… and this episode ticks us over to 200 new games for the year!
With that groundwork laid, an observation on the latest design trend if I may: you know, I’ve never met a roll-and-write, or flip-and-write, or whatever incarnation comes next, that’s needed a second playing. I understand their existence. They’re cheap to buy, easy to teach, pleasant to play, cheap as chips to produce, healthy profit margin. But they all boil down to one thing – write-and-hope. After running risks and rewards in your head about your chances of what may roll / flip / whatever next (assuming you care that much vs playing by feel) you commit to something on paper and then you play on in the hope that you get lucky.
What used to happen in play-and-hope games is that your decisions impacted other players, allowing gamers to interact and bond over the competition. But write-and-hope removes most of that. When everyone plays in their own sandbox, the communal gaming bond diminishes.We’re making different risk/reward decisions to see who gets luckiest. It’s true I’ve also never met a write-and-hope I haven’t minded – they’re pleasant enough and I enjoy exploring everything after all. But I’ve still never met one that’s needed another playing either. Explored, deciphered, nothing special to hook more plays, done, move on.
In regards to previous observations:
– my Essen theory (if you know it’s an average game, release it at Essen to max your sales before its averageness is common knowledge) remains unsullied by the 2019 experience to date, and
– escape rooms still aren’t games, they’re puzzles, and should not be cluttering up the BGG game rankings!
AZUL: SUMMER PAVILION (2019): Rank 2838, Rating 7.9
I rate the original an 8 and this feels close. Like Sintra, it’s hard to predict what other players want because the map gives the players so many options. This makes the tile-take less interactively interesting. Making one colour wild each turn (and allowing 1 wild to be taken additional to the colour you’re taking) provides more interesting map-scoring options. But it has the downside of bigger earlier takes, putting too much premium on turn order – yes, taking the first player token costs more, but there’s big advantage in going 2nd/6th/… over 4th/8th/… at no cost to the player getting 2nd. Lastly, turning the placement of tiles on the map into a new phase after all the tile-takes generates a clunky turn order requirement to resolve the order in which bonus tiles are taken from the display, and this slows life down. On the upside, the new map-scoring rosette approach is refreshing and yearns for more play. The downs are probably slightly more than the ups, but it’s being picky. It’s a fine version I’d happily play.
COOPER ISLAND (2019): Rank 2730, Rating 7.8
Ultra-sandbox game with ridiculous (but pleasant looking) theming. It’s played in 5 rounds, starting with 2 actions per round and the chance to increase that later. It’s not really worker placement because you can do any action you like – you just pay a resource to the player who last took the action. Still, it’s good to diverge on strategy to minimise those payments. It’s designed such that it feels like it takes longer than normal to get an engine going, and therefore less time to reap the rewards. You place 2-hex tiles Java-style on your personal board to earn resources, the higher the tile, the more resources you get. That’s the interesting puzzle piece – earning resources efficiently to pay for the things your strategy wants to build (buildings for powers, statues for VPs, boats for income, etc). It then forces you to build on your best resource-earning spots, losing them, forcing continual re-growth. The attraction is playing it enough to master each strategy, and placing tiles so as to minimise the risk of bad tile draws and maximising rewards for good tile draws. Once you’ve got it mastered, you’ll only be replaying to optimise and beat your own high-score … so it seems to have an interesting but limited shelf-life. It’s also one of those games where you stick your head up at the end and ask what did everyone else do!
CRYSTAL PALACE (2019): Rank 3251, Rating 7.9
It’s like its set out to make the ramifications for the tiniest mistake as horrible as possible. There’s a slew of complicated action possibilities (that take forever to teach btw), but it boils down to resource acquisition in order to buy cards for effects and VPs. The difference of note is that each player secretly sets the value of their dice (workers), paying for each pip. In each action field, there are spaces for multiple dice but only a subset will actually get to do the action – those dice/workers with the highest pips. Money is incredibly tight so you can’t afford to overpay, but if you don’t guess correctly which actions the others badly want and will pay big for, you can pay big and get nothing. You can also be screwed on turn order, paying big, but seeing the spots you wanted taken before you even have a turn purely because your LHP paid the teensiest bit more for their collective dice, making you last in turn order. Then, make it worse – some action fields have action spots that provide different resources. All dice are played first, then all are resolved. During your placement, you have no idea if the player with a higher die will be taking the only spot you want (leaving you nothing) or something else. Then, make the game 3 hours long. It’s an interesting challenge to play well, learning how to balance the need for continual income boosting (the game auto-smacks you each turn) vs VP hunting, but its unrelentingly unforgiving nature and the continual pain of near misses wore me down by the end.
