My work-induced December hiatus from gaming is over and here we are in a new year. Let’s throw out some 2021 stats for the hell of it:
- 1026 games played
- 307 different titles
- 158 new-to-me games
Games I played 10 or more times:
- Die Crew (143): And wouldn’t you know, Mission Deep Sea is better
- Dragonheart (41): Light 2p closer
- Tranquility (36): Mostly spent trying to optimise winning strategies
- Butterfly (32): Light 2-4p closer
- 7 Wonders (28): Go-to big-player count opener
- Oh Hell (26): Traditional big-player count cardie closer
- Llama (23): Light 3-5p opener while we’re waiting for more players
- Martian Dice (23): 3p filler while waiting for other games to finish
- Lucky Numbers (22): 2-4p opener while waiting for other players
- Barbu (19): Our new go-to cardie for 5 players
- Die Crew: Mission Deep Sea (19): Maintains the 10 rating of the original
- Draftosaurus (19): Light 4-6p opener
- New Frontiers (16): Excellent game, but mostly this high because it takes 5p well
- Abandon All Artichokes (13): 3-4p opener
- Nidavellir (10): Because it takes 5p well, which happened a bit this year
New games to me since last I wrote include …
7 WONDERS: ARCHITECTS (2021): Rank 1811, Rating 7.2
About all it has in common with 7 Wonders is the card theming. There’s a faceup deck of cards between you and each of your neighbours, and one face-down common deck, and each turn you draw 1 card from 1 of these three decks. Collect resource cards to build your wonder, or science cards for science points, or building cards for building points, or military cards to score military points. Pick a strategy different from your neighbours so they’ll leave you the cards you’re after and hope the cards you need come as you need them. It’s fine, it’s light, it works, but there’s a lot of luck in what cards appear on your turn and the introduction of turn-wait doesn’t help it in comparison to 7 Wonders.
ART DECKO (2019): Rank 6310, Rating 7.2
Deck builder which does some neat things. You receive 5 money cards and 5 painting cards (across 5 genres) in your deck to start with, and use them to buy more paintings from a re-fill type display. The paintings can all be used as money cards – they start at value 1 and each genre’s money and VP value increases each time a painting in that genre is bought, The other cool thing is that the money cards can be trashed to use their one-off ability. This means your deck gets more powerful holistically, doing away with the usual deck-builder trope of having to first upgrade your money cards before buying big VP cards. It’s also thematically nice … you want to get in on the genres that others are buying. Once your deck is powerful enough you can exhibit (maybe less popular?) genres, also thinning your deck, for big one-off VPs, a big market value raise, and potential end-game bonus points over and above what the paintings in your hand are worth. The big downside of the game is the continual change-tracking of every genre’s value. Playing online does all that for you and allowed me to enjoy the game. I can only imagine the rating would have dropped playing physically otherwise. Both my games have been won by the player who just bought and bought and never exhibited, which makes me wonder though. We reviewed it here earlier
CAN’T STOP EXPRESS (1989): Rank 6142, Rating 6.2 (Sackson)
An early roll and write, now on BGA, that works pretty well. You choose two pairs from the 5 common dice and mark them off. A little like Lost Cities, you need to advance a number 4 times before it stops scoring negative. Each mark-off after the 5th scores positive (less for the common numbers, more for the rarer numbers). The complication is that if you roll one of your three dead-die values, you must mark it off your timer (roll it 8 times and you’re done, stop and score) and you must make pairs from the other 4 dice. Which may force you to take some unwanted numbers at times but that’s the game. Unlike the board game it’s going to be rare to positively score rare pairs so different strategies are required, but it still maintains the ‘choose pairs’ dice flavour.
CARGO (2004): Rank 20118, Rating 5.1 (Jolly)
Distribute cargo tiles randomly around a 8×8 grid, then place your pieces. Take turns moving your pieces so as to push other player’s cargo tiles off the board and/or your own to the middle of your own side of the board (in the unlikely circumstance they’ll allow you to get them there). It felt a pointless exercise with little discernible strategy other than making the obvious moves for easy points. We packed up mid-game. This was a surprise to me given the quality of Tom Jolly’s other work.
CHOCOLATE FACTORY (2021): Rank 1749, Rating 7.2 (Dunstan/Gilbert)
Place resource converter tiles into your factory and then turn beans into various types of chocolates to satisfy common and personal contracts. There’s really only 6 decisions to make, one each round – which resource converter (and special benefit card) are you going to take from what’s left in the display and where do you place it in your sequence of machines along your conveyor belt. This decision is really hard as there are lots of permutations to work through … be prepared for serious downtime. Then you push beans through your factory doing all the conversions and satisfying orders, which at least is simultaneous; really, it’s just a scoring phase. My preference is for more decisions in a game where one mistake is less impactful so it’s not a game I’ll seek but, once in, I’ll enjoy the challenge.
