Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A Temporary Tangent into Boardgaming

First, Happy New Year to everyone!  I've been away attending a 4-day boardgame convention and have finally recovered enough sleep and dug out enough e-mail to post coherently.  I had hoped to achieve this state yesterday (the day after the convention), but spent 15 out of 24 hours asleep and most of my waking hours unpacking, putting things away, grocery shopping, and then watching Avatar: The Last Airbender, Season 1, disk 4, with my wife.

So.  Without a write-up of last week's Dyson's Delve adventure log ready, I'd thought I'd speak extemporaneously on what games I played over the long weekend.  This list is not all-encompassing as I started to forget to write down the names of what I played as the convention went on and sleep deprivation kicked in.

Power Grid:
I've played this before (in fact, I own it), but I've only ever played with the starter maps (U.S. and Germany) as I do not own any of the expansion maps.  This time we played a 4-player game on the Brazil map.  The map is good and makes for some interesting choices.  The only significant change to the rules was to the resupply chart, which made coal very rare and oil very cheap.  Our game used the basic power plant deck which seems to be heavy in coal, so the switch in the resupply rates made for some very unusual purchasing activities.  A very good map and one I now need to track down and purchase.  We also looked at the other expansion maps and discussed what they were like.  I think I want to try out the Korea map next with its TWO resource pools and follow that up with the Italy map, which looks very claustrophobic.

7 Wonders:
A very cool resource management game played with cards, 3-7 players.  I played this three times over the weekend, to give you an idea how much I liked it.  This is a card game played in three eras.  In each era, deck of cards for that era are completely dealt out.  On your turn you choose one to play and pass the rest to your neighbor, to the left in eras 1 and 3, to the right in era 2.  So there is a curious balance of choosing what's best for you versus what you don't want the next guy to get.  There are something like six ways to score points, all of which score at the end of the game, best score wins.  I played it twice with 7 players and once with 3 players and it played quick (30-45 minutes) and well each time.

A hex-based light little wargame where you run a nest of ants trying to eradicate the other nests.  If you kill a nests queen, you get all their food (needed to make more ants) and all their pieces are removed from the game.  Claims to play from 2-6 players, but 3-4 seems to be its sweet spot.  Two players seemed to have a slow start and 6 players (which I played) was too chaotic and the ending dragged out.  I'd play it again, but I wouldn't buy my own copy.

Red November:
A silly cooperative game where you play gnomes on the submersible Red November.  It has catastrophically failed and you are trying to keep it afloat until help arrives.  The rules are dense and have multiple redundancies, which might work with the Soviet-style theme, but made looking things up difficult.  Slimming down the rules and using some bullet points would have saved much frustration.  We came within a turn or two of winning, but failed due to a really bad combo of events.  Not certain I'd buy this at full price and I'd be tempted to re-write the rules into something easier to read.

Phase 10:
A gin rummy card game with a board to give you choices on how to get new cards.  Goal is to make it through all 10 phases to the victory phase, first one there wins.  Each phase requires a different hand combo (a mix of set and/or runs).  When someone goes out, anyone who didn't open (lay down the required cards for their phase) gets to keep half their cards.  I got stuck on Phase 6 (a run of 8 cards) for 6-7 rounds of play.  I don't think I'd play this again, your mileage may vary.

Tikal II:
Sequel to the game Tikal, in this game you are exploring a pyramid instead of exploring the jungle looking for pyramids.  This game is beautiful and has possibly the best component tray I've ever seen - holding all the components perfectly, including the board AND the rules.  Game length is set by action tiles set around the board, split up amongst six temples along a river.  They are face up, so the players can follow the river around the board clock-wise to the temple containing the board.  When you get to the end of the river, you have to pay a key to portage across to the top again, keys that you need to enter rooms and later score points.  Very fun game and I'll buy it as soon as I have the chance.  I may order it online to speed that up.

One of a series of games by the same designer (including Tikal, Java, and now Tikal II), I've long looked at the back of the box, but could not tell if it was worth purchasing.  I finally had the chance to do so and determined I must now own it.  Build the city of the Aztecs by dividing the land into districts (and scoring points) and then build more/better buildings than the other players for big points.  A bit more complicated than that, but it only took me ten minutes to read the rules aloud so four people who had never played it before could get started.  Very enjoyable.

