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First Impressions Gaming Of March 2021

Cubitos artwork first impressions

Cubitos - Matt Thomasson

In March I received a game that I have been eagerly anticipating for a long time. A game that has some very good designer heritage with John D. Clair. John D. Clair was the designer on Mystic Vale & Space Base both of which are games I enjoy as well as Edge of Darkness, Ecos: First continent and Dead Reckoning. I am also a big fan of the publisher, Alderac Entertainment Group (or AEG) so another pairing of the hit designer/publisher combo with Cubitos was always going to have me interested. 

I have managed four games of Cubitos so far and I can say that I am a fan. Cubitos is a push your luck, dice rolling game. It has a deck-building feel to it, withdraw piles, active areas and discard piles, but utilising dice. You start off with a mediocre pool of grey dice which are rolled. Any faces that show a hit (i.e. are not blank) get moved to your active area and grant you movement points and coins to spend on new dice. However, you can continue to roll your remaining dice to get more movement and more coins. If you have three dice in your active area and no hits on your rolled remaining dice, you lose everything in your active area. 

After you have decided to stop rolling you can move and purchase new dice. There are eight different coloured dice and an associated ability that goes with the coloured dice. There are a number of different abilities for each coloured dice so Cubitos has a lot of replayability. Purchased dice get added to your discard area and are used in future turns. 

Cubitos is a box packed with fun. The abilities are interesting and you can create some fantastic combos. There are four different tracks to race on and these all have a range of special bonus spots that let you gain additional credits, shed dice from your pool, gain dice, provide shortcuts and activate jet packs. The variety in the dice abilities is very high with each coloured dice having seven different ability cards to choose from. The push your luck element is tense yet fun and with the addition of the fan track mechanism makes pushing your luck even more enticing and sometimes  available strategy. I really can’t wait to delve back into this game and explore more of the abilities and more of the tracks and have some dice rolling Cubitos fun.

Navegador - Lawrence Kelly

In Navegador you set sail around the world in the 16th century on behalf of the Portuguese empire. You pilot your ships through dangerous waters, discover new territories, found colonies and trade gold, sugar and spices. So far, so Eurogame. What sets Navegador apart from the crowd is its designer, Mac Gerdts. Along with the invention of the rondel mechanism, Mac Gerdts’ main claim to fame is the classic game Concordia, rank 18 on BGG. In 2010, three years before Concordia, he released Navegador. A decade later this game is still in the top 250 of all time. And it deserves it.

The rondel system of action selection keeps the game flowing fast, without any analysis paralysis. The economic system is beautifully elegant and the best I’ve seen. You can sell expensive goods from your colonies and make a tidy profit. But this causes their future prices to drop. Or you can process cheap goods for high returns using your factories. But this causes the prices to rise. This is one slice of the multi-dimensional see-saw on which you precariously balance in Navegador.

The game ramps up over three phases. When someone pushes into new unexplored waters around the horn of Africa or into the far East, the ships get more expensive, but faster. Before you know it, someone reaches the edge of the Earth at Nagasaki, and the game end is triggered. This is not multiplayer solitaire. You are constantly watching what everyone is doing. The map is tight and the player boards are simple enough to see at a glance how someone else’s engine is working and where they are likely to head next. You are all competing for tight resources. But the game turns are so fluid and fast, it's a bit of a miracle. It's all over in 60-90 minutes.

As this is the first impression, I feel I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of Navegador.  There is so much depth to explore that I can’t wait to get it back to the table. In 2021, it's easy to be distracted by the endless stream of hot new games. Finding Navegador is a timely reminder for me to go back and look for more gems of the past.

Barenpark - Favouritefoe

Thanks to a fellow blogger and her Instagram quest to get us all playing games that have sat on our shelves-of-shame for too long, March was a cornucopia of new gaming experiences.

Fuelled with community spirit and the anticipation of Spring, I, therefore, skipped over to my collection and spied Barenpark hibernating at the bottom of our Kallax.

Throwing caution to the wind, I decided it was time to awaken the bears……

The saying goes that you should never wake a sleeping baby. Oh and that you should let sleeping dogs lie. But nobody said anything about bears, did they? Well, foolhardy or not, I dove into the box to rouse the grumpy grizzlies, poke the pandas, and kiss the koalas good day!

