Thursday, June 07, 2007

A Toronto Area Math Trade Tribute Session (Mr. Jack/ LOTR: Confrontation, Clue: The Great Museum Caper, Palazzo)

I recently participated in a Toronto Area Math trade. First off, i'd like to thank Willy the Snitch and Belash for organizing it, and for all the participants for making it a successful trade.

I wound up with quite a few traded games, and decided to make this evening my opportunity to give a few a whirl.

Mr. Jack and LOTR: Confrontation

Luch and I started off by playing Mr. Jack while Bharmer and Kozure played LOTR: Confrontation. The idea was to give everyone an opportunity to play both sides, as they are asymmetrical games. In practice, it didn't work out due to the different lengths of the games. In the end, Luch and I played 3 games of Mr. Jack and one very quick game of LOTR. Bharmer and Kozure played a single game of each.

Mr. Jack was a very interesting experience. The game features 8 characters wandering the streets of whitechapel trying to find Jack the Ripper. The catch is that one of them IS Jack. Predictably, one player plays Mr. Jack and his/her goal is to escape the neighbourhood or at least avoid getting caught for 8 rounds. The other player is trying to figure out which character is Mr. Jack and then to nab him.

8 cards represent the 8 characters, and on the first round 4 of the 8 cards are placed face up. The players take turns choosing an available card and controlling that character. In the second round, the second set of 4 are revealed... and so on. The deduction mechanic revolves around light. At the end of each round, the good player asks if Mr. Jack is in the light (near a lit lamp post or beside another character). If yes, all the characters which are "in the shadows" are eliminated as suspects. If no, the opposite happens. In this way, the good character will try to eventually narrow down the suspects.

Having read the rules, I didn't understand how Mr. Jack could be prevented from winning every time. How hard could it be to simply escape the neighborhood? I was wondering if it would be a case similar to the military victory in Lord of the Rings Friends and Foes, where you simply ignore that potential victory condition because it makes the game too easy. I shouldn't have worried... winning according to ANY victory conditions as Mr. Jack is very hard.

Why? Well, first of all the card selection mechanic prevents any individual character from moving more than 4 times in the entire game. Also, since the order in which the characters are chosen varies from round to round, there is no garantee that Mr. Jack will actually get to play his own character! Most difficult (and clever) of all: the rules stipulate that Mr. Jack can only exit the board if he finished the last round "in the shadows"... problem is the starting board heavily favours gathering in the light.

Luch and I alternated as Mr. Jack in our two first games. We were both terrible in that role, getting caught rather easily by the fourth round. Lucky for me, in my second turn as the bad guy I managed to avoid detection until the end. Still, it was extremely close as Luch was forced to make a 50-50 guess on his last turn, and guessed wrong.

I had a good time. It's a rather clever game of suspect elimination and positioning, though I'd hesitate to call it a "deduction" game. It's short, with most of our games lasting between 15-25 minutes. One note regarding the components... they are of very high quality and the art is very nice, but the package as a whole is substantially undone by the fact that it's entirely inapropriate to the grim theme: who decides to make a game about catching a serial killer in such a cartoony aesthetic? Seriously, the cat and mouse search comes through very well but the Jack the Ripper theme is completely lost. Oh well, can't have everything.

Clue: The Great museum Caper

Next up, we played Clue: The Great Museume Caper. This is an old game from the early '90s which bears very little resemblance to it's namesake other than the theme. Inside one of the most enormous boxes in my collection, you'll find a 3D map of a mansion. Inside the mansion, the up to 3 players place their pawns, the owner's prized paintings and several security cameras. Meanwhile, one player plays the "thief" who runs around the mansion in secret trying to snatch as many paintings as possible without getting caught (using hidden movement). The detectives will take turns moving and asking questions like "can camera 3 see you?" "Can my pawn see you?" "Are you in the red room?" in order to locate the thief. Ultimately, the biggest clue the thief will leave is that one turn after he has stolen a painting, it is removed from the board. Thus, the detectives know roughly where the thief is, but not exactly. Can the thief slip through the detective's fingers and attempt to get another painting? Or should he bail and try to flee the mansion through an unlocked door or window?

You know what? This was a fun game. It's extremely short... short enough that every player can have a turn as the thief in the amount of time a regular game would take. Of course, the games might take longer if anyone could avoid getting caught as the thief! Of the 4 of us, one didn't get any paintings, 2 snatched one painting and I managed to get two before getting caught (though they were side by side, so it's essentially no better than the others). None of of us managed to get the minimum three paintings we needed before attempting an escape. Since there are roughly 10 paintings on the board, I was originally thinking that the fun would be in seeing if HOW MANY of the paintings the thief would steal, in pushing our luck and sneaking under the detective's noses. Now, I'd be happy just to grab the 3 and get out! I do suspect we played one rule wrong: I think that if the thief simply crosses a security camera it should be deactivated. Either way, we'll see if experience with the game leads to more thief victories.

Most memorable moment: Bharmer location is found out on the first turn by a very lucky guess by Luch! To Bharmer's credit, he still managed to elude us for quite some time after that.

Oh, and the 3D aspect of the board is purely an aesthetic choice which has no impact on the gameplay (though it has a significant impact on my game closet)


We finished up with a game of Palazzo. Palazzo is a small box ALEA game by Reiner Knizia, which involves building beautiful buildings in Florence (I think).

Players will, through various mechanics, attempt to build tall buildings with as amny doors and windows as possible. Buildings entirely constructed of a single material are worth more points, but are harder to build. Small buildings count against the player, so it's crucial not to bite off more than you can chew.

In my first playing of the game, I bit off more than I can chew.

Things were going well at first. I had two three storey single material palazzos going. however, I kept running out of money and I kept having to use the currency option (which gives me AND the other players money). I'm guessing that my actions kept the others afloat. Then, heading into the final rounds, I made a very unwise purchase which resulted in a minor benefit to one of my palazzos and forced me to start two more single storey palazzos (with level 5 tiles!!!). I followed this unwise move with a another similarly unwise purchase, and found myself nearing the end with several negative scoring buildings. Bharmer, on the other hand, had a very tall, very windowed, very stucco building which gave him lots of points and won him the game.

Palazzo has got a lot of the eurogames checklist covered: It's got auctions, controlled luck, set collection, short playing time, and little direct interaction. It's also got enough odd little rules (which I suspect are thrown in as balancing mechanisms), that make the game a bit of a chore to explain (such as the way monies of different currencies can be combined, or the fact that auctions turn into a simple distribution of tiles when the stack exceeds 4 tiles). Also, as Luch pointed out the board components are both uninspired AND of questionable design (why the 5 pieces if they don't scale according to the number of players?). It all comes together into a game which works and is pleasant enough, but didn't really excite me either. I think I like it better than the deeply odd Tower of babel, which I traded it for, so at least there's that. It's also approachable enough that it might make a good game to introduce players to this type of game.

1 comment:

  1. Mr. Jack: Tough. I think it will take at least two or three more plays to better understand the Mr. Jack strategy.

    LotR: Confrontation: Forgot how fun this game is - been avoiding it for some reason. Challenging, quick and thematic. Impressive, Mr. Knizia, most impressive.

    Clue: Museum Caper: Fun but challenging. Imagine it would work better for the thief with only two opponents. Simple, but tense.

    Palazzo: Need a few more plays before passing judgement, but seems quite well done. Doesn't really grab me as a great game, but not boring either. Enjoyable.