Since the new Zendo is out, I figured I’d get our original review of the classic version out.
A couple personal additions/insights for Seasons, which I’ve played 9 times…
- I like it (don’t necessarily love it).
- The box says 60 minutes, and we found that pretty accurate (30-45 minutes if someone makes sure it goes at Chris/Anthony speed, regardless of player count because so much of it can be multithreaded - the only other people who play this at the game store are 100% incompatible with the way we tear through games)
- A fourth player doesn’t add all that much, 2-3 is fine.
- If Scott finds that Rym is playing good engine cards like Hand of Fortune first, and they are overpowered, he should put card destruction in his first set of cards and make sure Rym can’t even the first card he plays.
I was introduced to Suburbia and holy fuck is that an awesome game. It combines my love of building shit with bits (yay tile-laying) with engine building (yay Chudyk) and politics (yay denying you the tile you need to complete your engine). Also, being a homeowner in a rural/suburban area, I find the theme to be quite compelling, and the theme feels like an integral part of the game rather than some pasted-on affectation (I’m looking at you, Hansa Teutonica).
There is evidently an expansion for Mottainai called Wutai Mountain that is currently an open beta. You can grab the print-and-play file here.
Wutai seems to be an attempt to add chaos and fiddly complexity to Mottainai. Innovation-esque, according to our guests. It introduces something called an “OM” work, which are wicked powerful cards that can be powered up by tucking cards as OM-sales, OM-materials, or OM-helpers. Those tucked cards don’t give the normal benefit, but instead power up the OM card to do ludicrous shit. When you complete an OM work, you can tuck any number of cards from your hand around it, and from then on, any of the tucking actions (Monk, Potter, Clerk) allow you to tuck under an OM work instead of your play mat.
As an example, there’s a Paper work that allows you to tuck cards as OM-materials. Its power is that a Smith action allows you to complete works whose type matches one of your OM-materials for free. In two turns, I built it up to allow me to complete literally all works from my hand for free with a Smith.
Overall, I’m not sure I’m into it. I see what he’s going for, but I think it adds too much fiddly nonsense to a very pure, distilled game. It also slows the thing way down - the Wutai deck is added onto the existing game, and you draw a card from it the first time you Pray on your turn, so you don’t run out the main deck as quickly and thus slow the progress of one end condition.
I’m contemplating some possible changes and have a vague inclination in playtesting those, but overall I think Chudyk is trying to Chudyk too hard with this one.
On the theme of too much Chudyk, I tried Impulse again - with 3 players, so hypothetically its best mode - and I find myself still frustrated that it’s not good.
I should, by all rights, enjoy a 4x Chudyk. Spacefaring and engine-building and tucking stuff under stuff? That’s literally everything I love in one game. The problem is that it’s too much fucking Chudyk, and there are so many options and so much chaos that even with a low number of players, it’s hard to control your victory.
I’m mad enough at it that I want to houserule and playtest it until it’s actually good.
So, pursuant to that, some thoughts on the game in no particular order:
-Board size: As written, this is at most a 4-player game. Maintaining a static board size beyond that is a design flaw. I would add an additional ring of cards for 5 and 6. That has to happen. For the time being, I will treat this as a 2 - 4 player game.
-Impulse: I would also extend the impulse length to 1 card per player, so that everyone gets to use everyone else’s actions.
5 or 6 players would probably need some alternative to prevent a turn from bogging down excessively, but again, this is not a 5 or 6 player game.
I’m also vaguely interested in fucking around with how the impulse works - maybe instead of trimming, once the impulse is full, you replace an action instead of adding an action. Or maybe instead of one person doing the entire impulse, every player does the first action, and then every player does the second, and so on.
-Action Density: There’s too much fiddly bullshit. 10 actions is flatly too many options for the game. Not only does it make it hard to calculate a path forward, it also stymies progress by effectively diluting your choices once you’ve started on a path, resulting in too much dependence on lucky draws and other chaotic results.
Some of the actions seem to create unnecessary divergance from the core Chudyk engine. In particular:
-Trade is generally a sub-optimal point-generation strategy, and offers a path to victory unrelated to the vast majority of the action in a game. In a proper 4X game, you might offer such a divergence to a player, but here it adds needless complexity and removes focus.
-Execute violates a core tenet of Chudyk - actions are shared between players - and does so redundantly, because you can already get an exclusive action through techs via Research. It really has no reason to exist - if you want a card as an action, either put it in the impulse and let other people get at it, or put it on the board and defend it. If you want to be greedy, that’s what techs are for.
