Thursday, February 23, 2012

My mother's son...

This past weekend I was on the phone with my mother back in BC and she was rather exhausted.  I guess her, my Dad, and my sister and brother-in-law were up playing Dominion on Saturday night till 2 am.  My sister and father even went out for an ice cream and potato chip run at 11:30 to stay fueled up.  My mother says she woke up in the middle of the night with sugar hangover.  Ha.  Didn't discourage them, though, because I guess they played a few more rounds the next morning.

Uh huh.  That's my family.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Oh, Risk: Legacy, how I hate thee...

So my current favourite game has got to be Risk: Legacy.  Take a simple classic game system which suffers from some epic flaws and add a brilliant story arc, real emotional investment, and the options for players to choose how these flaws get fixed over a campaign of games.  It's brilliant and I can't seem to get the campaign we're playing out of my head.  This is the best Ameri-trash game to come out in years and a must-own for anyone who can handle all the aggression.  It is also a wholly new gaming experience that rivals the original excitement that Dominion brought a few years ago.

Having said this, despite the ongoing emergence of new rules in our campaign of games, there is still a wild amount of dice rolling.  The good thing is games don't usually last past 90 minutes so if you're losing the pain is over pretty quick.  And it turns out I'm not the best sport either.  Two games ago I threw a soldier piece at a dear friend of mine as she kept rolling 6's against all my attacks.  Last night I nearly ended my almost 5-year relationship when I called my partner a "disengenuous, manipulative pig". 

Um, yep, same old Risk.....

Saturday, February 11, 2012

A review of San Francisco Cable Car...

Tile-laying games can be kinda hit-or-miss for me. I've never really enjoyed the very well-received and endlessly expanded-upon game Carcassonne as I found the aggravation of utterly random tile draws totally outweighed the enjoyment of seeing the land take shape.  And yet I've recently fallen back in love with the nastily strategic and abstract Tantrix which could also fairly be accused of being a bit too random.  Maybe the difference in Carc is that you always are looking for that certain one tile to complete your scoring and you just never draw it.  Whereas in a game like Tantrix (or even Ingenious, for that matter) you try and make do with what you have and usually a clever move exists.  San Francisco Cable Car (a reprint of the older Dirk Henn title Metro) is an excellent little board game that seems to fall somewhere right in between.  The choice of what tile you play each turn is quite limited but exactly where you play that tile can make all the difference.

The gameplay of the basic game (which is exactly the same as Metro) is quite simple and, as in most Queen games, very clearly explained.  Each player has the same number of cars in their colour which are placed on designated spaces around the outside of the board.  Players take turns either playing their hidden tile onto the board or draw a random tile and play that one instead.  Tiles must obey a few rules:  all tiles must be oriented in the same direction, they must be connected to the outside of the board or another tile, and if at all possible they must not cause a car to score only a single point.  If after the tile is played any player's car is connected in a continuous line of track to a station, then that player's car scores a point for every tile its track runs through.  If that station happens to be the power station in the centre, then the points are doubled.

So in the basic version, players add tiles trying to extend the tracks of their own cars while running all of their opponent's cars into stations as fast as possible.  It's pretty nasty stuff but a fairly short game so players don't tend to get too upset.  Now, the big difference between Cable Car and its predecessor Metro is the new stock variant which in my mind takes a very light game and makes it much, MUCH more interesting.  It is also, I think, what makes Cable Car so worth the purchase.

In the stock variant none of the coloured cars are owned by the players.  There are now 8 companies with 4 cars each and each player is given a random set of 4 stocks in values of 10, 20, 30, and 40 percent.  In addition to a regular play of a tile, on your turn you can instead exchange one of your stocks with one of equivalent value from the face-up stock or random from the top of the pile.  This stock exchange is available only until one company manages to score 25 or more points and then all players' stocks are locked in till the end of the game.  Once the final tile is played and all the cars have scored, players stocks are valued according to their percentage times the relative rank of the company.  (For example, if the black company placed first out of the 8 companies and I had a 30 percent share, it would be worth 3x8=24 points.)  In addition, there are some small company bonuses for players with majorities.  Once the tally is done, high score wins.

