Wednesday, July 26, 2006

What Day Is It?

If you'll take a casual glance at a calendar you'll realize that today is Wednesday and anyone with half a brain knows that Wednesday is the day after Tuesday. Furthermore, even a complete moron knows that Tuesday night is game night!

There were a lot of games played last night so let's just jump right in and list a few.

First up, we played a couple of quick rounds of No Thanks while we waited for people to arrive. I love this game and I like it more each time I play it. I had the great pleasure of introducing the game to my family over the weekend (at a family reunion) and it was a hit. Any time I can completely explain the rules of a game in under 30 seconds, I can be pretty sure I'll be able to get someone in my family to play it.

Next, I moved on to a game of Thurn and Taxis. I need to get a review of that game out now that I've played it several times. It's a very good game and definitely worthy of the Speil des Jahres (which it just won) since it so clearly aligns with what the committee looks for. Mike K. edged me out for the win this time, with Christopher and Jose coming in third and fourth.

With Tejas' help, Christopher managed to acquire the recent German edition of Loopin' Louie and we finally managed to scrounge up a screwdriver so we could get the battery compartment open and play a few games. I played several rounds tonight and I'll tell you that as soon as I can order some from my distributor I will. This game is just pure silly fun. It's quick and mindless and it's just the thing to unwind between brain burners (not that we played any of those tonight).

Next up was the new Days of Wonder game: Cleopatra and the Society of Architects. Each Days of Wonder game seems to be more lavishly produced than the one before and this is no exception. The entire box is transformed into a lovely 3D Egyptian palace, complete with sphinxes, pillars, obelisks, and a throne room. The bits are incredible. The game itself is quite good but perhaps not truly great. I'll need to play it again before I weigh in with a true review but there were a couple of issues that I had with it. Lovely bits notwithstanding, this is really basically a card game. Players collect sets of cards and use them to construct parts of the palace for points. There is a very interesting card draw mechanic involved and the order that the parts are built and their spatial relationship with other things that have already been built affects their value, but it's still basically a card game. And like most card games, the luck of the draw can be a huge factor here. Draw the wrong cards and you can really be screwed. But the thing I had the biggest problem with, interestingly enough, was a production issue. All of the bits are lovely and the summary cards that each player receives are wonderful but I had a bit of a problem with the iconography. Each card has a tiny hieroglyphic in a small cartouche which identifies what resource it represents. The problem is that in spite of that, at a glance, they all tended to look the same to me, which made it rather difficult to tell exactly what I had in my hand. That, coupled with a lack of familiarity with what things cost in the quarry, caused the game to slow down a bit while people took stock of what was in their hands and decided what they could afford to build. I'm sure with repeated play that problem would disappear but it could have been greatly lessened with stronger iconography. Still, I enjoyed the game very much. I'll try to get a few more plays in and then post a proper review.

Adam had never played Carcassonne before so four of us played a game. We played the classic game (with River expansion) plus the Traders & Builders expansion and the Inns & Cathedrals expansion. Personally, I like Carcassonne the City the best and I'm going to try to find a time to introduce Adam to that version soon. Nevertheless, we had a pretty good game. This game was characterized by a couple of heavy fights over cities (something I usually try to avoid) and some bad luck on farms. Mike K. won pretty easily.

Next up, Stefan Dorra's wonderful game: For Sale. This is a wonderful light bidding game where players bid on properties in the first round and then sell the properties in the last round. The game plays very quickly and it's a lot of fun. It's definitely lighter fare and the order in which cards are revealed, coupled with your seating position in the bidding, can have a wild effect on how you score but the game plays so quickly that you'll want to play it several times in a sitting; which we did.

A few more Loopin' Louie games and it was time to go home. Thanks all for a very successful game night! Hope to see you all again next week!

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Review: Mykerinos

Mykerinos is a game for 2-4 players designed by Nicolas Oury and published by Ystari Games. Lately Ystari games has been making quite a name for itself. This is the same company that produced Caylus and Ys, both instant classics. Given the success of its predecessors, Mykerinos has some mighty big shoes to fill. Clocking in at under 60 minutes, Mykerinos is a much lighter game than Caylus or Ys but I'm happy to say that it's definitely a very worthy addition to a fine product line.


Mykerinos is set in the late nineteenth century. Europe has become fascinated with Egyptology and archeology. The players are archeologists, working for a European museum. They set out to explore the Egyptian sands in search of artifacts that they can bring back to the museum. Along the way, they seek the aid of wealthy patrons who can aid them. The winner will be the player who brings back the most prestigious artifacts and secures the most prestigious rooms in the museum in which to display them.

Like many euro-games, the theme is relatively thin, but it works well and the components do a fine job of supporting the theme.

Game Play

At its heart, Mykerinos is an area control game but with a twist. The game is played over four seasons. In each season a number of tiles is laid out on the table in a grid. Each tile is divided into six squares (2x3) and two tiles are combined to form each area. Areas are laid out in a grid pattern which forms the playing surface. The first three seasons have four areas. The final season has six.

