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First Play Friday

2011 New Year's resolution: Play games from my collection I haven't yet tried.

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Wave the checkered flag, we have a winner!

The Dave
United States
La Jolla
California
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The Free-Shipping Vortex. It sucks me in EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. I reallllly want to buy one game (or maybe two), but if I bought a third or a fourth I can qualify for free shipping. And hey – that’s like getting that game for $10 off, right? shake

Does that sound like you? Yeah, I thought so.

This time was different though. And much dumber. I pre-ordered Trajan from Games Surplus (thanks Thor!), and noted the shipping would be around $11. With Trajan running at $55, I was looking at spending $66 on one game (not that that’s bad – I’ve seen worse). But $65 is a tough pill to swallow, given the likelihood of Trajan receiving a much wider release in the US approximately 3 minutes after I placed my order for the import. I decided to earn free shipping.

Wait. Games Surplus only offers free shipping with the purchase of specific games?! What?! NOooooooooo! So I start perusing the catalog of games that give you free shipping. Incan Gold is pretty cheap – but wait, it’s a lot cheaper at Amazon, so I’m essentially paying for shipping on top of a game that I didn’t really have much interest in. London? Well, now that’s a bit better, but I already have shelves of euro games that I never get to play. Argh. Wait – what’s “PitchCar”? Holy Shnikes that looks awesome!

So yeah – instead of paying $11 for shipping I paid $65. Man I’m an idiot…zombie

I got the box of gaming goodness, and quickly set about trying out each of the 8 disks, on each of their two sides, to decide which side to sticker with the car. The Wife watched me, dubiously. There were head shakes and eye-rolls and murmurs of someone marrying a child, but dang it figuring out which side to place the car sticker is IMPORTANT!

The very next Friday we had 6 people over and we decided to break in PitchCar, 8-player style.

So is PitchCar the perfect first-play game? Read on to find out.

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I will now review PitchCar according to the following criteria. Keep in mind this is a review of the game after only one play.

Accessibility (1): How easy was the game to teach and learn? Is it complex and/or fiddly? Are the rules easy to understand and follow? How long did it take to go over the rules?

Fun (1): Is it fun? Included in this might be a theme-to-mechanics metric, or a player interaction metric.

Length of first play (1): Some games say 60-90 minutes, but the first play might take you 3 hours. Not included is length of rules explanation.

Desire to play again (1): Typically I would rather play a new game than play a game I’ve already played (with some exceptions). I know – I am crazy. This will be a good measure of how much I like the game.

Review:

Accessibility:


My two year old daughter helped me put the puzzle-like track together. She struggled with getting the rails in, so I had to help her with that. She didn’t quite understand how to keep the car on the track, nor could she read the rules.

Unless you’re planning to play this game correctly with 2 year olds, this game is extremely accessible. You set up the track, you put some stickers on, and you start flicking. There are very few rules, and the rules that are there are intuitive and obvious. For example – if your car flips, you’ve wrecked and you have to go back to where you started from. If you knock someone else’s car off the track, that’s illegal and you have to go back to where you started from. Etc.

The only troublesome part – the one thing that keeps it from being a 1 – is that you have to spend a bit of time leveling the track (I used playing cards). This introduces the tiniest bit of downtime and preparation, but overall it’s totally worth it to have a super-smooth track.

Score: .9

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Fun:

Every single person that has played this game since I got it has laughed, has experienced the joy of the perfect flick, and has experienced the agony of being set up perfectly for a shot only to send the car straight off the track. Every single person has requested to play it again immediately following their first, second, and third games. Every single person has said at the end of a game session “We have to play that next time!”.

If that doesn’t sound like people having “fun”, I don’t know what to tell you.

Score: 1

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Length of first play:

This game does not overstay its welcome in any way. Our 8 player games took about 30 minutes each (including qualifying). If you include setting up the track and leveling it out, they each took maybe 40 minutes max, which is just long enough so that you can pick the length of time you play PitchCar. Want a quick filler? Play one game. Want to do a cup-style series? Play 5 games and keep scores for how each player finishes, crowning an overall champion at the end. PitchCar is a very versatile game in terms of length, and that makes it a game worthy of any collection.

Score: 1

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Desire to play again:

We did play it again – three more times that night. And then Kevin came over the next night and we played again. We had a different group of people over yesterday and they enjoyed it just as much as the first group.

PitchCar is going to be a game that sees the table frequently.

Score: .9

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OVERALL: 3.8/4

I’m not sure what game might be first-play rated higher than PitchCar. Not many games exist (well ones that are fun, anyway) that you could buy, invite people over, unwrap the shrink wrap, and be playing in less than 15 minutes. PitchCar is that game, though. I believe it would appeal to almost anyone, gamer or not, because it’s just obvious what you do. You flick a disk. That’s it. And it is addictively fun.

