There’s a lot of 5’s and 6’s in my world at the moment.
When you’re playing f2f, you play games that people believe worthy of their money. A game may not be to your taste, or you may end up playing the odd mis-purchase, ill-conceived trade or a Kickstarter (aka undeveloped) game, but in the main you’re playing games that are selected by the group because they were expected to be quality. Of course it helps that your group will tend to like the same games as you. Otherwise you wouldn’t be part of the group. Either that or you’ll soon be moving on.
If you’re playing online however, the games presented and available for play are no longer group –selected. It’s a hotch-botch of games from all genres. I imagine that a lot are online because their market presence was too small to find their niche market. By going online, the hope is to find those gamers who never knew the game existed but who are actually part of the target market – who will find it, like it, talk about it, and expand sales and market share.
This lack of group self-selection has resulted in trying a lot of games over the last year that I’m not really the target market for. But if I talk about them, it may help those who are in the target market find them. So, 5’s and 6’s for me; maybe better for others.
This time we’re edging higher as we explore games more to my taste. I also re-discovered my liking for Dragonheart and its emergence as my go-to online 2-player game of choice for its ability to deliver an entertaining (yet quickly learnt) affair in under 10 minutes with a nice lets-go-again vibe.
BLUE SKIES (2020): Rank 7399, Rating 6.4
The theme and mechanics are as dry as a dead dingo in a desert, and it’s potentially an analyser paralyser’s wet dream. The rules seem to take longer than it does to play, but with a game under the belt, there’s a strange allure to go back to it because at heart it’s a simple beast. Buy gates where cubes are going to (or are likely to) appear, in regions where you want to have dominance at the end. And buy where other players have already bought to leach their points. And hope you get lucky with the random cube drops and card draws. It played a lot faster than the rules led you to believe, which is a good thing. Just be careful who you play it with because there are so many options on how to spend your money, weighing up odds, region points, leach points … the game being so themeless could make downtime dingy.
THE BUILDERS: ANTIQUITY (2015): Rank 2118, Rating 6.7
This adds a few layers of complexity on the original Middle Ages version, allowing you to upgrade your workers. The game is too short to need them though so I prefer the simplicity of the original, and otherwise the comment here is much the same: It’s a simple affair of using your actions to claim buildings from the draft (they’ll show how much of each of the 4 resource types is needed to build it), claiming workers from the draft (they’ll provide said resources), and applying your workers to your buildings until its resource commitments are met and you can claim its VPs. Be the first to build 17 VPs. An easy concept, but you find yourself with hard choices at every turn because it’s rare that you get exactly the workers you want for the buildings on offer. There’s a nice rule where you can spend as many half-VPs as you like to gain extra actions, for those turns where you really must. The game is analysis-prone while you try to determine best fits across everything in the draft and in your hand, and there’s probably more than a touch of luck involved in the final result if perfect combo’s fall into someone’s lap. But for a cheapish 30 min affair, the blend seemed appropriate enough to keep us engaged and wanting to play it again as a closer in future.
KOI-KOI (n/a): Rank 4680, Rating 6.7
Played with a cutesy imaged deck (yeah, yeah, it has a name, hanafuda deck, I don’t care) which simply makes it more difficult than it needs to be to see what each card is and what matches what. If you get past that, you get a rather simplistic card matching game, hoping that you can get the requisite matches to construct a scoring combination faster than your opponent – and there’s a barrier of entry here because there’s a whole bunch of them you need to learn. Given half the game is drawing the top card of the deck and claiming any match it has with the open cards (ie complete luck), it didn’t do a lot for me. Lucky I’m easily pleased by card games though.
LOST RUINS OF ARNAK (2020): Rank 167, Rating 8.2
Some slender deck-building combined with 2 worker placements each round allow you to get resources, which you variously convert into victory points by different paths – moving up a tech tree, or flipping tiles and meeting their resource requirements. Which sounds a little dry and very Euro, yet I was pleasantly engaged with the quality of the decisions, the number of paths to explore, and the different paths even just a few cards provide you. You go through your deck roughly 3 or 4 times, but the cards available and those you buy make a big difference to the game. Resource scarcity will differ each game as well and will provide different challenges to overcome. Occasionally there was overload with how best to use resources and a bit of AP, but generally the game moved along nicely. Nice pieces. Nice rules. Happy to explore further and see where it takes me.
