Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Central Tuesday session, 4/11/06

Seven of us showed up at Matt's, which has to be close to a record in the last couple of years: Dave, Chuck, Mike (who was getting around quite well on his broken toe), Matt (of course), myself (of course), George (who is starting to show up again after his second child has gotten old enough to forage for himself, apparently), and surprise guest Michael, who rarely attends weeknight sessions. On the table were Descent, Il Principe, and Wyatt Earp.

Matt, Mike, Michael, and George, who are not a 60's Brit pop group, spent the entire evening playing Descent, with Mike as the Semi-Evil OverGuy running an Amber Alert intro scenario. They clocked in at around 2.5 hours from opening the box to having it put away. I'm telling you, Plano boxes aren't just for fishermen and ASLers. They make those boxes h-u-g-e for a reason. Apparently, the child was saved, and there was much rejoicing. I'm looking forward to giving this game a try (I really liked Doom, outside of dying fast) at Sunriver in a few weeks.

Meanwhile, at the card table, I finagled Il Principe, a recent title from Mind The Moves Games, an Italian startup (boy, I hope they're Italian, I've already gotten in trouble for mis-labelling people this year). The game has gotten good reviews on the 'Geek, although the box is arguable huge for what it needs to be and the components mediocre compared to the rest of the pack. I understand that there were good reasons for everything, but I hope they find some success and improve in the future. The rules in English are very difficult to understand, and in very small type. I strongly recommend that at the very least they get blind rules testers in the future who are native English speakers, as it would be relatively easy and cheap to fix the translation problem. I'm sure that the size of the rules was also a price issue for them.

All of that can be forgiven if the game is good. The problem is that there is quite a bit going on here. Forget the theme, it's a paste-up as bad as Samurai, but that's nothing new. In essence, the idea is to collect Building cards (in five suits) that allow you to collect points in a couple of different ways. There are also points that encourage certain behavior throughout the game. There are a couple of unique elements that I liked that could set this game apart from the pack, but I'll need to play a few more times before I'm sure.

First, you get four Building cards each turn, half of which you discard into a pool that is auctioned off during the round. Winning the auction gives you the discards of that color that go back in your hand. This might seem roundabout, but there are other uses for money that you ignore at your peril. Winning this auction allows you to use cards from your hand to build a city (or improve it, or something), of which there are four choices. Each city requires a certain amount of money, certain cards in your hand (this is an important distinction), and gives VP plus allows you to place one or two of your markers on one of the six bordering territories on the otherwise useless map. Bigger cities give more placement choices, more VP, but cost more money and cards.

Pretty straightforward so far. You get about a third of your VP from building cities, and another third from controlling regions on the board at the end of the game. However, there is a third way to earn VP that conflicts with these goals. There are ten offices that also give points during the game, a Major and a Minor in each color. After the card auctions, each player then may either build a city or place down cards of a single color in front of them for use in determining who gets the offices. There are also a few VP given at the end of the game for having played cards in this manner in all of the colors in a weak attempt at encouraging diversity, although our game was tight enough that this could have been (and was) the difference. Once everyone has played cards in front of them, the Major office, 2VP, and a special Mutant Power go to whoever has the most face-up cards of that color, and the Minor office, 1VP, and the same power to whoever is in second. The major office winner also has to turn half of their face up cards face down, but the minor office doesn't. In some respects, it's almost better to take 2nd in this case.

The rub is that if there is a tie for first, the players involved now bid for the right to get the office, and no one takes second. Going last in this case is a huge advantage, as you can decide where you want to devote cards from your hand. If there is a tie for second, players bid as for first. This is where having money left over from earlier bids and building can really pay off, in some cases more than the points for the largest city if you can get all five majors.

I will note that we did play the game incorrectly in a couple of spots. First, I'm not sure that you use the Special Mutant Power as soon as you get it, as the rules have you getting points for these powers at game end, which would not make any sense if you already scored them as we had. Second, the rules are incorrect in that they say you skip all of Phase One (where you get money and building cards) if there are not enough cards in the deck to go around. The correct rule is that you get money, but the cards that are usually discarded are dealt directly from the deck and no one increases their hand until you bid. This had a huge effect in our game, as Dave was the only one with money, and thus got all of the cards for cheap. Seeing as he won by a few points, we shall deem our first playthrough as "tainted". Or, as Mike so colorfully puts it, a "bogey". I personally don't see what golf has to do with it.

Dave and Chuck both felt that there was a lot going on, perhaps too much for "what the game was," a position I normally tend to agree with. I think that there is a lot going on, and that perhaps three isn't a good number, and that I'd like to play the game with the correct rules before giving an honest verdict. My gut impression, however, is that if you can stomach the relatively weak components and slog through the poorly translated rules, there's a pretty good little game here. Having to decide between playing cards for city points vs office points, managing the endgame, the various uses for money, all play a role. Despite all of the stuff that's going on, the rules are very straightforward, and there was very little downtime. I'm ready to give this a couple more shots, but that may be Cooley's Second Law (Your initial impression of a game is strongly affected by whether or not the copy in play is yours).

The Rescuers of All Things Innocent was still going on at the neighboring table, so we figured that we'd pull out the game we play when we know someone is about to show up - they almost always do right about the time we get through the first round of Wyatt Earp. I have to say, this game drives me nuts, especially playing with Dave. Just when I think I will go out, Dave lays down 50 cards, scores a bazillion points, and wins. Bastard. Plus, I keep learning that there are rules I'm unaware of. For example, we learned last night that it isn't that you can't get any points if you only have one card showing in a suit, you simply need 4 points which means that only Photo cards qualify (assuming there are other points on the board). Another "new" rule for me, which should be on the danged card, is that if you go dumpster diving in the discards with Wyatt, you can play the card immediately, even if it's another Sheriff card. I've played about 12 times, and I never knew the rule. PUT IT ON THE CARD!

Plus, I really hate Old West themes.

Still, this game sucks me in. I grew up playing quite a bit of Gin Rummy, which this is at it's core. I'm sure that next time I play, I'll forget some other rule.

As if to taunt me, I scored a whopping 2 bucks in the first game, compared to 8 for Chuck and Dave (where is Vera when you need her?) However, the score was considerably closer after round two, with me only 2 points behind. I managed to dump my last card in the third round, but used Wyatt to dive in the discards. Only Butch and Jesse were left there, so I tried a two-pointer to force the Billy points to get divvied up between us, as things looked very close. As it was, I finished with 24 points, Dave with 25, and Chuck with 27, another close game.

Should have sold my copy when I had the chance, but then latecomers would never show up at my place.

Thanks to Matt for hosting, and to Dave and Chuck for trying my Latest Game Purchase. You are absolved from playing Fury of Dracula at Sunriver.

Next up, apparently, is Chris for a South Tuesday session next week. Ah, nothing like a trip to Sherwood from the Greater Portland Area during the tail end of rush hour!

1 comment:

Mike said...

Except that Chris is off the hosting rotation and replaced by George. This save you from a trip to Sherwood. Except it's now a longer trip to Newberg. On the same road.