Hey board gamers, BJ from Board Game Gumbo here back with more tales of gaming down on the bayou. The pandemic has made it tough to get multiplayer games in, at least in person, but luckily, I have a few gamers at home, and some steady friends who will get together online frequently. So, as usual, our first impressions are generally either with small play counts (2-3 players) or online only.
Hit us up on Twitter or on Facebook and let us know what games you’ve been playing during this crisis and what games you think we should play!
But that’s enough blather, let’s get to the games! This month, we are discussing First Ascent, a new game about rock climbing, Level 99’s hit shoot ’em up adjacent game, Bullet❤, and Bristol 1350, another in Facade Games’ line of book games.
Play: On: First Ascent
Ah, dear reader, you know my taste in games so well. If it has euro mechanics, or some kind of esoteric Americana theme, or has anything to do with trains, you know that I’ll get excited beyond any reasonable relationship to the potential goodness of the game. Yes, sometimes I latch onto games just because of a cool theme or artwork, and it works out poorly, but sometimes it works out great! This past month was one of those times when I got to try First Ascent, a new game coming out on Kickstarter in June.
Kate Otte designed a game that connects her love of rock climbing and board gaming into one package. First Ascent is a Euro style game where climbers compete to score as many points as they hone their rock climbing skills, tackle steep ascents, and — hopefully but not always — make it to the top.
My wife and sons are big rock climbers, and two of them have been certified climbing instructors over the years, so I had a good feeling that they would be into the theme. I was right! They recognized many of the techniques shown on the cards and climbs based on real climbs across the U.S. (P.S. I used to climb with them, but basophobia is tearing me up!)
The gameplay is fairly simple, and everyone picked up the rules right away. Players are rock climbers, each with a unique climber with their own special power, who will attempt to score the most points by scaling “pitches” and upgrading their equipment. The mountain has various climbs in difficulty, and has both hidden and public scoring objectives that can throw some extra points your way if you plan your route carefully. Plus, matching up the cards you play each round can give you some juicy bonuses! Since there are a ton of different climbers, and the board’s routes are different every time, and the public and private objectives are all randomly drawn each game, games seem to play out differently each time we get the game to the table.
Plus, the game comes with event cards that you draw after each successful pitch is climbed, so that adds some thematic elements and randomness that keeps it fresh, too. If I had a tiny quibble with the game, I’d tone down some of the event cards because some types are clearly better than others and tighten up the rule book, but hey, we were playing with an advanced production copy so there is plenty of time to fix all that in the Kickstarter project.
Roux Dat Says: This is one of those “Goldilocks” games — just light enough that you can teach your friends who aren’t serious gamers how to play it quickly at your next Abita-root-beer-and-board-game-night, yet First Ascent has plenty enough depth to satisfy any euro gamer. Slick, well designed, and beautifully produced. And it looks amazing on the table! It’s coming soon to Kickstarter, so keep an eye out for it this summer.
The Gift That Keeps On Giving: Bullet
If you follow us on social media, you have certainly seen lots of posts about Level 99’s newest hit, Bullet❤. Unlike First Ascent, this is not the kind of game that on the surface would attract me at all. I have very little experience with Tetris style games like Dr. Mario, and real time games are some of my least favorite games, absent Steam Park, of course.
And yet, here comes Bullet in all of its glory on our table top, being played over and over each time the newly vaccinated Krewe de Gumbo gets together in small groups! Why for? Because the game is puzzly but does not take long at all, so I never feel like it is a never ending puzzle that drags on. Plus, I love the fact that each character does something a little different to the board state.
Let me back up for a second. In Bullet, players each are trying to survive a flurry of “real time bullets” (note: we ditch the real time aspect pretty quickly each time) as they descend five lanes on your board, each color coded. You draw these bullets randomly out of a bag, and then place them in the appropriate spots on your board. Put them in patterns matching your special power cards, and you can remove them off of the board to give them to the player to your left in the next round. Clear as much of the board as you can, and then grab the ones that are assigned to you by the game and by the player to your left for your next turn. Rinse and repeat, until someone lets too many bullets hit the floor causing their last heart of damage to explode.
The game is really that simple. The complexity comes in trying to plan ahead as you see what’s on the board, kind of guess as to what is remaining in your bag, and then plan out spending points to move the bullets around on the board to match those patterns and eliminate them from play. The whole game can be played three times in an hour easily, so even if you get eliminated in one game, in just a few minutes you will be dodging bullets again trying to survive longer this time.
Roux Dat Says: Honestly, this game is so much more fun than it has the right to be. The game mechanics are dead simple, yet solve so many problems with similar games with ease. For my money, this game destroys Escape: Curse of the Temple, even if I do like the theme of Escape better. We have yet to introduce Bullet to anyone that wasn’t instantly enthralled and enraged by the puzzles in this game. Plus, let’s face it — everyone enjoys the thrill of handing a big stack of bullet chips to the player on the left just to watch their eyes geaux wide with fright! It’s the gift that keeps on giving!
Alms For The Poor Players: Bristol 1350
Some board game companies eschew any real theme in their packaging, focusing instead on delivering good gameplay. Some board game companies are intent on publishing over produced games that have every element blinged out, hoping that “bling” = “theme”.
And then there’s Facade Games.
From start to finish, our experience with their bookshelf series of games sets the standard for beautiful games with engaging, thematic game play. Bristol 1350 is the fourth in that series, and I’ve only played one other, namely Tortuga, but the rest of the Krewe has played most of the series. In Bristol, players are scratching and clawing their way out of the namesake village, trying to evade the Plague. It is ostensibly co-operative, until it is not, when one or more of the players come down with the plague — secretly, of course — and then conspire to throw everyone out of the wagons racing out of town to catch it, too.
I really enjoyed the dice and manipulation mechanics, especially the way that I felt like I had the agency to avoid the bad things that frequently came up on the rolls. Even though I ultimately was not successful at avoiding every bad outcome, and lost on the last turn, I had the illusion that I knew who was whom, and that I could predict what people would do on their turns. As we barreled toward the exit, the tension ratcheted up nicely on each turn. I wish the game did not rely so much on the honor system for the plague mechanic, but it worked for us, so I’m sure it has been play-tested……to death.
Roux Dat Says: So, anyway, like I was saying, Bristol 1350 really captures the theme of traitors amongst the village people in the middle ages. Did village traitors really exist? Does it really matter? I’m glad Bradly owns Bristol 1350 and I’d definitely play it again, especially because both the teach time and the play time are relatively short. It’s certainly a great end of the game night game, or better yet, a “play late at night at our next con” game. Can’t wait!
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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