Saturday, February 20, 2010

Battles: With and without Pus (The End of the Triumvirate, Chaos in the Old World)

No new games this week (shocking, I know). We played The End of the Triumvirate and Chaos in the Old World (me, Kozure and Shemp). Curiously, these are all games that I was impressed with the last time I played them, but felt a little less satisfying this time. Maybe it was the games, maybe it was my mood. Who knows?

The End of the Triumvirate

This system is a very successful three way tug of war. In order to succeed, you have to make sure you are moving towards one of the three possible victory conditions without allowing another player to get ahead of you in another track. Alas, this is what happened.

I was Caesar, and decided I would try for the political victory. I focussed on gold, and political competency. The idea was that I would stay ahead in that track, buy votes as often as I could and either get elected twice or do it once and corner the vote. I thought that if I made myself an easy target I would benefit from people attacking me and move ahead on the political competency track for free (due to the compensation given to the vanquished in battle). Unfortunately, Shemp and I skirmished too much and allowed Kozure to get too strong. Although I was one turn short of winning myself, we weren't able to stop Kozure from winning a military victory. To Crassus go the spoils.

As I said, it's a fun game but for some reason it felt a little "off" for me. There was some downtime between turns, we had to look up the rules a lot, etc. Not sure why, just seemed less polished than I remembered.

Chaos in the Old World

Having finally figured out the correct rules to the game, I was anxious to give this potentially great game another spin (the game ships with a couple of game-breaking errors which made our last games interesting but incredibly lopsided). We drew randomly, and I ended up being the same character as last time... Khorne, the red. Kozure played Slanesh and Shemp was Tzeentch.

Playing correctly, it becomes extremely easy to gain dial "ticks" as Khorne. Khorne is such a force militarily that overcoming the other's minions is a simple task if they don't run away. I was gaining two ticks nearly every turn.

I'm told that it's very easy to play and win as Khorne at first, but experienced players make it very difficult for him to win. I can only extrapolate that seasoned players know how to retreat and make Khorne waste actions. I'll really try to play a different god next time in order to broaden my horizons...

Anyway, it was still a good game and I did enjoy it, but there is something about the gameflow I find clunkier than it should be. Particularly, the multiple housekeeping phases required before ending a turn is annoying. Similarly, having to go through all the provinces sequentially three times in order to resolve combat, then domination and then again to do corruption seems like a bit much. We ended up doing many of the steps simultaneously, but also often forgetting a step here or there.

Not a deal breaker. As the others said at the end of the game, by the end it was starting to feel pretty smooth. I feel there is probably a very good game there, we just need to internalize the steps a bit better.

Regardless, here are a few additional thoughts on the game:

1) One of the characteristics that often separate a euro from and american game is the presence of a spacial element and the representation of physical movement. The euros will frequently go with a more logistical approach which presents choices in an abstracted way, while the american game will often have a map and units moving from one space to another. In this respect, Chaos in the Old World feels much more like a euro than an american game. Although the units occupy a map that represents a fantasy world, units do not really travel from place to place in any meaningful way. Every game turn, players summon creatures to one or more regions, they battle and/or corrupt and then that's it. Adjacency is only meaningful because of a few placement limitations (units need to be placed in contiguous provinces). It's much more similar to El Grande or China than Risk, for example.
2) Another defining characteristic of american games is that at the end of a session there is usually a story to tell, whereas with euros it's pretty hard to describe what happened thematically. CitOW doesn't lend itself very well to storytelling in my opinion.
3) The game effects that the random "Old World" cards have on the game give the system an ameritrash feel, but not nearly as pronounced as I expected. The effects are all known at the start of each turn, and although they will certainly favour one player over another it hasn't yet felt like it was overpowering. More than anything, it transforms the landscape over the course of the game and forces players to keep on their toes.
4) The player's cards and factions work together very well to make each god play differently. The powers of the cards in particular are just powerful enough that playing well requires using them effectively, and playing them effectively means doing things differently than the other players. It is also quite obvious that each faction has cards designed to nullify the powers of others, so there is a definite tug-of-war going on in this game as well.

All in all, despite the heavily applied theme and the presence of dice based combat, the game mechanics feel more euro to me than american. Given my personal preferences, that's a plus.

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