Slim pickings this month in the “Games New to Me” area of boardgaming. I did play a total of 11 games, though, which isn’t too bad.

I actually thought it was going to be even worse if it hadn’t been for an unexpected play this last Sunday, however.

Dreaming Spires.

Probably my favourite new game of the month, even though I’m not 100% sure how I feel about it, is the game Dreaming Spires.

This game is basically about trying to create the most prestigious college at Oxford University over the course of its long life (established in 1096). It has one of the most interesting scoring systems I’ve seen in a game, which is why it’s important to get it right. For a 4-page rulebook, it’s amazing how many rules we got wrong the first time (which is why we played it again on Sunday with the correct rules)

The game has four eras in which each player has two turns. During each turn, players can do a total of four actions, repeating any actions they want. Thus, you only get 8 actions per era, or 32 actions in the game.

Weird-looking scoreboard, eh? (keeping my Canadian street-cred alive)

It’s a pretty tight game and the scoring matches it. Basically, each scoring period (one at the end of each era), a certain number of boxes on the scoreboard are scored. You’ll be checking your academic reputation in that area and adding any students/fellows/tradition points to it as appropriate. Whoever has the most wins the box. Whoever has the most academic reputation in the subject wins any ties. After all boxes are scored, remove the scoring cubes from the player who won the least number of boxes and rescore those, not counting the eliminated player.

After all of this is done and redone until only one player remains, that player gets a random coin from the bag. (yes, it’s not much of a reward).

The only difference is the final scoring round after the modern era. All of the boxes are scored and the same procedure is used. However, whoever wins this round is the winner of the game. Doesn’t matter if you won all of the previous scoring rounds. The last one is the only one that matters.

One of the scholars you can attract to your college

The other weird thing about the game is that the money is all random. All of the coins (denominations from 1 to 3) are in a bag. At the beginning of each era, or as one of your actions, or when you win an earlier scoring round, you draw coins from the bag (four coins at the beginning of an era and one each other time). So if you luckily get all “3” coins, you have 12 bucks (I know it’s British, so sue me). Or you could get unlucky and start with 4 bucks.

This is important because each turn ends with an auction (1 of 4 different types) where you can buy +1 fellows, or students, or tradition based on the event that’s turned up. Events can also be triggered by certain scholars in each era, and that will produce an auction.

You can see how money can be an issue.

No wonder I lost! My students are boring! Look at all those churches and stuff.

Still, I found the game really intriguing, and once we played the rules right, it was very tight. Academic reputation didn’t get uncatchable in any one area, which resulted in a lot of ties. Thus, the size of the college a player has built can be very important (that’s the main tiebreaker. This nice balance of getting reputation and placing building tiles (said tiles also creating the symbols that let you obtain scholars in the first place) makes each decision difficult, especially as you get near the end of the game.

In other words, this can be an AP-inducing game, so be careful of that.

It’s not a short game, but it’s not hugely long either. It may outstay its welcome a little bit.

But overall, I want to play it again to cement my opinion.

Which certainly is not the sign of a bad game!!!

Potion Explosion

I’ve played the app for this many times, but this qualifies as “new” because February was the first time I played it on the table.

And I have to say, give me the app any day.

Potion Explosion has its roots in the “Match 3” genre of video games, but it’s a lot more than that. You have two potions that you are trying to prepare, using different coloured marbles to fulfill the requirements for it. It could demand 1 blue marble, 1 green, and 3 yellow, for instance.

My non-practical instincts are still screaming

In the main contraption (yes, assembly is required in this game!) that holds all the marbles, you take one marble out on your turn. The marbles above it will collapse. If they strike a marble of the same colour, an explosion occurs! You get those marbles as well. A chain reaction can happen if you’re truly lucky, but only so many marbles fit into a column, so you rarely get more than 2 explosions. You place the marbles on a potion and if you’ve completed the requirements, you get it!

Each potion has a different type and different ability, anywhere from taking two adjacent marbles in a column of different colours to being able to steal other players reserved marbles. (yes, once your turn is over, you can keep three marbles in reserve for next turn). You get a medal for creating three of the same type of potion, and for creating 5 different types. Each one medal is worth 5 points, and the potions have point values as well.

Once all of the medals in a game are gone (there are only a set number), the round finishes so that everybody has the same number of turns. You then add up your final score.

