Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Recent Gaming: New-to-me games

Two weeks ago I went to OrcCon in Los Angeles. I posted an account of the weekend's gaming on BGG. I played a lot of games and had a great time at the convention.

In addition to all the great games I played at OrcCon, I've played a number of games this month that are new to me - games I've played for the first time. Here are the new games and my first impressions of them:

Confucious: After hearing a lot about this game in the BGDF chat room I was eager to give it a shot. There were posts on BGG comparing it to something by Martin Wallace (which could be good or bad). Finally I got a chance to play, and stumbling through the rules wasn't the most rewarding experience ever. The person teaching it had only played once, and a large, very influential aspect of the game (the Emperor cards) was sort of glossed over (which ended up screwing me in the game). I didn't like it too much after playing, but that might have been frustration. I discussed the game a bit with JC in the chat room and then wanted to play it again (which I have not done). I remember thinking that the Gift mechanic was a neat idea, but I don't think it was executed as well as it could have been. You give gifts in the game in order to ingratiate yourself to your opponents, and that makes the indebted to you in certain respects. I remember thinking that for one thing, having gifts in front of you at the end of the game should be worth points - otherwise once someone gives you a gift you mostly just want to get rid of it as soon as possible. There was more to it than that, but I don't recall at the moment.

Heart of Africa: I may have mentioned that Ryan and Anita, after they started coming over to my house to play games, went to Game Daze and picked up Heart of Africa on sale. They could not figure out how to play from the rulebook, so they asked me to try and figure it out. I finally got a chance to try it, and let me tell you - they weren't kidding about the rulebook! Phalanx Games appears to have a reputation for terrible rulebooks, and it baffles me because they publish games with good production quality, go go through the effort and spend the money, how can they possibly put a game on the shelf that you literally cannot play as written? It took logical reasoning and research on BGG to figure out how to play because the rulebook was incomplete and in fact confused symbols which really made it tough. The game was just OK, I'd like to play it again, but probably not a whole lot of times. It does have some neat ideas in it.

Sutter's Mill: Also by Phalanx, I might have done well to steer clear based on the quality of the Heart of Africa. It turns out the rules for this one left out the entire description of one of the cards in the game (the Adventurer card). Fortunately it's fairly obvious what the purpose of the card is, and there's a thread on BGG about it. Sutter's Mill is about the gold rush. Players build up a town, mine for gold, and when the gold vein dries up it's time to tear down and get out. When the gold runs out, you lose points for stuff you have left in town (prospectors and influence cards). It's a clever idea, but I don't know how deep the game is or how many times I'll want to play it before I get bored of it.

Hamburgum: When Antike came out I remember playing it at BGG.con and liking it so much I looked into getting a copy, and when I couldn't find one I ended up making my own copy. A year later when Imperial came out I played that one at BGG.con as well. I was not nearly as impressed with that one, probably because I don't like stock manipulation, and I also don't like war themed games. When a new Rondel game came out with an economic theme, I was really interested in trying it out. Unfortunately, word on the street was that Hamburgum was underwhelming. I finally got a chance to play it, and I really like the game! I don't know why it's gotten a bad rap. In Hamburgum you get points for contributing building materials to build 6 different churches, and to bu the materials you need to produce and sell Sugar, Cloth, and Beer. In addition to the church donations, you can also spend the resources on buildings which have some effect. The scoring is done by tiles which you get when you donate, and they award points based on your position in the game - how many Sugar buildings you have, or how many buildings you've built in a particular district. The order of actions on the Rondel plays a big role in differentiating the goods which otherwise seem similar to each other - and the buildings you end up buying further differentiate the values of the goods between the players. I find the game interesting and hope to get some more plays in soon. I've heard that after a couple of games I'll find it boring, but until then I think I'll enjoy it.

