Another fun recap list where I expand on thoughts of the games, both old and new. You may notice the lack of ranking the top 2019 releases or the top new-to-me games. Well, that’s because about a week ago I announced the finalists for my 2019 Game of the Year and, honestly, I don’t want to tip my hand too much as to which of those games might be the overall winner as I attempt to reevaluate them all in the next month or so.
March Games Played Recap
13 Days: The Cuban Missile Crisis
My friend got his rematch, after I went 2-0 back in January to kick off our deep dive into wargaming. It also marked the first time when Russians were a side that he didn’t get randomly forced into playing them, which might have had something to do with his success. This time I played a really aggressive 2nd round, which opened things up for a brilliant play on his part that made me end the game in Defcon 1 on the Military track due to a lack of Command value on my cards. Well played, my friend. Until I defeat you next time…
Agricola, Master of Britain
Oh how I missed this little game from Hollandspiele. After playing Charlemagne (more on that below), I found myself itching to get this one back to the table. This one is refreshingly quick to set up, given the much smaller map, and I had plenty of time in about 90 minutes to set up, reread the rules, and lose at the end of Round 4. I forgot, during the first Round, that this one has a set number of actions (even though I just read it…) per Round, unlike Charlemagne where things can go For-ev-er assuming you don’t pull those End Turn chits. The scope and scale of this is much smaller, making a really tight experience where it feels like there is a very low margin for error, and I was on the ropes from the start with nearly every Tan unit on the map to begin the game. Only one leader came out all game, and that was with one action remaining and myself unable to reach his location before he disappeared. Oh well, this one will get a rematch soon enough as I’m determined to finally win – especially when I was given the reminder that my best effort was obtaining 74 out of the 75 VP needed at a minimum to win…
Battle Line: Medieval
This one replaced the previous version of Battle Line, which I parted with a while ago. I couldn’t pass up the beautiful Medieval retheming of the game, and the artwork here is so outstanding. It also uses cards instead of pawns for the battlefield, and those cards have abilities that you can use to trigger special effects for each of the nine fronts being fought over. All in all this was a complete upgrade in my books, and the gameplay is still just as fast and fun as the original.
Call to Adventure
Sometimes you want a game that is just enjoyable to unwind and play. For me, Call to Adventure is becoming that game. It isn’t challenging or especially thinky, but as a writer and a fan of the Fantasy genre, this game invites you to craft stories for your characters as you gain the cards. I’m yet to run the risk of losing the solo game on this, which normally would be something I hold against a solo experience, but in this I think I’m just looking for something different when it hits the table. It is my guilty pleasure game, as the casting of runes and the crafting of characters is a sheer delight – and I genuinely cannot wait for the Stormlight Archive expansion to be released this year!
Castles of Mad King Ludwig
Like last month, this was a welcome game to hit the table. We always enjoy it regardless of player count, and this time it was a head-to-head with my wife that didn’t really go well for me. She’s too good sometimes, and there was never a prayer of catching her…something that was pretty clear by mid-game. Yet I always love this one because there is a sense of accomplishment at the end with the castle you’ve constructed!
Charlemagne, Master of Europe
Holy Charlemagne, this game is epic in proportion. Last year I fell in love with Agricola, Master of Britain but, when trying this, I was overwhelmed by the added complexities. Well, two months into solid wargaming and this was a perfect, fluid system that kept me delighted across my entire 10-round loss. Yes, I am disappointed it came to a premature end – darn Byzantium chits got pulled three actions in a row, costing me 24 points before I could counteract the board state. Combine that with the 9 I lost at the end of the previous round due to Minimum Army Strength and that was a 33-point swing I just barely fell short of overcoming. Had I banked one more EVP it would have been enough to go on, and this just showed me how brutal the game can get in the later turns if those Turn End chits remain elusive in the cup. Brilliant game, fantastic design. This one is everything I wanted and then some.
