Yes, I really am about to rate Carnegie the same as ToeShamBo. Hmm. Nonetheless, integrity demands it.
Games I’ve played for the first time recently include …
ABANDON ALL ARTICHOKES (2020): Rank 2658, Rating 7.0
A quick fun game of acquiring a new effect every turn into your deck, which provide various means of expunging artichoke cards from your deck. You process your hand of 5 (which may include effects you’ve gained previously), process, discard, and draw another hand Dominion style, cycling through and trashing artichoke cards out of your deck. It’s deck-thinning taken to the next level! You win if you’re the first to draw a hand with no artichoke cards. The theme is a winner. Everyone hates artichokes. Rules are easy, game play is fast, lots of luck, let’s play again, I liked it.
ABYSS (2014): Rank 341, Rating 7.3
It plays along nicely enough but without really going anywhere and without any drive to replay. Claim the best ally cards that come along in the draft-card turns. Eye off the lords you can buy using those cards. Buy said lords that you can afford to buy (they trade off effect strength and VPs), use those powers for a while and at some point, forego their powers to buy location tiles that have even more VPs. Repeat until someone wins.
BUTTONS (2015): Rank 12390, Rating 5.7
It’s effectively a simultaneous-play roll-and-write where each round you’re using the die rolls to place buttons on your 6×6 grid. If on your turn you can only place a button orthogonally adjacent to an already placed button, you lose everything gained that round. If you opt out before though, then you get to place some stars where your buttons are (you want buttons on same-symbol spaces). The game is a race to get 12 stars out or a row of 5 stars. You’re beholden to the one white die which dictates row placement, and just a single unfortunate white roll on your turn can effectively knock you out of the game. But given it’s shortish, it’s kinda ok, and there are odds-based decisions to make throughout, and decisions to make re placing bonus buttons on other people’s turns, and the game gets trickier (or luckier) each round as the placed stars limit future button placements, so I didn’t mind it because the risk/reward decisions offer some tense cheer/groan resolutions.
CARNEGIE (2021): Rank 1614, Rating 7.8
Hard game to explain, hard game to play, with a non-exciting theme. It requires multiple turns to get your business departments created, staffed and executed, and the number of turns it takes to do that is hugely dependent on what actions the other players take on their turns. It creates the potential for meanness in play, exacerbated by players being able to cut each other off from big chain connectivity points on the size-restricted map. The challenge of finding good department synergies is of interest, as is the planning involved to gain benefit no matter what other players do. I enjoyed the game much more as a 2 player, but have little interest in playing at bigger player counts where it feels like you may need to keep yourself continually spread across all the action types so as not to be left behind on other player turns. Frankly, the learning curve just doesn’t excite me though and the theme doesn’t help.
CELESTIA (2015): Rank 705, Rating 7.0
The captain rolls some dice. If you don’t think they can match the dice with their cards, bale out of the hot air balloon and score points … or choose to hang on for the ride and hopefully get more points after the next roll. Yay, he matches. Repeat. The decision making is mindless guesswork because you’re given no indication on what players have in their cards except for what they could or couldn’t play last time. And even then, they may have picked up several cards since then. It’s marginally better than Cloud 9 with the range of treasure cards and special effects, but not enough to play again.
Rating: 5 (and I’m rather astonished this is ranked so highly at BGG)
THE KING’S GUILD (2018): Rank 1887, Rating 7.2
Take actions to get resources -> spend resources to get gold -> spend gold on tiles that earn VPs. All purchaseable items are in small common pools so the more players you have the more a lottery it is on whether the stuff you’re aiming to buy will still be there by the time your turn comes around, or whether you’ve just wasted some resource actions when you could have been getting something else instead. Or will you get lucky with a new card coming available that suits your resources perfectly? And thus does the game swing. Too much so for me, especially for a game that also runs long, being reliant on just these rather basic mechanics as it is.
