Game Night

We started with 4 tonight, and unsure when anyone else would arrive, we went with some filler – For Sale in fact, the king of auction game filler. I hadn’t the heart to tell everyone that we’ve actually been playing this game incorrectly all these years, in that instead of having to top the previous bid to stay in, you have only to match it poker-style. I like our incorrect play method better, it gets to the point faster. Nobody does the lighter stuff better than Steffan Dorra, although I rarely have much desire to play the games twice in a row, even For Sale of which I think quite highly.

When we still had four after For Sale, we went with another light game, Sticheln. This game seems as if it was designed simply to be the opposite of standard trick-taking games, so you never have to follow suit, and everything is trump except the led suit, etc. Kind of a neat game, although it degrades in my opinion with more than 4 players, since it is such an immense advantage to play close to last. With 6 players, only players 5 and 6 can realistically attempt to actually take the trick, other players are just asking to be slaughtered with high-point cards. This is a game I liked a lot for a few plays, but as I’ve played more and worked out the patterns of the game I’ve become noncommittal. I find the game to be decent with 4, but less appealing with more, and in the end it’s a long game if you play it out and I’d rather spend the time on something more substantial. Interestingly, I find it similar in feel to Flaschenteufel/The Bottle Imp, even though they are not that similar in mechanism – but I find Flaschenteufel to be much more interesting. Anyway, when 2 more people showed up, we played one hand with 6 players and then moved on.

With yet two more new arrivals, we then split up into two games – the obligatory Tichu game and Attika. I played Attika. I won this time, for the first time since my very first game, but it was, I admit, somewhat unsatisfying – at least two other players could have and should have blocked me, but just didn’t realize I had a winning play (I had been hemmed in pretty badly from early on and had fewer buildings on the board than anyone else – but I was able to make a 4-hex run with 4 streets and an amphora). Given I have been somewhat critical of the game in the past, you may be surprised to see me still playing it, but I’m still willing to give it a go when others who haven’t played it want to play. But the end is near … soon, I think, I’ll be well and truly done.

Lastly was the all-time great El Grande. I don’t play it as much as I used to, partly because it’s old and there is always a bias towards the new stuff, and partly because most of my eurogaming buddies seem to have a preference for lighter games these days. But wow, this is an amazing game. You know, there have been plenty of this “compete for areas” style games made – from Europe 1945-2015 (or whatever) to Mammoth Hunters to Liberte to San Marco, and quite frankly I don’t think any of them hold a candle to El Grande. As a game, it is remarkable for being so interesting, so hugely variable, and yet so well-balanced and so straightforward, really no more complex than Settlers. It is a game that gets huge mileage out of just a few bits, and this is why it tops my list of great games. After all these years, the basic game is so good I have rarely used the expansions – even though they are excellent in and of themselves.

Game Night

My gaming seems to have become a bit wargame-heavy recently, so it’s good to get back to some lighter stuff.

We started off with a quick round of Liar’s Dice, in which I’m happy to say I didn’t get trounced. I didn’t win either, but still, I hung in there for most of the game which is better than I have been doing.

Then we played a 5-player game of Mü, a game which I thought the world of early on but somehow have little enthusiasm for anymore. It’s still a pretty good game, and certainly I enjoyed it for quite a while … but I dunno, these days it seems like a lot of effort for more of the same, I wish it were shorter. If you haven’t played it and like classic card games I certainly recommend you do so, but I guess after however many games I played of it (25 at least, probably more) I’m just done … I thought after a break of a few years I could get some of the enthusiasm back, but such has not been the case unfortunately.

So, when we had two more players show, I begged out of the Mü; we decided to do Flaschenteufel. I think after 6 or 7 games I finally rounded the corner on this one and am starting to see the patterns. I still made one boneheaded play (never lead middling yellow trump), but managed to pull it out. The score before the last hand was 87-87-86! We had one very interesting hand when all the low trump came out in a flurry, and it looked like the 7 or 8 might get stuck with the bottle. Very nice game I think. Now that I know what I’m doing more or less, we’ll see how much longer it’s good for. I queried the table as to whether they thought 3 or 4 was better, and I was in the minority at preferring 4. On balance, I did come to appreciate the 3-player game more after this game, so maybe it doesn’t matter that much.

