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.

Quick Thoughts: Minerva and Raiders of the North Sea

Some quick impressions on my first experiences with a couple of new games.

 

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.

 

 

Raiders of the North Sea

 

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This is a nice, highly thematic game that nicely captures the feel of building up in preparation for a specific action (in this case making raids of the surrounding area), executing, then doing it again.

The mix of complimentary mechanics seems to work really well and made the game fun. I did feel the two player game was greatly influenced by the setup in our game, and it seemed a bit prone to a runaway leader scenario. I imagine this would be less of an issue in a multiplayer game though, and overall I really enjoyed this and want to play more. Also, the expansions look interesting and seem like they may tailor this even more towards my personal tastes.

 

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Two strong, engaging games this time around. I’ve been lucky enough to try numerous new games in the last few months, and hope to be back soon with more thoughts. 🙂

Quick Thoughts: Pocket Ops, Dragon’s Hoard, and Sentient

Some quick impressions on my first experiences with a few new games.

 

Pocket Ops

 

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Tic-Tac-Toe was never so much fun. The idea here is you try to predict what spot your opponent will take, and if correct their piece doesn’t get placed. It’s a wonderfully simple concept that turns a trite old favorite into something different and intriguing. Beyond that are optional pieces with special powers that add further depth and variation. Really nice execution of concept here to make something new and interesting.

 

 

Dragon’s Hoard

 

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Dragon’s Hoard is a set collection game where players are dragons trading the requisite number of sheep of each color for treasures worth varying points. Yeah, I didn’t quite get the thematic execution either. There’s a glimpse of potential here, with the card backs being the resources needed to play the “treasures” on the fronts, different colors perhaps lending strategic choices to card drawing, and bonuses for specialization. In practice though the gameplay felt lacking (at least in the two player version I tried) with actions to attack the other player (and defend) that felt tacked on and run of the mill and an absence of interesting choices. A really poorly written  rulebook certainly didn’t help either. A second chance with more players is perhaps in order, but this felt like it could have and should have been better than it is.

 

 

Sentient

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Sentient is a game that caught my eye in previews, then seemed perhaps a little too involved for my group as I tried to read up on it. So I was interested, but wanted to try it first before a purchase. It’s fantastic. The mechanics are really straightforward, with players simply choosing a card from those available each round and deciding where to place it in their area to affect their dice and score points based on their final values and the card conditions.

The conditions on the cards and trying to properly manipulate the dice are where the strategy comes in, and the game was a series of interesting, meaningful choices. A final element of having a certain number of workers to place when choosing cards to try to obtain bonus multipliers for different cards types at the end of the game is another great aspect. Really enjoyed this and will likely be adding it to my collection in the future.

 

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That’s it for this time. Hope to be back with more soon. 🙂

Shadows in Kyoto Review (First Impressions)

I adore Hanamikoji, and its designers have released another excellent 2 player game with a tied in theme / aesthetic.

 

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Gameplay

Like HanamikojiShadows in Kyoto has a classic Japanese theme to it, but this time players take on opposite sides of the Meiji Government and Oniwaban in a battle to uncover the other side’s spies and capture key intelligence without being misled.

 

Each player controls six pieces with values ranging from 0 to 3. There are Stratego-like elements of piece values being hidden from the opposing player and the “weakest” piece being able to capture the opponent’s best when attacking. From there on though Shadows in Kyoto is entirely its own game.

 

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The core of the game revolves around the concept of “key intelligence.” Two of each players’ pieces are marked as carrying their key intelligence. Thematically this means they have “real” information the enemy wants and the rest of the pieces are carrying “fake” information to confuse them.

A player wins if either of their two agents carrying real intelligence reach the opponent’s back row, or if they capture both their opponent’s such agents. However if a player captures too many (three) of their opponent’s agents with fake intelligence they LOSE.

 

There are also clever card based mechanics related to moving player pieces.  Basic colored cards relate to spaces on the board and can move any friendly piece forward (straight or diagonally) into a space of that color. Limited tactics cards add options like moving/attacking sideways or backwards, swapping pieces, or forcing an opposing piece back.  The two types of cards are drawn from separate decks giving players interesting hand management options.

 

Finally, the base game can be modified by the addition of included asymmetric character and equipment cards with special abilities that increase variability and strategic choices.

 

 

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General Thoughts

First off, there’s nothing tying Shadows in Kyoto to Hanamikoji beyond the art style and setting. But  that’s fine, as both games shine as their own unique creations and the common aesthetic is a nice enough touch.

