2020 Unplayed Games Recap




For the past few years, I've been working on getting my unplayed games down to zero. I was finally able to accomplish that again before Christmas 2019. Then I got two games during the holiday and played one of them (Foodies) that day. I got the other one to the table on New Year's Day, so why not start a new list? As with last year's list, I'm going to comment on each of the unplayed games that joined my collection and give a status report of where it stands in my collection. COVID and less acquisition this year made for a shorter list, but there were some real gems that I want to play a lot more.
Matt got me Megacity: Oceania for Christmas. He thought this one looked the coolest from the ones I had asked for and I have to agree. It certainly has a great table presence. The goal of the game is score the most prestige points while building a communal MegaCity. It's the actual building that makes the game visually appealing. Players build funky skyscrapers when it's not their turn with the resources they acquired when it was their turn. It's a dexterity game with some light strategy that anyone can enjoy. Our four player game was incredibly tight and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. Trying to slide a tall stack of pieces without them falling over can be anxiety inducing, especially when your tower collapses along the way, like it did to me two turns in a row. I look forward to pushing the limits and building more and more interesting looking buildings while this stays in the collection. Update: I traded this to my friend Shawn along with Vadoran Gardens (also on this list) for Cacoa, expansion, and promo. I'll still be happy to play this when offered.
It's very rare that I back anything on Kickstarter anymore. However, in 2019 I did back two cat themed games and the first one came in at the beginning of January. The Isle of Cats is a polyomino game that uses Tetris-like pieces, with images of cats on them, to fill up your ship board. The theme is that you are attempting to save them from an island that's about to come under attack. Grouping them together, filling up rooms, covering up rats, and following various lessons, all score you points at the end of the game. Whoever does the best job of balancing all of those things, and scores the most points, wins. It's half puzzle-half strategy game because the card drafting element is probably even more important than the tile placement. I covered the most rooms total so I lost the least amount of points for that part of scoring, but I ended up in last place because I didn't draft enough lesson cards that give me more end game points. All in all it's a fun game that can be played by anyone and I'm really happy I added it to my collection.
Res Arcana came onto my radar out of nowhere. It came out in 2019, but it wasn't until the end of the year during Rahdo's coverage of his top games that I learned about it. Even though it didn't make his top 10, he said it was probably the best designed game of 2019. When I heard that, my ears perked up and needed to learn more. Tom Lehmann has designed quite a few highly rated games that I've never played, so I knew his design chops were definitely there. I knew I wanted to get it after just a few minutes of watching a play through. Players are racing to 10 or more points using a limited deck of just 8 cards and one mage card. The decks can either be completely random cards OR built via drafting. We chose to follow the instructions for the first game which gave us 3 cards associated with specific mages and then added 5 random cards each. The idea is that you build an engine that gives you ways to score points through building monuments or through generating them in places of power. It brought me back to my Magic: The Gathering days, not only with the engine building but also the gorgeous art on the cards. Because there is very little take that (we had none in our first game) it's definitely more group friendly than M:TG or other deck builders like Star Realms.
The publisher/designer of The Isle of Cats released two games previously and one of them was Vadoran Gardens. It's a relatively unknown game because it was originally published as an add on during a Kickstarter campaign for their flagship game The City of Kings. All three games take place in the same universe. This little card/tile laying game has players building garden paths by layering 10 cards, one at a time, over the course of the game. Players have to have at least 3 "tasks" in each path to score that path. There are also 3 achievements that the players are racing to complete that are worth big points. The cute are is very deceiving because while the rules are simple, the spatial element is a bit brain-burny. The restrictions of what types of cards can be played each round and only being able to have a height of 5 rows can really ruin your plans. I was able to pick this up for very cheap in the BGG marketplace and I'm glad I did because it's a decent puzzle to try and figure out each game. I don't know if it will stay in my collection long term, but it has a good chance to stay longer because of its tiny box.
I had Otys on my wishlist for a while and then took it off for some reason. After a mishap during a large trade recently, a game I was supposed to get was no longer available so I needed to find something of similar value to replace it. After spending nearly an hour trying to a proper replacement, I settled on getting Otys instead. What a happy accident it ended up being. I really enjoy the puzzle that this game provides. Players are racing to 18 points, which they get by fulfilling contracts. To fulfill contracts, players use a team of divers to find the resources that each contract needs. When a diver is used, they go back up to the surface and the divers previously above them move down one space. Having to plan out what resource will be found on a specific level to fulfill a contract is a fun puzzle. Players can also upgrade their divers, use other player's diver abilities, and a handful of other actions. The inset player boards really help this game shine as the divers move over on their level and slide down. This is one of those games that will stick around for a long time.
Another game that I got in the aforementioned trade was, Ishtar, from award winning designer Bruno Cathala. It's a tile placement game that uses a rondel mechanism to select what tile a player will use on their turn. They can use the next one in order for free or spend resources to move forward and get one that may help them significantly more. The theme is players are building the Gardens of Babylon. The game board moves from a tan desert to lush green gardens as each tile gets placed. The crux of the game comes in two parts, the placement rules and getting upgrades/extra scoring opportunities. I liked that the game is light complexity wise while also giving me the opportunity to affect other players' tile placement and therefore scoring opportunities. I'd like to play it a few more times before I make a judgement on whether or not it should stay in my collection, when I already have a bunch of tile laying games I love.

