Our post-Essen gaming weekend 08 - first impressions of some new games
Gary James
United Kingdom
Lincoln
Lincolnshire
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This year three of our gaming group (www.lincolnboardgames.org.uk) went to Essen (pallwood, aelf and Juliet) and brought back this:



(Actually Paul brought back a LOT more, but this is what we got initially.) Like last year (http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/25780) we had a post-Essen gaming weekend to try out as many new titles as we could fit into about 24 hours of gaming over the two days. I took a photograph of most of the games but I didn't have the opportunity to set the games up specifically for this purpose, so the quality isn't as high as I'd like...in fact a couple were rejected, but I'll use them from my gallery.

I addition to my game group friends I also play with friends who are casual gamers. I am always on the lookout for games for my casual gamer friends and so I'll give a low/medium/high judgement of my view of the suitability/accessibility of each game for casual gamers.

So, here are our initial impressions.
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1. Board Game: Dominion [Average Rating:7.77 Overall Rank:30] [Average Rating:7.77 Unranked]
Gary James
United Kingdom
Lincoln
Lincolnshire
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We started with this year's buzz game, Dominion. Ben and Juliet had played some games in Essen and it was quickly obvious that this was certain purchase for them. I was coming to it new.

Dominion is a large box full of lots of CCG-like cards. Predetermined sets of cards are constructed for different variants. There are three types of card - currency cards (top in photograph), estate cards (centre) and action cards. The object of the game is to collect estate cards by acquiring currency cards through the use of action cards. Each player is dealt a predetermined starting draw pile and in the course of the game builds a personal deck of cards from which they draw and play. A turn consists simply of drawing a working hand of five cards for the turn and playing a purchase move and an action move. A purchase move is used to buy action cards from the stacks of twelve or so set out, buy higher denomination currency cards or buy an estate card. Once a purchase and action has been made the cards in hand are discarded and a new set of five drawn for the next turn. When the draw pile is exhausted it is shuffled and re-used. Thus as players buy more cards their deck/draw pile increases in size and the diversity of their playing hand increases. The game ends when one of the end game conditions is met, such as three of the types of action card being exhausted. Players then add up the value of their estate cards and the person with the most wins. And that's it, in a nutshell.

What makes the game attractive is the nature of the action cards. These range from straight forward things like 'draw three more cards into your hand', through more involved cards such as village which allow you to draw another card and take two extra actions, and interactive cards that force other players to take an action or react, such as discarding down to three cards or returning certain cards to the top of the draw pile forcing them to be picked up again next turn. Some cards interact in clever ways and it is fun to find combinations and string together a long game turn involving, potentially, multiple actions and purchases.

The first time I played this I looked on baffled as Ben and Juliet whizzed through their hands making multiple card plays whilst I was struggling to remember what every card did or judge its significance. By the time the game ended my head was spinning and I lost, not suprisingly. The second time I played I won.

Nothing in my description above would make me want to play this game. It's difficult to convey the fun and satisfaction in the game, but I recommend anyone except the most card phobic try it out. We liked it a lot.

Casual gamer rating: Probably low in my case - too much reading and thinking but I may try it out.
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2. Board Game: The Stars Are Right [Average Rating:6.41 Overall Rank:1725]
Gary James
United Kingdom
Lincoln
Lincolnshire
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This is a clever little Cthulhu themed game in which combination (or constellations I guess, because it is the pattern that matters) of cards need to be manipulated in order to get various lesser and greater Cthulhu demons and characters into play. A grid of 5 x 5 cards is set out depicting moons, stars, comets and other heavenly bodies. They are double sided (for example cresent moon on one side and full moon on the other). Players use Cthulhu cards which have the dual purpose of being able to manupilate the star card patterns by, for example, shifting one row along, swapping two cards over, and flipping cards over to the reverse side - and depicting demons that can be placed into play if the card pattern on the table matches that on the card. Lesser demons require simple patterns such as a couple of pairs anywhere in the grid, whereas greater demons have complex 8 x 2 patterns that have to be matched. Once demons have been summoned into play they begin to have game effects such as enhancing the power of other demons or making it easier to summon bigger specimens.

