Let’s talk about the games that are leaving or entering my collection, and why! For “surge” games, I’ll stick with titles that are not recent releases as I already cover those in my monthly New Release 1st Impressions series.
PARKS & Tokaido
These games have quite a bit in common. Both PARKS and Tokaido are gorgeous looking games about traveling or vacationing through scenic environments. Both contain the chill mechanism of stopping along a one-way track to collect items or trigger effects. Jumping far ahead guarantee’s that you’ll hit your desired spot, but you’ll be skipping lots of other good options along the way and leaving them open for your opponents.
It’s rather unnecessary to possess both PARKS and Tokaido in one collection, yet here I am keeping neither. While I can’t deny the appeal of their aesthetics and settings, I also can’t deny the weakness of their game-night appeal. Neither game has made it to our table in over a year.
Perhaps what kills them for me is that their time-to-payoff ratio is a little lopsided for my tastes. We have some comparably simple and chill card games that cram more fun into their shorter playtimes than either PARKS or Tokaido. I’d say they’re both solid picks as family games, but we own plenty of other family games that I would play many times over before reaching for these.
The Knizia Flood: Ingenious, Yellow & Yangtze, Quo Vadis
As we prepare to publish our own Reiner Knizia designs, I’ve become increasingly keen on exploring the highlights of his portfolio. I struggle to resist a good sale or interesting new release from the German designer who continues to entertain my gaming group. Stay tuned for my thoughts on some of his newer releases, but in the meantime let’s talk about Ingenious, Yellow & Yangtze, and Quo Vadis.
Ingenious is touted on the box as “The Ultimate Family Strategy Game,” and for once I actually agree with a generic marketing description! Abstract games typically aren’t my go-to game style, but Ingenious really hits the spot. This one takes the scoring mechanism of Tigris & Euphrates—where your final score is your color with the least points—and simplifies it down to placing hexagonal dominos and scoring matching colors. The elegant gameplay, layered depth, and breezy turns here shouldn’t come as any surprise to Knizia fans. Nobody makes a better tile-laying game than Reiner, and Ingenious is one of the many feathers in that ridiculously legendary cap.
Yellow & Yangtze has officially arrived at my doorstep (along with Whale Riders and Whale Riders: The Card Game). And just in the nick of time, apparently, as this one is being dropped by the publisher this year. With it’s spiritual sibling, Tigris & Euphrates, being my current #3 game of All Time, and Reiner’s other recent reiterations (Babylonia and Blue Lagoon) also being in my top 50, you could astutely predict that I’m thrilled to give Y&Y a try… Thrilled enough, in fact, to already have my hand on my wallet holster for when the Yellow & Yangtze plastic and bamboo GeekUp tiles go on sale.
Meanwhile, we’ve enjoyed a couple plays of Quo Vadis, a pure negotiation game from Dr. Knizia that originally released in the 90’s, yet I was able to track down a used copy for cheap. Players progress their politician pieces on the board through a sequential network of committees. On your turn, you are usually requesting support from other players in your current committee to vote you through to the next committee, and often you have to sweeten the deal for others to get the votes you need. Points are awarded for voting others through and moving your pieces along certain paths, but your points are only valid if one of your politicians makes it to the final Senate position. A game this dry has no right to be so enjoyable, but here we are. Quo Vadis is pure, simple, quick, tense negotiation in a smart, Knizian style. I’m interested in exploring this one further to witness the possibilities. Yet I don’t think I like the “special tokens” variant that Mayfair threw into the box. They seem to detract from the tension of having to rely on others to progress forward.
Roll & Writes: Railroad Ink, Welcome To, On Tour
It was fun while it lasted, roll & writes! Yet as I described in my recent impressions of Railroad Ink Challenge, I’m living the law of diminishing returns within this genre of games. I used to believe that it was so cool how you could play these games with as many people as you had pads and writing utensils. Although in practice, I’ve noticed that these tend to be the quietest and least interactive games you could possibly play at a party. Low-interaction games such as roll & writes tend to take the wind out of the sails of interpersonal engagement, and I find these to be hollow forms of entertainment in group gatherings.
