Catching up on board games

Though I’ve been playing games, I haven’t had much time to get into impressions, session reports, or reviews. Here are some of the games I’ve been playing.

Caverna

I’ve played Uwe Rosenberg games before, including Agricola, but I hadn’t gotten a chance to play Caverna (in part because of the high price tag). We’ve played twice so far, once with the base game (I won), and once with the expansion (my brother won). It was probably a bit soon to throw in the expansion. It was fun, but we were still getting used to the game. Weirdly, my brother played one of the more advanced races in the expansion, which should be challenging once you’ve learned Caverna, but it was actually really easy because we were still learning the game and the race doesn’t like to build. So instead of learning how to manage resources for building, all he had to do was ignore most buildings, stockpile resources, and build just things that scored resources.

The one thing that really stood out is how bad the rulebook is. It’s a jumbled mess with very poor organization. Any time you need to look something up, it’s a complete guess as to where you might find your answer. Other than that, the changes from Agricola were interesting. I think after a while, you would really want the expansion to shake things up. Without it, Caverna doesn’t have much variability, allowing players to always pursue the same strategy each game.

Cascadia

My friend recommended Cascadia when my brother and I were looking to borrow games. I had seen videos on it before and it looked fine, maybe a bit on the abstract side. It’s definitely an abstract, but it’s such an easy game to learn and play, with fast turns and tricky decisions. The drafting of tiles and animals is really simple, and forming groups and building your map is satisfying. And I appreciate the effort that was put into the solitaire mode. Being able to slowly ramp up the difficulty with extra challenges helps keep things interesting. The achievements sheet is kind of weird though.

Lost Ruins of Arnak + Expansion

We’ve played Arnak a few times already with the base game (online and in-person), so we were really excited to try the expansion. This time, it was only my brother and I playing. I played the Professor and my brother took the Falconer. I made sure to play to the Professor’s strengths, going heavy into artifacts.

For whatever reason, I didn’t take any pictures, and this was a while ago, so I don’t remember too much. I know I had some good combos going in my deck, and I did manage to win (just barely got to the top of the research track and bought a 2-point tile). We really enjoyed the expansion, and we already liked the base game. Great expansion. I doubt we’ll play without it again.

Maglev Metro

I did not take any pictures of this one. My brother and I were both pretty lukewarm on the game, which was surprising because he was really interested in trying it out. The idea of upgrading actions during the game by dropping off passengers was interesting, but the rest of the game (not really much) was really basic. There was just so little going on with the map. It felt like all the interesting decisions were on your board. And maybe that was the intent of the game, but it didn’t really do much for us. I won the game, but the game was not a winner.

Civilization: A New Dawn + Expansion

We played the base game a second time before getting into the expansion. Personally, I enjoy the base game and thought the expansion was really good. I liked all the changes and additions. There’s a lot more strategy in the expansion with more ways to specialize. My brother, who enjoyed the base game originally, forgot that he enjoyed the game, got too focused on one thing he was trying to do (and wasn’t able to do), and now dislikes the game. This has been a common issue: how he approaches a game can cause a negative experience, and then he holds it against the game instead of accepting that he could have played better. But the expansion is great.

As Sumeria (I get a resource for defeating barbarians), I started stock-piling resources and using them with Jebel Barkal to defeat more barbarians, adding lots of trade tokens to my cards. Getting my industrial district in the forest was great for getting more trade tokens for building. And going around killing barbarians got me resources for building wonders. And we had a good set of agenda cards for building wonders. And because my brother was distracted trying to do something that wasn’t working out, I handily won.

Dune Imperium

Dune Imperium has been hyped up a lot, and we enjoy the setting, so this was high on our list to try. It was my brother’s pick to play, but he was a bit lukewarm on it. He found that the resources could be pretty tight since not only are you limited on where you can go based on your cards, but someone might get in there before you, and then you’re hosed. Some resources are just not easy to get, and there’s a wide variety of resources. Part of this may have just been the 2-player variant which uses an automated opponent that goes to random locations. In a 3+ player game, you can at least judge where other players might go, but the bot can go where ever. No picture this time either. I liked it and want to play more.

Rurik: Dawn of Kiev (solo)

I’ve played Rurik a few times (online) but wanted to try the solo mode. The online versions aren’t ideal due to how the solo deck works. For the most part, it’s fine, but for the actions, you have to follow a priority list to figure out what the AI opponent does, and it’s not on the AI card or the player aid. You have to go open the rulebook, again and again, to process what the AI does when resolving actions. This definitely needed an aid specifically for these priority lists. Otherwise, it was pretty fun. I look forward to trying it 3-player finally. I didn’t record my score, but I believe I won, somewhere around 13-ish to 11-ish?

Pax Viking

Not much to say here. We tried out the “starter game” which really was just a quick tutorial. I used the Theocracy Action (from getting the influence marker) to just spread out all over without needing to move ships around. This got me a really quick victory for having all of my Theocracy followers out. It seems fun, but we expect the “normal” game to be better. Also, I was going to play solo, but it turns out the solo mode is a bit odd. You don’t really play a normal game, and it removes a lot. Not what I was expecting.

