Patrick Brennan: Game Snapshots – 2021 (Part 16)
This week saw King of Tokyo spring into life on BGA, a welcome respite from the litany of lesser lights left to be explored online, experiences of which are ruminated on below. New Frontiers continues to rule the online pack otherwise, lauded for its punchy quickness.
BARBU (1930): Rank 7923, Rating 6.9
Traditional trick-taking game where each hand has a different scoring system (misere, don’t win hearts, don’t win queens, etc). In the original game, each player owns 7 hands and, after inspecting their hand, chooses which contract is being played, with one shot at each contract. That makes for a full afternoon/night of 28 hands or so. The BGA implementation is much shorter – the contracts come in a fixed cycle and you can choose how many cycles to play. Each contract scores about the same until you get to the big point “salade” final hand which scores all the contracts combined in one hand and earns points equal again to all the previous hands combined. This is where the game is won and lost. Think of the early contracts as establishing each player’s handicap for the final hand, but they’re still fun and quick to play. Basically you want to be lucky with the hands that suit the contract – and especially so in the final hand. It’s cards, each contract plays a bit differently, it’s fun. Don’t bother with the Domino variant (a crapshoot based on the traditional 7’s game which is non-trick taking and feels out of place) but the “salade” finale generates a cheery/groany climax!
EMPIRE EXPRESS (2012): Rank 6262, Rating 6.7
This is the blitz version of crayon rail building games – expect 15 minutes per player instead of the usual 45-60 mins per player. There’s a beginner set of rules which you’d never play; the advanced version differs from its brethren by having a smaller map (only 4 big cities to connect to), smaller range of goods, no engine improvements (you can move 12 spaces and load 2 goods) and you can discard a card every turn (which speeds up the finding of useful contracts). You wouldn’t pull this out with gamers over its ancestors and, given the quality of non-gamer introductory games elsewhere, it’s not something you’d use for that either. It just feels strange that this beginner version arrived nearer the end of the crayon rail-building era rather than the beginning.
GUILDES (2017): Rank 11249, Rating 6.2
Fairy Tale style, there are 3 rounds of drafting cards, playing out a subset of your final hand each round. There are 11 different sets (14 cards in the largest down to 5 in the smallest, each scoring points equal to the number of cards in the set) that you’re trying to have the most cards in to score points, and your set gets added to each round. That makes for a bit of luck in what sets you choose to go for in the first round when you don’t know if others are aiming for the same sets or not. After the first round, you have a clearer idea of what to compete for, but still don’t know if others might be battling you for it. As a result, the game is one of accidental king-making at every turn. The cards are just vanilla sets which don’t offer anything of interest, so it’s lucky the quickness of gameplay allows it to be playable.
KAMI (2019): Rank 9269, Rating 6.2
If you can play a card matching what the previous player played, you get to play out another card, trying to eventually play cards that others can’t match, forcing them to pass. The race is to be the first to play their last card out, earning that card’s points. Once everyone’s counting down the important cards, the only attraction is mastering the art of when to play your unmatchable cards and go out. Everyone’s doing the same so it’s just a luck of the draw game that, because only one person scores points each round, takes too long for what if offers.
MONSTER BABY RESCUE (2019): Rank 6316, Rating 7.0
A Suchy set collecting game with tiles in 9 or so flavours, aiming to be the first to meet as many of the 10 intra-game set-based point-earning goals as you can, as well as the first in the 4 end-game goals. You only get 15 or so turns, each turn being to pick a tile from the display (with a turn-time penalty based on how long it’s been there), so it’s a simplish game of choosing what goals to strive for (ie travelling the well-trodden path of going for stuff that other people aren’t) with the wibbles being what tiles are available each turn at what cost. It’s nice enough and in years past would be higher rated because it does what it does quite well, but it went a little long and felt explored after a play. A similar feel from our previous review…
SECRET MOON (2014): Rank 11868, Rating 5.8
The love child of Love Letter and Resistance. It’s social deduction without the social. The 5 to 8 players are secretly separated into two teams – one team knows each other, and the rest have to reveal or capture the secret team. Each player only has three turns though, and your team’s outcome seems to depend on how lucky they get with who they initially choose to randomly look at. You’re not allowed to reveal anything secretly seen, which means only 1 or 2 actions remain to deduce anything from follow-up moves. It’s not satisfying without the animated accusations and bluffing (outlawed in this game), and it’s not long enough to feel you can deduce much, but you don’t want the game to go longer either given you play multiple games and tally victory points to get a winner Love Letter style. This Love Letter type of luck didn’t feel substantial enough to hold 8 people for repeated playings. It almost worked though, and was ok to explore.
