Monthly High Five - May 2019
WHAT IS CARDBOARD REALITY’S HIGH FIVE?
The High Five is a monthly piece where we talk about five of our board gaming highlights from the past month. Then one member of Cardboard Reality will deliver the “down low” at the end of this piece, covering a poor board gaming experience from the past month. Enjoy!
The High Five
James - In mid May I had the pleasure of attending my first ever board game convention—Geekway to the West in St. Louis, Missouri. It was an amazing weekend of camaraderie, fun, and lots and lots of gaming. I viewed this as an opportunity to introduce new players to some of my favorite games, such as Sol: Last Days of a Star, and to play games I’d longed after from afar but didn’t have in my game group, like The Estates, and also to play games that just don’t fit into my usual weeknight game group timeframe. Enter 1830.
It is no secret that 18xx is loved and adored by Cardboard Reality’s own Nick and Joel, and the 18xx channel on the CBR Slack is among the most active with almost daily discussions from Lorcan, Dan S, and Herb. But I’d never personally dipped my toes into the pool, mainly due to not having anyone in my board gaming circle that was experienced or fond of the genre. I knew Geekway was a chance to change that. My 2 friends and I met up with 3 strangers, arranged via a BGG geeklist of people looking to host games, and we were underway.
What a game! You can read and hear about 1830 and other 18xx games all over Cardboard Reality, so I’ll save the mechanics and strategy. Yes, it was long(ish?) at about 5 hours in a 6 player game with 3 new players that ended in bankruptcy right after diesels joined the game. And if you don’t know what that means, that’s okay! I didn’t either. My main takeaway here is to not be intimidated by 18xx games, and to search out a person or group that can allow you to experience what felt to me like another level of board gaming. The stock rounds, operating rounds, buying and selling, investing in and then dropping companies, the ebb and flow of the game was so satisfying, so much fun, and the quickest 5 hours of gaming I’ve ever experienced. This wasn’t about slapping a theme onto the usual euro mechanics, this was just flat out about making the most money through planning, strategy, reactive decision making, and ruthlessness.
Needless to say, I was hooked. I dipped my toes into the 18xx water, and now I’m ready to do a giant cannonball right into the middle of the pool. I traded for a copy of 1830 immediately after returning from Geekway, I’m setting up my own bank of poker chips, and I’m ready to put this game on the table with my weekly group (but maybe on a weekend.) Now to see what my wife thinks of the 18xx pool—that might be something to read about next month in the High 5.
Dylan - In board gaming, there are many instances where a popular Eurogame built for group play is reworked into a new game exclusively for two players. Uwe Rosenberg is known for doing this, and even the seven-player 7 Wonders got the treatment in 2015.
Recently, Kickstarter success of 2017, Dinosaur Island, had a two-player successor hit stores, which I was reluctant to pick up. Dinosaur Island had some good ideas, sweet visuals, and a fun theme. But the game, while fun, had some issues that I wasn’t a fan of (unnecessary luck from a bag, over-the-top production, two-route strategy without the expansion, etc.). My wife is a big fan of the theme, but felt similar about it.
Then we bought Duelosaur Island, and neither of us feel the need to play the bigger game ever again.
The production is great, but totally practical, keeping the recessed player boards and custom dice. And the theme remains consistent between the two games, so definitely no knocks there.
That just leaves gameplay… and replacing the worker placement and tile placement of Dinosaur Island with multi-use cards feels so much more fulfilling. On the top half of the cards are the dinosaurs, which spend your DNA and net you visitors to your park through excitement. On the bottom half, you have the attractions you can build, which establishes the engine for your park. Or during Phase three when you want to mix the DNA you have, you can do so by discarding a card.
Duelosaur Island even keeps some of the small details/mechanics that its big brother has. You still have to manage dinosaur threat with your security. It still has the plot twists, but uses them as dice modifiers instead of changes to how each individual game plays. There are still specialists, but only a max of three come out a round. And while it keeps the four-phase structure, it’s really just two phases of decisions, a phase of income, and a phase of scoring.
In our first play, the cards make for more difficult decisions when assembling your park. Do I focus on getting a good income (with the opportunity to score sets of buildings) or mix up some DNA in a bowl to make dino, which raises the risk of not having enough security to keep a few people from being eaten? I quite enjoy the streamlining of the system and can’t wait to play it again to see if it has longevity.
Nick - Push your luck games aren’t necessarily the end all for me, but I’ll be damned if they aren’t always a ton of fun when they hit the table. PUSH was nearly as enjoyable as my favorite simple push your luck game, Deep Sea Adventure, but it plays quite differently. PUSH is a card game where players will continue to play cards one at a time from a shared deck on their turn. Each card possesses a numerical value from 1-6 and can either be blue, green, purple, red, etc. or it show dice instead. When you draw a card you have to place it within one of three columns (these columns are empty at the beginning of each of your turns). After placing a card you may choose to draw another or pass. The catch is that you cannot place two cards with the same color or numerical value, etc. in the same column. If you cannot place a card in any of the three columns, you bust losing all of your progress that round. If you pass before you bust, you’re allowed to take one column of cards of your choosing. Other players in turn order will pick your other stacks. If any column contains a card with dice on it, the player who receives it must roll the die. If the die lands on the blue side, that player must lose all of their blue cards they have won, etc. Alternatively on your turn, you may store all the cards of a specified color you’ve won on previous turns, which will protect these cards from the terrifying die roll and hilarious disaster.
