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A few weeks ago, I did something unexpected.
I saw there was a live Kickstarter for 1861/67, and I backed it immediately. Me, the Euro gamer who judges whether or not he'll like a game based on the percentage of beige on the table. Me, the person for whom turning wooden pieces into other wooden pieces is the idea of a perfect weekend. Me, the person who will probably end up naming his future firstborn Uwe Pfister Feld Gerdts.
In ages past, I've tried to venture outside my dry-Euro comfort zone. I tried to play Ameritrash games: Dead of Winter, Journeys in Middle Earth, and anything FFG offered that could snap me out of this comatose German aversion to anything that remotely reeks of fun. But to no avail--every time I tried to engage with plastic miniatures and beautiful graphic design, I spent entire gaming sessions looking over my shoulder, wondering if my beloved Concordia felt betrayed, asking myself if the dead, empty eyes of the sad men on Great Western Trail's cover would ever take me back.
But then I saw something that would haunt me forever.
Capstone's new edition of Irish Gauge.
Look at it. Feast your eyes on that beautiful, minimalist graphic design. Look at the delectable little choo-choo trains. The placid greens, the muted hexagons, the obtuse-yet-simple table of numbers. But surely it wasn't for me. Train games are for middle-aged nerds who collect stamps, and I'm a cultured Eurogamer. I don't manipulate share prices--that's beneath me! I'm too busy turning salt into bricks into food into tools into wine into cloth into cold, uncaring victory points in the Mediterranean. Auctions? Hah! What is this, 1997?
So I guiltily tucked it away. I kept my little transgression hidden in the deep, dark recesses of my cardboard-obsessed mind. And for a while, I was happy. But then I finally got the chance to play a game I'd been dying to try; I finally played Brass: Birmingham. I have trouble categorizing the Brass games: are they economic simulations? Are they Euros? Do they share DNA with the rest of Martin Wallace's games, which are decidedly not Euros? These questions will surely go down in history as some of the greatest unanswered mysteries of our time. But what isn't a mystery is the fact that Brass: Birmingham is special.
A bloat of obscure rules, concepts, and grammar coalesce into a cutthroat tapestry of economic manipulation--a knife-fight between British gentlemen who dare say you're bloody daft for interfering with their capitalistic machinations, and by jove they will strangle you with the coal-and-soot-laden invisible hand if they have to. It's a nasty game, and it's an unusual game, and it is special. I can say with confidence that it is probably the best designed board game I've ever played. To boot: if you're a sheepish Eurogamer like me, it is infinitely more palatable than the barebones economic rampage that is train games.
The first time I played Brass: Birmingham, I lost. I lost by a lot. But I had a hell of a time losing, and try as I might, I just couldn't get the game out of my mind. Maybe, I thought to myself, Maybe I could be into economic board games? Maybe I could love games that aren't beige? Maybe, somewhere deep inside, there is a part of me that could be confrontational, and conniving, and cutthroat? Ah, but it was in between print runs. Bad luck. There was nothing for it.
Weeks later, I saw that my local game store had a more innocuous--and civilized--game on sale: Gugong. I'd played it before and remembered liking its spin on the worker placement mechanism, so I drove out to pick it up. I don't know how the timing lined up so perfectly, but there, in the midst of the chaos and cardboard mayhem, were the two games that had been plaguing me for weeks: 1 copy of Brass: Birmingham, and several copies of Irish Gauge.
I did not stand a chance. Faster than you can say Kennerspiele des Jahres, I had 3 new games in my shelf.
The first time I played Irish Gauge, I hesitantly introduced it to the table as some train game I saw at the store for cheap. It was a lie designed to obfuscate my shameful obsession. Oh, how wonderful would it be if this impulse purchase could somehow ride the wings of serendipity to rise above the fray of mediocrity? (The table is the perfect place for melodrama). So we played. And it was fantastic. It was beyond fantastic--it was revelatory.
Look, don't read this word-vomit as a review. It isn't. Irish Gauge, by all regular metrics, is a fine game. Fans of the cube rails genre (to which Irish Gauge belongs) don't even consider it the best cube rails game--that accolade many of them reserve for Chicago Express, or, if the pedantry will allow, Wabash Cannonball. But it is a solid game of auctions, company value manipulation, and general economic skullduggery. And it's a whirlwind--what with its one page of rules and its breezy mechanics for determining dividends, the whole thing plays in under an hour. It basically begs you to play it a second time.
Irish Gauge is a game, but it's also an argument. It is likely the simplest, most stripped-down version of itself, and so on that merit it makes a case for the value of barebones economic games. What it abstracts away is dross; what it keeps is a spatial puzzle of optimization and tenuous alliances. There is a fragile balance to be found in this type of game, not unlike the fragile balance I later came to enjoy when I played Pax Pamir.