My main objection to the game is that it’s way too fiddly on the table. When you complete a potion, you have to put the marbles back into the contraption (yes, I will keep calling it that) randomly, and I found it very difficult to make it truly random. Then using your big fingers to get the marbles out of the contraption can be hard as well. Finally, marbles roll really well, so you’d better not drop them!

I also don’t really like assembling things, though I will make exceptions for Colt Express train cars.

Give me the app where the computer randomizes everything and can tell you what exactly each of your potions does and what you can do it with it given the current situation with the other players.

It’s not a bad *game* though, and if you don’t mind what I didn’t like about it, you’ll do fine with the tabletop as well.

Starving Artists

This is my first 2017 game played! It’s a game that came out of Kickstarter, and it’s actually fairly fun, though I found it a bit too easy on my first play (hope we didn’t get any rules wrong).

In this game, players are starving artists trying to create paintings for food (and paint!) and victory points. The “paint” consists of different coloured cubes that will be placed on the canvasses you buy in the appropriate squares. You may need 3 purples cubes, 2 green cubes, a red cube and a black cube to complete one, for instance.

During each day, each player can do two morning actions and then, once it’s their turn again, two afternoon actions. This can be applying paint cubes to a canvas, buying a canvas so you have something more to paint, or taking three random paint cubes from the bag. You can also, once per day, trade some paint that you have for paint in the market that you need.

At the end of the day, you can sell completed paintings if you want.

Two of the paintings that you can create, some with paint cubes already on them.

At the beginning of each day, your food goes down by one. If it reaches zero, you starve! You’re out of the game and everybody else gets one more day to do paintings. It is conceivable that you could win even having starved, but it’s very unlikely.

I don’t even know how you can starve if you are selling paintings at any speed. Each painting gives you VP (sometimes zero), paint cubes, and food. You’d have to be doing a lot of low-food paintings and taking more than one day to do them in order to starve.

But I guess it’s possible.

First one to a pre-determined level of VPs or pre-determined number of paintings sold (both based on player count) wins!

I either got really lucky during this game or it has a fairly easy path to victory, as I was able to complete and sell at least one painting every turn (or at most it took me two turns). I was never low on the food. Also, the paint you earn for selling paintings is taken from the market and there never seemed to be a whole lot in the market. You seed it with 4 cubes at the beginning of the day, you can trade cubes (2 for 1, 5 for 2, or 9 for 3) to get cubes you want, and you also pay into the market for the canvasses (1 to 3 cubes depending on where it is in the canvas market). I admit we didn’t trade a lot (I did some 2 for 1 trades and a few other did one or two), so that probably affected it.

I’d have to play this again to get a more solid read on it. Maybe we just all played “wrong” and thus I had an easy path.

It’s definitely an interesting concept though!

Pandemic the Cure: Experimental Meds

This expansion to the wonderful dice game (#5 on my Top 10 Games Played in 2016 list!) adds a bunch of new roles and two disease modules that can make life a lot tougher for players who are just trying to save the world from disease.

The world when we were actually looking like we might save it. Before it died in catastrophe

We played a 2-player game with the purple module, adding the purple disease to the mix. Now you have to cure five diseases, not just four. The purple dice have three number values (2, 4, and 5), and then they have a “-1” side and a “x2” side, in addition to the normal cross. Normally, when you try to cure a disease with saved samples, you have to roll a total of 13 on the dice. The “-1” and “x2” do what you would think: subtract one from your total or double it. So you would think it would be easy!

Not always.

That won't cure the disease...

We managed to cure four diseases, including purple, but we had too many outbreaks (when more than 3 dice of the same colour are in a region) and thus lost.

Some of the new roles are really cool too. I played with the Quarantine Specialist. This role prevents any disease dice from landing in a region s/he is in. Also, before the infection phase, s/he can go to any region for free. This is great when you only have one region in danger of an outbreak. But when you have two or three regions? Luck of the draw. We got burned a bit too often, unfortunately.

This roll rocks...unless every region is under threat. Then your guess is as good as mine.

Another interesting role that we used in a different game this month was the Troubleshooter. This role has a die side which can be saved and used to put one infection die back in the bag. Another side has “fly & treat” where you can do both in either order.

Sadly, this didn’t save us in a game of normal P:tC (we weren’t using either expansion module), but it was still pretty cool!

All in all, I love the new roles and the purple disease. Haven’t tried the Hot Zone module yet, but that’s next on the list.

So, did you play any new games this month? Tell me in the comments.