Weekend of Gaming

This past weekend ended up to be quite good for gaming. Here’s a rundown on what hit the table:

Descent: Journeys in the Dark
(Image courtesy Capitaine Grappin @ BGG)

Saturday night I got to overlord Descent with a few friends. We ran a scenario I had designed awhile back. I like the scenario quite a bit although I’ve only ever run it with four heroes. That night we decided to try it with three and I think I’m going to make a few minor tweaks to help the balance with fewer players.

I’ll probably write more on Descent one of these days, but it is a personal favorite. It’s not a perfect game by any means – I have a long list of things I already house rule or would love to see revised sometime down the line – but overall the game really nails the dungeon crawler theme. You just need to make sure that everyone is aware that one side will win and one side will lose. It can be frustrating when you’re not doing well but I find the game is more about the experience and less about always coming out ahead.

(Image courtesy filwi @ BGG)

Finally got my first full game of Britannia in. I’ve played several rounds by myself to get a feel for the game and we got through roughly half a game once with my game group but someone had to leave early.

I estimated roughly six hours to get through the game and that’s pretty much exactly what it took. I knew the rules really well, one of us had played that half game before and two were new to the game. The rules are quite simple overall but the exceptions (Romans, submissions, king and bretwalda, other oddities) take a little while to cover. It’s important everyone has at least some concept of these up front so they can plan for them later in the game.

This is a game I need to play more. Every turn something interesting happens: new nations perform raids, leaders come and go, major invasions occur and control of the map changes drastically over the course of a couple turns. Britannia has a great ebb and flow to it. Each player seems to be strong at a certain point in the game so you spend a lot of time trying to set up your nations to spin as many points as they can and then cash in big with your primary nation. You have to make a lot of tough decisions and decide exactly how much to push your luck in an attempt to grab more land.

It’s certainly on the longish side although familiarity with the nations, knowing upcoming raids and key territories for each nation would reduce play time quite a bit. I’ve seen stats on BGG where the median score for the four players are within four points of each other which is extremely impressive; likewise, the win percentages for each player color are within a couple of percentage points. For the amount of stuff happening in the game it is unbelievably balanced and for being quite grounded in history there’s a lot of room for variety from game to game.

I know Britannia’s length will keep it from hitting the table too often, especially since you really need to play the game from start to finish for it to be fair to all players. Which is too bad since right now it stands as one of my favorite games.

(Image courtesy kilroy_locke @ BGG)

And now for something completely different. Britannia and China are pretty much polar opposites. First you have an epic highly historical game with amazing checks and balances and it nails the theme perfectly. Then you have China with mechanics that make no sense and a map that doesn’t even really accurately portray China at the point in time the game is trying to tack on as a theme.

Players take turns placing houses and emissaries in various regions of China. You score points for having houses in regions, generally the more houses the better. Emissaries are similar although they only matter if you have the majority of emissaries in adjacent regions at the end of the game. Finally, you’ll get points if you have four or more houses in a row.

Something tells me that people in ancient China didn’t make efforts to build their houses together in rows.

I’ve played China twice now and it hasn’t impressed me much. The game feels quite random and the mechanics penalize you for placing in new areas; a region with no pieces can only have one piece placed in a turn while regions with an existing piece can have up to two pieces placed. Nobody wants to start new regions because you’re just opening it up for the other players. There is a bit of strategy to placing your house, setting up your emissaries and staking your territory but it just doesn’t come together for me.

The game does play quickly and the rules are easy to explain so I could see breaking it out with folks who are newer to gaming. Maybe there’s some hidden depth or something that hasn’t clicked with me yet, but for now I think China will likely be finding a new home.

Twilight Imperium 3rd Edition
(Image courtesy kilroy_locke @ BGG)

Finally the granddaddy of them all. I just got my copy of Twilight Imperium (TI3) on Saturday although I had picked up the expansion earlier in the week and cracked that open. After Britannia and China a couple friends stuck around and we decided to tear into TI3.

