This first impressions will feature the following games:
Alubari: A Nice Cup of Tea
Ausser Rand & Band
Don’t Get Got
El Dorado: The Golden Temple
Gloom of Thrones
Long Shot: The Dice Game
Mary Engelbreit Loonacy
Pretending to Grownup
Sagrada: The Great Facades – Passions
Unmatched: Jurassic Park – InGen vs Raptors
Valley of the Vikings
Yummy Yummy Pancake
Alubari: A Nice Cup of Tea – If you’ve played Snowdonia, Alubari feels like the spiritual successor to that game. It takes the skeleton of its predecessor and adds some new configurations that makes the game slightly heavier but not enough to be off putting. This game was heavy on player interaction as you’re constantly trying to find ways to get in the way of your opponents. This is a game that definitely needs repeat plays as a player may have a very bad time if they’re locked out of certain actions due to their unfamiliarity with the game. I was intrigued by this game and was happy to play it, but it didn’t wow me.
Animal Kingdoms – The first of many light games that I was able to demo at PAX, Animal Kingdom is an area majority game that uses the cards in your hand to dictate those majorities. Each section has special rules about placement that adds a slight puzzle to each round but for the most part, players are adding an animal to each section with the hopes of controlling that section. I think this could be a nice game for seven year olds and kids of that age range.
Arraial – A light abstract strategy game, Arraial has players spending action points to take tetris-style pieces and put them on their player board. Orientation and color matter as players try to attract the most visitors to their board. This game was alright. I didn’t hate it nor did I love it. There just wasn’t enough going on each turn for me personally. I did like the rules about orientation and how the market could spin, which changed the orientation for you and other players.
Ausser Rand & Band – This game passed the first test as it had incredible table presence but I was letdown by the gameplay as far too much was taken out of the players hands and the decisions being made by players didn’t really matter. Players will roll two dice on their turn and place them on the areas of the conveyor belt that match the roll. Then they will place a third die on any open action spot that allows them to possibly perform a special action that can impact themselves or other players. After that, they’ll add a new tile to the conveyor belt that pushes the front most tile off the belt, which in turn rolls the dice that are on top of that robot tile. The highest number wins that tile and they can use it to construct their robots. While I’m critical of the game, I’m doing so from the lens of an experienced thirty year old gamer who likes heavier games. I do think this could be a lot of fun for younger players as the randomness creates a fun set of chaos and pushing the conveyor belt is incredibly satisfying.
Bus – This is a game that was a hot topic of discussion the entire weekend. It was the first game we were able to demo and was also on our list to check out. Bus is an incredibly simple and intuitive design that has players creating bus routes over a small city with the objective of getting passengers to their home, their work, or the pub. It uses an action selection system similar to Dominant Species, where all the available actions are available on the right-hand side of the board and once those actions are chosen, players will take those actions in order from top to bottom. Bus is not a simple route-building game though; the game has two catches. The first is that players only have 20 actions over the course of the game and it’s up to them to decide when and how to use them. This means that some players may be done the game before others. The second twist is that one of the actions is the ability to stop time. This is where Bus stands unique against its contemporaries. Each round, passengers will follow a clock that allows passengers to be delivered to one location, in order of home-work-pub, however, if you stop time then they’ll visit the same location again. Delivering passengers is the only way to score points
We played with a full table of 5 and while the game came in well under the suggested time (one hour compared to two hours), I don’t think this stood up well as a five player game. Going last, especially multiple times in a row could really hinder a player as the better action options are taken. We saw this happen in our game and it really soured the experience for that player.
Like other Splotter games, this can be a mean one as you could fully block another player from expanding their routes by getting their first. I had no issues here but it is worth noting. On a second playthrough, the game may also take additional time as players will be more prone to analyze and antagonize over their decisions. I would expect a safe bet of around 90 minutes at most. If you’ve played other Splotter games and enjoyed them, you’ll feel very familiar with the tactical choices offered by Bus.
The game was highly competitive and the ability to stop (or not stop) time hung over each player each round as it directly impacted their ability to score. The board was tight but not too tight that it made expanding difficult. The rules were easy and intuitive and all the difficulty came from the decisions players were making, not from having to interrupt the rules.
My biggest gripe however was the price point. I know Splotter’s operations are smaller and they put out quality products, but I have a hard time justifying a convention pricing of $70 for what was a minimalist game, components wise. I was not sold on the initial play but was intrigued enough about trying Bus at three players that if the price would have been lower, I would have likely purchased a copy to test that theory. This is a Catch-22 however as if you love Bus, you could easily get your worth out of it monetary wise as it offers such depth but that’s a huge pill to swallow if you’re on the fence. This is probably the one game I was able to demo where I stayed on the fence as being able to land on one side or the other.
