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Thursday, November 27, 2008


Some game content!!: A dozen+ brief commentaries on a dozen+ games that I played for the first time recently

Die Macher, Dominion, Jamaica, Le Havre, Phoenicia, Race for the Galaxy, Rice Wars, Space Alert, Steel Driver, Tier auf Tier (Animal Upon Animal), Toledo, Viktory II, Wasabi, Werewolf

Die Macher: A game I have wanted to learn for many years. Die Macher is a deep game about German elections. It was released in 1986 and was one of the major German games to sweep into America in the wake of Settlers of Catan in 1995.

Die Macher has a reputation of being one of the longest and meatiest of the German games. Plan on playing for four hours, although it is a quick four hours with virtually no down time. I have owned the game for many years and never played. I have slogged through the rulebook many times only to get halfway through and say, "I need someone to teach me this game, it is not making sense."

For those of you familiar with the game let me just say, I liked it. I can see why it is such a highly regarded game. I would also like to play again before forming my opinion. The first couple rounds of this six round game were strictly feeling my way through the process. The next couple rounds I began to see how present decisions effected one's future score. I needed to see how the final scoring worked in order to get a feel of what I should have done differently.

I am sure anyone who has played will agree that Die Macher is definitely a game that needs a couple plays.

For those of you unfamiliar with the game, it is a game about regional elections in Germany. You control a major party and are trying to win a majority of seats in Parliament. There is a lot of cynicism built into the game, for example different issues are important in different states, as the election progresses you can change your party platform if you hold the right cards. Parties vie to influence the media, which can be helpful to change the issues important to the voters in each regional election. You need to spend money to get election workers in each state which then act as support multipliers.

It is truly a well developed game, which despite the theme should appeal to American boardgamers who like meaty, 4 hour games.

Dominion: Played this game with 3 experienced players. I was definitely the bottleneck in this game. Their turns went bam, bam, bam, and I had to think about my next move, although I never had to think for too long. Dominion is a card game that is getting a lot of buzz recently and has a reputation of lasting 10 - 20 minutes per game.

I really liked it. I'm already dropping hints to my wife that it would be a good Christmas present.

Each player has 5 cards in his hand. Cards may be victory point cards, money cards, or action cards. Each round you get to play one card and buy one card from the supply. Some cards that you buy, then play, will give you additional plays or buys or allow you to draw more cards. At the end of each round you discard your remaining cards and randomly grab 5 new cards. You may draw 5 money cards in which case you couldn't play a card for an action, only buy another card. You may draw 5 victory point cards, which would be unlikely, but would not allow you to do anything. You need to buy victory point cards to win the game, but they go into the same stack of cards as the action and money cards. When drawn VPs are just clutter in your hand (unless there is an action card with which I am unfamiliar that gives them some power).

Interesting game. It comes with 2 dozen different action cards (fixed after a reader comment, thank you Mikko) only a few of which are used in a given game, which leads to a many possibilities for game development. In that respect it is a lot like Magic: The Gathering, but all players are adding cards to their deck from the same draw pool and flushing their hand to their own discard pile at the end of every turn...... Get it? Good game. Easy to learn and quick to play, while having some real strategy. It should have appeal beyond those who like M:tG or other CCGs.

Jamaica: Jamaica sucks like a Hoover with a Hemi. Typical pirate game in that respect. I have hated every pirate game I have ever tried. Kids loooooove pirate games. You might try it with kids. You can't borrow my copy, though. I won't be buying it.

Le Havre: Loooooooong and repetitive. Too much of a good concept?

Kinda like Agricola (same designer), kinda like Caylus, more like Caylus than Agricola.

On a turn you either collect goods that slowly accumulate in the supply, or take an action at a building. Certain actions allow you to build more buildings, which add more choices to the game as it progresses. Likewise, taking an action at many buildings may only allow you to accumulate a different assortment of goods than are available in the general supply.

The game was promising for the first couple hours. Le Harvre has lots of what I like, namely, development and choices, but limited choices. Like Agricola and other great games there is a limiting factor, food, that needs to be addressed by players, but is not important for victory points. Players have to consider these two competing goals (victory points and feeding your workers) when allocating their game actions. Over development will lead to starvation and hurt you in victory points at the end.

Le Havre was promising enough that I gave it a second chance. My opinion was solidified. Tooooooooo looooooooong. Too repet-et-et-et-et-itive.

Phoenicia: I have looked at Phoenicia in the past and discounted it as a game for me for reasons I forget. Bad move. Good game.

Phoenicia is another development game and I do love development games, but this one has a couple limiting factors. First is workers. Workers are hard to come by and you need to pay to train them. Second, you need to buy tools for your workers. Tools can be prohibitively expensive. Once you get your workers trained and equipped they start counting for victory points and earning you money. The third limiting factor is money. Most of the money is in the form of cards. You need to get "houses" in the auction to store your cards. Single coins are given out for change and you even need to upgrade your buildings to store more than a couple coins.

