My Essen theory is, if you have a great game, you want to release it at any time other than Essen so as to give it clear air and allow us to hear the bagpipes swell. If you have an average game, you want to release it at Essen to maximise sales – people are more likely to buy it on a whim and a chance, before word spreads of its averageness. This has the added benefit of buyers writing the game up as better than it is to assuage their buyer remorse, in an attempt to limit their embarrassment and the public shaming at getting sucked in to Essen hype (once again!).
At time of writing, I’ve only scratched the surface of Essen games (there are multiple Essen weekends coming though), but it’s not been a good look so far. With each play, I could feel ever stronger waves of buyer regret from our Essen-travelled colleagues, with the occasional muttered “What was I thinking” emanating from behind closed doors, coupled with a rhythmic thumping that sounded suspiciously like head meeting ceramic.
Look, it’s not quite that bad. The rising boardgaming waterline has lifted game design across the board and everything we play could actually be considered a good game. It’s just that there are so many games that expectations have risen with the waterline. Anyway, the trick to enjoying Essen games? Know all this going in, and set your expectations accordingly. They’re much easier to enjoy then.
CARTOGRAPHERS (2019): Rank 910, Rating 7.7
Yet another flip-and-write game of drawing polyomino shapes on your sheet that works perfectly fine but induces little urge to play again. Each game has different scoring conditions, but each turn is the same experience – flip a card, and ponder your map to determine the best place to draw that shape and terrain type, given the score conditions in play and what’s possible to come out next. It’s the pondering that is ponderous. And rather futile; you’re still beholden to the luck of the cards. Play it out, tally the scores, that was fine, let’s move on to something more challenging, sociable, and fun. I did like how the changeable scoring conditions encourage you to develop your map differently each time though, and that would be the attraction over others in the genre.
DIE CREW (2019): Rank 2932, Rating 7.8
While I haven’t played this trick-taking co-op through its 50 different challenges yet, the ones I have played have challenged us to think differently about how we communicate our hand strengths and weaknesses, and challenged us to be creative and daring in how we engineer wins with tricky card spreads. That’s exactly the type of thing I’m looking for in a game these days, different ways to challenge ourselves while staying in comfortable settings, and this goes straight to the top of my list of games I want to play out for a while.
COSMIC FACTORY (2018): Rank 5041, Rating 6.9
Draft 9 tiles, and then you get 60 seconds to arrange them in a 3×3 grid for best scoring effect, real-time simultaneous. Repeat 4 times. Each tile has 2×2 quadrants, with random walls between quadrants, and you’re trying to get the same colour quadrants joined up, and walls joined up. It’s not easy to optimise and 60 seconds isn’t long. With practice though, you’ll clean up. Unfortunately this doesn’t really encourage replay for non-gamers, nor for non-practiced gamers, so I’ve never been able to work out just what the market niche is for this stuff. I don’t get a lot of satisfaction out of doing well (where things come together quickly), nor frustration at not doing well (where I don’t “see” it quickly); I’d just rather be doing something I can invest in rather than pass the time in. Dale gave a similar review earlier
ILLIMAT (2017): Rank 2643, Rating 7.4
Take a dull card game (Scopa) where you claim cards simply by matching numbers or matching totals, make it duller by use of a black and white colour scheme, add some pain-in-the-butt random event cards that need to have rules lookup each time they’re revealed, add a painful process by which the fields in which you can claim cards changes randomly, and have it so the winner is the player who draws the most high cards. Enough said.
RUSH M.D. (2019): Rank 9450, Rating 7.2
A real-time co-op where everyone has a specialised role. You flip cards, stock the pharmacy with the resources required by the cards, and move those resources to the cards using tweezers. It avoids the alpha-director problem because you’re intensely focused on performing your role, to the point where you’ll have no idea what anyone else is doing or how they’re going. That’s also its downfall. There are no risk/reward decisions, it’s just real-time specialised role performance, repeat, with comms limited to the basic “I need this”, “Here you go” type stuff. There’s thematic satisfaction, and I’d play again for that, but I want more from a game than to do the same thing repeatedly at speed for 4 x 4 minute rounds. Winning it in hard mode on the first play didn’t leave a lot of room for growth either.
OH, FOX! (2019): Rank 10322, Rating 6.9
You program 8 moves around the board, with each move secretly chosen and revealed simultaneously before revealing the next, so people can see each player’s program. But you don’t actually resolve the programs until all 8 moves are locked in. It’s therefore asking you to mentally track the likely position of each player throughout – because one player gets their points by landing on you and you’re trying to avoid that. It’s made trickier because each player has a secret move, and when they reveal that card you need to keep track of multiple places they could be. If it all sounds all too much like way too much work, you’re right. Once you give up on the mental tracking, it all becomes random and you find you don’t really care.
ISHTAR: GARDENS OF BABYLON (2019): Rank 3216, Rating 7.2
An abstract tile-laying game where your laid tiles get you crystals (which can be traded in for skills or points) and have flowers on them (which provide points and allow you to compete for majorities around the board). A turn is to pick up the next tile or spend crystals to pick up a future tile (which may have more flowers, or a better shape to pick up crystals, or allow you to place scoring pieces) and place it on the board. Part of your strategy is to get lucky with the tile display so you don’t have to pay crystals. It’s multi-player abstract, so the other part of your strategy is to have the other players compete among themselves for majorities points and leave you alone. It had a faint Through The Desert whiff about it, but too many placement and scoring options (which can inversely be the reason you want to play it again if you’re after that) made it drag out a little too much for me, especially with little theme to pull me back.
