Thursday, March 10, 2005

2 Games. No Theme.

Here we are, two weeks later (we missed last week due to scheduling conflicts). I hate it when real life intrudes on us!

It was my pick, and I had a hanckerin' for two of my favorites... El Grande and Duel of Ages.

El Grande continues to be right at the top of my list of games. I really enjoy the tension created by the mechanics (bidding, choosing action cards, scoring)... I find myself engaged at all times. There is also a real challenge in improving your position while keeping the leader(s) down. Since you only get one action per turn, and that action is limited by the choices offered by the "Action Cards" (and further by those that are left by the time you get to choose!), it's not nearly as easy to "kill the leader" as it can be in other open scoring games. If I had to find fault with the game, it would be that it can be quite difficult to stop a runaway leader.

In this game, things were quite tight until the third round, at which point Tili rocketed out in the lead. We actually gave a shot at stopping her (we have a tendency to focus more on improving our own position), but it wasn't enough... For the record, I was dead last!

Next up was Duel of Ages. We played a 3 platter board, with 4 players, and 4 characters each. We had the four labyrinths, the Royal Tournament, the Lith Alliance and the Field of Honour in play. I made up two house rules... First, each player gets dealt 5 pieces of equipment to start, then keeps one. Second, if a character dies, it is replaced at the end of that player's next turn. Rather than most characters counting for victory points, the most kills counts.

When played with the expansions, this game can get pretty chaotic. Case in point, of my 4 characters, 3 were decidely wierd. I had a brain with mind control powers, a futuristic creature called Paradox which reverses nearby character's stats, and a humble villager who is very difficult to hit because (arbitrarily, it seems) odd rolls cannot hit him.Paradox and the brain teamed up to take on the Royal Tournament (since the Brain's normally pathetic nearly all black stats were transformed to all white in it's presence). On another occasion, Shemp's Arden Glynn was ambushed and killed by a lethal combination of having his good stats reversed while being fired on by a prety good gun by a pretty good shot (my fourth character, who's name I forget). Probably the worst problem for the opposing team, however, was that their inital advantage of 3 starting henchmen was eventually neutralized by the Brain's mind control. By the end, 3 of their characters had defected to our side!

Still, it was far from a runaway victory. As mentioned above, Shemp and Luch started with 3 henchmen in addition to their starting characters. They quickly pulled ahead in points and we would have had a very difficult time catching up if we hadn't been so succesful killing and mind controlling their characters. We pulled ahead in the final few rounds of the game.

Unfortunately, Shemp was pretty frustrated by the wierd characters. (The scenario where the Brain was succesfully thumping Arden Glynn to a pulp due to reversed stats courtesy of Paradox in particular seemed to bother him). I doubt anyone would argue this is an elegant game. Fiddly rules abound, exceptions aren't rare, and characters do not always appear balanced. I still find it quite fun, though. I think part of it is that events can be more memorable in this game than many others. A clever or unexpected combination of equipment and characters, an unlikely set of rolls whcih gives the underdog a surprise victory, a plan which comes toghether to turn the tables for the losing team, etc, are all things which I enjoy. It sits somewhere between a Eurogame and a role playing game (I don't think anyone would argue that RPGs aren't also fiddly, exception filled and often at the mercy of luck).

The Field of Honour is obviously awkward, though. First of all, the requirement for a weapon of the appropriate skill type means that it is rarely used. Second, the revision to give both characters the same weapon certainly levels the playing field, but also forces such clunky "exceptions"... such as the challenged character is exempt from the weapon's minimum requirements for the Duel. I'm sure the designers came to this decision due to playtesting concerns, but it flies against logic and seems unecessary.

I will say this: Now that I own most of the expansions, I'm happy to play with them. However, if I were to do it again, I probably wouldn't buy them. The two base sets (Worldspanner and Intensity) have enough variety while keeping things more or less "sane".

1 comment:

  1. First - El Grande! - always fun, and I think that if there was a concerted, co-ordinated effort, killing the leader would be possible. We, as a group, just aren't that good at killing the leader, or at least that is my suspicion. I like that it is difficult to kill the leader, and usually involves a trade-off in terms of what would benefit one, personally. I guess I'm just saying that I'm not sure if you criticism is globally valid, or just something based on our particular gaming group.

    Second - Duel of Ages! - Well, we've played this one a pile of times, and it is still wierd. I feel like you think I was a little more frustrated than I really was, but in my mind there IS a problem with the arbitrariness of some of the rules.
    See, if a game has just a few broad rules, I am willing to cut it a lot of slack in terms of "realistic" situations - I understand that the game designer went for elegance, and, hey, that's cool. In role-playing, damn straight things are usually pretty fiddly, and that is the price that one pays for the freedom to do almost anything. What I object to is inconsistant, fiddly, gameplay when that freedom is absent.

    It's like this - the game designers went to the lengths of deciding how heavy weapons were, and deciding which characters could wield weapons of various weight. I personally don't need that kind of detail to enjoy a game, but I do appreciate the sheer bloody-mindedness of it. I do think that, if you are going to keep adding these little rules, though, it is imperitive to stick with them, and keep exceptions to an absolute minimum, or else the experience of playing the game is negatively impacted. I understand that this is at heart a non-collectible CCG, and that having some rule-breaking, exceptional cards is part of the deal, and I think that makes sense in terms of the Character cards; other exceptions I am not so sanguine about.

    It doesn't mean I don't like playing Duel from time to time. I do. But there are definitely weak points to the game, and as a game, I consider it to be problematic.

    AND - as far as your house rules, well, they sure did keep things hoppin'! I think that personally, I like seeing everyone's team dwindle as time runs down. It helps give a sense of closure. That's just a personal preference, though, and of the six of one, half dozen of the other sort.