Hacienda: I remember some friends playing this one a while back, but I never did. I also remember thinking the game didn't look like anything special. A friend picked up Hacienda at Bookman's, and I got a chance to play it last weekend. To tell you the truth, I wasn't particularly taken with it. Each turn you get 3 actions where actions are buy a card (animal or land), play a card to place an animal/land tile on the board, or buy a Hacienda or Water tile. When the deck of animal cards is 1/2 exhausted then you score some points, and when it's fully exhausted you score again. Seems like you'd just want a large mass of land tiles, with just a few animal tiles here and there just to touch the Market spaces on the board, as the big points come from (a) touching lots of markets, and (b) having a big chain of land tiles. Income never seemed to be any kind of problem. It felt a bit boring, almost as if maybe we had a rule wrong or something.

Horus: I got Horus in a local trade and tried it out. It's a tile placement game in which you place tiles to make groups, and then place ownership markers on the groups - most ownership markers scores for the group. I didn't like this game either. There's a game called Micropul which is similar only way better - you can find it on BGG and print a copy if you're into that kind of thing.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Winds of ... change?

I've been letting ideas for Winds of Fate stew since I talked to Jeff and company after their playtest. One of the main things they commented on (and it's something I'd seen myself as well) was that there didn't seem to be enough player differentiation. If everyone wants pretty much the same thing, then the bets are pretty similar, and the game isn't very exciting. So here's the current idea to address this:

Instead of 2 decks of cards (Help/Hinder) - or one deck of Help/Hinder cards - imagine a deck of cards which is comprised of say 5 different suits. Each suit would be associated with a different Greek god. One suit would be Athena, and she would always add to the Help total of an Adventure. One suit would be Poseidon, and he would always add to the Hinder total. The other three suits would be different Greek gods, and each one would add to the Help total in some Adventures and either add to the Hinder total or not at all in other Adventures.

In addition to this, each location (or else each Encounter tile) would be associated with one of these gods. The cards matching the god in the location would be the ones that add to the Help total of that Adventure. Also, particular cardplay in each Adventure would earn a player a token of the god at the location, and these tokens could be used to offer rewards.

I will be thinking more along these lines to see if I can't improve the game and make it feel more exciting.

In addition, to differentiate the betting, I'm considering making bet chips location specific. So far I'm thinking they would be drawn randomly from a bag, and each one would be associated with one of the locations. When placing a bet, you would really be saying "I think that Odysseus will reach THIS location on THIS round" - not just when the game will end. Each player would start with one bet chip associated with the Game End, so you would still be able to bet on that as well, but any Bet Chips obtained during the game would be drawn randomly from the bag.

I'm thinking that it might be neat if a player chooses to use an early, not-too-lucrative bet in order to collect some bet chips to use in later bets, rather than try and fight for them.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Homesteaders update?

I contacted Jay Tummelson 3 or 4 weeks ago to follow up on Homesteaders. The last I'd heard about it was last summer when Dale and Valerie told me they'd sent Jay the game and "recommended" it. His reply was that he's been busy with Dominion and that he hasn't had a chance to look at Homesteaders - and that perhaps next month there would be more time.

As such, it appears nothing is happening on that front. When I get back from OrcCon I should contact Jay to follow up again.

OrcCon imminent, and Winds of Fate thoughts

This weekend is the first Strategicon event of 2009, OrcCon, in Los Angeles. I enjoy the Strategicon events because they are close, and therefore cheap, I have friends in L.A., and these conventions have a lot of tournaments - it's a good opportunity to do some competitive gaming and if I perform well I even get to walk home with some prizes :)

For the last couple of years I've gone by myself, but this time my friend Mikey is coming with me. This should be fun - I've been trying to get my friends to come to these conventions with me ever since I started going several years ago, but Mikey's got a wife and 2 kids now, so I guess it's not as easy for him to get away. Usually the cons conflict with swordfighting events for SCA or ECS, which Mikey used to do, and which Tyler and Jake always go to.

In addition, some new friends I've recently begun hanging out with - Elisa and Jeff - will be going as well. It should be fun to go to a convention with friends for once.

In other news, I've been putting together another prototype of Odysseus: Winds of Fate - my original is still in New York. So far I haven't made any adjustments based on the feedback I got from Jeff Warrender and Gil Hova and they're playtest last month at Spielbany, but I've been giving it some thought and I have some ideas... I'd like to try it again as-is with those ideas in mind and then see about implementing some of them. My next post on the subject should shed some light on details of these changes. I'd also like to talk to Nando about them and see what he thinks.