In non-new gaming, Keyforge has received a ton of play over the recent school holidays, in the form of a tennis-style tournament to find our best deck and consequent other games to determine deck rankings. It’s a fun little meta-game that my youngest has been enjoying to give reason as to who plays who and some meaning to the result.
Gloomhaven is up over 50 scenarios played now. It’s on hiatus for a month due to work interrupting our Wednesday sessions, but our last remaining character will be opened after the next scenario is won and then we have 4 more scenarios to finish off three major storylines. After which, it’s onwards to the Forgotten Circles storyline.
Meanwhile, in new gaming, it turns out I need to somehow get more 8’s into my life.
BROOM SERVICE (2015): Rank 434, Rating 7.2
This is a reimplementation of Witch’s Brew, which I haven’t played. Given its high rating, I was expecting fun chaos but what we got was just irritating chaos. The “you must follow the lead” mechanic often forced players to play their action cards out of their preferred sequence, despite best efforts to pick actions with a plan B in mind. You assess the board carefully and determine who’s likely to have your next action card in hand; you determine it’s unlikely that anyone has, so you call “brave” to get the card’s ramped up power only for someone to surprise you – they did have the card after all (usually because they wanted to use it as part of a sequence which they themselves got screwed on earlier) and you miss your whole action. Not happy, Jan. And if you end up playing safe all the time, you fall behind to those who were luckier. Lastly, the mechanic of spreading out and delivering resources repeatedly just didn’t hold interest for the 60+ min it took to play, and that was even with the inclusion of all the provided variants to ensure the game wasn’t too vanilla. In the game’s vernacular, pass, I don’t hold this card.
FUSE (2015): Rank 582, Rating 7.1
A real-time co-op game that goes exactly 10 minutes. This doesn’t have a board structure like Escape: Curse Of The Temple, and it has less thematic appeal as a result. It’s simply rolling dice and fulfilling your card requirements – colours, numbers, comparisons, restrictions, etc. Each round dice equal to the number of players are rolled and what follows is a quickfire 2 second negotiation on who’ll take what dice – each player must take one that they can place on one of their cards, otherwise dice are lost and it’s a setback. Quickly roll again and repeat the process until the deck is emptied and the game won. It’s engaging and fun, and you’re alive while you’re playing it, but the lack of theme and its repetitive nature will necessarily limit its replay.
INNOVATION: ECHOES OF THE PAST (2011): Rating 7.6
A few articles ago I put the spotlight on Innovation, and I’ve now had a chance to play this Echoes of the Past expansion so I thought I’d throw some observations out there. It’s for variety only, but good variety as there are only so many surprises the base game can give you after a ton of play. Games are now a blend of 2/3’s base cards and 1/3 expansion cards, so you have no idea what’s in and what’s out. This is a good thing given that the appeal of the game is the wild ride it takes people on, and it means the surprise-comeback factor notches back up as a result. There are a few new effects which probably extends the teaching time too far for newbies, but they’re easy enough to assimilate for older hands (whom this is directed at after all). Same rating as the base game but I’m glad I have it for the replay it brings.
Reviewed and re-reviewed
LORDS OF HELLAS (2018): Rank 234, Rating 8.0
It’s dudes on a map, but ameliorates that with multiple winning conditions, some of which don’t care about dudes. Which (of course) is immediately of interest. The primary winning goal seems to be the slaying of monsters (by collecting and playing combat cards, the accumulation of which is at the expense of adding board presence) as it seems to be the fastest and hardest to stop. If only one or two players go for the monsters, either should win. Which probably means everyone needs to go for the monsters to spread them around and stop that happening. Once there are not enough monsters available to go for the win, then it’s all about conquering enough territories (either with temples or completing a region) to win. This is the point at which the standard multiplayer territory-based kingmaking issues arise and asks the question: who’s going to let who win? Once we got to this point, the game lost a lot of its initial attraction. By the time you get past the slightly onerous rules (required to handle all the different thrusts of play), the actual turn structure runs smoothly and fast, making for enjoyable gameplay. And I did enjoy it. It just didn’t provide an enjoyable enough resolution for me to want to come back to it.
