Wednesday, 28 October 2009

The First World War

I don't like writing about games after only playing them once or twice, but that's what I am doing. I have only played The First World War twice (once as Germany and once as German Allies). So I have little idea of how the game simulates Russia or the Western Allies from their point of view. Both times were played with 6 surrender points and that seems to be the way to play the game. Once we played with halving die rolls to minimize luck swings and the second time we didn't. Both times Russia complained that they didn't stand a chance.

Maybe Russia doesn't stand a chance and that's why they are only a separate player with 4 (both games were played with the full four players). I haven't played Russia so maybe that is a fair complaint. But Russia did reject Brest-Litovsk (which would have given them game assuming their side won, which they did).

Germany plays very differently from Austria. Getting bogged down in deadly trench warfare in the West. The need to communicate with Austria. The tension of fighting on two fronts. Much different than the usual blah German World War Two game.

We lost due to Austrian surrender. Our point total was higher and it was 1918. It felt like we lost when we were at our height (just as happened historically). The levels of casualties and length of game (enough time for reversals) seems right.

It is a "real" wargame. In each game, I could see how poor play (not just poor dice rolling) lead to the loss. Although that is hard to say definitely because of the game's fog of war.

All in all an enjoyable game for me. I can't wait to play it again.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Fast and Slow

I am a "slow" gamer. I enjoy building up a plan over hours and seeing how it plays out. It is also fun to see one's carefully constructed plans layed to waste.

When I'm enjoying my planning, another player can be engaging on a purely tactical level (turn by turn, but not "big picture" planning). This "dual-level" is part of what makes Le Havre so good.

I recently played Le Havre with a gamer who was neither tactical nor strategic. He didn't enjoy the game and made moves which hurt his own position. I felt bad because he had wasted 3 hours on a game he didn't enjoy.

We should have just quit as soon as he realized he didn't like the game, but we were stupid.

Later on, when we were playing Dominion (a game he enjoyed a lot more), I think I started to understand what he enjoys about games and how Le Havre wasn't satisfying for him. He played very strongly, controlling the tempo and pacing of Dominion, while I was seeding my deck with synergistic cards as part of my long term plans. We ended up with a tie game. And we had so much fun playing that the ending didn't matter.

I guess the main thing I took from this isn't a third category (to go along with tactic and strategy) but the idea that categories never tell the whole story. Just play games that are fun for you and don't worry about labels.

Monday, 30 March 2009

Replayablility and Reviews

There seems to be a shortage of good Age of Conan reviews, right now. Having now played the game as three of the four kingdoms, I can say some things about it, but not that much. Maybe the game is too "deep" to allow quick quality reviews.

On the surface Age of Conan looks like a Risk variant. Underneath that layer is a game about converting resources into victory points. You essentially have three types of resources: Conan bid tokens, cards, and the fate dice.

Conan bid tokens (plus a strategy card) convert to control of Conan (assuming you win the auction). Control of Conan gives you access to adventure tokens (which can be kept for potential end game scoring or converted to money/sorcery), Conan's aid in battle, and ability to drop raider tokens (negative points and/or make neutrals harder to take).

Fate dice let you do 4 things: move emissaries (main source of gold in the game), move armies (main source of VP in the game), get cards (which make your other actions more efficient), or effect Conan (either by dropping raiders, shortening the adventure track or moving Conan more quickly to his destination).

And cards (as I claimed earlier) aid your efficiency. Increasing your odds in dice contests, giving you special powers to sway events in your favor, and so on (I'm not that familiar with Stygia's deck so I'll keep things vague).

I am familiar with Aquilonia, Turan, and Hyperborea. I know what most of my opponents have hidden in their kingdom decks. I am not surprised when Turan plays Sultan's Gold (for example).

But all of this still feels like the surface of the game. I'd need a lot more plays to see how it all pans out. All these fun plays are just me getting a handle on the strategy and tactics allowed by the game.

