Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Last Night's Gaming

We had a great turnout last night. It was good to see Christopher and his new son pop by for the first half of the evening. Since the little nipper's sprung to life a few weeks back, Christopher's been notably absent from our little gatherings.

I thought it would be fun to bring an older classic for our opener so I brought Ricochet Robots which is one of my all-time favorite games. This is one of those games that people either love or hate. I love it. Five robots are scattered about a grid-like factory floor. Robots can move in a straight line either horizontally or vertically but they can't stop on the slippery floor unless they bump into something like a wall or another robot. Each round someone turns over a goal disk and players have to find a way to move one of the robots to the matching goal space (marked on the floor) in as few moves as possible. Once one player finds a solution he calls out the number of moves and turns the timer. Now everyone has until the timer runs out to find a shorter path. Whoever finds the shortest path keeps the goal disk as a point.

One of the reasons I really love this game is because any number of people can play it and it's very easy for people to join or leave the game in the middle. Because each goal is like solving its own puzzle, I never really pay any attention to the score. The fun is in solving the puzzles quickly. It's the perfect opener.

Christopher had been dying to play Notre Dame so he and four others sat down to play a game of that. I've written enough about this game recently and I wasn't a part of this group so I'll leave it at that.

Meanwhile, four of us sat down for a game of Thebes (also known as Jenseits von Theben). In this game, players are archaeologists who try to gather knowledge about various ancient cultures which they then hope to transfer into success at the digs. This game was a Spiel des Jahres nominee and I had heard good things about it. My initial reaction is favorable but with some reservations. First of all, the components are excellent. The game comes with dozens of artifact discs which go in five colored cloth bags that represent each of the five dig sites. Digging is simulated by drawing a disk from the appropriate bag. Each player also has a really cool wheel which is really just a glorified chart but it's a heck of a lot more fun that a boring chart would have been. My only complaint with the game is that it is VERY luck heavy. I think that the luck can be somewhat moderated but even with really good play there is still an awful lot of luck that is simply beyond the player's control. Still, I enjoyed playing and I'm sure I'll play it again.

As a filler, we played a few hands of while we waited for one of the other games to break up so we could mix up the players a bit.

When everyone was free again we mixed up the players and one group went off to play The Thief of Baghdad. I played this a couple of weeks ago and while I enjoyed it, it's probably not going to become one of my favorites. I felt it was a little on the dry side. I'll have to play it again though and see if my initial impression stands up.

The rest of us played a game of Aladdin's Dragons. This is a classic blind bidding game by Richard Breese, who happens to be one of my favorite game designers. In this game, players collect treasures from dragons' lairs beneath the city which they then bring up to the caliph's palace to exchange for magic artifacts. We played with the advanced rules which allow players to use the magic artifacts they collect as well as spell cards to influence the game. I enjoy playing that way but it does add a certain level of both complexity and chaos to the game. The game is much more predictable if you play with the basic rules. I think both ways have their merits.

When that game broke up, some of our group headed home and four of our number started up a game of Tichu. That left just three of us and so we decided to play a game of Colosseum, the latest game from Days of Wonder. As usual, I got my butt whooped. I enjoyed the game though. This time we played with the auction variant that allows players to bid in more auctions than the basic rules allow. The result of this is that money becomes a little more valuable. One of our complaints about the basic rules is that money becomes almost worthless at the end of the game. This variant seems to fix that problem. I enjoyed the game but I still think that it's missing something to push it up into the realm of greatness. I don't know exactly what it is. Perhaps it's just sour grapes from having lost the game so many times now. *grin*

By the way, here's the variant rule we used. When auctioning off market tiles, every time the auctioneer wins an auction, the markets are replenished as normal but now all players may bid in the next auction even if they've won an auction already this round. So say we have three players: A, B and C. A starts the first auction. B wins. B is now out and may not bid on subsequent auctions. A starts another auction and this time C wins. Now C is out. A starts another auction which he wins for the minimum bid because he has no competition. Now all markets are replenished, B is the next auctioneer and all players may bid again. The process repeats until C is the auctioneer and either wins or passes on an auction.


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