Another month rolls by and since I doubt any gaming will be had by Halloween, that it’s best to get my thoughts down before another month of gaming rolls in and obliterates my memories. That’s fairly easy to do, especially when the Friday Night Board Gaming group that meets in Sherman Oaks continually throws new games at me and gives me more mechanisms to ponder over.
So with a load of games at my fingertips, some of which are thrilling, others of which are relaxing, and some of which are downright infuriating, here’s this month’s list of new-to-me games:
Railways of the World
Some say that games like Railways of the World are what built the backbone of many a great economic simulation and all the cutthroat competitiveness that the genre entails. For those not familiar with Railroad Tycoon-type games, your goal is to lay down track and then use those tracks to ship goods to their destination. You can make your operations more efficient by upgrading your engines to deliver goods to destinations further away and even build improvements like hotels to bring in more revenue.
But this game can be really tough and unforgiving. When you first start out, you’re forced to go into debt, scrounging for startup capital by taking out loans. Only by transporting goods to their proper destination can you even generate the revenue per turn needed to pay off the interest on the loans. That’s right, the loans never go away and you cannot retire them, making them a drag on the money you earn, and therefore the points that you could be making.
And just when you get a handle on managing that, you need to deal with other players. Make no mistake: this game is cutthroat and when someone messes with your plans, it can hurt real bad. In the game I played, I had a magnificent set of routes all set up only to have someone swoop in at the last minute to move a critically-important piece of cargo. Had I been able to force that cargo to move, I’d have eked out a 2-point win. As it was, I was left in second place.
All of this might sound harsh and unforgiving and even un-fun. But there is gratification in seeing everything tick and I’d definitely play it again. Still, I prefer economic games in the vein of a Food Chain Magnate, where the decision-making is a bit more transparent.
[Buy from Amazon]
Moving on, we have Queue, a game that might be more an object lesson more an actual game. Like how Monopoly was built off the Landlord’s Game and is used to show how terrible and inequitable capitalism is. Well, Queue rolls in the same way, except it’s trying to show just how terrible life in Poland during the Communist era was, but without all that inspiring Solidarność to shake up the system. It’s a game where you try to be the first to acquire all the goods on your shopping list while knowing that everything is scarce and you’ll have to stand patiently in line for your turn to get at the goods.
Except people are ruthless and have no qualms about stealing and backbiting. You can take advantage of the bureaucratic inefficiencies to get what you need, use the black market to your advantage, and resort to misdirection to get at the prizes.
Is this an illustration of life in communist Poland? It’s a light game to be sure, but nothing on the level of This War of Mine. Playing this is an exercise in frustration and take-that more than anything else. You get a feel for how people might behave during those troubled times as they do their best to survive, but in terms of inspiring empathy for your neighbors, there’s just not a whole lot here. I’d check out This War of Mine if I really want to experience the struggle and tension in trying to survive harsh conditions.
[Buy from Amazon]
As a former D&D player, I found this game’s concept to be intriguing. The term “roll-player” comes from D&D players who are super-focused on optimizing character stats so that when it comes time to roll dice, they’ll triumph in the end. As someone who loves the concept of planning and optimizing, Roll Player’s theme seemed right up my alley: roll up a character and cheese him out as best as you can.
Unfortunately, that’s where the gameplay stops. Each roll of the dice allows you to assign them in certain ways, but the randomness factors in a way that doesn’t make the game all that thrilling. If you get lucky and the assignments go the way they should, you’ll do well. If you’re like me, and you’re not all that lucky with dice, you may find yourself stuck.
But what kills this game for me is that it’s all about the character creation and nothing beyond it. There’s no going on quests, no killing boss monsters, nothing of that sort. You create a character, try to push their alignment to where you maximize the points and maybe give him some interesting quirky traits that you can tell stories about. Mine was Jorvance the Dwarf Monk who has an unwavering sense of justice, but often displays a reckless disregard for his self-preservation. While having that creation in your mind can lead to interesting imagined scenarios, those scenarios ultimately never materialize. There’s no sense of continuity that would make that character become a living breathing part of who you are. It’s too bad too, because with that added splash, the game could be more than just an exercise in character creation.
[Buy from Amazon]
Battleship gets a team-based facelift and I couldn’t be happier to welcome it with open arms. In Captain Sonar, you’re part of a submarine crew chasing after another submarine crew, trying to pinpoint where they are so you can destroy them outright with torpedoes or mines.
The Battleship guessing mechanics aren’t shots in the dark because of the design allowing you to narrow down to where the enemy sub might be. When anyone moves, their captain must announce what direction they’re moving in, allowing the other team to sketch out a travel map. The rules concerning movement help narrow down the sub’s position and the fact that the sub breaks down over the course of the game makes it difficult to effectively evade the enemy.
Take these factors together and you have a really tense game. Sure there are opportunities to line up your systems so you can do whatever stealthy thing it is you’re trying to do, but your opponents will continually breathe down your neck and the threat of a mine or torpedo keeps you on high alert.
Best of all, the deduction expands the Battleship-like nature of the game, making it more thinky as teams deduce the enemy’s position. There’s nothing more satisfying when you launch that torpedo into the dark only to hear the other team glumly confirm that you’ve landed a direct hit.
[Buy from Amazon]
My wife loves art. I love heavy Eurogames. The Gallerist lies in the sweet spot of the two interests. Or rather, that’s what we thought. If you wanted a Eurogame about art, it’s better to go for Reiner Knizia’s Modern Art. With The Gallerist, you’re getting more of a look at the exploitative art industry, where you’re snapping up budding, but starving artists, and turning them into superstars so that you can profit from selling their art. The concept tickles my fancy, but with one play under my belt, I’ve become a bit more wary in recommending this game.
The chief problem is that there are a lot of levers you can manage to market your artists and, by extension, their art to make monstrous profits. For example, you can nab contracts, run PR campaigns, and even engage international buyers which net you special prizes or give you bonus actions that you can put towards making artists more valuable. On its own, that doesn’t sound too bad; the trouble comes in the fact that, unlike other worker placement games, The Gallerist’s moves are so interconnected. That is, making a move in System A affects Systems C and B and System C might affect Systems D and B, and so on. While this does allow for depth in its gameplay, it requires a lot of patience to sit through, play, and mess up in order to truly grasp what’s going on. It’s not like a lot of other games where you can read the rulebook and come away with the knowledge of what the best plays are.
So on your first playthrough, don’t expect to be able to develop any sort of positional heuristic when comparing performance against other players. Just take your time to walk through the game and figure out what you have to do.
[Buy from Amazon]
Definitely interested in hearing what games managed to make your list of new-to-you games this past month. Let me know in the comments! And if you want to follow along on my wacky board gaming adventures, I post quite regularly to Instagram.