February is the shortest month of the year, but I still managed to not only get a bunch of new to me games in, but they were all good!
I mean, none of them were 1960: The Making of a President good (well, maybe one?) but they were still really fun to play.
I do have to make one confession, though.
One of them was actually played in January.
Please don’t punish me.
All of the games are from 2019 or more recent, so the Cult of the New to Me members were giving me the side-eye a little bit.
But I promised them I’d be better in March.
Just in case I’m not, I’ve readied my escape kit.
So without further ado (all of my ado was lost in a gravity well anyway), let’s get started!
(You can click on each picture to enlarge it)
Designer: Corey Young
Artist: Kwanchai Moriya
I first played Gravwell: 2nd Edition in January but I wanted to get my review of it done before including it. Since it was the only “new to me” game I played in January, it felt pointless to make a full post just for it.
So I’m including it here!
Gravwell is a kind of racing game in that players are trying to get from one place on the board to another before any of the other players.
However, instead of actual fuel you are using elements and gravity to push and pull yourself to victory.
In the 5-6 player version of the game, only three players can start in the middle of the board and try to get to the outside. The other players start on the outside and are trying to get to the middle.
Thus, you all will be passing each other, and possibly using the oncoming ships to power your rocketing forward.
It’s actually quite fun at that player count, though at 4 players it wasn’t that great for us.
Way too chaotic and not as fun (it’s even more chaotic at 5-6 players but the fun level increases as well).
I’m not going to go into that much detail about it, though.
You can check out my review if you want my full opinion.
Designer: Mathias Wigge
Artists: Loïc Billiau, Dennis Lohausen, Steffen Bieker, Christof Tisch
Ark Nova has to be one of the most hyped games I’ve seen in a long time.
So of course I was eager to play it.
It even made Tom Vasel’s #1 game of all time in this year’s list.
Is it really that good or is it all hype?
After having played it twice, I don’t know if I’d go #1, but I’m sure it would have been in my Top 25 if I had played it before doing my list.
In Ark Nova, players are trying to build the most attractive zoo but also trying to be ecologically conscious.
It has the interesting scoring mechanism of having Conservation points at one end of the track and Appeal points at the other end.
It’s basically a tableau-building game, in a way like Terraforming Mars (some Terraforming Mars fans have said that this game replaces that one in their hearts, though it’s not universal of course).
Each player has a player board where their zoo is along with five spaces for their action cards.
The action cards are what you will be using each turn to do something, either to build enclosures for animals in your zoo, or bring animals to your zoo once you have an enclosure that will fit them. You can form associations with other zoos around the world, get more cards into your hand, or even play a sponsorship.
The order of your Action cards matter. What space the card is in when you take the action is the power of the action. For example, the Building card in the first picture above, it’s in the #2 space. That means you can only build a 2-space enclosure with it.
When you do an action, the card moves back to the #1 space, pushing the rest of the cards forward.
Thus you are trying to make sure the action is as powerful as it can be before you use it.
Unless you don’t need it to be, of course.
Your zoo will house a number of enclosures that you will build to house the animals you bring into it.
In the picture above, the enclosures with numbers on them aren’t filled yet. When you get an animal and place it in your zoo, you turn over one of the enclosures that has the necessary space for it.
Animals are the main things you will be adding to your tableau. Each of them has an enclosure size requirement, though you can always house them in something bigger (though that’s a bit of a waste).
You will also be placing Sponsorships that will give you potential special abilities and/or endgame scoring.
For the animals, the enclosure size is listed on the top left (the American Alligator not only requires a 4-size enclosure but the enclosure has to be next to water). The animal will also give you something when you play it (the alligator lets you take a card from anywhere in the display).
You can also build two special enclosures (but only if you upgrade your build action, which I will mention in a moment): a reptile house or an aviary.
The reptile house will let you put a number of reptiles in it instead of using one of your individual enclosures.
