Roux Dat #22: Mandala Stones, Among Us, Ticket to Ride: New York

Hey board gamers, BJ from Board Game Gumbo here back with more tales of gaming down on the bayou. This has been a tough time for getting in person multiplayer games in, but luckily, I have a few gamers at home. Hit us up on Twitter or on Facebook and let us know what games you’ve been playing during this crisis.

But that’s enough blather, let’s get to the games! Here are some games we have not played enough for a full review, but games we have played this month:

Just A Stone’s Throw Away

If only every single year we can keep getting classically beautiful, elegantly designed abstract games, and my wife and I will game happily ever after. Mandala Stones, designed by Filip Glowacz from Board & Dice feels like it has been out already, despite only existing in Filip’s head and on Tabletopia (for the moment.) Take a simple concept: place colored stones in columns or score those columns according to five easy rules (height and color being the central theme). The simplicity belies a depth of play and puzzling goodness that are always the hallmarks of good abstract games.

I had a quick round or two with the Punchboard Media folks during our PBM mixer, but finally got to play a full game taught by Reiner Alferhs from Board & Dice, as well as Paul Shapiro from Board Game Squad. What I suspected during that first brief flirtation blew up into a full scale infatuation. I have the envie to hold a real copy in my hands so that I can teach my wife and scout dad group, who I know will like this.

The layers are a multiverse of decisions, but all wrapped up in a binary choice: pick up stones? Or score your columns? The first option creates short little bursts of brain activity that come in a rush. If you choose to get more stones, you will move one of four tall ominous looking “traveler” stones into a plus sign of columns of beautiful stones, each with one of two symbols on them and different colors. You get to pick up all of the top layered stones in the cardinal directions from your traveler that match the symbol, provided that there are no other travelers touching that column.

That description hints at pre-determined choices, one of the Gumbo’s least favorite developments, but you would be mistaken if that’s what you thought happens. Because the obvious choice will not always be the best choice, or even obvious to you in the first place. Get three stones instead of two for scoring, but leave your opponent the opportunity to get four instead of one? Bad move. But maybe a good move if that forces your opponents to pick up colors that mess up their columns. Or maybe those stones fit perfectly with the hidden end game scoring card you can add to the game. But don’t worry, the decision tree is really just a spring bush, so cycling through does not take long and keeps the game moving.

BJ says: As beautiful to play as it is to see on your table (at least as far as I can tell from the Tabletopia implementation), I cannot wait to get a copy of Mandala Stones on our game table at home. With a play time of roughly 20-30 minutes, it will be the perfect after dinner snack on our Thursday night date nights, and a worthy replacement to Azul at our regular game nights.

I Thought You Were Chasing Me

So, in 2018, a small development company from the PNW released “Among Us”, a mobile and Windows based traitor game that feels like a board game on steroids. I never heard of it, but apparently, someone in the board game community noticed how the development team successfully translated the tense filled moments of a game like Battle Star Galactica down to about a five minute game, with cute graphics straight out of the 90s. (And pets you can buy, yes, lots of pets.)

I’ve been wanting to play for weeks, based on Carlos’ recommendations, and so we fired it up this week with friends and family from all three coasts. What was supposed to be a five minute, maybe ten minute exploration of this board gaming phenomenon stretched into a three and half hour marathon session. We added players, and subtracted players as people joined in from all over. I managed to scratch out four wins even though by all accounts I was the worst movement player and a terrible bluffer. (I was forced to use iOS on my phone as it is not yet available for the Mac. The iOS controls are barely adequate for someone with peanut butter fingers like me.)

The concept is simple — we are all stranded on a big ship with a top down map, desperately trying to repair the vessel and get it back online. If we get all of our tasks done (imagine simple little finger games, like an iOS version of Space Cadets), we are saved! But, it is never that simple, of course. All the while, there is a traitor in our midst, who can take players out with a well timed attack or sabotage the ship’s systems enough to slow us down. In typical Mafia fashion, the crew has to suss out who the traitor is through visual clues and plain old detective work. Since there is absolutely no talking during the game except during the voting periods, you never really know who is friend or foe — until it is too late.

What a thrill! It is absolutely a blast to play as the crew, running for your life at points or frantically running right back into the fray to try and get the O2 levels back on track. But amp that up 1000% if you are the intruders, because you have to use every trick at your disposal (like using the vent system to bounce around, pretending to help the crew with the tasks, or wrecking the reactor core temporarily) and survive every falsely true accusation out there. Better have an alibi ready!

BJ says: For any fans of hidden role, social deduction, traitor type games, this is a hoot. I cannot recommend it enough for fans of that genre. Even if you are not a fan of those type of games, the entire sequence lasts five minutes, so it is not a big investment of time. The fun lies in my opinion with playing these games back-to-back so a kind of meta develops as players learn the map better, learn what other players’ tendencies are, and develop their skills of puffery. Spicy!

The Game So Nice They Named It Twice

Ticket To Ride has long been a family favorite. But, at the little HS gaming club my wife and I help run at her school, the play length even for this gateway game is tough since the kids come in and out and most cannot stay for more than 45 minutes to an hour. What to do?

Break out the new travel friendly and time frugal Ticket To Ride: New York game. It is part of Days of Wonders’ little small box series of Ticket to Ride Games. I have played both New York and London, and while I like London a bit better, New York is a fantastic implementation of the larger game system down to a 15-20 minute experience.

If you are reading Board Game Gumbo, you already know how to play TTR, I’m sure, so I’ll just tell you that the same rummy style choices are here. You are still picking cards from a market, but instead of train cards, they are NY taxi cabs. You still lay down cabs on a route, but this time on a much smaller tighter map. (NY, for instance, has only one long route, a four taxi cab route that would be sneered at by my Europe map.) And you can still take a chance on grabbing more routes.

But the focus of this version is all about speed. With only 15 cabs, by necessity, you really have to efficiently grab cards and grab routes as quickly as you can, or else your game partners will leave you inhaling taxi cab exhaust in a hurry.

Frankly, it is hard to believe that someone could drill down the elegant Ticket To Ride experience into a game that only lasts twenty minutes. But somehow, the designers have figured out how. I think it is because they have eliminated the slowest part of the game, the first thirty minutes where most good players just stockpile cards. Instead, they ramp up the game right to what is the most fun — the clash of routes, quick grabbing-and-dropping of cards and routes, and some little twists that make the whole game fresh and exciting.

BJ says: The small box Ticket To Ride series is outstanding. I think I like London better, but it is close. The only thing that would top this would be the announcement of Ticket To Ride: Mamou.

THE WRAP UP:

So that’s it for our recent plays. Roux Dat will be back for more early looks at recent plays, especially in this uncertain time when it is tough to get a group of gamers together for a more proper review. Is there a game out there that you or your friends are curious about? Hit us up with a tweet @boardgamegumbo and we will see if we can get our hands on the game!

Until next time, laissez les bon temps rouler!

— BJ @boardgamegumbo

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