Calico – Calico had a demo booth and I had the pleasure of playing a few rounds. First off, Calico is adorable. It has a calming theme as players create quilts, add buttons, and attract cats to them. The colors and design helps make the game pop and the designs on the quilt pieces help attract players who have difficulty distinguishing colors. While demoing, it felt like a combination of Patchwork and Azul, with a difficulty level probably closer to Patchwork. The game is probably rewarding enough for experienced abstract players as it offers the ability to really fine-tune optimal play but I think the theme could possibly make this a surprise sleeper hit for 2020 as it can easily draw in non-gamers.
Carrossel – Carrossel has a really unique theme as players are trying to build a carrossel cooperatively while also trying to sell the most tickets from their section. The game plays two- to four-players and I had the unique experience of having a two-player game to my left and a four-player to my right (while we played three-players). I was able to talk with both parties as our groups ran and did other activities (bathrooms breaks and Wild Bill soda, mostly) and my thoughts ran along with theirs. While Carrossel can be played at two- and three-, it may shine best and only at four. This is a family-friendly abstract that can really target optimal playing. Players will place tiles in their section, which is numbered one to twelve (I think). You can only place one carrossel on one tile so placement is paramount as players try to match their placements in front of them to the ride configuration they’re trying to score against. The twist is that like a real merry-go-round, the board rotates each turn so your section is constantly changing and someone may ruin your well laid plans with each action. Due to this, I feel the game is much more luck dependent than skill but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun. This could be a fun way to ease people into the abstract world as the theme really comes alive with the board and components and gameplay. In addition, when players do score, they receive tickets for the riders of those rides and those tickets can be used to achieve special abilities. All in all, a fun little game that I think would be fun for younger players or as a filler for more experienced ones.
Cascadia – Cascadia is a game that will pop up on Kickstarter next year that has players building their forestry to match like animals, which grants them bonuses. This is an abstract game that ties in the forest/animal theme by including different terrain types. We were able to demo this as a two-player game and we thought the decision making was interesting. I’m not entirely sold on it yet as it didn’t offer the depth I wanted but I’m also aware that it was a demo. I will be intrigued to see the full edition of the game when it’s available on Kickstarter and think this would be good for children who are ready to jump into something that has a little bit more meat on the bones than the Sorry!’s and Monopolies of the world.
Cheeky Butts – This is a matching game as players reveal a card and place it in the correct area that matches the animal. There isn’t much else to this game but it would definitely appeal to children and be a good break from other kid games.
Cobra Paw – Cobra Paw is a real-time dexterity game where two to six players will use their cat-like reflexes to try and snatch the tile that matches a dice roll each round. The first player to collect five tiles, wins. The catch is that once you grab a tile, you need to keep a finger on it because if you don’t, someone else may steal that tile from you when it’s rolled. The dice and tiles are incredibly high quality (think Mahjong tiles) and we purchased this for $10 bucks. My SO blindly offered $25 as she was so smitten. This is an incredibly cute, easy to introduce game that is perfect for filler scenarios or to warm-up/wind-down a night.
Crokinole – This is a game I’ve been eyeing for a long time and I was finally able to play it at PAX. As a huge shuffleboard fan but with the size limitations of a row home, Crokinole was calling my name and if not for space limitations due to travel, I may have purchased one of the two boards available at the convention. For those that don’t know, Crokinole involves players flicking disks across the board with the goal of scoring points by having the disks land in the central regions. The twist is that you must hit another players disk with your own in order for your disk to remain on the board. I could have played this for hours.
Don’t Get Got – SU&SD had a fantastic video on this game and it is one that I had my eyes on for our group. The basis is that you are given six scenarios to accomplish involving the other players and this will happen in the background of other activities. Scenarios could be something like “convince another player to say ‘I love you’. If they do it, you mark that task complete. If they call you out on it, you mark it failed. We purchased a copy at the convention and played this in the background Friday night and Saturday. We did two separate rounds and while this game is incredibly group dependent, if you have a group that is into this type of game you will have a hit on your hands. Over the course of two days, we had members of our group get got in the hotel room, in line at the convention center, in a restaurant, as we walked the city, and more. We had one situation where three scenarios occurred in rapid fire as people let their guard down and laughter ensued.
One caveat with this game, besides being group dependent, is also that some of the options will appeal to some groups more than others. For example, one scenario would have had me placing a phone call to someone and saying something specific. For some, this would be easy. For me, not so much. I don’t call people and if I do, they think it’s because something went wrong. Besides that minor piece of the puzzle, we loved Don’t Get Got. This will be a staple of a lot of our activities.
