Wednesday 26 December 2007

Mordred and Byzantium

Both Byzantium and Mordred are co-operative/competitive games. You are ostensibly playing knights of the round table and combatants in the 7th century fight between Byzantines and Arab Caliphs, but each game has only one winner.

In Mordred, you can be "greedy" and that tends to help Mordred out, but if Mordred wins then the person who helped Mordred least wins. Normally the greediest person wins. I haven't been able to get into the flow of Mordred, after a couple of plays. The game wants to be a quick 30 minute game, but every time the game seems like it will end people who feel they'd lose, work to prolong the game so they can win. I'm still learning though so it's not a knock on the game system.

I seem to be very good at setting my "good" knight moves for Mordred to attack (under the guidance of my fellow players), but somehow I won one game by building lots of cheap towns (instead of the more valuable and durable villages). Placing Mordred's forces seems to be the main source of player interaction in Mordred. The game is fun to play.

Byzantium, on the other hand, feels like it's rushing to an ending. Cities besieged until they are little more than piles of rubble fought over, and resources get more scarce. I still have no idea how to play a "good" game of Byzantium. There are a lot of subtle mechanisms in the game. After every play I realize how moves at the beginning of the game made the end harder for me because I wasn't strategically planning that far in advance.

I love how Byzantium makes you think about the resource management of a large scale military campaign. No simple tracing of supply routes with food automatically appearing for free if it could reach troops. Admittedly the system is highly abstracted, but poor resource management will hurt your score. Since troops cannot be disbanded the game rewards you for killing most of your troops in battle (so you don't need to support them from turn to turn). Although culling your troops means that you'll need to recruit more next turn (which might not really be cost effective, one of the subtle touches I still don't get yet).

Part of the subtle nature of Byzantium is the possibility of Constantinople's fall. I've pulled it off once, but that was probably caused by the other players inexperience instead of any skill on my part. Since you play both sides, you can leave Constantinople's defenses open (by taking control of Byzantium navy and the city's levies). However, players can still try to rush their armies to defend the city if they notice you lowering defenses.

Byzantium is the type of game (involves strategic thought and longer than an hour) game which I really enjoy playing. There is enough theme (desert transport, slight asymmetry between Arab and Byzantine forces) for me. Historical flavour, but not simulation (simulation really only works at the tactical level anyway, I want to change history not relive it).

Wednesday 19 December 2007

Commands and Colors: Ancients, Pax Romana

C&C:A is a great game. It is everything that I expected the film 300 to be, as far as immersion into the ancient world. The only "problem" is component quality. I actually find myself getting it out less frequently because the board is a pain to set up. Obviously the mounted board for expansion 2 or 3 would help this.

It seems silly and whiny, but the board keeps this game from being played more often. I don't have a problem with Pax Romana's unmounted board. Maybe that's because Pax is a longer game. For the length of gameplay I get from C&C:A, set-up is a drag.

Also I should note that I prefer strategy to tactics (C&C:A focuses on tactics of ancient warfare while Pax is a grand strategic game). The best games find a good balance between strategy and tactics. I realize other people like tactics more than me, and I'm glad when there is a game that pleases both the tactically and the strategically minded gamers.

That balance occurs in Pax's "short" scenario. Playing in 2-3 hours, there isn't enough time for centuries long strategic planning to overwhelm tactics, but there is still strategy (note: don't abandon the Italian peninsula to fight barbarians if the Greeks aren't busy fighting someone else).

The funny thing is that both Pax and C&C:A have "expansions" to fix them. Oh well. I guess that's why game collecting is a hobby.

Saturday 24 November 2007


Just played two games of Beowulf: the Legend over Thanksgiving weekend. I didn't win either game. My opinion of Beowulf hasn't improved either. Beowulf is like one of those old "light gun" games in the arcades: Terminator 2, Area 51, and so on.

It is an auction game because
auctions are what Beowulf did best!!? (Forget dragon slaying.) You have cards which are the different "currencies" of the auctions. These currencies are supposed to represent Friendship, Wit, Courage, and so on. The players just call them foxes, boats, fists, and so on. (Can you match the "thematic" name to what we called them?)

There are 2 types of auction: blind bids and "regular" round the table, but always the same auction types in always the same order. Even the goods up for auction are in the same order. After all the auctions the game is over. Most victory points wins.

You are stuck on the rails and there's nothing you can do to fix it. This game feels like it has tactics, but nothing I'd call strategy. There are tactics in when to risk. Tactics in managing your hand, but you are always optimizing your hand for the exact same suits for the exact same auctions for the exact same goods.

Maybe playing two games of such a static game is a mistake. I did find out that I was over-valuing some of the items. It's an okay game, but it feels more like a filler than a real game (something true of a lot of Euros).

If you are wondering what I over-valued: it was wounds. I took zero wounds each game, but ended up in 2rd or 3rd place. If I'd been at 2 wounds and 2 scratches then I'd have won more than 5 extra points, putting me in first. (But notice how even this simple analysis makes this game sound even more like a mindless optimization exercise instead of epic adventure with Beowulf.)

I hear the Zemeckis Beowulf film is also disappointing.

Tuesday 23 October 2007

After game

I'm still a fan of 7 Ages. I recently played a 6 player game.

