Monday, December 06, 2010

Crowns, Glory and NERDS!!! (Warrior Knights: Crown and Glory, High Frontier)

I've neglected the blog for a few weeks, so I'll play catch-up on our last two gaming sessions.

Two weeks ago, we added the "Crown and Glory" expansion to Warrior Knights and last week we played a game that is so obviously and joyfully nerdy that it's almost cool: High Frontier.

Warrior Knights: Crown and Glory

We've played and enjoyed Warrior Knights a couple of times already, and I've been surprised at how much the "flaws" I had read about the game didn't bother me. Specifically, many people complain that the game's title is misleading and the lack of combat is disappointing. Personally I liked the mix of politics, religion and territory control that the game offered and felt the lessening of combat was a fair trade-off for the additional facets the game offered. Still, there were a few issues that bothered me somewhat. The two biggest ones were the movement limits and the anti-climactic endgame. Actually, the two are related... The lack of movement ability makes the endgame predictable under some circumstances. This means the winner can be obvious going into the last turn and the last little while can be kind of boring.

The new expansion introduces new elements that address both these issues and more. For the movement issue, a new action card allows a player to refresh and re-use an exhausted noble. For the endgame issue, hidden missions are dealt out at the beginning of the game and points are awarded for completing the objective at the end. Both these additions work very well and I wouldn't want to play the game again without them.

Other additions: Technology can be researched and developed. The mercenaries have a few special units that confer powers to the controlling noble. The mercenary track comes into play more frequently due to a tweaked rule. Town levies and fortifications have been added. All good, in my opinion. Tech is probably my favorite due to the special powers they confer and the impact that can have on the game.

The final addition is the "King" variant which grants one player the title of "King" partway through the game. This title comes with a considerable army, an advantage in gaining influence... and a huge target on your head. Suddenly, all players are out to get you to prevent you from getting the bonus influence (and to get it themselves). It's an interesting way to focus attention and keep the game from being a free-for-all. This aspect of our first play through was disappointing because the "quick game" suggested setup is too short. The game ends the turn after someone becomes the King.

In our game, I took a slight lead early and grabbed the title of King. Kozure was doing a great job of generally matching my influence totals but doing it in such a way to not attract attention. Shemp was struggling with the all the new options and had a hard time focussing his strategy. On the last turn of the game, Kozure was banned from the assembly by me and Shemp, and I took to the field with my new kingly army. My lead in influence was not great, but it didn't seem likely that anyone could catch-up. I made a mistake trying to steal a kingdom from Kozure and he exploited it... taking one of mine on his turn while I was on the road. This had the double whammy effect of losing me an influence and making me fail my secret objective. Kozure had met his goal and the game ended with a Kozurian victory. The missions had their intended effect, the last turn was NOT boring!

High Frontier

High Frontier was designed by someone who is clearly passionate about scientific space exploration. And someone nerdy. Definitely nerdy. It's about building rockets out of futuristic technologies and going out to space to explore/ research and claim planets. The map is fantastic. It's a depiction of the solar system and further galaxies and planets, and the routes to get there. A large number of 'futuristic technologies" actually researched for space travel are depicted in the available components for rocket construction. The cards feature little sketch diagrams with explanations of the way these things should work. It's all crazy and geeky and somehow awesome.

But how does it play? Well, I'm not sure. I played the game for 4 hours or so and still didn't really understand all that was going on. This is odd, because there doesn't APPEAR to be anything complicated in the rules, but the tolerances are low and it all felt somewhat opaque. You have to accumulate water tokens to purchase rocket thrusters, robonauts and factories and send them to space. The thrusters are necessary to fly, but the robonauts and factories are necessary to settle a planet. What initially makes the game hard is that you have to build your ship out of parts, and the parts have a certain weight. The better engines are heavy. Getting to where you want to go means balancing fuel capacity, fuel consumption, weight and trajectory... all the while making sure you have enough to get back! Planning your route felt a little like Power Grid to me. Lots of calculating and recalculating... only here if you get it wrong you are stuck floating back from space (this happened to BHarmer at least once). The destinations are laid out such that there are precious few, if any, easy routes. Very precise calculating is necessary. This works for simulating space travel but it's somewhat taxing in a game. Over the course of the game it's possible to develop technologies which make the game suddenly significantly easier. We may have been playing wrong, but it felt to me fairly heavy handed how dramatically the game shifts once a player has one of those advanced components. Once I developed one myself I was quite surprised how all my difficult number crunching became unnecessary. Does this mean the game is all about who gets that first tech? Hard to say... I still think we were doing something wrong. There is also a concept of producing tech from an established colony and selling it back to earth which I never did understand.

My first reaction is that the theme is executed brilliantly, the map is fantastic and the abstraction of scientific info into a playable game fascinating BUT the gameplay itself is frustrating. Is it really possible that the player that gets a particular thruster has THAT great of an advantage over the others? Are we correct that there are only a few viable early game planets? Does the first player to develop an advanced tech have such an advantage that they will automatically win the game?

I continuously felt like I was missing something. Like something wasn't quite adding up. How can the game possibly work with 4-5 players if the viable options are so few? We'll have to explore this one further, if only to see how the whole thing gels together. I confess I didn't really enjoy our first game, but I find the game fascinating nonetheless. I really WANT to like it. The map alone makes me want to OWN it. I find it mind boggling that what we played was the SIMPLE game and that an ADVANCED game ships with it right in the box!

1 comment:

  1. I should correct the record to clarify the advanced game expansion rules are included in the basic set, but the cards and map are sold separately. I bought both at the same time so that Bharmer and I would have the option to play the expanded rules as soon as we wanted.