GCL Amoeba 128 – Three levels of theme (2013-07-29)
Mikko Saari
Finland
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Welcome to this week's Game Chat League Amoeba discussion group!

If you found us randomly (via subscription, perhaps), you're welcome to join in with constructive conversation -- we're friendly symbiotes in real life, though vicious competitors at the game table. (Pound for pound, the amoeba is the most dangerous predator on earth!) Read the links above for more info. (If you're shy, just thumb the list so we can see who's stalking us :-) )

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Mikko
Doug

Let's talk about themes.
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1. Board Game: Go [Average Rating:7.66 Overall Rank:120]
Mikko Saari
Finland
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Let's start on the lowest level of theme: no theme at all. What kind of games work without any theme whatsoever? What's your favourite?

Then there are themed abstracts – games that lay a bit of thematic icing on the cake, so to speak, but where the theme has relatively little significance, and it could be swapped without nobody noticing. Through the Desert comes to mind. Is that useful? Should more abstracts have these superficial themes, or less?
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2. Board Game: Catan [Average Rating:7.23 Overall Rank:279] [Average Rating:7.23 Unranked]
Mikko Saari
Finland
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Then there's the euro game, with a sensible theme that makes some sense – but can eventually be scratched off, and replaced with something else. All the variations of Catan, which are clearly about building stuff and creating road networks and trading, but the details are insignificant. Or Taj Mahal, clearly a game with a theme, but which was actually about Middle Ages and English lords or something like that before it moved to India.

What are your favourites in this category? When does a themed abstract become a non-abstract euro game?
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3. Board Game: High Frontier [Average Rating:7.43 Overall Rank:781]
Mikko Saari
Finland
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Then there are the thematic games, which are dripping with details. Wargames, too, even though some don't count them as thematic games, but the level of simulated detail means the theme is driving the games indeed.

What are your favourite games in this category? How important is the high level of theming for you? Are you willing to suffer long playing time, long rule books, lots of fiddly little rules, to have detailed theme? What's the lightest game you know that counts as highly thematic?
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4. Board Game: Democracy under Siege [Average Rating:7.52 Overall Rank:5015] [Average Rating:7.52 Unranked]
Larry Rice
United States
Irvine
California
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d10-6 Alien Frontiers 1x
d10-8 Democracy under Siege 1x
d10-8 Moongha Invaders: Mad Scientists and Atomic Monsters Attack the Earth! 1x

Enjoyed another go around of Democracy Under Siege although we did miss some rules and only finished half the game. One of these days I will get in a full play! Very interesting take on the card driven war game genre (although the war is primarily political/ideological as three players play as either Democracy, Nazism, or Communism prior to World War II.

Moongha was fun to play once again but I fear I was a poor host/teacher as I crushed the opposition. Only one city was devastated but at least it was LA...

I still don't find Alien Frontiers all that enjoyable. I think I would like it more if the game would finish in 60 minutes but I always find the game taking closer to 2 hours.
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5. Board Game: Merchants of Amsterdam [Average Rating:6.73 Overall Rank:1483]
Jens KH
Germany
Karben
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Games played

_6_ Glen More
_6_ Merchants of Amsterdam (new!)
_6_ Mystery Rummy: Jack the Ripper
_6_ Schätzen Sie mal! Reich & Schön
_6_ Sumeria
_6_ Ticket to Ride: Europe
_5_ Merchants
_5_ Prêt-à-Porter (new!)
_4_ Honeypot (new!)
_4_ Tsuro

Not exactly a great week. Gaming-wise, anyway. There's lots of other stuff happening right now, though, which is why I'm kind of AWOL around here at the moment.

Merchants of Amsterdam (3p): Probably not the ideal player count. Still, an interesting Dutch auction game backed by a not so interesting area majority game. The freakingly loud auction device was kind of annoying but it did cause a hilarious "accident" which wiped the board entirely about 3/4ths into the game. I think we reseeded it mostly correctly for the final few turns, though.

Glen More (3p): One player kept gobbling up the distilleries I wanted so I took all the early wheat tiles instead just to spite him. He had to buy his wheat and I would sell mine in turn. Producing whiskey obviously didn't work very well for me but at the end of the game I had ~20 points in coins alone which more than made up for that.

