One of the benefits of BGA is that it can turn what can be considered complex games into simple games. Case in point is Castles Of Burgundy. This game has struggled to come out physically over the years because each round requires explanation of what all the yellow and brown tiles do because the iconography is non-obvious. Repeat the explanations mid-round as needed. It always seemed like too much rules effort and it wasn’t a game I could simply sit back and enjoy. When playing on BGA, having hover scripts that explain all the effects of each tile makes everyone self-sufficient. Now, being able to focus on my own game, it turns out that Castles is rather simple – play a die to get a tile, play a die to place a tile. The decisions may be hard, but the play is simple. It turns it into a game that I can look forward to online.
Nicodemus (below) is another example. The iconography is dubious, but online we don’t have to memorise every effect from the rules … just run the mouse over it! And while there’s plenty of downsides to online gaming, like not knowing what the hell all the players are doing and how it’s going to affect your game, reducing this rules barrier of entry caused by inadequate iconography is definitely one of the upsides.
On a different note, so many poor games are added to BGA as marketing ploys that when you try yet another new game you’ve never heard of, with hardly any comments or ratings on BGG, it’s startlingly refreshing when it turns out to be something worthy. It has some downtime issues, but may I turn your attention to … Almadi.
ALI BABA (2017): Rank 7765, Rating 6.3
Straightforward filler type game of picking tlles off a pyramid. The under-tiles are only revealed when there’s nothing covering them (making them take-able). Points are for sets of the same symbol, but each tile also has one of the 6 magic effects that make it more interesting, either earning extra points or extra tiles in various fashions. These are usually worth more than the actual tile is likely to be. Anyway, pick the best you can from what’s on offer and deny other players as need be. It doesn’t offer much of a learning curve but it’s pleasant enough to play.
ALMADI (2021): Rank 10187, Rating 7.0
A plan-provoking tile placer which I found engaging. The display has 2 tiles in each of 4 rows, and the tile you take must be placed in your tableau in the equivalent row. It’s tricky getting the right tile in the right place to achieve the landscape type scores (big groups of oases, palaces next to markets, etc). Each tile also has a mix of activation icons and effect icons on their edges, and each time you place an activation icon next to an effect icon, the effect is triggered, usually in the form of extra bonuses and currencies to buy things for more points. Getting a tile in the exact colour you want in the exact row with the activation and effect icons you want on the right edges … rarely happens!! Add personal goal cards and race-for objective cards and it’s quite the mix to think about. One of the effects allows you move tiles around and re-trigger any resultant newly activated effects which I thought on reading the rules was a rule too far but it turns out to be a very cool way to get bonus plays and help your tableau overcome the tile placement rule. It seems that the setting up of tiles to effectively trigger moves equating to up to 4 tile placements (activating all their effects) every turn seems to the path to success. Which, if everyone abuses this, brings us to the real knock on the game … the resultant downtime is a killer. I’d suggest not playing more than 3p once everyone clues in to the brain-burn it offers! The rating is for that player count, and drops a point for each extra player.
BOSS QUEST (2019): Rank 12666, Rating 6.6
It’s effectively blackjack/21 with a deck of cards ranging from 1-7, drawing until you fear busting. When stopping, either play or discard one of the remaining effect cards (drawn at the start of this round) to improve your score or damage others. After revelation, whoever is closest to the target number wins that round’s key and a perfect score earns another. First to 5 keys wins. Also, if you bust, lose a life – if someone loses their last life, the game also ends with the winner having most keys. Nice and easy enough to bring out, but it goes a little long for a filler and for how random it is.
CANOSA (2020): Rank 16160, Rating 5.9
A race of getting pieces you control back to your own base, with the twist being that your master meeple can move around and transfer ownership rings so as to take control of pieces. There’s a max of three rings per piece so once it’s at max, it’s yours and you can use these to block the opponent from moving their meeples to their home base. We came up with a number of blocking stalemate-y type situations in our game before we decided it wasn’t worthwhile exploring further and played it as a straight race to finish it. The controllable pieces being vanilla (all identical, can move 1 space orthoganally) and having symmetric starting positions didn’t help engender interest.
