Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A war of ideas (Clans, Ra, Scrabble Slam, Innovation x2)

Work prevented me from arriving on time last week, so I missed the first few games. The group was kind enough to play a number of short games until I arrived (Clans, Ra and even Scrabble Slam!) where played, though I do not know the details).

When I did get there, Bharmer perused the games I brought and selected the newly acquired "Innovation", casting aside Troyes and Junta- Vive el presidente! Shemp promptly added "Y'all have got too many games", and we were off.


I read the rules. I reread the rules. I played a few hands. I still had no idea what was going on, or why. Mostly, I didn't know why. I was afraid that a four player game would lead to certain brain asplosions.

I really like the designer's previous game, Glory to Rome. It's a kind of managed chaos. Despite similarities to Race for the Galaxy, I doubt anybody would describe the experiences as similar. The game plays quite differently each game because of the variety of possible super combos that inevitably come out in the later game. Innovation has a similar barely contained chaos but the games are distinctly different.

Innovation is about the evolution of great ideas through different periods of history. It's a card game, and every single card represents a different idea. At the start of the game, all the cards are grouped by era and each stack is placed in a circle. All players are dealt two ideas from the prehistoric era and the game begins. Players get two actions per turn, which can be to draw a new idea, to play a new idea or to activate an existing idea. The meat of the game is in the activation if ideas... Each player's tableau of active idea cards will feature a number of icons, and each time a player activates an idea it's necessary to compare how many of the pertinent icon each player has. If it's a beneficial idea, any player with equal or m ore icons also get the effects. If it's an aggressive idea, players with equal or more icons are immune. One of the main, ahem, innovations of the game is the concept of "splaying" cards. An idea that permits the splaying of a stack of cards allows a player to slide all the cards in a stack to the right, left or top. This allows a number of icons from the cards below to be seen, and the revealed icons then count as forming part of the tableau... Very powerful.

So,it's a game about creating synergy between ideas. As expected, some of the powers become quite powerful and can create unexpected combos. One thing we hadn't expected was that some earlier ideas can become quite powerful if all other players move on. For example, Shemp discovered that in the beginning, when everyone has "plant" icons, a card based on them can be hard to pull off. However, as players move on and everyone else starts to shed their "plant" icons in favor of science and industry, it's much easier to dominate in that field. To win, one player has to claim a certain number of achievements (however there are cards in later ages that provide alternate win conditions, so if you are behind you could always make a rush for those).

Although there is some effort made to tie the card's powers to the idea it represents, between the abstraction and the bland cards it's hard to feel the theme in the game. Still, from a gameplay perspective I quite enjoyed it. Chaotic, definitely, but fun. Also, not nearly as hard to grasp or play as I had thought.

I will say for the record that Shemp destroyed as in both sessions. This is untrue, of course, because Kozure and I each won a game, but since I miss reported a few of his wins in previous weeks this will be my olive branch.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Pus is a harsh mistress (Chaos in the Old World, Steam)

Pablo joined us and made it a foursome, allowing me to select Chaos in the Old World... a game I like a lot but only ever want to play with the full complement. We followed with another game that doesn't play well with three: Steam.

Oddly, despite both game being typically 1/1.5 hour affairs, both took 2 hours each.

Chaos in the Old World

I played Slaanesh, Shemp was Nurgle, Kozure was Tzeentch, and Pablo was Khorne. I had never played Slaanesh, the "prince of pleasure and pain", so it was fun to explore. Speaking of which, as much as I enjoy the game, I still can't get past the corny theme. I'm sure there are people out there that think it's the coolest thing ever, but I have to say that I personally wish they could retheme this game.

Oh well, whatever.

The old world cards that came up where definitely favoring me because quite a few heroes were popping up around the land. Since heroes and nobility give me bonuses, i had a much easier time than I otherwise would have getting my dial ticks. Pablo was doing his best to knock us around but I think Khorne becomes more difficult to use as players get to know the other gods... it seems like getting away or neutralizing the attacks is relatively easy. Anyway, Kozure and Shemp were running away with the VP track so I had to try to get there with a dial victory. On the last turn, three players satisfied a win condition. Lucky for me, dial victories take precedence so I took it.

