Cardboard Children – Board Games Revisited Part 2

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Hello youse.

Sometimes you like a board game a little, sometimes you like it a lot. The great games stay great forever, giving you a little tremor of excitement every time you think about them. Others fade a bit over time, as you become too familiar with their dynamics and play other games that improve upon what they do. Other games just fade away for reasons you can’t quite put your finger on. This week, I talk about a few games that I find less fantastic than I used to. I’ll try to understand why.

SMALLWORLD

Small World

Now, I was never a big fan of Small World. I liked it. “Like” is a horrible word. It’s a weak word, its only power gifted to it by social networks. But “like” was always as much as I’d say about Small World. It’s an inoffensive, colourful game with nice mechanics and a likeable cast of characters/races. It has some clever little twists, and its whole notion of domination and then decline, allowing you to constantly bring new units onto the board’s landmap, is fresh and fun. But this game, over the years, hasn’t managed to grow any stronger for me. It’s one of those games that just kinda is. You play it, someone wins, and then you move along to the next hour of your life. In all those games of Small World I’ve played, I’m not sure I can even remember who won, or if I’ve ever won, because victory is never dramatic enough to make any impact. It’s like a slow train ride through some nice scenery, all very familiar, quite comfortable, but once you’ve made that trip a whole bunch of times you’re hardly mad keen to buy another ticket.

And yet, I dunno, it’s still on my shelf. I feel like Small World is a game that I just don’t get, because other people seem to love it. People have paid fortunes for extravagant collectors editions of a game that I find to be lukewarm. Is the problem with me? Maybe – but the fact remains that this game, never a real favourite of mine, continues to fall off. It’s been quite a while since I last opened that box.

KING OF NEW YORK

King of New York

Okay, listen – this is still a great game. In my original review I said as much.

Back then, I said: “The game is a little bit more tricky to learn than King of Tokyo. It’s not as easy for newcomers – but it’s still a very light and accessible game. And it is the perfect sequel. It doesn’t make the first obsolete, but it improves on it – widens it. That’s what I think right now, anyway. As with all board games – time will tell.”

Well, time did tell, and King of New York hasn’t been hitting the table as much as King of Tokyo. Tokyo continues to be the go-to giant-monster dice-rolling game, while King of New York has been sitting there without being invited to the party. And its undoing has been that extra level of complexity, I think. The game inhabits quite a strange space – with more going on than King of Tokyo but maybe not enough going on to have it move into the realm of deeper games. Another factor is that King of Tokyo is far better for kids, and so it remains that all-conquering family game that will have everybody at the table feeling enthusiastic about playing it. King of New York has more decisions, and more engaging moments, but it just doesn’t pop from the table quite as much. There’s more thinking going on, and thought can make a game more quiet, less wild, and that serves to weaken a game about giant monsters smashing the hell out of each other.

I still like this game a fair bit, but it’s interesting to note how it has settled below King of Tokyo in my estimation, when first impressions suggested it would rise above. King of Tokyo is, of course, a modern classic, so there’s no shame in being under that mighty bastard.

SPECTER OPS

Specter Ops

I was a bit ho-hum when I reviewed this one. Again – a good, solid game, but really not as thrilling as I’d expected based on the advance word I’d heard about the game. See my review.

And this game just hasn’t managed to win me over yet. It hasn’t helped that a couple of other, superior hidden movement games have been back in the limelight in the time since. Fury of Dracula, one of my absolute favourite games, was re-released in a streamlined third edition (which I’ve yet to play) and Escape From The Aliens In Outer Space has a fancy new Ultimate Edition. Both these games are fantastic hidden movement games, full of tension and excitement. My issue with Specter Ops has always been that it’s far more fun for the hidden player than it is for the hunters, and the game runs too long for the roles to be swapped around at the table. There are better options available. And so this game just sits there, looking awkward.

It’s SO ANNOYING, though, because aesthetically this game is right up my alley. It’s all Metal Gear Solid-looking, with its weird cybernetic ninja types and mad wolf guys. It has beautiful components. And yet the game just doesn’t GRIP me. If anything, that GRIP has been growing weaker and weaker. I’m not sure, at this point, if I’ll even be hanging onto this one.

Agh! It’s hard. I’m a positive guy, and I like to give things a real good chance to win me over. I’m going to play all these games again, and try to approach them all with fresh eyes. Then I’ll make my mind up.

What about y’all? Are there games you used to love but now hate? Or games that just don’t demand to be played anymore? I’m always keen to hear about this stuff – because games really should be legacy things, right? Board games should last a lifetime. Do we go too easy on these games, sometimes?

Next week, I review Games Workshop’s old-school deathtrap LOST PATROL.

