July 31, 2019
Smorgasbord: Summer '19 Report
Times seems to fly these days.
Here we are, 6-months later, since the last report on my boardgame activities. My last post was about my game collection woes - and perhaps tipped off by a recent thread, I figured this was good timing to circle back on what I’ve been playing of late and how “the collection” is faring.
First of all, I did a little reorganization of my BGG inventory, and if you click HERE you’ll get a list of ~110 games that I “own” and consider principally part of my collection. I realized one little fatal flaw with my usage of the “has parts” tag to denote games that my household owns but that I don’t consider “mine” - which is that I started getting peppered with requests for game parts! Whups!
Now, I simply take all my owned games and then use the “want to play” flag for those games that I could conceivably desire to play sooner or later (rather than never). This gets us to 110 games and excludes from the list all the assorted kids games (2x copies of Candy land, etc.), games I want to sell/trade away, and other games that would require a “family discussion” were I to try and purge them from the shelf. It’s a reasonably-sized feeling list - and while there are few in there still listed for trade, unloading them is a low priority.
WHAT HAS BEEN PLAYED
But enough of that! You want to hear about all the games I’ve been playing over the past few months. I’ll start with a listing and then dive into specific titles in more detail below. Here we go!
* Sekigahara (x3)
* Root (x3)
* Aerion (6+)
* Sylvion (2x)
* Blue Lagoon (~10x)
* Broom Service! (~10x)
* Hand of the King (~12x)
* Ginkgopolis (1x)
* The Game (12x)
* Heroes of Terrinoth (~10x)
* Keyforge! (40+)
* Kingdomino - Age of Giants (~12x)
* Lord of the Rings (3x partial games)
* Raiders of the North Sea (1x)
* Small World (3x)
* Shadows Amsterdam (1x)
* Yellow & Yangzee (2x)
* Wizards Wanted (6x)
Last update, I had recently acquired but not yet played Sekigahara. Since then I’ve played it three times and this title has made quite the impression. It’s my first foray into block wargames (and I should mention I’ve only dabbled with wargames overall). My friend and I have been embarking on “Sake and Seki” sessions, when where we split a bottle of warm Sake and replay the famous reunification wars in 1,600 Japan.
It’s not a terribly complicated game - but there are a lot of subtitles to the rules that are easy to miss (or maybe that was the Sake?). We had some fatal rule fumbles in the first two games (realized afterwards), but we’re getting the hang of it now. The interplay between force movement and cards is really tremendous and creates a fascinating decision space and tons of tension and uncertainty about how the battles will pay out. Really enjoying this one more and more with each play.
Root continues to captivate my friend group as well as the younger generation of kids and nephews - who are surprisingly adept at internalizing all of the rules and quirks in the game. I understand people’s criticism about the need for “player-driven balancing” (aka table talk and negotiation). But for me, this player-to-player interaction and brinkmanship is exactly what makes certain games (e.g. Root) so fun and engaging for me (and explains my general dislike for lower interaction engine-builders).
I’ve kickstarted the second expansion for Root (due later this year), and looking to dive into that when it lands. I feel like I’m just barely getting a handle on the first expansion factions. So much to dig into in this game.
I recently picked up Aerion, which is the 6th game in the Oniverse series. I adore this series, not just for the artwork but for the great solo and co-op gameplay. Onirim has long been a favorite of mine.
In any case, I “think” Aerion might take the cake for my favorite solo game and possibly favorite Oniverse game as well. Aerion tasks you with building a series of airships by managing a flow of cards that emanate from six stacks, which you draft from using dice in a yahtzee-like die rolling fashion. There are clever means of cards affecting dice in turn affecting card draws, that is a delightful puzzle to sort out. But it has enough randomness to force you to adapt and keep on your toes.
As with other games in the series, the box comes with half a dozen “expansions” to layer more onto the game. So far, I’ve found that expansion #1 (flagship) and #6 (with the hellkite) to be a nice balance of maintaining focus on core gameplay while adding just enough other tensions to open up the decision space more. Love this one.
I also went back to Sylvion briefly, as it had been a while since I played it last. Not too much to report. I like the theme and basic structure of this one, but depending on your card draft and hands drawn, the experience oscillates wildly between overly easy to downright impossible. In some ways, it feels like it plays itself and I’m not sure there is enough player agency in the mix.
Blue Lagoon (~10x)
I picked this up a few weeks back on vacation, after eyeballing it a whole bunch over the past few months. I’m so glad I picked this one up - and even more excited that I’ve got it to the table a few times a week! It’s been a hit with everyone: kids, friends that aren't “gamers”, my wife, other people’s kids, gamer friends. It’s quite easy to teach - although for many people it’s one of those games where you just need to play a round and see how the scoring works for it all to click. It’s awesome watching people’s eyes light up when they start to see how it all connects.