PitchCar may not be my favorite game, but it is definitely a wonderful game to own. If you are looking for a fun and accessible game, especially if you lack a quality dexterity game in your collection, I cannot recommend PitchCar enough. And if you order it from Games Surplus, you’ll get free shipping, too… gulp
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Mon May 7, 2012 5:21 pm
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I don't always play El Grande, but when I do it's always with new people...

The Dave
United States
La Jolla
California
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As much as I’m guilty of being a part of the “Cult of the New”, I must say I feel a certain draw to the classics. Reading reports detailing deep strategy in a game like Tigris & Euphrates or El Grande makes me wish that I wasn’t so obsessed with playing new games. I think it would be really sweet to get reallllly good at a game, but I’m not sure I have the patience or discipline to study a game and play it enough to get there.

Regardless of my GADHD (gaming ADHD), I purchased El Grande awhile ago, and like many of my games, it sat on the shelf mocking me for my purchase without play. However, if ever there was a good time to try it, it was with Mikki. As the five of you who read my blog know, Mikki is The Wife’s sister. She’s really a great sport at humoring my GADHD, and she welcomes learning new games with me. As detailed in previous posts, she is responsible for my first plays of Macao, Phoenicia, Tigris & Euphrates, Stronghold, Seeland, and (not reviewed in my blog) Agricola.

If anyone can match Mikki’s willingness to play new games, it would be my dear friend Margaret. Margaret interned at our church last summer, and The Wife and I pseudo adopted her. She was ALWAYS up for a game, new or not, and she is perhaps one of the most positive people I know. Case in point – last summer I told her how crazy the game TITAN sounded (yes all caps, because it’s that badass). I showed her the game, the billions of bits, oodles of battle boards, and the board that was actually two boards. I lamented that I’d never play it because from all accounts it takes 5 or 6 hours to play the first few times, to which she replied “I’ll play it!” So a few weeks later, there we all were learning and playing TITAN (from 3pm to 6am…I really should first-play review THAT session sometime).

So yeah, that’s the kind of awesome gaming friend Margaret is.

Why do I bring her up? Well in one of the most fortuitous confluences of gaming coincidences both Mikki and Margaret found themselves visiting Bay Ridge at the same time. Mikki lives in Pittsburgh and Margaret lives in Georgia, so this was truly special! I suggested El Grande, and of course they both said “Sure”. Rachel joined in too, so we were off with a four-player game of El Grande.

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I will now review El Grande according to the following criteria. Keep in mind this is a review of the game after only one play.

Accessibility (1): How easy was the game to teach and learn? Is it complex and/or fiddly? Are the rules easy to understand and follow? How long did it take to go over the rules?

Fun (1): Is it fun? Included in this might be a theme-to-mechanics metric, or a player interaction metric.

Length of first play (1): Some games say 60-90 minutes, but the first play might take you 3 hours. Not included is length of rules explanation.

Desire to play again (1): Typically I would rather play a new game than play a game I’ve already played (with some exceptions). I know – I am crazy. This will be a good measure of how much I like the game.

Review:

Accessibility:

Not so much. I think that the mechanics of El Grande – the “what do I DO?” part – are relatively simple. Play a card that determines both play order and number of cubes you get. Then in the order determined by the cards, choose a power card which is basically an action. Either do or do not the action (there is no try). After a few rounds you score each province by majority. Sounds simple?

Well it is, and yet it is not. El Grande cannot both be played well and played casually. You must be ever vigilant in watching your opponents. Further compounding matters is that not only must you evaluate the relative importance of each action card vis-à-vis your aims, but you must also do so for each of your opponents and their aims. Add to that the narrow way in which you place cubes on the board (based on your action, and only then in provinces next to the king), and you get some very complicated decisions you have to start making. Oh – and don’t ever lose count of the cubes in the Castillo (as if this game wasn’t already taxing your brain).

The rules were easy enough, but because we are all experienced gamers, we could immediately see that there was way too much depth for us to comprehend, and I think that was a bit intimidating.

The low accessibility score reflects the intertwining mechanics to some extent (for example, the two step process for getting cubes to the board – first from supply to your court via influence cards, and then from your court to the board via power cards). Mostly though, the low score comes from the fact that while the cards are pretty self-explanatory, we did have to go to the rules quite a bit to make sure we knew exactly what the cards let us do.

This isn’t a game I’d bust out with new gamers, nor is it a game that you should expect to just roll right up to with your gaming buddies and be off and running (if you’ve never played it before). There’s a beast here, and it isn’t tamed easily.