El Dorado: The Golden Temple – I’m a big fan of The Quest for El Dorado and jumped at a chance to see The Golden Temple. The game introduces new cards and terrain types. There’s also a new starting deck that I thought was much more helpful than the base game offered. I did feel like the market cards were much more important in this expansion as if the right cards didn’t appear, it would be a really tough game to slug through. There are torch cards that the demo teacher said wouldn’t mix well with the base game but everything else is compatible. I liked this expansion but it didn’t have that home run hit that the first expansion had.
The Furglars – Another family game, this one involving dice rolling as players try to roll and collect Furglars, which are some kind of creature that can be traded in for bullion, which is the point system for the game. This is a light and quick game that definitely appeals to families and young children. It has a little bit of take-that as players can take Furglars from other players so it could be a nice way to introduce that mechanic as the theme is fun and there isn’t too much riding on the outcome, as opposed to other games where that mechanic is more vindictive. The Furglars themselves are fuzzy green creatures that are on one face of each die. This is cool but it does make me wonder if the weight distribution for rolls is altered in any meaningful way…
Gloom of Thrones – Gloom is a social game that has players building the saddest, most tragic narrative for the family they’re in charge of. This game is heavily dependent on the group playing it and Gloom of Thrones introduces a parody of Game of Thrones (which had its own sad, tragic life). Besides the storytelling aspect of the game, Gloom stands out for its use of transparent cards that let modifiers shine through one another to make easy to read scenarios. The deluxe version was gorgeous and came with card holders and some other amazing components. If you like socially driven games that create a narrative and enjoy the Game of Thrones world (and want to poke fun at it), I would steer people towards Gloom of Thrones. If that setting is not your style, Gloom offers many other options to get your sadness on.
Long Shot: The Dice Game – Long Shot has been on my want list for awhile as I’m a huge horse racing fan (in theory, the recent roided up horse deaths have caused my fandom to wane) and want a game set in that theme. The Dice Game, which is looking to launch on Kickstarter in 2020 will take the original version and make it into a faster roll and write (dry erase was shown at the convention). There were some variations and evolution’s to the betting and economy but it seemed like they were made to streamline the process. As I haven’t had a chance to get my hands on the original, I can’t compare and contrast them.
Mary Engelbreit Loonacy – Loonacy is one of our favorite games and we’re a sucker any time a new edition comes out. This version is definitely the hardest that has been released. The game play doesn’t change (check the earlier link for a run through of that) but the artwork is so seamless and well done that it takes a lot of brain recognition to match the images. This is one that will be added to our collection sooner rather than later as it ups the difficulty tremendously of a simple to teach and play game. I had taken more photos but they came out blurry. Guess 2020 is the year I invest in a camera…
Meeple Party – Meeple Party presented an interesting take on the common cooperative game as players are working together to throw an epic party. The colors are loud and vibrant and like a real party, players need to entertain and interact with their guests to ensure that good times are had by all. This game lives and dies with its theme as the events and possible disasters really create the feel of a high school or college blow out. The first round or two took some getting used to with the phases but it was smooth sailing after that. The game offered little to no downtime once we had an idea of what we were trying to accomplish. The game is modular in house set-up and in difficulty so there is the opportunity to offer a lot of replayability. My only concerns about Meeple Party are that I thought it was a little easy and I’m not sure why you choose to be a certain meeple when you can activate any during a round. It felt like a weird design choice.
Pretending to Grownup – Cards have three sets of resources: time, energy, and money. Players will play a card stating they have the most money or time or energy and then the player to their right will either state that they’re the most “x” or they will stand down. Play will commence until someone stands down. Once that happens, all players that said they’re the most “x” will reveal their card and the highest number wins. First player to claim twelve cards wins the game. This is a cute filler game that offers little strategy or depth to its players. The subject matter is clearly geared to adults (not in a sexual nature but more of a tax one). The art was fun and endearing but not enough to keep this game as something I would want to play again as it fills the role of a filler and there are better fillers available.
Sagrada: The Great Facades – Passions – Passions introduces three new elements to the Sagrada world: Inspiration cards, Rare Glass Dice, and new public objectives. The Inspiration cards give players additional asymmetric powers, the Rare Glass Dice are basically wild dice that can take the place of any other color and it includes additional objectives to be fulfilled, and more public objectives to add to the base game. I’m on the fence about the expansion. I liked the additional objectives but felt like the Inspiration and Rare Glass Dice gave players outs for sub-optimal play, which then hurts players that didn’t make mistakes on their initial placements. It felt similar to the Azul Joker Tiles to me and it changed the base Sagrada in a way that I didn’t enjoy. Maybe a second play would clarify more for me.
