Friday, June 24, 2005

Toscana, Polarity, Ubongo, Master Thieves, The Bridges of Shangri-La, and Terra

I'm going to interrupt the Harrisburg Games with last night's session.

Toscana

This is a quick tile laying game for two. Each side gets a stack of tiles that cover a two by four rectangle on the game board. One player is the roofs on the pieces, and the other is the walkways. They place them on the board making sure it touches another tile on the board, and that their piece (roof or walkway) touches another like piece. Players build like this continuing to lengthen their territory while blocking their opponents. Since each piece contains both roofs and walkways, it can be pretty tricky to completely block someone. Once no one can play, you count the biggest grouping for each player. Whoever has the most connected tiles of their pieces wins.

Final Comment:
Simple, quick, and to the point. Reminds me of playing Oceania or The Very Clever Pipe Game. Nothing amazing, but just fun and quick to play.

Polarity

This bizarre game is all about magnetism. This is one of those that is pretty tough to describe without seeing it in action. Of course, that makes this a great spectator game as the visual part is just as interesting as the playing.

Rules were pretty vague, but what I gathered is that players are trying to get stacks to score at the end. The game starts with just five of each player's pieces on the mat and about ten pieces for each person that aren't in play. To make them turn into stacks, players will place more pieces on the board without disturbing the existing pieces. Biggest problem is that you can't lay a piece flat after the initial five are on the board. To place a piece, you have to balance it next to another piece of yours in such a way that it is sticking off of the mat a little because of the magnetism between the pieces. On your turn, you can also use one of your unplayed pieces to force one of these hanging pieces to lay flat.

This is where the game gets interesting. When players are placing or trying to force one to lay down, they might cause pieces to touch each other. If they jump up into the magnet you are holding, you take all the pieces that come along with it. If you cause your pieces to react with themselves forming a stack, you take them as well. If you cause your opponent's pieces to react, then the opponent can attempt to convert those into points by removing them from their spot and then placing them elsewhere on the board. If that player causes any more to react when taking up the reacted pieces, then that player takes them as penalty.

Players trying to get their pieces closer to their opponent's pieces in hopes that they will force their pieces to react giving you a tower. So what you have after a few turns is a mess of these magnets on the board balancing on one another. One false move and stuff will be snapping and flipping every which way. Like I said, entertaining to watch, especially when the pressure is on.

Final Comment:
Definitely an interesting game. Not something to take too seriously, I suspect. I do see the strategy, and there is a lot of dexterity involved, but too much hinges on the chaos presented when you have a pile of magnets together. I'd like to try it again and see if it is more fun if you know what you are doing.

Ubongo

Ubongo is a game of speed tiling puzzles. Everyone gets a card depicting the area they are to work with. A die is rolled and then you get the pieces that are shown on the card that match the symbol rolled. With timer going, you then attempt to put those pieces into the area on the card without any gaps or pieces hanging outside the border. When you are done you get to grab two gems off the board. Even last place gets some gems as long as they finish and can get the gems before the time runs out (of course he is much more limited in which to take).

So, it's a lot of hectic building and then gem taking since if you wait too long the next player can take the gems you had your eye on... Or maybe you wanted the next gems in line. At the end of the game, whoever has the most of one color wins.

I really like the puzzle part. Racing against the others to finish it is what the game is about. The gems just add unnecessary messiness to it, in my opinion. And in the end, you could win even if you come in last most of the time, as long as you get it done before the timer and there are gems to take where you are sitting. Maybe that is good for a family type game, but if I were to play this again I'd suggest some tweaking to the gem grabbing.

Also, I'd prefer to see all players getting the same puzzle to work with each time. Some are incredibly simple while others I couldn't figure out at all. With everyone having the same card it would be more interesting as you couldn't complain at getting a hard one. My only reservation is then when someone is done, unfinished players could glance at their card to see the solution.

Final Comment:
If you like tiling puzzles, and can handle the pressure of the sand timer, this can be a lot of fun. Some people don't mind the gem grabbing, so that might not be an issue for you.

Part 2 is on its way!

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Harrisburg Games, Part 1

First game of the evening, I jumped into a game of Ticket to Ride with five players.

Ticket to Ride

I think this game is best described to non-gamers as being similar to Rummy. You can draw either a face-up card, or one off the top of the deck. If you make a set, you can lay them down for points. The bigger the set, the bigger the points. You can do this provided you have a spot for the set on the map. You then place your trains on the spot and you score the appropriate amount. At the end of the game, if you manage to have the cities connected by your trains that are depicted on your secret route cards, then you will score the points shown.

The reason I think that works better is that I think most people don't get the significance of the scoring during the game and focus solely on their secret routes. Granted, some are important to finish (anything over 12 points, in my opinion), but the rest can be easily made up by just placing more trains. There is nothing that says you have to finish the routes.

