Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Next Next 15 (i.e. 26-40)

Ok, because I like giving half-second blurbs about games I like here are another 15 that I like that didn't make my top 25. Again, I'm listing these in alphabetical order. Much like 11-25, these could have have broken into that next group up just as easily.

American Rails
If you have played Chicago Express, then you already know a lot about this game. If you haven't, just know that this is the better CE. This is a 90 minute stock game with a rail theme and the right mix of mechanics which make it interesting as heck. It is not an 18XX lite game - seriously, it is the evolution of CE. When I first played this game, I immediately decided to sell/trade CE - this was that much better. A couple of my regular gaming friends didn't really like CE that much, so this hasn't hit the table in a long while for me, but it is still a great game. Unlike CE, the setup is variable and player determined. The action selection is improved / streamlined. It probably isn't the easiest game to find, but if you get the chance to play it, you should. If I got to play it regularly, it would probably have jumped up close to my top 10

Chaos in the Old World
I am not a Warhammer fan boy. Honestly, I could care less about the whole WH universe etc. That doesn't stop me from playing the games with that theme, nor does that stop this game from being awesome. Four asymetrical forces in something of an area control game (set in the WH universe) with different ways to win. Good stuff. Some factions feel easier to win with than others, but I think there is good balance here once players know the game just enough. It is slightly longer than I think it needs to be, but there is a fun game to be found. It is also a little Ameri-trashy with dice combat and lots of plastic bits (Ameritrashy doesn't bother me in the least, I grew up playing Risk). I have not tried the expansion, but I do think you need 4-players to get the best out of this game. Sadly, FFG lost the license to this one and I don't know if it'll get reprinted or not. I know finding the expansion is silly hard, but I don't know that I'd need to play this with 5 players either. I do think it is best with the full 4, but it is ok with three.

For me, Vital Lacerda's games apparently fall into the same range of how much I like them and probably for about the same reasons. CO2 (like his other games as far as I'm concerned) is an interesting blend of various euro-style mechanics that form the backbone of a dense medium-heavy game. This game is interesting in that the more players you have, the less actions each player has and the MORE you have to work together to accomplish things - there is no avoiding it. Even that isn't quite accurate. It isn't so much that you are working together, as you are in playing off one another. Since you can't do A to setup B, if you really just want B, you need to convince someone else it is there best use of their limited actions. I played this two-player once, and while it was fine, I rarely had to interact nor cooperate with the other player. Again, it was fine, but way more interesting with more players. I like the medium-heavy euros, but they are harder to get mulitple playings done, which is probably the only reason they tend to fall out of my top 25.

C & C: Ancients
I mentioned the Command and Colors system in my 11-25 list under Battles of Westeros. This particular version is a purer version of the system and the best of that bunch. Rather than a lot of fancy plastic bits, this version simply uses stickered blocks for the armies (which also means that if you buy this new, expect it to take a long time to ready it so you can play). I don't mind the wood blocks vs the plastic bits (in fact it makes setup and teardown somewhat easier). The blocks sometimes make it harder to see what a unit is, but that may just be from a guy with bad eyes complaining. My only real issue is that I don't particularly care about the setting, so it really is a little dry. For a lighter "wargame" I want to be a little more invested or interested, but again, it works and is the best of the rules sets (that I've played).

Gerdts has produced a number of games built around his usage of the rondel for selecting actions. Rather than a physical rondel shared by players, this game uses cards that each player cycles through to take their actions (almost a virtual rondel).  Players also acquire cards throughout the game that somewhat customize "their rondel". Coupled with a lighter engine building/area control kind of thing going on and you have a nice medium weight euro. If you enjoyed any of his other games (Antike, Hamburgum, Navegador, etc), you will likely enjoy this as well or even better than his other games. There are also expansions and maps (though I haven't had a chance to explore those yet). I hope to explore this a bit more as a two-player game soon. I like this game in my playings so far, and I think this is one that could possibly jump up a group too.

The Gallerist
The second Lacerda game to grace this list has similar notes as CO2. Here is a medium-heavy euro with a nice little mix of mechanics. One of the things I enjoy about Lacerda's games is that they are dense enough that you can't just math out a path to victory. There is planning (tactical and strategic) that is required and interaction with the other players. Another great game and this one is crazy in production value - THICK tiles and nice artwork. I find that the theme of each game fits the game, rather than feeling tacked on, which is nice and this one feels unique - you manage a gallery and are also trying to make your gallery the best by promoting the artist and their works.

I like abstract games and this one is classically good. GIPF is both the name of the first game as well as the name of the full series of abstract games with weird titles. I lot of people like PUNCT the best of the series, but I prefer this one by a nose. I love the clever plays it offers and the shifting board. Great little fast two player game when I'm in the mood. There are also a number of little expansions for this that add a hair more variability but don't make things so vastly different that you don't recognize the game.

