BY FAVOURITEFOE AND SAGGYHEAD
As regular readers will know, my friend Saggyhead and I are partial to oversharing our game related musings and deep(ish!) observations to anybody willing to listen.
And so, in true give-an-inch-take-a-milefashion, we have come together to collaborate on a series which will see each of us (through the wonders of socially distanced video conferencing) introducing the other to 6 new games over the course of 2021 (12 in total by my reckoning – my math skills can just about handle that!).
But the twist in this tabletop-tale here is that one of us will be an old hand at the games we recommend and the other will be greener than a seasick leprechaun. After 10 plays of each game, we will then come back to reflect on what we thought and share those conclusions with you.
This cardboard crusade is being undertaken partly to cause each other serious and continuous brain-pain (ha ha!), but mainly in the hope that it helps you discover new games for your own collection. Moreover, it is also great to know that, whether you are a veteran player or total noob, there is always something exciting about playing a game with the benefit of a different perspective.
And so, without further ado, we present to you our first challenger……ding, ding, ding…….
Designer: Hisashi Hayashi
Artist: Ryo Nyamo
Player Count: 1 -unlimited players
Publisher recommended age: 8+
Heavyweight: Favouritefoe aka “the Deliberator”
Light flyweight: Saggyhead aka “the Destroyer”
Favouritefoe: Hold on to your hat, Saggy, for we are going straight in with a belter; The “rail and write” Metro X, published by OKAZU and now Gamewright.
In only 20 minutes, this little flip and fill is going to bend your brain like narrow gauge rails on a sweltering summer’s day.
With only a deck of 15 Transit Cards, a double-sided dry erase board and a marker, the object of this gloriously punchy, crunchy game is to complete as many subway lines as you can as fast as you can using whichever prescribed actions is flipped over.
You have 23 moves in total and you can only mark off stations adjacent to those already crossed off – no running, no jumping, and definitely no hopping unless you see a glorious Skip Card on the top of that diminutive pile. Oh, and if you fail to include any stations on your city-wide tour, you are going to lose some of those precious points, ner ner!
Before we start, I will admit here and now that I flipping love this game. For me, it’s quick, it’s sharp, it’s frustratingly fun, and it plays as well solo as it does with unlimited players competing across the wilds of the internet (thanks to the gift of a handy printable pdf board by Gamewright).
It was my first ever big-girl board game purchase last year and I never tire of it. Play alone, play in a group – I’ll play it wherever, whenever.
Ok, so it may not be the most directly interactive within the genre, but the jaw tightening tension that losing the chance to nab the higher score on a line you have almost completed is a stark reminder of the competitive undercurrent of this little beauty.
The luck of the Transit Card draw and the ever decreasing number of limited moves also means that strategies have to adapt throughout each game and no two games will ever play the same (a blessing when being repeatedly thrashed at other games by the doyennes of the board; namely you, the lovely MJ (aka Mr. Doppelt So Clever Clogs), and my very own husband, Bearded Moon).
In summarizing my thoughts on Metro X I feel that I should caveat my earlier reference to pace. This game, like all games, can play superfast but that depends on who you are playing (including yourself!). Metro X can massively trigger my analysis paralysis – at times, I stare at the board until my eyes glaze, caught between crosses, and unwilling to commit. However, that is not a bad thing for me. The small but powerful feeling that comes from making a decision and progressing a line acts like a subway supercharger, encouraging me to carry on rolling like a slightly less wrinkled Sid James. As such, if silence descends, it’s not your internet connection, Saggy; it’s just my internal synapses temporarily shorting out!
For me, Metro X is a comfortable 9/10. One of the best in the ever-increasing genre of roll/draw/flip and fills. (*NO PRESSURE TO LIKE MY FIRST CHOICE AT ALL, SAGGYHEAD!*)
And so, oven-ready explanation over ( if you start weeping onto your whiteboard, Destroyer, you can always visit my most excellent, tip-tastic Zatu How to Play guide ha ha), it’s time to rail and roll!
Ding-ding-ding, enter the Apprentice into the ring.
Saggyhead: I have been a long time appreciator of board games, but only got into hobbyist board games in the last couple of years. I think it is fair to say though that we both have become borderline obsessional in an incredibly short space of time. These past 10 months have been a challenge, and we have really fallen into gaming hard as a coping mechanism.
One of the best things we have discovered is the board gaming community. Blogging about our fledgling collections and opinions has helped massively and I love games that can be played over video call with my new found friends. As a follow-up to my challenge at the tail-end of 2020 of playing my whole collection in a month (read more here), favouritefoe and I decided on some new challenges for 2021. We have decided to go for a joint venture of teaching each other a game a month over video call.
