Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The most wonderful day of the week!

A packful of games means a sackful of joys
For millions of girls and for millions of boys
It's Game Day for a Geek
The most wonderful day of the week!

A bag full of games waits for gamers to shout,
"Wake up, don't you know that it's time to go out!"
It's Game Day for a Geek
The most wonderful day of the week!

Games galore
Scattered on the floor
There's no room for more
We have to try..Samurai!

El Grande for Jimmy, and Caylus for June
And maybe a copy of Railroad Tycoon
It's Game Day for a Geek
The most wonderful day of the week!

Guess what tonight is? :)

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Game Night

Playing meaty games with a crowd of gamers makes me want to try these games at home, even if it might only be 2-player. For my three games tonight, I picked El Grande, Antike, and Princes of Florence. After a one-minute explanation of each, Mary Ann picked El Grande. Her three games were Keythedral, Magna Grecia, and O Zoo le Mio. I chose Magna Grecia, but I would have played all three.

El Grande
This is one of those games where the box says 2-5 players, but really shouldn't. We played using my own variant which was easy enough to explain once the very elegant default game was understood. My variant involves the following 2 changes from the basic rules:

One, score two values instead of just one as the rules suggest. This provides a much better dynamic. Consider a 5/3/1 territory. If you use the rules as written, then whoever is ahead gets 5 points. If someone is ahead by 5, the other player may as well not bother. If two numbers score, then placing even one Cabellero takes 3 points from the first place player. The scoring possibilities change from just 5-0 to 5-0 and 5-3 (or 2-0). There's much more impetus to compete, and the "score only the first value in all regions" card still has meaning.

Two, rather than the first player choosing one of 5 action tiles, then the second player choosing one of 4, I provide an additional dynamic. Say player A played the higher power card. Player B starts by removing one of the 5 action tiles. Player A now chooses one of the 4 remaining and takes his actions. Now Player A removes one of the 3 remaining action tiles. Player B chooses one of the remaining 2 and takes his actions. The effect of this is to make the 2 players act like they are going 2nd and 4th instead of 1st and 2nd. It also keeps the decisions interesting.

This variant worked really well. It's still not as incredible as a 5-player game, but it's completely playable where the normal 2-player game isn't. I wasn't particularly nice, but I didn't try to absolutely crush her either: 75-62.

Magna Grecia
It's been so long since we played this that we almost had to learn from scratch. The rules for building cities and roads refuse to lodge themselves in my brain. For some reason, it didn't really click before that Magna Grecia is a stock game that uses a spatial system to drive the economy. With that in mind, I found it much easier to plan my actions.

Our game was relatively non-confrontational. We started from opposite sides of the board, and built towards the Oracle-heavy center. I used every action tile with a 5 resupply to perform an extended resupply action and get 7 cities/roads. By the end of the game, I had built all my roads and all but 4 cities. Mary Ann was able to secure 4 of the 7 Oracles, and almost caught up: 32-31.

Magna Grecia image by warlock

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Game Dump

I've been playing so many games over the past week, I haven't had time to talk about playing games.

On the Underground
Played this a lot, with 2, 3, and 4 players. It's really a nice design. The passenger mechanism works great. The only bad part of the game is that while a player is considering where to build--usually based on how to maximize the passenger for themselves--there's nothing for the other players to do. Fortunately, the game is light, short, and even with 4 players, the wait is not excruciating.

Shadows Over Camelot
I finally got the be the traitor! It was only a 3 player game, so I didn't discover my identity until we had 6 swords. Fortunately for me, I had Lancelot's Armor. I was able to bury the not-so-awful Black cards and act as though I drew 2 bad ones. The players foolishly left 11 Siege Engines in play when it came to my turn. I think they must have figured there was no traitor.

After the first half of the game, I was embarrassingly ahead. I think I started playing with a more cavalier attitude. My opponent quickly caught up and won by about 5 points. My bad. This was the first game I've played where the board was almost "full".

Downfall of Pompeii
I played this another handful of times. Nothing much to say.

Villa Piletti
Dexterity and physics. The pieces are all different lengths. Since they support the levels to varying degrees, you can get screwed if your piece is slightly longer. I don't really like the play or the design of this game. When the tower falls, the only thing I feel is, "It's over. Now we can play something else."

