Patrick Brennan: Game Snapshots – 2023 (Part 6)

We completed Pandemic Season 0 in a most triumphant fashion. We all thought this was our favourite of the three legacy seasons – each game beautifully balanced, going down to the wire, challenging, fun theming, nice twists. The discussions after each game on how to develop each character vs improving the board were engaging and key. The legacy changes may not have had as much wow factor as the other seasons but no mind. It was an excellent campaign!

Look at this Aussie vehicle (HSV)

I think we turn our attention now to working our way through Revive’s mini-legacy campaign and see where that takes us. After that, we’re on the lookout for something new.

Meanwhile, in non-campaign gaming …

APPLEJACK (2022): Rank 3538, Rating 6.9 – Rosenberg

Play your tiles anywhere you like on a Take It Easy style board aiming to get the multiple colours on each tile joined somehow in contiguous colour groups. There’s a look-ahead draft so you can plan future turns. The tricky part is when to sacrifice colour connectivity to play tiles that provide money – without the money, you can’t keep buying. Well, until halfway thru the game anyway, when the continual colour scoring provides enough money to do what you want. Depending on the tiles on offer of course which is rather random. By the end of it, and it goes on longer than you want, the repetitive nature and the continuous payment and scoring accounting had dulled us.

Rating: 6

BETRAYAL AT BALDUR’S GATE (2017): Rank 1256, Rating 7.1

While I don’t mind pulling out Betrayal At House On The Hill (on which this is a re-theming) every now and then tor a thematic ride because we’ve had the occasional brilliant time with it, my issue is the amazing inconsistency between fun and dull from scenario to scenario. Not being an aficionado, this felt like the same game (same mechanics, same feel) and my only game had the same issue – build the map out rather mindlessly for a few turns, ride the luck of what’s revealed, and then the scenario was lost within a round of the haunt reveal. Chalk this up as another in the poor experience column. The more I have of these the further the rating drops and the less chance of saying yes the next time.

Rating: 6

GOLEM (2021): Rank 714, Rating 7.6

Lots of rules, lots of pieces, lots of icons, lots of lots. It’s an advance-along-tracks Euro where you only get 12 actions, so the game is about acquiring as many ongoing triggering benefits as possible and reaping them repeatedly. Being able to reap those benefits can boil down to whether that action is cheaply available – it’s governed by a marble drop. I don’t know whether it’s designed this way because it was thought to be cool or because testing found the game needed intrinsic random action availability, but plan for randomess or be stung by it. The strategy feels like a continual trade-off of having golems on the board for benefit vs paying the cost of having them on the board. I kept it simple and killed them off and was still competitive but I’m sure the game offers plenty of reward for managing that well. I enjoyed it and can appreciate it but there was less action control than I’d like for a game of this complexity.

Rating: 7

HADRIAN’S WALL (2021): Rank 159, Rating 8.1

Take your standard roll and write and turn it up to 11. At the start of each round, collect your 10-20 different types of meeples/goods (depending on how much you’ve ramped up your production in previous rounds) and then start spending them by ticking off tracks on your sheets. Every second tick gets you another meeple/good, and this gets you that gets you this gets you that and continue for the round until you run out. Repeat for 6 rounds. There are ~587 different tracks. Smack anyone who tries to min-max upside the back of their head. You can’t do all of the tracks (which means there are different paths to explore next game) and there’s too many Birkenhead rules to explain frankly. Anyway, start with a plan based on your first individual end-game scoring bonus card and just start ticking off tracks that build towards that plan. Continue for 2 hours. That’s a lot of ticking. The upside is it plays with 6 players. The downside is that spreadsheet gaming is not everyone’s cup of tea. I didn’t mind zen-gaming in the company of friends though.

Rating: 7

LOVECRAFT LETTER (2017): Rank 905, Rating 7.2

One of the better Love Letter variants. Think of the original cards as the ‘sane’ set, and then add another ‘insane’ set to the deck with similar but more powerful effects. If you play an insane card, you’re insane this round and you must draw a card at the start of each future turn – if it’s an insane card you’re out, otherwise carry on. Win thrice as an insane player or twice as a sane player (it’s harder) for the overall win. This adds a strategic element if the cards allow you the choice. The sane vs insane risk plays add quite a fun element.

Rating: 7

MY FIRST CASTLE PANIC (2019): Rank 4554, Rating 6.5

The Candyland version of Castle Panic. Monsters come along a path towards the castle. If you have cards with symbols that match spaces the monsters are on, play them to kill them. Remaining monsters move closer, draw cards, repeat. Kill them all before any get to the castle. Superior for play with kids, sure, but there’s no reason to play otherwise.

Rating: 5

NEXT STATION: LONDON (2022): Rank 1090, Rating 7.5 – Dunstan

The map is a scattering of 4 types of shapes representing stations. On a turn, flip a card and draw an extension of your rail-line to a shown shape. Each line scores the map section which has the most stations by the number of sections it reached, encouraging specialisation and generalisation. The clever part is you’ll draw 4 lines in different colours (over 4 rounds) and much of the bonus scoring comes from linking them up in various ways. Repeat play shows the value of passing to ensure your line goes in the direction you need, and the value of always keeping options open to manage the randomness of the cards. There are special powers and different objectives available each game to spice things up. Tokyo has different bonus score drivers for variety, and may be a little richer, but both are fine additions to the genre.

Rating: 8 (for the online BGA implementation anyway, which plays quite fast)

NEXT STATION: TOKYO (2023): Rank 5864, Rating 6.9 – Dunstan

Same as Next Station: London but with different scoring goals, and a smidge better.

Rating: 8


It’s got decent elements and I didn’t actively dislike it, but it’s one of the few games I’ve played over recent years where I truly didn’t care what happened. I either drew tiles I could build and were helpful at this point of the game, or I didn’t. Monsters attacked and wiped me from the board when there was nothing I could do, fine. If I don’t roll a 4+, my tiles came off the board, whatever. It reads like it’s going to be fun but so many turns were wasted at the whims of the luck gods that there didn’t seem a lot of point.

Rating: 5

SPOTLIGHT ON TUPPEN (/a): Rank 19000, Rating 5.8

I spotlighted this a few years back but it’s recently been added to BGA which has revived it for us. It’s more fun F2F but still, better than naught. Apparently it has Dutch / German pub heritage, where the loser of the round buys the next round. There’s a lot of luck with the cards (it’s a standard card deck), with only 4 cards in the hand plus benefits to leading in the first, but the ability to bluff people out of the round by knocking and driving up the score being played for (backgammon-style) is what makes the game as the winner of the hand is whoever wins the last trick. That’s all it comes down to. So, can you drive other people out and win with a nothing card? Does he have the Ace or is he bluffing? Anyway, there are lots of laughs along the way with bluffs called and made, and we’ve had good fun with it over the years.

Rating: 8

Thoughts of other Opinionated Gamers:

Larry:  I’ve only played two of the games in this installment.  Here are my impressions:

  • Golem:  Another terrific Luciani design.  It was inspired by the mechanics of the designers’ earlier Grand Austria Hotel (instead of that game’s dice, it uses the marbles), but it actually feels quite different because of the golems.  And yes, Patrick, keeping your golems on the board and gaining benefits from them before killing them off is the way to go, but there’s lots of strategies that will work.  There’s a lot going on and it took a while for me to wrap my head around it, but it was well worth the effort.  Rating:  I love it!
  • Hadrian’s Wall:  As I recall, this was one of the very first complex roll/flip & writes.  I’ve only played once and I enjoyed it, but it really plays very much like a solitaire game and that’s probably the best way to play it (even though, in theory, it can handle up to 6).  I’d be happy to explore it some more.  Rating:  I like it.

Mark Jackson: 

  • Golem (based on a single play): “Lots of lots” is the perfect description of this game.
  • Hadrian’s Wall: A brilliant solo flip-n-write… I have no desire to play it with multiple players.
  • Next Station: London & Tokyo: Both quite enjoyable as solo pursuits AND as multiplayer solitaire-ish games. Patrick is correct: the BGA implementations are superb.

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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