I’m hoping to do these digests monthly, although this took me way longer to write than July’s since I had a break of 2 weekends without board games in July so there are more games to cover in August. August was a pretty great month for unpublished games in particular, and I’ve also included some photos of other games I did not personally play at these events because why not.
1 August 2015 – Dice, Boards & Cards at Games Laboratory
Ragnaroll – Tested the new iteration of Jason’s game. It’s changed a bit since I last played it at PAX Aus last year, with new powers for the hero dice, new dice distributions and new events. It’s a pretty unique game in terms of feel, as it focuses on the feeling of desperate battles for survival at the end of the world rather than trying to build up slowly to a big clash. You start with a set amount of stores which will be consumed every turn, and the only way to get more is to raid other players for them which leads to a lot of conflict from the get go. I made a pretty big gamble about halfway through the game. I could have picked on the easy target and guarantee survival for a few more turns, but opted instead for a chance at eliminating the other player with the plan to then use the resources gained to then try and take out the remaining player. It did not go well.
Chinatown – I’m pretty terrible at making deals, so I’m always a little iffy on trading games. This is pretty much purely trading, which was very enjoyable with the group I played with, but I think the experience depends heavily on the mix of people playing. There’s a little too much randomness with the tile draws that makes deal-making a little more difficult (in Bohnanza you’re guaranteed to see all of each bean as you cycle through the deck at least once, and in Catan you can always trade with the ports if you’re being screwed over and/or embargoed).
Pocket Imperium – Played it 2-player, which is probably not ideal. A 4X game distilled all the way down to 3 cards which control the order in which you Expand, Explore and Exterminate. The 4th X is represented by a guaranteed Exploit at the end of every turn. 2-player felt less interesting as we seemed to just trade control over the same few worlds. Also the rules could have been clearer for 2 players. I’m pretty sure we got it right, but some more 2-player specific examples to reinforce/clarify the rules would have been nice.
CatTube Famous – I had a chat with Josh and Liam on the podcast about this game, which successfully raised funding on Kickstarter. It’s amusing and the graphic design very nicely evokes YouTube’s layout. It’s a little light for my tastes, but the theme carries it.
Auf Teufel komm raus – Always a fun time with this push-your-luck betting game. This time we had the dreaded all Demon round for the first time ever, to the consternation of all.
A Fake Artist Goes to New York – A party favourite. This time featuring the worst attempt at drawing a chameleon of all time. Someone please put it out of its misery.
The Voyages of Marco Polo – Second play of this and it was a pretty different experience from the first game. Katelyn and I both had travel-focused characters while Matt and Jason focused on contracts. Money was flowing really well for the travellers and we made huge trips around the board, which is a big change from the first game. I’m still enjoying the game, but it’s reinforced to me that your strategy is too heavily influenced by your character power. It feels too rigid. I would really love the version of the game with more leeway to forge your own path.
8 August 2015 – Board Games at Wells/Home
Nations: The Dice Game – I think it was Tim that mentioned this was pretty much CV, and he’s not wrong. The drafting mechanism is different, but it does feel pretty similar with how the tiles impact your dice. However I do like that you can get access to dice with different distributions. The gist of it is you roll dice and use them as resources to buy tiles that change your dice distribution, gain additional die results and are worth victory points. The resources are also compared at the end of the round to gain other victory points. Pretty straightforward stuff, but still quite interesting. I won this easily by focusing on Wonders, and Jon was lamenting how much luck was still in the game though I think the re-rolls and decisions on how to control your dice probabilities do enough to mitigate some of the luck.
The King of Frontier (x2) – The love child of Puerto Rico and Carcassonne. Every player gets a mat they try to fill up with tiles that form forests, quarries, fields and cities. Actions taken trigger the same action for all other players, with the lead player who chose the action getting a bonus. There’s less direct interaction than Carcassonne, but it’s also nice to build a neat little grid of tiles with all the features matching up. It is also pretty short and we liked it enough to play it twice. Both games actually went quite differently, with the first one featuring more production/delivery of goods and the second one heavily focused on expanding your tiles. A good light strategic game that I think warrants wider availability.
