I’ve been exploring Ark Nova and Dune:Imperium quite a bit over the last month or so.
Ark Nova is still providing rich exploration pickings and I’ve upped its rating to a 9 – there seems to be a constant urge to play yet another (despite the length) and see how that turns out.
Dune: Imperium is holding steady at an 8 – I’m enjoying trying different approaches based on the cards available, and how every approach seems to get everyone there or thereabouts at the same pace for a close endgame. It feels like it needs another layer to truly shine. I don’t know if the expansion does that or not – generally I’d rather fork out for a new game rather than pay the price of the game again for an expansion that comes out within (exaggeration filter on) a week of the original. I’ll make an exception for those few games that have real legs – not sure if this will qualify but I do love its euro-implementation of theme.
CARNIVAL OF MONSTERS (2019): Rank 1267, Rating 7.3 – Richard Garfield
I enjoy drafting games and this had enough to carry me along. It reeks of Garfield’s Magic – early on you just need to get land out (hope you draw into it) and gradually switch each round to “buying” more and bigger monsters (for display in your carnival!). What drew me in was the occasional hard decisions re ongoing benefits vs the simpler lands/monsters, the “distractions” of this round’s objectives, and whether to keep currently unaffordable cards for purchase later (if only to keep them out of opponents’ hands) at a small price. Anyway, the allure is that it plays quickly while providing multiple points of interest along the way and I can see a happy spot for it in our 30 minute rotation.
COPENHAGEN (2019): Rank 1201, Rating 7.1
Either pick up cards from the common display or spend your cards to buy coloured tiles which are placed in your personal tableau, aiming to build rows and columns more efficiently than your opponents (which means same colours as much as possible). There are decisions in the mid-game on when to cease the acquisition of ongoing abilities and concentrate on points, but everyone’s making about the same decisions so it basically comes down to whether the cards come in the colours you want when it’s your turn. It works fine for a quickish mid-weight game but it didn’t have anything particularly clever or a strong enough theme to inspire replay.
KRADIA-WILD HUNT FESTIVAL (2019): Rank 10381, Rating 7.1
It allows up to 4 players but basically it’s a solo game. The aim is to inflict sufficient damage to beat 4 increasingly harder bosses without losing all your hit points. In a round, each player takes a whack, either executing a basic turn (take 1 mana, inflict 1 hit), an effects turn (spend mana, do effect) or charge (roll a die for a chance of inflicting more damage). At the end of the round, the boss rolls dice and inflicts appropriate damage or effects back. With each boss defeat, get items that allow you to live longer to offset the increasing level of boss difficulty. It doesn’t seem to matter what type of turn you do, it all nets out about the same in the long run making turn by turn decisions somewhat non-meaningful. There’s not a lot of support players can provide each other (ie making it more solo than co-operative). And you need a magnifying glass to read the effects and iconography. Once it was clear, I ended up just rolling dice through to the end to at least have some fun with it. To be clear, that’s 2 hours of rolling dice just to see if we rolled well enough or not.
PAINT THE ROSES (2022): Rank 2855, Rating 7.8
I’m not sure it’s really an 8 because I suspect every game will be a bit same-y, and repeated elimination-deduction is all it offers, all game, but … it does do it very well, and a skin-of-the-teeth win in our first game has me in the mood to be generous. Each player has a secret card that will score points when other players guess the combination it shows. Yep, co-op. Each tile has one of 4 colours and one of 4 shapes. The easy cards will have a specific colour-to-colour or shape-to-shape combination, the medium cards could have either, and the hard ones could also have a shape-to-colour combination. On a turn, put out a tile that helps reveal your combination by placing it such that you can say your hidden combination is met say 2 times by the placement of that tile. If that narrows it down to just one combination, it’s an easy score, but usually there’s a few possibilities. The aspect I like is that each tile placement allows every player to state how many times their combination is met by that new placement, allowing combinations to be whittled down with luck in every turn for all players. The aim is to fill the board with tiles before your penalty score catches your combination score (the penalty increases as the game goes on). Definitely only enjoyable if everyone is into elimination-deduction so it’s a niche market for sure. The deluxe version comes with a number of different modes to explore – without those the urge to replay would suffer and lower the rating.
PERUKE (2019): Rank N/A, Rating 6.8
Only one play is enough to know that this is totally random. What I can’t tell if this is in a good way because it’s quick enough to not mind, or the usual bad way. Each player has 6 disks numbered 1 thru 6. Roll 3 dice. For each die, either flip (and protect) your disk of the same value, or (often if your own disk is already protected) steal/score a disk of that value from another player, or (if they’re all already protected) flip one back to unprotected. Continue the round until someone’s lost their last disk and score points equal to the disks stolen (and your remaining protected disks). It’s always good to roll high – that’s where the points are and it’s the only winning strategy. The outcomes of a dice roll are usually obvious to all players (“here, have my disk”) which makes the game fast-fast. I just can’t tell yet if this allows it to become a regular 10 minute filler or not (with a higher rating) purely because it’s so fast and mindless, but let’s assume no to begin with.
