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.
The Red Cathedral, designed by Isra C. and Shei S., published by Devir Games
I have a deep appreciation for when a game plays bigger than its box size, and I am hard pressed to think of a better example of that than with this particular game. You may assume — based on the marketing standards within the industry — that inside The Red Cathedral’s 7 inch by 9 inch box is a lighter game, probably hovering around 2.0 on BGG’s weight scale. However, what is actually stuffed inside are a ton of components that completely fill the box, and comprise a solid, mid-weight Euro game with some very interesting mechanisms. While I’m not sure any individual mechanism is a true novelty, the game artfully combines a dice placement rondel, area majority scoring, interesting bonus options, and a clever scoring track that utilizes two types of points into a smooth-playing game that doesn’t overstay its welcome at the table. It also features an interesting theme, where players are building St. Basil’s cathedral in Moscow. Overall, this game packs quite a punch.
Nouvelle-France, designed by Jacques-Dominique Landry, published by Jackbro
Speaking of box sizes and the expectations that accompany them, let’s discuss Nouvelle-France, which comes in a box about the size of three Ticket to Ride boxes stacked atop one another. In my mind, a box of this size is a promise — it tells you that its contents cannot be contained in a box of mere standard proportions, it is simply too epic in size and scope for those constraints. The similarly oversized Star Wars: Imperial Assault delivers on this promise. And to take up this much space on one’s shelf, any game of this size must deliver. Nouvelle-France does not. It is a basic polyomino spatial puzzle that attempts to make up in chrome what it lacks in substantial gameplay. It features six large sets of foam snow drifts that function as reminders of what levels have already scored. Even more egregious is the four inch tall Louis XIV statue that serves no gameplay function whatsoever. It does have dozens of nice wooden blocks that are fundamental to the game. But the setup, including laying out all of those blocks, is time and table consuming, and all for a mediocre 45 minute game. One that cost $75 on Kickstarter. If you are looking for something that delivers the kind of experience that Nouvelle-France seems to want to deliver — at the fraction of the cost and box size — play Imhotep instead.
Undaunted: Normandy, designed by Trevor Benjamin and David Thompson, published by Osprey Games
I’ve always enjoyed deck-building games, especially when the deck-building is one aspect of a larger game — such as Clank’s addition of a shared main board to explore, or Taverns of Tiefenthal’s integration of deck-building with dice drafting. Undaunted takes a fundamentally solid deck-builder and weaves it into a fantastic World War II skirmish game complete with asymmetrical starting positions and an entire book of scenarios based on historical events. The design shares some core DNA with the two co-designer’s bag-building game War Chest, although that one is more deterministic and abstract, and this one utilizes multi-use cards in a very interesting way. Artist Roland MacDonald helps to sell the theme with his stylistic buy not cartoonish artwork, and Osprey puts it all together with clear graphic design and iconography, quality components, and a functional box insert. Beyond being an excellent quick-playing skirmish game for two players, which has a set of twelve scenarios to play through, Undaunted has also shown itself to be a system that can be expanded, with Undaunted: North Africa already out, and Undaunted: Reinforcements on the way later this year, with the latter including a solo mode by David Turczi. I look forward to seeing what they can do with this system — and especially to getting to play with the tanks in the North Africa set.