Table Talk(8/29/20)

I'm trialing a series that rounds up the board games Kat and I play each week. It won't always be weekly because sometimes we won't play anything worth mentioning or at all, but I'd expect a decent level of consistency in scheduling if not post length. I'll include a picture of each game, a link to its BGG profile (think IMDB for board games), a summary of what the game is, recommendations for who should play it, and finally some information about how you can get it and the time required to play. Come for fun pictures of games, maybe leave with a wishlist. We'll see how it goes.


This week really only covers Sunday because I had the idea Saturday night and didn't take pictures before that. Alas. We're playing more new games than normal right now in an effort to clear out our backlog and find older games we don't need anymore, though, so there's still a lot here.


Since I know that there's a wide variety of experience with tabletop gaming at VGF, I'm also going to include a quick glossary of relevant terms at the start of each post. If you bump into a bit of jargon that you're not familiar with, I'll hopefully have explained it up here:


Theme: What a game tells you you're doing. Chess has an extremely weak military theme, Battleship has a much stronger naval combat theme, and so on. Plenty of good games make no attempt at all to have theme, so it's not a required element, but many players prefer to have a strong theme so they feel connected to their in-game actions.


Abstract: A game that deliberately has very little theme. Think Chess or Go.


Filler: A short and (usually) simple game that you can play between or before bigger games. Lots of people use these to have something to do while waiting for others to show up at a game night, or for filling in time while waiting for a good delivery, etc. It sounds a little derogatory, but it isn't.


Civilization Builder: A game themed around the development of a civilization over time. These almost always involved expanding across a map, developing technologies, and accumulating resources for further development. Unsurprisingly, they're Civilization as a board game.


Engine Building: A game that lives and dies on how well you can create combos. These typically involve a ton of cards that each have a relatively weak ability, but that can be chained together to create repeatable combos that earn loads of points and resources.


Area Control: A game that tasks players with accumulating the most tokens in a part of the board. Plurality generally wins and earns some kind of bonus. These games are inherently confrontational.


Tableau Builder: A game about completing conditions on cards in order to place them in front of you for bonuses. You earn all or almost all of your points in these games from building cards.


Drafting: A mechanic that has players alternate taking cards from a pool or pass hands of cards around the table and take a card each time.


Roll-and-write: A game that uses dice to generate values that players have to write somewhere on their board. Yahtzee was the original roll-and-write, but there are legions of them now. These games are almost always quick and simple to learn.


Tapestry board game

Tapestry


We started off Sunday's games with Tapestry, a civilization builder that embodies the trope of games looking more complicated than they actually are. Despite all the pieces you can see in that picture, there are only ever two options in this game: advance on one of the civilization tracks by paying a few resources or end your current era and collect income.


Its depth comes from the fact that each of the 48 available civ track spaces has a unique benefit that can give you more resources, cards to play at the end of eras, buildings, and so on. Ideally you'll want to get some buildings out early, because placing them grants all sorts of income and scoring bonuses, but reaching a building space on any one track can be expensive, and you have to be careful about neglecting any of the tracks too much. If you give your opponent(s) free reign over a track, they'll get landmark buildings for reaching milestone technologies first. These buildings, which you can see a handful of in the bottom right, are far larger than standard structures and make it easy to earn completion rewards on your city board.


If that sounds like a lot to keep track of, it is! But since every turn ultimately boils down to those two actions and you'll always choose to advance on a track if you can afford it, it's ultimately just a game of spending resources efficiently.


You can probably tell that I greatly enjoyed it, but it's not flawless. The biggest issue I can see is that, because rewards combo together so powerfully, making mistakes that put you behind in the early game could easily lead to being absolutely massacred. That's typical for 4X games, but it feels more acute here because of how quickly you could fall into that trap with poor play in the first round. Second, even though placing buildings on a grid is a critical part of the game, the landmark buildings don't quite align with the squares. That's a slightly ridiculous oversight that is hard to believe made it to the final game.


All in all, Tapestry is a fantastic civilization game. If you're interested in 4X games, engine building, or even just historical themes, I'd give it a look. The price is definitely a sticking point, but you can grab it for less used or, like we did, through a trade.


Availability: Easy to find

MSRP: $90, used copies may be significantly less

Time to play: 60-90 minutes

Time to learn: 20 minutes


Millennium Blades (w/ Set Rotation expansion)


MB is a card game about playing a fictional trading card game (TCG), which makes it probably the most meta tabletop game there is. In the standard game, you alternate between timed deckbuilding phases and turn-based tournaments. When deckbuilding, you buy cards from the store in order to build up a collection that will both earn you points and form your tournament deck. When playing tournaments, you're engaging in a game that's all about careful placement of six cards from left to right in order to trigger combos that score the maximum number of points, or that interfere with opponents to ruin their plans. It's a great game, although it has an absolutely massive table footprint, involves shuffling something like 400 cards, and can easily take three hours to play the full game, so it's not one that can be played all that often.


We were playing with Set Rotation, though, which converts the MB experience to a co-op boss rush. Instead of fighting the other players, you're working with them to optimize your decks against bosses with some extremely broken cards that can only be defeated if you carefully consider what you're going up against. If your combined score is higher than the boss, you win and can fight another one if you want. If not, you lose. We lost because I was overly focused on the OHKO card that delivers 8,000 points (in a game where 300 is an amazing score) when a very specific condition is met and ignore two others that made it hard for us to score and gave the boss 56 points. Still, getting close at all was a lot better than the last time I tried this, and I think we have a good foundation to take him down next time.


