How was July for board games? Pretty great. I played a bunch of great new games, especially at Mark’s New House Con and managed to play some old favourites as well. There was a lull in mid/late July as I took a trip to Japan (which I just spoke about on the podcast), but I did also manage to check out a new board game café in Melbourne. Here we go:
1 July 2015 – Eurogames at the Royal Standard
Bohnanza – An old favourite. I still haven’t tried any other games that have the fixed hand order mechanic which works so well with the trading. Did okay, and probably could have traded more aggressively but you never want to push it too hard when there are new players or else they may feel taken advantage of.
Yedo – I think this kills off Lords of Waterdeep for me. I’ve not been playing the physical version much anyway due to the app, which is great, but Yedo also provides so many more options and interesting decisions that appeals to me more than Lords of Waterdeep. It’s primarily a delayed worker assignment game (assign workers in one phase, activate them in a later phase) where you collect resources to complete objective cards which is why it gets the comparison to Lords of Waterdeep, but it’s a much deeper and involved game which also incorporates auctions, risk management and trading. Workers are assigned in various districts, and then a watchman moves to a new district each round and arrests any workers assigned there and they do not get to carry out their actions. You collect weapons, geisha and blessings to help you complete your quests and the theming is quite nicely done. It’s on the long side, as there are a lot of things to do each turn, but the rules aren’t actually very complex. One that I’m very happy to play again.
4 July 2015 – Magic: the Gathering Cube Draft at my apartment
Cube Draft – I’m mainly writing about board games for this post, but I did manage to get in a great Cube session. Edwin was suuuuuuuuper late so we also played some party games and Drawful (which we covered as part of the Jackbox Party Pack in our look at party games on the podcast) and then we started without him anyway. I won’t go into details of the drafts and the games, but suffice to say everything was nuts. If you’re of the MtG persuasion, I’ve compiled the pictures+captions from my Instagram feed into this Storify post.
Pandemic: The Cure – While waiting for Edwin to turn up, we even managed to get a quick game of this in. We blasted through this one, as the medic and the dispatcher worked super well together and we got pretty lucky with rolling a lot of + results. I very much prefer The Cure to base Pandemic. It’s quicker to set up, explain, and get going. It still provides a good co-op experience, and though many of the same flaws and quibbles with Pandemic such as the backseat driver issue are still there I think the quick and random nature of it mitigates the effects a bit.
5 July 2015 – Dice, Boards & Cards at Games Laboratory
Welcome to the Dungeon – Finally got to try the different item sets in the Iello version of Dungeon of Mandom (or Dungeon of Sexist Language, according to Helen :P) and I really like what they add. They don’t change the formula too much, except for the Wizard with the Omnipotence tile which leads you to try and gauge if you can collect all unique numbers in the dungeon, and provide fun alternate options to spice up your game. The new artwork is also really nice although there seems to be some confusion to what actually constitutes chainmail.
Glory to Rome – Another old favourite. One of my top 5 favourite games, actually. Played with a bunch of new players, and I went for a really dickish aggressive strategy with the Bridge and Domus Aurea (steal their materials from hand and stockpile, then burn their incomplete buildings). I hope I didn’t turn them off the game :p
Deus – I really like this civ-lite. There was a short period of players getting used to all the actions that could be taken, which I think could have been helped with a better player aid that wasn’t just symbols on the player boards. I liked how all the different actions fed into each other and there are some nice clever combos you can build with them. It’s the kind of mechanic that really gets me going, with multiple uses for cards and flexible combo-building. However the Greek god theme is pretty pasted on and it would have worked if you just call them Trade/Military/Civic etc. actions.