LOTUS (2016): Rank 1379, Rating 6.8
It’s Trendy with some layers thrown on top. Like Trendy you’re playing with cards valued 3 to 7, and you want to play the last card to a common set to score it and not set up the player to your left if you can help it. The layers are that the player who played the most ‘points’ into the set also either scores something or gets an improved power (increased hand size, play more cards per turn, etc). While this was all fine and worked, the charm of Trendy was the cracking game-pace it set. These extra layers, and being able to play up to 4 cards per turn, paradoxically slowed the game down while decisions were being made and meant that even the bigger sets could disappear before some players had a chance at them. In a quick game the luck of the draw is ok, in a longer game less so, especially as this is more of an area-majority game now (not our favourite mechanic) rather than just a set closure game. It is very beautiful however.
THE RUHR (2017): Rank 3115, Rating 7.1
This is a reimplentation of Ruhrschifffahrt and comes with two maps – Ruhr and Ohio – with slightly different rules for each to give you more bang for your buck if you enjoy it enough. I’ve only played the Ruhr side. 12 rounds, make one coal delivery each round to make money, spend money building warehouses for points. That’s too simple so let’s smother the game in layers of rule complications, exceptions, and special actions requiring extensive iconography learnings. In the early rounds everyone performs much the same required deliveries to get the same baseline techs (so why not just start with these?) but eventually there’s some deviation as people concentrate on building warehouses in different areas for different end-game bonus points. The game eventually comes down to one of battling for turn order to get the big end-game bonus tiles first, and hoping these points overcome the bonus points earned by those who build warehouses in the Port for extra intra-game points. Money is tight. It’s required for the actions you want and to build warehouses. Managing money, turn order, and the tech races gives you plenty to think about, but the game’s underlying 12 rounds-12 deliveries simplicity didn’t feel rewarding enough to overcome the work required to learn and play.
TEOTIHUACAN (2018): Rank 87, Rating 8.0
Round and round the 8 action-space rondel we go, gathering resources and using them to build stuff more efficiently than everyone else. There’s a tech space to make gathering and building easier. There’s the ability to change the rondel every game plus a mass of icon-heavy tiles and special powers to try and make it all more interesting. Which it does, providing a new challenge each game to find the new best path. On the flipside, all the icon-centric special tiles creates a real barrier to entry, as do all the rule exceptions. Also some actions are time-intensive, slowing the game pace down which is undesirable. The mechanic that makes the game stand apart is that massing your dice at an action space makes the action more powerful with each die (but you’re doing the same action again, do you need to? That’s your decision space). The other decision space of note is concentrating on improving your dice’s pip value at various actions until it hits 6 so as to obtain benefits, or concentrating on non-pip-pumping temple actions for other benefits instead. All of which makes for a slow-ish game with a lot of learning required to play well. In the most part it feels worth it, and I’ll play further to see if the rating rises once the pain of the learning is done because pulling everything together efficiently each game looks like a nice puzzle space. (As an aside, the solo version was painful. I want to be primarily focused on and enjoying mastering my own game, not spending the bulk of my time managing extensive bot rules, which is there simply to have something to beat.)
VALLEY OF THE KINGS: AFTERLIFE (2015): Rank 3282, Rating 7.1
It’s the same game as the original Valley of the Kings, just with slightly different effects, so it gets the same rating and comment, being: The game delivers a fair load for a small box. Normal deck-building with an Ascension style 3-card draft, with a 3 card look-ahead dressed up in pyramid shape. There’s only one currency, gold, which is used to buy cards. Mainly you buy cards that match the colour of cards you’ve already bought, because they’ll square their points at the end of the game. You have the power each turn to thin your deck, transferring a card from your hand into your score pile. That card’s power and gold are now no longer available to you, so tradeoffs must be made between keeping/scoring low-gold/low-VP cards vs high-gold/high VP cards. I’m not sure I like the score squaring approach – the difference between getting 4 cards in your colour and 5 is huge and game-defining, especially when it may be just due to the luck of what’s available to you in the draft when it’s your turn. The game’s replay is also a bit limited in that you’re buying from the same small seeded deck each time, so once you know a certain combo, it’s going to keep appearing each game. But exploring the power combos was interesting first time through, and the auto-thinning tradeoffs were interesting, so I enjoyed the game and would happily play it again. I’m a fan of the opportunity it provides to combine the cards you like best, or think will make for an interesting or challenging game, from between the two games.
