Friday, April 4, 2014

Mini-Reviews: The "I Can't Get Up Enough Enthusiasm To Do A Full Review On These Games" Summary Spectacular!

As my board gaming hobby interests blossomed, display and storage for my games became an issue. We have a very large family room/gaming room and when we first set it up ten years ago, our bookcases were filled with books. Granted, two of the shelves were full of books for various roleplaying games and one full shelf on another was full of trade paperback comics. But as I started to get more and more board games, room was needed.

The regular books went first. Boxes of books lay nestled in our basement as shelf space was needed for all of the Arkham Horror expansion boxes. Next, some of the roleplaying books got tucked away. There was little chance of me inviting people over and an impromptu game of Mage: The Ascension was going to break out. However, there was a much greater chance of a game of Galaxy Trucker would be played instead, so it took shelf priority.

Next, we moved in a couple of other bookshelves from other rooms, removing the books and curios from them. So, unlike many houses, we do not have knick-knacks. Why would I have The Maxx action figure on a shelf where I could instead store a copy of Ghost Stories? Which would look better and be true to me in decor: a Precious Moments figurine or a copy of City of Remnants on the shelf?

Still, this was not enough room. Eventually there was overflow and my wife became a little annoyed at the pile of games stacked behind the bar in the dining room. To appease her, they were eventually moved downstairs so she didn't have to look at them and I didn't have to hear her disappointed sighs. 

But now shelf space is a premium for games in my house. The games on the shelves in the family room are the "keepers", the ones most likely to be played, and the ones with too much sentimental value to get rid of. The ones in the basement are the ones up for trade or sale.

As a new game comes in, we play it and if it is good enough, it finds a way to the shelf, replacing a game that will ultimately end up in the basement. Unless, of course, it is so good that I feel obligated to scavenge another bookcase for the family room (which I recently did).

These are the tales of those glorious games that I've recently played that are headed to my basement.




Village


Village is an awkward game in two respects. First of all, without the definitive article of "The" in front of it, it sounds odd referencing the game's title. But second, the game tries really, really hard to be thematic with an interesting narrative, but it ultimately just falls short.

Players control families in a small village, each trying to get their family's name to prominence within their community by excelling at specific deeds, including dying doing something. It doesn't matter if you were a shit craftsman, if you were the first craftsman to die, you'll be remembered and celebrated by the village and move into its annuals of history. Honestly, after playing Legacy: the Testament of Duke de Crecy, I realize just how incredibly thematic and narrative filled building family prestige can be in a game.

But ultimately, Village ends up being too much of a Euro game for its own good. You end up working to get cubes of a specific color in order to pay for actions for other cubes of differing colors to ultimately get some victory points. It's very nice that the tried to make the cube collecting more thematic and that the orange cube represents "skill", while the green cube represents "persuasiveness", but ultimately, the mechanisms of the game take precedence and the cubes don't feel like they represent anything other than simply something you need to get to pay for something else you need to get in order to cash that in for victory points. The game wants to be thematic. It really does. But it ends up being like a Chinese Restaurant hanging up red, white and blue streamers on the Fourth of July. It's just window dressing and it doesn't fit. Village would have been better to have just embraced its Euro design and forgone the attempt at theme entirely as to not disappoint gamers like me and not to put off Euro mechanism masturbation fanboys who scoff at the intrusion of theme.




Eight Minute Empire


Have you ever thought, "Gee, I'd really like a dudes-on-a-map area control game with strategy and competing for both limited resources and area control on a tight board, but I'd like to finish before the oven preheats so I can cook dinner?" Nope, me either. I'd rather a game that did all of that, that I have to break as I eat dinner and look at and contemplate the map and my moves.

Eight Minute Empire, however, is a clever design, but just not an incredibly marketable one. Granted, it was a huge Kickstarter overfund and raved about to the point where a sequel game is being made. So marketable isn't exactly the right word, but it still is.

