Top Ten “New to Me” Games early-2019

As in the past, I’d again like to look at some of the best games that I’ve tried for the first time (relatively) recently.

 

Ground rules:

  • The only qualification for this list is that I personally played the game for the first time since my late-2017 list.
  • It’s been over a year since my last list, so I’m doing a top 10 this time instead of 5, and there are STILL great games that didn’t make the cut. Honorable Mentions include, but aren’t limited to Argoat, Dark Moon, and Herbalism.

 

Special mention: Trickerion has been featured here before, but I played it for the first time with more than 2 players recently and really loved it in that manner as well, so wanted to give it another shout out.

 

 

10. Sentient

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Sentient perhaps looks a little more complicated than it is at first glance (and sadly any use of mathematical symbols immediately scares away some players). The mechanics are actually really straightforward and clever, with chosen cards changing the dice values on a player’s mat when played and the final values of the dice determining points scored based on the formulas on the cards. The balancing act gives rise to interesting choices in this unique, great little game.

Further thoughts here.

 

 

9. Gloomhaven

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Gloomhaven has massive setup and a million bits and pieces, but it all allows for a level of flexibility and depth that make it an extremely compelling dungeon crawler. It’s a bit cumbersome, but really well done and engrossing overall.

 

 

8. Unicornus Knights

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Unicornus Knights is a cooperative game with a wonderfully ridiculous premise. A “throw-caution-to-the-wind” princess wants to reclaim her lost kingdom, and the players are the various knights and retainers trying to keep her alive as she marches straight towards her goal. It’s hampered a bit by a rather poor rulebook and some odd graphic design choices made when bringing the game to the US, but once everything is sorted and settled this is a unique, highly engaging group game.

 

 

7. Spirit Island

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Spirit Island is a challenging co-op with a real sense of entropy and things getting out of hand as players take the role of spirits trying to protect/reclaim their island from colonists building towns and cities. The mechanics that govern the progression of what players are fighting against are ingenious, including an interesting, natural mechanic where the victory condition gets less stringent as the game goes on. This is something that really feels different among all the games I play, to great effect.

 

 

6. Raiders of the North Sea

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Raiders of the North Sea is a highly thematic game that captures a nice rhythm of building up in preparation for a specific action (in this case making raids of the surrounding area), executing, then doing it again, all without things ever feeling stagnant. I’ve only played with two players so far and there are aspects I think might be better with more players, but overall I really enjoyed this.

Further thoughts here.

 

 

5. Minerva

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I didn’t know anything about this before my friend brought it to the table, and it ended up being a wonderful surprise. It’s the first tile laying game in ages I’ve gotten excited about, with an interesting and unique activation mechanic that leads to meaningful choices with an eye towards balancing needing straight lines for optimal use of tile abilities with “blocks” for maximum scoring. This is a great game that made an excellent first impression and is something I anticipate adding to my collection in the future.

 

 

4. Shadows in Kyoto

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Shadows in Kyoto is a two player game of hidden information and strategic movement. The imaginative new take it brings to classic gameplay elements seen in games like Stratego and the depth arising from the hand management and asymmetric power aspects combine to something really fun and engaging. I loved this accessible, intriguing game immediately.

Full review.

 

 

3. Exit: Sinister Mansion, Dead Man on the Orient Express

 

It’s hard to know how to treat the Exit series in lists like this, as the new installments aren’t expansions or remakes but are generally similar enough to be treated as such. But I felt these two pushed new boundaries with the format and puzzle types and they are perhaps my two favorite of the entire series. So I’m featuring/recommending them both in this single entry.

More thoughts on the series.

 

 

2. Watson & Holmes

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Watson & Holmes is kind of a competitive, tighter version of things like Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective. The structure and gameplay elements are incredibly well integrated with the mystery solving aspect as players visit different location cards and take notes on the information they find trying to answer three key questions asked at the start of each case. The overall balance and way all the various elements come together is fantastic, and I loved the two games of this I’ve played thus far.

(Review to follow.)

 

1. Detective

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Simply incredible. Full review on the way once I get to finish up with the final case, but Detective is a wonderfully compelling cooperative campaign game that feels like doing actual detective work in a fun and captivating way. Each session/case does require a bit of time (~3 hrs each), but it doesn’t feel it at all. The way information is gathered is key, and between the decisions on what leads to follow, incorporation of a special website, and historical connotations this really knocks things out of the park in terms of creating an engrossing experience.

 

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That’s it for now. It continues to be a great time for gaming, and everything here is well worth at least giving a try.

What are everyone else’s new favorites?

Yokohama Board Game Review (First Impressions)

Yokohama is a thematic worker placement game in which players are merchants in the Meiji period trying to thrive via fulfilling orders, expanding foreign ties, and building up their company and parts of the community around it.

 

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At first glance Yokohama is a bit overwhelming in terms of the sheer number of components and disparate elements. There are several things to keep track of and different ways to score points, but it all comes together really well and in a logical manner. The key to the accessibility of the game once play starts is that the actions taken each turn are straightforward themselves. The game’s depth comes from the fact that the implications of executing those actions become complex and far reaching.

Each turn a player will generally play workers to the modular board, then move their president to a particular tile and execute the related action. The workers help determine where the president can be moved and the power of the action performed, and the different tiles themselves determine whether the player will be collecting resources, placing workers on special scoring spaces, drawing cards, etc. But the core of a turn (including the way each tile is activated) is almost always mechanically the same. This allows the game to build complexity from those mechanics with varying scarcity of the different resources, various ways to gain points, technology cards that provide bonuses and/or special abilities, etc.

I found the path element, where a player’s president can only move along a series of tiles where that player has a worker, particularly interesting. It creates a nice balancing act of being spread out for mobility and concentrated for more powerful actions, and as such forces both preplanning and adaptability.

Yokohama the type of game that will take a few games to grasp best strategies and learn to properly weigh options, but is immediately engaging regardless.

 

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I first played a friend’s “deluxified” version (shown in the pictures in this review), which was limited to only Kickstarter and commanded high after market prices once the game came out, then purchased my own retail copy. Both have high production quality as far as there respective components went, but the retail version has considerably fewer “bells and whistles” and does pale a bit when compared side by side. Cardboard chits replaced the wooden resources, wooden cubes replaced the meeples, cardboard coins took the place of  metal ones, etc.

I do find TMG’s approach to limited KS versions frustrating in general. They pat themselves on the back for providing the upgrades at cost, but if priced more reasonably they could produce some extra copies and people who can’t commit during a specific one month window (or heaven forbid want a chance to play the game/read reviews before committing to purchase the more expensive version) would have opportunity to get the best version of the game without paying triple in aftermarket. However I will note in this case the deluxe version is being offered again, as part of the currently running Kickstarter for the 2 player only spin off Yokohama Duel (which also has a KS only “deluxified” version).

 

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The benefit of the component overload I talked about is the incredible amount of variation it lends to the game. The board is modular and the positions of the action tiles change from game to game. Beyond that the building spaces and bonuses on those action tiles are determined by cards and chits, which also changes the relative desirability of taking high powered actions on certain tiles. Technologies, orders, bonus goals, etc are also card based and variable. It all reminds me a little of  Ars Alchimia in the way certain aspects are implemented, and it’s really well done in both games.

 

I have now played this a few times with 2 players, and really enjoy it. But since I have yet to play with more players (and I imagine dynamic will change, especially considering the extra tiles involved), I can’t speak to that aspect and so am leaving this review marked “first impressions.” Regardless of that though I find Yokohama a game of meaningful choices and immense replayability, and an pretty easy recommendation for anyone willing to get past the initial bit of information overload.