I know that a lot of board gamers put a lot of stock in Essen as being the great big convention that has all the new releases, but for the last two years it is starting to feel like there is a shift, or at least a change in the board gaming world. To me at least, GenCon seems to be the place where lots of new, interesting games are coming out. Add to this the combined effect of all the KickStarter projects that are trying to come out around the same time and August is feeling more and more like Christmas.
This is my roundabout way of saying that a lot of new games showed up at my house in the last few months and I haven’t had a chance to play them enough times to review properly or simply haven’t had a chance to play some of them yet! So, instead of a review, I offer to you, dear reader, Part One of my 2 (or 3) part series of quick impressions. Strap in, because there’s a lot of games to cover!
Madeira (What’s your game) by Nuno Bizarro Sentieiro and Paulo Soledade: Ok, so this one came out a little while ago but I hadn’t had a chance to try it out until now and so far, I’m very impressed. It doesn’t have the most original them in the world, but still quite interesting. The players take the part of wealthy merchants attempting to keep up with the contracts granted to them by the crown by farming the land, sending ships on expedition, gaining influence with the various guilds, etc. These contracts are all important since they are the principal way of scoring points. As the game progresses, more and more contracts will need to be fulfilled at the same time.
Had two plays of this so far, once with 2 and the second time with 3 players. Quite liked what I saw and I want to play some more, but this time with the full complement of 4. Lots of tricky trickle down decisions to be taken (“if I do this this turn, I should be able to do this next turn, oh wait…”). Very, very brain burny. One of the reason I haven’t brought it back to the table is that it is really long to explain and can be very overwhelming the first time you play. Still, it will come back to the table.
Dead of Winter (Plaid Hat Games) by Jonathan Gilmour and Isaac Vega: This should have been the Walking Dead game. Sure, there’s zombies on the box and in the game, but that’s not the core. This is much more of a survival game, with the players scrounging around for the resources they need to not only fulfill their personal agendas, but also any short term crisis as well as the overall goal of the game. Of course, what kind of survival game would this be without the possibility that there’s a traitor in the group and that, if you feel that someone isn’t pulling their weight, you can always decide collectively to exile one of the players…
Played this 3 times so far (a review should be coming soon) and each time it’s been a hit with the players. The core of the game is solid and straightforward (send your survivors to different locations and take some actions such as searching for goods, killing zombies or barricading) but this is not the star of the show. No, that would be the extremely simple, yet ingenious Crossroad cards. They are made up of 3 section: the triggering condition; the set up; and the decisions/results. The player who’s turn it is doesn’t know what the triggering condition is and, should they trigger the card, the flavor text (which is excellent overall) is read aloud and the player must decide what to do. A lot of the time, one of the decisions is simply to do nothing, with nothing happening as a result. The other option is always a nice “could be good, but it could turn out really badly” type of option. As the game progress and the situation becomes more desperate, decisions that would have been easy at the start of the game become more tempting. Very atmospheric and fairly simple to explain and understand, this is one of the best game to come out of GenCon.
Run, Fight or Die! (Grey Fox Games) by Richard Launius: Zombies and more precisely plastic zombies. Lots of plastic zombies. This is a really simple little push-your-luck game with some depth to it. The players are survivors of a zombie apocalypse and must gather as many other survivors as possible in order to win. The problem is, the more valuable a survivor, the more dangerous they are to have in your group since they will tend to slow you down or attract more zombies.
On their turn, a player must roll all 5 basic dice and the Event dice. Then, depending on what they rolled, they can re-roll some dice up to two more times. What you are trying to do is deal with the zombies that are in the front row (zombies can be in one of three area, with the ones in the furthest area the least dangerous), get the correct rolls to collect equipment cards or survivor cards without attracting too many new zombies. Once the player has dealt with the dice, zombies are moved one area closer to the player and new zombies are placed in the third area. Any zombies that moved from the front area onto the player card inflict one damage each. Lose all your health and your dead. Oh, and watch out for the big bad Zombie Boss, he’s very nasty and sticks around… Simple, fast with a lot of simple tension. Fun.
Sentinel Tactics (Greater Than Games) by Christopher Badell, Luther Bell Hendricks V and Kevin G. Nunn: The follow up to the very successful and popular Sentinels of the Multiverse, this time Greater Than Games bring us a tactical super hero game. Each player takes either the baddie for the scenario or chooses among all the good guys for the one they want to play. One of the most interesting aspect of the game is the power selection mechanic: instead of drawing cards from a deck, each player has a small hand of 6 cards (7 if you have the promo cards). You can play one card in front of your character sheet per turn, replacing one of the already played card if you have 2 of them already. In this fashion, the players have control over what power they can use during their turn.
