Thursday, May 27, 2010

Atlanta Game Fest Wrap-Up Part 2

Welcome to the second installment of mini-reviews for new games I tried out at Atlanta Game Fest 16. Note that I only managed to get in one play for most of these, so it's quite possible that my early impressions were wildly off.

The Golden City - A very elegant worker-placement game with a light bidding element. Each turn players bid on sets of two cards. These cards are then used to claim villages and city sections, which can both score points and give some other boon (extra money to bid with, extra cards, or most importantly, a golden key). The city itself consists of an outer ring that anyone can enter (scoring points for being the first or second player to place in a given section), and the inner Golden City. The latter requires one of a very limited number of available keys, but scores many more points for placement. I'd never heard of this game before it was pulled off the shelf to play, so it was a very pleasant surprise to discover such a excellent game. If I have one major complaint, it's that the rules are possibly a bit too simple, and I feel like there's plenty of room for another play mechanic. Still, there's enough depth of strategy to keep coming back, and the game runs quickly enough that it should never feel drawn-out or tedious. Rating: 8/10

Cyclades - My most-anticipated game of the weekend, and I was not disappointed. Cyclades is part area control game and part auction game, with just a dash of wargame thrown in for good measure. Claim the favor of a specific god, then use its powers to amass power, gain wisdom, or simply smite your enemies. When we first set up the game, I was concerned that the combat and territory capture element would ruin what otherwise looked like an intriguing and well-themed eurogame. However, this didn't happen, at least in our playthrough. There was very little actual combat, and while several players built up militaries, this acted more as a deterrent than as an invading force. There seems to be plenty of room for disparate strategies, too: a couple of players build up their armies and navies, one went for stable income and buildings, while I slowly collected a small fortune with which I performed a coup de grace to plunk down two metropolises in one turn and win the game. I absolutely can't wait to try this game again (and to be fair, I was having a great time even when I thought I was in dead last place). Rating: 9/10

Samarkand: Routes to Riches - I'd read a little about this on BoardGameGeek and wanted to give it a shot, despite hearing less-than-favorable reviews from other folks at the Game Fest. We finally got a session together, and it turns out that the negative buzz was correct. Samarkand is an odd mash-up of route building, tile collection, and politics. Think Through the Desert, only up to two people are controlling one caravan (by investing in the family that owns it), and you have to visit specific tiles -- which happen to be useless to the other player invested in your caravan. You can also score bonus points "marrying" two families by making two caravans run into each other for the first time. Samarkand is not a bad game by any means, but while the concept is sound, I feel like the different mechanics don't mesh together as well as they should. Rating: 6/10

Medici - This is actually a fairly old game, one that I'd been generally avoiding because I don't tend to enjoy most games with a heavy auction component. Since bidding is 99% of Medici, my opinion is fairly predictable: I didn't care for it at all. It didn't help that I was with a group of players who had played Medici dozens of times previously, some of whom were actually counting tiles. I did alright for myself, not knowing exactly how the scoring worked or what the distribution of tiles was, but I don't think I'll be wanting to play Medici again anytime soon. Rating: 4/10

Summoner Wars - Wow, I hate to post three negative (or at least lukewarm) reviews in a row. However, my wife and I tried out Summoner Wars for the first time, and I really didn't like much of anything about it. I'd heard that the game appeals to Magic: The Gathering fans who want more of a tactical/spacial element, but most of the mechanics fell flat for me. Movement is oversimplified (move two spaces), units tend to be too same-y, and the balance of the set we played (Elves versus Orcs) felt off-kilter, with wild swings in either direction that seemed almost random. It wasn't exciting, and we were both wanting the game to end well before it did; I actually sent my leader in a suicide charge, figuring it would be over one way or the other. Rating: 2/10

That's it for now! I have one more Atlanta Game Fest wrap-up entry to come, in which I'll give give my initial impressions of Hansa Teutonica, Macao, and Forbidden Island. I'll also give my final thoughts on the overall event (and probably take the opportunity to shamelessly boast about the awesome purchase I made at the AGF flea market). Stay tuned!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Atlanta Game Fest Wrap-Up Part 1

I just returned from Atlanta Game Fest, so it seems like the perfect time to resume blog updates. The event consisted of four days of wall-to-wall boardgaming with far too little sleep in-between. Over the course of the weekend, I played a quantity of games that can only be properly described as "a crapload".

