New to Me: Spring 2017 — So Much Co-op!

I’ve co-authored a pretty extensive book on the design of cooperative games. (It’s currently seeking a publisher.) As a result, I’m usually quick to suggest a new co-op game hit the table … and a lot of them did this Spring. Sadly, I thought most of them were bad!

in any case, this is my listing of new-to-me games played this Spring. As usual, they’re evaluated by my personal likes, not their intrinsic quality. 

The Very Good

Kingdomino (2016). This Bruno Cathala game is a short and simple filler. You essentially draft domino-tiles, with your draft order based on the quality of your last tile: the better the tile you pick, the later you’ll go in the next draft!

The object is to build your tiles (which depict terrains and victory point multipliers for those terrains) into huge groups to score maximal points.

There’s not a lot of complexity here: you take a tile, your place a tile. Nonetheless, the game is a lot of fun and places very nicely fast. This may be because I always like creative games of this sort. However, there’s also just enough choice to keep the game interesting. It’s a fine little filler. (In fact, it almost made my great listing.) Continue reading

What Makes 10 Great Games Great

I’ve been keeping track of my games played for almost fourteen full years. That means that I have a pretty robust listing of games that have worked well enough to get numerous replays from me over the years. They represent a set of great games, with features that any would-be great game could endeavor to repeat. So this week I’m going to go through my listing of those top games and offer my opinions on either of their best features — the ones that make them so worth playing and replaying. Continue reading

Deck Management is the New Roundel

It’s been over a decade now since Mac Gerdts produced Antike (2005). Its core mechanic was simple but innovative: allow players to take actions for their turns, but place all of those actions in a circle (on a rondel). Then, limit how far a player can advance on the rondel each turn. In Antike, you usually move just 1-3 spaces on the 8-space roundel, but you can spend resources for more advancement.

This limits players how often players can take specific actions. The result is an interesting puzzle of play. How can you successfully combine together several disparate actions to make a winning strategy? Do you streak around the rondel to get to the “good” actions more quickly, or you do slowly edge around to get a little of everything?

A designer can also have a lot of fun with the rondel, choosing whether to put the same action on multiple spaces (such as the duplication of the “maneuver” action in Antike) and choosing how to arrange all of the spaces to maximize efficiency, to maximize player frustration, or toward some other goal.

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A Deckbuilding Look at Valley of the Kings

Valley of the Kings is an older game from AEG that’s one of the smaller deckbuilders, coming in at just 96 cards. Though a lot of its mechanics look familiar, there’s also enough variation to keep things new and interesting.

Valley of the King already has two standalone expansions: Afterlife and Last Rites.

The Game

In Valley of the Kings (2014), the object is to leave behind a great tomb. Much of the basic play is what you’d expect. You play cards for either special actions or for gold, which is used to buy additional cards. However, each turn you can also “entomb” one card: you basically filter it out of play.

The catch in Valley of the Kings is that your entombed cards make up all your points. And, it’s entombed sets of cards that really score. If you entomb a bunch of different cards all in the same set, then you score a bunch of points! Continue reading

New to Me: Winter 2017 — The Card Games

I was happy to see a number of actual 2017 games hit the table this winter. Quite a few of them were, surprisingly, card games instead of full board games. As usual this is a list of games that are new to me, and and as usual this listing ranks them by how much I personally like them, as a medium-weight eurogamer.

The Great

The Dresden Files Co-op Card Game (2017). I’ve actually been playing this one for over a year through numerous prototypes, the designer is a friend, and I love the Dresden Files novels, so caveat reader. But with all that said, I honestly love this game.

DFCO is a cooperative game where you have a case laid out for you as an array of problems: cases to solve, foes to fight, obstacles to overcome, and advantages to take. You have to figure out how to work through the cards that have been laid out, in order to defeat enough foes and solve enough cases to win the game. The co-op play comes through the facts that you’re jointly working on this puzzle and that you’re using a joint pool of resources to take your actions. This design is really unique among co-op games, and gives it much of its original feeling.

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The Design and Care of a Tile-Based City Builder

Tile-based city building games are among my favorites. That’s in large part due to the creativity that they introduce. I mean, I’m one of the generation that grew up with SimCity (1989), obliviously building until the sun began to flood into my college dorm room, suggesting that it was time to be off to bed. I love being able to put together the puzzle pieces of a city, and a good tile-based city builder lets you do that.

City TycoonThe General Shape of the Game

When I’m talking about tile-based city builders, I’m specifically limiting my consideration to game designs that meet several criteria:

  1. Obviously, they allow you to build cities out of tiles: usually square tiles, but occasionally hexes.
  2. Often, you’ll have your own city that you’re working on … but quite a few games instead have you contributing to to a joint city.
  3. The tiles that you place are complete and coherent buildings, businesses, residences, or other structures within a city. They’re not just parts of a whole.

There are probably hundreds of tile-based city games that I could have picked from in writing this article. I opted for the ones that I know the best, because I’ve played them. I’ve mostly focused on recent ones. My complete list for this article includes: Acquire (1964), Alhambra (2003), Between Two Cities (2015), Big City (1999)Carcassonne: The City (2004), Chinatown (1999), City Tycoon (2011), Key to the City: London (2016), Quadropolis (2016), Saint Malo (2012), Suburbia (2012), and Urbania (2012). Obviously I could have picked others (and I may expand this article in the future).  Continue reading

The Design of a Resource-Efficiency Game

A resource-efficiency game focuses on turning resources into victory points through a chain of actions. It’s a very common design style for euro games, but also one with considerable room for variety.

The recently released Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction (2016) shows the style at its simplest. You start out with worker resources. You turn those into yellow cake, which you turn into uranium, which becomes victory-point bombs. There’s a single development path for a four-link chain. The game is all in how fast you can walk that path.

Catan ConflictThe ever-popular Catan (1995) shows a different methodology. A variety of resources become roads, settlements, and cities. You can also look at this as a four-link chain: resources are necessary to create roads, which are necessary to build settlements, which in turn upgrade to cities. However, as with many more complex resource-efficiency games, there’s a feedback loop: settlements and cities can create more resources. Thus the game becomes not just about maximizing efficiency but also maximizing opportunities. Continue reading