Another week, another gathering of the Swedish Meatballs. We're a division of BGG's Game Chat League, which means we virtually get together in a weekly geeklist to blather about gaming and tangentially related matters. Visitors are welcome to comment, but please don't add items to the list. Members should add an item with their weekly games played.
We've all got different views about which games are the gems of our collections. But every gem needs the right setting to sparkle, and that's what this week's list is about. Not so much matching the game to the gamers, which is always a consideration, but to the gaming environment.
Some games have characteristics that limit the environments where they can be played, and some environments create limitations on the games that can be played there.
Last week's discussion of Montage provided the spark for this list. It might not occur to you right off, but this game requires a certain degree of quiet to be successful. One part of it involves verbal clue-giving and a race to respond (à la Jeopardy), and it falls apart if everyone can't hear the clue clearly.
At first I couldn't imagine any case of a game that required a noisy environment, but then I thought of the "night noise" in Werewolf. (There's a phase of the game where most players have their eyes closed, and one or two are looking around and making hand signals to each other or the moderator. With everyone sitting quietly, it can be too easy to hear a rustle of motion and know the person next to you is active, so to prevent that, everyone taps their feet or makes some kind of modest background commotion.) Can anyone think of other games or gaming situations that require environmental noise?
On a related note, how about games that make noise? The first thing I think of here would be loud party games with singing and the like. But Merchants of Amsterdam, though certainly not in that raucous category, is actually a game we've avoided playing before in a quiet coffeeshop because that Dutch auction clock is surprisingly noisy.
What games do you play that make you worry about their noise disturbing others?
I can think of several not-necessarily-G-rated party games, but this one's a bit notorious for its capacity to give offense to anyone within hearing distance.
Are there any games you avoid playing in certain situations for this sort of reason? Have you ever disturbed others or been disturbed by the content of a game others were playing? Do you consider this a legitimate problem?
At the other end of the spectrum, sometimes you need a game that can be played in a very small space, such as an airline tray table. What's your go-to game for these situations, and what's the smallest space you usually find yourself playing in?
This game can be played under ordinary conditions, but then you miss out on the fact that it glows in the dark.
Have you played any games that required darkness? What games do you like that work best in a low-light environment? Do you have a go-to game for when the power is out and you're trying to play games by a lone flickering candle?
Don't fall in love with me yet, we only recently met
Tuesday: games night at Sam's. We were 5 and most of the games I'd brought were for 3-4.
Istanbul was proposed. I wasn't wildly enthusiastic, but they promised it was simple and quick. I actually... didn't hate it. It's another one of these sort of 'action map' games that seem to be all the rage recently (Five Tribes, Impulse...) which at least means that all the players are moving around in the same space. Turns are super quick and overall it was under an hour. And I like that it's an old-fashioned race to 5VP - so much more tension than totting up the spreadsheet at the end of Five Tribes. The others all set about buying upgrades early on and I thought I'd try and power through without any. It worked surprisingly well and I hit 4 gems with the others back on 2. The last one was a grind to get though and they almost caught me.
On the downside, why do the action spaces in this type of game always have to be the same old collect and convert resources stuff? At least the tea house is fun - name a number and roll 2d6. If you roll equal or higher, you get the amount of money you named, otherwise you get 2. It also wasn't clear from this play how much the interaction is just incidental or how much it can be targeted.
I started a geeklist about the action map thing - interesting to think about its origins. Istanbul has a lot of mechanical echoes of Knizia's Blue Moon City, for example, despite them being quite different overall.
Speaking of Knizia, next up was Colossal Arena, which I hadn't played in years. It's one in his line of betting/speculation games - a bit like Loco with special powers. I like it well enough but we had a bit of a damp-squib ending, running out the draw pile during the 4th round of 5, which robbed us of the climax. Apparently this is a common problem with 5p, and FFG botched the endgame rules.
We finished with Raj which is utterly simple and great fun.
Weekend: at home with Sarah
Joe found a copy of the much-maligned Simply Ingenious in a charity shop and donated it to me, knowing I'm a Knizia nut. It doesn't have a lot in common with Ingenious, but for a simple (and pretty random) PYL game it really wasn't bad. We played twice and Sarah won both, so she loves it
A lot more kids games with a couple of good games with adults. Off to BGG.con this week!
