Mark Johnson's occasional & opinionated podcast about family strategy boardgames

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Some Essen titles (Yspahan, On the Underground, Elephant in a Porcelain Shop, and Null & Nichtig)

As of this writing, I've actually recorded two podcasts. One of them had to be scrapped for audio quality reasons, and I'm in the process of redoing it. That one is with a special guest, so I really hope I can get it redone sooner rather than later. The other is a more routine solo show, no technical problems, just needs a little more work (editing, test-listen). It's my retrospective on 2006, and a look forward to 2007. So, hopefully you'll be hearing me before long.

In the meantime, I can share a little bit of opinion here on the blog about some Essen titles. Unless you go to Essen or BGG.con, the lag from that huge event to a local game table can take this long. It's starting to happen for us, though. Greg & Ryan, who have both been on this podcast, tried Mr. Jack a few times last month. The whole group tried Marvel Heroes when I wasn't around. So I can't comment on those, other than to imagine that the Marvel game is too long for my finicky tastes.

When I finally made it back to game night, however, we played Yspahan. It was an immediate hit, and we played back-to-back games. (I don't know how many other groups do this, but we talk about back-to-back games a lot more than we actually do them.) And it leads to a confession of mine. I missed Ys, thought Mykerinos and Caylus were good (not great), and felt a rising contrarian emotion regarding Ystari. A little like the reaction to Days of Wonder or Fantasy Flight (or Fragor), it feels like everyone else in the hobby was acting like Ystari can do no wrong. And while I didn't find anything amiss with Ystari's offerings, neither did I understand the disproportionate outpouring of love. I mean, you don't read the same devotion to Hans im Gluck, Kosmos, or Abacus. I merely thought they had similar track records.

That's a longwinded way of saying I didn't expect Yspahan to be as good as it is! Lots of fun gameplay, tough choices, and a healthy dose of randomness, all in a one-hour page. Is this one of Siggin's superfillers? Maybe so. Maybe that's just the sort of game I like. Both times, it felt like the game ended just as I was getting my act (i.e. point-generating engine) into gear. In fact, you feel that three times in one game, at the end of each of the game's "weeks." However, I suspect if it really were any longer, the tough choices that drive the game would lose a lot of their punch. A real winner, and one I hope makes it to a play-by-web format soon. It's a natural for that.

By the way, I've been waiting for a game to make good use of the "die roll leftovers" mechanic I first saw in Groo. That game was fun, but ultimately too silly & chaotic to really shine. The mechanic isn't quite the same in Yspahan, but it's related, and works well.

Another Essen title tried was On The Underground. Originally I had looked past this one, too. I'm not sure why. I think it just looked a little too similar to Ticket To Ride (it's not very close, mechanically). Also, I was more drawn to the other Essen subway-themed game, Metromania. I'm still interested in that one, although opinion has started to coalesce on both of these games, with OTU definitely on top. Now I have plans for our family to visit London this spring, and my interest in OTU immediately jumped up. Add in Candy's continued interest in Thurn & Taxis, and I begin to hope that this could be another family game hit. Well, I haven't tried in that setting yet (which will be 2-player), but the 5-player game we played with the SCBers was encouraging. A little fiddly to figure out the scoring paths near the middle of the game, but I've heard that diminishes quickly with experience. That feels about right. Through travel books I'm getting more familiar with the map of the Underground system and its stations, and the game's "accuracy" is a strongly appealing factor. I immediately ordered a copy for myself after that one play.

Rounding out this Essen report are two little card games. One good, one not-so-good. The good one is Elephant in a Porcelain Shop. (The literal translation bugs me a little. Our idiom is 'bull in a china shop,' but the cards clearly show elephants all over the place. 'Porcelain shop' just doesn't have a ring to it. However, is Elephant in a China Shop any better? Probably not.) Elephant is by Michael Schacht, whose little card games will forever be compared to Coloretto. I do the same. And why not? I enjoy Coloretto so much, I keep hoping he'll have another gem like that. Uwe Rosenberg went through this after Bohnanza, right? Schacht's Diabolo was one of my stinkers for the year, but at the price & size of a card game, I've got no problem trying again.

Ok, I don't think Elephant is up there with Coloretto, but it's definitely good. We all liked it, even me. I say "even me" because I suffered a combination of bad luck and bad strategy that put me in a hole I never climbed out of. But it was still fun, and everyone else had a more competitive time. I'm a bit concerned that this will become one of those games where everyone has to be careful not to hand the game to the person on their left, balancing that against playing their own game. But we'll see, because we're definitely going to try this some more.

Last is Null & Nichtig. Oof. It's a new twist on the trick-taking game--at least one of these is published at every Essen. Five suits, but no need to follow suit, and no trump. The "clever twist" (they all try to have one) is that the cards you collect in tricks won are separated by suit, stacked in the order collected . . . and only the one on top counts for face value. The last bit reminds me of Loco/Quandary/Flinke Pinke, but the trick-taking mechanics give a lot less control than Knizia's simple placement mechanics. In a word, it tanked. Oh well, it was worth a shot.



Blogger Mark Johnson said...

Oh, I just saw on Boardgamenews' coverage of the New York Toy Fair that the American reprint of Elephant will, in fact, be called Bull in a China Shop. Yea! That will require new artwork, but perhaps they were planning on that already.

9:03 PM  
Blogger Jasen said...

The lone Essen game I've picked up so far is Yspahan and like you, it was played multiple times in succession the first time I brought it to the games group. In fact, it was 3 times in succession even though we had 6 players at the table (2x 2-er teams). Quite telling really.

Luck plays a stronger role in a 4er game, perhaps too strong, so I suspect the sweet spot is 2-3. My wife and I have been really enjoying the 2er offical variant and it's become the current favorite when we want something quick and fun.

8:49 AM  
Blogger Brent Mair said...

If a new trick taking game didn't have a clever twist then what would it be? Isn't it the twist that sets it apart from a bland game? You would prefer the games be all the same?

1:11 PM  
Blogger Mark Johnson said...

No, you misunderstand. I do like the clever twists. But they don't all work. I thought David & Goliath worked, for example, while Null Nichtig did not. I still bought it, I still tried it, but it struck out.

1:52 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home