Thursday, June 19, 2008

Well. that's better. (Glory to Rome, Princes of Florence, Pandemic)

After last week's embarrassing session of Princes of Florence, we felt we needed to redeem ourselves by playing again correctly. However, I had just picked up Glory to Rome and Pandemic, so I wanted to play those as well. From what I had read, trying to learn Glory to Rome late at night can make your head explode... so we started with that instead.

Glory to Rome
San Juan should be pretty flattered. Race for the Galaxy and Glory to Rome are both very close cousins to the card game implementation of Puerto Rico. Whereas Race is pretty much a more complicated version of San Juan, Glory to Rome uses a similar basic system but strays a bit further in terms of gameplay.

Let's get some first impressions out of the way: the art on the cards is pretty bad. Really pretty bad. It's a kind of cartoony art that seems like something out of Munchkin. It's odd, too, because the actual layout of the cards is quite thoughtful, so someone was clearly thinking about presentation. Part of the problem with the art is that it gives the impression the game is going to be funny or light. It is isn't either. The only argument I can think of in favour of the comic style is the fact that the game features real, live, direct player interaction (sometimes referred to as "screwage"), which is often not welcome in the more serious euros.

Like San Juan, the basic system involves choosing from various roles in an effort to build various buildings, each of which confers special abilities to the player once built. Most VPs wins. The execution is pretty different, though. Whereas San Juan is balanced, elegant and peaceful, Glory to Rome is complex, unbalanced and interactive. That's neither good or bad, it's just different. An indication of the differences can be seen in the basic roles... There's gathering materials, there's building buildings. There's also stealing materials from other players and hiding goods meant for the reconstruction of Rome in your vault. The buildings add further chaos by providing different ways to mess with the other players' games and altering the rules in pretty powerful ways. The game also introduces a new kind of resource, "clients", which allow a player to do the action of the chosen role as many times as they have of the correct client. This means that a player could conceivably set themselves up to take many times more turns than the other players.

Our first game went remarkably well. Considering everything going on, the game plays smoothly and logically. Kozure built the Forum about mid-game, which gives him instant victory if he can manage to gather one of each type of client. All he needed was a merchant, but we all worked together to prevent one from coming up. In the meantime, Bharmer built a Basilica which allowed him to steal cards to his vault directly from his hand. Let's just say we were all so focussed on preventing Kozure's automatic win that we didn't notice how many points Bharmer was stowing away. He won the game by a significant margin.

Our initial reaction to the Forum was that it was too powerful. Turns out we might have been wrong after all. We've only played one game, but I suspect we will get to see many cards and combos that seem too powerful, only to then find the antidote. Glory to Rome manages to be fun, thematic and strategic despite it's appearance. It should be a fun ride getting to know this one.

Princes of Florence

We played correctly this week. It's such a wonderful game when things are working! It was quite a close finish. Luch was ahead for the entire game, but he had no Prestige cards. On the final round, Bharmer and I tied him. Unfortunately for them, I did have some prestige VPs left to score (though I only completed one of my two cards successfully). I won by a slim margin.


Pandemic was the second new game of the evening. I played a few rounds a couple of days before, and the whole thing seemed pretty easy to pick up. Seemed perfect for the final game of the evening.

Turns out "easy to pick up" doesn't equal "easy to win at".

Pandemic is a cooperative game where players work together to cure 4 major diseases spreading like wildfire across the globe. Each player takes on the role of a specialist (a medic, a scientist, etc). Cubes in four colours are seeded at the beginning of the game to start things off and right away the pressure is on to do some damage control. Each player's turn, the infection spreads (cubes are added to the board). When a cube would normally be added to a city that already has three, cubes are instead placed in each adjacent city. In the meantime, players try to accumulate 5 cards of each colour to find the cures and eradicate the diseases. One of the most innovative mechanics in the game is that the cards which are flipped to determine the spread of disease are shuffled and placed back on top of the deck everytime an "epidemic" card is drawn. In other words, the sick places get sicker. And fast.

Our first game started poorly. The first card drawn was an "epidemic" card, so the board got ugly pretty quick. Our inexperience led to an out of control epidemic within a few turns and we lost pretty decisively. We immediately wanted to play a second game, however (good sign), so we tried again. Although the second game also felt pretty rocky, we seemed to be holding our own (though the experience quickly and frequently careens from cautiously optimistic to nearly hopeless). Coming down to the wire, we had cured the red, yellow and blue disease. Black was left but we were one turn away from curing it as well, for the win. It came down to the draw of Bharmer's last card. There were only three left, and one was an epidemic. He drew the epidemic. If memory serves, Moscow was the last city to pop, ending the game.

Playing Pandemic felt a little like playing an old 80s video game, like Arkanoid or Berserk. You try to act fast, try to respond to what is being thrown at you. It doesn't feel terribly deep and there's lots of luck, but you can definitely hone your skills and improve. Also, it's fun.

I like that players truly have to work together to succeed. I like that it's not easy to win (we were playing on the normal difficulty with 4 players. I'm told it's easier with fewer players, and obviously if we had played the introductory difficulty we might have won in our first games). I also like that it's pretty short and simple to teach. Another good game.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed all three games tonight, but I have to say the artwork on the Glory to Rome cards is a major turn-off for me. It's still a good game (hopefully further games with give a better understanding of the system) and a nice twist on the San Juan mechanic, but the artwork is so inconsistent as to be a distraction for me.

    Otherwise, I have many of the same observations as Easy regarding the game itself. Fairly clean, but unbalanced (some cards seem far, FAR more useful than others).

    Pandemic was a lot of fun. I had another opportunity to play two more four player games and a three player game at TABSCon (one of the advantages of being such a quick and easy-to-learn game). We got our behinds handed to us twice on introductory level (!), so badly in fact that we very specifically checked the rules to make sure we didn't get anything wrong. As it was, I think we just had a bad string of luck.

    With the three player game, we played open-handed, which does cut down a lot on the need for coordination, but to me, that's part of the game. In any case, we came extremely close to winning (three of four cures found) but lost on the card draw the turn before Tili (my wife's pseudonym) would have found the last cure.

    Tili quite enjoyed it and is looking forward to more plays. I'm impressed by how 'tight' this game is, that is, either you win or you come within a round or two of winning (well, except in those two four-player games we played at TABSCon), so the tension is high throughout.

    I was off my game in this round of Princes of Florence. I usually place first or second, but this time I was dead last. Guess I better get my head in the zone for next time.