When you look at the games you’ve played the most compared to those which you’ve spent the most time playing, you’d expect the list to be filled by your best fillers and shorter-length games. When you have a group who love co-ops and campaigns though, not so much. The games I’ve played the most over the last 5 years are (together with the number of times played within that timeframe):
- 1 Lord of the Rings: The Card Game (398)
- 2 Hanabi (180)
- 3 Warhammer 40,000: Conquest (92) – I used to edit and playtest, but also really enjoyed.
- 4 Sentinels of the Multiverse (74)
- 5 Pandemic and its various seasons (67)
- 6 The Game: Play As Long As You Can (60) – the first filler
- 7 Gloomhaven (50)
- 8 Codenames (48)
- 9 Star Wars: The Card Game (46) – I used to edit and playtest, but also really enjoyed.
- 10 Flash Point: Fire Rescue (42) – a fire-fighting theme, my two boys, no more need be said.
As it turns out, just a few lighter end games. Speaking of which, I’ve probably been a bit generous with my ratings this time around on a few lighter end games, but I enjoyed playing them and can see myself playing them again. It’s probably also “important” that lighter games don’t suffer rating bias against them, just because they’re lighter. If they’re going to get replay, up they go!
THE BLOODY INN (2015)
Get past the kooky art-work (I’m sure it has its fans) and you have a deliciously themed game of innkeepers killing their patrons for money and stew. Each round provides a draft of eight cards, and you either take a card as a corpse (face-down on the table) or take it into your hand. Cards in your hand will either later get played to their table for their ongoing ability (and as a place to hold corpses for VPs) or get used to pay for other cards from the draft (building a mini-engine). For a relatively simple game there’s a fair bit to consider in terms of how to go about things, and there are tricky decisions re holding cards (the more you have, the better cards you can draft) vs the ongoing cost each round of holding those cards. Another consideration is that each card can be used to provide discounts on various actions, but of course there’s always that ongoing cost hanging over you. For all this, it clips along at a decent rate and I enjoyed it enough to want to explore more and fine-tune my play. It probably deserves an 8, but … that artwork, urgh!
It uses the Aladdin’s Dragon device of bidding cards being placed faced-down against action spaces, to be revealed and resolved after all are placed. The action spaces are to acquire goods and contracts to be fulfilled, and building permits to expand your capacity. The bidding cards work in Aladdin’s Dragon as 9 cards mostly allows you to get enough stuff to progress. Here, with only 5 bidding cards, any outbid cards and resultant loss of action feel like a fatal blow in tempo. Doubly so when you get sucked into a bidding war in Asia because you inadvertently bid on something someone else has their heart on. So yes, the first lesson is to be careful out there! But win or lose on a bid, the collateral damage leaves a nasty taste in both mouths as the sense of progression lost sinks in. And it’s so easy for king-making to result. There are elements to like however. One is the time element on the goods-in and goods-out cards, which indicates how long the card will clog up your tableau. These need attention and assessment. Another is the management of the prestige point crescendo, which multiplies your money for your final score. But one can’t escape that’s there’s a bitterness in the game that unfortunately lingers.
GEM RUSH (2018, 2nd edition)
Each doorway on a room tile shows a pattern of gems. To earn VP’s, you spend gem cards matching the pattern on a doorway that has no room attached to it yet, and move through onto the newly revealed tile. Whether in co-op mode or competitive mode, your strategy is to hope that you continue to draw gem cards that match doorways near you, and room tiles that give you useful card drawing functions so that you don’t have to waste turns moving around the map to doors that suit. Co-op mode (get this many VPs in this many turns) unfortunately has no co-op features – no trading or anything – just co-ordination on who’ll tackle what doors. This conceit, it turns out, becomes repetitively dull by the end of the first game.
