I've mentioned Funatical Games a few times on this blog, and no doubt some particularly cranky people would ask "what's his relationship with them and is he plugging their games for free?". None of you, I'm sure, but somewhere some wacko is sharpening his Beretta and throwing it at a picture of Tom Vasel on his dartboard, and I don't want to end up on *that* hit-list. So the deal is that my mate John owns Funatical and brings me piles and piles of new games to try (and then he takes them back). This article I'm going to do very short reviews of some of them and you can decide whether I'm biased or not.
Escalation! by Reiner Knizia, published by Z-Man. This is a very simple climbing card game where you must play a higher combo or else take the trick, and least cards wins. The kids liked it because it had funny pictures and they beat me. I thought it was massively dull. Reiner makes some treasures and some turkeys, and this is a turkey. Of course, Reiner is probably more concerned about selling games than geeks playing them.
Duel in the Dark by Friedemann de Pedro, published by Z-Man. This is a very clever game, something like Memoir '44 but with more going on. I like Memoir a lot because it's so simple and quick. Duel takes maybe twice as long, but a lot of people like their games longer and more complicated. If you liked Memoir you should seriously consider Duel. It's about the bombing runs from England to Germany at the end of WW2. One player is the English and has a massive slow bomber protected by a weak nimble Mosquito. The other player has 4 German squadrons. Points are awarded throughout the game for various reasons. There's a lot of bluff and no luck that I can remember. I won't get a copy for myself as the kid was lukewarm on it, and Scrabblette and CyberKev won't be into the theme, but many people will like this game a lot.
Dragon Parade by Reiner Knizia, published by Z-Man. This is one of Reiner's midweight games, and I would class it as "okay". It's about a Chinese dragon parade moving through a city which is half yellow and half red. Players play cards to move the dragon towards the red exit or the yellow exit. At the same time they place stalls which are effectively bets on where the dragon will end up. Points are awarded according to how close your stalls were to the dragon's final location. This is a lot like Reiner's other midweight game, Members Only, which I quite like. Dragon Parade is quicker (and that's good) and simpler (that's good too). It's probably cheaper, and has English rules. I'm positively disposed towards this game - it's probably a good filler. Scrabblette thought she couldn't control the dragon at all and found it frustrating. I found the dragon went where I told it to, which was nice. Your mileage may vary!
Army of Frogs by John Yianni (Hive), published by Gen Four Two. I very much enjoyed my first couple of plays of Army of Frogs - there's some thinking to do about where to place frogs to block people, and how to jump so as to unify your groups. However I don't know how much depth there is to it. Let me explain... each player has 10 frogs which are drawn from a sack as the game progresses and placed on the "island". The island is just like a hive except it has fewer long thin bits. On a player's turn they jump one of their frogs and place another frog. If you have at least seven frogs on the board and all of your frogs are in one connected group, you win. There's a lot of randomness in the order frogs come out, and then there's player randomness in the placement of them on the board. Your frogs may not come out, or your opponents may be able to avoid placing them on the board. The jumping rule is nice, but not very hard - soon you will learn to look for great moves. And eventually, with players of a basic level of skill, the game will come down to someone can't be held out of winning any more, or someone will make a mistake and cause someone else to win. Or worse, someone will be forced to choose which of the other players wins. It's maybe a good abstract for kids, but I don't see it attracting serious geek analysis like Hive. I won't be getting frogs tattooed on my forearm.
Midgard by Eric Lang, published by Z-Man. Midgard is an area control game which reminds me a lot of El Grande. One of the things people like about El Grande is that it's almost deterministic, and that's definitely not a feature of Midgard. There's quite a bit of chaos and screwage in this game. Essentially there are three kingdoms - Alfheim, Jotunheim and Mannheim, and some provices in each. Players play their vikings to win majorities in provinces, and play cards to attack other players' positions and occasionally just destroy stuff (you ARE a viking after all). Dead guys go to Valhalla where still score points. There are also two heavens you can win majorities in. Midgard is a decent game, with room for good play, but also room for screwage. I find I can't take it too seriously, or I get annoyed when people screw with me. It's a game I'll play but not one I'll buy. On the other hand, I won't even play El Grane.