WORKSHOP OF THE WORLD (2010): Rank 6915, Rating 6.5
I was really disappointed in this. From the beginning, an evocative title evoking gaming grandeur turned out to be a simplified half-breed of Brass and Ticket To Ride (linking cities for points, no deliveries to worry about, played over two epochs where canal links are wiped after the first epoch and you build rail links in the second epoch). Each round (and there’s a lot of them) begins with an in-the-first bid for turn order (one of my most hated mechanics) to get the city cards which dictate where you’ll place industries that you eventually want to link up. The luck of the bid outcome is magnified by the luck of the sequencing of how the cards come out, and whether the cards you particularly want even come out at all given that a batch are removed from each epoch. To top it off, the game uses the worst component in gaming – round cylinders which roll around the table. Cheap components, old-school gameplay, re-tread design, tired theme = little to draw me back.
SPOTLIGHT ON: CODE 777 (1985): Rank 1507, Rating 6.7
I’ve been playing this recently as a 2p with my youngest because it’s different from our usual fare. It’s better with more players but still, good enough to entertain. Code 777 was historically one of the more important deduction games in the hobby. Back in the day it had had a certain prestige aura about it, and it stood the test of time. It was more engaging and taxing than the filler Coda, less fragile than the longer Black Vienna and more interesting and quicker than the similarly card-question-based Sleuth. Your objective is to work out what three tiles (from the set of 28) are in front of you. They’re facing outwards you see. (Yes, it was the original Hanabi.) Each turn someone answers a question about what they can see across all the racks other than their own, and the answers help you narrow down what your tiles might be by equating their answer with what’s on the other racks that both you and the answerer can see. Cross that off, cross this off, keep track of possible double answers until later questions clarify, until there’s only one possible answer … and score. The game is slow while everyone tracks their information so it’s for fans of deduction challenges only, but it’s still one of the better deduction games out there.
Thoughts of other Opinionated Gamers:
Larry: Comments on a couple of the games:
Teotihuacan – One of my favorites from last year. Dealing with the 3-piece rondel and, particularly, managing the pip values of your dice are excellent challenges. We found the learning curve (at least, for competency) to be about one game Mastery? That’s another story (but that’s how it should be). There’s a good deal of replayability, with the different techs available each game adding quite a bit to this. Definitely looking forward to playing this many more times.
Code 777 – As Patrick says, if you were a deduction fan, this was required playing back in the day. Black Vienna is the purer game and luck can play more of a role for Code 777 than is usually the case for games of this type, but 777 is still very accessible and fun to play.
Lotus is gorgeous… and, if played quickly, enjoyable.
Innovations: Echoes is an excellent expansion – but it does increase the chaos factor in a world that is already filled to the brim with chaos.
Witches Brew is a substantially more enjoyable game than Broom Service… I don’t find the board play compelling AT ALL. (For a much shorter and more enjoyable family game, try Broom Service: The Card Game, which is actually a lot of fun.)
Brandon K: I agree completely on Code 777. I am not a huge fan of straight deduction games, my brain doesn’t really operate in a way that helps me be competitive in them, but Code 777 is a fantastic entry into deduction styled games, not too easy, not too difficult, it manages to find that spot for me that very few deduction games do. I need to play Teotihuacan again at some point, but after three games with the basic setup, it really started to feel very same-y, and almost solvable, or at least having a dominant strategy. Which is probably the point of having those variable setups.
James Nathan: If Patrick had written out his Pro’s and Con’s of Broom Service into columns, I would copy that list, cross out Pro and write Con; cross out Con and write Pro. I love it for all the reasons he doesn’t.
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