THE LADY AND THE TIGER (2017): Rank 4125, Rating 6.6
You’re one of three roles. With 5 card picks, you’re trying to pick 4 cards from the common display that match either of the two aspects of role. But you need to somehow do it such that your opponent can’t successfully guess your role before you get there. It’s too micro to be interesting and just turns into a guessing game that doesn’t stand up to repeat play. It’s noteworthy in apparently having 7 designers however – that’s 2.57 cards per designer. Just saying.
MERCADO DE LISBOA (2021): Rank 1980, Rating 7.0 (Lacerda/Pomba)
Abstract game of placing market tiles of various types on the 5×5 grid, placing score boosters beside them, and then placing score tiles around the outside of the board that will score the market tiles in that row/column. Each score tile only scores a subset of market types so the game is about being the first to grab a score tile that will score market types you’ve placed but which won’t score market types others have placed in the row/column you place the score tile on … before someone else picks up that score tile and places it against a row/column you’re not in, or places a different score tile in a row/column you’ve invested in so your markets won’t score. Kinda deliberately mean-spirited with big point swings depending on what score tiles appear when, and on turn order as to who gets them.
NUMBER DROP (2021): Rank 12622, Rating 6.0
Each turn one common die determines what 4-space tetromino you can place in your roll-and-write pad (dropping it virtually from the top Tetris style) and the other 4 common dice determine what numbers you place into each space of the tetromino. You’re aiming to get numbers in sequences and sets of different lengths, but each can only be scored once. It doesn’t sound bad in theory and I didn’t mind the puzzle but in practice too many players were paralysed on too many turns with the wealth of options on how to orient and place the shape and the numbers within to link up with already placed numbers while keeping in mind what sequence / sets to go for with respect to the possibility of placing future pieces, especially when ‘wilds’ are rolled. See what I mean?
PYRAMID POKER (2019): Rank 3885, Rating 6.5 (Weissblum/Woods)
Each player gets 15 random tiles (each tile representing a unique card from a 52 card deck). Alternating, randomly reveal one and add it to the pyramid being built between the two players such that only you can see it. When all 30 are out, take a tile from the top of the pyramid (if you take an opponent’s, you then reveal it), and add it to one of your three hands, trying to build the best poker hand in each that you can. These hands face off in battle like Schotten Totten against your opponent’s, best hand wins each battle, winner of two battles wins the game. The hand-building feels just as random (my issue with ST), probably more so given not all cards are in play, but the game is also poorer for the need to boringly build the pyramid in the first place which offers little in terms of adding quality game choices.
SPOTLIGHT ON THE CREW: MISSION DEEP SEA (2021): Rank 918, Rating 8.5
I like all the changes the game has made. The new combinatory nature of the tasks has made the early missions far more interesting than the original game – mission 8 here feels like mission 28 in the original. I like how the passing option has made the innately more difficult missions manageable and provides another decision curve to learn. And how the ranking of tasks at different player counts has made 5p a viable option and 3p more difficult. It feels so superior in every way that I’m not sure I’ll go back to the original game except as a nostalgia trip with 4p. Anyway, otherwise it’s the same comment as the original game, being: “The game has us thinking differently about how we communicate our hand strengths and weaknesses, and has challenged us to be creative and daring in how we engineer wins with tricky card spreads. That’s exactly the type of thing I’m looking for in a game these days, different ways to challenge ourselves while staying in comfortable settings, and this goes straight to the top of my list of games I want to play for a while. It’s sociable, likeable, and provides an ever-changing joint challenge that’s quick to play.”
Thoughts of other Opinionated Gamers:
Can’t Stop Express: I first encountered this game in Sid Sackson’s classic A Gamut of Games book from 1969, where it was called Solitaire Dice. I loved it and have since played it well over 1000 times. It’s the perfect little time waster, with plenty of scope for skill, but where the dice play a big role in how well you do. I think it plays better as a solo game than as a multiplayer one, but there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be fun with more than 1. There’s a very good chance that the 1989 version of the game (which was called Choice in Germany and Einstein in the U.S.) was the first Roll & Write game, which is yet another feather in Sackson’s (very large) hat.
Pyramid Poker: I played the prototype for this a while back and we were very unimpressed. It just didn’t feel fun. And I’m a big fan of Schotten Totten!
Mission Deep Sea: Like most of the rest of the gaming world, I’m a big fan of The Crew and I’d love to try Mission Deep Sea sometime. So far, Crew has been challenging enough for me, but I suspect I’d enjoy the greater challenge of Deep Sea even more.