Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Gaming Blind

I should be leaving for game night (you've still got time to join us) but I just had to post this first.

From time to time I get emails asking for game suggestions. Today I got one that was really unique. Someone was looking for games to play with someone who is blind. He's an 18 year old who enjoys Catch Phrase but is looking for something else. I scratched my head a bit and here's what I came up with. See if you can think of anything else that might work.

Coloretto would probably work. It's a card game played with colored cards but there is no hidden information whatsoever so as long as someone is willing to to tell him the colors of the cards as they are turned over I would think he could probably play it. It also happens to be a very good game.

Ra might work as well for similar reasons. It's an excellent auction game where tiles are auctioned off and players try to build sets of tiles. There is no hidden information and the board is just a place to put the tiles while they are auctioned off. You don't need to be able to see the board, you just need to know what you and others have already bought, and what is currently up for auction.

Wits & Wagers is a simple party game. Each player submits an answer to a trivia question, the answers are read off and then everyone places bets on which answer they think is most correct. That's repeated over seven questions and whoever ends up with the most points wins. It's light and fun and I can see no reason why someone who can't see wouldn't be able to play the game.

If you can think of anything else that might work, please post a comment!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Homemade Liar's Dice

Click to download a PDF of the board.

In my last entry I mentioned my homemade version of Liar's Dice. Well, I've since made some improvements and reprinted the board. You can see the results above. I'm rather pleased with it.

That plastic case holds a brick of 36 12mm dice so that works out to enough dice for seven players plus one die to record the current bid. The dice chart in the middle is sized to fit 12mm dice perfectly. If you fill the columns from the left with the dice that are out of play (leave the red space uncovered) you can tell at a glance what the average is for any given number to appear (except ones, which are wild) by just counting the empty columns.

The board was printed with a color printer and glued to some cardboard (I used the cardboard from the back of a pad of paper). I then laminated it at Kinko's for a couple of bucks.

If you'd like to print your own board or if you'd just like to take a closer look at my handiwork, you can download a PDF by clicking on the image.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Game Night Writeup

Last night's game night was pretty well attended. Most of the regulars were there. We were even graced by Curt's presence after this week's holiday schedule freed him from his regular Tuesday conflict. Curt was responsible for inviting many of us to this game group so it's always nice to have Curt join us, particularly since he's always got a few hard to find imports in his box.

We opened with my brand new homemade version of Liar's Dice. I finally gave up trying to find a good version of the game for purchase and I went ahead and built my own seven player version complete with full color laminated bidding board. We even lucked into finding the perfect paper cups in the cafeteria. I'm quite pleased with the results.

After enough people arrived we broke up into two groups. One group played Ark, the lovely Doris and Frank card game/board game hybrid. I've written about it before so I'll just say that I really like this game and move on.

I mentioned that Curt had brought some imports. One of those was König Salomons Schatzkammer (King Solomon's Mine) which five of us played while the others were playing Ark. This game was released last year in Germany. The pieces are lovely: a very nice plastic playing tray and tons of ultra-thick tiles. Players "dig" through stacks of tiles in search of gold, scrolls and magic items. It's a set collection game with an interesting three dimensional element and cards that dictate which things you can collect as well as playing order. It's a very interesting concept but it really didn't work all that well for me. I felt that although it wasn't an unusually long game, it was still far too long and too chaotic for what it was. For me the game seemed to drag and I was spending far too much of the game just sitting around waiting for my turn. Normally I'd want to use that time to plan ahead for my turn but by the time my turn came around it seemed that the board had changed so much that planning ahead was almost a waste of time. Perhaps I would have liked it better with fewer than five players. We actually ended up playing it twice but I would have been satisfied with only a single playing.

The Ark players next played Elasund. I recently reviewed that game so scroll down a bit if you want to know more about it. Suffice to say that I think it's the best thing that Klaus Teuber has done in years.

After King Solomon's Mine was finally reburied, Curt pulled out another German import. This time it was a game from 2002 by Friedemann Friese, who is perhaps best known as the designer of Power Grid and Fearsome Floors. Fische Fluppen Frikadellen (Fish Fags Fricassee) is a quirky pickup and delivery set building game. Players move their pawns from shop to shop trading odd items such as cigarettes, booze, fish, and hamburgers in an effort to collect sets. Sets are then traded in for "fetishes" (which look like little idols). The first player to collect three fetishes wins the game. There are a lot of little mechanisms in this game which combined with Friedemann's quirky sense of humor and penchant for the color green and the letter F add up to a decent game. There are even rules for combining up to three sets for a multi-table game that supports up to fifteen players but we only had the one set. I enjoyed this game better than King Solomon's Mines (the fact that I won might have something to do with that) but I still don't think that it's all that special. It's certainly not nearly as good as Power Grid or even Fearsome Floors. Still, it's unique and it's always nice to play something new. I enjoyed it.