(1) Power Grid - The more I play this game, the less I like it. I still like it a lot and I won this play in France. However, what was shaping up to be a VERY interesting finish fell really flat when I flipped up a hybrid coal/oil plant serving 7 cities as the only one left bidding on plants. That guaranteed the win for me.
(2) Snowdonia - The more I play this game, the more I like it. I've had great experience with this as a 2 player and 3 player game. I'd like to try it with 4 players too. It provides enough opportunity to plan and strategize with enough random events (weather, cards, goods, game pushing itself along) to keep it very different from play to play. Plus, there is often plenty of planning and preparing you can do for those events (weather is a turn or two away, odds of white cubes that move the game along can be estimated). I look forward to more of this one.
(3) Escape: The Curse of the Temple - Two rounds with my girls and we were close the first time and VERY close the second time. But, we couldn't quite win. We played with curses and treasures (and with special characters the second round).
(4) Dominion, Legendary, Forbidden Desert - Three great games with Dane. I eeked out Dominion; we were destroyed early in Legendary by Dr. Doom because he put 7 scheme twists on the table in the first third of the villain deck (yes, I shuffled well); we won Forbidden Desert on elite (not easy for us).
(5) Incan Gold - I wrote a session report on this play with my whole family... it was entertaining. That's it! I'm shuffling!
(6) Cartoona - Took my kids to the game store and we played this. Ugh! We should have stopped sooner. It's just flip a tile and see if it works or if you get a crazy card to inflict pain on everyone else. Very bad game.
I can add a few games again, a mix of Alphabet challengers and gaming day novelties.
Ra (AC, 3P) — Clean auctioning fun à la Knizia. Really the only nitpick I have is that the board doesn't indicate which tiles stay, and which ones leave after an epoch. Apart from that there was good-natured bitching about forcing others to take tiles they didn't need; or chicken them into stopping early thus minimising their total VP gain for an epoch. I'm fairly good at this game (in a 3P-setting), and won without too much problems.
Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age + Roll Through the Ages: The Late Bronze Age (AC, 3P) — I can't help but like this dice roller, simply because there are no real bad rolls. Anything is useful in its own (twisted) way, you just need to figure out how. I decided to employ a shipping strategy for once (hadn't done so in all those years), and had oodles of fun watching the opposition squirm with jealousy at my ability to purchase developments left and right. Unfortunately my enthusiasm was short-lived...
Reef Encounter + Reef Encounter of the Second Kind (AC, 3P) — ... for I was slaughtered in this game, of all titles. I made a shameful blunder in not paying attention to the coral strength tiles, so while I was able to eat a lot of coral tiles, they were worth exactly shit at the end of the game. My partner, who'd borne the brunt of my nasty little tricks with Crown of Thorns and other critters, in the end could eat a massive coral with each tile being worth the maximum amount of 5 VP... which she had skillfully manipulated to be 5 VP each. Boom. Just like that, in one giant bite, she won the game. Ouch. (That said, she hadn't liked the route to victory much, as she thought she was going to lose for sure. Unfortunately, when she's in that kind of mood in Reef Encounter, you had best be on your guard.)
Also nice was that my gaming friend came up with a novel way to protect corals from being 'nibbled from': it was a game-technically expensive method, but probably worth it in the long run. There's still all sorts of fun tactical tricks hiding in this game.
But the real point of playing the game was of course the expansion. I've always been in two minds about it. The extra tiles and capriciousness of the blue shrimp increase the level all those tricks considerably. The game is wilder, and more agressive, quite unusual for a Richard Breese design. (In an explanatory video long since disappeared from the Interwebz he mentioned that he broke his number #1 rule of design in Reef Encounter: no killing. I've always wondered what would happen if he broke that rule more often as Reef Encounter is such an incredibly unique game.) But those damn event cards. My gaming friend at one point drew the only card (out of 28!) which would allow him to reduce a 10+ -tile sized coral to 9 tiles. Had he held onto it, and played it against my partner, she'd have lost immediately. Building up large corals takes time, effort, and patience. Seeing such investments go to waste because of a random event... No. I've always wondered about playing without the cards (using some sort of randomising tool to deal with the still interesting blue shrimp), and I think I'm going to invent some rules precisely for that reason.
