We’re about a quarter of the way into 2012, so let’s look at the boardgames I’ve played so far that were new to me. (If you’re on BoardGameGeek, I’m using a lot of what I have already been posting here.)
Deadwood – Worker placement-ish with fighting for contested spaces. Fairly thematic, though it’s hard to understand how going to these buildings earns a cowboy money instead of costs him. Not great, not terrible, not much there. Rating: 4
Ascension: Storm of Souls – A stand-alone expansion for Ascension, which I’ve played the hell out of on the iPad. Neat expansion with some cool cards. I wish there had been more Events in the deck (we played twice and only saw…two? three? and one got discarded pretty much immediately by a monster). I’ll definitely get it when it comes to the iPad, not really interested in the “real” version. Rating: 7
Mage Knight: Board Game – I’ve always been intrigued by things like Talisman, Runebound, and such, games that give the RPG exploration experience without being a grinding slog, but they always fall short in some way (usually with a LOT of downtime.) MK the boardgame seems like a worthy entry in this area, and I’m looking forward to some more plays (we played the basic rules, and we got a couple of them wrong). Unfortunately, this still seems like a pretty big time commitment. Rating: 7, but more plays may push it up.
Serenissima – Not sure I should even count this one. I was one of two newbies at the table and one of the experienced players opted for a strategy in which he simply pounded us, took our stuff, and sank our ships. By turn 5 of 8 I was effectively out of the game and only got the points I did because he sold the goods he stole from me to my ports. A valid strategy, sure, but boy was this a miserable experience for me and the other new guy. I don’t expect anyone to let me win just because I’m new, but I would at least like to play. Rating: Tentative 6
Discovery – This is a neat French game that pal Jim got in a math trade. Interesting treasure hunting game set on an island where the first thing you have to do is figure out where the hell you are. THEN you can get to the task of finding the treasure. It comes with a nifty clue-finder thing and maps you can write on, and the whole thing is pretty cool. The map is too big, which makes the game longer and less tense than it could be, but still not a bad time. Rating: 4 for the length.
Power Grid: The First Sparks – Kind of a mess. I played this at Unity Games, and I admit I was distracted during the rules reading, as I was interrupted with auction deliveries, but I thought we as a group still had a pretty good handle on them. That’s doubtful, though, since there just didn’t seem to be much to this. There was an abundance of food and apart from one player who “got screwed” (I never really understood what he was saying hosed him so much) nobody had much of a problem. I’m almost certain we were doing something if not several things wrong, but to be honest, the gist I got from the game doesn’t make me too worried about figuring out what it was. This doesn’t seem to buck the trend of me absolutely adoring Power Grid and not caring for any other Friese games. Rating: 5. Could possibly go up if I play again correctly, but I suspect I’ll never know.
Flash Point: Fire Rescue – I was eager to try this as I think the theme is very appealing. However, co-op games don’t get much table time with my regular groups. It’s a very appealing game, tense and exciting (though a lot of the fire-spreading rules were vague to us). It reminds me a lot of Pandemic, and that’s sort of the problem. I already have Pandemic, and I like Pandemic and Pandemic doesn’t get much play. So as much as I’d like to support games with fresh themes and attractive delivery, I don’t see much need to have another game that’s just not going to get any play. Rating: 7
Trajan – This one was white-hot at Unity and was on my list to try out, even though I haven’t been that crazy about Stefan Feld’s games. Feld tends to come up with one interesting mechanic and then sticks it into a bland, by-the-numbers exercise. Trajan has the requisite weirdo bit (a mancala board to determine actions) and then throws just about everything else into the mix. It’s hard to NOT get some points on every turn — hell, at one point I sneezed and got four points for it. It was a good enough time, and I’d play again, but it did kind of feel like someone took a bunch of random game bits and made a game with them. (To be fair, I did terrible, and the guy who played before did well, so there is a thing going on here.) Rating: 6
Army of Frogs – Played this under ideal conditions: in a hotel bar while drinking a Long Island Ice Tea with friends. Folks, that is what gaming is all about. This is a cute-yet-thinky strategy game with nice frog bits. Rating: 7
Grimoire – Z-Man continues its trend of bringing weirdo Japanese games to America, which is a good thing, as it gave us Fairy Tale and Parade, two enjoyable card games. This one has an interesting premise behind it, but I think we were two few (I suspect you want 4 or 5 for it) and too tired (it was the last game at an all-day game convention) to really give it its due. The spell books are a cute little touch — I think most companies would just give the players a deck of cards to pick from. Rating: 5
