Mini-Reviews: New to me in October 2017

In October 2017 I played more games than ever before since I started recording my plays several years ago. Much of this was due to my attendance of SHUX in Vancouver, Canada. But, I had a game night every week and we played a LOT of games at work. In addition to playing more games than ever, I probably played more games for the first time in a single month. I had such a wide range of opinions of these games, so it seemed like a good time to discuss them in brief.

Maybe you'll see something you like, or maybe you'll disagree?

Here's how my system works:

  • Games without an icon have been played by me before. I won't be reviewing them here, though if you have a question, just comment.
  • Games with a Red X are games I thought were bad.
  • Games with an Orange Meh are games I thought were fine? Okay? I'd play if asked?
  • Games with a Green medal are games I thought were good.

Here's the chart:

Let's go from worst to best. 

The Worst (Red X)

Wartime: The Battle of Valyance Vale - I played this three times and in the end was very disappointed. I've wanted this game for a while. The first impression wasn't great: awful visual presentation. Lousy illustrations, laughably bad graphic design, and shoddy printing. The core mechanism are actually very cool. It's essentially Memoir '44 in real time. You either Move or Attack with a unit. Then, you must place a 30, 60, or 90 second timer on it. You cannot activate it again until the timer runs out. That's it. It's that simple! It has maybe the most clever Line of Sight rule I've ever seen, a really neat way of tracking unit health, and a really neat system for range damage. But, the game has TERRIBLE scenarios. They just aren't fun, balanced, or interesting. I don't care how good your system is if the content you present is this lousy. The bad scenarios plus the poor product effort made this a miss for me.

Downforce - I played this two times and hated it. The game had a few really big problems for me. One, the game played almost identically in both games because I was sitting in the fifth position both games. Both games, I took my third turn when cars were in the turn. My fifth was the same. This meant, unlike my opponents, I had almot no choices for half my plays of the game. Secondly, the game has a kingmaking issue. With the last cars to come in, you know who "owns" which car, so players decide who profits from them. Thirdly, the game has this weird auction at the beginning that takes a while, seems important...but I feel it could have maybe just been solved by assigning players cars? Fourthly, the car powers are really bad. They don't seem to matter. And fifthly, I didn't feel (after two plays, mind you) that the distribution of the cards was such that I could actually affect things. In one game I had ALL the black cards and thought I could therefore hinder the black car. Nope. There are enough in the supply that it still won. Okay? Cool? I don't want to play this one ever again.

Hamsterrolle - I played this a few times. All dexterity games are inherently stupid. They're goofy, and they should be. But, the good ones are fun for more than two plays. This game is just maddening. You're placing wooden blocks on a rolling wheel. Eventually the wheel moves forward enough such that the blocks fall and the current player gets them. The first player to place all their blocks wins. The game seems to dictate the winner based on the order of play. It felt like I was on a carnival ride where my play didn't matter.

Broom Service: The Card Game - Wie Verhext! and Broom Service both use an excellent mechanism. I LOVE both of these games. Broom Service The Card Game distills this mechanism down to pointlessness. I hate this trend of making games so simple you can teach to anybody in 3 minutes, but not interesting enough to bother with a second play. This game sucks. Play its forebears.

Cat Lady - If you want a bad Coloretto, you can play this. Or, you can play Coloretto.

Joraku - I really didn't like this game. It does sorta a neat thing with trick-taking, but it's one of these games that doesn't have enough dynamism or interesting play. In the end, it comes down to a lot of AP, calculation, and math, and it's just not the kind of game I enjoy. I feel like it's area control for boring people.

Unlock! Fifth Avenue - Holy crap I hated this. I've played, and enjoyed, two Exit games. Incredibly intersting, beautifully designed products. I think this is the intro scenario, so perhaps it was especially stupid. But, it also has this mechanism where you have to scan cards to find objects. That isn't a puzzle, it's a thing you give to 5 year olds to occupy them. This also means that whenever you are stumped on an actual puzzle, if the clues aren't obvious, you might think, "Crap, did I miss a stupid number hidden on the card?" It's bad puzzle design. 

The Okay (Orange Meh)

To be clear, these are games I would play again if asked. Games on which my opinion might change. But, the initial impression wasn't super great. Just fine.

