There are lots of game reviewers out there who already put out incredible content. However, I’ve noticed that there isn’t as much coming from the perspective of someone who is just beginning to explore the hobby.
For this reason, I decided to take it upon myself to quickly review all 12 of the games that I played in January — Pandemic, Ticket To Ride, Settlers of Catan, Five Tribes, Puerto Rico, Resistance, Love Letter, Catacombs, Splendor, Exploding Kittens, Spyfall and Hive. Hopefully you will enjoy some insight from the perspective of new board gamer.
You won’t find much in the way of numerals in these reviews, so for the quantitative learners out there, you can find a tier list of all the games ranked from favorite to least favorite at the bottom of the article.
Pandemic (2 Plays)
I know the theme is off, but this is basically how I feel trying to confidently lead my team to victory in a game of Pandemic.
And here is a transcript of how that usually goes.
Me: “Alright, as long as we don’t hit Kolkata, Delhi, or Karachi we’ll be fine.”
Confidently flip Cards over
Team: “Did we hit them?”
Team: “Well, how many cubes do we get.”
In all seriousness, Pandemic was my first modern board game. I thought a board game would be a good gift for my SO’s parents. We tried out the game ourselves, so we’d know how to play and teach them, and that was all it took for me to become obsessed with the hobby. If that isn’t an advertisement of Pandemic as a gateway game, then I don’t know what is. I rate Pandemic a score of “lots” out of 10.
Ticket To Ride (3 plays)
I like to say “chugga” each time I lay down a train segment, as in “chugga, chugga, chugga, chugga, chugga, choo choo, that’s 15 points, mother fuckers!” Jeez, I must be great to play with. Okay, so maybe don’t do that.
Here’s the thing, I’ve had fun each time I’ve played, and, importantly, I’ve felt like I learned something each time I lost. Yes, it’s simple. Maybe it’s not quite as satisfying as a really solid, competitive game of something more complex. Those games, however, are harder to come by for a variety of reasons. TtR can be picked up and played with anyone, and it’s fun.
Watching your train empire grow is fun. Make train noises if fun.
It may not be the deepest movie in the world, but it’s good, old fashioned, fun, also trains. I give Ticket to Ride a “3:10 to Yuma” out of 10. Wait, what was I talking about?
Settlers of Catan – 1 Play
Let’s have a serious chat about Settlers of Catan.
Listen. Your friends love this game. You love this game too. Well, you did until you played it 600 times in college. Now you’d just rather play something else.
Unfortunately, every time your friends see Settlers on your shelf, next to all your shiny, new games, they want to play Settlers. What do you do?
Here’s what I do when talked into a game of Settlers. I take out the 2 and 12 tiles. I replace those with an extra 6 and 8. If the expansion is available, just tiles from that, but I’ve used bottle caps in the past. I also play with the “friendly robber rule”, which says that the robber can only be placed on a space where one player on the tile has at least 3 victory points. If a seven is rolled before anyone has three points, just re-roll.
I’ve found that these variant rules speed up the game considerably. They also help solve the games biggest problem, which is the potential to be essentially eliminated in the first couple turns because you are getting bad rolls and the robber is blocking your brick, so how are you supposed to expand exactly?
That said, the moment when someone is going to win the game so long as they don’t roll a 7 on themselves, is just great theater.
All things considered, I give Settlers of Catan a rating of “NPR” out of 10.
Five Tribes (8 Plays)
You are just going to have to trust me on this one.
If you like Magic: the Gathering, then you will probably like Five Tribes.
Literally dozens of people reading this will think, “Wait, what? They couldn’t be more dissimilar mechanically.”
Just hear me out.
Being good at MtG, aside from buying expensive cards, is all about quickly determining your most likely route to victory and following it and being able to adapt that strategy as the game state changes.
MtG people will know what I’m talking about.
Five Tribes is exactly this. Each game begins with a near infinite number of possible directions to go in. Players who can quickly sleuth out which of these directions lead down the path of victory, while being able to change course as the games landscape changes will put themselves in a position to win. It’s amazing.
A quick word about the Solo variant.
I love this game, so when I saw that Days of Wonder had released a solo variant, I had to give it a try. I’ve played it twice and, unfortunately, it just doesn’t work for me. My main gripe is that the mechanic you are playing against is dice rolling. Taking a eurogame with, essentially, no luck at all and then wrapping it around dice just doesn’t feel right to me. In one of my games I rolled a black 6 on three of my first seven rolls. That will mean nothing to the vast majority of readers, but it meant the game was over. I lost and there was absolutely nothing I could have done to stop it. Admittedly, I got very unlucky, but that in itself is the problem. I guess I just don’t want bad luck to play a huge factor in this particular type of game.
