Friday, November 04, 2005

Tikal, the Domaine of Paranoia!

This Wednesday, Luch decided to pick Domaine and Tikal. I brought along "Paranoia, Mandatory *Bonus Fun* Card game", a fairly recent acquisition, as filler.

Domaine has been a staple in our group for some time. Initially, I was put off by the big land grab at the end which was always determining the winner. With a few plays, this simply became part of the strategy... try to keep other players from getting such a windfall, while trying to line one up for yourself. The other issue I had was that we never got the rules right. Even after several plays, the rule which prohibits using the chancery after all face down cards have been drawn kept getting forgotten! This session was the first where we played 100% correctly.

I started out with my usual strategy... aim to capture as many mines as possible. One of my initial placements, right in the middle of the board, was adjacent to 3 different mines. I was able to take them quite early and had plentiful income for the whole game because of them. The other players weren't far behind (typically 2 apiece), however, so the advantage wasn't that great. I wound up with a really good shot at getting a large chunk of land, but didn't draw the cards I needed to close it up. That, and the other players noticed it in time to make sure they weren't helping! I did eventually get a large chunk of land out of it, but by then it had been cut nearly in half by the others. Meanwhile, as Shemp, Kozure and Luch built fairly powerful kingdoms across the board no one noticed the end run Kozure was planning on. Before we could react, he closed of a large chunk and won the game. Another fun session of Domaine!

Next was Tikal. It was Shemp's first go at the game, and after a brief rules explanation we off exploring! I started pouring explorers onto the board, thinking that I it would give me an advantage over time to be out early (this is normally a good strategy in El Grande). I combined this with a plan to set up "corridors" and base camps at choke points to give me near exclusive access to sections of the board. Unfortunately, each and every one of these decisions turned out to be bad ones! The mass of of explorers at the beginning of the game haunted me because it's very difficult to maintain a majority there since it's so wide open and accessible to everyone. To make things worse, they are low value temples which require a significant investment to improve. As things developed, the map did have many corridors, making movement quite difficult for everyone. I managed to get base camps far enough down those corridors to get me there faster than other players could, but Shemp (drawer of all volcanoes this game), kept laying them in ways which effectively reduced those corridors to dead ends. My explorers had a very difficult time to get anywhere. The others had much more effective strategies of reaching and holding harder to access temples. In the end, Kozure had his pieces well distributed at many otherwise abandoned mid level temples and ran away with the victory (Shemp, in his first playing, came in second closely followed by myself and Luch in a tie for last). A wonderful game!

Last was Paranoia. This is a new game by Mongoose Publishing. I didn't really know what to expect, because there weren't any reviews for it (even at BGG!). I mostly bought it because I really liked the old RPG.

This appears, at first glance, to be a fairly typical "Take That!" type game. The result is better than I expected, but I have a few reservations:

The world of Paranoia involves a "Brave New World" type future, with a computer in charge of keeping everyone happy. Unfortunately, the computer has been reprogrammed too many times and has now gone insane. It is now paranoid and thinks that "Commie Mutant Traitors" are everywhere. Problem is, they sort of are. In fact, each player is a mutant and part of a secret society. Second, the Computer wants everyone to be "Happy", by lethal force if it has to. You get the idea. For the purposes of the card game, most of this is unimportant, but it puts things in context (powers and secret societies are alluded to in card text, but don't directly come into play).

Players represent "Troubleshooters", citizens of Alpha Complex unfortunate enough to be charged with accomplishing impossible missions for the Computer. Each character has a security level, which determines how many hits they can take, how much treason they can commit before they are deemed "Traitors", and how many actions they can perform (i.e. the size of their hand). One player is the "Team Leader". He starts with a higher rank, which would be an advantage, but one of the best ways to improve your character is to kill the team leader and become one yourself, so it's pretty hard to stay alive. Incidentally, all players receive 6 clones, or "lives" in video game speak...

Each round, a "Mission" card is revealed. The card identifies what the characters are told to do by the Computer, what happens if they succeed and what happens if they fail. Players hold "Action Cards" which are dealt at the same time as the mission. These are the only cards they get for the entire mission! On a player's turn, they may play one card, either on the mission or another player. Each "Action Card" contains several boxes, each containing instructions for the cards effect depending on if it's directed to yourself, another troubleshooter or *gasp!* the mission. The mission ends once any player runs out of cards, once all characters but one have died, or once the mission is accomplished. At that point, survivors get their bonus or penalty depending on the success of the mission and any characters who have too many "Traitor" counters are executed.

Then, a new Mission is revealed and new "Action" cards are dealt to each player according to current security level.

Keep doing this until one player runs out of "Clone" tokens. At that point, the highest security level character wins.

I didn't have terribly high hopes for the game after reading the rules and examining the cards. Surprisingly, I had a very good time playing the game! This might be because the basics of the game are fairly simple (All card effects and missions boil down to just three things: gaining or taking away rank, traitor tokens and/ or wound tokens). The cards are funny, but more importantly the game play is funny... with characters framing other players, attacking each other, getting screwed by "out of turn" cards which cancel or redirect effects. The sense that most missions are hopeless, and that the best way out is to backstab your friends is well preserved. On top of that, the "Mission" cards and limited hand of cards seem to focus the play a little bit (In a game like "Chez Geek, there isn't much rhyme or reason to playing your turn... you just do stuff to other people and hope to get ahead). Once players match up what's in their hand with the results of potentially succeeding or failing the mission, each one will need to try something a little different to come out ahead (or alive).

Of course, it's got issues. 6 lives is probably too much, you can wind up with a hand of cards which aren't useful and the components aren't exactly world class (though the cards are a fairly thick plastic). The biggest problem, though, is the graphic design. All instructions are rendered in text. With so many potential applications of a card, and several cards in your hand, it's just too hard to know at a glance what you can do. The frustrating thing is, since the game is reduced to just a few concepts it would have been very easy to replace most of the text with easy to understand symbols. In fact, point form text would have been an improvement! ("+1 treason" is much easier to see that "Assign 1 treason token to any player"). I'm tempted to make paste ups for the cards before I play again.

We'll see how it stands up to repeated playing, but for now I'm pleasantly surprised.

Luch won the game, and we had lots of laughs. This is not a game to take seriously. It could have been done better, it could have been done worse, but what we got was a fairly clever and enjoyable game of "Screw yer Neighbour"

Paranoia:(provisional) 7

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