Friday, March 23, 2007

SouTues Gaming Session, 3/21/07

Kind of a slow week for me, at least in terms of live board game play. Connor and Jesse were both busy, and I had a gig over the weekend that prevented me from attending Tim and Carrie's game day on Saturday, so I was really ready to have some fun on Tuesday night at Chris's out in the wilds of Sherwood.

Unfortunately, the night got off to a bad start when I foolishly thought I could get out there in 30 minutes. More like 50, and as such I was nearly 20 minutes late. I think people were waiting for me, and indeed Chris had set up Warrior Knights for six. Silly me, he had mentioned this in e-mail earlier in the week, and I had been busy enough that I didn't reply back saying that WK for six on a weeknight is a Really Bad Idea.

This is not to say that WK isn't a good game, although to be honest I haven't quite gotten to the point where I have played enough to know that for a fact. This was my second game, the first being a four player affair that we played to 10 points. In that game, we felt that the time was not a huge problem, and that the game had a lot of very interesting mechanisms. And when I say a lot, I mean "a lot". Making things only slightly more complicated was that the game really needs to go to 12 points (or 15, or whatever the extended Influence Points per player number is). I think there's a great game arc here, but you'd never know unless you played to a higher total because everything takes some time to develop.

With six new players, the scaling issues were insane. We finished "learning" the game (you really learn the game through playing, as I mentioned several times during the rules walkthrough) at about 8pm, and we stopped after three turns at 10:05pm. At that point, the leader had seven influence points, technically about a turn away from a 10 point victory. By game end, turns were taking about 30 minutes, but there wasn't a whole lot of conflict at that point. In fact, I don't think anyone had attacked anyone else.

To my mind, six is not a bad number, but you have to give it a good five to six hours to play to completion, and by completion I mean to a high influence point total. But here's the problem: I blew one early assault attempt by a noble (the one that gives you an extra victory), and the other one chickened out and did a siege. The guy who had two successful assaults had a two-point-per-turn influence advantage over me. Sure, I could go attack him, but unless he'd really knocked down the walls of the city he took, I had little chance of winning a combat, and would almost certainly be in a weakened position. To make matters worse, I was on the "wrong" side of the board from the cities I was sieging early, and thought that one was a port when it wasn't. It was on the coast, so I just assumed that all cities on the coast had ports, but this one didn't. As such, I again blew a cycle. There are a lot of games that are like this (and in fact I spent a little time defending World of Warcraft: the boardgame despite it having the same problem, although there are many differences that minimize the problem such as teamwork, a relatively large number of turns, and it being more story driven rather than a game per se), but in WK I think it may really be a problem.

Obviously, the thing to do at the point where we ended the game is to go after Jacob's cities, or anyone else who took an early lead. If everyone is doing that, there's some chance that the game will balance out and no one will run away with a win, but that requires the players to have enough experience in the game to recognize the threat. It was clear that as the only person at the table who had played a game to a (weak) conclusion, my motives were suspect - never mind that it had been long enough ago that I needed the full rules refresher.

Still, I've only seen a handful of inter-player combats in two short games so far, and it's clear that without the long version this one is a set of mechanisms in search of interesting gameplay. Now that we have so many people who have played, it may be worthwhile to pull this out at Sunriver and go for a full game and see if the endgame justifies the opening moves. Right now, with them being a bit of a crapshoot (assuming you want to go for it rather than just siege right away), I'm a bit concerned that how the cards play out early has too much of an effect on how the game resolves itself.

Not a huge surprise - I'm clearly moving toward games that have more story to them at present, but I am hopeful that this one will prove to be worth the effort. However, I don't know that I'll want to devote the time that six people require, which is a problem if bringing down the leader proves to be as important as I think it will.

Thanks to Chris for hosting. Sadly, no more gaming (other than WoW online) until next Tuesday at Matt's.

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