Thursday, May 31, 2007

Game Review Format

This posting is to highlight the criteria I use to rate games in my reviews. Most of my game reviews will be on games that I own since I have more familiarity with them and also enough plays to comfortably offer my opinions on them.

Each review will start with a graph showing 5 different criteria (this format the same as Kulkmann's G@mebox) and is used with permission from Frank Kulkmann.

Evaluation System used with permission

For my review purposes I will use the following rankings for each of the five Criteria. The rankings are subjective (and only my opinions) but I will try to give a guideline as to what each ranking means for each Criteria.

Complexity -- This is a criteria to measure both the process of learning a game and the clarity of the rules provided.

1) Understood by intuition, obvious rules that a 2 year old can easily follow
2) Simple, easily understood rules
3) Appropriate for pre-school to elementary school children to easily grasp
4) More advanced concepts for many young kids, but easily grasped by adults
5) Top end for most non-gamer games and ideal for many family level games
6) Gateway games and many family games with moderate rules
7) Majority of Gamer games fall into this category of complexity
8) Advanced complexity, gamers need learning curve
9) The top end of reasonable complexity
10) Overly complex rules that challenge even very experienced gamers

Design -- This criteria ranks a games components as well as the overall impression and presentation of the game. Both it's visual and tactile appeal.

1) No components or garbage components
2) Terrible components and design, drastically impacts gameplay
3) Serious concerns about design, may impact gameplay
4) Some problems with the components but still functional
5) Standard game components, no big issues
6) Above average components, but could have some small issues
7) Excellent components, general level for many Euros
8) Very well done components and design, above the norm for Euros
9) Exceptionally well done components, visually appealing
10) Top notch components that place this game above the field

Fun - This Criteria is just how enjoyable the game is for me and how frequently I would be willing to play it.

1) Complete waste of time, will NEVER play again
2) Boring, not worth the effort to play
3) Will play if forced by others, will not recommend
4) Okay game, would play again but wouldn't suggest
5) Average gameplay experience
6) Above average, enjoyable experience
7) Excellent game, engaging and very fun
8) Great gameplay, will always play and often suggest
9) Highly entertaining, very thematic or involved game, will always suggest/play
10) Great experience, would play again and again

Strategy - I try to rank the impact of strategy and tactics involved in the game and usually the key dividing point is how many strategic choices are viable over multiple plays of the game.
1) Complete luck or game plays by itself
2) Very limited options, roll and move
3) One obvious strategy and it is always the best choice
4) Some strategy but one strategy tends to dominate
5) At least two viable choices at varying points in the game
6) More than one route to victory or multiple tactical decisions
7) Multple paths to victory with tactical decisions along the way
8) Subtle strategies emerge through multiple plays
9) Abstract levels of strategy with great depth and replay value
10) Multiple layers of strategy and room for innovative tactics to succeed

Overall Evaluation - This is my overall ranking of the game relative to others in my collection and how willing I am to bring it out to the gaming table.

1) Only useful in the fireplace
2) Feeble game, will not play
3) Weak game, will only play when coerced into it
4) Below average, might play but won't suggest
5) Average game, will play sometimes
6) Good game, will play if suggested but not all the time
7) Strong game, will play more often than not
8) Excellent game, will always play and often suggest
9) Great game, will always play and always suggest
10) Will always recommend/play and this will not change

After the Ratings Graph, I will describe the game components. This will cover most (or all) of the game components and help explain my design rating. Then I will explain the Object and detail the Flow of Play for the game under review. Finally, I will wrap up with Overall Evaluation. Then in some cases I'll add details and explanation for any House Rules that I use for playing the game (sometimes to alter game balance and sometimes just for variety).

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Session Report May 22, 2007

Attendees (10): Warren, Sharon, Michael, Andy, Tamara, Joel, Adam, Eileen, Troy, and Cheryl.

We all gathered at the Madden's and played some of the same games we played the week before.

I got in my 3rd game of Shogun. It was a close finish but Andrew (49) won, followed by Joel (47), Adam (44), and then me (32). I tried a strategy of spreading out and building lots of troops and very few buildings. Then attacking others to capture their locations at key times. This didn't work very well and I fell to several late game attacks that left me completely out of the running. The other players were all very close and the "kingmaker" element of this type of game was evident. Still, I enjoyed the experience and hope to continue to shorten the playing time.

