When I re-discovered boardgaming in 1999, I immediately knew I wanted to play anything and everything, just to “know” – know what was out there, know what I liked, know how to play well, know enough to recommend good games for others, know enough to be trusted by others. With the passage of enough time, last week I reached 3000 ratings and comments on boardgamegeek. There’s certainly a sense of satisfaction at having reached that kind of number, not only of being some kind of sign of how far I’ve progressed in my search for knowledge, but also of how much I’ve been able to give back to the hobby. Even if they are just one guy’s opinions in a sea of opinionated gamers!
Gaming weekends certainly help in that search, and here we are, still writing up games from our Essen weekend (which already seems forever ago), pretty much in the same order as they were played. In our last piece we put the garbage out (not one of my most salubrious days of gaming), but don’t worry, good clean times ahead.
As usual, depending on where you are in your gaming journey, you can probably add a 1 to any of my ratings!
5211 (2019): Rank 4674, Rating 6.5
Not sure I want my games named after game mechanics, but I guess that’s what we get for complaining about pasted on themes to abstract games. Your hand size is 5 cards. In the first turn of a round each player simultaneously reveals 2 cards. Then sim-rev 1 card. Then sim-rev 1 more card. Any colour with more than X cards busts (varying on the number of players), as do any colours that are tied, and all colours bust if the exact wrong number of null cards are played. Players are invested in ensuring any colour in which other players have played high cards bust, but do you let others do it and play for yourself? In that final reveal you want to get in the heads of the other players and what they might be playing to get their score over the line. Mutual benefit situations arise and there’s a nice cheer/groan that builds each round with the climactic last reveal. It then builds up again with the next round, continuing for 10 minutes or so until the deck runs out. It’s a sim-rev filler that actually works because games aren’t won or lost in any given round, and we enjoyed it accordingly. The fast game-play certainly helped!
BUS (2019): Rank 1588, Rating 7.1
This was the one Splotter game I never had a chance to play back in the day. It was lauded at the time for its design choices and the game still feels current, a sign that it was ahead of its time. Playing it gave me overtones of Indonesia (in the choice of which tech investment to make each turn before the delivery run) and Food Chain Magnate (the competition for passengers to deliver), fine games both. This feels a harsher implementation though, firstly because the worker placement phase is ultra-restrictive – first in, best dressed – and secondly because it’s so easy to lose passengers to other players solely due to turn order, and with passengers (aka VPs) being so low in number, every loss hurts a lot; probably too much so in a low-action game. Therefore I’ll mostly leave this to players who get a kick out of cut-throat games, but it’s certainly an interesting game to explore.
COLOMA (2019): Rank 2480, Rating 7.7
Actions are to acquire resources in a few ways, build effect cards, or build different forms of end-game VPs. I particularly liked how the card effects were linked to the actions, only triggering when you chose that action, providing specialisation paths to explore. The core of the game is that actions are simultaneously revealed in each of the 15 rounds. It speeds the game up nicely, the only downside being that the bonus of the most chosen action is unavailable, which splits between fine because you couldn’t do it anyway and providing reason enough for players to try and spread out among the actions. You mostly know where people would like to go based on their building powers, current resources, and previous actions, but the second-guessing is enjoyable because the downside isn’t game-ruining. The game felt thematic enough, hung together well, and was enjoyed. There’s a bit of exploration in the different card and VP pursuit strategies so I’d happily play further, but don’t feel the need to pursue it. A strong Euro 7.
COUR DES MIRACLES, LA (2019): Rank 9582, Rating 7.1
For a Euro I’d heard no buzz about, with a simple rule set and simple game-play, this was surprisingly good. There are 5 regions on the board, each region with 3 spaces. Place a piece facedown on a space and earn the region and space bonuses (mostly money, plot cards, or manipulating stuff), and if the region’s 3 spaces are full, reveal all the pieces there and the winner gets a control marker on the region. You can spend money to store a control marker, aiming to be the first to get all their control markers out. The revelations turn out to be fun because you kind of know what people are playing but there’s still a surprise factor, and there are so many revelations that everyone wins their share, moving the control markers around, easy come easy go, which means you need to store control markers to allow you to launch for the win. There are simple decisions all game, it plays fast, and the plot cards are really fun and mix things up nicely. Our game ended at the perfect length, but I could see it might go longer than wanted. It’s a game I’ve felt I’ve explored, but would happily play again if others wanted as I enjoyed it.
EXPEDITION TO NEWDALE (2019): Rank 3879, Rating 7.4
Pfister moves Oh My Goods to a bigger setting. Each card produces a type of good which is worth X money, and you spend that money to buy more actions, get more cards, build cards, and so on. You want to build a production engine to be able to generate as many goods at the highest price as fast as possible. You can take the gambley way to produce goods (hoping that the right coloured meeples are drawn from the bag), or the sure way and produce less, but hey, don’t grumble when the gamblers crow over payoffs, you know what you’re getting into! The good thing is that you can always pay something to compensate for an unlucky draw, but getting lucky certainly helps. You’re continually thrown the challenge of balancing the buying of more production cards for right now vs buying effect cards, or more actions, or other stuff that helps produce later. Further, there’s a campaign option! I felt I was unlucky all throughout my first game and I still enjoyed it enough to buy the game/campaign, so there you go.