Command & Colors: Ancients
Let’s get the first thing out of the way: we played the introductory scenario, I played one key thing wrong, and it was an absolute landslide thanks to impossible rolling by my opponent. So with a grain of salt I wasn’t overly thrilled by the game; however, the key thing wrong was I didn’t realize I was supposed to draw a new card each turn. With all of the stuff explained after the start, I clearly forgot that and my opponent didn’t notice, and so I was stuck playing 4 of my 5 really crappy cards until I lost via his “I Am Spartacus” god turn that let him activate all 4 of his Heavy Infantry, each of whom rolled exactly 4 hits when they activated to wipe 3 more units of mine off the board. Dice can do that, and it left a really sour taste in my mouth about a game that took longer to set up, and then longer to explain, than it did to actually lose the game. I intend to request a rematch on this one the next time we play games, as I’d like to give it a better shot…especially since I really want to try his copy of Command & Colors: Medieval soon.
Empyreal: Spells & Steam
What more can I say about this one? Check out my review, which went live around mid-March, for more detailed thoughts on this. I’ll say that if this game had released in 2019 rather than 2020, it’d definitely be a finalist for game of the year. So don’t be too surprised if this one happens to stay near the top of the pack over the course of 2020!
Founders of Gloomhaven
I have found that I enjoy the designs of Isaac Childress. Sure, there’s the obvious Gloomhaven that everyone drools over, but I might even like both Forge War and Founders of Gloomhaven better than the massive dungeon crawler. This one certainly has interesting layers of depth to it, much like Forge War, and I am honestly surprised at how lukewarm the overall reception seemed to be toward this game. I speculate that it is because they wanted a game more like Gloomhaven instead of a heavy-ish Euro with the Gloomhaven world. I failed spectacularly at the game, in part due to a poor choice of race which was nice early with the exclusive access to the Jewelry upgrade, but hurt later in the game because I needed to make connections to more things in order to upgrade other tech. Ultimately, that was my downfall in the game…and I would gladly play it a second time if the chance comes about.
Great Western Trail
A personal favorite of mine, the play of Maracaibo made me have the urge to play Great Western Trail and my loving wife spoiled me by agreeing to that play. Per usual, she whomped on me but I absolutely loved my play of the game – as I have every play of it so far. This game is a near-perfect blend of things to make a game I can sink my mental teeth into. Next time we’ll integrate the expansion which I’ve heard makes the game even better. I’m not going to enjoy the task of deciding which I like more: this or Maracaibo. Maybe I should claim I need to play them both a dozen times first…
Last year the designer of Gunkimono came into town (he is from this area originally) and showed up to teach his games at a local game day. I went with the hope of playing Pandoria (which I did get to try!), but before that he opened things up with a play of Gunkimono. I thought it was a clever design at the time, even if I was horribly beaten in our 5-player game since I was using the type of approach that would be good in a 2-3 player game but hurt my own progression as the game flew to the finish. This time was a 3-player game and while I still didn’t win, I did significantly better at being competitive. I don’t think I would ever turn down a game of this, but at the same time I don’t think I’ll be actively seeking plays of it, either.
This game was a minimal gamble for me to pick up, as it was a mere $2 add-on to an order. With the designer being Uwe Rosenberg and it being a Viking-themed game, I figured we could get at least that much enjoyment out of the game. Yes, I had heard all the terrible things about the game. And, well, it isn’t a great game. It felt like we were drawing far too many cards, making it easy to move down for the gold especially late in the game. There was rarely a strong reason to push forward rather than try to plunder more of the gold if able. Its biggest fault was a lack of tension, from what I could see. I’m quite willing to give it another play or two, as I know there is a decent game in there. However, I imagine we’d probably grab something like Odin’s Ravens before this going forward.
Ah KOSMOS, why did you have to make so many excellent little 2-player games? And why won’t you reprint some of them, like Jambo? That was my feeling after getting introduced to this game, which has a really neat resource conversion aspect to earn money which are, essentially, points. You start with 30, and are racing to get to 60, but most of that initial 30 will likely be spent to set yourself up for future success. I knew the local Half Price Books had a copy for $40, and it was during the coupon sale week when I played so I figured I would wait it out and grab it Sunday for $20 if it was still there. Sure enough, it was gone. Oh well, like I have any shortage of good games, right? Still, I’m going to be keeping an eye out for a chance to get this at a reasonable price in the future.
So at least one of these must be true: my wife is a brilliant genius with heavy games, I’m a really good teacher, or I am just terrible at Lisboa. It is probably at least two of those three, with the questionable one being how good of a teacher I am when it comes to games. I am bad at Lisboa, and there is no longer any room to deny it. I have a track record of not just losing, but losing horribly. Even when teaching new players, I’m not even competitively close at the end. 20-ish points may not seem like much, but it is a chasm of difference in a game like this. But the great news is that my wife now knows how to play and it will be far easier to lose in the future when I want to get the best of the Lacerda games to the table. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll win a game of Lisboa before the end of this year.
