Boardgaming in 2017!


Tom’s front-page review of Dead of Winter almost three years ago was the beginning of my interest in board games more complicated than Settlers of Catan. It’s been a slow process, because I haven’t looked into any local meet-ups or gaming groups; everything I try out I’m also having to pitch to my also-not-really-board-gamer friends. It’s working though, even friends who eye a “complicated zombie board game” with skepticism—“there are how many dice?!”—have been won over and are subsequently open to taking more chances on games.

Discovery is still tricky on my part though. Sheriff of Nottingham and Dixit were both very well received suggestions from this thread, and I’ve got another dozen titles tentatively on my wishlist, but as a novice it’s still very hard to judge what I’m going to enjoy, and even trickier to know what will land well with my friends. I don’t have the context for some of the comparisons, I don’t know how most of your tastes jibe with mine, and I don’t even understand some of the descriptions (@Sharpe, what’s “Euro scoring”, and how will it be affected by Brexit?).

All that to say that picking a recommendation from this thread is a bit of a gamble and I can’t usually even articulate exactly what catches my eye, but I took a chance and picked up Unfair last week and I’m glad I did!

Any game that doesn’t involve a fantasy theme gets a +1 to enticing friends, so that was part of the appeal, but beyond that I didn’t understand how the game was played or anything, I just liked Sharpe’s enthusiasm.

My first and only game so far was last night with four other players. None of us had ever played, and in this case I hadn’t even tried to figure it out in advance. We just went through the manual together and jumped in. Plenty of early confusion, plenty of regrets as some systems crystallized only in hindsight, but I loved the game, and I think everyone else would at least like to try it again now that they understand it.

Maybe my favorite part is just how cleverly designed the cards are. I don’t know if there’s a term for this, but the way the cards physically connect (or don’t) via the ribbon design that stretches from the attraction up through the upgrades (and maybe stops with a flagpole) seemed brilliant to me. The information you need to know when you play the card is hidden later once it’s tucked under the cards below, but everything you need to know going forward is still clearly visible in that small area left showing. Or in the case where there’s ongoing relevant info, they break up the ribbon design on the card so it’s clear that you need to leave the entire card visible. That really scratched some design itch I didn’t know I had.

The humor in the game is understated but enjoyable too. I really hope I can find more opportunities to play this one, thanks for the recommendation!

And speaking of not knowing exactly what I want from a game, I’m not sure Scythe is for me after I shrugged off the take-over-the-map style of the Game of Thrones game, but holy cats, this game looks beautiful. I think I’m buying this just to look at.


They couldn’t be more different. Scythe looks like a direct conflict dudes-on-a-map game, but it is actually an economic engine game. Combat is a very minor part of the game. Give it a try.


Agreed on Scythe. It’s really a farming economic game with a dash of 4X, not a game of contested area control. I like it, but there is a lot of mental bookkeeping and it’s taking me a bit to get my head around it.


So I played a bit of the PC version of Race for the Galaxy and it reminded me that the Race design is just very luck dependent. Race for the Galaxy has the same random-luck-of-the-card-draw problem that Tom was referring to in Terraforming Mars but multiplied several times. Unlike TM, you can’t win purely by playing standard actions; you need cards. And the card synergies are much stronger. Basically if you get a lucky synergy going, great! If not, then someone else probably will so you are dust.

I’ve tried Roll for the Galaxy a couple of times and liked it. I feel like the randomness in Roll is smoother b/c you are rolling many more dice than you are drawing cards in Race. Also, b/c Roll starts the players out with a better starting position, you are less dependent on early synergy to get rolling.

So my current view as an experienced Race player and a mostly-newbish Roll player is that the design of Roll for the Galaxy is a lot better. What do folks here think?


I disagree on basically every part of that :) Race for the Galaxy is actually a very skill-driven game, especially in the 2-player advanced format. Not sure there are any 20 minute non-abstract board games that I’d consider to have a bigger skill element.

There are some strong card synergies, but they’re very rarely between two individual cards. Instead the synergies are generally between a specific card and a large class of them. In general you go through the deck a lot faster in Race, and there are specific actions that let you search through big chunks of the deck if you really just need a specific card. In TM hanging onto cards you’re not certain to use is pretty painful, in Race it’s no big deal.

When you look at the design of Race (and especially the progression through expansions), it’s really clear that Tom Lehmann was extremely conscious of exactly the problem of finding the cards you need, and making sure there was a good balance between the size of the deck and the players’ ability to search through it.

