For many people, there are so many games available that playing the same game twice in an evening often feels like cheating yourself of opportunities.
I can really relate to this point. I only get one dedicated game night a month (sometimes I throw in an impromptu night) and it psychologically feels better to say I played two games on game night than it does to say I played one game twice.
Keith hosted the July installment of Analog Game Night and Tim, Keith, Jason, Rich, and I sat down to play El Capitan. It took about 15-20 minutes for everyone to feel comfortable with the rules but we got started in pretty short order. Three hours later (!) we finished. Yes, three hours! BGG lists the game at 90 minutes and we routinely run longer than average but three hours?!
At its heart, El Capitan is an area majority game. At a high level, your trying to obtain and maintain the majority of warehouses (or second most) built in the most profitable cities while also trying to diversify in as many cities as possible. You also earn money by building fortresses in the cities. The player with the most money after the third payout wins.
The game is played across three rounds with each round comprising a minimum of 7 turns. Each turn requires that the player build or take a loan from the bank. You must do one or the other. Before you build you are allowed to buy cards, play cards (to sail from one city to another), build either a single warehouse or a single fortress, and then optionally buy more cards. If you take a loan you do nothing else on your turn (are you reading this Tim? NOTHING ELSE! :-) ) but sail directly to the bank and take a loan card and the money the loan grants you.
Each player gets a fixed number of bits (6 warehouses and 1 fortress) per round and the round is over when one player builds all of their bits. You get another batch of bits for the next round and if you didn't build all of your items in the last round, you have more to use in the current round. During the first turn everyone is going to have to go to the bank. You just aren't given enough starting money to build everything. At the end of the first round, a payout occurs and hopefully you get enough money to pay off your loan(s). If you don't you have to extend your loan(s) and pay it/them off at the end of the next round.
The game started slowly but that's understandable since it was our "learning" game. However, it remained slow throughout much of the game. We routinely struggle with analysis paralysis and we did experience a bit of over analysis as well as just being unprepared to take a turn. However, I'm convinced a leading factor for slow play was the artwork. Mike Doyle has some awesome skills when it comes to box art. The quality is top notch. But in El Capitan, the artwork has some real downsides:
- The artwork is lavishly rich. Normally that's really cool but on this board, the extreme detail of scattered coins, folds of cloth, small works of unique art depicting the cities, stylized text, harbor embellishments, the unaligned nature of the cities, etc. distract the mind from quickly focusing on the game.
- The font used for the cities is awful. The highly stylized and thin stroked font is difficult to read at a distance.
- And the most egregious issue (for me anyway) was the strictly unidirectional board and cards. The board is rendered in landscape format readable from only one direction. The cards attempt to aid the player by depicting a 9x9 grid showing the location of the city but having to look at the board upside down I wanted to turn my cards over too but then I couldn't read the name of the city. Forget about trying to distinguish Valencia from Venizia or Constantinople from Alexandria from across the table and upside down. Every turn required me to stand up and lean over the table to try to figure out what I faced with.
Strangely though, I have to say I did like the game and look forward to more plays but maybe 5 is just too many. Or maybe the game only shines with 5 if you play with some of the included expansions (more city boards). We also thought it might speed up the game if we had a couple of sand timers and for every turn you don't accomplish in an allotted amount of time, you have to pay some money to get an extension. So in summary, good game, somewhat slow, frustrating yet lavish art, want to play more, nice mechanics, lots of choices to make.
Edit: I found this image on BGG that allows for comparison of the artwork for the original form of the game:
I pulled out El Capitan this weekend and started going through the rules...playing some sample turns. El Capitan is a rework of a game called Tycoon. As I understand it, Tycoon came out on the heels of El Grande and due to El Grande's success, Tycoon was largely overlooked. Wolfgang Kramer was involved with both designs.
El Capitan has been rethemed, and with some new rules and artwork by Mike Doyle the game got a fresh start. This area control game requires the players to sail their ships from one harbor to another across three rounds building warehouses and fortresses. Three payouts occur during the game where players receive money for the most warehouses in a particular city, for fortresses, and for diversifying in as many cities as possible.
There are some interesting twists when warehouses get closed when new warehouses get built and how the payouts in each city change over time. The ability for players to sail from one harbor to the next is also limited by what cards are available. On your turn you optionally sail (unless forced to) and then build a warehouse or a fortress. If you don't have enough money to purchase a ticket to the harbor you desire or build a structure, then you are forced to go to the bank and take out a loan.
