Thursday, January 27, 2011

January 26, 2011

Participants: Jon, Alex, Gili, Binyamin, Shalom, Nadine, Mace

Alex is a game designer who dropped by to show us his designs, get feedback, and make some connections. Shalom came for his first time, even though he's an experienced gamer who lives in the area. Welcome to both of you.

Alex's designs range from the puzzle-like - think Rush Hour, though they are more imaginative - to the simple abstract. One of his designs was something like Go-Moku meets Abalone. Each player places a marble on the board such that it touches at least one of the other marbles and then pushes it and any other marbles in the line one space. The first to get four in a row wins. The game is for 2-4 players. We were unsure if the game was solvable for two, or a forced draw for experienced players, though we suspected it would be. Still, it's better than Abalone.


Shalom+, Nadine, Gili

Nadine won this last time, but I didn't think it was her type of game. She thinks it's entirely tactical. First play for Shalom and he won by about 10 points.

Bridgetown Races

Binyamin 6, Mace 6, Jon 5, Alex 5

First play for all of us. Carey, the designer, sent me a copy, since I had played a prototype at BGG.con 5 years ago and had liked it. The object of the game is to be the first to collect 8 different colored flags. To do this, you simply have to cross 8 different bridges containing 8 different flags using the mode of transportation that corresponds to that flag. The flags are put out randomly and the ones you need may not be available at the bridge that you need them to be.

The components are nice, but they're a little unwieldy. You place a flag that you're won on a little board on the name of the bridge, indicating that you won that flag on that bridge. However, the flags easily fell over at the slightest jostling, so we kept having to remember how they had been arranged.

As for the game, it seems to be pretty easy to get to around 5 or 6 flags, and then it's nearly impossible to get any further. if you have 6 differently colored flags on six different bridges, you need exactly the other two flags on exactly the other two bridges to win. The odds of this occurring during the random placement of the flags at the beginning of the round on the last round or two are nearly zero.

You have two possibilities to remedy this. First, one person, once during a round, can swap two flags on the bridges. Since only one person can do this, and every one else is out to make his life miserable at that point, it is unlikely to do anyone much good. Second, you can pick up a different color flag on a bridge that you already have, discarding the one that is there, and hopefully allowing you to then pick up the discarded colored flag on a bridge that you don't already have. There is a slightly more than non-zero chance that this can be done, but it's tough.

As a result, in the last one or two rounds, if you already have your five or six flags, you're unlikely to be able to do much other than prevent the other players from getting what they want. Mind you, this is from a single play experience with four players. It's possible that this is not the case with less players.

As a result, and due to not having a sensible tiebreaker rule, though I had fun counting the steps and choosing my actions, the game didn't have an interesting conclusion. I found out later that Carey has posted an interesting tiebreaker rule on BGG: it makes certain flags more valuable than other flags, which could give you something more interesting to do at the end. I would go further and simply give each flag a point value; you win instantly if you collect 8 differently colored flags, as usual, otherwise you score your flags and the highest score wins.

I intend to try again with some of the other group members.

Carson City

Binyamin 57, Mace 51, Jon 35, Nadine 31

First play for Mace. I'm guessing the last two scores.

We had played CC with 3 players, and were hoping to try with 5, but Shalom had to leave early. Still, 4 players was a world removed from 3; a lot more competition and fighting. 5 is going to be a bloodbath.

We all still like the game, but the gun supremacy, if established early by one player as Binyamin did, is too strong, even when we reduce the gun role and gun chip to "2 guns for fighting purposes, 3 for income or point calculation purposes". Still, if more than one player tries this strategy at the same time, it may balance out.

I had no ranches and one mine, but I had some good saloons (which Binyamin robbed twice). Mace had 4 ranches and associated buildings to tap them. Binyamin had only 12 (down to 6) incomes from buildings, scoring the rest from robbing and the spaces that gave bonuses for guns.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

January, 18, 2011

Participants: Jon, Emily, Eitan

Game on Tuesday night since everyone is busy on Wed. Everyone except the participants were busy tonight, too. Emily and Eitan hadn't come in a while, so I was able to try some games with them that I had already tried with others, to see how they go.


