Wednesday, 12 November 2008

History of the Western World (part 3)

History could just be the study of cause and effect. Or maybe it is the study of how great people have shaped our modern world. Maybe it is about how advances in technology make the present different than the past.

In any event, Struggle of Empires is next on my list. It is a highly abstract game, but ultimately captures the feeling of the 18th century, in my opinion. Mechanically it is an auction game mixed with area control.

You start with very little money and few actions, but can grow your country with various tiles into a unique power. Building up your country's technology and economy are fun. Getting bogged down in wars in the German state can also be fun. But all of the games I've played have come down to the alliance auction.

Paying money to determine turn order and who can and cannot attack each other is something that is frequently under valued in the games that I've played. In the "limited wars" of this period, it is vital to have the correct allies (or pay money so they join your side).

Struggle of Empires has a lot of colonial growth. And it is possible for countries to end the game in a state of revolt, if you over tax the peasants or kill too many of their sons in battle. This leads up to the intensely studied French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. There are some good multi-player games about this period, but I've not played Empires in Arms, and it's out of print.

Speaking of out of print the next game is out of print, too. But it is a variation of a game that is still in print. It shouldn't be too hard to print out a copy of the map and find directions on-line. I am speaking of Colonial Diplomacy.

I really enjoy Colonial Diplomacy. It might be heresy to say so, but I like it better than the original Diplomacy. Instead of essentially equal starting positions, Colonial gives the UK a lot of units and territory. That is justified because they historically "won" Struggle and ended up with lots of colonies.

For those who don't like the player elimination of Diplomacy there are options to play faster games. These tend to allow more players to stay in until the end. Paying for alliances was important in Struggle, but Colonial Diplomacy removes the auction and anything goes. You can wheel and deal with any player in the game. You'd probably ask for good deals from Britain since they have such a good starting position.

But beware the stab. Any country can betray any other.

That brings us up to the 19th century colonies, but while Europe was fighting abroad technological improvements and industrialization was happening at home, but that will have to wait for the next part.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Positive Feedback

I recently picked up Dominion because I played a lot of San Juan.

No, that isn't too clear. Let me try again.

Last game night, I played San Juan three times in a row. That was a bad experience. San Juan is fun for 30 minutes, but 90 is pushing it.

San Juan is the card game based on Puerto Rico. I like San Juan a lot more than Puerto Rico. The randomness of card deals isn't a bad thing for a 30 minute game. It feels more dynamic than waiting for the person with tons of corn to finish shipping their goods while your coffee rots.

So I entered into the three games really liking San Juan. After 3 games, my opinion was somewhat altered. San Juan is still a good game, but not good enough to play three times in a row. Each time I played the game followed roughly the same flow. Same decisions. Same feeling. I ended the last game early by triggering a build because I just wanted the game to be over.

Now back to where I started this post:
I recently picked up Dominion because I played a lot of San Juan.

I went to my local game store a few days after the triple San Juan day, and saw a new card game: Dominion. It plays 2-4 players and takes 30 minutes according to the box. Now I'd have something different if I'm ever trapped into 3 thirty minute games.

Opening up the box I found 500 cards (well that's what the box says there are; I didn't count them). And I found out that you only use a sub-set of the cards in each game. If my simple math skills from college are still working 25 pick 10 is 25!/(10!*15!) which is 3,268,760. So there are over 3 million different decks that Dominion can be played with.

Already the replayability of this title seems light years ahead of San Juan. But how does it actually play? Is the game hard to teach? (One of the reasons we played San Juan so many times is that Race for the Galaxy was considered too hard to teach.)

In a miraculous bout of luck we happened to have guests coming over that night and I was hoping to see how it played with 4 newbies. Teaching the rules was easy because there are about 5 of them. Everyone seemed to enjoy the game, but if you are looking for theme (as one person was) then this game will disappoint. There isn't much.

It is a game about buying cards from a common pool to add to your deck. Everyone starts with the same cards. Everyone has access to the same cards. And everyone seems to end up with very different decks.

Dominion feels like a stand up act. You get direct feedback from the game and need to adjust to said feedback to do well. I suppose after a while this adjustment will be unnecessary because the cards you buy will flow better.

You get feedback from the game, but no so much from the other players. This is very close to multiplayer solitaire. I don't mind multiplayer solitaire games, if they are fun. And the feedback loop of building your own deck while you are playing it, is fun for me. The 3 million different possible pools of cards to build your deck seems to solve the San Juan problem.

There are card combos and synergies but since the available card selection changes with each game, part of the fun is finding new combos. What do you do if a favorite card isn't available in this game? Better come up with a plan B.

Probably the most fun I've had playing a Eurogame since Galaxy Trucker. I probably should write something about Galaxy Trucker, but with the expansion out. I'll wait until I've gotten a chance to play with the expansion. Even without the expansion Galaxy Trucker is easily the best Eurogame of 2007, in my opinion.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

History of the Western World (part 2)

When we last left our European nations Byzantium had lost Jerusalem.

That bring us to Saladin: The Fall of the Crusader States. It covers the period starting in 1174. People who have seen Kingdom of Heaven or a Robin Hood (Richard the Lionheart is included in the game, too) movie will have some familiarity with this time period. The only problem is that at this time only 50 copies of the game exist on the planet. I am not one of the lucky 50 people. I'll write an entire blog on this game if I ever get to play it.

Thanks to Richard's crusading his brother John (Prince John of Robin Hood fame) came to power without much popularity. John signed the Magna Carta and that charter laid the foundations for parliamentary democracy.

Continuing with the Middle Ages we have Kingmaker. This is a game about the nobility fighting each other to advance their royal heir, killing others in line, and gaining votes in both houses of Parliament to secure the throne.

A lot of negative things have been said about Kingmaker, as a game. But all of the "problems" that I've heard can be fixed by playing with the right combination of advanced/optional rules. If you think the game is too long then play the "short game" with a fixed time limit. I enjoy it for what it is: a good game about the Wars of Roses.

About 200 years later Revolution: The Dutch Revolt. Notice that I've skipped over Here I Stand. While I respect a lot of GMT's games, I tend to dislike Card Driven Wargames. I've never played Here I Stand so I could be in for a pleasant surprise. It plays 2-6 players (an expansion is needed for 2 players).

Main things that happen are the Reformation and the rise of Protestantism. Basically laying the foundations for everything that happens in Revolution.

The rise of the merchant class. Armies marching across the country. Merchants paying Water Beggars to attack enemy troops. Jesuits trying to hold back the spread of Protestants. The construction of Protestant Universities. Culture shaking changes.

