The Way Too Many Games Collection Page 2
Euro games, or German-style games as they’re also known, is not so much a genre as it is a set of core design principals. Rather than the central game mechanics focusing on elements such as luck or player elimination like many American designed games are, Euros tend to feature little to no luck and will not eliminate players at any point. They are more thought provoking strategy games that challenge players to compete against their opponents and thwart their plans through indirect interactions as opposed to direct conflict. Euro games often have economic, agricultural, or historical themes.
We’re not always good at playing the games in our collection. What we are good at is learning and teaching complex rulesets (it comes with the territory of reviewing new games and teaching them to friends). Trickerion: Legends of Illusion from Mindclash Games is the first game we learned that completely fried our brains. It became pretty intuitive after a few plays but we walked away from the first few games skeptical that any of us played it correctly.
In Trickerion: Legends of Illusion, up to four players compete as rival stage magicians in the late 1800s, each attempting to become the most famous magician in the fictional city of Magoria, thus earning them the powerful Trickerion Stone. The game combines worker placement, action queues, tile placement, and market manipulation as its core mechanics. Players will assign their Assistants, Manager, Engineers and Magician workers to various spaces on the board to either obtain new materials, hire workers, learn new stage tricks, construct the apparati needed to perform the trick, or make their way to the theater to wow the audience. Depending on the tricks and on playbill and how tokens are placed on the board, players will have the opportunity to gain resources or Fame points, even when it’s not their turn.
The game mechanics will seem overwhelming at first, but they’re supported by the theme so well that it takes very little time for the mental pieces to fall into place. What’s so challenging about Trickerion is the tight decision space. There’s only so many resources available per round and there’s nothing to stop your rivals from hiring that new assistant before you can get to them. Players will constantly need to weigh the choices between racing their competition to the prized resources vs designing the perfect show. If this doesn’t put you in the mood to watch The Prestige, nothing will.
Game designer Vital Lacerda is famous for creating wonderfully complex and thematic euro games. His best known games like The Gallerist, On Mars, and Lisboa have all been released in partnership with Eagle Gryphon Games and are staples of any modern board game collection. But none of his games are quite as well known as his 2010 game Vinhos.
In Vinhos, up to four players compete to operate the most prestigious vineyard in all of Portugal. over the course of the game players will build vineyards in various regions of the country, hire farmers, compete in wine festivals, and sell to local restaurants and hotels. Each round is considered a year that will be represented by a weather condition tile revealed at the start of the round. The average weather conditions will positively or negatively impact the quality of wine players can produce that year. Beyond the weather, there are no random elements in Vinhos meaning that players can accurately anticipate the outcome of each of their choices. As a result, Vinhos is a game of pure strategy with little negative impact from other players.
Despite the overwhelming appearance of the board and complex design, Lacerda’s Vinhos is quite the intuitive game. The winery theme helps reinforce the actions players can take during their turn. If they need to produce more wine, players can establish a new vineyard, or expand the storage of a new one. If funds are short, wine can be sold to local restaurants. When the quality of your wines don’t turn our as well as you were hoping, you can hire more staff to manage your vineyards and improve output. Despite how complex Vinhos appears, the theme supports the game’s decisions in a way that makes it more intuitive, even for new players. In our opinion Vinhos isn’t the best of Lacerda, but the game design makes it the most accessible one, and our favorite so far.
In engine building and tableau building games, players each set up their own playing area with publicly visible components that they alter throughout the game. These components (tokens, cards, tiles, etc.) will remain in play and active throughout the game unless they are intentionally removed by player actions. These components will influence one another and determine what resources, actions, or points are awarded to the player, often triggering chain reactions that benefit the player that laid the pieces.
Level 99 and Trey Chambers (both favorites of WTMG) came together in 2020 to release their magical version of the route building train game trope. In traditional Level 99 fashion, Empyreal: Spells & Steam takes an ordinary concept and applies a twist of magic abilities and anime artwork to create a whimsical fantasy world out of the mundane.
