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New-to-me 2014: the ten best and worst

Martin G
United Kingdom
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. Khmer - 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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New-to-me November 2014

Martin G
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Bristol
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Lots of new games this month, mainly due to London on Board's seaside retreat. Managed to mostly avoid the Essen hotness though

Loved

I knew from the moment I heard about Wir sind das Volk! that I had to own it. I love modern day political/economic themes, I love card-driven games and Peer Sylvester's King of Siam is one of my favourites. The small box size, low price and great visual design didn't hurt either!

My first play, at the beginning of the month, was very much about feeling our way round the mechanics. As East Germany, I felt like I could barely get anything built before it was torn down. But at the end of the second decade, West Germany suddenly collapsed into mass protest, upset about the East Berliners living it up just over the Wall.

My second game was completely different - my East German opponent managed to build up a strong economy of his own, without resorting to the repressive measures I'd employed. A late-game currency crisis almost overwhelmed him but he managed to survive.

Like Twilight Struggle, this feels like a game to get to know and savour over several plays with a regular opponent. I'm hoping to schedule another this week.

Liked

I'm a sucker for tricktakers with a twist. And the twist in
Potato Man is a great one - you must not follow suit!

I didn't love the original Lost Legacy; it just felt like Love Letter but less fun. But I rather enjoyed Lost Legacy: Binbo Tantei to Inbo no Shiro and Lost Legacy: Hyakunen Senso to Ryu no Miko. They seem to play much better 2p than Love Letter does and they expand the game system in some interesting ways.

Indigo is Knizia's take on Tsuro and he shows his typically masterful touch by adding shared incentives to it.

Crossboule is not a board game in any way (seriously, why does it have a BGG listing?) but on a bizarrely balmy November day, throwing beanbags around Eastbourne beach was one of my highlights of the weekend.

While we're on dexterity, Cube Quest is a flicking good fun battle game with special powers.

El Gaucho was a pleasant surprise. Pretty much a super-filler, it's a simple, old-fashioned set-collection Euro with just enough screwage to keep things interesting.

We also started a Risk Legacy campaign, planned to run over the next several Eastbournes. Yes, the basic gameplay is just Risk, with all the attendant dice-rolling. But I think the customisation and camaraderie are going to make this a lot of fun.

(Mildly) disliked

Simply Ingenious is a simple push-your-luck game that has very little to do with the original Ingenious. I had fun playing it with my wife and I don't think it's as bad as its reputation suggests. Nothing to write home about though.

Istanbul is the latest Euro to use the faddish modular action grid. I like that the action mostly happens on a shared area, not individual player boards, and I like that it's a simple race to five rather than 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.

Sons of Anarchy: Men of Mayhem is essentially a worker placement base with an AT theme draped over it. You take turns to move 'dudes' between action spaces, activate them if no one else is there and fight if they are. Almost all of the actions just let you convert between three resources - guns, contraband and money. There are mechanical parallels to Greenland and thematic ones to San Quentin Kings but compared with the thought that went into those themes, it felt rather cheap and tacky. It would have been OK at the advertised 60 mins but dragged on for over twice that, and the last round was anticlimactic as few of the action spaces had any value.

And finally Trans Europa doesn't seem to be much different from the original TransAmerica. If anything, the problem of some deals being far easier to complete than others is exacerbated.
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Sun Nov 30, 2014 11:34 pm
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Wir sind das Volk - second play session report

Martin G
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Bristol
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Wow, this game played completely differently from my first one. I gave Joe the East as it's supposed to be a bit easier for first-timers to play, and I wanted to see how the West played. Mindful of the importance of West Berlin in my first game, I spent the early turns developing a backbone of industry through its supplier regions, allowing me to export living standard to Berlin (3 by the end of the game). But focusing on infrastructure meant I wasn't constantly dismantling and seeding unrest in the East (as Paul had done to me in my first game), so Joe was able to build much more of an industrial network of his own. He established one LS in each of his regions pretty early on and while he sacrificed Prestige, he kept the currency and socialist tracks on his side. With decent living standards and a strong socialist ethos, he didn't need the Stasi or the Wall to keep the population under control. The only police power card he had was a shared card that I activated and he never used any of his special events. Essentially he had built the fabled socialist utopia! His people couldn't afford quite as lavish a lifestyle as mine, but their equality and ethos kept them happy.

