Thursday, September 20, 2007

Recent Gaming

It's been over a month since I posted about games I've been playing, and, although I have played many since then, I'm not going to try to play "catch up". Instead I will just discuss some recent fun.

Last week I received my latest game order consisting of: Arkadia, Babel, Condottiere, Lifeboat, Lord of the Rings: Friends & Foes Expansion, Mr. Jack, Ponte del Diavolo, Primordial Soup, and TAMSK (completing my GIPF collection). And, of course, I want to play them all NOW!

Mr. Jack hit the table almost immediately. I was very happy with the component quality. The character/alibi tiles are particularly impressive. My one nit to pick is that they went to the trouble of reversing the punch direction of the alibi cards so the color would not show around the edges, yet they placed the connections to the frame at unequal positions. So the original issue has not been solved; you still have to hide the cards with the box (in the deck and out) so that the opponent can't see the card edge. The game itself is very slick, fast, and fun. Our first game with a real copy, Watson was Jack. I had a heck of a time trying to get him into the dark so I could escape without giving away his identity. He was flushed out and accused on turn 6.

Next up was Primordial Soup. I've been trying to arrange to play this for a long time, but it just never worked out. So I decided to buy it. The components are all nice and plain, but I would have made the damage markers into a shape that wouldn't roll around so much--perhaps a hex "disc". Everything is functional. You can see exactly what is going on at a glance. The cards seem uncoated, but are still thick and would shuffle well if shuffling was required by the game. We were all a little overwhelmed in our first game by all the combinations of the gene cards. More than once I forgot that I could use Tentacle to drag some food with me. Fortunately, when we are learning everyone helps everyone else out and allows corrections. Substitution plus Movement II seemed to be a killer combo in our 3-player game. I hope it doesn't turn out to be a game breaker in the long run. I can't wait to play this again.

Pippin saved the day in a 3-player game of Lord of the Rings (no expansions). Normally I'd prefer that Sam carry The Ring since he's usually the least corrupted as the game progresses. Because of this, I, playing Sam, bore the brunt of some nasty results a bit too often and ended up with the most corruption. Fortunately, Pippin unwittingly picked up his precious after Helm's Deep and kept it secret and safe for the remainder of the game. When we reached Mount Doom, Sam could see the blacks of Sauron's eyes as Pippin did his slam-dunk.

I played Shazamm! a while ago at Boite a Jeux and decided to give it another try after reading the Z-Man version of the rules. An interesting thing that never occurred to me until this point is that Shazamm!'s wizard combat system is very similar to that of Dune. Each player dials a number (up to his mana/troops) and secretly adds card(s) which can affect the total attack value. Highest attack value wins, with several exceptions. Players typically lose whatever mana/troops they dialed. In Shazamm!'s case, players are wizards fighting on a crumbling bridge pushing a wall of fire into each other. The cards represent spells that can do nasty things like: adjust the total mana, end the round, steal spells, turn the loser into the winner (for that turn)--the kinds of things you might expect from games like Magic: The Gathering. I might be interested in buying this, but I want to play it a few more times online.

I was not taken with Arkadia after reading the rules, but after playing it at Unity Games, I changed my mind. I played my copy for the first time tonight with 4 players. It really is easy to play, although slightly heavy in setup. It's got a classic stock mechanic (eg Acquire, Manila, Imperial) using colored seals as "shares". The three twists are 1) the availability of seals is dictated by what building cards are played, 2) competition for the seals is done spatially by placing buildings and workers in various configurations, and 3) the value of seals is adjusted by taking a tower piece of a seal color and covering a location of another seal color, potentially increasing one seal price and decreasing another. Although I think the 4-player game is a little above the sweet spot because of the chaos, there is some surprising depth to the choices, especially in the second half. Some of the decisions rely on some simple math, and others on where and when to build, place workers, and cash in seals for gold. I'll be trying this with 2 and 3 soon.

An unexpected play of Black Vienna closed out our game night tonight. We happen to have an actual original copy on loan. The only other deduction game I know that's as pure as this is Sleuth. Whereas in Sleuth there's a 3-dimensional array of information (1/2/3, diamonds/pearls/opals, red/green/blue/yellow), in Black Vienna there's only a deck of person cards (27 letters of the German alphabet including Ö) and a deck of investigation cards (36 cards with different combinations of 3 letters). Three person cards are randomly removed from the deck and set aside, the rest being dealt to the players. Three investigation cards are flipped up. The first player chooses one and places it in front of another player. That player must place a number of discs on it equal to the number of those 3 letters in his hand. All players write down this information and try to deduce more information from it. Then the player who answered gets to choose a card to give to someone. This process is repeated until a player shouts, "Black Vienna!," writes down his guess and checks the 3 set aside cards. This is a solid game.

While I have your attention, check out the stunningly good prototype images of The Emperor's Arena, a game I know nothing about, and the latest image of Hamburgum.

Mr. Jack image by nnoc

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Help With Game Rules

I recently stumbled onto the new rules for El Capitan on the Z-Man website, and it struck me how easily this could have passed me by. I decided to create a wiki page on BoardGameGeek for the purposes of tracking when new game rules come out, and when they get updated (eg Living Rules).

Please contribute to this page when you know something that others do not.