In Empyreal: Spells & Steam players control railways competing for retrieve and deliver natural resources to cities of matching colors. When it’s time to deliver, the more resources players deliver at once, the greater the reward. The tension comes in as a result of the fact that resources never replenish. Once they’re gone from the board, they’re gone. This creates a tense push and pull between the need to build efficient routes and the need to outpace your opponents.
But what makes Empyreal: Spells & Steam really standout are the player boards and actions. Each rail line has its own board with spots for hold train cars, a Conductor pawn, and Captain with a special power. On their turn, players will move their Conductor pawn any number of spaces on their player board, paying mana for each space they move beyond the first one. Players can then activate the abilities of the three train cars below the space the Conductor stopped, again paying mana for every power beyond the first one. Train cars typically give players the ability to add new trains to the board, expanding their presence and ability to collect new resources. Over time players will add additional train cars to their board as well as additional staff members like Engineers that will vastly increase their options and reach on a turn. With the right combination of train cars and resourceful mana usage, players will be able to leave their opponents in the dust.
When once upon a time we thought train themes games would be too dry to hold our attention the charming canon of Indines that runs throughout the Level 99 catalog pulled us right in. You can read our review of Empyreal: Spells & Steam here if you’re interested in learning more.
2018 saw a number of cute animal themed games that were deceptively more competitive than they first appeared. Where Root is an aggressively complex area-control game about warring animal factions, Everdell is a game from Starling Games is the exact opposite. Instead of direct conflict, players spend three seasons building a village and filling it with as many critter citizens and resources as possible before the winter snows set in.
At its core, Everdell is a worker placement tableau building game, but there are also elements of indirect conflict and set collection. Each turn, players will put one of their workers onto a space on the board to immediately retrieve the resources indicated on the space where the worker was set. If a player already has the resources they need, they may choose to play a card, potentially earning them points at the end of the game. Lastly, if players have run out of workers and cards to play, they may retrieve all of their workers, gain a new one, and skip the rest of their turn, readying them for the next season of actions.
For us, the joy of Everdell is the large number of viable strategies that players can explore. Players can focus their efforts on developing constructions and filling them with the appropriate critter citizens, or create a series of resource generating abilities using the Green Production card. There’s currently three expansions currently on the market. Pearlbrook, Bellfaire, and Spirecrest each introduce beautiful new boards that are designed to easily connect to the original game’s board. Pearlbrook and Spirecrest both introduce new tokens and ways to earn points. But Bellfaire expands upon the special events score cards by adding new ones, providing player boards, and increasing the maximum player count from four to six. What’s so nice about Everdell is that as much as it is a competitive board game, it also falls nicely into the genre of cozy board games that are just relaxing to play, despite players competing against one another.
Upon its original release in 2019, Stonemaier Games got some bad press for how they handled the distribution of Wingspan as large e-commerce retailers like Amazon before independent game stores. While there’s nothing wrong with that strategy for a new release, especially as Amazon’s reach is so vast, it upset a very loud vocal minority. It’s a real shame to acknowledge but there’s likely an element of pushback from the community as the game was designed by a woman. Over the last three years, that vocal minority has slowly been quieted and the gaming community has recognized Elizabeth Hargrave for her incredible design and creativity. Not only is the game an enjoyable experience, but it Hargrave came up with an unique theme that not only entertains, but educates as well.
The beauty of Wingspan is that it’s as complex as it is simple. On their turns players can take one of four actions: Play a bird card from their hand, acquire food (one of two “currencies”) using the Forests, lay eggs (second of two “currencies”) using the Grasslands, or draw new cards using the Wetlands. It’s as simple as that. Wingspan‘s depth comes from abilities printed on the bird cards.