Brass: Birmingham, that lumbering behemoth, planted the sick notion in my head that economic games might be as fun as the driest of Euros. Irish Gauge convinced me of that fact. For the longest time, I refused to consider these types of games as the expansion of my horizons--too mean, too complicated, too mathy. Not enough story, I thought. You can't ask that much of me; I play games to have fun, not to do homework.
But here I am, a convert brimming with potential. If economic games are for me, then why not the Pax games? Why not COIN games? I am once again excited to discover new things--I feel once more the thrill I felt when I first became a hobbyist, when every Shut Up & Sit Down video was an exciting new possibility, when every game on Wil Wheaton's Tabletop could possibly be the game. I eagerly await the arrival of my first 18xx game as my cardboard pantheon grows to include names like Wehrle and Russell and Wallace and Tresham. It doesn't mean I've turned my back on the chorus of passive-aggressive Germans who brought me into this hobby. It just means there's room in my heart to be a little bit sinister.
During our Wingspan giveaway, we asked for your go-to game for 3-5 players. More than 2,500 of you responded. Let’s look at the top games, each mentioned 30 times or more.
Wingspan has a player count (1-5) and a playing time (40-70 mins) that many people can comfortably get to the table. Published by Stonemaier Games, it also has fantastic art and lots of custom components. Read more about it in our review here.
Betrayal at House on the Hill
Betrayal at House on the Hill plays 3-6 players in about an hour. As you play, you build the house that you are exploring. One of your fellow players will betray you, and you must use all of your skills to survive.
Century: Spice Road
Century: Spice Road is part of the Century series, each set in different centuries and focusing on the the major trading systems and routes of that era. It plays 2-5 players in 30-45 minutes.
Pandemic is a cooperative game, where everyone wins or loses together. Your team travels around the world working to discover cures for four diseases. Designed by Matt Leacock, it has inspired legacy versions, and historical versions such as Pandemic: Iberia.
Concordia is a peaceful strategy game of economic development for 2-5 players. Designed by Mac Gerdts, it relies on how you manage the cards in your hand. Each player starts with the same set of cards, and can add to them throughout the game. But take too many cards, and it may be too hard to get the card you need.
Viticulture is another game published by Stonemaier Games. Players must develop their vineyards and produce wine. It is a worker placement game for up to 6 players that plays in around 90 minutes.
Carcassonne was the winner of the 2001 Spiel des Jahres, and can be considered a ‘modern classic’ with such games as Catan and Ticket to Ride. It is a tile-laying game for 2-5 players that plays in about 45 minutes. Players score points by developing the playing area, then placing their followers in the cities, cloisters, and fields, and on the roads.
Catan is a game of building on strategic spots to gain resources, and trading for (or stealing!) the rest of what you need. First published in 1995, it’s still going strong. Recent re-themes include Star Trek and A Game of Thrones.
Lords of Waterdeep
Lords of Waterdeep is a worker placement game set in the Dungeons & Dragons universe. Through your agents, you recruit adventurers to go on quests on your behalf, earning rewards and increasing your influence over the city.
And here we had a big jump, with an almost 50% increase in responses:
7 Wonders is a game of card drafting, where players build a hand of cards by selecting a card and then passing the rest to the next player. Cards give players a benefit, such as a discount on building a future card, increasing military strength, or providing victory points. It plays up to 7 players in about half an hour.
And another big jump, with an even larger gap than the last:
Ticket to Ride
Ticket to Ride was first published 15 years ago and won the 2004 Spiel des Jahres. It has since sold over 5 million copies. It’s easy to teach, has both a family-friendly theme and strategy, and plays 2-5 players in about an hour. Players choose train cards to build routes across the map to score points.
Number two on our list is yet another game by Stonemaier Games:
Scythe is one of the longer and more complex games on this list, but that hasn’t stopped people from playing it a lot. It’s a competitive 4X game set in an alternate history 1920s where players compete to gain fame and fortune by establishing their empire.
And the number one go-to game for 3-5 players is:
Terraforming Mars was a Kennerspiel des Jahres Nominee in 2017, and is currently ranked #3 on BGG. Players control corporations that are working to raise the temperature, oxygen level, and ocean coverage until the environment is habitable. When the three global parameters (temperature, oxygen, ocean) have all reached their goal, the terraforming is complete and the player with the most victory points wins.
More games, and a graph
30 or more responses made for a manageable list, but plenty of great games were mentioned.
