It has been a good month of 1st impressions, my friends. Ridiculously good. Here are my new release 1st impressions for games that have released in the past year or so!
Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.
With Scape Goat, we have a social deduction game that turns the genre on its head. Instead of everybody knowing their own role and trying to deduce which opponent is the odd-man-out, Scape Goat’s premise is that everybody knows who the odd-man-out is BUT you are trying to deduce if that knowledge is a lie and YOU are actually the odd man out.
Not only does the game provide a fresh, exciting, and paranoia-induced experience, but it does so within an attainable range of 3-6 players in addictively quick 20-minute sessions. I can’t wait to break this out again and again with different people and unique personalities.
The presentation/production of the Scape Goat aren’t anything to write home about, but it’s hard to complain about a game this cheap. This game was extremely well-timed for social bubble game nights where you can only safely scrounge together one or two households worth of people and are hoping to scratch that social deduction itch.
Current Rating: 9/10
The King is Dead: Second Edition
This area influence game is as tight and tense as they come. The King is Dead is an extremely simple game with a whole lot of depth. You’ll spend way more time thinking about what to do on your turn than actually taking it. Each player gets the same hand of 8 cards and must decide whether to play one for early board momentum or pass for late hand advantage. Plays like a hearty salad bowl version of a Pax Pamir burrito grande, and who doesn’t like a good salad bowl?!
Current Rating: 8/10
Pipeline didn’t make a great first impression on us at the beginning of this year, but we eventually gave it another go, and I’ll admit that my first impression of Pipeline was off. Part of that is because we didn’t fully grasp the rules after being taught them the first time. The other part of that is because Pipeline has a steep strategic learning curve with a high skill ceiling, which means it gets better with more plays.
If you enjoy crunchy economic Euros with a dollop of spatial puzzling and don’t mind costly mistakes, punishing interactions, potential runaway leaders, and a constant feeling of making suboptimal decisions, then Pipeline is right up your alley! If your group contains AP-prone players who sometimes drive you bonkers, then the thinky Pipeline is probably not for you.
I doubt that oil would be anyone’s favorite theme, but Ian O’Toole makes it sleek, sexy, and streamlined. Capstone Games did a killer job with the production, and just thinking about the game has me hungry to play it again.
Current Rating: 8/10
Thus far, Capstone Games is 3/3 with 2020 releases!
Curious Cargo has way more game crammed into it than most boxes of this size. I was expecting a simple, streamlined, 2-player spinoff of Pipeline. Yet what Curious Cargo sheds in tight economics, it makes up for in brain-melting spatial analysis. I could spend many games mastering the beginner setup, and yet the production provides loads more maps AND a THIRD pipe color on top of that!
I’ve heard multiple reviewers say “Don’t even touch the three-color option,” implying that it is beyond the analytical faculties of a normal human. But after four plays, I’m feeling curious enough (no pun intended) to give it a shot. I’m finding that with the two-color setup, the game ends before players can really put certain tokens and strategies to good use. My hunch is that the three color version lengthens the game enough to allow for more strategic paths.
I’ve also heard some complaints from a small handful of players or critics that give me the impression they haven’t made it past the initial learning curve. Don’t be mistaken, this small box game absolutely has a strategic learning curve. It’s one that you can elect to climb on your own, or you can jump straight to Capstone’s quick tip guide for an escalator version of the curve. Either way, it’s going to take some getting used to the spatial tactics of Curious Cargo. If you’re looking for another cuddly one-night stand kind of game, then keep on moving along. This one is meant to be explored over many play sessions.
Even with the two-color setup, the strategies, tactics, objectives, and player interaction are incredibly dynamic. I love that you can take advantage of your opponent’s setup while throwing wrenches in their plans. It’s a game that demands extreme flexibility, as you’ll fall behind if you wait for the perfect tile or truck card to come along.
I’ve been looking forward to Curious Cargo since its announcement, and I’m pleased to report that it lives up to my high expectations. It’s a gorgeous game, a top-notch production, and a frighteningly deep puzzle.
Current Rating: 9/10
Tammany Hall (2020 Edition)
I’ve been brutally critical of some of Pandasaurus’s more recent releases, so let me start with this: Kudos to Pandasaurus for refreshing Tammany Hall and bringing it back into the spotlight! I never would have discovered this gem otherwise. And a double-kudos for the slick production and clean rulebook! The clear rules combined with the helpful game board guide make for a smooth experience. Everyone involved in this design and production deserve a huge pat on the back!
Tammany Hall quickly won me over with its Knizia-like emergent strategy and Splotter-like tactical nastiness. There’s a lot of layers to this onion, and I’m excited to dig deeper into it. If you don’t mind cutthroat interaction and do enjoy games like El Grande, then you owe it to yourself to try this one!
Current Rating: 8.5/10
The Quest for El Dorado: The Golden Temples
As big fans of the original Quest for El Dorado, we’ve now tried Golden Temples as a standalone game and as a combined expansion to the base game. I’ll give my impressions for both ends of the spectrum:
It’s hard to pass judgment on the standalone game after only one play (especially when it’s a Knizia), but we did have some unexpected experiences with The Golden Temples:
1) In our 3-player game, we all went in different directions. The direction I chose was the only one that contained any trash a card spaces (this was the suggested setup). I absolutely crushed my capable opponents in this game; when I reached the end, one opponent had only obtained a single gem out of three, the other had just barely acquired two. I believe this is mainly because I was able to thin my deck early on by starting in the unique card-trashing direction. I could certainly be wrong, but it seems like this is the only optimal strategy.