Amun Re
Sharon was anxious to play this one again. Troy (44) won followed by Cheryl (39), Eileen (34), and Sharon (23).

Puerto Rico
Warren won the 3 player version with 45pts. Andy and Tamra tied for second with 28.

Hare and Tortoise
This is a clever game that requires careful planning and mathematical calculations to win (a little luck can go a long way too). Planning your moves based on your position can give you more $ (carrots) and you spend these to move forward.
Warren finished first with $8 left.
Sharon finished 2nd with $9 left.
Cheryl finished 3rd with $2 left.
Eileen finished 4th with $30 left.
Troy finished 5th.

Session Report May 15, 2007

Attendess(12): Barbara, Michael, Steve, Troy, Cheryl, Warren, Sharon, Danielle, Chris, Jeremy, Andy, and Andrew.

We gathered at our house this week and got in quite a few games.
We started the evening off with Bang! This was Chris' first game and he was eliminated before he even got his first turn! I went to greet others and let him take over for me. It turned out that Chris (Outlaw #2) finished with a shoot-out against the Sheriff (Cheryl) after Andrew (Renegade), Jeremy (Deputy), and Chirs (Outlaw #1) were eliminated. This one ended in a cliff-hanger since I haven't found out who won... maybe next episode will reveal the exciting conclusion.

Barbara, Sharon, Steve, and Troy got started on this under-appreciated Knizia game. Most complaints I have seen on this game involve the luck of the power cards, but my experience has been that they tend to even out over the game and that careful bidding and planning can off-set most bad luck. Steve (45) proved himself worthy of Amun Re just ahead of Troy (43). Barbara (36) and Sharon (27) finished just off the pace.

This is still the highest rated game on BGG and for good reason. It is one of the most engaging, fun, well-themed, and challenging multi-player games ever created. Andrew edged Warren 54 to 53 with Danielle (44) and Cheryl (42) close behind.

I enjoy the changes that 1910 brings to TTR America and feel that it allows for more variety in play and strategy. More North-South routes are viable now and grabbing multiple tickets allows short ticket runs to get the 15pt Globetrotter bonus. Warren returned the favor and edged Andrew 138 to 134. Danielle (113) and Cheryl (82) trailed them in this one.

This is a great introductory game and also a fun one with kids since there is no direct way to mess with your opponent. Barbara pulled out the victory with 7pts, while Sharon had 3, and Troy went over the edge.

I've never played this one before. Steve (99) won followed by Sharon (64), Barb (50), and Troy (32).
I really enjoy this hybrid strategy/war game. It challenges players to build for victory points and attack/defend critical territories in the conquest to be the dominant Shogun in Japan. The game has a lot of randomness that feels like you can control. Combat is resolved with a clever dice tower mechanism that is fast but very bloody so you don't want to attack too often or you will have few troops remaining to defend anywhere. Also, the element of revolts restricts too much growth with very little defense. Lots of balancing mechanisms plus the multi-player interaction makes this a winner for me. Hopefully, we can get playing time down on this one so that it hits the table a little more often. I (52) was fortunate to hold onto the victory over Chris (49) followed by Andy (32) and Jeremy (27).

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Session Report May 8, 2007

Attendees(11): Steve, Sharon, Warren, Michael, Matt, Jaimie, Eileen, Adam, Troy, Cheryl, and Andrew

I got to Steve's house early and we had time for a quick game of Hellas. This is a two player game in the Kosmos series (which has produced many excellent games). It is a light war-game that allows for some different strategies. the board is made up of various city tiles and each player has ships (for exploring) and soldiers (for fighting). The game is driven by 3 decks of God cards that give special powers. Neptune helps exploring, Ares helps in fighting, and Zeus helps by "breaking" the rules. Some tiles have temples on them and the player with the most temples gets to take 1 extra action each round (4 instead of 3). This is a huge benefit and the other player must quickly level the # of temples are fall too far behind. It's a fun light game if you don't think too much and just enjoy it for what it is... I got lucky in this game and dominated the board quickly and Steve was unabl

Bang is a card game set in the West where players have different roles with different objectives. One player is the Sheriff (and everyone knows who the Sheriff is) and her job is to shoot all the outlaws and the renegade (but not any deputies!). Everyone else's roles remain hidden until they lose all their life and the number of roles varies with the number of players. The outlaws win if they shoot the Sheriff, the deputies win if the Sheriff wins (a joint victory) and the renegade can only win if he is the last player standing (which means kill all outlaws and deputies and then finish off the Sheriff last).