For example, the alligator above needs a 4-space enclosure or will take up two spaces in a reptile house (which has 5 spaces).
The tags in the top right can be important, just like in Terraforming Mars. Some animals or sponsorships may require that you have a certain tag in your zoo already.
I don’t want this to go on too long, as it’s not a review, so rest assured there are other things that you can in order to make your actions more powerful.
For example, there are ways that you can upgrade your actions cards to make them more powerful or let you do things you can’t with the basic cards.
The thing is, there are only four ways to upgrade these cards and there are five cards. So you have to decide which one you don’t want to upgrade.
Don’t do what I did my first game and play a sponsorship that gives you even more points for covering every space in your zoo (you already get 7 points if you do that) and then don’t upgrade your Build card. An upgraded Build card is required to build on at least two of the spaces in your zoo.
So you can’t complete your zoo if you don’t upgraded your Build card!
I was very pissed off at myself for that one.
As the game goes on, your zoo is going to get more animals, more sponsorships, and you will be getting Conservation and Appeal points. When one player’s scoring tokens meet, the game end is triggered.
Endgame scoring is performed once the other players have taken one more turn and players’ final score is going to be the difference between their Appeal score and their Conservation score.
It’s very possible to get a negative score! I had -18 in my first play.
This game is fabulous, and I’m sure my description didn’t do it justice.
I love the tableau-building combined with filling your zoo and trying to cover spaces in it.
All of the various actions that go together and chain to make things even more possible is so cool as well.
Finding something to concentrate on can help your score, but you have to make sure you find the cards to do so.
In my second game, where I actually scored positive points and came in second, I ended up with a bunch of bird tags along with a sponsorship that helped with birds, and ended up doing pretty well.
Just like Terraforming Mars, you see what cards you end up drawing and coming to you and you make the best of what you get.
It’s an amazing game and I just love it so much.
The only reason I haven’t played it more is because I wanted to let others have the pleasure too.
(And I’ve had review copies of other games that I really need to get played).
But I would play Ark Nova any time it’s offered.
(Edit: And now I’ve reviewed it! I loved it that much)
Designer: John D. Clair
Artists: Jacqui Davis, Philip Glofcheskie, Ryan Iler
Cubitos is a push your luck dice-rolling race game where players are trying to cross the finish line first!
It’s also a dice drafting game because while you will start out with some really piss poor dice in your “hand,” you will be drafting better dice that will be giving you special abilities.
The board is a race track where you are trying to go around it and cross the finish line first (or furthest if more than one of you cross on the same turn).
The game has simultaneous dice rolling like Quacks of Quedlinberg (though that’s simultaneous “take tokens from a bag”) in that you will be rolling a certain number of dice (which can go up depending on how many times you bust) and trying to make sure you roll “hits” on at least one die (in other words, something other than a blank die face).
You roll all of your dice, putting any “hits” in your Active area. You can then reroll dice that weren’t hits. You can keep doing this until you have at least 3 hits. After that, if you reroll and you get all blank faces, you bust and you don’t get to do anything on your turn.
However, you do get to move one step forward on the Fan Track, which will give you some benefit (like an increased dice rolling size or credits to spend on future turns).
Assuming you don’t bust, though, you can spend Feet on the dice you roll to move your figure on the track. You can try to land on spaces that give you bonuses (like credits or trashing one of your terrible dice) or just try to win the game by moving forward.
You can also spend credits from the dice (plus whatever credit chips you have available) to purchase up to two dice that are different (you can’t buy two of the same).
These dice are more powerful and will give you special abilities depending on what die face you end up rolling on them.
For the Llama-Rama, it costs 8 credits to buy a die and put it into your discard area. When you roll it, you have a 50% chance of getting something. A 1/6 chance of getting 3 money to buy a die, a 1/3 chance of getting that plus an advance on the fan track (though you don’t get the bonus). And a 1/3 chance of getting 2 money to buy a die. The other 50% chance is to get nothing.
