Patrick Brennan: Game Snapshots –2019 (Part 17)

(Gamer Madlibs) I’d rather eat Vegemite than play another game of…

I started keeping game stats back way back in 1999 and part of that stat-keeping is allocating an average time for each play of a game. When multiplied by the number of times played, it provides the total time I’ve spent playing a game, which eventually provides a sense of value on the original purchase. 

By looking at the number of plays within any one year for each game, I can also see which game I spent the most time playing in that year. In turns out that all the following have provided pretty good value for money over the years:

1999: Diplomacy – I really should get back to playing this online.
2000: Ra – arguably the best 3p auction game.

2001: Formula De – we played a league that year across all the various tracks, but not touched since.

2002: Sticheln – vicious closer.
2003: Age Of Steam – classic.
2004: Die Sieben Siegel – lovely closer.
2005: Ticket To Ride – classic.

2006: Indonesia – longish game we were trying to get a handle on.
2007: Tichu – classic.
2008: Through The Ages – classic.
2009: Battlestar Galactica – had fun with this at the time; the expansions made it too rules-laden.
2010: Memoir ’44 – classic.
2011: Lord Of The Rings:LCG – awesome.
2012: Lord Of The Rings:LCG
2013: Hanabi – classic.
2014: Sentinels of the Multiverse – still having fun with this.
2015: Lord Of The Rings:LCG
2016: Lord Of The Rings:LCG
2017: Seafall – legacy campaign done so we could determine we shouldn’t have bothered.
2018: Gloomhaven – awesome.

Nothing in this new batch is going to overtake Gloomhaven retaining its crown in 2019, but they’re not without merit in their own right.

CALAVERA (2019): Rank 6940, Rating 7.0

I was quite enjoying this little Wrede-born roll-and-write until we reached the mid-game and started to realise the horrible realities of the scoring system. You roll 6 dice, with 2 re-rolls, ticking off squares in a colour equal to the dice rolled in that colour. If you rolled no skulls, no else gets to tick off, but if you roll 1 or more skulls, everyone else *must* tick off squares in one of the rolled colours you didn’t choose. By the mid-game you need to start rolling roses to lock in points for a colour. If you don’t, a score in a colour will inevitably fall from its potential 6, 8, or 10 points down to -3 points as the other players will (you can guarantee it) choose their colours in such a way that you’re forced to pick a colour that stuffs you. The point swing is just too swingingly cruel and it drops a rating point for such. In one sense the game is short enough at 20 mins that the drama of it all is acceptable and fun, but it probably still feels too cruel for it to see anything but occasional play.

Rating: 6

THE CLIMBERS (2008): Rank 1128, Rating 6.9

Each turn you get to move a block to somewhere your meeple can climb to, and have it move upwards, ever upwards. Keep climbing each turn until you can climb no more, usually because people have removed the blocks that enable you to create a further step to move up. It’s way too abstract and king-makery for me to enjoy as much as I thought I would, and downtime can be excessive too while players think of how they’re going to progress not just this turn but also maximise their chances of building future steps and climbing higher in later turns as well. A lot of your fortune depends on how deliberately impacted you are by the other players, so while it was an interesting enough challenge, I ended up feeling little satisfaction in the game-play or the result.

Rating: 6

CRUSADERS: THY WILL BE DONE (2018): Rank 762, Rating 7.7

This feels like a classically elegant Euro of times past but it has a modern spin in its mechanics. Everyone gets an asymmetric (but hopefully balanced) power/rondel to begin with. There are 6 actions on the rondel, any of which you can take at any time, but the mancala mechanic determines each action’s strength – move your meeples around the board, defeat enemy tokens if you have enough strength, build your tech, score straight VPs, etc. There’s no fighting between yourselves, just a race to get around the board to get to the spaces you want before others. Each turn provides an interesting decision involving mancala planning, but turns are still really quick. In fact they whizz around, providing a nice sense of elegance. Rules are easy, components are lovely, timeframe is perfect. It’s probably one of those games that would only come out every now and then (as there’s no thematic immersion, it’s all about the mechanics) but I could see it being a staple in a collection as it would just keep coming out regularly for years given it’s so easy to pick up and play. Interesting decisions together with quick turns? Sign me up. Dale liked this one too

Rating: 8

HOKKAIDO (2018): Rank 2868, Rating 7.3

It’s Honshu, but now 33% improved to give a brighter, fresher game!! It still has cards showing 2×3 grids of different terrain types, and your aim is to take and place cards into your personal tableau in an overlapping Patchistory/Hanging Gardens style to (mostly) maximise terrain types being together, or acquiring pairs of certain types. You still get 12 cards over 12 rounds, but Honshu’s unlikable card-take sequencing system (using card numbers) is replaced by a Fairy Tile draft, allowing you the time you need to really study the cards and plan your best placements, to invest in the result, and to pursue your scoring strategy. The game adds some common goals to race for which provides a context for early builds, and I liked the thematic inclusion of the need to build a mountain range – it took card taking decisions to a more interesting level. Unlike Honshu, I’d be happy to play this as a meaty filler anytime.

