Chris Wray: What I Enjoyed Playing in Recent Months

This is the November, December, and January entry for my series where I post five games I enjoyed playing in the past month that I didn’t have time to do full reviews of.  Even though I’m covering three months, I’m still just listing five games.

This is a bit of an unusual entry, since a new job in November got in the way of my gaming life, so I’ve taken the past few months off writing. And recently I took a month off of trying new games, since I felt like I didn’t get enough time to play old favorites. So this entry has a couple of newer titles, but mostly some fresh takes on older ones.

Dixit, Designed by Jean-Louis Roubira, Published by Libellud (2 Plays Since November)

I basically play Dixit a few times whenever a new deck comes out, and the 10th Anniversary Edition deck was recently released in the United States. The new deck has art from several of the past artists, and I’ve had a ton of fun sitting around and guessing who the artists are!

For the uninitiated, I once reviewed Dixit as part of our SdJ Re-Reviews series. In short, this is a game in which a player thinks of a clue for a card in their hand, announces the clue out loud, and the other players have to play a card that they think will get votes for the given clue. The active player scores if some players — but not all! — correctly guess the clue. The other players score for correct guesses and luring player to their card.

Dixit is one of those games that continues to grow on me each time I play it. That’s the opposite of most games — eventually I get tired of repetitive gameplay — but Dixit is always fun with different crowds. The new decks are part of what keeps it fresh, and although I’m not a fan of the price point of the new decks, I also don’t hesitate to pay it since there is some genuinely outstanding art in there. That’s especially true in the 10th Anniversary Deck, which is stunning.

Game of Thrones 2nd Edition (with the Mother of Dragons Expansion), Designed by Christian T. Petersen and Jason Walden, Published by Fantasy Flight Games

I’m a long-time fan of Game of Thrones Second Edition. It is easily one of my favorite combat/diplomacy games, so I was naturally excited to try the Mother of Dragons expansion, which includes additional characters (Arryn, Targaryan), a new mechanic featuring the Iron Bank of Braavos, and a new mechanic featuring vassal states.

We played a 3-player game with the new vassal states, and I fell in love. The base game has always been best with its full compliment of players, but the vassal states make it workable with fewer. The 3-player game I played felt just as tense and epic as the full base game.

In short, you have the other houses on the map, but their loyalties are fleeting and can shift from round to round. So you may be building up a house, only to have it turn against you soon. It’s a cool dynamic.

My group has, in the past, played the game before the show would air at night. I’m hoping that tradition continues before the final season, which stats in April.

Just One, Designed by Ludovic Roudy & Bruno Sautter, Published by Repos Productions (7 Plays Since November)

Just One is a cooperative party game by Ludovic Roudy and Bruno Sautter for 3-7 players.  Released at Essen 2018, the game seemed to immediately catch fire among word game enthusiasts. It also was rated as the most popular game of 5C, the mid-November board game event that Brandon Kempf and I hosted.

Each player receives a white board (which is triangle shaped and thus stands up) and a dry erase marker.  The lead player rotates around the table, and on their turn, they pick #1-5 from a card that everybody else (but not the lead player) can see.  All of the other players then write down a one-word clue (just one word!) to try to get the lead player to guess the word. The catch is that these players write their word secretly, and they compare them before showing the lead player.  If two of the words match, those clues are removed from the game.  The lead player makes a guess based on what is left.  The goal is to score so many correct answers.

Just One is one of the easiest party games out there, and my favorite part is that you never have downtime here, because you’re either giving a clue or guessing.  It is a game that requires subtlety that is surprisingly hard to achieve. The cooperative nature of it adds something fun, and among the several groups I’ve played with, it inspires that “we must play this again” mentality I love seeing in my fellow players.  

Rolnicy, Designed by Jeffrey D. Allers, Published by Nasza Księgarnia (6 Plays Since November)

Jeff Allers’s tile-placement game Heartland was published a decade ago by Pegasus Spiele. Heartland became difficult to find, then it was re-released by Renegade earlier this year as Gunkimono. Jeff also created a sort of card game from Heartland, and it was released late last year by a Polish publisher under the name Rolnicy.

Rolnicy is farming themed, and players have a hand of four cards, and the goal is to earn the most victory points. There’s a common farm in the middle of the board, and players add a card (which has two different fields) onto that central board on their turn, with the catch that one of the fields must overlap an existing one. They also place a card into their own field, and that private field can’t exceed a 3×3 grid. Barns are wild in both locations. At the end of a player’s turn, he or she may score a particular crop by adding the largest contiguous set in the common field to the number of contiguous spaces in their own field. They take the scoring card for the score of that crop. The game ends when cards run out or when a player has scoring cards in all 5 crop types.

Rolnicy is fantastic. It is easy to see its tile-placement roots, and fans of that genre will be drawn to this game. The puzzle in Rolnicy comes from where to place cards, but the tension comes from when to score them and when to break up big blocks of a particular crop.