You see, the game is kind of cute and clever, but other than snowball hype (the result of both Kickstarter and Boardgamegeek hotness), the game shouldn't be as big as it is. You have a map and cubes that you can spread out and move around to try to control the most areas. You take your actions by purchasing cards for sale, each with a different set of actions on them. The cards also have resources listed on them, which are worth points depending on the sets you have. So you could purchase a card for its action or for its resource, but if you can find one that has both that you need, it would be even better. There are no teeth in this game, since you don't battle other players, but simply try to have more of your cubes than he has in a territory. A couple of cards allow you to remove 1 cube, but that's as nasty as it gets. And the game plays in about 8-15 minutes.

So it is not deep enough to satisfy my want for something strategic or conquest oriented. Even though I can technically build cities, it does not satisfy my need for a civilization building game. And for difficult, meaningful decision-making choices, I don't feel like deciding if I would rather get a card that moves four of my armies or a card that gives me another carrot really satisfies that urge.

So, does it work as a light filler? Well, yeah, I suppose a bit. But it plays too short to be useful for that. Seriously, if I had ten minutes to kill before another game ended or more players showed up, I'd just shoot the shit for ten minutes. Or scratch my balls for ten minutes. Both of which would feel more productive and social. So, yeah, it's clever and it's cute, but it's not really the useful of a game.




Krosmaster Arena


My daughter loves Skylanders. Part of the appeal is the different characters and the fact that you have these cool looking little min figures to put on your Summoning Portal. Krosmaster Arena seemed like a great choice for her. It is a duel area game where you are essentially just directly slugging it out with one another, but with really gorgeous miniature figures and cardboard, three-dimensional landscape.

However, Krosmaster Arena is too complicated for its cuteness and too cute for its complexity. To be fair, the game really isn't that complicated for a seasoned gamer. Each of the characters has a character card and each of those have unique abilities and powers and attacks. The three-dimensional map makes line of sight rules a little easier to visualize. However, for a game where half of the female figures are cute, big-eyed pixie girls who carry around teddy bears, it seems too complex.

Honestly, it wouldn't surprise me if certain gamers
have characters like this in their favored porn.
At the same time, there is meat to this game. The game does offer some good potential for small scale tactical combat between teams of players. The team building can create some interesting synergy and the play through can be interesting and deep enough that I would not mind playing it with some of my tactical skirmish war-gamer friends. However, seeing the cute grins of the figures and saying things like "Alright, my character will use his Pudd Thud attack on your Ally McZeal for 3 damage. Then My King of the Gobballs will use his Gobbolob attack on your Clot the Crapulous for the kill" will just end up turning off those more "serious-minded" tactical war-gamers.

I'm sure there is an audience out there for this game, but at the entry price and all of the figures to purchase, I just don't know how much of one there is. For me, I enjoy the game and don't mind the cute and silly. But I know that I'll be hard-pressed to find opponents who don't find it either too cute or too complex.

And as a side-note, this game is not in the basement. My daughter still enjoys the game and she'll take out the figures to play with them and they'll all have tea parties and talk about their dresses.




Steam Park


Steam Park held great potential. You are creating amusement parks for robots in a Steampunk world. The have wonderful three-dimensional pieces to build your park with, expanding out your rides to fill your map. You have an incredibly stylistic artwork style that looks like something from Tim Burton's Beetlejuice, you know, back from that period when he movies were new, interesting and good. You have a rulebook that doesn't take itself seriously and has a lot of cute snark throughout it. I mean, with all of that, what could a game like this be missing?

It turns out, compelling gameplay.

The game has a strange mix of genres. Your turn begins with quick die-rolling, with the first to "lock in" their dice to the rolls they wanted getting the best bonuses. So it begins with a frantic race theme, like a competitive Escape: The Curse of the Temple. Afterward, you spend your dice to expand your park, build new rides and attractions, attract visitors, and to clean up after what are apparently the sloppiest robots ever. Oh, you can also use your dice to use your hand of cards as well, which essentially just score you some quick points, but the cards in your hand give you a direction on what you will want to build.