Money seems like it will be very tight in the game and players will need to watch out that they don't overspend their ability to payback the loans the take from the bank. I'm hoping to get it to the table soon and I'll have more to say on it after I get a play under my belt.
At IGS III I got my first opportunity to play Pandemic. Bob, a gaming buddy of mine whose copy we played, is a relatively new gamer with the buying bug and he allowed a temporary swap of my copy of Mexica for his copy of Pandemic.
If you're familiar with the game, you can jump forward a few paragraphs. However, if you're not familiar with the game, the game is probably different than most games you've played in the past. It's cooperative. By that, I mean that rather than there being one winner and the rest losers, all players either win or all players lose. As a group, you cooperate to try to beat the game. You take individual moves but you coordinate your moves to make it easier to accomplish group goals. Think of it like ganging up on the leader. However, in this case, it's the game you're ganging up on and not a human so there are no hard feelings.
Pandemic has a rather morbid theme but one that fits nicely with the cooperative style of gaming. The game represents disease, sickness, flu, and plague and its desire to sweep across the globe from one city to the next infecting as it goes. The impact of the disease escaping the boundaries of a city in an outbreak can trigger unchecked growth much like a real world pandemics. Your goal as scientist, researcher, etc. is to work together to find cures and to eradicate the diseases before they run wild. There are only so many turns to do that and if you don't find the cures before time runs out...you all lose and the game wins. Who wouldn't want to work together against pestilence and death?!
I'll not go into the rules as they are readily available on BGG for those that want to find them but suffice it to say that I'm hooked on the game. I don't have a cooperative game in my collection and having played War of the Ring and Shadows Over Camelot I want Pandemic on my shelf. WotR and Shadows are dripping in theme but have a more geeky/fantasy/role-player theme that won't appeal as much to 1) my wife and 2) the crowd of non-gamers that I think would enjoy the cooperative style. I believe many non-gamers shy away from games because they suspect that they'll appear inadequate or don't want to look silly during a cerebral 'event'. However, with cooperative play (and especially with a non-fantasy theme) they can participate with fellow players (not against) in a game that doesn't feel like they're turning into a 42 year, goth, geek that still lives in the basement at his parent's house.
The first time we played, the four of us played the medium difficulty version and lost...but just barely. However, we were playing with incorrect rules which made the game more cruel namely:
- We were confused about the Share Knowledge action and thought to pay for passing a card between players you had to discard a card matching the city you're currently occupying freeing you to pass whatever card you wanted. That's totally incorrect. Instead, if you are not playing the role of the researcher, you're restricted to giving only the card that matches the city you're currently occupying. If you are the researcher, you are not restricted and are allowed to give any card you wish (excluding Special Operations cards - this restriction only occurs in a rare yet valid corner case concerning hand limits yet still not allowed). We could have used that a little bit more to our advantage had we gotten that one right.
- When an Epidemic card is drawn, the city that suffers the addition of the cubes comes from the bottom of the Draw deck and not the Discard deck. This rules misstep drastically changes the cruelness of the game in that the epidemic will come out into a city that has previously suffered disease increasing the likelihood of an outbreak. We were drawing the city card from the bottom of the infection discard pile.
- The rules state that the game is not a game of memory and you're free to look through the discard pile. So...we did which meant, due to the previous rule infraction, we could predict where the next epidemic would hit. I should have known something was amiss but...I was being taught the game and had not read the rules myself.
- And finally, if you draw an Epidemic card during the 2nd phase of your turn, we were drawing another card as a replacement. This error had the nasty side effect of making the game end sooner making it even harder to win. You should only draw two cards and if one or both (heaven forbid) are Epidemic cards, then you just lose out.
So, my first game although fun and gave me a good feeling for the game, it was almost a complete disaster in terms of playing correctly. So, Lisa and I pulled it out and played the easy difficulty version for two players. Correcting our failures from the first play (I'd since read the rules myself catching our errors) we managed to cure all of the diseases and win without a single outbreak in the game. I'm sure that doesn't happen often but it also wasn't easy. We only managed to win on the third to last turn and, after reading some BGG forum postings I found that we'd also played a rule incorrectly namely:
- The rules state that at any point in time if a player has more than 7 cards, the player must immediately reduce their hand to 7 or less by discarding or playing Special Operations cards. So, when were were drawing our two cards in the second phase of our turns, we'd draw them one at a time notice that we had 8 and discard...then draw our second card. However, that's incorrect. The act of drawing your two cards is an inseparable operation. The designer chimed in on a forum post stating that you should draw two cards simultaneously and then resolve hand limit violations and then any epidemics (if drawn).