Most often, I’ve enjoyed these games in 2-player settings with my wife. Yet we now own dozens of killer 2-player games that simply increase the opportunity cost of playing another roll & write. But I haven’t shunned the genre entirely! We’re still holding onto Super Skill Pinball, which does roll & writes better than the rest, in my opinion. And for some reason, I haven’t quite convinced myself to get rid of That’s Pretty Clever…
Train Games: Age of Steam Maps, Stephenson’s Rocket Expansion, & Chicago Express
How many train games does one gamer need?!? Ten, apparently. Plus a bunch more maps for good measure. I know what you’re thinking: I’ve already mentioned that I’m getting rid of Railroad Ink! But don’t worry, I’ve preordered Iberian Gauge, so balance will soon be restored to the railroad collection universe. I’m not so much obsessed with trains as I am obsessed with highly interactive games—and games with sprawling railroads and shared incentives lend themselves well to this dynamic.
Age of Steam and Stephenson’s Rocket both made my top 50 games of all time. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to acquire more maps from them. In both cases, these expansion maps mix up the feel of the core gameplay and help to keep players from getting too comfortable. I already shared my most recent experience with Eastern US map of Stephenson’s Rocket from our recent board game marathon, and even more recently I had the chance to try the German map of Age of Steam.
I’d say the German map is a safe board for relative newcomers to stray from the starting map. Some interesting wrinkles include hex spaces that contain specific, expensive prices for building track on them. The high price tag spots general stick to the edges of the map and block off foreign terminals that can receive specific colors of cubes. Additionally, the Engineer action is completely different—it now cuts the price of one of your track builds in half rather than increasing your building limit from three to four tiles. The German map was an interesting change to what we’ve been playing up to this point, and I’m eager to explore the many other maps of Age of Steam.
Finally, Chicago Express is a cube rails style game from 2007 that shares much in common with the likes of Irish Gauge. Each player takes their turn by selecting an action—auctioning a share of one railroad company, expanding the rail system of a company they own shares in, or developing one of the boards hexes. For those of you who are familiar with Irish Gauge, this sounds eerily similar, right? Well the key differences are that money spent on shares for a railroad company goes into that company pool, and those funds are used to expand the rail system. No money in your company means no opportunity for expansion. Additionally, these three action options are represented by meters on the board, and whenever a player takes a chosen action, they move the dial up on that action meter until it reaches its highest space. At that point, nobody else can take that type of action, and once two meters are full, this triggers a dividend phase and a reset of the meters.
I had a great time with my first play of Chicago Express, so when I saw a local Facebooker post their copy for sale at a reasonable price, I just had to bite.
Letting go of Classics: Catan, Dixit, Clank, Sushi Go, & Deep Sea Adventure
Although it was now several years ago, my most recent play of Catan was the fastest ever. We had invited our friend over for dinner and a game night. After choosing our settlement and road starting positions and getting into the initial turns, our friend suddenly stood up, ran to our restroom, and puked everywhere. And that was the end of Catan night.
Since then, I’ve found many more games to love, and Old Faithful Catan never really called to me. I’ve only recently come to terms with the idea of booting it from my collection. Part of me thinks it would be neat to keep it around for my kids to show them the game that took the world by storm. But at the end of the day, I’ve got PLENTY of other accessible games I’d rather teach and play with them.
Dixit is an interesting one. This is a likeable, colorful game that thankfully renders Apples to Apples obsolete. Instead of one judge randomly determining their favorite card of the round, players are cleverly incentivized to deceive opponents while deducing and voting for the correct card. Meanwhile the storyteller of the round must avoid giving a clue that is too hard or too easy.
You’d be hard pressed to find someone who hates this game, yet it feels like Dixit has been overshadowed by newer titles. Mysterium uses these same types of visual cards, but also allows for collaboration, discussion, and debates. Mysterium also raises the stakes with an all-win or all-lose premise.
Decrypto has the same interesting balance of giving clues that are neither too easy nor too hard, but it ratchets up the tension with 3 clues per round that become an increasingly thinner tightrope to walk with each successive round.
Wavelength has the same freedom of giving any kind of clue (a word, a sentence, a sound, etc.) but follows it up with a much more interesting discussion and dramatic reveal.
The above mentioned games also do a better job at discouraging inside joke clues compared to Dixit, which is probably one of its greatest weaknesses. After taking a break from Dixit for several years and finally giving it another go, I can see why this one has been collecting dust on my shelf. The predator has become the prey; the Apples-gobbling Dixit is now the obsolete game thanks to Mysterium, Decrypto, Wavelength, and many more.
