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

Monday, May 28, 2007

Spiel des Jahres thoughts

I wrote the following to my local game group, but it might be of general interest reading here, too. It's my quick, initial take on the Spiel des Jahres nominees.

Thief of Baghdad
Jenseits von Theben
Baumeister von Arkadia

[I'm in the process of making an internal trade deal for Thief of Baghad now--no one around here seems to own it.]
I think I've played Jenseits a grand total of once, but I instantly liked it. Very glad to see the reprint, and with a nicer production, but I'm a little worried that the streamlining takes out some of what I liked about the game. One way to find out, of course--who owns it already? I need to play. Maybe I just need to buy.

Zooloretto is one I should like. I'm not over Coloretto, actually. I keep a copy at work, and even if it only gets played once or twice a year there, that's 1-2 times more than it was getting at home. I'm not sure if a bigger, cuter, less cut-throat boardgame version is what I want, but I'm willing to try. Especially if the theme helps the kid appeal. The description says it plays with 2 (some on BGG even say it works well with that number), something I never felt Coloretto did well. (Though now I see the latest rules, latest edition, have some special rules & cards for that. Maybe I should try again.)

Baumeister was perfectly good the one time I played. Definitely fun, but didn't knock my socks off. It's silly, but the little cardboard penant tokens bothered me, especially compared to the rest of the nice bits in the game.

And then there's Yspahan. I've played a few times in person, and a LOT of the downloadable computer game. It's right up my alley, I definitely like it. I'm curious to see how the QWG deluxe edition looks (and costs). However, about that thinness . . . I'm winning over 90% of the time against various AIs when I doggedly pursue one single strategy: build up the special abilities ASAP, then finally fill the city and caravan (often not until the 3rd week). I'll take gold or camels if there's a bunch of dice there, otherwise I take the best neighborhood dice out there . . . and use it for a card. Those cards are key. In the beginning they're powerful to make something out of nothing, and later they really help you fill out neighborhoods by being bonus dice. (I'd mistakenly played that they were bonus dice like extra gold, but they're much more powerful as bonus dice of a kind already rolled!) I hope that when I get to play against humans again that this one strategy won't be so dominant.

Do all local game groups having mailing lists? All the ones I've ever been part of do. Sometimes we have game discussion and strategy, but most of the time we use it for game night announcement and group ordering from webstores.


Recent games: T&T, Tempus, Vinci, play by web

You might think that if I've got the ability to write a blog post, then I should be able to produce another podcast. Well, you'd be wrong. :-) Wasn't it about last year at this time that I got busy? More than that, it was six years ago that my gaming went on total hiatus for a few months. It just so happens that the main project at work is at the same stage the previous monumental effort was six years ago. Two years before launch of the next Mars lander/rover mission is crunch time for our mechanical engineers. And even if I'm not as hands-on as I used to be, the crunch spills over into my life, too. So, gaming is on a back burner, and podcasting is somewhere behind that. I still see no point in officially pulling the plug on BGTG, since things will return to normal someday, and I bet I'll want to shoot out another show then. In the meantime, I've got portions of three programs in various states of recording/editing, and another outlined with a guest.

My boardgaming hasn't gone completely into hibernation, but it's definitely slower than earlier in the year. At times like these, even the opportunity to play a single game is exciting & fun. I bet I'm not the only gamer-dad that thinks a game played with their kid is as good as any played on a game night . . . and one you play with your wife counts double. I just got to do that, playing good ol' (old?) Thurn & Taxis with Candy. She's on a winning streak, taking me down by six points this time. As it turned out, I needed only an elusive Innsbruck card to score a big route that would've tied me in the game. I pushed my luck as far as I dared, opting to flush the card display three times on three successive turns as I built my necessary route. A couple times I was risking the large route already on the table, as the cards in-hand could not be played to either end. Ultimately, I didn't find it, and she won. Then we looked at the next card on the face-down draw pile, and of course it was Innsbruck! But had I drawn that & found nothing useful I would've lost by much more. I'm going to get the expansion, even though we probably have no need for it. Just another map to look over, as far as I'm concerned.

On Thursday night we had time for one other. She asked for Flowerpower, but I'm a little burned out on that one, so she agreed to play TransEuropa instead. She was a little concerned about game length, but then proceeded to blow me out in two rounds! Oof! I have some sort of mental block with the Trans games, but it's fun nonetheless. Amazingly, I got my dad to play TransAmerica the last time my folks came down to visit. Maybe next time I'll suggest that again and we can get more players.

In between those two was an SCB session, my first in a while. I showed up after my kids' piano recital, arriving near the end of a 4-player game of Dragon Parade. Looked pretty fun to me. Definitely light, but that's why it appealed. In fact, Greg Wilzbach (who owns it) said it seemed like "my kind of game," so I guess it's obvious to others, too. :-) After that, we looked for a good 5-player, ending up with Tempus. We'd only played it once before, when it first game out, and had made a couple rules errors. My impression is that the game's reputation has suffered online, probably due to overinflated expectations (for which the production schedule & marketing is partially to blame). I, meanwhile, thought there were several things to really like in the game, and looked forward to another chance at it. That's how I continued to feel for the first 2/3rds, too, but then opinion started to drop off. Darn it all, it does have some good ideas in there. And there really isn't anything wrong I can point to . . . other than how the game just drags during the final few turns. Perhaps we were too slow, but I place the blame on the game itself. Some games cruise along to the end, some actually accelerate, but this one puts on the brakes. And it nearly kills the fun then. Thinking back on the whole game, it's still pretty interesting. In fact, I want to play it again! But I wish ended as strongly as it plays through the beginning & middle, or that the players could do something about that.

I can't help but think how it compares to Vinci, which I also played 5-player (first time in a long while) a few weeks ago when Mark Jackson was passing through. That game is just fun the whole way through, even at the very end when it can get more deterministic. (In fact, it's the determinism of much of the game that is one of its strengths, keeping things moving briskly, I've always felt.)

When there isn't much opportunity to play in-person, play-by-web is usually a good bet for me. I say usually because last month I had trouble even checking my personal email regularly! But in the past week I joined some games with friends, encouraged by reading reports of their recent plays. Now Kreta is in open testing on Mabiweb, a game I never got a chance to try in-person. Now let's see how it plays over the web. And Mabi also has the "changing winds" expansion map & alternate scoring bonuses for Hansa, so I tried that. I have to say I didn't care for it. The Mabi interface was fantastic, but the game "expansion" itself doesn't have much new to recommend it, and the endgame bonuses (which were given out as a postcard promotion years ago) feel like the skew the final too much. Glad to have had the chance to try it, but I'll stick with the original game from now on.