I thought it was a clever game with very attractive art work, but it is very tough for the spatially challenged...and planning ahead is difficult because the chances are the star map will have changed by the time your turn comes around. You need to be able to find patterns quickly and be able to work out how shifting and flipping cards will reorient them to the patterns you need. Most of us liked it and would like to play again, but I doubt I will ever be good at it.

Casual gamer rating: low - the theme will be unknown to them and I don't think they'll find the mechanism accessible.
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3. Board Game: Die Wiege der Renaissance [Average Rating:5.97 Overall Rank:6511]
Gary James
United Kingdom
Lincoln
Lincolnshire
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Not a 2008 Essen release but new to us. A game loosely themed on the characters, events and cultural developments of the renaissance. The game is played out on a series of event cards that are placed between each player, in which case just the two players either side can join in, and in the centre of the playing area in which case all players can participate but only two per card. In effect the event cards are mini playing boards.

The event cards represent a significant event of the renaissance and consist of a number of blue or red place markers connected by 'roads'. Each player has seven influence cubes and during a turn one cube is played on the red or blue influence spaces of a card - either between you and another player or on the centre. You then take either a character or culture card. Finally you may play a character or culture card from your hand to the table.

An event card is completed when all of the blue (culture) or red (character) symbols are filled with influence cubes. There is then a scoring. Event cards completed on culture spaces are resolved using the culture cards you have collected, those completed on the red character spaces are resolved by playing character cards.

There is a set collection aspect because the cards are grouped into types of cultural development - arts, science, literature etc. After one or two other twists and turns are taken into account one player usually wins cubes from another. The player who accumulates the most cubes wins.

This was a lot of game in a little box and once we got the hang of it it was intriguing, and I'd say it was well worth checking out. It's hard to describe but if I have whetted your appetitie the rules are online here: http://www.ddd-verlag.de/pdfs/Regel_Renaissance_englisch_Ver...

Casual gamer rating: Low. Quite absract at its heart.
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4. Board Game: Heroes Of The World [Average Rating:6.42 Overall Rank:3422]
Gary James
United Kingdom
Lincoln
Lincolnshire
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Heroes of the World was the surprise of the weekend, to me at least. I hadn't picked this up on any of the pre-Essen lists I had read.

HotW is billed as a civ game that you can play in 60 to 90 minutes, and in some ways it is, in some it's not (there is no technology tree or development path). Similarities with Risk are no doubt in part due to the map and the fact that it has lots of plastic cavalry and soldiers. I don't think it is particularly Risk-like so I wouldn't let this put you off.

The game is played over two epochs, ancient and modern. Each epoch is
basically the same except that the full map becomes available in the
modern half, and the game components such as discoveries and wonders
are swapped out for modern versions.

In HotW players collect and hold a hand of three heroes - all based on
historical characters - and choose one each turn to develop their
influence and take actions on the board. Each hero as a number of
characteristics:

- An area they can influence
- A piece placement value (eg 4)
- A discoveries value (eg 2)
- A combat value (eg 1)
- An income value (eg 3)

(This would be a rather good hero - typically those good at one thing
are not so good at another etc.)

A turn consists of taking a new hero into your hand and then choosing
one to put into play. You then work through the four actions according
to the values on the card. So, choosing the character above you would:

- Place four pieces in india, china or a combination
- make two discoveries by drawing discovery tiles blind from a bag,
and placing them in india and china
- Roll the combat die with and apply the combat value of 1 to the
results (more below)
- Draw 3 gold and if you wish spend gold to take various actions such
as move pieces between adjacent map areas or buy wonders.

