This fall, instead of heading down to the big Boardgamegeek Con in Texas, my game group and I got an AirBNB in Saint Louis and played all our games there. We figured it would be just as good as we only play games with each other when we go to the cons anyway. Due to St. Louis being a cool place with plenty to do, we didn’t play as much as we would have at a convention, but we still played plenty of games, so I went ahead and wrote up some quick reviews of everything we played last weekend right here.
As usual, I’ve rated the games with the following scale from www.boardgamegeek.com:
- 10 – Outstanding – will always enjoy playing.
- 9 – Excellent – very much enjoy playing.
- 8 – Very good – enjoy playing and would suggest it.
- 7 – Good – usually willing to play.
- 6 – Ok – will play if in the mood.
- 5 – Mediocre – take it or leave it.
- 4 – Not so good – but could play again.
- 3 – Bad – likely won’t play this again.
- 2 – Very bad – won’t play ever again.
- 1 – Awful – defies game description.
With that in mind, here’s what I thought about the games played at this year’s Fall Game Retreat:
6 Nimmt (8.5) – This classic game of everyone blind bidding a card from their hand, and then lining them up in order next to a series of starter cards is great fun. The twist is that a row can not have a sixth card, so if your card ends up having to go in a row with five cards, you take the five cards as negative points. It’s a simple, fun, clever mechanic, and I’m always impressed when I play this one. Detractors will say that you can play your cards randomly and still do just as well (which miiiiiight be partly true in games with large numbers of players), but that sounds more like sour grapes for getting stomped to me.
The Big Book of Madness (8) – This is a cooperative game of using cards (acquired via a lite-deckbuilding system) to cast spells to help you stop a series of horrible monsters unleashed when a bunch of Slytherinesque students had to go and open up the Big Book of Madness. There is kind of a lot going on, but it all remains pretty manageable due to everyone having the same simple starting spells, and some nicely interlocking game mechanics. Quite a good time, though it does have maybe one too many hoops to jump through as you batter your way through the Book of Madness.
Black Hole Council (5) – This negotiation game of getting certain colored cards in the slots you want them has some good stuff in it, but ultimately there is just too much fiddling around with moving things where people secretly want them moved to really work as a pure negotiation game. Too often you had 6 different people asking you to do 6 different things…it isn’t impossible to sort through it all, but I’m not sure I’d call it fun. Also, the graphic design is nice, but is far too abstract (for me) for a futuristic space game.
Cranium: Hoopla (6.5) – Of all the Cranium games (most of which are, at least, playable), this one comes the closest to satisfying gamers. Basically you roll a dice and use some kind of charades/pictionary/etc (one complaint is that the bigger than/smaller than category was a bit easy to “game” by just picking words that help players figure out your card) to get the other players to guess the various cards you have in hand. The timer is a nice way to incorporate some stakes to the game, and all of the various activities are fun. It’s still nothing special, but it’s at least pretty fun.
Deadpool vs The World (7.5) – The whole “vote on which one is the funniest” is WAY too overplayed in the flooded party game market, but, at least this game affords you the opportunity to write your own funny shit, making it infinitely better than the endless Apples to Apples/Cards Against Humanity clones out there. Deadpool is probably overplayed too, but I never get tired of writing silly captions to silly pictures, so I give this one a pass.
Emojito (5) – This is a simple game of drawing a card, and then trying to get people to guess the face on it by mimicking the expression with your face, sounds, or both. I see what they were going for, but the game was barely there (and far too easy)–ultimately this felt like a lot of nice artwork in search of an actual game.
Escape the Dark Castle (9) – This is a real triumph of design, with every single element absolutely dripping with theme. Even the healing “potions” are dank and filthy: rotten apples, moldy cheese, and the like. The game itself is a fairly simple dice game with a few nice twists, enough to make it quite fun even without all the excellent black and white artwork to send it through the roof. Don’t get too carried away thinking this is a choose your own adventure style game, it really boils down to the same mini dice game over and over again, but it’s a good one and thus very worth playing if you like Dark Castles™!
Flee (7) – This is, supposedly, a mini legacy game, where new rules are introduced as you make your way through the deck. In Flee, you basically play one card a turn and the goal is to never let the person with the monster take a turn or you all lose (thus, most of the cards are some variation of skip a player or reverse direction). There is actually a decent game in here (and it looks great), cluttered up by the constant new rules and twists, which ultimately kind of detracted from what could have been a much cleaner experience. Also, I definitely got the feeling that I was just letting a stacked deck play me with few meaningful decisions as we progressed through the deck.
Junk Orbit (9) – In this game of delivering space junk, your ship shoots a piece of junk through space a set number of spaces, which pushes your ship in the opposite direction the same number of spaces, allowing you to pick up all the junk on your new space for further shooting fun. The goal is to deliver the junk where it needs to go, either by shooting it to the correct space, or dropping it off where you land. Aside from a few special powers for the ships, that’s really all there was to it, but it made for a very fun game. Lots of good choices, a very intuitive design, and a reasonable play time make this a game worth checking out.
