What's Eric Playing?: Week of March 25, 2019
More reviews! Mostly Kickstarters, this week, but a lot of them hit on Tuesday! As always, click the game’s title to learn more!
Overall, I think Handsome is a fun little word game! I quite like the initial motivation; it’s very slick that 18 cards is the exact right amount for every consonant (with three paired up). I’d be intrigued if this motivated a Wibbell++-esque system where you could play multiple different word games with the Handsome setup; that would be pretty cool. Either way, it’s got what I like to see most in a word game, which is something I haven’t seen before. In Handsome, it’s the scoring system; it’s unique in that it doesn’t overwhelmingly incentivize certain letters or long words (or give you points per letter, as many word games do); it wants you to use certain combinations of letters or try to outscore your opponent in one of three zones. That’s an interesting spin and I’d like to play it more to see how it ends up shaking out for me, feelings-wise, but even now I’d say I’d happily and confidently recommend it. Button Shy has been publishing a lot of solid games, lately, and if you’re interested in a light, fast word game, Handsome is certainly another feather in their cap!
Overall, I’ve had a lot of fun with CABO! Like I said, the thing I like most about it is how it enables big moments in a game. When you play a game with a group that’s meant to be fun and silly, the best thing you can get is a solid laugh from the group. CABO enables this in spades with big reveals, flashy card art, and an overall solid gameplay experience. We laughed whenever a player came up one short, we had a player hit 100 exactly (to another player’s despair), we had a bunch of really great experiences that were enabled by this game, and I think that’s perfect. This, like PUSH, is another one of those games that I’d just sneak into a friend’s collection and replace UNO with; it’s easy enough to pick up that most people will get it, and it’s fun enough that I don’t see people necessarily getting rid of it. Sure, if you knew what you were doing, you could implement this yourself with a basic deck of cards (A = 1, K = 13, Jokers = 0), but I like the art in this, so I feel like that justifies it, for me. Naturally, it also helps that I’m into quick, fairly light games, so CABO is right up my alley. Either way, it’s a strong showing, in my opinion, so if you’re looking for something easy to slip into a bag or backpack that’s pretty easy to learn and a lot of fun to play, I’d definitely recommend trying a few games of CABO! I certainly enjoyed it.
Overall, I’m still pretty excited about Oceans! Like I said, some parts of the game feel a bit clunky, yes, but I’m super excited about another game in the Evolution series and this one doesn’t disappoint; it just takes some getting used to. These are always kind of interestingly tough reviews to write; there are a lot of things I’m really excited about, like new combinations of cards or the new game system, but there are also things that I’m not as enthused about, like the fairly lengthy playtime or the seemingly increased focus on combat and take-that predation. Thankfully, for instance, if someone attacks you, you can get most of your population back by attacking them the next turn, if you can, so there are multiple different ways to solve the issues that I have. If you’re a fan of the series, though, there’s a lot to look forward to! I particularly like the idea of the scenario cards being toggleable; you can turn them off or on when you want to, especially if it’ll help you or hurt your opponents. I am, for the purposes of this review, assuming a few of the rougher edges will be smoothed out by the time it hits retail. Either way, though, I’m definitely looking forward to playing it again. If you’re a long-time fan of Evolution, this is a similar game with some wildly new approaches that are quite interesting, and if you’re new to the series it’s not a bad place to dive right into, if you’re okay with a game that can potentially run a bit longer. I’ve had a lot of fun with Oceans, and for fans of engine-building with a predator / prey spin, I’d recommend checking it out!
Overall, I’m definitely a fan of Ocean Crisis: Catastrophe! I don’t know if I’d go as far as to say that I would always play with it as part of the game (I like some of the base game missions and scenarios, too!), but I think that it’s again, a smart bit of mostly-content upgrades that integrate pretty seamlessly with the base game in a way that’s innocuous but not obnoxious. That’s generally a good bar to set for an expansion, in my opinion; you want it to add value and not necessarily completely pivot the game off the rails, lest your players get really confused. The one valid critique of it might be that it may play it a bit too safe, in that you could have swapped these four Missions / Scenarios out with four from the base game and I wouldn’t have noticed, terribly, but I’d argue that these are the three most catastrophic options (and the Ocean Vacuum, which assuredly is not), so it’s still a good fit. Either way, I’m a big fan of this one, so if you’re enthused about adding more of a challenge or digging deeper into your Ocean Crisis, you might want to check out the Catastrophe expansion!
Overall, I’ve really enjoyed Gartenbau! To be fair, it definitely appeals to the tile-laying part of my brain, but manages to push clean through it with bright colors and a cute theme to keep me hooked. Personally, I’m a big fan of how similar it is to classic domino games, as that makes the game feel more accessible to players that are already familiar with those core mechanics. Beyond the art and theme, I appreciate how much variety the various Flower scoring criteria have, though I’ll admit it overwhelmed me when I was trying to learn the game. It is definitely good that the Flower cards are mostly unique, yes; it just can be A Lot to learn all of them at once. That said, I don’t really mind. The thing that it’s missing compared to, say, Realm of Sand, is a coherent engine-building aspect; this is perfectly fun for me to play, but I never feel like I’m moving more quickly than I ever have (likely because I’m always fairly resource constrained). On the plus side, it makes your opponents easier to predict, which is helpful as well. All in all, it strikes me as a nice gateway – gateway+ game, and I’m never going to complain when another one of those rides around. If you’re looking for some nice, simple, tile-laying games, or you want to develop your competitive green thumb, I’d certainly recommend checking out Gartenbau!