Sunday, October 07, 2007

Math Trade Day (Entdecker, Lock n' Load: Band of Heroes)

2nd Toronto Area Math trade has come and gone.

This time, instead of Yorkdale shopping center, the trade was cleverly arranged to coincide with the TABS game convention (Toronto Area Boardgame Society). Therefore, after trading all our games, we could elect to go inside and get some gaming in. This year, I traded away Zombies 4 (a very unfortunate purchase) and Betrayal at the House on Haunted Hill (a game I actually sort of enjoyed, but was too often frustrating) for Ingenious, and Pueblo (a game I enjoyed, but never got around to actually playing often enough) for Nexus Ops. While I was at the convention, I also picked up used copies of Jungle Speed and it's expansion for $20 total.

A good day.

Once inside, I wandered around and eventually sat with a few players to try out Entdecker, a game I was hoping to trade for but lost out.


Entdecker is a game by Klaus Teuber which, apparently, was supposed to be part of his original vision for Settlers of Catan. While Entdecker was not a bad game by any means, this type of story clearly reinforces why designers need good editors.

Entdecker is an exploration game. The large board depicts a grided expanse of water, a number of paths which lead to huts and a giant sea snake at the top (the scoring track). The water is then seeded with a few island tiles and bonus point objectives (there are various starting setups available).

On a player's turn, they must pick a starting point for their expedition and then announce how many spaces they plan to explore. There is a cost associated with this, and the full amount must be paid up front. Open face tiles are extremely expensive, and face down ones are cheap but risky. Tiles are then drawn one by one and placed Carcassonne style on the board from the point of origin. If, at any point, the player draws a tile he/she can't play OR the player chooses to place a token on a tile the exploration phase ends... any remaining money spent on unflipped tiles is lost! It's no big surprise that the reason players are placing tokens on tiles is that when an island becomes fully explored it will score points, determined by it's size, to players who have a presence there (area majority style). In this game, all players present get SOMETHING (2nd player gets half of first, 3rd player gets half of 2nd, 4th gets half of 3rd). When the sea is fully explored, the game ends.

There are two major and one minor mechanics which are worth mentioning here:
1) Players have scout tokens, settlements and forts. When determining majorities, numbers matter but there are a few anomalies: a single fort trumps any number of settlements or scouts. A single settlement trumps any number of scouts. Not surprisingly, settlements and forts cost quite a bit more than scouts.
2) When an island is scored, players retrieve any settlements and forts they had on the island. However, scouts are instead placed on the island exploration tracks on the right of the board. At the end of the game, the value of each track is revealed and the player with the most scouts on each track wins those VPs (it's not totaly random, though. Players do have 1 or 2 opportunities to see the value of the huts). These points seem to amount to roughly 1/3 of the entire score, so this mini-game cannot go unnoticed.
3) Money is very scarce in the game. When a player goes to less than 4 gold, he/she must roll a die. That players gets the amount listed on the die, and all other players get that much +1. In other words, you never want the be the one to have to roll the die, because you are giving an advantage to the other players.

Overall, I quite liked the game. I was afraid it would feel like a Carcassonne clone, but it really doesn't. The exploration feeling is there, and the contest for islands and the island exploration tracks works really well. The randomness is important but suited to the theme. It does have a big problem though... it's way too long. This should have been a 1 hour game, but ours took over 2 hours. It simply doesn't stay fun for that period of time. I'm not sure if I'll ever get to play this again, but if I do I would want to try reducing the board size to see if it helped.

Theres a fun game in there, but it needs to be shorter.

(as for the session report, I was trailing for most of the game as one player consistently nabbed the best islands after others would worked hard to develop them and another player was quite sharp at spotting easy opportunities for quick points. I found myself being the money roller one most turns. I managed to send many of my scouts to the island exploration tracks and redeemed myself at the endgame. I still came in 3rd, but the scores were much closer than they had been.)

Next, I played the introductory scenario of Lock n' Load, Band of Brothers with Kozure (who goes regularly to these things, though the rest of our group does not). It's a simple little scenario which involves a small group of allies holed up in a few central buildings as the axis storms in with an equally small team on a random edge of the board. The goal is to be in possession of that central area by the end of 6 turns. I was doing a decent job of holding my own against Kozure (a much more experienced wargamer), and felt I had a chance of winning until the final turn when I did a very stupid thing: I grouped my forces into a large force and ran through open terrain to obliterate his forces in melee. The problem? As I crossed the open terrain, I gave him a beautiful opportunity to mow me down with opportunity fire. And that's what he did.

All in all, I quite enjoy this game. The rules for infantry combat are simple for this type of game, the box ships with a large number of scenarios, the unit count is low (making setup and takedown fast and easy, and making the scenarios easy to digest in short periods of time). It makes for a much more satisfying game than Memoir '44 from the point of view of experiencing a small scale battle with interesting winning conditions and varied scenarios, though Memoir clearly is simpler and has certain advantages of its own (most of them aesthetic).

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