Thursday, September 24, 2015

A pile of Eurogames!

This week was something of a Eurogame binge, having played three games: Imperial, Manhattan Project, and Brass. In case you're not familiar with the term, Eurogames refer to board games typically designed and produced by European game designers and companies (but not exclusively so) that focus on non-zero sum victory goals (so definitely not Monopoly or Risk - think more accumulation of victory points or specific resources), creating and running efficient economies and competing for resources. Games like Settlers of Catan and Carcasonne are two of the best known examples of this genre. Two of the games I've played were very much typical Eurogames (Manhattan Project and Brass) while Imperial was unlike almost any other game I've played.

Imperial looks very much like Risk or Diplomacy at first glance.
I'm running Germany into the ground and lining my pockets at the same time!
There are European nations conforming to late 19th century borders, armies and fleets and money. However, this is where the similarities end. You see, the players aren't the nations, they are devious investors manipulating the nations from the shadows! A player who invests the most into a nation the controls what that nation does, but there's nothing preventing that player from also investing in other nations. Growing the nation's treasury through taxation and war and then raiding that treasure through bonds for all it's worth is quite a viable strategy! For example I started out in control of Germany, I quickly invested in Italy and seized control of Italy for a few turns, then spent a few turns without a country to control (but with plenty of cash and investments in most of the other countries) before once again controlling Germany. I ran Germany into the ground but it didn't matter - what mattered was how much cash I had (not the nation I controlled) and the value of the bonds I held at the end of the game. I'm only scratching the surface here because the game also features a very unique rondel which the players use to issue commands to their controlled nations, a simple but enjoyable combat system, and all sorts of other devious things one can do. On top of that it's a purely non-random game but one with a lot of depth. Imperial is definitely a game I can't wait to play again!

Manhattan Project is a quintessential worker placement Euro game with a few twists that made it far more enjoyable for me than very similar games such as Agricola. The players are countries competing to develop their own nuclear weapons.
 My dinky personal playing space, only six buildings but at least I already have a bomb loaded!
 They use three different types of workers (labourers, engineers and scientists) to take actions dictated on the main board as well as the buildings they can buy. Players have to accumulate resources such as money and yellowcake (un-enriched Uranium ore) and then refine uranium and/or plutonium, research different bomb designs, build said bombs, and then "load" them. Only loaded bombs grant victory points - money and other resources are only means to an end (building the bomb) and provide no victory points. So it's an exercise in creating the most efficient economic chains just like Agricola. But what Manhattan Project does differently is injecting a lot more direct competition and ability to interfere with the other players than most Eurogames have.
 Players can use espionage to send their workers into enemy's buildings denying their use, they can also build fighters and bombers to disable enemy buildings and disrupt their chains. There is a LOT of depth to the game, and I haven't even tried the hydrogen bomb rules or the expansion, but I have already enjoyed it a lot more than Agricola. I'm not sure I'm comfortable with the theme as being entirely appropriate, but then again Archipelago is one of my top favourite games and it's a game about the brutal colonization of Polynesian islands by Europeans...

Finally, Brass was a game I was very dubious about, since it's designed by Martin Wallace known for very heavy Eurogames and whose game After the Flood I didn't particularly enjoy. On the surface there is little to recommend Brass - it's a game about industrial development in Lancashire in the second half of the 19th century, and it's butt ugly to boot (just look at it!).
 It also features one of the worst-written manuals I've ever seen. However, we played a few practice turns first, slowly figured out the rules and played a proper game, and surprisingly we had a blast! Players play two cards per turn that dictate where the players can construct buildings or what type of buildings they can place. At the same time players are trying to accumulate money and to spend the coal and iron from their mines or from the separate pool of resources. The game has two phases - a canal phase and railroad phase. During each phase players have access to different buildings, the costs are different, and some locations only open up in the railroad phase. Almost everything gets wiped out after the canal phase (this seems to be Martin Wallace's calling card just like After the Flood) so the players have clear choices between trying to make as much money in the canal phase or to lay groundwork for even bigger expansion during the railway age. There is a lot more to this game but suffice to say I greatly enjoyed it and anyone who likes Powergrid will find a lot to like here as well, provided you can get past the awful manual and visual design (I found some tiles very hard to read because of a poor choice of colour contrast).

Anyway, three new games and I can't wait to play all three of these again! Definitely a big hit with me!