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Played this week: Hollywood Blockbuster, Charades

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Nothing new this week, but readers, I am so dedicated to you that I am still going to do a PTW post even over Christmas.  I'm just that dedicated.

Hollywood Blockbuster is a game I'm well-familiar with at this point, long-since having achieved the rare membership of 10+ plays.  My Mom likes the game a lot, and so I brought it home to play with her over Christmas.  It reminded me, once again, just how good Reiner Knizia is when he's good, and when he's original.  There's a ton of rich decisions here, and the auction mechanic doesn't seemed tacked on.  The theme even makes sense.  After all, there's only so much talent to go around in Hollywood, including enough to make your movie not suck.  And auctioning off these actors, directors, and crew seems appropriate.  Sure, you might end up with some weird anachronisms like Tom Hanks in The Matrix, but that's part of the fun.  This game is one of my go-to gateway games, which is a rare trait indeed.  7/10

Also played just a smidge of Charades, but without the box, or really any structure.  As with most party games, Charades is far, far better if you ignore teams and score, and just apply a bit of structure that fits with your group.  Nothing kills a party mood like overcompetitiveness or sulking.  But I don't make that mistake, and thus I like this game.  6/10

Played this week: Sid Meier's Civilization: The Card Game

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More like "Played last week," but who's counting over the Holidays, eh?

I didn't play anything completely new to me this week, but I did get a chance to play a game that I hadn't played since the first time I played it, nearly three years ago.  Sid Meier's Civilization: The Card Game came bundled with my Civilization Chronicles package that I bought off Amazon when I decided to pick up the computer game Civilization IV, and realized that picking up Civilization II at the same time would also be a good idea.  I made an effort to get the card game to the table then, and I was um... pretty much exactly 'whelmed,' neither under- or over-.  Fast forward to this session, when we decided to give the 2 v. 2 game a try.

The problem is, Civilization is a fantastic computer game, and one of the aspects of being a fantastic computer game is that it is really well-streamlined to take advantage of all of the benefits of a computer game.  But boardgamers, being the ornery luddites we are, want all the same tricks and features that we get out of a computer game, and we want it on our table.  This game obeys our bidding slavishly, and in doing so, convinces us all that we were full of shit.  Civ is great on the computer, because it tracks our resources, abstracts our decision making so that we can micro-manage exactly as much as we want and no more, and streamlines the play experience so that we don't have to look up any rules.  This game loses those advantages.  I'm not saying there's not a good core game here, but I am saying that it's not worth it to work through the difficulties to get there.  This game could be good, but it needs to get some serious development and playtesting to make it less like the computer game.  And then it might lose the appeal.

Of course, if you're looking to buy this game on Ebay, you should listen to nothing I say and instead go snap them all up so that I can sell my copy at a 300% markup because nobody makes it anymore.  6/10

 

Played a game of Tales of the Arabian Nights.  This is the first time I've had it fail with non-gamers.  It didn't seem like one of them was really very engaged from the beginning.  The other non-gamer took to it, and Tara and I had a good time.  It probably didn't help that the non-engaged one got imprisoned.  That's never a good sign, and does tend to wrap you up in a spiral of shittiness.  Getting imprisoned: awesome in the solo game, shitty in the multiplayer game.  8/10

 

Also played a game of Paydirt.  I'm sure this surprises nobody at this point.  I like a game about Football?  9/10

 

Civ Card Game image, tablecloth and all, courtesy of FinnTroll on BGG.

Tales of the Arabian Nights image courtesy of Senteiro on BGG.

Played this week: Cthulu 500, Europe Engulfed, Ascension, Paydirt

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The only new game for me this week was Cthulu 500.  It's a racing game, kinda sorta maybe based on the Lovecraft universe.  It makes more sense to me in a sort of Twisted Metal: The Card Race Game kinda way.  And no, that game doesn't exist.  Or rather, it does exist, but it's called Cthulu 500.

