Friday, November 30, 2007

A Ahort Rules Preview of Supernova

Once upon a time there was a wargame company called SPI that completely dominated the wargame field (at least in terms of numbers of games produced). When SPI got around to producing some science-fiction empire-building games, they made a couple that differed in terms of scale. Their biggest-picture game was called Outreach and the scale was so big that hexes didn’t represent star systems but rather whole chunks of the galaxy that contained dozens or hundreds of star systems. If I remember correctly (and this is a big if—I haven’t seen the game in decades), the grand scale made the game so generic and abstract that the theme was almost pointless.

I was reminded of Outreach when reading the rules for Supernova. This is not because Supernova seems likely to be a bland game. Or because the two games have the same ultra-big picture scale (Supernova has individual planets and their moons on the gameboard). Rather, Supernova recalled Outreach because Supernova is a tile-laying game, and the forces of each space empire seem to be a tad abstract. In Supernova, players don’t move plastic ships around the board, but lay tiles outward from a central sun. When a player places a tile on a hex that has been previously claimed by an opponent, combat begins.

Combat is conducted with battle cards, although fortifying a hex (adding more than one tile to a hex) helps with defense. Battle cards are either numbered or contain a special abilities. There are rules about which combination of cards can be played in each battle, but there is always going to be an element of pure guesswork because players are not going to know what is in other players’ hands.

What adds to the space theme, and makes the game less abstract, are ratings for individual player abilities which can change over the course of the game. Players have ratings for weapons (which increase combat ability), shields (which boost defense), engines (which increase the number of tiles a player can play each turn), and comms (which increase the number of battle cards a player can hold). Players may buy a technology increase each turn, but the increases become more expensive as tech levels rise. This means that players will have an incentive to develop all their technologies rather than sinking their money into one or two increasingly-expensive fields.

Players get a small resource budget each turn (resources are cash in this game), and they can increase their resources by harvesting the moons which orbit the planets. Although moons create more resources than planets, planets are worth more victory points than moons.

There is also an auction mechanism in this game. Every turn there is a chance of a sun flare erupting from the central star. Players bid for the right to control the flare, and the winning player can declare where the flare goes. Sun flares destroy hexes as they move outward from the star. Early in the game, they only destroy a couple of hexes; later in the game they become more powerful and they destroy a greater number of hexes.

Supernova (designed by Oliver Harrison and Mike Roy) seems to me to be a promising game that may give players a chance to dabble in galactic empire-building without requiring the six-hour marathon session that Twilight Imperium demands. With Galactic Emperor also on track for publication in 2008, next year may be a good year for space-game enthusiasts.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Multi-player Solitaire? Nuh Uh!

The term "multiplayer solitaire" is often used (mostly by people who don't like them) to describe games where there is no direct player interaction - you can't steal my food cubes or blow up my tanks, because we are each working on our own grand master plan for our own area of the world.

Coincidentally, the games the term is often applied to include most of my favourite games.

What these games typically offer, is ample opportunity for indirect player interaction. Often, this comes through competing with other players - for goods, for resources, for actions, for control of an area.

The games reward planning - often long-term planning - but also the flexibility to respond and react to others' actions. While they are less dynamic than some other types of games, players can still have a significant effect on one another's success or failure.

In my experience, while the first few times with a new game often play out as essentially multiplayer solitaire, with experience and increased skill players will watch what other players are doing and respond/react/block/move appropriately. In other words, a game will become more interactive as you play it more and more. This can take time - and it's easy to write a game off after one or two plays without really exploring the strategies and tactics that underpin it.

Moving a game from multiplayer solitaire to a more interactive experience may have a long learning curve, but it is well worth it to someone who (like me) enjoys these types of games. The interactivity enriches the game experience and deepens the thinking involved in playing the game - or at least, in playing it well.

In bad news for designers, there doesn't seem to be a way to shortcut this process - although some seem to be having success by providing solo rules, or versions of the game with less complexity than the full game, to give players an opportunity to familiarise themselves with the game in stages.

I've looked at a handful of these games and have tried to rank them, starting with the most solitaire. Your experiences will likely vary - I'd bet, according to how often you have played the various games I list.

