We recently had our 13th annual Contrail weekend, which consists of a dozen or so gaming buddies heading up to lodge at Wiseman’s Ferry. It’s called a resort, but that would be massively overstating the case. It’s simple but does the job for us – 10 double bedrooms, some bathrooms, a big common area – and it’s game all day and night. It sits on the edge of the bush, and the kangaroos come down all day to feed on the wide grass expanse we view from our verandah. One is often tempted to quote “Ahh, how’s the serenity.” And then it’s back to the game table …
ALTIPLANO (2017): Rank 289
Very much a sandbox game of using a plethora of available actions to turn basic tiles into better tiles and then into even better tiles. What it does well is to provide different paths for everybody on how to do this, and interesting decisions to make on how much to invest in engine – some examples being to spend time increasing your tile drawing capability or converting resources into money and spending that money on better and cooler action capabilities. Also, how and when do you choose to thin your tile pool by taking the warehouse action. It goes perhaps too long as there are only so many turns you want to spend in your life turning one tile into another, but maybe that’s newbie play and I forgive it that given what it offers. There are multiple paths and a rich decision space, with tactical decisions each turn thrust on you by the tiles you draw, and that’s fine by me.
ANDROID: MAINFRAME (2016): Rank 1823
This is a re-implementation of Bauhaus with FFG re-skinning it into their Android world to fool you into thinking this is different than what it is: a completely abstract game. Your turns are spent putting your guys out on the map and placing sticks to define as big an area as possible containing only your guy(s). That takes multiple turns however and the game is rife with take-that action cards, so closing anything off is mostly a function of the other players letting you get away with it. Meaning the result is not your own, and making for a largely unsatisfactory experience.
We looked at this game a while back as well with much of the same response back then
CUBA LIBRE (2013): Rank 482
My first COIN game and I enjoyed it. The asynchronous factions are Dune-like – the Harkonnen are the govt forces and need to win early, there’s Fremen (Castro’s forces), and Atreides (non-communist insurgents) fighting off the govt and then each other, and the rich Guild (the mob, who’ll win if the others ignore them too long). I liked the card-led event vs action turn sequencing which led to ups and downs in fortunes and priority re-assessments throughout. For the game to shine it needs to quickly repeat play with all players knowing the action capabilities of all the factions so as to be able to determine required moves for balance, for personal progression, and to avoid accidental king-making. It’s a really steep learning curve with 7 or so different actions and sub-actions in each faction, and that barrier to entry probably dooms it to niche gaming groups only, especially given its 3 hour playing time. Which is a shame because it feels like there’s a lot of potential game here.
ELECTION! (2017): Rank n/a (I’m the only one to have rated and commented so far, being …)
Each card has either a +ve or -ve number on it. Turn over 33 cards, one by one, adding each number to a cumulative value. The last 10 cards are worth double points. If the final figure is +ve I win; if it’s -ve you win. Yes, really. Some cards are worth double if they match your “strategy” card. There’s an occasional decision on whether to play a bonus card when it matches a suit, or to hold off and maybe have it be worth double if the same suit appears in the last 10 cards. That’s it. The campaign variant has you play 55 cards if the short game’s not enough, and other variants allow you to start with more doubler cards but a score handicap. There’s a decision on whether to read the flavour text to increase your thematic immersion, but that comes at the cost of making the game go longer. It boggles the mind that this was successfully crowdfunded (according to the credits). Apparently it can be found in the Aus Parliament gift shop. I’m not sure if the game is a form of snide commentary on the election process (and whether the Parliamentary gift shop is aware of and endorses any such commentary!) or whether the designer just doesn’t know better. Anyway, it would be cheap to note the symbology between the quality of this game out of Canberra and the quality of what otherwise comes out of Canberra; hopefully we’re a little more mature and nuanced than that.
EXIT: IT’S NOT A GAME – THE POLAR STATION (2017): Rank 1039
Why are these Exit games considered games rather than puzzles? And as puzzles, why are they represented on BGG? There’s no decision making. Anyway, this is my first of these. They’re not my thing. I don’t enjoy time pressure, nor the perception of having to prove capability of being able to think laterally towards successful alternative approaches to a puzzle. In this Polar Station variant, some puzzles came out quickly, others required some brain-storming, some ended up having stupid “oh, really” solutions, and that’s probably true of all of them. There was no real sense of satisfaction along the way, just of moving on to the next to get the job done. I’ll join in and help on others if that’s what the group wants, but I feel no need to search for more.
NEW ANGELES (2016): Rank 896
The components drove me crazy from the get-go. The board is 4 times the size it needs to be in a brazen attempt to equate boardsize with epicness, and the cards are 1/4th the size they need to be, making them difficult to read and use. One job. Do it right. This is not an epic game despite its purported 120-240min length. Further, it’s semi-coop, and semi-coops are batting .000 in this house. One player puts up a card effect that will fix a neighbourhood and/or get it producing goods better – we have a collective target to hit. Another player puts up a different card-effect as a counter-offer. The other players support one plan or another, the winning plan gets implemented, and the winner gets an ongoing asset to their benefit. Repeat ad infinitum. Each plan will also typically award VPs to one or more players, so that weighs into the consideration. If the collective production levels don’t reach their targets, whoever’s the secret federalist power will win. Semi-coop tried and failed in Archipelago, in Castaways, in others, and this doesn’t fare any better. The game got better as all the rules wibbles and therefore the ramifications of various plans were better understood, but it’s still a repetitive game of whinging about who’s winning and how you’re not winning so that’s why you should support me instead.
