Things are a little lighter this week because everyone was at or talking about Essen (it seems). I feel like there’s a momentary calm before the storm of post-Essen coverage that’s about to hit this week as everyone returns home with their wonderful new purchases. Seriously, have you seen pictures of the stacks of games that people bought at Spiel? It’s crazy and I’m jealous. “Shut up about Essen already!” you say, “it’s not even called Essen, that’s the name of the city where the Spiel convention is held!!” Sorry, here are some great articles that have nothing whatsoever to do with Essen.
Articles From The Community
There’s a great story to be told about someone that starts with nothing and acquires great wealth, power, and victory points through hard work. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to make for a great game. Filip Wiltgren discusses starting players off with some resources or progress to avoid early game convergence (everyone doing the same thing). I particularly like how he points out that games should start where acquisition convergence (simply gathering resources) ends and instead encourage divergence with a wealth of options and asymmetrical positions.
Last week I mentioned that TGIK Games has been busy. Well they’re still hard at work and have added four new excellent articles on game design that cover: components you’ll need to start designing, finding your motivation, not expecting perfection during development, and seeking inspiration for a unique game. There’s a lot of good stuff here and they’re in a nice digestible format just like last week. Go give them all a quick and thought provoking read.
Grant from Hyperbole started the week by listing off his top lunch games. To differentiate his list he added in the unique conditions that the games must be able to support up to 5 players as that’s his crew’s normal play count. I absolutely agree with his big three (Dominion, Race For the Galaxy, 7 Wonders) and half of the rest (Ra, Ginkgopolis, Last Will). It’s a great and unique list.
While we were discussing his Lunch list I mentioned Innovation (while talking about Glory to Rome) and Grant replied with “Innovation is great with 2, but I have so many good 2 player games I’d rather play”. Woah, what are your favorite 2-player games then? I asked for it, he wrote it. But he wasn’t sure I would like his list very much. We are indeed very different gamers (he enjoys confrontation, I enjoy building a better engine) but this is a great article written in a very personal narrative style. If you want to get a taste of what a night with Grant might look like then go give it a read!
There was an incredible article about elegance last week from Keith Burgun. I ended up not including it because a good amount of the article pertained to video games. However, it is still very applicable to board game design and is a very detailed and thorough article. I’m making up for it this week by highlighting another excellent article, this time discussing randomness. I love hearing about randomness in board games because there’s a fine line between variability and strategy, between luck and meaningful decisions. Keith argues against output randomness which means he favors deterministic designs and that lines up pretty closely with my conclusions. But I can see how others could easily disagree. If you’re at all interested in the topic of randomness I would highly highly recommend reading this article.
The term “meta” gets thrown around quite a bit and I’m not sure people actually fully understand what it means. In fact, I’m not sure I totally grasp all its convaluted facets even after readng Oakleaf Games back-to-basics article about the term Meta and how it applies to board games. It’s a brief article but does a great job of defining and demonstrating meta-concepts, I mean “meta” concepts.
All that meta-talk is followed up with an article about another grey area, exceptions in games. Nat talks about how games can unintentionally cause exceptions when trying to create interesting interactions. It seems that clarity is the key to avoiding exceptions but I’m not entirely convinced that allowing exceptions is necessarily bad design. In fact, I’d say that it can be due to more complicated design as is the case with something like Magic The Gathering that has to address interactions between a huge variety of cards and powers. If you want to make an excessible game I’d certainly argue for avoiding exceptions but I’d gladly allow them in order to create interesting interaction (especially in engine-building games).
Are you interested in the many different ways that points can be tracked in board games? Well, Paul Owen at Man OverBoard has compiled perhaps the most comprehensive list of various point tracking designs in modern games. Personally, I enjoy the good old-fashion score track but I also appreciate hidden methods such as the incredibly clever card scoring system in Traders of Carthage. What’s your preferred scoring style?
In their latest news update on their front page (10/17) Rio Grande Games gave some information about the availability of a bunch of games we’ve been following closely: Roll For The Galaxy, Temporum, etc. But almost as a footnote they also threw in this tidbit, “We are also planning a additions to the Dominion and Race for the Galaxy families of games for 2015. We will provide further information on these games in early 2015.” I’m guessing the Race addition is Xeno Invasion but the Dominion announcement was unexpected (and very exciting indeed). What’s in store for the true Dominion fans that have been wondering if there would ever be more?
Last Week on iSlayTheDragon
Essen was last week and I had more coverage planned than I actually got around to so you will hopefully see it spill over into the next week or two. Dragon’s Peak will shift towards non-Essen titles for those that are sick of all these euro games already. I may even manage to get it done before noon this time. And as always, we’ve got more great reviews planned to give you something new to look forward to every day!
What We’ve Been Playing
Hyperborea – I’ve been bringing this one with me everywhere that I go since Gen Con (well at least to my game group). It s the first game that I request every time I show up and was able to get a four player game going right away. I played with Celestial Reign (Blue) because I haven’t tried them yet and went with the power that gets you two draws every time you research. I started by getting a bunch of guys on the board but had some difficult terrain blocking my way into the middle so I ended up with a ton of guys on my starting hexes. I was able to pick up some extra cube drawing technologies so I plowed through my bag and was resetting every other turn or so which really paid off nicely. I’ve played with a different race each time and really love how differently they can played despite relatively small differences. This is still my favorite game of the year, we’ll see how it holds up against the really great Essen crop.
