It’s been an infamously dastardly week in new-game territory. I’d like to blame it in on exploring the dregs of Essen 2018 but most of these come from before then, and it was actually one Essen game, Scorpius Freighter, that turned out saving the week from total gaming ignominy. Let’s think of it as jumping on grenades and taking bullets so you don’t have to!
ANOMIA (2010): Rank 1657, Rating 6.6
Flip a card from the draw pile. If it matches a symbol on someone else’s card, then the first of them to yell out an item in the other person’s category (eg bass in the fish category) wins that card; once through the deck, most won cards wins. The flaw is that the drawer should always win. Before they draw, they should already have prepared an answer for every card the other players have, and blurt it out if a symbol match occurs. The matching player should have little chance of processing the drawer’s card and coming up with a valid item in that category quickly enough. Not much of a game, and real time party games aren’t my thing anyway (just to put the boot in).
THE BOLDEST (2018): Rank 6826, Rating 6.3
Basing a 60 min game around the simultaneous revelation mechanic is “very brave, Minister”, as Sir Humphrey might say. This is a fair attempt and it at least tries to keep you engaged through its hand recycling mechanic, where the cards you use this turn can’t be used next turn. In each of the 5 rounds), you commit a number of cards to each of the three revelation slots, playing one suit in each slot. After a reveal, if every player played a different suit, they each get to pick up scoring cards from the tableau that that suit allows (eg a yellow card from the first row, or purple, or cards with hunt symbols). But if multiple people play the same suit in a slot, only two will get to pick up. It comes down to a continual guessing game – based on the score cards out, and what the others played last round, what’s the bare minimum of cards I need to play to win my suit in this slot. But yeah, it’s a guess, and mostly you can’t afford to miss out so it’s mostly painful each time you overguess and more painful if you underguess, making mostly for a game of pain outweighing the occasional joy in guessing perfectly. Then add up the scores before moving on to something that’s more than continual guesswork.
CARD CITY XL (2017): Rank 3970, Rating 6.6
This starts with a distribution of cards each round using the Solomon’s Choice mechanic (think San Marco), not a favourite because it takes inordinately long to make good decisions while the others players experience pure downtime. It’s worse in the advanced game when money can be added to piles as well. Once you have the cards, there’s a bunch of rules about what can go next to what which make for an interesting puzzle on how best to lay them out in your tableau to take future advantage (but which takes more time). After which is the continual counting of cards each round (to ensure you haven’t placed more than your industry tiles allow) and the accounting of revenue (which takes more time). Too much time for me and too many fiddly aspects that detracted from the challenge of working out optimal layouts … which just get shafted by the card piles you end up with anyway.
DECK BUILDING: THE DECK BUILDING GAME (2015): Rank 14445, Rating 5.5
The pun title draws you in, but unfortunately the game doesn’t live up to the hope. You’re constructing a deck for your cabin, and the cards are made up of four different types of wood costing 1-4, plus railings and stairs. And yes, it’s a deck-building game. Players cycle their deck to buy more cards from the common piles and then gradually use their two actions each turn to play their cards to their tableau in patterns, like next to like, best pattern wins. The cost of the card is shown on the back and there are two types of cards at each cost level. This means you’re never quite sure what you’re buying off the facedown common piles. Once both common piles show low-value cards, you’ll probably want to start playing to your tableau. And once one player starts, the other pretty much has to follow because once a player has played out their last card to a validly formed deck, the game is over. Which makes the game one of let’s-do-what-you-do. It doesn’t make for much tactical interest. You can play cards onto an opponent’s deck to mess up their pattern, and there’s a corresponding rule to lay protection down, but all it does is introduce a nastiness that’s non-thematic to boot. To its credit, the game is almost short enough to forgive its shortfalls, but not quite.
