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new board games rundown

I spent the better part of five days last week playing the newest board games at a convention in Seattle. It was quite a change from the board game convention I usually go to, where players have about 40 hours to get through at least 30 games. This one was more relaxed time-wise, but the games were considerably more intense. I played a lot of “heavy” games, which took up to about five hours for one game. Altogether, I got through 27. The games were of a much higher caliber than my other convention too, so that made me happy.

Here’s the rundown of the games I played:

Gùgōng – Players swap cards with the board to take actions, including moving on tracks and placing workers. The play mechanism is straightforward, and there is enough variety on the board to keep any one person from getting too far ahead.
Underwater Cities – Players build… underwater cities. Those cities need to connect to the main city to score, and they can have buildings around them that provide additional resources. People were comparing it to Terraforming Mars, which I’ve never played, but I thought it was a good game with a lot of strategy.
Barrage – We played a demo copy of this game, which is currently on Kickstarter. The game is based on hydroelectricity, and players build dams and equipment, release water, and fulfill contracts requiring a certain amount of energy. This game was built around the theme instead of the other way around. Each player has a different board which optimizes a certain mechanic. One guy kind of ran away with it towards the end, but I think it would be more balanced if the rest of us had figured out our boards faster. I really enjoyed it, but our game was easily five hours to play. I think future games will go a lot faster.
Obsession – This is set in Victorian England on estates. People who don’t differentiate between centuries say that it’s Downton Abbey in boardgame form. Play takes place over sixteen rounds, four of which are just scoring rounds (“courtship” phases). Players try to increase their reputation, throw the best parties with the best guests, and build the best estates. The rules are a little dense and sprinkled across two rulebooks, but I thoroughly enjoyed the mechanics, and the theme is awesome. The downside is that luck can vary wildly in one of the decks, but the game designer took to BGG to offer up variants that mitigate the luck.
Tsukiji – Players wager to determine the market price of different kinds of fresh seafood, and then buy seafood to sell at the end of the game. It took us a couple rounds to figure out the strategy behind the wagering, where you can end up manipulating the price to increase or decrease victory points that each type will be worth at the end. It’s a light game with a lot of replay value, I think. I really enjoyed it.
Concordia Venus – It’s been many years since I played Concordia, and that was only once, but as we were playing this new game, I had a hard time thinking of how it was actually different from the original. It was fun enough, and I would definitely play again. I probably don’t need to add this to my collection though.
8Bit Box – The theme of the box is playing video games, and each game is a different one. We played 8Bit Pixoid, basically Pac-Man. One player played Pac-Man, the others ghosts. It was cute and light, and the design elements are really nice. Players use consoles with which they program movements. I don’t think I need the game, but I enjoyed it.
Fuji – This is a cooperative game where players are trying to escape from an erupting volcano without getting in each other’s way. We messed up a few times, inadvertently preventing each other from moving, but we won in the end. Like other co-ops, there are different levels to increase or decrease the difficulty.
Cerberus – This is a semi-cooperative game where you’re trying to escape from Hades. Players try to advance themselves and each other and fend off Cerberus, but if they’re caught, they become a servant of the three-headed dog and try to get the others. I got to play a corgi, complete with corgi meeple, and I was the first to fall. It’s a unique game, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. This would also make a good drinking game.
Cupcake Empire – So pink. So cute. I managed to get three guys to play with me, one of whom wanted to hide the rules so no one would see the pinkness. The play is straightforward, and there’s more strategy than luck, which is nice. It’s a very cute but surprisingly in-depth game that I would recommend if you like the theme.
Architects of the West Kingdom – Players collect resources that stack based on how many workers they already have there, and then use those resources to build cards out of their hand or build on the cathedral. It’s a fun game with a unique mechanism in how meeples are removed from the board. I’m not sure I need the game, but it was really good.
Symphony No. 9Players are patrons of musicians, trying to get compositions and have composers’ works performed. It’s a wagering game, with some backstabbing elements. I was really excited about the theme, but the game ended up not being as great as I wanted it to be.
Men at Work – Players are on a construction site, placing workers and girders. If a player causes an accident, another one cleans it up, hopefully without causing another one. It’s a dexterity game, and I dislike dexterity games.
