23rd May 2021
It's a Sunday and I'm logged into Skype and Board Game Arena, ready for an evening of gaming.
The first game of the night was Happy City, a cheerful looking, light engine-building card game about building up a city, a happy city no less.
Caveat: We've only played this game digitally on Board Game Arena.
What's in a game?
Symbols are clear and easy to read.
How's it play?
At it's core, Happy City is a tableau-building game, adding cards increases income or score.
In Happy City, the starting player's first turn is slightly different to subsequent turns, as explained below.
Happy City has 2 levels of play; family & expert. This blog describes the family version.
The expert game differs in 2 ways.
All the happy market cards are flipped to their differently coloured sides and laid out, then the players draft one to become the starting card in their tableau and giving them some choice in how they start the game.
Special buildings also differ; the family Special cards give players a boost to their income, happiness or population. The expert special cards however, are different, they confer different benefits, sometimes variable and situational.
The game continues until a player has 10 cards in their tableau, upon which the current round continues until all players have had an equal number of turns.
Each player's score is calculated by multiplying the total value of happiness symbols in their tableau by all the population symbols.
Highest score wins.
Gameplay in Happy City gives players the choice between increasing income or accumulating happiness/population. Income will give the player more buying power but happiness/population contributes towards the end score.
Having 3 decks of building cards at different cost ranges is an interesting mechanic when it comes to drawing cards. The player will always have the option to draw 1 or 2 cards, higher level cards will be better, but may prove more risky to draw. E.g., If a player has 4 coins, drawing a level 1 card will be safe as level 1 cards only cost 1-3 coins each, level 2 cards cost 4-5 coins, so there's a risk that a level 2 card will be unaffordable and will have been drawn pointlessly. It can give players a quandary when drawing building cards.
The game's scoring mechanic also adds an extra layer to decisions, failing to pay attention to how the points are spread between happiness/population can lead to lost scoring opportunities.
While Happy City is simple to learn, enjoyable and fast to play, making it a good filler game, it's perhaps also a little too basic for dedicated gamers. After a few games it was fairly easy to spot an optimal strategy to pursue and it became a race to develop that strategy. So I feel that the game doesn't offer a lot of longevity.
Ultimately, because it's such a light game, it's probably a good game for families or more casual players which is probably who the game is aimed at.
We also played the expert level a few times but felt like it added little to the game.
The varied happy markets are nice and offered a little extra strategy but the expert level special cards weren't so good. The problem was that they seemed harder to acquire than the family special cards, which meant they were acquired later in the game and therefore their benefits were limited, we found it wasn't worth specifically trying to get one, getting one by happenstance was fine, but then that sort of makes having a choice of starting happy market card pointless.
We enjoyed the family version more.
The family version is a game I'd play, but not too often.
2nd April 2021
It was a Friday and I was logged into Board Game Arena on my PC.
As the name suggests, Stone Age is a game about the trials and tribulation faced by the inhabitants of prehistoric communities.
Caveat: The digital version of this game was played at this time, but we had played the physical version on previous occasions.
What's in a game?
Stone Age is a worker placement game and at its core takes place on a central game board which is divided into various different locations, into which workers can be placed to activate the associated action. Some locations may contain any amount of workers, others are limited by numbers.
The game board has a bright and colourful depiction of a stone age community on the edge of the wilderness that's quite eye-catching. The player boards have similar, if plainer artwork, again this is fine since most of the time they'll be covered in components.
The civilisation cards essentially all use the same piece of artwork with elaborate game iconography providing some variation and the same is true of the building tiles. It's nothing to write home about (Or blog about I suppose?) but is perfectly acceptable.
For the most part, the art is good.
How's it play?
Gameplay is broken up into 3 phases, place workers, resolve workers and end of round.
Again starting with the first player, they must remove all of their workers from one location at a time from every location they've placed workers and immediately resolve the associated actions as they do so, returning the meeple to the player's board. Players are free to remove their meeples in whatever order they see fit (This can have significant impact on game play.). The following actions are available:
There are 2 conditions that can trigger the endgame.
If any of the building tile stacks have all 7 of their tiles purchased, it triggers the endgame, the current round is concluded and the game goes to the end game and then scoring.
At the end of a round, if there aren't enough civilisation cards to fill a 4 spots on the board, then the game immediately ends and goes to scoring.
In both instances, tribes must be fed for a final time.
