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.


Joe Gola said...

Regarding Confucius, it's true that you don't want gifts in front of you, but on the other hand you might not want to get rid of them "as soon as possible" because there's a lot of other stuff that needs to get done as well. I think they add tension to the game, even if it can all be a bit confusing at times.

I was more put off by the unbalanced emperor favors, as have a lot of other people. I've read suggestions that these be face-up, or drafted, or what have you, but I think I would prefer it if they were all identical, with multiple possible uses. "Utility chips," you might call them.

Isamoor said...

Wow, that seems rather underwhelming. Of the listed games I've played, I've found them all pretty underwhelming too. Hamburgum was okay my first time, but I haven't drug it back out yet. Machu Pichu at least sounds a little more interesting.

Home you play some good ones :)

Tim Harrison said...

You haven't played Hacienda until you've played online at SpielByWeb.com, with its hundreds of custom maps. It's also far more enjoyable not having to worry about restocking the card supplies and counting money.

There is FAR more strategy to Hacienda than first appears. With over 300 games under my belt, I'm still discovering new strategies, and I'm among the best players there!

Anonymous said...

Here comes someone else saying that I actively disliked Hacienda until I found the SBW implementation - which radically transforms it. A rare (but beautiful) example of how an electronic version can be better than the original.

As for Confucious, it's hard for me to be objective since I play-tested it a fair amount! And I don't agree that the Favor cards are particularly unbalanced (one is quite weak I admit) - it's got a lot to do both with when you get them and when you use them; as with the gifts, it's the threat of the card that is sometimes stronger than actually using it. As someone said on BGG, this is the best Martin Wallace game ever. What I think makes the game great is, unfortunately, not necessarily obvious on your first play. And that can be a problem these days.

-- Scurra