Thursday, September 29, 2005

All Hell Broke Loose

We gathered this week, visited once more by our friend JayWowser from California, for an ambitious attempt at playing both a "long" course of Robo-Rally and a session of Arkham Horror. Turns out, we were too ambitious, but just by a little.

This was JayWowser's first go at RoboRally. We had five players, and we chose a 2 board scenario from the "beginner's" courses. I have to hand it to the course designers in the new edition... the two we've tried so far have been real winners. The length is well represented in the description, the courses encourage good interaction and keeps leaders in check by forcing "double backs" in most (all?) cases.

We played with my "Pirate's Cove" variant. I have always felt that this game penalizes the players that are behind too harshly (they go back to their last save point AND start with damage!). It's hard enough to come back from a death and stay in the race, why make it harder? In this variant, players who suffer a setback are given a chance to bounce back by being given the option to come at full health or take two damage and draw an "option" card (similar to Pirate Cove's rules, giving pirates a choice of option cards when they are beaten in battle). I'll probably post this to BGG eventually.

I made a bee line towards the first flag and got there largely unopposed. In contrast, the other four were battling it out from the start. Kozure made a habit out of zapping Jaywowser. Meanwhile, Shemp took a few too many rides on the looped conveyor belts. I had made it to the 2nd flag as all hell broke loose at the first one. JayWowser, heavily damaged and with several locked registers, along with an otherwise healthy Kozure, was sent flying off the board by a charging Luch (Kozure almost immediately went over again). As I made my end run across the board back to the final flag, Shemp decided to give up the race and focus on taking me out. Kozure was terminally stuck in the crossfire of too many robots, and was eliminated from the game. Meanwhile, JayWowser and Luch headed for flag 2... holding out hope that Shemp would screw me over. I got shot up good on the way to the final flag, well enough to lock 3 of my registers before I could reach it. I tried valiantly to get there anyway, and I did make it to within one space twice, but I was never able to make it work. JayWowser snuck down the middle and claimed the victory as Luch was destroyed by Shemp close to the final flag.

All in all, a very chaotic and exciting race (well, maybe not exciting for Kozure). I really enjoy this game.

Next up was Arkham Horror. The guys had hyped this up for me, and my brief solo game seemed very intriguing, so I was looking forward to trying it out. We started at 8pm, giving us 3 hours for the game (assuming we finished up at our regular time). 4.5 hours later, we still hadn't finished, so we called it a night!

Our group was a solid mix of brains and brawn. All in all, I never really felt like we were in serious danger of failing (of course, Shemp as our own personal army clearing the streets, all the healing abilities we could ask for, and a well timed visit from the feds, helped a lot in this regard). When we quit, we were very close to successfully sealing all the gates we needed, so we packed up confident we would have won.

My reaction to the game itself is mixed. On one hand, there is a large number of very cool concepts and mechanics in the game. I appreciate the sheer variety of "stuff" it offers (characters, monsters, equipment, Great Old Ones, etc). I feel like there was an honest effort to capture a huge amount of the flavour of the mythos (the stories, the rpg, etc). But in the end... there is too much. A serious amount of editing should have taken place.

A (very) brief synopsis:

Each player takes on the role of an investigator from a particular walk of life (psychologist, student, doctor, private eye, etc). Each has different strengths and weaknesses. A Great Old One is randomly selected as the evil which is about to awake, and the game begins. Each turn, "mythos" events occur, clues are discovered around town and portals open up in unstable locations on the board (spitting out monsters in the process). It is up to the players to seal these "gates" before too many open, awakening the sleeping evil... (the bulk of the game involves working toghether to roam the streets, collect items and "clues", fighting creatures and sealing gates. They can win by sealing them all, but if the condition is met for the Great Old One to awaken before they can do that, everything stops and the group must collectively fights it).

