Wednesday, January 30, 2008

This thing all things devours:

Birds, beasts, trees flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays king, ruins town,
And beats high mountain down.

Last night was game night and I played not one, but two games which directly relate to Gollum's riddle.

But not the first one. My first game of the night was Kingsburg. I played this a couple of weeks ago and was glad to play it again. It's definitely got a random element, what with all of those dice, but everybody gets enough rolls to mostly balance things out and I really like how those who roll the worst on a turn get to go first. That mechanism alone takes a lot of the sting out of a bad roll. But still, don't play if you don't like dice. We played with four last night and I think that's about right. It does seem to be a little long for what it is though. Still, I enjoyed it and I'll be happy to play it again. Oh. And I won. That was nice too.

Next I played Khronos. Now this one definitely fits the riddle. It had been a while since I'd brought this one in so I was happy to get it to the table again. I think the idea of having actions rippling through the time-line is extremely clever and makes for a very interesting game. It's not without its flaws though. For one thing, it tends to encourage analysis paralysis. Also, a player who manages to get a large building and then parlay that into a large domain early in the game can become nearly unstoppable. Last night Jason and I were battling over early control of the Age of Might when Adam (may his name ever be cursed) decided that he didn't have anything better to do on his turn but to tip the scale in Jason's favor just before I could seize control. I never completely recovered from the setback and had to settle for second place in a four player game. I'm just happy that I was able to switch gears and gain supremacy in the Age of Faith to partially make up for it. I'm still not sure how I managed to pull that off.

My final game of the night was a new one for me. Chrononauts is a light card game by the folks at Looney Labs. It's been around for quite a while but I'd never played it before tonight. If you've played Fluxx before, then you will have some idea of what Chrononauts is like. It's got a similar draw one, play one mechanic and, like Fluxx, there are cards you play in front of you and other cards which can have some pretty crazy (unbalancing) effects. It's extremely random but there are times when that's not so bad. Here's how the game works. There is a time-line made up of cards which list pivotal historical events that occurred over the last century or so. Playing certain cards can make it so that some of the events on the time-line never occurred (flip cards in the time-line) which in turn creates paradoxes later in the time-line. For example, if the Archduke Ferdinand is never assassinated then World War I wouldn't have happened and that will create paradoxes in the time-line. Players then can play cards that patch the paradoxes. Each player has a pair of goal cards. One lists a set of items, the other lists a set of events on the time-line. If you manage to configure the time-line to match your events or if you manage to collect the right set of items then you win the game. Did I mention that it's very random? Its major redeeming qualities are that it's very easy to teach and easy to play, it comes in a small, portable package (a large deck of cards) and the flavor text on the cards can be very entertaining. It's a fine game for what it is. But don't expect a strategic masterpiece here. We enjoyed it but I can't see us playing it frequently.

Other games played included Imperial and Cold War: CIA vs. KGB.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

What do you like on your Hamburgum?

Last night was game night and I finally got to play Hamburgum, the latest Mac Gerdis game. I've been looking forward to trying this one for a few weeks now and I finally got the chance. I'm glad I did. I really liked it. The rules aren't complicated but there are a lot of different things going on. This is one of those games where you always feel like there are tons of things you would like to do on your turn but you can only pick one. The goal of the game is to contribute to the church and help improve the city to acquire prestige. In order to do that you need to produce goods and ship them overseas so that you can purchase the raw materials necessary to contribute to various construction projects. There are many potential avenues to victory and depending on what the other players do, any of them could be good. Somehow I managed to luck into the winning strategy this game by quietly trying to maximize each turn and trying to watch what the others were doing. I say "luck" because I never really did feel like I had a good handle on what was going on but I still managed to pull out a win. I'm sure that if we had played again I'd have not been nearly so lucky. Anyway, it's a great game and I look forward to playing it again.

Meanwhile we had others playing Die Macher and In the Year of the Dragon. (Two games of Dragon were played back to back even!) I didn't pay attention to who won and I've talked about both many times recently so I'll just move on.

My next game was half a game of Njet. We played five hands with five players (instead of the full ten rounds); mostly because there were a couple of folks who were interested in trying it. I've talked about this game recently too. It's a trick taking game with a few twists but the most important twist is that before a hand starts there's a "Njet" round where each player gets to eliminate a suit or an option from consideration in one of five categories: start player, cards to discard before play, trump, super-trump, and point multiplier. The start player then chooses the teams for that hand and the hand is played much like any other trump game. There are a couple of other wrinkles of course, but that description's close enough for my purposes. Now that I've played several times, I think that the card play is most interesting with five players but the "Njet" round is most frustrating with five. This is a good game but it falls short of greatness for me. If you're unfortunate to have a really long suit then you can bet that suit will not be trump. The game really seems to favor mediocre hands. You can mitigate that by picking the right partner(s) but the "Njet" round is just too short to get any real indication of the strength of each player's hand so you don't really have enough information to go on. I won this one too though *chuckle* so I guess I shouldn't complain.