Final scores are tallied by adding the score from the victory point track, points that come from sets of civilisation cards and 1 point for each (Non food) resource the player possesses.
Highest score wins.
If I have one criticism of Stone Age, it's that the first 3 opening moves in any given round are generally always no-brainers, that's because the tool maker, hut & field locations are such a high priority because they confer very good rewards that would usually be stupid for players to pass up. If you're the 4th player, you won't get a look in unless another player is really desperate for something else or doesn't know what they're doing.
I'm not sold on the resource gathering mechanic either, yes it's quite nice but it can leave you at the mercy of the dice rolls that makes low rolls feel frustrating but somehow high rolls not feel satisfying.
Otherwise Stone Age is a mid-to-light worker placement game that is fairly easy to learn but feels perhaps a little generic, however, it does provide a fair level of depth.
The game manages to generally provide a choice or two too many for players to cover with workers, forcing them to prioritise their actions and making meaningful decisions. An extra worker is good, so is the agriculture required to feed them, the tools can help with gathering resources which are useful to buy cards and tiles and so on.
So if you want to play a worker placement game that isn't too taxing on the grey matter, you could do a lot worse than Stone Age.
24th March 2021
It's a Wednesday evening and I'm logged into Zoom and Board Game Arena on my PC.
It was time for a game that spanned the ages and the creation of massive monuments and the civilisations they represented. Luckily, it doesn't take that long to play 7 Wonders!
Caveat: We played the game online but have previously played the physical copy. Photos were taken for this blog post.
What's in a game?
The purpose of the game is for each player to create their own civilisation through the construction of various types of buildings and ultimately create one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World.
7 Wonders is card game played over 3 sets of rounds (or ages). Each age has its own set of cards which are used. There are numerous types of cards, some of these types can be more or less common in different ages.
The text and icons are all mostly clear (I tended to confuse stone and ore icons, because the ore icon looks like a pile of stone to me.), the symbology used for special rules on cards is also generally clear, the rulebook does a good job on clarifying these in cases of confusion.
I also like how the layout allows cards to be more or less stacked while still displaying pertinent information.
In terms of art quality, the wonder boards are quite large and very nicely decorated in eye-catching illustrations of the 7 titular wonders. Art on the cards are of a similar quality but obviously on a smaller scale.
How's it play?
7 Wonders is a 3-7 player game but also contains some special rules to allow 2 player games. This blog post talks about the normal 3-7 player game.
On to play
Each player in 7 Wonders is neighboured by a player to their left and right; why this is important will be explained below.
Each player takes a card from their hand and plays face down in front of them, then they pass the remaining cards clockwise to the next player, the direction of play alternates between rounds.
Once every player has chosen a card, all player then simultaneously reveal their card, plays it and executes one of the 3 actions below.
Once all players have completed their action, everyone picks up their new hand of cards and play continues as described until all players have used 6 cards each, the 7th card is never used and is discarded out of the game. The game has reached the end of the round, now conflicts are resolved.
Once conflict has been resolved for age 3, the game is over only scoring is left.
Victory points can be scored from a variety of sources, once these are tallied, highest score wins.
I'm going to nit-pick a couple of things about 7 Wonders.
Set up feels a little long for a game that's quite short, having to sift through all 3 decks at the game start feels irritating, probably because there's 3 decks to construct instead of 1 and if the player count changes between games, then all 3 decks will need to be rebalanced.
The game is quite involved and perhaps a little too complicated for its expected playtime. I found myself frequently forgetting the rule about chaining buildings
Scoring is convoluted, specifically scoring the scientific cards where each symbol will scored twice. I wouldn't be surprised that more time was spent making sure this was correct than the rest of the scoring.
Like other drafting games of this style, early in the game players will struggle to decide what's going to be important to them or not, but by looking at their wonder board, players will see what they need to build their wonder and what benefits it gives them as some guidance.
One interesting feature about 7 Wonders is how players can pay to utilise their neighbours resources and goods and of course, players will want to keep and eye on their neighbours' military forces. It's a nice little spin that adds to the game.
Since there are 7 ways to score points, players will have a lot of options on which strategy to pursue.
For example, civic buildings give a lot of victory points, but nothing else.
Military strength can score a lot of points (and cost your neighbours a few), but only if you dominate, getting caught in a war of escalation can be distracting and costly.
