Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Games without Victory Points

While teaching a lot of games to my son's friend he mentioned to me that a lot of the games we play have victory points for who wins. This observation prompted me to start thinking about the games in my collection that do not use victory points to determine the winner. I've broken these up into several categories/game types to help sort this out. I decided that games that determine the winner by who has the most money at the end are just victory point games in disguise so they are not included.

Games that eliminate other players
These games are "classic" games like Monopoly and Risk where the object is to be the last player standing. I don't own many of these games and they are not bad for shorter games but generally I steer away from player elimination games. Stratego and Battleship also have this element. I would even include Bang in this category (the last team standing - Outlaws, Sheriff/deputies, or Renegade).

Deduction Games
These are games where players try to determine who commited a crime, etc. Clue, Whodunnit, and Mystery of the Abbey are the only games I own in this category. I still need to make a deck for Deduce or Die as it is the best deduction game I've played.

Race Games
These are games where the first player to cross a finish line or reach a certain space is the winner. Pure racing games like Hare and Tortoise and Snow Tails are in this category. But also games like Parchesi, Trivial Pursuit, Scene It, and Pictionary are also in this category.

Cooperative Games
These are games where the players work together to defeat the game (or in some cases another player). Pandemic, Lord of the Rings, Mousquetaires du Roy, Castle Panic, and Castle Ravenloft all fall in this category.

Unique Game Ending conditions
This is a catch all for the games that I couldn't categorize... I'll just list them.

To Court the King - this dice game ends with a final round where everyone tries to impress the King and the player who does so wins.

Lord of the Rings Confrontation - this asymmetrical game ends when the Ringbearer(Frodo) is defeated or he reaches Mt Doom.

Niagara - this game ends when one (or more) player(s) acquires either a gem of each color, 4 of the same color gems, or 7 total gems.

Blokus - the victor is the person with the fewest piece segments left to play.

Can you think of other categories?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

First Impressions of New Games

I just acquired some new games this summer and here are my impressions after a couple of plays of each.

Conquest of Nerath: This is the new wargame based on D&D universe. It reminds me of Axis and Allies, Nexus Ops, and Risk.

Production Quality is great on this game. The components are superb. Some models are the same for each nation (there are 4) but they also have many unique figures also. The characteristics of the units are the same for each nation though. The map is easy to see with good names and even icons for setting up the board to start the game. The only weakness in the design is the layout of the reference sheets but that is minor as after two games I have most of the pieces and base treasuries memorized.

Initial Setup is well thought out as the game commences with combat starting on the 1st turn. You must attack to get victory points (no turtling in this one!) and you do not get victory points for liberating your starting regions. This last point really changes the way you play the game and makes things very interesting tactically. Also, since your reinforcements MOVE when they come into play you can defend a forward position or threaten an active assault more easily. This all really keeps the game moving forward. Add in the other victory point mechanism (treasures and dungeons) and the game goes to another level.

The overall movement and combat mechanics are simple with some special unit abilities (Dragons fly and take 2 hits, Fighters and Wizards can conquer dungeons, Siege Engines are better attacking, etc). The event cards are different for each nation and the better cards are with the nations going later in turn order (at least player 2 and 4 have good event cards -- I'm still not sure on player 3 but player 1 certainly has the weakest cards). I haven't seen all the cards as I've only played 2 games but these differences help to balance out the starting positions and provide lots of flavor/strategy to each game. This is also true of Treasures which can really add a twist to your strategy.

The game doesn't overstay its welcome as the game can complete in a few hours and there is constant action. I'm really pleased with the game so far and would definitely play this over most Axis and Allies and Risk variants. Tentative rating: 8

Airlines Europe: This is the Alan Moon game that is a re-themed Union Pacific (which is a re-themed Airlines).

I wanted to have a game with "stocks" and the airlines theme was new to the family (I don't have Acquire). So far I have only played it with 3 players which is okay but I think that the game will be better with 4 and 5 players.

Production quality is also excellent in this game. The map is nice and the references and cards are of high quality. The airplane tokens are also well done and it has an insert for everything in the box.

The game is all about getting majority in the stocks of the Airlines that are the most successful. Turns are fast as you have 4 choices but once you learn the game these choices are very straightforward. The game is not a lot of tension except when two players are fighting for majority and both are looking for a key stock to show up. There are some interesting decisions that players have to make about when to invest in Air Abacus stock and how to manage cash flow.

I think the game is okay with 3 players but I really expect it to be much better with more as the fights for majorities will be more interesting and blocking will be more intense.
Tentative Rating: 7

7 Wonders - Leaders: This is the first expansion for 7 Wonders.

We have already played 15 games of 7 Wonders this year and I expect it to break the 20 game barrier easily before the year is out. This game and Dominion have really been our family game of choice for a 30-60 minute game.

The Leaders expansion adds more options and opens up some new strategies in the game so I think that is a good thing. Also, there are enough leaders that many games can be played without seeing the same ones (at least 4 player games). The game also adds "6" value coins and lets players start with more money. The new Wonder (Rome) provides a Wonder that is all about utilizing Leaders.