Each round certain buildings are up for auction. These may give you workers, "houses", victory points, money, some other benefit, or some combination thereof.

Good game. Would be an acceptable second choice as a Christmas present... nudge.

Race for the Galaxy: Another card game and one of the most popular games in the last year, RftG did not rub me the right way. I had good teachers, in fact one of the guys teaching me the game also taught me Phoenicia so that was not the issue.

Too many symbols. Too many confusing symbols. Too many relations between various symbols. Too many phases too keep track of, even though only the phases played by the different players each round affected each round. I never did wrap my head around the notion of "consuming".

I was not intrigued enough to play a second game. I cannot say that I see the elegance in the game nor can I understand how others would like it.

Rice Wars: A soulless euro game that may appeal to some players. Pretty bland. Usually, the term "soulless euro" indicates there is some clever mechanism in use.... not in this instance.

Players buy and place rice paddies which earn them money. Money is spent on warriors to take over other players' rice paddies. Players can take a stab at attacking another player if they want to shell out big bucks for expensive warriors. A successful attack on another player will gain you 4 rice paddies.

Players get various cards which can be played for an advantage here or there, or played for their numerical power to influence battle.

The game lasts.... I think... seven rounds. A game probably lasts an hour, but it feels like a couple hours..... and change.

Space Alert: I did not play Space Alert. It is the one game on this list that I did not play. I sat through the rules explanation, gave up my seat to an experienced player and watched. I later watched parts of several other games of Space Alert.

Clever concept. Cooperative, real-time game with its own soundtrack.

A piece of space junk is in your sector and your team is transported to check it out. You get there and all hell breaks loose. You then need to survive for several minutes until you are transported back to base at the appointed time.

You react to the threats dictated by the soundtrack (which vary), record your actions, then at the end of the game go back to reveal every one's actions to see if you and your fellow players responded in the order you intended. It plays much like Roborally.

Each player's actions are limited and you need to coordinate with each other to explore, fire cannons, energize cannons, etc. It is possible the soundtrack will tell you that your communication devices are down and you can no longer communicate with your team.

Interesting game. I have sworn off all cooperative games, except to humor my wife. I am certain I would not like this game, there is just something about cooperative games that does not appeal to me.

I do recommend Space Alert if you like cooperative games and/or Roborally. Everyone seemed to love it.

Steel Driver: This is a relatively new game with many people playing for the first time at BGG.con.

My thoughts are the opposite of most other first time players.

I liked it. I did not find it chaotic. I do see the resemblance to 18xx and how Steel Driver could be called 18xx lite.

I can see how it would seem chaotic on the first play or with a full compliment of six players. Nevertheless, Steel Driver is a perfect information game. There are auctions in the game, but with experience values should become apparent.

Basically, railroads networks are formed during the game. The first player to control a RR at the beginning of the game will determine where that RR starts on the map. Each round thereafter the highest bidder gets to operate each railroad and is awarded one share in that company. Each RR is auctioned separately. The winning bid is given to the company to pay for track. Bids are not made with cash, but cubes. Each player gets 10 bidding cubes each round with unspent cubes carried into the next round. Each RR spends cubes to expand their rail network.

Railroads earn cash each round if they can connect track to a new city. The controlling player pockets that cash. Remember cash has no use in the game except to determine the winner. The currency in the next round of auctions will be cubes and every player gets 10 cubes each round.

At the end of the game the value of each RR is calculated and the cash value divvied up between shareholders. The person with the most cash wins.

An understanding of how the final value of each RR is calculated is essential to understanding the game. It is not complicated, but more complex than I want to get into here. If you only have a vague notion of how the endgame is scored you too will probably feel like the game is chaotic.

Tier auf Tier:
Animal upon Animal is a stacking game for children and drunks.... and me.

Animal-shaped pieces are stacked until one player runs out of pieces. Cute game. Good game for children.

I like it more than my kids..... 'nuff said.

Another soulless euro.

Players need to forge swords and deliver them to some important guy. Each sword you are able to forge has a value, for example swords with jewels are worth more than plain swords, the person who delivers the greatest total value in swords wins. On the way to deliver the swords you stop at shops to get materials, possibly challenge players to duels, or place businesses tile along the path.

Yaaaaaaaaaaaawn... Moving along

Viktory II A guy playing this game with me called it a "perfect economy" game. I've never heard that term before, perhaps it means something to you. I will try to explain.

Decent game. Different kind of wargame. Has an exploration theme, so every game will be layed out differently and exposed piece by piece as units move to unrevealed hexes. There is a development aspect as players can create one town or upgrade one town to a city every round. The terrain each city is built on determines what military unit is produced there: ie infantry, cavalry, artillery or ships.

