The hot new releases of 2020 continue to make it to our table! Nick shares his latest 1st impressions below…
Rajas of the Ganges: The Dice Charmers
I’ve played nearly 10 different roll & write / flip & fill games at this point, and Rajas of the Ganges: The Dice Charmers unfortunately ranks at the bottom of them.
I find that roll & writes are at their strongest when:
- The tension is high
- The replayability is pungent
- The combos are explosive
- The game is fast
- The player turns are interactively impactful and/or simultaneous
Rajas Dice Charmers struggles in all of these categories by containing:
- A mild tension that it solely derives from its race to victory (by crossing the two victory point tracks)
- A weak replayability with roughly 3-4 different strategic paths one can travel down but ultimately no variation to offer outside of these few paths and a misguided insistence on forcing optimal plays to do at least a bit of everything
- Decent combos that lose their potency due to numbing repetition
- A longer playtime than most roll & writes on the market without justifying its extra use of precious table time
- Non-impactful and non-simultaneous player turns
By frequently giving players 2-3 different ways to accomplish the same task, Rajas dilutes the importance of dice drafting. I never had a reason to care for what my opponents took or what I denied them. The opportunity for dice manipulation via Karma spending is also pitifully pointless.
Of all the games I’ve played within this genre, Rajas compares closest to That’s Pretty Clever. Both are games that play best at 2 players by minimizing the downtime and game length of their turn-taking formulas. Both involve drafting dice, pursuing various paths with different types of dice, and setting yourself up for combos. Frankly, That’s Pretty Clever annihilates Rajas in every way outside of presentation. That’s Pretty Clever has more poignantly interactive dice drafting, more deliciously satisfying combos, more agonizingly critical dice manipulation, more refreshingly dynamic replayability, and more genuinely meaningful decisions.
Rajas of the Ganges: The Dice Charmers isn’t a bad game by any means. It’s just tragically and comprehensively inferior to many of its competitors including its incrementally longer but blatantly more worthwhile sibling (the original Rajas of the Ganges).
Current Rating: 5.5/10
Iwari is a gorgeous and fitting callback to classic, simple strategy games of the past. With a rapid pace, simple ruleset, and juicy decisions, Iwari gives players maximum bang for their buck. Simply play up to 3 cards to place 2 pieces into 1 territory. Then refill your hand back up to 3 cards.
The meat of this game is derived from the scoring conditions of tents and totems. The key is to time your tents and totems at the right time in the right place to inch yourself ahead of the pack by majority.
This fits comfortably into the gateway game category, yet it is a refreshingly satisfying way to start or end a game night. Anyone who appreciates a deceptively simple Knizia-like design should find themselves loving Iwari.
It’s easier to forgive the baffling totem color fiasco (orange looks like yellow, making for an unnecessarily messy 5-player experience) when every other aspect of the production is stunning. I do wish I had the extra boards and pieces of the deluxe version, simply for a little extra variety, but I picked this standard copy up for $25 new, and that was an absolute steal for a timeless design.
Current Rating: 8/10
Rococo Deluxe Edition (Plus)
Rococo: Deluxe Edition is undoubtedly the definitive version of Rococo thanks to Ian O’Toole’s comprehensive smackdown of every visual aspect of this production. The art and graphic design is some of the best I’ve ever seen within this theme and time period. The resin tokens, metal thimble, resource racks, and thick cardboard tokens also contribute to an excellent tactile experience. And while the game is comfortably medium weight, one senses that the included expansions are essential to keeping the experience fresh with increased depth and replayability.
On the gameplay front, you’ll find a nice, crunchy combination of deck-building, area majority, and resource management. We tried it at the ideal player count of 3 where you get the most bang for your buck within the area majority competition without pushing the game time off a cliff (I would actively avoid playing this at 5 players for how long it is bound to take).
My favorite aspects of the design would include the following:
– The unique twist on deck building where you choose any three cards from your draw pile. You must got through your entire draw pile before getting back to your discard, but any new cards you acquire go straight into your hand.
– The hand management is a scrumptious aspect where your cards (“employees”) can only do certain actions based on their type. But your cards also have bonus actions or rewards on them that you gain when played.
– There are a wide variety of strategies one can pursue in gaining points, money, and resources. Your decisions have a constant meaningful impact on others by decreasing their costs, claiming their desired rewards, and competing for majorities.
All in all, Rococo: Deluxe Edition is a very solid Euro wrapped in an excellent package. So is it worth the $110 MSRP?…… Ooof, I really have to LOVE a game to warrant such a cost. And even if the price was more palatable, I struggle to justify a place for it on my shelf.
Rococo competes within an extremely crowded genre of excellent Euros. The closest game I can think of that compares to it might be Brass: Birmingham, and that’s a formidable opponent to be up against. Both games have you playing one card to execute an action. Sometimes those cards limit what you do or where you can go, depending on your desired action and the specific card played. Meanwhile, players compete to claim limited spots on the board as they seek to increase their income and spend resources wisely. Granted, Rococo isn’t nearly as tight or punishing, but the similarities are too strong to simply be ignored.
