My new favourite Olympic sport is sport climbing!
I’m what you might call a climbing fan from afar. There have been occasional visits to indoor climbing centres over the years but that’s about it; too much pain and effort required to get good at it. I’ve seen sport climbing competitions before so it wasn’t entirely new. But what I liked about it (and why I felt it relevant here) is that this sport felt more like a game than any other. I enjoyed watching the climbers try to puzzle out how to get past a particular boulder problem (and building / saving reserves to be able to execute), and watching how they navigated tricky sections of the lead climb. And I loved the drama and gasps of someone falling from the lead climb just short, and the tension-breaking cheers of a contender making a new high and kicking on!
I’m glad they’ve been allowed to split out the speed climbing into its own event in Paris though (which is what the climbing fraternity wanted in the first place). The difference in skills required was stark. It was fun to watch, but too cruel for me in its current form given the cost of (and likelihood of) slipping in what is just a 7 second long climb.
Oh, and for the record, any “sport” that requires judges setting scores isn’t a sport! It’s just a beauty competition in another name. Oh, and Exit puzzles et al aren’t games! I can only solve them once! That’s not a game! Why are they still clogging up the BGG ‘game’ rankings!!
With all those exclamation marks off my chest, here’s the latest instalment of new-to-me games I’ve played prior to the Olympics making me a two week couch potato.
BLAZE (2021): Rank 18738, Rating 4.9
At least it was different. Standard card deck (mostly) where you spend a round trying to improve your hand, and then play a round where you’re trying to be the first to get rid of all your cards. Each turn you battle the player to your left, playing out cards that they need to match. If they don’t, they take your played cards into their hand and miss their turn. Absurdly harsh. The more we played the more we sensed the art in what to lead, and also when to match or not (eg if those cards improved your hand), but we’re all trying to do the same thing and the luck of what you draw when you replenish your hand often makes or breaks you. The playout round seemed largely determined by the luck of who had the first shot to go out. This, the combative harshness and the draw luck, conspired in me not wanting to explore further. Dale thought the same earlier this summer.
GO NUTS FOR DONUTS (2017): Rank 2492, Rating 6.5
Each turn there are N+1 cards in the display which variously earn straight points or set points or have other types of effects. Each player chooses and simul-reveals which card they want. If no one else chooses yours, you get it. If two or more go for the same card, they miss out. Oh What Fun! It was actually ok for the first few rounds, and then the aggravation level rose each round until it wasn’t fun anymore … and then continued on for too many rounds. The price of missing out drove unexpected decisions resulting in accidental collateral damage abounding in the attempts everyone was making to avoid everyone else to just get ANY card given they were all much of a muchness.
HALLERTAU (2020): Rank 425, Rating 8.2
A Rosenberg farming big box Euro is usually an 8 by definition. There are lots of excellent resource management and action priority decisions as you’d expect, all engaging. So far so good. However each of the 6 rounds is the same as the previous – racing for action selections to gather the resources needed to pay the end-of-round costs that progress your engine. It also plays a psych trick I’m not enamoured with – you progress your engine successfully and get more workers, and then realise all the actions cost more so you end up having much the same number of actions each round. The other reservation is that there’s little strategic differentiation between players. Not only are you playing the same game 6 times within a game, but each game will largely feel the same as all before it. Having said that I like how the cards help drive tactical decisions on what resources to gather in excess (to spend using the cards to gain ongoing advantage), and it will be the different card decks (Agricola style) that will help drive replay. It’s a fine game and I enjoyed the challenge, just not sure it’s a game I want to play a lot of.
HAPPY CITY (2021): Rank 4564, Rating 6.6
Each round, get your income and buy a card from the common pool (placing it in your 10-space tableau) that either provides income, green icons, or pink icons. Your score at the end is the multiple of the last two. It only goes 10 rounds or so (depending on whether people pass so as to save for bigger cards). The main decision is when to switch from buying income cards to scoring cards. Each player can acquire one special effect to differentiate themselves but there are no other effects in the game so this is the lightest of tableau builders, very family oriented (and short enough to suit), but nothing much to drag a gamer back for more.
INSERT (2021): Rank n/a, Rating n/a
I keep coming back to this 5-10 minute Bruno Cathala 2-player abstract game because it’s SO opaque. Each space has an orthoganal or diagonal line on it – when an opponent plays their token on a space, your next move must be in either direction of that space’s line. If there are no free spaces along the line, you can play anywhere you want which is usually game-winning and something to avoid allowing. If you fill all the spaces between two opponent’s pieces with your colour, they turn to your colour which is key because the winner is the first to get 5 in a row. Which makes you think you want to favour the inside spaces but I’ll admit I just can’t see anywhere near as much look-ahead as I want. No matter my attempts, my opponent’s moves surprise me (maybe because they also can’t see it yet!). Then, suddenly, it’s obvious someone will win on the next move or two! The fact that there must be more look-ahead makes for a learning curve I may well be up for given the elegance of the game and the ever changing boards.
MICROMACRO: CRIME CITY (2020): Rank 336, Rating 7.8
I’ll grant that it’s clever, how it shows the vehicles and people in multiple places so you can trace their path and activities like a time lapse, and therefore surmise the likely interactions that happened that led to the crime (usually the starting point from which you work outwards). But playing Where’s Wally with my 3 year old tested my patience back then let alone wanting to pay money to do it at this age. Even if it is on a more dramatic scale. Hard pass. Dale liked it a bit better…
TIME MASTERS (2014): Rank 7602, Rating 6.3
Usually I’m up for a deck builder. This one starts with long turns because your starting hand gives you cards to get money, pay for spells, retrieve cards that get you more money, and so on, all of which requires a bit of thought. After that, as you acquire more complex spells, the turns just get longer. You’re trying to play as many spells each turn as you can – each one earns you a point with which to buy more spells. You can only buy the topmost spell in each of the 5 common decks (mostly) so your options on what to buy each turn are limited and there’s little means to build a strategy. Do the best you can with what’s on offer and hope some synergies come along. Keep going until enough spells are bought, add up the points, move on to a better game.
TREK 12 (2020): Rank 2889, Rating 7.2
An interesting roll-and-write in its simplicity. Most R&W depend on cards to provide thematic options to choose between. This is driven instead by two dice being rolled each turn. Each player chooses either the value of one of the dice, their difference, their sum, or their multiplied value, and writes their chosen number in a circle on the map (there are lots of maps with different types of circle adjacencies). The aim is to have every number help form a sequence between adjacent numbers or have the same value as adjacent numbers, and as much as you can have each number do both to max your score. It’s tricky because each number must be adjacent to one previously written, as well as the requirement to be balanced between the 5 dice-take options by end of game. The different maps invite thought as to best approach, and the decisions are surprisingly engaging once you get going given it’s just dice and numbers. There’s also a campaign mode to explore if the simple game isn’t enough.
VEGGIE GARDEN (2017): Rank 8190, Rating 5.9
It’s a disguised stock market game. Pick a card (share) in one of the 5 available companies (veggies) from the draft of 4, and then use that share’s effect to manipulate the price (ie move the cards around the 4×4 grid which have various values associated with each spot) so as to increase the value of the shares that you think you have more of than anyone else, and reduce the price in the others. Having two secret shares from the start means that’s a mostly fruitless endeavour however, and the prices go randomly round and round for 6 rounds until we get to the big reveal. For a mostly random game, turns are too long unfortunately while you try to work out the best option in each of the available powers, making a 20 minute game seem much longer.
SPOTLIGHT ON GOA (2004): Rank 188, Rating 7.6
I enjoy being able to build my own engine and this game is right up my alley. In each of the 8 rounds, there’s an auction to buy warehouses filled with goods, and then there’s an action phase where you spend goods to generate various currencies (like goods, money, colonists) with the aim of building up your capability to do each type of action better and better. There’s enough interaction in the auction and the race for tech rewards to ensure it’s not solitaire. After 25 games it feels like the card tech may be overpowered and the money tech underpowered, but I’ve enjoyed trying out the building up of different combos of the 5 techs based on my auction results, and that’s resulted in a lot of play.