Thursday, December 31, 2009

How are we doing so far ?

Since we are closing off the decade, I quickly compiled all the games we have played so far since our start in 2004... just to see.

Games played 10 or more times:

16x Carcassonne
16 Ra
15 El Grande
11 Domaine
11 Jungle Speed
11 Power Grid
11 Princes of Florence
11 Puerto Rico
10 High Society
10 Race for the Galaxy
10 Tigris and Ephrates
10 Traders of Genoa
10 Zombie Fluxx

Games played between 5 and 9 times:

9x Glory to Rome
9 Railroad Tycoon
9 Robo-Rally
9 Through the Desert
9 Tikal
8 China
8 Clue: The Great Museum Caper
8 Dominion: Intrigue
8 Pirate's Cove
7 Colossal Arena
7 In the Year of the Dragon
7 Last Night on Earth
7 Modern Art
7 Pandemic
7 Taj Mahal
6 Blokus
6 Blue Moon City
6 Duel of Ages
6 Falling
6 Maharaja
6 Pueblo
6 Way Out West
6 Zero!
5 Agricola
5 Antike
5 Beowulf
5 Betrayal at House on the Hill
5 Bohnanza
5 Castles
5 Citadels
5 cosmic encounter
5 Diamant
5 Excape
5 For Sale!
5 Formula-Motor Racing
5 Fury of Dracula
5 Goa
5 Ideology
5 San Juan
5 Santiago
5 Settlers of Catan
5 Shogun
5 Space Alert
5 Tower of Babel
5 TransEuropa

There are other 88 games we have played between 2 and 4 times. 46 games have been played only once.

That's 718 sessions of 194 different games.

I was thinking I'd do a top 10 list of games to accompany this, but I find that it gets harder and harder to make such a list. My favorite games will change according to the situation (# of players, type of gamers, type of gathering, etc). That being said, if I could choose the ideal gaming group for each # of players, I'd probably pick as follows:

1 player: Ghost Stories, LOTR, Space Alert
2 player: Dungeon Twister, Conflict of Heroes, Duel of Ages
3 player: Ra, Tikal, Galaxy Trucker
4 player: Taj Mahal, Steam, Galaxy Trucker
5 player: El Grande, Steam (Mare Nostrum might also figure here in the future)
6 or more: Robo-Rally (but more often I would choose a party game like Things, Apples to Apples or Time's Up)

If I had to only pick one game, I would still pick El Grande as my absolute favorite.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2009 in review

Well, it's that time again. Here are the stats on the games we played this year:

10x Zombie Fluxx

8x Dominion: Intrigue

5x Cosmic Encounter
Space Alert

4x Steam
Galaxy Trucker
Glory to Rome
In the Year of the Dragon

3x Age of Conan
Last Night on Earth
Through the Ages

2x Die Macher
Roll Through the Ages
Mare Nostrum
Taj Mahal
Through the Desert
Chicago Express
Down in Flames
So Long Sucker!

1x Android
Race for the Galaxy
The End of the Triumvirate
The Republic of Rome
Railroad Tycoon
Mission: Red Planet
Small World
Blue Moon City
El Grande
Le Havre
Jungle Speed
Fury of Dracula
Battlestar Galactica

That represents 117 sessions of 52 different games (games played with expansions haven't been identified). Having Zombie Fluxx at the top is rather embarrassing, but I will note that those were almost all in one sitting during our Halloween session. Dominion: Intrigue saw multiple plays on multiple days, so that is far more legitimate.

My favorite game this year : Steam
My favorite new filler : Excape
My biggest surprise : Mare Nostrum (reviews on BGG are mixed, but I really enjoyed the two sessions we had)
My favorite expansion : Pandemic - On the Brink

Random notes:

- Vegas Showdown has been very popular with my extended family, as well as Thebes. Neither Settlers of Catan or Ticket to Ride saw much play this year, though TtR seems like it will have enough legs to see some play for quite a while.

- I acquired Ghost Stories in a math trade somewhat against my better judgement (did I really need another cooperative game?). I'm glad I did. I enjoy playing games solo and this is my favorite so far. Other games that I own that I've enjoyed solo are limited by the fact there are no winning conditions... they are simply a race for VPs. Given a random setup each time it's hard to really compare how you are doing between plays (ex: Agricola/ Race for the Galaxy/ Steam (with expansion map)). Lord of the Rings is great in this regard because you have a concrete goal to achieve. The problem is that it's quite long to setup and play. Ghost Stories has both a concrete winning condition and short play time, yet still manages to offer a different game every time (since the setup is random, the player powers are random, etc). I have no idea how this one will play with a group, but even if it stinks I will be very happy owning this game.

- Conflict of Heroes : Storms of Steel is my only new wargame acquired this year. I did manage to play a session with Kozure that was lots of fun. I like the changes to the rules... the gameplay is more fluid and it feels more wide open than before. The planes work well without changing things to much. Good stuff.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Tastes great, less filling (Cosmic Encounter x2, Steam)

Shemp, Luch and I played this week to the heat of Shemp's brand new furnace.