Each discovery chit has a value, and each map area a number of placeholders for chits (typically 3 or 4). When all of the discovery placeholders in an area are full there is a scoring round based on majority control. As areas are resolved the total discovery points convert into victory points for the first, second and third majority player in the area. Total discoveries made by a player's heroes is used as the tie breaker, which can be significant since there are not many combat units in play and ties can be common.

Combat is a simple affair - roll a die and apply the result from a table. The character's combat value affects the size of the outcome (eg how many enemy to remove) but not the likelihood of the outcome. Majority makes no difference to the result either. Combat may result in enemy units being removed or dispersed, winning gold from your opponent, both sides losing units, or the attacker losing units.

Ancient and modern wonders can be bought and used once per epoch to apply a powerful game effect. They also give 3 victory points.

Once both epochs have been completed the player with the most victory points is the winner.

This is a simple game with quite a bit of luck, but it probably generated more laughter and table talk than any of the games we played over the weekend. For the length (60 to 90 minutes even with five players) and fun it's time well spent.

(I apologise for the slightly underexposed picture but it does depict the nice cards and the board together.)

Casual gamer rating: Medium. Very easy gameplay, conflict may put some off.
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5. Board Game: Jet Set [Average Rating:6.80 Overall Rank:1289]
Gary James
United Kingdom
Lincoln
Lincolnshire
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It is tempting when you first see Jet Set to think 'Ticket to Ride with aeroplanes' but, apart from the fact that it is a route planning game, there are some significant differences.

In Jet Set players are trying to fulfil the requirements of 'tickets' by having a plane placed on each leg of the jurney depicted on it. The major difference between this and T2R is that there is no blocking - you can put your planes on routes owned by anyone, and there is no limit to the number of players who can fly a route.

On your turn you can do one of four things. You may claim ownership of a link - that is, the flight path between two cities. To do this you pay the cost depicted on the link and must also place at least one plane on it, at an additional cost. Alternatively you may place planes on links. If placing planes on your own link(s) then you are not limited in the number you use but have to pay an increasing service fee for placing simultaneously on more and more links. If placing planes on a link owned by someone else you are limited to just that one link AND half of the cost goes to the owning player. Third, you can claim a flight ticket if you have a plane on every link of the journey depicted and the jurney can be made in the right order. The planes on the links used are removed. Achieved tickets are placed in front of the owning player and as the final alternative you can take income from the completed tickets, which are loaded to provide more income at the start of the game.

At the beginning of the game each player is dealt a secret long haul vacation ticket. Completing this ticket is a major object in the game, since it both earns a lot of points and triggers the end game for remaining players. Once a player has completed their vacation ticket they sit out the game until the end but collect victory points every turn.

This game had us scratching our heads for a while and the general consensus was we'd like to play it again having completed it once, because our strategies would be different. There are some interesting subtleties that take a while to click - such as the advantages of owning routes youself rather than using other players', because placing three planes on other player's routes will take three turns and with such limited actions turns are precious commodities. It seems important therefore to grab some critical vacation links yourslef, but if you do that before the ticket comes out you won't be able to make any money from it and money is very tight...

We all liked it and look forward to playing again. To us there seemed to be a significant variation in the difficulty of the vacatoin tickets (they are all worth the same points) but this may be because we did not appreciate the game strategies first time around.

By the way this image was rejected as 'irrelevant' (huh?) and 'too similar' which is more understandible, but I wanted to show the tickets and the board together, and a completed vacation ticket accumulating bonus points which is the one with the planes on it. So, image modders, please don't be hasty in judging relevance if you are not personally familiar with the game.

Cssual gamer rating: High. Superficial similarity to Ticket to Ride may help or hinder, I'm not sure which until I try it!
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6. Board Game: Powerboats [Average Rating:6.73 Overall Rank:945]
Gary James
United Kingdom
Lincoln
Lincolnshire
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Powerboats has been described as Mississippi Queen on steroids and I think that's a reasonable caricature.

The nice interlocking board depicts open water and islands and races are set up by placing buoys marked 1,2,3 in appropriate positions. Players have to race their power boats around each buoy in the right order and circling them in the right direction.

