The more I write in this prelude, the less time there is to play games. Let’s go!
ARGONAUTS (2015): Rank 3870, Rating 7.1
Vanilla co-op. Each turn, move the boat one space along the track, do the encounter indicated. It may be an event card, or a port to buy resources, or a boss monster to fight. Your team’s response is for each player to play one of their 4 characters for either its skill value (total them all up to beat what’s required) or its ability, using/cycling through your 4 characters while eyeing off what’s coming up next. Straight-forward, lots of luck. It’s continual risk-mitigation in the quest to stay alive long enough to get to the end, getting continual best use out of your best characters. It ain’t rocket science, and there aren’t enough interesting decisions to want to survive for 60 minutes.
THE ARTEMIS PROJECT (2019): Rank 1865, Rating 7.6
Dice worker placement to gain resources to buy cards for effect and VPs. (I’ve never written that before.) Resolution is only after placement of all workers … so you know how that’s going to go. It’s kinder than Crystal Palace though. I like how the resource spots have no limit on how many dice can be placed but the lowest dice get first dibs, so if you place too high a die too early you run the risk of missing out. What I didn’t like was how high a risk buying the cards was. Any die can be beaten by another higher die placed afterwards. Sure, they could have bought another card, but why bother when they can knock someone else off and still buy a card at the same price. High potential for a very nasty game, especially given you only get 5 actions per round to get both VPs and cards. The third element was earning and upgrading meeples to power up your cards. The game is probably likable but I wasn’t a fan of how easily any strategic approach you want to take can be derailed, especially because the means to manipulate dice pips are plentiful which makes it tres difficult to be sure of how anything will pan out.
COFFEE ROASTER (2015): Rank 1556, Rating 7.8
This is an Essen re-release, with really nice production values. It says premium solo game on the box and I’m inclined to believe it. Each round you pull out an increasing number of chips from your bag. Numbered chips increase in value, you can sacrifice coloured chips for actions to thin out dead tiles, aggregate or divide numbered chips, earn special actions for the end-game, and so on. You’re manipulating the bag until you feel confident you can start the end-game draw, aiming (after 10 chips) to draw a total value equal or close to the scenario target, and the declared number of each coloured chip. In effect you’re tracking what percentage of numbered vs coloured vs dead tiles you have left, and what’s the average value of those numbered chips. The more special actions you earn, the more control you’ll have over the end-game. There’s only a handful of bag-pulling rounds and the decisions each round over how to spend your coloured chips, or not, are compelling and important. I usually find bag-pulling a tiresome mechanic, with a constant lingering question mark over whether I’ve truly randomised the draw, but the decision quality here dissipated my usual distaste. There’s a bunch of scenarios, all with different starting tile content and different win conditions, to the effect of, each time I thought I was finished, I looked at a different scenario and thought, oh, that’s an interesting mix, I wonder what the best approach is for that = replay value.
MANDALA (2019): Rank 3458, Rating 7.6
Quite a pleasant 2p game. Cards are spread across 6 colours. There are two areas of play (each known as a mandala), and in a mandala you either add a single scoring card (to draw 3 cards) or play as many cards of a colour to your side of the mandala, because whoever has the most cards when the 6th colour is played has first choice of which scoring cards to take. Sounds simple, is simple. There are some obvious decisions, like playing cards which score high for you but low for your opponent into the score field, but there are fun decisions as well, like playing cards which score high for your opponent into your own field to stop them placing that colour into the score fields (as each colour can only be represented in one place in the mandala, be it scoring or in either player’s field). If one mandala isn’t turning out well, you can always concentrate on the other! The decisions are probably too simple to earn vast replay, but the rules are easy, it finishes in a nice timeframe, and it feels like a nice spouse game.
THE MENACE AMONG US (2019): Rank 9567, Rating 7.7
It really does capture the essence of Battlestar Galactica in just 30-45 minutes! Each player gets a secret character and a standard deck, which has cards added to it as specified by their role (which also gives each player a set of unique actions). Each turn everyone either plays a card from their deck (which either advances the win condition or hinders in various ways), or draws a card (hmmm), or does one of their special actions (more hmmm). The played cards are shuffled and then actioned, so you’re never quite sure who played what (very BSG!). You’re trying to identify the “cylons” by their card-play, their non-card-play, and their action choices, and out them before they do too much damage. It was fun, fast, and progressed to climactic moments in short order. In truth there’s too much time required for setup and takedown, but it seems a necessary evil given how much variety the character and role combinations offer, and the game generated a lot of laughter which forgives more sin than this game carries.