2) At one point, the other two players completely blocked each other from passing through. In an interesting game of chicken, they had to decide whether they would be the first to retreat and change routes. This was obviously a poor move by the second person who committed to this one-lane path, as I was clearly in the lead and they were only helping me further. Yet this too presented another weird scenario that we never encountered in the one-directional vanilla El Dorado.
3) The English rules are severely lacking, both in clear description and in failing to explain certain rules entirely (mainly for the 2 player variant). You can find these missing rules within the BGG forums.
4) The 3 smaller map tiles all feel pretty samey. They all contain essentially the same mix of ingredients with slightly different proportions (kind of like Taco Bell). I didn’t feel the need to adjust my deck between the tiles at all, especially when there are so many wild card options that let you plow through anything.
On one hand, I appreciate the interesting differences that The Golden Temples brings to El Dorado. The new cards are a nice change of pace, the guardian tokens are clever, the pick-up-and-deliver mechanism is a nice twist, and the coins are a solid addition.
On the other hand, our game was MUCH less competitive than any game of regular El Dorado that we’ve ever had. This is due to the above mentioned experiences, and I’m worried that this trend may continue. The new cards and tiles also feel less diverse than the original, as so many of these new cards are basically movement wilds to get you through samey tiles.
We combined the base game with Golden Temples for an epic race! The game becomes quite the beast to setup, play, and tear down in this state. It doubled our total playing time, but it was quite fun traveling over a long journey and managing a deck through different regions.
Does this make The Golden Temples even better? Probably. Is it worth the extra investment of time? Depends on how much you like the Quest for El Dorado. It certainly adds a ton more variability/replayability to the game. It also mitigates the family-friendly luck of the draw (for better or worse) by rewarding long-term planning, meaning that the best player will always win (and sometimes crush others into oblivion).
Current Rating: 7/10
New York Zoo
Note: I just released a comprehensive comparison and review of NYZ vs. other similar polyomino games last week in The Battle of the Polyominoes. For a quick summary of my thoughts on NYZ, continue reading below.
Uwe once again reminds us all why he is King of the Polyominoes.
I’ll be honest, I’m surprised at how inelegant this game is for a family-style Rosenberg. There are several little rules that players kept forgetting or needed reexplained. Even as I was reading through the rule book, I encountered several sections where I felt like I would soon forget these rules if I didn’t play the game quickly and regularly.
On top of that, the tiles are so similar in shade that you are doomed to fail if you’re just winging the initial setup (the tiles must be placed in many stacks of lightest on bottom to darkest on top). Yet with trained eyes and good lighting, this quickly became a non-issue for us.
New York Zoo is surprisingly a bit of a mess to teach and setup, especially as a first time teacher. But honestly, NONE of that matters for me. This is an insanely fun polyomino game with a charming production and a surprising amount of depth.
With a rondel ripe for planning and risk-taking, the decisions one faces are both agonizing and thrilling… Do I snatch up a meerkat now so I’m ready for the next breeding, or do I risk putting it off just one more turn and claim that beautiful tile right there? If my opponents all move the elephant a lot of spaces, then I’ll miss my chance entirely!
The adorable traveling elephant token is simply a disguise for the subtly cutthroat player interaction. I can go here and get this decent tile, or I can go HERE and cost you the perfect action space for your plans, MUAHAHAHAHAAAA.
In a Board Game Vegetarian world dominated by bland Point Salads, it is SO refreshing to bite into a meaty race game where the first player to fill their entire board wins. The tension of New York Zoo ramps up like no other polyomino game on the market.
Don’t let my minor gripes of rules inelegance and setup fiddliness scare you off. In terms of production, charm, tension, and replayability, this game blows Barenpark out of the water. It’s absolutely one that I can and will teach anyone and everyone. The uninitiated may need a few reminders at first, but this is one trip to the zoo worth taking over and over again.
Current Rating; 9/10
Note: I just released a comprehensive comparison and review of My City vs. other similar polyomino games last week in The Battle of the Polyominoes. For a quick summary of my thoughts on My City, continue reading below.
Those who follow my blog or play games with me know that Reiner Knizia has become one of my favorite designers. Despite this positive bias, I had even more reasons to avoid My City. My City is a multiplayer solitaire, bingo-style legacy game where one card that displays a specific tile is drawn at time and players must place the matching tile onto their own board. This description of the game was an instant turnoff for me, as it sounded like a shameless cash-grab smoothie of every current trend in tabletop gaming (fluffy low-interaction gameplay + legacy game + bingo-style flip & fill + polyominoes). Yet if one designer deserves the benefit of the doubt, that is most certainly the prolific Reiner Knizia.
When I somewhat apprehensively picked up My City at a reasonable price, I was expecting a mildly amusing game at best. Despite my reservations, I was quickly blown away by how fun and addicting My City is. THIS is how you do multiplayer solitaire. Simultaneous play. Evolving, legacy-style sessions. Interesting new challenges layered on to each successive play. Providing catch-up mechanisms for those who fall behind in the overall objective while ramping up the difficulty for those who pull ahead. Let us, once again, take notes from the legendary Dr. Knizia’s work!
Current Rating; 9/10
This concludes another episode of my new release 1st impressions! 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!