Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Gaming For The Week 14th - 20th Feb 2010

I was hoping to bring a couple of games to the table over the Chinese New Year holidays but as it turned out, it was tougher than expected. I thought it was interesting that Chris highlighted in a recent blog post his challenges in "converting" non-gamers. I share the same sentiments and over time, I realize that not everyone is necessarily a gamer-in-the-making, despite my earnest hopes.

My collection is rather limited in terms of fillers and party games so when I reach for a gateway game, I reach straight for something like Settlers or even the Princes of Florence with the right numbers. I put it down to impatience in desiring to suss out the potential gamers from the non-gamers from the get-go. Perhaps it's a resignation that non-gamers can never be fully "converted". These are likely the ones who find a game of Setters more stressful than intriguing, and are often overwhelmed by the rules early in the explanation process. The potential gamers on the other hand are not necessarily ones who embrace the game immediately but will nonetheless express some enjoyment of the game, coupled with an openness to try it or other similar games some time down the road.

I decided that this CNY I would pull out my sparkling new Dominion:Intrigue at any gaming opportunities. This was probably unwise, taking into consideration the wordy nature of the Intrigue cards but I was eager to experiment nonetheless. The results were mixed. The first 4-player game I attempted it was made up of half non-gamers. We successfully completed the game but it dragged due to AP by the non-gamers. I guess it's understandable as the buy phase can be particularly challenging with 10 actions cards staring you face-to-face, each with their own set of instructions. They did enjoy it however and seemed open to try it again in future.

The second attempt with a different group wasn't as positive. I opted for set with limited interaction and the multiplayer solitaire was apparent. This group was made up of one casual gamer and two non-gamers and they seemed clearly bored midway through. I suppose the appeal of building the most efficient deck in absence of interaction simply didn't cut it for them. I made a mental note then that interaction would be a key element of my choice of gateway games in future. The game was abandoned halfway due to new guests arriving and they seemed happy to try their hand instead at Band Hero rather than continuing with the game. Time's Up: Title Recall turned out to be far more successful with my friends and their significant others after dinner.

I wised up the next day when my cell group mates came over and opted for lighter fair such as Monopoly Deal Card Game and Tichu. They seemed to enjoy the former more than the latter, reaffirming yet again its charm with non-gamers.

Thankfully, I still managed to get an afternoon of heavier gaming in later in the week. Ivan, Jo and Ben came over and we started with 2 games of Dominion:Intrigue. Their familiarity with LCG play meant that they caught onto the game quickly and we were flying through our hands. In addition, we were able to pick up on the card combinations faster and the games proved to be highly enjoyable. I realized that having interactive cards in play was crucial to my own enjoyment of the game too. Jo won the first game which was set up using the recommended "Secret Schemes" set in the rulebook. I randomized for the 2nd game and it turned out arguably even more exciting, thanks to the interaction of the Torturer and Masquerade action cards. I have listed the set for those who may be interested to give it a go (using only Intrigue cards):

Bridge, Coppersmith, Courtyard, Duke, Masquerade, Mining Village, Minion, Nobles, Secret Chamber, and Torturer.

I took that game with 31 VPs, with Ben close behind at 29.

We then proceeded to the main course which was our customary A Game of Thrones LCG game. In fact we managed 2 games this time round, opting to pair up to earn 30 power tokens. I (Lanni) paired with Ivan (Stark) the first game against Ben (Bara) and Jo (Targ). Stark was weak on Intrigue and Ben and Jo duly took advantage racing to victory. We switched partners and I paired with Ben this time round. The game was closer but we were pipped to victory ultimately. In particular, Stark was devastating with Bear Island out early which enabled targeted kills of opponent characters without attachment(s). However, I got a rule wrong and assumed that Bear Island allowed an execution per opponent. As it turned out, it was only a character per turn. Perhaps the outcome would have been different if I was able to keep more of my characters on the table. Nonetheless, that location card is definitely one to be feared.

