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QWERTYmartin's Unabridged Insights On Play

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Q2 2015 review

Martin G
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Bristol
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Just a quick look at what I've been playing and buying so far this year, and a comparison to last year.

Total plays: 184 (2014 had 169, 2013 had 204)

Distinct games: 73 (2014 had 69, 2013 had 105)

New-to-me games: 27 (2014 had 17, 2013 had 31)

Dimes: 3 (2 in 2014, 2 in 2013) - Witness (22), Pairs (16), Sylvion (12)

Nickels: 5 (4 in 2014, 5 in 2013) - Onirim (8), The Game (7), Go/Stop (6), Abluxxen (5), Love Letter (5)

A pretty standard quarter by all these metrics. LoBstercon made up for an April that was otherwise occupied by moving house, and boosted the new-to-me plays as usual. Solo gaming continued with Sylvion and I got to host my first games nights in Bristol!

And now a look at the collection.

Acquired: 4 (7 in 2014, 5 in 2013) - Witness, Basari: Das Kartenspiel, Go/Stop and Sylvion

Removed: 4 (Basari, Venture, Monad and Master Merchant)

Owned: 148 (excluding expansions - no change from Q1)

Unplayed: 4 - Bison: Thunder on the Prairie, Glenn's Gallery, IceDice, Four Dragons

No net change in the collection size, but I do have a few orders in the pipeline (Baseball Highlights, 2xIceDice to complete my Zendo set, In a Bind, Blockers, Pax Pamir and Neanderthal!) so need to look out for opportunities to chop. Zero change in the unplayed list either.

Best new-to-me: on plays Witness and Sylvion should take it, but I hugely enjoyed my first experience of Baseball Highlights 2045 and can't wait to get my hands on my own copy.

New 10s: I upgraded Cosmic Encounter and Tichu after further plays at LoBstercon and elsewhere confirmed that I'll never get sick of them.
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Wed Jul 1, 2015 9:37 am
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New to me May

Martin G
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Three decent fillers without much to choose between them, so I'll go with the one I played more than once.

I'd barely heard of The Game before its Spiel des Jahres nomination, but it sounded quite interesting and it's playable with a 6 nimmt! deck. I cranked out a couple of solo plays, one game with my wife and two with 3p at games night. Solo it feels like playing patience. It's more fun with the group communication element, though the constraints are much less interesting than those in Hanabi. The basic rules also seem a bit too easy; I 'won' all but one of the games. That all sounds a bit negative - I did enjoy the simplicity of the rules and the camaraderie it inspires.

Arboretum seems like a gentle affair of building your own display of eye-catching trees. And then you take in the scoring rules and it becomes a knife-fight with agonising decisions about what to discard each turn. The on-the-table play feels like a two-dimensional Lost Cities, but the card-hoarding for majorities reminded me more of Biblios. I think it's probably at its best with 2p, so you don't have the problem of choosing which other player to target.

And Deep Sea Adventure is another entry in the cute-but-mean genre, and another beautiful production. Like Incan Gold, it's a push-your-luck affair of deciding whether to venture on for greater rewards or turn back to keep what you've got. But instead of being able to get out instantly, you have to fight your way back up before the collective supply of air runs out. Very clever.

Go/Stop is also Japanese and pretty, but I can't rate it after one play with 3p. This Raj variant will clearly be at its best nearer the top of its 2-6 player count.

Finally, one dud. Relic Expedition doesn't seem to know who its audience is, combining the chaos and silliness of a family game with the sizeable rulebook and fiddly chits of a serious Euro.
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Mon Jun 1, 2015 10:21 pm
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New to me April

Martin G
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April was a strange month. A house move meant I’d only played four games in total until the last week. But then I went from famine to feast with three days of gaming heaven at the seaside with a hundred of the London on Board crew.

The best

After eight years in this hobby, I’ve played so many variations on a theme that anything I can describe as ‘unique’ makes me sit up and pay attention. That’s why Witness takes the prize this month. The executive summary is co-operative puzzle-solving via the medium of Chinese whispers. Each of the 64 cases takes around 10 minutes, with initial information being presented to all players before each reads their own piece of personal information. Over four rounds of whispering to the other players, the team attempts to ensure that everyone has all the information they need to (individually) answer three questions posed about the case.