With adding new cards there are more "combos" where players can exploit leaders and Wonders more and I think this is a good thing. This adds more strategy to the drafting mechanics as players start "counter drafting" cards to minimize their neighbors (at least when the opportunity presents itself). This was already there to a lesser extent (limit a science player from getting too many science cards or stopping key Guilds from reaching your neighbors). Now there are more things to watch.

Tentative Rating: 8

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

2007-2010 Games Played

This is a brief summary of Games played each of the past 4 years and seeing what trends have happened. I did this in 2007 and now I'm getting it current... Also, I will list some of my recent games that I'm playing in 2011.

Top 5 Games Played (# of Plays)

Fairy Tale (34)
To Court the King (26)
Uno (19)
D&D Labrynth Game (15)
San Juan (12)

Race for the Galaxy (29)
Chess (15)
Bohnanza (11)
San Juan (10)
No Thanks! , Ticket to Ride, Lord of the Rings Confrontation, MtG (8)

Chess (95)
Dominion (60)
Race for the Galaxy (26)
Puerto Rico (16)
Small World and To Court the King (15)

Chess (93)
Dominion (23)
Pandemic (15)
Fairy Tale (12)
Through the Ages, Endeavor, Puerto Rico (9)

2007-2010 Top 10

Chess (214)
Dominion (85)
Race for the Galaxy (64)
Fairy Tale (56)
To Court the King (45)
Puerto Rico, Settlers of Catan (31)
San Juan (27)
Pandemic, Bonanza (25)

A lot of these games are card games that can be played quickly and are enjoyed by the family. I played a lot of chess through facebook so that is why it is so high on the list. When I look at just Board Games (excluding Chess) I have:

2007-2010 Top 10 (Board Games only)
Puerto Rico, Settlers of Catan (31)
Pandemic (25)
D&D Labrynth Game (19)
Monopoly (19)
Pay Day (18)
Small World (17)
Power Grid, Ticket to Ride (16)
Ra (12)

This is a pretty good list of games that I play with my kids or with the family. Most of the games I play with the boardgame group are varied but here are the top ones.

2007-1010 Top 10 Boardgame Group Games
Dominion (18)
Bang!, Pandemic (11)
Power Grid (8)
Race for the Galaxy (7)
Small World, Last Night on Earth (6)
San Juan, Shogun, Caylus (5)

This list adds a few other games to the list like Caylus, Shogun, Bang! and Last Night on Earth. In 2011, you can add 7 Wonders to the list as we have already played it 6 times this year in the Game Group.

Dominion has certainly been a hit with the family and the game group. I have tried several of the other deck building games (though I would like to try Thunderstone) and I haven't been very impressed by any of them except for Nightfall. I like the original design of Nightfall however I don't like the tie-breaker rule and ties are far too common so far. Dominion is good but I don't think that I will be buying any more expansions for it (I have Dominion, Intrigue, Seaside, and Prosperity).

Puerto Rico, Settlers, Pandemic and Ticket to Ride are still consistent great games with replayability. Similarly Race for the Galaxy, San Juan, and Fairy Tale have been replayed over several years with the family.

In 2011, I have played several new games including 7 Wonders (10), Kingsburg (8), Merchants and Marauders (7), Nightfall (6), Dungeonlords (5), Macao (4), Castle Ravenloft (4), and Mousquetaires du Roy (4).

I will add another update with some thoughts on these new games.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

House Rules

Below is an article that I started drafting back in 2008 and finally have come back to finish it. I will try to start posting some more comments and updating some links on the site in the next few months. I'm still playing games but just haven't been updating the blog until now.
Have you ever played a game of monopoly and thought, this is too long and I wish it had more decisions that just buy everything I land on? Have you ever wondered how useful the University might be in Puerto Rico or maybe the Cube Favor Track in Caylus?

I have always enjoyed tinkering with game rules and also with how a game "works". What I mean by this is that games tend to have one or more mechanisms or elements that really drive the game. Changing some of the core elements of a game can really result in a totally different game and this is not what I want when I create House Rules (at least not usually). What I want to do is modify a part of the design to either (1) allow for more strategy, (2) reduce a dominant strategy, and/or (3) just add more of what is fun about the game. I'm sure there are other reasons but I'll just touch on these for now... With these ideas in mind here are some of my house rules for games that I own. After each house rule I will list the reasons (above numbers) for why I created them.

Monopoly (1,2,and 3)
I'll start with a game that everyone is familiar with and probably associates with a long drawn out game. First, many people don't follow the Monopoly rules as written (nothing happens on Free Parking and there are auctions for properties that are landed on and not purchased).

House Rule #1 - Players start with $500 (instead of $2000). I have found that mosts games of standard Monopoly tend to open with players buying every property that they land on in the initial few trips around the board. This house rule addresses my primary concern on money and makes property purchases much more tactical in the early game.

House Rule #2 - Utilities count as RailRoads (cost $200, Rent for 5 RR is $400 and 6RR is $800). Utilities are impractical purchases as they cannot generate cash via Monopolies and are much less useful than a few railroads. This house rule makes Railroads extremely valuable in the early game and increases their sustainability over the long game.