I've tried a game where I tried to control Conan via lots of card draws (for the auction), tried a cash strategy (doesn't do much unless you have play on the table cards to fuel), and even tried a military only approach. Each has some merit and I don't think there is an optimal path through the game.

Multiple paths to victory and all that.

Maybe the reason there are so few good reviews of Age of Conan out there is that the game takes time to learn and enjoy (which is true of teaching and individual sessions). Maybe that level of depth will give Age of Conan a level of replayability that most new games lack.

But those new games do get quick quality reviews. Oh well.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Upcoming games

Valley Games has announced a release date for Republic of Rome. They say it will be out in Summer 2009. Call me a cynic, but board games seem to frequently miss release dates. I am okay with that. I'd prefer a quality product over one that hit a release.

Long time blog readers will remember that I posted a similar topic back in July of 2008. Hopefully it will be out before Christmas '09.

Speaking of games which aren't officially out in the US, how about them boats that Le Havre is on?

Le Havre was printed in Europe and got on a boat about 15 days ago. Since I ordered a copy from a local store instead of Essen copies, which were available on-line, I am still waiting for the boat.

It is kind of ironic that a game about shipping and a harbor town is currently on a ship at sea. At least I've gotten a chance to play someone else's copy.

Personally, I like Le Havre. It would seem like the kind of game that I'd dislike: engine building games where you have to "turn the crank".


Maybe it isn't an engine building game, at all. The majority of actions are resource gathering or resource transformation. Maybe the game is about transforming resources into the most valuable stuff (while dealing with the overhead of feeding your workers).

If you are waiting for Le Havre, Republic of Rome, or something else, I hope your desired outcome happens soon. For me the funniest part of the game is in the playing, and we can't do that until the game, itself, actually arrives.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Long Games

Played Age of Conan and Android. I really enjoyed both games, but I'm not close to being able to review them.

I've been Louis Blaine in both Android games. They've been different cases (which make the game play differently), but same character. I even ended up with the same starting plot.

In the second game, I played Louis more in character. He didn't have the maga-happy ending with his wife, but did catch the criminal. Going for the marginally happy ending gave Louis extra powers (ability to move evidence after following up a lead), which isn't there if you resolve the first 3 days favorably. Being able to place evidence helped a lot (Louis was also obsessed with his suspect).

But there is so much more to the game: 4 other characters to try, many other cases, different strategies to try out with each character. Only problem is the length-phobic gamers make it harder to get played than other games.

Played a full game of Age of Conan (as Aquilonia). I seemed to be doing pretty good conquering territory, but the game ended shockingly: Stygia crowned Conan king. Last time I checked Conan hated Stygia, but they had enough "women" tokens to win Conan over.

I had also left 1 army unit alone next to Stygia. They were able to attack it for a Crom counts the dead token. This was enough to give them +3 points (instead of +1 for ties on Crom counts the dead). Did I mention that I lost by 1 point?

Although, if he thought he wouldn't win via crowning Conan the game would have ended normally and Hyperborea
would have won. They had the majority of Monster and Treasure tokens (+10 points) which would have put them in the lead.

It is amazing to play a quick 3.5 hour game (with 3-4 players, one player left early), and still be within striking distance of each other. The "rubber banding" mechanism of the Conan bonus card didn't seem to come into play (although that might be because Hyperborea
had it and they kept winning Conan auctions).

I'd like to play the game again as a different kingdom (probably one of the sorcerous ones) to see how the game changes, but as it is the game is great fun.

Not sure when/if I'll be picking up a new game. The current crop of games are very fun (at least the first few times) and need a lot of time. This is probably a good thing, why spend money on a "disposible game"?

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Gaming Stores

I don't buy board games on-line. Well, except for Mordred, The First World War, Industrial Waste, and so on. (Those were games which weren't in stock at the local game stores.)

I tend to buy games from a local game store. I say local because there are three to choose from in my area (or at least three that I'm aware of).

Why this preference?