In any case, despite losing horribly, I had fun playing this title; I always do. It's so deliciously counter-intuitive, and seeing people come up with weird tricks and manipulations I've never thought of is just cool. In fact, I might get a second copy in case something happens to the one I currently own. It's a Spiel 2005-original, after all.
AquaSphere (4P) — I'll leave it to my own comment:
An exercise in wanting to do a lot of sensible things, but being restrained by the rules because they simply force your attention to be elsewhere for about a third of your game time. It is no fun to be playing a game which feels like it was designed by starting out with an iron maiden, and then taking out a few needles at random points to allow for some wriggle room; in addition giving the players the ability to carefully hammer out a few more needles over the course of the 'game'. I can almost imagine the distorted voice of Jigsaw whispering out of the box once the game has been set up: Hello, <players>. I want to play a game... A good game arises by turning the maiden inside out, and putting the players on the outside as well. I find it sad that for the moment this sort of game is the only thing coming out of his hands (if I disregard small interjections): whether or not publishers seek out such designs, or that he only offers them is, from my point of view, a matter of conjecture. He's welcome to the money that these games generate... but I can't help but wish that for one time he'd return to his roots. That said, for better or for worse the constrained feel does in some way add to the subject matter as an enclosed deep sea research station isn't the most open of environments.
Whatever else I may think of the game, I have to hand it to Stefan—with ever-mounting grudging respect—that he again succeeded in creating a game which works. There are several lines of attack at your disposal, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, and they seem to even out nicely in the end given capable play. I'll probably play another game of it (or even several) in the future as it is nigh unavoidable given the high amount of people in my gaming vicinity who purchased a copy. But I'm not going to search out this title: if I owned a copy it would eat into Trajan's and Luna's already meagre table time.
Deus (4P) — Friendly card tableau/engine building reminiscent of La Isla, but then with more cards. Very friendly area control with almost no direct interaction. Subject matter is horrible: it's called deus but there isn't an image of a god in the entire game, and the actual action involving 'gods' is simply discarding your entire hand of cards entitling you to a choice of several pre-programmed coloured actions. This mechanism is a nice touch, by the way, as it means you nearly always can so something useful with your cards. Kudos to Sébastien for including it.
That said, I can understand people liking this initially... but I would also understand why they'd grow tired with it quickly. As I see it, the deck of cards you draw from is fairly small, so eventually you'll see all cards appear as you play multiple times over (minus those taken out by your fellow players, of course). Because of the vagaries of the tableau rules, people cannot specialise all that much; and the cards tend to do same-y things to begin with. So you tend to end up with engines in which not the cards dominate, but only the cards' colours... of which there are but 5 (and a half). They pull the engines in different directions of course, but I'm not sure that you'll be seeing a lot of variation after several plays. And then Deus slowly slips away into forgetfulness... pleasing forgetfulness, but forgetfulness just the same.
There is unfortunately more. The game I played turned into a drag for the final 1/3rd of the proceedings. This happened because again owing the the vagaries of the tableau rules, strong engines can be halted rather abruptly. A player is then forced to start doing something else, which at that point is not nearly as efficient as 15 minutes ago, and takes time which you really no longer want to spend. You coast to the finish, which is not something I found pleasant. It curtails the inevitable 'sprint to the finish'-characteristic of nearly all engine builders, and perhaps that players with experience can keep this phase sufficiently short that it wouldn't bother me as much as it did. It is difficult to say without playing anew for a few times, however.
I liked my first play until the constraints set out by the designer began to nibble my posterior somewhat unpleasantly, and then I realised I could equally well play a game of La Isla in half the time, and be thankful that that game only takes half the time. There may be less strategy in it because of the 3 card-rule... but for the time being I'm not convinced that the way Deus manages things is the way to go either. Curiously, La Isla comes with a huge deck of cards, whereas Deus' deck is relatively small.
