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Subject: Comparative Reviews of the Gryphon Games Bookshelf Series rss

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Ben Stanley
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I own this series of games, so I thought I would do brief reviews with rankings for those who are considering the set or a few of the games out of the set. I love the way the set offers a pretty good variety of mechanics and ideas, though it is a little heavy on the auction mechanics and every other game in the set is a Knizia design.

So, without further ado, in order of my preference:

Money

This elegant and always fun Knizia game involves bidding with currency to try to collect sets of currency from specific countries. It scales for a good number of players, is always really fast, and lets the players make a plethora of tough decisions, giving up some cards they may want for others hoping to complete sets and collect currencies their opponents are not collecting. Simultaneously fast and deep is a magic combination for me in a game, and Knizia tends to have a gift for such games, getting the most tension possible out of very few rules.

My only criticisms of Money are the fact that bidding ties are resolved by the serial numbers on the currency (which is mostly fair, but kind of annoying sometimes) and the final scoring formula is just complicated enough that, while perfectly balanced for the game, makes it tricky to teach the game to new players, as they are constantly asking for reminders about what a partial collection will be worth at the end of the game.

9 out of 10.

For Sale

This excellent Real Estate bidding game is a perfect allegory for the real estate bubble in the sand states (Florida, Nevada, Arizona, and California) from a few years ago. Properties become irrationally valued as players first buy and then sell properties ranging from cardboard shacks to castles and space stations. All players begin with the same amount of money, must try to first maximize what they can get by spending wisely in the purchasing phase, and then flip those properties at the right times to maximize their profits in the selling phase.

The cards are humorous, and the theme is perfect if you have friends or family who bought into the real estate hype that destroyed the American and global economies.

My only criticism here is the fact that it is tough to value properties and know when to best unload them as the randomness of card draws could leave two real valuable properties together, or present the players with the extremes of the spectrum, and thus it is difficult to have a successful strategy when you first start playing the game.

8.8 out of 10.

Incan Gold

This push your luck card game involves exploring ancient ruins for treasure. The game components are great, with tents for the player explorers to return to when they get scared of the dangers of the temple, and little gemstones to represent the treasures. The players simultaneously and secretly select whether they want to dig deeper into the ruins or retreat out to safety, and then those who remained flip a card from the deck, which reveals more treasure or an artifact, or dangers like mummies, snakes, fire, or collapsing tunnels. If the same danger comes up twice, the players still exploring lose their treasure from the round and return home empty handed. There are advantages to retreating early, as you can collect the treasure that couldn’t be evenly divided between the players as you first explored.

The downsides of the game are those inherent in any push-your-luck game: the winner is largely a function of chance and whether the risks paid off or not. But the game is a modern classic: fantastic with kids and a ton of fun for adults, too, and just dripping with theme.

8.7 out of 10.

Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age

I originally loved this game. It’s a civilization game with a yahtzee dice mechanic. Players roll dice to collect food, new workers, goods to sell, coins to spend, or even skulls, which come with goods and often result in some disaster. Players each have a worksheet on which they track their civilization’s progress, the number of cities they have built (and thus the number of initial dice they get to roll), the technologies they have developed so they can keep track of those benefits, and the monuments they are building. Technologies generally improve what the dice do for you or prevent certain disasters.

I thought it was an excellent, deep, interesting dice game that still offered strategic choice and tactics. I love the wooden components, like the dice and the pegboards on which players track their goods. But I was not totally enamored with the need of paper and pencils as well to track cities built, as it meant the game required more stuff and couldn’t be played as easily at a pub or restaurant. When I discovered Ra: The Dice Game, I found that that game better scratched the same itch, had even tougher strategic decisions, less pre-scripted early choices, and more balance in the various die faces. So that game proved better overall in my opinion, and I find myself playing it much more over RttA: TBA.

Even so, I recognize this game is a great one, and I love some of the additions, like an official “Late Bronze Age” variant that increases player interaction and adds some interesting options.

8.5 out of 10.

Masters Gallery

Another Knizia game where players operate art galleries and try to collect the paintings of various masters that will prove the most valuable, and simultaneously influence the value of those paintings by what they choose to display in their galleries. A fun, educational game that increases your appreciation of art and gives you some tough choices on when to play which piece of art, the game plays in similar ways to the popular “Modern Art” but without the same auction mechanic.

I enjoy the game and recommend it, but it is tough to overcome a hand that has not provided you many of the art pieces that let you draw more cards or gain other meaningful benefits.

8.3 out of 10.

High Society

This Knizia auction game has some clever ideas. All players start with the same amount of money, and then different goods or catastrophes are revealed and players either bid to buy the good or see who will pay the most to avoid the catastrophe (such as theft, which costs you a previous good, or fire, or scandal that cuts your final score in half). The two different types of auctions are interesting, and the other clever mechanic is that whoever spent the most money automatically loses the game. So you have to be wise with your resources and have the best collection of luxuries possible without being the biggest spender.

The problem, like many of these games, is you never know for sure when the game will end (it ends after the final card of a certain color background is auctioned off, so that could leave several items unauctioned or none), so it is difficult to judge just how judicious you need to be with your money.

8.2 out of 10.

