Draft & Write Records
The first game on the list this week is Draft & Write Records, designed by Bruno Maciel and published by Inside Up Games. This one is a prototype copy that I received for review purposes ahead of their crowdfunding campaign.
Draft & Write Records is exactly what it says on the box. A drafting take on the ‘roll or flip and write’ genre. In Draft & Write Records, you begin with a large sheet of paper and a few coloured pencils. Each round, players all draw 5 cards, then select one, and pass their hand around the table. Simultaneously, players reveal the card they chose, fill out the corresponding action on their sheet. After 4 actions have been taken, the 5th card is tossed into a shared discard pile, then players all evaluate if they’ve achieved any of the 4 goals in the common area. Any goals that have been achieved are then discarded, the goal row is filled back up, and play starts anew.
Draft & Write Records continues on until one player has achieved 6 goals, one player has made 5 mistakes, or someone has managed to fill all of their band slots. At that point, everyone tallies up all their score and whoever has the most points has drafted the best band!
A major component of the roll and write or flip and write genre of games is the combotastic result of earning bonuses that can roll into more bonuses, which Draft & Write Records does quite well. The cards you’re drafting represent which section of your sheet you’ll be crossing off, and which icon on that section. Each section works slightly differently and can dole out bonuses in different rates. The cards let you directly affect three of the sections (forming your band, managing your assets, and planning your schedule), while the bonuses you earn will have you creating harmonies, releasing albums and going on tour!
Draft & Write Records is fast and easy to play. I really dig the art by Pedro A. Alberto. While I personally have no love for the theme (being musically challenged, I have never aspired to being in a band), it was still fun to play. I spent too much time focusing on building out my band, and ended up losing to someone who only had two musicians, but the best gear and went on a world-wide tour! Chaining the rewards from your actions is immensely satisfying, with a single action you can start a cascade, which is my favourite part of any “blank and write” game. The goals deck is thick at 66 cards, all trying to lead you down different paths to score points.
New York Zoo
New York Zoo by Uwe Rosenberg is not his first foray into Polyomino tile placement games, nor is it his first time tasking players with figuring out the nuances of animal husbandry. I’ve played a lot of Uwe Rosenberg games, like Patchwork, Agricola, Caverna, A Feast for Odin, Fields of Arle, and Cottage Garden to name a few.
In New York Zoo players are tasked with designing an animal park. Players will place enclosures, breed animals, and drain their zoos of animals to embrace the sweet taste of capatilism? Look, the theming is all weird here. Your action selector is an elephant roaming around a central board, you take polyomino tiles and place them in your construction area, or, you stop on a blue space to acquire two animals. You’ll place animals out onto your enclosures, and as the elephant passes certain points on the board, it’ll trigger a breeding phase inside the enclosures for the specific animal that was depicted. As soon as an enclosure is filled, you drain all the animals off that enclosure, and place an attraction, like a roller coaster or a hot dog cart, into your park. When someone’s park has been completely filled in, the game is over and that player has won.
New York Zoo feels a lot like Patchwork, in that the polyomino tile laying puzzle is front and centre. Gathering the animals and generating the animal breeding engine feels tertiary, but at the same time incredibly important. There are a lot of little rules that made learning this game difficult, a lot of requirements and restrictions that didn’t make sense unt il after our first play.
Now, I’ve only played New York Zoo once, but I’m not convinced there’s significant depth or mastery available. There’s certinly no discovery after the first play, what you see is what you get. It’ll be difficult to justify coming back to New York Zoo when there are other Polyomino games I enjoy more (like Barenpark), and other Uwe Rosenberg games I enjoy more (like Agricola). At least there’s some adorable animal meeples!
This week I returned to War Chest by Trevor Benjamin and David Thompson as we had about 30 minutes to play a two player game. My opponent, Otter, had been wanting to try War Chest for a while. As he’s a big fan of Hive and Onitama, it seemed like a perfect fit.
War Chest is a big building territory control asymmetric war game. In War Chest both players recieve (or draft) a hand of 4 cards, dictating which units they’ll have available to them for the duration of the game. Each unit has a certian number of discs or chips. The game begins with 2 discs of each unit in your bag, along with your ‘royal’ chip. Each round, players draw 3 chips from their bag. Players alternate taking turns, playing one of their chips to do one of the actions, then, when both players hands are depleted, draw 3 more chips to continue. War Chest ends when someone controls 6 points on the board.
The actions you can do with each chip are varied. If you discard the chip face dow n you can put one of the chips you have in reserve into your discard pile, to be shuffled into the bag once it’s depleted, or, you can take the initiative, allowing you to go first next round. You can place your chip onto the board to deploy or bolster, which is either placing your chip onto a spawn point you control, or creating a stack of chips that is harder to kill. Finally, discarding a chip face up allows you to maneuver with an identical chip that you’ve already deployed. A maneuver allows a chip to move, attack, control, or use their character specific ‘tactics’ action.
I really enjoy War Chest. I like the interactions and the tension that this game creates. You and your opponent will slowly move towards the centre of the board, just out of reach of the other player’s attack range. There is a fair amount of luck in the game, in that in order to do anything on the board you need to draw the chip that matches the character you want to affect. That luck helps create tension as you push yourself into a mutually dangerous position. You’ll calculate the probability of drawing the one chip in your bag that you need and if you’re successful, slay your opponent. If you fail, you’ll be knocked back.
Chips that are attacked get removed from the game entirely, making each battle in War Chest consequential. Not only have you lost your position on the board, but now that unit has less chips in your bag. Otter enjoyed the game, and he conceded that if we played more two player games he’d be interested in diving deeply into the system, but currently it doesn’t supplant Hive or Onitama as his go-to abstract strategy games.