I’ll never hold a solo variant against a game because it’s just a bonus that gives the game extra utility, but in this case I’m not awarding any bonus points either. Still, I give Five Tribes a rating of “1 palm tree, 1 palace, and 1 vizier” out of 10 gold coins.
Resistance (7 plays)
Here’s what I know for sure. I’m in the resistance.
Also, I trust no one.
I think that’s what is s beautiful about the game. It’s a game of information, but the information you get is so, so limited, especially if you are in the resistance.
If you’re in the resistance, then this is basically you.
I’ve heard that people tire of this game, but I played for the first time ever this month and it was an absolute riot. We played it five times in a row that night, and I think people kept playing after I had to take off.
It’s just the right amount of deduction and just plain lying to your friends faces. There really isn’t much else to say.
I rate resistance a “Success” out of 10, and you will too, unless you’re a filthy spy.
Puerto Rico (1 Play)
I played Puerto Rico for the first time this month when my friend brought it over for a game night. Out of the 5 of us, only one person had played before, so it was very slow going as we played through the first round of the game.
We had intended to start over after a practice round, but by that point everyone felt good about just continuing the game. I was absolutely wowed by this game. Just how everything fits together: the tight systems, the way everyone ended up going in different directions, the synergies you can discover, the way everyone must be actively engaged each turn, and the way you can indirectly manipulate the opportunities other players will have once it is their turn to play.
This was really my first experience with a heavier eurogame, and I absolutely loved it. I’m very much looking forward to playing more games of this type in the future, but for now, and even though I only played it once, Puerto Rico gets my first ever “Chicken Fryd 10” out of 10. An actual number, what is this?!
Love Letter (3 Plays)
I felt like I must be missing something the first time I played Love Letter against my SO. I played a card, then she played a card, we compared hands, and I lost the round. Of course this was just 1 of the 7 wins you need to win the entire game of Love Letter, but it did feel a little underwhelming losing in all of 20 seconds after hearing so many great things about this game.
Perhaps I had built it up a bit too much in my head.
Since then I’ve played with a full four player game, which was much more enjoyable. There are some interesting decisions to make, and there definitely is some strategy and bluffing. I’ve come to realize it is great for what it is, a fun, simple game you can carry around with you anywhere.
But should this game be considered one of the best games around? I don’t think so. But hey, that’s just my opinion, and that doesn’t mean it isn’t good. It is and I give Love Letter a rating of “good” out of 10.
Catacombs (1 Play)
I was very excited to try Catacombs as my first ever dexterity game besides beer pong, which I love. As you can imagine, my expectations were very high.
Unfortunately, this game just has a lot of problems. All of which stem from the fact that its balance is off. In my one game, the balance didn’t even feel remotely close.
I was playing as the Catacomb Lord against 3 of my friends, one piloting 2 characters. I took note in the rules where it says it is up to the Catacomb Lord to make sure the game is fun for all players, and began the game with that mindset.
What I didn’t take into account was just how much of an advantage the Catacomb Lord has. Often twice as many units (discs you flick around the board representing monsters in the dungeon), and those units have special abilities that are on par with or stronger than the abilities the heroes can acquire.
I also didn’t expect that my friends would get annoyed knowing I was sandbagging fights. Unfortunately, if I actually tried to win, then they would get frustrated because of how badly they did.
Ultimately, it turns out playing bad on purpose and still winning isn’t very fun for either side.
The mechanics of the game, building a character, optimizing abilities, and even the dexterity aspects, all appeal to me. I want to play again testing some house rules I’ve thought of to hopefully address this problem because the potential of this game makes it worth working for.
Unfortunately, a game that asks a player to work this hard to make the game fun, just feels unfinished… even if the concept is really, really awesome.
Catacombs, I want to Love you, but I just can’t love you out of 10.
Splendor (10 Plays)
Splendor is the game I played most this month, but I feel the need to parse out what that means.
Splendor is super quick to teach. If you have an hour of time and new players, then Splendor is a great game to get to the table. You can teach all the rules and get through a couple games in an hour, unless someone has particularly bad AP.
It just so happened that as I began exploring the board game hobby this month, I found myself in a situation where I was trying to get non-gamers to play games with me quite a bit. I was fortunate to have Splendor in my collection for these situations.
