Sunday, February 16, 2020

Dave Reviews: Magnetic Swedish Air Hockey


Sweden is an interesting place. For example, they made this game—

—which is advertised as being playable anywhere, with a picture of two guys standing in an icy lake playing it as proof. They also have what I can only assume is an earlier design of the box, which looks like this:

...what? Is this a goofy translation or a sales pitch that masterfully sounds just dirty enough to get people interested in it before they have any idea what it is?

Underlying this conceptual filth is a game that looks like air hockey with radio antennas. Klask is extremely simple in design; you hold a metal piece that connects magnetically to your antenna on the top side of the board, sliding the antenna into a yellow ball so it goes in your opponent's goal and not your own. The magnets are very strong, and the design of the pieces is such that if you lose connection with your antenna, it's quite likely to snap right back up as long as you can get the bottom half of your magnet near it.

Obviously it's much cheaper and easier to play than air hockey, but by the nature of physics it's not quite as smooth, and "it's almost as good as air hockey" isn't going to sell many games. So, they added a few more twists.

  1. If your antenna gets knocked down and you can't pick it up (e.g. it rolls on to the other half of the table), your opponent gets a point.
  2. If your antenna falls into your goal so that you can't maneuver it out, your opponent gets a point.
  3. There are three small, white, magnetic pieces that start in the middle of the board. If two of them attach to your antenna, your opponent gets a point.
The effect of these rules is to take a game based on something notorious for being played just at the edge of control and give the players more strategic reasons to stay on the edge of control. If you maneuver the ball carefully around your side of the table, it's easy for your opponent to see what you're doing, but if you get too crazy you're liable to hand your opponent free points. And if you have trouble aiming the ball at the relatively small goal, you can fairly easily knock the ball into a white piece and then (hopefully) into your opponent's antenna. It's not at all uncommon, in fact, for a game to end (when one person reaches six points) without an actual goal being scored.

It's very difficult to not have fun playing Klask. This isn't a board game you sit down with during a quiet night at home; it is a perfect game for competitive couples, but it feels more like something you keep on a side table for when friends come over, so people can rotate in and out of the game. The only thing to be cautious about is that kids absolutely will love playing this, but the pieces are quite small and relatively easy to lose. If you can keep that from being a problem, it's a really good pickup.

Score: A 6-1 victory over the competition.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Kobe and the Rape Case

I never liked Kobe Bryant very much. When he entered the NBA, I didn't care—he wasn't on the Sixers, so who gives a shit—and when the rape accusations came at him several years later, he just seemed like a dick.

At the time, I'm sure he was exactly that. He was newly married and fucking people on the side (which, even consensually, is a dick move). He had just won three championships, yet was busy fighting with Shaq, the other core piece of those teams, despite talking about how many championships he wanted to win and how that was his primary goal. (Yes, Shaq actively partook in the fighting. Fifty percent blame on each side.) Growing up with an unusual amount of worldly experience, living most of his life as a kid outside the U.S., made some people think he had a broader, better view of the world, but he acted exactly like the person he was—a wildly entitled 24-year-old with endless money and fame.

One time, several years after the rape case was dropped, I got into an argument about it with a co-worker. She made the usual defense about him never being convicted; I retorted by pointing out not only the overall rarity of convictions, but the fact that the case was only dropped because the victim declined to testify (in part due to death threats from Kobe's fans), and that part of the deal for her to not testify required that he release a statement which effectively confessed to the crime, however covered in lawyer speak it may have been.

My co-worker said the victim was lying. That was the end of the conversation.

For the record, this is his statement, in full:

First, I want to apologize directly to the young woman involved in this incident. I want to apologize to her for my behavior that night and for the consequences she has suffered in the past year. Although this year has been incredibly difficult for me personally, I can only imagine the pain she has had to endure. I also want to apologize to her parents and family members, and to my family and friends and supporters, and to the citizens of Eagle, Colorado.
I also want to make it clear that I do not question the motives of this young woman. No money has been paid to this woman. She has agreed that this statement will not be used against me in the civil case. Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did. After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney, and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter.
I issue this statement today fully aware that while one part of this case ends today, another remains. I understand that the civil case against me will go forward. That part of this case will be decided by and between the parties directly involved in the incident and will no longer be a financial or emotional drain on the citizens of the state of Colorado.

