I recently attended a private gaming event where I was able to finally try a few games I’ve been wanting to play for a while such as Cerebria and Shakespeare, but I also had the opportunity to play some newer releases, upcoming releases, and even a few prototypes that were very promising and worth mentioning.
• I played a three-player game of Reiner Knizia‘s Pollen, which is a new 2023 release from Allplay, featuring gorgeous art by Beth Sobel. Pollen is reimplementation of the 2009 release Samurai: The Card Game, which Eric initially mentioned in October 2022.
In Pollen, 2-4 players place garden cards to create a beautiful, lush garden to attract pollinators (bees, butterflies, and beetles) and pollinate flowers for area majority scoring. When you connect to an opponent’s garden card, you add a pollinator token to it, which will have one or more of the different pollinators on it. Then when the pollinator token is surrounded, area majority scoring is triggered and players are awarded pollinators they won the majority for. The gameplay is thinky like an excellent abstract strategy game, the components are lovely, and the table presence is stunning as the garden grows over the course of the game. I’m pretty sure this is the prettiest Reiner Knizia game I’ve ever played.
• I backed Stationfall, but hadn’t had the chance to play it, so I was pumped to jump into a game with two other new players and two experienced players. Stationfall is a 2023 release from Matt Eklund (Pax Transhumanity) and Ion Game Design. The premise is, you have this crazy mix of characters on a station that is going to be destroyed in 15 minutes (15 game rounds). The characters are asymmetric and have their own unique scoring conditions. Each player has a hidden role as one of the characters in play, but on your turn, you can take actions with any of the characters. You can move around the ship, picking up different items and interacting with special rooms, and knock out different characters. Your goal is to gain as many victory points as you can, while trying to deduce who your opponents’ characters are so you can prevent them from scoring points.
I had a great time playing Stationfall. It was super fun and I can’t wait to play it more. Whoever initially described it as a “party game for heavy gamers” was spot on.
• Speaking of heavy gamers, I got to play a secret new game designed by Dávid Turczi and Simone Luciani, which will be an exciting SPIEL ’23 release from Board&Dice. I can’t say much, but I think fans of Brass, Barrage, and Imperial Steam will dig it, as it shares some similar DNA, but plays differently. It also has some Concordia vibes, with action selection tiles instead of cards. I wasn’t allowed to take photos, but I enjoyed it quite a bit and look forward to the official announcement in the coming months.
• After becoming a fan of night markets on my recent trip to Asia, it was a pleasure to sit down and play Taiwan Night Market, a new auction game about building night market stalls and attracting customers, from designer Zong-Hua Yang and Tawain-based publisher Good Game Studio. Taiwan Night Market is being crowdfunded on Kickstarter (KS link) through May 5, 2023 and is targeted to deliver to backers in August 2023.
In Taiwan Night Market, 2-4 players are competing to earn the most money after a number of rounds based on the player count. Each round, players bid on different locations to build different types of stalls (food, drinks, dessert, or snacks), while customers who demand a particular type of stall are placed at different entry ways. As the customers flow in, they stop and buy from the first matching stall they hit on their path. Of course, there are certain things that can bend this rule, but either way, you’re trying to attract as many customers as possible to your stalls so you can make the most money. I really enjoyed Taiwan Night Market and it felt like a lighter version of Food Chain Magnate in terms of positioning your stalls to respond to customer demand and gain a competitive edge on your opponents.
• Glass of Venice is an upcoming, heavy release from Living Forest designer Aske Christiansen, featuring a triple rondel with a unique dice action activation system. At its core, you are gaining resources to fulfill recipes to make different types of glass, which you can sell to advance on one of three different tracks. You have basic recipes on your player board, but you can also gain and fulfill more advanced recipes, and when you do, you can tuck them into your player board to make the corresponding basic recipe more juicy, so there’s some engine building to have fun with.
