Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Mystery Rummy

Game Thoughts

Like Deep Thoughts by Jack Handy, but not. Yeah, it has been a while since I last used this blog. I tend to go for a bit and then don't feel like I need to say anything (or I'm just lazy). At any rate, a buddy mentioned that maybe I should start this up again, so here we are again...

For a variety of reasons, I've been re-examining my collection and decided that maybe it was time to start thinning the heard. While I think my massive game collection looks super cool on the shelves and all, there are some problems. Namely - I'm running out of room. Also, I really don't need all these games. I play a small fraction of them and while I enjoy them, there are plenty I don't really need. So this year, I'm going to try and put some effort into seriously playing some titles and see if I can figure out what I really think about some of these games.

Mystery Rummy Series

The Mystery Rummy Family is a set of card games  by Mike Fitzgerald (occasionally with other contributors/designers) based on the classic Rummy game. The "standard" for play is along the lines of: 
  • Each player has a hand of cards and tries to play melds and layoffs (cards that match other players melds) to score points.
  • Typically there are two kinds of cards: the generic "set" cards and special cards. The special cards typically are limited to only a single card play by each player each turn. Specials might add to the value of specific sets, or let a player draw extra cards (or hunt through the discard pile). They might adversely affect an opponent. In some sense, these are the ones that make this more than standard Rummy games. 
That's it (in a nutshell). Draw, play and discard. Each game has its own twists and quirks which I'll explore in a second. First let me say - I have not played every one of the games in the "series" - there are a couple more out there. That being said, what I'm doing is exploring the games I own, so that is all I'll be speaking on in this post. 

Wyatt Earp

Wyatt Earp was an early entry in the Alea Small Box series of games and is really a fun little game. When players play a meld (the set cards are famous old west outlaws), you increase the reward/bounty on the outlaw. At the end of the hand, if there are enough points played for an outlaw, then the collected reward is distributed for that outlaw. Depending on who contributed points (played cards), the reward may be split between players. Sometimes, the reward goes up, but the outlaw wasn't "captured" (because not enough points played for that outlaw), so the reward carries over to the next hand. The reward money is essentially your points for the game and the first player to a set amount wins. The special cards can increase payouts for an outlaw, block an outlaw from being eligible for capture, help you dig for cards, etc. 

I really like this game best with three players. Players are really fighting to split bounties and block players from a big cash payout. When played two-player, it is pretty easy for one player or the other to make out like a bandit and win the game quickly from one lucky run of cards. With four players, it drags on a little long.

Jack The Ripper

This is the first in the true Mystery Rummy series and one of my favorite in the family of games. It plays well with 2-4 players, though we like it the best of all the series for two players. It also feels like one of the more balanced games in the series. Their are good counters to playing certain cards and it leads to a little bit of holding cards and bluffing once players understand the game.

In this game, the set cards are suspects in your Jack the Ripper case. At the end of the hand, if a suspect has more evidence against them than any other suspect, they are declared the ripper and those cards played are doubled in value. There are special cards that make a suspect ineligible for the doubling of points and other special cards for victims. If all the victim cards are in play, then there is a special "Ripper Escapes" card that can be played immediately, which scores that player a whopping 35 points (1/3 of what is needed to win the game) and then only that card and the couple of points from the played victim cards count for the round. Of course, the victim cards are how the players draw additional cards, so there is a fair incentive to play them, but once you get closer to having them all in play, you want to be careful about the last one. My only complaint with this game? The cards might be the stiffest cards I have ever played with. They are really really hard to shuffle well.

Murders in the Rue Morgue

The second entry in the Mystery Rummy series is based on the story by Edgar Allen Poe. The set cards are clues or scenes from the story and are paired up for scoring purposes. Each time a set is played, a player chooses to bury a card from the draw pile or the top card of the discard pile. These buried cards will go to the player who manages to go out during the first pass through the deck of cards, thus encouraging players to try and play fast. What discourages a player from going out quickly is that the big point scores come from holding both set of the paired sets (having both is a bonus). There is also a card that scores decently if both sets are in play (regardless of who holds the sets). The buried card mechanic also makes it so that you can flush a card from a set that you know your opponent(s) are trying to get, thus stymie-ing them. 

While fun, this entry in the series suffers from a lack of special cards. The special cards mostly boil down to "draw" cards or the bonus cards mentioned before. This simplifies the game play a bit and makes it a hair less interesting. This is good with two or three players, but probably is best with three.

