It’s one of life’s great smacks: you’re either working to get the money to pay for new games so you don’t have enough time to play, or you’re not working and you’ve got all the time in the world to play but you can’t pay for new games. Working on the last federal election was time-intensive so there was a stretch of 6 weeks without playing any games, let alone any new games, but contracting on and off as elections come and go at least allows me to rotate between time-poor and time-rich on a semi-regular basis. Right now I’m time-rich, and a couple of gaming weekends catching up with gaming buddies has filled the new-game coffers to overflowing once more.
THE 7th CONTINENT (2017): Rank 17
An exploration played out entirely with cards, and there are many, many cards. The management of which is the tedious part; you’re forever delving into the box for the next card to resolve. It’s clever though. Place a challenge card on each side of a map card, and resolve the challenge to replace it with the next piece of map, to which you can move and explore further. You have one life-deck, and every move and challenge drains the deck. Which sounds simple, but the cards drained from the deck can then be used as items or effects to reduce future life-drain and the difficulty of future challenges. There’s huge resolution luck, but also lots of good decisions on what to invest in so as to minimise that luck. Flip side: these are also somewhat luck-prone as you mostly can only guess at the types of challenge to come. Success (meeting the scenario’s goal before your life-deck drains) depends on not missing the tiniest of clues, and making the right decisions over the paths to take and guessing well on what challenges to undertake. Take a wrong path on any of these and the frustration ratchets up with each passing hour. It really is a solo game … I wouldn’t enjoy watching frustration leak into a blame-game between gaming buddies re decisions made. For me, that frustration overrode any sense of satisfaction in progress made. I enjoyed exploring the system and can admire it, but there’s not a lot of interest in exploring further scenarios. I could play again, but it seems to be for those who like long time-killers and replaying long sequences to get the scenario right next time.
DARK DEALINGS (2016): Rank 3912
Translating For Sale into a reverse dungeon crawl (where you have to kill the heroes traversing your dungeon) works ok but not perfectly. First round you pick heroes using a draft. Second round you use the heroes to recruit your henchmen. The higher rated the hero, the better the henchmen you’ll get (higher attack strength), but of course the harder the hero is to kill (higher defence). There’s a third phase where you go through your hero deck one by one, smiting the heroes with your henchmen. If you can’t, you’re eliminated. Last one standing wins (which is fine as it’ll all be over within minutes anyway). The hero/henchmen picking is more difficult than For Sale as you need to take card effects and suits into account, and it can really drag as players analyse the order in which they need to play their heroes – you defeat heroes in the reverse order to which you play them (Last In First Out), and you need to remember everything you’ve played so as to pick the right henchmen later on. This dragging sucks a fair bit of fun out of the game, hence the lower rating than the faster and simpler original.
DETECTIVE: A MODERN CRIME BOARD GAME (2018): Rank 196
The story is rich, and very, very long. There’s reading, so much reading. This really isn’t a game, it’s a paragraph book dressed up in sheep’s clothing. The only decisions are where to spend your time, trying to guess correctly which leads will give you the information that the conclusion will ask of you (in assessing your score) – identical to Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective in essence, but dressed fancier. The only reason to have more than 1 player then is to share the experience. It captures the feel of detective-ness very nicely. Except for the disconnect on whether any detective force on the planet would prioritise spending this much time and effort tracking down the provenance of a watch over time on crimes with victims. By the end, I felt disengaged because the game didn’t require me to invest energy, and the decision payoff seemed mostly random. Surely there’s a ton of immersive video games that does this genre better than boardgames ever will.
ESCAPE PLAN (2019): Rank 766
This feels like fresh design space. You get 9 turns to move to different locations to pick up their rewards. Every move however is painful re accruing wounds and notoriety, and the game actually becomes one of accruing the means of managing these misery burdens to minimise the damage they do to your score. Psychologically it dwells in negative space, and it’s a hard sell on whether that constant negativity is overcome by the positivity of the puzzle challenge it sets. There are a lot of ‘minor’ rules that end up being crucial to resolving your puzzle challenge satisfactorily, and getting smacked by a missed rule in the first play compounds that sense of negativity. With only 9 turns, I wonder if you can be too hamstrung by the card powers available to you on your turn for pickup (re their usefulness in managing your misery burdens), and the importance of turn order and whether there’s too much collateral damage when other players are where you want to go. But it’s clearly a game that provides a challenge of interest if you can get over any first-game negative experience.
LIVINGSTONE (2009): Rank 2292
Standard shortish Euro of putting out tents in the rows numbered 1-6 for now-points and end-of-game majority scoring. You spend actions alternating between getting money and putting out tents. The twist is that to do an action you take a die from the dice pool and you get money = pips or you place a tent (paying money = pips and getting pts = pips), and you’ll only get a second action if there’s a die left in the pool in the second round that’s higher than the one you took in the first action. It turns out that the decision about which die to take is pretty straight-forward though, with the occasional wibble if someone wants to place a tent in a specific row. It was ok and it worked, but there’s no link to theme at all, and the mechanics don’t provide anything much of interest to explore (*pun sigh*) after a single game.
TINY TOWNS (2019): Rank 875
A functionally fine game, but one which failed to excite. Like Dominion, you get a set of semi-random building cards before you start, all with different scoring mechanics (this next to that, etc) which you analyse and come up with a plan on which ones you’ll build and where. The hook is to see how you go given the vagaries of which resources come up in which order (be it by player decision or by cards, both valid variants). It’s then largely processional, each turn like the previous, placing a cube on your tableau, swapping cubes out for a building if they match shape and colour required, freeing up spaces for more cubes / buildings, executing your plan as best you can, changing tack as needed. I have an issue with the end-game, where you either get lucky or shafted with the final cube placements – the point-swings felt high for what ends up being a 45 minute game. This, and the mechanics, felt more appropriate for a 20 minute game.
