Friday, November 17, 2006

Game Night Extravaganza!

Tuesday night sounds cooler than it was if I use a title like that.

My first game of the evening was Himalaya. This is a very nice programming style game in the vein of RoboRally but with a decidedly eurogame feel to it. Players move their caravans along a network of paths picking up and delivering goods. At the beginning of a turn, all players plan their routes secretly, six moves at a time. When everyone is done planning then the routes are revealed and executed one step at a time. Unlike RoboRally, there is no destruction or obstruction but there is still some player interaction as you can never be sure if the goods you're going for or the delivery order you're planning to fulfill are going to still be there by the time you actually arrive. It's not quite as crazy as RoboRally but it's can still be rather chaotic.

The game is played over twelve turns and at the end of the game players add up points in three different categories. In a rather Knizia-like fashion (think High Society or Samurai) each category is scored in sequence. Players who score the least in each of the first two categories are eliminated from subsequent categories. The winner is the survivor who has the most points in the third category. I understood what the designer was going for with this mechanic but it didn't really appeal to me. I prefer games where I can shoot for "best" as opposed to "not worst". Still it was a good game and I'd be happy to play it again.

Next up was Havoc: the Hundred Years War: another game I'd not played before. This is a poker variant masquerading as a eurogame. It's a card game played with a deck of six suits ranked from 0 to 18. Players collect cards using a drafting mechanism until one player decides he's ready to do battle at which point he cries "Havoc!" and plays two cards. Then other players may opt to do battle against him by also playing cards. Players take turns revealing more cards (up to six) or passing (bowing out of the battle or standing with the cards they've already shown). Once all have passed, the player who has revealed the best hand wins the battle. Hand strength is a ranking of six-card poker hands such as straights, full houses, and the like.

I thought Havoc was a pretty decent game but having only played it once I couldn't really get a feel for how to play it well. This is definitely a game where it's important to pick your battles. If you go into battles too early, you'll be using cards that might have been more valuable to you later when the battles are worth more points. But if you wait too long then your opponents may score some easy points with some pretty weak hands. The game is just complicated enough to be interesting but not so complicated as to be difficult to learn. At the end of the day, this is a poker variant and so naturally it depends pretty heavily on luck. It's good but it's not what I would consider a classic by any means and I can think of many games I prefer.

Bet you can't guess what I played to end the night? What did you say? Tichu? Oh darn. You guessed it.


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