Patrick Brennan: Game Snapshots –2019 (Part 7)

When she’s not acting in The Lord of the Rings, Aussie Miranda Otto may have been a guest player at Patrick’s group…

In the 20 years I’ve been tracking games and plays, these are the games I’ve played 100 times or more:

  • 1 Lord of the Rings: The Card Game (685)
  • 2 Hanabi (261)
  • 3 Bluff (242)
  • 4 Zirkus Flohcati (202)
  • 5 Backgammon (163)
  • 6 Lost Cities (158)
  • 7 Star Wars: The Card Game (139)
  • 8 Memoir ’44 (138)
  • 9 Klunker (135)
  • 10 Sentinels of the Multiverse (133)
  • 11 Ticket To Ride (124)
  • 12 Scrabble (119)
  • 13 Crokinole (118)
  • 14 Pandemic (116)
  • 15 Warhammer 40,000: Conquest (107)
  • 16 Schnappchenjagd (100)
  • 17 Kupferkessel Co. (100)

A lot of this has been determined by who I’ve been lucky enough to game with repeatedly (Scrabble with my mum, Ticket To Ride with my family, co-ops with my Wednesday crew, LCGs with my youngest son who’s gamer-gamer-gamer, and what openers/closers my Thursday night crew have enjoyed), but it gives a fairly good idea of what’s stood up over the years.

This past week I’ve been able to get to some new games that I’ve really enjoyed, and one of them has a chance of even reaching these dizzy 100-play heights … KeyForge!


Warning Will Robinson, a family version this is not. Unless you have a family of gamers who are comfortable with strategic planning, action optimisation, complex scoring, resource conversions, and lots of rules. This would be better presented as The Blitz Edition. It’s all the same Agricola actions you know and love … get resources, meet food requirements, pastures and fields, wheat, animals, 14 rounds, etc, but it gets rid of cards and fences, and there are fewer resource types. There’s also only one new action per round, which is fixed. What it all means is that for seasoned Agricoler’s the game zips along at lightning speed, with the occasional pause to plan the next series of actions. The other thing to note is that scoring now favours specialisation rather than generalisation, and consequently there can be less competition for some actions which does reduce tension. Ultimately I found this edition less satisfying than the original because of its vanilla-ness, especially without the card differentiations to drive behaviour, however it does achieve its goal of a 45 min Agricola worker-placement fix very nicely.

Rating: 7


This felt like a better version of Evolution. I liked how the climate cards provided extra considerations to take into account, re what cards to throw in to influence the climate and how the general climate effects affect the species. But it also added to the brutality of the game re species going extinct, with additional climate-protection traits often required just to stay alive. Like its predecessor, I still feel it’s too much a guessing game re what traits and body size to shoot for. The best choice is going to be determined by what the other players put out, and that is going to be led by card draw. So you play what seems best and hope it turns out alright, taking climate into account. I can see where repeat play and card knowledge would improve your ‘guess’-work and provide advantage (and potentially induce a ratings rise) but for me there’s not enough satisfaction in that process to draw me back after an less than stellar first outing.

Rating: 6


This time I at least got to avoid all the stupid “play X times until you know all the rules” kerfuffle, and we were able to jump to how the game plays for real by someone who’d done all that previously. What it leaves us with is just a very ordinary game. Whoever draws the highest card or the best set of same valued cards, and has time to place them against the best (randomly drawn) fortress before the round randomly ends, wins the round. And you only get a handful of turns. Did I mention random. With each round, add some more cards to make the round go a turn longer (maybe). Which just makes things worse. Enough said. This series seems to be a triumph of “concept marketing” over “substance”.