Jekyll and Hyde 

The third entry in the series is strictly a two-player affair. In this game the sets are split up with some being Jekyll sets and some being Hyde. One or two of the sets go either way. The trick is, you can only lay down a set matching the current "state". The state is defined by a two sided card (one being Jekyll and the other Hyde of course). The special cards mostly revolve around flipping the state back and forth (potion cards) which also gets you extra draw cards. For scoring, you score double for the sets matching the state when someone went out. If you can manage to only place sets of one type and it is the matching one, you shut out your opponent. 

But that's it. Which has (IMO) made this the least interesting version in the series. It is certainly the easiest for a new player to pick up, but honestly, the other games aren't really that hard to learn. Huge thumbs down on this one.

Al Capone and the Chicago Underworld

Al Capone varies the standard formula by having variable size sets. The sets are various underworld bad guys. The sets range from only 4 cards total to 8 or 9 for Al Capone himself. You get a bonus for collecting the whole set (with the larger sets worth more points). The special cards have a nice variety and some that let you steal cards that your opponent(s) have already laid out. This can lead to a bit of playing "chicken" and holding out your cards for a big layout (of course, if you don't play them, you can't score them, thus the game of chicken). There are also some "go fish" kind of cards to try and find those underworld bosses that your stupid opponent is holding onto. If you can manage to nab all the Capone cards, you shut out your opponent for the hand.

The forth in the series is interesting in that it is a really good partnership game. I've been told to avoid it with three players. With two, it is ok, but the play takes on an extra dimension when you are working with a partner. With two players, the game feels a lot more "standard" as it is hard to dig for all the cards in the set. With a partner, the big layout means giving the other team a chance to do the same AND match up on what you played AND possibly steal from you, but it also means your teammate can end up dropping their hand as well for a quick finish. Lots of good stuff going on that take the series to the next level. You are far more likely to hit the sets when you have another player feeding you (and you feeding them). 

Escape from Alcatraz 

Alcatraz probably varies from the standard formula a bit more than others in the series. The set cards fall into two types - plans and escapees. You can play no more than one escape to the table per turn. Unlike the other games, the deck is only the set cards. You can only play a meld if there are more escapees in play than there are currently melds in play. The special cards only come into play when you play a meld or layoff on an opponent's meld (and you can only get that once a turn). When you get an action card, you simply turn it over and follow the instructions (usually there are options for what you can do). The next big variation is that you do not score points for playing the melds and layoffs. Instead, you score by foiling these plans. Once there are at least 8 cards for a set in play, you can foil a plan by playing an escapee (from your hand or from the yard) with the cards you have in play under your "Foiled" card. Other players may do the same for their cards matching the set. When the round ends, you score only for the cards that you have under your foiled card. 

My problem with the game is that it really is pretty dull with two players. It is also frustrating in that you can only get to the action cards by playing a meld, which is predicated on there being an acceptable number of escapees in the yard already. Therefore, if you never draw an escapee, you can get yourself somewhat locked out of getting to play your melds. Basically, it feels like there is more chance and less control. All these games have chance (they are cards games), but when the control mechanism are minimized and the luck of the draw is higher, it takes away from the enjoyment of the game. Though it probably doesn't sound like it from my description of the gameplay, the game's theme and what you are doing actually do go along fairly well. It just isn't that entertaining to actually play it. I've played it with two and with 4 players, and in both cases, it felt like three was probably the correct number here. I want to give this a couple more tries (something I never feel towards Jekyll and Hyde), but thus far haven't been terribly impressed with this attempt at something new to the series.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Returning to Things of No Interest

After more than a year away, I make a return to Things of No Interest. January saw a number of sessions, so I'll just try and wrap everything up in one large burrito of a post. And without further ado...

Jan. 4, 2013
Robert Bolan came over and we played a few iPad games as well as one real boardgame! Our iPad adventures included two-player Ra and Keltis HD so that I could explain the games. We also played Kingdom Builder face-to-face. I still really enjoy Kingdom Builder, but need to play it more as I'm terrible at this game. We tried to play Dominant Species on our iPads, but at one point, my iPad went to sleep and when it came back, it had lost connection to the game and I couldn't get back in. DS on iOS really REALLY needs an async option to play through Gamecenter.

Jan. 6, 2013
The kids an I played a game of Lost Cities: The boardgame. My daughter hadn't played before, but my son has and he concentrated his efforts on just a couple of colors. We played a "short game" (one round) and he beat me by 5 points. The kids like this game (the simple choices make this attractive) and I like it because it is still interesting enough.

