New Games from the B-Rex Group 2023 / Germany
1st to 3rd September 2023
In early September 2023, a small group of game enthusiasts, bloggers, influencers, or, as I still like to call them, reviewers, set off from the trade fair city of Essen to the eastern part of our country, specifically to Burgliebenau, a tranquil district in Merseburg near the city of Halle. They were invited by the B-Rex Entertainment Group, which now encompasses a whole bundle of publishers, including names like GIANT ROC, GRIMSPIRE and CORAX GAMES, as well as family-friendly publishers like MIRAKULUS and FUNBOT GAMES, all of them can be found at SPIEL 2023 in Essen too.
My companions were Olli and Dennis from the Board Game Theory Podcast. We were greeted with a delicious dinner upon arrival at the former Episcopal castle of Burgliebenau and immediately dived into gaming in the perfect setting of the castle. After a long car journey, they were in the mood for something intense, and Yucatan seemed to be a perfect representative of its genre:
There are days when you just want to dish it out, really get into some action, and let off steam. Not much thinking, just unload your frustrations somewhere. In real life, I can usually hold back, but it's true that on such days, I prefer board games with a bit more aggression.
Yucatan by GRIMSPIRE is one of those games where you quickly get into battles. Conquest is the goal. Each player has two armies at their disposal, consisting of a leader and up to five followers. And there are three villages worth fighting over.
Essentially, that's the essence of the game, but the most interesting part happens before the battles. In this phase, you equip your armies, not just with manpower but also with special abilities of leaders and troops. As a result, armies gradually become more distinct, and it's worth thinking about which army to use against which opponent.
The battles themselves are resolved quite quickly, with each player playing a combat card that activates unique abilities for the battle. Victory is always welcome, but an important secondary goal is to capture enemy troops, as ideally, they can be sacrificed to appease the gods. And capturing can be achieved through abilities and combat cards even if you're not the actual winner of the battle.
Overall, it's a visually impressive game that focuses on army customization and combat. The rulebook might be a bit unstructured, but we were fortunate to have the game explained to us excellently, and we had no problems during gameplay. On the contrary, the game flowed smoothly even in the first playthrough with minimal downtime for waiting players. Personally, I prefer games that offer more area control (like the fantastic Blood Rage), but sometimes, a pure slugfest is just what's needed.
So, now the ice was broken, we had vented our frustrations and could turn to more civilized games. Something that immediately caught our eye as we passed by was Time Capsules by GIANT ROC, and after a brief introduction, we dove right in:
In this game, we send time capsules through time. Each player has their own set of 4 capsules that can be filled with various materials. At the beginning, we only have a few materials, specifically two different basic materials.
These basic materials are then distributed among the 4 capsules, and at the start of the next turn - essentially after the time jump - two of these capsules are randomly drawn, and the materials are taken. With these materials, new components can be acquired, which can become quite complex and sometimes require specific other components for activation.
At the end of each turn, we redistribute all the components - both the old ones that we used to acquire more materials and advanced devices and the new ones we just obtained - back into the two capsules. It's best to include basic components needed for activating advanced devices with the devices themselves. This ensures that we can activate the devices after the time jump without hoping for the corresponding materials from the other capsule.
Of course, there are victory points awarded when certain advanced components are activated. That shouldn't be forgotten amid all the quest for perfection because Time Capsules can end faster than expected.
My initial impression was positive if you're looking for a nice family game. It's deckbuilding with a twist. The time capsules are a noticeable gimmick, but after frequent plays, you might wish for a faster mechanism. Overall, it's a nice game for a family game night or something special when you don't want it to be too complex.
By now, it had become quite late, and it was dark in the castle. After the long journey, we were also somewhat tired. But there had to be one more game, without a doubt. Our choice fell on Hennen by FunBot, a fun card game:
A chicken farm! Well, well, not exactly a theme that would immediately come to mind when I think of a card game. But why not, the chickens on the cards certainly look cute. And they are so beautifully different in colors, which actually helps us a lot during the game.
Because the different chickens want to be together. Only then are they happy, and only then does breeding succeed. And, well, each breed has a different color. Each player has their own chicken farm, which gradually takes shape in front of them. To do this, you play a card each round, so that eventually, a 4x3-sized chicken farm is created. However, the card can only be placed if it has the same chicken breed as an adjacent card or has a value one higher or lower.
At the beginning of the game, this is still easy, but eventually, there are two or three neighboring cards that must all meet the conditions, otherwise, there are minus points, and the card is played face down (so it doesn't count with its chicken breed).
There are plenty of points if you manage to place as many cards of the same breed next to each other, but as described above, it's not that easy.