Tumblin' Dice
It's strange. If this game had dice with no numbers and scoring was purely based on the number of dice at the given levels, it would be much less luck-driven...and much less fun. Still, it's only good as a filler. If this came out in the middle of game night, I would probably go play something on the Wii.

Finally got this on the table! I liked it even more than I thought I would. There were so many little things that jumped out at me as we played. There's more depth here than the rules would suggest. The game is also not as complicated as the rules would suggest. I can't wait to play this again!
  • If you play 3 blocks in the same province, you get more influence, and only lose 1 if you win the election there (other than ties or Paris). If you play 3 blocks in 3 different provinces, you might lose a block in each if you win all 3 elections, and will have no blocks left in the next round for your efforts.
  • Using cards with 3 blocks (and placing them in your personal display) too early in the round is dangerous. The opponents have more time to counter your influence, and to remove your card. However, if you wait too long, the round may end before you get to play them.
  • The order of resolution in the regions and the provinces is important since breaking ties involves playing cards from your personal display.
  • Going last is significant. Don't worry if you get no VP in the first year.
St Petersburg
It was nice to sit down and play a meaty game without having to teach anyone or learn how to play for a change. We used the alternate scoring for the Nobles which reduces the effect of differences. It had no effect on the outcome, but our scores were further apart than they usually are in games I've played.

Twilight Struggle
I got to teach a first-timer who had read the rules already. I played the US. I thought that would be enough of a handicap to make the game roughly even. I managed to get to 6 VP by the end of round 2. Then it was all downhill. I lost in the middle of round 7, the USSR reaching 20 VP. The game took about 4 hours. I found the game to be significantly more enjoyable this second time. Knowing what type of events exist makes the decision process an order of magnitude easier. Twilight Struggle is now a game I look forward to playing again. I'm keen to win as the US.

Princes of Florence
My first ever game of PoF using the actual game. Until this evening, I had only ever played using the dreaded BSW interface. We had the full complement of 5. It took a while for me to get comfortable with the physical mechanics of the game since I had never had to perform them before. I started the game with 2 Laboratory Profession cards and two that overlapped in Landscape and Freedom. I grabbed the first Jester for 1000, and easily performed the best work during round 1. My plan was to grab at least one more Jester early, but I never got another the entire rest of the game. I acquired an additional Profession card, a Recruiter, and 2 Builders. I published 5 works in all. My downfall was in preparing for round 7 at the end of round 6. I decided that I only needed 700 florins to cover the cost of a Builder and a Building. During the auction, another player called for the Builder. Oh %$#@! I had to go up to 500 to get him, leaving me with only 200. I ended up spending a PP to pay for the Building, which gave me the best work. I tied with another player at 54 PP, but had no cash left. He had 300. It was a fantastic game face to face. I may have to bump it up in my ratings to Amun-Re levels.

Thursday, February 15, 2007


A huge storm with lots of blowing snow and freezing rain caused the cancellation of the usual game night. So we stayed in and played Yspahan using the official 2-player variant. This was the first time for both of us.

2-Player Variant

There are only a few tweaks to the normal game to play with 2 players. One, use only 8 of the 9 white dice. Two, the current player gets a second action at the end of each day (similar to the system used in 2p San Juan). Three, any yellow dice added by the current player remain in place for his second action, but cannot be used (if selected) by the other player. Four, building is now a normal action instead of an optional action; you must do it instead of placing cubes, taking camels/coins/card, or moving the supervisor. Five, only 2 camels on each row of the caravan are used.

It's fairly obvious why these changes are necessary. With the extra action given to the current player (which results in alternating actions), each player now gets 10 or 11 actions per week as compared to only 7 in the 3p and 4p games. Making building a normal action forces you to forego other action if you want to build.

Not Sure I Get It

I understand the mechanics of the game completely, but I don't understand the design, and in particular, the scoring system. There are 2 basic ways to score points: souks and the caravan.

If you fill an entire souk--and keep it full by the end of the week--you score points (from 3 to 12). However, the only way to get cubes into the caravan (other than by a few of the cards) is to play cubes into the shops then use the supervisor to transfer them to the caravan. Either you lose the cube from the board, or you spend a camel to ship a cube from your reserve instead.