My last game of the evening was Detroit Cleveland Grand Prix. This is a fun, light racing game that I think works really well as a closer. It's pretty luck heavy but it's a lot of fun because on each turn you get to really mess with everybody else's car. I had some pretty rotten luck this time and did horribly but I still had a great time. If you're the type who wants to always be in control then this isn't the game for you; but if you enjoy a game with a high screwage component that doesn't ever really feel mean then this is a great choice.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

More New Games!

Last night's game night was a good one. Plenty of people. Lots of good games.

My first game of the night was the new Alea title: In the Year of the Dragon. This is a game by Stefan Feld, who is the same guy who did Notre Dame. That doesn't surprise me because In the Year of the Dragon, in a way, seems kind of similar to Notre Dame ... in a "ratty" sort of way. In Notre Dame you're constantly beating back the rats. In this game you're constantly beating back all sorts of different kinds of bad things. At the beginning of the game I felt like I had no idea what I was doing but after a couple of rounds I felt like I kind of got the hang of it and at the end of the game I came in third (out of five) but I was only one point behind the player in second, who was only one point behind the leader! All three of those scores were in the 90s so that's a pretty tight grouping! I have to say that this is a very good game. I liked it very, very much.

Next up for me was Kingsburg. This is a fun little dice rolling/production game. On each turn, each player rolls three (sometimes more) dice to determine turn order (lowest roll goes first). Then in turn order they take turns using combinations of the dice they rolled to claim spaces on the board. For instance, if you've rolled a 2-4-5 then you could claim the 2 space and the 9 space, or the 6 and the 5, or the 11, or ... well you get the idea. Spaces then produce resources or some other player benefit. Resources are used to build buildings which in turn may offer other benefits or victory points or some combination of the two. While the game is perhaps a little luck heavy, it's simple to learn and it's pretty fun. I particularly liked how players who roll poorly get to go first so they get first crack at what they want each round. It's not a perfect game but it's surprisingly fun!

Next we played an aborted game of Tichu. We only got a few hands in before one of our players had to leave so we replaced him with another player. Then we played a couple more hands and another player had to leave so we gave it up and moved on to...

Was Sticht, one of the games in Mü and Lots More. This is a very unique trick taking game and I'd have to say right up front that this is not suitable for inexperienced card players. There are a couple of things which set this game apart. First, each player has a number of goals that they are trying to achieve with each hand; things like "take exactly three tricks", or "take the fewest tricks", or "don't take any red cards". Second, cards aren't dealt, they're drafted. The 36 cards (9 cards in four suits) are shuffled and then laid face up in a 9x4 grid. The start player secretly discovers trump for that hand and then each player takes turn drafting a card from one of the four in the first row. The start player then tells the others which player would have won if those four cards had been played as a trick. In this way the other players can deduce what trump is by the time a few rows have been taken. My initial reaction to this game was that while I thought it was a good game, I didn't care for it. I have a hard enough time counting cards in a regular trick taking game; but this game, with it's varied goals and visible drafting, demands that players count almost each and every card. That's way beyond the ability of my feeble brain. I will admit though that I started to warm to it by the end of the game and now I find myself wanting to try it again. Perhaps I'm just a glutton for punishment.

Other games that were played last night include Hamburgum (which I REALLY want to play soon), Vinci (one of my favorite civilization conquest games), and War of the Ring.

War of the Ring came out a few years back and I really enjoyed it the couple of times I played it. There are two things that have kept it off my table since then: it's a two player game, and it takes FOREVER to play. It's a very long game but if you have the time then it's very worth the investment. The pieces are lovely and the theme is really strong.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

New Year - New Games

Finally! Another post! I'll bet you were beginning to worry.

Last night was my first game night of 2008. It was a good one. I stayed way too late and we had a ton of new games to play this time.

When I arrived, Kai and the Seattle crew were halfway through a game of Martin Wallace's Brass (they came early to get a jump on it). Not surprisingly, we haven't got this game in the store just yet (it's not widely available in the states) but it's coming soon. I haven't played it myself but everyone in our group who has played it loves it.

My first game of the night was Felix: Cat in the Sack. I've played it several times now and it's a fantastic little filler. I've talked about this enough recently so I think I'll just leave it at that for now.

Next I played an old classic: Modern Art. This is the auction game to beat all auction games. In this game players put paintings up for auction using just about every form of auction known to man. There are four rounds and at the end of each round the paintings are ranked based upon how many of each type were auctioned off that round and their ranking determines how much they are worth at the end of the round. The more paintings of a given type are auctioned off, the more those paintings will be worth at the end of the round. This makes for a fantastic game where players can be just as successful by running auctions as they can for buying paintings. In fact, I came in second and hardly bought any paintings at all; rather I was consistently able to auction off paintings that I knew would go for a lot of money. If you've never played this game you really should. It's one of the best. Be warned though, the component quality is rather chincey. Don't let that turn you off though. The components are plenty good enough to enjoy the game.

