Wednesday, November 21, 2007

BGG.con report - Other people's games

Lost Adventures (Jeff Warrender and Steve Sisk)
I've mentioned that I like this game a lot. Steve sent me his fancified prototype - it's beautiful! It looks like a professionally produced game! The idea was for me to run a demo of it at BGG.con and then hand it off to Zev from Z-man to take home with him. Well, after nearly leaving it on the airplane in Las Vegas, the game made it safely to the convention, and at about 2pm on Saturday I did run a demo of it. I tried to do so in front of Zev's booth so he'd be able to look in on the game.

I ended up with 5 people wanting to play, and there's really no reason the game shouldn't work with 5, so we gave it a shot. I thought the game was dragging on a long time, so part way through I mentioned that we could stop at the temple phase, and was chastised heavily by the players! They wanted to see the whole thing through - some of them because they'd eschewed going for VPs in the map phase in order to prepare for the Temple, and some because they were just enjoying the game! All told, including the rules, the game took a little over 3 hours in the end. It felt longer to me, but the clock doesn't lie. That's pretty good for a 5 player game, all new players, in a convention atmosphere, and including the rules explanation!

The best news is that everyone had a really good time. Some of the players wanted to play it again right away (sadly, we never did due to time constraints). There were 2 episodes that were particularly exciting and noteworthy:

First, Jennifer dug up a relic, and used her free action to run to one of the cities it could be delivered in (lest it be stolen by John). She failed the challenge though, and was dragged all the way to Peking! This might have been a big enough deterrent to John, as he was across the board completely. But no, John spent his entire turn and every card in his hand to travel to Peking, pass the challenge there, fight for the relic (with 2 cards, Jennifer only had 1 left, so automatic win), use the free action to move to Bangkok, pass the challenge there, and finally deliver the relic. In that last challenge there was a 1 in 3 chance he would have failed, been dragged back to Peking, where Jennifer could have stolen the relic back and delivered it herself!

Later, on her very last turn of the game, Jennifer had 2 choices - she could reach either the grail room and then a Font, or she could reach John - who had already been to the grail room, and who had 2 checks in the True Grail category (potentially 50-50 info on the true grail) and then still reach the Font. Some players suggested she steal the artifact from John, since it was 50-50, and it would serve him right for stealing a relic from her... then someone pointed out that John never actually looked at the clue for the grail, meaning he only had a 1-in-6 chance of having the right one. The better odds were with the grail room (Jennifer knew exactly which grail was the right one). So going for VPs rather than retribution, and to stop the Nazis from finding the grail if nothing else, Jennifer moved to the grail room, grabbed the correct grail, then moved to a font and tested it, collecting 4vp. It wasn't enough to win, but it put her in 2nd or 3rd place, and it kept the world safe from Nazis.

As an "experience game" I think it's fair to say that Lost Adventures succeeds. Here's what some of
the players had to say about the game in their BGG.con reports:

Lynette Jagoda (Meerkat): Best gaming session. Proto-type play session for "Lost Adventures" and the total hilarity that sprang from one of the other players noting that rule that "reading" an artifact like a scroll took an extra action point, thus one could carry it around "not looking" at it was silly. "Oh I found this awesome scroll I have been looking for for weeks, but I don't think I'll read it just now". It is hard to convey the moment in words, but really we were in stiches, and we ended up in stitches again every time in the game a new artifact was found after this point.

John Lopez (Godeke): Lost Adventures (which I was pretty sure was in the database, but I'm not finding) is another prototype... but one *heck* of a prototype it is. The components are almost production quality. The secret information is hidden cleverly and the decoding of that information works as advertised. The game caused two fits of pretty long lasting hysterics. It isn't a traditional Eurogame and probably isn't all that balanced, but it feels like it would make an *excellent* family game that favors "experience" over "gameplay". It was a bit long with five players playing a four player game, but quite good. Recommended for family gaming, if it ever finds a publisher.

Homesteaders (Alex Rockwell)
I always enjoy this game, and the game of it played at BGG.con was no exception. Homesteaders is a heavier game, along the lines of Puerto Rico or Caylus in complexity. There are a bunch of different buildings, and you auction off the right to build one type or another, then you choose which building of that type you want to build. The buildings have a resource cost, and they have some income and or special abilities. There are 9 different resources to manage including cubes, cash, actions, and debt. Here are some comments from last weekends' players:

John Lopez: Another prototype, this combines Amun-Re's action track system with the Caylus bonus track and Puerto Rico's building purchases to make a very clever "victory point engine" game. Each part of the game flows smoothly until the end where the final points can be obtained. Here you may find yourself selling goods to the bank and rebuying them repeatedly to turn action tokens into victory points. It would seem that simply calling each unused action token a victory point would work, but you can actually make a profit in these transactions and thus obtain gold (which is also a victory point). A minor issue, but after the remainder of the game flowing so smoothly, it was jarring.

