Thursday, March 02, 2006

El Grande, Bohnanza, China, Modern Art

We played a rather random assortement of games this week. I'll be unavailable for WAGS gaming for about a month, so Shemp was nice enough to let me pick the games. I went for a few which we hadn't played in a long while.... El Grande, Modern Art and Bohnanza.

El Grande:

I love, love, love this game.

I can't quite explain it.

I love that the mechanics are both clever and elegant.

I love that the various systems work together to produce a game that is rich without being fussy (I'm looking at you Power Grid and Puerto Rico!!!)

I love that the choices are in some ways constrained, but that the ultimate result of a player's turn can still be very surprising. Despite the focus of the game, it feels very open ended.

I love that an otherwise static and simple landscape changes significantly according to the action cards available, the position of the King and the use of the Castillo.

When I play this game, I feel very engaged.

The only significant drawback, in my opinion, is the potential for analysis paralysis and the related downtime between turns. Some newer designs do more to keep decisions smaller and therefore keep things moving a little better (Power Grid and Puerto Rico both share this advantage). Small price to pay, however... I'd play this any day over those two.

(For the record, RA is my #1 game, not El Grande. I would say that technically I prefer El Grande as a game system and experience, but RA comes so close... and in a much shorter timespan, that I give it the edge. Going down to #3 and beyond, we would find games that I greatly enjoy but which are not nearly as good as these two, in my opinion)

... but enough about me!

This session of El Grande was a pretty good challenge. Shemp jumped to an early lead by scoring the "5" regions right after taking sole control of them. Kozure nipped at his heels for the first third of the game, focusing on the south and Catalonia. I spent too many resources on my home province, New Castille, but was nearly saved by having the opportunity to score it several times. Nearing the end, Luch had fallen behind but there was a three way race for first. Shemp capitalized on several 2nd and 3rd place points and snatched the lead in New Castille to seal the win.

We then switched gears and pulled out Bohnanza. I hadn't played since the first time Luch introduced it to us (a year ago?). We were hazy on the rules, but a quick refresher had us back on track. I tried to last the entire game without third field, and managed it easily enough. We only played through the deck once, as Kozure had to leave, but in the end Luch beat me by a point. I enjoyed it, but get the feeling a few more players would have helped.

With Kozure gone, we played China. I bought this game (along with RA and Through the Desert) in order to bolster my stock of good 3 player games. Ironically, I hadn't yet played it with 3! Matching my experience with Web of Power, the game plays very well at this number... probably at it's best in fact. The more players involved, the more you are just "reacting" to the situation on the board at the moment your turn comes up... too much changes from one round to the next to have much real strategy. With 3 there is some control and it's possible to see a plan come to fruition. We introduced the "fortifications" advanced rule (allows a player to add a black podium under a house which doubles the value of a long road and/or region score). Not a significant change by any means, I could take it or leave it. I'd still like to try this with the Web of Power rules someday, but I definitely had fun with this version as well. Luch set up some very nice majorities with his advisors and looked like a solid contender for the win early on. I managed a nice move where I funneled Shemp's house placement in such a way that I could place a 2nd advisor in a critical region and tie for majority... a move which would net me 8 points at the game's end. Still, Shemp layed his own network of advisor majorities and netted just enough points to squeak ahead with the win.

It seems that Shemp and area majorities go as well as Shemp and greed! (see previous post)

We finished off with a 3 player game of Modern Art. I knew this one was not supposed to be very good at this number, but I hadn't played it in so long I just wanted to get it on the table. We played with the dummy hand, just to spice things up. I enjoyed it well enough, but it's far more random than the game should be. In the first season Christine P ended with a majority with only 1 painting actually auctioned off by a player (the rest came from the dummy hand). I was the "happy" benefactor, but luckily I'm not that good at the game so it was no blowout (witness the double SEALED auction where I bid $75 000 only to discover that the next two bids where $6 000 and $2 000. Ummm, ooops) . I did eventually win, but it was anyone's guess right to the end. My mittfull of Karl Gitters in the final round, 2 of them double auctions, won me the game as the previously unplaced artist's paintings repeatedly found their way into my collection for a song.

As I said previously, I won't be participating for a month so odds are there won't be any blog posts for that time. See you in April!

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