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Subject: The Gods MUST be crazy rss

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I've been eying Balam by Neuroludic for some time now, but had little information about the game except the rules. So when I saw it at BGG.CON '06, I knew this was my chance to give it a test drive. Balam is a "self published" game, which of course I has reservations on quality of components. I always try and get lesser known self published games because sometimes they have some really unique play mechanics to them. For instance Ars Mystorium by Hangman Games, and Iroquois by Stratomax to name a few.

Components: This has got to be where Balam shines as a self published games. The components are indeed top notch. The cards were done professionally, and the art work was top notch.

The game comes with 33 site tiles made of thick cardboard, and beautifully printed colored sites. The Score track matches the tiles and also allows for path configurations through the score track itself.

There are 72 "Katun" cards, or special cards, that are professionally printed, and look great.

Each player gets a printed help sheet, that is clear and explains each actions and build allowed.
Eahc player also get 13 large pyramids and 16 small pyramids in each color( purple, silver, gold, grey).

There is 99 building tiles are double sided. 88 Goods tokens, that are made of sturdy plastic(looks like smarties candy, Disclaimer: Don't eat them) in Yellow(corn), Brown(cocoa), Blue(conch shells), Green(jade), Black(Obsidian), and Red(prisoners). And finally 4 D6 Dice, that are marked blank, 1,2,3, and "snack eyes"(bad). Very nice dice.

Rules:

The rules are not too bad. The language in some parts is a little hard to understand. I'm guessing form french to english. So this is one area if they do go to a bigger publisher that hopefully they will address. We barreled through the rules and finally came to a consensus for what it all meant.Lucky for you all we went through the pain so that you would have an easier time .

Synopsis:

The first part of the game is setup. The tiles are setup in a basic game in a 5x6 grid randomly with the corners being the "sea" tiles. Two of the tiles are volcanoes(very very bad) , two are "cenote's" which are water holes. And the rest are broken up into the item they produce(Corn, cocoa, jade, obsidian). Each site has between 2-4 building spots available. And once you set the board up you can see "paths" that state the adjacency of each tile(which may not be orthogonal).

The "pelota" deck is set up depending on how many players are in the game. There are 5 pelota game cards equally in the deck that state the scoring round, and when the game ends(3player game ends when the 3rd pelota card is drawn) Which makes for about 10 rounds of player for each player.

Each player starts with a player aide, his pyramids and 6 corn. And starts at Zero points.

The round starts with N+1 Katun card placed face down on the table. Once these cards have been drawn, the round ends.

The first thing the players do in a round is Divination. The player with the most built observatories is allowed to look at secretly three of the hidden Katun card, and place them back face down, and the second place player gets to look at one. If there is a tie, then both only look at one card. Strategy Note:THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT. Those cards can REALLY SUCK. It's better to know what they are before drawing them. Trust me!

Then in turn order the player has one of 2 main actions to take.

-Pay one resource and:

Build: A player may build on an empty site, or a site that player has already build on. He may build as many buildings as he wishes, but only in ONE building site. Each building has a building cost that is stated on the player aide. When he builds he places a big pyramid on the center of the site, and the building he just built. You cannot move building within the site once built, but you can over build an existing building. The palace and temple take up two sites.

Attack: A player may attack one other city adjacent to it. Attacks are quite simple to calculate. The attacker adds up how many garrisons he has in his city( that is the number of them in the attacking city, and each garrison that is adjacent to that site) plus the number of Obsidian pieces he has in that city that he wishes to sacrifice to the battle. That equals his attack score. He then roles that many dice equal to that number.

The defender adds up the number of garrisons he has in the attacked city plus the number of obsidians it has that he wants to sacrifice to the defending of the city. If the attacker rolls a number higher than the defense, the defender loses that many building in the city.

If the attacker rolls any "snakes" then HE must lose that number of "garrisons". SO it's tricky sometimes to attack. Strategy Note. YOU MUST ATTACK IN THIS GAME. without prisoners, those Katun cards will knock you out quick. Attack soon, attack often!

Pass: After paying one you cna instead fo attacking or building you may pass. Strategy note: SAVE RESOURCES TO PASS. You usually don't want those damn Katun Cards, mostly they suck.

-Or take a Katun Card.

