Sunday, January 1
A Year of Gaming: 2005 in Review
It seems I’m an explorer; I tend to play a lot of new games. 2005 saw 68 new (to me) games out of the 92 different games played. In 2004 I played 98 different games, 74 of which were not played again in 2005. From this you can guess that my five and dime list is pretty brief. But some games do get repeated play. There were some from 2004 that saw an increase in play in ‘05; these include 6Nimmt (up 4), Clocktowers (up 4), Crokinole (up 3), High Society (up 1), San Juan (up 1), Take it Easy (up 1), and the Hello Kitty edition of Uno (up 1). Other games popular in 2004 saw less play, but still made it to the table at least once; these include Bohnhansa (down 2), Carcassonne (down 1), Drunter und Druber (down 1), Edel Stein and Reich (down 3), Fearsome Floors (down 6), Klondike (down 2), Lord of the Rings – The Confrontation (down 3), Settlers of Catan (down 1), Ticket to Ride (down 3), and TransAmerica (down 3). I thought I played more games this year than last, but my records indicate otherwise. I think the difference lies in that fact that I attended more group gaming events last year in spite of attending BGG.CON this year. (For the record 2004 saw 189 plays of 98 different games)
Of all the new (to me) games I tried this year there were a number of standouts that I am anxious to play again this year. These include the following:
09. Reef Encounter
05. Traders of Genoa
04. Power Grid
03. Carolus Magnus
02. Elasund: The First City of Catan
01. Age Of Steam
Of course there were also a number of games that I played in previous years that never got played this year. A number of these were certainly missed and I will make an effort to play them this year. They include:
09. Mystery Rummy: Jack the Ripper
08. Wyatt Earp
06. Fresh Fish
04. El Grande
02. Princes of Florence
Similar to my new favorites list, there are also some games that while not new to me this year are notable in that they are becoming 'old' favorites; these are games I played in 2004 and 2005 and expect to be playing this year as well:
09. Lost Cities
08. Edel Stein & Reich
07. Ticket To Ride
06. Puerto Rico
05. High Society
03. 6 Nimmt
02. San Juan
And Finally, the following list summarizes my game playing for 2005, organized by the number of times each game was played. I’ve also tried to provide some comments regarding the game or the playing.
Diamant - Rating: 8
This rocketed to the top of my list this year when it instantly become my favorite introductory game for mixed family groups (with kids and adults). The speed of its rise is all the more evident given that I only got Diamant on November 12 at a GameGathering prize draw. Granted it does play very fast, but I believe its star power is more due to the fact that it is quick to teach, introduces non-gamers to EuroGame mechanics, and is simply a game that cries out to be played multiple times in one session. I'm confident this will make my dime list next year as well.
10 Days in the USA - Rating 6
5 plays on the Fourth of July alone assured 10 Days in the USA a high placement on this list. While I don't mind playing this, it just doesn't grab me. It will undoubtedly get more repeated plays as it is so short and plays well as a 2 player game.
6 Nimmt! - Rating 8
This is one of my favorite end of the night fillers. I think its sweet spot is right around 5 players where the rows can fill up quickly. Sure it’s chaotic and there just doesn't seem to be a real winning strategy there, but it is great fun nonetheless. Besides I seem to have a pretty good win record, though I haven't tracked it so it may just be a case of selective memory...
Fairy Tale - Rating 6
I'm surprised this got seven plays in; they must have all come early in the year as it sure hasn't seen the table recently. I have yet to play this in partnership, where I understand the game really shines. So far it has just been ok for me, not great but not bad either. I enjoy the card drafting, but it just doesn't feel like there is a lot going on there.
Clocktowers - Rating 6
Clocktowers is light game of building towers inhabited by cats and mice. I think this is best with fewer players (two or three max). With few players the draw piles don’t change as much between your turns and thus you seem more of the cards.
Crokinole - Rating 8
I got one of Carl and Stan Hilinski's crokinole boards last year and it's a beauty. The finish is quite smooth and makes for a fast board. I'm surprised this didn't see the table more. I predict an up tick in plays for next year.
San Juan - Rating 8
This got fairly steady play throughout the year, far more than it's big brother, due primarily to game length. James really likes it too so about half of these plays are two player between the two of us. I especially like the way the cards serve multiple functions in the game.
King's Breakfast - Rating 6
This is another good filler game. I enjoy how scoring forces players to leave some of what they are collecting on the table for the king. Plus it works great with kids and teaches multiplication concepts through the scoring.
Ra - Rating 9
Ra is definitely one of my favorites of the year. We've introduced this to several friends and it has won overwhelming approval. This has become a staple game in our home.
Rumis - Rating 7
Featuring three dimensional Tetris like playing pieces, Rumis is similar to Pueblo but plays much faster, plus it plays on a variety of boards, creating different strategic situations. All said, I actually prefer Pueblo though, but will probably always get more plays of Rumis in simply because of playing time.
Ticket to Ride - Rating 8
For us TTR remains consistently enjoyable and continues to be a good introductory game for new gamers; a great combination at our house. It seems, the more I play the worse I do. I think that I think I know what I'm doing and set my goals too high. I never got around to purchasing and have yet to try TTR Europe, though I am interested in the next incarnation (Marklin Edition which introduces passengers).
Ingenious - Rating 7
Like Fairy Tale I have yet to play this in partnerships. All plays so far have been two player. I enjoy Kinizia's most of the least scoring mechanic and think it applies wonderfully in this abstract. Haven’t played with enough frequency to develop any strategies to the game, so far they have all been very tactical in trying to maintain a balanced scoring and watching out for colors that may close out early.
Memoir '44 - Rating 5
This just doesn't seem to float my boat as much as it does for others. I think it comes down to the fact that the combination of card draw randomness and die roll randomness is just too much for me. All my plays have been with my son James, who remains equally unimpressed. I thought for sure this would be a hit between the two of us, so that was a bit of a disappointment. I think we'll give it a few more tries though.
Boomtown - Rating 7
Here is the first Faidutti game on this list. Of his games Boomtown and Citadels are my favorites. I don't mind the chaos in his games like others seem to and I think Boomtown is great. I enjoy the bidding resolution, though if one player is regularly the high bidder the player opposite is often worse off, getting neither card choice or money.
Geschenkt - Rating 7
This was late to the party, showing up at Christmas. It seems to lie between High Society and 6 Nimmt! (though much closer to 6 Nimmt!) in that it is a great filler with a lot of turn angst given the simplicity of the decision being made. It's in good company.
High Society - Rating 8
Another great filler game, but one for earlier in the evening when the brain cells are still firing. I enjoy the angst the restricted bidding induces.
In the Shadow of the Emperor - Rating 7
I don't know, I just haven't yet really 'got' this game. Sure, it's an area control game about majorities, but in the midst of play I guess the theme clouds my vision...at least that's my excuse for my poor showing.
Turn The Tide - Rating 7
I picked this up at BGG.CON and in our few playings have become particularly fond of the lather-rinse-repeat process of replaying the game with the same set of card hands, only held by different players...It creates great moments of “Ooh, you’re right this IS a bad hand!”
Ubongo – Rating 7
All these plays were at BGG.CON. I think I actually had one additional unrecorded play at a GamesDay much earlier in the year. I enjoy the speed puzzle aspect of the game; I’m good at it, but the scoring does strike everyone I’ve played with as a bit odd, though it does work.
Battle Line – Rating 7
Only a couple plays early in the year followed by no further playings until early this year, and I’m not sure why. It meets all the criteria for a game that should see more play at our house: Quick, 2 player, interesting decisions. I guess we actually don’t get as much 2 player time in as I always hope to. If that changes the number of plays for Battle Line will certainly increase as I enjoy the more decisions/option available here over Lost Cities, which I also strongly like.
Carcassonne - The City – Rating 6
Two plays in November; one at BGG.CON followed by one more at our local GameGathering. Both were two player affairs (one with Maria, and the other with James), and while I enjoyed the games they didn’t jump out at me. Maria seemed to really enjoy our playing but James didn’t see anything special here. He has strong preferences for Hunters and Gatherers (while I prefer two player Carcassonne with the Inn expansion using the original farmer scoring…lots of qualifications there.
Citadels – Rating 7
With Citadels, less in more. James and I love to play this with the two player variant that has been developed. When played that way, some interesting card combinations develop and the risk of the thief/assassin in somewhat mitigated by the second card, allowing a player to still take a turn every round even if one card is killed off. One of these players was with 7 players, which was just too many; the game dragged.
Entdecker – Rating 7
I got a couple playings in close succession in with Mark Johnson of BoardGamesToGo fame. We played once at BGG.CON and again at the GameGathering. Both times were with the original Game (not the NEW Entdecker), though we played with different rules sets each time. Our first playing was using Mark’s variant, which adds elements from the New Entdecker plus some of his own tinkering. The second playing also included James and used the original as-published rules. Both playings were quite enjoyable, though I prefer Mark’s variant which adds some decisions to spending gold and somewhat eliminates the quick and easy pick-up of points from finding a succession of small islands.
