I’m not big on expansions but I recently forked out for Dune: Imperium’s Rise of Ix. It changes the focus from spending spice on troops and money to spending spice on troops and tech tiles. It doesn’t change the essence of victory point acquisition (climb tracks, get troop majorities, acquire purchase power) but it does provide different strategic paths as to how to achieve these which I enjoyed exploring. It stays in the mix and improves the game’s longevity.
I also went all in on Spirit Island expansions, figuring it’s currently the co-op with the most variety and staying power I have now that Gloomhaven is kinda done. All the extra elements are a little overwhelming in the first game (new powers tick, addition of events tick, new token powers tick) and made the game go way longer than desired while we came to grips with new iconography and effect types. I’m hoping now that that’s done it all speeds up and we can get on with enjoying the variety and the new challenge.
CASCADIA (2019): Rank 57, Rating 8.0
It works exactly how expected from the rules. Pick one of the 4 random animal token/terrain tile pairs. Place the tile in your tableau so as to increase the size of a terrain group (keeping it open ended so as to increase in size again later) and place the animal token independently so as to maximise the scoring that at type of animal likes (together, separate, pairs, etc). Ideally they both fit your plans but the game is about what to do and how to setup for future turns when there’s no obvious takes. Repeat for 20 turns. You can play along light and fluffy (as every animal gives about 3 points and every tile about 1.5 points) and hope the tiles/tokens available to you are kind, or you can AP the hell out of it analysing distributions and other players’ takes to increase the chance of eking out those extra points for the win. Doing this of course drags the game down for others so finding the right balance is the key to collective enjoyment. It was pleasant enough for ongoing fun, but not a great deal to explore after a single play. Here is a review written before it won the award.
THE KEY: MURDER AT THE OAKDALE CLUB (2020): Rank 4514, Rating 7.2
Real-time deduction game. You have to work out the 3 elements of the crime faster than the other players. To do so you pick up cards from the table for this crime (per the crime’s colour) for the element you wish to solve (per its icon). It’ll provide information (eg this person was here at this time) and once you turn over enough cards, you can string all the information together and solve it. Amongst the problems are that a bunch of clues are deliberately obfuscated by artwork, a bunch of clues will tell you stuff you already know and knock you out of the game (as the tiebreaker is fewest card points) but mostly the time pressure sucks out the enjoyment that’s usually to be had in this genre and drives people to make mistakes, making the game longer than you want.
LEGENDS OF HELLAS (2022): Rank 20706, Rating 5.2
Lightweight quickish co-op of playing cards that match symbols with monster cards (in the common pool) to collectively kill them off, spending cards to move to the next monster, spending cards to draw more cards, spending cards to give a card to another player, etc, with the goal of killing off the required number of monsters before the deck runs out. That’s it. It’s simple and decent and provides a close result, but there’s not a lot of clever as the decisions are mostly obvious.
MILLE FIORI (2021): Rank 2021, Rating 7.4 – Knizia
Play a card to place a token into one of the various districts on the board and score it. Each district scores token connectivity in a different way, rewarding district specialisation, but to earn the *big* bonus points and multiple bonus actions you need to spread yourself across the districts. It’s 7 Wonders style card drafting and my experience was that forming a strategy was mostly doomed. You had no idea if and when the cards you wanted would come or, if they did, if you’d be gazumped by other players in the spots you wanted to pay. Which meant everyone was just playing the best card they had at the time and made the whole thing mostly random. Which is fine in a 15 minute game but didn’t go over so well in a 60 minute themeless affair. Another take on the game here.
PAX PAMIR (2015): Rank 1693 Rating 7.5 – Eklund / Wehrle
As is expected from the Pax series, it’s quite the complicated strategic journey for a little ol’ card game. The turn structure is simple – buy and/or play cards and/or execute card icon effects with your 2 actions. But what to do? Get money, put limits on other players’ cards, put out troops or roads for your current faction or, if you align with a different faction completely and alter the current player dynamic, can you see a path to better VPs in the upset apple cart – which involves quite the card planning based on your expectations on what other players are going to do (given the cards you’ve seen them acquire and are currently in hand). The theme didn’t grab me but I can appreciate there’s a fair slab of game space to explore here in regards to mastering the game defining change-of-faction moves.
