Before we get to the games that made it to the table, a quick note to those gamers in the Indianapolis area. I’m now hosing Game Night Social every Tuesday from 6-9 pm at The Garage Food Hall at Bottleworks, just off Mass Ave.
Hope you can join us. I have a rotating selection of about 30 games to choose from and, of course, you are welcome to bring your own. More info here.
Hope to see some of you there (And if there’s a game you’d like me to bring, let me know.)
First up, a game that’s been sitting on my shelf of shame for a while along with other owned-but-yet-unplayed titles.
Pan Am (Funko Games)
Offerings a smart twist on route-making games, Pan Am takes gamers back to the early days of the now defunct airline.
Players each manage independent airlines and the goal isn’t just to acquire stronger airplanes and fly more and longer routes. You can do that and still not win. More important is building your routes in the path of Pan Am’s possible expansion. When your airline is acquired, you cash in, earning more money to buy Pan Am stock. The player with the most stock at the end of the game wins.
You achieve your goals through worker placement, deciding with each move whether to build an airport, acquire destination cards, purchase additional airplanes, etc. Once you grasp the basic ideas, game play is easy, quick, and fun.
The only downside for our players was the slight anticlimax at the end of the game.
Sometimes, a little bit of point soup at the end can add an element of surprise. But here, our final moves seemed perfunctory and it was clear long before landing who was well ahead. (In our case, buying stock earlier at a lower price paid off.)
Starship Captains (CGE)
As the title suggests, in this 2022 release, you have a starship at your command. But, more importantly, you have a crew. How you play that crew is the most interesting aspect of the game, since each crew member has its own function. Yet you are limited in the number that you can assign in a given turn.
What happens to the rest? They line up like folks waiting to board a Southwest flight. And once a crewperson is used, they go to the end of the line.
Want to move your ship to reveal the treasures on planets around the board? There’s a crewperson for that. Want to upgrade your ship or reduce damage, thus increasing storage capacity? There’s one for those, too. You’ll also need crew to fight pirates and complete missions which can give you bonus points and more.
As mentioned above, point soup scoring at the end of a game can help mask whose ahead. That’s the case here, as points are added and subtracted based on three scoring paths, points on tech cards, acquired medals, and more. That may alienate chess/go-minded players who are all about strategy. If you play with someone overanalytical, you may drain the fun out of the game.
Side note: Sometimes, you can have fun with a game even if, halfway through, you realize you were playing a rule wrong. Such was the case when I gathered three expert gamers to join me in my inaugural trek with Starship Captains.
Granted, in this case, it wasn’t a game-wrecking rule — in fact, it made the game a little easier for us. But since it impacted all players roughly equally, we rolled with it.
Artisans of Splendent Vale (Renegade Game Studios)
I try to resist the obvious when writing about anything, including board games. But I’m giving into the temptation to call this a kinder, gentler Gloomhaven. Like that monster hit, Artisans of Splended Vale is a co-op legacy game where a team of players explore a fantasy world, encounter badies, and chart their progress via stickers on a map.
Of course, that’s an oversimplification of Gloomhaven — and of Artisans — but you get the idea.
(Or maybe you don’t. Maybe you aren’t a game hobbyist and weren’t aware of the Gloomhaven juggernaut. If that’s the case, stick with me anyway.)
Where Gloomhaven emphasized the gloom, Artisans is more playful. The diverse quartet of characters have unique personalities, shapes and abilities (a shorter character, for instance, may be the only one to see objects underneath tables) and the tale is strengthened by solid fantasy writing — at least, in what we’ve encountered so far.
The hefty box not only includes the requisite maps, player tokens, character sheets, etc., it also holds a hefty book for each of its quartet of characters. Play goes back and forth between exploratory sessions — think Choose Your Own Adventure as you look at maps, which refer to numbered sections of your book — and action sequences using a very cool dice drafting mechanism that requires you not only to think of your own characters actions but which dice will be left for your cohorts to use.
Like most legacy games, this one requires multiple sessions to complete, it also requires commitment from the people you play with. Record keeping is permanent, characters accumulate modifications via stickers on their player sheets, and there’s no resetting.
I am curious what the next day will bring these characters once (and, okay, if) we get it back to the table.
Deal With the Devil (CGE)
Yikes. I can’t remember a game with as cool of a central idea that proved so frustrating to actually set up and play.
Deal with the Devil requires four players — no more or no less. One player is the devil, who has the power to bargain for pieces of the souls of the other three players.
But this game is bogged down with too much to build, too many mechanics, too many different areas to pull attention, and too little time actually bargaining for souls — something that doesn’t have as much of an impact on the final game as it should.
What the designers have done well, thogh, is integrate an app into gameplay that actually serves an important function while not getting in the way. It’s used to keep secret who is putting what offers in what chests and who those offers are going to, thus keeping the deals secret.
And it works.
Here’s hoping that mechanism finds its way to a stronger game. And that someone makes better use of this potential strong theme.