Happy New Year!
As we start the new year here at the Cult of the New to Me, we want to look back at the previous month, because looking back is what we do!
That’s right. We never talk about the new to me games that we’re going to play. We always look at what we just did.
Some would say that we’re stuck in the past, but I say those who don’t study the past are doomed to repeat it!
Yes, I just made that up. Insightful, isn’t it? (Editor – Hey, Dave. George Santayana on Line 1)
I think I’m pretty much as insightful as Abraham Lincoln.
Anyway, we do like to look back here at Cult Headquarters, and right now we’re looking back at December!
So without further adieu (all of my adieu got traded at some Baghdad market stall for a gold guild ring anyway), let’s get this show on the road!
Designer: Simone Luciani, Daniele Tascini
Artist: Dennis Lohausen
I’m a big fan of the original The Voyages of Marco Polo game from these same designers. I had no idea that a second game was coming.
This is not an expansion or a reboot or anything like that. It’s almost like a sequel, but none of the characters or the story is the same.
I guess more of a continuation?
Because now that you have reached Beijing as Marco Polo, you are trading and exploring Asia, making the return trip back but as different characters (there is no Marco Polo in this one but it does have a traveling pair!)
Marco Polo II: In the Service of the Khan has many of the same mechanisms as the first game, but it adds a whole new set of options, streamlining some things (I really found traveling restrictive in the first game) and adding another resource as well.
The board looks very similar and has a lot of the same symbology, but it is very much its own game.
You are traveling from city to city using camels and money, as before.
You are fulfilling contracts that require pepper, silk, and gold along with a new resource, jade. These will get you points, potentially other goods, and maybe even a chance to travel further.
On your turn, you will roll all of your dice. If you roll a total of less than 15, you will get one coin or camel for each number below 15 you rolled.
You will then alternate with other players to take actions until everybody is out of dice (or can’t play a die).
You can place dice to get goods, either outright or spending jade to get even more stuff!
You can place dice to travel to other cities. If you are the first one there, you may get a bonus, but if you end your move there you can drop a trading post. That will let you later place a die to take that city’s action (if it hasn’t already been taken by another player). Or some cities (like Karakorum) will let you choose a contract to try and fulfill.
You can always go for the Khan’s Favor and get some much-needed camels and money if you need them. Or you can get more contracts (in a much different way from the first game).
You can also get a guild seal and some jade, which will make traveling to some places easier and also potentially get you more goods, camels and maybe points!
Guild Seals are new to this game and really add a nice touch to both the scoring as well as travel actions. Some cities you can travel to normally but if you have the associated guild seal there is a much cheaper (sometimes even free!) way to get there.
These seals just add to the strategic options of the game and I really liked them.
Jade is also a new good that you can acquire and spend if you need to. Jade smooths out the travel sometimes but it can also be used as a kind of wild resource (either coin or camel) when you need it.
The game keeps some of the other mechanisms from its sister game, which is good because I like these mechanisms.
Some action spaces are brown which means that only one player can take that action each round. Other spaces are blue. What that means is that anybody can take them on their turn, but if somebody has already taken the action, you must pay coins equal to the pips on the die you are using for the action.
You can also, as a free action, spend three camels to take a black die (if available). You roll this and can use it to do actions on your turn. It will let you go to a blue space where you already gone (once a die of your colour is there, you cannot place another die of your colour there, but you can place a black die!)
The game goes on for five rounds, and then you do end-game scoring.
Whoever has the most points is the winner!
I really liked Marco Polo II, even better than the first one, mainly because of the travel. Travel is much more streamlined and easier to do. It’s not so easy that it’s a cakewalk, but you can actually move around the board a little bit. It works much better.
The new rules are nice and clean, and I much prefer the way contracts are done in this one. There isn’t a dedicated spot to take a certain number of contracts to try and fulfill. Instead, many cities have contracts that you can take when you reach there. There is also a space where you can go to take contracts from cities where you already have trading posts.
The game just felt smoother to me.
I will willingly play either game, but if I have to choose, it would be this one.
Designer: Filip Miłuński
Artists: Tytus Brzozowski, Grzegorz Molas
Warsaw: City of Ruins is a renamed version of the original Capital tile-laying game. The original came out in 2016 (and thus I’m counting it as 2016!) but Warsaw was actually published by North Star Games in 2018.
I saw this played on Heavy Cardboard (I really have a lot to blame Edward for) and had to have it. I think I ordered it that same day.
In this game, players are building up the districts of Warsaw (capital of Poland, for those of you who are geographically-challenged) through the last 400 years or so.
The game takes place over 6 epochs where players will be drafting tiles and paying to place them down in their district. Or they can discard them if they can’t afford the tile and they will get 3 coins from the bank.
Tiles have to be placed adjacent to another tile (no corners-only!) or, if you want, you can overbuild a tile that’s already in your district. If you do that, then you get a discount on the price of the tile equal to the cost of the tile you’re building over (so if you had a 7-cost tile and wanted to overbuild the Warsaw Steelworks above, you would only pay 3 coins for it).
