As usual, we had a little round of light filler as we waited for folks to show up. I mentioned I had heard good things about Geschenkt as a light card game, so Chris promptly assembled a copy form Land Unter and some spare chips. As these sort of minimal games go, it wasn’t bad; cards are worth 3-33 negative points, and when it comes your turn you can either pay a point to the kitty to pass or take the topmost card, along with the points on it. At the end of the game, runs of cards (22 through 25, say) count negative only for their smallest card. It’s OK, there is some tension, but it’s certainly neither great, high-skill, nor obviously very replayable. It’s probably bumped off my “buy” list. We then moved on to the much more reliable king of light filler, For Sale.
There were then a couple requests to play the “Gnome game”. The reception was slightly mixed; a couple people liked it, Milton was less enthused. We played with 4, and I think the game is definitely a bit better with more – more options, without adding too much to the length. As I said in a previous write-up, the game is a bit chaotic and bidding-heavy, but it works for me. Not something I’ll play every week, but nice for variety.
Next up was Heart of Africa, from Phalanx. First, let me take aim at the large and slow-moving target of this game’s many production problems: the rules are very poor, with some terms (like “trading outpost”) never clarified or defined. The number of graphics errors is rather impressive (conflict chits have the wrong icon; action chit icons are often actively misleading or simply unhelpful).
So if you get past that, is the game any good? After one play, I’m almost, but not quite, ready to judge. It’s a mix of a bidding game (similar auction techniques to Traumfabrik) with a Vinci-like conquest game. You bid points for a pair of action chits which both tell you how many action points you get to spend moving your traders around and also give you one-shot special powers. The winner then gets to take a turn (everyone else watches), then score for areas he controls.
There definitely seem a number of surplus mechanisms in the game. There are two entirely different combat schemes, one for fighting neutrals and one for fighting other players, neither of which seems to quite work right. The prestige track and the ability to manipulate the area VP values seemed to be of marginal relevance to the game.
In the end, it felt a lot like a History of the World crossed with Vinci crossed with a bidding game. But the game felt out of whack somewhat. When you win a bid, you can generally do so much that it’s really hard to plan, and downtime starts being an issue. The combat resolution felt a little arbitrary. A lot like History of the World, it’s about setting up back-to-back turns more than tactics. And I was never a big fan of the cash-redistribution scheme in Traumfabrik; I always felt it was too “damped”, meaning that you’re going to win about one auction in four and the price just doesn’t matter much. And at only about 4-5 turns per player, it felt like there wasn’t much development, just a last-turn-grab for VPs that started on the first turn.
In the end, I don’t think the game works, and most of my fellow-players would say I’m being generous here. I am rather surprised by the overall pretty high rating and positive comments it receives on BoardGameGeek. If you like Vinci, and don’t mind the poor rulebook, graphic design gaffes, and spurious game elements, check it out, but use some care, I’d say. I’m at the point where I thought it might have enough good stuff in the bidding and turn chits to merit giving it one more shot, but I’ll need to find another group if I want to play again I think. It’s definitely not the win that Phalanx needs to keep me as a customer at this point.
As our game of Heart of Africa was happening, Kim was teaching Ys. They played with 3. It got a lukewarm reception. Nobody was thrilled, except maybe because they weren’t playing Out of Africa. After the post-game wrapup, I’m going to theorize that Ys really needs 4 players. The balance and tension seems to be calibrated for that number, and the game hasn’t been scaled enough for fewer players (as Aladdin’s Dragons does by shrinking the number of areas by putting out fewer treasure tokens and fewer artifacts). Kim said there just wasn’t enough interesting competition with fewer players.