Then we had the obligatory game of Tichu, and the other three of us went to play some Attika. I’ve noted before that this game does have a rather serious problem, but it’s still a decent enough little game. The nasty kingmaker issues don’t come up every game, and 3 players is a significant improvement over 4 in this respect. People have complained about the randomness in the game, which hasn’t bothered me as much as the Kill Dr. Lucky syndrome, but this game I did get bitten by it – if I could have drawn a single hill card in my last 10 or so draws I would have won :). But I couldn’t, so I didn’t. This game has settled into sort of a bipolar rating for me, a 6 or 7 if the game plays cleanly, or a 2 or 3 if the game is decided by a failed block. I don’t want to overstate the point because I did enjoy the first 5 or so games a fair amount, but somehow just getting 5 plays out of a game doesn’t seem to cut it anymore.

Game Night

Just a shorter visit tonight, as Kim was not feeling well and she needs to recover for a lengthy business trip next week.

First up was Santiago, one of the new games on my “try before you buy list”. The basic idea is that you are bidding on crops, which you install on plots of land. Those lands must then be irrigated, lest your crops fail; one player (the one who “lost” the bidding for crops) gets to chose where the irrigation goes, taking bribes. Then at the end of the game, you score points for owning bits of large fields of like-planted plots. This was a pretty clever, simple game which I modestly liked. Strikes me as being good for in the range of 5 plays, which isn’t too bad. It’s a little analysis-heavy, and plots once they get large seem to have an unfortunate “snowball” effect. Still, worth playing. Worth buying? A tougher call.

And second was the ever-popular Attika. Kim is now at 3 plays, I’m at 5 or 6, and we’ve reached a verdict … it’s a thumbs down. It was close, it was a game we both wanted to like, but it just has too many unfortunate features. Key among them for me is that the winner is often decided by who fails to properly block one of their opponents. It’s usually easy enough to prevent someone from winning, but you have to do it; virtually every game I’ve played has been won by the player to the left of someone who missed a blocking move, or who was able to make a move once everyone else was tapped out from blocking other people. This is really not entertaining; just Kill Doctor Lucky, but a lot more work. Secondly, the game is a lot of work, analysing what tiles are left in the piles at what building costs, whether or not other players are capable of winning on their turn, how building costs work out … this game can easily degenerate into analysis paralysis and tedium if people start to do all this work. Now, this isn’t in itself bad, but it just doesn’t seem to be in service of anything. Like I said, it’s all about who blocks whom and making your power play at the right time. All in all, the game has a feel similar to Durch die Wüste in the end – but Durch die Wüste is a substantially superior game. I would play Attika again – it’s not exactly a bad game – but my enthusiasm has waned.

Theodred Falls, Attika

This was my second play of the Theodred Falls scenario from the War of Saruman booklet, which features a group of Riders of Rohan trying to delay a very large force of Uruk-Hai from breaking through, without losing Theodred (Theodin’s son, for those who may not recall). Today’s lesson: Uruk-Hai backed up by pikes in a tight formation are an almost-unstoppable force. It’s bad enough they have a higher fight, higher strength, higher defense … then when they can fight 3 ranks deep, well, it’s not good. The Riders have a huge problem too with their larger base size, which makes it harder to concentrate your firepower. Also makes it a lot easer when you roll well. The only good news is that the Uruk-Hai have only 6 turns to break through. Anyway, the Riders were slaughtered, which was not unanticipated, but also lost Theodred, so a bad guy victory. Although not a truly great scenario, it is interesting and plays quickly, and there actually aren’t that many scenarios in which the Uruk-Hai really get to use those pikes so that’s kind of cool.

