Patrick Brennan: Game Snapshots –2019 (Part 20)

sorry the post was late today – i was glued to my phone watching the Ashes results while sitting out at a soccer match. I guess the Aussies won with one to play. Or something. Anyways, I think these are ashes of stumps and not losing cricketers, but I wouldn’t swear to that either. Apologies for the lack of other pictures, I’m trying to post this from my phone, and well, it’s not as easy as I thought.

The H-index in academia is used to give an indication of the productivity and impact an author has had in their field. By way of example, if their 30 most cited papers have each been cited 30+ times say, their H-index would be 30. The higher the better.

In gaming terms we can bastardise the H-index to use plays rather than citations. A little time ago my H-index hit 50 – the 50 games I’ve played the most have all been played 50+ times each. 

I’m not quite sure what it means really, if anything, in our hobby. I guess it’s a measure of longevity, an indication of experience. It shouldn’t mean my opinion of a game means anything more, as it doesn’t change the fact that an opinion only helps if you know what the opinionated gamer loves and hates in relation to your own tastes, where you can filter and consider the opinion with salt and perspective as needed. Anyway, 50, for what it’s worth.  I’ve been playing games a while.

DIZZLE (2019): Rank 3790, Rating 6.9

Pick a die from a dice pool and place it on your board, covering a space showing pips equal to that on the chosen die. The first in a round must be placed next to an X you’ve marked off previously, the next adjacent to a die you’ve already placed. Keep going until the pool is empty, and then mark off where all your dice are. Repeat 11 more times. Gain points by filling rows, columns, and special places. The guts of each decision is placing dice so that there are adjacent spaces that have pips equal to those on the dice remaining in the pool, so that you have placement options regardless of what dice people take. That’s it; not that hard. It’s too long for its repetitive and straightforward nature. Dizzle failed to dazzle. A first impression from earlier this summer

Rating: 6

KRASS KARIERT (2018): Rank 2501, Rating 7.1

It’s a shed-your-cards game blending Bohnanza (you can’t move cards around in your hand) with escalation (singles beaten by straights beaten by X of a kind) in a trick-taking format. If you can’t beat the current play, you must pick up one of your two face-up cards (inserting it into your hand to hopefully make a straight or pair/triplet combination). If you can’t pick up, you’re knocked out, first one to get knocked out loses a life. We liked the variant where the first player to shed all their cards gains a tie-breaker point. The winner is the player with the most lives left after someone loses their last life. While there are neat things to do with manipulating your hand into playable combos, the overarching sense is that the luckier you are with your draw, the better you’ll do, and while the game was a pleasant way to pass the time, it probably goes long for the amount of luck it bears.

Rating: 6

MURANO (2014): Rank 937, Rating 7.2

You’re using actions to buy shops (income source 1) or glass buildings (income source 2), get income, buy buildings for ongoing effects or for VPs. This is the background to the main thrust however, which is buying VP cards to determine how to earn your VPs and then building stuff that meets the requirements. Cycle through the actions to get your income going and then invest in VP earners. There’s luck in whether you draw VP cards that synergise with your income investments, or whether other people have already built (or will build) what you want. There’s more luck with what street tiles you draw, and what ongoing effects you draw into. It’s largely ok as the game length is appropriate to the weight, but with only two main income strategies (shops vs glass) and with the need to build as the cards dictate, there’s not a lot of learning curve left to explore after an initial playing. It’s pleasant and it works, but with the actions being easily available, there’s not enough decision tension to invoke imminent replay. An older review here!

Rating: 7

PAX RENAISSANCE (2016): Rank 550, Rating 8.1

There aren’t too many games I need a learning game just to work out how to play semi-competently. This is one. It’s Eklund. Ergo the rules suck, the gameplay is obtuse, and the theme gets in the way of clean play. There are numerous action types on the cards, and each action’s rules are complicated. It’s hard to know where to start and what to do. There are four win conditions which gradually come into play. I’m told the attraction is managing the tug-of-wars between the four different win conditions, striving to collect the cards that will allow you to meet one winning condition while making it slower for the other players to meet the others. Now that I’ve played once, a re-reading of the rules would get me up and going, but my feeling is that the card choices were too arbitrary and restrictive to warrant the effort. It could well be a game that rewards such investment – I could see the potential in intensity that might emerge when each player understands the ramifications of each person taking each card and how they’d play it. But for me it’s fallen at the first hurdle … getting me engaged enough to climb the mountain.