Attackers generally have an advantage over defenders, so conflict is encouraged.

Here is what is meant by "perfect economy": Players get one unit of infantry for each town they control. Players get an additional unit for each city depending upon the terrain. You do not get any more units than that. One unit per town, two units per city. Destroyed units come back into play at the end of your turn unless you lost a city or town and can no longer support a particular unit. The only way to expand your army is to conquer other player's cities and towns, or establish your own.

There is no "turtling" in Viktory II. If you choose to sit tight every round your army will not grow, nor will you be able to sit waiting for your opponents to weaken themselves in battle while you slowly build your military every round. Given that two opponents go into a battle with 6 units each (for a total of 12 units), one opponent loses a town or a city in the battle and all his units in battle, the number of units lost from the game will be zero. The winning player will gain a unit or two, his defeated units come back into the game at the end of his turn, the defeated player will lose a unit or two, and his defeated units will come back into the game at the end of his turn. All 12 units involved in the battle will be back on the board, the difference being one player will now have a 7 or 8 units to the defeated player's 4 or 5 units.

Decent game. I thought it was merely average, although there are some concepts here that you may want to explore.

Wasabi: Words can't do justice to this game. It's kind of a puzzle game. Players place ingredients on the board trying to get a line of ingredients that correspond to one of the "dishes" on his menu. When the player places an ingredient that finishes a dish he scores a couple points for it depending upon it being a 2, 3, 4, or 5 ingredient dish. If the ingredients are in the order depicted on the menu he scores a couple "style" points.

I got drug into a game of Wasabi kicking and screaming, by the end of the game I would have bought it on the spot. I enjoyed it. Played several times. Can't really explain the appeal, but I like it.

Werewolf: To be fair I have played Werewolf before, but I played it for the first time with a group of Werewolf fanatics.

Werewolf is a party game that can be played with any number of players, the more the better. Players are dealt a secret card indicating if they are a villager or a werewolf. As a rule of thumb a game should have 1 werewolf for every 5 or 6 villagers. Rounds are divided into a day phase and a night phase. In the night phase the moderator has all players close their eyes. He then tells the werewolves to open their eyes. Without speaking the werewolves pick a villager to kill that night. The moderator then has the werewolves close their eyes, has all players open their eyes, and tells the players who the werewolves killed that night. Once killed a player can no longer speak, point, or offer any information. The villagers (and werewolves who are unknown to the villagers and pretending to be harmless villagers) then talk amongst themselves and nominate a person to lynch for the previous night's killing. The person chosen to be lynched gets an opportunity to speak in his own defense. Players then vote to lynch or choose another player.

The villagers win if they kill all the werewolves, the werewolves win if there are as many villagers as there are werewolves.

Different roles can be added to make the game more interesting. The Seer is a common role. The Seer is a villager who gets to secretly pick one player each night and the moderator indicates to the Seer if the chosen person is a werewolf or villager. The other players do not know who the Seer is.

Werewolf is a party game, as such it is very group dependant. In my estimation it should not be played with fewer than a half dozen players.

I have no recommendation on this game. If it sounds like it would appeal to your group, check it out and check out some of the optional roles. The game can be played with a standard deck of cards with red cards indicating werewolves and black cards indicating villagers, or there are numerous specialty decks available. The game was popular in the '80s but done with a "mafia" theme.

Thanks, a nice post. Few comments: Dominion has 25 different cards, 10 of which are in use each game. So not hundreds, but still a nice selection (with expansions obviously coming).

I don't know why you'd need to be drunk to enjoy Tier auf Tier - it's a top-notch dexterity filler for sober adults. The pieces are slippery enough so it's not too easy.

Steel Driver is currently second on my list of games I really, really want to try (Duck Dealer is first).
Dominion-Fixed, thank you.

Tier auf Tier-May be a top notch dexterity game, but it is filler at best, or a children's game in my opinion.
Yes, Tier auf Tier is little more than a filler - but then again, it fits in a small ziploc bag, is really easy to teach and fun to play, so I expect it to become a regular game, at least for now.

(As an added bonus, once I bagged Tier auf Tier, I could move Die Dolmengötter to that box - that's another really great and very meaty filler, but with an unnecessarily large box that doesn't fit my backpack well.)
Pity you didn't like Race For The Galaxy - it's one of those games that really does need to be played several times before any opinion is made. For example, I convinced my wife to play it several times - at first she really disliked it and found it confusing, but she trusts me so she persevered. Now she loves the game. It really is very elegant and well designed, just not light enough for one-off games with new players.
Beware of Phoenecia. It has, in our experience, a terrible rich gets richer problem. In fact, in the four games I've played, the player in first place on the THIRD round won every time. As you can imagine, that makes the last three quarters of the game kinda dull...
I've played Race for the Galaxy about 5 times (seems like 30) and it does not click for me at all.

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