Corinth

Corinth

Corinth is a roll-and-write game about ancient-world trading with people who look friendlier and much, much cleaner than their probable real-world counterparts. Yay washing!

Corinth’s twist on the roll-and-write style of game is this: Each turn, the active player rolls the dice and puts them on a board of goods. There’s a set method to this; the player does not choose where the dice go. Instead, all dice of the highest number rolled go into the gold section at the top, and all dice of the lowest number rolled go into goats, at the bottom. The rest of the dice are likewise sorted by number rolled and placed in ascending order in each of the four goods districts. Each player, starting with the active one, picks a set and marks off a number of goods equal to the number of dice in that section.

This has a couple of effects that go against gamer (or math) reflexes.

  1. Although goats get the lowest dice and gold the highest, goats are not inherently less valuable, because you can as easily have fewer goats available during the course of the game than gold. It’s just a matter of how many dice end up in those sections each turn.
  2. It takes substantially fewer items to collect all the sets of goods in the higher districts, but it’s easy to underestimate how few shots you’ll get at them. To have any dice available in the highest district, all six numbers must be rolled on the nine dice (though up to three extra dice can be unlocked, which increases the odds a bit). This means that not only will it be fairly unusual to hit the highest district, there will rarely be more than two dice available, and if it’s not your turn it’s quite likely someone else will grab them first.

It creates, not a whole new road of thought, but more of an off-ramp on to a highway that leans a little bit away from strategy as we tend to think of it. You roll dice for the whole game, decide what to do with those dice, and the value of the dice never matter. It’s not complicated—once you understand that aspect, the game becomes much clearer—but it requires something different from the player, and that’s pretty cool.

As for the game itself, it plays in a pretty straightforward fashion. You get your goods, or spend your gold and goats on buildings, or move your steward around to get you bonuses. Each section has its own way to score; you also get bonus points if you’re the first to fill all the goods slots in a district, and the game is otherwise balanced enough that someone who locks up multiple bonuses stands a very good chance of winning. In four-player games, it forces people to decide if they’re all going to race for the easier districts or take a shot at picking up the more difficult ones and hope they finish their bonuses by the end of the game.

It’s a clever little game with good artwork and a requirement to think, if not totally outside the box, then over the open flap. 

3.9 out of 5 stars (3.9 / 5)

Tiny Towns

Tiny Towns

I wanted to like this game. I did. I really, really did. It’s adorable city building on a small board with a bunch of cubes and a plethora of building choices with synergy bonuses all over the map. It should be something I would enjoy.

I think I tried to enjoy it with too many people. Which is a fine way to enjoy lots of things, just not this.

Tiny Towns has a simple premise: small critters have started a town, and they need to build it up as much as possible without wasting their resources. Like most small critters, they have no background in urban development, so they haven’t learned how to stockpile everything in one spot and move it from place to place as necessary. They just dump something in each location and stop when the town is full.

The basic mechanic is simple enough. The active player chooses one of the five types of resources. Everyone takes one and puts it on their board. Each type of building has a resource pattern associated with it; once you have that resource pattern laid out on your board, you may construct that building in any of the spaces where those resources were put. This forces you to be extremely careful where you place each cube, since you can’t take anything off the board once it’s placed.

Now imagine playing this with six people, where you only control the selected resource once every six turns. Yeah.

I have not played Tiny Towns with only two (or three) people. I imagine it’s quite a bit like Downforce, in that it has a set of mechanics which work considerably better with a small group. This makes the choice to sell it as a 1-6 player game extremely irritating. The game demands a high degree of intelligent choice in how you place your resources. It’s fine to make you look at your opponents and take their probable choices into account, but when there are too many of them it’s impossible to account for everything that’s going to happen between your current turn and your next one.

That, in turn, makes certain monuments (special structures unique to each person) extremely powerful in large games. Namely, anything that lets you get around the strict placement and building rules is wildly OP. There’s a variant for new players that lets you set two resources aside until you get used to the game; I recommend bigger games be played with that in effect no matter how experienced everyone is.

The rule holds, however: games are judged on how they are out of the box, not fixed by the players.

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

Twice as Clever

Twice as Clever

Twice As Clever

Is the sequel to That’s So Clever, in fact, twice as clever?

No. I don’t even know how you would calculate it, but it’s not twice as clever. I don’t think it requires you to be twice as clever, either. But it does require you to be more clever. 1.3x, perhaps. I suppose marketing hyperbole wins again.

