The Method to the Madness

Board Game Geekery

It’s that time of year again, when I look back over the good, bad, and ugly in gaming, and take stock of where I’ve been.

Initially, I was thinking that this would be a ho-hum year to look back on, because I thought I’d barely played any games released this year. That turned out to be inaccurate, even excluding expansions.

To discover games I’d played this year, I turned to Board Game Geek’s advanced search. I weeded out all expansions to games, and also games with fewer than 10 ratings, which cut down the number of pages from thirty or so to around nine.

In scanning these nine pages, I identified ten titles I’d played several times during the year that were not expansions, or Kickstarter games that were slated to come out that have yet to arrive (even though I’ve tried some of those via online play or printable demos).

Narrowing the Field

This left me with the following games:

  • The Lost Expedition
  • Escape from 100 Million B.C.
  • Godforsaken Scavengers
  • Triplock
  • The Aventuria Adventure Card Game
  • Castles of Caladale
  • The Tomb of Annihilation
  • Cosmic Run: Rapid Fire
Arbosh, a character in Aventuria, has made a craft roll here to try to guess the villain’s name. There were many story moments like this that lend weight to the theme.

An Honorable Mention

Other games sat in my collection, but did not hit the table as often as I’d hoped, when it came down to it. Among these, The Aventuria Adventure Card Game is one I regret not exploring. I did enjoy the the events between enemy encounters that set a narrative tone for the experience. In addition, the enemies had variable behaviors, from the lowliest grunts to the bosses, which I loved about the game. Still, fantasy adventures are a crowded field, and I think it’s harder and harder to carve out a niche in that genre. Nonetheless, Aventuria deserves an honorable mention.

An Odd Duck

Triplock is a game that is indisputably lovingly crafted, from the component quality to the game play. What puzzled me about this abstract puzzle game was the attempt to build a fairly elaborate game universe around a memory and planning exercise.

Each puzzle rewards you with a bit more of the game’s story and a deeper glimpse into the underbelly of New London, where a complacent elite seem to have laid hold of all the best resources and keep them under steampunk lock and key, the better for you to steal them, my dear.

I have to hand it to Chip Theory Games: they do not seem to fear taking calculated risks to give rise to something I’ve not quite seen the like of before.

The neoprene mat in the middle has the yellow chips with the symbols on them that you are trying to arrange to pick locks, sandwiched between two “failsafe” chips that prevent you from knowing what’s inside: kind of like a distant evil cousin of an Oreo cookie.
Castles of Caladale has many different tile-sets, all mixed together, and assembling them is a fun–if light–diversion.

Castles off Kilter

Castles of Caladale was a game with a quirky premise about building castles any which way with magic, as long as they were vaguely supported, and ideally capped off with towers for extra points. Visually appealing, and fast and loose, this game was a bit madcap, but a fun diversion that, alas, did not have staying power.

Space Flight of Fancy

Cosmic Run Rapid Fire was a game that I had high hopes for, and it did deliver some thrills, particularly in the back-and-forth race between my wife and myself to successfully colonize three planets. We both enjoyed the theme and the tension felt like it escalated well, toward the end. The solo mode was a decent diversion, as well. But, like many roll-and-write experiences, it remains a bit on the lighter side. Which brings us to the final set of contenders.

Cosmic Run Rapid Fire is fast-paced, light fun. I admire that there were some significant choices of how to use dice, but ultimately, this race to colonize new worlds is not in the top three.

The Final Fight

  • The Lost Expedition
  • Escape from 100 Millon B.C.
  • Tomb of Annihilation

What a different assembly of games. Two of them share Kevin Wilson as a designer: Escape and TombThe Lost Expedition, meanwhile, boasts a smaller tabletop footprint and a different designer, Peer Sylvester.

All of these games can be played solitaire or cooperatively, but Expedition allows you to compete to reach the lost city, as well.

How to decide?

The Aesthetics

Aesthetically, Expedition takes the prize, with its vaguely Tintin-esque art.

Your expedition may be lost, but whereever they are, its easy on the eyes.

Escape has a rather murkier palette, and the dinosaur/time castaway standees are not representative of the actual characters (I’m fine without miniatures, but would have preferred something better than a walking number).

Hi, Im a Chinese Peasant, but I will be represented on the board by a number 1 standee.

