Oh yes, yes, yes, there’s been some quality goodness found over the last fortnight. Let’s jump straight in …
[Editor’s note – due to scheduling issues on my part – we are changing the numbering system of these snapshots and merely tracking them per year. By eschewing the monthly designation, this reduces the number of chances I have to screw up from 12 to 1… DY]
AEON’S END (2016)
A cross between Dominion deck building (a fixed mix of cards to buy for the game, but a different mix each game) where you build your deck to defeat the boss a la Sentinels (where the monster plays cards and puts out minions each turn to smack us all). The game play is pretty straightforward – play resource cards to buy cards and spell cards to cast damage … aka buy better cards and smack the monster as quickly as you can. There are a number of different monsters with different powers and styles to choose from, and different card mixes, to provide different game experiences. Our first play was a horrifying loss so there’s obviously a bit to learn re pacing and deck development. It’s hard to go too wrong given the pedigree of those mechanics, and it is indeed enjoyable. I don’t need it as I have its predecessor games already, but this is a nice alternative if you don’t or if you’re looking for something a bit newer and fresher.
CTHULHU WARS (2015)
The outrageously oversized figures do admittedly add an element of fun to what’s otherwise a pretty standard area domination game. Spend power to put dudes out and get more power next time, spend power to spread out and control gates to earn VPs, and spend power to move and battle over areas to control even more gates. Just keep racking up those gate VPs each turn and get to 30 VPs faster than everyone else. Its interest lies in how each faction has different abilities, with different requirements to be met to obtain those abilities. They’re not a luxury, as you can’t win unless you obtain all your abilities. This creates a different challenge for each faction, and there’s replay in learning how to navigate your faction, and how to time your run amidst the machinations of the other factions. With few aspirations of being a great old one, there’s still a few games and a bit of life in this one yet.
DROP IT (2018)
It’s a mass-market game that has enough elements to keep gamers entertained. In one sense, you just drop a piece in and see what happens, reminiscent of the nostalgic charm of Ker Plunk where you take something out and, well, see what happens. Your dropped piece will score if it doesn’t touch a piece of your colour, doesn’t touch the same shape, and doesn’t touch one of the designated spaces along the walls and the floors that it’s not allowed to touch. Otherwise, the higher it ends up, and if it touches one of the spots marked on the glass barriers, the better it scores. The slanted walls are a genius touch, making it tricky to get to the edges just as you’d like. There’s the frequent weird cascade and unfortunate repercussions, with the occasional accidentally perfect repercussions to which you can declare “exactly as planned”, Crokinole-style. It’s a simple 15 minute game of family fun where anyone can win and no one will mind losing too much. It’s not something I’ll seek because there’s not a lot else to it, but it’s something I’ll enjoy if it hits the table as an opener.
The marbles with the dispenser provide some wow factor (but honestly could have just as easily been done with a deck of cards). Your turn is to collect a resource or buy a card with a power, adding it to your tableau. Eventually you’ll build a little engine of complementary card powers where buying cards will either give you resources (ie the marbles), or allow you to convert resources into other colours, or provide discounts (and so on and so on). The faster you can buy, and the better cards you can buy, the more VPs. So yep, it’s a nice engine building game. There’s the ability to claim/reserve a card if you’re desperate to have it as it’s not uncommon to have the card you covet “stolen” just before you’re ready to build – early on you can assess how safe you are because you can see what marbles people are collecting, but once the converter powers kick in, it’s all too hard. What’s different from most purchase games is that the cards are mono-coloured rather than the usual mixed X blue / Y red / Z black to buy this card. This speeds the game up tremendously, but at the cost of railroading you into purchasing only the cards in the marbles of the colour you’re collecting (pending powers, etc). I both liked the upside and disliked the downside simultaneously. I’m happy to sit on the fence in the meantime, and to give it another whirl if someone pulls it out given its fast gameplay.
PIXEL TACTICS (2017)
Put out cards in a 3×3 grid with a commander in the middle. Each line smacks in turn, players alternating, doing melee damage to frontline troops or ranged damage to anything. First one to kill the opposition commander wins. Fine in principle. Each card though has 4 separate powers (in irritatingly tiny print), which theoretically makes for interest but in practice bogs down the game while you continually re-assess your hand and re-determine how each should be best played. Commanders have unique powers making each game different in feel, but a mismatch in your first game makes you wonder how many future mismatches there’ll be. And units die very easily. There’s no defence and little healing, so it seems stuff was being killed off faster than it was going on, and often before they got attacks off, making it difficult to feel any synergy lust. Slow paced play in a fast-paced theme (aka battle) creates thematic dissonance, and that’s the case here. I had hopes for this given its BGG rating, but easy come, easy go.
