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New to Me: Winter 2020 — Life on an Island

So on January 1st, I moved to an island: Kauai, the least populated of the four major Hawaiian islands. It’s got a population of just over 70,000 according to the last count, which makes it a fair amount smaller than the city of Berkeley where I used to live — let alone the whole California Bay Area. So the question was always how hard or easy would it be to find gaming. Fortunately, a nice little game store called 8 Moves Ahead appeared on the island a bit more than a year ago, and even more fortunately they’re heavily focused on play.

But the downside so far has been that that play has mostly been more American games, with Magic: The Gathering taking up most of the oxygen in the store from what I can tell. I’ve had some good sports willing to play my euros, and there are some limited euros available in the store, but as of this moment I don’t feel like I have a strong euro-interested game group. Room to grow, I suppose.

In the meantime, this first New to Me for the year is more Americanized than usual, and also obviously a lot shorter. I only made it to either three or four sessions at the store. That’s because in January I was coming up to speed on my new life here (including learning how to drive again after a multi-decade hiatus) and then in March, COVID struck hard.

But here’s what’s New to Me, and what I think about it, as a somewhat less American game player, more focused on medium-weight euros.

The Great (“I Would Buy This”)

On the Underground: London (2019). On the Underground has long been one of my favorites, as I love its very tactical play: how you can play tracks to grab instantaneous bonuses, and how you’re always reacting to what the passenger might want to do. I also think the way that you can build together multiple lines is quite clever. So, when I saw this new edition “London / Berlin”, I was very interested in getting it, mostly because it had a new map of Berlin.

As it happens I haven’t actually played the new map yet, but I did play the old London map in the new edition, and I thought it was a perfectly good new edition. The graphic design itself I thought was a wash. The new edition by LudiCreations is one of these “artsy” designs, and though the artwork is definitely more attractive, it was also harder to see the lines in the places along the center where there are 3-5 different spaces available. However, where the new edition really improved on the original is the fact the map is now laid out on a large-scale grid, and so you can see where stations are based on a letter and number (e.g., C-4). That’s probably going to be helpful to any non-Londoner.

And I’m looking forward to trying out Berlin. Someday, when I can go to a game store again.

The Very Good (“I Would Keep This”)

Disney Villainous (2018). I’m not a big fan of things Disney, but I was intrigued when I heard about this game because of the possibility of great theming, and that’s exactly what I got.

Villainous is a card-play and management game, where each player is working from his own unique, themed deck to try and reach his own unique, themed goal. There are a lot of commonalities between the different characters. You play allies and items, you fight against heroes (drawn from a co-op like unique, themed challenge deck), and you respond to the play of other players with conditions. It’s not deep, but there’s just enough resource management and thoughtful card play to keep you interested. And then you get to play that game in a half-dozen different ways because of the characters, which is what makes it most amazing.

Even moreso than most Euros, this one is a bit solitaire-feeling, because each player gets pretty focused on their own unique play and doesn’t really understand the play of their fellows. But you’re forced to think about someone else when you get the opportunity to play cards from their challenge deck, so that’s offset a bit.

Coup (2012). This one is a real classic that I hadn’t played previously. It’s primarily a bluffing game: you have two hidden cards in your hand, each of which will give you specific powers. On your turn, you use either standard powers, or powers from cards in your hand — or rather, powers from cards that you say you have in your hand, because you can lie about them, which is the big twist in the game. Of course, people can also call you out on your lies, and if they do, one of you gets dinged (depending on whether you were lying or not).

Overall, this is a light game with enough depth to be fun. Also, like many bluffing/lying games, it exhausts me, but it’s short and simple enough, that I can see why folks enjoy it (and can enjoy it myself).

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

Pandemic: Fall of Rome (2018). The third “Survival” version of Pandemic turns in its diseases for invading armies. These Survival games have been slowly moving further away from the original game, while still remaining recognizable, and I think that’s to their benefit — and it’s true again here. That comes across in little ways, like the fact that you can either ally or eliminate tribes to win, but also some pretty big ones.

First up, there’s a somewhat random combat system that forces you to throw legionnaires against the invaders. If anything, it feels like it might be a little easier to eliminate the cubes, but the uncertainty really can throw a wrench into your plan. There’s also a very clever methodology that ensures that the invaders emerge from their homeland and move toward Rome (sort of: it’s abstract).

Overall, this is another fine variation for Pandemic fans that nonetheless keeps things different enough to be interesting.

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

Zombicide: Black Plague (2015). I played the original Zombicide (2012) in Fall 2012, not long after it came out, and I thought it was a decently good co-op with plenty of tension and lots of good zombie killing. Black Plague is a variant of the original that’s set back in Medieval times, and thus has a party of adventurers slaying necromancers and zombies.

I like the new theming, and it’s otherwise pretty much the same game, with one critical rules change regarding “friendly fire” and much better components for keeping the game organized. But, at the same time, my tolerance of an overly long Americanized game like this has dropped in the last decade, so I rate it closer to OK than Good nowadays.

Nonetheless, it’s a great variant for Zombicide fans; but given that it came out five years ago, they probably already know that.

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