Saturday, March 21, 2009

You can't drink glue... (Down in Flames-Aces High x2, Container)

Unfortunately for Luch, his bike got a flat tire on his way to Kozure's place. Although Container was the main event for the evening, we played a hand of Kozure's "Down in Flames - Aces High" while we waited.

Down in Flames - Aces High

This is essentially a reissue of a game we've played before called Zero!, with updated graphics and gameplay. I haven't played the old version often enough to really see the difference, so I'll talk mostly about the new version.

Down in Flames is a card game about World War 2 aerial combat. Each player gets a plane with characteristics such as "performance", "number of bursts", etc. From a common deck of maneuver cards, each player gets a hand. Players then proceed to take turns attempting to gain position on each other's planes and taking shots when the opportunity arises. The system consists primarily of maneuvres and counter maneuvres. If I play a "barrel roll", you can counter it with a card that lists barrel roll in the counter section.

From memory, I'd say that the game feels pretty much the same as the previous incarnation. There seems to be a lot more countering involved, however (in other words, when you lay a card, most times it gets countered). I suppose this makes it more like real aerial combat, where maneuvering can go on for a while before a good shot is available. From a game perspective, I was wondering once in a while what I could do to increase my odds of success, and I couldn't figure it out. Players draw cards at the beginning and the end of their turn, so a cautious player can easily have a full hand most of the time. This means that most of the time you have what you need to counter the other player's card. I assume that experienced players get to know the relative rarity of the cards, and can therefore estimate how likely a particular card is to play successfully. For a new player, success and failure feels fairly random.

That's not really a bad thing, however. As a card game, it plays pretty quickly and the "dance" is simulated well. Taking a chance on a big shot and having it succeed is fun, and getting out of a tough situation and turning reversing the situation leads to memorable moments. Of the various war themed card games Kozure owns (and he seems to own a few), this is easily my favorite.

I was the first to go "down in flames". When we played again as the evening closer, I went down first again. Come to think of it, I typically go down first in Wings of War as well... Hmm.... I should make it a point never to fly a plane in real life.


Luch having arrived, we set up Container. I've been intrigued by this game from the moment I read about it, but for whatever reason I held off purchasing until now. It's a game about manufacturing and shipping containers that successfully creates a mini economy between the players in the process. I've heard it can be somewhat fragile, in the sense that if players play "incorrectly", the game can grind to a halt, or some players can be shut out. I was very curious to see if the issues were real.

The system is simple enough. Every player starts the game with one factory (each producing a different kind of good), one good produced and one storage shed in the docks. There is an island at the center of the table. Players try to produce goods, sell them to each other, load them onto ships and deliver them to the central island for sale. The trick is that at every step of the way, the players control various aspects of supply and demand... How much of a given good will I produce? What price will I set for the goods I produce? What price will I set for the goods I sell at my docks? Which goods will I bring to the island for auction? In addition, each player has a secret goal card which describes how many points the different goods are worth to that player, ensuring that everyone sees the goods on offer a little bit differently. A final twist is that there is a bonus for getting at least one of every type of good, and the good you have the most of on the island doesn't score...

The whole system DOES do a good job of creating a mini-economy. We didn't see the economy stall in our learning game, so I imagine it's not that fragile. Early on, it appeared that Kozure, Shemp and Luch where expanding their docks while I was adding factories. I flooded the market with goods I ultimately wanted on the island, in the hopes that they would eventually get there. As the game went on, I started making black goods available ultra cheap, because they were my lowest scorer and I obviously wanted that to be the colour I discarded when scores were calculated. It worked. I managed to get a lot of high scoring containers on the island and had enough black ones to cover them. Although I had -4 cash in hand, the cash generated on the island was enough to win me the game.

This game kept me thinking for a while after we played it. On one hand, I was engrossed in a way very few games manage to do (El Grande comes to mind, but few others). Trying to figure out how you can manipulate the economy, trying to guess what your opponents are trying to do and how you can turn that to your advantage, etc, really had me thinking. I definitely enjoyed myself quite a bit. On the other hand, there aren't many different things to do. On a couple of turns, it was a struggle to find two actions worth doing. It's far to early to tell if the game would get repetitive quicker than it should, but for now I can say without reservation that I'm looking forward to playing again.

No comments:

Post a Comment