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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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

A Bagbuilding Look at Orléans

Dominion (2008) kicked off a whole new genre of play: the deckbuilding games. But it’s also created a few spin-offs of its own, with Orléans (2014, 2015) being one of the more far-flung examples.

Styles of Building Play

Though Dominion is all about deckbuilding, a few variants of that core gameplay have appeared.

Deckbuilding. Dominion (2008) debuted the core idea of deckbuilding play. Players start with a deck of mediocre cards that allow them to undertake actions. Over the course of the game players add new, better cards to their deck and remove old, worse ones. Each turn, they’ll randomly draw some of those cards; hopefully they’ll be a coherent set that allows them to take great actions.

Dicebuilding. Quarriors (2011) was the first dicebuilding game. Here players instead start with a handful of dice and buy new ones to improve their dice pool over time. The randomness of the play is moved: where in a deckbuilding game, players draw random cards, in a dice building game, players instead roll random results. This somewhat constrains the randomness: where deckbuilding games tend to be binary (you get a result or not), dice building games tend to have more nuance (you get a result, but its level of effect varies). Dice building games are also theoretically simpler than deckbuilders, as you can’t fit complex effects on a dice face — but Quarriors fought against this limitation by linking dice to reference cards, which was a bit exhausting.

Of course Quarriers also involved a bag: you draw six dice from up to twelve in the bag each turn. But, it’s better to keep that aside for the moment, as the use of a bag defines the newest sort of *builder game … Continue reading

New to Me: Fall 2016 — A Key Quarter

Personally, Fall 2016 was the quarter when I started actively seeking out Richard Breese’s Key games, because of how much I liked Keyflower (2012). You’ll see a few of them on this list. More generally, it was a pretty OK quarter. Nothing stuck out as Great, though The Manhattan Project: Energy Empire (2016) was close, but there was also a lot of stuff that was Very Good. And, nothing was absolutely horrible.

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 Very Good

The Manhattan Project: Energy Empire (2016). One of my playing group asked me if we’d hit peak worker placement and my knee-jerk response was, “yes”. But honestly I’m not sure. We’re a long way out from Caylus (2005), but worker placement has become an almost defining element of eurogaming. I’d swear there were more eurgames with worker placement than not; if so, we may not have hit the peak yet.

Anywho, Energy Empire is a worker-placement game of energy production and resource management. It’s got several elements that set it aside as a unique design. First, you can use a global action space that someone else is occupying, you just have to spend extra energy to do so. Second, after you use a global action space, you can also use personal action spaces (which is the biggest similarity to the original Manhattan Project), as long as their categories match. Third, everyone refreshes their workers at different times (another similarity to the original game); now, it creates even more interesting dynamics for the global spaces, since you’re constantly stacking up more energy than what’s there already.

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New to Me: Fall 2015 — A Really Great Season

It was a really great season for board games. I played perhaps a few less games that were new-to-me than usual, but the recurring theme was that they were all good or better. OK, I played Exploding Kittens near the end-of-the-year because Christmas family gatherings … but not even that could bring down what was a season of fine games!

The Great

Pandemic Legacy ThumbnailPandemic Legacy — Season 1 (2015). Any discussion of the new Pandemic variant should begin with my belief that Pandemic itself is a great game. I count it as one of the three most influential and important co-op games. Arkham Horror (1987) mostly invented the genre and Lord of the Rings (2000) reinvented it for the modern day. However, it was Pandemic (2007) that made the genre accessible. It’s also a near pitch-perfect design with huge piles of difficulty and chaos, and its great replayability.

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