Shadows: Amsterdam (Libellud, 2-8 players, ages 10 and up) is the newest entry in the micro-genre (that includes Dixit and Mysterium) of “guess what the other people are guessing about ambiguous pictures” games.
The ambiguous pictures, in the case of Shadows, are a multitude of charming, somewhat dark paintings of what is best described as a furry-noir Amsterdam-by-way-of-Zootopia. Anthropomorphic animals tend tulip fields, enjoy clog dancing, and take romantic selfies, but also lurk in doorways, bribe officials, discover bodies, and brood menacingly in the 150 or so images that make up the game’s board and deck of cards.
Thematically, the game is a race between teams of private eyes (or as one team against the clock) to solve an unspecified mystery by navigating your team’s pawn to the locations of clues while avoiding locations with police. These locations are marked on a map visible only to each team’s “dispatcher,” whose job it is to give the clues to their teammates.
The dispatcher guides their team by silently handing them cards from a face-up pool of 10, and the team’s job is to figure out from the picture where it is the dispatcher wants them to move. The meat of the game lies in the fact that most of the pictures aren’t really that similar, or alternatively might be equally good/terrible matches to multiple spaces for different reasons. Does the baby raccoon in the stroller match the panicking scientist behind the biohazard door because they both have big eyes? Or does it match the chicken fingers and fries in the cafe because that’s what he’s going to want to eat? Read the rest
Suburbia is a technocrat’s take on urban planning. The art is streamlined to the point of austerity, there is almost no luck, and the game is unashamed to show off its mathematical guts. At heart, Suburbia is a simple, subtle economic simulation with three moving parts. Players take turns buying hexagonal tiles from an ever-changing market and placing them in their town to develop their city in ways that affect its population, income, and reputation.
The population tally (which serves as the game’s scoring mechanism) models the disadvantages of urban growth in a very clever and elegant way – every so often on the track there’s a red line, and when your population surpasses it you lose one point of income (more expensive municipal services) and one point of reputation (more density/pollution/crime/whatever). This simple mechanism creates delightfully rich feedback loops that take a number of plays to fully appreciate – grow too quickly without an economic base and your town stagnates, unable to afford the development you need to serve your population; but bring in too much business or industry and nobody will want to live there.
Buying tiles for your city isn’t just an exercise in math, though – building your city is a spatial and temporal puzzle, with a limited ability to impact the other players’ cities as well. Some of the tiles’ effects work spatially (placing residential areas next to a highway hurts your town’s reputation while placing businesses there makes them more profitable), others work based on what else is in your city (building schools helps your reputation based on how many residential areas you have), and some affect other players’ cities. Read the rest
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