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!