Magic Maze - I started out in love with this game. Stupid real time chaos! Then I played it with 3 players and it completely fell apart. The game is far too easy at this count and loses its tension and madness. I think most real-time games follow a pattern for me. 1. Hilarious, zany fun! 2. We get better and laugh less. 3. We solve it and sit in silence like robots. Magic Maze got to #3 too quickly.

Wallamoppi - Another stupid dexterity game! You have a stack of thick wooden disks. There's also a series of ramps with an exit path. In the game, your opponent drops the marble. You must pull out a disk and stack it, then grab the marble, all with one hand, before the marble hits the end of the ramp. I feel this is a game you could play yearly at Thanksgiving with family and love it. But, not great enough to buy, for me.

Abandon Planet - I've played this one a few times and I think my opinion is a solid meh. I like the idea of social games with more meat, but this loses the fun social dynamism of a pure social game, and the added rules don't add enough fun to compensate for their complexity. I think I've won every game I've played, but I don't know why, or what I do differently. I think at some point the game ends, you go "oh, I won," and move on. It's fine? I like the idea, and hope to see more of this, but better.

Team Play - There are cards with colors and numbers. You and a teammate play them to match goals, and pass them back and forth. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. But, everyone is bored.

Automobiles - I'm not sure I like games where I pull wooden cubes from a bag and do things. I felt this way about Hyperborea last month. Automobiles is completely fine. The initial presentation is a pain because you're craning your neck to read tiny cards to explain the 10 cubes in play. I sorta wish this game ignored variability and just did 8 or so powers that were great, then gave every player a board with the powers. I get the game is trying to be a deckbuilder, but it wasn't really fun or compelling as a deckbuilder. I wished it leaned harder on being an interesting race game with multiple strategies as opposed to a weak deckbuilder that happens to be a race game.

Super Motherload - Completely fine. But, more rules and tiny offshoots and in the end, I felt the same experience I get from playing Splendor. But, Splendor is far simpler and 15 minutes.

Watson and Holmes - In a nutshell, this game was Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective, but with a worse case, and competitive. I think the thing is, I like doing these things with friends. I like a cooperative detective game. I'm not personally very good at solving puzzles, and the tiny game mechanisms of blocking each other weren't that compelling. Ultimately, this is the reason I didn't back Detective: City of Angels. It looked really really cool! But, is competetive. 

The Good (Green Medal)

Mini-Rails - This is one of the games I read about in the Gen Con Preview on BGG and said "I need that." I was super thankful it was available to play at SHUX (Thanks Ben Kutcher) as it was a little expensive on BGG for a blind purchase. I really like the game, and I'm very impressed with its elegance. I think it suffers at 3 players, but at 4 and 5 players? A very compelling, distilled train game. Very interesting to look at as an example of good abstraction.

NMBR 9 - Named like a stupid Silicon Valley startup, but don't let that dissuade you. I was worried initially that this game would have too much group think, or not enough variability. Yet, somehow, people quickly diverge and there are clear winners and losers. I liked this a lot and thought it was super fun. Also, because it has zero interaction, I can get a copy and convince Matt or Antonio to get a copy and we can play it with 8 people for our lunch group.

Karuba - I liked this one a lot! It's also very similar to NMBR 9 in that everyone is solving the same puzzle in different ways. I think it's very simple, very clever, and very fun.

A Feast for Odin - I wrote about this game extensively here, but TLDR, if you like Agricola, or Caverna, I think you have another game to love here. Uwe did a wonderful job and the game is full of fascinating variety. Discover new lands, send out immigrants, raid, or do things with sheep. It's a great game with a great puzzle.

Fields of Despair: France 1914-1918 - I observed this game for a long time. Would I like it? Would it get played? Is it too complicated? It took a while to get it to the table, but we finally played it and I think it's very cool. I want to play it more, and we need to set aside a good four hours to really knock it out, but I think it has some brilliant abstraction. I wrote about it briefly here

Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar - I've wanted to play this one for years! I was surprised at how simple it was. You must place a worker on a wheel, or remove a worker. When you place a worker, they go at the start of the wheel - think 1 O'clock on a clock. But, at 1? The rewards at crap. If you can wait until 8 pm? Oh man they are good. It creates a tense waiting game and is a great example of great depth without a lot of rules. Give it a look!

Well, that is it. November currently has 78 plays listed and it's the start of the month. I fully expect to write another of these at the start of December!