Thursday, February 09, 2006

It takes a village... (Diamant, Tikal x2, Antike, Saboteur)

Quite a crowd at "Chez Kozure" this week.

JayWowzer just couldn't bear the California heat so a mere two weeks after his last visit, we had him in our midst once again. Shamus, having recently humbled us in his first ever evening of german games, thought enough of them to come back... and this time with his girlfriend, Robin!

So, with Shemp out house hunting we had 7 people together. What to play?

We started out with Diamant. Nice, easy fun and fast. In the 3rd cave, Robin found herself all alone and still feeling brave enough to keep going deeper. It paid off in a big way and she left us in the dust (somewhere between 20-30 gems collected in that cave alone). Didn't help that the next two caves were over before they started...

Next Luch requested we play Tikal. We had two copies, so after the explanations we split off and got started. I played with JayWowzer and Luch. It was a great game... competition was tight throughout. I was obscenely lucky and made a triple out of the first 3 treasures I drew. Assuming it would be all downhill from there, I opted to stay out from treasure collecting for the rest of the game (hoping to gain an advantage by not using up valuable action points taking/ trading treasures later on). I made 2 surprise "swoops", taking ownership of high value temples (a 7 and a 10) out from under the other player's noses, but it was too early... I lost a lot of workers in the process and I would need them later on. In the end, I couldn't keep control of enough other temples and JayWowzer's superior mobility and accumulated treasure beat us out in the last few rounds.

The others were still going strong (it was a learning game, after all). Kozure joined us and we moved on to Antike. JayWowzer was kind enough to bring it along so we could give it a spin. I'm sure glad he did! I like the idea of civilization type games, but they are really hard to pull off... Too long, not balanced, fiddly, etc. A truly brilliant civ. game would incorporate war, politics, religion, technological advancements and negotiations in a game which lasted less than 4 hours. Antike is NOT that game, but it IS lots of fun.

Antike is a game set in the ancient mediteranean. Each player starts with a set of three regions, each of which produces a different good (marble, Iron, Gold). Over the course of the game, players race to accumulate a set number of victory points.
The path to that goal is surprisingly clean and simple...

1) Expanding your empire increases your production. Every 5th region under a player's control is worth a VP.
2) GOLD can be accumulated and spent on technological advancements (the wheel, currency, etc). Any player who purchases an advancement gets it's benefit, but the FIRST player to purchase each advancement gets a VP.
3) MARBLE can be spent on building temples. Temples have the direct effect of increasing production and defenses in a region. Every THIRD temple nets a VP.
4) IRON can be spent on building armies (boats or land armies). Occupying 7 ocean hexes nets a VP. Destroying a temple nets a VP.

Actions are selected in a somewhat novel way: The top right corner of the board shows a wheel with each possible action on it (generate marble, build a temple, etc). On a turn, a player can move their marker around the wheel up to 3 spaces and carries out that action (moves beyond 3 spaces are possible at a cost). The wheel is set up in such a way that producing a given resource always leaves a player 1 step too far from the action where it would be spent. It works well and it results in a game which moves remarkably quickly. How many civilization themed games can claim that 4 players take their turns in 2-3 minutes TOTAL?

I started out as Greece. I had a fair number of gold producing regions nearby, so I decided to skip the empire building race and focus on purchasing technological advancements. I took over 4 of those gold regions and built 3 temples on them. I maxed out all the advancements (being the first to buy 5 of the 8). By the end of the game, I was producing 13 gold! Kozure, Luch and JayWowzer had accumulated quite the large empires, armed with a number of armies and fleets. I was VERY nervous that Kozure was going to attack my rather small and fragile territory. One more turn and I think the tide would have turned... As it was I finished the game by expanding to my 10th territory and purchasing 3 temples in quick succession. It was an entirely bloodless game!

In future sessions, I'd never get away with it.

Anyway, Antike manages to incorporate empire building, war and technological advancement in a very elegant and streamlined package which features virtually zero downtime and a very rapid 1.5 hour playtime. If I could find it locally, I'd surely buy it. Chris Farrell has criticized this game on his blog. I can't say I agree with him here. I quite like it.

We finished up with Saboteur. I bought this game, along with Diamant, specifically for our New Year's Eve party... thinking that a nice light game which could accomodate a large group would be a hit (and wanting an alternative to party games, though we would ultimately play those as well). It didn't go over too well.

In Saboteur, players assume the roles of dwarves digging mining tunnels trying to get to 3 different spots which MIGHT contain treasure. The twist is that one or more players MIGHT be traitors! They win if the dwarves finish the game without finding the treasure. It's a card game, and on a turn a player simply plays a card and then draws to replace. The card might be a section of tunnel or a "hazard" card which prevents another player from functioning until they play the appropriate "fix" card (this works exactly like the "hazard/ safety" mechanic from Mille Bornes). Obviously, the traitors try to inconspicuously lead the tunnel in the wrong direction, etc, because the moment they are discovered the hazards start to pile up quick.

The problem on New Year's Eve was that it was simply impossible for the good dwarves to win! The deck routinely ran out before the they could get close to any of the possible destinations. A quick visit to BGG proved to be very confusing... opinions there seemed to be that there was no way for the TRAITORS to win.

How is that possible?

Well, after playing last night I can concur that with 4 players the good dwarves have it pretty easy. The only hand where the traitor came close to stopping the others was caused by me and JayWowzer being completely convinced Luch was the traitor, burying him under a constant barrage of hazards. At the last minute, it became clear we were dead wrong and Kozure was actually the traitor. We recovered and found the gold, but it was pretty lucky (and I have to commend Luch for taking the punishment without letting on we were mistaken... the game lives and dies on players being able to keep their secrets)

Bottom line: Played as-is, the number of players seems to frequently predetermine which side will win. In a 4 player game, a maximum of 1 out of 4 players will be a traitor. In a 7 player game, 3 out of 7 could be traitors. Percentage wise, that's a big difference. Perhaps adding a potential 2nd traitor to the mix in the 4 player game might allow a less predictable shift of power. We'll see. There are probably "ideal" numbers of players where the ratio of traitors and good dwarves is balanced (I'd guess 6 and 9). The good news is that I enjoyed the game much more than I did the first time. It's nothing special, but there aren't a huge number of decent 10 player games, so it will find it's place (and it's certainly fun enough for the occasional play with fewer people).

Oh, and at the next table Robin proved once again that the newcomer should never be underestimated. She won. They are a crafty couple, it seems.

Antike: 9
Saboteur: 6

1 comment:

  1. House hunting was successful!

    It has a games room!