GCL Phoenix 393: Abstract Art (July 16, 2018)
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Apart from a few select people in the hobby, most of us do not play many abstract games. Alison is our in-house trend breaker of course but this week I'd love to look a bit deeper into the wonderful world of abstract game design.
All games are abstracted of course but where do you set the boundary for whether a game is abstract or not an abstract game? What does an abstract have to have to be called an abstract and what cannot it have? Is there a fuzzy grey area in the middle?
Do you like abstract games? Why/why not? Are you perhaps like me and would love to play more of them but struggle to find opponents interested in them?
Which are your favourite abstract games and why? And if you take that up on a higher level: which type of abstracts are you fond of? Are there any mechanisms that you prefer or the opposite?
Most abstracts are simple and pure, is this approach to an area something you see anywhere else in your life? Is your house for instance a sprawling mess full of things that remind you of important experiences in your life or is it more in the Japanese/Scandinavian minimalistic direction? How about in other aspects of your life and personality?
Rich - 22nd July
Alison - 29th July
Carol - 5th August
John - 12th August
Nicolai - 17th August
Michael - 24th August
Karl - 31st August
Dave - 7th September
Morten - 14th September
Rich - 21st September
*Nicolai is taking Karl's August 17th spot.
Karl is doing Paulo's August 31st spot.
Board Game: Happy Salmon
[Average Rating:6.91 Overall Rank:978]
[Average Rating:6.91 Unranked]
It’s been a quiet week with only lighter games played. One of them was one of my unplayed but I found Kraftwagen in mint condition for €13 and I’ve heard a lot of good things about it so that has now been added to my collection meaning I’m still stuck at 12 unplayed games.
7 Capital (4 all-time)
Another play and another loss. I keep trying to adapt and learn from Lærke but she stays well ahead of me in this game. It’s strange because I’m usually quite good at spatial games and she isn’t. There must be something else going on here that she gets a lot better than me. I still enjoy the game despite the small frustration of not seeing myself improve much.
9 Glory to Rome x2 (26 all-time)
An old favourite was brought back to the table. We wanted to play a game. I was thinking of this and Lærke of Import/Export so we were quite aligned in our inclinations. Glory to Rome it was and after a very quick runaway victory for me immediately set it up for a rematch. This time it was close. Lærke was clearly ahead in the first part of the game but I caught up with here before she pulled ahead again in the last two rounds to win it by 6 points.
8 Azul (28 all-time)
A weekday evening play of Azul when we were both tired and didn’t have the capacity to play something more involved. I keep thinking that we should try the other side of the boards and the joker tiles soon but every time we play we don’t feel the need to change anything.
8 Saint Petersburg x2 (8 all-time)
Saint Petersburg is beginning to become a new favourite of ours. But for it to truly become one I think Lærke will have to start winning some more. She’s stopped buying too much in the first turn so she does not have enough money left for the second round of green cards at least and she was only 16 points behind in our last play. It has always looked like such a dry game but I really enjoy the balancing act in it now. The second of the two plays was on the ferry to Samsø where we went for our annual garden party at a friend’s place there. The last couple of years we’ve all brought magnum wine bottles and had a huge barbecue.
8 Happy Salmon x9 NEW!
With the amount of wine flowing generously in the sun boardgaming isn’t really what we do but I had brought Happy Salmon because I expected it could be fun after some wine and would suit our mental capacity at that time. It was a huge success, especially the silent variant of it that of course is loud boisterous fun.
7 Kubb NEW!
A bit too late wine wise I got into a game of Kubb. My arms certainly didn’t do what my mind wanted them to do but at least the consolation prize for losing was picking any bottle from my friends rather impressive wine cellar! He’s not fond of non-European wine in general so I picked a South African wine from 2007 made from a very large array of grape types because I thought that it must be good if he has it. It was.
Games that left my collection this month: Solarius Mission.
Games that entered my collection this month: Solarius Mission and Kraftwagen.
