PAX U 2021 Recap (part 2)

I admit I get a bit of a rush during convention days where I’m learning and playing games back to back for 12 hours straight. I’ve gotten pretty good at teaching games quickly straight from the rulebook (500+ games in an you rarely see anything truly new), and I adore the discovery process of playing a new game. Saturday and Sunday was precisely this, and I was in heaven, even as my energy faded, my mind got fuzzy, and my attitude turned a bit cranky. We’ve got an extended podcast coming later this week where we discuss all of the games we played together, but I wanted to highlight the new games here and go into a bit more detail.

Salvage

According to BGG this game is out of print currently and is signed to get a reprint in 2023. I guess I should look these things up before I play them with the expectation of recommending them to you if they’re good. I guess slap it in your wishlist and check back in a year or so because Salvage is fascinating. At its core it’s a variation on Hearts. I love Hearts. I played hundreds of games of it on my laptop freshman year in the classes where I already knew the material. But it’s a pretty simple game, strategically, and it doesn’t take too long to develop some core heuristics that cover nearly all of the decisions you’ll be presented with. 

Salvage gives Hearts a firm shake-up by introducing a bidding mechanism before there’s any trick-taking at all. A small pile of tokens sit in the middle of the table. Each token mitigates a point you might lose during the trick-taking phase. On your turn you can take as many tokens as you want. However, if someone takes the final token the entire thing blows up, everyone loses points equal to the number of tokens they have, and everyone passes their entire hand to the left. 

Take too many tokens and someone else might actually gain from letting that round go bust. If you think your hand is awful, it might be worth it to lose a couple of points relative to your opponents in order to ditch your hand. It’s a fascinating dynamic that makes the beginning of the game in particular quite tense. It also means that once you generate a lead it feels quite comfortable to maintain that lead through conservative play.

Almost two years ago I predicted that we were on the precipice of a trick taking boom. With The Crew, Brian Boru, and a number of smaller offerings (if you can somehow get your hands on “Cat in the Box” from Japan, do so), I think I might have been right. Slot Salvage right in with the most interesting of these new trick taking games.

2Can

On the complete opposite side of “interesting” is 2Can, a near-copy of the folk-game “Golf”, from what I’m told. If true, that’s a terrible appropriation of the word golf, the world’s greatest sport. Most of the game consists of drawing a card off the top of the deck and hoping it matches one of the cards you already have. There are some brief flashes of more, mostly around the question of whether or not you should trigger the end of the game, but it’s not much. 2Can isn’t bad; mostly it’s nothing at all.

Dinosaur World

Here’s a game that’s a lot of something. Dinosaur World sits uncomfortably in my memory. Perhaps I’m affected by the fact that we played it quite late at night, but when I finished I felt like I should have liked it better than I did. Upon reflection I can think of two dissonant traits that rubbed me the wrong way. 

The first is with the production, which is big and colorful and promising of something grand. However, if you look more closely you’ll find bits and pieces that underwhelm. Tiny little fragile cardboard bits that feel out of place next to the chunky dice and dinosaur meeples.

More significantly, I think the game promises something thematically that it doesn’t deliver. It’s clearly not-legally-Jurassic Park, and that property is about grandiosity and hubris. It’s epic. Dinosaur World is a grindy eurogame with only brief glimpses of what I wanted it to be (or what it implicitly advertises). Instead of planning out a magnificent dinosaur park you’re struggling to simply make progress. As grindy eurogames go it has all of the mechanical greatest hits you’d expect, but I wanted to build a theme park. After two hours I had two restaurants, a single dinosaur pen, and a research lab (maybe one other hex, but it wasn’t memorable at all). Did I simply play poorly or is that all I can expect from this game? I definitely want to give it another shot but it’s on a short leash.

Furnace

I feel somewhat similarly about Furnace for the complete opposite reason. Where Dinosaur Island had too much stuff and not enough doing, Furnace is all doing and no stuff. That’s a better problem to have, but given the hype I was hearing about this one I guess I expected something less austere.

The best part of Furnace is the auction, which emphasizes losing auctions maybe more than winning them. Everyone gets tokens labeled 1-4 and you can never tie bids. So once you drop a 4 on something you know you’re going to be claiming that card for your tableau. But if you get outbid anywhere you get bonus resources or resource conversions multiplied by the size of your bid. It’s a genuinely intriguing system that removes all of the pain from losing an auction to an extreme degree.

However, the rest of the game is to resource conversion what Splendor is to engine building–just about the simplest implementation you can imagine. There are three primary resource types and cards will either give you those resources straight up, let you exchange two particular resources, or let you cash in resources for points. And that’s about it. Maybe this was a problem of misguided expectations but I wish there was something more to spice up the proceedings. On the other hand, perhaps Furnace reveals additional depths as you play it. 

Murano: Light Masters

Murano is a pleasant-looking contract fulfillment game where you’re trying to figure out how to squeeze as much value as possible out of each turn. That’s a very generic description but Murano is a pretty generic game. The biggest highlight is its use of the box, which has an insert with a bowl in it around which sit two concentric circles. On your turn you’re going to rotate one of the circles one space which determines your passive income on top of altering the choices you have for your once-per-turn income action.

Murano has a relaxed vibe, and I found myself on a couple of occasions lost in its light-touch puzzle. Still, it’s the game I played at PAX I’ll most easily forget.

Rise of the Metro

On the other hand, Rise of the Metro is the game I’ll most want to forget. I adore how this game looks but was left bewildered once I actually played it. I don’t know how most games won’t end in a tie. If you simply move towards the closest point-generating space with an eye towards not getting blocked by your opponent I don’t know how you can not play perfectly. Someone tell me I’m wrong here, please? In terms of super-simple train games this is no Ticket to Ride or Paris Connection.

Nidavellir

I actually just finished playing this for the second time tonight and I’m agreeing more and more with what Orion said in the podcast (which you’ll hear on Friday…I’ve still got to edit it), that Nidavellir has strong 7 Wonders vibes, especially with the science cards. Instead of one path of exponential growth Nidavellir has three (and a half?). You’re once again bidding for cards, trying to create sets. Both super-specialization and being a generalist seem to be viable strategies, so the devil’s in the details. I suspect that most people might pick Furnace over this one but perhaps I have a soft spot for set collection. Given that Lindsay bought herself a copy I’m going to be playing this one more and will have a review up soon.

That’s it for today! Come back on Wednesday to hear about what I learned from the publishers and people I spoke with at PAX. There’s some exciting stuff on the horizon. Also I might become obsessed with Netrunner again.

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