Friday 15 October 2021


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This month I've picked up a few little two-player boardgames to add to our collection, and the experience is always bittersweet.

Sweet, because these three games are all pretty great in their own ways. Let's do a mini-review after a handful of plays.

Blitzkrieg by Paolo Mori - A great little distillation of fighting WW2 across six theatres. The kind of ultra-competitive back and forth clash that really suits this 15-20min play time, as you can grab a rematch straight away if you feel cheated. Just enough randomness to prevent things being taken too seriously. 

Air, Land, & Sea by Jon Perry - Believe it or not I'm not exactly a WW2 enthusiast, but this game also shares Blitzkrieg's theme, and it's fascinating to look at the two side. They're both quick, low footprint games that try to distil the the grand strategy of fighting a global war into a simple set of mechanics, but this one is really all about "pick your battles". It's a dead simple card game on the surface, but the twist is that you can withdraw from any round of play if you feel like you're going to lose. The earlier you withdraw, the fewer points your opponent gets for winning. So if you play cleverly you could lose twice as many battles as you win, but still win the war because you knew when to pull back and your opponent committed too hard to their losses.  It's that same sort of "agonising fun" that I get from Lost Cities.

The Fox in the Forest by Joshua Buergel - Along the same lines as Air, Land, & Sea, this is a simple card game that's made interesting by a single twist. You want to beat your opponent, but if you beat them by too much you'll be branded greedy and them humble, allowing them to take the majority of the points at stake for themselves. There's clear DNA from some traditional card games here (Oh Hell, which I know as Blob) but it's twisted just far enough and given a nice coat of paint. 

So that's the sweet, but it always comes with bitter. Making room on the shelves.

After a thorough audit I ended up with six games to sell onward, but the bitterness isn't all that strong this time. I feel like each of them has served a purpose and is just ready to move on to a new loving home. I thought I'd look at why that is.

Mysterium by Oleksandr Nevskiy - This is the perfect example of a game that I've thoroughly enjoyed playing, but I noticed it just wasn't ever coming out to the table. Then, at a local games night I played Mysterium Carnival, which is the same game made smaller, quicker to set up, faster to play, and easier to teach. If I had that version I'd probably keep it in my collection with the other small games, but I think it's highlighted that this one just doesn't justify the big box and somewhat involved setup.

Mr Jack Pocket by Bruno Cathala and Ludovic Maublanc - This was one of the first really small games that I picked up, and I've got lots of fun memories with it. It's a great little asymmetric, competitive puzzle, but there are just so many other small games that grab my attention more. 

Undo: Cherry Blossom Festival by Michael Palm, Lukas Zach - I was sceptical of this game. You can only play it once, it has a really short play time, and the reviews weren't good at all. Despite that, I enjoyed digging into this little time-travel mystery. As with any mystery game there's a fair amount of guesswork involved, especially in the first few rounds, but I genuinely felt like we managed to puzzle out the truth and reach a satisfying ending. Purely selling this one on because it's a one-and-done game. 

Sub Terra by Tim Pinder - Love the idea of this one, spelunking through horrifying caves with your team of specialists and trying to get to the surface alive. Good, simple rules, slightly fiddly setup but nothing major. Was hoping this would recapture some of the magic of when we first picked up Pandemic, our first venture into modern boardgames, with a similarly novel theme and streamlined rules. But where Pandemic's simple rules created interesting situations, our few plays of Sub Terra felt lukewarm by comparison. Of course you're at the mercy of the draw, but here we found it more annoying than exciting. It didn't help that we were playing with two players, which means taking two characters each. Perhaps this one would be better with a full team of six, but there are so many other games I'd rather bring out with a big group. 

The Crew: Search for Planet 9 by Thomas Sing - Trick Taking made into a coop game is a fantastic elevator pitch, and I was prepared to love this. In actuality it just didn't click with any of the groups I played it with. Similar to Hanabi, I think there's a slight disconnect between the presumed breeziness of a card game and the logic puzzle that emerges during play. Hanabi gets away with it because of the pure novelty of its backward-facing hands, leaving the Crew feeling a little dry by comparison. Some groups would love this, and I think I'd be right there with them, but I try to judge these games pragmatically based on the situations I'm likely to play in. 

Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion by Isaac Childres - Ohhhh this one's the Hot Take. I went through a rollercoaster with Gloomhaven. Weary dismissal when it was the new big-box hotness, intrigue when I saw that it actually had interesting mechanics, second wave of apathy when it became the all-conquering overlord of the hobby, and finally excitement when I heard that a streamlined version was in the pipeline. Then came a second ride on the big dipper! The thrill of setting up this luxurious game, concern as I realised the amount of bookkeeping that was actually required, anticipation as I started to see the potential for clever card play in each character, fatigue as I kept waiting for the scenarios to become interesting... And, well, that's sort of it. I love the card play, the monsters were just okay, and... to be honest I couldn't get excited all that much about anything outside of the characters. They're fantastic, but the missions never sparked our imagination. It's like the opposite of when I talk about "make a simple core and put it to work in interesting ways". It feels like the core is complex (mostly in a good way) and interesting but I never get to do anything exciting with it. Like buying a private jet and using it to visit the supermarket. Again, I see why some people love this and rank it as their number one game of all time, but my copy definitely deserves a new home. 

1 comment:

  1. Ive heard that Air Land and Sea was very well made. It has inspired me to make more 18 card or less games, I like the challenge minimalism brings, especially at higher player counts.