I research games on the web before making a purchase. My trip into a game store tends to be in and out. If they don't have the one item I'm looking for then I leave again otherwise I stop by the cash register and leave.

It is the same experience as buying on-line, but I get the game in hand a little earlier. Most on-line stores let you know if a game is in stock. Instead of driving between three stores, you just click to another site and check their stock.

The rational behind local game stores is that random people might stop in and become interested in the hobby. There's some truth to that. I grew up going to the local game store and when that closed I drove to the game store in the next town.

The internet is good for a lot of things, but it hasn't (at this point) been able to duplicate the experience of entering a good game store: pick up games in the corner, the feel of the carpet under your feet, the smell of games.

It's been years since I've felt that way, though. Maybe I support local brick and mortar stores so that others can experience it.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Motorstorm Pacific Rift

This is another in the semi-continuing series of video game reviews. Again it isn't by me, and again it is a game that wasn't on a lot of top 10 lists for 2008 (at least none that I could find).

But I think it was a solid game.

Note: this review is longer than youtube's 10 minute limit. Here's part I:

And here's part II:

Monday, 12 January 2009

Rules 2fer

Some game publishers release rules before the game is in stores. Some people feel like they can review games based on reading the rules. Maybe that is true for some games and/or some gamers, but I think it is like reviewing a film after reading the shooting script. Fantasy Flight posted rules for both Android and Age of Conan. I have played Android since then, but Age of Conan still isn't out.

So let's talk about the rules for Android. Are they long, complicated, and hard to grasp first time? Yes. Are they "strongly thematic"? A set of rules governing the behavior of Noir detectives seems questionable.

I was able to write 5 whole sentences about the rules. Like number of players or play time unless long "meaty" rules aren't enjoyable then there's nothing to scare you away. But the rules aren't the game.

Specifically there are lots of cards which have special rules on them which change the game for you. Without reading all the cards, you can't know how the game will play.

Even playing for the first time, I couldn't really get the system. It is big and different and hard to evaluate. After the game, I thought about what had happened for days afterward (which is something I enjoy in games).

The more I thought about what had happened to my character and how the game played out, the more I could see the theme in the game played.

I played Louis Blaine. He's a corrupt cop who let his partner die just before the game starts. His wife knew something was up and left him. I spent most of the first week trying to get Blaine back with his wife. This gave me 7 VP, but I was kind of confused with what to do. I was in a bad mood and that somehow translated into Rachel (the bounty hunter) having her car break down. I figured she was out of the game for the time being. And then I turned my attention to Caprice (the psychic).

For the second week Caprice was pelted with Nightmares and emotional trama. Her sanity began to slip (even though I was now in a good mood). Louis had decided to end his relationship with Mr. Li (the underworld guy who Louis sold his partner out to). During the beginning of the week, Louis managed to corner Mr. Tanaka and beat him to death with a lead pipe.

Louis's plot was going so well he as it entered the second part of the second week. Then I realized that Louis couldn't be corrupt any more and have a happy ending. The cards I drew to frame suspects and throw out evidence caused me to gain bad baggage. I couldn't even gain favors like I used to. I stuck it out and managed to resolve the plot for 7 more VP.

However, I'd burned all my favors trying to reconcile Louis with Sarah. With the favors spent I couldn't profit from the work I did uncovering the conspiracy either. And I couldn't sway guilt at the end of the game. I ended up with 14 VP. Thematically, I chose to stop being corrupt, but it meant that the criminal got away.

Which seems like a very Noir story, but I only realized the importance of my decisions after the game was finished. I would lost more points pursuing the happiest endings than I gained from them.

This is how Blaine played. I am sure that the other detectives play very differently. I'm interested to see how they play.

I've kind of rambled long enough about Android. Age of Conan isn't out yet. So who knows how it actually plays. Just like Android, Age of Conan has decks of cards. The rules for Age of Conan don't seem all that thematic (whatever that means), but the flavor could well be in the cards.

I am waiting anxiously to find out.