Rating: 6

SILK (2018): Rank 5269, Rating 6.7

Our playing of this supposed 45 min game with 3 players was over in about 5 minutes (5 rounds). There are roughly 10 points on offer most turns (by scoring silkworms, less the minor cost of turning the dice into the score-silkworm action), and you only need to gain 35 pts to win! All those rules about adding fences, enclosing things, moving things? Completely superfluous and irrelevant to the winning strategy. It must surely be better with 4p when the board is more crowded and there are fewer opportunities to score silkworms, but none-the-less, this playing broke the poor owner’s heart. It sounded good in theory (roll dice, use actions to get out silkworms on the map, move them around, have them get eaten, add nurseries, fences, etc, with numerous ways to score), and the gameplay was nice enough. In practice we just couldn’t see why anyone would do anything but score silkworms every turn given the points on offer. It ended up taking twice as long to go through all the rules (most of which we didn’t use) as it took to play. Not quite broken, but good as compared to other stuff we could be playing instead.

Rating: 4

TRAMBAHN (2015): Rank 1287, Rating 7.0

A Lost Cities derivative which works pretty well. You draw 6 cards for your turn and you must choose between adding your cards to your columns (following the increasing numbers rule), to your cash pile to enable you to buy a column multiplier, or to the common pot (which triggers a score once there are 4 cards in a colour). You mostly want to use all your cards so as to get a full new hand of 6 so the decisions aren’t that hard – here, there, or over there. The game bogs down a bit as it progresses because it takes more and more turns to save up enough money for your next multiplier. The luck factor on whether you draw cards you can play or not is also high, but there’s always another new hand just seconds away. The turns go fast enough to keep you interested, and it doesn’t pretend to be anything but light. Perhaps a bit too light, and the decisions not quite agonising enough though.

Rating: 7

TRICKY TIDES (2019): Rank 6393, Rating 7.2

It’s a novel idea, crossing trick-taking with pick-up and delivery, but it plays better in concept than it did in practice. The card you play to a trick dictates which direction you can travel, so if you’re forced to follow suit, you may be forced to travel to a destination that doesn’t help you. This seems to happen a lot, so the game is one of keeping options open as best you can (having lots of cubes in hand) and performing deliveries when opportunities allow. It says 30-45 mins on the box. Our game of three rounds went 90 minutes, and we weren’t even APing, just noting who could go where and who was likely to take what before committing a card (that is, when you had card choices to make, usually when you couldn’t follow suit). And that was waaay too long for what the mechanic could bear. I’m not sure we could have played much faster. Anyway, interesting, but too much of your game seemed to be out of your control for a game of this length.

Rating: 6

UPON A SALTY OCEAN (2011): Rank 3068, Rating 6.5

The evocative title and box artwork drew me to the game. While it’s not world beating, it worked better than I expected from its ranking. There are 4 actions, and each time an action is used in a round its cost increases by 1. Everyone’s trying to do much the same thing, be it buy buildings for advantage or conduct your four cycle action for mega money – being load ships with salt, sail to sea and transform the salt into fish, sail back to harbour, sell fish at the market for VPs. Each round it’s just a matter of which order you do the actions (as the costs are ever increasing) and determining when to stop when the costs get too high to make a profit. There’s not too much divergence in strategy available – sure, you can invest in different buildings but there’s no getting around the fact you can’t win if you don’t fish – and that repetitive 4-action cycle of fishing emphasises the game’s replay limitations (mono-strategy, repetitive). But we’ll explore it a bit before moving on, just to confirm.

