Thursday, May 11, 2006

Sunriver, May 06, Day 2

Saturday broke sunny and early for me, having the bedroom directly underneath the great room where four people had slept and were now stirring. One thing Sunriver is not about is sleep, and I'm finding that it is harder to get by on that much less sleep for more than one or two nights. Time to get better drugs.

After playing our Fury of Dracula game for a few more rounds, we decided to bag it and move on to other things. For me, that meant getting in a three-player game of Here I Stand, the new card driven wargame from GMT on the Reformation, with Chuck and Eric. This was my second "real" game, and it felt much different from the six-player version we played a month or so ago. I took the Hapsburgs and the Papacy, Chuck took the Ottomans and the French, while Eric took the English and the Protestants. We played the three turn tournament game, beginning on turn 5 and running through turn 7. I'm not sure this is a good six-player game, although I felt it worked well for three. The problem is that a good hand can really set you up for success with a given power, as a weak hand can nearly kill you, and only getting three hands can really skew the luck factor in this game.

My first turn went quite well. I thwarted the Ottomans at Vienna, the French in Italy by taking Florence with the Papacy, and enlisted the Genoese to the Hapsburg cause. England had trouble siring a male heir (although he did take Edinburgh), and the Protestants were having trouble making any serious headway, and the first turn ended with the Hapsburg/Papacy with a serious advantage.

In the second turn, the English decided to declare war on the Hapsburgs, and the Turks had enough treachery cards to take Vienna easily, and things began to turn for the True Church. In fact, things went so well for the Turks that they were a single key away from an automatic victory. England was still struggling to conceive Edward, but the Protestants were doing pretty well in converting Germany with their Printing Press. Meanwhile, having lost Charles and Ferdinand, the Hapsburgs were forced to try for New World gains (I had a single successful colony roll in eight attempts), and the Papacy spent a lot of time trying to hold back the Protestants.

In the final turn, Chuck began with a large scale Turkish invasion attempt on Naples to grab the key that would give him the game. Somehow I was able to thwart his plans thanks to professional rowers although my own Hapsburg navy was bloodied. England managed to pop the boy out, and the Protestants were making serious headway in England. Despite weak cards, the Protestants were kicked out of England, only to learn that perhaps I should have taken that other North Sea port when I had the chance with the Anabaptists - you can travel over a sea zone for purposes of reformation attempts. At least I had Urban as my pontiff, so I was able to win ties on counter-reformation attempts. It wasn't enough, however, as I spent a lot of time trying to prevent an English invasion of Spain, largely repelled when Eric realized that Navarro wasn't a port.

in the end, Eric got to draw so many cards and had so many ops as England that he was impossible to stop, and he won with 24 points by game end. While I felt I did a great job with the cards I had, I simply couldn't compete with the fantastic draws Eric and Chuck got on the final two turns. As such, while I had a great time playing, I have to say that I can't consider this a competitive version, and I think I'd prefer playing the full game from the beginning, although I did enjoy playing with three players.

George had asked me to bring my copy of Phalanx's Alexander The Great, and I'd read up on the rules ahead of time. Alex, Dave, and Chuck had joined us to give this game a try, and I have to admit that the rules made me wonder who had thought this was a good idea. Once we started play, it became apparent that the movement rules were not fleshed out enough. On the one hand, it appeared that a "move" consisted of taking a group of units from one location to another, paying all necessary costs as you did so. However, it was not clear that you couldn't drop off units, although the rules could be interpreted in that way. The Geek provided no clues, and a quick note to Phalanx by our resident Dutchman George only confused things even more - they said that a move was to an adjacent area, which made the whole idea of picking up and dropping off (picking up was mentioned in the rules) moot.

Unfortunately, we were already souring on the game, although I think that there may be a good game in there somewhere, although not one with obvious moves. By the time we played the short game (using, sadly, the full value of the endgame points instead of half), no one was terribly interested in giving it another try. While it is unfortunate that badly written rules can ruin a game experience to the point that the game is only played once, it is true more often than not, and European publishers printing English versions, notably Phalanx, really need to make sure their rules are well done. Every single one of their titles I've owned has had confusing rules that required some close reading or errata, and not one of their games looks to be one that will see a second playing, with the sole exception of Maharaja. They join Avalanche as a publisher I will avoid in the future.