FUJI (2018): Rank 2479, Rating 6.9
It’s a co-op race. Everyone needs to move on average between 1 and 2 spaces every round to stay ahead of the moving lava. Each space gives you a definition of what type of dice you want to be able roll to move there (eg all even numbers), and you only move there if your neighbours don’t accidently roll better than you in that requirement (eg get more pips on their even numbered dice than you). Even with the best of re-rolling intentions, where neighbours are re-rolling dice that don’t help them but hurt you, crap just happens and you end up not moving. Sometimes you all get lucky and everyone moves, but more likely is that the game descends into a sense of futile frustration due to the second-guessing secrecy required in the dice rolling. You can be mindful with your dice and play your special powers as best you can (and these are the primary decisions, which aren’t that bad and would usually warrant a higher rating), and still not feel like you had a chance (leading to a lower than normal rating). No need to play further.
MY LITTLE SCYTHE (2017): Rank 711, Rating 7.5
One of those games that’s fantastic with kids but doesn’t hold up quite as well when played between adults (and that’s how I rate). You’re aiming to be the first player to meet 4 of the 8 objectives, and unlike Scythe they’re all quick to attain, just a few turns in each to move and collect the required resources to buy or accumulate what’s wanted, be it cards, gems, upgrades, pies, etc. There are only 6 simple easy-to-grok and decently fast actions, and you often get extra benefit (in the form of friendship) from helping other people. It won’t be unusual for a bunch of players to complete their last objective in the triggered last round, so seeking to be highest on the friendship track (the tiebreaker) is a thing. It’s a really nice game to play and obviously it’s great for families, helped by OTT components designed by Clancy of the Overchrome, but it lacks the cutting edge and tension that drives higher rated games. To put it into perspective, I’d never bring it along to a gaming night.
ORIGAMI (2017): Rank 3717, Rating 6.7
If you’re looking for theme, look elsewhere. It’s used solely to present stylised pictures of animals on cards. On your turn you either collect cards from a 4-card draft, or use the cards in your hand as currency to get a different card from your hand down into your tableau. Every card has an effect, be it instant, a scoring bonus, or a special action you can use on a later turn. Studying, collecting, and implementing effects to best effect is what this game is all about. Which makes for a slow affair as the draft changes a lot between your turns – each turn you need to re-read all the new card effects available and assess their viability vis a vis what you already have in hand, plus their cost value. Further, the game provides mimicry effects which makes the game go even slower while people study all the effects in play. I thought this had enough promise to play again as I like effect games, but they’re not seen at their best when married with fast card turnover mechanics and I down-rated it accordingly.
SCORPIUS FREIGHTER (2018): Rank 3487, Rating 7.2
A great theme which turns out to be just skinning over a solid Euro. There are three common action rondels. The twist is that you start a turn with 4 action points. If you spend 1 AP to move a rondel marker to its next action space, then you can do that action with strength 3. Or move 2 spaces around the rondel to the action you want but only have an action strength of 2. Next turn your available APs are lowered by the amount you moved, and eventually you’ll refresh back to 4. It makes for decisions when the actions you really want to do are all out of range and the odd swearing when people move a rondel past the action you wanted. There’s some player luck which drops the rating because the game occasionally feels outside your control, but it’s mostly manageable and ok in a 60 minute game. The actions are to buy tech powers, execute tech powers, buy storage, load up cargo, and spend cargo fulfilling contracts for VPs. There are so many tech powers that it’s highly likely they’re not going to all be combo-useful (I’ve read about draft stagnation for these which seems to confirm), and there’s only so many you can use anyway. At least with that many it should warrant sufficient replay to explore it. I just wish the action was somehow more thematic and not just resource gathering into contract fulfilment.
THE SHIPWRECK ARCANA (2014): Rank 1334, Rating 7.5
There are 4 rules cards in play, each stating comparison-type rules. Draw two chips, valued between 1 and 7. Place one face-up against the rule that best defines what the value of the hidden second chip might be. (Eg it’s one higher, or the sum is even, or it’s 4 lower … there are many rules). The other players try to deduce the value of the hidden chip by implication. (“He didn’t place it on this rule so it’s not an odd number, nor here so it’s probably not a 2” and so on.) Invariably it comes down to a 50/50 choice which isn’t satisfying at all. Repeat until you’ve failed too many times or succeeded enough. There are no multi-player aspects to the game at all either … it’s effectively a 2 player game, and an unconvincing one at that. It feels like there’s a game in the concept there somewhere because it seems a cool idea; just not found yet, and so the shipwreck title bears unwitting fruit.
