New To Me – September 2021

Another month and another “New to Me” games post.

This is the 50th!

It feels so good to finally be playing some new games. I’m trying to play some of the many games I bought during the worst of the pandemic (so this is probably where I shouldn’t say that I just bought five more games, right?)

The Cult of the New to Me has been pretty quiet during the height of the lockdowns and everything. They kind of understood that it was really hard to play some new stuff. I wasn’t playing many games in general, much less new to me ones.

But now that things are starting to get back to some semblance of normal, they are getting restless again.

They’re actually starting to expect me to lead them again!

I bought them all tickets to the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra reopening celebrations and that kept them all happy.

But it did have one bad effect.

Yeah, maybe I shouldn’t have bought those new games.

Anyway, without further ado (all of my ado decided to go try to become a Japanese combat master anyway), let’s begin!

(See, Alex? I can spell it right)

Onitama (2014 – Arcane Wonders) – 2 plays

Designer: Shimpei Sato

Artists: Jun Kondo, Mariusz Szmerdt

Players: 2

Onitama is a rather interesting-looking chess-like game with a couple of twists.

First, the board is a 5×5 grid and each player only has 5 pieces (4 regular pawns and one “onmyo” pawn, the main pawn in the game).

Then 5 “Spirit” cards are dealt out. Two to each player and then one face-up beside the board. In the picture above, the “Boar” card is in the discard pile.

The Rooster card lets a pawn move to the right and forward or to the left and backwards

One a player’s turn, they will play one of the cards and move one of their pawns as the diagram of the card shows.

They will then discard that card and take the other card in the discard pile.

If you land on your opponent’s pawn, you capture it.

This all will continue until either a player’s onmyo pawn is captured or a player’s onmyo pawn lands on their opponent’s onmyo pawn start space.

This really is an amazing game, at least at first blush. It’s incredibly quick (our two plays took 10 minutes each) but it has some great decisions (even though there aren’t many each turn, which prevents analysis paralysis).

You always have to keep in mind that the card you play will be in your opponent’s hand in two turns, ready for them to play.

Previously I had played the app version of this game but it appears not to be in the iOS App Store anymore, sadly.

I can’t really comment on the components since I played this on Boardgame Arena, but when my friend brought this to a game day a few years ago, I remember it had a really nice table presence.

I’d love to keep playing this and may look to add it to my collection one of these days.

Lost Cities (1999 – KOSMOS) – 3 plays

Designer: Reiner Knizia

Artists: A lot!

Players: 2

Lost Cities is another two-player card game that plays fairly quickly (about 30 minutes) so is perfect for lunch at work.

The theme is there only in the card artwork, but the artwork is nice so there you go.

A wager card, which I guess is why there’s a handshake

Each player is dealt 8 cards and on your turn, you will be playing a card to the table and then drawing a card.

That’s it!

Whoever does that best wins!

Oh, yeah, I guess there is more to it than that.

A board is placed with 5 colours on it (6 if you play the 6-colour variant that’s also included in the box, or at least the box I have).

When you play a card, you can either play a card in front of its colour on your side of the board or in the “discard” pile of that colour on the board itself.

If you play to your side, then each card has to be higher than the one before it. So if you play the 9, you can’t play anything but the 10 on top of it!

Why does that matter?

Because as soon as you place a card in a column, that column will get you -20 points. You will then be adding the values of all the cards played at the end of the round. So you’d better hope you have at least 20.

If you play a “wager” card (like the first picture above), then your final total will be multiplied by two. Two wagers cards will multiply it by three and three wagers cards by four.

So you’d better make sure you get at least 20 points!

You can play to the discard pile instead if you wish. That can be dangerous, though, unless you already know your opponent can’t use it (e.g. they’ve already started playing numbered cards so can’t play a wager card of that colour anymore).

Now that the White 2 has been played, discarding the wager card is fine.

After you’ve played a card, you then draw one. You can either draw from the deck or from one of the discard piles.

As soon as the draw pile runs out, the round is over. Even if you have cards you still want to play! If you do have those cards, you may want to draw from the discard piles even though you can’t use them. It delays the end of the round.

You also get 20 points if you play 8 cards in a column

At the end of the round, total up all of the columns.

After three rounds, total up all the scores and whoever has the most points is the winner!

This is another game I had played on an app before (and apparently a long time ago, on Boardgame Arena). I had never played it “live” and then also “on the table” until this month, though.

So it does qualify as “new to me.”

It’s also a great game. Agonizing decisions sometimes on what to discard, especially if you’re trying really hard not to play the 9 on top of the 3 in a certain colour.

It’s another perfect lunchtime game. It fits a small table pretty nicely and it plays quickly.

The artwork on the cards is great but, as I said, there really is no theme there other than the art.

But still, that’s enough!

It’s another Knezia classic, at least in my plays so far.

I’ll definitely be playing this again.

Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition (2021 – Stronghold Games) – 2 plays

Designers: Sydney Engelstein, Jacob Fryxelius, Nick Little

Artists: Lots!

Players: 1-4

When Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition was first announced, I was kind of excited. It seemed really interesting and the comparisons to Race for the Galaxy were mostly about good things that were used in both games.

I wasn’t going to be buying it, mainly because I knew at least one or two people who probably would be. But I was interested in playing it.

Hello, COVID!

But in September, I finally got to play it a couple of times and it’s actually pretty good!

That’s not a moon! That’s a…oh yeah, it is a moon. And it’s coming right for us!!!!!

Players of the regular game will recognize a lot of the cards and the symbiology.

However, the play is completely different.

Players are dealt cards at the beginning of the game and they keep those cards. These are the cards that you will be choosing to either build or perhaps spend as money (you can turn in a card at any time for 3 Megacredits or MC).

Players get dealt two corporations and pick one to be (just like the regular game). Then you get the number of MC on the corporation and whatever effects it gives you.

Then, on each turn, each player secretly chooses a phase card. This is the phase that you want to do. After all have been chosen, they’re flipped and all chosen phases happen in numerical order. If you chose the phase, then you get the bonus.

Development is when you play (and pay for) green cards. Construction is for blue Action cards and red Event cards. Action is where you do the actions of your played blue cards as well as any other actions you can afford (like spending 8 heat to raise the temperature one step).

Production is where you get all of your money/plants/heat/etc that you produce every turn. Finally, Research is how you draw cards (though some cards will give you “card production” and let you draw cards in the Production phase).

Play is largely simultaneous as long as everybody knows what they are doing.

The map of Mars is a very tiny board where all the lakes are put on it. The Oxygen and Temperature tracks bracket the planet.

As in the regular game, when you raise the Oxygen level, the Temperature level, or (in this game) turn over a Ocean tile, you bump up your Terraforming Rating by one. This will add to your money income each turn as well as being points at the end of the game.

Once both parameters are maxed out and all of the Ocean tiles are flipped, the game ends that phase. No other phases happen on the turn (so if it happened in the Construction phase, you won’t be able to play any Actions even if the phase had been chosen this turn).

Sometimes you can get quite the tableau going by the time you’re done!

At the end, you total up all the victory points on cards as well as VP for forest tokens (when you spend plants or get a greenery some other way, you get a forest token that’s 1 VP) and whoever has the most points is the winner!

I wasn’t sure I would like this game. The simultaneous play can be off-putting, and I can imagine some cases where people might hold back what they’re doing until they know whether or not the game is going to end this turn.

But in my two plays, there has been none of that.

With everybody knowing the game and the phases (and it’s remarkably easy, really), everybody just does their own thing. I could be on the Research phase because I couldn’t pay for any green cards during Production while others are deciding what they want to buy and play.

And that’s fine!

I got 4 points for this card in my game!

Scores are fairly low (Sunday’s game was won with 38 points), so it’s not like its parent game where scores get near 100 (if you’re playing right).

It’s fairly quick (our games have taken us just over an hour), especially when you know what you’re doing.

Occasionally you have to wrench your mind from thinking like Terraforming Mars because things are done differently in this game (one of the main things is that Event cards are actually left face-up and the tags on them matter), but that will just take practice.

It’s not equal to its parent and probably wouldn’t be in my Top 25 like that one is, but overall I really enjoyed this and would love to play again.

The Rival Networks (2021 – Formal Ferret Games) – 3 plays

Designer: Gil Hova

Artists: Heiko Günther, Travis Kinchy

Players: 2

Gil Hova’s The Networks is in my Top 10 games of all time (it was in the Top 5 and may still be, but that was almost 3 years ago so it may have fallen, but I’d say it’s probably still in the Top 10). Gil even agreed to do a Q&A with me when the Executives expansion came out.

I was excited to hear about The Rival Networks, a 2-player game that boils the parent game down to its essence, making this instead one of those games where you are trying to control one or more of the three columns on the table.

In this case, it’s network timeslots: 8pm, 9pm and 10pm.

The game has the same wonderful artwork as its parent game.

The puns for the show names are still hilarious (at least at first, as they slowly become a bit stale).

The mechanisms are different, though.

Each season, there will be a number of shows available to develop. There will be three on the table at a time.

You will be choosing one show to develop. You have to do this. No option, unlike the parent game.

You can place the show in its proper time slot or, if you don’t mind losing a few viewers, you can place it where you need it more.

You place the old show in your reruns, reset the number of viewers, and start gaining new ratings. You then choose a Star/Ad combination from the three sets that are out.

Both go in your green room, but then you can put as many Stars on one show as you want, adding ratings to it. For each “eye” symbol you pass, you gain a viewer chip.

Once somebody chooses the “Season Finale” card, then they complete their turn (Stars/Ads, placing Stars, buying Network cards, etc) and then the Season Finale stuff happens.

