Analog Game Night – October 2007

We met at my house for the October session of Analog Game Night (AGN). I thought it was going to be lightly attended but we started the night with six! An hour into the night we traded a regular player who had to leave early for a first timer to our game group. Welcome Bob G.!

Since we knew Bob would be coming later we broke into two groups for two shorter games. The far end of the table played Zooloretto while my end of the table played Medina.

I’d only played Medina with my kids and welcomed the chance to play against those in my game group. It definitely had a different flavor that only enhanced my rating of the game. The game plays extremely quickly with three. In most cases, the two pieces you play on the board are easily chosen but at times it’s agonizing trying to decide what to do. You have to keenly monitor the position and size of unclaimed palaces in hopes of getting other players to commit early while still leaving room for you to begin a new palace with room to grow. You need to plan to save some of your walls, inhabitants, and stables for the game end so that your opponents are forced to increase the value of your palace by placing the blocks they held back. It’s a great ‘filler’ game for those 45 to 60 minute spots.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to participate in Zooloretto (I have yet to play) but it looked like everyone was having a good time trying to decide what to do with the animals in their zoo exhibits. Zooloretto uses the same core mechanic as Coloretto for players to collect animals and coins. Once collected, you position animals in exhibits but you must plan your zoo wisely so that you don’t run out of room. Zooloretto won the 2007 Spiel des Jahres usually given to family friendly games. If you’re looking for lighter family fare, take a look at this title.

Paul K. (far end of the table) was concerned about having to leave early so he decided to sit out leaving five for our longer game of the evening. We decided to give Notre Dame a go. Notre Dame isn’t as complex as Puerto Rico or Caylus but it is considered a medium weight game when compared to available Eurogames. I was a little concerned about inflicting the game on a new gamer but Bob G. (far left) did a great job of keeping up with the rules run-through and played very respectably for his first time out.

We were all new to Notre Dame so the initial rule run through took a little bit of time fielding questions and consulting rules when necessary for the items I couldn’t remember. I take personal pride in teaching a game well and under most circumstances I won’t teach a game until I’ve at least played a few sample rounds or have recently refreshed my memory by reading the rules again before game night. Teaching a new game is a blog entry or two by itself so I’ll set that aside for another time.

Initially, the iconography is a little daunting but after a round or two it’s easy to recognize what your options are. Like Caylus, turns are comprised of multiple phases that require numerous trips around the table. This game feature decreases down time between turns giving you the impression that it’s almost always your turn.

At a high level, players use action cards across nine rounds to place cubes into one of the seven regions of a lobe of the city dedicated to a particular player (see the image above). The board uses a clever hub and spoke technique that allows the hub (depicting the cathedral) to be swapped for a square for two or four players, a triangle for three players, and a pentagon for five players. The regions of the lobe grant the user different benefits ranging from income, victory points, movement of a carriage around the lobes of the city, protection from plague-ridden rats, etc. Cubes can also be played in the cathedral for a shared payout of victory points.

In the end, the player with the most victory points is the winner. Players must manage income so that they can make offerings to the church and to hire the help of people granting special actions and resources. Players must must also manage their ever decreasing supply of action cubes, the flow of victory points, the impact of the plague, the movement of their carriage on trips through the city, and the position of their trusted friend who helps augment the effectiveness of an action. All of these aspects make the choices sweetly agonizing and I greatly look forward to my next play.

Some features of the game that I really like:

  • The clever board arrangement
  • The mechanism of passing cards to the player on your left
  • Managing and manipulating the income, victory point, and plague effects
  • Hiring people to augment actions taken in earlier rounds
  • Using the person cards to determine the strength of the plague effect for the round

Notre Dame has enough variables in the flow of the game that I suspect that each game may play quite differently. I also, however, suspect that it suffers from problems of players being able to benefit from sitting before or after a weaker player. I haven’t experienced that first hand but since passing cards is one of the few ways to impact other players, choosing poorly can greatly impact what the player to your left can do. Until that time, however, when all of its faults and foibles becomes apparent, I’m just going to sit back and enjoy it for what it is…a great game.

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