(Emphasis mine.)

That's rape. There's no grey area here. She didn't consent, and the statement acknowledges she didn't consent.

I understand some people will defend this by saying it was just a statement to get the case off his back. That's not irrational. A mea culpa, even for something as bad as this, even if the odds of conviction are a single-digit percentage (and the prosecutors seemed to have a much better chance than that), is a small price to pay to definitively avoid a prison sentence at the height of one's NBA superstardom.

Consider the whole situation, however. A young superstar who can have basically anything he wants in the world invites a young woman to his room, and kissing, at the very least, happens consensually. There's no question he's been in this situation numerous times, and the women involved in the vast majority of those circumstances unquestionably want to fuck him. You might not believe Kobe Bryant is, or ever was, the kind of person who would consciously do whatever he wanted to a woman, regardless of her wishes, and that might be true. But it's hardly a stretch to imagine him thinking he does know her wishes, because of course she wants the same thing as everyone else who joins him in his room.

Anyway, why am I rehashing all of this? If you think he committed rape, I don't need to convince you. If you don't, this is unlikely to sway you. Maybe this helps a few people who know little or nothing about the case, but that won't be many on a blog so small, Google can hardly find it.

The reason is that Kobe's case, more than any other like it, is about the culture around the man more than the man himself.

We look Weinstein or Cosby, or that ludicrous doctor placed in charge of women's gymnastics for decades, and even though it required total institutional failures for them to commit serial assault, we point to the men in those cases as being godawful humans. Once the extent of their crimes became apparent, and we decided this shit could (finally) not be allowed to stand, the hammer came down on them quickly. Questions about fixing the relevant institutions exist, but those answers are much slower in coming.

As the #metoo movement has progressed, we've started taking accusations as a whole more seriously. Anyone who's accused of inappropriate conduct by multiple people usually catches backlash in a way that would have been shocking fifteen years ago. Because those less egregious cases often don't require institutional cover or willful ignorance, we can point at the men and not worry about the broader structures around them. In cases where the institutions do come into play—such as cases where the women around an individual were warned to be careful near him—we still point towards the man, and the larger questions of how this was allowed to go on get hand-waved away.

Likewise, Kobe's rape case ended up being about Kobe and Kobe alone, but that's done all of us a disservice. Consider:

  1. If ever there were a case, especially a high-profile one, where rape could have been committed out of ignorance of a partner's wishes, this is it. Saying, "Oh, he didn't know," sounds like an excuse, so it makes sense why those who thought Kobe was guilty might not want to acknowledge this possibility. Likewise, anyone who was sure of his innocence could not even contemplate this, because it opens the door for guilt.

    The problem is that by not acknowledging this, it removes the possibility of putting forth the critical point that ignorance is no excuse. If Person A thinks he's having consensual sex and Person B entirely disagrees, Person B is no less raped because Person A's mindset isn't what we think of as that of a rapist.

  2. Related to #1: one not-rare complaint among men (and some women) is that it's too easy for someone to make a false rape claim. Let's set aside the numbers that say how unusual false claims are, or that calling such claims "easy" ignores the experience of making such a claim for myriad women.

    If Kobe's case were held up as the primary example of why you need to know what your partner wants, we could have started normalizing conversation and communication as a healthy part of consensual sex years ago. I think we're improving in this regard, however slowly, but imagine the effect of an argument like this: "Yeah, I get that you're sure she's into you, but do you want to end up like Kobe?"

    This doesn't cover concerns some guys have about a partner who openly consents and then flat-out lies about it later, but if they're that scared of everyone, they can stay home and jack off.

  3. Kobe's celebrity status saved him in a way that nothing he directly possessed could. Even though his lawyers savaged the victim in a way that causes many in the same position to drop their cases, she persisted. It took death threats and the approach of the trial itself—the time when those threats were most likely to become real, especially if she got Kobe convicted—for her to get cold feet.

    I would like to link directly to a story about this—they definitely existed—but at the time of writing, all searches related to death threats focused on Kobe's rape case involve Felicia Somnez, a reporter for the Washington Post who mentioned the case in a tweet after his death.