Attika was then a bit of filler after the minis was over. The choices for our one boardgame were Global Power, Attika, and ad acta. ad acta was discarded as being too much of a brain-burner, and in the end we went with Attika based on the fact that almost everyone I’ve taught it to so far has quite liked it. I’m now about 5 plays in myself and I must admit I’m cooling a bit. It’s a good game, but it definitely has downtime/analysis paralysis issues that seem out of line with the amount of fun or real control in the game, sort of like Carcassonne. Definitely better than Carcassonne in my opinion, but still has a bit of that “hurry up and wait” feeling.

Games Day XXXI

Is Bay Area Games Day really up to 31 already? That seems like a lot. It seems like just last year it was in single digits.

Anyway, lots of stuff this time, as I stayed from 10AM to almost 10PM and played quite a variety of games.

First out of the gates was Battlelines: The Stalingrad Campaign, the Operation Uranus mission. This was high on my play list because my first few plays have been promising, it seems like a neat game, and they have new modules coming out soon, so I need to decide if this is really something I want to stick with and keep buying or if it’s one to pass on. Even after playing again today, I remain oddly undecided – engaged enough to not discard it, yet not compelled enough to be sure I want to keep buying. It does have some neat stuff, I love the game concept … and yet somehow the game itself doesn’t quite move me. Part of it may be that the Romanian armored division I played was very weak in troop strength, so the board always felt a bit empty. Part of it also seemed that the campaign didn’t really develop – 100 points was only two hands, so losses never really stacked up. Part of it is that I’m still exploring the game and (to some degree) struggling with how to play, even though it’s not a hard game. I still do want to like this game, it still shows good promise, but I still need to play some more to be sure. At least I do still want to play, though. This is not going to be a game I’ll “schedule” play of, though, more something I’ll sucker an opponent into playing as a closer after a game of OCS or GCACW or something.

Next up was the ever-popular Attika, which went over very well again. In fact, after our four player game, the three other players went on to immediately play two more games while I went off to play Anno 1503. Yes, I still like the game, but yes, I also remain somewhat concerned about the downtime/analysis issue.

And, then, Anno 1503 again. If you recall the first time I played it, I had vaguely good things to say about it. Well, I am reconsidering slightly. I do like a lot of things about the game, the tough choices, the fact that it’s a friendlier game … but the length concerns me. We played 4 players, and I think the game went at least 25% past its expiration date. Given the lack of interaction, and the fact it’s a pretty simple, straightforward game, I really think it might just have to be shorter. Comparisons to Starfarers, which had a length problem at first, spring to mind – but Anno 1503 is no Starfarers, that’s for sure.

Ra is, well, Ra, what I’ve come to believe is one of the best boardgames going. It certainly helps that I’ve come to an understanding of it and have gotten pretty good; I think I’ve won 8 of my last 10 games, despite the fact that I am actually fairly poor at most other alea games with the exception of Taj Mahal and Chinatown (I think I have won maybe 2 of the 25+ games of Puerto Rico I’ve played). It’ll be interesting to see if I like Ra as much once things inevitably turn :). Part of this recent success is also almost certainly that I haven’t played that many games with Kim of late somehow.

Napoleon is one of the block games that I like in principle but have never managed to play as much as it seemed to deserve. This time I played the Columbia edition, while most of my playing time has actually been on the AH version. One of the things that I like a lot about the new version is that the tactical balance between infantry, artillery, and cavalry seems to be closer. We never used the “squares” rule in the AH edition, and now there is real incentive to do so and combined-arms tactics make real sense; while nominally Cavalry is double-fire and infantry is single-fire, I often found myself wanting for more infantry. The whole charge-countercharge flow seems more realistic. On balance, the block density seems a bit high, there seem fewer actual constraints on movement than in the AH edition which had some really tough choices, and it seems just a touch too easy to marshal your forces. And I think I’ll take the mapboard to Kinkos and get it blown up by at least 125%, because it’s just too small given the drastically increased number of blocks. Anyway, I enjoyed this game quite a bit and I’d definitely play it again. My first few plays of the new edition a couple years ago had been lukewarm, but apparently I learned enough from those games to apply the third time that I enjoyed it. This game was incredibly close, I was one eliminated Prussian block away from victory before getting buried in the final battle. Even then I had a chance due to some absolutely miserable anglo-allied die rolling.