The card-play is remarkably similar to Honshu, but here the cards you claim have fruit illustrations rather than terrain. Play cards to a trick in turn order, with the highest-played down to the lowest-played collecting their card of choice from the trick. Some cards have set definitions, and taking these and fulfilling their requirements scores points. Claiming these is rather important! Like Honshu, being dealt good high hands seems like the best strategy. It’s hard to do anything productive with low and middling cards unless the other players decide to let you have something. That your result seems mostly handed to you is the first of two major issues for me, the second being that the points at the end of game are massive and you could be just a single card away from a major score that will move you from last to first. As such, too swingy, and too much dependency on other players for it to be a game I’d seek out.
PULSAR 2849 (2017)
Point salad in space but, mmm, really good point salad. Each of the 8 rounds starts with players choosing one of the rolled dice, Settlers-style. The die value defines the actions you can take with it. If you pick low numbers, you’ll get to do less powered actions but you’ll move up on the initiative track (improve turn order, maybe get pts) or engineering tracks (to get cubes to get pts) and vice versa. Hard decisions here. Then, there are so many paths to explore; way too many for the limited number of actions you get – tech trees, personal tableaus for one-off advancements, transmitters for ongoing powers, flying around and either building stations on planets (for end game pts and bonuses) or gyrodynes on pulsars (for continual end of round pts), or simply get dice modifiers to ramp up future turns. To top it off, every game has different tech trees, different end-game scoring conditions, and different personal tableaus, meaning there’s excellent inter-game variety. The rules are good, turns move along quickly enough. It’s a little sandboxy and yet you miss out enough for turn order to matter, but there’s always something else good to do. Lots to like, glad I’ve got it.
Rarely does a game come along that makes me go, hmm, what the hell just happened there, hang on, let’s analyse it, and play it again as soon as possible. Root did this. A lot of the enjoyment of gaming comes in the satisfaction of riding and mastering the learning curve. In normal Euros that might take a few games and then it’s all marginal. This though has a heap of learning curve to be done. Firstly in your faction, and then in each of the other factions, and then in how they interact, and then the ability to keep it ever so slightly balanced in your favour, enough for you to win, but not enough that the others realise it in time. This is an asymmetrical game of developmental dominance, where denying your opponents their form of dominance is just as important as developing your own. There’s a decent amount of rule learning required as each faction has a completely different turn structure and means of scoring points, but once you’re into it turns are relatively simple. Simple, but with a wealth of options to decide between, where mis-steps can be crucial. Like all asymmetrical multi-player games there’s a dependence on others to know the game well enough to know when they need to step up to the plate in the denial stakes. Regardless, this is a game that I’m itching to explore further in the hope we can achieve mastery and determine how well it shines at that level.
TINY EPIC GALAXIES (2015)
Like most tiny epic games, this is another decent game, but which similarly doesn’t bring anything rivetingly new to the table. At least the components feel aptly sized and usable in this one though. Roll dice to earn two currencies – use one for re-rolls, use the other to “follow” another player’s action a la Glory To Rome / Eminent Domain. This keeps you engaged on other player’s turns, an element which seems fairly foundational these days in dice games. There are good ongoing decisions to be made between these and advancing your empire track to get more dice. You use your other dice to advance in races to the end of the tracks on the planet cards to claim their VPs. There are also abilities on cards to take advantage of. It all works nicely enough, even if it’s too long for what it is. But it’s non-offensive enough to keep around for when a simplish dice-fest is required.
SPOTLIGHT ON: AMUN-RE (2003)
18+ plays. I must admit I inwardly sighed when teaching Amun-Re: The Card Game and I started off by saying the auction is just like Amun-Re (trying to shorten the rules explanation) and the millennials and newbies collectively turned to me and said “what’s Amun-Re”. Hmm. Well this and Evo are the grandpa and grandma of the multiple simultaneous auctions mechanic. The game pulls together lots of elements well – blind bidding, worker placement, auction, etc – so that the whole makes for an enjoyable game. Over the years, frequent comments of it being under-rated come (I think) from the fact that most people like most of these elements, but few people like all of them, so there’s always a bit that causes reservation. Still, this melange also makes it somewhat attractive to a lot of people as well! Playing with 5 players has all the auctions going and is the typical number (as most auction games enjoy more players) but it’s arguable that playing with 3 is best, where a much higher importance is placed on being able to correctly value each auction and bid without the fallback of being overbid and going where you really want to go. Anyway, it’s still being enjoyed when it comes out, so it’s holding up well over the years.
