September 3, 2013

I’ve got my eye(s) on you!

Since joining BGG I’ve kept a somewhat monstrous wishlist. It blossomed into 100+ affair creature early on when I had delusions of grandeur about how much gaming time I would have and how many awesome games there are to be found. What has happened though is that I use my wishlist as a memory aid more than anything – with a little bit of wishful thinking mixed in for good measure. For the most part, when I read a bunch of reviews about a game, get directed to check it out, or otherwise spend more than 15 seconds looking at the game entry, I usually add it to the wishlist.

The 1’s and 2’s on the list (the Must Haves and Love to Haves) are the only games I would consider actually buying, yet even then I’m not in any rush to do so. The fact of the matter is that I have more than enough games at the present moment that I’d like to play many more times before rushing off to purchase something new. Nevertheless, the 1’s and 2’s have had my interest sufficiently perked for one reason or another, maybe it was an awesome review or a photograph that just suckered me in (I’m a sucker for a beautiful design) and sold me on the game. Or it might be that the game is doing something clever or original and I just want to check it out so I can get a sense for the mechanics.

The 3’s (Like to Haves) are a big hodgepodge of stuff. Mostly, I wouldn’t consider buying any of these games outright, but if there was a too good to pass up deal or a favorable trade opportunity, I’d probably take it. Mostly, these are games I’d be happy to try should the opportunity present itself, but I’m not going to go out of my way either.

The 4’s and 5’s are basically the “long-term memory” vault – game’s I’ve examined at one point or another but really have no intention (or much interest) in actually playing. But there might be something about it that I want to refer back to in the future when I’m lying awake at night trying to remember, “what was that game with the thing that did this?.” If I’ve added it to my wishlish I can probably find it!

So, what is today’s post all about? I wanted to look at the top few games in my wishlist, the 1’s and 2’s (and a dash of the 3’s) and talk about what has me interested in each of them. 

The “Must Haves”


When I was younger I went through a fascination phase with Romanticism in the arts – reading quite a bit of Poe and Coleridge among others, and Caspar David Friedrich was among my favorite artists (also add a dose of Dore and Turner to the mix). Regardless, I first saw the front image for Fantasiqa and was immediately drawn into the iconic painting that adorns the cover. Reading more about it, I became increasingly fascinated with the concept behind the design – not the least of which because I have my own aspirations for designing a narrative/adventure/questing game.

Ender’s pictorial review solidified my interest in the game. Consider the following quote from his review about one of the things he liked about the game:

The whimsical story-telling fantasy theme. The game does a terrific job of evoking an atmosphere that is whimsical, dream-like, surreal, nonsensical, and entertaining. We've seen lots of fantasy themed games over the years, but the vast majority of them fall into the category of "classic fantasy". In contrast, Fantastiqa defies that categorization, and falls into the "fantastic", a genre associated with classic novels like Alice in Wonderland, The Phantom Tollbooth, and arguably even The Princess Bride. Best of all, it all makes perfect sense, in a fairy tale story kind of way: after all, why shouldn't you be able to subdue a Troll with a Billy Goat, and why shouldn't you be able to Swing from the Marsh Mangroves of Myria with spider web and your makeshift spatula swords to win back the Gem of Joopolo? Why not indeed?!

The game seems refreshingly different to me in every way I’ve read. Maybe it’s rough around the edges here and there, and it may not be a serious competitive game of the usual sort. But as a narrative experience (more than game?) it has me quite intrigued.

Salmon Run
I find it somewhat odd that #2 on the list is another Gryphon Games title. But when things are ironic it just makes it that more intriguing right? Right?
Anyway – Salmon Run has me intrigued because my wife was a fisheries biologist in her prior occupation and enjoys most things river and fish related. Plus, it’s a race game with a theme that is of interest to me (fast cars and horses don’t do anything for me, sorry!) AND it takes a deckbuilding mechanic and puts it to use in a thematically interesting way. I’m a sucker for modular boards as well (a theme which will prove reoccurring, fear not!), and I find the overall graphic and visual style of the game to be pretty interesting too.

Review of note: Flying Dutchman Reviews: Salmon and Eagles and Bears -- Oh My!

