Thursday, June 30, 2005
Tom Vasel rated my blog a 9? I guess this proves he sees everything through rose colored glasses.
For those who haven't been there, The Dice Tower isn't really a blog. It is a website. Tom's blog is at Gamefest.com. He must have all 300+ of his game reviews posted at The Dice Tower, plus a ton of other stuff. For perspective Tom has reviewed more games that begin with "Q" than I have reviewed.
I was looking at the Boardgamegeek top 50 lists the other day. Tom has written the most game reviews, 306 and growing every week. Second place is waaaaaaaaaaaay back there at less than 100. Second place is Greg Schloesser with 86 reviews.
I must, with some shame, say that I am currently at #25 with 18 reviews. Most of my reviews on BGG are of children's games. I play various games with my kids (ages 4 and 5) that we buy at the thrift stores. If there is no review I post one. Few of my reviews on BGG are of "meaty" games. I think that others, Tom included, do a much better job of reviewing games.
I say "with some shame" because that seems pitiful to me. I'm at #25 with a dozen and a half reviews? Seems like I should barely be in the top 200 with so few.
I am not on the cutting edge of games. I have never played a game before it was generally released. I rarely get a game to the table before there are a half dozen suitable reviews on Boardgamegeek. Seems to me like I am just cluttering up the site by adding a 7th or 8th review.
I got my start writing about games by posting short reviews on Funagain. When I was new to the hobby I found Funagain to be the best source of information for potential games. I think I had posted almost 90 reviews by the time I quit, which was nearly a year ago. When they changed to the new format they deleted many, many reviews of out-of-print games. The whole website generally took a turn for the worse. It was right about that time that Gamefest started publishing game blogs. I started perusing Gamefest instead of Funagain, and it was about that time that I finally quit lurking on BGG and got a user name.
Also, there used to be a glitch in Funagain's ordering system. They would send packages to Alaska and only charge Ground rates (the lowest rate to Alaska is Second Day Air, if you use a commercial shipper). They fixed the glitch. Funagain refuses to ship packages with any carrier other than FedEx. I can save a ton of money if the sender will ship via the Postal Service. Gamefest (as well as every other on-line game retailer except Funagain) will ship USPS.
Basically, Funagain pissed me off twice. They fixed the glitch, and ruined the site. I also didn't like the fact that I couldn't go back and change a rating on my reviews.
Anyhooo. My reviews on Funagain were short and to the point (or so I thought). Short reviews are frowned upon on BGG. I have noticed several short, to the point reviews get shot down in favor of longer reviews that say very little. I actually prefer the shorter reviews. I am (usually) looking for game concepts, a quick overview of the rules (just to give a feeling of how the game flows) and the overall impression of the reviewer. Those things interest me more than a restatement of the rules.
Maybe I will try posting a series of short reviews. There must be someone other than me who likes a review that doesn't just cover the rules. Don't get me wrong, there is a place for those reviews. Most people seem to prefer them. If I have a question about a particular game mechanic, or concept that seems odd I will consult the longer reviews for clarification. Also, if I can't make up my mind on a certain game I will consult the longer review.
I guess it boils down to this. I would hate to write a few reviews that are short and get rated a "1" simply because they are short.
That is certainly more than I intended to write, but I have one more comment.
Chris Farrell, IMO, writes the best reviews. He doesn't rehash the rulebook more than is necessary for the reader to follow along, and gives details about the location and people he is playing with. These few (seemingly) unnecessary details leave me with a better overview of the game than I would get from reading the rulebook from cover to cover.
Monday, June 27, 2005
Pave the Rainforest
Played Niagara again. This time with 3 adults and 2 kids, Actually there were 3 kids, one was on my "team". Everyone enjoyed it. Very good family fare. It is not a game I would suggest playing exclusively with a group of adults, but adults enjoy it as much as kids. I see it just won the Speil des Jahres. I haven't played any of the other nominees, but I am not surprised that Niagara won. As I said, it is good family fare and that is what the SdJ committee is looking for.