Rating: 7


A secret role game (1 vs 1 vs the rest), but one where “who is who” becomes pretty obvious by necessity as the two rogue roles must commit to certain activities if they’re to push for a win. One rogue wins if too many cards are taken for money (endorsing them to Caesar). The other rogue wins if enough cards are bribed away from Caesar, but he has the most influence (which is usually done by endorsing). So you have two players wanting to endorse. The “rest” must commit to ensuring only “low value” cards remain in the endorse slot, and they’ll win if neither of the rogues win (ie lots of bribes, and as much influence as rogue 2). But they’ll have to endorse stuff as well to get the money they need to bribe as many “high value” cards as possible. That’s a lot of endorsing that needs to happen, so good practice needs engaging from the outset making non-optimal plays obviously “outing”. The game doesn’t outlast its welcome (each player has 7 shots at endorsing/bribing), but every card has an effect which needs to be assessed to see whether the card should be hired (another temptation) which slows it down a little. It was interesting enough for a few plays, but as it became clear how strict the “rest” needed to be with their actions, and how obvious rogue play was by comparison, its “programmed” nature led to our interest dropping.

Rating: 6

SPACE GATE ODYSSEY (2019): Rank 3952, Rating 7.4

Good game, but blighted by a poor rule set with typos, and component issues. It’s a race to get settlers onto planets for VPs. You acquire input modules (action 1) that you load up with settlers (action 2), and then move the settlers (actions 3-5) to output modules which are marked with a teensy weensy star gate symbol that can barely be made out. It’s impossible to see who can deliver what to where on anywhere but your own board, and even then only if you squint. Which means you either ignore the other players and do your own thing (bad) or have to memorise and track every single output module across all the players to see who can send what settlers to what star gate at any given time (also bad). Which is a shame because it’s an otherwise decent affair. Just five action spaces, each of which you load up with meeples to define your strength in that action. It also features a follow-me mechanic so everyone’s always doing something, where you need to concentrate on ensuring you’re helping yourself more than the followers. It’s also a shame that the different modules colours are identical in function, making the colour differentiation just a mechanic and making any linking to theme immersion a stretch. It’s solid, but just a few too many issues to shine. Another take on the game

Rating: 7

STAR WARS: DESTINY (2016): Rank 341, Rating 7.7

All the clever is in the deck construction but it’s not LCG, it’s CCG, meaning you’re buying random cards. That might be ok if the game-play was interesting, but (as an LCG veteran) it didn’t give that feel to me. In effect you roll dice for each character in play (ie each character will do 1 of its 6 things it defines for each die value). The cards in your hand are one-dimensional and usually involve either fixing bad die rolls, providing supplementary effects, or getting more dice. Your cardplay decision is one of opportunity cost – should I spend my limited resources on this or that, or save for bigger effects later. This results in little tension in the card play, nor the application of the dice results. You hope you draw your best cards early and that you roll well. On the upside, turns are fast as you alternate doing one thing at a time – play card, apply dice effect, etc. But I have no interest in spending hundreds of dollars on the offchance that I’ll potentially get some “clever” (ie construct interesting decks and test them) when the game-play itself doesn’t provide enough “clever” as an ongoing reward.

Rating: 6

SUN, SEA & SAND (2010): Rank 2152, Rating 6.9

An open-action worker placement game – you spend actions to acquire tourists (aka revenue meeples) in various colours and use that revenue to buy infrastructure in matching colours to keep them on your board for longer and hence earn revenue for longer. Use revenue to buy more infrastructure to create a virtuous circle, and at the end everything earns VPs. Everyone’s doing much the same thing, only in different colours at differing stages, and you’re trying to do it more efficiently and cheaply than the others (prices steadily increase after each infrastructure purchase, giving it a race element). Do some lookahead to see what colour combinations meeples are coming in, maybe lock some in, build infrastructure in those colours. Not rocket science. The game worked nicely and was fine to play, but the lack of player differentiation meant it felt like just another worker placement game with nothing much to pull you back over any other.

