Playing games at an Essen weekend is like Gump’s box of chocolates. It’s easy to get roped into games that other people are interested in, bypassing all your usual self-selective-bias security alerts, often with alarming results.
ARISTOCRACY (2019): Rank 10076, Rating 6.6
Fill the board with 100+ tiles, reveal any 3, then do the action of any face-up tile on the board, which may to either gather every faceup tile of the same resource (sets of resources will score end-game points), or place your houses on all the faceup tiles of the same building type (or on empty spaces if you pick king or queen tiles) because you also score for connecting towns, specialising in regions, and being in all regions. Look, the decisions are pretty obvious and easy each turn so it’s not going to ever rate super high (think of this as Knizia dumbing down Africa maybe, if that’s possible), but I still enjoyed it, and you can make smart and less-smart decisions about where you turn over tiles. It’s simple to explain, easy to play, fast, and decent at the very light end of things, and there’s nothing to learn, but I’d probably happily play it again so I guess it passes the 7 test though the game-play says it really shouldn’t!
ECOS (2019): Rank 1862, Rating 7.3
Gamer bingo combined with a mass of card effects. You place cards into play that allow you to score and then other cards that allow you to build the eco-system your scoring card(s) want. The score cards require all sorts of combinations of terrain tiles which you adorn with trees, mountains, and various animal tokens. That part is cool. Each card has a set of resources it needs to activate, and the game proceeds by someone pulling resources out of a bag, each player marking each resource off one of their cards, until someone has a card whose set is complete. The game stops and the card activates. This produces a weird alternation of fast pace and very slow which lessens enjoyment – players like consistent pace. Also, I’d only play with 3, max 4, never 5 or 6. Cards can be used a set number of times (good) which is marked by rotating them, meaning you have to read your cards in 4 different directions (bad). This was awkward, but could be fixed by placing a “use” token on a card each time instead. The game got a bit same-y towards the back-half, but the ton of different score conditions to shoot for promises enough variety for replay. Dale reviewed it earlier without using the words “bingo” or “Augustus”.
QUIRKY CIRCUITS (2019): Rank 6117, Rating 7.4
Roborally co-op. Your mission is to collectively move the robot through a series of designated spots. Movement/turn cards are placed facedown and players can play whenever they want, in any order. The cards are revealed and resolved as soon as 5 have been played and you must succeed in the mission’s designated number of rounds. The entire deck is known and in hand (in the early missions at least) so each person assesses what would be the optimal 5 cards to play for this round, trusts that each other player comes to the same conclusion, waits for the optimal cards to be played (the card backs say whether it’s a move or a turn, but not how far or its direction), inserting the cards that they hold into their right spot as and when it’s time. It’s a bit like The Mind in that respect. Confusion can reign when people deviate from what you thought was optimal, and that’s the game, but not much of one because how do you get better? Either everyone’s in tune or not. There are lots of different missions and maps though, which could be fun to work through if you’re all on board with treating confused deviation as glorious failures and fun times.
ROLLED WEST (2019): Rank 10732, Rating 6.2
It’s roll-and-write so it’s starting from a low base, and magnifies its crime by being dull. Effectively you only get three dice to tick off stuff, so you don’t get a lot of choice. The only passive action is to write down a resource either of your neighbours used to boost what you can do on your turn. Each resource has two races to compete in, so either use the resources you rolled to tick off and progress in these races, or complete a one-off project for a combo. The other option is to tick off an end-game bonus that magnifies the points from the races and the one-off-combos. Nothing new, nothing interesting, disappointing. Brandon K’s take on it…
STEW (2018): Rank 5735, Rating 7.1
Draw a card, and either play it into the stew pile or discard it to stop one of the 6 powers that remove specific cards from the stew during the resolution. When someone thinks there are 12 points of cards in the stew, they call it, all the cards in the stew are revealed, the non-stopped powers remove what they will, and either there’s 12+ points and they win the round or everyone else wins the round instead. As you’re only seeing 1 in X cards, it’s a complete lottery. The only available fun I can see is calling the caller an idiot for guessing wrong (which can’t be understated of course) or crowing at guessing right. Your rating will reflect your groups’ love of enabling and enacting such. We abandoned after 2 rounds.
