Thursday, May 27, 2010

Gameplay: It Happened Sooner Than I Thought It Would

I stayed home today with my daughter to have a Daddy-Daughter day with my little girl. She's three years old and will turn four at the end of July. Anyhow, I decided to take part of my time with her to play some games. Molly chose Pitch Car, as she has been somewhat obsessed with the game of late.

She hasn't gotten the knack of free-building tracks yet and when she tries she ends up placing turns so that they end up going into existing track and being unable to complete it. So, I let her choose which track diagram and I built it for her.

Daddy chose the yellow car and she picked the green car. An odd choice for her, as she usually will play pink. She gave me her car and asked me to put new tires on it. That is a ritual for us. I pretend to use a pneumatic lug nut socket drill and make the noises as if I am changing her four tires then hand the car back to her. We then set off.

We usually only go for one lap races with my daughter. She's gotten good enough that she could probably go for a standard three-lap race now, but she gets so excited about crossing the finish line, I think it would confuse her. Besides, we usually get in three one-lap races instead and I am content with that anyhow.

Anyhow, the race begins and from the onset I am plagued with problems. My car keeps jumping off the track and my daughter gets a good lead on me. Now that isn't what this is about. She's actually had a couple of legitimate wins on me already. She's gotten really good at Pitch Car and sometimes the luck of her flicks is just magical.

She rounds the final turn and if I'm lucky I'm a good three flicks behind her. It's her turn and she has a short straight away to the finish line and I'm sure she's going to pass it. But her flick is off and she barely budges. I get a good flick in and make up some of the distance, but she's still very much in the lead and only one flick away from winning.

She lines up her shot and her car barely moves again. Her finger barely hit it and she happily tells me it's my turn. I hit a good flick and make it around the bend and I'm on the last straight path to the finish line. But my daughter is still ahead of me and two inches away from the finish line. I'm feeling kind of proud that I at least closed this distance before my little girl beat me.

She lines up her shot and... her finger barely hits her car and it moves maybe a quarter inch to the side.

I'm feeling bad now since I came back and I'm set to steal a victory from my little three year old daughter. The Daddy in me takes over and I take pity on my little girl's string of bad flicks and I tell her, "You barely hit that one, Pixie. Why don't you try again?"

She shakes her head and tells me, "No, Daddy. I'm trying to lose. I want you to win because you crashed so much."

I was stunned. But what else could I do?

I lined up my shot and flicked across the finish line and my daughter cheered for me, "Yay! Daddy! I knew you could do it! You win!"

I smiled to her, proud of her sportsmanship and generosity, but also swallowing down the pride in the fact that a three year old girl threw a game for me to give me a pity win.



An old picture of Molly playing Pitch Car. One from the days when her Daddy was the one giving out pity wins.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Review: Deadlands

My biases first: I am a big fan of theme in games and do not mind reaching through piles of chits if the theme and game play is good enough. While I do favor confrontation, chits, bits and polished pieces of AT games, there are still a large number of Euros that I'll build my farm on or attend auctions at and be quite content at the end of my experience. Also, since I am an old school RPGer, I'm familiar with and even had some of the books for the Deadlands RPG system, though I never got to play it. So, I am familiar with the game world. I am also one of the five people who owned, played and enjoyed the Werewolf: the Wild West game system and setting (the other four people were the other players in my campaign I ran). So I have nothing against mixing the supernatural with the Wild West.


The Overview:


The box is a compact 9.25" x 9.25' x 2.25" and features what looks like a Photoshopped silhouette of the Deadlands logo and the Hangin' Judge artwork layered on top of a stock photo of a Wild West building.



Everything in the box. 



Deadlands: The Battle for Slaughter Gulch is a horror themed combat and control game set in the world of Deadlands, which is an alternate American Wild West setting in which the lands of cowboys, sheriffs and marshals are transformed into a combination steampunk and horror setting with mad scientists, Native American shamans and the undead all battle for control of Ghost Rock, a mystical element that is used in the steampunk technology and also in many magic and mystic rituals. Add to that the evil spirit Reckoners who thrive on fear and cannot fully manifest on Earth unless the location is so taut with fear that the local environment itself becomes a physical manifestation of that fear and horror. Once the world is ripe enough with fear, the Reckoners will be able to fully pass into our world and create Hell on Earth.

Fortunately I had some experience with the Deadlands RPG system, because these themes are not really presented in the rulebook of the game to explain why magic using card shark Hucksters are battling Mad Scientists and Texas Rangers in a town populated by Saloon Girls, Gamblers, Soldiers, Prospectors and Zombies. I suppose that you don't necessarily have to know the setting to enjoy the game, but since it is a such a rich, interesting setting, I think the game did a bit of a disservice to itself by forgoing this.

Anyhow, each player controls on Outfit. The outfits include the Agency and the Texas Rangers (which are essentially lawmen), The Blessed, Hucksters and Shaman (which are spell casters) and Mad Scientists (who have steampunk gadgets). The town buildings are then randomly placed with the Mine and the Rail Station always sitting in static positions at either end of the town. Each player then begins with 3 equipment cards and the town locations are populated with a random Townsfolk. Each player also has a map representing the town layout in front of them and a screen to hide it from other players.

After everything is set up, the game end conditions are determined by rolling a six-sided die with each result offering a different way to trigger the end game. For example, if a "1" is rolled, then the game ends when the last encounter card is drawn. If a "2" is rolled, then it ends when one Outfit controls at least 3 locations at the beginning of a turn. Each player then marks on their player map where they want their starting 3 characters to begin and then all players simultaneously reveal their maps and move their characters to their starting locations.