Although I've read many times that Cosmic Encounter is not at it's best with 3, I was really itching to play it so we tried it anyway. We played with yellow aliens and added in the technology deck, and then only played to 4 planets. I drew Kamikaze, Luch drew Tick-Tock, and Shemp drew the Calculator.

Due to Tick-Tock's ability to win the game when any 8 battles end with a defender win (or on any successful negotiation) both Shemp and I zeroed in pretty quickly on Luch. He lost his alien power pretty quick. Meanwhile, it took a couple of tries before Shemp found any success with his race's ability (call odd or even, if correct, deduct the higher attack power from the lower). I managed a couple of high powered attacks using the kamikaze's ability to sacrifice ships for bonuses but predictably I became low on ships pretty quick. In the end, Shemp was able to string two successful attacks and get to four colonies in short order (the game took only about 40 minutes).

I was torn about my next choice because I had End of the Triumvirate and China in the bag as well, but we play rarely play Cosmic so we played a second session.

In our second game, I drew "Fodder", Luch was "Ameoba" and Shemp was "The Hate". The Hate is brutal. At the start of his turn, Shemp could discard any type of card (attack, negotiate, artifact, etc) and we needed to follow suit or lose 3 ships! Suddenly, Tick-Tock's power seemed very reasonable. We hated the hate. At one point, Luch activated a reincarnator flare and forced Shemp to draw a new race; The Hate became Human. I tried in vain to capitalize on my cool fodder power which allowed me to add to my attack strength any number of cards that were higher the mine but lower than the opponent's. Unfortunately, I kept tying the opponent, which makes it quite impossible.

Shemp came out of nowhere for the win once again.

I really enjoy Cosmic encounter, and I was surprised that three player wasn't as bad as I had heard. Still, it's much better with more, and much better when played to 5 planets. With four, players can theoretically win on their second turn and in essence go from halfway to the finish line in the blink of an eye. It's somewhat unsatisfying. Regardless, Cosmic is an experience game more than anything, and seeing things interact in unexpected ways is quite fun and funny.


We finished off the evening with what is turning out to be a real favorite of mine: Steam. Since we were three players, we played the USA map and seeded the city growth spaces with two cubes instead of three (as the rules require) and we were off. I kind of expected the game to feel loose with this many players, but I was WRONG. Removing a third of the goods cubes from the City Growth spaces had a dramatic impact on the game. 3-4 rounds from the end we were already looking desperately for potential future deliveries. We were crowding around each other and stealing cubes for opportunistic shipments (taking 2 and giving 2 is much better than allowing your opponent to get 4). It was a tough game which, ironically, lasted much longer than our typical 4 player games have lasted.

Although I think I will eventually give the auction variant (the "Standard" game) a try, I really feel no rush. The tile powers already have a cost (in dollars and future turn order) that values them pretty accurately. If the powers were to be auctioned, I don't think they would end up costing what they should because a number of them are pretty equally decent if you take away the turn order consideration. The one aspect of the "Standard" game that I like that I feel is somewhat missing from the "basic" game is the engine cost (in the "Standard" rules, each player has to pay equal to their engine level at the end of every turn). I like it because it opens up the possibility of being a contender with a lower engine level if you can keep your expenses down, and it forces players to think about "when" they should make the commitment and increase their engine... as it is there is pretty much no reason not to if the opportunity arise.

Anyways, great game. I look forward to trying out my new "Disco Inferno/ Soul Train" map!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Let me tell something about my mother... (Android)

Kozure likes the big, sprawling, thematic games. He recently purchased Android and asked that we indulge him with a session, despite the knowledge that the odds we would get through explanation and gameplay in our typical 3.5 hour window were slim. I think he was surprised when we all responded enthusiastically! I, for one, have always been quite curious about the game, though I would never have purchased it based on estimated playtime alone.

I'll say this to start: Android is one of the most ambitious boardgames I can think of. It's trying to interweave a number of different kinds of games into one, and to that it adds a couple of new ones. It's a character driven murder case set in a dystopian future. It's Blade Runner meets Shadowrun meets choose your own adventure.

Thematically, each player plays a character that is involved in trying to solve a murder. Each player is dealt a "hunch" regarding which of the suspects is guilty, and which is innocent. Over the course of the game, a conspiracy unfolds that explains who are the puppet masters behind the scenes, thereby framing the murder as a singular event against a larger picture. Meanwhile, each character has a backstory that develops over the course of the game, where a player needs to resolve a personal crisis and individual actions can lead to facing his/her demons or succumbing to them. As I said, it's very ambitious.

Individually, each aspect of the game is rather simple. The suspects are all known and the characters fly from location to location gathering evidence tokens that are scattered around the board (using a very interesting protractor-type device that measures how far the character's ship can "fly" in a sinlge round). This evidence is then either pinned on a particular subject, or used to uncover the larger conspiracy. If pinned on a suspect, it takes the form of a simple numerical modifier and the character who has the highest positive total at the end of the game is the murderer. There are other minor rules, such as the possibility of alibies, purjery tokens, etc, but they are just further modifiers. In effect, players are building cases against a character (read: framing) rather than solving anything in particular. If, at the end of the game, the character's "hunches" were right he/she will get VPs.