Five Tribes (4P) — Sadly, I knew nothing of this title save that there was some 'controversy' about the game containing 'slaves', which is apparently sufficient cause for some to throw major hissyfits and loudly proclaim They Will Not Play This Horrendous Beast! Well, okay, now sod off and lemme play.
Five Tribes, as it turns out, is a 2D Mancala system; think of it as generalising the wheel found in Trajan and you're actually quite close to what you'd get. The general idea is emptying tiles by removing all meeples there as it allow you to claim ownership and thus the tile's VP value; and you remove meeples by landing on the tile with the final Mancala'ed meeple and then removing all of 'em being the same colour. If you cannot remove any meeples, you cannot end your movement there. Tied to this idea are an action associated with the tile and various VP scoring systems: majorities, extra bonus VP, 'assassination' of various meeples (thus perhaps gaining extra ownership, quite an insidious tactic), resource set collection, and special cards which break the rules. Overlaying is a turn auction mechanism which determines the turn order for the next turn. You pay once with VP, and have to occupy pre-ordained spaces on a little track; you can both over- and underbid depending on where you want to end up in the turn order.
Five Tribes is really an abstract game; the 1001 Nights-artwork is beautiful, but superfluous. I found the auction for turn order a nasty piece of work, prone to tremendous AP, but as I was relaxing in bed, I realised that it may not have been the intent to actually work out a decent value for a bid every time. The auction is only there in case you really want to go first; and for the rest it can and in fact should be mostly ignored. Unfortunately I didn't play the game like that, so it was a frustrating business with a few nasty and toxic surprises: for example learning that careless movements could leave tiles wide open for others to claim who had paid a lot less than I did. This is of course something to be aware of... but it bites a lot less when the Δbid_values is 1 to 3 instead of 5 to 10 (VP!).
I have decided to play the game again if the opportunity presents itself; for now it is ridiculously overpriced so it won't enter my collection on a whim... although I doubt it will even in the case it turns out to play more smoothly. It's all a tad... artificial, almost Feldian: taking a mechanism and hammering it into a game. Oh, and I dislike the fact that it is hard to 'read' the VP state of any opponent. There is one moment during which the calculation is done, and that is at the end, when the final scores are tallied. For a game offering so many ways to score points, and having such a large VP spread (a tile can be worth as little as 4 VP, yet the final score can be about 150-ish or even more) I found this somewhat annoying.
Two gaming days last week. Wednesday, gaming club:
It wasn't exactly an exciting night. Once, after waiting for 15 minutes, I even left the FLGS to eat sushi in a nearby restaurant, then returned and still waited some until I could find some players to play something with.
Hellweg westfalicus- it was my 4th play of this game. I like it. Don't love it, but I like it. And while it looks like memory has a strong role in the game (there are 12 cards for the 16 locations; each turns up 3 times during play and you can sell your wares for 2 thalers more in the revealed cities in the last round) the rulebook says it is not important to remember all the cities in the end of the game. And while no first-timer seems to agree, I think the rulebook is right! I have won all but my first game of Hellweg, and I must admit I never remembered which cities I should have wares in in the end. I even won a game without selling anything in the last round. Still, I'm selling this game right now, because it's just... hard to find the players who would enjoy this game with me. This evening I packed the game and felt a bit sad I'm selling it (it found a buyer too fast) as it has grown on me but I guess this was the right thing to do.
La Isla - now we played with the correct rules. Of course the game works way better this way. But I was incredibly unfortunate and in a game where you need two cubes of the same color to place an explorer, and you need explorers to score points from the board and to collect tiles that score you further points, it can really be called bad luck if you don't draw any cards that would let you place explorers for only one cube or get additional cubes for whatever. So I spent most of my game skipping turns (to collect cubes instead) and trying not to get upset when even the animal symbols just did not help me at all. This game is simpler and maybe a bit more interesting than Bruges, but it has just the same problems with the too many cards it has. Another Feld where two plays were just enough for me.
The Builders: Middle Ages - pretty simple, maybe even 'meh' game of collecting workers with different (simple, resource-defined) abilities to build constructions that score you points and give you lots of money as well. The tricky part comes in the end: if you construct a building in the last round, you can use the money you got for additional actions that can make it possible to construct another building and so on... Well, the game is not great but for me it is more interesting than Splendor (of the same type).