So the stock rules don't add too much complexity to the game but they allow for players to focus on increasing the length of paths for multiple companies.  They also shelter players a bit from being directly attacked although it's almost guaranteed that early on someone will make your 60 percent share company score a 2-point car.  But at the point you just exchange your 40 percent share for one from a different and hopefully better company.  Of course, this can only occur before one company scores big and then everyone's assets are locked in. And this adds a delicious tension and makes the speculation that much tougher as not only can exchanges only be done early on but you must also give up an opportunity to add track to the board.  And since only 60 tiles can ever get played in a game, your options to influence the tracks are already fairly limited.

We played the original version once with everyone being their own colour and have only played the stock version since.  The rules aren't much more complicated and the depth added to the game now feels like it should always be there.  The stock game feels a bit lighter than say Ticket To Ride but plays much quicker and works perfectly well even with the 6 players.  The satisfaction of completing that 20-point track in a company you've got investments in is quite satisfying and watching the board take form is pretty cool.  I'm not surprised at how enjoyable and satisfying this game is considering it was designed by Dirk Henn whose credits include the classic Alhambra and the tense and tricky Atlantic Star.  I was lucky enough to receive this as a Christmas gift (you have to be VERY careful when buying me board games as gifts) and boy am I glad I did as I probably would have overlooked this little gem.  If you want a family strategy game that includes tile-laying, stock options, and a little bit of delicious nastiness, I don't think you could do better than this game.  Easy-to-learn, fun, and very quick.  But you gotta play with the stock variant....

Friday, February 10, 2012

On The Horizon: the latest Friedemann Friese project...

The ever-strange and creative inventor of Power Grid and Black Friday has decided to create a board game using mechanics from the top ten board games of all time on BGG.  That would include the worker placement from Agricola, the card purchase from Through The Ages, deck-building from Dominion, the card-drafting from 7 Wonders, turn-order from (you guessed it!) Power Grid, and the action selection from Puerto Rico.  Huh.  Okay, I'll bite.  I'm interested to see how all this comes together....

You can see him talk about his schizophrenic design here.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

First Plays: Fealty and German Railways...

There was a  full-frontal nerdity again last night at UW games night and, as usual, I forced people to play some of my new games that have been waiting patiently to be played.

We started with Fealty, a sharp, nasty, tactical game that is remarkably short.  8 turns and you finish and score.  It was an interesting experience and a relatively simple game but figuring out the right play seems nearly impossible.  I think it'll require a few games to get a handle of but I imagine it'll be just excellent with 2 players.

Final layout with scoring tokens.  Colourful.  I lost horribly.
We also got German Railways to the table.  It definitely felt like the successor to Chicago Express but different enough to stand on its own merits.

The clever turn-order mechanism made this one feel a bit like Power Grid, you know, all about the timing, and the winning condition (most money overall, stocks worth nothing) made correct bidding paramount much like a great game of Modern Art.  In fact, in our game the top 2 players at the end ended up owning the least amount of stock.  This is a very, very interesting game - quite devious and very much open to table-talk and coercion.  Definitely a favourite of the new year and in my mind an even better game than Chicago Express.

One caveat, though:  Queen really messed up this design by leaving one thing out.  There are 8 different railroads each with a unique power and in the original Winsome title these powers were clearly laid out ON THE BOARD!  In this reprint, Queen stupidly removed that and just left it on the back page of the rulebook.  This was a horrendous oversight and something we kept screwing up over and over.  We had to continuously check the rulebook throughout the game every time we went to make an action. I'm really not sure what the hell they were thinking and I'm actually considering taking a Sharpie to the board and writing them on myself.  Painful.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Dude, I think you drunk my Battleship...

How to make a classic game WAY more fun!

Click on the pic to embiggen
 (Via Geek Sect...)