Artificium – I was able to demo this game during Gen Con and was really really excited to get a copy of it this week. This was my first play with my own shiny copy and I was able to lure 3 other players in with the promise of a streamlined and quick playing game. It played out quite a bit different from my 2-player demo because you have to be more guarded against the nasty action cards (steal resources/cards) that show up more often with additional players. I realized that those cards are a great catch up mechanic but unfortunately the leader didn’t get targeted and he managed to pull off a double wizard turn to pull ahead of me by a decent amount. I love that this one scales up to 6 with (hopefully) little difference in play time but I think it will still work really well with just 2. I continue to be really impressed with Artificium and am really excited to eventually introduce it to my family.
Keyflower – I spotted Keyflower on the shelf and once I see Keyflower I simply have to play it. I got two other players on board and after a quick refresher we were under way. We had a resource heavy tile distribution but no transportation showed up until autumn so it was an odd mix. When winter arrived only 4 tiles came out and some bonkers bidding ensued. One of the other players won two of them with green guys (there was only one source of them) and I won the other two by bidding 13 guys (6 blue and 7 yellow). There were two instances of moving 5 guys from a losing bid to activate a tile which I’ve never seen before. Great game as always. This one has quickly moved up into my top 5. I’m looking forward to trying out the expansions at some point (especially Merchants).
Libertalia – It was open game night at my house this weekend, a once-a-month event for people who can’t come as often to game nights, including Farmerlenny. We had a smaller group this time around, just four of us. We launched a game of Libertalia, and I quickly found myself on the dirty end of the ship with a measly 9 points in the first round against Lenny’s 32, or some such number. I’m not really sure what happened there – I guess i just got knocked out of a round or two and wasn’t able to make up the difference. People kept targeting my characters instead of Lenny’s and he snapped up a boatload of points. Though I made a better showing in round 2, Farmerlenny scored big again – there weren’t many cards or tokens to mess with other players, so we couldn’t slow him down. In the last round I did much better, pulling for high-point tokens and scoring extra every round with my characters, but it wasn’t nearly enough to make up the difference. Farmerlenny skunked us all by something like 30 points. Woof!
Ascending Empires – I like big gaming nights but 4 player nights are great if only because most great strategy games play best with 4. Normally when we play Ascending Empires, everyone takes their time to build defensively and skirts very carefully around other player’s territory until someone finally makes a move. This time I decided to pursue a more aggressive strategy. When I saw that I had 2 grey planets in my territory, I quickly researched for extra movement points, then jumped into the search for a third grey planet nearby. I was very fortunate to find one right at the edge of a neighbors territory. No one ever lets you get to level 4 of a tech if they see it coming, so I pulled one of my favorite moves – stay at level 2 research until you have all 4 research stations built, then quickly jump up to level 4 in the next 2 turns. It doesn’t always work, but people often don’t notice that you have 4 research stations and don’t risk their ships to stop you until you hit level 3. Level 4 grey is FANTASTIC for an aggressive strategy – it may not have the brute power of the battleship from orange tech, but you have more movement points than everyone else and at level 4 you get to take an EXTRA ACTION after moving. So I quickly built up a fleet and was able to move and attack every turn, all the while building up my defenses. Using my freedom of movement I whittled down the available VP tokens by destroying ships, ending the game quickly with quite a stack of tokens in my favor. In the end I won by about 5 or 6 points. What a rush!
Star Trek Catan – I enjoy a game of Catan every once in a while, but I can see why some people don’t prefer it – you can get stuck unable to do much if the dice don’t roll in your favor – you have no resources to build or even trade. In general I think the game moves quickly enough with experienced players that droughts pass quickly, and creates it’s own balancing economy. Regardless, I’ve been interested in trying out Star Trek Catan to see how the Support cards affect the game – I’ve had the box sitting on my shelf for a while, but it finally landed on my table last night. First of all, it’s definitely a little confusing at first, having been familiar with standard Catan resources and trying to get used to the renamed, recolorized theme. It didn’t take long to get used to, though. It also didn’t take long to get the game moving, thanks to those support cards – they ensure stuff keeps happening, even when dice aren’t going the best for you. Thanks to Spock, I was able to get some rare resources I needed, built a city (sorry, a Starbase) on my first turn, and had abundance from there. It didn’t hurt that 7’s were rarely rolled. Anyhow I had a good set of numbers and was able to stock up a ton of Water, along with a 2:1 water trading post. I always had useful items to trade and eventually I was frequently getting 4 water cards when certain numbers were rolled. I built 2 more outposts, quickly upgraded those outposts to Starbases (water being the key ingredient), and was then able to convert a handload of water (protected from the Klingons thanks to Captain Kirk) to trade in to build more starships and nab the longest supply route for the win! Star Trek Catan definitely moves a lot more quickly than vanilla Catan, with the support cards keeping people active even when dice aren’t going there way. People aren’t afraid to use their support cards either, as they always get to draw a new one once their uses run out. I enjoyed it, although I think the support cards might affect the economic balance of the game, resulting in a higher luck element in regards to the winner. Oh well, we’ll see how it goes in future plays – and maybe my parents will try Catan again with this new variant.
Onirim – My wife was gone for a few days so I had a chance to sit down once more with this puzzle-ish solo card game. My last attempt – playing with all 7 included expansions – was kind of a frustrating mess, so this time I left out a particular expansion and removed some painful cards from another, keeping the rest of the expansions in. The game was much more interesting that way, without the arbitrary frustration of just throwing everything in. I found the base game to be too simple to be engaging, but expansions help add to the challenge as well as the amount of decision-making you get to do. Unfortunately they also add to the complexity, and while the cards have some symbols on them, some of the more complex cards lack any sort of useful iconography or text. While the art is very interesting and you could get lost studying just a single card, it’s not very helpful in reminding you of a cards abilities. This is especially troublesome for certain expansions which contain a wide variety of unique powers, which means constantly referring back to the rulebook. Which, of course, slows the game down, making it a bit more tedious. Oh well. It was entertaining, at least; expect a full review in the next week or so.