Birds on a Wire

This tile-laying and set collecting game has a nice theme and a good speed to depth ratio. It is an ideal game for kids, and comes with two different rule sets, so you can use simpler rules if kids need that. Basically you collect birds of different sizes and colors on telephone wires, and try to place them in ways that maximize your options. Periodically you get a lightning bolt tile and can send all but one bird from an opponents wire away. And of course, the same thing can happen to your bird collection. The rule variations add some depth, and the game is actually a lot of fun. It is easily recommended, though I think there are probably better games out there overall, this is a good one if you are obsessive about completing game collections.

8.2 out of 10.

Looting London

This Knizia crime solving game offers a lot of tough decisions and clever ideas in a tight package. You follow crime trails by playing matching witness cards in an effort to solve more crimes scattered around London than the other players. The theme is quite abstracted, as is often the case in Knizia games, but I don’t necessarily view that as a bad thing. The real weakness with Looting London is not that there is anything wrong with the game, but that there simply isn’t enough unique or memorable about it to draw you into playing it again. It feels simultaneously clever and bland, which I suppose is a feat in and of itself. Overall, it is the game from the collection I have played the least, but I didn’t dislike the game. It’s standard fare for Knizia, which means it is a solid game, but he has better, and so I would recommend other games over this one.

7.5 out of 10.

Gem Dealer

This game has great components and a few fun elements, like a cut-out window in the box so that you can see the gems you are trading. Unfortunately, it is yet another Knizia bidding game, and the weakest of the bunch. Players represent gem traders hoping to win one gem of each color (or 4 of the 5 for a shorter game), and is almost exactly the same game as Attack or Ivanhoe, two earlier Knizia designs. Ivanhoe is the best of that set, but I still consider that game too driven by chance, as there are cards that undermine any long-term strategy.

The real weakness in Gem Dealer is wild cards with the highest value that almost guarantee you will win the auction if you have one. There is an added penalty if you play one and cannot win the auction (you lose a gem you previously collected), but the odds are slim and either way, the wild cards are going to determine the result of the game most of the time.

Still, the good component quality and primarily sound auction mechanic are always good for a game if you haven’t played it before.

7.2 out of 10.

Conclusion

Like any series, the Gryphon Games Bookshelf collection contains some hits and some misses, but overall the quality of the games in this series is very high, and even the misses are only relative misses compared to the better games in the set. There isn’t a game in the set I would consider a person crazy for owning, and there are some real treasures and classics in there.
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Daniel Corban
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Blue Steel wrote:
High Society

The problem, like many of these games, is you never know for sure when the game will end (it ends after the final card of a certain color background is auctioned off, so that could leave several items unauctioned or none), so it is difficult to judge just how judicious you need to be with your money.


This "problem" is a major mechanic in the game. This is a "problem" in the same way you could say "The problem with hold-em poker is it is difficult to judge when to fold or when to go all in."

This mechanic needs to be in the game to present tension. Without it, the game would be deterministic. You would know that every item would come up for auction and the results of the final few auctions would be known ahead of time. Not knowing if you will have a chance to bid on that big item or whether the negative items will show up forces players to bid on items they would not normally bid on if every item was guaranteed to appear.
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Joshua Gardner
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This got declined yesterday? That's stupid. I'd count each of these individually as 1 gold reviews.
 
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J A
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I'm unsure why you felt the need to submit the same review to all the games pages.

Surely one would've sufficed?

 
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Daniel Corban
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He could have just broken up the article into its parts and submitted each individually. However, each one would have undoubtedly been declined, since even the lamest of geekmods would not accept one vague paragraph as a "review".
 
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Ben Stanley
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dcorban wrote:
High SocietyThis "problem" is a major mechanic in the game. This is a "problem" in the same way you could say "The problem with hold-em poker is it is difficult to judge when to fold or when to go all in."


That's a great point, and is certainly correct. I used the wrong word when I called it a "problem." What I should have said is it represents the challenge of the game, disadvantages newer players, and is the aspect that undermines pure strategy and introduces "overwhelming or predominate" chance/randomness to the game. But you are right that if the game was just dictated by the order of the auctions but everything was auctioned, it would be a different game, and possibly less interesting in some ways to some players.

I think a superior mechanic would probably be to remove two or three of the auction tiles at random, so players know when the game will end, but do not necessarily know what will be up for auction. I think that would be a more tense and more interesting game, but it is just my opinion.

Jangus wrote:
I'm unsure why you felt the need to submit the same review to all the games pages.

Surely one would've sufficed?


I wrote nine short reviews, and wanted people to be able to find them whichever game in the series they were looking at. So I submitted them under each game I reviewed (which I believe is completely appropriate). There are different conversations under each game's posting, with different people expressing their gratitude for the information and opinions offered, and I am certain that not all of them would have found the information that helped them at the time if the nine reviews only appeared in one place (particularly under the game family or under some game they hadn't heard of yet).

Furthermore, I believe that the comparative information and intra-series ranking is an important part of the information conveyed by the reviews, so it makes a tremendous amount of sense to include all nine in each review.

bullseyetm wrote:
This got declined yesterday? That's stupid. I'd count each of these individually as 1 gold reviews.

Interestingly, I submitted the nine reviews with their comparative information (for all the reasons I explain above), and there was some difference of opinion between the moderators who received them, so obviously reasonable minds can differ. About half of them were accepted and about half of them were declined. After some deliberation (again, for the reasons identified above), I decided to resubmit the ones that had been declined.
 
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