First Impressions from PAX Unplugged 2018

This First Impressions post will feature the following games:

Arkham Horror Third Edition
Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra
Blume
Burgle Bros. w/ Building Accessory
Carpe Diem
Catch the Moon
Ceylon
Chai
The Climbers
Dinosaur Tea Party
Dimension: The Spherical Stackable Fast Paced Puzzle Game
Drop It
Fireball Island: The Curse of Vul-Kar
Flamme Rouge
Get Off My Land!
Holding On: The Troubled Life of Billy Kerr
Lanterns: The Harvest Festival
Majolica
Museum
Pugmire
Rescue Polar Bears: Data & Temperature
Roll for your Life, Candyman!
Sagrada Expansion
Seal Team Flix
Someone Has Died
Stonehenge and the Sun
Strange Vending Machines
Subatomic
The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31
Tokyo Highway
Tulip Bubble
Unicorn Glitterluck

Arkham Horror Third Edition – Full caveat, I was never that enamored with Arkham Horror Second Edition and thought Eldritch Horror was better (but still a little bloated). Arkham Horror feels completely revamped and fresh as it’s streamlined and less ‘fiddly’. The modular boards help create a ‘new’ experience with each scenario and from watching one game and playing another, our scenarios felt drastically different which is something I never truly felt in previous editions. However, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows in the world of Cthulhu as I felt many times I had no say in what was happening (as a player). The game did what it wanted when it wanted and I was just along for the ride. I also wasn’t a fan of the artwork and sometimes felt it was hard to see things or find them. Lastly, I was told there were only four scenarios included in the box and while the Horror franchise is known for their expansions, I felt kind of let down by that low number. I would like another chance at the game with a different scenario but then even if I did like it, would I enjoy it enough knowing I’ve played fifty percent of the content? I don’t know.

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Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra – This was one of the top three games we wanted to play at PAX and we were lucky to get a game in on day two in the First Look area. First, let’s get the good out of the way. The game introduced a ‘cup’ for tiles to be deposited in so you no longer had to put tiles in the box lid. That was great.

As for the comparison to base Azul, the main difference was the use of a worker who moves along the top of your player board, only towards the right. When that worker finally hits the edge of your board, you need to pass to “reset” them so they can start on the left of your board. Passing is something that you don’t really want to do due unless you’re trying to avoid tiles in the middle of the board. The game is relatively short (lasting only six rounds).

The game felt more complex and bloated without adding any additional depth or strategy that the original Azul already had. I felt like it was made more complex just because as opposed to an actual gameplay reason. I can fairly compare this to Kingdomino and Queendomino where they share some similarities but are vastly different. There were more decisions to make and more to be aware of, which can lead to more interesting plays and strategies but it didn’t feel that way when playing. Granted, it was a first look playthrough but with Azul (which it will be compared against), it felt like we were playing a modern classic the first time it hit the table and our love was immeasurable where as Sintra was just…there. In fact, if Sintra had come first, I feel like I would like it more and with a burgeoning collection, there just isn’t room for a game that won’t be played when a better version is available.

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It looked and felt cheap in component quality compared to the original which was disappointing. Maybe it was a different material due to the transparent nature of the pieces. It doesn’t have that table presence that Azul or Sagrada has and if it didn’t have the Azul name, I’m not sure if I would have played it.

The centralized score track is curvy and all over the place and players need to keep track of the central board as opposed to their own board. With scoring occurring at different intervals, it can hinder game play as players need to verify points and can’t move onto their turn.

With no negative tile, there was no downside to going first. The broken tile rules is also weird. We had a player max out their broken tile limit so they no longer had penalties when taking broken tiles. The penalties for breaking tiles was extreme as well.

There were so many tiles, which opened up the amount of things you could accomplish but also made it more likely to break tiles. There was constant resetting. There was a variant for scoring and you can stack scoring which increased your tactics and strategy but added more time to scoring.

Everything just felt over-complicated. If I wasn’t playing with strangers, I would have quit.