SENSHI (2018): Rank 7069, Rating 6.3
Each turn you either pick up a stack of 3 tiles and place it on your board (max 3), pick up a tile off someone else’s board (usually) and place it in your hand, or play a tile from your hand to score all topmost tiles in that colour across all players. The scoring requires you to score in all colours. The shortish game length means you only need to score each colour once or twice to be in the running, so your main question is whether to aim to have all of one colour showing and score them all at once (regardless of what other people have) and then move on to the next colour, or leech off other player scorings. Best is both. I had a few problems with the game – the tile stealing drove me nuts and made a short game even less controllable, the luck in the tile colour ordering in the stacks available to you had too large a say in what is a very tight scoring system, and the complete lack of theme didn’t encourage me back.
SIMPLICITY (2021): Rank 12102, Rating 6.5
You only get 5 turns. Each turn, pick a tile from the draft and place it on the board. A neighbourhood tile (four colours) will end up scoring points equal to the number of same-coloured orthogonally adjacent tiles in its group at the end of the game. A park scores the square of the number of different coloured tiles next to it. The tradeoff decision each turn is between taking the tile that will likely be in the biggest group at the end of the game or taking a tile that gives less likelihood of points but a higher turn order next turn. It turns out the first few tiles are usually just as attractive as the later tiles, leading to the first players maintaining early turn order and choice until the final turn or two when it matters more, and the last players remaining the last players throughout. It’s short enough to be a decent filler, but the unfairness of turn order soured me on the game.
ZENER (2018): Rank 17582, Rating 5.6
2p abstract which is a race to be the first to get a piece to your opponent’s end row and off the board. Pieces can only move one orthogonal space, which is uninteresting. But each of your 5 pieces have a symbol and the twist is that my first move each turn must be with the piece that has the same symbol as the last piece you moved, and then I can move any of my other pieces (and then you’ll have to move your equivalent piece with that symbol). The ability to force-move an opponent’s piece, either off the top of one of the pieces it’s covering or into somewhere you can cover them yourself (or backwards to escape) makes for interest from mid-game on, especially as your opponent is trying to do the same to you. We suspect you probably need to move pairs of pieces as a pack so one piece can cover if one gets forced, but it makes for a decent 10 minute-type challenge.
SPOTLIGHT ON KING OF TOKYO (2011): Rank 330, Rating 7.2
Lots of fun with a beautiful theme which helps bring what’s really nothing but a dice game to life. A turn is simply rolling 6 dice with 2 re-rolls. Dice can give you VP’s (if you get a set of 1’s, 2’s or 3’s), can inflict damage on players not in your location (you’re either in Tokyo trying to earn points if you can hang in there until the start of your next turn, or you’re outside Tokyo whaling on those in Tokyo trying to earn points), heal thyself, or earn cubey things, enough of which will allow you to buy a card from the display of 3 with either immediate or ongoing effects. So, go for what you want, re-roll away, whale away, heal thyself, buy good stuff, earn VPs. Die last or get to 20VPs first. Turns are fast. It’s a fun decision whether to keep or re-roll damage if it’s going in on Tokyo as it’s a double-edged sword – they’re allowed to move out if they get damage and that forces you in … at least until you cop it next and you’ll be faced with the decision on should you stay or should go (’cause if you go there will be trouble, but if you stay it will be double). So the game is one of trying to stay alive, be on the righteous side of where the damage is going as much as possible and accumulate those VPs as you go. Easy to learn, easy to play, easy to laugh, great components.
Thoughts of other Opinionated Gamers:
Matt C: King of Tokyo is great for a quick-playing game for the teen/tween crowd – and not bad for a quick fun/silly game for us older set. I think the evolution(?) cards found in expansions are nice as they make each monster slightly different (and give a reason to roll for 3 hearts.) Some of the card upgrades seem better than others, but that just means you need to keep your power cubes saved up for any important buys… The sequel, King of New York complicated things up just a bit, but really didn’t add to the fun so it’s left my collection.