Patrick Brennan: Game Snapshots – 2023 (Part 5)

Yeah, ok, you go bragging about how well you’re doing in Pandemic Season 0 and then October comes along and smacks you left, right and centre, knocking you down and dragging you into the marsh with concrete boots on. One lousy side-trip distraction and suddenly the whole board goes to pot. *sigh*

This is going on right now in Australia and New Zealand. It’s not as exciting as boardgames, but maybe a close second

I had a little moment with a friend after playing Dice Realms this week. The game is continuous rounds of rolling dice and upgrading the detachable faces with better faces. Lego has been doing it for years. See Race 3000. For $20. But … having watched gaming grow for over 20 years, it’s nice that the market is big enough that enough people with enough money are interested and will get their money’s worth out of that $200 investment. That’s very cool compared to where we started, when I could actually play every interesting game released every year. Nowadays I don’t even pretend to keep up or keep track of all the new releases. Life is too short! I’m happy playing what falls in my lap because … the other cool thing about our hobby now is that most everything is well designed, playable and enjoyable. I know I rate a lot of games as 7s but honestly, back in the day they’d have been 8’s. An 8 these days has to be just a little bit special and interestingly different in some way to stand up and say hey, I’m worth buying, let’s go.


So, cue a whole bunch of 7’s and an 8 (which I’ve since bought) …


ELAWA (2023): Rank 14687, Rating 6.3

It’s a punchy 20 minute affair where each card you pick up needs to be built (with resources) and then offers a means of scoring points (eg X per card colour, X per resource donated) which you then try and max. Each turn asks you the question: do you take this card because you want the resources it offers, or pick up that synergy card despite the dud resources (and maybe they’ll be useful later)? The winner should be the player who has the most turns where card and resource picks mesh, and also gets card picks available that mesh with scoring synergies already in play, but it’s a nice little journey to work it through.

Rating: 7


HEAT: PEDAL TO THE METAL (2022): Rank 79, Rating 8.2

Everyone starts with the same movement deck. On straights you want lots of high cards. For corners you want low cards to avoid max-speed penalties. You also want to guess where your opponents will end up to engineer as many extra space slipstreams as possible. Each turn you can go up or down a gear (or more) to play cards equal to your gear. In other words, the game is chockful of nice hand management decisions. The big ones surround when to break the corner rules and take the deck-clogging unplayable heat cards into your deck as a cost – how much will it gain now vs hurt later. However, game play is slow while everyone works through their options (which is race-game anathema), there are numerous fiddly rules aimed at adding thematic interest, and it has the usual problem with race games – you can be out of the running and reduced to going through the motions throughout the second half of the game.  Our previous review

Rating: 7 


KARUBA (2015): Rank 560, Rating 7.2 – Dorn

It felt like a thematic implementation of Take It Easy. One person flips a map tile with paths, everyone places the same tile on their board. You’re trying to be the first to build 4 simultaneous point-to-point paths across your board, whilst discarding unneeded tiles to move your 4 explorers each along to their path-end. On one hand you’re somewhat at the mercy of the tile order (and the decisions you’ve made earlier). On the other you have nice decisions each turn on whether and where to place or discard/move. A nice 20 min meaty filler.    Our previous review

Rating: 7


MON: EMBLEMS FROM SENGOKU (2021): Rank 13659, Rating 6.6

Imagine a 6 Nimmt setup, but when you play a card into a row, you mark it (and its points) as yours. When someone plays under your card in that suit they cover it up and mark it as theirs. So how and when do you place to minimise the chance of getting taken, and maximise your chances of taking others? It takes a bit to get to grips with and provides a “hmm, need to play that again now I understand it” vibe. A lot of it is dependent on what cards are in though (as only a portion of the deck is in play). The lack of perfect knowledge creates hope. And fear. And probably appropriate randomness for its filler length.

Rating: 7


MOSAIC (2022): Rank 909, Rating 7.7

Keep buying cards to generate resource income, generate resources, rinse and repeat, and then buy cards that give you area majority presence on the map and other cardy ways to extract VPs. Quickish turns, lots of cards, lots to explore, lots to like, and I really wanted this to be an 8. But both the games I know of kinda broke. In one, all players were reduced to buying cards in the untouched deck turn after turn after turn after the other decks were depleted. In the other, board development stopped dead once each player had 3 cities due to a card effect where the next city auto-became one player’s due to a card effect they had. Despite these endemic deck play imbalances, I enjoyed it up until then so that’s worth something.