This is a game that has sparked a considerable amount of controversy and discussion – primarily around its “semi-cooperative” nature and the impact that has on gamers, especially when coupled with the hidden goals. I’ve found many of the discussions surrounding this game to be really fascinating conversations about the many different attitudes and sub-cultures among gamers. Archipelago strikes me as a game that’s more about the players at the table than the game itself – and having a good time with it requires a certain kind of attitude and tolerance for the dynamics the game throws at you.

For reference, two of my trusted geekbuddies posted contrasting reviews that make excellent arguments. Ben (chally) argues in favor of it in his review, What You're Missing: Archipelago, while Curtc has a different take on it in his review, I'm trying to like it, but I'm running out of willing participants.. And finally, Qwertymartin’s blog post, Archipelago and game theory, continued the discussion while opening the door to a broader conversation about semi-cooperative games.

From a design standpoint, I’m especially interested in the game because I have my own semi-cooperative game in the early prototype stages – and Archipelago seems to be a galvanizing example of both the perks and pitfalls of that genre. Plus – the game looks amazing visually. I’m a sucker for modular boards and tiles (did I mention that already?) and the game delivers both in a visually rich way.

The more games I play, the more I’m intrigued by the designs of Bruno Faidutti. Bruno designed Citadels – one of my favorite games for its highly player-centric/player-driven gameplay coupled with simple mechanics that are easy to teach. Mascarade appears to continue in that vein while also hitching up with the current trend of deduction/negotiation oriented micro/small games (Coup, Resistance, Love Letter, etc.).

I’ve been looking to pick up a more social game along these lines that can support 7+ players (I’m only so-so on the Resistance) and Mascarade looks to fit the bill. Plus who doesn’t love a good old Romantic-era Mascarade? And the card art is awesome too! Plus, Qwertymartin bought a copy and has played it a bunch – so that’s a pretty good endorsement from my perspective.

Review: I think that you think that I think that you will enjoy Mascarade


I’ve had Race for the Galaxy with the 1st Expansion for a few years now, and really enjoy it for it’s solo-gaming opportunities with the AI “robot.” When traveling or just hanging out at the cottage, I’ll often pull it out and knock out a quick solo game – a role the game is mostly relegated too since my gaming group is pretty cold on the game (WTF do they know!).

Friday perked my interest in part because I haven’t played any of Friedemann Friese’s games (gasp! No Power Grid!) and this is his highest ranked game aside from Power Grid (which I have no real interest in playing either). Geekbuddy Joshua Miller (Glamorous Mucus) has this to say about it:
Friday does an outstanding job of conveying its plot and setting, which is especially impressive for a small, mechanically-slick card game like this. At the start of the game, our "hero" Robinson Crusoe is a bumbling fool who doesn't have the skills and knowledge to survive in the wild. As he decides what risks he is willing to take, you can guide him in learning new skills and eliminating the worst of his mistakes. By the end of the game, he is haggard and worn, but also cunning and deadly. Where the balance lies will determine whether you survive the expedition.

So, cool mechanics, cool theme, and solid integration in a small package solo game gets my vote!

The “Love to Haves”

Dominant Species

I haven’t yet had the opportunity to plan Dominant Species – and short of buying my own copy and scheduling a longer gaming session, I probably won’t any time soon. I’m generally a bit anti-worker placement – but I love the theme of this game and how the worker placement was integrated alongside a broader suite of mechanics oriented around the double-area majority/control game. It’s pretty slick and reading the rules just makes me more interested to try it. It’s also drawn a number of comparisons to my own game Hegemonic in terms of its level of brain-burnieness, so that has me sufficiently interested too. My Geekbuddies almost universally gave the game high marks – so it’s got to be good! What seals the deal are the awesome photographs of the game – and of course the modular hex tiles!


I was initially drawn to CO2 following Jesse Dean’s blogging about the game here on BGG. Of course, this interest was also perked because of the theme. I have background in Environmental Resources and Policy, so I was quite curious to see how a game tackling the transitioning energy economy would work – doubly so when structured as a semi-cooperative game.

Of course, the game is also jaw dropping beautiful to look at (in the photos at least) – and that has sustained the drool factor.