Zona

My brother and I were both interested in this post-apocalyptic adventure game. It looked neat and had a big focus on story. But boy is it a mess. It’s got some good ideas, but it feels like there was no streamlining. They put in everything they came up with and cut nothing. It feels bloated. And there’s stuff like the rumor cards (weird take-that style events) that a lot of players ignore. And in the end, it’s really long and grindy. I won with one turn to spare (even though it’s competitive, it uses a timer, probably because the game goes on forever without it).

Tekhenu

This was my second game of Tekhenu, and there’s stuff I like about it, but it does sometimes feel a little too restrictive, especially at the start. Instead of looking around the board and deciding what you want to do, you search for what you can do. Resources are tight, a lot of dice can be locked up, some actions are really expensive, and sometimes the dice that are available are too low in value to do the thing you need. Still, I think I like Tekhenu more than some of the other T-games. I’ve played a handful now, and I’ve been pretty mixed on them. They are exceptionally dry, even for Euros.

London: 2nd Edition

I’ve learned that I tend to like Martin Wallace games, and it was time for London. Of course, it’s yet another economic game (and includes loans), but the move to card game for 2nd edition feels right. It’s a straightforward game. I definitely enjoyed it and can’t wait to play it again. My brother struggled with the economic part, focusing too much on the pink buildings that gave him special bonuses. But I really like the idea of building up your city, running it for resources, and trying to figure out how to rebuild afterward. And the poverty wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, but I did manage it much better than my brother.

Brass: Birmingham

My friend and I had played online (was not great due to the program), so we were looking forward to playing in person. We talked about finally playing it for a while before it actually got to the table. It’s another tight economic Euro from Martin Wallace. The trick with this one is how the board basically blows up halfway through the game and you have to start again but now everything is more expensive. Unfortunately, my brother doesn’t normally like tight games, especially with player interaction, so we tried not to get in his way or fight over things. This cost me the game. I don’t like choosing between playing a fair game or having my brother like the game. Brass is great, though. We also played with some upgraded components my friend bought for his copy.

Yedo: Deluxe (co-op)

This game is massive. In part due to the needlessly large (and largely useless) player boards. The rulebook is also annoying to use with modules. Everything changes setup and procedures for the turn sequence, but you have to go flipping around to find what each module does. There’s no universal list of what the setup or turn sequence is with the modules. We played with the Tea-house, Clan Powers, and Specialists modules. We both agreed that because of the rulebook, it would have been better to learn the game more without modules and start adding them slowly. The modules have been really good, though.

The co-op mode was pretty fun. The Daimyo deck is pretty clean and works well, and I liked trying to strategize how we were going to complete the Emperor’s errands. We lost, mostly because we waited too long to start building up for the Kill the Shogun mission. I still think it was a mistake to reprint the game as a deluxe Kickstarter-exclusive release. It deserves an affordable retail version. You don’t need the super thick boards and tiles, screen-printed pieces, wooden tokens, etc.

Ark Nova

My friend is a huge fan of Terraforming Mars and was interested to see how this compares, even though we didn’t really think there were many similarities. We were all interested to try it out. It’s nice to see the Civilization card mechanic in another game. I’m not sure I like how limited you are in upgrading your cards, though. You can only upgrade 4 max during the game, and one of those methods is paired with an option of taking a worker instead. But taking the worker seems like a trap because there are more ways to get workers. There were also a lot of times when it felt like all I could do was wait for income or go digging for more cards trying to find something I could play. There are a lot of expensive and difficult animal cards. It was fun, but I didn’t quite enjoy it as much as I expected to. But I did win by a good margin.

Iki

I had never heard of the previous edition, but when this was getting previewed online, it instantly had my attention. Great art, nice theme, clean mechanics. And it really met all of my expectations. Just a nice, smooth economic game with light engine-building and resource management. I especially liked the timing of your actions with the round events and retiring characters. A lot of fun combos to pull off. A shame it has no solo mode. My brother and our friend were more lukewarm on it, but I’m not sure why. Sometimes I think they get too hyped for heavy Euros that anything midweight disappoints because it looks like it might be a heavy Euro.

Pandemic: Fall of Rome

We played it 2-player and I played it solo (using the solo challenge mode rather than multi-handed). I really liked this version of Pandemic. The dice aren’t especially random, but they add a bit of extra tension. And there are some interesting nuances with the legions and how barbarian attacks work. It feels like a light wargame, and it met all of my expectations. And the solo mode was really nice, as it allows you to use 3 characters without managing 3 different hands. We won the 2-player game playing on easy mode but with no turns left (deck had no cards). I won solo with one turn to spare (2 cards left).

Teotihuacan

I’ve played a handful of T-games now (Trismegistus, Tekhenu, Teotihuacan, and Tzolkin if you include that one) and this is probably my least favorite. It really didn’t do anything for me. The main mechanism is neat, but much of the game is gathering cocoa so you can spend it to gather other resources so you can spend them to move up tracks (which give more cocoa, more resources, or just points) or build things to move up other tracks for points. Other than the main mechanism and managing dice (which is interesting), the rest of the game is almost as unimaginative as a Euro can get. And it’s one of the dryest games I think I’ve played. It also didn’t come with player aids, so my friend found some online to print out.

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