The not so unexpected twist this time around is to provide a quick run-down on the games I’ve spent the most time playing this year so far, there being some expected overlap with the games I’ve played the most but weighting towards heavier games:
Die Crew: Played 100+ times already this year alone; every hand provides a new challenge.
Oh Hell: Our go-to traditional card game, as well as its variants (Rage, Wizard, et al).
Wir Sind Das Volk: Spent multiple weekends reaching a deeper understanding of how it worked.
Lost Ruins Of Arnak: Nice card-driven resource gathering and conversion Euro.
7 Wonders: It’s so quick at BGA we may never play f2f again given how spoilt we’ve become.
Tranquility: Still trying to win at the Jagged Rock + 4 Sea Monsters level, so close each time.
Beyond The Sun: Quality tech tree driven Euro
Through The Ages: Ageless
Ticket To Ride: The family go-to.
Terraforming Mars: The gamer go-to on ftf nights when we’re too tired to absorb new game rules.
New games to me recently include …
THE BIRD TOLD ME TO DO IT (2016): Rank 20297, Rating 5.0
Ok, this Chudyk card game is just crazy enough to spin me out of my usual loop. (Check out those BGG ratings!) The multitude of effects in hand make it really hard to work out what best to play so AP can be rife, and then it turns out to be completely random because you’re probably just setting up the next player for a killer game-winning play anyway. Horrible, but yet … I strangely enjoyed watching the chaos unfold as it at least unfolded in a novel manner. It’s a game you’d only play because it gives “Ok, WTF just happened” moments, followed by the perfectly eponymous response “well, the bird told me to do it”.
BOBAIL (from the dawn of time apparently): Rank 16182, Rating 6.0
Where abstract games give each player an identical set of pieces and a grid to move around, I just don’t get excited, no matter how deep the game is. This kind of resembles an Eton wall game, trying to get your Ricochet Robot pieces up the board asap and work to force the football back towards your home row for the win, or set up a situation where your opponent can’t move the football. It probably provides a deep learning curve, and it was ok enough, but I’m just not that interested.
BUTTERFLY (2019): Rank 8042, Rating 5.9
Similar to Marrakesh in concept, but simpler and quicker. Move the common hedgehog any distance left, right or ahead to land on a tile and pick it up. Re-orient the hedgehog in the direction moved for the next player to do the same. The tiles all have various ways to score (in the normal ways that such things work). It’s easy to pick up high points to begin with. As it progresses we’ve found that the game generally falls to those who get luckiest in the end-game in regards to which of the bad tiles their RH neighbour leaves them – and here it gets quite swingy. It’s quick enough not to mind too much though. There’s nothing much to explore; just an easy 15 minute filler type of game that we’ve enjoyed repeatedly since discovery. An earlier review from the time of release here.
HERRLOF (2020): Rank 6045, Rating 6.9
A 2 player tricking taking game that didn’t work for me. You get a massive bonus for bidding exactly, but there are 15 tricks (that’s a lot with only 2 players) and almost a third of the deck is missing (so it’s hard to know what’s a winning card). Then, the special card effects allow players to negate tricks, steal tricks, change cards, and lose the lead. All that makes it hard to bid, so you simply aim to get as close as you knowing that the last few tricks will be a lottery on whether you make it or not. It does pose some interesting problems on what to play as the hand progresses though to maximise your chances so it wasn’t all downside, but the game also ran longer than it felt it should. A similar review from the past.
NOIR: Detective Mystery Game (2012): Rank 2744, Rating 6.5
I’ve only played the Killer vs Inspector variant. One deck is laid out in a 5×5 grid of characters, the other deck provides the same cards from which the killer draws one. They find that character on the grid and kill of one of the characters surrounding it. The inspector then churns through the deck trying to kind a character that’s next to one of the characters the killer could be so as to catch them. The killer could keep killing surrounding characters, but each kill narrows the suspect pool by half (a bit like Who Is It?), so they’re forced to also churn through the deck picking new characters, hoping to draw a character next to who the detective might be and kill them off. Which makes it all a rather churning affair until someone draws a close character and guesses right. I wasn’t that enamoured with it. It gets an extra rating point for providing multiple games in the box though.
SAPIENS (2015): Rank 3629, Rating 6.4
Drawing dominoes from a common pool and placing them on your board to cover up and earn food point spaces. There are 8 different domino ends (colours), and each type provides a different kind of bonus so playing for the best of these gives you something to think about. The other aim is to score shelter points by connect to designated edge spaces with the right colour, and this seems interesting in concept. I liked how it asked you to balance food points and shelter points (your score it the lower of the 2). In practice however, another story. Having the right tiles come along at the right time to be able to build to a shelter space in a specific colour was just horrible – so many tiles are missing, they might not even be in the pool, and if they are, there’s no guarantee other players won’t take the tile(s) you need, and it resulted in massive analysis paralysis until the players respectively realised there was rarely much gain in trying, especially if you wanted to play another game with these friends afterwards.