Either way, you must get cubes onto the board. So you have to fill up souks and grab lots of camels to protect them, or play cubes and use the supervisor to get them to the caravan.

Will other players ever help you do this? Well, clearly if you have a big score in a souk (eg 12), it's better to force one of those cubes to the caravan. But normally, it's very little change in points to kill a souk. You might be getting 6-8 points for the souk, or an extra 3-5 in the caravan for the transferred cube. Is it really worth using an action to do this to another player?

I guess I just don't understand why the game was designed this way.

Enough Actions?

Each player only gets 7 action (10 or 11 in the 2p game) per week, then the town is cleared. This is barely enough to do anything interesting. By the time you get the Hoist built, for example, the week is over. If you went for all 6 buildings, I'm guessing you'd score little else.

The action limit is, of course, there to coincide with the potential filling of the town and/or the caravan. But this is of little consolation. At any given point, I can seem to make no plans, even short term. Which action do I take? Does it even matter? If nothing looks useful, I can always go for a card, but that's a shot in the dark.


After one play, I place Yspahan at the bottom of the Ystari pile of offerings. It's a mish-mash of mechanisms with no real goal or discernible theme. I see no strategy nor tactics whatsoever. We did find ourselves discussing ways to improve our results, so all hope is not lost. Perhaps with more play, we will find the game in here.

Yspahan image by richardsgamepack

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Fury of Dracula

I got an opportunity to play Fury of Dracula tonight for the first time. I had read the rules a few times before, so I played the role of Dracula. The other poor fellow had to manage all 4 Hunters. It took us about 30 minutes before we were up, walking. There's quite a bit of game setup, and there's a lot of rules to explain before you can start.

The game quality is pretty high. If I could change anything, it would be to make the insert work for what's in the box, and to make the large city squares a little bigger so you can see them when a figure is there. The rules need a ton of work. They are disorganized, rough, and ambiguous. Using the enclosed rules, the errata, the latest FAQ, and reading all the Q&A on BGG, you learn about 95% of what you need to know to play the game. That's pretty sad. Still, we had a good time.

The Hunters distributed in a wide pattern. I started in France. Bad luck (or Hunter greed) flushed out my trail during the first day, and I was on the run. The Hunters forced a fight during the day and staked me for 5 damage. I made my way to Spain, then Portugal, then out to Sea. The Hunters were initially upset at the ease of my escape, but somehow managed to guess my destination.

The map looks very open. It seems impossible that 4 Hunters could ever trap you. But when you're in Lisbon, with one Hunter in Madrid, another in Genoa, and another in Berlin, the water starts to look attractive, even though it hurts.

Landing back in France--perhaps a mistake--I was pounced upon again, the Hunters aided by Agatha. By the end of my next 2 fights, I was down another 5. I raced away using Wolf Form, heading for Italy, hoping to increase the distance. The Hunters guessed right again and started to close me in. I went to Sea yet again from Venice. I could have been in Rome, and was hoping the Hunters would think that. They did not.

I moved to the Ionian Sea. The Hunters used Resolve and Events to get 2 of them to the ports surrounding Athens. With only 4 life, I had to disembark. I played a road block on the only road out of Athens and landed there. I wasn't about to attack during the day. Reward was in the Mediterranean Sea, and I used Control Weather to drop him in Ireland. A Hunter used Sense of Emergency to move directly to Athens (bypassing the roadblock?). I had to laugh at the sight: 3 Hunters and Dracula in Greece, and a lone Hunter in Ireland.

He then played the card that replaces a fight with a die role each to lose life. I rolled a 6! Dracula died a painful death in the evening of the third day. Europe was destined to be completely uninfected with my spawn for eternity...or until our next game.

Fury of Dracula image by riledguy

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Game Night

Tonight was a fairly long and late game night for us. Since we sometimes have different preferences about what to play, we have come up with a nice system to select games. I choose 3 games I would like to play, and Mary Ann picks one of them. For the next game we switch roles.

Downfall of Pompeii (x2)
I was lucky enough to get this on the table the day after I received it. I had just finished my first solo pass through a game when Mary Ann came home. Perhaps seeing it in play was the reason she chose it over El Grande and Mexica. I didn't get a great vibe about this game from my geek buddies, but I had read the rules myself, and thought it would be good enough to own.

