New to Me: Summer 2017 — The Season of the Expansions

I love returning to my favorite games and playing them in new ways. That means that I’m usually a fan of expansions, and I played a good number of them this summer. But, there were new games too, including a surprising number of variants on old mechanics — whether they be Poker resolution or classic deckbuilding. As usual, this is a listing of games according to how much I like them, as a medium-weight euro-gamer, and they’re new to me (although I was pleased to play a lot that were just flat-out new this time around).

The Great

Hocus (2016). I am not a fan of Texas Hold’em, which I consider a bluffing exercise with probability memorization thrown in. Sure, you can be better at it than other people, but I don’t find it a fun game, or even a game. And, Hocus uses Texas Hold’em mechanics … but I love it.

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A Deckbuilding Look at Witches of the Revolution

Witches of the Revolution (2017) is the newest game to combine deckbuilding and cooperative play. Rune Age (2011) is the oldest game I know in this duo-genre, but it used the tack of taking an existing game and offering cooperative gameplay as a variant, and the results were somewhat lack-luster. We’ll have to see if Star Realms (2014) and Hero Realms (2016) do better, as they both have cooperative scenarios on the way. However, Aeon’s End (2016) offered a different methodology: a pure co-op build on the deckbuilding mechanic. Witches of the Revolution continues that trend.


The Game

In Witches of the Revolution the object is to resolve events before too many pile up, ending your game prematurely. You do so by playing cards, each of which has two or more icons on it. When you put together a large-enough set of icons, you resolve the event card. There’s an important second step: whenever you remove an event card, you also get to remove a matching chit from one of your four objectives. If you manage to finish up all four of your objectives before you’re killed by events, you win.

However, those cards are multi-purpose, and that’s where the deckbuilding comes in. Instead of using a card to help with events, you can instead use it to buy cards. These go into your draw pile and will help you on future turns.

Because I’m looking at the deckbuilding aspect of the game, I’m only going to note the co-op play as it interrelates with the deckbuilding; focusing on the co-op itself would be a whole different article.

So what does Witches’ deckbuilding do, that’s interesting or troublesome? Continue reading

What Makes a Real Science-Fiction Game?

Ten years ago, I wrote an article called “Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror, Part One: A History and Ten Top Games”, which discussed some top science-fiction games. Looking back, it’s shocking how inadequate the science-fiction market was at the time. Two of the “top” games I mentioned, Diceland (2003) and Light Speed (2003) were quite small press. Two others, Blue Moon (2004) and Blue Moon City (2006), trended more toward science fantasy — or even pure fantasy. Mission Red Planet (2005) was the only mainstream game from my list with strong science fiction themes. There were some others of course, with Starfarers of Catan (1999) being the most obvious, but as a whole science-fiction games were pretty scant ten years ago, especially among pure Euros.

Fast forward a decade. I recently spent an evening where I played Star Realms (2014) followed by The Captain is Dead (2014, 2016)A few months ago it was a couple of games of Jump Drive (2017) followed by Galaxy Trucker (2007). There have also been games of Colony (2016), Master of Orion (2016)Roll for the Galaxy (2014), and others. In other words, science fiction games have gotten really big in the eurogame space — in large part due to non-German designers.

Obviously, science-fiction theming gives these games different façades. But a game’s genre should be deeper than that: it should determine the mechanics of the game, and ideally those should be mechanics that wouldn’t be possible in any other genre. So today I ask: what makes a real science-fiction game?

I’m going to take a look at several popular games that I’m familiar with to answer that question. I’ve purposefully avoided licensed offerings, as they obviously have very different reasons for their theming.

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Return to Pathfinder Adventure Card Game II: Skull, Wrath, and Mask

It’s three years later, and I’m still playing Pathfinder Adventure Card Game. With a total of 87 plays (including 39 of the original Rise of the Runelords game), it’s on the verge of surpassing Dominion as my most-played deckbuilder. During those three years, Paizo has also released three new adventure paths for PACG — essentially, three different games using the same core systems. So this week I’m going to look at each of these variants and see how each has changed the deckbuilder genre, for better or for worse — or alternatively how they changed the other major aspects of PACG’s gameplay, which fall into the cooperative gaming and adventure gaming genres. If you’d like to read my previous articles on PACG, take a look at A Deckbuilding Look at Pathfinder Adventure Card Game and Return to Pathfinder Adventure Card Game — The Campaign. Continue reading

A Bagbuilding Look at Automobiles

I long ignored Automobiles (2016) because I thought it was just a variation of the simplistic deckbuilder train game, Trains (2012).

Nope.

I was fooled by AEG’s Trains-Plains-and-Automobiles (“Destination Fun”) branding, which is actually three different games with three different mechanics. Except Automobiles is a bagbuilding game, so it actually is in the same category of gameplay as Trains, and even offers the same mix of relatively simple ***building play with a physical board.

The Game

In Automobiles,you’re racing cars around a track. Each turn, you pull some cubes from the bag, and use those to your benefit. White, gray, and black cubes move you around the track in specific lanes — but they also give you worthless brown wear cubes. Special blue, green, purple, red, and yellow vary their effects from game to game and tend to give you improved movement on the track, improved purchasing power, or the ability to junk those annoying wear cubes.

Each turn you’ll use some of your cubes to buy new cubes and some for their special powers. The ultimate object is to get around the track faster than your opponents.

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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