Quibbles aside, 7 Wonders is a straightforward game to learn that has a quick turnaround and is a fun game to play, players will want to strategize, but the luck of the draw means they will need to adapt to circumstances.
The game always provides players with meaningful choices, which is what you want.
14th March 2020
It's a Sunday night, I'm on my PC in my living, logged on to Zoom and the Tabletopia website.
In Paleo each player controls a tribe of cavemen and is a cooperative card about life & times in a prehistoric times. According to Paleo, our caveman ancestors were pretty obsessed with woolly mammoths, either chasing or running away from them!
Caveat: Paleo was played virtually on the Tabletopia website, so I cannot attest to the quality or lack of regarding the components.
What's in a game?
Paleo is a card game with a lot of different types of cards, the majority are encounter cards (Explained Below) but not all cards and tokens are used in every game.
Paleo uses a base set of encounter cards and also employs a module system which determines which other sets of cards are used, each game uses 2 modules from a selection of 10, this will also affect the games difficulty. The rules suggest combinations to use for easier and harder games ranging from 1 to 7 in difficulty. Ultimately you can even choose your own set ups. Modules can add a narrative flavour to the game as most modules are themed.
How's it play?
Paleo is played over any number of rounds, each round has a day phase and a night phase. The vast majority of gameplay occurs during the day phase, the night phase is mostly for managing what happened during the previous phase.
What actions a player can under take will depend on the situation and what encounters they errr.... encounter!
Play continues during the day phase until all player tribes have gone to sleep, the day phase is now over and the night phase commences.
The night phase is much shorter than the day.
All tribes must collectively discard an amount of food equal to the number of people cards in all their tribes. If they cannot manage this, a skull is added to the night board.
Furthermore they must also meet the conditions required on the 2 module specific missions. Each one they fail adds another skull to the night board.
Once the night phase is concluded, all the cards on the discard board are put into a single deck, shuffled and dealt out to the players again, then the next day phase begins.
Play continues until the players have accumulated all 5 victory tokens, in which case they immediately all win.
If 5 skull tokens are placed on to the night board, then the players immediately lose.
Some mystery cards may contain alternate ways to win the game.
First thing I'm going to talk about are 2 interlinked mechanics.
The exploration mechanic of drawing 3 face-down cards and choosing one from the card back is excellent. It feels a bit like exploring, does a player choose to go to the forest or the mountains? They'll have a pretty good idea what to expect but it's not guaranteed. They most likely will get the wood or stone or whatever they're looking for but they might encounter a rockfall or a dangerous animal.
Additionally, players will also get an idea of what's coming in future turns
It's a great mechanic.
The other equally great mechanic is how each player's own deck also represents their tribe's time & energy, completing encounters frequently forces a player to discard 1 or 2 cards from their deck, so when it's depleted - so is the tribe for the day. When the game begins on day 1, players will have 15 cards, so it's possible to burn through a deck very quickly, why is that significant?
Essentially the encounter deck is another resource that needs to be managed. In most games, my instinct would be to gather as much food/wood/stone/resource as possible but in Paleo you sometimes have to fight that urge. You have to ask the question, what resource do I really need?
For example; near the end of a day I had 3 cards left, 2 in my deck and a forest encounter. Turning the card over, I had the option to discard 2 cards for 3 wood, 1 card for one wood or help another tribe. The others didn't need help from me, so I was free to collect wood but collecting 3 wood would send my tribe to bed. Because we knew the top 2 cards on everyone's deck, I knew that another player potentially had a mammoth hunt coming and would probably need help. We didn't need the wood for now so I chose to ignore my card and I also ignored my other 2 encounter cards just so my tribe would be around for 3 more turns to help other tribes if needed. Realising this gave me an appreciation of the game's subtleties.
As well as managing encounters, players will need to ensure they generate enough resources to pass the night as well manage discoveries and crafting.
Creating a few tools gives the game a good sense of progress as it increases the capabilities of a tribe significantly. You can almost feel a the game transition from scrabbling to survive encounters to being able to go on mammoth hunts, it's quite gratifying to complete encounters that had to be ignored earlier in the game.
Like all good games, collectively there were always meaningful decisions to make. Before long we learnt that we needed to communication and coordinate on which encounter cards to keep and when they were then revealed we frequently had to coordinate on which encounters to complete, rarely did all players manage to individually complete their encounters.
