Times played: 6, with review copy provided by Asmodee NA
Mesozooic was a game that I first saw promoted at GenCon 2018, but either they didn’t have copies there at the show or I ran out of time to see it – I honestly can’t remember which. But, the press contact at Asmodee NA was quite excited about it, and she wanted to make sure that I had a chance to try it out. I didn’t see it as Essen, and I’ll be honest, it kinda slipped off of the radar for awhile. I was pleasantly surprised to see it in the most recent box of games from Z-Man, and it made it to the table on the very day that it arrived here.
Big Dig was a game that I first saw at Essen 2018, though it was only for preview at that time. It is another entry in the draw-and-write genre. Each player gets their own board and erasable marker. There are two sides of the board, and players should agree to use the same side. There is a map shown on the board of dirt to dig through. There are certain spaces that are filled with emeralds, crystals or coins. There are also water and oil deposits to be found as well as two large fossils. Finally, there are grey rock squares that will cause you all sorts of trouble.
I was lucky to get to spend an extended weekend last week playing games at Gulf Games, a small family-oriented game con that took place this time in Chattanooga, Tennessee. While I probably should have been focused on playing games about arks and floods based on the weather, I instead chose to go with the flow and play whatever was suggested to me. Here are some of the highlights of my weekend.
I have been avoiding this game, since I am terrible at things involving spatial relations, hexes and line of site; I thought it would be a painful experience for both me and the other players. A friend I knew would be patient with my million questions wanted to play it, though, so I agreed and I am glad I did because I really enjoyed the game. Aside from the beautiful bits, the game play itself is really interesting and it is much less difficult to view the path of the sun than I expected. I look forward to playing this again soon. You can read our review of this game here .
I did want to try this one, since it’s new and shiny and the some of the bits look just like Cadbury Mini-Eggs, which are my favorite candy. It’s essentially a resource management and set collection game with beautiful art. I did enjoy my one play of it (and I didn’t eat any of the eggs), but will need to play it again to fully form my opinion. You can read our review of this game here.
I brought this one, and was happy to teach it twice. I have a review coming up in a week or so, so I’ll save most of the details for that, but this is a fun dice management/delivery/resource management game that packs a lot of strategy into a game box that looks like it will be a bit lighter. I am really enjoying this one; stay tuned for that review I mentioned.
MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS
I am a sucker for a good Cthulhu game; I love battling the old ones to try to save the world from evil, so I was excited to try this one. It’s a co-op, and your goal is to make it to the highest peak in Antarctica without going insane. The board is a pyramid of various types of challenges; when revealed you see what cards you have to spend or conditions you have to meet to climb to this point. You only have 30 seconds to communicate with your fellow players, and as you take on madness you are given conditions for communication that make things harder. We had fun but struggled with the 30 seconds every time; a post-play check of Boardgame Geek indicated that we could have been much more specific in our communication, which would have improved our experience. I look forward to trying this one again.
I had never actually seen this game in person, but had read our review and was definitely intrigued. We played a learning game with four people who had never played, and I think the inclusion in that of two pre-programmed turns where you are told what to do was hugely helpful. The game has asymmetric player abilities and despite its length I was engaged the entire time. In addition, the bits are very attractive. I look forward to trying this one again.
I am a fan of racing games, and this is probably my favorite. It is the game that Ave Caesar is based on, and there are many similarities – you have a fixed number of cards that, depending on the track will be just a bit more than you need to actually complete the race. Depending on your starting position you might get a couple of extra cards if you go into the pit, but that’s it. This is not a friendly game – not at all. Another player can block the inside track and force you to go the long way around, which uses more valuable movement points, and the tracks have a lot of points where a player ahead of you can completely block you from moving for a turn or two. Despite SOMEONE (cough, fellow OGer Mark Jackson, cough) repeatedly blocking me I managed to win this game for the first time ever in the 20 or so times I’ve played it.
Howdy Prospector, welcome to the Gold West. Do you think you have what it takes to thrive and build the ultimate prospecting empire?
In Gold West two to four players compete to build the biggest and best mining empire, fighting over the resources of the new Western Frontier. You have to carefully use those resources or they may go to waste, thorough planning is a must.