Actually, I think this game does itself a disservice by theming itself after Lovecraft.  The game feels like it has gone through the good Doctor Knizia's school of "come up with an interesting idea, then slap a theme over the top of it."  Not that this game doesn't feel like a race.  It definitely does, in a very abstracted way.  It just doesn't feel like Cthulu.  Dammit, if I'm playing Lovecraft's universe, I need it to be a lot more than just kinda cutesy and otherworldly.  I want madness, with gibbering, slobbering, mind-destroying implications.  I want books that when you read them, will destroy your soul.  I want creatures that simply overwhelm your senses and destroy the very fabric of your being when they come into this world.  I do not want... um... bat wings on my El Camino.

The racing mechanics are actually pretty cool.  You have two actions on your turn, and you can pit to improve your car, but risk falling behind, or attempt to pass, or play an action card.  Simple, and very effective.  I have to think it would be better with more players (we played with 3), but it's a simple little tear down the leader game.  I think the game could be a bit shorter, but I think that more players would solve that as well, as there would be more cards in players' hands.  6/10

 

Got a chance to play Europe Engulfed, still the longest game I've ever played, though that will change with the upcoming game of Empires in Arms I'm going to play.  EE clocks in at around 20 hours every time I've played it, and this time was no exception.  It had been a while since I played this, and I was reminded just what a great game this is.  Sure, there's special rules and exceptions, but they are basically there to discourage game-y shenanigans.  It should be hard, but not impossible, for the allies to establish a foothold on the continent.  The rules on amphibious invasions and beachheads make sure that it is, at the cost of a bit more complexity.  If you feel like there should be a rule about something, there probably is.  It ends up being a remarkably intuitive system, which balances historical accuracy with strategic options with engaging tactical play.  A true 10, I will be shocked if that changes.  Not only is it a great game, but it is long enough that I can't ever forsee myself playing it often enough to get bored with it.  10/10

 

Got in my second game of Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer.  My opinions from the first time were virtually unchanged.  I still like it better than Dominion, mostly because there's more decisions to make after you see the initial card setup.  The fantasy theme is cooler than... well, than whatever Dominion's supposed to be.  I do like the different factions and the way that they interact.  It's a page out of Magic's book that is copied deftly.  Rather than adding rules, they abstract them in a very intuitive way on the cards.  More games could learn something from this technique.  7/10

 

I just encapsulated my thoughts on Paydirt last week, and so I won't be redundant here.  You'll be seeing this game a lot as the 1990 season that Ben and I are playing continues.  My Eagles, led by a great day by Cunningham, finally got a win after three straight losses, and against the undefeated division leading Washington, no less.  I really do like this game.  9/10

 

Played this week: Goldbrau, Maccabees, others

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After the last several weeks, this week feels like a letdown, even though I got a lot of games in, including a pair of new ones.  Just nothing on the epic scale, like Here I Stand or Advanced Civilization, and nothing really hot, like Sid Meier's Civ or Cyclades.

Goldbräu was one of the new games, and it was fine.  I love this theme, which is running beergardens and breweries in Germany.  And the art and components are fantastic.  There's even superfluous coasters, to really add to the theme.  The art shows characteristic symbols of the Schwarzwald, like a hart, an eagle, and of course a beer stein.  And there's a drunken bum and a pretty waitress to make the theme even stronger.

But somewhere in the design or development process, this game took a wrong turn.  What's more natural than drinking while playing a game about beer, right?  Well, the game throws that idea right out the window and makes you do a bunch of math.  Example: beergarden makes 28, 14 of which goes to the brewery, leaving 14 to be split among four shares, two of which are owned by the same player, and the remainder going to the player who owns the boss, who is one of the ones with only one share.  So the split is 6, 5, 3.  That's just enough math to make you not really want to drink.  And trying to value the shares means running through the same type of math in your head.

But that's actually not the worst thing that Goldbräu does.  No, the worst thing it does is restricting your stock buying.  Hoping to protect your stake in a brewery?  Better hope you see the right cards.  And the cards don't refresh much, so you mostly draw blindly off the top.  And sometimes you get something that's useless to you.  It's a perfect example of how not to structure a stock system.  6/10

 

Maccabees is a roll-and-move dreidel game.  I got it free for winning a week in an NFL pick-em-contest, and it never would have shown up on my radar if not for that fact.  At this point, I wish I hadn't gotten it, because I really didn't like it, and I feel bad trashing something that was given to me for free by the designer.  But it needs some serious help.  I understand that I'm not the target audience, what with not being Jewish, not having children (the age group for which this was almost certainly targeted), and not being familiar with the story.