With 4 players, this is probably our favoured format as it clearly speeds things up. It's nice having to pay attention to only 2 opponents' armies rather than 3. While the titles do add an additional political element to the game, I am satisfied to leave it for the times when we play with 3. In fact with 3, more of the titles are rotated since they are only refreshed every 2 rounds.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Finally! My First F2F Game Of Dominion

If you have read my previous posts on Dominion, you would have discovered both my disdain and yet strange fascination for it. I have only played the original game over BSW and while I applaud its unique mechanic, I can't help but feel in my gut that this wouldn't be a game I pay to own.

Just like my recent comments on Tribune and Race for the Galaxy, one of my concerns about Dominion was its multiplayer solitaire tendencies. Particularly in the original, the game is very much of a race in building a deck engine capable of purchasing Provinces (6VPs) on a consistent basis. Chris aptly described this in his response to my views on Tribune as a "heads down" approach, where you tend to focus on your goals rather than worrying about the actions of your opponents and actively thwarting them to your betterment.

My second concern was that after playing quite a number of games on BSW, I found that most hands tended to play themselves. Its fans argue that the heart of the game lies in its deck-building mechanic. I however couldn't help but be put off by the 'auto-pilot' nature of the game.

Where the game fascinated me was in the ease of its rules and the depth offered by a game of its length. In the latter, it arguably surpasses Tribune since it plays in about half the time. It offers a gateway sort of game which I as a gamer wouldn't be bored to play myself as I intro it to my non-gamer friends.

The first expansion to Dominion, Intrigue was touted as one improving player interaction. The supposedly increased choices available on action cards suggest less of an 'auto-pilot' syndrome. Unfortunately, this is both a boon and a bane since it raises the bar for non-gamers.

I couldn't resist the temptation and eventually took the plunge. I managed to persuade Van to have a go today, curious at her reaction to the game. Van has always enjoyed highly interactive games and games like RftG have left her cold in the past.

What surprised me was the ease of explaining the rules. I mean I have heard of compliments in this area before but going at it for the first time, it went even smoother than I could ever imagine. I really need to applaud the designer Donald for coming up with such an excellent framework (ABC) to capture the gameplay succinctly.

Van and I were off and running and despite initial fears that the complexity of the Intrigue cards would put her off, they turned out largely unfounded. I suppose despite Van's fluctuating interest in gaming, she nonetheless is mostly a gamer, and thus the action cards were largely a cinch for her.

While the rules didn't pose a problem for us, formulating a strategy in terms of action cards to purchase was. I reverted to my past Dominion patterns and mostly purchased treasure cards in view of a subsequent rush for the Provinces. However, I couldn't help myself but join Van in a couple of random action card purchases to gain a sense of how they would play out. The game ended 36-33 in my favour which was a surprise as I had the impression halfway through that I might run away with it, purchasing the majority of the Province cards. Van to her credit did well to stay close in her first game.

Verdict? Van didn't hate the game, which I suppose was already a big plus. I think the tide turned when she realized that the game wasn't as complicated as the mass of cards made out, having commented at the start that it reminded her for A Game of Thrones LCG, which is likely never going to play again despite my absolute love for the game. Coupled with the short playtime especially with two, I can see her being open to repeat plays till she forms a firmer opinion of it. My concern though was that the limited interactivity might still put her off eventually.

We played with the "Well Wishes" set suggested in the rule book with only a single attack card - "Torturer". While I saw the possibilities with the other attack cards in the expansion, I couldn't help but wonder whether that level of interaction would be enough for me. Sure, you get to disrupt and hurt your opponents' next turn but cutting down their hand for example, but it doesn't seem as meaningful since that action doesn't really benefit you directly. It's a far more limited attack mechanism than say interaction in El Grande where messing with my opponents usually accord me a direct advantage in area majority. I need to mull over this further.