Kaivai - Rating 7
Both playings were at BGG.CON where the game really suffered because of the rules. Once overcoming that hurdle I found the game to be quite interesting by am left with an initial impression that the game runs longer than it should, though I think this will improve with further plays (lucky me, I got a copy for Christmas). I enjoy the mechanics here and remain hopeful that we can get our playing time down for this to really shine.
Lost Cities – Rating 8
Lost Cities remains another favorite 2 player game. It is light, quick, easy to explain, yet manages to retain enough turn angst to keep me happily engaged. I think all of these traits are in just the right mix to create the ‘just one more game’ comment coming such that it can be hard to stop.
Oltremare - Merchants of Venice – Rating 6
Both of these games were as two player games while relaxing poolside on the Mexican coast with umbrella drinks in our hand. Being that we only played 2 player, there wasn’t much trading happening so the games mainly focused on managing the sequencing of cards in your stock pile. I like the mini board as it makes for a very travel friendly game.
Polarity – Rating 6
Played once at a GamesDay and then picked up my own copy which I have since played once. Our second playing was fraught with rules questions about unusual happenings. I want to spend some time on a few solo plays to get a solid understanding of the intent of the rules to better handle the unusual developments. All that aside, balancing the magnets is great fun.
Puerto Rico - Rating 9
Back-to-back games on New Year’s Eve. With so much new stuff to play this just fell off the radar. Our two playings have certainly reminded us what we have been missing. I’m confident we will never overplay it to the point that play becomes automatic. In that sense I’m happy to remain a novice here
Raj – Rating 6
We played Rogan’s copy of ‘Beat the Buzzard’. This semi-blind bidding game is a great introductory game with a mental aspect of trying to out guess your opponents and is one that kids can play too. Rogan nailed this one and seemed to know exactly what everyone else was planning to play and ran away with the game – both times.
Reef Encounter – Rating 8
I got in a two player and four player game this year. I enjoy the coral growth and changing superiority of the coral types.
Taboo – Rating 7
A recent discovery. I am not one for party games and had thus kept this off my radar but a recent playing left me very impressed. It was great fun in spite of being all about something I typically don’t like doing.
Take it Easy - Rating 7
A good closer. I seem to well at this, but can’t explain why. It’s all about optimizing your big scores and knowing when to abandon a string of numbers.
There's a Moose in the House – Rating 4
The kids enjoy it, but I don’t know why. Hopefully they will outgrow it soon.
Traumfabrik – Rating 8
Another of Kinizia’s auction/set collection games. I picked up my copy at the BGG.CON flea market and am very glad I did. I still prefer Ra but Traumfabrik is right up there.
UNO - Hello Kitty edition – Rating 6
There are worse games to play. The kids love it and I grew up on it so I’m still willing to play whenever they offer.
Acquire – Rating 7
I’m amazed that this was first published in 1962... It holds up so well against current designs.
Age of Steam – Rating 8
When this was first published, I was scared off by the length of play and talk of its ultra-tough economic engine that could knock a player out of contention early and then just drag them along for a long bumpy ride to the end unless they were ejected early through bankruptcy. But, curiosity kept bringing me back. Finally got my first game in in the third quarter this year. I held my own in my first outing, finishing in the middle of the pack, but I felt like I had certainly learned the ropes and was eager to give it another shot. I didn’t get another chance to play until just after New Year’s when Maria and I broke open another Christmas present and tried a 2 player variant using half the board (Money was far from tight in this playing so it hardly felt like my first outing.) I’d love for the two player variant to work as Maria enjoyed the game – she won.
Aladdin's Dragons – Provisional Rating 6
One play of the basic game. I am eager to try this again and make use of the magic cards, though I’m not sure how balanced they are as a set.
Alhambra – Rating 7
Maybe it’s the architect in me but I really like the ‘building the Alhambra’ aspect added to this reproduction of Stimmt So! (which I have not played). With more players I do agree with the consensus that there is little planning possible in coordinating money selections with tile availability. It is however possible to manage money selection to optimize one’s hand and the potential to take future tiles – it’s then just a matter of whether the right tiles appear in the right place at the right time.
Amun-Re – no rating
This is a game I received for Christmas last year and just got around to playing this December. Due to starting late we only played through the first epoch, but we got a pretty solid taste of the game’s mechanics and are now ready to play a REAL game of Amun-Re real soon. Having only played half a game, I can hardly comment on it further than to say that we certainly enjoyed the portion we completed and plan to get it to the table again the first time Rogan and Sue are over again.
Ark of the Covenant – Rating 6
I still prefer vanilla Carcassonne with the Inns and Cathedrals expansion added. The scoring in our one two player game was VERY lopsided. Not sure if that was an aberration or not, but it did dampen my enthusiasm for the game, even if I was on the right side of the scoring disparity.
Arkham Horror – Rating 2
Felt more like being on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride at Disneyland than being a game. I just sat there and watched the game system play me. there were no decisions only the consequences of random actions.
Around the World in 80 Days – Rating 6
I played once at a SoCalGamesDay event and found the game to be ok. I’d like to play it again but probably won’t pick it up myself.
Atlantic Star – Rating 6
We played once at David and Victoria's. It was a 6 player game and worked quite well at that number. I'd gladly pull that out when we have a full house.
Attika – Rating 7
I played this several times last year but none this year as I didn’t have a copy myself . That has all changed now as I just recently got this at the BGG.CON flea market for cheap. My one play in 2005 was with James and was an introductory game for him. He caught on quickly, though may have been a bit too caught up in trying to build everything for free that he didn’t get tiles into play fast enough. He learns quick so next time will be different. I enjoy this most as a 2 player game but bet it will play great at home between Maria, James and myself. Look forward to trying that this year.
Bohnhanza – Rating 6
We played once at David and Victoria's, 6 players. Lots of fun trading and negotiation going on. Several people built a third fiels but the game was won by someone who didn't.
Carcassonne with Inns and Cathedrals Expansion – Rating 7
Played at a SoCalGames Day event. I enjoy how the game can be played peacefully or competitively equally well depending on the aggressiveness of the participants. I prefer aggressive 2 player games myself as that is where the game really shines. It’s been a long time since I played that way, and the best games of that nature I played online at Brettspielwelt.de over a year ago. I generally don’t care for online play as the personal experience is lost in the ether.
Carcassonne - Hunters and Gatherers – Rating 7
James’s favorite Carcassonne incarnation; he just loves the fishing huts. I like the game but prefer the original as it is more competitive. H&G seems to promote cooperative play with the bonus tile given for the person completing mushroom infested forests.
Carolus Magnus – Rating 8
WOW! I had always admired this game’s photos on the Geek. The photos aren’t great, but something about the game just sparked my imagination - the game’s tiles I was fascinated with their shapes and the way they nested together forming larger and larger areas of control. reviews were mixed, but I remained curious and was many times tempted to buy it on faith alone. Then, while at BGG.CON, Jon Grimm recommended it highly. By then, Jon, Maria and I had played several of games together and I could tell that we shared similar tastes, so Maria and I sought out a copy and played it at the CON. It surpassed my expectations. Sure, it is a bit abstract, it’s a Colvini after all, but that didn’t bother me in the least. I especially liked the escalating arms race for control of various colored factions (paladins) to gain control of regions. Everything fits together beautifully. Maria loved it, so I her a copy for Christmas.
Caylus – Rating 8
Caylus may be getting all the hype right now, but of the new releases of 2005 I actually prefer Elasund. The game feels complex from the rules but plays out quite smoothly, though is a bit long.
Clue – Rating 4
I enjoy the deduction game in Clue but find the die roll movement annoying. The kids love it anyway. I long ago picked up the Clue Card Game at the Game Keeper/Wizards of the Coast closing sale for absurdly cheap (95% off) but have yet to play it. Will the lack of dice make it any better? I don’t know yet.
Der Untergang von Pompeji – Rating 6
Played at a SoCalGamesDay. It was interesting but the experience was spoiled by the metagaming of one player constantly whining about being the brunt of bad tile draws and opponent aggressions. The game is better than that experience permitted. Hopefully I’ll see it again and have a chance to play it again.
Dia de los Muertos – Rating 7
Rogan, Sue, Maria, and I don’t often play trick taking games, or card games for that matter, but I got this long ago and have been dying to try it out. We got one play in this fall as the theme became appropriate and after some initial uncertainty, the rules all clicked and our enthusiasm improved greatly. Games like this certainly require more than very irregular play as one then needs to relearn the game each time. Hopefully we can play it a couple times in succession to more fully appreciate what’s offered here.
Drunter und Drüber – Rating 7
Drunter und Drüber is a great hidden player identity game but I never seem to do well here as I have difficulty reading the other players, which is key. Nonetheless, I enjoy the game and do moderately well, but have yet to win.
Edel, Stein & Reich – Rating 8
I enjoy the bartering system between players who select the same action, but am often enjoyably frustrated by the double think of some players in trying to resolve how to play during the partially blind action selection.
El Caballero – Provisional Rating 7
One play, two player which allowed us to wade in deep enough to feel like we understood the rules but not deep enough to see the game shine. I’d like to play again, but with more players.
Elasund: The First City of Catan – Rating 9
Elasund is my favorite game of 2005. Maria and I discovered it at BGG.CON and were very impressed after one play. I’ve already preordered it an am anxious for it to arrive to play again. It’s that good.
