Recent Board Gaming


Acquire is a classic but it’s a shame that the only version in print is the new rules. An extra person gets paid out during an acquisition, which might take some of the bite out of the game. Haven’t played the new rules myself.

Chicago Express is a very accessible, short, no-randomness game published by Queen. Very simple rules, very difficult to wrap your head around at first. It’s got 18xx stuff (trains, company money vs. player money, dividends) but plays nothing like 18xx. There’s even an old Geeknights episode about Chicago Express, they recorded back before I knew Rym and Scott, back before I even got into train games. :stuck_out_tongue:

Indonesia is a bit of a different take on running companies with shared incentives - no partial ownership of companies, but they get splashed around through mergers, and you can cash out more for having a huge company, and play games by merging your own companies. No shares but it feels like an 18xx because anyone with the means can buy you out, which might be good or bad.

504 has a “Shares” module that I’ve heard some people swear by. I never stuck with the game long enough to figure out if that would elevate the game for me. Power Grid also has a “stock companies” expansion. Panamax lets you buy shares in other players, but it’s kinda overshadowed by the dice / movement mechanic.

Stockpile is very accessible (but feels a bit more focused on the auction mechanic than the shareholding aspect). Speculation is also very accessible but not one of my favorites. Mombasa, Arkwright, Nusfjord, and Whistle Stop are all “stock-ish” (Nusfjord comes close, you just have to pay dividends with fish).


I like Scythe a whole bunch and need to play some more of the Automa mode so I can get better at it.


I think of Scythe the way I think about fighting games.

In a fighting game, the “real” high level game that pros are playing is a psychological duel of rock/paper/scissors. However, a casual player can’t play that game. Until someone has mastered executing special moves, combos, and all sorts of other manual dexterity challenges, the psychology doesn’t come into play at all. Even a player who is better than the pros at mind games will lose if they have not perfectly mastered the joystick.

The “real” game in Scythe is the same as Diplomacy. WOR! A bunch of Scythe professionals playing together will be effectively not much different than a game of Diplomacy. The main differences being that the game will likely be shorter and there are no hard a fast rules about discussing things in secret or submitting turns within a time limit.

However, Scythe covers up its Diplomacy with euro fiddly bits. Someone who has not mastered the euro fiddly bits will not gain admittance to the game of Diplomacy. Players with superior euro skills/luck will have more resources than their opponents, and will not need to deal or bargain. They can just roll.

I think part of the reason I did not like Scythe the first and only time I played is because I didn’t realize this is what the game was. I thought it was euro only. Also, most (all) of the players played it as if it was euro only, and the war game aspects were not used much at all until the very end. But at that point nobody had the resources to prevent victory/game end/etc. compared to say… Dune.

This skill-hurdle gatekeeping doesn’t necessarily make a game bad. Civilization does it. It doesn’t matter how much Advance Wars skill you have in Civ if your opponents just have more better units than you do because you suck (like me). Yet Civ is still great. Even Jungle Speed does it. If you fail at the pattern recognition skill test, your dexterity at grabbing the totem won’t matter.

Scythe I think simply has a Euro part that is inelegant and not well polished. Its war part is not fundamentally different or special. Above all else they clearly spent a lot more effort on miniatures, production value, and theme than they did on the actual game.

The board game community is dividing even more between the people who actually play a lot of games and those who are collecting them. Just like video games have those who care about graphics and getting lots of fps, and those who care about actually playing games, board games now have people who care about physical cardboard bits and those who actually care about winning and losing.

When I read about board games online in Reddit or BGG the topics are always kickstarters, collections, prices, deals, playing solo games, bootlegs, complaints about game components. When actually playing games with people, those are brought up rarely, if ever. Usually we are talking about rules and strategies.

The designers and publishers cater to the collecting part of the community since that is the part that spends more money. The players are more likely to get fewer games and play the hell out of them. Thus, we see a lot more games with fancy components and less playtesting.


That’s a great way to describe Scythe. I definitely agree with you that in Scythe’s case specifically, and with Kickstarter games in general, the designers spent more effort on the bits of the game than on actual mechanics and playtesting. While I think that Scythe is a decent game, it’s definitely one were the unstated emphasis and selling point is style over substance.


If you can’t tell from the long list of games, I was at PAX East this weekend. This is the PAX where I work - but I was working in the Tabletop First Look section, which isn’t far off from what I’d be doing anyway.

Love It: Sidereal Confluence, 4x Root (new), Fresh Fish, Quartermaster General
Like It: Cities, 2x No Thanks!, Between Two Cities: Capitals, Q.E. (new), Little Town Builders, 3x Mini Rails, Castell (new), FORTRESS, Hanabi, For-Ex, Wizard
Indifferent: America, Tokyo Jutaku (new), 2x Tokyo Jidohanbaiki (new), Meeple Circus, Princess Jing (new), Jungle Speed

I was looking forward to Root (4 plays) and I wasn’t disappointed - I played four times this weekend, and taught seven more while I was on shift in the First Look section. I would have been happy spending most of my convention center time playing more Root, and now I’ll have to wait four months before the final production copies actually start shipping.

