The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Too many notes

Today was the “Slightly longer games” session. No monster games (those will be in the summer), but a few games that can be a touch too long. Some of which I played for the first time…

Starcraft — Despite owning this for a few years I’ve never played it, but we got a 4 player game (with the expansion). I was hazy on the rules but there was another new player, we quickly summarized things and started. By the mid game I think I got the basic idea and a fair chunk of the details. This game actually didn’t take too long, about 3 hours (with rules, setup and tear-down).

I think the rules should be simplified, a little. And I think I know why… (wait for it).

After that we played Mare Nostrum, which has been absent for a few years. I’m happy it was well received, hopefully it will hit the table again. Old Horse Nose charms with a simple elegance: near minimalistic rules but options and growing complexity as turns pass.

After that I taught Up Front, still a classic game (and yes, one of the best of the 80s), but I think I may prefer Combat Commander, just for the simple reason that even after not playing for a year or two, I remember most of the CC rules. Even on the patrol scenario, I still had to look up a point or two. Heaven help me if there are AFVs. Such complexity.

… The problem with Starcraft is that it has complex rules and complex rule-breaking. I think you can get by with one or the other. Up Front has complex rules … but once you know them, that’s it. Mare Nostrum has simple rules, but then you get Gods, Heroes, Monsters and Wonders. They can each break the rules (in a very simple way), but the possibilities in the combinations provide the support. Should I buy a wonder, or maybe a mythological creature and a legion (or city?)

Starcraft, on the other hand, has rules that run way too long. (Although I think you could build a bullet point summary of them in a page or two). And then each player has ~10 units, each with their own features. And you have technology and event cards (similar to M.N.’s wonders) but they aren’t big sweeping effects that are easy to remember, but a number of small cumulative effects.

Mare Nostrum — He Bought the wonder that lets him double up on fortresses and the hero that lets him buy mercenaries.

Starcraft — He bought stim packs (so his combat deck has two cards to make Marines suicide to take out bigger units), a module for +1 build, a module for a special order, the terran event card that gives him a special victory during phase III for having two worlds, the medic technology, his units have ground splash sometimes, and a good starport. Oh, but he depleted Hydrax’s minerals to get that.

Multiple each by 6 players, see what you can remember.

Which isn’t to say that Starcraft is bad … just that the learning curve feels more like a Collectible Card Game … knowing the rules isn’t enough, you have to know the deck (or potential deck, since players start with ~15-20 cards and can buy roughly as many during the game). But Magic has simple rules (well, not that simple, but in theory dead easy).  Cosmic has simple rules, too. Starcraft’s rules should be simpler. Anyway, at 3 hours it’s not horrible. (That was with 4 players, and I think each player would add roughly an hour).  I’m not eagerly anticipating another game, but I’m glad I tried it, and I’d play again (with 3 or 4).

I also played Fighting Formations (Scenario 0) — FF loads complexity into rules, but no rule-breaking. (The asset decks didn’t really come into play). My plan to take over the center of the board (& related objectives) as the Russians failed because the German tanks were so much better. (I wasn’t paying attention and I’ve never really studied WWII enough to just know that). Tough to tell if there’s a great game here. FF contains interesting ideas, to be sure. The initiative track (similar to Glen More or … that other game I can’t think of), deploying/mustering, the chit hit system (done before, but providing a nice elegance) all work. So you have a ‘fluid’ system, but … for my tastes, I’d rather have more fog of war (like Up Front or CC). The only hidden information you’ve got is your opponent asset cards, and sometimes those will be used as a discard to trigger special unit effects (so the text doesn’t matter).

Another point I’d like to investigate … do the tanks just wind up dominating the map? A tank can get, say, 15 Movement points to an platoon’s 6, and can really blitz down the roads. I think it would be realistic, but not necessarily interesting. I’d play again (we only needed about an hour, not counting some rules discussion, since I had only skimmed them). I’d also like to look at the scenario booklet a bit more and see just how different each scenario feels.


Written by taogaming

May 14, 2011 at 10:48 pm

6 Responses

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  1. What you said about Starcraft goes for a lot of Fantasy Flight Games. Even worse: the possibilities in the cards are not properly explained in the rules, so in your first game, you dont know what to expect and you dont know which rules are the important ones.


    May 15, 2011 at 2:10 am

  2. Well, I don’t know if it’s “A lot” of FFG games, but there’s a subset of them (which I think of as the “Tons of tiny card decks of cards”). It really makes Starcraft more of a lifestyle game (played to the exclusion of lots of other games).

    I suppose in that way it’s like the videogame.


    May 15, 2011 at 10:00 am

  3. The Germans only had better tanks in the very early stages of their invasion of Russia; the Russian T-34 was a very strong unit and better than anything Germany had for years.

    Fred Bush

    May 15, 2011 at 10:06 am

  4. I assume the game similar to Glen More you’re thinking of is Jenseits von Theban (and it’s more popular redesign, Thebes), in which the player who has used the least “time” gets to go next. There was also a fine game called Neuland that came out at just about the same time as Jenseits that used an identical mechanic.


    May 15, 2011 at 12:40 pm

  5. I agree that it’s better to strive for high/low or low/high. There has to be a real payoff somewhere if you’re going to violate that rule, but so many games just don’t have it.

    Remarks like yours keep making me want to try Mare Nostrum again, but I’m always disappointed. The game state is such a muddle, and takes work to churn through, but the end is always an “oops, made a mistake there” and the recipient wins.

    Jon W

    May 16, 2011 at 10:01 am

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