Solenia – Players place their cards next to an airship that moves periodically. The game board itself moves after every turn. Players gather resources and fulfill contracts. It’s a simple game that moves quickly, though that means the board is in constant motion, which can be annoying. It was an okay game, but I wouldn’t play it regularly.
Forum Trajanum – Players compete to build their own Forums (Fora?) to meet conditions, gain area control on a central board, and hire workers to help boost their actions. It was a fun game, quite engaging, though it moved a little more slowly than I like. We did realize a couple days later that we had a rule wrong, and so we should have had a little more flexibility. I’d play it again, gladly.
Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra – Similar to last year’s hit, Azul, in Sintra, players collect colored squares to fill in stained glass windows this time. The catch is that the glass can’t just go anywhere, and it can take a turn to open up spots. It’s plenty of fun. I don’t need both, and honestly, it’s a toss-up as to whether I would recommend going with the original game or this one.
Captains of the Gulf – Players are shrimp boat captains in the Gulf of Mexico. This game makes it clear that the life of a shrimp boat captain is hard and frustrating. And possibly painfully slow-moving. The rondel was probably a pie wedge too big, the pie wedges were oddly ordered, and it was hard to get anything done or purchased. I don’t want to be a shrimp boat captain, IRL or in board game format again.
Railroad Ink: Deep Blue Edition – Players draw highways and railways with dry-erase markers based on the faces of dice, and the player who connects edges, makes continuous paths, and other such things wins. It was a different kind of game that was a nice break from the heavy Euros.
Dice Fishing: Roll and Catch – This was a cute wagering game with dice. Players bid how many dice they require to meet a condition (catching a fish might require a total of 13 with one of the dice being a 5), and the person who bids the fewest dice gets to try first. It was fun and quite light, though requiring at least a feeling for statistics, if not a full grasp.
Valparaíso – Players are based in a main city, where they can build for bonuses, travel for trade, and ship goods for permanent benefits. We weren’t sure if we were playing the game correctly by the end, because I ran away with it, but… well… I enjoyed running away with it. 🙂 It was a fun game where victory points are very hard won (18 triggers end of game), and I would definitely play this again.
Arraial – This is tetris in board game form. I think people liked it, and I don’t quite understand why. Players take pieces and try to place them to complete rows, gaining dancers if they do so. I don’t know what would make this fun.
Teotihuican: City of Gods – This is a heavier rondel game where players age their workers (dice) by having them gather resources and perform actions like building a pyramid. There were so many rondels this year (if you need info, here), but this was a good one. It’s apparently a lot like Tzolk’in, but without as much emphasis on the tracks. I enjoyed it quite a bit, but it’s not a board game I need.
Mesozooic – Players are building a zoo with dinosaur enclosures and topiaries. Players draft cards, then shuffle them and place them in front of them. They then have 45 seconds to rearrange the cards to create scoring combinations. It was a fast-moving game that I mostly enjoyed, though it’s a little bit of dexterity and spatial reasoning, which are not my strong suits.
Reykholt – Players seed, harvest, and collect vegetables to advance along an Iceland tourism track. This was a gentle and sweet game, and it’s vegan, if that’s your thing! No slaughtering of animals here. The pieces are really well-made, and the artwork is simple and nice. I really liked this lighter game, and I hope to add it to my collection.
Altiplano: The Traveler – It was my first time playing Altiplano, and we played with this expansion. It adds a traveling meeple that gives additional actions to the base game. I really enjoyed the game, though I don’t generally go for expansions. I’m not certain the expansion for this is necessary, but if you play the base game a lot, it could be a fun addition.
Chartered: The Golden Age – We got to play a demo copy of this game. Players build warehouses for goods, buy stock in different goods, and try to merge warehouses to get payouts and make stock more valuable. It seemed pretty unbalanced, and the person who won doubled nearly all of our scores, because he got lucky at the right time. I don’t plan on backing this or buying it.
Blackout: Hong Kong – This is a deck-building game and area control game. Players are trying to hire workers and dominate areas of the board to gain victory points and such. It was really popular at the con. I liked it well enough, but the theme was completely irrelevant and didn’t make much sense with the game mechanics. And the more I think about it, the less I liked it. It’s apparently a lot like Mombasa, another Alexander Pfister game.

So you may be wondering what came of all of this. Here are a couple of lists. These are just my opinions, and they don’t necessarily track with the hot games at the con.

Games I Want to Buy (Soon):

  • Barrage
  • Underwater Cities
  • Tsukiji
  • Obsession
  • Gugong

Best Light Games:

  • Cupcake Empire
  • Dice Fishing
  • Azul Sintra
  • Cerberus
  • Reykholt

Best Heavy Games:

  • Barrage
  • Gugong
  • Teotihuacan
  • Altiplano

Let me know your thoughts!

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