But I must say my first impression despite the above concerns was favourable. I was especially impressed at the ease of introducing the game and that the Intrigue cards weren't as complex as I initially feared. Looking forward to try it with some non-gamers over the CNY hols.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Gaming For The Week 7th - 13th Feb 2010

Jo, Ben and John came over earlier in the week. It has been awhile since my first play of Tribune which left me with certain doubts and I was eager to try it again to ascertain if it warrented a place in my collection.

Verdict? As much as I want to like the game especially since it falls into my preferred category of short but relatively deep games, it simply doesn't strike a chord with me. I don't think the issue is with the perceived abstractness of the game as criticized by some but more that at the heart of Tribune, it is ultimately a 'race' game. Players aim to be the fastest in achieving a set of goals. The option of selecting which goals to pursue is a nice touch but it doesn't change the fact that through most of the game, you are preoccupied with your own moves and plans than that of others. In some way, it reminds me of Race for the Galaxy and its subtle interaction which leaves me dissatisfied. It is ironic that I am complaining of a lack of interaction in a worker placement game but that's how I feel playing it despite it also possessing elements of faction
control. I can see how Tribune appeals to some but clearly for me, it's a case of so close yet so far.

We decided to give Battlestar Galactica a go next and this was another new game I was also deliberating over. The uniqueness of the game experience is certainly commendable but I fear the difficulty of bringing it to the table. Its theme appeals more to guys who do not follow series than their female counterparts. In addition it plays best with 5, thus facing extremely stiff competition from El Grande and the Princes of Florence, which are amongst my favourite games.

We played with 4 and with the sympathizer since I had no idea how to adjust for a shortened game without the sympathizer. I took Baltar, Ben Tigh, Jo Boomer and Jon, s. It turned out that there weren't Cylons before the sleeper phase but we struggled with the crisis cards leading to multiple resources in the red. Ben discovered he was a Cylon all along at the sleeper phase and proceeded to scheme against the humans. He didn't to do much as Galactica was hit by waves upon waves of raiders and despite being a jump away from Earth, the humans met with destruction as multiple civilian ships were lost taking the population indicator down to zero.

I don't know. It is an interesting game for sure and probably the best available on the market but something about co-op games leave me ambivalent, even with the traitor mechanism. It also feels a little too random and my decisions don't seem significant enough in determining my fate in-game. Coupled with the difficulty of tabling it, I suppose this is yet another expendable game. Won't mind playing it, just don't like it enough to keep a copy of my own.

The guys came over again later in the week with the addition of Ivan. They were invaluable in helping me sleeve my new copy of Dominion: Intrigue but we couldn't try it with 5. Instead we went with Age of Empires III since Ben and Ivan in particular were keen. I warned them that the 5 player game was prone to AP, having so far only played with 3-4.

In the end, it took over 2 hours together with rules but just as my previous plays, it didn't 'feel' long. Perhaps I do have other preferred games to play with that sort of time frame available but I must admit that AOEIII has seldom disappointed, keeping me engaged throughout. The rest seemed to enjoy it and there were generally favourable comments all round.

We needed a short game to round off the session only Ra and China seemed to scale well with 5 in about half an hour. We went with Ra in the end and just like with AOEIII, I ran away with the victory largely due to my familiarity with the games.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Gaming For The Week 31st Jan - 6th Feb 2010

Quiet week in terms of gaming apart for Jo coming by towards the end of the week.

We tried drafting for AGoT LCG. I took Lannister and he Stark before drafting for neutral and plot cards. None of us chose Valar or Wildfire for our plot decks leading to a game where the characters continued building up. It was a close affair ending 15-14 in my favour despite Jo winning initiative to go first in the final round.

We played Puerto Rico next which Jo was keen to try. I always shun away from introducing PR for fear of the different building functions overwhelming but surprisingly the rules explanation went smoothly and Jo caught it easily. In fact, I think I find it easier to explain the PR rules than those for Settlers.

Jo played well for his first attempt, racking up shipping points thanks to his 4 corn plantations and Wharf. However, I had a better understanding of the importance of the big buildings and made timely grabs for the Guild and Custom House, resulting in a win, 56-44.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone