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!

essential board games

I know I talk a lot about board games, but I’ve never talked about which ones are actually good starter games for anyone interested in building a modern board game collection. So what games do you need? In no particular order, here’s my list:

  • Ticket to Ride (Europe): Ticket to Ride is considered by many to be as dominant in modern gaming as Monopoly is in “classic” gaming. There’s a good reason for this. It is a great game, particularly to play with people who don’t game very much. It is a gentle strategy game that is easy to learn, and it is often a “gateway” game, leading people to explore more games. Players try to build railroads across a map by collecting cards (yeah, that’s pretty much it). I like the Europe edition because of the slight extra complexity given by ferries and tunnels.
  • Carcassonne: Carcassonne is one of the original modern board games. Players build the board by laying tiles that create cities, monasteries, roads, and farms. There are lots of expansions to this game, but the base game is great. It uses meeples (miniature people), which are rather iconic. Players have to make decisions about how to use their meeples, whether to farm and play the long game or go for quick points. It’s a good worker placement game, and another great intro to modern gaming.
  • Dominion: This is the classic deck-building game. You can get really into it and get a bunch of expansions, or you can stick with the base game, which is a fine addition to a collection. It’s a good intro to these kinds of games. On each turn, players take an action and buy a card. The cards give modifications to these two things, so players build their decks. And hence, it is a deck-building game. An excellent example of one.
  • Pandemic: This is a great cooperative game, in which players try to save the world from giving in to disease. Players use their turns to treat disease, share knowledge, and cure disease. I played this again recently, and I realized that it might not be the best game for introducing people to games. If some people are really experienced in gaming, they can dominate this one, using all the players’ actions without consulting those players too much. But it’s great if you’re all learning, or if you know how to play, and it’s become a standard.
  • Splendor: I think most people have bought this game after they’ve played it with us. And then people who play it with those people buy it too, so I should pretty much get pyramid-scheme rights to profits of this game. Players buy cards with gems on them, some of which have victory points, and all of which make it easier to buy further gems. It’s a straightforward game, very easy to learn, and fun to play.
  • Love Letter: Players have a hand of one card, and at the end of a round, the person with the highest card gets a love token. Each card has special abilities, whether it is looking at another player’s hand, forcing a player to discard their hand, or protecting your own card for a turn. Very easy to pick up, and there are so many themes out there that you can pretty much pick your fandom. I carry this around in my purse, but don’t play it too much when we’re out, which is a bummer. Great filler game, to play while you’re waiting for people to show up or as a palate cleanser after a heavier game.
  • Hive: This is an excellent two-player game, heavy on strategy, but with enough variation to make it fun. You try to surround your opponent’s queen bee with bugs, by either placing them or moving them. Get the pocket edition – there’s no need for the full-size one. Because this game is designed specifically for two players, you don’t feel like you’re missing anything when you don’t have multiple people around.
  • Tsuro (of the Seas): This plays up to 8 people, so it’s good for a larger group. With Tsuro of the Seas, you can play classic Tsuro, or you can add daikaiju (sea monsters). Players try to be the last one standing, by placing tiles on a board and moving their ship along a path. If you go off the edge of the board, you lose. Pretty straightforward, but plenty of strategy involved, and the daikaiju add a fun risk element to it.
  • Five Tribes: This game is kind of worker placement meets mancala. I haven’t encountered another game like it. Players take turns picking up meeples from the board and placing them down like mancala shells, and then taking actions allowed by the meeples and tiles they land on. It’s a fantastic game, one that I consider essential for a board game collection, though it is a little heavier than some of the others here.
  • Munchkin: Munchkin is pretty classic now. It’s a play on D&D, giving more structure and creating additional competition. Players try to defeat monsters, get treasure, and gain levels through experience. There are a lot of different themed Munchkin games. The play is similar from theme to theme, so choose your favorite fandom! We have Adventure Time Munchkin. It’s pretty great.
  • Patchwork: This is another great two-player game, with a little more luck than Hive. Players build a quilt out of pieces of different sizes. It’s got a bit of a tetris element, in that players need to have some spatial reasoning. It’s a fantastic game that is cute and balanced, and I’ve found that people enjoy it whether they are quilters or not. 🙂

You may be wondering where Catan and 7 Wonders are on this list. While they are excellent games, they seem superfluous to an essential collection. Most people have them, so if you’re late to the gaming hobby, you’re bound to have friends who have them. Then again, if everyone took my advice, no one would have them, so, you know, whatever.

A future post will talk about what games you need if you already love these games!

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.

board game extravaganza 1 (March)

I went to a board game convention at the beginning of March, and I played lots of games! Here’s a list:

  • Scoville: This is similar to Pastiche, but with peppers. It’s a cute game where you plant peppers and try to harvest increasingly more expensive or strategic peppers. You get victory points by making salsa recipes and selling your peppers. It’s cute and fun, not too heavy, and I really enjoyed it.
  • Kodama: This is a sweet and pretty game that can be played with children if you want. You start with a trunk card that has one of six features on it. Each season (spring, summer, and fall), you place four cards on your tree, scoring points for features, and at the end of each season, you invite a kodama (tree spirit) to your tree, and it gives you additional points. There are kodama cards for children that give more basic points so they can be competitive with adults. It’s a very pretty game, with really nice art.
  • Lost Cities: This is a two-player game where you go build expeditions by going through a deck of cards and playing cards out of your hand in sequential order for each color. Some rounds can be devastatingly bad, going into negative points, but it’s a fun game for two, and it can be quite competitive over a few rounds. I ended up with two copies of this through the math trade, and I think we’re going to give the second copy to Carl’s parents, who like games too.
  • Viticulture: I was really excited about this game, because I love Scythe, and this was his earlier hit. I think this game would be best played with people you know really well, whom you can harass if they take too long, because a couple guys we played with were fairly dense and fairly oblivious. The mechanics are interesting, as you plant vineyards, harvest grapes, and make and sell wine, and it takes a reasonable balancing of resources. It was a fun game, and I’d like to play it again, though with people I know better. 🙂
  • Deadwood Studios: You’re filming a western movie, and you take roles and get paid and get fame for performing well. For each turn, you’re encouraged to perform your line expressively, but you ultimately roll a die to determine whether you succeed or not. It ended up being a lot of fun, with plenty of laughter.
  • Letter Tycoon: I entered a tournament for this game and ended up losing badly. It’s kind of like capitalist Scrabble. You have a hand of cards, build words, and buy patents on letters, which pay out when other people use your letters. I was a little disappointed about doing so poorly, but I love this game. I’d like to add it to my collection, if it weren’t so similar to other word games (that Carl won’t play with me).
  • Shadow Hunters: This game is best played with a large group of people. I think we played with eight. You’re assigned a role of hunter, shadow, or neutral. Hunters and shadows are trying to kill each other, and neutrals each have different win conditions. You can try to figure out who’s who, and you can cause damage to others. It’s a fun game that I’ve played before. It has pretty simple mechanics, and it’s just a good party game.
  • One Night Revolution: Based on Revolution, but happening faster, everyone has a faction, either rebel or informant, and a role, which include signaler and revealer and other things. Informants try to keep from being discovered, and rebels try to figure out who they are. It can be pretty quick, and it’s a fun puzzle game with lots of conversation. We played about eight rounds of it. Very fun.
  • Herbaceous: Very pretty game. You cultivate herbs and plant them in herb boxes for various levels of points. It has simple mechanics, plays quickly, and has beautiful art. It was fun and pretty, a good palate cleanser.
  • Elevenses: Another fairly simple game, it mimics morning tea. You have cards face-down and a few cards in your hand. You try to figure out where your high-value cards are and maximize your points, and each round ends when someone has three cards face-up and plays an elevenses card. It was sweet to play.
  • Biblios: I was interested in playing this game to check it out for a friend. It turned out to be not that cool. You’re trying to build your collection of types of books in a scriptorium. Each person takes a card for herself, a card for the auction, and as many cards for the public offering as there are other people playing, and you go through the deck that way. The auction phase comes with buying cards. People bid on cards to add to their collection. It’s… okay. Not awesome.
  • Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle: We only played two years of the game rather than all seven. Characters (Hermione, Ron, Harry, and Neville) try to fight villains and gain spells and items. It’s a cooperative deck-building game, and it was both fun and not too thrilling. I’m not sure I’ll play it again, but it was good enough as we went.
  • Hardback: This is the “prequel” to Paperback, similar to Paperback but with some different mechanisms. This is going on Kickstarter in April, and if you don’t have Paperback already, you should look at both and decide which to get. Hardback involves buying cards that are one of four different genres – mystery, adventure, horror, and romance – and those cards give special powers when used together. It’s fun but still needs to be polished. It’s similar enough to Paperback to not make me need to buy it, but it could be a good option if you are looking for a word game.
  • Sheriff of Nottingham: This is a bluffing game where you bring legal goods into the town and try to smuggle illegal goods in. Each person takes a turn as the sheriff, and as sheriff, you try to extract bribes from other players. It’s fun if you get into it and really live up your roles. I loved this game a year ago and enjoyed it this year too.
  • Captain Sonar: This is a game for 2-8 players, and we played with all eight, two teams of four. Each team has a captain, a radio operator, a first mate, and an engineer. I was the engineer for two games and the first mate for one. It’s basically real-time Battleship with additional complexity. It was a lot of fun, though the dry erase markers basically stopped working while we were playing. It worked really well with eight players. Not a game I need to own, because I’m not sure I could find seven other people to play with.
  • Broom Service: We played this with five players, and it was fun! This was my first time playing with more than two people, and it was quite enjoyable. It was tense trying to figure out if you should be cowardly or brave. The other people seemed to enjoy it too, one guy said it was his favorite game of the weekend.
  • Artemis (simulation): This was a Star Trek bridge simulation with a crew of six. Five of us did it, and a random person joined us for it. I was the captain (yay!). We helped some Romulans and destroyed basically an entire Klingon fleet, then flew through an asteroid field on our way back. It was fun, and I’d like to try it again (and maybe go rogue).

