Patrick Brennan: Game Snapshots – 2021 (Part 7)


We recently conducted our Sydney no-ship mass auction to mass success. First one in almost two years given the times. Almost 1700 games listed, roughly 70% changed hands. We used to do maths trades, then we tried the mass auction, and we alternated between the two (one every 6 months), and I think we’re at the point now where this means the death of the maths trade. The maths trade relies on someone kind and decent actually owning and executing the code, and it relies on all the participants to enter coded-up want lists. Or, hey, just throw your game on the auction list and away we go! So much easier.


In our version, we favour trades. A game is put up with a reserve price and the owner can say trade preferred or sale only. If a trade is offered and made prior to the auction, great, success for the owner – any bids made so far are redundant but everyone knows this going in so it’s not an issue, trades are favoured. But most games go on to sell to the highest bidder. We also have anti-snipe rules in place – the auction for each game doesn’t end until 10 minutes after the final bid. This encourages more early bidding (as well as it being more socially frowned upon now to snipe among gaming friends here) and most games get their final bids well prior to deadline. But there’s usually a handful of games which provide an entertaining finale where the bidding stretches out over another hour or two because they both really really *really* want it.


We then meet at the one venue a week or so after deadline for the mass handover of games (this being the no-ship part), which is a nice way to meet up with people from other groups around the city. I’m amazed how different the scene is now, and how many gamers we have, compared to when I started back in the late 90’s and could barely find the one group to join (who I still game with on Sunday nights all this time later by the way!)


While it’s massively easier to organise than a maths trade, it still takes someone to establish the rules, the list, the deadlines, letting the venue know we’ll inundate it with people that night, and so on. To that end, thanks Rob!! To quote some classic Gibson, done good.


New games to me recently include …


AQUATICA (2019): Rank 1063, Rating 7.4

I always look forward to exploring deck builders, but … it turns out you can win your first game within 6 turns without buying a character card (if you get a location that gets you the 8th needed character card for one of the start game end conditions) and use the remaining cards and location effects to get you the other things you need. Making half the delivered game (you know, the whole build your deck / engine type of thing, which is actually what attracts people to the game) superfluous, redundant, useless, choose your own descriptive. Combined with the need to master icon hell to do well, it’s a game I don’t look forward to playing again.

Rating: 5


CUBIRDS (2018): Rank 1208, Rating 7.0

As the round goes on, the sets available in the common pool for pickup get bigger and bigger, and it’s a matter of luck whether you have the right cards in hand to pick up a set that’s useful and scoreable, or whether you’re just going to make the game even swingier by putting out even more cards for others to take advantage of. It’s fun enough in a massively swingy way – as long as you’re ok with the prospect of losing your whole hand just before you were planning to put down scoring sets. It’s not something I plan on pinning gaming hopes to, but it’s quick enough for an occasional dalliance.

Rating: 6


DRAGONWOOD (2015): Rank 1662, Rating 6.7

Keep spending turns drawing cards until you have a decent run, set, or flush. These allow you to roll dice (1 per card in the run/set/colour) to attempt to win a card from the common pool. If the dice roll equals or exceeds the targeted card’s value, earn it and its VPs. So … it’s luck getting the card sets, and then more luck getting the die rolls. But it plays fast and everyone should know not to be emotionally invested. Decent luck-based filler if that’s what you’re after. Have I said luck enough?

Rating: 6


NILE (2009): Rank 7026, Rating 6.1

There can only one set in each of the 5 colours in play, so if you have more cards in hand of a colour than the current set in play, you put yours out and the other is discarded. Draw more cards. Each turn the top card of the deck gets revealed and whoever has that set in play takes a card from the set (making it smaller and more easily beatable) and adds it to their score pile.  You score a point when you have 1 of each colour in your score pile, so the latter half of the game devolves to who gets luckiest in being able to draw enough in the colour they’re short of to be able to play it out and keep it in play long enough for it to score. It’s pleasant enough if you own that luck and accept that scoring is harshly digital – some games it can be hard to score a single point let alone reach the dizzy heights of 2 or 3.

Rating: 6


QUARTO (1991): Rank 961, Rating 6.9

The twist is that you specify which piece your opponent must play next on to the 4×4 board, but that twist lengthens the game considerably. I’ve no idea how far you can look ahead, but by the middle of the game I’m sorting the pieces I can choose into three categories in my head – those I can’t because it will grant a win, those I feel I shouldn’t because it looks likely to lead to badness, and those I feel I can choose safely for my opponent to play. Each turn that sorting process becomes easier to process until there’s no escaping the end. You start off playing anything, thinking let’s see how it develops, and then it gets thinkier, keeping mental track of all 4×2 dimensions and their consequences. It’s a good thing if you’re up for the challenge, trying to work out how far ahead you can see things playing out, but it’s not often I’m looking for a mental beatdown as a 2p game.

Rating: 6


QUANTIK (2019): Rank 13120, Rating 5.8

I’m not sure how much scope there is for cleverness vs accidental wins in this mini-abstract (which feels and looks like a sister game to Quarto), but the rules are quick and the game is elegant. There are only a few turns, but each turn requires decent thought, and the decision tree is just the right length. I’d be happy to explore it given how accessible it is, but one can’t help feel that, given it’s only a 4×4 grid, there may not be enough oomph to inspire significant replay.