-Sabotage adds chaos without really adding strategic depth to the game. Cruisers already threaten cards by virtue of patrolling, and there is already a threat of chaos and instability in battles. Sabotage adds one more layer that just serves to randomly fuck someone over. No bueno.
I want to completely remove those three actions and their associated cards. That would change the deck balance, the speed of the game, and the degree of focus in the game while not actually substantially changing useful strategic options. By taking out those redundant filler actions, you increase the odds of encountering useful options, and thus force actual choices.
I’d probably have to look at color balance after that, but I doubt I can possibly make the game worse.
I also have some misgivings about Plan. There are only 5 or 6 of those cards in a deck of 108, so why are they there at all? I could see making it into an inherent player action - like, somewhere in your turn you get a choice to either do something or add a card to your Plan.
Anyone have thoughts on my thoughts? I really really want this game to not suck.
Rage-design: A Less Shitty Version of Impulse
I found Impulse to be just ok - Mottainai’s tasks are a more enjoyable and cleaner implementation of the impulse.
Of the Carl Chudyk games I have played…
Love: Mottainai (2-3 players), Innovation (2-3 players or as a 4p partnership game - ask me on the right day and this is my favorite game, consistently a joy to play)
Like: Glory to Rome (3-4 players, 5p is a mistake), Red7 (questionable whether the ‘advanced’ rules add to the experience)
I’d like to try Wutai Mountain in its final published form - the Innovation expansions are all incredible in their own way and I could rank those just as easily as these games.
Oh, I played a bunch of games this weekend as usual… I’m going to keep the love/like/neutral/not for me scale - OpinionatedGamers uses it and it does a good enough job capturing the way I think about games.
Love It: Sid Meier’s Civilization: A New Dawn, Pandemic Legacy: Season 2, Glass Road
Like It: Scythe: The Wind Gambit (new to me), Sidereal Confluence, Deckscape: The Fate of London (new to me), Finished!, Betrayal at House on the Hill
Neutral: Card City (new to me)
Not for Me: Mystic Vale (new to me)
I never warmed up to Scythe before, but this weekend I got some enjoyment out of reading BGG strategy threads (I’d really like to see a detailed breakdown ala snellman.net Terra Mystica stats) so I’ve got Scythe on the mind. The new expansion is mostly harmless.
Civilization: A New Dawn on the other hand… I’m really enjoying. It even has some similarities to Scythe.
Card City is the weakest Viard city game, but I’d still like to try the XL version whenever it comes in. Mystic Vale didn’t do anything for me.
How does the new Civ game compare to Clash of Cultures? I still think “Clash” is the best non-space 4X boardgame out there. It’s a shame that it’s relatively obscure and more people haven’t played it.
I feel the same way. They seem to not provide new or interesting decisions in any meaningful way.
I agree. However, the one rule that lets you draw cards is essential.
I can’t compare it to Clash of Cultures from experience, but I’m confident that Civ: New Dawn is much simpler. It’s a short game, and some of the complaints I’ve seen are:
- No tech tree
- Too abstract
- Ability to kingmake
- Leaders are too similar
None of those have stood out to me as problems with the design after three plays (and describing the game as ‘too abstract’ doesn’t resonate with me whatsoever). Every game has taken an hour or less, but the game is clearly based on concepts that are central to the PC game.
It’s clearly not meant to be a replacement for the Kevin Wilson Fantasy Flight Civ game, which I believe just got a new print run (or the Francis Tresham Avalon Hill Civ game, for that matter…) Actually, at the game store I have been asked - several times - how this compares to “the old civ.” No one asking has realized how many different games have been called Civilization since 1980. Saying “the old civ” is about as precise as “the old Dungeons & Dragons.”
Finally got to play the second session of Massive Darkness. I read a bunch of reviews in reddit and BoardGameGeek in between the sessions and they all said something a lot akin to players becoming too OP too soon and this becoming just a stupid hack and slash. I had a different experience as the game scaled pretty well with the levels we had. We also found a fourth player who chose an archer as his character, giving us a bit more of a ranged attack and we left some XP wells for him to level up sooner.
In any case, we had fun and I’m kind of itching to play again but that will probably have to wait until mid-january as the holidays are approaching and I’ll be in Japan for almost two weeks after that.