As we reached the fourth decade, I realised that the failure of socialism and economic collapse victories were well beyond my reach. My only hope was mass protests, and that relied on my realisation that Joe was propping his system up with shady Western currency deals. I ramped up my LS along the border, forcing him to respond and increase his liabilities even more. As the decade ended, the stage was set for a chain reaction as the Eastern populus came to see that the ideology they lived for was propped up by a lie. First the dismantling for flight and prestige let me knock a couple of his provinces below the threshold to gain Western currency. As a result he was short by 6 WC to support his living standard, causing all his factories to run down. In turn that meant a couple of his provinces could no longer hold their living standard, which gained them unrest through the internal comparison. And finally the external comparison added yet more unrest, pushing three Eastern provinces into mass protest.

But three isn't enough! Despite the growing disaffectedness of the population, the East had survived the four decades and Joe had won the game. I had realised too late where his weakness was - if I'd taken some decrease WC events earlier or seeded a little more unrest, I think his people would have overthrown the government. I realised that you can't do everything - by building up my infrastructure in the Berlin suppliers, I'd spent less effort in the border regions, meaning the external comparisons were ineffective until the fourth decade. Lots to chew on before my next play.

Both mechanically and thematically, this was a great session. Teaching took 30-40 mins, but then the full four decades played out in about 2 hours. I loved some of the tempo tricks with the card play - it seemed quite important to try to get the first pick of the cards in the second half-decade, as there would often be one standout first pick (to use or defuse!). Joe enjoyed it too and wants to play again soon; his write-up is here.
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Wed Nov 26, 2014 10:18 am
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New-to-me October 2014

Martin G
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Bristol
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The main event

Pax Porfiriana has become one of my top 5 games over 50+ plays in the last two years, so Greenland has been long-awaited for me. I've got to play three times so far, which is still pretty early to assess a game as thematically and mechanically dense as Eklund's tend to be. My initial take is that I really enjoy it, but that it won't be as much of a favourite as Pax.

Pax achieved the remarkable feat of offering a lot both to players who want to immerse themselves in theme and narrative and to players who care more about mechanics and competition. I think Greenland offers just as much to the former group, but less to the latter. There's a lot of game-driven chaos and each of my games has had a runaway loser. The time it was me was still an enjoyable experience though - I just had to shift my mindset to regarding it as a challenge to survive the 10 rounds rather than to win. However I can definitely see players who enjoy games more for competition and less for experience finding this off-putting.

The good

Last weekend was the twice annual London on Board gaming getaway so I got to try quite a few new games. I mostly steered clear of the Essen hotness and nothing blew me away, but there were some fun games.

Bucket King 3D was a perfect game to play at 1am both nights when my brain had almost shut down. It's a climbing game stripped to its barest essence, but with the hilarious twist that scoring is done by flicking coloured buckets out of a pyramid that you construct based on the strengths and weaknesses of your initial hand.

Melee is the new game from Rikki Tahta of Coup fame. Like Coup, it's a fast-paced (15 min) battle of wits and bluff. This time that comes in the form of a stripped-down dudes on a map game, with conflict resolved by the defender trying to guess the number of coins the attacker has placed in a closed fist. If you dislike blind-bidding and bluffing, stay the hell away, but otherwise it's another fun contribution to the microgame genre.

UGO! is yet another tricktaker with a twist. I liked it, but man is it overproduced for what it offers, with a huge box, individual player boards and tokens. The main twist here is that timing when you win tricks is really important - usually you want to win with your high cards late but not too late. And there's a clever way of balancing the power of low cards vs high cards too.

The not-so-good

I'd been interested to try Greed as I'm a huge fan of DXV's Kingdom Builder. It may have been influenced by learning it fairly late on a long day of games, but I didn't see much to excite me here. It's a very simple draft-and-play game but with an awful lot of text on the cards to be read each time you make a decision.

And finally Boom: Runaway is a 6-nimmt-like simultaneous play card-game. It might not be awful, but it made almost no impression on me. I'll just stick to 6 nimmt.

Already in the bank for next month:

Wir sind das Volk
Crossboule
Risk Legacy
Potato Man
Lost Legacy boxes 2 and 3
El Gaucho
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Sun Nov 9, 2014 4:57 pm
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First trip to Greenland

Martin G
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Bristol
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A new Eklund game is as big an event as a new Chudyk in my book. They're both masters of getting a big game into a small box and few components, and they're both doing things that are refreshingly different from anyone else.

