Aquasphere – Stefan Feld has produced absolute hits for us or complete duds. Castles of Burgundy and Trajan are classics that sit in my top twenty games I’ve ever played whereas Bora Bora, Notre Dame, and Aquasphere bored me to tears. New releases like Forum Trajanum and Carpe Diem have my interest peaked after demos but it’s too early to tell where they’ll fall. Aquasphere, despite it’s colorful array and interesting components felt forgettable as soon as the game was over. Nothing felt original and there wasn’t a new or different strategy that I wanted to explore after the game ended. The programming aspect is unimaginative to me and if I’m going to grab a point salad-esque Euro game off the shelf, there are more than a handful that will scratch the itch better than Aquasphere ever could.
Food Truck Champion – Food Truck Champion is a light card management, pattern building game built around the theme of owning and operating a food truck. For as light as it is, there’s really nothing inherently wrong with the game but it didn’t stand up to multiple plays as there was little strategy and almost no depth. Games boiled down to “picking up the cards you do want and discarding the cards you don’t want” (per my wife). As with several games on this list, for what the mechanics are offering, there are other and better versions of this game that are more enjoyable (for me at least) to play.
Get Off My Land! – I almost backed the Kickstarter as I thought this would be a fun take on an all too common theme in board gaming. At PAX Unplugged, I was able to play a short demo and on the final day I decided to purchase it. After playing it however, the artwork and fresh take on the theme could only carry the game so far. The main problem I had was that there really isn’t any reason to actually go after another players land. The small benefit that you might get outweighs the worth of working your own land. The board, while tight at each player count, wasn’t tight enough for each player to be forced to venture onto other lands. While myself and my group has no issue causing a ruckus, we just didn’t see the added benefit. We could score the points we needed typically without putting a target on our back. Maybe I’m being too harsh on the game since I wanted to like it but was let down but the when the fundamental mechanic (which finds its way into the games title) is an option as opposed to a necessity, I feel like my feelings are verified.
Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King – This is probably the biggest letdown of any game I played in 2018. Tile Placement and Auction mechanics are two of my favorite aspects of board games and I was convinced Isle of Skye was a home run as soon as it was purchased. Instead I had several issues with the game and it fell out of favor almost as quickly as it entered my hands. The game felt weird at three and four players as a player could have either all of their tiles bid on or none of them. This act will completely change the course of the game and players typically don’t have any way to stop what may or may not happen. The ‘bidding’ is also really non-existent. It’s a one-off system where you either bid or you don’t. There’s no real interaction between players with the bidding. The game also features a catch-up mechanism which is nice but thematically made no sense to me. The game wasn’t all faults however as I did enjoy the objectives and the different ways to score. I was just letdown with the entire package.
JAB: Realtime Boxing – Me and my spouse are boxing fans and she even enters the ring to spare in the grungiest (but best) boxing gym in the city so when we had the opportunity to grab a boxing game for a dollar, we couldn’t say no. That will teach us. The idea behind the game is inventive and sound as players play cards in real time to create combos and inflict damage on their opponent. The novelty of the idea is great and will definitely lead you pummeling through round one before you realize there’s a lot of book keeping and knowledge tracking between and during rounds. To me, successful real time games have players trying to achieve three or less objectives. Any more and players can get bogged down with the decision making and the rules to remember. BEEEEES! is a perfect example of a real time game being designed right. JAB has players watching too much and games can slow an almost turn-based game as players see what is being played in front of them. The game isn’t terrible and if two players spend the time to learn the ends and outs, this could be a solid two-player mini chess match but for a filler game that should come out once a month or so, JAB tried to be too cute for its own good.
Kodama: The Tree Spirits – This one hurts. I really enjoyed the lightness of the game, the decision making in spite of that lightness, and the visual of creating your unique tree each and every game but for whatever reason, I didn’t have fun actually playing the game. I thought this would be a perfect inclusion into our filler pile. My main issues were that the initial placements of the cards was uninteresting and didn’t provide enough variety and the Kodama’s themselves were incredibly unbalanced. The game also takes up a massive amount of space for what it is. The amount of luck needed to win was too high and while I loved the art and the concept, this is not a game I see myself playing again.
Majolica – I wrote about Majolica in my PAX Unplugged 2018 First Impressions and am copying what I said there as I just don’t care to talk about this game again: “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.”
Meeple Circus – Dexterity games are my jam and I thought Meeple Circus was going to be Junk Art with a much cuter theme. The design and components are top notch and the scoring objectives add much needed variety to the game. However, this game can be frustrating with the drafting mechanism (being left with items you have no use for) and the set-up between phases makes me long to just go back and play Junk Art. The smaller pieces also are much more prone to falling if even a ceiling fan is blowing so that’s something to take into account. I want to love Meeple Circus as it looks to make dexterity games more accessible and friendly (especially towards children) but in reality it makes me want to stick to stacking my Carcassonne meeples while I wait for my turn.
Shiba Inu House – I think Shiba Inu’s are hysterical and for my birthday last year, I received this quick little real time card game. The game is fast and hectic, which is not the issue I have with it. The game, for whatever reason, decided to incorporate the actual buttholes of the dogs on the cards. I’m not a prude and I own two dogs myself (shout out to Luna and dog #2) but what purpose does this serve? Take a look:
I’m all for making things anatomically correct but that doesn’t mean I want to look at a butthole every time I pull out a cute filler card game. Is this a shallow reason to dislike a game? Certainly. But when the rest of the mechanics don’t bowl me over, a small thing like the artwork can certainly doom a game.
Spirit Island – Probably the most controversial inclusion on this list as many people have Spirit Island as their favorite game produced; I found this to be overly repetitive, incredibly drawn out, and challenging to a point that I thought it was being difficult just to say it’s a challenging game. I love the artwork and the theme and it pains me that through three plays, I just don’t see the charm that Spirit Island provides. I’ve attempted the game at one, two, and three player counts and haven’t won a single game. This isn’t an issue in the slightest and actually, it’s really the only reason I want to even try another game. The mechanics themselves are my issue as I feel like I’m doing the same thing over and over and over again. The randomization of the powers helps change that but that randomization also hurts the game as I might pull something that is downright terrible and unhelpful and makes the last forty minutes a waste.
Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra – My wife, friend, and the two strangers they played with loathed this game and the only reason it wasn’t included in the top ten (+1) is because I personally can’t vouch for it. Their thoughts can be found in my PAX Unplugged 2018 First Impressions post.