Sunday, at home: As Saci was willing to play with me I chose games that I knew she likes or is good at.
DVONN 2x - Well, I have no idea what happened. I won twice.
Ticket to Ride: Europe - okay, she won this one by far (I just could not draw a wild card to be able to finish a route).
Qwirkle with Qwirkle: Erweiterung 1 - the 'stars' side of the expansion board is way more interesting and fun than the other side. Oh yes she won.
Qwirkleas Miska woke up and he said he used to play this game with my mother-in-law. So we played it 2-player and my strategy was intentionally poor (using good opportunities, but not caring about my opponent's possibilities, creating lots of open 5-point rows) so it was a very close finish (he won, although I hoped I would still win this way). The Hobbit: Enchanted Gold, the second play, with my son - now I won by far.
Tried out this game, which was new to us. Pretty fun; strategy was very opaque to me on a first play, which is cool -- I like games that I need to play a bit to explore, rather than insta-sussing out strategy before I even start. Debbie and I arrived at the end goal on the same turn, with the same number of treasures, and even the same number of adventure markers, but hers were for more valuable regions than mine, so she claimed victory.
The central mechanic of the game -- namely a backpack with 12 spaces where your movement is the inverse of your inventory -- is a pretty neat one. Great for thwarting people like me whose usual approach to games is: Step 1: Gather everything at once.
Two plays of Glory to Rome, the first I won with overwhelming card synergy, the second my wife won by ending the game before I started merchanting. I think the central lesson of using up good cards is something that my wife needs to relearn every time we play this game.
And half a game of Tigris. Lovely game of course. But she doesn't like its confrontational nature. Bummer, but not unexpected.
1x Stone Age - Still a classic. I taught this at Guildford Gamers and it ran pretty smoothly. I think I forgot one rule but a helpful experienced player added it on to the explanation. It's nice to practice my teaching skills. I really like the mechanics of the game. It doesn't pretend that there is anything more complicated going on in the game than action efficiency and worker placement tensions. Simple and has the same depth as the many more complicated games that profess to be more intelligent.
1x The Bottle Imp - Played a couple of rounds of this nice little trick-taker. Unfortunately a couple of rounds isn't long enough for my opponents to understand the finer details so it wasn't a refined game but it reminded why I ever picked it up.
1x Go - An old friend came to visit from Liverpool and I managed to squeeze in a teaching game of Go between playing with Sophie. We played a 9 stone handicap game and it was a landslide. He played to coyly. Always worried I'd disconnect him and kill stones, but by playing the way he did I could more easily disconnect him and kill stones!
1x Connect6 - He got revenge in this great secondary purpose for a Go set game.
...the headlamps of your eyes will make them dream.
Targi x1 2p ww Loved it. I love how in your face the modular action selection grid is, cotton eyed joe. It just gets more subtle and fantastic the more you play it. Sure there's the luck of the draw, but like a lot of games, it's there to just keep you on your toes, and falls well within the acceptable, per Hanibal standards. This particular match was hilarious, because we both took the less efficient route in order to build our tableaux JUST RIGHT. We each had a wary eye on the other, watching to see how they would play it out, and as such, we both had a sub-par efficiency game, but an awesome game of reverse-chicken. I loved it, and will play it again soon, hopefully. My favourite 2p. Barely beat out TnE as the item listing simply because it's so good, and the company was brilliant.
Tigris & Euphrates x1 4p SHAMEFULLY NOT WW SHE WAS OFF PLAYING ISTANBUL Megan bowed out from this game to play with a friend, but I hadn't played this in forever. It was also my first play on my copy- the first of many to come. Juh eezus christ this game. It's got politicking, it's got bloodbaths, it's got exploitation, it's got civ building (Even Michael Fucking Barnes thinks so). To quote his article for those too lazy to click through:
Ole' AT-face wrote:
Tigris & Euphrates is another game widely decried as having a “pasted on” theme, but when I play this Sackson-influenced tile-laying masterpiece, the theme of civilizations rising and then coming into conflict with others over resources or political, spiritual, and geographical issues blazes through the simple process. The internal conflict mechanic, for example, describes how a new leader may stage a coup within a population with the support of local religious or ideological figures. In game terms, this may just mean playing a wooden token and then some tiles. But that abstraction (and let’s not forget that all games are abstract) bears real meaning beyond the description of action. What is lost in the depiction of conflict in Tigris and Euphrates is the kind of detail that you might find in Civilization or Clash of Cultures but in return players experience a very lean, very focused sense of what actions mean at their most essential level.
