Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Another Tuesday, Another Game Night

We had a pretty good attendance last night with as many as 14 people showing themselves at one time or another throughout the evening. While we waited for people to gather we played a six-player game of Steffan Dorra's excellent game, For Sale. This is a simple bidding game played in two rounds. During the first round, thirty property cards numbered 1-30 are auctioned off. During the second round, the property cards from the first round are traded in for check cards. Checks are worth from 15 down to 0 points and they're doled out over a series of turns where each player chooses one property card from their hand, all reveal what they've chosen and then whoever played the highest property takes the highest check, and so on. It's fast and light and lots of fun.

Then it was on to the main event:

On one table we had Oren running a five-player game of Descent: Journeys in the Dark. That kept them busy for the entire evening (or at least until I left at around ten-o-clock). By the way, I finally got to play this with my son the other day. It's a very good dungeon crawler game. If you're at all a fan of D&D then you'll probably love this game. I was a D&D player once upon a time and I did enjoy the game very much but I think that for me it runs a little bit on the long side so I'm not sure how much I'll actually want to play it. It's an excellent game and I can totally see the appeal but at this point in my life I'm a little wary about starting any game, no matter how good, that's likely to go well beyond three hours.

At the other table, four of us (Mike K., Darryl, Adam and I) played Martin Wallace's new game: Byzantium for the first time. Byzantium is a very unique kind of war game/euro game hybrid. Unlike most war games, where players play one side or another, in Byzantium each player controls both an Arab army and a Byzantine army. There are two victory tracks, one for each side of the war (Arab and Byzantine) and players attempt to score points in each of them. Points are scored in a number of ways but chiefly by taking control of and holding a city. Typical of a Martin Wallace game, clever mechanics abound and the game features not one but two brutal economies that must be managed. It's a rather long game (figure over three hours for your first four-player game) but the rules aren't terribly hard to learn, there's very little down time, and the tension is high throughout. We each went for very different strategies and in spite of that, the game ended very close, with only a few points difference between first, second and third. The player who came in last would have come in first if he'd only had a few more points on his Arab scoring track (if one of your two scores is less than half of the other then only the largest counts; otherwise you add them together to get your final score). Like most Martin Wallace games, it can take a while to figure out a winning strategy. I have a feeling that I'm going to have to play this a few more times before I even begin to get a feel for how to play it well. In other words: I liked it very much.

After we finished Byzantium, we played Geschenkt, a very light game where players turn over a numbered card (worth negative points) and take turns adding chips (worth positive points) into the pot until finally someone breaks down and takes the chips and the card. At the end of the game, any cards in sequence only hurt your score by the value of the lowest card in the sequence, so getting runs is a good thing. Each chip improves your score by one point so the more chips you end up with the better. It's a fast and light game with a lovely chicken element as players try and decide at what point it's best to stop spending chips and just take the card.


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