Patrick Brennan: Game Snapshots –2018 (Part 19)

Patrick Brennan: Game Snapshots –2018 (Part 19)

{Editor’s note – we are sticking with the new numbering system which we finally started to use in November – Next year, we’ll do it right and start with 2019, Part 1.}

You know, since it’s like 42C in parts of Oz this week!

Now that I’ve finished managing my most recent election, it’s back to real life. Meaning games! These actually managed to get done in the odd spare times between bouts of democracy wielding, but this is the first chance I’ve I’d had to collate them. So let’s get them out of the way before we tackle some of the recent Essen stuff in the next few editions.

No real winners or highlights here, just a bunch of solid games you’d be happy to play if you get the chance.

ARGENT: THE CONSORTIUM (2015)

It has most of the things you expect from a modern worker placement game: a different set of actions each game, a different set of win conditions each game (which start off secret), variably powered meeples, meeple displacement (but with compensation and means of avoidance), and enough actions and power wibbles so that player order isn’t overwhelming. Do actions to determine what some of the 12 win conditions are (the person to win the most of these wins) and keep pounding actions to acquire the stuff needed. It’s never going to be epic because it’s, well, worker placement, but it does offer a chance of replay by offering so much action/power variety from game to game. But … it’s worker placement.

Rating: 7

FIELDS OF GREEN (2016)

Take cards Fairy Tale style, place them in your tableau, and build an engine of abilities that use water to get wheat to get money to get VPs. Play 4 rounds and hope you have a table big enough for everyone to expand their farms. Nice theming, easy to teach, easy to play. It’ll be better in future games now we know the types of combos that are likely to pay off and we can build towards, hence the rating. But it’s a very quiet and solitary affair, pretty much doing your own thing with little chit-chat or bonhomie. I guess if you’re playing master level you’ll watch what your neighbours are doing and keep/pass cards accordingly, but it doesn’t feel like it needs that kind of endeavour to succeed. It’s more like a play-in-hope that the combos fall for you. Not riveting, but playable.

Another take from 2016 here

Rating: 7

THE GREAT ZIMBABWE (2012)

This has some cool features which impressed me but some downsides as well. To build level X of one of your monuments (ie VPs), it needs to be within range of X different resources. Part of the game is seeding the board with factories (for VPs) that create usable resources, and their use can get you income. Managing your income by attracting use of your factories is important. A large part of the end-game is winning turn order so you get first crack at those resources and deny them to others, and the importance of this felt way too harsh to those who lose out, turning it into a game of alternate turns where you do nothing one turn and spend big and do lots the next, which isn’t a fun approach. I love however the choice behind acquiring big powers – they’re free now but they increase your personal VP requirement to win! That leads to lots of interesting exploration possibilities. So I’m torn on this one, being simultaneously attracted to and repelled by different aspects.

Rating: 7

HARBOUR (2015)

This pseudo-tiny-epic Le Havre mini-me follows the well-trodden path of resource conversions. Each building has a resource gain/conversion action, and you do one of these each turn to accumulate resources, or you cash them in to buy one of the buildings (until someone has bought 4 buildings and then whoever has the most VPs from buildings wins … it doesn’t take too long). The element that defines the game though is the market, which allows you to trade in X fish say for X money, but not less than X, with a different value for X in each resource. The game is about hitting the min req in a few resources and cashing them in all at once to buy a building, and then building up again. After each purchase, X changes for each resource, mixing things up for the other players – sometimes good, sometimes bad. There’s not a lot of combo play, but buying buildings others want to use may earn you resources, and accumulating building icons will help. It’s probably better with fewer players to minimise the aggravation of the actions you want being taken, but it’s a nice effort in the long-filler category that I’ll be happy to keep around for a bit.

