Here’s my newest quarterly listing of games I’ve played recently that I’d never played before. As usual, this list tends to focus on brand-new games, but on occasion the odd older game shows up that I just hadn’t tried out before. This time around there was a little glut of games in the 2007-2008 range.
I’m happy to have seen a couple of terrific releases (Village and Small World: Realms) which made the Summer a great time to be gaming. Sadly, there were also two total failures in D-Day Dice and (very belatedly) World War 5.
Everything is arranged in approximate ranking of personal like, from most to least.
Village (2012). A worker placement and resource management game. Some of the initial reports of Village suggested it was pretty cool for its SimVillage-like play. You send off family members to apprentice with crafts people, to become monks, to join the city council, and to journey across Europe. I’d have to agree, that’s pretty cool — though when you play it you’ll see that it’s not so much a simulation as a theme that comes through really well. However, I also loved the ways that Village varies from most worker-placement games. Most notably, you tend to leave your workers at places on the board where they continually give you benefits from round to round. Beyond that, it feels like there are a lot of paths to victory and there are a lot of different game systems pushing you in different ways (e.g., the way you gather resources might suggest one move while your other needs might suggest another). Village manages to bring this all together, so that I’m not suprised that it’s won a few awards already.
Small World: Realms (2012). An expansion to Small World that allows for the freeform creation of game boards. In my opinion, Days of Wonder is the company that’s figured out best how to supplement their games. Their expansions aren’t just manageable (a problem for games like Carcassonne), but they’re also sometimes great. This is one of those times. If Realms just provided tiles that allowed you to create freeform maps for Small World, that would have been pretty cool on its own. But it also lays out whole scenarios, some of which include variant rules that totally changed the game. To date, I’ve played two of them, and both allowed for a totally different Small World experience — which is pretty amazing for a game I’ve played quite a bit. [ Full Review: 5/5 ]
Dominion: Dark Ages (2012). An expansion to Dominion that has (of course) more cards. Of all the Dominion boxes, this may be the most complex because it changes up the way that starting hands work (as you now have a variety of semi-useful cards instead of estates) and the way that the kingdoms decks work (as you have knights which contain a variety of powers and decks like hermits that only come into play when other decks appear). And that doesn’t even touch upon the biggest mechanic of the expansion: a whole ecology of trashing. Generally, I liked it a lot. The cards were weird and different and offered up interesting new strategies. Also, unlike flacid themes such as Hinterlands (what’s that even supposed to mean!?), this one worked. Nonetheless, Dark Ages couldn’t rise above the rating of “good” because I’ve seen Dominion expansions many (many) times before.
Aeroplanes: Aviation Ascendant (2012). A logistical game of building planes and airports to transport passengers. In many ways, this felt like an archetypical Martin Wallace game. You have quick-moving rounds of actions where you’re constantly playing brinkmanship with the other players, trying to get passengers, planes, and airports ahead of them. At the same time, you’re trying to manage money well and precisely. I thought it worked well and I thought it had meaningful decisions, but I didn’t love it. But then I often feel a bit cold toward economic and logistical games.
Perry Rhodan: The Cosmic League (2007). A two-player pickup and deliver game. You’re jetting up and down the solar system throughout the game, trying to pick up appropriate goods and drop them off as fast as possible. On the one hand it felt very abstract to me, without a lot of color. On the other hand the tactics were interesting and there were definitely clever things to be done. I think I ended up classifying it as “mostly harmless” — something that I don’t mind playing, but that won’t satisfy my gaming hunger either.
Cthulhu Fluxx (2012). A random game of card management. If you don’t like Fluxx — and if you’re reading this blog, you probably don’t — you can move right on. If you do like Fluxx, this is more of the same. On the upside, the theme comes across well, and it’s fun to play cards like “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” and “The Elder Sign”. On the downside, these cards are really complex, with more text on them than I’ve seen in any other Fluxx game, and that really doesn’t plan to Fluxx’s strength. Since I love Lovecraftian things, I would have rated this a fair amount higher if not for all the squinting to read small rules on cards.
Empire Express (2012). A simplified variant of Mayfair’s classic Empire Builder crayon rail games. If you have any chance of liking this game, you probably already know what it’s all about: in the Empire Builder games, you layout somewhat freeform rail lines so that you can pickup and deliver goods. Empire Express shortens things somewhat by making the victory conditions more attainable and cutting out the idea of upgrading your train. It also offers up some terrific usability increases with new demand cards containing maps. I’m still not sure things are fast enough for me personally, but I’m more likely to play this Empire Builder game than any other in my colleciton.
