board game extravaganza 2 (April)

I went to Mind Games in April, at which judges play at least 30 games and vote on their favorites. On Sunday morning, votes are tallied, and five games are heralded as winners with the right to put the Mensa Select seal on their game. This was my fourth year going, and it was a lot of fun to see old friends, meet new people, and play LOTS. OF. GAMES. The winners this year were Amalgam, Around the World in 80 Days, Clank!, Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle, and Imagine. I didn’t play Clank!, and I had played Hogwarts Battle at the other convention (and it wasn’t on my ballot this time), but I played so many other games. I promise I like more games than just those I win. I know you’re curious about my thoughts on the games, so here goes:

  • Amalgam: Players amass collections of cards by moving around the outside of the “board”, made from cards. We didn’t do much backstabbing of each other, but there is that element to it. I enjoyed the game, and the art was really nice. It was one of the winners, and I think that was in part due to how easy it was to learn and play.
  • Around the World in 80 Days: In this game, you walk a fine line between getting money to move forward and making sure you get rid of most of your money by the end. I didn’t find it particularly interesting, but other people seemed to like it a lot, as it won.
  • Imagine: This is kind of charades with cards. On your turn, you get a phrase, and you then take transparent cards with images on them and try to get other people to guess it. This was a winning game, but I didn’t think much of it. Maybe I was playing with the wrong people, but we really struggled to get the phrases.
  • Betabotz: Each player starts with a robot that has certain characteristics, and you build up your bot with component cards. There is a mission phase where players either team up or try to accomplish it alone. This was one of my favorite games of the weekend, in part because of the competitive element where you can try to screw other players out of their mission.
  • Harald: This is played with cards, where every player has a village in front of them, and the king’s council in the middle. Each turn, you play a card in the middle and a card in front of you, and you can take the action on your card, which manipulates cards in various places on the table. I enjoyed this game; it seemed like a light filler game.
  • Salem: A social deduction game, kind of like Clue with more player interaction, where you try to figure out which 3 of 7 characters are witches. We played with five players, which was not ideal, because the rules didn’t specify how the game was supposed to end (it said how it was supposed to end with six and seven players). But it was fun enough. One guy who played with us forgot which of his characters were witches, which threw me off, and I teased him about it the rest of the weekend.
  • The Networks: In this game, players are TV network executives, trying to have the best lineup. Over five rounds, players hire stars, accept ads, and buy shows. At the end of each round, you get points based on income. Now that I’m writing it out, it’s very simplistic, but it was moderately fun. We only played two seasons of it, which was plenty.
  • The Great Dragon Race: This game is pretty, but… it’s like Candyland with cards. The goal is to get to the end first. There are safe zones where you can’t be stolen from or moved, but it’s just too simplistic for me.
  • Gravity’s Edge: This is a spatial reasoning game! There are always one or two of these each year, and they’re a nice change of pace. This one has weighted bird-like pieces that start in baskets. On each turn, you take a bird and put it higher up on a branch. The one who makes it fall over loses. The birds are different sizes and weights, so it’s a fun physics puzzle.
  • Gene Pool: In this game, you’re a genetic researcher trying to do research. You’re both manipulating the same series of cards representing bases in DNA. A and C are on opposite ends of a card, and T and G are on opposite ends of another card. Each turn, you can take a research card or gene card or manipulate the cards in the middle. It’s a pretty easy game, but it is cute and can be fun.
  • Rocky Road a la Mode: Totally not creepy, players are ice cream trucks trying to serve customers. On your turn, you draw cards and/or fulfill orders for customers. Victory points are gained by serving customers and getting the right collections of fulfilled orders. It’s cute, though it lends itself to a lot of awkward jokes. And the pictures of the ice cream truck owners are a little creepy.
  • Welcome Back to the Dungeon: This game pits heroes against monsters. You have a collective hero who has weapons and sidekicks, and on your turn, you add monsters to the dungeon, or you discard the monster and a weapon/sidekick. Eventually, the players pass, and the last one standing goes into the dungeon alone with the remaining weapons/sidekicks. The game ends after a player has a certain number of victories in the dungeon. We played with two players, and it wasn’t awesome. Might be better with more players.
