Saturday, November 14, 2009

Skulligan (Roll Through the Ages x2, Glory to Rome, Race for the Galaxy, Dominion)

It was Kozure's pick this week, and he was lookin' to play some quick n' light civilization building games.

Roll Through the Ages

We opened with a relatively recent purchase that hadn't yet seen any play at WAGS... Roll Through the Ages. A long time ago I used to play computer yahtzee quite a lot, but I can't say this type of "combination seeking" dice games have really been my thing since (I'm not counting games like Excape, Liar's Dice or Can't Stop, because those aren't really the same type of game). Still, with the recent crop of dice games I started to get interested and settled on this one to try. Ra: The Dice Game and Settlers of Catan: The Dice Game just seemed too derivative of their parent games, while this one seemed fresh.

You roll a number of dice based on the number of cities you've built. Building cities or monuments requires "workers", while developments require "goods" and/or "money". Cities need to be fed, so more cities means more dice but also means more upkeep. All the while, any "disasters" that come up must be set aside and the more a player gets the worse the result (with one exception, where if exactly three disasters are rolled the other players are penalized). At first blush, I was disappointed that it wasn't more Yahtzee like. I was looking to make combinations, to satisfy certain requirements based on series or the like. Luckily, my initial fears were unfounded. Trying to get the dice faces you are looking for, trying to finish items that have been started, trying to push for just enough disasters to affect the other players instead of you... it all boils down to trying to achieve the same sort of thing, but it's more fluid and situation dependent. There appears to be a couple of different ways to get ahead, from focussing on monuments to racking up goods and going for big technologies. It might have been cool if another path to victory was opened up along the lines of "wonders" (or whatever) where rolling a particular combination of dice signified the discovery of something important... maybe in a future expansion?

Anyway, it's a fun light game that doesn't take very long to play. The interaction is pretty light, but there is an optional rule for trading that we haven't tried that might help.

Kozure pulled ahead in our first game and ended just as it seemed Shemp was catching up. Lucky for him, he did it just in time and he won by a just a few points. Shemp coined the term "skulligan" by combining the "disaster" face of the die with the word "mulligan". It wasn't an intentional combination, but it worked and we thought it was pretty funny. In our second game, I had a huge streak of luck that gave me an enormous amount of points but I had been hit so hard by disasters and a particularly brutal turn where I lost nearly ten points to famine that I was pulled out of contention. Who won that again? Don't remember (sorry).

Glory to Rome

We then moved on to the quirky world of Glory to Rome. This game is usually best when played a few times in succession because it is so deeply weird that it takes a bit of time to adjust to it. You have to come to terms with the fact that there are a large number of highly unbalanced combos to be found, and that the game is won by the player best able to set one up and exploit it (which ultimately makes it balanced, in a weird way). When we go a stretch without playing, this often seems to come as a surprise that these ridiculously powerful things happen, and it can feel a bit unsatisfying because it feels rather random when it happens.

Oddly, just like the last time we played I managed to build the Garden, which allowed me to execute the patron action once for each point of influence. Just like last time, I had a ton of influence and wound up with a *large* number of patrons. I completed several powerful buildings and stuffed my vault full of goods. The funny thing was I couldn't end the game because I wasn't getting any marble buildings, and therefore couldn't use up the last foundation, and was very afraid someone would build one of those "instant win" buildings. No one did, and I won by a landslide, but it was interesting to me that even in a situation where I am so far ahead the game is such that I know I could still lose at any moment. That's a good thing in my book.

Race for the Galaxy

Here's a game we haven't played as a group in a really long time. I personally play on occasion against the computer in the free downloadable version at BGG. It's amazing how the iconography becomes second nature the more you play, but Shemp reminded me how difficult it can be on beginners. He had a few run-ins with symbols he couldn't figure out, coupled with his colour-blindness, and had a frustrating time of it (this game is stupid, is how he put it, I think). Anyway, I had a great game. I started with Epsilon Eradni and a mitfull of military worlds. Everything fell into place beautifully and I put out larger and larger military worlds until I got to twelve card played (which happened the same turn Shemp did it). Here again, I had a very good score and won handily (mid forties, I believe). Experience matters in this game, and I therefore have an unfair advantage.

Shemp has mentioned on a few occasions that games with low interaction are rarely his favorites. Although I do find that I am constantly aware of the other players, from the point of view that I withhold certain cards I think others need and don't bother playing role cards I think others will play for me, I can't argue that the interaction is pretty thin. Oh well, I still like it!


Dominion puts me in the opposite situation as Race for the Galaxy, because here I'm the one with less experience. I'm not sure why, but I have a hard time wrapping my head around the powers on the ten cards each time I play. I therefore kind of float through the game doing my best to keep up but then always ending up a distant last. I must respond better to multiple symbols than to blocks of text (actually, I know I do). Other than my general inability to play well, it is a fun game.

I had abrief moment where things were going well for me. I had the coinage card that doubled all my copper, and it worked to get me a couple of provinces very early in the game. Unfortunately, I kept purchasing cards and my deck got bogged down. From memory, I think that Luch won the game by a nose. He is quite effective at this game. He mentioned at the end of the game that he tries to go as quickly as possible to purchasing the 6 VP provinces, and tries not to get distracted by the the cards. I'll have to take that advice...

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