Rococo Deluxe also shares strong commonalities with the likes of Great Western Trail, Concordia, Gugong, and many more. It struggles to stand toe-to-toe with some of these classics, yet it eats up as much table time (if not more) at over twice the price.
With a shelf full of Euros that are more affordable, addictive, dynamic, and unique…. I just can’t talk myself into keeping Rococo for long.
Current Rating: 7.5/10
Dune: Imperium is a surprisingly mixed bag for me after hearing several content creators rave about it. On the one hand, it blends together both deck builder + worker placement mechanisms in exciting new ways. On the other hand, it amplifies some of the weaknesses that are common among these mechanisms, in particular the long downtime and barely thematic gameplay.
The brilliance of the game is how it often pits the rewards of deck building against the rewards of worker placement. It may cost me a valuable card to place a worker into a matching, powerful space. But if I don’t spend that card to place a worker, I can instead use it to acquire an even better card or other advantages at the end of the round.
There are loads of unique benefits that cards can have, and they are different depending on whether you spend them or save them. With plenty of strategic paths to explore, it’s a game that gives players much to feast on. But therein lies the main problem.
You see, at the 4 player count, you are often waiting a painfully long time for your turn. The double layered mechanisms give participants that much more to analyze, and it gets even slower when somebody claims the spot that another’s entire plan was built upon.
Dune: Imperium demands a level of downtime that I feel it doesn’t merit, at least at 4 players. I often found myself waiting ages for play to go around the table only for me to do something as minuscule as place a worker and gain 1 water token. When I already know this pitiful action is my best move at the end of my previous turn, that only makes the wait worse. Sadly, there are far more bland worker placement spaces like this than interesting ones.
Another aspect that struggles to dazzle is the card market. While there are interesting and tempting options that sometimes pop up, you’re usually just mindlessly buying the most expensive card you can afford or the only card you can afford.
The player interaction rarely presents me with ramifications to consider or opportunities to munch on as others take their turns. Rather, my opponents’ turns usually range from personally meaningless to coincidentally inconvenient. Dune’s best rebuttal against this is the combat phase where majority bonuses are handed out to the top committers. This aspect of the game is undoubtedly strongest at 4, but it’s too basic to keep one fully engaged during the long wait between turns.
The shallow theme isn’t doing the stale downtime any favors here either. Don’t get me wrong, the Dune lore seems really fascinating, and I look forward to checking out the source material. But Dune: Imperium could have been any theme in the universe, and it wouldn’t have affected my gameplay experience one bit.
So at a table with 4 average speed players, this one probably shakes out to around a 6/10 for me thanks to the sluggish downtime. It seems that a 3 player game with experienced and/or zippy players is the 8/10 sweet spot here, and I can see myself enjoying Dune: Imperium in this setting.
Current Rating: 7/10
Beyond the Sun
Take a bow, Dennis K. Chan! Your first published design is flipping phenomenal.
There is a lot to love about Beyond the Sun… like the fact that it starts out relatively simple and straightforward with roughly 5 worker placement spaces and snowballs into this enormous spread of possibilities and rewards. Or the meaningful interaction that ranges from hogging a valuable action space for an entire round to hostile takeovers of planets. And the precarious balance of precious resources and tempting incentives that brings tension to each decision.
And boy are there a lot of decisions to be had here. Will you go heavy into colonization or hard into research or a healthy mix of both? Researching a new technology provides two possible paths you can elect to travel down, and your chosen path will become a dangling carrot for all other opponents. You’ll see plenty of unbelievably good routes unraveling up the technology track, yet you may never touch some of them because you are busy doing something else fantastically unique. Will you take advantage of the paths that opponents have paved by cherry picking the best technologies for your benefit, or will you pursue the allure of the great unknown and trigger exclusive beneficial events?
Despite its shipload of content, the game never feels overwhelming thanks to its smooth ramp upward. The dynamic arc of the game expands across a wide canvas of opportunities before contracting into a desperate stretch to score one last big turn as players complete enough achievements to trigger the final round. The journey is deliciously captivating from start to finish.
Rio Grande Games has opted for a slender yet solid production, splurging on components where it matters most (dual-layered player boards, screen printed tokens and cubes, sturdy and meaningful player aid tiles, fun plastic resources, etc.) while presumably keeping the rest of the production at an affordable level (card & box quality, etc.).
From head to toe, this is a design and production that is so carefully and passionately planned out. The rules and components include advanced boards and expert variants that were undoubtedly thoroughly tested and lovingly polished in parallel to the core design. Not that it needs all the extra depth, considering how each game is bound to churn out an excitingly unique combination of techs and permutation of reveals. You won’t see me complaining about all the extra game in this box. In fact, you can expect to see me first in line for the upcoming expansion(s). I’ll be happily exploring Beyond the Sun as I anxiously await to see what else is beyond Beyond the Sun….
Current Rating: 8.5/10
This concludes another episode of Candid Cardboard: my 1st impressions of new releases! Have you tried any of these games yet? What are your thoughts on them?
Article written by Nick Murray. To learn more about his tabletop gaming tastes and preferences, check out his blog series: Tabletop Tastes: My Favorite Flavors in Board Games. To follow his designs as they come to fruition, subscribe to our newsletter and follow Bitewing Games on social media!