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Subject: CO2: A Very Interesting Game rss

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Apple Paul

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Wow, after one play of CO2, it is very hard to figure out exactly what to think of this gaming experience. Lots to discuss with this game, and for that reason alone, it should definitely be played at least once by every serious BGG gamer. Let me start...

I played with five players last night, four newbies (including myself), and one player teaching the game after one play.

When the board was placed in the middle of the table, the chits placed in their stacks, and the cards dealt, I had serious doubts about the seeming dystopic aesthetics of the game. (Curiously, the aesthetics reminded me of the old Urban Systems games from the early 70's, and I admit, I did find that quite interesting.) Was I going to look at these graphics for several hours? Really? Simply put, they were not immediately attractive to me. (Where were the cute, cartoon european village graphics I am so accustomed to?)

But, on further reflection, I decided that, look, this was a "power plant themed" game, and let's face it, Power Grid, another fine "power plant themed" game, has the distinction of being a game with a VERY unusual aesthetic. With Power Grid once you decide to make peace with the (spartan-euro-minimalistic?) aesthetic, you find that the unusual aesthetic actually enhances the gaming experience. You enter the world of Power Grid.

The same is true of C02. Its aesthetic is highly atmospheric with a very artistic ambivalence conveyed, sometimes subtly, typically more overtly, towards power plants and CO2, as with the skulls all over the cards and board in this game. Okay, lots of skulls to look at when considering CO2 allowances...scary?....serious stuff?....interesting.

Now, to the game play...

My first play was a strange and not entirely comforting experience. But thinking back on the game, I can see how the game play would have been much better if the game had been explained differently. Interestingly, with this game, the explanation REALLY matters.

In particular, had the explanation been emphatic about ALL the ways to earn VP's in the game, and placed equal weight on all of them, with an explicit warning that you should NOT assume that the best way to earn VP's is to BUILD power plants, that would have made a substantial difference in the enjoyment of the game for me. Why?

Well, without that emphatic emphasis and warning, I had an unfortunate tendency to default into assuming that the best way to earn VP's was to build power plants. Wrong. Or, more accurately, no, not necessarily.

I think a fair number of first time players are going to play this game with four or five players, and get frustrated by the three step process wherein you propose to build a power plant (that you secretly want to build), only to have someone else build it before your next turn comes up, creating a feeling of frustration. But that feeling is a bit misplaced since the final "build" action is just one way to earn VP's.

Notably, each step in the three step process is a valid way to earn VP's in OTHER, non-building directions. So, the goal is not entirely to be the person who completes the building process! The designer, like a good euro game designer, ensured that there are multiple paths to victory. Duh. So, try to enjoy the other ways.

Keep in mind that money, in particular income at the beginning of every decade, can be converted into VP's. As in Princes of Florence, you can either take your income in money, or VP's. The practical result of this fact is that you should definitely take actions in this game that boost you on the expertise tracks. And building power plants is NOT necessarily the best way to do that. Think about a scientist route.

In addition, pay attention to the fact that carbon permits are sold back at the end of the game, for money, which is then translated into VP's at $2 per VP. Thus, watch the market mechanism in the game, and earn VP's by manipulating it. And pay attention to the "UN" VP cards, and your secret VP goal cards.

Bottom line: first timers probably should be told up front NOT to fixate on the final build action...or you will be frustrated by the game...as I admittedly was on my first play. Again, the goal of the game is to find ways to earn victory points, not necessarily finding ways to always build power plants on your turn.

Finally, the theme of the game, and the theme of each action, needs to be explained MUCH better to first timers. If it is not explained with care, first timers are left looking at a collection of seemingly very counter-intuitive mechanics. (Lots of tile flipping, beyond even Brass levels.)

Interestingly, again, the enjoyment of this game, I believe, greatly depends upon the explanation of the game. Along those lines, the player aides that ship with the game (and perhaps even the rules which I did not read, since the game was explained to me) describe the second stage of the power plant process as an "Install." I agree with others who have commented on this terminology problem. This term does not make sense to me as the second action. I am installing the power plant? Before I construct it? What?

So, I do believe that this second term should to be changed on the player aides in future editions. Because you must provide a carbon permit at this stage, I think this second stage might best be described as: "Preparation and Permitting." Just that small change in the explanation of the game would have improved the CO2 gaming experience for me.

I also wonder about the ideal number of players in this game. Perhaps it would play better with fewer players. Five players took a bit too long, and the state of the board changed dramatically by the time it came back to you on your turn. Even Dominant Species, to me, really suffers when you play with five. I will bet that the sweet spot for this game is 3 or 4 players.

In the final analysis, though, virtually everyone who played CO2 last night came away liking it, primarily I think, because the game presented some interesting complex gaming challenges. But also, I think, the players liked the social experience of talking about the state of play on the board.

This game is also receiving some attention for its semi-cooperative elements wherein, unless the players cooperate (at least in part) to keep world CO2 levels below a certain level, everyone loses the game. In our game, this element of the game occupied about 10-20% of our thoughts, and we fairly skillfully and straightforwardly cooperated to resolve this threat within the first 2 rounds (although, curiously, we did discover that one of the players did not want to cooperate to help us all have a chance, which was interesting). Once we had solved this crisis, we went on to play very straightforwardly and competitively. It was my sense (granted after only one play) that the designer did an excellent job with this aspect of the game. He produced exactly the right amount of focus on this creative design idea to produce a memorable experience.

This is a game that has considerable artistic vision, and even controversy, and I believe that is a great thing for gaming in general. We need more games like this to broaden the appeal of gaming to a wider audience, and make games, quite frankly, more relevant.

Perhaps games will someday be as culturally and artistically relevant and "culture-moving" as movies are today. I do find it interesting that the designer of this game, Lacerda, released his own amusing "movie trailer" for CO2. Right on.

I consider this game to be an excellent second work by Lacerda, (after Vinhos) but I feel that his best work is yet to come. He and the artists who worked on this game should keep aspiring to produce such good work.
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Brian Jones
United States
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Great review, too bad your first game was with five players. By all accounts, and the recommendation of the designer, this is a game that should be played with 4 or less until people are familiar with it.

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Vital Lacerda
Portugal
Oeiras
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2010 - Vinhos, 2012 - CO2, 2014 - kanban, 2015 - The Gallerist, 2016 - Vinhos Deluxe, 2017 - Lisboa, 2018 - Escape Plan, CO2 Second Chance and Dragon Keepers - Maybe: 2019 - ROTW Portugal and On Mars, 2020 - Kanban Deluxe Edition
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Thank you for the review, Paul. Its very nice to read, that you could see the other ways of scoring in the game. It's not easy to many players to understand that in their first game. With Co2 I tried in a form to promote some creative play, using interactivity between players. I think that finding other ways, besides the ones at site, to get your scoring and avoiding to give huge advantages to others, is the fun of the game. If I did it or not. Well I think I did to some and did not to others. And it's very rewarding to read such a review. Thanks.
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Steve Duff
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Apple Paul wrote:
Along those lines, the player aides that ship with the game (and perhaps even the rules which I did not read, since the game was explained to me) describe the second stage of the power plant process as an "Install." I agree with others who have commented on this terminology problem. This term does not make sense to me as the second action. I am installing the power plant? Before I construct it? What?


The term is correct, the rules are quite clear on it:

"Install Project
Your company installs the energy network and infrastructure to distribute the power that will be generated by the coming Power Plant, in exchange for some benefits."

You just got a bad explanation.
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A. B. West
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Beech Grove
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I wish more reviews were exactly like this one - where a player just lays out feelings about the game. Thanks!
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