Patrick Brennan: Game Snapshots –2018 (Part 19)

Patrick Brennan: Game Snapshots –2018 (Part 19)

{Editor’s note – we are sticking with the new numbering system which we finally started to use in November – Next year, we’ll do it right and start with 2019, Part 1.}

You know, since it’s like 42C in parts of Oz this week!

Now that I’ve finished managing my most recent election, it’s back to real life. Meaning games! These actually managed to get done in the odd spare times between bouts of democracy wielding, but this is the first chance I’ve I’d had to collate them. So let’s get them out of the way before we tackle some of the recent Essen stuff in the next few editions.

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Dale Yu: Architects of the West Kingdom

Architects of the West Kingdom

  • Designers: Shem Phillips, SJ MacDonald
  • Publisher: Renegade Games
  • Players: 1-5
  • Ages: 12+
  • Time: 75-90 minutes
  • Times played: 3, with review copy provided by Renegade Games

Architects of the West Kingdom is a new game released by Renegade at SPIEL 2018.  Originally coming from New Zealand from the designer of Raiders of the North Sea. I had a nice demo with the press contact at SPIEL, and all four of the games presented to me sounded great.  I have been playing a lot of worker placement games lately, and this one appealed to me for that reason. In this game, which is set in the 9th century, players are working to be the best at constructing buildings and the cathedral.

The board which depicts the town and the multiple locations therein is placed on the board.  There is a virtue track found on the left edge of the board as well as a market for apprentices in the bottom right.  Each player gets his own player mat and the 20 workers of his color. There is a small draft of building cards, and each player will end up with 3 Building cards to start the game.   

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Dale Yu: First Impressions of Christmas Tree

Christmas Tree

  • Designer: Balazs Nagy
  • Publisher: Clevergreen
  • Players: 2-4
  • Ages: 10+
  • Time 30 minutes
  • Times played: 5, with review copy provided by Clevergreen

Christmas Tree apparently made its debut in 2017 as Essen, but I somehow missed it amongst the 1,400 or so releases that year.  It seemed to get some good reviews over the past year, and I discovered (much earlier on the calendar) that they had made a second edition this year.  I was able to make an appointment to see the game at SPIEL 2018, and this game has made it to the table a few times this holiday season.

In the game, players each decorate their own Christmas tree with diamond shaped ornament cards – trying to create the most beautiful tree…  As you can see, it’s the perfect sort of game for this time of year! (Well, assuming you come from the sort of cultural background where you put up Christmas trees… )  As Christmas tends to be a family time, this game comes packaged with rules for kids/casual gamers, regular gamers, and advanced gamers. I will start by explaining the regular rules – that is the middle set for regular gamers.

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Dale Yu: Review of Arboretum

Arboretum

  • Designer: Dan Cassar
  • Publisher: Renegade Game Studios
  • Players: 2-4
  • Ages: 8+
  • Time: 30 min
  • Times played: 3, with review copy provided by Renegade Game Studios (at least 10 games of previous incarnation from another publisher in 2015)

Arboretum is a game that has players competing to build the most “sumptuous” arboretum – and by sumptuous, I mean the one which scores the most victory points!  The game is played with an 80 card deck, 10 colored suits numbered 1-8.  Each player is dealt 7 cards into their hand and then another card is placed face up in front of them to serve as the start of their discard pile.  The remainder of the deck is left in a singular draw pile.

On you turn, you must do three things (always in the same order)

1) Draw two cards – these cards can come from the top of the face down deck or from the top of any player’s face up discard pile.  You can choose from any available sources when you draw. You can look at what you get first to decide what to draw second.

The other six suits

2) Play a card to your arboretum – during the course of the game, you will be building your arboretum, which is really a rectangular array of cards.  After your first card, each successive card must be vertically or horizontally adjacent to a previously played card.  Once you have placed a card, it remains in that spot for the rest of the game.

3) Discard a card – discard a card from your hand to your discard pile. You should always end your turn with 7 cards in your hand

The game continues until a player draws the final facedown card in the deck. Whenever this occurs, that person finishes his regular turn and then scoring occurs.

