We had an opportunity to play a few days of gaming this week. It was going to be three days but then turned into four. Here’s a look at what we played.
This was the third play of Stroganov for me and our first 3-player game. I’m really enjoying the gameplay and how smooth it is once you get the hang of it. It’s not a heavy game (though it might look intimidating). My only worry is maybe the replayability, but right now, it still feels like there are strategies left to try.
I had tried to focus on outposts before, but this was the first time I actually got it to work. I got out all 5 of my outposts, and the big 15 points from that definitely helped me win. I also got a full set of 4 different landscape tiles. Very early in the game, I had started my trophy track but bottle-necked after I had to use my 4-pelt (fox) for something else and never returned to it (we were low on foxes for the early part of the game). On my last turn, my opponents had helped me by buying up two landscape tiles, clearing space so I could make a huge jump to the end, and saving me an action so I could get one last hunt on a tiger before placing my last outpost. Scores were still pretty close. We really didn’t go deep into Siberia for most of the game, and hardly anyone took Tsar’s Wish cards, so it seems that there’s still strategic space to explore in the game.
This was our first 3-player game of this as well, though it’s not especially interactive. There are some birds that add a bit of interactivity (in friendly, non-take-that ways). We might play with the competitive scoring board next time, though my brother doesn’t usually like that kind of thing. I will say, it’s weird that the scoring tiles are completely randomized, even though some are near impossible for round 1. It seems like one easier set should have been dedicated to round 1 so they are more possible.
Food for me was much tighter in this game than last because I didn’t have great birds for collecting food, just a worm ability (I think in round 2). But this worked out since my first bird collects grain each time it activates, and I had to collect food a lot, so he was quite full of food by the end of the game. My big turns were Cassin’s Finch in the last round, drawing into Wildlife Gardener when I was about to meet the full scoring on it, and then following up with Say’s Phoebe which deposited an egg on several of my birds (and completed Wildlife Gardener). We all had similar final turns of just collecting eggs, and my friend mentioned that one of the expansions attempts to address this anticlimactic ending.
Merchant of Venus
It’s been a while since our last play, but it’s pretty easy to get back into. Like last time, we pulled out the dice from Rajas of the Ganges which uses the same colors as players in MoV. For reference, we play Classic only. The standard game from FFG added some cool stuff but also kind of made a mess of the game with extra layers of randomness. Classic mode is more of a pure pickup-and-deliver. Strangely, I had complained about the length of the game in my review, and even at 2-player, it’s often a 3-hour game, but for some reason, it was only about 2 hours this time. Maybe we just had a lucky arrangement of aliens that made more efficient trade routes?
At first, we all spread out in different directions to explore, but one player was flying from one corner of the galaxy to the other, going out of his way for deliveries. As usual, I explore some, buy goods early with my IOU cards to get money going and look for good trade routes. I don’t usually buy a shield, but I had an opportunity to buy one early this game and ended up making good use of it. I was tempted to upgrade to the freighter and get a jump drive, but it’s so expensive… Maybe next time. I also tend to buy factories whenever possible as they cost you nothing in net worth and increase the profit margin on your own factory goods. I might even be tempted to say it’s too efficient and players not buying factories might have trouble making money fast enough to stay competitive. I’ve only ever lost the game I think once and it was by a hair.
I think it plays better at 3 than 2 (and maybe even better at 4?) because more players can go explore, revealing planets, finding open spaceports and tele-gates to use, and it makes your own factories and spaceports more profitable if other players can also use them. Even with 3, though, we never went and discovered planet 13. At one point, I was going to but a bad movement roll made another stop much more appealing and I never headed back that way.
My friend was really hyped to play this one (he loves the theme) and even tried it solo. When we played it, we played a planet and task he had already played, but he made sure not to give any particular advice for the planet or spoilers. I had been pretty turned off by the goofy nature of the writing, it’s just not my thing. But it’s not too over-the-top (at least not for the task we played).