Score: .4

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Fun:

Argh…I think my rating scale is turning on me. Well not really, but I plan to write a post in the near future that really qualifies, and hopefully clarifies, exactly what it is I’m reviewing, how my scale works, and what my scores “mean”.

El Grande, played for the first time, isn’t that fun. It was a positive experience. I enjoyed playing it. Margaret, Rachel, and Mikki enjoyed playing it as well. But I don’t think we had “fun” – the enjoyment was from learning and exploring a new game, not from the play itself (compared to say Cosmic Encounter which is just a veritable crap-ton of fun, first play or otherwise). There is just so much to keep track of, so many things to check out, numbers to crunch, and choices to make, and none of it really comes naturally (or at least not for us), that the game felt like work.

Now at this point, you might be thinking, well if it felt like work screw that! I play games to have fun, not to work. If I wanted to work, I’d go to, well you know – work! But El Grande just exudes this confidence. It’s the board game equivalent of the Dos Equis guy. I mean you sit down and look at the board, see the giant penis king, the mighty Castillo, and all the colorful cubes and cards, and you think – no, you know that this is going to be a good game. You KNOW it. So the work is ok, because you know it’s going to take work to learn this giant work of gaming goodness. And that’s ok. Not every game is meant to reveal its fleshy delicious fruit on first play.

Score: .4

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Length of first play:

Midway through the rules and looking at the various power cards, we all sort of looked at each other and decided we might not be able to go the full 9 rounds. We decided to play the short game (which in retrospect was a TERRIBLE idea – 6 rounds is not enough gaming to really execute a strategy). Even the short game went a bit longer than we all thought it would, but it was because we were doing work.

Score: .5

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Desire to play again:

Yes.

Score: 1

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OVERALL: 2.3/4

El Grande is the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey of my game collection. It sits high up on my shelf not doing or saying anything, yet every time I see it, it drives me crazy. I want to play it again. It’s meaty and tough, and I know I’ll suck at it for a long time. It’s confrontational. It’s strategic. It’s tactical. It pushes so many gaming buttons – you have to plan, you have to react, you have to memorize, you have to count. I do not know from experience, but I imagine it quickly rewards you for repeated plays.

It is not the game you’re looking for if you want to sit around a table, drink some brews, shoot the breeze, and casually pay attention to the game. It demands your attention. It demands your focus.

I like El Grande. I should have never played it with Mikki and Margaret because they will never be in the same place at the same time again. I’m going to have to teach this to people that have never played it, and while I know that will be work, it will be worth it.
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Tue May 1, 2012 4:00 am
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Strasbourg - Oh Stefan, you're so dreamy!

The Dave
United States
La Jolla
California
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I have been waiting and waiting to get a group together to play Stefan Feld’s Strasbourg. I sort of love Herr Feld, and I find his designs to be brilliant and efficient. With Strasbourg I was intrigued by the auction/influence mechanic, as well as the secret agenda cards. I also knew that playing with only three would probably not be the best way to first-play the game, so I had to wait until I had five people (thinking more was better).

So the Friday after Kevin and Kristi were introduced to Bohnanza, they came back over to learn Strasbourg. Luke the Red joined them, and so the three of them joined my wife and I around our table and cracked open Strasbourg.

As is typical, I had read the rules, sorted the bits, and done all the typically geeky things as soon as I got the game, so when we all sat down to learn the rules, I had an idea of what the game was about. I find that reading the rules ahead of time always makes teaching a game easier, and fortunately for my game groups I enjoy reading rules to games (and having an iPad makes that so much easier – just download them from the Geek, and I can read rules on my commute from work!) I had also looked at the various forums, and no one seemed to have many rules questions, so I felt confident this would be a good introduction to The Stefan for Kevin and Kristi.

Midway through the game Nate and Lesley arrived and Nate was instantly intrigued. He started reading the rules, commenting on our play, and generally wishing he had chosen to come over and play games instead of going to see some lame movie (or at least that’s my projection of his feelings).

The game came down to the agenda cards, for better or worse, and in the end Luke edged out Kevin by a few points. Kristi and I finished just behind Kevin, and The Wife languished in last place – breaking her string of dominating new games. I think it’s because she’s pregnant…

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I will now review Strasbourg according to the following criteria. Keep in mind this is a review of the game after only one play.

Accessibility (1): How easy was the game to teach and learn? Is it complex and/or fiddly? Are the rules easy to understand and follow? How long did it take to go over the rules?

Fun (1): Is it fun? Included in this might be a theme-to-mechanics metric, or a player interaction metric.