But I wanted to be wrapped up in it.  Instead, it seemed to rely on foreknowledge of the topic.  There's no explanation of the story outside of the short blurb on the back of the box.  I want to know the story, because I don't know it.  Give me a reason to care!  And some of the mechanics aren't clear, although it seems that they might be more clear with a better knowledge of the traditional game Dreidel.  I wanted to like this one.  I feel bad trashing it.  But it was pretty bad.  4/10

 

Got in a couple plays of Paydirt, as well.  Paydirt is my choice of football sim, the grail I was seeking for quite a while, and seem to finally have found.  I found a 1990 set, and Ben and I have been reliving Tecmo golden days by playing a full season, him with the Oilers, and me with the Eagles.  For the third straight week, my Eagles choked, and my heart broke.  But this is a great way to keep me interested in football, what with the Vikings sucking so hard this year.  We've been playing this when the games get less than enthralling, and it's been working well.  This is probably my best discovery this year.  It might just have to be a ten when I finish the season.  It's that tone-perfect for football.  9/10

 

Also played my second play of In the Shadow of the Emperor, the intriguing game about the election of the Holy Roman Emperor.  This might be the best a Euro can get.  There's thematic touches all over this game.  Tara mentioned that there's a humanness to this game when she played it the first time, and she's right.  For all your guys are just little cardboard counters, they age, get married, move around, and you can get quite the attachment to them.  When they die, you feel sad.  And there's just so many delicious thematic touches.  I'm guessing that if I was more familiar with the period, I would understand why Bavaria has two votes, and why Mainz is so prestigious.  It's one of the few euros that invites you to go deeper into the subject matter.  If more euros were like this, I could really get into them.  7/10

 

I also played a few games of skit, mostly out of boredom.  Yes, that skit.  The one with the traditional deck of cards, that is mostly a time-waster.  We played it to -- surprise! -- waste time.  We were sitting around and I dealt out a hand for shits and giggles.  Turns out Tara hadn't ever played it before.  Now she has.  3/10

 

And, I also played another couple games of the Top Secret Game that will be debuting at the WAGN retreat this January.  Still can't talk about it.  Still top secret.  1,000,000/10

 

Played this week: Advanced Civilization, Combat Commander

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Nothing new this week, but I did have the chance to pick up a couple old favorites.

The first was Advanced Civilization, the old 12 hour monster from Avalon Hill.  It's a shame this one hasn't been reprinted.  I've already written a bit about how the licensing contributed to the downfall of AH in the 90s, but this still deserves a reprint.  The components actually wouldn't need too much upgrading, although my set of trade cards is definitely starting to show some wear, and I wouldn't mind wooden bits instead of counters, although the art on the counters is nicely evocative.  Depending on the amount of redevelopment put into the reprint, reducing some of the mathiness during the buying session would be a great idea as well, though trading would have to be modified as a result, and they'd have to be careful about it.  Still, if it came out from a publisher I trusted, I would certainly give it a look.

My opinion of the game is unchanged.  This is still a great game.  We get together to play it once a year or so, and it is always a big hit, both for me, and for our group.  I will be shocked if this ever drops out of the regular rotation.  It's just that good.  10/10

 

Also played Combat Commander: Europe with Peter, who had dropped off the gaming radar, but has recommitted to gaming now that the long winter is rearing its head and he's mostly done with his dissertation.  I enjoy the game, although I have a sneaking suspicion that I don't like it quite as well as he does.  For I think the first time, the attacker won.  It was a real masterwork on his part.  He got a bit lucky, but was making steady progress against my defenses for the whole game.  I finally threw in the towel after he had wiped out roughly half of my (not-so-)crack Brazilian troops, and was going to get much of his squad off the board for a whole mess of VPs that would permanently have shifted things in his direction.  This is a solid game, still my favorite small-scale battle game.  8/10

2010 Golden Geek Awards

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Board Game Geek posted their annual awards.  They're sort of like the people's choice awards for board games.  The entire membership of the site votes on the awards.  Then, in sort of an odd turn of events, everybody complains that the games that they voted on were put in the wrong categories, even though they are the people who put them there.

