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My initial impressions on games I recently played for the first time

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A quarter of a million

Surya Van Lierde is pure Eurosnoot and proud of it!
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Michelbeke
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And by million I mean a thousand! I never expected me to keep this blog going for this long. Hope you guys don't hate me for it

You'll see less movement on this blog in the coming weeks as I am going to the US for some leisure activities, including visiting some well known board gamers and spending some quality time with them!
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Thu Apr 27, 2017 6:00 am
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Templar's Journey, Ticket to Ride Rails and Sails and Code 777

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Templars' Journey
tl;dr: OK, but not my bag

This is mostly an area majority game. Kind of like El Grande. People use cards that lets them place or move followers and screw with other players. The difference is that in El Grande players choose from a fixed set that is visible to all players. So you can plan for what other cards will be played. In this game everyone has the same set of action cards and they work or don't work depending on what other players choose. This makes it quite chaotic. You can usually play it safe, but of course taking risks has a bigger benefit.
I was kind of annoyed by some of the big swings that can happen in some situations.
For me it was a bit too chaotic and agressive. In El Grande this doesn't bother me at all. There it builds tension, here it creates frustration.

Initial rating: 5.5/10
BGG scale: 4/10

Ticket to Ride: Rails & Sails
tl;dr: fun variant

When I recently played the classic Ticket to Ride again I was pleasantly surprised by how well it has held up over time. I've always wanted to play every version of this game, but I have not been very successful at that.
This version sounded interesting, so it was on the top of the list of TtR games to try for me. I quite enjoyed it, but I was also a bit frustrated. I can see why you are required before playing to decide how many trains and how many boats you want, but it also leads to unnecessary issues later in the game. When you start the game you have no idea what routes the other players will use, so you can't know what detours using what mode of transport you will need. This makes the game a bit clunkier than the original. Also, I felt that the harbors were a bit tacked on as an after thought. They didn't feel well integrated into the design and also where a cause of frustration. In the second half of the game I focused on placing them, but I just couldn't get hold of any cards with anchors on them. They never where available in the display and I never drew them from the deck. So it was dumb bad luck that caused me to be unable to play 2 out of 3 harbors.
So I like this version quite a bit, but it does add some aspects that could have been cleaner. As clean as the original would have been nice.

Initial rating: 7.5/10
BGG scale: 7/10

Code 777
tl;dr: such a fun challenge

I really like this kind of game. No nonsense, here's the premise, go. There is kind of a luck factor in what cards you get because some questions just don't help you. The timing of getting your new sets is also important. If you get to grab your third set just before all the old tiles are reshuffled, you're in a very good position to win. Very, very good. So in that regard some people could say there is a runaway leader problem, but that's not how it feels to me. It's all about the fun challenge of solving the question what code you have, not about who wins in the end!

Rating: 7/10
BGG scale: 7/10
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Wed Apr 26, 2017 8:26 am
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The King's Will, Solaris and Colossal Arena

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The King's Will
tl;dr: solid dry euro

Oh, this game is tight. All game long everyone is scraping for money and resources. As soon as you get anything, you'll be very, very tempted to spend it right there and then, because there's so much you want to do and so little you can do. But the pain is quite enjoyable. OK, it is pretty dry, but that doesn't bother me. There's plenty of options to explore and I expect there to be many strategies that are viable.

Initial rating: 7.2/10
BGG scale: 7/10

Solaris
tl;dr: OK Feld like game

When I say this game is Feld like, I don't mean that the board resembles AquaSphere, I mean that the game has a number of different actions on the different locations on the board, and there is no obvious way to combine those to score points. Some of them seem quite obvious at first glance, but the trick is how you keep your engine going. It's quite easy to deplete all the tracks in a round to maximize your score there and then, but at the same time you're making sure you won't score a lot in the next round, crippling your chances. It's really important to strike a balance between scoring points and keeping some options for next round.
All this sounds pretty interesting, but for me the game ended up being less than the sum of it's parts. It all sounds intriguing, but in the end too much of it comes down to the luck of the draw or the luck of not having an other player steal that one card you really need to pull off your plan.

