Come on in and read the latest (belated) edition, where I confess to not following through on my movie watching, detail some games played at a local boardgame night, and do reviews for Dream Factory and Campaign Manager 2008. Join us, won't you?
First up, a confession. I didn't get the chance to go see Sucker Punch. I wanted to, but then we signed a lease on a new house we're renting, and gearing up to move, and then we went on a mini-vacation to Pigeon Forge, so weekend time has been at a premium.
The review scores were rotten and I think it's already plummeted down the box office chart, so sadly, I think you guys were right. *looooooong sigh* Hot damn, would it turn summer already?
Anyway...on with the column!
Oh yes it's Ladies' Night, Oh what a night
My wife and I attended a big game night locally last week. Yes, she did this willingly--I know it must be love, but I'm not complaining. Actually, she's turning out to be quite a gamer.
We started off with a four-player game of 7 Wonders as a warm-up. She really likes Fairy Tale (and beats me soundly at it), so I figured she'd like this one as well. I stumbled through yet another game, trying not to overcommit to military. Erica raced out to a sizable lead in military power, so I figured I'd go for a blue strategy and just get some resources and then straight VPs. My token military force was then leapfrogged by Gil to my right at the last minute, and when the scores were tallied, Erica had won. I was sadly in last place again.
This is definitely a game that is very light, but attempts to achieve something unique in its civilization flavor. I doubt anyone is going to confuse it with any of the heavier civ classics as ultimately it is a set collection/VP engine game. It is definitely the sort of game you can sit around and play casually and enjoy. It definitely abstracts a lot of elements. But it is pretty radical in that you can sit seven people down for a game that isn't trivially light and finish in half-an-hour.
And for those of you who were arguing against comparing it to Fairy Tale, after the game my wife said, "This isn't really anything at all like Fairy Tale." So I stand corrected.
The other table was wrapping up, and someone mentioned Cosmic Encounter. I didn't know if Erica would be game for this, but she said she would give it a try. Cosmic is just one of those landmark games that pretty much defines this site in terms of its style and execution. It's all about crazy powers, the fickle nature of when those encounter cards come up, a liberal dose of random crazy stuff that happens from game to game, and players forced to interact with each other, cutting deals, making alliances, stabbing each other in the back.
We set up a five-player game. I had the Vaccuum and Erica had the race who always has 8 cards (the name escapes me right now.) we played with the Reward deck, my first time getting to try that out. We went through a bit of rules explanation to get my wife up to speed as she hadn't really played anything like Cosmic before, and we were off.
The Hate quickly became a despised foe as Ian used this power to force everyone to destroy lots of ships. I was very cavalier about mine as I was able to take folks with me to the Warp, although I think I got too carried away and left myself too thin. There was a heated moment as the game wore on where the Sorceror (Dave) was basically handed a fourth colony, and some grunting about "giving the game away" was overheard by my neighbor to the left. I wasn't too worried because I had a plan...I had the Vaccuum Flare in hand, so I could *really* abuse my power and selectively destroy colonies that were left too thinly defended.
Then, of course, Hate shut my power off. For all the fuss about giving the game away, I was the only one who could stop Sorceror, and I was sidelined for awhile.
Everyone did gang up on the Sorceror, but then the Chosen pulled off a surprise (and lucky) fourth colony grab, and now we had two players on the verge of winning. I was able to finally re-enable my ability, and we then ran into a rules conflict as the Chosen went for his fifth colony. He won, but since I had the Flare I thought I could destroy a couple of his onesie colonies as my ships were carted off to the warp. After all, he couldn't claim that colony until we'd banished our ships, could he?
The FFG rulebook wasn't really clear on the timing of victory and winning that final battle--was there time in-between for me to use my Flare?
We ended up ruling that it didn't make sense to allow this, because honestly I could have locked the game up by defending and flaring against any player going for the win, at least until I ran out of ships or my flare got taken away. So the game went to the Chosen, who stole a victory right out from everyone else's nose while they were bickering about the Sorceror. Hilarious.