    Then again, if reporters are being threatened for mentioning the case, the idea the person who could have had Kobe locked up wasn't getting absolutely bombarded with them is ludicrous.

  4. The lack of justice will permanently stain his legacy in a way that may not have happened with actual punishment. 
Now, mind you, in no way am I suggesting that if Kobe did time for this, things would have worked out better for him in the long run. He would have lost prime years of his career and come back needing to both reach his previous level as a player, and make clear amends as a person, to get anywhere near his old level of stardom. No matter the facts of the case that we have, the lack of a conviction clears his name in the eyes of many, if not most.

But let's look at the best counter-example we have: Mike Tyson. Tyson was one of the few athletes to exist on Kobe's level of stardom. Tyson was also accused of rape. Unlike Kobe, he was convicted and did three years in prison. A lot of people didn't like Tyson, and he had started on the downslope of his athletic career, so it didn't impact the sport as much as Kobe doing time would have, but it was still a huge deal.

In the years since then, Tyson has reformed himself and his image. He still lives a public life, he's in movies, and people who interact with him describe a generally good guy. Some won't forgive his crime, of course, but the fact he served a punishment for it has made it acceptable for others to like him again. 

To put this in context: In 2018, fifteen years after the case against Kobe was dropped, he was removed from the jury at a film festival due to protests against him as an "accused rapist and sexual predator". These kinds of protests and movements pop up around people like Kobe because those who take seriously justice for assault victims, and the lack of justice for offenders, see him as someone who they need to push back against because society didn't do it when he committed his crime.

Would the same protest have existed had he been convicted? Maybe. But the only group that's protested anything Tyson has done in the last several years is PETA, and that was over pigeon racing. There certainly have been opportunities for groups of concerned citizens to ask or demand that he be removed from things, but it hasn't happened. Do you think that would be the case if there were lingering ill-feelings stemming from a rape accusation with clear evidence of guilt but a lack of punishment for him?

What makes this unfortunate in retrospect is that Kobe turned into a pretty good guy, by all accounts. It's not that millions are wounded by the loss of a hero who only existed on TV and posters; it's all the people close to him who are pouring their hearts out about what a loss this is for them and for the world. As Will Leitch points out, Kobe's career can be divided pretty cleanly between pre-Colorado and post-Colorado. He did what we all hope someone who fucks up and gets away with it does—he learned and became a better person. He never got in serious trouble again, and he became someone who used his incredible stardom to improve the world around him, something which almost certainly would have continued had he lived to sixty or eighty or one hundred.

If he had been punished in a real way for the rape—which probably would have meant jail time—his NBA career would have unquestionably suffered to some degree. But there's likewise no question he would have found a team to play for upon release, be it the Lakers or someone else, and his famed competitiveness would have almost certainly made him a star again. The conviction would have been a black mark on his career, of course, but if he could change his ways from a near-miss, he probably would have done the same after returning from prison. He would have still been an All-Star, still internationally famous, still a better person after the incident than he was before, and we could have all looked upon the new Kobe with a clean slate, his atonement complete.

Instead of most of the world enjoying Kobe Bryant, the NBA star, and praising Kobe Bryant, the man he became, we all could have done so. No dark clouds, no unfinished penalties hanging over him. But we didn't have that chance, and the world was worse for it before his death, just like the world is worse for his loss now.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Dave Reviews: Magic Cards, but not, you know, Magic Cards

Res Arcana
Welcome to a game about planesw wizards who cast spells using mana essence of five various colors that... uh...

Ok, let's try again. Res Arcana is not Magic, not all that close really, despite sharing a number of aesthetic similarities. It's a deckbuilder if you took out the deckbuilding, which... probably doesn't help either.

Res Arcana works like this: You have eight cards. That's your deck. You start with three in your hand. There are no cards that you play and then discard; everything stays on the board to serve a purpose. You draw one card per turn, at the end of that turn, unless you have an effect or ability that lets you draw more. You can discard a card to gain two essence (or one gold essence, which is more valuable); as with a deckbuilder, any cards discarded this way are shuffled and create a new deck once the library runs out. If you never discard, you never shuffle, and if all your cards are on the board, your game from then on consists of using the effects on the board. You get no more cards to play.

