We’ve been thoroughly enjoying Pandemic Season 0 on our Wednesday nights. A major part of that is no doubt because we’ve been nailing it. Veterans of Season 1 and Season 2, we had a pretty fair idea of how to build our characters to best meet the challenges ahead and our spend has been on point so far. We’re finished July now and each game has been won first time, with each objective fulfilled completely bar one where we hit 75% (which is still considered fulfilled). The games are getting tighter and tighter now though and some have been a bit touch and go – we’ve certainly had luck go our way at times.
Regardless, we’ve appreciated the mechanic differences that the re-theming has introduced – city affiliations, factions, the introduction of clean-up teams, city targeting, and the like. All interesting in their own way and frequently requiring re-thinks on priorities. Good stuff. Love a good campaign!
In other gaming, new games to me this past while included …
CAFE (2020): Rank 1250, Rating 7.3
Takes the Honshu card overlay mechanic and overlays a resource conversion mechanic to take it into fresh territory. The card spaces provide resource generation spaces, conversion spaces, VP spaces, and action spaces. After you’ve taken and placed your card each round, execute the actions you’ve earnt to generate resources in the colours you need to convert them into VP-able resources and then allocate them to your VP spaces to score. It’s enjoyably challenging getting exactly the right blend of everything you need. The card taking can be quite paralysing given how many placement options you have and taking into account what you have to cover up / forego vs what you’re getting. As a result, it’s deeper (but longer) than you expect prior to starting. I enjoyed it.
CAT IN THE BOX (2022): Rank 604, Rating 7.7
The twist starts out interestingly. You’re trying to win your trick and then bail out, playing out as a priority those cards that are in danger of proving unplayable later. Your next priority is to play cards of similar numbers in declared suits adjacent to each other on the score board to maximise your score. These are all nice things to ponder as you play but after a couple of hands you realise it’s mostly futile. Everyone’s trying to do the same thing so the first player to only have unplayable cards left is pretty random and gets an unwarrantedly high negative points swing. It’s pretty random how well you get to score on the board as well, depending on leads and turn order, so I haven’t gone back.
CHALLENGERS (2022): Rank 1783, Rating 7.3
It features a round-robin tournament of 2 player match-ups, each lasting a minute or so (but which get longer as you proceed as the new effects get more complicated). A matchup has one player flipping cards until their total meets or exceeds their opponent’s last played card value. Then the opponent goes. Keep alternating until someone runs out of cards or uses too many different types of cards. Between each match-up draw cards and choose what to add to your deck. It’s random whether you draw into synergy or not, but identifying and building opportunity re what effects to add to your deck is a fun decision. Even the best decks can go wrong depending on the card draw though so it’s random on top of random but it’s still a fun experience playing it out and seeing what happens.
EARTH (2023): Rank 273, Rating 7.9
There are only 4 action possibilities in the game to (in various ways) draw cards, play cards, get resources, and add tokens to cards to score points. Everyone tags along on each action Puerto Rico style. Your aim is to draw quickly into cards that take advantage of your start powers, satisfy the common goals and/or your personal goals, and then manage things so you always can take advantage of every action someone makes. With a million cards, there’s more than a smidgen of luck given we’ve found the players who draw well early are the likely winners, but I’m a sucker for synergy building card effects (of which this has bucket loads) so I give it some leeway for keeping me engaged throughout … and on every player’s turn to boot.
FEDERATION (2022): Rank 2184, Rating 8.1
In years past this would have been an 8. It’s a race to climb multiple tracks with rewards for specialisation and generalistion. Each turn you put a token out on the action grid. The first hard decision is whether to place it votes side up (to try and secure points) or tick side up (towards a later bonus action) and this mechanic elevates the game. You’d expect more tension on whether the action spaces you want will still be there on your next turn but people tended to specialise and leave your actions alone or, if not, there was always something else useful to do. It’s quite a good full-on heavy-weight Euro though with lots of options to weigh up and I was engaged throughout, but I came away thinking each game is going to play out much the same (re each player maximising their own track) and that its themeless nature didn’t provide a lot of gravity pull back.
FLOATING FLOORS (2023): Rank 13700, Rating 7.5
It’s a dexterity-movement blend of game that starts interestingly enough. You spend actions balancing cards on tokens which builds a maze of corridors (printed on the cards), aiming to move your meeple across the cards get to your 3 destinations faster than the other players. The trick is to use the least number of tokens holding up each card so that you have tokens available to turn non-traversable spaces in the labyrinth into traversable. If ever a card hits the table (often by a meeple being placed on it without enough underlying token support) your turn is over … and you don’t get many turns. It dropped in rating as it became apparent how nasty the game could get, for example if someone places a card (which only the other players need to traverse) on top of just 1 token, making it virtually impossible to traverse and dragging the game into a series of I’m-losing-the-game fix-ups.