Length of first play (1): Some games say 60-90 minutes, but the first play might take you 3 hours. Not included is length of rules explanation.

Desire to play again (1): Typically I would rather play a new game than play a game I’ve already played (with some exceptions). I know – I am crazy. This will be a good measure of how much I like the game.

Review:

Accessibility:

This game was relatively easy to teach. We all grasped what we were supposed to be doing mechanics wise. Draw cards until you want to stop. Place cards in piles of your choosing. These pile become bids in that round’s auctions. Win an auction, gain a prize. Get nothing, take a card back. Not too tough.

The longest part of the rules was selecting the secret agenda cards. Each person needed to see the sheet that detailed how each card scored points. With five people, each with five cards, this took awhile. I think that after one or two plays, you would know what the card does even if you’ve never seen it before, but without having played the game, it was hard to know which cards to keep and which to discard.

Score: .8

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Fun:

Strasbourg delivered the goods (pun intended) in the fun department. Because the game flowed so well (even if it was a bit repetitive), it was easy to actually play the game. We didn’t have to re-check the rules, nor did we have any disagreements or misconceptions about the game. We went over the rules, and did what we were supposed to do. The push-your-luck aspect of drawing influence cards at the beginning of each round was fun, and it made for some interesting choices. If you really want/need to win an auction this round, you better make sure you have the influence to do so, but then again if there are a few more rounds left and your deck is looking thin you might need to play it safe and draw only a few cards.

Likewise, there was some strategy in how to distribute your drawn cards into piles. I tried a few times to make sure I had a pile with only one card in it that I could either throw out in a losing effort to be able to place it on the bottom of my deck, or to grab an auction for super cheap if everyone else passed. There is some gamesmanship in the bidding, too – I might be saving a pile worth 8 influence for the final merchant auction, but if I spend it now I can take first place in the Pretzel Guild auction, and steal it from my opponent who foolishly bid only 6 – and hey! Look at that! That’s the last Pretzel Guild auction in the game, meaning I’ll be in the council for the rest of the game. Yup – let me go ahead and do that! – Oh wait – you mean I get first dibs on that primo spot in Pretzelville next to the chapel and the 5 point building? Even better…

The secret agenda cards add a bit of mystery and spice (and with it randomness, for better or worse). It was maddening to watch The Wife place her meeples in the city nowhere near buildings or cathedrals. She obviously was working towards some crazy agenda, but what really sucked for me was watching her take a crappy spot, leaving a prime spot open for another person that took second or third in the auction (which invariably WASN’T me…)

In all, we really enjoyed the game. Nathan liked just watching us play, and he kept commenting on how he needed to try it.

Score: .7

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Length of first play:

I would say this is the one area that Strasbourg – as a new game – falls a bit short. For five players, all playing the game for the first time, the game ran (minus rules explanation) about 2 hours and 15 minutes. That’s a bit longer than the 60-90 minutes listed on the box. Because the game is very repetitive (again, for better or worse), doing that same thing over the course of 60 minutes is very different from doing it over 120 minutes. With even one play under our belt, I see it getting down to around 90 minutes, which would be much more excusable, so long term, I think the 60-90 minute mark is spot on. IF that mark is reached, by the way, then this could be a very engaging and awesome auction type game that you can teach quickly and play quickly too.

Score: .5

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Desire to play again:

I really want to get this on the table again. I’m not sure how well it will play with fewer than 5, because a big point of interaction was the battle for spots in the city, which quickly filled up with 5 players. With fewer players I’m not sure how well that will work.

And that’s the problem – there are so many good games (El Grande to name one) that play best with 5 that I really want to try or play again. Strasbourg will have to join that queue, but I’d be willing to try it with fewer, even just to get back to the table more quickly.

Score: .7

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OVERALL: 2.7/4

As is typical of The Feld, this game has a pretty dry theme with some pretty bad-ass mechanics. I love the influence deck/auction mechanic, and there is a bit of area-control with the council. Further, there is some jockeying for placement in the city and there is enough incentive for being next to big point buildings to make the auctions engaging, even in the fifth round. The secret agenda cards, which I was initially drawn to, are the only piece of this game that I really don’t like. In the final round, Luke saved up all of his influence for one auction, which he won by one point over Kevin. It allowed him to place the 5-point building in an area that he had surrounded with his meeples. Had Kevin won, Kevin would have done the same, but the kicker was that Luke ALSO had a secret agenda for that building, giving him the points he needed to barely over-take Kevin. Without that card, Luke would have still been behind Kevin, so that last auction wouldn’t have mattered. Hmmm…as I type this I remember that bothered me at the time it happened (it seemed too – random?), but now that I type this, it seems that’s a pretty slick play by Luke. He adequately planned and executed a strategy…So I guess I’m not sure about the secret agenda cards. It seems like it could really make or break a person’s strategy. A few more plays might make my thinking on this a bit clearer.

