Saturday, December 20, 2008

Even older skool (I'm the Boss!, Medici, Atlantic Star)

JayWowzer was back for a surprise visit as he wraps up some of his loose ends in Toronto. He offered to bring some games, and Luch picked a number of games we hadn't ever played before. Although I had never heard of Atlantic Star, the other two have long been on my list of games to try.

I'm the Boss!

We started the evening with I'm the Boss! This is a 15 year old game by Sid Sackson which has a lot of lovers and haters on BGG. Having played it, I can see why.

The board features a number of spaces, each featuring a deal that can be made. Players start the game as one of the wealthy characters that can get involved in the deals. An example of a deal would be "Cashman + either Dougherty or Goldman split 3 shares". Theoretically, that means that the player with the Cashman card would negotiate with either the player with the Dougherty or the Goldman card to decide how to split up the share and complete the deal. Problem is that everyone else wants to get in on the deal, too. I haven't yet mentioned that all players get a hand of cards, and that those cards contain events such as "Cashman goes on a trip". Cashman can't very well participate in a deal is she's off on a trip, now can she? Not coincidentally, other cards represent relatives and friends of the various characters that are more than willing to step in and make a deal in the place of a suddenly unavailable character. There are also cards that allow a player to steal a character card away from someone else, "I'm the Boss!" cards that change who is in the position to decide if a deal is made, and "Stop!" cards that cancel a card being played.

The way it usually plays out is that the acting player (the "boss") lands on a space and proposes a deal to one or more players. counter proposals are made, other players try to get in on the action by sending some of the characters involved on trips and suggesting their own related characters instead. If a deal seems particularly lucrative, someone else might take control of the turn to cash in, but of course someone else might play a "stop" card, or play a card that makes him the boss!

Sound chaotic? It is.

But it's fun, too. At first, we weren't sure how to handle the negotiations. It felt mean interrupting a deal in progress. There was a reluctance to participate in negotiations with someone that had displaced someone else. That soon passed. I should say, however, that in the first few deals there was more focus on trying to railroad the deal maker but as the game progressed it became much more about screwing the other participants in the deal OR becoming the boss.

We enjoyed the game so much we played twice in a row. You'll have to search long and hard through the blog to find another game in recent history that was played twice in a row. Shemp immediately declared he wanted to buy it.

Our first game was a learning experience. I wasn't really sure why being the boss was an advantage, I was missing opportunities to put my hat in the ring at the right time, etc. However, everyone else was likely having similar problems. On what turned out to be the last turn, I closed a really lucrative deal and it put me in first place. It felt a little random, but no matter.

In our second game, I played with a bit more purpose. I snagged three character cards and was using them to underbid everyone with the intention of getting small amounts from a lot of deals in the game (in this game, when you use your character card instead of cards from your hand, they are not used up so you can afford to bid lower). I felt like it was working ok, but I missed out on a really big deal and split my earnings with Luch a few too many times. He won.


Next up was Medici. This is a Knizia auction game that is commonly compared to Ra... now that I've played it I'm not surprised. Although the two games are substantially different, they are very similar in feel and weight.

In Medici, players are traders trying to accumulate wealth through shrewd acquisition of spices and other goods. Just like Ra, however, the theme is rather thin. The result is a somewhat mathematical set collection game, but fun in it's own way. Here, the tiles have two attributes: colour and value. Points are scored for leading in number of tiles in each colour and for having high total values of all tiles in the current set. After three rounds, the players with the most points wins. One interesting twist is that players bid for the lots using the points they've accumulated, so excellent set collecting can be undone by overbidding. Another interesting aspect is that the 5 tile maximum means that, for example, once you've taken a lot with three tiles you are excluded from subsequent 3 tile lots, since you only have two spaces left. This restriction was used to good effect on a number of occasions by players who would effectively block a player from getting a tile they needed by growing the lot to a bigger number of tiles than that player could take.

My first impression is that Medici is simpler to understand than Ra, largely because the scoring is easier to grasp. I'd also say it's a little less fun, because the "push your luck" element in Ra is more compelling in my mind. Still, it was a good game that I'd happily play any time.

Luch destroyed us in this game. He simultaneously had the highest lot totals and climbed colour ladders as fast as the rest of us. I didn't notice at the time, but he must have been auctioning fairly conservatively as well. Shemp and I had a few notable turns where we dramatically overbid (20!). I think I finished tied for third place, which was decent considering how badly I was trailing for most of the game.

Atlantic Star

The final game for the evening was Atlantic Star, a card game about completing cruise itineraries (apparently it is mechanically identical to Showmanager, a game about completing plays).

It's a pretty simple system. There are 5 different routes to try to complete, and each turn you choose a card that represents one leg of the trip from the 4 cards available. Each route can only be completed once by each player, and once it is completed it is added to a chart in order of VPs accumulated. The game system is such that all players will complete all their routes on the same turn, and that is when the game ends.

I don't know. It was fine, but not exceptional. There was some tension in hoping that cards that worked particularly well with your hand would make it to you without getting chosen by another player... but there isn't much that can be done about it either way. Completing routes early is an advantage because ties are broken by the first player to have completed the route.

Luch once again demolished us. He managed a number of high scoring routes, though I couldn't tell what he did that was different than what I was doing. Anyway, it was nice way to end the evening.

A particularly fun evening of gaming. JayWowzer, it is unfortunate we won't be seeing you too often in the future... It's been great gaming with you.

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