I have a lot of games. A lot of games that are on my shelves, or on my table being played, that I have told myself that I want to review at some point. For one reason or another, this doesn’t always happen. My goal here on The Opinionated Gamers is that I want to get about one review out per week, but I’d like to write about more games. So I’m taking a page out of Patrick Brennan’s playbook, and we’re going to start writing about games in threes, in snapshot form. This should be a good way for readers to get to know me and my gaming tastes a bit better, and also another way for me to talk about games that I maybe don’t really want to dedicate two thousand words to. Welcome to Three Games.
Ishtar: Gardens of Babylon
Bruno Cathala can seemingly do no wrong right now. For the most part he makes really accessible, fun, lightweight games. But two recent games have kind of tried to buck that trend, with Imaginarium and this, Ishtar from Iello Games. Judging by the Geekbuzz for Gen Con 2019, Ishtar was the most
talked about buzzed about game at this year’s Gen Con. It’s a tile placement game where the players are gardeners and they are trying to create the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Pretty simple really, on a turn you draft a tile based on where the watering can is, you can advance it further with payment of a gem. Then you are going to place that tile on the board. There are a myriad of rules for tile placement here, just remember, you have to start from another garden tile or a fountain and never can two fountains connect. Some tiles will have bonus actions on them, placing a gardener on your flowers or buying a special power for two gems. The powers are on a small player board, and they sort of act as a tech tree of sorts. Lastly you can pay gems to buy a tree from the tree offer and plant one on any of the grass spaces. Doing all this is an attempt to garner the most points at the end of the game. Trees grant points, powers on the top row of your player board will grant points, flowers controlled by gardeners will grant points and majorities surrounding fountains will, you guessed it, grant you points.
For some reason, I was able to avoid the hype leading into Gen Con for Ishtar. It stayed off my radar and I didn’t pick up a copy, but someone else did and we played it a couple times immediately after. I think Ishtar is a fine game, but there is seemingly nothing inspiring here. It’s pretty on the table with the scattering of colorful gems on a brown, desert like board. As the board builds it does start to look more like a garden, especially with the wooden trees popping up, but it’s just not exciting to do. It has its moments, but I think the restrictiveness of the game itself, hinders it and kind of quells any kind of fun that can be found. The most interesting of the powers simply allow you to reserve a tile and gain a new gardener, so even the powers just aren’t that exciting. As for the weight of the game on BoardGameGeek, this really doesn’t feel like a mid-weight game to me, maybe the verbose nature of the rulebook and over explaining of what constitutes a tile are a bit confusing, but it plays light, and fast, much like the Cathala games I have come to expect, its just missing that ever so important, fun, part.
Las Vegas Royale
Alea is back, and they are looking a bit more stylish now. Vegas the Dice Game is one of our favorite dice fillers, and that doesn’t change based on how the game looks in the least. You are still going to be rolling dice, and placing like numbered dice in the casinos in hopes of taking home the most money. It’s fun, it’s light, it’s quick, and it’s nearly perfect.
Royale on the other hand, takes Vegas the Dice Game and makes it into something a bit different by adding more to it. Some of these additions could have been found in the expansion Las Vegas Boulevard. You get the large die which is a nice addition, but in addition to that, you get bloat. The Royale part of the game adds different expansion tiles next to the casinos. These tiles can be placed out at random, or pick and choose till your heart’s content. What they do is add different actions to take each time you place a die in that casino. Some were kind of fun, they would lock other player’s dice every time someone else placed a die there, but most of what they did was take what made Vegas the Dice Game fun, and hid it behind a bunch of variability that you’ll have to teach everyone each time you play with those tiles. Not to mention, it adds a dice tray to roll your dice in that quickly becomes forgotten as no one wants to reach into the middle of the table each time to grab their dice when they are done. All that said, you certainly can buy this for $50 MSRP and play Vegas the Dice Game and have an arguably more aesthetic pleasing game and a new number one title for your Alea Bookshelf set, or you can keep playing your old copy, save the money and gamble that your game group is okay with playing without a whole lot of superfluous extras. I think that’s what I am doing. Now, Castles of Burgundy will probably be a different story all together.
I love auction games. It’s a weakness of mine. I know a lot of folks feel that auctions in games is kind of a design crutch, something to do when you can’t think of anything else, but it works for me and therefore I don’t care. I also really enjoy Blue Orange Games and the titles that they have been producing for the last couple of years in their family strategy gaming line. Along comes Pappy Winchester and color me excited.
Pappy Winchester is an auction game in which you are heirs fighting over becoming the new head of the family through finding the most valuable plots of Pappy’s land. It’s a dead simple game, there are nineteen plots of land that will be auctioned off, one at a time. Each plot of land will have a special token on it that will allow the winner of the plot an action to take. Some plots, like the mines, will have special cards that will score you more money at the end of the game for successfully buying the right plots of land. At the beginning of the game, each player will also get a special goal card as well, so buying the mines can get you more! When you win an auction, you pay all the other players an even amount of money, with the remaining cash going to the Saloon. The Saloon money can be won by winning auctions for plots with the Saloon token. There are also other objectives out and displayed, each with a stack of money underneath them, when you complete an objective, take the card and the cash underneath it. Player who has accumulated the most plots of land gets a bonus at the end of the game and then the player with the most money after nineteen auctions, wins the game and is the new head of the family.
The auctions are simple, keep bidding until only one person remains, but there is a twist and this twist is kind of a fun element to Pappy Winchester. When an auction is down to two people, they can duel for the rights to the land. Each player at the beginning of the game is given one duel token. The winner of the duel, wins the land at the last named price and can no longer initiate duels. It’s a fun little twist to throw in there, even though it’s ultimately kind of disconnecting for me, I mean if I win a duel, shouldn’t I be able to duel again? Pappy Winchester is not a bad game, it’s a solid, gateway-ish introduction to auction games. It adds some nice touches, but ultimately, our two plays have kind of felt same-y and that’s a bad thing. The goals are plentiful, but upon looking at them, everyone kind of knows what the more valuable tracts of land are, and there isn’t much that’s going to change that. So even if you have your personal goals to shoot for at the end, getting those extra dollars into the game is super important, so most tracks of land go for fairly cheap and then you have a big auction once one of the important ones comes out. There is also a Steamboat and a Train on the board that can be moved to gain money as you go, but we’ve not seen that make a huge difference as it’s only a thousand dollar gain for each plot of land that those touch. Of the three, this is probably the game that I’d be willing to play more, I’m just not sure how much more.