Santa has been particularly kind to me on the board-gaming front this year… here’s what I was lucky enough to find under the Xmas tree, along with some random first impressions:
Isle of Skye – From Chieftan To King
Isle of Skye has been attracting a lot of complimentary coverage on Board Game Geek lately. It’s a light/medium tile-laying/territory-building game, with randomly-configured victory conditions and a very slick auction mechanism holding everything together. It’s the latest release from Alexander Pelikan & Andreas Pfister, the designers of this year’s KSDJ-winner (“Broom Service”) …and, as it turns out, a very good game indeed. It’s got simple, fast-to-teach rules, and plays in under an hour (more like 30 minutes with 2 players). Mrs S is already a fan; I think this one is going to get a lot of plays in the Shepherd household.
This is the second Andreas Pfister game that I’ve played in recent weeks (the other one being Mombasa at December’s Newcastle Gamers meeting), and on the strength of those two (very different, but equally-impressive) titles, I think I need to seek out more of his work. Recommended!
This is a bit of an oddity; “My Village” has the same theme, and the same branding as Inka & Markus Brand’s previous (SDJ-winning) game, “Village”, but entirely different game mechanisms. So: same designers, same theme, almost the same name, but a completely different game(?)
The core game mechanism of this new version of Village is action selection via a dice pool (as seen in the likes of La Granja, or Panamax), driving a build-a-tableau-for-VP style game … but with a couple of interesting refinements on the genre:
Firstly, actions are selected using TWO dice from the pool, rather than a single die. I’m not sure that I’ve seen this approach used in a dice pool game before, but it makes things a lot more interesting, introducing a bell-curve of scarcity on available actions, and affording some interesting blocking tactics and dice-taking dilemmas when multiple 1s and/or 6s appear in the pool.
Secondly, as you expand your tableau, you unlock new dice-triggered actions, and some classes of actions (cards showing a white banner) ALL trigger simultaneously when you get your hands on dice of the given value. This gives a nice machine-building / chain-reaction element, with big chunks of your tableau paying out resources when you lay your hands on the correct dice (thereby giving your opponents incentives to STOP you laying your hands on those particular numbers, or to force you to take black dice (think of plague cubes from the original Village) to get the magic values you need…)
My Village is a deceptively thinky sort of game — heavier than the other Village, IMHO … and a bit different from everything else I own. It’s possibly my favourite of the heavier-end games that I’ve acquired this Christmas. It’s only downside is the game EATS table space (see the picture above of a 2-player game in progress)… you can mitigate this to some extent by overlapping your cards, as all the important bits tend to be conveniently clumped onto one side of each card… but your tableau won’t look nearly as pretty 😉
A heavy worker-placement euro game (in ALL senses of the word — it’s got loads of components) where players compete to become the most famous stage magician in a fantasy victorian/steampunky sort of world. It plays a tiny bit like a distant cousin of Dungeon Lords; there’s a card-driven simultaneous action selection phase, which then determines which area of the board you can place your workers in, and you’re collecting resources for an end-of-round point-maximisation puzzle (in this instance, performing a magic show with the best tricks you can muster, at the most prestigious theatre you can book yourself into)… but, unlike Dungeon Lords — where the end-of-round dungeon raid is essentially a solitaire puzzle for each individual player — there’s lot’s of player interaction / screwage in Trickerion’s “performance” segment. Which definitely knocks things up a notch in the thinking department.
I’m not sure I’d want to play this with anybody particularly AP-prone (it’s a bit of a brain melter!) … but it looks great on the table, and — while we only played the trimmed-down “beginners” version of the game — first-play impressions are good.
The Bloody Inn
The Bloody Inn is a card-based euro maxi-filler, with a particularly grisly theme that’s loosely based on historic events. Players are a group of french farmers, who open an inn, intending to lure in rich tourists, murder them, rob them, and dispose of the bodies without attracting the suspicions of the local gendarmes. I bought this on a bit of an impulse, because the theme seemed (darkly) fun (especially for a euro), the art is *lovely*, and both of the games that I’ve previously bought from the same publisher (“Troyes” and “Bruxelles 1893”) are amongst my very favourites. Oh, and also because the first edition seemed to be selling out pretty fast, so it was a bit of a buy-it-now-or-not-at-all type thing 😉
We’ve played it once, and it was… well, …fine. A perfectly good game, but it didn’t particularly rock my world either. I’m guessing it works better with more than 2 players — plus, some of the more interesting cards were — by complete chance — removed from our game (you randomly remove quite a lot of cards before you start playing).
The jury is very much out on this one until I get the chance to play it with more people.
Orleans: Invasion – the Big Expansion
Orleans is, IMHO, a pretty good game… but, for many people, it falls short in one major aspect: player interactivity. To a large extent, it’s multi-player solitaire. Sure, there’s a bit of contention over trading post spots … but it’s not a significant part of the game.
And, in some instances, that’s fine. I quite like a bit of Multi-player solitaire from time to time.
But if you don’t…
Invasion seems to be an attempt to address this issue. Or, rather, six attempts to address (or, sometimes, embrace) this issue, as the box contains the components to play the game in 6 very different / new ways.
Firstly, there’s the title module — Invasion, provided by “guest” designers Inka & Marcus Brand (of Village fame!). This tackles the “problem” of multi-player solitaire in a somewhat surprising/left-field sort of way, by turning Orleans into a co-op! …players have to work together to prepare the city of Orleans for a siege by building up supplies, assembling the city council, fortifying the district, and other such tasks before the invaders arrive. It looks like a pretty interesting variant (and adds yet *another* gorgeous big Klemens Franz board to the table) — I’m looking forward to trying this one with Mrs S. once we’ve got over our current Pandemic Legacy addiction 😉
Next, there’s a variant called “Prosperity” (also by Inka & Marcus brand), which — as far as I can tell, from a quick flick through the rules — tries to make the territory acquisition element of the game more prominent, introducing new buildings and a travelling “carpenter” character which the players are competing with each other to control. This one seems like more traditional “expansion” fayre (possibly the only old-school expansion in the box!).
The original game designer, Reiner Stockhausen, adds a 2-player “Duel” variant, where players take the roles of merchants, racing to complete a checklist of objectives in order to win (with some nice player vs player interference actions added into the mix). Looks interesting, and seems like a good contender for a Corbridge Gamers session one week (not that we have any shortage of games to play at those meetings already…).
And finally… Stockhausen has also furnished three solo scenarios (Well, that’s one way to fix the multi-player solitaire criticism, I guess … simply take away the other players!). I tried a couple of these out earlier this week (mostly because Mrs S. had to go to work one day, and I was home alone but keen to christen the new game) — the picture above shows me winning the easiest scenario (“The Dignitary”, a scenario where you tour the region recruiting followers) … I was far less successful with my second game (“Captial Verizon” – a complex scenario where you’re trying to make city of Verizon the capital of the region through various point-scoring activities). The solo games were a pleasant enough way to while away some time, but I don’t think I’d want to play them regularly; there are better things to play if you want to game solo.
So… that’s this year’s haul; a pretty good bunch, all told. Hopefully I’ll get another play with some of them at this weekend’s Newcastle Gamers all-dayer. Fingers crossed