Scoring is a somewhat complicated thing to grasp at first.  What happens is that players will possibly score for each of the 10 colors in the game.  What they will score is a orthogonal path of cards in their arboretum which begins and ends with the target color.  However, in order to score a path, you have to earn the right to do so!

Whoever is nominated to be the scorer of the game – and therefore, the one who will hold the scoresheet – will read off the first tree on the scoring matrix.  Each player reveals cards from their hand that match that tree.  Only the player or tied players with the highest sum of those cards left in the hand will be able to score a path of that treein their arboretum.  Of course, it could turn out that the player with the highest sum in their hand does not have a viable path in their arboretum – and if so,  no one scores for that color.  One other twist to this rule is that if one player holds the 8 of a color in their hand while another player holds the 1 of that same color, the value of the 8 is reduced to ZERO when summing points.

Once you figure out who is able to score for a color, then you look for a viable path in your arboretum.  A valid path must begin and end with the same color.  The color of the cards in the middle of the path can be of any color.  The path is traced orthogonally through the cards, and the values of the cards must be continually higher on the path.

My example arboretum

Once a path is found – and this could be as short as two adjacent cards, both of the target color – it is scored:

  • 1 point per card in the path
  • 1 point per card in the path IF the path is at least 4 cards long and all are of the same color
  • 1 point bonus if the path starts with a 1
  • 2 point bonus if the path ends with an 8

Each of the ten colors is evaluated in this same manner, and points are scored accordingly.  In cases where no one has cards of a color in their hand, all players get to score a path of that color (as they are all tied for the lead with zero points).

At the end of the game, the player with the most points wins.

Ties go to the player with the most colors of trees in their arboretum.

My thoughts on the game

I have found Arboretum to be a challenging game in a very small package.  For me, the big challenge is two fold.  First, you have to be crafty to draw/draft the correct cards so that you can build meaningful paths through your arboretum.  This is harder than it appears at first glance.  I have found that most people like to start building with low numbers first in order to start their paths and then gradually move into the larger numbers.  However, this means that early on in the game, there is a lot of competition for those low numbers. Trying to zig when the others zag is helpful in getting cards that fit together well.  You can either try to build from the other end – using mostly high numbers – or you can try to build a nice core of middle numbers to start from which you can branch off with the extreme low or high numbers.

However, while you’re trying to build up your arboretum, you also need to be keeping a close count on the cards played by everyone else because you need to have the most of a color in your hand at the end of the game in order to score for your paths.  This might mean that you end up holding back some of your cards during the game in order to ensure that your endgame total in hand is high enough to score for the cards on the board.

The game moves along quickly with most turns taking just seconds.  This lack of downtime keeps you constantly moving and thinking about what you want to do next.  I have found that I am spending a fairly good deal of time between my turns examining what my opponents have played (and hopefully remembering what they have drawn) so that I can try to mentally figure out which colors they are shooting for and what sort of total they have left in their hand.  I’m also always trying to figure out which suits still have the “1” card in play because that could end up changing the totals at the scoring – as any left over “1”s will cause the “8”s to be worthless.

The art is clean and crisp, though from far away some of the colors of the suits look alike to me.  This is not a problem, however, as you can also use the distinctive shapes of the trees to distinguish between the suits.  The only place that I would have wished for something different in the graphic design is the score sheet.  It would have been nice for the sheet to list both the tree name as well as the color text used on the card to ensure that there are no mistakes in the scoring.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it. W. Eric Martin, Dale Y
  • Neutral.
  • Not for me…
Posted in Essen 2018, Reviews | 1 Comment

Dale Yu: Review of Arraial

Arraial

  • Designers: Nuno Bizarro Sentieiro, Paulo Soledade
  • Publisher: MEBO Games
  • Players: 1-4
  • Ages: 8+
  • Time: 30-40 minutes
  • Times played: 3, with review copy provided by MEBO Games

Arraial is a game based on the eponymous traditional Portuguese summer festival.  In this game, the festival visitors are found on different colored polyominoes – and you have a street board where you will try to fit them in as tightly as possible.  This game also fits in well with the pervasive theme of SPIEL 2018 (and this week on the Opinionated Gamers) – that is, games with polyomino placement.

