Walking in Burano, Chronicles of Crime, and Planet Game Reviews (Quick Thoughts)

A brief look at some games I got to try out (somewhat) recently.

 

Walking in Burano

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Walking in Burano is a spacial card game in which players choose building sections to add to their area under ascetic and other point related restrictions. There’s an interesting balance created by the different sections needed for building, elements on cards that lead to scoring, placement restrictions, and the cost of taking actions. It all gives a nice layer of depth here. Subtle aspects of needed strategy might not be immediately obvious, but the gameplay itself is easy enough to jump into.

I’ve only played this 2 player thus far, and there’s a mechanic specific to that version that really makes long term strategy difficult in how quickly cards disappear. I imagine it will be a VERY different game with more players because of this. Still enjoyed it quite a bit though and look forward to playing again. 

 

Chronicles of Crime

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Here’s another game to join things like Watson & Holmes and Detective  right in my sweet spot of providing decent mystery complexity in a way that’s still accessible and fun. This is incredibly application heavy, needing use of a phone to analyze clues, check answers, and even look around crime scenes. But it’s extremely well done and integrated. Excited to continue to progress with this one.

 

Planet

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Planet provides an interesting variation on tile placement games as players fill in the twelve sides of their planet trying to maximize sections of their secret land type collected while satisfying certain conditions to claim animal cards (both of which provide victory points at game end).

The gimmick is a fine one, although the all important magnets that secure tiles in place should be stronger. It’s much too easy to knock off a piece accidentally when turning the planets around or otherwise handling them, which is pretty much what the whole game is based on doing. 

The variation of goals and rules surrounding them is reasonable, as is the drafting aspect that governs who gets what tile. It feels like there could have been a little more to this, although I’ll admit I’m not sure in what respect. Decent, quick playing, reasonably unique game none-the-less.   

Montague Island Mysteries and Other Logic Puzzles Review

Montague Island Mysteries is a collection of logic puzzles thematically presented as a series of visits to a remote island. Your hosts, as well as the fellow guests, are fellow puzzle enthusiasts who gather at the island for twelve weekend visits, during each of which a mystery puzzle is presented along with several ancillary ones. The theme is used nicely as the reader will be determining things like the guests’ backgrounds, what room everyone’s in, further details about the island, etc.

Of course with a book like this the quality of the puzzles is paramount, and in this respect MIM is spot on. Classic grid based logic puzzles are mixed in with a nice variety of spacial reasoning, unique visualizations, etc. The mystery puzzles feature a mechanic I particularly adore that involves the “culprit” secretly being among the guests and giving statements that might or might not be true. It provides a nice twist and was used with just about the right frequency (although a few more in this style would have been great).

There are a couple of minor missteps. A few puzzles are based on every attendee, including the player, being given two cards or something similar with the instructions “don’t show them to anyone else” and the solution based on determining who has what. But the reader’s own cards are not revealed, their persona just presents statements that may or may not be true like everyone else. This does not affect solving the puzzle, but is thematically awkward given the presentation and a bit of a missed opportunity as well.

Some of the puzzles were too long and/or required too much brute force for me, although given the scope and variation of what’s presented a few puzzles not being to my particular tastes is no big deal. One pushed mathematical logic versus linguistic logic a bit far for my liking, but again that’s personal preference.

Overall Montague Island Mysteries is a wonderful collection of puzzles with a solid connecting theme. I enjoyed this book quite a bit and look forward to checking out the sequel.

The Mind Game Review (First Impressions)

Note: The rules treat the main aspect of how the game is played as a spoiler, which is beyond ridiculous but consider this a “warning” that going by the rulebook my discussion starting below the box image includes “spoilers.”

Welcome to “waiting: the game.” In The Mind players try to play cards of increasingly large hands drawn from a deck numbered 1 to 100 in order without sharing any information or signals about what cards they have.

So the communication becomes “teasing” playing cards and how long you wait to play. They dress this up with a “vitally important” phase where all players put a hand on the table and concentrate on the level they’re about to play (no, I’m not joking) and other mumbo jumbo about being in tune with the flow of time.

Some will get into the window dressing. Personally I wish that effort went into adding something to the actual game instead. It was a curious experience for a couple of rounds, but seems way overrated to me.

I’m a mathematician, and this largely bored me. This game is simply subconsciously playing the deck odds (which is a pure crapshoot with few cards in hand) and guessing how long a pause is appropriate (which is close to a pure crapshoot with many cards in hand). I felt no real engagement or investment in whether or not I can guess with no contextual info whether my fellow player was holding a card between the one I just played and the ones left in mind hand nor felt much of anything but annoyance when we lost a life because he happened to be holding say a 71 instead of 73 when I played a 72. There’s no “better move” to have been made there, nothing to be learned or refined.

Put another way, I could simply count to myself and play my cards as I reach it’s number (without telling the others players that what I was doing, because it would be cheating otherwise) and achieve roughly the same level of success. The only way to get better at this game is subconsciously learning how long my friends mentally wait to signal a jump in numeric value of 25 vs a jump of 10, etc and that just holds no interest for me whatsoever.

So as the meaningful experience the instruction book (jokingly?) implies this falls flat. As a filler game it’s just feel so slow (the main mechanic is *waiting* after all) not matter how short the rounds are and I have a closetful that are more interesting and fun. For games that do no talking / contextual info only better I have things like Magic Maze, Ravens of Thri Sahashri, etc. Kudos for trying something different and to each their own, but this was a big miss for me.

