I’ve been playing some games over the last month or so, but I’ve only been to game night once, and haven’t had much time to actually write anything. But last week marked my triumphant (or slightly less so) return to game night for the foreseeable future. And to me anyway, it was a really good game night, filled a lot of games on the newer end of the spectrum.
To start off my evening, Sceadeau introduced Chris and me to Hanabi for the first time. Since it’s pretty much sold out everywhere right now, though, we actually played using a homemade set that used incredibly beat up and rather filthy Ticket to Ride train cards as the different suits. And as I’ve found out since then, the set even included the rainbow suit variant that counts as another set with just 1 card of each number, rather than the more standard distribution in the other colors.
In the first game, we just played without a ton of coaching from him or the other experienced players (Ian and Matt) playing with us. And despite a few mistakes here and there, we did quite well, scoring 25 (of 30) points.
Sceadeau then explained that the groups he has played with before tend to develop and then use a few “conventions” about how they manage their hand and give clues. I’m not sure I remember all of them, but they included things like holding your oldest cards on the left and adding new cards to the right of your hand. That way, if you hadn’t received any clues of things to play or to hold, you would assume that the left-most card in your hand was safe and could be discarded to earn a new clue.
In the game, though, we had some pretty bad luck. We didn’t see a white 1 for at least the first half of the game, and a couple of bad plays capped off both rainbow and white at just 2 or 3. We got it together and salvaged a 22 from the game, though, and it was still a blast.
Time: 19 and 15 minutes
Score: 25 and 22 (Chris*, Norton*, Ian, Matt, & Sceadeau)
Ratings: Chris 8.5, Norton 8.5, Ian 10, Matt 10, Sceadeau 10
So, after playing this SdJ-winning game a couple of times, I feel very comfortable making the firm judgment that Hanabi is freaking awesome. It’s so simple, but requires such a high level of cooperation and communication. It’s just incredible! For people who actually know how to work together and cooperate (which I’m beginning to think is less and less of the game-playing population), this is a must-have and a must-play-often.
Now I just can’t wait until mine gets here from wherever it is on the internets that my wife ordered it for my birthday, way back in June…
I was very excited to get Bruges in as a review copy from Z-Man, and had already gotten in a couple of plays with it both at the one game night I attended in the midst of my vacation and work craziness as well as one play with my wife while on that very vacation. So I went into this play with a little bit of experience and, frankly, a bit of growing frustration.
Now, Bruges is relatively simple, being mostly just a card game with a little tracking on the central board. Players take turns at the beginning of each round drawing cards from 2 draw piles, and while the piles are facedown, every card shows its color on the back as well, so you’re given a limited bit of information and a small choice (between either stack) with each draw. Then in the main phase of each round, players take turns playing one card at a time to take an action, until 4 of their 5 cards have been played.
The cool thing is that 5 of the actions available to players can be performed using any card in their hand, even though the specific result of the action may depend on the color of the card being played. So, for instance, if I play a red card from my hand, I will be able to either:
1) get 2 red workers
2) get coins equal to the value rolled on the red die for that turn
3) destroy a red threat marker (and get a VP)
4) build a red canal segment (which also takes money)
5) turn the card over to be a building (which also takes a red worker), or
6) pay money to play the card into an empty building as a Person.
So as long as I know the color of the card, I absolutely know 5 things that I can do with it, and only the “Person” is variable. And then, of course, these Person cards all have some special action that can be used one or more times to do all kinds of things in a very Feld-ish, engine-buildey-like way.
Since I mentioned the dice before, I’ll briefly point out their role in the game. After players draw their cards, dice matching the 5 colors of the cards/workers are rolled. For each 5 or 6, players take a threat marker of that color, and if they get 3 of the same color, something quite bad happens. For each 1 or 2, you add up those values, and each player can choose to pay that many coins to advance on the Reputation Track (which gives a certain number of end-game points based on where you are). And then, like I said above, the value of each die determines how much money you get from playing a card of that color.
In our particular game, things didn’t go well for me at all. On the very first round, Matt played a person that stole 2 workers from everyone, and I got on the wrong end of a race with Sceadeau for building the most canals. And then just to rub salt in the wound, I was hit by both the “lose all your workers” and “lose all your money” disasters in the My card draws were pretty terrible (as in, the colors of cards that I had available to draw on several turns), and I never recovered enough to be competitive. Sceadeau, in typical fashion, won the game mostly on the strength of the Reputation track and building lots of canals.
Previously, I had actually won both of my other games. In one, I built a little engine where I had 3 or 4 “noble” people, and I could activate one of them to gain points each turn equal to the number of nobles I had (which was nice, at least until I hit a couple of turns when I didn’t have the chance to draw a card that would give me the color of worker I needed to activate it).
Time: 70 minutes
Score: Sceadeau* 59, Matt* 52, Ian* 47, Norton 34
Ratings: Sceadeau ?, Matt 7, Ian 7, Norton 6
What then do I think about Bruges? Well, first of all, it’s very Feld-ey. You’ve got cards, tableau/engine-building, dice used in a non-traditional way, bad stuff coming to getcha, lots of ways to score points, and the whole paying coins for the reputation track is lifted almost straight out of Macao. I like all that stuff, and I especially find the universal actions available to pretty much any card to be really cool.
