I’ve been tiling, exploring space, building a nation’s energy network and making the numbers stack up. Here’s how much fun it was.
I’m part of a board game group that plays every week and one of the big benefits is that more dedicated gamers bring along the latest hot new releases. Here’s my take on some of the games we’ve played that were released in the past year or so.
(If you’re not familiar with any of the game mechanic terms I use in this piece, check out our jargon-buster on the topic.)
Though there’s a thin theme about tiling a palace wall, this is really an abstract game that’s remarkably simple but effective. Playing involves nothing more complicated than choosing a set of tiles and then selecting a row on your board to place them, but the rules and scoring means there’s a fair bit of thought needed about what to place where and just as importantly when. It’s in that nice category of games that play quickly (20-30 minutes) without being throwaway filler. It’s reminiscent of the excellent Sagrada both in the look and feel and in the way it’s largely a very satisfying “multiplayer solitaire”, but still offers the opportunity to screw over opponents by taking away tiles they’d find useful.
A combination of a deckbuilder and (in the big picture) a push your luck game, this game offers more than just a retheme of the original Clank! Rather than exploring a dungeon and avoiding dragons, you’re exploring a spaceship and avoiding the evil Lord Eradikus. This has all the mechanics of the original but throws in some extra board elements such as teleports, a shortcut and a set of barriers that can only be passed once you have found and collected two command code tokens. These all improve the game without overly complicating it, putting a lot more emphasis on planning an efficient route in and out of the ship. It’s very well balanced with our initial play coming down to a single final move that took a player from last place to first.
Despite the name, “The Manhattan Project: Energy Empire” has little to do with the original Manhattan Project game in either theme or mechanics. Each player takes the role of a country competing to develop their energy supplies, balancing costs against the pollution of particular types of energy. It’s core mechanic is worker placement, though it’s the type of game where placing a worker makes that option more expensive for other players rather than blocking it off completely. While it all runs quite smoothly, it’s the type of game that takes a few goes to really get to grips with how the different point-scoring elements are balanced and which strategies are worth pursuing. The problem is that the theme isn’t immersive enough that you’d necessarily want to come back to it over and over again.
In NMBR9, you have two sets of tiles shaped (sometimes loosely) like the numbers 0 through 9. A deck of cards determines the order you have to place these tiles. Each tile has to touch at least one other on the same level, and any tile that isn’t on the bottom level must be completely supported by cards on the level below with no overhang. Tiles on the bottom level score nothing, tiles on the first level up score their number times one, tiles on the second level up score their number times two and so on.
That’s pretty much the entirety of the rules for NMBR9 but it’s a simplicity that’s infuriating in all the right ways. A game takes no more than 10 to 20 minutes to play and the chances are you’ll play it again right away because you think you’ll have it more figured out this time.
The only downside for some gamers is that there’s no player interaction whatsoever: it’s literally everyone doing the same solitare puzzle and then comparing scores. It’s also questionable how much long-term value there’d be in the game, particularly if spatial awareness isn’t your strong point.
(We’ll cover more games tomorrow including Raiders of The North Sea’s expansions, Rising Sun and This War Of Mine.)