Greenland showed up a few days ago and since then I've been poring over the rulebook and the forums preparing for my first play last night. Here are some very rough first impressions while it's fresh in my mind.

- I really enjoyed the session. What I don't know yet is how big the universe of possible games is. It doesn't feel like it's going to have the crazy variability of Pax, but I might be wrong about that.

- lots of echoes of other Eklund games, particularly Bios Megafauna and Pax. Two rows of six cards is becoming a bit of an Eklund signature. And the Big Ideas seem to be the ones explored in more depth in Origins - I'm going to have to read Jaynes I think.

- rules were reasonably smooth. I'd put in the homework to be able to teach it, and it was a lot easier than Pax. I've just rescanned the rulebook and the few mistakes I made were pretty minor. The guys I played with didn't get into Pax (this was before I was in the group) and one of them ended Greenland saying "it's like the fun version of Pax".

- we didn't explore the gamespace that thoroughly. There wasn't nearly as much fighting on biomes as I thought there'd be so there wasn't much negotiation either. Only one Sabine raid and few domestic animals.

- the resources are tight, especially iron. The only way to get it in our game was Vinland (where only one colonisation attempt was made, quickly wiped out by sharkbites) and a meteorite, which was hotly contested. Iron advantage is big if you do want to contest biomes as you get to attack first.

- I was the Tunit and my starting Markland colony seemed like a strong advantage. Most turns I lost one colonist to attrition but then regained him as a new baby. With four energy coming in each turn, plus two of my daughters reducing my energy need, I was always well-stocked, and was able to maintain a full set of elders for most of the game. In contrast, the other guys were always struggling for energy and were both down to zero elders for parts of the game. I'm not sure if this was lucky dice-rolling on my part (not losing many hunters to sharkbites) or that the others should have contested it more. Because I had the aforementioned iron advantage, if they did try to get in to Markland I could always attack first.

- we had almost all of the global cooling events in our selection of 10 so by the end of the game the whole of both rows was on the cool side. That meant my 5 colonists in Markland were worth double the usual VP too.

- we laughed a lot at all the crazy stuff that happened, and so did anyone else who came within earshot. The narrative was a lot of fun and so is the dice-rolling.

- they both say they want to play again soon now they've learned the rules.

- I need to write a review so I can call it "Energy and Ivory, together in perfect harmony".
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Wed Oct 22, 2014 8:47 pm
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A la carte!

Martin G
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Bristol
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This year, my picks for Spiel des Jahres were Love Letter, Abluxxen and Port Royal but none got nominated and only Love Letter even got a recommendation.

To the rescue comes Fairplay magazine's 'A la Carte' award for card game of the year, regularly the best fit to my tastes:

1. ABLUXXEN Ravensburger
2. LOVE LETTER Pegasus
3. UGO! Playthisone
4. PORT ROYAL Pegasus
5. KASHGAR Kosmos
6. SKULL KING Schmidt Spiele
7. PARADE Schmidt Spiele
8. SOS TITANIC Ludonaute
9. FUNGI Pegasus
10. KORYO Moonster Games/Asmodee

Of the rest, I've only played Parade, and I love that too. So what else should I try?

Ugo and Koryo I've come across a few times and I'm interested. I don't think Fungi sounds particularly exciting, but I could be convinced otherwise.

Kashgar I know nothing about, but it sounds like it'll need an English version to be playable for me. SOS Titanic is likely too solitaire for my tastes. And Skull King sounds like another (unnecessary?) version of Oh Hell/Rage/Wizard.

Anyone got thoughts on these, or can think of 2013/14 card games the Fairplay jury missed?
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Fri Oct 3, 2014 7:12 pm
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New-to-me September 2014

Martin G
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Bristol
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I played two hot new games this month but both fell flat for me. That leaves the winner by default being Merchants, a minor Knizia filler from a few years ago. It's a typically minimal stock-market game; just a small step up from Loco/Botswana. I played 2p, which was fine, but I could see that 3-4p would allow for more interesting shared incentives.

I also played Age of War, another Knizia filler, but I'm not counting it as new as it's just a re-skin of Risk Express. Still a fun enough dice-chucker, but the old theme fit much better.

I played a lot of the exact-bid trick-taker Oh Hell at university. Wizard is essentially the same game but with an absurdly extended play time and special cards that add nothing but randomness.

--------------------------------------------------

And on to the sacred cows...

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 game is overwhelmingly tactical and the moves are far too easy to evaluate purely in terms of immediate VP gain rather than more interesting trade-offs.

