This past weekend I celebrated my birthday in the best way possible, by playing a ton of games with my friends.
Like I did for our Gaming In The New Year Party I took some time to write about all of the games that I played. Check out my thoughts on all nine games below. There’s a great mix of new hotness and old favourites.
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All Good Days Start With Ramen
The day started with meeting up with some friends for ramen. This has now become a tradition whenever Sean, my podcast co-host, comes into Windsor we get ramen for lunch. Since Sean was down for the birthday festivities, we had to keep the tradition going.
My favourite place for ramen is Kagerou Ramen House, a pop up restaurant owned by an awesome local gamer, Solon, and his family. As a pop up, Kagerou only exists on Saturdays from Noon until 3pm. During these hours Eros Asian Eatery converts to a ramen specialty shop that serves a very limited menu consisting of four different types of ramen and a couple of appetizers.
This time I went with the Tan Tan Men. Japan’s interpretation of a classic Szechuan noodle dish. It’s topped with peanuts and spicy minced pork along with the usual egg, chashu, and seaweed. I opted for a bonus egg with mine. It was amazing, as always.
A Stop Off at Home
Most of the gaming was scheduled to happen at The CG Realm starting at 5pm so Sean and I had some time to kill before the main event.
After some cleaning up of the game room, I grabbed the copy of Ticket To Ride New York I received for Xmas off one of the piles of shame. My initial intention was to read the rules quickly so that I could bring the game with us to the FLGS and play there. Since the rules were rather short and were basically the same as Ticket to Ride, which I have played many times, reading the rules didn’t take long. I also noted that the game said it played in about 10 minutes, so Sean and I gave it a go right then and there.
Ticket to Ride New York is a micro version of Ticket to Ride. It’s designed specifically for 2-4 players and to be played quickly. Very quickly. As in under 15 minutes for a full game with four players. The board is a map of New York state with only fifteen destinations on it. These are connected by routes that are one to four segments long. Players each start with two transit cards, one or two destination cards and fifteen plastic taxis. Each turn players draft new transit cards or play them in sets matching the colour of one of the routes on the board, placing taxis to claim those routes. Players can also get more destination cards. The game ends when any player has two or less taxis left. Then players get points for each route they built and score their destination cards. If they fail to complete any destination cards those points are lost instead of gained. One new thing from the original Ticket to Ride is that 9 of the 15 points on the map are tourist attractions and give players bonus points if they are connected to them.
It’s Ticket to Ride in less than 15 minutes and I’m impressed. I don’t love Ticket to Ride. I think it’s a good game. It’s great for new gamers. It’s a perfect gateway game. It just doesn’t hold my interest normally. To be able to get that feel but do it in such a short amount of time is pretty awesome. At this point I actually prefer New York over the original game.
On to the FLGS
As noted earlier, the main party was at The CG Realm and started at 5pm. We got there right around that time and immediately set up a game.
That game was Scoville. My choice of this game was 100% driven by our last podcast episode and Ask The Bellhop blog post, where we were talking about great six player games to play after dinner. Ever since writing and then talking about Scoville I’ve been itching to play it.
In Scoville you are playing pepper farmers. Each round you go to an auction to get some new peppers. You then plant your choice of one type of peppers. Then players harvest and crossbreed new peppers. After harvesting you go to the market and sell those peppers or you toss them into some chili. It’s such a unique theme for a board game.
Scoville does a lot of things very well. The auction at the beginning sets turn order which is extremely important in this game. The thing is that some phases go in player order but then others go in reverse player order. So you may want to go first so that you get that juicy orange pepper that’s up for auction, but if you do then you will be harvesting last and may not get to crossbreed that white people you need for the market phase.
The crossbreeding of peppers is also very cool. When you first start playing, it can seem overwhelming but TMG was smart enough to use colour theory for their pepper breeding rules. So, for example, if you breed a blue and a yellow pepper you get a green one. It’s only when you get into the higher level peppers that things get a bit confusing.
I really enjoyed this six player game of Scoville. The game is much easier to teach than I remembered. Actually the game overall is just lighter than it was in my memory. So much so that I think I miss-categorized it last time I was talking about it. I had this game in the heavy game category, and it really doesn’t belong there. Not only is it easier than that, it’s also not a long game. Our game, at the full player count, only took us about an hour and a half. To me that puts this game firmly in the medium weight category.