Next up for me: Richard Breese's new game Key Harvest. Richard Breese is one of my very favorite game designers. He's done some of my favorite games such as Reef Encounter and Keythedral. One of the things that impresses me the most about Richard is that he's a self-made successful game designer. His early games were all self published and he's managed to make that work for him. That's very unusual for this business. It helps that all of his games are consistently excellent. This was the first time I'd played Key Harvest and I got creamed. I was particularly worried when after more than an hour I clearly had no hope of catching the leader and it looked as if the game wasn't even close to finishing. That was due to the fact that we had drawn an unusually low number of event tiles up to that point. Thankfully, it didn't take long for that anomaly to correct itself and we drew several event tiles in quick succession to finally end the game. My first impressions of this game are favorable but I didn't care for it as much as some of his other games. I suspect that getting my butt kicked had something to do with that. *grin* The artwork is (as usual for his games) wonderful and the mechanics are sound but I think the game went a little long. Now that I know how to play, I'll have to play it again once or twice before forming a real opinion.

Meanwhile, the Brass players moved on to play Hamburgum. This is another game by Mac Gerids, who I like to refer to as "that rondel guy" because all of his games feature a rondel mechanism. A rondel is a circular action chart. Each player has a marker on the rondel and they are allowed to move that marker up to a certain number of spaces clockwise around the rondel. Whatever space they choose to land on dictates the action they can take on their turn. In this way, you get some control over which actions you take but your choices are limited based upon your previous action. You may skip over action A to race to action B but that means that you won't be able to take action A until you've first done a few other things. It's a great mechanic which has been a wonderful success in Mac's other games: Antike and Imperial. Our guys liked Hamburgum enough that they played it twice in a row last night so that says something.

Another new game that I didn't get to play last night is Kingsburg. I didn't get a chance to get a good look at this one but I did walk over and take a brief look at the bits which were very attractive. Lots of dice are involved which might be a turnoff for some but the guys on the Geek seem to think pretty highly of it as it currently has a 7.6 rating. I didn't get a chance to learn what our guys thought of it but it looked pretty good to me. I'm looking forward to giving this one a try.

My next game was a quick game of Chateau Roquefort. This is technically a kids' game from the wonderful folks at Zoch. In this game, players control a set of four mice who scurry across the roof of a castle looking for cheese. The danger is that the castle is a little rickety and there's a very good chance that one of your mice just might fall through the roof into the dungeons below, never to be seen again. The game is played on a wonderful 3D playing area that uses the bottom of the box to represent the castle and the dungeons beneath. The playing surface is made up of a layer of sliding cardboard tiles (very much like the tiles in aMAZEing Labyrinth if you're familiar with that game) overlaid with a cardboard grille that has holes in it which reveal only some of the tiles beneath. On top of that is a layer of cardboard rectangles which represent the roof of the chateau and cover up the playing surface. Players have four actions on each turn with which they can uncover sections of the roof, move their mice onto one space or another, and/or shift the tiles under the grid. If they manage to get two of their mice onto spaces that show the same type of cheese (there are seven) then they collect a cheese in that type. Be the first to collect four different types of cheese and you win the game. But some of the tiles have holes in them and if you're unlucky enough to have a hole slide under one of your mice then that mouse is out of the game. It's a very fun game that appeals to both kids and adults. And the bits are to die for.

My closer for the evening was one of the games in the new collection: Mü and Lots More. Mü is my very favorite trick-taking card game and I was pretty excited when I heard that Amigo and Rio Grande Games were putting out a brand new compilation of trick taking games centered around Mü. We played Njet, which is a rather unique changing partnership trick-taking game where players first determine trump, supertrump, teams and so on via a process of elimination. The way that works is there is a chart listing all of the different possibilities and players take turns covering up (and thereby eliminating) options until only one option in each category remains. The remaining options are the trump, starting player, etc. for that hand. I thought it was a very good game and it played very well with three players. It's not as good as Mü but then that shouldn't surprise anybody since I have yet to find another trick taking game that is. (Yes, I think it's better than Bridge, and yes, I know that many will disagree with me but I'm entitled to my opinion.) My hope for Mü and Lots More was that at least one of the other three games included in the box would be good enough to justify buying this larger, more expensive version of Mü in preference to the older collection: Mü & More. I think Njet is good enough to justify the extra cost, but perhaps only just barely. I haven't played the other two games (Was Sticht and Meinz) yet but I'm looking forward to trying them. I'll post a full review once I've tried them all.

Well I think I've gone on long enough for today. We've got lots of new games to try over the next few weeks so I'm looking forward to giving them all a try. If you're in the neighborhood, come try them with us! We meet in the Microsoft building 50 cafeteria every Tuesday night at 5pm.