I’ve always enjoyed the hidden information aspect of Stratego, and this pulls the best elements of it and improves them several fold with the concept of real and fake information and multiple victory conditions. The added dimension of often needing to attack yet having to be careful about capturing too many of the “wrong” pieces gives a fantastic extra layer of strategy and a strong “cat and mouse” feel to the game.

 

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The asymmetric elements seem well varied and balanced, and again add an intriguing extra layer to the solid basic gameplay that extends replayability. There are some nice thematic ties running through the powers available to each side as well, particularly given the Oniwaban player always goes first.

 

Overall

The imaginative new take Shadows in Kyoto brings to classic gameplay elements 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.

 

 

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Triplock Board Game Review (First Impressions)

Triplock is a memory based game where four stacks of chips represent the cylinders of a lock to be solved. On a player’s turn die rolls will determine the actions available as they try to manipulate the stacks to match various diagram cards in front of them.

 

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This has a unique feel to it as it combines memory and positioning aspects. There are lots of little nuances that provide good depth, from choosing which of the four options on a diagram card to pursue to being able to discard both die options to pick any action to manipulating the options available to your opponent. There are also several characters to play with different player powers for added variability.

 

The production values Triplock this are excellent. The stacks of chips that are central to gameplay are of nice weight and design. The plastic coated cards have good thickness and play well, and the oversized character cards provide additional story and more of the game’s wonderful art. The flexible gamemat lays flat when needed for play and rolls up nicely to conserve space for storage. Really impressed overall with the quality of the components here.

 

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I was interested in the look of the solo game for this, but while it’s fine the two player game is better. The solo mode is a series of challenges based on a “room” (scenario) being played. Only one’s included, with others planned as expansions. The story elements are clearly meant to be ongoing, as they were really just a prologue here. I wonder if there’s a set number of expansions planned that will complete this story, or if it’s going to be an indeterminate number of subsequent cliffhangers. Without knowing that I’m unlikely to keep spending additional money on an open ended narrative framework, but the “rooms” will be available in a print and play format that I will likely keep an eye on.

 

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Triplock is an extremely well put together package featuring a fun an different type of game with a fair amount of replay value. Definitely one of the better memory based games I’ve come across.

Top Five “New to Me” Games Late-2017

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 mid-2017 list.
  • As usual I’ve tried 10+ new games since then, so it was difficult to narrow this down. Honorable Mentions include, but aren’t limited to Triplock, Einstein, and Thunder & Lightning.

 

 

 

5. The Captain is Dead

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If ever there was a game that exceeded my expectations, it’s The Captain is Dead. The odd premise is incredibly fun and engaging from the moment the game begins, as well as being ingeniously integrated into the gameplay and highly engrossing. There’s a real sense of entropy that the players need to get ahead of to succeed. Great co-op all around that’s highly recommended for anyone who’s ok with reactive gameplay and the quirky sci-fi setting.

Full review.

 

4. Magic Maze

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The premise of Magic Maze completely ridiculous. The pawns represent a party of adventurers that need to resupply and have decided to rob the … local mall. Yes, really. 🙂 The players share control of all four of them and try to map out the mall, get each adventurer to their favorite shop simultaneously, then get everyone out.

Overall Magic Maze is a fantastic real time co-op that features phenomenal design and brings something new and fun to the genre. It made a strong positive impression on everyone I’ve played with, and is a great addition to the game closet.

Full review.

 

3. Exit Series

 

The Exit games are the best Escape Room inspired home games I’ve played. Embracing a low cost point so they could make the games single use, the designers take full advantage of having components that can be cut, drawn on, and otherwise destroyed to create really clever puzzles and thoroughly engaging experiences. All three I’ve tried have been quite impressive and fun, and capture some of the wonder of playing actual escape rooms.

More thoughts on the series.

 

2. Near and Far

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Near and Far is a gorgeous adventure themed game with high production value, great atmosphere, and a real feeling on progress and exploration. The story elements are wonderfully integrated and enhance, rather than disrupt, the competitive game mechanics. With several game modes, maps, and variations this is a deep game with high replayability.

 

1. Yamatai

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Yamatai is a great area claiming game that’s reasonably accessible yet achieves significant depth due to modular setup, the variety of action choices available, and needing to properly exploit boats/resources placed by opponents. There are a lot of interesting choices every single turn and subtle underlying strategy and tactics to experiment with. I’ve played two and three players and the dynamics were quite different while still retaining the same feel and appeal. This is a fantastic new addition to my collection that jumped right into my list of favorite games.

 

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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?