Sunday, November 6, 2005

More Essen 2005 Games

I got to play several more Essen 2005 games this weekend and replay a
couple I played earlier. I finally did play Caylus. All of the below
comments are based on only a play or two, but you may notice a
recurring theme: "I don't need to buy it." Oh well. The best game
experience of the weekend was Lord of the Rings. We played with all the expansions, including the dark tiles.
I was Sauron managed to get the Dark Rider back to Mordor just
as Sam was about to drop the ring into Mount Doom. I had just barely failed to nail them in Bree, then again in Isengard and again in Shelob's Lair. A very satisfying game for all involved.
Normally, for me, novelty goes a long way, so to have a 5-year-old game (admittedly, one of my favorites) be the best gaming experience of the weekend says something. I'm usually sufficiently big into "what's new" that that excitement exceeds a good experience at my favored games. Not so this time. Caylus and Antike came close though, but were not quite there.

It's outstanding, but it's not quite as earth shaking as many have made it
out to be. It's long, and it can have some downtime, which is not a good combination. It seems that usually it will be quite engaging with little downtime, but the length detracts. Above and beyond that, there's a nicely interlocking set of mechanisms, but nothing amazingly clever or revolutionary. It's a very well done resource management game with some novelty in the mechanisms. A definite buy, but it's not Puerto Rico. Even with experienced players, it's going to take 100-150 minutes, maybe more.
Big Kini
Good exploration game, but when it comes down to it, another player summed it up: "more of the same". It's got nice mechanisms, bits, and all that, though it lacks a feeling of tension.
Oh, I so wanted to like this. After the first play, I was luke warm. One third of the way into the second play, I was hopeful, it looked like there might be some interesting and deeper hand management decisions than it originally seemed. Then, luck happened. I like luck in games. A lot. But, Beowulf has luck in the same (and only) place it has strategy and tactics: hand management. In addition to the luck of the draw, which is reasonably small and the usual factor in hand management games, it has the so called "risks", particularly during "major episodes" which are basically a magnified "luck of the draw". A good draw in a mid-episode risk is very beneficial. A bad draw in a mid-episode risk is very bad. If the luck were instead somewhere else, say in the selection of the order of the episodes, or in some other aspect of the game, it might not ruin it, but I think the potential variability of the swings of luck that so fundamentally and directly affect the core of the game eliminates too much of the impact of earlier decisions. At least I know I don't need another big box filling up shelf space.
Enh. Cute mechanic and nice integration of cardplay and memory, but in the end I'm not sure I believe your decisions (what card to play) really makes much of a difference.
Shear Panic
The Aardman-esque sheep are really cute, but when it comes down to it, it's an abstract puzzle game and really not that interesting of one. Plus, it seems to have some kingmaker issues which is even more annoying in a puzzle game.
This was good. Not amazing, not revolutionary, but quick, a nice refinement of the Too Many Cooks mechanic and fun. It's a shame it's so overproduced. If Amigo (or someone else) comes out with a version in the small "standard" card box size, I'll definitely pick it up. Otherwise, I'll hold on to that shelf space and play someone else's copy.
Sag's mit Symbolen
We played this, thinking it would be a nice light not-quite-party-game. Oops. It's an odd little pseudo-deduction/clue-giving game. It's actually got some rather interesting and difficult decisions. It'd be nice to have it in English, but using a translation sheet wasn't bad.
Cash & Guns
Very cute, simple bluff, counter-bluff, special-powers, awesome-foam-handgun game. Unfortunately, it's outrageously expensive for what it is. Again, as a straight small package card game, I'd probably pick it up. As is, I can pass.
Techno Witches
I commented on this earlier, but my impression remains very positive and if anything, has improved. Fun, fast, clever, interesting.
I commented on this earlier as well. A second play neither improved nor degraded my impression. It's quite good, though it feels a little dry in the end.
The surprise hit of the weekend for me. It's a 2 hour (less with experienced players, I presume) civilization building game which very effectively captures that "Civ Lite" target so many people seem to have been shooting for and missing. At its core is a shockingly simple, but amazingly elegant, clever, and effective action selection mechanism. Basically, you have a "wheel of actions" and after your first turn action, you may choose (and move to) any of the next 3 actions on the wheel as your next action or pay to move to an action further around the wheel. This prevents you from doing the same thing over and over and because of the positioning of the actions on the wheel makes it hard to alternate or otherwise rapidly cycle through complimentary actions. You can do it somewhat, but at a cost, both literal and in opportunity. Further, each action is "small" which means your turn can be played very very fast. At the beginning of the game, 5-10 second turns. By the end of the game, 30 second turns. This means you remain engaged in the game constantly. It manages to do all this while packing in the core elements of a good civilization building game: expansion, building (cities & temples), resources, warfare, and technology.

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