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Subject: My first "review" : Swans aren't so bad! rss

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J Kaemmer
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I don't really do reviews normally. Really I was hoping to maybe get some more novel discussion but as I mulled over the content of this post I decided it was actually more of a "review" than anything else:

So here goes!

This expansion comes with 3 distinct rules modules that can all be incorporated at once or played individually as part of the original game; Secret Passages, Moats, and Swans. there are also new rooms that can be added without changing the game much, if at all.

Each is very different from the last and its kind of hard to see how they fit together but know this: I actually think if you play with Moats you absolutely should play with Swans and Secret Passages.

Secret Passages:

Appropriately hidden in the stack of punch-board is tiny plastic bag with these neat little guys. SP probably stand on their own better than the other two modules, and it grows organically from the base game. This is not only because of how they fit thematically but also mechanically. They do exactly what you expect- connect rooms in a cool way! Connected rooms double their connection bonuses and it negates adjacency penalties from activity rooms. Playing smart with your allotted 3 SP is important in maximizing your points. Finding a pair of rooms with 3pt connection bonuses to each other and placing a passage between them to score 12 pts is VERY satisfying. Having a way to actively pursue favors/bonuses relating to activity rooms is also nice, and completing them is that much easier. I think these are an auto-include for most every gaming group. It doesn't crank up complexity but does put more creative tools in your hands. All around A+.

Swans

Man was I ready to hate these, let me tell you! HOWEVER, I am here today to admit I was wrong. No realy, I only wanted to write this review to finally put forth my views, and seek to dispel some of the BS circulating about Secrets' Swans (whoa that's some intense alliteration, say that seven times fast)

Swans add a set collection mechanic to the game that I'm not sure COMKL fans were actually looking for. There are 3 new rooms of each room size. They function the same as other rooms except that when revealed they have either 1 or 2 random Swan tokens put on them like coins, the amount is determined by the icons on the tile and serve to mark them as part of the expansion.

Each swan is worth at least 1k Marks or 1pt at the end of the game. groups of unique colored swans score more points and each swan beyond the first you cash in for money earns you extra cash along the same scale. The color of the swan is revealed with the tile so when purchasing rooms you can factor in its true value to you, which is nice. In the end they probably won't be worth a ton of points but as a much needed cash infusion they can be fantastic! You can cash them in BEFORE buying so having the buying power to get the room you really needed when you want it most is VERY liberating. It adds a lovely new aspect to the Master Builder mechanic and cash-flow.

Now for what everybody has been hating on: Set-up time. Almost every review I've seen has been dissing Swans because it "doesn't fit" with the rest of the game and "it add set-up time." Well I'll speak to the first a little further down so bear with me and let's talk about set-up time. It hardly adds ANY set-up for 3 players and only brings 4 player set-up to the same amount of time, 2 player becomes marginally more cumbersome. When playing 3 or 4 player you shuffle the stack and remove the appropriate number of tiles (4/5 and 3 respectively) if you remove any swans put them on the bottom and keep going- once you get the normal rooms out shuffle again. If playing 2 players, you don't replace the first swan removed otherwise you set up just the same. Compared to the regular set up which requires you to already remove things it adds only 1 brief shuffle for each stack- maybe. Honestly, I hardly noticed the extra time since I already play a lot of 3p and solo games.

I get why people hate extra set-up in games and dread the way it insinuates itself into games via expansions, but I will go on record and say "It's not that bad people!" The set collection aspect (and maybe the animal attached to it) hasn't inpired that many people's interest but if it isn't exciting hopefully I can convince you it is at least important to add while talking about option number 3:

MOATS

There's one thing that jumps out at you immediately upon opening Secrets and that is the MOATS. These guys are by far the biggest change to the game and I know they got me stupid excited. They definitely change the whole feel of the game. I haven't heard many people knocking them but even if you don't like them you have to respect Bezier Games' ability to issue an expansion that changes the base game so SUBSTANTIALLY.

A Barbican and 1 moat are now your starting pieces, each of the potential other 3 moats you build gains you 1 pt per non-corridor and non-outside room in your Castle (moats are not rooms) for the cost of 5k Marks. Each moat also constrains your working space by a fair amount. If you manage to build all 3 additional moats you get to build 1 room from any stack of un-revealed rooms FOR FREE. A pretty big bonus, but be mindful that there are not enough moats for every player to go for this. Additionally, you may build Outside rooms/gardens outside your moats but ONLY those rooms.

The good: I LOVE the fact that Moats challenge your spatial reasoning and planning skills- something I thought was sorely missing from the base game. Originally there was no reason for you to build a compact and orderly castle, no incentive to create clever connections and get your rooms to fit together like puzzle pieces. The average player typically spread their castles to the far corners of the table when possible, and for good reason. The flexibility was just too valuable! Having a BIG point reward available for players willing to build a moat or 2 and cut off their ability to build in certain directions is a GREAT way to bring this game back to more of a tile-laying genre as opposed to an almost exclusively competetive-market-pricing and cost-benefit valuation game.

The Bad: Now for the awkward dissenting opinion... The initial set up and the inherent nature of moats shakes up the base game dynamic a lot and creates some deep rooted impacts in how easy this is to play.

Change 1, The Barbican entrances: The starting tile now has 4 entrances- one of which must completed by an Outside Room. That free Hallway or more likely free stair will now be waiting until turn 4 AT LEAST. This may force more players to adopt building a stairs on early turns lest downstairs rooms become just a way for the MB to pad his bankroll.

