The games have arrived!
I just got my latest game order in. I've already played several of them solo in preparation for teaching. However, I'll just comment on the physcial quality of the games for now. I'll do full reviews of some once I get enough playing experience to make intelligent comments.
Around the World in 80 Days: Gorgeous board with a colorful but subdued map of the world, nice large wooden player tokens, and small but high quality cards. The bonus cardboard chips could have been a little bigger. The unbelievable thing about this game is the irony that the huge box is almost empty, but the board doesn't fit into it! Yes, you heard me. There are 6 large deep compartments to contain a tiny bag of bits. The board is longer than the box insert, so when put away, the sides of the box have to bow outward to accommodate it. Rather than chuck the insert, I cut away the top edge on two sides. Now the board not only fits, it stays in one place to hold all the bits in a single compartment.
Bohnanza: Standard fare for a card game. The cards are unexpectedly easy to shuffle. So many games have cards whose edges make the shuffles "chunky". That is, they shuffle with large alternating numbers of cards.
Caylus: I wanted this game before the hype started. Everything is top notch, except for the coins which are pathetic. Ystari has promised a free (plus shipping) cardboard alternative in the near future. The building tiles are the same size and quality as Carcassonne tiles. Very nice. The wooden buildings are like those in Power Grid. I would recommend bagging each color separately, so you don't have to dump everything out to play with less than 5 players. I like the fact that the 5 player colors (red, green, blue, orange, black) are different from the 5 resource cube colors (pink, brown, gray, purple, gold). Still though, when the board is full, there are a lot of colors to keep track of.
In the Shadow of the Emperor: Pretty and functional board. Nice cards, and wood/cardboard components, except for the little "dots" (who uses those things?). The insert makes you think: What game was this designed for? Certainly you can't use the slots for any of the bits in any reasonable way. I put all the cardboard bits in a separate bag and keep them in the main compartment, though they barely fit.
Merchants of Amsterdam: Hands down, the worst quality of the bunch. The cardboard sheet has some kind of sticky/waxy substance on the surface. When I ordered the game, I knew the clock was going to be problematic, but I didn't know how much. The needle has a half-inch range of movement, making every auction a "guess". As some others do, we may end up ditching the clock, and use a normal bidding type auction.
Oltre Mare: I was always on the fence with the original version of this game. The larger board and higher quality components made it an easy decision. The board, while a little on the thin side, is beautiful and functional. Too often, board designers think the board needs to be busy and bold (Runebound, Euphrates & Tigris). I could live without the "model" ships--too over-designed. I may just grab some colored cylinders from another game. The box is twice as big as it needs to be for what's in it.
PÜNCT: The board and pieces are up to the standards of all the other Gipf games. I only have two small issues. The bumps on the bottoms of the pieces are too shallow to hold the pieces firmly on the board. Quite often I would knock a piece out with subtle contact. Also, every single white piece has "dirt" in all the non-punct dimples. I can't seem to clean it out with anything.
Tower of Babel: Nothing much to rant or rave about. Standard board, standard cards, standard wooden/cardboard bits.
Now off to play!...