Roux Dat #15: The Digital Diaries

Hey board gamers, BJ from Board Game Gumbo here, back with more Louisiana flavor and tales of board gaming from the Krewe de Gumbo.

Some of you may have noticed that we did not post a Roux Dat in March. Some of you may have noticed a world wide pandemic forever changed the fabric of our social society.

Some of you may even have connected those two events.

I am sure you read enough about the $@#%@virus on other channels, so I am not going to talk about it here. But, this particular Roux Dat — and likely many for the foreseeable future — will be a little different, as most of my new plays are all online now.

Social distancing, yo.

Hit us up on Twitter or Facebook @boardgamegumbo with your thoughts if you played any of these games. Hey, that’s enough blather, let’s get to the games!

Back to the Charter, Back to the Charter, Back to the Charter S.T.O.N.E.

Dan from the Geek All Stars invited me to jump on a campaign game of Charterstone: The Digital Edition, which I had just purchased last week. Faithful readers know that we started our own Gumbo campaign right when it came out, but fizzled after six plays when one of the main stays in the group got a new job. I totally get all the criticism that my friend Chris Wray has over the game (weak story, rule inconsistencies), but I have thoroughly enjoyed every play of it, myself.

So, to prepare (heh heh, Dan) for the campaign with Dan and Andrew and Don, I jumped on my digital copy and played an entire campaign with two AI Players. I was speed playing as quickly as I could, all while playing a ton of Yucata games in the background. I managed to beat the AIs pretty handily on basic level with a strategy of always being first in reputation and hammering the private objectives as much as I could.

And then it was off to Dan’s Charterstone Game. We’ve played two games so far. I won the first one, and came out a distant third in the second. More importantly, I am enjoying the heck out of this build-up-steam-as-you-geaux worker placement legacy game. Now into my third play, I am just starting to realize how every campaign will come out completely different based on the boxes that are opened during the game.

This mini-review will not give out any spoilers, but since you already know it is a legacy game, you probably realized that there is some secret content in boxes that the designer included. But unlike other legacy games I have played, what comes out of the box changes depending upon the order of boxes that are opened. There are only so many turns and so many resources that can be applied to opening up boxes, and so, our campaign with Dan and the boyz has been completely different from my other two plays.

How is the digital edition, you ask? I will give it a B+ and a “work in progress” rating. The game play is oh-so-smooth, and the graphics are absolutely lovely, featuring all the beloved artwork from Mr. Cuddinton you know from the hard cardboard version. The multi-player lobby and gaming is still being updated, and we have had a few little hiccups along the way. However, the developer seems pretty active and responsive to player requests, so by the time you play it, you will probably have a very smooth experience.

It’s tough to talk deeply about legacy games, but I’m not the only one in the Krewe with multiple plays. My buddy Kyle is on — I think — his third go through with his gaming group. I think my favorite part of Charterstone is that each session changes the scoring emphasis ever so slightly, either from the public goals players need to win that round or just the way the buildings and special rules have come out thus far in the campaign. In other words, one cannot just sit on a basic strategy for twelve games, there’s got to be some learning and evolving during the campaign.

Rout Dat Says: Charterstone is Stonemaier’s most controversial game. So, it is definitely not for everyone. But if you like worker placement games, and you like the discovery and surprise that comes with legacy game concepts, playing Charterstone is a no-brainer. It is a solid title in the Stonemaier catalog, and if you like the marriage of legacy and euro mechanics, there’s just no reason not to fire up the digital version especially in this era.

 

The Favorite Game of Tile Placing Astronauts

Next up, I’ve been eyeing the beautiful table presence of Tang Garden for many months. Designed by Francesco Testini and Pierluca Zizzi and published here in the States by ThunderGryph Games, it is supposedly a chill, zen-like game. Players compete for space on a board by placing tiles, trees, and other garden features, scoring points (in the form of coins) if you match landscape and scenery, and inviting guests to your garden who can score you even more coinage at the end of the game.

My nephew, Zack, taught the game quickly and we were off and running on Table Top Simulator. (Zack is actually eyeing a purchase of this game as soon as his FLGS opens up, so it was a good test run.)

Most tile laying games build out in 2D, but the wonderful thing about Tang Garden is that the tiles themselves give you the space and background you need to place the all important decoration cards. For me, this was the fun of the game. Players draw cards from a deck that represents trees, ducks, pavilions and flowers, and these are all represented by 3D pieces that make the garden seem alive as it sprouts up before you.

