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Aether Captains: Capek Golems» Forums » Reviews

Subject: It's alive! It's alive! rss

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Patrick Rael
United States
Brunswick
Maine
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My partner and I took Capek Golems out for a spin tonight. There's an awful lot to like about this game, which is a PnP design for the Quick Print and Play Challenge. Most obviously, it looks great — Todd's excellent artwork looks, to me, like publishable work. The game itself is craftily designed: whereas boards would normally be used for the auction board and golems (and such boards are available for this game), the game employs cards instead, so the whole thing can fit into a standard deck of 54 cards. Add a few eurocubes in 2 (actually, 2+1) colors, and you're good to go.

The game is a race between two players to complete the construction of a golem made of reanimated human flesh. Each player has identical golems, divided into 6 portions (1 head, 1 torso, 2 arms, 2 legs) and must acquire two kinds of resources — field resources and scientific inquiry — to animate each portion. The resources are supplied by a deck of cards, which is divided into colors. These colors constitute the scientific inquiry resources necessary to animate golems. Cards may also be used for field resources, or for gold, which is used to acquire more cards.

Effective card drafting and action mechanisms confront players with interesting choices about acquiring resources. Should I gather cards of the same color so I can turn them in (a la Pandemic) and animate a golem part? Or should I use my cards to play field resources cubes also necessary to animate? An Alhambra-like auction mechanic lets players use gold to acquire more cards, though cards may also be acquired without gold. This part of the game has been thought through well. The game permits only newly purchased cards to be played for field resources, and it is deliciously frustrating to find yourself great cards of this type that cannot be used. Finally, there is a public outrage track, which acts as a check on your more devious actions.

In the game we played, the race was close. At first, we concentrated on adding field resources, but we quickly figured that sets of scientific inquiry cards were harder to come by. I was fortunate to pull some of the wild cards that help you make these sets, and that helped my victory. We also came to value the action that lets you give up a card and attain two. Since there is no hand limit, it can make sense to spend a few turns acquiring cards. In our game, we stayed pretty close. One of us might have completed more scientific inquiry sets than the other, but the other would have more field resources placed. This seemed like a well-balanced part of the game; I cannot imagine a runaway leader problem here.

Here are some thoughts and suggestions. I offer them not as criticisms, because the game is really so far along. Rather, I'm trying to think through some possibilities for making the game even stronger.

There were very few moments when I thought that acquiring the next card at auction was critical. Yes, I wanted cards at times, but was never utterly anxious to have them. Neither were there many moments where I was ready to wring my hands because my opponent picked up a critical card. In fact, there was a kind of sameness to game play that I'd like to see minimized. Both sides begin completely symmetrical, and very little in play directs players down divergent paths. Even the play of the different kinds of resources, while surely distinct, feels qualitatively to be fairly similar. Finally, we took about 40 minutes to get through our game, but it really felt like about 30 minutes worth of actual game, tops. So while the game felt very nearly "there," I wondered if a few tweaks might improve it.

I don't know if these would make sense, but I offer them as suggestions.

1. Perhaps it could be possible to seed cubes on the golem cards. This would speed play a bit. There are lots of cubes to acquire and place, but since the doing of this is fairly similar throughout the game, I'm not sure it needs to happen so much. Seeding cubes would also create an asymmetrical start, which I think would add a lot to the game.

2. I wonder if it would help to make placement of field resource cubes more difficult. As is, once acquired you can place them anywhere on your golem. This feels too easy, and makes placing cubes routine. What if you could only place field resource cubes on golem parts that are of the same color as the card that produced the resources? So, for example, cubes gained from an orange card could only be placed on the head or torso. This would make placing cubes more difficult, and hence make the game longer, but as I just suggested, seeding the golems would shorten the game. Most importantly, this new rule might make card drafting more challenging. As is, when seeking to place field resources one merely looks for the highest producing card. This rule would cause players to value cards at auction differently, for one player might have no need for the red or yellow one, but desperately need the brown to finish. This would also permit the opponent to snatch up those cards quickly — a vital element of "screwage" the game presently lacks.

3. A final thought: I completely understand the point of the public outrage track and think it should be retained. But I wonder if there might be a way to tweak it slightly. PO wasn't a serious factor in our game. We got to about 22, but never felt very pressured here. What if there were an easy, elegant mechanism and triggered something nasty at various points along the track? I can't think now of how to keep this from getting fiddly, but it would be nice if there were an mildly unpredictable trigger that might, for example, wipe out all field resource *or* scientific inquiry cubes on a body part. Perhaps every time the track reaches a multiple of 5, the triggering player draws the top card. He consults the color of the card, and if he has fewer field resources on his golem parts of that color than the field resource level of the card, he must remove those field resources from one of the golem cards.

Anyway, I hope these comments are helpful — both for those interested in playing the game, and those interested in developing it further. It really is quite good, and very much fun. I can easily envision it turning into a professionally published card or board game.
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