This is a fun, family type game. Sure you can get screwed by your ticket draws. Yes, someone can screw you out of your 20 point route (deliberately, or even worse, inadvertently). But if you don't take it too seriously, it can be a lot of fun.

Final Comment:
I think this should be a must have game for anyone that plays with non-gamers. Everyone I have introduced it to love it. Simple to grasp, with some decisions to make but nothing too taxing to discourage just enjoying yourself. If you don't play with non-gamers, however, I'd just get Ticket to Ride: Europe (review coming later).

_______________

A quick game of Battle Line for filler while waiting for some other groups to finish.

Battle Line

Battle Line is a card game for two from Knizia. It is simply a deck of cards with six colors with a one through ten in each. Players are placing a card each turn into one of the nine battle fields between them. Following Poker type rules, the played cards compete against the opponents side for higher value in the separate battle fields. There can be only three cards in each battle field on each side. Once that happens, they are compared for value. Straight flushes will win against plain straight, or a straight would beat a flush, and so on. Whoever wins that battle field takes the token, and if someone gets three battlefields in a row, or any five, they win the game.

There are also tactics cards that you can draw which have varying powers. Interesting, sometimes, but not really a big part of the game. To put it this way, not a single one was drawn in our game.

Like Knizia's other great two-player card game, Lost Cities, this one takes a while to get going. The first few turns you won't know which direction to go so they are usually spent throwing out trash until you can find a strategy to follow. This might seem frustrating at first, but once you accept that it will usually be that way (at least it usually is for me), then it's easier to deal with.

Final Comment:
If you are looking for a quick game for two, I don't think you can get much better than this. Simple to learn, but lots of thinking to be had. If the tactics cards seem to make it too chaotic, just take them out.

_______________

With the arrival of the Samuelsons we had some new players to join in, so Emma Samuelson taught me and three others Snorta.

Snorta

Okay, imagine War (you know, the pointless card game...) but with a large group yelling at each other as if born on a barn. If you are thinking pointless, but goofy, you are correct!

Players are given an animal of the barnyard variety mostly (pig, rooster, dog, donkey etc.). They are shown to everyone, and this will be the last time you see who has what animal. The cards are dealt out evenly to all the players and depict various pictures of animals on them. They are left in front in a facedown draw stack. In turn, each player flips over the top card of their draw stack and then place it on top of the discard pile. If that card matches any of the cards on the other players' discard piles, then those two players have to beat the other at calling the other players' hidden animal.

Okay, that probably sounds much more confusing than it should, so here's an example: Tom has the pig, and Samantha has the cat. Tom has a duck showing on the top of his discard pile. Samantha then reveals her next card which is also a duck. If Tom says "Meow!" first, he wins, while Samantha tries to beat him to the punch by saying "Oink!". The player who loses has to take both discard piles and put them under their draw pile. First player to run out of cards wins... and as you might expect, this could take a while.

Also, to add to the confusion, there is a Swap card that when flipped, that player trades his animal in with one from the bag. So, the whole game you are trying to remember that Tom was a pig, and suddenly he's now a sheep!

Final Comment:
Did I enjoy myself? Yeah, it was cute, but definitely a children's game. It seemed to go a little longer than I would like, but I don't think kids would mind this necessarily. Also, there is no strategy here, you just memorize the animals and watch for pairs, but again, not a problem with youngsters (I played my fair share of War when I was kid).

Monday, June 20, 2005

Harrisburg, PA Game Day Continued...

Ooh! Erik Arneson has a recap up. Go check it out! (Pics, too!)
Harrisburg Game Day

Harrisburg, PA Game Day

I had some great gaming over the weekend. It was my first large-scale event (if 20 people is large-scale). Everyone was great and I hope to make it again next time.

Don't have time to review at the moment, but the list of games that I played:
Ticket to Ride
Battle Line
Snorta
Diamant
6 Nimmt
Shadows Over Camelot
Australia
Plunder
Rumis
Ticket to Ride: Europe
Eye to Eye
Cluzzle

Thursday, June 16, 2005

2004-10-24: Carolus Magnus and War of the Ring

Historical Session - October 24th, 2004

Carolus Magnus


Carolus Magnus mixes strategy and randomness to make a great game for three. Why three? With just two, the turn order loses its importance slightly, and there are lots of good two-player games out there. With four, you have to play partners. It may be fine if you enjoy partnerships, but I can't see it being as fun and, again, I can think of many far better four-player games. For some reason, there's not as many good three player games that come to mind.

Fifteen tiles are placed in a circular fashion each with a random colored cube. A yellow king marker is placed on one of the tiles. Players receive nine randomly colored cubes at the start of the game which will be placed in their reserves. Everyone bids on turn order by playing one of their chips (one through five). If you play the 1, you'll be going first, but you will be restricted to moving the king only one space. While 5 will definitely be last, but allow you to move five spaces on your turn. Each turn you play one of your turn order chips until you have used them all, and then you take them back for the next five turns, and so on.