There are caveats to my recommendation. You need exactly four players, all with good short-term memory and a love of logic puzzles; if one player consistently lets the side down, it can be frustrating (both for them and for the others). And after completing around a third of the cases (in not much over a week!), I’d like to have seen a bit more variety; most are variations on the standard matrix logic puzzle. But returning to my original point, I haven’t played anything like it before, and right now that’s my main motivation for trying yet another new game.

Would like to play more

There’s always a filler hit of the weekend at LoBsterCon, and this time it was Beasty Bar, a cute variation on the ‘queue game’ (think Guillotine or Family Business), themed around animals trying to get into a nightclub. Each of the 12 animals has a special effect, which you use to jostle ahead in the line and evict your rivals. It’s almost entirely tactical but a lot of fun, aided by the luridly amusing artwork.

A Fake Artist Goes to New York is a hybrid of Spyfall and Pictionary, and it’s brilliant. Players take turns adding a line to a collaborative drawing of a named object, but one of them doesn’t know what the object is and has to convince the others that they do!

I’d been wanting to try Maria for a long time, as the combination of spatial play on a board with managing a hand of cards often appeals to me. And my recent obsession with Wir sind das Volk made me even more keen to sample another Richard Sivel design. My first play at LoBsterCon was... overwhelming. I was France, and got into lots of fights with Austria which ended up draining our cards and letting the third player walk into our undefended territory for the win on turn 5. It was one of those games where every time you do something, you learn why you shouldn't have done it that way. I barely engaged with the political subgame at all; it was enough trying to grapple with the huge map. I did really like the way the board interacts with the cardplay though, and I'd definitely play again. I just don't know if that'll be soon enough that I can learn my lessons.

Basari: Das Kartenspiel does exactly what I hoped: condenses almost all the gameplay of the board game into a tiny package. Like the original and Edel, Stein & Reich, I enjoy both the psychology of the blind action selection and the structured bartering.

Don't care if I play again

Quartermaster General seemed to be the hit of the con -- it was being played constantly. But I found my game a bit boring. I was Britain and spent most of the game building ships in the North Sea and then losing them again. Meanwhile Russia did much the same with armies in Ukraine. I had a couple of cards early on that let me teleport to Australia and India and scored some points for that. And that was about it. I disliked the way you score an incremental (2-6, usually 4) points at the end of every single turn (and that we kept forgetting). That niggle was only reinforced by the game ending in a 250-250 tie. But I was assured that it was an atypical session, and I'd be prepared to give it another try. It is at least simple, snappy and unusual in playing with 6p and in teams.

Colt Express was sold to me as RoboRally-lite, but the action programming is nowhere near as brain-burning; it’s more of a lightweight ‘see what happens’ affair. The production is fantastic and it’s another that works well with 6, but it’s not something I’d go out of my way to play again.

Bling Bling Gemstone did its job of late-night convention-brain dexterity game just fine but I could never see myself being excited to play. Likewise RattleSnake, though damn those magnets are cool!

A friend just got a bunch of new games in a trade and was keen to get The Golden City to the table. I'm generally positive about Schacht so I jumped in. These phrases from my geekbuddy analysis will give you some idea of the game: "Standard eurogame, but I don't mean that in a bad way. Everything feels familiar"; "just another Euro game, but with just enough going on for it to be interesting"; "A good, solid, game that plays quickly and painlessly"; "Probably a decent game to introduce eurogames to nongamers"; "Pleasant game composed out of smoothly-fitting parts"; "a rather generic euro that neither disappoints nor impresses";"Perfectly functional".

Yep, we're firmly in family Euro territory, with absolutely nothing I hadn't seen before (a bit of bidding, a bit of area control, a bit of set collection, a bit of secret goals), but it works... fine. I can't see this being anyone's favourite game, but neither can I see it being anyone's least favourite.

And Maharaja: The Game of Palace Building in India was another hodge-podge of familiar Euro mechanics, which I think I’d have liked more had I played it a few years ago. I didn’t hate it, but it didn’t have the cleanness of execution of my Kramer/Kiesling favourites like Mexica.

Will actively avoid playing again

Nothing this month. I think I'm getting pretty good at just saying 'no' to games I suspect I'll hate.
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Wed May 6, 2015 12:13 pm
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New to me March

Martin G
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The best

In January, Onirim showed me that I could enjoy playing solo. Navajo Wars was getting rave reviews from my geekbuddies and sounded right in the niche of detailed historical/political simulations that I've been enjoying lately (see also: Eklund and Wir Sind das Volk). I was able to pick up a copy in the UK maths trade and so far I've managed to play four times - no mean feat for what's been a 3-5 hour-long game!

