Friday, March 07, 2008

Drivin' the 5 (The Kaiser's Pirates, Railroad Tycoon: Rails of Europe)

Luch finally made it back. For at least one session, it was a party of five.

Drivin' the 5 (5 Wagsters?, Mazda 5? Swedish Betrayal?)

The Kaiser's Pirates

Since we didn't get a chance to play a full game last time, we tried again this week. It's supposed to be a 2-4 player game, but we couldn't see any reason why it wouldn't scale to 5. Having played, I don't think it made much of a difference.

So, how does it stack up after a second play? I'd say my feelings haven't really changed from the first attempt. The nature of most "Take that!" style games is that the results are mostly random. You play the game for the fun of playing, not because there is a deep layer of strategy involved. Most of these games rely on humour to get them by (ex: Munchkin, Killer Bunnies), The Kaiser's Pirates relies on a wargame veneer. As I said last week, the fact that every card has multiple uses helps to avoid the stretches of frustrating "waiting for the right card" that often happens in card games... in this case, no matter what the card text actually says you can usually at least use the card to make an attack as the English navy. Still, there are a number of factors which keep it from being a great game for me:

1) Drawing one card per turn isn't enough. It takes a couple of cards in tandem to get anything interesting going on, yet you can only draw a single card no matter what. This leads to either a lot of waiting or completely random "play the last card you drew" style play. Neither one of them feel like they work within the intentions of the game.

2) It's way too long for what it is. There is nothing that happens in the second half of the game which makes me feel like it's any different from the first. Without any sort of "arc", the long play time just felt repetitive.

(Although these two issues are by far the most serious problem of the game, they also seem rather easy to solve. When we play this next time, I suggested we simply draw two cards at the end of each turn instead of one, and drawing three cards if a player skips their turn. The game will play in half the time and fun stuff will be easier to accomplish)

3) Losing pirates isn't that hard, yet it can be devastating to your ability to succeed. I happened to get targeted a fair bit throughout the game, and therefore lost a fair number of ships. I realized that once your pirates are gone, they are very difficult to replace. Problem is, the only way to score points is to sink merchants and once your pirates are gone, so is your ability to score points. This seems wrong. (I know that shooting down pirates also scores points, but unless you have merchant ships, they don't count. Therefore, once you lose your pirates, you end up in a vicious cycle where you can only attack merchants for points but can't attack merchants because you have no pirates). The odds of this happening to a player are made worse by the fact that the easiest move, to attack using the english navy, can only be directed vs pirates AND pirates are worth 3-4 times the value of merchants. I'm not sure that my situation would happen in many games, but if it does it would feel kind of broken.

Anyway, despite my comments I would look forward to playing again with the modified drawing rules. As a shorter game with more cards in hand, I'm sure it would be fun.

Railroad Tycoon: Rails of Europe

Boy, as I wrote up my rant last week about how good of a year it was turing out to be for new games, I didn't expect I'd be writing here again with yet another hit. Rails of Europe is an expansion board for Railroad Tycoon and from our initial play I'd say it takes everything I enjoyed about RRT and strips away most of what annoyed me. I really liked the game before, but I love it with the expansion.

The board is now much more reasonably sized. There are no sections that you look at and wonder why anyone would go there. In fact, with five players the opposite is true... the whole play area felt like the north-east in the original board. Players are constantly bumping into each other and fighting for resources and stations into each city. It was an intense experience which felt superior in every way to the original. I imagine I'd only choose to play the original board again if playing with 6 players, or for variety I suppose.

Other minor changes also had a positive impact:

- The major lines are all available from the beginning, which takes that particular element of chance out of the game. Ultimately, I liked the change. It prevents a person from making an accidental winfall when the right card comes at the right time. Still, the downside is that there was the POTENTIAL in the earlier major line card mechanic to force players to look at the board in a new light, not to mention giving a player who's options were exhausted a new goal to pursue. With all the major lines known and static, a "best strategy" might emerge (although the random cube distribution does help prevent that). To keep things lively, it might be fun to randomly remove a few of them at the start of the game, just to see it's impact on strategy.

- The victory point track starts reducing income earlier. This means that the balancing mechanism kicks in at a time that it can actually have an impact. I know during our game, I was actually forced to time some cube deliveries so that they wouldn't cost me too much income. It was an added challenge which I enjoyed.

- Getting two barons at the start of the game, and picking one, is obviously a better way to handle them. I'll also suggest we do this on either map.

Anyway, I built a north-south network which went from Coppenhagen through Berlin to Rome and Naples. I upgraded my engine all the way to 7 and spent the game delivering 5-7 point deliveries due to fortuitous initial distribution and very lucky draws on new industry cards/ actions. Shemp was leading through most of the game, but his east-west tracks put him at odds with Bharmer and Luch, so I guess that slowed him down some. I overcame his lead on the last few turns and won the game.

It's worth mentioning that a couple of random moves by Luch wound up mattering quite a bit to Kozure. For lack of anything better to do with his last few turns, Luch kept building tracks to nowhere. Kozure, who had the baron looking to build the most links, ended up losing his bonus because of it.

Ah Luch, it's good to have you back.

1 comment: