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A Gnome's Ponderings

I'm a gamer. I love me some games and I like to ramble about games and gaming. So, more than anything else, this blog is a place for me to keep track of my ramblings. If anyone finds this helpful or even (good heavens) insightful, so much the better.
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While the cat's away, the mice pull out board games

Lowell Kempf
United States
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Over the weekend, my fiancé Carrie went out of town to visit a friend and do some bridal things.e Left to my own devices on a Saturday, I had arranged to slide back into my old bachelor ways and wrangle up a couple of friends to spend the afternoon and evening gaming away.

To be brutally honest, I think that my gaming buddies miss the days when I could play for hours upon hours on a weekend a lot more than I do. That said, it was nice to spend some time at the table, learning new games and revisiting others.

I am definitely a member of the Cult of New-To-Me. It doesn’t have to be the latest game, just a game that I haven’t played before. Learning a new game and seeing how the mechanics work and putting them through their paces is a lot of fun for me. Fortunately for me, I got to learn three new games on Saturday. Of course, as is often the case, I had to teach two of them as well

The game that someone else had to teach was Lords of Vegas. It’s gotten some good press in my gaming circle and I was looking forward to playing it.

Lords of Vegas is a game where you are trying to build up your own share of Las Vegas as it forms in the 50s. You are trying make sure that you get control of the casinos that will get hit it big, as well as trying to get a commanding position on the strip. On top of that, you can try to earn some more grubstake by gambling at each other’s casinos. Doing that, though, can end up with your money in your enemy’s pocket.

Lords of Vegas definitely reminded me of Acquire. The board is a grid where chains of casinos are forming and you are trying to get control of chains. The game has more random factors than Acquire does but it gives you enough options that you can fight for your destiny, as opposed to let luck of the draw determine who wins. That said, I would say that, like in the real Vegas, a lucky break can change everything.

One touch that I particularly liked was the score track. After a certain point on the track, you have to earn multiple points at a time to move up. You cannot just dribble points in. You need to get a block of points at one time to move up. By the end, you need to score six points on the board to score one real point on the track. That makes catching up a little easier and it also forces you to really get your act together.

After that, I pulled out Gheos, a game that has been gathering dust in my closet for years. That’s one of the problems of compulsively buying new games. Promising games sometimes get hidden behind other, newer games. (I will get to you yet, Nefertiti! I promise!) When I was filling up my bag, something said “Yeah, let’s finally try this one.”

Gheos is a tile-laying game like Carcassonne where you play the role of capricious gods. Unlike Carcassonne, the tiles are triangles that are designed in such a way that they will always match sides. Also, unlike Carcassonne, you can replace tiles on the board, dividing and joining continents. And, in addition, unlike Carcassonne, no one has their one set of pawns. The players share the pool of six cultures and followers.

Actually, Gheos is really nothing like Carcassone!

Gheos proved to be a blast. The ability to replace tiles combined with the fact that it is public information how invested a player is in a given culture made this a vicious game where we constantly fought to keep each other in check. This was not a game where the board grew and sprawled across the table. This was a game where the board stayed small and tight as we did our best to destroy what someone else had built up.

And, while Gheos cannot be considered a Civilization building game but any stretch of the imagination, I did like how elements like farmlands, military technology and the like did give it the feeling trying to develop a culture.

In general, I was very happy with Gheos. It was easy to teach and we had a lot of fun playing it and we immediately played it again. It’s a game that will definitely make it back onto the table and a game that I will probably be throwing in the bag regularly.

The last new game that I got to try out was Barons. Barons is Cambridge Games’ latest product and the early buzz predicted that it would be their next Glory to Rome. It was sold out on the first day of GenCon but my fianceé had managed to find a store that still had it in stock and bought it for me. So, I went into Barons with high expectations.

Barons is a game where each player is building their own tableau of cards. There are four decks, each with their own color, that every player can draw from. Building cards require combinations of cards to be discarded to be laid down and they give you special abilities. Land Cards are just cards placed faced down but you need land to be able to draw cards. There are action cards, as well as knights which can be used to attack other players or defend against them. Whoever builds a cathedral (requiring you to already have a church and to discard two of each color) wins.

Mechanically, Barons was very sound. All of the pieces worked and worked well. However, it fell kind of flat for us. We all just generated our own economies and never ended up attacking each other with knights. (We did build small enough tableaus that it wasn’t easy to attack with a knight as it was) We played it twice but it just didn’t excite us.

I haven’t given up on Barons though. It could be that we missed a rule or that we simply didn’t play aggressively enough (although when there’s a way for us to attack each other and we don’t bother, that’s a bad sign in our group.) I suspect, though, that if there was a real problem, it’s that three players may be a weak number for the game. It didn’t create any scarcity for us so we could just ignore each other and carry on our merry way.

In addition to learning those games and getting in the required games of Dominion in, I requested that we play Dominant Species. It’s a game whose playing time means I will never get to play it enough, particularly compared to my bachelor friends. It’s also a game that I think is amazingly well designed. The layout of the board and the player’s aide makes it easy to see what you can do but deciding what to do is deliciously brutal.

And the game is strong even with only three players. I drew insects to my opponents’ birds and spiders. Every species in Dominant Species has its own strengths and weaknesses and every one places differently because of that. Insects go first on the initiative track and get a free chance to reproduce. However, they are at the bottom of the food chain and lose every tie. That is rough.

However, my lowly insect status managed to help me win since the spider player viewed the bird player as the bigger threat and ruthlessly attacked him while I quietly clawed my way to victory just barely by three points while no one was looking. That was a satisfying victory.

I don’t get in many days like that anymore. And, to be honest, I don’t mind since I have a lot of other things going on in my life now. However, every once in a while, they are a lot of fun.
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