I'm often asked, "Why don't you do negative reviews?"
And, my most common evasion is to say, "But, I do!" And, honestly, I do. I do my best to try and point out of some of the unfavorable parts of the games I review, even if I like them overall.
There is some ether of opinion that makes it way back to me every now and then that I'm just a "sunshine and roses board game reviewer sucking up to publishers at the cost of my integrity". Slightly annoying, but frankly it's a valid viewpoint in some respect. At the very least, I can appreciate that point of view and can't even dismiss it entirely.
However, I do make a habit of trying to rate and comment on all the games I've played. I try to put some kind of comment in for every game that I play. I find the number rating to be very difficult and close to worthless. The numbers have been put in more for myself than anyone else reading them. They serve as a reminder to me. If I am bored, I can revisit a game I have yet to review and see if it's something I want try again. The comments are much more informative. For that matter, there are a few folks floating around BGG whose comments are more informative than most reviews!
I've had more than a handful of folks tell me that they check out my ratings/comments and it has been useful to them when judging if a game is worthy of purchase. So, I had the brilliant (or pedestrian) idea of creating a Geeklist that could be subscribed to, added to, commented on, argued with, shouted at, derided, and made available for anyone to see. I'll put a link on my main video Geeklist as well my website, for people to easily access in the future.
Which brings me to three statements I want to say about this Geeklist.
1) "Why don't you just make video reviews of these games?", says the tiny straw man in my head. Let me tell you a story. No, let me sum up. These games are not favorable to me in the slightest. I would end up acting like Tom Vasel on camera, throwing a game off a roof, burning it, whatever! I love Tom. But, I hate hate HATE when he does that kind of thing on camera, in the context of a formal video review. Something about it doesn't sit right. Frankly, I would end up doing the same kind of thing. I know myself. Jotting down a quick note is much healthier for me, than letting my emotions carry me into oblivion. I don't begrudge any reviewer their approach. There are a variety of voices in this hobby. Tom's is one of the most prolific and well rounded, if not the best. One thing that annoys me is reviewers that critique other reviewers... sometimes while they are reviewing game! Like some kind of giant asshat fortress with an axe to grind against particular types of games. I've been an asshat once or twice. Maybe this Geeklist will help me with that.
2) I don't have time enough as it is to get videos done for the games I love. I'm certainly not going to waste my time, which is precious, taking a dump all over a game I hate. That may sound offensive or arrogant. It's not. I have a job and a family and this is a hobby... that I probably take too seriously. But, at the end of the day it's a hobby that I care about, and I'm not burning myself out for anyone's amusement other than my own.
3) These are games I'm not reviewing... ever. But, these are games that I think are bad. Real bad. They should never have been published. They were a giant waste of my time, and a giant waste of my gaming friends' time. However, there is no way I can review every game out there. There are tens of thousands of games and you will probably never see a Geeklist entry for... I don't know... Puerto Rico, Through the Ages, Princes of Florence, or Starship Merchants. Those are examples of fine games... that I don't like. If you have more interest in what I think about games that you don't see any entry for and I have not reviewed, you can always feel free to investigate my ratings and send me a Geekmail. I'm more than happy to banter back and forth. This list is meant for special games. Only games "worthy" of being on the:
The Black List!!
(Please note that the first several of these are dredged from notes and memory. It took me a few days to sort of catch up. The entries will hopefully improve with time.)
This game has the the worst characteristics of a snowball auction Euro. The random piles that you auction for just make getting squeezed worse and worse as the game progresses. Runaway leaders or a runaway pack can happen easily. The whole game is just about giving away points (or money) to get more points. There is no other strategic element. There is nothing else on top of the auction, which leads to it's fatal flaw. The same thing happens each round. This game has at most one play in it. It may not even have that many.
The quirky theme and components of the latest revision are well produced. But, this very much feels like a mechanical mish-mash just to slap on a mass market theme.
There's just not much "game" here. Almost all of the turns are automatic.
