Friday, September 21, 2007

Mania! Mania? (Jungle Speed, RoboRally, Canal Mania)

Apologies to the gods of blogging, I'm posting this a week and a half late (it's a session report for Wendesday the 12th of Spetember). Why the delay? I'm blaming in on Metroid Prime 3.

We kicked off the evening with Jungle Speed. Does age matter? maybe. Shemp wasn't doing too hot in our game, but JayWowzer and I were neck and neck. Does time matter? Definitely. Starting out the evening with the game led to a far slower game than normal... I guess we hadn't properly "stretched" our gaming mojo yet.

RoboRally with 5 players should be chaotic enough, but I wanted to up the ante. I chose a scenario which appeared to be quite deadly (3 flags concentrated at the center of a board, with pits and conveyor belts all around). No one died in the first round, so that was discouraging. I cruised along unimpeded to the 1st and 2nd flag while the others struggled to get anywhere. Sadly, I lost all my mad programmin' skilz and ran around in circles trying to get number 3. Meanwhile, Luch managed to finish it off. I did manage to reprogram a few robots with my radio control beam, and Luch did manage to shoot alot of robots with his rear-firing laser. Kozure lost his last robot before the end of the game, and I don't beleive that Shemp ever made it to flag 1. Hmmm.

Canal Mania

Canal Mania can be best described as Railroad Tycoon meets Ticket to Ride (and, to a much lesser extent, Maharaja). You've got a board littered with English cities, and you need to connect them with canals. It resembles Ticket to Ride because you have routes you are trying to fulfill, and you must draw cards from a face up supply in order to pay for playing the canal pieces. It resembles Railroad Tycoon because you place hexagonal pieces of canal paths on the board, and ship goods from town to town once you've made the connections. Scoring also draws from both of it's sources: You primarily get points for completing your routes and sending goods across a long network of your cities. From Maharaja, the game borrows a very similar "role" system.

When I first was explained the rules, I thought the whole thing sounded pretty clever. It seemed like many of the downsides of the previous games had been addressed and/or streamlined. You would no longer be frustrated for a long period of time waiting for a particular colour of card to come up, because the cards come in only 5 varieties (actually, 4+ wilds) and every route can use a combination of all 4 different types. Also, the routes you choose determine the only places you can play on the board, so there should be much less analysis paralysis than the totally open options of Railroad Tycoon.

Oh, and the special powers of the roles, and the ease with which they can be swapped around, makes it possible to do SOMETHING productive at almost any time.

But you know what? It didn't do much for me. I'd play the original games before this one any day. It wasn't bad at all, but the process felt slower and more constrained than they do. The slower part might resolve itself with more plays (it SHOULD move fast, because there aren't many choices at any one time. I guess the multiple phases in each player's turn takes it's toll). I think the part that bothered me, though, was the scoring...

There are just a few ways to score points:
1) fulfill routes (contracts)
2) place tiles along those routes that are worth points
3) deliver goods along a long series of your cities

The problem I have is that the points for the routes seem irrelevant. A route worth twice as much takes twice as long to complete. They also go through 2 cities. Therefore, after I've completed a long route, you've completed two short ones, and we are even again.

Then, the choice of tiles used is fairly prescribed as well. I haven't played this often enough to know for sure, but it seems like over the course of a game most players will gain approximately the same number of points from tiles.

So, that leaves connections for delivering goods. Here, major differences in points can occur. If I have a good series of unconnected routes, and you don't, I bet there is nothing you could do to win. Therefore, it seems like the other two paths to victory engage players in a very close battle where 1 or two points will separate the winner from the loser, but the goods delivery makes that race irrelevant. So, then, why bother with counting the rest?

And finally, if the delivered goods are the key to victory, I would hope that there would be fair control over which routes you pick. Not so. On your turn, you pick from the available 5 routes (or much less, if some have already been taken). You can't play without a route, so if you don't have one, you pick from what's available. It seems that only 6-7 routes get completed in a game, so the luck of having the right route available at the right time seems very important to victory.

Now, I could obviously be missing something because I've played only once and didn't do well. Kozure CRUSHED us with a well connected series of canals. Clearly, he "Got It" way before we did (at least, long before I did). We were all virtually tied in second place.

I'd definitely play again. I eventually came around to Maharaja, and it's quite possible I just didn't get Canal Mania this time.

Note to potential buyers: there is very little "mania" involved in Canal Mania.

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