Jan. 11, 2013
This particular evening of gaming saw me with some additional guests. Ravindra Prasad (I had met Ravindra a few years back on my first trip to the Geekway in St. Louis where we partnered up to play Tichu) and his wife Mary were in town and had contacted Matthew Frederick about gaming, so the two of them joined us with a couple of the other usual suspects - Nathan Winchester and Amelia Boli. Matthew and Amelia had stopped on the way at the Game Depot and picked up the 7 Wonders expansion Cities, so we started the night with that. Cities adds some new buildings to mix things up a bit. I had Ravindra and Amelia on either side of me and Ravindra was not being terribly helpful with making resources I needed. I had a ton of blue buildings, but not a whole lot of points otherwise, as Ravindra and/or Amelia kept up with (but didn't surpass) my military. Either Matthew or Nathan won with science as the main points (I never had a chance to build a science building).

After the smoke cleared from the scoring, Amelia choose our next game - Top Race. I enjoy this racing game, though I usually do poorly at it - not this night. I placed second in the first race and managed to correctly identify the winner in all three bets. The second race was equally successful for me and I was easily winning the game at that point. I created some confusion in describing the catch-up card though, so the first race was likely slightly dubious. Regardless, I had fun watching Nathan's car get stuck a lot.

We moved on to a couple party games after that, playing Telestrations and Time's Up: Title Recall a couple times each before Ravindra and Mary called it a night. Telestrations wasn't quite as funny this particular night (though there were a couple of goofy pics) - I guess it can't be side-splittingly hilarious every time I play. Time's Up was good with Nathan and Ravindra squeaking out a win over Matthew and I. Time's Up: Title Recall is easily my favorite version of the game and one I'll play just about anytime.

After Ravindra and Mary left, we pulled out Discworld: Ankh-Morpork. I quickly reviewed the rules and explained the game to Matthew and Amelia. With four-players, the game has the same chaotic fun that three-players does, but is actually slightly faster since you go through the deck so quickly. I had the winning condition of getting through the entire deck with nobody else winning, but hid it pretty decently from the others. I think this condition might be the easiest to win with in a four player game since you get through the cards faster.

We finished the night with a game of Tichu. For most of the game, things were going against Matthew and Amelia, but with us needing less than 50 points to win, Matthew and Amelia managed to pull out a win. Not the worst lead I've ever blown, but pretty close. Oh well, any Tichu played is good Tichu

Jan. 18, 2013
Matthew and Nathan came over, with Matthew bringing his new game - Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar. After punching the game and going through the rules we started up. I had heard that this was a good game, but knew nothing about it and was intrigued by the gears. The game itself is pretty much a straightforward worker placement game and the gears are mostly a gimmick, though they work well and make the game "maintenance" very easy. Nathan had an early lead and looked to be in good position for the win, but I was able to sneak in some points at the end for the win. The game was interesting, though for whatever reason, the three of us took a long time to play it. This is one of those games where AP is easy to fall into and makes the game longer than it has to be.

Jan. 19, 2013
My daughter got bored and asked to play a game with me. I hadn't ever even opened my copy of California, which I got from Tanga years ago. I figured we'd see what this game was all about. turns out to be an interesting little family type euro and my daughter quickly picked up on the mechanics, understanding that if she took money which she needed that I'd be able to buy things cheaper.She did a pretty good job with getting things and trying to hurt my position as much as help her own. Of course, being the savvy gamer dad, I did better than she did, but I wouldn't be shocked to see her do even better next time.

Jan. 25, 2013
Robert and I had been pushing for a little while to get Dominant Species to the table. Amelia wasn't going to be able to join us on this particular Friday, so we setup to play this. Nathan brought along a friend of his from his work - Jacob, so there were five of us in total. After we were all there, I covered the rules and took out all the action pawn related cards in hopes of a slightly faster game. We ended up playing 5-players in about 4.5-5 hours, so it wasn't too bad. I was the mammals (never used my power until the last round), Jacob amphibians, Nathan reptiles, Robert insects and Matthew birds. As the game started, I jumped out to a modest early lead, earning cries of "bash the leader". I wouldn't hold the lead long as the last place player at that point (Matthew) used Niche Biomes to reel everyone back to him. At that point, Nathan made some aggressive moves on the board that ate into species cubes of everyone (he grabbed the Catastrophe card) and set me back a bit. Robert also was making decent moves, isolating himself a good bit and using glaciation to score points and limit access to "his areas". As the game progressed, I was making good progress on the board, but not scoring much. Nathan and Robert were pulling away, but Robert realized near the end that he had no board position to hold of Nathan. As we approached the last round, I continued to expand and set myself up. I was able to get the blight card and used it to change a lot of standing on the board. On the second to last round, Matthew and I ended up teaming to clear the tundra of nearly all species except for one spot where I still had 2 species left. Heading into the final round, I decided to try to get more cubes on the board and then migrate to the tundra to try and score the final survival bonus. However, with all of us focused on our own plots, Nathan grabbed all three of the final Wanderlust actions to devastating effect. He scored a ton of points and grabbed three areas of scoring for himself. I somehow managed to dominate in enough areas (6 or 7) and with migration, also score good points in the final scoring. When the dust finally cleared, I had somehow managed a 4 point win over Nathan.