Anyway, I figure I might as well throw my hat into the ring, because I was disappointed in the awards this year.  2009-2010 has not been a bad year for games, but looking at the awards, you would think so.  There are far too many rehash games on there.  War of the Ring Collector's Edition is a souped up version of the 2004 release, and it took home the awards for Best Presentation, and Best Thematic Game.  I can maybe see giving it presentation, because that's what the game is all about.  However, do we really want to crown that game the best Ameritrash game of 2009?  How does that honor not go to Chaos in the Old World, or Defenders of the Realm, or Runewars?

Similarly, Washington's War is a marginally updated version of For the People, and it took home both Best 2-player Game, and Best Wargame.  The game's good enough, but this should game should be awarded in the year of its initial release.  For shame, BGG members!  Don't encourage the industry to stagnate.  New ideas are what keep our industry going.

Played this week: Sid Meier's Civilization, Alien Frontiers, many others

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This week is a real doozie.  There was a boardgame marathon this past weekend, which meant I played a whole lot of games, many of them new and piping hot.  So, apologies for the long post, but I have a lot of ground to cover.  Without futher ado, here's the full list, in approximate order of descending hotness.

Sid Meier's Civilization: The Board Game is the most confusing name for a boardgame ever.  Of course, the Civilization clusterfuck that, at least partially, led to Avalon Hill's downfall, plays a major part in trying to distinguish the various Civilization titles.  So, this is not the 1981 Avalon Hill Civilization, nor the 1992 expansion-cum-completely-new-game Advanced Civilization.  It's also not the computer game series that debuted in 1991, although it is based on it.  And even though it's based on the computer game series, it is not to be confused with two previous games also based on the computer games.  Eagle Games' 2002 release Sid Meier's Civilization: The Boardgame is actually a different game, despite sharing a title identical other than one space and a capitalized letter.  And Sid Meier's Civilization: The Card Game, the 2006 offering bundled with a box set of the computer games is different as well.  And all of these are not to be confused with the very popular Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization, a 2006 Czech Games release that was based heavily on the computer game series, and is ranked #4 on Board Game Geek at the time of this writing.  No, this is the 2010 Fantasy Flight Games Release, and the #1 hottest game on BGG right now.

I haven't looked forward to a game this much in a long, long time.  I remember anticipating Shogun pretty heavily, and I remember being very excited to play Here I Stand, but neither of those were as exciting pre-publication as this one was.  I've played this a grand total of once, so of course my gushing could be wildly off-the-mark, but this had me marveling the whole game.  It feels so much like the computer game it's amazing.  The mechanics are close, but more importantly, the feel is maintained.  There's several viable paths to victory, it's best to work with your civilization rather than against it, and you absolutely cannot afford to ignore your military.  I was run over by the Germans in this game, but I still hasd a great time with it.  I can't wait to get this one to the table again, because this is a contender for Game of the Year.  It gets a rating of 8 only because my person rule is that I can't rate a game above an 8 until I've played it for at least 10 hours of total playtime.  This has a very, very good chance of making it to a 9, and even a chance of making it to the hallowed 10/10 with further plays.  I will almost certainly be buying this. 8/10

 

Dominant Species was not so much a hit with me.  A game can be released by GMT, it can have variably player powers, it can have sparse art and cardboard counters, and it can take 4+ hours to play, but if it has worker placement and area majority as its main mechanics, it's still another boring-ass Euro.  See also: Manifest Destiny, although at least that one has some cards thrown in there..  Dear game companies: please stop making worker placement games.  Dear gamers: please stop buying them. 

This seems like it could be a really interesting mashup of theme with mechanics, but unfortunately, this game takes a flying leap off of the Theme Cliffsides, and lands with a big splat in The Abstracted Mechanics Gorge.  The map makes sense, but the worker placement mechanics certainly don't.  The workers sometimes allow you to do things that make sense, like adapt your species by replacing familiar traits, but many times they make no sense in game terms.  What kind of supernatural being am I that I'm able to pick Glaciation as an action, then just plunk it down so that it will hurt Reptiles the least?  And why do we have to use a worker to score a region?  The left side of the board, the map, just screams theme, but the right side of the board, with worker placement, feels artificial as all hell.  This game might be impeccably balanced (though I doubt it) and it might be the hottest game from GMT to come out ever, but it is no great shakes.  This is GMT doing something that may be successful, but gets away from their strengths, and disappoints me.  6/10