This is one of the great games. It feels smooth like eating a decadent chocolate dessert. The joy of this game lasts for hours after it is done. Looking at the moves you made, seeing how the situation went your way or fell out of your control. Scores tend to be very close at the end. Although there is no luck, the consequences of your actions are so complicated it seems impossible to compute the results. I play by "feel". Each faction in the game has its own strengths and weaknesses. There are "natural" alliances, but I have even seen alliances between Protestant and Catholic.

We're firmly in the Modern Age now. Just as the Ancient World passed away so too are the foundations for a new social order laid.

Thursday, 9 October 2008


I don't speak Italian, but wow. Age of Conan looks awesome.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

2 Recent Games

I have still been playing board games (dispite the last few console game posts). Don't really have any reviews, but here are some impressions of games. Recently played 2 games which are "top of the class" to some people: Agricola and Descent: Journeys in the Dark.

Agricola is fun. It isn't the greatest thing since sliced bread. But it is fun. If you remember my gripe about 7 Ages (seemed too gamey because when an empire you have in China produces, your empire in the middle east can only produce if you take a point penalty).

My feelings could also be the result of how I was taught Agricola. After going on and on about how difficult the game was, and how a score of 20 points was "amazing" for first time players, the two new players scored a minimum of 28 points. I had 32 on my first game (which was 2 points away from the winner).

I wasn't thinking hard at all. Maybe the game is like Blue Moon City and scores are automatically close. I enjoyed Blue Moon City better. The decisions seem harder in Blue Moon City. It is a no-brainer to take 10 wood if you have no fences and there's a pile available.

It is like In the Year of the Dragon (in that it is a role-selection and engine building game), except that there is only 1 path to victory: the balanced farm. You don't have the dynamic interplay between prestige and victory points. Unlike ItYotD you only score points at the end so there's no tension between banking points now versus setting up big points at the end of the game. As long as you sit to the left of a player that wants to go first, you also end up with decent turn order for free (slight seating issue).

Agricola is still a fine game. I'd play it again. But it isn't a great game for me.

I also played one game of Descent. Descent feels like a tactical combat game more than a dungeon crawler. Also the person playing Overlord gave us gold chests instead of copper ones so the adventurers were really overpowered for the adventure.

I never felt that the adventurers were in any danger, but figuring out the optimal approach to take out the monsters we did face was interesting.

The mechanics of the game were fun. But it is very hard to evaluate the balance of the scenario we played because it was played wrong. There seems to be a good mix of ranged, magic, and melee options. I specialized in ranged attacks so I might have missed something. Also we didn't have a melee character in the game.

I would play Descent over Agricola if offered both. With mistakes in the scenario, I don't think Descent was given a fair deal. It would be fun to play the same scenario with a different character or even as the Overlord.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Army of Two

Okay. So running negative reviews of non-PS3 games isn't really fair. Here's a review(ish) of a multi-platform title.

First Warhawk and now Army of Two have bluetooth mic issues. Maybe the USB mic included with Rock Band is the way to go (even though it is less cool to be wired).

Yet another console game video:

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Fair and Balanced

It has been pointed out to me that by only mentioning Warhawk (a PS3 exclusive) in a prior posts, I've been unfairly slanting coverage toward PS3. To correct this perceived bias, I'm embedding another game review. This one is about Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Again, I didn't make this review, but (in the interests of fairness) I have to post it.


Wednesday, 16 July 2008

History of the Western World (part 1)

I tend to game for narrative immersion. One of the easiest (for me) narratives is an historic one. Here is my list of games to play through world history with 4 players.

Start out with Pax Romana. Second edition is supposed to be coming out sometime (it's on GMT's P500 list so once enough people pre-order it will be published). Pax does have some problems with the physical materials. The money is basically bunk. If you flip your coins over accidentally then you don't know how much cash you have (different denominations on each side). It does do a great job of recreating a strategic view of the period. One thing to keep in mind is the time scale. With 25 year turns, a lot of unexpected "random" things can upset your plans, but it's still great fun.

Now that the rise of the roman empire is broadly covered, it's time for the fall. I actually have 2 games in this category, but one (Barbarian, Kingdom and Empire) is currently out of print. If you're interested, Decision games does have a pre-order program to spur their reprint.

Britannia is one of the best games to cover the transition from the Ancient World to the High Middle Ages (although much of the game is set in the Early Middle Ages). It focuses on the various invasions of the isle of Great Britain beginning with the Romans and continuing until the Norman invasion. You invade, you fight off invaders, you fight with neighbors, you have tons of fun. In a lot of games which try to convey a sweep of history this period is part of a lull between the glories of the ancient world and the dawn of the Renaissance.

Instead of being the "boring turn", Britannia is a joy to play.

One last game to round out the Early Middle Ages: Byzantium by Martin Wallace. It seems like something from right field (to me at least). We haven't had the east on a game board since Pax Romana; why go back? For me this game is a 4 player short hand for a lot of history which doesn't seem to be covered by 4 player games.

It covers questions like: what happened to the eastern empire, how about the crusades, what are the origins of the Renaissance, and so on. The short answer to the question of the eastern empire's fate is that Islam rose. The short version of the crusades is that the Arabs won Jerusalem from the Byzantines and then the Christians tried to retake it. The cliff notes origin of the Renaissance notes that Greek scholars fleeing from the collapse of the Byzantine Empire reintroduced classical learning to Western Europe.

Now, admittedly, there's more to it than that, but we can cover that in part 2 (which includes the Renaissance). See you then.

If there are any great games that I omitted or you disagree with the inclusion of one of the games then feel free to send a comment.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Republic of Rome Pre-Pre Impressions

There are a lot of games about winning elections. There are a lot of games about international diplomacy and wars. As far as I know, there is only one Republic of Rome.

You play a faction of senators in the Roman Senate (264-43 AD). You play for your own faction, but if Rome suffers a disaster than you all lose. Wars, financial mismanagement, and failing to keep the population content are all ways for everyone to lose.

The focus is on negotiation and politics of the senate. Wars are fairly abstracted, but the senator who leads troops into battle (making them veterans) can always return home to try and conquer Rome by force of arms (as a counter-weight senators out fighting can't vote on important matters of state while they're gone).

Political assassinations, gaining governorships (to corruptly funnel money to yourself), and other forms of corrupt government can all be prosecuted by the Censor (but whoever controls the senator elected to this position controls who gets prosecuted and who goes free).

You can call for land reform (basically a tax cut which continually cuts into the budget). They are very popular with the people and raise the politician who calls for them. Anyone who votes against it loses popularity. Forcing players who are leading in popularity to choose between their lead and Rome's interests is priceless.

