Welcome back to Best in Show. In this series, I look at the games I played over the past week and which experience I enjoyed most.
This episode we will be covering week 3 of March.
It was just my wife and I as we hunkered down for a weekend of Covid-19 style social distancing. Here is what we played:
Unlock!: The Elite
Players: 2–4 Time: 20 Minutes Designer: Seiji Kanai Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group, Kanai Factory, +25 more
Love Letter has been such a massive success that it has even gotten a bit of the Monopoly treatment, with plenty of differently skinned editions. The edition that I have is the Wedding Edition.
When my wife and I got married and had our small rustic outdoor wedding with just a few close friends and family, these made for the perfect little gift for the guests. We had a leftover copy for ourselves due to a miscount on my part (oops *wink wink*). Our wedding a year and a half ago and surprisingly (insert “you’re still together?” jokes here) this is the first time we are playing this since.
There is no change to the edition in terms of gameplay, it is simply aesthetic, but boy, is it beautiful. It is full of white and gold with subtle pink elements in the nicely embroidered drawstring bag.
Throughout my 5+ years of gaming, I could conservatively say that I’ve played this game 50+ times and if I wanted to be a bit more bold, I could say 100+ times. It would make an appearance every single game day because it’s a perfect filler game. It is also an excellent choice to take to the pub since it fits neatly in your pocket and takes up very little table space.
I’ll just jump ahead and say it, Seiji Kanai is a game-design genius for fitting this much game into this small of a package.
But as amazing as this game is, I haven’t had much urge to play it anymore. Sometimes you can wear things out, and that is exactly what I did with Love Letter. I overplayed the heck out of it. It is one of the few games that I’ve owned more than 1 copy of; in fact, I’ve owned 4 different copies at various points in time.
Bringing it out again for the first time in a while was a pleasure, but in the end it was still a game that is extremely overplayed by me. Also we played the game at 2 players, which is my least favorite player count by far. Still, it was a great little reminder of how good this pocket game is.
Enjoyment rating: 6/10
Players: 2–4 Time: 50-70 Minutes Designer: Chang Yu Di, Ku Chun Wei, Wang Liang Artist: Freepik, Masha Tace Publisher: Homosapiens Lab
This game is as sleek as they come, featuring a beautifully minimal color scheme and design that is a real pleasure to look at. Looks aside, the core of the game is so smooth and, despite having a lot of games with both similar theme and mechanics, this one seemed to almost instantly carve a spot for itself in my collection.
In the game you will be selecting positions on an action track and then in reverse order drafting tiles and a card, placing said tiles based off the rules of said card and gaining the card's bonus which can be of the end-game or the immediate variety. You play 8 rounds like this, each time discarding any tiles and cards that were unused back to the box.
During your turn, you place various types of power plants and buildings into your own personal city, ultimately attempting to supply the most amount of power, while balancing your public support and limiting the amount of pollution you create. The placement of tiles is essential, but the show-stealer in this game is the draft, where your have just the right number of options to make it feel agonizing, but not so many that analysis paralysis sets in. We played it at 2 players and it played really well at that count, but I would have to imagine it plays better at 3 or 4 just simply because it makes those drafting decisions even more juicy.
I do have one complaint about the game, although it is minor and possibly even misguided. The game seems to give too few points to make green energy a viable strategy. I would love if the game was possible to win by going green, but my wife (who employed that strategy) struggled on the scoreboard, meanwhile I was sitting with a cushy advantage while my citizen’s lungs were being pumped full of 9 coal-burning power plants worth of pollution.
The thing is, so long as I maxed out my public support, it didn’t matter how much pollution I created. In fact I created 31 points of pollution, 11 more than the limit of 20! I should have been hugely penalized by this but instead I lost about 10% of my points. Meanwhile my wife created only 4 points of pollution and also maxed out her public support and was rewarded with no additional points.
I know the game is called Electropolis and I did supply more electricity to my city so there’s that… I just wish, especially in this day in age, we pushed players to consider alternate methods to power the world, especially green energy.