Initial rating: 6/10
BGG scale: 5/10

Colossal Arena
tl;dr: too chaotic

This is a game in which you bet on what monsters will survive. You also influence what monster will survive and sometimes you get to use their special ability. Every round you get to a point where you know the round can end very soon. If you're the person doing so, you can probably end it to your benefit. If not, the other player will probably screw you. My issue is that in most cases you don't have control over who gets to end the round, the other players decide.
For me the amount of control was too low, and there can be huge swings in monster's powers. That annoyed me quite a bit.
I guess it's not a bad design if you like that kind of thing, but I don't care for it.

Initial rating: 6/10
BGG scale: 4/10
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Sat Apr 22, 2017 12:59 pm
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Ticket to Ride, Modern Art and Spot It!

Surya Van Lierde is pure Eurosnoot and proud of it!
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Ticket to Ride
tl;dr: still holds up

Of course this is not a first impression, but it had been a looong time since I played this now all time classic.
I must say, this game is still a gem. It is so simple yet so effective! This is what they call elegant game design: simple, streamlined rules that lead to a more interesting game than one could ever expect judging from the rules.

Rating: 8.5/10
BGG scale: 9/10

Modern Art
tl;dr: interesting pure auction game

There was a time when Reiner had auction game diarrhea. I just put out game after game after game with all kinds of different auction mechanisms. Most of those have just one auction mechanism, this game features five of them.
Each turn you will auction off one of the active player's cards. The card indicates what type of auction it is.
The system where the value of cards is dependent on the amount that is played and the amount scored in previous rounds, creates a very interesting dynamic.
I must say this game still works surprisingly well and certainly is one of the better pure auction games I know.
Too bad every edition of this game looks like shit!

Initial rating: 7.5/10
BGG scale: 7/10

Spot it!
tl;dr: more an activity than a game

Be the fastest to find a match between the card in the middle and the card you're holding. First to empty his hand wins.
Of course this is one of those speed games where the player who is just a tad faster than the others will win every time.
For me this is not unenjoyable, but you don't really have to make choices, so it's more of an activity than a game for me.

Initial rating: 6/10
BGG scale: 5/10
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Fri Apr 14, 2017 2:40 pm
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Yamatai, Welcome Back to the Dungeon and Kreta

Surya Van Lierde is pure Eurosnoot and proud of it!
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Yamataï
tl;dr: another one of those fine but unexceptional games

This feels mostly like a classic Euro to me. Nice, straight forward placement rules, a moving row of building projects that score in different ways, and a more modern twist with unique characters that change things up a bit.
All of this comes with very nice components and artwork, as you might expect from a Days of Wonder title. One weird thing is that a different icon is used for points on the buildings than on anything else. Unneseceraly confusing. I'm not sure how that happened, but it shouldn't have.
This is a typical medium weight, more or less family friendly strategy game that works well and is pleasant, but also unexceptional. It does what it sets out to do, but nothing more, and that's a bit of a shame. But I suppose most people will enjoy this and find it worth playing.
I wouldn't refuse playing it again, but I don't expect to request this to hit the table any time soon.

Initial rating: 7/10
BGG scale: 6/10

Welcome Back to the Dungeon
tl;dr: well, at least it's shorter then Munchkin!

This game has a nice push your luck element: do you screw up the round for others, running the risk of being the one screwed, or do you stay in, hoping the others don't screw it up for you, or do you drop out early but forfeit any chance of scoring?
Too bad the game after that is just very meh. I guess that push your luck element is the selling point of the game, but for me it wasn't enough. In the end, this is just another game where someone goes into a dungeon, and other players try to fuck it up for them. Like Munchkin. But shorter. At least they got that right.