Players take turns "drawing" cards and playing cards. Some cards give you guns to shoot people further away, barrels to hide behind, or even a stick of dynamite. BANG cards allow you shoot at others while missed cards avoid being hit while beer cards give you more life. There are many different types of cards but they are all fit the Western theme and the game plays quickly. Each player also plays an individual character with special abilities that break the rules.

I enjoy Bang! as a fun filler but sometimes it can run a little too long. It has a neat element of "guessing" what everyone's role is and this adds to the fun. The other issue with Bang! is that it is a player elimination game. So if you are killed early, you may have to wait a while before the game ends.

Game 1: Sharon was the Sheriff, I was her deputy, and Andrew (Renegade) shot her a little too much giving the outlaws (Eileen, Matt, and Steve) a quick victory -- so we played another round...

Game 2: Eileen was the Sheriff this time, I was the deputy again, Andrew was the Renegade again, and the rest were outlaws. Matt and Steve were taken out early and then Andrew was eliminated. This left Adam, Eileen, and me and I thought we had him but I ended up in jail (so I couldn't use a Saloon card to give Eileen some more life) and Adam was able to shoot the Sheriff and pull off the win!

Adam taught me, Andrew, and Eileen this game about acquiring Oil fields and shipping and selling oil to various companies. It has some interesting mechanics that force the players to value different actions and select action cards that allow: (a) to move their truck, (b) to move their train, (c) draw cards for bidding when selling oil barrels, (d) get extra oil, and sometimes (e) push other players trains backward.

Moving trucks allows players to claim good locations and drill for oil more effectively (more production). Moving the train saves on shipping costs for the oil they produce. Bidding for selling oil can be critical when the markets are good so these cards are very useful, but you have to have a lot of oil first. The extra oil is okay but moving other players trains can be very effective late in the game where it costs them a lot of points to move them back.

I think that there is a huge advantage in going first each turn and that the game would benefit for an auction to determine the start player (either at the beginning or maybe each turn), however, it does already run fairly long and this might increase playing time too much.

I didn't play the game particularly well and that may have tarnished my opinion but I just didn't feel any tension in the game and each turn was fairly repetitive with no "build up".

Andrew proved to be the "JR Ewing" of our group and won with 94k, Adam was next with 83k, and Eileen and I finished well off the mark with 44k and 54k respectively.

Cheryl and Troy enjoyed playing this game at our house a few weeks before and they played it again at Steve's. Father Michael was guilty of Brother Adelmo's tragic murder but Brother Troy accused him correctly and won the game with 4 pts. Warren had a correct revelation for 2 while Cheryl must have missed on a revelation and finished with -2. Jaimie and Sharon were tied with 0 and kept their vows of silence.

Matt was the best Pirate with 31, Steve 25, and Danielle 23.

Steve dominated the rails with 162, Matt 112, Danielle 104.

This is a game that I have never played. Warren won with 2 stations, Troy had 1 station but finished before Sharon who also had 1 stations. Jamie had 0 stations and Cheryl died (whatever that means...)

Session Report May 1, 2007

*** Thanks again to Sharon for the session report since I was at my son's baseball game ***

Attendees (11): Troy Shady, Steve Walker, Andrew Bradley, Andy Manning, Tamara Ferretti, Sharon Madden, Joel Weeks, Adam Whitney, Eileen Tooke, Pat Harmon, David Harmon

Everybody met at our place for game night this week. We welcomed our neighbors, David and Pat Harmon, for their first experience with German/Euro boardgames. David wanted to observe this first time, but we got Pat into a game of TransAmerica right away, and she pulled off the win! We enjoyed having David and Pat and hope to see them back for more fun and games!

