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New to Me: Summer 2019 — Others Enjoy Them More Than I

These lists have always been a quarterly summary of the new games that I played and what thought of them, as a medium-weight eurogame-focused player. That don’t necessarily represent if these games are good or bad, just if like them. And that fact felt like it was on particular display this summer, when I played a number of games that were very good in the abstract, but less enjoyable for me specifically.

But I’m going to start off with the one game that may have be the opposite case …

The Very Good (“I Would Keep This”)

Blood Bound (2013). This is a pretty light and simple game that’s more about experience than strategy, and that’s not a category I usually love, but this one was pretty good. It was sort of the deduction of Love Letter meets the gameplay of Bang! There are two teams of players, and each team is trying to capture the leader of the opposite team: but you only know the probable identity of one other player — and nothing about whether they’re a leader.

The cleverness of the hidden teams part of this game is that its deduction comes in two parts: you have to guess both the affiliation of each player, and their rank within the team — and the second part can be quite dicey since there are nine potential ranks in each team, and many of them will be out of play, so the level “7” character will usually not be the leader, but could be.

The Love Letter aspect of this game comes from the fact that each player has a special power that they can use once. These can be cleverly played to help fellows and hurt opponents … if you can guess who’s who.

For a game that’s over in 15-30 minutes, this one has a surprising level of depth, and its two levels of deduction make it more interesting than many in the hidden teams category.

The Good (“I Would Enjoy Playing Your Copy of This”)

Gentes (2017, 2018). Stefan Risthaus offers up a nicely dense game mixing resource management, variable action points, and limited action selections. It doesn’t quite match any of the action-selection methods I wrote about last year, which makes it new and unique.

So, taking it one element at a time:

The action-selection methodology allows players to take tiles which have costs in money and time, and which provide various resources. The time versus money balance is one of the interesting tradeoffs in the game, because you’re basically deciding whether it’s worth losing some of your actions in order to not spend the cash. The action tiles are also limited, creating a constant tension in the game as players ahead of you take what you want to do.

Money and time are effectively resources, So are cards. But the biggest resource in the game is your citizens, which run the gamut from sages to nobles. These citizens can be advanced (“trained” or “educated”) and doing allows you to accomplish the goals of the cards. Unlike most resources, these (mostly) don’t go away when used; in addition, every pair of them are in opposition: you can only advance a certain amount in the two citizen types combined.

You meld together all of these elements and you have a fairly complex game. In fact, the reason it’s down in my “Good” category instead of up in “Very Good”, where some of my fellows place it, is that it’s too complex at times. I like to play from the gut, and that’s not quite good enough for this game. You need to carefully assess your citizen levels versus card goals, you need to constantly measure out how much time you have left and what actions you might take, and you need to carefully plan out your end game. There are certainly many euros that share these requirements, but for me personally it can get a bit much.

Horizons ThumbnailHorizons (2018). This 3X game (apparently with some eXterimination with one of the variants or expansions) follows some pretty typical patterns. You take actions, and ultimately build things to collect resources, and then you use those resources to build more things. There are goals (“missions”) to help direct your play and there’s some majority control at the end to give another objective in your Xing. So: consider it a 3X-euro hybrid.

It does have a few more unique elements.

First, each player can play a different alien race, and there’s pretty huge variety among the races, with each having a few unique actions and specific build costs. This is one of the game’s best elements — other than the fact that the races aren’t necessarily balanced.

Second, players can purchase bonus actions as special cards, which can be used to give extra powers up to two times when a player takes the associated action. This is a really nice design element that allows for some great tactics and even a bit of solid strategic play.

The simplicity of the resource management and the problems with game balance keep me from rating this game more highly, but it’s still one I’m happy to play a few times more.

Forbidden Sky (2018). Matt Leacock;s newest “Forbidden” co-op offers a whole new challenge: players are trying to arrange tiles in very specific arrangements to create capacitors and enable the creation of an actual physical circuit that will light up a rocket and send it into space. Of course, there are dangers: the circuitry can cause lightning strikes to fry the player’s characters and wind can blow them right off the platforms!

Each “Forbidden” game has been more difficult than the one which preceded it, and this continues the trend. It’s a very think-y game, focused on spatial reasoning. Also, unlike any other Leacock co-op, you can utterly and obviously destroy your position: if you don’t create enough capacitors then you can create an unbridgeable board that simply can’t be wired together.

