Patrick Brennan: Game Snapshots – 2022 (Part 4)
I emerged from my previous work-enforced gaming hiatus to a plethora of gaming goodness that I needed to catch up on … and thoroughly enjoyed doing so. Here’s a shout-out to my Chatswood gaming buddies who helped sate this particular bout of new-game lust with rich pickings! All I can say is you’re a hard gamer to please if you don’t find something in this lot to like!
ANNO 1800 (2020): Rank 380, Rating 7.8
It’s nothing but resource conversions for anywhere between 1 and 3 hours. Draw cards, use meeples to build chains of the resource converters to get the resources you need to satisfy the cards, score points. Repeat until you’ve scored all your cards. There’s a huge number of different resource converters allowing you to explore different avenues each game depending on the cards you get, and I like that it gives you options to build stuff instead that allows you to ‘borrow’ resource converters from other people so that you’re never stuck. It’s simple in concept so the game will probably get repetitive, but I don’t care, I love contract fulfilment and this ramps the resource conversions aspect right up to 11. It’s in my wheel-house. Larry was also enthused about it.
ARK NOVA (2021): Rank 11, Rating 8.7
I thoroughly enjoyed my first play. Lots of rules which all basically come down to here’s a ton of cards with different effects where you’ll want to find a great combination strategy as quickly as possible, and here’s a ton of different ways you can earn “income” points and “strategy” points – find a path that gets both of those two soaring as fast as possible. Meaning there’s a ton of cards to explore plus a ton of different points avenues to explore, leading to a ton of replay to explore. It feels like it’s probably too hard to run down a leader and the game may go too long once that becomes clear but I enjoyed the challenge none-the-less. Count me in.
DUNE: IMPERIUM (2020): Rank 16, Rating 8.3
Standard worker placement mechanic, overlaid with an Ascension-style deck-building from a draft. Your hand of cards limit your worker options (or not!) and forces decisions on which cards to use for actions and which to hold back for currency for more cards or to help in the end-of round “battle” – basically whoever’s spent actions building up strength in the ‘battle’ area. There are alternative paths to victory points and how you get to them, and battle strength is just one. Your starting powers and the cards will drive you in different directions each game. It’s a nice thematic implementation for a Euro. Lots to like with interesting decisions throughout.
FANTASY REALMS (2017): Rank 246, Rating 7.6
Each card has various traits and a unique scoring effect involving said traits, either collecting or not collecting them in various combinations. The game is simply to draw and discard so as to build the best 7 card scoring combination. It’s all over in filler time and it’s all upside simple random fun except that it takes longer to score than to play (but aided by an app if you’re that way inclined). Light and enjoyable. This game got a good review a few years back.
FRUIT PICKING (2020): Rank 10545, Rating 6.1
Mancala-based. The space your last stone is placed in dictates what type of fruit you can process – either buy from the display if you have enough stones on that space (they’re your currency) or load up the space with more stones. The aim is to be the first to complete a set of all alike or all different cards. As with all Mancala-based games it’s an interesting challenge to continually optimise your moves. There’s a layer of option restrictiveness as to what you can buy vs what’s available that may frustrate players though – it felt like a shootout at the end waiting for the card you needed to win the game to appear, and then to see if other people cared enough to deny you and prolong the game.
GROUNDHOG DAY (2021): Rank 5507, Rating 7.2
Quirky but fun little 20min co-op that takes The Mind concept and makes it interesting. Deal out the cards (which will be a subset of the deck, 1-12 in 5 suits from memory) and you have 2 minutes to play out 7 cards in number order without comms. To makes things more complicated, the four suits have different pip values – you can play any card from any suit as long as the cards are played in order, but you *really* want to play the cheap suits in the early hands because each subsequent hand must total more pips than the previous. Which makes for tricky quick decisions like whether to play your 5 in an expensive suit or hope someone has a cheap 6 or 7 say and that there are still enough cards of higher value to get the required 7 cards out. Some cards will allow you to add red cards to the deck, and the win condition is that you play only red cards all in order all in one hand. Which makes for a rather climactic affair as the deck builds down – can you last another round with non-red cards to further reduce the deck or to go for it, based on no knowledge of what’s in the other players hands … because if one player goes for it and the others didn’t draw red, those red cards are lost and you’re doomed. So it’s building, building, building … and then a wild stab-in-the-dark shot at victory. But it’s only 20 minutes or so, and we rattled off 3 games in succession getting better at improving our odds each time, enjoying the learning curve.
