Patrick Brennan: Game Snapshots – 2022 (Part 7)
The local elections have dried up recently and work has slowed down so the gaming has come on fast and relentless the last month or two. Even better, it’s all face to face now that Covid apparently no longer exists in Sydney!
We’re getting these snapshots out now before I set off to waltz around Tasmania for my first real “go somewhere, do something” holiday in about a decade. Putting kids through private school, yeesh! Anyway, the holiday incorporates a week-long white water rafting trip down the Franklin. If you don’t hear back, it was a great way to go.
A BATTLE OF ONIN (2022): Rank N/A, Rating N/A
It’s a themed version of Spades. Declare the number of tricks to win, standard trick taking, get points for being exact, overbids get bags. The only real difference is that it allows you to up your bid once you hear what others are bidding. The rules are obfuscated by being slavishly devoted to thematic terms and are obscure on some key points. Cards within each suit are ordered by colour so you spend all game having to remind yourself how to sort them rather than enjoying the play, which slows things down. I mean, just play Spades.
FIRST RAT (2022): Rank 2095, Rating 7.6
Major points for fun family-friendly theming, rats racing along the track collecting things to build a rocket to the cheese moon. Your first strategic choice is whether to buy early tech and/or advance up the lightbulb track to enhance collection abilities. The guts of the game though is the planning involved in maxing out the clever movement collection mechanism as many times as you can, where you want to spend your 5 movement points moving your rats to different but same-coloured spaces along the track so they all collect stuff, preferably stuff you have collection-enhancing tech for. If only those other pesky rats weren’t in your way, demanding cheese to go on their spots! There are 9 or so different score types and you probably want to concentrate in a few, be the first to score them and keep scoring them as fast as you can. You can’t dally as the game is over sooner than you think, making the timing of the tech vs collection tres important. There are a few plays in it as you try different approaches, and then it’s seems pleasant enough to keep around for the occasional light 45min affair ongoing.
NOAH (2012): Rank 3533, Rating 6.4 – Cathala / Maublanc
Have 5 escalation piles going at once (ie don’t play a card that takes the total over 21!) and have the previous player’s card dictate which pile you must play on. Be the first to get rid of all your cards, or at least have a low score in hand when the pile crash limit is reached. The cards are of various species, each with an effect, which elevates the game mechanically and thematically. There are decisions on what to play early and what to keep re balancing score vs pile crashing avoidance (as that comes with card penalties). There’s no denying though that you’re in the lap of the card gods as you’d expect with this game genre, but it dresses it up as best it can.
OATH: CHRONICLES OF EMPIRE AND EXILE (2021): Rank 362 Rating 7.9 – Wehrle
People who like this kind of thing will like this kind of thing. You only get a few turns in the game, meaning turns are long because they have high impact, there are a lot of considerations, lots of card effects to absorb, and lots of options on how you spend your 572 action points. Making downtime a killer unless you’re invested in the all-over game state (people who like this kind of thing …). Depending on your role, your winning options are semi-random – there’s a few in the deck that you’ll want to draw into (people who like …). I enjoyed my playing for the ride it took us on, and thought it interesting how the end of each game sets the starting layout and a winning condition for the next game, but not having enough turns to overcome a poor combat result or unlucky card draws or the inevitable ‘next player needs to stop the next player from winning’ nature means it’s not quite my kind of thing, but I appreciated it for what it is.
OBSESSION (2018): Rank 117, Rating 8.3
Assign your staff cards and their associated meeples to score your building cards which earns you more staff cards (random from a deck) and/or money with which to buy more buildings from the draft. Focus on the different scoring goals in each of the 4 rounds (types of staff, buildings, etc) and hope the random draws and the buildings available to you in the draft match. It works nicely and there are tricky decisions on how best to proceed, but the drabish art and the seemingly game-determinative dependence on the luck of the draw/draft in a long-ish game stopped it from elevating for me.
RAMEN FURY (2019): Rank 4537, Rating 6.3
Spend two actions each turn drawing and playing ingredient cards and menu-cards (ie collect and play this set of ingredient cards to score X points) from the common pool. Your strategy is to hope that the ingredient cards available in the pool on your turn match the menu cards you’ve got, and vice versa, hoping to max-score three menus before the game ends. It’s fine for a 10 minute filler, too random for anything longer.
TERRAFORMING MARS: ARES EXPEDITION (2021): Rank 165, Rating 7.7
As card engine games goes, this is solid, good, enjoyable. The cards here are (like TM) incrementally marginal, providing a gradual increase in income. This makes for a long game for a card game. I think the Race For The Galaxy mechanic fits better with card sets that are more powerful. Here it almost doesn’t matter what cards you get or what action you pick, there’s nearly always something you can do, so just get cards out as fast as possible. The nature of TM is that you fight for every card and this feels antithetical – cards come so easy you end up throwing them away for money – and therefore the game feels flightier. Because the cards are balanced and all are useful, results are close with random draw into better engines mostly deciding it. It’s a nice abridgement that I’ll happily play and it’s better than most in its genre, but the inevitable comparison has it a less-substantive experience than the mother-ship. An earlier review
TRANSATLANTIC (2017): Rank 1568, Rating 7.1 – Gerdts
Cycle through your action cards to buy ships from the open pool, load ships with coal, spend coal to run ships for money, eventually earn points from ships, and then cycle thru your action cards again. It’s a repetitive cycle which would be fine on a game half the length but doesn’t grow into anything of enough interest to, well, hold your interest well into the second hour. The new cards you acquire at the end of each cycle are just better variants of the base cards and don’t take the game anywhere new so you just keep cycling through over and over until the pool runs empty and you can depart this one and board a different gaming ship.
XI’AN (2017): Rank 2946, Rating 7.3
Everyone starts with their own deck of 24 cards, draw 2, get their goods, use goods to get statues out on the board (for VPs) or paint statues (for VPs) or buy cards to build sets (for VPs). It’s a straightforward Euro, play for 12 rounds, most points wins. Each game is going to be much the same. Do the best you can given the order in which you draw your cards and try to avoid what the other players are doing. Not sure I need to explore further but it’s fine enough if others are keen.
SPOTLIGHT ON: UNDERWATER CITIES (2018) Rank 43, Rating 8.1 – Suchy
10 plays. Underwater Cities has made a happy resurgence this year; I’ve been enjoying the challenge of improving my play. I really like this evolution of the action selection mechanic, where you play a card to take one of the actions – if the card colour matches the action’s colour you get the power of the card as well, be it immediate or ongoing. Once you have a strategy in progress, the heart of the game comes down to the decisions on when to stick fast with the actions you need even though you don’t have a matching card versus getting distracted by the shinies of a card and a lesser action that feels attractive but could be strategy-deviant and may cost you in the end. There are lots of card powers which drive synergy engine building (always a favourite) and there are lots of different ways to approach your VP hunt leaving lots of room for game exploration. Initial plays may be long but it feels like it needs that length to bring it all together and games are around the 2hr mark now. I’m not sure the expansions add enough to be worthy – by the time you make your prelude choices you could have just played the first round. New boards and additional cards are nice but unneeded. I’m happy with the basic set and each game is still engaging me throughout.