Colonial: Europe’s Empires Overseas

I’m also a sucker for dudes on a map game that have a twist. Or civilization style games with a twist or some sort. I was first made aware of Colonial on Jesse Dean’s landmark (in my mind) post Two Different Styles of Civilization Games. Jesse was discussing two types of civ games, the first (and original) typically focused around empire-building as means to an end for military conflict. While a second style, including Colonial and Here I Stand, provide a more multi-lateral experience. In such games, the military is just one way of inciting conflict, with political or economic systems providing their own ways to “make war” in direct ways that don’t involve cannons and bayonets. This philosophy/approach was something I had been contemplating independently when designing Hegemonic – and it was great to see Jesse talking about it as well.

As for Colonial itself – I don’t know too much about its gameplay, but it looks sufficiently different and interesting to keep it high on my radar. Plus, I find the aesthetics and graphic of the design of the game to be quite unique.

El Grande

A classic (perhaps “the” classic) euro area majority game. A game which I also have never played (Gasp! Shock!) despite its frequent comparison to Hegemonic as well. Regardless, it gets mentioned enough and is spoken of often with the same whispered hushes that surround Tigris & Euphrates that I’m pretty sure I need to try the game

Kingdom Builder

Qwertymartin, most notably on a recent-ish Long View Podcast episode, waxed lovingly about Kingdom Builder – a game which I initially dismissed as either too similar or not different enough to pursue. However, I’ve been convinced there is a subtlety and depth to the game that belies its approachable exterior and streamlined rules. It is a Spiel des Jahres winner for a good reason no doubt. I also think it’s a spatial game that might click with my wife – which if it does means it will get a lot of repeat play, important for a game like this I imagine.

Terra Mystica

The buzz and enthusiasm around Terra Mystica has been intense over the past year since its release. It’s shot up the charts and has had a broad appeal across many segments of the gamer sub-populations. Ben Chally has this to say:
Terra Mystica surprised me with its accessibility and speed of play. A middle-weight game bordering on elegant is the last thing I would have expected from a collaberation between designers of The Scepter of Zavandor and Kaivai. Yet Terra Mystica most evokes memories of austere predecessors, such as Hansa Teutonica and Kingdom Builder. That is not to say that Terra Mystica is uncomplicated -- it layers numerous ideas (indeed, one might argue a few too many) that require some time to wade through. But the game progresses in a wave of quick turns featuring discrete and clearly defined options in pursuit of a handful of simple and well-understood goals.

My only worry about is that there isn’t enough direct interaction / conflict for a seemingly dudes on a map style game. I’m not sure if that impression is true or not, but I get the sense that it’s more of a euro optimization game that plays out over a shared spatial landscape. Certainly there is interaction – but I don’t know if there is enough of the kind of interaction I’m usually looking for in heavier/longer games to make this click. We shall see!

Ingenious Challenges

I received Ingenious (the full game) in a trade deal a while ago – hoping that it would be the missing link for my wifeand I between Qwirkle and Tigris & Euphrates. She likes many of Knizia’s games (Samurai, Lost Cities, etc) but Ingenious fell somewhat flat for both of us. The level of interaction and pacing didn’t feel great as a 2-player game, and the Knizian scoring system didn’t provide enough interest on it’s own.

That said, I did of course come across Ingenious Challenges, a Fantasy Flight small box game absolutely packed with “Ingenious” components – packed because it’s actually three games in one: a dice game, a tile game, and a card game! My interest in this small box is only partially to try out these games – but more so because I want to play around with the components from a game design standpoint, using them as a “system” for experimenting with other designs.


This game comes up as a common example of a game exhibiting highly emergent characteristics. It’s a relatively straightforward economic game where it is entirely up to the players to create and drive the economy (as I understand it anyway). It can be brain burning and unforgiving – but that’s okay with me.

Jesse Dean has the following to say about Container:

Container stands as one of the purest economic games that I have played. Its self-contained market lives and dies based on player decisions, and it can be surprisingly fragile, resulting in atrocious games if individual players perform economy-destroying actions. Luckily, this is easy to avoid if the players are warned about the impact of their decisions, and an experienced player or two can guide the game back to its proper moorings.

When experienced players comes together, Container is a thing of beauty as the players try to take advantage of the rhythm of the game, timing actions within the overall flow of the game so that they can gain the maximum advantage and thus vault above their competitors. The game's rules are deceptively simple, but the game itself is fairly opaque. Determining the right move at any particular moment in time can be difficult, and the bidding component only adds to it. Determining the best bid for a particular moment can be maddingly difficult.