On a turn, you can either take some cubes from the reserve and place them in your court, or you can put cubes on any of the tiles. Cubes in your court count towards controlling each color. Whoever has the most, controls all cubes of that color on the tiles. After you place your cubes, you then move the king and where he stops you check the cubes present on that tile. Whoever controls the most cubes on that tile wins the tile and places a pawn of their color on it. (Examples: The king lands on a tile with one pink cube, whoever has the most pink cubes in their court wins the tile. If there are two blue and one pink, the player that is controlling the blue cubes will win it. If there are ties, no one gets it.) At the end of the turn, the player rolls for random cubes to place in their reserve for next turn.

Object of the game is to get your pawns on the tiles. Whoever gets them all out first wins. But, they can be taken over by another player if the king stops by and the majority leader has changed. Also, when two adjacent tiles are owned by the same player they join together to make one territory, which then makes it harder to take over. As the game goes, more territories will be joining reducing the king's journey around the board, and solidifying different players' lands. If it gets to where there are only four different territories left, the game ends and the winner is the player who has the most pawns on the board.

As I mentioned before, there is both luck and strategy here. Some people might complain at the dice being such an integral part of the game, but barring some freakish rolls, I think it all evens out in the end. Part of the game is trying to work out how to make use of the useless cubes you just rolled. It just wouldn't work if you were to pick which cubes you wanted each turn.

Final Comment:
I really liked this one. It had the right level of strategy and fun for me. I'm sure there is a theme here somewhere, but since it wasn't explained to me I think it's safe to say that this is pretty abstract.

War of the Ring


War of the Ring is undoubtedly the heaviest game to come out of the recent Lord of the Rings gaming surge. Set up alone seemed to take an hour, and the game itself... can't be sure, but it was in the range of several hours. As you can probably tell by the title, this is a war game. If amassing armies and taking over and controlling various regions all the while rolling an insane amount of dice doesn't seem interesting to you, then don't bother continuing.

While many people liken this to Risk, I don't think that is such a fair assessment. Sure, it might be the closest game to WotR, but all the problems with Risk (repetitive, primarily luck driven, obvious strategies) don't seem to exist here.

The player controlling the Fellowship and the rest of the Free Peoples ("good guys") is trying to get Frodo to Mount Doom, and at the same time, trying to keep the Shadow Armies ("bad guys") from taking over too many of Middle Earth's towns and cities. If too many are taken over, it doesn't matter how close Frodo is to Mount Doom.

Turns play out with a lot of dice rolling. You start with a pile of dice depicting what actions you can take this turn, and fighting takes a very Risk-like approach. So, yes, there is a lot of luck here just like that other game, but it's definitely not all luck.

Some interesting twists: At the start of the game, the Free Peoples aren't necessarily interested in this war. The first few turns are spent trying to get them involved by playing cards, using dice, or having the Fellowship wasting precious time to go visit them. Meanwhile, Sauron's armies are growing and advancing. Also, the Fellowship move secretly, and are only revealed when needed, or if the Shadow Armies player focuses his efforts into finding them with his initial dice roll at the start of the turn.

There were lots of exciting moments when I played it, and I generally enjoyed it even if I didn't fully understand all of the rules (I found the cards particularly confusing for some reason). But I'm not sure this game is worth the time, effort, and money needed except for the die-hard wargamers and LotR fanatics. I'd be fine playing it again, saying I actually had the time for it, but I doubt I'd be so willing after another game or two.

Final Comments:
This is definitely a "try before you buy" kind of game. It might look and sound great (it did to me when I first read about it), but you really can't fully appreciate the whole picture until you play a few turns. From what I've heard, this is one of those games that either you will love it, or hate it. And the considering the price tag on this one, I don't think it's worth taking the chance.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

2004-11-18: Carcassonne and Kohle, Kies & Knete (I'm the Boss)

Historical Session - November 18th, 2004

Carcassonne


This game has players building the medieval city and countryside of Carcassonne with randomly drawn tiles. When placed, the tile must match the adjacent tiles it is placed next to. Some tiles contain sections of roads, or castles, or just grass.

The tiles are placed one at time in player order and continues until all tiles are placed forming the completed city. When a tile is placed, the player can place a meeple (pawn) on that tile. Where they place it will define how that meeple will score. If he places it in a castle, it will score two points per tile that has any part of that castle in it. If placed on a road, it will score one point per tile. There are also single monasteries that will score nine points when it is completely surrounded by tiles. In all of these cases, once the castle, road, or surrounded monastery are completed, the player scores and retrieves the scoring meeple.

