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September 2012's Initial Impressions

Matt Dawkins
United States
Fountain
Colorado
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Here's our initial impressions from all of the new (to us) games that we played in September. This month's plays include FlowerFall, Power Grid, RoboRally, and Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures. While most games earned favorable first impressions, one of them has already jumped into Katie's Top 15 list, my Top 15 list, and scored a perfect 10 (5/5) from me (one of only four games to do so thus far). Which one is it? You'll see...

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FlowerFall

Played for the first time at board game night last month. It's quite innovative and unique when compared with the other games we've played. It's also one of the first (only?) dexterity games we've tried.

In a nutshell, everyone has their own unique type/color of flower. Green patches with regular flowers are spread throughout the table in different areas. Each player then takes turns attempting to drop their flower from eye level on to the table and connect the green portion of their flower patch with one of the patches on the board. At the end of the game, the person with the most of their flowers connected to each green region with the regular flowers earns as many points as there are regular flowers. I feel like I didn't explain that sufficiently... ah well. It's very simple to explain and play in person.

The game that I played was a 7-player game. A couple of folks (the usual suspects in our group) didn't quite seem to grasp the concept and dropped their cards in a huge pile in the middle of the table. The rest of us played more strategically sound and targeted specific patches around the table. I missed a couple of the drops that I needed, but ended up with two of the three patches that I went after, thwarting Alexa's best efforts to steal them away. I ended up finishing second behind Claude, who ended up winning the massive patch in the middle of the table with 20+ flowers in it.

This may become one of my favorite light fillers, and it's quite different from anything we currently own. That said... I'm not sure it's the type of game that we would get often or that I would prefer to play over other longer non-dexterity games.

Initial Impression - 3/5
Matt's Top 15 - Not Ranked
Katie's Top 15 - Not Ranked

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Power Grid

If you are not familiar with it, Power Grid is all about running the power grid for an entire country. The United States and Germany are included in the main game, and there are expansions with Benelux, Brazil, Central Europe, China, France, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Northern Europe, Portugal, Quebec, Russia, Spain, and United Kingdom.

The game begins with a series of auctions, where each player has the chance to bid on their power plant of choice. There are a wide variety of power plants that are fueled by oil, coal, garbage, uranium, wind, or some hybrid of those resources. You are then allowed to buy resources off the market, which you will use to supply your power plant. The market has an interesting way of depicting supply and demand. Next, you will be able to purchase the rights to provide power to specific cities. In the first step of the game, each city is allowed only one power provider, and the amount of providers increases up to three by the end of the game. After purchasing cities, you then use up the resources that fuel your power plants in order to provide power to your cities. The person who provides power to the most cities at the end of the game wins.

Power Grid first piqued my interest a long time ago, and we had been trying to get it our for a while. Jim was available and owns it, so he pulled it out and we started a game with him, Kyle, Jeff, Claude, Brian, and myself. Because everyone to the game was new, we decided to just play through Step One, and plan a full-length game for another time after everyone has learned it.

We played on the United States map and blocked off the southeastern portion surrounding Florida. Kyle went for the wind-powered plant, while the rest of us went after a variety of resource-driven plants. If I remember correctly, I started off in Vegas, Kyle went for the midwest, Jeff and Jim went for the central states, Claude went for the northeast, and Brian went for the south.

Since we were only playing to the end of step one, the first person to a 6 cities won the game. Kyle and I used the lead from the front/win from the front approach and attempted to maintain a lead from the very start. Jim on the other hand was saving money and planning to come from behind.

Claude, an expert at setting others up for victory in our group, squandered his position in the northeast and did little to expand into his cheap neighboring cities. As a result, Jim built through him and got access to the cheap cities that he had not yet acquired, finishing with 7 cities. Kyle and I were each sitting with 5 cities, and I could make it to 7, but only if Kyle didn't acquire Boise. He took Boise, so we were left in a tie with 6 behind Jim. We were each able to power all 6 of our cities, but Kyle won the next tiebreaker with 2 more electors than me. That left me in third for our first game.

Kyle, Brian, and myself were impressed by our first playthrough of it. We managed to get the game out again in October with another group of 6, this time introducing Katie to the game as well, and finished the full game through all three steps. It went great, but I'll save that session report for the October recap. All you need to know is that Katie and I thoroughly enjoyed the full match we played in October, and we have since added the game to our own collection (along with the Robots expansion).

Initial Impression - 5/5
Matt's Top 15 - Ranked at #4
Katie's Top 15 - Ranked at #9

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RoboRally

I had been looking forward to playing RoboRally for a while, so when Brian and Alexa brought it, I was fairly adamant on pulling it out and playing. We had a large group of people there for board game night and several were interested, so we ended up with an 8-player game, with Brian, Alexa, Larry, Kyle, Katie, myself, and two newcomers.

Unfortunately, we made two slight flaws. One, playing with 8 players on a single board, and two, unfortunately, playing with the newcomers. The new guys had no patience and were running around doing other things besides playing the game. They were carrying around side conversations while we were playing and they were playing with little HeroClix miniatures on the side, and as a result they were frequently accidentally skipped in turn order or didn't get damage added to their bot because they were not paying attention. As a result, they dragged the game on much longer than it was ever intended to last.

We were quite grateful when they quit, leaving us with just six players who were paying attention to the game. We decided to call the game once we got to the second flag and move on to something else, each of us incredibly frustrated with the experience thus far. We had a lot more fun after the guys not paying attention left, but most of us were checked out on the game already.

I ended up winning, with Larry and Kyle being the only others to make even the first flag.