Plus it has a (rare) ringing endorsement from Clearclaw:

The core pattern is determining which market segment in the game is being underserved either through insufficient production or pricing and then occupying that slot profitably. The game then iterates on that specific. Ensuring that your container collection on the island is scoring optimized is surprisingly difficult as it relies on incentivizing emergent player collusion. There are many slightly underhandedly sympathetic tricks in this space. Delightful.

Pax Porfiriana

I’m increasingly interested in games that also serve a knowledge function. If you can play a game and come away from it knowing something more about the real world that’s a cool thing. One designer that’s well versed in designing such games is Phil Eklund, with titles like American Megafauna, Bios: Megafauna, and High Frontier. The downside is that his games are nearly as technically rich and demanding as the subjects they explore – creating quite a barrier to entry for most gamers. This, coupled with generally rough development (so I’ve been told) leds to memorable but perhaps not the most enjoyable gaming experiences.

Pax Porfiriana looks to be somewhat of a departure from early games, not the least of which because it’s a card game. But also, my Geekbuddies tell me, it is an excellent game that conveys its thematic underpinnings in a readily playable form – something which other Eklund titles have had difficulty achieving. Consider me interested.

The Great Heartland Hauling Co.

I haven’t played many pick-up-and-deliver style games – but for whatever reason the Great Heartland Hauling Co has my interest perked. Perhaps it’s the combination of the quick playing game format, the small box (card game), the fact that my wife may enjoy it, and that it looks great. I think Dice Hate Me Games has done an outstanding job with the graphic designs of their games, and GHHC is no exception. Look at those adorable little trucks!

The “Like to Haves”

Tammany Hall

Qwertymartin’s excellent review, how to make Gangs of New York: The Board Game, brought the game to my attention and did a fantastic job selling me on the idea. It’s principally an area control game, but there are a few layers to this and it appears to have a high degree of player-to-player interaction via various negotiations you will be sucked into. The play dynamics sound great – and I’ve love to try it.
Legends of Andor

A thematically rich fantasy adventure game that also won a Spiel des Jahres award? I’m interested! In fact, I’ve been interested in trying to find a possible adventure / narrative game that will click for a while (see Fantatiqa above) but Legends of Andor also has me interested. Plus it’s a cooperative game.


I know practically nothing about this game other than the following quote:

Oh, don't mind me. I'm just a harmless friendly little game about whiling away the time in a tropical paradise. WRONG! The is one of the most brutal cut-throat games I own.

That – and it has a modular board with hexagon tiles and looks awesome. Suckered again!

Here I Stand

See the discussion above regarding Colonial: Europe’s Empires Overseas and the “second” style of civ games (or multi-lateral dudes on a map games). In reality, I probably will never have the time or opportunity to play this – but I’m quite intrigued by the design ideas and of course it looks amazing, especially considering its counter-centric components.

Closing Remarks

So, we’ve some to the end (for now). Looking over the list, what is it that perks my interest in the above games? I think there are a few things worth noting.

First, I’m a sucker for attractive games. I wouldn’t think I would say that, but I believe it’s true upon reflection. I don’t have any preferred style per se, but an elegant graphic design that appropriately reinforces the theme is great, and I don’t mind some concessions towards the abstract end of the visual spectrum if it reinforces the play experience. Some of my current favorite games (Inca Empire comes to mind), I was initially interested in because of their visual appeal.

Second, I generally avoid games that provide a similar experience to other games I own and enjoy. I’m looking for games that are doing something different, perhaps pushing their respective genres in a new direction or making a bold innovation. And I’m not afraid of controversial designs or themes either – in fact that makes me more interested.

Third, the integration of theme is important to me. I don’t have many themes that are turn-offs (I’m open to pretty much any) – but what I look for are games that elegantly weave the theme into the mechanics such that the two reinforce each other.

Last – some games I’m interested in as a subject for game design. I have many designs in various stages of design/prototyping/development, and it is always insightful to consider what similar games might be doing, what made them successful (or not), and how the underlying ideas can be further innovated.

So, what do you think? Do you have any insight on the games listed above you want to share? What games are high on your radar? Share away, the phones are open…

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