The twist is that you roll three sided dice to determine the speed of the boat and can only add or remove dice in a restricted manner. You can only change direction once at the start of a move, and even then only by one 60 degree turn in the hex. In addition if your move would cause a crash or collision you MUST take an alternative route if it would avoid an accident or allow yo to travel further before crashing no matter how off-route or sub-optimal it is for you. This can turn out to be very, very bad if you get diverted a long way and a lot of the tension in the game arises from trying to balance the benefits of a speedy move against the risk of a crash or diversion. If you crash damage chits are collected which will eventually begin to restrict the number of dice you can use.

You play three races with points for placement which increases significantly between the three events.

It's a nice game that is actually a lot more fun in the flesh than it sounds when described. I don't think I'll want to play it lots and lots but I'm sure it will be pulled out now and then for a long time to come and I'll happily join in.

Casual gamer rating: High.
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7. Board Game: The Swarm [Average Rating:6.45 Overall Rank:2145]
Gary James
United Kingdom
Lincoln
Lincolnshire
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I liked the look of Der Schwarm (whale meeples, tsunami meeples and tiles to flip over and explore!) and given it is also by Kramer/Kiesling I asked Juliet to check it out for me at Essen. She did, she decided it was just my type of game, and brought me a copy back. There isn't an English translation of the rules yet but we figured it out (we think!) from a combination of seeing it played, Google translate and some knowledge of German from Ben and Juliet.

I haven't read The Swarm by Frank Schätzing so I checked it out on Wikipedia. The gist of it is that a hitherto unknown lifeform deep beneath the oceans starts to extract retribution against mankind for our damage of the ocean ecosystem. Whales begin to attack ships, mutant crabs attack cities, and the continental shelf collapses creating a tsunami. Nations despatch science teams to research the phenomena. The culprit turns out to be a hive-mind like creature of single celled organisms which communicate with pheromones. Anyway, that sets the scene - on to the game.

The board is lovely and depicts land masses around the edges with central ocean spaces in the middle of which is an eye-like graphic representing the hive mind thingy (it's obscured by tiles in the photo). The ocean area is initially covered by face down tiles.

The core of the game is to build research stations on the land masses and use them to base scientists and launch research ships. As your ships move you pick up the tiles they pass over. The face of the tiles contain paths or channels (perhaps representing the communication channels between the creatures?) with a variable number and orientation of connectors. In the course of the game you will be trying to make connections from your stations to the central hive mind and between research stations on different sides of the board. You can block other players with your paths and they can attempt to unblock themselves but only by upgrading the tile to one with more connections. The tiles also have variable 'eye' markers indicating scoring potential. As you lay a tile you place a buoy marker of your colour on it to track your ownership.

Meanwhile a mutant crab meeple may be attacking your research stations, whales might attack your ships and tsunamis could be sweeping your way.

The game is driven by a set of action cards that are initially laid out around the board. Players pick them starting at one end and paying in victory points if they want to buy a card further alomg the track rather than take the end one for free. The majority of the cards allow the placement of stations or scientists and movement of ships. A small number allow control of the creatures and tsunami. A couple of late choice special cards have multiple actions, and players also pay for turn order if they don't want what they will get by default. Each player gets one wild card to avoid anyone being completely locked out of an action.

A round ends when all the cards have been played out at which point there is a scoring based on how many tiles you have laid in the biggest complex connecting to a station, how many scientists are in it and whether it is also connected to the central hive mind. At the end of the game there is additional scoring for having connected your stations together across two, three or four sides of the board. This last aspect seemed very generous but we may have got the scoring slightly wrong.

The heart of the game is therefore a forced-choice action card mechanic leading to a tile laying/path mapping core objective, with an intriguing theme and beautiful bits and a bit of 'take that' thrown in from the creatures (attacking stations and ships with the creatures or waves gains victory pints for the controlling player at the expense of the victims). I'm really looking forward to a full translation of the rules and I tihnk it's going to be an enjoyable light to mid weight addition to my collection.