I think I'll really love this game in the right environment with the right people, and the right amount of people. But an 8-player game with people who weren't paying attention wasn't just chaotic, it was stressful, irritating, and a pretty awful experience altogether.

Initial Impression - 3/5
Matt's Top 15 - Not Ranked
Katie's Top 15 - Not Ranked

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X-Wing Miniatures

I probably should not be giving an initial impression on this one yet, as I have only played three learning games and not finished a complete game thus far. Still, I was so impressed with what I have played, that I wanted to go ahead and briefly write on it.

Yes, it is a miniatures game, yes, it is my first miniatures game, no, it is not clunky, it does not have a huge setup time, and it is incredibly easy to learn. You have simultaneous hidden action selection for movement, which I'm a huge fan of, and then you have a range ruler and firing arc for shooting. The feeling of actually being in a dogfight and attempting to guess what the other pilots are doing is incredible, I was really impressed with that aspect of it. I do not have many chances right now to pull this out and play it, but it will be getting played down the road here because it's a blast.



Initial Impression - 4/5
Matt's Top 15 - Not Ranked
Katie's Top 15 - Not Ranked

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Merchants & Marauders

Merchant & Marauders is neat in that you can choose to play as a merchant or a marauder throughout the game (or both at varying times), and the game experience is really completely different depending on which you go with. As a merchant, you rely on buying, delivering, and selling in demand goods to locations that need them across the Caribbean, while dodging NPC and player pirates alike who are each after your stockpile of gold. As a pirate, you primarily rely on merchant raids, along with the occasional pursuit of player merchants and dodging the NPC naval fleets which hunt you throughout the game.

I have played the game solo a couple of times and really enjoyed it, but last month was the first chance I had to get it to the table with Brian, Alexa, and Katie. Brian and Katie took the pirate route, while Alexa and I took the merchant route. Though I enjoy both and they're quite different experiences, I must say that I prefer being a pirate. Unfortunately, in my opinion, whether or not to be a pirate is dictated by which captain you randomly draw at the beginning of the game. If you have a poor scouting or seamanship rating, you will not be successful at merchant raiding, and you will lose your primary means of earning glory points and treasure as a pirate. Since I had a captain with poor ratings, I chose to go the merchant route for this game.

Katie ended up being a non-factor in this game. It had been a long day of gaming already and she was to the point of checking out with little patience for learning another long game. She admitted afterwards that it seemed fun, but she had no clue what she was doing and wanted to play with just me on a later date to get a better grasp on how to play it.

Brian, Alexa, and myself were all sitting around 4 glory points when I made a dash for my home port and stockpile, and left myself in the open, in range of Brian, with a huge collection of treasure burning a hole in my hull. With a full cargo load of in-demand goods and the ability to stash extra gold, I would have been sitting at 9 glory points if I had made it to my home port. Instead, Brian caught me, successfully scouted my ship, boarded my ship during combat, and then defeated me in crew combat, leaving me for dead and taking my 30+ gold and full cargo of goods. I never scored another glory point in the game after that.

So, with the game between Brian and Alexa, Brian ran into trouble with a horde of NPC naval ships that were on the board. He had the gold that he needed to stash to make it to 10 glory points, but he was stuck on the opposite side of the Caribbean with all four naval ships in between him and his home port. A new vengeance seeking captain (me) was also patrolling the waters around his port. At this point, Alexa had a string of good luck in buying large quantities of goods that were in demand in her vicinity. The game became a race of who could make it to their port first, and Alexa made it, stashing the necessary gold and ending the game. She won with 10 glory points, Brian was a close second with 9, I finished with 4 and Katie had 1.

I really love this game, and it really just oozes with theme. If you have ever played the video game Sid Meier's Pirates!, this is basically the board game version of that. Player vs. player combat has harsh consequences though, as my mid-game defeat took me entirely out of the game and had me starting from scratch. The game is a bit fiddly and has lots of bits and pieces, so it can be a chore to set everything up. The game also took us about 4 hours to set up, learn, and play. That's a lot of set up and a long game to basically be eliminated after a few bad rolls of the dice during a single combat after a couple of hours.

So anyway, I have mixed feelings. I think I would enjoy the game more without the player vs. player combat, or with less severe consequences (death of captain, loss of ship, loss of all upgrades, money and cargo onboard, loss of all accumulated glory cards). But then, I think of the incredible tension in the endgame when you know you have the gold to end the game and you just have to make it to your port, with three other bloodthirsty player captains out to stop you... and less severe consequences would totally take away that endgame tension that currently exists and really gives this game that epic feeling. For now, my mixed feelings prevent this game from being a favorite, but it remains a very well-designed and entertaining game.

Initial Impression - 4/5
Matt's Top 15 - Not Ranked
Katie's Top 15 - Not Ranked

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Race for the Galaxy

I have wanted to play Race for the Galaxy ever since I joined the Geek and first read about it. So I installed the Keldon AI and attempted to learn the game there. Huge mistake. All the iconography threw me for a loop, and I gave up on the game.

Kyle brought it over last month and I decided to give it another shot, this time with player reference card and rulebook in hand. With his help and being given a thorough walkthrough of everything, I caught on this time and quite enjoyed it. I lost the game 37-31, but I had a lot of fun and I'm hoping we get this to the table more often now. I have since picked up playing against the Keldon AI, now that I know what I'm doing, and I have had a lot of fun with that.

With the role selection and civilization-building-card-game feel, Katie would absolutely love this game if she ever figured out the symbols and iconography in the game. Unfortunately, I just don't see anyway I'll ever get her to be patient enough to figure this one out. I think this is one lost cause that will never win her over.

Initial Impression - 4/5
Matt's Top 15 - Not Ranked
Katie's Top 15 - Not Ranked
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