Chris Wray: What I Enjoyed Playing in March 2019

This is the March 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.  As always, I limit it to five titles, of which there’s a combination of old and new games.

Arboretum (4 Plays)

In Arboretum, players are placing down cards (numbered 1-8) for various species of trees.  On their turn, they draw 2 cards (either from the deck or the discard pile of a player), play one into their display, and then discard one of their cards onto their personal discard pile.  

Two aspects of the game make it fun.  First, building clever paths of trees on the table is enjoyable.  But more importantly, hand management is a delightfully tense puzzle in this game, as players only score for species of trees where they have the most points on cards of that species at the end of the game.  

The game was published a few years ago by Z-Man, but recently re-published by Renegade.  The new version is beautiful. I’ve always liked the game, but my family recently fell in love with it, so we’ve been playing it quite a bit.  

China / Web of Power (3 Plays of WoP, 5 Plays of China)

Web of Power came first.  Then China. Then Han (which I haven’t played).  And now Iwari (which funded on Kickstarter this month).

I liked Web of Power the first time I played it years ago, but in recent weeks, I’ve rediscovered how awesome this line of games from Michael Schacht is.  For the uninitiated, these are light-weight area-control and network-building games that are (a) fast paces, (b) surprisingly deep, and (c) remarkably cutthroat.  Players have three cards in their hand, and on their turn, they can spend those cards to place up to two pieces in one region. The clever part of the game is the scoring: in a given region, the player with the most pieces scores the total number of pieces there, the player with the second most scores the number of pieces the first place player has, the player with the third most scores the number the second place player has, and so on and so forth.

I think I’ve decided that I prefer the mechanics of China but the artwork/map of Web of Power.  I’m curious to see how the over-produced Iwari will play when my copy arrives.

Hex Roller (4 Plays)

Hex Roller has become one of my favorite roll ‘n writes, in large part because it is (a) probably the fastest-playing game in the genre, and (b) I’ve seen so many cool different strategies in the game.  

Players roll dice — which are numbered from 3-8 — and then sort them into the numbers rolled.  They can then take two of the rolled numbers, marking any dice showing those numbers onto their player sheet.  They’re trying to accomplish various objectives: connect the pre-printed numbers on the board, fill certain areas, and even gather a straight of the numbers they’ve used.  There are in-game bonuses you can employ. Like with many roll ‘n writes, the player sheet creates tension and interesting choices as your past markings slowly make the game more challenging.

Hex Roller is played over 6 or 7 rounds (depending on which side of the sheet you’re using) and each turn can last just a minute or two.  Since all players are playing at the same time, it is a remarkably quick game.

My game group doesn’t seem to be as enamored as I am, but I just find this to be delightful, and I intend to pick up a copy.  

Manhattan (3 Plays)

My parents love Manhattan, and it is one of the few games that they will request by name.  But my copy was released by Mayfair in the mid-1990s, and it is comically hideous. I recently bought the FoxMind edition, and it has renewed my love of this classic game.  

Manhattan is a game in which the players build 3d skyscrapers on the board.  On a player’s turn he (a) selects a building card from his hand of four, (b) selects one of the six cities (or neighborhoods) on the game board, and (c) places a building piece of his choosing on corresponding space. A player may place a building part on an empty site or on a skyscraper that belongs to him without restriction, or on a space belonging to another player if the player will have at least as many floors as the other player in that building.

A round ends when all players have played the six building parts they selected for that round.   At that point a scoring occurs: 3 points for the player controlling the tallest skyscraper (no points in the event of a tie); 2 points for the most skyscrapers in each city (no points in the event of a tie); and 1 point per skyscraper. The start player marker is passed, the score track is updated, and the next round begins.  The game is played over a different number of rounds depending on the number of players.

Manhattan is a simple yet strategic area control game.  If it sounds intriguing, I wrote a history of the game as part of my SdJ Re-Review series.  

Planet (8 Plays)

Planet is one of those games that causes people — sometimes strangers — to stop by your table and ask what you’re playing.  The game accommodates 1-4 players, and each planet with 12 flat faces on which they can fit pentagon-shaped landscape tiles. The tiles are magnetic, contributing to the “toy factor” of the game.  

There are five types of landscape in the game, and there are five landscape spaces on each tile, for 60 total spaces.  Players need to place their tiles — i.e. build their planet — to attract a variety of animals are arranged on the table.  Tiles are via simple drafting — and turn order just rotates around the table — so the game’s only complexity comes from looking at what animals will desire which landscape types in the future.

It’s extremely simple.  It’s exceptionally beautiful and well-produced.  And it is unique.

I’m tempted to call this a potential Spiel des Jahres nominee, but I think two things may hold it back: (1) the gameplay is good but gets a bit same-y after about 5 plays, and (2) the rulebook and graphic design could have used an editor to make things a bit clearer.  

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Comments from Other Opinionated Gamers

Brandon Kempf – Wow, Chris manages to hit on five games that I quite enjoy, but he is correct in that Hex Roller is probably not my favorite roll and write to play, although at this point it does sit in my Top 5 roll and writes. I think that the novelty in it will wear off after a few plays as there isn’t a lot of variety in play. But until then, I’ll keep enjoying it. The same goes for Planet as well, although I think I am still in the Honeymoon phase with it after six plays. Manhattan and Arboretum both have that underlying bit of vindictiveness to it, Arboretum is a bit more subtle in that than Manhattan and they both are fantastic, and I will stick by Manhattan as Seyfarth’s masterpiece. China is still my preference of the trilogy, but either way of playing is wonderful.

Fraser – Our copy is Kardinal & König (i.e. the German version of Web of Power) and we were reminded last year how good it was when Melissa took it to a con and it got a few plays.

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2 Responses to Chris Wray: What I Enjoyed Playing in March 2019

  1. Bruce Bridges says:

    Nice group of games! When my group plays Manhattan, we always play with the baby monster rule. Adds a smidge of luck, but lots of fun if you enjoy take that games.

  2. Pingback: Brandon Kempf: Three Games – Three Older Euros | The Opinionated Gamers

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