Favouritefoe stood up and took the baton first, choosing Metro X. Upon opening the box, I was presented with a small deck of bright and simple cards, six chunky and bright dry-wipe boards and a set of six whiteboard pens with erasers. It looked a simple and sleek design, and I was excited to get started!
I like flip and fill or roll and write games immensely. They are the right level for my brain most evenings, and as the genre develops and becomes more successful, these games have become more in depth and rewarding to play. Metro X was an easy teach over video call, favouritefoe and co doing a great job of teaching us the ropes in a few minutes. We got a few rules wrong the first time (her fault for sure!), but soon enough we had a handle of it. Favouritefoe is right (not something I often say!); this game is an absolute brain burner. I know that because I started dreaming about connecting lines in the “perfect” way.
You see, every mark you make moves you closer to the target of completing all your lines, but it also creates problems that you need to solve. You can cross off stations on lines starting from the first available station, but without a special “skip” card, you can’t skip over any marks you have already made. Which causes me a headache, but the joy it brings me when I manage to finish a line first makes all this worthwhile. After the first play, I gave this a solid 8.5/10, and immediately wanted to play again!
After now more than ten plays, that initial 8.5 has been upgraded to a 9/10, even though I rarely win. I can safely say that I am an erratic scorer. I sometimes perform brilliantly and get nigh on perfect station crossing off. And then sometimes I score 12 points and only manage to complete two lines. There is a long road to me becoming a consistent player, but I am enjoying the ride immensely. We actually gave our spare boards out to a couple of our pals so we could spread the Metro X joy.
So far, all of those favouritefoe and I have introduced the game to have also bought their own copy too. Really we should be sponsored by Gamewright given the amount of copies we have sold for them!
History in the making right here; a rare reference to me being right AND the same score? Can’t say I am too surprised though – Metro X is a super game and I can’t think of a better test than the Destroyer! I’d like to say it is going to be the mark of things to come but, knowing Saggyhead, she has got some surprises on her shelf!
Round #1 result = a most excellent draw!
Keep checking back for Round #2 Welcome To your Perfect Home coming soon!
BY SAGGYHEAD AND FAVOURITEFOE
As you may have gathered, myself and Favouritefoe have become virtual gaming pals. I think this is the best thing to come out of us both writing for Zatu although feel free to tear out my heart and disagree, Favouritefoe (pretty sure after saying that she won’t mind!).
We started off our game dates with Favouritefoe and her husband, ShadowMeeple, kindly teaching us Metro X. They sent us the basic maps and rules and then they taught us and ran the game for us. In return MJ and I persuaded them to crack the shrink on their copy of Welcome To and explained how to play.
How did they do as total noobs? What did they think? What did we think after playing them over the course of a bunch of games? Read on to find out!
Publisher: Blue Cocker Games / Deep Water Games
Designer: Benoit Turpin
Artist: Anne Heidesieck
Player Count: 1 – unlimited players
Publisher Recommended Age: 10+
Heavyweight: Saggyhead aka “the Gaffer”
Light flyweight: Favouritefoe aka “the Labourer"
Saggyhead: Welcome to the wonderful world of Welcome To, Favouritefoe.
Everyone gets their own neighbourhood to fill in with house numbers, fences, parks and pools all in a bid to score the most points and be the best, I don’t actually know, neighbourhood designer perhaps?
The crunch in this game comes from how you fill in your streets and which of the other bonuses you leverage as you fill in house numbers. The race is also on to fulfill contracts first to secure sweet sweet maximum points. Trouble is, forcing the completion of a contract too early might mess you up for later in the game and limit your scoring options.
When considering your options (which are many!), you want to ensure that you are able to build enough parks on a given street to try and maximise point scores. You’ll want to build lots of estate agencies to increase the points you can get for each finished section of street (which you can only do if you have fenced off the correct sections to fulfill those contracts). You also want to have the most temp agencies to secure the biggest bonus, and you want to build lots of pools to ensure you get enough points there. I think you see the issue here; you need to do enough of everything, but you cannot do everything. And herein lies the fun!
For me, Welcome To is in my Top 3 games. I never say no to a game of Welcome To. I love this game. It makes me feel smart. I love that warm feeling of “oh clever girl” when you manage to snag a planning contract before your opponents and take those maximum points - sweet.
For me this is a 9.5/10 game. The only bugbear I have with it is that the box doesn’t fit my laminated sheets. Or the expansions. We have all the expansions (I think…) and these all switch up the gameplay quite significantly but not in a way that breaks the core mechanics of this darling flip and fill.