SIDEREAL CONFLUENCE (2017): Rank 584
A game of two aspects: engine-building and trading. Everyone starts with a different engine of 10 cards that convert cubes (they come in 7 different types, of differing values) into more and different cubes in all sorts of ways. That means everyone has different cube needs to feed their engine, and usually means (after they run their engine) they have excess cubes to use for trading. So, we trade. There are 6 rounds, each with a 10 minute trading window, but this isn’t as offputting as it seems because it feels like Settlers of Catan, just on a bigger scale. It’s easy to propose trades because most everyone has stuff you want, and most of them need your excess stuff, and every trade you make puts you up compared to the others. In the last few rounds your engine will produce enough to upgrade your engine cards for VPs, buy more engine cards for VPs, and use engine cards to transfer cubes into VPs, and that’s the game. To make the game more interesting, each faction has a different feature capability and you’ll want to be leveraging those differences into favourable trades as much as possible. I came away from the game energised and feeling like I’d created something, and it’s one I’d happily play further.
SKULL KING (2013): Rank 820
This is a fun variant of Oh Hell. It’s once up the road/river, from 1 to 10 cards per hand. As with all such variants, the make or break is what the special cards and the scoring system adds. The special cards make up a fifth of the deck, split between uber-trumps and misere cards, making it quite tricky to bid. It turns out you can escape with a low bid with quite high cards. There are some bonus point situations to shoot for with some of the specials which feel great when you pull them off. Points for misere get higher and higher as the hand-size ramps up, but if you fail, you’re pretty much knocked out of the game – huge risk huge reward, and easy to get shafted if the high number of escape cards is spread, and yes, you will get shafted. It makes for gambles won and lost, and lots of “how did you get away with that!” moments, which makes for a random but fun game with quality cheer/groan factor.
VALPARAISO (2018): Rank 3653
A pretty decent Euro of turning actions into cubes and money and converting these into VPs. (Was the second half of that sentence redundant?) A player programs 5 of their available actions (they start the game with 8), and there are two primary means of progression. One is to acquire and ship cubes to buy more powerful action cards, the other is to invest in meeples traversing the country and doing more and more powerful trade-ups and conversions. While you wouldn’t be buying this game for the theming, I liked the action programming and the divergence between player’s capabilities as different action cards entered the game. There’s some race tension in whether you’ll get the actions and conversions you want, and having a fallback plan if you lose out, and this adds some spice to the programming aspect. I followed a path that removed that potential for collateral damage and I enjoyed the way the game provided for that, and that different viable approaches are available for gamers who enjoy different aspects of Euro-ness. There’s a few plays in it.
SPOTLIGHT ON: ZIRKUS FLOHCATI (1998): Rank 1507
200+ plays. One of the best push your luck games out there. There are constant decisions to make, calculating the odds of possible gain, whether to go for the sure thing (pick up a low scorer with the expectation to meld it later for better points) or hang out and push for high scorers which are then denied the other players. But then a hand of all high scorers will be targeted by the ‘steal’ cards, so what balance of high vs low is best given the state of the draft as it comes to you each turn? It’s very quick to play (10 minutes), there are lots of fun groans, and the rating reflects that it fills its niche (opener, filler) perfectly.
Thoughts of other Opinionated Gamers:
Mark Jackson: I really enjoyed my one play (so far) of New Angeles… but Patrick is not wrong about the size of the board versus the size of the cards. Like all semi-cooperatives, it requires the right mix of players to work. Honestly, I don’t figure this will hit the table more than once every year or two, but I like the Netrunner shine on the game and look forward to playing it again.
Zirkus Flochati is wonderful – though I’m glad that I own the older German edition rather than the extremely creepy recent edition with actual fleas in the art design.
Tery Noseworthy: I am still really enjoying Altiplano, both with the expansion and without. ( I do prefer the expansion, but am happy to play the original, particularly when introducing new players). Thanks to the random distribution of start tiles the game is different every time, and the varied paths to victory keep it fresh as well.
Doug Garrett: Shelley and I continue to enjoy Altiplano (4 plays, 2 with/2 without expansion), spending some time recently with the Traveller expansion (which I would say is a mandatory add due to the “shorter game” that is offered as a possibility with its addition).
We also had a great time with Valparaiso (2 plays and forthcoming from Stronghold Games) and can’t wait to get it to the table again soon. We talked about Altiplano and the expansion in Episode 677 and Valparaiso in Episode 668 of Garrett’s Games podcast – tune in to find out more about our thoughts! www.garrettsgames.com
Alan H: I really like Altiplano but I’ve heard mixed reactions when I played it with different groups. Some people found the game went on far too long while others found it did not go on long enough. I think this depends on how fast the new tiles are acquired and therefore which strategy each person follows. In the game where the game outstayed its welcome there was very little acquisition of new tiles by all the players. The converse is true for the game with the shorter time span. Like Patrick I like the range of options that are presented and the route that each player can take to make progress. It’s certainly a game I’ll be happy to bring to the table in the coming weeks. I’ve waited at least an eight and possibly nine.