Emerald – Rating 6
A great kids game that makes me think of Aladdin’s Dragons. The kids have played it a couple times more than I have. They certainly enjoy it.
En Garde – Rating 6
One play with James, left me somewhat unimpressed. I think the math of organizing one’s plays didn’t fully engage with him until late in the game. This seems like a good game for developing a child’s critical thinking.
Euphrat and Tigris – Provisional Rating 8
E&T is another Kiniza game featuring the ‘most of the least’ type of scoring where players are collecting several different types of victory points and the winning score is determined looking at the lowest score of each player; the winner being the highest low score. I really enjoy this mechanic and the management it induces in determining which action to take based on where you seem weakest. Einfach Genial (Ingenious) is more straightforward and abstract, but I enjoy the theming and additional mechanics of E&T. Just need to play more, which is a comment that applies to almost every game, especially at this end of the list.
Euphrat and Tigris - The Cardgame – no rating
Maria and I played a partial game of this at BGG.CON and I was surprised at how similar it played to the boardgame of the same name; just goes to show how deft Kinizia is with his mechanics, or how shortsighted I am. The card game does add a hand management aspect to the game as players are collecting sets of cards to play onto the table and for simultaneous use as points. I was also surprised at how much space the card game took up; I think it takes more table space than the board game if the columns develop as far as the rules indicate to allow. Given that I already own the boardgame I think I’ll pass on the card version, though it may interest others who don’t have the original incarnation.
Evo – Rating 7
James certainly loves Evo; he’s won both of his playings of this title, once in 2004 and again in 2005. He plays an aggressive game, which given his record seems to be a winning strategy. The theme is a bit thin for some, but James and I enjoy it anyway and can stay with the prehistoric theme.
Fearsome Floors – Rating 6
This is a great Halloween season game, provided that players don’t overanalyze their moves and play quickly. We have continued to stick with the basic components in a setup that generally approximates the provided initial setup, but we aren’t precise about the placement; just put the blood and scatter the columns approximately as indicated on the sheet and go. We find it best with mid-sized groups where there are enough victims for the monster to chase and to create blocking situations with the fleeing victims.
Goa – no rating
I missed something in the rules explanation and felt myself flounder through the whole game. The use of the tile grid to determine the auction offerings is quite interesting. Once the reprint is out, I’ll have to give this another go or else join in a game at one of the local events – though it seems that many of Goa’s early admirers have long ago burned out on it now.
Hansa – Rating 7
Maria and I played this at BGG.CON with Mark Johnson and Maria really liked it. I had played before, but that didn’t help e as I still came in last. It’s short, tactical, and plays two players – a definite add to our collection (and given to Maria for Christmas). I bet she’d like WoP/China too…
HeroScape – Rating 4
This just doesn’t grab me and I’m not sure it does James either, as he never asks to play it, plus it takes so darn long to set up and pack back into that box. This is one that James and I should get to the table again here very shortly and decide to keep or trade away before the market deflates. I don’t see this as having the staying power that others see.
Igel Ärgern – Rating 6
Just one play at BGG.CON and even that one didn’t go to full completion, though we all felt the winner was established at the point where we stopped (due to players needing to join in a pre-committed game of werewolf.). I enjoyed the ebb and flow of the game and am intrigued by the fact that the game is actually more a framework for a whole series of variants of games that can be played with the components. And, given the basic math and sequencing logic of the game it feels like a perfect introductory thinking game for kids. That said, while I have heard others note how their children love the game, I don’t see mine (Reanna in particular) really gravitating to this as beyond the superficial theme the game remains quite abstract.
Indonesia – Provisional Rating 8
Indonesia is another game with a partial playing from our time at BGG.CON. As I noted in my CON write-up, Maria was particularly taken by the economics of the game. This was her first exposure to the genre of economic delivery games and her interest bodes well. Hopefully we can find a way to play this again and also expand further into the genre. The game is not without its issues; there are graphical difficulties to overcome and the math of bidding is a bit burdensome.
Industrial Waste – Rating 7
It’s all about being the most efficient at getting to the game winning conditions. I think this is a great ‘optimization’ game that lets players have some long term planning for how they intend to win. I also enjoy the decision process in determining which set of cards to take or to prevent your opponent from getting.
Keythedral – Provisional Rating 8
Played once at a SoCalGamesDay. I enjoyed the cutthroat nature of the resource collection. I liked this so much I immediately ordered it after playing (got the expansion too). Have yet to get it to the table again though…just too many new games.
Klondike – Rating 5
We must be doing something wrong as our recent games of this almost always end on the very first gold panning session. If the sum of the bids match the number of gold the first panning player has, then that player pays away all his gold to settle the bets and the game ends as that player has no more gold. Using the additional advanced game cards would help in some cases but often our games end with the panning player having exactly the right amount of gold to pay out to his/her opponents.
Kreta - Rating 8
Stefan Dora’s Essen release of 05 really hit it off with me at BGG.CON. I was optimistic in spite reading mediocre reviews about it being simply a retread recombination of tired mechanics. For me the sum of the parts mesh into a very interesting area control game. This game inspired my recent Magnus-Spiele order and I’m glad to now own it. Further play in 06 has reinforced my initial impressions.
Lord of the Rings - The Confrontation – Rating 6
Feels like a blending of CCG card actions with Stratego like presentation/play. James likes both (plus the theme) so this is a hit with him. His win record is slightly better than mine. Played more last year and not much 2005. (I think we actually played it more than once, but that is all I recorded.) Win spite of the asymmetrical powers, the game is very balanced. An impressive job by Kinizia.
Mesopotamia Rating – Rating 6
I found Mesopotamia to be a nice production/building game with a pretty tight race to the finish. The decision making isn’t too burdensome (as it can be in Tikal and its kin) so turns are pretty fast. I tended to find the right decisions to be reasonably clear for me each turn. In our playing the card draw action was only ever taken as a last resort, with players focusing on immediate gains on the board instead. We played a three player game with Maria, James and myself. I’d like to get this to the table with 4 players soon.
Mexica – Rating 7
After one play at BGG.CON I find that I prefer Tikal over Mexica but now have an even greater interest in trying JAVA. Kramer just hits a sweet spot with me.
Mystery of the Abbey – Rating 5
In a quest for a better deduction game than Clue, I picked up Mystery of the Abbey from a fellow Spielfriek. Unfortunately I find that MotA has replace die roll frustration with the frustration of too much chaos as character cards shift about. But hey, it WAS more fun and I’m willing to give it another shot. I also picked up the mini expansion Days of Wonder released this fall, so I have to see them in action anyway.
Niagara – Rating 7
Beautiful production and innovative mechanic novelty that ties into the game play seamlessly (except for the occasional disk jam at the fork in the river). I enjoyed the race to be the first to fulfill the set collection requirements and the strategic decision making over which river movement tile to play and anticipating your opponents decisions. I’d play this more if I owned it (well, actually maybe not, as I already own far more than we can play.)
RoboRally – Rating 7
I found this to be surprisingly fun in my one play with the WAGS in Toronto. Hopefully I'll get another chance to play on another trip. The chaos of actions and randomness of card draws are certainly evident, but taken as a given component of the game they are acceptable. I approached it as a fun diversion and not as a mind bender and that is what it turns out to be, so my expectations were met. Sure a player can strategize and the better tactical decisions will contribute to determining the winner, but I think the chaos and randomness are an equal contributing factor.
Saturn – Rating 6
A very interesting balancing game in which the rings of Saturn all pivot about different axes and your goal is to place variously weighted balls on the rings without causing the rings to touch the table. This was a surprise find at BGG.CON but at the prices I've seen it selling for on EBay or the Geek, I don't think I'll be picking this one up.
Seafarers of Catan – Provisional Rating 6
After my first playing I surprisingly find myself in the camp that finds that the Seafarers expansion doesn’t add anything significant to the game-play other than time. I’ll try it again with 4 players to see if I change my mind, but if not, will likely only play with the base game. We haven’t overplayed the base game to the point we need all the variant setups provided with Seafarers, but if we ever get there I’ll be glad to have more avenues to explore.
Settlers of Catan – Rating 8
All together we had three playings this year in different formats. The base game remains my favorite as it feels the most efficient – an optimization of playing time, players, and game interest. Sure there are wild swings of the die results in any given game, where one number seems favored over all others, but the favorite number seems to change from game to game. It would be interesting to track an note how those trends shift, but would also be a bit too much work and a rather pointless proof of the bell curve results or (less likely) substantiate that the dice are indeed manufacturing defects impartially loaded to favor certain results.
Settlers of Catan, with the 5-6 Player Expansion - Rating 7
After reading how the 5-6 player expansion just too much length to the game and that later players can have a tough time making viable initial starting settlement location selections I wasn’t optimistic. Surprisingly, my one playing with 6 went fast and was very tight from the start. I would gladly play again with the expansion, but do prefer the optimization of the 4 player game more.
Shadows over Camelot – Rating 5
I just didn’t care for this one. I never felt immersed in the theme. Rather it felt more like a set collection exercise by committee.
