A few of us got together over the weekend to have a mini version of PAX Unplugged. Shorter drive, less chance of catching a virus, cheaper lodging, and smoked meat for dinner.
Here’s a quick rundown of the games played, and my brief thoughts of each. This is just my opinion… several of the others disagreed with me, but I’m also of the opinion that their opinions are entirely wrong. 😉
This game is stuff and nonsense and I love it. Every time we play we get a different combination of aliens with different game-breaking powers. I tend to hate card games, but this one is so damn funny I don’t even care. This is definitely in the category of “Games I have fun losing.”
Steampunk Rally: Fusion
Haller owns and introduced the original game to us. I quickly became enamored with the art and mechanisms. I have never won a game of Steampunk Rally, but I’m so fascinated by trying to make my machine work that I don’t care. When the Fusion expansion was announced, I decided to grab a copy of my own. The expansion is a standalone game that you can mix in with regular Steampunk Rally, but I don’t see a reason for that. We don’t play it often enough for it to feel repetitive. The Fusion version adds fusion dice (higher values, and can be used as any color, but you can’t vent them), as well as variable events that give you a potential boost or slowdown depending on your standing in the race. Overall, the additions are light and fit unobtrusively into the core game. I still didn’t win, but there’s something about this game that has caught my attention and I can’t stand that I haven’t figured it out. It’s another card game, but it doesn’t feel like a card game to me. (But it is, and I think that’s why I’m losing).
I went into this one with low expectations. It’s a card game through and through. If you draw the right cards in the right order, you’ll win. If you don’t, you won’t. Meh. Sure, the art is beautiful, but do I really care about birds that much? Fine, I’ll try it.
Welp. I’m going to have to start reassessing whether I hate card games. This is 3 in a row. Wingspan is …relaxing. It’s smooth. It’s almost entirely multiplayer solitaire, and that’s fine. You need to add cards to your tableau that let you draw more cards, lay more eggs, gather more food, and gain more points faster than everybody else. After our first play, I gave it a B/B+. I’d happily play it again, but no reason to buy my own copy. A game where it’s nice to just hang out with friends and play without focusing too much or thinking too hard. Refreshing.
I’ve previously only played this game 2-players where you share control of a dummy player so as to aid the tension around area control. It sat on the shelf for several months and I started thinking maybe it’s a dud. We managed a 3-player game and wow was it different. The game came alive with a 3rd person. Such a different feeling. I went into it thinking maybe it’s a B-, but by the end I’m convinced it’s an A. I won, but it didn’t feel (to me) like I was running away with it. We played with the assistants from the Expansion expansion and this is exactly the kind of expansion I like. Something small that fits in quietly but stretches the width of a game without a lot of rules bloat.
A few of us go into Scythe with trepidation. Our games are so tight that the stress of one wrong move can cost you the game. I think I drank enough leading into it that I was more relaxed. I also drafted the mediocre faction. Polania is average in all the things and excels at none of them. Combine that with a starting area that doesn’t provide the right resources, and you’re starting the game a few steps behind. I managed to find a decent path and was the first to 3 stars (out of 6 to end the game). I took my eyes off Saxony, though. That was my mistake. I was the first of us to figure out Saxony’s aggressive rush strategy, but I wasn’t thinking about Saxony when I was figuring out Polania. Welp. Saxony invaded my home territory, defeated me in battle, sent all my workers home, and stole all the resources I piled up to propel me into the endgame. It shut my entire game down. I was very frustrated, but not angry about it. It was the right move. I made the mistake of keeping all my stuff within Saxony’s reach. I won’t forget next time!
Another card game. We started this one around dinner time, took a dinner break, and then it just dragged on and on and on. Wingspan took us a little over an hour for 4 players. Terraforming Mars took 4 hours! That’s way too long for this game. I realize we play slowly, but there isn’t enough entertainment in that box for four hours of my time. I lost by 3 points.
Where Wingspan didn’t seem to suffer as much, this game suffers quite a bit from bad card draws. A couple players kept drawing blue cards which provide the parts to built a point-generating engine. I only drew green / instant-effect cards. I’m actually a little surprised I came in 2nd place with such a bad hand of cards. Fans of this game will use that as evidence that the game is fine and that my opinions about card games are unwarranted. “If the card draws are so bad, you wouldn’t have come in 2nd place!” Meh. This is not a game I have fun losing. And at four hours I wasn’t even having fun playing.
There are 2 details I adore, though. Players race toward 3 of the 5 available milestones, and players get to decide which aspects of the game reward endgame victory points. The winning conditions grow organically out of player decisions during the game! /chefs-kiss
Glen More II: Chronicles
I really like this game. There’s something so satisfying about the little bursts of chain reaction that happen in your village when you add a new tile. A four-player game is crowded, to be sure. You likely won’t get all the tiles you need and you have to be able to pivot and find a different strategy, which might not work, but this is a game I enjoy losing.
We played with the first Chronicle: the riverboat race. It didn’t add very much to the game at all and fit right in. I think it should be added to every play from here on out. Coincidentally, the victor of the riverboat race won the game. Had he not, it would have been me. Looking back over my decisions, I could have remained competitive if I moved my boat more often. We’ll get ’em next time!
We decided to end the weekend with a 3-player game of Wingspan. I didn’t win, again, but there is something alchemical about this game that works for me. It’s the right combination of forecasted card draws, self-determination, and multiple layers to pay attention to. There are longterm and short term goals to work toward. There are cards that make me pay attention on my opponent’s turn. There are multiple “suits” and private goals that mess with which card you choose. On paper it might sound like a lot, but it’s so perfectly “just enough” that I’ve raised my rating of this game to an A. For what it sets out to do, it succeeds.
Contrast this with Everdell, a game that I believe is confused about its own identity. It combines tight worker placement resource gathering with an easy breezy, random card-based engine builder. This combination is apparently not my cup of tea. On the surface, they share so many similarities.
- Wingspan reveals 3 cards for players to choose when drawing new cards. Everdell reveals 8! Surely that’s better!
- Wingspan has all players moving through the game at the same pace, on the same timeline. Everdell allows players to shift to future seasons and even end their game early, setting the goal post for their opponents to try to beat. I hate this in its entirety.
- I think Wingspan wins because as the game goes on, each player has more and more ability to gather food (assuming they drew the cards that help them gain more food, but there are so many, it feels more probable). In Everdell, I feel like you gain the same quantity of resources throughout the game, which is very little. A smaller set of cards allow you to gain extra food, but if you don’t draw them, you’re out of luck. Even with all those cards on public display, Everdell seems much more scarce in resources, which compounds the tight feeling for me.
- Everdell’s worker placement spots can be blocked by other players, robbing you of the one thing you need to make your engine tick, costing you an entire round. Who knew forest critters were so cutthroat? Wingspan allows each player to take any of the 5 actions whenever they want. No blocking. Live and let live!
Is Everdell the deeper game? Likely, but its relentless Scythe-like timing pressure and scarcity of resources are wrapped in a cozy blanket of a cutesy forest romp. My brain can’t put those two things together.
I enjoy Wingspan and recommend it to anyone looking for a relaxing time with friends, low stress, low interaction, and a chill vibe.
I’ll try to revisit Everdell with a different mindset. Promise. …I should probably do a writeup on all the things I think about Everdell. Collin will hate it.