BlumeBlume, a tile placing abstract strategy game centered around flowers, was the highlight of our experience at PAX Unplugged. Abstract strategy games aren’t for everyone but if you enjoy them or like puzzly games like Azul, I would highly recommend keeping an eye out for Blume’s Kickstarter, which is hoping to launch in early 2019. Blume has players creating flowers on a 5×5 grid by placing tiles that have flowers in each of the four corners of the square. Each round has players placing the tiles in a certain section of their grid (dependent on the card draw but typically 3×3, then 4×4, and so on). The placement of the tiles should end with players creating full flowers (four corners touching). When that happens, players can either add that flower to their points or increase/decrease the value of existing flowers. Maybe you completed a yellow flower but instead of making it worth more or adding it to your board, you decide to decrease the value of blue flowers since that’s what your opponent has the most of. After a grid is completed, players must prune their flowers by removing a set number of tiles of their choosing. I was absolutely smitten by the game and loved the amount of challenge creating flowers presented and loved how fast the game played. Once the rules are learned, it’s just a game of placing tiles and scoring when all tiles match. I look forward to seeing the final components when the Kickstarter launches.

Burgle Bros. w/ Building – I’ve played Burgle Bros. and I own it but I had never interacted with the three-story card tower and I just had to see what, if any, difference it made. I have two answers to that. First, it’s awesome. It creates a three-dimensional building that really immerses you in the game and makes it easier to follow on the table as everything is vertical as opposed to horizontal. The areas in the floor where the cards go have little triangle styled holes for players to easily pick up and flip the cards without accidentally seeing what that card or others are. However, it’s incredibly unnecessary and larger than life. While I was told it would fold down, I have no idea where it’s supposed to be stored (since the base game barely fits in the box as is). If you play Burgle Bros. a lot, I could see investing in this as it really did make playing the game more fun (which is hard to do as it’s a blast) but if you only break it out once in awhile (like we do), I would pass.

Carpe Diem – After playing Carpe Diem, I was glad I had played it but wasn’t blown away like I thought I would be. Two days after playing it, it was a game I wanted to go back to and maybe even purchase (but it wasn’t available). This was a typical Feld game where the theme has little to no bearing on the game and the colors are absolutely dreadful. The gameplay though is the saving grace and Carpe Diem might be the quickest Feld game we’ve ever played. It also provides so much variability with all the modular and randomized components. This game has a simplicity that I cannot remember being shared by any other Feld game.

Catch the Moon – Adorable. The base is a cloud with notches that the ladders can start in. Each game begins with two ladders but there are so many notches that the game can be started differently every time you play. There are beginner and advanced notches to offer different levels of play. The rules are simple as you follow what the die roll says. The randomness combined with the dexterity might turn players off but it’s a cute light balancing game. The ladders are wonky shaped and could cause frustration. Definitely geared towards families and kids but shouldn’t be a waste of time for an experienced gamer. The game doesn’t offer much but for a cheap filler game, you could do much worse.

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Ceylon – Ceylon is a game about the first pioneers of tea making in the land that is now Sri Lanka. The game features hallmarks such as grid movement, modular boards, and variable upgrades for players but the main draw of the game was the action cards that had actions printed on the top and bottom of the card. What made this a fascinating inclusion was that when a player chose one side of that card to perform, the other side was now open and available to every remaining player in the game. They could either perform that main action or one of the side actions (move, gain money). I absolutely loved this mechanic and really only have ever seen it used in Twilight Imperium with the strategy cards. The only negative of this was that it made turn order hard to keep track of as players would perform an action off of a played card and then go around the table before it came back to them to play their own card. Another drawback was that there are only four or five main actions and they become played out relatively quickly.

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The components and artwork were of high quality but some of the tokens and colors used were hard on the eyes as they blended in too well with the background art, particularly the blue player tokens when over water. The scoring was also something I had an issue with. The majority of the scoring occurs after the end game is triggered and it can be hard having an actual grasp on where the players sit going into the final turn(s). End game scoring added between thirty and forty points per player.