TIKI (2018): Rank 8291, Rating 6.1
Pseudo-Mancala on a 3×3 grid, where whoever’s marker is on top of a pile gets to control where it moves, the aim being to engineer a move such that you can drop one of your markers off on top of an existing pile of 2 markers (which happens to be on a scoring space) in order to score. You quickly learn not to place a second marker on a scoring space when the opponent can reach it, so it becomes a game of surrounding important spaces with pressure until someone’s forced to do something they don’t want. This game of hands-off building of pressure isn’t exciting though and there’s not too much more to it other than the learning curve on how to build pressure correctly, which to be fair is fine.
TUKI (2019): Rank 3249, Rating 6.9
This is effectively a re-make of Make ‘N Break which I played with my kids a lot back in the day. It’s a speed game that entails putting coloured blocks into the position shown by the revealed card. This instalment adds a level of difficulty by having the coloured blocks be in impossible positions, requiring you to use neutral blocks to hold them in the air, and the positions are usually defined such that the right neutrals need to be used in the right configuration, adding more than a touch of Ubongo to the equation, not only for this but because everyone has their own set of blocks and it’s a race game to get it done fastest. It’s cleverer and probably more fun as a result, but speed games aren’t really where I get my enjoyment kicks so I’ll pass on this in future. Review from release time here
VISCOUNTS OF THE WEST KINGDOM (2020): Rank 204, Rating 8.1
All these West Kingdom games seem to settle around the 7 mark for me. All good solid games but without that spark that has me wanting to explore them – probably because I’m never sure whether the additional layers are required elements that give the game replayability or are just complexity for the sake of it. Here we use our deck of cards to travel clockwise around a map, with outer locations allowing you to gain resources or build buildings (for ongoing benefit and VPs) or to the inner locations to buy buildings (for immediate benefit and VPs) or place meeples in the castle – the latter of which offers a complicated protocol of shifting stuff up steps that seems a step too far. Each location offers new cards to add to your deck to allow you to maximise the strategy you’ve settled on, and you need to settle pretty quickly to take full advantage. Oh, and add the seemingly required deed/debt structure so everyone knows who the designer is. Then add a personal badness/virtue track where you get punished for buying and playing too many wild cards. I suspect the added complexities are required to generate a sense of depth and replayability as without them it’s otherwise a straightforward deck-building game where one moves around the map, getting resources and spending them. But I’ll confess that on a first play they somewhat hindered my enjoyment rather than got me excited for more. Still, it’s one of my preferred in the series, probably because I felt like I had more control over my destiny than in the other games.
SPOTLIGHT ON HISTORY OF THE WORLD (1991): Rank 817, Rating 7.1
If memory serves, it’s earliest incarnation was as a tea-towel game. The version I have is plastic mini’s galore and the mechanic where you take a secret VP chip if you’re in the lead at the end of the round because the leader bashing is so severe. You’ve been warned. Yet it’s fun seeing the world unfold, riding the dice. Bank on an hour per player. I enjoy it probably because you’re driven by the need to maximise points each round and therefore things don’t get too personal as you beat up your friends. Great theme and very atmospheric. Which is good because the downtime is pretty bad with just the occasional dice roll in defence to keep you occupied while the other players plan and maximise their moves. Your results pretty much depend on getting a spread of civs around different spots in the world, getting good event cards which also allow you to spread, and other players not hitting you too badly. You get the picture that a lot depends on things other than your decision making. But it’s still fun when it’s your turn and your launching troops left, right and centre. When it finally gets to your turn at least. In the meantime you can help score, sort out your different unit types, table talk like crazy, help score …
Thoughts of other Opinionated Gamers:
Mark Jackson: I, too, enjoy Butterfly… and Patrick’s comparison to Marrakech is spot on.
I’m also a big fan of A Brief History of the World, which took the now-classic HotW engine and streamlined it – and, in addition, added some actual strategic decisions. It’s still the same “watch the sweep of history” craziness… though I miss the 7 different plastic minis (one type for each epoch) and the shiny capitol/city markers, everything else I love about the game system is still there – and less. It’s shorter, leaner & tighter (our six player game this year took 3 1/2 hours with 2 new players)… and there’s actually more room in the game for tactical & strategic decision-making while reducing the number of armies on the board. The refining of the empire deck (giving more thematically specific powers to some of the empires) and the costing of the event deck (many events now come with some kind of VP cost to activate) make for an even better game.
And, yes, I know there’s been yet another edition since Brief History… but I haven’t played it.
Brandon K: I really do enjoy Tuki, which is surprising to me as I loathe most speed games as I am slow. The one thing that irritated me about the game is the player count for it. It claims to play 2-4 players, but yet in the box, there are only enough blocks to play three players, so one person has to sit out each round of a four player game. Really weird that a publisher would do that to a game