This is the last part of my roundup of the boardgames I’ve played in 2012 that were new to me, though one or two might get added before the end of the year. This is all in the leadup to the Notable Games of 2012 I’ll be posting at a more appropriate time. Here are links to part one and part two, and I’m reposting a lot of these comments from the “real time” source, here.
A Fistful of Penguins — Silly, light dice game, but with some fun decisions to make. It’s always nice to get a dice game that isn’t just themed or variable-powers Yahtzee. Nothing particularly special, but fun enough. I’ve played it a few times now, and I’d like to get my own copy, as it’s really good for what we call rain-dancing (waiting for other folks to arrive at game day or finish up a game). Rating: 7.
Thunderstone: Advance — I’m a big fan of Thunderstone and have bought a lot of it, so it was with both excitement and fear that I went into this. I wrote about my first impressions here, but since then I’m played some more and bought the two expansions and sold my original Thunderstone game so I think you can tell where I eventually wound up on this. Rating: 9.
Mundus Novus — This game is pretty much the commodity trading from Mare Nostrum (one of the few games of that type which I actually can play halfway decently and enjoy) surgically removed from that game and given a smaller, more manageable host body. It’s Mare Nostrum Das Kartenspiele, but where those experiences are often pretty unfulfilling when compared to the original game, this one really holds its own. Play is pretty straightforward and snappy, and it works with fewer than five or six (though I think it’s probably better with more.) They did a really good job on this one. As a bonus, it just plain looks beautiful. Rating: 8.
Urbania — Starts off looking like “Ticket to Build” and doesn’t do a whole lot to shake that notion, but what it does isn’t bad, and has the possibility to get downright interesting. Unfortunately, the questionable art and component design gives the game a challenge level it shouldn’t have. I’m not one who usually rails against such things, but holy cow is this game poorly put together. I don’t mean just unattractive, I mean design choices that work against the players. Rating: 4.
Disaster Looms! — There’s no way to mention this game without saying that it baffles me that anyone who has ever played a boardgame before would allow their own game to go out to buyers with a rulebook as awful as the one that comes with this. I’ve seen bad rulebooks before, but this one…good, freaking grief. Once we figured out what the hell the components were and how the game was to be played, we got into it okay. It’s not a bad game, but there’s a lot of luck involved. When you research Tech you just get whatever’s on top of the deck, and it may be something fantastic or it may be something you already have. When you explore it may be a planet that provides lots of assets or it may be “empty space” which does nothing. If you’re me when we played this, you get lucky and nearly every planet you happen to flip over is a good one. The other players can gang up against the leader, but it’s a slow and tedious process to do so, and seems like it would result in a lot of nothing happening and the game just dragging on and on. Not a bad game, but it has “Kickstarter” written all over it. Rating: 3.
Android: Netrunner — Maybe this doesn’t count as “new to me” since I played Netrunner, the game this is a sort of re-release of, but I think that FFG has tweaked it enough to say it’s not exactly the same game as before. There’s no question why this game didn’t make it as a CCG — it’s a tough nut to crack. Even with pre-built decks and some experience my friend and I found it difficult to know what we should be doing, and it seemed like the Corporation had an especially rough go of it (We’ve since discovered we overlooked a vital rule in the Corp’s favor, but still have a rough time of it.) So we clearly need more experience to tease out the strategies. Still, it plays fast, the production is nice (though some of the artwork is still stuck in the 90s), and the card mix is interesting. There’s a lot packed into this starter set, and I’m enjoying trying it all out. Rating: 8, and probably rising.
Roll to the South Pole — A push-your-luck dice game that seems at first to have too much luck, but actually allows some wiggle room. Not bad, but I’m not sure there’s really enough here to justify the shelf space. Rating: 5.
1989: Dawn of Freedom — I enjoy Twilight Struggle, even though I’m terrible at it, so I was really looking forward to this sort of sequel to it. It’s strange that even though this was a period of time I actually lived through, I don’t know much about the events around it. It feels a lot like TS, naturally, except for the weirdo scoring conflict bit that I really don’t know how I feel about. It seems strange to me to have a lot of strategic play culminate in a separate card thinger which then determines a die roll. It seems oddly bolted on and incongruous. Still, I’d like to try it again and see if that part grows on me. Either way, I think I still prefer the original. Rating: A tentative 7.
Space Hulk: Death Angel — The Card Game — I’ve only played Space Hulk once and while it was okay, it’s not really something I’d do a lot of. I’ve been intrigued by the card version for some time now, but hadn’t had a chance to play until recently. I like this a bunch, though both times I played we got slaughtered, and once pretty much right out the gate. The bad news is, it’s a co-op, and those don’t fare well with my gamer buddies. Good news is, it plays well enough with two, and there’s at least one friend who might play it. I don’t know that it delivers the full Space Hulk experience, but what it delivers is pretty good.