Play then begins with each turn representing one day in Slaughter Gulch. Each player has a number of tokens that represent the unique actions that their Outfit can perform. Each player chooses an action for each of their characters and places it on their personal map behind their screen, also using the tokens to denote where each character will move that turn. After everyone has finished placing their tokens, all maps are revealed and everyone moves their characters to the locations marked on their player maps.

After the characters are moved, two random event cards are drawn and resolved. Events may signify new Townsfolk arriving in town, a possible jailbreak, someone in jail getting hung, stampedes, trains coming to town and so on.

After that, the action tokens for each character are resolved. Starting at the Railroad and moving clockwise around the town locations, each player resolves the action tokens for any of their characters in that location. This is the meat of the turn and the game. Each action token has a number on it as well to determine the order that they are resolved in if there are multiple characters in one location. Actions differ by Outfit, but there are some standard actions available for all factions (such as Fight, Recruit, Shop, Prospect). Other actions are Outfit specific (casting Spells, Mesmerize, Arrest, Raise the Dead, invent a Gadget).

Just because you have placed an action token does not necessarily mean that you will be able to perform that action since the tokens were placed without knowing how or where the other players would be moving. So you may have played a Fight action because you expected to be on the same location with a character of another Outfit, but it ended up that he moved out of the space during his movement, leaving you with no one to fight. Certain other actions are even more tricky to perform on members of another Outfit, such as Arrest. In order to successfully perform the Arrest action, the character needs to be in the same location as a member of another Outfit and the opposing character must have used the Action of Rob or Shoot earlier that round. Now, these actions can still be performed on Townsfolk in that location, but it really is rather tricky to set it up to affect another Outfit member with it. Other actions, such as Rob, can be used to try to rob a train or stage coach coming into town, however, it must be done blindly since you must place the action before the event cards are drawn and so you do not necessarily know if a train or stage coach will even be in town that turn.

Some actions need to you roll a number of dice based on your Outfit's stat and compare your result to a target number that you need to meet or exceed. For example, trying to Rob a Townsfolk you would check their Agility score (in this case "5") for the target number. If your Agility is 2d6, then you need to roll 2 six-sided dice and take the highest result of the two dice. If either of them is 5 or higher, then you would succeed.

Direct conflicts between two players, such as fights and such, are resolved by rolling a number of six-sided dice based on your Outfit's stats and taking the highest result. For example, if a Texas Ranger with a Shootin' stat of 2d6 tries to shoot a Huckster with an Agility stat of 2d6, the Ranger would roll 2 six-sided dice and take the highest result. The Huckster tries to dodge and rolls 2 six-sided dice and takes his highest result. Whoever has the higher result wins. Ties are rerolled. However, if a six is rolled on any of the dice, it is rerolled and added to the new dice rolls. If another six comes up, it is also added to the total and rerolled again. This lets a character pull off almost impossible feats with a bit of luck on their die rolls.

If you have the most amount of characters in a location, that location gives you extra abilities that your Outfit can use.

Each Outfit also has a number of Objective Cards that they have at the beginning of the game. Objectives are Outfit specific and offer a way for players to get victory points throughout the game. The Mad Scientists, for example, get 2 Victory Points if they can damage and 2 characters with a gadget and the Texas Rangers get 1 Victory Point for arresting 2 Evil NPC Townsfolk. Each Outfit has 6 different Objectives that they can complete.

This continues until the end game conditions rolled at the game start are met. When the game ends, each player gets 1 Victory Point per character they have, 1 VP for each Ghost Rock they have, 5 VPs for each location they control (having the most characters in it), the Victory Points for every Objective they've completed and every Item, Spell or Gadget that they possess offers a number of Victory Points as well. Whoever has the highest total is named the Mayor of Slaughter Gulch and wins the game.


The Theme:

As I stated earlier, Deadlands: The Battle for Slaughter Gulch comes from a setting of rich and heavy theme, but the game does not offer up a good descriptive writing of what is going on in the world. Still, it does not make the game in any way unplayable, but it is just a missed opportunity to explain why these cowboys are fighting living dead horrors.

Each of the factions plays differently and has a different feel to it. This is represented not only by the different stats of each Outfit, but also by the different Objectives that each Outfit has and the fact that each Outfit has its own group of Actions that they can perform. I really like that each faction is set up like this and it really does give each faction a unique feel.

Events and encounters are a little generic and could probably bring in a little more feel of the horror of the Deadlands world, but I suppose this specific game isn't about the horror of the setting and instead focuses on the difference in the Outfits.


Learning the Game:

The rules of this game are atrocious. The basics are laid out well enough and you get a good enough sense of how the game is supposed to play. However, there is a lot of ambiguity in the rules when specific events start to occur within the game. Currently the 20 page 5.5" x 8.5" rule book is supplemented by an 8 page 8.5" x 11" FAQ document.

A lot of the ambiguity comes from the application of some of the Spells and specific Items and equipment and how their effects are implemented in the game. I highly suggest printing out this FAQ before you play your first game and keeping it handy. It also would not be bad to have close access to BGG to check the question forums as well when you play your first game just in case you come across any ambiguities not in the FAQ.

The rulebook itself does not have many illustrations and precious few examples. It really feels like it was hastily put together and is missing a lot. A section at the end to explain the specifics of some of the cards would have been great, as would have including more examples and perhaps a few more illustrations.


