We’re well into our Essen Review weekend now, where there are no clocks in the room nor windows to the outside world, only windows into our souls.
And our souls here are saying if you want to consistently play good new games, wait until the dust settles and the chaff has been winnowed from the grain. But here we are at harvest time anyway, doing some winnowing. And culling from the herd. And any other Rosenberg analogy you’d like to throw in, just as long as the family is fed at the end of the round.
I guess this is touted as Tetris the board game. The allure of Tetris is its speed and variety. This goes in the opposite direction. Not many shapes, not much variety, and the game is slow. You’re trying to place pieces in colour groups to earn VPs, and each row you fill extends the time you have to earn bonus VPs. But you can’t plan ahead as you don’t know what shapes and their orientation you’ll get to choose between until your turn starts. So, you execute your 3 actions of rotations and placements, and then spend further time working out how to shaft the next player in crafting their choices. This turns it into a mean game – also non-Tetris-like – and while you’re doing this, it’s pure downtime for the other players. This does have the benefit however of allowing them the opportunity to pull out phones and play the real deal in between turns.
CARPE DIEM (2018)
A thinky Carcassonne. There are more types of buildings and fields and therefore more ways to score and more approaches to explore. It’s no longer just about completing buildings but now also about getting those buildings on the right spots within your personal tableau for bonus points. Further, there’s now choice on which tiles to pick up, but also competition to get them first given the tiles are in an open draft (but with only a subset available to you on any one turn). I don’t rate it as highly as Carcassonne though as the game slows down with the added weight, but the randomness doesn’t seem to have dissipated – more building types means the probability of you getting the tile you want diminishes. At a fast pace, you live with it. Here it edges towards resignation that you may not be able to complete all you want. It’s still a fine game providing decent brain food though, providing the challenge of making the best of what emerges.
CROWN OF EMARA (2018)
Why settle for one rondel when you can have two! This had a neat mechanic of placing one of your action cards against one of your three available movement slots for the round, whereby you get the card power and then you get to move one of your dudes around a rondel of your choice by the movement option chosen, thereby earning a second power. This provided thought-provoking mini-decision trees every turn, and created many opportunities to pat yourself on the back after making an excellent series of turns. It’s otherwise a standard “resource gathering, build some production capability, develop a strategy to maximise their conversion into VPs via any number of means” type of game, but the action selection mechanism by itself was enough to make it fresh and win me over, especially as there seemed to be other routes to victory remaining to be explored.
A game where to do well you need to know all the rules that could be applied to a person’s location – like within 1, 2, or 3 spaces of any number of terrains and symbols, or outside those, or any other sort of thing. Then, in your head, after each “are you here yes/no” test, whittle down all the rules until there’s only one left. Repeat that process in your head for each player until there’s only one space that satisfies every player’s rule to win the game. Challenging, sure, but too much like brain-work, not enough fun. A turn is simply choosing somewhere that maximises the chance of narrowing down a rules possibility, so AP time can go through the roof if you’re playing to win (making it boring for everyone else) or it can simply be a series of fastish guesses to keep the game moving along (making it boringly random for everyone else). Either way, I had little enjoyment from it.
THE ESTATES (2018)
Early auctions are mostly meaningless because the early purchases get covered up. Mid-game auctions are mostly meaningless because it’s unknown what rows will score double, normal, and negative. With the closed economy, the end-game auctions are mostly meaningless because no one can afford enough wins to drive a result home, meaning you’re relying on situations emerging which force players to collude with your plans. The game is nothing but auctions, and when most of these are meaningless, it’s not much of a game. I won after literally not winning one auction in the first 30 minutes of the game. Riiiiight.
GLOBE TWISTER (2018)
This felt more like a skill assessment when applying for a job rather than a game. As in, what’s the minimum number of rotations and moves required to get these 9 pieces oriented and aligned correctly to re-form the picture. Putting the players on the clock turns into a game of skill I guess, but it’s not a game of fun, more a multi-player solitaire challenge in which to test yourself. It’s kind of interesting in a Robo Rally programming type way, but it’s not a skill I feel the need to prove myself superior or inferior in, and the lack of interactive fun sounded a death knell.