On the other hand, we got a kick out of Clank from our first few plays of it. The push-your-luck concept of deciding how deep to venture into the dungeon for greater treasures at the risk of succumbing to the dragon was highly amusing. The problem is that we never made it past those first few plays. I think the messy rulebook and setup were partially to blame. The other thing that hurt Clank was us owning another deck-building board movement hybrid, The Quest for El Dorado, which has received many more plays thanks to its cleaner, tighter, and smarter design. Despite my fond memories of our plays of Clank, I realized it was time to say goodbye when I noticed our last play was nearly two years ago.
Funnily enough, Deep Sea Adventure contains the exact same concept as Clank of venturing deeper for greater rewards but at a much higher risk of not making it back to the surface. Of course, being an Oink game, it strips away everything else that Clank offers except for that core concept. Yet after thoroughly enjoying other all-time greats from publisher Oink including Insider, Startups, A Fake Artist Goes to New York, and Durian, I just didn’t feel that Deep Sea Adventure reached the same heights of memorable, engaging fun.
Picking up some Classics: Agricola, Bohnanza, Keyflower
Meanwhile, I’ve acquired a few new-to-me classics thanks to some irresistible deals. Agricola is one such game that we finally got around to playing after spending a few months on our shelf in shrink-wrap. As expected, this is a rock-solid Euro. It certainly contains less rules than designer Uwe Rosenberg’s A Feast for Odin, but it’s also a less forgiving game. It’s such a tight game of meager earnings that my wife found it to be more stressful than enjoyable, so hopefully I’ll find someone else to continue to play it with. For me, the thing that puts Agricola above the thousands of other worker placement games that have been published since is the meaningful variety of the cards and impactful tightness of the board.
Speaking of Uwe classics, I also picked up a copy of Bohnanza that has yet to hit our table. It’s a simple negotiation game with wacky beans that I have a vague memory of playing and enjoying one time several years ago. Unfortunately, our intended plays of family-weight games has been a little bit backed up for the past year between anti-social COVID protocols and moving around for work.
And while we’re on the topic of classic games, the much-loved Keyflower landed a spot in my collection at last. It took a wide breadth of critical acclaim and a gut-purchase Deal of the Day to get me to do it, but I’m excited to see what this unique worker placement game has to offer.
Saying goodbye to old friends: Dice Throne, Dragon Castle, Aerion
I can offer some comfort to my wife, Camille, in the fact that in the past few months I’ve sold and traded away more games than I’ve acquired. So we’ll bookend this post with a final batch of purged games, specifically some old friends that we’ve enjoyed over the past several years. Aerion was the first primarily solo board game that I ever purchased, and it was fun to see how a simple, challenging puzzle can hit the spot when I’m in the mood to sit at my kitchen table alone. This is a solid dice game of managing probabilities and mitigating risks to assemble your flying machines before resources are depleted. I didn’t quite explore all of the expansions and variants in this box, but I never had a bad session of Aerion. With Under Falling Skies recently entering the fray, I simply found Aerion to be the less interesting of the two and an unnecessary possession for how infrequently I play solo games.
Dragon Castle hit our collection back when we were surfing the wave of abstract drafting games including Azul and Sagrada. While its a solid offering in its own right, complete with chunky Mahjong tiles and an attractive presentation, it is another game that never made it past our initial plays over two years ago. The only reason it’s survived in our collection until now is because I wanted to give it one last play to be sure I was ok with dumping it. But when I have an entire two years to make that happen and my reluctance keeps me from spending even one more hour with it, I finally had to accept that it doesn’t belong on my shelf. Ultimately, Azul is the best of the bunch, so I’m ok with discarding the rest.
I’ve spoken much about Dice Throne recently after colliding with the recent expansion, Dice Throne Adventures. In some ways, Adventures was perhaps a spoiler for the entire Dice Throne series for me. Yet it was also one of the few Kickstarter campaigns I lost my hype for between pledging and receiving the rewards due to my changing tastes. Revisiting the system’s latest offerings merely confirmed my fears that Dice Throne was no longer for me. But that’s ok!
The good news is that board games typically keep a great resell value, and when one doesn’t satisfy, there’s always another one around the corner ready to entertain its participants. I’m happy to see my departing games find a new home and excited to see what adventures await in my recent acquisitions.
What games are you purging from or surging into your collection? Share with us in the comments below!
Article written by Nick Murray. And speaking of adding new games to one’s collection, keep an eye out for his first published design, Social Grooming, which will debut in a Kickstarter bundle alongside two games from critically acclaimed designer, Reiner Knizia! Don’t miss out on this killer filler bundle coming in 2021! Subscribe to the Bitewing Games monthly newsletter to stay in touch.