GotM is back! No time for preamble! ONLY GAMES.
THE AFOREMENTIONED GAMES
This was simultaneously the last game I played in 2019 and the first of 2020. Those were also the same game. Several games have followed since. I've been doing science, y'see. Forensic science. Because Machi Koro has been murdered, and I intend to find the culprit.
Machi Koro went from a hobby darling to a black sheep to dead in a startlingly short amount of time. The mere mention of the name can set people off something fierce. "Too long", "too lucky", "a box of lies", and "absolute garbage" are comments I've heard leveled at the game. And for a while I agreed; after all, I sold off my own copy of Machi and its expansions a while ago. But after our new year’s game I thought back to my many, many games of Machi Koro. They were really fun until they suddenly weren't. That was too sudden of a switch to be without cause. Rather than just move on, I decided to put in some time and figure out what killed Machi Koro. I had some theories, specifically regarding the expansions, and after about 10 plays they proved to be mostly accurate.
I propose that the Harbor expansion killed Machi Koro and Millionaire's Row took the fall. The true negative impact of Harbor just didn’t sink in until Millionaire’s Row came out, at which point everyone dropped the game. Have you ever wondered why the game box estimates 30 minutes? We all know those are more suggestions than fact, but that’s just it - Machi Koro is SUPPOSED to take 30 minutes. Harbor makes that impossible. Tons of red cards, both in low numbers and on the most frequent doubles rolls, plus 2 extra landmarks? One of which costs more than any other? Of COURSE that makes it overlong. Millionaire’s Row dilutes the quantity of blue cards which isn’t a problem on its own, but coupled with Harbor’s issues it takes considerably longer to actually get anywhere.
If you jettison Harbor and just play with the base and Row the game is significantly improved without ever overstaying its welcome. The 5-5-2 setup keeps decisions from being too scripted and the MR cards allow for several viable paths to victory, which was a weakness the base game ran into. There’s probably an optimal custom mix that incorporates some of Harbor’s good ideas while removing other cards but I haven’t bothered to figure that out yet. Who knows, may happen in the future. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that this makes Machi Koro a fantastic game, but it’s not the black hole of fun some claim it to be if you’re selective with which cards you include.
I've been putting Texas Showdown through its paces since...November-ish of last year? Thereabouts anyway. I got myself a copy after seeing that it won the trick taking guild award for the year. Like Voodoo Prince before it this thing offers some neat twists on the genre. I liked Voodoo Prince, but we fatigued on it after a few months of frequent play revealed its hands to be a bit samey. Texas Showdown looks to have more longevity, with a couple caveats.
The first and most obvious is that Texas Showdown is luckier than VP. It’s much closer to a traditional trick dodging game. No bids, no playing chicken with number of tricks taken, just avoid ‘em. The twist comes in with playing off suit - that basically doesn’t exist. If someone can’t play the led suit and they toss in another one, the next player must try to follow either of the suits in play. Whoever plays the highest card of the most-played suit takes the trick, with ties in quantity going to the higher numbered suit. Notably, there are no duplicate numbers and higher numbered suits are fewer in quantity (for example 0-11 is one suit, 71-74 is a different one).
The other proviso, and possibly the more important one, is that Texas Showdown is much better the more players you have. 6 is a riot, 5 is great, 4 is good, 3 isn’t worth your time. It aims for a much lighter, sillier feel than a lot of the recent crop trick takers. It’s a game of gleefully throwing your friends under the bus while trying to avoid having the same done to you. Did someone try to dodge a trick by playing a rare high card? Play a slightly lower one and stick ‘em. It’s simple, yes, but polished.
So it’s a goofy, large-ish group, high interaction cards and numbers game. I don’t know if I necessarily love it, but of course I’m gonna enjoy something with all those attributes. The completely pasted on yeehaw aesthetic just makes it even cuter. How can you not be won over by tiny cacti?
Wait, this the GOOD kind of euro! With scads of conflict! And actual decisions! And super quick turns! I thought these were dead! Well ok, they might still be. HT isn't exactly new. But it's new to me dammit, and two games in I like it much more than I suspected. That’s not enough plays for a proper review of a game with this much going on but I sure don’t mind writing my notes on it here.
I won’t get into the rules of this in any depth because, as simple as the game is once you understand it, explaining it is kind of a bear. It’s basically a rules-dense abstract game. What’s important to note is that there’s not a single action in this game that does not enable or directly create conflict in some form. You could try to play this defensively I guess, but why would you do that when you can shove cubes directly in the way and have your opponents give you extra actions just to remove ‘em?
Players can build some absolutely degenerate combos in this game, as was evidenced in my last play on an alternate board where I built a point-vomiting route and stomped the gas towards endgame, winning the whole thing. It really demands that players police each other, which is something I’m generally a fan of but can be awkward if it’s too action-inefficient to do so and still make actual progress. That’s my main concern at the moment, though it may have been a consequence of the alternate board having a funky layout that was a bit less interwoven than the standard.
Overall though, I was surprised at just how much fun I had with this. Would I seek out a copy for myself once it becomes available again? Probably not, no, but I’ll gladly play other people’s given the option. Games like HT give me hope that maybe someday euros will recover from their current complexity-good-interaction-bad phase. Likely won’t happen quickly, but eventually? Maybe?
