Boardgames 2023

Feels like Earth was designed for those who couldn’t be bothered for a full session of Ark Nova or Terraforming Mars.

Designed to scratch the same itch, give you oodles of points, and play fast.

I read a good report on Ark Nova earlier where the runaway leader had 42 points, the third-placed guy had negative points, and their Dad had 3 points, or as someone put it, ‘One point for each hour played.’

I agree about Earth, which I have also only played on BGA. The only thing I’d add is that I would never want to play it on an actual table, keeping track of everything would be a giant hassle.

I suspect I’ll feel the same way about Ark Nova, which is on BGA now, but I guess I should try it.

Having low points on Ark Nova is a by-product of their scoring method, as it is not strictly incremental, but the difference between two scoring tracks running in opposite directions, with the game ending once one player’s score trackers first meet. So having negative points is quite normal and 42 is way more than we ever managed to get.

They’ve changed the official scoring system so that negative points are no longer a thing:

It’s actually the exact same system, you just add your appeal points to the number of “chunks” you’ve moved up the conservation track.

Burying the lead, at least for me:

There’s a BGA version!

On the substance of the change, I don’t really understand the objection to negative scores - either you won, or you didn’t. But the actual calculation methodology always felt too complicated and I have to spend far too long just trying to work it out my head each game, so I think it’s a good change.

Wait, Ark Nova has been patched?

I blame Root. Also Spirit Island.

Wait, Spirit Island got patched, too?

Yeah, it is totally a matter of “feels.”

Honestly, I think a number of parts of Ark Nova are overdeveloped, and that includes the two-track scoring system. It’s novel. But is it good?

(Not that anyone asked, but the part that especially rubs me the wrong way are the… things. The bonuses? On the left side of the zoo board? You get them when you complete a conservation project? Yeah those! Those… things. It bugs me that they don’t have a name or a thematic meaning, and they don’t operate particularly intuitively. (Don’t accidentally put a regular cube on that project–you need to use a cube from the… bonus place.) They’re great bonuses, don’t get me wrong. The game economy needs them to work. But if I were the publisher I’d tell the designer to find a simpler way to do the same thing.)

And, in case anyone isn’t aware, the action mechanic in Ark Nova (where you have 5 upgradable action cards, and the one you pick becomes the least powerful one after you use it) is 100% lifted from Civilization: New Dawn, which is not from the same designer.

New Dawn has its own set of problems, to be sure, but I kinda liked it.

Had an absolutely miserable time on first playthrough of Endless Winter. Anyone tried it?

There’s so much going on it’s impossible at the start to grok where the big points are going to come from. My cards suggested I could lock up the purchase cards engine but it ran out of resources fast. First player went the islands route early and locked up recurring resources during the eclipse so there was no catching them. None of the 3 of us were within 40 points of the early island player at the end.

Would it go very differently on future plays? Very likely. Will the memory of a 3.5 hour slog knowing I could at best place 3rd after mistakes were made during round one stop me from playing it again? Maybe.

Yeah an extra blight at the start of the game on the healthy island card, and if you own any of the expansions, disregarding the first event card as well.

Regarding the blight - An errata, and a bunch of long-pending FAQs | Spirit Island

As for the event card, it might have been in Jagged Earth manual, or it might have come up in some other discourse.

Totally agree with this. Admittedly, I only played Ark Nova once, but I couldn’t help feeling like the game just has a few too many mechanics for its own good.

I miss the days when Euro games had one or two core mechanics that were the main focus of the game instead of clockwork “throw everything at the wall and make it work somehow” approach that I see in many popular games nowadays. Games like Age of Steam, Tigris and Euphrates, and even Agricola have much fewer mechanics but are still incredibly deep games.

Had a really nice week.

My wargaming partner has been unavailable for a couple months, so it was nice to return to our campaign of Undaunted: Stalingrad. It’s such a tight design; many scenarios come down to one or two plays, and at this point my squads are full of either veterans or ragged replacements.

Other highlights? Pretty much everything was good. Except maybe Ierusalem. I was hoping for something a little more… incisive, maybe.

I had my first multiplayer session with Wayfarers of the South Tigris over the holiday!

Wayfarers is one of the more recent games from Garphill, and I really like the general vibe of their stuff (Raiders of the North Sea, Architects of the West Kingdom, Hadrian’s Wall, etc.). I especially like this one for how it’s about exploration and science instead of the usual themes of production or acquisition or agriculture or citybuilding or yadda yadda yadda. It’s very much its own thing. The setting is the Golden Age of Islam in the Abbasid era, with players as “wayfarers” in ancient Baghdad, organizing caravans to explore the lands and the seas, staffing observatories to scour the heavens for discoveries, filling libraries with knowledge, and publishing your findings to win the game. It’s got tight theming around the concepts of travel, communication, and discovery in the context of simple worker placement and dice manipulation. And like all of Garphill’s games, it’s very smartly designed for “flow”, with a superlative interface baked into the board and components.