RAIDERS OF SCYTHIA (2020): Rank 423, Rating 7.9
It’s another variation in the Shem Phillips’ coloured meeples ouevre where each time you do a worker placement spot to get resources you also take the meeple there. Its colour dictates what actions you can take next, and the colour of the meeple you left behind is what the next player who takes that action will get. Which makes the game rather grindy, taking a series of sub-optimal plays gathering, gathering, gathering until the right play with the right meeple comes along to allow you to take a leap into the bigger VP-earning places. Continue along the roller-coaster of grind and leaps until enough VP-places have been taken. Unfortunately it means there’s little story-arc or sense of progression and it comes over as “just another Euro” without the spark of interest that other games in this series provide.
SUPER-SKILL PINBALL (2020): Rank 1220, Rating 7.2
Pick one of the two common dice results and move your pinball to a valid destination matching that die (which is usually down the ‘ pinball table’ ie your roll and write sheet), adding a tick to your destination. You only get so many ‘hitups’ back to the top of the table for each ball (ie round, of which there are 3) so you try to maximise the number of destinations you tick off each time the ball descends, focusing on the areas that give ongoing advantages early on and big points later on. The game is about understanding what these advantages are (there are different modes) and how best to utilise them, and it’s all quite beautifully thematic which earns it kudos. But it drags on too long doing much the same thing, hoping you get the dice rolls you need to finish things – hitup, tick off, tick off, tick off, tick off, hitup, tick off, … (A similar but longer review here…)
TABANNUSI: BUILDERS OF UR (2021): Rank 2020, Rating 7.5
The major scorey-line is to build on spaces set up by others (for one multiplier) and to set up spaces that others will be attracted to building on (the other multiplier). This rather alarmingly means your scoring potential is fairly driven by the other players, and your ability to lure them in (despite themselves) by setting up more win-win situations and hoping the bait gets consistently taken. The game’s nature is obfuscated by non-intuitive rules which are hard to teach because it’s difficult to pin the rules to the cut-and-paste theme – I do now know, however, that the fabled city of Ur consisted of districts numbered 1, 2, and 3, so that was a win. There’s a steep learning curve with interesting mechanic interactions that makes you want to play it again once you’ve grokked it so as to get better at it …but that would mean having to play it again and the attraction of ‘attraction’ mechanics is low for me.
THE TRANSCONTINENTAL (2022): Rank 6490, Rating 7.3
You’re trying to get as many resources as you can and build as many buildings as you can that match your objective cards. The selling point is that each game is going to have all the action spots be different combinations of the various gather/deploy actions and laid out in a different execution order. In practice it’s difficult to quickly assess what action spots do what actions (and more became available through the game, making it worse) so this bogs it down. It further bogs down because you only have 3 actions each round and it’s unclear whether the action space you choose will be made worthless by the time it triggers because a player has used a previous action space to teleport resources to the space you wanted to develop. There’s also a weird method of holding resources where resource types move between ‘immediately available’ and ‘available at some future unknown point’. I can see the puzzle-type attraction of mastering these elements from game to game, but being too long and slow and frustrating and resource-grindy ain’t a great combination to start from.
SPOTLIGHT ON: KUPFERKESSEL CO, (2015): Rank 2407, Rating 6.9
100+ plays. A super spouse game. You can’t play it back to back for long because there’s a key memory element (ie what you’ve collected so far) that you can accidently mix up from game to game, but it’s had excellent staying power over the years. Nearly every turn provides a delicious decision – do you take something you want to collect to maximise your points and end up moving to a bad spot, or take something that doesn’t help you score much but sets you up for better plays next turn and the turn after (and after that, etc, based on how much look ahead you want to do). And there’s always the risk that your best laid plays may be wrought asunder by your opponent killing off the last card you collected, moving you somewhere you weren’t expecting and having to re-plan. It’s easy to pull out, easy to teach, quick to play and you have the choice of concentrating on your own game or playing to interfere, depending on your preferred playing style. It does require you to remember which sets you’ve collected so far, but as you’ll only (hopefully) be collecting 5-7 sets this isn’t too hard and actually provides part of the joy as you get halfway in and suddenly can’t remember if you already have one of those and you need to add to it or not – oops! But minor hiccups like this don’t penalise you too much in the big scheme. Lastly, it has the advantage of being playable with the kids and providing them practice at some key game skills (lookahead, etc) which is a bonus.
Thoughts of other Opinionated Gamers:
I had quite a different take on Transcontinental from you. My initial game was 2 player and as we discovered more of the game, the greater was our appreciation of the game. In particular, we thought the timing of when you played your workers was good and whether you enacted the worker on the East-West route or vice versa added an interesting choice. As the game progressed we found that the coal engine choice became very valuable in terms of victory points then waned; but I think this is a good aspect and we learned a lot about the different options, especially about the timing of those options.
The iconography was possibly a problem but after a few minutes we were fine with it. Thematically we thought the game worked well too as the main railway was created and the fame drew to a good conclusion. Our game was far from grinding and finished in 2 hours with the scores being quite tight. Also we found that getting the bonus action was easy to do but when you used it was more interesting because of the situation when you acquired it.
As a 2 player game we gave it an 8 and with 3 or 4 players (to be tried shortly) this could even rise.
Larry: Kupferkessel certainly seems to be a quality game. But my memory is sufficiently awful that any game that requires memorization is an automatic veto for me. The further proof of this is I can’t even remember what there is about it that made me think it’s a quality game! :-)