Patrick Brennan: Game Snapshots – 2023 (Part 3)

My youngest has returned to the nest for a bit after finishing pilot academy and before starting with Qantas. We’ve taken advantage of our time together to explore the hell out of Spirit Island, something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. Playing once or twice a day, we gradually worked our way up through all the levels against the adversaries with a crescendo victory at Level 15 – thematic boards, an extra board, events, Habsburg Level 6. Then we started working through the scenarios. Suffice to say, we now have a pretty good feel for what power combinations work and what doesn’t and the game feels more thoroughly explored than ever. For the record, you just can’t play slow-building powers at higher levels – the game is lost by blight unless you can get control over the boards from the get-go. For the record, our go-to powers for the higher levels were Oceans, Sharp Fangs, Keepers, Lure. But all the powers are fun in their own right and can shine in the right situation. Well ok, Fractured Time mostly sucks, but apart from that. Anyway, that’s 68 plays and a 10 rating now for sure.

AGE OF CIVILISATION (2019) Rank 1667, Rating 7.1

Each round you have meeples to spend on actions, but the actions available change each round. Some last only 1 round, others 2 or 3. You have full look ahead which allows for planning, and after that the question is what card effects do you acquire and how quickly do you burn your meeples on high point actions versus keeping them for re-use on low point actions, and when to replenish with a new civ and new meeples. All packed into only 6 turns. It’s quite punchy and worth trying, even if just to explore how the random action weighting changes each game.

Rating: 7

AKROPOLIS (2022): Rank 1052, Rating 7.7

12 rounds of drafting 3-pronged tiles, containing combinations of score multiplier tiles in each colour and the tiles you score in each colour. You can overlay tiles Java style, covering up tiles that won’t score much, as tiles score more at a higher level. What to take and where to place each turn has lots of options, and there’s the ongoing question of whether to set up for future turn overlays or not, so each of your 12 turns provides a challenge. But, as Simon said, this game is behind its time… we’ve played it in numerous forms over the last 20 years or so. Although it’s done nicely, there’s no pressing need to bring it out to play. New gamers will bask in its elegance more.  Our previous review here

Rating: 7


AMERICAN BOOKSHOP (2019): Rank 4946, Rating 7.2

A trick-taking game with escalation elements where the trick is immediately won by anyone playing a card that takes the total face value of the trick up to or over the limit, otherwise it’s played out and won like a normal trick. The latter is less common. The scoring is similar to Schnappchenjagd – one point for each card in a suit you win the most cards in, and -1 for each other. The scores swing quite alarmingly between +ve and -ve in the final few tricks as a result. I’m still not sure on the best way to play or how random it is (which knocks the rating a bit) but it was decent fun exploring.

Rating: 7


CUBOSAURS (2022): Rank 8851, Rating 6.2

The cards come in sets which all have different scoring rules – some you don’t want, some you’ll score best if you have 1 and negative otherwise, or if you have 2 or 3 and negative otherwise, etc. On a turn flip a card – if it helps, keep it. If not, add a card from your collection and pass both it and the flipped card on to the next player. Their turn must be to either take that set or add a card and pass it on, denying them the chance to draw a good card. Eventually someone will take the bad set because breaking up their collection of good scoring cards hurts them more. It turns out you do well if you flip good cards and if you don’t have to take sets of bad cards. Who would have guessed.

Rating: 5


LOOK AT THE STARS (2022): Rank 29811, Rating 6.0

Flip a card, everyone writes that shape on their board, repeat until the deck runs out, aiming to have a group of lines (ie a constellation) in each different size and as many different groups around the planet spaces as possible. Get bonuses for replicating the bonus groups. The ability to rotate, flip and mirror the shapes provides opportunity for plenty of downtime so it didn’t draw me in and, although it was fine, I don’t feel myself naturally gravitating to it in future.

Rating: 6


MERCHANTS OF THE DARK ROAD (2022): Rank 1089, Rating 7.5

Use dice to move around the rondel to gather resources in various ways and then sell them for money or for prestige. Your score is the lower of the two (plus VPs which are harder to come by). Simple in concept but the game then adds layer after layer to obscure the most profitable path forwards (but also creating a barrier to entry). There are common pools of commissions (goods contracts to fulfil) and heroes (to sell goods to) and mini-rondels to gather things. Occasionally a plan for a turn will get upset by a previous player taking something you wanted or affecting prices you were hoping for, requiring some re-think time, but the game is mostly sandboxy and there’s nearly always something else you can work out to do instead if you can forgive the downtime. There are lots of options on how to proceed each turn, too many maybe for beginners, but it does at least provide a replay lure to come back and master. Some turns take a second, others take minutes, providing an uneven feel but the evocative art, the theming, and the challenge allow it some leeway.

