Back in my earliest days of writing board game blogs, I opined upon the 70 new games I’d played in 2005 in an article full of mini-reviews.
I’ve decided to revisit this topic here in Mechanics & Meeples. Thus, this is the first of a series of mini-review articles where I’m going to give quick synopses and impressions of games that I played for the first time in the preceding months. This article covers the first half of this year, from January to June.
I was somewhat surprised when writing this to discover that only two of the new-to-me games dated from earlier than 2011 and only one from earlier than 2010. I generally feel like I’ve escaped the cult of the new, but clearly it’s still a major focus in my gameplaying.
I’ve generally listed games in descending order of my interest. That doesn’t mean a game is necessarily good or bad, just that it does or doesn’t fit my gaming tastes.
Interestingly, two of these “great” games (Lords of Waterdeep and Epic Spell Wars) won me over almost largely on theme while two others (Kingdom Builder and Hawaii) won me over almost entirely on mechanics.
Lords of Waterdeep (2012). A worker placement game of gathering heroes to take on quests. I think that looking just at the mechanics, Lords might have been a pretty average worker placement game. However, it’s the theme that really makes the game stand-out. It mimics the themes of Dungeons & Dragons perfectly, and places them in a euro-game package.
Kingdom Builder (2011). A house placement game, where you’re trying to achieve a handful of victory conditions while working against the very constrained placement rules of the game. Kingdom Builder won me over almost immediately, because it played quickly, it was short, and it had a high degree of variability (thanks to the boards, special powers, and victory conditions all changing from game to game). I played it twice in a row on my second time-out, which is almost unheard of. Kingdom Builder‘s biggest flaw is that it’s painfully abstract.
Hawaii (2012). A resource management game where you move around Hawaii to pick up buildings that either improve your lot during the game or give you victory points. I purchased this game mainly due to the theming. I thought it’d go well near Tongiaki. To a certain extent, I feel like it’s a Franken-euro, without a huge amount that’s new or innovative. However, it’s a very tight game, and it’s got a very interesting tactical feel, as you decide how many feet and shells to spend on each of your turns, after your opponents have messed up your previous plans. I also like the (very limited) creativity of placing tiles down to form your own villages, and appreciate that it uses a cardboard right-angle, just like Vikings.
Neuroshima Hex! (2006). A tactical combat game of tile placement. I ignored this game for years, figuring that it was just another war-ish game. Then I saw it played a couple of weeks ago and I was wowed. Basically, you pull tiles from the bag and place them on the board, and each of them has very constrained (and unique) interactions with a few of the tiles around it. Tiles can improve other tiles (if they’re yours) or attack them (if they belong to your opponents). When I realized that Neuroshima Hex! was actually a clever tactical game whose wargaming was mostly theme, that’s when it became a great game to me.
Epic Spell Wars (2012). A take-that card game of killing your opponents. There are some clever mechanics in this game, such as the ability to put together a spell from three parts and the fact that you generally attack random (or at least arbitrary) opponents. The latter does a particularly good job of taking away some of the unfairness of take-that play. However, it’s the theming that really wins me over here, which is totally ove- the-top OSR (Old School Renaissance). [ Full Review: 5/5 ]
Mundus Novus (2011). A card trading game of set collection. This is pretty much a game based on one neat mechanic: you set out some cards as offerings and other people get to take them. It’s based on a similar system from Mare Nostrum and I think comes off better here, minus all the cruft of a larger game. Generally a fine filler that’s fun to play, but shallow enough as to not (quite) hit my “Great” list.
Takenoko (2011). An action game where you’re trying to satisfy specific goals drawn as cards. This one reminds me the most of Ticket to Ride, because you’re similarly drawing cards that tell you what to do. Mind you, there’s a lot more going on here, with tile laying, bamboo growth, and the movement of a few different figures. I want to absolutely adore this game, but it feels like there’s nothing new to it, so it just hits my “Good” list.