Valley games is reprinting this classic game later this year. It's another game on my "can't hardly wait" list.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

My Favorite Arcade Games

As part of my continuing efforts to alienate people who read this blog for some "insight" into board games, I am again devoting this entry to a topic other than board games.

These arcade games aren't really listed in any kind of order. These are just the most memorable ones for me. Note: a lot of classic games (Pac-Man, Q*Bert, Defender, Pong, Donkey Kong, and so on) aren't listed. They are good games, but I've played them a lot on home systems when they came out (not that 2600 ports were entirely faithful) so they don't have the sheen that these 4 games do.

Dragon's Lair, SMASH T.V., X-Men (arcade), Dance Dance Revolution (DDR).

I suppose that you could argue against DDR being on the list (since it's been on home systems since it released), but the experience of playing in the arcade is vastly different to playing at home. Anyway, I made up the rules for this list and I can break them, too.

SMASH T.V. is just pure chaos on screen. So many enemies. So many directions to shoot in. Even a bit of a story (3 stages to complete). It's almost impossible to beat the game in 1 quarter, but whenever you lose your last life, you feel like you could have gotten through one more room if you'd played differently. Almost the perfect difficultly level for sucking quarters out of you.

X-Men is the game to play with friends. I have played it single player, but with 5 other players the game is a beauty. Mutant powers, tons of enemies. Display that's 2 screens side by side. Memorable bosses. When I've seen old cabinets in bowling alleys or where ever, starting up a game is still magic. Even people who didn't play the game when it was first released (1992) jumped in and we all have a ton of fun.

Dragon's Lair is also special. First laser disk machine. First 50 cent game. I love the fantasy theme (something that wasn't as popular as sci-fi themes). It is 10+ years since I played the Sega CD version, and 20+ years after I played it in arcades. I just played Dragon's Lair recently and it is amazing how many of the patterns I still remembered.

Yes, I'm old (arcades are dead now). Now we have consoles which have the technical capacity to play "any game" (console exclusives prevent this, but that's not really a technical limitation). Instead of 25 or 50 cents a game, we have unlimited plays for $50+. Games are also easier, which makes sense. They aren't trying to suck quarters from you as fast as possible; they are trying to make you feel good about dropping $50+ on the title.

Honourable mentions: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Star Wars (1983 vector graphic game), and Time Soldiers. I'm sure that there are others that I missed. Feel free to let me via comments or whatever.

My Favorite Arcade Games

As part of my continuing efforts to alienate people who read this blog for some "insight" into board games, I am again devoting this entry to a topic other than board games.

These arcade games aren't really listed in any kind of order. These are just the most memorable ones for me. Note: a lot of classic games (Pac-Man, Q*Bert, Defender, Pong, Donkey Kong, and so on) aren't listed. They are good games, but I've played them a lot on home systems when they came out (not that 2600 ports were entirely faithful) so they don't have the sheen that these 4 games do.

Dragon's Lair, SMASH T.V., X-Men (arcade), Dance Dance Revolution (DDR).

I suppose that you could argue against DDR being on the list (since it's been on home systems since it released), but the experience of playing in the arcade is vastly different to playing at home. Anyway, I made up the rules for this list and I can break them, too.

SMASH T.V. is just pure chaos on screen. So many enemies. So many directions to shoot in. Even a bit of a story (3 stages to complete). It's almost impossible to beat the game in 1 quarter, but whenever you lose your last life, you feel like you could have gotten through one more room if you'd played differently. Almost the perfect difficultly level for sucking quarters out of you.

X-Men is the game to play with friends. I have played it single player, but with 5 other players the game is a beauty. Mutant powers, tons of enemies. Display that's 2 screens side by side. Memorable bosses.

Friday, 13 June 2008

Here I Offend the Remaining Board Game Readers

Common wisdom says that Aquire is one of the pinnacles of American style design. It is a classic. One of the "few good games" from before the Eurogame period. Deep strategy. Brillant design. Multiple paths to victory (agressive purchases or money conservation). Player interaction.

It is one of those games that I plan to never play again.

The game is like Scrabble. You have six tiles hidden. You play one on the board in a specific place each turn. Each tile has one and only one place where it can be played. And you buy stock.

Most money wins.

Good luck trying long term planning with this game. You only have a hand of 6 tiles (so you know exactly one tile that you'll have 5 turns from now).

If Aquire is a "brain burner" due to the huge range of choices (play 1 of 6 tiles) then you'd probably want to stay away from Puerto Rico. There are eight different roles to chose from each round (in a five player game)!

Moving away from the "incredable depth" that playing 1 tile in a predetermined spot has, you also get to buy up to 3 stocks per round!

There are 7 different companies. Some of them pay out different amounts when they pay out. That's about the only difference between the companies.

So you buy stock in almost identical companies and play tiles in set board positions. 18xx is somewhat similar (stock buying and tile laying), except the tiles you lie in 18xx are train tracks and actually have some concrete connection to the financial sucess of the company that builds them. Come to think of it, 18xx does everything that Aquire tried to do but better and more thematically.

And 18xx games don't have the chance that you'll get a bad tile draw because there is no luck in 18xx (excluding 1829 mainline which I haven't played yet).

I personally would have more fun watching paint dry than being dragged into another game of Aquire.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

More Warhawk (and a review)

The review isn't mine, and it's about Warhawk (again). The video below does an almost perfect job of reviewing Warhawk. Makes me wonder what I can write about that hasn't already been done better elsewhere....

Thursday, 29 May 2008

And Now For Something Completely Different

If you've been following this blog at all, you'll probably have noticed a board game centric take on gaming. Game sessions is a broader topic than just board games. If you just want board game posts then look for posts with the label "board game": this post is labeled "console game".

Two tanks roll into base. I've got a rocket launcher but only 2 shots left. I duck for cover. Overhead a dogfight is raging, no air support. I run to the wall and climb up to a mounted machine gun. I unload round after round into one tank, but then its turret tracks toward my location. I jump away from the gun, run up a walkway right over the tank. The gun has been destroyed. I grab a wrench and drop onto the enemy tank. Two more hits from the wrench and the tank is gone. Too bad the other tank gets me in its sights then.

Warhawk is about conflict between the Eucadian (blue) and Chernovan (red) forces. There is some back story about Chernovan's invading Eucadia, but you have to look hard to find it. The zone mode is a game about 2 teams with up to 16 players on each team fighting to conquer (or defend) territory.

Warhawk doesn't seem like that much on paper: only 5 different maps, no single player mode, no bots.

