Game Buzz: Four for 400

It’s my 400th post!  And so I’m going to do a super sized Game Buzz today, going into detail about four games that just came out and were big hits at Spiel last week.  Let’s do this alphabetically.

image by BGG user Jajina
image by BGG user Jajina

We’ll start of with Alchemists, the newest title from Czech Games Edition.  The game was designed by Matúš Kotry, is for 2-4 players, and takes about 90 minutes.  In the game, you are alchemists looking to discover the secrets of potion making through experimentation.  One of the features of the game is a smartphone app that is used to randomly assign alchemicals to ingredients.  Of course, you can also use a gamemaster to keep track of the various combinations, but they are not involved in the game.

image by BGG user Jajina
image by BGG user Jajina

Alchemists is played over six rounds.  At the start of each round, players choose turn order.  This acts much the same as in Fresco – the later you go, the more favor and/or ingredient cards you get, but you’re at a slight disadvantage.  Beginning with the lowest player on the turn order track (the one who took the most cards), each player declares their actions.  Declaring later allows you to react to what everyone else is doing.  When choosing, you place action cubes on the corresponding spots of the action board.  There are eight possible actions, with three of them only available after the first round.

  • Forage for Ingredient: Take a face-up ingredient card or draw one from the deck.  Face-up cards are not replenished, and any leftovers are discarded after everyone has taken this action.
  • Transmute Ingredient: Discard an ingredient card and take one gold.
  • Buy an Artifact: Pay gold for an artifact card that will give you special abilities during the game.
  • Test a Potion on a Student: To mix a potion, you choose two ingredients, then scan them with the app (or check with the gamemaster).  The app will tell you what kind of potion it made.  It will be positive or negative.  You show the results (but not the ingredients) and mark the result on your results triangle.  Students are good to test potions on because you don’t have to suffer negative effects.  However, as soon as he drinks a negative potion, all future potions for the remainder of the round will cost one gold to drink.
  • Test a Potion on Yourself: You never have to pay gold to drink a potion yourself, but you do suffer negative consequences.  A potion of insanity (blue negative) loses you a point of reputation.  A potion of paralysis (green negative) means you will play last in the next round.  Poison (red negative) means you have one less cube to use next round.
  • Sell Potion: This action is only available from the second round on.  Adventurers will be trying to buy potions, and you will be trying to match them with what the adventurer wants.  You offer a guarantee, then mix the potion and see if you get paid.  You can try to be first for this action by offering a discount.
  • Publish a Theory: Again, another one only available from the second round on.  As you mix ingredients, you will be trying to figure out the alchemical symbol, which is a cluster of three circles (red-blue-green) that are positive or negative and could be small or large.  I’m not going into the ways they work because I honestly don’t quite understand it myself yet.  However, when you think you have something figured out (or want to beat someone else to the punch), you can publish a theory.  This costs you a gold, but gains you a reputation.  You can also endorse another’s theory, paying them a gold and gaining no reputation.  If another player later endorses it, you also get paid.  Having your seal on a theory can help you with being awarded grants, which gain you immediate gold and also VPs at the end of the game.
  • Debunk a Theory: Here, you try to show that someone jumped the gun on publishing.  You use the app to show that an aspect is incorrect.  If you are right, you gain two reputation and anyone with a seal on the theory is at risk of losing reputation.  If you are wrong, you lose one reputation for wasting everyone’s time.

After the sixth round (in which there is an exhibition), you perform a final scoring, then reveal the answers to see if theories are correct.  The player who has gained the most points (reputation plus artifacts plus grants plus one point per three gold) is the winner.

CGE is pretty much the Pixar of the board game world.  They always come out with high quality, creative, unique games, and this looks to be no exception.  From the buzz at Spiel, this game is fantastic.  It’s definitely one that I’m really excited to try sometime.  I like that it is a very logical game, and is really trying to approach deduction in a new way.  I know some people are upset that it uses an app, but I’m personally happy to see that games are starting to embrace some digital technology while remaining analog experiences.  Alchemists was my most anticipated game before the fair, and it still is.

image by BGG user W Eric Martin
image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Moving on now to Colt Express, the new game from designer Christophe Raimbault and Ludonaute Games.  This is a game all about a train robbery for 2-6 players that lasts about 30 minutes.  You are armed bandits who have boarded the Union Pacific Express to rob patrons and possibly steal a strongbox containing lots of cash, but that happens to be under the supervision of the Marshal.

image by BGG user ludo naute
image by BGG user ludo naute

The most striking feature of Colt Express is that it has a 3D, six-car, one-locomotive train that you set up and use as your playing surface.  Players begin the game in the last two cars of the train, and try to collect loot throughout.  The beginning of each round is a Schemin’ phase, where players choose the actions they want to play for the round.  You begin with a hand of six cards, and in turn order may play one face up into a common pile.  You can also choose to pass and draw an additional three cards to your hand.  Depending on the round, there will be a certain number of turns before the phase ends, and the Stealin’ phase begins.

In the Stealin’ phase, the first player flips over the common deck and begins revealing cards one by one.  Players must resolve their action, even if they don’t want to anymore.  Here are the possible actions:

  • Move: Move your bandit from one car to an adjacent car.  If you are on the roof, you can move up to three cars.
  • Floor Change: If you are in the train, move to the roof.  If you are on the roof, move inside the train.
  • Marshal: Move the Marshal one car in the direction of your choice.  He always stays inside the train.  If the Marshal moves into a car with a bandit, that bandit escapes to the roof and receives a neutral bullet card for his deck.
  • Fire: Choose an opponent and give them a bullet card for their deck.  You only have six of these for the entire game – no reloading.  Inside the train, you can target a bandit in an adjacent car, but not one in the same car as you.  On the roof, you can shoot any bandit on another car that you can see (meaning that no other bandit stands between you).
  • Robbery: Take a loot token from the car you are in/on and put it face down on your character card.
  • Punch: Choose a bandit in your space.  They drop a loot token in their space and are knocked to an adjacent car.