The last placement possibility is farms. If a meeple is placed in a grass field on a tile, he will score four points per castle that is touching that field. Naturally, fields can get pretty large as they are only separated by castles or roads. However, meeples placed as farmers will not score, and therefore return to the owner, until the end of the game, thus lowering your total usable meeples. While grabbing a farm early can score big at the end, it can also mean less flexibility for scoring elsewhere during the game.

One last rule for placement, if a castle, road, or farm already has a meeple placed on it from an earlier tile, you cannot add your meeple to it. However, if you place a tile that is not connected to an owned castle, road, or farm, and you do place a meeple on it, they can be connected with a later tile. Whoever has the most meeples will score the section, and ties are shared.

Final Comment:
Carcassonne is what I'd consider a light, beginner game. It's simple to grasp the strategies, and the luck of the draw plays a big part. Considering those two points, it's not the type of game that will hold your interest if you are looking for something with a bit of meatiness to it. I will say that the game is greatly improved by having a three-tile 'hand' per player.

Kohle, Kies & Knete (I'm the Boss)


Kohle, Kies & Knete is a game of negotiation. Not quiet, sinister negotiation as in Intrige (to be reviewed later), but loud, raucous negotiation. If played correctly, this will reach high levels of discussion (a.k.a. yelling), so it's not the right game for a group of introverts.

The players start the game with one investor. Each turn the player can either draw some cards, or get a deal started. The deal is shown on the board and will depict the total payout and what investors are needed to make the deal. Usually they will need specific investors, or at least a specific amount of investors involved. The player who started the deal is considered "The Boss" and is in charge of getting the deal through. Needing the help of fellow players, he will have to make a split everyone involved can agree with. If he can't get a compromise, then the deal is off.

Also coming into play are the cards which can mess with the deal. They can play a temporary family member of another investor thus making them eligible in the deal, or send someone else's investor away, or even steal another player's permanent investor. Also, someone can play "I'm the Boss" putting them in charge of the deal and, therefore, a cut of the payout. Imagine several of those cards coming out at various intervals during an already intense deal making and I'm sure you can see how this could lead players to louder-than-usual volumes.

This is one of those games that I call "an experience". The game itself is pretty chaotic, it's pretty hard to make any real attempts at a strategy when the cards start flying. But that's where the fun is, it's all about the craziness that will ensue if the players are really into it. And thus, it's real problem, it is only as fun as the players make it.

Final Comment:
Not really my type of game, and there are many that I'd consider to be better (and more 'pure') negotiation games. But with the right group, this might be the most 'fun'.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

2005-06-09: Don

I forgot to post our opening game from last week...

Don


Don is a quick bidding game by Michael Schact. Simple, but quirky rules put this one in the same league as Coloretto for me. Like Coloretto, the theme is pretty nonexistent, I'm not sure why they even bothered to attempt a story here.

The deck is comprised of six colors, five cards in each color. The numbers on the cards range from 0 - 9. At the end of the game, you score one point if you have one card in a color, two cards will give you three points, three will score six, and so on. The cards are just flipped over from the deck, and they go to the highest bidder.

The quirkiness of the game comes into play when chips are payed out. When everyone passes, the player who won the cards has to give the chips to the player who owns the most cards that depict the final digit in the bid. For example, everyone passes when a player bids five? Whoever has the most fives showing gets the five chips. Same if it were fifteen, he'd get fifteen chips. Ties are split amongst the players. Also, your bid cannot end with a digit you have in front of you, so you can't receive your own payout (unless nobody has the number and then it is split evenly among the players). Also, as the game progresses bidding becomes more interesting as each player has several bids that they cannot make forcing them to drop out sooner than they'd like, or raising the bid up higher than they'd like.

I really like the bidding mechanics here. You can't just go with one higher around the table until people pass. You have to take other people's cards into account with every bid. And not only do you have to take into account what you can bid versus what they can bid, you also have to look at who is getting the payout. At one point I had so many numebers that it was difficult for me to bid, but at the same time I was getting so many payouts that I ended up with almost all of the chips. This allowed me enough bidding flexibility in the last couple rounds to pull off the win.

Final Comment:
Quick, fun game. Probably wouldn't have been as fun if it were longer or had added fiddlyness; in the same realm as For Sale, High Society, or Coloretto. I'll try this one out some more (should be easy to make with a stripped Sticheln deck).

Monday, June 13, 2005

2005-02-01: ____, ____, Liar's Dice, Cheops, and Traumfabrik

Historical Session - February 1st, 2005.

Unpublished Prototype

This prototype is actually in the process of being published right now. I feel that this one is really a good game; original, strategic, and interesting to the end. I hope it gets the attention it deserves.

I should be able to post some information later on in the year.

Unpublished Prototype

I'm just not a big fan of party games. Occasionally one will be different enough to get my attention, but most of the time I bore of them pretty quickly. This one was no exception, unfortunately.

Liar's Dice

I've played this game many times in various forms. It's an easy game to set up and teach quickly. Frequently, it's just the perfect game for the situation.

