Tuesday, June 16, 2009

June game round-up

Hillary and I met up with our local group last night, and I got through four different games in about three hours. Most were pretty lightweight, so I figured I'd just write a quick paragraph on each rather than trying to review four games (three of which were completely new to me).

Incan Gold is a fun little filler game that we'll sometimes break out while waiting for more gamers to arrive. Players take on the role of archaeologists who are searching for treasure and valuable artifacts hidden inside an ancient Incan temple. Unfortunately, the temple is also full of dangers, such as poisonous spiders and rockslides. Gameplay consists entirely of a "press your luck" style decision every turn (no whammies!), where each player must either hightail it out of the temple and keep what he's carrying -- and pick up any undistributed treasure on the way out -- or press on further and risk losing everything to one of the aforementioned hazards. Incan Gold is not a deep game by any means, but it's a quick and fun distraction. It can also support up to eight players, which is great when you have a larger gathering of gamers that wants to play together before breaking up into smaller groups for more involved games.

Fresh Fish is an odd spacial management game unlike anything I've played before. The board is a nearly empty grid of undeveloped lots, starting out with just four marketplaces (power, fuel, fish, and... board games). Players must claim land and build factories to supply the marketplaces. The closer a factory is to its corresponding marketplace, the better a player's score -- however, distance must be measured along the road. This is tricky, because the road hasn't been built yet! Placement of the road has a few rules: it must touch every factory and marketplace, and it must have access to any claimed but undeveloped lots. Also, road tiles are only placed when they have to be -- for example, if there's only one open exit from a marketplace left, the road has to go there. At the end, the player with the lowest total distance to market, minus the money he has left (low scores are good), is the winner. This game is pretty darned confusing the first time through. Our session had several new players, and none of us really understood how road placement worked until we were well into the game. The whole thing made my head hurt, but I'd like to try Fresh Fish again now that I (sort of) comprehend how everything fits together.

Witch's Brew is a light card game where players score points by creating potions. Each player has an identical "deck" of character cards and must choose five of these each turn to form a hand. The beginning player shows a card (for example, "I am the Wizard!"), and play goes around the table with all other players either passing (if they don't have the card that was played), stealing the role ("No, I am the Wizard"), or conceding the role ("So be it!"). The player winning the round gets to perform that character's action, while anyone who conceded gets a lesser reward. Roles generally allow players to collect gold and ingredients in various ways, or to manufacture potions from these materials. This was my first play ever, and I'm already a big fan. The game mechanics are unique and clever, and the theming is excellent. Games tend to flow very quickly, and newbies should have no problem picking up the rules. Witch's Brew would be a perfect "gateway" game for most non-gamer friends.

Scripts and Scribes is another short card-based game that revolves around suit collection. There is a deck containing five colored suits (along with gold and Popes). Players take turns drawing five cards from the deck, deciding what happens to each card: three go "up for grabs", one stays hidden and goes into the auction stack, and one stays hidden and is kept by the drawing player. After the drafting round, the auction stack is turned up card-by-card, with players bidding gold cards in an attempt to improve their hands. Each of the five suits is won by whichever player has the highest total points in that suit. Suits are worth a certain number of points, which can be altered throughout the course of the game by playing Pope cards. I'm lukewarm about this game after a single play -- there's nothing inherently wrong with the mechanics, but there weren't any unique elements that I hadn't seen before in a dozen other games. You try to draft well, make smart purchases in the auction, and then someone wins. Scripts and Scribes is fine for what it is -- a simple filler game -- but I doubt I'll be begging for anyone to pull out the box when other games are available.


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