Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Games night: Oh, the expansions....

Another night of games and even time for a quick beer afterwards.  There were only 9 of us so we only ended up playing 3 different games but by the sounds of it people had fun.

The first of us to arrive started off with a new Queen game Mammut that was quite different and a lot of fun:

Each player gets a set of adorable skinny and fat mammoth meeples...  Mammeeples?
The idea behind the game is quite simple and very unique.  A pile of about 30 tiles are dumped in the middle of the table and the first player takes as many of them as they want.  Each following player then has a choice:  take as many tiles as they want from the remaining tiles OR steal all the tiles from one other player who was "too greedy" and return one to the center of the table.  This goes on until everyone has a set of tiles and then scoring occurs.  For anyone who's played Ra, the scoring will seem familiar. 

Some of the different tiles to pick up.  Is that a sabre-toothed bunny?!?!?
Very simple premise, lots of interesting decisions.  And tons of stealing from your opponents.  This one was a whole lot of fun and full of a bunch of interesting but not agonizing decisions.  A great new family game that doesn't feel too much like anything that has come before. 

Giant start mammoth!
After the warmup, the group split in two.  One crowd of 5 went for Galaxy Trucker with the expansion:

The other 4 of us settled into one of my all-time favourite strategy games, The Princes of Florence:

The additional character actions from The Princess & The Muse
We have been playing this game a lot lately with the expansion cards from 'The Princess & The Muse'.  The expansion is absolutely phenomenal and does exactly what an expansion should do:  increase the risk, increase the reward, and deepen the strategies without adding rules complexity.

My game-winning estate.  Quite lovely having the Opera beside two lakes, if I may say so...
If you do play and enjoy Princes, I have to say now that the expansion is a must for us.  It takes an already great game of agonizing choices and adds way more agony with hardly any new rules.  If you haven't played Princes, you're missing out on a modern masterpiece of elegant and very tight game design.

The new characters in the excellent expansion.
Oh, and I even won Princes yesterday evening.  That's definitely new for me.

Friday, July 22, 2011

A review of Water Lily...

One of the greatest race games I have played was reprinted a few years back (which was a good thing at the time as I was tired of playing on my home-made set from a decade and a half before.)  Igel Argern, or Hedgehogs in a Hurry, is a delightful and very simple game of trying to get your hedgehogs to the finish line before anyone else, avoiding the black pits that freeze them until all the other hedgehogs have passed.  The delightfully nasty part of the game is that everyone could move any player's piece, leading to some nasty blocking moves and many
an unhappy hog dumped into the pits. It's a classic game which has spawned tons of different house rules and variants, due to its simple and clever rules.

Fast forward a decade or so and French game designer, Leo Colovini, releases Clans, an unusual but really interesting game of hidden identities.  Players choose a colour of huts and like Igel Argern are able to move any colour around the board trying get their pieces into the highest scoring groups. There are nasty moves aplenty in this game as well but one must keep their mouth shut until the end when they finally reveal their colour and count their score. I also consider this game a classic and very hard to play well.

So why mention these two games?  Well, the wonderful French game Water Lily by Dominique Ehrhard manages to take the best elements of both of these games and boil it down to a fascinating 10-15 minute battle.  The rules are extraordinarily simple considering how much thought one can put into the play of the game.  To top it off the game is released by GameWorks, who also produced the fantastic 2-player card game Jaipur, and the production and art design is the best of any game available today.  There is no reason why I can think that you should not go out and buy Water Lily.  Today.

You're still reading this so you haven't left yet to pick Water Lily up at your FLGS....  So I guess I'll continue trying to convince you.  The play of the game, as I said, is very, very easy to pick up.  The 2-page rulebook is a masterpiece of good graphic design, providing a step-by-step explanation of play with illustrations that correspond to each step (Rio Grande Games, please take note...)   At the start of the game, the board begins with all the frogs of the different colours in stacks of four at one end of the board.  Every player secretly draws their colour of frog and the race is on!  Every turn a player may move any frog at the top of a pile a number of spaces in a straight line equal to or less than the number of frogs in that pile.  There are five holes at the end of the board and when a frog enters one it is out of the game and locked in for scoring.  Once all the frog-nubbins of one colour leave the board, the game is over, scores are tallied, and players reveal their colour of hopper.