I felt pretty good about the second game and tonight Lisa gathered Sophie and Noah and told me she wanted to play again as a family. This time the Medic was not in play and as luck would have it I got to play as the role I hadn't seen in action yet: the Dispatcher. Of course we played a couple of turns incorrectly when I not only moved Sophie's pawn (using the Dispatcher's special ability) but I also removed cubes in the cities where her pawn was. Sensing something amiss, I ran to BGG and found the error buried in a forum posting and we played the rest of the game correctly (I think). Again, we played the easy form of the game but were only able to win on the very last turn of the game. As the next to last player I was able to dispatch Noah to Sophie (the Researcher) who was also in a research station. Then on Noah's turn he was able to get two black cards from Sophie that matched the two he already had and since he was both the scientist and at a research station he was able to cure the final disease for the win. Awesome timing given that there were only two cards left in the draw pile.
So, do I like Pandemic? Yes! Would I recommend it for non-gamers, families, and kids? With enthusiasm! The theme, although odd at first blush, is not gruesome. The artwork is not gross. There are no depictions or plague-ridden corpses or anything. The theme, in fact, enhances the play because it represents a real world foe. I believe the cooperative play joined with the realistically themed common enemy actually enhances the appeal of the game making it a great opportunity to open up the gaming experience to those around you that might not necessarily be inclined to play. Lisa did mention that she might like it better if the map was a non-real world map and the cities were not recognizable but, in my opinion, that aspect enhances the game somewhat by keeping the theme grounded in the real world. For new and/or non-gamers finding Sydney on the map in order to infect it with a disease will seem more normal than trying to infect, for example, Rivendish on the planet Under Earth. I am, however, not all that fond of the artwork and would like a larger board. Sometimes it's hard to manage so many cubes in a tight area with lots of cubes and research station. Also...they left of New Zealand which is just wrong.
Pandemic is relatively difficult to find at the moment but more copies are expected some time this month in most online stores. However, after exchanging a few emails I was able to capture a ding and dent copy from Game Surplus that should ship in the next day or so. I'm willing to tolerate a scuffed box to pick up a copy for only $19. If you're looking for a different gaming experience where the entire family can cooperate and learn to work together to solve a complex problem while having fun, then look no further. Pandemic is the game for you.
The designer of Pandemic discusses the board game design process in a Google "Tech Talk" (about 50 minutes).
Rich arrived a little late so we set up one of my favorites Tigris & Euphrates. Jason was new to the game and Bob had only played once but it didn't take us long before play was under way. Bob was really into introducing chaos into the mix by repeatedly causing external conflicts between Jason and I and since I was sitting to Bob's left I was always the attacker. Arg! The sweetest moment of the entire game was when Bob triggered an external conflict in blue with Jason and ponied up 5 blue tiles to Jason's zero. Jason, having just swapped away 5 blue tiles on his turn just before Bob's attack managed to tie the attack because the managed to draw 5 more blue tiles in the swap.
Next up we played Pandemic at the "medium/normal" level. This was my first playing and I found it a pretty good game. Pandemic is different than all the games I own because it's a cooperative venture. All players either win or all players lose. You work together as a group to beat the game. The theme is appealing since everyone wants to stop the spread of disease across the globe and the rules are easy to grasp. It's going to be tough for me to pick up a copy since the game is in such high demand and the number of printed copies tends to be pretty low. There is a restock coming in July so maybe I'll jump on the bandwagon then with a portion of my $100 gift certificate from Father's Day.
After the Chipotle run we settled in to Reef Encounter. It's been years since I've played but since we only had four players I wasn't going to squander a great opportunity to get it back to the table. Unfortunately, the rules are a bear to get through. I was prepared to teach the game having studied the night before but the circular nature of the actions and their ramifications can make it mind numbingly complex for new players to grasp what makes a good move. Unlike many games each action is simple to grasp you gives you few clues on why you'd want to make any of them. However, the power is in understanding how best to stack your actions so that a seemingly uninteresting move can position you better to make a subsequent move later in your turn. I greatly enjoy the game but it is a brain burner and suffers a bit from analysis paralysis. You can somewhat plan your move when it's not your turn but by the time it gets back around to you...a lot can happen to completely destroy even the best laid plans.