SPOTLIGHT ON: ASCENSION (2010): Rank 552, Rating 7.0
A quick and clean deck building game. Like Thunderstone, you each start with a set deck and then have options to buy stuff or to kill stuff. The difference is that there are no decks to buy from. Instead there are only 6 cards displayed in the draft, a random mix of cards to buy and cards to kill, drawn from the one central deck, so as your turn comes around, you get what you get and you don’t get upset. Which makes for a more random deck build, but I actually enjoy the unpredictability. Some turns you might get nothing; with others there are decent choices to be made. The stuff to kill are monster cards in the draft with their instant rewards, and the stuff you buy could be heroes (which give any variety of purchase / kill power when you draw them back into your hand to play) and constructs (which once you play generates good stuff each turn). Generally monsters and heroes get you VPs, constructs less so, so there’s a choice there on which way to go. The game is easy to teach and it’s quick to get up and going. The overall variety from game to game may be lower than that which Dominion and Thunderstone provide, but it’s perhaps made up for by having variety of deck thrust upon you intra-game.
ASCENSION: APPRENTICE EDITION (2013): Rank 1730, Rating 7.1
This is exactly the same game as core Ascension, but cheaper because it comes without the (unneeded) board and provides a smaller deck to run through. The trade-off is that there’s less inter-game variety but you get to know the cards better and can make build decisions accordingly. The cards are different from the core game, but the effects are all much the same with a different skin. I really like Ascension for its speed of play and the challenge of constructing a workable deck given the luck of what’s available. Thumbs up for this implementation; cheaper yet still excellent.
Thoughts of other Opinionated Gamers:
Tery N: I have not played most of the games Patrick has played this month, but I have played two. I hope to never play Anomia again, but I am a big fan of Ascension. If you like the base game I’d recommend adding in some expansions. I particularly like the Dawn of Champions, which requires a different strategy; each player starts with a different goal and needs different things to maximize their champion and scoring potential. I admittedly play this much more frequently on the app than I do in person, but I still really like a “live” game of this.
Fraser: I really like Ascension, but I basically only play it on iOS. Once you have many decks/expansions there are just so many things that alter the costs of things that it can get very hard to keep track of. I would possibly play the base game physically, but anything else is on iOS (where I have chalked up around 8000 plays over many years).
I have only played Scorpius Freighter once so far, but I liked it and had similar thoughts to Patrick. Another thing about the rondels is when you actually get around to noticing that certain actions are only available at particular rondels. I would like to play it some more.
Alan H: I have only played Fuji once and that was at Essen when it was released. So this had the automatic a) problem that I was too excited and probably anything would be good;b) usual take on getting a rule wrong that we risk over or under rating it immediately. Having said that, I think we got the rules right and I enjoyed the game but not so much that I want to play it as soon as I got home. I think it deserves another few goes.
I liked Card City XL more than Patrick. I have followed (bought) the previous incarnations that got to this stage, so I was automatically more inclined to like this type of game than not. However, I suspect that if XXXL comes out I will probably pass. Well downtime can be a problem, I suspect this is also linked to the group that you play with. In my regular group we urge people to play quickly.
Mark Jackson: Like Frasier, I only play Ascension on the iOS. Face to face, I prefer DC Deckbuilding or Clank when using the variable drafting line for deckbuilders.
Scorpius Freighter continues to grow on me – I acknowledge the draft stagnation issue and have proposed a fix in an earlier OG post. :-)
I’m a big fan of The Boldest – the thing Patrick seems frustrated by is what I like about it. We’ve found it to work well with 2-3, but best with 4-5.