 

Alien Frontiers is another pretty hot game.  You can see my comments on how I don't like worker placement games much in my discussion of Dominant Species above, and it turns out that making them dice doesn't really thrill me much more.  I hate to bag on this too much, because this is clearly a design that will get some people really excited, and it's out of a small publishing house.  I am rooting for this company all the way, because it started out of a Kickstartr project, and it clearly has an interest in producing nice games, with very good components.  The last company that made a debut this strong was Valley Games, a company that has continued to get better and better with every release.  Unfortunately, this game left me pretty cold.  Where Kingsburg has some interesting dice manipulation behind it, this game misses out on a lot of the choice of that game.  The theme is generic, and the mechanics are nothing special.  The crowd that likes 90-minute euros will probably drool over this game ad nauseum, but there's not much here.  6/10

 

Gosu is another new release, and is aimed at the same CCG/board game niche that Dominion pioneered.  The name is a shortened combination of Goblin Supremacy, and the theme is goblins engaged in a battle royale.  I was very impressed with the game.  To oversimplify it, it plays a lot like Magic: The Gathering meets Race for the Galaxy, but it's better than both.  There's a shared deck from which all players get their hand, but here's the rub.  What you see in your initial hand is what you get.  None of this drawing one card a turn crap.  No, you have two very precious action tokens which will beat the snot out of your opponent if you can use them on one of your creatures, but if you want to, you can use them for equally precious card draws.  There's an interesting faction system, which rewards you for either diversifying or specializing, but of course you won't be able to do both, much as you'd like to.  It's tight, fast, and very promising, particularly with the planned expansion.  I even played it twice in a row, and I never play games twice in a row. 7/10

 

49 weeks out of the past year, Cyclades would be the best new game of the week.  It just happened to come during the same week that I played Sid Meier's Civilization, and it's not going to take the crown this week, though it comes close.  This is a great game in the same vein as Fire and Axe: A Viking Saga, another favorite.  The plastic miniatures are wonderful, there's a ton of very bright, beautiful art, and the game has a nice mix of conflict and empire building.  The mechanics for this one are even a bit better, as long-term planning comes into effect, and the winner isn't necessarily going to be wholly dependent on luck.  There's only one way to win, which is to obtain two metropolises, but there are multiple ways to obtain those metropolises.  You can do it the slow, methodical way, which is to build an economy, diversify and build lots of buildings, or you can do it the militaristic way and steal them from other players, or you can do it the super sneaky way and gain several philosophers.  The trick is, each path is associated with a certain greek god, and each god is bid on by the various players.  And there's no guarantee that each god will even be available in any given turn.  So, there's a certain amount of flexibility demanded, as you have to think on the fly what will happen if you can't get your favorite god.  It's a hell of a lot of fun, it's short, and it has meaty conflict.  Very nice.  8/10

 

I played Thunderstone as well, along with its expansion Wrath of the Elements, and it left me mostly cold.  I've already wrote about not liking Dominion, and there's nothing much new here, except that it's more complex.  There's another couple types of currency, there's more interaction between cards, and there's an experience system that allows you to upgrade cards.  But the best thing about Dominion is that it ends quickly.  And at least in this play, Thunderstone did not end quickly.  Far from it, our four-player game took long enough that we ended up ditching several dungeon monsters to allow us to end it more quickly.  And, this has the same feeling that I dislike about Dominion.  You examine the tableau initially, form your strategy, and then the playing is more like one big resolution phase to see if your strategy worked. The theme is admittedly much stronger and better in this one, but it's not enough to get me to like it.  Base game: 6/10, Wrath of the Elements: 5/10

 

La Citta is the only game I played this week that I have already played.  I like this game a lot.  Turns out we played the neighboring rule incorrectly, and played that interaction happened only if the cities were within one space.  The game held up really well despite that fact.  I played terribly.  I really like this game, and I seem to do worse every time I play it.  The nastiness saves it from being just another Euro, even if the mechanics are nothing all that new.  I like empire building, and this is a great, very fast, abstracted game that allows me to scratch that itch.  It's like Settlers of Catan that way.  8/10 (Unchanged)