The Components:


Each Outfit has 6 well produced, detailed figures to represent their characters in the game, all of which match one of these unique figures. 



An example Encounter Card which denotes what Townsfolk is at a specific location.



A town tile. These are laid out randomly to create the town of Slaughter Gulch.




A game in progress.



The figures for the game are beautiful. The illustrations and artwork on all of the cards is very beautiful and very fitting for the theme and style of the game. Ghost Rock totals are represented by small crystal rocks and are sufficient and thematic. The town segments are on a sturdy board and are a little bland in appearance. However, considering the random modular board set up and the fact that really the American Wild West doesn't exactly offer up a vibrant color palette to use, they are fully acceptable and completely functional.

If you take into account that it is a smaller press game, the components are really exemplary. The only real complaints that I have with the components (other than the rulebook) are minor.

The player maps are a regular part of the game and every player uses one religiously throughout the game. They are preprinted, but in such a way that they are still useful considering the modular random build of the town. However, in two-player games, four of the locations are removed from the town. The player maps then do not reflect the correct building lay out. The backs of the player maps should have a 8 building town set up on it to reflect the different town layout if the 2-player variant is going to be included in the standard rules.

Finally, a very small complaint that I have is the over use of the standard "Old West" font. It looks great for titles and headlines and is very thematic. But the thick, hard serif font does not work so well when entire lines and paragraphs of text are written out like this. Fortunately, this is not the case in the rulebook, but every player's Outfit screen has their Outfit and turn summaries written on them in this font. It is a bit difficult to read and almost headache inducing with the thick solid black letters piercing so hard against the stark white background. It may just be me on this one (and it really is a minor issue), but having a printing background, it really stands out to me as an overuse of the font going more for style than clarity on the screens.


Playing the Game:

Playing the game is a jumbled, sometimes frustrating experience for your first play. Again, I highly suggest printing out the FAQ before playing to help explain some Spell timing issues and other rule ambiguities. Later plays become smoother, but that first experience may just turn too many people off to hit the point where it is smoother.

The positives of the play, however, come from the different Outfit play styles and each really does have its own agenda and goals. Those familiar with the Deadlands RPG will see how the game Outfits capture the theme of the RPG game.

However, the hidden movement of other players and choosing your actions before seeing where people will be or what is arriving in town makes some of the play feel overly chaotic. If I am playing a law character and I'm looking to arrest another player, it really comes simply down to complete luck that I played the action on a turn when another Outfit character is also in my location and has either played a Rob or Shoot action. This is good in the sense that it doesn't overpower the law characters from just blindly arresting everyone, but it does make it's applicable use against other players really just chaotic. The same goes with trying to rob a stage coach or a train. I may have a character up and ready at the train station, ready to rob, but none arrives. Granted, controlling the Telegraph office lets you peek at the upcoming Event Cards, but without that, it is just blind luck on if you have a coach to rob or not. Perhaps that is part of the game that is intentional: Mitigating and anticipating actions through the chaos. However, the problem with that is that when you are unsuccessful, you just get the feel of the chaos and randomness in the game.


Scalability:

The game is for 2-6 players. Two players, as I stated, modifies the game board and the biggest problem with the scaling of it comes with the board layout differing from the player maps. The problem with the scalability is that some faction abilities seem to be a bit more suited to more players than others. For example, as I mentioned before, getting a successful "Arrest" action against another Outfit is such a random chance. However, with more players and more Outfits, more players are on the board and you end up being more likely to end up in a location with another Outfit member who may be doing an arrestable action. It still can get a little random and chaotic, but your chances of hitting the right location at the right time are increased a bit (and again, these actions can still be used against Townsfolk, but by forcing these actions to only be used in this manner weakens the interaction potential of this game, especially for these factions).

More players can cause more chaos, so in that respect 3 or maybe 4 players may be best. More players does not necessarily lengthen the game play time, but rather the random end game conditions seem to have the most effect on game length.


Does the Wife Like It?:

The most important category. I play games without her, but she's an integral part of my core gaming group and my most frequent game partner and the more she likes a game, the less I'll have to indulge her in her favorite games to build up my "game capital" to get those I like more to the table. That being said, my wife really did not like this game. She plays RPGs, but was not familiar with Deadlands. She also has a vagina and apparently with that comes a complete disinterest in the American Wild West setting.

Our first game had too many pauses to try to decipher some of the rule situations that occurred and she was very much turned off by that downtime. Our other players were disappointed with the game, but were interested in trying it again once we figured out more of the rules exceptions. My wife, however, was not that interested in giving it another go.


The Pros:

*The Outfits tie into the Deadlands RPG very well.
*Good, solid components, especially for a smaller publisher.
*Outfits each play very differently with different abilities and different Objectives, abilities and style.
*Variable town set up and variable game endings offers a fair amount of variety in just the game set up.


The Cons:

*Rulebook is terrible, especially when the ambiguity of specifics in the game begin to occur.
*Two-player town maps should have been included (you'd only need two of them).
*The chaotic elements of the game may really turn off some players.
*Failed opportunity to really bring in a lot of the Deadlands RPG elements, at least by having a few paragraphs of back story text in the game world.