9 August 2015 – Netrunner Draft at the Brandon
Android: Netrunner Draft – This was my first ever Netrunner draft. I was pretty rusty, and my runner deck in particular was pretty janky, so I obviously did not do well but it was still a lot of fun. Netrunner draft is pretty different from other games due to having to draft 2 decks, and the pacing of the game is pretty different. Hopefully will get to do another one soon.
Rhino Hero – Picked this up while I was in Japan. It’s a super cute dexterity game where you stack up cards to form a tower, and then sometimes you have to move a little rhino meeple up the tower and change its balance. Quick, eye-catching and fun: A pretty much perfect dexterity filler from Haba.
11 August 2015 – Godzilla Games at Izakaya Chuji
Choson (x2) – This is a reimplementation of Koryo. I like the new powers and the event system, which bring some more interesting decisions to the game. I wouldn’t say it’s completely replaced Koryo, as Koryo’s rules are a bit more streamlined. Also, I only just realised that both of the games in that series are named after actual Korean dynasties: Koryo/Goryeo and Choson/Joseon. Shows my lack of knowledge of Korean history. I’m actually thrilled about it. It”s nice to see a Korean designer highlighting Korean history in a fantastical setting (One of the cards is named after the founder of that dynasty and his symbol is based on the royal standard/emblem). It was the main reason I backed Maha Yodha as well: Indian designers highlighting Hindu mythology, especially because it’s spearheaded by people from those cultures, and isn’t just being haphazardly co-opted in a sci-fi/fantasy setting
14 August 2015 – Playtesting at The Arcade
Noble Intentions – Playtested a 4 player version of Clinton’s game of squabbling nobles. You control a faction trying to wrest control of the throne by sending your monarch to occupy it, flanked by your capable regiments. However, the incompetent nobles have ingratiated themselves into commanding the regiments, thereby reducing their effectiveness. Everyone has terrible regiments now and then you duke it out to take the throne or eliminate your opposing monarchs. The 4 player version does go on for a bit, but that’s also because Stacey managed to engineer a stalemate out of a seemingly doomed position, for which I have the utmost respect.
Not a game, but I did get a new shelf! Finally all the board games are off the floor and are now in or on some sort of shelf. I still managed to almost completely fill out the new shelf, and I have more Kickstarters arriving every week. This is a temporary reprieve at best.
15 August 2015 – Massive Multiplayer Cube at Wells
Rhino Hero – Continuing the trend of playing this during a draft session, this time while waiting for others to turn up.
Magic: The Gathering Cube Draft – Storify with all the photos from the game here. We had 6 players, so we played an Assassins game with respawn rules. You get the name of another player in secret who is your target. If you kill your target, you get 3 points and gain their contract. Killing any other player nets you 1 point, and first to 5 points wins. If you die, you can jump back in the next time your turn comes around and you get to take 4 turns in a row to set up your mana and some permanents in a “bubble” outside of the game before jumping back in. In retrospect, we probably shouldn’t have used the respawn rule as we were trying for a shorter game. It’s still fun with respawn if you wanted the longer game, but for the stated purpose of moving the game along it didn’t work well. Ah well, the game was still a lot of fun. We also did a 4 player Planechase free-for-all after that which got nuts pretty quickly with some very beneficial planes.
16 August 2015 – Dice, Boards & Cards at Games Laboratory
Eternal Dynasty – A solid area control game with shifting leader powers every generation and plenty of interaction. Really loved the art on the cards, but little issues here and there with the production really nagged at me, especially the rulebook. I even spoke about it here on the podcast. Overall, I still really like the game and I’d be happy to play it now that I’ve a game under my belt and can handle the rules and rulebook better.
Abraca…what? (x2) – Played 2 games back to back as someone was watching along during the first one and then joined in. Starting to lose its shine a little for me, as there isn’t really that same tension as something like Hanabi.
