Patrick Brennan: Game Snapshots –2020 (Part 1)

As a new year commences, perhaps it’s timely to ruminate on the journey that junkie gamers take.

In your introduction to the hobby, every game is amazing, your eyes are opening up to a world of endless possibilities, every game must be tried just to see what you like, with the possibility of even better games just around the corner.  As you settle in, you become more discerning, understanding who you are and where your gaming preferences lie, and your spending reigns back in to something more reasonable and manageable. Eventually, the more you play, the more each new game reminds you of something you’ve played in the past. They don’t quite offer the same exciting learning curve experience. You’ve climbed that curve before. You enjoy every game, especially the company and the social, but it takes something special in a new game to provide the zing of a new learning curve experience, something that must be brought back to the table and override the call of the cult of the new. What was an 8 the first time you played “that game” is now a 7. Another decade passes and it may even be a 6.

After 20 years of playing games, it’s rare for a Euro to not feel like something I’ve played many times before. The market for standard turn-resources-into-VPs Euros is all the gamers who are nearer the start of their gaming journey and still climbing these learning curves. I’ll enjoy them, and enjoy the challenge of pitting myself against my gaming buddies (or against the system, as is happening more and more frequently) but mostly I don’t need to play them (yet) again. 

Instead, it seems I’m getting the most zing from games with a mass of card effects and campaign options. Not only do they provide in-built learning curves and guaranteed inter-game variety, but a campaign option provides a further drive to explore it, to see where the game takes you next.

You can probably now guess where the following games may lie. If you’re early in your gaming journey, you can probably safely add 1 to each rating ;-)

Hmm, maybe not …

BRUXELLES 1897 (2019): Rank 3627, Rating 7.6

I didn’t mind this as a 2 player, it worked well, but as a multi-player I’m less enamoured. The game is about majorities at its core with commensurate first vs last player hosage considerations. There’s a common display and you either buy cards to later sell for money, or buy cards for end-game VPs, or buy cards to boost various end-game score multipliers. As first player you get best choice of cards to pick up from the display, and best choice of placement (to earn card-grouping bonuses), and as last player you get final say over who gets bonuses. I liked the idea of choosing what you pay for each card, and how that payment determined how much you were contributing towards the majorities bonus, but in practice you generally tended to buy at minimum anyway knowing that whoever played last in a column could always pay enough to win it over you. My main concern is that as the round progresses you’re mostly beholden to what’s left you and that it has a disproportionate effect on your result given there are so few actions in the game. Dale is a grizzled veteran, but he liked it a bit more.

Rating: 6

CHARTAE (2019): Rank 6708, Rating 6.9

Knizia takes Gamewright’s old Legend of Landlock, a children’s game where one player is looking to connect land and the other water, and makes it even simpler. You either draw and place a piece in a 3×3 grid or rotate a piece 90 degrees clockwise, both with the aim of joining up your terrain and unjoining your opponent’s. There are good placements, and there are good rotations. They may not always be obvious but it’s not going to send you braindead either. The game is so restrictive and prescriptive that you just have to say that sometimes simpler isn’t best. I preferred Landlock.

Rating: 5

ERA: MEDIEVAL AGE (2019): Rank 2231, Rating 7.2

I’m clearly not the market. This simple dice game worked well at 20 minutes in its Roll Through The Ages form but it’s not got the gravitas to maintain interest for 60 minutes, nor to justify the exorbitant price resulting from the overblown mound of plastic buildings you can find in mass market Walmart games. Nor to overcome the unforgivable messing up of the unreadable icons on the player boards. The gameplay itself maintains its essential form, deciding whether to buy more dice or income buildings or VP buildings, which has always been fine and fun. It really didn’t need the wall-it-in-for-double-points mechanic though, which seems to have single-handedly led to this requirement of needing a 27 cubic metre box to hold everything. This older review did not measure the cubic footage of the box either.

Rating: 6

MAGIC GARDEN (2019): Rank 14241, Rating 6.6

Be the first to place your folder-type mirror in such a way on your board so that the reflected image matches the target board. I’m told there’s a trick to seeing it fast. I guess it’s clever, but I had no interest. It’s not a game, it’s a puzzle. Adding a first-to-complete to a puzzle does not make it a game. Competing to be the fastest in an aptitude test (such as this) is not a game.