Overall, it's a card game just as I always imagine: easy to learn, quick to play, but difficult to master.
After that, the three of us proceeded to our accommodation, where we quickly retreated to our respective rooms. After a short but restful night, Olli and Dennis recorded a few snippets for the next podcast. Then we promptly returned to the castle, where a hearty breakfast awaited us. And Hegemony by GIANT ROC, which we had briefly introduced to you here last year during the SPIEL. Now, I had the opportunity to play a full game for the first time, so let's dive into SPIEL:
I imagine it's relatively challenging to create a game about everyday life. But Hegemony is precisely that: entrepreneurs start businesses and, if all goes well, make a good deal of money, the workforce takes on employment, demands higher wages, forms unions, the middle class hovers somewhere in between, sometimes working for big corporations, sometimes starting their own small businesses, and the government tries to steer between these different interests...
All of this is found in the game Hegemony, where each player assumes one of the roles mentioned above (workforce, middle class, large corporations, and government). By now, it should be clear that the game is highly asymmetric since, of course, the big capitalist doesn't send employees to companies, and the workforce doesn't establish large corporations.
Therefore, each player has different roles with very distinct action possibilities. Naturally, each player also has their card deck with very different effects, often based on current events (e.g., the Covid pandemic).
Of course, the big capitalist tries to establish as many businesses as possible to produce lucrative products with employees and sell them domestically and abroad, all while maintaining low labor costs. The workforce, on the other hand, wants to work to earn money but also has the option to demand higher wages through strikes. The government, finally, owns its own companies but also has to ensure it remains solvent and keeps all groups equally satisfied, while the middle class has a bit of all these goals.
Sounds complex, and it is. Fortunately, we had Yara at the B-Rex days, a superb explainer, and we were able to start playing after just 30 minutes. The game itself took about 3 hours, but every minute was worth it.
The first impression is more than successful: a superb game!
What a way to start the day! After a barbecue meal and a few interviews, we continued, this time with Olli explaining the rules of Mind MGMT by CORAX GAMES, and Dennis and I went on the hunt for the Management, which Olli promptly took control of:
Hidden Movement in a new form. That's how one can describe Mind MGMT. The Management is taken over by one of the players and moves in secret. The Management's moves are recorded behind a screen.
On the other side, the remaining players take on the roles of Agents who move on the actual game board. At their respective locations, they can search for various items and thus track the trail left by the Management.
If you inquire about one of the items depicted at the current location, the Management must say whether it has been to a location with that item during the game. It's worth noting that it doesn't have to be the exact same location, as the items are depicted at different places.
Gradually, a possible path that the Management could have taken emerges. And when the Agents are confident, they can move to the likely location and attempt to apprehend the Management.
Of course, things are not as straightforward as they seem, as both the Management and the Agents have special abilities that allow for additional actions.
To start, we played an introductory game without all the additional abilities. Even that was quite a mental challenge for us Agents. Compared to it, Scotland Yard is easy. But once you get into it and grasp your movement options, the game becomes quite engaging and left a very positive impression on me.
After such a thrilling agent hunt, we had worked up quite a thirst.
While the castle had excellent drink provisions (all the bottles were designed with the themes of games from the B-Rex Entertainment Group), we were in the mood for something stronger. Luckily, that was also taken care of, at least in a playful sense, with Distilled by GIANT ROC:
In Distilled, we can finally do what many of us have probably discussed at the pub at one point or another: distill spirits. Each player has their own distillery, but at the beginning, they have very few ingredients and equipment.
Everything needed for distillation is placed in the still at the end of each round. And since this is a board game, these ingredients come in the form of cards. What you need depends on the specific drink. Of course, you always need water and yeast, and sugar wouldn't hurt. But whether you use grain or some other form of sugar ultimately determines what kind of spirit you get.
Not everything is predictable in distillation, and often, things go wrong. That's also the case in this game: all the ingredient cards a player has chosen for the drink are shuffled at the end of the round, and two cards are randomly removed from the stack. Only then is the result revealed. Has it really become the planned rum, or do you have to settle for a cheap vodka or moonshine?
And then there's the aging process and packaging. Again, there are plenty of options in the form of cards that need to be acquired first and then allocated to the drink.
The game lasts for 7 rounds, and theoretically, a new distillate can be made every round, well, at least if nothing goes wrong in the fermentation process.
I thoroughly enjoyed it all, even though my whiskey, which I had aged for four rounds, ended up tasting like rubber (or at least that's what the taste card I drew said). Also, while playing the game, I once again realized that game publishers seem to reduce the font size on cards and materials every year. Do I really need reading glasses soon?