Crayon rails games
You could call them multiplayer solitaire because: The interaction is really only in where you build (taking the best routes into and out of a city) and in taking the goods that other players want.
Opportunities for interaction with other players: I've only played this 2-player so far, but I imagine with more players there could be more opportunity to block other players out of a particular city or to force other players to use your existing train lines.

You could call it multiplayer solitaire because: The game can be played almost co-operatively, with each player placing pieces without regard to their opponent's scores.
Opportunities for interaction with other players: Blocking!

Thurn und Taxis
You could call it multiplayer solitaire because: Each player plays their own hand, without restrictions on how many pieces may be played on a particular city. The high level of chance in the flow of cards (particularly if you choose the 'replace the 6 cards' option) makes it hard to block, especially in a multiplayer game.
Opportunities for interaction with other players: Card hogs! If I have all the cards for Lodz or Sigmaringen, you don't have much of a chance. Also, the need to keep up with other players' carriage cards means that you are under some pressure to play cards and not just to wait for the next card to come along.

Pillars of the Earth - reduced by the random draw of master builders but still very competitive. Has the feel of an auction game in many ways
You could call it multiplayer solitaire because: Each player is working to make the most of their own set of cards.
Opportunities for interaction with other players: Card selection/choice of actions - it is possible to take the action that another player wants. Watch how many workers they have left and make sure you take the only stone they can afford. Block their access to key resources like metal. Watch whether they have enough money to place their master builders.

Notre Dame
You could call it multiplayer solitaire because: Each player plays their own hand of cards on their own section of the board. There is no restriction on several players choosing the same action.
Opportunities for interaction with other players: Card drafting phase. If the next player is out of money, it might be safe for me to pass her a Notre Dame card if it means I can keep a money card out of her hands. Also, the carriages.

You could call it multiplayer solitaire because: Each player builds their own structures on the board - there's no trade or opportunity to influence your opponent's tile draw.
Opportunities for interaction with other players: Blocking! Stealing cities, pointing roads at cities - there are ample opportunities for evil play.

Princes of Florence
You could call it multiplayer solitaire because: Each player is building his/her own buildings and playing cards.
Opportunities for interaction with other players: The Auction phase (and the restricted supply of some cards for the Action phase) allows you to take choices away from other players. The Recruiter card also offers an interactive element.

You could call it multiplayer solitaire because: Each player is building their own farmyard. Unless you are using the I deck, you have little to no direct interaction with other players.
Opportunities for interaction with other players: Taking resources and actions that other players need. Early complaints about cards being overpowered seem to stem from this problem - if one player has a card that makes clay super-valuable for them then the other players should adapt their strategy to ensure that the first player doesn't get the chance to get a lot of clay. That's hard to do while you're still learning the ropes, which is where the family game should get solid play from gamers who are just starting out with this game.

Tigris & Euphrates
You could call it multiplayer solitaire because: It is possible to play this game without ever entering into any direct conflict with another player.
Opportunities for interaction with other players: War! Two different types, even. It doesn't get much more direct than that - yet the first few times you play you will almost always stick to building up your own civilisation.

What other games attract this label? And does the experience = interactivity rule hold true?


Friday, November 23, 2007

A Short Rules Preview of Power & Weakness

Last week I wrote about the rules for Albion, an area-control game set in medieval Britain. Today I’m writing about the rules for Power & Weakness, an area-control game set in medieval Britain.

There are a couple of big differences in the games. For one thing, Albion is a multi-player game and Power & Weakness is strictly two-player. Another difference is that Albion tries to be loosely historical, but Power & Weakness focuses on magicians as well as on conventional forces.

The heart of Power and Weakness is a mechanism in which conventional and magical conflict alternates as players struggle to control regions on the board. A cycle in which players move knights from regions to adjacent regions to combat enemy forces is followed by a cycle in which magicians teleport all over the board between regions that share the same magical symbol.

On his turn, a player can take two actions. Typical actions will be adding a friendly piece to a region on the board, recruiting friendly pieces from the stock, or taking and/or playing an action tile. There are a variety of actions tiles. Some of the typical ones allow a player to remove enemy pieces from a region, add friendly pieces to a region, move pieces from region to region, or cancel an opponent’s action. Some action tiles have duel abilities, and players have to choose which abilities to use. Some action tiles cannot be simply taken, but have to be auctioned off between the players.

