Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Good, the Mediocre & the Ones With A Nice Personality

See, I played a lot of new games a couple of weekends ago, thanks to West Coast Meeplefest, and I wanted to inform my loyal blog readers of my impressions of those games... and so, I came up with the title, because I didn't really play any out-&-out jaw-droppingly bad games.

Games I Liked Enough To Try & Figure Out A Way To Purchase My Own Copy

Galaxy Trucker: I actually played this for the first time about ten days ago with Doug & Shelley Garrett, but my Friday morning adventure across the wilds of intergalactic space with Paul Tevis & friends confirmed my opinion - this is a brilliantly designed game with graphics that enhance gameplay & rules that convey the essentials while still making me laugh.

For those who haven't tried it, a capsule description... the first 1/2 of each space journey (there are 3 in a game) has players building their spaceships in real time, grabbing pieces from a pile in the middle of the table. You add crew quarters, batteries, lasers, engines, life support for alien gunners & engineers and cargo space to your "space truck"... and then, in the second 1/2 of each journey, you watch the game (via a deck of encounter cards) attempt to tear your ship to pieces.

It's a bit like dressing up
Dungeonquest in a space suit & crossing it with Carcassonne, dressed up as an alien... then adding a timer to the mix. (Some of you just threw up a little bit in your mouth - and for that I'm profoundly sorry - but it does feel that way to me.) I love it.

Games I Liked Enough To Attempt To Trade For A Copy

Toledo: The game seemed to garner positive reactions this weekend... but the blurbs I'd read about the game prior to this were lukewarm. I don't understand. I played it twice this weekend and enjoyed both games, though they took very different paths.

Toledo is about making swords and giving them to the king - which requires you to collect steel & gems to create the swords as well as moving your minions through the city to the palace. There's a bit of dueling involved (when players compete for spaces) but the focus is gaining resources & converting them into swords (points).

The key element in the game is the wise use of the currency, movement cards - they are used not only for movement but also to pay other players for the right to use their shops. There's a bit of a Ticket To Ride element in how you collect sets of cards (you can play the same number multiple times in a turn) and budget cards for payment or for later movement.

The variability of the game seems high, as well, since the players place their shops onto the board, configuring both the difficulty of movement (and the likelihood of duels) along with the availability of certain resources. All in all, very nice.

The one comment made to me that I rather liked was that Toledo "sounded like Martin Wallace had found a professional developer." (I assume the reference was to the constrained number of choices you could make each turn... rather than his normal "100 things to do and only experience being able to tell you which might be helpful" way of designing larger games.

Wie Verhext: This is the newest Alea game and it came out of the Gathering of Friends with some mixed reviews as well. The theme is the creation of potions, using a variety of sketchy looking characters to help collect the ingredients, boil the potions, work some magic, gather some cash & a couple of folks who just find ways to beg and/or steal stuff from other players.

Of course, it's an inventive little game design that takes a popular game mechanic (role selection - Citadels, Puerto Rico, Meuterer, etc.) and twists it a bit. Each turn, players choose 5 roles out of the possible 12 (each player has an identical deck). The start player chooses one of the roles from his hand of 5 and plays it - then each player in turn either passes (they didn't choose that role) or plays their identical card, deciding whether they will use the weaker secondary power (which happens immediately) or "take over" from the initial player with the stronger primary power (which is resolved after all the players lay down that role).

If you don't like "read other players' minds" games, start running now - you will NOT like this game. OTOH, if you enjoy that kind of stuff, this one was a lot of fun. I'm looking forward to seeing it published in English - the game in German is playable but would be off-putting for folks not used to lots of German text on cards.

Anno 1701 Board Game: This is the game that I wanted Anno 1503 + the expansion to be.

Let me explain - I'm a huge fan of Teuber's Anno 1503, but I could find very little to like in the expansion. While it adds some depth to the game, it also adds huge chunks of time (nearly doubling play length) - and the added decisions & chrome just aren't worth the hassle.

Anno 1701 uses some of the same concepts as Anno 1503: individual player boards, exploration of a central island board, two types of resources (those available at the start & those only available later in the game), multiple paths to victory, and random events that tax your financial resources. But Teuber also added a variable building system (where players can pay to have their choice of three buildings, each with special powers, to add to their island), simple & coherent ways to deal with pirate combat & exploration, as well as the re-introduction of trading resources into the system (absent in Anno 1503).

The result is an odd hybrid of Settlers of Catan & Anno 1503 that works really nicely... but if you're not a fan of Settlers and/or Anno 1503, you're not going to be a fan of this one - it's more of the same with some nifty new twists. For those who are fans, it may be tough to decide if you need one more Catan-ish game... let me make one argument in favor of purchase. Unlike most of the stand-alone expansions to Catan (Canaan, Stone Age, Struggle for Rome, etc.), the game has built-in variablity in set-up and choosing your path(s) to victory.