Change 2, Segregating Outside Rooms: The need for an Outside room to complete the Barbican is an uncomfortable aspect on its own as some of them are quite low value by themselves. Completing them outside the moat is significantly more difficult, too, since only outside rooms can be used. This aspect results in a substantial shift to the game-play, actually. You see your first temptation when buying an outside room will be to place them to complete the Barbican but now it will be damn hard to finish and you might never get that 10k Marks bonus, you almost certainly won't get it twice! Moats stifle one of the easiest ways that COMKL used to infuse new money into the market. Unless you have a favor or bonus for Outside rooms, their value is significantly hurt- harder to finish and they receive no moat points if you even DO buy them. Cash just got a fair amount tighter, but no longer will my group play keep away and hold high-point outdoor rooms in the 15k spot exclusively!... so I guess that's a plus..

Change 3, Reduction of Freedom: In one way you have more freedom than the base game because you have 4 entrances... but one of those directions can only be Outside rooms and the 2 entrances near the moat wall are VERY hazardous- you might ruin your chance to complete a room or in going for a connection bonus you find you're getting too close to the rooms placed along the 1 unconstrained entrance. Just the starting moat already forces you to think more about your placement. A wonderful design feat but also can be discouraging to players. Each moat only serves to belabor this point further.

Change 4, Moat Fever: Moats are good. A great return on your investment at the fixed rate of 5k. 5k is deceptive, though. It doesn't seem like a lot, but it is an amount that's difficult to recover. You can draw back 5k on a turn and as MB you could receive only 6K even if everybody buys something! 5k is probably more expensive than half the tiles on the board given that the 6k spot will usually have at least 1 coin on it so it is certainly not cheap... but getting 10-15pts for a tile is pretty good... Moats simply tempt the weak. They buy moats up afraid to miss out on the sale, drive themselves into the poorhouse, and cost themselves points in the long run- all while simultaneously destroying their flexibility. The wild sprawling nature of COMKL is gone. Gone is the wonderment of imagining your stretched out spindly fairy-tale castle. Long live the Moat and its loving square embrace.

You hate MOATS?????

Kind of... jk. Not at all. I think that Moats are fantastic additions to the game really step up the amount of brain power required to excel at it- and I for one love that my win rate has gone up significantly with the advent of Moats. I love this whole expansion, it's easily one of the best I've ever received or bought. I just don't think I would use moats unless the group was already quite familiar with COMKL, they could really hurt a newcomer's experience of the game.

Moats are NOT bad- despite all the trash I talked earlier- because of 2 things: Secret Passages and Swans- what? full circle review? awwww yeah back to the other modules:

You see money from Outside rooms is not as big of an issue if you play with Swans, their emergency funding potentially obsoletes a tile type that used to by almost necessary to complete in the base game- they give you monetary independence! the bonus points from them also offsets the moat fever because you miss out on money and point opportunities by not acquiring swans.

The problem of freedom to place and the lack of sprawling crazy castles is mitigated by your Secret Passages, in turn. If you really need to complete a room or connect 2 of them you have 3 great tools to do so in your SP's. The wonderment of a big sprawling castle has also been replaced by the intimacy of sneaky secret passages and clever connections- heck the new courtyard favor is great for this, too. You stop thinking about the outside aesthetic and layout of your castles and focus more on how clever your castle is, how strange it would be to live in laugh SP also serve to provide a way to score big BIG points. Spending all your money on Moats might cause you to miss out on the SP connection of the century, I've had a turn worth 40 some points by completing a big living room and having all 3 of my secret passages on it and that option would not have presented itself if I went hard for moats- SP should make you think twice and offer an alternative way to go from moats in a subtle, yet masterful way.

Moats change the game quite a bit but they don't break the game, by any means; but to get the full experience you really should play with the other 2 modules. Buying 1 moat will almost always be worth it and you'll need to think twice about stairs and other placements but the fever passes and in the end I think you'll find that COMKL is still standing on the same SOLID foundation with 3 great new columns supplementing it.

Thank you,
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Ted Alspach
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iswearihaveajob wrote:
Moats simply tempt the weak.


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Dave Roy
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Quote:
It hardly adds ANY set-up for 3 players and only brings 4 player set-up to the same amount of time, 2 player becomes marginally more cumbersome. When playing 3 or 4 player you shuffle the stack and remove the appropriate number of tiles (4/5 and 3 respectively) if you remove any swans put them on the bottom and keep going- once you get the normal rooms out shuffle again. If playing 2 players, you don't replace the first swan removed otherwise you set up just the same. Compared to the regular set up which requires you to already remove things it adds only 1 brief shuffle for each stack- maybe.


How can you do that and still keep secret what rooms are in the piles? I don't think you're supposed to look at them first, are you?

The way we do it is to separate the swans and the non-swans, shuffle the non-swans and grab the appropriate number. Then do the same for the swans if it's a 2-player game.

Then combine what you picked out of the stacks and shuffle them all together.

I like the expansion and don't mind doing this as much as some people do, but it's a little more complicated than what you say above.

Unless you do look at the rooms that you draw.

Or am I missing something?
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J Kaemmer
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I look at them but remembering exactly what 30+ rooms you removed is somewhat hard. Unless you play with a savant I wouldn't worry about it. Just check for swans in the corner.
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Robert Crawford
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iswearihaveajob wrote:
I look at them but remembering exactly what 30+ rooms you removed is somewhat hard. Unless you play with a savant I wouldn't worry about it. Just check for swans in the corner.


It seems at the least you would remember something like "hey, a bunch of downstairs rooms were removed."

I don't see why you would do it that way... you just grab the right number of swan tiles, and the right number of non-swan tiles, and make your stack.
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