I’ve recently started playing these new-ish releases. Here are my current thoughts on them:
Super Skill Pinball 4-Cade
Take all your roll & writes and toss them out the window because Super Skill Pinball 4-Cade is the new king of the hill!
…Okay, perhaps you can still keep your other games, but what makes this one the best of the bunch? It’s simple. This game captures the essence of pinball unbelievably well. You’ve got the brilliant half-pinball tokens that slide around your over-the-top thematic table (player mat). There’s push-your-luck nudging and tilting, there’s bumper combos, there’s flipper aiming, there’s objectives within the table, there’s multiball bonanzas, you name it!
Super-Skill Pinball 4-Cade doesn’t circumvent the main weakness of the roll & write genre—zero player interaction—but it does raise the bar for the genre as a whole. Everything I love about a solid roll & write (satisfying combos, good variety, tense decisions, evolving strategies with more experience, etc.) is here with a beautifully tailored glove of pinball wrapped around it. It forces every other game in this crowded realm to scramble to justify its existence. The biggest weakness you’ll see in this roll & write compared to others is that one player’s game of pinball can end earlier than another’s. We almost never play roll & writes above the 2-player count, so this isn’t much of an issue for us.
Yet the game is so much more than our “favorite roll & write”. It’s freaking pinball the tabletop game. The design/publishing team’s love of pinball oozes from every nook and cranny of this box. The core gameplay here is so solid, and the thematic tables are so diverse and fun, that this is the kind of game where I won’t hesitate to purchase every single expansion they throw at me. That said, if you don’t love pinball, or you don’t like roll & writes, then I don’t see this game changing your mind in any way.
So many designers/publishers are tossing their old, stale fruit of existing IPs and/or half-hearted efforts into the roll & write blender for a generic, flavorless game smoothie. Meanwhile, Geoff Engelstien and co. have been toiling away to grow their own fresh, ripe, exotic fruits and plucking them to concoct the most flavortastic blend of roll & write and pinball your taste buds have ever encountered.
Current Rating: 9/10
Pan Am is a solid choice among many lesser games on supermarket shelves. You get a solid worker placement, auctioning, economic experience with a crisp presentation and unique theme.
My favorite aspect is most certainly the combination of bidding for worker placement actions. Players must decide how valuable a worker placement spot is to them and others and place their tokens accordingly. Sometimes you may get away with a cheap action because nobody else wanted it that round, but often you’ll find yourself getting bumped out because somebody else was willing to pay more.
The requirements to obtain landing rights and options for accomplishing this provide another handful of interesting tactical routes. There are costly options to build airports that can make for a great long-term investment or easy options to spend cards that you can quickly regret discarding when you need them later.
I just wish Pan Am wasn’t so long and slow. The 4 phases of the 7 rounds seem to keep crawling long past the game has outstayed its welcome. The gameplay struggles to keep a brisk pace with too many steps, too much interruption of plans, and too many decisions. Contrast this with much more complex games like Brass: Birmingham and you’ll quickly see why Pan Am takes just as long, if not longer.
Brass flows elegantly from one round to the next with players playing two cards to take two actions. The 3 steps of a round are simple: 1) All players take two actions 2) Rearrange turn order 3) Collect income. Only 1 of these 3 steps requires analytical thinking that can mostly be planned out before your turn, the other 2 are quick and easy. Meanwhile, Pan Am has roughly a dozen steps with each round, with about half of them requiring strategic planning, and this kind of planning often can’t be done until it’s your turn to take the action.
If the downtime and playtime could magically be cut in half, I’d be all for more Pan Am. As it is, I’m content with sticking to my better-paced collection of Euros.
Current Rating: 6/10
Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion
Alright, it’s true…. This is a stinking good co-op game. Jaws of the Lion just gets better with each play.
Scenario 1 is too mindlessly easy to judge the game by, but I was interested by the framework that had been laid. Scenario 2 added some interesting layers, but seemed to reveal that we had a problematic setup.
Our biggest issue up to that point was the Voidwarden being significantly underwhelming in a 2-player game. This character seemed to thrive best on a map with more players and monsters. In our first couple scenarios, we had several rounds where the Voidwarden’s turn was completely worthless due to ending up too far away from her only teammate who was able to mow down all monsters within reach.
Fortunately, this issue has seemed to balance itself out in Scenarios 3 & 4. Things improved for our experience due to three main factors:
1) The difficulty increased (thus Voidwarden was more needed each round).