MARCO POLO II (2019): Rank 3933, Rating 8.1
Probably a better feel with better design choices, and for the Marco Polo diehards it forces you to explore different strategic paths. In terms of game-play it’s much the same experience though re the high/low die placement worker-placement tradeoffs. If you don’t own the original but really liked, this would be a solid buy. I’m an intermittent player at best, so it gets the same rating and comment, being: Worker placement in another guise, which makes it difficult to rise to any great heights. Instead of meeples, you place your dice. High values are good if you’re first into an action place because it’s free and the high value boosts its power, but you want low values otherwise because you’ll pay gold to use the action (to the value of your lowest die used). There are various get-outs to modify and re-roll dice, which is a two-edged sword in that it provides options to ponder but lengthens downtime. It’s a game of assessing what the other players are likely to do and determining if you need to do it first or if it can wait. What stood out was the ability to add to your choice of available actions by choosing where to travel (each location provides a new and different action). You’ll want to choose your path wisely so as to complement your character’s VP strategy, and that’s the guts of the replay, trying different approaches to VP accumulation. It’ll get a few more plays to that end, and to give it further opportunity to grow on me.
TAPESTRY (2019): Rank 313, Rating 7.6
Your approach to doing well is pre-game planning. There are 4 tracks, each containing 12 actions, which you can progress through sequentially. Work out the optimum progression path(s) for the various types of civ specialisations, decide your optimum path during setup, and execute. The chosen path should give you a shot at winning a few first-to races regardless, so you can pretty much play the game out without opponents overly affecting your plans or decision making. There’s an interesting solo puzzle in this for the so inclined, but higher rating games for me provide more intra-game challenges laid down by opponents, and more risk/reward decisions, than this ultra-sandbox game provides. I’d play if others want to, because there’s a decent learning curve there still.
SPOTLIGHT ON: CARCASSONNE (2000): Rank 161, Rating 7.4
50+ plays. Given how fast we play, this is mostly a filler/closer now rather than the light Euro it started life as. Too many expansions add more weight than the mechanic (draw a tile, play a tile) can bear so we just use our favourites – the doubler meeple, and traders and builders, as they provide more dynamic, less stagnant board positions. It’s very elegant in its simplicity. Pick up a tile, play a tile, score if you’ve completed an element you started earlier, place a meeple on one of the elements you’ve just placed to potentially score later. The key to its success is the claim now, score later feature – in most tile-laying games you score with the playing of the tile itself. Combine that with offering people different elements to claim on each tile to offer choice, and fast turns to boot, and the game has broad appeal. While it doesn’t come out as often as it used to, it’s still a quality game I enjoy.
Thoughts of other Opinionated Gamers:
Cartographers – It seems impossible to take all four scoring cards into account for the entire game, so I focus on a few at a time and hope for the best. I never really feel in control, nor does there seem too much scope for cleverness. It’s decent and I’ll play if others want to, but it’s not something I’d ever suggest.
Illimat – I don’t dislike it as much as Patrick does, but neither did I find anything particularly likeable about it. Not something I need to play again.
Tapestry – Figuring out how to best work your way up the four tracks is a mildly interesting puzzle, but the game is way too long for what it provides, has next to no player interaction, and very little tie-in to its theme. Game balance is a significant concern as well. I just don’t find this that much fun to play, which, together with the other negatives, means this is currently my lowest rated game of 2019.
Carcassonne – It’s been forever since I’ve played this, but it was an enjoyable 2-player game for a while. 3 players is tolerable, but 4 or more is pure torture–too little control and way too much downtime. With 2, however, you can play some nice defense and the farmer battles can be quite interesting. We always played with the original HiG farmer scoring and only used the Inns & Cathedrals expansion.
I really enjoyed this game. It seems to get played much more as it can take a wide number of players, it’s easy to explain and produces interesting outcomes. People also like the fact that you can draw your shape or symbols and for some reason this seems more satisfying. Many of the players I have played with have compared it with Silver & Gold as a great end of evening filler.
I looked forward to the game and still enjoy it but I think it could have suited my tastes more if the building of the city had more interesting aspects than filling the grid. I can see and have experienced wild swings through card combinations but I’m happy with that. I’m happy to play it when suggested but it’s not sufficiently close to my own liking to suggest it more than infrequently.
Die Crew – I have only played it once (although we played 8 rounds or so), but I love it and am anxiously awaiting my copy. It’s collaborative in that you all have the same goal, but optimal play is each player’s sole responsibility, and it leads to a very interesting game.
Illimat – I am a big fan of the band the Decemberists, who were involved in the design of this game. I wanted to love it because they made it., but I don’t. It’s not bad; it has some interesting elements, and the art is cool. The play is a bit clunky, though and there’s a bit too much time feeling like you can’t do anything useful.
Carcassonne – I loved Carcassonne, but I definitely got burned out on it after a lot of plays and a seemingly unlimited supply of promos and expansions. I did play it again a few months ago with just the base set and the river and it reminded me that it is a classic that I do indeed enjoy.
Cartographers – I like it a lot… and have had a great deal of fun with it as a solo game.
Die Crew – Played with a couple of groups only to Mission 7 or so… but it was great fun. Really solid design with lots of replayability.
Carcassonne – Still gets played on occasion. My preference is to only play the first couple of expansions, or Hunters & Gatherers.
Die Crew – Our copy is currently unopened, but Melissa has played at BGG.Con and from what I hear it will get played when she gets home (Narrator: She liked it and has told me to buy sleeves).