Unplayed games in my collection: Tahuantinsuyu, 1860: Railways on the Isle of Wight, Sword of Rome, El Alamein, Continental Divide, Populi Turolii, Kaivai, Napoleon's Triumph, てづま師 (Tezuma Master), Hansa, Guerilla Checkers and Kraftwagen.
We always have time for the things we put first.
Monday July 9
Mille Sabords x2
Ganz schön clever x2
Tuesday July 10
Wednesday July 11
Clans of Caledonia
Thursday July 12
Ganz schön clever
Friday July 13
Clans of Caledonia x2
Saturday July 14
Clans of Caledonia x3
Sunday July 15
Clans of Caledonia
Lots of plays of Clans of Caledonia, and I think I only won one of them. We're pondering trying something wild and crazy, giving us each two clans, just to see what would happen.
Montana was a close game, Sam won by a hair. It's a very take-it-or-leave-it game for me. Interesting to try, but I wouldn't miss it if we traded it.
Between the roof, and Sam being on call for jury duty last week, we hadn't been able to make plans or do much, so it's just now feeling like the summer is starting (when it's more than half over). We'll try to fit in a few small fun things.
10 Tash-Kalar: Arena of Legends (504 all-time)
A teaching game with a new friend. She was very excited about Tash-Kalar when I described it to her, and seemed to enjoy playing a lot, but hasn't checked back in for an online game. We played with a single heroic piece as handicap and it led to a long slog before I finally broke away. Maybe I should try out other handicap methods. I just haven't thought of any.
7 Throne and the Grail x2 NEW!
At last! I put together a set with my Badger Deck and played a few rounds of this with S.
I liked it a lot, but also won decisively both times without being too sure why. I enjoyed the opacity and yet didn't like mysteriously winning.
3 La Strada x2 NEW!
My rating is only for the 2p game. I like the mechanics and simplicity, but the decisions barely seemed to matter after the initial placements and first few turns. Four people getting in one another's way seems like it might have a little more suspense?
N/A Consentacle NEW!
I have a lot to say about this game, but mostly I'm hesitant to rate it because I'm grateful for its existence but on its merits as a game I'd probably give it a generous 5 based on my one play and never get around to playing it again.
That might yet happen!
This game is metaphorically speaking the language that I conduct my private life in, which is to say both that it is queer (except maybe the game only sort of is?), exuberant about intimate interactions, AND it treats the minute details of those interactions as something worth talking about. I've never played a board game that did that.
And yet I don't love that much of what it says in that language. The player decks are colored blue and pink. The mechanics seem modeled (unconsciously?) on the "baseball metaphor" for sex (first base, second base, etc.) and from my preliminary understanding of strategy, the key to high scores is both players simultaneously playing the "Release" card, which seems weirdly quaint.
Oddest of all, despite the name, the game isn't about consent. Both characters want to be doing what they're doing; the background of its storytelling is one of enthusiastic consent-- which is good, I can only imagine how much of a disaster it would have been otherwise. But the highly visible "withdrawing consent" mechanic is something you do when you're just out of sync with your partner; the times it even came close to arising in our game, the person tempted to withdraw consent would generally be the person who went 'too far', not the one who, if this were a real encounter, would have been the one saying "hey, let's stop and talk about this". Something is very weird here. I'd have to play again to have any confidence that this is how it was designed. But it is how it went for me.
== GAME NIGHT ==
7 Hardback (2 all-time)
I think I do like this better than Paperback; even if it doesn't actually go much faster, it feels a little more nimble, maybe because there are fewer card effects and more emphasis on buying letters that work well together. And yet, if I were to play again I'd want to add some of the optional expansion content, because at two plays of this I was already a little bored.
5 Stroop NEW!
I had fun, but I overwhelmed my opponents and they refused to ever play Stroop with me again. I was warned this might happen! I just hoped it wouldn't.