Welcome To is also pretty easy to run over Zoom especially with an overhead camera but simply holding up or calling out the three pairs of cards would also work. Incidentally, if you like playing games over video call, I would highly recommend investing in a visualiser camera - I found out about them as my teacher pals have been using them to do their lessons online, and wow they are a board game changer for playing over Zoom! What’s more, they give an excellent top down view in HD too.
Favouritefoe: Well, Saggy, old chum, old pal. You’ve seen my Round #1 Metro X suggestion and raised me a whopping Welcome To.
Flip and fillers and roll and writers are my cardboard craving. I want them. I love them. I need them. They are a fast hit of gaming glory or a drop-kick of dashing defeat, depending on your score. But, either way, they play quick, they re-set fast, and they challenge me to do better. Again. And again.
They are also probably one of the most versatile, flexible genres in our hobby. With minimal components and (for most) a multiplayer-solitaire vibe, these games can be played on your table, on your lap, up against a wall. Anywhere. Alone. With anybody. With everybody. They don’t mind. In fact, I get the feeling they quite like it 😉
But, with that burning passion to be punished by these little boxes until I can take no more, comes the risk that one of them will miss the mark. Meh over mind-blowing. And for an anxious gamer like me, that can mean a title has to call out like a cat caught between a puddle and a pug before I will let it throw shapes in my circle.
Having spied the shining cellphone wrapper around my copy of Welcome To, however, Saggyhead was having none of it. That seal was going to crack like a ceramic coconut and there was no room to maneuver.
Fast forward one solitary four player Zoom tutorial with the scholastic-fantastic Saggy, her partner MJ, and my very own Bearded Moon (aka Shadow Meeple), and it became official; Welcome To was what my collection had been searching for. Why? Looks? Brains? Brawn? The answer was simple. Welcome To is flipping addictive!
And not because I am mistress of it, you understand. No, I am addicted to this game because, just like that other absolute banging flip and fill, Cartographers, I am currently at its mercy. It flips, I jump. I want to be good at it. I need to be good at it! And, like other multiplayer-solitaire games, I cannot blame opponents for my woeful efforts (although I can audibly grump when they snag big bonuses before me); here, I am literally the architect of my own demise.
Even on the first play with Saggy and crew, I found the premise easy to understand. The crunch hit came quick and fast, however. And not from convoluted, bloated rules, but rather from the seductive dance between decision and doubt. With those three draw piles of numbers and corresponding actions comes one pivotal decision each turn. Which pair to choose?
But then, having made that decision (me:1 analysis paralysis: 0), the consequential choices rush over me. Do I take the action? Do I need the action? Will this stop me from achieving a building contract later in the game? Estate agency overpricing, temporary worker placement points, pools, parks, fences……the options make my skin prickle as I deliberate what to do. And that is before I have even considered the possibility of building extensions and roundabouts in exchange for negative points at game end. Like a sugar addict let loose inside Willy Wonker’s Chocolate Factory, my mind darts between all the available choices. I want them all. I NEED THEM ALL!
Needless to say, Saggy, knocked me out on the first round but I came back fighting. Can’t keep a strong woman down for long, especially where there are points up for grabs!
Without doubt, this game pushes my pleasure/punishment buttons. It teases me with great combos at the beginning; I’m building palazzos with pools, I’m fashioning fantastic fences. I am a Michelangelo in my own mind. But then, as my neighbourhood fills up and the game-space reduces, the cracks begin to show, and I am a cruel planning inspector’s dream; defaulting contracts all over the board!
Saggy has shown me a world where I can dream about my perfect town but the reality is a flipping hard battle to build! And I love it. So much so that I too have all 7 available expansions (La Petite Mort is sadly France only) including the amazing Alexis standalone solo which cranks up the already fierce 27 flip solo mode pain to an almost exquisitely unbearable level as every single discarded card gives your automa points for end game annihilation.
For that reason, again I am going to have to agree with the Scholar – this is a solid 9.5/10 (one half point being deducted simply for the fact that it would have been great to have laminated boards included in the original box or the option to purchase them separately).
So there we have it - Round #2 result = another unexpected score draw!
What is going to separate the Scores for us?
What game is going to divide us?
The stakes are sky high as we move into Round #3 coming in April 2021!
BY FAVOURITEFOE AND SAGGYHEAD
“Paris in the Spring……It’s grand, it’s new; It’s me, it’s you…..”