When you look at the games you’ve played the most compared to those which you’ve spent the most time playing, you’d expect the list to be filled by your best fillers and shorter-length games. When you have a group who love co-ops and campaigns though, not so much. The games I’ve played the most over the last 5 years are (together with the number of times played within that timeframe):
Well, I guess it’s that time of the year again. As you all know, there are several jillion awards for Game of the Year, from different organizations or representing different nations. But there’s no formal award for the designers, the talented individuals who create these marvelous games. That’s why, for the last 15 years or so, I’ve been designating a Designer of the Year (DotY), the person who I feel has published the best portfolio of games over the previous calendar year. No one’s called the Internet Police on me yet, so until they do, I’ll keep following the process and handing out awards.
When I first started doing this, I based it on two tenets. First, to make the award as inclusive as possible. So I include most kinds of games, including boardgames, card games, dexterity games, Euros, thematic designs—pretty much anything that you’d find on the Geek. There are two notable exclusions: classic wargames and children’s games. The design skills for both of these tend to be different than for other kinds of games and, besides, I’m not that knowledgeable about either category. I also exclude expansions, since they’re not really complete designs (although spinoffs, standalone expansions, and redesigns of previously published titles are included, albeit at a lower weight). Everything else, though, is fair game.
The other concept is to make the award as objective as possible. As fascinating as my opinions might be to me, basing things on my likes and dislikes makes little sense. So I use a methodology to evaluate each designer’s creations, based on three criteria. The first is how popular the game is, based on the game’s ratings (and number of ratings) on the Geek. The second is the game’s performance (wins and nominations) in the annual awards. These include the major awards (SdJ, Kennerspiel, DSP, and IGA), other notable awards (the Golden Geeks, Dice Tower, a la carte (best card game), and Meeples Choice Award (MCA)), and a few national awards. Games which came out during the latter part of last year won’t be eligible until the 2019 awards, so I’ve had to project their performance, but my track record for this is pretty good. The third criteria is how much “buzz” the game is generating, where I consider buzz to be the attention the game is getting above and beyond its popularity (legacy games are a good instance of games that were generating a reasonable amount of buzz recently). Those are the factors I consider; the end result is a Designer of the Year that I hope most people can agree is a good choice. Continue reading →
Times played: 7, with copy purchased at Essen Spiel.
When a game wins the prestigious Spiel des Jahres award, it is common practice for the publisher to produce a series of expansions to both capitalise on the success of the base game whilst maintaining the public’s interest in the game. Next Move Games did something quite unusual when Azul won the SdJ in 2018, in that they published Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra which is not an expansion but a standalone game in its own right and therefore not requiring a copy of the original game in order to play it. There are some similarities between both games which I will come onto later, but first a bit of background.
Sintra is a Portuguese city in the foothills of the Sintra Mountains near the capital city of Lisbon. It is a popular tourist destination as it contains some picturesque palaces and castles which contain the colourful artwork of the Moors. It is this artwork that was captured in the original Azul game using tiles and has been carried through to the glass of the follow-up game, Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra. Whilst the tiles looked very effective, I am not so convinced by the “glass” Pane Pieces which remind me of hard boiled sweets from my youth called “Spangles”. Nevertheless Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra is an attractive game and looks interesting on the gaming table.
At the start of the game a number of Factories (circular disks) depending upon the number of players are put out in a circle in the centre of the table. A cardboard Glass Tower is assembled and placed near the Factories. This will be used to hold “broken” Pane Pieces during the game. Each player chooses a colour and takes the appropriate Player Board together with the 8 Pattern Strips. The Pattern Strips each show a column of 5 coloured spaces on which Pane Pieces will be placed during the game. The Player Boards are doubled sided and change how the final scoring is carried out. All players agree on which side of the board will be used for the game. The Pattern Strips, also doubled sided, are randomly placed as vertical columns above the Player Board. One of the Pattern Strips shows 2 joker spaces instead of coloured spaces and this Strip must be placed with the joker spaces face down. Each player places their Glazier pawn above their leftmost Pattern Strip.
One player takes control of the scoreboard and puts a marker in each player colour on the zero of the scoring track (to record victory points) and on the zero of the broken glass track (to record negative points). One of each colour of Pane Pieces (5 in total) is randomly placed on the round track (rounds 2 to 6). The remaining Pane Pieces are put in the decorated cloth bag and mixed together. A Pane Piece is drawn from the bag and placed on round 1 of the round track. These Pane Pieces will determine which of the five colours of Pane Pieces will give bonus victory points in each of the six rounds of the game. The starting player takes the Starting Tile and the first round of the game is ready to begin.