I also think this game is a good game for new players. The fact that you don’t really need to know the value of things (compared to say Phoenicia or Homesteaders), means that a new player will have a good chance at staying in the game throughout, as long as someone warns them not to burn through their influence deck too quickly. They might struggle with which of their secret agendas to select, but I don’t think that will hamper their ability to enjoy a pretty engaging game.

You’ve done it again Stef-dog. Well done.

Up next: As I was typing the bit above about El Grande, I realized I forgot to write up a first-play review of it. So that’s coming. As is a review of the game that thus far has earned the highest rating on my first-play scale, a blisteringly hot 3.5. Which game is that? Subscribe and find out (shameless plug alert).
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Sun Apr 29, 2012 5:32 am
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Walnut Grove - The Snuggie of games

The Dave
United States
La Jolla
California
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Awhile back I received a nice box of goodies from CoolStuffInc, including Ora & Labora and Walnut Grove. I had been hoping to get these to the table as two player games, especially ones for my wife and I to play. So, one night a few weeks ago, I asked my wife if she was up for learning a new game. She said she was up for it, as long as it didn’t take a long time, and she didn’t have to think too much. See ya later, Uwe – I guess we’re going to check out what Touko has to offer us tonight!

I let her watch The Real Skanks Housewives of Somethingtown while I set up the game and read the rules. I had heard it was a hybrid of Agricola and Carcassonne, and while I kind of enjoy both of those games, I was intrigued by the marriage of two seemingly disparate games.

Unfortunately, this was during the Great BGG Outage of 2012, so the few questions/clarifications I had could not be answered by taking a quick data journey to the holy land. The Wife and I were going to have to learn this game the hard way – sans internet.

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I will now review Walnut Grove according to the following criteria. Keep in mind this is a review of the game after only one play.

Accessibility (1): How easy was the game to teach and learn? Is it complex and/or fiddly? Are the rules easy to understand and follow? How long did it take to go over the rules?

Fun (1): Is it fun? Included in this might be a theme-to-mechanics metric, or a player interaction metric.

Length of first play (1): Some games say 60-90 minutes, but the first play might take you 3 hours. Not included is length of rules explanation.

Desire to play again (1): Typically I would rather play a new game than play a game I’ve already played (with some exceptions). I know – I am crazy. This will be a good measure of how much I like the game.

Review:

Accessibility:

We had little trouble working through the rules for the most part. After a 10 minute explanation, The Wife said “Is that it?” That usually is followed by “I have no clue what to do”, but not in this case. She actually followed it up with “No really, is that it? It seems like there isn’t much to do.”

This seemed to bode well for her liking the game – The Wife usually likes games that are easy to learn and easy to play. She also tends to like games with a slight bit of luck, and it looked like that itch would be scratched with the tile and coin draws.

But then we started wondering if we could build down along our player board. We weren’t sure about using coins to pay for firewood in the winter. We weren’t sure if it was allowed to take two help tiles in the winter (for example when yellow workers require two food and you have zero yellow cubes), paying the first back before taking the second. And I cursed The Great BGG Outage of 2012.

In the end we went with what we felt was right – Yes you could build along the sides of the player board. No coins for firewood or missing food in the winter. Yes you could pay back a help tile right before taking a second. We weren’t right, but it didn’t matter because we were at least consistent.

In all, it felt like the rules left some minor, yet key details out. If BGG had been up, I don’t think it would have been that big of a deal, but since it was down -

Score: .5

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Fun:

Hmm, not much fun was had honestly. The place where this game feels most like Agricola is during winter when you have to feed your workers and your fires. Walnut Grove is very unforgiving during the winter, and it seems like every single time a year disk is flipped over, the volume and expressiveness of my use of the word “Damnit” increased. While I had a number of workers, it felt like I was spinning my wheels – my workers were basically there only to collect enough food to feed themselves. I'll readily admit that this is probably a design feature and not a flaw. I'll also readily admit that I like some strife in my games, but I think I don't like the strife Walnut Grove throws at you because of how quick (and light-feeling) the game is.

And I had it easy – The Wife’s tile draws were atrocious – she didn’t have a single landscape area bigger than 3 tiles. She really couldn’t afford to hire many workers, because she’d just employ them to collect their own food.

Going to town wasn’t much better. Every time I’d be ready to sell some goods that were earning additional coin, The Wife would take that spot first, meaning I’d have to pay taxes to go to the other spot in town that accepted the bonus good, but then the extra coin I took would only offset the taxes I paid to get there. And I couldn’t plan for the bonus good by ensuring I went first in town the next round, because you don’t know which good gives a bonus coin until after the town phase.