Whoever wins the most timeslots gets viewer chips. Whoever wins the fewest gets a Star.

Then you look at the Awards cards and see who gets awards from there.

After three seasons of this, whoever has the most viewer chips in their little house is the winner!

This is a fun game and gives a bit of the same feel as The Networks, but it’s not quite as satisfying as I would like it to be.

I’m not going to go into too much detail because I will be writing a review of it soon.

But suffice it to say that I’m glad I own it and enjoy playing it, but it could be so much more.

The Executives variant does add a bit to it, as well as the mini-expansion (Game Shows & Documentaries, which we haven’t played with yet), but I’m not sure how much they will enhance things.

It does make me want to play The Networks more, though!

Combat Commander: Pacific (2008 – GMT Games) – 1 play

Designer: Chad Jensen

Artists: Lots!

Players: 2

As previously posted, I’m in the Combat Commander online Ladder where we play a monthly game on VASSAL. September’s game was using a scenario from Combat Commander: Pacific, so I finally got my first play of it in!

I actually own this one (and the New Guinea battle pack, which the October scenario will be from) so it was nice to finally get it played. Even if I didn’t actually get my copy to the table.

When I played my first VASSAL game of Combat Commander: Europe in May, I probably should have done a “New to Me” post for it. However, that was the only new game I played and June was such a bad month that there was no way I was doing a post for it.

So let’s include it here!

I’ve now played both Combat Commander games live and I really love them!

Will they be on my Top 25 games of all time?

Maybe! (And I think I’ve played enough games to do another Top 25 all-time games at the end of the year).

Check out the link posted above for The Grassy Knoll scenario after-action report to see what I think of the game, but suffice it to say that I love it (not sure whether I love it more than Europe, but it’s definitely close).

Expansions:

Alien Frontiers: Factions, Outer Belt (2012, 2014 – Clever Mojo Games) – 1 play

Designers: Randall Bart, Tory Niemann

Artists: Karim Chakroun, Alex Garrett, Mark Maxwell, Ian O’Toole

I first played Alien Frontiers back in 2016.

It was an ok dice-placement game that didn’t wow me, but it wasn’t something I would avoid.

I next played it at CascadeCon in 2020 (right before COVID hit) with two guys I met at the con. And again, it was decent. I didn’t mind playing it.

Cue the return to Sunday Game Day and a friend who has the Collector’s Box with all of the expansions, and she wants to play it.

So a friend and I agree and we get it out. We play with the two major expansions, Factions and Outer Belt.

And I have to say that these do add some nice spice to the game!

In Alien Frontiers, you are using your dice (ships) to gain resources and help colonize a planet.

Alien Frontiers - Planet

You are trying to get Victory Points by placing colonies on the planet as well as controlling areas of it. Some other things will give you VPs as well, but it’s mostly those. Once somebody reaches a certain VP level, the game will end.

The Factions expansion adds asymmetrical powers that also gives an extra space for everybody else to place their dice.

Your faction has a special ability but it also has a station where players can place a ship. If anybody else uses it, they have to pay you an energy. But you get to use it for free.

It also adds Agendas, which can get you either a VP during the game or surprise VP at the end of the game.

These cards add a bit of uncertainty to the whole thing, though they can also propel you to ending the game sooner if you satisfy the mid-game condition. You get to choose when you play the card, so you can hold it back if you want and then get the VP at the end (assuming you meet the endgame condition at that point).

You can only do one, so plan wisely!

The other expansion we used was Outer Belt

This is the asteroid field between Mars & Jupiter and you can send a ship to the Belt for great stuff!

Each Belt card has a condition for purchase.

Depending on where the card is on the Belt, it may require a certain die value or two. For instance, the bottom card above requires a 5 or a 6 as the “wild” die value. Some cards require the “wild” die value along with another one (maybe a 4?). That’s when you have to place two dice there. One a 4 and one a 5 or 6.

One other thing about the Belt. It’s constantly moving. On each player’s turn, in addition to rolling the player’s dice, they roll the Asteroid die. If they roll an Asteroid (I think it’s a 2/3 chance, but I’m not 100% sure), then the bottom card goes to the bottom of the deck and all of the cards shift one space.

This keeps things hopping as that card you planned on getting may go away!

These cards can give you powerful benefits, mostly one-time but some of them may be ongoing. You could find a derelict ship and salvage an Alien Tech card from it!

These two expansions give you something else to think about when you’re playing Alien Frontiers, adding some variety to what can turn into a fairly rote game (depending on the other Alien Tech cards that come out).

I think Alien Frontiers is a fine game and I won’t avoid playing it. These two expansions actually do help make it more interesting, though it’s still a game that I won’t actively seek out. I’ll willingly play it if it’s offered, though.

With that, we come to the end of September’s “New to Me” games. It was quite the busy month! I played 13 different games with 23 total plays. What a difference a pandemic makes!

Have you played any of these? Any thoughts about them?

Let me know in the comments.

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