Jan. 26, 2013
My wife and daughter were out of town for the weekend, so I put a call out to see if anyone still had some gaming in them. Nathan responded and when it turned out he'd be the only one, we decided to play some Combat Commander. I pulled out C3i #22 and we started up the Pathfinder Campaign. The campaign is based on the airborne portion of the June 1944 Overlord campaign and has you play a series of scenarios (three) with the overall winner determined by success and points. I let Nathan pick which side he wanted to play and he wanted to try out the Americans, so I took the Germans and we got going. We started with scenario #33 (from Combat Commander: Battle Pack #1 - Paratroopers).
St. Mere Eglise, France. 6 June, 1944
In the early hours of June 6, the paratroopers of the 101st and 82nd Airborne divisions leapt into the night over Normandy to clear the path for the invading Allied forces who were at the time steaming across the English Channel. Through the chaos of enemy fire, the pilots did the best they could to put the troopers over their planned drop zones, but many of them were dropped far from their planned sites, with little idea of where they were. The 506th PIR landed on the outskirts of St. Mere Eglise. They quickly organized as best they could and began clearing the way to Utah Beach.

The Americans set up randomly (ie for each unit, draw and place on the hex listed) after the Germans. If the unit is adjacent (or on), it gets placed broken. Only a couple of Nathan's units ended up broken, but honestly, his units weren't scattered us much as I had hoped. The map is #2 (hedgerow hell) and so I had setup in the houses, with machine guns covering the roads as best I could. Nathan moved as couple units near one house to begin an assault, but after his first shot was unable to continue the assault nor move. Feeling bold, I took three (of my very limited units) and advanced on a lone squad of Nathan's. He had an ambush card, but I still had the advantage - He needed an 11 to tie or 12 to beat me. Of course, he drew an 11. It was a terrible draw as we both died, but I paid the heavier price. I went to work on his other two units sitting out in the open and managed to kill the squad and break the leader, but couldn't put him away (I constantly re-suppressed the leader , but couldn't get enough for a kill). I finally had an advance card and went after his pesky Americans, and again, he needed an 11 or 12 to win the melee. And once again, he drew to 10, tying us and killing three of my units. As the German surrender was 6, I immediately lost (which was worth 30 VPs for the campaign).

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

More Combat Commander

Robert Bolan came over this evening to get in a bit of Combat Commander action. I was hoping we could start a series from the Stalingrad battle pack, but when I opened it up, there was no playbook with the rules. I sent an note to GMT and I expect they'll be sending a booklet to me, but I was saddened that we weren't going to explore Stalingrad yet. Since that was out as a plan, I just went with the RSG (Random Scenario Generator) hoping for some minor powers (Italy, France, Britain). Instead, we ended up with the Germans and Russians in 1942. We did end up on a map neither of us had seen before - #20, a nearly total forest with a small amount of marsh, a hill running through it and a road through the forest. I ended up with the Russians and after we made our unit choices, I ended up as the defender to Robert's attacking Krauts. As attacker, he had the option to try for a radio (artillery), which he got, which didn't make me too happy since artillery and trees are bad. I setup first and setup with a leader and an SMG unit on a hill to best shoot at anything Robert tried to move in the only open area (note, this wasn't much of a threat as I didn't have a gun and SMGs only have a range of TWO (four with the leader's command)). The rest I spread out in the cover of the forest, two of the SMGs having satchel charges. Well, Robert took on of his units to start the game and exited them off after racing them down the side of the map uncontested. The rest of the units were all engaged in not a whole lot of anything. My hilltop foxholed unit and leader kept working at Robert, but weren't too hot. I did finally manage to kill off Robert's radio, which made him start moving in to try and eliminate my units. Robert managed to get a random medium machine gun unit behind my lines and he moved in to kill me. He tried and before his unit could get the kill shot in, a sniper popped up and killed my unit, robbing his gunner of the kill. I got a mortar, which I used to finally nail a couple of his guys on an opposite hill, so he used an advance to come get me. A few ambush cards later, I killed off enough of his troops to force his surrender.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Return to Combat Commander