I’ve been playing a ton of it solitaire (love the snappiness of the bot!), but got frustrated with how the AI pushes itself across the finish line while I’m still messing around and figuring stuff out. How rude. Once again, I’m discovering how rarely multiplayer designs work for solitaire, even when they’re lightly interactive “Euros” with official solo modes. Basically, playing Warfarers of the South Tigris in solo mode is about trying to find a degenerate synergy before the time limit slams the game shut. This is fine as a kind of “puzzle challenge”, and you can ease up the pressure by playing the easier of the four AIs, but it still has the general feel of solving a puzzle rather than playing against an opponent.

So I enlisted a friend over the weekend, did my best to croak out a teach, and then we had a game. And it was wonderful! My friend did indeed slam the game shut on me, but she did it by following the rules (as opposed to a bot just drawing automa cards that let it magically do stuff), and she did it as a conscious decision when she could see my economic engine was revving up faster than hers. We ended at 53 to 51. I couldn’t have been happier about it. And not just because I won, but because she was able to wrap her head around it so well.

I’ll still mess around with it as a solitaire game, but it’s definitely staying in the collection for the ancient Arabic setting, the focus on science and discovery, and the overall Garphill-ness of it. One of these days, I’ll have to rank my Garphills. It won’t be easy.

Just for the Mongols to come and burn it all down. Ugh.

Sorry, still gets me sometimes.

(But that is a great setting!)

I played the first three Prologue chapters in that Vampire Kickstarter boondoggle with a friend today. The whole setup is weird for those- you’re intended to play them solo, but they also function as a tutorial- the first is about the combat mechanics, the second is the investigation stuff, third diplomacy/conversation, and each is centered around one of the playable characters- they’re all specifically defined with backstories, etc., and each of the stories is a lead up to the main storyline in the game. So is each player in the campaign supposed to play through all of them, just trading the game around and trying to find the time to solo play? Only the character they’re interested in (but then they’d miss all the rules explanation)? Play through as a group, making the decisions together?

That said, they were reasonay engaging. I’ve come to the conclusion that it isn’t emulating an actual TTRPG campaign so much as a CRPG one (ala Planscape Torment or Disco Elysium)- there’s apparently a 40+ chapter main story, optional side quests, investigation and dialog mechanics that lead to different outcomes, branching conversations and outcomes (examples of which we saw in our playing). My friend is onboard to see where it goes, and I’m hopeful. The narrative has to be better than Etherfields, the base campaign of which we recently finished.

It’s interesting to contrast this with Forgotten Waters, which I picked up a cheap copy of recently off BGG marketplace. Where V:tM:Chapters feels like a CRPG, FW really does feel like a TTRPG game translated to a boardgame- mechanics that reinforce a playstyle for each player/character, crazy goofy fun stuff happening all the time, with a main story but each player having a narrative arc they get to work through. Neat contrast, playing them both relatively close to another.

I just ordered Brewcrafters after wishlisting it for almost a decade! Any play it? I love the theme and really enjoy games where players run businesses, so it looks like it should be a good fit.

I do wish that someone would republish the game with better artwork though. It looks pretty bland compared to more recent games, even from the same company!

Oh ho, look at Mr. Glass Half Empty over here! What kind of Debbie Downer can’t enjoy a Golden Age while it lasts? :)

I bet you’d appreciate the other game I’ve been playing a lot lately: a solitaire design called The First Jihad (one of the States of Siege games, published by White Dog Games, link to store page here). It’s about the first 100 years of Islam that preceded the Abbasids, from the immediate aftermath of Muhammed during the Rashidun caliphate, through the dramatic expansion of the Umayyads until the Abbasids take over. The Mongols have nothing on those early Arabs and the animating force of Islam.

The extent of its historical nooks and crannies is pretty thrilling to me. Of course, Constantinople, the Iberian peninsula, the Caucasus, Egypt, and North Africa. But then the Arab armies tearing through Persia, crossing the Oxus and Indus rivers, all the way to China and India? Alexander was a punk.

Been playing state of siege Mound Builders. Really enjoy quite a few of the SOS games

Got my garage remodel done and my 8 foot table setup. Ready for Mr President.