Sunday, October 19, 2008

New-to-me games

Admittedly, I play a fair number of new new games; I also enjoy playing new-to-me games. They are both fun for different reasons, much like other forms of art and design- seeing the classics and experiencing the newest results of cutting-edge development.

Here's some mini-reviews of new and new-to-me games that happened across my table in the last month or so.

Breakthu (BGG, OOP PLAY TAFL) is an old 3M (yes, the tape company) bookshelf game in the Tafl family of games. Hneftafl is the classic big daddy of uneven forces and having the king escape. If you've ever played the classic English game Fox & Geese (Tiger and Goats, Fox and Hounds...), you'll recognize the play. Breakthru is lightly themed with a naval battle, and admittedly the pieces are a nice, satisfying metal in gold and silver. The gold fleet wants its commander to escape to any edge of the board; the silver fleet wants to prevent this from happening and capture the commander. Tafl games are always uneven, with a larger force surrounding a smaller force. As much as I love abstract strategy, I nearly always lose tafl games.

Euchre (BGG, WP) is a traditional trick-taking partnership card game usually played in the Midwest. At one recent game night, we had two Midwesterners teach us. I've only played one game, but it seems to be part Spades, part Pitch, part Sheepshead, and part Briscola. Ultimately, I felt it is a bit lacking when compared to Bridge, Sheepshead, and Njet (thinking of a few partnership games). Perhaps one day I will create a family tree of trick-taking games so we have a better grammar to use. I'd play Euchre again, though.

Formula Dé Mini (BGG, BUY ME!) is the little brother of Formula De and the soon-to-be-released in English Formula D. The fundamental schtick of this racing game is the utilization of differently-sized dice for different gears, and therefore the speed of the car- first gear is a d4 with only 1 and 2, second is a d6 with 2 through 4, then d8, d10, and finally a purple d20 with 11 through 20. Yes, they are nonstandard polyhedral dice with weird numbering. The next schtick is that players' cars have life points; more extreme maneuvers (taking corners too fast, bumping other cars, braking too hard) will cost you life and eventually explode your car. This leaves you out of the race. Evidently the bigger games have more details and easily a few tens of different racetracks to use. I liked it, but I didn't love it.

I actually played Glory to Rome (BGG, BUY ME!) in Murfreesboro during Gustav with Paul and two strangers. It's a medium-light and medium-silly building game set in ancient Rome (big shocker, there.) The game warmed on me during play, but it felt similar to Race for the Galaxy, in the sense that cards can represent people or buildings or resources or points. It oddly also felt a little like Texas Hold 'em in the sense that the game makes use of a central pool of cards, but the cards move around and change ownership quite a bit more than in poker. I'm not adverse to playing it again, and Paul really liked it.

Hanging Gardens (BGG, BUY ME!) hits a sweet spot for me with tile games. There's a hint of city-building like Alhambra or Carcassonne, and a fun hidden collection akin Coloretto. It got a nod in this year's Spiel Des Jahres, and I approve.

Kunst Stücke (BGG, OOP) is a game that I just quite don't know how it sits in my liver. It's an odd duck, this one. Players have oddly-shaped colored pentomino tiles (sort of like Blokus, but somehow seemingly more random) that they play onto the grid play area. During the course of the game, you secretly choose tiles that indicate your scoring conditions: getting exactly x number of red tiles touching, or exactly y number of green tiles touching. You can also spend some of your chips to slide pieces around the field, with some thin theme about artists disagreeing about the most artistic choice of art... We've played this twice now, and it's somehow not clicking. Maybe I'll ask someone to teach it to me at BGG.Con so I can see what I'm missing.

Metropolis (BGG, OOP) is a Sid Sackson building negotiation game that I had high hopes for. I think I need another re-read of the rules and a few more plays before I have my final opinion, but as of right now, I think I'm the Boss is the better (and also in print) choice.

Moods (BGG, OOP) is an acting and performance sort of party game. The basic idea is that the board has slots for ten cards of moods: perky, zany, snobbish, threatening, amazed, flirty, etc. You've got a second deck of cards with amusing, brief sentences. You roll a die secretly, then read your sentence in the chosen mood. The other players take one of their voting chips to try and guess what mood you're performing. People get points, amusement and merriment is had by all. The clever thing is that voting chips come in different denominations and therefore points. So you've got a bit of choice in how you vote when compared to your conviction. I suspect this will get more action in the future.

Set Cubed (BGG, BUY ME!) is like Set on a Scrabble board, and that's pretty much all you need to know. I think it fell flat, but Jodi and Jenae found the lack of pressure to be somewhat of a relief when compared with regular Set. There's an article on the 'Geek that has some suggestions for improving play; I want to take a closer look.

Sticheln (BGG, BUY ME!) is a very weird trick-taking game that reminds me of Briscola and somehow Was Stich- I think there's somehow a "German" sense of trick-taking that doesn't translate well into our minds. The trick (ha ha) of this one is that you never need follow suit. Every color besides the led suit is trump. Yes, that's right- you don't need to follow suit and every other color is considered trumps. Finally, you have a public suit (your "pain" suit, or "misery") that you do not want to take. Your pain suit gives you negative face value points; every other card is worth plus one point. Points are good; you want points. I want to like it, but it's not clicking yet.

Solobridge (BGG, OOP) is Bridge for one person. It's fascinating to see how designers attempted to program a Bridge game in the bad old days before personal computers were pervasive, cheap, and powerful. I got it for two bucks, and hopefully some of the lessons are still valuable bridge lessons. Time will tell.

Tannhauser (BGG, BUY ME!) is a fun, tactical skirmish game that's got a lot of pulp atmosphere and a super clever line-of-sight mechanic involving colored circles. There's a lot of downloadable content to expand the game, which I've not really scratched the surface. I'd like to play more- trading spices in the ancient Mediterranean and negotiating the rise of your civilization is all fine and good, but sometimes you just want to kick some alternate-timeline Nazi ass.

Bennett picked up Vikings (BGG, BUY ME!) and we've gotten it to the table a few times- it's a neat little package of a tile-laying game; fun, but not spectacular. I'd call it a good appetizer.

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