The Five for November (Brandon Kempf)
November was a hectic month, from us throwing our first bigger gathering that we are calling 5C, to Thanksgiving, it was just a busy, busy month. Along with all that kind of business though was gaming, and gaming was definitely a highlight of the menu. We had 82 plays of 43 different games in November, 30 of those plays were new to me. Finishing up November left me one player away from playing games with 100 different people, we’ll have to remedy that in December. Chances are though, you aren’t here to read about how many games we played, you want to know the 5 games that stood out to me in November, both good and bad.
Just One - So take the competitive aspect of Codenames and throw it out the window. Make the game completely cooperative and that’s kind of the feeling of what Just One is. Thirteen cards that contain 5 words on each is how you start the game. First player takes one of those cards without looking at the words and places it in front of them so that everyone else at the table can see the words except for themselves. They pick a number between 1 and 5 and that is the word that everyone needs to give a one word clue about that will make the active player say the word on that card. Some clues will be obvious, some not so obvious, but just be aware of the catch. The catch is, each clue can only be given by one person. If players match clues, then the active player doesn’t get to see that clue. Everyone who has a unique clue then shows the active player their clues and the guessing and over thinking can commence. It really is a wonderfully produced light weight family party game, and who would have thought that considering this comes from the design team who previously brought us, 7th Continent.
Layers - So, how do you sell frustration in a box? The answer is this game. There is absolutely nothing wrong with Layers. It’s just that something in my brain that doesn’t click with it. It’s a puzzle, a 3d puzzle where you have 5 different sheets with patterns on them, double sided with different coloring on each side. On a turn someone is going to flip over a tile that will tell you exactly how many of those sheets to use and give you the pattern that you are trying to create. Now, add to this a speed element where once someone has their pattern finished, they flip a sand timer and the rest of the people are now on a time limit. I know why they add that, it’s necessary, but oh man does it frustrate the hell out of me. I never seem to click with the patterns and I will always have something mixed up and backwards. It’s interesting enough and it is fun to watch folks whose brains work in this fashion play this, but mine doesn’t, at all. I’d never really give Layers a bad review so to speak because it all works just fine, but I would say that it is most definitely not a game for me.
Azul Stained Glass of Sintra - I’ve already reviewed this one here on the site and I still think, even after a couple more plays after the review, that it is really a wonderful game, just a step up from its predecessor, Azul. The changes take the game a bit from it’s streamlined beauty and ramps it up just enough to make things feel different. Beautiful production, fun, interactive game play all lead to this being a hit, maybe not as big as Azul, but still a hit. Another thing that has happened since we started playing Sintra is that we’ve been playing Azul again as well because of this gem landing in our gaming lives.
Teotihuacan - The darling of Essen Spiel 2018, or at least that’s how it seems from the outside looking in. We’ve played this three times now, 2/3/4 players. Each time with the basic setup and none of the tiles that can change where things are located on the board. Each and every time, this game has been won by the person building the most of the pyramid. It’s not even a matter of not realizing they were going to win, we kind of knew it each time. There are other things you can do, you can try to collect masks, but if you don’t get them early on, you’ll be lagging behind trying to rotate tiles so you can find them. You can try to rush the temples for end game scoring, but this limits how many dice you have in play each turn and makes it far more difficult to ascend with your workers. If you try to do a mix of everything thing, you probably will be struggling points wise. So, in short, base game is very one sided and very straight forward. I will say that the game has its moments of fun though, and I like the rondel like board where you move along it to select your actions, kind of reminds me of a deeper and more serious version of the wonderful Murano in that aspect. I have this one on pre-order, lord knows when it’ll show up, but in the meantime these three plays have kind of pushed me to the edge of just cancelling that pre-order. First off, we have copies in our group to play and the owner’s like the game enough to play it again, and secondly, I just don’t know if the “advanced” version of game play is really going to change the game up that much, especially given that the techs mostly seem to be repeats and everything else stays the same, you just shuffle locations. Hopefully I’ll get to find out sooner than later just because of that pre-order decision. As it is, I’ve got this sitting at a C rating, maybe the random setup changes it, but who knows. If this is the darling of Essen Spiel though, I’m a bit befuddled.
Majolica - So what do you get when you create a tiling game and take away all the nuance and elegance of something that came before, even though they were apparently developed in the same time frame, and you add some sort of programming to the mix? You get disappointment and the game Majolica. First off, I don’t think the gameplay is horrible here, it’s a drafting game with a central board where you take tiles and then add them to your personal area in hopes of fulfilling orders. Where you fill those orders have rules so when certain things happen, you move tiles to the order and then have to move others to the next factory or destroy some, it’s honestly kind of a clever idea, but how it’s executed is a fiddly mess that ruins the game for me. That middle area where you are drafting tiles is constantly changing and needing to be re-filled and when I say constantly, I am not really over exaggerating here, you are doing this every 3-4 turns based on what folks take. It takes what could be a decent game and makes it unbearable to play.