Taking some actions removes timing cubes from the timing track. The cycle ends when all the cubes are gone, and manipulating the end of a cycle appears to play a part in game strategy. For example, playing tiles that add friendly pieces to the board can trigger the end of a cycle and make it impossible for the opponent to respond before a scoring round.

Power & Weakness has some interesting mechanisms, but the two-player limitation may decrease its appeal. I would be much more likely to acquire a game like this if it allowed for several players; two-player games just don’t get played as much.

Power & Weakness was designed by Andreas Steding and is available for pre-order from

Saturday, November 17, 2007

After being defeated by the rules, the play made it clear...

There have been a few games where I have found myself utterly defeated after reading the rules. Instead of knowing how to play the game I have no idea at all, in some extreme cases I know less about the game than I did before I started and also I am no longer entirely sure what my phone number is.

In pretty much every case this has been cured by playing the game, preferably with somebody who knows how to play it.

Games where I have been defeated by the rules include Coloretto, Mamma Mia!, Mystery Rummy: Jack the Ripper, Tigris & Euphrates and Air War (OK I will admit that the last one was not at all recently).

With Coloretto and Mamma Mia! a step by step playing of the game in close concert with the rules meant that things that were previously clear as mud suddenly became obvious as if some magic spell had been lifted. Interestingly enough I had no problem at all with Zooloretto, mostly due to the familiarity with Coloretto.

Air War is really a case of being defeated by the errata. I spent hours working my way through the hefty rule book to suddenly find this enormous errata that basically poked out its tongue and said everything you have learnt before is wrong and you must learn it again. I put the rules and the errata back in the box, gave the game back to its owner and went back to playing Foxbat and Phantom instead.

With Tigris & Euphrates I read the rules and felt I was about half way. I had some understanding, but was clearly foundering. This time I went down the path of getting someone who had already played it to teach it. This worked a treat, again suddenly everything was very clear and we played it three times in a row. With the game in front of you an experienced player can teach this in about ten minutes and actually explain the internal and external conflicts in a meaningful way as opposed to that blank look that people get when they first read the rules without having played the game.

In the case of Mystery Rummy: Jack the Ripper I read the rules twice and even tried playing a game solo. Three - nil in the game's favour. The rules aren't that long, it shouldn't be that hard. I read the rules to War in Europe and just played it from scratch, but am now being defeated by a card game and its cursed melds. At least I could console myself that I was not the only one who has had this problem, there are many similar stories at BGG.

I issued the "Teach me" plea and to my gratitude Gregor responded and it was arranged for the next EuroGamesFest. Sure enough after a brief explanation and about a hand or two it was pretty much all perfectly clear and I could now successfully teach other people how to play, which means Melissa and Daughter the Elder are now fans of the game and we have played it quite a few times recently, including a hand or two waiting for meals to arrive at a restaurant and in the waiting room at our GP's waiting room waiting for a Doctor for Daughter the Younger.

My plan of attack for our unplayed pile is still usually:
1) Read the rules
2) If that does not succeed, try a solo game
3) If that does not succeed, call on somebody who has played the game before to assist.

Usually we have a successful game after step 1, but not always.

Hmmm meeples taste like...

Friday, November 16, 2007

A Short Rules Preview of Albion

This one I am excited about. I’m talking about Albion, the upcoming area-majority game from the new game company Troy Press. Albion covers a lot of the same territory as Britannia, but looks like it is a quicker, less complicated game.

In Albion, players try to become the dominant force in various regions of the British Isles in order to score victory points. On his turn, if I player has the most cubes in a particular region, and he has the appropriate card for that region, he may play a kingdom card to score points. Petty kingdoms are kingdoms that consist of just one region. After a player has scored at least three petty kingdoms, he may attempt to score a high kingdom which consists of two regions and is probably worth more victory points. And at the end of the game, players see who has the most units in the three final kingdoms: England, Scotland, and Wales.

On his turn, a player will have to choose between the following actions: move settlers (from one region to an adjoining region), attack settlers (opposing settler cubes destroy each other on a one-to-one basis), add settlers (one cube is added to a region where you have a majority or tie for the majority of the cubes), recruit Britons (exchange neutral brown Briton cubes in one region for your own cubes), or play an invader carder (units that invade England from the sea). Complicating matters is a population limit for each of the varying regions that limits how many units may occupy it.

