Another hero game online has been Die Crew. It features an amazing increase in the signal-to-noise ratio. Finished a mission? You’ve already started the next mission. No shuffling, no sorting out of tasks. Add Mystic Vale to this list as well, no longer having to deal with the pain-in-the-butt intra-game card sleeving (and shuffling et al). We’ve played both of these a *lot* online.
For the longer games, porting successfully online is a more difficult proposition. Playing Lost Ruins of Arnak online this week brought this to mind. It just didn’t have the same va-va-voom that we’ve felt playing it in our (few) face-to-face sessions this year. In fact I can’t think of an example that plays better online than it does face-to-face. (Through The Ages maybe?)
Enjoyment of these meatier games largely depends on knowing what’s happening around the board, what the other players are doing and likely intending. When you’re playing face-to-face, the state of play is in your face. Online, it’s difficult to present. You invariably miss things that other players are doing and the repercussions for your game. A recent game of Res Arcana comes to mind. The interface is irritating if you let it be as you have to continually scroll down to assess everyone’s boards (yeah, ok, I don’t have an 85 inch monitor, shoot me) and therefore you tend not to bother so as to keep the game humming along for everyone’s enjoyment rather than slowing things down. You’re relying on people to say what they’re up to (like they would around the table). But it means you miss out when another player (for instance) buys the effect that ends the game early, doesn’t announce it, and enables it next turn. It feels like a strike under the cover of online darkness, leaving a bad taste in mouth. Even if the players are Skyping/Discording, it’s easy to miss the implications of other player’s moves and it’s difficult to replicate the camaradic jostling for position that naturally happens over a table in these meatier affairs.
We’ve kept the course this year and maintained our gaming sessions online even though we’re not required to, or socially obliged to (here in Aus anyway, where the community transmission rate has been zilch for yonks). There’s been lots of new games still to explore and there’s more coming each week. Online also has the upside of not having to drive during peak hour. But it feels like the time to unbatten the hatches and re-capture that face-to-face magic more often might be drawing nigh. How else are we ever going to beat Spirit Island on any difficulty level higher than 6 if we don’t!
Now to this week’s games. You want a 9? I’ll give you a 9. But first, some others. Let’s build the anticipation.
BACK TO THE FUTURE: BACK IN TIME (2020): Rank 1796, Rating 7.4
It’s a fun and nicely themed co-op. Movement cards come out each round where evil Biff keeps chasing George and Lorraine around the map, driving down the love meter each time he catches them. You spend your turns rolling dice to knock Biff down, getting George and Lorraine in the same room and rolling dice to increase the love meter to the end-goal, rolling dice to get the De Lorean moving towards the end-goal, and rolling dice to clear out trouble cards and gain better powers. Bad rolls slay you with so few turns in the game, and good rolls help a lot, but some decent planning, investing time in getting better powers, and banding together can help control the dice outcome. Not something I need to explore further, but happy to play again for the ride and see if we can pull off another set or miracle rolls (to much cheering) when needed.
DRAFTOSAURUS (2019): Rank 627, Rating 7.2
Cute game, simple rules, pleasant to play. It’s the Fairy Tale mechanic – passing a diminishing hand of differently coloured dinosaurs and placing one in your park each turn to maximise scores in your differently-scored pens. Probably better online as you forego the klunky physical element of passing dinosaurs. Faster as well, under 10 minutes, and as such it’s become one of our online go-to fillers. I like the luck element which encourages you to setup to allow the max chance for the dice gods to be kind on the final placements each turn. Sometimes you win, sometimes you don’t, but it plays so fast while still allowing an interesting decision each turn that I enjoy the finale either way.
FLORENZA: THE CARD GAME (2013): Rank 3413, Rating 6.8
In each of the 5 rounds you only get to hold back 1 card before you draw a fresh hand, so there’s a race with your actions each turn to get the resources you need to build the cards in hand this round, and/or to build the common pool monuments before others do. There’s the normal tradeoff decisions between building income-and-extra-action cards vs VP cards. There’s luck in what cards you draw into vs the resources you’re generating, but hey, it’s a card game, and the challenge is to do the best with what you get. The get-out is to go for the big monument VP cards (which you can reserve) if you don’t draw well. It’s probably too long for what it is but it’s interesting enough. An older review by Liga
JUST DESSERTS (2015): Rank 6419, Rating 5.9
You draw cards that are used to pay for the common contracts in the middle. The turns are too long trying to sort out what icon combinations can pay for what cards (and if there are multiple, what’s the best way to do it), and then you only get a few turns before the game is over (a double-whammy), where whoever got luckiest with the card draws wins. The lack of real decisions kills it.
ORIGIN (2013): Rank 2546, Rating 6.7
Ecos meets Takenoko, trying to establish and move your meeples into positions that meet objective cards for points. There are decisions to make on whether to go for engine-building cards early, or action cards to help out, but otherwise you’re driven by meeting as many objective cards (and otherwise picking up points directly off the board) as you can. There aren’t that many turns so it ends in a good timeframe for what it is, but it feels like you’ve kind of explored it after a game. Being this much driven by the cards has you wonder how much of the game you played and how much you were led by the nose.