If you’re not familiar with Ganz Schon Clever, there’s a review here already, but the short version is colorful Yahtzee with way more complicated scoring and the occasional chance to screw over your friends. Twice As Clever sets up a new board, a new set of mechanics, and some colorful new dice—pink and silver—take over from purple and orange. Every color works differently, however.

There’s also a new return mechanic. When you use one, you take a die off the platter and include it in your next roll (you can only do this on your turn). Like rerolls and +1s, you gain them as the game progresses and use them when you want.

The quick rundown of the new color mechanics:

Silver: There are four rows of each non-silver color from one to six. When you pick silver, you fill in that number for any color, along with every die you have to put on the platter because you took silver. This makes silver a potential way to get a ton out of your turn even if you don’t give yourself three choices, since in theory you can use a high silver roll to use all six dice immediately. In addition, it gives you an obvious chance to use the new returns.

Yellow: There are ten numbers in yellow—one 1, one 6, and two each of the other numbers. When you use yellow, you circle one of them. Circle everything in a row or column, and you get the listed bonus. However, to score points you have to roll the number again and X over the circle. This creates a dilemma between going for more bonuses (and points elsewhere) or scoring higher in yellow itself. It’s tempting to go for a ton of yellow points because the bonuses skyrocket, but it takes a lot of rolls to make that happen.

Blue: Like before, it counts as the sum of blue and white. Start as high as you can; each number after that has to be equal to or less than the one that came before. This is like a reverse of the purple line from the original game, except there’s no way to reset the count. If you put a low number on blue, you’re not going much farther without bonuses filling in the spots.

Green: Everything in green happens in pairs. The first number you want to be high, the second low. Your score for the pair is the first minus the second. There are multipliers on each box, and you get potentially higher pairs the further down the line you go.

Pink: You can put any number in this line at any time, and your score is whatever the total is at the end. This makes it “free” to use; however, after the first two boxes, each box has a threshold you need to beat to get the associated bonus. If you’re at the six threshold, you may want to stick anything in there in order to get the fox that comes afterwards, but for the best score you want to meet the threshold each time. (Really you want to get a six each time, but the odds on that…)

Twice As Clever is the first game with a new set of mechanics. You’ll like it as much as you liked the first game. If you didn’t play the first one, this one is only 1.3x more complicated, so you’ll be fine picking it up.

4.2 out of 5 stars (4.2 / 5)

Azul

Azul

Let’s make a quilt! Or a rug. Or… whatever. Tile wall! That’s it.

Azul is a classic game, re-released two years ago, and it’s still selling well. That’s because it’s good. Spoilers.

So, let’s talk about how and why it works. You have a board with a five-by-five pattern you’re trying to fill in the most cohesive possible way. There are five colors, represented once each per row and column (they show up as a diagonal pattern, it’s quite nice). Each round, seven little platters are loaded with four tiles randomly chosen from the bag, each in one of the five colors. Players choose one platter, take all the tiles of one color from it, and put the rest in the center. A player may also take all the tiles of one color that have been placed in the center instead; the first one to do this takes the first player tile, which counts as a penalty tile at the end of the round.

Those tiles go on one of the horizontal lines to the left of the wall pattern. Those lines have one, two, three, four, or five empty spaces, going down. All tiles on a line must be of the same color. Take too many to fit the line where you want them to go? Extras go on the penalty row. Forced to take a color you can’t place? Those tiles go on the penalty row. The first couple of penalties aren’t major, but they escalate quickly, and you want to avoid them in any case.

When you fill one of those lines, at the end of the round one tile moves over to the matching spot on that row of the wall. If you’ve filled a spot, that color can’t be readied for that row anymore. So, as the game progresses, your goal is to keep targeting colors you need, but only as many tiles as are required to fill a pattern line and get the color into that row.

However! You also want to get tiles on the wall next to each other. The first one you place scores you a point. Every one you place after that scores a point, plus one more for each adjacent tile on the wall (orthogonal only). This means you’re gauging who needs what color, how many you need of each color, what colors will score you the most, how many tiles you need to put that color in the right place, and sometimes when you need to absorb a penalty to max out the scoring power of your wall.