Sometimes you have to take a Katun card. These cards sometime do good by giving you extra resources. Are neutral, the Pelota game that starts a scoring round, or ends the game, or an eclipse that stops the free corn. And lastly, BAD CARDS. And bad they are, they will require that you pay resources or prisoners, or lose buildings. These are killer cards people! The Volcanoes for instance says you must pay 2 prisoners or lose 2 cities adjacent to the volcanoes(But note that they must come form the cities not the kings supply).


Scoring:

If the last Katun is taken off the board the round ends and things happen.

Production: at the end of each turn, each site that has a farm on it produces one item that the site can produce. That token type is put on top of that village building. Easy enough right?

Distribution: Resources now have to be moved to proper locations, because at the end of the turn all unused resources are wasted and lost. Movement has to follow paths and can only go over cities that you have large pyramids or small pyramids(ones that are placed by having a market adjacent to them) or empty spaces. But not through enemy cities that you have no pyramids.

Taxes: 2 goods may be placed on each each palace on a turn. These good will be moved form the board to the players card. These can be used to build things n subsequent turns.

Ceremony: This is how players score. Each temple can store 2 goods on a turn, each of these are sacrificed for VP's as follows:
1 corn = 1 VP
1 cocoa,jade,obsidian, shell = 2 VP's
1 prisoner = 3 VP's (But careful, you need these for bad Katun cards!)

Storage: Each storage building can hold up to one good each turn. These can be used for bad Katun cards when they come up, but not for building. A prisoner can also be stored there. On each garrison, one obsidian can be stored, and used in attacks or defends.

Another way to score is the "Cult of the Sacred Cenote" card when drawn. This card when used will double good VP's in a temple sacrifice.

At the end of the turn, all unused resources are discarded, and each player receives two free corn(unless the eclipse card has been played, then this stops for the rest of the game.)

Also once the pelota card has been uncovered, at this moment the player with the most "pelota" playgrounds wins the number of VP's equal to the number of cities it has. the second place player receives a number of VP's equal to half the number of cities they have on the board rounded down. In case of a tie, both get half.


Initial Reaction:
The game is pretty straight forward. I have mentioned strategies that I think are pivotal during the game. I REALLY like this game for some reasons, and think it's delicate in others. There is lots of interaction with other players, and conflict abound. Attacking is key, why you ask? Katun cards. They are really chaotic, and may be seen as a bit unbalancing. In my first playing I got so many bad Katun cards, I was essentially taken out of the game. Once you are weak, it's hard to return to full speed again. That is why I think the game could use some tweaking. There maybe too many damaging cards in the game for the number of players OR maybe we just need to be more aggressive in out game play. It's hard to tell in early playing.

I will say this, I think the game has enough meat to it that it will most surely on my TO BUY list for 2006. I think they did an excellent job with the game play, art, and components. I look forward to subsequent plays in the future. It was a really fun game, with lots of theme and conflict. I think the Ameritrashers would like it, but maybe less for the analytical gamer. But still a nice mix.

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Paul Allwood
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I was one of the other players in Michael's game and I have to say I have never seen a player take such bad luck so graciously. I'm not sure that I could have, given Michael's experience with early Katan cards and my successful early attacks on him!

The game is unusual in that it actively encourages aggression. Most games of this type, it is the players who manage to avoid conflict who are the most successful. With the need to get prisoners to avoid some of the Katan catastrophes and the requirement to get control of certain tiles for their produce (in a three player game there are only two tiles that produce certain goods) conflict is inevitable and balancing development of financial/cultural growth againts military growth is crucial.

Correct me if I'm wrong Michael, but I couldn't see where you mentioned how the main scoring rounds were scored, where the majority of victory points are to be had. These are determined by the player who has built the most pelota courts obtaining one victory point per city that they control, with the second player scoring half their cities rounded down.

Anyway, nice review and I agree Balam is a very interesting game that needs further exploration from a strategic perspective. There is certainly very bad luck to be had, but it will be interesting to see how well this can be mitigated.
 
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pallwood wrote:


Correct me if I'm wrong Michael, but I couldn't see where you mentioned how the main scoring rounds were scored, where the majority of victory points are to be had. These are determined by the player who has built the most pelota courts obtaining one victory point per city that they control, with the second player scoring half their cities rounded down.

.


Hey Paul,

Yep, I forgot the Pelota scoring, which I have added. Thanks for reminding me.

Also thanks for playing it with me( As well as a few more games as well). It was a rough game for myself, but I believe that "hopefully" in subsequent games that wont happen again with some mitigation(maybe not though).
 
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