Everyone secretly rolls five dice. They check what they rolled, and then beginning with the start player, players bid for what they think is showing on everyone's dice. First player might say that there are at least six threes out there. The next player has to raise the bid in some way, or call the previous player's bid. Everyone shows their dice and if there are less than the bid, the bidder loses dice equal to the difference. If there are more of the selected number than the bid, then the player who called loses the dice. One more note, the ones (or sixes depending on the version) are replaced with a star which can count as any number.

The game is all about statistics and bluffing. Is it probable that there are ten fives? Maybe they don't have any fives, or maybe they rolled all fives. Most of the time there is no right answer. You can play the statistics, but that will only give you a general idea of where to start. To just play the numbers and not take the other players' bluffing and habits into account will likely make you diceless. This is one of those games that is better the more you play with the same people, since you can start learning their patterns and tells.

Final Comment:
Enjoyable game for what it is. I've played it enough that I don't usually request it, but I'll still play it if asked. Also, simple to make your own copy; you just need 5 dice per player.


Cheops


Cheops is set in Egypt and has players attempting to have the most of the highest priced scarabs. It feels pretty abstract in most regards, but not completely dry, either.

The basic board is a pyramid full of different colors of scarabs. Players start on the bottom row and place blocks building up to the top of the pyramid. Blocks depict four different people, and matching blocks cannot be set adjacent to each other. When you place a block, you get the scarab that is on that spot. Then, you can either keep that scarab which will score at the end according to the market at the top of the board, or you can sell it immediately for a quick buck and then place the scarab on the market tiles thus changing that color's worth for the endgame.

The market tiles per color can go up in worth as scarabs are placed there, but sometimes they can lower in value, or even seemingly random values. So the issue is, do you keep the color to score at the end, or use it to raise (or lower) the ending value? Usually, it is a pretty interesting dilemma in which you have to take the other players' motives into account. When the game ends, you score per scarab its market price shown at the top of the board. There also special tiles that you can pick up on the pyramid which can affect the market and other aspects of the game.

Final Comment:
I liked this one a lot. Many decisions to make, but nothing overly taxing. It's interesting to see the different scarabs values play out as some people might collect a specific color while others work to make sure that color is worth nothing. I'm going to make sure and try this one again in the near future.


Traumfabrik


This is one of Knizia's many auction based games. In most cases, Knizia's themes are pasted on and pretty much irrelevant. However, even if Traumfabrik's theme is pasted on, without it I'm not sure there'd be much left to be excited about.

Everyone starts with three movies they are trying to produce. All they have is the title of the film, a few initial stars (points), and the genre (comedy, drama, action). There are several bidding rounds for various tiles which act as different parts of the movie (director, music, special effects, actors, and even guest stars). They each have different amounts of stars (points) on each tile which will be added together to make the total value of the movie. Once all the slots are filled for each production, you total up the points, and pick up a new movie to start. Oscars (bonus points) are given to the best in each genre, as well as a Best Film and Worst Film award.

Theme usually doesn't matter much to me; if the game is good, then that's what is important. And likewise, bad games can't be saved by their theme (see: Hell Rail). But in this case, we have a mediocre game which is greatly improved by it's theme. Bidding for a 4 point tile isn't the same as bidding for Alfred Hitchcock to direct your King Kong movie. But if you weren't interested in classic films, is there anything here for you? Well, it's still a decent auction game; nothing special but still a solid game. Knizia has done many that I would consider superior to Traumfabrik, however.

Final Comment:
Traumfabrik is a decent auction game with a great theme. Fun the first time around, but not so sure it would have much replayability once the theme wore thin. But that's mostly because of it's competition; good auction games are easy to find.

Friday, June 10, 2005

WildLife, Aladdin's Dragons, Web of Power (Kardinal und König), __ , and Der Herr der Ringe: Die Zwei Türme, Spiel zum Film

WildLife


The basic premise for this game is territory dominance set in prehistoric times. Each player takes a different species they will control, and each type is more powerful in their home terrains. For instance, bears can take out other species in forests, but can only travel in the water, where crocodiles can attack. Eagle's primary terrain is the mountains, snake's dominate the desert, and so on. The creatures are balanced in such a way that with the full 6 players, all terrains are equal. However, each creature can also adapt allowing that balance to be broken (e.g. bears gain power to fight in the water, or the snakes can migrate into the mountains).

Also along the way, players will be able to upgrade with different abilities. Maybe to make your creatures aggressive, more mobile, or just intelligent (allowing you to play an extra card). But there are a limited number of upgrades and if someone wants a particular one which is no longer in stock, it is taken from the lead player.

As turns go the board will fill up with creatures vying for dominance in certain areas and attempting to create the largest continuous herd. At several different points along the way, the board is checked territory-by-territory and scoring appropriately for majorities in each; bonus points for largest herd, most adaptations, and most abilities.