The rising, falling, and eventual absorption of all of these empires. Aw shit. It's good. It's the best. It's Knizia's best. I think... I think it might join Macao as a 10. I might play it twice this weekend. Who knows. I don't even care that I tied for last. No game with miniatures has ever been such a melee as this little cube and tile masterpiece.
Lagoon: Land of Druids x2.5 2p ww A kickstarter that is actually quite solid. It's got few rules, but is quite a thinker, as the fact that any of your pawns have access to any actions that itself and any other pawns are on means that you have a lot of puzzle like turns where the action selection tree just blossoms. I like it, but not as much as KvS. However, seeing as Megan absolutely loves it, it's a win in my book. It's thoroughly overproduced, and gorgeous, and I highly recommend it as a 2p- if you're the sort of couple that likes card powers and tableaux, a la seasons, rftg, london, etc. The .5 was real life intruding.
Rolling Japan x3 2p ww Ah shit. I was so scared of 1's and 6's, that I pulled the emergency ripcord (colour change) way too fast. My 3 worst scores happened that game, while Megan was consistently good. Except that first game where I rolled a thousand goddamned ones.
London x1 4p ww I love London, don't get me wrong. It's like Martin Wallace applied Feld's old testament punishment mantra to RFTG, then slowed it down, and allowed almost all of the cards to cycle through the deck for strategic purposes- but man, I don't want to play it 4p ever again. There are so many games that have a brilliant 4p game, that this one was disappointing. The graphic design is a bit dull, and quite hard to parse across the table at all times. The game moves too fast, and instead of playing to the player across from you (as in the 2p zen-luca), it just becomes a sort of efficiency grinder that any random 4p can get thrown in. Sure we could've played it a little more confrontationally, but it wasn't worth it, or even ergonomical. I do love the core mechanisms though, and even at 4p it's in the top 1% of the hobby. It's just, I demand excellence now! I think my standards have risen a bit. On the plus side, I finally got a self sustaining city that netted me 8 pounds, -1 poverty, and 2 vp every time I ran it (I had 6 districts). Megan was the only one who actively played to stop me, and as such, it got a little squidgy- but she did manage to slam the game into a halt, and turned a rout into a tight(er) game.
Triumvirate x1 2p Taught to a friend. This little gem is trick-taking, drafting, and secret influence bidding all in one tight, perfect package. I whooped him like a Gibbon. Seriously Mr. Worthington. Stop publishing the resistance and other cack and make me another card game. Feckin' Eejit (Yes. I have been watching a fair bit of Father Ted whilst cleaning).
Edit: Also wife and I worked on this retheme of Potato man. She did the art, but it was a free hand copy of another design- she wanted to test out her new faber-castells prismacolours.
I'm way behind on answers, but I'll quickly add last week's plays.
The headline game depicts a CCG, but the most interesting game I played this week was an RPG: Call of Cthulhu (7th Edition). It was my first time playing an RPG (aside from computer game adaptations like Baldur's Gate and Planescape: Torment), and I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I had heard the computer game adaptations were combat-heavy translations of one of the most combat-heavy RPG systems, but I wasn't too sure what would replace all the fighting. In the end CoC turned out to be much less hack-and-slash and much more about investigating and piecing together scraps of evidence and following trails of clues, which I really enjoyed.
(I later mentioned my experience with CoC to an RPGer at BGG Con, and he commented that a lot of the narrative-driven investigative elements had been codified in the "Gumshoe" system.)
In other news, I played Android: Netrunner online, mostly using my weird new Leela Patel deck, and then an old Weyland deck. I was out of practice, but it was nice getting the much-reviled Kraken card to work.