MARTIAN DICE (2011): Rank 2583, Rating 6.2
Completely random, but fun enough for a 10min game. You start your turn with 13 dice, and each tank you roll forces you to save a death ray to kill it. Meaning every tank you roll effectively kills off 2 dice that can no longer score. The strategy is not to roll tanks – that maximises the number of dice that will score. At least turns are quick and can be funny, but the game will be frustrating if you’re not in the mood.
NANGA PARBAT (2021): Rank 5610, Rating 6.9
This is a nifty 2-player with just the right amount of stuff going on to make it interesting. The field in which you place your meeple this turn (to capture an animal) dictates the region your opponent must play in next turn, which causes some thought. Each animal you capture allows you to later alter the board in some way, which means the game doesn’t bog down in look-ahead. Then there’s the trade-off between which animals to take (same vs different) vs placing your meeples in a contiguous bunch, as you can only score 5 combinations or all such through the game. It comes in at a nice 30 minutes after which you’ve felt like you’ve made pleasant and interesting decisions without it being brain-burning.
PAN AM (2020): Rank 952, Rating 7.8
There’s some Vegas Showdown style worker placement bidding to determine who gets each action. You mostly want to get location cards to allow you to build routes between locations which will eventually be eaten up by Pan Am for lots of money. So you build as close as possible to where Pan Am last expanded, hoping the die that gets rolled at end of turn will roll up your route and buy your route out and cash you up. Anyway, as the money comes in, you keep some to buy later actions and convert the rest into VPs, where the cost is random each turn. Sometimes cheap, sometimes not, mostly it’s a lottery. Too much luck on when the money comes in, and too much gambling on whether this is as cheap as VPs are going to be for the rest of the game (and therefore spend a lot) or not. As a result, less than satisfying for a game of this length.
PIRATEN KAPERN (2012): Rank 3321, Rating 6.3
It’s a fun enough dice rolling romp. The card powers offer a nice element of randomness to pile on the dice randomness, but give you something to ponder and shape each turn. You can usually only afford one or two re-rolls given the prevalence of skulls (3+ on your 8 dice will have your turn end pointless), which thankfully makes turns short, sharp and sweet.
POTION EXPLOSION (2015): Rank 443, Rating 7.2
Rarely have I been so disappointed by a top 500 game. Pick up marbles in different colours, use them to fulfil contracts requiring different colours, use special powers on fulfilled contracts to boost your turn. This helps the rich get richer. Repeat for too long. Pure downturn because you can’t start planning until the previous player has played. Further, how can a game have one turn where you get 1 marble and another turn where you get 8 or more? How can it be a good thing that, due to chance and what your opponents are forced to leave you, one turn can be 8 times better than the last? Not remotely fair, and not interesting, other than that it gets points for the marble dispenser. (a slightly more positive review here)
SPOTLIGHT ON DRAGONHEART (2010): Rank 1760, Rating 6.5
Drawing from identical decks, players play cards to a common area to capture cards previously played there, and in turn leaving the capturing cards up there for future capture themselves. There are 8 different types of cards, and each can be captured in different ways – for treasure, 1 fire-dragon is enough, but trolls require 2 heroes for example. By watching what your opponent has previously played, your objective is to place cards that are unlikely to be captured if you can, or at least of low value, maybe planning to get them on your next turn yourself if you have the right type. Not always easy to do with a handsize of 5 though. The game is pleasant, spouse friendly, easy to learn, fast to play, has a nice watchfulness about it, nice graphics. It’s all about hand management. There’s not a lot of tension – you’ve either got it or you don’t when the good stuff is up for grabs, though hopefully you’ve planned for it – but there is a nice groan factor when a big pile gets scooped up.
Thoughts of other Opinionated Gamers:
Fraser: I only have Martian Dice because it was a free game with attendance at BGG.CON many moons ago. Since then it has been our standard waiting for food at a restaurant game for many years. It is fast and it doesn’t take up much space. My kids are much luckier (or better) at it than I am – there have been games that I haven’t scored before one of them won. We have Lost Ruins of Arnak on order, but haven’t played it.
Larry: I enjoyed Pan Am more than you did, Patrick, but, then again, in my game, the stock prices rose steadily, the way you’d expect them to. It’s quite possible that the game would be improved with a house rule that stock prices automatically increase by $1 each turn.
Mark: Like Larry, I’ve enjoyed Pan Am more than Patrick… it worked really well with three players and was still enjoyable as a two player game. Lost Ruins of Arnak is probably my favorite game coming out of Essen last year – and I’d add (in addition to all the nice things Patrick said) that the double-sided board increases replay value AND that the solo mode works like a charm.