For example; if all players for some reason chose mammoth hunt encounters, it would be most likely that all bar one would be ignored. Mammoth hunts generally required a lot of strength thus cooperation but also gave significant rewards, including on occasion victory tokens. Coordination is vital and it feels like players coordinating.
As a result I liked Paleo quite a lot, it's a game I'd happily play again.
15th January 2020
It's a Friday evening, I'm logged into Zoom on my laptop and I'm sitting in the living room.
So it's time to play Forgotten Waters, a co-operative fantastical pirate exploration game that we've only played over video chat.
Caveat: I've only played this game over video chat and never in person, I've also never actually seen the physical components for the game. So this blog will probably be a bit different to the usual.
Before we begin
Forgotten Waters is one of this new breed of boardgames that requires an app to play, not just an app to help, but actually required to play.
Additionally, the game has a Remote Play Assistant app available. This app is what has allowed us to play online and in this time of Covid-19 is a welcome feature.
What's in a game?
Because I've never seen the game physically and because the remote play assistant app replaces the need for some components, it's hard to gauge what exactly, is what?
It's hard to talk about the quality of these physical components though as I've never see them other than briefly over video chat.
But I can talk about the apps.
It's clear that the game's developers have put a lot of thought and effort into insuring the quality of the game app. It's very slick with professional voice acting and production qualities, scripting and dialogue is very well written and often witty. There were frequent chuckles at gags that hit the mark more often than not.
I'm not sure what to think though, like many people; the idea of a game needing an app to play sits uncomfortably with me. We all know the question, what happens to the game a few years down the line, how long will the developer support the app?
However, I doubt this game would even exist in this form without the app. The game seems to have hundreds of differing encounters that can contextually change according to the story mission being played. It would require a fairly elaborate book to manage all of this physically, slowing the game down and no doubt adding to the cost.
The remote helper does it's job well enough to facilitate remote play and is easy to use, apart from the occasional need to refresh the browser and put everything back in sync, it works perfectly well.
I cannot say enough about how useful it is though. We played a game with 7 players and someone commented how how this was the most people they'd talked to in a year. In these times of self-isolation it has proven to be a godsend.
One minor criticism I have is about the character sheet PDF. It is a slight oversight that it is not form-fillable as it could save on the unnecessary use of paper.
How's it play?
First of all, one of the 5 available missions is selected, this will give the players a series of objectives to aim for, then play can begin.
Essentially, the ship travels from hexspace to hexspace dealing with the encounters that are generated by each space.
Each encounter will have 7 pertinent actions. Players take turns placing their standee on the action they want to perform,
Some actions are mandatory, some can only be completed by one player and others can completed by any number of players.
Additionally, some actions become locked when they are completed whilst others can be repeated.
Some actions are specific to certain encounters or mission objectives and others are generic and frequently appear during encounters.
Players place their standees on the encounter spaces in order of the infamy track, Forgotten Waters utilises a real time mechanic during encounters. If players have not placed their standee/worker in the allotted time, they receive a misfortune token as punishment.
Once all workers have been placed, then actions are carried out but in the order shown on the encounter.
There are a great many different action in the game, related to combat, sailing, exploring, trading, objectives etc.
Often players will be given 2 or 3 sub-choices for their chosen action and sometimes they will have 2 actions they actions they can perform.
Many actions will increase one of the player's 6 skills, frequently this will then require a roll using the relevant skill, generally there are 3 different levels of outcome depending on how high the final roll is.
Once all actions have been repeated, the turn ends. Depending on the situation, players may have the choice of staying and repeating the parts of the encounter which are not locked (Like foraging for supplies, burying treasure etc.) or they have be forced to move on to another encounter.
This continues until the endgame.
There are numerous ways to lose.
If the ship's hull, supplies or crew are reduced to zero then it's game over.
If the crew's discontent value increase to or beyond the crew score, then it's also game over.
Finally there's threat rating. Threat can go up and down; the game will on a fairly regular basis call for threat checks, depending on the result this may generate a threat event, this is another type of encounter. The higher the threat rating, the more likely it is that a threat event will be triggered, when one does occur the threat rating is reduced to zero. If four threat events are triggered, then it's also game over.
If all the objectives of a mission are met then the player's collectively win.
Each character also has an individual ending though, depending on how many stars they filled in on their constellations, this may be bad, good or legendary. Bad endings are usually very bad comical demises for the character, explosions, drownings etc.