After playing twice, I understand what people don't like about it, but it didn't bother me. I'll address the issues here:

>> It's too random.

It is very random. You draw cards that tell you what you can do. You draw tiles that determine where the lava flows. These 2 factors are no more random than Ticket to Ride, and you have more meaningful choices in Pompeii. I could do without the Omen cards, unless they allowed all players to remove a piece.

>> There's not much to do in the first half of the game.

It does feel like this, doesn't it? But there are interesting choices. One, you want to get as many piece on the board as possible, which gives you the best chance to save the most. Two, you want to clump those pieces as much as possible, so you can perform longer moves during the second half. Three, you want your pieces as close to the gates as possible. And four, you want a nice scattering of pieces, so that a blocked gate or two doesn't completely wipe you out. These are opposing forces in some cases.

>> The two halves of the game seem unrelated.

This might be true for you if you focus only on theme. One theme is adding people, and one is removing people. When I'm playing a piece onto the board, I'm thinking about how I am going to get it out a gate. How far is it? Where will the lava be coming from? I think a slightly better design would have been to ramp down the playing of people and ramp up the lava at the same time. This would have allowed players to do both actions in inter-related ways. Of course, this would not have been thematic; you don't stay and have babies when the volcano erupts.

>> There's little player interaction.

Perhaps. In some sense, you are playing against the game as much as against the opponents. But one of the opponents is a volcano after all. You compete for board position, but only if you hold cards that allow you to do so (I found almost no cards useless). You selectively play lava tiles to kill or surround the opponents' people and block the gates. You also play a game of leapfrog with the opponents' people. Being the first to leave a space is more beneficial. This is the opposite of games like Verflixxt. In fact, the second half feels a little like Through the Desert in this regards.

I think Pompeii will hold up as a light and fun choice. The deck preparation is a little much, but at least you do it once and don't have to mess with it again like in Power Grid. The volcano mechanism is very thematic, but serves virtually no purpose (only to break ties). I think it's just a gimmick to sell the game. 17-7 and 17-14.

Mary Ann's 3 games were Entdecker (new), Keythedral, and Magna Grecia. A tough choice for me--which was great--but I opted for the one least played. Since we had played this for the first time recently, we dove right in, and it played pretty quickly.

We used the standard setup. Mary Ann went right after the +10 island and a fortification, while I opted for the cheaper approach, placing as many scouts as I could. Once a nice central sea lane opened up, I dropped my own fort on it. This only gained me a single toll, but otherwise hindered my opponent's choices.

Unlike Carcassonne, in Entdecker when there's a single-tile hole, it gets filled in automatically. This rule can be used to huge tactical advantage. You can explore an "easy" tile to force the fill-in of a difficult one without having to pay the 4 gold for it.

My abundance of scouts gave me 5 huts (with no 5's!) to her 2. I was also ahead about 15 points. Mary Ann did a great job catching up in scouts, but could not catch up in points. 123-87.

Our first play with our new copy. Our games of Phoenix are getting nasty. When we first started playing, we'd pretty much just do our own thing until someone finished their side. Now we are swapping pieces when it hurts, and changing the blocks for the win. 24-15

Downfall of Pompeii image by GeoMan

Thursday, February 08, 2007

New Games Are In!

My new game order arrived today. They are all now opened, caressed, punched, counted, and bagged. My comments that follow are regarding the physical quality of the games only.

Downfall of Pompeii
I opened this last because it was the biggest. Up until this point, I had no missing pieces. Alas, there were 3 missing yellows! Other than that, Pompeii scores very high in physical design. The board is pretty and functional. The tiles all punched out perfectly with no nubs, including the huge hole in the board where the volcano goes. The large red tile bag is a nice touch. The rules are very good. An "A" for long as I get my missing pieces.

Once again, the tiles punched out perfectly. The board is standard. I usually have no problems with game art, but complain about the graphic design. In this case it's the opposite: the design is fine, the art is not great and is rendered at a resolution low enough that you can see the pixels. Nice bits, bag, and box insert. The rules, however, put Valley Games' Die Macher rules to shame. They used some crazy font. I think it's called Illegible Sans Serif. Overall a "B+".

