Sunday, August 25, 2002

Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation

I was recently in St. Louis, and decided to stop by a local game
store, "The Fantasy Shop", which I had seen mentioned on r.g.b. It
turned out to be heavily weighted towards comics and RPGs, but with a
handful of German-style games. It also turned out that luck was with
us and the store was having a "Moonlight Madness" sale that night from
11pm-1am and everything was 20% off. One of the things I decided to
pick up was the new Knizia Lord of the Rings game for two players.

I've played it a few times now and am very pleased with it. In basic
mechanics, it is not unlike Stratego with the addition of special
powers and cards which change the effectiveness of some of the units.
There are many special powers to keep track of, but after an initial
play the powers are reasonably easy to keep track of.

Another key feature of the game is that with a few exceptions, pieces
only ever move forward, which in addition to pushing the game to
conclusion and avoiding stalemates, introduces some very interesting
tactical choices. Often, a players best move would be to do nothing
or move a piece backward.

The result is a game with a opportunity for careful strategizing,
bluffing, and long term planning. It further has the quality that a
single fatal error can easily cost you the game, but those errors are
easy to avoid, in your next game, giving a steady improvement in one's
skill. Further, it appears that doing well at the game relies heavily
upon recognizing when your opponent has made an error (not always
obvious) and successfully capitalizing on it (not always easy).

It is possible that with enough plays it will reduce to a simple
bluffing and luck game, but I expect it will hold up for quite some
time to some varied strategies. With novices, I think the light
player has a bit of an advantage, but am not sure that will be
sustainable with experienced players.

Friday, August 23, 2002

Reviews and Descriptions of Play

I don't know why, but the practice of giveng a description of play
followed by a often extremely brief evaluation and calling that a
"game review" has been bugging me lately. I've never been especially
fond of this approach, but for some reason it's been something I've
noticed a lot lately. If I'm going to like a game because of its
mechanics, I will be able to tell that from a brief description just
as well as from an in depth description. Knowing that there are
auctions for priveleges is sufficient. Knowing there are three rounds
of 6 auctions in which a variable number of priveleges which each
player can win at most 5 of is excessive and often distracting, until
I'm actually going to play a game.

Similarly, I'm more interested in people's opinions of a game, why
they liked and why they didn't, and I don't think every detail of play
is necassary to understand that. Sure, I need to know that there's
simultaneous actions to understand that a reviewer thinks that "the
simultaneous action selection seems to make the game very random", or
something, but a one or two paragraph description is sufficient,
rather than a regurgitation of the rules. Further, I'd much rather
have opinions on how the play feels and how the various rules combine
than know what they specifically are.

For example, in Ra, the fact that different auctions are not just
worth different amounts to different people (as in most auction
games), but also may effectively cost dramatically different amounts
for different people is an important part of why I like the game. The
fact that there are 3 rounds and monuments aren't scored until the end
and some tiles go back at the end of each round doesn't matter in my
evaluation of the game.

Thursday, August 22, 2002

Slow Summer

Well, it's been a slow summer. In July and August, so far, I've
played 54 games, less than half the usual rate, so as a result, I've
had less to say here. Even more so, I've played very few new (to me)
games this summer. A lot of TransAmerica, SpinBall, Puerto Rico, 6
nimmt! and a variety of other new-ish and older favorites, but not a
lot new. Just recently I picked up Lord of the Rings: The
and like it, and I'll put some comments here after
I play it a couple more times.