December Monthly Retrospective: Hansa Teutonica, Citadels, and Century Spice Road

2017 was a momentous board gaming year for me with nearly 50 different games played, new friends made, and new experiences to be had. 2018 will bring a lot of changes, both on the personal and on the board games front, but I’ll continually look towards enjoying tabletop experiences old and new.

But before I do a retrospective for the whole year, let’s take a look at December which, despite all the games I’ve played, continues to see me play more new games. Will that pipeline stop or slow down? You’d think it would, but there seems to be no end in sight. Maybe January will bring in something different. Maybe.

With that, here’s my list of new-to-me games that struck me in December:

Hansa TeutonicaHansa Teutonica
From the box cover, a man from Hanseatic League-era Germany stares at you, his eyes glazed, probably from arranging account ledgers or something similarly tedious. This first impression doesn’t seem to bode well for Hansa Teutonica. As I explained it when I opened the box, the game has you setting up trading posts without letting you get into any of the trading stuff that usually gets people super excited and engaged in games.

But let the mechanisms sink in and probe it just a bit and you’ll find a rich, rewarding experience as the game tosses a slew of conundra for you to ponder over. Do you claim a city and leech off of other people’s efforts at the expense of developing your board? Or do you try to turn your board into an action-filled powerhouse that can steamroll everything and everyone? Do you run after the hotly-contested territory on the board? Or do you duck conflict and build a powerful network of cities that garners you a lot of points in the endgame?

The choices are many and, best of all, there is no right answer as the game provides many paths to doing well. It leaves it up to you to decide which path is the right one for that particular game. Because of this, there’s no game out there quite like Hansa Teutonica and for that, I’ve been excited to get it out onto the table.

[Buy from Amazon]

I do like farming games. My love for Agricola is a testament to that. But that theme is about all Scoville and Agricola have in common. While in Agricola, you work hard against the specter of starvation to build as kickass a farm as possible, in Scoville, you walk, plant, harvest, try to crossbreed peppers, see if you can fulfill chili recipes, and then repeat.

All this peppery dancing and prancing are fine provided the mechanisms engage me on a visceral level. Scoville doesn’t quite do that. As I played, I didn’t feel any sense of accomplishment settling in and found myself being annoyed with the players-as-obstacle mechanic. And when you don’t play well, there’s no accomplishment to show off. You don’t have an amazing farm, you didn’t build a wonky city, and your trading empire isn’t some amazingly efficient engine. Instead, you just get… a bunch of recipes and achievements. That’s not satisfying enough an experience for me to play early and often.

[Buy from Amazon]

Century Spice RoadCentury Spice Road
One of my favorite gateways to have new gamers try is Splendor, a game centered on grabbing chips which you can turn in for cards that beget you more cards which can also give you points. The game is easy to teach and new players grasp the concepts pretty quickly (mostly). Century Spice Road runs in that same vein except you acquire cards that allow you to get cubes which can turn into higher-value cubes that can be turned into cards which give you points.

Engine-building is easily one of my top 10 game mechanics as it appeals to my love of efficiency and the satisfaction of finding ways to use the engine to really crank out those points. At the same time, I recognize that turning cubes into different-colored cubes is hardly a mind-blowing mechanic and that some people will have a hard time buying into that concept. Because of that, Century Spice Road won’t replace Splendor quite yet. However, I’ll still be willing to jump into it, if nothing else than to see what other cards exist and pecking at ways to build my engine more efficiently.

[Buy from Amazon]

Citadelllssss!!! At least, that’s how the strangled cry of a character draft gone wrong might go. Citadels takes the concept of building specialized districts in a Renaissance-era city and throws in opportunities to sabotage thy neighbor. This is accomplished by picking an agent who will perform your bidding, whether it’s making your districts more prosperous, thwarting your foes by disabling their agents, or even pillaging their districts.

The whole concept of choosing a role and performing that role’s action is a well-worn mechanic that tacks on the mindgaminess of “I know what you want, but you know that I know what you want, and I know that you know that I know that…” You get the idea. Puzzling through Citadels’s game theory is no different from going up against a Sicilian when death is on the line. In other words, it’s a chaotic affair that can only end in misery for those unfortunate to be ensnared by another’s whims. The only reward for being so unlucky is to watch your district burn to the ground.

The game leads to the start of a raucous evening and because of that, Citadels is best used to open up a game night. Just not as a main event kind of game since there’s so little control that can be had that the strategy is to pick your role and hope for the best. In that vein, I see it being really similar to Libertalia from last month.

[Buy from Amazon]

Tiny Epic GalaxiesTiny Epic Galaxies
I don’t know that Tiny Epic Galaxies is epic, but it is tiny and it is space themed. Tiny Epic Galaxies has you and your squadron of spaceships setting forth across the galaxy to find new planets to settle. The variant I played included special ships and alien pilots that give your ships new abilities, making them more adept at handling the challenges that Lady Luck throws your way.

Did I mention Lady Luck? Tiny Epic Galaxies is a dice chucking game, where the ability for you to activate special locations or run through the checklist of procedures needed to settle a planet is dependent on what you roll. What you’ll need to do is to separate out your ships so that no matter how you roll, you can still make progress on your goals.

The required balancing act carries over not only to just the galactic locations, but also to the player boards, where you can unlock new ships, more dice, and power up different tracks, especially the powerful maneuver that allows you to piggyback on top of an opponent’s roll. In short, there’s a lot to think about as you play and manage your board to the best of your ability.

I like it. Not enough to buy, but enough to play. And of the two Tiny Epic games I’ve played, I’ll take Galaxies over Quest any day of the week.

[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.

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