This game, mechanically, is really good. There is some chaos, and the cards and dice can be swingy, but the better player probably wins most games. Still, I am at a loss for the terrible board layout. Huge expanses of available cardboard real estate are used for nothing while two provinces get crammed into a tiny little space in the corner. This is a fictional landscape, there is no reason why the final layout should have been this impractical!


This was Pablo's first game of Steam. We played on the USA map and it was a tense game as usual. As with Chaos in the Old World, scores were incredibly close: Kozure in first with me and Shemp tied one point behind the leader. Amazingly, PAblo was just a few points behind us (I say amazingly because in a first game of Steam against experienced players it would be easy to end up in a tailspin and go bankrupt or be way behind). It all boiled down to who had the 6 point deliveries on the last round, and Kozure had 1 and Shemp and I did not. Very close.

Monday, May 09, 2011

The strip is a harsh mistress (Lords of Vegas, Dominion x2)

this week marked the triumphant return of our good friend Bharmer. He had abandoned us briefly in a quest to gather "knowledge". We roundly criticized him, and then got started.

Lords of Vegas

I was really happy to be able to play this with 4, as I was very curious if the dealmaking possibilities would open up even further. Also, I was hoping that a game played without the game being messed up by spectacularly bad shuffling on my part would go.

In the end, I didn't note much difference as far as deal making. This game seemed to have less, if anything. The properties ended up clumping earlier than normal, which probably contributed. Kozure was the victim of poor luck on a couple of occasions (he should have known he was in for a rough ride when he sprawled and drew that tile on the next turn...). For my part, I once again ended up with a large casino in the center left of the board but there was quite a nail biter in the final rounds because Shemp owned the 6 property adjacent to me and my large casino had no sixes in it. Lucky for me, no casino tiles of the right colour remained. Unlucky for me, Kozure was about to renovate one of his casinos which would have put three back in circulation... I was out of contention by that point, but for Shemp it could have meant winning the game, the only worry was that the game was going to end any turn now and he was afraid he wouldn't get to act. On his turn, he drew the game end tile and missed out! Actually, Bharmer had made a bargain with me that would have made it difficult for Shemp to win anyway, but that's just details. It was a memorable ending.

Must admit I wouldn't have predicted Bharmer winning, though!


we finished up by playing two hands of a random setup from the basic dominion cards. We ended up with a whole tableau of cards that allow the trashing of one card to get another. The end result was a setup which led to very lean decks and huge trash piles. It also led to me clearly forgetting how to play the game because not only did I come in last in both games, but DEAD last. I had ridiculously low scores. I think Shemp won the first one through a tiebreaker, and Bharmer the second (though my memory is hazy).

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Blight is a harsh mistress (Dominant Species)

We finally played a full game of Dominant species last week.

I played the insects, Kozure the mammals and Shemp the reptiles. In our two previous games, "Blight" came early and in all three cases I grabbed it to make sure no one could use it on me. Unfortunately for Shemp, he was the recipient this time and it was difficult for him to recover the loss of sun tokens on the board. For my part, the land was awash in grass tokens so it was comparatively easy for the insects to assert their dominance in many regions (what's more was that the grass tokens where mostly aquired through Wanderlusts I was able to associate with water and wetland hexes). Lady luck was shining on bugdom that day and I won. Kozure was right behind and Shemp... well Shemp didn't get lapped, so that's a kind of victory, isn't it?

Every game i've played so far i've felt compelled to go for tundra dominance. It's so obviously a huge source of points. Also, if you have at least a single dominant tile, it's almost a requirement to place on the Dominance track to scoop up first choice in cards... There always seems to be a hugely powerful card available. It's nice that each player gets so many actions, though, because it allows room for important and less important actions to take place.

One thing: I didn't really feel that playing the full game was an improvement. The way points scale means that the value of the tundra scoring gets too high, and the endgame bonus for majorities is overpowered (and somewhat redundant... What are the odds that the player with the most majorities isn't a already the player that will win?). I think my favorite was playing to 5 fewer cards. I might also suggest eliminating Blight and a few other particularly crippling cards.