There are lots of likable games this time around so, without further ado, let’s launch in.
BUGS ON RUGS (2019): Rank 7289, Rating 7.2
A quickish set collecting game. There’s 10 or so different sets, each with a different scoring system (most of, for each, per something, exact number, etc). Each round you pick 2 cards from a common pool, Settlers-style. There’ll be 1 card left and it will trigger its set’s event, which will mix things up by drawing cards, swapping cards, etc. It’s all over in about 6 rounds. It doesn’t use the whole deck so with lots of cards missing, the point swings due to what’s randomly available near the end are big. Don’t be emotionally invested. The prime drawback is that for a simple game, the rules take a while – you need to cover all the scoring systems and the 10 different events. Or not, depending on your crew’s acceptance of luck. There’s no shortage of that in the game, but it is acceptably quick. And while there’s also nothing innovative here, it works nicely.
CAT LADY (2017): Rank 1035, Rating 7.1
Another card collecting game. Each turn you’ll collect 3 cards, picking either a row or a column from a 3×3 grid (but you can’t pick the exact row/column as the previous player, which was just refilled). Instead of collecting specific sets, it’s more like collecting cat cards and the specific food cards that those cats need to score. The more a cat needs, the higher its VPs will be. In concept, you bank cards in the hope that the required matching cards will be available in later rounds. It makes the game a lottery, and while most card games are at heart, this perhaps wore it too much on its sleeve. I wasn’t a fan of the artwork either so, while I won’t be seeking this, it does play quickly enough to finish in a nice timeframe.
CHRONICLES OF FROST (2018): Rank 4654, Rating 7.5
An Ascension style deck-builder, buying cards from an open 10-card draft. But better, it has a map you need to move around (each location has discovery and end-turn-there benefits), enemies to kill, and multi-stage quests to do (go to these locations and spend stuff there). The problem is that the game has 4 currencies spread amongst the cards (resources, attack, move, draw), and with each card you need to choose whether to use just the top power for free or pay (with wounds) to use the additional bottom effect. This can generate significant downtime working through all the options. It’s also complicated by the need to work out exactly which card(s) to buy. Given the pacey expectation set by the deckbuilder genre, you feel under constant pressure to hurry your turn (with resultant sub-optimal decisions) so that other players can get to their turns in a reasonable timeframe and enjoy the game. It’s a dead shame because I liked pretty much everything else about the game. I’ll start it off as a 7 as a 2p (as you can agree to take the time you need to enjoy it), with a probable drop in rating if playing with many more.
COSMOGENESIS (2017): Rank 2597, Rating 7.6
This surprised me on the upside. From the rules it seemed a cheesy “gods creating a solar system for VP’s” game. But it was actually quite neat creating planetary systems with moons, asteroids and comets hurtling in and colliding with each other to generate bigger systems and starting life. At heart it’s a contract fulfilment game. Each round you’ll collect a contract that you want to fulfil either exactly (a planet with moons just like this or better) or as best you can (points for each of these you have). The tile selection process is clean and manageable (you can see what most people will want and plan/take accordingly). There’s a raft of secondary actions with which you can do clever things and leaves you wondering if you could be doing even better. There’s probably too much luck in the contracts in the final rounds and the resultant point swings, but the game comes in at a nice 60 minutes which feels about right for that luck level. The game play is probably 7ish, but I give it a ratings boost for the coolness of the theme and how well it’s implemented – it definitely increases my desire to play again!
JUMP DRIVE (2017): Rank 921, Rating 7.0
It’s a re-implementation of the City, but now all the cards are in English! I loved the re-skinning into the Race For The Galaxy theme and iconography. It made it dead simple to pick up and play. Otherwise, same comment as the original, being: Great weight and decisions for a 15 minute filler. You’ve got a game of playing about 7 or 8 cards out to your tableau by game end, which means you need to get a card building engine working quick smart, and/or a VP scoring engine even smarter. Playing a card is done San Juan style, so it combines the same fun decision process as San Juan but plays a lot faster as it’s all simultaneous. The game rockets along once the VPs start coming. There’s all sorts of ways to build engines through combos so there’s plenty to explore, but there’s tremendous luck in finding big scoring combos quickly enough to win. Which is absolutely fine in a game that plays this quickly. An older take on this game
NEW FRONTIERS (2018): Rank 805, Rating 7.8
A cross-pollination of Race for the Galaxy and Puerto Rico, two of all my all time favourites, is always going to be a winner for me, but I’m not sure it’s going to quite reach the heights of either. It doesn’t have the crazy variety of all the Race cards. There’s a smallish pool of worlds and a small pool of buildings (replicating the powers of commonly used development cards such as Space Marines). The main difference in feel is that, based on your start world, you can immediately buy into buildings (ie Race developments) that suit you. But with that comes the likelihood that there’s an optimum and set strategic path for your start world. I think I prefer the search for card synergies rather than being handed them. Despite these preferences, it’s still a really good game I’d be happy to play any time.