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I was glad to have tried Ceylon as it had some fun mechanics but it’s not one I would want to play over and over again. It’s a solid game and I’m sure repeated plays would allow me to appreciate some of the nuances of late game scoring more but for now, I’m okay with passing on Ceylon.

Chai – Chai, a lightweight tea making game with influences from 7 Wonders and Bejeweled, was an absolute delight to play. The artwork is utterly gorgeous and while the game heavily relies on color, it also utilizes symbols for players that suffer from color blindness. We played a four player game that was just a breeze and this definitely belongs in that family-friendly entry-level stage of board games. There is a variant for a more complex mode that involves some area control but we did not test that. Chai can swing in a players favor due to the randomness of the tile draw or the orders that need to be fulfilled but it never really mattered as it was just as likely to swing back in your favor.

Chai is available on Kickstarter right now (and already fully funded!).

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The Climbers – The Climbers is an abstract race-to-the-top game where players will move their player token towards the top of the modular board while constantly moving and rearranging the board. Players can only move to spaces with their color or a neutral color and there are some additional rules for ladders. The Climbers does not look like much at first glance and the rules are for a simple and easy to teach game but it can become as tranquil or as cutthroat as players want with their board movement and blocking capabilities. BGG says 45 minutes for a playthrough but with five players (and three new ones) during a demo at the Simply Complex booth, we were done in almost half the time.

Dinosaur Tea Party – The artwork is incredible but at the end of the day, it’s Guess Who but with Dinosaurs (not a bad thing). When you were found out, there wasn’t player elimination as the guessing player gets a point and you just get a new dinosaur. You’re supposed to speak in a British accent and that’s not for everyone. Definitely a fun, lightweight filler game and once you’ve played, a second game will go much faster. The artwork and theme are the selling points of the game.

Dimension: The Spherical Stackable Fast Paced Puzzle Game – A fun, light, timed abstract game. Timers won’t be for everyone but it ensures that Dimension does not overstay its welcome. The game offers a lot of cards so while you’ll always be stacking, you won’t be stacking the same way each and every game. The components were a great quality. Super simple and family friendly dexterity game.

Drop It – Anyone that has ever watched Price is Right knows that Plinko is the game everyone wants to play. Drop It is basically Plinko and like Plinko, you may think you know where the item you drop is going but one bump will send it careening in another direction. Drop It is great as you can play with anyone, gamer or not. There’s some strategy but that’s not required to have a good time. The apparatus (for lack of a better term as it’s certainly not a board) is well made and offers a lot of bonus points that may not be easily seen from a distance. This is a simple game that’s fun and super quick at any player count. It could play in ten minutes or be really methodical and last fifteen. Set-up is fast and it’s a great looking (and playing) filler game. The frustration from the pieces not falling where you want is fine since the game is short and more geared toward fun rather than tactics. This is a great little family game priced right due to the fine components.

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Fireball Island: The Curse of Vul-Kar – Fireball Island is big. It’s dumb. It’s incredibly campy and random…but I loved every second of it. The game has a presence about it as it’s large and in charge. Everything about the game is chaotic and random. If that’s not for you, I would avoid Fireball Island as you probably won’t have a good time. Your well-laid plans can be interrupted rather quickly by the drop of a marble.

Fireball Island isn’t going to satisfy my need for a deeply strategic game but it was a fun throw-back to family game nights of Tornado Rex or Mousetrap. If you were to play this over and over and over again, I could see the novelty wearing off pretty quickly but as a centerpiece for the occasional lightweight game night, Fireball Island will more than carry its weight. The game will create memorable moments and while the randomness will frustrate players, the action cards will never truly knock a player out of the game.

I ordered a copy during Miniature Market’s Black Friday sale and am impatiently waiting its delivery in February…

Flamme Rouge – Flamme Rouge is great and might be one of my favorite purchases of 2018. So why is it on the first impressions post? Simple, I got to play a gigantic version of the game with strangers and it was so fun. Seeing different strategies and not knowing what players will be doing on each turn was a rush for me.