By this time things were winding down but Curt, Adam and I decided we had time for one more game. We decided to play Louis XIV which Curt and I hadn't played in over a year and Adam had never played before. It took me a few minutes to refresh my memory on the rules but once things got started it all came back to me. This is a nice little area control game with some production aspects. Players try and gain influence over the courtiers in King Louis' court, each of whom offers certain rewards. Rewards are traded in to play mission cards which grant abilities that help players gain more influence in subsequent rounds. I really enjoy this game. I think it's just the right length and it I like its blend of mechanisms. Some complain about the random shield scoring at the end and indeed we played with a house rule that eliminates this but truth be told, I don't mind the random shield scoring and I'm just as happy playing the game as designed. Our game was very close with Curt finishing in first place, and Adam (who we all thought was winning) coming in last.

Come join us next Tuesday!

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Review: Byzantium

Byzantium is the latest game from Martin Wallace and Warfrog. It supports 2-4 players and plays in roughly two to three hours.

Martin Wallace has become one of my favorite game designers. Every game he designs is deep and highly strategic. His games tend to run on the difficult side and Byzantium is no exception. While the rules aren't terribly hard to understand, they do require seven full pages of small type to explain. In case it isn't obvious, this is not a beginner's game.

Byzantium is a very unique war-game/euro-game hybrid set in 632 AD. The Byzantine Empire is reeling from a war with Persia and the Islamic Arabs have just begun a conflict that threatens to destroy the empire completely. In an attempt to profit from the conflict, players control not one but two armies (one Arab and one Byzantine). By playing the two sides against each other and wresting control of cities for themselves, players gain influence and wealth.


Inside the box you'll find a large, high-quality game board depicting the eastern Mediterranean and surrounding lands. Each player also has their own mini-board used to keep track of the strengths of their armies along with the wealth in their respective treasuries. The artwork is very good and appropriate to the theme.

The majority of the space inside the box is taken up by well over three hundred wooden bits in various shapes and colors. There are dozens of cubes (it wouldn't be a euro-game without cubes) in each of the four player colors. There are pawns to represent each player's armies. There are dice. And there are disks used to represent the strength of each city as well as how many victory points the city is worth upon capture.

All of these bits are great with only two minor exceptions. First, and this is truly picking at nits, the city tokens are round disks, roughly a centimeter thick and 1.5 centimeters in diameter. The unfortunate side effect of these dimensions is that they tend to roll when first dumped out of the bag. Had they been thinner (or at least not round) this wouldn't have been a problem. The other exception is the coins which are the same cheap flat plastic disks that we've seen in other Martin Wallace games. Again, this is just being picky. The disks work well enough and we never use them anyway, since we have a nice set of poker chips we use whenever we play a game that requires money.

The rules are printed in three languages (English, German, and French) on a thirty page, full color, full size glossy rule book. This is a welcome improvement from earlier Warfrog games. The rules are clear, and complete. There are few illustrations but those are well done, in full color, and relatively easy to understand. My only complaint with the rules is that there were a few instances where the rules referred in passing to concepts that were only fully explained later. The rules are rather dense and it takes a little bit of effort to go through them the first time but once you've read them over once or twice they make sense and the game isn't all that difficult to understand. Do be aware that it will take some time to go through them all thoroughly before you play with someone who is just learning the game.

At the end of the rules you'll find a nice player aid sheet which does a good job of summing up all of the important rules. You may wish to make a copy of this sheet for each player but we didn't find that necessary. It was enough to leave the rules open to this page for reference.

Game Play

The object of Byzantium is to gain victory points for both the Arabs and the Byzantines. Each has its own victory point track and players must try and balance the points between them. If, at the end of the game, your Arab points are more than twice your Byzantine points (or vice versa) then you'll only score the higher amount of points. If, on the other hand, you keep them balanced then both of your scores will be added together. There is one exception: if Constantinople should fall, then the conqueror earns 5 Arab victory points, the game ends immediately and whoever is highest on the Arab scoring track wins the game.