I finally got in a complete game of TI3. Took two weekday evenings to finish the game. Probably took 6 hours all told. I really look forward to playing again now that I am more familiar with the action cards, and special abilities of the races. We had quite a few questions that weren't answered in the FAQ on the publishers website. I guess I will have to scour BGG to find some answers before we play again.
Have a good Fourth of July. And to you foreigners... Have a good Fourth, even if it isn't a holiday.
PS The title refers to a bumper sticker I saw last night. I got a chuckle out of it, thought you might, too.
Thursday, June 23, 2005
I must admit that Polarity was on my radar screen. It looks like it is a game that might go over at the Boys and Girls Club. I was going to wait to read a few reviews before making the investment, though. The Club closes early in the summer anyway, I will have to wait until school begins to resume my activity with the kids on Thursday evening.
Tuesday, June 21, 2005
Beating a dead horse. (Which, if you look at an Alaska map, is just north of Coldfoot)
Had a chance to play Tigris and Euphrates a couple times in the last couple weeks. It never ceases to amaze me just how good that game is. It is still my favorite game, bar none.
I can see how people can claim that the game is random, because of the random tile draw. However, I maintain that people who make that claim are myopic. I would surmise that most people making the claim place their tiles in one area of the board in order to build up a kingdom that they think of as their own.
Tiles (and leaders for that matter) can be placed anywhere. Didn't draw that red tile? Force an internal conflict that you can win. You get one red point for that. Didn't draw that blue tile you need to get blue points? Reposition your blue leader to a new area with several blue tiles, place a connecting tile to force an external conflict that you can win, and reap blue points.
What a brilliant game. It is not uncommon for me to have 2 or 3 leaders off the board for most of the game. I frequently get kicked back out of territory that I exploited for a turn or two. I, like most people, try to build a stronghold at the beginning, but am usually plagued by a lack of red tiles. I adjust my strategy accordingly and frequently win or come in second by a small margin. If I do manage to build a stronghold I don't hesitate to move leaders to gain a small advantage for a turn or two.
Granted, building a stronghold is a good means of not losing any wars. Other players will avoid you, and you will be in no wars to gain victory points. As soon as you build a monument you are opening yourself up to be defeated in external conflict in the color you just turned over.
What a good game.
Saturday, June 18, 2005
Shadow of the Emperor
Although In the Shadow of the Emperor is a good game it isn't "Wow" good. I finally had chance to play a complete game. Although it is a well themed, no-luck game, it is just a better than average game. I'll give it an 8.
There is a lot going on in ItSotE, yet the game doesn't seem cluttered. It all meshes together quite well. It is basically an area control game. There are 7 areas to control. Each player gets one vote for each region they control. Votes are used to vote for the Emperor. Yet that just scratches the surface, there is so much more going on. Players use aristocrats, knights, and cities, to control a region. Players need to buy action cards to take actions and cards are very limited.
I'll need to get a couple more games under my belt before can write a review that will give the game justice, but it is a good game. It will be no problem getting it to the table again.
Sunday, June 12, 2005
I just played a couple rounds of In the Shadow of the Emperor. I haven't been this impressed with a game on the first outing since Roads and Boats.
The rules are kind of confusing, but become clear after playing a couple rounds. It looks like it needs a full compliment of 4 to be at its best, nevertheless WOW!
Friday, June 10, 2005
Scored A Copy of Zertz, Abstract Rant
As two-player abstracts go, these Gipf games are all very good. Kris Burm (he designed all of them) did a heck of a job creating simple, elegant, deep, yet-not-too-deep, strategy games.
Is it just me, or have Go and the Gipf games replaced Chess and Checkers as the prime examples of abstract games? Seems like every time I read a review, or a geeklist and the writer needs an example of an abstract game he references Go and Gipf. Just a few short years ago Chess and to a lesser extent Checkers and Chinese Checkers were the go-to games when an example was needed.
I wonder if the Gipf games wouldn't appeal to the mass market. I think they are simple enough to have wide appeal. Chinese Checkers and Mancala sets are available in the box stores, as are Chess sets of various quality. I think the public is hungry for intellectually stimulating abstract games. I think they would have a much better chance of selling well in "Toys R Us" than Settlers of Catan. Plus, the quality components look good setting on a coffee table (Gipf itself excepted).
