The first gaming session of the New Year, and I was there. Gives me chills just thinking about it!
Present were Matt (our host), Alex, Liz, Dave, and myself. On the table: Beowulf and Puerto Rico.
I'm a big fan of Beowulf, even though I've never won a game. In a conversation with a friend recently, I noted that I was less and less interesting in buying new Euro games and more and more interested in "experiential" games like Arkham Horror where the theme is strong and the game sacrifices some measure of competitive play in exchange for story. Beowulf, despite having a very strong pedigree in it's designer (Knizia), fits this to a tee. Much of your success will hinge on how well one does on their Risk pulls, and when those successes happen. In my case, I had to make a Risk pull in the final auction and failed, losing me at least five points for being woundless.
Now, before you accuse me of being a big fat whiner (and I am), I'll tell you that I'd rather play this game and come in last than win in a more mediocre title. The "let's play chicken" aspect of the Risk draws makes this game great fun, and you always have interesting choices to make, even when it comes to such mundane decisions as whether to remove two scratches, take two gold, or any of the other things you do on the "Selection" action space.
True, there is little going on here that really follows the Beowulf story. So, I guess the game really succeeds for me in the variety of actions that happen over time, the great artwork, the ability to see what's coming and plan your resources accordingly. Combined with the chance to draw extra cards through the Risk mechanism, and the game becomes surprisingly strategic and every choice seems important, although as I say I suspect this is not necessarily the case. This was my first five player game, and while I think it works well with any number, this is perhaps the optimum number of players as every auction is fought over to some degree. Great stuff.
BTW, Dave won handily, although it could have gone either way with a six point swing based on the last auction.
At this point, Alex and Liz headed home as she's been fighting off a cold, so the three of us pulled out Puerto Rico, the classic that lost a lot of lustre for me when someone at WBC I played with made everyone's moves out loud and creamed us with the corn strategy. Get it? Creamed corn? Haha! Since then, I've really enjoyed the lighter San Juan game, which plays very quickly and elegantly.
After remembering how to play the damned thing, we got started. I made a crucial decision fairly early when I decided to get a second indigo plantation, then ended up with a sugar plantation a little later, and one indigo plant and one sugar plant. At this point, I decided that it was time for a factory strategy, but by then Dave was cruising ahead for an easy victory with his Harbor/Wharf combo. To be honest, this is exactly why we stopped playing the game in the first place - this is a very strong strategy that it is nearly impossible to counter, and it's really a question of who gets what when.
As such, I don't know that I'll pull this one out again without the benefit of the expansion set that replaces some buildings with new ones. I did like playing with three players, we moved along quite briskly, finishing within 80 minutes including a rules refresher. This is a good game, and it does outshine other development games like Caylus, but as it is the game is "solved" and needs a different balance of buildings to make it fresh again. Fortunately, we have that option.
Thanks to Matt for hosting us to the ungodly hour of 10:30pm (did I mention that we're all getting *so* old?), and I look forward to seeing everyone again next week at Mike's. In the meantime, I'm living up to my resolutions by getting in games of Combat Commander on both Wednesday *and* Thursday!