I wonder if this is the most elegant take-that card game I’ve played? You start with 4 cards in hand and 2 in your deck. Each turn you draw one (until your deck is empty) and play one – either for points, into your ‘next-round’ hand, or for its ability. You ‘score’ when both your deck and hand is empty, and you only progress if your scored cards meet the points target. First one to progress 4 times wins the game. Then you start playing the next round with cards you put into your ‘next-round’ hand together with a new deck. Playing an ability means you’re not playing a card into your tableau for points (which is the only way to win). But there comes a time when playing abilities is key – sometimes you need to add cards to your deck (to get the points you need), other times you want to remove cards from your hand or deck (to allow you to get to a scoring turn earlier), and other times you need to hurt someone else’s points, hand, or deck to slow them down and give you a chance. The neat thing is that any played ability can be picked up by someone else and added to their ‘next-round’ cards, so if you play a card affecting someone else, be prepared for it to come back and bite you. Elegant. Karma’s a bitch! Which is an oft-used phrase in this game, bringing the theme to life. In the final analysis, the game may be a bit too swingy as it nears the end, but I’d like to play more regardless as it’s an interesting design.
MAJESTY: FOR THE REALM (2017)
Cards come in 7 types, each type with a special power that usually rewards getting more and more of the same type for instant VPs. But the end-game scoring rewards you for having a spread of types! What to do?! There’s only 12 turns. Each turn you draft a card using the Vinci/Smallworld payment method of dropping stuff on the cards you bypass to make the bypassed cards more attractive in future. So that’s a nice decision each turn. The game moves fast in a meaty-filler type of way. There are some interactions when it’s not your turn to keep you engaged. The rules are quickish. There are different powers for each type to help generate inter-game variety. All in all it’s a simple but warm drafting game that I’d happily play again. It’s dangerous giving light games initial high ratings as you can never be quite sure whether the lack of substance will weigh out in the end, but I’m going with the benefit of the doubt here.
This game would have been appreciated more back when abstracts like E&T ruled the roost. Play a domino tile, place a piece on it. If your tile placement meant a terrain field was enclosed, each piece surrounding that field scores in that terrain, be it gold (used to buy cards), diamonds (play a card instant power) or wood (play a card for its ongoing power). It takes a while for fields to enclose, and for players to get powers out and differentiate themselves. Slow progress. Eventually the lack of story arc turned the game into a bit of a grind for us. Progress on a turn a third of the way into the game felt much the same as turns near the end of the game. Also, a lot of your progress is determined by other players. You place a piece in the hope that it’ll still be there by your next turn and that you might then develop the fields around it to generate a reasonable scoring situation. On their turns, other players will either jump on board to also score that field, or work to knock you off before it scores. Out of your hands. The game is one of continual assessment of what you think you might be able to get away with so as to accrue advantage. But in this the tiles each player draws significantly hampers / aids / directs their course of action re closing off terrain or expanding it. You try to play to your strategic card strengths, but too often the tiles frustrate your intent or the other players combine (too easily) to hinder you. It also generates significant downtime. You can’t assess a best placement for a tile until it’s your turn, and there are lots of ways and places to consider, all while trying to guess what other players would do in response to each potential placement – it’s that kind of game. In summary, it felt interesting to begin with, but in the end too abstract and repetitive to carry its length.
A pretty good Euro. There’s a flip of cards to determine where to place meeples, then take turns to place ‘fields’ of various types under your meeples, then take turns to harvest same-type fields (ie turn them into ships, the bigger the better), and then take turns to claim the big VP scoring cards. Each player gets to take first turn in each of the four main phases. My issue was that for some phases ipt’s largely irrelevant who goes first, and in other phases it’s game determining. You want to be the player who’s lucky enough to be able to claim more first turns at these times than the others because the nature of the game means everything’s going to be close score-wise. It’s this issue that drags it down from an 8 for me, because otherwise the mechanics are solid and engaging and it comes across as a finely crafted game.
