- Oct 25, 2017
Board games come in many varieties, from very light games that can be finished in a matter of minutes, to extremely long sessions with lots of decisions to make your brain burn! Even more plentiful are the themes that can be found. Think of almost any topic, and there is probably a game using that as its theme. Dungeon crawling, eradicating diseases, trading on the Mediterranean (there are countless!), running a TV network, hacking, managing a thrash metal band, and the list goes on! And those are just a few found on my shelves.
If you are not already into the hobby, feel free to ask questions. Let us know your interests, and we can make suggestions for a game that you will probably enjoy.
Games that are useful for introducing new people into the hobby. Usually these will be a little on the “lighter” side of things, with the rules being easy enough to explain in just a few minutes.
Dominion, Ticket to Ride, Love Letter, Splendor, Machi Koro
Traditionally, games in this family are very strategic and don’t contain a lot of randomness (such as dice rolling). When they do, there are usually mechanisms within the games to mitigate the randomness. A lot of these games put the gameplay at the forefront, and the theme comes secondary. Over the past few years, we have seen a push for more “thematic” Euros, which are sometimes called “hybrids.”
Castles of Burgundy, Agricola, Puerto Rico, Caylus
Here, theme drives the game experience. There is usually a strong narrative, with the player playing an individual character. These games typically have more randomness involved, as opposed to the Euro/Strategy games.
Eldritch Horror, Star Wars: Imperial Assault, Battlestar Galactica
Sometimes you just want to have fun, and aren’t really trying to get someone else into the hobby. These games often have the benefit of supporting higher player counts, which is great for gatherings where everyone wants to play together.
Codenames, Dixit, One Night Werewolf, The Resistance
Kickstarter has attributed to the success of many large games over the years. Kingdom Death, Gloomhaven, and Seventh Continent have become massive success stories for their developers and brought in tens of millions of dollars. There are always a plethora of games being crowdfunded, and a lot of them won’t be very good. We will highlight games currently up that we feel are the real winners.
Sorcerer - A larger card-based combat game from the creators of Star Realms. Art looks great, and seems to have quite a bit of variety in different play styles, due to the way players create their characters during set up.
Our first review is for Blizzard's review for the new deluxe version of Carl Chudyk's tableau builder, Innovation!
This is not necessarily the format for all reviews, so don't feel like you have to write an essay to get featured.Summary
Innovation is a semi-classic tableau-building game for 2-4 players. Theoretically you could use expansions and play with more, but it would be crazy. The game has cards of values 1-10 in 5 colors. Each value has 10 unique cards except for value 1, which has 15. All cards are placed in shuffled supply piles.
Before starting the game, a card is removed from supply piles 1-9 and used as a facedown achievement marker. Players do not know the identity of these cards. Each player is given 2 cards of value 1. They simultaneously choose 1 as their starting tableau, and keep the other 1 as their starting hand. The removed cards plus the different starting cards mean each game plays out a bit differently.
The game ends in one of three ways:
- The game ends instantly if a player earns a certain number of achievements ((8 - number of players) + (number of expansions used)). That player wins.
- The game ends instantly if a player activates a card that causes a player to win (e.g. "if this condition is true, the player with the most [whatever] symbols wins.")
- The game ends instantly if a player attempts to draw a card of value 11 or more by any means. The player with the highest score wins in this case.
In general, the rules are very clear and there's a nice official FAQ. Basic gameplay is quite simple and most of the depth and strategy come from card interactions.
The first player gets 1 action (first 2 players in 4+ player games), and every turn after that gets 2 actions. The same action can be used twice, or two different actions can be used. Options are:
- Draw a card from a supply pile to your hand. You use the supply pile matching your highest top card, and if a pile is empty you draw from the next highest pile. Thus players will start drawing 1's and eventually end up drawing 6's etc.
- Meld a card from your hand to your tableau. If you meld a card but your tableau already has card(s) of that color, the cards underneath are hidden.
- Dogma your topmost card of a color, which means to activate its card text.
- Achieve a general achievement that you qualify for. You must have 5x the value in points and a top card of at least the achievement value (you don't spend the points; they just qualify you). e.g. general achievement 3 requires a top card of 3+ and a score of 15+.
There are also 5 special achievements that are instantly claimed by the first player to trigger their condition, even on somebody else's turn or in the middle of an action. For example, if you have 12 clock symbols visible you instantly get a certain achievement.
Gameplay wrinkles are introduced because cards can be "splayed" by dogma effects. Splaying means that each card in a stack is shifted to one side, partially revealing the card underneath. Each card also has 4 symbols on it -- 1 in the upper left and 3 on the bottom. Depending on which direction a stack is splayed, a card underneath will show 1, 2, or 3 symbols, and this is an important gameplay mechanic.
These symbols affect who uses dogma actions. Before doing any actions on a card, you check the symbol count around the table for the symbol marked on an action. Players with fewer of the indicated symbol are "vulnerable to demands", and players with greater than or equal are "eligible for sharing". If the action starts with "I demand that you...", all players who are vulnerable must do what it says. If the action does not start with that, all players who are eligible MUST share the action before you (which may actually hurt them). Finally, you do the action, and you get a free draw action if someone shared a non-demand effect.
The above may sound confusing, but in practice it is pretty straightforward if you read each effect out. However, there is a fair amount of bookkeeping since you have to count symbols around the table every time you use an action.
As a result of all this, the strategy at any given time may change based on which symbols are available at which stage of the game. You may try to use a demand to hurt another player, or if you cannot overcome their defense you might trigger an action they are forced to share which actually hurts them. If you are ahead in points, you may try to score more points so you can quickly claim more general achievements. If you are behind in points, you may attack the other player's score and/or attempt to quickly ladder climb to the higher value cards. Values 7-9 may start having conditions that instantly win the game, and value 10 cards are extremely powerful and potentially game-deciding.
