Sunday, December 24, 2006

Games and More Games

Between an impromptu couple of 2p games on Friday night and all-day session at the Condo on Saturday, I played 8 games in the last 2 days. If I could continue to play games continuously over the next 2 days with not a sight of blinking lights nor the sound of jingling bells, I would. Alas, all those around me are slaves to the trappings of ritual and the guilt of secularized religion. Fortunately, I have a solo game to carry me through.

O Zoo Le Mio
I taught this game to Mary Ann. We played two 2p games. I won the first; she won the second. The thing I didn't explain well was that each zoo tile works like a domino with a single square pen at each end. We've played so much Carcassonne that she thought the adjacency of like pens was based on how the grass areas connected, and that the roads cut them up. My bad. This game works well with 2, but I'm thinking 3 is the best number.

Roads & Boats
Josh was hot to try this second Splotter offering (we tried Antiquity previously). The rules were too painful to read, so I bailed and let Mike teach me. Well it turns out the game is too painful to play. At least that is what I concluded after 3 hours. I don't mind some logistics and some tech tree, but this game is ridiculous. To get coins, I have to bring fuel and 2 gold to a mint. To build a mint, I need 2 wood and a stone. To get fuel, I need to bring 2 wood to a coal plant. To build a coal plant, I need 3 wood. By the time you get close to making the one thing you spent the entire game trying to make, the game ends. Meanwhile, an opponent's donkey wanders unhindered through your stuff picking up anything you can't hold for free. There's a lot of very high ratings for this on BGG, and like Ticket to Ride, I completely fail to see why. At least the latter is over quickly.

First time for all of us. Part of the attraction of this game for me is that it's a little like Magic: The Gathering, but self-contained. No expansions. No collectibility. After a couple of rounds, we all started to get a feeling for the various kinds of interaction. Josh won the first 2 rounds, and Mike came in last. After 4 rounds, Josh was positioned to win. Mike and I had to work against him, netting Mike the valuable Helen victory card. Now we were all within range, so no alliances formed. I won the final round, and the game, based partly on the lack of cards of my opponents. It was good, but I think playing 2 teams of 2 would be even more fun.

Leonardo da Vinci
This game has been compared to the highly-rated Princes of Florence, but I would say that's fairly superficial. The mechanics are pretty simple. The game is not very deep, other than needing to plan very carefully. If you spend a turn or 2 collecting the resources necessary to start an invention, and someone completes it before start it, you pretty much lose the game. You almost have to know what other people are making, and how quickly. But that takes way too much effort for a game like this. Also, the game seems to be over before you can ramp up your process. A little unsatisfying and anti-climactic, but it will take a few more plays to decide for sure.

Modern Art
First time for Josh. We used the "Monkey Variant". Mike and I tried to give good advice for the new player, but he didn't enjoy the math aspect of the game. Regardless, Josh ended up winning the game on a killer final round, ending with over 400.

You can't play games all day and not play at least 1 game of Subbuteo. So we did. Mike made a total of 4 shots on goal and scored on 3 of them. I made a total of 1 shot on goal, but it was saved by the goalie. Mike's "Wall of Men" defense seems to be working well for him; I have a hard time getting through it and keeping control. I will need to adapt.

Medici vs Strozzi
First time for both Mike and I. Players start with 300. After the first round, we both had around 250. So while we were at least maintaining the balance, we were both overbidding. I was determined to adjust. It's harder than you think. You can tell yourself, "I won't bid to high," or, "I'll just refuse those higher bids," but at each and every set of goods, you look at the results if you don't win and over-react. After the second round, I was down just a bit, and Mike was up just a bit. He was doing a slightly better job of valuing the sets than I. In the final round, Mike had his ships full except for 2 spaces on 1 ship. I used this to my advantage by always drawing 3 tiles and underpricing them. Mike eventually opted to pay and discard them just to get control. The game ended with me in the high 200's and Mike in the low 200's. This game is more math-intensive than Modern Art, but really is a nice elegant game. I am a little disappointed by the subtle colors of the goods and the fact that the goods colors on the boards and tiles don't match.

Leonardo da Vinci image by RoSKoMaNTe

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Game Night at the Condo

This week's game night sported 6 players for the first game, followed by pizza, followed by 5 players for the last 2 games. Whenever we have 6, we have trouble deciding if we should split into 2 groups of 3, or find something for everyone (party game, Power Grid, Railroad Tycoon, Shadows Over Camelot). In this case, our 6th didn't want to play anything too long...

