Patrick Brennan: Game Snapshots –2019 (Part 9)
Games I’ve played 5 or more times already in 2019 include:
- Duel In The Dark (as featured last time)
- Magic: The Gathering (my padawan wanted to test his decks; he learned many lessons)
- 1989: Dawn Of Freedom (democracy is usually kept at bay in these parts, which led to further play until it eventually won out)
- Root (I’m still enjoying exploring the asymmetry)
At the other end of the spectrum, new games to me over the last week or so included:
ARGH (2017): Rank 4576
Well named. It’s the word you say 2 minutes in when you realise you’ve been suckered into a dud game. It’s allegedly a game of bluff, but it’s just a guessing game with a set of mechanics that I simply don’t understand. (As in, why someone thinks they’d make for a good game.) You either keep the card you draw or attempt to offload it on someone else even though they can wing it straight back at you if they “guess” you’re giving them a dud card. Get two bombs and you win. Get a spy and you can’t win. Otherwise most points wins. Just keep drawing and keeping/offloading. The best news is that it’s all over in under 10 minutes and you can move on.
BLACKOUT: HONG KONG (2018): Rank 925
Given the theme I was expecting more of a Pandemic style action-based game, but the game-play was nothing like that at all. It’s almost purely a sandbox game of buying objective cards, gaining the resources to meet your objective card requirements, and adding those objective cards to your hand to increase your resource gathering capabilities ongoing. Each time you gain an objective card, you also get to place cubes on the map for eventual victory points. There’s a bit more to it but that’s the essence. There’s a nice decision tree to work through each turn re using your available cards and whether to stick with the resources available (decided by dice) or spend to transmogrify them into what’s needed. There’s also some nice deck cycling decisions to work through. There’s no story arc or drama though; this is purely Euro resource and deck management with a rather repetitive turn structure that goes a bit long because it takes a while to work through all your resource manipulation options each turn. Usually ongoing replay requires story and that worries me a little, but I enjoyed the continual challenge it offered and it falls in my predilection wheelhouse.
GORUS MAXIMUS (2018): Rank 3599
I’ll play any trick-taking game. Here you’re trying to collect +ve point scoring cards in your tricks (9’s are good!) and avoid winning tricks with 8’s in them (bad). Most pts wins the hand, first to win 3 hands wins the game. You’re also trying to engineer a change in trumps towards the end of the hand to whatever suit you’ve won a 0 in for big points, done by matching rank with an off-suit. Not always seen, but satisfying when achieved. 8-avoidance looms high in mind, and the traditional mode of leading high doesn’t work, leading to lower initial leads where card-counting across all suits is a required asset, noting the 8’s and shorted suits. It’s pleasant enough, with a twist good enough to enjoy as a change.
HARDBACK (2018): Rank 874
The sequel to Paperback. It’s still a cross between Dominion and Scrabble so your target audience is still limited to word-buffs. It’s slower than Dominion (which is a downside as Dominion’s pace is one of its primary selling points) due to the need to analyse your hand of 5 letter cards to form the best scoring words and work out whether you want to run the risk of buying new cards from your deck to get a longer better word. In this version you’re looking to buy cards in the same genre(s) that you’ve previously bought in, as a word containing two or more cards from the same genre generates bonus benefits, be it prestige points (for the win) or card-purchasing currency. The turns moved along a bit faster than Paperback so I enjoyed it more, and I liked the addition of the genres and the other variants it provided. But it still went a long time, using and re-using the same letters and generating much the same words from your deck. The game seemed more about showing off word mastery with imaginative use of wild cards than having fun. This no doubt has its audience but it’s not one I’ll seek out to play.
ISTANBUL: THE DICE GAME (2017): Rank 908
This feels like a dice game from 10 years back rather than 2. One player rolls and uses dice combos to gain their rubies. We’re foregoing managing our travel around the map to collect them – dice here are much easier, but much less interesting. It feels like a throwback because it’s learnt nothing from the recent upsurge in the roll-and-write genre in terms of what makes dice games good; being constant engagement for all players on all turns. This is a do-it-by-the-numbers design where one person rolls and has their turn in entirety while everyone else watches on to see if they roll well. Pure downtime. Because it’s classic it still works, but it’s not Constantinople, and it’s too Yahtzee-basic to gain attention enough for replay.
JUNK ORBIT (2018): Rank 3552
I was pleasantly surprised by this clever pick-up-and-deliver game. Cargo of different values, marked with destinations, is scattered around linked circular tracks. To move 3 spaces to the right, you spend a cargo of value 3 and place it (newtonianly) on the destination 3 spaces to your left, loading that space up for someone else later. If you have cargo for the space you landed on, you score it. Regardless, you pick up all the cargo on the space you landed on, aiming to deliver that later (or use it for movement). Even more satisfying is if the cargo you jettison for moving purposes lands on its destination, as you score that as well. There are cool moves to make and interesting planning to be had. It was fun and enjoyable when played at pace, but we could see it getting a bit thinky for people seeking the perfect set of look-ahead moves.