This is my prefered game from the Mask Trilogy - Kramer and Kiesling's action point series. I like the action point systems and I especially love the spatial aspect of this game. All the action point games have a similar flaw - downtime between your turns and plenty of AP. You can't really plan ahead, so by downtime, I mean downtime. A good game for occassional play. This falls down this far probably because I get a very very similar spatial satisfaction out of playing Taluva (despite the only real similarity being the shape of the tiles).

Millennium Blades
I like the idea of CCGs, but don't really love the actual spending of money on blind boosters and then chasing expensive cards in the aftermarket. So along comes a game that is exactly doing that. The game bills itself as a CCG Simulator. They could have called this: CCGs: The Metagame and been spot on. In the game, you spend wads of cash (literally) buying cards and building a tournament deck for a CCG called Millenium Blades. The game has a great sense of humor and most of the booster sets revolve around some theme which is lampooned. It is all very META and tongue-in-cheek. There are a LOT of cards and the variation allows for a fair amount of replay. But, the tournament play portion of the game is a bit meh. Not an all the time kind of thing, but worth getting out sometimes - especially for the CCG wannabes like me.

Mystery Rummy
I'm kind of lumping all of them in here. I definitely have favorites of the series, but in general, the games are card games based on set collection (i.e. Rummy). They are fun, but not special. Good filler really. Easy to teach and usually with enough options to satisfy experienced players. If you aren't a fan of card games, you can skip these. In fact, purists probably would rather get a standard 52-card deck and play Gin Rummy, but I like how theme works into the game in a number of them.

I actually love PitchCar, but... it is a pain to setup and is best with lots of players, which means you need some space and people that are fairly equal in skill for the game to be REALLY GREAT. It is also pricey and while it is playable and fun with just the base set, it goes to whole new levels when you add in multiple sets and the expansions. If you don't believe me, checkout - Great Pitchcar features you can build with official track. I really love playing this and so do my kids, but again - setup...

Here is a euro wargame that uses a VERY unique combat system in the form of the mysterious cube tower. The slight randomness of the cube tower replaces dicey combat and favors stronger forces, though it is stil random, so anything can (and will) happen. Some like the original game - Wallenstein (Shogun is basically the same with a re-theme and different map), but I like this version and the map a bit more. I also like the expansion set, which gives a couple more options to the players. It is a little long for what it is - maybe if we played it more often it would be faster.

Two games kicked off the Deckbuilder revolution in my mind. Dominion and Thunderstone. For me, Dominion was repetitive and bland. Thunderstone added a theme I enjoyed (dungeon crawler?) with more interesting mechanics. At first, I thought the game needed a little extra variation (and AEG did their best to mine that with tons of expansion sets and cards), but after playing it a fair bit online at with just the base set and then later with the first expansion added, I found that this game shines without all the extras - don't get me wrong, some of the expansions are very cool, but they aren't as important as you might expect. Some combos aren't as balanced and can lead to frustrating games, but as long as you are willing to adjust from completely random setups to adjusting them to semi-random, you can usually find an enjoyable game. After a long run with Thunderstone, AEG rebooted the franchise with Thunderstone Advance, which made a couple (very) minor tweaks to gameplay and setup. I'd still rather play the original, but if I have to go through the setup and teardown work, I'd much rather play Legendary, which is why Thunderstone is down here.

Twilight Struggle
For me, this is the king daddy of card driven boardgames. If you aren't familiar, the cards have multiple uses and some get reused throughout the game, and sometimes are removed from the game after use. That isn't what seperates this game from the pack - that's what makes this the a card driven game. Rather what separates it is the tight coupling of the game mechanics to the theme of the Cold War. There are three sets of cards representing eras in the game, and two of the sets don't enter the game until the mid and late phases of the game. In the early part of the game, the USSR has an advantage and the US really is just trying to stymie them and prepare for when things start getting better. By the mid and late portions of the game, the US is turning up the heat and USSR player has to hope they built up too much advantage to overcome. Add to this a lot of tension whereby either side could force the game into nuclear war and win on sudden death and you have a game where every play feels important. As often as not, you are trying to minimize a poor hand and trying to balance giving too much up now for having a better position later in the game. The game gets better the more you play and understand the cards and timing of the game. It is a longer game until you know the cards well, so having two players that know the game is best, which also means making it to the table is hard. TS has been released in electronic form on Steam and iOS/Android which means finding a game and learning it much easier. There is a lot of delicious tension and the theme shines, which makes this a wonderful game.

My third Lacerda game on this list. I love the theme and the game and mechanics. You own a vineyard and are making and trying to promote your wines (wait, that sounds like The Gallerist, but with wine rather than art...). Well, it isn't really just a re-theme. It is similar in being a nice medium-heavy euro that is dense enough to not be able to just math out.  For whatever reason, my friends that I have played this with a lot do not like this one at all. I need to play it 2-player with my gaming partner to see if she'll enjoy it and if it plays well with two. Again, this game has similar pros and cons as his other games, but I like the theme and gameplay here.

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