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I join Eric Martin in proclaiming a strong appreciation for Death Note. (OK, The premise rocked — A teenaged Moriarity with a magical book that let him murder at will bent on saving the world versus a teenaged Holmes with the resources of the world’s governments hunting him down, but the execution had a few flaws and there was way too much “He knows that I know that he knows …”). I assume this card game will be a deduction affair, but I’ll try it anyway.

Matt Thrower discusses globalization as though that inevitably leads to blandness. Most games are bland for the same reason that most art sucks, not because some major corporation has focus groups. (Certainly all my designs suck, and try as I might I don’t think it’s Hasbro’s fault).

Larry posts his thoughts of the first half of this year. Among my thoughts — I’m not nearly sold on Le Havre over Agricola (despite my concerns about the former). Each game of Le Havre is too similar, and most of the novelty comes from realizing that Loans aren’t bad. Once you make that mental adjustment a lot of the fuss goes away. I played last night on Autopilot (“Is the Cokery Available? Go there.”) managed to throw away 50+ income thinking I had one more round left (missing a shipping + 24 points from the Baguette shop).

Le Havre needs more variability. I don’t dislike the game, don’t regret having gotten it (based on loyal readers, like you), but I find myself wondering how much those essen bonus cards go for on the secondary market …

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Written by taogaming

April 21, 2009 at 6:20 pm

Posted in Misc

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  1. Matt’s columns are always interesting (with no hint of blandness), but I didn’t agree with this one. The “must play in an hour, can handle 2-5 players” requirements are anything but recent. And while I’m not much of a Dominion fan, it’s strange to use that game as an example of a failed design when it’s so wildly popular.

    In Le Havre, don’t you think the way the cards are dealt out changes the nature of each game considerably? I’m only beginning to pick up on the nuances of that, but even if I can’t properly take advantage of it, I can see its effect. I’m not trying to sell you on the game, but all my sessions have played out pretty differently.

    Anyway, while I still look forward to more games of Le Havre, what I’m really waiting on is the arrival of Automobile from Jolly Olde England so I can continue my recent love affair with it. Wallace rocks, baby!

    Larry Levy

    April 21, 2009 at 11:58 pm

  2. Matt’s columns are always interesting (with no hint of blandness), but I didn’t agree with this one. The “must play in an hour, can handle 2-5 players” requirements are anything but recent. And while I’m not much of a Dominion fan, it’s strange to use that game as an example of a failed design when it’s so wildly popular.

    In Le Havre, don’t you think the way the cards are dealt out changes the nature of each game considerably? I’m only beginning to pick up on the nuances of that, but even if I can’t properly take advantage of it, I can see its effect. I’m not trying to sell you on the game, but all my sessions have played out pretty differently.

    Anyway, while I still look forward to more games of Le Havre, what I’m really waiting on is the arrival of Automobile from Jolly Olde England so I can continue my recent love affair with it. Wallace rocks, baby!

    Larry Levy

    April 21, 2009 at 11:58 pm

  3. The card deal varies the timing of the game, but not the basic principles. But if the Kiln could come out much later (so that you needed the hardware store for brick a lot), etc etc, then that would be different.

    I’m vaguely tempted to try a) dealing out three stacks of buildings and not reordering them at all b) dealing them out, but shifting all the 0-10 buildings one earlier and the 21-30 buildings one later (but not reordering beyond that) and c) starting with one special building out.

    I do think that designing a game that 20% of the people love (as compared to everyone thinking is OK) should be everyone’s goal, and bland focus testing to be avoided. But I do think that Dominion qualifies as a great design (even though I mainly play on BSW as a timewaster, I don’t really love it, but plenty of people do).

    Brian

    April 22, 2009 at 10:53 am

  4. I think something is awry with Le Havre. Feels like energy is under-utilized, and coke is too valuable to ship. I like that loans are more a tool than a penalty, but there need to be more incentives for the special buildings and the vast, under-used areas of the game that don’t involve coal, coke, and steel.