The good and legendary endings are as comical but obviously better for the character.
Forgotten Waters is a long game to play, a mission can take 4 or even more hours to complete and the developers are aware of this, all missions come with a natural breakpoint, which can be used a temporary stopping point and then picked up again at a later date.
Mostly the game gives players meaningful co-operative decisions to make and the timer forces them to think quickly.
It's also a well produced, smart game that is entertaining to to play, the app does add to the atmosphere and help with booking.
but I do have some quibbles to do with game balancing.
Firstly; when undertaking tasks, some tasks are more attractive to complete than others. One example, during ship combat:
Furthermore it exacerbates and perpetuates the imbalance. Once a character starts firing cannons, thus increasing their aim skill, it makes sense for them to continue doing that action, because they're more likely to get better results. So one player can be stuck loading cannons and earning little to nothing and another firing cannons and getting skill points and treasures.
Sometimes it's not so bad because with some actions, multiple characters can perform it but with single-character actions, it can be irritating.
Maybe its deliberate, it certainly can make the infamy track more important for actions that can only be done by one player.
Forgotten Waters is a mostly co-operative game, but it also a little edge of competitiveness as well, players can steal treasures from other players and so on.
Maybe the game wants to force players to choose between what's good for them and what's good for the mission?
Speaking of which, characters seem out of balance. When they earn bonuses, the usefulness of them seems to vary widely, some characters will get permanent items that confer constant bonuses whilst other characters get one-use-only less useful abilities.
Additionally, it appears that constellations are harder to complete for some characters than others for what appears to be no rhyme or reason why.
Luckily they don't affect the game too much, especially since it's co-operative. Other than that I've found it a fun game to play.
13th October 2020
Tuesday is here and we're at 'The Sovereigns' in Woking.
Time for the Woking Gaming Club to play a game and tonight we will be playing 'The Networks'.
This is a game for the budding media mogul inside everybody; create TV shows, hire film stars, fire chat show hosts, stick advert breaks everywhere, well at least during primetime! Fun for everyone.
When we played The Networks, a couple of expansions were also used.
What's in a game?
The Networks is a card game that has some nice additional components.
All the other components are standard, except the money tokens which are cool.
How's it play?
The Networks is played over 5 'seasons'.
At the start of each season, TV show, star and advert cards a dealt in 3 rows.
Network cards are only dealt out from the 2nd season onwards.
After this, in turn order, players take 1 action each. This continues until there are no more actions that can be performed or all players have chosen to finish for the season, this is called 'drop & budget'.
The actions are:
The game continues for 5 seasons, at the end of the 5th season the shows are still aged. Then a 6th season is scored (No new cards or other actions occur).
Accumulated audience figures are tallied, highest score wins.
The Networks has some cool design choices that give players interesting decisions to make.
A player can keep going and acquire more stars and adverts for as long as they've got money, which can give them an advantage later on because having these cards in their Green Room means that it's easier and quicker to develop shows. But ending your season early gives you more money/audience, more importantly though, it allows the player to be earlier in the turn order for the following season. So when the new cards appear, that player will get first dibs.
Because the game is very much about card drafting, players really have to think about how they prioritize their actions, as all players will be vying for the same cards.
Players have to try and use their actions as efficiently as possible, there's a fine balance between doing all the actions you want to do and ending your turn quickly.
All in all, The Networks gives players important decisions to make throughout the game and that's a good thing.
6th October 2020
It's Tuesday evening at 'The Sovereigns' in Woking and it's time for a boardgame.
The main game this evening was 'Pan Am', a game about building up airline companies over the years and then watching as they bought out by Pan Am in exchange for shares!
What's in a game?
This game is set in 'The Golden Age of Air Travel', which I guess covers from the 'inter-war years' to the late 1960's.
This is reflected in the games look and art, which has a cool retro look to it.
The game's components are all good and the game's art direction and quality are worth noting. This shows the game's attention to detail.
How's it play?
The set up for Pan Am is pretty straight forward.
Every round begins by turning over that round's event card. This determines some actions that will occur in the game.
This is where the majority of the game occurs;
Usually placing workers starts with the 1st player, but there is something called priority. This is explained in detail below, but basically any workers that were placed into the directive spaces in the previous round go first in placement order.
There are 2 types of spaces a worker can be placed into.
