So this is a few days late, mostly due to holiday weekend procrastination. But also because it takes some time to decompress from eight or nine straight hours of playing games. On this Second Saturday game days, we usually try to cram as many as we can into each one. Some people like to use the day to play the brain buster games that take four or five hours, since we have that kind of time, but I like to go for quantity over quality. That way if I’m not really into something, I’m not stuck with it for half the day. Not that I hated anything I played this day, but there were a couple that just weren’t my cup of tea.
Diamonsters — One of the minor annoyances of any kind of game gathering is the fact that not everyone shows up at the same time. Do you start a game or wait for someone else to show up so they’re not sitting around waiting? Enter what’s known as the “filler game”: quick, usually not very thinky, easy to teach, and just diverting enough that you’re not reminded of the other game you’d probably rather be playing. And Diamonsters was pretty much the epitome of a filler; I arrived about an hour after things had started and there was already a game in progress, so my friend and I jumped on this and … well, it passed the time. It’s essentially a dressed up version of the card game War with the added bonus of teaching you how to count from 1 to 5 in Japanese. It probably wasn’t the best choice for two players, but even with more players, this felt more like a kids’ game (and I in fact saw it in a kids’ game display in another store later that evening). Still, it filled the time until the other game finished and more players arrived.
Seventh Hero — I’ve mentioned this one before, so I won’t go into the ins and outs of the game itself. We played this in order to get everyone at the table at the same time, which is both a blessing and a curse. Yes, it’s nice to get everyone involved in the same game, but for me, a lot of the games that accommodate a large number of players don’t do much for me. Because most of the time they seem more about socializing than about actually playing something, and if you’re going to do that, just have a conversation. This wasn’t one of those games, but I lost on a tiebreaker, so I’m entitled to be a little bitter right here.
Mythotopia — By now we had enough people that we had to split up, and that gave us a chance to get into something meatier. Mythotopia is from designer Martin Wallace, and bears a lot of similarities to his A Study in Emerald. They’re both deckbuilders, they both use a mechanic where cards can be used for multiple things (and deciding which to use is a big challenge), and they both even share a similar visual aesthetic. But where Emerald is more of a mystery game, Mythotopia is a war game, where you use your deck to build and move armies on a map in order to earn victory points. What’s neat is that, in order to win a battle, you have to declare the victory as the first thing you do on your turn. So your opponent has a chance to counter anything you did before you can call yourself the winner. The same with winning the game; you have to declare you’re winning as your first action, so everybody else can go all out to stop you before it’s your turn again. There’s a lot going on in this game, with lots of ways to earn points, and while I don’t think I completely “got” it, it’s one I’d like to try again.
Sheriff of Nottingham — There’s been a lot of hype about this one, in no small part because board game guru Tom Vasel has given it his seal of approval. This is a bluffing game where each player takes a turn as the titular sheriff, inspecting goods being taken to market by the other players. The game comes from those players attempting to bluff their way past the sheriff. You have to declare what you have in your sack; the only thing you’re required to be truthful about is the number of cards you place in it. Other than that, you’re free to lie to your heart’s content, and to bribe the sheriff to look the other way. You gain coins for items you manage to sneak past the sheriff, but lose coins if you lie to him and get called on it. After two rounds, everyone tallies their earnings and the most coins win. I am basically terrible at bluffing games. I never know how to balance truth and fiction, and I’m not good at reading people, so while I appreciate the design and presentation of this game, the fun factor was a little lost on me. I’m glad I got to try it finally, but I can’t say I’d be in a rush to give it another go.
Splendor — Next came Splendor, which was the undoubted hit of last year’s convention season. It’s basically a set collection game, where you’re trying to gather cards representing different jewels in order to be the first to score 15 points. The resources used to gather these cards are from a shared supply from which you can only pull a limited number at a time, so you have to not only consider which cards are available, but which resources are available with which to claim them, as well as what the other players are looking for. This has to be one of the quietest games I’ve ever played; everyone always gets so intent on trying to figure out their next move, the game unfolds in near silence, save for the click of the jewel chips the players collect. We must have played this nearly ten times at Dice Tower Con, and the game was almost constantly checked out from their game library, so it’s clearly winning a lot of fans. And I’m pretty good at it, so of course I like it.
Castles of Mad King Ludwig — I wrapped things up with this game from Ted Alspach, designer of the Mensa Award-winning Suburbia. Like that game, Castles involves buying and placing tiles, but instead of a sprawling suburban landscape, you’re creating a medieval castle, complete with throne rooms, gardens and dungeons. The idea is that rooms are worth points depending on what’s next to them or how many of a certain type you have. Put a room in the right place and you’ll score big; put the wrong rooms together than you could lose points. Everyone is buying from a common pool of rooms, arranged by that turn’s master builder, and that’s a huge part of the strategy, since the master builder is the one paid for the rooms. Make the good rooms too expensive and no one will buy them; make them too cheap and you won’t make any money when people do buy them. There are bonus points to be won for various conditions (most rooms of a certain type and such), as well as bonuses for completing rooms (attaching rooms to all their exits). I prefer this game to Suburbia, since the rooms are various shapes as opposed to Suburbia‘s consistent hexagons, making placement a much more thoughtful exercise. Maybe too thoughtful for the time of day, with me having been up since 5:30 for my 5k that morning, as I finished a middling third.
All in all though, it was a great day of gaming. One that even a screening of the dreadful Seventh Son afterward couldn’t tarnish.