Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Something Old; Something New

Last night was game night and so here I am again to talk about what we played.

Turnout was good. There were a few people who we hadn't seen for a while and there were a few who have just started coming. We could always use more though so feel free to drop by if you're in the neighborhood next Tuesday.

When I arrived, a furious game of Bluff was just wrapping up. At least I assume it was furious. Perhaps it was just mildly annoyed. Either way, it was Bluff and it was ending.

Once that game ended the players extricated themselves from the wreckage and dispersed to form other congregations of gamers.

My personal band of four gamers gathered together for a game that was brand new to us: Arkadia, by Rüdiger Dorn. This game takes as its (rather unimaginative) theme the building of a castle. Supposedly players are placing outbuildings which contribute to the construction of a castle. (Now where have I heard that before?) In reality, the theme has almost no relationship to the game. It's completely pasted on to what is actually a very abstract game. Players place Tetris-like building tiles, and worker pawns on a grid. Whenever a building is surrounded, either by other buildings or by workers, it is scored and the player who triggered the scoring, along with all other players who own immediately adjacent pawns, receive a number of colored seals. At several points in the game, which can be determined by the players, these seals may be exchanged for victory points. The exchange rate is determined by the current configuration of the castle pieces (which incidentally, are exactly the same pieces used in Torres), over which players also have some control. It's very abstract and almost completely divorced from the theme but the pieces are lovely and the game works quite well. It's a very fast game (45 minutes) and I enjoyed it although I was quite soundly thrashed.

Meanwhile, another large congregation of gamers gathered for the new Fantasy Flight monster game: Star Craft. (Soon to be available at HFoG but as of this moment we haven't any in stock.) This group played this game for nigh on to five hours. Too long for my tastes but by all accounts it's a terrific game and well worth the time investment. I can say one thing unequivocally: the bits are to die for. The dozens of plastic miniatures that players spend all those hours pushing around the board are absolutely fantastic. Well worth the price of admission.

Next up for yours truly was a two player game of Tikal. Now compared to most of the other games our group plays, this is a pretty old game (1999). It's one of the famous Kiesling/Kramer "Mask Trilogy" of games which also includes Java and Mexica. I've played both Java and Mexica before. I had not played Tikal. I liked it. We had intended to play with three players but one of our number was called away for a minor emergency. I'm happy to report that the game works very well with two. In fact, I suspect that I might actually prefer to play it that way. This is middle-weight strategy game where players use a limited number of action points to maneuver a limited number of pieces around on a hex-grid board in an attempt to score points via majority control. There is just a little bit of luck provided by the draw of hex tiles which gradually form the board as each turn progresses. But mostly this game is all about carefully planning how best to use the limited resources that are available to you on each turn. It's quite tactical with a fairly strong element of strategy as well. I highly enjoyed it. It didn't hurt that I finished well ahead of my opponent.

Meanwhile, there was a game of Shadow of the Emperor underway on another table. This is a game that I haven't played in a while. It's a fairly standard majority control game but with one really cool twist: the pieces age. After each turn, the pieces (which represent barons) are rotated a quarter turn, representing an increase in age of five years. Eventually, the barons die off and are removed from the board. This game is listed as a 90 minute game but this group of four players took a full three hours to play this one. Part of the problem was that the game had to be explained to a couple of players, but I think a big part of the problem was that certain players seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time trying to calculate the best move. In fact, this game took SO long that I was able to get in another game while I waited for it to finish...

While we waited for the Analysis Paralysis Players to finish their game, we two Tikal players began and finished a game of To Court the King. This is a super-cool dice game that many (including myself) have described as Yahtzee for gamers. Reminiscent of that other dice game, players roll dice in an effort to achieve certain combinations (full houses, three of a kind, and so on). But in this game, your dice combinations earn you courtiers. Each courtier has a special ability which helps you out in subsequent turns, such as bringing in additional dice or allowing you to change the numbers on the dice you rolled. The goal of all of this is to build up to the point where you can roll seven of a kind and claim the king. Once that occurs, the end game is triggered where each player competes in a roll-off where they try to achieve the largest number and highest ranked set of matching dice. Whoever achieves this wins the game. Naturally, whoever claims the king has an advantage in this final roll-off. It's luck heavy, as most dice games are, but there is also a surprising amount of room for strategic and tactical play. The special abilities of each of the courtiers heavily compensate for the whims of the dice. This is a great little game.

With that game over, we had to wait just a bit longer for Shadow of the Emperor to break up. Once it finally did, four of us ended our night with a lovely game of Tichu. I'd love to report that I soundly won this game but that would be a lie. In fact, I martyred myself on the gaming table by partnering with one of our newest gamers who had never played the game before. After a brief introduction to the rules and one quick practice hand, we dove right in to the game. Let's just say that things didn't go well for our newbie and me. There was a little confusion about the rules and a lot of confusion about the strategy. All of this and a couple of close (but failed) Tichu calls conspired to put us soundly in the cellar while our two experienced opponents charged over the finish line. It was a dismal showing but, despite the carnage, our newbie has decided that he likes the game (as well he should) and is eager to come back for more. Hopefully by then he'll have given some more thought to the strategy of the game but either way I have to say that being thrashed in Tichu is much more enjoyable than not playing Tichu at all.


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