This week is a real doozie. There was a boardgame marathon this past weekend, which meant I played a whole lot of games, many of them new and piping hot. So, apologies for the long post, but I have a lot of ground to cover. Without futher ado, here's the full list, in approximate order of descending hotness.
Sid Meier's Civilization: The Board Game is the most confusing name for a boardgame ever. Of course, the Civilization clusterfuck that, at least partially, led to Avalon Hill's downfall, plays a major part in trying to distinguish the various Civilization titles. So, this is not the 1981 Avalon Hill Civilization, nor the 1992 expansion-cum-completely-new-game Advanced Civilization. It's also not the computer game series that debuted in 1991, although it is based on it. And even though it's based on the computer game series, it is not to be confused with two previous games also based on the computer games. Eagle Games' 2002 release Sid Meier's Civilization: The Boardgame is actually a different game, despite sharing a title identical other than one space and a capitalized letter. And Sid Meier's Civilization: The Card Game, the 2006 offering bundled with a box set of the computer games is different as well. And all of these are not to be confused with the very popular Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization, a 2006 Czech Games release that was based heavily on the computer game series, and is ranked #4 on Board Game Geek at the time of this writing. No, this is the 2010 Fantasy Flight Games Release, and the #1 hottest game on BGG right now.
I haven't looked forward to a game this much in a long, long time. I remember anticipating Shogun pretty heavily, and I remember being very excited to play Here I Stand, but neither of those were as exciting pre-publication as this one was. I've played this a grand total of once, so of course my gushing could be wildly off-the-mark, but this had me marveling the whole game. It feels so much like the computer game it's amazing. The mechanics are close, but more importantly, the feel is maintained. There's several viable paths to victory, it's best to work with your civilization rather than against it, and you absolutely cannot afford to ignore your military. I was run over by the Germans in this game, but I still hasd a great time with it. I can't wait to get this one to the table again, because this is a contender for Game of the Year. It gets a rating of 8 only because my person rule is that I can't rate a game above an 8 until I've played it for at least 10 hours of total playtime. This has a very, very good chance of making it to a 9, and even a chance of making it to the hallowed 10/10 with further plays. I will almost certainly be buying this. 8/10
Dominant Species was not so much a hit with me. A game can be released by GMT, it can have variably player powers, it can have sparse art and cardboard counters, and it can take 4+ hours to play, but if it has worker placement and area majority as its main mechanics, it's still another boring-ass Euro. See also: Manifest Destiny, although at least that one has some cards thrown in there.. Dear game companies: please stop making worker placement games. Dear gamers: please stop buying them.
This seems like it could be a really interesting mashup of theme with mechanics, but unfortunately, this game takes a flying leap off of the Theme Cliffsides, and lands with a big splat in The Abstracted Mechanics Gorge. The map makes sense, but the worker placement mechanics certainly don't. The workers sometimes allow you to do things that make sense, like adapt your species by replacing familiar traits, but many times they make no sense in game terms. What kind of supernatural being am I that I'm able to pick Glaciation as an action, then just plunk it down so that it will hurt Reptiles the least? And why do we have to use a worker to score a region? The left side of the board, the map, just screams theme, but the right side of the board, with worker placement, feels artificial as all hell. This game might be impeccably balanced (though I doubt it) and it might be the hottest game from GMT to come out ever, but it is no great shakes. This is GMT doing something that may be successful, but gets away from their strengths, and disappoints me. 6/10
Alien Frontiers is another pretty hot game. You can see my comments on how I don't like worker placement games much in my discussion of Dominant Species above, and it turns out that making them dice doesn't really thrill me much more. I hate to bag on this too much, because this is clearly a design that will get some people really excited, and it's out of a small publishing house. I am rooting for this company all the way, because it started out of a Kickstartr project, and it clearly has an interest in producing nice games, with very good components. The last company that made a debut this strong was Valley Games, a company that has continued to get better and better with every release. Unfortunately, this game left me pretty cold. Where Kingsburg has some interesting dice manipulation behind it, this game misses out on a lot of the choice of that game. The theme is generic, and the mechanics are nothing special. The crowd that likes 90-minute euros will probably drool over this game ad nauseum, but there's not much here. 6/10