Initial rating: 5/10
BGG scale: 4/10

Kreta
tl;dr: Fine, but didn't age that well

I suppose that when this game came out, it was a pretty good offering. Today however, it does feel a bit dated. It's not too bad though. It still works pretty well and has good choices, I just think that newer games have taken some of these elements and improved on them.
I also think that a better version of this game can be found under the name China. They both have a very similar area majority element. The way you do actions is very different though.
This game runs on an action card system where playing your actions in the right order is an important aspect. Each card allows you to do one specific action, and there's a card to take all played cards back into your hand so you can play them again. That's a good mechanism of course, I just felt that the game wasn't more than the sum of it's parts. It all sounded better then it turned out as a complete package.
Still, not a bad game, don't get me wrong!

Initial rating: 6.5/10
BGG scale: 6/10
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Tue Apr 11, 2017 1:31 pm
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Terraforming Mars, Ubongo Extreme and Ubongo 3D

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Terraforming Mars
tl;dr: very good indeed

I played the prototype of this game in late 2014. I quite liked it, but it did still need some work. That came in the form of redoing the turn structure. In the original when it was your turn, you did all your actions. Now you just do one or two actions on your turn and on to the next player. This is a great step forward as it streamlines game play a lot. It makes downtime lower and allows you to think about your actions while other players are at it.
What I like a lot about this game is that it offers a huge amount of variety. The amount of unique cards is staggering but there also seems to be a variety of strategies to explore. In our game one player focused on energy and heat. An other player focused on animals and other cards that gave points. I focused on building cities and greeneries. Scores were pretty close.
There is a tiny bit of take that in the game, but it's not too bad.
The rule book is sometimes a bit confusing, it could have been worded or structured a bit clearer, but in did fall into place pretty nicely when we started playing.
Good stuff. Maybe not the 14th best game of all time, but I haven't agreed with a lot of the current top 20 lately. It seems like new games are being over hyped quite a bit. Good games, but THAT good?

Initial rating: 7.5/10
BGG scale: 8/10

Score after prototype play: 7.2/10

Ubongo Extreme
tl;dr: challenging and fun

I have never played the original Ubongo, but it always looked nice. When this more challenging edition came out it seemed like the version to get. It can indeed be very challenging. Having an easier and harder puzzle on each board does help of course.
In general the better player will win, but with equally skilled players, the one with the most luck of the draw will come out on top.
This game is not for everyone though, this game just doesn't click with some brains.
I really like this type of game, and this is a very good version because it is rather challenging.

Initial rating: 7.5/10
BGG scale: 8/10

Ubongo 3D
tl;dr: fun, but not that challenging. Or is it?

So after the success that was Ubongo Extreme we also got this version. 3D promises to add a new dimension of challenge, but by having square shapes, the options are lower than with hexagons in 2D it seems.
In any case, this came out weird. For Myriam and I this is a very easy version where we can usually solve (the 3 piece) puzzle within 10 or 15 seconds. Most other players seem incapable of finishing on time though. That's puzzling to me. Why is this so much easier for some, yet harder than the Extreme version for others? I guess it's the extra dimension that requires a different part of the brain? I don't know.
So while this is not as challenging, I do still really enjoy playing this.

Initial rating: 7.2/10
BGG scale: 8/10
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Fri Apr 7, 2017 9:08 am
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Ave Roma, 5 Minute Dungeon and Palazzo

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Ave Roma
tl;dr: solid strategic euro

This is the type of euro I like: pretty streamlined rules, but lots of options and different strategies to pursue. And more than one of them seems viable. There are parts of the game you can completely ignore and focus completely on optimizing your engine without certain elements. I always like it if games offer that options and still offer a balanced game. Good job, designers!
There are a few issues with the icons and colors that could have been a bit better, but nothing that breaks the game.
What I don't like about this game is that it comes with seven or so expansions. Please, designers, make choices and make the best version of the game possible, and don't throw the box full of ideas that players can then combine to taste. Because then you have to try a lot of different combinations to figure out what the best version of the game actually is. Just give me that best version from the start, and offer the rest in expansions that are released at a later stage, just for the people who want to try more different versions. I'm only interested in playing the best version.
But this is a good game, certainly worth playing.