Rating: 7


MESSINA 1347 (2021): Rank 878, Rating 7.7

Action spaces are the town hexes. Move your meeples around to either gather resources or spend them on engine building or common track movements. This is overlaid with the gathering of people tiles from the town hexes and placing them in action spaces on your personal board which are then activated by other track movement actions. This allows you to mould a strategy and hammer it repeatedly for points (as best the other players allow you access to the right action spaces anyway, which they normally will as each player diverges down different and cheaper-to-them paths). It leads to multiple small turns to create big turn explosions (which seems to be a trend in Euros these days). It’s satisfying watching a strategy come together and creates a rewarding learning curve, but it does lead to turn lumpiness which downed the rating a notch. The plague mechanic is just a way of making random action hexes more costly to do each round over others, which randomly advantages some players over others. At least it’s somewhat thematic. The game is a challenge to play well (which is upside) but it’s a little long and tends towards the repetitive over the 6 rounds.  A similar but longer review

Rating: 7


SMARTPHONE INC. (2018): Rank 403, Rating 7.6

I really liked the challenge of planning and constructing your action set each round, aiming to find the right price so as to get early turn order so you can your pieces on the board (reminiscent of Food Chain Magnate), and expand tech and board presence to get more placement options. But something’s wrong when, in simultaneous price revelation, someone drives their price down low (knowing what to do and what the stakes are) but just not low enough by a whisker and they effectively miss out on a whole turn of placement scoring and are knocked out of the game. It happened twice in our game and the rating dropped by a point each time. When there’s only 5 turns in the game and each is critical, this design (allowing the board to be flooded by 4 players in a 5 player game) seems flawed and this scoring approach is too digital (where you either do or you don’t score).

Rating: 6


WAYFARERS OF THE SOUTH TIGRIS (2022): Rank 943, Rating 8.0

An overload of turn options and icons provides what’s basically a game of using actions to gather resources to buy cards in sets to give you the icons you need to allow you to meet the requirements of the next space on the bonus track and move there. Only there’s 5 different types of cards, providing more actions and effects, 20 on display for buying at any one time, and each in a slot associated with a board action (meaning 20 more possible actions) and a ton of tile advancements to ponder to help make your dice (which restrict which options you can take) more powerful. That’s a lot of overload for the first timer. It becomes more enjoyable once you have a VP strategy and the focus allows you to narrow down the options enough to make downtime manageable. The variety and challenge is mostly provided by the order the cards (aka actions and effects) come out but it seems like this could be enough to see it get decent replay despite it going overly long for its Euro-ness.

Rating: 7

SPOTLIGHT ON NEW ENGLAND (2003): Rank 1342, Rating 6.5

Ahh, back in the day, when games only had one mechanic. Players need to get tiles on the board and then get cards to score the tiles. Each round there’s a new display of cards and tiles to pick from. Players choose what they’re prepared to pay for each, and then take and place, starting with those who are prepared to pay the most. Everything scores about the same so the game is mostly decided by where you are in the turn order when the cards / tiles come out that you want, and how quickly other players take your potential space on the board. BGG says 90 mins which probably reflects that it was considered relatively meaty when it was released 20 years ago. These days, well, no card effects, no player advantages, no bonus actions, nothing that we’d consider meat. It’s a 45 minute meaty filler at best, but enjoyable enough for what it is. It wasn’t their best but it’s a nice reminder of the Moon / Weissblum partnership’s heyday.

Rating: 7


Thoughts of other Opinionated Gamers:

Larry:  I agree about New England.  It was a solid game I enjoyed playing, but I always wanted it to do a little bit more than it did.  But I’ve always thought the theme was delightful.

Mitchell: It’s hard to argue with the Akropolis observation as being repetitive of many ideas we’ve seen before. Yet I love this game. It scales extremely well. You can play the 2 player version in fifteen minutes. And the multiple level tile placement adds a depth of tactical nuance. Unlike many of these games, it’s very interactive. You must keep close tabs on your opponent to win. I don’t think the advanced scoring rules are necessary and they are needlessly burdensome.  Akropolis combines cliched mechanisms in a novel way. That’s good enough for me. I find the game extremely satisfying, quite skillful, and familiarity breeds interest rather than ennui. It’s a 9 in my book. 

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2 Responses to Patrick Brennan: Game Snapshots – 2023 (Part 3)

  1. Eric Brosius says:

    Akropolis departs from the modern practice of loading a game up with as many rules and mechanisms as possible. It’s structured around a single idea. It reminds me of games from 25 years ago; based on how it works, it could have come out then.

  2. Greg C. says:

    OK. Name a better multi-level tile layer than Akropolis. Since I began playing 3M Bookshelf games in 1966, I have never seen a more fun/elegant one.

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