I should really have been able to get into this theme better, but you are really never given that many options on your turn. Any good dice Euro needs to be designed to give you several options no matter what you roll, at least on the majority of your turns. The game turns into sheer tedium, and basically plays you, and goes on really long. That also makes the map seem entirely pointless. There is zero tension in where you put your settlements and routes in relation to the other players.
Found this very boring with two players and way too chaotic with more. It's awful with three. Just wait for two players to mess with each other and hope you aren't one of them. It's relatively interesting to learn the mechanics, but once you do, the replay-ability drops to nothing.
You are constantly doing the same thing every game especially in the first few rounds. Definite auto-pilot syndrome here. It 100% feels like they came up with a neat idea with the pheromones and then went to the Euro grab-bag of mechanics and slapped in feeding your workers, and random scoring tiles. Thinking about this makes me hate Euro games... and I love them! No game should do this to me.
The worst of the Knizia tile games. This is such a bland, abstract, and mind-numbing game. It's basically Go. Pure abstract. But, you can't just place things wherever you want. So, you have your initial placement, then you put it on auto pilot... or sleep mode and wake me when it's my turn... and then I can see where the other players randomly grew their caravans and adjust accordingly... and hope.
Then let's top it off with a horrifying color palette and totally strip out any vestiges of the amazing theme that is present in Samurai and T&E. People call this his best tile layer? Come on.
Holy over-hyped awful. How is this fun? I get that it's supposed to be light. I'm not elitist. I love games with dice. Die Burgen von Burgund. Stone Age. Any "war game" or "trash game". This is game is pure smoke and mirrors. Where do I have to make one meaningful choice at all in the game? It's a toy, not a game.
I understand that there are "fixes" in the expansions, but how many boxes do I need to buy to get the real experience. Even people who raved about the game when it came out and called it the game of the year or whatever, admit that it needs fixing. You can read about the numerous issues on the BGG game page.
But, why did people get all excited about this? I think it was because of the custom dice. Funnily enough the copy that I played (five times mind you) was wrought with jacked up dice that were extremely hard to make out. So, I freaking have no idea where the hype for this game came from.
This game is worse than Monopoly. I picked this up cheap recently because I remembered liking it better than Monopoly when I was a kid. It has some nice elements for sure, but there are massive problems with it. Mostly the movement is just jacked. Pretty sure we played wrong when we were kids, because there is no way I would have liked it, playing it by the rules.
You basically remove any of the strategic elements of Monopoly (when played by the right rules), and you jack up all of the movement and add in running out of gas?? No.
If there is a game that is 100% tactics (100%!!), it's this game. There is an obviously best move every single turn of the game. There is zero decision. How many times did I play it? Twice. I don't need to play this again. My group and I studied this in its entirety to make sure we weren't doing something wrong or missing something. We weren't. There is zero possibility to play with probability here, and it has a massive runaway leader problem.
This game is wrong on so many levels. Every choice is obvious. All of them. You roll two dice and move with one and activate with the other. After a couple of turns, everyone is placing lower and lower value dice on the tiles, and thus gimping all of the available activations.
This game should have never been made. Impossible as it is that I am saying it, it feels like this game was never actually played by anyone before being published. There is probably some exact way to play it, but it's agonizing. There is absolutely NO decision here. My god, I don't want to sit and let games play me! Agony!
The game is completely decided at setup. The setup IS interesting, and the actual gameplay is almost interesting, but everything is 100% calculable once you start playing. It's almost as if there needs to be some randomization to the combat.
You take turns laying out your fighters, traps, and weapons and then that's it. You can literally stare at the board once you are done and figure out who will win. It's 100% calculable after the setup. The setup IS the game, but that just does not do it for me at all. This one needs some more gestation to get finished.
A game of Mercurius is like watching paint dry. I don’t want to get too mired into mechanics, but yeesh! You buy or sell “stuff”, play a card and adjust the price of said “stuff”, then draw a card to refill your hand. Every turn. That’s it. Buy or sell, and then play a card that adjusts prices. The prices move so incrementally that you end up making just a couple of bucks on each transaction. More often than not, you are dealt such a random haphazard set of cards that you can’t really do anything meaningful on your turn... or even for several turns in a row.
