Kickstarter 3 – The Search for Games

Unlike the original Star Trek films I am hoping that the odd numbered episodes will be considered as entertaining as the evens. If this series gets to episode 5 I will definitely endeavour to put out something less crap than “The Final Frontier”. Join me after the break if you want to see what is interesting me on KS at the moment… Continue reading Kickstarter 3 – The Search for Games

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A Very Vlaada Christmas

Three new games this Christmas, from three different sources.

Dungeon Lords was one of my four results from the most recent UK Maths Trade – a fantastic feature on Board Game Geek where you put up your unwanted games and get matched into a trade cycle that ends with you  getting a game you actually want. This was definitely the pick of the four games I gained.

Codenames was a gift, albeit not a surprise one. I’d played it a couple of Tuesdays with different groups, enjoyed it a lot and hinted pretty heavily that it would be a safe choice for Christmas games with friends and families.

Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization I bought myself. There was a Civ sized hole in my collection and several games to choose from. I knew it was mostly going to be played two player (my son has racked up a lot of hours playing Civilization against me on the computer, but we wanted to convert the conflict from cathode ray to cardboard). I nearly went for 7 Wonders: Duel and like the look of Nations, but in the end I plumped for this, scooping it up at the end of October but keeping it back until Christmas. I have iron willpower!

Linkee players will already have spotted that these all bear the names of Vlaada Chvátil and Czech Games Edition. I already owned Galaxy Trucker and all the family like it, but even so this was quite an investment in a single developer. At this rate, I’ll be looking for a copy of his Mario-beating video game Fish Fillets 2 on ebay to completely turn the game shelf into a Chvátil shrine.

So, was I facing some perfectly roasted honey-steeped parsnips or some over-cooked turkey?

Dungeon Lords

I’ve only played this a couple of times and they’ve both been two player. I found the instruction book pretty good at walking you through your first game – a lot of thought has been put into telling you which bits to leave out, what order to learn it in and how to present it to new players. And it works. Compared with Netrunner (which Max and I also learnt over Christmas) this was a breeze to start playing.

There’s some nice worker placement going on where the order you get your cute imps to their stations matters. In the two player game, this is weakened and you pretty much always get the options you want it seems. This was fine, but I’m looking forwards to seeing how it pans out when four people are fighting over the eight available actions (as each slot only has three vacancies and you pick all your actions in secret with simultaneous reveal, I foresee some anguish). This is a game of two halves (or perhaps four quarters as you play through two cycles of the game), a structure that is a little reminiscent of a Galaxy Trucker/Boss Monster mash-up. In Dungeon Lords you initially build your dungeon, populating it with macabre monsters and tricky traps. Then a band of adventurers waddle along to try and smash it to bits.

We both loved it. It had the Galaxy Trucker feel that if you ended the game with all your plans in tatters and negative points (as I did on one occasion) it really didn’t matter as the ride had been so much fun.

Through the Ages

This has been played half a dozen times and again only with the two of us. One game had to be abandoned as Max had neglected his military and I was spanking him time after time with little hope of him getting back to my level. Other than that, the games have been well balanced and I’ve always felt that there have been a lot of options for me to build my civilisation with plenty of considerations to be made along the way to ensure that things stay on track.

I was a little concerned before purchase about the lack of a map. You build up your civ on your own player mat and any interaction is through a stack of military cards. In the event, this has seen our games have a less aggressive feel than I think would normally be the case. There’s never a feeling that you’re restricted by the other civ and you don’t need to start beating on them in order to expand. It’s my favourite out of the three games and Max has currently rated his all time number one (some of this love may be due to it being new and shiny).

Looking forwards to trying this with four players – although I can imagine that, if you fall too far behind, waiting for three players to one-by-one consider their options, take their actions and complete their book-keeping would seem interminable. In fact, it would be terminable as the rules are very clear on when and how you throw in the towel.

Codenames

I’ve had a lot of fun with this on Tuesday nights. It’s a breezy team game with a nice bit of anguish for the clue-giver as you listen to your team consider links that you’d never even thought of (I mean, who knew that Spooky Tooth was a thing?)!

It’s a game that you play four times on the trot as it is quick (15-20 minutes is typical) and everybody wants a go at being the clue-giver. Incidentally, everybody taking their first turn as clue-giver will say, at some point: “This is harder than I thought!”. I still think, for casual groups, you can crack out Apples to Apples, Last Word, Articulate, Taboo and you’ll have a more raucous game with less downtime and more laughs. Codenames is the Number 1 Party Game for Geeks (or at least, that’s what it says on the box) but it’s a long way from being the number one game for the sort of parties you want to go to. Assuming you want to be at the sort of party where Grandad puts his dick in the mashed potatoes.

