Analog Game Night – December 2008

We gathered at my house on a rainy & cold night for the Dec installment of Analog Game Night. We had six (Jared, Tim, Rich, Jason, Bob, & me) so after discussing my few six player games that don’t bog down to a crawl with that number we pulled out Steel Driver. Many of us had just played it a couple of weeks ago so it was kind of nice to play the same game relatively back to back. I know, I know, playing a game two or three weeks apart hardly constitutes “back to back” to many of you but I takes whats I can gets.

I have a somewhat love/not-so-much-love relationship with Steel Driver. I like it but there are aspects of it bug me a bit. Granted, some of my gripes may be due to the fact that I’ve only played with six and playing with less may mitigate some of my concerns:

  • All In BiddingWith six players, each round grants you six cubes with which to bid. And with six cubes, many players were just bidding six to shut out most players (excepting those that held back a cube or two from the previous round which was rare once the “all in” style of bidding kicked in). So the auction phase turned into less of an auction and more of an, “I’ll take the red train with six” phase.
  • Paper MoneyI hate paper money and the denominations are just downright odd. No $100 bill but a $250 bill?!
  • Cube GrabThe end game cube grab just seems like such an odd ending to an otherwise tactical/strategic game. Similar to Fjords, players take turns grabbing a cube of their choice usually grabbing the highly contested cubes to help round out their set leaving the uncontested or lowly contested cubes to later in the round. This phase sort of plays itself yet sets the value of the shares. It just feels odd that such a quickly played and somewhat automatic/mechanical aspect of the game determines share price.

Without another good six player game, we broke into two groups, opened the table and played games at each end. At the near end (in the photo above), Jason, Rich, and Jared relearned and played Notre Dame. Part of me wanted to play that since it’s been a long time since that’s seen the table. At the far end, Tim, Bob, and I learned and played Hermagor. The size of the table is fantastic for playing two game but I must say, it’s a pain to teach two games in such close proximity. I’d never played Hermagor and wasn’t really prepared to teach it to the degree I like. During my flailing, Jason and Rich were rereading rules and at times it felt like we were talking over one another. A little bit like two guys in an emergency ward moaning at ever increasing levels to get the most attention from the doctors.

Hermagor is an odd game. I think I like it; either that or I hate it. I can’t tell yet. It has three distinct clumps of mechanics (i.e. production market, travel, stock market) that almost seem like the core of other games glued together thinly with a hint of theme. In the production clump, tiles are drawn randomly from a bag and placed in the “market” area of the board. Then players, take turns paying to place workers in the hallways between stalls and on the stalls themselves trying to exert dominance over the production goods they need. This little area control game grants players production goods and cash depending on placement of workers. Some production goods also allow players to adjust the value of the good in the stock market.

After playing out the first clump of mechanics, players take turns trying to traverse the villages on the map in an efficient manner selling goods to villages (and placing a little house). When you sell a good, you get cash in the amount depicted by that good in the stock market. Villages advertise certain goods and you must possess a production good of the appropriate type (from the “market”) to sell a good of that type and you can only sell a good to a specific village once in the game. It costs money to move your little pawn from one village to the next giving this phase of the game a sort of Maharaja meets Thurn & Taxis meets Elfenland feel to it.

Once you’ve covered all of the villages that surround little regions on the board you get to place discs in the stock market somewhat like buying a share in the good…an end game tactic. Throw in some oddball mechanics that determine the number of “houses” you can build each round, the randomness of the tiles in the production market, getting stuck with bad tiles, completing a region affording you no place to put a disc in the stock market, and goofy end game bonuses concerning where you’d built your houses (on the main road and in three regions segregated by the river) and you’ve got either a complex game that will be a joy to play multiple times and figure out or you’ve got a mishmash of weird mechanics that have no relationship to one another and it’s hopeless to try to figure out how to manipulate them to your advantage. I don’t know yet and only time will tell. I just hope I can play it back to back in the next year or so.

Thanks for coming everyone and see you next month…unless of course someone wants to organize an impromptu get together sooner.

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