  • Exeo Duo: This was the only strictly two-player game I played. It’s a straight-up strategy game where you move pieces on two sides of the board and try to get them to mirrored spots in the same turn. You can “push” your opponent’s pieces in some circumstances, which gives a good defensive strategy to think about. It’s a thinking game that can be played fairly quickly.
  • Kanagawa: This is such a pretty game. Players are painters in their studios, and you paint parts of a work or add skills. You get points based on features on your paintings, how many parts of the painting you have, and victory points on the cards. It’s fun, fairly quick, and pretty.
  • Karmaka: This game is about achieving transcendence. Players play cards either as “deeds” (for the number value) or for their actions, which are frequently attack cards. When a player has enough points, they are reincarnated at the next level. The first to get to the final level wins. It’s a fun enough game, depending on the amount of backstabbing.
  • Sea of Clouds: Really enjoyed this game, surprisingly. The theme was great (sky pirates), and it played quickly enough. You try to collect cards that are objects, rum, pirates, or artifacts, and you engage in battles periodically through the game. It was fun, though perhaps that’s because I won.
  • Ninja Camp: This was a cute themed game with cards laid out in a grid and places their ninjas on cards. Players get points by moving their ninjas around (according to cards in your hand). The game ends when there are no legal moves left. The idea is that you are trying to improve your ninjas’ abilities by gaining cards which allow them to move in different ways. It’s fun, but it plays a lot faster than you would think.
  • Grifters: Each player has a team with which they try to do jobs, getting bonuses for doing multiple ones of the same type. When you use a member of your team, or multiple members, they are out of commission for three rounds (three nights). Each card has a symbol on it which is necessary for a certain job. It was one of the more fun games over the weekend. I think I’m doing a bad job of explaining it.
  • Hoard: In this game, you try to get treasure before the dragon wakes. You move around the board after rolling a die, look at a card, decide whether to take it, and, if you do, replace it with a new card that you look at first. You can play cards to wake up the dragon or put it back to sleep. It’s played over a number of rounds. Points are awarded based on collections of treasure cards and dragon cards. I enjoyed it.
  • Honeycombs: This is kind of like Bananagrams with hexagonal tiles. We played the basic game, where you match up each side of a tile to a matching icon on another tile. Points are gained by matching pairs and completely encircling a tile. It’s cute, but though I won, I’m not sure I’d want to play much more of it.
  • Sedis: This was kind of similar to Honeycombs, but with more of a challenge. Each side has a possibility for five pips, with a max of three filled in. You get points by matching up pips on sides. It was a long game, and it could use a timer, because both of us spent a long time trying to get more than three points in any single move. Our scores tracked each other pretty closely, getting no more than three points apart, and I’m not sure whether that was because of the nature of the game or the thought we put into it. I don’t know how much replay value it has, but I’d like to try it again.
  • The Refuge: Zombies! Are zombies still cool? Players try to get across a field while avoiding zombies and trying to screw over other players by spawning zombies near them. It’s pretty simple, and winning wasn’t very satisfying.
  • Exposed: This is a simple, quick game where players try to take wallets from passengers and avoid being found out. The characters are laid out in a grid, each one gets a wallet piece on it, and a certain number of characters are designated as “marks”. On your turn, you can move characters around, take a wallet from a character near yours, or accuse characters of being thieves. It’s an okay game, and it moves quickly, which makes it better.
  • Pyramid Arcade: 22 games in 1! The pieces are 24 sets of 3 nested pyramids each. We played the Volcano option. In that one, you force “eruptions” and capture pieces by stacking the same size pyramids on top of each other. It was fun, and I wish I had had more time to explore the other games. I liked the concept.
  • Rhino: This is a trick-taking game where the hand size decreases and then increases. Players bid on how many tricks they will take, and they can use tokens to modify their bids and gain additional points. It’s themed to be a photo safari, and the tokens are different animals. I like the hand size changes, which increases the challenge of getting the right bids, but it wasn’t a terribly interesting game.
  • Pups: Like Rhino, this is a trick-taking game where players bid on how many tricks they will take. The only thing that really sets this game apart is the artwork. I think Kickstarter backers submitted pictures of their dogs for the art, and I know the mutts were the game designer’s dogs. It was cute but not original.

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