For The Big Cheese you only have a 33% chance of getting something, but what you get is pretty good. You get either one foot (to advance on the track) or you can gain feet equal to half of your Fan Track location (rounded down). These two go well together!
Rolling the dice is simultaneous, as is buying dice and using the effects from your dice. As long as everybody is familiar with the rules, you can all do that without any supervision.
Then, when the Run Phase happens, you spend your feet to move around the track and gain any other Run Phase bonuses.
Once everybody is done, they move dice from their Draw area to their Roll area. This starts at 10 but again can be moved upward. In addition to the bonuses on the Fan Track that can let you roll more dice, players roll one extra die for each red line between them and the whoever’s in the lead (so in the above picture, yellow and orange would roll 3 extra dice).
Play continues until somebody crosses the finish line. Finish the turn and whoever’s farthest past the line wins!
This has some similarities to Quacks of Quedlinberg, enough that those who don’t really like dice games can still enjoy it. In both, you are buying more expensive and useful dice to add to your pool (though in Quacks, you are pulling things from a bag rather than rolling dice, but the concept is the same).
You are guaranteed three hits before you starting taking chances, but you can push your luck to see if you can get the most out of the dice you are rolling. Sometimes you can get huge turns!
And trying to combo the dice you buy and use can be quite lucrative.
I like the more powerful dice you can draft as well, and even more so (again, like Quacks) how each game you can use a different card for each coloured die so the abilities they have are different.
Sure, this game white dice use the Fat Cat ability. But next game it could be something else!
It’s also a fast game, making it ideal for beginning or end of game day fun. Or even a lunch time game!
I’ve played it twice and the games took 35 and 37 minutes.
I really enjoyed this one and look forward to playing it again.
I may even take it to work for our lunches.
Designer: Reiner Knizia
Artist: Claus Stephan
Axio Rota is an abstract Reiner Knizia game of matching colours on tiles and trying to score points that way.
There are five colours/symbols (good for colourblind people!) on the various tiles and you will be placing them to matching tiles and scoring points that way.
Like Knizia’s “your score is the lowest of your various options” games (like Tigris & Euphrates), you will be building up points for each colour but your final score will be the lowest of those five.
You will be placing a tile to match colours based on the starting 4 tiles (as shown above, which are picked randomly).
Each time you place a tile, you will score one point of the colour you matched for each instance of that colour in the resulting circle.
So if you placed the tile to complete the circle of orange in the bottom right of the above picture, you would get 3 points for orange (you don’t get a point for your tile).
You score the points on your score track.
After you place a tile, you draw one for your hand.
Once all the tiles are gone, each player scores the lowest scored colour on their scoreboard, and whoever has the highest is the winner.
I played both of my plays of this at 2 player, and I think it would probably do better with more (at least 3, and maybe 4). That would make it a bit more tactical because by the time your turn comes again the board state will have changed a lot.
However, with 2 players it doesn’t change much at all and it’s a bit more static.
It’s an enjoyable filler (it takes about 10 minutes per game for a 2-player game) and I would definitely play it again, but it’s not one I’m dying to play.
Designer: Carlo Bortolini
Artist: Miguel Coimbra
Riftforce is a 2-player duel game where players are trying to take control of central cards (Rifts) that are laid out in a row, in a sort of tug of war fashion (think Battle Line, in a way).
However, there’s much more to it than that, as you get most of your points from destroying your opponent’s cards.
There are 10 Guilds and each player will have a deck built from the 9 elementals of 4 guilds (so a 36-card deck). Each Guild has a Summoner power that will typically do damage to opposing elementals.
On your turn, you can take one of three actions.
You can play up to 3 elementals from your hand (your hand starts with 7 cards but you don’t refill it until you do the third action mentioned below).
All elementals must either be from the same Guild or they must be the same number (5, 6, or 7).
For placing them, they either have to be done one each on three consecutive Rifts or they all have to be on the same Rift.