Initial rating: 7.2/10
BGG scale: 7/10

5-Minute Dungeon
tl;dr: all fluff

This is a chaotic, co-op, throw some cards under time pressure game. It's not bad or annoying but the depth is... of an undetectably small amount. Also, we didn't win, but that had nothing to do with our skill. We saved our best cards for the big boss at the end and exhausted all our options. We didn't run out of time, we just didn't get the cards we needed. OK, for a 5 minute game that is not too bad, but still, if you do everything right...
In any case, this is a romp and I guess many people will enjoy this, but I prefer my light games to have slightly more depth. This is all fluff and no substance.

Initial rating: 6/10
BGG scale: 5/10

Palazzo
tl;dr: solid but very middle of the road

This game out at the tail end of Reiner doing games that are worth playing. There are a few notable exceptions, but for the most part the games he put out since 2005 have been very... skippable.
This game has pretty simple rules with only a few options, but they do create interesting choices. Do you buy a tile you need or do you add more to save money in a future round, running the risk someone else will grab it before you can? Do you auction off a set of tiles? Do you take more money? Pretty good options, with a scoring system that makes sense.
I quite enjoyed this. It's nothing new, but it's put together well, as you might expect from Reiner. But it's not developed so much that is has no soul left.

Initial rating: 6.7/10
BGG scale: 6/10
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Tue Apr 4, 2017 3:21 pm
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Jorvik, Fits and Amerigo

Surya Van Lierde is pure Eurosnoot and proud of it!
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Lately I have been replaying some older games at work. I haven't played them in 8 or 10 years and remember very little. I also haven't written about them yet. So it's almost like I never played them before, which is why I'll be including them here (and in past and future weeks) with an initial rating even though I have played them in the distant past.

Jórvík
tl;dr: solid game, not my favorite

I have played The Speicherstadt (once, apparently) and remember appreciating the design. Apparently this game is identical, but with the expansion included and with new artwork. I had never played the expansion.
First of I must say that the box for this game is way over sized. It could probably have fit in the box of the original base game, but most publishers would put it in a Hans im Glück big box, not a Kosmos big box. So much air!
But that aside. How did I like the game? Well, I like the (very hard) choices that every turn brings. What order to place your workers where? When should you save your money for a card that comes up later? When to go all in on the top row (the bit that comes from the expansion, if I remember correctly)? Good, meaningful choices.
Yes, this is a solid design. But I don't love it. I don't know why, but it didn't click with me. I recognize the quality of the design, but it's not a game I would request often.

Initial rating: 7/10
BGG scale: 6/10

FITS
tl;dr: fun, family puzzle

I'm quite good at spacial games, so this is a good game for me. The rules are really simple, yet the way that the pieces come out (which causes a good amount of luck) makes it a good challenge. Optimizing the pieces you get and planning ahead for the next rounds, not knowing what will be next, is quite good fun. Also, the different boards add different challenges and scoring opportunities.
Very basic, but also very effective.

Initial rating: 7/10
BGG scale: 7/10

Amerigo
tl;dr: not great

I always like it when card games come with one type of card that is used in different ways. This game uses one type of card in three different ways: as goods, as sailing ships and as money (VPs)
The concept is pretty nice. Use cards to sail to get more cards (timing is important for scoring bonus points) that you can then exhibit and then sell for points. And the selling has an interesting scoring system as well where it matters what other people are offering and what resources are rare and popular. All very good concepts.
But this game fell flat very fast. If you get unlucky and draw lots of 1 rudder cards, you'll spend most of the game using those over and over hoping to draw better ones to finally build up your hand to have enough spare cards to offer. If you offer too soon and run out of cards to sail, you'll be playing catch up for the rest of the game.
Also, the game started being repetitive quite fast.
No, this was not a thrilling game at all. It's less than the sum of it's parts. A shame.