Ok, so we can’t exactly hop over to Paris right now. But it is Spring, we are together (virtually at least), and Paris: La Cité De La Lumière is indeed both grand and new to Saggyhead! So I’m channelling some upbeat Ray Noble big band chipperness in the intro to round #3 of our Ace V Apprentice challenge!
Question is, did Saggyhead light up when placing her Parisienne polyominoes, or did she slink into the shadows, tripping over as she danced around in the dark?
Let’s get into the ring and find out!
Publisher: DEVIR Games
Designer: Jose Antonio Abascal
Artist: Oriol Hernandez
Player Count: 2
Publisher Recommended Age: 8+
Time: 30/40 mins
Light flyweight: Saggyhead aka “the Illuminati”
Heavyweight: Favouritefoe aka “the Lamplighter”
Favouritefoe: Cheese, wine, baguettes……I know, Saggyhead; I’m totally spoiling you.
Imagine the nose-tickling smells of the bijou bistros. Shut your eyes and transport yourself to the café at the top of La Tour Eiffel as you sit at your checkered cloth bedecked table, ready to tuck in. Zoink! Not really.
There is neither a fragrant fromage, plummy pinot noir, nor crispy croissant anywhere in this game. And you won’t be playing it 125m up in the air. Buuuut, have no fear for this is one pretty delicious portion of two player puzzle nonetheless! Plus, as you’re a master at matching edible goodies to games anyway, I’m not nervous……..much.
Published by DEVIR, Paris: La Cité De La Lumière is a strategic game from designer José Antonio Abascal. With gorgeous artwork by Oriol Hernandez, this game takes us into the dark cobbled streets of 19th century Paris with the goal of lighting up as many of the City’s buildings as possible, using that new-fangled technology; electricity!
A combination of tile laying and area control, Paris: La Cité De La Lumière consists of two phases and……get ready for this…….is played inside.the.box. Yup. You read that right, Saggyhead, old chum, old pal; the box is the board! I don’t know about you, but that little nugget of novelty lit my face up like a candle in a match factory!
Now, having played Paris: La Cité De La Lumière a number of times since November last year, I do like the fact that this is a game of two halves and continuous trade-offs. Indeed, it is tough decision making from the first turn because, before the board has even been constructed, you have to start selecting which buildings you are going to take from the shared pool in order to score in phase 2. Oh La La!
Sounds “ezzzeeeeee” mon ami until you realise that your buildings can only be placed on those cobbled street spaces matching your own colour (and/or the neutral purple spaces). Plus, you have to stomach sacrificing laying a street tile to extend your territory if you do in fact want to bag a building on your turn.
Oh, and that is before you have considered how the building will actually fit into your area in relation to the lamps which are located on some, but not all, of the street tiles. Which are, of course, the only way to score points in this game! Zut Alors!
With the buildings bagged and the cobbled streets all set out, phase then 2 begins apace, and the trade-offs are now even more tense as the board layout has been set in, well, stone! Choosing between laying down a building in order to secure a prized spot on the board (and potentially denying your opponent some much needed neutral spaces), and taking one of the 8 randomly chosen unique special bonus actions (which could reap considerable points bonuses or help to mitigate losses) is an exercise in cold calculation.
On that point, and thinking about balance, I do think there are a few special actions which have the potential to make the game quite swingy in terms of points due to their significant power – Monsieur Le Peintrebeing one – but it is for each player to balance the risk against the reward. And you do still need to know what to do in order to capitalize on the bonus boosters if they are to swing the game in your favour!
Overall, I like the compact crunch that Paris: La Cité De La Lumière offers in the time it takes to warm your baguettes up in the oven – it is a tight, two player game with plenty of opportunities for hate drafting and take that which are elements I actively hunt out in games to play with my brave Bearded Moon!
In truth, I was disappointed that the designer used an almost exclusively blue, purple, and orange pallet making it difficult for players with colour vision deficiency to play. I am conscious that industry best practice is an evolutionary process (unless you’re Saggyhead – she was born A*!), however, and some simple DIY sticker embellishments can mitigate the challenge should the need arise. Nevertheless, it would have been better to have factored these needs in at the design stage.
For me, Paris: La Cité De La Lumière is a 7.5/10 – it is surprisingly strategic and playing inside the box means it is always going to be somewhere I enjoy battling it out!
[for my full review of Paris from November 2020, please click here]
Saggyhead; I’ve gone back and forth on Paris: La Cité De La Lumière quite a bit. I love the fact it is played inside the box, it makes it so much easier, I also like that it isn’t an oversized box. Small box, big think as Favouritefoe said.
I also enjoyed the gameplay although I did think that the way some things were unable to score made me feel a bit unsatisfied, even though I get that that is the point of it.
