Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Session Report, 4/8/08

Over the last few months, Rip City Gamers has had trouble attracting people to it's Tuesday night sessions. Part of the problem has been the migration of the only person with a sizable collection of games near the city core moving 20 miles south (me), but for many I think the problem is just that we have less time to devote to gaming in general.

So it was that when I arrived a few minutes late to Matty G's place, I was greeted by many familiar faces that I haven't seen for too long - Rita, Carey, Chuck, Jay F, Ben F, Mike, plus of course Matt himself. This may be the first time we've had two tables of games up at once in more than two months. Regardless, it was nice to see this sort of turnout, especially going into next month's Sunriver Retreat.

Matt had mentioned Railroad Tycoon, and despite his best efforts to get out of playing it, that ended up on the Big Table (along with Jay, Matt, Ben, and Chuck). When I left close to 10pm, they were close to the end of the game with Chuck doing quite well, although Jay felt he'd pull off the Western Link for his bonus points. I'd brought two games with me, and the rest of us played both of them.

First up was the hot new coop game Pandemic, which sees each player taking the role of a different health organization worker to cure (and eradicate, if it works out) four different diseases spread around the planet. We'd set our game on "Easy" mode (just four Epidemic cards) but our inexperience showed how ill-prepared we were. It didn't help that the initial disease placements put lots of cubes in Northern Europe, and indeed that proved to be our downfall. We were able to get the blue disease cured relatively quickly, as we did with the yellow disease, but instead of having our Medic, played by the lovely Rita, dash through Madrid to St. Pete's, she headed off to Asia and we quickly saw a spate of outbreaks thanks to the closely packed nature of the infection cards. Had she simply swept through Europe instead, I think we had a decent chance of winning.

Eric and I had a bit of a discussion about how easy the game is when playing with four as opposed to two roles. I had felt that having a lot of cards available would make things easier, and to some extent it did. However, not being able to *do* much with your cards is still an issue. At a critical moment when being able to remove a couple of major blue disease concentrations in Europe would have meant survival, I was stuck in Atlanta with no way to get over there - all of my cards took me to the Mideast or LA. As such, I wasn't able to get over and remove at least one of the big stacks of disease, we drew Paris, and that was that.

Pandemic is clearly a puzzle game where the point is to figure out how to use a particular suite of Roles with a particular set of disease centers (the game works so that you recycle them based in large part on Epidemic cards). Our epidemics tended to come early, so our pool tended to get cycled rapidly. Focused as it was on blue areas, we were in for a difficult time barring eradication. However, my experience with two roles indicated that even with the Medic you were almost better off going for cures at best, eradication if it was handy.

The game definitely has a deterministic feel, based on the luck elements and how they play out. Transportation between portions of the board was a major factor, and I suspect that we would have had better luck putting Rita in Europe early to manage the cubes, sent me to a couple of spots to generate research stations to make it easier for us to move around (I didn't have the green contractor role, it was absent in our game), and gone from there. On the other hand, while there was some tension in the game, it wasn't anything I'd put in the "can't wait to try it again!" category. Were I only concerned with money, I'd seriously think about putting this one up for sale, seeing as its out of print. That's too bad, as the game is definitely unique in many ways, and I like puzzles (and coop games, for that matter). This one just isn't grabbing me.

Next up was Zooloretto, the followup game to the very simple Coloretto. As in the parent game, you are trying to collect sets of a small number of animals while not adding other animals to your pool. The main addition (other than what seems like an astonishing amount of cardboard to keep track of things) is an economy that lets you manage things for a cost. Frankly, it takes a pretty decent filler and turns it into a full-blown game that I really liked. The rules are simple enough that I could teach it to non-gamers in no time at all, and the chrome (mating animals, the money actions - especially the ability to buy critters from others, the vending machines) all add quite a bit to the game in terms of flavor and feel. The core of Coloretto was whether or not to pull the trigger on a set of cards, or to wait and hope things went your way. Of course, making something more attractive to *you* was likely to make something more attractive to *others*, and so you were not only playing Chicken with the table but also yourself.

Of course, I did win the game when Mike chose a late game kingmaking move such that Rita did not benefit, although to be fair we would have ended up in a dead tie with the same amount of points and money left over. I did quite well - the max you can get is something like 42 points if you build the extra addition (9+5+8+10 for areas, another 10 for vending machines if they are all different, and no critters in the barn). I had all but one space of the addition area filled, one type of monkey in the barn, and one vending machine slot unfilled (and the rest of different types). And I did almost nothing in the final rounds but get trucks that had one tile on them.

I also have four or five expansions to the game, which are mostly extra tiles or additional enclosures. I haven't looked closely at these yet, but it seems that with such an elegant game they would add replayability for some time.

I'm delighted to have finally gotten the chance to play this gem. To be honest, the parent came in a small card box while this one came in a large "Kosmos big box" sized container, and that put me off for quite a while. Given how simple the original was, it seemed to me that paying three or four times the cost for what really were fairly incremental improvements was overkill. Perhaps that's true, and perhaps this, like Around the World in 80 Days, is too little game in too much box for too much price. Yet, it's as entertaining a game as I have in my collection, and one that I'll definitely pull out with the family at our annual vacation - it will be a hit with the little kids as much as the adults, given the cute animals (and baby ones!), and it will take me minutes to teach.

Thanks to Matt for hosting, as always, and thanks to so many of our members for coming to play some games. Next session will be at Chris' house, as I'll be in the middle of what we in the volunteer choral community refer to as "Hell Week" - three rehearsals and two performances of a major work in seven days, all but one rehearsal trying to sing over an orchestra. The performance is Choral Arts Ensemble of Portland, the work is Beethoven's setting of the Missa solemnis (which is rarely performed because of the incredibly high level of difficulty, both technically and musically), the place is St. Mary's Cathedral on NW 17th and Davis (or so), and the dates are 8pm on Friday the 18th and Sunday the 20th. The work hasn't been performed in Portland since 1990, and that was when Robert Shaw was here to direct it. I was fortunate enough to have been part of that performance, and I'm looking forward to singing it once again. Considering that I am easily bored with music I know or can learn quickly, the fact that I've enjoyed the rehearsals for a work that is embedded deep in my soul speaks volumes.

I'm getting in some wargaming with Chuck this Saturday, then I'll be back to session reports in two weeks. I'm sure I'll have something else to talk about between now and then.


Greg W said...

I've only played it a few times but I really like Pandemic. It seems like it has good tension which is required for a co-op game. The best part though was a couple crushing losses to start out to really push home that you have to play the game well to have a chance.

In the plays I've had since it seems like effective management of the special powers of the group is key. Use the Dispatcher to move people around to set up trades for cures or to get four extra uses of the Medic's eradicate ability per round. The Scientist for cheap cures. The Operations Specialist for easy travel and the Researcher for easy trades.

It is also key to try and prevent outbreaks. You know where the hot spots are from looking at the board, so you know where the at risk locations are after an epidemic. That means you know which locations that need maintenance to keep the game from getting out of hand quickly. Even pulling a single disease marker from one or two locations can make a huge difference.

Glad you like Zooleretto. It's good fun. Especially good with families. I'm curious to see what Aquaretto will add to the game when the two are combined.

Mike said...

>I did win the game when Mike chose a late game kingmaking move such that Rita did not benefit

In the end I chose the best move for _me_ and didn't concern myself with what impact that had on who won. Only way to approach these sorts of decisions.