That's not really a problem, though. You know the cards in your deck, and since there's a very good chance you'll see all of them by the end of the game, you have an idea what you'll need to do to maximize their efficacy. Your methods for scoring points—primarily picking up Places of Power and monuments—are open knowledge from the start, so you can decide what will work best for you and aim to collect those items.

What's odd about the game is that the first time you play, you're instructed to use particular three-card starting hands, then shuffle the deck and deal out each player's other five cards randomly. Because you don't need the cards in your deck to synergize with each other so much as help you collect Places of Power and monuments, this doesn't create as many problems as you might expect, but it can still pretty easily result in decks of noticeably varying quality. There are also definitely combinations of cards a player might want, e.g. something they would want to use multiple times per turn with other cards that give you an untap straighten effect, and you have no control over whether you land such a combination. In future games, one normal way to play is to get eight random cards with no preset starting hand. This makes players work around whatever they get, perhaps use discarding more liberally, and otherwise find ways to play with any deck.

But another option, and the one that makes a lot more sense given the nature of the game, is drafting. It takes longer, for certain, and is mainly for those who want the fullest control over their experience. You also definitely do not want to do draft style with anyone prone to drastic overthinking, as the process may become unbearable. But you already have some level of randomization involved with draft; there are forty cards, so even with four players, eight of them will remain sidelined. It makes sense to combine that with more control over what ends up in your deck, as well as all the additional strategy that draft entails (e.g. recognizing someone else's choices and working to counter them). It makes sense that they would offer a version of the game that doesn't involve drafting, since the game is certainly playable and not everyone cares about or enjoys drafts, but if you do, the game becomes much nicer.

Score: Six green essence out of nine (plus one gold for drafting).

Dave Reviews: Alpacas (NOT LLAMAS)


Recently, one of my D&D players wanted her character to have a battle alpaca. Alpacas are, like, three feet tall and sort of fragile. The character is six-foot half-elf in plate mail.

No, Miranda, you can't have a battle alpaca.

Altiplano is described as a bag-building game, which is... accurate in its own way. Given the alpaca on the front, maybe that makes you think you're creating bags out of alpaca wool, like a Peruvian Patchwork. But no, a bag is simply part of the game materials, from which you draw the tokens that create your engine of woolly victory.

Or not! You don't need wool at all, if you're not much for alpaca herding. You start with a handful of tokens (different ones, depending on your starting character) representing starting materials. Each turn, you draw tokens from the bag, which you can then put in different areas of your board to make new materials or sell for money. What makes this different from most resource generation games is that you don't trade out your resources for the new ones—you keep them all, and when your bag empties, everything goes back in to be drawn anew.

This creates a somewhat different strategic balance than a lot of gamers will be used to. Instead of figuring out how to acquire enough basic materials to create the expensive ones you want to sell or use to fill orders, you have to decide when you have enough basics and it's time to stop collecting them. This is especially relevant for food—food is critical for creating items that boost your ability to draw tokens, build houses, etc., as well as get stored in your warehouse for potential points. It also lets you move more often each turn. But food itself can't be placed in the warehouse, so if you get too much, it keeps cycling through the bag, making it harder to draw the more valuable tokens you need for higher-end actions.

Likewise, you'll need to gauge how many of the other resources you'll need, and if you can even acquire them. Not every item is available on the player board. There are extensions you can purchase at the market which give you extra action types to choose from, as well as an action unique to you on your character tile; if you can't gain, say, fish through those extra actions, and you didn't start with any fish, you'll never have fish. Most people end up dealing with this sort of limitation, though, and all the locations are usable in one way or another, so it's not much of a problem.

For the resources you can obtain, do you just want enough to buy the things you want (e.g. two stone since that's what houses require), meaning you'll have to go through the whole bag each time you want one of that thing? Or do you want more, leaving the rest to eventually take up space, unless the extras are stashed in the warehouse? Likewise, for higher value items, are you going to collect orders to use them on so you get them out of your bag, or are they just going to keep cycling through until the end of the game?