Overall:

Deadlands: The Battle of Slaughter Gulch is a game that I really wanted to like and enjoy, but found that it was an uphill battle and every step along the way took more and more of my momentum away. There are a lot of individual elements that I really like in the game, including the different Outfit abilities and play styles and the possibilities of player interaction. However, the game does not pull them together well enough to make it stand out enough to fight through the rules ambiguities and game chaos. Too much chaos occurs in the game and while part of the game strategy is trying to anticipate your opponents' moves, the end result when you fail just reinforces the feel of chaos in the game when you find yourself alone in the street trying to fight someone, standing in an empty building trying to arrest no one or you and your gang at the train station, ready to rob a train that never arrives. The game is close to pulling it all together for a great experience, but ultimately is pulled down by its own chaos and poor rules.


4/10

Friday, May 7, 2010

Review: Long Shot

My biases first: I am a big fan of theme in games and do not mind reaching through piles of chits if the theme and game play is good enough. While I do favor confrontation, chits, bits and polished pieces of AT games, there are still a large number of Euros that I'll build my farm on or attend auctions at and be quite content at the end of my experience. Also, I used to train on and show horses and loved it. I also have gone to the horse races from time to time, not so much though for the gambling aspect, but more for watching the horses running. Oh, and I recently just went to my first Kentucky Derby party. So, I suppose I am familiar with horse racing. And finally, I am not above getting games for free to review. Thought I'd throw that last one out there just in case.


The Overview:


The box is your fairly standard 11.5" x 11.5" x 2.75" size.

Long Shot is a horse race game, representing a race at the track and offering the players the chance to place bets on the horses as well as play the role of owner of one or more of the horses. As the race goes on, players have the option to place bets and purchase any of the ten horses in the race and play cards to either get more money or manipulate the position of the horses on the track.

The game is for 3-8 players and is plays in about 45-60 minutes. Experience really doesn't have too much effect on the play time, so novices won't slow down the game too much. Number of players doesn't have so much of a direct impact on playtime, but if you have fewer players and those players purchase more horses, by the game mechanics, the horses should move a bit faster and end the game sooner.



An example horse card for Horse #1, Wonder Bred. It lays out his price to purchase, special ability, betting odds and bonus movement numbers. 


Each horse has odds that it pays out depending on if it wins, places or shows in the race. The odds are fairly easy to figure out. For example, Wonder Bred (Horse #1) has pay out odds of 6:1 if he wins, 4:1 if he places and 2:1 if he shows. So every $5 bet placed on Wonder Bred would pay out $30 if the horse wins the race. Since horses move based on the roll of a 10-sided die to see which horse moves each turn, you would think that all horses would have the same odds to win. However, horses do move differently, but only after someone purchases a horse.

Purchasing a horse in the game gives a few benefits to the owner. First of all, if the horse wins, places, or shows in the race, then the horse owner gets a cash bonus at the end of the game. Secondly, every horse has a special feature that it grants its owner (such as giving its owner an extra card when it is in the lead, or allowing you to place an extra bet, or collecting extra money if your horse shows in the race). And finally, on the horse owner's turn, each horse has an extra opportunity to move forward on the track, even if a different horse was rolled to move. Each horse has a few extra numbers listed on the bottom that move the horse forward on the owner's turn only. For example, Wonder Bred (Horse #1) moves whenever a "1" is rolled on the horse die. However, on Wonder Bred's owner's turn, he will move if a "1" is rolled, or if a "2", "4", "6" or "7" is rolled as well (along with the corresponding horse). This means that owned horses are more likely to move than unowned horses (and this is why the odds are different for each horse--Horses with lower odds generally have more numbers that they can move on during the owner's turn, while horses with higher odds have fewer bonus numbers listed).

Each player starts the game with $25, three randomly dealt cards and one "Reroll" token. Play order is determined and each player takes their entire turn before play passes to the player on the left.

Before anything else is done, the player must first check to see if any horses that he owns offers any bonus for the turn (usually based on its position in the race).

Then, two dice are rolled. The Horse Die is a 10-sided die that tells you which horse to move (and again, on your turn, only horses that you own that have the same number in their bonus movement bar also move on this turn). The second die is a 6-sided Movement Die that tells you how many spaces the horse moves. The die has one "0" facing, four "1" facings and one "3" facing. Whatever number is rolled on the Movement Die is how many spaces the matching horse on the Horse Die moves. However, if a "0" is rolled on the Movement Die, the horse does not move, but the player steals a card from the owner of the horse rolled on the Horse Die. If no one owns the horse, then they draw a card from the draw pile.

Each player also has a single "Reroll" token that they can use on their turn. Immediately after they
roll the Horse Die and the Movement Die, they can use their single reroll and choose one of the two dice and reroll it. They must then use the new result. Players can only use their token on their turn and only use it once per game.

Next, the player can take ONE of four possible actions:

• They can play one card from their hand. Cards will usually give the player a chance to collect more money, place free bets on a horse, adjust the position of the horses on the track, or another such chance, opportunity or gain.

• The player may purchase an unowned horse from the bank. From this point on in the race, the horse will offer the bonuses to its owner and get the extra movement possibilities on the owner's turn.

• The player may place a $5 bet on any of the horses that is not in the "No Bets" area of the track. The No Bets section is the last quarter of the track, and it means that players cannot wait until a horse is one space away from crossing the finish line before placing a bet on it to win. It makes placing bets a little more challenging, but also can block you out from making a bet on a horse if he gets to that section of the track before you have the opportunity. Now a player can only make a $5 bet on his turn, but that can be used to add to an existing bet on a horse that the player has made in a previous turn.

• The player can discard two of his cards and collect $5 from the bank. This generally only occurs if a player has no money and none of their cards are useful, though this seems to be a rather rare occurrence, especially since a player can only take a single action and most players seem to feel this to be a wasted action.

