Hixie's Natural Log

2005-01-24 17:49 UTC When you don't have internet access at home...

On Friday, Wilhelm, Natasha, and Kam came over and we played Attack! with its expansion. (The explanation mark is part of the name. Don't ask.) After that we played some Blokus.

On Saturday, they came back to my flat, and Wilhelm, Kam and I played 1856 (Natasha got a call shortly after arriving and had to go downtown, so she bailed out before we started, and by the time she got back we were much too far into the game for her to join in). (There was also some Donkey Konga being played but the less said about that the better.)

On Sunday Daniel and I went to Sverre's, as did a number of other people, and we played board games all day. Since there were so many of us we ended up splitting into two groups. The group at my table played six games: Ricochet Robots, Acquire, Hellrail, Power Grid, Quicksand, and Carcassonne.

Attack! is a game similar to Risk, and so not my kind of game. The expansion does improve the game somewhat, but still, the game consists mainly of fighting random battles, with the goal being to control the most countries at the end of the game. I'm starting to find that I really don't like this kind of out-and-out assault on other players, I much prefer the more subtle approaches to screwing the other players over.

Blokus I've described before. Great game, and I now own it. We play it quite regularly.

1856 is a great game, which I first played late last year, and which I purchased a few weeks ago. With only three players the money isn't as tight, which definitely changes the dynamics (for example, the CGR didn't form). The game ended with Kam going bankrupt (actually, the game ended with Kam basically quitting because he couldn't work out how to go bankrupt, but looking back on it I'm pretty sure he could have done it so I'm revising history to show that he did in fact go bankrupt).

I ended with $2786 after stock sales. Wilhelm ended with $2787.

I didn't think it could be possible.

The pieces and the board in the edition of 1856 I have are really cheaply made, which is unfortunate. Also, I noticed that the currency on the bills is US Dollars. That would be fine, except the game is based in Canada. Go figure.

Ricochet Robots I've mentioned before, and indeed having bought it myself I have played it quite a bit (in fact, I think I may have played it every day for the past week). I tied with Peter. Good thing Kam wasn't there, he really kicks ass at that game. His brain is wired in a way that just makes him see the routes to take, it's uncanny.

Acquire is a game I've often seen at Outland, my one-stop-shop for entertainment in Oslo (it has an English-language science fiction section, a comics section, a table-top role-playing game section, a minature models section, a live-action role-play equipment section, a board game section, a humour section, a science fiction, fantasy and anime DVD section, a collecting card game section with tables for playing said games, and a shelf full of dice).

Where was I. Oh yes, the game. I've often seen it, but I've never bought it, because it looked tacky and commercial — the blurb on the back is high on superlatives and low on gameplay description. However, it turns out that the game is actually really quite good. It involves buying stock in companies, merging companies, and so forth. I intend to acquire Acquire (sorry) when I next have the chance.

Hellrail is a game Peter brought, so we knew it would be a strange game before we started. I did badly at the start and never recovered, so I don't really know how good a game it really is. I wasn't convinced it was that fun though.

The premise of the game, for what it's worth, is that you run a train in Hell, and your job is to get the damned from one station to another. It has some nice aspects from a technical perspective, such as the fact that it reuses the cards for about 6 different purposes, but at the end of the day it doesn't have enough player-player interaction, so it's kinda boring (it felt a bit like four people playing solitaire with the same deck of cards).

Power Grid I've also played before, and it was just as good this time as last time. Nevermind my first rule change suggestion, though; we playtested it and it's not good. It ruins the balance. However, I stand by my second suggestion. The endgame needs fixing. It's much too sudden. I definitely think that saying that the game ends once someone has powered n cities for three turns is the way to go, with the winner being the one who powered the most cities consistently over the last three turns, tiebreaking by future ability to power without refuelling, and falling back on the value of the power stations involved and finally the money remaining. (n should probably be about 17.)

I definitely want to get Power Grid, but I'm hoping they've made a second edition... the edition I've played has the cards referring to game "phases" and turn "steps", and the rules referring to game "steps" and turn "phases" respectively. It's really confusing. Also, the rules refer to the power companies (the players) building cities, which to me makes no sense — conceptually what's really happening is that the power companies are buying contracts to power the cities, surely.

1856, Acquire, and Power Grid all involve some element of buying something (stocks, in the former two, resources in the latter) in order to manipulate the price that other players have to pay, or even to simply make it completely unavailable. I love dealing with such futures markets, especially since insider trading isn't only allowed, but encouraged in all three cases.

Quicksand is a deceptively simply game which is really fun to play and which is very quick. Highly recommended. Also on my list of games to get. It's so simple I can describe it: there is a grid on which six tokens are placed. Players are each randomly and secretely assigned a token. The goal is to get that token to the end of the grid. Players are dealt six cards each. There are eight types of cards: one type for each of the tokens, quicksand, and jokers. On your turn, you play a single run of one or more cards of the same type (jokers counting as one of the other seven types). You move the token of the specified colour as many steps as indicated by the cards, or, if you played quicksand, you turn that many tokens upside down. You then draw up to six again. It takes one move to turn "quicksanded" tokens the right side up again, and they can't move while upside down. Some of the squares on the grid are special if you land on them with particular tokens; some of them let you discard a card from your hand, others let you turn the token over.

The key is that you end up moving all the tokens, even those that are probably other players'. And the other players similarly move yours. The skill comes in delaying the other players', without revealing which is yours, and in getting to the end first at the same time.

That really is pretty much all there is to it. But it's very fun. With only three players (as we were) you can really start to guess who is who... and sometimes you guess wrong, which can lead to helping another player!

Carcassonne is a famous game, available everywhere, available in many variants, and which I had never played before. It looked terrible! The box says nothing about what type of game it is. It turns out to be a really strategic game, which I will also be getting when I next go game shopping. I'm not sure which version I want to get yet, probably just the basic Carcassonne with its river expansion, which is what I played this time.

Basically you take turns to put tiles down, and you can choose certain aspects of the map to get you points. For example, you can choose a particular road and once it is completed you get points relative to its length. It has elements in common with Tantrix, but is much less abstract.

According to my sources, Kam bought Warcraft III: The Board Game while I was out playing all these games, and I'm sure I'll be forced to play it soon too. I'm concerned that it might be too much like the real game, or too much like Risk, for my tastes, but I've got nothing against trying it at least once!

In between all this, I finished reading Les Eaux-Vives en trompe-l'œil, from the same series as Café-crime à Champel which I finished last week, both by Corinne Jaquet. Great books! I haven't read French-language books for a long time, so I'm glad to find that I can still read fluently and (more importantly) that I can enjoy it as much as English-language books. I was a bit concerned that maybe I just didn't like to read French, because the last novel-length book I'd read (several years ago) I'd gotten bored of and never finished. In retrospect, though, I see that it was just that it wasn't my kind of book, and that the same book in English would have gotten the same treatment.

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