At the end of each Epoch, there is a special tile awarded to the player that meets the conditions on the tile (to get the W-Z Route at the end of Epoch IV, you have to have the most overbuilt tiles). You then get to place that tile in your district.
The really interesting thing about Warsaw: City of Ruins is that at the end of Epoch IV, you have to remove one whole square (one stack of tiles) from your district (World War I happened then). At the end of Epoch V, you have to do this with two squares (World War II). This simulates the destruction in the city from these two horrible time periods.
Also at the end of each Epoch, everybody scores their tiles as shown on the scoring tile.
The thing to remember in this game (and it can be incredibly difficult to remember for such an otherwise easy game) is that each area (the little house-like shape) can be made up of multiple tiles.
Thus the park shown above is actually just one park, even though it consists of park squares on three different tiles.
Tiles can give you points or income, based on the scoring tile shown above. The income is the only way you’re getting money other than discarding tiles, so having a nice income comes in very handy (though you can’t concentrate on income or you won’t get any points!)
At the end of the six epochs, count up your coins and get one point for each set of five you have.
Whoever has the most points is the winner!
I really enjoyed this game. It’s important to remember that you can only have a maximum 4×3 grid of tiles in your district, so overbuilding is a must.
The decisions that this requires, not to mention trying to connect areas together to maximize either your points or your money, really makes the brain burn a bit for such an otherwise light, short game. The game took us an hour with the teach (only 48 minutes of actual play time) so it’s a perfect lunch time game.
The fact that you’re drafting tiles also means there are plenty of decisions to make. The only time you don’t have to decide is when you can’t afford the tile(s) in your hand! Then it’s easy.
And it comes with these cute little mermaid figures for scoring that represent Warsaw and its coat of arms since the Middle Ages.
While the game is fairly abstract in nature (it doesn’t need the Warsaw theme), the theme really comes through in the iconography and the tiles, especially the milestone and public buildings.
This one is definitely worth a few plays to see what you think.
Designers: Bruno Cathala, Théo Rivière
Artist: Vincent Dutrait
This is a really fun game, that I’ve already reviewed!
Designer: Wolfgang Warsch
Artist: Dennis Lohausen
Did you ever want to run a bar?
I’d like to run this bar.
— Panik Games (@PanikGames) December 23, 2019
But since we can’t, The Taverns of Tiefenthal will have to do.
Not that it’s a bad game. It’s far from it, actually. It’s pretty good.
But I want Sam and Diane and Cliff and Norm!
Anyhoo, in this game, you are running a bar and trying to attract the best patrons for points!
You start out with a bar and then you go from there.
I understand that there are actually five modules to add to the base game. When we played, I was taught the full meal deal with all five, apparently. Thus, that’s the picture I have.
If we weren’t playing with all of them, some of those pieces would be gone. Since with the whole kit and kaboodle is the only way I’ve played, that’s what I’m going to talk about.
But I digress…
In some little way, this is kind of a deckbuilder in that you are going to be adding cards to your deck that are then dealt out at the beginning of each turn.
Module 2 adds Schnapps (yumm!) that you can earn to help you do actions. Module 3 introduces the reputation bar that will also help you earn Beer and Nobles. Module 4 adds starting equipment that will make the game a bit asymmetrical to start with. Module 5 adds a Guestbook that you can get signatures on, which will help with a bunch of different bonuses.
You have to use the Modules in sequence, so you can’t just use Module 4. If you do, you have to use Modules 1-3.
The game is tracked by the Monastery Board with 8 rounds before scoring happens.
Once the round track has been moved, players fill up their tavern, turning over the top card and seating it at the leftmost open table at the top of your board.
Unless the card happens to be an extra open table, in which case you place it to the right of your tables.
Or the cards could be tavern workers, in which case they are placed in the appropriate part of your tavern.
You keep turning cards over until you have filled up all of the free tables with patrons.
The cool thing is that Nobles like to sit together, so they only take up one table no matter how many you draw.
The next phase is the dice phase. First, for every Waitress you drew, you take one of your coloured dice and roll it.
Then each player will roll four white dice. The coloured dice are yours to use however you want, but the white dice you will be drafting.
Starting in turn order, each player will take a white die from their beer coaster (not shown, because the photographer is lame and has been fired). Once everybody has a die, the coasters are passed to the left and each player takes another one, etc.
Once there are no more dice to pass (Cliff has an interesting anecdote about what it’s like to pass dice), each player places them on their board in ways to get beer and money.
If you’re playing Module 3 (Reputation Board), this is where you see how your reputation moves. You check and see how much money and how much money you’ve produced that turn with your dice. Whatever is lowest, you move your Reputation marker that many spaces, earning whatever bonus you pass.
