Patrick Brennan: Game Snapshots –2018 (Part 18)
Have I mentioned recently how much love Gloomhaven generates around here. It’s still going strong.
Replay on Pulsar 2849 has confirmed my liking, and my Thursday night crew have declared it the best Euro-y game I’ve introduced this year! Well ok, they haven’t seen everything I’ve played, but yep, good game, glad I’ve got it.
I haven’t played much of anything other than new games recently, so let’s get to it.
ALBION’S LEGACY (2015)
Move out, explore for the tiles you need to fulfil the scenario’s win condition, and variously perform and win dice combat against enough enemies to meet the second win condition. Making it similar to D&D Drizzt et al in concept, but this adds a layer of complexity re various forms of equipment plus all the tile powers. Also, combat is a lot harsher – it’s costly to miss, and costly to re-roll when you miss. This makes for a thinkier game re consequences and setting up for success before entering combat situations, but also makes for a less free-flowing game and a seemingly less fun game as well. There’s potential there because the conceit is familiar, but a poor rule-set (which has generated fan re-writes and a large FAQ) makes it hard to get into. It’s to be seen if the different scenario challenges provide enough co-operative oomph to elevate it out of the rules morass it finds itself in after an initial play.
It’s got that nice social Codenames type of feel which inevitably sucks people into enjoying it … once you get past the first round and actually understand it anyway. My partner and I see our 4 words, which are numbered 1 thru 4. I draw a card which says I need to give clues to these 3 of them, in this order. If he guesses them correctly, we don’t lose a point. The hard part is that your opponents get to record each clue given against each of your numbered words. These clues for each word stack up after a few rounds, and if they can ever correctly match each clue to your correct numbers on any given round, they get a point. The trick is to find clues that will seem obvious to your partner, but are sufficiently obscure, and sufficiently different from previous clues, to confuse the other team into mis-guessing. The advantage it has over Codenames is that everyone’s involved every turn. There’s reward for cleverness, which makes it a bit more gamer-y and think-y, and less family and social. Whether that’s an upside or a downside depends on your audience.
DINOSAUR ISLAND (2017)
We’re building private Jurassic Parks but it’s very processional. Which is probably professionally how it would be done, but it didn’t seem to capture the fun side of things. In turn order, choose which dinosaurs you want to build (ie which resources you’ll need to build them), and/or collect resources. Then, in turn order, buy special powers and/or resources you missed out on before, or build exhibits in your personal tableau. Then build said dinosaurs. Collect visitors from the bag – be happy if you draw patrons for VPs, or claim life’s unfair if you draw hooligans (’cause on such can the game swing). And instead of there being a cool and fun feature where we determine how many visitors to the park got run down and munched by rampant Velociraptors, we apply a dry mathematical formula. Within that procession, you’re striving to be the first to meet public objectives for bonus points (eg first to have X dinosaurs), which means being focused on which dinosaur types to create and which powers to invest in. To that end, there’s engaging elements to consider throughout and planning to be done so I’d happily play again. I just lost the thematic mojo when the plannable parts turned out to be swingy and the expected thematically random parts turned out to be plannable.
GUILDS OF LONDON (2016)
Each tile is its own area majority contest, with points and rewards (card, meeples, etc) for first and second. With so many areas, it’s rare there’s a third player competing, so it’s about either establishing a winning presence (completing it yourself, or hoping someone comes in to finish it off for second place pts) or jumping on board someone else’s area for sneaky second place points. But you have no idea if people can even complete an area (they need the right colour cards) and to an extent that’s the downfall of the game. You’re at the mercy of the cards. Get good powers, you’re ahead of the game. Get good colours for easy points for few actions, and you’re ahead. Get ahead enough times and you’ll win the game. It’s old-school Euro. 12 rounds of getting meeples on the board to claim majorities for points, rinse, repeat, with no thematic links to its gameplay. Further, there’s too much iconography to learn for the game to be a fun first play, and the game play isn’t interesting enough to get you back and see if you enjoy it more once you know the iconography, meaning it washes out on a few too many fronts.
Hmm, I expected better from a game ranked top 100 at time of writing. If you can get past the damn-awful box artwork (really? is that a style people like?), you play cards to get dudes on a map. There’s only 13 (or 17) action cards and the draft for them presents some agonising choices on what to keep and what to pass on, knowing what’s going to be used against you. This is good. To win, you want to control regions containing 6 opposing dudes, have a presence in 6 regions, or equivalent presence in sanctuary regions. Which sounds easy, but to unenlightened newbies it seems the battle rules effectively mean you need to invade a region with a numbers majority in order to survive – it’s hard to just slip in for a presence – and if you’re trying for condition one, the enemy just evaporates. These manipulations drag the game on for longer than expected, with a certain waiting and hanging on for specific action cards that would allow you to get over the line strongly enough so that retaliatory efforts prior to round-end won’t cripple you. It seems to say hey, because there’s only a few cards, the game is in their mastery. There’s a side of me that wants to explore that micro-nature-within-a-bigger-sphere aspect (as the card-choosing element plays well), but I’m not sure how far it’s going to take me given the game’s pull-me-pull-you nature which isn’t something I usually enjoy.
