Patrick Brennan: Game Snapshots – 2022 (Part 8)
To all those protestors who fought the good fight back in the 80’s to stop Tasmania’s Franklin river being dammed, thank you. It’s one of the few rivers in the world untouched by towns or farms, just pristine wilderness, spectacular gorge after ravine after gorge, constant waterfalls bigger than any I’ve seen in tourist-accessible national parks … and 300+ white-water rapids I’ve just spent a week rafting down. I got lucky with the weather, the water levels, and the people I met on the trip. Good trip, and I’ve yet to lose my chill.
The Franklin also apparently knows how to play Uno and 500. However I can confirm that the following were not played on the nightly banks of the Franklin.
BLOC BY BLOC: UPRISING (2022): Rank 7235, Rating 7.6
If you can picture a game of Pandemic where you roll a die for each action and only get to do the best actions if you roll high enough, and then take 4 times longer to put out more disease at the end of each turn as you search the board for the numbered spaces that meet the criteria, you’ll realise that this co-op is attractive in intent but a less satisfying instance in practice. Each turn you get out a new meeple to fight disease but you must sacrifice pawns to reveal the win conditions, the randomness of which can make for interesting times organising yourselves while the countdown clock is ticking. The theming or the artwork didn’t help smooth down the rough edges of the mechanics for me. Playable, but not a preference.
FOX IN THE FOREST DUET (2022): Rank 1294, Rating 7.1
Uses the same “odd-numbered cards have effects” deck mechanic as the original, but after each trick a marker moves toward the trick winner’s end of the common track a number of spaces equal to the difference in the two played cards’ strengths, aiming to visit all the spaces on the track for the win. As the spaces fill up, you use the effects to swaps cards as much as possible to engineer the exact moves needed, making sure the trick wins are balanced as needed, using available wibbles to help. It works nicely. Card nous and memory helps as does effective use of the effects, but trick-taking for 2 player never feels quite social or fulfilling enough for me and achieving the win rather comfortably first game means this isn’t something I need to hunt down and play to death. A previous review here. Amazon affiliate link here.
FURNACE (2020): Rank 404, Rating 7.5
Each round, claim resource -> better resource -> VPs cards using your bidding chips, place them in a chain, and execute them in order. In a neat twist, any cards you lose the bid on gives you their resources instead (to feed into your engine chain). It’s not easy deciding on the cards you must have (using your unbeatable chip), cards you really want in your engine, and cards you want resources for (but what will happen if the other players let you win instead!). It involves holding a bunch of different options in your head and pivoting as needed – it’s not easy and belies the game’s simple facade. An interesting challenge then but with a touch too much AP for me and a feeling of too little available recovery time when plans are wrought asunder, especially for a game that takes longer than you expect.
KHORA (2021): Rank 962, Rating 7.5
In each of the 9 rounds, roll 2 dice. Each die is used to trigger an action. The higher the value the more actions are available to it, the actions being to move up tracks or to generate money and/or cards to help move up tracks which variously lead to different ways to generate VPs. It’s all very structured. Your starting power pretty much dictates which tracks to focus on and your chances of winning are substantially enhanced by being lucky enough to draw into cards pre-game that complement it. Your chances of winning are substantially reduced however if you continually roll low as you’ll be wasting precious actions generating pip-adder capability to allow the higher powered actions. There are some mini-races in the first few rounds to be the first to various things but after that it’s mostly a solitary affair that rolls along pleasingly fast and mostly simultaneously, doing the best you can with the dice you roll. Despite these seeming replay limitations, I’ve enjoyed trying out the different paths to victory that the various starting powers offer.
SANSSOUCI (2013): Rank 1687, Rating 7.1 – Kiesling
Each player has an identical deck of tiles which they’ll go through once. Reveal two, choose one. This defines which type (9) or colour (6) of tile you’re permitted to take from the common pool and place in your personal tableau. The taken tile must be placed in its type’s column but also in the row dictated by where it was in the pool. That makes life tricky as you’re trying to create paths from the top of your tableau to the bottom and score as many bottom-placed (ie highest-scoring) tiles as possible. Sometimes luck shines and you get access to a tile that fits perfectly, other times it doesn’t and you put out something that might help later. It provides a pleasant 30 minute “plan but adjust on the fly” exercise which entertains your luck management skills. An older review here
SPACE STATION PHOENIX (2022): Rank 2312, Rating 7.4
There’s going to be 2 sides of the coin. You destroy your action spaces (interesting) to get the resources needed to build buildings, and it’s a race to get the buildings you want so as to provide synergistic ongoing benefits and end-game points, with the constant fear that you won’t be able to ramp them up with meeples in time before the game ends. You can’t do it all. There’s a trade-off between doing all that versus advancing up the get-benefits-everytime-someone-does-an-action track. There are a lot of buildings not in the game so the selection generates plenty of pre-game planning downtime but also encouragement of replay. The other side of the coin is that every player is continually getting resources on nearly every single player’s turn so the accounting and keeping up with the resource ins and outs can be distracting (with the constant reminders to take stuff) if all players aren’t continually switched on all game. As your action spaces diminish and your strategy is set, the game can become repetitive as you persist with ramping your engine up, repeating the same actions each cycle. I liked it none-the-less. Not sure if it’s a buy and I wouldn’t want to play it 4p but I’d trade for it. Here’s an Amazon link if you want to get one to trade with Patrick. Here is an older review.