Legacy: The Gears of Time (2012). A time-travel game of resource management and majority control. I’ve long wished for the perfect time-travel game. It’s generally one of my favorite science-fiction genres, while in the gaming world it offers the opportunity for a real sort of non-linearity where cause literally need not precede effect. Legacy takes better advantage of the idea than most games, since it’s all about placing inventions in a timeline, ensuring that there’s enough time for an invention’s precedents to come before it (e.g., you need fire before electronics) but not enough time for some devious time traveller to jump in and invent your invention before you do! So, why didn’t I love it? The placement of control markers on the inventions is a lot less thematic than the invention placement. More notably, the board became really hard to read toward the end of the game, as you tried to figure out which inventions were properly supported in which eras along a very complex and full time line. Better usability, if possible, would definitely make this at least a good game.
7 Wonders: Cities (2012). An expansion to 7 Wonders. I’ve been down on the 7 Wonders expansions from the start, because they’ve seemed grossly overpriced to me, given the content-to-price ratio. Having played (and bought) it I now think that Cities was even more overpriced than Leaders because Leaders at least added something major to the game (basically: a totally new way to strategize based on an initial hand of leader cards). In comparison, what did Cities add? A new type of card that makes you go, “So What?” and two mechanics. The ability to stay out of conflicts is mostly harmless, but the ability to make everyone else lose money actually seemed to make the game less fun for some percentage of the players.
Eaten by Zombies (2011). A deckbuilding game of surviving the zombie apocalypse. This game just drips with theme, as zombies constantly stack up and you either kill them or flee. Quite intriguingly, your deck is also a measure of your life force: when you run out of cards you die — and then get to bedevil the other players for the rest of the game. I love the theming and I love the original ideas, but I also found the game a bit fragile and a bit susceptible to group think. If you don’t kill zombies, the whole game can be put on hold. Worse, the game has the potential to really drag if things don’t get pushed over that tipping point where the zombies become too much to deal with. Still, an interesting addition to the deckbuilding genre. [ A Deckbuilding Look at Eaten by Zombies ]
Age of Discovery (2007). A logistical and economic game of traveling and trading. As I already said when discussing Aeroplanes, economic and logistical games don’t tend to be my favorites. Beyond that, this one felt kind of bland. My biggest impression of it is huge masses of ship cards spread out the entire playing surface. Beyond that, it’s got a by-now hackneyed decision point — use ships to generate revenues or victory points. It also felt like there was a real rush for VPs at the end, with he who went first winning (as long as he didn’t go too early). So, kind of dry, kind of repetitive, and not that amazing. Maybe it was cooler when it came out five years ago.
Pergamemnon (2011). A miniature deckbuilding game of ancient conflict. I really wanted to love this game. It’s got great theming, individualized decks, and lots of fun extensions to the deckbuilding genre. Unfortunately, it fails badly in its development, including a turn order mechanic that doesn’t work and decks that seem pretty unbalanced. This makes me shy away from an otherwise interesting game. [ A Deckbuilding Look at Pergamemnon ]
D-Day Dice (2012). A dice-rolling co-op game. I am generally not convinced that Kickstarter is a good thing for the board game industry. Sure, it helps companies get cash flow to produce things — which over on the roleplaying side of things is doing a great job of reviving the hobby. But unfortunately on the board-gaming side of the fence, it’s allowing games to get published without proper development — a classic “indie” problem (and probably Pergamemnon’s problem too). Thus you get something like D-Day Dice which has some great ideas (I love the way that it’s a resource-management game that still allows for exciting dice rolls with its matching red, white and blue bonuses), but ultimately fails as a game. In the case of D-Day Dice, it’s too easy to share resources, it’s too hard to let your team down, there’s nothing to really obscure future choices, and there oddly isn’t enough randomness. Without any of those options, it really doesn’t work as a co-op game.
World War 5 (2008). Alledgedly, a mini-Risk game, using Looney Lab’s Icehouse pyramids. I wanted to love this, but after the board position had matured, it turned into a 100% random dice-fest. Which I have to admit sounds a lot like RIsk … but not like an actual good game. Unlike some of the other games I gave misses too, I really didn’t think World War 5 had any redeeming elements when you came down to it. It was so simple and abstract that when the combat failed, there was nothing left.