Looks like I’m 1 for 1 on quality selections for the Cardboard Diogenes Club. I was getting Ars Alchimia vibes from this and I was dead on. If Japan keeps taking euro mechanisms and using them better than Germany does we’re going to have to come up with a more accurate label.
Little Town is a localization of Studio GG’s Little Town Builders. Its accomplishment is equal parts simple and impressive: it packs an entire worker placement game into 30 minutes. This isn’t a microgame situation either; it’s got as many actions and as much agency as many euro games do, it just respects its players’ time more. And this isn’t just a typical “place dude get thing” WP game either.
Turns are incredibly simple. You’re always going to place a worker, either on the board to collect resources or in the market to spend resources on buildings. Workers don’t just go on the thing you want to collect though, they take an empty spot on the grid and trigger all 8 squares around them in any order you please. What elevates this concept from mild improvement to being worthy of note is that any buildings constructed are placed on the grid, permanently changing the landscape and adding ever more options to pick stuff up from. By the end of round 4 the board will be loaded with buildings and actions will generate tons of goodies, but you’ll need to balance greed with actually getting points made.
In summarizing what makes Little Town innovative I’ve unintentionally explained almost all of the rules. There are other little sparks, like having to pay other players a coin to use their buildings and players having secret goals, but the point is that this is no slouch in its genre despite its ease of play and length. I can think of several 90 minute WP drudgeries that Little Town completely embarrasses. My only concern is that once the game is set up it’s completely luckless, which can sometimes make for an anti-climactic finish in round 4 as one or two players realize that they aren’t really in the running. For some that’ll actually be a positive, I consider it more of a neutral. Point is it’s really good and deserves more attention. Maybe then people who haven’t played it will stop asking “iS ThiS a TinY tOwNs RipOfF?”. The original release of this came out first, you cretins.
THE EXPERIMENTAL SHORT SEGMENT
Woah, something different! Don’t panic. Everything will be fine, I promise.
I’ve played a lot of games recently. Don’t have a ton to say about all of them, either because I’ve spoken about them at length before or haven’t played enough to form developed thoughts. But as this post was a bit shorter than my norm I’m putting all of these micro-opinions here for your perusal. Will this become a regular segment? Who can say? It is a mystery.
This game kind of rules??? I was gifted the core sets in one box, and early impressions are that this system deserved better. It’s like Dreamblade crossed with Chess/Shogi and I didn’t realize just how much I love that premise until now. What an insane concept to even say much less manufacture. I understand why it died ignored by the public at large (along with many other minis games of that era) but man, this is REALLY fun.
Clue VCR Game
We only played the tutorial case so I’m reserving judgement, but I was genuinely impressed with how this thing is structured. Sure it’s a bit heavy on “watch the tape and remember inane details”, but the way the cards give concrete info to different players and keeping track of who knows what to minimize how much you help each other is way more interesting gameplay than most modern deduction games can manage. Very much looking forward to playing a full game.
Beagle or Bagel?
I dodged this in a post-Xmas white elephant exchange only to immediately play it afterwards. This may shock you to learn, but Beagle or Bagel is not a particularly compelling game.
Sainome Colosseum R
Adorably goofy dueling game. I'm not convinced that players have any significant control over their fates, but I'm also not quite sure that I care. It’s really cute and REALLY funny.
Tyrants of the Underdark
I keep waffling on whether or not this is my favorite deckbuilder, then every time I play it I find a reason to like it even more. We had a new player so we ran the standard Drow and Dragons. He proceeded to put us in the dirt. Oops. Likely going to make an effort to play the expansion decks more in coming weeks; I’ve played them by far the least and that should be rectified.
Always. Be. Chuggin’. Our most recent game saw two other players completely remove pink cubes from circulation early on. It managed to hurt everyone else more than me, despite my early position being the reason they did it in the first place. Won comfortably. God this game’s great.
March of the Ants
Got a standard length 4p game of this in just last night. WOW does this do a lot with a little. I’ve always had an affection for 4X but the sheer length and need for familiar players has made playing them with any frequency difficult. This somehow, inexplicably, actually delivered on the promise of 4X in a reasonable amount of time. Very excited to try this more, I think it’s got potential.
THE LAST BIT
Phew. That was a lot of games, and it wasn’t even everything I played.
Y’know how I really like Japanese games? I’ve been playing a bunch of them lately as I came up with a possible concept for a piece, and if it actually comes together I want to have some of what I've written be a surprise. Not going to go into much more detail than that as I don't even know how it'll end. Consider this a preview of a preview I guess? Ugh, that felt gross.
Anyway, yeah. Keeping busy. I’ve got a couple review copies lined up, as well as another sale I’m attending. That one’s gonna be tricky - I’m used to arranging some trades and walking out with a couple boxes. Can’t do that per the rules of the Cardboard Diogenes Club! Should I have allowed myself to make trades freely? Maybe. But then it wouldn’t be much of a challenge, now would it? If Cindy wants to pick stuff up she's welcome to, but I never steer her towards acquiring anything cardboard anyway so I can't influence her. Couldn't if I wanted to. Her interests and tastes are even pickier than mine.
Thanks so much for reading! See you all again soon.