Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Some boardgame reviews

Last couple of weeks I've been going to Monopolatte - a boardgame cafe that recently opened up in Ottawa (summer vacation is awesome that way!). We've tried several games, all but one of which was new for me, so I just wanted to throw out a brief review of each.

Lords of Waterdeep
Although produced by Wizards of the Coast, and using their Dungeons and Dragons and Forgotten Realms brands, it was not at all the expected derivative adventurers-on-a-quest kind of game (like Talisman, Descent or Hero's Quest). Instead it is a surprisingly deep and fun resource management game. Each player assumes control of a faction and a leader (whose identity and goals are kept secret until the end of the game) trying to manipulate the city of Waterdeep and amass more victory points than the other players. At its heart it's a resource management and action management game that is quite close to Agricola in spirit and mechanics (but has much prettier art). Each player has a limited number of actions per turn, with these actions the player has to acquire resources (in the form of adventurers), intrigue against other players (by using special intrigue cards), construct buildings in the city that provide additional types of actions (Agricola style) for all players, acquire quests from a tavern, and then send out teams of adventurers (in other words spending resources) to complete the quests. There are a lot of pieces, and the setup takes a little while, but once we started playing it was very easy to understand and very fun. I would definitely play it again in a heartbeat. It worked quite well with 3 players, but would work even better with 4 or 5.

Ticket to Ride: Scandinavian Edition
I've played Ticket to Ride before a bunch of times, so I knew what to expect. Players draw multicolored cards from a common deck (either face-down or from a pool of 5 face-up cards) that they then use to lay down cute little railroad wagons in an effort to complete railway routes from one city to another. Meanwhile each player has a number of secret goals to complete (link the following destinations together: Helsinki to Oslo, Konigsberg to Stockholm, etc.) that reap victory points at the end. It's a fun and easy and quick game. What Scandinavian edition does differently is that it adds the concepts of tunnels and ferries. Ferries require special locomotive cards to complete, while tunnels may end up being much more expensive to complete than they seem if the player constructing a tunnel happens to be unlucky. I can't say that either addition made the game more enjoyable than the standard version of the game, but it was fun enough. I would not recommend this version of the game, however, because it only supports 3 players. Get the standard edition of Ticket to Ride (U.S. or Europe).

7 Wonders
Here's a game I really wanted to like, but doesn't quite deliver. Each player gets a random great wonder of the ancient world at the start of the game, and tries to complete the wonder and build his city (which will generate the resources to complete the wonder as well as earn bonus victory points in the process). There are three ages - each age has a different deck of buildings - and during each age the players will be able to play 6 cards from their hand. They can use these cards to generate gold, to complete stages of their wonder, or construct buildings. The trick is that after each player plays a card he then passes his remaining hand to one of his neighbours, so you can purposefully build a building you don't need in order to deny it to your enemy. To construct buildings and wonder stages players buy resources from their neighbours (i.e. other players), or have the resources generated by their existing buildings. At the end of each age there is also a special military conflict stage, which allows conquest-minded players to reap additional victory points by constructing military buildings that help during conquests but do not provide any other resources or victory points otherwise. All of this should be quite fun, except it just ends up not feeling like it at all. The game felt too random, with the constant passing of card hands back and forth it didn't seem like there is much room for deep strategy or planning, and it was easy to get completely stuck because a particular resource was unavailable. The production value is quite high (it's sooooooooooooooooooooo pretty), and maybe it's more fun with a larger group of players (it supports up to 7 players), but I'll give this one a pass in the future.

This one's a classic boardgame, but I've only now tried it. It's quite similar in spirit and mechanics to another classic boardgame - Carcasonne. Players draw tiles and then try to assemble the most awesome palace complex (Alhambra). There are four types of money cards denoted by their colours that the players compete to gain, that they then will use to purchase tiles from a common pool. On each turn a player might buy a tile and put it into play, put a tile away from his board and into his reserve to use it later, put a tile from his reserve into play, or take money. It's very much about planning your actions in advance. There is also an element of a jigsaw puzzle and city optimization because the way you construct your palace has its own special rules, and it matters how the tiles are placed and fit together. Players score points depending one how many buildings they constructed of each type (there are pavilions, towers, gardens, arcades, etc.), who has the longest city wall, if anyone constructed a fully walled-in city, and so on and so forth. The set-up takes a while, but it's easy to understand and play, even though there are many paths to victory and quite a bit of depth to it. I can definitely see why it's a classic and many people would find it very fun, but it's not a game for me - I can't say I enjoyed Carcasonne, and I can't say I enjoyed Alhambra either.

So there it is! Next time I hope I'll have a chance to play a few more games from my to-do list: Cosmic Encounters, Galaxy Truckers, and maybe even Twilight Imperium!

Incidentally, if you live or visit Ottawa go check out Monopolatte - it's a very friendly and reasonably priced boardgame cafe, and they have a good variety of games. They're not quite as big as Snakes and Lattes in Toronto yet, but I hope they'll continue expanding! The staff is very friendly, and the food is cheap and tasty.