Pre-covid there used to be a lot more than this, but currently there are only 5 games that I’ve played multiple times each year over the last 5 years. I call these the cream of the cream:
- Spirit Island
- Terraforming Mars
- Ticket To Ride
A popular opener, a pair of mega co-ops, a gamer’s Euro and a family Euro – a mix that reflects the preferences of the different groups I play with and the gaming I’m enjoying most these days.
I’m pretty confident none of the following new titles will rise to these dizzying heights in the coming years but variety is the spice of gaming life so let’s take a look.
BITES (2020): Rank 2157, Rating 7.2
Move an ant along the trail to a tile of its colour and pick up the first empty tile before or after it. Continue until all ants get to the end. The order they finish will determine how many points the tiles in their colours will get. You don’t get too much control over this so what do you do? Collect the same things the player to your left is collecting in the hope that they’ll set prices favourably for you both? But how do you then differentiate yourself and engineer a result that favours you over everyone else? Ok, it’s a share-price game with player-determined price setting. Not my favourite genre. Although I did like how there 4 different effects revealed each game to make it plausible that there may be opportunity to do something clever. The good news is that it’s over in 10 minutes which allows you to enjoy it without investment at least.
COSMOS: EMPIRES (2022) Rank N/a, Rating 6.1
It’s a faster version of Space Base – there are fewer numbers because we’re using 2xd4 instead of 2xd6 and the credits a card produces when its number is rolled is your victory points, meaning there’s no production vs VP switchover engine decisions to make. Just buy the best card available from the common pool of 8 cards, hope that in future turns complementary cards will be available to buy, and hope your numbers get rolled frequently. The card buying decisions give the game some drive but the game is so short that you’re more playing more in hope than expectation.
CRYO (2021): Rank 1759, Rating 7.3
Once you get past the stupid hokey art, it turns out this is a decent worker placement game. The aim is to rescue your dudes off the freezing planet. To do that you need to spend actions getting resources, energy, ships, and pickups, and so on. On top of the normal worker placement angst, you want to spend actions investing in tech that makes you more efficient but while you’re doing that, each time a player recalls their workers some of your dudes on the planet will likely die. Not good. So there are nice what-do-I-sacrifice decisions to make along the way. I also like that cards have three different options (tech vs ship vs end-game-points) which makes for choices along the way. The different card tech options you receive at the start of the game, the random removal of a few worker placement spots, and the numerous ways to score points should all make for enough variety to generate decent replay.
ECOSYSTEM: CORAL REEF (2022): Rank 9886, Rating 7.1
The scoring for each card may be different but this is the same system, same rating, same comment as the original: this is one of those fillers that are have no barrier to entry, being immediately recognisable and playable by their blending of now-common mechanics. Start with a hand of 10 cards, play 1 to your personal tableau (a 4 x 5 grid), pass your hand left. Play 2 rounds. The cards come in 11 flavours and each card will score differently per its own rule based on its proximity (or not) to the other cards in your tableau, all scoring at end of game once all 20 are placed. It’s up to you what you want to concentrate in but not all cards come into play so the cards you want may not come. It’s on you to have a plan but to shift as needed. I don’t mind that in a 15 minute filler and this was easy, enjoyable and will see replay.
MERCURIUS (2012): Rank 8561, Rating 6.1
There are 12 stocks. Each turn, buy/sell up to 3 of them. Then play a card to move one stock up and one down. Cards stay in play for 3 rounds allowing you to see trends you can jump on. The winning strategy is to draw cards that allow you to drive a price down to 1 (buy everything left) and then to drive it up to 25 (and sell everything). If the other players let you anyway, because prices are beholden to all the cards everyone plays. We’re not exactly riding Elliott waves here as a result. The constant money changing and card-trend reviews and obvious buys and sells are tedious and repetitive over an hour and worse, it appears each game will play out the same.