Rating: 3 (which is 1 more than what Fast Forward: Fortune got)


Even though I own the original, it comes out so rarely that to tell the truth I’m not even sure what differences there are between this and the original. Same type of gameplay, different set of cards. It adds a set of abilities to gather VP tokens as another game-end condition, and monuments are more of a race thing, but otherwise the sense is that it’s the same head-spinning game of analysis paralysis that (to play well) probably wants a 10 minute study of the all the cards in play and their effects before beginning. It also obfuscates a substantial amount of take-that and collateral damage from other players which can make it difficult to plan and progress, adding to the frustration of coping with a non-intuitive AP-inducing nomenclature. As such, it’s not a game that clamours “get me back to the table”.

A preview from way back when

Rating: 6


In a nostalgic throwback, we’re building a van Moorsel zoo instead of a dinosaur park. What a mistake! if this had a dinosaur park theme, it’d be rated MUCH higher!! *sigh* We travel around a grid, each turn moving onto and picking up one of three tiles available (left, right, or ahead) and adding it anywhere to our personal tableau. Each tile has its own scoring method and there’s a myriad of them – simple points, number of fields, biggest field, animals in a line, surrounded by flowers, and a thousand more. The sheer number of tile explanations is the biggest impediment to getting up and going, as the rules are quite simple. It also generates the potential for AP. Even though there are only three tiles to choose between, you need to consider all the possible places to put those tiles on your tableau to score not only itself but also help the other tiles around it score, as well as planning future tile pickups from where you’ll end up on the grid. Despite that, a lot of turns are also fairly obvious, so our game moved along at the right speed and I enjoyed the decision tree process, feeling it was at the right level (not too heavy, not too light) for the game length.

Rating: 7


Firstly, credit where it’s due, to pull off such a production coup where every deck in the world is unique is quite staggering. The cards contain all the standard CCG/LCG design ideas. I really enjoyed just picking up a deck and playing it out, trying to work out what it was trying to achieve and implementing as best I could. Things are simplified because there are no resource costs to play. You choose which of your three factions to play that turn and you can play and activate all your cards in that faction. That’s basically your decision each turn, together with what to do with that faction’s units that are already in play re combat. It’s therefore missing the hard decisions driven by the multi-use nuance found in the better LCGs. Instead, you’re playing here for the fun of trying out new decks, trialling and learning new approaches. The upside of an easier decision process is that games speed along merrily. When you’ve played out the decks you have, simply trade them away for a different set of decks and double-up on the fun from your original investment. I don’t yet rate KeyForge as highly as LCGs I’ve worked on in the past because it lacks a sense of deck ownership – it’s missing the creative achievement and satisfaction found in playing / tweaking / improving your own decks. While there’s good and bad decisions to be made in running a KeyForge deck, you’re still running a randomly crafted deck which may simply over or under perform against your opponent’s deck regardless of the quality of your play. However there’s still a lot of fun to be had with that. I’m in.

Rating: 8

THE RIVER (2018)

A lightweight worker placement game which is perfectly fine, but falls to blandness. The worker options are to pick up terrain tiles to generate more production and resource-holding spaces, produce a resource type (up to your production/holding limits) or spend resources on buildings for VPs. The upside is that because the options are so basic, and it’s so usually obvious what your best option is, that the game zips along fast. The scores will be close and typically decided by who gets lucky with buildings appearing that match their current resources. You’d think this may lend itself to family affairs then, but I fear it won’t evoke the game excitement you’re looking for and so I struggle with what kind of replay it will see despite if all hanging together nicely for what it is, and that’s the ultimate rating arbiter.

A recent review of ours as well

Rating: 6


Each player has their own 6×6 grid, and each space can hold an action tile. The grid starts spare, so you’ll want to acquire wood and wheat quickly to buy action tiles and begin filling in your grid. Each round, up to 6 times, you’ll be able to pick a die and activate all the actions in the row/column matching the die’s number, be they resource acquisition, score track development, shipping resources for points, and so on. Amongst the things I like are: control over your action strategy, coping / adjusting for the dice re tactical implementation of your strategy, the tension in whether you’ll get the action tiles and dice you want in time (they’re in a common pool), and how you still feel you have good control over the sandbox of your own play space. It finishes in a nice time frame, the rules are relatively easy, and each game provides a different set of scoring objectives to work towards to provide just enough variety so that strategies don’t settle. It hit a lot of nice buttons for me.