Cosmic is a blast. It's a title that everyone should own. Having played with the Reward deck, it added enough wrinkles and surprises to the game that I can't see playing without it. I still need to pick up the latest expansion, and I do have dreams of sitting down to a massively chaotic 8-player slugfest someday soon. I think Trashfest South is just the occasion to make that happen...you listening, folks? Bring it!
Ian then busted out a game I had never heard of--Hart an der Grenze. It's basically a glorified version of "BS" as players have little metal suitcases and lie about the contents to the sheriff every turn. If they get busted with contraband like alcohol or cigars, they have to pay a hefty fee, but if the sheriff inspects them and their goods are exactly as declared, then the sheriff pays a penalty to the player.
We played a rule wrong in that we allowed lying about the number of cards in the suitcase. This is significant because you're only allowed to declare one good--you have to say something like "3 Maracas" even if you have 2 Maracas and a bottle of hooch in there. By lying about the contents, we all just started saying stuff like "2 Jugs" and then dumping all five of our cards for the turn in the suitcase. If you got penalized, yeah, that hurt, but since the sheriff could only really inspect one case per turn, the trade-off was worth it.
If you can't lie about the number of cards, to dump your whole hand you'd have to say something like "Five Sombreros". That's pretty much like saying "seven 6s!" in Liar's Dice...you're gonna get busted.
In the end, Erica won this one too, making her 2 for 3 on the night. She liked this game a lot but it's hard to find, so I'm either going to have to hunt down a trade, or save this one for game nights at Ian's.
We had an awesome time and we'll definitely be attending again soon. Huntsville, Alabama acutally has a pretty good gaming scene, even though the only game store is a Hobby Town. The local Huntsville Boardgamers meet on Mondays and Fridays every week, and there is also a game night hosted at a Steak and Shake on Thursdays with open gaming. For those of you who've wondered how I cram so much gaming in, it's not only because of my wife and two gamer brothers, but also a nicely vibrant bunch of local gamers.
Stand By For Reviews!
Alright, so here goes with the patented whirlwind mini-reviews. Are you ready? Hold on tight.
Ain't Gonna Dream No More
I'd always wanted to play Traumfabrik after seeing pictures of it, and somehow just never got around to trying the Hollywood Blockbuster reprint. In fact, it had sort of slipped off
my radar until Jay Tummelson at Rio Grande sent me a review copy.
Dream Factory (3-5 Players, 45 min-1 hr, Reiner Knizia, Rio Grande Games) is pretty much a straight reprint of the original game, but with the carictature/parody names for the movies and actors. That's the part I'm not really crazy about, but it's painfully obvious who each is meant to be. Unless you want to feel like a goof, you will refer to them by their real names instead of "Brad Spitt" or whatever.
Each player takes on the role of the head of a movie studio, wheeling, dealing and bidding on actors, directors, and quality special effects and music for their films. The board is a pathway through each "season", where tiles are placed along the way. These tiles are each of the elements you're looking for to get your movie made, and have a star rating to let you know the quality of what you're bidding for.
You start with three movies to produce based on the studio you choose, and are given a few thousand dollars to make things happen. Players move from square to square, bidding on each lot of tiles. It's a closed economy game, so if you win, you end up dividing up the winning bid evenly amongst your opponents. Any extra that can't be divided up cleanly is left in the center of the board, to be added to what is parsed out with the next winning bid.
Each movie has different requirements. Almost all of them require an actor and director, but others have more emphasis on special effects, or music. When you win an auction lot, you take the tiles you won and distribute them on the appropriate spots for your pending movies. Anything you can't use currently is simply lost. Once you fill up all the required slots, the movie is completed, and you tally up all the values of the stars on your tiles. You then grab the related scoring chip. Some scoring chips are limited and they're first come, first serve, so it's possible to complete a fifteen point movie but have to take a lower-valued chip for it instead because no more fifteens are available.
There are also awards given out during the game and also at game's end. There are those that award the best in each category so far (the highest valued movie in Comedy, Drama, and Action.) There are also similar awards at the end that are the equivalent to the Academy Awards. The first to complete each type of script also gets an award--I'm not sure what this is really supposed to represent, but it does give incentive for the players to get those movies made in the early game, as quickly as possible.