EVL (2021): Rank n/a, Rating n/a
2p abstract of getting pieces out on the board into stacks, and then moving those stacks Mancala style, dropping off a piece on each spot travelled. The aim is to be the first to claim 10 pentagons, which the movement hexes surround in an unusual board layout. You capture a pentagon by having two non-adjacent pieces bordering it after moving a stack. The play seems to be about creating stack threats and eventually moving them to cover your opponent’s pieces and neutralising their threats, so there’s a bit of whoever’s first to build a stack in an area will eventually claim the advantage in that area. There’s a resultant ebb and flow as stack threats are used and deployed that may well create enough interest to engender replay.
FAI-FO (2019): Rank n/a, Rating 6.2
Deal out the 12 or so unique cards, give everyone a merchant ship, and play trick after trick of simultaneous revelations where the highest two revealed cards get money and the lowest ranked card gets its effect (usually money). Win the round by having the most money at the end, and keep playing until someone’s won 3 rounds. You can try and guess who’s been dealt what and in what order they’ll play their cards, but experience says you’ll probably do better playing randomly. Playing round after round of simultaneous revelations with the same small set of cards gets old pretty quickly.
NICODEMUS (2021): Rank 13430, Rating 6.1
Neat enough 2p 20min game. Either play a card to the common display to get resources (each card offers three ways, one of which is an effect), or spend those resources to ‘build’ a card from the common display (if it hasn’t been built by your opponent in the meantime). The game is about getting the best from the effects you’re lucky enough to draw into at the right time, putting out cards you can build, and being careful about not putting out cards your opponent can build. First to build stuff and meet objectives worth 20 points wins. Learning all the effects isn’t family friendly though, and it doesn’t provide quite enough oomph for gamers, so it’s a twilight zone kind of game. It’s better on BGA where all the effects are presented in-play.
PARKS (2019): Rank 112, Rating 7.9
A straight-forward worker-placement game. Actions are to get resources, convert them into different resources, spend them to fulfil contracts for VPs. It features the Egizia approach where your workers can only move ‘downstream’ to a future action, never backwards, the twist being that you have a second worker coming along behind to do an action that the first worker can no longer get to. Play 4 rounds, with a new action and a new action order each round to spice things up, (which is neat) but the constant resource collection requirement gets grindy. You’re mostly dependent on the actions left you (you only get one shot at sharing an action spot each round), and you’re mostly dependent on what contracts are available when you’re ready to fulfil contracts, with decisions being influenced by your personal year-end goal. There are some trade-off decisions to make in the early rounds re spending actions and resources to get ongoing benefits vs just concentrating on fulfilling contracts. The game is pleasant enough, the design is clean and the art is nice, but I’ll admit I’m puzzled as to why it’s a top 200 game when the resource collection, conversion, and contract fulfilment is this vanilla.
SIMILO (2019): Rank 1611, Rating 7.0
A cut-down version of Mysterium which works pretty well as a filler when you have a higher player count. The clue-giver puts out a card from their hand saying the secret card (matching 1 of the 12 cards in the display) is like this, or not like this, and it’s up to the team to decide which of the 12 cards to discard. If the secret card is ever discarded, it’s a loss. To begin with, they don’t know if the clue-giver means the similarities/dissimilarities are background colour, gender, character, genre, or whatever, and that’s the fun part, trying to work it out knowing that the clue-giver only has a hand of 5 cards to choose from and may be limited in their options. Anyway, do this 5 times, each time removing more and more cards until in the final round there are only 2 cards left. Hopefully the 5 given clues by then will allow the team to work out a pattern and ensure the secret card is the last card standing for the win. Nice and light, easy enough.
SPOTLIGHT ON FLUXX (1997): Rank 9040, Rating 5.7
A game for timefilling where it might be some fun to see the different combinations come out, just to see what happens. I’m not sure why gamers would want to waste gaming time on it though as the decisions are trivial and the fun marginal. I blame it on COVID desperation that I keep talking myself into trying yet another version. I hold that if you’ve played one Fluxx you’ve played them all.
Thoughts of other Opinionated Gamers:
Mark Jackson: I think the attraction of Park is just how darn pretty it is… plus, the theme is non-gamer-friendly.
As to Fluxx – my first play was delightful, my second play was OK, and then we had a game that lasted 45 minutes. That pretty much killed any interest in playing again.