LUX AETERNA (2019): Rank 9615, Rating 7.0
In this solo game you draw 4 cards – you quickly assess the best combo in which to play 1 card to lower a die value, one for its event (usually to increase die values) and one to lower the timer track. Do it fast because you’re aiming to win (get 3 dice to value 7, or empty the deck under the time limit) in under 15 minutes, and before you hit the end of the timer track and before 4 dice hit 0. Under no time pressure, it’s an easy win because the decisions are usually straight-forward, hence the time pressure to make it a game with which to test yourself. You’re getting better? Then do it under 12 minutes. Or 10 minutes. At what point do you say hang on, what’s the point, why do I need to get better at this?
MASTERS OF RENAISSANCE (2019): Rank 4403, Rating 7.5
Ah, this was close to an 8, but such a stupid title. Firstly, it provides a clever means of earning resources. There are marbles in a 4×3 grid, choose a row or column, earn the resources matching the marbles in that row/column, then push a new marble in change it up. The other players earn a faith point if you take a resource you have no space for, but it can be worth it if you need something specific. Eventually you’ll buy cards with resource conversion powers that allow you trade resources down and place them in long-term storage. The game gets more interesting as it develops, and there comes a point where you gain strategic clarity which feels nice. The downsides? It can slow up because the last change to the marble grid forces a re-think, and if someone takes the card you were building towards (they’re all public contracts), more re-thinking and possibly a complete change in direction may be required. You’re at the mercy of what other players leave you just a tad too much, and it’s just a tad slow, but it’s otherwise an excellent abridgement of the Lorenzo system.
MONSTER TRICK (2015): Rank 6107, Rating 6.5
It’s not really trick-taking, more like there are up to 4 piles in the middle, and whoever’s played the highest card to a pile (all in a pile must be the same colour) when the 4th card is played to it wins the pile. Best points if you predict exactly how many piles you win. When to start a new pile and in what colour is important. The game forces you to think differently about hand assessment, which is its selling point, but in the end there seems to be little getting around the fact that you can safely call 9s and 8s as wins and there’s little you can do otherwise, except maybe try and engineer the creation of new piles in the hope the other players allow you to win something with a lesser card.
PORTO (2019): Rank 5570, Rating 7.7
Dare I say elegant? You either pick up cards from the display, or you play cards to build. (Are you thinking Ticket To Ride yet)? Here we’re building 1-3 floors with each build action, in buildings of 5 different colours. You have some private contracts which give bonuses if buildings are built in a certain arrangement. This gives some guidance, but your point mass comes from building any first level or last level, building adjacent to other buildings, and fulfilling as many public contracts as you can (eg play cards in these colours, or build X floors in this colour). These public contracts are continually being met and replenished so there’s a ton of luck in the game here, and obviously in what cards are available to pick up in the first place. You’ll find you want to give your card pickup some thought, but it’s fast paced because there’s little point tracking what other players are picking up – their cards might be used for number or colour and you won’t know which. It’s easy to teach, perfect timeframe. I’m thinking of it as a fast Ticket To Ride, perhaps with more card luck and less player tension, but certainly fun.
RACE FOR THE CHINESE ZODIAC (2019): Rank 9298, Rating 7.0
It could be the best simultaneous revelation board game I’ve ever played but … it’s simultaneous revelation, and the mechanic really doesn’t hold up for 60 minutes. It takes a crack though. Everyone reveals an action card and a strength card. How good each action card is changes each round (a wheel is rotated and each action points to a different value). They’re further modified by how high the played strengths are that accompany those action cards. Clever. You’re encouraged to play your action cards more or less in order (with penalties otherwise), and people want to play the actions that are on high values on the wheel, so you have a pretty good idea what actions people will play next … but hey, it’s still a guessing game, aggravated by also having to guess what strength they’ll play, and therefore what you need to play, and you go around in circles because whoever plays the higher strength gets rewarded with VPs. it’s all nicely done and I appreciated the design innovation, but yeah, in the end it’s an hour of continual guesswork.