Last but not least is the Golden Rasberry. This is awarded at the end of the game for the worst film, or the film completed that had the fewest stars. So believe it or not there can be a competition to put together the worst movie imaginable, just to win this "coveted" award. Humorously, designer Reiner Knizia is a tile in the game as an actor worth negative one stars...so yes, the Good Doktor actually makes a movie *worse* by being in it. Look for "Reiner Knizia in...Backpack to the Future", coming soon to a cinemaplex near you.
The game is a lot of fun, though I admit being such a big fan of movies is a large part of the appeal. The cardboard tiles are thick, the board for the game is solid, and though the cartoon art is goofy, it is well done in its own way. I wish like Traumfabrik they were able to use likenesses and names of real actors and real movies, but I guess you can never be too careful in this lawsuit-happy day and age. The real fun of the game is in putting together these ridiculous movies. In our last game, I was able to make essentially "The Silence of the Lambs" starring Leonardo di Caprio...and Eddie Murphy. We were laughing trying to figure out which was Agent Starling and which was Hannibal Lecter, and I think we decided eventually that it would have to be Murphy as the cannibalistic doctor. "And in the morning...I'm gonna eat yo liver! Heeeeh heh heh heh heh heeeeeeh..." Also, Woody Allen ended up directing Back to the Future. The mind boggles.
Do I like this as much as Ra? I think it's in the same ballpark, though Ra is of course a deeper, more serious game. But this one is definitely a lot of fun, probably carried quite a bit by its theme, but its auction mechanics are solid, and you'll never have enough time to do everything you want and buy everything you need. Meanwhile the opposition is churning out movies, and you're sweating just to cobble these things together just to get them out the door and pray for profits.
Hell, that's pretty much how the real system seems to work these days.
Thumbs up from me. It's a rare auction game where the theme won't bore you silly.
And victory's just a part of doing the job right, and it'll take place like this
Okay, this is one I bought myself, and so far, I'm really glad I did.
1960: The Making of the President was a decent game, but the see-saw nature of how states were fought over made the game feel repetitive and that your early actions didn't mean very much in the long run. I liked the theme, but after just a few plays I traded it away. Since doing that, I've wanted to find something to replace it--and I can happily say I've done just that.
Campaign Manager 2008 (2 players, 30 minutes, Christian Leonhard and Jason Matthews, Z-Man Games) covers the McCain/Obama election from that year, and the notion is the same--two candidates doing battle over important states, trying to win the hearts and minds of voters and find themselves elected President of the United States. Unlike 1960 which used a shared deck, both candidates have their own 45-card deck. Gone are the Ops/Events unfortunately (I do miss that part--there will always, always be something very cool about playing cards for Ops, no question about it) but each card has a different effect that the candidates will use to influence voters, change the focus of the issues, or sway key voting demographics.
My favorite part is that before the game begins, each player will have to build their deck that they'll use. They do this by taking their 45-card deck, drawing three, and keeping one while pitching the other two. They'll repeat this until they have a 15-card deck that they'll use for the entire game. So right before the game begins, you have an opportunity to decide what your candidate might be focusing on, or try to find syngeries between the cards you end up drafting.
This also hopefully prevents degenerative play, as you can't just play the exact same deck over and over again. Due to the nature of the draw, you might find two cards in the same three that you'd love to keep both, but can keep only one. And because both candidates are doing this, by the end their decks should be quite different, even if they've chosen similar strategies.
If the drafting is too much for first time players, and it probably will be, then you can use the fifteen cards marked with a star for your candidate. This is basically a "start" pre-built deck that will allow you to bypass drafting and get you into the gameplay, so the next time you play you'll have a much better idea of what you should be selecting for your deck.