    Jon Waddington

    April 22, 2009 at 11:11 am

  5. I should also say that given some adjustment, such as an expansion, or an erratum, such as the limit of 4 goods from the marketplace in solo games (which still doesn’t veer the course off the main line enough), there is a great game waiting to break out in Le Havre. It just feels one round of polishing short.

    Jon Waddington

    April 22, 2009 at 11:14 am

  6. Yeah, I’ve been disappointed by Le Havre as well. It’s one of those games that is mechanically clever but lacks the something extra to be actually interesting. I initially thought I would like it better than Agricola, but at the last local flea market I found myself eying the box and seriously considering putting it on the table (I didn’t). I think you’ve got the right of it, the special cards just don’t give the game enough variability and it’s pretty samey. It’s still got a few plays left in it, but I doubt much more than that. I do like the short game better than the “standard” game. The extra 60 minutes or so for the standard game doesn’t seem to add a lot.

    Chris Farrell

    April 22, 2009 at 1:06 pm

  7. Hmm… I’ve only played Le Havre once and was disappointed that the two goods that mattered most for building ships, steel and coke, were also the two goods that shipped for the most. It felt like the game would be better with three “legs” in tension with each other (ship-building, buildings, and goods shipping). I’m told by some more experienced players that a buildings strategy can work (particularly if the other players also concentrate on steel and coke), but the lack of another good that ships for big bucks (higher priced leather, maybe???) seems to limit the strategy space too much imo. But, I’ve only played once, so this is more a suspicion that a belief at this point.

    Agricola is, for me, a play 1-2 times a year with 2-3 brisk players kind of game. Last night, I played again and won with 55 pts building the same sort of farm I always build… yawn. I liked the game more when I wasn’t reasonably good at it — if you are only scoring 25-30 points, you farms can look very different. Once you start scoring 45-55 pts per game, you’re building the same damn farm over and over again. Every now and again a card will change this (hello, tutor), but most of the time, it doesn’t. Too many cards are just minor variations on each other, so that the vaunted replayability based on the large card decks just ain’t there, imo. Agricola mostly just sends me back to either Princes of Florence (if I want to play a fixed turn building game — PoF has a wider strategy space, imo) or 2-3 player Caylus (if I want to play a worker placement game). Caylus didn’t do too much for me when I first played it, but I now really appreciate all of its moving parts (mass cube production and building walls; running the VP track; blue upgrades; running the upgrade track; strangling cube production and gray buildings; and lawyer strategies). Yeah, Caylus has a bit of a mid-game sag, where players are just hitting the single cube production spots to gain cubes, but that passes quickly and the control possible in 2-3 player games keeps the tension up.

    I played Automobile once at the GoF. It’s ok, but I question whether it has more than 4-8 plays in it. It’s an exercise in linear optimization (which I personally find boring) with various non-linear constraints (more interesting). Once you wrap your head around this, many of the decisions become pretty obvious, imo. The real culprit is that the factory order is fixed. I have no problem with it being fixed for the “standard” game, but I really want tiles in groups, instead of fixed preprinted factory spaces, so that later games can vary the factory order randomly (within the groups) to provide greater variability and replay value. Without this, I believe play will rapidly become very stereotyped… Again, this is just an impression based on one play. (Larry, with his cult of the new fetish, tends to value things differently from me, given my emphasis on replay value.)

    tom lehmann

    April 22, 2009 at 6:19 pm

  8. Hmm… I’ve only played Le Havre once and was disappointed that the two goods that mattered most for building ships, steel and coke, were also the two goods that shipped for the most. It felt like the game would be better with three “legs” in tension with each other (ship-building, buildings, and goods shipping). I’m told by some more experienced players that a buildings strategy can work (particularly if the other players also concentrate on steel and coke), but the lack of another good that ships for big bucks (higher priced leather, maybe???) seems to limit the strategy space too much imo. But, I’ve only played once, so this is more a suspicion that a belief at this point.