The final tally looks something like this:
31 total game sessions played
20 different games
14 games that were new to me
2 unpublished prototypes

In the coming days I'm going to post a few sets of capsule reviews of the new games I tried. It's difficult to form a solid opinion from only one or two plays of a game, but I'll give it my best shot.

Havana - A light resource-management and action selection card game. Players secretly choose cards to play from a set deck. The cards allow players to gather resources, steal from each other, and ultimately acquire the victory point tiles that inhabit the middle of the table. The unique thing here is the method of choosing turn order -- each player's pair of cards in play forms a two-digit number, which determines who gets to perform actions first. Each new card will cover up an existing one, resulting in an ever-changing number. The higher numbered cards are much more powerful, but going early is the only way to maximize resources. This trade-off mechanic is relatively simple, but the game is short enough (around 30 minutes) that it doesn't get stale before a winner is determined. Rating: 7/10

Peloponnes - Resource-management is one of my favorite themes, while I'm not generally a fan of games with a heavy auction or bidding component. This left me a bit torn on Peloponnes, as both elements factor heavily into this game. Improve your city and cultivate the surrounding lands, while making sure to feed your citizens and prepare for the upcoming, inevitable disasters. Sounds cool, huh? Unfortunately, the bidding mechanic feels too limiting, as once a player bids on anything, he is committed to paying exactly that amount for something. This constraint probably helps the game from devolving into an all-out bidding war every turn, but that may be just what this game needs. I didn't hate Peloponnes (and actually ended up winning by two points), but overall it left me a little flat. Rating: 5/10

Castle Panic - In this semi-cooperative game, players work together to protect a castle from an onslaught of orcs, trolls, and other nasty critters. Attack cards are continually dealt out to players, which allow them to attack the rampaging hordes based on their current position (for example, archers can hit monsters that are far away, while swordsmen have to wait until the monsters are almost upon the walls). If the castle is destroyed, all of the players lose. However, unlike most traditional cooperative games, there is a "winner": the player responsible for slaying the most enemies. Honestly, I don't know that this element is necessary. The game is already difficult, and not helping the other players to the best of your ability seems counter to the spirit of a co-op game. Of course, this point was moot for our session, since the Orc King showed up with his buddies and trashed our castle quite effectively. Castle Panic is fun, but I doubt it would ever be my first choice when looking for a co-op game to pull off the shelf. Rating: 6/10

Union Pacific - I know. Everyone has played this except me. However, I'd never had the opportunity until this weekend, and I was excited to finally give it a try. I wasn't disappointed; while UP ultimately a stock investment game, players have a lot of control over their own fortunes, and there's a lot more depth than I expected. There's a fine balance between enticing other players to invest into improving routes that help your stocks while attempting to keep a majority share on as many companies as possible. I can see why this is my wife's favorite boardgame, and I look forward to playing it again (I only wish it were possible to actually buy a copy without paying an arm and a leg). Rating: 8/10 (and may go up with more plays)

Wasabi - Pick up ingredients and place them on the board to create sushi combos and score points -- the bigger the combo, the more points scored. There's nothing really revolutionary about this tile-placement game, but it is light, fun, and well-themed. The special action cards make Wasabi just deep enough to keep me interested, and I'd definitely try it again in the future. Rating: 7/10

That's all for now! In the next installment I'll cover The Golden City, Cyclades, Samarkand, Medici, and Summoner Wars.