You can activate up to 3 elementals by discarding a card from your hand. You can either activate elementals with the same number or from the same Guild. The activation effects are the Summoner power of the elemental’s Guild, which typically results in doing damage to elementals in the same Rift (though some may involve moving the elemental before or after doing damage).
An elemental can take damage equal to its number. After that it is destroyed and your opponent will get one Riftforce.
Finally, you can Check & Draw. With this action, you draw your hand back up to 7 cards and then you gain 1 Riftforce for each Rift where you have elementals and your opponent does not.
It’s important to remember that your opponent doesn’t score when you do this, so it doesn’t matter if there are any Rifts that you don’t have an elemental at.
Play goes back and forth until somebody has 12 Riftforce or more. That triggers the end game.
If the first player does it, then the second player gets one more turn. If the second player does it, the game is over!
Whoever has the most Riftforce is the winner.
Riftforce is a really great game with more depth to it than it appears at first glance. It’s not just about playing cards for area control like many of these games.
Instead, it’s about playing the right cards to the right spots where they will do the most damage (or perhaps where they will prevent you from being wiped out of that Rift).
Since many of the elementals damage the first opponent’s elemental at the Rift, maybe it’s time to play a card that will let you move it out of harm’s way? Or maybe you can’t do that.
Playing the Crystal faction can be dangerous because while it has an awesome power (do 4 damage to the first elemental at its location), your opponent gets 2 Riftforce when its destroyed.
So you have to protect them a bit!
The elemental powers are really interesting to, like the Thunderbolt power that lets you do 2 damage to any elemental at the location rather than the first. And, if you destroy an elemental, you get to do it again!
It’s just a really intriguing game and I can’t wait to get some more plays in so I can give it a true review.
It’s also a perfect lunchtime game.
Designer: Paolo Mori
In Via Magica, players are students at an arcane academy (an academy of the arcane, not an academy that is arcane as everybody can understand this one) who are trying to pass their final exams.
The game, much like Ecos: First Continent, is kind of a “bingo” style game where an “animus” crystals is drawn from a bag and players will assign that crystal to one of their open portal cards.
These portal cards require a number of crystals in order to be powered and gain the player points or abilities (or both!).
There are 23 crystals in total and when a Wild crystal is drawn from the bag, all of the crystals are put back in the bag and a new “Catcher” (or caller if you want to use your grandma’s Bingo lingo) will be drawing them.
As you complete portals, you can qualify for bonuses based on the types of portals you’ve opened. These can get you even more points at the end of the game.
For example, if you complete your third blue portal first, you will claim the blue portal award and get 10 points! Blue portals are the rarest so they’re harder to get.
If somebody has completed at least 7 portals at the end of a turn, the game ends and the person with the highest points wins!
I enjoyed this game though I think it may be more fun at higher player counts. As a 2-player game, it was fine but not truly exciting.
It’s simpler than Ecos but without the table sprawl and tedious end game, and it plays much faster too. You can get this game done in 15-20 minutes.
It’s a fun game and I’ll definitely play it again. Especially because it’s available on Boardgame Arena!
Designers: Paul Dennen, Evan Lorentz
Artists: Anika Burrell, Raul Ramos, Nate Storm
Clank in Space Adventures: Pulsarcade is a small expansion for one of my favourite games.
It doesn’t include any new cards but instead three new double-sided modules all with unique features and mechanics.
It also includes a new game mode where Lord Eradikus has collected a bunch of old video game consoles and you have to do well on them in order to get the best artifact!
I would say more about it, but you can check out my review of it for the full details.
Let’s just say, though, that I loved it but it’s not a necessary expansion unless you want more Clank goodness.
And who doesn’t, really?
There you have it. February was a busy month for new to me games after a very slow January.
What does March hold?
First weekend in and I’ve already played one!
Let’s see if we can get more added to that list.
What new to you games did you play in February?
Let me know in the comments.