This week to shake things up my game group met at our local game café. Our local game café gives ‘free stay and play’ coupons whenever you buy a larger game, so we’ve all accumulated a handful of these coupons. We always talk about going to the café but the status quo is to just meet at someone’s house.
Now that our collective collections have exceeded 400 games, the allure of the café has been lost on us. We have a ton of games that we all know and love. The café has become more of a try-before-you-buy spot. Between the panini sandwich and cookie dough milkshake, we played 4 games, all of which I had some level of interest in, and am glad I had the opportunity to play without having to buy the game first.
Scout by Kei Kanjino is a quick game in a small box, published by Oink Games in 2019. In Scout
There’s something novel about games that don’t allow you to rearrange the cards in your hand. The only other game that comes to mind that utilizes this mechanic is Bohnanza by Uwe Rosenburg.
The cards in Scout are numbered from 1 to 10, and have different numbers on the top and the bottom. When you get your hand of card, you can choose to either take them as they’re dealt, or turn your whole hand around to access the numbers at the bottom. Other than that, you cannot arrange the cards in your hand. On your turn, you can take one of two actions. You can Show, which has you placing an adjacent set or run of cards from your hand onto the table to become the active set. Remember, you cannot arrange the cards while they’re in your hand, so they must already be in the correct location when you want to show. If there is already an active set, your showing must be stronger, which means it needs to have more cards, or, in the case of having the same number of cards, your cards must be higher in value. When you show with a higher set, you take the previous active set and keep it face down near you, which then will be with points at the end of the round
If you can’t show, then you can Scout, which has you taking one card from the active set, and place it anywhere in your hand. If you do scout, then the player who played the active set gets a token that’s worth a point. Each player can also do a ‘Scout & Show’ once per round.
The round ends if, after a showing, the showing player is out of cards, or, if every other player scouts after a showing. Once the round ends, each player tallies their score. Player with the highest score wins
Scout was a cute and fun little game. The rule book says the numbers are circus members and players are trying to put on the best show, while poaching actors from the active set. The theme is paper-thin at best, this is an abstract game of numbers and card positions. I do like the tension of choosing the scout but desperately hoping that one of the other players will show, lest the round end early, and you’re stuck with negative points in your hand. I also really enjoy the mechanic where scouting the active set weakens it for your neighbour to then overcome it with a set of their own, extending the round. Using the Scout and Show action that’s available to you once per round can be the difference between victory and defeat. Of course, it feels like getting a well dealt hand of cards is impossible to overcome with the tactics available to you on each of your turns.
Being so small and quite cheap, I would recommend Scout. It’s the perfect little game to get you over a free shipping threshold, and one that can live in a travel bag. It needs almost no table to play, a crowded restaurant table could easily accommodate Scout. I played this at 3 players, but I suspect it’s better at 4 or 5 players, just considering a round will end if two players in a row need to scout.
Super Mega Lucky Box
Super Mega Lucky Box by Phil Walker-Harding is That’s Pretty Clever mixed with Bingo. Players receive 3 cards that contain a 3 by 3 grid of numbers on them. The card in the centre flips, and you can cross off one of the numbers on your card that matches the card flipped from the centre. Should you complete a row or column, you get the bonus associated with that row or column, which can trigger even more bonuses. Players earn points by fully completing their 3×3
bingo ahem, lucky box cards, collecting Stars, and collecting the majority of moons. After 4 rounds, the person with the highest score is the winner.
Super Mega Lucky Box‘s scoring was dynamic, and let players decide if they wanted to focus on completing a single card vs going for the bonuses earned when a row or column were completed. Every now and then I was forced to make a choice, either do take an inefficient action, or waste bonuses. If you earn more than 3 stars in a round, they’re lost. If you earn more than the majority of moons, they do nothing extra for you. If you earn a “4”, but have no 4’s to cross off, too bad.
I like that you can spend lightning bolts to increase or reduce the flipped number, giving you some amount of control over the numbers that you can cross off. It’s quite satisfying when you can string three or four bonuses into each other and complete several cards in a single round. I suspect playing this with some kids would invoke excitement in their little souls.
Azul: Queen’s Garden
I also got to play the new Azul. Not Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra, or Azul: Summer Pavilion. This is the new new new Azul, titled Queen’s Garden. Michael Kiesling is a prolific designer, even before the advent of Azul. The Palaces of Carrara, Vikings, and Heaven & Ale are just naming a few of his credited designs outside of the Azul line.
In Azul: Queen’s Garden, players are trying to build the most beautiful garden. To do this, they will acquire tiles and garden extensions, then pay to play them onto their boards. Each round different aspects will be scored, and at the end of the game, the person with the most points is the winner.
Azul: Queen’s Garden invoked a lot of the same feelings as Calico by Kevin Russ and published by Flatout Games. All the tiles have a colour, and a pattern. When you take tiles from the centre into your personal reserve, you need to take either all of one colour, but differing patters, or all of one pattern, but differing colours. You cannot take identical tiles for love nor money. When you want to play tiles from your reserve into your garden, you must pay for them. Each tile cost is dictated by its pattern (which is also equal to the points it can generate at the end of the game). The tiles you pay with must come from your reserve, and they must match either the colour or pattern of the tile you want to place, again, you cannot use identical tiles for payment. The tile you’re placing counts towards paying for the cost. For example, The 3 cost blue butterfly token would require me to discard 2 other butterfly tokens from my reserve, or, two other blue tiles.
At the end of the game, if you’ve made a group of 3 or more tiles of the same colour or pattern, they’ll score victory points equal to what it cost to put them out. Also, at the end of the game, any tiles remaining in your reserve score as negative points, which absolutely crippled one of the players at our table.
This is the most complex Azul game I’ve played so far, and it didn’t resonate with my group. It felt quite difficult to get the most expensive tiles out onto the board, as they require you have 5 other tiles that match the colour or pattern! Considering your reserve only has spaces for 14 tokens, it’s almost half your reserve being pitched into the bin to place a single 6 point tile. Now, if you can get it so that the 6 point tiles scores twice at the end-game, it can be incredibly lucrative. I managed to build an arboretum of all 6 colours of trees (which are worth one point each), and got some nice groupings of colours as well. The decisions were difficult to conceptualize, and it didn’t feel particularly satisfying. The luck required to play those big point tiles seems really intense, as you need to have a laser focus to getting them out onto the table.
In the end, we all agreed that we’d rather just play Calico or the classic Azul. I’ll keep playing the new Azul’s as they come out, but to this day, the original is by far my favourite one of the series.
Lost Cities: The Board Game
I’ve already talked about Lost Cities in depth, as it’s one of my favourite two player games. I’ve also played Lost Cities: Rivals, which has a bidding mechanic at its core. The allure of these spin-offs is the ability to play with more than two players. Lost Cities: The Board Game by Reiner Knizia, published in 2008 takes the ladder climbing gameplay of the two player classic, and expands it to four players. On each turn, players must play a card, either to their own supply, or to the common discard piles (one for each of the five colours)
I’m not as big a fan of this iteration as I am of the two player version. The tensions of the game are diluted with the much larger deck. There are multiples of the cards, and you can play the same number twice. It’s not impossible for you to exceed one of the tracks entirely, especially using the bonuses that you can pick up along the way.
Lost Cities: The Board Game is fine, it’s exactly what I want out of a board game café game. One that I was happy to try once, but will never feel the need or pull to play it again.