Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Details of games played at GameStorm

Before the convention I played a game of Culdcept Saga on the X-box with Jeremy. We had some fun with Culdcept on Playstation a few years ago, so it was nice to reminisce and play the game again. Culdcept is a board game, like a cross between Monopoly and Magic: the Gathering. You roll dice and move forward, but instead of buying properties you play cards with creatures on them to control the space. When landing on an opponent's space, you can pay the "toll" (rent), or you can fight their creature with your own, potentially gaining control of the space. Before rolling the dice, you draw a card and you're allowed to cast a spell (play a card) as well. You can build a deck out of all your cards, much like you can in Magic. It's pretty fun, and sometimes I wonder if it'd be possible to make a board game version - since it is really a board game being played on the console.

Jeremy's game which he invented when he was in Tucson last holiday season. It's a card driven miniatures game with a hex board. Two players face off with 4 characters each. The cards in the game are used for any of 3 possible things - each has an attack and defense value for use in combat, a Special attack/defense/effect that can be played before or instead of combat, and a movement value which indicates both speed (how far you move) and initiative (turn order for the following round). His thoughts were that many games have dual uses for cards, but he couldn't think of any that had 3 uses. Also, one piece of information on the cards (the Move value) is printed on the back of the card, and so is public information which your opponent can use. Honestly, I didn't think i was going to enjoy the game very much, as that kind of thing isn't really my favorite type of game. However I found when playing it that I actually enjoyed it more than I thought I would. It was pretty fun, and in some respects very clever.

Catch of the Day
This prototype by Francois was very different from other games I've played. It's about a group of friends camping, telling tall tales of the fish they caught or the birds/animals/flora they saw. the point of the game isn't so much to actually get the biggest catch of the day, but to claim that you did without anyone being able to refute it. Each player has 12 Time tiles, one for each hour between 7am and 6pm. On a private dry erase board, each player plans their travel for the day - which area on the 4x4 board they plan to spend each hour. Areas on the board have numbered tokens on them in 4 types: Bird/Animal/Flower/Fish. You can stay in the same place hour after hour, or you can move to an adjacent location. After everyone's day is planned out, starting at the Cabin and ending at the Campsite (or vice versa) one player begins to 'tell his story' about his day. Starting at whatever time slot he likes, the 1st player places their tile for that hour on the board and indicates what type of token (bird/animal/fish/flower) they claim to have seen/caught. if noone interrupts them, they take the next sequential hour tile and place that on the board, etc. until they come to 6pm or a time which they've already played, at which time the turn passes to the next player.

Players can interrupt other players in one of 3 different ways. Irrespective of which way the story is interrupted, the interrupting player becomes the active player and can continue to tell his own story. The three ways to interrupt a story are:
1) Spy. From a diagonally adjacent space only, a player can spy on another player. By placing their tile for the same hour as the active player, they can refute the active player's claim, canceling the active player's action and taking over the turn.
2) Pre-empt. By placing an earlier time tile in that same location, a player can assert that "they were there first," thereby taking the token which the active player was claiming for them self.
3) Co-exist. By placing the same time tile in the same area, a player can assert that "they were there too." If 2 or more players were in the same location at the same time, they can negotiate as to who saw what (who gets which tokens). If they cannot agree on who gets a particular tile, then neither one gets it.

The order you play your tiles in is very important for collecting tokens, which count as score. In addition, the largest valued 'catch' for each type each day scores a bonus. You can only keep 8 total catches, so get foiled or spy too often and your score will suffer.

I liked this game a lot. The testers in the game all agreed that the timing rules should be more explicit, and that there could be a way to tie the three days of the game together (long term strategy). But with a few tweaks I think the game is certainly playable and maybe publishable. the fact that it's so different, and that it encourages and rewards storytelling without having to rely on subjective role playing types of rewards is refreshing.

Wabash Cannonball
Wabash Cannonball is a much quicker and more straightforward game than I imagined it would be. I liked the action selection mechanism, but I didn't love the game. At it's core, WC is a stock game, where you invest in the 4 different stocks, and then you try to increase the value of what you invested in. The way you invest is via auction. The way you increase value is by building track. One cool bit is that track is built by the rail company, out of money that was paid by players for stock, not by players themselves.

Some of the things that annoyed me about the game weren't really game issues at all, but production issues. I play a lot of prototypes, and I have no problem playing a game on laminated cardstock with little wooden cubes and cardstock side boards. But when playing a published game, I prefer something nicer looking than a prototype. I wouldn't be interested in paying money for a game that looks like I scrounged it together from what I had at home. In addition to the physical quality, there are player aids packed with information, much of which could easily have been represented better. One type of space on the board shows cost/income bump without development/income bump after development. Another type of space just shows cost, and in the player aid it says that type of space increases income by 1 when built onto, and by 2 when developed. Why would they not simply print that the same way? Why do they even need a player aid?