The Voyages of Marco Polo – Such a strange game. I talked about it a bit on the podcast here, and I’ve played another game since then with a travel focused character that was quite amusing. I really like the core systems in the game, with a dice-based worker placement mechanic that allows you to reuse spaces taken by other players by paying according to the strength of the action you want to take. You have to manage 2 major currencies with coins being more focused on enabling travel (travel costs coins, and city actions potentially provide alternate uses for coins) and camels giving you more control over your actions (manipulate dice results or buy bonus dice). That’s all good and would have been a fine Euro, but the game also has characters with unique player powers that heavily skew how you play the game. Right now it feels like your strategy is almost entirely dictated by your character powers and it doesn’t feel like there’s much leeway to influence another player’s strategy without hampering yourself too much. It feels to me like Alien Frontiers mashed with Cosmic Encounter. The game still intrigues me and warrants a few more plays to investigate all the character powers and strategies.
A Fake Artist Goes to New York – Ignore the scoring rules in this. There’s no point(s). Ha. Ha. Very, very fun party game where everyone tries to collaboratively draw a picture but one player actually has no clue what they are trying to draw. We discovered a silly new variant where instead of getting a blank or scribbled tile, the fake artist is given a different subject in the same category (e.g. everyone else is drawing a boat, but the fake artist gets a prompt to draw a unicycle for the vehicle category). This made everyone doubt whether they were a normal or fake artist and caused a lot of anguish during drawing. Also, we learned the danger of giving a country as a category as we got very close to terrible stereotypes.
7 July 2015 – Godzilla Games at Izakaya Chuji
Artificium – Interesting take on resource conversion, not because it brings anything really new to the table but how blatant it is. You get a bunch of cards at the start of each round which you can craft by exchanging with a common pool, and then you play the cards out to convert as many resources into advanced resources and victory points. I like how obvious it all is, and it plays pretty quickly.
Abraca…what? – Competitive Hanabi. I really like the production in this game, with solid plastic blocks that you stand up in front and facing away from you. You try to guess what tiles you have and cast the appropriate spells. A round ends by either eliminating a player through spell effects or a player correctly casting all the spells in their hand either through deduction or wild guessing. You get points depending on how you did in the round and win by being the first to 8 points. It’s simple and fun enough to play well in a mixed crowd, but it doesn’t have the intense “one more game” feel of Hanabi. Still, I like what it brings to the table and it’ll be getting some repeat play.
11 July 2015 – New House Con at Mark’s
American Rails – First game for me at Mark’s New House Con, in honour of his moving into a nice new house (obv). I sometimes wish I could live in a nice big house and have plenty of people over for games, but I love where I am too much to get out of my current apartment. For now. This was a pretty fun light/medium train game. Not as involved as Steam, and it reminded me a little of Airlines Europe in its elegance. You have a worker placement system that also serves as the turn order marker which is simple but engaging, and some tense auctions for the stocks. The art on the board itself is a little bland, but it’s all very functional and clear. Overall, a pretty decent introduction to the train game genre.
Discoveries – I love Lewis & Clark, so I was very pleasantly surprised to learn that the same great designer-artist combo behind it (Cédrick Chaboussit & Vincent Dutrait) have come up with a dice-based game on the same theme. It looks great and I also really liked how it plays. You have your own set of dice and can gain more neutral dice, but all used dice go to a common pool from which you can reclaim and reuse. Alternatively you could also reclaim all your dice from the common pool and also from other players’ pools. It’s a really cute mechanic, though we all did a lot of risk avoidance in our play. You’re manipulating dice to have the right mix to travel along the rivers and mountains along the way which is pretty reminiscent of the travelling in Lewis & Clark, although there’s no expedition size to manage. We did get one rule wrong with splitting up travel for getting bonus cards, so I’m keen to play again with the correct rules.
Paris Connection – A pretty simple game, but with great interactions. It’s kind of like the essence of train games boiled way, way down. There are no auctions or complex actions to manage. Every turn you either place new trains which also represent shares in a particular train company, or exchange shares from your hidden private supply with a train company. The train companies score points depending on locations reached, and you get points depending on how many shares you have in the companies at the end of the game. Fast-paced, interactive and fun. I did terribly because I underestimated how quickly someone could end the game and was holding a bad share combination that I should have started trading out of earlier. Oh well.