Then in turn order, you spend your the money and beer you earned to recruit new patrons or tavern workers (going to the top of your deck so they will come out next turn) or perhaps upgrade your bar to make it better!
Then all cards played are discarded and the next round starts.
After all eight rounds are over, total up the points on the cards in your deck and any other points you may have earned and see who wins!
I did really enjoy this game, though I did not do well. I didn’t realize that we were playing with all of the modules, though. I can see some of the complaints I’ve heard about the game without at least some of them.
But this has some interesting choices on where to place your dice, what dice you want to draft in the first place, and things like that.
I’d happily play it again to see if I could improve.
Yes, my dice rolling sucks, and my placement skills aren’t very good either (Editor – I’ve heard too much beer can lead to that)
A really solid game from one of the new hit sensations (Wolfgang Warsch).
Designer: Yuri Zhuravljov
Artist: Alexey Kot
Space Explorers is a 2017 game that just had an English release recently. Tough, though, I’m still considering it a 2017 game. So there.
This game has a bit of a Splendor like feel to it, as you are trying to get a tableau of cards and then using those cards to be able to get more cards into your tableau.
You start with this odd little mechanism (your Research Hub) that will be where you are putting your tableau. You also start with 5 research tokens, one of each type.
The specialist cards are face-down in the middle of the table, and six of them are dealt into the market.
There are also project tiles (players +2) that are out there waiting to be claimed if you have the right combination of colours in your tableau.
Each player starts with one specialist card in hand.
Starting with the first player, you can either take a Specialist card into your hand (either from the market or from the top of the deck) or you can recruit one to your Hub.
To recruit them to your hub, you have to have the correct research icons available (as shown on the bottom left of the card). You can spend your research tokens (given them to the player on your left) or some of your previously-recruited Specialists might have research available.
On top of that, Specialist cards have skills (shown just under the points number on the top left of the card). This dictates what area of your Hub they will go and also how many of those skill points they offer.
For each skill point you have in the section of the Hub where you’re going to be sending your newly recruited Specialist you will be able to ignore one research symbol cost on the newly recruited card. It could be free!
Alternatively, you could complete a project if you have the correct configuration of Specialists in your Hub. These are just worth victory points at the end of the game.
Most Specialists have a special ability in the bottom right of their card (possibly some Research symbols or maybe some other ability). Only the ability of your top-most card in each section of your Hub is available, though.
The game enters the last round once somebody recruits their 12th Specialist.
Play continues until everybody has had the same number of turns.
You’ll be totaling all of the Progress Points in the top left of your cards as well as your completed Projects.
I really enjoyed this game. If Century: Spice Road hadn’t already killed Splendor for me, this would have. I like that the cards have abilities that can help you throughout the game as long as they are on top in their section of the Hub.
It is hard to get used to the fact that Skills and Research symbols mean different things, though. I found myself getting caught out on that a couple of times.
Once you have that straight, though, the game is really easy to learn, very quick to play and is a delight.
I would definitely play this one again.
Designer: Alexander Pfister
Artist: Andreas Resch
It took an expansion, but they finally got it right.
With Great Western Trail: Rails to the North, you’re finally shipping cattle East rather than West.
You’re now going to Detroit, Cleveland, Toronto, Green Bay, oh and San Francisco too for some reason. I guess they have to have a little continuity with the base game.
It’s Great Western Trail, so you’re still moving your figure along the track on the board, going from building to building,
recruiting buying cattle for your deck to then ship off when you reach Kansas City. It has the same deck-building mechanics, and the same Cowboys, Engineers, and Builders that help you get cattle, moving your engine along the board, and build your buildings.
(This is the board without the expansion)
The main new rule difference that the expansion adds, however, is branchlets.
These branchlets can be placed on an area connected to the railroad once you have delivered to a city that’s also connected to it.
This is considered an auxiliary action and can be done when you would normally take an auxiliary action. You have to have delivered to a station that connects by rail to the proper branchlet area and then you can chain them as you go (you can’t just go the farthest along the line).
Essentially, Great Western Trail: Rails to the North gives you more and different ways to get points. You’re still trying to establish an engine, and there are still such things as the Builder Strategy, the Cowboy Strategy, and the Engineer Strategy. Some have said (and I don’t have enough experience to agree or disagree) that this expansion makes the Builder Strategy way too powerful.
I wouldn’t know, since I didn’t end up having a strategy and ended up losing really badly (Editor – funny how that works)
But I can say that I like what the expansion adds to it and I really want to play it again so I can actually try to implement a strategy.
That would be a first.
Anyway, those are the new December games that I played last month.
We’re into a brand new year and a brand new decade! Since I haven’t been playing and recording my plays of games for an entire decade, there won’t be any “best of the decade” list by me.
But the Top 10 Games Played in 2019 posts will be up soon.
Keep an eye out for them!
And in the meantime, let me know what new games you played in December.
What are you looking forward to?
Put it in the comments, and Happy New Year!