Rating: 7

LITTLE DEVILS (2012)

An exercise in random, but it’s fun enough, generating good humoured resignation when you can do nothing but suck up a bad trick, and smiles as someone else cops one when it’s yours for all money. It’s trick-taking misere – the aim is to collect the fewest little devil symbols, and these are spread around the cards 6 nimmt style. The core feature is that the player who plays second to a trick defines whether everyone must play higher or lower than the card led, and then the highest/lowest card wins. Unless someone can’t follow the rule, in which case the winning rule is reversed and whoever plays the worst in the opposite direction (eg the lowest when you’re meant to play high) will win it. Sounds tricky, but it’s easy once you start playing. Your strategy is simply to have a card close in value to that led! It’s pretty random but the game will stay in the collection because it takes up to 6 players well, making it a handy closer for those times.

Rating: 6

PIONEER DAYS (2017)

A fun little romp in a nice timeframe. Dice get rolled and their values determine which of the 6 defined actions are available that round. Or instead of the defined action, you can take its townsfolk card (with a power) or its money, so there’s often a hard choice to be made. The colour of the die which isn’t taken advances the disaster track in that colour, and that’s another consideration – you may want to take that even if it’s not the action/townsfolk/money you prefer because you’re not ready yet to pay off that colour’s disaster (silver for each cattle, a medicine for each townsfolk, etc). Anyway, nice choices each turn. Go with the flow, try to work out what’s best with what’s available each round, accumulate VP stuff (and the goods required to pay off disasters so you don’t lose that VP stuff) and hope it’s enough in the end! It’s also strangely thematic, taking what’s on offer, just like it must have been in the pioneer days, and hoping it’ll all turn out alright in the end.

Rating: 7

PORTA NIGRA (2015)

This is a good game, but not exactly on the cutting edge of design. I felt like I’d transported back to the early noughties with someone working out another way to use Torres tower pieces. Here you cycle through your action cards twice in the game, using your choice of actions on each card to variously buy tower pieces and place them in various areas on the board. Each area has a different form of area majority scoring at the end of the game that you’re jostling to win, as well as earning points from the various bonus type cards you can earn along the way. It’s analytical and slow because you can’t afford to waste builds in areas you’re not going to score. Its best feature is the tricky decisions it offers on when to spend to move around the board to get the towers you need and/or get to the area you need to build in so as to beat other players to the towers/build vs changing plans and taking better advantage of the actions you have now and those you have left. So yes, it’s a game of constantly changing plans, which is challenging and engaging in a good way, but it does provide a slow game that dragged a bit as a result.

Another take here…

Rating: 7

SPYFALL 2 (2017)

Same comment, rating, and ennui as the original as the gameplay is identical. The possible introduction of two spies doesn’t make for a lot of difference. A free form Q&A game, where the art to playing well is quickly determining questions that are sufficiently loaded so as to let others know that you know where the team is, but not give the location away to the spy (who’s trying to work out the team’s location from a list), and which also provides an opportunity for the answerer to provide an answer that does similar. Or catch the spy in an answer that reveals he doesn’t know where the team is. It provides a recipe for word puns and cleverness, but it’s horribly flawed when newbies haven’t memorised all the locations, as any covert looking at the location sheet to try and work out where everyone else is talking about indicates you’re a spy. The worst thing is, mostly I don’t care and I get bored by the constant semi-vagueness in the answers so as not to give away the location to the spy.

Rating: 5

YOKOHAMA (2016)

It has a clever system where you seed the board with cubes on the actions you’re planning to take in the next few turns. The more you delay and seed an action spot, the more that action will provide (be it resources, technologies, end of game points, etc). You then gradually move around the board taking its standard Euro actions. I didn’t enjoy the jostling around the chokepoint spots though (it costs to seed and go where other people are), feeling too harsh. I’m also not sure the replay promise of inter-game variability is lived up to – sure the map will be different but it’ll be the same game of navigating non-chokepoint paths, and the draft of techs and orders are much of a muchness. The decisions of take vs delay were fine and interesting throughout though, as this is a quality game. Perhaps it’s just a little drawn out in its execution (as you plan quite a ways forward, and then gradually execute) for me to look forward to the next play.