LAST BASTION (2019): Rank 2818, Rating 7.7
If you already own Ghost Stories, you certainly don’t need to own this, especially if you have the White Moon expansion which elevates it. But if you’ve always wanted a copy, Last Bastion is a great re-implementation. The core is the same, but there are lots of little improvements. There was no change we didn’t like – more player powers are available (and are now separated from your colour board), the haunters work more cleanly, the board tile powers are tweaked in a few places for balance. The monsters are mostly the same, and just as pesky as ever – the game is still hard to win! Personally I preferred the ghost theming but this fantasy medieval setting doesn’t get in the way, so all good.
SKY TANGO (2019): Rank 3823, Rating 6.3
There are sun and moon cards with numbers and your mission is to build a sun row in number order and a moon row similarly, but only by playing cards at either end (ie smaller than the current smallest or higher than the current highest), never in the middle. You want to play close numbers together on your rows and play widely spread numbers on other players’ rows (you can play anywhere) to limit their play options. Bad numbers can be covered with an eclipse which can then be covered with (on your board hopefully) a better number. When you get 5 in a row without an eclipse, score them. Plays are obvious – pus your opponents when you can, play close numbers to your own rows when you can, get lucky with card draw. There wasn’t much here to tempt me back.
TAN-TAN CARAVAN (2019): Rank n/a, Rating n/a
You’re collecting cards for the most VPs, but the game is about how you do it. Mostly, you move the first card in the market up into the caravan and buy as many market cards as it allows into your hand. The remaining market cards slide along – ensure the first card left provides minimal purchase power to the next player! The only way to score cards (your other turn option) is to place as many cards of one type into the caravan such that the caravan fills up and then distributes. You get first pick in choosing all the cards of one type in the caravan to score, followed by each other player in turn. As such, being lucky enough to buy cards of the same type gives you more options of when to fill up the caravan when there are varying numbers of spaces left to fill. I’ve rated this for 4 players because the game at that count plays you and becomes a total luck-fest – who knows who’s going to trigger the caravan or what you’ll get. Add a rating point though for each player you drop because at 2p, with a lot more control over what goes in the caravan and what gets distributed to each player, it’s actually decent and fun.
YUKON AIRWAYS (2019): Rank 4146, Rating 7.5
Roll the dice across the gates, choose which dice to move from a gate to your plane – the earlier the gate the lesser the bonus, but the earlier you are in turn order. Your aim is to then deliver your dice to destinations on the board that match the ticket in your hand (for money) and have the same colour cube at that destination (for tech). You can also slough off extra cards for techs, and there’s a ton of them – earn more fuel, draw more cards, keep more cards, switch dice around, slough off fewer cards, and so on. The game is half choosing what techs are most useful, and half matching dice colours to cubes and cards in hand, half getting enough fuel to get there, and half beating other players to the cubes. I enjoyed it, helped by the exceptional player boards, but we wondered whether each game was going to feel a bit samey given we were feeling that the latter rounds were a bit samey – you’re basically playing the same game 6 times from slightly different starting positions as your tech advances and fuel is used up. Still, it hangs together nicely and I’d happily play it again, even if just to explore the tech values further.
SPOTLIGHT ON: GHOST STORIES (2008): Rank 232, Rating 7.3
31 plays. It’s pure co-op, trying to determine the ultimate strategy for the board you’re faced with, and executing with luck. The challenge is … how best to place ghosts to allow you to take advantage of village actions as often as possible whilst keeping the ghosts under control because they just keep on coming, every turn. By mid-game your player boards are likely swamped in ghosts, exacerbated by any unlucky rolling. Players are losing their lives and tokens and you’re hoping just to survive long enough to get to the boss monster and kill it before the deck runs out. Then, ratchet the difficulty up to the next level by adding boss monsters and starting with fewer lives and advantages. Otherwise, there’s always a “what could we do better next time” post-mortem to enjoy!
Thoughts of other Opinionated Gamers:
Bus: I played this when it first came out (20 years ago! Jeez, am I old!). It was interesting and very different, but I don’t recall what things I liked or disliked about it. My main impression was that it was the product of a pair of creative designers who had some promise. That promise was immediately revealed, since I played Splotter’s remarkable Roads & Boats soon thereafter. I look forward to playing the reboot, to once again experience one of the early efforts of Doumen and Wiersinga.
Coloma: Blind selection is one of my least favorite mechanisms, so I was concerned that it might annoy me in this game. Sure enough, it did, and it definitely can affect the outcome. The rest of the game is fine, but there’s really nothing new here. Consequently, it didn’t engage me, but it’s a decent enough middleweight game, even if it’s one I don’t need to play again.
Ghost Stories: Played this once and found it to be exceedingly difficult. The theme also did nothing for me and I’m not a big fan of co-ops to begin with. So not a title I’ve ever been tempted to return to, but I know of plenty of people who love it.
Coloma: I really enjoyed my one play… enough to put it on my BGG Secret Santa wishlist. I think it gets the angst of blind selection without severe punishment. (And there are buildings to mitigate the pain – I built a lot of them.) :-)
Expedition to Newdale: Another one play game that worked really, really well… and the campaign system means the game will have a lot of “legs” for multiple plays.