Warhawk is my favorite online game.
This game has something for everyone. I really enjoy big games (20+ people). But there are people who enjoy small (2-8) team death matches or flying capture the flag games or 4 player split screen death matches or even just jeep races (not an official mode, but that doesn't stop people).

It does support up to 32 players in 4 different game modes. And each of the 5 maps has several different layouts. There are infantry, jeeps, tanks, and aircraft. Both grunts and planes have weapon pick-ups.

I frequently host games using the PS3 as a dedicated server (how cool is that). Feel free to let me know if there are any game types that you don't feel have enough dedicated servers. I'm currently hosting a 12 player flying capture the flag game.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Ca$h 'n Gun$ Revisted

After that long post talking about different party games, it occurs to me that one of the game I mentioned (Ca$h 'n Gun$) isn't that mainstream, and probably should be described to casual readers (all 5 of you, according to probably erroneous site tracking information).

Ca$h 'n Gun$ is a game which recreates the end of Reservoir Dogs complete with foam guns to point at people's heads. The premise is that you are returning after a successful crime and need to split the money. You deal up some bills from a bag and then the game starts.

Players decide if they will load their gun or not (using a card mechanism so players can count your bullets). They then simultaneously point foam guns at each other. You can then chicken out (which might be a good idea if 5 players have guns pointed at you). Chickening out does cost you points at the end, but it's better than being dead.

Everyone left in then reveals how the loaded their guns. If you are shot you get a wound per bullet. 3 wounds and you are out. I should also mention that shots are mostly simultaneous, too; it's possible for 2 players to shoot each other. The complication is the Bang! Bang! Bang! card. This give that shooter priority over normal shots.

Anyone left after the gun play (ie people who didn't chicken out or get shot) get a cut of the loot, but it must be divided evenly so there's often some left in the pot. Most money minus chicken tokens held by someone with less than 3 wounds at the end of the game is the winner.

I don't really like the game that much. It is fun to point guns at each other, but the payoffs are highly dependent on the number of players left to split the money. I've been in every split except one (due to being shot) and lost by a large margin because the one split I missed was worth 3 times any other one. I supposed there might be some strategy in figuring out the shares based on number of players, but that's seems very mathy for a party game. It also seems unthematic.

I'm playing a game about a shoot out over criminal loot and win because I calculate the division better than others? Oh well. At least it is a quick game (unlike Cranium).

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Cranium WOW You're Good

Finals are wrapping up and my brain is starting to recover from the lack of sleep and general stress (so it's time for another post).

There are lots of hobbies and ways to spend free time: from mainstream things like local sports leagues and knitting to more specialized pursuits like water skiing or carpentry. Even within gaming there are CCGs, video games, massive on-line games, RPGs, and board games (let's not get started on the differences between board game styles for the moment).

At a basic level gaming is something we do to have fun. It is a more interactive experience than a film buff's hobby, but less reality based than motorcycling (in that nothing really happens in a game other than sitting down and manipulating some bits).

All this is just a long winded way of saying that I participated in a game of Cranium recently. Party games might as well be CCGs to me: neither really draws me in. I definitely had fun. But that was fun from socializing with the other players, not fun from the game.

If you've been reading this blog regularly then you know that I enjoy the social aspect of games a lot. So why did such a social game "fall flat" for me?

I think it goes back to immersion. Games that draw me into another world more thoroughly than a film tend to be games that I enjoy. During the whole game of Cranium, I was sitting by a board goofing around with friends.

Some abstracts still draw me in. I could play Go almost any time. Go is a war in miniature for me. I can almost feel the cry of soldiers as provinces are snatched up. I feel the enemy exerting pressure on my forces. I am shocked when clever tactics by the enemy turns my planned victory into a crushing defeat.

Cranium doesn't draw me in. I'm still just sitting around next to a board. Maybe party games just aren't my thing?

Ca$h 'n Gun$ is a party game, though. I do enjoy the game with the cop variant. I also enjoy the basic game more than Cranium, but I suspect that that's because Ca$h 'n Gun$ is shorter (and the pain ends quicker). Ca$h 'n Gun$ is immersing no matter how you play it (unlike Cranium), but I don't feel like I have any meaningful decisions (something which is similar to Cranium).

Or the whole bashing of Cranium could be due to my extreme fatigue when playing. I can only say how I felt when playing the game after stress of finals and very little sleep. It could be that the game has "hidden depths" which my sleep deprived mind couldn't grasp.

Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Teaching In the Year of the Dragon

One of the things that sets board gaming apart from a lot of hobbies is teaching games. If you are into football (soccar) then you don't need to explain on-side rules to other fans. I was one of 3 people trying to teach In the Year of the Dragon (great game by the way), but the learner eventually gave up and just watched.

The rules are fairly simple. Pick one of seven actions (or pass) then hire one of nine people. You then have two "bookkeeping phases". Almost no thought required there. You resolve an event (which has and outcome almost purely determined by the actions taken earlier in this or another turn). And then score points (again based on things you've already gained).

Multiple victory paths was the tricky bit to teach. There are at least 2 viable ways to win In the Year of the Dragon. Going first allows you to a greater selection of actions (you have to pay to take an action from the same group as someone who goes before you), but the only way to go first is to ignore the best immediate point sources. There is also a scoring at the end of the game which highly favors players who went earlier in turn order (that's been the case in every game I've played so far).

So do you go for points now or do you hope that your points at the end of the game will beat the people scoring heavily now? If I knew the answer to this question then the game would lose a lot of its appeal. I don't think there is an answer to it. The order of events is randomly determined at the start of each game (which would make any memorized "opening" less than ideal.

So how do you teach a game without a simple ideal strategy? The learner grasped the rules quickly, but was just as quickly frustrated because the ideal move wasn't clear to them. Maybe the simple answer is that the learner doesn't like this type of game and no teaching approach would work.

Games without a simple ideal strategy are ones which I tend to enjoy more than mono-strategy games. The appeal of trying something new (even if I end up in last place) keeps me coming back to these games. Games which I'm thinking about for days afterward.

So after all that "analysis", I'm back at square one with no insight on how to teach multiple-path-to-victory games. I am sure this will happen again because of the type of game I tend to enjoy. If you have any suggestions feel free to drop me a line or mention it in the comment section.

Friday, 25 April 2008

So Many Games, So Little Time

I'd like to talk about 3 more upcoming games.

Middle-Earth Quest is a licensed Lord of the Rings game set between "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings", where you play a generic hero (examples are Hobbit, Gondarian Captain, Rider from Westfall, and so on). The bad news is that you aren't playing any famous characters. The good news is that you are freed from any continuity about your character.