Where the game is extremely clever is in the way scoring occurs.  Each hole the frogs fall down is a chute with increasing scores beside it.  So the first frog gets 1 point, the second frog 2, up to the fourth frog to enter a chute getting 4 points.  Any frogs that enter after that get nothing.  To make it even trickier, the chutes are covered until the end of the game so once a frog goes down a hole you have to try and remember how many had gone before and situate your pieces accordingly.  What this  means is you can't just rush your coloured frogs to the end as someone else will then dump them down the holes first making each one worth a measly 1 point each.  But wait too long, and your frog might be the fifth one in and score a big fat nothing.  Or worse yet, the game will end before you can even get all your frogs to the end.

These brilliant scoring mechanisms make Water Lily a surprisingly tense little game and it also makes it challenging to do well.  The sturggle between pushing your frogs ahead and revealing your colour versus holding back discreetly and waiting for the big score all combined with just a little bit of memory makes for some interesting decisions.  But for a game with very little luck, the moves go very fast and you can finish a round in about 10 minutes.  And every time I've played so far, that seems like just enough time to reset the frogs and play another round (and usually I'm the big loser calling for a rematch...)

Having played rounds with 2, 4, and 5 players, I can easily say that Water Lily works really well with any number.  It's a fun, quick, extremely simple but surprisingly tricky game that I really enjoy.  From any other company, I'd definitely say, sure, it's worth it for a few bucks.  But combine this great gameplay with GameWorks' beautifully designed and very clever production, and you've got a wonderful game worth treasuring.  It will work for kids, families, and all my gamer friends who are often looking for a think-y diversion before they get into something heavier.  You're still reading so you obviously haven't gone out and picked this up yet.  You should probably go now and get it.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

First Play: Rails of New England....


Oh my god, worst rulebook ever (yes, this may actually beat the Black Friday ruleset, which has also been produced by Rio Grande Games) - an FAQ and errata later and we were still trying to figure it out.

Oh my god, worst board design ever - small unreadable print, stupid miniscule little symbols everywhere, and names of around 60 towns that NOBODY knows but need to be cross-referenced heavily with the tiny writing on almost every card that comes into play.

We were finished our 4th round of 16 by the end of hour 2 and had to abort the rest of the game.  Are you kidding?  And the game really isn't that complicated once the horrid rules fog starts to lift.  In fact, it seems like the strategies are actually rather obvious.  The random elements, like the events (which took me almost 30 minutes to figure out how to play, I might add) are entirely random and seemed to punish me only, and the economic conditions had really very little bearing on anything other than income.  What an overwrought mess - with a kernel of a good idea somewhere in there but nothing more.

It's unlikely I'll play this one ever again, although some of the geeks from games night are gonna give it another try this weekend.  Give me the blunt elegance of Power Grid anyday over this poorly designed and horribly produced mess.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A couple of new party games....

I have said time and again how I'm not a big fan of party games.  They're usually fairly unbalanced, often pointless, and too silly.  So I'm always excited when a good one like Dixit or Wits and Wagers comes along and proves to me how much fun they can be.   Two new party games arrived recently which I was lucky enough to have a go at.  Here's some thoughts....

Say Anything: Family Edition - Within five minutes of playing Say Anything, it was clear that it was designed by the same guy as Wits & Wagers.  Like W&W, you don't have to know the correct answer every time to win.  Betting on the correct answer is just as good.  But this time you are all answering a certain question asked by one of the players (call him the Questioner) such as "What would make long drives more fun?" or "What am I most likely to become famous for?"  The questioner secretly picks their favourite and then the others all bet on which answer the Questioner picked.  Guesses are revealed, points are scored, and so on and so on until you start to know WAY too much about certain people.

It's extremely simple and pretty clever in that you can bet correctly enough times to win even if your answer never gets picked.  But it definitely lacks the strategy of W&W.  It's more a game about getting to know the other players than about shrewd gambling.  Mind you we were playing the Family edition and not the original but I think the rules are the same.  But still it's a very good party game, just a pure party game like more of an icebreaker and as such not something that I would play too often.  If you liked Apples to Apples, then I'd say you'll probably love this one.

"Wa Wa Wee Wa!" - what I thought my Romanian friend would say to his pet if only he could actually speak to it.