Jon 57, Eitan 38, Emily 30

First play for both of them. They picked it up quickly enough. Certain implications of play were not entirely obvious to them until I did them, however, which is why I did as well as I did.

It's a fun little game.


Emily+, Eitan, Jon

Gili and Nadine didn't go for this, but I thought Emily and Eitan might; I was right. While they acknowledged that it had some problems, they both liked it.

The biggest problems are still the physical implementation: you can't read anything on the board without peering at it closely, and you have to read every card on the table and in your hand (and sometimes every card in the discard pile) over and over. You can't even read the card names at a distance, so even when you become familiar with a card by its name, it's not much help.

Another problem is the interminably long time you may have to wait after you pass before the next round starts.

Otherwise, it's a game of fighting against the rules and limitations imposed by the game itself, moreso than your opponents. This may float some boats, but I don't think it's going to work well in my group.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

January 12, 2011

Participants: Jon, Nadine, Gili, Binyamin

Wow, we're back up to four people. Woot!


Jon, Nadine, Gili

I bought this because I'd heard it was a cross between Magic and something, I saw some demo videos, and it looked like it might fit some of the group. It was not a hit with us three, and I'll tell you why.

You start the game with 7 cards and 2 tokens. On your turn you can play a card, play a token, or pass. If you pass, you can't play for the rest of the round. You play a card in front of you like you do in Fairy Tale, only here you have to play certain cards before you can play other cards, and you have strict limits on how many cards and how many of each type.

Most cards do something when they come into play, such as let you draw a card, or flip over or discard one of your opponents' cards, or they have some global effect.

You can play your tokens to draw a card (play both to draw three) or to activate certain cards' abilities.

The round ends after everyone has passed, and the player with the most points from cards in play gains a VP. Everyone un-flips all of their cards and gets back their two tokens. However, you do not clear the board or draw any more cards. You just start the next round.

The game ends when someone has three VP.

The game has a steep learning curve. We had no idea what was going on for a while. We had no idea how the second and subsequent rounds would make any sense if you didn't draw cards between rounds and you already had basically full boards; wouldn't whomever was winning just keep winning? We didn't know why anyone would pass if they had cards to play to increase their score; holding them back for future rounds didn't seem to make sense.

We were hampered in all of this by cards that are not intuitive or clear. The text of what they do is small and hard to read from any distance. A card's effect might occur when it comes into play, or out of play, or while it's in play, or when it is mutated, or some other event occurs, but there's no obvious way to know which card does what from the wall of 20 or 30 cards in play on the table at any one time. (We figure out that a yellow halo around a number means some kind of general effect, but that was the extent of it.)

It appears that the game was played and designed by a group of guys who knew the cards inside out and didn't take into account that new players don't have their familiarity. That's probably not true; probably all the new players they tested it on were teenage Magic geeks who have a greater love for figuring out how a game works than actually playing the game.

Despite all of this, I could tell that there was something to the game. As the first round went on, I began to see how cards interacted and the opportunities for making interesting combinations. When the second turn began, we got new cards through spending our tokens; they were never used to activate powers, because we would have needed some other way to get new cards at the beginning of the round ... think.

Gili was far behind at the end of round one, but she won round two, so it's definitely possible for a lot to happen from one round to the next.

There were two other problems. First of all, there's nothing to do on other players' turns, and these can take a long time with the wrong players. And second of all, there's nothing to do once you've passed until the end of the round, and that can take an even longer time.

We quit after two rounds. I'd like to get more familiar with the cards and try again with two players.


Nadine 39, Gili 35, Jon 35, Binyamin 21

Second play for me, first play for everyone else. Tobago hits a light spot where Carcassonne, Settlers, and Ticket to Ride hit. It's got a light theme, pretty components - but not too many, and a quick, clear ending. It's got too much luck to be very strategic. While there are a lot of choices as to what to do on a round, there's not a great loss if you make a slightly worse choice or a slightly better choice: place your card here or there mostly doesn't matter, except near the end of the game.

