When you’re evaluating a game, you try to stay objective. You want to fairly weigh the pros and cons and come up with a balanced opinion. But that’s really hard to do when you’re losing and the game hates you and it’s stupid and why am I even playing this and — ahem. Sorry. What I mean is that our perceptions can be swayed by how we do playing a game. We might discount a classic because we just can’t grasp it. We might elevate a middling game because it’s in our wheelhouse. Your 10 might by my 1. It all depends on how that stupid game screwed me over and it makes no sense and — um, let’s just get on with this.
Greedy Greedy Goblins comes to us from Richard Garfield, the mind behind the all-consuming collectible card game Magic: The Gathering. But he’s had success in the board game realm as well, particularly with King of Tokyo, and at first glance, this looked like it might be some light-hearted fun. Each player is a clan of goblin miners trying to strike it rich by delving into a set of mines represented by cards set in a circle. Face-down in the middle are treasure tiles, some with precious gems that are how you score points. Some let you recruit minions (cards that have special abilities). Some have monsters that eat your gems so you can’t score them. Some have torches on them that let you peek into a mine. And some … some have sticks of dynamite on them and are the most evil game components ever created.
What happens is everybody dives into the pile of tiles, picking one, looking at it, and placing it face-down on a mine. You also have three chips representing your goblins that you can use to claim a mine. The players keep drawing and placing, after which all the tiles are flipped over and the mines scored. The strategy and bluffing is supposed to come in while you’re laying the tiles. See, one stick of dynamite on a mine doubles your score. Two sticks of dynamite triples your score. Three or more blows up the mine, kills your goblin, scores you no points, and makes you question your sanity. So you’re trying to figure out if your opponent who is stacking tiles on a mine is loading it up with treasure planning to claim it, or rigging it with dynamite to end your hopes and dreams.
Guess which happened to me more often than not?
I just wasn’t grasping it. It seemed too random. If I guessed someone was laying a trap and stayed away, the mine was loaded with gold and diamonds. If I guess it was a bluff, I got blown up. I ended up with absolutely no points. Everybody else had a decent score and thought it was fine, but I just glared at those stupid goblins on the box and wanted to know if I could blow them up more. Okay, honestly, t’s a good looking game with great components and aesthetics, and I guess kids would dig the chaotic nature of it, but it just has too much chance for me.
In Pirate’s Cove, the tables were turned. Everything I did turned to gold. Literally, since we were pirates looking for treasure. Everybody has a ship with four sections: sails, crew, cannons, and hull. Each of these can be upgraded to increase their respective abilities (sails determine who shoots first in a fight, crew and cannons determine how many dice you roll in that fight, and your hull determines how much cargo you can carry). Everyone secretly chooses and reveals a port to visit. Making this difficult is a pirate ship that moves from port to port in numerical order and will fight you if you go to where it’s anchored. You also have to fight any other players who go to the same port. Fights involve rolling dice and damaging sections of each other’s ship until someone reaches zero and limps away to Pirate’s Cove (where they receive a small reward so their turn isn’t a total loss). Pirates are usually much tougher than the players, at least early on, so the idea is to try to avoid fights early on until you’re strong enough not to be crippled by them.
You then draw the treasure card at the port you selected, gaining fame (your victory points), gold, treasure, or cards that can upgrade your ship or be played for various effects. You can spend your turn going to Treasure Island to turn your treasure into fame, but the pirate ship goes there too, and on the last turn of the game. So either get your treasure burying done before then, or be prepared to take it out.
It was the fighting that turned things sour for a couple of players. Once they got defeated, they found out it was very hard to get to the port they needed to in order to repair their damaged section. So they’d limp out, end up in a fight, take one damage and get sent back to Pirate’s Cove. It made it almost impossible for them to mount any kind of game plan, since all their efforts were around trying to make their ship more than a sitting duck.
Me? I somehow managed to almost always pick the port no one else did. I hardly had to fight anybody until I was well and ready to do so, so while everyone else was tearing at each other, I was pretty well unscathed. It got to the point where I intentionally took on the pirates on the second to last turn, and even have an unwelcome surprise thrown at me in the form of a Royal Navy ship I also had to fight, I defeated both ships, earning ten more fame and padding what ended up being a pretty easy victory. I could definitely see the problems with the game, but I was a little more willing to overlook them because my own experience had been more enjoyable.
And not a single exploding goblin to be found.