The whole "multiple ways to win" thing was clear in our game - I focused on exploration/warfare & happiness (happy warrior people!), grabbing sails & cannons in order to go whizzing across the exploration board. Others at the table grabbed lots of cash (Lorna, I mean you!) while Candy worked at improving her people (each worth a vp) and James built an Opera House. Candy won, btw, but I can see how each player trying different strategies along with the random board set-up would make each game "feel" different.

Anyone got a copy they're willing to part with?!

Games I'm Glad I Tried & Would Be Willing To Play Again... But Don't Need A Copy Of My Own

Ubongo: Das Duell: This is Ubongo for 2 players... no fancy scoring (the first player to finish wins the round; win six rounds & win the game) this time. You've got a big pile of puzzle sheets (glossy finish paper) with 20 different sets of pieces on them. Each player takes a sheet, one player rolls the die, you find your pieces & off you go, trying to fit them all in.

And that's it. It was fun (and Greg Parker should not play spatial speed games, esp. late in the evening) but nothing I have to own myself.

Keltis: Doug has already received a decent amount of razzing for messing up the rules... in his defense, the English translation has one of those weird two-sentence instructions that read something like "Place all the tiles face-down yadda yadda yadda" then later state "Now turn those tiles face-up." (Wouldn't it be easier to say "randomly place the tiles face-up on the dark spaces"?)

I played three times - twice with the tiles face down & once with them (correctly) face up. I'm not sure that there is actually that much more control with the face-up tiles. While you might be able to string together some nice plays using the extra move tiles, you're at the mercy of your card draw & the order of the tiles. If the lines you're getting cards for are all blarney stones, then you've got to go ahead & play the cards, even if you have to leave gaps... but if you don't get any of those cards, there's no way to make it happen. Yes, there's the multiple discard piles from Lost Cities, but time is so short in the game that unless everyone is trading cards around, it's questionable to do so yourself.

I'm not saying I don't like the game... I do. It was fun to play & made a great filler. But that's what it is - a nicely produced abstract filler game for 2-4 players. (For once, no groaning about Knizia & pasted-on themes... this one has Celtic symbols and that pretty much covers the theming. After playing Thebes earlier in the weekend, it's like the difference between Splash Mountain at Disneyland and a log ride at the Fresno County Fair. Both get you wet; only one feels like a story took place.)

Games I Played Which I Need To Try One More Time

Der Goldene Kompass: Just a short note here, as we played with the rules incorrect & I think I need to give it a fair shake with the right rules. As it was, it felt too long & convoluted to be a good family game, but too random to be a good gamer game.

Games I Played Which I Don't Feel The Need To Play Again

Tinner's Trail: This was the more Martin Wallace-y of the two Martin Wallace games I played... it's an auction/action game. (My favorite auction/action game is Princes of Florence - this has some similarities but I don't think liking one will automatically predict that you'll like the other.)

I agree with Chris Farrell's assessment - at least, I think these are Chris' thoughts; that's the way my (often faulty) memory has it. The game has two bugs and/or features, depending on your point of view:
  1. The value of one of the commodities (orange cubes, which shows you how much I got into the "theme" of the game) is widely variable, which causes some weird things as far as scoring goes - if I can get a lot of it at the right time, I do well. If the price tanks, no amount of clever play can make up for not getting in on it at the "right" time... and I have NO influence on whether it's the right time or not.
  2. Money is converting into victory points on a descending scale - money is worth less & less as the game goes on. This means that streaky and/or odd flukes of luck early will doom the later half of the game to a meaningless trudge through the system.
I didn't hate it, btw - I had a lot of fun playing it with Andrew & Greg Parker. But I think I pretty much got any need to play it again out of my system.

Liebe & Intrige: Anyone who wants to complain about German games & their lack of theme has met their match (ha!) in this game of Jane Austen-ish courting & marrying off daughters. The objective is simple: do stuff to make your current eldest unmarried daughter more eligible and send her out to "encounter" gentlemen suitors. The first family to marry off three daughters ends the game & then you score for how worthy your son-in-laws are & how educated, beautiful & reputable your family is.

What strikes me as I think back on the game is how "old school" this one feels... there's a "take that" deck of event cards you can use to hit other players or advance your own fortunes. The eligibility of the daughters is in three characteristics (brains, beauty & reputation) which work like pretty much any RPG board game. There's a lot of dice rolling (though I haven't ever rolled a Casanova die before) and it's all pretty processional.

I had a lot of fun playing this with Shelley, Doug & Greg Wilzbach... but you know it's a bad sign when the players in the game are trying to figure out how to shorten the game while they are playing it.

Lascaux: Take No Thanks!/Geschenkt. Make it more complicated & more difficult to figure out who is winning. Make it longer. Make it go away.


Gameguythinks said...

I'm with you on Galaxy Trucker. It sounds like two great games in one.

ironcates said...

Der Goldene Kompass Tuesday night.