Something that Favouritefoe also picked up on was that the colours chosen were kind of odd choices. Considering one was orange and one was blue, it didn’t feel like it was hugely easy to tell the different colours apart at a glance. Some of that might have been because of the shadows in the room I was playing and it being inside the box. It wasn’t damaging for my gameplay, just something that annoyed me as it wasn’t immediately obvious.
The game comes with a hefty dose of “take that” which I know Favouritefoe and her “favourite foe” ShadowMeeple are big fans of. I feel like I flip-flop with this mechanic. I cannot abide hate-drafting, it never seems to really benefit the player who does it all that much, and games can feel closed down by this kind of play. I love two-player Hero Realms and Unmatched which is simply a duel against each other but I HATE these at higher player counts. It feels like you are victimising one player and I am very anti that.
Even though Paris is a two-player specific game, it did feel like you were messing with your opponent intentionally in a hate-drafting way which I do not enjoy. That isn’t to say I don't appreciate Paris: La Cité De La Lumière as it is.
I like the brain burn of this game, I like the drafting of tiles and special abilities and the race to get the pieces you want onto the board before that spot is taken by your opponent. It is thinky and unlike any other game.
I enjoy playing Paris: La Cité De La Lumière, but I think I need to be in the right frame of mind in order to fully enjoy it.
For me, this game gets a 7/10, I enjoy it enough that it would squeak an A if it were an essay, but it’s not in the A* or A** range for me.
Well, there you go….it had to happen at some point – a different score from one corner of the ring to the other. Not a knock-out blow, mind you, but fights have been won and lost on less than a half-point differential!
Is this divergence of opinion going to be the status quo from now on or was this a mere blip in the road for Ace and Apprentice?
Catch next month’s instalment in the form of Round #4 to find out what we each think Barenpark!
Another month is done, and it is time for me, Saggyhead, to enter the Board Gaming Ring with the dangermouse that is Favouritefoe. This month, safe-hands Saggyhead will be the Ace introducing the Favouritefoe Apprentice crew to the polynomial tile laying game, Bärenpark.
Publisher: Lookout Games
Designer: Phil Walker-Harding
Artist: Klemenz Franz
Player Count: 2 -4(5)
Publisher Recommended Age: 8+ (5+)
Heavyweight: Saggyhead aka “the Grizzly”
Light flyweight: Favouritefoe aka “the Pooh"
Saggyhead: Bärenpark is a bear-zoo building game designed by Phil Walker-Harding that is suitable for all the family. Not only is the theming excellent for kids, there is also an “easy” mode in the box that is suitable for kids as young as five or six without much guidance at all.
It is a case of placing the tiles and then selecting a new tile based on which icons you are able to cover over. Each turn you will place a tile from your personal supply (things you previously picked up), and take new tiles based on which icons you managed to cover up on your zoo board. You make up an arrangement of four bear park tiles as the game progresses, so you can zero in on your own personal puzzle or you can keep your head up and puzzle over what everyone else is doing. So, it suits all different player types, the solitaire players and interaction seeking players too.
For the more experienced zoo-builders amongst you, there are additional challenges which can be brought in which are different ways to score additional points based on the way in which you fill your zoo tiles up. Striving for these goals may alter the way in which your Tetris brain would ordinarily place your carefully chosen pieces. There is also an expansion which adds difficulty, but I am determined to exhaust the mileage of the base game before thinking about that, and I think that will take a while!
There is a metric ton of replayability in this game. Alongside the usual randomness of tile drawing, there is also the player interaction of building up to take one excellent piece only to see that Fred took it right before your turn. Don’t be like Fred.
So in the usual style, why did I pick this game to teach my pal this month?
Well, Favouritefoe and Shadow Meeple are awesome company, but there is also Mini-meeple to consider. Coolest kid around, but most kid-suitable games are not video-call suitable, so we don’t usually get to play together as a 5. As such, I wanted a game that he could join in with, and that we could play over video call. Bärenpark fits the bill. With with a little bit of effort, as long as each player communicates which piece they take on their turn, you can discard those out of the game and play a group game in different locations. We also discovered that with two sets, playing 5 players was totally fine.
Shadow Meeple is an absolute boss at spatial puzzles, and the other two aren't far behind him, so Bärenpark seems to tick a lot of boxes. We enjoy the game for the ease of play, it has thick cardboard components, and the process of playing feels exciting as you are all racing to get the best pieces into your supply. Phil Walker-Harding does make some fabulous games at around this weight. I like the theming of Bärenpark over Gingerbread House, and so this seemed like a good choice for us.