It's a nice balance... except for the warehouse. Many resources count for points at the end of the game if they're in your bag, but once they're in your warehouse, they don't count for anything individually. You only earn points for filling shelves with three or four items. It's possible to move up to higher-level shelves by just putting one item on the shelves before; however, if you have an incomplete shelf of a particular resource, you can't put it on any other shelves until you finish the first one (e.g. if you have one wood on the two-point shelf, you need to fill it with three wood before you can use wood on a higher shelf).

Furthermore, the zero-point items that you can store (fish and alpacas) can't be obtained through the player board. You have to acquire extensions or have a character that can make them, and obviously you can't start getting them without such a character or until you have said extension. Because there are only twelve of each, it's almost a given that at some point you'll need to use items worth points in the warehouse. If you use one of an item to bump yourself to the next shelf, that's lost points; if you complete that row, depending on what it is, you still may be losing points (e.g. three ore on the four-point shelf is -2 points overall).

It's possible to fill the warehouse, or at least the upper shelves, if you really emphasize it. Even then, it's extremely difficult to get to the top shelf, and given how many tokens you're creating, then removing from your game engine, there's an excellent chance you won't gain points anywhere near in line with the effort required to earn them.

More over—and more problematic—is how it affects new players if not explained or understood well. Everything else is easy to understand; fill an order for points, buy houses for points, hold valuable tokens for points, etc. The warehouse looks easy, since you just fill shelves for points. But a new player can very easily start shoving items in there that would be more valuable (potentially much more) used in literally any other way. Even veteran players can wind up getting shafted by the warehouse, although at least an experienced player should know the trade-off. Maybe it was tested and found to be too strong if the shelves were worth more points. I hope that's the case, because at least initially, it seems to be both the most complicated point-scoring option to use well and the one with the biggest drawback if used poorly.

Altiplano is fun outside of that, which is to say it's fun if you ignore the warehouse. So, it's... fine? Good?

Nice. It's a nice game. Let's go with that.

Score: Six happy alpacas out of nine.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Dave Reviews: D&D The Masquerade

Curse of Strahd

Most D&D players are just that—players. Campaign books are for DMs. So, how well can I review a book without spoiling it?

I don't know, so let's start with the one that has a spoiler on the cover.

Strahd von Zarovich is one of D&D's legendary villains, first appearing in the Ravenloft module published in 1983. He's by far the most famous vampire in D&D lore, and many players will be at least passingly familiar with the name if they see the title of the book. Even if they're not, the cover is kind of a giveaway that this is the villain and he is definitely a vampire. So, if you're planning to run the campaign, be aware that where everything is going to lead will be fairly obvious from the start, unless you go off-book. (For objectivity purposes, this review necessarily does not go off-book, aside from one small comment later on.)

D&D campaigns are frequently about solving a small mystery that leads to a bigger one, and a bigger one still, until major villains are uncovered and thwarted. Without that element of surprise, the tension in CoS needs another trigger, and this is the core of the DM's job—running Strahd von Zarovich in a way appropriate to the campaign. Different DMs will give Strahd different amounts of screen time, but it should be no secret that he's paying attention to what the party is doing. Or, perhaps more haunting, that he could be paying attention, if he so chose. (Spoiler? Mmm... not too much.)

Of course, as a levels 1-10 module, nobody's walking in and kicking Strahd in the teeth. As befits a vampire's realm, gloomy Barovia is full of undead threats and other monsters, like (REDACTED) and (REDACTED), and just wait until you meet (SUPER REDACTED). In addition, there's nothing, least of all the DM, stopping PCs from going and getting themselves in trouble. Some campaign books are printed with a rough flowchart of how the campaign should progress; CoS is about as much of a sandbox as you can get, allowing players to travel wherever they want, as long as they don't get eaten by whatever they find.

How often do things want to eat them, you ask?

Why, that would be a spoiler.

(Not-really-a-spoiler in the form of a rhetorical question: You think a vampire lord doesn't have vampire underlings?)

The campaign atmosphere is very dark. "Gloomy" is a word that will be used often in most games. People go a little batty under these conditions. As a result, the optional madness rules found in the DMG get put to work here. However—and this is more a fair warning to everyone—there's very little detail apart from the base rules in the DMG. That means that if the characters meet anyone with what's considered "indefinite madness", they won't be able to help until they are, at best, level 9, in a campaign that doesn't expect characters to pass level 10. That is to say, not until near the end of the campaign.

