🎲 Quit Playin' Games With My Heart...
Hey everybody! It's that time of year where I spend an inordinate amount of time playing board games at a convention and then share my feedback with you, the world! This weekend was the "Mini" version of Geekway to the West, and I got to try out lots of cools stuff. There were a number of Play-and-Win titles that I'm skipping over (Apiary, First in Flight, Expeditions) because I either already own them or know someone who does. Also, the Play-and-Win library was... let's say "less exciting" than it has been in years past. So I ended up re-playing games I liked rather than branching out to try lots of different things.
So with that table-setting out of the way, here were the new-to-me Play-and-Wins!
Co-op pattern matching, and one of those games that's almost more of a toy with a game built around it. You start with a 4x4x4 cube of dice that depletes as the game goes on. Dice removed this way are "primed", and if you get enough of them matching, you trigger breaches which hasten the end of the game. Additionally, emptying a stack causes bad things to happen to you. Your team of scientists must remove dice from the Tesseract and manipulate them in order to complete sets or runs that can then be contained. Contain 24 cubes--one of each die face in each color--before the Tesseract empties, and you win. This one was a lot of fun, maybe my favorite of the con, and very satisfying in a puzzle-y kind of way. I have already acquired a copy.
Lots of mechanics at play in this one. First you're bidding on shipping lanes from the Earth to the Moon and back. Faster transports arrive on the same turn, whereas slowly transports will arrive one to two turns later--a concern when there are only seven turns in the game and you need to get supplies and astronauts sent up. On the moon, you're doing a worker placement game to upgrade your habitat, feed and house your astronauts, and mine precious moonrocks that will be sold back on Earth. Here we introduce the game's third mechanic, which is an economics game in which selling too many items will depress the price. It was fun, but I have some issues with it. It has a huge table footprint, largely because of a central game board that makes very poor use of space. The rulebook is confusing--and frustratingly puts two pages of wholly unnecessary lore between the components list and the setup instruction. The fact that you're mining things called lunarium and lunathyst is also a tad confusing, especially when the component list doesn't differentiate between them visually but does include images of the Kickstarter exclusive versions. There are some weird choices with components, but the thing I keep coming back to is that the main mechanic of the game hinges on the idea that there are very limited shipping lanes in outer space.
Fit to Print
Real-time tile-laying game. You are running a newspaper staffed by adorable animals. All players simultaneously pick tiles representing articles, ads, and pictures for their newspaper. When you think you have enough, you switch over to layout (noteworthy: you can't go back, nor can you use your layout grid when picking tiles) and try to arrange them keeping a balance of subjects and mood while minimizing your blank space. Ad revenues don't count towards your score, but whoever has the lowest revenue is eliminated before final scoring, so cue the "prisoner's dilemma" music. It is puzzle-y and adorable and frantic and I found it very frustrating the first couple of times I played it. Once I got the hang of it, I started to enjoy it quite a bit. Would strongly consider owning.
The Fox Experiment
Drafting, pool-building roll-and-write, and the darling of the con. It was co-designed by Elizabeth Hargrave (of Wingspan fame), so good luck finding this one on shelves. Based on the real life Fox Experiment that was run starting in the 1950s in Novosibirsk, Russia, the game has you breeding foxes in order to make them friendlier and domesticable. In every generation, you draft and male and female fox which provide you with dice that you roll in order to determine the genetic makeup of their offspring. These offspring are then added to the draft pool. You gain points by attracting patrons, completing research, and having the friendliest fox puppers. And as if this weren't adorable enough, whenever you breed a new fox pup, you have to give it a name. My favorites were Roustabout, Bandersnatch, Wendigo, and Lasagna. And they were all very good foxes. This one is also in the running for my favorite of the con, and if I can ever find a copy, I'll pick it up.
Tile-laying with bidding. Very light-weight and with oddly high production value for a game as slight as it is. Bid on art, try to fill your wall, matching frames get you bonuses and adjacent styles are bad. The one really interesting part of the game is that the values of your paintings by style are driven by whatever is not bid on in every turn. It's fine. I don't need to play it again, but I wouldn't object if someone brought it to the table.
Drafting tableau-builder with a gimmick. All cards are dual-sided, one side with a resource, the other with a building. You draft from a 4x4 grid, but you must draft two adjacent cards and when you replace them, you fill in with cards that are the opposite side up. Buildings get you points, but they can also act as permanent resources a la Splendor. The rules are simple, but there's enough depth of strategy to make this one really engaging, and it plays pretty fast. I will say that flipping your fill-in cards becomes weirdly cumbersome. It's just an awkward mechanic. And the name is kind of dumb. Like, I get that it's a successor to Point Salad, which is actually clever, and that this is an exercise in branding, but I still don't like it. That said, I will probably own this game at some point.
Age of Wonders: Planetfall
Drafting with some light tableau-building. For an IP-related game, it was surprisingly fun. Very easy to learn and teach, and it scaled cleanly and had some neat asymmetry. You need to meet experience/strength/energy requirements to claim cards, which give you benefits, Lower-level cards are easier get, but they put you farther back in the draft order. I don't feel the need to own it, but I would definitely play it again.
Light-weight deck-builder with some puzzling and a very gimmicky tree stump. You are mushroom people trying to move dew-drop crystals around on your board into a portal where they will be transported to a magical tree stump. When you fill the stump, you spin it and it dumps all the gems and a die down a chute and the die lets you know where you're replace a few of the gems. Unnecessarily gimmicky. But! It's a lot of fun and super charming. I plan to acquire this whenever I can find it in stock.
None of these were Play-and-Win titles, but they were all new (or mostly new) to me!
Atlantis Rising - Basically Forbidden Island with less jingoism, higher production values, and crunchier gameplay. It was fun, but very swingy, and it scratches the same itch as something like Spirit Island, although I actually like that one more. I don't need to play it again, but I wouldn't object if someone brought it to the table.
Verses - This was a birthday present that I finally got around to playing. It's a CAH-style party game themed around linking song titles to moments in your life. One of the better CAH clones I've played. It doesn't overstay its welcome, and the cards and guitar picks you use to vote are really tactilely satisfying.
Root - I had played this once before and not really enjoyed it, but I'd been wanting to give it another try. And... I still didn't enjoy it. I played as Marquis de Cat and spent the entire game being ganged-up on by the other two players. I was winning, but also hemorrhaging units and buildings, and then suddenly someone dropped a domination card and won out of the blue. It was frustrating and anti-climactic. I like the idea behind this game, but it's awfully complex for as small as it wants to be, and I have now played it twice without ever managing to have fun.
Fractured Sky - This is the latest Kickstarter from IV Games. Secret bidding using airships and shared hidden objectives. Lots of bluffing and social deduction. It's fun, but I made some unfortunate decisions early on and was never able to recover, which meant I spent the last half of the game knowing I was going to lose and nothing I did mattered. It was a frustrating way to end the con, but I really like what's going on with this game and am looking forward to giving it another shot.
And on top of all of that, I had a few hands of Splendor and Framework, hung out with friends, and engaged in very little drunken debauchery on account of I didn't have anything to drink and it was really too cold for debauchery.
Geekway to the West is in May, so look forward to another of these posts then. I know I am!