The Play’s The Thing: Monsters, economics, and time travel, oh my!

Here’s another installment of The Play’s The Thing, with quick mini-reviews of what I’ve been playing this week.

One Night Ultimate Vampire

Published: 2015

Designers: Ted Alspach, Akihisa Okui

Publisher: Bezier Games

3-10 players

10 minutes

We played a few rounds of this deduction game with six players at game night Tuesday. I quite like One Night Ultimate Werewolf, the predecessor to this, and ONUV has a very similar feel with a few twists. You’re still assigned a secret role, perform your role’s actions when called by the moderator (either from the game’s app or a non-playing person), and try to identify the vampire in a discussion and vote at the end, but there are some substantially different roles, and there are other differences as well. The main one is the ability for certain roles to hand out hidden marks, which can alter other characters’ teams, ability to take actions and more. The marks can be quite interesting in certain cases, adding some complexity and variation to the game, but they don’t always work out perfectly depending on which roles wind up in the middle. Overall, I think I’d take Werewolf over Vampire, and both are mainly an occasional filler for me, but this may be a good new twist on the game for those who play ONUW a lot and are looking to shake it up.

Transylvania: Curses and Traitors

Published: 2015

Designers: Loren Cunningham and Jamie Cunningham

Publisher: WIBAI Games

3-6 players

45 minutes

Exploring the board in Transylvania: Curses and Traitors.
Exploring the board in Transylvania: Curses and Traitors.

We also played this Tuesday, and it felt a little underwhelming for me. Part of that may have been playing it with six, which substantially lengthened the time (it wound up taking closer to two hours than 45 minutes), and some of that may have been analysis paralysis on the part of one group member (who wound up winning despite that), so it may work better in smaller groups or with people more willing to take quick turns (it is quite possible with this). Even beyond this, though, this didn’t really work for me; there’s a feel of games like Arkham Horror or A Touch Of Evil, as you’re moving around and dealing with challenges to try and gain sets of cards in order to win, but there seems to be less strategy in this one. You don’t know what the challenges are until you flip them, so you can’t target ones that work with your character’s abilities, and none of the different locations really seem to offer much. There’s also a dramatic variance in the rewards from the cards. Some people never pulled any of the knowledge cards needed to win or anything that substantially boosted their abilities, while others got exactly what they needed. It also doesn’t really feel like there’s a chance for everyone to keep working towards a way to win. The twist of death possibly turning you into a monster and changing the win conditions is interesting, but this wasn’t a game I loved, and it’s not one I’d seek to play again.

Aeroplanes: Aviation Ascendant

Published: 2012

Designer: Martin Wallace

Publisher: Mayfair Games, Phalanx

3-5 players

120 minutes

Managing route networks in Aeroplanes.
Managing route networks in Aeroplanes.

I got to play my copy of this for the first time in over a year with some friends Thursday, and it was just as much fun as I remembered. Wallace is one of my favourite designers, and this is a very good design of his, translating the feel of building early airline networks very well with danger rolls for difficult routes, passengers needing to go all over the globe, and different planes with different capacities. There’s a money-balancing aspect, an area-majority aspect, three different eras of scoring, plenty of different strategies to target and much more. It all adds up to a pretty fun game for those who enjoy reasonably-tight economic Eurogames. I was edged out in the area-majority and profit scoring in the last round, but mounted a comeback thanks to some high-scoring passenger tiles (hurrah for Australia!).

Tinner’s Trail

Published: 2008

Designer: Martin Wallace

Publisher: Treefrog, IELLO, JKLM, more

3-4 players

60-90 minutes

Mining for copper and tin in Wales in Tinner's Trail.
Mining for copper and tin in Wales in Tinner’s Trail.

This was my first time playing this game, but it’s another very solid Wallace design. It’s about mining copper and tin in Cornwall, with a few neat twists; each area has water that makes mining more expensive, and there are various ways to try and drain the water (pumps, ports, trains and more) and increase your mines’ production, but all of those take substantial amounts of time. There are tensions about which actions to take and when, there’s tension in the price market (which fluctuates every round, and you always have to sell all the metals you’ve mined each round regardless of what the price is), there’s tension in whether to target known parcels of land in the auction or gamble on the ones where the minerals are yet to be revealed, and there’s tension in how much to invest and when (earlier investments bring more victory points, but may take money you need later). I wound up on top thanks to a great third round. I had a blast with this, and would happily play again.

Betrayal at House on the Hill

Published: 2004

Designers: Rob Daviau, Bruce Glassco, Bill McQuillan, Mike Selinker, Teeuwynn Woodruff

Publishers: Avalon Hill, Wizards of the Coast

3-6 players

60 minutes

Exploring the mansion in Betrayal at House on the Hill.
Exploring the mansion in Betrayal at House on the Hill.