Winner's Circle
I had this on my want list for a while, but the negative comments about the components and the fact that I had another Face2Face game with bad components made me drop it. In reality, I didn't find the colors confusing (the horses or the board), but I did find everything just a bit too small: the horses were cramped on the spaces, and the betting tokens were too tiny. But in the end, it didn't matter because the game fell flat for everyone: too random, too much chaos, too much downtime.

Afterwards, we discussed Extreme Winner's Circle. [This game group designed Extreme Can't Stop which uses simultaneous die rolling and some slightly modified rules for getting to the top, and plays very quickly.] In some fashion, EWC would allow all players to choose a horse simultaneously based on a single die roll. This could potentially mitigate all of the bad things about the game.

The first time for 3 of the 5 players. Despite my aggressive bidding for Harbor Master, I only managed to win it twice, and came in 3rd. The Pirates failed to board or plunder a single punt the entire game, which lasted a mere 6 rounds. Jade took off early. I overbid for the HM just to make sure Jade was not included for a round so I could catch up (I was trying to corner the market in Ginger). Alas, I couldn't get Ginger into the harbor. The final share prices were: 30, 10, 5, 5, 5!

My first time playing on the real board (I still haven't played my copy). It's strange to try to implement all the mechanics of a game when you are used to the computer doing it for you. On the real board, the laying out of the province cards and free items is a little awkward. There isn't really enough space for everything without covering some information.

I've never won a game of Amun-Re, and tonight was no exception. I got 2 bonus cards that I thought I could fulfill during the Old Kingdom, so I went all out to do so. I also managed to get a set of 3 pyramids built, giving me 12 VP after round 3, leaving me with only 9 gold going into the New Kingdom. All the other players had more than 20. This proved fatal. They were able to outbid me and buy lots of good stuff. I ended up with only one set of pyramids, 1 temple (at 4), 2nd place in money, and 1 bonus card (9 farmers), for 17 VP. My final score was 29 VP which tied for last. The winner had something like 45. I love this game.

Looks like we are on for an all-day session this coming Saturday. Woohoo!

Amun-Re image by garyjames

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Game Night at the Condo

This week we had nine show up. Four of us were there early, so we started right up. The other five decided to play Power Grid, and basically spent the evening on just that. The upstairs crew played 3 lighter games. I had brought Perikles with me, but one player was just sick enough that, after we had set it up, he decided he couldn't handle something that heavy.

Terra Nova
First time for everyone but me. I told them this game is nasty, but I don't think everyone believed just how nasty until they got screwed the first time. Green had a 30-point section that was all but closed off, blocked only by his own man. Red closed it off outside with 2 extra terrain types, scoring only 12 points. I got a man closed into a single hex.

My first time. I've looked at this game a few times before. It's better than I expected. I really love the drift and swim mechanisms, and the simple, yet powerful, 4 action points. I didn't see some tactics until others used them to great effect, like using drift to save swimmers, or sinking your own dinos so you can use the swim action (1 swim AP moves up to 3 dinos which would normally cost 3 move AP's). I might have to get this one.

O Zoo Le Mio
First time for everyone. I ignored this game for too long because it looked like a kid's game. The flag mechanism is brilliant. Each player has a flag on a flagpole. Every time there's a tie, the highest flag wins and gets moved to the bottom. This is a non-trivial game with some really tough decisions. Buying the right tiles can be much more profitable than buying the most.

Once again, Subbuteo closed the night out. We played two 15-minute halves. My opponent scored 2 goals in the first half, and I was unable to catch up. The goals weren't particularly fast shots; I just can't seem to make my eyes differentiate between the ball and the man as they fork left and right.

This game group has been basically playing new games (to me) almost every session. I'm really enjoying "new game overload", but there are some that I can't wait to play again: Die Macher, Taj Mahal, Railroad Tycoon, and Maharaja. Unplayed games that I'm hoping to play soon are: Liberté, Perikles, Leonardo da Vinci, Gheos, Fury of Dracula, and Himalaya.

Trias image by toulouse

Monday, December 11, 2006

Die Macher!!!

