It’s that time. Another installment of Hits & Flops. We take a look and take aim at the latest games to hit the tables at The Gaming Annex. With even a single play, we either accept or reject games on Board Game Geek’s hotness. This month we will be looking at Scythe, Star Trek Ascendancy, Vast: the Crystal Caverns along with a few other games. Sit back and have a read. Don’t take this too seriously.
If you had asked me earlier this week about Scythe, I would have told you how good it was. It has lots of opportunities for attacking your opponents while also trying to be as efficient as possible.
All actions are controlled by the player mats. There is a top half and a bottom half. The bottom actions require numerous resources so players will only occasionally perform them. But players will always perform the top actions. When choosing an action, players may do either or both actions.
Actions include: collecting resources, collect different resources, move units or collect yet another set of different resources. The bottom actions are: build a building, build a mech, improve the cost/benefit of these actions when you or your opponents take this action or improve the cost/benefit of these actions in a different way. Sounds Euro? Yep.
But if you had asked me earlier this week, I would have said this is a good game. Then we played last night. It was my third game. And it played very samey. I’ve now realized this is only a mediocre game. While Scythe currently holds the #13 position on BGG and has a rabid following, watch for its precipitous fall in coming years. There is no emergent game play in Scythe. It is a pure efficency/static game state game. Think Caylus with plastic mechs.
2. Vast: the Crystal Caverns
Vast: the Crystal Caverns is a wonderful, completely asymmetrical game. The game is so asymmetrical, that you have to play it five times to see all the different ways to play it.
One player takes on the role of the daring knight. She must defeat the dragon to win. One player is the goblin chieftain who must vanquish the fair knight. One player is the dragon who must wake from its slumber and escape the cavern. The thief tries to gather crystals and treasures. And the last player is the cave itself who must cause the cave to collapse before anyone else can win.
How the knight moves, levels up and performs actions is completely different than the goblins–which is completely different than the dragon. It’s like five mini-games merged under one undeniably charming theme that really works well.
The knight has action cubes that can be assigned to do different tasks. These tasks include buffing her strength, using the ancient map, moving, girding the shield or attacking the goblins. The goblins must increase their strength to damage the knight, acquire secret cards to lay traps for the knight or the dragon or acquire powerful monsters to aid in their quest to kill the knight.
The dragon has a hand of cards. And the dragon can level up to increase its hand size. These cards are spent to do different actions like firewall, feeding on the goblins or ultimately waking up completely from its slumber so as to leave the cavern. The cavern is the game clock. New tiles are laid and new event cards are drawn. The cave player decides which treasures to give the knight–to either slow down the goblins or the dragon player. But the cave can also spin walls around, confounding the knight, giving the cave enough time to begin the collapse.
Every player has a way to interact with each other. And the asymmetry is a work of pure brilliance. This game is my favorite new game of 2016. As such, the verdict is obvious.
3. Star Trek Ascendancy
Long time followers of this blog will recall our posts about Star Trek’s impact on board gaming: see here and here. Due to the sheer scope of the subject, I had to break it into two parts. The post ends with an exciting announcement from Gale Force Nine games about an upcoming game called Star Trek Ascendancy. That upcoming game hit the table at The Gaming Annex recently.
In Star Trek Ascendancy, players control the governments of the Federation, the Klingon Empire or the Romulans. The goal is to get 5 Ascendancy. Players buy Ascendancy with 5 culture tokens. The first to get to 5 Ascendancy is declared the winner.
Players build the map as they go. There are circular systems connected by space lane straightaways. The board is built in a bit of a miniature wargaming fashion with a tape measure used to ensure the board is the right size.
Players spend their command tokens to take actions like move ships or attack their opponents. Other actions include conquering planets or building nodes (resource producing elements) on planets. Players will take their three resource types to either build stuff (with production tokens), buy tech (with research tokens) or buy Ascendancy (with culture tokens).
The game play is similar to Eclipse except it’s much worse than Eclipse. The combat system is a lifting of Eclipse’s weapons +1 and shields -1 system. But Star Trek Ascendancy does not have any way of tweaking the ships like the ship blueprints in Eclipse. A Federation ship is identical to a Romulan ship. Both roll one die in combat and both require the same hit roll.