SCOUT! (2019): Rank 5842, Rating 7.2
A card-sloughing game with some clever ideas. The cards have a different number top and bottom so after you decide which way your hand is up, new cards can be inserted as either number to help make runs and sets. This somewhat ameliorates the restriction that cards can’t be moved after they’re in hand, Bohnanza-style. But not enough. It’s nice to manipulate the cards out of your hand in such a way as to make new better adjoining sets/runs with the remaining cards, but it feels like your ability to do this is largely dependent on what cards the previous player plays to allow you to do so. Too many of these types of tough hands soured me on the game.
SIGNORIE (2015): Rank 723, Rating 7.4
A meaty Euro with tricky decisions that felt like it was going to rate higher. Each turn you draft a die from the common pool. The colour dictates which of the 5 actions you’re going to take and the number its cost. Repeat until you’ve done 4 actions, undertake multiple rounds. The game is mostly about analysis of what dice people will want and what you can leave. There are hard early-game decisions about whether to fore-go a turn to build tech that will improve future turns, and therefore determining which action you want to specialise in, which further drives dice choices. This should have driven a higher level of interest, so what’s wrong? A sense of being too beholden to the dice gods perhaps, a sense of sameness each round, not enough action types to maintain multi-game interest, being nose-led to take the same actions each round, the jaded theme?
WELCOME TO NEW LAS VEGAS (2020): Rank 2164, Rating 7.0
This is a much busier and more complicated version of the original Welcome To. You don’t want to start newbies on this one. It takes longer to teach than to play. But it rewards the experienced Welcome To player with a richer game of more interest, and I prefer it. It has the same structure – each round, three combinations of number and effect (these mostly develop scoring strategies) come up. Each player chooses which of these they want and writes up their board. Eventually players diverge into different scoring strategies, and eventually players’ boards will restrict them as to what numbers (and therefore effects) they can take. The simultaneous play works well and the game flows smoothly. There’s a race to develop boards and be the first to satisfy common goals. The replay comes by seeing if you can pick a scoring strategy and maximise it this time given the combos that come up. I don’t rate roll-and-write highly but I’m happy to play this one further.
WIR SIND DAS VOLK (2021): Rank 596, Rating 7.8
This dramatization of the West German vs East German struggle for cachet post WWII may not be everyone’s idea of a fun theme but it’s a very clever game. There’s an impressive learning curve required on how to play well given the relatively low complexity rule set and small card set (relative to other CDG type games that it’s compared to). I like how the draft forces difficult decisions in regards to which cards to take for denial vs benefit, and how the decisions are shaped by the CDG nature of the cards and their multiple potential uses (vis a vis event vs points). It’s only got better as the understanding of the system inter-connectedness has improved and it’s crystallised into deeper, better, harder decisions, all wrapped up in a (what turns out to be) 90-120 minute game.
SPOTLIGHT ON MYSTIC VALE (2016): Rank 1760, Rating 6.5
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this deck-builder online at Yucata, and my rating has been up’d to reflect that. Like Dominion, it feels like you want big turns / small turns rather than a series of average turns, and there’s the obvious card draw luck in that. Knowing this, it has a neat push-your-luck feature to shoot for a bigger hand and a bigger turn, but at the risk of missing your turn altogether. Risky, but sometimes worth it, especially if you’re counting down your deck of 20 cards and you know the odds. It’s more like Ascension in that you can only buy what’s in the draft, so you need to be comfortable settling for what’s on offer, and being comfortable with it probably dictating the result. It feels like you want to ramp up some super cards and get to those quickly rather than have lots of average cards, and that you’ll want to deploy a strategy of decay removal, which in effect thins your deck by allowing more cards to be drawn each turn. The turns in the first 3/4’s of the game feel largely incremental but travel along at a decent speed, building towards your end-game turns. And then they explode, building anything you want – downtime analysis is required, but it feels good when it happens. At this point the game is suddenly hurtling towards a quick and climactic crescendo of point gathering.
Rating: 9 (online rating; lower face-to-face given its physical klunkiness)
Thoughts of other Opinionated Gamers:
Signorie: I played this in the online COVID phase several times starting with players who did not know the game and then repeating the process as the game increased in popularity and of course we remembered the rules. I’d agree with Patrick about the choices but probably the game was greeted with more enthusiasm as I played with players who had little experience of this game. I liked the online implementation and it certainly sped up play. It’s probably a game that I could play every few years and enjoy the experience.
I don’t think I have played any of the specifically listed games, however I agree 100% with Patrick’s comments about on-line vs face-to-face play.
It took a while, but I’ve found that I can get something out of playing games online; at it’s very best (Bridge, played with three friends I would be playing with in person under other circumstances and using a voice channel) it’s nearly as good as playing in person, but typically it’s less enjoyable than the face-to-face experience, and can be much worse. I generally estimate my effective rating for online play to be ~1.5 points lower than for face-to-face play, though with the wrong interface (Tabletop Simulator, in particular) the difference is even larger. Which effectively means that I generally only play my favorite games, and only with folks I know and enjoy playing with. It’s still not the same, but at least then it’s an acceptable short-term solution, for me.
Draftosaurus: Drafting, I find, is much like auctions for me – I’m perfectly happy to see it used as a mechanism in a game, but games primarily built around that mechanism don’t generally work well for me. (For example, I prefer drafting the staff members in Grand Austria Hotel, but appreciate it in no small part because it’s such a small part of the experience.) Draftsaurus, for me, was a game where drafting was too much of the game, and as a result it was decisively not for me.
Dale: Patricio is completely wrong about Scout! It was one of my highlights of 2020. It’s a supremely interesting shedding game with a few twists that make hand management a constant and interesting decision making process.