Gosu is another new release, and is aimed at the same CCG/board game niche that Dominion pioneered. The name is a shortened combination of Goblin Supremacy, and the theme is goblins engaged in a battle royale. I was very impressed with the game. To oversimplify it, it plays a lot like Magic: The Gathering meets Race for the Galaxy, but it's better than both. There's a shared deck from which all players get their hand, but here's the rub. What you see in your initial hand is what you get. None of this drawing one card a turn crap. No, you have two very precious action tokens which will beat the snot out of your opponent if you can use them on one of your creatures, but if you want to, you can use them for equally precious card draws. There's an interesting faction system, which rewards you for either diversifying or specializing, but of course you won't be able to do both, much as you'd like to. It's tight, fast, and very promising, particularly with the planned expansion. I even played it twice in a row, and I never play games twice in a row. 7/10
49 weeks out of the past year, Cyclades would be the best new game of the week. It just happened to come during the same week that I played Sid Meier's Civilization, and it's not going to take the crown this week, though it comes close. This is a great game in the same vein as Fire and Axe: A Viking Saga, another favorite. The plastic miniatures are wonderful, there's a ton of very bright, beautiful art, and the game has a nice mix of conflict and empire building. The mechanics for this one are even a bit better, as long-term planning comes into effect, and the winner isn't necessarily going to be wholly dependent on luck. There's only one way to win, which is to obtain two metropolises, but there are multiple ways to obtain those metropolises. You can do it the slow, methodical way, which is to build an economy, diversify and build lots of buildings, or you can do it the militaristic way and steal them from other players, or you can do it the super sneaky way and gain several philosophers. The trick is, each path is associated with a certain greek god, and each god is bid on by the various players. And there's no guarantee that each god will even be available in any given turn. So, there's a certain amount of flexibility demanded, as you have to think on the fly what will happen if you can't get your favorite god. It's a hell of a lot of fun, it's short, and it has meaty conflict. Very nice. 8/10
I played Thunderstone as well, along with its expansion Wrath of the Elements, and it left me mostly cold. I've already wrote about not liking Dominion, and there's nothing much new here, except that it's more complex. There's another couple types of currency, there's more interaction between cards, and there's an experience system that allows you to upgrade cards. But the best thing about Dominion is that it ends quickly. And at least in this play, Thunderstone did not end quickly. Far from it, our four-player game took long enough that we ended up ditching several dungeon monsters to allow us to end it more quickly. And, this has the same feeling that I dislike about Dominion. You examine the tableau initially, form your strategy, and then the playing is more like one big resolution phase to see if your strategy worked. The theme is admittedly much stronger and better in this one, but it's not enough to get me to like it. Base game: 6/10, Wrath of the Elements: 5/10
La Citta is the only game I played this week that I have already played. I like this game a lot. Turns out we played the neighboring rule incorrectly, and played that interaction happened only if the cities were within one space. The game held up really well despite that fact. I played terribly. I really like this game, and I seem to do worse every time I play it. The nastiness saves it from being just another Euro, even if the mechanics are nothing all that new. I like empire building, and this is a great, very fast, abstracted game that allows me to scratch that itch. It's like Settlers of Catan that way. 8/10 (Unchanged)
Dungeons & Dragons Computer Labyrinth Game is a super corny 80s electronic game based on the D&D license. It shares similarities in that, well, you play adventurers, and there's a dragon, and you go into a dungeon to retrieve a treasure. The board plays the GM, but because it's a 1980s era computer, it communicates in beeps and chirps. You communicate with the computer by pressing your character down where you want to move, depressing a hidden switch under the board, and you decipher the computer's electronic noise to figure out whether you ran into a wall, or get to continue your turn. Now, it's a terrible game, a total luckfest. But it's a fun game. I doubt I'll play it again, but the novelty factor kept it entertaining for the 10 minutes I was playing. 4/10
Starbase Jeff is a Cheapass Game that takes an abstract, applies a pretty thin theme, makes it multiplayer to make it extra chaotic, and, in case it's not disorganized enough, puts a really terrible title on it. Cheapass games are terrible, with the single exception of The Big Idea, which is merely a decent, if fragile, party game. I'm not into this publisher, because if a game is worth playing, it's worth it looking better than if you made it on your home printer. To add insult to injury, the games are usually terrible. This one's no exception. 4/10