MEN AT WORK (2018)
You seemingly can’t play this game without a smile on your face. A turn is flipping a card and placing whatever it says (either a girder or a worker, usually loaded with bricks or beams) onto the mess of girders already there. If you crash three times you’re out, otherwise once the score card comes out, get a VP if you can make your placement the highest on the site. It’s simple, stupid, fun, but the theme is perfect, the pieces are nice to play with, and it’ll work equally well with gamers and non-gamers alike. Not one I need to own, but one I’ll happily play anytime it’s out and there’s a spot free.
RAILROAD INK: BLAZING RED EDITION (2018)
I like neat and clean, and writing roads and rails all over a grid, through and around each other, ends up making a mess no matter how neat you are. Meaning I get to the end and look over my handiwork and shake my head, which then permeates into my reflections on the game. Which is to make the best of the dice on offer – you draw the results of each die on the map, and your plan is to hope like hell that future dice rolls give the road and rail bits that allow you to complete more connections than anyone else and that you were lucky enough to draw in the right spaces in the first place. Although it was decent for a play and I see the attraction for others, I’m after a little more in my gaming than a messy draw and hope. A more positive take on it here…
A straightforward action selection approach is used here in an attempt to capture the essence of the vegetable field production mechanic of Gates Of Loyang without all the orders and cards overhead. What’s left is a fairly dry and staid process. In the early rounds, the players all want the same actions – to generate fields, seed them, and build a production engine (you spend the vegetables gleaned to move around the VP track at the end of each round). In the latter rounds, the players all want the same actions again, just a different set – to harvest the fields and also trade close-to-empty fields in for VPs. Mono-strategy games where turn order is all important (because otherwise you’re forced to simply make the best of what actions are left available when it gets back round to you) aren’t that interesting anymore in today’s crowded game field unfortunately. And this felt the lash.
SPOTLIGHT ON: CALL MY BLUFF AKA LIAR’S DICE
200+ plays. My youngest walks in the other day and says “Dad, we learnt this really cool game at school today. We’ve been playing it all day. It’s called Bluff and …”. Yep, know it, we’ve got it anytime you want to play J. This gets better as the group you play it with gets better and it becomes mostly about the smacktalk. A perfect opener for us. Working out the odds on what the likelihood of a particular call being true or not is just a starting point. What people are betting on really is which number has deviated significantly from average this turn and how far, so if you keep gambling on the average being the right number, you’ll be off. The question each turn is, can I make a claim that will be believed and raised and get me off the hook based on what’s gone round, regardless of the odds. Funnily enough, and knowing this, if someone’s passed me something outrageous, it’s probably more likely to be true. Doesn’t mean I’ll take it, because calling may be low risk, but it could be low risk to escalate as well! Then there’s the whole ducking out and betting on stars to minimise dice loss whilst the crowd derides your manhood. But it keeps you in the game at least. We occasionally play a variant where if you claim stars and you’re called and you lose, it’s instant death, which can be fun. Anyway, 10 years on and the game still gets requested more nights than not.
Thoughts of other Opinionated Gamers:
James Nathan: I don’t know if my review of Neue Heimat (The Estates) will have posted, or even been written, before or after this post goes up, but I love that game. I love the Dominion-Turn-Zero phase at the beginning as you look over the cube setup to plan which colors you think you can make a run with this game; planning what you can spend based on turn order – will you need to buy something else before your turn and what will be available on your turn as a potential cash cow; and trying to gauge how much money the other players have left – how low of a bid can I get away with?
(Patrick’s feelings are almost verbatim my feelings on Indonesia though; I’m full on empathy for this view on auction games.)
Fraser: I haven’t played any of the new games mentioned. However I must ask – Is it just me who has the song “Down Under” spring to mind every time they see the game title Men at Work?
Carpe Diem: I like this game. The graphics are less-than-ideal, but the game under those graphics is pretty good.
Crown of Emara: There are several interesting mechanics at work here, and it all seems to work pretty well. I look forward to more plays of this one.
Reykholt: I am usually an Uwe fan – but not here. The game was dry, the action choices were boring and it was just not fun for me.
Call My Bluff/Liar’s Dice: I am not a good bluffer, and I hate loud noises, so . . . this is not my favorite game Maybe if someone makes it with foam dice and soft cups, but for me match plus loud noises makes me avoid this one – especially at a con where there are multiple games happening at once.
Arraial, Carpe Diem and Crown of Emara have been excellent additions to the game shelf from Essen 2018. We HATED Reykholt – no fun, though note that our asterisk of “only played with 2 players” might need to be taken into account. We’ve covered all of them in more detail on the podcast – http://www.garrettsgames.com