Patrick Brennan: Game Snapshots – 2021 (Part 15)
The introduction of New Frontiers on BGA has given my Thursday group a new go-to meaty-enough game for online play. Puerto Rico is one of the group’s all time favourites and has received constant play over the years. A game with the same mechanics (easy to teach!) combined with the Race To The Galaxy theme and its action and effect elements is well suited indeed. It also takes 5 players, which is a bonus – it turns out that not many games do 5 players well online.
I tapped out all the games I wanted to try on Yucata last year some time. While we go back there occasionally to play something specific (for instance Praga!), most of our online gaming is now on BGA. It may have a higher barrier to entry due to poor design but the actual game interface is usually superior and faster. I’ve now played 202 different games on BGA; and there are 162 games left as it stands. Most of these I have little interest in, either because I’ve already explored them physically in years past or they’re just low-ranked games that don’t inspire me. I’ve even stumbled into some BGA-specific games (ie not cardboard-released yet) that, frankly, haven’t excited me. I need to stop doing that. The one big-box game left there that I’ve never played is Madeira, which I need to get to at some point but each time I’ve opened the rules I sigh – it’s a lot of rules to explain.
Having said that, as we still seem doomed to be in lockdown until the end of the year, for those of us for whom online gaming is our new and only social, I want to thank once again the publishers and designers that are allowing so many games to be available, and thank all those who are building the games. Please know that it’s well appreciated by gaming groups who are still homebound.
Anyway, here’s the latest instalment of new-to-me games I’ve played recently.
BUG (2017): Rank 8538, Rating 7.0
2p abstract where you’re trying to fill the small board in such a way that your opponent can still place pieces but you can’t anymore. The board is fluid with groups eating other groups to grow in size (leaving constantly new empty space behind), but a group can only eat another if it’s the same size and shape. This means the biggest group can’t grow and is susceptible to being eaten by a smaller group getting bigger, which creates interesting ebbs and flows. Each game is only 5 minutes or so, and the quick replay gives plenty of opportunity to explore different approaches. It’s too abstract for me to actively seek but my games were interesting and there’s something there for abstract lovers to explore.
DICED TOMATOES (2018): Rank 18928, Rating 5.1
Each turn you roll 3 new dice and allocate them to anyone’s sets. The aim is to construct sets of 4 dice, same number or in sequence, which will score points (when complete) equal to the first die placed in that set. What the game boils down to is roll high. Lock in high start dice in your sets and add to and complete them as quickly as you can. if you roll low, start sets for other players so they’re forced to finish low-scoring sets. The game offers dice manipulation rewards for completing other player’s sets, but it’s not much reward. If also offers the chance to roll black dice (which subtract VPs) but it just seems crazy to spend your turn trying to hurt another player a teensy bit, while wasting the opportunity to roll for high normal dice and finish off your sets yourself. Black dice can be used to kill off a low-scoring set someone’s inflicted on you, assuming you can roll the number required, but even then why bother because someone will just start another low set for you before it gets back to you. Just a waste. Anyway, each turn is obvious, there’s nothing clever or interesting, half the rules are spent describing options that make no sense to do, and the game goes too long to boot.
DODO (2021): Rank n/a, Rating n/a
This 2p abstract gives each player a mass of pieces on their side of a hex board. Each turn you must move a piece one space forward. If you can’t, you win. Which requires a twisted kind of logic to try and engineer situations where your opponent can keep moving (by creating an opening into space behind your pieces maybe?) but ensuring your opponent can’t mirror the situation. Which is perhaps interesting to explore at one level, but the game took too long to develop into something interesting (there are a *lot* of dull 1-space moves to make before things crystallise) and the potential for mirroring steers me elsewhere. You can also play that if you can’t move you lose, but that holds no interest for me either.
KRAFTWAGEN (2015): Rank 1008, Rating 7.3
You chase actions in a Shipyard/Glen More last-going-next style, this being the first nice decision each turn ie how often do you leave actions behind for other players to avoid missing out on the action you most want/need. Actions are to improve what car body you can build, what engine you can build, build them, move up the race score-track based on your engine level (your position there each round scores money, most money wins). You also have the option to put the cars you’ve built out to market, this being a major way to score money. A lot of the game is to be in position to build the best cars in a category (best body, best engine, etc) and use actions to lock in buyers in that category. Or, once buyers are out there, quickly improve your car in the sought after categories and offer it at a lower price to steal a buyer from another player! Which provides for a nice tension as to when to commit a car to market. What I particularly liked was that there’s no defined point at which you move from research to production – there’s a desire to get something out to market in each of the 3 rounds or watch the other players make a killing without you. The continuous research vs production balance decisions with each action selection makes for a likeable mid-weight Euro. However I’d only play it 3p going forward; 4 players made the rounds finish too quickly, the car market too volatile, and the action selection too restrictive for my tastes.