Snake Pit – Rating 6
James and I played this free print and play game I found on the Geek. It’s fast, yet moderately interesting…just enough so that I’m glad I printed it and took the time to make a set, yet not one that will ever see a lot of play.
St. Petersburg – Rating 7
After receiving the IGA game of the year award I decided ignore the concerns being voiced on Spielfrieks and the Geek and to go ahead pick this one up. In our one game (four players) we stacked the deck to ensure the strong aristocrats didn’t come out too early. Gameplay was tight and quite interesting. I like what’s going on here. We should play more.
Sunda to Sahul – Raing 5
Our games always tend to break down into just being a puzzle exercise just for the fun of it rather than the game they start out as. I guess we just find it more enjoyable to build the island maps than to deal with the little token pieces, no matter what our intentions are at the start.
Traders of Genoa - Rating 8
One play with the WAGS group which dispelled the myths swirling around this title over on the Geek (well for me at least it did) We played a 5 player game in a couple hours tops and even had time for Pirates Cove too. The negotiations were not open ended affairs, turns passed quickly, and the game was very tight. I was so impressed that I immediately ordered a copy for myself (mind you it is still sitting in shrink as I type… I resolve to amend that this year.)
TransAmerica Rting - 6
I’m surprised I only played this once in 2005. I think this just slipped off the radar as a good introductory opener for when non-gamers want to play a game. Having written this up, I imagine I will remember to pull this title out for just such occasions more often. Game play is very simple and luck of the draw plays a significant role in the outcome, yet over a series of plays the superior planner/opportunist tends to come out on top.
Tsuro – Rating 6
James and I played this once at a GameGathering this fall. It was an interesting game of trying to outlast your opponent that plays fast enough it could provide some schoolnight entertainment just before bedtime, if I ever pick up a copy. I like to try it with more players to see how it scales (I fear quite a bit of control will be lost). I loved the playing pieces which have a beautiful molded contour to them that is very appropriate for the theming of the game. the board and tiles are beautiful too, though I prefer the linen finish of Euro printed games to the gloss finish of the tiles here.
Tutankhamen – Rating 6
This is an Egyptian themed set collection taking place along a path, which sounds like the offspring of a pairing of Ra and Cartagena. There is actually a bit of thinking required in this one as movement on the path is one way only and players must decide whether to race ahead to get a desired tile and subsequently pass on all the intervening tiles. Play’s fast too, but for some reason didn’t grab me.
Union Pacific - Rating 7
We played a 6 player game early this year. This was more of an introductory game with some of our friends who were just getting their feet wet on some of the more ‘meaty’ Euros (as compared to TransAmerica or Ticket To Ride). My previous plays have been using Dave Arnott’s two player variant. This year’s game featured some very closely spaced scoring rounds which made for a wild swing in the final scores. I think we will play future games using some of the suggested variants regarding the positioning of the scoring cards in the deck.
Wallenstein – Preliminary Rating 8
For me the highpoint of the game is its action allocation system, simply brilliant. Anyone know if this is used anywhere else? I’m less taken with the tower, but it does work beautifully for battle resolution. I am very interested in picking up the new reprinting/retheming Shogun when it is released and look forward to getting in some future plays.
Werewolf – Ratng 6
Maria really enjoyed playing this at BGG.CON. I only participated in one game, but she was in for one or two more. We have since picked up the Asmodee deck in hopes of playing on some of our group camping trips. Should prove to be good fun by firelight if we can convince enough of the others to join in.
What a huge task to summarize a year's worth of playing games! You did a great job and I quite enjoyed reading it.
I find it interesting how closely our tastes seem to match... (not that WAGS opinions are terribly far off, but on points of dissagreement yours and mine are closer)
Arkham Horror. They love it, I don't.
Shadows over Camelot: They love it. I like it.
Ra is my favorite game, you currently list it as yous as well.
I think it boild down to a "theme vs mechanics" mentality. Where they tend to side on theme, I need to find satisfaction in the game system as well.
There is one notable exception... Duel of Ages.
That's a game with a mediocre system from which I somehow derive much enjoyment. I don't have any any other games which offer so much variety and freedom of actions... very interesting/ memorable situations can and do happen. It's quite possible that another game will come along and do it better (in which case DoA would instantly get knocked off my top 10 and into oblivion! It's there because it occupies a niche, not strictly due to the quality of the game)
Anyway, it's been a pleasure having you at WAGS and we look forward to seeing you more often in 2006.
Sunday, November 27
Game Night: Saturday, November 26
While waiting for David to arrive, the rest of us sat down for a game of Diamant, which is fast becoming our new favorite introductory family game. Everyone caught on quickly; it's such a simple game. Reanna had played before and has declared Diamant to be her new favorite game, which persuaded Evan to reluctantly join in. She and Reanna, both 7, teamed up and played as one for our game. They made good calls in the first two mines getting out solo and cleaning up the gems on the way out. This gave them a comfortable lead and allowed them to play conservatively for the remaining mines. By the end of the third mine all of us had banked some gems, but things didn't look too good for me as I was far behind the pack. In the fourth mine everyone bailed early except Victoria, who held out for more and got a few more before getting nervous and fleeing with her cache. We all roared when we flipped what would have been her next card. It was a 13. In the last mine the roles reversed and it was I who stayed the course and did some solo collecting. I needed to stay in until I got something big. I was up against 3 exposed dangers but made it out, fleeing after revealing 3 additional cards 2 of which were low gem values. The last was a 13 and enough for the win. Had Victoria stayed the course for one more card in mine 4 she would have taken top honors. Lucky me. Everyone loved it and wanted to play again (even Evan who was reluctant at the start). Too bad this is only available as an import only item, though it seems to be widely available in the US. I've seen it domestically at Boards&Bits, Boulder Games, Funagain, and GameSurplus. It's certainly worth picking up.
Since David had just arrived we decided to move onto something a little more substantial for the four adults and the kids ran off to entertain themselves. After our game of Atlantic Star of a few weeks ago, Maria thought David and Victoria would love Ra, so this was my natural choice for our first meatier game for the evening. After getting through the rules, the first few turns were filled with some uncertainty in determining when to call Ra and then how to evaluate the relative value of the set at auction. This was quickly established after the first few bids. David decided he had overpaid for his first two sets and played more conservatively with his last sun tile. Epochs one and two ended with one player playing chicken with the Ra tile track. In the first epoch it was David who abandoned his conservative play to add a few more tiles to the set before cashing in (his timing was perfect as in trial test of fate David pulled one more tile from the bag which turned out to be a Ra tile. We quickly returned that tile to the bag and continued.) The second epoch found the daring Victoria in the same situation. As the tile set filled a few disasters crept in and poisoned the developing set. To everyone's disbelief Victoria took the big risk and cleared the set and started rebuilding. Surprisingly she managed to assemble a pretty desirable row of tiles before cashing in. That left Maria and I up against the wall for the third epoch. We both ended up getting caught short together but as a consolation avoided having the lowest sun tile sum (that honor went to David). In the end though, David's playing style was just right for the win, which was achieved from a substantial set of monuments and a set of 3 civ tiles.
Since the auction style of Ra went over so well Maria suggested that we continue in that vein with another Knizia title, Traumfabrik. Maria and I had just played Traumfabrik last weekend with Rogan and Sue so I was able to explain it quickly with only minor references to the rules. This playing was to be a 5 player outing as the filmmaking duo, James and Jasper, rejoined the table. The first quarter passed without any films reaching completion. This made for some fairly active movie making in the later quarters. Yet, Victoria and the young duo seemed to struggle throughout the year. James and Jasper at times disagreed about whether to up the bid or pass. I think the partnership resulted in them pursuing a bit of a muddled strategy on their part. Victoria missed a key auction for her and seemed to struggle to regroup. Always behind in hiring stars, she also always got the last choice at the parties. In the end she completed four films, but received no critical acclaim. In contrast, Maria focused on quality productions, producing a mere 2 films, one of which was 'Gone with the Wind' which garnered her much success. With it she completed the first entertainment production, which came surprisingly late in the game, the best film of the third quarter and the best entertainment production at year's end -- quite a sweep for one film. Like Victoria, I produced three films, one of which was the first adventure production and in the end the best of its genre. James and Jasper produced only three films yet were able to secure both the worst film award and best direction -- quite a. Unique combination. They did this with two top directors producing their better works and one marginal director for their camp adventure film. David succeeded in producing a whopping 5 films. He also garnered several awards along the way: first drama, best drama, and best film of the second quarter. David seemed to use a patient strategy of waiting for the exact auction combinations and then paying whatever it took to get them. This paid off for him as the desirable auctions were spaced such that he could regroup between active bid sessions. In the end scores were David 69, Jeff 60, Maria 48, Victoria 38, James and Jasper 36.
