Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Game Night... with Strangers?

Last night Hillary and I met up with a group of local gamers we'd found through BoardGameGeek.

The group has been playing together weekly for quite a while, but it was our first time attending. I'm always a little hesitant to meet new people who are into gaming and other geeky stuff, because... well... if you've ever met random people at a sci-fi or gaming convention, you know what I mean. Everyone was very friendly though, and it was a fairly diverse group of people from an age/profession standpoint. There was a good turnout, so we ended up splitting into three groups, each playing a different game.

My group's first game was Winds of Plunder, which is a pirate-themed resource collection/control game. You play a pirate captain, sailing between Caribbean ports and collecting crew, weapons, and provisions. Each commodity gives you a different advantage during the game (and a bonus ability if you have the most of a given item), as well as being worth victory points at the end. Players bid on the wind direction each turn, which determines where you can sail -- the only way you can go against the wind is by burning ALL of your actions for that turn. Players can explore new ports to gain bonus points for visiting all ports in a region, and the occasional treasure map gives the opportunity to score a progressive (and potentially huge) amount of victory points for digging up booty.

I like the game for the most part, although there are a few game elements that didn't seem quite balanced. A few of the player cards (which can be played as one of three actions on your own turn) seem overpowered, while a few are only useful in very rare and specific situations (for example, a card that gives you a free movement against the wind if you're in last place -- given a four-player game, this is only going to be useful 25% of the time at most). Also, while you can attack and plunder an opponent's ship, combat is too simplistic and consists of "whoever has the most guns wins". Cards can only affect the outcome of a battle if played before combat; this greatly benefits the attacker, as you can only play cards on your own turn.

Regardless of any minor criticisms of the rules, the game was very enjoyable. I should mention that the game feels sufficiently "piratey" -- a theming element that a lot of pirate boardgames seem to lack for some reason. I somehow eked out a victory during the final point count-up by controlling the largest arsenal and most provisions. The victory point total was hotly contested throughout the game, so there's decent balance regarding the outcome, even if individual elements might seem a bit skewed.

It was getting late by the time we were done pillaging, so we opted for a quick "filler" game, Marrakech. It's an extremely simple game -- players move Assan (a big fat token wearing a fashionable fez) around the board (an outdoor marketplace), laying down carpets of their own color. If Assan lands on another player's carpet, the controlling player has to pay the owner a certain amount of money -- think paying rent in Monopoly. The strategy is a overly simplistic; the "best" move is usually obvious, and options are pretty limited on a given turn. Still, the rules are short (one page), the turns are fast, and the game ends when the last carpet is played. All of this makes Marrakesh is a good option when time is very limited.

Oddly, I won this game too, which makes me feel a little guilty. I generally try to play my best (and would hope that my opponents will do the same), but I'm always worried that I'll come off as an overcompetitive asshole when I get a winning streak going. I'm more concerned with having fun, and I enjoy a hilariously disasterous loss almost as much as pulling off a clever victory.

Still, everyone seemed to have a good time, and I look forward to meeting up with these folks again.


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