1st & Roll ~$15, save 50% - new Aug. 8th
Concordia ~$39, save 40%
Eldritch Horror ~$36, save 40% - new Aug. 6th
Gobblet Gobblers, ~$18, save 39%
Ishtar: Gardens of Babylon ~$30, save 39%
Mage Knight: The Lost Legion ~$41, save 32%
Munchkin Warhammer 40,000 ~$19, save 37%
Pandemic Legacy: Season 2 ~$57, save 29%
Runewars Miniatures Game: Wraiths Unit Expansion ~$10, save 62%
Scrabble To Go ~$33, save 29%
Star Wars X-Wing: Saw's Renegades ~$26, save 35%
Star Wars X-Wing: Most Wanted ~$18, save 55%
Steampunk Rally ~$36, save 29%
Super Big Boggle ~$16, save 38%
Sushi Roll ~$16, save 36%
Utter Nonsense: Family Edition ~$15, save 45%
Other Great Deals:
Sword & Sorcery: Vastaryous' Lair $32.99 at Cardhaus Games, save 45%. - new Aug. 8th
Alternate title: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Actually Celebrate My Birthday
tl;dr - I loved both of these games. I played Western Legends with my friends who all loved it, and Concordia with my wife, who liked it.
As the alternate title suggests, my birthday was this weekend. In the past I have not wanted to make a big deal about this, because I don't like drawing attention to myself. My wife has helped me learn that it's okay to be celebrated once in a while, and I don't always need to deflect. I love her.
Anyway, I decided that I wanted to finally have a real game night, so on Friday I invited some friends over to play my most recent acquisition, which was generously sent to me as my prize for the BGA giveaway.
I set up the game, taught the rules, and everyone chose their characters and miniatures. We had a slightly slow start, having not played before and not being 100% on all the rules, but after a round or two, it was pretty smooth sailing. I went Wanted almost immediately and had a blast. My highlights would be robbing my friend of half of his gold nuggets he'd mined for, and successfully executing a bank heist.
As previously mentioned, my friends all loved it. The winning strategy in this game (I came in 4th), was a combination of mining for gold and fighting bandits. In the post-game discussion, some people said they'd like to try going Wanted next time, since only I and one other guy were ever Wanted. Plus, that would create a little more risk in mining for gold if there were more people willing to rob each other.
My friends were so vocal about how much they enjoyed it that I'm seriously considering backing the next Kickstarter to get all of the expansions, and I would probably even be able to get them to chip in a few bucks toward it.
"Battery" style review:
(++) Art - the art is very attractive and thematic
(+/-) Components - the cards are of middling quality. The miniatures are pretty cool. The board is good (the art on it is awesome). The dice for prospecting look and feel very cheap. The chipboard "General Store" is pretty flimsy. The wooden cubes and discs are...wooden cubes and discs.
(-) Box Insert - it's basically "the trench"
(+) Rulebook - the rulebook was pretty clear. There were a couple of instances in which I referenced an FAQ when it wasn't clear in the rulebook.
(+++) Gameplay - SO MUCH FUN
(++) Immersion - I felt like a cowboy.
(+++) "My Friends Like It" factor - My friends REALLY like it
I played this with my wife the next morning. I purchased this one as part of the BGA fundraiser for the Black Lives Matter movement, but hadn't played it until this weekend. Setting up for the first game took a bit of time, since I had to follow the step by step guide, having not played before. After that, teaching the rules to my wife was pretty easy. The rules of this game are impressively simple, which was something that's been noted in every review of it I've read or watched.
When we got started, neither of us had a handle on the strategy, obviously, but (speaking for myself) figuring out what to do on the next couple of turns was not difficult. "Analysis Paralysis" was minimal. With the turns being so simple, and the actions being so straight-forward, there was almost no down-time. I take a turn, she takes a turn, just back and forth. I ended up winning by a decent margin, but I'll attribute that to having absorbed the game through videos and reviews before ever having played it. I think after another play or two, this will be one of my favorites to play with my wife. Where it will rank on her list is TBD.
One thing I noticed is that the map we played (Hellas), even though it was the one rated as the best of the ones we have for two players, was not very tight. After a few more plays, I might consider buying a map that's much tighter for 2 players.
"Battery" style review:
(+) Art - the boards are attractive in their colors, but nothing to write home about, in my opinion. The card art is bland.
(+/-) Components - again, the cards are of middling quality. The chipboard stuff is all fine. The box is flimsy, and the boards actually feel a bit fragile, so I'll definitely be extra careful when setting up and putting away.
(-) Box Insert - again, it's basically "the trench"
(++) Rulebook - very clear and concise
(++) Gameplay - very smooth, quick turns. "Satisfying" is a word I'd use to describe my first play. Just a really nice game. I can't wait to play again, and I'd love to try it at 3 or 4 players.
(+) "My Wife Likes It" factor - for now I'll leave this at one (+), since I'm not totally sure how MUCH she likes it. She definitely said she like it, though.
To make a long story short, I was blessed by an amazing birthday weekend full of friends, and played some awesome games to boot. I am thankful and do not want to take this all for granted.