So we go on to the five different types of worker action available to players. Players can obviously place down their workers in any other, but below is the order in which they are resolved
Pan Am airlines starts the game in the Miami city space. The die is used to determine how and where Pan Am expands. The number of times the active player rolls it is dictated by the event card.
When the die is rolled, it will show one of two types of action.
Selling (Or being forced to sell.) routes is not necessarily a bad thing, it can be vital to winning the game.
This is because Pan Am actually offers reasonably good money for a route.
A 1 point route will earn a player 1 per round, thus if a player has it for all 7 rounds it will earn a maximum of 7 throughout the game. Pan Am pays 5 for a 1 point route. So long term, keeping a route earns more, but it's a slow drip of money. Selling to Pan Am gives the player a lump sum that can immediately be re-invested into claiming more routes (Or buying shares.).
A 1 point route is worth 5.
A 2 point route is worth 9.
A 3 point route is worth 12.
A 4 point route is worth 14.
Obviously, there are diminishing returns here, but remember the class 4 aeroplanes will not appear until turn 6 (Unless an event card changes this.) and will only generate income for 2 turns.
When a route is sold to Pan Am, the player reduces their income track by the value of the route and the aeroplane on the route is replaced by a Pan Am token. The aeroplane is returned to the player which is actually very useful. The amount of aeroplanes a player can have is limited to the number of aeroplanes available. Each player only has 1 class 4 aeroplane, so being able to use it, sell the route it's on and then use it again is the way to go.
Players not only get the opportunity to sell routes during expansion, event cards and directive cards can also allow players to sell routes.
Players earn an amount of money equal to their position along their income track.
Players can now buy shares, because this is the airline business, the only shares that matter are Pan Am shares.
Players may buy as much Pan Am stock as they can afford, the price of the shares is influenced by the event card played at the start of the round.
Since there is only ever 7 opportunities to buy shares, it's probably a good idea to try and buy them at every opportunity.
Once all players have bought all the shares they want, the round ends. The first player marker is moved left to the next player and new round begins.
In this game, no one cares about the little routes that you create, they only care about Pan Am.
After the end of the 7th round, players tally up the shares they have bought. Highest number of shares win. Remaining money counts as a tie breaker.
Pam Am does a good job of blending accessibility, depth and player options.
Very rarely was there a meaningless choice in the game. Most of the time I felt that I could do with an extra worker or two.
Maximising your workers is very important, as is knowing when to bid for something or not. The destination card and class 1 aeroplane auction tracks have a minimum bid of 0. There's potential to get stuff for free when other players have minimal interest in it.
The key to the game I think, is selling routes to Pan Am at the right time, the prices are set a sweet spot of being good but not too good. Generally it's prudent to sell routes to Pan Am, but it's never a no-brainer - and that's a good thing.
Ideally players will want to try and build routes close to Pam Am, hoping to get bought out. It's almost a counter-intuitive way to play.
Since the game is ultimately all about Pan Am shares, you obviously need to buy as many as possible and the game only gives players 7 opportunities to do this.
Stock prices generally start low in the game and rise continually throughout the game, this can put players in a quandary.
Do you buy shares in earlier rounds when they are much cheaper and run the risk of lacking funds to compete in bidding?
Or do you buy them later, hoping that your early investments pay off and give you more money to buy the invariably more expensive shares.
Finally, it's quite interesting watching as Pan Am unfailingly spreads across the board, consuming everything in its way.
I have the urge to play Pan Am again, that's always a solid indicator of a good game in my opinion. It's definitely worth trying.
21st March 2020
Saturday is here and normal Saturday gaming has not resumed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
On the last meeting of the Woking Gaming Club, Simon & Colin invited us to play a final game, provided that an opportunity would present itself. And that opportunity did present itself - on Saturday 21st March.
So we're at Simon's for a Saturday as his wife and children are away.
The game of the night was 'Maracaibo'.
If you've ever favoured yourself as an adventurer, explorer or trader jobbing your way round and round in circles for years in the Caribbean. Then maybe, just maybe. This is a game for you.
What's in a game?
Maracaibo is a big game with a lot of components, cards and tiles:
How's it play?
There's quite a lot of setup to this game.
Since we're not playing the campaign, some of the components will be left out.
So now we're ready!
The basic principle of Maracaibo is to travel from location to location in a loop from and back to Havana. Stopping at different places will allow players to perform different actions in pursuit of victory points.
