Wednesday, June 06, 2007

New-to-me games this week

In an effort to post my game session reports in a more timely fashion, here are the new-to-me games I've played this week, ranked by number of games played.

I don't own Flaschenteufel (Three plays, BGG, BUY ME!) yet. I will. This is a great trick-taking game that's right up my alley. You get forty cards (a deck of 37 with three cheat sheets), a cool wooden bottle for the Imp, rules, and the short story by Robert Louis Stevenson in English and German.

Read the story, it's actually pretty good. If you don't want to, check out the Wikipedia for a plot outline. If you don't want that either (and I thank you for remaining on my blog), here's the story in a nutshell: You buy a bottle containing an Imp. As long as you have it, he'll grant your every wish. Catch the first: If you die before you sell it, off to Hell you go. Catch the second: You can only sell it for less than you paid for it, in cash. How much would you pay for such a bottle? More importantly, how much could you sell it for?

Now, the story falls into place when you play a trick-taking game where trumps get progressively smaller and scarcer. You're basically "buying" the Imp for trumps. The catch is, of course, if you still have the Imp at the end of the game, you get negative points.

The game is really quite elegant and totally up my alley. It's very high on my must-pick-up list. It would be higher if I didn't know someone who owned it already. Strong buy reco if you like trick-taking games.

As for a pure negotiation game, I'm the Boss (Three plays, BGG, BUY ME!) takes the cake so far. Sure, there's a board and cards, but these exist to support all of the simultaneous negotiation that takes place between players- the board hows the deals available, how much money they could be worth, and which investors need to sign on to make the deal go through. The cards are ammunition and defense: stealing investors, ways to muscle in on a deal, ways to kick investors out of a deal by sending them on trips, a whole gaggle of cousins and nephews and siblings to take over a deal for cheaper. And it's all about the money.

If you like backstabbing, dealing, pleading, bargaining, and any sort of mean-but-fun negotiation, this game should be right up your alley. This is a dandy game by Sid Sackson that is thankfully back in print and in English. I suspect that I'm going to enjoy this one for a good long while. Strong buy reco if you like multiplayer negotiation games.

I also got to play Friedemann Friese's newest offering, Fiji (One play, BGG, BUY ME!). Unsurprisingly, it's a green game that starts with the letter F in German and English. It's sort of an auction game, but it reminded me a little of Santy Anno with its resolution and dependencies on other players. Thematically, players are offering fake beads (or real jewels) to the natives; in exchange, they get shrunken heads and therefore points.

Each player offers one to four beads in four different colors and cards show what happens based on the offerings. So, if you have the most red (say), you get one blue. Or the player with the least yellow and green, everyone else gives one green to the pot. And so forth. At the end of four rounds of bidding and taking, points are awarded (based on most of or least of), then the cards are shuffled, and you play three total rounds of awarding points.

The game is fast, and with much of the result depending on player's choices, it feels really chaotic- but there's a fun amount of mind-reading and second-guessing, too. "If I want the most reds, then I could put out four, but someone else will do so as well, and if we both put out four, then ties are discarded and the points go to second place, so I want to aim for second place, but..." In case of ties, all tied players are out. So if we're seeing who has the most blue, say, and I have four and you have four and Fred has two, the Fred wins because you and I tie and are therefore out. Medium play reco, stronger if you like chaotic games.

I finally arranged to have Keythedral (One play, BGG, BUY ME!) hit the table. I'm often reluctant to open an unfamiliar game out at the coffeehouse, just in case something gets lost or spilled in the not brightly-lit space. As a result, some games simply don't make it out of their shrink soon enough. I also need to get into the habit of reading instructions before play. Even so, I'm super glad that I finally got to play this one.

How to describe Keythedral? It's very definitely a Eurogame: move things, collect other things, take actions, trade thing one for some value of points, trade thing two for some different value of points. But the art and design is very nice- a hand-drawn almost watercolor effect, somehow charming without being cutesy.