Rating: 2

MEGACITY: OCEANIA (2019): Rank 5891, Rating 6.9

Either spend your turn acquiring a cardboard tile on which to build, a contract specifying build requirements (number of pieces, height, shape, etc), or drawing pieces from the bag … or dexterously use your pieces to construct a contractually compliant tower on your tile and slowly (picture a Saturn V being rolled out) push the tile into the middle to join up with the other tiles so as to score it. The shiny pieces may look futuristically brilliant and be wonkier to build with, but honestly, I was playing this construction game with blocks as a 2 year old and this has nothing more than looks and a too long timeframe to offer.

Rating: 4

SLIDE QUEST (2018): Rank 3609, Rating 6.8

It’s a co-op where each player controls the height of their side of the board with a lever and elevates it as needed to have the piece slide along a set path on the map. You collectively win if it gets to the end without falling into a hole. I’m sure the maps get harder, but our piece wouldn’t slide. We’d have to jiggle, jiggle, jiggle, the board would come out of its slots, we’d jiggle some more to get it to move. It’s not a game if the components are broken.

Rating: 1

SMOOTHIES (2019): Rank 9279, Rating 6.7

The novelty of this roll-and-write is that you roll the dice such that they fall roughly evenly into the box and the box lid, and then choose which set of dice you’ll use as the active player (where you can tick off each die), with the other set made available to the passive players (who can only choose one die). The tickoff options are vanilla though – the main bonus is to tick off another space, with some allowing you to adjust a die value – and you score via the standard completion of columns and rows. It started well but the decisions turned out to be mostly obvious and the game went too long for what it offered.

Rating: 5

SOLAR DRAFT (2019): Rank 11306, Rating 6.7

Sometimes simple is best. Cards come in the form of planets, moons, and comets, and you’re building a solar system in your tableau from your sun outwards. Each card has an effect, often scoring more if it’s positioned in a certain manner in your solar system. On a turn, draw a card from the display or play a card. A turn is usually to look in the display for cards that match your current scoring goals, or complement them, or enhance them, or have otherwise useful effects, and if there’s nothing you like, play a card out from your hand instead. The effects were easy to read and parse so the game played at good pace in a nice 20 minute timeframe, and there were good decisions throughout. As such, it’s a game that was easy to like.

Rating: 7

UXMAL (2019): Rank n/a, Rating n/a

Either place a pyramid tile to earn resource cards, or place a priest on the resource you think the players will agree will be the most popular resource that turn, or burn resource cards (denying yourself the chance to score with them) to change the resource popularity order. Yeah, a stock market game. Play ever shortening but more valuable rounds as you add pyramid levels. Either everyone invested in the already-most-popular resource and scored much the same, or someone sacrificed score cards to change things up but ended up getting screwed by the other three who would undo it to protect their investments, meaning there was little point to going out on your own and therefore little point playing. The good news front had us finish the game well under the half hour.

Rating: 3

SPOTLIGHT ON: FAIRY TALE (2004): Rank 871, Rating 6.7

50+ plays. This was the spiritual precursor to 7 Wonder – it introduced us all to the draft mechanic which is now so often deployed to share cards around. It’s been an opener of choice for many years now due to the speed with which we can get up and going, and it takes 2-5 equally well. Increased familiarity with the cards has improved scores. Awareness of options and the requirement of alertness as to what the other players are looking for to ensure appropriate card denial to the next player is essential (which then lowers scores again!). There’s not huge depth, but there are a number of strategies we see people attempt and having that variety is great in a 10 minute game. You get a lot of decisions on whether it’s more important to keep a card for yourself or to deny a certain card to the next player. This, combined with fast speed of play, makes a perpetual winner.

Rating: 9

Thoughts of other Opinionated Gamers:

Alan How

Era Medieval Age is a game I initially passed on as it was set at a ridiculous price, but recently at least in the UK it was reduced to a more sensible price which allowed me to buy it. And it was a success with me and two of my groups so already I have had my monies worth. Yes it’s so similar to Roll Through The Ages, but most of my gaming groups have never heard of the earlier game and the presentation certainly allows the game to jump to the table.

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4 Responses to Patrick Brennan: Game Snapshots –2020 (Part 1)

  1. Pard says:

    Team play variant (with Richard Garfield’ rule) makes Fairy Tale shine.

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  4. Will Colton (DaGreenMachine) says:

    I have a working copy of Slide Quest and even when it is working, you are not missing much… Also, my copy has the subtitle of “The Video Game Board Game” which is probably the worst subtitle/tagline of any game I have ever played.

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