Hey board gamers, BJ from Board Game Gumbo here, back with another set of first impressions of games we’ve played recently. We took a little time off from posting to research and compile a new page on our blog where you can find every single review we’ve done. The page has everything lined up in alphabetical order with a photograph to entice you to read. Check it out!
But enough blather, let’s get right to those games. This week, we are dishing out first impressions of Anno 1800, the new game from Martin Wallace; Bullet Star, a sequel to one of our favorite games from 2021; and Wise Guys, the Chicago mob re-theme of Sons of Anarchy. Let’s geaux!
Wheel of Tiles
I know some friends and fellow content creators that salivate each time Martin Wallace releases a new design. For some reason, his designs are a hole in my game collection: I can only recall playing AuZtralia, Lincoln, Nanty Narking, and Hit Z Road to mixed experiences. But the theme and presentation of Anno 1800 intrigued me, so I was glad that KOSMOS sent us a copy for streaming.
We finally had the opportunity this past Tuesday to get it to the table, but it came at the end of a long gaming night. That mean it was just me and Bradly still in the Gumbo Pot. That was no bother to me, since I did not know a lot about Anno 1800 going in, and figured a two player game would be quicker and easier to keep pace of what was happening.
Side note: I heard that Anno 1800 is based on a popular video game but I have no connection to the digital version, so you won’t find any comparative experiences here. My attraction to Anno 1800 was entirely superficial — spying that box cover showing an imposing sailing ship! Any fan of the Maturin & Aubrey nautical novels would do the same, I am sure. I literally knew nothing else, but watched an excellent Jon Gets Games tutorial of the first two rounds to get familiar.
I’m going strictly on experience here, as I have not even gotten a chance to read the rulebook. As I understand it, players each own an island somewhere within sailing distance of “the new world” to be discovered. We need to build up our industrial capacity on the island to make our people happy, the progress being represented by the cards in our starting hand. We start with nine population cards — basically goals that the people living on our island want us to accomplish. First one to play all of the current cards in hand, by completing these goals, triggers the ending rounds of the game.
With that premise firmly tucked in, away we went. The trickiest part to wrap my brain around was how to win. Sure, I knew we have to dump cards, and each one of those scored us varying amounts of points, but if both players dump a close number of the same cards, that would make for a very tight game, right? Ah, but there’s the rub, there’s more to this game than just tossing cards down on the table. To meet those goals, we have to produce certain goods on our island, or trade from them with other players. Developing our industry allows us to build bigger ports to craft bigger ships, and to sail those around to new areas where we might find new animals to memorialize on our journeys.
If all of that sounds kind of point salad-y, you’re not far from being right. It sure felt to me during that first two player play like there were tons of ways to score points by the end of the game. Set collection, card playing, comboing, it’s all in there. But the most intriguing thing to me was the trading-and-upgrading mechanics. It was like a multi-layered puzzle that you had to work backwards to figure out the answer. Sure, I need to make light bulbs, because my population wants them (and I know my opponent will too, giving me gold from the treasury every time Bradly trades with me). But to make those, I need to make something else, and to make that something else, I need to be able to make yet another thing.
The Wheel of Tiles turns, and goods come and pass, leaving gold that becomes legend. Or something like that.
Roux Dat Says: I got absolutely hammered by Bradly, who had a nice engine of points coming from everywhere. I ignored half of the point scoring areas, just to concentrate on building out my island and learning the mechanics. I definitely want to try this at a higher player count — I’ll bet three would be perfect, just enough to keep the game time down to a manageable length but with enough players to provide more interaction in terms of trading the goods. Despite the shellacking, I really enjoyed the play and I am anxious to get a three player game with Linda and Jerod soon.
But Honey I’m Rich On Personality
Bullet Heart made our top six of games released to us in 2021 despite the fact that visually, thematically, and mechanically it has nothing in common with games I usually like! But that’s the hallmark of a truly great design, isn’t it? When a designer puts out a game that even non-fans of the genre likes, that’s an enjoyable new experience for all.
But that begs the question: did Bullet Star live up to its older sister’s legend?
Heck yeah it did! We broke out Bullet Star on our Tuesday Twitch stream and were lucky enough to have Marco, one of the developers from Level 99 Games show up in the chat, so that definitely amped up the experience.
