We’re still in the middle of an unrelenting desire to explore Terraforming Mars which has seen it hit the table twice a week over the last month. Meanwhile a second Gloomhaven campaign has started, with different characters, to keep the good times rolling.
There’s a ton of quality in this selection of new games, all with high ratings. One needs to remember times like these for we set a pretty high bar here and I’m sure the dross of Essen will soon be cluttering the gaming table. Let’s hope for some rays of goodness among the too-many-games-being-released-in-hope drizzle!
COVERT (2016): Rank 1294, Rating 7.2
Fine, but slooowww. It’s personal contract fulfillment requiring various combinations of meeples at the right board location and the right item cards in hand. The guts of the game is the action selection mechanism, where you place one of your 5 dice to claim a future action, but you can only place a die if its number matches the next available slot for that action. You’re continually checking what other people’s dice remain and what options that will leave you. It all seemed somewhat arbitrary; restrictive for the sake of it. The mechanisms charged with making the simple concept of set collection more challenging required time to analyse that seemed out of kilter with the huge luck the game presented. As in, there are a few ways to get item cards, but is the one you need available without a huge action cost because you’ve hit the trifecta of the right dice and right board presence and right turn order to pick it up. With missions worth big point swings, this kind of luck (whether matching items come easily or not) looks like it will mostly decide the game.
EVERDELL (2018): Rank 108, Rating 8.0
In many ways it’s Terraforming Mars in another guise, with a card engine, milestones, and awards. The lack of board presence is less exciting though. The ability to buy and build directly from an 8 card draft makes the game even more about hoping the right card comes at the right time, and building an engine differently from your RH neighbours to maximise the chances that the cards you want will still be there by the time you can afford them. I’m a sucker for card engines, but the game is as slow as nature, with everyone reading the continual replenishment of the 8 card pool and trying to squint-read the miniscule font (*sigh*) that allows one card to auto-build a partnered card, 7 Wonders style. The game boils down to the hunt for partnered synergies. I liked how each player could declare their own timing on when to retrieve their workers and activate cards. Not sure about match to theme, but a nice mechanic. Kudos for the cool tree which excites people, even if it is completely superfluous and solely about justifying the exorbitant price tag – it’s a good game, but still, there’s nothing in the box but cards.
FANTASTIC FACTORIES (2019): Rank 3631, Rating 7.7
While fantastic may be a bit of a stretch (and one must applaud the ambition!), I’d happily go with pleasantly bubbly! Roll your 4 dice each round and use them to draw cards and gain resources as the dice values allow. The cards have effects that manipulate the dice, gain resources more efficiently, build cards more efficiently (they cost resources to buy and earn VPs), or convert resources into VPs. Standard stuff but done well in a nice 30 minute package. It can be a touch slow when people are assessing cards for how they can be worked into their engine, but otherwise ticks along merrily, helped by the great decision to allow everyone to play simultaneously once the pool picking phase is complete. The luck of the card draw and the luck of the dice have a huge bearing on the result, but perfectly acceptable in a game of this length.
GAIA PROJECT (2017): Rank 8, Rating 8.5
I feel duty bound to deliver an 8 here. It’s rich in likable stuff – income generating buildings, multiple currencies, tech trees, great theming, lots of interesting decisions on how to spend your limited income. There are different strategic options to explore, and every game has a different focus re the random end-round and end-game VP drivers. Ultimately, your love for the game will depend on the level of frustration you feel (or whether you see at as a challenge) re the perennial two-steps-forward-one-step-back process, where you gain income in this currency but lose income in another. This can make progress feel more creaking than in similar civ-type games. It’s not a quick game and every decision makes a meaningful difference in direction, so it’s heavy fare. Fwiw, I enjoyed it more than what I remembered of Terra Mystica, preferring the tech tree provisions and theming.