SUCCULENT (2020): Rank 4102, Rating 7.0
Mid-weight Euro of taking contract cards (that also provide tiles) from the display. Place tiles on the board in ways that provide you as many resources as possible. Spend the resources to fulfil your contracts for points. Repeat. It works but it’s standard stuff with a boring theme laid over abstract repetitive gameplay that I don’t need to play again given it’s largely tactical and offers little strategically to explore over multiple plays.
WONDERLAND’S WAR (2022): Rank 911, Rating 8.4
Take turns drafting cards that variously allow you to place meeples into the 4 war areas or add chips to your bag (plus other things but that’s the guts of it). Then, in each area, fight to the death for the glory of victory points by pulling out chips one by one and hoping the others pull out or crash (by pulling bad chips) before you’re forced to yourself. Repeat for 3 rounds. The card drafting, placement of meeples, and fight pull out decisions are all engaging, but the 15 fights drag out what feels like should be a fun 1 hour game hour to a 2+ hour affair with significant downtime while you wait for fights to complete that you’re not in, chip by drip by chip. I liked that you could earn significant points in ways other than the fights though (eg quests, castle improvements) which made card drafting strategies more interesting than you’d expect though.
YELLOW & YANGTZE (2018): Rank 711, Rating 7.9
It’s a variant of Euphrat & Tigris, a game I’ve historically adored and rated nostalgically highly. This plays well but perhaps not as well as the original IMO. It still provides the same decision process – continually scanning the board for opportunities to make clever plays that will change the board position dramatically to your advantage in the colours you’re short in. But it’s dumbed down one of the aspects in which you do that, the inter-kingdom wars – there’s now just the one war fought in the one colour and all duplicated colours in the losing kingdom are removed, making it more one-dimensional. Temples are easier to build, lose, re-gain, and there’s now a wild colour. It’s a variant I’d always be happy to play, but I prefer the original.
SPOTLIGHT ON: TEXAS SHOWDOWN (2015): Rank 2560, Rating 7.2
Thank the gaming gods that this little gem is finally getting published again. I’ve been wanting a copy for years. I can’t help but love misere games and this may be my favourite trick-taking game for 5 or 6 players. It’s clearly not best suited (ahem) for fewer. But with a full crew, it provides interesting decisions throughout, mainly because it often provides the option to play in one of multiple suits to a trick, where any suit can win if it has the most cards played (even if not led), and your decision can sway who wins the trick to much general chagrin. With the whole deck in play it allows for card-counting, but the distribution is more important than simply knowing what’s left so there are surprises to be had and each card must be played carefully. I can’t remember a trick taking game that delivered so much smiling, laughing, and good-natured swearing. It actually even felt like a showdown. Go figure.
Thoughts of other Opinionated Gamers:
Larry: Lots of good stuff here, as Patrick catches up on some quality games. Like him, I feel that Anno 1800 is in my wheelhouse; trying to satisfy the requirements of your cards most efficiently is a very interesting challenge. The Geek ranks Ark Nova as one of the ten best games of all time and I don’t think it’s that good, but it’s still a lot of fun and one of my favorite games of the year. Dune: Imperium is pretty good, although it can be affected by the luck of the draw a bit more than I care for. And I just played Texas Showdown for the first time recently and really enjoyed it. I think it’s the perfect game to show to your friends who are only familiar with traditional trick-takers, because there’s only a small number of additional rules, but those rules make a huge difference and give it a unique gameplay; this might allow them to glimpse the exciting possibilities inherent in modern card games.