Andreas Steding’s Gùgong was a fresh breeze in the worker placement genre last year, all through the magic of giving gifts. You see, in Ming Dynasty China corruption was hidden in a tradition of giving gifts to court officials and receiving a less valuable gift in return. Being sneaky about bribery is not a modern invention, and in the game it makes you make some very interesting decisions. Those decisions are about to be a lot more interesting still with the Pànjun expansion. This expansion box will have four modules, and while new decree and gift cards don’t sound like much, but they’ll shake up the game already. The other three modules are bigger. One let’s you visit the emperor’s Summer Palace, another saddles you with the possibility of peasant revolts. My favorite, though, might be the Palace Stairs module. It gives you two ways for your envoy to reach the palace. One is short but requires some effort, the other is long and even gives you rewards at first. But take care, further up that stairs you will have to pay taxes or risk losing your position. They have a saying in that part of the world: May you live in interesting times. Pànjun delivers that.
When the engine building card game Oh My Goods was released in 2015 I enjoyed playing it, but I didn’t expect it would kick off a whole series of games. That is, however, exactly what it did, and the next game in that series will move from card game to full boardgame. Expedition to Newdale will still let you do what we all love about Oh My Goods: Build production chains where you harvest resources that you refine through multiple steps into more valuable commodities, provided you have the right production buildings. But now you do it on a board, or rather on a series of different boards, because Expedition to Newdale has a whole campaign to play through. It’s not a Legacy game, however, so you can replay your favorite chapter any time you like.
You know what spells really bad news for a spaceship. Being caught in a solar storm. That stuff burns out your systems like nobody’s business. When you get close to one of those the whole crew better work together to get out. That’s exactly the point of Dranda Games’ first Kickstarter Solar Storm. To get out, the players in this cooperative game have to divert power from eight sections of the ship to the engine room in order to get away. Unfortunately, the ship is already burning up around them, and they’ll have to keep it in one piece, too. They’ll need the right components to make repairs, making hand management first priority. Using each station’s special ability to its best effect is the other important bit. Do both things well and you might just get out.
Feuerland Spiele / Z-Man Games
It’s time to return to Terra Mystica once more, only this time it’s Aqua Mystica. With the new expansion Merchants of the Sea – more prosaically called Die Händler in the German version – all the various factions of Terra Mystica get the option to build ships they can use to terraform far away places and to trade for power and victory points. Well… almost all factions. Fakirs and Dwarfs get merchants instead that do the same thing but on the safety of dry land. This being Terra Mystica everything is very much interconnected and buildings things from your new shipyard board will reward you with income and special actions you’ll want to take into account. The expansion also comes with two new boards, Lakes and Fjords, that let you make the most of your new seafaring capabilities.
John Clowdus’s Omen Saga continues at Kolossal Games with Omen: Heir to the Dunes. Omen veterans will feel right at home in this latest standalone sequel/expansion of the two player strategy card game. This time you’ll command your forces in the name of Horus or Anubis. Besides new units and new reward tiles Heir to the Dunes brings a new way to win the games. Fitting the Egyptian setting, you can win by constructing impressive monuments.
Admission time: I have never played Stratego, and I don’t know how to play it, either. So I have no idea what it means that Spies & Lies is subtitled “A Stratego Story”. What I do know is that it’s an entertaining, light game of deduction and deception. Your goal is to get your spy behind enemy lines through a series of infiltration missions. Missions sound complex, but really all you have to do is assign one of your soldiers to each mission. There are four missions per round, and you have to assign your soldiers in ascending order of rank. Then both players have to reveal some information about their assigned soldiers, what exactly is decided by a card draw. With that information you try to guess your opponent’s assignments. For every one you guess right you gain two infiltration points. Get it wrong and your opponent may take that soldier card’s special action. To keep everyone on their toes there is one soldier card that may bend the rules. The Sergeant can be played out of order, and he can remain hidden when you reveal information about your guys. It’s not much, but this little uncertainty has a big effect in a deduction game.
Usually, the point of guessing games is to get the right answer. What if it weren’t? What if the point where to get a popular answer? Then you get Match-O-Rama, that’s what. The word game gives you a category like “Ice Cream Flavor”, you write down a word matching it, like “vanilla”. Then comes the interesting part: you bet how far away from you there’ll be a player with the same answer. The closer you bet the more points you score if there really is one. That makes the ice cream example silly because of course everyone will write vanilla. With other questions, though, it’s a fun mode of play. A bit of a reverse Just One idea. I would advocate for an optional rule that no one scores points if everyone wrote the same answer to avoid the vanilla answer, but that’s easy to do even if it’s not an official rule.