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20 Comments

  1. Kefren says:

    I find it hard to muster up enthusiasm for Talisman any more, but then again I played it to death back in the 80s when I bought it and on and off since. I’ve had my money’s worth and more! I once DM’d an RPG where the choice of characters were the cards from Talisman, and I adapted their skills to a D&D ruleset.

    Similar with Battlecars. I stayed up all night playing game after game sometimes. Mostly two player, but sometimes epic battles on a Car Wars fold-out map. Not taken Battlecars down for years.

    I bought Hanabi but don’t enjoy it; I think because it quickly slipped into a wink wink of either saying a card = use it, or saying a card = don’t use it. Once players choose one or another the game just isn’t fun, and you can’t rule against it in any way – they’re only pointing out a card, which is what you have to do.

    Also the Level 99 Minigames Library (Noir, Pixel Tactics etc). I have been considering getting rid of this and Hanabi. The Minigames library certainly isn’t bad, but I already have other games that I enjoy more, or the oens in it are quirky. It includes:

    Blades of Legend – surprisingly my friends enjoyed this, but the theme is very confusing. I wrote my own intro to try and make sense of it. (Why would the wizards not know their followers? Why does breaking a sign either half-kill them, or make their followers stronger?) I have Avalon which is simpler and smoother to play, and more scalable. So I don’t need BoL too.

    Grimoire Shuffle – just okay. I found the rules quite confusing.

    Infinity Dungeon – good fun with the right group and drinks, though after a few games I’m not sure I fancy another.

    Master Plan – fairly good fun, but I’d have liked more variety in the platforms and traps.

    NOIR – a simple concept but not very exciting.

    Pixel Tactics – definietly the best game in the box, I have had a few nice head-to-head battles, but when I want that kind of game I think I enjoy The Duke or Netrunner more. Maybe even Kahuna.

    [I also own the new Dracula, and Escape from the Aliens; also nto played either, but lookign forward to it.]

    • Ragnar says:

      Regarding Hanabi, what you describe is only possible when the hand has only one card of that color or number. My experience was that such a scenario is rarely the case, so you’re often dealing with incomplete information, cryptic hints, and occasionally no good options.

      • Kefren says:

        I probably didn’t explain it well. In one group the players developed a habit of trying to only point to a card you SHOULD play. If you ignored that advice you lost. You didn’t need to memorise information, just listen to what they said. Another group tended to be pointing to cards NOT to play. None of this was vocalised or planned, it just evolved. Sucked the limited fun from it. Also some players – intentionally or not – had a slight inflection or tell which implied whether you should keep or drop the card. Again, no fun, unless you get into joykilling microrulings about how people inflect words or what facial expressions they have. End result – you generally got more information than just what was said.

        • mineshaft says:

          Tl;dr I like Hanabi

          I am also a bit nonplussed. Hanabi is a clean, classic design, that takes mental telepathy to win. The deeper the connection, the more you win. I’m sorry you haven’t enjoyed it.

          My rings for Hanabi allow no table talk, and try to poker face as much as possible. We try to win (25) every time. I doubt the luck of the draw permits a metagame where you just point to what to play next. There aren’t enough clues and cards for that.

          Where this game gets special is when you give person C a clue that they can only play safely if person B also plays first. For instance, telling C to play their 4 when only the 2 is on the board. In this manner, you can give two people clues at once.

          You may also give a clue that touches multiple cards, but relies on the game state to tell the partner whether to play or discard.

          I’ve often surprised people with what I’ve picked up about a card in my hand that had never gotten a clue. That is also a kind of clue.

  2. Harold says:

    This is a great series of articles. I’ve been wanting to boardgame but don’t know where to begin. Just yesterday I joined a local Meetup for boardgamers, so that — along with articles like these — should get me on my way.

    • TheAngriestHobo says:

      I just got back from my first local boardgame Meetup, and it was awesome. We played Welcome to the Dungeon (which I am clearly terrible at) and Deception (which I am decent at because of body language, though I pretty much ignored all the clues). Fun times were had by all, and it really didn’t matter who won.

      I definitely encourage you to follow through with the whole meetup thing – it’s a great way to indulge in interests which you otherwise might overlook. Prior to today, I hadn’t played board games in years, and now I’m starting to regret it.

    • captainparty says:

      Best advice I’ve seen for newcomers to tabletop games is: Get Coup, its cheap, easily available and excellent. You can learn it 10 minutes and teach it in the same time, games are quick and always exciting. Its an easy gateway for any friends you have that are intimidated by huge table-filling 3 hour long beasts.

      • Ragnar says:

        Coup is great, but needs at least 3 people, and is best with 4-5. 2 is boring, while 6 is a little unwieldy but can lead to amusing situations such as five people in a row claiming to have one of the three available Dukes.

        • Harold says:

          So I haven’t played Coup on a tabletop yet but I tried the iOS version and lose every time! LOL

          I really need to practice this game.