Is that a problem? Not in and of itself. To be blunt, CoS is not a campaign where everything is expected to go perfectly. However, if some players are not likely to appreciate over-the-top depictions of mental illness, having such characters be introduced with no real way to help them may not prove to be much fun. Although DMs are prone to changing any campaign to fit the party or what they want to throw at their players, this is an issue worth bringing up here so groups can discuss it and know where everyone stands with throwing "crazy" NPCs into the mix.

Overall, the campaign is well-made, including the clear intent of making things difficult for characters, NPCs that are incredibly memorable when used to their potential, and locations that thoroughly evoke the hopelessness that the land is supposed to create in people. Barovia is not the best locale for a classic heroic fantasy, so make sure you want to play something else or have a group that will enjoy something else. But if this sounds like the kind of campaign you want to be involved with, it probably is.

Score: Ten vampire bites and two chipped fangs.

Dave Reviews: Terraforming Politics

Terraforming Mars: Turmoil

Is Terraforming Mars not complicated enough for you? Welcome to the "biggest & most strategic expansion" for the game, according to its Kickstarter. And according to me. I can verify that it is, shall we say, hearty.

But is that good?

If you look at the box art, with the shiny white room and the dozens of representatives listening to some guy with more charisma than brains flail about and yell, you could be forgiven for thinking, "Where the hell is this supposed to happen? It takes forever to get a city built here." The way I think about it is that, as opposed to Douglas Adams' theory, this is really what happens to middle managers—they get fired into space to act as delegates whose only role is to get bought off by giant corporations.

Because that is, basically, what Turmoil is about. There's a new system of factions, one of which rules each generation. The ruling faction is determined by who has the most delegates, and gives certain bonuses to actions performed during their round in charge. Non-aligned delegates are added to the terraforming committee depending on which global events are drawn or occur, but for the most part delegates come from the players—each player gets one delegate they can place for free as an action (the cost of doing business), and they can purchase more if they want.

Being the first to support a faction gives you the party leader; being the party leader of the faction when they come to power gives you the chairman as well. Having the chairman gives you influence, as does having the party leader and additional delegates in the dominant party (whoever has the most members, which is not the same as the ruling party... politics are complicated). Influence helps you gain extra beneficial effects, or avoid catastrophic effects, from the global events that occur. You see the events coming a couple turns in advance, giving you a chance to plan, but even if no one tries to stop you from buying extra influence, it's not necessarily cheap to gain high influence quickly.

A more cost-effective way to gain influence is to take the party leadership of a faction and then funnel your free delegates into the same faction, which will eventually become dominant. However, if that faction is unlikely to be dominant on a given turn, you need to make sure there's no effect you want your influence to enhance or mitigate in the coming event.

What you'll also find is that, because TM is a game that allows unlimited actions as long as you have them available, the political aspect puts a greater emphasis on having high monetary income. Not only does more money coming in let you buy politicians, the expansion makes your Terraforming Rating drop by one every turn. Thus, everyone is looking for ways to mitigate the income loss, and income boosts are more beneficial in a relative sense than in the base game. In the base game, it was at least theoretically possible to have a level of income that made it so you had a hard time spending all that money; now it's just not going to happen, because you have less money and all these politicians that you can spend it on.

The Kickstarter says this is an expert expansion. That is absolutely correct. However, not only is that true, it's an expansion where you really need to have the rules as understood as possible when you start playing, because trying to figure it out on the fly takes time. The base TM is supposed to be about a two hour game; our first attempt at the expansion, with five players (two new to TM), went four hours without coming close to completion. The snowball effects that carry through to the end were just about to hit, but it still would have taken at least five hours start to finish.

For all that, we still had fun, so if you have an open night with no real concern for game length, go for it. But much of that fun had to do with the fact that Terraforming Mars is a very good game on a base level. This expansion changes the game in a way that some people will find refreshing, but it's really just more involved without being much better or worse.

Score: Twenty-seven purchased delegate seats out of thirty-six.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Dave Reviews: The Third Century

Century: A New World

If I'm going to review the third Century, it might be more interesting to cover the decline of the Roman Empire during that period. Over twenty emperors served in the role in a fifty year span after the death of Alexander Severus. Isn't that cool? Or, you know, historically interesting?

