Monday, August 28, 2006

CenTuesday session, 8/15/06

Wow, an entry that's two whole weeks late. It's been a busy time for my family, so while I've been doing some gaming I haven't been doing reporting too well.

Matt was our host, and Dave and Peter joined us for a couple of games. First up was King of the Beasts, a Knizia title from a small company I'd never heard of that sounded like they focused on educational titles (although King was not, by any stretch, educational in the traditional sense). Peter explained the game, which sounded a bit like rummy, and we did things that seemed interesting and then someone won. Clearly a game I want to play again, although it was more a case of it being a quickie "summoning" game than anything else.

Next up was the meat of the evening, our first playthrough of Tempus. This new Martin Wallace title is the center of the latest "buzz blowback" controversy on the 'Geek, with one faction claiming that it is simply an area control game instead of a "civ-building" game, and that it's not up to Wallace's standard. I felt it was a pretty accessible game, regardless of what you call it, and liked it apart from a few rules screwups that I take no responsibility for as *I* played with the right rules! ;-)

In a nutshell, you are trying to control part of an island. Every turn you get a set number of actions, which include moving, attacking, reinforcing, building cities, and drawing cards (that help with all of the above activities). In addition, and this is where the "civ-building" element comes in, different actions can be improved over a turn. For example, you can stack more units in a space on one of the early turns, or have more babies, or move further with a unit. There are little "mini-races" every turn where you want to control certain types of terrain to get to move up one additional space (and get one additional improved action).

The cards (which are called "Bright Ideas") are used in combat, in determining who gets to move ahead in the civ-building race, and also allow bonus or improved actions (Medicine lets you have extra babies). The cards are all dual purpose, usable for the special actions or the terrain background (combat and progress), so they tend to be useful regardless of what you draw.

The board is made up of hexagonal tiles, five hexes to a side, that can be configured and scaled according to the number of players. It is possible to make "lakes" that can be used for movement early in the game, but not for combat. We kept forgetting this, but caught it before we made any real errors. This was not the case with city placement, as Matt managed to place a city next to an existing city, a rule that I had explained but missed when he placed the city. As a result, a couple of cities got placed next to each other.

The other rule we missed, although I must have told Peter at least six times how you scored VP, was that at game end you get a point for each non-mountain *hex* you have units in, not a point for each unit (as you do when figuring progress). Dave didn't get this rule until the very last turn, however, and as such it was a bit hard to evaluate the game, but I'll give it a shot anyway.

The game is definitely playable within a couple of hours, a nice change from most of Wallace's titles, certainly playable on a weeknight. The modular board can be built to give a lot of different looks (lots of lakes for fast movement in the early game, or a monolithic continent or something inbetween). The rules are, despite the problems we had, pretty clean for a Wallace game, most of the info you need (but not all) is on the player sheets. Play moves pretty briskly, at least it did in our game.

What is a bit unnerving (and this is not necessarily a bad thing) is that the game has a pretty small granularity. By this I mean that you do one seemingly small thing at a time, then someone else does the same, and around the table you go. Even that one small thing can take a couple of rounds to set up. For example, you can only put babies on grassland spaces you have units on, and then only one per space. As such, you need to move the units to grassland spaces if they aren't there already, then have the babies. Combat is not movement, so you have to move into position before you attack an enemy stack or city. While movement does improve over the game (on the first turn, a movement action allows one unit to move one space; by the end of the game you may get to move three units five spaces each), this is not a game where you go sweeping across the board a la History of the World. On the plus side, downtime is not much of an issue.

Now that at least some of us have played, I'm looking forward to a second game to see if this is, indeed, the overhyped game that so many say it is, or just a gem tarnished by the usual overblown expectations.

Peter had to leave after this game, so Matt and Dave and I played what may have been my last game of Wyatt Earp. We played four hands total, and the last hand saw so much money on so many outlaws to start the round that it devolved into a game of "Who Can Draw The Right Cards?" I am a Gin Rummy player from way back (I was playing my parents for money when I was 10), so I think I know how to play a rummy variant, but this game drives me nuts. I was better at getting cards on the table before Dave put his entire hand on the table (a favorite tactic of his), but the game is leaving me cold lately. Perhaps it's the Wild West theme, perhaps my least favorite, but I think it's more the high luck combined with the relatively long playing time in the past couple of sessions (45 minutes). Maybe it's better with two, I dunno. I just know that I'm glad we're getting some other "summoner" games to play while waiting for others to show up.

Thanks to Matt for hosting!

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