Situation Report
St. Jean De Daye, France July 8, 1944
July 7th saw a brief battle in which German forces were forcibliy evicted from their hilltop defenses near the Vire Rivert. The small American force that won the day - elements of the 743d Tank Battalion, including an immobilized M4 Sherman - was then tasked to hold the hills until reinforcements could arrive to relieve them. Sergeant White ordered his infantry to dig in atop the dominant hill as Sgt. Beuhler prepped his shaken tank crew.
It is now just before dawn, July 8, and the dim morning glow is punctuated by a flare igniting over Hill 104. The expected German counterattack has arrived; the US reinforcements have not.

I chose the Allied forces for this match up. Nearly all the weaponry at my disposal was attached to the immobilized tank, which I placed in a valley. Sgt White and his infantry awaited the assault on the hilltop. Reinforcements would come, but slowly with no leaders and terrain covered in wire and mines. Robert's German forces began their advance. A small group coming through the hedges trying to advance to position to take out the tank crew and the remainder of his troops advancing through the cover of buildings to determine their attack plan on the hill. Luck favored the attackers early as the German machine called in air strike after air strike. Fortunately the well armored Sherman kept the troops from any real harm and a fire in one building soon spread to the other, forcing the Germans out of their safe location. The group advancing on the tank made a sneak attack, hoping to best the tank crew and their Sgt in hand-to-hand combat, but the Allied fighters were too good (a stray round from the German artillery finished off any hope of forcing the Americans from their tank). The German command then focused their effort on the group on the hill. Taking advantage of the hedgerows for cover, the Germans began a series of fire attacks at the foxholed group that slowly took their toll. Unfortunately for the Germans, the got desperate and forced and ill-advised rush up the hill to try and take out the American squads. The group was repelled and finished off as time ran out for the Germans.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Ora et Labora

Matthew and Amelia stopped over Friday night and we got in a couple of new (to me and them) games. First we started off with Rattus. This one is almost like El Grande on speed. There isn't as much control, though there are interesting choices to make. We all felt that it was a bit random, but the game plays so quickly that I don't think it matters a whole lot. Matthew and Amelia started the game bashing on me a bit, so I had to really work at getting back into the game. Amelia had a nice little string of good luck and kept quite a few guys on the board. I was able to whittle Matthew down a bit at the end and we ended up tied for first-loser.
Next up, I got out Ora et Labora. I have no clue what Ora et Labora  means. What I do know is - Ora et Labora is the most recent game from Ewe Rosenberg. Ewe is most recently associated with Agricola, Le Havre, and At the Gates of Loyang. I have not had the chance to play Loyang, so I can only compare and contrast Ora to Agricola and Le Havre.Ora is something of a worker placement / engine game (engine game meaning - gather basic resources to build a building that builds more advanced resources which are used to score points or some such). Each player has a plot of land on which to build various buildings and settlement cards. Some of the spaces have to be cleared first (which of course is how you get two of the basic resources) before you can build. Players can also buy expansion plots of land, the trick being that the plots get progressively more expensive more the next plot - for everyone. Each round, players can take one action, then the start player for the round gets a bonus action. Rather than a board that loads goods up after each round (ala Agricola or Le Havre), Ora uses a unique mechanism in the form of a rondel/dial which is advanced each round. As it advances, goods that haven't been gathered recently become more valuable/available. It felt like a unique mechanic (though it is basically the same sort of thing as Agricola and Le Havre) and was interesting twist.
The next thing that stood out was the "food gathering". In Agricola and Le Havre, the first part of each game has a lot of tension as players struggle to find a way to feed their family. Ora somewhat hides this mechanism behind the idea of settlements. Periodically in the game, play stops and each player can build one of the settlement cards they have in their hand (each player has the same choices). The cost of each settlement is paid in food and energy, though some are more expensive than others (and thus worth more points). What this mechanic does is take a lot of the desperation out of the game and made the overall experience more relaxed. The game played in about 3.5 hours for the three of us (with rules for three new players) - so a bit shorter than Le Havre. Of course, none of us knew the cards, so it'll likely get faster with more plays.
That doesn't mean the game is any less "meaty" than the others. There is still a lot of work to be done to get the resources you need to build a set of buildings that have some synergy. However, like Le Havre, if your opponent gets that building you really wanted/needed, you can still use it - you just have to pay them for the privilege. And of course, there are multiple ways to score points and win. This is most obviously demonstrated by the crazy end-scores to our first game. Matthew, Amelia, and I all managed to end with exactly the same score! We all got there by taking quite different routes. Matthew and Amelia were able to place buildings and settlements such that they scored a lot of points at the end of the game. Matthew also had a number of valuable buildings, but wasn't able to create any points in goods due to a lack of resources at the end. Amelia didn't have the expensive buildings that Matthew had, but was able to get a few goods for points at the end. Me? I pushed really hard at the end to create a few high scoring goods that earned me a lot of points on my final turn.
So, did I like Ora et Labora? Yes. If you like Le Havre, you'll very likely enjoy this game. Even with all the options, the choices available each turn are limited enough not to overwhelm players (though we certainly had a couple turns where we couldn't decide between two choices). The game comes with two sides to the cards - Ireland and France, so you can play with either set of different buildings. This feels a bit like the repetitive nature of Le Havre (where only a small set of buildings are unique per game), but I'd guess (given past history) that we'll start seeing expansion cards for this game soon.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Welcome back. Its that time of year - when we look back and review the year and I put up my "Cult of the New List". These are all the games I tried for the first time in 2011. So without further ado, here we go.

