6. String Railway
I’m 33 years old and here I am playing with string. And I like it! Creating networks plays into everything I like about board games. Seeing connections slowly creep across the table over the course of a game elicits a satisfaction in me that feels just so right. Any game that involves making networks is going to get a curious glance from me and I also happen to be a sucker for gimmicks. So when I heard there was a route building game that marries network building with string, I was intrigued.
The playing area is defined by a large loop of string and you try to connect to stations all around the map by laying strings between them. You get less points every time you cross over another string so things quickly get nasty as players actively seek to cut others off. Since there’s no grid or defined spaces, the rail lines can start looking a little funky and the strings can easily be knocked about, but for a game that lasts less than 30 minutes I can overlook a few frayed knots.
Yedo is not a perfect game. It’s long and random events and card draws can torpedo your chances of winning. But it tells stories. I remember when I threw a chicken during a wedding procession. I remember when someone lured me into the guards path on what I thought would be my winning move. The seedy underbelly of feudal Japan is fertile ground for all sorts of shenanigans.
As the leader of a your family clan, you are fulfilling missions to appease the new emperor and it includes doing a lot a dirty work. I’m not fan of narrative driven games, but I like games that tell stories and no game of Yedo has ever failed to provide that. The game revolves around mission cards in which you must fulfill their requirements to earn their rewards. There was the time where I tried to be an espionage expert, focusing on only completing espionage missions. It went poorly, but I felt like a (bad) spy clan. Assassinations require specific weapons with agents in the right places. It’s about setting up the pieces and springing your trap.
Designer Donald X. Vaccarino is most well known for his mega-hit Dominion and while many of his other games are less than stellar, I like Greed. It’s a card drafting game set in the seedy world of gangster crime. You’ll murder, sell drugs, set up brothels, extort, and flat out steal your way to the top. The subject matter isn’t for the faint of heart, but beneath it’s brash exterior is a clever game of combo building. Within the single deck of cards are hidden combinations and interactions that are waiting to be discovered. Setting up and pulling off a series of turns in which each card plays off the last is satisfying and makes you feel smarter than the other lowlifes at the table. Setup is easy, just shuffle a deck of cards and deal, and the game play quick as the draft is simultaneous. It’s got a little bit of a mean streak, but drafting alleviates it somewhat as you have a chance to see what’s being passed around. It certainly won’t surpass the popularity of a game like 7 Wonders, but can you open an illegal casino in 7 Wonders? I don’t think so.
9. Bruxelles 1893
“What if there was a game where your worker placement doubled as a bid on bonus cards? What if they also doubled for an area majority mini game? Like double-doubled? What if I just went to In-n-Out?” That’s how I imagine the designer of Bruxelles 1893 started the creation of this deviously clever game.
There’s a lot of moving parts in Bruxelles and no action exists in a vacuum. Every move you take has a primary motive, but has it hooks in other areas of the game. It doesn’t quite reach Vital Lacerda levels of interconnectedness, but it’s right up there. And who wouldn’t want to play a game Art Nouveau architecture? But seriously, the setting is a playground for Alexandre Roche who’s created some of his best board game artwork here. Plus you get bonus point for having the Manneken Pis at the end of the game!
Trickerion earns points on presentation alone. A distinctive art style set in the criminally underexplored setting of 19th century magicians. There’s a tinge of the supernatural, but it’s mostly about becoming a master of illusions. The game is perhaps a bit overwrought with all the expansions thrown in, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Creating your stable of tricks, sorry, illusions to dazzle the fans is just one part of the picture. You have to hire the right assistants and gather the materials to pull off your illusions. Then you still have to put on a good show, making sure each part of the performance flows into the next. Being a magician isn’t easy, but you have to make it look like it is.