Three very different games and if I only had these three on my desert island (along with companions, since I don’t think any of these have anything approaching a solo option) I’d have covered a lot of gaming bases. Thank you Vladimir!

Perhaps I could even play a massive mash-up? Codenames of Galaxy Lord: A New Story …

Now, what should be next into the collection? Anybody up for Mage Knight?

A Viticulture Appreciation

It’s not often that I play a game once and decide that I like it so much that I have to own a copy.  But that’s what happened with Viticulture (Stonemaier Games , 2013) – love at first play.  It’s not really that surprising, as it has all the ingredients I love:  the delicious flavour of worker placement with a full-bodied, well-integrated theme of winemaking, and a bouquet of lovely art and fabulous wooden components for the meeples and buildings.  By Jamey Stegmaier and Alan Stone, Viticulture is for 2-6 players.  Play time does increase with more players, so it can run anywhere from 1 to 2 or even 2.5 hours, especially with new players and a rules explanation, so it’s on the long side for me, and I’ve not played with more than 5 yet.  I really enjoy the interaction and the flow of the gameplay, so the length doesn’t bother me.   Fruity but earthy, Viticulture is a cheeky young vintage  which I feel will age well and come out of the cellar and onto the table often.

The goal is to create the most successful vineyard, and the game is played over the four seasons of the year.  Although there are many options, it all makes sense and feels natural to the theme once you go through it.  Each round, you can place your workers to do activities on your vineyard during the summer or winter to help you plant vines, harvest them, make wine and fill orders.  But you have limited workers and money and need to choose wisely what to do when.  Players start the game with a player vineyard mat, 3 lira, 1 vine card, 1 summer visitor card, 2 workers and 1 ‘grande’ worker (see later explanation for its use).  A random start player is selected and given the start player bunch of grapes token.

Player vineyard board showing all the structures you can build, the workers and grande worker, and the clear grape/wine tokens. The quality of the components and art is excellent
Player vineyard board showing all the structures you can build, the workers and grande worker, and the clear grape/wine tokens. The quality of the components and art is excellent

In spring, players decide when their workers ‘wake up’ by placing their rooster figure on one of the positions which determine turn order.  Each position offers a specific bonus to the player:  going first is its own reward, second give you a vine card, third gives you a wine order card, fourth gives you 1 lira, fifth gives you either a summer or a winter visitor card, sixth gives you a victory point and seventh gives you an extra worker for the current year.  The options are very well-balanced, making it a tricky choice – do you go early, and have first pick of activities, or go later and take a more valuable bonus?

Next comes summer, when in turn order, players place workers in the summer activity spaces and take the relevant action.  Since your workers will remain on the board till the end of the year, you usually want to save some to use on the winter activities.  Depending on the number of players, you can use 1, 2 or 3 spaces in each area, to ensure there’s competition over each activity. The first player to select a particular activity gets a bonus, such as draw or play a second card, plant an extra vine, or take a lira or victory point as well as perform the activity.  If all spaces on an activity area are filled, you can use your ‘grande’ worker to do that activity regardless.  This is a neat concept as you are never completely locked out of an activity.

Workers placed on summer activities, with a blue grande worker and the extra worker being used by yellow on the plant a vine action
Workers placed on summer activities, with a blue grande worker and the extra worker being used by yellow on the plant a vine action

The summer activities are:  draw a vine card, plant a vine, play a summer visitor card, build a structure, give a vineyard tour to earn money and sell some grapes.  Vine cards offer vines which will produce red or white grape varieties of different point values from 1 to 4.  There are a large number of structures you can build to help your vineyard, and each has a great little wooden component to represent it.  For example, building a trellis allows you to grow certain grape varieties, a medium or large wine cellar enables you to age your wine further, and a tasting room gives you a victory point every time you give a vineyard tour.  Summer visitor cards represent people who can help you do summer activities like build a structure at a discount or sell grapes for extra money.

Some summer visitor cards.
Summer visitors offer extra help to the vineyard, like the Architect’s discount on building and the Wine Critic’s victory points.

Players pass when they don’t want to or can’t place any more workers and then comes autumn.  In turn, each player chooses either a summer or a winter visitor card (and players who have built a cottage can choose either one of each or two of the same type of visitor card).

Some winter visitor cards.
Winter visitors include the Merchant, who helps sell grapes and fill wine orders and the Professor, who enables you to train a new worker more cheaply and use them in the same year.

Next, players take turns placing any remaining workers on winter activities.  This is when having taken the extra worker for last place is handy.  You can harvest a field, make wine, train a new worker, take a wine order card, fill an order, play a winter visitor and gain 1 lira (which is mostly useful when no other options are viable).

Winter activities include harvesting grapes, making wine and filling orders.
Winter activities include harvesting grapes, making wine and filling orders.

