Still haven’t got a handle on this regular games blogging thing. Let’s start with a big catch up post and see where we go from there.
First up, PAX Australia
PAX (the Penny Arcade Expo) is a gaming con run by the creators of the Penny Arcade comic strip. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of the strip – the brogamer attitude and its relentless homophobia gets to me – and a lot of the time it just isn’t funny. Nevertheless, the PAX cons are meant to be good and inclusive of all styles of games, both digital and analog, with a particular focus on independent developers. Most of all, they’re meant to be fun. Friends of mine had signed up as enforcers (their ominous name for volunteers) so it seemed like it would be good to rock along to, especially as I am extremely unlikely to attend their two US cons – PAX East and PAX West. I was worried about the tone of PAXAus, both from the attitude of the strip and the attitude of the creators (one panel I wanted to attend pulled out because of their insensitivity to gender issues in gaming) but I was delighted to say it truly felt inclusive with no accounts of harassment and a friendly atmosphere.
I got to meet (and thank) the creators of Sentinels of the Multiverse (and pick up some promos) and check out some independent computer games but most of the time I sat my fat arse in the board gaming area – once you gave up your seat, you weren’t ever getting it back – the area was absolutely packed. I spent most of my time with Cyberkev (from Brisbane) and Aaron (from Melbourne) and shared a room with Esonlinji (otherwise known as Other Kevin, also from Brisbane.) Also managed to squeeze some games in with my enforcer friends: Melissa, Steve and Rachel.
Stuff that was played:
I can see why it’s popular – a solidly deterministic Euro with some interaction on the board (blocking spaces needed by other players, building next to them for additional points) but it’s the kind of game that I’m only likely to play with people who already own it and they are likely only to play with more experienced players. It seemed fairly opaque at the beginning, with so many moving parts, and to have a really satisfactory game you would need to play with people who are as familiar with the game as you are.
Actually played this the evening before PAX. I met up with a Melbourne games group who introduced me to this Egyptian themed war/resource game thingy. From the same stable as Cyclades with beautiful figures and clever mechanisms it was a lot of fun. I’m considering picking it up.
I bought this at Milsims. From the creator of the now much loved Love Letter (which I also played at PAX) this is a trick taking game where the objective of each round changes (you might be trying to win the most cards of one suit, or the least, or none at all.) I like it a lot but it only seems to work with three or four players. With five (which was my initial play) it felt too chaotic. Every card has a special power when played, which makes the game extremely fluid. I seem to be collecting these Z-Man small card games as they all seem to have a fair amount of game in them.
Puzzle Strike: Shadows
Games Salute had a stall at PAX so we decided to try out one of the games they were demoing. I’d read good things about Puzzle Strike (mainly from Fortress Ameritrash) and wanted to try out its latest iteration. Halfway through our first game, two of us decided to buy a copy – it really was a lot of fun. Yes, it’s pretty much a Dominion clone, but it’s a Dominion clone where you’re constantly punching each other in the face to win. Each player has a character (which means they have access to three unique chips that they draw) and some wild combos could result.
Played some other stuff – I actually won a game of Glory to Rome against the dreaded Cyberkev and unleashed The Aristocrats on some barely suspecting players but the next time I go to PAX I’ll probably only go for a day, and check out the video games more.
Chatswood Games Group
I started attending to this when I can (which is roughly every second week) and they’re a good bunch to play with. Had one unsuccessful experience with Fiasco (one player seemed unable to give up being a DM) but I’ve had the pleasure of introducing some new games to Patrick, who was instrumental in introducing me to Eurogames at his old game group in Pymble.
Games of note:
Probably the most accessible Phil Eklund game, which isn’t saying much – the rule book is still pretty impenetrable but the game itself is very good, once you get the hang of it. You are wealthy Mexican land owners trying to take over the country – you have the opportunity four times during the game, when the Topple card comes out. You draft cards to get money, abilities, soldiers and valuable, valuable control points (which are in four different currencies, keyed to the four different types of government.) It’s a long game but engrossing. I also played it again at PAX and that didn’t go as well, but it’s a game I’m eager to play again.
I bought this when I was down in Melbourne for PAX. Ostensibly a Eurogame (with worker placement, resource conversion, building and market mechanisms) the hidden victory and end game conditions make it something else. I’ve played it twice now and both games have ended with every one losing. As it is also a semi-cooperative. It really deserves a blog post of its own as I think it’s one of the most interesting games I’ve played in years. There’s a great post by Ben McJunkin on BGG about it and I’m not sure I could do any better than that.
Patrick was selling off games on behalf of another gamer and I finally got my hands on this, a Knizia I’d been after for some years. It’s not one of his masterpieces (see below) but it is very, very enjoyable and I’m glad to finally add it to the collection.
Over the October long weekend we had a reunion of our games group down at Steve’s place in Traralgon. I see Murray and Bruce every so often at Chatswood, and we catch up when we can, but Steve had moved away to a better life so this was a chance to get the gang back together again.