JETPACK JOYRIDE (2019): Rank 4301, Rating 7.3
Real time laying of transparent Blokus type polyomino pieces to build a track from one end of your personal set of cards to the other, avoiding penalty spaces and covering point spaces. The faster you finish, the less spaces the other players will have time to cover – time stops with the first player to end. You’re also trying to fulfill three requirement cards (eg three identical pieces in a way) as best you can for bonus points. It’s a lot to take in and keep in mind while you’re racing. Practice will help. It’s also important that people have the same amount of time (if any) to analyse their track before starting, as every second of extra prep is an advantage. Play three rounds, most points wins. It’s pretty good for what it is, and a nice use of polyominoes I haven’t seen before. I’m glad to have played it and I enjoyed it, but real time track builders aren’t really my thing re ongoing replay.
PALADINS OF THE WEST KINGDOM (2019): Rank 1562, Rating 8.2
Despite its sandbox approach, it somehow still manages to be torturously slow. It features the designer’s customary, and likeable, approach of using multi-coloured meeple requirements for action spaces, which will either raise your skill (aka VP) level in 3 traits or get you the currencies that are also needed to do that. You need to ponder your available meeple vs preferred action desires, and consequent meeple acquisition and conversion options, while having to change plans each time someone takes a card you wanted from the two common displays (all of which can be used for either an instant bonus or kept for an ongoing effect). It’s well put together and provides an interesting challenge, but it just seems to take forever to get through the 7 rounds of collateral damage interaction. It isn’t helped by the design choice of encouraging everyone to compete over the same 3 actions each round for significant end-game bonus points (and therefore have everyone compete for the cards which benefit those actions, which makes the game swingy), rather than the usual approach of allowing players to diverge on strategy. Another review here
PIPELINE (2019): Rank 796, Rating 7.8
Take a simple concept – buy cubes cheap, convert them into better cubes – but make the conversion efficiency as difficult as possible to work out. Because we’ve played the concept in many different forms before, the game’s selling point is the working out, of all the available tiles (20+), what’s the best and most efficient way to lay the best subset of these tiles so that the maximum number of pipes in your tableau have the maximum length each. The more, the longer, the more efficiently your cubes convert into more money. Most money wins. Your enjoyment of the game largely comes down to what your opponents deem an acceptable amount of timeframe to process that tile challenge each time they’re in tile buying mode. 1 minute, 2, 5, 10, 20. The decision tree needs Deep Blue. I swear I’ve never played a game with longer turns. Yeah, the puzzle was interesting when it was your turn to make everyone wait, but the rest of the game was ho-hum and so dry it needed oiling. This and the downtime marked it down for me. Something similar here
SUBATOMIC: AN ATOM BUILDING GAME (2018): Rank 3210, Rating 7.1
It’s a workable little deckbuilder game. The theme is both excellent (if you’re a science nerd) and completely non-engaging (if you’re anything but). Your deck starts with quark and photon cards and you use these to buy neutron, proton and electron cards. Once your deck is strong, you start playing these to build up your proton/neutron/electron count that allows you to build atoms (rather than using them to buy more cards) as scoring atoms wins the game. Start again, build another atom. While it works, it seems like there’s going to be minimal variety from game to game, and any deck-thinning strategy that ends up proving successful is going to be repeated. It’s slow progress building up, but then it’s rush, rush, rush for points – once you have a strong working deck you just keep playing it through. The game ends quickly as a result, which isn’t a bad thing. Swingy though.
TOWN BUILDER: COEVORDEN (2019): Rank 4724, Rating 7.6
It’s Glory To Rome distilled down to playing a card to your personal tableau as a building (for its effect and points once its built), or playing a card for its resource to help build one of your unfinished building cards. A turn is simply taking two cards from the 5 card draft and doing the above. Getting good building effects early is essential to accruing advantage over and above the gain-2-cards-a-turn standard. Your game is dependent on what’s available in the draft on your turn(s), be they effects or the resources you need to finish something. It’s a card game after all. It’s a little slower than preferred as the constant turnover of cards in the draft, most with new effects, requires reading and assessment on each player’s turn. There are intra-game and end-game missions to compete over. Although the turns are mostly straightforward, the game still provides bang for your buck for the 30-45 min timeframe, and it should be satisfying seeing your chosen effects play out.
