Monday, April 21, 2014

A short review of Splendor....

I'm always looking for simplicity in games, especially the lighter ones.  Much like the mathematical proofs I studied in the yesteryears of my graduate work, the simplest were always the most elegant and the best.  This to me is what makes quickie games like For Sale and Coloretto so wonderful - rules in under a minute but some definite thought involvement.  Splendor is like that - easy to explain and short enough (with the right players) and it seems like it's got some depth.  And it does if you look for it.  But I would argue one can just as easily play this fun game with nary a plan and still walk away handily with the victory.  And therein lies my disappointment although I do think its enjoyable enough filler if its played very quickly.

If a gamer was asked what an engine-building game is, they might say something like, "it's a game where you get resources to buy things which generate more resources and maybe points."  Using this description, Splendor really is an engine-building game boiled down to its purest, purest essence.  There are gems of 5 types which let you buy cards which then give you permanent gems and eventually, on the more expensive cards, points.  And that's about the gist of the game.  First player to 15 points shouts hurrah and shuffles up for another round.  It's almost that simple.  Okay, there's some bonus tiles which you can claim if you get enough cards of certain colours but there isn't much else to it.  On a player's turn, you can take 1 of the following 4 options: take 3 distinct gems or 2 gems of the same colour (if there's still at least 4 of that colour left) or hold a card for later and take a wild chip or buy a card from the table or their hand.

So you can pick up and hold up to 3 cards for later purchase?  This is key because I think this is where the major problem with the game exists.  In my experience with Splendor (including a 5-game bender a couple Saturday nights ago), the 4th choice of action - to hold a card for later and take a wild chip - is completely sub-optimal and one can win easily without ever doing it.  I honestly wonder why the option is even there if it so useless until perhaps the final turn to clinch the victory.  I've now played a few more games since then, refusing to ever pick up a card and only gathering gems when a table purchase is not possible.  And I've won them, in one case quite handily.  Part of the issue is the cards revealed are always so random that if you keep a spread of colours you're almost always able to buy something.  If not, just wait till the next turn and something will probably come up.  The luck factor is unfortunately quite large in this one.

It's too bad because this really is an enjoyable and speedy (if somewhat generic) little game which seems at first glance to offer lots of decisions.  I will say that I have only played my 10+ games with 4 players so we cycle through the decks very quickly.  This probably allows for many cards to be purchased quite easily.  I imagine in a 2-player game one would have to plan a little further ahead as the cards wouldn't get cycled half as much.

Clearly if I've played more than 10 games of this, it's a nice enough diversion (especially for lunch hours at work).  And I'll probably play it a few more times.  But the "holding" option and gold gems are entirely superfluous and one can very easily win this one by just waiting, hoarding chips, and buying the first cards that come up.

Maybe I just like that clicking those coloured chips together makes such a satisfying sound.....

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Night before Gathering of Friends 2014

I realize it sounds like bragging whenever I mention the Gathering of Friends (GoF) to my friends or family. I don't apologize. It is one of the great highlights of my year. If I could I would invite all my friends to come along. However, I can't. Last year was my first chance to experience this glorious gamer geekdom, and it lived up to the hype.

Alan Moon & Me (chess board made by Stephen Sauer)
For anyone unaware what the Gathering of Friends is, the event is an invite-only board game convention hosted by Alan Moon (designer of numerous amazing games, best know for Ticket to Ride). The event includes about 400 people from around the world. I believe we have about 15 countries represented + about 40 States/Provinces represented from US/Canada (and with almost 30 different publishers in attendance too). The event started tonight and continues for the next 11 days. I plan to arrive tomorrow.

So tonight is my christmas eve. I am scrambling to get all ready for my board game Christmas. I just gave myself a christmas shave (I decided to go with a Mennonite beard to represent my region). I will struggle to fall asleep tonight, thinking about all the excitement of tomorrow, and when tomorrow finally arrives, it will be filled with quality time with my gamer extended family, opening lots of colourful boxes and playing with new toys.

I will do my best to share some pictures and/or stories of upcoming games I see at GoF. Last year I managed to see at least a dozen games that were unreleased. I will hopefully discover some gems to highlight.

Also, I have 4 prototypes I will be shopping around to publishers (working titles: Caffeine Rush, Ninth Inning, Hex & Ladders, and Shopping Cart). Additionally, I will be representing 2 games from fellow Game Artisans of Canada (working titles: Slither by Micah Fuller, Birds of a Feather by Stefan Alexander). I will do my best to keep people posted about who I pitch to and how they went.

Furthermore, I will be showing my game The Walled City by Mercury Games, around at the Gathering. Really excited to show the game around to a few people. Sorry but I can't leak too much details about my game yet, but stay tuned! The one thing I can say, because it already was mentioned on BGG News (so cool!) is Josh Cappel is the artist for The Walled City! Anyone who knows his work (Pandemic, 1960, Belfort, Endeavor, Garden Dice, Kings of Air & Steam, New Amsterdam, etc) will understand why I am so excited about this. And also I am proud to call him my friend. So double win!

Game Artisan of Canada - amazing board game designers + me
And I will be hanging with a bunch of amazing game designers so I will get to play test some great prototypes too!

Monday, April 7, 2014

I was about to write a review....

...for the delightful new jewel-collecting (engine-building) game Splendor.  However, after 5 games this past Saturday won by the same damn player using the same damn strategy, I'm concerned.  I fear that this game has a dominant strategy that doesn't even involve ever doing one of the 4 possible actions available each turn (the holding).

I need to play a couple more times to confirm but my review may be disappointing.  Sigh.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014