If none of that makes sense, it’s because I really don’t care to get into the details here – suffice it to say, neither my wife nor I enjoyed the experience beyond learning a new game. She felt the tile draws really were unlucky for her and exceptionally lucky for me (and she likes a bit of luck!). I felt that I was spinning my wheels too much, couldn’t get a good engine going, and had trouble getting things from town.

Score: .2

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Length of first play:

Walnut Grove plays quickly. We learned the game and finished our first play in about an hour. That’s pretty swift! To be honest there is a decent game with some interesting choices here (unlike say Seeland), and to get in a play under an hour is pretty awesome. I really wish we had enjoyed it a bit more, because it seems to be the perfect quick 2-player game with just enough meat on its bones to make it worth the time.

Score: .9

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Desire to play again:

I want to want to play this again but I just don’t. I want to like this game but I don’t. I wish I enjoyed my play of it, but I didn’t. I feel like there are a lot of people that will like this game, and I can really see why, but it just doesn’t strike the right chords with me. I will probably try to get in a few more plays before trading/selling it because there is this weird discordance of wanting to like it but not liking it.

Score: .4

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OVERALL: 2/4

I actually have played this again – this time with Nate. He liked it. In my game against Nate I had the same experience as The Wife – my tile draws were terrible, I had zero fields with more than 3 tiles, and I couldn’t get any sort of resource production going. On the other hand Nate was getting great tile after great tile, he consistently had fields full of resources, he snagged the only hut, as well as two of the three barns, and he basically wiped the floor with my battered, broken, frozen, and hungry carcass. He had zero help tiles. I had 6. And there was ZERO reason for him to be that far ahead of me – I took safe tiles from my draw, waited to get a worker until I had a field that could support it, and in general tried to play as best as I could (and I’m not a crappy gamer – c’mon!). And yet when the dust settled he had beat me something like 28 to 7. That’s just ridiculous.

I think there is too much luck in Walnut Grove (for me at least). Nate and I are going to try a couple of variants we came up with (because he agreed that I had a terrible run of crappy tiles which brought me to my knees). The first variant is if the year disk requires players to draw X tiles and keep Y of them, then we’re going to draw out X tiles for each player, and then in reverse town order let players pick Y tiles from ALL the tiles drawn out.

The second variant we want to try is to have each player pick out X tiles as usual, but they keep the tiles “in reserve” instead of return them to the bag. As the game progresses players may keep Y tiles from either the new tiles they drew or from their reserve.

I think that by mitigating the luck of the tile draw, I might enjoy the game better, and it could turn into the game I wish it was. But out of the box, Walnut Grove doesn’t hit the right buttons for me. Saying Walnut Grove is a hybrid of Agricola (for its worker placement) and Carcassonne (for the tile-laying) is like saying a Snuggie* is a hybrid of a blanket and a robe. It should make sense, and it should work, but in practice you’re left with something that neither keeps you warm, nor covers your ass.
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Wed Apr 18, 2012 4:09 am
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Bohnanza - I'm a mathematician, not a bean counter!

The Dave
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So it’s back to First-Play Friday (well, sort of). This Friday, The Wife and I hosted our good friends Nate and Lesley, Rachel, and two new gamers Kristi and Kevin. New isn’t quite right, because they’ve played 7 Wonders once, but neither of them really “got” it.

As an aside – I find 7 Wonders to be an enjoyable enough game, especially if you have about 30-45 minutes to spare. Initially I thought it might make a great gateway game because the gameplay mechanics are pretty easy to grasp, the artwork is vibrant, and it plays quickly. But in reality it is a terrible gateway game. First, if you have any experienced players they will absolutely smoke the new players, and woe be to the experienced player that isn’t sitting after the newbie (or even worse string of newbies) in the first and third ages. Second, while the game mechanic of take a card and pass the rest is easy, learning the multiple different types of cards, how they all chain throughout the ages, when to build a wonder, and most importantly what to keep out of the hands of your opponents takes many plays to really understand. I dread teaching 7 Wonders now because I know it’s going to be three or four messy games of destroying the newbies before any new player really is competitive.

Also, don’t get me started on scoring. That might be the highest barrier to a new player really understanding how to play the game…

Now where was I? Oh yes, Bohnanza. We had 7 and for the aforementioned reason, I thought we’d try Bohnanza. The main reason Kevin didn’t like 7 Wonders was because he lost so terribly. With The Wife in the mix, that was bound to happen again, since she is perhaps the world’s premier 7 Wonders player (claim not verified by any reliable source, but merely stated as a humorous one-liner). I’ve been playing Bohnanza on the iPad for awhile, but had yet to play the physical version and against real people.

