A few more game nights, a few more snapshots.
With a year under our belt, let’s take a brief look at the highs and lows of 2017. I’ve now played 63 titles from 2017. Of those, I rate eight of them an 8 or higher, being:
- Gloomhaven (10)
- Spirit Island (9)
- Pandemic: Rising Tide
- Pulsar 2849
Of these, Nusfjord is the only one I look back on and say, hmm, probably a 7 in retrospect, I’ll revisit that if I ever play it again. Azul went up from an initial 7 to an 8. A friend has it and each time I visit I look at his game shelves and say I’d be happy-eager to play that again, and that’s the test really.
I also rate five of them a 5 or lower, being:
- Indian Summer
- Mask of Moai
- Spyfall 2
- Welcome to Dinoworld
Just not for me I’m afraid. Thankfully there are many that are …
1066, TEARS TO MANY MOTHERS (2018)
The LCG kick for when you don’t want to uber-invest in packs! It’s got the customary tableground struggle for supremacy (aiming to win 2 of 3 columns), decisions on which card to play vs which to use for resources, card effects, tapping for actions, responses … all the things you expect. The decks are big so it’s unlikely you’ll see all the cards in a game. I like how you have to work through the objectives, getting out different types of cards at different points to satisfy them, before you’re allowed to fight over the columns in the decisive end-game. I suspect the game is largely determined by resource draw … the player who draws into resource cards earliest (and keeps them on the board) has a clear advantage, and that’s just luck. Thankfully it mostly evens out. I also prefer my LCG-type games to provide a deck-tailoring experience so I can gain satisfaction from seeing my approach play out rather than simply doing the best I can with the cards I receive in the order they come out. Otherwise, it’s a likeable game that’s easy to pull out once you have one under your belt, and we’ve enjoyed some close battles. (Disclaimer: I helped with rules editing a while back, but have now had a chance to play on release.)
AXIS & ALLIES: D-DAY (2004)
An old-fashioned dice-fest slug-fest, where you just keep bringing units onto the board and they just keep smacking each other non-stop until the bitter end. The rules are easy, the game-play is fast and simple. The Allies have 10 rounds to win. The decisions are focused around where to move troops, as once they’re engaged in combat, that’s where they’ll stay until the last enemy is ka-boomed. The combat dice results therefore have a large say in affairs in terms of when units are released for future moves. The game starts with a veneer of historical accuracy, but I suspect most games are going to come down to an all-units-in pitched battle to gain / defend the last of the three cities needed to win, which doesn’t feel overly satisfying given how the game starts with the units spread across the five beaches. But it is what it is, and in that vein, if dice-rolling attrition is what you’re after, this makes a pretty decent fist of it.
CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE: HOUSE OF DANGER (2018)
I get that it’s a paragraph book made with cards. I don’t get how turning it into a ‘game’ with multiple players actually works. It’s still a completely solitaire adventure – there are no individual elements that require co-operation to succeed. It’s just a series of collectively made decisions on which path to choose, punctuated by die rolls to determine success or failure at various points. And boy, that’s a lot of reading. It’s 60 minutes of reading text off cards, and the ‘game’ is deciding which card to read next. It’s a decently fun pastime to run with kids, where you’ll enjoy it because they’ll enjoy the story and the sense of shared occasion (which is what I did, and I did enjoy it), but this ain’t something I’d ever pull out with a gaming group. I’d also not run it twice with the same group of kids … yes, you’d take different choices to see what happened differently, but the overarching storyline will repeat. I’m happy to have done it once though.
This takes a pretty decent shot at turning Dominoes into an interesting game. When placing a domino, for each tile it matches against, gain the resource it matched. Spend those resources to buy buildings from the draft. These buildings provide various ways to store future resources, turning them either into points or score-track advancements. Once you get some buildings, they drive your decisions on what dominoes to draft and what to place, but you’re still very much at the mercy of what opportunities the prior players leave you. On a good turn, you’ll have a domino that can go somewhere with multiple matches and get the resources you want on your buildings. That’s three things that all need to come together though. Most turns you’ll only get one or two of those things. So you try and stay flexible, flowing with the flow. But “staying flexible” as a strategy doesn’t generate a lot of game satisfaction and, in the end, despite the improvements to the device and an attempt at theming (Egyptian land fertility? *sigh*), it’s still just dominoes.
HARVEST ISLAND (2017)
The title most excellently tells you what to expect. You have three fields, Bohnanza style, and you play cards of the same type (fruits) to a field, getting as many on your fields as you can before you harvest and score them. You’ll want to harvest if you don’t draw cards in the types you’re collecting, so that you can start again with different fruits (a la Bohnanza again), or if it looks like the weather cards might trigger a Settlers style robbery (lose half your biggest field). But here we change mechanics – where set collecting is made fun through the trade cajolery of Bohnanza, we’ve moved to a standard play 2 draw 2 approach. This makes the game fairly random as you’d imagine. The obvious plays remain – collect sets the players on your right aren’t collecting, look at the card counts in each season (there’s a deck for each season with different fruits and distributions, with some overlapping), and so on. It all works nicely, and in years past this would probably rate higher, but these days it takes more than standard fare to impress.
