🎲 I Got Game, She's Got Game, We Got Game...
It's that time of year when I spend four days at my favorite board gaming conference: Geekway to the West. This was the first one since the pandemic started that felt like it was really 100% back, and I got to hang out with some old friends and make some new ones. I mostly bypassed the big titles of the year--Earth, Expeditions, and Rolling Heights--because people in my gaming group own them already, but there was still lots to discover! Here's a rundown of what I played.
Contract fulfillment and polyomino tile placement with drafting. Unlike a lot of polyomino games, you're not trying to fill a space. Rather, you're pattern matching in order to make connections and close things off. It's pretty light, but a lot of fun. I played it several times and would consider owning it.
Shaolia: Warring States
I wanted to like this one. It's a fairly meaty dice placement tableau-builder, but it's badly balanced and the chibi art style is not doing its theme any favors. We played it at three players and it was not good, but it seemed like it might do better with only two. And it did, but it still had balance issues. There's not a good catch-up mechanic, so once someone gets ahead, they're going to win--it's just going to take another forty minutes for that to happen. And the initial turns are so random that the ultimate outcome feels very non-deterministic. There are a lot of really interesting things going on with this one, but on the whole it doesn't work.
It's a very pretty game from Sorry We Are French, who also made Ganymede. The two have a lot of DNA in common. They're sci-fi exploration games that deal with the Jovian moons and have a badly translated rulebook that does a poor job of explaining overly fussy gameplay design. It's not bad by any stretch, but I don't need to play it again.
One of the more popular games of the con. It's an adorable abstract strategy game about kittens scaring each other off of a bed. It's not as simplistic as it looks, but I feel like I've plumbed the strategic depths of it after only a couple of plays. Not that it matters what I think, because my 8yo is obsessed with it and will undoubtedly be getting it for his birthday and wanting to play against dear old dad.
This was a heavier game than I usually play at cons. It's a civilization building game set in the Mediterranean that's almost entirely free of combat. Establish cities, develop technologies, form a government, acquire trade goods, tax and tariff your citizens, manage population and resources--your basic civilization-builder stuff. I don't have a lot to say about it other than it was fun and I would definitely play it again.
My second favorite of the con. It's a track-movement game (think Tapestry without the Tetris element or the cool minis) with an open auction drafting mechanic for turn order (think Kingdomino). The play area is comprised of ten double-sided track boards, and you can mix and match the sides, which allows for a lot of variability in the setup. I played it three or four times and there's a good chance I will acquire a copy.
Third favorite right behind Rise. This was a pretty unique worker placement game built around a mechanic of smashing islands into each other to form mountains where you can build your sacred sites. A big part of the game is deciding how to upgrade your actions and there's a quasi-cooperative element insofar as a sacred site has three total tiers, but a single player can only contribute one. There's some variable setup as well. We were taught this by a friend of the designer's who we ended up gaming with a lot over the weekend and he had tons of insight into it, which is a great way to be learning a new game.
A fairly heavy game for fans of Pride and Prejudice. It's an extremely well-executed vision of something that just happens to not appeal to me very much. So, while I didn't love it, I can't complain about the quality of it, and I know some people who absolutely adore it. It's sort of a hybrid tableau-building worker-placement hand-management... look, it's about marrying off one of your children to a wealthy family while trying to pull your aging country estate out of disrepair and rebuilding the reputation of your house. Some friends played it for like three hours in fancy dresses and had the time of their lives, so if it sounds like, ahem, your cup of tea, you'll probably like it quite a bit.
Holotype: Mesozoic North America
Here's a game that I can complain about the quality of. There are no shortage of games about dinosaurs, especially dinosaurs getting loose at a park and eating customers, thanks to the success of Dinosaur Island which is nakedly Jurassic Park in everything but name. So this game is trying to differentiate itself by being really focused on the science... but... it turns out a game about doing research and publishing holotypes isn't inherently all that interesting, especially when its augmented by jarring visual design that looks like it would be at home running in Windows 98. I can't overstate how ugly this game is. The gameplay is fine, if not particularly interesting--worker placement and contract fulfillment--but there's a whole thing about trace fossils, many of which are coprolites. Which, if you're not familiar, are fossilized poop. There are several cards with pictures of poop rocks on them. And! When we returned this, someone chased down the guy checking it in to give him a promo card--a special coprolite that was worth five points instead of four. Not gonna lie, playing this game was one of the most fun parts of the con because of the company I was with and all of us not really believing what we were seeing.
Favorite of the con. It's a contract fulfillment game with some tableau-building elements and a really fun theme. What sets this apart is that instead of rolling a pair of dice and assigning them, you roll four dice and form pairs. There's a police-chase element that gives the game a great sense of momentum and keeps the run-time down. It scratches the same itch for me as Space Base, but it's shorter, has a more charming aesthetic, is slightly more complex without being busier, and feels less swingy. I have already acquired (and played!) my own copy.
Another very pretty game. This one is a euro-style patten-matching game about decorating your medieval shield with devices and tinctures. I enjoyed it.
City-building and economics game. The gameplay was very solid, although I found the aesthetic a little drab. It was interesting to play this with some friends who had lived in Seattle and recognized not only the different districts but some of the economic realities. For instance, the game has a counter-intuitive mechanic trying to get players to reduce their population, and my friends agreed that this felt very organic to the kinds of population issues Seattle has. One of those friends won a copy from the Play-and-Win drawing, so I'm sure I'll be playing this again.
Word-guessing party game with a traitor mechanic. Everyone is a ferret and all the ferrets have a word. The weasel has a different word. Everyone gives a clue to their word and players try to identify the weasel while the weasel also tries to identify the word. It's a decent game conceptually, but the components were very finicky and gameplay required some downtime. Because the cognitive load of being the weasel is higher than being a ferret, there's a sand timer that runs down between revealing clues and making guesses. It makes for an awkwardly paced game that was reasonably fun but more trouble than it was worth to play.
I really enjoy the Undaunted series. The games have similar area control, combat, and objectives to a miniatures game, but gameplay uses a deck-building mechanic with a real emphasis on balancing the composition of your platoon over just acquiring more powerful cards. It uses a modular board and a scenario book to walk players through a campaign in World War II, and because they use tokens instead of miniatures, the games are quite affordable. Stalingrad is the deluxe premium edition. The box is so big I assumed it had miniatures in it, but no, it just has that much content. There are sealed card envelopes, separate campaign books for the Russians and the Germans, and lots of tiles to form very specific maps around the Volga and 9th January Square. It has a branching campaign, and while we only played one scenario, I have to assume there will be snipers. It's an excellent addition to the franchise, and one that I cannot possible justify getting because of the investment of time and money (big price point on this one) for a game that maxes out at two players. Maybe if it turns up in ding-and-dent. Maybe.
Light tile-laying game with a set-collection point system that has strains of Sushi Go and Kingdomino in it. It's very pretty and nice and puzzley. I'll be keeping an eye out for this one.
And the Rest...
Those were the Play-and-Win titles, but that's not all I did. I got to play a round of Framework and X-Wing, and those were good reminders that I adore Framework and find X-Wing quite tedious. I got to try out a deduction game called Shipwreck Arcana as well as breaking out my new party games standbys We're Doomed! and So Clover. I acquired and played a charades-like party game called Imagine that I spotted at a con years ago and have been trying to track down ever since. I also played some adult party games: the NSFW edition of Poetry For Neanderthals, Joking Hazard, and Let's Summon Demons. And of course, what Geekway would be complete without a few rounds of Giant Azul?