Fellow Opinionated Gamer Tery Noseworthy has shared some thoughts on several of the new games she played last month at Lobster Trap. Lobster Trap is an annual event I host with a good friend. Its small with attendance topping out at 170ish people. The goal is to provide an atmosphere that feels like a family reunion of sorts. As organizers we try to have a decent number of the latest Essen and fall releases available to try ahead of the holiday season. Lots of the attendees work there way through these new releases while others schedule longer games with friends who they only see once a year. I’m biased, but it is my favorite game weekend of the year given the relaxed casual nature of the event. You can sit down with anyone and have a fantastic time whether you are at the game table or out for a nice dinner.
I never play as many new games as I would like, but below are my thoughts from the weekend in no particular order.
Trappist One – There always seems to be a thematic winner from Essen. This year we seem to have a larger than usual amount of games with a futuristic/space theme with NEOM and Lift Off below and Ganymede still to be played. Trappist One from Gen X is squarely in this thematic zone as well. Build up a tableau of cards in an attempt to colonize planets and mine them for different resources. Ship the resources for “star gold” and buy things like orbital stations and satellites for points and abilities. The theme is intriguing with the game play and mechanics feeling fairly standard. We struggled with the rules with a bit with some some variations in key terminology showing up in different areas adding some unnecessary confusion. Lots of jokes were also made as your home planet is referred to as Capital One. Feel free to add your own. We all had a noticeable level of ennui about the game. With so many new games this time of year, consignment to the back of the shelf without too much more thought is a likely possibility.
Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra – Arguably the most played game at Lobster Trap. I’m a big fan of Azul. I’ve seen plenty of comments about this incarnation that it is more strategic and gamier. I would largely disagree. After four plays it feels like Azul with a few different wrinkles; much in the same way that a new Power Grid board feels compared to the original. I don’t see this replacing Azul, but will be a nice change of pace. And it’s time to put to be the comparisons on Sintra and Sagrada. Same theme, different games. Given the number of games I have where players are trying to be the most prestigious whatever in Florence, I think there is plenty of room for two games about stained glass construction.
Pechvogel – Always look at games from Zoch they said. It will be a fun dice rolling filler they said. It has the great, fun bird artwork Zoch is known for they said. This was a huge miss that had everyone scratching their heads and wondering how this got made the cut to be a published.
Forum Trajanum – I approached with Feld’s latest with trepidation as I find that often his games are several notes to many that are in need of further development and trimming. I played a three player game while missing the lion’s share of rules explanation leading me to just sit down and go with the flow. After a turn or two I was comfortable with the turn order and basic rules and pleasantly surprised. It isn’t as overwhelming chaotic feeling as Merlin did last year. And more importantly it left me looking forward to a second game which is always a good thing when we have a surfeit of options this time of year.
NEOM – Everyone is likely to see plenty of similarities to 7 Wonders using tiles instead of cards and adding the spatial element found in Among the Stars and Fields of Green. Everyone is also very likely to spend a lot of time looking at the tile manifest to get clarifications on how the tiles work. That will slow up your first few plays, but the game plays quickly and deserves further exploration.
Lift Off – The other hit of Lobster Trap. There was only one copy available for play and it was in constant use. Even more impressive is the fact that there were no English rules available so we were largely working from an overview of play, direct translation of the German rules (Thanks Joe H.!), and the teaching from player(s) zero who had the chance to try the game at Essen (Thanks Derek and Ron!). The game was fun and had fantastic art and a good theme. The game is largely language independent outside of cards. I enjoyed it enough to play it three times over the course of the weekend. That’s always a good sign.
Carpe Diem – The other new Feld is much lighter and quicker. This has already hit multiple plays for me as well. It is easy to teach but not without issues. The production is really substandard with color issues. One game with a color blind player proved very challenging to the point of that player basically saying the game was one and done despite any engagement from the mechanics. With all of the great production and art design available, this is really inexcusable on the part of Ravensburger. Too bad as the game deserves to be played.
Blue Lagoon – Through the Desert gets reimplemented in a very family friendly game that is simple to teach and quick to play. This won’t replace Through the Desert for fans of that game, but the colorful art and production will grab some attention.
Concordia: Venus – If you love Concordia, you will in all likelihood love this expansion. The most recent iteration of the system gives you the ability to team up with a partner against another team or two. The main twist is when one member of the partnership plays a card, the other member takes the same action. This makes finding efficient moves a real challenge as players will struggle to consider what is bes for bother members of the partnership. Resources aren’t shared, but money is and information sharing is frowned upon. There is one new card in your deck that allows you to look at your partner’s hand and make a recommendation for them to play, but that is the extent of communication between partners. Can’t wait to try this again!
Great Western Trails: Rails to the North – As with Concordia, if you enjoy the original Great Western Trails, then this is more to enjoy. The expansion adds a new board with train stations to place and give more options for herd delivery. I don’t think after the first play that this will add any significant play time to the game. I really enjoy the original so this will be a must buy for me.
Hollywood Golden Age – This is a new edition of Traumfabrik. Unlike previous reprints (which I refuse to play even though I love the game), this version uses real movie titles with real actors just like the original. Other than some changes in the movies and some of the actors, everything else is exactly the same. I was delighted to play this version.
3 x 8 – A quick, simple card game from Amigo. The goal is to create three columns of eight cards each with ascending numbers. Players start small hand size, but can increase it to make building your columns more efficient. Toss in some cards that can be used to mess with your opponents and you have an accessible family weight game.
Yellow & Yangtze – Euphrat & Tigris with hexes. This was a fun change of pace from regular E&T. The hex based board make for a change in the conflicts as all players can participate in a conflict if they so choose. This is quite a switch from the original and felt more than a little weird, but it quickly became clear that it was a worthwhile change.
El Dorado: Hexes & Heroes – I’m a huge fan of the base game and thought it should have won SdJ over Kingdomino. The expansion ramps the game up with curse spaces hindering or helping movement and heroes that can be acquired to help you get through the map faster. It doesn’t really add any time to the game, but keeps the game fresh with more options for maps.
Solenia – Pick up and deliver (sort of) with an odd theme, but very cool artwork. We tried the base game which felt somewhat bland. I do want to try it with the advanced rules to see if that adds some spice to the game.
Counterfeiters – Fun theme about counterfeiting money. It wins this year’s award for using the game that uses the highest percentage of its box space. A three player game was fun, but lacked enough tension. We all felt the game should be played with four or five. Sadly it doesn’t play for five.
Teotihuacan – My first play of this was really overwhelming with all of the options in terms of scoring, but it was a good overwhelming. I suspect this one will have some staying power given the variability of options baked into the game.