Auf Teufel komm raus – Here’s my endorsement of this game: I had so much fun I forgot to take a photo of it. It’s sort of a group push your luck game with a fun betting element. You place bets on the total value of the coal pieces you can take off the board without revealing a demon, but the highest value pulled regardless of which player did it “covers” all the lower bets. So, if the highest amount of coal pulled by any player is 150, then bets of 150 and below are all paid out. There are bonuses for the person who pulled the highest amount and the person who pulled the most coal pieces. The person who placed the highest bet also gets a double payout, so it encourages aggressive betting, but there’s also a slight catch up mechanism as the person who’s in absolute last place gets to take $50 from any player who reveals a demon. Aggressive betting is much encouraged in this game and you feel involved at almost every stage of the game. Probably my favourite betting game right now.
Black Fleet – It’s by Space Cowboys, so the production is superb. It’s a pretty cute pirate-themed game where you control two ships: a merchant ship and a pirate ship to gain gold either through transporting goods or stealing them. The goal of the game is to buy all your cards, which also give you unique powers as they get bought. The game is pretty straightforward, but the card powers let you do some really cool stuff and they are all unique. Shorter and simpler than an epic like Merchants and Marauders, but it’s a good medium weight game for the genre.
Abraca…what? – Played another game of this and realised there’s a bit of a problem with 5 players as it gets hard to look at everyone’s tiles at once. We did manage to solve it by putting the tiles on the reference sheet and spinning them around every other turn or so.
Rights – What a cracker. Such a simple concept, where you trade your cards around and try to gain the majority for your pattern, since everyone else with that pattern must then pay you for the right to use your pattern. We made a slight mistake in the first game since we let it go for 1 or 2 more rounds than it should have. Great small game and jumped up in my ranking of the Oink small box games. Only have Troll left to get to the table.
Ab in die Tonne – Cute dexterity game where you try to fit a bunch of different wooden pieces into a garbage bin. Everyone gets a set of the same bid numbers which you then use to blind bid how many items you are going to try and get into the bin without any falling out, kind of like Riff Raff. Really fun and a good way to end the night for me.
31 July 2015 – Playtesting at Marche Board Games Cafe
Just Chocolate – Playtested another of Sye’s games with him and Jason (who’s also been on the podcast before though he didn’t have the glorious evil moustache then) during his visit from sunny Brisbane. Hoping to get Sye to chat about this one on the podcast as it’s got an interesting genesis and has gone through a few changes. I really like the current iteration as a simple tile-laying game, and there’s been refinement of the scoring system out of this playtest session which sounds more interesting now. Look out for this one!
Marche Board Games Cafe – We playtested Just Chocolate when we decided to drop by this new board game cafe after dinner. I don’t think there’s been one in Melbourne since MyCube shut its doors about 5 years ago. The interior is really nice and bright (ignore my terrible photos, the lighting is nicer in person) and neat. There are a variety of table sizes, but more on the smaller side. You get half an hour of game time with the purchase of a drink, and anything more than that will incur a flat $8 fee. Drinks and snacks seem to be in the $7-15 range, so it’s not bad. Amusingly, it also offers karaoke at the back.
The board game selection skews toward the mainstream and casual party types, which is to be expected since the cafe is aimed at that crowd, but there are a few strategy games on offer too. Intriguingly, they offer some Chinese games which I’ve never seen before and some uncommon (at least to me) older games: Admirals, Bermuda Triangle and Campaign.
I think it’s a nice space and the pricing isn’t too bad. However, I worry about its long-term viability since in the absence of a board game cafe culture the meetup groups like Eurogames at the Royal Standard, Godzilla Games et al have really flourished and I’m not sure if it can offer something substantial to the gamer crowd for the price. The staff that we encountered when we were there didn’t seem to indicate they were knowledgeable with the board games, but that could have been because we already set up our own. It’s still pretty new and it’s got such a nice space in a decent location, I’m hoping it will stick around and be a good gateway for the non-gamer crowd.
How about you? What board games did you play last month?