At the beginning of each season, players receive an additional allotment of workers (cubes) and during the season, players distribute their workers on the tiles. At the end of the season, each area will be scored and those with a majority of their cubes in an area will be rewarded with their pick of tiles. Second place gets the remaining tile. Third and fourth place typically receive nothing.

One of the beauties of the game is the way that workers are played to the board. On each turn, a player may always place one cube on any unoccupied square. If that player already has a cube on the board then he may instead choose to "expand his expedition" by playing two cubes in adjacent unoccupied squares. Naturally, it's typically more efficient to expand. No square may have more than one cube in it and squares with pyramids are normally off limits. This makes placement quite strategic. Players can cut one another off and carve out territories in an effort to secure majorities.

Each tile is worth a number of points and each tile is also associated with one of the game's five patrons. In subsequent seasons, acquired tiles can be used once per season to invoke the special ability of its patron. Some let you play more cubes to the board, some let you play a cube on a pyramid square, and some let you place a cube into the museum instead of playing to the board.

The museum adds another interesting dimension. In lieu of taking a tile, a player can elect to place one of his cubes in the museum. Each wing of the museum is associated with one of the patrons. Each cube in the museum boosts the point value of tiles associated with that patron.


The inventive way cubes are played to secure tiles, the special abilities of the patrons, and the ability to alter the way the game is scored by playing into the museum, come together to create some very interesting strategic and tactical decisions. For such a simple game, there are a lot of different viable strategies. For instance, one strategy might be to focus on the tiles and attempt to gather as many high value tiles as possible. Another might be to get as many of a particular patron's tiles as possible and boost their value through play in the museum. Players may try to get as many cubes as possible on the board but perhaps a better strategy might be to play just a few cubes to the board in key positions, saving the extra cubes for a future round.

Since its release, this has become one of my very favorite games. I know of few other games that pack so much satisfying game play in such a small package. I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Another Glorious Game Night

We had a great turn out last night. Almost all the regulars showed up, including my two oldest sons, and we had three tables going for most of the night. Consequently, I'm not going to even try to mention every game played.

Thurn and Taxis, the new Spiel des Jahres winner, was played at least twice last night. Although I wasn't involved in either of those games I did play it over lunch so I got my TnT fix today. The consensus is overwhelmingly positive. Everybody seems to like it very much.

I played a three player game of Blokus Trigon. We used the harder rule set where points must touch points and I do like it just a little better than the more relaxed rule set where it's OK for points to touch sides. This is a very good multi-player abstract. It's arguably a little better than the original Blokus. It was played again late in the evening, this time by four players.

Most of my night was filled with a game of Scepter of Zavandor. This is a very deep, relatively long production style game inspired by the old game Outpost. This was only the second time I'd played the game, the first being well over a year ago. This was the first time I'd played using the new English release by Z-Man games. I like what they've done with the game, adding more explanatory text and improving some of the iconography a bit. (Of course, just having the text in English is a huge improvement. Playing the German version was a bit of a chore for us non-German speakers.) This is one of those games where each little transaction in the game is used to improve your buying power and allow you to build to the next, bigger transaction. If you don't know the strategies (and I don't) then it's very easy to make a misstep early in the game that will ruin your chances in the end game. I came in last in our four player game but I wasn't so far behind third place to feel bad about it. I expected not to do well and was pleased that I did as well as I did. The one flaw in the game, in my opinion, is that there is a very large amount of math involved when taking your turn. During your turn you will spend your magic power (read money) on various things. The problem is that this currency comes in wildly varying denominations and making change is deliberately difficult. It gets even trickier when you have some items that give you discounts on certain things. What is really needed is some way to easily add up your buying power each turn and help you manage all the math. It's almost worth bringing a calculator to the game. Still, it's a fine game and I'm looking forward to playing it again. Now if I can only figure out how to do well at it.

My last game of the evening was Medici, one of Reiner Knizia's classic auction games. This is an excellent game and many in our group just adore it. Personally, I much prefer Knizia's other classic auction game Modern Art but I can understand why this game is so popular. It's a wonderful game but I have two beefs with it: the first is that I have no feel whatsoever as to how much value to place on each auction. I'm sure that just comes with familiarity and if I played it more it wouldn't be a problem. My second beef is with the artwork, which is absolutely atrocious. The designers tried so hard to make a beautiful board but they paid absolutely no attention to function. The scoring track is nearly unreadable. The font used on the cards is so ornate as to be almost unintelligible. But worst of all, the artwork in each of the six scoring areas all uses a similar color scheme so it's impossible to tell at a glance which area corresponds to which card color. There is supposedly a new version of Medici in the making that corrects all of these artistic felonies which I eagerly await.