Here's the report I wrote after my third play:

Quote:
Wow. I'd worked my way through the tutorial and the training scenario and decided I was ready to try a full scenario - the Spanish era. On Saturday, I had a game in which everything went well, and I won a 'major victory'. I'd really enjoyed the immersion and narrative the game offered, and I was becoming less reliant on the rulebook, but the end was anticlimactic. I'd heard the game was really hard! So, back to the rulebook, and I discovered a few minor errors I'd been making and one major one. I also had to admit to myself that I'd allowed myself a few take-backs and minor cheats that probably added up to quite a big help.

So on Sunday, it was time to sweep up and start again. And it was like night and day. The order of cards and the (genius) enemy AI threw me off balance from the start and I never recovered. From half-way through, I knew I'd lost, and it was going to be a bitter struggle to even survive to the end of the game. Playing the part of the Navajo families as they struggled to maintain their culture, knowing it was ultimately doomed, was harrowing. I don't think a game has ever made me feel quite like that before. I remarked to Sarah that it felt like reading a really good book, only you get to influence what happens.

This is an extraordinary design. It's certainly not for everyone - the rules overhead is large, each game took around 5 hours, there's a lot of dice-rolling, and well, it's solo. But if you think you could cope with those things, I'd really recommend the experience. I love that you don't play the conquering heroes like so many games; you play the losers, gradually getting run over by an unstoppable force, and just trying to maintain some dignity.


The good

Tajemnicze Domostwo - hey, this is neat! It's a co-op deduction game, but where one player is the clue-giver ('ghost') and the others are the clue-interpreters, and the clues are all given using Dixit-style artwork cards (and no words), which can be discussed by the detectives. Genuine whoops of excitement when we figured out a subtle clue. I want to try being the ghost!

42 - two trusted geekbuddies are always going on about 42 - the Texas domino trick-taking game. And they're right, it's damn good! The neat thing is that each domino can be played two ways e.g. the 6/2 is either the 2 of the 6 suit or the 6 of the 2 suit. It's 2v2 partnership too, which I always enjoy.

Spyfall - finally, a social deduction game that I didn't hate. One player is the Spy, the others are all given a card showing the same location ('school', 'police station', 'submarine' etc.) Players take turns to ask each other questions, with the aim of catching out the Spy without giving away the location. Unlike other social deduction games I've played, the focus is not on elaborate chains of logic but just pure laugh-out-loud silliness.

The not-so-good

In the Shadow of the Emperor feels like one of those transitional Euros like Princes of Florence. There's still some interaction (area majority, voting and even some direct attacks) but you can feel the inflexibility of strategic pathways setting in. I won 26-24-23-18 and I can't see the point spread ever being more than that, given the scarcity of VP opportunities. Lots of 'clever' mechanics to admire but oh-so-dry. And I tend not to be a fan of perfect information Euros.

The jury's out

Mottainai went straight to the top of my wishlist, due to Carl Chudyk's status as minor deity. A friend had already printed out the beta release so I got to try a couple of 2p games. And, well, I'm not quite sure what to make of it yet. It's definitely more like Glory to Rome than Innovation or Impulse, and GtR is my least favourite of the three. It feels like a streamlined GtR rules-wise, but it's possible too much of the lovable craziness got excised too. I'll be following its development.
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Sat Apr 4, 2015 8:54 pm
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Q1 2015 review

Martin G
United Kingdom
Bristol
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Just a quick look at what I've been playing and buying so far this year, and a comparison to last year.

Total plays: 142 (2014 had 205, 2013 had 140)

Distinct games: 48 (2014 had 67, 2013 had 56)

New-to-me games: 17 (2014 had 14, 2013 had 21)

Dimes: 3 (3 in 2014, 3 in 2013) - Onirim (30), Pairs (22), Patchwork (11)

Nickels: 2 (8 in 2014, 4 in 2013) - Impulse (8), Wir sind das Volk! (5)

The biggest new trend of the month was probably finding some solo games I enjoyed. As well as the 30 plays of Onirim, I spent the best part of a couple of weekends learning and playing 4 games of Navajo Wars.

And now a look at the collection.