TRAILS OF TUCANA (2019): Rank 4773, Rating 7.3
We come to the flip-and-write that inspired the prologue salvo above. Flip two terrain cards. Draw a line joining two hexes matching the shown terrain pair. Aim to either join up animals to villages for points, or join up pairs of villages for points. The village pairs are placed differently for each player, forcing map divergence. Go through the deck twice. Most points win. If you owned it you’d happily play it to try different strategies, but the result in the end is going to be determined by whether the specific terrain pairs for those last hexes you need to join up appear or not. The consensus was perfectly serviceable but bland.
SPOTLIGHT ON: FLASCHENTEUFEL aka THE BOTTLE IMP (1995): Rank 1198, Rating 6.8
30+ plays. It’s clever, unique, and arguably the greatest match of theme to card-play ever created! There are hands that are easy to play and you rack up the points, and others where you feel the pressure tighten inexorably, card after card, as you try and work your way out of the seemingly inescapable misery burden of the Imp. Even your discard and passes at the start of each hand aren’t trivial; they can make or break your hand. For the times where there’s no escape, it’s still your lot to devilishly minimise the points the other players earn and minimise the loss. It’s a game that rewards thought and concentration, and it’s standing the test of time.
Thoughts of other Opinionated Gamers:
Doug Garrett: Shelley and I had a great time with Porto (covered on Garrett’s Games Episode 697) and ‘elegant’ – as Patrick says – seems like an apt description. We did get one rule wrong, which makes it even better IMO. The Private goal cards that deal with two buildings being next to one another are NOT order specific. In other words if the card shows a blue, then a green building, you will score if blue and green are next to each other, regardless if it’s blue then green OR green then blue. Solid family-game entry!
Still working our way through plays of Azul: Summer Pavillion, but I enjoyed our first play quite a bit. I like the possibilities of triggering the completion of areas to get extra tiles, though the luck of what might be available at the time of that completion can be swingy. Regardless, it’s a nice addition to the series. We will be covering it on Episode 703.
Larry: Flaschenteufel is one of my two favorite three-player trick taking games (the other is Schnappchen Jagd, aka Bargain Hunter). Flaschenteufel’s design is fairly obtuse and counter-intuitive (even the rules for trumping, based on the price of the bottle, take a while for beginning players to grasp). But it’s well worth the effort. This remains a unique and highly enjoyable game, almost a quarter century after its debut.
Brandon: Cooper Island is indeed a multiplayer solitaire experience, and with everything that you personally have to plan, that’s a good thing. It’s such a long, tight game that I doubt that we ever see enough plays here to master it, but it was quite fun, and quite a deep game. Azul Summer Pavillion is right there with Azul for me as well, I think I still give the edge to the original, but that’s only because of the length of game play, it really has seemed to jump up here. I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing, but it is distinctly noticeable.
Mark J: You’re right about Lux Aeterna… 2 plays was enough for me. Nice art doesn’t make up for pretty standard decision-making under a time pressure.
Alan H: Flaschenteufel was probably the best 10DM I ever spent. It’s a great 3 player trick taking game that everyone enjoys but don’t understand on their first play.
Crystal Palace is a challenging game where each player can agonise over where to place dice. This makes it interesting but sometimes time consuming though after a few plays the game goes much more quickly. I’ve found that money can be tight or you can be flush with it but since money doesn’t win you the game you have to know how to get the best out of your choices. One of the decisions is whether to acquire more dice. If you do, this can be used as a timing device before you play high value dice in the game. There’s certainly more plays for me of this.
Race for the Chinese Zodiac is a game I’ve had more success introducing to newer games players as the options aren’t too many each turn and turns are quick. It fits a niche for an hours game that takes up to 5 people.
Azul Summer Pavilion is my favourite way to play with gamers. For families I’d still go with the first Azul but I can’t wait for my copy to arrive!
Mitchell T: Azul Summer Pavilion is another excellent addition to the series. It is the most studious, strategic and deliberate game in the series. I was worried that the best way to win would be to nail down the 1,2, and 3 tile scoring spots, and then complete one rosette. But I’ve now won three times in a row (2 player) by completing two rosettes. I’m not sure how much more there is to discover in terms of pathways to victory. My favorite is Azul SIntra as it is flamboyant and wonderfully variable, but I love the whole series and play them all frequently.