51st State was a game I was introduced to by Matt Longieliere. It is (IIRC) something of an engine building game where the cards have multiple uses. I remember it being neither great nor bad. I would have played it again, but I never had the chance and it wasn't something I felt I needed to acquire.
Aargh!Tect was something we felt like we had to try out at the Geekway. Late on Friday or Saturday I played this with a group of folks from Union Pacific and it is pretty silly. Its meant to be. The caveman player tries to get the others to arrange a set of blocks in a certain way (as shown on his card) using a made-up caveman language. The caveman gets an inflatable club to hit the builders with to indicate NO! or Good Job! It was good for a late night laugh, but definitely not something that would ever see semi-regular play if I owned it.
Age of Industry was one I picked up based solely on people I knew liking Brass. I had never played Brass, but decided I really liked what Martin Wallace did with Steam vs Age of Steam, so decided to take a chance when I saw this on the shelf of the local game shop. I'm glad I did as it is really a great game. The fact that it has a double sided board and each side plays fairly differently was a plus. After playing each side once, I immediately bought the expansion maps (Japan was a blast). After a string of somewhat iffy games, I think Martin Wallace hit a groove in the last year or so. Definitely a great game here.
Alien Frontiers was my present from my Secret Santa this year (hey, it was sent unwrapped). I first saw this at the Geekway but wasn't too moved to seek it out. However, in the last half of this year I went into a dice-game kick and was pleased when I got to play this. Its akin to To Court the King - you roll dice and then adjust them to make a play (or plays). It allows for some cool plays, but the luck factor seems to be more prevalent than in some other dice games. It also drags a bit with four players. Despite all that, I still enjoyed it a lot.
Artus is the latest in the Alea Medium Box set. I received this one for Christmas from my kids and got a chance to play it right before the end of the year. Fairly original mechanic with the spinning board. Not to deep or heavy, a good shorter game for the end of the night, or a quick starter.
Ascending Empires was a game that came out of left field. It is a mix between a dexterity game, a space exploration and colonization game, and an engine game. Definitely nothing else like it on the market. Fun enough for a couple of plays, it started to feel very "samey" after the first couple of plays and I traded it away.
Battles of Westeros was a game I initially resisted. I own BattleLore and wasn't sure I needed another BattleLore (with the Westeros theme). When I finally played it, I realized that this was likely the crowning achievement in the Command and Colors series of games (which interestingly enough, isn't included as part of the series on BGG). The subtle changes to the order system alleviate some of the issues that have persisted in the various incarnations of the game and it feels slightly less complex than C&C:Ancients. They did a really great job with the theme on this one as well and I'd happily play this just about anytime. This one easily replaces BattleLore for me.
Battleship Galaxies was something I was interested in trying out and luckily for me, my friend Erik brought it over one night. It wasn't terrible, but has almost nothing in common with classic Battleship, except that the game has red and white pegs (which serve a purpose very different than the original). This one is a tactical slugfest from the guys that brought us Heroscape (which is not a bad thing). It was ok, but didn't strike a chord with me either.
I got to play Battling Tops as part of a late night tourney at the Geekway. This is totally random nonsense, but when you've been staying up late and are a bit punchy, its pretty good fun to shout and cheer your top to victory.
Before the Wind sounded a lot like a game I'd enjoy, but I didn't really care for it. Its basically one of those collect some stuff to make other stuff to get points kind of game. It wasn't great with three players, it felt like it'd have been better with four, but wasn't interesting enough to warrant a try.
Blue Moon City is one I've had for a while now, but hadn't tried. This Knizia game is only related to his Blue Moon card game in art. Otherwise, its somewhat standard (though on the better side) of his style games. Multiple ways to score points, but you can't focus on just one nor on all. You need to focus in on just a couple. Its easy to learn and plays fairly quickly and sits right up there with Through the Desert and Samurai as one of his better games (IMHO).
Carcassonne: The City has been around for a while, but I only just played this one (this month!). I've been playing a lot of Carc with the kids this year (they love it) and I have to say I'm surprised how little I've heard about this version - I think its really one of the better versions of the game. Fans of the series should really get this one - its superb.