Acquired: 6 (6 in 2014, 7 in 2013) - IceDice, Onirim (second edition), Potato Man, Pairs, Patchwork and Navajo Wars

Removed: 2 (Kreta and Tower of Babel)

Owned: 148 (excluding expansions - up from 144 at end 2014)

Unplayed: 4 - Bison: Thunder on the Prairie, Glenn's Gallery, IceDice, Four Dragons

Bison and Glenn's Gallery still stuck in the unplayed, though I did play Members Only, which is essentially the same game as GG. Temporarily hitting 150 prompted me to put a few games on the axe list. Two have already gone and three or four more are spoken for.

Best new-to-me: Patchwork - Uwe remembered how to make simple games and it's awesome.

New 10s: none, but after 11 plays Wir sind das Volk! is threatening it.
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Wed Apr 1, 2015 11:25 pm
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Voice of Experience 2015

Martin G
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Bristol
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I finally got round to launching the third instalment of the Voice of Experience reviews contest. Please join in here:

Voice of Experience Reviews Contest 2015: Prizes!
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Sun Feb 22, 2015 11:39 am
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New to me January

Martin G
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A tough choice this month between two excellent card games, but I'll give the edge to the one that I've played with other people!

The good

Pairs is a super simple push-your-luck game based on
Blackjack. Pairs is also a versatile deck (10x10, 9x9, 8x8 down to 1x1) that has a free booklet with rules for 15 more games. So far I've mostly played two variants of the basic game: Continuous Pairs and Port. The former certainly lived up to its billing of "a new classic pub game" with hand after hand past midnight at the end of an old friend's birthday party. The latter results in one winner rather than just one loser and has been a big hit with my games group. Both play with up to 8 players - perfect for the end of the night.

I picked up Onirim (second edition) while I was in the US at Christmas, more out of curiosity than hope. I've never enjoyed solo gaming when I've tried it in the past, preferring to just browse BGG instead when I don't have opponents. But I played Onirim 30+ times in January and loved it. It made me realise that I can scratch any itch I have for puzzly, non-interactive games without other players and save my valuable multiplayer time for games in which I can be a dick to people! The base game of Onirim seems incredibly well tuned to result in close finishes. I'm probably winning more than half now, but they often go right to the wire and are filled with agonising decisions. I've only just begun to explore the multitude of expansions so it looks like this delightful package will be keeping me occupied on trains and planes for some time to come.

My wife works for a quilting magazine, so I was keen to try Patchwork and see if it would be something she might enjoy. My initial impression is positive -- Uwe finally remembered how to design a simple game! It cleverly disguises the bolts of a multi-factor engine-builder under a charming exterior. My concern is that it is too calculable; my hope is that once both players understand those calculations, it will become more interactive. Now I just need to find a copy. Sarah wrote to Mayfair asking for a review copy for her magazine but they haven't responded!

Trump, Tricks, Game! has been in my small group of owned-but-unplayed games since I picked it up for next to nothing in May. I finally got it to the table and enjoyed it, as I usually do enjoy tricktakers with a twist. Here, the cards you win in each round become your hand for the next. Since you know which suit will be trump in each round, you can plan out which cards you want to take when, but you have to balance that with immediate point-scoring.

The bad

I've already commented on a couple of other entries in this list featuring King of New York. I like King of Tokyo a lot, but KoNY seems to add complexity to appeal to the gamer crowd, and in the process loses what made KoT great. I want to fight the other players, not the board!

7 Steps is an abstract that suffered from the same problem I had with Five Tribes: each turn feels like its own mini-puzzle. You play out most of your 'hand' each turn so there's little to link the turns together into a bigger whole. And you can't really start planning your turn until it arrives because of the big changes to the board state.

The ugly

I already knew I didn't like social deduction games and One Night Ultimate Werewolf was no exception. Partly it's just because I'm terrible at constructing a plausible lie on the fly, but this just seemed to come down to a five-minute argument. Not my thing. The app is very well done though.
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Sun Feb 1, 2015 10:29 pm
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New to you five years ago

Martin G
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Bristol
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I started a new annual geeklist series for looking back at the games you first played five years ago: New to you FIVE years ago 2014 => Has it stood the test of time?

Copied from there, here's my entry for 2009.

I'm going to use BGG extended stats to look at how much subsequent play the games I learned in 2009 have got, starting with the ones that have been played every year since.

