One of my local game stores (Petrie’s Family Games here in Colorado Springs, CO) does an annual event called the Couples Dessert. It’s basically a night to go into the game store with your significant other and play games. My wife and I have gone for the past three years now, and it’s a nice place to learn some new games. We only got to two games this year, but they’re both ones I’ve wanted to play for a while. So, here are some first thoughts on both.
Space Base is a 2018 engine building game from designer John D. Clair. It was published by AEG, and has been quite a successful game. The basic premise is that you’re docking ships at your own station, then sending them out into space, but that theme doesn’t really matter. Really, what you’re doing is building an engine to make lots of money and score points on your turn AND on your opponents’ turns.
Gameplay is fairly simple. Each player begins with the same twelve ship, numbered 1-12. On your turn, you roll two dice, then activate ships. You can activate the ships indicated by each die, or add the dice together to activate one ship. So by rolling a 3 and 4, you could get one coin each from the 3 and 4 ships, or 3 coins from the 7 ship.
After this, you have money to buy a new ship. This ship replaces a ship in your tableau, but the replaced ship rotates so its red side shows. Now that ship will activate whenever one of your opponents rolls the number shown. You don’t get to keep any money you don’t spend – no hoarding allowed. However, some cards allow you to bump up your income, which allows you to start the next turn with more money.
You continue playing like this until one player gets to 40 points. Once everyone has had the same number of turns, the player with the most points wins.
When my wife and I played this game, we had very different dice luck. I was able to bump up my income early, which meant I had more money to play with going forward. However, she couldn’t get more than 2-3 coins per turn no matter how hard she tried. I ended up winning 42-20. Fortunately, she still enjoyed the game, she just wished her dice rolls were better.
This game gets compared to Machi Koro a lot, and it does have its similarities in the ways you get stuff through dice rolls and how you can get stuff on your opponents’ turns. Machi Koro’s main failing, however, is that there are some pretty obvious strategies to pursue in the base game, and if you do them, you’ll win handily. I don’t see such a problem here, mostly because of the sheer number of cards in the game – there are 132 ships that could be acquired, giving a bunch of different ways to build your fleet. Of course, having bad dice rolls can still affect you – if you’ve built up a great engine in your 9 slot and keep rolling 1s and 2s, you’ll never get to use the 9. I think that, overall, it is a better game than Machi Koro.
From an aesthetic standpoint, the game looks really nice. The cards are all a good size for the way they are used. The art on the board matches the backgrounds on the cards that go in each slot, so it always looks like you’ve parked a ship right there. It’s a really nice touch.
It can run kind of long – granted, I’ve only played with two players, but our game took a lot longer than I was expecting. My wife does tend to suffer from AP, and got stuck a number of times trying to decide whether to use two individual dice or to use them together. However, I suspect that this is one of those rare games that might go quicker the more players you have. Everyone is engaged between turns, waiting to see if they collect anything from the opponents’ dice rolls. And the bigger your network gets, the more potential you have to make money. So if your 7 gives you two bucks on other player turns and all opponents roll a 7, that’s 8 money in a 5-player game versus 2 money in a 2-player game. More money means you can get those bigger ships quicker, and potentially more rewards.
I do like Space Base. However, every time I play an engine builder lately, I’ve been getting a nagging feeling in the back of my head that I’m getting sick of them. Games like this, Century: Spice Road, Splendor, Gizmos, etc. – they all approach ending building differently, but I keep getting the same feeling – that I’m grinding so I can incrementally make my engine better and hopefully score big points WAY in the future. I still like all of these games, but I think that this play of Space Base made me catch a glimpse of the end of the road for me in this genre. It’s still a long way off, but I need to figure out if I’m going to head in that direction or try to change my course.
That analogy didn’t work the way I hoped it would. As I was saying, I would be happy to play Space Base again – fun game, lots of variability, and a cool take on engine building.
Cottage Garden is a 2016 game from designer Use Rosenberg and published by Edition Spielwiese (Stronghold handles distribution in the US). This was the first game in Rosenberg’s puzzle trilogy, followed up by Indian Summer (2017) and Spring Meadow (2018). It’s a game I’ve wanted to try since it first came out, and still wanted to try even after my bad experience with Indian Summer last year – more on that later.
In Cottage Garden, players are trying to plant gardens on two different boards using polyomino tiles drafted from a central 4×4 grid. The way this works is that there’s a single die representing the gardener moving around the board. On your turn, you can take a tile from the row or column occupying the gardener, or you can take a flower pot from the general supply. The tile you take is then placed in one of your gardens, and you advance the gardener. The gardener serves as a timer for the game – each time he completes a lap, his number is advanced, and the final round occurs when the number reaches 6.
When a board is filled, you score it by advancing an orange cube for every flower pot visible, and advancing a blue cube for every garden cloche visible. You have three of each cube, and you ideally want to get them all up to the 20 spot on the track, but you can only move one cube of each type per scoring. The player with the most points wins.
This was another game we learned cold – the Couples’ Dessert night had a number of people teaching games, but no one really knew this one. So we slogged through the rules, and figured everything out. I was familiar with the concept, but needed to remind myself how everything fit together. We got it, mostly – I missed the rule about players losing points before each turn once the gardener got to 6 – but we had fun. My wife won this one, 78-73.
We played Indian Summer last year at the Couple’s Dessert. I had heard good things about it, even hearing some people preferring it to Cottage Garden. I really disliked the experience. I’m a fan of Patchwork, and it felt like Indian Summer just added too much extra stuff that didn’t need to be there. I mean, there were all kinds of tiny tokens to put over holes and possibly use for special abilities, extra pieces you could place on top of other pieces, and a weird drafting system that just didn’t feel like it worked. But I still wanted to give Cottage Garden a chance.
I am vey happy to say that I like this one MUCH more than Indian Summer. It feels like it takes the Patchwork in an appropriate direction, and doesn’t employ the throw-everything-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks approach. The tile draft is very interesting in that you can look ahead to see what will be available and try to plan accordingly. The scoring system of moving three different cubes of a color is a pretty cool concept as well. And I liked that you could work on two different flowerbeds at once. Plus, everything comes together in a beautiful package – so did Indian Summer, to be fair, but the aesthetics did not make up for that game’s weaknesses.
Anyway, very glad I tried Cottage Garden, and I hope to play again sometime. I still need to play Spring Meadow – maybe that will happen at next year’s event.
That’s it for today. Thanks for reading!