Mermaid Rain: This is a Japanese game from a couple years back that I passed on at the time because it was kind of expensive (~$60) and I knew nothing about it. Now copies are basically unavailable, and I wish I had bought one! It was described to me as Elfenland crossed with Poker, and, surprisingly, I’d say that’s about right.
Players are mermaids competing for the attention of the prince. To do this, you have to collect treasures scattered around the board on islands. Each turn, you have a hand of 8 or so transport cards, which come in three suits (Dolphins, Seagulls, and Turtles). You use these both for bidding for turn order and then for moving around on the map. To bid for turn order, you use combinations of cards very similar to poker hands – a pair beats two random cards, two pair beats three of a kind, four of a kind beats full house, etc. Your bid will dictate turn order as well as giving you some special power – a couple victory points for a low hand, or big points, extra sea lane plays, or random extra treasure tiles for big hands. On your turn, you play one available sea lane, and then can move around on the map, playing a matching transport card for every island and sea lane visited. At the end of the turn, some of the sea lanes will stick around, and some will disappear. After 5 turns, each category of treasures collected will pay off based on place order.
This was a really clever game I thought, pretty simple but with lots of opportunity for planning and some very nice tensions in the bidding. You have to balance going first, which may get you to the good treasures and cooler special powers, with the fact that every card you bid is one you aren’t spending collecting treasures, and later players in the turn order get to take advantage of sea lanes built up by earlier players. Also, some powers are worth more in some situations, and this affects your bidding. The game is quite straightforward once you get going, and it doesn’t go on too long (60-90 minutes, although the rules took us a while to get through). I’d definitely play this again, and it almost makes me wish I had a copy so I could ditch Elfenland, a game which I sorta like and which is filling a niche, but has always ultimately been disappointing every time I’ve actually played it.
Medina: Just out of curiosity, I looked up my comment on BoardGameGeek for this game: “A little dry, has sort of a “Dorra does Dürch die Wuste” feel.” Wow, that’s not very informative (and, on reflection, not very accurate). I remember I played this a fair bit when it first came out, at least partially because the Nürnburg crop of 2001 wasn’t all that strong. I’ve played this a couple more times recently (it’s been sitting on the shelf, unplayed, for probably 3 years), and I have to say, I was pretty impressed. It has the flavor of a dutch auction game, in that each turn you have to either make the unclaimed assets on the board richer, or claim some for yourself, so things will slowly ratchet up until someone cracks. This makes for a tense game in and of itself, but it’s combined with a very interesting tactical game, as you try to cut off palaces, force the pedestrians where you want them to go, and finagle the wall points. All good stuff. Now, it is a little dry and somewhat analytical, but it’s short and moves along pretty well, and the pieces are attractive, so it doesn’t bother me too much. As a consequence, I kicked up by rating from a 7 to an 8. I’ll play this again soon, I think. Maybe I’ll do an all-Dorra, all-Mideastern theme night by doing this and Marracash.
Smarty Party: The last time I played this game was one of the very first entries in my blog. I disliked it because I thought the lists were lame; if you didn’t watch the lousy American television shows that popped up with irritating regularity, you were hosed. The good news is that the expansion is a distinct improvement. I still ran into the buzz-saw of Three’s Company (and was disturbed by how much some of my fellow-players knew about the show), but for the most part we were talking landmarks, countries, buildings, and other general-knowledge topics which made for more satisfying gaming. I’m still not exactly dying to break it out again (I’d much rather do Thingamajig), but I would play again with the expansion, which is more than I would say for the original.