Initial rating: 6/10
BGG scale: 5/10
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Fri Mar 31, 2017 2:55 pm
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Legendary Encounters Alien, Through the Desert and Love Letter Premium

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Legendary Encounters: An Alien Deck Building Game
tl;dr: it's what you'd expect

Take basic deck building. Inject it into a co-op game. Take the theme of one of the Alien movies and paste it on the cards (with little connection between the name of the card, the art and the function). You get this game. I like deck building. I like Alien. I'm OK with co-op. But of course that last part is the main part. It's kind of like Pandemic: everyone has a special ability, and you work together to fight the game that does a good job of undoing any progress you make.
It's all fine, but it didn't grab me at all. The theme felt really pasted on to me.
I wouldn't say no if someone would ask me to play again, but I probably won't request this.

Initial rating: 6.5/10
BGG scale: 6/10

Through the Desert
tl;dr: shows how good Reiner used to be

Simple rules, streamlined game play and interesting choices. These days Reiner seems to limit himself to the first 2, but when he made this game he remembered to put in the third, most important, ingredient.
I'm not going to say this is a sublime game or my favorite of his, but this clearly shows just how elegant and effective his designs from this period used to be.
So yeah, this is a very good design that hits a balance that few games do. I do enjoy playing it, but it is a bit one dimensional. For me Ticket to Ride is a game that is very close in it's simplicity but just a bit more fun than this one. Still, this one is certainly worth playing.

Initial rating: 7.2/10
BGG scale: 7/10

Love Letter Premium
tl;dr: mostly a cash grab

How to squeeze more money from a best seller? Create a version with bigger cards (for no reason) that are also three times as thick as normal cards (for no reason), add sleeves (with custom backs of course) and over sized wooden tokens, in a box with fake felt finish. Who's going to buy that? Many people. But you know what? This concept can be improved upon: add an expansion with new characters not available anywhere else. Haha, now everyone who has the base game who wants to play the expansion is forced to buy this over produced, over priced package!
OK, so much for my thoughts on the components of this thing. What's the expansion like, you ask? Well, it doubles the amount of cards and roles. There's some really cool ones, like the assassin, a 0, that knocks out the Guard if he asks the Assassin what role he is. There's also a card that I think is a bit overpowered (the Counselor, is almost guaranteed to give you a point).
In the end though I did feel like this expansion takes away much of the charm and cleanliness of the original. Therefore I will not be getting this. I already own the original.

Initial rating: 7/10
BGG scale: 7/10
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Wed Mar 29, 2017 3:04 pm
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London Key to the City, Cartagena and Stack Market

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Key to the City – London
tl;dr: the same, but more streamlined

I really like Keyflower. This updated version moves the setting to London and streamlines the game play a surprising amount removing stuff like good transportation, green meeples and other bits and bobs. The result? A game that is very similar but different.
One thing that I liked is how the river plays a role in this game that is quite different from the river tiles in the original. It adds a whole new strategy to explore (which I did, almost to great effect).
I was happy to find out that the streamlining didn't take away a lot of the fun that comes from both the bidding and the puzzle to optimize your tiles.
One play is not enough to say if I like this as much, more or less, but I did indeed like it quite a bit.

Initial rating: 7.5/10
BGG scale: 8/10

Cartagena
tl;dr: light family friendly fun

Play a card, move one of your pirates to the next available space with the same icon. Easy enough. Be the first to get all 6 your pirates on the boat at the end of the track. Easy enough (to understand). The trick is what cards to you play when, and when do you move back to gain more cards?
It's a fun, light game with lots of tactical moves. It doesn't outstay it's welcome. It's good at what it sets out to do.

Initial rating: 6.8/10
BGG scale: 7/10

Stack Market
tl;dr: rather fun, but not great

This is one of those games that is a bit more fun than it should be. Because this design is not really that great, but it is a good amount of fun to build the companies up and then bail out and screw the other investor over.
The cubes in the Z-Man edition that I own are nowhere near perfect. That was not intentional, but it does add an additional challenge to the game.
The game does go on for a bit longer than it should, but I do enjoy most of it.

Initial rating: 6.5/10
BGG scale: 6/10
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Tue Mar 21, 2017 3:42 pm
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