Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Amuse-bouche: A trio to whet the appetite

Three new games recently arrived in the Jeremy/Giggling One household, having winged their way from the US via GatePlay.com (which, freight included, cost less than the best deal I could find in Australia before freight costs!).

First on the list was an expansion I had been hanging out for for some time: Dominion: Intrigue.

I bought the original earlier this year based on reputation alone (and mainly because I couldn't find another game I wanted to purchase with my games shop voucher) even though I wasn't completely sold on the premise.

Having played eight games of Dominion to date (I knew the Games Record on the sidebar would come in handy one day) I'm still not completely taken by the game. Sure it won the 2009 Spiel des Jahres, but I've never really felt it was that good.

Enter Intrigue which completely shakes things up and makes the game so much more interesting. While the base game had only one real strategy (use Copper to buy Silver -> use Silver to buy Gold -> use Gold to buy Provinces), Intrigue adds a whole new set of ways to win.

In particular, the cards that double as Victory Cards and Action Cards add an intriguing (ho ho) level to the desirability of Kingdom card, and with cards like Duke making Duchies worth purchasing, I think I'm going to enjoy this game a whole lot more.

Second on my gotta get list was Pandemic.

Having heard and read a lot about this game, and having seen the accolades it has received, it was an easy decision to purchase Pandemic.

I was also keen to add a co-op game to my collection, and Pandemic fits the bill nicely. I've only played it once so far, in a two player game at the beginner level (four epidemics) with The Giggling One, and thoroughly enjoyed it.

I can see that it's going to take some kick arse strategies to beat this game at harder difficulties as we barely won with just four epidemics. Playing with the Dispatcher and Scientist, we were very close to running out of red cubes (only three left).

We found that we were better off trading cards and curing diseases, as trying to eradicate diseases was just too damn frustrating: just when you only have a few cubes of one colour left, a whole new bunch come on to the board in cities you've already cleared.

I'm definitely taking Pandemic to the next HoGS night.

The final game in the trio was one I was not intending to buy, but I'm bloody glad I did. While I was browsing GatePlay's website waiting for Pandemic to come back in stock, I came across Stone Age.

I had read one or two things about Stone Age, and it looked interesting, so I read (and watched) some reviews which helped me make my mind up about it.

Stone Age falls in the "worker placement" genre, and being a big fan of The Pillars of the Earth and Agricola, I thought I would like it.

And I do. As does The Giggling One. We gave this a go in a two player game, and The Giggling One absolutely trounced me. I employed my usual Agricola strategy and concentrated too much on getting extra workers, leaving me with food shortages necessitating sending workers hunting for food instead of obtaining other resources or cards. Don't do that is my advice.

All three games need loving, and will certainly be vying for my attention at coming games nights.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Amuse-bouche: Why I'm not sold on Incan Gold

Perhaps my experience of Incan Gold was tainted by the first play when, with a runaway leader going in to the final round, there was no way anyone else was going to win.

With hindsight, I did go into this game expecting greater depth rather than treat it like the light piece of fun that it is designed to be.

The thing is, I do like light, fun, anyone-can-win style games (Zombie Fluxx being a prime example); I just don't like the uncertainty of the whole press your luck genre.

For the uninitiated, Incan Gold is an, erm, Incan themed treasure hunt card game where each turn every player must decide whether they wish to remain in the current round ("exploring the temple") or not. For those that stay in, a card is turned over. If that card contains treasure, those players still in the round share the treasure evenly amongst themselves, with any remainder placed on the card.

If the card turned over is a "danger" (ie. snake, spider, zombie, fire, rock fall), no one receives anything. However, there are three of each type of danger, and should one danger appear for the second time in the round, all players still exploring run screaming from the temple, dropping all their ill gotten gains in the process.

The crux of the game is, therefore, to decide at what point you wish to quit the round so as to safely stow your treasure. Obviously, until at least one danger card appears (they make up just under 50% of the deck) there is no benefit to departing the temple, but once a danger appears, you have to weigh up the risk of remaining in the round, as well as the likely decisions of the other players.

If you are the only player who quits the round on a particular turn, you get to take all the treasure still sitting on the cards that couldn't be divided between the players when it was discovered. Of course, your share diminishes if you depart at the same time as another player, so that's where factoring in the other players' decisions comes in to the equation.

The two games of Incan Gold we played were vastly different, and showed the two types of strategy that I think are likely to succeed. They also illustrated just what a random game this is.

We played with eight players in each game, which in itself makes a huge difference as to how much treasure you get, as more players are likely to leave the temple at the same time as you if the treasure is enticing enough.

One particular player proved to be more reckless, or foolhardy, than everyone else, and was always the last player remaining in each round. As a strategy, it's not the smartest thing to do, but it paid off handsomely in game one. With a massive haul all to himself, he finally left the temple in Round 4 with a total of 37 gems to his name.

This was significantly more than anyone else, and made the final round something of an anticlimax. No one was ever going to reach the same score, so it became a situation where you might as well stay in the round for as long as possible, risks be damned.

The same strategy was applied by this player in the second game, but failed dismally as he finished that game with no treasure what so ever. I found myself employing the same strategy as by that time I didn't really care how I went. I did, however, decide I'd rather not finish scoreless so I jumped out of Round 4 with 13 gems.

Round 5 was another anticlimax when the first four cards dealt were dangers, two of which were the same, so no one scored anything in that round.

Fortunes were reversed in game two as the winner of that game had lost the first. His 32 gems were amassed evenly across the first four rounds, and showed that playing it safe and not being too greedy is also a viable strategy. I'd tried that strategy myself in game one but, like everyone else, had lost out to the whale.

If I hadn't gone on tilt in the second game, I would almost certainly have improved my score. Ultimately, though, Incan Gold just seems a little too random. It's how you and the other players manage that randomness that decides the winner, but because of this it didn't have the fun factor for me.

Take Incan Gold for what it is, and it can be a fun game. The way the games panned out on the night just didn't make it as enjoyable as it otherwise could be. That's not to say I wouldn't play it again, because I would. I'd just lower my expectations a bit and get into the light hearted treasure grabbing romp that it is designed to be.