Love It: Finished!, Pandemic Legacy: Season 2
Like It: Legacy of Dragonholt (new to me), Elements, Rajas of the Ganges (new to me), Colony, The Quest for El Dorado, The Voyages of Marco Polo, Antiquity
Neutral: Charterstone (new to me)
I’ve played Finished! 30 times since PAX Unplugged, and I am at the point where I only need 5-6 cups of coffee to finish the deck half the time.
I have reservations about Charterstone - namely playing to win the game and playing to win the campaign feel like different things in a discordant way, the nature of the end of game scoring and campaign scoring incentivizes unusual kingmaking behavior in any individual game… but I estimate our chances of playing the 12 games to completion are 1000% greater than SeaFall.
I only learned about Legacy of Dragonholt this week, it’s a perfect fit for a group of sometimes-roleplayers who just want to play an adventure module without needing a GM. And the writing is fun, which is half of what makes it work at all.
Rajas of the Ganges might be my favorite of the Essen euros. I enjoyed my one play more than Keyper, Pulsar 2849, or Clans of Caledonia (I haven’t had the opportunity to try Nusfjord, Heaven & Ale, or Reworld yet).
Antiquity is a truly difficult learning curve - there’s a game here but you need to learn how to pilot the game to “play”, instead of eliminating yourself in a corner. It’s not Food Chain Magnate, The Great Zimbabwe, or even Small City - but I’ve actually enjoyed setting it up as a solo puzzle.
Nightmare pollution/grave/attrition world after 16+ turns.
I helped playtest Charterstone about a year ago and was hugely disappointed with it. Out of the six players, including myself, who playtested it, after we finished the campaign, none of us would have bought it as is. I haven’t played it since then, so I have no idea what kind of changes were made based on our feedback, but suffice it to say that Charterstone was the worst of both worlds: As an individual game that you play multiple times, it was unsatisfying. And as a Legacy game that evolved over time, it was underwhelming.
To continue my thoughts on legacy games in general, and Charterstone specifically, there seems to be two ways to make a legacy game:
Take an existing boardgame and “lega-fy” it
Create an entirely new legacy boardgame from scratch not based on an existing game.
So far, we’ve seen pretty good results from method number one (Risk Legacy, Pandemic Legacy, and I assume the forthcoming Betrayal at House on the Hill legacy game). The legacy games not based on existing boardgames (SeaFall, Charterstone) haven’t fared so well, at least in my opinion. I think this is because in order to make a good “legacy” boardgame, the underlying game that you’re going to be playing multiple times needs to be fun to play outside of the “legacy” aspects. While Risk and Pandemic are not my favorite games, they were established games that were “lega-fied” and turned out pretty well. Even if I don’t particularly enjoy Risk or vanilla Pandemic that much, they are complete experiences.
This is just me speculating, but if I had to guess, when SeaFall and Charterstone were being designed, the designers didn’t start with a normal boardgame and “lega-fy” them, they started from the beginning with a game that had “legacy” elements built in. As a result, you end up, in both cases, with games that are not fun to play as a singular experience. It doesn’t matter how cool the “legacy” elements might be, if the underlying game that you’re going to be playing 10-15 times isn’t good, the legacy version of that game won’t be good either.
Having playtested Charterstone, and granted I have no idea if the game was changed based on our feedback, the game was not fun as a singular experience. In fact, each “individual” game of Charterstone was so short and unsatisfying that it didn’t feel like we were playing the game over and over again. Instead, it felt like we were just playing one long Euro that took us about 20 hours to complete. It was boring, very little was accomplished per “game,” and the decisions just weren’t that interesting. It failed as a singular boardgame experience.
Charterstone also failed as a legacy board game. Without wanting to go into spoilers, the overarching story of the game was trite and cliched. Again, I want to repeat that this could have changed based on our feedback, but when we played it, the story was like a bad fantasy novel written by a middleschooler. Additionally, because Charterstone is ostensibly a “legacy” game, even though each individual game didn’t feel like a satisfying experience, some aspects of the game were reset after each playthrough. As a result, Charterstone was incredibly frustrating. It wasn’t fun as a singular Euro boardgame, which could have been fine if it was marketed as a 20 hour “epic” Euro like Advanced Civ or something similar, but because it follows the “legacy” formula, periodically, the individual games will “end,” and the board will reset to a certain degree. This led to the players having to take many of the same actions over again because our progress didn’t carry through from game to game.