Also played tonight were Buccaneer, Nexus Ops, Money and Bang! And I'm sure there were other games played as well.

Monday, July 17, 2006

And the Winner Is...

Thurn and Taxis has won this year's Spiel des Jahres!

I was finally able to play this game for the first time this weekend and I am quite happy with the selection. It's a solid game that's simple enough for families to play and yet offers a fair amount of strategic potential. Something of a cross between Ticket to Ride and China (previously known as Web of Power), Thurn and Taxis offers a nice blend of luck and difficult decisions. It's definitely a worthy choice.

The Speil des Jahres (which means Game of the Year in German) is awarded each year by a federation of games journalists to the game that they feel is most worthy of the title. Typically the winning game is a middle-weight family strategy game with elegant, easy to understand rules, clean design, superb production values, and relatively short (roughly an hour) playing time. Previous winners include such games as Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne, and Settlers of Catan. This is arguably the most prestigious game award in the industry; something akin to winning an Oscar.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Finally! Another Game Night

I wasn't able to stay as long as I wanted to but I was able to attend game night last night.

The big game that was played last night was Fantasy Flight's new release Warrior Knights (which is actually a re-release of a much older game). I wasn't involved. I didn't feel like learning a long, rules heavy game. The six players who were involved all seemed to be enjoying themselves but I never did get a definitive reply to my "is it good?" line of questioning. All I can comment on are the bits, which look exactly like I would expect from a Fantasy Flight game: very nice.

Jose, Christopher, Mike M., Birch and I started with a game of Big Manitou. I'd played this once before and this game didn't do much to alter my initial opinion. There's a decent game here and I can see why some people like it but it's not really my cup of tea. There's just a little too much dependency on turn order (last is best) and while the turn order rotates with each round, whoever does well in the first round is rewarded in subsequent rounds. Furthermore, the English rules are almost unintelligible. Get the revised rules from the publisher's website if you want to figure out how to play it (and even they aren't perfect). Christopher moaned and groaned about the game all the way to an easy victory. I doubt we'll play it again.

Tejas brought in Bolide so Mike M. and Christopher played it with him. (Was there a fourth player? I don't think so.) Bolide is a racing game played on a track overlaid with a grid (think graph paper). Each player has a car and a little marker which is used to record their car's current vector (direction and speed of travel). On each turn you are allowed to change your car's acceleration only a specific amount. The way you do that is you move your car to a spot that's within a certain distance of your vector marker, then you move your vector marker to indicate the distance and direction your car just travelled. There are additional rules for braking and drafting and things like that. The bits looked great. The gameplay, I have to admit, didn't really interest me very much. I work with vectors all day long so this just seemed a little too much like work for me. It's got a 7+ rating on the geek so obviously there are plenty out there who do like the game. The consensus with our group seemed to be take it or leave it.

Meanwhile, Darryl, Birch, Tejas, and I played Aladdin's Dragons. Now this is a great game. Aladdin's Dragons is a blind bidding game. Players have eight numbered disks (1-9, skipping the 3) which they place, face down, in a number of areas on the board. Each area is then scored. Some areas get you gems. Some areas get you magic spells or special abilities. Some areas let you spend your gems for treasures. At the end of the game, whoever has collected the most treasures wins. I like all of Richard Breese's games that I've played and this is no exception. Our game was very tight but I edged Darryl out for the victory.

Finishing the night for me were several quick games of No Thanks. This is just a fantastic filler game. It's extremely simple and extremely short and extremely fun. Try it. You'll like it.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Rollin' the bones with Davey Jones

I just got back from the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie (which is quite enjoyable by the way). Imagine my surprise to find that it contains a scene where Will Turner plays a certain very popular dice game with none other than Davey Jones! Looks like one of the screen writers must be a gamer!
Hunt around on the film's official web site and you'll find a spiffy Flash version of the game.

Meeples Choice Award

Each year the members of the Spielfrieks Yahoo group (a group of hard-core boardgame enthusiasts) vote on which games they think are most deserving of recognition. They call it the Meeples Choice Award and this year's top three winners have just been announced. I'm quite pleased with the selection. All three are among my favorite games.

And the winners are:

Caylus - basically a shoe-in considering the explosive reception it's received. After all, it's currently rated #3 on and it's only been out for about a year. It also received a special award from the Spiel des Jahres committee who felt that it's deserving of an award even though it's too complex to be considered for the SDJ which is traditionally awarded to more simpler, family games. Truly impressive.

Louis XIV - an excellent majority control game and winner of this year's Duetscher Spiele Preis (DSP). Players attempt to influence the major personalities in the court of the Sun King for fun and profit.

Shadows Over Camelot - the luxurious cooperative game from Days of Wonder. Filled with gorgeous bits and Arthurian theme, this is a wonderful game that the whole family can enjoy. This game was also awarded a special award by the Spiel des Jahres committee for similar reasons to Caylus.

Congratulations to the winners!