More comments on Santa Maria

Rating: 8

SOLENIA (2018)

This is a race to acquire resources and complete contracts from an open draft. I’ve been going off this genre because it’s usually pretty random if a contract you can build will be there by the time you’re ready to complete it (without paralysing analysis of all player options) and it’s random whether newly revealed contracts will suit the resources you have. The winner is often determined by who has contacts fall into their lap. No different here. There are multiple means of gaining resources (from deliveries, from being on a game board that moves, from your cards) that it’s nigh impossible to glean what other players will be doing contract-wise. There are some nicely crafted constraints, namely using the Marrakesh mechanic to slide game boards from one end to the other and flipping them, causing the tiles to shift between night and day (making it easier in turn to fulfil night contracts, and then day contracts, with bonus scoring if you balance deliveries between them). But the frequency that this happens generates its own irritation. If you like this type of game, it provides a different approach that could well be worth checking out as it did evoke interest, but it’s not a style of game I’m seeking atm.

Rating: 6


31 plays: This is a nice game of picking up location cards along a route and eventually scoring that route. Where you start each route is the gamble, because you’ll want to be picking up cards to continue that route on future turns. If you can’t extend a route each turn, your lose it! And that’s the tension. But the longer the route, the more it scores, the fewer turns wasted, the more efficient you’ve been. Close observance of player pick ups and avoidance of those areas is key, combined with some good luck on the card draw. There are good decisions to be made throughout on how and when to use special actions to overcome the inevitable less-than-optimal card draws, as well as when to cut a route and score it vs the risk/reward of hanging on in the hope of extending it. It’s a neat and simple premise – pick up cards, form chains, score – and it’s proven to be an attractive option over the years when we’re looking for a 30-40 minute lightish affair.

Rating: 8

Thoughts of other Opinionated Gamers:

Greg S:

Santa Maria:  Finally, another gamer who gives Santa Maria some love!  I truly enjoy the game, finding it quite original and challenging.  It also provides some latitude for clever play, something I always appreciate in a game–even when I’m not so clever!  I think this is an overlooked gem.

Habitats:  A game that I appreciate more and more as time goes by.  I was not impressed with my first play, but gave it another chance over a year later and am so happy that I did.  I enjoyed it so much more, enough to seek out and acquire a copy. I’ve since played it many more times and just about everyone with whom I have played really enjoys it.  I find the rules simple, yet the choices that need to be made can be tough. My only real complaint is that the competition for the bonus tiles often end in ties, which is a bit dissatisfying.  

Doug G:

Santa Maria: Shelley and I are big fans of Santa Maria, though I really wish the artist who worked on Aporta’s card games Capital Lux and Rebel Nox (Kwanchai Moriya) had been commissioned for Santa Maria. The artwork works for Santa Maria, but I found it initially off-putting and think getting players to try the game takes a bit more effort due to the cartoony nature of the game’s artwork. That said, I can join Patrick and Greg as a third OG who can heartily recommend this title. We covered the title back on Episode 598 of Garrett’s Games podcast, and plan to discuss it once again when we get the expansion that came out at Essen 2018 to the table.


Santa Maria:  Make it three votes for Santa Maria.  Figuring out how to manage the dice on your board is a very nice puzzle and there’s plenty of options to pursue.  It was one of my favorite titles from 2017.

Habitats:  I like a lot of Corne van Moorsel’s games and Habitats is a good example of his design style.  Not hugely demanding, but plenty to think about (and quite easy to literally work yourself into a corner).  It’s a solid middleweight I’ll happily play.

Thurn and Taxis:  It’s been quite a few years since I last played this and, to be honest, the multiplayer game never did much for me.  But it’s actually quite good with 2. You have much more control and since you have only one opponent to focus on, it’s easy (and important) to play defense.  On the basis of the 2-player game, this is clearly worthy of its SdJ award.