So, we needed something without much text, something that is self-explanatory through symbolism. And easy to explain and play: enter Trophies from FUNBOT:
It doesn't always have to be a 5-hour epic: "10 seconds to explain the rules," that's the claim the game box made. Said and done, while Dennis and Olli stretched their legs, I took a few minutes to read through the rules and was indeed able to explain the game in about 10 seconds.
Here's how it works: each of the 70 different cards shows a letter of the alphabet on one side. This is the side that all players, except one, can see. One player becomes the Jury and looks at the back of the card. It's best done by holding the card upright, so the other players can see the side with the letter, while the Jury player sees the back.
The back of the card displays different categories, from which the player selects one and reads it aloud (e.g., something that jumps or hops, as shown on the card in the picture). Right after that, all players try to find a word that fits the category and starts with the displayed letter. The fastest player wins the card, and the next round begins.
The game principle might be familiar to most readers, as it corresponds to the basic concept of Scattergories. However, this game brings in a fresh twist with its humorous and sometimes challenging categories. It's a fun, fast-paced card game. The card quality is impressive, and there's even a trophy for the winner in the small box. Perhaps not a must-have, but a great gift for the next gathering that should make even dull parties entertaining. Plus, 10-second rules are manageable for anyone, even non-gamers.
After this brief interlude, we were drawn to something more complex for the conclusion of the day: Nukleum by GIANT ROC seemed to be just the right choice, so let's dive in:
In this game, the industrial revolution unfolds through the use of Nukleum and Uranium in Saxony. This atomic transformation leads to tremendous growth and technological advancement in the region. We, the players, take part in this development, exploring technology, connecting cities with railway lines and transport routes to illuminate our constructed buildings.
Building, developing, researching, and illuminating are all activities we undertake in our turns. Not to forget the various contracts whose completion boosts our victory point tally. For all of this, Nukleum provides an extensive array of components.
In addition to the large game board, which depicts the core of the Saxon kingdom and where cities are gradually built and interconnected, each player has their own player board featuring various progress tracks and individual developments.
The activation of actions is facilitated by railway tiles, randomly distributed at the beginning and acquired strategically during the game. Each of these tiles displays two actions triggered when the tile is played. The tiles are placed either above the player board, where they increase capacity limits for income, population, and victory points, or face down on the game board as tracks to connect cities.
Nukleum is a fantastic game offering various avenues to score points and, thus, diverse strategies to secure victory. In my first play, for instance, I often felt I had no chance because other players were continually blocking my routes on the main game board. Nevertheless, I emerged victorious, as I managed to maximize my capacity for victory points at the right moment.
Another night, another day that began with a great breakfast. However, this time it was a short day for us as we had to start making our way back home. But we did manage to squeeze in one more game: Barcelona by GIANT ROC.
Barcelona, around the middle of the 19th century. At the beginning, the game board looks empty, except for the pre-drawn lines indicating where streets and buildings will emerge during the game. But this changes quickly. Each player has 2-3 actions every turn, determined by placing two population markers at an intersection on the game board.
The location for specific actions is partially determined by where the player places their markers. For example, a crossroads can only be created where the player has placed their markers.
In addition to the main game board, actions also take place on side game boards and player boards. At the end of a turn, a building is constructed, provided there are enough population markers next to free building spaces, and the colors of these markers match the available buildings.
All of this earns victory points, with the number determined by various factors. For instance, a street yields more victory points if it's adjacent to other streets, preferably your own. In the game, players can - and should - aim for various multipliers, which are acquired initially and then must correspond to specific other conditions.
Barcelona offers many different ways to earn victory points, and the art is to extract the optimal result from the given conditions. This isn't always easy in the game, as often the player before you spoils the opportunity you've prepared for a round in advance.
Overall, it's a typical BOARD AND DICE game that challenges players. If you like the theme, you should grab it; the game is excellent. For me, the T-titles are still a tad more intriguing.
And with that, the B-Rex Days 2023 came to an end for us. The return journey was uneventful, except for a few traffic jams, the usual stuff. While I was driving, Olli and Dennis finished their podcast. Don't miss it (Board Game Theory), I also have a small part in it. And check also our instagram accounts (me: ralftog_boardgame.de, Olli: lordoftheboard1976, Dennis: jatno17). We three had a great weekend with many fantastic new games. All these games will also be presented as new releases at SPIEL, and we will likely revisit them in our coverage.
Many thanks to the entire B-Rex team for the excellent organization, great catering, and the fantastic gaming experience. By the way, you can find allnew B-Rex titles at Essen around booth 2B152 (Corax Games).