Saturday, November 27, 2004

So... many... cards

This week we delved into the CRAZY world of healthy (?) snacks and quick'n'dirty card games.

Ever had organic gummy bears? They are yummy. We also had smartfood popcorn, cranberry trailmix and veggies. Of course, we're all still devastated that Luch's soy "ice cream" bars were accidentally left out of the freezer... or not.

The quick and dirty card games started with Falling! Still don't have a handle on this one. Either we're not playing right (seems likely) and/or the game is somewhat broken (again, likely). Our first 3 hands were chaos, and the last two had all players stuck holding cards they couldn't play until we landed. Anyway, all that took about 6 minutes...

Next up was Chez Geek. this was a pleasant surprise! Not a serious game by any means, and not one involving a whole lot of strategy, but here is a game that is just about getting a bunch of people together to laugh and have fun. Essentially, everyone plays roomates, each competing to be the most "Slack". Slack is accumalted by vegging out, sleeping, having great nookie, eating, drinking and having fun friends. Slack is frustrated by loud garbage trucks interrupting nookie, obnoxious aquaintances intruding on your space, and TV distracting you from a more "Slacktastic" endeavour. Every player has a different job and slack goal, and the mechanics essentially revolve around drawing and playing cards on yourself or others. Every turn you can call aquaintances to your or your roomate's rooms, and/or buy stuff or go places according to your finances and free time (your job constrains how much money and free time you actually have). our game saw plenty of nookie being had and interrupted (it should be noted that Tili consistently had the best nookie... Kozure you lucky dog). Probably my favorite card in the game is "Over enthousiastic guy", an aquaintance who goes from room to room congratulating anyone who does anything particularly "SlackWorthy". The game encourages the acting out of scenes, and there's quite a bit of laughing... always a good thing! My only criticism would be that it runs a little long for what it is, but that could easily be solved by having everyone agree to playing to a slightly lower goal. I'm not normally a guy who goes for theme over mechanics, but this one does what it does pretty well, and I enjoyed it quite a bit.

After that, we played Star Munchkin. We'd all played this one before. this is a game which essentially aspires to the same goal as Chez Geek... Funny, light, some competition but not much real strategy. It succeeds just about as well, but given the chance I'd probably play Chez Geek again first.

Next, we played Chrononauts. Again, we'd all played this one before. I felt a bit more comfortable this time, and didn't waste as much time trying to corelate the "patch" events with the trigger dates. It plays pretty smoothly once you are used to it. The outcome seems too random to make this a favorite of mine (it seems that "right time, right place" happens a lot, such as having other players trigger the right paradoxes, and not cancel certain patches, can often win the game). Quite chaotic in that sense, but still fun to play and defintely an admirable effort in game/ theme/ mechanic design.

We closed off by playing another round of Chez Geek. All in all, 9 games played in one evening! I can't remember who won any of them for sure, but I had a good time!

Chez Geek: 7



  1. Hmmm... guess I waited too long to post an entry on this one. Nicely done, Easy.

    I think another explanation of the rules in Falling is in order next time we play. Some rules, such as the very important "only one rider at a time" and how extras work, seem to have gotten hazy. The now apparent "broken rule" of several people ending up holding a single card until they hit the ground does seem to indicate a problem with the basic game system. I'm going to post a question on BBG and see if anyone else has run into this, because it doesn't seem like a problem which would be missed easily.

    Chez Geek and Munchkin, while both excellently themed, have the same problems of a) lacking in the sense of any meaningful player-vs-player competition other than "leader-killing" b) winning being super-dependant upon random card draws. Unlike, say, Jyhad, where card draw is important but strategy still is evident, both games lack a fundamental sense of "control". You get cards and you play them - the only strategy is really playing the right combination to get the best effect, and how to manage getting more money on a given turn (or minimizing the income of your opponent so that they don't get theirs). Now, this sounds like a good idea, but when extra money is specifically dependent upon cards like "money from parents" and the like, playing people like the drummer becomes mostly a random issue.

    Munchkin is a little better in this aspect in terms of having things to do to specifically "screw yer neighbour", but less successful in basically having no resources to manage.