Matt C.

Thurn and Taxis: I enjoyed my plays of Thurn and Taxis, but it has now left my collection.  The collecting side of things reminded me a bit of Ticket to Ride, but the scoring seemed just a bit more complex.  This put it just ahead of it in complexity, making it a worse choice for new gamers, but not quite as weighty as I like for more experienced gamers.  The “theme” was a cool idea but didn’t particularly come through strong.

Evolution: Climate:  I enjoy Evolution as it has such a strong theme and is quite approachable for newer gamers.  It has that “gardening” aspect to it where one slowly builds up one’s empire (species, in this case) such that it has a nice arc of progress with the endgame generating points much faster than the beginning.  However, I have to agree with Patrick there is clearly some luck of the draw and a reliance of correctly guessing one’s opponents’ actions. Add this to a bit of kingmaking, and it shows the game’s weakness. Thankfully, if everyone plays simultaneously, the game moves along at a nice clip, and its foibles are lessened when thought of it as a super-filler.  The climate options add another dimension to worry about in the game without adding significantly to the length of the game. It may push it the complexity just a bit further out, but seems to still be well within a new gamer’s grasp. I agree the need to have climate-adaptability to preserve a species does get in the way of species variety (everyone will typically want some protection..)  However, I do enjoy games that swing heavily one way or another. Once people have prepared for cold or hot, they tend to try to keep it that way. Cold games have a tight food problem while hot games have players going after bulk consumption.

James Nathan:

Habitats: “We travel around a grid…” is one of my favorite mechanics.  Zankapfel. I’m looking forward to trying Switch/High Hand in the coming weeks.  I think Cwali’s Morisi may also qualify, just as a hex grid. Habitats is on the list of 2 or 3 not-too-recent titles which I am hoping to getting around to reviewing; there’s a few favorites of mine which we’ve never “reviewed” (but may have “previewed”, etc.), and this is one of them. What it is atypical for me to enjoy is this sort of recipe-fulfillment, but here I like it (probably in that I don’t have to spend my ingredients.  Instead, I need to figure out how to interlock them. It’s a puzzle.) Cwali is a publisher for me who doesn’t always publish great games, but rarely publishes a bad game. BasketBoss. I would go to a CwaliCon.

Brandon Kempf:

Santa Maria: I’ve only gotten to play it one time, but I did really enjoy the puzzle that it presented and hope to be able to play it more in the future. That colonialism theme has kind of killed any push that it may have gotten and that’s kind of a shame since I think Aporta has a really good game on their hands here.

Keyforge: I wanted to like it, I really did. Even to the tune of jumping in and spending $100+ on the starter box and a few more decks, but the game play is just kind of basic. The biggest draw to Magic and other games like them, is the creation of your deck, of building it to your specifications in hopes that it works. Keyforge gets rid of that and kind of dumbs everything down in order to create a level playing field. In theory this is supposed to showcase the skill of the player and their deck but in reality it ends up being the deck controlling everything, at least how I’ve seen it. There are only so many ways you can manipulate those thirty cards to do what you want. I appreciate the effort that was put towards creating it, but between this and Discover: Lands Unknown I just don’t know that any of it is really a good idea. Plus, I want a rule book in my game that covers everything. I don’t want to have to use a tablet to find keywords.

Solenia: Sebastien Dujardin and Pearl Games is one of my favorite combinations. Deus, Troyes and Tournay have earned permanent spots in my collection and Solenia is trying to. The base version is a really beautiful streamlined game of goods delivery/contract fulfillment. The variations in the game allow the game to change enough to feel different. I just wonder how long that can last.


Agricola Family Edition: Get off my lawn!  We have been playing the original for over 10 years now.  The new one has less cards and most of the action spaces have been renamed.  If you were brand new to Agricola it may be OK, but if you are not and your wife translated the original one in to English then it purely and simply is not going to happen :-)

Thurn and Taxis: Still comes out every now and again and I am reminded that it is a good game and I like it.

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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