Locke & Key: The Game (2012). An auction game where you’re collecting valuable cards. In this game, you’re pretty simply trying to win the auctions that earn you the most victory points. The interest in the game comes from the way the auctions are laid out; they constrain what sort of currency you can use, and also limit you to just three cards. In addition, group dynamics can make it either possible or impossible to win an auction. The fact that some of the cards have interesting effects just adds to the fun, as does the special-power deck of keys. Like Mundus Novus, the game is somewhat shallow. It actually tends toward “filler” territory, but it’s an enjoyable filler. [ Full Review: 4/4 ]
Venture Forth (2012). A fantasy-themed game where you gain VPs by helping out characters in their individual missions. It’s practically an adventure game, with your gathering together a group of adventures and having them wander around, but it’s still a euro design. For the most part I loved the design, but there are elements of it that are sufficiently abstract or staid that it doesn’t always get my full attention when I’m choosing game to play. [ Full Review:5/5 ]
The Manhattan Project (2012). A worker placement game of making bombs. This is generally an innovative worker placement game that’s got some strong mechanics and also some great theming (with everything from yellow cake to bomb making). There’s also a bit of take-that warfare which you’ll either like or not. I generally found it an excellent game that’s only lower on my personal list because it ran a bit longer than I like. [ Full Review: 5/5 ]
Santiago de Cuba (2011). A resource management game played on a big roundel, where you’re scoring victory points mainly by creating and then shipping goods. This is an interesting game of roundel actions, where you move the marker one space ahead on your turn, then take a specific action for the space and a second action from a trio of related spaces. It’s pretty simple, but it does allow some tactical thought. It also gets a bit repetitive as the game goes on. Still, I’m willing to play it as a filler (though I think Havana is a considerably better filler in this little family of games).
Penny Arcade: The Game (2011). A deckbuilding game of collecting valuable cards. Generally, a simplistic and generic deckbuilder (mechanically) that has some very funny theming thanks to Penny Arcade. I doubt I’d put it down in preference to my favorite deckbuilders (Dominion, Ascension), but I wouldn’t reject it if it were offered either. [ Full Review: 4/4 ]
Onirim (2010). A two-player co-op game where you’re trying to open doors. I really only have the vaguest impression of this game, because it was 10 or 15 minutes play early one gaming day. I thought it had very beautiful artwork, and the co-op goals were simplistic but difficult. If I was playing 2-players more right now, I might rate it up.
Upon a Salty Ocean (2011). A resource management and finances game where you’re trying to turn your money into more money, then into victory points earned throughout a city. This is a game that largely exited my mind after playing it, other than the vague impression that I had to do lots of math throughout the game to figure out what the best moves were. In general, I tend to tune out of games a bit as the calculatory requirement increases, and this was the case here (though I think I won). It had some attractive elements, like buying limited spaces available in town buildings, but overall it wouldn’t be at the top of my list to play.
Kingdom of Solomon (2012). A worker-placement and resource-management game. This game has an interesting resource production phase that combines building up your particular areas with some brinkmanship. Also, there’s some nice trading and building of VP-worthy buildings. None of it’s super original, but it’s put together well. Unfortunately, I also had some problems with the game’s development, primarily centered on the endgame, and that’s what’s most likely to prevent me from playing again. [ Full Review: 4/4 ]
Giza: The Great Pyramid (2012). Yet another worker-placement game, this one focusing on workers gathering materials, then using them to build the Great Pyramid. I actually thought it was quite a fine design, but it was another one that was too mathy/calculatory for me, which limited my personal desire for replay. [ Full Review: 4/4 ]
Rocket Jockey (2012). A heavily logistical game of pick-up and deliver, played with cards. I found this filler-length tactical game to go beyond being a brain burner. It requires really serious thinking about what cards to pick up and play to optimize scoring, all during your turn while everyone else watches. It wasn’t fun for me. [ Full Review: 3/3 ]
A Fistful of Penguins (2011). A dice game. It seems to involve rerolling again and again and again. We burned out on it quickly, before even finishing a game. Too bad, as it had nice penguins.
Not for Me
Unlike the other sections, which are all ranked, I’ve just alphabetized the comments in this section. These games are all here because I think they’re brilliant in different ways, but they’re not the sorts of games I play,
Catan Junior (2012). A kid’s version of The Settlers of Catan. This game does a very good job of simplifying Catan game systems by minimizing choices, to give youngsters a decent chance of not just playing, but winning. Older players will find it a little over-constrained, but will probably be willing to play an occasional game with youngsters. Since I don’t have youngsters, I’ve passed on my (review) copy of this game to someone who does. [ Full Review: 5/4 ]
A Few Acres of Snow (2011). A deckbuilding-driven game of warfare and resource management. Generally, this felt a lot like many of Wallace’s more complex games that combine these two elements. The deckbuilding is brilliant, but the warfare just dragged on for me. I know there are folks who will hail it as the second coming, but it just wasn’t for me. I’ve got a deckbuilding article on this game scheduled for the end of the month.
A Game of Thrones: The Board Game, Second Edition (2011). A euro-style game of warfare. I thought this game was brilliant in its first edition for its terrific combination of an American-style game with Euro-mechanics, as well as its terrific adaptation of A Song of Ice & Fire. The second edition plays even better and significantly reduces the play time, which was the first edition’s biggest problem. I don’t play many war games, however, nor games in the 1.5-3 hour length.