Points are scored primarily by controlling cities. Early in the game, players have the easy option of seizing control of unclaimed cities. Each time you do, you'll score victory points on the appropriate track. Later in the game you'll need to wrest control of a city from someone else in order to score points. And at the end of the game, there is one final scoring where players earn points for each city they control.

The game is played over only three turns but each turn consists of a large number of player actions. Actions include things like taking control of cities, reinforcing armies, laying siege to cities, and so on. Actions are limited by action cubes. In many ways, Byzantium is a cube management game. Players are given a set number of cubes which they distribute on their game boards. If a cube is in an army box then it represents unit strength. If it's in an army's caravan box then it represents a movement point which can be spent to move the army. If a cube is in a player's free pool then it can be spent to take one of several special actions such as taking control of an unclaimed city, causing a city to revolt, reinforcing a city, taking control of the Byzantine or Arab fleet, and so on. Any time a player takes an action he needs to use an action cube. Action cubes can come from the free pool or they can come from somewhere else at a cost of three bezants from the appropriate treasury. Eventually players will run out of cubes in their pool and gold in their treasuries and they'll be forced to pass.

Combat is deliberately kept very simple. If two armies face each other then they each simultaneously roll a set number of dice based upon their strengths. Each die roll has a 50% chance of resulting in a casualty. Each casualty results in a cube being removed from the army. After casualties have been removed, the stronger force wins. If an army lays siege to a city, then the city rolls a number of dice equal to its strength. If, after removing casualties, the army is stronger than the besieged city, the city falls; otherwise the army must retreat. It's a very simple system with just enough luck to keep things interesting but no so much luck as to make combat chaotic and unpredictable.

Byzantium is a perfect knowledge game. No player has any hidden or privileged information. One common problem with perfect knowledge games is that they can tend to encourage "analysis paralysis" and Byzantium is prone to suffer from this as well. There are a lot of strategic and tactical choices to be made and the game is difficult enough that the strategies are definitely not obvious. I enjoy the deep thought and analysis required to play this game well but I can understand how that might not be for everyone. If you're looking for a light game, you'll want to look elsewhere.


Byzantium is a very meaty gamer's game. Having to manage armies and treasuries on both sides of the war is very unique and makes for a game that isn't quite like any other. The strategies are deep enough that they continue to elude me after several plays and I'm eager to play more. It's not a game for everyone because it's long, dense and relatively difficult, but for those who enjoy a deep perfect-knowledge game, Byzantium is an excellent choice. I love Martin Wallace's games and Byzantium is no exception. This is an excellent game.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Valentine's Day Game Night

Although yesterday was Valentine's Day we went ahead and had game night anyway. Neither sleet nor snow nor... yeah, whatever. As expected turnout wasn't as high as it normally would be but we still had enough to get a couple of games going at once.

Our gathering game was Stefan Dorra's excellent filler: For Sale. This is a card game themed around buying and selling real estate. There are two decks of cards. The first deck contains thirty pieces of property ranging from a cardboard box in an alley to a shiny space station. The properties are numbered one to thirty and in the first round they're auctioned off so that all players get an even number of them. Then the second deck comes out. This deck has thirty checks with values ranging from void, to $15,000. These are auctioned off where players use the property cards they acquired from the first deck to determine who gets the best checks from the second. It's a fun and fast filler that I'm always happy to play.

Then we broke into two groups. The first group (Mike K., Wade, Jose and Mike M.) played Railroad Tycoon. I'm becoming more and more impressed with this game. Eagle Games and Martin Wallace did a fantastic job of taking Martin Wallace's classic game system for Age of Steam and making it a little more accessible to the casual gamer. It's still a long game and it's still a relatively challenging game to play well but it's more forgiving than Age of Steam and it plays very well. For casual players I'd have to say that this is the better game. And the pieces are to die for!

The second group (Oren, Birch and I) played Byzantium. As fate would have it, this is another Martin Walace game where players are trying to play both sides of the Byzantine conflict with the Arabs. Players control one army in each camp and try and control the most cities. Although this game has only three turns, each turn is filled with many player actions and the game is rather long (we ended ours a little after the Railroad Tycoon group ended theirs). I thought I was doing well after the first turn but by the end of the second I was clearly well behind the others. I made a desperate run at taking Constantinople but the other players were far enough ahead of me on the Arab scoring track that I really had no chance of pulling it off. My run at Constantinople, coupled with a couple of unlucky die rolls by Oren gave Birch the victory by a nose. The strategy in this game continues to elude me but I do enjoy it quite a bit and I'm eager to give it another go.

