#606 – Incubation [Mini]

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Base price: $35.
2 – 5 players.
Play time: 30 – 40 minutes.
BGG | Board Game Atlas

Buy on Amazon (via What’s Eric Playing?)
Logged plays: 3 

Full disclosure: A review copy of Incubation was provided by Luma Imports.

Still giving away a copy of Dale of Merchants Collection to a lucky reader in the US (or with a US mailing address) thanks to Snowdale Design. For more information on that giveaway, check out this link!

Alright, we’re back with more reviews! I was going to say this is the last of the Luma Imports titles, but 1) that’s not correct; I have The Colors of Paris around here and I still need to finish that one up, and 2) they just sent another 6 titles, so, I’m pretty covered for the near future. It’s a good incentive to get through the titles they’ve already sent me! Or a constant reminder that my backlog is never going to end. It’s unclear! Anyways, let’s dispense with my existential dread and dig into Incubation, a dragon-hatching game from Synapses.

In Incubation, y’all have discovered dragon eggs! Thankfully, they’re friendly, which, huge relief there, so you’ve found that the new Dragon Breeder career path has opened (which, lemme tell you, I wish had been available as an option when I was taking career placement tests). You play as one of those Dragon Breeders, dead set on being the best Dragon Breeder in town. Which is good, since you’re competing with other Dragon Breeders; you need to be invested. Over the course of several rounds, you’ll get Dragon Eggs, hatch them into Dragons, and use those Dragons to complete objectives for points. Hatching is simple; you just need to gather the right resources. Since you have to roll dice to get those resources, however, it might be a bit easier said than done. Gather fire and water to accomplish your goals, and don’t get too distracted by the cute hatchlings. Will you be able to breed some egg-cellent dragons? Or will your ambitions just end up scrambled?

Dragon Eggs

Contents

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Player Count Differences

Yeah, hm. It’s a bit odd. At higher player counts, you have fewer objectives, which means that there will be even more conflict for them (and likely a tragedy of the commons will occur, since more players will be fighting over a shared pool of dragons that doesn’t expand via player count). It’s kind of weird, honestly. At lower player counts, you have more available objectives, which means you also need to watch out for one player focusing and picking up more than anyone else. That happened in one game I played; it was unfortunate for the other players. Ultimately, the turns are short, though, so it’s not like you’re going to see a huge amount of downtime as the player counts increase. You’ll just get fewer turns as more players take the available Dragon Eggs. I may recommend it at closer to three players, though, since you get the best of both. More players are pushing the spinner and causing it to aggregate, but they’re also not junking up the entire game by taking cards you want before you have a chance to grab them. At two, I think there’s not enough motion to keep the game feeling fresh. You need a bit more to keep the game moving.

Strategy

  • A few cheap dragons can pay dividends. It allows you to go after Objective Cards with a bit more gusto, since you’ve got multiple dragons already. Plus, you get the bonus resources from getting the dragon hatched, so that’s also nice. The major drawback is, as you might guess, they’re worth fewer points, but if you can get an Objective or two out of it it might be worth it?
  • At the very least, the wild dragons are usually worth it, if you’re trying to go for objectives. Those are nice because they count for everything! They just don’t get you any bonus resources for hatching them. And they tend to be more expensive, resource-wise. But they keep you flexible! And flexibility in a game with objectives is usually a good call.
  • If it doesn’t seem like anyone is going for Objectives, it might be worth trying to get some. Or go after higher-value eggs! At higher-player count games, players may eschew Objectives a bit, since they feel like it will be hard to get three red dragons or whatever the game is looking for. If nobody is doing Objectives, then you may be able to shoot for higher-value eggs, since the game isn’t going to end until two of the Dragon Egg decks have been depleted. This is usually a good time for those hybrid eggs that don’t count for objectives, as well.
  • If you’ve rolled a Treasure Chest, you might as well reroll it. It’s not doing you many favors in its current state. If you reroll it, you might be able to double up on a resource or coins for even better outcomes. If you get another Treasure Chest, well, them’s the breaks.
  • Remember that completing non-wild eggs will let you claim bonuses from the center. That’s usually good, just, make sure that you don’t have an empty Incubator when you claim a bonus unless you want to put it right back in the center. If that does happen, I usually try to claim some coins so that I still get something out of the experience.
  • It’s usually a good idea to have both incubators filled if you can; that way you generally have a place to put resources. The one caveat to this is that you can’t use the “take an egg” action to avoid resource waste if you do this. That’s less fun, but, it gives you a lot of places to put resources so that you’re not wasting them that way, either. Just make sure you’re actually taking eggs that you want to hatch? Don’t just grab garbage.
  • Try not to overindex on one type of resource, though. You can get stuck. If you’re completely full on fire, well, that’s not great. Obviously, the best strategic advice I can give you is “roll perfectly”, but practically, sometimes it’s better to take a slightly worse resource allocation to increase the probability that you can deliver on useful future turns.