I’m looking forward to trying out the Scoville Labs expansion next time. That’s sat on my Pile of Shame far too long.
After Scoville I broke out Gizmos. I’ve owed Bellhop fan, Kevin, a game of Gizmos for a couple of weeks now and this was my chance to sit down and play with him. We played a four player game with Kevin, Kat, Sean and myself. It was Sean and Kevin’s first game.
I’m still really digging Gizmos. It’s seen a lot of play since I got it for Xmas and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. It’s such a neat little engine builder.
I’m not going to get into gameplay here as I have been talking about the game a lot. I will say that both Sean and Kevin enjoyed the game and it was great to finally sit down with Kevin and play something together.
After Gizmos we took a quick look around and noticed that pretty much every other group in the store was still in the middle of a game so we grabbed something else to play with just the four of us. That was Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra.
The first thing I have to say is that teaching the game went 1000 times better than the first time. Having actually played the game once before made a world of difference in trying to explain how to play. The teach went very smoothly and I think everyone got it right from the get go.
Now this was only my second time playing Stained Glass. Kat had also played once before, after one of our Gloomhaven streams. Sean and Kevin were new to the game. This playthrough went much better than the first. Things clicked for me much better than last time. The scoring didn’t see quite so opaque. It probably helped that we didn’t try to do both the A and the B style of scoring.
Overall I enjoyed this play of Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra significantly more than my first play of the game. It still hasn’t reached original Azul level of wow for me, but I definitely enjoy the game. Kat also agreed that the game was much better on a second play.
Our game of Sintra came to a close just as a few other games were ending so we mixed up the groups a bit. Scott a local gamer and friend came over and offered to teach us Railroad Ink: Deep Blue Edition. I’ve been hearing a lot of hype about this roll and write game and was excited to give it a shot.
In Railroad Ink: players are given a dry erase player board with a 7×7 grid on it. Four dice are rolled and all players have to use the symbols on their dice to fill out their own personal board. The dice show a mix of road and rail patterns. Things like straights, T sections, curves and junctions when the trail changes form rail to road or vice versa. On the edge of the player boards are nine terminus points that you are trying to connect. Some of these are rails some are roads. In addition to using the dice, players also have six special four way connectors, of which they can use three in a game.
This is making it sound way more complicated than it is. Basically someone rolls the dice, you all draw out your routes, then someone else rolls, you all draw and do that 7 times. Then get points for having connected terminus points, longest road, longest rail and for building in the center nine squares of your player board. Losing points for any dead ends.
It’s a very quick and easy to teach game and I really enjoyed it. I loved the fact that all of us were using the exact same dice rolls to build our cities, yet everyone’s board was completely different by the end of the game. After just the one play Railroad Ink is going on my wishlist.
The final game we played before departing CG Realm was Bohnanza. This is another play inspired by my 6 player after dinner game blog post.
Bohanaza is a true classic. It’s been around since the late 90s and is still a fantastic hand management and negotiation based card game. We had a full table of seven players for this game, with a mix of experience with the game. A few had never played before, and many, like me had played but it had been a few years.
I was glad to find that the rules were easy enough to remember and simple enough to teach that by the second player’s turn I think everyone at the table had it. One of the rules in Bohnanza is that you can’t re-arrange your cards in any way and I don’t think I saw anyone mess that up.
I had a ton of fun with Bohnanza and I think everyone else did as well. There was laughing, gifting of beans, lots of bad jokes and puns, trade embargoes and cursing. Everything you want from a big group, light, game. I was very glad to dust off this classic and get it played again.
Home Again, Home Again…
From the FLGS a group of us headed back to my house for more games. Along with this group a few new people showed up who couldn’t make it out to the FLGS. We had a full house for most of the night with on average three games going on at once split over two tables.
The first game I played, once home again, was a six player game of Bandu. I received Bandu for my birthday earlier in the month and got my copy to the table at Tuzey’s Birthday Party earlier in the week. This is a dexterity game that uses an auction mechanic to determine who gets to build with what piece.
What I’m finding really enjoyable about Bandu is the screw your neighbor aspect. While auctioning pieces is interesting, it’s the ability to auction “by denial” that I really enjoy. I love picking a really hard to place piece and handing it to the person beside me and saying “let’s see what you can do with this.”