There is another thing that sang for me. You know what tile you have ready to place for the whole time you are waiting for others to take their turn. This means that even the AP sufferers can fire off quick turns as they have planning time. I love that aspect of it, you might even end up with a couple of pieces in reserve that you can plan ahead further as well. This means that turns move quickly even at higher player counts, and you never feel like there is down time.
Bärenpark doesn’t pretend to be anything it isn’t, and I applaud it for that. It is a simple Tetris type game that anyone can learn, and it is exciting to be the first to get those high point value bear idols. The theme is great. I enjoy the fact that there are never enough toilet blocks in the game, which mirrors my experience of queuing at zoos. Koala bears are not bears, however, they are marsupials. I know this because for a week my little sister’s favourite word was marsupial and she wrote it ON EVERYTHING. I will not hold that against the game however; they are called koala bears, so they can be in my bear zoo.
My only real bug-bear (ooh pun!) is that it takes me a while to set this game up. There is a lot of stuff in that box and the “insert” is rubbish and doesn’t really aid with set up. There are a lot of components in Bärenpark, and our organisation consists of eleventy billion baggies which slows us down a tad when getting it to the table. Every time that we have though, it has been very much worth it.
My score for Bärenpark was a rock solid 8/10 prior to shoehorning it into a zoom-able game. Now I give this excellent game the honour of rolling with the 8.5/10 crew. This game has enough levels for me to allow me to choose it as an easy game for when my brain needs a break, and harder options for me to grow into as well. If you enjoy puzzle tile placement games which come with a dose of cute then perhaps this modern classic might be just the ticket.
Favouritefoe: First off, Saggyhead is being way too modest. Not only did she ace me this month (well she basically does that every dang day so nothing new there!) with a cracking A v A game choice, but she got me rocking her amazeballs #anothergameofftheshelf Instagram challenge…..twice!
If you didn’t already know, Saggyhead basically broke Instagram in March getting board gamers from all over cracking the shrink on their not-yet-playeds. Needless to say, Bärenpark got laid “bear” over here. Then she did it again in April with us all pledging to play something we had once loved but then left long-forgotten on our shelves.
And now, in May, we are following the boss once again in her quest to get everyone to pick something they have only tried once (or a few times if you’re brave enough to get a little more creative with interpretation!).
Not going to lie; I jumped into it on the first day. Not only because the challenge is a brilliant way to give a game a second chance – first plays are always rough riding in our house – but also because it chips away at the cult-of-the-new bear trap in which we often find ourselves. (Come on now, 2 paragraphs in, and there had to be a couple of bears lurking somewhere!). Plus, with only one or two outings for Bärenpark in our patch, it was a great excuse to bring it back, bear style!
So, with troops locked and loaded, snacks bowled, drinks topped up, and Zoom password punched in, we began. 5 players rocking a 4 player game, one 3 years younger than the recommended age, using two sets of components, sitting 400+miles apart. Probably not what Phil Walker-Harding had in mind when he designed Bärenpark.
But, as Saggyhead said above, it worked. And it not only worked. It elevated the game to a new level in terms of versatility and accessibility. Granted, you each need a copy of the game to play this way (come on Bärenpark; the roll and write version!). But, with Lockdown restrictions still in place for some, and the memories ingrained in all of us, it probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to consider how many other ways there are to play the games we have and like to play with our game groups.
Logistics aside, this game also worked for us as a family. No denying it – Saggyhead knows us and she bossed it. Polyominoes and pugnacious placement for Shadow Meeple and me; puzzles and pandas for Mini-meeple.
We are a tile laying, tessellation obsessed family. And even though my husband and I go all in for games that let us take-that and hate draft each other to the death, more subtle portions of strategic stinging check our boxes when playing with our next-gen gamer.
And this is basically what Bärenpark is all about – a fun, colourful, abstract tile placement puzzle which you can play in a way to suit your gaming group. Tempted by a two-player brawl in the bear pit? Take the Toilets! Fancy a more family friendly fun time establishing enclosures? Then just look for the “bear” necessities and forget about your worries and your strife!
If you can “bear” with the less-than-speedy set-up, the game is definitely worth it. I hate to say it but the attraction of the game is knocked a little by the burden of getting all the bits out and, even worse, putting them away again. Unfair I admit as it has no “bearing on the game play, and I know there are inserts to assist with this which we will look into. Quite frankly the cardboard divider that came in the box was “bearly” worth the effort and resources taken to produce it.
