Our first experience of many mechanics is the one we usually associate to when considering how a game is played. Tile laying games are a good example. We found they often relied on area control or exploration as their primary focal point. Carcassonne, Small Islands, Betrayal, Sub Terra or Xia for example. We found these games used tile laying excellently for their functions, and enjoy them for what they are. But consider something less associated, something different! Geode, a game by District 31, takes tile laying in a different direction. Pattern building. This isn't revolutionary or brand new - Azul did it first, as did Qwirkle, but there's something we love about Geode. It allows for long players or an element of optional luck tied within it, meaning the convenience of the right tile won't always be the deciding factor. Check out our thoughts!
The aim of Geode is to complete geodes by laying tiles, and then acquiring contracts. Contacts score points if they match the value of a specific geode's tile total, but still score points if they don't match (though this is a much lower value). Geode is set up very quickly compared to other tile laying games. The contract tiles are piled in their respective piles, according to their value ranges. Then, all the Geode tiles are shuffled and each player takes two tiles. If they draw a diamond (wild gem with 0 value) this is our back and a new tile is drawn. One tile is then placed on the table to start the tile collection. Finally, each player takes the appropriate number of coloured tokens of one colour dependent on the number of players. You are now ready to rock!
Taking it in turns with a starting player, players lay one geode tile logically onto the board. Tiles must make sense and match. Should a player be unable to play, they lay a tile in front of them face up and take a new one without lying any tiles. The tile in front of them must be then played on their next turn when it can be placed. If a player completes a geode, they place a colour counter on that geode and take a contract. They can take any contract, regardless of the geode's value. The game ends when a player uses their last counter, then all players finish that round and cash in contracts. If a contact matches a geode value, it is claimed as it's completed points. If not, it scores for its ownership value. The winner is whomever has the most points.
How It Handles
Geode is a game we thoroughly enjoyed, and we're excited to hear District 31 have more plans for this too. However, the game as it stands is what we're talking about, and is our focus here. So, we thoroughly enjoyed it. No arguments, we all gelled with it and it's a game none of us were lost with. The hardest part of Geode is choosing where to lay your tile for a longer plan. There's little to complain about and you're never in a position of being "down and out" as it were. You can always steal the win with a superb Geode claim. Contacts allow for points either way, but a completed contract can make or break a win!
Contacts are earned when you complete a geode. The Contracts you claim can be taken in one of two ways. You can either claim the contract band your recent Geode resides within (a play based on luck). Or, you can claim a contract based on the Geodes of the board. Sounds mad, as you're not then playing for your own claims... but that's the point! We have had situations where we manipulated the tiles laid on our turns to ensure we created and then claimed geodes of specific values. It took effort and planning, but ensured our points were high. It also felt amazing to create then claim one based on a need! Also, it meant getting another contract to work towards, too!
Diamond in the Rough?
Picking up diamonds are a novelty, and they allow for more freedom with placement. However, these wild tiles are few and far between. They're themed on the clear gemstones and are coveted like them, too! These are the things that will allow players to truly manipulate the scores of geodes totals and will enable them to access higher contracts with less risks. Geode's issue with this is its scarcity. You're going to be so wrapped up in trying to manipulate the tiles on the board for quick cash-ins or longer plays. You won't anticipate or plan for a wild card. A diamond won't necessarily be welcomed if you're hoping for better plans, nor will they enhance your long play. Don't get obsessed!
The Third Risk?
Naturally, any game where four matching tiles will make that the desired focus, right? And because of that, Geode should run on a basis of avoiding being the third tile layer. Play the third and open the fourth up, right? No one wants to hand points away. Luckily, Geode doesn't have to run on this basis - it isn't the case at all. (At least not as you get further into it.) Initially, you'll avoid that third tile like the plague and will no doubt have a patchy grid to work with. That's fine, but it won't allow you to thrive in the game.
At some point, you've got to claim either by accident or through a lack of choice. It'll be the best thing you'll do! That opens up the opportunity to claim a contract and then you'll have something to work towards. It's genuinely far more rewarding, and allows for more points, when you work towards completing an owner contract. Picking them at random might get you lucky, but it's no guarantee!!
Rocking The Looks?
The prototype of Geode we received looked, and felt of great quality. We cannot comment on the final production copy's quality, of course, but if this is what's to go by you're in for a treat! The backs of the tiles are embellished with a wax seal illustration which adds to the whole "gaining contracts" feel of the game. You're in a business, and thematic element makes it feel like a Ye Olde company.
The geodes themselves are clear and understandable in every respect, and it's obvious what can go where. What we can comment on towards the final copy is the contract final layout. Currently you have words on them - not a problem. District 31 are planning to remove these and have pictorial elements to show what's earned when. Sounds a small change, but it removes language as a barrier and is a lovely consideration on their part!
Geode does what a tile laying game should do, it gets you thinking. Long and hard. You're never certain of what will happen, but you'll know what you need to do. How you'll do it will be another matter, as it'll be a case of choosing whether to snatch at points or play for a long game. Geode hit us hard with its simple access but high level of mastery, and it forced us to play game after game. It's excellent, quick fun without the massive commitment of a tonne of set up/pack away time. Check out the Kickstarter when it goes live later this year!