Played in all five subsequent years

Tigris & Euphrates
Looking back at 2009, it's obvious it was the year my Knizia obsession took off. I played dozens of his games for the first time, and many of them are still regulars today. Chief amongst those is T&E, my undisputed favourite game of all time. I've discovered that most of my favourite board games combine a strong spatial element with the randomness of card/tile-draw and T&E is the very best of them. There is no greater gaming joy for me than a hard-fought session of Tigris with a table of four experienced bastards. I only regret that I haven't played it more than 52 times.

6 nimmt!
For a long time, 6 nimmt! was synonymous with London on Board, the sound of fingers drumming on the table to encourage slow players becoming a recurring motif at the end of each evening. It's popular with my new group in Bristol too and it's still one of my absolute favourite fillers. Part of its success is the vast player range it can accommodate, and the way that can be adjusted up and down from round to round. Part of it is that it really does reward skill, much though inexperienced players don't believe it. 124 plays and not even close to sick of it - that's the definition of a 10.

Winner's Circle
It's that man Reiner again, with another game that I associate strongly with LoB, and another one that reveals hidden depths of skill. 21 plays, mostly with the full 6p, and I'm almost certain I've won more than half of them. It looks like a simple horse-race but it's actually a game of investment, risk-management and volatility. And it's FUN!

Mamma Mia!
Interestingly, apart from T&E, none of these four games were a monthly pick for me in 2009. This was played once, ignored in my end-of-year wrap, and in my monthly entry all I said was "seemed like a fun filler, which I'd try again." As it turns out, it's been played at least twice every year since and I rate it as easily my favourite Rosenberg design. Why's that? Because it doesn't feel like any other card game. It's a memory game, but not a hardcore one. A gut sense will get you a long way and the cards played from hand crucially make it not perfect-information. Delightful.

Played in four subsequent years
I'd say all of these have stood the test of time even if they've had a fallow year. Five more Knizias!

Battle Line - the best of Knizia's 2p battles.
Thurn and Taxis - a little light on interaction for my tastes but a favourite for my wife so it'll keep getting played.
Acquire - amazing that I first played Sackson's proto-Euro classic and its descendant T&E in the same month!
Stephensons Rocket - and Knizia took inspiration from Acquire for this brilliant game of coercion too. I wish it weren't so hard to get to the table.
Palast Geflüster
Meuterer - a brace of brilliant big-game-in-a-small-box offerings from Adlung.
Municipium - underrated gem from Knizia's later period.
Santiago - genius auction/negotiation/bribery for 5.
Vegas Showdown
Dream Factory - two auction games made my excellent, fun themes.
Ingenious - and Knizia gets the last word with his abstract classic.

Nickel and done

Automobile
The only game that I played 5+ times in 2009 and then never again, and the first of several Martin Wallace titles that have gone from passionate enthusiasm to rapid burnout for me. Automobile's problem was the mismatch between the detailed financial calculations that seem to be required and the randomness that often makes them irrelevant. The partial information of the demand tiles should be a great mechanic but the sad truth is that it tells you next to nothing.

Month by month
I did not do a great job of picking the winners in 2009!

January: Tigris & Euphrates - see above

February: Chicago Express - only one subsequent play. I still think it's a great design but not one that fit well into my gaming life due to its need for an experienced table.

March: Battle Line - see above

April: Age of Empires III: The Age of Discovery - only two more plays. I think this is one of the better worker placement games, but I just don't like WP much.

May: Meuterer - see above

June: Automobile - see above

July: Race for the Galaxy: Rebel vs Imperium - probably my least favourite of the expansions.

August: Amun-Re - a rare Knizia that hasn't seen that much replay, although I do think it's a great game.

September: Erosion - my first experience of Sierra Madre games and I wrote a glowing review. A smart design with a brilliant theme but other special power card games have taken its place in my roster.

October: Container - like Chicago Express and Stephenson's Rocket, a brilliant but opaque design that isn't easy to get played as much as it needs.

November: Municipium - see above

December: Last Train to Wensleydale - another Wallace that failed to spark after initial enthusiasm. Brass, (Age of)Steam/Railways and Discworld are his only real enduring classics for me.
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Thu Jan 8, 2015 1:58 pm
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Q4 2014 review

Martin G
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Bristol
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A quick look at what I've been playing and buying this quarter, and a comparison to last year.