Here's what we played:

In TransAmerica, each player tries to connect their rail lines to 5 cities in 5 different areas of the board -- West Coast, Southern US, Central US, Northern US, and East Coast. Players choose a starting spot on the board and build from there by placing either 1 or 2 pieces of track each turn, depending on the type of terrain. Initially, players can only build off their own rail lines, but once a line connects with another, players can build off the other lines and vice versa. The winner is the player who connects to all 5 of their cities first. The other players move their trains down the score track the number of spaces needed to connect all their cities. The game ends after several rounds when at least one player's train has either passed the barrier on the score track or taken a dive into the Pacific Ocean.
The key in this game is networking, networking, networking. The sooner you're able to connect to other rail lines, the quicker you'll connect all your cities. Yes, by doing this, you are helping other players, but in this game, you won't get very far very fast by yourself.
Tonight, Eileen was the first train into the Pacific, followed by Joel, Adam, and Pat.

Joel and Adam were acknowledged by the Sun God Ra together as our most famous players with 35 points each. However, Joel impressed Ra further by having the higher total of suns. Leaving a favorable impressions on the Gods were Eileen and Pat with 34 and 33 respectively. A very close game!

In That's Life, also known as Verflixxt, players have a set of 3 pawns that they are moving through a design of hexes with positive and negative numbers on them. The values range from -10 to +8. Players roll a die and choose one of their pawns or a guard pawn to move. There are also fortune cards along the route which once collected, turn any negative number in a player's possession into a positive number. More than one player may land on a hex, but the last player to leave a hex gets to keep it -- whether they want it or not. Also, if your pawn is on a hex with a guard pawn and the guard pawn is still there when you leave it, you do not collect the hex. Once all players have reached the finish line, the game is over, and the winner is the person with the most positive points.
This is a light filler game that is based on luck. Sure, there is some strategy, but if you're not rolling the right numbers to begin with, you're going to come out with a low score. But hey...That's Life.
Tonight's lucky duck was Andy with 22, followed by Steve with 21, Eileen with 9 and Adam with a score was too negative to count.

This is one of Troy's favorite games, so he suggested it. Andy and I played it a couple of weeks ago, and we were excited to give it another go. In my initial writing about this game, I wrote that it is beneficial to collect UP cards early on, and I should have followed my own advice. My dilemma was some helpful stock cards coming up early for me, and once I got everything I needed, most of the UP cards were gone, and I ended up with only 2. It definitely wasn't my best UP game, but nonetheless, I enjoyed playing it.
Tonight's top investor was Troy with $93, followed closely by Steve with $89. Tamara came in next with $75, followed by Sharon with $67, Andrew with $66 (very close), and Andy with $57.

Troy, Andrew and I decided to test our chariot driving skills in Circus Maximus. Players receive a deck of 24 cards, and they are numbered 1-6, with 4 of each card. The numbers totally barely enough spaces to complete 3 laps around the ring. Players shuffle their decks, and draw the first 3 cards as their starting hand. On your turn, you play one of your cards, move your chariot that number, and draw back up to 3. The only stipulations with playing cards are that if you're in first place, you cannot play a card with a value of 6, and if you can't move with the cards in your hand, you must pass your turn. During one of the 3 laps, players must detour to Emperor's Alley, stop there, salute Caesar (loudly and enthusiastically) and pay a denari as a tribute. The first player to cross the finish line after 3 laps and paying homage to Caesar is the winner.
This is a cute, light filler. It's tricky, though, because you can end up behind the finish line with not enough points to cross, depending on how your cards stack up and which tracks you're able to take. Troy was tonight's fastest chariot driver, coming in first, followed by Andrew and then me.
Just for kicks and grins, Andrew and I played it again playing with 2 chariots each. Andrew came in first and third and I came in second and fourth.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Session Report April 24, 2007

Attendees(7): Michael, Barbara, Sharon, Warren, Cheryl, Troy, and Andrew.

Warren, Steve, and I played this Michael Schacht design. I own Paris Paris and Web of Power has some similarities but it is a little more complex. The nice thing about this game (and Paris Paris) is that it has some strategy but can be played in a short time. The downside is that there is a lot of luck and there is very little tension (at least for me). I was fortunate to get a lot of France cards and build up a strong Ambassador base there that carried me to victory in this one.
Final Scores: Mike 66, Andrew 52, and Warren 50.

This was a new game for all three of us. It was a very interesting economic game with lots of tactical decisions. It will definitely take more plays to figure out a strategy for this one. Andrew was unfortunate to fall behind on closing out regions and was unable to catch up.
Final Scores: Mike 152, Warrern 142, and Andrew 108.