 

Dungeons & Dragons Computer Labyrinth Game is a super corny 80s electronic game based on the D&D license.  It shares similarities in that, well, you play adventurers, and there's a dragon, and you go into a dungeon to retrieve a treasure.  The board plays the GM, but because it's a 1980s era computer, it communicates in beeps and chirps.  You communicate with the computer by pressing your character down where you want to move, depressing a hidden switch under the board, and you decipher the computer's electronic noise to figure out whether you ran into a wall, or get to continue your turn.  Now, it's a terrible game, a total luckfest.  But it's a fun game.  I doubt I'll play it again, but the novelty factor kept it entertaining for the 10 minutes I was playing.  4/10

 

Starbase Jeff is a Cheapass Game that takes an abstract, applies a pretty thin theme, makes it multiplayer to make it extra chaotic, and, in case it's not disorganized enough, puts a really terrible title on it.  Cheapass games are terrible, with the single exception of The Big Idea, which is merely a decent, if fragile, party game.  I'm not into this publisher, because if a game is worth playing, it's worth it looking better than if you made it on your home printer.  To add insult to injury, the games are usually terrible.  This one's no exception.  4/10

Played this week: Here I Stand, Daytona 500, Lord of the Rings, El Capitan, Dominion with Alchemy and Seaside

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Here I Stand is never, ever going to get old for me.  This is probably the least entertaining game I have every played of it, and it was still a great time.  This particular session saw me as the Protestants.  I missed several things that would have been huge for me, including the fact that I was supposed to get +1 rolls during the Diet of Worms, and also that I was supposed to get a regular in Brandenburg once it was converted.  Both of these two things would have drastically changed what happened.  Combine these stupid mistakes on my part with terrible die rolling, Pope Paul coming out as soon as possible, and Matthew roasting two German debaters, and Matthew triggered an autovictory on turn 3, by staying more than 5 points ahead of any of the rest of us.  It was... unsatisfying, to say the least.  We'd barely started, and already the game was over.  Bummer.  It did mean, however, that we got another couple games in, one new to me, and one old favorite of mine, so it wasn't all for naught.  I'm already looking forward to the next play. 10/10

 

The new game was a thrift store find.  Tara and I, like the dutiful hipsters we are, frequent our local thrift store.  I'm not one of the people who makes their weekly trek to several different thrift stores to see if I can find a game that I can ebay for a big score, but I do always visit the game section if I happen to stop in.  I've been gaming for long enough and keeping an eye on the thrift lists on BGG long enough that I have a good sense of what kind of games I'm likely to find, and which games are worth a try.  Sure, most games that are there are junk, and even many of the games that I do buy end up going back there when I realize that they are monopoly rip-offs or other untradeably junk, but there have been some great finds at the thrift store.  

On this particular visit, we were in a rush, there was some drama (a long and uninteresting story, I assure you) and I almost didn't go in.  I did, however, and scanned the shelves quickly, and I found this green longbox game, called Daytona 500.  I remembered a few racing games being spoken of highly, but I couldn't remember if Daytona 500 was one of them.  Nevertheless, I was in a rush, and figuring that $5 would be an acceptable loss if the game turned out to be a dud, I bought the sucker.  Tara looked at me like I grew a second head when she saw me walking around with the box in my hand.  After all, this is a game from Milton Bradley, a publishing imprint by Hasborg that specializes in mass market crap.  And it's about stock car racing, which I hate.  And it's officially licensed, the usual death knell of any creativity of design.  But when I got home, I was very glad I got it.  Turns out it's designed by (the uncredited) Wolfgang Kramer, the German designer who brought us classics like El Grande.  And it goes for a pretty penny on ebay and the BGG marketplace.  I am still undecided as to whether I'll keep it, but at the very least, I'll get my money back and then some.