Prêt-á-Porter (4p): I'm not really sure why this is so highly regarded. Is it just the unusual theme? The worker placement stuff itself is not exactly ground-breaking and doesn't even try to create tension, the card powers are all over the place, there's lots of excess baggage and the game runs too long. I'll just go back to boring medieval castle building.
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6. Board Game: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Deck-Building Game [Average Rating:6.83 Overall Rank:1579] [Average Rating:6.83 Unranked]
Mikko Saari
Finland
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1 x _9_Carcassonne
1 x _8_Bunte Runde
1 x _7_Funny Fishing
1 x _8_Glory to Rome
1 x _8_Takenoko
1 x _7_Can't Stop
1 x _7_Coup
2 x _9_The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Deck-Building Game
1 x _6_Jää Sulaa
1 x _8_Continental Divide
1 x _6_Callisto: The Game
1 x _6_Monza
1 x _6_Snapshot

Another game of Continental Divide, this time with just three players. More is merrier. In our three-player game, the co-operation aspect was almost non-existent, and the companies didn't get very strong. With more players, there's more co-operation and emergent alliances, which makes the game more interesting.

I took my son to Ropecon, which is the biggest role-playing convention in Finland (actually biggest non-commercial con in Europe). That was pretty cool. We did play some board games, but also enjoyed other programme, for example watched sword-fighting demos.

The best part was the boffer sword workshop, where I built us a pair of boffer swords. Those were a huge hit. I like them as well. There's a bit of nostalgia, as I was interested in LARPing back when it came to Finland and when boffer swords were a new thing, about 20 years ago. Now I was relearning swordmaking from a 22-year-old guy... Anyway, boffer sword fighting definitely ranks among my favourite sports; I don't care about role-playing, live or not, much any more.
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7. Board Game: El Grande [Average Rating:7.79 Overall Rank:53]
Doug Faust
United States
Malverne
New York
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Sorry for the lateness of my response--I was at WBC all week.

In any case, last Friday was a monthly board game night, at Doug & Rebecca's house this time.

_8_ Puerto Rico: Expansion I – New Buildings - This was with me, Anni, Micah, Debbie, and Sara. It's been several years since I've played with the expansion, but when the new buildings were announced, none of them seemed particularly exciting. I noted that there was no Small Market, no Guild Hall, and the Harbor was replaced with a similar building that got you money instead of points. I opted to go for my usual strategy of an early Construction Hut and build, build, build. With no Guild Hall, I could go for more purple buildings, and got both the Factory and the aforementioned Harbor replacement. At this point, money was no object, so I actually grabbed 3 large buildings. However, none of them even approached what I typically score with the Guild Hall, so Micah won by a decent margin. Guess it goes to show how fragile my usual strategy is, if I can't score decently without a Guild Hall.

_9_ El Grande - This was just me, Anni, Micah, and Sara. My Grande region was Galicia, so I used a strategy of avoiding the two adjacent regions and only placing cubes in the others, so that when I put the King in Galicia, basically all of my regions were protected. I focused more on putting cubes in the Castillo than trying to get ephemeral onesies and twosies on the board, which seemed to work pretty well, as I often won Castillo scoring, and then was able to go from last to first in a region. This was a very close game; I think Micah ended up winning my a point.

_9_ Power Grid - This was with me, Anni, Micah, Marc, and John on the USA map. I started in the mid-Atlantic and immediately got hemmed in. After I got my third or fourth city, I had to jump way out to Chicago, but after that, I didn't have very many problems expanding. I ended up getting the 27 plant (wind powers 3) early, which as the game went on seemed like a mistake, as the high number hurt my turn order and only powering 3 hurt my expansion. I didn't like it, but for my next plant I bought the 29 (1 hybrid powers 4). I was sure Marc would bid on it as he was talking about how much he loved that plant before the game, but he did not. Having plants that power 1/3/4 in the midgame is kind of grim, but I was able to save a lot of money in resource costs, and bought the 1 nuclear powers 5 and the 3 garbage powers 7 late game, and actually managed to build to 16 for the win. Still not sure how I pulled that one off...
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