But you're probably not here for that.

Century: A New World is the last game in the Century trilogy. Like Spice Road and Eastern Wonders, it features cube trading as its core mechanic but plays very differently to the others outside of that. It also combines with the other games to make yet more playable games, but that falls outside this review.

In fact, this review will assume a familiarity with at least one of the other Century games on the part of the reader, probably Spice Road. This is because the design of the games becomes more complicated as you go along, and if someone were to be newly introduced to the series, they should absolutely be directed towards Spice Road first. Although the trading options are more diverse, all you need to be concerned with is whether you're trading for the right spices. Eastern Wonders and, now, A New World add more considerations into the mix.

This version of Century has the simplest trades of the three. You can still make multiple trades on a turn if you have the goods for it (e.g. one green for two red can become four green for eight red if you have the green cubes), but the vast majority of trades work in small numbers and without bringing a variety of cubes into the mix. The point cards are also highly simplified, always needing three cubes in some variety to take them.

You have a certain number of villagers (six or seven to start, maxes at twelve), and each trade requires moving a certain number of villagers into a trade slot. If someone else is in a spot you want, you can bump them out by putting in one more villager than they have. This allows you to grab a trade spot you really need, but since the only way to normally get your villagers back is to skip a turn and rest, it's very helpful to the opponent you're bumping out. When you want to score a card, you also need to use however many villagers the slot that card is in requires. This aspect of trade is also quite easy to deal with.

The complications come from the extras attached to the scoring cards. Each one has a bonus ability and a symbol. The bonus ability can let you use one less villager to trade in areas with the attached icon, take an extra cube of a certain type when trading in areas with the attached icon, gain extra villagers, and so on. The symbols are connected to bonus tokens you can optionally from the scoring card slots. These usually require a certain symbol or pair of symbols, and you earn bonus points from each of those you have on your scoring cards at the end of the game. So, when scoring, you're not just looking for points; you're also looking for bonuses that will be especially effective in helping you as the game progresses.

Optimally, players will be able to use similar bonuses to help themselves in a similarly effective way. That is, if you have two bonuses that let you spend one less villager, and I have two bonuses that let me spend one less villager in different locations, we should be about equally able to win as long as we play to these strengths we've earned during the game.

However, it suffers from an imbalance issue. Not a major one, but one that, no matter how long I spend looking it over, I can't figure out their logic. They attached the icons to certain cube colors for the aesthetics—baskets, leaves, and corn are connected to yellow and green, whereas meat, bones, and leather are red and brown—and, in line with the value of those cube combinations, the villagers required for most of the yellow/green nodes max out at two, while the red/brown ones max at three. Thematic, right?

What ends up happening, though, is that if one person gets a -1 villager bonus to the basket spaces, and someone else gets a -1 villager bonus to the bone spaces, the latter player has an advantage. The reason is that while that player will go through their villagers faster (the bone nodes cost two), when they rest, the bone nodes re-open and they can again take advantage of their bonus. The 1-cost basket nodes, on the other hand, remain full, and that player has more turns where their bonus avails them nothing. You also have to unlock one more basket node than bone node for them all to be available.

On top of all that, if the player with the bone bonus receives a second one, now three spaces with a three-villager base cost are only one villager each for him, which is incredibly powerful. The basket bonus player, on the other hand, only benefits from a second -1 bonus in one node, because most of them cost two and you have to use a minimum of one villager.

Maybe this works out better than I realize when everyone is experienced at the game. Maybe it works... in some way I just don't understand. Emerson Matsuuchi did well enough with Spice Road and Eastern Wonders that he deserves some benefit of the doubt, that there's strong logic behind these choices and it wasn't a pure experiment or a design he finalized under deadline pressure.

And it's not like the game is bad; you'll still spend time agonizing over making the right trades, parsing out your moves for maximum effectiveness, and most games will still be fairly close by the end. If you're a big fan of Spice Road and Eastern Wonders, I'm sure you'll enjoy this. It's worth picking up both as a continuation of the series and for the additional combo games you can create with the other games. But if somebody is kind of meh about the first two, this isn't the game that's likely to change their minds.

Score: Seven cubes (three red, two green, two brown) out of ten cargo slots.