We were getting close to dinnertime, and so I wanted to try something shorter, so I pulled out Big Manitou, the reprint of the five-year-old card game, to play with the same set of folks as Alex. By now I was very tired and while I'd read the rules just a few days before, they were organized so badly that it took me several minutes to re-orient myself and teach the game effectively. Seriously, guys, this is ridiculous. There are so many English speakers in the US that will proof-read English rules for free, there is absolutely no reason for rules to be written this poorly. Unlike Alex, however, we were able to get past them and play an effective game.

BM (what a great acronym) is a card game where everyone is working from an identical deck. You pick roughly half of your cards (the rest are used in the next hand), and then bid for the right to choose tiles in one of three groups. You have hunter cards, that are simply ranked 1-10, as well as hero cards that beat or lose to other hero cards. The hunters stay for the entire hand, but a hero card immediately removes the competing hero card in the group it's played in according to the ranking shown on the cards. Three of the heroes use a rock-paper-scissors scheme, while the other two are a chief that beats everything except the (rather alluring) squaw card, which loses to everything else. Sort of like the Spy in Stratego.

Once we got into the game, it was fairly straightforward, although people had a lot of trouble figuring out that you get the points for Buffaloes and Teepees (spelled "Tipi" in the rules, very confusing) based on which type of tile you collect the least points in. I think we completely forgot to increase our hunter points based on tomahawks held. In a nutshell, we stopped early so I could start grilling burgers, and no one seemed to be very upset.

I think that there is a pretty good little game here, but not with five players (four looks to be a good number), and not if you aren't really aware of how the game works. After Alexander, though, it was just one more huge disappointment in a row after several great games.

Because of my chef duties, I only got one more game in, and that was Circus Minimus from The Gamers. This is an attempt to simplify the old AH chestnut Circus Maximus, and in that respect it is very successful. The only problem with teaching the game, which is really very simple at it's core, is that you first check speed to determine change to fatigue, then check fatigue to determine change in speed. As such, the first few rounds are very counter-intuitive for new players, and the game went very slowly at first.

Because of the way that the skid rules work, a turn can go very badly indeed if you get unlucky with the dice, and Tim immediately ran into trouble in the very first turn and fell far behind. Because I was trying to keep things simple, I'd skipped over the Cocky Leader and Cranky Followers rules that are intended to keep the pack fairly close (and thus entertaining), and so he was pretty much out of the race from the start. Too bad, as there is a lot of fun to be had in this game, and that includes reading the rules out loud. Really.

Just when I thought the game was going to be a complete loss, I managed to roll not one but three unfortunate dice in a row coming out of the final turn in our one-lap race, pulling a hard skid to point me at the wall, then pulling a dangerous skill that ran me into the wall, flipped my chariot, and saw my driver pulled along behind my team. On the next turn, I foolishly cut myself loose (foolish because my horses got to move first on the next turn and crossed the finish line before anyone else, which would have won me the race), thinking I would jump onto Matt's chariot directly in front of me. Unfortunately, you can only jump into an adjacent chariot to the side, and George then ran over me and killed me instantly on a roll of 5 for injury. As the rules say, sq-WHIT. I thought it was hilarious, but everyone else was having too much trouble working the fatigue/speed connection and feeling screwed by early dice to be having any fun. Me, I thought it was a pretty elegant and entertaining little race game, you just can't take it seriously. Definitely use the Cocky Leader rule, though, it makes a lot of difference to keeping things close and allowing for people to catch up to the pack.

At this point, I had turned into a pumpkin so I headed off to bed early while everyone else stayed up and enjoyed the games for a few more hours.

Day 3 to come...

1 comment:

Tim said...

While I agree that I wasn't having a lot of fun in the game of Circus Minimus, I'd agree with Doug that there is a decent game there, if it's approached with the right attitude - I didn't have it, as I ALSO was tired (probably due to having been in on that midnight Fury of Dracula game), which upped the cranky factor.

Also tainting my opinion is remembering another "chariot" racing game I'd played previously - Circus Imperium, by FASA. I'd enjoyed that one a lot, and it was fun even if you were skidding out into the walls. Not sure what the difference was (age, lack of sleep, who knows?), but the comparison didn't go Circus Minimus' way.