A player's turn consists of 3 phases, sailing, main action & drawing cards.
Let's start with city actions:
Players keep taking turns until a round ends. A round continues until any player reaches space 22. There's a game mechanism that prevents a player immediately ending a round (Players must stop at space 21 first.). Then the following actions occur.
Players can purchase a project card or gain 2 VP.
The money and victory point economy tracks are dealt with.
A new prestige building is revealed and new quest cards are placed on the board as required.
The new first player is the player who ended the previous turn.
Play continues until the end of the final round.
Points can come from project cards, player boards, prestige buildings, rank with nations and of course the scoring track.
Final points are tallied and highest score wins.
TLDR; right? Although I've probably made it sound more complicated than it actually is.
Maracaibo definitely sits at the heavier end of the complexity scale.
Some of this complexity is down to rules, but much of it is due to having so many things going on at the same time. Not only is there the main track and project cards and ship grades and personal objectives, there's the exploration track. Then there's the influence and rank tracks. I've probably missed something too!
All of these are ways to score points
It's a lot for a player to think about and take in, particularly with potentially very limited turns!
There may be 22 spaces on the main track, but if a player races round, they can end the round after about 4 turns. A sneaky player can end the game quite quickly and if players don't pay attention, they may get caught flat footed.
So players need to think of ways to optimise their strategy, manage their resources and play to the strengths of their personal objectives.
They also need to keep an eye on what other players may be doing with regards movement and also to influence and rank, high rank with a high influence nation can be the source of a lot of victory points.
This is not a confrontational game by any means, but influence represents the only way players can mess with each other (Even though it's indirectly.). Lowering a nation's influence after another player has increased their rank with that nation can cost them a lot of victory points.
Its mechanics suits its themes fairly well as what players are doing is following trade routes whilst buying and selling.
Whilst Maracaibo is not the most complex or heaviest of games, but it's complex enough.
It's a game that will take a couple plays to understand a learn, so it's not very accessible. But if you like heavier games, then you'll be used to that.
If you like heavier games and you like the theme, you'll probably like Maracaibo, although it typically requires a few hours to complete, around 3 hours I'd say.
For me, I'd like to play it again, but it sits close to the upper limits of complexity I like dealing with.
11th February 2020
Tuesday night with the gaming club at 'The Sovereigns' in Woking continues.
The final game of the night was 'Glory to Rome'.
Glory to Rome is a game about the glory of Rome, well sort of. It's a game about rebuilding Rome after the 'great fire of 64 A.D.'.
Become a leader of Rome by building fountains, villas and statues, even the Basilica! Of course, players also get to build a latrine... glory to Rome indeed. Well... I guess someone has to!
Glory to Rome is an engine building card game which has an interesting central premise; which is that the function of cards change in the context of how they're used. This isn't something new or unique to Glory to Rome, however I've not seen it used as extensively as in this game.
What's in a game
Glory to Rome has a lot of cards and some of these cards serve multiple functions.
By far the biggest stack of cards in the game, order cards have multiple uses:
When constructing a building, it needs a site to lay the 'foundation' on. There are site cards for each of the 6 different types of material. Site cards are covered in stripes
These cards are 'jack-of-all-trades'. They are wildcards.
Rome demands card
This oversized card goes in the centre of the playing area and is a discard pile/pool for order cards.
There are 6 bonus cards, one for each type of material. When scoring at the end, the player who has the highest amount of a material in their Vault acquires it's bonus card. Each bonus card is worth 3 victory points.
Used to represent the first player in a round.
That's it for cards.
Player boards (Or camp board.) serve 2 functions. They are a player aid and they also track certain cards and actions the players have played. The boards track influence, clientele, stockpile & vault.
The quality of the components is pretty standard, nothing standout, but by no means nothing bad either.
The art on the cards is minimal, almost simplistic and feels a little bit amateurish. It does however, give the cards a distinct look, is uncluttered and clean looking. I guess it's down to taste.
How's it play?
Setup is pretty simple.
Whoever is the first player decides to either 'lead'... or think!
When all players have completed their actions, all cards that were played as role cards are placed in the pool. Any Jacks played are returned to their stack.
Play proceeds to the next turn and the Leader card moves to the player to the left.
That's the basics out of the way, now on to what the role cards actually do.
The player board has 4 sides and each side has a function.
