Thursday, January 3, 2013

2013 Board Game Review - Part 1

Lone Star Game Fest ran from December 27th through December 30th at the same hotel as last year.  I had a great time, but four days of convention is starting to wear me out like it has not before.  The self-imposed sleep deprivation is wearing on me enough that I'm starting to feel and sound like an old man.  I'll have to do something about that next year.  Drink more liquids with caffeine in them should be a good start.

The A/C issues were resolved (mostly) by the convention purchasing steel utility shelves for attendees to stack their games on.  This worked really well and allowed better viewing of what games were available than the tables, plus more room was achieved with fewer shelving units due to the availability of four shelves over a table's single surface.  As to temperature control - I wore shorts and flip flops for most of the con and was comfortable most of the time.  The public areas of the hotel were much more comfortable than last year, so a positive all around.

The following reviews do not include the prototypes I played nor games I played last year (mostly).  I'll make note where I vary from this and why.

Game of Thrones (Boardgame)
I'm not a fan of the gimmick the author uses in the books, but I was willing to give this game a try anyways.  We played Game of Thrones with 5 players who had never played before (including myself) and 1 player who had played a few times before, but never taught before.  As it turned out, this was not a good mix, or at least it wasn't for me.  The game is an area control game where you are attempting to capture 7 castles before the end of the 10th turn.  There are more than 7 castles on the board, but with 6 players, we hovered between 2-4 for most of the game.  From the people who read the entire series of books, it seemed to emulate the conflicts in the books fairly well, even if the results were different.

Combat is a matter of moving troops into an attack and then playing a card from your hand.  Each house has its own hand of 7 cards with values of 0, 1, 1, 2, 2, 3, and 4, but different powers for each house.  This provided some bluffing opportunity as cards played went into a discard pool and out of use until all 7 cards were used.  If you powered through a combat with your 4, it was unavailable for at least 6 more battles.  I liked this mechanism, but some of the powers were slowed down the game.

Sea power in this game seems to be broken.  Chains of ships provide unlimited movement and the ships can support land battles while simultaneously moving troops around.  We played the 2nd Edition, which has some corrections from 1st Edition to fix this, but I really think ships should be able to either ship or support, not both at the same time.  This would fix the issues with sea power I saw.

Initiative, tie-breaking order, and ability to play more than two of any command counter type is something voted on using power tokens - a limited resource irregularly garnered during the game.  This part is an issue, particularly initiative, as they changed only 2-3 times in our game, mostly at the start.  This left me down turn from the only experienced player, who I was constantly in conflict with.  His familiarity with the rules and the position he was playing (we learned late in the game it was the only position he had ever played) made the game frustrating to me.  This would have been manageable, but he also suffered from analysis paralysis and "take-back" fever, where he was constantly taking back moves he had agonized over, delaying the game a great deal.  This frustrated several of the players at the table who were just trying to learn the game.  I eventually reached my frustration threshold and walked away from the game late in the 9th turn, something I've never done before. 

Teaching a game and wanting to win a game are two different goals and are regularly in conflict with each other.  They guy "teaching" the game was more concerned with winning the game that he agonized over moves and added at least an hour to the game length.  In the end, he won the game, but it is very unlikely that the other 5 players will play the game ever again, defeating the reason for teaching the game.  I played for 6 hours before walking away and it lasted another hour after that for the final turn.  You may see how much I was willing to put up with to try and finish the game.

I might give this game another chance, just to get a better feel for it, but I don't plan on spending any money on it.

 This is a deck building game using the Marvel superheroes IP.  It is a cooperative game, but only because the players are all working against the board and not each other.  The game I played had little in the way of planning and we were acting mostly independently of each other.  We were also resource starved at the beginning, which seemed to be bad luck in how the villain cards came out, but is crimped the ability of the less experienced players to effectively resource management.

Legendary starts with a master villain the players select, a villain deck whose setup is modified by the master villain, an initial set of power cards the players can purchase, and identical starting hands for the players.  At the start of each player's turn, a new villain card is turned over, pushing the line of villain cards along a 5 space path.  Each space represents a location (like the sewers or rooftops) and some powers are keyed to the locations (Storm's lightning bolt is more powerful on the rooftops).  If a villain gets pushed off the end of the track it "escapes" and bad things happen.  What exactly happens is stated on the villain card.  Players then use the cards in their hands to fight villains and/or buy better powers.  At the end they discard their hand and draw 5 new cards for next turn.  Some of the villain cards can force a loss of cards before your turn comes around again, so you need to be ready for that.  Instead of attacking a villain, if the player has enough attack strength in cards, they can go after the master villain.  The exact strength necessary is based on the master villain selected and the difficulty selected for that game.  The master villain has to be attacked a number of times (4 I think, but that may have been just the master villains we were facing) to win the game.  The master villain card sets out the way the players lose.

This is another game I need to play again to get a better feel for.  I have a better feel for how things work now, but the curve was...different from what I was expecting.  I've played Dominion and was expecting something more like that, but this isn't that game.  Your pool of cards will rarely get past 15 cards really and I expect that the optimal strategy keeps it below 10.  The goal is to beat up villains and eventually the master villain, not build a deck.  The pressure from the villain cards sliding off the track means you need to fight them often with whatever you have handy.  There may be too much randomocity in this game for me to really like it, but I really need to play it some more to work that out.

I might buy this game.

That's it for Day 1 of the convention.  I only got three games in because of Game of Thrones.  (The missing game was a prototype.)

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