I am really hoping that they will release an expansion for this game and in my opinion one that puts an emphasis on green energy would make for a great post-release addition to this nearly perfect game
Enjoyment rating: 8.5/10
Players: 2-6 Time: 60 Minutes Artist: Arnaud Demaegd Publisher: Rebel, Space Cowboys
Unlock! is my favorite series of escape room board games for a number of reasons. The games are extremely easy to understand from a mechanics point of view but often provide you a great deal of difficulties when it comes to puzzle-solving. Also, I love that when I am finished with the game, I can trade or gift the game to a friend.
I have played most of the games in the Unlock! series and there are a few I absolutely love. The Tonipal’s Treasure and The Adventures of Oz are my two favorites so far, but I honestly have not had a bad experience with any of them.
The Elite is one of the print-and-play demo adventures that is available from Space Cowboys. These demo adventures are typically a bit shorter than the ones you’ll find on the shelves, but they make for a great introduction and/or filler-style escape room game.
This particular one was considered medium difficulty but we found this to be a bit more on the easy side. Still, it was a solid filler and captured the typical Unlock! experience fairly well despite it’s smaller scale. All-in-all it was quite enjoyable but lacked the challenging puzzles we typically prefer.
Enjoyment rating: 7/10
Players: 2-4 Time: 40-90 Minutes Designer: Chu-Lan Kao Artist: Sammixyz, Huang Yu Wen Publisher: Soso Studio, Tasty Minstrel Games
This game is the follow-up to Soso Studio’s Dadaocheng, which is a very good game and has a solo mode that I absolutely adore. While Dadaocheng was a fairly straight forward resource management and action selection game, Formosa Tea adds a heaping teaspoon of complexity.
Formosa Tea is a Euro-style worker placement and set collection game in which you are harvesting tea, taking it through the production process and selling it domestically and globally. Thanks to the chronological order in which you complete the processing of your tea, it does manage to feel very thematic. For example, if your tea is not appropriately dried or flavored then it’s consumers will be unwilling to pay premium prices for your tea. I also love that the game gives some context with historical events, abilities, and corresponding flavor text.
I think this is a very good game and I think if push came to shove, I would consider it the better game over Dadaocheng. That aside, I do have a couple of issues that I think keeps Formosa Tea from being one of my favorite worker placement games.
Firstly, your actions in the game feel just a bit on rails and it seems to be due to a resource cap in the number of tea cubes you can hold in your basket. I understand WHY it’s there, from both a mechanical and a thematic standpoint, but it does feel very restrictive and makes it so that you get into a somewhat repetitive rhythm in terms of your action selection. I would love to see the ability to improve your basket capacity as a way to fix that.
Secondly, unlike the straightforward Dadaocheng, this game has a lot of bite to it. This is not to say it’s a bad thing BUT it does make the game difficult to learn and play on your first go around. We had a heck of a time getting through the first game without making mistakes and the game ended up taking about twice as long as it should have.
Other than those two minor complaints, I loved my experience. I think the game is nuanced, and I look forward time exploring it further.
Enjoyment rating: 8/10
Best in Show:
This week I played a pair of fillers and a pair of mid-weight Euro games and I enjoyed all of them. However, my aforementioned overplaying of Love Letter, and the lack of difficulty of the Unlock! The Elite left this week's best in show a two-horse race between Electropolis and Formosa Tea.
Formosa Tea was my most anticipated game at the Fall Tokyo Game Market, and it did not disappoint. Meanwhile Electropolis was a whim of an acquisition from that very game market and it turned out to be an extremely pleasant surprise.
In the end, Best in Show for this week belongs to... Electropolis!
My main reasoning for choosing Electropolis over Formosa Tea is that my playthrough of it was just much smoother. It took less than half the time of Formosa Tea, and we didn't make a single rules mistake (to my knowledge, at least).
Tune in next week for another Best in Show!