Welcome to Quick Hits, a short-form column where I discuss multiple games I’ve recently played, giving brief thoughts on each game — from the game’s components, theme, and gameplay, to particularly notable experiences during a game, along with any other remarkable aspects that come to mind.
New York Zoo, designed by Uwe Rosenberg, published by Capstone Games
After playing this game, the quickest and most accurate comparison I can come up with is that it’s a mash-up of the race-to-fill-your-board-with-polyominoes aspect of Bärenpark and the collect-and-breed-animals aspect of Zooloretto — with all three using the same wildlife park theme. The gameplay was smooth and felt familiar — it seems a bit light for a Capstone Games title — but it didn’t feel fresh, or compel me to want to play it again right away. I’d mentioned Bärenpark as the polyomino game this seems most familiar to, but Rosenberg has designed a menagerie of his own polyomino titles, including Patchwork, A Feast for Odin, Cottage Garden, Indian Summer, and Spring Meadow, and more than one game featuring animal breeding. While New York Zoo is a fine game, it trods an already well worn and familiar path for fans of Uwe’s previous designs, and it’s hard to get excited about that. I’d like to see him explore new mechanisms instead of releasing more variations on his tried and true formula.
Cloud City, designed by Phil Walker-Harding, published by Blue Orange Games
While Phil Walker-Harding hasn’t designed any of my all-time favorite games, every game of his I’ve played I’ve found to be quality stuff — to put it a different way, I haven’t rated any of his designs a 9 or 10, but every design of his is a 7 or higher. And Blue Orange has made some exceptional family weight games (e.g. Kingdomino) and has done some very interesting things with three-dimensional components (e.g. Slide Quest, Planet). So when I saw a new PWH design that featured three-dimensional buildings was being published by Blue Orange Games, I got excited. Then I played it, and it was… fine? The three-dimensional tableaus that are built are intricate and eye-catching, the game has some tension with its limited supply of bridges, and it requires some interesting three-dimensional spatial reasoning to score well. But the draft falls flat, and the fact that there are only eight short turns means it’s over almost as soon as it starts — which is frustrating because the game has a lot of bits to set up due to its construction-heavy setup. I wish there was more meat to this game, even beyond the advanced mode cards that are included. Again, the game wasn’t bad, and I am glad I played it, but I can’t see myself keeping it. I don’t think an expansion would save it, either. I think I am looking for something that takes the concept and adds a considerable layer of complexity to it. It’s a good proof of concept, but, unfortunately, a forgettable game once the spectacle of its table presence wears off.
Pocket Paragons, designed by Brian McKay, published by Solis Game Studio
This game system advertises two hooks. First, that it is an intense, three-minute duel. Second, that it is deeply asymmetrical. After my experience playing it, I can attest that it delivers on both of these promises. The duel is a battle to reduce your opponent from ten hit points to zero before they do the same to you. Considering a card can deliver three or more damage in a single turn, this makes the game intense enough. But what puts it over the top is the instant win condition, where a player executes you if they play a certain card when you rest to refill your hand. And the fact that you spent less than five minutes playing makes this less likely to cause hard feelings, as it would in longer, more strategic combat games. The media set I received contains six Paragon decks, and all looked and played quite differently. The best part — which is in perfect synergy with the game’s quick playtime — is its incredibly portability, with each Paragon deck containing eight cards, the set easily fits in a wallet sleeve or deck box. While this doesn’t have the depth of my favorite card-driven fighting games (e.g. Exceed), it certainly has value due to how easy it is to throw it in your pocket, and the fact you can break it out just about anywhere.