Rating: 7


TRANQUILITY (2020): Rank 2971, Rating 7.2

The deck of tiles (valued 1-80) are split so that each player has their own deck, and the aim is to place them on the 6×6 grid so that they’re in order. Sounds easy, except that when you place a tile next to another, you must discard tiles equal to the difference in values of the tile placed and its adjacent tile, and it’s important not to discard tiles that may be required to fill a hole in the grid later. Thus the game. The base game is relatively easy to win once you grok the need to initially place everything two spaces apart so you only need to pay the discard price once for the in-between placement. After that, you play in hope that no one’s discarding anything that will end up being needed. One trick is to build a part of the grid early enough such that there are some known obvious safe discards. It’s a game that’s grown on me, especially at the higher player counts where you have less knowledge of what’s been discarded, it’s harder to get the right numbers in the right places at the right times, and you realise everyone needs to balance their play in order to finish their decks at the same time so the essential hole-filler tiles aren’t still in a deck when someone runs out of tiles, ending the game. When you’ve nailed all that, there’s a raft of variants to ramp up the difficulty. You can’t discuss the discards so there’s no alpha-directing. It’s closer in feel to something like The Mind where you’re trying to subconsciously glean how to build the grid safely such that the holes at the end can be filled in – given the tiles you have right now, which is always the kicker. There’s no saving the world theme – it’s just placing numbered tiles – so this will probably affect long term replay. But it is tranquil (in a stressful kind of way!).

Rating: 8


steam works

STEAM WORKS (2019): Rank 2251, Rating 6.9

It takes my least favourite part of Le Havre and makes it the whole game. That is, the continual constructing of devices that other players can use. It then worsens by making all the devices changeable so that by the end of the game you have a mess of action options that are paralytically hard to choose between. It then worsens by saying the game will only end in a reasonable timeframe if people use other people’s devices, even though you’re giving them VPs to do so. We made a pact to make the last Age last exactly 1 round by banning the use of our own engines so as to make the game stop.

Rating: 5


A WAR OF WHISPERS  (2019): Rank 1429, Rating 7.5

Surprisingly decent area majority game, but it’s really more of a stockmarket game where each player has a secret number of shares in each faction. Which isn’t a favourite mechanic but I liked the worker placement aspect of competing for spots to activate each faction. They can be used to expand a faction you’re invested in, or to fritter away actions as a means of denying them to players who may be invested in those factions. The neat thing is that the shares aren’t zero-sum, and you get a shot at realigning them through the game if you’ve been unlucky with the mix. Some games you’re just going to be unlucky and get beaten up, other games you’ll accidentally fall into winning situations. You’ll enjoy it more if you’re happy to go along for the ride … I liked how it was all over in under an hour as well, which felt right given the inter-player dependencies.

Rating: 7


SPOTLIGHT ON DOWNFORCE (2017): Rank 363, Rating 7.3

This was a top-shelf racing game when it first came out in the late 90’s as Top Race. It’s since had an amazing number of re-release incarnations – amazing to me because the game has stood still while gaming all around it has overtaken it. This most recent version, Downforce, still has all the problems of the original. You’re shafted if your cards are spread among colours. The game is littered with king-making. It replaces the issue of being collateral damage on high bids in the only cars worth your buying (based on your cards) by providing a blind bid (with all its consequent issues) – the car you get is pretty darn important and getting it cheap even more so. The winning strategy is still to be lucky in the early game when people move you along more than others, and not getting blocked such that people can fritter away the movement they would normally give you. Hope instead that you get to be a blocking car to force other people to move you along. The power cards and the jumps are improvements, but the real grief is that turns simply take too long while you assess all your cards (long turns being the antithesis of a race game) and there’s king-making galore on who you allow ahead and who you hold back with the cards you play. Not much fun as a result.

Rating: 5

 See a different review here

Thoughts of other Opinionated Gamers:

Mark Jackson: Wow. I have a completely different experience with Downforce – games (even with a full complement of players) only last about 30 minutes, much fun is had by all… and I find that smart betting is a little more than 50% of your final tally, which can mitigate problematic card draws.  

Fraser: I have been having fun on BoardGameArena with Downforce.  We have four players around Australia and NZ playing the “Covid Cup”, we are in the early stages of season 4 of the Cup (each season being 15 races).  Playing via BGA means no downtime in Downforce :-)

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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2 Responses to Patrick Brennan: Game Snapshots – 2021 (Part 7)

  1. Top Race was not the original game in that family. According to BGG publication dates it went Niki Lauda’s Formula 1 (way back in 1980), Detroit-Cleveland Grand Prix (1990), Daytona 500 (1995), then Top Race (1996).

    The game has flaws, but is still a favorite for me. And the Downforce expansions are really great. The altered scaled betting rules are particularly nice (and can be played without the expansions).

    Although the new(ish) Automobiles is the first game I’ve seen to give the Downforce family a run for its money in the relatively light “not really trying to be a simulation” vein of racing games.

  2. I have also played and enjoyed Downforce on BGA (which includes expansions). Downtime has been about the same for me there as in person.

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