I may have mentioned previously that I contract out to help manage elections on behalf of the various local electoral commissions. I’ve just completed one (state election) and, whilst still in health recovery for that, the federal election is about to start. While rewarding and interesting, they really are all-consuming beasts and life gets put on hold while they’re in swing with gametime going down the gurgler. Anyway, one down, one to go, and the good news is that there was at least some gaming done in between times.
I’ve begun adding each game’s BGG ranking (as at time of writing rather than time of publication). They might add a bit of context for unfamiliar games as to where they sit in the minds of the populace at large. For whatever that’s worth anyway … there are many fine games languishing in the rankings for lack of enough ratings to push them further up the pole.
CROSSING (2013): Rank 2469
A game that surprised me on the upside. The original is unavailable to us, but a home-brewed version can be played with poker chips or similar. Start with three unequal piles of chips in the middle. Each round, everyone simultaneously points to the pile of their choice, and claims it if they’re the only one pointing at it, adding the chips to their personal pile. Each middle pile gets another chip, and new piles are created with a single chip to ensure there are always three piles in the middle each round. But now there are more piles to claim – those in the middle and those in front of other players – and if you don’t point at your own pile and one other player does, they get to claim your chips! What starts as a ho-hum, must-I game quickly becomes one of laughs, steals, groans, defence, offense and smack-talk as people get into it. Play continues until someone reaches the pre-set winning number of chips. It’s never going to get huge replay because of its repetitive nature and lack of learning curve, but for a ten minute filler that caters for a lot of people with minimal rules and easy-to-hand components, this can provide quite the fun time. I’m told the original has more nuanced rules, and it may well be a game worth seeking out.
CURSED COURT (2017): Rank 3510
You get to share knowledge of a card with each neighbour, and each round a new card is revealed to all. You don’t see what cards the other players share between themselves, but you can try and deduce them by what they bid on. For this is a bidding game. Each round you make a bid on what cards will be in play by the end of the 4th bidding round. Which makes it a gambling game – possibly my least favourite type of game because they’re just not interesting. This does provide a bit of fun admittedly, bidding and out-bidding each other in hope, but interesting doesn’t glean a mention. Either your gambles pay off and you win, or they don’t and you don’t. I bid 5.
FAST FORWARD: FLEE (2017): Rank 4325
This is the best of the Fast Forward series for me so far, probably because it preys on my predilection for co-op exploration. It’s like anti-musical chairs. One person has the monster card, and you’re using card powers to ensure that no player ever has the monster card at the start of their turn (as the game is then lost), relying on turn skip powers, card-redistributions, change in turn order, and the like. While it’s an interesting enough challenge for a run-through, it becomes repetitive trying to manage the same manipulation throughout, and you’ll do far better when your best player assumes the director role and organises the playing of effects in the right order (implying it might be best played solo). Both of these ring out a faint death knell for replayability.
LUNARCHITECTS (2016): Rank 2414
A blend of Suburbia (activating the tile you chose and all those you placed it against) with the “last in line moves forward however far they want to take their chosen tile” means of getting tiles. The tiles are the usual – generate resources vs spending resources to gain scoring stuff – but it’s a nice blend which moves at the right speed and gives a solid 45 minute outing with a good decision each turn. There’s plenty to consider re not only what tile to collect (and what you’re giving up to the other players by moving that far forward) but also the best place to place the tile and the resultant onslaught of actions it will precipitate. I also liked how each game has a completely different set of scoring objectives to pursue. The core mechanic (move forward, take tile) is too one-dimensional to garner much of a higher rating, but it’s very solid for what it is.(I’m told this game was strongly inspired by Glen More and that there’s been debate on what permissions were needed/sought/granted. I’ve judged it as a standalone entity.)
MINI RAILS (2017): Rank 1730
It condenses the whole 18xx genre into 30 mins and 6 rounds. Each round you’ll buy one share and drive a share price up or down, determined by where you expand a route. That’s it. It’s a gambling game. You’re gambling on what shares players will jump on board and improve with you, teaming up. You’re gambling on whether shares will come out and be available when turn order suits you. You’re gambling that your shares will end up scoring at all. There’s some other neat things going on re turn order and simplicity, but you’re just too dependent on what other people do, and this has always been my main beef with the system and the genre.
ORIENT EXPRESS (2018): Rank 7933
This is a re-making of 20 Century Limited, now with a stupid name that 50 previous games in the past have already used. It’s old-school mechanics, but enjoyable enough when taken for what is because turns go so fast-fast. Each turn, place three track on a Transamerica type triangle grid, aiming to join up multiple cities that match your passenger card contracts. The more cards you have that share the same cities or close, the better, and there’s a fair bit of luck in them appearing in the draft at the right times throughout. As you run out of track, you want to start scoring regional cards as these will return track to your hand without having to waste turns retrieving track. There’s a nice cycle that develops – track going out, scoring, track coming off, scoring, track going back out, and so on. It’s probably too long for what it offers, but we mostly forgave that because of the continual positivity it creates by allowing you to score so many cards during the game (20 or so compared to the 5 or so in Ticket To Ride).