However, I have also been running a weekly game night, which has more gamer-types attending, and have not felt inclined to break out Splendor there, so I do have a few criticisms for the game.
Similar to Ticket To Ride, the game is incredibly simple on its surface with a ton of depth hidden beneath. Unfortunately, at least for me, the action of picking up a gem card and getting a discount is a lot less interesting than building trains across America. Building a train from LA to San Francisco feels like an accomplishment. Picking up a card worth 5 points, though huge in the game, just doesn’t feel the same way.
Additionally, in Ticket To Ride every decision you make seems to be amplified because of the potential effect it may have on your or somebody else’s destination card. Splendor just doesn’t feel like it has the same kind of high stakes decision. For some people this may be a feature because it does feel a little more laid back, but I like the drama of TtR.
Don’t get me wrong; you will still agonize over tough decisions in Splendor. Splendor is good, and it is my most played game of January for a reason. I look forward to playing it many more times. I just haven’t had any one game of Splendor that I came away from saying, “Wow, that was amazing!” Instead each game has just been quite nice. I would give Splendor a rating of “I’ll take things that are nice for $600, Alex” out of 10.
Exploding Kittens (1 Play)
I played this once and just didn’t have any fun. The cards were amusing, but I didn’t make me laugh out loud reading the cards. This isn’t to say some people wouldn’t find them hysterical, and more power to you if you do, but even then a joke is only funny a finite number of times. Right?
I didn’t feel like there was really any gameplay here besides a tiny bit of bluffing. You just kind of play out your cards and either you win or you lose. Again maybe I just haven’t played this enough and people will tell me I’m way off, but in our game one guy got lucky and stole a couple of defuse cards (they save you from getting blown up, which is important) and there was nothing that could be done to stop it. This is one game that I’m not really interested in revisiting, unless perhaps as a brainless drinking game. Hmmm… In terms of explosions, I rate Exploding Kittens “a dud” out of 10.
Spyfall (1 Evening)
So one thing I learned is that Spyfall is really hard for people to play if English is their second language. I also learned it can be absolutely hilarious to play with people who have English as a second language.
I invited over a few friends to drink some beers and play a game or two one night. One person brought a mutual friend, Cheney who is from China, over. Unfortunately, that bumped us up to six people, which was more than I could accommodate with any of the games I owned.
Luckily, I had previously played Spyfall using the browser version of the game once before, and we decided to give that a go. In Spyfall one person is a spy, who doesn’t know where they are, while everyone else knows where they are, but not who the spy is. If the Spy can find out the location before the group figures out who the spy is, then the Spy wins. Otherwise, the group wins.
It’s a simple concept, but the way you play is by asking nuanced questions and giving even more nuanced answers, so as to hint to the other players you know where you are without giving away information to the spy. It’s challenging – even for native english speakers.
When it was Cheney’s turn to ask a question, he thought very hard for about a minute. When he finally spoke, the question that came out of his mouth was, “Do you like uniform girls?” — a pretty funny question to ask a fellow police officer. Of course, this was met by uproarious laughter from the group. It was a beautiful moment, and I rate Spyfall “Uniform Girls” out of 10.
Hive (2 Plays)
I played Hive twice in one night and lost both times, so obviously the game is terrible. Just kidding. It’s a fun game, but it takes the right kind of person to really enjoy it I think.
The chess comparisons I’ve heard about this game feel apt. It’s got a very intense, one on one, battle of wits feeling, where every move you make is either a step closer towards victory or sealing your own defeat.
I probably average a game or two of chess a year, and usually at someone else’s request. The problem with Chess and probably Hive as well is that it’s difficult to find games against opponents equal in skill because the skill ceiling is so dang high. Furthermore, each person begins the game on equal footing and with no luck whatsoever to even things out. That means that when you lose it is only because you were outplayed, which can be hard for some people to take (like me).
Hive, however, is a quicker game than Chess. That means the losing player, hasn’t sunk as much time and effort into the game, which makes them more likely to say, “let’s play again.” Rather than in Chess where the losing player is more like, “That was fun, let’s do it again in a year.” Okay, maybe that’s just me as well.
I can definitely see why this game is so highly regarded, but the other night when my friend asked if I wanted to play a quick game at the end of game night, I found myself not really inclined to play. I just think it might not be the right kind of fit for me. For that reason, I rate Hive a “you say yes, I say no” out of 10.
Tier List for the Quantitative People
-Chicken Fryd Game of the Month-
Ticket To Ride
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