Although I ended up playing Carthage, Rome, and part of Hellenic Greece. I also played some dynasties in China. The Chinese were eating up actions that could have helped Carthage sack Rome. And Rome was in the lead for points, but I got a card which enabled me to take control of Rome. I dropped the Macedonians (which weren't doing anything) and took Rome.

Rome just sat around earning me victory points while I tried to make Carthage and my Chinese valuable. Unfortunately, playing both Carthage and Rome isn't a good way to earn points. And Hellenic Greeks were earning tons of points. So I dropped Carthage to play a civil war on the Greeks, taking half of their stuff.

There is less immersion in 7 Ages. There are "
gamey" elements which prevent it. Why couldn't Carthage sack Rome because the Tang dynasty was having problems? Still, 7 Ages does immerse you in the flow of history. Seeing kingdoms rise and fall in a way that no other game does.

Wednesday 15 August 2007

Gaming as a Social Experience

Finally played a four player version of Tresham's Revolution: the Dutch Revolt . It isn't a simulation of the 80 years war, but more of a "high level"/strategic game of influence, economics, armies, and religion. Revolution rewards long term planning. And it captures the historic theme good enough for me.

Although in the game I played the Reformers and the Burgers weren't getting along well. Those Reformers wanted the same provinces and towns I did and at the same time. Historically Burgers supported the reformation, but not in this game. It was a game long fight between our 2 factions.

There was a huge fight in Holland between the burgers and the reformers. Burgers eventually won Holland with an army build-up. Plus a stalemate between our armies in the north (Friesland, Groningen, and Drenthe) which was eventually resolved by Calvinist support in Friesland overwhelming the assistance the burgers got from the Huguenots.

A fight with the Reformers is usually the last thing the Burgers want. The whole game ended with the map still split between the four groups. The Hapburgs were on the ropes, after losing a lot of ground to Burgers and Reformers (who weren't just attacking the poor Burgers). But the last turn saw the Hapsburgs grabbing enough points to put them in second ahead of the Reformers and just behind the Burgers.

I had a fun time, but then again I played the Burgers.

Monday 6 August 2007

Theme in Games

Cat viewing Industrial Waste board
Game theme is a highly subjective game attribute, but I think theme is part of the immersion of a game.

Immersion is when the game stops being rules, wooden bits, cards, cardboard, and so on and becomes something more. RPGs seem to be inherently thematic and immersive.

Without immersion you are just sitting around a table talking and rolling dice (not much of a "game" there isn't even a winner); RPGs are enjoyable games because of the immersion. And they acchieve this immersion via theme (plus social aspect of game).

Game theory seems to be unable to fully describe RPGs
, but narrative theory does deal with RPGs. The more narrative based a game is the more each move in the game can be narrated.

Industrial Waste is very much a game theory game, but it also has some narrative. Each move is fairly dry. For example
I recently played a two player game of Industrial Waste. I was the yellow company and my opponent was red. The red company's logo is NiN (industrial bands for industrial waste).

I went second. Action cards were dealt face up into 3 piles of three cards each (no duplicates allowed in a pile). The opposing company, NiN, picked up a pile containing Growth, Innovation, and Order. I took the pile with Order, Raw Materials, and Waste Removal.

NiN played growth moving up to 15 million Euros for a completed order (game ends once a company reaches 20 on the growth track).

I played my raw materials card to auction off 5 goods. The auction in this game goes once around the table. NiN bid 5 million Euros and I raised it to 6 million winning the auction. Since I called the auction and won the 6 million went to the bank. If I'd let NiN get the goods, I would have taken their 5 million bid for myself (person who starts the auction gets the money).
But at a high level:
I played Industrial Waste again. I warned the other player repeatedly about the disadvantages of non-stop pollution in the game, but he filled up all of his waste storage area, and couldn't run his factory any more. He tried bribes to keep things quiet after pollution related accidents plagued his plant, but all the money wasted on bribery plus the inability to produce put him in a poor position for the end game.
Chess and Go are immersive because of the level of thought involved, but there's no real narrative (hence, no theme from my point of view). Theme isn't critical for an enjoyable game.

A well themed game is one where you can tell a story about what happened afterwards, and that's inherently immersive for me.

Thursday 2 August 2007

Hollywood Blockbuster

If you haven't played Hollywood Blockbuster (or Traumfabrik as the original game was called) then you are missing out on a lot of fun.

My enjoyment is mainly from the theme. Producing movies is so much fun. Without the theme it would be just an auction game. You start with a few screen plays which could be made into movies. Each screenplay has some requirements: actors, directors, and so on. The items needed to complete movies are available at auctions and parties.

The game rewards both speed and quality. However, it is hard to make good movies fast, and you frequently have to choose between one and the other.

I've always been fascinated by closed economies (no bank to inject more currency into the system). And this is an auction game in a closed economy. The amount of currency (called contracts) in circulation is fixed at the start of the game (based on the number of players). Contracts are points at the end of the game; the game rewards people who manipulate its economic system.

But the thing I remember after playing is the films actually produced like The Lord of the Bling starring Jack Nickledime, Demi Less, and Christopher Walkon directed by Quint N. Tarantula.