And finally, we closed the night with the first playing of my copy of Inkognito. For non-gamers, the game is Clue on steroids. By that I mean, the game holds hidden information and your job is deduce information based on knowledge you learn during game play. The game ends once you know the secret information and can attain the secret goal. I've played the game in other venues four times and have enjoyed it every time. I think everyone at the table had a good time and I can't wait to inflict it on my sister's family in the next few weeks when we head back to Indiana for a wedding.
Thanks for coming guys, it was great.
My opportunities for gaming have been pretty slim lately so I was happy for June AGN to arrive. Paul was gracious enough to host so Paul, thanks for that. Your wife gave me the, "what a weirdo" look and asked "you're taking pictures of a board game?" but phooey on her...what does she know.
Tim, our fifth, was going to be arriving late so we started with Zooloretto for four. Rich has owned a copy for quite awhile but I've just never had the opportunity to play it. Zooloretto is a light filler but not mindless. Like its parent game Coloretto, players place tiles drawn from a pile into groups, the trucks, in the middle of the table. The tiles represent vendor stalls, various animals, and money. Players can draw and place a tile, take a truck (along with it's tiles), or execute a monetary action. Rinse, lather, and repeat until the game ends and the player with the most points after the scoring wins.
The goal is to gather trucks holding vendor stalls, animals, and money such that you can place the animals in exhibits in your personal playing area (the zoo). Exhibit space is limited and only one kind of animal can exist in single exhbit at a time. You're trying to fill all of the exhibit spots with the correct number of animals (no less and no more) to maximize points. Vendor stalls mitigate risk of not filling an exhibit space and provide additional points at the game end. Money is used to execute monetary actions while you're still in the round before you've taken a truck. Some additional rules further deepen (complicate?) the game such as: you can buy one additional exhibit space, you can use the barn in your zoo as 'swing' space if you need to restructure your exhibits, you can 'purchase' an animal from somebody else's barn, etc. If you like Coloretto you'll be very comfortable playing Zooloretto. It's a slightly deeper experience but by no means brain burning.
I started to teach Tichu but before we got started, Tim arrived and we settled on an oldie but a goodie, El Grande. I went looking back in the blog and found that the last time we played El Grande was the November AGN in 2004! I'll not go into details but suffice it to say that I did so poorly that I can hardly stomach the thought of it. It's been long enough since I've played that the chaos factor of the action cards continually caught me off-guard. You can be so devastated by how those cards are played by your opponents. I repeatedly felt stuck in the situation where I wanted to go early in the round to get a sweet card yet if I went early I'd just leave the door open for a later card to sweep in and negate my move.
I'm finding that when I do poorly in an area control game, whether it's Mission: Red Planet, Mexica, Tikal, El Grande, etc., I've consistently done a poor at choosing my opponents. My biggest fault is choosing to fight too many different opponents simultaneously. I end up getting 'picked on' from all players weakening my position on all fronts. If I instead, focussed on only fighting a select few opponents then some will ignore me allowing me more resources to strengthen my position. It seems pretty obvious but I consistently fail at recognizing that I've done it yet again.
I'd not remembered the chaotic back-stabbing romp that makes up El Grande but it is a good game. It's a shame that it has taken us 3.5 years to play it again. I'd like to play it again soon and I promise to myself to choose my battles more wisely.
The end of May is busy with my birthday (yeah 43!), Noah's birthday (yeah 12!) and our wedding anniversay (yeah 22!) but we did manage to get in a couple of games recently.
Lisa, Noah, and I played Mission: Red Planet. That was the first time I've played it with three and the first time for Lisa and Noah. Lisa ran away with the win getting a few good resource draws in areas outside of my bonus card area which I was working hard to meet. I think I like the game with more people. It adds a bit more chaos and more contention on the planet.
The three of us also got in a play of Dos Rios. I received a copy from a BGG trade and it's sat for almost 6 months. Noah and I really like the game despite the chaos of the river. You cannot play the game thinking that your campesinos are going to stay in the mountains for any length of time. You've got to play tactically and aggressively. The downtime during turns can be somewhat severe depending on who you play with but it didn't seem to be a problem this go around. Noah and Lisa discussed a lot of their turns and in the end I got blocked out of a winning move and was left without an ability to block Noah's subsequent move granting him the win.
That's all I've got time for right now. I'll be posting some summary results for the first month of Uberbadger.com and our latest designs. Thanks to the early adopters/customers, sales are pretty respectable for only being in business for such a short time. More on that later.