LOOT OF LIMA (2020): Rank 5393, Rating 7.2
This is cleverly done, but it’s hard work keeping everything well (and sensibly) documented so as to make the chains of deductions required when what were once possibilities get turned into certainties with ramifications. If you’ve mastered Cluedo, you’ve mastered the skills required here. Lovely production values, well implemented, but 90 minutes of advanced Cluedo just isn’t my kind of game anymore. I rated the original Deduce or Die higher because, playing with a reduced number of cards (A-6), we were able to bring the game in at 30 minutes which was a timeframe better suited to the mechanic.
MARRAKECH (2007): Rank 1432, Rating 6.7
Each turn you get to choose the direction of moving the solitary dude around a smallish grid, and then roll the die. Basically you choose the direction with least risk (of landing on someone else’s rugs and having to pay them VPs) and max reward (being able to place a rug that covers up other people’s carpets, increases your overall carpet size to maximise potential future benefits, and place such that people will likely move on to your space whilst minimising their chances of covering your rugs). If it doesn’t sound simple, it is. Sometimes you lose by just one unlucky roll based on where the dude was left by other players. It’s ok for a shortish game, but there are too many turns where there’s only one good option and even with that you end up being in the lap of the dice gods.
TOESHAMBO (2019): Rank 19303, Rating 5.2
It’s a surprisingly better version of TicTacToe, using RockPaperScissors cards placed in the 3×3 grid, aiming to get any 3 rocks / papers / scissors in a row. It can be tricky. There’s a lot of luck in what hand of 3 cards you have and whether you have what’s needed to fill a hole or claim a spot, so it’s still pretty random. But it does generate a nice thrill when you pull off a win, and there’s some nice tension when you can’t stop something, waiting to see if your opponent has pulled the right card or not to claim a winning spot.
SPOTLIGHT ON ESCAPE FROM COLDITZ (1973): Rank 1737, Rating 6.7
The theme of course is wonderful. I’ve read most of the books and visited the castle. The original game is for enthusiasts only, to be kind, and is ridiculously long and luck-laden – the poor player playing the Germans has zero hope. The new release made an attempt at cleaning it up but didn’t go gamer-y enough for mine. In our homebrewed version we play with a strict 1 hr time limit where the German player wins if no one escapes in that time. The German player is given 20 seconds on a stopwatch for their turn (plus another 20 second for card resolution if needed). The game can be a blast this way, everyone rushing to get things done. It gets harder to co-ordinate the perfect mass escape, allowing the Germans to have a shot (so to speak). There are some other house rules, like being able to choose escapee turn order, simplifying the tunnel rules and such. Anyway, each time we’ve played there’s been a tension-laden time-pressured climax that’s been a hoot, which I’ve especially appreciated for how it helps bring the stories I read as a child to life.
Thoughts of other Opinionated Gamers:
Larry: Here are my thoughts on some of the games covered this time.
Abyss – Only played it once, but I quite liked it. The artwork is beautiful.
Carnegie – One of my favorites from 2020/2021, although recent plays have been a bit samey. All of my games have been with 2 players, but I’d love to try it with 3 (4 might be a bit much). Yes, there’s ample opportunity to cut off other players, but that’s the main player interaction and you can take steps to not make yourself vulnerable to it–I like it. It does take a game or two to figure out how to get things done, but it’s an enjoyable challenge, and part of that challenge is making sure you can take advantage of other players’ actions (just as in Puerto Rico). The theme is that of a business game with VPs also available for making charitable donations–it’s not that strongly implemented, but it’s a hell of a lot more interesting than building yet another European castle. Highly recommended to those who like meatier designs.
Loot of Lima – I don’t disagree with anything Patrick says. I always assumed that the fraction of players who would enjoy Deduce or Die was a very small one, but that was a deliberate design decision. Loot of Lima is more accessible, but it’s still principally aimed at pure deduction game lovers and there just aren’t many folks like that. So if 90 minutes of advanced Clue doesn’t sound enticing to you, there’s a good chance you won’t like this. Fortunately for me and BoardGameTables.com, there’s a reasonable number of people who aren’t frightened by that prospect, but I completely understand that the game isn’t for everyone.
(Ed note – Larry Levy is the designer of Loot of Lima…)