Considering how many games I play and how often I play them, this is probably something I should have started a long time ago. I’ll be using this space (marked by that nifty logo over there) to recap the games I’ve been playing, or buying, or talking about. I’ll try to keep from getting too inside baseball with it; the idea is for someone who doesn’t know much about board games beyond Candy Land and Monopoly to understand just what makes these games different. This won’t have as regular as schedule as What I Watch does, but it’ll pop up at least a couple of times a week. Yes, a cheap and easy way to add content, but hey, it’s my damn blog.
Last night was my regular Tuesday night meetup at Sci-Fi City. This is the group responsible for really getting me into the hobby. I’d played board games with my friends before, but on a sporadic basis, on birthdays or holidays and the like. This turned it into a weekly thing, and helped grow my collection from lonely copies of Scrabble and Uno to two full bookshelves over the course of the last two years. It’s opened my eyes to a lot of great games, and some really cool people, as well as coming along at a time when I really needed something to get me out of my apartment and around other people. But enough preamble, on to the games!
Unnamed Gladiator Game Prototype — My friend Lionel has been a long-time gamer, and over the last few years has been trying his hand at designing a game himself. Last night he let two of us try a portion of the gladiatorial combat game he’s been working on. I don’t want to go into too many specifics since this is a work in progress, but it’s essentially a game where your deck of cards not only contains the moves you make, it also represents your health. No more cards, no more gladiator. There’s also some resource management and some tactical bidding and decision-making. We played one full fight between two combatants — the full game will eventually consist of three rounds, with ways to improve your fighters between rounds, and options for more than two players — but what we got to experience was tense and fun, with a lot of back and forth, and not much of a learning curve. I managed to pull out the win after being behind for most of the match, which means the game is clearly broken if I managed to do well at it. I’m eager to see where Lionel takes this.
Le Havre ($59.50 from Amazon, includes expansion) — This comes from designer Uwe Rosenberg, probably best known for his game Agricola, or Misery Farm as it’s somewhat lovingly referred to. Agricola is to the mid-2000s what The Settlers of Catan was to the mid-90s: a breakout game that everybody seemed to be playing when it first arrived, became an acclaimed classic, and which people then got kind of tired of because they’d played it so much. Le Havre came along the year after Agricola, and I think it’s a better game myself, in no small part due to the fact that I can actually wrap my head around it. Players take turns choosing either to gather resources from various warehouses on the game board or to use buildings around town to perform other actions, such as building new buildings, generating resources, or converting resources to other types of resources (such as wood to charcoal). Using a building blocks that building from other players until you move away from it, and owning a building nets you not only victory points, but the cost other players have to pay you to use it. As the game progresses, you gather more buildings and resources and try to earn more money, which is added to your victory point total at the end. Much of the fun — and tension — of this game comes from someone grabbing the stack of resources you’d had your eye on, or using the building you were going to use right before you do. Adaptability is key; stubbornly sticking to a struggling strategy is a good way to lose badly.
Last night’s game had myself and Lionel, both of us having played this numerous times, against two relative newbies, and the final scores pretty much played that out. The two new players finished right next to each other, one point apart in 3rd and 4th place, while I was a bit further ahead in 2nd and Lionel nine points ahead of me for the win. I’m terrible at long-term strategy, so I just confined myself to making the play that got me the most points or resources at any given moment, which got me a good haul of points near the very end of the game. Lionel, though, managed to get a decent shipping strategy going — you can build boats and use a special building to ship goods for money — and that proved to be the difference for his victory. We played the shorter version of the game, with fewer rounds and without some of the more complex buildings available, so the newer players could have an easier time getting the hang of it. But everyone enjoyed themselves, and it’s a hallmark of a strong game when you have a good time even if you don’t win. Le Havre is sort of in the middle of the board game price range, but it’s well worth it, especially considering the amount of physical game you get for your money.
And that was a Tuesday of gaming. I did manage to escape the store without buying anything new (although not for lack of trying); besides, the Blockade Runner for X-Wing Miniatures is on the boat from the manufacturer, and that’ll be taking a bit out of the budget for sure. Time to be content with the games I have for a while. Lord knows I’ve got enough to get the job done.