9 Masters Gallery x2 (14 all-time)
9 Decrypto (8 all-time)
Our words were DOG, WITCH, CANDY and BURGLARY. My teammate (new to the game) had given both 'dentist' and 'cavity' as clues for CANDY, which I thought meant that word was burnt. Then in a later round she gave the clue 'toothless' and I nearly burst out laughing at how good that was. Sure enough, I matched it correctly to WITCH, and our opponents guessed it was slot 3, with the other 'tooth' words. We also managed to spread out several seemingly-related clues about money ('pound' -> DOG, 'penny' -> CANDY, 'dollars' -> BURGLARY).
I did discover partway through the game that we had been playing wrong and slowing things down-- the first cluegiver to finish is supposed to flip the 30 second timer on their opponent right away! So I think the rules as written have this game much less ponderous than I'm used to. I'll have to see how I like it that way.
Receive with simplicity everything that happens to you.
7 Patchwork (13 all-time)
4 Great Western Trail NEW!
5 Battle Cry: 150th Civil War Anniversary Edition x2 (4 all-time)
10 Reef Encounter (32 all-time)
The Week That Was
Me 10: Jack -15
Things kicked off with a request and surprising twist from my 5yr-old. He wanted to play a game (that’s not new), I figured Klask or JamSumo, but no he specifically asked to play the “carpet game”. After looking a bit perplexed and asking him to point it out, I pulled out Patchwork and went to teaching him. Apparently he had wanted to play since seeing his older cousin play with me a few weeks back.
Now Jack is not the most patient 5yr old so what followed was a shock to both Nicole and I. He played relatively calm and he was quite attentive. I’d ask him which button he wanted, how much it cost, and then had him do the math. Turns out he’s pretty solid at adding and subtracting and he thought it was fun to figure costs out. He even showed restraint a couple of times, opting to move ahead to gain buttons so he could buy the patch he really wanted. Delayed gratification for a 5yr old is HUGE btw.
Now that I know he can play Patchwork, I’d like to try Through the Desert with him sometime.
Battle Cry: 150th Civil War Anniversary Edition
Me 1: Lee/David 1
Our journey through time continues, this time with Battle Cry. David selected two 1864 scenarios and we added the fan-made-designer-approved tactician deck. I won the first battle 6-4 and surprisingly lost the second 5-6 after going up 4-0; the dice betrayed me for the last half hour, GAH!
Anyways, it had been quite a while since I last played BC and I recalled (quite accurately) it being a bit more simplistic and in some cases less refined and interesting than the other iterations. I’m not a fan of the weak leaders, the overly slow movement of infantry, and that calvry can only engage in melee (what no pistols?). The tactician cards were fine but I didn’t like how you drew them (you needed certain cards from the main deck).
David, Lee, and I talked extensively after the session and we all seemed to agree that it was on the lower end of the series. David mentioned that he would have liked to have seen some standardization applied in the 150 anniverary release. Namely adjusting the infantry and calvry movement rules to fit the others; makes sense to me. Overall this was the first C&C game published, it is owned by a publisher that doesn’t support it and hasn’t allowed Mr. Borg to further tinker with it. Sad. Next week: Napoleonics.
Great Western Trail
Me 98: Stephen 84: David 52
After BC I had to rush out and grab some food. In the interim I told David and Stephen to pick something out. I came back to find Great Western Trail all over the place. It’s a game I suspected I wouldn’t like, after the rules explanation I felt even more sure, and after I won I knew for certain.
This feels like the prototypical, modern mid-weight euro. It’s a kitchen-sink of popular mechanisms, a newish (slightly better than pasted) theme, points-salad, rondel-esque, born and bred to be indirect in its interaction, inoffensive in play, and easy on mistakes.
The game brings to mind several other designs including the individual tech tree boards of Hansa Teutonica, the pathway of Caylus, the deck-building of, well everything right now, and the Feldian approach to points. Sadly I find it weaker, noisier, more bloated, and less compelling than all of the above (though I suspect I’d still rather play this than any late Feld game).
I get why it’s so popular (see kitchen-sink-mechanical-salad with points splattered everywhere description above) but who said popular was good? I feel like the core concept here of herding cattle to cities has potential and could have shined through a more distilled approach. Sadly it’s buried beneath a banality of disjointed mechanisms and needless clutter. Enjoy spinning plates do ya? Well try it with cows on top of them in Great Western Trail!