I think that is more or less it for most rules.
There are several criteria that trigger the end of the game.
Play continues until all site cards for all materials have been used, out-of-town site cards do not count towards this.
The deck of order cards is depleted.
The catacomb building is completed.
The Forum Romanum is built and the player who built it has at least one of each type client in Clientele and one of each material type in their Stockpile. If this occurs, then that player wins an outright victory! Victory points are not tallied!
When any of these conditions are met the game immediately ends and points are tallied (Except in the case of a Forum Romanum victory.).
Players score 1 point for each Influence point.
Players score the cards hidden in their Vault.
Players score bonus cards for the materials in their Vault.
All victory points are tallied, highest score wins.
Glory to Rome is pretty straightforward to learn once you get your head around the central premise that your hand represents, people, buildings, materials and more.
Like other games that use similar mechanics, it forces players to make difficult decisions on what cards to use for what.
Glory to Rome is an engine building game on 2 tiers.
How cards are placed on the player board on the Clientele side is essentially building an engine. Giving players extra or bonus actions.
Placing buildings is the other way of building an engine.
Together they give players quite a few options to explore.
The game's owner stated that certain cards can break the game, but that wasn't my experience when we played it. Upon looking at some cards after the game ended, I could see what he meant though.
Glory to Rome also asks players to watch each other and see what they do and in particular, what they put in to the pool. The pool is the best source of cards - provided it has what you need and you have the cards to get them.
Glory to Rome is perhaps a little too long to play for what it is, but otherwise it's a fun game.
9th February 2020
It's a Sunday and we're at 'The Sovereigns' in Woking. There's no 50 Fathoms this week as 3 players are absent.
Instead we are playing 'Puerto Rico'.
William Shakespeare wrote:
All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages.
Well if you happen to play a plantation owner in Puerto Rico, you will play 7 roles, I dunno about 7 acts though.
What's in a game?
The quality of the components is mostly quite good.
What artwork there is in the game is OK, but it's not particularly memorable or interesting.
How's it play?
As always, we begin with setup. It looks quite long, but it's actually straightforward.
In Puerto Rico there are 2 ways to earn victory points; by shipping goods out and buying buildings.
Each round, in turn order, each player will assume 1 of the 7 roles and carry out the action associated with that role. When a player chooses a role, all players can the also carry out that action, but the player who chose the role can do it's bonus action instead. When players chose a role, they take the relevant role card from the display.
The roles are:
Players return their role cards and the next player in turn becomes the new first player and a new round begins.
There remains one last thing to discuss - what function do buildings serve. Firstly, they earn player points. Some buildings are necessary to process goods. Other buildings confer bonuses when trading and shipping or allow players to 'break the rules' in some way or other. Finally, the 5 large buildings give extra victory points according to the conditions on each individual large building tile.
There are 3 manners in which the endgame can be triggered.
Players then tally their scores, highest value wins.
Puerto Rico is not a complicated game, but it is a fairly involved one and the rules are fairly detailed. The game has minimal 'downtime' as it allows players to act in other player's turns. This keeps players on their toes, being able to take advantage of another player's role is key to optimising strategy.
It's also a game of very little luck. The only random element is drawing the plantation tiles, everything else is down to player actions and choices.
Talking of choices, the game mostly provides players with useful and meaningful decisions to make. There's always the balancing act caused by there being one too many actions that players will want to do, pushing them into making tricky choices.
The trading and shipping rules give Puerto Rico a little bit of a competitive edge. Players need to watch what each other are doing, because as mentioned above, a decision that the active player makes can aid another player.
Since the trading tile and ship tiles are not emptied until full and even then only at the end of their respective actions. Players can screw each other (And themselves to be fair.) by initiating trading or shipping at particular times, this can and probably will deny certain players the benefits of trading or shipping. After all there are 5 types of good, but only 4 spaces on the trading tile and 3 ships.
Since the game has 2 ways of scoring points. There are broadly speaking, 2 strategies for winning.
These are; accumulate victory points by shopping goods out, or buy buildings and accumulate victory points that way.
In the few times, we've played it recently, it seems to be that acquiring buildings might be a better way of accumulating victory points. Perhaps the trading approach has a harder learning curve?
This is about the only negative I can think about the game.
But other than this, Puerto Rico is a game that rewards thoughtful play and that's always a good thing.
I play, I paint.