Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Board Game => Card Game

Some of the most popular strategy board games have been recreated into card games with little loss of popularity, fun or strategy. It’s amazing to me that someone has managed to take the best parts of the games and converted them into a portable, easy-to-set-up card game when the board and pieces seem so integral to the game.

Settlers of Catan, a game which so many gamers recall as their intro to Euro-games, has a modular board which would seem to be a major part of what makes the game and yet someone considered it a good choice to be made into a card game. It’s a 2-player game rather than 3-4 and maybe that’s why it works without a board. It lost some of the interaction between players but that has been replaced with variety in the building of your own personal province.

Puerto Rico, with its many chits and bits, wouldn’t seem a likely choice for a card game but San Juan has been well-received. It’s a lighter game since it’s introduced luck into the game with the card draw, but the character selection and building portion of the game are intact and hand-management has been added. Such ingenuity in converting it has got to be applauded and marveled at.

Tigris and Euphrates, a VERY popular game, would seem to rely on its board since placement of pieces is what the game is all about and yet it now has a child which you can take anywhere. From what I’ve read, it appears to parallel its parent very well although I doubt it will ever walk in his shoes.

Ra, one of the most lauded auction games, was re-themed and converted to a card game. O.k., that one didn’t go over so well with Ra fans mainly due to the absence of an equivalent to the disaster tiles but many still like it as a lighter version, especially for teaching to new players.

So, as a purely mental exercise, which of your favorite games would you like to see reborn in a smaller package—portable and easy to set up but without losing too much of what you love about it?

How about Torres? We could be rid of the tediousness of having to collect and stack our tower pieces for each round. Placement on the board and height to the board is where the game is but I’m sure some brilliant designer can figure a way to overcome that.

Through the Desert may suffer as a card game since it would lack those candy-like pastel camels but I’m sure the cards could have equally endearing drawings of pastel camels. And you could pop them right into a pocket and weave your way through a paper desert wherever you go.

Wouldn’t it be nice to play Tikal without having to sort and stack all those pieces? If someone could figure a way do it for Puerto Rico, why not Tikal?

In a couple of years, Caylus could be a contender. Once all the hubbub has died down and it’s settled into its appropriate ratings niche, it could be revived with a card game version.

Who knows but that a suggestion here may kick the turning wheels of inspiration in someone’s head into high gear and a wonderful new game will emerge.

This week I got my copy of Commands & Colors: Ancients and spent about 5 hours putting the stickers on the pieces. That sounds like a long time when some other players have said it took them 2-3 hours but I was also watching CSI and Medium so my attention wasn’t solely on my task. That and I’m as picky as you get about placement.

One of the most obvious differences between Ancients and Memoir ’44 is that there are more types of units available, most with their own unique movement rates, strengths in combat, and special rules that apply. I haven’t played with the elephants yet but I’m looking forward to my first elephant rampage!

The next big addition is the difference between Ranged Combat units and Close Combat units which seems to this inexperienced wargamer to add a level of strategy which is missing in Memoir ’44. Some units cannot fire from a distance—they have to get in there and fight hand to hand—but they’re stronger in a battle (roll more dice) than the units that have the option of Ranged or Close Combat.

The drawback to Close Combat is another addition to Ancients. The defender now has the ability to return the attack under some circumstances. I think this is very cool since it removes a little of the bad luck if you can’t draw a card which lets you order that unit.

Ancients has also added Leaders and they aren’t just another block to move around, offering scant help on occasion. They give you an extra hit symbol when battling from their hex or an adjacent hex, let you ignore one retreat flag for their hex, and lets foot units make a Bonus Close Combat attack after advancing. Nice guys to have around and fairly hard to kill unless they’re alone.

I know some people are disappointed that the game didn’t come with miniatures but I like the blocks. They’re easier to move around in a group and the different sizes are useful for assessing the board at a glance. I also think it would be hard to tell the difference between the types of infantry and cavalry if it were done with miniatures whereas the green circles, blue triangles and red squares are very easy to display on the blocks. Besides, miniatures like the ones in Memoir have a tendency to come with strange quirks like the guns that shoot around corners and the infantrymen that are perpetually leaning into the wind.

I AM disappointed that the Light Infantry and the Auxilia units’ pictures are so hard to tell apart, especially for older eyes like mine, but that may get easier with more play. I’ve found that laying at least one block in the hex down makes it easier to see the difference between them, at least in the lighting that I play under.

