Friday, May 7, 2010

Recent board games review

In an attempt to socialize more, expand my knowledge and experience in games and game design, and just to have fun, I'm on the lookout for gaming groups...specifically, board games. Right now I'm averaging about 3 or 4 game nights a month with varying groups. I thought I'd share some thoughts about some games I got to play last week.

Last Tuesday I went to the board game night at the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab. There I got to try a couple games:


I don't quite remember, but I think this is the name of the game. It's a card game that represents man's progression through society and technology. There are 10 "eras" of cards (ranging from the Stone Age up to the Information Age) as well as up to 6 color-coded categories (one might be technology, another may be more abstract like philosophy or mathematics). The trick is to build up your collection of tech and put cards into a score pile, which can be used to buy achievements which win the game.

I liked the general feel of the game - all you were basically dealing with were cards, and the interesting mechanic was that each card had an ability as well as up to four symbols. The more symbols you have, the more likely you'll be able to use the abilities and draw more cards. Plus, there's the possibility to "shift" your piles of cards, thereby exposing more symbols. The problem I had was, since I was learning the game, I didn't have a good sense of what I needed to do. As I found with Settlers of Catan, I'm more interested in building up my part of the board and prolonging the game instead of doing what it takes to win. Additionally, since each card comes with an ability, more of my time was spent reading the abilities and figuring out if they were worth activating - a similar problem I have with another game that's popular with another group I play with, Girl Genius: The Works. Because of this, the beginning of the game took a long time, but by the time we got to the end game, it went really fast, we breezed by what might have been more interesting abilities, and, because of my aforementioned problem with not getting the right resources, I didn't have enough score points to come close to winning. Not that I play these games to win, necessarily, but it's not good when you cripple yourself from even being able to win.

Royal Palace

I've come to two conclusions. One, I've found I have a growing fascination with modern board games that use little wooden pieces. As such, I've decided that any game from Rio Grande Games gets an automatic pass from me unless I play it and decide otherwise. This game feels an awful lot like a game last time I went to Gambit Game Night, Stone Age. Except this time, instead of building a tribe, you're influencing and trying to gain the favor of aristocrats. Unfortunately we were a bit pressed for time when we were playing this game, so it was cut short, and as such we didn't get the opportunity to really dig into the meat of the game with the added special abilities that gaining more nobles into your area allows.

Battlestar Galactica

We played this in a game group we're trying to start up at work. I was reluctant to try this game, since I never got into the show it's based on (the modern one on Syfy...though I never saw the original either). But, it came highly recommended by the others in the group, so I was willing to learn.

Much like Pandemic, the idea is for all players to work together to "jump" enough times to make it back home. The problem is, you're dealing with crises on every turn... and then there's the Cylons. We played with four people, and I played as "Helo", so I got to act as Admiral.

What I like about the game is that there's lots of stuff to do...lots of options and little ships and pieces and dials and cards. The thing I don't quite like about the game is the part of the game that everyone likes and makes the game somewhat unique...that someone may or not be a secret Cylon agent and trying to sabotage the humans' efforts. I mean, I understand that this part of the game needs to be there - for flavor, and otherwise the game would be pretty straight-forward - but it's that meta-gaming that I can't wrap my head around. Not only do you have to worry about what actions to do, but you have to be aware of how the others in the group will view those actions ("Oh, he did that action...does that mean he's the Cylon, or is he just stupid?"), plus you have to keep track of everyone else's actions to analyze THEM for possible Cylon activity, PLUS, if you happen to be the Cylon, make sure you do enough to sabotage AS WELL AS cover up your tracks. Bleah. It's like that Truth-teller/Liar Cannibal mind puzzle.

During the second half of the game I was exposed as the Cylon Sympathizer. Once I had to be a Cylon (effectively), I found it quite liberating since I knew what my actions had to be and didn't have to worry about everyone else's motives. Which is funny, since I started as human and probably did the most to get us home (as Admiral I chose to jump the furthest I could, which triggered the second half and turned me Cylon). In the end the humans lost due to running out of food.