WINGSPAN (2019): Rank 45
In many ways this is just another engine building game where your approach to points gathering and your outcome is largely reliant on what cards (aka engine powers) are available to you on your turns and the decisions you make around them. But this does it really well and I love the card power decision space, forcing you to continually assess the best approach when faced with what’s available. I’m also comfortable with the luck of the cards and in the means of gaining bonus points which, if you embrace the luck, adds to the thematic enjoyment of the game. I suffered a little trying to read dark text on a brown background (really?!) but otherwise it’s a neat system with lots of little rule approaches I liked (like reducing the number of actions each round by 1). It offers lots of strategic approaches to try; in the end it’s probably a max-your-eggs game, but many roads lead to Rome. It’s clean and classic and I can see it being a standard go-to for a light engine building game if it were in my collection.
WRECK RAIDERS (2019): Rank 3152
A pleasant game of picking dice from a pool and using them to pick up resources, that are then used to complete contracts in an open contract pool. The twist is that the dice don’t dictate what resources you get – you can get pretty much get any resource you want any turn – but the dice value chosen dictates who gets bonus resources, and getting a bonus is like an additional turn, much desired. Otherwise the game is pretty simple. Aim to collect resources in and complete contracts that others aren’t building towards, and attempt to place your meeples to maximise the chances of collecting bonuses from other player turns. The decision each turn on which die to use (and how) is enough to keep you engaged. While the game doesn’t outlast its welcome, the lack of any game arc (it’s the same decision process throughout) means it ends up feeling too vanilla to hold much replay interest.
ZOMBIE KIDZ EVOLUTION (2018): Rank 3377
So simple, yet weirdly so more-ish. The game is dead easy to teach, only takes 10 minutes, and the game-play is fast, making it perfect as an opener or closer. The decisions on where to move your meeple (and clear which room of zombies) are straightforward, and your result is usually a function of rolling well (hopefully putting the next zombie in a room that’s about to cleared anyway!). What makes the game interesting are all the provided variants (aka challenges) the game sets you. “Hey, let’s try winning it this way!” and ticking them off. The legacy aspect seems to be one of adding new powers and rules after various numbers of plays which changes things up further and keeps the more-ish-ness alive. It’s obviously super with kids, but just as enjoyable with light-hearted gamers in the right environment, hence the high rating.
SPOTLIGHT ON: DIE SIEBEN SIEGEL aka SLUFF OFF (2003): Rank 1182
88 plays and counting. This has proved to be somewhat special as a 3-5 player closer for us. The spice of the Saboteur turns this variant of Oh Hell into a tenser game. The rules-based price of 4 for the Saboteur is 1-2 points too low in practice, and we early on moved to a variant whereby we bid for the Saboteur after the initial tile take (the winner returns their initial tiles) and the usual price in our games is 5ish. Our record is a bid of 8 getting best score on a hand! It’s otherwise standard bidding and trick-taking, but you need to be careful in your bidding as you might not care so much about the high cards – it’s all about how much protection you have in the low cards and the eventual suit spread across the players. If you have risk and you might end up winning tricks you didn’t expect, bid high for the Saboteur! It’s been one of our favourites for a long time and it still features heavily in the rotation.
Thoughts of other Opinionated Gamers:
Detective – A modern crime board game. We dabbled with this at BorderCon recently. Fundamental view was “Why is this a boardgame?” It would work much better as a straight computer game, or maybe a role playing game (where at least a GM would not repeat the same flavour text over and over and OVER again). You add players to make it slower and to have disagreements/discussions about what to do next or which red-herring to follow.
Die Sieben Siegel aka Die Steven Seagal. Still a great game that doesn’t come out often enough.
Wingspan. I have played it a few times now, and I think next time I might experiment with totally ignoring the round objectives, they distract me from whatever grand plan I may, or may not have, and I am not entirely sure the pay-off is worth it. That aside it is a nice light to medium engine builder (and has actually been available retail in Australia).
Dale: We call it Die Steven Seagal. Someone even came up with a mini that looks surprisingly like Seagal. It’s humorous for the name. But we don’t like it as much as Patrick and Fraser do. Maybe it’s because the tricks flush the wrong way around the toilet here as it does in Australia. I should try it maybe with Marmite on my fingers, that might improve it. Though I’m not the biggest fan of the game, it would definitely improve the Marmite experience. And Tiny Towns was well loved after the first few games (see my comments in our review a few weeks ago), but it has become more processional and predictable since. I still don’t like the card flipping variant of the cubes, but it does lead to less predictable games at least – though it turns out to be much harder to get stuff done; so you have to take the good with the bad there.
Mark Jackson: I never got the fascination with Die Steven Seagal… but, then again, I never understood why people loved Sticheln so much either. Patrick obviously loves it more than I do.
Brandon Kempf: Now I gotta find a copy of Die Steven Seagal and try it out, or am I safe if I have Wizard Extreme and enjoy it? I am in the opposite camp on both Wingspan & Tiny Towns. Felt that Wingspan was a wholly unremarkable game covered up with a lot of window dressing. While I have enjoyed the puzzle that is Tiny Towns each play. I need to get back into Zombie Kidz it really is a wonderful 10 minute experience each game we play, even if the zombies overrun the school.
Dan Blum: Wingspan is an engine-building game with streaky card draws. Fine for a 30-minute game, but as it stands it would outstay its welcome considerably even without the extra randomness of the food dice. With two players it might be short enough to be fun. Tiny Towns I thought was fine but I’m not dying to play more. Wreck Raiders I thought was bog-standard set collection – it works but it’s not compelling. 7th Continent we played with four and enjoyed (aside from an issue with the end of the quest), but definitely not a game for every group.