It was late but given the high energy level in the room following the conclusion of Traumfabrik, I quickly grabbed Taboo as our closer for the evening. We formed husband/wife teams plus the 2 camp filmmakers continued their partnership for one more game. We would be playing with the Left Coast Gamers modified rules set (2 points for correct responses, -1 for passing or word violations. Points only to the active team. I'll have to confirm with Jonathan that I've got that correct.)Jasper and James started off, with Jasper giving the clues. They had a respectable start, getting through 2 cards successfully. David and Victoria then showed how it was done getting 4 correct with no missteps. Maria then struggled through our turn getting one correct but then following it up with 2 violations for a net of zero. James then followed in mother's footsteps and ended with a -1 score. We ended up playing two full rounds and ended with the final scores of J/M: 20, D/V: 16, J/J: 3. James and Jasper had a couple of tough rounds which hurt them significantly. Next time we'll incorporate the boys into our teams and play with two teams of three. Taboo is a great game to get them thinking on their feet to use their vocabularies creatively and to open themselves to their stream of conscious thinking to just let it all out quickly.
We called the game at that point as it was far later than we had originally planned to play (that seems to happen every time…we just can’t stop). We had a great evening together and look forward to getting together for another game night soon!
Saturday, November 26
Post-CON catchup report
James was very interested to see what we brought back with us from Dallas. At one of the recent SoCalGamesDays he and I had started (almost) playing Attika, but only made it so far as to get through all the rules and be ready to go before James’s eye was caught by Mark Johnson's son, Sam, setting up the StarWars Attacktics miniatures which brought our game to a screeching halt. We never did get back to Attika that day, but James noted on the way home that he still wanted to try it, so upon seeing it a the CON flea market, I picked it up. James was excited to see me pull it out of my bag when we got home and unpacked and eagerly asked to play the first night he didn’t have homework. We got in a quick game which I ended up winning by building all my buildings. I got lucky on a couple of my draw sequences and crowded James out of some of the territory he was saving around his city tile. James is studying ancient Greece in school right now so he enjoyed the theme more in this playing than the first time I explained the rules to him. He wants a rematch.
My rating: 7 (with two players)
We also walked through a game of Land Unter, just the two of us, with a dummy had for the third player. We only played one hand and James won. I came in third, behind the dummy. Humbling. In Land Unter (aka Turn the Tide) each player gets a hand of 12 cards which have values from 1 to 60 and a rating of 0, 1/2 , or 1 life preservers (difficulty rating. The mid value cards (mid 20s to mid 30s) have full life preservers, the next +/- 10 cards higher and lower have ½ life preserver, and the highest and lowest cards have no life preservers). Each player then gets one life preserver card for each full life preserver from the sum of their hand. There is a second deck of 24 flood-level cards which has cards numbered from 1 to 12 (twice) which are shuffled and two cards are turned face-up. Players then simultaneously play a card from their hand with the player playing the highest card taking the lowest of the 2 face up flood-level cards and the next highest player takes the other card. Then the player with the highest valued floor-level card loses one life preserver card from their stock. Players each set aside the cards played from their hand in individual discard piles. Also, players retain their collected flood-level cards in personal piles so the top card is showing for each player, because in future rounds their card may still be the highest and they would then lose another life preserver. Play continues with 2 new water level cards being turned over and each player simultaneously playing a card from their hand and collecting flood-level cards for highest and second highest value played, then the player with the highest flood-level card showing discards a life preserver. If a player is forced to turn over a life preserver but has none left, they have gone bust and are temporarily out of the game. That player turns over their cards and the new highest flood-level card owner loses a life preserver. This continues until either all 12 hands are played or only two players are left in the game. At this point each player receives one point for each remaining life preserver and eliminated players get –1 point plus the player with the lowest flood level card face up gets a bonus point (both players get the bonus if tied). Players then pass their hand of 12 cards plus their respective life preservers to the player to the left and the game repeats itself until each player has had a turn playing each hand. Whoever plays the collective hands the most effectively is the winner. Now, our play hardly constituted a playing of the game but it allowed us to see how things played out and made us eager to get a real game of it going soon. The aspect of the game which led me to purchase it was the fact that each player played the same hands throughout the course of the game. This seemed like an interesting approach to add information to the game as it progresses and players learn the contents of the other hands through repetition. It seems that this would fill later hands with strategic guessing and second guessing what others would play. I wanted the German version because of the artwork, which I find rather humorous. I’ll report back once we have played a few times and I can comment on how my expectations were met/dashed.
James and I went to the local GamesGathering in La Cañada on the weekend of the 12th. We only attended for the afternoon, yet still got in a number of shorter games. We started with Carcassonne: The City. Now James isn’t a big fan of the Carcassonne series (his favorite it H&G) but he was willing to give it a shot anyway. In comparison to the game Maria and I played earlier, the walls were more contested, with James setting up some scoring sequences which netted him some big points. I ended up with the lead due to the (farmer equivalent ?) scoring at the end of the game. I’m still not impressed enough with this one to pick it up though I want to find what others see in it. If given the chance I’ll play a few more times before passing completely.
Next up we grabbed a copy of Tsuro, which has impressive component artwork. The player pawns are quite nice too (even if they are plastic, they are well formed with an ergonomic tactility about them. The game feels much like Metro, in that you are playing tiles that form movement networks and are trying to be the last man standing on the board by driving your opponents off the edges. Gameplay is simple: draw a tile, select a tile from your hand of 3 and play it to the space ahead of your own pawn, move all pawns to the end of their paths. The rules about the dragon card were very confusing (There are clarifications on the Geek) so I just skipped over them as from what I could gather they weren’t going to apply to a two player game. The decision to be made each turn is rather simple (‘which tile will keep me the most alive’) and is repeated each turn. That said the simplicity of the game is nice for a lighter game, though not one I’d want to play regularly. I got myself worked into a corner late in the game and found myself with no options other than crash and burn. James outlasted me for the win.
We then joined Mark Johnson for a game of the original Entdecker, which I commented on earlier during my BBG.CON blog report. James certainly enjoys this title. I’ve had my eye out for a copy of the original but haven’t purchased yet. During our game, the winner of the Saint Petersburg tournament was announced and was followed by a prize drawing. These GamesGatherings have the best odds for prize draws, it’s great. There were approximately 30 attendees at the event at the time of the drawing with 5 prizes to choose from: Descent: the Dark Ages, Ra, Diamant, Einfach Genial, and Parthenon. When we walked in I spied the table and thought I wouldn’t mind picking up either Diamant or Parthenon, both of which I knew James would like and Reanna would likely go for Diamant. Well, it turns out I was the last lucky winner and Diamant was left just for me. Lucky Day!
James was then eager to get a game of his current favorite Evo onto the table. We found two willing opponents to join in and after a brief explanation of the rules we were off. While, Evo has a theme of dinosaur evolution and migration, the mechanics of the game make it a fairly dry area majority game for some. James however fully enjoys the theme and has developed a winning strategy with this one. His aggressive bidding seems reckless at times, but since he is undefeated, on can hardly challenge his approach, which is partial to the development of horns, feet and egg laying. In the final turn of our game, one of our opponents played an action card that precluded the play of any further action cards that round. I had an action card that granted me two additional mutation (victory) points at the end of the game. We decided since my opponent precluded the playing of any further action cards that round, that I couldn’t play my card, which snatched a come from behind victory from my grasp.
My rating: 7
We finished our day with a game of San Juan. One of our opponents went for the church early and consistently stashed cards into the church for points, The other was clearly going for the Guild Hall, (and did build it in the end) with lots of production buildings giving him the clear win. James got shut out of the big buildings but still scored well, surpassing me in last place. I built the library early and was hoping for better than last with it, but could only come up with the triumphal arch and then only had one statue to support its score. My worst showing in San Juan, but still fun. Scores were 24, 28. 30. 36.
My rating: 8 (still a favorite, despite my play)
Once we got home I opened up Diamant and retrieved the rules from The BoardGameGeek, as the supplied rules are in French German and Italian, but not English (I wonder if this was intentionally done in hopes of selling English distribution rights later?).
Diamnat is a simple, press your luck game in the vein of Can’t Stop and is a big hit with Reanna. Players represent miners collecting gems from 5 different mines. All the miners head into the mine together and work cooperatively to collect gems, dividing them equally among all present and leaving any extra on the ground. Ocassionally dangers are encountered which may stir fear in some of the miners who may opt to escape from the mine (and thoughtfully pick up the gems left behind on the way out) rather than continue mining in the increasingly dangerous conditions. As soon as a single danger strikes twice, all remaining miners are incapacitated and unable to escape the mine with their loot. Only those that sensibly left earlier have anything to show for their days work. After the fifth mine collected gems are tallied and the winner determned. Since winning my copy, this has been the most played game in our home, especially because it is so quick, which means we can get a game or two in on school nights after dinner.