Speaking of tile laying games that I love, Azul is definitely up there. The original plays very tight and can be very mean. I've mentioned my love of "hate drafting" previously and OG Azul is full of it. However, because of that it's not group friendly. That's where Azul: Summer Pavilion or as I refer to it, Azul 3, comes in. There was another design between the original Azul and this one, but it's well regarded as the weakest of the three. Many of the people I follow on Twitter prefer this newest installment over the original so I had to check it out. The square tiles have been replaced with diamonds, but the drafting of tiles is still nearly the same. Where Summer Pavilion separates itself from the original is how the tiles get placed, the ability to get extra tiles, and wild tiles that change each round. I liked that this felt more puzzly and I didn't even miss the hate drafting. That being said, I think both the original and Azul 3: Summer Pavilion: Electric Boogaloo warrant places on my shelves. With this game, Michael Kiesling has basically cemented himself as my favorite designer. 
I've been keeping my eye on Animal Kingdoms for a long time. I first heard of it when it was entered into the Cardboard Edison contest that is judged by a large panel of industry insiders. It would go on to win the award and quickly be signed for publication. It's a light area control and hand management game that features cards with number and some really great looking art. Players take turns placing a card from their hand into one of the 5 kingdoms, but they must follow the decree in that kingdom. A decree just dictates what kind of cards can be place there, usually a certain rank or type of beast. At the end of each of the three rounds, the kingdoms get scored. The player with the most influence gets the highest points, second place gets three, and third place gets one. It's a quick game that I enjoyed, but there are other area control games that are other area control games of similar complexity that I like a little bit better, World's Fair 1893 comes to mind. However, it feels like a perfect casual gamer/family game that I think I'll keep for now. It's easy to teach, quick to play, and has nice art.
I am a big fan of the Brand's, a design husband and wife team that produce some of my favorite games. I written about how much I enjoy Village here on the blog on a few occasions; I even included it in my 10 Games Exercise. The also designed another great game that our friends own called Rajas of the Ganges. When a designer or design duo have multiple hits, I'm inclined to seek out their other stuff, even if it's not very highly rated. Murano currently sits just outside of BGG's Top 1000. That may not seem very good, but there are over 80,000 games in the database so it's still pretty impressive for a game that isn't super flashy that was originally only available in Europe. Anywho, Christine and I really liked this game quite a bit. It's a tile laying game about building the islands of Murano, known for glass-making. The whole game centers around the 8 gondolas that surround the board on action spaces, you move any of them and do the action they land on. You can pay to move others to free up spaces. Most scoring comes at end game from character cards that you have to buy; getting them early gives you direction. You can sacrifice points to make glass which in turn can make you a lot of money in an otherwise tight economy. Balancing how much you're willing to lose will very likely determine the winner. The turns are very quick so you've never waiting more than a minute or two in a four person game before you're up again. This one will definitely be sticking around for a while.
The second cat themed game of 2020 that I backed on Kickstarter in 2019 is the surprisingly brain burning tile laying game about building quilts called Calico. Published by the team behind another great light game from last year's list, Point Salad, this game by Kevin Russ is so satisfying and so well produced. The game seems fairly light at face value. On your turn all you do is play a tile from the two in your hand and then draft a new tile from three in the center of the table. Sounds easy right? Well it is, except that each tile is one of six colors and one of six patterns that you're trying to surround different scoring tiles with. You can also score points for laying three tiles of the same color adjacent to one another. However, there is a third way to score which involves laying specific patterns in a certain shape or adjacent to one another to get cat tokens that lay on your quilt. Having to balance each of the scoring opportunities and often trying to combine them when possible is where my brain just starts to melt in the best way possible. I did horribly in our first game and didn't attract a single cat to my quilt. This is a game I can see myself playing many, many times. After the first play, I already think it gets a permanent spot on my shelves. 
Fort is a re implementation of a game I played last year called SPQF. It was picked up by Leder Games, given new art and theme, and then streamlined. It's a hand management and deck building game with some really great wrinkles that you don't see in other games. The two main ones are the ability to perform the same actions as the active played by discarding cards from your hand to "follow" them. This allows you to do more actions each round and keep cards for future turns. That second part is important because the other wrinkle comes at the end of your turn as the active player. Any cards you don't use during your turn get put out in front of you and could be taken during the recruit phase of each other players' turn. You can't keep all of your good cards, but neither can anyone else. Think of the cards in your hand more as a hand in 7 Wonders or Sushi Go!, they don't really belong to you. This is a good game that was made excellent with professional tweaks.
L.L.A.M.A. is a very simple game similar to UNO where players are trying to rid their hand of cards. Cards are numbered 1 to 6 and then there are Llama cards that can be played on the 6 to restart the count to 1 or on other llamas. On a player's turn they play a card on top of the pile by matching the number or playing the next number in sequence. If they can't do that they draw a card. The last option is to pass by placing your cards face down and end your turns for that round. When one player plays their last card, the other players take chips equal to the value of the cards in their hand, but not for any duplicates. The player that goes out gets to return one chip of any color back to the supply. There's a fine balance of when to take points, when to pass, and when to press your luck. I liked it, but I also enjoy UNO, while the rest of the group disliked it quite a bit. It's tiny and will be fun with family and friends, so I'm keeping it.
I love trick taking games, but the other half of our gaming group doesn't. I don't love cooperative games, but everyone else in our group does. I figured if a trick taking game would ever go over well, this would be it. It won the strategy game of the year and is well regarded as one of the best trick taking games out there. It's reception was lukewarm at best. This is a limited information game, something that has been very popular over the past few years, where players can't verbalize what they will do. There are some ways to convey information so that players win the tricks they need to when completing the 50 missions that come with the base game. While I think it does a great job doing what it's trying to do, I would rather just play a competitive trick taker like Hearts, Christine agreed. This one is headed for the trade block unfortunately.

After Christmas, I'm left with only 6 unplayed games that will likely see the table in 2021. I do have a handful of Kickstarter games coming that I hope to play as well. Hopefully, COVID or some other event doesn't derail that. I'd love to hear what new games of yours got played in 2020. Please leave a comment below.

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