Rating: 6

TERROR BELOW (2019): Rank n/a, Rating n/a

It’s apparently themed to the movie Tremors, and is a “monster eggs” pickup and delivery game, usually racing to complete one of the common bounties (deliver this colour egg to this specific location) for bonus points. Meanwhile, monsters keep popping up and on the board and will attack somewhere every 3 or so turns. Here’s the issue. It takes a lot of turns to collect enough one-use weapons to kill a monster when it attacks you. If you can’t, you lose any and all eggs you’ve collected. It’s a major setback. Further, the other players have control over where the worms travel. It’s not uncommon for a worm to both appear and then kill you in between your turns. It’s tremendously king-makery. Further, you only get minimal reward for killing a worm in self-defense anyway.  The bonus points for fulfilling egg bounties can be 4 times the size of a normal delivery, and whoever’s lucky enough to be able to deliver these easily has tremendous advantage. The VP structure just seems out of whack re reward for effort. Turns also get really long with lots of action points, assessing monster moves, resolving monster moves, and performing the frequent monster attacks, and the downtime is pretty pure as you can only really assess your best option at the start of your turn. As a result, the further the game went, the less I cared, the more my mind wandered, and by the halfway point I just wanted it to be over.

Rating: 5

SPOTLIGHT ON: CAN’T STOP (1980): Rank 680, Rating 6.8

This has stood the test of time as a classic dice roller and it gets rated highly accordingly. Your own turns are fun, and the decisions on what to go for (ie how to split your dice up), are important and key, as well as the obvious decision on how far to press your luck, which is the game’s raison d’etre. While other player turns might go on too long in truth, it’s still enjoyable egging them on to keep going, or convincing them to stop for their own (no really!) sake. Anyway, it’s always good for a few laughs.

Rating: 9

Thoughts of other Opinionated Gamers:

Larry:  Here are my thoughts on Patrick’s latest batch:

Hokkaido – I haven’t had the chance to play this spinoff of Honshu, but I did want to say that, unlike Patrick, I LIKE Honshu’s “unlikeable” trick-taking method of determining who gets what card.  It’s an interesting way of using classic trick-taking in an innovative manner and Honshu itself is a nice little game with a unique feel.  If I ever get the chance to try the newer design, it’ll be interesting to see if I prefer it to the original.

Sun, Sea & Sand – My group and I like this considerably more than Patrick does.  In fact, it continues to get steady play, which is quite impressive for a game that’s almost 10 years old.  I’m definitely wary of JAWP’s (Just Another Worker Placement game), but SS&S has a different feel than most, thanks to it being a game of perfect information, as well as the challenge of getting the timing on your workers correct.  I’m a fan of designer Corne van Moorsel, but this (and BasketBoss) are probably my favorites of his.

Can’t Stop – What a wonderful game this is!  Despite dead simple mechanics, the decisions on how you split your dice are often interesting and deciding when to stop and when to push your luck also requires thought.  In fact, I can’t think of another push-your-luck game where so many factors go into this decision (even though it’s straightforward enough that the game never drags). Plus, it’s just plain fun to play.  There probably isn’t any game that draws so many kitbitzers as good old Can’t Stop.  As brilliant and historically important a designer as Sid Sackson was, this might actually be the game of his I admire most.

Mark Jackson: 

This is one of those rare times in which Larry & I agree… we both like Sun, Sea & Sand very much – and Can’t Stop is a work of genius.

Now you can go back to your soulless Euros and I’ll grab some buckets of dice to roll, Larry. :-)

I’m enjoying Star Wars: Destiny with my younger son… but we found a bunch in a used pop culture store locally that made getting a decent pile of cards/dice cheap. 

Matt Carlson:

I’ll always remember fondly my explanation of Can’t Stop to my young boys.  I brought out the game board and clearly explained how you play…  roll the dice over and over again, moving your pieces up the board.  In theory, you could stop at any time, but that isn’t the name of the game.  We spent the better part of an hour laughing at each other in the same game, trying to convince each other the title was always true.

Brandon Kempf: So many nights of playing Can’t Stop with my kids, and truly, if we tracked or looked at winning percentages, I maybe could be the worst Can’t Stop player in the world. It’s no fun to stop!

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2 Responses to Patrick Brennan: Game Snapshots –2019 (Part 17)

  1. Pingback: Patrick Brennan: Game Snapshots –2019 (Part 17) – Herman Watts

  2. @mangozoid says:

    I’m a big fan of Crusaders: Thy Will Be Done… Love the elegant system, the simple mechanics, and (in our games at least), there’s always one that stays behind and builds churches to try their luck at collecting up all the money before other players can reach the big money-makers at the other end of the board… It’s a rush strategy that’s tough to pull off though, and only succeeded the once… Lol We do enjoy this one, and despite the theme being a bit whimsical, I was recently surprised to hear quite a few gamers were put off by it… Themr be damned – it’s a fun diversion.

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