Sunday, August 31, 2008

Games with rules and components (Entdecker, Pillars of the Earth, Fairy Tale)

Kozure was camping, so it was a foursome.


Before Shemp arrived, we started with Entdecker, a game we pretty much massacred the rules to last time. What is it about Teuber games, anyway?... We keep mangling the rules to Domaine as well (I should say "kept", as we haven't played Domaine in a really long time... hmmm... we should fix that)

We managed to correctly play the exploration rules, and we filled in the areas correctly. Unfortunately, we completely screwed up the in game scoring because we were only giving points to the first place player! Lucky for us, we noticed well before the game was over and gave back the points to the players who should have received them. I'm pretty sure we got it right, too.

The starting scenario we used had the 4 bonus tiles set up in 2 pairs on either side of a wall of water. Obviously, it was a race to set up two huge, high scoring islands. I snagged the first one, but I poured a lot of effort into it and Bharmer and Luch both received points for it. Luch and Bharmer worked together to develop and close the second island, and I got shut out. Bharmer was way out front in points, so I started closing lots of little islands to get my scouts onto the village tracks and tried to secure a couple of high scoring huts. In the end, it all came down to a single tile draw... if I could flip a tile that closed the second last space on the board, I would be able to send the last scout I needed to secure a pivotal majority. If the tile I drew didn't fit, Bharmer would do it. I got the tile I needed, and won the game by a slim margin. It was close all around (Luch, who was behind most of the game, got a lot of points off the scouts and nearly overtook us).

Entdecker and Domaine actually share a similar space for me in the game landscape. I really enjoy both, but they are somehow unspectacular. Between the two, Domaine is the tighter game, but the late land grab that usually determines the winner is a big problem. If Entdecker was a little shorter, and if it did a little more to differentiate itself from other exploration games (like the superior Tikal), I'd probably want to play it more often. The luck involved may rub some the wrong way, but it fits the theme well in my opinion.

Anyway, I don't intend on trading it or anything. It' a fun game to play once in a while.

Pillars of the Earth

The latest "new" and/or "hot" game mechanic is "worker placement". It was featured in last year's Caylus (which I've never played) and in this year's phenomenon Agricola. Pillars of the Earth was released between those two, features similar gameplay mechanics and has been well received in it's own right.

If you watch Oprah, or if (like me) you have a spouse that does, you know that Pillars is based on a novel that somehow involves the building of a cathedral. Bharmer has read the book but claims not to watch Oprah. Whatever, I have my eye on him. Anyway, here the cathedral simply acts as an elaborate timer: after each round one section of the cathedral is added. When the cathedral is complete, the game ends. As an aside, we all disliked the cathedral design proposed by the game. The one we built with the pieces was decidedly more... deconstructionist.

These worker placement games have certain similarities: There are a lot of options laid out at once, and players must find the most efficient order to choose them in. However, small differences can have a big effect:

-The mechanism used to determine turn order in Pillars is slightly wonky (each player has three token in a bag and they are pulled at random. If you get picked early you have to pay or go to the back of the line). I'm not sure that the cost makes up for getting screwed out of turn order, but is it really worse than Agricola, where placement is simply clockwise?

- Whereas Agricola is fairly devoid of interrelated mechanics, Pillars has several interesting tradeoffs inherent in the system. The resource mini-auction at the beginning has to be weighed against the gold provided by unused resource workers. The resources are converted into victory points at different rates according to the different professionals you've hired. Etc.

- This may sound petty, but the presentation in Pillars is several leagues better than in Agricola. Instead of multiple awkwardly organized boards in the middle and piles of wooden tokens with no place to go, Pillars has a single board with a place for everything. Even money is handled with a track (a system which works remarkably well, and yet I can't think of another game that does it). Also, despite the fact that there is a similar seeding of the board that occurs every round, it's far more reasonable.

Anyway, I thought it was a pretty good game. There is a good amount of push and pull, tough decisions, etc, etc. I'm still wrestling with my feelings over Agricola, because although I can point to several things that Pillars does better I can't deny that it feels more generic than Agricola does. When I played Agricola, it felt like a rather different animal than the other games I've played, Pillars doesn't. Agricola also has the obvious advantage that it's entirely modular design allows it to be more variable and therefore (theoretically) stay entertaining longer. I say theoretically because after five games I've noticed a sameness developping in each game potentially due to the semi-ordered presentation of the action spaces, the need to do things in a certain order to get your farm going, and needing a little bit of everything in order to do well. Keep in mind that I've only played one advanced game and only one multiplayer game, so the sameness issue may not be real (and if it is, the modularity would make it very easy for an expansion to completely turn the sameness on it's head). So, while Agricola lacks severely in the elegance dept., it feels like it breaks new ground.

In our session, I first tried to go long on sand, acquiring a prince that gave it to me for free every round fairly early. I overspent in the second round and bought myself a lead that was already erased by the third. The others where manipulating turn order and stealing all the sand contracts before I could get them, so I switched to stone. I couldn't get it together, though, and placed last. It was a tight race between Bharmer and Shemp for first, but I can't remember who won in the end (I think it was Shemp).

Fairy Tale

This has been a long post, so I'll keep this short: Fairy Tale was much more fun with four players than it was with two. It felt more like I remembered, so it's nice to see it wasn't a worthless trade. I actually think four might be ideal, if only because during the draft you know one of the cards in your original deal will come back to you.

I was doing pretty well until Shemp hunted the card I was using to unflip two cards that would have triggered lots of points on the table. I didn't recover. Still, Bharmer had a huge score on the table and won... I don't think any of us where even within striking distance.

Fun filler.

1 comment:

  1. AgentEasy, man - lamest post title... "evar".

    Re: turn order in Agricola - I actually hadn't thought a lot about it, but it is strange that there isn't a more thorough turn order mechanic than "clockwise" and occasionally picking the first player action space. I'll have to play some more games of it to see just how troublesome it could become.

    While the turn order mechanic in Pillars of the Earth is a little more interesting, it also seems a little too long and involved. I wonder what Caylus uses? I should put some thought into what turn order mechanic seems best in which game.

    Turn order which is directly related to seating arrangement is troublesome because if you get the right combination of really good players (or really poor players, or really random players), you can be put in an awkward position where you can't get what you want or the player ahead of you (or behind you) screws you over. For example, if you have a really good player to your right in Puerto Rico, it's a lot more difficult for your strategy than if you have a mediocre or novice player.

    I think that you either have to have an auction for turn order to eliminate that, or the start player has to rotate every turn and selection of actions or worker placement shouldn't necessarily be related. Games where the start player is potentially static (Shadow of the Emperor and Agricola leap immediately to mind, but they're definitely not the only ones) can definitely be irksome if you happen to be sitting to the right of that static first player.

    Entdecker... good game but doesn't really stand out, as you say. Of the two, I definitely think Domaine is stronger.