Bay Area Games Day XXXIII

Dos Rios: I got this game for a couple reasons. Firstly, it is unique, which always is worth a try for me. Secondly, nobody else was buying it. Thirdly, I had a discount coupon from Fine Games. Probably the first two would not have been enough but for the third, given the price point. Anyway. Dos Rios is a bit hard to explain because it is, in fact, pretty unique, but here goes. It’s basically an abstract positioning game masquerading as an economic game. You have pieces you move on the map each turn, trying to get them in position to score. Each turn, some types of terrain will score for the pieces occupying them if they are fed by the river. Unfortunately, the river is a moving target – as players build dams, the course of the river can change. Obviously, there is a bit more to it than that, but that’s the broad outline. There is a good review here.

The main complaint is that it’s a bit dry (ha ha), and the fact that you can do a lot on your turn and there is little strategy or planning for future turns means it can drag at times – not a game to place in the hands of your local victim of analysis paralysis. It is somewhat reminiscent of Tikal, not only for these reasons but also because Dos Rios features a Hacienda that is very reminiscent of the Tikal’s Base Camps, with similar trade-offs (up-river positions are better, but harder to get to, like the deep-jungle positions in Tikal, and you can use your Hacienda/Base Camp as a teleporter).

Dos Rios was decent I thought. Not much better than that, and I’m not sure I’m that thrilled with my purchase – I certainly don’t think I could recommend it at the $50 retail in good conscience. I did enjoy it well enough, and it’s certainly worth a play or a few plays if someone else in your group has bought it, but I have a hard time seeing it getting the 5-10 plays I hope for out of a big game and it didn’t seem to quite capture the mix of being unique and interesting to keep on the shelf even if played infrequently (like, say, a Mammoth Hunters or a Bohn Hansa are for me).

La Strada: I am of somewhat mixed minds on this one, having now played it twice. On the one hand, it is quite short and pretty neat. It boils down the low-end railroad games to the fundamentals of competing to connect cities. You’ve got choices, and there are strategy elements. It’s nice filler. The only question is, then, is it really filler? It’s about 20, maybe 30 minutes, but even there it might be just a touch long for a lightweight game. And it’s just a bit on the expensive side too. So I’m not sure. It’s not as engaging as Ticket to Ride, and Ticket to Ride is not that much longer. On the other hand, having bought both Dos Rios and La Strada, I am definitely happier with the latter purchase.

Middle-Earth CCG: I love MECCG as one of the best medium-complexity games ever made, and certainly the best collectible game, but I eventually wandered away from it. Part of it was that the later sets (particularly Against the Shadow and even more so The White Hand) suffered from significant quality lapses and degenerate deck archetypes, but part of it was that while I always looked forward to new expansions, eventually the weight of the large card set caused significant problems.

The problem was that the constructed deck play environment shifted from emphasizing balanced decks and skilled play to less interactive, massive-combo decks. I saw decks that could score lots of marshaling points if the cards came out in the right order, but would rarely chance the opponent’s hazard deck. This leads to what is for me a much less entertaining game.

Still, I’ll rarely turn down a chance to play, so when I got an email from a fellow-fan the day before games day I threw a couple pre-constructed challenge decks into the game box. My opponent wanted to play a constructed Minion deck, which I thought would be fine, so I pulled out my Indur minion Challenge deck (I’ve always preferred like-alignment matchups). Unfortunately, my opponent was playing a deck built around amassing a huge, untouchable company of 6-7 Ringwraiths, which would then go to Bag End and play a bunch of point cards in one turn then run them all the way back to Barad-Dur the next, all with essentially zero risk. I think less than 10 hazards in total were played all game, for me because there wasn’t much point, for him because (I’m guessing) he was too busy hoarding the massive numbers of resources required to try to pull this off.

I still enjoyed the game – but different people and different groups have different play styles. I am much more of a gamer, I want to make the strategic and tactical choices and manage the resources, while some people love looking for the ultimate power-combination that makes tactics irrelevant. I’m not sure these play styles are entirely compatible, so if you’re looking to get into MECCG, look for someone who shares your outlook. Fortunately, with the sets still available these days (The Wizards, The Dragons, Dark Minions) it’s not much of an issue.

I’ve actually never played two of Columbia’s games, War of 1812 and Quebec. So I was glad to finally take 1812 out for a spin. We decided to use the optional simultaneous move-plotting rules, which I can now recommend, as they add tension and are a big time-saver. I liked the game, although I was not blown away. It’s very simple, highly playable, and short. It’s got a very nice historical flavor for a low-end game, and it cleanly portrays how much things were driven by control of the lakes. It’s perhaps a touch heavy on the bluff and guess at the expense of tactics, which can be fun but usually caps the replay value. However, there were definitely enough strategic options that I would play again, I enjoyed the game, and – did I mention this? – it’s short. So not one of Columbia’s best, but an impressive design for 1972 and a win, on balance.

Memoir ’44: Not truly great, but fast and fun. It is an improvement on Battle Cry in a few ways, including a number of minor but successful tweaks to the action card deck, and critically a vastly improved historical flavor. The elite units, the interesting interactions between artillery, infantry, and tanks and occasional need for combined arms, and the more interesting and varied terrain all add up to a much more flavorful game than Battle Cry, which was in truth rather bland. The overall design of the card deck is still very retro, something out of the 70s or 80s rather than the post-Hannibal, post-CCG enlightenment, but can live with it. Sure, the game is still awfully random – maybe even unhealthily random – but it’s clearly a significant improvement over Battle Cry in this respect, there are reasonable choices, it’s tense, it’s got a fun factor, and did I mention it’s short?

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