And this isn’t sour grapes talking. I won going away after I cut through the noise of multiple-paths-through-points and went full tilt on buying cattle, getting cowboys, creating a money engine, and increasing my speed to make multiple deliveries. The owner (84pts) was shocked to see that I got 42pts from my cow cards alone (and maybe that I won at all). He had rightfully done a bit of everything and I had focused on the (what seemed to be obvious) underlying rhythmic point of the game: deliver as much high priced cattle as you can, the rest is just noise.
But to be fair he likes the noise. He’s a modern mid-heavy euro gamer. This game was built excellently for him. We did discuss how different this felt compared to some of my favorites (he has tried The Great Zimbabwe and feels his favorite game, Terra Mystica is more along those lines; we’ll see). He said he enjoys trying my games occasionally because nobody has ever heard of them and they are quite different from everything else. He wants to try Container and Reef Encounter sometime soon.
In the end I was happy to play it though. It made Stephen happy and helped to confirm my general suspicions regarding the current state of many a modern euro. I think we are going to try Terra Mystica next week. I’m curious to see how it will go.
Me 51: Nicole 32
So Nicole surprised me with a pleasant willingness to play something late Saturday evening. We opted for an old favorite, Reef Encounter. I ended up eating only 2 reefs: 5x5 grey 6x4 yellow; beginning the game with an orange worth 2pts. Nicole ate three reefs: 7x3 white 4x2 orange 1x4 yellow.
She really enjoys growing large reefs but has difficulty with timing her open sea board moves. She did say that she was surprised at how accurately she was able to predict my general direction and pivots, though she often felt indecisive with how best to respond to them. I told her I spent much of the game reacting to her. She laughed. I love my wife.
This is easily one of my all-time favorites and the oldest (as far as original plays goes) surviving game on my shelf, having first played it in 2006. It’s one that Nicole and I can knock out in 40-60 minutes and is a breeze to play (pun intended). This, btw is how you integrate an interesting subject with smooth mechanisms toward interesting play w/o burying the core concept beneath needlessly noisy bloat (I’m looking at you GWT).
6 Tokaido x1 (3 all-time) Out of the Dust
It's been just over three years since the last play of Tokaido. It's not a game I can see myself playing very often, but there are occasions when it works; S and my game with my sister and her two kids was one of them. So I keep it around.
Oh, and I like the theme and the artwork.
8 Ligny 1815: Last Eagles x1 New!
Other than the bad counter sheet that I received with my copy, I have nothing particularly bad to say about Ligny 1815: Last Eagles. Well, except that if I play the full battle, I haven't got a clear acrylic board large enough to cover the entire map.
One thing I do like about the introductory scenarios and the maps is that each one is on the flip side of the main map boards and they've been "zoomed in" so that the hexes are larger. So rather than stacking all the units in one hex on top of each other, they can be spread out (and clumsy fingers can do less damage).
In many ways, the rules remind me of a standard set from a Napoleonic miniature wargame so I'm finding them fairly easy to internalize. The order rules remind me so much of Shako. Each player has to place "order" counters for each corps on their own personal map and where it's placed restricts how each unit in the corps can behave. For example, if III Corps is ordered to advance on Ligny church, units can't head off in the opposite direction (unless they pass a test for independent movement and even then they move at half speed). So things get iffy if commanders want their units to act in contradiction to their corps' orders.
There are some specific rules about charging and counter-charging cavalry and withdrawing them from infantry that add some overhead for units that were secondary to the battle.
But just as there are some fairly detailed rules on cavalry, the game steamlines away unit facing and formation (except there's a simple optional rule on facing). Most Napoleonic battle simulations fixate on these aspects. This game assumes the unit commander is competent enough to put the unit in the best formation and facing the most important threat. In short, the game puts the action at the corp commander level.
All in all, I think this game is just the right level of complexity.
The Week Ahead
I will be playing Ligny 1815: Last Eagles. The last thing I did Sunday night was set up the second scenario.
