Sunday, May 27, 2007

I killed 3 zombies and a hellhound, what did you do? (Theophrastus, Doom)

This week, Kozure, Ouch and I played a session of Doom.

Actually, we opened with a quick round of Theophrastus with Tili while waiting for Luch to arrive. Everytime I play this, I have to be taught the rules... which is unusual for me. Not sure why, but I can't make this one stick. Fun enough game, though. I tied with Tili for the win after drawing 95% yellow tiles in a round where the experiment was long on yellow. The result was that I had personally placed 3 of the 4 cards and spied the last. I did poorly in the metals and elements, but scored big in yellow.


Was I itching to play Doom until now? Not really. Generally speaking this is not my cup of tea. That, and the reviews for the game seemed to land heavily on the "get the expansion if you want to enjoy this game" angle.

Of course, you never know until you try...

A brief overview of the game: One player plays as the game master, and the others play marines. The game master is responsible for controlling the monsters and laying out the game board as the marines explore the space ship. The goal for the marines is simple (and familiar to players of the video game): fight your way to the exit, finding bigger and badder weapons as you go. The goal for the game master is even simpler: kill the marines. The game features a ton of plastic marines and creatures, as well as many modular "rooms" and "hallways" which get put toghether in various ways according to the scenario. It's all very thematic and cool looking. Finally, there are very interesting custom dice which handle range, ammo consumption and damage in a single roll (this would be the closest to a "clever mechanic" to be found in this game, but it's an excellent one and exactly what this type of game needed to avoid falling into the endless die rolling/ chart checking trap it could have).

Luch and I where the marines. At the beginning of every game, each player draws 3 special abilities for their characters. I was a forward planner (stop 3 gamemaster actions), stealthy (run through monsters and obstacles) and good at assaults (I could move 2 spaces AND assault AND attack 3 times instead of 2). Luch was a sniper (shoot through friends), healthy (start with +3 health) and ... I can't remember the third. The scenario started with a bang. The opening room had a number of hellhounds and zombies in it. We rushed for the guns and chainsaw and started working. We quickly discovered that the GM was able to continously add monsters to the room. This is when we discovered Doom Strategy Number 1: Kill what you need to and move on.

Over the course of the game, we discovered that a chainsaw in the hands of an assault specialist was a dangerous combination. I was dealing a lot of death as I'd run stealthily into a crowd and let loose. My powers, which seemed a little lame at first, were actually quite good. We settled into a routine where I'd open doors and Luch would fire at whatever was on the other side.

As the evening wore on, we realized we couldn't possibly finish the scenario. We called it quits and Kozure revealed what was left. I felt we had played a good game and couldn't quite figure out why all the BGGers said the game was so horribly unbalanced for the marines!... It hadn't been easy, but we were in control the entire time.

The explanation? In true gamemaster form, Kozure had been pulling some punches. He kept it challenging for us without deliberately killing us. I'm glad I didn't know it at the time, but in retrospect this was probably the best decision to ensure everyone had fun.

So, in the end I am surprised by my verdict. I really enjoyed the game! In fact, I'd probably buy it if it weren't so LONG to play. Really long. Our first, incompleted game, took 4 hours.

However, this is much to like. I was impressed by the scope in the game for tactical decisions. I enjoyed the fact that the three skill cards really change the strategy a player will use from game to game (and giving three ensures that no one is cought with a dud. I'm looking at you, Robo-Rally). Unfortunately, a game like this will always be inherently limited by the pieces provided (there are only so many types of creatures and rooms) since plastic is a lot harder to customize than cardboard. Of course, at 6hours per game, it probably would take a while to work through the scenarios provided anyway.

Since I got the distinct feeling that Luch is not a fan of the game, we may not see this one too often (especially considering the length of the game)... still, I hope I get to play it again.

Friday, May 18, 2007

When geometry ATTACKS! (San Juan x2, Terakh, For Sale!)

Luch strained his back. Ouch. He didn't make it.

San Juan

Bharmer, Kozure and myself played two games of San Juan over the course of the evening ("because it was on the table" Bharmer said). My appreciation for this game is growing every time I play it with three players... creating synergies between the roles and the cards takes some skill yet there is enough luck to keep things interesting. I loved that Kozure decided to play a card we had all decided wasn't worth using (the black market), only to find that it was indeed quite good. I somehow doubt that all the cards are perfectly balanced according to cost vs. benefit but it's nice to know that even the ones that look like dogs just need the right strategy to become useful (although the player with the palace often seems to win...). Bharmer won the first game and Kozure won the second.