Ora et Labora – The latest game from boardgaming superstar Uwe Rosenberg, who designed Agricola and Le Havre. Unfortunately I really dislike Agricola. Le Havre I like a little better, but the agonizing microsteps of every single action drive me insane. As a result, I wasn’t expecting too much from Ora et Labora, since it seemed to be much of the same. Turns out, it pretty much is. It’s a little better in that the basic resources actually are basic resources and not pre-resources you need to convert into actual resources to get anything done. But there’s still the same bizarreness that if someone chops down trees before I do, I get fewer of them. I’m still not a fan of this stuff, but if I had to play one of the three, I guess it would be this one? It’s really not an appealing choice to make. Rating: 5
Merchants & Marauders – As I get older I find I tend to like games with some semblance of theme to them. I have played a million games now where I swap cubes for victory points, and having a different type of auction in them or an elegant turn order mechanic or whatever in them just does not make any difference. And I’ve impressed so many noblemen and master builders that I shouldn’t even have to prove my skill anymore. So, given the chance to do something, I’ll usually jump at it. Merchants and Marauders is what so many new games forget to be: fun to play. It’s one of those games that has a narrative, that you continue to talk about long after it’s over. It’s got some rough patches, but I will gladly swap fun for cold, burnished “elegance”. The first time I stayed on the straight and narrow the whole game, and won as a merchant, so the second time I tried to be a pirate but was lousy at it (my captain wasn’t really pirate material and I kind of forced him to be one.) I can’t wait to play again. Rating: 8
Asteroyds – I wrote about this one here and since then discovered a crucial rule we missed that makes things a little kindler and gentler. I want to give it another try. Rating: A mostly theoretical 6
Hornet – Perfectly affable game of bluffing, luck-pushing, and planning. For some reason, when I bought this in the Unity auction I thought it was a smallish card game, so I was surprised by the big box (which is way bigger than it needs to be). Rating: 6
City Tycoon – I bought this game knowing little to nothing about it, except it was a city-building game, which sounded good to me. I was a little let down after the first play, though. Everyone just sort of did their own thing, not really interacting much with anyone else. The second game I played went better and there was some more competition for resources, but it still seems to be missing something. I’d like to give it another try, but I’m not sure it’s a keeper. Rating: A very shaky 6
Alba Longa – Hard to really evaluate this one, since nobody even used soldiers until the very end (one player felt there was no point in using them until then). The current Euro-fad of “dice but not really” continues with a worker placement game that is just kind of…there. It’s not bad, just not essential. Rating: 4
Homesteaders – I’d heard about this one but hadn’t gotten a chance to play. I found it to be really interesting and a lot of fun. It reminded me, in some ways, of Vegas Showdown, except without the problems I had with that one. This is one I may look to get. Rating: 7
Dungeon Run – I have to think we were doing SOMETHING wrong here, because hardly anything ever happened. Rooms came up, we rolled a die to see what was in them (often nothing) and just kind of ran the clock out until the end. I don’t think any of us killed more than two monsters or had more than two items at any point, and there didn’t seem to be any way of generating more items. Only one player was able to level up during the game. It was like exploring a dungeon that had already been pretty much cleaned out. The final boss battle was also pretty anticlimactic. Willing to play again in case we were missing something vital, but if we weren’t, I don’t see any reason to play this instead of DungeonQuest. Rating: 4, but maybe another play will move it up.
Lords of Waterdeep – I did something I almost never do with this one: pre-ordered it. There was a pretty good deal on Amazon and my friend Chris made it sound really good, so I went ahead and pulled the trigger early. I can happily say it was a good call. It’s a fun, breezy game that doesn’t overstay its welcome. It was new to all four of us and all four enjoyed it; I suspect it wouldn’t have been tough to convince everyone to immediately play again. I can’t tell you why we all enjoyed it so much — there’s nothing particularly new or innovative here — but we sure did. Rating: 8
The Scepter of Zavandor – I’ve heard a lot about this game (and its predecessor, Outpost) but never actually played it. It’s a meaty economic game with some tacked-on leader-punishing. Like Power Grid, which I adore, you want to try and stay towards the middle of the pack and figure out when it’s okay to jump ahead. However, also like Power Grid, if you’re doing really well, the lead player penalties aren’t going to hurt you too much anyway. I probably wasted a couple turns not really having a clear idea of what my goal should be, so I’m eager to try this one again. Rating: 7
Blood Bowl: Team Manager – The Card Game – I’ve never played the actual Blood Bowl game. I have no interest whatsoever in football, even (and especially) if it includes elves. Dan, my opponent, is exactly the same. Yet we both had a really good time playing this. I was the Eye Gougers and he was the Wood Elves. It’s fast and fun, and wildly chaotic. You can and will get screwed by luck (I certainly did). But who cares? It’s a grand time. It reminded me a lot of Campaign Manager 2008, which I liked but had a few things going against it. One, it abstracted its theme a little too much, unlike this one which abstracts it just enough, I think. Two, CM2008 made me think about Sarah Palin, which this game does not. Three, BBTM allows for more than two players, and I’m kind of curious to see how that works. Rating: 7