When talking about Rio Grande Games, I used to tell people, "Don't worry about Jay. He'll either do it right, or make it right." Since the recent releases of Goa, El Grande and now Medici, I don't say that any more. I've already discussed the terrible choice of colors in Medici vs Strozzi. They used the same art/graphics in Medici as well. Is that a light grayish-yellow or a light yellowish-gray? The insert (and basically the entire box) is a joke. There's nowhere for the board to go without modifying the insert or tossing it. Why spice bags instead of simple cubes? The cloth bag is too small for the number of tiles that need to go in it. Hermagor has a larger bag and fewer tiles. Speaking of tiles: since when does RGG publish a game where the tiles have nubs on them? I once asked Jay if he was going to be picking up Kreta. He said no because it wasn't good enough quality. Yet he's fine with Medici. Go figure. Overall a "C".

I think there's a Medici curse. No version of Medici has ever looked good. The strange thing is that it's the simplest game board ever. You need 5 tracks with 8 stages each. It's too simple to screw up. That may be the problem. With no real artistic or graphic design issues to deal with, they decided to make up issues. Let's use 5 shades of gray. Let's put the board into a mobius strip shape. Let's only show prime numbers on the score track. Don't quit your day jobs.

On the Underground
A small box (same size as Phoenix) with a huge gorgeous board (I was expecting something half this size) and tons of great wooden bits. After bagging all the colors separately, it's a little tight. The rules are very good. Overall an "A".

Colorful, functional, chunky wooden bits, a large bag, functional board, and nice rules. Overall an "A".

Standard hex tiles, tiny wooden dinosaur meeples, a good box, and black and white rules. This game deserves to be slightly larger with larger bits. Overall a "B".

You can't get a solid "A" if I have to clip tiles. This game has 40 of them along with 4 cardboard player aids. I think I spent an hour clipping. Other than that, it's fantastic. The cubes are big, and there's 5 very large wooden planks for the ziggurats. Overall an "A-".

The dice, cubes, pawns, camels, cards, and rules are all great. The box and insert are awkwardly sized and organized for the many boards that need to go in and on them. A different design was required. Overall a "B+".

Game Night at the Condo

Tonight saw some 13 gamers show up. The more the merrier. However, more players always seems to mean more distractions, more decision time, and more downtime between games. I took it as a good sign that a game of Zertz was in progress when I arrived. Soon after, a 6-player game of Cluzzle started upstairs, which gave me an opportunity to play...

A "local" tournament Subbuteo player was in the neighborhood, and he was kind enough to go easy on me and only kick my ass by a little. I learned some new and "totally obvious" tactics like: you can block a man from behind by flicking one of your guys where the opponent's finger wants to go. It was a killer tactic against me. I also learned--and started playing by--the official offsides rules. Adding these rules changes play and setup quite a bit, but in subtle ways.

My first play. Obviously, I'd head some pretty bad things about the game, but I hadn't read the rules myself, so I was determined to give it a fair chance. Half way through, one player was just winning the progress battle every turn. She just kept building cities, but kept only 3 hexes with pieces on them, so we couldn't attack. At this point we stopped and started discussing this seemingly game-breaking strategy.

A quick check of the rules revealed that we were playing incorrectly. Cities only score 1 point towards progress (full points at the end only). Well, this small point turned a broken game into a reasonable game. We played on from this point. It seemed as though this same player was now in not-so-great a shape.

The game feels a little bit like Trias and a little bit like Vinci. I like that there's no tech tree. Everyone just gains the same advances, with the progress winner getting them a turn early. There's nothing to hate really. I'm not big on "games of efficiency", but I still love Goa and some others. I can certainly see how Tempus might have undergone an enormous evolutionary process to fine-tune many of the game's systems. I can't say that the game feels under-developed, but at the same time, I can't call it great or even very good, but I'll certainly play again.

I won the 3VP bonus for reaching the Age of Flight, but failed to match the winner's 22 points.

The night was going to end, but we managed to get 4 together for a "quickie" 45-minute game. A cell phone means always having to say you're sorry. The winning score was 127. I had 74. I think I am over-bidding.