The game board itself is made up of octagonal resource/field tiles with player's square cottages/houses at the holes. Imagine Settlers of Catan with a players choosing the board layout, and you're on the right track. Each turn, players rotate choosing a cottage to activate, and every cottage with that number sends out one worker- if your adjacent fields are already full or an opponent has placed a fence, then the worker sleeps in and you get no resources. In our game, it felt a pretty tight setup, and there was a great trade-off between choosing the right cottage to activate so you would get first pick before the others. Once everyone's deployed all the workers, then you get your resources (wood, stone, wine, water, and food) and players take turns again taking actions. Actions are usually trading resources for resources or crafts (stained glass, gold, ironwork), buying law cards, putting up or tearing down fences, upgrading cottages to houses, or actually throwing resources at the Keythedral to build its seats and therefore earn victory points.

We played the shorter game with three, just to get our feet wet. Everyone (including our two cohorts who watched the game since they showed up late and we'd change venues for more gaming once it was over) enjoyed it and said they would happily play it again. Definitely a good buy, and I haven't played with the expansion nor any of Richard Breese's other Key games: Keytown, Keydom, etc. Strong play rcco, moving along to a buy reco.

When I played Kremlin (One play, BGG, BUY ME!), I wasn't sure what to expect. I saw a mid-80s Avalon Hill box, which almost always means lots of chits. But the guys who owned the game said it was a fun political satire game of influence, where you get to speak in funny Russian accents. They also said it wouldn't take very long.

To win, your faction needs to control a party chief who is not too sick to wave in the October parade each year. You've got ten years to do this, and you need to wave successfully three times to win. There's a very interesting method of secret influence on the various politicians (each with names like Andrej Purgemoff and Juri Nikotin and Nikolai Shootemdedsky. Cold War humor, remember?), and the basic mechanic for using politicians to take any action due their office is stress points; the more stress, the higher their age, and the easier they sicken and die. Your influence is secret: I say I've got 1 influence on so-and-so, and take an action if nobody objects. The next turn, I go to take an action, and you say, "Well, I've got 2 influence on them, so I'll do it this way instead" and so forth. There was a definite undercurrent of knowing when to reveal and when to bluff that needed more attention.

Sadly, when playing with six (mostly newcomers), the game dragged for far too long. There's a ton of housekeeping and chit movement, and a very Avalon Hill-ish phase order printed on the board. I found myself longing for a remake of the game, one with much tighter and faster gameplay. It took us three hours for three turns, and we did not finish- the person in the lead had one point. There's definitely some good ideas here, but I can't help believing the game has aged badly. Strong avoid reco, but pick it up to steal ideas from.

Keeping in with the Russian theme, I also played Message to the Czar (One play, BGG, BUY ME!), a lighter game of positioning couriers across various inns. I picked this one up as part of a trade, and it simply had never made it to the table- the rules are super simple, though. Of course, when I got back to hit the BGG entry, I discovered that there are some radical rules changes that happened in the second printing. I still want to try the game with the newness, so I'm going to reserve judgment at this time.

Other games played this week include:

  • Jungle Speed (BGG, BUY ME!), still super awesome, thought my reflexes are slowing in my old age
  • Ca$h'n Gun$ (BGG, BUY ME IN ENGLISH! BUY ME WITH BLACK GUNS!), a great game to introduce to non-gamers at a party, plus the new English edition (besides rules in English) has bright orange guns for safety
  • Wiz-War (BGG, PRE-ORDER!), continually popular- I haven't played this much Wiz-War since high school
  • Bohnanza (BGG, BUY ME!), surprisingly unknown to some people- it's a good gateway game or filler, plus it plays up to seven
  • Carrousel (BGG, IMPORT), still excellent for the right visual-puzzle crowd- I suspect I will happily play this game for years to come
  • Cineplexity (BGG, BUY ME!), a marvelous party game with people who like movies, plus you can play it in the car
  • For Sale (BGG, BUY ME!), recently requested by some transplants from Florida- very interesting to see a different groupthink
  • King Me! (BGG, BUY ME!), speaking of groupthink and mind-reading
  • Letter Head (BGG, BUY ME!), looking to get more play of this- the book comes with more than a dozen different games to play with the deck
  • Sheepshead (BGG, USE A DECK OF CARDS), slowly introducing this to more and more players with help of the cheatsheet on BGG

Also, one night's session recap is briefly over at the Austin Stink blog.

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