Furthermore, Tomb, at least in the unpainted edition, struggles to hold a candle to some of its more elaborate miniature game competitors.

My Druid is looking a bit blue… And not tremendously detailed. The tile backdrop is colorful, at least.

Theming

This one is a tougher call. Each game evokes theme slightly differently: the oversized cards in Lost Expedition manage to draw me in, almost like the tableau of cards in a Time Stories adventure.

Escape doesn’t have much in the way of art to recommend it, but the descriptions on the event cards, as well as text on some of the historical persons you encounter carry some emotional or thematic heft–if you let them.

You should really watch where you step. Poor butterfly! Another card sees a dinosaur chasing a pregnant mammalian ancestor! Hadn’t you better rescue her?!

 

Tomb has some of the more vibrant art on a D&D board game tileset, at least in the jungle tiles. And that can really draw me in, compared with the stone walls of the typical dungeon.

If I had to give a prize for theme, I would go with Escape, because I personally do not see a lot of time travel games, and this one does it well, at least in the flavor text and the quirky end results of your temporal tampering.

The Grand Prize

2017, for me, was a year of games building on successful formats of years gone by. Sure, there were some surprising mechanics (dexterity and roll and write come to mind), that were explored more fully. But, on the whole, I saw refinement to game play.

Casual and Complex

As a result: In the end, I could not shake the feeling that Escape from 100 Million B.C. deserved my accolades. I have played this with casual gamers (my dad and brother) and more serious gamers (my wife and I) alike, and it met with enjoyment.

Gotta get all the time machine parts in time, or else you’ll alter the timeline, and we wouldn’t want that, now would we?

Scores that Tell Stories

Even though, I normally do not go for games where a final score is evaluated on a seemingly arbitrary scale, I found this game compelling.

The track on the edge of the board that changes from green, to orange, to red, marks how much your meddling in time has destabilized the timeline. It also functions as a bit of a timer, in that–if you should be so unfortunate–reaching the last space of the track ends the game with the worst outcome.

The altered timeline description upon completing the game is a bit of a value judgment on your performance, but it is not so bland as “excellent, improving, needs work”–or some other set of qualifiers that make me feel as though I have reentered middle school gym class, and they really don’t want to tell me how physically unfit I am.

Instead, you get things like Elvis being President, or the Allies losing WWII. A lot more entertaining.

Furthermore, there is an actual objective, in addition to the score: namely collecting the pieces of the time machine as quickly as possible.

Character Powerhouses

The variable character powers did not all seem created equal, but each of them worked and had their invaluable uses in certain circumstances. On the whole, the game gives the impression of a “Forbidden Desert” style game, but much more expansive, with many moving parts that can come together (and often do) to create a cinematic experience.

The different stats and abilities reminded me–not coincidentally–of Arkham Horror and Elder Sign characters…
Not all of the abilities are equally powerful, but they are all interesting.

A Cinematic Experience

Did Amelia Earhart get eaten by a T Rex? Can you save Teddy Roosevelt from extinction? Will you stand your ground against a rampaging dinosaur and get the Time Machine piece, or run to fight another day…

There are many elements of the game that let you construct a narrative of your experience, in your head, which is something I get a kick out of. This game does it as well as any I’ve played, so far.

Concluding Thoughts

Wow. What a year. I could go on, but we’ve covered a fair amount of ground, already!

To be sure, I am still expecting to receive strong contenders on into December 2017, but I am not sure when exactly I’ll be able to get Legacy of DragonholtDragonfire, or host of other games to the table.

With lots of theme, and a variety of narrative elements in the flavor text on cards, you and your crew of time travelers may have many happy returns to Escape from 100 Million B.C.

Escape from 100 Million B.C. is a game that you can teach to players with moderate cooperative game experience, and it has a theme that is accessible to most people via movies, books, and TV: going back into the past, encountering dinosaurs, and trying to keep your science from running amok.

While the art could have been better, there is this feeling, as though you were playing through a game of some retro dinosaur adventure movie, where the special effects aren’t quite up to snuff, but the premise and game play is fun enough, that you can forgive it.

I can’t wait until next year’s slate of games, but if you’ll excuse me, I have a time machine to catch!

— Dave.

Twitter: @ptboardgames

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