It’s the usual premise – get goods, spend goods to fulfil contracts. Each round however starts with the world’s worst mechanic to add to a 90 minute game – blind bidding for turn order. It gets worse because you’re racing to complete big-point contracts which are open to everyone. If your bid guess is out by a stupid dollar, you can miss out on being first to complete something, and the nature of it is that there may be little else good to do with your goods. This means big swings in potential scores, which is exacerbated by the variable ending. If it ends now it’s perfect because I’ve just got rid of all my goods, but if it goes another turn everyone else will score another 10-20 points and overtake me. Vice versa for those who need it to go another round. Bleh. The resource acquisition aspect is solid but overly laden with downtime. You have a choice of how to move to collect the goods you want, but it’s made opaquely non-obvious for the colour un-educated, forcing you to continually translate pairs of colours on the board into the colours you’d actually collect. Downtime. And if you’re going last-ish, it probably doesn’t even matter what you collect too much because the contract(s) you’re shooting for may not be there by the time it’s your turn to fulfil. Making it an exercise in downtime and luck. An ill-matched pair indeed.
WHAT DO YOU MEME (2016)
The progression has been Applies To Apples (clean) to Cards Against Humanity (dirty) to What Do You Meme (porn-smutty). All the same game, but this time with a picture instead of a noun and with X-rated phrases instead of verbs. Yes, with the right group of people (presumably on the drink), smutty can be hilarious for a while. You just need to be careful to finish before the novelty shock value wears off. If there’s any chance this is the wrong group, don’t even go there. The problem with replay is that meme’s are variations on just a handful of emotions, so this game is like tossing in different X-rated phrases for the same words over and over.
SPOTLIGHT ON: 1989: THE DAWN OF FREEDOM (2012)
It’s not often I’ll want to bring a 2-3 hour 2p game to the table, or even have the opportunity, but when I do, Twilight Struggle and 1989: Dawn of Freedom (TS’s baby brother) are among my goto’s. 1989 is the more streamlined version. It has the same randomness in the cards you get, and the same randomness in the Space Race aka Tiananmen Square track results. It introduces a bunch of new randomness in the scoring region resolution, adding a card edge battle a la Hannibal where you win if you can play a card that the opponent can’t match, with die rolls to determine who leads next. And there’s huge randomness with a critical one-off die roll on whether the region even stays in the game for future scoring or not. That seems a huge chunk of luck, and every bad die roll feels like a dagger in the heart. And yet … I enjoy managing it all and seeing how it pans out, doing the best you can with what you get. I like how the game is more constrained than the TS world map. You’re really concentrating on a handful of areas, and as they’re closed off you focus on others instead, so the game feels tighter. Getting rid of the headline phase was good – it just allows you to rip in each turn without fluffing around. Essentially, it’s the same game, same experience, but I like the changes made, and having a historically important theme adds to the experience.
Thoughts of other Opinionated Gamers:
Brandon: I think in the time frame, there isn’t a better drafting game than Majesty. What it manages to pack into 15-20 minutes is really kind of astounding. I’ve managed to play it 33 times since it landed on our doorstep after Essen 2017 and haven’t bored of it yet. Also, I am fully convinced that the clay chip money was one of the better decisions in the game and not including 5’s had to be a conscious choice as it constantly keeps you playing with the chips and making change, keeping you always involved in the game. That being said, I am ready for some expansions to start coming along.
Tery: I am a big fan of the Bloody Inn. I don’t love the artwork either, but it doesn’t affect my enjoyment of the game. It’s easy to teach, but there is a lot of strategy mixed in with the luck of the draw. The Carnies expansion adds even more strategic options.
I enjoyed Riverboat a lot the first time I played it, but my enjoyment has decreased with each play. Maybe the first game seemed great because I was playing it in New Orleans. Anyway, the theme is definitely pasted on, but the game itself is a solid game; it just starts to seem very same-y after several plays.
Fraser: In our house Majesty: For the Realm clocks in at about 5 minutes per player, 6 minutes if teaching. Given that it was an Essen 2017 release, I am quite surprised that they have not released another deck of cards yet. Did it not sell well?