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.

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