I finally got a chance to play this beast. Although I really enjoyed it, I don't think I understand well enough the intricate interactions of the mechanics to give it a fair review. Nor do I have the energy or the memory to give our game a fair session report. So I will simply discuss it.

Our game had 3 first-timers and 1 second-timer. It took us about 7 hours. We had all either read the rules and/or watched Scott Nicholson's excellent Die Macher video. It really is not a complex game to play; it simply has a lot of steps and a lot of depth.

The Game

To give you an idea of the game, I'll describe it "inside-out". There are 7 rounds. Each round represents an election in a single region. For now, let's just consider what happens in a single region, then I'll give you the big picture afterwards. You do the following things:
Modify your party platform - Change up to 1 card of your 5 platform cards. The number of matches and mismatches with a given region affects the number of votes you get.

Shadow Cabinet - Pay off a government official to give you some favor. These include: giving you the option for form a coalition, gaining votes, taking over another party's media influence, making your party more popular, making an opponent's party less popular, making an issue into a key issue, or making a key issue no longer a key issue.

Form Coalitions - If 2 parties, each with 30 votes, join together, they can win an election against a party with 50 votes. You can only do this if each party is allowed to form a coalition (based Shadow Cabinet cards) and if both parties have at least 2 matching issues in their platform.

Buy Media Markers - Spend money to gain influence over the media in the region. There are only 5 spaces, and if they are full, you can't buy any more influence. If a player has a plurality of media control, they can change one issue in the region's opinion, and they are immune to any negative effects of Opinion Polls there.

Organize Meetings - Buy up to 4 meeting markers. These will become votes.

Opinion Polls - Auction a public opinion poll. No one knows the results, but everyone wants to be able to use it to their benefit, or bury it if it hurts them.

Gain Votes - You can choose to convert meetings to votes if you have at least 5 meetings. If this region is holding its election this round, then all meetings are converted. The formula is Votes = (Popularity + Coincidence) * Meetings. If a player has a current majority of votes (more than all other players combined), they can change one issue in the region's opinion.

Popularity is -3/-2/0/+2/+3 and is affected by Shadow Cabinet and Opinion Poll.

Coincidence is the number of matching issues minus the number of opposite issues.

Score Region - Votes translate to VP and to money, win or lose. The winner can place a media marker on the National Board (more VP), and move 1 or 2 of the region's opinion cards up to the national board (coincidence with the National Board is worth VP at the end).
Now, once you have digested all of that, let's place those actions into context. At any given time, there is a "window" of 4 regions. The current region is where the election will occur, but all the steps above occur is all 4 regions every round. So, for example, you could play Shadow Cabinet cards on future regions in anticipation of your need there. You can convert meetings to votes early if you think your popularity or your coincidence will likely fall later on.

At all times, you are managing the coincidence between your party platform and the 4 regions plus the national board. Every time you change one of your issues, it affects all 5 coincidence values. Since you can only change one each round, you have to make changes appropriately for what is coming up. You might even lower your coincidence in the current region in order to better match the next region (perhaps worth more VP). At the same time, regional opinion can change, as well as the national board. Your coincidence with the national board each turn also affects your increase in party membership, which affects your money and your VP. The country is a moving target.

The other thing that is difficult to manage is money. Elections are expensive. You start the game with 25,000. After each election, you get 1,000 per seat won. After elections 1, 3, and 5, you get 1,000 per party member. At the end of each turn, you can accept or decline a contribution from 10,000 to 50,000. Accepting it gives you cash, but costs you members. Declining it gains you members.

The Cynicism

The Die Macher design is very cynical about elections, and probably rightly so. Votes come from money, media control, who you know in the government, and how much a show you put on. You can convince the people to change their opinions. You can force the people to change their opinions. You can change your own party platform just to get more votes.

Ideally, an election is about parties running based on their respective values, and people voting based on their values. Die Macher is almost humorous in the way it openly flaunts the reality.

The Physical Design

Let me start by saying I am very happy Valley Games decided to take the risk to offer Die Macher. Surely, many gamers talked about it, but how many would really buy it? How many could really devote the time to play it?

Valley Games basically copied the layout of the original games and added their own graphics and styles. I can't fault them for the former; I don't think it would have sold as many copies if they hadn't kept the familiar windmill layout. But I can fault them for their graphics. Seriously. I am no artist, but I could have done a better job in a week. The color choices, the contrast, the lack of clear edges, faded icons, a different style for each graphical element, ridiculous icons, using Comic Sans everywhere. This game fails High School Intro to Art.