TM never felt to me like this was a core design priority. Want to play the Corporate Era variant? Just dump a bunch of extra cards to the deck. I find it incredibly frustrating, because TM is such a great game thematically. But it’s also a two hour game where you can get totally shafted by bad card luck that can’t be mitigated against, or by random attack cards for which there is no defense.

(Maybe the draft variant helps with this; I’ll suggest we use it the next time TM hits the table. But I always find those kinds of official variants a bit suspicious. Design your game once properly, don’t leave it to the players to try to figure out which variant actually works.)

Also, Race for the Galaxy >> Roll for the Galaxy >> Jump Drive. I’ll never turn down a game of Race, it’s definitely an all-time top 5 game for me. I’d play Roll only if everyone else in a group absolutely insisted. And if Jump Drive were the only option available, I’d be happy to just spectate rather than play.


I dunno. There’s absolutely skill in understanding the best things to build at the right time in Race, and when to dig for particular cards, second guessing your opponent’s moves, etc. But if you have two people who know the card set and the synergies and strategies well, the game can still be determined practically before it starts by a good vs. bad opening draw or bad drawing luck along the way.

I’ve played tons of the digital Race adaptation and I love it. But doing that means accepting that sometimes the game is a foregone conclusion, at or near the first turn. I don’t mind! I’m playing the numbers game of how many games can I win vs. the Hard AI (about 1/4 is the answer). That factors in good and bad draws by both of us.

I like Roll a bit better for a number of reasons, but this is one of them. Also that experienced players will just play WAY better than a newbie, and I prefer games that are a little more competitive for anyone.


I prefer Race for the Galaxy to Roll and feel that skill is a higher determinant in the winner there, mostly for the reason @Nightgaunt mentioned. Experienced players crush inexperienced players. (This happens in Roll as well, but to a lesser extent.) One of the reasons this is the case is that I feel following others actions is more important and more predictable in Race, and that’s one of my favorite elements of the game. I’ve played a lot vs the computer which I enjoy but I find I don’t try to predict my opponents moves too often there and just play my hand. At the table I’m much more likely to try and build around my opponent’s strategy and I find that makes the game much more exciting.

That said, nowadays I play Roll a lot more. I prefer it if we’re playing with more than 2 players. It’s significantly easier to teach. And I tend to feel a little guilty with how demoralizing the first few games of Race can be.

I don’t personally think Jump Drive is in the same boat. It’s not a game any of us take terribly seriously when we’re playing. We usually play it while waiting for people to arrive or when we’re all braindead, which isn’t the case at all for Race or Roll. (But I still really enjoy it. For such a simple game, it has a really impressive number of effective strategies.)


I mean I firmly come down on it being skill driven, and even a poor start can be overcome with the right play. I’ve managed to win with some ugly combos, including once where I played zero production or windfall planets, and no 6(?) developments.

It is, like Ascension, a game with an upper threshold on wins by skill, that being between 2/3 and 3/4. In both I win nearly 75% against AI, and about 2/3 against people. Which is probably a good place to be.

Yeah some combos can be unbeatable, an early Galactic Federation can be real tough to overcome, but I’d say less than 20% are determined with more than 3 turns to go.


I thought Jump Drive was a pretty weak game until I remembered that each game takes maybe seven minutes to play. Sure, it got a little samey after 40 or 50 plays, but on reflection that’s a pretty weird criticism to level at a game.


I’m around 20 plays and my expectation is to hit burn-out around 50! I’ll be content if it goes that far.


CraigM, once you can manage a 50% win rate against the Keldon AI you’ll have persuaded me that you’ve reached the point where the game’s mostly luck.


Oh I’m not trying to persuade anyone of that.

Besides only a 50% win rate would be a step down. I’m at over 40% against two AI’s, and well above 50% in Advanced two player.


Then you’re right, it’s mostly luck from here on.


Another gaming day together with @Wendelius and @Ginger_Yellow. Fantastic day in which we played almost entirely new games (to us) but the learning burden seemed light. Big highlights -


Love it. Basically a mashup of Fallout theme with Caverna style worker placement and base building plus a few twists of its own. Yeah, Fallout Caverna! My favorite new game of recent months and definitely within my top 3 new games in 2017.

In Outlive, everything is simple, but the simplest thing is incredibly difficult.

