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1PG April Challenge: 5 games with a water theme

The 1PG Challenge in April was to play 5 games with a rain/water theme. I wanted to try Bullet as it is very much raining bullets in that game, but I didn't get the opportunity. So it turned out to be a mostly sea/island month!

1. Palavan

Sometimes you buy a game with a very specific expectation in mind, and when it turns out to exactly match this expectation, it just feels great. Although Palavan is certainly a minor title, I especially enjoyed it for this very reason: it does what I hoped it would do.

The game is made of exactly 16 tiles. The goal is to make an arrangement such that all land bits, or all sea bits, form a continuous whole (if both, it's even better). There are several such configurations that you might find. That's absolutely all there is to it (no rules, you just try out things) and it's great.

(In the picture, it was the first time I found a "medium difficulty" configuration!)

2. Mu

Image source: BGG

Mu is a French game that wasn't successful. It received poor reviews, went straight to bargain bins, and I found it new in shrink on the second-hand market for just a few euros. Least to say, my expectations for it were low, which may have been a good thing, because I surprisingly enjoyed it a lot!

The multiplayer is a drafting game. You draft tiles, place them on 3x3 boards, and score at the end according to rather convoluted rules (well, that's what people say, it didn't strike me as very complicated). You also begin by drafting three specific scoring conditions that you might try to activate during the game.

I never tried the multiplayer game, but the solo mode is neat. It does everything right in my book. There is an "opponent" as it implements one of the basic parts of the draft: should I take the tile that will get me the most points, or deny my opponent what benefits them? To solve this, the game uses a simple "mirror placement": you must draft one of two pairs of tiles, and one tile goes on your board, the other goes on the same location of your opponent's board.

Of course the opponent will score poorly. But their scoring is simplified, and it only subtracts points from your own score (so the game is your regular BYOS solo mode, but with good mechanics).

Very pleasant game in the end that I feel compelled to try again!

3. Palm Island

Image source: BGG

I don't enjoy Palm Island. It's a resource management game and I hate these. But it does a lot of things right. First of all, it fulfills its promise of being a game you can play in your hand. This is true, and the system is clever, it works well, and it's practical enough (most of the times). I'm really impressed by it and would easily recommend it to people remotely interested in a game where you must spend resources to get more resources to build temples that will... get you points. It feels boring to me, I'm not good at it, but the game is one-of-a-kind, it's both cheap and smart, I'm just very glad it exists.

(I will keep it and try it again until I fulfill the first achievement. Yes, there are achievements in the solo game, and I think this is a very cool idea to lend it a bit of replayability!)

4. Karen and the Pirate Island

Image source: BGG

I think this one is the Japanese clone of Friday, but since I haven't tried the latter yet, I can't compare the two. You play as a girl stranded on a island in the middle of the ocean. It's a deck-building game of sorts: each turn you encounter a card (out of a choice of two) and must beat its power value. You draw four cards from your deck, they add some power, and you compare the total to the value you must beat. If you do, the card is added to your deck to make it better. At the end you must face the Pirate Ship to win.

It's very fast. It plays in 10-15 minutes and is set-up in 5 seconds. It's extremely portable (just a deck of cards and some way to track your HP) and the footprint is very small. In this very short duration, it achieves to give a strong feeling of character progression, which is something I relish in games in general. It's also very fun and fast-paced.

Now I thought the game was easy. I had won my second game, months ago, and nearly won the first. Yet, as I played the game again for the challenge, in seven times I could not win a single one. Weird. It may be very luck-driven. And I'm not sure you have much of leeway in how to play.

But it's addictive, and although I have lost every single game, I also had fun every time. I'm glad I have it in my collection, and I'm glad the challenge "forced" me to give it another chance!

5. The Ming Voyages/Cascadia

Image source: BGG

The fifth game of the list was supposed to be The Ming Voyages, a beautifully produced small box wargame-ish game. The rules were a bit daunting, and somehow disappointing. You have a dedicated solo rulebook that starts with the thematic flavored introduction, list of components, etc., as if it were fully self-consistent, but then... it is not. I had to give up, and read the 2-players rules first to understand everything. It also means that, when referencing the rules during play, you have to switch between two books, one to find the core rules, the other to find how they are modified in solo. This is actually VERY annoying!

But I've learned it, okay, and it wasn't complicated at all in the end, to be honest. And I started my first play. 40 minutes in (the game is supposed to last for 30), I realized I wasn't half-way through the game (you must go through the deck twice). And so, I gave up. I was too bored to keep playing. I want to try again to have at least one full game but... I'm not very tempted!

Why is it so boring? The game is a bit clever. You play a card either for its faction-specific ability, or for the Action Points it gives you. Then the opponent can use the abilities tied to its faction (either the Ming Emperor or the Barbarians) if there is any on the card. Not all cards have abilities for two factions.

In solo, you play as the Emperor. The Barbarians ALWAYS react even when there is no Barbarians ability on the card you play. You must draw a special Automaton card and resolve it, applying priority rules every time. Then it's their turn, and you draw a new Automaton card for them. You should be able to react and have one action at this time, but the Emperor's abilities are locked behind requirements that can only be fulfilled later in the game. Then, some Automaton cards have the Barbarians draw another card, that you must resolve according to the priority system.

And so the game has a flaw I very much dislike: you play the Automaton more than you play your own game (your turns usually go very fast).

Occasionally you have a dice-based fight. The dice are used in a way I've never seen before, but it's supremely boring and can be rather long. You roll three dice per faction. A triple beats a double, a double beats a single. The winner slays two units of the opponent. If there is a tie, you look at the value of the dice, and the winner slays only one unit. You can spend cards to re-roll the dice. Then you repeat this until one opponent is wiped out.

Therefore the game was extremely unexciting and too long. Everything seems to be building on very slowly. The Barbarians amass troops at your borders at a sluggish pace. You do a few actions that all feel rather inconsequential. I wanted it to be over soon enough.

Since I hadn't really played my fifth game, I'll count my plays of Cascadia in the challenge (Cascadia means "Waterfallia" in French and there is a "river" environment, so that's watery enough).

#Palavan #Mu #PalmIsland #KarenAndThePirateIsland #TheMingVoyages

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