Sunday, November 11, 2007

Back from Lobster Trap

As I expected, four straight days of nothing but gaming was not enough to cover the post-Essen flood of goodness even though I was staying awake on fumes for much of the time. In all I played 22 different games.

This event was a complete blast. It was held in the hotel where I was staying. Every minute that I spent sleeping and eating felt like wasted time. Everyone was very pleasant and helpful. A huge thanks to Pitt Crandlemire, Craig Massey, Adam Smiles, Dave Bernazzani, and the other members of the organizing committee. Thanks to Scott Nicholson, Adam Smiles, Kevin Horovitz, and Brian Leet for going beyond the call of duty to teach some complex games.

Of the games present, I did not get an opportunity to try Agricola, Amyitis, The Circle, and Cuba. The disappointing absences of new games were Chang Cheng, Container, Darjeeling, El Capitan, Kingsburg, Mordred, TZAAR, and Tribune. The disappointing absences of older games were Die Macher, Dune, Princes of the Renaissance, and Stephenson's Rocket. Unplayed (sadly) older games that were there: Byzantium, Liberte, Perikles, Struggle of Empires...hmmm all Wallace.

Of the games I played, the following are the ones of interest, good or bad:

Bug Bluff: Very simple and silly game. Perfect when you are tired. I was surprised how much fun this was. Pass a card from your hand depicting one of eight bugs/animals face-down to another player and name it. That player has 2 options: call true/false (if he's right you get the card back face-up, if he's wrong he gets it face-up), or look at it and pass it to another player naming it whatever you like. The first player with 4 of the same face-up cards loses. There's some good bluffing as well as tactical options. Scott Nicholson has the Stare of Truthâ„¢.

League of Six: Decent game, but it didn't wow me. Mostly tactical. The "auction" phase consists of an Evo-style system where you bid Guards for the rights to tax a given city (one per player). If you are outbid and decide to travel to another town, you collect the other player's offer immediately. If you move to a city with another player, you must outbid them. Chain reactions are common. In fact, you can start the round with no Guards and end up with quite a few. It's got a lot of physical stuff to do each round that's a little annoying.

Cold War: CIA vs KGB: Wow. Just wow. I had this one my radar at one point, but removed it when I was convinced that it came down to the luck of the draw. There are some really cool combinations you can execute here. There's a lot of press-your-luck and bluffing as well. If you like games with cards that have special powers that can mess with your opponent (eg Magic the Gathering, Jambo, Citadels, Roma, Babel), buy this now!

In the Year of the Dragon: I've had this on my radar for a while, but I wasn't sure what to expect for how the game would actually feel. To give you a clue, we called the plastic bag that held the people tiles "the body bag". Every round, each player can perform one action and hire one person. Afterwards, an event occurs. Events usually result in people dying...from starvation, disease, war, execution, you name it. You have to manage your pitiful collection of palaces, people, and resources trying to keep them alive--at least the ones you need, until they are expendable. This game also has a very original turn order competition sub-game which is a very big deal since going first can save you a lot of money. I'm very happy with this one.

King of Siam: A very serious and short (30 min!) game reminiscent of Liberte. There are 3 factions on the board, owned by none, controlled by all. Each player gets 8 total actions for the entire game of 8 rounds. Use 3 actions in the first round and you'll only have 5 left for the next 7 rounds. After each round the current region is resolved. If one faction has majority, it wins control of the region. If there's a tie, the British Empire wins. If the British get control of 4 regions, the game ends immediately and the player with the most sets of all 3 faction cubes wins. If the game ends "normally", the player with the most faction cubes in the winning faction wins. Very slick.

Origins: How We Became Human: A game that plays like a 3-hour Discovery Channel special on the rise of man. Each player plays a different species (homo sapiens, neanderthal, etc) bent on becoming the dominant intelligence on Earth. Players start out trying to unlock the areas of their brains that allow for speech, and end up mining for uranium. Quite a wide scope. It's detailed and seems very well-researched, but I just never got over the feeling that I wasn't just drawing cards and playing the ones whose requirements I had met. You did get to choose how fast you expanded and where you migrated to, but it was over-shadowed by the cards.

