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.