At the beginning of the game, each player is given a mine cart and a wooden miner. The cart is assembled out of very thick cardboard with graphics that make me think of early California orange crates more than mine carts.(The slightly oversized box leaves room for the carts to remain assembled after play.) The deck of cards consists of cards numbered between 1 and 17 (with at least 11 repeated twice. I’ll have to look closer at the rest of the card distribution) and also includes a number of mine disasters (3 of each of 5 types: scorpions, snakes, rock slide, explosion, and poison gas). The numbered cards represent the number of gems discovered in the mine at that location. The deck is shuffled thoroughly and placed face down on the table. Each turn the top card is turned face up and if it is a number card, gems are distributed equally among all players with the remainder being left on the card. Players then simultaneously vote whether they are staying in the mine or running out by a closed fist vote: if the player’s hand contains their miner they are continuing on, it empty they opt to flee to see another day. The fleeing players get to keep all the gems that have been given to them through earlier divisions of the stake, plus these players equally divide amongst themselves and keep any gems picked up on the way out (if only one player flees, they get all the gems to themselves). The other players gems remain outside of their cart and are only added to their cart once they too opt to flee. Fleeing players are out for the remainder of the current mine. The remaining players await the risks of the next card, which is flipped over, either revealing a danger of more gems. The alternating voting then flipping continues until either all miners have fled the mine or two matching dangers are revealed (in which case the remaining players are trapped and lose their loot). Each mine is played out in a similar manner and at the end the winner is the player that has banked the most gems.
Sometimes it is surprising how fast those dangers stack up. In about half our games it seems we have one mine that closes out without revealing any gem cards. The odds seem against this happening though others I am sure are better poised to explain otherwise. Equally surprising are the mines that seem to go on forever. These wild swings of possibilities make for all the momentary angst in deciding ‘should I stay or should I go now.’ True it is very light angst, but fun none the less, especially for my kids, which makes it all the more fun for me!
My Rating: 8, a great filler that even plays great with the kids.
In my next post, I’ll expand upon our recent game session with Rogan and Sue, in which I got caught in a surprise ending at Power Grid and Reanna showed us she could hold her own in Traumfabrik.
Tuesday, November 22
BoardGameGeek.CON: Day 4,Sunday
As the event wound down to it’s final hours we had one game that we had not yet played which I really wanted to try to squeeze in. This was Indonesia. With time running short, I doubted that we would get a full game in and so Maria and I sat down resolved to give a two-player game our best effort. No sooner had we opened the box than Troy (from Australia with whom we had played Kaivai earlier in the week) and Ed (from Oklahoma) joined us at the table. We explained our situation, we had to pack it in by 2:30 to catch a shuttle to the airport and thus were up against a real deadline and the likelihood of not finishing. Both were fine with that and were equally eager to get the game on the table to see how it ticked. I had just started to explain what I knew of the game, from having read the rules previous to arriving at the CON, when Derk came by and volunteered his services as a ‘splainer. Having read a session report of a game that he had participated in, I had the comfort of knowing that he knew his stuff this time. Derk more than made good on his previous explanation efforts (see Kaivai). And so we were soon off and playing. We completed 2/3 of the game, going through the ‘A’ and ‘B’ card sets before time was called, but not by us. The Game Library was packing up and needed our copy. We were minutes from having to call the game ourselves and were at a natural break in the game so it worked out perfectly. We all had a good sense of the mechanics and got our feet wet with thoughts about how things would play out. Maria was enthusiastic enough about it to request that we get a copy, even after I explained how it was an expensive limited print run game available only from German retailers (so how could I turn her down…).
Speaking from my half-played-game experience, the game itself feels like a crossbreeding of a pick-up-and-deliver type train game with the company merging aspects of Acquire resulting in an interesting economic hybrid. Players represent the controlling interests in production and shipping corporations. Production companies earn income through the selling of goods produced to the various cities located on the board. The shipping companies earn their income from the production companies, which must pay for the transportation of their goods to market. Further profits can be realized through the timely sales of corporations through mergers of similar corporations. In our game Edward made a timely merger between two shipping companies to virtually corner the shipping trade and was beginning to reap significant financial rewards from his empire just as time was called. With that we had an inkling of what was under the hood. And things looked pretty good.
Maria and I both shared initial positive reactions to the games components; the board and the pieces themselves are beautifully printed and similarly toned in an aged washed-out color scheme that works well together…except for the boats which are red blue and yellow and feel like a real mismatch with the rest of the components (another opportunity for custom components. I could easily see that my cutting new boats out of different naturally finished tropical woods would provide a real enhancement to maintaining the design concept lost with the original bits). But once one gets past the initial impressions and begins to play some of the subtlety of the board’s markings becomes a bit detrimental. The boundaries of different regions are somewhat difficult to discern and could have been slightly heavier without detracting from the overall imagery. There is also one area where the exact extents of the sea boundaries near Bali are rather ambiguous (which Mikko Sari has mentioned in one of his blog posts and for which the Splotter guys later provide the clarification that the seas are indeed separate, so we played that wrong...). I found these boundary identifications to be the most problematic. The problem also made landfall and manifested itself in the way the card distribution data created legibility issues with some of the internal region boundaries. Less of an issue for me was the script font used for all of the location names. The names were less critical to game play and so the legibility issues for reading names upside down could be overlooked a bit on the grounds of thematic development. However, in that case, the graphic key for locating the regions on the city placement cards are more critical and they are hurt a bit by their size. in spite of all these comments the game remained very playable, but did leave itself room for improvement. I could see that some real effort went into the graphic production, but it looks like the final product was rushed to print in the end before the final stages of quality control could be implemented.
On the cab ride to the airport, which we shared with Matthew Monin (Octavian), Maria and I noted how many games seem to trip at the finish line with less than stellar graphical implementations. Maria noted that Edward Tufte should be required reading for any illustrators working to convey complex information. As Tufte says in the Visual Display of Quantitative Information: "Above all else show the data." If you are at all interested in the graphic presentation of information (which is one of the fundamental functions of a game's board) then I recommend seeking out Tufte.
My Final Thoughts on the CON:
Maria seemed a bit aprehensive about coming to the CON at first and I was initially surprised when she said she wanted to come along. (She had never expressed interest in coming to our local SoCalGamesDay events so I didn't anticipate her interest in flying all the way to Dallas for a similar event that would last for 4 days.)I'm glad she came. The event really opened her eyes to the full spectrum of games (and gamers) out there and seemed to expand her enjoyment of them (both, games and gamers). The real enjoyment for us was having the time to spend together (It was almost our anniversary after all) and to meet such great new people with a shared interest in gaming. There were lots of other people that I wish I had taken the time and inititive to stop and talk to. I never did get to a game of Neuland with Chris Bailey like I had hoped to (let alone meet him. Sorry, Chris!). On the whole we didn't have too much difficulty starting up games we wanted to play, but did have the advantage of being two players for some games by ourselves. I like the open gaming arrangement more than scheduled gaming or tournaments, and find the idea floated elsewhere of having 'players needed' flags an interesting one worth considering. All told Derk and Aldie and their committed volunteers did an excellent job of creating a welcoming environment for us all to feel at home in and in whiich we could enjoy each other's company. And for that I offer my personal thanks.
And as a final seal of approval, Maria has already announced to everyone that we will be back next year. (What can I say other than 'See you next year!')
Monday, November 21
BoardGameGeek.CON: Day 3, Saturday
On Saturday Maria and I sat down and played the Leo Colvini game Carolus Magnus. This is a game which I had been curious about for some time. My initial interest derived from seeing some of the images of the game on BGG, which really caught my eye, particularly the tiles which form the board. I had almost purchased it multiple times, either on the BGG Marketplace or at my FLGS. Finally, after Jon Grimm sang its praises the evening before, I decided we had to try it out and as we seemed to share similar tastes in games, I figured it was going to be enjoyable.
Needless to say, it did not disappoint. Sure, it is a bit abstract, but that doesn't bother me (or Maria, as she in particular really liked it).
After reading through the rules, which are quite straightforward and provide a couple of excellent examples to illustrate some of the strategic depth involved in some of the cube placement decisions, Maria and I played a two-player game. The game’s components consist of a set of 15 multi-hex based tiles which are laid out in a circle (each tile represents a region within a Kingdom), a bunch of colored cubes which represent both paladins and the amount of influence exerted over them, sets of towers (1 set for each player), and a piece to denote the Emperor. The game involves bidding for turn order with a chip numbered from 1-5, which is also the player’s movement allowance for the turn. The low bid player takes their turn first and places 3 cubes either to their influence track, which tracks who has the majority influence (and thus control) over each cube color, or add them to one of the tile regions to influence the level of control that cube color has within the region. Influence control is tracked on each players influence track. The player with the most influence cubes in each color indicates control in that color by adding the cylinder of that color to their track. To steal the influence marker from an opponent one must establish a majority in that color (the cylinder remains with the current player in tie conditions). Once any changes in influence have been made, the player moves the Emperor and checks for control of the region with the Emperor. When the Emperor stops on a tile the player who controls influence over the most paladin cubes (as tracked by the influence track) secures control of the region and adds a tower in their color to the region. If the same player controls adjacent regions, they are combined to form a single region. Towers are also counted when assessing controlling influence within a region. Finally, the player rolls a set of special dice to determine the 3 cubes available for their next turn. This process continues until one player builds 10 of their towers or there are 4 or fewer regions remaining.
We enjoyed the blend of offensive and defensive plays, defending territories by increasing your influence in a color and offensively playing to the tiles to take over regions. Rules are also provided for 3 and 4 player versions of the game, which are noted as being more complex. We are anxious to pick this one up and try them soon. This also makes me anxious to break open another Colvini, the copy of Bridges of Shangri-La sitting unplayed on my shelf.
