I’ve had the chance to play each of these new releases at least twice so far. Here are my current thoughts on them:
Pendulum’s novel idea of using sand timers as a resource/obstacle make for an interesting and exciting puzzle. The crux of the game is using your workers and cards to their fullest potential within the boundaries of constantly flipping timers with varying times and actions.
The theme and artwork of Pendulum are tragically and swiftly gagged, tied up, and thrown in the back room by the attention-seeking mechanisms of the game. Fortunately, the mechanisms can perform a heck of a solo.
The smooth and engaging pace of the game are an impressive feat accomplished by the designer, Travis Jones, and publisher, Stonemaier Games. There is something truly special about being able to blaze a path through an engine-building Euro completely uninterrupted by other player’s turns.
Despite the rulebook’s constant insistence of the contrary, this is a game where quick and efficient thinkers will absolutely thrive. While the sand timers do raise the stress level of play, I find this type of stress to be more interesting than obnoxious.
The game provides plenty of variable, asymmetric setups for each player, but I’m still most concerned about the longevity of Pendulum. In order to achieve a turnless worker placement time management game, it dangles by a thread above the chasm of multiplayer solitaire. The only challenge within Pendulum is in finding the most efficient route through the unchanging game board. While unique player mats may start at different strategic locations, it seems that their optimal paths will always merge very early in the game to make for a samey experience. It remains to be seen whether the opposite, advanced sides of the player mats help to stave off any repetitive blandness.
But until that bland sameyness starts to set in, if at all, we’ll certainly enjoy our TIME with Pendulum….
Current Rating: 7/10, but trending downward
Calico is not quite the next Azul, but it competes in the same arena and certainly holds its own. This one feels most similar to Sagrada where players are hoping to get lucky with their drafting options, adapting their tactics accordingly, and seeking to fulfill multiple different scoring objectives with minimal player interaction.
I suspect I’ll end up preferring Calico over Sagrada. Although the drafting options feel more luck dependent, the placement flexibility and thinkiness are even higher. There are so many point carrots dangling across your board that if you aren’t focused and careful you can end up tangling yourself up in all of your pursuits.
Current Rating: 7.5/10
Fort is a home run of a small box project from the ever peculiar Leder Games. This deck builder feels as fresh as an armful of warm, laundered bed sheets. I love how each new hand of cards is a juicy opportunity for combos, a crafty shot at bumming off of other player’s public actions, and a painful decision of which friends to neglect and possibly lose forever.
It’s a marvel that the development team took an existing game (SPQF) and concocted a completely different theme that somehow fits the game like a glove. Where the heaping of symbology and sprinkling of unique mechanisms would normally give most people whiplash, it instead smooths itself over into a cohesive experience based on something we are all familiar with: childhood.
The theme is charming, the artwork is gorgeous, the gameplay is unique, the experience is compact, and the conclusion leaves you hungry for another go. Well done, Grant Rodiek and Leder Games!
Current Rating: 9/10
The art and presentation of Spicy are phenomenal. Truly a barn burner of a production, and this is exactly what made it catch my attention enough to buy it.
The gameplay so far is fun, funny, but a little too loose for my tastes. It is extremely difficult to try to call someone’s bluff based on any amount of logic. The pacing of the game is so fast that you’ll neither feel too annoyed by it’s shortcomings nor clever enough by what little strategic space it gives you.
But that big cat art…. it’s just too good to dislike this game. At the end of the day, Spicy is just light, simple fun.
Current Rating: 6.5/10
Ride the Rails
I dig Ride the Rails. The game is all about leeching off of other people’s plans; this happens best as they transport passengers along essential colors that you own stock in. The most interesting aspect might be the turn order mechanism, where the player in last place gets to go last in phase 1 (taking a share) and first in phases 2 & 3 (building track & riding the rails), giving them a bigger advantage in each of the phases. I’m certainly looking forward to the next play.
Compared to Irish Gauge, Ride the Rails keeps the same basic framework (gaining stocks, placing railroads on hexes, earning the most money to win) and gives it an entirely different feel by throwing out auctions, mixing up the limits of placing out railroads, and changing how rails pay out (by transporting passengers instead of triggering specific cities). Due to these significant differences, I think both Iron Rail games are worthy additions to my collection.
That said, I’m not optimistic that I’ll end up liking Ride the Rails more than Irish Gauge. I love the auction mechanism of Irish Gauge; it also feels more dynamic and interactive as you are always free to choose from 4 different actions on your turn. Meanwhile, RtR has more on-the-rails gameplay (ha ha) as its 3 actions must be performed by everyone each round; it also has significantly more math and bookkeeping to it, which is not terrible but not as smooth as Irish Gauge.
Sidenote: Check out the Heavy Cardboard scoring method for what looks like a faster/easier way to do scoring each round (we haven’t tried this yet, but I think it will drastically improve the pacing).
Another aspect I’ve been less fond of is that the game seems to bottleneck players into specific strategies if they want to win. It’s too hard to venture off into new colors and stocks if other players are still going hard on 1 color. It feels like you either have to follow suit or fall behind.
Finally, our 4-player game was significantly less fun and competitive compared to our 3-player game. It remains to be seen whether that is a consistent & correlative issue or not.
Current Rating: 7/10
That wraps up my first impressions of recent releases! I write similar structured thoughts about every game I play on my BGG account. Feel free to add me as a Geekbuddy if you find my comments helpful.
Have you tried any of the above games? What are your thoughts on them?