The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game
My favorite solo game of all time is always a welcome presence at my table. I played my Ranger trap deck a little more and finally took out a handful of cards. I think I have a better handle on the deck now to where I can consider modifying it to trim it down to 50 soon, making it a more consistent, viable deck to play and actually win with regularly. When it fires, this deck is fun. When it whiffs, this deck flounders as it is. It didn’t help that I was playing a quest that didn’t have many enemies, and had a really fast acceleration in needed Willpower to quest successfully.
We all have those designers. The ones we know, before even playing a game, that we’re likely to enjoy the game they designed. There are three such designers for me, and the tops among them is probably Alexander Pfister. His games resonate with me as a gamer in all the right ways: engine building, multi-use cards, strategic planning. This takes everything I love about Oh My Goods and Great Western Trail, adds some new and innovating things, and delivers a game that honestly feels like it was designed with me in mind. Like his other designs, this one took a little time to grasp everything presented on the board, the cards, and the player area. But once it all clicked, the game flowed in the same, smooth way that Great Western Trail has become. Calling this a reworking of GWT would be a disservice to Maracaibo. It has similarities, sure, but is a completely different game. Both will be able to exist in my collection, and this has rocketed up to become the next game I want to add to my collection. I can’t wait to play this one more, to teach it to my wife, to test out the solitaire AI opponent, and to play through the story campaign. This is the best new-to-me game I’ve played in quite some time, and it isn’t even close.
Nevsky: Teutons and Rus in Collision, 1240-1242
A complete shocker of an experience. That is hardly an understatement, considering that Nevsky went from being a game I hadn’t ever heard about to being a legitimate contender for 2019 game of the year. It has such unusual, interesting approaches to the wargame genre with its focus on operations and the calendar track to keep tabs on how long your leaders are willing to serve under your command. The longer the war lasts, the more you’ll see a fluctuation in the forces you can muster. Not only that, but it is difficult to feed and move a large army, which has to be maintained or you risk losing them early. Add in some programming of the order in which you resolve your units, and there is a lot here to sink your teeth into. I’m jonesing to get this one played again with my friend, exploring some of the longer scenarios in the box.
The One Hundred Torii
This little tile-laying game caught my attention last year on Kickstarter, and sounded like an enjoyable game experience. Last month I tried it solo and thought it was fine, and this month I played it with my wife. The multiplayer experience is definitely better overall. I question still the longevity of the gameplay, which seems like the scores will be fairly clustered once players figure out strong strategies to tile placement, this is one I will gladly welcome back to the table soon in order to explore everything else it has to offer.
I had anticipated not being able to finish my play of the long campaign session of this one, but a series of circumstances opened up the way for me to play two more rounds (getting to Round 4’s conclusion) at the beginning of the month and bring this to a satisfying conclusion. I’ll be interested to see the other scenarios and what they change or involve, especially the new one designed for 2-players to compete. Sadly, I never was forced to shift sides on this, thanks to a lucky roll when I had a +3 SPI at the end of Turn 3. An unlucky Augury brought the AI to an early conclusion and a chance interception cleared a nice path to take my 3rd General down to Sparta with reasonable odds of being able to pull off an upset victory. Ultimately I think the single d6 has a little too much power in here, allowing small yet powerful swings that went both ways. The first two rounds went heavily in the Spartan AI’s favor, digging me into a VP hole and clearing off my efforts while expanding Rebellion in the eastern parts of the map. Then in the final two rounds they all seemed to go my way, allowing me to lock down decisive victories and chip away at the Spartan forces before heading down to an even-sized match against Sparta where they still had the modifier advantage (thanks to a +2 for being in Sparta and another +2 for having over half the army as Spartan hoplites) but they rolled really low vs my high number, which was just enough to win. I enjoyed this, and the scenarios will determine how much staying power this could have.
