Tuesday, April 03, 2007

In the meantime

Those Strategy & Tactics articles are still in the works. In the meantime, here's what I've been playing and thinking about recently, in no particular order:


Tom Jolley's a pretty nice guy, I've met him at a couple different game conventions. Last February at OrcCon in Los Angeles I hung out with him a little and checked out a couple of his prototypes. One in particular was very interesting... it's called Fermat, after a mathematician. The board is a grid of tiles, each with either a number or an operation on it (+, -, x, /). The game
is kind of like Set, but instead of racing to find patterns, you're racing to find an equation in the grid, made up of exactly 5 contiguous tiles, which equals a particular number.

At the con Tom was saying he didn't think he could sell the game, but it seemed wildly popular among the people walking by. I'm glad to report that last I heard, Tom has sold this game to a company specializing in educational games, which I presume means it will be published! In the meantime, I've made my own copy and have been playing it with my friends - we can't get enough!

Pillars of the Earth

I saw this game at BGG.con last year, and I spent the whole con trying to play it - to no avail. Since then I've talked to some friends who have played it, and they all think it's pretty mediocre. I finally got a chance to play the game a couple of weeks ago and I've found that I like it very much. I got a copy the day after it hit the shelf at Game Daze, and I've now played the game a total of 4 times - I can honestly say I don't know what my friends were talking about, the game is great.

Pillars of the Earth is all about efficiency. Everyone starts with the same set of Craftsmen, which give you the ability to convert resources into victory points. Over the course of the game you upgrade these craftsmen, get resources, and convert them. One friend's complaint with the game was that the conversion was so direct that he felt like the game was boring and the choices were obvious. What I think he missed was that the point of the game isn't to convert the resources into VPs in clever and different ways, the point is to do it efficiently. If you end up paying too much for your resources or the actions you want to take, then your score will suffer. If you don't pay enough, you may not get to do what you want (because an opponent will beat you to it).

The only complaint I've heard which I feel is valid is that at times there is a big advantage to being the guy who goes first - which in itself isn't too big a problem because for most of the game you can make a play which allows you to go first next round. However, there is a phase of the game where players turn order is assigned randomly, and while the first person to get to play during that phase does have to pay more, sometimes the cost isn't as big a deal as the valuable first action, and there's really nothing you can do about that.

A complaint my friends and I have come up with on our own isn't something that's ruining the game (for me anyway), but it's something that might cut down on replay value... in the game there are 4 new craftsmen that become available each round, and they are predetermined, and are always the same each game. We'd like to see 6 new craftsmen per round, only 4 of which are used. This would not only allow for more variety of what comes out game to game, but would also add variety to the types of things you can do (strategically) by adding different ways to convert resources to points, or to money, or to other resources. The main thing that drives your strategy is the capabilities of your craftsmen, so more variety there would do the game some good. We even have some ideas for additional craftsmen abilities that could be used.

I wonder if auctioning off each Master Builder placement instead of randomly assigning it would help remove that bit of the game everyone complains about...

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