First of all, it’s been a good while since I’ve written about board games! This is probably because of how few I’ve played over the past year, what with all the plague!
Now, normally, I like my posts here to be positive. This is a great hobby, and it should be celebrated! The thing is, there are some games in my collection that I really liked the look of, but which didn’t quite work for me. Now, I’m aware that these are all pretty solid games with lots of fans. There’s no point in me putting up games here that a just bad, this is more about good games that fell flat for me, that were ultimately disappointing.
So, with that in mind, there’s no Cards Against Humanity, Munchkin, Fluxx, and the like. I picked up those games knowing what they were, knowing they were situational and were never going to be among my favourites. These five games were ones that I sought out and was excited to play. These games really let me down for various reasons.
I picked this up early on, not long after I got back into board games. On paper, the game sounds quite fun, being a cooperative game of castle defence, wherein players work together to hold off invaders by trading resources, prioritising different invading enemies, and sacrificing parts of your castle when needed. Doesn’t that sound cool?
Maybe it does, but it’s really not so interesting in play. Playing this game gets quite frustrating for me, as it’s slow-paced and, really, pretty uninteresting. I don’t find the game very immersive on a thematic level either, and that’s a pity as a good theme can save an otherwise mediocre game.
Most of my plays of this in the past few years have been with children, and this is the only reason it is still in my collection. It seems to go down pretty well with the after school group. That sounds like high praise, but they also love Pokemon Master Trainer, so they may not be the most discerning of consumers.
This is a tricky one. As with Castle Panic, this was an early game for me, and one which I was really keen to pick up. Sure enough, once it arrived I got it to the table quickly (I really miss those days) and had an absolute blast racing against other players to build somewhat ramshackle ships with one arm pinned behind my back. Just to be clear, I absolutely love this part of the game. And then the ships launch…
…And, my God, it’s tedious from here on out. You’ve built your ship, and that was a lot of fun, but then the second half just sees you playing card after card, with each one representing something that happens to your ship in its journey. Note the phrasing. I say “something that happens to your ship”, not “choices you have made” or anything that really incorporates player agency or choice. I mean, sure, I get that your choices were in your ship design and now you’re basically stress testing it, but it’s still dull. Dull, dull, painfully dull.
I dunno, it’s frustrating to go from this great, frantic round of building your ship to… nothing. Sit back and watch. Let the game play itself. Nah, not fun. This game does get brought out quite often, still, largely because I really love building ships, but it hits me as a new disappointment every time we get into space.
For every year that I have done my Top 50 Games list, Twilight Struggle has been firmly in my top 5. Simply put, it’s damn near perfect for me. When Jolly Roger Games and Ultra Pro (yes, the card sleeve guys) started marketing 13 Days as a quicker version of Twilight Struggle, I was delighted. I jumped right on it and tried a few games of it and… meh.
First up, there’s no denying that the game is fine. I can see how it could be interpreted as a cut-down version of Twilight Struggle but, as it turns out, maybe I didn’t really want a cut down version after all? I like a lot of elements of the game, particularly the feeling that whenever you gain in one area you are essentially sacrificing another and a are basically trying to pick from the least-worst option, but at the same time the game feels just a little bit soulless.
The depth is missing, that feeling that what you’re doing is really significant. If Twilight struggle is a game of Warhammer with exquisite miniatures, this is more like playing with lumps of plasticine. Both games can be enjoyable, but one just feels so much better. There are also some production issues. The rulebook could be clearer with examples and some rules, like scoring the Defcon-track could use clarification.
Again, the game is fine. It will likely see some more play at some point, but it just left me feeling flat.
Interestingly, for what it was, I actually really liked the even shorter followup to this, 13 Minutes. I think perhaps because it’s so much smaller, I didn’t go in with the same expectations and enjoyed it more on its own merits without potentially-unfair comparisons.
Like 13 Days, I actually think this is probably a decent to good game. I love deck builders, so I was really keen to try this dice builder. I loved the idea of swapping out the faces on a set of customisable dice and I really liked the fact that the box became part of the board. The artwork is also really pretty, and the whole setup really appealed to me.
I played through the game and, you know what, I really enjoyed it. And then I played it again, and I really enjoyed it. And then I played it a few more times and I saw the biggest issue. Replayability. There just is not much in the way of variety. Get used to the different cards and dice faces and quickly it becomes a monotonous, repetitive experience. You are easily at risk of settling into auto-picks and retreading the same path in dice construction. There’s just not enough in the box to make it replayable, and it’s too small and short a game to really have drastically different paths from one play to the next.
And that’s a pity, because I do like the game. It’s fun. It’s pretty. It’s innovative. It’s just pretty dull after a few playthroughs and so is rarely taken off the shelf unless I have a particular player or players in mind whom I reckon would really enjoy it.
Do expansions remedy this problem? I don’t know, as I’m reluctant to spend more on a game that didn’t fully grab me.
I love Days of Wonder. Ticket to Ride, Shadows Over Camelot, and Quadropolis are among my favourite games, and I find them all very replayable. I find most games by Days of Wonder to be fun, relatively straightforward, beautifully illustrated, and very replayable. They generally work well for new gamers and the more experienced player.
But Small World… Man, it’s just not fun. It’s not exciting or challenging in any meaningful sense. Mechanically, it’s fine, and it makes sense, and it’s easy to pick up, and I like the variety afforded by the different race and trait combinations. Actually, that elements, combining different races and traits for potentially cool effects, is my favourite bit of the game. That, at least, can be interesting.
Perhaps it’s the lack of real player interaction that irks me? If I move a stack of four tiles into your territory that only has three, ignoring for now the various bonuses, then I win. You can’t defend. I can’t augment my forces. There’s nothing. A Game of Thrones is set up in a similar way, but there you can at least play a card from your hand to turn the tables, minimise the loss or have some other effect.
Again, like most Days of Wonder titles, the game is beautiful and some elements are interesting, but ultimately the game just falls flat for me. It’s a nice game for kids, I think, but it’s not really satisfying as a strategic map-conquering game. And I don’t even think that it’s not possible to be strategic in Small World. It totally is. I just don’t care, I’d actually play Risk before Small World, which is not something I would say of many games.