SAMURAI SPIRIT (2014)
A surprisingly fast co-op of drawing a card and dealing with it, by either placing it to left of board (you want to take one in each of three types to avoid end-of-round penalties) or right of board otherwise (but if you exceed your points limit, you’re out for the round). Or skip drawing a card in the unquantifiable hope that you wouldn’t have been able to deal with it, knowing there’s a 50% chance it will cause badness at end-of-round. It features low-stress play, where the game somewhat happens to you … until you decide you want to memorise which cards are in play for future rounds anyway. There’s some co-op available in the sharing of your power with those who need it. With little in the way of weighty risk/reward decisions, it falls into filler territory and it’s not a bad fit. I was expecting weightier, but its fast play allows for some thematic immersion at least, lopping off bandits as they attack the village, and this makes for a positive spirit.
It’s FITS (turn over a card showing a shape, place the shape on your personal tableau) but features analysis paralysis galore. There are only 12 pieces to be placed, and you need to fit them in so that you enclose (ideally) spaces with 4 squares showing as many scarabs as possible – each uncovered scarab will score points equal to the size of its enclosure. Once you get to that halfway-ish point, you can spend an age planning placement for your final pieces to maximise points. This may be interesting as a solo pastime, but it sucks multiplayer if you’re holding everyone else up, and even worse if others are holding you up. As such, I found it less enjoyable than I was expecting because the challenge (which is decent enough) eventually became overwhelmed by the perceived time pressure to keep the game moving.
TEAM PLAY (2018)
Ok, I now get why it’s been called out as underrated – simple, elegant, enjoyable. It provides the triple satisfaction of collecting cards from the display (or blind from the pile) to satisfy your own set-collecting goal, or satisfy the common goal, or satisfy your partner’s goal (as you’re allowed to handover 1 or 2 cards each turn). Continue until one team’s collected enough goals, and then add up the points from the collected goals. Rules are fast, play is fast, and there’s a nice decision every turn. In other words, it’s everything you want in a simple card game, with the bonus of it still managing to feel different from other card games.
WELCOME TO … (2018)
Each round three combinations of number and effect (these mostly develop scoring strategies) come up. Each player chooses which of these they want and develop their board. Eventually players diverge into different scoring strategies, and eventually players’ boards will restrict them as to what numbers (and therefore effects) they can take. This seems to be the most common issue with roll-and-write, the gradual restriction of choice leading to a whimpering limping ending rather than a bang. The simultaneous play works well however and the game flows smoothly. There’s a race to develop boards and be the first to satisfy some common goals, but it feels like there’s not quite enough competition to drive mass replay. Rather, the replay comes by want of seeing if you can pick a scoring strategy and maximise it this time given the combos that come up; which is enjoyable because the game is clever, but that anti-climactic-ish tapering ending means it hasn’t really dug its claws into me sufficiently for purchase.
SPOTLIGHT ON: FEURIO (2003)
50+ plays. A really nice 10-15 minute opener for 3 or 4 players that captures the wild swinging moods of fires beautifully, as does the chain-out rule for the firemen for them to be safe. Too much luck on the 1’s, we’re all agreed, and occasionally we play that they’re 2’s, but for this length of time, it doesn’t really matter to us. The decision each turn is where to place your firefighters. Do I place here to expand my chain but maybe get blocked in, or expand over there instead for less points but more chance of keeping my connection alive, or over here to stop someone else getting easy points, or I can see the fire going way over that way so let’s start a new chain (or create a firebreak). It’s a nice decision each turn, not brain burning. You can’t take the result too seriously because the 1’s are so powerful, and player decisions on pussage can be overly influential, but for a 15 minute opener, it hits good buttons. We also occasionally play the Vulcan game (a second way to play using the same pieces), paratrooping guys into the fire in a line, just to be different.
Thoughts of other Opinionated Gamers:
Samurai Spirit: My mini-review… “if you want to get beaten on like you’re playing Ghost Stories, but do so in the half the time.” (Actually, I like it a lot – but it’s brutal.)
Team Play: When you first hear the rules, you think – “Is that all there is?” And you’d be right – but when you play it, it sings. Best with 4, very good with 6. Not as much fun with 3 or 5 (no teams).
Team Play: There was a time recording system at work called Teamplay, so I had an initial reluctance to play this game based purely on the name.
I have only played this with four players and it is a very good four player partnership card game and it is a lot shorter than other very good four player card games (Tichu and Bridge).
Welcome to… Shelley and I have been enjoying many of the Roll & Write (or in this case “Draw and Draw”) games that have surfaced lately, and this one’s quite good. We played a friend’s copy 3 times at Meeplefest earlier this year with 2, 3, and 4 players and it moves along quickly with some solid decisions.
Decrypto is extremely clever. However, I wonder if whether one enjoys a game of it or not depends on how well you’re connecting with your partner. Sometimes you’re on the same wavelength and it’s great and sometimes you struggle from the getgo and you just can’t make the adjustment. So it might be a bit fragile, but it’s a game I look forward to playing.