Get Off My Land! – Get Off My Land! was a game that I flipped and flopped about Kickstarter before eventually saying no. I was more than ecstatic to see a booth at the convention demoing a copy and I got to play through half a year (which is roughly 50% of the game). The basis is that you’re a farmer and you can use less than legal tactics to make your farm the best. Maybe you break fences or harvest your neighbors corn. The gameplay itself is rather straight forward but there are a few nitpicky rules to be aware of. Get Off My Land! is really about appreciating the theme of the game and how it’s different from typical farming games (which tend to skew toward the heavier side) like Agricola or Lowlands. I tested the game at four-players and enjoyed how tight and interactive everything was but I am concerned about how the game plays at two-players and maybe even three. The board will be far more wide open and the feud aspect could possibly be non-existent. I purchased a copy of Get Off My Land! and am excited to see where it takes us but I’m also aware that this might fall in some weird light-to-mid-weight limbo.

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Holding On: The Troubled Life of Billy Kerr – ¡POSSIBLE SPOILERS BUT PROBABLY NOT!

Holding On is a narrative game like Time Stories, Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective or Mansions of Madness and will not be for everyone. Depending on the card layout (which is randomized from shuffling), the game can either be a walk in the park or bone crushingly difficult. The artwork is phenomenal and the thematic nature of the worker placement for nurses is a nice touch. The game has a fair balance of keeping the patient alive and delving into their backstory.

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We played at four-players and had a relatively easy go at the game but as we played Ceylon, we saw a two-player game have struggles that we did not have to endure. I wonder if there are any changes to gameplay for two-players. I also wonder if there were more cards for the scenarios after one or if the game just has different criteria to be met. We didn’t want to spoil anything so we didn’t look ahead.

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After playing the first scenario, we definitely wanted to play again and uncover the next scenario. I’m incredibly curious as to what the payoff is at the end of the road. My only concern with the game is that once it’s completed, it doesn’t appear to be something we’d want to come back to (since we’d know all the secrets).

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If you enjoy narrative games, I think Holding On is one you should definitely read a review of to see if it’s something you might like. Personally, we loved it. It adds a little bit more of a game to the standard formula.

Lanterns: The Harvest Festival – An older game that we picked up from the PAX Library, Lanterns is a tile placing game with color and pattern recognition. This is a light game that would probably do well with families as it has a similar style to that of dominoes as you try and match like-colored ends. That being said, I hated this game. I found the decision making to be boring and my turns to be too paint by numbers.

Majolica – Abstract pattern games are all the rage and Majolica has a lot of substance to go with the flash of the tiles. There is the opportunity to build a chain to score points and finish your objectives but the game suffers from a clear lack of momentum. Every time you accomplish a goal, you immediately are reduced to scratch and starting all over.

I think what holds Majolica back is the components, which is a terrible thing to say as gameplay is what truly matters but when other abstracts look like Reef, Azul, and Sagrada, I can’t justify spending the same amount for the pieces offered by Majolica.

In addition to the components is the reshuffling of the board tiles after each round. This sucks, is annoying, and occurs far too often. This doesn’t ruin the game by any means but you will hate it and it would definitely influence my decision to play again.

The game has interesting mechanics as you take tiles to create pairings and move them across your player board but it felt more frustrating than fun. I love stressful games but this just irked me as opposed to anything else. I think with multiple plays, I might enjoy Majolica but after one play, I just don’t have a desire to revisit that abstract world.

Museum – What was weird was that there was a completely separate mechanic available only to Kickstarter backers and that was an inclusion of a take-that style game. Without it, Museum is more tranquil and laid back but the museum world is anything but. It’s also weird that the Kickstarter is over and they would announce that at the convention. All of the artwork is great but none of the actual art pieces are under copyright so I’m curious as to why the game costs so much. The market fluctuation was also a little too frustrating as players can easily be blocked from grabbing the art they need. Being left out of getting your secret objective made the game appear tedious. For people that work/volunteer at museums, I think this game would resonate with them but for everyone else, I don’t know if it offers enough to due its theme justice. This is especially true since the game is set in the 1920’s, the heyday of museums stealing the works that would eventually adorn their walls. Something more could have been done with that concept. At least it looked neat.

