LoBsterCon XVII 2019: Top 10 ‘new to me’ games

LoBsterCon: where 150 brave London on Board members climb out of their city pubs, pop their hankies on their heads, roll up their trousers and head to the seaside. I had a brilliant weekend in Eastbourne catching up with old friends, having a few beers and playing some great games.

I managed to introduce some people to recent favourites, including Adios Calavera and Gnomopolis. And got to play old classics including Thurn and Taxis, Manhattan and Lost Cities. But cons are all about learning new games.

LoBsterCon XVII 2019 was my 13th. And coincidentally I managed to play 13 games that were completely new to me. Narrowing it down to 10 was easy. I really didn’t enjoy Cryptid (really not my thing – boring, multi-player solitaire deduction), 3×8 (very average card game) or Yooloo (very below average card game). So what made the mark?

LoBsterCon XVII 2019 – Top 10 ‘new to me’ games

10. TurfMaster (1998, 90 mins, 2-8 players)
By rights this should be number 8, as I’d like to play it more. But I’m not sure it’s really a very good game. Problem was, the guy who taught it had only played once – the night before – and the English rules translation was atrocious. We played largely on his memory and enthusiasm. It’s an old, basic horse racing game. But with enough people, and enough screw-age, it’s fun in the way most racing games are.

9. On Tour (2019, 30 mins, 1-4 players)
I don’t get excited by roll-and-write games. And this is not an exceptional game in the genre. I liked the theme, but this actually manages to ramp up the luck factor despite only having two dice and some cards. It was a pleasant way to spend half an hour, but with very little skill involved and no real replayability I can’t see why anyone would revisit it. Definitely a ‘one and done’ game.

8. Wingspan (2019, 90 mins, 1-5 players)
Speaking of ‘one and done’, I’d rather not play this again. Don’t get me wrong – the game is fine. It looks lovely and the bird theme is well realised. But the mechanisms couldn’t be more average if they tried. Past the theme, nothing stood out. It started OK, got boring in the middle, and we were all pretty much bored by the end. Games should aspire to be more than this – cripplingly average and a little too long.

7. Yellow & Yangtze (2018, 90 mins, 2-4 players)
Stepping up a gear, this reworking of Knizia classic Tigris & Euphrates is solid. It evokes the original, but subtly changes everything in the process. Problem is, whether its T&E or Y&Y the tactics of this aggressive area control game are beyond me. And it has the same scoring idea as Ingenious – which is much more my level! This would be higher on most people’s lists, as it’s quality – it’s just not for me.

6. Bärenpark (2017, 90 mins, 2-4 players)
I’ve been wanting to play this since its release, so it was great to finally get a game. It got a little lost in the mix on release, as it used the same Tetris piece idea as Patchwork. But Phil Walker-Harding isn’t as famous as Rosenberg and it arrived several years later. It was enjoyable, but fell between two stools. It lacked the simplicity and purity or patchwork and didn’t quite have enough to be a euro I’d buy. But I’d play it anytime.

5. New Frontiers (2019, 60 mins, 2-5 players)
Race for the Galaxy meets classic euro Puerto Rico, by the designer of my favourite game. What could go wrong? Sadly it lost the sparks of both games and ended up being a solid yet unexceptional game in the middle. Again, it’s a game I’d happily play if someone put it on the table. But if I never play it again, because I still have Race, I’m fine with that. And the box is too big.

My Top 4 LoBsterCon games

I’ve separated these four out because I really struggled to put them in order. They were all 8/9-out-of-10 game experiences: my real ‘new to me’ hits of the con.

4. Just One (2018, 30 mins, 3-7 players)
Unoriginal concept alert! A word game with hints of Taboo or Trapwords. Ugly alert! Uninspiring art and components with no theme. Co-op alert! You’re working together, rather than teaming up in usual party game style. All these things – yet it’s absolutely brilliant fun. Guess a word from the one-word clues your friends give you, but if any of them pick the same word as the clue they’re cancelled and you don’t see them. Genius.

3. Prehistory (2018, 120 mins, 2-4)
This heavy euro blends action selection, resource management/ set collection and area control. A clever, original mechanism sees you do the same set of actions twice each round – but each time they’re triggered in slightly different yet connected ways. It kind of blew my mind, and I doubt I’ll ever be any good at it, but unlike some heavy euros it’s a puzzle I want to revisit. Review incoming.

2. Whistle Stop (2017, 75 mins, 2-5 players)
I love me some route building. On release I heard meh reviews of this, so pretty much ignored it. While I have very low expectation of Bezier Games. But man, am I glad I got to play it (thanks Tom!). It’s an entry level pick-up-and-deliver train game which skews heavily towards the puzzly elements, with a small amount of stock collection on the side. But I think it will also get way more competitive/skilled the more you play.

1. The Romans (2019, 150 mins, 1-4 players)
Also at the longer end of gaming, this upcoming Ragnar Brothers release is a heady mix of worker placement, area control and incredibly swingy and often hugely annoying dice rolls. However, a clever mechanism by which all players suffer the same battle rolls – despite being in completely separate battles – mitigates the luck just enough to pass muster. Which isn’t something I say lightly, as I hate games such as Memoir 44 and Combat Commander because of the stupid old school war game dice nonsense. And don’t let the Asterix-style cartoony art fool you – beneath the surface lies a genuine nod to history. It was a real experience. And, once again, a full review is coming soon.

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