My Rating: 8
A fellow gamer had brought his personal copy of Saturn to the event and left it set it up on the table as he played something else. As we were packing up Carolus Magnus Nate Sandall was just sitting down with a friend to give it a try and invited us to join in. (The photo to the right is one of his, which I found here.) Saturn is a simple physics lesson in the form of a dexterity game. The ‘board’ is a series on balanced rings which each balance on the ring on the next inner ring (or in the case of the innermost ring, on the yellow sphere). The axis of the balancing point for each ring is rotated out of alignment with the other rings creating a series of nested axial rotations, all of which come into play when one tries to place one of their spheres onto the rings and not have any portion of any of the nested rings touch the table. The spheres come is 3 weights each worth 1, 2 or 3 points (1 for the lightest and 3 for the heaviest) and a successful placement on a ring is worth the sphere value multiplied by the ring value of 1, 2 or 3 (1 for the innermost and 3 for the outermost) for a potential score of between 1 and 9 points per sphere. Needless to say the heavy spheres were very difficult (maybe impossible) to place on the outer ring. A couple of us waited too long to being placing the heavier spheres (in my case I was waiting for more counterbalance weight to be added in hopes of a mid or outer ring placement that never materialized for the number of spheres I was holding back). Eventually everyone but Nate was left with impossible plays due to the weight of their leftover spheres and he got to continue placing a couple more spheres before he too could play no more. However, Maria succeeded in getting several of her large spheres on the mid ring which proved to provide enough scoring advantage for the win. I found the game very intriguing and would certainly enjoy playing more, but don’t see it as something that I would want to play regularly. Looking at the prices on the BGG Marketplace, I doubt I’ll be playing it again soon anyway. It commands a pretty penny.
Elasund: The First City of Catan:
We spied Jon Grimm at the next table starting to set up Elasund and quickly jumped tables to join in. Also at the table was John Gravitt, with whom we had played Caylus the night before. Elasund is the new game by Klaus Teuber and is the latest in the Catan empire. Jon had just finished a game with Ed and Susan Rozmiarek and Mark Johnson and was eager to play again (a very good sign). He quickly explained the rules which all seemed quite clear (however there was one which I seem to have misheard, but that had no impact on the game. It dealt with the ability to build over the large buildings. I mistakenly thought they were protected and that is not the case). Elasund’s theme is about the building of the first city of Catan and is played on a gridded board with 11 columns (for the familiar, 2-12 outcome potentials on the roll of two dice) some surrounding wall spaces and a windmill track for tracking the collection of building bonuses for building on certain spaces on the board. Players collect gold and influence cards (in three colors) based on dice rolls matching column locations in which they have buildings built (each player starts with two initial buildings). To build additional buildings players must purchase and place building permits and then on a subsequent turn must pay the building cost for the desired building. The buildings will provide the owner with either gold or influence cards when a dice roll align with one of the columns the building was built in. Each building also counts as a victory point cube toward the ten points needed to win. The Catan ‘robber’ makes an appearance as a ‘pirate’ who, on the roll of a 7, visits one column as decided by the rolling player, and each player with a building in that column loses one of the resource their building produces (influence or gold). If the rolling player has built a wall segment that includes a soldier they then get one of the discarded cards (selected randomly). There are also special spaces on the board marked by a windmill symbol. Building on these spaces earns the building player a bonus point along the bonus point track, with every third point being worth an additional victory point. Finally there is a special building, the church, which is composed of 9 individual tile segments which when fully built forms an image of one church. These tiles can be build without a permit but cost more, can overbuild other buildings of any size, and cannot themselves be overbuilt. The first tile built has a fixed starting point but the tile placed there is selected from two possible tiles by the first person to build a church tile. The selected tile will then determine the direction of growth and position of all other future church tiles, which are played in their appropriate position relative to that first starting tile based on the overall image. The game can be a bit nasty, as players can use other players building permits and can build over other players buildings, causing them to lose victory points. On this level Elasund reminds me very much of Domaine, which happens to share a similar gridded board format as well. The positioning of the church seemed important to me so this was one of the first things that I did, and positioned it to be a threat to two others (Jon and Maria) and safe from my buildings. the church threat never materialized as this was the only piece of the church built in our game, but I could see it wreaking havoc in the center region of the board. As the game evolved I fell into an influence card heavy stragtegy which allowed me to turn in card sets for additional gold, which allowed me to build faster than the others. There were plenty of nervous moments when I had to build defensively or upgrade permits to prevent others from building over my buildings. It all felt great and I am really looking forward to playing again. This was probably my favorite of the CON.
My Rating: 8
Next, Jon was joining Ed Rozmiarek and his fellow gamers from ‘The Ranch’ for a game of Kreta. Lucky for me, one was mysteriously absent (through no foul play on my part, honest!) and I was able to join in. Kreta is a Stephan Dora title which combines a number a different mechanics to produce a great game that is right up my alley. Others have criticized it for being too derivative, as it is an amalgamation of other tried and true mechanics, but I found Kreta to be greater than the sum of its parts. Kreta takes an area majority game foundation and adds a hand management of variable card powers mechanic and set collection to the mix. Players play cards from a fixed hand set to add tokens to the board in advance of the scoring of different regions on the board. The players hands are not reset until one player plays the card which instigates scoring of a region. the scored region is determined by a row of face-down cards in which two cards are face-up (so you know the region scoring now, and the next region to score) As regions score the initiating player turns over the next card in line and decides whether to keep it or replace it with one from a face-down stock pile. Each of the tokens have special attributes associated with them (Forts are fixed in location and are played at the intersections of regions and count for scoring in each region; villages count as two points in the region they are built but only one can be built for each agricultural tile harvested; villagers count as one point and can harvest an agricultural tile if they are placed in a chain of adjacent regions forming a chain from the region with the tile and ending in a boat; boats count for scoring if present in the region’s harbor, and abbots restrict other player placement into a region unless their abbot is present. Additionally, a couple of the pieces are mobile and can move across the board upon playing of their card. The villagers (5 per player) can move a total of four spaces, the abbots (1 per player) can move three spaces, the ships (2 per player) can sail to any port in which there is space (The buildings, being buildings, are fixed and do not move). All of these actions allow for some strategic play in assembling sequences of moves. Players also need to be aware of the scoring sequence for regions and not commit too heavily to one side of the board as future scoring regions may be at the opposite end of the island. Some have raised this point as an issue for criticism. I agree that it does introduce a fair amount of luck into the game but I see it as something that can be somewhat mitigated by balancing commitments across the island so as to maintain tactical ability across the region,. As I mentioned, I really enjoyed the thinking this one induced. Unfortunately, it is only available as an import as no domestic publisher has picked it up. It is high on my list for a future Adam-Spielt order. (note the photo with me in it is from Ed and the 'Game Ranch')
My Rating: 8
While I was playing Kreta, Maria joined a game of Medina. Her game was still going so I wandered around a bit and found a group sitting down to play Ubongo, a speed version of Tangrams played with Tetris-like playing pieces. With identical tiles, players try to fit a predetermined subset of tiles into a fixed shape shown on a playing mat. The first to finish within the prescribed time gets to select a gem from one of the columns of available gems on the gem ‘market’ board. Play continues through a series of cards (about 9 cards or so) and the winner is the individual with the most gems in one color or if tied the most in the second most color and so on. (most most as opposed to the most least of E&T.) Being a visual person, I found that I was quite quick at the puzzles. Occasionally I ran across a puzzle I couldn’t solve only to discover that I had assembled the wrong tile set to work with. The scoring seems a bit disconnected with the rest of the game but it probably serves as a balancing mechanism to level the playing field a bit for those less visually inclined (though I doubt its success at that). Ubongo seems like it would suffer from varying ability levels among the players (a problem I suspect would be common for speed games like Turbo Taxi, another one which I am curious about but haven’t seen yet.)It seems that it would be good for a quick filler or a change of pace. I played it three times in a row and was done with it for the CON by the end, though would play again.
My Rating: 6
We then headed off to dinner with Anise and her husband Jason and some of their fellow gaming friends at the Irish place, which had come justifiably recommended by Derk and Aldie. We rode the DART train a couple stops to get to the pub. While on the train we were talking about some of the games we had played and piqued the curiosity of a fellow passenger who asked what we were talking about. The poor guy was then set upon by a pack of rabid evangelicals eagerly trying to explain what these games are all about and how they differ from Monopoly or Risk before we reached our destination. As luck would have it he got off at the same station as we did so we could continue our ‘sermon’. I gave him a short list of websites to visit such as the Geek and some online retailers as well as a recommendation that he pick up Ticket To Ride as an introduction to what we were talking about. The locals with us suggested a store in a nearby mall that carried some Eurogames. There was an Irish band playing at the pub and the food was quite delicious, but I was eager to get back.