Casual gamer rating: Medium - need to see full English rules first.
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8. Board Game: Le Havre [Average Rating:7.99 Overall Rank:15]
Gary James
United Kingdom
Lincoln
Lincolnshire
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Sunday started with Le Havre which along with Dominion was the second highly anticipated game this year. We saved this for Sunday morning when we would be fresh, and three of us tried it out.

Le Havre is a build-an-engine type game in which you are trying to use a combinaiton of buildings and services, represented by cards, to process raw materials into better materials, to build better buidings, to process more materials, etc. So it's a 'collect A to use in building B to make C to process in building D to make E to ship on the ship you have built...' sort of game.

Each player has a ship which hops along the circular tiles as can be seen in the photograph. The landing tile of each ship triggers the refresh of raw materials in various points of the board. As far as your current turn is concerned it is a perfect information game, the only hidden information being the as yet uncovered cards.

Ben and Juliet had played the game before, I was coming to it new. I have to say that although, like Agricola, the rules are simple and it is obvious how to play, I found it baffling. I think this was mainly because I was not familiar with even the basic buildings and what they did and trying to work out the chain of events I needed to engineer just seemed like hard work. In the end I found myself taking the obvious choices and sitting out the game until it ended. However, I think it is the sort of game I will enjoy and I probably need to read through the building cards to have a basic familiarity before the next game.

Caual gamer rating: Low, unlike Agricola which I would rate as medium. I think the degree of planning required would prove too much like hard work for my casual gamers.
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9. Board Game: The Princes of Machu Picchu [Average Rating:7.00 Overall Rank:735]
Gary James
United Kingdom
Lincoln
Lincolnshire
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I had especially requested this from Essen. I have loved the rondel games from Antike onwards, and I also love Aztec/Inca themed games, so this was a must-buy for me. (Plus you get a host of novel meeples including t-shirt meeples and llama meeples!)

The aim of this game is to obtain sacrifice cards by sending your scout running up the mountain, gaining one card (from a choice of three) each time the scout passes the temple at the top. The sacrifice cards will grant you point-scoring opportunities in the game, for example points for each priest of certain types, or points for each cocoa grower you have. If you can gather multiple cards granting the same point scoring opportunity the accumulated score can be significant.

While your scout is running up the mountain your prince is moving around the city goading workers (your incas) into producing, appointing new workers, triggering sacrifices, appointing new priests and virgins, and bartering in the market.

On a turn you simply move your prince in the city from one district to an adjacent one. Each city district enables a different action, rondel-style. If you want to move your prince to a non-adjacent district you can do so for the cost of one llama. So, the key to the game is to learn how to use the districts to generate the game effects you need.

There are four types of district. Some produce goods when you have incas present to act as farmers (food), cocoa growers, llama herders, weavers or potters. Each worker will only produce once per day, and getting this timing right can be tricky. Then there are districts housing four types of temple in which to make sacrifices. You sacrifice llamas in three of these according to the type of priest or virgin you have, and in the fourth you can offer all types of goods (pottery, cloth, food etc). Sacrifices speed your scout onwards up the mountain to collect more sacrifice cards. There are two districts to set up more incas - the workman's hut and the palace. Two districts allow you to acquire priests and virgins. Finally, there are two special districts: the Central Plaza allows you to barter your goods for different ones with a simple but rather nice built in supply/demand system that adjusts the price. Finally the Temple of the Sun allows you to withdraw a previously allocated Inca to return it into your supply at the end of the day and gain some rewards, such as goods, in return.

Of course many of these actions require the use of goods (pottery, cloth, food) which must first be produced by your Incas.

The game is played out over a number of days, depending on player numbers. Seven discs are placed in the sky each day, each of which confers a benefit to the player choosing it (which is done instead of taking an action with your prince). The benefits are things like granting your scount three steps up the mountain, or access to some of the goods. Once a third player takes a disc the end of day is triggered, Various actions occur, the production districts are refeshed with one free good, and the next day begins.