Does this sound simple? Maybe even excessively simple? Perhaps. But I was suspicious of the simplicity of Midgard when that came out, and Midgard turned out to be one of the games from the last couple of years that the Appalachian Gamers plays the most.

Albion may have less historical chrome than Britannia, but the Appalachian Gamers found that Britannia’s victory point system channels players into predictable grooves. Albion looks like it might be a little less predictable, and play in a much shorter time.

It looks like Albion will show up sometime in 2008. I’ll be waiting.

Albion can be pre-ordered for about $40. Troy Press can be found at

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Agricola - or, everything I know about 17th century farming I learned from the Internet

As loyal readers will know, I've spent the last 7 weeks or so immersed in translating Uwe Rosenberg's wonderful new game Agricola.

One of the challenges in translating this game was understanding the richly thematic world that the game encapsulates, and reflecting that in the words and ideas used in the translated text.

Nowhere is this more necessary than in the 360-odd cards, particularly the Improvement and Occupation cards.

I've been asked a few times, "Why did you use this word? No-one will know what it means!" - this is my answer.

First, it's important to understand that the names on the cards enhance the theme of the game. We could play a themeless game which says "Swap a white cube for little markers if you have this card" or we could play a thematic game where we put sheep into an oven and they come out as lamb cutlets to feed the family. It doesn't really matter what the cards are called - they still have effect in the game - but Agricola's heavy theming is so tightly bound to its gameplay that I wanted to make sure I did justice to the cards.

That meant spending way more time obsessing about the names of the cards than might have been expected. Thanks especially to John and Ralph who have shared my obsession in the last week and have made suggestions on what to include or have made me think about why particular words should be used, and also to the many others who have emailed or geekmailed suggestions. And thanks of course to Hanno who dealt patiently with my questions about "what did this guy do?" and William who shared his research as we worked through it.

Here are some of the online resources that I've found helpful:
There are of course other, more detailed references that I used for individual items. Some are old, some are more modern. Many led to squeals or at least shouts of "Aha!" - not least this picture of a shepherd's pipe (not shepherd's horn or shepherd's flute - phew) and John's discovery of the term Gypsy's Crock, which sounds much better than my very mundane "Tripod Pot".

I hope this set of references has been interesting. I've certainly found it a fascinating process. Look for the full set of card translations on the Lookout Games website Real Soon Now.

And enjoy!

Friday, November 09, 2007

A Short Rules Preview of Pandemic

In one of my early blogs for Gone Gaming, I listed a few hypothetical games that I wished someone would create. One of my hypotheticals was a game I called NGO (Non-governmental organization) in which players try to stop famines and cure plagues to earn victory points. Now, I’m not so arrogant as to think that Matt Leacock was inspired by my blog to create Pandemic, the upcoming co-operative game from Z-Man Games. But I can at least congratulate myself for being ahead of the curve in predicting what kinds of new subject matter game designers will find interesting.

Z-Man has made the rules for Pandemic available on-line, and when I saw that it was a co-operative game, I knew I had to take a look. There are all too few co-operative games, and some of them (Arkham Horror) can take a long time to play. Pandemic has only about eight pages of rules, and the rules claim that the game can be played in forty-five minutes.

Up to four players can play Pandemic. Each player is a disease control expert who is trying to contain four different pandemics that are spreading around the world. If the players can restrain the spread of disease long enough, they may be able to find cures for the diseases and win the game. If the diseases get out of control and spread to too many cities, the players will lose. At the beginning of each game, each player gets a special power that they will use to modify some rule of the game in their favor. During the game, players move around the world-map game board, and treat disease in afflicted cities while trying to get the cards they need to find a complete cure for the global plagues.

Pandemic is basically a set-collecting game. If a player’s pawn is in a city with a research station, the player may discard five cards of the same color to cure a disease of that color. The player with the Scientist ability can cure a disease with only four cards of the same color.

Players get four actions per turn, and these can be used to move a player’s pawn, build new research stations, or to treat disease (remove cubes) in the city that the player’s pawn occupies. Normally, a player may only remove one disease cube per action, but once a cure for a disease is found, players may remove all the cubes of a cured disease from a city by spending just one action.