PIRATES OF THE SEVEN SEAS (2015): Rank 5065, Rating 6.6
Simultaneous role selection game, the main role being to start an all-in dice-fight and the other roles dealing with the fallout (get defeated ships back, change booty prices, sell booty gained by winning fights, get more cards, etc). Like most in the genre, you get a bonus for choosing a role no one else chose but that’s not the guts of it. The fun of the game is the all-in dice-fight where everyone decides how many dice to throw in the pot, they all get rolled together with the enemy dice and then it’s resolved. Each enemy die will battle the pirate die physically closest to it after the roll, the die with the lowest pip value being removed. If the enemy won, it fights the next closest pirate die and so on until either only enemy dice or player dice remain. If the latter, each surviving die earns a booty card. Sell later for VPs, etc. There’s not a lot to it strategically, but it’s a bit of fun.
SUNSET OVER WATER (2018): Rank 2168, Rating 7.0
Pick one of the three cards in your hand that define priority, movement directions, and number of card pickups. Simul-reveal and resolve them in priority order to move meeples around the 5×5 grid to pick up sunset cards with icons so as to resolve as many icon-fulfilling contracts in the common pool as possible. You can over-analyse play potentials -> pickup potentials -> contract fulfilments but other players will stuff things up for you. Luckily the game is filler-enjoyable enough to simply play a strategy of picking up as many cards as you can early, fulfil what you can as you go, and later on go as early as you can to fulfil more, and you’ll do alright. The sunsets on the cards are simply to make things pretty and the game play is pleasant enough to match.
SEA SALT & PAPER (2022): Rank 3742, Rating 7.0 – Cathala, Riviere
A kind of Rummy variant with a bespoke deck. Cards either have high points with no action or low points with an action if you can play it as part of a pair (draw another card, steal a card at random, etc). The play is to draw one and play an action pair if you have one. The problem is the cards worth the points are worth way more than the actions so you’re inevitably drawn to picking the top card off the deck in search, and reverting to taking a visible card off one of the two discard piles only if they pair up with something you’ve drawn previously to make an action (which is typically equivalent to drawing a card from the top of the deck). Which makes the game a random search-and-hope that you find high scoring cards faster than the other players and are able to call for the round-end first.
TURNCOATS (2021): Rank 6024, Rating 7.5
Get 8 secret random tokens from the bag in 3 colours. Each turn, play a token to the board to either improve or deteriorate that colour’s area majority winningness or swap tokens between your hand and the bag to try and get tokens in the colour it looks like will win. At the end of the game the winner is the person with the most tokens left in their hand in the colour that won the most areas. In other words, the person who determined what colour the other players were trying hardest to get to win and didn’t play as many tokens out themselves, letting them do the work and riding their horse home. I get why this is kinda interesting for those who like this kind of stuff, but I didn’t enjoy the deliberate drag-out-and-delay tactics, nor the guessing, nor the gang-up collusion.
SPOTLIGHT ON PARADE (2007): Rank 860, Rating 7.0
This is one of those games that might not wow you but it just hangs around and keeps coming out year after year as a closer. It’s a card placement game where the aim is to avoid picking up cards from the parade row on the table. If you’re forced to pick up cards, try and pick up only 1 colour and win the most of it because then those cards are only worth 1 point each rather than face value … and lowest points wins. The game moves at a nice pace – you only have 5 cards to choose from and it doesn’t take long to work out the good/bad effects of playing each. Say the parade is 8 cards long. Playing an 8 or higher is safe. Playing a 5 say means you can’t pick up any of the last 5 cards, but of those left, you pick up anything the same suit or anything less than or equal in value – which may still mean no pickups. The scoring rules provide the interest. As soon as you’ve started collecting a colour, you have to be careful that no one pips you as then you’d be scoring their face value. Meaning there’s some watchfulness involved, some hand management and some tension. The neat thing is that both high cards and low cards can be good – high for avoidance, low to secure all the played cards in a suit and guarantee first for points minimisation. Avoidance (and getting lucky with good cards) is more the strategy with a high number of players, but planned “suit takes” with a low numbers of players will be required as you have too many turns to do avoidance forever and hand managements becomes more important. Getting lucky with the cards may be key at times but it’s a neat 20 minute affair that provides a nice decision each turn.
Thoughts of other Opinionated Gamers:
MItchell: i very much enjoyed my first few plays of Sea, Salt, and Paper. The decision regarding when to end the game brings more nuance and tension to the play. There is a good amount of judgment regarding when to play your duos and whether you should leave particular cards for your opponent. Its a very clever design and it rewards careful observation and timing, while offering plenty of opportunity for finesse, lucky draws notwithstanding,