At LobsterTrap I was invited to a local-ish game group that meets once a month. I couldn't make it in November, but I decided to make the 90-minute trek yesterday. The trip down seemed much shorter thanks to NPR's great program Wait Wait Don't Tell Me. It's amazing how different the world is in the morning. Still not worth getting up for though.
There were about 12-14 people over the course of the 11-hour event playing lots of different kinds of games. There was always a game starting that I was interested in.
We started with Traumfabrik, a game I've been wanting to try forever. It was about as good as I expected it to be. I love the fact that all the "money" in the game just moves back and forth among the players. If you pay a huge price for a lot, you are giving all the other players a big temporary advantage. If you are short on cash, you just need to wait through a couple of auctions to accumulate more--and hope those auctions are for things you don't really need. It's too light for a game night staple, but a good filler.
Next up was Amyitis. I've been tentative on this one since I disliked Yspahan so much. I think it is a winner. It almost feels like an Alea/Feld economy game, but has the expected Ystari style. You can harvest plants, irrigate the gardens, buy camels, and occupy temples. But there is also some good interaction. Players compete for actions of increasing costs, for space in the temples (pushing each other out), and for limited sets of special cards (gardeners, bankers, caravans, etc). The one aspect of the game that's not quite right is the caravan board. If you take an action there, you move the camel around clockwise. You can only move it so far based on which caravan card you have and how many camels you are willing to spend. If the previous player moves the camel past the space you wanted, then you might be screwed. But this may be just a side affect. It makes that portion of the game seem half random, half chaotic. It's not enough to scare me away, just enough to bug me. I think I want this game.
I played 2 games of Race for the Galaxy. Yes, it has been compared to San Juan by everyone, and they are right for the most part. The fact that everyone chooses their roles simultaneously helps to make the game move faster. But this is one of its downfalls for me. What it does is to turn a game where I am watching what everyone does into a game where I mostly ignore everyone else. The other problem is that there are enough card interactions that it feels like the game is over before you can create and profit from anything unless you get some combinations that work well together. If the game somehow lasted 2 hours, you could see the long-term fruits of your efforts. Like Galaxy Trucker, I see why people really like it, but it's not for me.
Another game on my radar was Cutthroat Caverns. Unfortunately, it's rules and design seemed like something from Fantasy Flight Games: ambiguous and chrome-filled. There are too many cards and creature powers that interact with each other. There are too many unclear rules. The game should be fast and furious, yet the mechanics make it slow and plodding. Having to deal out initiative cards every damned round is ridiculous.
I wasn't too keen on playing Flying Carpet, but a new game is often a better choice than an old one when you have the opportunity. Players must fly their carpets over buildings and through the clouds to reach the destination. All movement is performed using cards drawn from a deck showing various horizontal and vertical components (eg 2 up, 1 forward). If you get up high enough, the wind pushes you forward an extra 1 or 2 spaces. It was ok, just nothing special. This could be a pretty decent kid's game.
Mordred was another game on my radar. It played exactly as I had expected from the rules. What I didn't know was how much of a mathematical or psychological balance would be achieved between the players and the Mordred pieces during play. Both of these aspects seemed to play out quite well. If Mordred is winning, players farther along the Mordred track want to correct this by either building as much as they can, or by attacking Mordred to move themselves back. If Arthur is winning, players farther back on the Mordred track want to correct this by adding more Mordred pieces. The game is designed so that if you go all out to accomplish any single goal that you actually undo yourself. Brilliant. The game could really use a VP track where players also keep track of total buildings and Mordred pieces. Every single turn in the later half of the game starts with each player counting up everything anyways. The fact that everything (collecting money, attacking, defending) is done using dice keeps this game from being very meaty, but it might fit in the heavy filler space along with Ra. The jury is still out.
Gipsy King was a surprisingly good filler. You score points for having majorities around ponds with fish in them (in a way like Carcassonne H&G), but much more points from chains of connected pieces using the popular triangular sequence (eg 1, 3, 6, 10, 15...). The skill in this game is knowing when to pass. Really, that's it. If you pass, you go first on the next pond. If everyone passes, the last player gets to place pieces in all the rest of the spaces. You play one round in increasing numerical order, then a second round in decreasing numerical order. In the second round you can place 2 pieces on the same location two times. Very good game for a 20-minute filler.
Und Tschüss! is a strange Martin Wallace card game. It was ok, but there are much better card games that take the same amount of time.
I closed the session with Cold War: CIA vs KGB. I love this game, and this play of it was exceptional. We had some great combos happening. By the half-way mark, we had both lost our Master Spies. This eliminates a lot of the bluffing potential, but the Assassin's still did their jobs. At 80 points, I could have used Olympic Games to get my Master Spy back, but that would have jeopardized my win if a 20 Objective card appeared. I enjoy the press-your-luck aspect of the Group card play, the Group/Agent bluffing, and the psychology of the Agent selection and usage.