Kozure finally got Terakh to the table, a game I'd seen brought to several games nights but never played.

Terakh is a combat game that looks (and somewhat behaves) like an abstract. The board consists of a number of triangular sections put together in various ways according to the number of players. The pieces are also all geometric shapes: Pyramid "Elders", cylindrical "Incas", circular "Orbs" and eight sided "Dice". Despite the abstract nature of the components (and peculiar nomenclature), the actual game is pretty down to earth: To use Chess analogies, each player has several pawns, one queen and one king. Pieces are moved, pawns, queens and kings are captured. The last player with a King on the board wins.

Obviously, in practice there is a lot more than that going on. On a turn, players use 5 action points to determine who does what (and how much). The pawns must assume an offensive or defensive stance and then use die rolls to determine the winner of a combat. The queen is actually a pawn imbued with special powers (each player has a unique set of powers according to the colour they are playing). There are teleportation spots and the boards can be rotated during play. In addition, spell cards are distributed at the beginning of each round and can be used to affect the gameplay in various ways. As I said, it really feels more like a mini-wargame when you are playing than some sort of GIPF game... but you'd never know it from the components.

It's a fun game. The individual powers seem to do a good job of differentiating the experiences for the players. The spells inject an unpredictability to the events which unfold. The types of pieces, the manipulation of the board, etc feel well thought out and integrated. Although I didn't care for the illustrations on the pieces (or of the presentation of the game or gamebox in general), I did find the illustrations on the cards humourous.

I started out quite strong, and actually felt pretty much in control for the first little while. My die was hot, rolling far more 8s than I deserved. I played the Hydra clan and my ability to attack up to three opponents at once was forcing Kozure to retreat and spread out early on. At some point, I started making stupid moves (like forgetting my teleport ability, and like counting on low odds attacks to prevent my elder from getting destroyed). My idol was destroyed by Kozure before I could finish him and my elder was beaten down by Bharmer (who was playing a rather conservative game until that point). He eventually took out Kozure for the win.

For Sale!

We finished up with For Sale! Not much to say, except that I quite enjoy this game for what it is. I won over Kozure by 1 dollar!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Where's the Sheriff hidin'? (El Grande, Way Out West)

Luch's pick this week. JayWowzer was along for the ride.

El Grande

We started out with El Grande... one of my all time favorite games (and oldest... it's the second Euro I purchased, right after Puerto Rico...). I like puzzles more than I like math, so I tend to favor games where I'm trying to work out the best move rather than constanly adding. El Grande has a bit of both (as you weigh the pros and cons of various moves), but I beleive that winning the game has more to do with intuitively manipulating the board and second guessing your opponents than with min/maxing every individual move. Either way, the end result is extremely fun for me. It's definitely a thinker, though, and not what I'd call a lively game. Thank goodness there is enough chaos in the game that thinking too far ahead simply isn't possible.

In this particular session I came out with an early lead thanks to good scoring positions in various regions and a solid string of "special scoring: choose one region" actions. In fact, leading into the last third of the game, I was ahead by a good 20 points. Of course, as everyone knows El Grande is not the game where you want to be identified as the leader, and the last three rounds saw my position on the board chiselled away rather quickly (by the way, from a design perspective one of the things I apreciate most about El Grande is the way that the action cards permit leader bashing but in an oblique way... a player is free to determine how an action will be used, but he/she is limited to the actions available).

As the final scoring occured, I saw the entire pack of players come screaming towards me on the scoring track. Luch, Bharmer and JayWowzer all came within striking distance but in the end I held on by 1-2 points. Fun.

Way Out West

Up next was Way Out West, the very interesting brain buster by Martin Wallace. Every single time I play this I fail to fully comprehend the way the endgame scoring works. For whatever reason, I am attracted to going for the town bonuses but largely through cattle. I never seem to finish a game with much BUILT. Then, I watch helplessly as the other players rake in the building VPs. This game should have played out similarly, since I did the same things I always do, except that this time it led to a surprise victory! Here is the long list of unlikely events which conspired to make a losing strategy the winner:

1) Luch, the player with the most building leading into the final rounds, had several buildings stolen from him. This resulted in no players having a significant lead in buildings... an unusual end condition which diluted their scoring power
2) Luch was also the most combatitive player. By all rights, he should have had 2-3 times the amount of wanted posters the rest of us had. Unfortunatley (for him) he lost FAR more times than he won... even when the odds were well on his side.
3) In my last turn, I saw two opportunities to gain majorities in various towns. I had to win to gunfights, and the best odds I had were 50%. Although according to the odds I should have won 1 or none of the conflicts, I won both and grabbed the majorities (largely from JayWowzer).
4) The Sherrif afforded to a player for owning the Jail proved to be a curse throughout the game. Luch owned most of the jails, and he lost just about every battle he used him in. I could have used my sherrif in one of my two final battles with JayWowzer, but accepted a 50/50 battle instead of throwing him in, suspecting the corruption would undo me as well!

Anyway, it's a fun game (this is a game where the heavy luck factor seems in keeping with the theme, so despite the fact that the strategy it demands can easily be undone by a few bad gunfights the whole thing seems to work anyway).

A stats expert might know this for sure, but I have a strong feeling that a slight numeric superiority in a Way Out West gun battle is a dissadvantage when there are a lot of participants. For example, if the battle is 2 vs 1, there is only a 33% chance that the single gunman will score a hit before the others can react. However, in a 5 vs 4 battle, the odds are quite high that 1-2 hits will occur before the other side shoots back (meaning that 4 vs 4 might have been a safer option).

Friday, May 04, 2007

(Louis XIV, Tower of Babel, Dungeon Twister)

My pick this week.

Louis XIV

It's been a while since I've been able to play Louis XIV, so I was very happy to have the occasion to give it another go. This was my third game, but the first two were in the same evening a long, long time ago, so a solid refresher was in order. Meanwhile, Bharmer had never played.

This is a very good game! It's got all the usual Dorn signature elements (the tower movement, additional actions, end game bonus points, multiple paths to victory and a generally dense set of rules... despite not feeling too difficult in actual play).

Bharmer, in his first time out, managed to complete two missions per round for the whole game while the rest of us managed that only 50% of the time. He was very focused on winning the tile where Louis was present, and it seemed to be paying off. I decided to go for shields and managed to accumulate quite a bit while still managing 6 missions.

Ultimately, it seemed obvious that Bharmer was going to win. However, in the final calculation all those little endgame points really added up, giving me a surprise victory! I have to admit I got very lucky with the shields, netting me about half a dozen points for majorities.

Tower of Babel

Next, we played Tower of Babel. I'm planning on trading this, but before I did I thought I'd follow some recommendations I found on BGG and eliminate the bonus cards (supposedly, that was how Knizia designed it). As I never really liked those anyway, it didn't feel like much of a loss! In the end, I think I preferred the game without the bonus but not enough to want to keep it. Bharmer won the game, thanks to a set of 4 building disks in addition to winning his share of the wonders points.

Dungeon Twister

We didn't have an enourmous amount of time left, so we weren't sure whether we should attempt Dungeon Twister. Ultimately, a second game of Louis XIV might have been more wise, but we tried it anyway.

I discovered a few things:

1) I thought I was being really clever when I bought the game. I purchased only the 3/4 player and the Paladins and Dragons expansions... not the base set I thought that rather than getting the same set of characters 4 times, that this way I would get two sets of different characters and also have the flexibility of playing from 2-4 players. It seemed like I would only be missing the rulebook, and that wasn't a huge deal. Obviously, I overlooked something important: I only had 2 sets of Jump/Action/Combat cards! So, after having set up the game, we scrounged through Louis XIV and substituted other cards to compensate and played anyway. I'll have to make up my own for the next game, or cave and buy the base set.

2) It's hard to say since we played an incomplete game under unrealistic time pressures, but Dungeon Twister seemed to work better as a 2 player game. At 2 players, there is something very satisfying (for me) in figuring out a clever set of moves and making them happen. With 4 players, it's nearly impossible to plan ahead since so much could change by the time your turn comes around. Clever move combinations were possible, and I'd say there were a few, but you really can't think about it too long or else turns would take forever. I'd also say that the rather focused two player game feels more like a free-for-all with 4 players. This feels particularly apparent when revealing tiles: with 2 players, choosing the right location for your opponent's items can be crucial. In contrast, with 4 players the location you place things is less meaningful (SOMEONE can surely get to them...).

Anyway, although I think this has the potential to be fun with 3 or 4 players but Dungeon Twister's real strength seems to be 2 player.

I don't really know who won the game, but I think it was Kozure.