On a related note; Is it just me, or has Go been getting more and more popular in recent years? Several decades ago the game started creeping out of the Orient, where it has been played for thousands of years. The first western, written description of the game was first published barely over a century ago. Go is played on a 19x19 grid. Each player plays either black or white stones onto the board. The goal is to encompass more territory by your stones than your opponent.
As computers get more and more powerful, Chess programs exist that can only be beaten by the most accomplished Chess masters. Go, in all its simplicity, has defied computer programmers. The mathematical possibilities of Go are many times greater than the mathematical possibilities of Chess, even though pieces are not moved once placed onto the board. Currently, even a new player, with limited understanding of game subtleties can beat a computer program.
I attribute the increase in popularity to increased exposure on the web and on Boardgamegeek in particular. There are a plethora of gamers who loudly proclaim their love for the game, clubs oriented around the game, even professional players.
Personally, I have no desire to study a game for years just to rise to the rank of amateur. I have no desire to study any game for years. The few times I have played Go I was very underwhelmed. I can appreciate the fact that it is purely a cerebral game, even more cerebral (and much older) than Chess, but I can do without it.
(Never heard of Go? Japan and Korea each have a television channel dedicated to Go and I think China might have one as well. This news story gives brief mention to one of the channels) http://www.economist.com/diversions/displayStory.cfm?story_id=3445214
Tuesday, June 07, 2005
Web of China
I've played a couple games of China. It is an interesting area control game based upon the Web of Power system. We played the first game relying on my memory of the rules, as I had left the rules at home. We mostly got the rules right. The big rules that we missed were: 1) we needed to take cards from the deck when only playing with 3 players, and 2) there are supposed to be 4 face-up cards to choose from, instead of drawing blind.
The second game went much smoother. The winner almost completely ignored emissaries and went for a "chain of houses" strategy.
Briefly, each player has a hand of 3 cards. Cards are color coded to match 2 territories on the board (there are 2 territories of each color except purple). By playing a card a player can place one unit in a territory of that color. Units are houses and emissaries. Houses must be placed on a house space. Emissaries must be placed on the dragon symbol. Two cards of the same color can be played as a "wild card", and allow the player to place a unit on any other colored territory. Players can only place a maximum of 2 units each turn and both must be in the same territory.
There are between 4 and 8 house spaces on each territory. When all the house spaces are filled the territory is scored. The player with the most houses in the territory scores one point for each house in the area. The player with the second most houses scores points equal to the number of houses the first player owns. Third place scores houses equal to the number of houses the second player has on the territory, etc.
At the end of the game players score one point for each house (in excess of 3) in a row on a road. Roads go through several territories. If a player has 4 houses in a row on the road he scores 4 points, even if they are in separate territories. Also, at the end of the game emissaries are scored. If a player has the most, or is tied for most, emissaries in two adjacent territories he scores one point for each emissary (regardless of ownership) in the two territories.
The number of emissaries in a territory is limited to the number of houses the person with the most houses has in the territory.
There is an optional rule for placement of fortresses. If a player has a fortress in a territory his score is doubled. Fortresses are neutral tokens that cost one card to place and are claimed by placing a house on them. I haven't played with that rule, but I want to.
These area control games, or the good ones anyway, give each player little control over his destiny from turn to turn. On a typical turn each player can only affect his position slightly. Area control games are games of inches. A small advantage here and a small mistake there will win or lose the game by a small margin. Because there are usually no obvious, high-scoring choices area control games tend to be prone to analysis paralysis. China plays faster than many area control games. By limiting each player to 3 cards that they need to play in order to place pieces, each player's options are limited. That limitation really speeds up the game.
My first two experiences with the game didn't really spark my imagination. I see the potential for it to be a good area-control game, and I want to like it. The system is sound, the game is well designed. I wouldn't turn down a game, especially with the fortress rule, but I might not suggest playing either.
It might be a good gate-way game for more intense area control games.
Sunday, June 05, 2005
Manifest Destiny-Part II
I have some opinions, but I don't feel comfortable enough with the game to write a review. Here are some thoughts.