After this, the player draws a new card and play passes to the left. This continues until the game is over and three horses have crossed the finish line to signify who has won, placed and showed in the race.

The owner of the 1st place horse wins $100. The owner of the 2nd place horse gets $75 and the owner of the 3rd place horse wins $50. Any bets on any of these horses are then paid out according to the position they came in. All bets for any of the seven horses that did not cross the finish are lost and returned to the bank. Any money that was still in a player's hand and not placed on bets is kept. Everyone's money is then totaled and whoever has the most cash at the end of the game is the winner.


The Theme:

Long Shot is a family-friendly horse race game that relies on odds and betting. Since this all takes place over one race, which in real time would be about 2 minutes, there isn't really that sense of realism, especially as you buy a horse halfway through a race. However, that doesn't matter. For a light, fun game, it still carries some of the excitement of a real horse race. Once you have a couple horses come to the last turn and final stretch, the tenseness starts to rise and it becomes much more exciting. This is actually the case with real horse races as well; there is a crescendo of excitement that becomes electric at the final stretch. The game (depending, of course on the rolls) often captures this feeling. Maybe not always for who will win, but the race for who will place or show can often be just as exciting when you have your bets placed.


Learning the Game:

The rules are laid out in a 12 page 5.75" x 8.25" booklet with a fair number of pictures and examples in it. Play is really simple and easy enough for casual gamers as well as non-gamers. I played this game with my parents (my mother also used to ride and show and loves horses) and both of my non-gaming parents grasped it quickly. The only little rules confusion came from my mother who would keep getting excited when a bonus movement number on the horse she owned was rolled by another player and kept forgetting that the bonus movement only applies on her turn. Even mildly experienced gamers will have no problem with the rules and learning this game. The game is also very quick and easy to teach as well, which is great to introducing it to non-gamers.



The Components:


The track and the board. 



The horse markers on the track, showing a race in progress. The horse numbers are stickers that are attached to the plastic horses.




Examples of some of the cards in the game. 




Betting tokens, the Reroll token and the paper money that is in the game. Yes, paper money. Deal with it.  



The components don't stand out as being amazing, but are perfectly sufficient for what they are. The sculpted plastic horses are pretty enough and the cards are of a good, sturdy stock. Most of the other components are just cardboard tokens and are fine for what they are. Sure, the board could be a little more "realistic" in its artwork, but this is ultimately a lighter game, so it works perfectly fine. I only have a couple of minor complaints with the components.

A set of stickers come with the game to attach to the plastic horse markers. The stickers look fine and stand out bright enough to mark each horse. However, they do not adhere to the plastic very well. Each time I've played the game, step one of the set up has been to push the stickers back onto the horses. It is only a matter of time before they lose all of their adhesiveness. Now the game comes with a second set of stickers, but it would be nice if there was a way of not dealing with this at all (other than painting your horse figures).

And some people do not like paper money. First of all, I think it works for this game and makes betting easier. Secondly, for those who argue against paper money, I do not want to have to pay an extra $10 per game to offset the cost of nice, heavy poker chips being produced and added to the game instead of paper money. That being said, the game does not have enough paper money in it. There are bills in $5, $10 and $20 denominations. However, in games with heavy betting and big wins, there should be either at least twice the number of $10 and $20 bills and some $50 bills to distribute. It really can make totaling winnings at the end of some games annoying frustrating when it would be very easy to correct. Even if you do have enough money to distribute, people are forced to count tons of $5 bills.


Playing the Game:

The game is quick and easy to learn and play. Each player's turn really only consists of rolling the dice, then taking one action. However, there is still downtime in the game. It isn't that bad, but it becomes more and more noticeable with more players, especially on the turns when your single action is just playing a card to collect $10. The game, however, is very quick and easy and non-gamers can easily pick up on the play, making it a great family game.

The game play offers a number of different strategies. Since owning a horse moves them quicker and winning pays well to the horse's owner, some players may wish to put most of their stock in owning the winning horses and betting on their own horses. Other players may wish to focus heavily on bets, watching to see what horses other people have and playing the odds to get their big win. Others still will have a hybrid and own a horse or two and bet on the other players horses, creating instances where you may actually be rooting for an opponent's horse since it pays better. Ultimately, there are a number of different ways to approach the opportunities to make money in this game, though ultimately, fate and randomness of the rolls will make an impact on which of them plays the best for that specific game.


Scalability:

The game is for 3-8 players, but the game play ends up changing a bit depending on the number of players. First of all, three player games will move very quickly and have little downtime and players will have many more opportunities to place bets and play cards on their turns. Eight player games, however, will have much more downtime and each player will have much less opportunity to take actions on their turn, which means fewer bets and opportunities for each player.

Also, the pure randomness of the Horse Die is mitigated by having a horse owner having a chance to move his owned horses by his bonus horse movement numbers, so some horses should have more chances to move and thus be "faster". However, since this only happens on the owner's turn, the number of players will have a big impact on the speed of those horses. For example, if I own a horse in a three player game, that chance of a bonus movement will come up every three turns. But if I own a horse in an eight player game, that bonus movement opportunity only comes up every eight turns.

With the horse bonus movement and down time considerations, the scalability is a little wonky. Ultimately, I would say that this game has a very hard sweet spot of 5 players. 4 player and 6 players are also not too bad, but the game dynamics change almost too much with more or less players.


