Hundreds of games were released for Spiel Digital, despite the fact Germany’s premier board game event didn’t physically happen. You can find all my Essen 2020 game reviews listed here (with more to be added in the coming months).
Below are four games that, after playing them once, didn’t make the full review cut. None of them are bad games and I’d happily play them again. But for various reasons, I won’t be following up my initial interest. There’s only so much time I can dedicate to reviewing (sadly), especially in lockdown. But I hope these mini reviews will be helpful.
Speaking of lockdown – these can all be played online. Calico, Red Cathedral and Winter Kingdom are all available to play for free on Tabletopia, a free online board game platform. The site has the rules for the games too, but there’s no scripting – so you have to learn the games properly and move all the pieces etc (you can’t just wing it). Welcome to New Las Vegas is available free on Board Game Arena (as is its predecessor Welcome To).
And finally, a shout out to Alex who patiently taught me all four games online. Ta!
(1-4 players, 60-90 mins, ages 10+, Devir)
This light-ish euro game has a lot of buzz. Its main mechanism is a dice-driven rondel, which is a big tick on the plus side for me. So I was really looking forward to trying it. Red Cathedral plays very smoothly. You move dice around the rondel to gather resources and trigger abilities. While claiming and completing parts of the cathedral to score points. Scoring is a mixture of completion points and majorities, making keeping an eye on your opponents important. And you can personalise your own tableau by taking then triggering bonuses.
Everything about Red Cathedral is right up my street. So why didn’t I fall in love with it? Basically, it felt like an uninspiring rehash of mechanisms I’ve played before. While nothing was wrong, nothing stood out. It had none of the invention of, say, Bruxelles 1893. While I can see it feeling very samey very quickly. In honesty, after enjoying the first 10 minutes of play, I was bored by the end. Certainly not a bad game and I can see some players falling for it – especially if they haven’t played X-hundred similar games beforehand. But not me. BGG rating 8: My rating 6.
Essen 2020 game reviews: Calico
(1-4 players, 45-60 mins, ages 10+, AEG)
When I first saw this, the ‘cute cats on a quilt’ theme put me right off. I love cats. And quilts, I guess? But this just looked cynical. But I was told it was an interesting abstract worth checking out, with masses of buzz, so I gave it a second look.
Each player makes a quilt (read: player tableau) with different coloured patches (hexes). For some reason, certain cats (read: points) like certain combinations of these colours so you want to put them together. I’ve lost you, haven’t I…?
The theme is complete nonsense, being even more cynical than I’d initially thought. This has the knock-on of making the components a gaudy mess that for me hindered game play. I found working out what I was doing headache inducing. Which was a shame, as the game play – if unremarkable – is OK. But unlike more interesting recent pattern matching games, it has practically no interaction. And luck of the draw can have a massive impact. Your board will fill by the end of play and whether the right tiles come up for you near the end will probably decide the winner. So despite cute cat art, it’s average at best. BGG 8: me 5.
Welcome to: New Las Vegas
(1-9 players, 45 mins, ages 10+, Blue Cocker Games)
I’m a fan of Welcome To, the flip-and-write game that seems each player drawing out their town plan to trigger bonuses and score points. I like the fact cards give that extra element of certainty in the math. Which works in a game such as this, which has a little more complexity than your average roll-and-write.
Welcome To: New Las Vegas has the same basic workings (flip three cards, choose two to make a pair, then mark some things off your sheet). But like Twice as Clever to That’s Pretty Clever, it takes things up a gaming complexity notch. Which obviously begs the question – is a more complex version of Welcome To something you needed in your life?
This version plays well and feels like a similar experience. But the way it raises the bar makes it a very different challenge. It feels as if there’s a bit more mitigation available. But then the stakes are often higher. And it also feels as if there are more clearly defined paths you can follow. Which should help replayability, without having to reach for expansion packs. I enjoyed my play, but it really made my head hurt. I have games for that – and Welcome To isn’t one of them. I play the original every few months and am happy with it. So don’t feel I need this new brain-burning version. But if you do, I highly recommend taking a look.
Essen 2020 game reviews: Winter Kingdom
(2-4 players, 45-60 minutes, ages 8+, Queen Games)
At the risk of repeating myself… I’m a fan of Kingdom Builder, which Winter Kingdom has the same basic workings as. You draw a card on your turn, which tells you which terrain you can place your buildings on. The modular board offers lots of replayability. While randomly drawn scoring goals add even more.
The original game proved strangely divisive, with some people taking against it in an oddly vehement fashion. I really like it, but understand why others might not. But hate it? I never got that. Anyway, this new version seems to have taken some of the big criticisms to heart and addressed them. Which seems a little pointless to the likes of me, who thought those criticisms were baloney.
Each map board now contains a portal, which you can step through to get to other areas/terrain types across the board. This ‘fixes’ the issue of bad players placing poorly and getting stuck in a losing position early in the game – while adding massive potential for AP. The alternative fix is, of course, to play better. It also adds unique powers you can buy and use (which seemed OK) to replace having to earn them from map placement. Again, this just felt as if it took a challenge away. Seemingly to balance the fact this is Kingdom Builder with stabilisers, they added cards that give an annoying thing you can’t do in that particular play. As you may have guessed by now, I’ll be sticking with the rather brilliant original game.