Although players will eventually be able to cure all four diseases, they may not have much time. Each turn players are required to draw cards that spread the infection of one or more diseases to cities listed on the cards. Wooden cubes of four different disease colors are placed on city spaces to represent the spread of contagion. The big problem comes when new disease cubes are supposed to be placed in a city that already contains three disease cubes of that color. In that case, an outbreak occurs and disease cubes spread to every adjacent city. Outbreaks in one city can trigger outbreaks in adjacent cities in a deadly chain reaction.

One sign of a good co-operative game is the ability to increase or decrease the difficulty level of the game to suit the experience of the players. In Pandemic, players may add more Epidemic cards to the deck to increase the difficulty of the game.

At least two of the most popular co-operative games are heavy-theme games taken from pop culture sources (Lord of the Rings and Arkham Horror). It will be interesting to see how the gaming community reacts to a co-operative game that isn’t inspired by works of fantasy, legend or horror. I am looking forward to trying Pandemic.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Knizia-thon, Part Two: Obscurity & Palazzo

Last week I played my second game of Palazzo for the year. I own the game, but it very rarely makes it into my game night bag, hence the low play count. I couldn't really place my finger on why until last Wednesday's game.

The game ended like this:

I'd been doing kind of moderately well throughout the game: not best and not worst. On what was likely to be my last turn I had a pristine 5-story white-marble building with tons of windows, a mixed-material 3-story building and a mixed-material 2-story building.

Now in Palazzo, for those of you unfamiliar, you score points based on how tall your building is and what it's made out of. The core score for a 3-story building is the number of windows it contains, but there are bonuses of +3 and +6 when you reach 4 or 5 stories and those bonuses are doubled if the building is made of a single material.

The result is, unfortunately, very difficult to intuit, and this really showed in last Wednesday's game.

Given the choice between making a for-sure purchase of a single, one-window floor that I could add to my 2-story building and an auction for a couple of much better pieces, I took the latter. Unfortunately I didn't have the most money, lost the auction, didn't get another turn, and thus lost the game. However, what made the defeat especially ignoble was that if I'd instead just made the purchase that looked so much less good to me, I would have won by a couple of points.

The problem was that intuitive difficulty. Sure, I suppose I could have added up the two possible scores, then made a more knowledgeable risk-reward assessment based on the exact values, but that's generally not the way I roll. Worse, I think it would be disastrous in an ultra-light game like Palazzo.

So, instead, I went with my gut, and my gut said that singular one-window story was almost worthless, because my thumbnail way to try and assess the somewhat confusing valuations of Palazzo is to go with window count. Instead I should have remembered that there was a huge drop off in score from a 3-story building (value=windows) to a 2-story building (value=0).

But even when I remember that next time, and I bet I do, especially after writing this article, I suspect I'll be tripped up by something else. And that's really my core problem with Palazzo: not that it's light (though it is), and not that it's sort of Alhambra-like (which it's really not), but rather than the scoring is sufficiently obscure that it's often pretty hard to figure out the right thing to do.

The Benefits of Obscurity

Mind you, there are often great benefits to making scoring obscure in a game.

Hidden scoring is a terrific idea, even when you can see every point earned along the way. Tigris & Euphrates is a fine example of this. Sure someone could memorize every point earned, if they wanted, and thus have some advantage, but most people don't do that. And the flipside is that if all the scores were open then a huge analysis paralysis would start to settle on the players when they began to guess or second-guess all their info in light of the revealed scores. Quo Vadis and Through the Desert both do the exact same thing, with perhaps even more benefit.

The close companion to this idea is to have unscored scoring: valuations which aren't totally scored until the end. Genesis is an example of such a Knizia game, and even offers good reason for holding the scoring up to the end: because you don't know what everything's worth until the last piece is played because the size and ownership of herds of animals can change until the last move. Dead Man's Treasure is another example of game where the scoring isn't settled to the end.

So, I see reasons for making the score itself obscure, but not the scoring, and that's ultimately why I think Palazzo doesn't live up to some of Knizia's better mid-weight games. There's just too much formula in the scoring to allow you to intuitively know what to do.

Which is a pity, because I really enjoy the other aspects of the game.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Persistent Worlds

Long term games. Role-playing, 12 hour marathon sessions of such-and-such. This post is somewhat inspired by an upcoming (2008?) expansion to FFG's Descent, which adds a campaign system to the tactical dungeon crawl. And some of my recent experiences.