There is a central board that is placed in the center of the table, it is square in shape and there is an octagon on it where three color piece cards will be placed.  Each player orients their street board so that it is oriented vertically against one of the sides of the central board. It is ok if multiple players have to share a side of the central board.   A level bar is placed at the appointed row on your board based on player count.

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Dale Yu: First Impression of Tag City

Tag City

  • Designer: Robin David
  • Publisher: RUNES Editions
  • Players: 2-4
  • Ages: 8 and up
  • Time: 20-30 minutes
  • Times played: 2, with review copy provided by publisher at SPIEL 2018

One of the big themes of SPIEL 2018 was the use of polyominoes in games.  Another was the ascendance (and possible jumping of the shark) of Roll-and-Writes.  Tag City is one of a few games that sits firmly at the intersection of these two Venn diagram circles.

In Tag City, each player gets an identical scoring board at the start of the game.  The goal is to fill in the different areas of the board as quickly as possible. There is also a central HQ board which is double-sided, and it’s recommended that beginners play with the A side, and that is what I will describe here.

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Dale Yu: Review of Bloxx!

Bloxx!

  • Designer: Klaus-Jurgen Wrede
  • Publisher: Noris
  • Players: 2-4
  • Ages: 6+
  • Time: 15-20 minutes
  • Times played: 4, with review copy provided by Noris

Oneof the big themes of SPIEL 2018 was the use of polyominos in games.  Another was the ascendance (and possible jumping of the shark) of Roll-and-Writes. Bloxx! is one of a few games that sits firmly at the intersection of these two Venn diagram circles.

In Bloxx! each player gets an identical scoring sheet at the start of the game.  The goal is to fill in the sheet as completely as possible while trying to circle as many pre-printed numbers as possible.  There are two special dice in the box, and these dice and the pads are literally the only components for the game.

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Dale Yu: Review of Brikks

Brikks

  • Designer: Wolfgang Warsch
  • Publisher: Schmidt
  • Players: 1-4
  • Ages: 8+
  • Time: 25-35 minutes
  • Times played: 4, with copy purchased at SPIEL 2018

One of the big themes of SPIEL 2018 was the use of polyominos in games.  Another was the ascendance (and possible jumping of the shark) of Roll-and-Writes.  Brikks is one of a few games that sits firmly at the intersection of these two Venn diagram circles.

In Brikks, each player gets an identical scoring sheet at the start of the game.  The goal is to fill in the sheet as completely by filling in each horizontal line as fully as possible.  The scoring sheet looks like an arcade game with a grid of 11 rows to be filled in. Underneath this grid is an area used to mark bonus scoring and then a energy bar to show where you have captured and then later used energy points.  Each player starts with as many as four energy points (depending on the number of players), you will notice a slight green haze around the first four energy circles to denote this.

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Preview of Ubongo! Fun-Size Edition

Ubongo! Fun-Size Edition

  • Designer: Gregorz Rejchtman
  • Publisher: Kosmos
  • Players: 1-4
  • Ages: 7+
  • Time: 15 minutes
  • Co-authored by W. Eric Martin and Dale Yu

Thames & Kosmos, the North American branch of KOSMOS, debuted Grzegorz Rejchtman‘s Ubongo! Fun-Size Edition, which is yet another take on the Ubongo family of games that debuted in 2003 and that has sold more than five million games according to the cover.

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Dale Yu: The Great City of Rome

The Great City of Rome

  • Designers: Matthew Dunstan and Brett J Gilbert
  • Publisher: Abacus/Z-Man
  • Players: 2-4
  • Ages: 10+
  • Time: about an hour
  • Times played: 4, with review copy of The Great City of Rome provided by Abacus

In the Great City of Rome, players are competing architects in the Great City of Rome working to layout the best buildings in the Great City of Rome in order to gain the favor of the Emperor of the Great City of Rome.  Each player’s initial building plan is modest – two starting cards along with five bucks and your emissary pawn. You will eventually be building a 4×4 grid of cards for the Great City of Rome, so make sure to reserve enough table space for your sprawl.

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