Saturday, September 09, 2006

Friedmann Friese Fest! (Power Grid, Funny Friends)

I suppose it's a bit much to call an evening with only two games played a "fest", but I'm going to anyway.

Power Grid

We pulled out the first olive box, Power Grid, and set up the USA board. We were four players (Bharmer, Shemp, Tili and myself), so 2 regions were excluded from play: randomly, the northern central and eastern regions were chosen. I was quite happy with this result, as both my previous games on this board were played on the northern half.

out of the gate, I chose the second lowest power plant, so I was second to place. Bharmer had set up camp near L.A., so I thought I'd try to grab a few cheap cities near the east... where the playable area narrowed (obviously, I was hoping to encourage other players to go elsewhere, leaving me the east coast). Sadly, Tili didn't bite. Despite the wide open west, she tried to box me in, leaving us both with a very constrained play area. Even worse, Shemp ended the first round of placement by grabbing the central portion of the board, drawing a line down the middle which saw me and Tili tight to one side, and Bharmer all alone on the other. By now, I felt that things already looked grim.

Fast forward a few turns, and I've purchased a really excellent power plant (it powers 4 cities with 1 coal or oil). I managed to expand very quickly to 7 cities by grabbing all the remaining empty cities in the east. This triggers step 2, which then allows me to start expanding into Tili and Shemp's cities they had been blocking me with. Meanwhile, Shemp has expanded his dividing line down the middle and begun working his way north west. Bharmer, free of any real competition but forced to expand through pricey real estate, grows slowly but steadily.

The power plant auction reaches a point where it stagnates. Nobody wants anything on offer, because they don't want to waste money on a plant which isn't going to take them to the end. This has happened before, but not normally for this long. It is apparent that the end of the game could well come before anyone is ready to power the 17 cities which are built.

On (what became) the last round, I bought a plant which brought my power capacity to 18 cities. Shemp, the other player who appeared ready to end the game, was only able to power 17. It came down to my finances: Could I actually BUY an 18th city? It turns out I could, and I won the game (though Shemp tried to buy up all the coal so that I couldn't actually power the cities, but there was just enough left for me to do it).

This turned out to be a very long, but very fun session of Power Grid. One of the things I really enjoy about this game is the palpable tension which results from trying to get your cities in place before other players get there. Manipulating turn order and pacing the purchase of power plants vs. expansion of your territory is extremely critical. On the other hand, if another player takes a city you really needed, there is enough flexibility in the system that mounting an alternate strategy is not impossible.

Funny Friends

Funny Friends is a game I bought because it sounded extremely unique: A humourous game with a real game system underneath! Many games are funny. Many games have solid gameplay. Few that I can think of have both (Robo-Rally?).

Anyway, players take on the roles of people going through life. It all starts in puberty and then progresses through a series of life shaping events. Amidst all this, players hope to guide their characters in the hopes of achieving a number of life goals. Every player has a board which tracks their weight, their intelligence, their friends, their ...ummm ....addictions, and their ...ahhh.... sexual history, etc, etc. Let's just say that the game possesses a very sarcastic and cynical view on life. If you are easily offended, skip this game.

The game progresses as a series of auctions. Every "Hand", a number of life event cards are turned up, and players bid on them. Many cards have requirements which must be met in order to bid on the card. Every life event transforms the character which does it to a certain extent. Successfully aquiring a card called "the cigarette after", for example, requires having a girlfirend/ boyfriend. Once aquired, the result is a bit of nicotine addiction and "having sex" with that girlfriend/boyfriend. Once you've reached a particular combination of statistics, you can "achieve a life goal". The first to achieve 5 life goals wins the game. This would ultimately add up to a game of competitive solitaire except for one thing: If the friend you bring along is another player, that player gets (suffers?) the effects of the card as well! This means that you can actively mess with other player's plans, and it injects a lot of metagame humour as well.