This is one of those games that has invaded my thoughts long after I finished playing it and I can’t wait to play again. I was looking for a war game with a little more strategy and control than Memoir ’44 while not being overwhelming in the rules department and I think I’ve found it.
Until next time, watch your flanks.



huzonfirst said...

Mary, I think there is always a desire to capitalize on a successful game and one of the most creative and least exploitive ways of doing it is to come up with a card game version. For a while, it was expected that any award winning game would have its "Kartenspiel". Among the ones you didn't mention were the Elfenland card game (King of the Elves, which is pretty good) and the San Marco card game (Canal Grande, which is excellent).

The T&E card game continues to be highly ranked, but lately I've heard some serious complaints about the game. I've yet to try it myself, though.

Turning Ra into the card game Razzia was an obvious step, since Ra is essentially a card game itself (simply substitute cards for tiles and Suns). Simplifying the game wasn't at all necessary, but the publisher no doubt wanted to lighten it a bit to attract its new audience (since the cheaper card games tend to be purchased more by families).

San Juan was a particularly fascinating case. After the success of Puerto Rico, it became something of a contest to see who Alea would accept to create the card game version. The whole thing was somewhat reminiscent of the battle to get cast as Scarlett O'Hara, with multiple teams of designers competeting for the job and sometimes switching sides, all under the critical eye of Boss Man Stefan Bruck. It all became moot when Seyfarth decided he wanted to design the card game after all, but you can still see remnants of the competition in the credits to San Juan, which thanks Richard Borg and Tom Lehmann for their "contributions".

My Dream card game conversion? As much as I love Tikal, I don't think that would be one. The concept of the players creating their own geometry on the board is too central to the game; the rest isn't too innovative. Caylus, on the other hand, might very well work; just as in Puerto Rico/San Juan, the buildings might be dealt to the players, rather than having them be available to all.

Maybe the ultimate prize would be a Civilization card game. I tried my hand at coming up with something like this a few times, and I can tell you it ain't easy. But a card game that approaches the sweep and depth of Tresham's classic would indeed be a wondrous thing.

Shannon Appelcline said...

Great topic. I may plunder it further at some time in the future;).

I actually haven't been too impressed by the card game conversions thus far. _Starship Catan_ and _The Settlers Card Game_ each felt way too long for me. _Canal Grande_ just fell entirely flat, though it deserves more plays before I decide to keep it or pitch it.

_Razzia_ clearly works, but I don't really consider it a conversion. It's the same game, cut down a little, with different components.

_San Juan_ actually works, and I think it does it (unlike the others) by simplifying the game rather than just changing it. _Puerto Rico_ has at least four major, intersecting elements: growing crops, selling crops for money, buying buildings with money, and shipping crops for VP. By cutting out the last element _San Juan_ makes the gameplay much tighter and more self-consistent. At least for me, that's what a card game needs to work, not more complexity (as with the Catan games).

I haven't played _T&E_ yet, but my initial reaction has been, "Why bother?"

huzonfirst said...

Bohn Hansa was billed as the "Bohnanza card game", but it really has little in common with it other than the graphics. I actually think it's a lot of fun with the right crowd, but it's been mostly panned by gamers.

Tanz der Hornochsen, on the other hand, IS a board game version of Kramer's Hornochsen, itself a spinoff of his popular 6 Nimmt.

Fraser said...

Interesting topic Mary.

Personally I have become a little wary of some expansions or conversions of games I like mainly because some of them end up changing the game and more importantly the things I liked about the game in the first place.

Of course this hasn't stopped me from buying many of them, but for example the more I read about some of the later Carcassonne expansions the less inclined I am to play them. Carcassonne - The Expansion is excellent, but I am currently dubious about some of the others and I get the feeling they will change the game into something different. This, of course, could be just paranioa on my part, but it is enough that I haven't tried any of the later ones that we own of my own initiative. If somebody had them at a games night I would definitely try them to see whether my thoughts on the matter were accurate or just total codswallop!

As another example I will not be buying any of the Bohnanza expansions over the Rio Grande Games base box, however I will grab the PowerGrid new map(s). I am nothing if not inconsistent!

ekted said...

I think Taj Mahal would make an excellent card game. Its main activity is hand management and playing cards already. The goods/bonuses/roles could be replaced with cards. The only spatial aspect to the game is the connectivity, which could potentially be replaced with a Bohnanza/Oltremare-style sequencing system, maybe with 2-3 piles instead of just the 1. Of course, the card game version would be called Agra.

The above idea is (c) ekted. :)