Main game board (prototype components)
Meanwhile, the triple rondel is divided into multiple pie slices, and each player has a foreman on each of the three layers. Each turn you move one of your foremen forward and perform the corresponding action. However, you must always keep all of your foremen within two pie slices of each other, so you have interesting decisions to make when you’re figuring out which one to move and when to move them. After you move a foreman to pick an action, you determine the strength of the action based on your dice pool(s) and how the levels are set for each action on your player board.
At the start of each round, you’ll roll all of your dice and leave them in the leftmost space towards the top of your player board. Then you’ll slide a portion of them forward and perform the action corresponding to the foreman you moved. At the beginning of the game, the red block dividers are in the middle, so any actions shown at the bottom use dice values of 1, 2, and 3, and any actions at the top use dice values of 4, 5, and 6. Throughout the game you can adjust the position of the red blockers to make certain actions pull a different amount of dice, and you can also do things to manipulate the value of your dice.
Player board (prototype components)
For as busy as Glass of Venice looks, the actions seemed pretty straightforward. For example, there’s an action to move your ships and sail around different parts of Venice, and then a different action to trigger the location where your ships are located and then bring the ships home. You can build buildings on different locations for various benefits. You can also take an action to rotate the wheel your resources are on, and add better perks around the resource wheel, which you’ll gain when you spend resources.
There’s a lot more at play here, but it’s very interesting and challenging to manage your dice pool(s) in conjunction with your foremen around the rondel. This is definitely one to keep an eye out for if you like heavy games.
• I also played The Glade, a deceptively thinky new game from Richard Breese and R&D Games, which Eric posted an overview of in April 2023. In The Glade, you place sets of animal tiles Scrabble-style on your individual board to place mushrooms on the central board, which unlock victory points for you. There are also ways to make enclosures to give yourself bonus actions.
It’s an interesting game, and it takes a minute to wrap your head around it. It was one of those games I immediately wanted to play again as I was gradually figuring out how to play more optimally.
• Last, but certainly not least, I really enjoyed playing Simon Weinberg’s colorful prototype of his game Xanadu. In Xanadu, players represent Kublai Khan’s family members who are doing various deeds to help build his wealth. On the surface, Xanadu appeared very busy with a lot going on, but Simon taught the game starting with the history and theme, and then all of the actions were intuitive, and I found the gameplay to be very smooth and thematic with unique mechanisms.
In Xanadu, your goal is to gain the most victory points by the end of the game. At the end of each round, you give all of the money you earned to Kublai Khan, which is converted to a varying amount of victory points depending on the round. You start each round with some income, which you’ll spend to recruit workers via dice drafting. Depending on the color and value of a die you draft, you’ll gain a certain amount of action points for the corresponding action. For example, yellow dice help you build the palace walls, purple dice help you construct the palace, green dice help you build farms, and black dice help you build routes to different areas where you can establish trading posts and sell silk. As you add trading posts to the board, you unlock horses which are available to you. If you’re able to connect to red areas representing theaters of war, you can conduct military campaigns to earn money based on the number of horses you have. The idea is, you have to find opportunities to earn money, then reinvest money to make more money before it’s time to score.
A lot of what you’re doing and the timing of your actions is driven by the star-shaped imperial offices board. The strength of your action allows you to move the meeple that many spaces on the board and gain the corresponding benefit of the space you land on. For example, if I was taking the construct palace action at a strength of 5, I could move the meeple up to 5 spaces away. In the photo on the left, you’ll notice there are dice placed on the tips of the star. If you land on a space in a section and your action strength meets or exceeds the value of the die, you get a little special bonus. However, there’s a balance to it. You can’t trigger this effect on the same die back-to-back, so if your disc was already under a die, you would need to trigger the effect on the opposite side. There’s almost a little mini game here with the imperial offices board, but it ties well into the rest of the game.
Xanadu was very interesting and did not feel like any other game I’ve ever played, which was refreshing. I also really appreciate that it’s historically based, and the history connects to what you’re doing in the game. I’ll be keeping an eye out on this one, and whatever Simon cooks up next.