My biggest complaint would be the special cards mixed in with the deck of action cards. Most of the cards are generic territory cards that are played to determine in which region you are allowed to move/attack/reproduce. But a handful of the cards are special cards which do nothing more than damage everyone but the player of the card. No strategy, just if you were lucky enough to draw it, everyone else is getting screwed. I think it's the infrequency of the cards that makes it so puzzling for me. Either make them more plentiful so they won't just help one or two lucky players, or take them out of the deck altogether. They don't serve any purpose besides maybe slowing the game down.

Final Comment:
I find the balanced species interesting, but I can't imagine it being as interesting with less than the full six players. Overall, I enjoyed WildLife, but not exciting enough to request it in the future.

Aladdin's Dragons


This is a game of simultaneous blind bidding for several different interrelated opportunities, similar to Ys in many regards. Everyone gets tokens ranging from 1 to 9. Players place tokens face down on the several different sections of the board hoping to have the majorities when they are all flipped over. All tokens are placed before any are revealed. Obviously this is heavy blind bidding so if you don't enjoy that mechanic than this is probably not the game for you.

The lower area contains different sections to earn gems. Player with highest total will win the largest grouping in the color, second highest will receive the next grouping, and so on. The middle area of the board is where the players will try to win special action cards, a 1-for-3 trade, the ability to take more actions, or to choose the start player.

At the top of the board is where the points will be found. If players have played high enough in the first section to get past the palace guard (or bribed him with gems), they will be allowed to enter the palace. Finally, the players go through the five rooms in the palace, where the majority in each room will be allowed to purchase the treasure in the room for the same number of gems as the total amount played by that player in the room. Example: Red won the palace room by having the highest number, 6. He now has to pay six of the same type of gem collected in the lower section of the board. If he does not, the next highest player in that room has the opportunity. So, the higher number will get you a better chance at winning the treasure, but it will also be more expensive.

I enjoy blind bidding, so no gripes about that. But, again, I will complain about special cards. Two games that come to mind that seem similar to Aladdin's Dragons are Ars Mysteriorum and Ys. Both have very similar mechanics to this one, and all have special cards. What makes those different is that the special cards are known before bidding. That allows better assessment of their value, and gives everyone a chance to be prepared for when they are unleashed by the winner of that section. Either they need to be toned down, or they need to be face-up before bidding. If I try this again, I will request that variant and report back here.

Final Comment:
I enjoyed most of it until the special cards started flying right before endgame. It didn't completely ruin the game, but as it was the final turn it did sour the finale making the final moments dull and somewhat anti-climactic. I think I'd prefer Ys in the long run.

Web of Power (Kardinal und König)


Taken from BGG: "Players struggle for influence over regions of Europe by placing two different type of control markers, Monasteries and Advisors. Monasteries are the basic placement, with the goal of securing a majority in a region or chain of monasteries or even decent points from second place. The placement of the Advisors is more restricted as the total number of Advisors in a region is limited by the majority player's number of monasteries. The game is played in two rounds and is very fast paced."

I have actually played this one a few times, and even though I tend to score well, I just don't get it. The rules are easy enough, and I finally fully understand the scoring, but I just don't feel I have a clue what to I should be playing half the time. I feel like I'm constantly drowning as other players make pivotal moves and I'm left helpless to stop them. Especially in the area of Advisors, I routinely find myself behind in every possible grouping, thus only serving to give the other players points.

Despite all of that, I still manage to win occasionally, including this particular playing. Yet, the whole time, the best I did with Advisors was to tie in two sections. What that tells me is that they just aren't that powerful. It seems just as worth it to pay more attention to the cities when other players are moving towards their Advisors. These weren't a couple of beginners, either; they were both much more experienced with K&K than myself.

Final Comment(s):
Anyway, I still enjoyed it, even when I thought for sure I was doomed for the majority of the game. Maybe everyone feels the same helplessness during the game, and maybe that's the point.

While simple in mechanics, I think the awkward scoring can be trouble the first couple times playing. Luckily, it seems the complicated part (for me, at least) is the Advisors which don't seem as important as everything else in the long run. Maybe this is an amateurish remark, so I do plan on further testing of this theory.

Unpublished Prototype
Light, fun game; not extremely original, but well executed. Sorry I can't say much else. I'll have to revisit this if/when the game has made it out of prototype status.


Der Herr der Ringe: Die Zwei Türme, Spiel zum Film
tr: Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Game from the film


Simple, quick, slash-fest. Every turn a card is turned over telling the players where to add orcs on the board. The card specifies which row they will be added and whether they are coming from the right or left. If at any time there is a continuous string of orcs from one tower to the other, the game is over and everyone loses.

Meanwhile, players each turn will play a card that depicts a number and a type of movement (orthogonal, diagonal, or both). You can move that many spaces, or using two movement points at time, land on a space with an orc. You then pick it up and add it to your stack of orcs for scoring at the end of the game. You can kill as many as you want on your turn providing that you have a big enough number card, and they are close enough together.