Does the Wife Like It?:

The most important category. I play games without her, but she's an integral part of my core gaming group and my most frequent game partner. She doesn't have the equestrian background that I have, but I have taken her out on trail rides and she has gone to the race track with me on a couple of occasions. I was actually rather surprised at how much she liked it. Our first "learning game" to feel out the game before introducing it to a larger group was played with just the two of us, though we each played with two sets of money as if each of us were playing as two players. She has enjoyed this game enough that on weekday nights when we are deciding on what to play, she casually will suggest Long Shot and then say, "Oh, wait. (sigh) We need more players for that." I know that this is 'wife-speak' for me to say, "Well, we can play it and each control two hands if you want."

The game doesn't play as well that way, since you will not be likely to play cards detrimental to your other hand and will be more likely to play cards in one hand that will help the other hand's horses. So we do not play it two-player like this often, but I bring it along with us to our other gaming meet ups, as it makes her happy and it works really well as a light filler game that is easy enough for the casual gamer and still fun enough for the hardcore gamers to play while waiting for a deeper game to open.


The Pros:

*Plays in 40-60 minutes.
*Family-friendly game, even if your family consists of a number of non-gamers.
*The final stretch can actually create a lot of exciting moments, even though the excitement is really just the randomness of a couple of dice rolls.
*Solid components, even if they do not stand out as anything amazing.
*Could be used as a gateway game.
*Horse race theme is very accessible to most people, especially around the Triple Crown of thoroughbred racing time of year.


The Cons:

*Stickers do not stay on the plastic horses very well.
*Despite playing 3-8 players, there is a very hard sweet spot that really shortens that range to 4-6.
*Downtime can be an issue with more players.
*Randomness will turn off some players.
*Too light and not a hard strategy game will turn off some players.
*Years of reading X-Men comics in my teens makes me want to type "Long Shot" as one word "Longshot" and it keeps coming up blank in the BGG archives.


Overall:

Long Shot is a light family-friend horse racing game that offers a number of different paths to try to mitigate the randomness to win big. The ease of game play and simplicity of the rules makes the game very accessible to casual and non-gamers alike. While the game can play up to 8 players, downtime and the change in odds that occurs makes it less suitable for a "party game" and more suitable for a "family game" of 5 players. While some will be turned off by the randomness and lack of real strategy in the game, if you can get past that, you will ultimately see the fun in the game and capture just a bit of that excitement in the final stretch where almost anything can happen.


7.5/10

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Review: Pelponnes

My biases first: I am a big fan of theme in games and do not mind reaching through piles of chits if the theme and game play is good enough. While I do favor confrontation, chits, bits and polished pieces of AT games, there are still a large number of Euros that I'll build my farm on or attend auctions at and be quite content at the end of my experience. Also, I am a fan of civilization building games as well as games that can be played in a weeknight's evening with my wife, though I had always believed that never the twain shall meet. And finally, I am not above getting games for free to review. Thought I'd throw that last one out there just in case.


The Overview:


The box is the standard square box width and length, but the depth is a little more shallow: about 2 1/8" instead of roughly 3". 



Box contents. They may not appear that overwhelming. Plus my copy didn't come with a "Peloponnes, Halle 5, Stand 92" card. 



Peloponnes is a light civilization building game that relies heavily on a bidding mechanic that drives the interaction between players in the games 8 rounds. Each player is developing their own civilization of ancient Greece (1000 BC), starting with a unique city-state and developing and expanding it throughout the rounds of play, trying to ultimately have the most profitable balance of population and city holdings by the end of the game.

The game is for 1-5 players and plays in under an hour. With either more experienced or fewer players, play time will drop significantly. In fact, a solo game can be played in about 15 minutes. Most games with 4 or 5 players who are familiar with the game should take about 45-50 minutes.

Each player starts with a random Civilization Tile. The tile lists the player's starting resources, including the starting population and coins for the player. Each of the resources is marked on the Player Mat, which tracks a player civilization's current supply of Wood, Stone, Food, Population and Luxury Goods. Each starting Civilization Tile also shows what resource the player collects each round. Initial player order is also determined by the tiles.

Each round has the same format. First, five tiles are revealed. The tiles are drawn from one of three stacks, labeled A, B and C. The A stack is drawn from first. When they are all drawn, then the B stack is drawn from and so on. Each of the tiles is either a Land Tile or a Building Tile. Land Tiles show a one-time bonus income on them (if any) and they also show what resources are gained each turn as Income for possessing the Tile. Building Tiles show a one-time bonus income (if any), any per turn resource Income the tile grants and any special abilities that the tile grants its owner. Unlike the Land Tiles, Building Tiles also show what resources must be used to construct the building (these will be lowered on the Player Mat). Finally, both types of tiles also have a number printed on them for the minimum bid that can be placed on it to purchase the tile and a number listing the Prestige points that it offers the player at the end of the game. Building tiles generally grant more Prestige points, but cost resources to build.

Out of the 5 drawn tiles, a number of tiles equal to the number of players are laid out on a row to be bid on. If any tiles remain (because there are fewer than 5 players), they are laid out on a separate row with the Conquest Tile placed next to them.

In Turn Order, each player then bids on a tile. Each tile has a minimum bid listed on it. This is the fewest coins that a player can bid to win that tile. Once a player makes a bid, he cannot change the number of coins in his bid. If a player wishes to bid on a tile that another player has already bid on, he needs to bid more coins than the current bidder has placed on it. The displaced player then may move his bid to another tile (and possibly displace another player's bid). However, the bid amount must be equal to or greater than the minimum bid listed on the new tile. Or, an outbid player can take back his bid, taking his coins back and taking one extra coin from the bank. However, they will not receive a tile this round. Any tiles that are on the Conquest row can also be bid on, however, the minimum bid for any of these tiles is increased by 3 coins, but once one is bid on, no other player may outbid them. So, these tiles cost more, but your bid is safe once you bid on one. Finally, a player can opt to make no bid at all for the round and instead collect 3 coins from the bank. And tiles not bid on are then discarded.

