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Tuesday, May 29, 2007


QToG: Pillars & Lifeboats

Here's hoping you had a good Memorial Day weekend, and didn't lose sight of the reason for the occasion.

Quick thoughts on games. The first new games I have played in a couple months.

Played Pillars of the Earth twice now, both times with four players. Players compete to hire the best workers to contribute the most valuable items to the church that is being built. The game is based upon the best selling novel by Ken Follet.

Pillars of the Earth is an okay game with four players, however it is rather hard to plan your moves from round to round with that many players. I want to play with 2 or 3 players to determine if it becomes less luck driven and more fun.

The process by which tokens are blindly drawn to determine turn order screwed my wife a couple times during the second game. At one point there were only 4 tokens left in the bag and 3 were hers. For reference, each player has 3 tokens in a bag. The tokens are blindly drawn one at a time. The player owning that token gets to place the token on the board. There is a balancing mechanism by which tokens become less expensive to place on the board, but my wife still got the shaft no matter how you slice it.

By my own admission, several games will be required to determine the optimal ways to integrate workers into your master plan. However, my wife likes the game, so it will probably hit the table a few more times in the near future.

Bottom line after 2 plays: Despite the comparison to Caylus Pillars is not Caylus-lite in my estimation. It is a much better game. Still it is only an average game.

On the other hand I was very impressed with Lifeboats. I was not expecting much, just an average game that could be played with kids but possibly a game with a distasteful theme for children. After playing with a mixed group of kids and adults, I see that it is a fine game for cut-throat adults.

The ship has sunk. The lifeboats have been launched. Every round a lifeboat springs a leak. Which boat springs a leak is determined by a vote of the players. After the boat springs a leak one sailor aboard that boat is thrown overboard. That is also determined by a vote, although players who control more sailors on the boat get proportionally more votes. Players with no sailors on the boat have no votes. After throwing a man overboard the sailors start to panic. Each player must select one of his sailors (from any boat) to jump into the water, they then climb aboard a different boat. If at any time a boat has more holes than sailors, the boat is lost due to the sailors being unable to bail fast enough. Lastly players vote for one boat to advance toward the islands. Sailors aboard boats that reach safety score victory points.

Lifeboats was a lot of fun. After one play I changed my opinion that it was going to be a good children's game, not because of the theme, but because children aren't good at cajoling, threatening, and forming alliances, which is (by far) the most interesting part of the game.

Bottom line: With a few more plays Lifeboats could become my favorite filler, and my favorite negotiation game. That may seem like two categories that are mutually exclusive, but Lifeboats integrates the two very well.

I totally agree with you about Lifeboats. It's an underrated classic. The theme makes the nastiness impossible to take seriously.
Brian, I think the sweet spot for Pillars is 3 players. With 2, it feels scripted & predictable. With 4, it's chaotic and tight. Not that it's not still enjoyable with 2 or 4, but I think 3 gives the best balance.
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