This game had several of us talking to ourselves as we tried to play out our turns. It was the only way to think through the choices and consequences . . . Well I could move this to grab that equipment before it goes BUT then how do I get to the water supply AND will someone else take it before I can get there AND if I do this first I could get pressured AND I don’t have enough food to feed my survivors SO should I do this instead BUT oh I really want that Exo Skeleton BUT do I have the materials to repair it? So on and so forth . . . . .

Imagine this, over and over again. It was glorious. There were several times where after several minutes of thinking out loud and planning we executed our perfect move only to realise it was illegal. Back to the planning committee! Even this was fun, not at all frustrating.

The variable ‘strength’ of the units that take actions on the map, prohibition on ending movement on an area containing another of your units, and the need to actually move to the placement area (with just two moves per unit) are a really new spin on worker placement. The pressure mechanic is fantastic too, really forcing you use theory of mind to anticipate other players likely moves.

Also glorious, I won, woohoo!. None of us got anywhere near a full bunker, and doing so seems crazy difficult in a 4 player game due to the amount of food you’d need to recruit / feed the survivors since rooms need to be filled with survivors to activate. I scored a lot of points by building two rooms early on that gave equipment fixing discounts, then fixing equipment which both gave me points at game end AND significant benefits during. Thanks to a combination of equipment which gave me extra bullets and microchip resources when I visited the Mine area, I ended the game with a stockpile of ammo that any gun nut would have approved of. This also, together with some armor that made me pressure resistant meant only once in the entire game did I get pressured and need to give away a material.

Jump Drive

Which is another implementation of Race for / Roll for the Galaxy. It is simpler . . . . at least at first.

Each turn you select from your hand 0 - 1 Worlds and 0 - 1 Developments to play. To pay the cost for these you need to discard cards equal to their combined value, with a discount if you only play 1 card. Some cards give discounts. Some Worlds require Military Power to play which you can only satisfy via having played cards with Military Power on the same or earlier turns.

Winner is the first person to reach 50. It is quite likely that several people pass 50 in the same turn.

Each card you play adds to the number of VPs you gain each turn, or the number of new cards you draw, or adds military points, or provides discounts, or several of those together. A hand size of 10 provides a hard cap.

Some cards synergise with other cards you play, for example providing bonuses for multiples. Some cards synergise with cards other people play, for example VPs based on the number of certain color worlds other folks have played.

Here is the really funky thing. The initial turns are stupidly simple. Your choices are few and your ‘Empire’ of played cards is easy to keep track of. The ramp up in complexity is exponential though. Several turns in you might be drawing the hand size limit or more and needing to discard down and THEN choose which cards to play and how to pay for them. You are checking your opponent’s played cards to see if something you do might benefit them. You are trying to put together combinations which enable multipliers. Then it comes to the Empire admin and you are tracking VPs, Card Draw and bonuses from numerous cards.

I’d say the complexity level starts out at something well less than half that of Roll for the Galaxy but then doubles it or more within the final few turns.

@Wendelius got what was probably a lifetime best score in the first game by playing a Trade Federation card that gave him crazy points for Worlds the rest of us had played. @Ginger_Yellow squeezed me out to win our second game.

Reading this in London? Contact me if you’d like to join our gaming group. We play on weekends near Canada Water in a pet free, smoke free, gluten free house (mine!). There is usually pizza and cake :-P


That’s really cool you guys were able to put a gaming group together. I’d definitely play more board games if I had a gaming group but it’s hard to find time.


I realize this is more party game territory than Serious Board Games, but does anyone have a good recommendation for a game that can handle 8 people?

Anywhere from Dixit to Dead of Winter in the “complexity” range would work.


Codenames, Citadels, Resistance (any version)

I also hear great things about Captain Sonar, and plan to pick that up in the next week. My FLGS has a copy for me.


Resistance definitely.


Shadow Hunters is a pretty chaotic game, which isn’t to everyone’s tastes, but it plays lots of people and has elements of combat and hidden roles and special powers that makes it probably the most downright fun of the Werewolf hidden-role offshoots. I like Good Cop, Bad Cop as well. It’s a bit of a shame, though, that most of the large-group games around today are hidden role variations.

Oh, and 7 Wonders–which is a masterpiece, in my opinion–I’m pretty sure plays up to 8 with the Cities expansion.


Yes to Captain Sonar with 8 players! It’s so much chaotic fun; shouting orders, dreading being stuck helpless on the surface to repair damage while the other sub is hunting you. It’s a blast.