What I liked:

There is a clever character stat system which allows players to adjust their skills every round, but every time they raise something, something else gets lowered (such as raising your "speed" reduces your "sneak"). It's a very elegant little touch which gives good flexibility to the characters to adapt to situations in a way that is balanced and simple. The monster movement system is also interesting; routes in black and/or white are traced on the board. Every time monster movement occurs, creature's who's symbols are called that turn move along the track they have been assigned to (ex: All "Star" cleatures move along the white path). It's a bit cumbursome to scan every creature each round for the symbols, but it's an original way to have a multitude of creatures move in an unpredictable way (and better than just rolling dice for all of them). Each location has a deck of cards which determine the types of encounters which will happen there (it's a little overwhelming to see all the decks of cards, and it doesn't result in as much variety of events as you'd expect, but it's a nice idea nonetheless). The whole "upkeep","Move/fight","Location Encounters","Mythos Event" systems works pretty well, despite some confusion regarding WHEN combats actually occur in certain circumstances, and despite the poor layout of the mythos cards themselves. Finally, I like the dynamics of gate opening: Each mythos card calls for a new gate in a location on the board. If it already has a gate, all open gates spit out monsters. If a gate has already been sealed there, the players are spared. This system accomplishes many things with simple and logical mechanics.

What I don't like:

The biggest problem is that the game is fairly long, but it feels like it should be going faster. The issue, in my mind, is that on top of the core rules there are a myriad of other, tiny rules which are individually simple and add flavour, but collectively just feel cumbursome. The "doom" counters (I think that's what they were called), which track the slow awakening of the Great Old One, kept getting forgotten. Money is bordeline unecessary. The terror level is an interesting concept (with residents of town and shops closing as it rises), but it doesn't add enough to be included. The creature "overflow" area is similar, unecessary clutter. Between the modifiers to the game from the Great Old One, the 3 types of Mythos cards, the character abilities and the myriad equipment and spells... it's hard to really be sure to apply all modifiers at a given time. While the "Sky" space adds an interesting element, "Lost in Time and Space" seems like a kludge solution to a problem they couldn't solve. There is a lot more, but the last one I'll mention is that the creatures have two flaws which bothered me: 1) the colour coding for special movement should have been replaced with text on the card (in fact, in some cases there is both!). 2) The double sided tokens meant that we were constantly flipping to see how hard something was to kill, how hard it was to sneak past, what symbol it was for movement purposes, etc.

In short: Simplify! Consolidate!

The fact that no one can agree on how some rules work is clearly a problem. The fact that the climax of the game, the encounter with the Great Old One, is one such situation, is pretty awful. I haven't yet had such an encounter, but considering that I don't understand how "fighting" such powerful creatures is in the spirit of the mythos, I'd probably like to see the whole process eliminated or re-worked.

It would be interesting to see if the game would work like this:

1) No money (simple draw three, choose 1 mechanic at the shops instead)
2) no blessings or curses
3) No terror level/ Overflow stack
4) Eliminate the trip to the outer planes. When a player wants to seal a gate, draw and resolve 1 card of the appropriate plane. If he/she survives, try to seal the gate immediately (or possibly the next turn)
5) Agree that combat always takes place in the movement phase, no matter what.
6) The Great Old One chosen determines the special conditions of the game (as usual), but if it awakens, the game ends. (B.T.W. An idea for a better way of keeping track of the doom track: Count out a # of gate markers equal the length of the doom track and return the others to the box. When the last one is placed, the Great Old One awakens and the game is over. When an Elder sign seals a gate, return it to the bottom of the stack. I haven't tested it, but it seems like it would work)

A few items that could have simplified the game, but couldn't be done now without going back to the drawing board:

1)Reduce the equipment cards to one stack (combining spells, unique items and common items).
2)Possibly eliminate the location card stacks (and go with a simpler streets=nothing, locations=printed text at the location, Mythos card=game events). Some of the flavour would be lost, but it would dramatically improve the pace of the game.

Summary: A VERY ambitious game. Succeeds in many ways, but fails in just as many. I enjoyed myself as always, but I don't think I'll be requesting it in the future.

Rating: 6


  1. Anonymous3:00 PM

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  3. Anonymous8:29 AM

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