MORELS (2012): Rank 634
I was expecting more from a relatively highly rated 2 player spouse friendly game. It’s simple set collecting. The twists are that you can collect cards to increase your hand size, you need to collect meld cards before you can meld, and you can discard cards to later allow you to pick cards earlier in the 8-card-long draft-line than the normal last 2 cards you’re allowed. You have a high hand size but your primary consideration is still discrimination with what you collect as you want big sets before you meld. The prime drawback is the fiddliness of the draft-line. Every turn you’re discarding the last non-taken card into the decay pile and shuffling everything along, and that gets old pretty quick. It seems a necessary evil though as the feature to pick up the decay pile to quickly boost your hand back up is nice and makes the game tick along. The other irritation is assessing the different types of cards by their scientific names which all look the same gobbledygook. Otherwise it’s once through the deck and hope the cards you’re collecting come along quickly so you can meld them efficiently. It was fine, but after one game I’ve had enough draft-line manipulation already to last me, so that’s probably it for me I’m afraid.
SUSHI GO PARTY! (2016) Rank 157
It’s an improvement on Sushi Go because each game can now contain different sets of cards for variety’s sake, but the gameplay is identical and it remains the lightest of light fillers, Ergo it gets the same comment as the original … it takes the Fairy Tale hand mechanic and crosses it with the scoring rules from It’s Mine / Ra. Pick a card, add it to your tableau, pass your hand to the left. Repeat ‘til all cards are gone. Score. Do two more hands. In the time you’ve taken to read this, the game is close to over. If the 10 minute game niche is one you need to add to in your collection, this will do the job. If you enjoy the search for combos in the pass-on genre though, you may want to stick with the longer games, as the combos come fast and easy here.
TEMPORUM (2014): Rank 2798
Time travel is usually a theme that grabs the interest. This Vaccarino game represents it by a choice of different actions in each era. Each turn you get the chance to change the timeline and therefore change which action is available to you in each of the 4 eras. You then execute any of the 4 now-available actions. These actions are all variants of play a card (for its one-off or ongoing effect) or score a card (first one to score 30 wins) with other wibbles and discounts thrown into the mix. It’s an action-efficiency game, hoping you get good cards, making the best of the actions available each turn, with a bit of forward thinking on how you can be more efficient. While the game play is fine and meets the 30 minute expectation, it didn’t generate any time-travel knot problems to solve, and action efficiency doesn’t really generate a lot of excitement. Every game is going to have a different set of cards/actions in the hope of generating replay but, glancing through them, they’re all variants of play a card / score a card … and it felt explored after a game.
SPOTLIGHT ON: JAVA aka CUZCO (2000): Rank 813
We recently played Cuzco, the remaking of Java. Exactly the same rules, but they’ve now included beautiful stepped temples to replace the cardboard tiles used in the original, making a beautiful game even more beautiful as well as opening up this classic to a new audience. Every turn provides a tactical challenge to solve – how can I maximise my score this turn given the state of the board … but with the secondary consideration of minimising the other players’ opportunities for the next turn. Then, two thirds through, with the final scoring expected to double your points, tactical attention turns to locking down highest position in the cities so they can’t be stolen. Usually easier said than done. Throw in analytical gamers and one of the broadest decision trees in gaming (6 action points, multi-dimensional, multi-size placement) and each turn becomes a titanic logic puzzle. No surprise that this can turn out longish. For me, sometimes there’s no downtime as I’m continually evaluating possibilities. Other times, when I’ve quickly worked out my next options and am confident no one will be playing there, it becomes pure downtime. This can be accentuated when all the players are concentrating in the same area of the board where the most points are up for development, so you have a completely new problem to solve by the time it’s your turn, making much of your pre-turn analysis throw-away. The downtime is compensated for by the continual puzzle challenges. It may not get played as frequently as other 8’s out there due to its intensity but it’s certainly one of the most attractive games I’ve played and that earns it an extra rating point.
Thoughts of other Opinionated Gamers:
Istanbul: The Dice Game. I guess I don’t understand the need to publish a dice version of just about every game. Yes, this Istanbul dice version does shorten the length of the game–which really wasn’t an issue with the original, as it played in a fairly quick time frame. The problem for me is that the dice version is nowhere near as fun to play. I find it very basic. Perhaps it would be suitable for folks new to the hobby, but fans of the original will likely find this pales in comparison.
Blackout: Hong Kong – Found the deck building aspect of this game a lot more fun than previously found in Mombasa. But the current state of the graphic design and choices really makes assessing things on the board, that are important mind you, fairly difficult to do unless you physically move stuff on the board. Another quality game hampered by a seeming need to rush the product to market.
Junk Orbit – I have not had the pleasure of playing Junk Orbit yet, but I think that Daniel Solis is one of the more thoughtful younger designers working today.
Morels – I agree with Patrick’s assessment, but I was probably harder on the game when I owned it due to that constant movement of the row which is just trying to simulate a “walk in the woods looking for some mushrooms”.
Istanbul: The Dice Game: I still really like this, and I prefer it to Istanbul the Board Game. It takes all the elements I like about Istanbul and eliminates the setup up time or need for 3 or 4 players. It is the perfect meaty filler game.
Blackout: Hong Kong – This one is my #1 2018 release. I love the deck building/card manipulation, as well as the clear delineation of the various actions on a turn. The graphic design that others denounce does not detract from the game for me. I can’t wait to get this one to the table again.