Now. I will grant that there is some long term planning that can happen when you play the game with a full boat of five players. Playing with less than five is pointless. With five, you could make minor adjustments on what you expect the market to look like in several turns, based on card counting and checking out the cards in play. However, that is interesting for about three quarters of a play. Then you realize that you could be playing one of a thousand other games that have a splash of tension in them.
This is economics without any excitement at all. The entire game is focused solely on the action track and hedging your bets against what other people are going to plan for that turn. "Oh cool, you got that building. I guess I will get this other one now, for no other reason than that it's there and I can afford it."
Everything wrong with the modern Euro. So, now I get some white cubes, and now I will trade those for pink cubes, and now I will sell those for points, and now I have to pay do this, and now I do this. My collection has zero room for this kind of thing.
The poor graphic design on the board doesn't help. I constantly have to look up what each building does, and it's muddy on top of being obtusely illustrated.
There is no theme here. Only the artwork is the theme. Everything else is just digging for a number. You basically run around a planet trying to get a "number".
Please insert DarthNo meme.
We played this one twice and through the process of each play, I could literally see the theme being stabbed and tortured as we planned out paths to victory. Why would you even make a game like this! It seems to be an exercise in shared delusion that anyone would like this. I don't understand this at all. And, I never will. It seems to be a severe lack of pride and respect for the subject matter, and 100% marketing mash-up that drove the creation of this game.
Wizkids: "Hey Reiner! Give us an area based co-op out of your draw.... Thanks!"
The DC Comics Deck-Building game is by far the worst disappointment of the year, especially when juxtaposed with other recent super hero games. The gameplay is beyond mediocre. You buy cards and get more cards to get more cards to get more cards to get more cards. It’s a step backwards in the Deckbuilding genre. 2008 called...
If you draw your hand and have something even remotely interesting to do, the game seems to go out of it’s way to obliterate any sense of theme. So Aquaman uses the Batmobile this turn... and then I play... Wait a minute! What?? This is a cardinal sin. It’s possible that some will find this part of the game “cute”, but after playing Marvel Legendary (let alone Sentinels of the Multiverse), there is no reason for this game to ever hit my table. I constantly found myself mutter, “But how... How could this... I don’t know.... I don’t know...”
And the villains just kind of sit there, and then eventually someone wins, and it just... doesn't matter.
If I may.... in Simpson comic book guy voice, "Could this game have ripped off Ascension more?"
What a mess Fallen City of Karez is. It was one of several Kickstarter games that were mediocre or worse for me this year. A lot of Karez seems really neat on first blush, as each player has a starting building associated with their chosen guild to give them a unique approach at the start of the game. Example. If you are the blacksmith who focuses on generating lots of equipment for other players to purchase, you could use this money to finance your own adventures, or even create your own dungeon for other players to send their heroes to. So... I could sell equipment to heroes to then enter my dungeon... where they could die and give me the equipment back? Sounds awesome. It doesn't work out.
The dungeons and adventure system is very much the key to succeeding in the game. Everything else is a gigantic after thought. However, you can get really shafted by the strength of the various monsters, items, and heroes in the game. Everything is just massively unbalanced. The combat system is very hokey. It's neat for one round of combat, but then it becomes an extremely exploitable system full of several holes. I hope this is not indicative of more games that try to be a “thematic Euro”. It’s got to be one of the hardest kinds of games to make: something extremely cut throat and calculating on the strategy end, but also meshing with an engaging theme. There are some interesting moments in Karez, but overall it's a giant chore and the dungeon crawling is not even close to balanced with the rest of the economic gameplay.
I currently have this game ranked as a 4. The actual gameplay might rate a 5, but the components pull it down to a 4. It's impossible to read what's happening on the board, given the cluttered color palette. It’s horrifying actually. In regards to the gameplay, it's "fair", but the inclusion of the expert character cards really comes across as a big afterthought. There just aren't enough actions/turns available to make the characters have any impact on the game. I gave this one a fair shot, and after multiple plays found that you are always better off refurbishing buildings for points.
