Every November I am lucky enough to attend Lobster Trap, an annual invite-only board game convention held just north of Boston. The con started in a friend’s art studio that was right on the ocean, so thus the name Lobster Trap. As time went on and attendance grew it moved to hotel conference space and now there are about 125 people in attendance for four full days of gaming.
The organizers of the event arrange for someone to pick up some of the hot titles from Essen, and a few attendees go to Essen themselves, so there are always copies of the new and hot games floating around. Since I had only 3 days to be there and had scheduled a couple of longer games I didn’t get to try everything, but I did squeeze in a few new games. As is true for much of my gaming these days, who I am playing with is much more important than what we are actually playing, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to experience the new and shiny!
My favorite new game was NEOM. It is a tile-laying game with elements of 7 Wonders. Every player has a grid into which they are building their town. On your turn you select a tile from your hand of tiles and pass the rest on to the player on your left. Play your tile, pay your neighbors to use their resources or use your own to build your tile and lather, rinse and repeat. Pay attention to required placements and end-game scoring tiles. This is right up my alley, and I really enjoyed it; it became a must-buy by the end of the game. Watch for an OG review coming soon.
I also played Forum Trajanum, a new Stefan Feld game. You have a player board with rows of face-down action tiles. On your turn you take two tiles from the rows/columns indicated by the current round cards and look at them; you keep one and pass one to the right. You then look at your tile and the tile you were passed, decide which one you want to play and carry out the action. Some tiles give you permanent actions and bonuses while others give you one-time income of money or resources needed. You build buildings on your player board in areas where you have cleared tiles. If you built a building of a particular color you can use the tiles of your own color to then build in the forum square, trying to have a large area of your tiles along with some placement bonuses and completion bonuses. Periodically there are scoring rounds where you score for different buildings in each row of your player board as well as the forum scoring.
As in many Feld games there is a lot going on here, but once we got through the rules and played a couple of rounds everyone was clear on what the actions were and the game flowed pretty well. I enjoyed the game and look forward to trying it again.
I was looking forward to trying Reykholt, since Uwe Rosenberg is one of my favorite designers, so we pulled that out. You will be completely surprised to hear that the game is about farming. Players take turns selecting actions in the center of the board that allow them to build a greenhouse, seed a particular vegetable in that greenhouse or harvest that greenhouse. After players have taken all of their actions there is a race along the track on the edge of the board. Players spend the required number of vegetables to move along the track along the edge of the board – the amounts of each vegetable go up as you get farther along. Once per turn rather than spend the amount of vegetables you instead take that amount of vegetables into your supply, while still moving up on that space. The player who is farthest along the track wins.
This fell a little flat for me; we tended to continually take the same action spaces and they just weren’t very interesting. However, I definitely want to give this another try with more than 2 players; the side of the board that accommodates 3 and 4 players had many more action choices and I suspect there is more interaction with more players.
I had not heard much about Manitoba, but a friend wanted to give it a try so we sat down to play. Players are tribal leaders and are trying to balance spiritual development as well as the need for resources. There are a stack of action discs in various colors that relate to areas of the game boards. The active player takes a number of discs of their choice onto their player mat and carries out two actions related to one of those colors; all other players may take one action related to one of those colors. Your goals is to score points for various resources while also trying to move along spiritual tracks to improve your abilities and store goods for future uses. The rules were fairly clear but seemed to be missing an appendix of card descriptions, so we had to guess at a couple of icons but overall I think we got it right. The game itself is beautiful, but the play itself didn’t wow me; I’ll need to play it again to form a full opinion.
I also gave Fine Sand a try. It’s a card game in the Fable line. All players have an identical hand of cards that they are trying to get down on the table before the other players do. Play is simultaneous and players can either build cards to the table, paying the cost in other cards, or draw more cards. They can also play a card towards the player to their left; once all players have a card played to them they will draw these cards. Once everyone is done you do it all again. I just didn’t get the attraction here and likely won’t play this again, but I know a couple of other people who liked it.
I also got to try Belratti. On a turn two players are artists and the rest are curators. Two cards are flipped over and the curators decide how many pieces of art they would like to request; the artists then conspire to provide that many pieces of art that relate to the pictures on the two flipped-up cards. 4 random cards are added and the curators try to determine which cards the artists played. Correct answers score points and wrong answers go to Belratti; once he has a certain number of cards the game ends. This falls into the same family as Codenames, which I don’t really enjoy, but lots of other people loved it.
I got my 4th play of Spring Meadow in as well. While somewhat similar to Cottage Garden or Indian Summer this is by far my favorite entry in this series, and it’s not just because I am currently undefeated. . . . You can read our review of it here .
My husband and I have been trying to learn Feudum but had mostly failed from the rules. Our friend Phil has played multiple times and agreed to teach us. There is so much happening in this game that there is no way to describe it briefly but it is essentially an area control game with bits of resource management, movement, influence and combat thrown in. It is fairly long (our teaching game took about 6 hours), but I expect that time would decrease greatly with experienced players or fewer players. I definitely want to play this one again; hopefully I can do that soon to solidify all the rules in my head.
I also got to play a full 4-era game of The Colonists with 3 players. I continue to really enjoy this game, and look forward to every time I can get a full game of this in. With a couple of food breaks and a lot of breaks to say hello to other attendees it took us about 8 hours, but it was 8 completely enjoyable hours.
Other games I played included Texas Showdown, Gizmos, Let’s Make a Bus Route and Noch Mal. Other new games that seemed to be getting a lot of play included Valparaiso, Concordia Venus and Reef. The games I saw being played the most were probably Terraforming Mars, both with and without expansions, followed by Great Western Trail. I also saw a lot of people playing old classics like Princes of Florence, Puerto Rico and Euphrates and Tigris, and we were not the only ones who played a full game of The Colonists. It seems more and more that there are groups of people who have made a tradition out of playing a particular game at LT – for example, one group played Firefly with all of the expansions while another played Die Macher; in both cases this was a yearly tradition.
It was, as always, a great con. I enjoyed trying out the new and shiny as well as getting a longer game to the table, but most of all I enjoyed spending time with my friends. I used to have to distinguish between my friends and the people I played games with, but over time I have been lucky to meet so many great, interesting people through gaming who are incredibly important to me, and I take any chance I get to sit down and spend time with them, whether we are playing a game or not.
Great writeup! Lots for me to think about.
Thanks for this, Tery, and Manitoba certainly does look like a pretty game, shame you’re not enamoured by the gameplay… Was also interested to read your comments about Forum Trajanum because it reminded me of a game idea I had years ago and lost the notes for…! It’s a totally different unrelated game/mechanic, but the core design I had in mind (playing everything face-down on a moving tableaux) jumped straight back into my head to remind me what I was trying to do all those years ago, so an extra-special thanks for that!
You’re welcome! It was a pretty interesting mechanic – you don’t know what you’re drawing, but then you do get to make some choices. I am definitely looking forward to playing it again.