Cargo Noir was a new game from Days of Wonder and on the Play-To-Win table at the Geekway, so we tried it.It was a fun little game - good family fare, but not too light. There is a little bidding and set collection and we all agreed it was ok, but not something we had to get in more plays of by any means.
Code Omega was something I hadn't heard of before, but it turns out it is basically a puzzle game ala Ubongo. Everyone has a set of sticks with patterns on them and you have to line them up to fit on the outline of the image in such a way that the lines on the sticks also match up. Seriously - its a variant on Ubongo. If you LOVE Ubongo, you'll love this and if you hate Ubongo, don't look here.
I first hear Cyclades being compared to Chaos in the Old World. This made it appealing. I found it to be ok, but quite a bit longer than I wanted and not as exciting by a long ways. Close finishing games are ok, but not when it doesn't feel like you can do anything exciting to pull away. It felt an awful lot like it was designed to be a photo finish, and that mean that random luck decided the outcome to the game.
Dominant Species. One of the best games I played last year. Really a clean design and engaging game. Six different species fighting for survival - each with a different game specific advantage. This one is long and brutal (there is sooo much bashing, but its in good fun), but it is really interesting the whole time you are playing.
Elder Sign aka Arkham Horror lite aka Arkham Horror the Dice Game. For those that wanted Arkham Horror to be shorter and less thematic, here you go. If you want the full-on-in-your-face-Lovecraft-experience, play Arkham. If you like the theme, but can do without being bashed over the head with it for hours at a time, here you go.
Empire Builder is a crayon rails game. I'm not sure what I expected, but it was a little too long for what I got out of it. It was interesting for a while, then the game turned from logistics to luck of the draw. Too bad.
Giants wasn't something I'd ever heard of. Matthew brought this one over and after he explained it, I could see where the appeal was. Its about building Moaïs on Easter Island and racing to get them to the most valuable spots. Its fairly standard Euro-fare, better than some, worse than others.
Glen More was one I kept hearing about, but never seeing. I finally bought a copy site unseen and haven't been a bit disappointed. This is one where the person in last chooses what they want. If they get greedy, the other players will get a lot of turns before they go again. You are trying to build up your Glen to gather more clan chieftens, scotch and special places than the other tribes. Such good Euro-fun!
I tried Ilium for the first time at the Geekway and was under impressed. This felt like another Knizia-churn. It did very little to stand out from all his other games and wasn't as good as the others eithers.
Another Play-To-Win game at the Geekway, Innovation is a card based Civ game. Its also a rich-get-richer game, which I hate. Guess how I felt about this game?
Keythedral is an older game that has been out of print for a while - I picked it up in trade at some point, but finally got to try it out this year. Nathan Winchester and I played it two players and it wasn't bad. It might have been new and special when it first came out, but it is pretty much standard euro-fare now.
Kreta is another older Euro. This one was never picked up for printing in the US. Also something of standard euro-fare, it isn't anything special, but it does have an online implementation on MaBiWeb, so I wanted to try it out face-to-face to understand the game first. I'll happily play it online now, but will likely trade or sell this off.
Lancaster was not a game on my radar, but Matthew and Amelia brought it over one night and we played a four-player game of it. It is a euro with something of a bid/outbid mechanism (similar, but not quite the same as Amun-Re). It was surprisingly good and I'd happily play this again.
Lexio is a game that is really hard to get. The publisher was Korean and after getting a couple printings out, never get any more done. The tiles for the game are nice balkalite tiles (mine is the less desirable WHITE version :( ) essentially replace cards for the game Big Two. I finally was able to obtain a copy and after having played this online solo, got it played face-to-face. It is really a pretty quick game and more something of a filler than anything. Still, a good little family game that will appeal to non-gamers.
Mutant Chronicles: Siege of the Citadel - I had a copy of this and wanted to see what it was all about with a full compliment of gamers. I got my chance at the Geekway as Chester Ogborn wanted to run a full set of scenarios. Unfortunately, the game (and the group of folks) just weren't that exciting. A couple of the guys playing were about as enthusiastic as a 5-year old would be at a knitting show. that aside, the game itself was only so-so and I traded this away right after I got back from the Geekway. It definitely showed its age.
