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Geekway to the West 2024 Redux

🎲 It Might Feel Good, It Might Sound a Lil' Somethin'...



It's the middle of May, and that means Kurt has once again devoted an entire extended weekend to discovering new board games and socializing with people even nerdier than I am. There was a lot of stuff in Play-and-Win that was new to me, and here they are!

Barcelona


This one I'd seen at Geekway Mini but hadn't been able to get time on. It's a medium-to-heavy weight tile-laying game about the "Eixample" district of Barcelona that was built in the 1860s. You draw two tokens every turn that represent people in the upper, middle, or working classes and place them in the neighborhood in order to trigger game effects. Then you erect buildings based on which class of people are at the intersections. There are some side objectives you can use to gain more points, a cobblestone board you use to expand storage, a trolley to manage, intersections to build... it's got a lot of moving pieces. It's good, and the presentation is excellent, but it's a little busier than I want in this kind of game.

Trailblazer: The John Muir Trial


Based on hiking the--wait for it--John Muir Trail, it's a resource management worker-placement game where you can get major points for sight-seeing, but you have to finish the hike. You have twelve days to finish a ten-stop trail, so use your two zero-days wisely. It's... fine. It's the first game from this publisher and it has the feeling of something that's not quite ready but has also been polished within an inch of its life. So I can't say that I recommend it, but I liked the theme and how it tied in with mechanics--for the most part. There's a whole thing about getting items into your backpack while you're already on the trail that doesn't quite make sense. I'd be curious to see what this publisher has in the hopper next.

Life of the Amazonia



My favorite of the con! It's a bag-builder about populating a jungle with tropical life. Use your money to buy resources. Use water and plant resources to expand your jungle and fill it with trees and water-plants. Use berries to attract wild animals and then place them in your jungle to score points. Each animal has a unique scoring set-up based on adjacency or grouping or habitat size, and so forth, and there are four different set-ups per animal, making for a lot of variety game-to-game. I have a few quibbles. The title is awkward, and the waterfall is taller than the box--meaning you have to construct and deconstruct it with every set-up and tear-down. But those bits aside, I'm looking to acquire this one.

Coffee Rush


Contract-fulfillment game that uses grid movement to gain resources and has an interesting ramp-up mechanic. Every time either of the two players before you in turn order complete one of their drinks, you get another order, and anything you don't fulfill within four turns becomes negative points. It's quite fun, but extremely tense. Oh, and the two-player game is broken. But it does come with adorable little coffee cups, so there's that.

Avant Carde


Weird little deck-builder about showing art. On your turn you play as many cards as you can by matching rank or color, but your starting hand has a lot things that can only be matched one way. You get a dollar for every card you can play, and that goes towards buying more art to add to your collection. The cards you can buy each have some kind of power to either let you play or draw or trash cards or perhaps earn more money or copy abilities. There are four different sets of these "patron powers" although they don't mix-and-match very well. You gain rewards (victory points) based on the amount of money you earn in a single turn, so build your engine well. It's a good-looking game, even for a small-boxer, and has some cool tuck-boxes for the cards that are maybe a little too gimmicky, but I still dug it.

Horrified: Greek Monsters


I like the original Horrified quite a bit. This iteration has some much-needed gameplay and component refinements and some more interesting puzzles to it. I'm seriously debating getting it to replace the old one. If you don't know the series, it's a cooperative monster-hunting game where you move around the map acquiring objects that you will use to defeat the monsters before the monster deck runs out or you exceed the maximum terror level (which goes up whenever you are a random townsperson gets attacked). You fight 2-4 of the available six monsters in a game, and they all have different requirements to defeat. I particularly liked Cerberus, where you have to unlock the door to the underworld and then lure him all the way back to the Temple of Hades.

Daybreak


Another very pretty game. It's a fully cooperative tableau-builder about solving climate change. Each player starts as a region--U.S.A., Europe, China, or... everyone else... sigh--with their individual set-ups vis-à-vis their energy demands, amount of clean and dirty industries, etc. Your tableau only has five cards in it, but you can stack cards to get more icons that make your cards in play more powerful. Every turn you try to reduce your region's carbon footprint and contribute to global projects that improve things for everyone. Then you generate carbon and sequester what you can in the forests and oceans. Everything else goes to the global thermometer, which causes tipping points and exacerbates crises. It's very good. It's also existentially depressing.

Tangram City


It's a tile-laying puzzle game from Uwe Rosenberg. It's good, but it really skews young with its gameplay. It doesn't scratch any itches for me that aren't better managed with Cottage Garden or New York Zoo.