As for the game itself, there's a lot of player chaos.  But it's tight, the mechanics are neat, and the tactics are very rich.  It'd be a reach to say there's any long term strategy, at least as far as I can tell.  The big difference that sets this game apart is the drafting mechanic, by which any car that is immediately behind the car getting moved gets pulled along with it.  The mechanic is ingenious, and makes the game tactically very rich.  It does mean the theme gets sacrificed for the game, but that is acceptable in a potential gateway game like this one.  Needs more plays to determine where it will finally fall, but for now it gets a tentative 7/10

 

We also played Lord of the Rings that evening.  LotR is an old favorite of mine, one of the games that got me into strategy boardgaming way back around the turn of the century.  (Someday that phrase will sound as cool as it does in my head).  Jeff and Sean were both new players, and Matthew had mostly played Sauron before.  I really do love watching new people play this game.  I make an effort to not lead them by the hand, lest I play the game for them.  It's great fun to see the lightbulbs go off above their head as the game starts to mesh.  Although I'm sure the theme helps a lot, and I'm sure there's a lot of nostalgia figured in, I still find this a great design. 9/10

 

Moving on to the games I played at WAGN, Kevin brought El Capitan, a game which I knew next to nothing about, except that when he described it, I remembered that the box had a ship (whee!) on a brown background (whee!) in a pose that looks almost exactly like the ship on the cover of one of the games in the Carcassonne series, New World (whee!).  The game is pretty boring, and the art is horrendous, but at least it makes up for it with terrible art, right?  Okay, that's doing a bit of a disservice, as the game has some interesting twists on area majority, particularly on the warehousing system. 

No matter how good the mechanics could be (and I'm not saying they're great, merely that they're better than your average cookiecutter Euro), this is one example where a game production not only doesn't attract me, it actively discourages me from playing the game.  The art was done by Mike Doyle, onetime BGG wunderkind who could do no wrong when he designed nothing but an unofficial box cover for Die Macher, but who struck out mightily when he actually got a chance to design functional boardgames.  Sure, his designs catch the eye, and the use of color is fantastic, but by and large, his graphic design is either boring (Cavum, Leonardo da Vinci) or almost painful to use (Titan, El Capitan).  When BGG started to call him out for his oft terrible graphic design, he left BGG in a snit, completely ignoring the fact that BGG was almost certainly how he started to get name recognition, and hence jobs.  He lost most of his cred on BGG, and he now has left the boardgame industry entirely.  Thank you, Mike Doyle, for providing an example of how BGG can make somebody in the modern board game industry, and how they can unmake them.  The story is almost Shakespearean in its simplicity.  Oh, and don't let the door hit you on the ass.

But enough about Mike Doyle's sordid history.  Let's describe how El Capitan fails.  First strike, the script on the cities is illegible, and refers to city names that are almost identical from a distance.  Venizia vs. Valencia? Tunis vs. Tangier?  Good fucking luck.  Sure, they don't look that confusing when you stare at them right on your web browser rendered in Trebuchet, but imagine them in an ornate medieval script, the kind you normally find on cheap perfume bottles.  This script was apparently designed during a time when there was a worldwide paper shortage, so that everything had to take as little horizontal space as possible.  Furthermore, the high fucking Poobah of the local city-state, seized by a state of inbred stupor, dictated that all ledgers be marked with straight lines deviating no more than six degrees.  And flourishes everywhere, because who doesn't fucking love flourishes?  To further continue the lab-rat experiement for the players, the cards have a system of pips that help players tell the locations apart, using a lovely color scheme of dark brown with darker brown on I-swear-to-god-this-is-a-different-color dark brown.  Anybody sitting more than 3 inches away from the card with anything less than perfect lighting now has two ways to not know what the fuck that card says.

Still, I can't stand to dock it more than a little bit for graphic design, so El Capitan gets a very generous 6/10.

 

Finally, we come to Dominion and its expansions, Alchemy and Seaside.  I don't really like Dominion, but it's narrowly better than leaving, sometimes.  So I play it when we need something short.  This particular layout had a couple cards from Seaside that none of us used, four from the base set, and 4 from Alchemy.  This was my first experience with either of those expansions, and there is nothing new here.  Alchemy, at least from my experience with the alchemist, makes the game hideously unfun, as you have the turns where one player runs through their whole deck, and the whole appeal of a 20 minute game is gone, as you watch an hour of your life slide by.  Not to mention that it seems ridiculously effective, approaching chapel levels of broken.  Seaside certainly didn't inspire me either.  Base game: 6/10.  Seaside: 4/10.  Alchemy: 3/10.

