A friend brought some new games home from GenCon and brought them over this past weekend. We played each of these games once, for three players.
Mystic Vale is a deck-building game (like Dominion, for example), but instead of adding cards to your deck you augment cards. Your deck always has 20 cards, each of which has three "slots". Some are blank and some start with one slot filled. Slots produce resources, which you can use to buy overlays. Each card is in a plastic sleeve and each overlay is a transparent sheet of clear plastic with one of the three regions filled in; you slide the overlay into the sleeve to use it. On your turn you deal out some cards (the exact number varies), use the resources to buy overlays (or some other special cards), and then discard all those cards. You go through the deck a lot, gradually building up resources so you can buy better stuff. Some of the cards grant victory points, which is ultimately what matters.
The game is very pretty, and it's pretty in a non-invasive way. (I often find pretty games to be hard to play, because the art overruns the function.) I think our game was about an hour, though the next one would be faster because we were learning. I liked this game a lot and would gladly play it in preference to Dominion; Dani thought it was ok and much prefers Dominion.
Next up were two quick games from Perplext. These are tiny games with few moving parts; they're designed to fit in a pocket and be playable, for example, on a table at a restaurant while you're waiting for your food. In one game, Gem, you bid to buy cards with gems on them, which you can use to buy more cards; goal is to corner the market on particular gem types. There are six gem types in the game; you get points for having the most of any type, and one point for each gem you have at all. It's a lightweight auction game that calls for some planning and strategizing. I'd like to play this one again, too.
The other Perplext game was Bus. You lay out a (randomized) grid of city streets with some bus stops and some destinations (color-coded). At bus stops you can pick up fares, which you score when you deliver them. A fare card has a point value and a speed limit and they tend to add up to the same number -- so the more benefit you get from a delivery, the slower you'll move to do it. There was one usability problem with this game: the red and pink passengers/destinations were quite difficult to distinguish from each other. It was a cute game but not one I'd seek out again.
Somewhere in there we also introduced our friend to Roll Through the Ages: think Advanced Civilization distilled down to a dice game and abstract commodities and improvements, playable in about 20 minutes.
The last game we played, and a clear winner for all of us, was Fantahzee. The similarity of that name to "Yahtzee" is quite intentional. Players are defending a town that's under attack by an army of monsters; on your turn you can play heroes from your hand, then (try to) activate them this round, then attack monsters. If you don't kill the lead monster you lose part of the town (negative points to you). You get victory points for killed monsters.
The activation is dice-based. Each hero has an activation cost represented in die rolls -- "4", or "2 of a kind", or "1 2 3", and so on. The powerful ones are harder to get. You start with five dice and get up to three rolls; after each roll you can allocate any dice you want to activate heroes and then reroll the rest. Some of the heros, once activated, grant you extra dice or extra rolls, which is essential. Many of them have other special abilities, like extra defense. There's a lot of randomness, but you also need to plan your party of adventurer heros to balance between power and ability to actually activate. I think this one took about an hour.