Imperium: Horizons


I love the Imperium game engine. It's a highly asymmetrical deck-builder about civilizations ascending from barbarianism to empire. Every nation has its unique set of cards--a starting deck, an ascension card, a nation deck, a development deck, and unrest cards that get added to the general supply. You ascend by depleting your nation deck, which you take a card from each time you run through your main deck. You can speed this up by garrisoning cards from play or adding them to your history. You can release your lands and garrisons to gain glory, but this slows down your deck. Certain cards can only be played during your barbarian or empire phases, so you have to manage that as well. It's super-crunch, highly thematic, and I swear the rulebook was written to be impenetrable in order to scare off the normies. The asymmetry gets wild, too. The Inuit, for example, don't have barbarian/empire states to govern what cards they can play, but rather a summer/winter state that flips every round. The Martians--oh yeah, this game has Martians--want to avoid ascending and are based on distributing their tech and contributing things to other players' histories. I wish I had more opportunities to play it.

Compile

This one wasn't in Play-and-Win, but I got to play a demo in the vendor hall and have pre-ordered it. It's a small-box take-that shuffle-builder where you and your opponent fight to compile their systems and disrupt each other's progress. There's a bit of tableau-building and hand-management in there as well. The presentation is slick and the gameplay is simple but deep. The individual decks all have their own mechanics--I forget how many there are but it was in the neighborhood of fifteen--and you pick three. Anyway, it's good stuff and it's coming out in August.

Canvas



Another very pretty game. This is a light, quick card-crafter. You acquire cards in a manner similar to Century: Spice Road in order to put together paintings that align to certain scoring requirements. There are some chewy mechanics to work through, or you could just focus on making pretty pictures.

Fliptown


Poker-themed flip-and-write. Each turn three-cards come up, you use one of them to contribute to your poker hand, and the other two to determine what parts of your board you're going to activate. It's busy, which makes for a long teach, but it's pretty fun and breezy once you know what everything is. Considering buying.

MLEM: Space Agency


Push-your luck dice game about cats in space. This one was hard to find on the Play-and-Win shelf, so we got there early Saturday to get in line so we could make sure to play it because my nine-year-old is obsessed with cats. And it's... not very good. It's adorable, and it has astronaut cats in it. And one of the planets is a yarn-ball. But the gameplay just isn't very interesting.

Robot Quest Arena


This is a pretty loose deck-builder that's thematically one part Battlebots and one part Super Smash Bros. Upgrade yourself while demolishing each other. The interesting trade-off is that the resource you use for movement is the same resource you use to purchase cards. It's quick, it's light, and the sculpts are pretty cool. But I don't see a lot of replayability here.

Heat: Pedal to the Metal


This was a really cool Formula-1 racing game. The main thing you're doing is managing the heat level of your engine. Each "heat" you have to pay is a card that clutters up your deck. You pay heat by taking turns too fast, shifting too hard, and what not, but you can mitigate it mainly by down-shifting, which forces you to play lower cards. I don't know how realistically it's capturing the strategy of slipstreaming and timing your gear-changes around corners, but it feels really thematic. The kids loved it too. Don't tell them, but I've acquired a copy that may show up around their birthdays.

Fire in the Hole!


A toy with a gameplay element attached to it. Play cards to throw yarn balls at the pirate ship. Group four to win. Eyepatches are included. It was fun and the presentation is great, but man the novelty is going to wear off fast.

Dodos Riding Dinos: Dodo Dash


Very similar to the OG Dodos Riding Dinos except now the dodos are doing things too. It's a very light racing game with some take-that card mechanics and a dexterity component that literally has you dropping meteor tokens on the board or tossing feathers at other racers. Mindless fun. This one has a few refinements over the original, but I don't like it that much better that I feel the need to own both.

Terraforming Mars: The Dice Game


Dice-resource-management engine-building game. Roll dice to get resources and spend them to fulfill contracts. There's a little euro-game flavor in that you have to take a "production" turn periodically to get new contracts and resources. I haven't played Terraforming Mars (yes, yes, I know, I know, I'll get to it) but my gaming companions say it feels like a great slimmed-down reimplementation. I liked it--I think, there was a lot going on that evening--and would like to play it again. Also, the rulebook very badly needs an editor.

Flamecraft


This one has been very popular for a few Geekways now, but it looks just so cutesy that I had misgivings. Now that I've played it, I can safely say that--unlike space cats--this was not a case of art overriding gameplay. Take your flame-keeper token to various locations in town to get resources and attract dragons and use their services. Put out new locations to attract more dragons and whoever has the most hearts (victory points) at the end wins.

The Vale of Eternity


Tableau-builder with snake-drafting and some funky mechanics around managing currency. I didn't get a turn on it in Play-and-Win, but tried out a demo in the vendor hall and I ended up buying it on the spot. We played it at the con, but it was Sunday and my brain was fried and I forgot to take pictures, so you get a hastily-posed at-home snap instead. It's very fun and very charming.

Aaaaaaand...

And that's all she wrote. If you want to see even more gameplay photos, check out my instagram. There were 134 games in Play-and-Win, and I was fortunate that many of the in-demand titles are games that I either already own or are owned by someone in my gaming circle. I hit nearly the entire list of games that I wanted to try (and didn't already own 🙃).

The next Geekway Mini is in January and I'm already looking forward to it.

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