Who has time for full-blown reviews anymore? If you want them, you can find them – a sea of them. But if you want something quick, here you go – quick takes on recent games I’ve played. Nah, I didn’t play them seven times, I won’t explain the rules in excruciating detail, won’t give you the path to victory based on countless plays. I’ll give you the gist, something I find interesting, and what I think. So – here we go:
Architects of the West Kingdom
The Gist: The fine Raiders of the North Sea from Renegade Games (in the US) introduced us to the connected game systems of designer Shem Phillips, who has constructed a lot of different middle-weight games using his mix of worker placement, card deck variation, and tight resource management. While the others in his first trilogy may not be the strong winners that Raiders of the North Sea has proved to be, they have their charms and made me excited for Architect of the West Kingdom, the lead title in a new series. Architects hearkens back to Raiders in a pleasant way, in both its commitment to an interesting implementation of worker placement and snappy playtime that makes you feel like you had a pleasantly middle-weight experience even with relatively light play.
What’s Interesting: There’s much to like in Architects, but the compelling piece for me was the management of a large number of workers, some of whom are permanently removed from the game when you do build actions, and some of which you can claim back, both through ‘capturing’ them yourself, or when other people do it to break up your group on a space. Before I played, a friend of mine said, “Oh, you won’t like the ‘take-that’ element of the game.” Should couldn’t have been more wrong; this is an intriguing way to let a player stop a dominant component, but it probably isn’t worth it to just ‘mess with people’ (which is NOT fun, in my view). Architects is a really good design.
My Take: Architects of the West Kingdom is good enough that I’m in the market to trade for it, but not go splurge on it new. I think it’s a very good game and I’m keen to play it more, but it doesn’t add something so new and vital to my game collection that I need it RIGHT NOW. I think it’s good to modulate those urges.
Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra
The Gist: The original Azul from Next move and Plan B Games, is one of my favorite light games of the last decade. This gem from Michael Kiesling deserved took home the SDJ honors and I’ve gotten a lot of play out of this simple-to-explain and challenging-to-master title. While I expected an Azul Dice Game (surely coming), a card game, and more, Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra showed up first instead (well, if you don’t count those Jokers and alternate tiles – yes, I have them all). ASGS gives you new scoring methods, with the distribution that is the centerpiece of Azul staying the same.
What’s Interesting: ASGS gives you a lot more choices in how you allocate the tiles you collect. With options to move your glazier around and put smaller and larger sets of tiles into your glass windows, ASGS feels like a more gamer-friendly version of the original. There’s certainly more to consider than the original game and it feels like a pleasant variant for people who love Azul but have overplayed the original game.
My Take: I quite like ASGS but I’m not sure it is a truly necessary purchase for the average individual who likes Azul and gets what they want out of that game. As a completist and lover of variants of games I adore, ASGS will stay in my collection. But for minimalists or Marie Kondo fans questioning the amount of joy brought to them by each game taking up precious shelf and life space, sticking with the original, more attractive Azul will work (the ‘glass’ tiles are less appealing, in my view). The game also doesn’t have anything to do with Sagrada, the nice stained-glass window game that is a trifle more gamer-y than Azul, nor will it replace that game.
New Frontiers: The Race for the Galaxy Board Game
The Gist: The wonderful Tom Lehmann finally brings the Race for the Galaxy story full circle in New Frontiers, new from the revitalized Rio Grande Games. If you know the history of RFTG and Puerto Rico, you’ll know that RFTG began life as the Puerto Rico Card Game. But then the designer of Puerto Rico did his own (San Juan) and we got RFTG. Now, New Frontiers brings its more compelling theme (IMNSHO) to the board game world. Yes, the similarities are there, but Tom has found touches to bring to the experience in both the logistics of tracking your progress and a new sense of freedom to the RFTG mechanisms. It’s like he Caverna’d his game.
What’s Interesting: Really, just enjoying the implementation one of the great game systems in modern board games. Tom is a precision designer of the highest order and it’s easy to see how he tuned this wonder to work so well, providing a different experience from RFTG, but one that also doesn’t just stand-in as sci-fi Puerto Rico. I find New Frontiers looser, which means it won’t get ‘solved’ in the way Puerto Rico was. Also – have you SEEN the components? (Keanu Voice): Whoa.
My Take: You can always tell I love and was ready to buy the game after one play. That said, if you don’t love Race for the Galaxy, then what is wrong with you? I mean, sorry, if you don’t like RFTG, then New Frontiers may not be your glass of blue milk. Yet, if RFTG frustrated you because of the luck of the draw or the tempo, New Frontiers may be more palatable for you so give it a try.