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Antics, Confusion, and Lancaster

November 10, 2011

It's time for another update on activity over at The Opinionated Gamers, which launched almost a year ago as a new home for the types of columns and reviews that had previously been published on Boardgame News, but which were not incorporated into the news features as the site was merged into BoardGameGeek. In Norenberc, Navegador, and London, I shared a handful of articles from the OG that I wanted to highlight as well as a few mini-reviews that I'd written for the site. I'm going to do the same thing again now that 9 more months have passed.

First and foremost, the OG had some fantastic Essen coverage, which was all compiled on the OG Essen page. There are 28 previews there leading up to the fair along with 20 convention reports, including many from the four columnists that attended the convention. Kulkmann's G@amebox has been the pinnacle of Essen reporting for years, but the collective OG coverage might just give Kulkmann a run for his money. I particularly enjoyed the varied styles and approaches of Liga, Dale, Patrick, and Jeff in reporting on their experiences in Essen.

Up next is an article that I put together called OG: Cribs. This was a piece inspired by the fact that I'd recently moved and setup my new game room. After unpacking the games and putting them on their new shelves I wanted to take a photo or two to share. That's when I realized that I like looking at other people's game shelves and would like to see what the shelves of other OG contributors looked like, so I solicited photos from everyone. With eleven submissions, I decided to take readers on a little tour of the OG abodes. I'd published similar photos over the years from 2006 through 2009 in New Storage Solution and Photomontage, so you can see my shelves over time if you'd like. In putting together OG: Cribs, I really liked seeing how different everyone's storage solutions were, from the perennial debate over stacking horizontally or vertically, to the various sorting methods, including an impressive color-coded approach. Here are my most recent game shelf photos:

There are so many great things to read on the OG that I'd like to highlight, but a few that particularly stand out for me are the Postcards from Berlin by Jeffrey Allers and the Art of Design interviews by Andrea Ligabue. There have been a number of Postcards from Berlin since my last update, including #48 (My Favorite Things), #49 (Memorabilia), #50 (License to Sell), and #51 (The Waiting Game). They are all very much worth reading. Then there are the great interviews that Liga has been doing with a whole slew of designers over the past year. You should definitely check out the Art of Design interviews with Bruno Cathala, Bruno Faidutti, Stefan Feld, and Ignacy Trzewiczek. There are such interesting insights contained in those interviews into the thought process of the designers and their approach to the craft of designing games.

Lastly, a couple more things to check out from other OG contributors are the iBoardgaming article for Summer 2011 by Matt Carlson and the interview with Spiel des Jahres jury member Tom Werneck by Dale Yu. The interview was broken down into Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3, and together it sheds some light into the machinations of the most coveted prize in gaming.

That just leaves my six mini-reviews that were added to the chorus of voices chiming in on the full reviews posted on the OG. Below I've included my thoughts on each game along with a link to the full review for each. There's Antics which desperately deserves a reprint; Mr. Jack in New York which remarkably lives up to the legacy of its predecessor; Confusion which manages to make deduction interesting; Lancaster which stands out among the year's crop of German-style games; Pictomania which adds a clever scoring system to a frantic drawing game; and Last Will which is a fresh new Czech game that is definitely worth checking out. Definitely a brighter crop this time around than Norenberc, Navegador, and London.

Antics (link to full review)

The Lamont brothersí seventh published game is their best one yet and my second favorite game from 2010 (just behind Dominant Species). I was skeptical at first when the designers announced that the game would feature a brand new mechanism, but the ant-hill mechanism is in fact the fascinating and innovative heart of the game. While vaguely reminiscent of Java or Taluva, it takes the idea to a whole new level Ė excuse the pun Ė and really makes you think about how to arrange your tiles. The way in which each playerís ant hill develops differently has made this an intriguing game that has kept me coming back for more. The fixed map and the distracting artwork are a shame, but Iíve come to the conclusion that I can overlook these in favor of the gameís strengths. The only thing I still question is whether the end-game scoring system could be improved, but donít think I have enough experience yet to say for sure. What I do know is that Antics provides a unique, engaging, and entertaining experience with a nice level of interactivity and excellent pacing. The game ends leaving you wanting just a bit more, an addictive trait indeed. This is one game that definitely needs a reprint!

