Living as I do on the edge of civilization (or at least far away from the rest of my kin), I try to spend my birthday among family, and this year was no exception. I traveled to the exotic land of Nebraska to spend the weekend with my sister and brother-in-law, and true to Nebraska’s landscape, there wasn’t much to do except game. All told we fit in eleven plays of eight unique games (three of them mine, two already reviewed—El Grande and Eminent Domain—and our 7 Wonders review coming this week), four of which were first-time plays for me. I also got to try a new game I got for my birthday and attended open gaming at my local gamestore this past Saturday (I went with friends, so I didn’t chicken out this time). Needless to say, this would be considered gaming overload for most, but I took it in stride, and now I’ll give you my first impressions of all the new games I played.
(First plays of Midgard, Glen More, Puerto Rico, Resident Evil Deck-Building Game, Ra, and Stone Age)
Midgard. Midgard is an area-majority game with a drafting mechanic. The game is played over three rounds, and each round players get a set number of actions, which increases each round. The actions players may take are dictated by the cards they draft before each round, and these cards let players move vikings into regions, displace other players’ vikings, and do special things like acquire more vikings for their hordes, destroy regions on the board, and score other regions. Each round, there are regions that are “doomed,” meaning that everything in that region dies at the end of the round. Vikings who die there score extra points (for dying in glory). I enjoyed Midgard quite a bit, though it’s hard for me to play an area-majority game without comparing it to El Grande, which is near perfection. Still, Midgard seems to be easier to catch on to, is good in its own right, and can fit within a lunch hour (a major benefit over its meatier cousin). My brother-in-law sent me home with this one (in exchange for leaving El Grande in Nebraska until Christmas), so I’ll give it the full review treatment once I get some more plays in. So far, this one seems promising.
Glen More. My sister and brother-in-law got me Glen More for my birthday. I hadn’t heard much about this game before receiving it for my birthday, and my first play was baptism by fire as no one had tried it before. I read the rules once and we jumped right in. The game started very slow and didn’t seem to pick up the pace much as we played (probably because of our unfamiliarity). I love the variable turn order mechanism (the game board is a track, and along the track different tiles are placed; on your turn you must choose a tile, and the end of the track becomes the space you just left. The player closest to the end of the track goes next) and the balance in the game: if you take too many turns (i.e., you get too many tiles), you lose three points for each tile you have more than the player with the fewest tiles. (In our game, I lost twelve points because I had 18 tiles and the lowest was 14.) I enjoyed the subtlety of the game, but the artwork is very boring. (My wife would say the game matches the artwork; she didn’t care for this one.) I’d love to try this again now that I know what I’m doing to see if the pace quickens. This game has serious potential if it isn’t lingered over.
Puerto Rico. Yes, I’m sad to say that this was my first play of one of the perennial top games on BGG. I blame the ugly box and components for keeping me away. Still, all roads lead to Puerto Rico, and we gave it a go. Similar to how the hype for The Matrix ruined the movie for me, Puerto Rico did not immediately grab me as “#1 game” material. That said, I enjoyed this one quite a bit, and I look forward to exploring this game’s many possibilities. (I’m borrowing this one, too, in exchange for leaving El Grande in Nebraska. Expect a full review—and probably a significant increase in esteem—in the weeks ahead.)
Resident Evil Deck-Building Game. My brother-in-law and his friends love this one. They also like zombies, which is not a theme I’m crazy about. What was really surprising was that my wife wanted to join us for this one. (She likes Dominion, so I guess it’s not too far off.) Aside from the occasional reminders that you are playing a zombie game (i.e., cards from the zombie deck), the game is not overly gruesome and feels similar to Dominion, so we settled in nicely. The weapons are arranged by type, and each pile has several different variations on the same card. It’s not like Dominion, where it’s balanced and everyone has access to exactly the same cards. This was an interesting variation, though it does throw off the even playing field I love that makes Dominion so great. The game also involves attacking randomized zombies from the zombie deck, which count as victory points. In some ways I liked this, but in other ways it could be frustrating: you might go up against a 15 health point zombie dealing 75 damage; alternatively, you might go in dealing 60 damage and draw the boss (which happened twice to me, thank you very much). Again, it was interesting for variety’s sake, but Dominion feels much sleeker to me, and I still like it better. I wouldn’t turn down another game, though, and I enjoyed the game more than my plays of other, non-Dominion deck-builders, like Ascension.
Ra. A while back I tried the game For Sale for the first time and loved it. It rekindled in me a love for bidding and auction games, and I solicited my Twitter followers for suggestions for good auction games. @TheCardGamer (who also has a good board game review site—check it out) supplied two suggestions: Ra and The Speicherstadt. Since my birthday was coming up and I had seen The Speicherstadt on Tanga before, I asked for Ra for my birthday and got it. (Incidentally, the day before my birthday, The Speicherstadt was the Tanga deal of the day, but it was sold out by the time I found out. Next time, Gadget!) I tried Ra three times this week, twice with two players (my wife and me) and once with three. I have to say, I love this game, even with the limited interaction of fewer players. I know some people don’t care for Reiner Knizia, calling his games themeless (a criticism I would call just) and mathy, but the more games I play by him, the more I admire his work. While the themes rarely determine the game, his scoring mechanisms are brilliant because they force interesting decisions and alone are worth the price of admission. The game is superbly balanced (if a little rough on certain newbies [read: @Futurewolfie]), and I can’t wait to play it some more. Expect a full review in the weeks ahead, but for now, this game gets my hearty endorsement.
Stone Age. As I mentioned, I went to open gaming at my local game store, Fair Game. A short plug: this store is great. Inviting, well stocked, and with friendly staff. Lots of open-box demo games to try, too. After I taught my two friends how to play Dominion, we were looking for something else to try. Ignoring one of my cardinal teaching rules—don’t learn the game at the table!—I suggested Stone Age. I’d read a lot of reviews and watched various videos about the game: that translates into having read the rules, right? Erm…not quite. While it wasn’t the roughest game I’ve taught (that honor goes to Mystery Express, which almost ruined Christmas last year), it wasn’t exactly smooth. Still, once we got the hang of it, the game followed a nice arc. The problem was that at the beginning of the game, we didn’t have a clear strategy for how to acquire victory points. We learned this as we went. By the end of the game, we all had a firm grasp of what we were doing, but I wouldn’t say any of us really played Stone Age. This game has tons of potential. I liked my fumbling experience and would love to try it again, perhaps under the tutelage of a seasoned player.