Rating: 7

REVIVE (2022): Rank 448, Rating 8.2

Three resource types. Three interweaving tech tracks with build-as-you-go tech options. Deck building and card management with choices on whether to play cards for top or bottom effects each cycle, reminiscent of Gloomhaven. Secret scoring goals. Choices on whether to boost the power of card slots with ongoing effects. Races on the board re how and when to reveal tiles and then build first on the best spots. There’s option overload at every turn but it’s manageable, and thankfully doesn’t require you to work out opaque chain play to score well. It’s modern Euro at close to its best. Sign me up.   A longer review here

Rating: 8


SPOTS (2022): Rank 3268, Rating 7.0

Each game has a different set of actions that allow you to variously roll, manipulate, and re-roll a different number of dice, with the aim of getting the right dice combinations to fulfill your contracts. First person to fulfill 6 contracts wins. The game is marked by huge risk (if you can’t place dice safely, lose everything you’ve gained that turn, and there aren’t that many turns so you may have rolled yourself out of the game) and huge reward (if I get exactly what I want, I fulfill 2 contracts and I’m a third of the way to the win!). So there’s plenty of drama if you care, but it felt overly punishing given you can play conservatively and still get hurt.

Rating: 6


STAR TREK: MISSIONS (2022): Rank 5414, Rating 6.7

It’s the same as Fantasy Realms, but with the addition of mission cards (they’re just another combo-score card) so it gets the same rating and comment, being: Each card has various traits and a unique scoring effect involving said traits, either collecting or not collecting them in various combinations. The game is simply to draw and discard so as to build the best 7 card scoring combination. It’s all over in filler time and it’s all upside simple random fun except that it takes longer to score than to play. Light and enjoyable.

Rating: 7

WITCHSTONE (2021): Rank 883, Rating 7.6

I played this without knowing it was a Knizia. When I later found out, my reaction was “Ooh, he’s suddenly got modern”. It’s co-authored but I now see elements of all that comes before in the game as well. Much of it is about the abstract placement of action tiles in careful ways to maximise the action points of the actions you’re specialising in – claiming routes on the board for pts, moving up pts tracks, getting pieces on the board for pts, or acquiring cards for pts or action enhancement. And making the best specialised go of the pts salad before the game ends in its rightful 60 mins or so. It provides a nice challenge re planning and maximising your turns out.

Rating: 7



After 12 years of sitting on the shelves gathering dust for lack of the right opponent and time, and a strong preference for thematic 2 player affairs over purely abstract games, an opportunity came last weekend to play the original 7 games all in one morning, back to back. They really were (and still are) very cool games, each featuring a different style. Gipf is tile pushing with hand management. Yinsh has a clever Othello feel (and might be my favourite). Zertz is a head-spinning reverse Chinese Checkers (and is the coolest). Tamsk is simple board domination complicated by sand-timer management. Punct is side-to-side connectivity with tile movement twists (and perhaps the least of them). Dvonn and Tzaar are tile capture games with different goals. My opponent has been right into Chess lately (meaning abstract isn’t a turnoff) and he was suitably impressed with all. The whole earning of ‘potentials’ to take advantage from one game into the next never made sense or worked for me but one can still admire the project for the sum of its parts, breadth, and creativity. I’m glad I’ve kept them around.

Rating: 8


Thoughts of other Opinionated Gamers:

Larry:  I’m not quite as bullish on the state of the hobby as Patrick is; from what I see, there are plenty of games that need development, lack innovative mehanics, or which have badly written rules.  But it does seem as if there are just as many games that I enjoy as there were in the old days.  There’s just a whole lot more games produced today than there used to be, so I have to work a little harder to find those gems.  But it’s well worth the effort, so overall, no complaints.  As for the games he mentions in this article…

  • Heat – This is one of the very few racing games I like, probably because it’s mostly about hand management.  There’s some nice decisions to be made, including about how to play those oh so useful Heat cards.  You can certainly find yourself with no chance to win midway through a race, but I’ve also seen people recover from spinning out and finish on top, so comebacks are possible.
  • Karuba – Pleasant game and one I don’t mind playing, but there’s nothing really special about it..
  • Mosaic – I like the theme and the mechanisms.  I’ll be curious to see if I find the sort of problems that Patrick talks about.  There’s a wide variety of opinions about how robust the title is, but like him, this is a game I want to like, so I hope any issues wind up being manageable.
  • Revive – As Patrick says, sign me up.  Slickly designed, lots of variety, and fun to play.  It’s one of my favorites from last year’s Essen.

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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1 Response to Patrick Brennan: Game Snapshots – 2023 (Part 5)

  1. I apologize to the OG Overlords for not getting my responses on here sooner… some thoughts:

    – Mosaic… I keep hearing stories like Patrick tells, but I haven’t experienced it personally after multiple games. A thought: at least one or two players needed to be chasing wonders and/or civ achievements to get to the game ending rather than spinning what I’m guessing what the technology deck.

    – Heat… avoid AP players and Heat clips along at a great pace. Rules are specific that you can’t look at your discard pile and you only have 3 “weird” cards per game (if you’re playing with the advanced module for car building). Over 20 plays and I’ve only seen it bog once or twice with a particularly clueless player.

    – Karuba… unlike Larry, I find it delightful.

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