Without delving into spoilers, our first objective was a bit slow as we spread out to explore (even though I made early progress on the objective). When the second objective came out, I was too far to be of much use, but I had a breakthrough (ability) that made me the resource-gathering guy, powering the others. Objective two worked out well and then on to objective three. This was the main one where the experienced player could have given valuable information but didn’t, and we lucked out. We were in a good situation to make fast progress on it. And thanks to two of my breakthroughs and how things lined up, I did most of the objective on my own in a single turn! The last objective of each task is just to get everyone back to the ship which wasn’t too difficult.
While the humor isn’t too slap-stick, it does make me less invested in the story (what there is of a story). The mechanics are fun and not that difficult to get the hang of, but I wish the writing had been focused more on immersion than cheap laughs. In the future, we might just skip the opportunity flavor text and just read the task text so we at least understand what’s going on. But I’m still in this in-between headspace of, “I want story and flavor text… just not this flavor text.”
I do like that, unlike most co-op games, Unsettled doesn’t slap you around between turns with random events to make it punishing, the game ramps up as a response to what the players are doing. We’re in control of our time, we choose to put ourselves in danger by exploring and investigating, and even the distress can be managed if we really need to. It’s much more of a puzzle, letting us focus on plans, instead of how most co-ops play where it feels like fires pop up at random and players are just putting out fires the whole time (which can be fun in its own way, but it’s a different experience). Combining abilities was also fun and led to creative turns. And like Orange Nebula’s previous game, Vindication, it plays pretty smoothly and doesn’t take that long.
This is a modern classic I’ve been looking forward to for a while. Even though I’m usually all about theme, I can forgo theme if the mechanics are still fun and engaging. I knew full well what I was getting into. It’s a box of mechanisms with a Roman paint scheme.
Trajan is definitely the type of game where you might have a plan going into it and realize a few turns in how difficult it can be to enact that plan. Two of us had only watched a rules overview, but my brother had watched a full playthrough and it seemed like he was pulling off bigger combos. My only hope was to stick to my plan as much as possible. Well, I didn’t, but I made something else work out instead. I was going to go heavy into military and gobble up tokens and points on the map, but never quite got that going (though I did get some good tokens from the map). I also planned to construct more and try to get a set of 3 or 4; didn’t happen.
What I did end up doing was I always had the resources for the demands each quarter while my opponents lost points nearly every time (and one player lost a TON of points by the end, losing 9 multiple times). I also delivered a set of 4 goods of the same type, with the help of a wild, to a ship for 20 points. I also had some decent bonus scoring from two 9-point tiles (and a couple of 9-point Trajan tiles).
London 2nd Edition
After a quick refresher for me, I had to teach the game to our third player since this game wasn’t scheduled, we just had extra time after Trajan. I really dislike the rulebook. For an instructional book, the formatting is horrible, just big paragraphs, and even the setup isn’t broken down into numbered steps or bullet points. It really makes it harder to quickly find information, and to make it easier, they bold a lot of text so you can find sub-sections that aren’t properly separated. They bold a LOT of text. It also put a lot of valuable information in the front before the main rules section, like it was printed half backward. Bad rulebook.
The first few rounds went fine for me. Make some money, buy a borough for points, cards, and shed some poverty. I had some really nice abilities this time too, and it’s always tough losing them when you need to buy a new borough. But maybe there’s a viable strategy where you don’t buy many boroughs and hang on to powerful abilities? Things were fine until the C cards started coming out. I could not for the life of me draw cards that gave money. I drew 5 sewers (probably all of them?), and tons of blue and pink cards. At one point, my entire hand cost money and I had nothing left. Even taking a loan just to play something and be able to run my city again didn’t help. I was in a hole there was no digging out of. Worse, I had drawn a ton of cards looking for something I could play (didn’t get anything) and ended the game with a huge hand of cards. I was in distant last with 17 points after losing 21 from poverty and 7 from my unpaid loan. This was the complete opposite of my first game which went great. Other than drawing better or just trying to save a lot of money for the C cards, I’m not sure what else I could have done. I certainly don’t remember having that kind of difficulty in our first game.
London is not very picturesque by the end. This time, the main board was completely empty, and usually, your city is mostly face-down after running it for the last time. Next time, I’ll just have to take pictures during mid-game when there’s stuff to see.