Looks like old-school Burton creative design, feels like
modern-day Burton fluff and soullessness.
The building and expanding, however, is very simplistic. If I have a card that gives me points for every Purple Space in my park, then when I build, I'll build purple rides. But the thing is, the cards are unique. No one else will be scoring point for Purple Spaces. So as soon as I take my first purple ride piece, I most likely will not have any competition for the rest of them. In fact, you can spend your time leisurely building rides at your own pace and focus primarily on cleaning your park from robot waste and you'll probably do pretty well.

The problem is that the game just isn't that deep. I kind of like the quick rolling to see who locks in their dice first. There are choices to be made--do you finish first for the bonuses, or do you risk going later to get better results on your dice. But in the end, how you spend those dice isn't that compelling, making the frantic rolling of the open of each turn less interesting in the process.

My daughter likes this game and it's easy enough for her, but none of us are so invested in it that I won't trade it away at the first decent opportunity.




Coup


This game is incredibly popular and it baffles me. I get the bluff and I get the deception behind it, but it is essentially Counting Cards: the Game.

Honestly, there are a lot of group hidden role and bluffing games that I own and my various gaming groups absolutely love them. In fact, we excel at them. We could play a game of One Night Ultimate Werewolf and everyone could be a villager, but each of us would have lied about what we were at least three times a piece to try to draw out more information from other players.

But Coup doesn't offer the great bluffing opportunity that other games do. Perhaps it would just take more plays for my group to "get" it, but it went over so poorly that I don't think that it would be worth the struggle and attempts when there are so many other games out there that do offer the same thing, but so much more uniquely, interestingly and funly.

And I don't care what spell-check is saying. Funly is a word.




Sentinels of the Multiverse: Vengeance Expansion


I'll start this off by stating that if my wife is reading this, she doesn't have to worry. I'm not really trading this one away. However, it still belongs on this list.

Sentinels of the Multiverse is a very established game now and probably one of the better superhero themed games out there. If I were to ask you what you favorite aspect of Sentinels of the Multiverse was and you said "Why, all of the bookkeeping for the villain, his multiple effects and how you need to reference all of the cards in play to see what it affects and trying to remember his specific immunities and damage types and what triggers which effects, of course!" well, then, you're in luck and I have just the expansion for you! Instead of doing the bookkeeping for just one villain, now you have to do the bookkeeping and card cross-referencing it for up to five villains at once!

Sentinels used to be one of my favorites, but we played it too much. And from repeated plays, I realized something about the game.

First of all, each player has their own deck of specific cards for their hero and each and every one plays uniquely and is quite compelling. The first few plays with a hero is phenomenal as you try to figure out the deck and how it works best and the synergies between your cards and powers. But then you learn the deck. And the game isn't so compelling anymore.

There are two types of deck-building card games out there. Games like Netrunner and Magic: the Gathering have you build and customize your deck before you play it. In these games, deck creation is actually a HUGE part of the game and can often even more fun than playing the deck. Sometimes I want to just play games to figure out how to tweak my deck better. I don't care about the games. They are an annoyance to go through to build my decks, where I really sink my teeth into my decision making.

The other type of deck-building game builds them on the fly. Games like Dominion or Thunderstone where the game revolves around making your deck as you play, building and weaning while trying to make the deck as functional as possible during this transition. These games often bring interesting challenges to them as well. You have to watch other players, making certain that they aren't building quicker decks that will win before you can create yours and you need to compromise your designs.

Sentinels is neither of them. Decks are preconstructed. But after you've "figured out" a hero's deck, the compelling bit of the game is gone. You know the deck well enough that card play becomes instinctual with no hard choices or decisions to be made. At least with Netrunner or MtG, you have the joy of tinkering with decks afterward to meet new, unforeseen challenges.

But with Sentinels, everything is the same. Learning the game is compelling and exciting as you discover what works with what. But after the learning, you are left with playing the game. And, sadly, it doesn't offer any surprises.

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