The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Four Easy Pieces

As promised, I tried four new games yesterday. All were “OK.”

Aapep, the Cambridge Game Factories’ entry in “First Game in BGG’s Alphabetical Order List,” is an abstract. For me, that’s enough of a reason to dismiss it out of hand. But I gave it a try and it’s good. Players place tiles on a 4×4 grid, and the edge of each tile shows a color (light or dark). One player is light, and the other is dark, and at the end of any turn if one player can trace from one side of the board to their color (only), then they win. (When tracing, you pass over empty spaces but stop at the first tile edge you hit).

There’s a ‘day’ phase where each player places tiles, then moves one of two “Shadow” chip (which keeps that space open). After that comes night, where players take turns moving (and rotating) tiles, then placing the shadow chip in the just vacated space. A few beads mark recently moved tiles, which presumably prevents a Ko-like repetition of moves.

The theme is Ra vs Aapep (Sun god vs Night God). There are rules for 3-4 players (in teams), although I imagine that those who like abstracts will be happier with two players. (Disclaimer — Aapep was given to me by the company, otherwise I probably would have never played it. I’ll probably never suggest it again, even though it seems fine. I just don’t care for those sort of games).

Knights is Michael Schacht’s dice game from 2000. Like many dice games, this can be compared to Yahtzee (although now we have To Court the King in our vocabulary). I really liked one rule in this game — Any sixes rolled are discarded. This means locking some dice and re-rolling the rest entails a bit of risk. You could roll a bunch of sixes. The rest of the is set collection: you win by getting four castles or two castles and three jousts or three castles and the King’s Favor. To get a card you have to beat a certain roll. Two cards are face up in the middle of the table, and you can also take cards from opponents. Any opponent with two castles can be attacked, with restrictions. Once cards are in the game they never go away, so the game marches towards victory, but it’s a slow march. Towards the end, almost every turn is “Try to steal the potential winner’s card” instead of “Take the easier card from the table.” Perhaps this would be better with 3, instead of the five we had. Enjoyable at 30 minutes, agonizing past the hour mark.

Nueroshima Hex feels like an abstract, but the randomness peaks my interest. This one, being a new Essen favorite, has plenty of coverage already, and I don’t feel like describing it thoroughly. You place tiles on a small hex map. They shoot each other and the players HQ, which take 20 life. The HQ that has the most life left at the end wins. Sadly, we played with four. The game is ripe for Kingmaking, petty diplomacy, turtling and all the issues you’d expect in a four player rumble. Yet again we had the wrong number. Each army (30 tiles) is different, which is nice. I could see this as good with two players. Again, there’s a rule I like. Each turn you draw up to three tiles and then must discard one. A forced choice. You can then play (or hold) the rest. I spent several turns of the game drawing three useless tiles like “Move a unit” when I had none on the board, or “Cause a battle” when it would be suicide to do that. Drawing “Battle/Battle/non-combatent unit” on your first turn is a waste. But I won because everyone else pounded on the hard positions, I was in second going into my last turn, and then I drew three great tiles to win.

That does not inspire confidence, but I’d play again. With two or maybe three.

Finally, I played a two-player game of Vanished Planet. I’m (slowly) going through the cooperative (or semi-cooperative) games that I’ve heard are good. Here’s the story — Those pesky Earthlings managed to teleport their homeworld (the “Vanished Planet”) to another galaxy, but accidentally let in a giant space ameoba that’s going to eat everyone left behind. However, the earhlings send back a bunch of “Hey, try doing this” ideas, and if you do enough of them, you’ll beat the ameoba. Honestly people, this is why most Alien races are ignoring us or plotting our doom. Even when we’re not trying to dominate the universe we just screw things up and then, instead of apologizing and cleaning up our messes, we just take a hands-off supervisory roll. If I were an Alien race I’d have fired the Space Modulator a few decades ago …

Unlike Abstracts, I’m rather enchanted with cooperative games even when they have their flaws. Vanished Planet’s main flaw is similar to Arkham Horror’s fatal flaw — there’s no hidden information. Everyone’s resources are public knowledge, so the smartest/bossiest player can just tell everyone what to do. The mechanics are basically Settlers. Move your ships around the map, ‘tagging’ resources (which produce every turn). There are five basic resources (Colonists, Money, Energy, Research and Ore), which you use to buy intermediate things (like Diplomats, Engineers) which yo use to buy bigger things (Harmonic Dohickeys, Meta-Babelfish) and then you use those to buy useful things. The fourth level stuff have in-game effects … like granting your ships extra movement, or teleportation, or “pass through the space amoeba). Some of the lower things have useful effects.

Anyway, each turn you draw an event (which are mainly good, but some bad), then you get a freeform turn of moving, tagging, collecting resources, and trading (single card for single card, but the trades don’t have to be fair). Finally, the ameoba grows. If you stop by a Satellite, then you can draw a “Goal” card. These are messages from those meddling humans, saying “Take a doohicky to this planet and then discard it for two points.” You can draw one goal a turn, but can only hold one.

Anyway, we played two players on the not-quite easiest setting. (The difficulty is adjusted by tuning the event deck with some number of “Aww, the cute little baby ameoba i s having a growth spurt” events. New players should have zero, ‘families’ have two etc. We settled on one. If you don’t do anything clever, each player has 9 or 10 turns before the ameobe devours their homeworld, and it will nail the Earth’s relay satellites in 5 turns. After 8 turns of fumbling, we barely got into a holding position (using Mines to shrink the ameoba just before destruction each turn) and I managed to get a Communication relay, so that I could get more goals. After a few turns of fishing, we got a goal we could complete and won the game.

But even though I “like” Vanished Planet, I’m not sure I recommend it. When I play cooperative (or semi) cooperative games, I want games that play with 4+ players. But this is a fixed fun game. Yes, you have some trading, but the “everyone can see the single plan” makes this another fixed fun game in my book. And with 6 players (the full complement) that would mean tripling the number of turns, and this felt good at 90 minutes. As it was, once we figured out a defensive setup we basically spent the last 15 minutes just fishing for the right mix of goals and trades. At 270 I’d be screaming for that sweet ameoba kiss. Finally, this suffers a bit from the “Dry Gulch” syndrome. Building a Fusion Frumulator takes 4 intermediate items, which takes … uh, 18 basic resources. And I’ve got these seven, so I need what? Too much bookkeeping, not enough reason for players to disagree.

That being said, this will probably make an excellent family game (if I can refrain from driving), and the fact that the difficulty is so easily tunable means that groups who don’t mind the time investment can probably set it to have a tense game most times.

So overall I got in four new games — All suffered from fixed fun, all got a ‘six’ rating on BGG. But Vanished Planet, having the mechanics that I’m most curious about, will probably hit the table a few more times.


Written by taogaming

December 16, 2007 at 11:24 am

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