Time for my once-a-month hosting duties this past Tuesday. Time was during the nicer weather that having four or five people was a real treat, now we've got eight, nine or even ten people showing up on a regular basis. Very nice!
While Chris, Mike, Rita, KC, and Tim played a prototype of a new game under consideration for Sunriver Games in the next room, Matt, Ben, Laurent, and myself tried out Beowulf and St. Petersburg, both at Matt's request.
The funny thing is that both of these games were still in shrink wrap. I historically have made an end-of-year trip to Funagain Games in Ashland, and until a couple of years ago was able to roam through the warehouse area and impulse buy to my heart's content. Since my sister has moved, and Funagain both doesn't have a warehouse that works for browsing and they really don't want me back there anyway, I had to come up with a different way to simulate the experience of a billion new games. So, I ordered 10 or so games from Boards and Bits with the intention of not opening any of them until Christmas. The games were stacked on the piano, Matt saw them and wanted to play, so it was an early Christmas for everyone.
I discussed Beowulf in an earlier entry, and I had really liked it. The uncertainty of the "mystery meat" awards (the rounds that have either gold or VP), playing chicken with the deck, watching two people decide that this is the auction they really need to win, I love it all. Best of all, the game can be taught very quickly, as you basically learn as you go. Even running through the basics ahead of time takes perhaps five minutes at the most.
In our game, Matt used the Collect Gold strategy, although I think that this was more of a "Got this much, more shouldn't hurt" approach. Ben took the "lose every early Risk and auction" strategy, Laurent collected Mystery Meat, and I went for VP and a few critical cards. By midgame, Ben and Matt had two wounds each, I had none and had collected few scratches. By the endgame, I had to choose between blowing a good number of cards that was going to ensure me 5 VP in the last space or fighting the dragon and avoiding wounds. I took the Risk on the very first draw (I had a lot of the cards I needed to win, but was trying to finesse a win over Laurent's stack of Mystery Meat, which he'd already used to remove his sole wound).
Unfortunately, my draw netted me nothing but horns, gave me a third scratch to give me a wound, and I got the double wound marker for my trouble. On the plus side, I had quite a large hand, and Ben and Laurent played chicken with their entire hands for the Dragon attack, so I was able to remove a wound and gain 5 points on the final space. Now that I think of it, you get one or the other, so I guess I didn't do quite as well as I thought... At any rate, I did have the most gold and the most cards, removed one wound to get me down to two and avoid the penalty, and ended up with 25 (modified) points behind Laurent's 34 (he had no wounds). Ben was close behind me with 24, and Matt was in the rear with 15. Matt did have a lot of blown Risks, but I think he was also spending a lot of gold on stuff that wasn't quite as valuable as we approached the endgame. This is still a thumbs up for me, although I'd really like to try it with three or five players to see if it's as good a game.
Next up was St. Petersburg, which for some reason has been denigrated in our group other than Eric claiming it makes a great two-player game. Matt had played it and liked it, so he did the teaching (a rarity, usually Mike, Dave, KC, or myself do the teaching). The game is based on a draft of three types of cards: workers, buildings, and aristrocrats. There are also Trader cards that upgrade one of the other three types. Each turn, you fill in the eight slots with cards from each deck in turn, then draft them in a preset player order that shifts every turn. If you play the drafted card directly, you pay the cost of the card. Upgrades are the difference between the upgraded and replaced card. You may instead choose to draft a card into your hand, but you must eventually pay to play it or lose 5 points at game end. Also, you lose the Stale bonus of 1 ruble in some cases (cards that have survived an entire turn).
For example, on the first turn we begin by turning over eight worker cards. All but one are drafted by the players, and after everyone passes they score VP and income (primarily the latter with workers). Next, seven buildings are turned over, as one worker card remains. Players can still draft the worker, but once everyone passes only the buildings (primarily VP) are scored. Next is the aristocrats, which is the meat of the game as having more unique aristocrats at game end gives you an exponentially bigger bonus. If in this case we still had the one worker and three buildings, only four aristocrats are turned over. Finally, the trade cards come up in the same fashion, although there is no scoring. This ends the turn. Once one of the draw piles for the various decks is depleted, the game continues until the turn is finished. Players score for having a particular number of unique aristocrats, and highest score wins.
I'm not quite sure where things went off the rails for me in this game, but I think that my basic problem was waiting too long to get buildings that gave VP. Matt had explained that it was important to get income early, as it was possible to get in a hole easily that you could never climb out of. We did get a lot of very pricey buildings early in the game, including the Academy, and the building upgrades just never came my way.
The other problem I had was in hand management. You can "bank" up to three cards at a time in your hand without paying for them, and I foolishly banked three cards early and missed out on a couple of opportunities as a result. By the midgame I'd figured this out, but at that point timing kept me from even getting the chance to pull good building upgrades. I did get up to seven aristocrats, all different, and my early game income was decent for my workers (but no chances for income from buildings), so i was stuck.
Despite coming in dead last after Matt, Ben, and Laurent respectively, I really enjoyed the game. I do think there is the possibility that because of the draw you simply never see the cards you need to win the game; getting stuck being the first to draft buildings did not help my cause. However, like Beowulf, the overall mechanisms and feel of the game were great. Play moved along at a decent clip (although we did take about 90 minutes to play), and it was a good balance of brain work and tension. Definitely one I'll pull out, although I'm not sure when I'd get to try it 2-player, as Eric and his wife play. Glad I gave it a shot.
The other table got in games of Sieben Siegel and Diamant as well as their prototype, I'll leave the reporting of those games to Chris and Mike.
Thanks to all for coming, after a day of watching a plumber attempt to break every pipe in my basement it was a much-needed evening of fun with good friends.