Mall World is the new game from Rio Grande, Bewitched-Spiele, and Andrea Meyer. Two of Meyer’s previous recent designs are the rather clever ad acta and Schwartzarbeit. I’d been pretty happy with those two, and they are very unique, so Mall World was a definite pickup.
After one play, I’m not quite sure about it. It definitely has a horrid rulebook, something Rio Grande seems to be having trouble with of late. The problem here is one of terminology; it seems that all the game terms were selected in order to be confusing. And unlike her previous games, the theme here is a bit tortured, which always makes the game harder to learn.
All that said, there are elements of Mall World which are actually quite interesting. The idea is that you are developing a Mall. The Mall can have four types of shops, Food (Green), Hobby (Red), Sports (Blue), and Clothing (Purple). These can be further customized by targeting children (Blue), teenagers (Red), Men (Purple), or Women (Green). The players acquire orders, which can pay off when shops of the various types get placed in the Mall in the proper configurations. There are three tiers: the first pay off for just having non-customized shops adjacent to each other in various configurations. The second type pay off for just having a particular customized shop anywhere. The third tier (the special orders, for which each player has one) pay off for having two particular types of customized shops adjacent to each other. In all cases, you multiply the payoffs by the number of times they appear.
As in Union Pacific, each turn the player has to choose between playing an order (which will score) and expanding the Mall. Expanding the Mall is done by auctioning or paying for various development cards, which allow specific configurations of shops to be created. The auctions are quite unusual, and how they go depend on how many cards you play – the more you play, the more money you will received, but the less control you have over the development of the Mall. If you play just one, you use it yourself, but have to pay the bank (which is redistributed at the end of each turn as in Traumfabrik). Rounds end when a certain number of payoff cards have been played, at which point those cards pay off.
What I liked: I liked the auctions for developing the Mall; the choices there are quite interesting, and I suspect 90% of the game is in there. I liked that the game isn’t too long; again, your analysis paralysis folks can really torpedo the playing time (as in ad acta), but in general it shouldn’t be too bad. At least with 5, it was a rather chaotic game, so people should be encouraged to move along – but there are players who are going to look at the board, try to analyze all the options, and get hopelessly locked up. But inherently it’s not a long game.
I think maybe the big potential issue with Mall World is one of stability. Even more so than in Fifth Avenue, I think it’s easy to misapprehend the economics of the game. In our game, it was the case that folks always wanted to be the last to play order cards, so it took a while to get them down, and the game felt a bit uneven and slightly protracted as a result. Just like Fifth Avenue, it may just be a game you’ve got to play twice.
We played with 5 players, which felt a bit chaotic to me; I’m not sure this is the optimal number. I never felt like I had much choice on the acquisition of orders, I would just pick up the one fairly obvious one, and I only acquired one or two more orders than I could play, which is why I say that I think the bulk of the game is in the auctions and tile laying.
The bottom line on this one was that there was definitely stuff in there that intrigued me, but another playing will be required (preferably with 4) to see if it really works.
Senator is the new game in Fantasy Flight’s Silver Line game line. This is not exactly a bastion of quality gamer’s games, so on balance Senator was a pleasant surprise. It’s basically a bidding game; you bid to acquire political “agendas” which then give you one-shot special powers, and can be later turned in to victory points if you can win a Consulship, assuming you can avoid having other players foist off conflicting agendas on you (war and trade, for example).
This is a nice, short, nasty little game. Between the assassins wiping out your bidding cards and other players torpedoing your agendas, it is actually surprisingly hard to get anything done (just like the real thing, I imagine). Between the special powers of the agendas and the special rules that apply randomly to each turn (Gladiatorial games limit influence expenditures as everyone is distracted; Spartacus makes Rebellion agendas easier; the Social Wars mean you lose your influence when you bid, whether you win or not; and so on), the auctions are always different and there is stuff to consider. The clincher is that it’s short; our game (4-player) weighed in at about 40 minutes, which was just right. It’s not likely to become an enduring classic, but I liked it, and will definitely play again. The only criticism is that the components may have had the usability internationalized out of them; the agendas’ special powers (of which there are about 6) are not indicated on the counters in any way and no reference is provided, so a cheat sheet will need to be created I think.
I also played some more Reef Encounter. For my first few games of this, I played the game much like I would Tigris & Euphrates – pretty much a short-term optimization game, doing the best I can do to improve my position this turn and for the near future, without worrying too much about long-term strategy.
This time, I tried to be clever. I tried to set myself up for one massive score, an 8-9 sized reef with a value pegged at 5, by slowly accumulating grey coral in front of my screen and occasionally locking it in on a few tiles for the whole game, then dropping a big reef all at once at the end. Meanwhile, I’m rapidly going through three other small reefs to put time pressure on the other players.
It didn’t work out so well. The big score just couldn’t compensate for the paltry points I got on my other reefs, and I ended up in last. So I don’t think I’ll try that again; I think you need to make sure most of the polyp tiles you score are worth something.
The game is still going strong; I enjoy it, it seems about the right length, there is significant subtlety, and it’s got interesting management and tactical decision. It’s a bit short on interactivity, but so are many classic games. I’ve played twice with 3 and twice with 4, and while some have said 3 is preferable, I find it good at both numbers. I’m still not sure whether it fall into the “very good” or “great” categories, but I like it quite a bit.