PUSH is addictive—after playing it once, I insisted on an immediate repeat play. It is a great filler full of tense card flips and laugh-out-loud moments, and it would surely go over well for non gamers and gambling addicts alike. It feels like a fuller version of blackjack. I might pick this one up—I’m sure it’d see the table a fair amount.
B.L. -The Networks is a curious thing. It’s a light game, playable by four experienced players in around an hour. The theme is slathered on thick, as you play the roles of nascent television networks developing new shows, hiring stars, and picking up ad revenue. The art is goofy and fun, and the show names are parodies of popular programs (e.g., “Lost” becomes “Found”) or altogether made up but still concerningly plausible -- like a reality program about celebrities getting nosejobs.
And yet, for all these lighthearted touches, the Networks is surprisingly deep, relatively light on luck, with (mostly) open information and heavy on clever card placement.
Each season, a handful of stars, ads, and shows are laid out in a collective pool for players to draft, in order, trying to ensure they have the highest viewership in time by the time sweeps week rolls around.
Because all the information for the season is known by all players at the beginning, the planning begins immediately, and then you watch as that star you were counting on disappears just before your turn, forcing you to shift to plan B. But plan B went out the window when you didn’t notice that hourlong sci-fi drama got taken in the first round. So you’re left scrambling, trying to figure out if you should drop out sooner so you can have more cash on hand for the next season, or try to pick up that second-tier star who’s going to cost you a million bucks to keep on the show, but will draw another 4 million viewers this season.
Though players will see many of the same shows each game, there’s variability in the order cards are revealed, and the “Network” cards (which grant a wide variety of gamebreaking powers) make powerful combos possible and open the decision space even more.
It may not be a brain burner, but not every game needs to be. It’s the definition of a tight design, a fast-paced, fun time that works at every player count.
Combat Commander: Europe
Scott - This past month I had the pleasure of getting in some repeated plays of Combat Commander: Europe by GMT’s renowned Chad Jensen. This game has quickly became one of my favorites and was my introduction to this style of hex-chit tactical level games.
In Combat Commander each player takes control of ground forces at the squad level in WW2 on the Western or Eastern Front. Units have the classic firepower, range, movement, and morale stats all listed on their chit as well as a troop count depicted by the picture of the squad. The battles mainly involve fighting over objective points and advantageous terrain across different historical scenarios, but there is also a scenario generator I am eager to try out.
The stand out feature here is the fate deck. Each player has one unique to their faction and the multi-use fate cards are used for everything from selecting actions to resolving dice rolls or random events. Each card has an order, the main way that you control your troops, a special action that can be used in certain circumstances, a random event in case you flip it off the top for an event resolution, as well as a dice roll and a random hex coordinate. The fate deck makes it quick and easy to resolve orders and random events and keeps gameplay flowing back and forth.
The games can often last over 2 hours but the flow of the game never really bogged down in my experience and I remained thoroughly engaged throughout. There were many tense back-and-forth moments in all 3 of the games we played this month. It took us two games to really get the finer details of the rules down but now I feel as though I could just pull this down off of Nick’s shelf and play it whenever, something that I hope happens often.
Joel - This is not “clickbait”, even though it may shock most people who have been following how my gaming tastes have been changing. “How could Joel play an 18xx game and it be a Down Low?” That is an excellent question, and it is not exactly easy to answer. To start, it is an 18xx game, so obviously I was at least a little excited to sit down to play. On top of that, we had finally convinced Scott to play an 18xx, along with Dylan’s second 18xx, so it was bound to be an interesting night. However, even with all of that, I knew just from reading a bit of the rules that it was going to be a very introductory 18xx game. This had me less excited to play it, but for Scott’s sake, I thought it would go well enough. I had no reservations thinking he would enjoy it, but I did not anticipate how I would feel.
It was boring. Well, that probably is not fair to the game, so let me rephrase. There were not a lot of “levers to pull”, as Herb (a patron) likes to say. Compared to the 18xx we have started playing, such as 18Mex, 1849, 1844, etc., it did not feel like there was anything to do in 18AL. Is that the fault of the game? Not necessarily, as it is tagged as an introductory 18xx, but boy does it hold your hand. It may not have the soft rusting that 1846 has, but routes are easy to run, as there is basically no tokening out. There are also so few companies that stock shenanigans are almost non-existent. You could sell shares to tank a company’s stock price, but then just have a bunch of money and no stocks to buy. There was one small moment that was “interesting”, but even that did not really affect much in the grand scheme of the game. It did not feel very monumental.
If this was the first 18xx I would have played, I may have enjoyed it a bit more, but I do not know if I would have been intrigued enough to dive deeper, unless someone was there to show me more and push me further into the genre. However, I believe this is part of the downfall of the experience playing this game. We played it after being too deep into the genre. We have moved on to bigger and more interesting 18xx games, and that really affected how I felt about it. Nick pretty much felt the same way. We also could have played 1849 in about the same play time, so that was a bit frustrating. On the other hand, as I mentioned earlier, it was probably better for Scott that we did not. Even though I think there would have been more potential with a different intro game, it probably gave him enough of an idea to know that 18xx games are not something he wants to dive deeper into.
With all this being said, I will be looking for a different intro game to own to introduce people to the genre. I am not very interested in playing 18AL again, which is a bit sad. I am not saying that 18AL is a bad game by any means, but from an interest and complexity standpoint, I am too deep to find much to enjoy with it. Getting all four of us podcast hosts playing an 18xx was cool, but the game just did not shine enough to warrant me keeping it in my collection.