It’s one of those games with basic actions that are easy to understand, but which lead into a game that runs fairly deep on strategic level. It’s also an example of good, professional game design. Quite a number of games give you a basic set of mechanics that lead to engaging play. Sometimes the mechanics are deceptively simple; Onitama gives you five pieces and a bunch of cards, and while the designers would have needed to spend plenty of time with the cards to make sure the game was balanced, overall it doesn’t take much to create an excellent, quick strategy game.

Azul, on the other hand, is a game that is either the product of a tremendous amount of iteration, or amazing luck (and still an awful lot of iteration). Filling the five-by-five wall is simple enough, but why are the pattern lines designed in a one through five fashion? They could have all been the same length, for example, and within that idea they could have reasonably been anywhere from three to five lines long. Why are the penalties structured as they are? How come there are seven platters of tiles, rather than six or eight. or a number based on the players in the game? Why do players get to take tiles from the center of the table, rather than only from the platters? Why is scoring exactly one per tile, including adjacent ones? Why are the adjacency bonuses orthogonal only, not diagonal?

Designers who don’t take enough time to playtest their games and figure out just the right balance points make mistakes on questions like these. Sometimes this happens because they need the game on the shelves and selling; sometimes, if they work for a larger company, they have bosses pressing them for a product; sometimes they just don’t see the fault lines in their creations. Azul sidesteps the potential errors, and we wind up with something on the short list of players everywhere for “that game you should totally get”. Maybe you already knew how good it was, but let’s take a moment to respect how much time it takes to put a game on that level.

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)


Welcome To Your Perfect Home

Welcome To Your Perfect Home

If there’s a nightmare scenario in life, it’s living in a community where every house is exactly the same, all of you have to follow rules about keeping your home “clean” and your lawn “tidy”, and you swear that every one of your neighbors have a not-insignificant amount of Stepford blood in them.

Selling those houses, though… that’s a win.

Welcome to Your Perfect Home puts you in the role of a real estate developer with three long blocks of houses to fill—one of ten houses, one of eleven, and one of twelve. A fat stack of cards is split into three piles, each with an action on one side and a number on the other (with a small icon of the action on the flip side of the card in one corner). Each round, one card is flipped action side up, so each pile has a number and an action visible. Players choose one of these combos, put the number on one of the houses, and choose whether or not to use the action.

The goal is to fill all the blocks with numbers going in ascending order, while also pulling in enough points through putting pools in yards, investing in neighborhoods of certain sizes, and meeting other various goals to outscore everyone else. The game ends when somebody has a number on every house, or when someone marks off three stop signs (three instances of not being able to develop a house on a turn with any of the available numbers). It’s a roll-and-write game, although with cards rather than dice. Apart from fences, which you use to create smaller neighborhoods within each block, you mark off a spot for each action you take, which (potentially) earns you more points by the end of the game.

The first time I played this, I put together a flawless game. I mathed out how many numbers I would have available to fill in the number of spaces that would be left if I put number X on house Y, and did not waste a single turn. The game ended when all my houses were full, and all three of my opponents had one empty. Given that real estate bonuses for the blocks you have completed only count if all the houses on the block are full, that’s a nice edge to have.

I lost. Not by a couple of points, but by twelve (112-100). And that’s why I think this is a pretty good game.

Here’s the reason: when I saw I played a flawless game, it means I did not make any errors in figuring out what numbers to place where, and when. I strategized towards making sure all my houses were tagged, which is the end goal, and it worked perfectly. Yet I obviously did not play a perfect game, because I got noticeably beaten.

The nature of the card draw means you’re always playing the odds. There are enough cards in each deck that you can’t really card count effectively (if you can, you will be godly at this and you don’t need any strategy tips). But you have to take into account how many points you’re likely to score with each move. If you put a palm tree up in six houses across all three blocks, you’ll get twelve points. But if you fill them up on one block, the same number of palm trees will earn you more in sum because of the finishing bonus. You’ll probably have reason to take real estate bonuses before you’ve started forming your blocks, so do you choose a number and let that guide how you build? Will you build towards bonuses? Can you see what bonuses your opponents are going for, and can you beat them to the punch?

There’s probably some perfect strategy to the game that’s most likely to win as long as you get the cards you need. That last part is the key, though. Unless that strategy is the best under any circumstances, and you’ll only lose if you’re desperately unlucky—and, while unlikely, this is possible—you’ll need to know how to adjust. That’s where you get gameplay rather than rote memorization, and that’s what makes a game good.

4.2 out of 5 stars (4.2 / 5)


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