POINT SALAD (2019): Rank 2226, Rating 7.5
The element that makes this game likable is the dual-sided nature of the cards – point scoring rules on one side, and the things you need to collect (salad) to score the points on the other. On your turn you either pick one of the point-scoring cards or two salad cards. In this it’s a bit like Ticket To Ride. Get some tickets early, and if the items you need aren’t in the 6-card draft, pick up another ticket, especially as there’s no downside. I liked the non-stagnant nature of point-scoring card availability – each time salad cards are taken, the replacements are the flip sides of the current point-scoring cards. This keeps the game fast and dynamic. There’s lots of luck, but each turn there’s a fun decision to make and the turns come fast. It’s a nice froth-and-bubble filler with a cutesy name. A different review here
SUPER MOTHERLOAD (2015): Rank 531, Rating 7.4
A deck-builder with a few twists. The cards you play allow you to cover up spaces on the board (you’re thematically digging a tunnel in a mine), and the spaces you cover earn you various gems, artifacts, and bombs. The gems allow you to buy topmost cards in your four personal purchase piles. The further you buy into a stack, the more VPs they’ll earn, and they provide various new bonus powers. What to buy can be quite a hard choice. There are races for the open VP contracts on offer, which require various things like having this many gems, this many cards, and such. It’s all very likeable, but you’re at the mercy of what players leave you in terms of what you can collect when you dig (you can only continue tunnels already dug) and what cards you have in hand at the time. I can imagine it feeling a bit same-y eventually, but I like it as an occasional play offering.
VIKINGS GONE WILD (2017): Rank 804, Rating 7.3
A pleasant deck builder. There are three different currencies – gold, beer, fight. You use the first two to buy buildings (Ascension-style constructs with ongoing benefits that stay in play) or more powerful deck cards. The available purchases combine Dominion-style pre-set piles and an Ascension-style draft. The fight resource basically gives you VPs. It’s hard to go too wrong with deckbuilders and this combines elements in a pleasant way. On the other hand it’s hard to bring too much new if you’re just combining elements, so this works and you’ll enjoy it if you have it, but I didn’t feel any real need to explore it further either.
SPOTLIGHT ON: THE ROSE KING aka ROSENKONIG (1992): Rank 8, Rating 8.7
50+ plays. It’s weird how, despite it being so abstract (or maybe because if it?), this has proven one of my more popular two player games with non-gamers over many years. I like the way the options are visible and limited for each player – there’s only so many permutations you need to run through in your head and they’re easily do-able in a timeframe that’s acceptable to both players. From those permutations, you can generally work out what your opponent will do if you do this, and then you do that, etc. Sometimes there are easy moves, sometimes you’re trying to get in the head of your opponent and work out which of two roughly equal options they might take, and will they use up of their 4 “turnover” special plays. Attracting your opponent into spending these on low scoring moves can be key to success. An issue I usually have with abstracts is that I’m often daunted by the huge range of available moves. This isn’t a problem here – it’s a nice blend of thought and luck (as the turned up cards dictate what moves are available). Rather than an abstract, I tend to think of it more as kind of a card game, and maybe that’s the essence of its success.
Thoughts of other Opinionated Gamers:
Joe Huber: While I have similar opinions of Cat Lady (if not so positive) and Jump Drive (if more positive), I did want to comment on two games. While Race for the Galaxy is among my favorite games, and Puerto Rico is in my top 50 (out of more than 3000), New Frontiers – did not work for me. It didn’t feel as clean as Puerto Rico, or as varied as Race, and thus fell short for me – making me wish I was playing either of the other games instead. And while my opinion of Rosenkönig is similar to yours, that’s in large part due to how well the game works as a four-player, silent partnership game. I find that the problems when played as a partnership are far more interesting, and always play the game with four by choice.