But there are two things that bother me.
First is the randomness of the card draw. Sure, you get a choice between two cards, and you know what color they are, but on a number of occasions now, I’ve been in the situation where I needed a card of one or two colors and just plain didn’t have the chance to draw them. In this last game, that happened for at least 2 or 3 rounds in a row at one point, which made one of the people I played on a previous turn totally worthless (since they required a worker of that color to activate).
The other thing is that while, in concept, the game does a good job of bringing together and integrating all of these Feld-ey elements, I feel like there’s a little mismatch between the complexity of the game and the weight that it achieves. It’s like he attempted to make a lighter, more approachable game, but just didn’t strip away quite as much as he should have to actually hit that mark. So when I play, I know in my head that it should be relatively light and not something I get too worked up about, but the investment in building the engine of my people draws me in enough that the wild swings of luck really bother me.
Speaking of games that have not lived up to hype for me, Suburbia was the next thing we pulled out. It went a little different than my games had before, mostly because I actually won for the first time. And when I say “won”, I actually mean “I beat the crap out of everyone else so bad I broke the freaking scoreboard”.
Time: 91 minutes
Score: Norton 152, Chip* 88, Josh* 84, Keith 61
Ratings: Norton 5.5, Chip 7, Josh 8, Keith 6
But even with my illustrious victory that clearly shows my superiority over all opposition, I think that Suburbia has been too consistently disappointing for me. I really like the idea of Suburbia, though, where you buy/draft these buildings that have continual and dynamic interactions with other buildings as far away sometimes as even in other players’ areas. But in actully playing the game, it just moves too slow.
And while the dynamic interaction is pretty cool in a lot of ways, it’s also very fiddly. By the end of the game, it’s like you have to run through this checklist every time a new building is placed to see whose other buildings might have been triggered to get some effect or other. And while some interaction along those lines may be good to keep players engaged when it’s not their turn, I find Suburbia’s interaction to be more annoying than engaging, and it actually distracts you from planning out your next move.
After about 8 plays with it, I think I’m pretty much done with Surburbia. I’ll do a full review on an upcoming podcast, and then y’all can look for it on my trade list if you’re interested.
Love Letter [BGG]
On my recent vacation to Carolina Beach and the Wilmington area (of NC), I stopped by a really great game store, Cape Fear Games. I wished that I had more time to actully meet some locals and participate in their boardgame night, but was happy to at least pick up a couple of new games from their ample selection.
Mostly because it was just 9 bucks, one of the games I picked up was Love Letter. Now, I had played Love Letter once before (with a homemade Mario version) and not been very impressed with it at all. But this time around, I felt a lot better about it.
I think that with all the ridiculous buzz for the game (especially early on), I was just expecting way too much of it. But as a really light little filler that literally fits in your pocket (like, a shirt pocket even), it’s got some nice fun with it. And while the game is heavily influenced by the luck of the draw, there are still enough moments of interesting deduction or cool bluffing that it’s entertaining. Again, it’s nothing all too amazing, but for 16 cards, it’s pretty good.
Time: 29 minutes
Score: Chip* 4, Ian 3, Norton 2, Sceadeau 2
Ratings: Chip 6, Ian 6.5, Norton 6.5, Sceadeau ?
And then to finish up the night, Chip and I tried my newest acquisition, Fastrack. If you haven’t seen it before, it’s a dexterity game where you try to get all the wooden discs onto your opponent’s side of the board. The two sides are separated by a strip of wood, though, so this is done by pulling them back against a rubber band at the back of your area and trying to get them through a little hole in the center of strip.
And since this is all done in real time, it’s a crazy flurry of zooming action as discs fly back and forth over and over again.
In our game, Chip and I were apparently pretty well matched. The first session seemed to go on and on as momentum would swing back and forth between us, lasting so long that my hand actually started to get tired and I tried to switch to using the other one. And even though Chip eventually got the best of me and won both times, it was still a great little game.
Time: 5 and 3 minutes
Score: Chip* – 2 wins, Norton* – 0 wins
Ratings: Chip 7.5, Norton 7.5
Other Games Played
Goa (A New Expedition)
Time: 95 minutes
Score: Sceadeau 63, Chris* 45, Matt 43, James E* 37
Ratings: Chris 6.5
Time: 64 minutes
Score: Chip* 91, James E* 70+, Chris 70-
Ratings: Chris 8
Sentinels of the Multiverse
Time: 26 minutes
Score: Heroes (Chris – Bunker, Darren – Nightmist, James K – ?, Josh – Legacy) – Win; Matriarch in Silver Gulch – Lose
Ratings: Chris & James – 10
Space Empires 4X
Time: 180 minutes
Score: Ray*, Scott, Ken, & Britt* – Lemming Guru (it was hard to read, and may have been “learning game” instead)
Ratings: Ray 8, Scott 8, Ken 8, Britt 7.5
* First play for that Person