Cities (4th play) continuing to serve as a perfect 15 minute puzzle game. Also the first game I played in Boston after our plane landed on Wednesday.

Tokyo Jutaku (1 play) was the first game I played after I got off of my shift on Thursday. I’m not a fan of the rules as written (it’s a simultaneous speed game, but only the first player to finish gets anything), but I already have some ideas that would make it more interesting for me with access to a sand timer and a few rules from Galaxy Trucker.

We finished Thursday night with a print-and-play copy of Q.E. (1 play). First two bids of the game: 10 and 750. This is the only time I got to play during the convention, but I did teach on Friday, and my kickstarter copy is coming… soonish. Might have some trouble travelling with it, though.

Anthony taught Dan and me Castell (1 play) after Dinner on Friday, which is much more clever than I expect from a modern Euro. Good theme, good planning, and the festivals give you more interaction than just “take these resources before someone else does.”

I did play one game of Fresh Fish (18th play) after Castell, even though I was quickly running out of energy and had to stumble back to the room to sleep.

Introduced For-Ex (4th play) to Rym and Scott on Saturday. We didn’t get to play a full game because my shift started about halfway through, but I really enjoy the tenor of the game when all the players are super invested in trying different things to win. Most of my previous plays have included at least one player who disengages completely within the first turn of the game.

After dinner on Saturday, Dan and I played a few of the 2p games in the First Look area. Tokyo Jidohanbaiki (2 plays) is presented as a game framework - pieces and cards that can be used to play several games. Normally not my thing, but pieces themed after “Japanese vending machine culture” are more fun than Loony pyramids or a Piecepack set. We played both 2p games in the rules - Crate Wars is an area control game that we had more fun figuring out the rules than actually playing. We had more fun with a 2p deduction/memory game whose name I can’t remember. We also moved one table over to try Princess Jing (1 play), which has a very fun premise - think Stratego with mirrors. Enjoyable to move the pieces around and try to find things with your mirrors, just not something I need to own.

Sunday gaming, in total, was two games of Root (one with Judith, and a rematch with Dan and Anthony) and Jungle Speed in the convention center. After dinner: No Thanks!, Quartermaster General, and a final game of Wizard to close out the night. Good PAX.


PAX East 2018 games

Q.E: I like it, but not as much as I expected. The freedom to bid whatever doesn’t actually result in wild hilarious bidding patterns. Also, perfectly optimizing play is probably a fascinating exercise that would be explained in a terrific Numberphile video that I would watch with glee. It is not something that I am interesting in doing myself in real-time at a game table, so that means just sort of bidding fun numbers. I won with a few nice 69s tossed in there. I regret not using more 666 and 420 bids.

For-Ex: I really like this game, but regret that we weren’t able to finish a play through. The fact that the contract queue is limited, and filled up with just 3 players really cramped my play style. I tend to invest conservatively, so I would wait for prices to drop, buy low, wait for them to go up, and sell high. But while I’m buying bonds making prices go up getting ready to sell, all the contract spots became full. There was discussion of a mod to force a contract to resolve each turn/round and that sounds good.

Fresh Fish: Is still a good game. I bid too many coins and lost. I didn’t play with the better rules, but I understand them better than before thanks to watching others. I still don’t understand them perfectly, though.

Little Town Builders: Is great because it’s a cute worker placement that ends quickly. You place just 12 works and then the game is over. 12 big decisions and game over. That’s what I call a tight game. The fun level could vary a lot based on which buildings are chosen. We only had one money-generating building and that proved to be key.

Princess Jing: This game looks like it’s going to be great when you see it. Secretly moving the princess with these folding screens. Actual literal mirrors. In reality, it doesn’t have much going on. Terrific A++ game for kids who are old enough to comprehend it, but not yet smart teenagers who could play a real game.

Number 9: I sucked at this, but I liked it. I just don’t want to buy it or play it too much because there obviously isn’t too much replay value after you master it.

Blokus: I still like this game, and I still kick ass at it. I want to play Blokus against people who are on my level.

Element: I saw this in the library and it grabbed my eyeball. A 2-4 player competitive abstract game with a little bit of controllable randomness. The rules that were in the box had a lot of issues. Thankfully there are official revised rules on BGG that answered a lot of the questions. I was able to fully resolve all the issues, and then it turned out to be a good game. I just don’t know how many other people will like it and want to play it with me, so I won’t buy it.

There were others, but I can’t remember them right now…


I’m really looking forward to the time (maybe 5-10 years from now) when Sidereal Confluence gets a Glory To Rome style aesthetic redesign and rules tweaks. I feel like that version of the game will really pull me in.

Lately I’ve been playing the role of boardgames ambassador and introducing friends to Codenames, Small World, and Dixit. It’s kind of surreal seeing the reactions of people who’ve played a whole lot of Mysterium discover the latter for the first time.


A friend in my local group made a print and play, and it’s my newest obsession. I’ve played three games as the Eyrie, Alliance, and Marquis, and I’ve seen every other faction on the table. It’s comparable to Dune in how asymmetric the factions are, just not the same “holy cow this faction is cheating” degree. It all comes down to the different action economies in the game.