Sheep & Thief – Really cute production with little cotton balls representing your sheep. It’s a simple drafting game where you draft your hand of cards, then take turns playing them down onto your board. When you activate a thief card, all thieves on all boards move the same way and you might then steal sheep from others. I left myself way too open while I was focusing on connecting my roads and rivers and got my lots of sheep stolen from me during the last round. Decent filler/light game, and I’ll try to acquit myself better next time, but I don’t think there’s much longevity there.
Artifacts, Inc. – Another Kickstarter from Ryan Laukat. Great art and theme as usual. The game does drag a little bit, as there’s nothing to do on another player’s turn and you have to just wait for them to figure out the best way to use their dice. The dice placement and upgrading is decent, though I wonder about limiting the cards that gave you extra dice. Seems like there could have been more without changing too much about the game, since they’re not always the best choice anyway. Also, the spatial aspect of the game felt unnecessary. I saw there’s an official variant being tested that makes the turns more interactive and faster as everyone takes turns activating dice rather than each player getting to use all dice at once. Would love to try it with the variant and see if that makes this better for me. Not a bad game per se, but nowadays you have to really be excellent to stand out.
Troll – That’s all the Oink games finally played. The board setup looks more complicated than what it actually is, which is a cute little bluffing/push your luck game. Once you figure it out on a play, the scoring setup is actually pretty cool and functional. We only played with 3 players, and I think this would work way better with more. Apparently the original theme was Dragon Teeth Washer which sounds waaaaay more fun.
21 August 2015 – Incubator at Games Laboratory
You can read about what I played at the August Incubator playtesting meetup here.
22 August 2015 – Board Games at Wells/Home
Matcha – A charming little 2 player game with wonderful wooden tokens. It took a while to get around the strategy for it. It’s pretty clever how integral the brush rule is to the game. I think I’ll need to play this one a few more times to really get it. It reminds me a little bit of Balloon Cup, which Jeannie liked a lot, so I think she would enjoy this one too.
Seven7s (x2) – Another one where the role of one rule/exception, in this case how the 7 Ages of Man works, is integral to the strategy of the game. I dig it. It’s a little fiddly in terms of how all the card powers interact and the rules explanation can be a bit tricky but it’s really clever, and I appreciate that.
Revolution! with The Palace expansion – Finally played this with the Palace expansion, which allows more players in the game without actually adding any time or too much extra fiddliness to the base which I really appreciate. Mainly it’s because turns are pretty much simultaneous. I did mess things up a little bit with the variant rules we were playing with, so next time I’ll remember to just stick to the base rules if I haven’t played in a while. Stephen caned us all while we were getting in each others way. I want to get this to the table more often, as it’s pretty quick but there’s also a lot of second-guessing and trying to predict your opponent’s moves which makes it a lot of fun.
La Granja – Oh wow do I love this game. Only 1 play so far with 3 players, but I am thinking this will quite likely enter my Top 10. It just scratches a bunch of itches for me personally. There are multi-purpose/multi-context cards that can either be used to score points, extend your farm, or provide special powers. There’s an action draft that, like Matcha and Seven7s before, has that one rule that makes it way more interesting. The leftover action is granted to all players, so you sometimes want to leave desirable actions on the table since it’s quite likely everyone will do the same. Even the way the wooden markers are used to represent different game elements charms me. Possibly the best Eurogame I’ve played this year.
23 August 2015 – Gatekeeper Games
Robots & Rockets – Playtested with Evan and Sye when we went over to say hi. The final art looks really good.
26 August 2015 – Eurogames at the Royal Standard
Warband: Against the Darkness + Emerging Races – This is an interesting one. It’s an area control game, but it’s equally about controlling your position in the combined army as it is about controlling areas on the actual board. I enjoyed the 1 play I had of it, although I think the graphic design for the enemy cards could be improved to make the information clearer. Also, this is one where it really pays off to focus on a strategy right from the start as the cost of deviating from that is pretty high if you don’t have the right race. We played with randomly assigned races, but I think this would be way better after a few plays so you can then draft races.