    Agricola is, for me, a play 1-2 times a year with 2-3 brisk players kind of game. Last night, I played again and won with 55 pts building the same sort of farm I always build… yawn. I liked the game more when I wasn’t reasonably good at it — if you are only scoring 25-30 points, you farms can look very different. Once you start scoring 45-55 pts per game, you’re building the same damn farm over and over again. Every now and again a card will change this (hello, tutor), but most of the time, it doesn’t. Too many cards are just minor variations on each other, so that the vaunted replayability based on the large card decks just ain’t there, imo. Agricola mostly just sends me back to either Princes of Florence (if I want to play a fixed turn building game — PoF has a wider strategy space, imo) or 2-3 player Caylus (if I want to play a worker placement game). Caylus didn’t do too much for me when I first played it, but I now really appreciate all of its moving parts (mass cube production and building walls; running the VP track; blue upgrades; running the upgrade track; strangling cube production and gray buildings; and lawyer strategies). Yeah, Caylus has a bit of a mid-game sag, where players are just hitting the single cube production spots to gain cubes, but that passes quickly and the control possible in 2-3 player games keeps the tension up.

    I played Automobile once at the GoF. It’s ok, but I question whether it has more than 4-8 plays in it. It’s an exercise in linear optimization (which I personally find boring) with various non-linear constraints (more interesting). Once you wrap your head around this, many of the decisions become pretty obvious, imo. The real culprit is that the factory order is fixed. I have no problem with it being fixed for the “standard” game, but I really want tiles in groups, instead of fixed preprinted factory spaces, so that later games can vary the factory order randomly (within the groups) to provide greater variability and replay value. Without this, I believe play will rapidly become very stereotyped… Again, this is just an impression based on one play. (Larry, with his cult of the new fetish, tends to value things differently from me, given my emphasis on replay value.)

    tom lehmann

    April 22, 2009 at 6:19 pm

  9. I played Le Havre for the first time last night, and I like it but not tremendously. I can see the samey issue, although it’ll be a while before I hit that problem. All of the worker placement games have left me rather blah over time, except for Tribune and to a lesser extent Caylus Magna Carta. I think the tendency to make them 2-3 hour games with a very repetitive set of activities bores me after a few plays. Tribune has the advantage of being very fast and dynamic.

    frunk

    April 22, 2009 at 7:10 pm

  10. I played Le Havre for the first time last night, and I like it but not tremendously. I can see the samey issue, although it’ll be a while before I hit that problem. All of the worker placement games have left me rather blah over time, except for Tribune and to a lesser extent Caylus Magna Carta. I think the tendency to make them 2-3 hour games with a very repetitive set of activities bores me after a few plays. Tribune has the advantage of being very fast and dynamic.

    frunk

    April 22, 2009 at 7:10 pm

  11. I like Tribune, as it has lots of levers to achieve your goals and it solves the “critical path” problem of most worker placement cards (the things you are acquiring for your workers are somewhat “fungible”, so players can both plan ahead and turn order doesn’t loom so large).

    That being said, Tribune has a problem: some of the leaders are really powerful, so the luck of the draw is more than I like, given the rest of the game systems.

    This is particularly true given the “threshold” nature of the scoring system. The threshold system (as opposed to a straight VP system) encourages players who can’t win on a given turn to calculate how to stop others from winning so as to make the game continue one more turn. When someone then shows a leader which they acquired on a random card draw (so no one knew they had it) during a faction takeover attempt (which is now too late for anyone to react to) and this leader then enables them to end the game and win, all the other players end up frustrated. Their analysis, good play to make the game go on another turn, etc. was all just so much wasted effort.

    Now, this problem may loom larger when playing the shorter introductory scenarios, but it has made getting Tribune to the table very hard in my local group. I am sorely tempted to just ditch the leaders and try the straight VP variant.

    An alternative variant would be to separate the leaders, shuffle them face down, and introduce two per round randomly in the cards set out (maybe they end up face down in the latrine, atrium, catacombs, etc. or face up). Players can then go for them or not, but doing so becomes more of an action within the game and less of a random factor.

    I feel like there’s a very good game in Tribune somewhere, but that the published version just didn’t quite find it…

    tom lehmann

    April 22, 2009 at 9:45 pm


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