PANDEMIC: FALL OF ROME (2018): Rank 643
It has some interesting additions to allow it to stand apart. Event cards provide the option to deteriorate the outbreak track to enact a more powerful effect (nice!). Cubes come out in a different pattern, with each disease cube moved back along a route to form a chain back to its home base. The biggest change though is that diseases are fought by first getting legionnaires out (need to build hospitals aka forts first to do so) and then moving them around and conducting dice battles in which either/both disease cubes and legionnaires are removed. I liked the additional battle luck as it makes the risk/reward decisions less programmable, but I’m also suffering a little Pandemic fatigue after several legacy campaigns. It’s a fine implementation for those looking for more and different though.
PIT CREW (2017): Rank 3499
Think Dutch Blitz but with theme. You’re racing to draw and play cards to your tableau to fill 6 different sequences (thematically managing your tires, fuel and engine in a pit stop). The first person to finish gets the chance to roll a die and move their car forward along the race track up until he last person finishes. Then each player’s sequences are checked – perfect will propel your car forward on the track (going faster for such a great pit stop) and incorrect sequences allow the other cars to progress instead. It’s good fun, continually evaluating which sequence to play each card to. Do you aim for ok, or perfect, or forsake it for the sake of speed, all while going as fast as you can. It’s also rare that a game can play with 9 players as well as it does with 2 or 3, and it may deserve a spot on the shelf for that alone. Plus it’s real-time fun in a theme that actually works! (Yeah, that was a shot at Galaxy Trucker … if there’s any vehicle you want constructed with as little care and as much haste as possible, it’s a spaceship right?!)
ROLL PLAYER (2016): Rank 227
Each turn, pick one of the rolled dice from the pool and place it in your tableau. Very Sagrada-ish. It’s ramped up by giving multiple ways to score your dice, through starting schemes and through cards you acquire during play. In fact, you can accumulate so many means of scoring that the decision each turn becomes which trade-off to make and which to go for. Perhaps Sagrada is more enjoyable in its simplicity for I’m not sure this core mechanic holds up in a 60-90 minute timeframe (although we brought it in well under that). The card effects give you plenty to think about each turn though. I enjoyed the game and would be happy to play again; I’m just not sure there’s enough of a learning curve to sustain the game into lots of repeat play.
SPOTLIGHT ON: DUEL IN THE DARK (2007): Rank 1872
This created a big splash when it landed due to its beautifully thematic brooding artwork and componentry. It has a laborious setup, and there are serious questions over whether the skill of the bluff outweighs the luck, but I’ve kept the game to play with my boys when the time came and we finally pulled it out last holidays and gave it a solid run. The German player has the big decisions to make during the setup – whether to go big on civil defence or big on air defence, and whether to consolidate in areas or spread across the park. The game can be won right there if they guess British intentions correctly. And it really is pure guesswork. None-the-less, executing the run out and back is fun. Each turn the British player is trying to bluff the Germans out. The Germans have the continual question of whether to consolidate fighters, going for a big win, versus sure points by spreading out. Plus the need to manage fuel. And the theme is triumphant, meaning it’s a fun 30-45 minutes regardless of how the luck and the bluff plays out. Which is just as well as there isn’t a lot of weighty decision making once the bombing run commences. It’s also better if you can play it regularly against the same player so it’s meta-gamed a bit (hmm, they did that last time, what will they do this time), and also because there is lots of fiddly VP accounting knowledge needing to be reacquired if it’s left too long between drinks. It’s really a 6 but it gets an extra rating for its thematic implementation.
Thoughts of other Opinionated Gamers:
Brandon K: I think Patrick is correct about Roll Player and it probably not standing up to repeated plays. I’ve quite enjoyed the couple of plays that we have had although our games do tend to overstay a bit. There is a weird thematic disconnect that I have with the game and the purchasing of items. I do enjoy it more than Sagrada though, there seems to be a bit more going on here and I appreciate that. I need to get this to the table again with the expansion.
Tery: Roll Player is the only one of these games I have played, and I agree with both Patrick and Brandon in that I think it will wear out quickly. I thought the game was great the first time I played it, but my enjoyment waned over the next two plays and I haven’t played it since.
Matt C: All I remember about Duel in the Dark was that every copy I came across had a massively strong chemical smell when the box was opened up. Do love how very thematic the game is, as well as its strongly asymmetric game play.
“you’re just too dependent on what other people do, and this has always been my main beef with the system and the genre.”
Interesting comment – I think this mutual interdependence is exactly what I *love* about the genre.
I agree with you Martin, however if the game devolves into a calculation-fest and slows, the simplicity of the game leaves little to influence the game. For all that, the pace of the game is just right, and the influence on turn order as you choose your action is a nice touch.