The galaxy building and discovery aspect of the game is also like Eclipse but much worse. Players have a say in where they place a system but first must roll the die to see how big the space lane is. Then they draw a card that tries and fails to evoke the theme of Star Trek.
In my one and only game of this, the game lasted 9 hours. Which is about 7.5 hours too long. And the only reason it ended was because of a few tactical mistakes that Nick Sima and I would not make if we would play this a second time–which we won’t.
In the long, proud history of Star Trek board games, this game falls woefully short. But what did you expect from Gale Force Nine? These guys published dreck like Homeland: the Board Game and Firefly: the Board game.
Verdict: Sadly, a flop.
4. Camp Grizzly
In recent weeks, I’ve been on a game trading kick. I’m getting rid of games we just don’t play. And I’m much better now at gauging what will be well received by the Muskegon Area Gamers. I recently traded Tiny Epic Kingdoms and Tiny Epic Galaxies (both owned by other members of our group) for Camp Grizzly.
Camp Grizzly lifts the theme of 80’s slasher movies and turns it into a semi-cooperative board game. Players take on the role of a camp counselor. I got Kevin, the lifeguard, who bore more than a passing resemblance to 70’s hunk Parker Stevenson. Each counselor has individual stats and special abilities.
Players move their counselors around the game board which is an aerial view of the fictional Camp Grizzly. Along the way, players may acquire important items, find lost campers (the children under our care) or may even encounter the dreaded Otis.
Otis is the antagonist who, like Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers, wears a terrifying mask. Otis’s shtick is a bear mask, a nod to the eponymous Camp Grizzly–itself a play on words for grisly. When Otis strikes, the campers die and the counselors take damage. If you die, you are eliminated from the game, so be careful.
Players must work together to get all the items needed to unlock the Finale. Then players move to the Finale and roll dice to see if they escape. This game is a semi-coop. That means some players can win while others lose. Players may work together but if C.J. is lagging behind at docks, you and the rest of the counselors may need to radio for help without him!
The artwork in Camp Grizzly really evokes the horror theme. Which may seem strange given that it’s comic book art. But it really works for this game. You get the sense of gore without the gratuitous scene. Indeed, the artwork is what ultimately drew me to make this trade. And new artwork for the upcoming five expansions(!) is what is delaying Ameritrash Game’s release dates.
We played this with a captive audience a couple of Thursdays ago. And it was very well received. Ben said it was very cinematic and evocative of the theme. And I agree. It’s light but you need an occasional light game to end the night.
5. Escape the Room: Mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor
There is a new genre of game: the one-and-done adventure. We discussed an example several months ago when T.I.M.E Stories hit the shelves and hit our table. Escape the Room is another example. Escape the Room is a new series of games from Think Fun. Players work together to solve the puzzles in order to eventually “escape the room”.
We made our first foray recently. After a brief rules explanation–which is very brief because there are virtually no rules–we delved into the mystery. The mystery is wrapped up in different envelops which you are not allowed to open unless you solve the required puzzle. The envelops then are opened, revealing another puzzle, which when solved, opens another envelop.
These puzzle games can be entertaining. But Mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor was a bit too easy. Brandi, Tasha, Ben and I solved it in 30 minutes. A week later, Dusty, Jon, Kevin and Old Ben solved it in 35 minutes. This is way too easy for a $30 game.
The next game in the series, Secrets of Dr. Gravely’s Retreat, is supposed to be more challenging. That would fix my issue with the anticlimactic Stargazer Manor.
6. 27th Passenger
I’ve been on the hunt for a good deduction game. A good deduction game requires logic, has good player interaction and plays quickly. And 27th Passenger fits the bill.
Players are dealt one of 27 different secret roles. Each round players secretly select an action to take. These actions are used to learn about the other player’s roles, gain valuable defense cards or learn about the other NPC roles (the balance of the 27 roles not taken by players). Players will narrow down which roles their opponents are in order to kill them, thus eliminating them from the game. The last player standing is the winner.
Each role has three separate characteristics. The three characteristics are appearance, their voice and their scent. There are three of each of these types of characteristics. And each role has a unique combination of them (3X3X3 =27 passengers). Using simultaneous order selection, clever play and a little intuition, you will figure out who your opponents are first.
We’ve played 27th passenger twice now. It’s grown on me. And I think I was the only curmudgeon at the table.
Where the Hits keeping on coming