Board Game Review

Here we are, nigh on six months’ worth of blogging, and I’ve yet to so much as mention my enthusiasm for German-style board games. That ain’t right! It’s true that I don’t get a chance to play a fine board game as often as I’d like, but the holidays are always a good time to try out some new ones. I picked up three newish games over the past few months; here are some capsule reviews.

New England won the GAMES magazine Game of the Year award last year. Its big design gimmick is in the bidding: the amount you bid each turn determines both your placement in the turn order and the amount you must pay for each of your two actions. This creates a very steep curve and a high price for going first, and as you might expect, going first can be very, very important. Players develop three different types of land (settlement, pasture, farmland) on a grid, so a la Lowenherz, there’s quite a bit of strategy in initial placement and in boxing out other players with your own real estate. Turns go fast and all the games I’ve played ended quite closely. The worst thing to be said about New England is that there’s not much new or groundbreaking about it—it’s another solid, B-level German game.

Alhambra won last year’s Spiel des Jahres prize, the German award that tends to favor games with broader appeal, unlike the more highbrow Deutscher Spiele Pries. The game is very simple: you have a hand of cards in four different currencies with which to buy and place buildings in your own Alhambra structure such that all the walls and roads line up. You only take one action each turn, so things move very fast. It has that “everybody’s working on their own project” dynamic of Princes of Florence and Puerto Rico, and at first glance it seemed like there wasn’t enough basis for interaction among players. Turns out there is, of course, and the game works rather well. Good beer & pretzels fare for the ubergeek set.

Carcassonne is old news to the savvy boardgamer, and a perennial favorite. At the game store I noticed they had a new edition that boxed the original game right in with both the expansions, neither of which I had ever got around to picking up. Even these are a year or two old, but nobody in Michigan had played with them either, so this game ended up getting the most play of all over the holidays. Mondo Carcassonne is a longer, more involved game than the bare original—not much more complicated, really, but something that’ll take 60-90 minutes instead of a quick half-hour. If the original game had a weakness, it was that drawing a tile of limited usefulness (like the dreaded elbow road) basically wasted your turn. The expansions add some more options, and pieces (like the builder) that can make that boring road piece an actual joy to draw.

That’s it for recent finds. Games on my wish list for the future: Pirate’s Cove, Traumfabrik, and of course a good Crokinole board.