SPOTLIGHT ON: RA (1999): Rank 155, Rating 7.5
50+ plays. Arguably the greatest 3 player auction game of all time. Placing future bidding power into the auction pile is a masterstroke. Limiting each auction to once around, and restricting each player to 4 (or 3) wins each round is key to making a fast moving game. Oodles of luck in determining the contents of the auction pile provide the fun and drama, as well as the continual challenge in determining what’s the right bid given what’s in it, how far into the round you are, and the other players’ collections so far. All in all, eminently replayable.
Thoughts of other Opinionated Gamers:
Larry: Ah, Patrick, we’re pretty much on opposite sides of the fence for this article. Viz.:
Gaia Project – I admire Terra Mystica tremendously, but I’m pretty bad at it–the level of advanced planning necessary to do well is something I struggle with. I’m at least competent at Gaia, possibly because it’s more open, but I doubt I’ll ever be particularly good at it. Still, it’s a hell of a game and one I enjoy playing, even as I scramble to get things done. It’s definitely more challenge than frustration for me, despite my less than stellar (ha!) play.
Paladins of the West Kingdom – Even though this is far from a short game, I don’t feel like it drags at all. There’s a lot to think about, which keeps you occupied during your opponents’ turns, and since much of it takes place on your own board, your plans can usually be carried out. The real challenge is the interconnected nature of the actions, where you need to do Action A to boost Stat B, to get it to a high enough level to do Action C (which is what you really want to do). I find this very interesting and very challenging. In our games, strategies have varied considerably, if only due to the use of the workshops to decrease the costs of different actions. Besides, the end-game points are nice, but far from essential. This is easily the heaviest of designer Shem Phillips’ games; not surprisingly, it’s also my favorite, and one of the highlights of the year.
Pipeline – Patrick, is it possible that your players are a shade too deliberate? Because, while my group takes a bit of time to figure out how to build their display of pipes, it never takes more than a minute. And that includes me, and my poor spatial reasoning makes this aspect of the game particularly challenging. Despite that, I think this is a very nice title, with a lot to think about, and a real challenge in trying to get things done in a fairly small number of turns.. And outside of the few turns where folks add pipes, the game zips along pretty good, particularly for something of its weight. I think if I were better at visualizing the networks, this would be one of my favorites; as it is, it’s a quality game that I’m happy to play anytime.
Ra – So here’s where we differ on this classic design. For you, it appears that “Oodles of luck in determining the contents of the auction pile” is a feature; for me, it is definitely a bug. In fact, this always seems to decide the games I’ve played of it, so I gave up on Ra a long time ago. The 2-player game is decent, but still, this is an example where my opinions, and the opinions of the rest of the gaming world, diverge pretty considerably.
I’m definitely with Larry on all these points. I particularly like Gaia Project and thought it was a step up from terra mystica. (I’ll see whether the new expansion to Terra Mystica still maintains this view.)
I’m also of the view that Pipeline is fast (90 minutes or so). The only slow aspect is building your network of pipes and that is nearly always is sub optimal as you add more tiles. But that’s the fun element to make the most of what you did.
I’ve only tried Paladins once so I don’t know how it compares with Architects, which I really enjoyed. I’m expecting to like it about the same as I enjoy this series of games and how they are developing.
I like Everdell; I love the card interaction and synergies. However, as Patrick mentions, the font is tiny and it is hard to see the goals and options on the board. It’s very pretty, but I think the board is made to be visually enticing rather than functional, and there’s a lot of down time while people figure out what everything is.
I hated Ra when it first came out. I don’t really like auction games much, and this was no exception. I played it four or five times and decided I was done. Fast forward a few months later and it was my only option at game day; I could play Ra or I could wait. So, I decided to give it a try. It was a 3 player game and I thought it was great! I played it several times 3 and 4 player and I really do like it. I still prefer to not play it with 5, but now that I know it so much better I will.