GO GOA (2021): Rank 16459, Rating 5.9
A roll and write made up of 12 turns, with each turn seeing you expand your route from where you left off last time, trying to connect to as many cities as possible but especially those on your bonus route cards. Each turn provides a nice little puzzle – from the three common dice, choose one to indicate direction, the other distance, and the last how many shifts in direction you’re allowed to make. On the downside, scores are tight because everyone should end up making their routes and hitting a city each turn because the direction shift rule gives sufficient flexibility … except for that one turn where you get shafted and that’s it, you’re probably knocked out of contention. If you’re ok with that, it’s neat enough.
GUILD OF MERCHANT EXPLORERS (2022): Rank 677, Rating 7.8 – Dunstan / Gilbert
Flip a terrain card and build huts out from where you are to cover up as many spaces on your personal tableau as possible a la Kingdom Builder. In each of the 4 rounds you add a unique power that gives you new options to plan for. Try and arrange your placements so the order the terrains come out each round doesn’t hurt but inevitably at some point it will. Play is simultaneous in a flip-and-write manner. The point scoring comes thick and fast. Each round provides an interesting challenge. It comes with different maps for variety and finishes in an appropriate length for its Euro-ness. I don’t need to gather more old-school Euros in my collection atm but I would have back in the day (and I would have rated it higher then as well) because it’s really quite good.
WEATHER MACHINE (2022): Rank 796, Rating 7.9 – Lacerda
The beast that is the ruleset provides a high barrier of entry. Scoring is a function of stringing long sets of dependent actions together one after the other to get you to a scoring point, hoping that other player actions don’t collaterally damage you along the path (which I found irritating more than challenging). This makes first plays difficult because those scoring pathways are opaque from the rules alone. Hard to learn, lots of easily missed stuff, hard to play well. I was engaged trying to work it out and to play it ok, but I didn’t find it a lot of fun having to work through every action’s 3 to 5 step sequence, nor is there much desire to master the subtleties of taking advantage of every grantable micro-bonus (and there’s a million of them to further slow play down) so as to maximise progress.
SPOTLIGHT ON PANTHEON (2011): Rank 2422, Rating 6.7
Draw cards and let them tell you how to progress, be it by doing lots of movement actions and placing point-scoring columns on the board (and picking up bonus chips along the way); or lots of gold and acquire sacrifice tiles, and then use these plus cards to acquire gods which give all kinds of bonuses on top of the bonuses they also give. The early turns allow you to build your buying power and placement power and the last few rounds speed up dramatically as things disappear boom boom boom. There’s a fair bit of luck in the turn order and in who finishes each round, as well as the luck in the cards, so the game can’t be taken too seriously but the decisions are pleasant and it’s tricky knowing which way to go at times. It hits about the right spot for an older Euro that’s hung around in the collection as it surprises us on the upside each time it comes out after a hiatus – pleasant, fast, options, and without being brain burny or hitty.
Thoughts of other Opinionated Gamers:
Larry: I’ve played quite a few of the games Patrick mentions. Here are my thoughts on them.
Pandemic Legacy, Season 0 – We had a great time with this one. Just as Patrick says, we had a lot of success, but many of the games came down to the last turn. Have to feel that’s not an accident, so terrific job by the designers.
Cat in the Box – I’ve only played this a couple of times, so not enough to see if there’s an issue with replayability. But I liked what I saw and the game’s continuing popularity makes me question if what Patrick saw was a real issue or just some bad luck. Definitely a game I want to explore some more.
Challengers – My least favorite game of 2022, but that’s more of an indication of how poorly it fits my tastes and abilities than any design flaw. Still, at the very least, I’d recommend that folks try before they buy, just in case you wind up aligning with me.
Earth – This was a disappointment, given its ratings and the current hoopla over it. There are way too many objectives provided, so any attempt at optimizing your actions is impossible, unless you want to spend forever on your turn. You’ll be acquiring lots of new cards, but they’re drawn blindly, not drafted, so there’s not only a lot of luck, but you wind up holding a bunch of mostly useless cards. The game doesn’t feel tight at all. Not a terrible design by any means, but not what I was hoping it would be. Folks do seem to like it, though.
Pantheon – Wow, a Pantheon sighting! I haven’t thought about that game in over a decade! Despite that, I did rather enjoy it when it first came out and thought it was a solid, well designed game. Glad to see that at least one group revisits it from time to time.
Dale: I’ll start by saying that Patrick is wrong about Cat in the Box. After many plays, there are definitely subtle places where skill will shine through. I don’t disagree that the scoring can be swingy, but I’d venture to say that it’s not as random as it appears in the first game or two. Challengers is one of my favorite games of the year, and one I’ll be voting for in the awards that I have the privilege of doing so (I’ll also be pulling for it for KSdJ). The card play has been called processional, but I think there are enough cards that give the player some options at strategy to keep it interesting. I already love the variety in game play based on what cards you choose from to add to your deck, and with the impending expansion, I think this will only get better. Finally, Guild of Merchant Explorers is really quite good, and even though I’m a bit jaded on the XXX and write genre, this is still an 8 or 9 for me. It really sits above most in the genre.