Harvesting a field gives the player grape tokens of the values of all vines in that field.  These little clear tokens are a great feature, and when you make wine from your grapes, you transfer the tokens from the grapes on your ‘crush pad’ to the equivalent value bottles in your wine cellar (a 3 value white grape makes a 3 value white wine).  You can choose to make a bottle of rosé wine by mixing a red and a white grape, or champagne by mixing two red grapes and one white one. The wine orders specify what the buyer wants – in the example below, the order is for a white wine of value 3 or better and a champagne of 7 or better – and what the reward is – here, it will be worth 6 victory points plus 1 ‘residual order’ of 1 lira.  This is recorded using the wine bottle tokens on the residual orders track, and the money is collected at the end of each subsequent turn.

Green vine cards show what colour and value grapes are produced, and the symbols show what structures are required to plant them. The purple order cards show the wine types and value required and the victory points and residual order amount.
Green vine cards show what colour and value grapes are produced, and the symbols show what structures are required to plant them. The purple order cards show the wine types and values required and the victory points and residual order amount gained.

When all workers have been placed, the year ends.  All harvested grape tokens on the crush pad and wine in the cellars ‘age’, going up one point in value.  Wine can only age past a certain point if you have built your medium and large cellars to house the higher value wines.  Players gain any money for residual orders, take back their workers, and must discard any cards in their hands above the limit of 7 cards.  The first player token passes counter-clockwise, and spring begins with the new start player choosing when to wake up.

Wine bottles on the residual orders track.
Wine bottles on the residual orders track.

The end game is triggered when someone reaches 20 victory points.  Play continues to the end of the current year and whoever has the most points wins.  In half of the four games I’ve played so far, the person who first reached 20 points was pipped at the post by another player who grabbed some extra points for filling orders in the final stage, so it’s still quite tight at the end.

The summer and winter visitor cards are quite powerful, and therefore make the game less predictable by injecting luck into the game.  But I would argue that they are a good feature because and not in spite of this.  All players have access to cards and their use, and all are equally subject to the randomness of the draw.  Without them, I think the game would be much drier and less varied.  But I know some people would object to that view and say that they can unbalance the game.  I am less in favour of the fact that the score track is capped at 25 points, which means you can end up needing to use the tie-break rules rather than be able to simply outscore an opponent.

Viticulture started life as a Kickstarter, but it has the feel of a solid, established vintage from a major games company rather than a first pressing from a new startup.  I bought it retail and wouldn’t have guessed its origin.  I’ve not seen the Tuscany expansion for the game, but from what I’ve heard it includes many different optional extensions that can be added separately or in combination, which offer lots of additional variety and depth to the game, not least of which is removing the 25 point limit.  Some of these are:  differentiated starting resources, secret goals, additional actions, structures and cards, and even options to make cheese, olive oil, apples and tomato sauce.  Although I’m by no means tired of the main game yet, nor am I in general particularly interested in expansions, I am seriously considering getting Tuscany to try out some of these extras.

Viticulture is a game where you do feel like you are telling the story of your vineyard while playing, rather than being a dry Euro simply earning victory points.  There’s plenty of interaction between players as you try to decide what turn order to bid for and then compete for  places for your workers to pursue the different activities.  The game offers many different options for developing your vineyard and gaining victory points, so it is varied each time as  you try different strategies.  Although I’m a real ale drinker rather than a wine lover, Viticulture has quickly become one of my favourite games, and it seems very suitable to be playing it down the pub with my regular gaming group.

Tabletop First Impressions – Stockpile

Hi and welcome to the second ‘Tabletop First Impressions’. I am Rhys Williams and the aim of these series of articles is to review games on that all important first impression. This means that I will be giving my opinion on things like the box, the components, the rule book and finally the game play. I will endeavor to give as much feedback about each of these sections as I see fit. Onto the review and this time it’s on a stock market game, Stockpile.

Stockpile was a Kick Starter Project by Nauvoo Games with the tag line ‘The Stockmarket Game of Insider Trading.’ The theme is obvious and the aim simple, gain the most amount of money through stock trading.

I played a five-player game (Maximum) so will be reviewing from this perspective.

Continue reading Tabletop First Impressions – Stockpile

Two’s Company

Welcome to the first in an occasional series I plan to do on two player games. I know that this is an unusual subject for a gaming group where our natural desire is to get as many people to the table as possible. However, I think this leads to us missing out on some absolutely brilliant games and if, like me, you have a significant other that can occasionally be persuaded to take part in our hobby then some of the games I plan to cover in this mini-series may just be the ticket.

Today I am looking at Jaipur which is considered to be a gateway or lightweight but game don’t let that put you off.

Jaipur

Continue reading Two’s Company