Pugmire – I didn’t play Pugmire, a tabletop roleplaying game featuring dogs inhabiting the Earth after humans have disappeared, but I stopped at the table and chatted with the staff and was struck by their story and wanted to share it. The main Pug was the creators own beloved dog and features heavily in the artwork of the game. Since the games release, the pet has since passed but their memory lives on and I thought that was such a heartwarming tale for a game. We were also told that a Pugmire card game is in the works for those that enjoy the theme but would rather pass on the roleplaying aspect.

Rescue Polar Bears: Data & Temperature – I loved the theme and the components and the art work. The gameplay didn’t reinvent the wheel or anything but was also familiar and fun (Pandemic with climate change). The only real issues we had was the randomness in difficulty. One wrong move and a family of polar bears ends up in the water, requiring helicopter rescue and diminishing your “whoopsie” counter substantially. This is a cute game that deserves a second look but I fear that the cuteness and theme overshadow what is just a reskin of every other cooperative game I’ve played.

Roll for your Life, Candyman! – I can’t think of too many Christmas themed games but Roll for your Life, Candyman! might make a good filler for around the holiday’s. It’s a fast rolling dice game that is definitely aimed at families and children although it does have direct player interaction, as players can choose to harm the Candymen of other players. That violence is all cookie-based and the game in its entirety is silly. The entire affair lasted ten minutes and that’s the perfect amount of time for a game like this. It’s basically a one-month pony that’s cute for three or four plays a year (in theory) before it sits on the shelf until next year.

Sagrada Expansion – We went into this demo thinking the expansion solely offered the ability to include a fifth and/or sixth player. We knew about the additional cards and boards offered but knew nothing about the Private Dice Pools. We really enjoyed this variant and while I wouldn’t use it every time we play the game, it’s definitely something that will keep Sagrada fresh and interesting.

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Seal Team Flix – I enjoy dexterity games a lot but they never offer any depth or strategy. There’s nothing wrong with that but sometimes I want a little more meat on the bone so when I heard about Seal Team Flix, I knew this was something I needed to try out. The theme isn’t the greatest for my group as straight military games are played out and too political (typically) but I really enjoyed the action behind this game. There were more rules than I thought but they flowed pretty well and the AI movement was easy to follow. I like that there’s a campaign and your characters can grow as the game goes on too. Choosing which shot to use and finding the right force when flicking was much harder than I imagined but I loved the tactical choices. I still don’t know if I’m sold on Seal Team Flix (mostly due to the size of the box and again, the theme for my group) but if I see this on discount in the wild, I might have to pick it up.

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Someone Has Died – My group really enjoys improvisational games. Smack Talk Showdown is a classic and Gloom was a staple for awhile. Someone Has Died is a game where players are given cards that detail their character, relationship to the deceased, and backstory. With this information, they need to convince the executor of the estate that they’re the ones deserving of the inheritance left by the recently departed. With the right group, this game could be a lot of fun. I know it would float with the people that I play with but for others, the improvisational and on-the-spot storytelling might not be their cup of tea. From a small publisher, I thought Someone Has Died was a unique twist on the role-playing party game.

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Stonehenge and the Sun – Stonehenge and the Sun was a spectacle to see and immediately something I wanted to try my hand at. This is a dexterity game where you build stones on the outer rim of the playing area and then drop the “sun” (aka a metal ball) between stones hoping not to hit anything. If you do hit a stone, you take that as a negative point. The version I played was gigantic and I can’t imagine being the retail release as it just wouldn’t fit or store in many homes so I’m curious to see how it ends up. The gameplay was fun but I worry that the replay value is diminished as all you’re really doing is swinging a wrecking ball between bricks with the objective of not hitting anything.