House Rule #3 - When a player lands on a property they can buy it if they wish for the listed price. If they do not buy it then it goes up for auction among the other players. Beginning with the next player to the left each player may bid. First bid must be List Price or higher and each subsequent bid must be higher then the last. When a player passes they are out of the auction. This house rule keeps auctions starting at the property price which helps offset any cashflow problems in the early game by any players who make agressive purchases.

My experience is that this version of Monopoly is much more tactical and enjoyable AND it can often complete in 90 minutes or less. I have had one two-player game end before I made one complete lap around the board! It does tend to make the low cost monopolies more powerful as there is not enough cash to build up an expensive one early but I have found the games to be more enjoyable if I have to play it with the kids.

Puerto Rico (1)
Overall, I would not make changes to this game as it is a great design and I particluarly like to play it with the expansion buildings in the mix to make for a variety of different strategies. The only change that I have made with this game is to alter the cost of the University from 8 to 7. This makes the building more viable and I have never seen it abused in any games at the 7 level.

Amun Re (1)
I have talked about my house rules on this game in my Amun Re review. These changes have made decisions in the game more interesting and have helped to balance out the Power Cards so that I don't feel like any particular Power Card is "too weak". While they all have their uses some will still be more useful with particular players and/or strategies. This feels right for me.

To Court the King (1,2)
I love dice manipulation games, so I thoroughly enjoyed this game when I first purchased it. However, I quickly found out that the "strategies" were very limited and almost always the player who grabbe extra dice (particularly the General) would win 90+% of the time. Also, if a player missed on getting an advisor early and got a Jester then they would not be able to catch up with others. This was exasserbated in a 3 player game where the farmers would often go to the 1st and 2nd players and the 3rd player would have to get 15+ or else be stuck with a Jester. Not fun.

House Rule #1 - The General’s 2 extra dice are different (white) and they MUST be fixed prior to any other dice. This makes the General less effective overall and generally requires at least one control card to make him beneficial which balances him with other choices. I read about this one on the Tao of Gaming website and quickly implemented it with great success.

House Rule #2 - The following cards and card combinations provide players with an additional Fool/Charlatan card when they are taken (combo is met).
· Serving Maid
· Philosopher
· Merchant
· Noblewoman & Magician
· Nobleman & Alchemist

This rule really helps to balance out the control cards with the extra dice cards. It gives the ability to get extra dice (through the Charlatan) and it allows a player who gets a Jester early to have a viable way back into the game. It also makes for a variety of different strategies and a player who takes only extra dice will have to be extremely lucky to win against a player who takes a few control cards (balance seems about right now). These changes did warrant a slightly different change in the numbers of cards placed in the tablaeu for various numbers of players.

Marvel Super Heroes (3), War of the Ring (1,3), World of Warcraft (3)
These games are all longer games with a lot of theme. I will briefly touch on some of my house rules for these games.

Marvel - I added 12 X-Men, 12 Avengers, 5 FF, and 8 Marvel Knights to the original 16 heroes. Some of these can be used with multiple teams (She Hulk was an Avenger and part of the Fantastic Four in the comics). I also added 8 new Masterminds (12 total) so that each team has 3 different possible Masterminds to face. Some are tougher than others but I balanced this by how the teams are chosen in the beginning. These changes don't affect the gameplay but add a lot of flavor and replay value for comic fans. In addition, I made a few house rules so that turn order is by VP (instead of starting with the lowest and going clockwise) and in how story cards are used but generally I just added more variety.

War of the Ring - I have written a few articles just on this one so I won't go into more details again here. However, these changes increased the replay value for me and opened up a lot of different strategies in the game.

World of Warcraft - I only play this game with the first expansion and I found that the base game allowed players to take out the overlord at 4th level without requiring anyone to get to 5th level. Also, the game didn't have enough interaction with other players (aside from a long Player vs Player combat).
House Rule #1 - I created tougher overlords so that all 3 of them require more powerful players to defeat them. This makes character advancement to 5th level more important (at least for 1 or 2 of the players) and opens up more possibilities while only slightly adding length.
House Rule #2 - Expanded town actions. I wanted to add more options for when a player is in town. Especially if they only wanted to get some training (and not healing). I added options to allow them to visit the Tavern, the Magistrate, the Oracle, or to even have more focused training and save some Gold.
House Rule #3 - Secondary Skills. All characters now get a random secondary skill that provides more flavor with some small benefits.
House Rule #4 - Advanced Quests. I added a whole new deck of quests that can be completed by either player. This opens up more options and also produces more interaction without promoting more direct conflicts (which bog the game down).

Caylus (1,2)
The two issues I have with Caylus are that players don't utilize the Cube Favor track and the stone production buildings are over utilized. I am still experimenting with my house rules to address these issues.
House Rule #1 - When a player would get a cube for someone else placing on their building they can only get the cube if they give up 1 victory point (the one they got when the other player placed on their building). This house rule seems to make these production buildings not so over balanced and my hope is that it will also open up more needs for players to acquire cubes from that favor track at certain times. I am hesitant to increase the capabilities on the favor track as I don't want to make it too strong. Small steps with house rules are generally best ;-)