Shadow of the Emperor: Last time I wrote about this game, I talked a bit about what I call gratuitous hoseage, i.e., that players will often be forced to make a decision that helps or hinders one of the other players, and the only thing driving the decision is who he or she thinks is winning (or, if we were to be less generous, who he or she doesn’t like, finds annoying, won the last game, etc). The “Munchkin” factor, perhaps. For obvious reasons, I don’t like to see this sort of thing in games to any degree – if you’re going to have to whack someone, there should ideally be some in-game reason which you can plausibly claim directly helps your own prospects. So if, on a scale of 1 to 10, we rate Munchkin a 10 and Quo Vadis a 1 in this respect, where is Shadow of the Emperor? Probably about a 3 or 4. Not bad on the scale of things, but just enough to make me slightly uncomfortable, and enough for my enthusiasm for the game to taper a bit. I still like it, as the game has a wealth of interesting tactics and flavor, and I am not disappointed with my purchase. I’m still good for a few more games, so it’ll make it to 10 plays comfortably. But I think it’s not a long-term keeper.
Lord of the Rings: Black Tiles: We had 5 players. Lord of the Rings was the game we settled on. We didn’t want to deal with the complexity of Sauron or difficulty of Friends and Foes. “How about this black tile mini-expansion from Sauron?” he asks, innocently. “They probably won’t make the game much more difficult, and they might be interesting”. With this blissful appraisal, we started Sauron on 10 (as I always do when playing the basic game). By the time we were out of Moria (exiting via the last event, not through card play), Sauron was on 5, several Hobbits were up to 3 and 4, and things were looking grim. No, I think “hopeless” might be a better word.
But I’m always energized by these hopeless causes, perhaps because I spent my youth rooting for the Cleveland Indians in the late 70s and into the 80s. Sure, we may be just a few percentage points from being mathematically eliminated, and it might only be May, but that’ll just make victory all the sweeter.
With that kind of lead-in, I hardly need tell you that we didn’t win. However, we did save considerable face by making it a chunk of the way into Mordor, which is better than any of those Indians teams ever did – I figured we’d be lucky to make it through Helm’s Deep. And I think if we had played with a little less desperation, we would have made it at least a little further still, and if we had started on 12, we would have had a pretty good shot at the win. In retrospect, those black tiles are pretty nasty. If they had been designed to make things easier, I guess they would have been some friendlier shades of blue or green. So learn from my experience, and start Sauron one notch higher when you break them out. But, I do really like the more varied penalties on them, along with the choices about which to face, and I think they make the game somewhat more interesting. And once you’ve played a game as often as we’ve played Lord of the Rings, it’s good to have some variety.
Einfach Genial: Last time, I mentioned that I had become a little dissatisfied with the 4-player version of Einfach Genial, because a losing player will sometimes get to make a move to decide who wins, which occasionally can’t be done in an impartial way (the 3-player version doesn’t appear to have this problem). So when we had 4 again, we went with the partnership version. I enjoyed this version, and it seemed a much more satisfactory game than the regular 4-player version.
Wings of War: Watch Your Back: This long-delayed game was always going to be the make-or-break set for Wings of War. Famous Aces was a very fun game, but it required a certain “suspension of competitive instincts” to play well, in that everyone had to be willing to mix it up and not run away or delay or try to optimize too much. Now, though, we have some two-seaters and scenarios with fixed objectives and no excuses. Cool. We played the scenario with an Austrian bomber and escort opposed by two Italian fighters.
Here’s the thing. The Austrian bomber is faster, more heavily armed, and not measurably less maneuverable as the lousier of the two fighters trying to intercept. So the Austrians have not only more ways to win (reaching the objective and returning, or just shooting down the interceptors), they also have arguably better planes. This didn’t thrill the Italian players; this scenario might have been more balanced if there had been no Austrian escort at all! Something to think about the next time we have 3 for this game. Those two-seaters are really tough, they can just keep blasting away as it’s really hard to avoid the guns, and the lack of maneuverability is not as critical in the short, fixed-objective scenario.
So … if we did this again, I would definitely upgrade one of the intercepting fighters to a Sopwith or a Spad from the Famous Aces set, to at least give the interceptors a more significant speed, maneuverability, and firepower edge. All that said, though, seeing the two-seater in action was cool. Keeping in mind that some of the fighters in the Watch Your Back set are quite weak, I’m definitely ready to try it again.