The game plays fairly well once you’ve understood the rules, which is not the simplest thing. The rulebook is very short but not well organize and doesn’t believe in the concept of repeating important rules when they need to be repeated. A player aid would help greatly with this and so would more info on the different powers that the characters have since some cards can be confusing. Once you get it, it is a simple, fast tactical game that works fairly well. Love the many campaign booklets that come with the game. Need to play more…
City Hall (Tasty Minstrel Games) by Michael R. Keller: How come no one told me that this game was this good? Well, apart from the Kickstarter… I have to confess: the only reason I got this game is that I backed the two-pack just for Captains of Industry. City Hall seemed nice, but nothing more. So when it showed up, I wasn’t that excited, especially since Golem Arcana and Dead of Winter showed up at the same time. Read the rules and though that there might just be an interesting game in there, but holy… didn’t expect it to be that good. This is much better than you would think at first.
The core of the game play revolves around using your workers to gain access to actions that will allow you to place buildings on the map of New York, increase your Approval rating and bring more citizens to the city. What makes the game great is that, while you select an action on your turn, you don’t get to necessarily take that action. Instead, a single round auction takes place, with the player who selected the action having the choice to take the Influence offered by the highest bidder or paying that same amount to the bank to take the action. Every single action is fraught with hard decisions. You juggle four different currencies (population, Approval rating, Influence and cash) and the importance of any given factor depends on the phase of the game. Great stuff, fairly simple to explain and doesn’t overstay its welcome.
Lost Legacy (AEG) by Seiji Kanai and Hayato Kisaragi: The new micro game from the designer of Lover Letter. If you’ve player Love Letter, understanding the flow of Lost Legacy will be very easy. The core of the game is the same (you have a hand of 1 card, on your turn draw a card and play one of the 2 cards you have), but the card effects are different and the game end is a little (very little) more involved. Instead of automatically winning because you have the highest card, now you must point to where the 5 card (in this set the spaceship) is.
Yup, I said set. You see, the core innovation of this game is that there will be 3 separate games that use the same mechanic, but with different card effects. All sets will be playable by themselves or the players can chose to mix and match. Very interesting but it will take you 2-3 hands before fully understanding how you can manoeuvre to a win.
Golem Arcana (Harebrained Schemes) by Seth Johnson, Michael Mulvihill and Jordan Weisman: I was very excited to receive this and I’m still very excited about this. In case you haven’t heard, Golem Arcana is a miniature-based tactical game, played on a grid, where the players control large creatures made from stone, bone and flesh. So far, fairly standard. What is exciting me is the way the game is played. Instead of having a rulebook, the game is driven by an app, with the players wielding “wands”, which they can touch on the board, the miniatures or cards to tell the app what they want to do. The app then deals with all the rules and bookkeeping.
When you find your flow in this game, it is pretty amazing but it will take a good 5 to 10 minutes of play to figure out how you want to play since you can touch either the miniatures or their card to indicate what you want to do, you can tap the screen or the map to say where you want to go, etc. The app is flexible enough to let you do things the way you want to. I’ve played two solo learning games so far and it is quite interesting. I like having the physical pieces in front of me and having the app do all the heavy lifting. I do wish there was a rulebook, since attempting to take decisions when you don’t know the precise rules is something that bothers me a lot. I’m looking forward to playing more soon and to deliver a full review.
Star Realms (White Wizard Games) by Robert Dougherty and Darwin Kastle: This game has been out for a little while but it kind of exploded around GenCon when the digital version finally came out on iPad. I had played the beta version some time ago (mostly the single player campaign), having backed the campaign on Kickstarter. While I haven’t had a chance to play with the actual game, when people started talking about it so much I decided to try a few games against live opponents.
The game is simple enough, feeling a bit like Ascension: each player has a (small) deck of cards and, using said cards, must bring their opponent to 0 hit points. To do so, the player will draw a new hand of card at the start of their turn and use these cards to either purchase cards from the drafting row in the middle of the play area or attack the other player/their bases. It is a very simple game with a certain amount of maths (you need to add the various values of all the ships/stations you have) and lots of luck. The good part is that it plays really quickly (at least on the app since most calculations are done for you) and you do get the impression that your decisions are meaningful. Now, after about 50 games, I find myself wondering how much real control the players have. Yes, you decide which card to buy and what to attack, but you are still very much at the mercy of the draw. Not a bad game, just not one which I’ll keep the physical version in my collection.
And this is just a chunk of all the new games that I’ve either had a chance to play a few times (but not enough to fully review) in the last 2 months. There’s also a bunch of games that I’ve only had a chance to read the rules of that I want to talk about, but that will have to wait until next post. This truly is a great time to be a board game player!