Wingspan is an engine-building game where the bird abilities are repeatedly triggered by other actions. The Chipping Sparrow for example can be placed in either the food action row (Forests) or eggs action row (Grasslands) by paying either a wheat or invertebrate food token. For the rest of the game, any time that player chooses to use the Forest or Grasslands action, the Chipping Sparrow’s ability will trigger, allowing them to place an egg on any bird already on their board. As the game progress, players create a system of chain reactions that trigger when either they, or their opponents, take a specific action, significantly impacting the amount of resources players have at their disposal, and ultimately, their final score.
Unlike most games Wingspan has four rounds of scoring, each with different criteria. During setup, players randomly select four scoring criteria, one for each of the game’s four rounds. This creates a great deal of flexibility for players. As all of these objectives are public knowledge from the start of the game, it’s entirely possible for players to earn zero points during the first two rounds and come out on top by focusing their efforts on later goals. The final result is a strong medium-weight game that is easy to teach and forgiving for new players, yet simultaneously deep enough game to keep veterans coming back often.
This is without a doubt one of my favorite categories on this list. While I very much enjoy complex strategy games, it’s counter-productive to introduce non-gamers to the world of modern board games with an overwhelming number of rules like Too Many Bones or a dry theme like Vinhos. Instead, this category is about the games that create a cinematic experience and create memorable stories for the players at the table. In most of these games, there’s a high amount of randomness that completely negates any amount of strategy players could hope to implement. What these games do best is create memorable stories with friends at an entry level difficulty, and possibly even introduce them to their new favorite hobby.
This entry will without question be the most controversial game in our collection. Betrayal at House on the Hill is notorious for having ambiguous rules, no-win situations, and absolutely zero strategy. Even though Betrayal Legacy and the third edition of Betrayal have made improvements and tightened up the rules, it’s still a very random game and won’t change anyone’s mind if they didn’t enjoy the originals. In the past I’ve argued, and will continue to do so, that Betrayal at House on the Hill is an excellent example of clunky game design turned into a fantastic game experience.
Players act as one of six pulp-horror archetypes exploring the local haunted house (without any context as to why). The game is played is played in two acts. In the first act, players are all independently exploring the haunted house and adding new room tiles to the house each turn, creating a random and often illogically disjointed house layout. Many of these tiles require players to draw either an Item, Event, or Omen card. Depending on which card and the result of rolling a six-sided die, characters will either gain stats, take damage, or gain an item that will be helpful at a later date. If a player draws an Omen card, they must immediately do a Haunt roll. To perform a Haunt roll, players roll six dice. If the total of all six dice is less than the number of Omen cards drawn by all players, the second act, known as the Haunt, begins.
The Haunt can be one of fifty scenarios that split the group of players into Survivors and Traitors. This is where most people’s complaints come from. The nature of when and which Haunt scenario is triggered is very random and often creates an unfair balance of power in most scenarios. Often times the Traitor(s) are pitted against the Survivors in a fight to the death. As the Traitor(s) will almost always outnumbered by Survivors, they are often granted powerful abilities that give them leverage over their opponents. Due to the randomness of the first act and how it impacts player character stats, it’s not uncommon that some players will begin the Haunt at low health, making them easy pickings for the Traitor and creating that unbalanced experience that have led many gamers to dislike Betrayal at House on the Hill so much.
Anyone looking for a strategic challenge or a fierce competition isn’t going to find that in Betrayal. Instead, the events in Betrayal at House on the Hill form an emergent story that simply happens to players as they struggle to survive. In the forty or so games of Betrayal that I’ve played over the years, I can only think of one or two sessions I was disappointed by. I have so many fond memories playing Betrayal and I can likely tell you exactly who I was with, where I was, and what Haunt we played for the vast majority of them.
If you’d like to read more about why we think Betrayal at House on the Hill is a blast in spite of its flaws, you can read our article here.
All the titles on this list are games that we enjoy enough to never part remove from our collection, but Nemesis sits safely in our top three games, unlikely to ever be dethroned. Released by one of our favorite publishers, Awaken Realms, in 2018, Nemesis is the best Alien game to ever bless us with its slimy divine presence. We reviewed it when it first came out and since then, there’s a good chance it’s our most played game.
