Saturday, November 17, 2007 (Clue: The Great Museum Caper, Fury of Dracula, To Court the King)

Shemp and Bharmer were out this week, but in an email to us Shemp mentioned we should take this occasion to play Lord of the Rings: Sauron and Clue: The Great Museum Caper, since he hates them and he won't be there. I wanted to play Fury of Dracula, so I couldn't completely satisfy his request, but 1 out of 2 ain't bad, right?

Clue: The Great Museum Caper

I'm not sure why I keep bringing this one out, because it just doesn't seem to work. There's a part of me that really wants this to be a really good casual-friendly game (as it's described by many on BGG), but each session ends the same way... the thief didn't have a chance. I thought that playing with 3 players would be better balanced than with 4, and it was, but not probably enough. In our two games, the thief was caught easily before there was much danger of a successful escape with 3 paintings. Maybe rolling d6 for the detectives is too much or maybe the layout of the board is too restrictive. Fortunately (unfortunately ?), I got another glimmer of hope during the final few moves of my turn as the thief which will probably cause me to give it yet another go: I don't think I"ve been capitalising enough on the order of movement of the detectives. In other words, If I move between each detective's turn I am much safer running towards a player that just moved because I will get to move once or twice before that player gets another turn. I'm pretty sure I've been letting the location of the pawns and my objectives dictate my move, and possibly the game would be easier if the thief took greater advantage of the timing aspect.

Still, it's so easy to get backed into a corner by the detectives... I'll probably give it one last try at some point and then trade it away.

Fury of Dracula

Another game of hidden movement, but this one far more successful in design. Fury of Dracula is a game I really enjoy as a change of pace. It represents, to me, many of the great things "Ameritrash" games bring to the table (well integrated theme, mostly) but streamlined with eurogame sensibilities to make it a manageable and reasonably smooth experience.

Dracula was played by Kozure this time, so this was my first game ever on the hunters' side. Luch had Lord Godalming and Seward. I had Van Helsing and Mina. Kozure played an excellent game of cat and mouse, starting out in the east and snaking around us while convincing us that he was elsewhere (in fact, a lucky card draw revealed that his starting location was right next to us, and yet he managed to evade us and remain hidden most of the game). A well armed Van Helsing did manage to find and attack the count in Munich and inflict enormous damage with his stake and sacred bullets but he fell a few points short of sealing the deal... Dracula escaped and a hapless Mina soon wandered into a well protected catacomb where she died and gave Kozure the victory.

I'm curious how many Dracula victories are directly a result of Mina's death. Both of ours have been.

The reason I think this game succeeds so well is that the rules are fairly streamlined and the amount of dice rolling and modifiers which need to be kept track of a kept to a minimum. Also, the "hidden character" works because finding it is not the only goal... you also have to kill it. This means that the tension inherent in trying to pin down the count (or in evading the characters, if you're Dracula) doesn't operate in a straight line. You may have to find, fight and find again several times over the course of the game. I like it because it avoids the *cheap victory* feeling you get in Clue:TGMC (for example) when you accidentally land on the thief and win the game. My only complaint is that it takes too much space on the table for all the bits and character cards, that the game runs a little too long, and that the combat system is a little clunky (all the separate decks, the downtime it creates, the fruitless "loops" which can occur in combat). I'm not sure what system could have improved on these points without sacrificing flavor, but it would be interesting to come up with one.

To Court the King

Luch left us, so me and Kozure tried out To Court the King, a dice rolling game which seems to try to mash together Yahtzee and (insert random renaissance Italy themed euro... Louis XIV? Princes of Florence?).

Game play is simple enough. Roll three dice, set at least one aside, and roll again until all dice have been set aside. According to the result of the rolls (a pair, a full house, a straight), you may be able to purchase a card which will give you a special power towards all your subsequent rolls. Maybe you'll be able to roll and additional die, set the value of one of your dice, re-roll a die, etc, etc. The first player to roll 7 of a kind ends the game and then a final roll-off determines the winner.

Deciding which character cards to try to purchase, and then how to best use their powers, is fairly fun. I imagine for more than 3 players the downtime might get too high, and there is the real potential that the best choice will eventually become too easy to pick out, but it will take more games to know for sure. I wish there was a bit more tension in the choices, however. It would have been nice, for example, if collecting 1s somehow yielded powerful cards to offset the risk of going after such a weak suit. As it is, 6s are always better than 3s or 1s. Higher totals always win. Different viable strategies might have made it more engaging.

I can't really say that it grabbed me too much, but it certainly wasn't bad (I guess I'm just not sure in what circumstances I'd want to play it in the future... it's got too much going on for non-gamers, it's too long for filler and too random for a serious game). I think I'll prbably trade it sooner rather than later.

In the game we played, I made it to seven of a kind first, but the queen it gave me was not enough to let me win the game. Kozure took it with 8 (or 9?) of a kind.

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