METEOR (2014): Rank 5389, Rating 6.2
Co-operatively play the required resource cards onto rocket cards (played by anyone) to flip a meteor card and hope that the value of the rocket and meteor cards are the same so as to kill off the meteor! Kill off 8 meteors (a few overkills are ok, but too many will kill you) before the timers run out and you win. It’s too easy if people are allowed to talk so ban talking, sucking any co-op social fun out of the game. And make it really difficult to draw cards so that you’re dependent on good draws, even if you are playing smartly and jointly dumping cards in the prescribed manner to collectively earn replacement cards. Its charm is that it’s quick, and people were ok playing again to see if luck (and the gameplay) was better next time.
NOVA LUNA (2019): Rank 4066, Rating 7.3
Uses the Patchwork time-based turn order mechanic to pick up tiles – the more points a tile can generate, the longer it’ll be until you get another turn. Each tile specifies what colour tiles it wants to be adjacent to so as to earn points. The trick, like Habitats, is to arrange it so that every tile not only scores itself, but also helps each tile that its adjacent to score as well. Easier said than done, but a nice challenge. I prefer Habitats as you have more control over the tiles you pick up, it’s easier to plan ahead, the different scoring rules are more interesting (Nova Luna’s is one-dimensional with adjacency the only requirement) and there’s a decent theme. This is abstracted out and simpler, but it has the benefit of playing faster. I’d happily play either.
TRISMEGISTUS (2019): Rank 2231, Rating 7.5
The rules are complex and horribly written, already with a ton of FAQ directly after release. If you’ve managed to learn the rules well, and had a crew that stuck with it for a few games to learn how to play it well – two different things – this is likely to be a really good game with lots of enjoyable exploration on offer. The issue after being burnt on a first play is getting to that point. I think of it as a 120-minute boardgame of Ganz Schon Clever with ramped up turn order issues – each player gets successively fewer actions (to get resources, convert them, spend on cards and tiles for VPs), but every turn must pause for the inevitable who-wants-to-follow actions (a mechanic I hate more with every incarnation), and then the chains kick in – this gets you this get you that gets you this gets you the sh*ts gets you that gets you … hmm, I wonder how many things I just missed, or played incorrectly? I’d play it again because I can see the promise, I just need some time to calm down first.
WIZARDS OF THE WILD (2015): Rank 4377, Rating 6.8
This surprised me on the upside. It’s simple – roll dice, 2 re-rolls, earn the resources on the kept dice, spend different resources to buy cards and activate card effects, repeat for 7 rounds. But the dice re-rolling decisions on what to keep and what to re-roll are made pleasantly difficult by what you need for your purchase(s) vs what’s needed to activate your effects, and there are many ways to go each round. The rules are easy and it’s a nice 30 minute timeframe. On the other hand, downtime is pure and turns get longer with each round. You don’t want to be playing with more than 3 players, but I enjoyed it for what it offers in its space.
SPOTLIGHT ON: STICHELN (1993): Rank 918, Rating 7.0
This game has seen a lot of play over the years. Its primary feature is that you can play any card to any trick, and everything in the non-led suit is a trump. This throws new players into a complete loop on what to play, with lots of errors made in the early games and quite slow play. Once you’ve climbed the learning curve, it becomes a game of stitching people up with high-scoring cards (in a game where low score wins) and knowing what cards to keep, firstly for your own protection and secondly to make your opponents wary of winning tricks (leaving more for you!). Counting cards in your misery suit is essential to survival. Once everyone’s got the vibe, it becames king-makery as people decide what big cards to keep to the last plays, meaning players in those suits can’t afford to win tricks – which turns it into a bit of a lottery. It gradually fell out of favour, but we none-the-less got a lot of mileage out of it, and we still occasionally pull it out for nostalgia plays.
Thoughts of other Opinionated Gamers:
Tery: My review of Nova Luna will be out by the time this is published, so you may already know what I think but I like it. I like it much more than I like Patchwork; I think it is because I feel like I have more control. I have only played it with 2 and 3, and I do think it is better with 2 if you want an idea of what tile you will be able to get next, but it is still enjoyable, if a bit less predictable with 3.
Sticheln is one of my top favorite card games of all time. It takes all the rules you know about trick taking games and throws most of them out the window. It’s hard to figure out the best play when you are first learning the game, and it’s still a puzzle dozens and dozens of plays later. You sometimes have to take risks despite your best-laid plans, and you often can mess with the minds of your fellow players who are trying to figure out if they should take a risk. So much fun.
Dale: Interestingly, the only game here to comment on is Coffee Roaster. I liked this as a solo game – I brought it with me on a work trip, and it was an enjoyable challenge with different scenarios to keep it interesting. Well, I guess I can comment on Sticheln, in that I’ll likely never voluntarily play it again.