Rolnicy hasn’t been picked up by a U.S. publisher yet, but I hope one does so soon, because I think the game is top notch.

Suburbia, Designed by Ted Alspach, Published by Bezier Games (2 Plays Since November)

Suburbia is certainly one of the hottest games of the past month, in part because the Collector’s Edition is making waves on Kickstarter. The game is a long-time favorite of me and my group. Recent articles online have called it the best city-building board game, and I wholeheartedly agree.

This is a medium-heavy Euro, so I won’t go into full gameplay details here, but each player is building a city, buying tiles that provide them certain advantages. Players have to manage both income and reputation, with the former giving you the money you need to buy future tiles, but the latter giving you victory points. There are publicly-available goals (meaning players are all competing for them) but also private goals (meaning only you know what you’re trying to accomplish). The game takes about 60 minutes for my group to play, and we always have a great time.

My love of Suburbia has always been driven by how much each game changes because of the different goals that are in the game. The gameplay is highly engaging, interactive, and just the right level of think-y.

I had the chance to talk to Ted Alspach about the Collector’s Edition a while back, and it is going to truly be something special, so I’m excited to back it and get my copy later this year.


  • Where are all of the potential Spiel des Jahres nominees? We’re now past Spielwarenmesse, but I can’t think of many critically-renowned games that are in that family-friend weight range. Potential names include Reef and Just One, as well as some slightly heavier titles like Blue Lagoon or Werewords (which just got its German release). What am I missing? I normally have a longer list by now!
  • I still insist that Essen 2018 was a bit of a letdown. Here we are months later, and there aren’t many standout titles. My favorites include: Belratti, The Estates, Fuji, Gingerbread House, and Pandoria. This might be the first year where I had more titles I loved from Gen Con than Essen.
  • I am ridiculously excited to try Doppelt so clever. Amazon can’t get my copy here fast enough.
  • I’m loving this trend of giving, upgraded editions to the modern classics. For example, I’m really looking forward to the new Castles of Burgundy. Now we just need a facelift for Tichu, Puerto Rico, and a few others.
  • But, of course, the best news of recent months was rebirth of Rio Grande Games (as Eric Martin called it). Rio Grande has historically been a heavy hitter in the hobby, and I’m excited for where they’ll be taking things in the next few months.

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9 Responses to Chris Wray: What I Enjoyed Playing in Recent Months

  1. Martin Griffiths says:

    Just One is going down very well with my group too.

    The app version of Doppelt is already out if you need your fix right now :)

  2. Cheno says:

    2018 with underwater, teotihuacan, Coimbra, auztralia… saying that has no hitters is strange

    • Chris Wray says:

      I didn’t say there were no big games last year… I simply said that Essen 2018 was a letdown. Coimbra was a Gen Con release, many people had Teotihuacan before Essen and it was more of a Kickstarter title than an Essen release anyway. Same goes for AuZtralia, although its release date was closer to Essen.

  3. huzonfirst says:

    I agree with Cheno, Chris. So far, I have five games I give an “I love it” rating to: Newton, Teotihuacan, Blackout Hong Kong, Coimbra, and Key Flow. That’s an unusually high number for me and that’s after trying only about a dozen Essen titles! So no complaints from me. I should have the chance to try out Underwater Cities soon, so maybe I can add to that total.

    And yes, if you haven’t done so already, you absolutely need to check out the Doppelt app. Trying to score well with the new rules is great fun!

    • Chris Wray says:

      Fair enough: in matters of taste there can be no disagreement, I suppose. 2018 was the lowest year for OG Essen ratings since 2014, but I also recognize that there can be comparability problems.

  4. Tichu must never be reborn. The Phoenix forbids it.

  5. @mangozoid says:

    Welcome back, Chris, and nice to know I’m not the only one that has put new have on hiatus the year… Lol

    Other than Dixit and Game of Thrones, am not familiar with the other titles, although Just One is gaining fans all over the place.

    I was interested in your ‘throwaway’ Other Random Thoughts bits…

    Pandoria is one of my fave games so far this year (alongside Crusaders: Thy Will Be Done). Ignacy from Portal Games was talking about bringing back a few old classics last month, so you’re not alone in wanting to see modern editions of old games. A Rio Grande Games ‘rebirth’ – Where? When? Point me at ’em!

    Thanks again.

  6. I know that you are worried about the SdJ and the nominees, but I’m equally concerned for the KdJ, there really isn’t a lot of middle ground this year, everything seems lighter or heavier than what would normally be nominated, at least in my eyes. Maybe Carpe Diem, that may even be too “heavy” for the KdJ.

    As for Essen titles, I think that I only have Magnastorm, The Forgotten City & Blackout left on my list of games that I actually want to try and I’ve already started selling off some of the others. I wondered if my expectations were at fault here for everything kind of being a let down, but I don’t think that it was. I think it was just a year of a lot of okay game releases or a year where my tastes weren’t being targeted.

  7. Pingback: Chris Wray: What I Enjoyed Playing in February 2019… | The Opinionated Gamers

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