It sounds a bit like World of Warcraft: The Adventure Game (due to be released this summer from the same company). And WoW: TAG sounds like a re-tooling of Runebound (I happen to like Runebound so this new Middle-Earth game is intriguing).

Battlestar Galactica seems like an intriguing concept for a game. One with the possibility of hidden sides (and the possibility that there is more then one Cylon in your midst). Sounds like a more thematic version of Shadows Over Camelot, but there is very little information at present.

Speaking of Shadows Over Camelot, the expansion is finally coming out. Merlin's company adds more of everything (plus one new mechanic) except quests (probably saving new quests for a second expansion). You can have more traitors (up to 2 in a 7 or 8 player game), more knights (yes, you can play 8 player now), more pain (7 extra black cards added to the "deck of pain"), and more help (a few more white cards).

The new mechanic is travel. There's a deck of travel cards that you draw from whenever you move. Some cards are good some are bad. Looks like another interesting challange to keep experienced members of the round table on their toes.

With all these interesting games coming out. My main problem is going to be finding time to play them all.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Formidable Foes: The Worst of Both Worlds?

Formidable Foes is a Euro/Dungeon crawl. It feels like Power Grid's resource market mixed with a dungeon crawl. My favorite part of Power Grid is the resource market, and I'm partial to fantasy/dungeon games.

The game is about freeing a faerie from a dungeon. You must defeat 2 boss monsters to free her, but she'll marry the player with the most money (and that player wins).

The only negative that I care about is that the game has downtime problems when played with 6 players (might also be applicable to 5 player games). The one time I played with 6 players 4 of them had never played the game before so downtime might have been exaggerated.

There are 4 resources in the game: wisdom, spells, power stones, and money.
You gain wisdom, gold, and spells from defeating monsters (there are other ways to get wisdom and gold, but they are minor compared to defeating monsters). Power stones are gained by waiting out your turn (I like to think of this as resting and healing).

Wisdom determines the monsters you can fight. You need more wisdom to fight harder monsters. Monsters who are too easy just die of fright (and you get less gold from them). Generally the harder the monster, the more Wisdom you get from it, but if it is too hard for you to defeat it then you only get 1 Wisdom (and no gold since you can't defeat it).

Monsters get harder in a linear progression. There are organized stacks of monsters. Easier ones on top. When new rooms are encountered, an equal number of monsters are taken off the top of the stacks and shuffled. This keeps the monsters challenging and the shuffle keeps the layout of the dungeon fresh. The are also intersections which randomly connect different chambers each game so even the paths between monsters changes from game to game.

Power stones are kind of like your health. You roll dice when fighting monsters. The numbers rolled determine how many power stones you lose in the fight. If you don't have enough power stones to pay then you lose the fight. Every time someone fights one of the power stones lost in the fight goes on a track. Every time more of the dungeon is explored more stones are added. You can forgo your usual move/fight options on your turn to take some of the power stones.

There is only one way to gain power stones. Wisdom can be gained by following players who are wiser than you, from chests, and by defeating monsters. Power stones are only gained by taking a whole turn to take some off the track.
If you find yourself at the end of the game without enough power stones then you are in trouble.

Money is gained from lucky rolls (1 in 36 chance), by defeating monsters, and opening chests. Chests appear randomly at the end game (once every monster except the 2 boss monsters have appeared). Chests give gold and wisdom, but you don't need to fight to gain them. Money is only useful at the end of the game in determining who won.

I'm neutral on games which help "last place". The game does give a special power to the "dumbest player". Dumbest player has the lowest wisdom. If you are defeating lots of monsters then you have lots of special powers already from spells. It should be noted that the "dumbest player" power is more directly confrontational then the spells. If you like "take that" mechanics then the "dumbest player" shouldn't disturb you.

Monsters are seen before you fight them so you always know what your odds are (most of the time you will enter fights where you know you'll win, but don't know how well you'll do). If you are scared of luck or dice then you might want to avoid.

I've enjoyed every fantasy game I've played to date, and Formidable Foes is no exception. Euro gamers might be put off by the luck and the grind of leveling, and the "take that" elements connected to "dumbest player". Straight fantasy gamers might be put off by the resource management of the power stones, but both elements work wonderfully for me.

Friday, 4 April 2008

The Princes of Florence

My feelings about this game should be obvious. It has very little direct player interaction. I seem to always lose 5 player games of it. It is full of calculations (too do well, it feels like you need to do lots of arithmetic in your head). It is part of the same Alea line that produced Puerto Rico.

But I like this game a lot.

What is it about 7 auctions and 14 actions that means 90 minutes of fun? I think part of the enjoyment is maximizing limited resources (in money, actions, and so on). The punishment (in lost VP) for over estimating or under estimating your money needs forces you to plan ahead. The unpredictable result of auctions frequently breaks plans and you need to construct alternative plans.

There is limited player interaction on the surface, but underneath there is a ton. Stealing artists and scholars from other players, the competition of auction, competition for scarce resources (like profession cards and freedoms), and so on.

Seating order does matter, but I don't feel there's seat binding, as in games like Puerto Rico. Due to the limited resources there is a chance that people in "bad seats" will have less chances for more profession cards, freedoms, and so on. Also the odd nature of the auction (must start at 200 and you must either increase by 100 or pass) means that some seats can be disadvantaged (value of a good could increase 500 florin by the time you get to bid on it again).

It is also one of the few games I've played that has any modeling of inflationary factors: each turn the minimum threshold for a work increases. There is also a great incentive to hold on to works without playing them for as long as possible (each turn you can get stuff to increase the work value).

Balancing this increasing value is a 3 victory point advantage given to the player who completes the best work (which is equivalent to an increase by 6 in its work value). This does give people sitting last more information (they can calculate if they will have the best work of a round).

Money seems tight. There are only 2 ways to get money in the game and both involve giving up points for florins. When you play a work you can take the work value in points or cash (200 florin to 1 point). If you don't think ahead, then you can convert points back into cash (1 point to 100 florin).

The only luck in the game comes from decks of cards, but you draw more than you can keep which allows skill to mitigate the luck of the draw. There is also a side game of placing your buildings and landscapes on your board. Each one is a weird Blockus-like shape. Once placed you can't reposition it. Also builders can change the rules for building placement (adjacent buildings aren't allowed until you have 2 builders).

Tough decisions. Long term planning. Never enough time to do everything you want to. These are the elements that keep me coming back to Princes of Florence. It is also a very different game depending on number of players (officially it plays 3-5, but , Wolfgang Kramer has written a 2 player variant that works surprisingly well).