I managed to win. I hadn't built a single city, nor gained a single breakthrough. I won with progressions. The game ended because the card deck was exhausted, not because I was even close to the 30 victory points needed for instant victory. I think I won with 17 victory points, but might be off by 1.
Barring extreme luck, I cannot see how anyone can even approach 30 VPs in the course of a 5 player game. There are exactly 30 VPs if you buy every progression, but buying all is unlikely. The victory point track goes all the way to 40. Maybe it is possible to score more points with fewer players. With fewer players there would be more points from breakthroughs to go around.
The games were close. In the second game I overtook the leader in the last turn of the game because I had enough cash to buy a couple high-dollar progressions on the last turn. Two of the three guys who had been trailing the whole game were also able to make a move at the end that brought their scores right up near the winner's.
The players who start in Virginia and Pennsylvania need to come to an understanding early in the game or they will be busy squabbling and lose the game. The Louisiana player can ally with either VA or PA to put the hurt on the unallied player. The Mexico player could be in a good position with no competition for land if the Louisiana player ignores him, and the Canadian player could have an easy time of it, if the Pennsylvania player doesn't keep him in check.
Your place in the turn order from round to round dictates your strategy and choices from round to round. It is difficult to follow a set strategy through the course of the game. It is a game that penalizes set strategies and rewards flexibility.
I would still like to play again to explore some strategy, but if I can't play again soon I won't lose any sleep over it.
Wednesday, June 01, 2005
Initial impressions: Manifest Destiny, Kingdoms
1. Manifest Destiny is subtitled "Card Driven Strategy Game" in letters nearly as big as the title. Don't be fooled, it is not.
Card driven games that I am familiar with require card play to activate units on the board. In Manifest Destiny the cards augment the game. Cards are played in a certain phase of a round, units are moved, units are purchased, advances are acquired, and conflict occurs in other phases of the round separate from any cards being played.
Despite this it seems to be a good game. I am looking forward to playing it again.
2. Don't think of it as a game about conquering territory.
My initial impression is that control of territory is secondary to the goals of the game. In our game, the person who won was in constant war with another player and never controlled more than a handful of territories. I had control over much of Mexico and got wiped out with the "Depression" card. (The "Depression" card caused me to lose control over every territory but two, in the region of Mexico. I was left with Central America, Cuba and two territories in Mexico.) I was easily able to keep my position on the Victory Point track and came in second. The guy who owned vast tracts of land came in 4th place out of 5.
Think of the game as competition between capitalists or robber barons to make money instead of controlling territory. Doing so will make the theme of the game make much more sense. The Circus, Pro Sports, Telephone, Television, etc. advances now make more sense.
3. The rule book is a tough read. It seems to me that they had a rule set, revised it many times with play testing, and never got around to rewriting the rules in a logical manner.
Our learning game clocked in at 6 hours. I suspect it is a 4-5 hour game as players get familiar with it. I doubt I will get to play enough to write an informed, lengthy review.
Classic Knizia. Take a simple concept, and give it a twist. Everyone else is left thinking, "I could have invented that game."
Players simply place tiles on a grid. They can either draw hidden tiles that have numbers, both positive and negative, or place a castle. When all spaces on the grid are full the game is scored. Each row and column is calculated individually. First all the positive and negative numbers in the row are added up. If a player has a castle in the row the total value of the tiles is multiplied by the value of the castle, either 1, 2, 3, or 4.
There are a couple tiles that throw a twist in this basic description. A dragon tile caused both the row and column it is in to score negative points only. A mountain in the center of a row or column causes the row or column to be divided in two on either side of the mountain.
The board is cleared an two more rounds take place. The winner is the player with the highest score at the end of three rounds of play.
In classic Knizia fashion it looks simple, but strategy is deeper than it first appears, especially as player get familiar with the hidden tiles.
Simple, decent filler.
Edit: I played with 4 players. I can't imagine it would be any good with less than that. It isn't a great game, nor is it destined for a reprint. It is simply decent filler.
The grid is 5x6. In a 4 player game each player places 7. 5 tiles. Each player doesn't have a lot of control, so decisions can require thought even if they are not agonizing decisions.