I’m running at the mouth even more than usual, I know. Let’s talk about what Bullet Star is. It’s a real-time puzzle game designed by Joshua Van Laningham. Players take on the role of anime style heroines, each with unique powers, trying to survive an onslaught of colored “bullets” coming at them from all angles. Each heroine truly is unique, especially in this new set. Bullet Star has characters that really juice up various parts of the game.
My character was a ton of fun. According to Marco, she pays homage to a legend from the Philippines, and has a unique game style. Unlike almost every other character in Bullet, she has no patterns to draw for clearing out bullets. Her deck helps her move bullets around her board, and then she uses the three permanent patterns she has to clear them out. Her patterns never exhaust, she doesn’t use AP, and she cannot even get bonus tiles! She’s a tough character to play well, because she’s all about setting up the board in a defensive manner to clear tons of bullets in the late game. If you can survive the early rounds, she can be very formidable. More importantly, she was a lot of fun to play.
I wish I could tell you more about the other characters, but I was so focused surviving until the third round that I frankly wasn’t paying much attention to how they worked! We will try to stream some more plays of Bullet Star, not only for content benefit, but just because we love the game so much.
Roux Dat Says: Two thumbs up for me. If you are a fan of the Bullet series, you probably already have this, and if you haven’t played Bullet yet but love puzzle games, you should definitely check into the base game first. This set really ramps up the difficulty, but in a good way. Bullet Star is a worthy addition to the base game, and just makes us even more impatient to play Bullet Orange!
Leave The Dice, Take The Cannoli
Every once in a while, I get the envie for a super thematic game experience — no puzzles to solve, no engine to build, no color tiles to match up. Give me something with a setting right out of the movies, some dice chucking, and a cinematic experience. Bradly was sent Wise Guys from Gale Force 9 for us to stream, and I had heard so much from the Gumbo krewe about its predecessor, Sons of Anarchy, that I was excited to give it a shot.
In Wise Guys, players travel back to 1920s Chicago and take charge of one of four criminal organizations. Each mob crew has a unique starting spot in terms of money and booze and guns, and they have only six rounds to grab the biggest pile of cash they can steal. Just from the description, you know as a player that you are in for a night of interactive deal-making and deal-breaking action.
Wise Guys did not disappoint in that regard. We laid out the city, consisting of tiles each with actions we can use if we have the most amount of gangsters there. The actions are pretty simple — get guns, trade booze for money, manufacture hootch, get more money, you get the idea. But some of them also have special, interactive powers like kicking people out of locations or sending them to the morgue.
The trick is that to play these actions, you have to have control of that location. One of the best parts of the game is when a player initiates a fight at a location for control. The locations are divided between gun fights and shouting matches. Starting one in an area where guns are allowed can certainly help you if your characters get boosts in that direction or you can bring extra guns to the fight (because the latter is secret information), but you are going to lose credibility and potentially gang members if you are always flashing iron in the bars. On the other hand, the talking fights are more straightforward and deterministic, except of course for that big toss of the die that each player does to settle the odds.
I steeled myself for the inevitable betrayals, and cracks about how bad I am at playing area control games. I’m really terrible at them! I never recognize until it is too late which spots are more powerful than others, or what actions can chain with others to gain the upper hand. Part for the course, I made tons of mistakes each round, and didn’t even figure out the usefulness of my gang’s special power until it was way too late.
Roux Dat Says: I can’t lie. Wise Guys is just not my kind of game. I’ll give it some props, though, because the theme comes through pretty strong and really brought the 1920s Chicago mob. The way that the new tiles come out each round adds some excitement and tension to the game play. And I have to admit that I liked how the event cards (called “Roaring 20s” cards) changed the way the game played each round, keeping it fresh. If your group is in to amerithrash games, Wise Guys is what you are looking for. Games like this aren’t really built for me, and I certainly wouldn’t want to play area control games all the time. But kudos to the designer, Wise Guys certainly brought the 1920s Chicago mob theme to life.
THE WRAP UP:
So that’s it for our recent plays. We want to thank Level 99 Games, Gale Force 9 Games, and KOSMOS for sending us these review copies. Roux Dat will be back soon with more early looks at recent plays.
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