This may have been the first clue that I'm burned out of the more abstracted out victory point engine games: while enjoyable, I preferred Terra Prime for the "fun factor" during the game. This would probably have more replay value, but would also very easily allow an experienced player to run away with the game and never look back. Recommended for experienced VP engine builders.

Michael Cooper: Later Thursday evening, I wandered back into the secondary game room and was talked into playing Homesteaders. I'm not real good at evaluating auction games on first plays, as I usually have no idea what value to place on certain things, and it showed in my final score. I'd play this again once it was published, but I don't think I'd buy it.

Gil Hova: I wanted to try this game because I know that its designer is a huge Puerto Rico nut, and I wanted to see what kind of game he'd design if he had his druthers. This is a wonderful auction resource management game.

It's not the most original thing you'll ever play, as it plays like a direct cross between Puerto Rico and Amun-Re. And it's also overwhelming when you first play it, because the number of options available to you are quite large. But after your first game, you'll start to see its depth and charm.

The game isn't without its rough edges. Most notably, the last round seems a little fiddly, as you can convert some resources back and forth an awful lot of times, and it seems more of an exercise in point optimization than a game. But that's nothing that can't be tightened up.

Salvage (Dan Manfredini)
I played a quick (30 minute) game by Dan Manfredini (GameBot) called Salvage, which involved buying various tiles, and paying with resource cards obtained via card drafting, like MtG booster drafting or like Notre Dame or Fairy Tale. To me there didn't seem to be a lot to it. Then again, it's a 30 minute filler-type game. I'm not a big fan of that type of game usually, so I'm not too surprised it wasn't my thing. It certainly worked though, there were 4 types of tiles you could buy, and they each had their costs and effects. In discussing it afterward I started seeing some stuff I'd think about if I were to play it again.

Suitcases (some guy)
Mike Nickoloff had a prototype by someone I don't know called Suitcases. He was looking for any kind of feedback on the game. It was a Take That! style 2 player card game where you play suitcases of various size in front of you, and pack items into them. The items are worth positive or negative points and also have a 'size' number. Any case that isn't entirely full (it's capacity not filled by the size of the items in it) is considered "rattling" and if you pack it away you lose all of the contents (no score for that one). There are also "Magic suitcases" which flip the sign on everything inside them. SO you can play these Magic suitcases on your opponent when they have a big score coming, or you can put negative stuff in their cases, or positive stuff in your case.

It really wasn't very good. We tried pretty hard to find any redeeming qualities at all. I actually liked the concept of the sizes and fitting things into the cases, but past that there was nothing really good to be said about the game as far as I could tell. On the plane coming home I thought abut what I might do differently if I tried to make a game about that, and I came up with a much more Euro-style game which might actually be alright. The theme of "packing bags for a trip" isn't amazing though.

Prolix (Gil Hova)
I first played Prolix at the Spielbany thing in New York, and I was excited to play it again at BGG.con. I enjoy this word game very much - I like word games in general, and this one has some nice tactical gamery involved, as well as flexibility for using whatever word comes to mind. In Prolix there are some letters on the board, and you can use whatever word you want, and you score for the letters you use that are on the board. So the more you use the better. The letters have a point value depending on which column they are in on the board, and some of the more rare letters also have a bonus point or two on them. I commented during the game that I was averaging 13 points per word, and another player said their largest score was about that, so I guess I was doing well :) I interrupted maybe 1 time too many, and actually had to reduce my score a bit because of it. The interrupt system is very cool, if you see a word on another player's turn, you're allowed to interrupt them and take it. Each time you do that after the first, you get 1 fewer points than the last time (-1, -2, -3...) so after a while it had batter be a really good word if you're going to come out ahead. you only get to count 5 words, and you MUST count your interrupts first.

Prolix is excellent and I hope it gets published ASAP so I can get my own copy!

Wag the Wolf (Gil Hova)
Gil showed me Wag the Wolf when I was in New York, and gave me the rundown on it. I didn't have time to play, but I was interested to hear about it. The basic idea is that you auction for media outlets, you run money through the outlets to get Media Points, and you "cry wolf" with the outlets to get income - which means you 'turn them off' so you can't use them for media points anymore, and instead you get some money and VPs. For his birthday, Gil's friend coded an online implementation of the game which is quite good, and I've been playing Wag the Wolf online for a little while now. At first I thought it was pretty 1 directional, but the more I played it the more I found to like. This isn't the best game ever by any means, but I'm very much enjoying playing it online. There's not much that is wrong with the game, just that some people will want more variety in strategic options. I was happy to play this in real life at the convention.

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