Nürnburg Games, part I

Kim and I had an opportunity to play through a bunch of the new stuff from Nürnburg recently. Here is part one.

Australia: This is a new Kramer/Kiesling game from Ravensburger. You are competing to score areas on a map of Australia. There are spaces along the area boundaries to place your pieces (rangers) – most spaces adjoin multiple different areas. Each area can score either for a koala bear (when all adjacent spaces are occupied by rangers) or for power lines (when it has exactly some number of rangers in adjacent spaces). Like Torres, the number of points you score is based on the raw number of pieces you have, not on ranking or majorities. There is some element of cash management here also, but really, that’s about it. It’s very reminiscent of Samurai in feel, in that you want your opponents to set you up to score, but without the elegance or depth of that classic (this is an anti-recommendation – if you like Samurai, don’t bother with Australia). Also, the theme is a classic disjointed paste-up job. Not terrible, I would play again if others wanted to give it a shot, but definitely not a buy for me.

Amazonas: This is a Stefan Dorra game from Kosmos/Mayfair. It’s a railroad game re-themed to the Amazon. You’re collecting rare and exotic animal species, killing them off to send back to European collectors or researchers. Or something along those lines, anyway. When you build a base camp location, you get a chit for the type of species produced by that site. Each turn, cardplay will determine your basic income, turn order, and which species you can get paid off for, which in turn finances the building of more camps in connected areas. You get points for breadth and depth of species collection at the end, as well as for connecting to all four of the camps pre-specified on your hidden goal card at the beginning of the game.

Stefan Dorra has a reputation as a good, perhaps underrated, game designer – so after this game I looked him up on BoardGameGeek to check out his ludography. It was basically as I recalled – one minor hit, For Sale, and a handful of solid, workmanlike designs: Marracash, Medina, Die Sieben Seigal, to pick a few. Nothing truly spectacular, but some good stuff. In my opinion, Amazonas isn’t even up to these standards; it commits the cardinal sin of being boring. There is little player tension; everyone is just building his or her own little networks with only occasional serious competition. The tactics of route-building and choices in earning income are not without some interest, but for the most part things are pretty tepid. On the plus side, the graphics are very nice, the theme is reasonable, and the game is pretty simple.

On balance, I think this is a family game, and not a gamer’s game. I think if you treat this as an “8 and up” game, it’s a nice partner to Sunken City – the kids get some decisions they can handle, the parents aren’t bored out of their minds, the event deck makes things pretty random, and it looks nice. But I don’t think your average adult gaming group is going to get much mileage out of this one.

Ticket to Ride: Europe: This is Alan R. Moon’s sequel to his Spiel des Jahre winning Ticket to Ride. There were complaints in the original about the dominance of long-distance tickets and long routes; those who worried about such things should be soothed somewhat. There are now tunnels, which can have variable extra building costs, and ferries, which require wild cards to build. You can also build stations, which allow you to “borrow” other players’ routes for the purposes of completing tickets. Finally, and in a major upgrade, the engine and ticket cards are now full-sized and far nicer.

On the one hand, I like the appearance of better balance on the tickets. On the other hand, I have reservations about basically all the other new stuff: the stations seem to reduce the pressure to build because you are at far less risk of getting cut off, and the randomness of the tunnel building seems a bit gratuitous and can make the short tunnels very expensive. I fear that while the original Ticket to Ride had the potential for some sharp play, the new version is more “damped” and so less tense. I don’t think the original Ticket to Ride can really afford to lose too much in terms of excitement level.

Given that a lot of the details have changed, it’ll take another couple plays to see if everything is in a good spot, balance-wise. None of the new stuff is fundamentally game-altering, so the feel is overall very similar to the original, and whether or not Ticket to Ride: Europe will be worth buying will depend on how well the details come together: whether there is still enough tension between building and drafting, whether the various regions of the board are viable, etc. My initial reaction was that it was nice, but it was not sufficiently different from or such an obvious upgrade to the original that I felt compelled to buy it, despite the much-improved components. But I enjoyed it enough to play again, and it might grow on me.

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