The crew of the Nemesis had a rude awakening from cryo-sleep on their return journey to Earth. Blaring alarms and flashing lights assault the crew as their cryopods release them from their iron beds. Disoriented and suffering from amnesiac side effects of cryo-sleep, the crew of the Nemesis finds one of their crew members dead on the floor with injuries that looked as if something burst out of them. Foreign guttural sounds and banging emanate from surrounding hallways, informing the crew that they aren’t alone. With no recollection of even the layout of their own vessel, the crew ventures out from the hibernatorium and into the dangers beyond.
Up to five players can take on the role of the crew members and explore the hazards of the Nemesis. What awaits them are life support systems in disrepair, fires, and xeno-morph-like Intruders. If players manage to survive those threats, they’ll still need to outlast their fellow crew members. In Nemesis, each player has a secret objective that may or may not work in favor of the larger group. Before splitting up the crew agrees to ensure the engines are still working and the Nemesis is still headed to Earth. But you suspect some of your crew mates may be planning to sabotage the mission. Perhaps they’ll go to the Generator Room and initiate the self destruct sequence before fleeing in an escape pod. Maybe they prefer to discreetly and systematically damage the ship, causing total system failure. The brazen may even be so bold as to jettison a player out of the airlock.
Moving through the ship, fighting, crafting, and interacting with rooms all cost one of the two actions player have per turn, but depending on the particular action may also need to discard one or two cards from their limited hand of five. The fewer cards a player has in their possession, the more likely it is that an Intruder will perform a surprise attack. The more a player does in a round, the more likely they are to be caught off guard and severely injured. The constant push and pull between doing more on a turn and remaining safe from harm forces players to blindly take risks.
The strongest element of Nemesis is its emergent storytelling. Like Betrayal at House on the Hill, Nemesis happens to you as the crew’s story unfolds in a way that can only be described as a cinematic experience. However, unlike Betrayal, Nemesis is supported by a set of well-designed game mechanics that even makes its semi-cooperative elements enthralling.
If you’re interested in reading more about our thoughts on Nemesis, you can find our review for the original version here. Our review for the fantastic follow-up, Nemesis: Lockdown is forthcoming.
Our list of experience games runs the gambit the of classic film genres. Betrayal covers pulp horror, Nemesis covers alien themed sci-fi, and Kolossal Game’s Western Legends covers the spaghetti westerns. While I’m familiar with sandbox video games, I must admit that sandbox board games were an alien concept to me, but Western Legends made a believer out of me and now the term, “sandbox board game” is all I need to hear to be interested.
In Western Legends, players experience the wild west through the eyes of famous (and infamous) people from the wild west like Wyatt Earp, Annie Oakley, and Jessie James. Competing to become the most legendary figure there is by earning Legendary Points (LP), players can choose to become a famous Marshall or Outlaw. Outlaws gain points by robbing banks, stealing cattle from ranchers, or attacking other players. Meanwhile, Marshall players earn points by arresting NPC bandits, helping ranchers sells their cattle, or my personal favorite, arresting Outlaws. At any stage in the game, players can change tracks by taking an action of the other morality. What this does is create a sense of tension on the board whenever players go into town to buy and sell goods, play poker, or visit the “cabaret”.
The best part of Western Legends is how simple and thematic its design is. The ability card deck is comprised of fifty-two cards that each grant players with a special action or reaction that bolsters their power in combat, ability to move across the board faster, or grant extra resources. Far more interesting is that each of the fifty-two cards has traditional playing card suits and values printed on them. On a player’s turn, they can go into either of the two towns and play a hand of poker with anyone else in the same town. Similarly, when players duel, they both simultaneously reveal a card from their hand, the player with the highest value card wins the duel. We absolutely love the multi-function cards and how much they contribute to the mechanics and theme.
Western Legends is light on strategy and takes very little time to teach making it a fantastic game to bring to a casual game night. The only downside is that the experience improves with more players and it’s not that often you can gather five or six people around the table. But it very quickly became our go-to game for groups of more than four players.