Two older reviews here: the TMG version and the original version

Rating: 7

SPOTLIGHT ON: VIKINGS  (2007)

40+ plays. Topshelf lightweight Euro, full of hard choices and tradeoffs with every turn. The turning price wheel was a wonderful addition to the gaming scene at time of release. Each turn you need to assess who wants the remaining tiles and whether the tiles you really want will still be there by your next turn or not, and that continual assessment drives the game along. There’s also a tradeoff in going for money (invest in your engine) or secure long term VP’s. It provides a whole bunch of rich gaming decisions in a shortish but complete and satisfactory timeframe and it still comes out regularly as a closer for us.

More thoughts?

Rating: 9

Thoughts of other Opinionated Gamers:

Larry:  I’ve never played Argent: The Consortium, but Patrick’s description of it, including WP (like seemingly every other recent game), different actions each game (so you can’t build on prior experience), different win conditions each game (ditto), and secret win conditions (so you don’t even know if you’re doing something useful for the first half of the game) fills me with absolute horror.  No doubt, in my ignorance, I’m libeling a highly rated game, but it still sounds like a title I need to stay far away from. Anyway, let me comment on the games Patrick covers which I actually have played:

Fields of Green – Played once and thought it was quite good.  The harvesting mechanism seemed to raise it above the sci-fi version of the game (Among the Stars), but mechanically and thematically.  I’d love to try this again, but the opportunity hasn’t arisen.

The Great Zimbabwe – Great ideas, but very much a Not For Me kind of game, mostly because I am totally incapable of handling the spatial recognition required to map out the big plays.  I really am awful at this, but enough other folks in my group struggled with this aspect (along with the enormous downtime while you worked things out) that it has disappeared from sight.  I can certainly see why some groups capable of dealing with this would love it, though.

Porta Nigra – Very solid and well designed Kramer/Kiesling game, exactly as you’d expect from that pair.  However, in the 2010’s, “well designed” isn’t necessarily good enough to earn a title a spot in the rotation.  I’ve enjoyed my plays of this, but didn’t really see enough to ask for additional plays.

Yokohama – Good game, although others tend to like it more than I do.  I’m not that good with the long-term planning, although I seem to do okay with my limited lookahead.  Not one of my favorites, but it’s a quality design and one I’m happy to play.

Vikings – I don’t love this quite as much as Patrick does, but it’s still one of my favorite middleweight games.  Of course, that’s with the understanding that we’re playing with the Advanced rules, which only require about 5 extra minutes to explain, but make it a much better game for experienced players.  For a long time, this was the only Kiesling without Kramer game that anyone was aware of, but it’s such a good one that I’m in no way surprised at his recent success working without Wolfgang.

Doug G.: Shel and I are HUGE fans of Yokohama (can’t wait to get its little brother Yokohama Duel to the table) and Porta Nigra is a great title that DOES feel like a throwback to earlier K&K designs. We both did NOT like Harbour.

Mark Jackson: Much as I enjoy Among the Stars (especially with the expansions), I think Fields of Green is the better base game. I’m looking forward to trying the expansion.

OTOH, I felt like my one play of Yokohama revealed an intricate game design with absolutely no soul.

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2 Responses to Patrick Brennan: Game Snapshots –2018 (Part 19)

  1. @mangozoid says:

    A good selection of titles, although in truth I’m not too familiar with any of them. Heard good things about Fields of Green, Pioneer Days and Vikings, though. I’m not a Spyfall fan for the same reasons you’ve given: it just feels a bit lame, and if you’re a newbie scanning the locations is a dead giveaway, basically.

  2. gamingleet says:

    Vikings is excellent and I disagree that the advanced rules are necessary. There is a subtle depth to the base game which revealed itself to me in dozens upon dozens of online three player plays. A perennially under-regarded game which deserves a place on lists of the classics.

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