New game roundup 2: Gods, tombs and chocolate

Board Game Arena continues releasing great new games so I wanted to touch on a few that I have been playing recently. First, a note. The site seems to filling out their 31 days with trick taking games. While I respect these and am usually curious to try a new one, they don’t exactly set the world on fire. So while I played one of the two trick taking games this week, I did not spend the 30 minutes to learn the second that I would surely never play again. Additionally, playing any trick taking game with players who are not familiar with them is kind of like a form of torture. This is even worse if it’s a partnership game and your partner doesn’t know the first thing about strategy for the game. So we can already put an asterisk next to my goal to play every game this month, but I have my limits, even when I am craving board game more than ever. And with that out of the way let’s get to the games.


An interesting trick taking game

The first game was the trick taking game that I did try this week, called Solo Whist. This is another game with bidding those types of games more advanced on the trick taking spectrum. Essentially you have to be able to look at your hand and the trump suit and be able to roughly predict how many hands known as tricks you will win, either by playing the high card or a trump card. Here there are several different kinds of bids called contracts, each more difficult than the last. You can only outbid another player with a more risky contract.  You can bid prop, which means you thin you and one other player will be able to take 8 tricks combined. Any other player can follow this with a cop bid, meaning they will join you to try to take 8 tricks. You can bid solo which means you will take at least 5 tricks by yourself. You can bid Misery, which means you will lost every trick. You can bid abundance which means you will take 9 tricks alone and choose which suit is trump. And then there are three more contracts which are even more risky. The gist is, this is a game of chicken in trick taking form. It is quite fun as the other players at the table do everything in their power to make sure the successful bid of the other player fails. Definitely one I would play again, although it made me realize I am not that great at trick taking games that require bidding.


Kami has beautiful art and deceptively simple gameplay

The second game is a simple card game called Kami. This is apparently a game derived from Shogi, or Japanese chess. The art is beautiful and the game itself is deceptively straightforward. On a turn players play a defense card and an attack card. Other players the the table can only follow if they can play a defense card that matches the attack card just played. If no one can, the last player to successfully defend leads a new round. The goal is to play all the cards in your hand, so players want to play whenever they can to continue to shed their hand. However, it is sometimes wise to pass even if you can match another player in order to take control of the flow of the game. Players who lead a hand play their defense cards face down which makes it difficult to count cards and know exactly what cards have not been played yet. The final wrinkle here is a unique scoring system where you only get points for the last card played from your hand. While different from a trick taking game, Kami definitely requires some of the same skills, and so can be frustrating to play with players who do not understand the strategy. But there’s plenty to explore here for players who do enjoy that sort of game.


Luxor is a great family game with some interesting push and pull decisions and puzzle-like hand management

The third game is a Spiel Des Jahres nominee from a couple of years back called Luxor. In Luxor players are trying to get to the center of an ancient tomb while picking up as many treasure tiles as they can along the way. Each turn players play a card to move one of their adventurers a certain number of spaces into the tomb. The unique part here is that you can only play the left most or right most card in your hand, and you are not allowed to re-arrange the cards in your hand. Each round you draw back up to five cards but the new card goes in the center of your hand. In this way there is a sort of puzzle of what order to play your cards. Each treasure tile requires a certain number of your adventurers to land on it in order to pick it up. so you are often trying to sequence their movement so they end up on the right tile before other player claim them first. This goal is counter balanced by the fact that you unlock more adventurers the further you make it into the tomb, and get points for how far each adventurer makes it into the tomb at the end of the game. So slow and steady allows you to pick up a lot of tiles, but may leave you behind other players who have made it further into the tomb. In addition to treasure tiles there are spaces that allow you to draw more powerful cards into your hand, and additional tiles that come out after a treasure token has been claimed. I really enjoyed the puzzle of this game and I can see why it was a nominee for the German game of the year award. I would definitely recommend checking it out.


Cacao is a breezy tile laying game with a unique checkerboard structure that drives interesting decisions.

The final game that I played this week is another tile laying game called Cacao. In Cacao players are harvesting cacao beans in the jungles of Central America. Each turn players place a worker tile that has one to three works on each of its four sides. They then place a jungle tile to fill in any spaces left in a sort of checkerboard pattern. The workers on each tile interact with the jungle tiles to do various things to score the player points. They can harvest cacao beans, sell them for coins which are the points in the game, mine a tile for coins, move the players piece down a river which scores the players more points the further they travel along it, or fight for an area majority sort of mini game over temples. I have never seen a game that uses this sort of checkerboard worker placement game before. There is some good strategy here because you are trying to place your own worker tiles in a way that most benefits you, but does not give points to your opponents. The game is quick and breezy but has plenty of interesting decisions. This one was a winner that I would definitely play again.


Board Game Arena keeps releasing great games on the service and creating a great covid-safe way to play games with your friends. If you haven’t check it out yet I highly recommend giving the service a try.

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