Exploration centered games can take on many forms. Some, like Discover: Lands Unknown are primarily about uncovering a map while managing resources to stay alive. Others, like 7th Continent, put an emphasis on puzzle solving. But no matter which aspect an exploration game focuses on, they’ll most commonly feature a large map that players will traverse over the course of a campaign, uncovering the secrets the game holds.
Yet another title from our friends at Awaken Realms, Tainted Grail: The Fall of Avalon is a lengthy campaign RPG that sends players into a dark world of Arthurian lore. One to four players can enjoy this story from the perspective of pre-existing characters, each with their own significant flaws. Over the course of the Fall of Avalon campaign, players will make difficult decisions, some times unknowingly, that will shape the future of the isle of Avalon.
The isle of Avalon experienced the rise of man as they cut down forests, built cities, and pushed the magical creatures that inhabited the land from their homes and into the harsher corners of the land. Since establishing dominance over the land, King Arthur was immortalized in legend after the formation of the Knights of the Round table and the great kingdom of Camelot. After many decades of relative peace, infighting and Wyrdness have spread over Avalon, threatening its very existence. Arthur and his knights departed Camelot in hopes of saving Avalon but haven’t been seen since. Your party, Maggot, Arev, Beor, and Ailei are hardly even the b-team, but through various connections to the knights of Camelot, have been asked to aid in uncovering the truth of what became of the round table.
Players explore an expansive map comprised of ever changing cards. Each location is represented by a tarot-sized card and a story book page with any number of ways to interact with the villages and wilds depicted on the card art. Perhaps you’re fortunate enough to stumble across a safe place to rest or the herbs needed to cure a sick individual in a neighboring village. As the Wyrdness spreads, it becomes increasingly dangerous to traverse Avalon, but Tainted Grail provides ancient methods of staying safe. By illuminating Menhir monuments, players are able to establish safe areas that the Wyrdness is unable to penetrate. Revealing these areas using Menhir is the only way to progress through the story, forcing players to use their resources cautiously or otherwise perish to Avalon’s creeping fate. While exploring Avalon, player will uncover the hidden history of Avalon and find reconciliation or damnation in their personal struggles.
Tainted Grail provides players with a number of significant decisions that change the world and narrative around them. In some cases, a player decision will permanently change a settlement, replacing it’s map card with a new one that reflects the story impacts. Perhaps players changed the power structure of a village and now have new NPCs to interact with, or maybe the village was ransacked and burned to the ground, closing off side quests. My team and I have played through the entire campaign twice now, following the winding paths to one of many dramatic conclusions. We’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time playing Tainted Grail and we’ve yet to begin either the prequel or sequel campaigns.
If you’d like to read more about our experience with Tainted Grail: The Fall of Avalon, you can find our full review here.
Roll & Write
Roll and writes have been around for quite some time now but rarely strayed far from the mechanics of the classic game of Yahtzee. The central concept being that players roll a set of dice attempting to get the best result possible and then record the earned points on their score sheet. The challenge is that each category can only be scored once meaning that players have to be both strategic in their scoring selection and lucky in their die rolls. I was quite opposed to the notion of roll and write games after years of forced family game nights playing Yahtzee. But like the rest of the board game industry, even roll and writes have evolved to become something worth the time.
Throughout the Kickstarter campaigns for both Dinosaur Island and Dinosaur World, Pandasaurus Games offered smaller compact games as additional rewards. During the original Dinosaur Island campaign, they were offering a card game version called Duelosaur Island. While we never played it, we did enjoy the big table hog of a game, Dinosaur Island. Years later, Pandasaurus offered Dinosaur Island: Rawr ‘n Write as the compact game to go along with the Dinosaur World crowdfunding campaign. We picked it up for little more reason than wanting to collect more dinosaur themed games. Much to our surprise, Rawr ‘n Write became our favorite one of the bunch.