Now about the layout (all versions). It is silly. It is clearly a gimmick. From the perspective of analyzing the state of the game at a glance (which is what board design should be about), the 6 boards do not do their jobs. The physical design of the boards was intended to make people say, "What the f$%^ is this?" And it works perfectly for that. Once you get beyond that, it's a joke.

The proper design for Die Macher would be a single board with the 4 regions laid out as a table. Popularity, meetings, and votes would be horizontal, making it easy to compare players, and to compare players across all the regions. If you wanted to go even further into usability, instead of using cards to represent platforms and opinions, you could have 7 spaces. Place a green cylinder on a space for a yes/increase stance and a red cylinder on a space for a no/decrease stance. Then it's really easy to compare your platform with any region or the nation's. You don't need to be able to see any silly icons. You don't care if the order is mixed up.


Die Macher is a very fun game. It's even good enough that I can overlook the serious physical design flaws, but I will never buy it. It's not a game that you can whip out on a whim on game night. It's a game that you have to plan for a specific time, and for specific people. I could probably play this once a month if circumstances allowed.

Die Macher image by marioaguila

Friday, December 08, 2006

New Games Have Arrived

The new games are here! The box was so small that I initially thought Funagain sent the wrong one, but all 12 games were there, packed very efficiently. Overall, I am very pleased with this order. The games were all pristine. No scratches, dents, bent cards, warped boards, nor missing pieces. In fact, the quality in some cases was better than expected. Any complaints below are extremely minor.

O Zoo le Mio
Nice colorful chunky wooden bits. The tiles are sturdy. The stands are a little tight to bend and fit together.

Awesome components! The board is big and beautiful. The cardboard tiles are thick. The game included 11 extra ziplock bags! The only issue was the insert. After punching all 5 tile sheets, there's no way to get it all under the board. Other than making the box an inch deeper, which would have been a waste, I'm not sure how it could have been managed. I made a new insert (pictured here) that was twice as deep with a slightly wider bin. I'm not sure what involvement FFG had with Perikles, other than putting their logo on the box. It looks like a typical Warfrog production. Was it simply a matter of using FFG's distributors?

Great tiles. Slightly sub-standard cubes. I tried putting all the tiles into a spare cloth bag that I had, but then it was really difficult to get it into the box without fear of putting some stress on the tiles. So I am leaving them loose in the box for now. There isn't much room for them to bounce around anyways. I think I'll just shuffle and stack the tiles when playing rather than try to draw them from a bag.

Leonardo da Vinci
I wasn't sure what to expect here as this is my first da Vinci game. The insert is perfect, except for the compartments for the two stand-up figures, which are too narrow. The wooden bits are fantastic. The cards are very nice. The one thing I would do differently is to make the backs of the components and money cards different so they can be separated/sorted more easily. The board and rules are both decent but rather plain. I am also not a fan of plastic stands; thick wooden discs with a stickers would be 10x better.

Medici vs Strozzi
Thick cardboard components/tiles/coins, large wooden cubes, and a cloth bag (unexpected in a game this small). My only complaint is that the "1" coins are way too small (7/32" or 12mm). No one should have to handle coins that size. They are, however, all differently sized and colored, which is nice.

From the shape of the box, I expected the cards to be larger. It turns out that there's 2 bins of cards oriented in the other direction. They are rather nice quality and about 3.5x2.5" (8.75x6.25cm), which turns out to be fine. Everything fits so perfectly into the box, that you have to flip it to get the rules out. There's also about 3/8" of space above the components which would allow the cards to come out of their compartments if the box were on its side, so I'll have to make a foam insert to hold everything in place.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

New Game Order

Yogi Berra said, "No one goes there any more; it's too crowded." The same could be said literally about Fair Play Games, who recently had to shut down their online ordering system because of a ten-fold increase in orders this holiday season. I was actually just waiting for a couple more games to show up on their site to place a new order. They are my favorite boardgame retailer because a) they are close to me, b) they have great prices, and c) they have always been great after the sale. But with this temporary shutdown, coupled with my impatience, I was forced to go elsewhere.