Rachel really wanted to play Bootleggers, but that’s for only 6. Lesley wanted to play Fresco, but that would leave a few of us out. I suggested Bohnanza, and immediately they asked what it was about. Bean farming. Yup – bean farming. Oh you think that theme is dry? Too bad. We’re farming beans tonight, people, and ya’ll better like it!

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I will now review Bohnanza according to the following criteria. Keep in mind this is a review of the game after only one play.

Accessibility (1): How easy was the game to teach and learn? Is it complex and/or fiddly? Are the rules easy to understand and follow? How long did it take to go over the rules?

Fun (1): Is it fun? Included in this might be a theme-to-mechanics metric, or a player interaction metric.

Length of first play (1): Some games say 60-90 minutes, but the first play might take you 3 hours. Not included is length of rules explanation.

Desire to play again (1): Typically I would rather play a new game than play a game I’ve already played (with some exceptions). I know – I am crazy. This will be a good measure of how much I like the game.

Review:

Accessibility:

As before in other reviews, I have to admit that teaching this game was easier since I learned how to play on the iPad. I will say the rule book isn’t as intuitive as the tutorial on the iPad is, but that’s probably an obvious statement to make. Kevin and Kristi seemed to be the most confused, but their gaming experience thus far had been limited to 7 Wonders and Sorry. It took probably two turns for Kevin to get the flow of the game, and Kristi got it after 3 or 4 turns. Everyone else “got” how to play after one practice turn.

After playing the game I think that the best way to teach this game is probably to play a practice round or two, reshuffle the cards and start again.

In general, this game was neither difficult nor easy to teach and learn. It is well-deserving of a .5!

Score: .5

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Fun:

Bohnanza is the type of game that can be played seriously or casually. There was a mix of both for our play, in that for the first half we were seriously trying to learn the game, so there were a lot of questions about game play, strategy, and the rules. But about midway through we started taking on different personalities – Nate was the shady used car salesman who would offer a deal that usually included unnamed cards, I became the Russian weapons exporter (complete with terrible accent) who drove a hard bargain yet always seemed to have the card you needed, and so on. These sprung up organically, and some of us got more into the trading aspect than others, but everyone was laughing and having a good time. We would laugh when someone suggested a terrible deal, then gasp when it was accepted. We laughed when someone forgot you had to plant the first card in their hand – because let’s be honest, harvesting 4 Green Beans instead of one blue bean, only to plant a stink bean with a green bean behind it – that’s funny! (or at least it was in person – typing it out it just sounds dumb…whatevs)

So yeah, we had fun.

Score: .7

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Length of first play:

The game definitely didn’t overstay its welcome. At one point Nate noticed the draw deck was still pretty thick, and pointed out we had to go through it three times. The undertone was that the game might take awhile. But he was pretty shocked when the game ended (and of course he realized why it moves much more quickly than he thought it would – as you snag cards for coins and tie up other cards as unharvested beans, future draw decks will be smaller and smaller).

Score: .7

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Desire to play again:

Meh. I see this one getting played a lot with the family – you know, Grandma and the young kids want to play a game, but you don’t want their brain exploding trying to figure out De Vulgari Eloquentia. So you bring out a game – a CARD game no less – that you can teach and start playing in about 10 minutes. I think I’ll definitely bring Bohnanza to the next family gathering, but I don’t think I’ll request the game on a random game night. I would DEFINITELY play it again if someone else really wanted to play it (and Kevin and Kristi do, a good sign!), so it’s not that I don’t like the game. It just doesn’t scratch many itches for me as a face-to-face game.

Now the iPad version on the other hand? I play it allll the time!

Score: .2

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OVERALL: 2.1/4

I like Bohnanza. It’s a nice trading game, with some memory elements, and some valuation skills are required to be really good at it. I also like that new/non gamers can easily be playing it quickly, and even competitively. I don’t really have a strong desire to see hit my table again, but I won’t be getting rid of it any time soon. There’s a pretty good game in that tiny package, and that is hard to find.

Up Next: Walnut Grove & Strasburg. Stay tuned – First-Play Friday is officially back! (well, at least for now…)
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Wed Apr 11, 2012 4:27 am
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Phoenicia - so what'll it be, eh?

The Dave
United States
La Jolla
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I always try to take advantage of Mikki’s willingness to play new games when she visits. She really enjoyed Tigris & Euphrates, and we thought about playing it a second time, but unfortunately The Wife informed us that dinner is ready, and until I get this table, that means games have to be cleaned up so we can actually use our table for dining…whatever The Wife.