Upon returning we played a near complete game of Igel Ärgern, which I had read about but never seen (We stopped the game early as Anise had previously committed to join her first game of Werewolf which was starting.) We played enough to get a good sense of the ebb and flow of the game and to get the feeling that it would be worth picking up if I run across it somewhere. More than a single game, Igel Ärgern is apparently the framework for many games and variants. The playing board is a grid of boxes with the two end rows numbered with 1 to 5 pips and some of the mid-board boxes colored black. In our four player game players started, 2 on each end, and were racing individually to the opposite side of the board. Movement was determined somewhat by the roll of the die, as the roll determined in which column the forward movement would take place. Before moving forward the player has the option of moving sideways from one of the adjacent rows (with the edge rows 1 and 5 also being considered adjacent). Pieces can also be stacked and only the top piece is available for movement, thus it is advantageous to bury your opponents. On a roll of 6, the player can move all the top pieces in the direction of their movement (towards the current player’s finish line) which creates the sense of ebb and flow in the game as pieces move back and forth across the mid section of the board. The winner is the first player to get two pieces across the finish line, I enjoyed the small puzzle-like aspect of each turn and could see how decisions made on one turn carried over to the next, suggesting the ability to have some limited multi turn ambitions (albeit, constrained by the die rolls). Many people comment about how their kids love this game and I can understand why; the basic mechanics are simple to understand, the goal is clear and the movements sequences can be fun to optimize while remaining rather simple to analyze.
My Rating: 6
Euphrat & Tigris: The Card Game:
It was now past midnight and we were both tired from the past marathon days of gaming, but it was hard to stop and just go to bed. I wanted to try the E&T card game and remembered the basics of play from the board game but had a bit of difficulty explaining those concepts back to Maria who didn’t remember our previous experience too clearly. As we set up the cards, I was surprised with how much room the game was going to take up. It seemed like it was more space than the board game required, as it was a tight fit across the width of the table we were playing on. Once set up, we got through the first several card plays and had had an internal and external conflict occur and the collection of one treasure, before it became quite clear that it was far too late to be playing anything, especially something that required any bit of mental effort and we called the game. In the limited extent that we did play I could see that the mechanics of the board game were quite literally ported over to the card game format without adding anything significant in the process. As I already own the board game I don’t think I will be picking this one up.
Sunday, November 13
BoardGameGeek.CON: Day 2, Friday
After our late gaming the night before, we got a late start on Friday. Before the Game Library closed on Thursday night we had checked out Mexica, and still had Kaivai from our sesson the night before. We grabbed a table, opened up Mexica and began to set it up while reading through the rules. With Mexica being one of Kramer's 'mask' trilogy (Java, Mexica, Tikal) and both having played Tikal before, we had a sense of what to expect in regards to the action point mechanic. I enjoy the diagramatic simplicity and clarity achieved on the player aid cards for Tikal and Mexica (and I assume Java, but haven't seen those). Once you have been told what the various actions are the diagrams are very clear reminders of the actions and their costs. When we were just about ready to start Jon Grimm stopped by and we eagerly requested he grab a seat and join in. Jon was familiar with the game and was ready to start, though it had been a few years since his last play.
Jon (white) and I (orange) quickly got into an arms race over two of the high scoring regions whiile Maria (yellow) wandered off on her own and started racking up control over multiple smaller regions. Through some cunning blocking manouvers, Jon got the better of me in both regions and I moved on to set up some smaller regions which I thought might be less contested. Jon meanwhile ventured over into Maria's area and added a couple temples here and there to pick up some second place scorings and had enough time to make it back to the starting square for the mid game scoring bonus. Maria made it back as well, but I decided to set myself up for the upcoming 10 point capulli token. Unfortunately Maria was able on her turn to move and form a 10 point district before my turn (why didn't I see that coming?) so I had to settle for 8 points. Jon and Maria contnued to build the larger point districts as I built uncontested smaller ones. The capulli tokens ran out with all of us having several buildings left to build and one large unbuilt portion of the board left open. Maria burned the rest of the canal tiles by filling in various small regions left open and began to build up in the last open district and I got one big one is to try and hold second place. I teleported into one other of Maria's uncontested regions and built to score in second to end the game. Again, Jon made it back to the start temple for the bonus. Neither Maria or I did. In the end, my uncontested regions and second in the big leftover area district was enough for a win: Jon 93, Maria 97, Jeff 110.
I prefer Tikal. Though some of that may be a fondness for the game that hooked me in, I also like the discover aspect and the unfolding of the board. Both games suffer under the weight of analysis prone players. I found the canal building and canal movement to be quite interesting adn could see that portion of the game really opening up more with further plays. I'll have to get a game of Java in sometime soon to compare it as well.
My rating: 7 (Tikal is an 8)
We had a great time playing with Jon so we immediately started another game together... Kaivai. We added one more to our group (sorry, I've forgotten your name) and I tried my best to provide a clear explanation of the game. I emphasized the economy, roles of the buildings, the scarcity of influence tokens, and the end game scoring. It seems that my explanation was sufficient as we were able to get under way smoothly and continue without too many peeks back at the rules (except once in particular to find where in the rules it said you could pass your whole turn and collect two influence tokens, and that was to help out Mark Johnson's group, which had missed the rule. They ended up aborting thier game, as it just didn't click for them.) In this playing, the meeting huts were used more effectively and ended up bringing our fourth player from third place to tied for first. I built up a large fishing fleet and was in the lead throughout much of the game until the end when my score was matched. Once again, the game ran on too long, probably a bit over three hours. At times the game dragged as players pondered their move. In spit of that, I still am intrigued by the game and enjoy it in concept. I only wish it were shorter by at least half.
Jon was eager to introduce us to Caylus, having played the night before. We were joined by one of Jon's fellow game-group members John Gravitt. John and Jon are part of Ed and Susan's posse over at the Game Ranch. Sam A rounded out the group to 5. I wouldn't be surprised to hear that at least one game of Caylus was in play at any moment during the CON, primarily thanks to the efforts of Valerie Putman who became the honorary Caylus instructor for the full run of the event. However, in our game, Jon had the honors of introducing the game and did a great job himself.
(I plan to come back and add a description of the game itself here later... In the meantime you can find a good one here)
Our game turned out to be a tough crowd. There were several occasions when players (red and green) dared to choose ahead of the provost in hopes of getting some prime building benefits early only to be shut down by other players moving provost back. Red, in particular, continued to push his luck only to be shut down each time, with growing frustration. Red and green then tried to broker a deal to ensure that they would get their actions executed, but that also failed in the end when it relied on black to commiserate. This in no way dampened my enthusiasm for the game, if anything it enhanced it.
I felt that the game has a nice narrative feel to the way it progresses. The basic actions remain the same throughout but the mix of buildings that have been recently built is always expanding/changing.
As far as length goes, Caylus is another longer game. We thought we were moving along at a brisk pace. The beginning does go fast but, as more buildings are built, the options increase and each round takes longer to complete. We ended up clocking in at about 3 hours, but in this case it didn't feel like it. We were involved throughout and time flew by.
My Rating: 8
We got a quick game of 6 nimmt in while waiting for a pizza order to arrive. We played with Theresa and Alan, whom we met the night before playing Werewolf, and Annise and Jason, whom we had dinner with the next evening. The game was new to Annise and Jason but they caught on immediately and each had two very low scoring hands until through a series of unfortunate events, Theresa ended the game quickly in the third round with a collection of points she refused to count but was enough to end the game and then some.
While Maria went off to play another game of Werewolf I joined Mark Johnson, Greg Wilzbach and Tim for Mark's personal variant for the original Entdecker. This is the only way I had played Entdecker until this recent weekend when James and I got another game in with Mark (at a local Games Gathering), this time with the original rules. The game plays well both ways though feel more gamery with Mark's modfications. Mark won each time we played, and both times made some use of the strategy of picking up small small islands which close and score by creating a condition where a remaining corner of a 4 square tile grid an only contian one tile type and is thus automatically placed. It seems that in our playing of the two versions that the original Entdecker is more likely to produce discoveries of larger islands as there is no added cost for sailing in for the other edges of the board or for sailing past another player's encampment markers, as in Mark's variant. In both versions though there does seem to be a strategic benefit to independently trying to make and score a series of small two tile islands and to pick up the discovery token bonus by placing a settlement marker, as this gains points for you only. When another player begins formaing a larger island it is then advantageous to switch into a defensive posture by adding a token to the island to collect second place scoring there. It seems that the incremental steps gained from solo scoring the small islands are often enough to stay in the running and likely the win. I should try the New Entdecker next to see how it compares. So far I certainly enjoy the exploration theming of Entdecker and think that Mark has done a excellent job of expanding on Klaus Teuber's base game.
My rating: 7
After the werewolves got Maria, she came to join Mark and I for a final game for the night. I had a copy of Hansa out from the Library, a game which Mark had recently discussed on his BGTG podcast (show #41). I had played once before when Hansa had just come out and enjoyed it then but never got around to picking it up. Hansa is an interesting little pick up and deliver game. It is very tactical, as where you begin your turn depends on the actions of the other players. In our game ther were several turns in which it seemed that Mark and Maria's actions meshed together very well for both of them and left me on the short end of a cycling loop which I had trouble breaking out of. I find the artwork of Hansa particularly beautiful, with the yellowed greens and browns giving the board a feeling of antiquity. Maria particularly enjoyed this one and its length would ensure it further play within our busy daily scheudles. I should get this one soon.
My rating: 7
It was now 2:30 am and sleep was definitely in order, especially since tomorrow's flea market started at 9:00 AM and I wanted to check it out.