4 icons on each side of each board overlap with 1-4 squares. It is a great way to let players create a strategy. In addition, each icon you cover on the lower board makes another load of cellphones, so you can use the overlap strategically to create more phones than there are phone creation icons on your board.  At the same time, if someone sells their phones in markets you are in before you can sell yours, it can really hurt. Worth seeking out and this is not really my kind of game.

Newton-I liked this one, nice to play a Euro without dice for a change

Teotihuacan: the games I have played have been quick turns with little AP though there could be.

men at work (no crane) – The smooth-ness of the pieces really made it almost unplayable. Even if it was, once you have something collapse, seems like most of the structure goes with it, and you’re back to (boring) square one?

arraial – slow-motion tetris; I’ll go work on the puzzle now, let me know when it’s my turn.

Scientia – interesting to see where this goes.

Tramways Engineer’s Workbook – A marker and wipe off page version of Tramways, in a solo-puzzle format. Each page or two adds on rules/requirements to be met as you go through the book. Most pages are playable by 2p, though I have not tried it that way. I’m having a great time trying the puzzles over and over, working backwards from the requirements, trying to meet the goal. Unfortunately, the pages do not wipe clean. That’s bad. Fortunately the publisher provided clear sheets to lay over the pages you are working on. That’s good. The pages are a bit awkward to work with. That’s bad. But, the publisher recently linked to some markers people experimented with that will wipe clean. That’s good. The frogurt is also cursed, but comes with your choice of toppings. Can I go now?

Skylands – a big step down from The King of Frontier; at least one can play with the original rules, and it’s more readily available.

Knapp daneben! — 2p game, although it doesn’t matter how many play, I suppose, since my choices mean nothing to you.

Crime Hotel – First game abandoned-before-it’s-finished of the season.

Fortune – I loved the final version as much as my initial plays at The Gathering; it isn’t going to set the world on fire, but it is better than the others in the Fast Forward series.

Detective Club – We had laugh-out-loud fun both plays; I do think this has more long-term appeal than Mysterium, although it also requires a bit of salesmanship mid-game that makes some people uncomfortable.

Spring Rally – a combo trick-taking and racing game.  The idea is really nice. I wish that the positive and negative effects of the spring came into play more often.  That is the fun part of the game, and I wish it happened more often.

Trapwords – excellent party word game.  Like Taboo, but better because you get to choose the forbidden words for your opponent.  And better yet, they don’t get to see you list. So it becomes a delicious game of double thinking.

Claim 2 – Very similar to Claim, but I liked this better, because the races were a bit more intuitive.

Deckscape: El Dorado – a very simplistic adventure/puzzle game with some choices that led us to think we could solve a puzzle before we had all the parts. Not a hard but maybe more for families or groups who like typical maze/word/number puzzles.  Not a recommend for this group.

Vektorace – using tyre wear and nitro to speed your car around the tabletop track. Movement is achieved by placing sticks of varying lengths in front of your car. Highly entertaining.


Lighthouse Run – Interesting family game from AMIGO.  Surprised to discover it’s done by a guy from Ohio.

Forum Trajanum – and Feld is back with a cracking game of tile placement.

Duelosaur – Cut down Dinosaur Island provides a very similar experience to the original game and plays in an hour or so. One of the best cut downs I’ve played that retains much of the feel of its big brother. Duelosaur is only 2p. It cuts out the miniatures, the placement on the board but you’ll still have to wear your anti psychedelic glasses. It’s not great but good  as far as I’m concerned. Two or three sub systems have been eliminated. It’s certainly worth having a go


That’s it for now… We’ll be back with another similar round up probably in two weeks time.  There are a bunch of gaming cons and get togethers scheduled in the interim, and I’m sure that our group will have plenty of thoughts on the new games as we play them.















About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
This entry was posted in Essen 2018, Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to 175 Snap Thoughts on games from SPIEL 2018

  1. Martin Griffiths says:

    re: The Estates – is ‘random’ the right word? If you don’t want a particular road extended, you need to pay for the permit!

    • xitoliv says:

      I’m writing the main piece for our full review on The Estates (at some point) and I’ll probably lookup the term from Cameron Browne’s thesis regarding games in which single moves can drastically change a player’s chance of winning. Something along the lines of the game state not having a high degree of permanence.

      Which I guess is to say, I was not the OG who said ‘random’; that contributor remains anonymous!

  2. drumphil says:

    Nice piece. It’s like walking through a convention and listening in on bits of post-game discussions. I liked Teotihuacan much better than Tzolkin; it sounds like some of you who like Tzolkin don’t like Teo. Will the two games always generate opposite reactions, I wonder? To me, Teo felt something like Yokohama, but with better art and more focus.

  3. Fun read!

    > “Newton – I liked this one, nice to play a Euro without dice for a change”
    Eh? Most Euros DON’T have dice.

    • Dale Yu says:

      Curt, I thought it was weird too – I saw that in my cut-and-paste frenzy. so i guess i’m outing myself as not being the one to write that…

      But, it is what it is – the only downside of this format is that any questions like this are likely not going to generate a response :)

  4. Jacob Lee says:

    This is great! Quick takes are all I need to whet my appetite. I’m not using this as a buying guide, but as a way to put titles on my “to research” list. I would not seek out a single game without lists like this so I appreciate your early, unfinished thoughts.

  5. @mangozoid says:

    Interesting to read your comment about Architects of the West Kingdom, I recently received my KS copy of The Kings Guild and after a few plays there’s an overwhelming feeling of “Meh… Is this really what I backed?” Solid: yes. Uninspiring: definitively.

    Lift Off! sounds promising – much as I love my copy of Leaving Earth, the math is a bit of a game killer when trying to get others interested in playing it…

    Bunny Kingdom seems to suffer a similar fate to Coimbra with the endgame – fun while it lasts, but then you have the agony of trying to score everything. AP can also be a major problem in the last round.

    I was introduced to Terraforming Mars at MidCon and enjoyed the game but yes, it was overly long (without Colonies) — we played on the Hellas map (same game, different map?) but it still took just over 4 hrs. Ouch!

    Heard good things about Captains of the Gulf, The River and Forum Trajanum, so might keep an eye out for these. And Rukuni looks well worth seeking out, too…

    That all said, I do get the impression that overall there’s not much in that huge list that really caught your attention and actually held it for very long (Trapwords, maybe?), and apologies to throw your own quote back at you, but it does strike me as a very appropriate summary…

    “So many solid but uninspiring games now in the world. Was it always like that?”

  6. Pingback: Opinionated Gamers – Quick Takes, Part Deux… | The Opinionated Gamers

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