 

Lord of the Rings image courtesy of Ed_the_Red on BGG.

Played this week: Speed Circuit, Tammany Hall

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Only played some games at WAGN this week, but that's bound to change as I have a lot of gaming coming up on my schedule in the next month.  The first was Speed Circuit, an old Avalon Hill racing game.  I got this as a toss-in in a trade with a bunch of other old Avalon Hill games I was interested in.  I thought this one sounded pretty good from the comments.  I'm not so thrilled with it at this point.  I tried a lap of it solo, was mostly unimpressed, and thought it might be better when I played it with some others.  Well, after trying it with four people, it was still mostly uninspiring.  It's just a little too dry and simple.  There's a bit of risking, and probably we all should have been risking it better.  I think we also made a mistake only playing one lap.  Seems like it's be a lot better off with all three races, or at least three laps on the same track.  Will probably give this one more try with all six players and more laps, but if it's still uninspiring during that play, it's on the trading block for it.  6/10

 

Also played a game of Tammany Hall.  This is a hot new Essen release, although it's by a publisher I'd never heard of, StrataMax games.  It's not to my taste at all.  It sounds like it's going to be much like Scorecese's Gangs of New York movie, and that certainly may be an inspiration.  Unfortunately, the life is all sucked out of the game, and it comes across as another spin on area majority.  There are little touches of theme, but not enough to keep me interested.  It didn't feel very reminiscent of 19th century New York, or that I was really doing anything but trying to get my guys to earn me more VPs and trying to tear down the leader at the same time.  It felt very Wallace inspired, but lacked the spark of his better titles.  Sort of like a watered down version of Liberte. 6/10

 

Tammany Hall image courtesy of Sentieiro on BGG.

What Colonialism means in a board game

I have a confession to make.  I'm a two-faced asshole when it comes to colonialism.  I abhor it in real-life.  It was an irresponsible power-grab when implemented historically, full of all kinds of immorality.  Yet, somehow, I don't eschew games about European colonization, even when they get dangerously close to whitewashing the truth. 

Take Age of Empires III, the boardgame version, not the PC game.  Here, you play a European nation out to colonize the Americas.  How do you do so?  Loosely, you first overcome the native resistance in a new area, then you take the goods from that area and put it in your nation's treasury, then you send a whole lot of people of your nationality to that area, including missionaries to convert the heathens.  Textbook example of the various evils of colonialism.  Yet I love the game.  I similarly enjoy Struggle of Empires and Goa, and new colonization games coming out always grab my attention as well.

And I'm not alone.  Puerto Rico, for all that I hate it, is a mainstay of our hobby, including the little brown colonist pieces that come over on boats and work in your fields and buildings to enrich you.  Mykerinos' theme of excavating Egyptian treasures at the behest of patrons and museums in Britain is also popular.  Endeavor with its trade routes and colonies was one of the hottest games upon its release in 2008.

So, the question is, if I find the theme so abhorrent, why do I still play the games?  Try as I might, I can't blame the mechanics.  The only common mechanic I see in these games is a general economic engine, whereby you try to make wealth for yourself.  Besides being laughably general, this is also a major component of some games I really don't enjoy, like Princes of Florence and Amun Re.

So if mechanics aren't to blame, then it must be the theme that I enjoy.  And thinking about it, there are some things I really like that are frequently part of colonization themes.  I enjoy the sense of exploration and of doing something new.  I enjoy maps, and history.  I *ulp* enjoy claiming territory, saying "This is mine, and I'll kill the bastard who steps across this line."  I love epicness where the fates of whole nations swing in the balance.

That explains what I like.  Here's what I don't like.  I don't like whitewashing.  I don't like glorifying colonialism.  I don't like pretending that the atrocities of colonialism like slavery and manifest destiny never had a detrimental effect on other people.  I don't like euphemism.  The games I don't like about colonialism have several of these traits (I'm looking at you, Puerto Rico, and you, Mykerinos, and especially you, New England).  I would rather have my game come out and say that it understands the evils of colonialism.  It doesn't have to make an explicit statement of the rules, but it DOES have to acknowledge what it's dealing with, and the real people's lives being impacted. 

 

Image courtesy of Okinawa Soba on Flickr.

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