This was a great way to cap off game night Thursday; it’s another game whose theme works around Halloween, but for my money, this is one far more interesting than Transylvania. It has some of the same problems in that you don’t know what events will come up in certain areas, and there’s a lot of randomness, but it just feels much more fun. It’s scenario-based, and the first half of each game starts with you all just exploring the house before the haunt kicks in, but each haunt has very specific rules and ways to win, and the ones I’ve played through felt like they were well-balanced with good chances for both sides to win. The whole game feels very thematic, and it goes quickly; 60 minutes or less is an appropriate length for it. Moreover, there’s a ton of replay value, as many of the scenarios are quite unique; the one we played Thursday had one explorer having nightmares which were escaping the house, and the rest of us trying to wake him up before too many get out into the world. It led to a lot of tension, and us finally waking him up just before the final nightmare escaped. This was another solid play of this, and one that was a lot of fun.

Chrononauts

Published: 2000

Designer: Andrew Looney

Publisher: Looney Labs

1-6 players

30 minutes

Chrononauts after some timeline-flipping.
Chrononauts after some timeline-flipping.

I covered this game a bit last week, but played it again with my wife Sunday and then played a couple of solo games Sunday afternoon. This is still holding up very well for me. The multiplayer game, which has three ways to win (align the timeline so you can get home, collect the artifacts to complete your mission, or just assemble power by gathering a hand of 10 cards), is a fun and often chaotic jaunt, with you each interfering with each other’s plans frequently. It’s much more strategic than Fluxx and its variants (also from Looney Labs), but it has some of that feel. The solo game, on the other hand, is much more controlled, but just as difficult; you have to get eight different time-travellers home in a single pass through the deck, which leads to tough decisions on when to flip which event. This carries the time-travel theme very well, and I’m not only happy to keep playing it, but will probably be looking to pick up some of the expansions down the road.

Thanks for reading! Have any thoughts on these games, or anything else you’d like to see on Board and Game? Leave them in the comments, or discuss them with us on Twitter or Facebook.

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The Play’s The Thing: Clockwork customers, cosmos conquest, Cuban cigars, caught between cities and chronological campaigns

Welcome to another installment of The Play’s The Thing, a regular piece with thoughts on the board and card games I’ve been playing. Here’s what I’ve played over the past week. 

Steam Park

Published: 2013

Designers: Aureliano Buonfino, Lorenzo Silva, Lorenzo Tucci Sorrentino

Publisher: IELLO, Heidelberger Spieleverlag, others

2-4 players

90 minutes

The Steam Park box.
The Steam Park box.

My wife and I played this one this weekend, and we both had mixed feelings on it. There’s a cool theme of building a steam-powered amusement park for robots, and it incorporates real-time elements, die-rolling, resource management, bag-building and spatial placement into a design that’s still relatively light and fast. You’re trying to build a park that will leave you with the most money after six rounds, and you’re doing so with dice. Each face of the custom dice lets you do different things, and all players roll all their dice, locking in ones they want to keep after each round. You can reroll as many times as you want, but there are rewards for stopping and grabbing turn order tiles; once there’s only one tile left, that player takes a dirt penalty (dirt is bad, and can cost you the game entirely if you get too much or cost you money otherwise) and has just three remaining rolls to try and get what they want. Dice let you build rides or stands, play bonus cards for money, seed the bag and then try to pull visitors from it that match the colours of your rides, or clean up dirt. Rides let you attract visitors (who give you money each round), while stands give you special powers to manipulate your dice, your visitor draws, your dirt cleanup and more.

A closer look at my Steam Park.
A closer look at my Steam Park.

All of this works quite well, but one big challenge is the spatial placement; the game rules only allow you to place rides or stands of the same colour adjacent to each other (and even then, they can only touch at one spot), while everything else can’t touch orthogonally or diagonally. You also can’t buy two rides of the same size in one round. Given how small the starting grounds are, this leads to a significant slowdown when trying to figure out how to optimally place rides, and also plenty of dice being spent on extra grounds to expand your park (but these don’t even expand it by that much, creating placement tension again). The idea of rewarding you for specializing in one colour (something that also works with the bag-seeding idea) isn’t bad, but this seems to be an awfully-finicky process for what’s generally a light game, and it feels very restrictive. (That could be easily modified with house rules if it bugs you, though, and the tension of placement may appeal to some.) A more minor knock is that the theme’s present, but could maybe be worked in more; each ride looks different (there are roller coasters, slides, etc), but they all behave the same way, so this isn’t necessarily a full theme park simulator. It doesn’t provide the same feeling for me as something like the great computer game Roller Coaster Tycoon. With that said, though, this is still an interesting game, and one that can be quite fun. You should just be aware of what it is and isn’t before buying and/or playing it.

An overall look at Steam Park.
An overall look at Steam Park.

