Trendy, Tongiaki, El Grande, Samurai

It seems odd to me that wargames have so dominated my gaming of late; maybe it’s just that last year’s eurogames were modestly disappointing, while the new wave from Nürnburg is just starting to arrive. Anyway, Kim & I finally got a solid afternoon of eurogaming in.

Trendy is a game I haven’t played in ages, but I remember as being pretty weak, especially given it’s a Knizia. But it’s short, so I gave it a try again … I wasn’t wrong. Now, it’s far from hideous and it does work, but it’s sort of Modern Art without the auctions. With a pitch like that for a game Spiel Spass did publish, I’d hate to see the rejects. Now, it’s not going to make it to Chris’ banned list just because it is so short and simple, but it’s no For Sale, that’s for sure.

Tongiaki is the new Schmidt Spiele/Überplay title that just hit stores a couple days ago. It’s by Thomas Rauscher, his first game in the strategy game area that I’m aware of. My first instinct is to say that it reminds me vaguely of Carcassone, but I think that’s not actually true. Each player plays a tribe of native Polynesians, setting sale on dangerous voyages to distant islands. You can direct the expansion of the board through the directions in which you set out, but there really isn’t much choice in the tile play. Where the game is, is in the direction of your colonization efforts. As explorers reach each island, they are placed on beaches; when those beaches fill up, the explorers are forced to move on, either on previously-charted routes to existing islands, or into the unknown. Trips into the unknown can usually only be successful when multiple players work together; just how many is dictated by the route turned over. You can find a fuller review here.

While the game isn’t mind-blowing, I rather liked it. It’s got interesting choices – you have to decide where and how much to explore. It’s nicely strategic; getting your boats from where they are to where you want them is often a rather involved process. It’s got a nice element of risk – it’s good to explore the unknown, but if you don’t bring people along the boats can be lost – but bringing people along shares the wealth. Then again, if you set it up right you can hose other people by sending their boats off on doomed expeditions. All good fun; in the end, it falls comfortably into the compete-for-areas genre but it’s unique enough that it doesn’t feel like a standard compete-for-areas games, so that scores lots of points with me. And though it does have a potential analysis paralysis problem in the wrong hands, assuming you can get around that it comes in at a quite sensible playing time, around 45 minutes. All in all, I thought it was a very solid game, and one I’ll be happy to play some more.

Next up was El Grande. This has been coming out more in recent weeks, and I’d just like to point out once again what an amazing game this is. But more on this later.

Last game of the afternoon for Kim & I was Reiner Knizia’s Samurai, a game which I actually haven’t played in quite some time. I remember when it first came out, it was perceived as being the last entry in a “tile laying” trilogy along with Through the Desert, Tigris & Euphrates. At the time, it was the general consensus (with which I concurred) that it was the weakest of the three. While that may be true, I’m not sure I’d say it unequivocally. It’s a very simple game – the simplest of the three – yet it has a lot of depth. It’s a very attractive game. And it has stood the test of time very well; taking it off the shelf again today, I was no less impressed with Samurai than I was when it first came out.

Which worries me a little at some level. While others are agog with Puerto Rico, or Age of Steam, or Carcassone, for me it seems like eurogaming is now past it’s prime, at least for the serious gamer. From Modern Art through Taj Mahal and Aladdin’s Dragons, the mid-to-late 90s were a veritable flood of incredible games. While the quantity of releases was substantial, it wasn’t as much as it is today, and yet whenever I break out El Grande or Ra or Union Pacific or Modern Art or Settlers I am always impressed by the coherence, the streamlined and sleek designs that seem to me to have great elegance. While some of the recent stuff is quite good, it always seems much more disposable to me.

Now, as Mike Siggins once said about a previous Nürnburg, what we may have here is just a problem of timing. These things go in cycles, and while the last really great year for eurogames was 2000, the next one could be just right around the corner. The German economy is having problems these days; maybe that’s it. Who knows. But for me anyway, despite a solid flow of decent enough games, it still seems like the lean years are becoming a bit extended.

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