Almost all my criticisms of MB come from how hard it is to set up. I wish there was a better way to shuffle the cards, but once you get past that, it's an addicting experience that plays like nothing else out there. Co-op is a great way to play with two, and I even realized I'd been doing the sellback rules wrong in every previous game, which fixed my only other big complaint about MB.


I'd give recommendations here, but I think this is a game that you immediately know whether or not you want to play. It is exactly what it looks like and doesn't try to be anything else.


Availability: Out of print, but should be back in stock soon. Used copies are sometimes available.

MSRP: N/A

Time to play: 1-3 hours depending on the mode and player count

Time to learn: 20-30 minutes


Eight-Minute Empire: Legends


This is an area control and set collection game. You get a set number of turns depending on the number of players (11 for 2), and on each turn you buy a card for 0-3 coins depending on its place in the queue. Each card will allow you to place armies, move armies, destroy an opponents army, and/or place a city. Each will also have a name and a bonus ability, each of which will be relevant either to final scoring or for improving the effects of later cards.


You earn points from having the most armies in any region of an island and from controlling the most regions of an island, in addition to the points available from card abilities. Since you don't get many actions in a game and scores are quite low (the score card only goes to 19), it's a very tight experience that will usually be won or lost on at most a couple of decisions.


You're looking at a picture of the box because I forgot to take a picture before putting it away, and I forgot to do that because EME just isn't that memorable of an experience. There's very little theme to the game and you get so few actions that it's hard to be attached to anything you're doing, which is a recipe for lacking staying power. It's biggest problem, though, is that the same designer (Red Raven Games) has another game called Roam that plays similarly and in the same amount of time, but is better in almost every way. It's hard to think of a circumstance in which I'd pull this out over Roam except when I'd already played that recently. But even then, I'd probably want a less similar filler game.


Suggested for people who like somewhat abstract games and area control. Even then, though, there's probably going to be a more memorable game available unless you only have a couple other options.


Availability: Easy to find

MSRP: ~$25, but used copies are available for much less

Time to play: at most 20 minutes

Time to learn: 5 minutes


It's a Wonderful World

It's a Wonderful World


We finished with another very tight game, this time a tableau builder/drafting game. IWW plays over 4 rounds, each of which begins with you drafting 7 cards, then deciding which ones to attempt to build and which to recycle, and finally earning resources and bonuses based on your production.


Every card has up to four values that matter: Its scoring effect, which is either direct points or a multiplier based on other symbols, the resources it needs to be built, the immediate reward you get for building it, and the resource you'll get if you recycle it. Recycling is essential for earning enough resources to build cards, but if you recycle too much, you'll end up with leftover resources that are almost worthless and won't build enough to win. If you don't recycle enough, you'll end up with a bunch of unfinished buildings that are completely worthless. It's very much a game in which planning wins.


IWW's biggest strength is how satisfying it is to go from hardly having any options in round 1 to brimming with resources by round 4. Most tableau builders have that arc in some form, but IWW's round structure makes it so that your abilities rapidly expand every round. It's very satisfying to have those big jumps in power on a regular drip.


Its weakness, on the other hand, is theme. You're supposedly building some kind of dystopian empire, but the cards are all over the place from super futuristic technologies to myths like Atlantis, and it can't seem to decide if it wants to have a Fallout-esque 1950s theme or not. Theme thankfully doesn't matter much in this genre, but if you want to feel like you're building something coherent, this will not deliver that feeling.


Check it out if you like rapidly building combos and piling up tons of resource cubes. I suspect it works best if you're able to play it with 3 or 4, but the 2 player game works quite well.


Availability: Easy to find

MSRP: $45, used copies are not significantly cheaper

Time to play: 30-45 minutes

Time to learn: 5-10 minutes


On Tour


We actually played this almost two months ago, but I'm including it because it's cool and we had a picture saved. This is a roll-and-write in which you're trying to plan the best tour route for your band through, depending on your board, either the USA or Europe. Each round involves drawing three cards and rolling two dice, which together give you two numbers (each order of the two dice) you must place on the board and three options for where to put them. The cards will specify a state (or country) and a region, for example Illinois/North, which means you can place a number in exactly IL for a bonus, or alternatively in any Northern state that has not already been filled in.


Once every state has been filled in, you need to draw a path for your tour. You can start in any state and proceed to any adjacent state, but the numbers must always be equal to or greater than the preceeding number, and you're not allowed to revisit any locations. At the end, you get one point for each location you toured and a bonus point for each visited locations that was placed from a card specifying that exact location. You're looking at Kat's board, which has an angry message to the dice because they didn't play nice.


On tour is simple and quick enough that almost anyone can enjoy it, although I think it'll particularly appeal to anyone who enjoys the band theme (you're encouraged to name your band, after all) or who likes the idea of planning a trip to all the places on the board. This is definitely another game where planning wins, but there's enough luck in a short period that it should still be fun for those who don't want to take the time to be careful.


Availability: In stock from the publisher

MSRP: $34 for the base game and expansion. Available used for somewhat less

Time to play: 20-30 minutes

TIme to learn: 5 minutes



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