Stay tuned for another board game extravaganza in April!

board game review: Scythe

We brought Scythe home a few weeks ago, and we’ve played it a few times. We’ve played one 2-player and two 4-player games, and Carl played the automa version once. I think I can give a decent review of it now.

There are some good tutorials on Scythe (see the Watch It Played video and errata here), so I won’t talk in depth about how to play the game. But briefly, there are five factions and five player mats, for 25 combinations of play. Each faction has a special ability and slightly different powers, and each player mat has a different combination of basic and more expensive actions, and different costs for things. You gain stars (achievements) by gaining power or popularity, building, deploying mechs, winning combats, and other things. Everything–territories, resources, stars, building locations–is converted to coins at the end of the game, and the player with the most coins wins.

For our first game, we were a little confused about the rules, and we did a few things wrong, particularly with workers (allowing workers to have encounters, letting workers do the special mech/character actions), but we got the gist of it, and our next games were more correct. In our last game, I won without building any buildings, and I almost broke 100 coins, but I think I bribed too many people. I felt like it was a pretty nice victory. There’s an achievement sheet that lets you write down your name next to winning scenarios, which makes victory even sweeter.

The first few rounds are a little slow and offer little interaction with the other players, as you try to gather enough resources to do something useful, but once you get out of your little area, there is the potential for more interaction as it becomes a land grab and race to the factory. Combats are not as frequent as you might think, even with four players, and bribery is fun (and effective if done right).

Carl says that the automa version needs more explicit instructions. While he was playing, he called me over a few times to find out what I thought was reasonable. I haven’t tried the automa version myself yet, but I will say so when I do.

I LOVE this game. It’s complex enough to have many different winning scenarios, there’s a little bit of luck involved, and it speeds up as the game goes on. It’s not a simple game, and you have to play with people who REALLY like games, but it’s pretty great.