Last night was a great night for gaming, despite running longer than expected. Got to play 2 games I had played before, but a whopping 4 games I hadn't played before -- one we enjoyed so much we played twice! Two of the games went on my "want" list right away... A third I had already purchased, based on reviews, and this affirmed the purchase.
Game 1: Carcassonne - Hunters and Gatherers
I arrived at Justin's place a bit earlier than the others, so we cracked open C:H&G... Neither of us had played in a while, but it reminded me of how solid a game -- especially for 2 players -- this tile laying masterpiece is. The bonus tiles are such a great addition. Once rule I hadn't realized before, but which adds a whole new decision point to the game, is that the person who caps off a forest with a gold nugget earns the bonus tile, even if that person doesn't score any points -- letting folks seal off an opponent's scoring option while snagging those precious tiles.
Bottom Line: 9.5/10 ... Nice variations provide enough differences to make it a unique experience from the traditional Carcassonne -- and a much more balanced, strategic game, in my opinion. The bonus tiles add quite a bit. A strong game, which helps streamline and fulfill the potential Carcassonne tempted us with.
Game 2: Mall of Horror first play!
Julia: 8 pts
Michael: 5 pts
Justin: 3 pts
Jay: 0 pts (dead after turn 9)
Chris: 0 pts (dead after turn 7)
I was eager to try this one out. I had just purchased it the day before, and had put together a nice player aid which I submitted to BGG. I think folks were a bit skeptical, and it took a fair bit to explain, but once it got underway, the game moved at a nice pace and there was lots of tension. Chris and I got chowed early, from a combination of poor planning on our part and clever powerbrokering by the others. In the first game, we sorely underestimated the value of the Security Chief, and the Security Office was overrun and closed after turn 3 -- so no Security Chief, no additional information to help us plan out our moves. And it wasn't until toward the end of the game that we realized how critical control of the parking lot is for distribution of those cards -- the cards and their division are one of the key features to establishing cliques and cementing assistance in the game. Wonderful, wonderful gameplay experience.
Bottom Line: 8/10 ... [ORIGINAL POST] I picked up Mall of Horror based on several recommendations and Tom Vasel's excellent review. Sounds like a nice, bloody game of backstabbing, betrayal, deception and getting other people in trouble -- basically an entire game of Diplomacy that can be wrapped up in an hour or less. After a quick read through the rules, I can't wait to try it out!
[UPDATE] 2 Plays, and it's as exciting and engaging as I had hoped. The tension and flow fits the zombie theme wonderfully. Players can find themselves eliminated very quickly, though, and reduced to the role of spectator early in the game. I was a bit surprised that the game seemed to slow down as players were eliminated, rather than speed up, and the last half of the game takes much longer to resolve than the first half -- opposite of my expectations for the theme and how these mechanics would work. Could be based on our play group, however... Still, a solid game with lots of deliciously evil powerbrokering decisions. And it's just so darn fun!!
Game 3: Razzia!
This is only the fourth time I've played Razzia... Which coupled with Ra's four plays, is all I need to know that I will probably never like this game format. It's utterly chaotic, with an illusion over control over your decisions. I also have not been able to use experience to help establish a better means to evaluate auction lots for competitive bidding -- or on those instances where I do evaluate them and want them, I'm consistently outbid by players with the higher values. Not a fan.
Bottom Line: 4/10 ... It's a lot like Ra... And that's not necessarily a good thing. The cards take up a heckuva lot of space, since they need to be clearly spread out so everyone can see what everyone else has at any given time. Feels like a lot of decisions are beyond your control, and a great deal of the game passes with very few interesting decisions. Far, far more luck than I was expecting. I'd play it again, but only if everyone absolutely had to play it and I got to pick the next game.
[UPDATE] Dropped yet another point. More plays just reveals more of what I don't like -- too many times you don't have a decision, instead the game decides for you. Turn 1 -- I'll take a hit instead of call an auction. Oh, Razzia was drawn... looks like there will be an auction anyway. So glad I made that decision. Turn 2 -- Oh look, another Razzia card. Turn 3 -- Oh look, another Razzia card. Turn 4 -- Oh look, another Razzia card. Where is my decision making again? Oh, and if you're behind in scoring after round 2, how on earth do you make up ground on someone?
Game 4: Euphrates & Tigris Card Game first play!
This game was frustration, personified. I started with 1 Green, 1 Blue, 6 Red and no Grey. In fact, I didn't draw any Grey until turn 4, and then just a single card. I didn't even have an opportunity to score Grey points until turn 6... And by then my King was in a completed kingdom, so I had to spend 1 action to move him first. I really dislike having to spend a card from your hand to score in a color -- that not only lessens the value of Ships/Monuments, but exaggerates the luck factor of the poor draw. Needing 2 of any color to score for that color can seriously hamper your plans, and place further emphasis on the value of Traders... But don't have any Green in your hand? Well, then too bad -- enjoy getting beat up by the other players' traders, so they can grab the treasure and cement a huge lead. Standard hidden scoring would be fine, but I'm befuddled why you can't even look at your own score!! What? Adding an arbitrary memory element to this game feels ridiculous... Why add another reason to be frustrated?
Bottom Line: 4/10 ... What a disappointing game! I was hoping for a more streamlined, engaging game that still felt like T&E, but was simpler to grasp and quicker to play. It does play more quickly, but the game feels so herky jerky, and it plays so incredibly differently than the boardgame that it's a shame it uses the same name -- aside from lowest common denominator scoring in four colors and what triggers internal/external conflicts, the game feels awkward and remarkably unlike T&E.
