Monday, October 24, 2005

The Bridges of Shangri-La

The Bridges of Shangri-La

This was one of those games that when it was first brought out, I just knew I'd like it. Don't know why specifically, but something grabbed me right from the start. So we were setting up and listening to the rules, and it still seemed interesting enough, but I started to feel that something was missing. By the end of the game I just wanted it to be over.

I would try to talk about the theme some, but we pretty much skipped that part. There are several towns on the board, and there are paths connecting them. Each path has a wooden bridge placed over the gap that is on the board. Each town has seven spaces depicting the seven different types of tiles each person has. You have a limited amount of each of the seven symbols. The game starts with a few towns populated with different symbols from different players. On your turn you can add a "master" (which is a new tile in an empty spot) in a town in which you already have a master, or you can add a "student" (a tile that already has a presence in that same town) to a master of your color, but only one student per master. So the towns slowly build up with masters filling empty spots and then students on top of the masters.

When someone feels that the town is ready to send out their students, they pick a city that is connect by a bridge, and all students then travel to that town together. The bridge they crossed is removed from the game, and any empty slots are filled with the new students and now become masters. If there is already a master present in that town of a type where a new student is trying to enter, then whichever town has more masters wins.

That's pretty much it. The game ends when almost all of the towns are isolated (all bridges on paths connected to it have been used), and the winner is the player with the most masters. It does have some interesting decisions, and it can be quite tense as setting up a power move takes several turns. But in the end, I just didn't enjoy myself.

Final Comments:
This is not a bad game. And I can't really put my finger on what bored me about it. I mean, I like a lot of abstract strategy games, so the dryness shouldn't have been a problem. Whatever the reason, it just wasn't fun. *shrug*

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Master Thieves

I'm going to try to get caught up again. Back to where I left off...

Master Thieves

This is an intriguing game. First thing to mention, it sells for well over $100. I'm not sure of the exact price, but suffice to say, this is limited edition and a collector's item right from the start. The jewelry box contraption is quite a sight; it is well constructed and fun to see in action.

Let's talk about the box in more detail. Like a Rubik's cube, the box is separated into three horizontal shelves that can spin independently of one another. On the four sides of the box, there are drawers in the middle section. There is one drawer per horizontal tier, so with a little simple math you can come up with twelve drawers in all. The box can be flipped over completely, and there is no difference aesthetically. The drawers have a top and a bottom, as well, so that gives us 24 compartments. Finally, six of the twelve drawers also have a hidden compartment that is behind the drawer's main compartment (right-side up and up-side down, as well). So add another twelve secret compartments to that list. As you can see, it is pretty elaborate, and it's functionality is an integral part of the game. But is it a good game?

Everyone gets a hand of cards with one card for the several different characters you can use on a turn. Each one has it's own action related to it, and you will play each of them during a round. Some examples: There is the Jeweler who can set up an alarm in a drawer, a Thief who can open a drawer and take any jewels there, and a Master Thief who can then attempt to find a special hidden jewel in the drawer's secret compartment. Card play is secret/simultaneous -- all players pick who they are going to be, and they are revealed in the turn order of the different characters (e.g. Smugglers go first, then the Jewelers, and so on). The cards interact well together, making an in depth rock-paper-scissors mechanic.

The goal is to find jewels. The game starts with some already in it, but also some of the character cards you play will allow you to add more to the box. When you put them in, or even when someone else does, you can try to track their location so on a later turn you can snatch them right back. The problem with that is after each player's action they can rotate any of the shelves horizontally, and flip the box over in any direction. Sure you might be able to track a couple shelves for a few turns, but when there are a lot of players it can get near impossible. And even tracking the drawer is half the battle, because then you need the drawer to be facing either up or down when your turn comes. You can't change that before you open a drawer so the previous player has to (unwittingly) set it up for you.

There is also a special interaction with two of the cards that people can play, Smugglers and Detectives. Since drawers have a top-side and a bottom-side, when a drawer is opened and there are jewels in the bottom, they will fall onto the table. If there are more Smugglers, then they will split these jewels. If there are more Detectives, they are the ones to collect at the end of the round. Also, if an alarm falls out of drawer onto the table, then all the jewels that fell with it go to the player who placed that alarm.

So, if you can imagine what is happening here, the game really turns into chaos, especially with the six players we had. If someone is able to track better than others then they will have an advantage, and it is possible to make some cunning plays with how you set up your alarms, or even just how you turn it for the next player since the unaware usually just grabs the first drawer in front of them. But all in all this is a light game that is not meant to be taken seriously. If you can get past that, it is a lot of fun, but just not worth the price.

Final Comments:
I enjoyed this one, and look forward to trying it some more. I don't mind a little chaos now and then, and there are some neat things that happen during a game. It can get a little repetitive, and I could see some gamers getting frustrated, so I can't recommend this to just anyone, especially considering the price. If you have the opportunity to try it, though, it's worth checking out.