Thoughts of other Opinionated Gamers:
Aeons End is one of my favourite co-op deck builders. I love the variety in the game. I bought the first two but skipped the legacy third element. I was impressed that they updated the graphics for all the Aeon’s End cards to match the newer War Eternal. The combinations of cards don’t match Dominion but there are plenty still. I’d rate it at least as high as Patrick.
Drop it same as Patrick – fun, clever and I’ll play it if in the right mood.
Pulsar 2849 was one of the successes for me from the 2017 Essen. I nearly didn’t buy it but every group I have played it has enjoyed it and wanted to play more times.
Root I played my first game last week and so glad I preordered a copy. It was fantastic and I loved the asymmetric characters and the different interactions caused by the design. These changed as the game progressed with a close finish. The excitement of the game was only diminished by the lack of time for another game immediately. The first expansion is a must for me and I think there will be more added down the line.
Tiny epic galaxies is my favourite game from the Tiny Epic series. I like the high degree of interaction between the players that the system generates. The expansion adds more variety (which I always appreciate) but the series is now coming out so fast that I am happy to pass on subsequent ones.
I’ve only had one play of Aeon’s End… and if we didn’t have a number of cooperative card games (Pathfinder, Sentinels of the Multiverse, DC Deckbuilding: Crisis, etc.), I’d be sorely tempted to buy it.
Tiny Epic Galaxies: I like this a bit more than Patrick – I think it’s the best of the Tiny Epic bunch. (Then again, I like most of them.) The expansion box (Beyond the Black) adds some more twists to the game that I think benefit it, but the base box is good by itself.
And then there’s Amun-Re – which, along with Taj Mahal, makes the Dynamic Duo of “Knizia games that everyone else seems to love and that I loath with every fiber of my being”. Your mileage may vary.
Pulsar 2849: I have only played it once so far, but I liked it. So much to do and different ways of doing it yet so few actions to try and do what you want to do. I’d happily play it again.
Root: Only played twice so far, but unlike Pulsar 2849 we have a copy of this, so it much more likely to hit the table again. The different powers of the factions mean that it is going to take a while to learn what you want or need to do. The constant battling for control may not be for some, but I liked it a lot and look forward to trying out the other factions and combinations.
Amun Re: One of the top three Knizia’s for me. I love the auctions, the building of the pyramids, the sacrifices, the planning for this kingdom whilst thinking ahead to the new kingdom. It doesn’t come out often enough.
Tiny Epic Galaxies: This is my favorite Tiny Epic game, while not quite “epic” in scope I feel the gameplay doesn’t remain “tiny.” Solid game that isn’t too long, and I actually enjoy the small sized box (easier to carry to game nights.) The expansion adds to the game if you like the base game.
Drop it: A big hit at my house as my non-gaming wife loves to play it with my preteen boys (or any of us in the family.) Highly recommended for a lightweight dexterity game that doesn’t really require much dexterity. I found after repeated plays that there was even a bit of strategy as the game develops in order to set oneself up for good plays at the end (by having unique shapes and/or colors.)
Pulsar 2849 is one of our favorites from Essen 2017. Sure, it’s a point salad game, but it builds nicely with an interesting use of dice and some excellent jockeying for turn order. It works great as a 2-player.
Root – I’ve only played once and managed, by an ill-timed play of a Dominance card, to lead the game into an hour of extreme kingmaking. Up until then, I was kind of enjoying it. But even assuming better play, I have real doubts about any assymmetric game, even one as well designed as this one. This needs to be played a lot to have a true idea of what your opponents are doing and in my world, games just don’t get that kind of dedicated play. So while I can see it would work for many, it truly is “not for me”, because of the number of plays it would take for it to become enjoyable. Besides, I really hate the cutesy theme, which, IMO, doesn’t fit the mechanics at all.
Amun-Re – One of Knizia’s last great games, IMO. Varied mechanics, lots to think about, lots of scope for clever plays. It’s consistently enjoyable and remains one of my group’s top choices for 5, with me often being the one suggesting it.
Aeon’s End – I loved this when it first came out, and we’ve Kickstarted the expansion and the legacy version, and yet it sits unplayed on the shelf. I am not sure why, because it’s a good game. I like deckbuilders and this one does a good job of keeping it different each play, and there are some interesting mechanics at play. I need to get this back to the table soon.
Drop It – I am not a dexterity game fan most of the time, but I do like this one – you can adjust the difficulty depending on who you are playing it with, it’s not too hard and pieces don’t come crashing down all over the place.
Gizmos – I just picked this up and after 2 plays I really like it. Sure, the marbles could be cards or cubes, but it’s more fun with marbles! Trying to get an engine going is, so far, a puzzle I keep wanting to solve.