After five rounds of play, the richest player wins.

This game sounds like a lot of fun.  It’s pretty much just running around trying to collect tokens and beating on your neighbors.  I don’t know that there’s too much strategy to it, especially with the healthy amount of chaos provided by the initial program of actions (I love the common deck concept – it’s reminiscent of Mamma Mia).  Most of all, I love that there’s a train.  Ludonaute easily could have designed cards to represent the train, but going that extra mile in components makes this game stand out and will make it great bait when set up.  So this is definitely another that I’m looking forward to.

image by BGG user sebduj
image by BGG user sebduj

Deus has been bouncing back and forth on my interest list, but after it finished #3 on the GeekBuzz at Spiel, I thought I should look into it a little more.  Deus was designed by Sébastien Dujardin and is published by Pearl Games, previously best known for Troyes (which was co-designed by Dujardin).  This one is for 2-4 players and takes 75 minutes to complete.  The idea is that you are the leader of an ancient civilization trying to develop your empire through exploration and through divine intervention.

image by BGG user sebduj
image by BGG user sebduj

Deus is played on a modular board made up of 4-7 continent tiles, each consisting of seven terrain spaces.  You’d expect these spaces to be hexagonal, but they aren’t.  They’re round with little points to fill in the gaps.  They look really nice, and this is really what most captures my attention about the game.  On your turn in the game, you can either construct a building or make an offering to the gods.

To construct a building, you play a standard building or temple card from your hand.  Standard building cards go in their colored column of your player board and cost resources to build, with a matching wooden piece placed in an empty region of the board.  Temples are placed in regions you already control, with the first one played for free and each subsequent only played if you have standard buildings of each color.  You may be able to attack barbarians after doing this.

The other thing you can do on your turn is make an offering to the gods.  To do this, discard as many cards as you wish and put them face up in the discard pile.  Other players will only know what the top card you discarded is, and this card is used to determine which god you are invoking.  Neptune (blue) gains you two gold per discarded card, as well as a maritime building.  Ceres (green) gains you one resource per discarded card, as well as a production building.  Minerva (yellow) gains you a scientific building, and you get to draw an extra card at the end of the phase.  Vesta (brown) gains 1 VP for one discarded card and 2 for 2+, as well as a civil building.  Mars (red) gains one building of your choice per discarded card.  Jupiter (purple) allows you to use the power of any other god – he’s a wild card.  After using the god’s ability, draw up to five cards (six if you used Minerva).

The game is almost over when all temples have been constructed, or when all barbarian villages have been attacked.  You finish the current round, then play one final round.  Players add up their points to find the winner.

This is basically a Euro 4X game.  You’ve got Xplore as you look for new building materials.  You’ve got Xpand as you spread out your buildings.  You’ve got Xploit as you gain resources and use them for more stuff.  You’ve got Xterminate as you attack barbarians who don’t really do anything other than take up space on the board.  So yeah.  Euro 4X.  It seems good, but I’m still mostly attracted to the components.  I guess it remains to be seen if it would be a game I’d enjoy.

image by BGG user anovac
image by BGG user anovac

Progress: Evolution of Technology was not on my radar until it showed up in the top ten of GeekBuzz.  It ended up #13, but I thought I’d like to look deeper into it.  The game was designed Agnieszka Kopera and Andrei Novac, and was published by NSKN Games.  It’s a 1-5 player experience that takes 90 minutes to play.  It’s essentially another civilization game, but one where you’re ONLY expanding via technologies, not worrying about the extermination or exploration or exploitation.  We’ll call it a 1X game.

image by BGG user EndersGame
image by BGG user EndersGame

Progress is a card-driven game with boards that track the various stats.  Each player starts with a hand of cards from Age I (there are three ages).  To begin with, you get two actions on your turn.  There are five different actions to choose from.

  • You can DISCOVER by paying a cost in science, culture, or engineering to bring a new technology into play.  There are also technologies that, if discovered, allow you to bring in certain future technologies for free.  For example, if you discover writing, you can bring in alphabet for free without having to pay the science cost.
  • You can RESEARCH by setting a card to the side and marking it with some tokens according to your research speed, which begins at five.  That means that, in that many turns, you can bring the technology into play at the start of the turn without spending an action.  It’s just slow.
  • You can do a QUICK DRAW, the number of which is indicated by a track on your player board.  This means you can draw a certain number of cards, then discard a certain number of cards.  It starts at 1/0, then goes to 2/1, 3/2, and so on.
  • You can do a SHUFFLE AND DRAW, which means you shuffle the discard pile back into its age deck and draw a certain number of cards (again marked on a track on your board).
  • You can do a DRAW action, which allows you to draw more cards, but ends your turn.

The game ends once enough technologies have been played to advance the game to Age IV.  At this point, you add up your score, gaining bonuses for having the most prestige, population, and army, as well as points from your player board and technology cards.  The player with the most points is the winner.

If I’m being honest, the tech tree is probably my favorite part of a civilization game.  I love being able to start with basic knowledge and work my way up to more advanced techs.  So a game that is just that really appeals to me.  And it seems like it’s pretty fun.  As I said, it was off my radar before Spiel, but now that I know about it, it’s something I really want to try.

And there you have it.  Four new games that all look interesting in their own way.  Thanks for reading!

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