Nightfall was on the play-to-win table at the Geekway, so a big group of us sat down to learn this. This was easily the worst game I played at the Geekway. It sounded like it would be ok, but that promise never materialized for any of us.
Ninjato was a game I grabbed on a whim at my FLGS. This is a thematic euro with a little bit of a push your luck element to it. It was clever enough, but I think I need to try it again to decide if I want to keep it or not.
Powerboats is a racing game (in boats). The courses are randomly setup for each race and there is a fairly good amount of screwage (which of course puts it up there with Ave Caesar and other good race games). I need to get this one to the table more in the next year.
Princes of the Renaissance is an older Wallace game that is out of print. I got to join Chester Ogborn for his yearly Geekway game of this. They always play this late in the con (late at night) when everyone is a little bit punchy. There are plenty of laughs and random silliness. Of course, none of that has anything to do with the actual game itself, but it definitely flavored my impression of the game. The game itself is classic old-school Wallace in that it wasn't until the game was over that I really got the flow of the game. I really prefer his more recent designs, but will happily play this again.
Roads and Boats is a Splotter game I've had for a while that I finally got around to playing this year. This is an engine game with lots of stuff going on. Its also classic Splotter - lots and lots of chits and fiddliness. There is a fun game here, but even with everyone basically playing at the same time, it is a bit longer.
Runebound: The Island of Dread is an expansion set that I picked up since my son really like Runebound. Unfortunately, this isn't a great expansion. It has a new map which is MUCH harder than the original. This expansion is really only for the expert/hardcore Runebound fans.
Shogun is one I've had in my collection for a long time and hadn't played. I was ready to trade it, but really wanted to try it first. I finally got to play it and have to admit - I shouldn't have waited so long. The game is a pretty good conflict/wargame and the tower is kind of a cool mechanism. Good stuff!
Stone Age is one of the first games I played at this year's Geekway. I have mostly avoided this one so far because I came to the conclusion that worker placement games are just not really my cup of tea. They all just kind of feel the same to me. This wasn't bad, but nothing special.
The Resistance is something of a social deduction game ala Werewolf. Part of the group is made up of spies who try to foil the rest of the player's attempt to overthrow the government. The excitement comes in trying to root out the bad guys and all the lying and backstabbing. It is better with a larger group and everyone needs a thick skin, but is a load of fun.
Tikal II is the followup to the classic original - Tikal. As a fan of the original, I thought I should give this a go (and it was part of the play-to-win table at the Geekway). Sadly, this is nowhere near as good as the original. Skip this one and go play the original.
Troyes was another spur of the moment choice from the FLGS. This is also one of the most original and clever use of dice in a game I've seen in a while. Each player gets dice based on the placement of their workers on the board and then can use their dice and the other player's (at a cost) to take actions or get more dice for the next round. A good surprise.
Yomi was one I hadn't heard of until the Geekway. It was pretty simple to learn and yet has some interesting and quick gameplay (especially since it is basically Rock-Paper-Scissors). The full set has 10 decks of cards for dueling and the decks are all pretty balanced. I traded for this right after the Geekway and my son loves this game. A great find!
Zombie Dice is pretty much a stupid push your luck dice game. That didn't stop Nathan and I from playing this between almost all our games at the Geekway. Most of our head-to-head games took about 2 minutes to resolve (mostly in my favor). not the best game ever, but I have fond memories of this one :).

And now that the list is complete, we can talk about best and the worst of the list. Let's start with the crap:
  • Innovation - once you fall behind, you can stop playing. How is this fun?
  • Runebound: The Island of Dread - not for the faint of heart. Why bother playing Runebound if all players lose halfway through the game?
  • Mutant Chronicles: Siege of the Citadel - this might have been good back in the day, but there are better choices in this genre now days.
  • Nightfall - the description promises a good deck-building game. It doesn't deliver.
  • Tikal II - this would have been just another euro if it didn't have the name Tikal.
The best of the year:
  • Dominant Species - a bit long, but worth it the whole time. A lot of fun.
  • Age of Industry - one of the best Wallace games I've played.
  • Yomi - quite a bit of fun for Rock-Paper-Scissors
  • Battles of Westeros - best of the C&C family of games with a great theme and great gameplay
  • Glen More - great combo of mechanics makes for a fun little game.