Mr. Jack in New York (link to full review)

Itís clear that Cathala and Maublanc learned a lot about the Mr. Jack system in the intervening three years after Mr. Jackís initial release. They changed the game just enough to create a stand-alone game worth owning, while leaving it still true to the original. The most striking thing about the new board and gameplay is that it feels much more open. The fact that there are fewer buildings and lights obstructing your path make the game feel more dynamic than the original. Where Mr. Jack can sometimes feel static, Mr. Jack in New York is fluid. I still go back to the original from time to time because I particularly enjoy the new setup rules introduced by the excellent Mr. Jack Extension, but overall Mr. Jack in New York has proven to be a very worth successor. The fact that Piero returned to do the artwork again is a also a big plus worth mentioning.

Confusion (link to full review)

Stratego where your pieces face away from you and you have to figure out what they can do by trial and errorÖ sign me up! The idea of Confusion sounded cool to me and unlike so many games that sound cool but donít pan out, this one was as neat in practice as it sounded from the description. Iíve only played once, on the reprint, a couple weeks ago, but it was enjoyable enough to make me tempted to pick up a copy. As someone who is usually bored by deduction games (e.g., Sleuth, Black Vienna), Confusion was different and interesting enough to keep me engaged. Iím not sure how many plays I would get out of it and it did last a bit longer than I might have liked (although I could see the playing time varying wildly), so Iím not entirely won over, but it was memorable and that counts for a lot.

Lancaster (link to full review)

I was all set to explain why Lancaster was my favorite design of 2011 so far (notwithstanding Summoner Wars: Master Set, which is not quite a 2011 game in my book), but then Larry went and detailed the virtues of Lancaster so completely that heís left nothing for me to add. So Iíll just say: Lancaster is very good. It doesnít feel at all like just another worker-placement to me. It reuses mechanics from a variety of earlier titles and doesnít offer any one particularly new thing, but still manages to feel rather fresh. The game expertly blends minimalistic rules with depth of strategic options. The production job by Queen is truly top notch. Iíve only played a couple times and share Larryís concern with potential replayability issues, so itís possible that after ten or fifteen plays it would begin to get stale. Your fellow players can definitely mix up the experience since there is a good deal of player interaction, but the game doesnít do a whole lot to change things around from game to game (which at least has the virtue of drastically minimizing the role of luck). For instance, the game could have provided more laws than would be used so each game would employ a different, random mix of laws, but that would reward players who happen to pursue a strategy aligned with the laws that come up. In the end, Lancaster is not a design that needs to be fiddled with or second guessed. Itís an extremely polished and solid game that has been a pleasure to play.

Pictomania (link to the first impressions article)

I played the prototype once and really enjoyed it. I donít tend to like drawing games very much because I am so utterly incompetent at drawing, beyond what you could possibly imagine. But the scoring system in Pictomania is just so clever that I canít help but like it. The frantic action of simultaneously drawing and looking at everyone elseís drawings takes the pressure off drawing well because itís such a hectic game. The dual incentives of guessing other peopleís drawings right first and getting other people to guess your own drawing provide a nice tension that competes for your attention in the limited time available. The escalating difficulty of the cards indicating what to draw was also a very nice feature of the game. It was silly fun, which might be just the ticket with the right group.

Last Will (link to the first impressions article)

I played this three times in prototype form and also enjoyed it a lot, so much so that I went back to play it again and again at the same convention. As with Rick, I could see this bumping up to the ďlove itĒ category with additional plays of the final release. The game just clicked with me for some reason, I think because it felt fresh. The game was definitely amusing as the cards allowing you to spend money quicker had to do with hiring corrupt workers or throwing wild parties that trashed your property. Speaking of property, the system of purchasing properties so you can spend money maintaining them or ignore them so they depreciate in value was one of the most clever parts of the games in my mind and really elevated the overall quality of the game. It leads to very interesting timing with the end game as you need to sell your properties before you can win, but you earn money by doing so, and need to set yourself up with a way to make the final push and spend those last few dollars to get over the finish line of poverty.