Total plays: 123 (2013 had 99)

Distinct games: 60 (2012 had 43)

New-to-me games: 21 (11 in 2013)

Dimes: 0 (1 in 2013)

Nickels: 6 (3 in 2013) - Elements, Red7, Impulse, Aton, Wir sind das Volk! and Potato Man.

My gaming in Bristol has settled into a comfortable groove, complemented by a trip away with the Lobsters where most of the new-to-me games came from.

And now a look at the collection.

Acquired: 8 - Greenland, Wir sind das Volk!, Mexica, Simply Ingenious (gift), Indigo, Four Dragons, Klunker, Cards Against Humanity (gift).

Removed: 0

Owned: 144 (excluding expansions - up from 136 at end Q3)

Unplayed: 5 - Bison: Thunder on the Prairie, Glenn's Gallery, Trump, Tricks, Game!, Four Dragons, Klunker.

The perennials are joined (temporarily) by a couple of recent acquisitions. A bit of a splurge this quarter, by my current standards. I aim to restrict my acquisitions to an average of one a month in 2015.

Best new-to-me: Wir sind das Volk!, followed by Greenland. At least I chose my shiny Essen acquisitions well.

New 10s: none
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Tue Dec 30, 2014 2:36 pm
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New-to-me 2014: the ten best and worst

Martin G
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Bristol
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Yeah, it's a bit early. But the traditional geeklists have appeared, so here are my respective entries in one place.

The Best

This turned out to be a fantastic year for new-to-me games. I think all ten games I'm about to list would have had a chance of finishing first in my list if I'd played them last year.

Top 5 board games*

1. Impulse - my read of the rules and even my first game didn't totally convince me. I was worried by the potential for endless downtime while other players chain actions. But 10 plays in, mostly at the optimal 3p, I have to admit: I should have trusted Chudyk. Like Glory to Rome and Innovation before it, Impulse has that glorious freewheeling creativity that Chudyk is so good at. You'll have to think on your feet and be prepared for wild swings, but your reward will be fantastic variety, in-your-face interaction and tense finishes, all in 30-45 minutes. Just brilliant.

2. Wir sind das Volk! - only three games in it's hard to judge a game that seems to promise as much as this one. The last time I felt this much anticipation about climbing a learning curve was Pax Porfiriana. So many things I love: a modern-day political theme; card-driven actions; asymmetry; multiple victory conditions; the list goes on. Those first three sessions have each played out promisingly differently too. You have to choose which pressure point you're going to aim for and drive it hard, and that decision causes the action cards to be valued very differently from game to game. The thematic modelling is wonderful too. I'm not ready to call it yet, but this has potential to be a masterpiece.

3. Quantum - for me this came out of nowhere. I'd heard the name in the Essen 2013 buzz but not investigated further until a friend imported a copy from the US. When it turned out to be designed by games scholar Eric Zimmerman, my ears pricked up and reading the rules delighted me. Like Impulse, it distils the essentials of 4X space conquest into a highly-abstracted frame. The use of a single number on a die to represent a ship's speed, combat strength, special power and colonisation potential is a stroke of design genius. I love the way it rewards aggression and sets up fun puzzles each turn.

4. Greenland - Phil Eklund does worker placement! Kind of... Greenland is easily Eklund's most accessible game yet, but it still needs some investment to get the rules and a lot of buy-in to the theme. Eklund has always walked the line between immersive narrative experience and competitive game, and Pax Porfiriana is one of my all-time favourites because it excels at both. Greenland is probably somewhere between there and Bios Megafauna. You have some control over your destiny but the game (even more than the other players) is going to kick you in the nuts repeatedly. But hell, in which other game can you domesticate a killer whale?

5. Manoeuvre - I had a great run of a dozen games of this while unemployed for a while earlier in the year. I've never been interested in battlefield logistics, but Manoeuvre abstracts them into something more like chess with randomness. Like many of my favourite board games (including the top two above!), it combines spatial boardplay with hand management to great effect. And there's something special about the tension of a head-to-head battle.

* all of which involve cards. That's how I roll...

Top 5 card games

1. Red7 - Chudyk sweeps the board! From the first moment I read about this I knew I was going to love it, and it's been a hit with everyone I've introduced it to as well. A bit of a classic card game feel, just a touch of special powers and a Love Letter level of lightness.