Cheryl and Troy learned this one for the first time and I think they enjoyed this clever deduction game. They questioned the Monks in the Abbey along with Sharon and Barbara and tried to deduce who killed Brother Adelmo. I recently purchased this game since we have always liked Clue and this is like Clue with a bunch of twists from Bruno Faidutti thrown in. Sharon was able to solve the crime and reveal the culprit...
Final Scores: Sharon 4, Cheryl 2, Barbara 1, and Troy 0.

This is a fun light game about penguins claiming fish along an ice floe. Barbara edged out Sharon with more fish 47 to 38.

Session Report April 17, 2007

***Sharon did this report since I was unable to attend***

Attendees: (8) Warren Madden, Sharon Madden, Adam Whitney, Eileen Tooke, Andy Manning, Andrew Bradley, Matt Asher, Jaimie Asher, Steve Walker, Joel Weeks, Troy Shady

Troy proved to be the most successful archaeologist tonight digging up a score of 44 points. Hot on his excavation trail were Andrew with 41, Matt with 40, and Steve with 17.

Puerto Rico
Matt, Jaimie, Troy, Steve and Andrew set off for Puerto Rico, attempting to become the island's most successful and prosperous developer. Andrew successfully earned that title scoring 46 points, but Matt gave him a a little competition with a score of 40. Steve and Jaimie tied at 38 points and Troy was close behind with 33 points. Steve staked his claim on third place with 6 gold and 2 resources compared to Jaimie's 4 gold and 1 resource.

Union Pacific
Another of my favorite Alan Moon games, Union Pacific is a game of expanding railway companies and attaining stock majority to earn money/victory points. There are 10 railway companies available, and on their turn, players may do 1 of 2 actions: expand a rail line to increase its value or lay down stock cards to increase their ownership in a railway company or companies. When playing stock cards, players may either lay down 1 or 2 stock cards of different companies or as many cards as they like from one company. There is a Union Pacific railway company, which is a separate entity not represented on the board.
Instead, it pays dividends to shareholders in set amounts with each scoring. There are 4 random scorings, and with the exception on Union Pacific stock, only the first- and second-place shareholders will reap the dividend rewards -- everyone else is left out. Money earned from dividends represents victory points, and after the last scoring round, the player with the most money is the winner.
I think the key in this game is diversity in investing and playing the stock cards that will give you the most majorities -- all in a timely manner. Stock cards come up randomly, so you don't know exactly what will be available to you on your turn, but you'll have an idea of which stocks other players are collecting. Union Pacific stock is limited (20 cards in the game -- once they're got, they're gone), and because the payouts increase with each scoring, I think it's beneficial to collect UP cards early on, as Joel did. Of course, you never know exactly when scoring will occur, so timing is everything. Each time I play, there are several turns when I wish I could lay down 3 or 4 different stock cards instead of 1 or 2. It's always a fun game for me.
Tonight's biggest railroad stock market investor was Joel with $108.
Chugging along behind him were Adam with $92, Sharon with $85, Andy with $77, Warren with $75, and Eileen with $58.

Royal Turf (AKA Winner's Circle)
After making our millions from railroad investments, it was off to the races! Royal Turf is a horse-racing game played over 3 races. There are 7 different horses in each race, and players have 4 betting chips (valued at 2, 1, 1, and 0 -- a bluff bet) to place on the horses they hope will take the top 3 places. Movement for each horse is determined by a die roll, with each player trying to get their horses past the finish line the quickest, while trying to nix the others. Only the horses in the top 3 pay out in the Winner's Circle, and those betting on the horse in last place have to pay back £100 per bet. All other horses get nothing but a bucket of oats and the hopes of making it into the top 3 during the next race.
This is a cute little filler, but it's really tricky to figure out.
Certain horses are fairly steady in movement numbers, while others tend to be slower overall. But, the slow ones can get a second wind (aka that one really good die roll) and trot to the front of the pack, leaving everyone else eating their dust.
Adam and Eileen definitely had the inside scoop on the winning horses.
Adam cashed out with £2,450 and Eileen with £2,350. The rest of us will be mucking out stalls -- Warren came away with £1,200, Sharon with £1,000, Joel with £750 and Andy with £650.