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Marvel Heroes Scenarios and Scaling

I just played a game of Marvel Heroes that seemed to go on forever. We had 4 players (2 had never played before), and the scenario was drawn randomly (it was Acts of Vengeance). I don't think that Acts of Vengeance is well suited to this play environment. The game lasts for 5 full game rounds unless someone gives the game to the person sitting to their left.

Our game dragged. 5 action rounds per game round and 5 game rounds in this scenario and 4 players. That's 100 player actions (not counting planning). The game doesn't seem to be able to support that much play time. Repetitive nature of headlines becomes more clear. Also limited ability to hinder leader is clear (couldn't play my Dormammu or Ultron on game leader).

In my opinion, Acts of Vengeance is best suited for 2 players. Then the negatives cited disappear. You have complete control of villains (and can win with your super-villain's master plan). Instead of 100 actions there are only 50 (makes the game a lot quicker).

This highlights the "scaling" issues with Marvel Heroes. There are ten different scenarios in Marvel Heroes, and each scenario seems "best" with a certain number of players.

I group Galactus is Coming, Inferno, and Maximum Carnage together. They do have differences, but victory conditions are the same (after 15 points a special headline appears). They seem to play well with 4 players. 15 victory points seems like a good ending for a 4 player game. The game doesn't drag on too long. Repetition doesn't set in. There is even the Special Headline to keep the game interesting (5 or 6 points can be a huge swing).

Other "15 point" scenarios are Born Again and The Brood. Born again doesn't have any flavour, I'd prefer a special headline. I haven't played the Brood in a 4 player game so I can't really comment. However, the possibility that everyone can lose in The Brood should add a co-op element to the game.

The last quick scenario is The Evolutionary War. It is a race against the clock, and only plays for 3 turns (that's 48 player turns quite close to Acts of Vengeance with 2 players). There is a lot of competition for good headlines because you need to average 5 VP per game round to be one of the winners.

The other timed scenario is Onslaught. This plays for 4 game rounds and winners need 20 points. It seems like it would play too long with 4 players, but with 3 players it has 48 player turns just like Evolutionary war with 4. Another 4 game round scenario is House of M and that is explicitly not for 4 players (X-Men aren't available as a team).

So Onslaught and House of M seem better suited to 3 players. What about the last 4 game round scenario: Marvel Heroes. I haven't played it with 3 players. Marvel Heroes seems to encourage defeating the team's Nemesis. Which would lead to cautious play by the villains (losing a mater plan fight gives the heroes 1/3 of victory).

So by my count there are 5 scenarios suited for 4 players. 1 scenario which is especially good for 2 players (Acts of Vengeance). 1 scenario which I'd never play again (Born Again), and 3 scenarios which seem geared towards 2 or 3 players (depending on taste). I suppose the 5 "4 player" scenarios could be played with 3 players, but then the game seems too short for me. Your mileage may vary. Feel free to let me know your thoughts on scenario scalability in the comments sections.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Games I'm Looking Forward To (or instantly dated post)

There are tons of games that I am looking forward to in 2008, but in the interests of brevity (and blogger's 200 character label limit), I'll be talking about two in this post. Others might follow later, depending on comments and what else is going on.

As I've written earlier, I'm a fan of Marvel Heroes, but War of the Ring isn't enjoyable for me. I mentioned that the theme turned me off War of the Ring, but there are a few more quibbles with the game. The action dice serve to limit your choices and strategy. A lot of the game is spent working against the dice (and the dice have no direct link to Tolkien's prose).

I am not the biggest fan of Robert E. Howard, in general, and Conan stories in particular, but I am anticipating Nexus's new "Age of Conan" game with the ill-patience reserved for great games. Age of Conan sounds like a re-tooling of War of the Ring. So why am I so enthused given the theme and mechanics?

Because it sounds like the fantasy war game. It is really multiplayer (unlike War of the Ring which has a fixed 2 sides there are 4 countries players can be). The action dice are back but this time in a common pool. So if I take an action it means that others might not be able to do it, too. This sounds like it will add tactical decisions instead of taking away options (as the dice is War of the Ring could do).

There is also a diplomacy mechanic so war isn't the only path to victory (I enjoy multiple viable victory paths). And Conan is in the game. Auctions to steer the "force of nature" that is Conan might be the best implementation of Conan in board game form that I've heard. It does sound a bit like the Groo game, but the level of detail on Conan's activities, decks for each player nation, cards for events in neutral countries, and so on sounds like it will bring an immersive fantasy world to the table in a way not seen.

Age of Conan is very high on my radar. Here's hoping it is a great big sprawling epic game.

The other game, I'm interested in is actually an English reprint of a game already available in German: Agricola. It is about being a farmer in Europe. The fun in this game would be the same fun in economic games (see comments on Brass, 1825 and Industrial Waste for my love of economic games): building a profitable enterprise.

It also shares limited actions that make a lot of eurogames fun for me. With only 14 turns, it appears that figuring out what needs to be done now and what can wait until later will provide a delicious tension. Blocking other players actions sounds unthematic and just a way to interject interaction into the game, but since when have euros been judged on their thematic strengths?

But wait there's more (just like the infomercials say). You also get the first few planned expansions in the box. That's something like 350 cards. The cards do seem to have combinations, but simply being dealt a good hand doesn't hand the game to you on a silver platter. You have to take an action to play cards, and who knows what the opponents will do with their action advantage over you.

There doesn't appear to be any catch-up mechanism. So if you mess up then that's that. Player elimination is fine in games. It sounds like a tough game that doesn't cut much slack (other than allowing your family members to beg for food instead of staving, but even that comes with a big cost -3 points for each mouth you can't feed).

Looking over this post there doesn't seem to be much in common between the two games I'm anticipating. But that's probably good. If every game were exactly the same as every other one, then there'd be no reason to play different games. I guess variety is the spice of life.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Brass (not a review)

Martin Wallace's game Brass is one of the games I will play almost any time. I really enjoy it, but it hits the points that I enjoy in a game. One of my gripes about Industrial Waste is the need to get orders to get income form your developed factory. I enjoy building up my super factory, but the day-to-day drag of actually getting orders isn't as fun.

Brass gives you all the fun of running several industries, but once you have a market for your goods, you never have to go through the bother of selling from that factory again. You keep selling from that factory (since your income is permanently increased), but you don't need to concern yourself with such low-level details.