Elder Sign — I’ve had the Elder Sign iPad app for some time now, and “played” that a couple times but frankly, I didn’t understand what was going on or why. Now that I’ve played the “real” version (and had a better teacher than the app), I get it, and I’ve since played (and beaten) the app (albeit with the easiest guy). I’ve never actually played Arkham Horror, though I’d like to, so I can’t say how well this compares, but as a dice game, I thought it was a lot of fun (I’m a sucker for dice games that aren’t just themed/powered Yahtzee). Still, the co-op nature lowers the chance this would get played and therefore acquired. I think I’m good just having the app, though I now think I’ll get some of the upgrades to it. Rating: 7.
Saint Malo — Yahtzee-ish dice game that is pretty similar to Roll Through the Ages. Roll dice, build your city, try to place things in a grid to maximize points. Like RTtA there’s no interaction. The decisions you make in this are slightly more interesting than those in RTtA but with Alea Iacta Est in this line there’s no reason to play this. Also goes on a bit long. Rating: 4
Fleet — Underneath the dull cover art and poor title (who hears “Fleet” and mentally prepends “Fishing” instead of “Naval”?) there’s a pretty tight economic/hand-management game here. I like the San Juan-ish “cards are everything” (nearly) aspect, and the different powers of the licenses were interesting. I want to explore this a little more, but at the moment it seems like Processing Licenses are something you just plain can’t have a fighting chance without, as they give the potential for both card and economic dominance. (I’ll tell you this for free: you can’t win with a Shrimp Strategy if only one Shrimp license comes out before the second-to-last round. So much for my dreams of a “Shrimpire”.) Rating: 7.
Hanabi — In general, I don’t really care for hidden role games, and most deduction games leave me flat as well. But this game, oh man. I can see this as one of those games where you introduce it to a bunch of new people, they play it, and then immediately demand to play it again. It’s a cooperative game where everyone can see your cards except you. There are five suits with a distribution of 1-1-1-2-2-3-3-4-4-5, and you as a group are trying to complete a run of 1-2-3-4-5 in each suit. But the information you can give each other is limited, and you have to make some brutal choices. We played twice and got 13 points the first time, 14 the second time (highest possible is 25). There’s nothing to the game, but it’s tough, tense, and a lot of fun. Rating: 8.
Among the Stars — It’s refreshing to get a space game that isn’t a three-hour empire builder, even if the theme is just kind of lightly dusted on. This game is clearly influenced by 7 Wonders, and you could do worse than be influenced by that, and it inherits some of the same difficult decisions that arise from the card-drafting mechanism (Do I pass this card to the guy who can use it really well, or do I keep it from him, sacrificing a better move for myself?) It also does its own thing with the idea, having you assemble a space station with various features on it. It’s not a bad game (though the iconography isn’t great: cards refer to types of cards with tiny little colored dots, and the difference between cards that score immediately and ones that do so at the end of the game is a pale yellow background that is not particularly noticeable.), but while it didn’t really turn me off, it also didn’t really compel me to play it more. Rating: 6, which may be high.
Winter — I am a big fan of 51st State/The New Era. When this was offered for pre-order with some bonus cards, I jumped at the chance, even not sure what it was. What it is is an interesting variant on The New Era, in which not only are some new cards added, but some changes are made to how things are played. Most importantly, instead of the game ending at 33 points, it ends after six rounds. Secondly, each round the players all get some kind of bonus (a resource, a worker, a card, etc.) Finally, there are three cards: a cooperation card, a conquest card, and a leader available each round for the cost of a worker. So yes, the leaders are back, though powered down a bit, and distributed more evenly. I wasn’t sure what I would think of this; would it be enough to make the changes worthwhile? But after one play, I think I like this variant a lot. Since scores only matter after the sixth round, you can cut that part out. The extra goodies make getting your engine running a little faster. And while I just grabbed the first leader out of the gate — whose abilities I almost never used — the fact that they’re more evenly distributed (and there’s not much of a benefit for swapping them out) means you can be a little more picky. I’m eager to try this again soon, and pleased that a game I love just seems to be getting even better. Rating: 8.
Seasons — I first played the ultra-baby version of this game which doesn’t have the initial card draft or the advanced cards. That version is pointless and dumb. Since then I’ve played with the draft and that’s a lot better, though I still think you don’t want to play this with more than 3, and preferably 2. It’s weird, I like the flow of the game and the artwork, but there’s still something missing here to really grab me. Rating: 6.