Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Ringing in New Year, Geek Style (Things..., Wits and Wagers, Twister, Cluzzle, Mission: Red Planet)

For New Years the Wags group brought together their significant others and a few unwashed (?) friends and relatives for an evening of wine, cheese, food and laughter at Casa Agent Easy.

Obviously, a few games were played!

Things came out first. I'm not sure that we've documented this before on the blog, but we've played a few times before. If you haven't played it, the premise is simple: A "reader" chooses a card at random and reads it to the group. "Things... you shouldn't put on top of your car", for example. Everyone answers on a piece of paper and returns to the "reader". The reader then reads them to the rest of the players and everyone, in turn, tries to guess who wrote what. (To the sample question, I wrote "the bottom of your car")

Bottom line: This game is hilarious. I enjoy many party games, and many of them are quite funny (Time's Up, Taboo, Apples to Apples, etc), but none of them are this funny. Sadly, the part where players guess each other's answers does not live up to the fun of writing/reading them. I'd love to come up with a better system to go with the game (I posted a question on BGG in case someone else could think of one). Next time, I'd like to try simply reading all the answers once, then reading them again one at a time as people write down who they think wrote what. 1 point per correct answer.

At 11 people, it took a long time for all the correct answers to get guessed. Also, the difficulty in remembering all the answers seemed to drag the game a bit. Still, I think everyone had a good time since there was a lot of laughter as the answers came out... Kozure did very well in the beginning, winning the 6 point bonus for being the last player standing on several occasions. My sister in law was surprisingly good at guessing herself, particularly since she didn't know anyone there!
We didn't bother counting up the final scores, but I'm pretty sure Kozure had it in the bag.

Next up we played a quick game of Wits and Wagers. I hadn't played this before, but most of the rest of the group had. This is a trivia game where the trivia doesn't really matter!

The idea is interesting: The game asks a question you are not likely to know the answer to. Everyone takes a guess, and the answers are all layed out on a betting mat in order. At this point, everyone must bet on which answer(s) they feel are the correct ones! The lowest and highest answer will payout more, whereas the median answers pay out less. At the end of a number of rounds (8?), the winner is the player or team with the most money.

The concept is cool because there are points for being the player with the closest answer (without going over) and there are points for correctly betting on the answer (whether it's yours or not). Therefore, a player with little or no knowledge of trivia can participate and have a good time. If you don't do well on the trivia, you still might win on the strength of good betting.

I've only played once, but so far I'm a little ambivalent on the game, despite how much I like the idea. I can't quite put my finger on it, but I think it's because there's a few contradictory things going on in the final product:

1) In trivia games, the fun tends to be in testing yourself in trying to answer the most questions correctly. Here, most of the questions are impossible to answer, so that tension is quickly lost. Those that can be answered still suffer from the following problem...
2) Although the premise is that a player with little/ no knowledge of trivia can compete, in effect both phases of the game reward the player who know the correct answer.
3) I personally find betting more interesting when it's tied to some sort of bluffing (poker), or to odds created through hidden and revealed information (blackjack). Betting in Wits and Wagers is more akin to betting in Roulette... kind of a crapshoot.

There's no denying that it was a fast and interesting party game, but it wasn't funny or challenging enough to make me want to choose it over others I prefer (though I'd be more than happy to play again, if someone else suggested it). Kozure will be writing a more thorough review on BGG before long, now that he's had a chance to play it with lots of different groups of people.

We wrapped up the evening's game playing with a variation of twister which is played on a map of the world. Now, I'm not old, but I'm not young either (33). I thought the days were I would even imagine playing this had long gone, but my lovely wife really wanted to play so we gave it a shot. Predictably, it was silly, embarrassing fun. It also hurt a little. We played three rounds, and all had a good laugh (particularly when Luch took the role of spinner and ignored everything he spun... calling out instead the worst/ most difficult maneuvre possible on every round).

On new year's day, we tried a few rounds of Cluzzle. This is a game were players choose a word from a list to model out of clay. Everyone then has to try to guess what the other player sculpted over three rounds of questions/ answers. The trick is that a player gets more points if their sculpture is guessed in the third round than in the first, but they get no points if it's not guessed at all. Therefore, you want to make your sculpture difficult to guess, but not TOO difficult.