SPACECORP: 2025-2300AD (2018): Rank 822, Rating 7.7
I loved the sprawling thematic ambition – spend an hour expanding out towards Mars, another hour throughout the solar system, and another hour through the galaxy, each hour on a different board and with different sets of action cards. A turn is usually to spend cards on your normal move/build type actions and/or acquire more action cards, forever improving your tech and your capability so you’re set up to take advantage of not only this board but the next. It’s an exploration game so there’s luck in what you find and luck in what action cards are available to you each turn, and your lot is to make the best of what you get while keeping an eye on the bigger picture. I get how the conflict between the luck and the Euro action space can generate frowns. The other downside is there’s a lot of things to find, and lots of options to build, which can cause rules overload so the game isn’t for everyone … but I enjoyed it for the exploratory ride it took me on and being able to play a space game where I didn’t have to fight everyone, just race.
SPLITO (2022): Rank 8013, Rating 6.5
It’s just one hand of 7 Wonders style card drafting, starting with 13 cards which are a mix of scoring cards and suit cards, and it combines with a Between Two Cities scoring mechanism. Each time you play a card (before passing your hand on), you decide to play it to the scoring pile you share with your left hand neighbour or your right hand neighbour. Mostly you start playing scoring cards so you and your neighbours know what suit cards you’ll want to play there later to satisfy the scoring cards (which are things like most colour/number, none of a number/colour, etc). Your score is the multiplier of both your score piles so you want them as balanced as you can. The decisions are easy enough but there’s enough thought required along the way to be entertaining. It’s probably mostly random and of course there are neighbour dependencies but it finishes fast enough that you may well want to play again.
SWITCH AND SIGNAL (2020): Rank 2243, Rating 7.2
Your mission is to use cards to move the barriers on the board, then move the trains to pick up cubes from the middle and transport them to the board edge. The issue is that the cards are random, where the trains appear are random, and what trains move at the end of each turn is random. Your turns then are about assessing likelihoods and setting the barriers to allow as many trains as possible to move their maximum (at different speeds) in the direction you want without them crashing into anything. It provides interesting tactical challenges but I suspect there’s not enough variety to hold up in the long term, and it can also be unsatisfying if/when you play really well only for the randomness to make it unwinnable. Still, a challenge to be had. Here is a full review
VAMPIRE: THE MASQUERADE – VENDETTA (2020): Rank 2998, Rating 7.3 – Cleveland / Faidutti
Play 3 rounds, and in each round place cards to any of the three bid locations (face-up for free or face-down at a cost). Once all are placed, reveal all cards, resolve all the effects, add up the points, and the bid-winners get their reward. 9 auctions, that’s it. The attraction (and the replay) is that each player gets a unique set of cards that tailors their bid-play to a style strength. But they’ll only see a few of their cards each game so, even if you know all the decks, you’ll not know exactly what’s being played out face-down. It’s these effects and their interactions that make the game better than 9 auctions would usually confer. An older review here
SPOTLIGHT ON: PANDEMIC: RISING TIDE (2017) Rank 766, Rating 7.6
19 plays: We’ve been quite taken with this implementation of the Pandemic system and a recent purchase has turned it into our go-to co-op when we have an hour spare on a gaming night. The card system remains but the board structure is overhauled. There’s only one disease: water. Your job is to keep building dikes and pumping that water out, while still arranging to get the regular 5 same-colour cards to build the 4 required structures to win. The game has quite a different feel, and the decisions on where to build dikes, pumps, and ports are non-obvious and non-trivial. New decision inputs include wanting to keep the water flowing back to your pumps, and the fact that dikes are built between regions – when a region card is revealed, it’s important which of its dikes is removed as it has consequences for its neighbouring region. We’ve also been enjoying the new objectives which are used to replace and/or supplement the 5-same-colour condition with different win conditions, often involving getting population cubes into dry areas (which die if they flood again). It’s not an easy game to win as the end-game escalation can get wild and hairy, and bad luck can cruel you (a breach in just the wrong place can be catastrophic). It’s particularly brutal when you up the difficulty level by adding storm cards and more objectives. Regardless, it’s currently my favourite standalone version of the game (putting Legacy to one side).