Game Surplus is the closest big retailer to me, but this time they just did not have the selection. I ended up going with Funagain. They have great selection and a great website, but they always have the highest prices. For 12 games (not all mine), I paid about $30 more than I would have at Fair Play. Note that I have used all the retailers listed in my sidebar, and I am happy with all of the experiences.

O Zoo le Mio: Although I read the rules, I consider this an impulse buy. One of my favorite things about BoardGameGeek is that I tend to stumble onto information when I am not looking for it. This thread on 2p auction games brought this game to my attention. I think I overlooked it before because of the images; I thought it was more of a kids game. Assumption corrected.

Perikles: The closest retailer to Fantasy Flight Games is Fair Play. So it's not clear to me how they don't have it in stock yet, while other retailers have not only received Perikles, but have also sold out. The more reviews and session reports I read about this game, the more interested I am.

Gheos: Still the best rules/rulebook I've ever seen. The game sounds great. The only negative I've heard so far is the possibility that the epoch tiles clump. If this really becomes a problem, I'll just get 2 bags and split the epoch tiles between them.

Leonardo da Vinci: I was luke warm on this game after the first pass through the rules. I think I got bogged down trying to make sense of the asymmetrical setup (basic rules). The second time through--several weeks later--make it click for me. In games with auctions or worker placement, it's usually all-or-nothing. If you win the auction or place the worker first, you get the resource, otherwise you lose. Sometimes it's the only resource of its kind to be had. This can be very unforgiving, even in games as light as Die Saulen der Erde. I love the way Leonardo mitigates this: you can still get the resource, but it costs (more). It's also forgiving on the other end: all players who complete the same invention on the same turn get the same payment.

Medici vs Strozzi: I've had Medici on my want list since about 1360. All of the previous versions were butt ugly in one way or another. The new one is supposed to look similar to this game. Woohoo! I think the 2p solution is well-conceived.

Iliad: The one aspect I didn't really care for in Condottiere was the map. It looked nice, but it was secondary to the card play. Iliad takes the flavor of it's cousin's card play and combines it with a Magic: The Gathering kind of feeling into a nice multi-player offering.

The two games that my lack of patience forced me to forego for now were On The Underground and Yspahan. I'm sure another member of the game group will order something soon, so I'll be able to piggyback again.

O Zoo le Mio image by creech

Friday, December 01, 2006

Recent Rules

The Essen games are starting to trickle in to the US retailers. I've got an order ready to go soon, but that doesn't stop me from looking forward, or reading rules just for the fun of it. These 4 are all potential future purchases, depending partly on continuing feedback about gameplay.

Imperial: I love Antike. I love the simplicity and the interactions of the mechanisms. Imperial uses the same rondel and a similar combat system, but the similarities stop there. At this point, I picture the game like this: Imagine in Carcassonne if you could add meeples to already occupied cities, and that when the city scores, each player scores something based on how many meeples they had there. On average, cities would be occupied by multiple players. So on your turn, do you make a city larger, close it off to stop it from growing, or play elsewhere? I'm pretty sure Imperial feels like this, with the additional mechanism that cities can attack other cities.

Drakon: On your turn you can add a tile to the dungeon or move your character. Moving onto a tile activates its special powers. Some tiles affect or control movement, allow you to move the dragon, or to collect gold. The first player to get 10 gold wins. It sounds like a multi-player puzzle with a high screwage factor. It could be fun or too simple for my tastes.

Walhalla: The full-color illustrated rules are only available in German so far. There's a text-only English translation, but it's difficult for me to follow along using the 2 documents. Walhalla features a restricted spatial system, area influence, and management of vikings in Midgard, Asgard, and of course, Valhalla. Vikings are placed on boats, sent down fjords, and must choose which side of the boat to exit. Since only a single viking can occupy a land space, combat ensues when 2 vikings meet. The interesting part is that the defender gets to decide who wins. The loser's glorious viking dies in honor and goes to Valhalla. Sounds pretty fun, but I think I'll wait for the full-color illustrated translation.

Lifeboats: Players are on a set of boats trying to reach land before they sink. As each boat gains more leaks, there is less and less room for people. Every aspect of the game is up for negotiation and voting: where the leaks occur, what boats move, and who gets thrown overboard. Could be really fun with the right crowd.

Imperial image by Gonzaga