The starting player pulls Pane Pieces from the bag and places four of them on each Factory, and then places the starting player tile in the centre of the circle of Factories. On their turn a Player must do one of two actions:
Advance a Pattern by taking Pane Pieces and placing them on a Pattern Strip, or
Move the Glazier by moving the Glazier to above the leftmost Pattern Strip. If the Glazier is already above the leftmost Pattern Strip this action cannot be taken.
To Advance a Pattern, the player takes all Pane Pieces of one colour from either a Factory or from the centre of the table. If they are the first player to take from the centre of the table, then they also take the Starting Tile for the next round and move their marker on the broken glass track one space downwards. If the Pane Pieces were taken from a Factory then any remaining pieces on that Factory are moved to the centre of the table. The taken Pane Pieces are now placed on one of the Pattern Strips above the Player Board, matching the colours of the spaces with those of the taken Pane Pieces. A real twist comes in to the game at this point, in that Pane Pieces can only be placed on Pattern Strips either under the Glazier or the right of the Glazier’s position (in which case the Glazier is moved to above the Pattern Strip on which the Pane Pieces are placed). Any left over Pane Pieces are considered broken and placed in the Glass Tower and the player moves their marker on the broken glass track down a number of steps equal to the number of Pane Pieces placed in the Glass Tower.
If the Pattern Strip is completely filled then a scoring takes place. Firstly, the player scores 1 point for each Pane Piece which matches the colour of the round track’s Pane Piece. All the Pane Pieces are removed from the Pattern Strip and the player chooses one of them to be placed on their Player Board beneath the position of the Pattern Strip that has just been completed, the other Pane Pieces being placed in the Glass Tower. There are two places on the Player Board to be filled by the Pane Piece from the completed Pattern Strip. On first completion the Pattern Strip is turned over and placed back above the Player Board. The second time that Pattern Strip is completed it is discarded. The Pattern Strip now scores the points beneath it together with the points beneath any other completed Pattern Strip (identified by a Pane Piece on one of the positions) to the right of the one being scored.
Once all the Pane Pieces have been taken from the Factories and the centre of the table, then the round is complete and the Pane Piece from the round track for that round is placed in the Glass Tower. The player with the starting tile refills the factories and the next round begins. When the bag becomes empty, it is refilled from the Glass Tower.
After six rounds the game ends and a final scoring takes place:
– 1 Point for every 3 Pane Pieces (rounded down) on Pattern Strips.
– Points equal to the negative points on the broken glass track are deducted.
– The Playing Boards are scored:
Side A scores points for the number of Pane Pieces placed on the Player Board when Pattern strips have been completed. These are scored in pairs of Pattern Strip columns (i.e. Pattern Strips 1 & 2, 3 & 4…). Points range from 2 points for 2 Pane Pieces to 10 points for 4 Pane Pieces.
Side B scores points based on the number of completed “windows” (i.e. where a Pattern Strip has been completed twice during the game and discarded). The player chooses one colour and multiplies the number of times that colour occurs in the completed windows by the number of completed windows.
The winner is the player with the highest score with ties being broken by the lowest negative point position on the broken glass track.
My thoughts on the game
With only two possible actions player turns flow quickly and whilst you cannot do a lot of forward planning until you get to see which Pane Pieces have been left for you, there is minimal downtime. In fact apart from the exclamations of surprise when another player takes the very pieces you were thinking of picking up, an uncanny number of my games play in near silence. This is unusual as most games have a lot of table banter going on, but maybe it is a sign of how fast this game plays and how much thought players are putting into it.
There is quite a lot to think about in what at the outset appears to be a light and fluffy abstract puzzle game. The broken glass track is fairly punishing so you need to take care to avoid placing a large number of Pane Pieces in the Glass Tower. As the track lasts for the whole game it is fundamentally different from the original Azul where the negative track reset each round, so you could get away with a minimal amount of unplaced tiles each round. With Sintra, the track does not reset so a few unplaced pieces each round and you will have a significant negative hit at the final scoring. I find that the broken glass track is particularly brutal in two player games where it is possible to manoeuvre your opponent into picking up far more Pane Pieces than they can place.