And first game down, we fell head-first into the bear pit. A polyomino tile-laying, family fun game where you’re competing to build the best bear packed attraction in the world, Barenpark gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling inside.

Our introduction was slightly unusual in that we popped our park building cherry over zoom. But, with a bit of cross-checking to make sure both sides of the screen were using and removing the same tiles from their own copies, it worked brilliantly!

Granted, I am a massive fan of all things polyomino (Patchwork and Cartographers being amongst my top games of all time), even though I am truly terrible at tessellating under tension. But seeing my board fill up with chunky bear enclosures as they replaced Klemenz Franz’s sweetly styled wheelbarrows, cement mixers, and excavators was such a satisfying experience. Not to mention the joy that came with slotting a precious port-a-loo into a single space, resulting in serious bear statue bonus points!

I hesitate to call Barenpark a family-friendly game as, for some gamers, that denotes too simple, too easy. And whilst this is no 500kg Kodiak, there is some strategy at play amongst the rivers and fast-food stands. Racing to secure the most valuable enclosure tiles on top of each pile seems a no-brainer until you bear in mind what you are going to do with the odd shapes they leave on your board.

A game that I can play with friends, a game that I can play with our mini-meeple. In Baenpark Phil Walker-Harding has well and truly hit it out of the park!

Sagrada Passion - Kirsty Hewitt

I have had Sagrada for some time and enjoyed the base game.  However, it is only recently that I have explored the expansions.  At the end of last year, I brought the Passion expansion, which was joined by the Life expansion this month.

The Life expansion adds two different module - the Masterwork dice and the Apprentice cards.  Both of these add some very interesting facets to the base game.  I haven’t tried playing with both of these modules together, but have played with them each separately.

The apprentice module comes with new window cards.  These are worth less favour tokens than in the base game.  They also have a couple of spaces with apprentice symbols on them.  When you place dice on a space with an apprentice symbol on it, you can draw apprentice cards.  These are either drawn blind from the top of the deck (in which case you draw two cards) or from the top of the discard pile. Some of these apprentice cards have the same ability as the tool cards.  Others have completely new abilities. 

The masterwork module comes with some beautiful orange dice and a dice board.  To use one of the masterwork die, you have to pay a die of either the colour or number indicated on the dice board.  Each masterwork die has an arrow on it showing that you either need to match the colour or number on the die at each arrow point or, for two die, that you need to have different numbers/colours on each side of the die.  If you meet the criteria specified on the die, you get five points at the end of the game.

Sagrada is already an excellent game with plenty of replayability.  The Life expansion adds even more variability and replayability.  If you enjoy Sagrada then you should add the Life expansion.

Marvel United Components

Marvel United - Will Moffat

I was very pleased to receive the huge box containing my Marvel United pledge in mid-March! Very pleased, given the circumstances about a year ago when the Kickstarter campaign was in progress, where game publisher CMON were under the microscope of financial auditors who branded the company a "going concern" meaning that in the opinion of the auditors the company was close to bankruptcy (read my full article here). Well, I’m pleased to say that CMON is still here and releasing games, including this little gem!

In Marvel United, you will work cooperatively in a team of two to four heroes. You go against a game-controlled villain who is hell-bent on completing their evil “masterplan”. You do so by laying a card onto the storyline on your turn and performing the actions on your card. This includes the actions from the previously played card too – so teamwork isn’t just encouraged, it’s crucial! On the villain’s turn, they will add a card to the storyline, which usually allows them to move, inspire thugs and torment innocent bystanders, as well as hurting the heroes.

I played this six times in late March. I've barely scratched the surface of the Kickstarter content. As you can probably guess, my first impression is on a very high scale. It has a very Pandemic vibe to it. I would say the game it is most similar to is Pandemic the Cure. Every villain has different winning conditions and special rules, their own unique masterplan deck and their own threat cards that go out to the locations on the table - so whenever you play a new villain it is a completely different experience!

Plus different heroes work really well together – it’s a great feeling when you assemble a really good team that works synergistically. For a simple ruleset this game has so much depth, replayability and it’s simply fun too! It will get a lot more plays in my house!