But that's all cosmetic. The game was somewhat interesting, and I'd play it again, but as I said, I didn't love it. Much of the board felt fairly unnecessary, and it felt a lot like a race toward Chicago, with stocks. Maybe that's just not my thing. I know some people who really like this game and are not fans of economic engine games. I'm the other way around - I prefer economic engines to stock auctions.

Race for the Galaxy
My feeling about Race for the Galaxy is that it's really good 2-player, and it's not that great with 3 or 4. I know some of my friends disagree, some like it better multiplayer, and others don't like it at all. To me, RftG is like Magic. 2 player is a good contest, and you have the right amount of control over what goes on, you can play off your opponent, etc. With more players and just 1 action per turn the game is not as much fun for me, it takes longer, and it seems more chaotic. I wouldn't turn down a game of Race with 3 or 4 players, but I'd much prefer to play 2 player.

Lost Adventures
I've discussed Lost Adventures before - the Indiana Jones game by Jeff Warrender and Steve Sisk. I continue to like the game, and wish I could play it more often. After this weekends playtest I exchanged some emails with the designers. Jeff sent me the latest rulebook, and I noticed the following in the back. It made me feel warm and fuzzy :)
"The designers wish to especially acknowledge the helpful and enthusiastic assistance of Seth Jaffee. Seth has been kind enough to play the game extensively and provide valuable input that has considerably improved the game."

Stone Age
I've been referring to this as "Agricola Light... VERY Light." It's thematically similar, you have a family of tokens which you place to the board to get resources and to do things (in this case buy buildings and cards). Then you have to feed them with food. there's a big penalty if you can't afford to feed people, just like in Agricola. The thing that makes this so much lighter than Agricola is (a) you don't have 14 different things to manage, and (b) the amount of resources you get is somewhat random and determined by rolling dice. You send a number of workers to the Forest, and they come back with some wood. To find out how much, you roll 1d6 per worker and divide the total by 3, rounding down. For clay, divide by 4, stone: divide by 5, gold: divide by 6. So you can send more people to increase our chances, but you can't really guarantee anything. One thing you can do to help get more resources is to get tools, which can be used to increase the die values.

The overwhelming thing that I noticed in Stone Age was that the turn order seemed really significant. New cards and buildings come up each round to replace those bought, and if you're first to go then you get first crack at the cheap or good cards/buildings. In particular there are 2 buildings for which you can use between 1 and 7 resources in any combination, and you get points based on the resources used. These buildings are strictly better than any other building int he game, and in our game they both came up very late in the game when people had resources stocked and enough people and tools to get a lot of resources at a time. So while most buildings are worth 12 or 14 points, these buildings could easily score upwards of 35 points, to a maximum of 42 points if you happen to have stored up a lot of Gold. In our game, one player had stocked up on gold, but the building came up the turn after he was first to play, and of course the new first player chose to build it. She didn't get the 40 points the other guy would have, but she got a decent score and denied him a big score. In the following round the other building like that appeared, and I was first to play. I had very little int he way of resources, but of course I placed on it anyway. then I placed the maximum amount of guys in the Stone-getting space, to get as much Stone as possible. I spent all that stone (7 total) on the building for 35 points. if those building come up late, it's a huge boon for whoever is first player. the cards are similar, but not as bad - no single card seems to be worth tons more than any other.

This turn order effect is a big turn off, but it might not kill the game for me altogether. If nothing else, one could simply remove those 2 buildings, or cap then at 4 resources instead of 7, which would put them at best just a little better than other buildings.

I've always liked Homesteaders, which may explain why I'm such a sheer leader for it. I wanted to make a copy, so I actually designed tiles with all the info for each building because Alex's original prototype had cards in sleeves for each building and it took up way too much space. I don't play the game very often, but I would never turn it down, I just have trouble finding people to play prototypes with me.

Homesteaders is like a cross between Vegas Showdown and Caylus, 2 of the designer's favorite games. Each round (of which there are 10) there is first an auction phase, and then a building phase. At the beginning of each round income is collected from all of your buildings - some buildings automatically generate money or cube income, others need workers present. Then auctions are held for the right to build a certain type of building - there are Residential, Commercial, Industrial and "Special" buildings. There's 1 fewer auction than number of players, so at least 1 player will not win an auction - there's a passing track which is a sort of consolation prize for players who pass rather than win an auction. the rewards for that increase each time you pass, much like the Favor tracks in Caylus.

After the auctions are over, they are resolved - players winning auctions are able to build their choice of buildings in the appropriate type from those available. Buildings cost cubes, and each has some combination of income, effect, and point value. Players can also utilize the market to buy or sell cubes and hire workers. After 10 rounds there is 1 final income phase, and all players get a final chance to use the market and pay off their debt, and then final scores are tallied.

Homesteaders is a very solid, deep, good game. It's the kind of deeper game I'd like to design one day. It's very well balanced and definitely worth being published. I'm excited that Jay is checking it out, and I hope to hear that he wants to publish it! I guess I'll find that out in a couple of weeks.

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