The conspiracy itself is developped by gathering clues, but instead of pinning tokens on suspects a player draws from one of three stacks of puzzle pieces and places it on the board. Each piece shows lines going through it and players are trying to connect the "murder" (in the center of the puzzle) with various conspiracies at the edges of the board. Characters are quite literally "piecing together the puzzle" of the conspiracy in the game. At the end of the game, the conspiracies that have been connected to the murder will provide VPs in certain ways (political favours retained at the end of the game are worth points, etc).

Lastly, the character is presented with a piece of backstory and two possible results based on whether the character can meet certain criteria. For example, a character might have a rocky relationship with his father and need to make amends to achieve a positive result. Throughout the game, the player will play "light" cards that further their personal goals AND play "dark" cards on other player's characters. This is meant to represent the good and bad traits of each character coming out in the story. Once more, the result of this personal backstory is that a number of VPs are awarded based on how successfully it all panned out.


It's impossible to really judge this game based on a single play. There is so much going on that it's necessary to just "do stuff" to keep things moving. Only at the end did it all really start to come together in my mind. There is definitely some good stuff in here. In comparison to Arkham Horror, a game of similar complexity and length (and by the same designer and publisher) I liked it much better. The multiple interlocked mechanisms work together well and don't lead to downtime for the sake of downtime (where you spend lots of time moving stuff around, coordinating multiple modifiers, etc). Just as with Age of Conan, it's possible to create a game with lots going on where things feel like they fit together well once you get a grip on it.

My biggest complaint would be that the whole thing resolves in a very abstract way. For all the layers, for all the mechanics, for all the chrome, it's all just a race for VPs after all. Solving the murder isn't really the point. The card play, with the light and dark aspects of a character's personality coming to bear on the story should feel different than any other "take that" style game, but doesn't really. The worst offender, however, is that uncovering the conspiracy doesn't feel like anything at all except a game mechanic... dissapointing thematically even if it offers interesting gameplay possibilities. It's not that any of these things don't work... it's just that the result is muted thematicaly rather than being over the top, which is what I expected after hearing the overview of the game by Kozure. Perhaps there is so much going on that the designer felt the need to abstract the scoring to bring it all together. Perhaps it's because if it were a story, you'd be discovering that there was a murder, then through investigation you'd discover that there was a conspiracy behind it, etc, etc, all the while grappling with your inner demons in a way that would surely play into the story, wereas in Android you are operating in reverse: you know who you want to pin the murder on, you are motivated to reveal a particular combination of conspiracies and the light/dark card play is divorced from any of these other events. Hard to say, but I wish that there were more "Ah-ha" moments in a murder/mystery/ uncover the conspiracy game.

Regardless of the mild dissapointment related to the exploitation of the theme, Android remained a game I enjoyed playing. It works well, weaves an interesting story if you remember to look for it, and plays shorter than I expected (we finished the whole game, with rules explanation, in 4 hours). Maybe in our second play I'll be less bamboozled by everything going on and will be able to appreciate the theme more, who knows?

For the record, I can't remember who won the game. Kozure, I think? I had my guilty hunch become innocent and my innocent hunch be guilty. My rocky relationship with my father ended very well, but I ended up using my best friend and nearly lost her. I came a distant and convincing last.

Still had fun though, and that's what matter.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Towards a more balanced bashing of skulls (Age of Conan)

Age of Conan was selected again this week. The most notable difference between this session and previous ones was a lack of runaway leader, which is good. Must be getting better at it, or something. Or, it could be because this was the first time we played with 4 players.

Since we once again chose factions based on our standard player colours, I once again played red. I've only personally played this once before, and that was a while ago, so I had a hard time getting a grasp on the rules for the first half of the game. Luckily, the game has a relatively long period where players can mostly stay out of each other's way, so I had the luxury of picking up most things as I went along. Conan has a hell of a lot of little rules and subsystems, something I normally find annoying. I'm glad to say that despite the fact that I've had the same feeling of being overwhelmed both times I`ve played, by the end of both games I had internalized the moving parts and it plays smoothly once you get to that stage (in other words, all the mechanisms mesh well, and it doesn't feel like work to remember them all while you are playing).

I find the game to be an interesting balance between a RISK variant and a resource management game. You know the others are out there, you know that you will have to deal with them, but in the meantime you have to conquer provinces (a game unto itself), attempt to achieve objectives each round and keep an eye on the endgame bonuses as well (the Crom tokens for fighting and the treasure/ monsters/ women tokens for Conan). It's ultimately an impressive feat that both parts seem interesting and worthwhile. With this type of game, there is always the danger that the player that turtles wins because the other players hurt themselves by fighting each other. I can't really tell if it's an issue here, because none of us tried it. It could be possible that a player would do well just developing uncontested land and controlling Conan as much as possible. Don't know.

The game ended with Kozure crowning Conan, but unfortunately for him he did not have the majority in monsters he thought he had (I had more). I won the game.

So far, each of our sessions have ended with Conan being crowned. I wonder if that's the norm?