LINKAGE (2009): Rank 11153, Rating 6.8
2p abstract of putting out domino sized pieces in 4 different colours on a 7×7 grid where one player is aiming to make 12+ different coloured areas and the other player is aiming to prevent that by making each area as big as possible. The restriction of not being able to place next to the piece last placed means there’s a few tricks to learn. Also, there’s only 6 pieces in each colour so pacing the use of each colour is important. After that initial learning curve is done though, it feels like you’re just playing/trying different patterns to see/learn more, and I’m just not sure there’s enough in that to hold interest.
LOST EXPLORERS (2021): Rank 15684, Rating 5.9
Each turn you either spend meeples to acquire tiles or spend tiles to put your meeples on locations on the board that match a mission you’ve collected. Missions require meeples in 1, 2, or 3 specified locations and earn you points in that mission colour. The first to achieve 4 particular score levels across various colours wins. There’s a trick to learn re how many tiles you *really* need to get meeples out – even though a location may need you to have three tiles in specific colours to place a meeple there, you only ever spend 1 of them and the others can be re-used. Once mastered, it’s a game of hoping to get lucky with what coloured tiles are on top of the tile piles when it’s your turn to draw, and that the tiles you flip over to reveal missions have as many common locations as possible so as to minimise the tile spend. The game then becomes a repetitive grind of cycling through tiles – get more, put meeples out, score a mission, get more, put meeples out, score a mission – and hoping you get luckier than the others for the win.
PRAGA CAPUT REGNI (2020): Rank 230, Rating 8.2
This has both the kitchen sink *and* the dishwasher thrown in. So much stuff we were pondering what could possibly have been removed during playtesting to get it down to this “streamlined elegant bare basics” game. Not. The flipside is that I’ve felt I’ve only explored half the game even after multiple plays given how many approaches it seems to offer. There are 6 action types, and your 16 actions are used to ramp up your resource tracks and spend resources to get action bonuses, buy walls, buy buildings or advance up the kings road, and buy the instances of these that have the icons you want to advance various tracks and collect things that will score depending on how far you’ve advanced up tracks. The constant battle is that to score well here, you need to build that, which offers a way to score if only you can also build this, which offers another way to score if only … and so on. The game delightfully wants to keep pulling you in many directions at once. You can’t do it all so the trick is to find a way to specialise effectively. I itch to play again.
TROYES DICE (2020): Rank 1788, Rating 7.3
I thought this was a fairly inventive roll-and-write in how that you’re never quite sure how many dice of each colour there will be each round, making planning tricky. The mechanism is difficult to explain … the rules take longer than the game play. This is the major downside. Once past that I quite enjoyed the challenge the game posed between taking a die for its resources (to give you the freedom to buy the dice you want in future and manipulate their colour and value) and to buy the buildings that score points. And within that, which building strategy do you go – protection, instant benefits, end-game points, or just straight victory points (citizens). The lack of theme hurts the game a little, but it’s clever. Similar review here
VILLAGERS (2019): Rank 628, Rating 7.3
Draft cards from the common display, play to your tableau. The cards either provide icons to draft / play more cards, or provide means to score (either straight up VPs or for having various things in your tableau). The point of difference is that cards specify what you must already have in play before you can play them (like building free chains in 7 Wonders) so it’s all about drafting combinations. It means there are always decisions to be made about what to go for and how to maximise your scoring given what’s on offer. It’s more than a filler but it has fewer rounds than you first expect, which exacerbates the luck required to get the card combos you want but provides a nice sense of replayability to see if you can do better next time.
SPOTLIGHT ON DIAMANT aka INCAN GOLD (2005): Rank 3661, Rating 6.9
A worthy 20 min push-your-luck play-the-odds filler for large crowds of 6 to 8. When played non-online we’ve moved to the ‘balls of steel’ variant, where all gems stay on the mines (ie not evenly distributed), which has produced much more groan and hilarity. There’s more importance on out-guessing the other players now rather than the cards. Anyway, it’s still coming out occasionally after all these years because it’s a niche winner, and online gaming is seeing it played because it handles the large player count so well.
Thoughts of other Opinionated Gamers:
Mark Jackson: New Frontiers has pretty much replaced Puerto Rico for me as well. And Diamant is a classic.