Word games are the bane of my wife’s existence, so i don’t think this will ever be a game I play at home with her. Yet as an English major I have no qualms about playing a word game like Quiddler, and I only had time for something shortish after Founders of Gloomhaven finished. So the couple I was gaming with grabbed this and taught me. It isn’t the worst word game I have ever played, but it isn’t the best either. I had fun, for what it was worth, and would potentially play it again.
There used to be a lot of buzz about Aeon’s End being the greatest game since sliced bread, and I’ll admit it has some clever innovations (I especially liked the non-shuffling of your deck). However, from the first time I played Shadowrift I lost the urge to ever do Aeon’s End again, because it provides a similar theme and does it better thematically with having villagers and travellers, and the construction of walls, to fend off the waves of enemies attacking the village. Sure, it lacks a big baddie (which you can get via expansion), but it more than makes up for that with the experience. Things are slowly getting worse as you slowly get stronger – this probably has one of the tightest economies for a deckbuilder I’ve ever played. I still really enjoy this one, and got to try out some of the new stuff from the recent expansion Boomtown.
Three Kingdoms Redux
If you look back at my blogging history, this game has been on my “I want to try this” wishlist for years. Not owning the game is, of course, always a hurdle to overcome. But I also knew the 3-player only factor was going to be a preventative factor. Well, the stars aligned and this game was played and it lived up to everything I hoped for and then some. There is such an interesting development of balance between the three factions, and it is really interesting how one of them starts off “stronger” than the others but the balance corrects itself over the course of the game. It felt like, as the Wei player, I had the weakest generals overall in terms of the abilities. More often than naught, what I expected to chain into a great combo proved to be completely irrelevant while I watched them rake in great benefits. But who am I to complain, when my leader has the ability to win ties? This was a surprisingly low-scoring affair and the end game scoring was extremely clever and unique, as for most of the things it has you compare your position with the others to determine how many points are scored. The game ended a turn sooner than I expected, and was unfortunately during a turn when I had only 3 Generals to use and so even if I had anticipated the end there was a limit on how much I could have adapted to that information. I’d love to play this one again soon, and I know my wife would absolutely love the game (hint: it has a strong worker placement element). We do have a 3rd player coming on a regular enough basis to where we could probably even get this to the table regularly if we wanted to do so. And I think I do want to get this back onto the table soon, while the game is still fresh in my mind, to see if I can do better at planning and adapting now that I’ve seen the game to its conclusion.
Vikings: Scourge of the North
This little folio game was the first of the recent review copies of wargames to arrive, and I was excited to get this to the table because it promised a quick playtime, minimal rules overhead, and a Viking theme that sounded delightful in a solitaire-designed package. I shouldn’t be so surprised that the game was very luck-heavy, with dice being rolled for nearly everything involved in the game. Is it fun? Absolutely, and I am excited to get it back out a few more times to prepare for a review. The real question is how much does the dice influence the game vs. the decisions I make as a player. My initial impression is the dice reign supreme, especially in a game with only a handful of activations to accomplish everything. Especially considering you roll to see how many spaces you sail on the sea, and then roll to see if you lose anyone on said sea voyage…
A 2019 favorite, as you might have seen from the very recent post announcing my finalists for 2019 game-of-the-year. I didn’t expect to be blown away by Watergate, and had hoped it was the first impressions that left me thinking it was a little gem. Unfortunately, the second play was just as enjoyable as the first, even having switched sides. Each side plays very differently, and this is one I know my wife would enjoy if she could get past the theme. I won’t hold my breath, though. However, I can’t wait to play this one again and again, the mark of an excellent game.
Next 3 Reviews
Vikings: Scourge of the North
Traveller Customizable Card Game
The One-Hundred Torii
2020 Husband/Wife Record
Him: 15 Wins (+3)
Her: 20 Wins (+5)
Next 3 Games to Teach My Wife
Avatar: The Last Airbender CCG
Five Games I Want to Try Soon
Commands & Colors: Medieval
Falling Sky: The Gallic Revolt Against Caesar
Next 3 Acquisitions
Mystic Vale: Harmony
The Wars of Marcus Aurelius
2020 Five & Dimes (Games with 5+ Plays)
Vikings: Scourge of the North (6)
Circle the Wagons (5)
Hostage Negotiator (5)
Lord of the Rings: The Card Game (5)
Best Releases of 2020
Empyreal: Spells & Steam
The One Hundred Torii
Best Expansions of 2020
Mystic Vale: Nemesis