Sure, you get a larger hand size (8 instead of 6) but the fact that you need a card of whatever color you want to score in your hand when scoring is triggered means you have fewer actual options. Also exaggerating the problem of being short-suited as in T&E because, for some reason, there is NO option to exchange cards!! Have bad cards? Can you only play cards to trigger battles you can't win or score points for other players? Too bad!!
Also a strange vibe that the only way you can get two kingdoms close to external conflict is to play enough cards to let the player on your left trigger the conflict -- it's nigh impossible to set up external conflict w/o receing an "alley oop" from the player to your right (intentionally or not).
Game 5: Vegas Showdown first play!
I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed Vegas Showdown. Despite being a lot of stuff going on, and much of it feeling eerily similar (the Knizia-esque scoring at the end, the Alhambra/PoF casino building, etc) it offers enough novelty and a fun theme to make it a very nice bidding alternative. Justin ran through the rules quickly, but after I heard the setup and first few rules, the rest felt intuitive based on seeing the scoring aid and seeing the bidding map. I wish I could have redone 1 or 2 actions over the course of the game, but overall, I'm pleased with how quickly I felt I picked up on it, and that I tied for second in a very close game.
Bottom Line: 8/10 ... Surprisingly impressed with the variety of options, interesting integration of the event cards, bidding and planning in this game. Timely theme based on the growing popularity of poker and gambling. Decent design, but poor component quality. The player mats are very flimsy, the larger cardboard tiles seem to warp horribly and the ultra-cheap poker chips for cash were disappointing. Still, lots of scoring methods, and it looks like it pays to be flexible while still offering a variety of approaches to take. Thoroughly enjoyed the game, and I could see playing this with a wide range of people... If the production quality were better, it'd go up to about 8.5 or so... Good "entry level" bidding game with enough meat for repeated playing, with lots of variety and replay value due to the event cards. I felt my decisions mattered more than in something like Ra.
Game 6: King Me! first play!
Cute, clever little game. The seeding at the beginning was fun, with a very light bluffing tone. Oddly enough, in our very first round, the very first noble ascending to the throne was crowned -- everyone assumed someone else would behead him. I believe Julia and Chris both had that noble on their score card, giving them pretty big leads early on... Since many of the other nobles hadn't even moved from their starting positions, the rest of the scoring was very low. It was also then that I realized that you get two veto/behead cards per round and not for the entire game. Oops -- My bad!
Bottom Line: 7/10 ... Cute, quick filler with neat voting dynamics, push your luck and pseudo bluffing elements. Only real downside is there are sooo many characters, and the color scheme/font are hard to distinguish, so you need to constantly adjust the markers or get a closer look to evaluate what's going on. Still, novel enough to stand on its own and provide a different experience than other fillers of the same length.
Game 7: Mall of Horror second play!
Julia: 2 characters chomped on Round 15 (last round of game)
Jay: Last character chomped on Round 7...
I'm glad we played this one again, after learning the ropes earlier in the evening. A coalition of evil was formed on the first turn between Michael and Justin when all three of us found ourselves in the parking lot with our Gunmen and another character for 3 votes each and 2 zombies. Without any discussion, they opted to let the zombies eat both of my characters, forcing me to use an Axe after the first vote (killing my Pin Up) to at least keep 2 characters in the game.
Justin managed to maintain dominance of the parking lot for the entire game, earning a card 8 turns in a row. Since he had such a dominant card advantage, he was at little risk of zombie attacks in the parking lot and didn't lose his first character until Round 8. I was unsuccessful in convincing the other players to surge into the Parking Lot and seize control of the truck from him. Justin spread the bonus cards equally between Michael and Julia, to keep them on his side -- and Chris and I couldn't mount an effective counter assault on our own.
Julia had an early monopoly on the Security Chief role, wielding that power for 8 of the first 9 turns. Eventually Chris wrested it away from her for a few rounds, but by then I was already dead and couldn't do much to affect the game. My Tough Guy was killed in the Restaurant on turn 3, where Chris forced me at gunpoint to go make a nice zombie snack. A miscalculation on openings in a location forced my Gunman into the parking lot on Round 7, where Justin -- still sitting there with all three characters -- quickly dispatched me, and then used his plethora of cards to kill off the remaining zombies.
So I was out of the game on Round 7, before Julia, Justin and Chris had even lost their first character. I was a bit frustrated that instead of trying to target the other players with three characters (and in my mind, the biggest scoring threats to any of the others) they all seemed to prefer to remove me completely from the game first... I can see that making sense to be one step closer to the Security Chief for movement, but watching them play for the next hour wasn't as much fun... Only 2 group votes ever came up after that, and my single vote was meaningless in the outcome since the players still in the game had already decided how to resolve the vote.
The second half of the game took about 50% longer than the first half, as there was far more deal brokering -- or at least discussion -- for mutual survival, and there were far fewer zombies manifesting on the board. Two locations shut down, so while it limited the destination options, there were fewer people left, so far fewer conflicts for the open spots in locations... And no zombies showed up when the two closed locations were rolled, so on a few turns, only 1 or 2 zombies appeared, resulting in 5 turns in a row when nobody died right before the end.
Then on the fateful Round 15, with no Security Officer, Julia tried moving into a booked room, leaving one character to fend for himself in the SuperMarket, and forcing the other into the Parking Lot. Enough zombies showed up at both locations to munch both of her characters, leaving only three characters in the game, triggering the end.
A special tip of the hat to Michael, who lost his first character on Round 2, and his second character on Round 4... Despite being 4th to act in the movement phase, he was rarely shunted to the Parking Lot, and was able to move his single remaining character around and survive 11 rounds to the end of the game, and amazing streak!