Myself and one of my friends had played the game before, so as we punched the pieces and started to set up the game we explained it to our other buddy and tried to get him up to speed. It’s another epic – potentially far longer than Britannia – but man is the game ever sweet. The sheer amount of “stuff” alone makes it worthwhile but the gameplay underneath all that plastic is equally good.

I’ll probably dive into TI3 more at a later date once I get a few more games under my belt. Like Descent I think it needs just a touch of tweaking but overall it really nails the theme. In a nutshell players control various alien races duking it out for control over the galaxy. There are various objectives that earn you victory points. Some will require military means while others might be better earned through trades and politics. It seems like warfare is pretty much unavoidable at some point though, so you’ll spend time building your armada and laying waste to your opponents.

Twilight Imperium seems to be exactly what I want a game of its type to be. It’s a long one but unlike Britannia I think it can be rewarding in smaller doses even if you don’t get to finish the game.

So that was my weekend! I seem to do enough gaming these days that I’m probably going to try and update the blog a couple of times a week. I’ll also be mixing it up a bit between board and video games as both see plenty of action.

Die, Macher

(Image courtesy gamephotos @ BGG)

I don’t care much for politics. I’ve always avoided it in real life and I think from now on I’ll be avoiding it in board games whenever I can.

BoardGameGeek seems hold Die Macher on a pedestal. It’s the first game in the database and the recent reprint by Valley Games was considered to be some sort of immaculate conception. A four hours game about the German political system? I found it hard to believe it could be that good.

That’s because it turns out the game isn’t very good.

Let me rephrase that: I don’t think the game is very good. You may enjoy it.

Die Macher is a strange beast. It has a lot going on. There are local elections, national opinions, party platforms, public opinion polls… and don’t forget that a game turn is broken down into 18 easy steps. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for complex games. Twilight Imperium is my new love and I find much enjoyment from Descent, Tide of Iron, Caylus and others. The complexity itself isn’t what I dislike about the game but the way the mechanics contradict each other.

The game takes place over seven rounds. Each round players are vying for majority control of the state so their agendas will get passed. You can see upcoming agendas in the next three rounds but the amount of information visible is less the further away the round is. On top of that players will have the ability (through various means) to swap out the current visible agendas in all visible rounds. You need to match agendas and really avoid conflicting ones or else you’ll fall behind in points. The problem is that you need to match current agendas, plan for upcoming agendas all while players keep changing these agendas and you only get a few random agenda card pulls at the start of a round to try and change your own.

Then there are the opinion polls, one per visible state. Usually this means there will be four opinion polls at any given time (fewer in later rounds). Players blind bid to win each poll which allows you to either use two of the four abilities on the card or roll dice to randomly increase your national standings. Let me run that past you again: you are blind bidding four times per round for unknown cards.

In case you couldn’t tell, Die Macher is complex. There’s a lot going on; you need to plan ahead if you want to do well and the game encourages you to plan ahead by allowing you to play on future states, see upcoming agendas, etc. I find it nearly impossible to actually plan, though, as there are far too many random elements. It wants you to do one thing but the mechanics make that nearly impossible.

I can see why people may enjoy it. There is some interesting player interaction with coalitions that may be formed, jockeying for spaces on the board, bidding on public opinion polls, using card abilities to knock your opponents down and the ability to plan ahead for future rounds. It’s also an older game (first appeared in 1986) so a lot of the concepts were quite innovative at the time.

I hesitate to call Die Macher a bad game. Nearly everyone else in my gaming group has enjoyed it… some more than others but they’ve all found something to like in the game; I’m alone in having a very strong negative feeling for it. It’s ranked #13 at BoardGameGeek and has a user rating of 8.0 over 1600+ ratings so clearly people enjoy it. I’m just not convinced I’ll ever be able to see what others find so appealing.