Plague rats cover medieval Europe.  Your goal is to have more people alive at the end of the game.  This can be done two ways: move them off the board to the castle (which is safe) or just pile on the people and hope enough survive the plague rats to score at the end.  Players choose roles during each turn of the game, gaining powers to move rats or people as the cards state.  Rat tokens spread though the use of a plague marker that the players move.  The plague marker adds rats to adjacent territories and turns over rat token to see who dies in the territory.  The rat tokens require a minimum population to activate and then kill based on what roles are held by the players with pieces in that territory.  Plays well with 2, 3, and 4 players.  Another one I must own.

This is a fun game with a four-stage method for getting gold, the games victory points.  I'd have to use a full blog entry to describe it, but I liked the game very much.  Challenging without unnecessary difficulty, the interesting point is the players trigger scoring for themselves, which not only gets them points but pieces necessary to score more points.  If you get a chance, play this and make up you own mind.  Plays 2-4 players, but four is best.

One of my favorite styles of games, you build the board as you play, looking for resources (stone and timber) or plains to build villages or holy sites upon.  The goal is to get your four temple offerings to the temple before anyone else does (Hail Marduk!).  Offerings appear on the board under the villages you build and require mana to offer up at the temple.  Mana is generated by holy sites, but you have to have a piece (or two) there to collect the mana and you have a limited reservoir to hold your mana.  Your reservoir starts smaller than you need it to be, so you have to haul stone to the temple to expand you reservoir.  Oh, and the guy who hauls the offering to the temple and pays the mana joins the clergy and is removed from the board, so you have to make more guys too.  Plus, there are bonus cards which let you do different things outside the rules.  And you can only do one of these actions a turn.  Decisions, decisions, decisions.  I played this four times over the weekend, including a back-to-back set on the fourth day.  Plays best with four, but three should work as well.

Described to me as a "Dominion clone", I was just being sociable and listening to the rules explanation while waiting on something else.  I ended up playing two games, back-to-back.  Players start with identical small sets of cards and draw hands of six each turn.  They use those cards to buy stuff in the village (including hiring better adventurers) or going to the dungeon to kill monsters.  What items are in town is randomly determined at the beginning of the game, as are which categories of monsters are in play, so each game is different.  Killed monsters provide experience points and go into your discard pile where they will provide gold when you draw them later (player decks reshuffle when you reach the bottom).  This game was written by AEG, so there are many typos in the rules (as is typical of their products).  I've never played Dominion, so I cannot compare the two, but I liked the mechanism and would play either if given a chance.

Faerie Tale Dice:
This game is still at the end of the design stage and I scored the last of the 40 demo sets the designer put together (Thank you Kevin Nunn!).  You roll the dice and attempt to put together the best scoring set you can.  You get three rolls, keeping or re-rolling dice as you want, but "bad" dice always stay.  Your score is marked on the track.  After each player rolls and marks their score, the highest score chooses a victory point token, then the next lowest, then the next.  There are four tokens for the first four rounds, but only two after that and the game ends after a total of eight rounds.  Point tokens are then tallied and best score wins.  This game is being reviewed by a publisher.  I enjoyed playing this and treasure my copy.  Then the game is available commercially, I will buy one of those as well.

Small World:
A much improved version of Vinci.  If you don't know that game, let me sum up, explaining would take too long.  You start running a fantasy race that expands across the game board.  Combat is done by stacking more counters than are in a territory (plus two, so an empty territory takes two counters to conquer).  As you have a fixed number of counters (ten is average) and lose one each time one of your territories is taken over (and with a different board sized for each number of players, this WILL happen often), you eventually get to a point where you cannot attack.  So you put that race in Decline and select a new race to expand with.  Rinse repeat if neccessary.  Victory points are scored for all territories controlled, both by your active race and your race in decline, so don't attack your old territories.  Game play is for a fixed number of turns (8 in a four-player game) and who ever has the most points at the end wins.  Races have powers and are randomely assigned an additional power.  BUY this if you get a chance.  The expansion sets are also worth it and relatively inexpensive ($10-$15).

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