Next Move Games
We’ve already made patterns of azulejo tiles in Azul and created beautiful windows in Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra. In the third Azul game we’ll tile the floor of the Summer Pavilion. Azul‘s drafting mechanism remains unchanged: You take all tiles of one color from a tile factory, all other tiles from there go to the center from where they may be drafted again. New in Summer Pavilion is what you do with those tiles. Where you used to place tiles on your player board immediately you now collect them until the drafting phase is over. To actually place a tile on your board you have to pay a varying number of tiles of the same color. It’s very annoying if you didn’t manage to draft enough tiles to pay because leftover tiles you couldn’t play cost you points. Fortunately, finishing certain parts of your pattern lets you take bonus tiles that might still save you. An interesting, new twist on the familiar Azul formula.
Don’t eat the mints! Mint Cooperative comes in a mint tin. It has white, mint-looking mint tokens. But they are made of wood! Don’t eat them! Play the game instead, because Mint Cooperative packs a lot of fun into a small tin and small rules. The tiny superhero game sets up to four players against one villain who, presumably, smells very not fresh at all. Your job is to use your hero abilities to prevent a widespread panic – by placing mints. Each of the seven cities has a panic track. Visible panic symbols increase the panic in the whole region and will eventually cost you the game. So you use your heroes abilities and special ability to put mints back on that track while the villain, as is his job, munches your mints away. Light, quick, smells fresh, and comes with six heroes and three villains to shake things up every time you play.
Grey Fox Games
There are enemies at your gate. They want to invade your city and plunder your fiefdom, and you can’t even blame the other players. They have the same problem. After the Empire is a competitive game, but you don’t interact quite so directly. You all build your own cities and the invaders are sent by the game. Mechanically, worker placement is the order of the day. Your workers gather resources, build walls – in wood or stone, and with big wall pieces to put on your player board – and recruit refugees with special abilities to help build and defend your fiefdom. Just take care that you don’t get too rich, the most prosperous player gets a stronger invasion force coming their way. After the Empire looks like a solid worker placement game, something I can never have enough of, and the material in the Kickstarter edition is downright intimidating.
Board & Dice
Back in the day – 2012 – Yedo was a very popular worker placement game. It hasn’t lost any of its luster since then, but it has become kind of hard to find a copy. Not any more. Yedo is back, and in Board&Dice’s deluxe edition it’s shinier than ever. Bigger board, prettier cards, different meeples with print, and so on. But that’s not all. Yedo Deluxe will also have a number of game expansions you’ll appreciate. You’ll be able to pick your game length – short, medium or long – and that’s honestly a feature more complex game should have. You’ll be able to fine tune your game experience with different sets of mission and event cards. And on top of that you’ll still have two complete expansion modules to add to your game. Taken together that makes a lot of variety for a game that already doesn’t get boring.
Days of Wonder
Ticket to Ride is another one of those games that just keep going, and that is good. The newest Map Collection takes you to Japan and Italy. Both new maps come with their own twists. Italy looks like the more harmless of the two, with a new kind of ferry network and the country’s regions to consider for scoring. Japan, on the other hand, has bigger twists. The first is the bullet train route that, once build, lets all players use it for their connections. I think that’s the first ever cooperative element in a Ticket to Ride game. The second new element is not so much a twist on the rules but a cool thematic element. As a kind of separate network you get the Tokyo subway. To complete tickets from somewhere else in Japan to a Tokyo subway station you connect the other city to Tokyo and then the Tokyo Central Station to the subway station on your ticket. If you can’t get enough of Ticket to Ride – and I perfectly understand if you can’t – Japan and Italy will give you two new ways to experience the game.
War never changes, but This War of Mine gets expansions. The second such expansion is called Days of the Siege and brings an enormous new story campaign. The three acts of Forlorn Hope see your group of survivors caught between one side’s soldiers and the other side’s freedom fighters, while all you want to do is live to see the end of the siege. Besides the new story Days of the Siege also has new locations that you can use with the base game, and it brings those to This War of Mine that suffer even more in every war than everyone else: the orphans. As if this game’s subject matter wasn’t depressing enough already. It would be very wrong to say that Days of the Siege will be fun, but I’m sure it will be satisfying to play.
This week’s featured photo, taken by Charlie Marchant, shows the Church of Saint John the Theologician at Kaneo. The church sits over Lake Ohrid in North Macedonia. Thanks for sharing this beautiful photo, Charlie! (Lake Ohrid, Macedonia, Charlie Marchant, CC-BY)