The defining mechanism of the game is the most fun, and that's figuring out what spaces on the board get defined by the cards as they come into play. The other defining mechanism, the treasure distribution, is where the luck comes in, and it screwed over Binyamin once, which was once too many for him. Actually, as long as you have at least one amulet, it's not that big of a deal. All things being fairly equal, the winner is essentially random, You have to play quite well, or specifically well in the way the game is going, to win regardless of mild-swings of luck. Nadine managed to play specifically well for the way our game went, without knowing that she was doing it.

Gili very much like it.

Carson City

Jon, Nadine, Binyamin

First play for Binyamin. We only managed to get in two rounds of this before Binyamin had to leave for the night. However, it was enough for Binyamin to know that he wants to buy the game to have for the groups he teaches.

We played with 2 red cards and 5 yellow cards, and also with the three gun token worth only two guns as far as gunfights go but three guns as far as scoring and money and so on. It didn't matter too much; we really have to play this with four or five players.

Friday, January 07, 2011

January 05, 2011

Participants: Jon, Nadine, Gili

Another small game night, and all these new games to play, too.


Jon 95, Nadine 85, Gili 65

First play of all the new Prosperity kingdoms for me. We had the treasure that lets you get a Gold, but then we also had Thief. Ouch. Nadine and Gili took early thieves and nearly emptied me out. I had to take one just to take back some of my stuff. However, since they weren't trashing Coppers like I was, my Golds and Platinums didn't help them as much as they helped me.

One nifty combo I had was the new Reaction card that let you take cards you gained and put them onto the top of your deck + Thief to take the cards + Castle to give two actions so I could play them both.

Carson City

Nadine 41+, Jon 41-, Gili 35ish.

None of us had played, or even read the rules. We punched out the game and I read the rules quickly to set us up. The game looked a hell of a lot like Caylus, and it played a little like it, but nowhere near enough to bother me.

In CC, you have the Caylus-like track of spaces on which to put workers. The middle spaces of the track get buildings that, if you place your workers, you can place onto the plots you own on the grid-like board. A round consists of: taking a role (like Age of Steam), placing your workers, executing the spaces one at a time (losing your placed workers in the process), returning money in excess of what you can keep to the bank (every $10 returned = 1 point), getting new workers.

The roles give you free money, or plots, or discounts on buildings, or extra guns.

You can place your workers on the game board; if you do, then when the "get plots" action happens, you can buy the plot.

You can place your worker on someone's building; if you do, when the "collect income" action happens, you steal half of that building's income.

You can place a worker on the same place that other people have their worker(s); if you do, when it is time to get the benefit for the space, you each roll a d6 and add your guns and unplaced workers to see who gets the space; the loser gets his worker back as if it was unplaced, the winner loses his worker but gets the space. So, as you lose fights, your strength grows (you gain in unplaced workers).

During income, your buildings generate income based on how many specific board features they are near or that you own. From $0 to $40.

How do you get points? The last actions in the track are taking points for various things that you have (guns, plots, etc...) or in exchange for paying $2/1, $3/1, $4/1, or $5/1. The cheaper options disappear as the game goes on, and people can fight over them like they can fight over other space.

After four rounds, the game ends. Toss out the money you are forced to toss at $10/1 points, and the remaining money at $6/1 point. Gain 2 points for every occupied plot you have on the board. That's about it.

It looked complicated, as these things do, but execution was smooth and intuitive for the most part. The surprising part was figuring out how to get points efficiently, and how the gun battles worked.

Nadine took the point conversion space in round 2, when neither Gili nor I did; we didn't "get" it. As a result, she was a round ahead of us in scoring. That we caught up as much as we did was amazing.

Gun battles are kind of a problem, and not only because they involve dice and I don't like dice-based combat. There is a role that gives you a 3 gun advantage for the turn; as you can see, that's essentially automatic victory for all battles, all else being equal.

There is also a space that allows you to get a 3 gun advantage for the turn. You would think that this would cancel out the one given by the role, except that acquiring this space may involve a battle, which will be won by the guy with the most guns already, which means the guy who took the role that gives the 3 gun advantage. That's weird. It seems to me that a 2 gun advantage for both of these would have been better.

On the other hand, there were turns where none of us actually fought any battles; on the third hand, we were only three players. That won't happen in a five player game.

So, with this reservation, we all liked the game. Like many such games, you really want to do a whole lot more each round than you have workers for.