Tempus image by aceraxon

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Game Order

It's that time again. I'm down to only 23 unplayed games in my collection, and my shelves are full. Might as well add some new games to the pile and increase the tension on getting more new games to the table. The excitement of placing a new game order just never gets old. This time there's nothing really heavy.

Downfall of Pompeii
Yeah yeah. This is very light, and very random. It still sounds like fun, and something to play with a less serious group. I think I only read the rules because I was bored, but I think I'll enjoy this.

This game was on the fence for a long time. The rules never came out in English, so I was a little in the dark. I decided to grab the French rules and translate them to English. I posted these to BGG. I like the market "auction" mechanic, as well as the PowerGrid-esque expansion system.

I've been waiting for this one ever since it was announced. Was that over a year ago? I've since bought and played Medici vs Strozzi, and while it is math-heavy, I enjoyed it. I think a similar game with 3-5 players will be even more fun with less math (by virtue of the chaos of the extra players). The board design is better than all of the others, but still not great. I also dislike the use of Goa spice bags for markers.

On the Underground
Although I'm not really comparing the two, this game will likely take the place for me that Ticket to Ride does with others. By far the most attractive and functional board in this order.

Brownie points. 'Nuff said.

It didn't sound that good reading the rules long ago, but playing it sure was a blast. I love games where other players do things you never thought of.

Very abstract, but interesting system. Maybe this game will be to me what Blue Moon City is to others.

Another hit from Ystari. What more can I say?

Downfall of Pompeii image by GeoMan

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Game Night at the Condo

Some game nights can suffer from severe logistics problems: players showing up and leaving at random times, people needing to eat, the distraction and temptation of Guitar Hero and Dance Dance Revolution, and the transition time between games. One of the more ambitious gamers and myself decided to keep a supply of 2p games on hand to fill the gaps...

Zertz (2x)
I think I've reached the first level of play. Some of the more simple patterns are starting to become second nature. I am now looking a move or two deeper, and am able to see sequences of sacrifices to gain a ball or two that helps me. When the "board" gets smaller, it's very tough to find locations to place new balls without giving the game away. I like Zertz easily as much as Yinsh, Dvonn, and Punct. A huge advantage is its 10-minute playing time. I can't imagine a game ever taking more than 15 minutes. On the other hand, I have played games of Yinsh that lasted over 45 minutes.

Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation
My first time playing. It seemed rather random, but I am told that after a few games, the subtlety of play will become apparent. It was very quick, and at no time was anything unclear. I had a chance to get Frodo to Mordor, but the enemy brought 3 minions to The Shire first. Note to self: remember the victory conditions.

Fantastically well-produced, silly-fun game slightly reminiscent of Crokinole. Players "tumble" dice down a wooden layered board trying to land them in the high-scoring regions (up to 4x). Dice can be knocked around and out of play (shuffleboard style). It goes without saying that every single die roll ends with simultaneous screams of joy and lament as 6's get knocked off the board or flip to their 1 side. A great filler that might fill the entire evening if you are not careful.

My first time playing. You get a card with a bunch of words on it. You have to choose one of those words and make a clay model of it. If player(s) guess it in round 1, you and they get 1 point. If they guess it in the 2nd round, you and they get 2 points, etc. So the trick is that you want your model to be guessed, but not right away. Before each round of guesses, there's a 1-minute period where you can ask up to 4 yes/no questions of any of the other players' models. Again, if your question is too helpful, you might be giving away points. Cluzzle is more fun than I would have guessed, and I am looking forward it playing again.

I went for the middle ground this time, trying to keep from running too low on cards. This resulted in me being 3rd or 4th for most of the game. I fell behind in tiles, camels, and scoring markers. The player who went 1st most of the time won the game handily.

San Marco
It's been way too long since I played this. We had 3 players--1 new--and about 1 hour. We used the variant that the first chooser is always the player currently in last place, randomizing it if there's a tie. I like to get creative with the card splitting. Rather than make equal piles, I sometimes like to make big piles with many points and small piles with few points. A common mistake is to make a pile with just a Doge in it. If you are left with it, the other players will most likely leave you no place to score. I focused on just getting my cubes on the board, and ended with a huge final scoring.

San Marco image by jenoe