2. Abluxxen - old faithfuls Kramer/Kiesling found a way to do something new with plain old colours and numbers too. Love the way you can build up the strength of your hand but you have to choose just the right moment to start shedding it again or risk getting caught with your trousers down.

3. Elements - 16 cards, 3 possible actions, one tight little game of head-to-head bluff. Doesn't hurt that it's absolutely gorgeous.

4. Port Royal - after almost 50 plays, it's losing its lustre a little. But hey, 50 plays! Yes, it's an engine-builder, which often bore me, but it's spliced on to a great push-your-luck drafting system.

5. Potato Man - a late entry for the only trick-taker this year. The twist this time is that only one card of each suit can be played per round, and the suits are asymmetric. So far has worked equally well for 4 and 2, an impressive feat for any trick-taker.

Honourable mention

A Study in Emerald - because after seven plays, I still can't figure out if the damn thing is brilliant or a mess. I ended up selling my copy though, because one thing I did know was that I didn't have the group to make the most of it.

The Worst

Many of these games are well designed for the audiences they're aimed at. But they're the ones that I most want to rant about, often because of mismatched expectations or wasted potential more than outright failure. And yeah, apparently I really don't like whatever "Euro" means these days

1. Splendor - gets the #1 sport for taking a format I love (the 30 minute filler) and imbuing it with all the tedium, solitude and silence of the full-length games on this list.

2. Russian Railroads - whereas this is the full fat version. A game of choosing one of (at best) a handful of baked-in paths at the outset and spending the rest of the game executing it as efficiently as you possibly can. Player interaction consists of being aware of the furrows the other players are ploughing so that you can identify the 'hot zones' on the shared worker placement board that you need to prioritise. But even then the game strongly rewards you for hiving off your most vital actions to your player board, via the engineers. The whole thing resembles nothing so much as a complex piece of machinery (complete with prescriptive operating manual), the sole purpose of which is to spit out exponentially-increasing gobbets of victory points.

3. Concordia - guess what, more baked-in strategies, resource conversion and limited flexibility.

4. Sail to India - and another. The minimalist packaging is clever, but inside is the same old decision space.

5. Five Tribes - I'll start with some things I liked about Five Tribes. All the action happens on a shared board, and as a consequence it's pretty interactive. It's not overly fiddly either.
But it seems to me to essentially come down to a series of puzzles to solve, each one mostly independent of the next. Sure, you can have something of a strategy, but the moves are far too easy to evaluate purely in terms of immediate VP gain rather than more interesting trade-offs.

6. Istanbul - like Five Tribes, the action happens on a shared area, not individual player boards; unlike Five Tribes it's a nice simple race to five rather than yet another tedious spreadsheet totting-up exercise. But the actions (with a couple of exceptions) are still of the pedestrian turn-one-thing-into-another type and the interaction is mostly incidental, making it very hard to pull back a leader.

7. Gravwell: Escape from the 9th Dimension - I ended up feeling like this. I can take the time to think about where each player is, what cards they might have (and apparently we're supposed to take this seriously, because you get cards in a semi-open draft not a blind deal) and how their possible choices impact my choice, but take way more time over it than feels like is in the spirit of the game. Or I can slap a card down and end up somewhere semi-random. The genius of 6 Nimmt is that I can play in the first way at the speed of the second way. Maybe that comes with repeat plays of Gravwell but I don't think I'll get there.

8. Greed - Sushi Go took 7 Wonders and removed the complexity and interesting decisions. Greed put the complexity back. Admittedly, my rating may have been influenced by learning it fairly late on a long day of games, but I didn't see much to excite me.

9. Camel Up - Seems like exactly the kind of game I'd like and the SdJ jury has a great record for me recently. But I found it rather dull even with a great group - there just didn't seem to be any way to meaningfully influence the results of the race. Knizia's Winner's Circle is superior in every respect as a dice-based betting/racing game.

10. 1944: Race to the Rhine - an interesting premise and not Just Another Euro. But wow, does the endgame not work. It became apparent that none of us were going to be able to cross the Rhine at all (and this seems a common complaint, not just a first-play aberration) and the game became a slog until we finally reached the alternate end condition of all the Nazi tokens being placed on the board. In that situation, final scoring is based on the number of medals gained (we had 5 each), followed by the number of Nazi divisions killed (we had 4 each) and then turn order. So I won by having started last. What a shame; there's a lot of wasted potential here.
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Fri Dec 5, 2014 11:06 pm
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