Strange Vending Machines – Another game on my list that I wanted to check out at PAX, Strange Vending Machines gets an A for originality but an F for enjoyment. We played the “Muscle Mans Purchase Challenge” which is the simplest way to play this light, family game. Players either purchase the item showing through the vending machine window, take a dollar from the supply, or add a card to the vending machine to take all the coins held inside. This is done simultaneously and creates a quick and sometimes hectic game. There was nothing wrong with Strange Vending Machine really. It’s short and to the point and the rules are easy to grasp but there was no fun factor. You were entirely focused on the machine in your hands and never had a chance to look ahead or see what other players were doing. The randomization of the cards also meant that the set you’ve been working on may not come up at all as they’re buried in each machine. The novelty of the game and the vending machine components are great but not enough to make me want to grab the game and try out the more involved variant, “Ingredients and Recipes of the Mysterious Wizard”, even though it sounds like the superior way to play the game.

Subatomic – Science was never my strong point and at this juncture in my life, never will be. But with mentoring children and my own on the way, I guess I should do what I can to have a better understanding of the field of study. Thanks to Genius Games, they have a whole line of science related games and while they’re no substitute for actual learning, it’s a nice way to get a cursory overhead look at everything. I got to play through a few rounds of Subatomic and was enamored with the fun artwork and the relative ease of play while keeping true to the subject matter. This is another game I wouldn’t mind getting a full runthrough of at some point.

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The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31 – I think the original The Thing movie is a masterpiece and have been clamoring at the bit to play the board game adaptation. At PAX, I was able to jump into a demo and to me, it lived up to the hype. It’s an incredibly thematic semo-cooperative role-playing game that really resonates if you’re familiar with the movie (but still works if you’re not). It felt like a better tie-in than The Godfather game was. The two big negatives for me was that the game definitely felt like it needed six to eight players to truly be great (I couldn’t imagine having the same fun at four players) and at the end of the day, it is a game with a traitor and while that works for me and my group, it won’t work for everyone.

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Tokyo Highway – Another dexterity game, Tokyo Highway has players creating elevated roadways that need to either go over other players roads or under their roads before anyone else does. There’s a little more nuance but that’s the general idea of the game. I played the gigantic version and had fun but worry that the retail version (which I did not see at the convention) might be too small to enjoy. I was told that game utilizes tweezers and I personally feel like that requires such a fine-tuned motor skill that it really limits the potential players for the game. Overall though, the game was enjoyable and offered some fun puzzles to try and ‘solve’ with each turn.

Tulip Bubble – Tulip Bubble is a game that has players buying and selling flowers on a dynamic market. The theme is original as players try to create bouquets for three potential buyers or sell the flowers back to the market. It’s relatively fast to play but the dynamic market structure fluctuates much too quickly for my taste. One round, a flower could be worth 33 guilders (monies) but the next it could be worth 15. It made long-term planning difficult and frustrating as you’d run out of money due to a crash in the flower market and then be forced to take out a loan, which like in real life, is not beneficial at all. The market acts as a thinly veiled push-your-luck mechanism as players try to gauge what’s about to happen to them. Tulip Bubble is fascinating to me as one turn you might clearly be in the lead and sitting pretty and the next the rug is pulled out from under you, no fault of your own. I can’t think of another game that can provide such a drastic change from one round to the next. I don’t know if Tulip Bubble is the game for me (especially since it doesn’t play at two-players) but I wouldn’t mind trying it again to see if I can better manage my flower business.

Unicorn Glitterluck – Super adorable game for children eight and younger. Incredibly easy and simple as you roll a die and then move that many spaces. You land on a space and you either do nothing or get jewels. The reason I’m mentioning this game is because it promotes sharing due to some of the mechanics. The game board is a puzzle piece that can be linked together easily and the game itself is incredibly colorful. You know exactly what you’re getting into with a game called Unicorn Glitterluck.

Author: Two off the Top

Just a guy that wants to talk about board games more than his future wife tolerates.

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