And oh, the downtime if your players are overanalytical! There's a turn-order auction at the start of each round, but only the high-bidder really knows what they're paying for, because the board will have changed for the others. The game also has an odd structure of starting with an overwhelming number of options and then gradually removing them until none remain. As a result, it seemed rarely worth bidding anything for turn order until the mid-game; just take whatever's left when it gets to your turn.

The scoring system is also a bland 7-Wonders-like spreadsheet. A bit of area majority, a bit of set collection, season to taste. It's too bad, because the underlying mancala mechanism isn't bad but it gets smothered by everything else. Our feeling was that you could play slowly, really deliberating over the details of each move, or you could play badly, leaving huge opportunities for the next player. Neither is that appealing.

--------------------------------------------------

Finally, 1944: Race to the Rhine. On the plus side it has an interesting theme (the competition between the allied generals to be first to Germany at the end of WWII) and a first-rate production. It's also not Just Another Euro, even though it is more Euro than it is wargame. It's mostly a game of logistics - making sure your advancing troops are kept supplied with food, fuel and ammo to tackle the increasingly difficult obstacles they'll face. And it was quite fun for a while.

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.

The medals are way too few and too chunky to make a satisfying scoring mechanism. And even worse, a significant number of your medals are based on whether you randomly draw certain cards that let you buy them from your event deck. All three of my cards that did that were buried in the last four cards of my deck; while another player drew all three of his during the game. What a shame; there's a lot of wasted potential here.
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Thu Oct 2, 2014 12:36 pm
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Q3 2014 review

Martin G
United Kingdom
Bristol
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Just a quick look at what I've been playing and buying this quarter, and a comparison to Q3 last year.

Total plays: 100 (2013 had 199)

Distinct games: 54 (2013 had 74)

New-to-me games: 18 (27 in 2013)

Dimes: 0 (4 in 2013)

Nickels: 5 (3 in 2013) - Red7 (9), 6 nimmt! (8), Port Royal (8), Abluxxen (5) and Hanabi (5).

A couple of major interruptions to gaming in the form of the World Cup (I watched nearly every game) and two weeks visiting the in-laws in the US. But that trip did also allow me to enjoy a fantastic gaming weekend in Dayton with a few of my best geekbuddies.

Other than that, this quarter has represented the 'new normal'. I quit my teacher-training course (which left me zero time for games) at Christmas, having decided it really wasn't for me, and then spent 6 months job hunting and doing a bit of freelance work, allowing me to get in lots of lunchtime gaming with a friend in Bristol. At the end of June I started my new job at the UK's national statistics office and have settled into a pattern of regular Tuesday game nights plus occasional Thursdays.

And now a look at the collection.

Acquired: 5 - Lost Valley: The Yukon Goldrush 1896, Red7, Quantum, Impulse and Khmer (4 in 2013)

Removed: 1 - A Study in Emerald

Owned: 136 (excluding expansions - up from 132 at end Q2)

Unplayed: 3 - Bison: Thunder on the Prairie, Glenn's Gallery and Trump, Tricks, Game! (exactly the same games as at end Q2)

A bit of collection growth but I don't feel too bad as all five are excellent, were good bargains and have had multiple plays. In fact most of the purchase cost was covered by my sale of ASiE. While it's a fascinating game, it demands regular play with an enthusiastic group to shine, and I don't have that.

Best new-to-me: a tie between two contrasting new Carl Chudyk designs: the intricate Impulse and the brilliantly simple Red7.

New 10s: none
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Wed Oct 1, 2014 9:05 pm
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Blogging on Impulse

Martin G
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Bristol
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I played Carl Chudyk's Impulse for the first time last night, and as a huge Chudyk fan I felt compelled to jot down some initial impressions. First a bit of a look at the game's DNA.

There are 4 different ways to take actions in the game, all by activating one of a hundred or so action cards:

1. You get to activate one of your two personal 'technologies' at the start of your turn, and you can build over those technologies with superior ones using a Research action. This is the bit that's most reminiscent of Innovation's melding and dogmas.

2. You add a card to a common row of four called the Impulse, and then execute all four in order with the new one last. At the end of your turn you discard the oldest one. Since this means you share the other player's actions, this works kind of like a time-delayed version of Glory to Rome's action selection. With three players it works particularly well as you get to do your own action twice but the other players only get to do it once.