    To take this analysis to a slightly more abstract level, in almost all successful card games, the element of chance is offset by the player-controlled element of keeping some cards while discarding others (draw poker, cribbage, hearts) OR requiring that the functioning of cards is "powered" by something - in Jyhad, "blood"; in Magic and many others, "tapping". So, you can't have dozens of cards or overwhelming power because you are limited in these aspects.

    In Chez Geek you get all of your hand back at the end of your turn, regardless of how many you played; the more you play cards, the better you chances of drawing better cards. The only limiting factor is income.

    In Munchkin, they have used the "charity" rule to offset over-sized hands, and limited powers by the "one complex item" and two hands, footgear, armour, headgear rules. You gain cards by beating monsters, which is not really dependent upon the skill of the user in playing cards, but rather which monster you draw in relation to what equipment you drew earlier in the game. The only other way of gaining cards, "searching the room" is also pretty much dependant upon not finding a monster during the initial station card draw.

    I enjoyed both games, but in playing both I noticed that there was always a feeling of "something missing" - I believe that "something" is two-fold - a) true player vs. player competition and b) long-term strategy beyond simple card reaction play.

    Strangely, even though we haven't played it as a group, Skippy's Revenge and Kung-fu Samurai on Giant Robot Island also suffer from this general problem - but PvP is more evident in these games.

    Chrononauts was more enjoyable this time around due to the fact that more people were familiar with how it was supposed to work. This game has an interesting mechanic and play, but the problem with it is that you can win (via secret goal) almost entirely randomly. If you draw the right secret goal and then draw three of the correct artifacts quickly, you're done. Of course, you are encouraged to get the chance to get and hold more artifacts by patching paradoxes and selling artifacts, so it's not entirely random. My other gripe with the game is that since the goals of the other players are generally secret, it's hard to guess at the goal of their artifact collecting until you've seen a lot of the goal cards. This makes it difficult to thwart the plans of an opponent, which is of course the essense of the "screw your neighbour" factor so popular in games.

    Despite these complaints, this was a fun evening - I think that it's nice to have an entire evening as a fun-time event, rather than having to burn your brain in intense strategy games like Tigris and Euphrates and Princes of Florence.

  2. Popular american games which many people would call "fun" often lack just about every characteristic of good game design that we discussed earlier (and BGG seems to be in agreement). Sorry, Mille Bornes, Yahtzee, Game of Life, etc, all feature heavy luck elements and very little strategy. Hopefully for them, the theme draws people in, and the events themselves are fun enough get people to play again. Many people like these precisely because skill doesn't determine the winner... it's just meant to be an enjoyable way to kill an hour. There's nothing wrong with that, I'll play yahtsee ANY OL' DAY OF THE WEEK.

    Chez Geek and Star Munchkin seem (to me) to fall in that category of game... it's not about skill, it's about having fun for an hour.I don't think it's possible to get "Good" at any of these games. Again, that's not a bad thing. As long as the game doesn't wear out it's welcome, what's wrong with it?

    B.T.W. Chrononaughts has a bit of a learning curve which gives a slight advantage to experienced players (for example, Kozure was easily able to identify my artifact collecting as a secret goal, and knew exactly which one was missing and who had it, because he knew the cards).I couldn't guess what others were collecting and therefore couldn't stop them quite as directly. In this game, since it's so chaotic, knowledge doesn't translate to winning so not really a big deal.

  3. For the record, I didn't keep track of who won in Falling, but I believe it was pretty evenly distributed.

    Chez Geek (round 1) was won by Easy - er... I think. Star Munchkin was won by Easy. Chrononauts was won by either Shemp or Hapi - it was not Easy. Chez Geez (round 2) was won by Shemp... I think... boy... when I started this comment, I thought I knew who had won, but now I'm completely unsure. Any input appreciated.

  4. I don't really have much to add, other than some scores and brief comments.

    Falling: You know, it just isn't worth the trouble to clarify the rule, in my opinion. I just don't care if we're playing correctly or not. There doesn't seem to be any appreciable difference either way.

    Chez Geek is fun enough, but I think I enjoy Star Munchkin a little bit more - as Easy noted, they have very similar goals and mechanics. A six for Star Munchkin, and a 5.5 for Chez Geek.

    Chrononauts improved with some familiarity. I'll give it a 6.5.