TERRAMARA (2019): Rank 1698, Rating 7.3
Standard Euro, worker placement, resource gathering, buy cards for VPs, repeat for 6 rounds. The big twist is that all the action spaces are sorted by round. All this round’s and all future round’s action spaces are available but any worker placed on a future round space (which are more productive) is locked and will only be usable again after that future round completes. At least it stops anyone else going there. Action spaces in previous rounds morph into different lesser things as well. This makes for interesting but slowish action decision making. It’s a touch too grindy for its 2 hour length – just keep collecting resources and keep turning them into VPs – to earn more than the occasional play, but each play will engage you.
TAINTED GRAIL: THE FALL OF AVALON (2019): Rank 86, Rating 8.2
I’ve only played solo, got through 3 sessions/chapters, enjoyed them, would play further if someone else was keen to explore but I didn’t need to go further on my own. It provides solid immersion through art and story but I became increasingly tired of spending half my turns gathering resources to keep myself alive and stop the locations from disappearing from the board rather than expanding horizons. That and irritated at not being able to find a quest item despite being (I thought) rather thorough with my searching and note keeping. Also, why aren’t the mini’s painted for the price it asks? I liked the combat system however – linking drawn cards by matching icons for different effects, which provides a nice mini-puzzle as to how to maximise damage, minimise loss, and increase the odds of winning with the next cards you draw – but the price of losing health in combat is SO expensive, you end up wanting to evade (before your combat deck evolves enough) just so you can move on with the exploration. Despite these gripes, it’s obviously one of the richer paragraph story exploration games available and I enjoyed exploring it for a while. (Wow. Nearly $700 now if you want to try it yourself from Amazon)
VILLAGE RAILS (2022): Rank 5130 Rating 7.5
Well isn’t this a little pocket rocket of brain-burny goodness. It uses the same drafting mechanism over 12 turns as Majesty: For The Realm but here you’re drafting a tile to place into your personal 3 x 4 tableau to extend your starting 7 train tracks from one edge to another and score them. The tiles come in all sorts of track, terrain and scoring icon variations and picking the right tile for the right spot (to max the potential for each scoring icon) can be quite the challenge, especially given money constraints. Completing tracks early provide the needed money but reduce scoring. There’s also a draft of bonus score cards on which to blow your money. It presents as a filler but it’s quite the mid-weight Euro by the end, with only the amount of AP it generates holding it back from rating a little higher.
SPOTLIGHT ON: CONCORDIA (2013) Rank 21, Rating 8.1
Back when it first came out I wrote that this contained all the stuff I like in a Euro – no round based elements, a good tactical decision each turn, a strategy that develops based on the map and card availability that helps drive the tactics, indirect pussage (there being a race for resource generators and cards). It uses the card play/pickup system from Havana / Castle for all Seasons, but I like how when you buy more cards, they add to your hand to keep things going. I also like how you’re rewarded for using as many cards as possible before pickup. There’s a nice variety of ways to go about scoring points. You want to pay attention to what other people are doing to potentially leech off their card this turn, and also to direct your strategy to alternate ways to score points to minimise direct competition. I was engaged throughout, nice components, nice timeframe, potentially a touch long, and all requiring only 4 pages of rules + setup. An elegant system. But … having come back to it years later now, gaming has moved on – it’s just a bit too Euro-y and same-y for me to want to play again or explore further.
Thoughts of other Opinionated Gamers:
Larry: It took a while for my group to really warm up to Concordia; it didn’t grab us right away the way that some of Gerdts’ other games (like Navagador, for example) did. But it kept getting played and, slowly but surely, became one of our favorite titles. It provides both a challenge to optimally advance your position, as well as giving you very interesting and meaningful player interaction, and the combination raises the game to greatness. It’s a very smooth and polished system and is consistently entertaining. It still seems as if when it comes to adding cards, you’re better off just adding as many cards as you can, as opposed to trying to grab the ones best suited for your position, which is slightly disappointing, but that’s a small nit. Using the Salsa expansion is probably our favorite way to play, but the vanilla version is almost as good. And I disagree with Patrick; I think Concordia still holds up marvellously, almost a full decade after its original release, and I would enthusiastically play it anytime. I love it.
Mitchell: I agree with Larry. I think Concordia holds up brilliantly. It’s an elegant, streamlined, and highly interactive Euro. The various maps provide a great deal of variety, depending on player count, and two player games work very well on the smaller maps, offering interesting decisions in under an hour. I love it, too.
We just picked up Village Rails and I’ve only played it two times thus far. But I like what we’ve experienced. It packs alot of game into thirty minutes. I’m not yet sure there’s sufficient variety to keep us coming back for more, but I am excited to keep the game in the rotation for awhile, and curious to see whether our games get more interesting with repeated play. Sometimes these quick brain burners are heads down affairs until you know what you’re doing. When you have sufficiently internalized the game you can keep a close eye on your opponent and the interactivity heightens. When that happens the game becomes a keeper. So for now I like it, but the rating could go higher.
Fraser: Concordia still holds up for me too. It used to come out fairly regularly pre-pandemic and I still get my fix in at boiteajuex.net