Friday, August 23, 2013

Even more boardgames!

Another couple of weeks have gone by, so I have had a chance to try out a few more boardgames in the meantime. So in no particular order:

Sentinels of the Multiverse
A fairly complex non-collectible card game, Sentinels of the Multiverse is not at all like the extremely popular deck building games (Dominion, Ascension, etc.) In Sentinels of the Multiverse, each player takes on a role of a superhero, all of which are thinly veiled DC and Marvel heroes. So there is a Batman type, Iron Man type, The Flash, and a few more original ones. The hero is represented by a deck, each card might be an action, a power, a piece of gear. The heroes are working together to defeat the villain, also represented by its own deck which cycles automatically - so it's very much a cooperative game. To complicate matters further, there is also an environment deck that might hinder or help the heroes and the villain. On each turn, a player can play a card, use a power (activate a card that's already in play) and draw two cards. The goal is to destroy the villain, which usually (but not always I believe) involves getting rid of his/her/its hit points. I definitely liked the art of the game, and the way the art and gameplay and card text reinforce the theme of the game - I had a lot of fun just kind of imagining the situations and the plot. On the other hand, it's hard to plan a strategy in this game due to the randomness of card draws, and new players (such as myself) will be uncertain of what their hero is capable of. Furthermore, the unfortunate truth about Sentinels of the Multiverse is that most of the time a player will be either spamming the same power every turn, or will pull off a dizzying chain of actions (some decks have cards that grant extra actions) that takes a while to resolve. It is still a fun game at times, but I'm not convinced that it is a good one.

Smash Up
Another card game we tried is Smash Up. In this game, each player selects two decks and smashes them together. So I played Russian bear cavalry dinosaurs, another player played Ninja Wizards, another player smashes aliens and faeries together - you get the idea. After each player creates his deck, four locations are revealed and the players attack these locations to score victory points, in the process destroying, stunning, or moving around their opponents' cards. The art is hilarious, the premise is silly in a good way, and the game is fairly easy to learn and can be played quickly. Because the maximum hand size is 10 (I think), some planning ahead is possible. However, once again, new players will be at somewhat of a loss as to what their decks can be capable of, and will be unsure of what their opponents' cards do. There is also not a great diversity of cards within each deck, so expect to play the same cards over and over again (I have how many robot velociraptors?!). Finally, it seemed to me that some decks just had an unfair advantage or could consistently outplay other decks - maybe it was just the smashups we tried, I'd need to play it more to be sure.

I love love love this game. It's so incredibly well designed, fun to play, and beautiful, with a great deal of replay value. In a nutshell Archipelago is a bit like a blend of Settlers of Catan, Agricola, Puerto Rico, and Game of Thrones. Phewph, that's a mouthful. What is actually is, is a game of exploration, worker and action placement, resource management and intrigue. Players explore an archipelago by placing huge hexagonal tiles which have resources and native huts on them. Native huts increase surplus population which makes buying workers cheaper, but also increases discontent. Players can use workers to harvest resources from the discovered tiles, or construct towns, ports, markets, and churches. The trick is that they can do so even on tiles that were explored by other players, and the other trick is that EVERYTHING can be traded in this game at any time. It may seem that other players are your competition, but then a crisis card gets drawn (yes, there are also cards) and suddenly everyone is scrambling to work together and trade resources to resolve a crisis, because if you don't then the number of rebels begin to grow. If the number of rebels is ever greater than the number of citizens constructed by the players, then EVERYONE LOSES. So you're working together after all? No! Because each player is given a secret card at the beginning of the game, each card has a condition for a game end and a secret winning objective. So you don't know what other players are trying to achieve, and to make things worse one of the players may secretly be a Sympathizer - if the rebels win, everyone loses EXCEPT the Sympathizer! He wins! The game creators call Archipelago a semi-cooperative game, and it very much is. There is no war, you can't construct armies, and yet the game is filled with tense intrigue, alliances and negotiations, and backstabbing. Plus, there are three different decks of objective cards - short game, medium game, long game. A short game can be completed in under an hour, a medium game can be completed in under two hours, and a long game can last as long as three to four hours. Because of these random secret objectives, no game is ever the same. And I'm just scratching the surface here, because there is so so so much more to this game: progress and character cards, market trend cards, domestic and international markets, wonders, and more! And did I mention how gorgeous the pieces are? Anyway, Archipelago is not a cheap game, but I think it's one of my most favourite board games now.

Galaxy Truckers
This is a game I really really want to like, and maybe I will eventually. A lot of other reviewers and players rave about how fun this game is. The premise is that each player builds a haphazard spaceship out of spare parts and then races around the galaxy trying to collect and deliver cargo while pieces of the ship are being blown off by pirates, asteroids and whatnot. The game has three rounds. In each round the players will build progressively bigger and more complicated ships, by quickly looking through a huge pile of face-down tiles that represent engines, crew quarters, weapons, shields, cargo holds, etc. The catch is that they have a limited time to do so, and they're competing with other players for tiles. After the ship is constructed, players criticize each other's ships, trying to find flaws and mistakes - so your ship might lose parts before you even launch it! After all players agree on each other's ships, they are launched. Events are drawn from a pile of cards, these events might give cargo, or slow down the ship, or simulate attacks on the ship. After there are no more events, the players score their cargo (and other victory point conditions), and then start anew, by building a bigger, better ship. I can see how it can be silly fun - it's very much a 'beer and pretzels' game - and the randomization of events adds to the replay value, but it is also strangely unforgiving. Build your ship wrong, draw a particularly nasty event, have an unlucky dice roll, and you're screwed for the rest of the game. Maybe you can make it back in the next round, but it's unlikely. Unlike Archipelago where you never feel like you're falling behind everyone else and where you are constantly doing something and having fun, Galaxy Truckers can quickly turn boring and frustrating if luck and rules go against you. A lot of people really like this game, but I would not recommend it.

Well, that's that. As I am returning to Toronto next week, I will be trying out new games at Snakes and Lattes instead, so hopefully I'll have time to do more mini-reviews soon!