2) Voidwarden’s deck improved (more cards get added or swapped between each tutorial scenario).
3) Our communication and cooperation has improved. Now that we understand the Voidwarden’s strengths and weaknesses better, we have seen much more interesting cooperation with her.
Our most recent scenario transformed my wife from a reluctant teammate to an engaged and entertained schemer. Voidwarden’s abilities ended up being instrumental to our fun and critical to our success.
All this talk and I’ve only scratched the surface of what I predict to be one of the most influential and important games of the past decade. Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion is a masterclass in board game accessibility. It takes a game that I would never dare touch and kicks down every wall that was keeping me from joining in on the fun.
For us, Gloomhaven is too expensive, too fiddly, too huge, too complicated, too long, too intimidating, too stuffy, too exhausting, etc. etc. etc. Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion, is NONE of those things, and yet it is still Gloomhaven. Outside of the general streamlining that the gameplay received, the tutorial and spiral-o bound scenario books are brilliant features of what has to be the all-time best tabletop game found on Target shelves. Instead of sorting through mounds of tiles and laboring to piece and stack them together only to later organize them apart, you simply flip open the book to the next page and WAM, there’s your map with the scenario description and helpful icons ready to rumble.
Don’t get me wrong; this game is no walk in the park to setup, tear down, learn, and play. It’s still an option we’re only going to break out on game nights where our energy level is above average. It’s still a strenuous, uphill hike (with beautiful vistas, of course)…. but now it’s on a smooth, paved path with comfy benches, tasty snacks, and cozy restrooms along the way. Bravo, Isaac Childres and Cephalofair Games! Everybody else, take notes.
Current Rating: 9/10
Unmatched: Cobble & Fog / Jurassic Park / Bruce Lee
When I first tried Unmatched, I was lukewarm yet amused by the series. The stellar art and production helped me to see past the somewhat simplistic, shallow gameplay and appreciate it for the light fun it provides. Fortunately, I stuck around for more because each new offering has only gotten better.
From ganging up on your prey as a pack of clever-girl raptors to unleashing a combo of fury as Bruce Lee, Unmatched has become an enjoyable mashup of zany head-to-head showdowns. While I appreciate any game that puts my boy Sasquatch to good use (from the Robin Hood vs. Bigfoot pack), I would rank all three of these latest packs as the best of the bunch.
Cobble & Fog is an especially good place to jump in, with 4 classic characters that provide highly thematic decks. The Invisible Man essentially teleports from one fog token to the next, keeping opponents swinging and missing. Sherlock manipulates his opponent’s decks to his advantage. Dracula seeps life from his prey while Jekyll & Hyde flip-flops from one strength to the other.
Unmatched will be one to keep an eye on in the future. Expect to see more Jurassic Park (including an XL T-rex), Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and an extremely creative 4-character fan pack that will result from a design contest with over 500 deck submissions. I’ll be gunning for my boy, Paul Bunyan, and his trusty companion, Babe the Blue Ox, to make it to the finished product. My wife and I had a blast designing and testing a deck rampant with giant axe swinging, ox plowing, and tree chopping.
Current Rating: 7-8/10
Alright, alright, I know this isn’t necessarily a “recent” release. But Blitzkrieg is under a year old and perpetually out of stock, and I feel it my civic duty to inform you that this one deserves your best efforts to acquire a copy at the next reprint.
I’ve always been a fan of Ethnos, despite it’s exhaustive attempts to repel me with it’s looks and production. As it turns out, I’m simply a big fan of designer Paolo Mori.
Blitzkrieg! had a similar first-impression effect upon me as Ethnos did. I saw the box cover, I saw the board, I saw the pieces, and I didn’t see a reason to look any further. It wasn’t until I heard the stellar reviews from multiple sources that I finally steered myself around for another look.
Thank goodness I listened, because Blitzkrieg! is an excellent 2-player game! The rules are easy, the game is quick, the decisions are agonizing, and the fun is instantaneous. This feels like a nice mixture between Watergate’s tug-of-war gameplay, Air Land & Sea’s theatric struggle, and Samurai’s shielded tile placement strategies.
This one is self-dubbed as “the perfect wargame for non-wargamers,” and I’m inclined to agree. Now if I can just track down a copy of that Godzilla expansion…
Give me more of that Paolo Mori, please!
Current Rating: 9/10
This concludes my latest new release 1st impressions, but if you missed the previous one, you can check out my thoughts on Pendulum, Calico, Fort, Spicy, and Ride the Rails. 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!