Next Birch and I played a game of Reiner Knizia's Battle Line. This is a card game that's not entirely unlike one of his other games: Lost Cities. As in that game, players hold a hand of numbered cards and on each turn they play one into a column and draw one to take its place. Players try to build sets of three cards that are ranked higher than the cards on their opponent's side. Win three adjacent columns or five of the nine columns and you win the game. I've played this game several times now over the last few days and I really like it. I'm not sure if I like it more than Lost Cities but I like it just as much.

While Birch and I played Battle Line, the others played Bluff. I really need to get my own copy of this game. It goes over well with every person I've ever played it with. It's simple, light, and random with just enough strategy to keep it interesting. A perfect push your luck game.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Breaking News: Out of the Box and Rio Grande Games Join Forces

"Richland Center, Wisconsin - Out of the Box Publishing and Rio Grande Games announce a strategic partnership which will energize the growth of innovative party, card and board games in the U.S. Under the terms of this partnership Out of the Box will offer the entire collection of Rio Grande board games."

This is big news. Out of the Box is the company that created Apples to Apples (among other things). Rio Grande Games is the little giant that brings most of the best European titles (such as Puerto Rico) to the United States. Until now, Rio Grande Games were usually found only in specialty game stores but by partnering with Out of the Box they should be able to utilize Out of the Box's contacts with more main stream game outlets. Hopefully this will mean better visibility for the games that we like best.

For full details, follow this link to the original story at GamingReport.com.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Wits & Wagers and Lots of Teenagers

Every month or so my oldest sons invite a group of teenagers over to our house for games, movies, and whatever. And as you might imagine, since I've got such a large game collection, usually a game gets played at some point in the evening.

Tonight's gathering activity was Wits & Wagers.

Wits & Wagers is a party game by Dominic Crapuchettes. Those with good memories might recognize that name as being associated with another party game: Cluzzle. And those who've been reading on the HFoG Forums might remember that I reviewed Cluzzle some time ago and I wasn't very favorable. I can understand why some people might like Cluzzle but it didn't really do anything for me. So I was pretty surprised to find that I actually like Wits & Wagers quite a bit! It's not the best game I've ever played, by any means, but it's a pretty darn good party game.

Wits & Wagers is played over seven rounds. On each round, players are asked a question whose answer is a number. For instance: how many miles long is the Mississippi River? Each player (or team) writes down an answer using a dry-erase marker on a card and tosses the card in the center. When everybody's chosen an answer, the answers are lined up in order from smallest to largest. Then each player places bets on which answer they think is closest to the correct answer without going over. The odds get better the farther away from center you bet. The correct answer is read and bets are payed. After seven rounds, whoever is left with the most points wins.

It's a very simple game that can be taught in seconds. Furthermore, you don't really need to know any of the answers to win the game, you just have to have a good feel for what you think the right answer might be. And because the amount of points you make directly depends on how many points you wager, you can minimize your risk on questions where you have no clue. It's an ideal gathering game and it's an ideal game for a group of non-gamers.

Our group of teenagers loved it. Most of them didn't know any of the answers and many of them had no idea about how to maximize their scoring potential by varying their bets to match their knowledge but nobody really cared and everybody had a wonderful time.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Last Night's Game Night

Last night was game night and although I played until after midnight, I only played just short of two games!

My first game of the night was Martin Wallace's Byzantium, which I played with Christopher, Oren, and Wade. Byzantium is a truly unique war game/euro-game hybrid where players take on the role of profiteers during the conflict between the Muslim Caliphate and the Byzantine Empire. Each player controls two armies, one from each side, in an attempt to control the most cities. It's a relatively difficult game and it can be rather long (ours went over three hours, mostly due to lack of familiarity with the rules) but it is becoming one of my favorites.

Our game was extremely close. We all made our share of blunders but mine was failing to trigger the end game when I had the chance. That was one turn after I failed to win the game by taking Constantinople. I missed by a single die roll. Had I then triggered the end game (at that point all but two of us had passed on our final turn) I might still have won but instead I got greedy and went for a few more points. That left the door open for Wade to conquer Constantinople and win on a tie breaker with Oren, which he just barely succeeded in doing.