Board games are often beloved for their 'play and forget' aspects. You can start a boardgame quickly, and it makes no demands on your time before and after the game. This is a start contrast to other 'hobby' games. Miniatures demand time painting and sculpting. Collectibles demand time sorting, planning, and devising (deck-building/army building). Role-playing demands prep time from the GM, and require players to carry information from game session to game session.

As gamers age, add families and commitments, board games begin to appeal above other games because of this lack of commitment away from the table. But there still remains in some people the desire to build something lasting within their hobby. Online MMRPGs tap into this. Join World of Warcraft and you are immediately part of something large. The game goes on around you and you experience bits and pieces. Put the game down for a moment and when you return you find your position identical, but the environment has shifted - a living game.

There is obviously some desire to see this sort of persistence in board games. It's not for everyone. Some people bundle this desire into "theme", but it's a whole nut by itself, most often called 'campaign play' - the idea that each playing of a game impacts the next time the game comes out.

One of the best examples in my experience is the old GDW game Imperium. In this 1970's space wargame the two sides fight a short-lived strategic war. Generally the war ends when one or two planets or outposts change sides. One side wins the war - "game" over. But the game doesn't actually end there. You roll some dice and play a 5-10 minute mini-game of peace, and then the next border skirmish/war breaks out - with players in a similar position to the end of the last war, or game. Players can play two wars back-to-back, or keep track of holdings and continue to play the game with an ever shifting series of planets and fleets. Persistence.

Imperium is a good game, taken up to greatness because of the ease of what is often called 'campaign' play. Descent (as mentioned earlier) received some derision early on due to it's complete lack of 'campaign' play. The next expansion will change that, bringing persistence into the game.

An obvious inspiration for Descent is the Heroquest/Warhammer Quest line of games. These games have the same theme as Descent (fantasy dungeon crawls), but had campaign systems from the very beginning. Even granddaddy Magic Realm provided a campaign system.

But a persistent world doesn't need to be tied to a fantasy adventure game. We have yet to see a designer (probably an American or Italian, given their design tendencies) bring the idea of persistence into an economic game, or any genre of game using 'modern' design features.

Perhaps the oft-requested Civ-lite game should be a game that plays in 'mileposts'. Short 60-90 minute games that reach stopping points where one player is deemed the winner, but the game is set up again next game for the next age of the game. Players could even change.

The Lords of.. series approaches persistence in-game by suggesting that players can enter and leave the game as they wish - that the players have no need of being static, and it might be possible to even win the game by playing for the first or final third of the game.

I'm sure there are other persistent worlds built within boardgames. It's an interesting piece of the attraction of games in general - and probably the one that inspires the most loyalty1.


1Obligatory footnote. It's not a surprise that campaign systems inspire loyalty. Invest more time into a specific game and you will feel more invested in it. What a surprise eh?

2Second Obligatory footnote. The second impetus for writing this is a persistent browser game that I'm involved in called Imperium Nova. It's an economic/negotiation space empire game. Mostly inspired by board games, the main mechanics are economic. Even warfare carries a hefty monetary cost. But it really serves to illustrate how electronic(computer/console) games have fully embraced persistent worlds. It's a selling point of many of these games. The microchip takes care of the math and the note-taking, leaving the player free to remain involved in an ongoing game. Persistence is a strong selling point3.

3But it still hasn't been applied much outside the Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Military genres.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Working through the pile

Around Essen time we decided to make an effort on the pile(s) of unplayed games. This also included playing some new (to us) things at games nights etc.

Starting off with our games:

Australian Rails - Melissa's first foray into crayon rails, my second (or possibly third - I have dim memories of friends playing a crayon rail game a decade or so ago, but don't entirely remember if I played or not, which probably means that I didn't). Melissa enjoyed it, which means that some of our crayon rail games might hit the table soon.

Thebes I had heard a little about this, but not much in terms of details. A nice set of choices to be made along the way and the drawing from the bags seemed fine.

On the Underground - Nowhere near as cut-throat as the London Game. It plays well with different numbers of players which is always good.