It’s also one of those games - true to many of Knizia’s designs - where the depth continues to open up the more you play. There is a ton of nuance in where you place huts, both to make it easier to get onto islands in the second round but also to potentially block your opponents from islands and/or resources. The first round is interesting for it’s Go-like feeling of having this big decision space where you are pre-positioning and scattering your influence in hopes of linking it all together later in the round. Just amazing.
Broom Service (~10x)
My 5-year old - somehow - has processed this game to a freaky level. She’s memorized what all the cards do and has a crazy ability to program out her turns. Anyway - I still enjoy this game and it hits the table pretty often.
Hand of the King (12+)
I’ve had this game for a while, and on a lark brought it out to a family restaurant. I broke it out while waiting for food and the kids took to it immediately. Maybe it’s the artwork (very cool), or that it’s a way for them to “get in” on the Games of Thrones mystique (no - they have not watched the show!). I like this game for its simplicity. It does a great job getting the kids to “think ahead” about making moves that benefit themselves but tempered against not giving their opponent an even better follow-up move. Fun, quick game.
I dug this one back out with my friend group as we were discussing various game design topics and I mentioned this as an example of a “clockwork” design where there are these different systems that feed into each other. Tile placement and board control connects to card play and drafting, which connects to tableau building, which connects to scoring and back to the board, etc.
That said - my fondness for the game plummeted after playing it again. I was reminded of how utterly fiddly this game is. Passing and managing cards, making sure to check the tableau, placing reminders on new tiles so you remember to sort through the decks to add the cards to the other deck when it gets reshuffled. Juggling tiles and resources and score tokens behind your player screen. I think this is a game I appreciate more from a conceptual and aesthetic standpoint that I do from actually playing it.
The Game (~12x)
This has a similarity to “The Mind” (I’m not up to speed on the origins of these respective titles), as a game where you take turns trying to play cards in numerical order across four lines. It’s okay. Doesn’t do a lot for me and if I’m going to play a non-coordinative co-op I’d much rather play Hanabi.
Heroes of Terrinoth (6x)
I was on the quest for a nice cooperative dungeon crawler game. I’d been eyeballing Warhammer Quest (Card Game) for a long time, and this reimplementation of it seemed worth trying. I really like the mechanics and basic structure of this game. However, it feels overly procedural and doesn’t flow all that well. I also think it misses the appeal of dungeon crawlers with respect to character advancement. “Leveling up” your skills during the game is nice, but no substitute for acquiring skills and gear that persist between games and builds more attachment to your character (like say Hero Quest or Mice & Mystics). The kiss of death on this is that the setup time is agonizing. You have to organize all the stacks of enemy and item cards and rebuild a deck for each mission. It’s ridiculously irritating.
Oh boy. I’ve really fallen for this game (as you might have noticed from my last blog article). I started with two decks at the start of this summer, and now I have… maybe 18? Anyway - a bunch of buddies have got into it as well, so we all have a fun time playing. It scratches the Magic the Gathering itch without relying on the time consuming card collection and deck construction cycle. It’s great having a fixed deck that you can spend time learning more and getting better at playing, instead of endlessly fiddling with your deck lists. I really enjoy the structure and pace of the gameplay too - very dynamic.
Kingdomino - Age of Giants (~12x)
I’ve enjoyed Kingdomino since it came out, and my 5-year old in particular really enjoys it too. I picked up Age of Giants expansion for her birthday and it’s gone over well. It adds a pretty light layer onto the gameplay along with a fun thematic element. ‘Nuff said.
Lord of the Rings (3x partial games)
This is a case where I owned the game once upon a time, sold it off unplayed, and then re-bought it second hand. Mostly, my kids were interesting Lord of the Rings after we watched bits and pieces of the first movie, and started looking at Lord of the Rings games…. and here we are.
In any event - this game is an oddity in the history of gaming. It was an early cooperative design and one that was structured around a finely crafted set of events following (loosely) the narrative of the books. Parts of the game feel very outdated (I’m playing the original version BTW) from a clarity and graphic/iconography standpoint. It makes the game a little hard to manage (and the kids struggle to follow the phasing and turn structure). I feel like this game could do with a redesign. But even as is, we’ve been having a fun time working through it in stages.
Raiders of the North Sea (2x)
Snuck in a couple of plays of this, one with the gamer group and one with my 8-year old. Not too much to say that I haven’t before. As far as worker placement games go, this is one I find palatable. Reasonably interactive, competing for shared space (reminds me of Caylus in way), quick turns, amazing art.
Small World (3x)
I stumbled back into Small World and have been playing a bunch with my 8-year old. Years ago I played a ton of 2-player Small World, which I vastly prefer over 3+ players, so it’s nice to go back to that. This is a solid and streamlined design. I am on the hunt for the Realms expansion (that lets you build randomized maps) as my only complaint is that the board geometry is fixed and leads to similar gameflows from game to game.
