Don't fall in love with me yet, we only recently met
Since it's languishing down on page 5 of the new-to-you geeklist, I figured I would post this here too.
My first taste of Essen left me with a rather higher number of new-to-me games than normal - 30! Lucky for me, Essen was immediately followed by a long weekend of gaming with London on Board in Eastbourne, where I logged 53 plays but only learnt three new games (breadth and depth, fellas!).
With such an embarrassment of riches, I'm only going to write in detail about the six games I've rated 8+, a rich haul for any month!
What a breath of fresh air! There are so many ways this game shouldn't work. It only has 16 cards, eight of them unique. It has player elimination, often before you've even played a card. It offers few choices, let alone meaningful ones. But I've already played it 25 times, and I don't think I'm ever going to get tired of teaching it to a new group (in 30 seconds) and seeing them erupt into hilarity within a minute flat. Pure joy in an envelope.
[Brief note on versions: I prefer the art and rules of the Japon Brand original, but others favour the AEG version in one or both aspects. YMMV, but it doesn't really matter]
Phil Eklund has always promised to make a game that marries his near-obsessive attention to thematic detail and narrative with mechanics that work as a game and not just an experience. I think this time he's pulled it off.
Pax is a card-drafting and tableau-building game, but with much more interaction than that usually implies. You can play cards and markers straight into your opponents' tableaus, and draft cards with hefty take-that effects. Learning it with two players was a good idea, but it comes into its own with more. The game brilliantly evokes the ferment of its historical setting by forcing the players to keep each other in check and watch for opportunities to seize power unexpectedly. The thematic detail represented on the 200+ unique cards is astonishing and the game is full of Machiavellian plays like attacking your own mines with natives to generate enough outrage to justify a US intervention.
I'm in the first foothills of the learning curve after five plays, but I haven't been this excited about getting to know a game for quite some time.
This was the London on Board gang's surprise hit of Essen, and it's another minimalist gem, outdoing Love Letter with just 15 cards! The basic schtick is that it's a secret role game where you don't actually have to have the role to use it, you can just lie!
There are three cards for each of five roles, and every player is dealt two cards. On your turn you take one of the actions associated with one of the roles, whether or not you actually have the matching card. Certain roles can also be used to counter someone else's action. So for example, I might say "I use my Captain to extort two of your money" and then my opponent says "Aha, but I use my Ambassador to block your Captain".
At any time, anyone can call bullshit on any role claim. The called player has to show the role if they have it (and they then shuffle it into the deck and draw a new one). The loser of the call loses one of their cards and has to play on with a hand size of one. If you lose another life, you're eliminated. Last man standing wins - the whole thing lasts under 15 minutes. It's also amazingly well produced for a first-time self-publisher. Good card stock, nice art, very clear rules.
With Love Letter, Chronicle and now this, I'm ready to call Seiji Kanai one of my favourite designers. It's another 16-carder, this one for two players each with an identical deck running from 0-7. You play cards simultaneously, highest card wins, and first to four wins the game. That doesn't sound like much, but each card also has a special power -- a running theme for Kanai -- which turns it into a delightul dance of double-think. Like Love Letter, it belongs in a new (?) genre of 'micro-filler'. It's over in five minutes and the rules even suggest using it as a way to decide start player for a longer game.
Trick of the Rails
What are they putting in the water in Japan? Hisashi Hayashi adds trick-taking to the list of things he's mashed up with train games, after deck-building (Trains) and dexterity (String Railway). This is one of those games that every time I teach it, someone remarks a couple of minutes in "Wow, this is so clever!" and I love the way it seamlessly blends the idioms of trick-taking and 18XX. After five plays, I'm still not sure how much control I have over the outcome, but I'm hoping to have a lot of fun figuring it out.
And if we needed any more confirmation that I'm a card-gamer at heart, here's yet another. For someone who's played a lot of trick-taking games, Sticheln is brilliantly counter-intuitive. I love seeing people's faces when I explain that not only do you not have to follow suit, but every card that doesn't is a trump. It also has one of my favourite characteristics: evil. The game is all about making sure that the pain gets spread around your opponents with as little sticking to you as possible. Joins Sluff Off! in my pantheon of trick-taking nastiness.
The rest, in summary:
The Palaces of Carrara
Article 27: The UN Security Council Game
Escape: The Curse of the Temple
We Will Wok You
Shinobi: War of Clans
Zeus on the Loose
"New-to-you a year ago" is going to be fun!