The Shivers – I only heard the elevator pitch of The Shivers but I wanted to speak on it as it has a clear oooo and awwww moment as the “board” is a pop-up with areas behind the walls that cards can slot into. This is another role-playing, story driven, social game that won’t be for everyone but is labeled as a children’s game of deduction and problem solving. I believe they’re aiming for a 2020 Kickstarter and I cannot wait to see more from this game. It will make you look twice and that’s something that the hobby needs.
Team3 – This is probably my choice for surprise pick of the convention. This, like Don’t Get Got, will be very group specific and requires at minimum three people to play so it’s very situational but we had a blast with this game. The gist is that the three players need to work cooperatively to build a structure using some large plastic three-dimensional Tetris-esque pieces. The builder closes their eyes and has to listen to their partner use their words to describe what and how to build. The player who is speaking is receiving their cues from the player that has a card that shows the structure they’re trying to build but can only communicate through hand gestures. Games last three minutes and there are several different levels to tackle. I loved this. It was silly and goofy and a game that I would normally never check out in a local game store or on a website. There were two editions: Green and Pink. The different versions each offer unique mini-expansions with the Green version having the builder receiving instructions from two different speakers while using both hands, individually, to create their structures and the Pink edition offers three-dimensional structures. We went with the Green as the Pink was too hard in the moment (not that using your hands individually will be any easier). This could be a really good team builder.
Unmatched: Jurassic Park – InGen vs Raptors – Unmatched seems to be a new miniature fighting game that will have multiple offshoots (in the Jurassic Park universe and elsewhere). There are asymmetrical powers that make both sides unique and each faction will use a specialized deck to dictate their play. The decks are thematic in nature to create a look and feel that resonates with the character they’re portraying. I was suckered in by the Jurassic Park IP but what has peaked my interest is the possibility of mixing and matching sets to have weird matches, such as a T-Rex against Robin Hood or Bigfoot versus Bruce Lee.
Valley of the Vikings – A kid-friendly dexterity game that has players using a kicker to “bowl” a ball into pins as you try and hit barrels that correspond to players walking the plank. When a plank is knocked over, the player moves forward on the plank. When they reach the end, they fall off the plank and are awarded no points for the round. It was a fun and light game that had more strategy than you think as players somewhat control the formation of the barrels and have to think about where to hit as it impacts the scoring for the round. The components were incredibly light so you don’t have to worry about injury if a rogue ball ends up off the table.
War Room – War Room has a table presence in all the ways the other games on this list do not: it’s large. I’m a huge fan of sprawling war games but never get an opportunity to play them as the subject matter doesn’t appeal to my group, it requires a large time commitment, and they’re typically a little complex. I was walked through a mock turn and while it seems like there’s a lot going on with the board layout and the components on the board, it wasn’t too bad. The game, from my short viewing, seems much more strategic than its obvious comparison, Axis and Allies. I felt like there were much more options than the standard opening salvos that A&A offer but that could also be due to the newness of the game shining through to me.
Welcome to… – This roll-and-write has players performing as architects and city planners for a 1950’s Hooverville as the Baby Boom is sweeping across America. I was surprised at this game as there was a lot more strategy going on than I originally suspected. I don’t think this is an overly complex game by any means but it does have a lot of small rules for players to keep in mind. The player sheet does help explain what’s going on but really that’s only helpful for the second game and beyond as I felt the symbols were not well known by our new players when we began. I think this is on a similar level to Welcome to Dino World in terms of complexity. The basis of the game is that three cards are revealed each round. Those cards offer a type of development for the neighborhood and are tied to the deck they were drawn from. That deck, still face down, has house numbers on the cards that match to the development that was just revealed. So if players want to place that pool, they need to use that house number when doing so. Just like real life however, players can only place one of each house number per street. Like other roll-and-write games, this one is pretty much simultaneous solitaire. I have no issue with that but it’s worth knowing as there’s no interaction between players besides who can score the objective goals each game. I really liked Welcome to… and fully expect to add it to our collection in 2020.
Yummy Yummy Pancake – This is a child’s dexterity/memorization game that is less concentration and more abstract randomness. In the pan goes several different pancakes and on a players turn, they flip them. This is not easy. I sent every pancake sprawling across the convention floor. I was so embarrassed. Anyways, when three or more pancakes flip over, players will take turns guessing what those face-down pancakes are. That’s pretty much it. The novelty of the pancakes and pan are cute and I could see this being fun with some younger children.