Also, the scoring cards related to the character cards should just be removed from the deck all together. They are completely worthless compared to the scoring cards related to the various areas on the board. And, sadly, that is how you win the game. Luck-sack into the best scoring cards and boom... you are good to go. You might as well deal these out, everyone reveals them, and then you decide who is the winner and pack the game back into the box.
Quick caveat before I rip in this holy cow: I very much enjoy the Europe variation on this game and play it along with some the expansion maps constantly.
But, I first played the original several years ago after it was released. I pretty much hated it the first time I played it. The game is so luck dependant. You can get an unfavorable set of tickets and then get blocked through no particularly strategic play of anyone, just random play by someone else who randomly needs track in the same area as you, and if you get unlucky, you won't have the right cards to work around the blocked area.
This is especially exasperated in games with more players. It's also exasperated by having played Ticket to Ride Europe, which gives you legitimate decisions to work around and hedge against this screwage. The addition of the tunnels and ferries cannot be oversold either. They serve to break up the pacing and keep the card draw interesting.
This is basically Condottiere without a board. Instead of trying to hold cards to make a big play for a particular region of land, you are using them to build a large army and grab the card with the highest amount of victory points. However, there are less catastrophic cards than in Condottiere, so it "seems" more balanced, but actually turns the game in milquetoast.
In contrast to Condottiere, it's very not very exciting. Condottiere is not one my favorite games, but you must at least proceed with caution when pursuing your objectives. In Iliad, all of the goals are worthwhile to some extent, and you don't want to get penalized, and this annoys me. In Condottiere, there is at least some calculation that needs to occur in the players' minds about how much certain regions are really worth to them, and how much they can expect other players to get involved and "waste" forces trying to capture it.
You can still get screwed in Condottiere, but at least it's a surprise and adds to some of the tension of the game. This game seems like the design detritus left over after Condottiere.
This game is "OK" with three or four players. Once you get above that number it turns into a tedious chaotic nightmare. Even at a lower player count I am not a giant fan of it... not even close. There are at least two better games that use role selection that I can think of off the top of my head, San Juan and Meuterer. Both of those have an actual game on top of this mechanic.
Couple the staleness of a solitary mechanism with repeated game play and what often boils down to a complete of strategic options, and this game is worth two plays tops...if!! and only if you take out that stupid assassin and replace it with the witch, and don't play with more than four.
Definitely my least favorite Feld. It epitomizes everything that people find fault with in his games. I absolutely adore many of his other titles, but not this one.
The game makes zero intuitive sense. None. To me it take the brutalizing crucible of In the Year of the Dragon and just layers mechanic on top of mechanic over this brutality. Great. So now I am drafting cards and laying dice not because of some plan but just so I get hammered by the game in the "best" way possible. That's ridiculous. If there are games that stand out as the over indulgence of the Euro genre, then Macao MUST be included in such a list. What is my motivation here? There is none.
Each progressive play is less fun than the last. My first play I would have given this an 8 I guess. It's just complete, "And.... we're rolling dice." The game is all atmosphere. Once that wears off, it's just annoying. "Oh look, I rolled black skulls again!"
Yawn. If I had played this in 2012 this would have been at the top of my disappointing games for the year. The "no talking" and "one handed" penalties are funny... once.
I think the main let down for me here, was that Glory to Rome is so good, and this one is just very very very average. It is VERY luck dependent, but so is any card game right? Well not quite. This one seemed to be entirely driven by card draw, leaving me wanting for anything meaningful to do on my turn.
The lack of meaning and player impact is a big fatality for me for any game and should start to be a running theme in this Geeklist. I get very tired of games that work, and click along... and nothing meaningful happens. For the love of cardboard, give me some motivation.
Holy luck fest. Not so much the die rolling, but the card draw. This game annoys me. Very much overrated. The abilities are not very well put together... There should be more tactical choices than there are. Games get very samey quickly, even with different factions.
The movement is also ridiculous. It's why even bother to move around, when you can just get hosed by drawing the wrong level character at the wrong time or even the right level character at the right time and totally demolish your opponent.
Give this game five years. Magic will still be around and this won't.