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Saturday, April 09, 2005


Chinatown, War of the Ring, more YINSH

Just when I thought I was getting a handle on YINSH I got creamed badly by a friend of mine who was playing for the first time. Lost 3-0, and 3-1, then found an excuse to change games. She fancies herself as quite an Othello master, indeed she is pretty good. She was able to apply her knack at Othello to YINSH and sent me home with my tail between my legs.

When I first encountered YINSH I thought about the resemblance to Othello, and quickly dismissed it as an entirely different game with only a passing similarity in mechanics. Guess not.


The game we switched to was Chinatown. I had misplaced this game several months ago and thought it was gone forever. Luckily we found it tucked between the couch and the wall.

Played with 4 players. After the last outing I had thought it would be better with fewer than 6 players, because each player would have more property and that would encourage more trades. I had been looking forward to replaying it with 4 or 5 players since the Christmas holidays.

I had been skeptical. I didn't really find the game to be fun on the first outing, but I could see how the game has earned its reputation as "the" trading game. My skepticism seems to have been warranted. Again, the game just didn't strike me as being fun. My feeling was solidified that it is too luck dependent. The winner (Othello girl) got quite lucky and was able to get a "6" business up and running by the second round. Not only that, but every bonus card that gave extra money to "6" tiles came up before the end of the game.

Trading games tend to be very group dependent in general. My regular group tosses small denomination bills around like they are manhole covers. Asking for $1000 (the smallest denomination in the game) was met with groans and eye rolls. Likewise, outrageous cash demands were asked for 1 or 2 business tiles. I may give it one more chance with a group that has fewer ties to each other. Seems to me that groups that know each other well are less apt to trade, or more likely to hold out for unreasonable demands. This holds true for Settlers and all its variants, Traders of Genoa, Civilization, Monopoly, Bohnanza and any other trading game. I find that people who wouldn't even consider a trade with a person from the regular group would make the same trade with a person they don't know very well. Until I get that group together Chinatown will go onto the inactive pile.


Got to play some more Doom with the kids at the Boys and Girls Club, and again with an adult friend of mine and his kid. The game has limited replayability, due to a limit of scenarios, but it is really a pretty good shoot-em-up game. More scenarios are supposed to be available on-line, but I haven't checked because we haven't used all the scenarios in the scenario book.

The scenarios in Doom aren't like the reusable Memoir '44 or Seafarers of Catan scenarios. The marine players aren't supposed to know what lies ahead of them in the corridors of the base. Once you know how a scenario plays out you can't be a marine again. You could play the invaders, the invaders have the scenario guide and direct the game.

The designers incorporated a number of ideas to make the game similar to the Doom video game and did remarkably well. Ammo symbols on the dice indicate ammo consumption, accuracy and damage are also indicated by dice. Different weapons use different combinations of dice. Lives, armor, ammo, and other equipment can be picked up as the marines travel through the scenario. Marines regenerate themselves after dying, new invaders are able to come into play outside of the marines line of sight. And above all, it is much more important to get through the scenario than it is to kill invaders. You will lose if you spend time killing invaders that you could sprint past.

Doom is some good stuff. It is not more thought provoking than you would expect it to be, yet is much better than you would expect it to be. It is a very good game to play if you have one adult and 2-3 teenage boys. The adult can direct the game by playing the invaders and no one will feel left out. There is lots of action for both the invaders and the marines.

War of the Ring

WotR is a game that needs to be played several times in succession to be appreciated. It is a game of contradictions. It is a fairly simple game that does not lend itself to ease of play. It is a game with some brilliant ideas that fall flat.

Some problems.

Set up time is unnecessarily long, and made worse by the close resemblance of all the units.

Black borders, which are impassable, are also unnoticable until you try to make an attack over one.

The art on the board is beautiful, yet cities and towns and fortifications look so much alike that mistakes are easy to make.

Small spaces that can only hold a couple units exist in the heart of Middle Earth, where huge armies collide.

Large spaces are placed around the perimeter of the board where there will never be more than a few units.

The rule book is arranged randomly. Yes, randomly.

Simple rules and concepts take pages to explain and are made unnecessarily difficult.

The tokens representing all the races of Middle Earth are beautifully illustrated, but have no name on them. There are what? Eight or nine tokens to keep straight. That is not a huge number, but players find themselves referring to the rulebook all the time to refresh their memory.

Some good things

The game recreates and follows the spirit of the book very well, yet there is nothing requiring the game to play out like the book.

Characters are handled very well with broad rules that apply to all characters in the game, both good and evil (although you have to pick out a rule here and a rule there when looking for guidance in the rulebook) .

The way event dice force the flow of the game is ingenious. Yes, ingenious.

The way the fellowship moves and is hunted is ingenious. Yes, ingenious.

Too bad it doesn't all come together into a truly great package.

All in all War of the Ring is a good game made less so by component problems. It is a beautiful game, but the artwork is generally a detriment and causes confusion. It is a simple game made maddeningly difficult because of the poor rule book.

If you haven't purchased it yet, hold out for the second edition. There will undoubtedly be a second edition, and there is a lot of room for improvement.

Good gaming,

You're a little harsh, but basically spot on about War of the Ring.
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Harsh? Maybe.

I do like the game. I don't mean to sound harsh. I am quite critical of the production values, which is very odd because they are very high production values. Too much production was put into making the game look good, instead of making it playable.

There aren't many games that I would be so forgiving of. There is a lot of potential here to have a truly exceptional game.

It is an odd mixture of fun and frustration.

Hmmmm. That's a good line. I'll have to use it again, and soon.
I share many of your views on War of the Ring, and I don't think you're too harsh at all. In addition, while you see the way the action dice "force the flow of the game" as a feature, I see it as a vile, awful mechanism. In addition, I don't see the Tolkein LOTR theme applied any more than superficially to what essentially is Risk with a tacked-on Knizia LOTR track. There are a lot of better games to give table time to.
I almost made the attempt in my original post to address the frequent "Risk" analogy. I don't see it, myself, although many have made the point.

If Axis and Allies, and Attack! are one step above Risk in complexity, then WotR is a step above A&A. It would be much more accurate to compare it to a simple card-driven game that uses dice to decide battles. Star Wars: Queen's Gambit comes to mind.

The randomness of the card draw in a card-driven game limits a player's options to recreate political, military, and civil uncertainties. The action dice in WotR serve the same purpose.

When Frodo, Gandalf etc. start on their journey they had no idea if certain nations would prepare for war, much less go to war. Take, for example, Paths of Glory, a card driven WWI war game. When the war started leaders had no idea if Romania, U.S., etc. would go to war, or if Russia would remain in the war. Random cards help recreate the uncertainty and allow players to change the course of history.

The action dice give players flexibility within uncertainty without dictating the direction of the game.

I think I could make a blog entry on this topic. I will ponder it.
One more quick comment. Players choose the order that they use the action dice. A die is not rolled that dictates each and every move. Multiple dice are rolled, the player then gets to use the actions in any order he chooses, this aspect also gives the players flexibility within the uncertainty of dice rolls. This is much like holding a hand of cards as we see in card driven games.

Having said that, fate can be a cruel mistress. If you roll all muster (or all anything) you might just be screwed. It is probably equally likely to get a hand of useless cards in a card driven war game.
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