I love the cute styling though – almost to the point where I don’t want to cover up the sweet wheelbarrows and cement mixers necessary to bring in the bears. But, if I did that, I am guaranteed to lose, and my park would more closely resemble Digger World than Camp Koala (which technically aren’t bears I know but they’re cute so they’re staying!).
The puzzle itself is also an enjoyable one, and when tiles interlock, it is super satisfying. Like placing the top tin on a pyramid of bean cans, completing one of my square boards provides me with a disproportionate sense of achievement.
Part of my DIY conditioned brain does worry about the complete freedom Bärenpark gives me in terms of design. I mean, what if I end up with 10 toilets, 4 fast food stands, and a bunch of shy Pandas? Nobody would come to that! Well, they might for decent dog and fries, but again that would be a restaurant, and not really the bear park we are tasked with building. The draw of those golden bear idols is probably enough for me to put a pin in the reality that is tourist attraction construction.
The fact that the gameplay is adjusted for two players to help reduce the openness of the field and maintain some tension is also welcome when we play after Mini-meeple retires for the evening. Likewise, the additional objectives (like having the longest continuous river for example), add in more spatial elements for us to consider when planning our parks……..and throwing a spanner in each other’s pen planning!
I will admit that this game is never going to top-out on our brain-burn list. Although things get fiercer as the spaces on your boards fill up, and the tile stacks diminish, it isn’t a grade A cranium crunching Kodiak bear. But it isn’t meant to be. It is what it sets out to be; a great, accessible, lighter-end tile laying game for players of all skill levels and ages.
With a beariffic 8/10 from me, we have great fun playing Bärenpark with Mini-meeple and our pals from the Northlands, and I will happily play it anytime (so long as somebody sets it up and tears it down again, that is).
Another different score, another half point - Grzzly and Pooh are now neck a neck as we go into Round #5.
Stay tuned for June's Ace v Apprentice where the Juggernaut and the Three-Wheeler take on Railroad Ink!
Ok, Saggyhead, the stakes have just got higher. I am going to open my shelves and my heart to you with this little box of blazing brilliance. You see, I fell for Railroad Ink Blazing Red Edition early into my gaming journey. And, as with all love stories of old, sentimentality, nostalgia, and cardboard-goggles are going to steer my affection. So be gentle with it..........
Publisher: Horrible Games
Designer: Hjalmar Hach, Lorenzo Silva
Artist: Marta Tranquilli
Player Count: 1 – 6 plus
Publisher Recommended Age: 8+ (5+)
Heavyweight: Favouritefoe aka “the spaghetti junction”
Light flyweight: Saggyhead aka “the Autobahn"
Favouritefoe: Now, I will be the first to admit that the new #RRInk Challenge Editions (Lush Green and Shining Yellow) are next level. But, I don’t think I would have been as instantaneously infatuated as I am without having been wooed by their sophisticated sibling first.
And I have an inkling that the lovely feelings you’re having for Lush Green might be the for the same reason, Saggy. Because, by some twist of shipping fate, having got you all hot under the collar for Blazing Red after only a few plays, you went and bought the green guapo before my Kickstarter pledge had even fulfilled! And, whether you like it or not, I am putting that super speedy purchase down to the fiery feistiness of the original! 😉
So, Railroad Ink Blazing Red Edition is a roll and write game. As a massive fan of the ever expanding genre, it got under my skin from the first play. The magnetic catch on the box that clicks with a satisfying sound. Dry wipe boards that need no DIY lamination to preserve their longevity. Symbolic dice that tease you with their stations, and punish you with their fly-overs. It all works together to form a brilliant little thinky, spatial puzzle about highways and railways.
But, whilst the length of each of your longest road and rail are valuable in terms of points, they are actually just the means to a victorious end. For the really meaty scores in this game come from using those straights and bends to link up as many exits as possible. And, if you are like me, this little nugget of knowledge will become a sweet little secret kept between you and the game.
So, in every round of the seven comprising the base game, you will roll four white dice showing a combination of roads and rails. Restricted to drawing onto existing connections or out of new exits, Blazing Red very quickly becomes a game of trade-offs. You won’t be able to connect into every exit, so you have to pick your targets. But of course, lady luck might not (read will not!) shine upon you each round.
You will be inevitably left with open ends that threaten to inflict negative marking if you don’t change your strategy and loop those connections back into something. The dice you want will always be in the subsequent round – guaranteed. And the frustration and flutteriness this inflicts is fantastic. There are three chances to mitigate some of the effects by using bonus crossroads/rail combinations during the game. But don’t be fooled by their tempting looks. With four separate ends to deal with, they can often cause as many problems as they solve.