There is absolutely no reason any of you should care but I recently went through all of my games played/owned over at https://rankingengine.pubmeeple.com/.
It took quite a while to do all of the comparisons but it was kind of fun. I do this once in a while because I like to rework my game ratings. So the top ten I ended up with were:
- Brass: Birmingham (going to include Lancashire in here too)
- Terraforming Mars
- Gaia Project
- Power Grid
- Forbidden Stars
- Spirit Island
Teotihuacan just missed the cut but I actually think it would beat Keyflower for me in a direct comparison. (It just never happened on the site.)
I thought it might be fun for others to try it out to see what their top 10 ended up as. There are no wrong answers and it’s really just how you feel in the moment. I think my list could change from day to day even.
Edit to mention that I am not affiliated with the ranking site or anything like that. I just like doing the comparisons.
Some of you may remember that around late December, I shared that my wife and I played #Catan for the first time with her family during Thanksgiving. My wife absolutely enjoyed the experience and I immediately saw it as an opportunity to introduce her to modern board games. Since then, we've gone through maybe 10 different games together and we found many of our favorites such as #Viticulture: Essential Edition and #Clans of Caledonia.
Well, this post is about the latest addition to our collection, #Concordia. I've been eyeing on this since last year because (1) I love elegant midweight euros and (2) I watched several reviews and playthroughs and it seemed like it could potentially check off many of the parts that my wife likes in Catan. I'll list some resemblances below, as well as share some of our first impressions.
Overlaps between Catan and Concordia:
- Different areas on the map produce different goods
- You can produce goods during another player's turn
- You build to enhance/focus your production
- Building requires movement
- End of game trigger
What makes Concordia "similar to Catan but better" for me + why it goes into our top 3 games to play together:
- Very little luck involved and you don't end up with turns where you get to do nothing.
- Simple turns where you play just a single card, but it makes you feel pretty smart (or dumb, but in a good way). It makes you immediately realize "ohhhh why didn't I play it this way??" where you can immediately recognize there are layers of strategies you can appreciate in the game, but it'll take time to get there. And you don't feel horrible about making those mistakes repeatedly in your first game, because Concordia gives players "something" in just about every turn (money, goods, buildings, more cards, etc).
- In terms of direct interaction, I do like the trade in Catan because it gets people talking, but it can feel... unreasonable, "just cause," or sometimes too influenced by the relationship/dynamic between the players. Concordia doesn't have this type of strong interaction, but it has enough going for it that engages all of the players at the table.
- For Catan, number of builds is a win condition, whereas for Concordia, it just triggers the end of the game. Catan is a race game and it goes way too long because both luck and all other players can constantly put you down since it's way too easy to read the board and see how close a player is from winning.
- Along with the previous point, I like that you really can't tell who the winner is until the very end. You score points based on numerous different criteria, and each of them can be drastically multiplied in value based on the type of cards you focused on purchasing.
Here are some additional comments from my wife:
- Wish for better production quality: First, I'm a stickler for art in games (even if it doesn't impact my enjoyment of the game), but I realized my wife is even more critical. She commented that the name of the locations on the map appeared too low res haha. I do agree with her though that the resource tokens could have been better. I showed her the deluxe tokens and metal coins and she told me to order them! Oh and just one more... am I the only one who feels bothered by thin box material? Especially since the box size is so unusually large, it makes it feel extra flimsy.
- She likes how the card's power/action is clearly shown on the card. There's none of that needing to repeatedly reference the rulebook throughout the gameplay.
- She especially likes the Tribune card, which allows you to get all of the cards you played back into your hand. Rather than relying on luck and waiting for the right card to come by, she likes having control over this as well as the pacing of when you do it (you get more benefits by delaying the use of the Tribune).
The last point also makes me wonder if it's an indicator that she might like deck-building games. I guess I'll find out when we get #Clank! Legacy: Acquisitions Incorporated to the table this week :)
[Brass: Birmingham, Concordia, Gùgōng, The Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle-earth, Irish Gauge, 1861: Russia / 1867: Canada, Pax Pamir (Second Edi...]
[Betrayal at House on the Hill, Wingspan, Pandemic, Viticulture: Essential Edition, Ticket To Ride, Century: Spice Road, Concordia, 7 Wonders, Catan, L...]
[Star Wars X-Wing: Saw's Renegades, Pandemic Legacy: Season 2, Runewars The Miniatures Game: Wraiths Unit Expansion, Mage Knight Board Game: The Lost L...]
[Concordia, Western Legends]
[Brass: Birmingham, Concordia, Power Grid, Gloomhaven, Terraforming Mars, Forbidden Stars, Spirit Island, Keyflower, Teotihuacan: City of Gods, Brass: ...]