3. During these activations, if you trigger any Command actions, you get to move ships on the map, which is also made up of action cards. Some ships activate the cards they land on. This kind of spatial action map has been seen in a few Euros recently - Glen More, Singapore etc.

4. If you trigger any Plan actions you get to add action cards to a personal row of cards called your plan. You can choose to activate your entire plan at the end of any of your turns and then discard all those cards. This reminded me of Foreshadowing in the first Innovation expansion in the way it lets you build up for a future super-turn.

The actions themselves come in 10 types, but within each basic type there are many variations. They're nowhere near as unique and wacky as Innovation's dogmas or GtR's building powers though; in fact they're more like the roles in GtR. Another interesting feature is that every action card has a number as part of its action text which can be 'boosted' if you have stashed enough matching-coloured cards in the 'minerals' section of your home area (e.g. move 1 ship becomes move 3 ships). This kind of reminded me of the way Patrons power up actions in GtR.

The thing that makes the game feel rather old-fashioned in a world where the micro-turn is prevalent is that you will usually use three and often all four of those ways of taking actions within one turn. If there are a lot of Command and Plan cards around in the Impulse and the map, this can spiral into crazy 20+ action turns, during which the other players don't have a lot to do. And if you're playing with people who want to optimise that sequence and start doing take-backs, god help you! I played it more for the ride, having a vague goal for each turn but not knowing exactly where I was going to end up when I started.

The way the game still gets done in a reasonable time-frame (our 3p learning game took an hour, much less than I feared) is by taking very few turns to race to the victory condition. We were done in about five turns each (admittedly I rushed it rather faster than the others, with the final scores 20-9-7). Few turns, but long, involved and rarely interrupted makes me think the game would be brilliant for asynch online play. Get to it, clever computer people!

If it was me developing the game, I'd have been tempted to excise one or two of the ways actions can be taken. The Impulse and the map are core features of the game, but if you removed the plan and/or the personal techs you'd cut the maximum turn length down considerably and also do away with two of the 10 action types. I'm pretty sure the game could function just as well with only 6 or 7 action types.

I guess all that sounds rather negative but I actually really enjoyed playing. Chudyk has packed an extraordinary amount of game into a double deck of cards and a few markers here. It really does manage to do all four of the 4X's. There's a map, technology upgrades, combat (we didn't even have a battle in our game!) and a crazy amount of flexibility.

I don't think I'd want to play with many more than three due to the downtime (someone should be shot for saying it plays 6!) and the way the Impulse works also seems tailor-made for 3p. But man, I do want to play again, and soon.
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23 Comments
Wed Aug 20, 2014 9:17 pm
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Q2 2014 review

Martin G
United Kingdom
Bristol
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Don't fall in love with me yet, we only recently met
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Just a quick look at what I've been playing and buying this quarter, and a comparison to Q2 last year.

Total plays: 169 (2013 had 204)

Distinct games: 69 (2013 had 105)

New-to-me games: 17 (31 in 2013)

Dimes: 2 (2 in 2013) - Port Royal (37), and Manoeuvre (11)

Nickels: 4 (5 in 2013) - Quantum, Linko!, Hanabi and Love Letter

The latter part of the quarter was heavily affected by the World Cup. Other than that it was a great gaming period, highlighted by a 4-day weekend of gaming with the LoB crew over Easter. I didn't learn that many new games (good!) but those I did, I played a lot. One factor was a great run of 2p games at lunchtimes, but changes in circumstances will bring that to an end now, meaning Q3 may be a bit thin.

And now a look at the collection.

Acquired: 7 (5 in 2013) - Port Royal, Linko!, Taj Mahal, Havana, Pylos, 2 de Mayo and Trump, Tricks, Game!

Removed: 2 - Niagara and Wildlife Adventure

Owned: 132 (excluding expansions - up from 127 at end Q1)

Unplayed: 3 - Bison: Thunder on the Prairie, Glenn's Gallery and Trump, Tricks, Game! (same as end Q1)

Well my remark last quarter about reaching peak collection may have been a little premature Still pretty healthy though - three cheap card games, a gift, two bargains from The Works and a trade. Perennials Bison and Glenn's Gallery stay on the unplayed list - I just haven't tried to push them. San Quentin Kings got to the table a couple of times and was much enjoyed.

Best new-to-me: several good ones but Port Royal takes it with nearly 40 plays.

New 10s: none
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8 Comments
Sun Jun 29, 2014 3:22 pm
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