Shadows Amsterdam (1x)
Finally managed to get this to the table at a family gathering, where we played with a nice mix of kids and adults. It’s a really cool concept, and has structural similarities to Code Names (two teams each with a clue giver and multiple guessers). The design is a little fiddly feeling for what it is, and it can be an awful lot to visually parse at times. Need to play it more with some different groups to see how it goes over.
Wizards Wanted (6x)
Ths kids and I have been playing this one quite a bit. Who knew that Mattel was in the business of designing movement programming and resource management, set collection games? The theme here is wacky (kids love it), and the gameplay is a little fiddly at times for what essentially amounts to racing around the board and collecting cards. But there is some enjoyment to be had in puzzling out the optimal moves to get you to where you want to be ahead of your opponents. Amazing components for a $20 game!
Yellow & Yangtze (3x)
Played more games of Y&Y, and deeper opinions are starting to form. Despite being so similar to Tigris & Euhprates at the structural and overall goal level - the differences in these games are really stark in terms of the flow of play. The more I play, the more different these feel.
In general, I like Y&Y for the hex-based system and (most) of the tile actons - like discarding two blue farmers for a catastrophe, or two traders to move a pagoda. The off-board leader abilities are also a nice touch and can add a good wrinkle to the gameplay. However, what I miss from T&E is (1) treasures on the starting tiles as a driver for play (and more interaction) in the early game; (2) the greater stability of monuments creating more geography on the game board and a less volatile landmark to fight over; (3) the system for resolving fights.
The streamlining the fights in Y&Y, while seemingly simpler from a rules standpoint, at times create odd counter-intuitive situations. For example, when a player has leaders in two different kingdoms, despite “winning” one side of their fight, their own leaders in the losing side might nevertheless be displaced. It’s a little strange and disincentives the co-mingling of leaders and kingdoms that is such a cornerstone of Tigris & Euphrates.
I’d love to have a game that blended both games and did so in a more 2-player friendly manner perhaps. Maybe it’s time to restart design work on Rhine & Rhone?
LOOKING DOWN THE ROAD
I set a soft goal (resolution?) to try and get my remaining unplayed games played this year. There aren’t too many on the unplayed list:
* Acquire (low interest - I have a copy for vintage purposes mostly)
* Brutal Kingdom - I bought this on a whim and didn’t really do my homework. Given the player count and style I’m not likely to get this to the table ever. Feels really overwrought for what it is.
* Condottiere - Also bought on a whim. I’m hoping to get this to table. Feels like a great, tight blending of incremental trick-taking and area scoring.
* Domaine - Bought this at a garage sale year. This is great seeming abstract-ish game, based on my solo-play and learning the rules. Feels like it occupies a similarish design space as T&E/Y&Y, as a complex spatial abstract with a layer of theming on top.
* Fabled Fruit - I bought this as a drafting/deck-ish building game (mostly) for the kids, hoping the theme would be of interest to them. But every time I pull it out and suggest we give it a try it gets the vacant stare of disapproval. Might need to go on the purge pile...
* Mission: Red Planet - Benn sitting on the shelf for a while now, sadly. I love Bruno Cathala and Bruno Faidutti games and this one looks like a great combination of elements. I just need to push this one a little to get it to the table.
* Monad - Odd little Sid Jackson relic. No intention or great urge to get it to the table. Mostly have as a collection item.
* Pocket Mars - Purchased as part of homework on other Mars-related games. Seems like a cool, quick playing design. But somehow doesn’t seem all that exciting, so it might be a tougher sell getting it to the table.
* Tea Dragon Society Card Game - Another one the kids don’t seem too interested in playing. I think they’ll like it if I can catch them in the right mood. The game is designed to be played “open hand” which should make it pretty easy to teach. I love the theme and artwork.
* Via Nebula - Picked this up in a math trade, after eyeballing it for a long time. This is kinda-sorta a super streamlined train game but presented via (no pun intended?) a completely different theme. The kids love the artwork and the piggy-meeples. Hoping to play this soon.
* Werewolves of Miller’s Hollow - Not likely to play this anytime soon. Grabbed it for $1 at a garage sale. I think I’d also chose to play Mascarade (different game style I know), over something like this. Could be good to hold onto for the right moment though. Maybe a fun campfire activity with the whole family?
Beyond the unplayed stuff, there are plenty of games I want to get back to the table. A Study in Emerald is #1 on that list. I only played it once (and loved it), so need to bring it back with more people. I’d like to get some games of Tigris & Euphrates in again soon for comparative purposes, and I’d also like to revisit Glen More, which I haven't played in quite some time. Oh, and Inca Empire (aka Catan on steroids). And so many more..
So many games, so little time. Cheers until next time!