Saturday, January 27, 2007

"Fusion" games (Mission: Red Planet, Space Dealer, Beowulf)

To a certain extent, all new games owe a debt to previous ones... whether it's an elaboration of an old game mechanic, a variation on a theme, or a refinement of a game system. However, recently we've played games which seem to wear their inspirations so prominently that they feel more like combinations of other games, rather than wholly original works. Three such games are Mission: Red Planet, Beowulf and Vegas Showdown. I've started calling these "fusion" games, for whatever reason. I have nothing against this sort of game! As long as the result is fun, and different enough from it's sources to be worth pulling off the shelf, I'm happy to play them.

I thought it would be fun to combine them into a gaming session. JayWowzer was in attendence this evening (though Bharmer was not), and he brought along Space Dealer. Space dealer is definitely NOT what I would classify as a "Fusion" game... I haven't really played anything like it! Still, themes are meant to be broken, right?

Mission: Red Planet (Citadels + El Grande)

We started off with Mission: Red Planet. I drew the mission card with a bonus for having the most astronauts on Mars, so I decided to make that my guiding principle for the game. I figured I would pick the roles offering the most astronauts, and then use the prospector a few times to maximize their use. That didn't happen.

Maybe I'm missing something, but an earlier irritation of mine came back: there is something odd (and unsatisfying) about the number and types of roles! The penalty for playing the prospector (only placing one astronaut, no other ability), is simply to strong to allow a player to use him twice. If the powers of the other characters were of wildly different strengths, then I could see swallowing the penalty in order to get the powerful ones back, but as it is all the roles are normally usefull at all times. If I have the soldier left, I'll remove another player's astronaut, if I have the temptress, I'll convert another player's astronaut. Changing the destination and blowing up a ship are both usefull and disruptive. The scientist has it's place. etc, etc. All are useful, but none so much that I would pick the prospector twice to see it three times (for example). So, the game becomes: which one or two roles will I use twice, and when will I make the switch (which follows that every game will see each player play each role once over the course of the game)? That's too bad, because it seems like it would be interesting to build an alternate strategy out of recycling the same characters to achieve a specific goal.

Anyway, I played the scientist early, and it netted me a second mission card (have an astronaut in each of the eastern regions). I focussed on fulfilling those missions, but watched as my spaceships routinely got redirected to other regions (seriously, it happened several times). I actually quite enjoy this aspect of the game. This is area control done with a healthy dose of chaos, but it is fun as long as it's played fast. I found myself mostly in competition with Jaywowzer in the East, and since my ships kept getting redirected I was constantly in competition with Luch in the north-west (a region I had no interest in, yet which had nearly half my astronauts!!!). Shane had free reign of the south-west and Luch was sitting quietly in the center all on his own (two ice regions). Kozure had his eyes on the north and south poles.

When the dust settled, Shemp was the winner by a nose. He had 37, Kozure and I had 35. Things might have been different if Jaywowzer and I hadn't placed astronauts in Luch's center regions on the last turn... he had a major bonus for any regions he solely occupied (not a card either of us were familiar with. We'll be more careful in the future).

Space Dealer

We followed with Space Dealer. I'm not going to get into detail, but this is an odd one. Players each have a ship and a home base. They each develop their home base in order to be able to produce resources. They then take their resources and deliver them to another player's home base in order to sell them. Victoy points are aquired by 1) being the player to have sold the goods another player's base needed, and 2) having a section of your base receive what it wants by another player.

Therefore, you win by building a base others want to deliver to, and by beating other players to satisfying the needs of other bases. Nothing terribly special yet.

The game stands out because of the way it deals with time. A game will always last 30 minutes, because it comes with a CD which must be played along with the game. When it ends, the game ends. Secondly, each player gets two sand timers. When they want to take an action, they place a sand timer on the item they want to build/ move or use to produce a good. When the timer ends, the effect happens and the timer can be moved to another location. In other words, there are no turns. There is no downtime. No time to analyse, so no analysis-paralysis.

Does it work? I have no idea. In our first (and only) game, I committed so many mistakes that it was embarrassing. I would place my timer on resource production, only to realize that since my ship was gone all the resources would go to waste. I would put my timer on a new section for my base, only to realize I couldn't fit it anywhere. I'm pretty sure others were doing the same. It was fun, in a wacky sort of way. There was tension in trying to orchestrate things to produce the right goods and then send your ship to the other player's base before the guy across from you could do the same. A few times I would be waiting with my hand next to the timer, staring at Kozure's across from me, watching the sand go down to see who would make it first to Luch's base and satisfy the request (since you have to focus so much on what you are doing, it's not uncommon to go through the trouble of producing something and start delivering it, only to discover it's no longer available or someone else is trying to do the same thing at the same time). Anyway, it was fun and definitely a change of pace.

Beowulf (Lord of the Rings + Taj Mahal)

We finished up with our second playing of Beowulf. We corrected a rule we played incorrectly last time: players can risk once EVERY TIME an auction comes around to them (we were playing that each player could only risk once per auction). Still not that familiar with the board, but certainly it helped to know roughly what was ahead. With the risking system properly implemented, the tone of the game really changed. The first circular auction (Grendel's attack) was a brutal, long battle which saw players risking turn after turn. I've read that the odds of failing a risk is roughly 30%. I think that it must be less than that (15-20%, perhaps?). That, or we all were quite lucky throughout the game! Either way, risking featured so prominently this game that it seemed our hand was roughly 50% of what was necessary to win any hotly contested auction. It was dramatic and exciting, and certainly fun, but also very luck heavy. Knowing Knizia, there is a way to win at Beowulf without risking too much, but it probably takes a much sharper player to win that way. Right now, I'm seeing this as a game where you stack the odds in your favour and hope things pan out (this is an aspect of RA which I really like... that you play the odds and do your best, but things can play out in unexpected ways despite your best layed plans. Despite this, the better player will win most of the games)

I actually had a lot of fun. Certainly, Kozure seems to know something we don't, because he won this second game as handily as the first! I limped into the end and managed a second last place (as opposed to my last place showing last time). He seemed to always work it out so that he'd have the right resources at the right time. He had his share of lucky draws, but so did the rest of us. I hope the risks stay fun, and don't become an annoyance (I know, I know, that those who play this game a lot say that this can all be controlled to a certain extent. I'm even willing to beleive it. Like Ra, percieved chaos is a frequent complaint levelled at the game). It only mention it because there was SO MUCH successful risking this game that I can't imagine the next would see less. I feel that risking should hurt a little more often, to make the decision to risk a little harder, but we'll see.

It was too late to play Vegas Showdown, but I'm sure we'll see it again soon. Thanks to JayWowzer for coming, and for being our connection hot new games!

No comments:

Post a Comment