I said it was supposedly a “chill” game, and for the most part it was, but Zack and I love battling over euro type games, and there were some definitely “oh yeah, well take that buddy” moments as we tried to block each other’s sightlines across the board.

That brings up the other way to score points that I really enjoyed. Players will attract visitors (my name, I don’t have the rule book handy) including students, officers, and other people interested in strolling through your peaceful retreat. The characters not only can give you one time bonuses, but they can give you long term special powers, too, so long as you don’t place them on the board. And why would you do that? When placed on the board, players choose which cardinal direction they will “gaze” at, and if their “gaze” matches the requirements of the cards, they can score big points. For instance, one of my characters wanted to see animals on the landscapes, which are long cardboard depictions of beautiful scenery that players place standing up on the outside of the board. Placing these landscapes not only can score you points (or wreck another player’s plans) but it also serves as the timer in the game.

Rout Dat Says: This feels close to one of those classic abstract meets interesting theme euros. I instantly thought of wonderful plays of Takenoko and New York 1901 with my wife and family, yet, the addition of the special powers from the visitors and the tricky nature of the sight line bonuses amped up the strategy for me. This one just might be going on my “to buy” list if I can play it again with Zack and explore its repeatability. If you are a fan of tile layers, as I am, you might want to give it a try.

I Know How The River Feels

One of the problems with playing games online is finding the perfect combination of gameplay and implementation. For instance, Carson City may be a great game — but its implementation on Yucata is just not fun to play. The text is tiny, the buttons are not intuitive, and you lose all of the sense of duelin’ and connivin’ that is found in the real game.

On the other hand, there are implementations like Ulm, from Huch Games and R&R Games (here in the States). Designed by Gunter Burkhardt, it was released in 2016, and is one of those One Hour Wonders that Chris Kirkman makes famous.

I have had the pleasure of playing dozens of sessions of Ulm in the past, but the current crisis sent me back to Yucata for more plays. I have been able to teach Ulm to a handful of new players, and we have been playing multiple games back-to-back!

In Ulm, players are the city movers and shakers of this ancient city on the Danube. Wealth and privilege is on the rise, and it is your job to navigate your boat down the beautiful river and expand your influence throughout the city “quarters.” When influence is laid down in a quarter, players can score points, or get cards, or get coins or other benefits, but choosing the right quarters and the right times is critical. Space in each quarter is limited, and once your boat floats past a quarter, there is almost no way of going back for those benefits.

I love that river mechanic, one that I think works better here than in Egizia. But I especially love the intriciate puzzle that are the action selection mechanisms. In the far right corner of the board, there is a puzzle board laid with tiles representing the five actions in a three-by-three grid. Remember those cheap little picture puzzles that we played as kids? Slide a piece one way, to free up space to move another? That’s the way this game works in a way. Slide an action tile in your hand onto the board, which “pushes” an action tile out but gives you three actions for the round. It is clever and well done and very, very interesting.

The NameFather reminded me today that one of the beautiful things we have discovered, after a dozen plays or so, is that there does not seem to be one dominant strategy. Every one that I have played with immediately assumes that playing cards each round, especially the set collecting big point cards, is the “key” or “broken” strategy.

And yet, we have had players win by doing the “sailors & sparrows” strategy, racing down the river and digging for the card that gives a bonus 6 for being the first to reach the end. Or by putting together a good mix of well placed seals and timely card play and finishing right around the middle of the river. Or even focusing on the synergy of two professionals that give you in game special actions that work well together. The town of Ulm rewards repeated visits to its nooks and crannies, and there is a joy in playing a game that is just long enough to make decisions meaningful, yet not so long that a player is afraid to try a new strategy.

Are there any down sides? I guess. It doesn’t have ogres or zombies or dice chucking alien monsters, so if that is your thing, you may want to whistle past it. But if you like euros…then you will probably find that Ulm is a classic, elegant, streamlined game that experienced players can easily play in an hour. Two thumbs up from me.

Roux Dat says: The implementation on Yucata is picture perfect (although not as much fun as the actual copy I have on my shelf), and I am open to playing with anyone on an asynch basis. You will find me as “boardgamegumbo” on Yucata, so hit me up!

THE WRAP UP:

So, that’s it for our post-game quarterbacking session. Roux Dat will be back with more commentary and reviews about the games we are playing. Is there a digital game that you would like to suggest for the next Roux Dat? Send me a tweet @boardgamegumbo and let’s chat about it.

Until next time, laissez les bon temps rouler!

— BJ

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