Player order for next turn is then adjusted in order of whoever paid the most coins goes first and down the line to whomever paid the fewest.

Any new tiles won are added to the player's civilization. Any one-time bonuses are immediately added to the player's resources.

• Land Tiles are placed next to the last land tile purchased to the right of the starting Civilization Tile. However, not all land tiles can be placed next to one another. To lay a new Land Tile, the tile must have at least one matching resource on the previous tile. So a Land Tile that produces only Food cannot be placed next to a tile that produces only Stone. However, a tile that produces Food can be placed next to a tile that produces Food and Wood. This placement rule often drives the bidding war, since not every player may be able to use every tile that is out there and there may be some fierce competition for tiles out for bidding.

• Building Tiles are placed to the left of the starting Civilization Tile. The player immediately receives any one-time bonus for the tile. The player then must pay the resources to build that tile. If he cannot, or chooses not to, then he must place one of his coins on the tile to signify that it has not been completed yet. By the next turn, if the tile still has a coin on it (signifying that it was not built), then the resources must be paid that round, or else the Building Tile is discarded. This rule allows a player to purchase and use a building that they may not have the resources to complete this round, but should be able to produce by next round. But considering that resources can be lost from turn to turn, this can at times be a risk.

Each player then earns the resources for each of his tiles and adjusts the new amounts on his Player Mat. Each Population level also generates a certain number of coins that the player then adds to their amount depending on what their Population is.

Finally, two Disaster Chits are drawn at the end of each Round. There are a total of 5 different Disasters: Decline, Drought, Earthquake, Plague and Tempest. Each one of them causes strife and challenge for each player's civilization. The two Disaster Chits are placed on their matching Disaster Tiles. As soon as any of the tiles has three matching chits on it, that Disaster's negative effects are resolved by all players. For example, once three Plague Chits are placed on the Plague Disaster Tile, every civilization loses one-third of their Population (rounded up). Certain buildings protect the civilization that possesses them from a specific Disaster. So, if you are lucky enough to have built the Aqueduct Building, your civilization is completely immune to the Plague Disaster.

After this, the turn starts again. However, there are a few things to note during game play. First, there are two tiles that signify the start of a Supply Round when they are flipped over to be bid on. The Supply Round takes place immediately and is resolved before the turn is resumed. When it is revealed, each player must feed his Population. They must pay one Food for every Population that they have. Whatever Population they cannot feed starves and the player loses that Population. Also, any Buildings that are not yet paid for (have a coin on them), must immediately be paid for by the player or must be discarded.

Second, each civilization can only store 10 Wood, 10 Stone and 13 Wheat. Any excess that they receive in a round is immediately converted to Luxury Goods. For example, if you have 8 Wood, then gain 5 more Wood, you move your marker to show that you have 10 Wood and the remaining 3 become Luxury Good and the appropriate marker is moved up. Luxury Goods serve no specific purpose, but can be used to substitute for any other resource needed in the course of the game at a 2:1 ratio. So, if you are feeding your Population and are 2 Food short, instead of having them starve, you can pay 4 Luxury Goods to replace the missing Food and feed everyone. This can also be done to substitute for Wood or Stone if trying to complete a building, or even to give you more coins to make a bid on a tile.

This continues for eight turns, at which time all of the forty tiles will have come out for bidding. Before final scoring is completed, each civilization has to feed their Population one last time, losing any Population that they cannot feed. Any Buildings not completed yet must now be paid for or else they are discarded.

Each player then generates two scores:

• Prestige Score is the sum of all of the Prestige Points listed on a player's Land Tiles and Building Tiles. The player also gets 1 point for every 3 coins that he still has in his bank.

• Population Score is determined by looking at the final Population of the civilization. The player receives 3 points for every Population.

The player's final score is the smaller of these two amounts.


The Theme:

Peloponnes is a small-scale, somewhat abstract civilization building game. There is no direct conflict between the civilizations (other than bidding for tiles) and there is no true technology tree or advancement other than some of the bonuses offered in a generic sense by some of the buildings that can be constructed. So the game obviously lacks the depth of civilization building games such as Through the Ages and Advanced Civilization. However, that being said, the length of play time and complexity levels of this game nowhere nears the large, bulky tags of those games.

The game is too light to really feel like and fulfill the desires to play a deep, complex civilization building game. But, that being said, the game is still rather fun for what it is. The game feels a bit like managing an Excel file spreadsheet instead of managing a growing civilization, and there really is little to distinguish the feel between the different civilizations, but despite the lack of immersive theme, the game is rather fun.


Learning the Game:

The rules are laid out in a 12 page booklet, though only the last 6 pages are the English rules. Play is simple and the rules are laid out well with little translation issues. Playing through, the game is very intuitive and there are few reasons to refer to the rules once the game is played. There are a few minor timing issues that can be a little confusing (primarily with Building Tiles and delaying a round to construct them), but even these are minor and should be understood by most players by the end of their first game.

The only real issues with learning the game come with some of the errata in the rulebook. None of these are major issues (for example, the rules do not mention that tiles not bid on are removed), and in fact, even though they were not listed in the rules, it was intuitive enough to play through that way without the rules even stating it.