Kingdomino (9) – This is a very simple game of drafting tiles and placing them in your kingdom so that at least one edge matches a previously placed tile. The two twists are that if you draft (what is usually) the best tile, you will have to pick last for your next draft, and all your tiles have to fit in a 5×5 square with scoring being the number of crowns in a region times the size of the region. That’s really all there is to it, but each simple element integrates seamlessly to create a fantastic game (that looks great too). Highly recommended, especially for the price!
Krosmaster: Arena (10) – As tactical miniatures games go, this is can be a little bloated in that you have to keep track of two whole teams’ worth of special abilities and potential upgrades to buy. Of course, if you are willing to put in the effort, there is an infinitely replayable game here that is the perfect balance of tactical positioning and combos in a brightly colored chibi-fantasy world. And, it bears repeating that this is also the best looking game in my extensive collection.
Krosmaster: Quest (7.5) – In some ways this simplifies the Krosmaster experience (despite turning it into an adventure game and adding a quest path, stock market, crafting, and destructible terrain) as you only have to control one character. Most games are simple affairs of “head out and harvest trees/kill mobs to get stuff to make stuff to kill more mobs,” but it really is satisfying to get stuff to make better stuff, so I think that’s a fine system to base an adventure game on. Some of the mechanics feel a little poorly thought out, evidenced by a rule book that is full of “feel free to play any of these three ways!” verbiage (for the record, each player taking turns controlling the “demon” is the best way to play), and tons of rules ambiguities, especially in the ways the game differs from Krosmaster:Arena. It also feels a bit too short…honestly, if you don’t focus solely on the quest path, you will DEFINITELY lose, and I can’t imagine many scenarios where crafting tons of equipment would ever happen (just like I can’t imagine many games where entering a dungeon would ever be worth it). Despite all that, I had fun, and the game, as always, looks great (despite some seriously warping tiles).
The Legend of the Cherry Tree that Blossoms Every Ten Years (5.5) – This is a simple push your luck game of drawing flowers out of a bag and hoping not to get too many of the same color. There are special cards that give you bonuses for pushing your luck further, and end game is a matter of calculating majorities of flowers shown and flowers hidden behind your screen. I found this a little unintuitive on my first play, with some of the subtleties of the scoring not immediately obvious. Further plays would help with this I’m sure, but nothing about it really grabbed me or made me feel like playing a second time, so I guess I’ll never know.
Liar’s Dice (8.5) – Classic bluffing game of everyone rolling 5 dice secretly, and then going around the table betting on how many of a certain number is under everyone’s cups. Bets can only be raised, either by the number on the dice “six sixes” or the number of dice “seven ones,” and continue being raised until someone calls bullshit. It’s simple, easy to pick up, can be played with hands and a handful of dice, and has a nice amount of hidden and shared knowledge (depending on the player count) to give it some interest. I even recommend it using 4 side dice with 2 players!
Mountains of Madness (6) – The game looks great, and is definitely a fun, immersive experience (at least for a while), but there just really isn’t a fun GAME under all the bells and whistles. Basically, you are just as a group trying to decide which cards each person should contribute from their hands of cards to satisfy the color requirements of each challenge, hampered by a bunch of speaking restrictions each person has. So, while it’s funny to have to stroke someone’s cheek while you say “I have a green 6,” it’s not really all that fun to just do variations on that the whole game.
Pantone: The Game (8) – This is a clever game where everyone gets a card with 3 things/people listed, and then you have to use a variable number of colored rectangles to try to construct an abstract picture of the thing to see how many hints people need to guess it. Lots of opportunities for clever pictures are here, and most of the things you have to guess are at least possible (though “painting” with rectangles is trickier than you’d expect).
Someone Has Died (7.5) – This storytelling game attempts to insert a bit of structure into the proceedings by having a structured arc of play, and plenty of different cards to guide you in constructing your tale of why you should get a recently deceased person’s inheritance. Some of the cards don’t quite work together (for instance, I was a middle school student who had a class with the deceased in college), but with a clever group, even that can be a fun obstacle to overcome. I especially liked the objection cards which force the storytellers to stay on their toes. Definitely worth playing, but not really a game, as is the case with most storytelling games.
Spiky Dastards (9) – Part of a long line of “flip some cards up, grab the missing number/color/piece from the center of the table before everyone else grabs it” games, this one ups the ante by covering the objects you have to grab with sharp as shit plastic spikes. Highly recommended for a group of competitive masochists that find turn after turn of self-inflicted pain rather hilarious.
Warhammer Underworlds (9.5) – Condenses the tactical miniature experience down to the very basics: 12 turns each of move/attack/charge actions with the winner being the one that completed the most points worth of objectives. Complexity is added through constructing a deck of upgrade and one time use ploy cards to help you achieve your constructed deck of objectives. It’s still very dicey, but the super fast play time, amazing miniatures, and fun combination of cardplay and simple tactics makes for a real winner!
Zombicide: Green Horde (8.5) – The Zombicide system is functioning pretty smoothly here, as a large amount of chrome (to be fair, I was playing with a lot of expansions) mostly integrates into a smooth and quick moving zombie smashing experience. The minis and boards are beautiful, and there are good choices once you internalize the central concept of “no, seriously, never let these guys bite you.” There are probably a few too many bits of equipment, extra rules, and system management chores to really be considered one of the greats, but the scenario I played was great fun!