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.