The overall experience of playing Rawr ‘n Write is very similar to Dinosaur Island. Players draft DNA dice into their laboratory’s cold storage until they have enough genetic material to create a dinosaur and release it into their park as an attraction. The more dinosaurs a player has, the more security systems and personnel they’ll need in the park. If the dinosaurs ever pose more of a threat than security is prepared to deal with, they’ll escape and devour paying guests. Throughout the game, players are able to hire specialized staff members to assist with security measures, laboratory costs, or the cost of hiring new staff. Whichever player is able to build the most successful park wins the game.
What we love is that it so effectively captures the best parts of Dinosaur Island in a smaller package while introducing elements of route building throughout. Instead of assembling a park out of tiles and meeples like the original, players instead draw the buildings and dinosaur paddocks they construct on their score sheet grid and build roads between each attraction. During the guest phase, park visitors travel along these routes and enjoy each of the attractions in the park. However, the same attractions only entertain guests for so long before they become old hat and no longer intrigue them. Players are challenged to plan ahead far more carefully in Rawr ‘n Write than they did in any of the predecessors making it much more engaging for our group. The ability to take it on the go certainly makes us appreciate the design a lot more as well.
Worker placement games have become increasingly popular within the last decade both across the industry, and amongst our team. At their core, worker placement games are very simple. Players have a limited number of meeples and or tokens that act on their behalf. During their turn, players will allocate a number of their workers to spaces on the board in order to take the action associated with that space, often times acquiring a specific type of resource. Worker placement games rarely have direct conflict or interaction between players. Instead, players interact with one another by proxy as they occupy spaces other players need, blocking their opponent’s ability to progress.
And we’re back with yet another game from Level 99 Games. Before anyone accuses me of having a significant bias, I’d like to highlight that I’ve now played every game in their current catalog and the only ones I enjoyed at all were the ones that made their way here. “But what makes Argent: The Consortium so different?”, I pretend you ask me. “Everything,” I reply as my mind slips into madness after reminding myself how to play. “Everything.”
Argent University of Magic needs a new Chancellor and you are one of the candidates for the honor. In order earn such a position of authority, the candidates will need to earn the majority of votes from the twelve board members. As each member of the board values something different, candidates need to employ their entourage of apprentices to learn more about what board members expect from their new leader. Whomever has the most votes at the end of the game has earned the high honor, regardless of how questionable the methods.
Ten out of the twelve board members are face down cards that each player will need to earn the ability to view using a resource called a Mark. When a player uses a Mark, they place it on one of the face down voters of their choice to secretly look at their preferences. That particular board member may grant their vote to the candidate with the most spells of a certain class in their possession at the end of the game, or perhaps whomever spent the most Marks. As Marks reveal the only guiding piece of information in Argent, players will need to decide just how many voters they are willing to focus their efforts on.
Unlike other worker placement games, Argent encourages direct between players. Typically in this genre of games, players receive their rewards for placing their worker on a space immediately after their action. In Argent, the entirety of the action phase must come to a close before any player receives their rewards. What this does is give opponents the opportunity to steal worker spaces from their opponents. Apprentices act as the players’ workers and each have their own special abilities:
- Red: Red apprentices can launch a fireball at an opponent’s already placed apprentice, allowing the red one to sneak into the now vacant space. This comes at the low cost of only one mana.
- Green: Green apprentices are immune to fireballs from red ones and can’t be removed in this manner.
- Purple: Purple apprentices can be used as a free action, allowing players to do more on their turn, so long as they use a purple apprentice.
- Black: If a player chooses to cast one of their specials, a black apprentice can be immediately be placed in an available space for free.
- Blue: Blue apprentices are immune to all player spells.
Only after players sling a few spells and hurt some feelings are they rewarded points and resources. Argent rewards players for being both clever and aggressive with their spells and workers. While we normally don’t enjoy meaner competition, Argent: The Consortium is a unique ride that takes a long time to play, but is worth every vicious second of play.
Thanks for taking the time to check out our collection! We will be updating this page as we discover and review new games.