Through the Ages: I played the full game (all 3 ages) starting with 4 players and ending with 3. It took me half of the game to get it through my head that the cards in play DO NOT represent the items they describe (buildings, military units, etc). They represent that you have the ability to make those things. The yellow markers on the cards are the things themselves. The population and resource systems seem to work exceptionally well, but I can't wrap my head around the math that drives them. With resources, efficiency is a concept built into the system. If you can create 1 unit of food, then one blue marker on your farm is 1 unit of food. If you can create 5 units of food, then one blue marker is 5 units of food. The more blue markers "in use", the more corruption you have. So being able to generate 5 food (advanced agriculture) as a single unit (1 blue marker) is much better than generating 5 food one unit at a time. This game really challenges many of the typical notions of game mechanics. After the game, I was still so overwhelmed I didn't know what to think. Since then, I've started to think about how I would play differently (I got my ass kicked). This is a good sign, and will probably lead to a purchase.

Utopia: A medium-light game of drafting, set collection, and "stock price" manipulation. Contrary to many statements, this game has no Area Influence. The box is full of beautiful plastic monuments and wonders. That being said, the physical design is very non-functional. I'm certain the designers wanted to go for theme. The buildings are textbook examples of the architecture of the 5 civilizations (China, Egypt, Maya, Greece, Persia). The prince markers depict the faces of archetypal people. The problem is that 90% of the work in this game is looking at the board trying to figure out where your pieces are, what buildings they match, and what regions they are in. This leaves 10% of your brain to actually play the game. It's just too over-the-top busy and visually disconnected. I would have made the board much more subdued with more distinct borders, and done away with all the plastic in favor of colored wooden discs with simple symbols for each civilization.

Key Harvest: I never even had this game on my radar, but I had an opportunity to try it. After one game, it's already almost a must-have. Consider playing Acquire (except on a hex grid) where each player has their own board with matching letter/number coordinates, but there's still only 1 tile per location; if I have B4, then no one else can fill that space on their boards. Now instead of drawing tiles randomly for your own use, make the system into a two-level drafting mechanism. The drawn tiles go onto a public board. Players can put the tiles up for sale and offer goods they are willing to pay. Other players can pay them those goods to buy to the tile (and place on their board). On a subsequent turn, you can buy the tile(s) you have up for sale by giving up the goods you previously offered. The other interesting part of the game is the workers. They can only be placed if they touch as many goods tiles as their number (1-3 on personal workers, 4-5 on public workers). Tiles placed on the same location as a worker cause that worker to move to a new location re-activating their power. If you are clever, you can build twice and move the same worker twice. I really enjoyed this game.


At 7:08 PM, Blogger Mark Johnson said...

Great summaries, Jim.

At 1:22 PM, Blogger Matthew Marquand said...

That's a bummer about Utopia. It looks so darned good but if that gets in the way of being functional...

At 4:14 PM, Blogger Whit R said...

Jim, I'm leaving a comment about the primers on ASL you posted last year. They were a great help.
I purchased the ASL rulebook and Beyond Valor several years ago, but despite various attempts to play with my father -- the only person I've ever found to play military boardgames with me -- we've never been able to get very far. The game's complexity has always been a barrier to entry for us. So today -- the day after Thanksgiving -- we made the commitment to sit down and try to learn the game. We started at 8:30 in the morning, and by 3:30 pm we hadn't even completed the movement phase of the first turn. The rules just didn't seem clear in some spots. Anyway, I turned to the Internet knowing someone out there would have tried to explain the game in simpler terms. Long story short, I found your posts from last year about the ASL Starter Kits and found them very helpful. Also, when I saw your profile I was pleasantly surprised. I live in South Portland, Maine.
My father and I never were able to complete a full turn today. It got quite frustrating. Any chance you'd be willing to play some ASL with a beginner interested in learning?


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