I had fun with this one. Like Pictionary, charades, and other such games, it's fun to test yourself against the semi-artistic challenge of representing something across a different medium. The added twist of wanting the sculpture to be hard but not too hard is a little confusing at first, but definitely makes playing the game an interesting challenge. As with Things..., I have a bit of an objection with the scoring, but it's a comparatively minor point (players who guess correctly in the first round of the game score LESS points than those who do it in the 3rd round). There are apparently good reasons for this, but in the end it feels like an entirely different scheme might have been better.

Lastly, we played Mission: Red Planet. Quite a change of pace!

Mission: Red Planet is the latest chaos-fest from Bruno Faidutti (and co-designer Bruno Cathala). Players are trying to get their astronauts onto Mars in order to become rich from the mining of that planet's resources. It's been described as Citadels meets El Grande. While that's fairly accurate, I would add that there is a dash of Puerto Rico in there and that the sum of it's parts left me feeling like I do when I play Robo-Rally.

How's that for a summary?

Ok. Here's a better one.

A map of Mars is the main play board. The map is divided into several regions. Five Space Ships are waiting at a launch pad. Each one has a destination to a particular region of Mars, and a maximum number of astronauts it can take there.

Each player has a reserve of astronauts, and a hand of "role" cards. Every round, players simultaneously choose a role card which determines the turn order and how they get their astronauts onto the ships. Any ship which is filled to capacity launches, preventing any other player from adding to it. Once all players have taken their turn, any ship which has launched lands at it's destination and the astronauts are placed in that region. At the end of the 5th, 8th and 10th (last) round, scoring occurs. Points are only awarded to the player with the mighest number of astronauts in a region.

It all sounds pretty straight-forward, but it's really not. As in Citadels, the role cards each have special abilities which can be rather chaotic (such as the saboteur which can destroy a space ship before it takes off, the pilot which can change the destination of a ship, or the femme fatale which can convert another player's token to your colour). Like Puerto Rico, the simple effect of having ships which fill up and depart can cause the best laid plans to fail if you go late in the turn order. Add to that a set of event cards which give players hidden objectives for bonus points and endgame effects on the various outer regions of the map and things become rather difficult to control. When I say that I felt like I was playing RoboRally, I meant it in the sense that RoboRally is about trying to extract order from chaos, then crossing your fingers and hoping for the best.

I had my hopes up for this one, because the theme is very good, the game is very pretty and the execution seemed like a very interesting twist on many familiar mechanics. The end result is a fun game, which works better than it should. It's not without it's flaws, however. I disliked that in order to make an informed decision, I constantly had to relate the ships in play with the regions on the map. It would have been nice if the ships were layed immediately into their destination region (I don't think there is enough room for that, even if we wanted to). Also, 9 roles is too many. With 10 rounds in the game, 9 is not enough to go the entire game without playing the prospector (who allows players to reclaim their spent roles), but too many to make decision making simple. The game is obviously quite chaotic, but I suspect that the mechanisms to reduce the chaos are there, once we become more familiar with the game (not to mention that I don't mind chaos if it's fun... Robo-Rally IS in my top 10 games).

It was a five player game and I was doing poorly from the beginning. It took me some time to get used to the rhythm created by placing your astronauts and waiting for ships to launch. I was too often counting my chickens before they were hatched! Note to self: If an astronaut doesn't make it to the planet, it doesn't count towards the majority...

I also missed using the explorer on two of the scoring rounds, which most of the other players used to very good effect. Kozure did a very nice job cornering the ice, and snapping up the bonus for that (even though my brother in law gave him a good run for his money). Both my brother in law and my sister in law did well at choosing a few areas of the board to concentrate on and established solid ownership. Kozure was picked as the leader and got hammered on more than a few occasions, but it wasn't enough... he won the game. I think everyone enjoyed it, and I bet future playing will be even better.

Happy New Year everyone. I hope this coming year is even better than the one that just ended.

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