I have no idea how Jamey Stegmaier designed the game, but I would bet you that he didn’t first design a distinct boardgame that was fun and then “lega-fy” it. Instead, he tried to design a legacy boardgame from the ground up. As a result, he ended up with a boardgame that isn’t satisfying as a “singular” experience and also isn’t fun as one long “campaign” experience.
Based on SeaFall and my opinion on Charterstone, I’m honestly not sure if you can make a satisfying “legacy” boardgame based on method number 2 above. Designers should either create a fun boardgame and then add “legacy” aspects to it afterwards, or just create an epic-ly long boardgame without having to reset the game state.
A legacy game that has a solid “core” and then adds to it as time goes on sound more like a board game with expansions. Only the expansion are in little envelopes packed with the base game.
The problem with our group and Seafall partially had to do with the most profitable experiences being tied to exploration and the ratcheting up of the difficulty. When the Pirate King and his island hit the board that pretty much killed our interest in the game.
The biggest problem with a legacy game seems to be the meta of “winning the current game” versus “setting up to win the next game”. I’m not sure of you can even prevent that.
Neither Risk Legacy nor Pandemic Legacy seemed like boardgames with expansions to me. Both games changed and evolved over time, but both were built around standalone games. I’m not a huge Pandemic fan, but I enjoyed playing the individual games in the Legacy campaign or progression. I would never play just a single game of Charterstone or SeaFall. They’re just not fun as singular experiences. They’re meant to be played as part of something bigger. In Charterstone’s case, I think that’s a serious flaw and weakness.
Early games of Seafall went by very quickly, like maybe 1 or 2 rounds. Later games of Seafall turned into a slog.
MAGFest games! Mostly lighter stuff.
Love: 7x Throne and the Grail, 2x Jump Drive, 2x Kingdom Builder, Phoenicia
Like: 6 nimmt!, 3x Bohnanza: The Duel, Steam Park, The Bloody Inn, 4x Magic Maze, Rajas of the Ganges, Fabled Fruit, 4x Fast Forward: FORTRESS
Neutral: 7 Wonders, Rattaneer (new to me), Beasty Bar (new to me)
I have a complicated relationship with 7 Wonders… I don’t like it enough to ever suggest it, but I don’t dislike it enough to turn down a game. As a result I’ve played it over 40 times, mostly in large mixed groups (ie. we have 6 people and 60 minutes… the kind of situation where I’d normally suggest Showmanager or Medici) Exacerbating my dilemma, I always play with others who strongly prefer the expansions (which I mostly dislike). I especially don’t care for Leaders, which always manages to add 30 minutes to the playtime and teach (I can’t think of any other game where most people insist on playing with an expansion with such significant rules overhead, even with new or inexperienced players). Leaders also adds an unnecessary strategic component to a highly tactical game - especially at higher player counts where the variance in the distribution of the deck increases - nothing hurts more than spending cash for a science discount and then seeing 40% of an era’s science cards in a hand you will only see once. On the other hand, the team variant which we played was quite nice. I’d just be more interested in a 4p partnership game than the big 8p game that inevitably accumulates around an open 7 Wonders box. To be clear, I’m not blaming anyone in the FRC - this has been my experience everywhere, so I’m clearly the odd one out.
Throne and the Grail is quickly becoming one of my favorite 2p games. The rules implicitly force you to give more of your hand to your opponent than yourself and it’s brilliant. I also played Bohnanza: The Duel every day of MAGFest (even taught Phil on the last day)
Kingdom Builder is easily my favorite SdJ winner or nominee from the last 5 years, and it only took me 5 years to play it.
Rattaneer has the cutest pieces. Not sure how much staying power it has for me, need to play a second time. You get 20 actions so whiffing on one hurts, but you can mitigate it with smart play (something I am not capable of!)
I’ve taken to apologizing for the production problems with Phoenicia in advance… it makes an excellent 4p auction game harder to play and teach.
Beasty Bar is fine, but a bit capricious. I don’t like that depending on the situation some cards can be “choose a player to hurt”. The variants (deckbuilding and combining with a different set of beasty cards) seem interesting enough to try.
I have to agree with you on Leaders. I’m so used to playing with them, but they rarely make the game more interesting, and do add an entire extra layer to manage (with new players esp) I’d like to try an 8-player team game without Leaders (maybe only Cities?) and see how it goes. Its been many many years since playing without them so its become more or less just standard.
I like seven wonders just fine, but it’s kinda in a weird place. It’s not a very social game, but it kinda gets played like one. I think it’s at its best at 3 players.