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • Nice, colorful game. It’s pleasant! Lots of colorful dragons and eggs and the like. It’s also not particularly antagonistic, which can be nice. The most that you can do is take an Objective or a dragon egg that another player wants. Even then, there’s almost always another dragon egg.
  • Very easy to learn. You kinda just roll dice and get resources. There’s not a ton more to it than that. The kicker is that you can only score one Objective at a time, but even that’s not that big of a deal if you just keep an eye on what your opponents want and take that one first.
  • Surprisingly, only having two types of resources decreases the complexity space of the game. This isn’t that surprising. But it’s easier to track what you need when you don’t have a ton of different resources moving around.
  • Probably a solid family-weight game. There’s just not a ton of moving parts, and the theme is fairly positive. Additionally, like I said, not a terribly mean game, so might be a good way to teach some basic resource management. Even better if you like dragons.

Mehs

  • The way the board folds open and closed to protect the spinner gives me some anxiety. It’s such a weird fold! I had to mention it somewhere; this seemed appropriate. It can’t be a perfect quarter-fold, otherwise the spinner would get caught in the middle (or need to fold itself), so it has the strangest fold I’ve ever seen in a board game.
  • At two, players aren’t really rolling enough chests to populate the board, so you’re not really seeing many combos emerge. It’s just a slower game at two. You need to get more dragons, you likely will get fewer combo resources, and ultimately that doesn’t make it really much of a ringer for me. I tend to like it more at three players.

Cons

  • Similar to Pie Town, when you include a component but don’t use it for its typically-used purpose, I’m a bit disappointed. When I see a spinner, I want to … spin it. That seems pretty instinctual. Since we don’t ever really spin it in the game, it’s just kind of a three-way arrow that points to the next space to place resources on. It’s a bit of a bummer, since I keep looking for games with spinners that use it in a way that excites me.
  • Most of the game boils down to rolling dice, without a ton of luck mitigation. It’s a bit too simple for my taste, being honest. I think I’d like more agency, or player powers, or something. I just kind of wish that you had a more complex version of the game available? That said, as I mentioned earlier, it’s probably a solid family game, if you’re down for something a lot lower on the complexity scale.
  • No catch-up mechanism. It’s kind of a bummer. The game isn’t quite short enough that that doesn’t matter. If you start missing dice rolls or throwing a bunch of resources into the center instead of hatching eggs, it’s unlikely you’re going to be able to beat a player who’s rolling better.

Overall: 5.75 / 10

In Progress

Overall, I think Incubation is … okay. A lot of the game, for me, is rolling the dice and hoping the right pair comes up. And that might be more fun for some folks, but I’d like something a bit more deterministic for my resource gathering. Really, a lot of the game feels like it comes down to luck. There’s the ordering of the dragon egg cards, for one, which can really help set you up or hold you back for the Objectives (which are also randomized), but the dice rolling for resources is ultimately going to be a dealbreaker for a number of players. Don’t get me wrong; this is not the heaviest game, and so I’m willing to tolerate a bit more luck in the mechanical processes of the game, but I don’t feel like the luck ends up leading to an outcome that I’m invested in. If you’re having trouble getting Objectives, often, players will grab any card that scores a decent amount of points and ignore the Objectives entirely. That feels like it runs counter to the goal of the game, which is a bummer. At that point, you’re just rolling dice to get the resources you want before anyone else does. In that way, it’s almost like Blend Off!, but turn-based, and that kinda takes away from what I like about Blend Off!? That said, I feel like this game is also targeted to a younger crowd than my traditional game group, or, rather, that it could work for that group. It’s a bit more complex than some of the yellow-box HABA titles, but if they reworked it to simplify it further I think it could really be a solid contender in that space. It’s a bit of managing expectations, which I don’t think Incubation manages to do, very well, so it ends up feeling like it promises more than it ultimately delivers. While that’s disappointing, this is still a game with some great art that’s relatively simple to learn, so if that sounds appealing to you, you may still want to check it out!

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