          • Ragnar says:

            For me, Coup isn’t about winning so much as about revealing to your friends that you’ve been lying through your teeth the whole game, or calling out your friends for being the lying liars that they so clearly are.

  3. djvecchitto says:

    How can you love Cosmic Encounter but not like Smallworld? Both of them are centered around the same central draw – a practically endless combination of races that makes each game unique.

    I don’t necessarily remember who won each game of Smallworld I’ve played, but I do remember the unique race combinations – “that game with the Flying Giants was nuts” – “those aquatic sorcerers were overpowered!” – etc

  4. ChairmanYang says:

    I agree with you on Small World. I used to love the game; now I just like it. Part of the issue is that it feels like a dimmer, flabbier version of Cosmic Encounter. Not as many cool races, less dramatic powers, a slower pace, and diplomacy that’s less explicit…it does most of what Cosmic does, only a bit worse.

    • Ergates_Antius says:

      It’s not really like Cosmic Encounter though, certainly not in terms of gameplay, the only real similarity is the random combination of races/powers.

      Far closer frames of reference would be: A Brief History of the world; History of the World; Vinci.

      • captainparty says:

        He’s talking about how it feels and i totally get it, it feels like its doing the same thing, not mechanically though.

        Isn’t small world just basically a fantasy reskin on Vinci? Its not really a helpful comparison for his point because they’re almost identical.

  5. Archonsod says:

    I think I’m probably the complete opposite on Spectre Ops and Dracula (even to the point I’d say Dracula leans far more into the ‘only fun for the hidden player’ camp). It’s pacing I think; the best part of Dracula tends to be the latter half of the game – once the hunters are equipped and ready for the big showdown and the Count is forced to try and avoid direct confrontation while throwing every dirty trick he can muster at his pursuers in the hope of being able to turn the tables. The problem is you have around an hour or two before the game tends to hit that point. Specter Ops on the other hand pretty much starts the game at that point and works hard to ensure the hunters are rarely more than one or two steps behind the hunted.

    Most of the games I’ve lost enthusiasm for tend to fall into a similar category. We rarely play Battlestar Galactica these days (Dead of Winter superceded that), Lords of Waterdeep lost out to Yedo and I tend to find myself playing Secret Hitler a lot more than Avalon.

  6. malkav11 says:

    Talisman’s the biggest, probably. Used to play a whole ton of it and really enjoyed the variety of character powers and the kill-and-loot loop of gameplay. Never really cared too much about winning because that ended the game, but if someone else made a break for the end I’d try and beat them there just because. I felt like Fantasy Flight’s remake of Arkham Horror really superseded Talisman for me, though. The theme’s quite different but there was still looting cool toys, and plenty of character-specific powers and variables, and it added so many other variables like the Great Old One and its modifiers, the Mythos deck, etc. And then, Talisman having been replaced in my affections, FFG got the license to all of Games Workshop’s non miniatures games and hired the friend I played a lot of those games of Talisman with to steward development of their new edition of it as well as various other titles. One of the ironies of my life. (I got playtest credits anyway simply for having spent so much time playing the game with him.)

  7. Ragnar says:

    Sellers of Catan – partly because I feel I’ve already played the game to death, and partly because I’ve realised it’s just not that fun. Resource production is decided by luck, and anyone close to winning (or even an early lead) won’t find anyone to trade with, so you spend quite a bit of time doing nothing. Bonanza is a far better, faster, more active resource trading game.

    Flash Duel – it just never clicked with me, and I don’t like card counting. People were raving about it, but after a few games it went on the shelf and hasn’t come down in years.

    Ascension – only because the iPad version is so much faster and more convenient to play by taking care of the shuffling and of counting the three different types of tokens.

    • Scurra says:

      Just out of interest, have you played Seafarers of Catan? It’s basically the original game design* and adds a whole slew of different things to consider, making the runaway leader problem slightly less pronounced.
      (It’s still not perfect, by any means, but it’s more interesting. Whereas I tend to think that Cities & Knights just adds complexity for no real gain.)

      *to be fair, the genius at Kosmos who said that it needed to be reduced to one island and to cut the boats clearly made the game into the classic it is, but once you’ve played Seafarers it’s obvious this is what the game was supposed to be.

      • Ragnar says:

        I have not.

        I did play the Cities & Knights expansion many years ago, it did not go over well with my group. It turned Settlers into a bloodthirsty, cut-throat game where everyone hated everyone else by the time it was done. After a particularly vicious and hateful session, we put it away and swore to never play it again.

        • Scurra says:

          Good for you. :-) I did pretty much the same thing with C&K – can’t remember the last time I played it (more than a decade ago I’d guess) and I don’t miss it.
          I also advocate playing Settlers with a “dice deck” instead of rolling. Whilst that loses the glory of the skewed curve (which arguably is what makes the game), it significantly reduces the randomness of resource production and rewards a little more attentive play.