As days and nights pass a marker advances toward a picture of a conquistador...for there are two ways the game can end. Either the last priest or virgin will be taken into service, or the time counter will reach the conquistador. If this happens the conquistadors have conquered Machu Picchu. This is the final twist in the game, for the scoring system differs depending on whether a Spanish conquest has occured or the Incas have successfully recruited all the priests and virgins. This intruduces a 'traitor in the camp' aspect to the game. If someone seems keen to take the moon discs and thus speed the day towards night time then they may be trying for a Spanish conquest end game...

I really enjoyed Machu Picchu as did most of us, though I think it will take a game or two or more to really begin to get to grips with it.

Casual gamer rating: Medium. The actions are simple but the game will seem complicated unless your introduction is slick.
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10. Board Game: Steel Driver [Average Rating:7.04 Overall Rank:610]
Gary James
United Kingdom
Lincoln
Lincolnshire
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A Martin Wallace train themed game...fancy that! Actually I didn't particularly fancy it but when I saw the one hour playing time I thought I'd give it a go.

Steel Driver is a railroad themed stock market game that, as I said, promises to play in about an hour. As usual with this type of game noone 'owns' the railway companies or lines, rather you bid on them to obtain share certificates and deposit investment in the company, which is then used to expand the company's network. Build order is determined by the pass order in the previous phase. As connections are made the company value increases according to the value of the connection. Players earn cash after each of the five phases depending on the company's value, which is then reset to zero before the next phase of investment and building.

The cities are coloured white, black, red, orange and silver. In the final phase of the game companies will collect goods cubes from towns they have connected to, with bonuses for collecting sets of different coloured cubes. So, whilst there is no pick up and deliver aspect to the game it is still necessary to build a varied network.

Scores in our game were pretty close in the end and it did play out in more or less the promised time. I find stock market games a bit of a puzzle and they are not a favourite but if you like them and want one that plays in a manageable time this could be right up your street. For me, it was OK and I'd happily play it again.

Casual gamer rating: Low. I think my casual gamers would find the investment aspect a puzzle.
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11. Board Game: Sushizock im Gockelwok [Average Rating:6.50 Overall Rank:1253]
Gary James
United Kingdom
Lincoln
Lincolnshire
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Having enjoyed many a game of Heckmeck Ben & Juliet brought back the next game in a similar vein, Sushizock im Gockelwok. It's a similar domino plus dice rolling game this time with a sushi rather than wormy theme!

Blue nice sushi tiles (positive points) and red nasty sushi tiles (negative points) are laid out and the player rolls five dice three times, leaving some on the table if they wish, to try to get the dice combination that lets them take the best tile. Get three blue symbols face up to be able to take the third blue tile in from the left, three red symbols to get the third red tile from the left etc. The twist is that only pairs of red and blue tiles count, so you are trying to get the biggest blue tiles and the smallest red tiles. Some dice combinations allow you to steal tiles from your opponents.

It's good light end of game night fare and the clacky dominoes are really nice, though Ben & Juliet thought Heckmeck was better.
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12. Board Game: Aquaretto [Average Rating:7.07 Overall Rank:551] [Average Rating:7.07 Unranked]
Ben Kirman
United Kingdom
Lincoln
Lincolnshire
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At one point there was seven of us, so we split into a four (who played Heroes of the World again) and three who played Aquaretto. This was not quite an Essen release but it we picked it up there and it was new to us.

Like Zooloretto, the players are building a zoo and filling it with various animals. The nice thing about Aquaretto is you aren't limited to the fixed enclosure shapes, and can extend your zoo with additional ground sections almost arbitrarily. Again there are negative points for having too many animals, but extra options for scoring points by hiring employees to act as trainers, feeders, cashiers and managers.