The Components:


The seven set up Civilization Tiles. 



An example of a Land Tile. 




An example of a Building Tile.




Each player marks his resources on his Player Mat.




Showing a bidding auction, but also showing the player marker chits as well as the wooden coins.  



The components of this game are basic and sufficient. None of them are particularly stand out, but everything really works. The tiles are a sturdy enough cardboard and each of them sufficiently and clearly shows everything you need to know on them. The coins are silver and gold wooden disks and are also sufficient and sturdy.

The only minor complaint that I have is that the Player Mats are flimsy and would have been better if made in the same thick cardboard as the tiles. There really is no overwhelming need for this, however, since they are perfectly sufficient as is, but they are probably the weakest (and most flimsy) component in the game.


Playing the Game:

Game play is easy and intuitive. Games flow very easily, even for first time players. It really only takes a game or so to fully start to realize how much of the game is Disaster management and balancing Population and Prestige.

There is a bit of randomness in the game, but it is fairly well contained. I mean, it is possible that all three Tempest Disaster Tiles could be drawn by Round 2, but it is not probable that it will happen. The Land Tile placement rules may mean that you will be completely unable to bid on any tiles that come up in a round. However, that will probably not happen often. And the Supply Rounds are well placed by putting those tiles in the B & C stacks.

There also will be some games (or rounds) where everyone has a similar need for one or two of the tiles that come up for bidding and there will be fierce fights over them. However, there will also be turns where everyone has their own tile in mind and there is no overlap. Usually more players means that there will be more chances of someone needing the same tile and creating a bidding battle for it.


Scalability:

The game plays from 1 to 5 players and the 2-5 player games scale rather well with the Conquest mechanic for the extra tiles that come out. It is completely possible, however, that 2 or 3 player games will see each player having a distinct need during the bidding round and there being no competing for the tiles up for bid. This may lend a multi-player solitaire feel to the game as bidding is the only form of interaction in the game.

With 4-5 players, bidding battles become more frequent and sometimes more complex as players are more likely to high bid to either keep their initial bid, or have enough to cover a new tile should they be forced to move.

The solitaire game plays with only a few rules changes, but it has a "level system" incorporated in it, similar to Agricola's solitaire game which makes play more challenging as you basically "chain" your solo games, with the stakes being a little higher with each game and the challenge being increased. I really enjoy this style of solitaire games, as it seems to add a little more challenge to work through the gauntlet rather than just playing a single game and comparing your score to nothing more than your personal bests.


Does the Wife Like It?:

The most important category. I play games without her, but she's an integral part of my core gaming group and my most frequent game partner. She likes civilization building games, but she is still healing from the wounds of a particularly disastrous five-hours spent on a Through the Ages game that left her civilization weakened and a ripe target for one bullying civilization that seemed to have all of the War and Aggression cards. Anyhow, despite the still tender wounds of that game, she consented to playing a civilization game, but most likely because of the rather shortened play time.

It turns out that she liked it. She's not wild about it, but the light, easy play style and the short amount of time involved makes is a lot more palatable to her. The fact that we can play out a two-player game on a weekend evening in a half-hour and there is really minimal direct conflict, she's very happy to play it. I don't know if she'll hit the point where she'll suggest it over other games that she enjoys, such as Pandemic or Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation, but I won't have to build up much "gaming capital" to get it to the table, which is nice. I could probably just make something she really likes for dinner to get this to the table, whereas I would need to agree to having a second child right now, keep the cat's litter box spotless for a month and agree to 30-40 games of Pandemic with us playing the Medic and the Dispatcher to get Horus Heresy to the table again with her. So I consider the amount of gaming capital needed on this game to be a huge success.


The Pros:

*Quick play time.
*Easy, intuitive rules and game play.
*Just enough contained randomness to make the game play different each time, without making it chaotic.
*Challenging Level System for the solitaire game to make the solitaire game more interesting.
*Components are not beautiful, but are definitely solid and very intuitive and clear.
*Interesting to build a production engine to resist the known upcoming Disasters.


The Cons:

*Production engines are interesting in a strategic building sense, but do not really "feel" like building a civilization, making it a bit abstract.
*Player Mats are a bit flimsy (though this isn't a huge issue).
*Can feel like managing a spreadsheet at times.
*May be a bit light and quick for some.
*The bidding mechanic is the only conflict, and in games with 2 or 3 players, it can very easily feel like "multiplayer solitaire" with little bidding conflict.


Overall:

Peloponnes is a light civilization building game whose only in-game conflict resolves around a bidding mechanic for land and buildings in the game. Players who enjoy trying to build efficient engines in games to pit against known disasters will enjoy this quick engine building game. Players who want to build a large civilization and look over their accomplishments and compare them to their neighbors after a long bloody war will not find much of that in this game. The game is really at its core simple and may not seem very deep. However, given the short play length of the game, it has a perfect depth to play time ratio, making it fun and entertaining and engaging before the simplicity of it starts to show through. The different levels of solitaire give the solo game a bit more interest and makes it a little more desirable than to simply try to beat your personal best. While ultimately there is some randomness in the game, the game's mechanics do a sufficient job of keeping them maintained to minimize and chaotic effects of it. Ultimately, it is a game that will appeal to engine builders more than civilization builders, but with the short game length and easy scalability, it is also a great game to take the role of filler and appetizer while you are waiting for the last couple players to show up.


8/10