Unplayed games of note in shrink: Near and Far, Sakura Arms, Maria, The U.S. Civil War, Francis Drake, German Railways, Tikal and Revolution: The Dutch Revolt 1568-1648.
Unplayed games not in shrink: Normandy '44 and Mottainai.
Edit: minor grammatical irritants.
I didn't know what to do with my UberBadge, so I left it as a GeekBadge.
Just one game played last week: GSC in our chalet on Bornholm. The island was lovely. We visited a fortified round church and a big ruined castle, wandered around a forest looking for bison, ate tasty ice cream... Kate's lost wallet turned up with money still inside, thanks to a helpful passer-by. However, we only found out after we'd left for Sweden so it's being posted (hopefully).
All those plays of Hansa Teutonica earlier in the year must have planted something in my brain as I became curious about seeing those towns. Here's a picture of me and B outside the iconic towers of Lübeck, the closest building I could find to match the Hansa Teutonica board:
B doesn't look hugely impressed. I think she's more a fan of Andreas Steding's earlier work instead.
Powers:Coleridge:Milton: Faith...must be, if anything, a clear-eyed recognition of the patterns and tendencies, to be found in every piece of the world's fabric, which are the lineaments of God.
That's Tim Powers' fictional Samuel Coleridge "quoting" John Milton in _The Anubis Gates_.
Belated Scorecard for the Week/Month/Year as of 14Jul2018:
9/22/208 plays of 6/16/121 total games, with 2/2/24 expansions employed.
Plays with 19/33/96 distinct opponents.
1/2/18 games acquired (plus 0/0/9 expansions.) - エセ芸術家ニューヨークへ行く.
0/0/1 games sold/traded (plus 0/0/0 expansions.)
0/0/10 games ordered (plus 0/0/0 expansions.)
Orders for 2 games and 0 expansions still outstanding.
1x _8_ DVONN (39 total plays)
With son #2. He's getting too competent, I fear: I was a bit cavalier with this one, and he demolished me easily. It was fun.
1x _7⅓_ Leaving Earth (4 total plays) (with Mercury and Outer Planets)
With my two sons. They were amused ("Kerbal Space Program, the Board Game!") tand also thought that the game would be more entertaining with a few tweaks ("why wouldn't one always want to include the search for extraterrestrial life?") Worked rather nicely, but also dragged a bit for the younger one (who prefers his games shorter, for the most part.)
2x _6⅔_ Liar's Dice (42 total plays)
(Family plus son #1's girlfriend.) We started both of these with 6 dice each, so the game wasn't terribly short. But fun anyway. (And different victors each time, too. The first game's winner was the first one eliminated in the second game.)
3x _7⅓_ エセ芸術家ニューヨークへ行く Ese geijutsuka nyūyōku e iku 'A Fake Artist Goes to New York' New!
(Once with the same gang; twice with a few extra people.) Quite hilariously delightful. Looks like (for us, and so far) the fake artist has an advantage. Yet I was notably a fake artist that failed to hide, and additionally failed to identify the restuling picture. I'm clearly terrible at this!
1x _8_ ７つの紋章、７つの部族 7tsu no monshō, 7tsu no buzoku "7 Symbols, 7 Nations" (3 +0 total plays)
(With daughter #1, son #1 and girlfriend #1.) Hilariously, girlfriend #1 initially thought that she'd not played any "trick-taking games." They she played the first five tricks spectacularly well, and reflected "Wait: this is like Hearts; I've played a bunch of Hearts!" Her team won easily.
With the Lunch@work group:
1x _7⅔_ Q.E. (2 total plays)
Worked really nicely. Easy to explain; accessible, but also nicely volatile in play; and a final round where no-one (I think!) thought they were already out of reach of the victory.
Owned-and-unplayed: 3 (+1/-1) - エセ芸術家ニューヨークへ行く arrived and was played.
Owned-and-played-once: 96 (+1/-2) - エセ芸術家ニューヨークへ行く was played twice; Q.E. was played again.
Outlook for the week: Probably more play with family, but that might be it.