Colossal Arena – An older game about manipulating and betting on monsters fighting in an arena. It’s highly interactive as there are multiple ways to screw with people, and it’s pretty similar to Cheaty Mages which is not a bad alternative if you like this theme. However the set up is kinda fiddly, as you have to sort out the monster cards being used. I might try and get a copy of this, as I enjoyed it.
29 August 2015 – Board Games at Wells/Home
New Horizons – Another playtest with Sye. The core of the game is there, but I think there are some issues with the board position being underutilized. Managing resources in this version was more tense and interesting, and the card powers are now at a better power level, but it still feels like there’s too much space on the board and I don’t really need to manage that as much. Getting there, though.
Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King – This is a totally charming economic game. The goals change from game to game, and they don’t always score on the same turns although you’re guaranteed to score each goal 3 times each game. Then each round you draw new tiles and set their prices, which will depend on the goals and how much money people have. The tile laying is almost incidental to this game, as you could have been collecting sets but it works as a great medium with different parameters to be scored. I really enjoyed this game although I truly regret not setting the price for my sheep higher.
Broom Service – Finally got to try this year’s Kennerspiel winner. It’s interesting all right, with a nice little push your luck feel and pick up and deliver aspects. I think I prefer Glass Road which has a similar “choose a subset of cards but get bonuses if you chose unique cards”, as there’s a lot more to the card play, but this is pretty good for a shorter game. Actually, since this is based on Witch’s Brew which came out way before Glass Road, I wouldn’t be surprised if Rosenberg drew his inspiration there. For my tastes, I still put Elysium and Orleans over this but I can see why it got the nod. Also, punny name does score some bonus points for me.
30 August 2015 – Board Games at the Brandon
Citadels – A classic. Took me a while to remember how to play this properly, so I wasted a bunch of actions. Still pretty fun, but drags on a bit with a larger group as you really have nothing to do outside your own turn.
Lewis & Clark – Have I mentioned this is one of my favourite games? I love how you can craft the actions in your hand and how you have to balance the implications of taking on more actions (cards or Indians) with getting ahead in the race. I love how you can choose to set the strength of most actions by losing utility on other actions as the strength is set using cards or Indians that provide actions. I love the vibrancy of the art and graphic design. Damnit, I love this game.
The Dice Must Flow (aka Dune: The Dice Game) – The unofficial unlicensed dice game set in the Dune setting. It recreates the original Dune board game through the lens of rolling dice. I’m not familiar with the original game, but I have played Rex which is similarly based on that game. It actually did a pretty good job of evoking the theme and setting us all up to make temporary alliances and slowly backstab each other if it was convenient. Alliances in this game only last a turn, unless you go to the effort of maintaining them and even then you may not be able to roll the right dice and fate may decree an early end to your chummy relationship. We played a 7-player game, so it did go on for a while. However you’re always interested in what’s going on each turn as you can try to convince the active player to ally with you and you can reap some benefits.
The factions powers did a good job of evoking the theme, though it feels like some faction powers weren’t very balanced. This was only our first game though, so that assessment needs to be tested. The game also felt super volatile, with fortunes possibly swinging wildly from turn to turn. Part of it is because we played with 7 players, but the strength of the Kanly action which could just straight up assassinate your troops on the board seems accentuated when there are 6 chances for that to happen before you take your next turn. I think I still prefer Rex as there are more interesting little bits there, but this is not a bad implementation of the theme. Huge bonus points for the punny name, and also for the gorgeous graphic design by the same artist who did the Glory to Rome Black Box Edition.
Kobayakawa – Played this while waiting for fried chicken and waffles at Fried & Tasty. Again with the one little twist that makes the game. The middle Kobayakawa card is a great little tool that makes the bluffing interesting in this game. Plays super quick, but may be a little too light for me.
And that’s it for August! Lots of great games made it to the table, and I am slowly making a dent in the massive pile of unplayed games I own. September looks like it will be a little lighter for board games as I’m currently away from my regular groups in Sydney, but I will be checking out some local meetups soon. How about you? What games have you played in the past month that you really enjoyed?