Had a nice time gaming at Mike's place last night. Got to play Caylus Magna Carta (where do they get these names?) and Foppen.
C:MC is a nice reduction of the original game, in the same general vein as San Juan is to Puerto Rico. PR got a handful of plays in our group, then fell off when the corn strategy broke the base game. I picked up an expansion that gives you more choices of buildings (so you can dump the warehouses if you want a tight game), but we've never pulled it out in a few years. SJ, on the other hand, was our "summoning game" of choice, and with brisk play it's one of my favorite 3-4 player games.
C:MC does a similar number on Caylus, getting rid of the board, putting the buildings on cards, and in general streamlining the rules (and, in theory, play time). There were three of us playing, but we took a good two hours to get through it, including 'splainin'. We made several mistakes (thanks to what must be some of the dumbest rulesets I've ever seen) - For example, we thought you could build residences without having to resort to a lawyer, because residences are never discussed much more than in passing. There are a few references to residences having been transformed from other buildings by the lawyer, but the rules simply don't cover a handful of critical issues. Ystari does decent games, but they need better rules in general.
We also didn't remove three castle tiles, and didn't remove two if no one built onto the castle, although I think this would have shorted our game by a couple of turns at best. Having the "flip side" rules with "beginner" rules on one side and "advanced" on the other makes for a lot of confusion, let me tell you. If you're getting the sense that I think this is a pretty good game that's nearly ruined by the publisher, you're right - I've had similar experiences with Phalanx, a major reason I won't buy their games. One game, Revolution, *has* no official rules interpretation for one rule - players pick an interpretation and go. For someone who likes wargames and wants to play the game correctly, this is anathema. Ystari is moving into the same camp as Phalanx for me at this point.
But the game! We started out with Ben and I competing for castle points, although Ben got the advantage in the early going when points are bigger. I was building very few structures, although I was doing OK for money most of the time. I was on the verge of building one of the 10 point special buildings when Carey swooped in and built it one turn before I was going to. I settled for the Hotel. Did I mention that the special buildings are not listed anywhere in the rules other than one section on the Hotel? One building has a picture of a residence card on it and not one word of explanation in the rules. Argh.
In the end, I managed to pull out a win by building lots of extra structures and getting two 6 point special buildings on the map. However, we did play for a turn or two too long, and we did allow players to build residences at will (one food and you put the card on the table). Assuming that you must use lawyers, I can see players replacing the cards in their hands frequently in order to get the "right" ones in hand in the early game, something I don't know that we ever did. Ben came in second by a point, although at one point Carey was putting the game away a bit before Ben was ready for him to put it away, so I'll call it a bogie and try it again.
If this is truly playable in an hour, it's a major improvement over the box game, and one I'll pick up. Especially if you can play with two, as much of my gaming will be of this variety in the future. Although I hope they learn something about development of rules.
The crowd thinned out a bit (we had seven, a major improvement over the past three weeks when that was the combined total of attendees), so we played a five-player game of Foppen. Too bad this one is out of print, it's a marvelous trick-taking game that you can teach in minutes and has a great screwage factor without requiring players to think too hard. I beat George, but no one else. Chris nosed Carey out for the win when Carey was forced to take several points in the last couple of hands.
An entertaining evening, and it was great to see folks again after a month hiatus. Next week, we are back at my place again for the final session at the place where RCG started. I may cry.