While our game was in its final hour, Adam, Birch, Mike K, Kray and Jason began a game of Railroad Tycoon. When Byzantium finished, Birch decided that he needed to head for home so I took his place and finished the game for him.

I must admit that I've been a little reluctant to open Railroad Tycoon. It's a reworking of Age of Steam, which is one of my favorite games, and I wasn't sure I'd be happy with someone tinkering with Martin Wallace's classic rail game (even though the person doing most of the tinkering was Martin Wallace himself). Also, Eagle Games has been rather hit or miss for me.

Well, I have to say that I was VERY impressed. In many ways, Railroad Tycoon is the better game! It's certainly a better choice for casual gamers. It's very similar but there are several key differences. The auction at the beginning of each turn is greatly simplified. The role selection mechanism has been replaced with a deck of special action cards. The restrictions on issuing shares have been relaxed. The goods delivery rules have been simplified a bit to make it a little easier for people to control which goods they'll be able to ship. And there are a few other minor changes. In typical Eagle Games fashion, the bits are way over the top. The wooden disks that mark a player's links have been replaced with plastic 4-4-0 locomotives. Cities are marked with plastic water towers, round houses, signal towers and crossing signs. The artwork on the gigantic over-sized board is stunning but the board is so large that it does have some problems with warping. Overall, the presentation is incredible.

Our game lasted well over three hours long. I ended up finishing a close third behind Adam (the winner) and Mike K.

There were other games played but I was so involved in my two that I have no idea what they were. I do remember seeing Ben and Jose play Louis XIV (an excellent game which, unlike Tom and Joe at the Dice Tower, I'm always happy to play).

Come join us next week!

Monday, February 06, 2006

Tuesday Night is Game Night

It's time for my monthly open invitation to game night!
If you are within driving distance of Redmond, WA (and even if you aren't) you're invited to come join us for game night every Tuesday night.
We meet at 5:00 in Microsoft's Building 50 cafeteria. And don't worry. We don't bite.
Building 50 is just north east of 520's NE 40th Street exit. If you don't have access to the building, walk around to the area marked below, knock on the doors and we'll let you in.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Review: Elasund - The First City

Elasund - The First City is the next installment of Klaus Teuber's Catan Adventures series of games. It is for 2-4 players and plays between 60 and 90 minutes.

Klaus Teuber is most famous for his seminal game: The Settlers of Catan. That game has evolved into one of the most successful game franchises of recent times, spinning off countless expansions and even being credited for igniting something of a board game renaissance. So it's no small wonder that pretty much anything Klaus Teuber has published over the last decade would attract a lot of interest. Unfortunately, the last few games that Heir Teuber has designed have not been quite able to live up to the Catan reputation. That's not to say that his recent stuff hasn't been very good; it's just that Catan casts a mighty big shadow and it's a monumental task to come up with something bright enough to really shine through it.

This time, I think he's finally done it. Elasund is without a doubt the best thing that Klaus Teuber has designed in years. Yes, it's that good.

In Elasund, players find themselves taking on the role of city planner. Each player is competing to build the largest and most influential buildings in Catan's first city. Before a building can be built, players must secure permission to build in the form of building permits, and they must secure funds to finance its construction. Once a building has been built, it may act as a source of income which can be used to finance further construction.

The game is played on a 10x8 square grid that represents the city plots. (With 2 and 3 players the grid is reduced to 10x4 or 10x6 respectively.) Buildings cover one, two, four or six squares. The western edge of the board is a coastline where ships arrive to deliver goods. The other three edges of the city contain areas designated for the construction of the city walls. In the middle of the city is a space that has been cleared for the first foundation of the city's church. Also in the middle of the city, each player has erected two worker's huts which are the seeds from which the new city will spring.

The rules are pretty simple. Each turn starts with the roll of two dice. The number dictates where the ship will dock. The ship is moved to the appropriate row and any building that lies on that row may generate income for its owner in the form of gold or influence cards.

Next, the active player may build up to two times. She may build either a building, part of the church, or a section of the city wall. City walls grant one-time immediate rewards (usually an influence card, sometimes a victory point). Buildings either provide more opportunities for income, victory points, or in some cases both. Each of the nine squares in the church provides a victory point.

After the building phase, a player can plunk down a permit chip either in the ship's row or, if she's willing to spend influence cards, anywhere on the board. This is important because most buildings can't be constructed unless the player first has a permit on the board where the building is to go. Larger buildings require more than one permit.