Other little rules: You lose one movement point from the played card for every orc adjacent at the start of your turn. Also, if at any time two players have a continuous vertical line of orcs between them, all orcs are removed and split between the two involved. Finally, some orcs have ENT on the back of them which moves the Ent down a space (game timer) and flip over a card which will add orcs near the beginning of the game, and remove them towards the end.

Obviously it is in the players' best interests to work together or the game will end pretty quick. But, essentially, it is just a hack-and-slash with light bits of tactics here and there; probably better suited for younger players.

Final Comment:
I enjoyed it for what it was. The right length, and little-to-no thinking involved.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

2005-01-25: Old Town and Ys

Historical Session - January 25th, 2005

Old Town


This is an interesting concept for a game. Everyone is working together to recreate this late 19th century town. But I don't mean working together cooperatively as there are points to win here.

The basic game is card driven, and with that comes a little luck which is to be expected, but at it's heart it is a deduction game. Unlike most deduction games, however, there is no definite answer. And that might seem like an oxymoron, but follow with me here.

The cards give general ideas where the buildings were located. Cards range from "The Saloon is to the South of the railroad tracks", to "The Church is facing East and across the road from the Jail." One card is played to set a handful of markers on the board showing possible locations for the building depicted on the card. Once there are markers on the board, you can then use the cards that mention that building to reduce the possible locations, thus scoring you points. If you can manage to play a card that proves that the building can only be in one specific spot, you will score big. So to plan a building's location from start to finish would be more of a reverse-deduction, I guess.

As you might be able to tell, this game does require a bit of brain-work. Trying to figure out the best possible way to score with a building might seem more like a puzzle than a game. But at the same time everything you play affects the board in some way thus keeping player interaction in the mix. I'd need to play again to see how much the luck-of-the-draw plays into it, though.

Final Comment:
Interesting and original (to me, at least). A little bit of a brain teaser at times, but still light and fun in spite of that. I'm definitely interested in playing this one more.

Ys


Hard to categorize, Ys has a pile of mechanics all rolled into one. While Ys is made up of different elements already present in other games, it still manages to create a new gaming experience that doesn't feel as convoluted once you get into the game.

To try to explain the different parts of the game would likely leave you more confused. In fact, this is one of the few games that it is probably best to place random pieces and walk through a round with the players before bothering to explain anything. Basically, everyone wants a majority in the most popular gems. Popularity is decided by the market system that players will influence. And gems are earned by having a majority in certain city sections. Other city sections can give straight points, or special action cards.

While this sounds complicated, there is really only one type of action done throughout the game's four rounds. Each player has 9 influence markers with varying values. Three are set aside as tie-breakers, and the rest are placed on the board in either the city sections, or the market influence section. Players place them two at a time each turn, one face up and one face down, wherever they want. Once all have been placed, face-down markers are turned over and step-by-step rewards are handed out for the various sections.

As long as players place their influence markers quick enough, this is one of the few strategy games that feel the perfect length. It's hard to tell who is ahead and a well-played final round can pull last place all the way to first. It's all about where the market ends up, and another round would just delay that; any shorter and there wouldn't be any room for different strategic options.

Final Comment:
Somewhat dry, but interesting influence/area control/market manipulation/blind bidding game. Not something to rush out to buy, but not something I would pass up the opportunity to play, either.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

2004-12-30: Fairy Tale, Masquerade, Hell Rail, Java, and Samurai

Historical Session - December 30th, 2004

Fairy Tale


I was looking forward to this one having already looked into purchasing it myself. Rules were easily explained: Everyone gets a small hand of cards; pick one and pass the rest to the left; repeat until the last card. Then simultaneously select one of the cards picked previously and play face-up in front of you; any card abilities take place; repeat until two cards are left in hand which are discarded. New cards dealt and the whole process is repeated four times.

Simple rules, so the action is in the cards themselves. However, therein lies the problem. Most cards have some sort of special action or power affecting other cards. So combine the luck of the draw element (which isn't too bad in itself as you only get to keep one card each pass), with the random powers happening from each player several times a round and you get a pretty chaotic game. If the whole group consciously works to pay attention to everyone else's cards and put some thought into it, sure there might be some strategy, but the lack of control can still reign supreme. If you want strategy, this just doesn't seem like the game for that.

There are some interesting psychological situations. Some cards combine to give a pretty large score; if you are dealt one such card, and you see someone has played their companion, do you waste a card to take it even though anything else from that hand would be better, or do you pass it around hoping someone else will jump on that grenade? Of course situations such as these are actually pretty infrequent and entirely luck-of-the-draw dependent.

Final comment:
Fun game if played light, but then pure random chaos. If played strategically, not enough payoff for well thought-out plays. I'd play again, but no longer on my wishlist.


