Igloo Pop: This game has the distinction of having just about the most bizarre backstory ever. The box says it’s for ages 7+, but I don’t see why this couldn’t go as young as 5. Anyway. As a fairly serious gamer who likes eurogames, and who has many friends with young children, I am often asked to play kids games – even when no kids are present. Most kids’ games don’t work for adult groups. But every so often you get one which does, and I have to say the Igloo Pop was 15 minutes of solid amusement – and there is even a game in there that engaged me for a time, as it’s something of a probabilities game (you really can’t tell most of the time how many beads are in an igloo, so you can take either a low-risk guess, one of 3 numbers, or a high-risk, high-payoff single number guess). Would I ever suggest playing Igloo Pop again myself? Very unlikely. But if we were going to play one of these kids’ games, this would be my choice.
PitchCar Mini: I got this on something of a lark. I’m a big fan of Carabande/PitchCar, but I really didn’t know if the smaller track would work. Wouldn’t the lighter car be more prone to going flying? Would the effects of unevenness and joins that weren’t quite clean in the track be more pronounced? As it turns out, I actually felt that PitchCar Mini had a better feel than regular Carabande. We had no problem at all with the track, which was very smooth and played cleanly. And it takes up a lot less space. I liked it a lot. And I’m wondering if maybe I should replace my Carabande with a PitchCar, if the larger set is of similarly high quality.
Shadow of the Emperor: I have played this twice recently, once with 3 and once with 4. First time was with 3, and I feel the 3-player game doesn’t quite work – too much space, and the elections for Emperor are pointless – the uninvolved third party just takes a VP and chooses which of the two competitors should be Emperor. I didn’t know if the game would be good, but it certainly seemed like it would be a lot better with 4. And I think it was.
Shadow sort of feels like a cross between El Grande and Kremlin. Each faction has nobles that are vying to become sovereigns of 7 different provinces. These provinces all convey special powers of some kind. These sovereigns then elect an Emperor, who gets some points and the ability to break ties in sovereign competitions. The neat thing is that Nobles age, and have a basic life expectancy of four turns (often shortened by the activities of one’s opponents) – so you seem to get waves of nobles coming and going. Player will put out a maximum effort to prevent their nobles from aging and to get them into positions of power, after which there will be a big die-back.
I liked Shadow of the Emperor a lot with 4 players; not so much with 3. It’s not a deep game on the level of Taj Mahal, but it’s an interesting game that gets a bit out of not too many rules, and the theme is very rich. It might be a touch long for what it delivers, but I’m looking forward to trying it again.
Oltremare: If you remember from last time, I was pretty nonplussed by Oltremare. Well, it turns out we had one rule wrong that made a major difference: when you move your ship, you lose your existing special power chip, whether you get a new one or not. This is a big deal, because one of the chips (cheap cards) is vastly more powerful than the rest, so you could pick one up and keep it for the rest of the game by just driving to empty spots, which is not legal. Getting this right solved the obvious apparent major balance problem in the game.
I was almost thinking maybe I should pick one up, if I could get it for $20 or something. But towards the end of the game, another significant imbalance was becoming fairly obvious: the low-numbered commodity cards (spices, fabrics) appear rather underpowered. The payoff really isn’t significantly more than the much higher-quantity goods (compare to Civilization or Bohnanza, where a good that is half as common pay off at over twice the rate), and the rare goods all have a set of icons which lets you load only one or two goods on the next turn. Ouch. Meanwhile playing in Grain or Lumber gets you about the same cash per card but vastly more flexibility (and, in one of the more bizarre aspects of the game, you can play a single 20-frequency grain to get a buck, while a single 8-frequency Spices gets you absolutely nothing!). This seems a significant problem.
And there still really isn’t enough interesting trading going on.
Oltremare has some neat stuff, and it’s not actually broken like I initially thought it might be. But it’s definitely not quite there, either. It might work its way closer to the top of the play list if I ever finish playing out all the Bohnanza expansions.
Mall World: This was my third play of Mall World, and I like it. It’s like a handful of other games in which I think that while good play matters a lot, overall control is actually less than it appears, and I think it’s important to realize this so you don’t get frustrated or locked up. But there is a lot of neat stuff in there, the play is quite interesting, and it’s not too long. It’ll be interesting to see if it can make it to 10 games. Generally, I’ve enjoyed the game a lot more than most of the people I’ve played with.
Tanz der Hornochsen: This is the board game remake of the 6 Nimmt card game. It’s essentially just like the card game, but now different piles have different characteristics – some will give you points just for playing to them, some will force all players to play two cards (chits) at a time, and some will reverse all scoring – taking away points – as long as they are active. While all that stuff is neat for flavor, on balance I don’t think it added anything fundamentally interesting to the card game and may in fact have taken away some control (!). While I really don’t think this was a terribly interesting game, on the other hand it’s good schadenfreude – you get to watch other people frequently get reamed with big points, and in some sense it’s just a game of avoiding catastrophe, which can be amusing. But the original card game delivers the same thing with less playing time, less overhead, and a lower price.
Leapfrog: With time running low in the countdown to midnight, we played this kids’ game. This is a simple race game, a cousin perhaps to Formula Motor Racing. You’ve got chits 1-6, and each round you play one. If you play higher than the guy in front of you, you get to move ahead (possibly several times). The gimmick is that you can only move forwards or backwards a number of positions equal to the number you played … so if you play a one, you will almost certainly fall back – but only one space, and the people behind you will then be blocked from advancing past you. Without this rule, there would be no game at all … but it also turns it into a very chaotic guessing game which is basically random. Even though it was pretty short, it wasn’t short enough for me and I won’t play it again. The really good 15-minute game is elusive, but there are always good short card games. Kim did like the colorful frogs at least!