The expansions in Blazing Red are piquant little additions which bring a fieriness to the base gameplay. And, whilst meteors can (and will) destroy your roads and rails, they will occasionally soothe your broken soul by awarding points for releasing valuable ores. Similarly, volcanoes can punish you by leaving open lava lakes around your board, but will tempt you back with volcanic bonus points. Which all sounds quite reasonable (ok, well at least manageable) until you realise that they shorten the game to only 6 rounds. Plus you still need to connect into as many exits as possible. Which means you still need to be going loopy for tracks and tarmac but on a smaller scale!
I confess that I was enraptured by this little game from my first outing. A multiplayer solitaire that made (and still makes) me laugh, cry, and squeal with equal amounts of pleasure and pain.
Granted, solo mode is simply a BYOS (the Challenge edition massively improves this!), and there is no way to meddle with your opponents, which are always keenly sought after in our house. But, Blazing Red is a game that has soothed me on loud days and got me all fired up on others. It is also super easy to play over video call, as well as portable. Pus, with just one set, you can now play with an infinite number of people (thanks to the official release of PDF PnP boards during the pandemic last year).
I am purposefully trying to avoid too many comparisons with the new Challenge Editions as that would be unfair to this little beauty. In reality, the designers have taken the simple elegance of Blazing Red (or its cute cousin, Deep Blue), and added a lot of extra exciting elements and expansions. In fact, Lush Green and Shining Yellow have almost become Inception like as you delve into challenge-inside a challenge-inside a challenge type gameplay. Knowing what to focus on in order to make the most of the bonus points and combo-actions on offer becomes the order of the day when playing the new colourful iterations.
For me, however, the success and breadth of the new Challenge Editions unequivocally derives from Blazing Red and Deep Blue. And for that reason, my little box of red delights will always get a 9 out of 10.
Ok, so over to you now, Saggy. In the vein of that well-known game of Snog-Marry-Avoid, are you cruising for a quick kiss, committing long term, or kicking Blazing Red to the kerb?
Saggyhead: Railroad Ink is unassuming from the outside, and although I had seen a few completed boards, I had no real idea how it worked. Luckily, this was a speedy “teach” at our board-game-bonanza recently. Even later on at night and after learning a lot of new games in quick succession, MJ and I still found it pretty straightforward to pick up this puzzle of building rails and roads.
The very base game (which is the same across the Blazing Red and Deep Blue boxes) pits you against the lords of the dice. I love roll and write games where you need to work with what lady luck gives you. The skill at becoming good with these games is making the best out of the dross that the dice often hand you, which I really enjoy. I like the fact that even though you are all given the same dice rolls to work with each round, no two boards will look anything like each other.
After the initial game, Railroad Ink went straight onto my wish list. As it happens, our FLGS got their shipment in not long after this, and MJ snapped up the Lush Green edition before I even realised. He does well at these kinds of crunchy train games. Similarly with Metro X, he seemed to hit the ground sprinting unlike myself who stumbled and took a few strides to even remember what running was again. Now after more than twenty plays of Metro X, I can hold my own, but there were a LOT of losses chalked up against my name before I wangled my first win.
We took this out in the wild the other week, and took it to the park. The box is small enough to fit into our picnic basket, so for us it is perfect for taking with a flask of coffee and some snacks to the park on a nice day. If you remove the insert from the box, you have the perfect dice tray too. My only gripe is that the pens that come with the game are not great. SO, after ten to twenty plays, the boards get all grey and need a good clean.
Base Railroad Ink a speedy roll and write that does have some tricky decisions that offer some AP, but not to the point of being debilitating. Once I had played that first game and understood the scoring more, I changed up my strategy a little and focused more on getting those exits linked to score better.
There is definitely room in this game to grow, and I would describe this as a home run by FavouriteFoe! Just like with Metro X, we have introduced this game to our train-game-mad-new-parent-pals, and just like Metro X, it is another huge hit. I am therefore giving it the Saggy Score 8.5/10 with extra points awarded as it can be played remotely with pictures of the dice, as well as on the sofa whilst the baby sleeps on their lap too!
Toot toot! I had a feeling Railroad Ink would be up Saggyhead’s street, and thankfully it was! Another minimal 0.5 point differential, but what is a mere half point between friends (particularly when scoring comfortably inside the top quadrant!)?!
As we approach the end of the first half of the year and the series, I’m pleased to say there haven’t been any massive mistakes in terms of predicting gaming likes to date. But, with another 6 rounds to go, and gaming tastes (supposedly!) ever evolving, never say never!
Stay tuned for #Round 6 to see what Saggyhead has in store for me in July!