Rating: 6

VINDICATION (2018): Rank 803, Rating 7.9

At its core, this is a simple engine-building game of gathering resources in 6 different types and spending them to gain card effects for points. It then goes the extra mile to vindicate its existence. Actions appear on hex tiles as you move around the board (creating a 2d array of actions) and on a turn you can do any action you can move to. Mostly you use actions to gain resources and buy cards, which come in 6 different types, each with a different slant on effects – end game points, immediate vs ongoing benefits, etc. You don’t have enough time to explore all types in a game – it ends too quickly for that, which is a good thing – but there’s your first replay touchpoint. The second is that the game end is variable (eg X of a various card type are bought). The next is the wealth of modules / variants to explore. It’s a shame there’s no map element to play with and no real theming. It’s all about the mechanics. Accepting that, it’s nicely mid-weight, the rules are easy, the iconography good, it comes in at the perfect time for its weight, there are different strategic approaches to try and engines to explore. It’s a game I’d happily play.

Rating: 8


Original Edition 1997: Rank 2914, Rating 6.6

Compared to the original played many moons ago, this 4th edition is better, more varied, more interesting … but it still mostly sucks eggs. (It seems there’s some serious fanboy selective bias rating going on here!) With people continually uhmmin and ahhing over whether to follow actions or not, or what units to build, and what techs to build, each round takes an hour and within that you’ll still probably felt like you’ve played the game for all of 5 mins and watched on for the rest. There’s a lot of pure downtime, combat is interminable, and the game progresses glacially. As movement options increase, anyone who over-aggresses leaves both the attacker and the defender vulnerable to attacks from other players – you can’t defend everything. So despite the promise of cool unique powers to play with and the lure of interesting decisions re the continual tradeoff between building units and expanding, this turns out to be a 7-8 hour game with massive downtime, slow progress, and ultimately resolved via king-making attacks. If you’re in it just for the ride and the war story, it delivers in spades, but I’d prefer a lot more game involvement for that long an engagement.

Rating: 5 

Thoughts of other Opinionated Gamers:

Larry:  More game discussion from Patrick!  Let’s tawk:

Krass Kariert – I’m quite fond of this.  In fact, I’m the guy who came up with the “coming up with a winner” variant that Patrick mentions.  I agree there’s a reasonable amount of luck, but I also think that good play will be rewarded more often than not.  Most importantly to me, it doesn’t feel like anything else out there. It won the Card Game of the Year award and I think the honor was well deserved.

Murano – Solid game, but one that didn’t distinguish itself enough for it to force its way into the rotation.  So many games come out these days that being merely “good” just isn’t good enough these days.

Pax “Whatever” – Patrick’s summation of P. Renaissance sums up my feelings about these titles.  I just find them way too chaotic and too unstructured to appeal to me at all. Those very qualities are the ones that other players prize, so as many a former girlfriend has said prior to breaking up, “It’s me, not you!”.  Still, they always steered clear after saying that, so I think I’m quite happy avoiding all the Pax designs.

Trambahn – Quite a good 2-player game.  Even though it doesn’t do anything too startling, it has a pretty different feel.  If the opportunity for 2-player gaming arose more often for me, it could have been one of the highlights of the year it came out.  As it is, it’s a title I’m happy to keep around, just in case.

Jeff Lingwall: 

Twilight Imperium 4th Edition – Yes, there is downtime, and yes, progress can be slow. A lot of this is more of a concern with new players. Once the rules are down pretty well with more experienced players the game can move along at a brisk pace, and the downtime isn’t excessive. We finished the last game I played in perhaps three hours on a Sunday afternoon, and it was a wonderful gaming experience, with fraught political phases, a great narrative, and healthy interaction.

John P:  Dizzle – I’m well tired of roll and writes but I’ve enjoyed my plays of this more than Patrick did.  Maybe it’s the time between plays which has been a while.

Brandon K: i also enjoyed Dizzle a lot more than Patrick did, but I think that most folks who play the first level and never go past that, will kind of feel the same as Patrick. It is pretty straight forward. Moving further and doing the 2nd, 3rd and 4th sheets can really make a difference. Normally I wouldn’t suggest a roll and write like Dizzle add more, but I think this is done right, and I’m anxiously awaiting sheets 5-8 as well. 

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