Mike came back from Essen and of course wanted to host and show off his astonishing loot from the Toy Fair. Present were Mike, myself, Tim, Eric, Laurent, and KC (another person who didn't seem as jet-lagged as he should have been). On the table were Shear Panic, Whiskey Race, and Geschenkt.
Shear Panic is a very wacky game with some very unusual bits. Aside from what felt like pretty low quality components for a German game (laminated play sheets, plastic disks), the game includes 11 fairly nice (and good-sized) sheep miniatures. I have to say that they added a lot of flavor to the game, and I can't think of another game with such interesting bits. OK, Shadows Over Camelot has painted minis you can get, but this was a bit different.
In a nutshell, play involves each player choosing one action from the 12 available on the playsheet. Each action allows certain types of movement with the sheep to try to accomplish different positions during the game, as well as advancing the "timer" marker along a combination scoring and timer track. For example, in the first portion of the game, you get points for having your two sheep (of the nine in question) adjacent. At a certain point, Roger the Ram (really) shows up and now the sheep are competing for his attention, so you want to have your sheep in the front row when the timer first goes through the gate on the timing track. Later, being adjacent to the black sheep is a good thing, as is being as far from the shearing sheep as possible. I did say wacky.
We played two three-player games, and Eric and Laurent were in my game. I figured out fairly early that it was good to be the person who moved the timing marker into scoring positions, so I tried to choose actions that would help me accomplish this. I was pretty successful in the Roger and shearing portions of the game, and managed to tie Laurent for the lead. Since I'd gotten one of his sheep sheared right at the end, I won the tiebreaker on having more sheep still unshorn. Sheesh!
Both Eric and Laurent felt like they didn't have a lot of control over the pacing of the timing marker, but I didn't share this view. I suspect that part of the reason was that I won, and had been trying to pace the game to accomplish my goals, but only repeated playings will show if it was just a case of sour grapes or if the game really is that lucky. Given that there is not that much luck in the game (dice are used solely to "regroup" the flock when they break up or determine which sheep does the pushing in a "Shear Panic" space), I think that we'll find that planning pays off. If you're a sheep, anyway.
Since the other game was still going, Eric introduced us to Geschenkt. The game is very simple: There is a deck of 36 cards, numbered astonishly enough 1 to 36. Nine cards are secretly removed at random, the remaining cards shuffled, and each player gets 10 chips. The first player turns over the top card, and may either take it or put one of his chips (kept in hand for secrecy) on the card. If the card is still out for the next player he gets the same choice. If you take a card that has chips on it, you get the chips as well. Whoever takes the card turns over the next one. At the end of the game when all cards have been played, you lose points equal to the numbers on your cards, and add points equal to the number of chips left in your hand.
One twist: if you have a series of card numbers (21-22-23, for example) of any length, you only subtract the lowest card in the series. Thus, a 34 that is very painful for other players can be very valuable for you if you have the 33 card already collected, and it behooves you to let other people put chips on the card for a few rounds, then take the card. The game plays very quickly, I don't think our game took more than 15 minutes including explaining the rules. Eric got a couple of good runs going, and won handily. Despite Cooley's Law, this one is a keeper.
Finally, we all played Scottish Highland Whiskey Race. I thought at the game's start that perhaps it would be even better with real whiskey. How prescient I was! This is a race game (duh) where each player bids "malt" points to move along a track littered with all sorts of rewards: victory points, whiskey to buy, places to sell, places to get more malt points, and places to move the Englishman (sort of an electric rabbit at the dog track). The trick is that the first player to move is the one who bid the most malt points, and they move that many points. Each space costs as many points to move into as the number of pieces (including yours) in the space you move from. As such, if you don't bid boldly, you are likely to be moving a different number of spaces than you thought you might. In addition, you only get the benefit of the goodies in the space you land in if you are the only person in that space at the end of your turn. Finally, each bottle of whiskey you get gives you a one time special mutant power - just like real whiskey! If the Englishman gets to the last space before any of the players, the leaders lose points, but if a player gets there first, the leaders get points.
As you can imagine, this game was a mess with six players. Every turn I saw my carefully counted and planned move reduced to uselessness, even when I tried to lag behind and then make big moves, only to have someone else bid more, play a whiskey bottle that changed the amount I'd bid, and screw me up. In the end, I sold no whiskey for a whopping four points, and got another 3 points from landing on the "right" spaces. This was enough to put me dead last. Amazingly, Tim had even less fun than I did. I could have screwed him at one point, but he was so obviously miserable with the entire process that I decided against it. I also had a great chance to send the Englishman into the finish at the very end, but at no gain to myself, so I played nice. Since Laurent was in front, this was more of a temptation than usual!
I would definitely try this again under two conditions: no more than four players, and real whiskey. With six, this was so painful as to be masochistic. Had I managed even one clever move, it might have been fun, but there was simply too much chaos in too long and fiddly a game (it didn't help that the various mutant whiskey powers were misrepresented at the start of the game). With play aids and four players, it would probably work pretty well.
After all of this, Mike and KC were still awake, but I think ready to go home to bed, so we called it a night. All in all, despite the bad experience with SHWR, these all appear to be very clever games, and I look forward to playing them again soon.