The birds start out strong and get even stronger as you build up this tableau of cards/orders you must fill every turn. But you’re really just setting up a time-bomb for your inevitable collapse and has a fun “Well I don’t WANT to attack you but I promised the birds back home a fight every turn, soooo hands are tied, sorry” aspect to it. The Marquis looks like the Romans when you’re fighting against them, able to dump huge armies of cats at a moment’s notice. Playing as them though it never feels like there’s enough actions in the turn to put out all the fires you’re dealing with. And the Woodland Alliance is a blast to play as, biding your time until you’ve got enough supporters to explode onto the map and retake your homeland.


Love It: Race for the Galaxy
Like It: 1889: History of Shikoku Railways, Black Orchestra, Keyflower
Neutral: Decrypto (new), Stockpile

Decrypto is fun enough, and I’m sure everyone’s going to compare it to Codenames even though they’re not very similar. Might get better over time once people get better at generating the most difficult possible clues for their teammates to keep information obscured.

Going into 1889 with a plan didn’t set me up any better, and might have made me play worse by replacing my default heuristics with my own narrow, learned experience. Finding new mistakes to make in an 18xx game has been incredibly enjoyable.


I liked Decrypto more than neutral. I’m just cautious that when people get good at it, it will become too easy.


Or too hard.

I already envisioned some encryption schemes that pass the rules sniff-test and which could be implemented by a clever duo.


Let us put them to the test.


Interesting thing, I played the new Zendo box at PAX. It’s interesting, but on the whole I think I prefer the old version/ taking the box and discarding chunks of it to basically play it the old way.

Pips are gone, as are two of the colours but in lieu of pips, there are 3 different shapes, a pyramid, a triangular prism and a rectangular prism.

Ok whatever, most things that were possible before are still possible.

They also seem to have removed some of the mystical/bhuddist language, I didn’t really see the words, koan or bhudda nature, master or mondo anywhere in the rules. - Also whatever, not a big deal changing language

The real problematic change was the inclusion of the rule deck and little pins to point to the rules.

Here’s what they look like:

gist being you pull cards, put little markers so each card can be used multiple times and the game proceeds as normal, with the cards being the maker of new bhudda natures.

All the cards I encountered were baby’s first nature and guessable almost from the sample koans.


My experience with new Zendo is similar. We played it with the new pieces (which are perfectly fine, counting pips always seemed needlessly fiddly), but used the old theme because the boxed version is effectively theme-less. I contend that the master/student aesthetic adds to the enjoyment of the game.

I actually like the rule deck. Yes, they’re super basic, but they’re good for allowing new players to play as the Master without having wildly-oscillating difficulty curves. My house rule is that players who are more experienced (and know how difficult the rules they’re thinking of actually are) don’t have to rely on the deck, which works out fine in practice.


I played the new version once and found all of the changes to be generally positive or neutral. The koan cards are a positive change and help reign in a pervasive tendency to create byzantine koans (take #20 there - simple, but IME players will take three or four trips around the table testing all kinds of irrelevant information if you present the initial examples cleverly enough).


What am I getting myself into?


You are a weekend away from competition at WBC and wrecking those beardos.


Of course I’ve got the training wheels on, Triumph & Tragedy is only medium-light on the GMT complexity scale.

You know how once you’ve played enough games you have a working knowledge of trick-taking, auctions, majority scoring, share-dealing…? well I just stumbled into a big collection of well-known mechanisms that only exist in block wargames. Only here (as I understand it) they’re in service of an atypical big-picture political game where “government” is a phase, atomic research coupled with a robust air force is an instant win, and declaring war is an active decision with pros and cons distinct from violating the neutrality of an unaffiliated minor nation.

But not too complicated.

Relatively speaking.

(TBH if you’ve ever played a computer strategy game you’re already qualified)


I’ve had a self-perception for a while that I don’t really like “mean” games. I’ve never really examined that perception - it’s just something I generally believed about myself. There’s some reasonable evidence for it, because there are a lot of games I dislike that happen to be mean.

But… it’s definitely not true. I know I like Lowenherz. I really like Bus. Games where everyone tangled up with one another in really enjoyable ways. And I’m observing a pattern in some of the games I’m currently interested in that happen to be… particularly mean or weird.

Back in February we played Fresh Fish after a two year hiatus. I insisted on finally playing the classic rules and muddling through them, and the game came to life. No other game, abstract or otherwise, has a rule like expropriation, and the way expropriation interacts with the tile draw and the blind bid is perfect.

A month later I played 1889 expecting to be disappointed, and proved myself completely wrong wanting to play it a second and third time, rusting trains, gleefully selling down and pushing stock values into the bottom of the stock market.

Looking back at the past 6 months, I logged my first plays of Sidereal Confluence, The Great Zimbabwe, For-Ex, and John Company. All singular and strange and highly interactive games.

I spent my entire weekend at PAX watching people throw armies at one another in Root, came home, and immediately went looking for another game with dice combat.

The amount of direct interaction in my tabletop gaming is way up right now and I’m kind of into it.

  1. I was taught the Azul scoring rules wrong, but I’m all set now.
  2. 2-player Azul is a different beast from 3- or 4-player.