Finally, for the cost of a few more influence cards, a player can either raise more cash, place an extra permit, or change the permits that they already have on the board.

The heart of the game is constructing the buildings. Each building (other than the two starting buildings) has a construction cost. The larger the building, the more permits and/or gold are required to build it. In order to build a building, you have to control at least one permit in the intended plot. If there are more than one player's permits in the plot, the sum of the numbers on your permits (which are numbered 0 to 4) must exceed the sum of your opponent's permits. As long as those conditions are met, you can build, even using other players' permits to help if you're willing to pay them for the privilege. In a really brilliant design move, larger buildings can be built on top of smaller buildings (or even buildings of the same size if you're willing to pay additional influence cards) which means that you can tear down an opponent's building. This is a deliciously confrontational element which helps keep the game close and the tension high.

Don't discount the church. There are nine church tiles which eventually will fill up a 3x3 plot. Each tile costs an expensive seven gold coins but building the church offers some nice advantages. First of all, each church tile is worth a victory point, and since no building is ever allowed to be built on top of a church tile, the victory point is permanent (unlike most other victory points in the game). Furthermore, when a new church tile comes out, if there is already a building in that tile's designated location, the other building is torn down to make way for the church tile. Sometimes this is the only practical way to remove another player's building.

As the game progresses, players must make careful decisions about where to place permits, where to build buildings, when to try and tear down an opponent's building (or sometimes even one of their own), whether to use a permit to block someone else from building somewhere, etc.

All of this tension, confrontation, strategy, tactics and luck are blended together in an elegant mix that goes down in a little over an hour. On top of that, add lovely components, a decent theme, and just enough Settlers flavor to tie it all to the parent series. It all comes together in what is Klaus Teuber's best game in years. It even works well as a two player game. Is it better than Settlers? I don't know if I'd go that far. But it's a worthy addition to the family and you owe it to yourself to give it a look.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Review: Euphrates & Tigris: Contest of Kings

Tigris & Euphrates has long been one of my favorite games. That game is regarded by many as Reiner Knizia's crowning achievement. So when I heard that there was to be a card game version of T&E I was very anxious and excited. How would it be different? Would it be as good? Well the wait is over. Euphrates & Tigris: Contest of Kings has finally arrived.

Euphrates & Tigris: Contest of Kings (E&T:CK for short) is a card game that supports 2-4 players and plays in around 45 minutes. That makes it a little shorter than the board game, finishing in roughly two-thirds the time.

Inside the box you'll find the same wooden leader tokens from the board game as well as 200 half-sized cards. I'm not a big fan of half-sized cards (for one thing, they're much harder to shuffle than full-sized cards) but given the amount of table space required to play this game, I have to admit that this was really the only logical way to go. Other than their diminutive size, there's really nothing to complain about; the cards are very attractive and of the finest quality.

For those that are already familiar with the board game, learning E&T:CK will be a snap. The rules are so similar that you can teach the game in just a few minutes by focusing on the differences between the card game and the board game.

Just as in the board game, players are identified by symbol (lion, bull, pot, and bow) rather than color and each player has four leader disks with his symbol: one black king, one red priest, one green merchant, and one blue farmer. As in the board game, your goal is to use your leaders to exert influence on the kingdoms of the Fertile Crescent in an effort to earn victory points.

Each player plays the game with a hand of eight cards which is replenished at the end of every turn. The cards serve the same purpose as the tiles from the board game with one minor difference: they are also used to count victory points. In the board game, whenever you earn a victory point you take a victory point cube of the appropriate color from the supply. In the card game, whenever you earn a victory point, you must add an appropriately colored card from your hand to your victory point stack. If you don't have a card that's the right color, too bad for you! No card; no score! As in the board game, the winner is the player with the highest score in his lowest scoring category so you must be careful to collect all four victory point colors; not just one or two. Unlike the board game, players are NOT allowed to review their own scores until the end of the game; rather they must remember what they've taken. I can think of no good reason for this other than to avoid confusing the scoring piles with the players' hands and I can imagine a lot of people adopting house rules that do away with this restriction.