Faux-Cabulary - Along a similar, albeit much sillier vein, comes this little game of making up imaginary words to fit random definitions.  It's kinda like a reverse game of Balderdash where the words don't actually exist. 

The clever idea behind this game, though, is that you need to make the words up out of the three dice you randomly draw at the beginning of the round.  Each side of the 21 different "word cubes" has a different part of a word like "uber" or "robo" or something like that.  So you have to be creative but you are also a bit limited by the cubes you draw.  Sometimes coming up with a word that even remotely sounds like "an Eastern European way of trimming your back hair" is near impossible.  So you end up just putting together something silly, covering it up, and sliding it in the centre with the other entries.  One player sits out and judges every turn, picking the word that they think fits the wacky definition the best.

Notice I've used the words random, silly, and wacky already to describe the game.  Yeah.  I don't think I'm the target audience for this one.  Most of my group of 6 was amused for about 10 minutes and then tired of it very quickly (although one of my friends was howling the whole time and would have gone on playing it forever).  It wasn't so much the silliness of it but the fact that we quickly ran out of words.  By the later rounds, we got a bit tired of seeing word after word with "uber" in it.  The options seemed limited by the dice and the humourous answers yielded the occasional chuckle from most of us and not much more. 
Perhaps my friend Robyn summed it up best when she exclaimed, "This would be really fun if you were drunk!"  So, yeah, not my thing but definitely there is an audience out there (like my laughing Romanian buddy) who will really like it.  Perhaps a very drunk audience....

"The smell of an old person"...  Um, 'Super-icky-tastic'?

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Nature versus Nerd-ture....

So Vince and I just spent two days visiting friends in Toronto and taking in all the mayhem that is Toronto Gay Pride.  In fact, Toronto's Pride is the third largest festival of its type in North America.  And yet through it all, the only thing I could think of was getting to 401 Games on Yonge Street to pick up some of the games I'd passed up at Origins.

Let the rest of them have their parade - I think I'll stick with my shiny new copies of Rails of New England and Barons....

Friday, July 1, 2011

A day at Origins...

A few thoughts and pics from an afternoon at the Origins Game Fair in Columbus, Ohio last weekend...

The entrance to the trade show
1)  A very well-organized event and fairly large event.  Not as big as Toronto's FanExpo but more specifically a game-oriented convention.

Origins 2011 had a steampunk theme - amazing gear!

So much chaos.  AAAAGGGGHHHH!!!!
2)  And I thought I was obsessed with gaming.  The crowd here definitely put me in my place.

Case in point:
I don't have an enormous Catan game...
...or a coffee table that doubles as a board game workshop.
3)  Asmodee Editions has some killer games coming out this year, including the great-looking Quebec which was explained to us by one its inventors from Montreal, as well as:

A new 12-player version of Dixit! 
A beautiful reprint of the very fun Evo.
4)  Um....  Rio Grande Games gives out free food in their free gaming room.

The very friendly Rio Grande games room.

5)  Wargamers and tabletop miniatures guys take their shit VERY SERIOUSLY.....

This one's called "Warlord in Wonderland".  SRSLY.
Double-click on this pic.  So awesome.
All hand-painted.
6)  I think I enjoy playing games with people I know.  It's very much a social thing for me amongst friends so I didn't end up joining in any games in the Board Room.  Maybe next year...

A very small view of the VERY LARGE Board Room with the massive games library at the back.
7)  Games are damn expensive at trade shows!  75 bucks American for Galaxy Trucker when I get it back home in Canada for 55.  Forget that.  I bought four games totalling 70 dollars.  And ONLY because I thought I wouldn't find them back in Ontario.  Vince and I grabbed a table in the Board Room and played a couple before we called it a day:

Water Lily - simple and devious.  Quite good.  Plays like 'Hedgehogs in a Hurry' meets 'Clans' but faster than both.
Climb - Vince aptly described it as "Twister but for your fingers!"  Yep that's pretty much it.
Overall, I'm very glad we went.  For only 5 bucks each, Vince and I were happy to wander around the entire convention for the day.  I think if I go again, I'd try to bring some other friends as well so we could take advantage of the open and organized gaming.

And Columbus is quite the beautiful city with very friendly people (despite their awful union-busting jerk of a governor).  We will definitely be back.

Next year....  I'm bringing a gaming entourage.