Another abstract trying to capture the Azul charm but failing. It at least provides an interesting puzzle for each player. Claim tiles from the centre and place them in one of your four factories. Each factory has limits on its colour mix. When a factory is full, you get to put a subset of its tiles onto the VP card you’ve chosen for it (when its required tile set is full, score it), then the remaining tiles slide to the next factory (as long as they meet its colour mix requirement). You’re trying to set it up so that this factory is now full, and you move tiles up to its VP card, with the remaining tiles moving to the next factory and so on. It’s an interesting challenge, getting all the right colours in the right factories for multiple look-ahead chains. But as a game, not so good. Downtime can be horrendous – the decision tree is broad, and there’s no theme to alleviate it. I also actively disliked the random and unfair number of turns per round aspect. It can make for a long time between turns. I just don’t see when I’d choose this for an hour over the wealth of other games out there.
Apparently we’re playing one of Newton’s splinter psyches each. Rich in theme is this one. Ok, park that. 5 different paths / things to progress in, you get 5 action cards each round, one in each. One of the actions is to buy more action cards, which then lets you do an action multiple times in a round, and that’s an early investment because specialisation gets you to the big points. This action card implementation is nice in what’s otherwise a generic Euro. Apart from taking action cards (and different people will want different things from there anyway), and claiming first-there bonus chits on some tracks, the game is multi-player solitaire. I played out my round 6 while others were finishing round 5, as nothing I was doing was going to impact anyone else. I found myself engaged though, liking the puzzley challenge of optimising the points out of my action specialisation decisions, and I’d like to try other approaches. But I have a feeling that ultimately if you don’t invest heavily in books you may be off the pace, and that one-dimensional suspicion may ultimately limit its replay. If others wanted to play I’d happily explore it to find out further, but I’m not otherwise jumping to over-invest in what’s otherwise a (let’s unpark it now) themeless Euro that doesn’t have an apple moment.
SHADOWS: AMSTERDAM (2018)
Take the Codenames experience of team v team. Make it real time team v team. Have the team clue-giver provide their clue on where he wants to go in the form of a picture or two a la Mysterium. The team quickly decides where they think he intends and moves their piece to the (hopefully matching) picture on the board. Right or wrong, that’s where they are, move on to the next clue. It’s real-time. The other team are moving faster. Quick, quick. Eeek! Each team is racing to be the first to get to 4 secret locations (which is a mix of different and common locations). Games are fast. It removes the agonising over the intentions of the clue-giver, leaving just the resolution fun. We had fun with it, and I think it would happily fill a 3 v 3 and 4 v 4 filler niche for when those occasional situations arise.
Let’s start by knowing it’s standard VP-hunting Euro fare. 10 rounds, 3 actions a turn, get stuff, spend stuff to buy spaces on the board (for points) and/or cards (for points). The mechanic of interest is the action grid, populated by action chits. Draw an action chit (that’s one of three you’ll be doing this turn), then choose a row/column and push your chit into it, meaning the far action chit rotates out and you’ll get to do the two remaining actions. In practice, this generates some downtime as you’re torn between sets containing actions you want and actions you don’t. The real VP action comes from the hot-mess mass of locations you build on around the board, and the cards you acquire, and there’s a ton of unique stuff all of which needs to be learnt before the game commences for people to play sensibly. More downtime explaining. The rules don’t help make sense of how to bring it all together either – I had no idea how to approach the game on first play. Once played, after a re-read, now I understand it, but it wasn’t a good first impression. I suspect the game comes down to either a card acquisition strategy (as most of them score biggest if you collect card sets, so there’s higher risk for higher reward) or the surer board-based building strategy, and the game is the tension between getting the actions you need to achieve your desired path or not. Upon a second play, I’ll confess the grid decisions became less interesting, and the locked in powers on the map meant the game became one of fighting over the same strategy, which isn’t of much interest (to me) either.
SPOTLIGHT ON: DIPLOMACY (1959)
We’ve watched most of the Survivor seasons, from way back in Season 1 when Richard Hatch showed how going nude can win you a million dollars. The Australian Survivor seasons are getting watchable and strategy-fluid now as well. I saw immediately how close the game is to Diplomacy, a game that entranced me in my earlier gaming days. When you have a group of competent and mature players, the race each turn to connive things your way, to rescue situations going badly, to truly see how things all around the board are affecting each other, and manipulate them and take advantage of them … it can provide an adrenalin rush and a satisfaction hard to find in other multi-player games. I’ll tend to only play it by email now, preferring it over face to face (unless all the players know what they’re doing, and are game-mature, which can be hard to find). But the satisfaction in outwitting, outplaying, and outlasting is always real.
Thoughts of other Opinionated Gamers:
Doug G: Shelley and I had great fun playing Ulm (again, 2-player, so take that into consideration). I agree that there can be some downtime, but our biggest concern was the busy-ness of the graphics. Once you have that down though, we found that this one was a keeper. We discussed it on both Episode 550 and then again on our Best of 2016 show, Episode 553.
Brandon: Majolica was a huge disappointment here as well. It ultimately ended up feeling like a bad programming game with how you moved tiles from one factory to the next. Downtime and just general “fiddliness” killed any sense of fun we could have had with the game. The amount of times that you shuffled the tiles in the offering alone drove us to actively dislike the game.