In the board game, the playing surface is a two-dimensional grid representing a map of Mesopotamia on which you play your tiles. In the card game, the playing surface is a linear row of treasure cards. Each treasure card represents a different region and additional cards are added below it to expand the region. Place a leader disk on one of the cards in a region and it becomes a kingdom. Play a card between two treasure cards and the regions merge. This linear representation simplifies the geography quite a bit. In fact, it simplifies it a bit too much in my opinion. Although the basic mechanics are the same, you loose a lot of the strategy of carefully joining and splitting regions that is so vital to the board game. One other problem is that due to the size of the cards (which are by necessity larger than the tiles in the board game) the card game actually requires a LARGER playing surface than the board game! On the other hand, the card game packs quite a bit smaller so provided you have a large enough table where you're going, it does travel better.

If two leaders of the same color are ever in the same kingdom then there is a conflict. Internal conflicts occur when a player adds a conflicting leader to a kingdom and are resolved with red cards played from each player's hand (majority wins, defender wins ties). External conflicts occur when a player joins two kingdoms with the same colored leaders and are resolved with cards that match the leaders' color. Victory points are taken from cards used in the conflict.

Those familiar with the board game will realize that conflict is almost identical. The one difference (and it's a big one) is that in an internal conflict, a leader's base strength depends only upon the card that's underneath him: if it's a red card he gets a one point bonus. This means that having red cards in your hand is very important since it's really the only way you have to defend against an internal conflict. That makes internal conflicts far more luck dependent than they are in the board game.

There are other similarities with the board game: the treasures are still there as are the monuments, although in the card game they are called ships, there are only three of them, and building them (much less keeping them) is more difficult than in the board game.

I really wanted to like this game. I'm a huge fan of the board game and I was really hoping that the card game version would bring something new to the game while retaining the same flavor. At the end of the day, I have to say that while I do like the card game, it's not as good as I had hoped. E&T:CK isn't a bad game at all and had it come out first I'd certainly have recommended it, but with the board game already out there, the card game is just too similar and yet slightly inferior in almost every respect. If you already own Tigris & Euphrates, I can think of little reason to get the card game as well. And if you are trying to decide between the two then I would definitely recommend you choose the board game. About the only reason to get the card game is if you want a version of the game that you can take with you wherever you go.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Game Night Writeup

First let me apologize. I'm a day late with this post and I'm significantly behind on my reviews. I have several games lined up for review and I haven't found time to put the words on the page. Let's just say that it's been a little busy around here. It looks like things may be slowing down a bit after this week so hopefully I'll be able to get things going again soon.

So on to game night. We had another good turnout. Michael K returned and brought a friend: Michael L. (Another Michael? We're suffering from a serious lack of originality here folks.) Unfortunately, I was involved with other games so I didn't get a chance to play with them this time.

While we waited for people to arrive, several of us brought out Money, a very nice Knizia card game where the cards are currency and players exchange sets of cards in an attempt to amass the most. In typical Knizia fashon, there are some wrinkles in the scoring that encourage people to collect homogenous sets of currency rather than just collecting the highest denominations. It's a good game that plays well and plays fast.

A large group of the Seattle contingent decided to play Battletech, the old 1985 miniatures game that spawned the Mechwarrior computer franchise. Definitely not my kind of game but they seemed to enjoy themselves and that's what game night is all about.

Christopher, Jose, Mike M and I played a prototype game by Christopher and Jose called Cargo. It's a pickup and deliver game where people build transportation lines across the US and deliver things from point to point. Christopher's inspiration was the old crayon games. He wanted to take what he liked best of the crayon games and distill it into something a little shorter. I thought it was a pretty good game. There's still some issues here and there but overall I was quite pleased with the experience.

It wouldn't be a recent game night without someone bringing out Descent and, sure enough, Darryl, Adam and Mike K spent the night playing that. I'm not sure what more I can say about Descent. It's an excellent game but I'd rather play two or three games over game night instead of being locked into playing just one.

The two Michaels played a game of Battle Line, which is basically Schotten Totten with a couple of minor changes. I've never played either game but I hear very good things. The Michaels seemed to like it.

After Cargo broke up, the four of us brought out Elasund - The First City. I've played this game three times now and I can say without hesitation that this is the best thing that Klaus Teuber has done in years. It's got a reasonable playing time. It has attractive bits and a very clear presentation. The rules are easy to grasp yet allow for some really satisfying game play. There's a nice blend of strategy, tactics and a healthy dose of "take that!" All in all, it's just a very, very good game. I highly recommend this one. (Oh great! Here's another game I should review soon.)