I never really enjoyed the endless tug-of-war over the big states in 1960. Even the "carrying a state" mechanism, which was supposed to help with that, was circumvented by lots of cards that placed cubes without having to worry about influence checks. Here, the tug-of-war is much better for two reasons. Number one, each state is only in play until its won. So unlike 1960 where every state is in play until the final tally, in this one you can win a state and boom, it's out of play and yours. I like that a lot, even if it doesn't quite fit thematically. Secondly, instead of one general track for measuring a candidate's progress in a state, there are two--one for the economy, and one for military. Each state has a marker showing what is the most important issue right now. So you can have wrapped up the Economy in a state, but if the focus is on Military right now, you won't win that state until you can draw the attention and concentration back on that as the key issue. Luckily, there are cards that will allow you to do just that.
So players take turns either playing a card or drawing a card. Some cards place influence in one or both Miliary and Economy. If your opponent has influence, you first replace theirs with one of your discs. Once that's done, there are undecided voters in each state, and you can then use your influence to claim those. Should you ever have all the votes in the matching key category, the state is yours, and you claim its electoral votes.
In a really cool touch, progress is tracked on an election board, and each state has a little cardboard sliver meant to show how many votes each candidate has. Each cardboard vote marker is proportionally long to match the number of electoral votes. So as the game goes on, you have what appears to be an election-night electoral vote tracker, and you get a good idea who is ahead, and by how much. You do have to be careful though, as if your cardboard tokens have any flash from punching them out, it can make you appear to have more votes than you actually do. When my brother and I played, I thought I'd won, but turns out I was 4 votes short. It's the small tiles that can be the most misleading. So honestly while the "leader board" looks cool, as you get down to the wire, you'll have to do some manual counting anyway.
When a state is won, a new state is brought into play by the winner, selected from those still available. Also at this time a "ZNN" news card is flipped over, with some event that will affect the new state brought into play. (For best effect, as you flip each one, say in your best Zev impersonation, "Ahhh, we got some breaking news over here." And yes, Z-Man has definitely hit the big time!) The ZNN cards have an awesome graphical look to them and really do look like something you'd see on a news broadcast. So while these candidates are fighting it out for votes, a housing crisis could emerge making voters look long and hard at the economy, or Sarah Palin will go on TV and stick her foot in her mouth, and that will affect certain things on the state that is coming into play.
This is where Media control comes in, and it's a little sub-strategy that you can incorporate into your deck if you'd like. Each candidate has cards in their deck that essentially grants "media control". If they have this, then they get to choose which state is affected by each breaking news card. Normally, it only affects the state coming into play, but with media control, you can redirect any effects to a state that will benefit you more. For example, let's say you have the Economy wrapped up in a state, but the focus is on military. A new state is brought out and a ZNN card comes up that shifts the focus squarely on the Economy. If you have control of the Media, you can instead have your state affected, and boom, you've instantly won a state.
Of course, only one Media card can be in play, so if you have yours out and your opponent plays his, yours will be discarded, granting him control of the media for the time being. It's a very cool little sub-game, and nicely and thematically conveys the impact of spin-doctoring without getting too bogged down in it.
There's also one sub-element I haven't mentioned yet, and that's "Going Negative." Certain cards have more powerful effects, but then you must roll a die and consult a chart. Whatever is rolled may give your opponent a benefit in the form of free card draws, free influence, or if you roll a 6, nothing at all. So you can risk playing the more powerful cards (ie, going on the attack with negative campaigning tactics), but you have to worry about the repurcussions--just like a real election, actually. Sometimes when you sling mud, you only end up wearing it.
So the candidates go back and forth, attempting to win one of the four states currently in play, claiming them and replacing them, and when one candidate hits the magic 270 needed to be elected, they win!
For me, this packs all the fun stuff of 1960 in a nice half-hour (if that) game. I'll freely admit the theme is nowhere near as cool as swaggering my way through an election as Jack Kennedy, but 2008 was still a historic campaign that is fresh on the minds of most American gamers. If I've got a longer block of time, then of course I'm busting out Twilight Struggle, but for the time frame, you really can't beat this.
It does remind me I need to try Founding Fathers eventually...but that's for another day. Another thumbs up from me for Campaign Manager 2008.
And that's a wrap! Thanks for reading. See ya in seven (for reals, this time.)