I really like the mechanic of only being able to place either under the Glazier or to the right of it. This makes you think about the value of moving the Glazier as then you will need to take a turn out to reposition it back to the left. When this is coupled with a clever scoring mechanic where completing a Pattern Strip scores that position and already completed positions to the right, then the value of completing those rightmost strips is considerable as they can be scored multiple times during a game.
So how does it compare to the original Azul game? Overall there are some similarities: the factories and taking pieces mechanic, the negative impact of taking more pieces than you can place on your player board and the quality of the artwork and components. That said there are some significant differences with the way in which you are able to place pieces on your player board along with the Glazier function which when taken with the scoring method changes the gameplay. I prefer the single scoreboard used in Sintra as I found with the Azul scoreboards being part of the original player boards, accidents did happen and the scoring marker could easily be jogged out of position. I am happy for both games to reside in my collection and I would choose to play Sintra as it breathes new life into the Azul game which was one of my most played games from 2017. For two player games though I would prefer to play the original. So if you fancy a bit of Moorish glazing then give Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra a try.
Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers
Larry (1 play): I don’t really care for abstract designs, so I was never a big fan of the original Azul. Sintra is more interesting for me, because of the intricacies of the scoring rules and the tension between working on the left-most columns (because it’s more efficient) or completing the right-most columns early (because that lets you score them multiple times). However, at the end of the day, it’s still an abstract and that’s just not the kind of game I’ll ever love. So for me, Sintra > Azul, and I’ll play either if asked, but I’m just as happy staying away from both.
Dale: Unlike Larry, I like abstract games. Especially if they have a painted on theme that allows me to think for a bit that it’s not an abstract game. Unlike Larry, I prefer Azul to Sintra. For me, there is a certain elegance about the original game that gets lost in the machinations of moving tiles here and there in this version. Also, there is something about the pleasing clickety-clack noises of the tiles in the original as well as the heft in my hand which draws me to that one. Now, that’s not to say that Sintra isn’t good, and it doesn’t deserve a spot on my game shelf. Because there are some times when I’m going to want something that is more complex than Azul.
Brandon (6 plays): Gameplay wise, Sintra does feel to have a bit more depth than Azul, but sometimes I do wonder if that depth is an illusion? Maybe I’m just conflating depth with just having a couple more choices. There is something to say about a game that makes you forget just how simple the game really is, and it’s another thing for a game to constantly remind you of things you have to think about. Sintra is less subtle than its predecessor in this way. The changes are in the forefront and they are noticeable and they make you think about them as you play. I do really enjoy Sintra though, and will save a space for it on my shelves right next to its predecessor. I think those who like the more variable side of the board in Azul will like the variable setup here in Sintra, and I think that folks who like to have a bit more control or choice will like Sintra as well.
Craig M (5 plays): Given the choice, I would choose Azul of Sintra. While I have enjoyed my games of the latter, I think apparent depth is illusory. Sintra is a nice variation on a theme that I would be happy to play, but in the long run Azul owns a permanent spot in the collection.
Fraser ( 1 play): I felt it was OK, it offered different path to Azul but overall was more fiddly. Given the choice between the two I would pick Azul to play pretty much every time. I would be interested to see what people who came across Stained Glass of Sintra before Azul thought after they had played.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
I love it!
I like it. Simon Neale, Brandon, Dale, Craig, Fraser
Times played: 3, with review copy provided by publisher
Ramen is a new set-collection game that I picked up at SPIEL 2018. I have always been a huge fan of Ramen (the steaming hot bowl of noodle soup), so the theme of the game was immediately appealing to me. In this game, players are competing Ramen chefs, trying to make the most Yen for their noodle bowls in the game – this will take both quantity and quality into account!
This is the February entry for my series where I post five games I enjoyed playing in the past month that I didn’t have time to do full reviews of. As always, I limit it to five titles, of which there’s a combination of old and new games.
I recently vowed to play the older games
in my collection more often, so this list skews towards some classics.
Times Played: 6, with review copy provided by Days of Wonder
The River was a game that I first saw at GenCon 2018, and I was interested in it for a number of reasons. First, the game was designed in part by my good friend Sebastian Pauchon, and I’ve always been a fan of his game ideas. Second, the game was touted as a light to medium weight worker placement game, and this is one of my favorite genres. Finally, the game was being done by Days of Wonder, a company which has a great track record of making games that appeal to me and my local group.