The most important action (in my opinion) that you can take in this game is development. And that is implemented in a staggeringly unintuitive manner (flipping tiles off of stacks). The best payoffs (in points) come with the more developed industries, but they tend to give the worst income boost. It seems hard to evaluate, but I guess that's a good thing. Few businesses in the real world know exactly what the pay off for R&D investment will be.

The tension of this game lies in its limited actions and money. If you go for a cash strong approach to the game, then you should hope that shipyards are open when you need them (shipyards are a very good way to convert cash into points). You can almost always go for loans (and if you are feeling short on cash that is usually a good move).

Brass is a hard game to learn, but I think that's mainly because a lot of the mechanics are new. Also the components lead people to think coal and iron are the same. They aren't, and the rules treat them differently. Although calling iron, "iron" is somewhat misleading since it represents iron works building steam engines and such.

I've played the game about ten times. The first few games were learning about how cards worked and where you could build (transporting coal/iron). The next few were learning the importance of loans. Then there was learning how important development was. The last few games have focused on transportation links.

There is a lot to this game, and even after all the times I've played it, I don't feel like I know it well enough to give a fair review. The best I can do is say that I've enjoyed every game win or lose (which is admittedly highly subjective).

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Confession Time: I Hate Puerto Rico

According to wikipedia Puerto Rico has won the following awards:

I understand that a lot of people must like this game for it to win all those awards. I have heard people try to claim that "objectively" it is a good game, but I haven't seen an objective review for this game, but maybe that's because I played before finding out about the hype.

An objective review isn't something that sets up a list of ideals that a game must have, and then tells you that you must like or dislike a game because of how much it conforms to said list. Roger Ebert writes opinions instead of reviews. An objective review should let you know if you'd like what's being reviewed not just if the reviewer liked it.

I dislike Puerto Rico for a lot of reasons, but my number one gripe is that there is no long term planning. If long term planning isn't important to you in a game then you might like Puerto Rico. A long term plan for me is something that you can work toward all game. It is something that you can position yourself for (making small moves which eventually lead to your end goal).

I've heard Puerto Rico fan praise the strategic depth of the game. The difficult choices of role selection. Anticipating the next players's moves. Blocking them from shipping their goods. All these choices exist on a turn to turn basis.

There aren't gradual game shaping choices. If I have a lot of plantations, I'm going for a shipping strategy. No ambiguity there. I might as well pass a note to the player sitting to my left saying, "take Captain, when you can, to block my shipping". I in turn must look at what the players around me are doing and take roles mainly to hinder them.

There are only seven roles in the game. So on your turn you pick one of the remaining roles and that's it. Small decision tree with easy to understand consequences. Also has very little luck (which leads to even easier to predict results).

Puerto Rico reminds me of a Cheapass game included in Change!: Diminishing Returns, but with better components. Diminishing Returns doesn't have 2 major strategies; there's just one. It does play quicker than Puerto Rico though. Same feeling to the decisions: if I play this amount, the players to my left will play this amount, and so on.

You may have noticed that I haven't posted any "reviews" in this blog. I don't pay attention to components or rule clarity when playing, and I know that some people care a lot about those elements. I hope this semi-objective rant let you know why you should avoid Puerto Rico or why you should check out Change!

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Scalable Train Games: 1825 and On the Underground

Most train games are good for a fairly small range of players. By looking at two games which do seem to scale well we can see what mechanism help scalability (but it's really just an excuse to gush over 2 games I really like). On the Underground player 2-5 and 1825 plays 2-9 (although I've only played up to 5).

There are many way to get victory points in On the Underground: loops, passenger, National Rail stations, connecting two matching stations, and terminus stations. That's an awful lot of different "paths to victory" available. If someone is blocking one VP source then there are so many others to choose from. This game gets its tension from providing an environment where you want to do 5 or 6 things each turn, but can only do 4.

The game plays in semi-random number of player turns (there is a deck from which 1 or 2 cards are drawn each turn and when exhausted it's the final round). This keeps games at a similar length regardless of how many players are in the game. There is more downtime with more players, but since so much of the game is trying to connect lines without being blocked and blocking others, I am involved all the time.

The other scalability mechanism is giving out different amounts of track lengths depending on the number of players. Even the number of different colours you have available changes (and since you can only add to ends of existing lines, number of colours does change the opportunities available on the board).

It does feel like the same game with 2, 4, and 5 players (I have not played the 3 player version, yet). I think this is, in part, due to the passenger movement. There is always something out of your control each turn so adding chaos from other player's moves doesn't seem like a major shift.

1825 on the other hand, only has "one" way to get "points": money in hand at the end of the game. It scales, in part, because there are more companies than players. You can (and I usually do) run 2 or 3 companies in the game.

Another huge scaling factor in 1825 is the modularity of the board. You play on different parts of Britain depending on how many players. This keeps the number of companies per player manageable, and keeps track building competition intense.

The joy of 1825 comes from setting up a long term business plan for your companies and watching them fail. Also watching the stock market for undervalued stock is a must. 1825 is short enough (with 2-5 players) to play in an evening, and with the linear stock market is less overtly cutthroat than the 1830 branch of 18xx.

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Dunwich Horror

Dunwich Horror isn't an expansion to Arkham Horror; it's an integral part of Arkham Horror.

I have 3 problems with Arkham horror. Sometimes there's no good move to make (which can be especially frustrating if you can't do anything because of one unlucky die roll). The game gets easier after a certain point (closing a certain number of gates). One Great Old One is basically the same as the next. Dunwich solves my problems.

There is always something that can be done with the new expansion. Maybe try that task or mission you've gotten. How about heading to Dunwich to keep the Dunwich Horror under wraps? Or even take insanity or injury instead of losing the critical items and clues you need to seal the next gate. With Dunwich there is a choice between different strategies. Is it better to head to Dunwich? Close a gate? Do that mission?

Gate bursts prevent the feeling of safety given from sealing gates in the original game. Now a sealed gate is just a temporary stop-gap before the Great Old One awakens and everything destroyed. This does make the game harder, but saving the world from eldritch horror should be hard.

Speaking of Great Old Ones the 4 new ones change the dynamic of the game more than the original ones. These aren't like Ithaqua (street locations are slightly more hazardous).

Shudde M'ell destroys buildings forever. No more pat strategies relying on trading monsters at South Church for blessings or newspaper for money. And if there are too many monster surges (from open gates) too many buildings are destroyed and the Great Old One arises and everyone loses. Open gates are a big deal now.