In our game (my fourth, the rest were playing for the first time), I found it interesting that the goals in our hands seemed to be shaping the lives of our characters in rather consistent ways. My character was bad news. His puberty was marked by drug use, theft, gossip, bullying, etc. Real life was no different. After being coerced into a relationship with Tili, I needed to get out to fill half of my life goals. A "Divorce" card came up, so I quickly married her so that I could divorce her one turn later! Tili turned out to be the sexpot of the group. I think she slept with just about all of us (and I think she was even dating a few of us). By the time she announced she was gay, it was obvious she was much more comfortable in that role when the sex was anonymous (all her real relationships were with guys. Of course, they were all failing, but that's another story). Kozure, however, was leading quite a reasonable life. The highlight of his adolescence occured when he made a best friend. Aww shucks. Shemp was having much more significant swings as time went on... being driven to drink and then going sober, etc, etc.

In the end, Tili managed to end her promiscuous ways by checking herself into a looney bin... winning her the game.

Some comments on the game:
1) The art in this game is FABULOUS. I think the game is worth owning just for the sake of laughing at the funny situations depicted on the cards. The theme carries very well, and it's quite funny to play the game if players take the time to reflect on the life story which is developing during the game.
2) The rulebook is quite weak. The way friends work is central to the game, yet is very difficult to figure out as written.*
3) I'm a little torn about the game system. On one hand, there is a real game there. You have to plan your course, manage your currency for the auctions, meddle in other player's plans, etc. Your decisions and your gameplay matter. On the downside, the rules are more fiddly than a game with this "theme" should be. Combined with the analysis paralysis which can come about as players try to absorb how the cards available for auction mesh with their life goals, the game can be slower paced than you'd like. This has the effect of creating early games where discovering the cards makes it funny, but dealing with the game rules and analyisis paralysis makes it clunky (while later games move much more efficiently, but the humour is more up to the players).
4) The "Make a Connection", the secure relationships and the "phone tokens" are all examples of rules which should have been better explained AND better streamlined.

*I've settled on the interpretation that friends which are REQUIRED to come along receive the effects of the card, but that NEW friends which are met as the result of a card do NOT. I tried it the other way (where new friends also get the effects of the card), but a number of odd situations came up, and we decided it was cleaner this way. Anyone care to chime in and tell us if we played it correctly?

Having played four times now, I can honestly say that I quite like the game, despite it's flaws. The game has stayed fun and engaging beyond the initial laughter of discovering the cards, which is not something I can say about too many humourous games (cheapass games, anyone?). The game system works, even though it could have been improved (In my third game with my first group of friends, people were clearly bidding each other up, taking people along on life events which were contrary to those people's goals, etc). All the while, we were still having a fun time poking fun at each other for having too much anonymous sex, too many ex lovers, etc. The first group I played it with LOVED it. WAGS seemed a little more subdued, but I think the reception was generally positive.

It's not an excellent game, but it's a good one. Combined with the unique theme, the experience becomes very good. As a change of pace, I highly recommend it.

1 comment:

  1. Didn't play Power Grid, as I was watching Kozure Jr. I will comment that having "decoy" game pieces is a useful ploy. I think I will think on this.

    *steeples fingers and looks around deviously*

    As for Funny Friends, I enjoyed the theme and the game. As you mentioned, there are finicky bits in the rules, and the "Make a Connection" card still doesn't feel right to me somehow. Otherwise, it's relatively well-paced and has a good flow (as long as people play quickly).

    The "call a friend" mechanic also seems pretty tricky - I wonder if it would benefit from having more opportunities than just once a game.

    The theme is so strong in the game it's hard to separate the fun of that from the mechanics, but I think the mechanics are pretty decent as well.

    It's a little long for a relatively light game, but that's easily remedied by reducing the target number of life goals to say, 3 for a short game or 2 for a lightning round.

    This is definitely a game that I would've bought anyway if Easy hadn't, and after playing my opinion hasn't changed. In fact, I may purge one game in my 100-game limited set to make room for Funny Friends.