Published on July 16th, 2011 | by Greg0
Summer Games: Words and Rails
f you can tear yourself away from the latest Game of Thrones book, and manage to avoid seeing Harry Potter’s final outing yet again, it’s a good time of year to bring out the board games. It’s the peak of summer, but sometimes it’s nice to take a break from the outdoors and enjoy some indoor fun. We have six new games to discuss, but we’ll break them into two parts over this weekend.
Up first is Dabble, from I’ve Never Games. A fairly simple and easy to learn word game, it has a fun back story- a long-time inventor who created the game in his basement. The rules are simple- each player gets five minutes to create as a set of different words using a group of 20 tiles. You’ll need to find words with 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 letters, and the first person to do so wins, taking care to use all 20 tiles. Unlike some word games (Scrabble), it’s fast and doesn’t drag on. And it’s easy enough to play with the whole family, though different skill levels will of course end up with an uneven game. Scoring is over multiple rounds, as the winner of each earns points for the tiles left unused by their opponents. Good for two to four players, Dabble was fun for a small group and easy to learn, but felt a bit flat- it’s better for kids than adults and can help teach spelling but doesn’t challenge vocabulary. $25, available online and in stores.
On a connected note, Faux-Cabulary from Out of the Box is a party game that comes with some dice and a set of crazy definitions. One of them is read aloud, and players compete to create a new word and have it chosen as the most fitting. One person is selected as the leader, which rotates each round, and there is one catch- the words have to be formed using the dice, three of which are randomly selected by each player, and each die features a word part on every side. You combine one, two, or all three of these parts to create a word, and remember to take into account the Wordmeister who will be making the final choice. It’s a bit silly, and aimed at teens- younger kids may have trouble with some of the definitions, and adults might find it all a bit too arbitrary (but pretty good as a drinking game). Three to seven people can play, and it can go fast or slow depending on the group- we found it pretty variable. Again, super-simple to learn, and this one has no real difficult curve or skill, so groups of any age can play together. Goofy quotient is high, and best for folks who wish they could create words like “supafwap”. $25, available online and in stores.
Finally, a very different game- more in the vein of Power Grid or Ticket to Ride. We were super-excited about Rails of New England, available from Rio Grande Games (more from them tomorrow). Two to five players, aimed at ages 12+, sit down and choose a state (New Hampshire, Vermont), and then proceed in a fairly complex game that includes everything from economic conditions to variable events, mail routes, and time periods focused on particular businesses. It takes a while to learn, and quite a while to play, so we don’t have as much experience with how it works over time or whether there are any game-breaking strategies. Our only session took over four hours- so be prepared to clear an evening or afternoon and be committed! Our main issue was that it took a fair bit of time calculating income, since so many factors come into play- no individual piece was overly complex, but overall the effect is closer to a simulation than an easy and relaxing game. Our rule book was unfortunately vague on a few points, and we definitely recommend three or more players rather than two.
It’s lovely, and interesting, and detailed, but our group had trouble seeing the game as quite worth the investment- there is some nasty randomness thanks to some powerful action cards, and once you are ahead it is fairly easy to coast to a victory. There are too many things going on to discuss them in-depth, but that’s part of the problem. Trading, connecting, cards, a board, tokens, money- the game is a grab bag of gaming options and pieces. Overall, Rails of New England offers plenty to player willing to dive in, but many players will likely shrink from the steep learning curve and imposing and confusing rulebook. $60, available now.