Deluxe Edition and Expansions
The 3rd edition has very modern simple outline drawings rather than the full color art of the Iello edition. I like the Iello art better after seeing Tabletop Simulator. However, the 3rd edition does have a few isolated card balance changes if I recall correctly, and the terms seem clearer ("tuck" instead of "archive", "achievement" instead of "dominion" etc.). The Deluxe Edition also comes with all 4 expansions. Off the top of my head I think 2 were released before, and 2 are new with this edition.
Card quality is okay. I haven't felt the need to sleeve the cards. The box is very shiny but the lid is thin cardboard. There is an insert which is pretty mediocre since most of the box space is wasted and the cards just fall over after you remove any of them. However, they did consider people who sleeve cards and suggest you turn the insert upside down so you can place 2 columns of sleeved cards instead of 1 column of unsleeved cards.
I have only tried the Cities expansion, which allows you to draw a special city card if you use a Meld action to place a new color, or if you splay a color in a new direction. You can only draw a city card if you do not already have one in your hand. These cards may give you achievements, auto-splay stacks, give you a free card, or draw cards with a certain symbol. It seems interesting, but in the one game versus myself, I rarely seemed to find occasion to draw city cards, so the vast majority of the 105 city cards went unused. In addition, Endorse, the max-once-per-turn special action of the Cities expansion very rarely if EVER got used. It seems interesting in theory -- you pick a top action you own, pick a top city you own with a matching symbol, and perform the demand TWICE or the action TWICE (people who use it because of sharing only do it once). You "pay" for this endorsement by tucking a card from your hand underneath one of your card stacks, which may be something you want do anyway.
My problem with this was that most of the time, I did not have a top city matching a symbol I might want to duplicate, and cities completely cover the dogma action underneath them, limiting your strategic options.
I have played 2-player against myself 4-5 times, against my fiancé 3 times, and against XShagrath once.
Obviously I have the advantage of experience, but I have won every game against another player besides one where I refused to get general achievements even though I had the points, basically because I actually wanted to see what 9 and 10 cards did instead of ending it early. I do not mean this in a bragging sense, and I am normally pretty bad at strategy games, but I have gotten the impression this is very strong in 2-player games.
The issue is that unless you use a variant for a longer game where 7 achievements are required, a 2-player game requires only 6 achievements. Chances are good that at least one player will get some early cards that allow scoring points (this may involve drawing a card from a supply pile and putting it in your score stack, or putting a card directly from your hand in your score stack, for example). This player is then motivated to keep doing this several times until they have built up a decent 10-20 point score.
Unless the other player is lucky enough to get the proper symbol to share in the action, a good score card of their own, or a viable attack card to attack the score pile, one player can easily grab 2-4 of the easiest achievements (values 1-4). The other player is then forced to play at a massive deficit for the rest of the game, watching every move by the other player, since any increase in score or qualifying special achievements could quickly end the game.
Another thing I have noticed is that although the game is very swingy by design, with the possibility of coming back late game with powerful cards, it feels BAD to lose, BAD to be attacked, and SORT OF BAD being unable to use your own action without sharing it in some situations. With the right setup, someone can do things like completely demolish your score pile while also removing cards from your tableau. Or, they can steal cards from your tableau. Playing against XShagrath, he killed 2 or 3 of my colors entirely in the early game, but I had enough points that I still won because of sheer general achievements. When you lose you feel stupid, like you are convinced there was a better strategy and you just missed it. But ultimately, a lot of things do depend on RNG, like someone drawing and melding or scoring 3 cards in a row because they happened to all have the correct symbol (this happened with me in the XShagrath game). There are similarly some mighty shenanigans that can happen if you get into the 7+ value cards where someone will instantly snowball or win. This can be exciting if it is a comeback, but it also does not feel very strategic (oh, the 1/10 chance happened to be a "you win if XYZ" card).
Overall it is quite a creative and unique game. The blend of simple mechanics, complex card interactions, and increasingly powerful cards is alluring. Getting to do 2 actions per turn produces interesting combinations. However, I have decided it is not really for me and my fiancé. The sheer meanness of certain cards leads it to feel very random and unfair, even if there is the slight possibility of coming back. Knowing that you could use certain cards to attack a strategy does not help if you do not get those cards. Perhaps my biggest complaint is that in 2-player games, the overwhelming majority seem to end early with 6 achievements. Only occasionally do a few 7-10 cards come out. This could be because I am not playing at a high level, but consider the math -- with 2 players, if they divide the easiest achievements, that is still something like a 3 vs. 4 breakdown. The player with 4 only has to grab one or two special achievements and maybe a score achievement to win, so the other player needs very quick ladder or attack options to have a chance.
In addition, I feel the game is very fiddly for what it provides. It eats a surprising amount of table space when you get 10-20 supply stacks, 10+ player stacks splayed all over, and some score + achievement stacks. Splaying cards feels fiddly. Counting symbols is fiddly since they are not all in the same locations on cards, messing with my visual parsing. Keeping track of your score is awkward when you have stuff like 4/3/5/4/1/2 in a score stack and then something gets removed.
For someone who does enjoy the older version, the Deluxe edition is probably worth it for the extra expansions and minor balance updates.
As more reviews trickle in, I'll just link back to the original review post in order to save space in the OP.
Some of the larger or more popular games have their own OTs, so as a single game doesn’t dominate the discussion for too long.
Arkham Horror: The Card Game |OT|
Miniature Gaming Era (Warhammer and games of that nature)
Star Wars: X-Wing Miniature Game
* Many thanks to Rover for the awesome banner!