For me, 2020 saw a huge increase of my playing games online. I discovered Board Game Arena (BGA) early on this year and they have been steadily rolling out new games all year long – in fact, they have made games live every day in the month of December. Now, this list isn’t about the quality of the BGA implementations of games, but rather about the new games I’ve learned or been exposed to this year because of BGA. So here they are and some brief thoughts I’ve had about those games.
Games I played before that I didn’t remember much about…
Seasons – this odd little game has you collecting little magic resources that can be used to buy the cards you are holding which can help with abilities and/or score you points during or at the end of the game. This was ok, but after a couple games I decided I didn’t have as much control over my destiny as I’d have liked.
La Granja – this little farmer game has a set of cards that can be placed onto your farm in a couple of different ways, so you have to figure out how to build your engine – once you place the cards, you can’t reuse them elsewhere. Then, you create goods and try to take them to market to score points and hopefully screw your opponents out of being the best local farmer they can be. This seems clever at first glance but somehow feels repetitive after a little while. I’d rather play online than face-to-face because the cards are a pain to deal with on the table, but even then, this is only a couple times a year game I think.
Via Magica – this was not “new”. Turns out its a re-themed version of Rise of Augustus (aka Roman Bingo). Light little BINGO game that is a decent family game. The re-theme is a little “loud” in the art department, but its still pretty much the same game.
Palaces of Carrara – this is a Kiesling and Kramer game where players are grabbing various grades of rocks in order to build buildings in their play area. The better the grade of stone, the more that a building can be worth to a player in terms of money or points. There is a little balancing act between fast builds and quality, as well as scoring or getting money (which you need to get the better stuff). Nothing fancy here, but a well balanced game that isn’t too heavy.
Teotihuacan – I first saw this at a convention and it looks fantastic on the tabletop. After a couple of plays, I’m just not enthralled with it. I can’t quite put my finger on what I’m missing or why this is super popular with other players, but it just doesn’t float my boat.
Clans of Caledonia – The slightly less complex (yet similar feeling) of a Terra Mystica-like game. That isn’t quite right, but its close enough for me. It didn’t quite hit the right notes with me either and I’m hard pressed to say what I didn’t like, but it just didn’t engage me.
Off the Rails – This is a little dash and grab deal where players are trying to build a route of rail for their mine cars so they can run in and get the goodies before the other players and before the mines collapse (which is a lot like the lave phase of The Downfall of Pompeii). This suffers from the same issues as Pompeii – the randomness takes out all the fun of dropping a pile of rocks on your competition.
Bandido – I’m not much for co-op games, and playing them async is painful. This is a little (very little) puzzle game that might be good brain scratching for 6-9 year olds.
Lucky Numbers – Aptly named this game is. It really isn’t that hard to figure out how to play your numbers on your board, but luck of the draw plays a HUGE amount in determining whether you’ll win or not.
Welcome to New Las Vegas – Like its “Roll and Write” brother Welcome To…, this is another game where pairs of cards are drawn and you start filling in your sheet trying to make your picks worth more than the other players. Both of these are available on BGA and are well done if you enjoy “flip and write” games. Vegas is different enough that its worth giving a whirl a time or two.
Marrakech – this is a little abstract game with a die. Its pretty light and the die can do you wrong most of the game, but again, its a light little game.
Small Islands – this tile laying game has one central play area that is expanded by the players, each who are trying to achieve a secret goal. You can try and push your luck, or go for a quick goal each round, depending on how things shape out. Not a load of depth, but an enjoyable lighter distraction.
99 – this is a trick taking game using a standard deck of cards where you are bidding on how many tricks you will take (trump is randomly set). The tricky part is that bidding is done with cards from your hand, based on the suit (not the value on the card). This means that you have to account for NOT HAVING THOSE CARDS in your hand. Its a tricky little game that probably plays best live or at the table. Online, async is a little slow.
Big Time Soccer – sorry, this is one giant NOPE sandwich for me. It might be ok as a quick 2-player filler (if and only if you are a fan of soccer). Otherwise, there is really not a lot of strategy, just playing cards quickly and then rolling a die to see if your shot made it or not. In one respect, it is like soccer – a whole lot of back and forth nothing happens, and then suddenly someone launches a shot at goal (which you know isn’t going in). Yeah, it is not any more thrilling than my description. Are there interesting choices? Only whether to play or not (don’t).
Piraten Kapern – If you like quick dice games ala Martian Dice, Zombie Dice and so on, then here’s Piraten Kapern. How’s this one different? Well, I postulate that someone said, “How can we add randomness to a quick dice game?” – the answer is of course, add some cards that change things each turn. I like Martian Dice for what it is, but Piraten Kapern is just a little too much. Maybe if the cards were a little more even, but they are not balanced, so you can get screwed on a card and the other players can get helped a lot. I’ll stick to Martian Dice.
Flaming Pyramids – speaking of random chaos… If you like games with a lack of control, here you go. Nothing complicated, just hope you can play your cards without getting stuck blowing up half the pyramid and having to take more cards.
Luxor – A little bit of hand management with your movement cards, a little bit worker placement (you move your explorers) and a little bit of a race game. Something of a family game – its a little hard to describe. I only played it once, but it was ok.
Mapmaker: The Gerrymandering Game – One of the most thematic of the group, this is is exactly what it sounds like – an area control game where you act basically like a corrupt state government representative drawing lines on the map to your advantage. Theme aside, this works pretty well with the hex based layout. Nothing surprising, and nothing special either. Good teaching tool for students to understand what gerrymandering means.
Naga Parbat – Also a thematic abstract. You know, if mountain climbing was about capturing animals for their magic abilities to rearrange the world. This isn’t a bad little two-player game, but it does feel a bit limited. All the games I played were pretty close score wise, so while it seems like it offers the ability to make really clever moves, I’m not sure it really does, since its not easy to create any distance in the scores.
Tash-Kalar – This is something of a puzzle game – figure out how to layout your pieces in a way to play your special cards in hopes that something might then let you take a scoring card. There just doesn’t seem to be a good way to do all that unless you are lucky enough that everything aligns.
NXS – pronounced Nexus. This has a little theme tacked on, but is an area control game on a hex board with pieces whose moves and “attack” are shown on the edges of the pieces. I liked this, but it was a little hard to (for me) to grok/see.
Quantik – another pure abstract that is damn fast. Like 4-6 moves and done fast. Don’t make a mistake or you are done.
Circle of Life – I really liked this one. I’m not good at it, but I liked it. There are lots of things to try and figure out in such a basic game. The board is a Hex board and you place one small hex piece each turn. The larger shapes you end up creating are limited in size to 4 pieces and each possible shape can eliminate exactly one other shape and is eliminated by exactly one other shape. The goal is to try and capture 20 pieces of the other player. Really a cool little design.
Top of the Heap
Circle of Life – Again, great abstract game that I can see playing more of in 2021Palaces of Carrara – a nice middle of the road euro (the medium games appeal to me the most for async online play.99 – I love card games, just not so much online/async. I imagine this is great face-2-face. I’d happily play this real time online.
Sadly, I just don’t see a lot of changes in the world in 2021 as far as the pandemic is concerned, so I suspect that there will be a fair bit more online games coming. Catch me online on BGA (nogardtla) and on Yucata.de as (tatsu).