Mystery Rummy: Jack the Ripper Another one of those games where I read the rules and by the time I had finished I still didn't know how to play the game. I tried reading them again, still no go with the game and I had a sneaking suspicion that I knew less about the universe in general compared to before I had picked up the rules. Gregor kindly volunteered to teach me and after a hand it or two it was all quite obvious.

Power Grid Power Plant Deck 2 Yes it is just a new deck of power plants, but they are different, they go down to number one and there's one or more that power eight cities. All this is just "blah blah blah" if you don't play Power Grid, but I like it. One day I may play the Power Grid Mega Hello Kitty Grand Tichu Humungous Deck variant where you merge this deck and the original deck, but for now I a happy to just play the maps with the new deck.

Other people's games:

Princess Ryan's Star Marines - Much more your beer and pretzel type game. It probably didn't help that we didn't have a bad guy player, but we really didn't see much in this to elevate it above the basic B&P game. With an active bad guy, I can see that the interplay between the "good" guys could get more interesting though.

Shazamm! - My feeling is that you need to play this a couple of times to get an idea of what the various cards are before you will be able to play it well. On a single play it did not light my fire.

Risk - Star Wars: The Clone Wars Edition - As with most versions of Risk, after a single play I am undefeated. I would rank this above Risk 2210, but slightly below Risk Transformers.

Before I Kill You, Mr Bond - I can see quite a nice game underlying this. I am not sure that it has all managed to get out though. It feels like with the card draw it can become a little unbalanced a finish what seems to quickly.

Eurorails - Do the different maps and goods make the various crayon rails different enough or at an abstract level are they all just the same game? I think my vote falls for the former. This one certainly tests the European geography of the players.

Ziegen Kriegen - Similar to 6 Nimmt! in many ways, but the Geeple (goat meeple) and building of the island during the first four rounds influences whether you want to be scoring high or low.

Downfall of Pompeii - The different stages are almost different games and the whole thing is surprisingly quick. Daughter the Elder was quite taken by it, possibly due to the fun she had dropping my citizens in to Mt Etna.

1960: The Making of the President - Another game where I think you need a couple of plays under your belt to have a good idea of the various possibilities, and build up an idea of the general worth of various states and regions. I gave up the fight for the East Coast on the last turn, partially to repair some damage in the West, but mainly because I had crap cards. However it was engrossing and I will definitely play it again - and I might even have a proper idea of how the media works this time.


mmm meeples taste like...

Friday, November 02, 2007

Respect, Not Love

I didn’t get to the Appalachian Gamers meeting this week (and thus missed what will probably be the only game of Arkham Horror played by us until next Halloween), and I missed my usual blog inspiration. But as I was pondering what to write about this week, it occurred to me that there are games I admire, but don’t actually love. Probably the epitome of this contradiction is Knizia’s Modern Art.

Modern Art is a sophisticated and elegant auction game that can inspire amounts of truly Machiavellian mind games. Each round players are dealt a hand of cards that represent paintings by several different artists. Players take turns auctioning off cards from their hand. If another player buys a card, the auctioneer keeps the cash. The auctioneer can bid as well, and if she wins the auction, the money goes to the bank. Each sold painting is left on the table in front of the owner. When the fifth painting by one artist is sold, the round is over. Players then collect cash for their paintings in proportion to their popularity; the paintings of the most popular artist generate the most cash, while the works of less popular artists generate less money.

It doesn’t take much imagination to realize the opportunities for guessing and bluffing created by the game. If you draw a lot of paintings of one suit at the beginning of a round, then you probably want to invest in that artist. But if other players see you buying a lot of your own paintings, then they will probably guess your intentions, and either try to acquire that artist’s work for themselves, or bid you up to limit your profits. You could always auction a painting by a different artist just to fool other players, but you risk helping another player with his plan. There is a constant tension in the game between the need to further your plans, and hiding what your intentions really are.

Why wouldn’t I love Modern Art? Well, it is merely a card game, and I tend to like games with boards. And if it isn’t entirely abstract, it comes pretty close to being so. I also tend to do poorly at auction games, but in the right frame of mind I regard that as a challenge and not a reason to avoid a game.

But having expressed those reservations, I still have a hankering to try the game once again. It may be an abstract card game, but it is a darn good one. It may be the most fun to play the games you love, but playing games you respect isn’t bad either.