Tiny Epic Galaxies

Published: 2015

Designer: Scott Almes

Publisher: Gamelyn Games

1-5 players

30 minutes

A look at Tiny Epic Galaxies.
A look at Tiny Epic Galaxies.

Scott Almes is one of my favourite designers out there, producing the tremendous Kings of Air and Steam (one of my most-loved games), the brain-burning Harbour, the Tiny Epic series and a whole bunch of upcoming ones, including Best Treehouse Ever, Loop Inc., The Great Dinosaur Rush and more. I think he’s found another hit with this one; I’ve played it both solo and with a five-player group, and it shines in both settings. This is one of the fastest-playing 4X space empire building games you can find (Eminent Domain: Microcosm‘s even quicker, but that’s about it), and it has some neat mechanics; you advance in two resources (energy and culture, which let you reroll or follow others’ actions respectively), you can land on planets and immediately use their actions or go for the longer process of adding them to your empire through diplomacy or economics, and you can upgrade your empire to roll more dice and bring in more ships. The multiplayer game is great, and the solo game stands up to it, finding a way to provide a terrific experience (with variable difficulty levels) that keeps most of the feeling of the multiplayer game without too much fiddling. I played this one solo this weekend, and had a blast with it, as usual.

Another look at Tiny Epic Galaxies.
Another look at Tiny Epic Galaxies.

Mafia de Cuba:

Published: 2015

Designers: Philippe des Pallières, Loïc Lamy 

Publishers: Lui-même, Asmodee

6-12 players

10-20 minutes

My friends opted to open up game night with a seven-player game of this Tuesday, and it’s pretty interesting. It’s a social deduction game along the lines of One Night Ultimate Werewolf or The Resistance, but the difference is that each player gets to pick their role. A cigar box full of diamonds and role tokens is passed around, and everyone can either steal diamonds or grab a role. Each role has different win conditions, as you’d expect. The godfather then starts interrogating people to try and figure out who’s stolen his diamonds; loyal henchmen want to help, thieves don’t want to be accused, FBI agents want to be accused, and the driver wants whoever’s on his right to win. This was quite interesting for the first few rounds, but overstayed its welcome a bit for me; we opted to play a full seven rounds so everyone could be godfather (as where you are in the selection order does alter things quite a bit), and that felt like too much for me.

Between Two Cities

Published: 2015

Designers: Matthew O’Malley, Ben Rosset, Morten Monrad Pedersen

Publisher: Stonemaier Games

1-7 players

20 minutes

We then went into a seven-player game of this, and I loved it. It’s 7 Wonders-style card drafting, but you’re building cities like in Suburbia, and the twist is that you have to build two cities simultaneously, one with each neighbour. Your score at the end will be the score of your lowest city (à la Tigris and Euphrates, plus lots of other games), so you have strong incentives to try and advance both and to work with both your partners (and what they’re doing with their other partners). It plays very quickly, even with seven, and there’s lots of strategy involved both in what cards you place and where you place them. I wound up winning this one in the end. It’s not surprising that I had so much fun with this, considering that it’s from designers I quite like (Rosset did the great Brewcrafters, while O’Malley has done The Princess Bride: A Battle of WitsDiner, Knot Dice and more, and Pedersen is a Stonemaier developer who particularly specializes in creating solo variants) and a publisher with a great track record (I’ve enjoyed lots of Stonemaier Games’ different offerings, including Viticulture, and Jamey Stegmaier’s blog is terrific), but this was still a terrific experience.

One of my cities from Between Two Cities, mid-construction.
One of my cities from Between Two Cities, mid-construction.

Chrononauts

Published: 2000

Designer: Andrew Looney

Publisher: Looney Labs

1-6 players

30 minutes

We split off into two groups to finish off the night Tuesday, and I played this one (I’ve been wanting this for a while, but just got it as a present from my wife) with two others. It’s such a fun time-travel game, with clever ways to alter and rewrite history and a great ripple mechanic. The multiplayer game has multiple ways to win, including acquiring the three artifacts needed for your mission, changing three moments of the timeline so you can get home, or accumulating enough power (10 cards) to dominate in the timeline you’re in, and it also has some excellent interaction between players as you each try to alter the timeline to what you need (and even that can change over time; our game saw President Kennedy flip-flop from dead to alive about five times, with the same player changing his status multiple times to take advantage of certain cards). It’s not a complicated game, and there is luck involved, but there’s plenty of strategy as well, and history buffs like myself will likely love it; there are very funny moments in this too, both from the cards and from player interactions. The solo game is also terrific, but very different, providing the challenge of manipulating the timeline to get all eight of your travellers home.

A look at the timeline of Chrononauts, set up for a solo game.
A look at the timeline of Chrononauts, set up for a solo game.

Thanks for reading! Have any thoughts on these games, or anything else you’d like to see on Board and Game? Leave them in the comments, or discuss them with us on Twitter or Facebook.