I had originally intended to go to MonsterCon 4.0 this year, but I was a late scratch due to the significantly increased cost and the fact that the “open gaming” signups were a bit thin. I’d done big OCS games (GBII, Sicily) the last two times I went, and I’ve decided that while it was fun to try, there are practical difficulties with the biggest games which seriously limit how much I can enjoy them at cons.
So I didn’t go. Kim & I went to Seattle to visit our friend Doug, and hit Mt. Rainier (absolutely stunning) and Victoria, BC (a little touristy for me, but nice). If you are a member of the Thursday night gaming group that meets in the game shop in downtown Victoria, sorry I missed you. I stopped in briefly but couldn’t stay, as Kim was not feeling well.
Anyway, all this hardly means we didn’t play any games. San Juan came out a few times, and we played a couple more games of Scrabble. I also got to play Bridges of Shangri-La and the new Power Grid.
Bridges of Shangri-La I actually kinda liked. Leo Colovini has to be one of the more overexposed game designers in Germany these days – after his very good debut game (Carolus Magnus), he’s had a big run of pretty uninspired stuff, to the point that I avoid him anymore for the most part. But Bridges was pretty solid. It’s ludicrously dry, as all of his games are, but it makes it up a bit by being simple and limited enough not to devolve into endless pure calculation. Again, like most of his games, it has a serious endgame problem since all the scores are open and usually close, so players not doing so well can still feel like they’re picking the victor with an arbitrary play late. So there are some issues, and thus I’m not sure it’s worth the $25-ish and the chunk of shelf space it would require, but I enjoyed it well enough.
Power Grid is, of course, the remake of Funkenschlag. Funkenschlag was one of the better releases of 2002 (admittedly not a terribly inspiring year), and one of Friedmann Friese’s best, but there were some minor issues. The game ran a bit too long, it was a little bit too uncomfortable being in the lead, and the power plant market was close but didn’t quite work (it could get badly gummed up and stop working properly late in the game). Power Grid has addressed both problems. On the length side, the least interesting element of the game – the drawing of track on the board – has been eliminated in favor of a much simpler set of pre-plotted routes a la Silverton or Medieval Merchant. The payouts have been made a bit richer, which both shortens the game somewhat and makes it less painful to be in the lead – in the original, once you cleared 12 cities or so powering additional cities made virtually no additional income, but you got reamed on everything from resource costs to building routes due to the turn order. Finally, the power plant deck has been thinned out a bit, which helps the plant market to work a lot better.
All this still adds up to a game which is little distinguishable from the original in play feel – it’s almost the same game. The play time is down substantially in general, although slow players can still kill you since it’s a fairly serial game. On the other hand, I feel the overall balance of the game is substantially superior – you spend more time managing the interesting stuff (managing your plants and resources) and less time trying to figure out how much it costs to connect two cities. The backlogged plant market problem appears to be solved. And it’s not so ridiculously painful to be first in the turn order, since you’re probably making more money. All in all, a very solid upgrade to an already very good game.