Masquerade

I was new to Masquerade, I hadn't done my usual BoardGameGeek research on it as I had for Fairy Tale, but I did know it was the same people involved. I was expecting another decent card game with some new ideas. However, this one just didn't happen.

I don't know how much we got wrong (I already know of a few things), but the rules were written so poorly that we shouldn't have attempted it. It's basically a game of gaining abilities and power to beat up bad guys kind of game. I can't really comment too much on the game itself as none of us really understood it which resulted in an hour train-wreck followed by a pretty lackluster finale. I will note that while Fairy Tale had pretty good illustrations, the graphics on this one seemed purposefully horrible.

Final Comment:
Masquerade may be playable if one could understand the rules. But even then, there doesn't seem to be anything that new or exciting here, and I'm sure that there are much better games out there in this same vein.

Hell Rail

This one I had been looking at for some time. I had read a lot of people saying that in concept it looks fun, but once you get to playing it, the game just fails to excite. I knew that it was likely the case, but I still wanted this one to be fun, so I had requested it.

Basic premise, each player is an engineer running their train through Hell picking up and delivering various sinners at the different gates of Hell. Intriguing plot, and the card mechanic is interesting as well (each card has several different uses including actual tracks that will make the board, movement points, and sinners to be picked up and delivered), but in the end it just wasn't that... fun.

It started exciting as everyone was on the same spot and track building and movement could be used to mess with the other players. But once everyone split up it was always best to go for the deliveries that would keep you out of the way of other players. Also, once enough tracks had been placed it was even easier to avoid any possible altercations with the enemy. Slowly, but steadily, this game ran out of steam.

Final Comment:
Too long for what it is; turns into a rather basic hand-management/pick-up-and-deliver game after the first couple turns.

Java

I had played Tikal and Torres already (to be reviewed later), and enjoyed both. I knew what to expect (from playing those and reading up on BGG.com) and I wasn't disappointed in those expectations.

It uses the same action point system as the previously mentioned games, which is basically that on your turn you have 6 points to use and different actions use a different amount of those points. So, like the other games, it is all about using those points the most effectively on your turn. In general, you are placing tiles on the board creating the landscape (including elevations) and hoping to control the higher levels that contain the palaces which allow you to score. There are some other ways to earn points, surround lakes and festivals, but they aren't really the heart of the game and to me seem more like last minute add-ons to allow some alternate strategies.

This is a heavy game. To win, or even play competitively, you will have to carefully plan every move. The optimal move is rarely obvious, so there is likely to be quite a few moments of downtime.

Final Comments:
Enjoyable game if I am in the mood for deep strategy. It does seem to go a little long, but that is mostly due to analysis paralysis (and, yes, I am usually guilty of it myself). I'm not sure if Torres, Tikal, and Java are all necessary to own in the same game library, though, as in the end I felt they were too similar. (Note: I have not played Mexica, yet)

Samurai


So far, I've generally enjoyed all of Knizia's games that I've experienced. This one doesn't seem to break the mold: Some elements of strategy, some elements of controlling the randomness, and an abstract feel with a slightly pasted-on theme.

Players receive a hand of tiles which are used to win trophies on a hexagonal board. There are three different types of trophies, and corresponding influence tiles that affect adjacent trophies that match, as well as some generic tiles that will affect any and all adjacent trophies. Each turn you place one tile (or multiples if you have FREE tiles in hand) around the cities containing trophies. Once a city is surrounded by tiles, you check to see which adjacent tiles affect which trophy in the city. Whoever has the most total points with their tiles will win the trophy. Many cities are only a hexagon away from other cities allowing some tiles to affect multiple cities.

Trophies are counted at the end, and the winner isn't determined by the total number as much as the majorities in each trophy type. So if you have the most in two types of trophies, it doesn't matter that your opponent has a higher total number of trophies. Also, while there is randomness in what tiles you draw, everyone has their own draw pile and the same exact tiles in each allowing the luck to be lowered quite a bit.

Final Comment:
To me, Samurai feels like a light, strategic, abstract game. It can play quickly, but there is plenty to think about each turn. Theme is pretty transparent, but it doesn't hurt the game in my view. This one is definitely worth checking out.

Introduction

This is all about gaming; more specifically, board gaming. I play new games almost every week, and I decided to try out writing my thoughts down about each session. For one, it would be helpful to remember what I really thought about each title after some months have passed. And, maybe others might be interested in my thoughts on random games.

The majority will be games that I have played only once, so expect first impressions only, not serious strategic discussions. Occasionally I will also go back through my games played in the past months before starting this and try to capture any thoughts that I can recall. Any that I can't remember well enough to write about, I'll have to play again. :)


Games Played - Entire list of games played at the weekly session. Feel free to request any first impressions about specific games that I haven't gotten around to posting yet.