Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Another Good Game Night

We had a good turnout for last night's game night and there were several good games that hit the table.

When I arrived, folks were playing For Sale. For Sale is a fabulous short filler game by Stefan Dorra. It's played in two rounds: during the first round players bid on numbered property cards (the higher the number, the better the properties). In the second round, players simultaneously choose one of the property cards they bought in the first round and, in order of the number on the property cards selected, they trade their cards in for numbered checks. It's very easy to play but there are some really great subtleties to the game. It also plays in around fifteen minutes which makes it an ideal gathering game.

Next was a game that was new to me: The Thief of Baghdad by Thorsten Gimmler. This is a very nice family strategy game that was one of this year's Spiel des Jahres (German Game of the Year) nominees. In this game, players try to put their thief tokens into the six palaces on the board so they can collect the treasure chests held within each. You need to have a certain number of your thieves in a palace before you can claim the treasure. I enjoyed the game very much and I'll probably try to play it again soon. My only complaint is that the English rules were rather poorly translated. This seems to be a periodically recurring malady with rules from Queen Games. I really like that their games are all multi-lingual but they REALLY need to find someone better to do their English translation. There were a few sections that were worded poorly enough that I actually resorted to looking at the Spanish rules for clarification. (Luckily I speak Portuguese which is close enough to Spanish that I was able to decipher it and get the clarification I was looking for.) Aqua Romana (another Queen game) had a similar issue with its English rules but they were even worse. The rules in The Thief of Baghdad are simple enough that the confusion in the rules wasn't a game breaker.

While three of us were playing The Thief of Baghdad, four others started a game of Britannia. This is a very rich old-school style history game that takes players through most of the ancient history of the British isles. It starts with the Roman occupation and ends with the Norman Invasion (if I remember correctly). Over the course of this long game (our guys played for at least four hours) players control numerous civilizations, each with their own distinct characteristics and objectives. One of the best aspects of this game is that the civilizations controlled by the four players become strongest (and therefore stand to score the most points) at different times in the game. For instance, the player who controls the Romans scores big early in the game whereas the player who controls the Celts stands to score big much later. The box says it plays 3-5 players but it's really designed to play properly with exactly four. I liked it very much when I played it but the long length keeps it from becoming one of my favorites.

My next game of the evening was Shear Panic by the Lamont Brothers. This is a really cute perfect information game where players manipulate a small flock of adorable ceramic sheep in order to score points based upon their configuration. There are four phases to the game, each of which rewards different configurations. In the first phase you want to get your two sheep as close to each other as possible. In the second phase you want to get your sheep as close to the front of the flock as you can. In the third phase you want your sheep to be close to the black sheep in the flock. And in the fourth phase you want your sheep to be as far back in the flock as possible. It's whimsical and short and very cute and it would be a light game if not for the fact that it's also a perfect information game which means that gamers like us tend to analyze more deeply than I think was intended. The little hand-painted ceramic sheep are so adorable that even if the game weren't a good one (and it is) I'd want a copy.

Meanwhile another group played a game of Bohnanza with the Bohnaparte expansion. I've played Bohnanza plenty of times and I've played the High Bohn expansion once or twice but I've never played Bohnaparte before. It looked quite good and that seemed to be the consensus of those playing.

While we were waiting for that game to break up so we could mix players up a bit, we played a single hand of three player Mü. is intended to be played with 4-6 players but I think that our three player variant works quite well. It'd be a particularly effective way to teach the game I would think since the new player can learn from the way people play the dummy hand.

The final game of the evening for me was Alan Moon's wonderful game Elfenland. Five of us played using the "home city" variant. I did quite well, managing to tie for the lead. I was able to visit all but one city and I ended on my home city, meaning that I was one point short of a perfect score. I'd have had a perfect score if not for one road block that was placed in just the wrong spot. I really like this game but when I play with my kids we have to leave the road block tiles out. They can't handle the screwage factor that the road blocks inject into the game. I have to say that I kind of prefer it that way too. One road block can really screw up your turn. We were thinking that the road block rule might be gentler if, instead of requiring you to play an extra card of the specific type needed for that route, a roadblock merely required that you play one extra card of any type. I'll have to try it that way and see if that softens up the road block rule enough for my kids.

Well, that was my night. I had a ton of fun. Can't wait for next Tuesday!


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