Fighting Entropy: Spirit Island Board Game Review (First Impressions)

There are plenty of good civilization building games, but Spirit Island takes a wonderful alternate approach where players take the role of spirits trying to protect/reclaim their island from colonists building towns and cities, often at the expense of the natural habitat.

 

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Spirit Island is a challenging co-op with a real sense of entropy and things getting out of hand. Each turn the game controlled colonists the players are working against explore new areas, while building villages and cities in areas they’ve already explored and cause damage to the island, native inhabitants, and spirits in areas they’ve already built in.

The mechanics that govern the progression of what players are fighting against are ingenious, including an interesting, natural mechanic where one of the victory conditions gets less stringent as the game goes on. That’s not to say it gets easier though, as the colonists and their buildings spread rapidly and become more entrenched turn by turn. At the same time the spirits evolve and grow of the course of the game, giving players more options to fight back with. This is something that really feels different among all the games I play, to great effect.

There are couple of different ways to win, speaking to different strengths of spirits and strategies around winning by causing destruction versus purely scaring the colonists away. The game is also specifically designed to scale with the number of players, in all aspects from the number of various counters used to the board size itself. So far it all seems really well designed and balanced.

 

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But the wonderful thing is within that balance they’ve achieved a tangible feeling of pressure and escalation. At times we felt a bit of the type of frantic energy and “quick – what are we going to do now?!” edge usually present in real time games, which is an impressive feat in a game where there isn’t actually any time pressure to the turns. The level of immersion and the way the gameplay draws the players in is fantastic, and perhaps most importantly in a game like this while challenging it is beatable, and players can easily see how close they came even in case of defeat.

I’ve played Spirit Island with 2 players with a couple of different people, and have tried it solo as well. As harrowing as things were with 2 players, I found the single player mode even more difficult as there’s no help to make up for your particular spirit’s weaknesses. It’s a really interesting, different challenge, and I can see myself playing both solo and multiplayer modes regularly in the future.

There are also scenarios, specific colonizer adversaries, and a variety of spirits to play that enhance variety and replayability. This looks to stay fresh and engrossing for quite some time, even before diving into the available expansion content.

 

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Overall Spirit Island is a well executed, highly thematic, fun game of increasing pressure.

Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game Review (Spoiler Free)

Given the mystery based nature of the game let me state up front that this review will be spoiler free.

 

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I’m a big fan of immersive storytelling experiences in games like T.I.M.E Stories, and a huge mystery buff, so was extremely intrigued by the concept of a modern style investigation in the form of a game.

Players are agents of a special investigative agency in current times, and that’s pretty much all the background needed before jumping in. Cards and well implemented online features provide information as the cases proceed, and it’s all up to players to decide how to use the (in game) time they have to pursue leads and then piece together the answers needed for the particular case they’re tackling.

The rule book warns that there’s no “right answer card.” This isn’t a matter of searching for that one statement that jumps up and down saying “you win now!” There’s plenty of information to analyze, but players will never see it all and have to make choices about what to investigate and (even more importantly) make inferences from what’s discovered. A series of summary questions at the end of the case will determine if the players were successful, or if they’ll need to try that particular case again.

The feel of the game and level of immersion were incredible. Playing felt like we were doing detective work. This is a storytelling experience as much as it is a game, and each case will run around 3 hours or so. But it never felt that long.  The way research is integrated, the story elements,  a real sense of discovery and tension, and the constraints of not being able to investigate everything while still feeling like we got enough to figure things out kept us engaged and excited.

There are historical and real world connotations wonderfully tied into the fictional narrative that unfolds, and the mechanics and the way everything comes together is really clever and well done.

I played this with one other person. It went extremely well with the two of us given our level of gaming experience, etc. I think for most groups three people would be the sweet spot, although the game is listed as for 1-5. Everything is highly connected from case to case in the included campaign (five cases), so it’s highly preferable to continue the campaign with the same group from start to finish.

I’ve seen some understandable criticisms of some of the leaps of intuition needed in a couple of places and of some plot points. But I thought the mystery level overall was challenging but reasonable, and the story engrossing and well enough executed as the campaign unfolded from case to case. One case bordered on frustrating in some ways for us (and we did have to replay it), but it was still fine in the end, fit into the greater picture well, and we loved the other four.

With the length, note taking, gradually unfolding pace, and other elements I’ve mentioned, there is a rather specific target audience that will enjoy Detective. For me it was a wonderfully compelling cooperative game. Simply incredible overall.

Watson & Holmes Review (First Impressions)

 

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Watson & Holmes is kind of a competitive, tighter version of things like Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective. For each case, a set of cards is laid out representing places of interest. Each turn, players visit different locations and read/take notes on the information on the other side of the card in an attempt to be the first to correctly answer three questions presented at the beginning of the case.

There are token based mechanics via which players jockey for position (only one person can visit each location per turn), attempt to block each other, etc. After the first case character roles are introduced that give players special powers, and there are also methods for gaining information about eliminated players’ failed guesses.

The structure and gameplay elements are incredibly well integrated with the mystery solving aspect. There’s a real sense of exploration and immersion, the scope and length of the game feels right, and the cases themselves (I’ve played two of ) are interesting. In one game no one was actually able to solve the case due to not quite having enough detail in one of our answers, but everyone still had fun and having a better idea of what the game’s looking for I don’t think it’ll be an issue going forward.

I love that they found a way to keep the story and mystery aspects of cooperative type Holmes’ games in a competitive, compelling, mechanics driven game. The overall balance and way everything comes together is fantastic, and I loved what I’ve played of this thus far.

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?