It plays quickly and despite the major similarities to Zooloretto, the little tweaks and differences make this a nice change and worthy as a game in itself.
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13. Board Game: Zooloretto XXL [Average Rating:6.97 Unranked] [Average Rating:6.97 Unranked]
Ben Kirman
United Kingdom
Lincoln
Lincolnshire
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(Not Gary's Photo)

After our first game of Aquaretto another player turned up and the parallel game of Heroes of the World was still going on. Aquaretto was pretty quick so we decided to play again, this time with four players and mixing in the new expansion.

The expansion is mostly for Zooloretto but has a few bits for Aquaretto too.
There is a single large expansion tile that costs two gold and adds another 5 squares into your zoo. It can only be bought by one player and it does *not* allow an extra enclosure.

The main addition is a bunch more animal tiles and several "Supply" tiles:



These are mixed in the bag and stored with your coins when picked up from a truck. At the end of the game, if you have one supply tile for each enclosure in your zoo, you get two bonus points per enclosure. Otherwise you lose a point for each unsupplied enclosure.

In our game no one picked up the big expansion tile. It costs 2, which is the same as a medium sized expansion, but does not have the bonus of a new enclosure, which isn't so useful.

However, the supply tiles were fought over and people rarely passed on the opportunity to pick one up, even if the truck was otherwise empty. There wasn't enough to go around and in the end they did make a big difference both to scores and strategies.

It is a very small expansion, so probably not worth it for people who only own Aquaretto, but worth picking up if you own both.
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14. Board Game: Snow Tails [Average Rating:6.98 Overall Rank:461]
Gary James
United Kingdom
Lincoln
Lincolnshire
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An amusing little race game with a clever control mechanism. Each player drives a dog sled using a hand of numbered control cards a bit like Ave Caesar. Every card you play (one to three) has to be of the same number. The difference is that there are three speed variables to control - the speed of your left and right husky, and the amount of brake you apply. So, if both dogs are pulling at speed 3 and the brake is on 2 the sled moves 3+3-2=4 spaces.

There are a couple of twists. First, the only way to steer your sled around corners and other sleds is to set one husky pulling harder than the other. So if you used your cards in the combination 3 left, 5 right, 2 on the brake, your sled will move 3+5-2=6 forward AND 2 rows to the right, because your right husky is pulling +2 harder than the left. And getting your dogs pulling straight again can be quite tricky!

At some points on the track you may face challenges like maximum speed limits, narrow passages, or trees in the way.

It's a fun race game with enough depth to extend its playability. We like it.

Casual gamer rating: High.
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15. Board Game: Chicago Express [Average Rating:7.25 Overall Rank:260]
Ben Kirman
United Kingdom
Lincoln
Lincolnshire
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Last thing on Saturday we set up a quick 3 player game of Chicago Express. None of us had played Wabash Cannonball so the game was completely new to us.
This is another investment-type train game, set in the North East US. Players are investing in five different railroad companies and trying to earn the most money through dividends. The interesting thing about Chicago Express is the short playtime of roughly an hour (just less for us), which makes it many times more accessible and forgiving than the epic 18XX style games in this genre.
The rules and mechanics are extremely well streamlined - In a player turn they may either:
* Auction off an available share belonging to any company
* Lay track for a company that they have at least 1 share in ("control" is not a concept used in this game)
* Develop a land hex underneath track belonging to a company they have at least 1 share in. This gives an easy boost to income for that company.

Each action may only be carried out a certain number of times (tracked with the steam gauges in the picture), and once two actions have been fully exhausted, a dividend phase is called and all the players earn money based on the current income of companies they own shares in. The game ends once one of a handful of endgame conditions are met.

The game moves swiftly and the system is intuitive and not bogged down by too many details. It is the best investment type train game I've played and would be a great start for anyone curious about the genre but too intimidated by the bigger games (like me!).

As with Steel Driver, it probably isn't very suitable for casual players because of the limited feedback you get in investment games about how you are doing.
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