The game that didn’t happen: My copy of Global Power arrived today, and if Funagain had remembered to include a copy of the rules, I would have almost certainly played. It looks really cool. But they didn’t, I didn’t, and it’ll have to wait for a little bit.

Game Night

Attika has proven very popular with everyone I’ve introduced it to – to me, surprisingly popular in fact. We played twice tonight, once with 3 and once with 4. Both games went to the connectivity victory, although the second game was very close and could have gone to the 30 buildings because we had gotten much more aggressive in using the extra map tiles as blockers. Very nice game, my only complaint is that it is very dry and analytical so it can be subject to the lock-up problem. So not perfect, but quite good. Better than the two previous favorites for Chris’ Game of the Year (Domaine and Amun-Re)? Tough call, probably not, but I like Amun-Re a bit better than most people seem to.

Wizard was pretty much the same old same old, but a good closer and with 6 players not too long. I’m getting back into the zone with this one, I was in third but not a distant third. I blame this partially on weak hands, I think I never bid above one and I was not being excessively conservative; I only had one Wizard all game. Never one of my strongest games, but it’s survived a lot of play and I still enjoy it.

Game Night – New Games!

My first round of Essen games came in from Adam Spielt just yesterday, and (lucky me) I was able to get all of the games I wanted to play in!

Attika is a simple new game from Hans im Glück set in ancient greece (nominally, as usual). Players are building buildings by paying resources, and the goal is to either build a cross-board chain or get all of your buildings into play. You have a set of 30 buildings; starting with a random set of 4, you draw more from a pool Samurai-style. You can get big discounts by playing buildings in the right order, so the key trade off is between drawing lots of buildings now to play them later cheaply, or getting them on the board now for key positioning. Lots of interesting choices, and everyone liked this one a lot I think. It struck me as one of the better new games in quite some time, and I look forward to playing again.

Anno 1503 is sort of a multi-player Settlers Card Game light. Sort of. It is apparently based on a best-selling computer game of the same name, of which I have never heard. Anyway, you get resources (unlike settlers, the resources are hierarchical, with wood and bricks being easy to produce and cheap while Tobacco and Spice are harder and more expensive), spend them on buildings, exploration to acquire better production and such, and making money, and try to out-do your neighbors. While not as impressive as Attika, this was still a nice game I thought, one which is really extremely simple yet presents the players with a lot of tough choices and planning opportunities. The only real failing is a lack of much player interaction, which I grant you is a problem. But on the other hand, it’s a very friendly game, and that’s worth something too. Not a ringing endorsement, but I enjoyed it and will play again. I doubt it will last a year on my shelf, but I’ll get my money’s worth.

Intrige is a game I’ve had in the back of my mind to acquire for many years, so I was glad to see it come back into print this year. This is a wonderfully nasty little game that really encourages outright brutal behavior. Games like this usually don’t do much for me, but Intrige scores by being short (45 min), simple, fast, and, as a guy who has spent a lot of time looking for work in the past few years, a good theme. You’re trying to get your pieces placed in good jobs on other player’s mats, and the way to do this is through bribery and threats. The great thing is, the employer gets to pocket all the bribes before deciding who to hire & fire. Great twist there. So it really encourages the potential employer to make everyone feel like they have a shot at the job, and then yank the carpet. Not for the fainthearted, but this game succeeds for me as a nice, brutal, screw-your-friends game much more than other entries like Family Business, Nuclear War, or I’m the Boss which try to soften the blow by being totally chaotic (and, especially in the case of I’m the Boss, much too long). Very fun if you can get into the game, and recommended.