VIVALDI (2019): Rank n/a, Rating n/a
Tentative rating as I’d like to give this trick-taking game a better shot. Similar to Mu, it’s 5-player only and there’s a bid for partner. Whoever bids the lowest sets the trump suit and whoever has the trump card with a number equal to the bid is their partner. But if you have it, is it better to get that card into a trick early so that everyone knows who’s on which team (it’s 2 v 3) or keep it until later and wait until a big swoop can be won? Each team is trying to win the highest face value total, avoiding a misery suit. The twist is that any card can be played on any trick. That makes going last in each trick incredibly powerful, similar to Sticheln, and I’m just not sure there’s all that much room for being clever with the cardplay as a result.
WORDSMITH (2019): Rank n/a, Rating n/a
It’s a reimplementation of 1981’s Runes by the Dune crew. Roll up a random set of sticks and curves, each player collects that set, and uses them to form letters and make as many words as fast as they can, shouting them out and writing them down so that no one else can use those words. If you get stuck you can roll a die for more sticks/curves, but any not used in a word are lost. Only play this with people of equal vocabulary who love thinking quickly. There’s a knack to assessing exactly what letters you can form with any set of sticks/curve. I’m not a fan of realtime games, and it turns out I hate realtime worthsmithing. I was relieved it was finished so quickly by someone who had the knack.
WORD BANK (2019): Rank n/a, Rating n/a
Put out 7 random letters in a circle and make a word that uses as many letters in the circular sequence as you can, inserting as many letters as you need to make it happen. There’s slightly more to it, but basically the player who gets their gems out the fastest wins. Another game where you may as well just declare the person with the best recall of big weird words in a timely manner the winner and be done with it. At least with Letter Jam, that type of person is using their superpower for good rather than evil.
YOKAI (2019): Rank 6851, Rating 7.5
I guess you’d call this a micro co-op. There are 16 face-down cards in 4 different colours. Each turn you can secretly look at 2 cards and then move one, with the aim of re-arranging the cards so that by the end each colour has all its cards orthogonally adjacent. Roughly every second turn you can play a hint card on top of a card to help the other players know what you’ve seen. I suspect the difficulty level is set by which hint cards come out early – if you get early one-colour hint cards (i.e. this card is red), life is easy as every red card found will be moved to be outward from it in a chain to make it obvious they’re all red. If you get three-colour hint cards early (i.e. it’s red, green or purple), well, not really much use and turns can be wasted. If everyone’s concentrating on their memory, and making smart moves which indicate obvious things, and you get good hint cards early, you should succeed. Either way, it’s a diverting 15 minutes but memory games aren’t really top of my pops.
SPOTLIGHT ON: MU (1995): Rank 1041, Rating 7.2
This is a hard game to play well, which may be the reason why it’s attractive. Knowing how and what to bid based on who’s going to be the vice and what the under trump might be, or choosing to prostitute yourself to the would-be chiefs seems to be the key. With 5 suits spread across 5 hands, it’s highly unlikely to get a winning hand yourself, so it’s all about the bid declarations. As a result, it’s slower than I’d prefer, and perhaps a bit too luck-based in the final analysis. For a game that’s thought well of it rarely hits the table because, when suggested, it’s usually with a touch of trepidation at the thought of having to get our heads wrapped around the bid repercussions once more. But still, it seems to sit as a premier option in the serious 5 player card game category and I’ve always wanted to play it more than what hits the table.
Thoughts of other Opinionated Gamers:
Brandon Kempf: I agree with you completely on Rolled West and I said as much in my recent review. No amount of trying to make this thematically similar to Gold West can mask that the choices aren’t fun and you are just basically playing a basic fill in different spots on a player board roll and write, you just don’t have numbers this time around. Ecos is interesting, and I think that part of my problem with it is the same as yours. The pace of play is so stop and go that it doesn’t matter what combo-licious combination you have coming, you’ll forget how exciting it was while you wait for three other people to do pretty much the same thing on their turn. I really like the idea of it, and I don’t know if that idea can make me go back to it after just one play.
Tery: I am a big fan of Mu, but only want to play it with the perfect number – 5. Before my game group dissolved due to moves and various life changes we played Mu every single game night for more than year. I never got tired of it. It’s a trick taking game with added levels of strategy and complexity, with constantly changing partnerships that lets you adjust to the situation based on the cards in your hand. It is much harder to get it to the table these days and I miss it.