Friedemann Friese goes to ancient Egypt. His Essen release Faiyum will be a longer game, clocking in around the two hour mark, that uses an interesting new take on deck building. The basic idea is similar to Concordia; you have no draw pile, all your cards are in your hand or in your discard pile, you can pick up your discard pile whenever you want, but having used most of your cards first is rewarded. Faiyum adds another layer to this mechanism. When you pick up your discard pile you only get the top cards for free. If you want more cards, you pay for them. That also means you can leave cards you rarely use in the discard most of the time and only pay to pick them up when you need them. With the actions from those cards you build infrastructure in the Nile delta: towns, farms, workshops, roads. Those things don’t belong to you, though. Any player can use them. As the final element, the cards enter play one by one, generally increasing in power as the game progresses, but not in a fixed order you can rely on. At least for me, all that adds up to “want now”. My only doubt is: why didn’t Friedemann call the game Faraoh?
In a distant and abstract future, two people fight for control of the mystical Fragment that might prevent them from falling victim to the Decay, the disease that kills all it touches. So much for the bright, happy setting of Soulgivers, an abstract strategy game for two players. With a team of three entities on each team, they try to bring the Fragment across the variable game board to one of their own portals. Each entity has unique special abilities. Placing walls in the universe is a pretty tame one, considering that others can reshape the game board or create black holes. Giving the game its name is what happens when one the heroes is destroyed by an opponent or the ever-advancing decay. The dead entity leaves its soul behind on the board, and one of their allies may pick up that soul and use that entities special abilities while they have its soul. If that all sounds extremely abstract to you, then you’re just barely prepared for Soulgivers‘ art. The game is beautiful with its modern minimalist design – but the hero card illustrations are also abstract enough to be downright disturbing.
Some games are all about conflict. Others are about peacefully creating something. Flourish very clearly falls into the later camp. This is a game where your only goal is to create a beautiful garden… okay, you also want it to be worth more points than your opponents’ gardens. So you play cards showing features for your garden: flowers, trees, paths, decorations, anything that looks nice. The cards show symbols, they show scoring opportunities based on the symbols you have at the end of every round, and they show other scoring opportunities for the end of the game. A nice little optimization puzzle so far, but that’s not all. Many of those cards also score based on what one or both of your neighbors have in their garden. What that is is not beyond your control. For every card you play you exchange a card with both neighbors. It’s similar to a drafting game, but in both directions at once, and with more control over the cards for your neighbors. This mechanism adds quite a large amount of interaction to Flourish, and that makes it a good deal more interesting than just another optimization game.
The ancient people of Polynesia where brave and remarkable seafarers, exploring the islands of the Pacific Ocean with no maps and no advanced navigation tools. One danger common in the area, however, they couldn’t defeat through bravery. When the volcano starts to rumble, all anyone can do is run. That’s the setup to Peer Sylvester’s Polynesia. The volcano is rumbling, and players compete to evacuate the most people of their tribe. The escape is tricky, though, since each tribe jealously guards the routes they discovered. If another player wants to use that route, they must take a guide with the knowledge along – a free trip for the route’s owner. Tide cards change the rules a little each game so the escape from the volcano is never quite the same. Traveling efficiently to get your people out and collect valuable tokens from the outlying islands will take some thinking, but Polynesia doesn’t sound super heavy. A bit more than an hour of play time, not a whole evening.
Reiner Knizia has slowed down a little in recent years, but the man is still a machine of game design, and still more of his games are hit than miss. One of his latest projects is Sumatra, a set collection game in the Indonesian rain forest. The different sets you collect represent different aspects of your expedition, like people you interacted with, plants and animals you saw, and more. Each category, or pair of categories in some cases, follows its own scoring rules. Just as interesting is the way you move through Sumatra. You can’t stray too far from your expedition, so player pawns will stay within one space of each other. Running ahead gives you first access to new tiles when they become available, and it might take tiles from the game that your slower friends were still trying to get. On the other hand, staying behind for one more round might just give you that tile you needed. Next to the set you collect, there are also badges that score extra points only for the first player to meet their objective. Sumatra is one of Knizia’s lighter games, perfectly suitable to play with your family, but intriguing nevertheless.
Some inventions change the history of mankind forever. Writing. Stone tools. Electricity. And somewhere between those last two, the printing press. I’m quite fond of that one, without it I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t be printing games today, either. The printing business is what you get involved in in Impression, the new Kickstarter by A-games. Each player runs their own print shop, controlled by a worker movement mechanism. It’s like worker placement, but where your workers can go depends on where they are. Besides your workers, your other source of actions to take are technologies. For each technology tile you place in your workshop you take all actions on one path leading to it. All that to fulfill printing contracts, which are one major source of victory points, but not the only one. There are a few more elements to the game, including factories you set up all over Europe, and everything adds up to a fun network of mechanisms with a surprisingly rare theme.
Edition Spielwiese / Pegasus Spiele
In German we have the beautiful word Wimmelbild. It’s what we call the ridiculously busy scene for a search puzzle like Where’s Wally, but it’s much more fun to say. Just try it. It sounds like “vimle build”. Why’s that relevant? Because Edition Spielwiese will release MicroMacro – Crime City, a game based on a wimmelbild. The game contains sixteen criminal cases that you’ll have to solve by following clues to find things on the wimmelbild ans solve the case. It’s really more of a cooperative puzzle, but certainly a fun idea for a family game. It might also be the the start of the series if this first game is successful, and it gave me an excuse to make you say wimmelbild.
It’s time to leave beautiful Burgundy and its castles behind and move on to the equally beautiful Tuscany. The Castles of Tuscany is a re-implementation of The Castles of Burgundy. The rough outline is the same, you acquire landscape tiles to put on your player board to score points and take bonuses based on the tile you placed. There are significant changes, though. The biggest is probably that the dice are gone, The Castles of Tuscany is driven by cards you need in order to place matching tiles. Different enough that it’ll give you a fresh game if you played a lot of The Castles of Burgundy, but similar enough to give it a look if, like me, you regret missing that game.
Renegade Game Studios
A few weeks ago we talked about Renegade Game Studios’ Embarcadero, a game the fascinating history of San Francisco’s Embarcadero district. There, clever businessmen took possession of abandoned ships and used them as floating real estate for their businesses. Embarcadero is now on Kickstarter and will let you build your own floating business empire.
Listen up, detectives! There’s more work to be done. Detective – Season One, the latest game in Portal Games’ Detective Series, is now available. Season One is a lighter game than its predecessors. The three new cases have no overarching story to keep in mind, instead of multiple days you only have one timeline, and there is only one type of skill token, too. Mostly, this will reduce the rules complexity, not how tough the cases are to crack. Seems like a smart move to me. The Detective games have a lot of potential to attract non-gamers, and making a game with a lower bar as an introduction will help pull them in. At the same time, we get more Detective, so we all win.
Ten years ago, Troyes was the first game by Pearl Games I played. It’s a beautiful game about building and protecting the city of Troyes, France. It’s also a dice game, which makes the title of the new game Troyes Dice a little confusing. Troyes Dice is more of a dice game: it’s Troyes, remade as a roll-and-write game. That naturally makes for a smaller game, but for a roll-and-write Troyes Dice is at the more complex end. With dice in different colors you have to construct buildings and collect citizens for points. Buildings and pairs of buildings will often give you bonuses, but to actually score points for them you have to also unlock the scoring for that type of building by having the matching cathedral. This bit might cause you some frustration, because until you actually construct a building a random event may rob you of the opportunity to do so. Even so, Troyes Dice is much lighter than Troyes was. I’m curious how much like its big brother it will feel when playing.
This week’s featured photo shows Fuerte San Jerónimo, one of the fortifications along Portobelo Bay, Panama. It’s pretty obvious from the photo where the name “beautiful port” came from. The photo was taken and kindly shared by Dan Lundberg. Thanks for sharing, Dan! (20180204_Panama_4188 crop Portobelo sRGB, Dan Lundberg, CC-BY-SA, resized and cropped)