Games new to me:
Stefan Feld seems to arouse the same excitement in hardcore games that Knizia used to, but I remain unconvinced. To my mind, Feld’s games have one or two interesting mechanisms, but they never really cohere for me, his games never dissolve into a pure experience. Macao has a clever resource mechanism with the resource cubes scattered around a clock, based on dice rolls, so you had to plan several turns in advance to make sure you had what you needed to play the cards you had. I liked it, but not enough to want it for the collection – another game I’m only likely to play with people who already own it.
This was very popular when it came up on Kickstarter but I couldn’t get a sense of how the game worked. Now I know – it doesn’t. Typically underdeveloped KShit – no decisions to speak of – and for all the production, the cards used to differentiate the players’ abilities are badly laid out and difficult to read. No quality control at all.
Scoundrels of Skullport
SoS is the first expansion for Lords of Waterdeep. I don’t mind Waterdeep, but I can’t really see what all the fuss is about. We played with the Skullport expansion, and the corruption mechanism it introduced certainly added to the basic game. I’m now considering getting it, but I probably don’t need another worker placement game.
The dinosaur game. A fairly light area control game, but not quite light enough for a family. Nice components and refreshingly confrontational but nothing especially exciting.
Clash of Cultures
Apart from some graphics issues (some important text on the player sheets is practically unreadable because of the font colours) this is an amazing game, from the designer of Merchants and Marauders. It is a very clever, medium length civilisation building game with nice plastic components and clever, interlocking mechanisms allowing players to build different technologies with different currencies but with very little drag during turns. I’d heard good things about it and I’m pretty much in agreement. Z-Man are doing some exceptional big box games and I’m sorely tempted by Clash of Cultures.
Complex Euro about wine production in Portugal. Lots of pieces, an exceptionally dense and busy board and counter-intuitive mechanics (it took ages to catch on to the fact that the bottles of wine being produced were currency as well as point generators.) This took ages to get to the table. We couldn’t organise a game of it in Sydney with Steve – we tried to play it at Bordercon but Steve had accidentally left it behind, and finally we discovered one of the province tiles was missing. Fortunately, with three players, we could leave that province out. For all that, we weren’t disappointed. It is complex, there’s a lot of things going on and certainly I was too busy trying to work out effective moves for myself to take note of what everyone else is doing, but it was ultimately rewarding.
Despite Bruce getting sick, and having to sit most of Saturday out, Gippscon was a success, so we’re hoping to meet up again when Steve can make it up to Sydney for a weekend of gaming.
With all the new games coming out it’s easy to forget about the classic Euros that got me into the hobby in the first place. The first designer I avidly started to collect was Reiner Knizia and, whilst I find his recent output fairly unremarkable, I managed to get three of his best games to the table and was not disappointed.
Tigris and Euphrates
We managed to fit this in at the lunchtime games group and it is still an amazing game. It feels timeless with rules that seem absurdly simple compared to recent Euros but play which is astonishingly deep. It is a civ building game stripped to its absolute essentials. An absolute masterpiece.
Ultimately just a set collection game but the variance in scoring (and therefore value) of the different tiles and the auctions limited by the sun tiles and the press your luck mechanics make Ra much better than the sum of its parts. Again, played at lunchtime. Phil prefers the Razzia! Mafia retheme but that leaves out the disasters which I think are crucial to the stress of the seemingly simple decisions of Ra. AFter all, there’s only two things you can do on your turn – draw a tile or start an auction. Ra was out of print for ages – I managed to find an original copy in a French game store and sweated on the long trip it made back to Australia by ship.
Not as highly regarded as the above, Taj is still my favourite Knizia. It’s not quite as pure as the others, some cards have special powers, it’s an auction game disguised as a card game disguised as a board game but there’s a wonderful tension to it. It doesn’t work for everyone but it works for me and I tend to think of it as one of Knizia’s more experimental designs.
I managed to score both Libertalia and Mage Wars in a recent Chain of Generosity. I’ve played Libertalia at our most recent games day and enjoyed it but I can see that it can be too dry for some as all the players are using the same cards making it a game of double think. I finally tracked down a copy of Hanabi, which was sold out in Melbourne when I was down for PAX but seems to be available everywhere now. Whilst at PAX I was convinced to pick up a cheap copy of Cuba. I haven’t played it yet, but a few of my regular gaming mates like it. During my recent trip to Melbourne (for Gippscon) I picked up Chaos (another Z-Man small card game like Chronicle – I’d played it some years ago and enjoyed how its wackiness), Il Vecchio (based on some positive reports) and Article 27 (a negotiation game.) High Frontier: Colonisation arrived after I’d completely forgotten I had preordered it. Other expansions include: multiple Netrunner expansions (though I still haven’t got past the base set yet); Dixit Odyssey and Power Up for King of Tokyo which is an excellent small expansion for this great game.
There may be some others I’ve forgotten, but I really am try to put a lid on new games, honest I am. (Oh yeah, Asteroyds, I’d forgotten picking that up.)
So – another pile of games I have to get to the table.