Glaaki's strength lies in his undead servants. Each time one enters play it triggers bad effects for investigators. If all of them enter play Glaaki awakens and go immediately to the end game. It might seem like a good idea to always kill Glaaki's servants, but you don't get a trophy and they just go back on Glaaki so their negative effects hit the investigators when they come back into play. Also Glaaki's attack raises the terror level. If you ignore terror during play (focusing on arming for a fight with Glaaki) then the last fight might end before it begins. Servants enter play when allies die which makes the terror track more important with Glaaki.

The upcoming Kingsport Horror expansion sounds like it will add event more diversity to the end fight with the Great Old One (although, hopefully, it shouldn't come to that). Epic Battles sound like another welcome addition to the game.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Unfair Comparison: Runebound with All Expansions Versus Base Arkham Horror

Runebound isn't so much a game as it is a gaming system. With so many different rules tweaks and expansions (even a second edition) it is a hybrid role-playing game/board game.

Just like RPGs there is a lot of customization. Each group can play Runebound differently. Some groups play as multiplayer solitaire. Others add class decks for more interaction. Don't like the default fantasy setting? Play in Arabian deserts with Sands of Al-Kalim. Tired of the same old monsters, use a challenge deck expansion. Play an all against one game with Midnight expansion. Sail around with the Isle of Dread. Don't like fighting Dragon Lords, there are Giant Lords, Storm Lords, members of the dire Cult of the Rune, and so forth available in adventure variants.

Arkham horror is based on the Call of Cthulhu RPG. There are 8 different Ancient Ones in the base game. Everyone always works together to stop the Ancient One from doing whatever evil it wants. The Ancient Ones do give a bit of variety to the game, but each Ancient One is basically trying to open Gates. The differences between them are minor game effects and different number of gates needed to open.

I like Runebound better than the base version of Arkham Horror. There always seems to be something to do to get closer to the win in Runebound. Maybe save up money for that nice item in Dawnsmoor (it is nice to see what you will get so you can try to manage your money). In Arkham, I frequently find myself without a viable option on my turn (maybe I'm just bad at Arkham, but having no good moves is boring).

You can also level up your Runebound character and improve their stats. What makes the game work is leveling your character, moving on to harder encounters (as you level). And trying to keep ahead of the other players leveling. In Arkham there is no leveling. Monsters just come out at random (easy and hard mixed).

How do they compare on story? There is an effort at giving flavour text which has a story to encounter cards in Arkham. These cards are randomly drawn and typically give a boon or just bad stuff depending on the location you are in (and if you need to roll against stats).

In contrast, Runebound has story progression. It does have random stuff (not tied to location) called Encounters, but it also has Events. Events are global effects which give the game a progression, and sense of story. Even games where Event text is ignored have this sense of progression (seeing the Cult of the Rune spreading its corruption across the land, experiencing increasingly worse Storm cards, and so on).

This is not to say that Arkham is a bad game. I love it with expansions, but the base game is sorely lacking fun for me.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Why I like Marvel Heroes

Marvel Heroes is one of my gaming "guilty pleasures". It is extremely fun to play with the right people (I've never played it with the wrong people). It took me several games to realize that the designers at Nexus did an excellent job on this game.

Marvel Heroes is an odd game. It is highly abstracted in some areas (almost no tactical dimension), but in other areas it almost seems like a simulation (literally hundred of different superpowers for heroes and villains intersecting). It seems too detailed for a Eurogame, but too abstracted for Ameritrash. I had a hard time figuring out what my "role" was in the game, the first few times.

Then I realized my role: a "Marvel Heroes coach". You feel like the coach of a sports team. Deciding who to bench and who goes out on the field each round. Some characters are also forced to the bench because of injuries. While you don't call the tactical details (that's abstracted by dice rolls), you do get to call the major strategy for each fight.

The field of play is different each game because the "headlines" (problems that need super hero help) are generated by a card deck. The difficulty of a headline depends on which heroes are sent to investigate. Do you send a weaker character who is better at the type of activity happening or a stronger one who will have more challenge (but might overcoming said challenge easier)?

The dice for this game are brilliant. They allow for a "realistic" power spread between a hero like Electra (not too powerful) and someone like the Hulk (unbelievably strong) to be represented in the same game. I can't run the numbers for different dice combinations in my head so I just go with the different power names, and the dice results fit the names of the powers being used (if you are familiar with the comics).

The other stroke of genius is that you play the villains as well as heroes. This means that there is little downtime. However your primary focus is on the heroes, the villains can only react to hero activity. Playing villains well means managing your resources (villain cards) well. It took me a long time to realize that sometimes not playing a villain to allow for an easy hero win is sometimes better than spending all your villain cards (leaving nothing for the headlines which really need blocking).

If the feeling of playing as Charles Xavier (of X-Men fame), leading your team to glory, is appealing then this is the game for you. If you wanted more tactical feel (less abstraction of powers) then Marvel Heroscape might be the ticket (I prefer grand strategy so I've never played Marvel Heroscape).

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

The Anti-Theme

Let me preface this post by saying that I dislike Tolkien's Lord of the Rings (and Peter Jackson's film trilogy). I prefer The Silmarillion (which makes me an even bigger geek than LotRs fans.)

I also dislike Riener Knizia's base Lord of the Rings game because it's too linear. I enjoy making long term plans. The simplicity of planning in the base game bores me: save travel cards for Mordor (and other simple plans).

But Lord of the Rings is one of my favorite games when played with the expansions (any single one or combination of them). Why? Because the basic framework of the "boring" game is a framework on which a fun game is then played.

By fun I mean that the long term effects of choices is harder to judge. Which board(s) to skip in Friends and Foes (is it better to go through a board than take damage from foes)? In Battlefields there is always tension about saving precious fighting cards for the main track or killing enemies to prevent damage and/or prevent damage (better to kill the double damage enemy or the one who mores the eye back).

Sauron has the dark rider to hurt the fellowship in the Sauron expansion. Picking which symbol to effect you each turn is hard. Do you go for the extra goodies on the side tracks or ignore them? There doesn't seem to be a best option with Sauron since the player can listen to hobbit strategy and adjust his actions accordingly.

Sauron seems to have a big advantage in this expansion (at least with new players). I feel that Sauron is best played by the least experienced player. This way they can learn the game without being bossed around by more experienced players. If your group is good at Sauron it is easy to handicap the game for the newbie (add another expansion, start Sauron on 10 or 12, and/or use dark event tiles).

The game is a fun cooperative game, but even in talking about it (dark events, flow chart battle boards, skippable boards), I'm not immersed in J. R. R. Tolkien's world. War of the Ring is a game which is almost impossible to talk about without LotRs immersion. I prefer Knizia's abstract cooperative game, though. It is one of the few games that I would play almost any time (it does require thought so if I'm really tired I'd probably bow out).