Each player has their own red-line where a game gets too think-y to be fun, and this one was right on my border (which is why, like Gentes, I only ranked it “Good” despite an innovative and well-polished game design). Obviously, your mileage may vary, and if this is within the boundaries of your fun zone it’s a pretty great design that makes extremely good use of tile laying thanks to the need, but not requirement, to connect up certain types of tiiles (which is the superior design that might make you might rank it “Very Good” or “Great”). My only actual complaints about the games are physical: the tiles can easily be bumped and that will send capacitors and wires bouncing around. In addition, our rocket only lit up after we opened it up, reset the batteries, and put it down, and even then it was inconsistent.

Tiny Towns (2019). This is a curiously abstract game of town building. You lay out resources into patterns on your grid, then when you’ve formed a pattern right, you can turn it into a building. The catch is that the resources and the buildings take up space, so you have to be very careful to leave the right spaces open on your board to allow the construction of additional buildings. Though this type of geometric abstraction can sometimes lead to AP, that’s minimized in Tiny Towns because the play is all simultaneous: one resource is generated and everyone places it.

The game’s depth comes from the fact that each of the buildings has special powers and/or special scoring opportunities. Further variability comes from the fact that those buildings can change from game to game, meaning that it’s always somewhat fresh.

I suspect the simplicity of Tiny Town’s play is going to ultimately limit its replayability, but as a flash-in-the-pan filler it’s likely to rack up a half-dozen or more plays before you’re ready to move onto the next release. (I played it three times this quarter, and wouldn’t be surprised if I’m done at this point.)

Castles of Burgundy: The Dice Game (2017). Alea’s third iteration of the Castles of Burgundy is a dice game … just like the original. I guess the difference is that it’s a simple dice game, not a complex dice game, but Alea didn’t think that Castles of Burgundy: The Simpler Dice Game sounded good as a title

The Dice Game uses the same one-person-rolls-everyone-builds trope as is found in Tiny Towns. Whereas Tiny Towns encouraged each player to develop differently based on the raw complexity of what you could do with spatial variations, The Dice Game instead does so by offering options in the random roll: you can take one of two color-spot dice and one of two pipped dice, and when you combine those results you (hopefully) get what you need to build a specific type of building that’s adjacent to what you’ve built to date.

The game does an impressive job of adapting Castles of Burgundy’s core ideas to a simpler dice paradigm: it reuses the major tropes, but still creates something that’s more suited for its simpler play. On the downside, I think it still ends up too complex for its components. There’s a lot of opportunities for mistakes, which is always a problem in a simultaneous-play game.Still, given its extremely small footprint and relatively short gameplay, this is probably a game that most Burgundy fans will want to keep in their collection as a start-of-the-night filler (but not necessarily an end-of-the-night closer, when everyone is tired and bleary-eyed).

The OK (“I Am Willing to Play This if You Ask”)

Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space (2010, 2016). This game mixes the hidden roles of games like Bang! (2002) with the hidden movement of games like Fury of Dracula (1987, 2005, 2017). You’re either an alien or a human. If you’re a human, you’re plotting slow movement on a hexagonal grid to get to an escape pod; and if you’re an alien, you’re plotting fast movement on a hexagonal grid to kill humans. All humans who get to escape pods win individually, else all the aliens win jointly.

The big catch in the game is that your movement may or may not be totally hidden. You can choose to enter “silent” spaces, but also can enter “dangerous” spaces, where you’ll either reveal your location with noise or get to make a noise at a totally different location, creating a false trail. This means that your play is largely dependent on the luck of the draw, but if you draw luckily, there’s also a huge opportunity for bluffing and engaging in very clever play. Meanwhile, you’re also forced to decide when to press your luck and run across open, dangerous fields.

The game has a lot more strategy than you’d expect given its level of luck, and also drips tension. It’s certainly toward the light or party side of things (though I think the complexity of hex-based movement and the fiddliness of the rules are somewhat at odds with the simplicity and randomness of the gameplay), but if that’s what you’re looking for, this is a strong game.

Miskatonic University: The Restricted Collection (2019). This Reiner Knizia release from Chaosium is a push-your-luck game.  Ironically, I think it’s a casual game more about experience than strategy, just like Blood Bound, at the top of the list, but I had a more typical assessment of this one: that it was OK.

The object is to keep drawing cards for as many turns as you can each round, but the catch is that you’re drawing the wrong cards will forcibly knock you out of play (and cost you points), if you duplicate them. To keep this from being entirely an exercise in randomness, there are defense cards that you can use to offset bad draws, either before or after you draw.

But it’s still mostly an exercise in randomness.

Perfectly good for casual or party play, especially given its great-quality components, but there’s not much game besides that.

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The original article can be found on the great Mechanics & Meeples