Up next is another game inspired by that whole six player after dinner game thing we did. Yes, a lot of my birthday gaming was inspired by that post. Who would have thought good six player games would be useful at a birthday party? 😀
That next game was Euphoria: Build a Better Dystopia. It was my friend Sean (not the podcast co-host) who actually asked for this one. When he was listening to the live show Wednesday night on Twitch, he noted that he had seen this game played many times but never played himself. So we set up a four player game.
It had been some time since I’ve played or taught Euphoria and it showed. I don’t think I’ve touched the box in over a year and I missed a couple rules while teaching. Thankfully the game comes with a great reference sheet and while playing we discovered my mistakes pretty early on in the game. I still really dig this dice based worker placement (and displacement game).
In Euphoria you are trying to use and abuse your workforce to build the perfect future for you. There are four competing factions and it’s your ability to exploit those as well as keep your workers from getting too smart that will lead you to victory. Having not played in some time, I had forgotten how much of an impact the factions make in the game as well as how important it is to have a part in building new structures on the board.
While I did greatly enjoy our play of Euphoria it was basically a learning game. I had forgotten so much since my last play that it really feels like I need to play again, soon, to experience a “real” game. I have a feeling I may be talking about this one again in the coming weeks due to that.
We followed up Euphoria with Egizia. Egizia is one of my favourite games of all time, and when I was grabbing Euphoria off my shelf and saw Egizia there right underneath it I knew I had to play it again.
Egizia is an Egyptian themed game that has players using work teams and bricks to build a series of monuments for the Pharaoh. Each round players place boats on action spots along the Nile River. The interesting bit is that each boat you place must be further down the river than the previously placed one. Now this isn’t like Tokaido where the last player in line goes next, this is more like Francis Drake where you can skip ahead but never go back.
Action spaces do things like give you fields to farm, quarries to mine or let you upgrade your work crews. Each round half of the spots stay the same and the other half are randomized by cards. As in many card based games, there are also a selection of cards that break the rules in some way (like one of them lets you play one boat further up the river).
Building Monuments requires the right level of work crew and plenty of stone, but make sure your work crews don’t grow beyond your ability to feed them, something that is tied directly to the weather. Monuments are the main way you score points, with the Sphynx giving you end game scoring and goals and the others giving during the game points and some area control bonuses.
There’s a lot going on in Egizia, more than I can easily explain here. I will just say that I still love this game, despite playing pretty poorly and coming in last by a long margin.
After Egizia I was craving something lighter so set up a four player game of Gravwell: Escape from the 9th Dimension.
Gravwell is a neat sci-fi based filler game that uses gravitational pull as it’s main mechanic. Players each control a space ship that is stuck in the Gravwell. They need to scavenge resources from the atmosphere to power their ship. There are twenty-six different resources in the game each represented by a letter of the alphabet. Each of these will cause your ship to move. Most will cause the ship to move towards the nearest source of gravity. Others will repulse away from the nearest source of gravity. Then there are a couple of cards that will just pull everything in toward you.
Each round players will draft a hand of cards representing the twenty-six elements. Then they will play these in a blind bid. Cards are resolved in alphabetical order. The goal is to be the first to escape the Gravwell.
The big trick in this game is trying to figure out what the nearest source of gravity will be when your card goes off. This involves predicting and or deducing what the other players will play and properly interpreting how the various ships on the board will interact. There is a bit of a learning curve to this, but Gravell is nowhere near a hard to learn game.
I still enjoy this game. It’s very different from anything else in my collection and I dig it.
Up next was another game of Gizmos. Now I have to admit that at this point in time in the night I’d had quite a few Ontario Craft Beers and was feeling pretty good. My focus wasn’t really on the game.
I do remember that Kat managed to win and beat my friend Charles. Beating Charles at any game is considered to be an accomplishment as he’s a very good opponent in pretty much any game he plays.
Interestingly the night ended where the day started. With a game of Ticket to Ride New York. At this point it was about 6am. I had been up for far too many hours and had more to drink than I should have. All I can tell you about this game of Ticket to Ride New York was that I tied Charles.
The only reason I can tell you that is because the next afternoon before heading home to Hamilton, Sean, my podcast co-host, told me I tied Charles.
That’s how I like to spend my birthday. Good food, good games and good friends. How about you?