I have been reading, re-reading, re-re-reading, and re-re-re-reading the rules of Phoenicia since I got it a year ago (or more accurately the rules, the Rules Forum, the re-written rules, and the player guides). I have read how great it is, especially as an auction/civ game for two players. I have also read how terrible it is, how un-intuitive it is, and how you simply can’t forgive how fiddly, cumbersome, and frustrating the game is. I am drawn to the idea of a meaty, unforgiving game that plays in under an hour, but I also know my main playing partner The Wife is loathe to sit through a game multiple times just to figure out how to play it. She prefers games that she can pick up quickly, but still allow for some deep or clever thinking. I have really wanted to try Phoenicia, but didn’t want to introduce it to The Wife before I could decide if it was right for her or not. I also wanted to see who was right – the “this game sucks!” crowd, or the “this game rocks!” crowd.

With Mikki being up for slogging through what might be a pretty inaccessible game, we decided to give it a go. I’m glad we did because I was able to form a pretty solid opinion of the game from just one play. Read on to find out what it is

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I will now review Phoenicia according to the following criteria. Keep in mind this is a review of the game after only one play.

Accessibility (1): How easy was the game to teach and learn? Is it complex and/or fiddly? Are the rules easy to understand and follow? How long did it take to go over the rules?

Fun (1): Is it fun? Included in this might be a theme-to-mechanics metric, or a player interaction metric.

Length of first play (1): Some games say 60-90 minutes, but the first play might take you 3 hours. Not included is length of rules explanation.

Desire to play again (1): Typically I would rather play a new game than play a game I’ve already played (with some exceptions). I know – I am crazy. This will be a good measure of how much I like the game.

Review:

Accessibility:

Oh boy – yup. The rules are pretty bad, but I think it’s not necessarily the rules’ fault. It seems to me like Phoenicia is a beast of a game. It’s meaty, and fierce, and unforgiving, and vicious. It also is compact, and quick, and efficient. The component choices create complexity – for example the way you keep track of your production and VP with workers, and in particular how you change those values when upgrading workers brings about moments where you have to really think about what your new score is. I think for most gamers that is a nonstarter – we like intuitiveness and ease of use in our games, and Phoenicia simply doesn’t provide that. That said, I think after two or three plays those kinds of issues will be resolved, as players will know how to handle them and do so with ease and automaticity (these issues include the aforementioned production/VP tracking issue, the symbology on the buildings, and keeping track of money, coins, and when, how, and if you can trade in either for the other).

So by mid-game Mikki and I sort of understood what was going on and definitely by the end of the game we had switched from learning the game to playing the game. Typically I find it to be a good sign when players can make that switch sometime during the first game.

That being said, if you plan to play this game, I recommend this set of rules, and also make sure you have access to BGG so you can quickly look up any rules questions you might have.

Score: .3

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Fun:

Phoenicia is moderately fun for a first play. Mikki and I enjoyed the game, but for the most part our first play was spent trying to learn the game. It’s fiddly. It’s complex. I couldn’t figure out how to determine how much production/VP I gained from upgrading workers. I let Mikki have the only granary for pretty cheap, and she ended up slaying me partly because of that. The forced trading of coins for cards and then discarding money over your limit really killed me a few times, and I didn’t play well within those confines (for example buying tools or training a worker before I lost money – I failed to do that a few times because I misjudged my production).

Ultimately though, I understand where the “this game rocks!” crowd is coming from. I could clearly see why I was getting crushed, and I felt I knew exactly how to correct it the next time I played. Also, there is nothing wrong with a game being brutal and unforgiving. Chances are good that it won’t be as accessible or fun for as many players as a game that is more forgiving, but that doesn’t mean it is a bad game.

Did I have fun playing Phoenicia? Not really. But I enjoyed it. And I think more fun will follow with future plays.

Score: .4

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Length of first play:

Here too I can see how Phoenicia will move along at a brisk pace once all players know how the game flows, can quickly and automatically adjust their production and VP, are fluid with the mechanics of the monetary system (including storage and exchange), and understand the various “tech” pathways.

Because neither Mikki nor I fit any part of that description, our first play was probably closer to 2 hours (not including rules explanation, but including stoppage for re-reading rules or seeking clarification on BGG). That’s a bit long, and it was quite frustrating at times for the game to grind to a halt as we looked up what a certain symbol meant, or the exact timing of a certain phase of the game.

Score: .5

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Desire to play again:

Ok – here’s the truth of the matter. I think I’m in the “this game rocks!” camp. I definitely want to play it again. I also think The Wife would enjoy it, but probably only superficially. I, on the other hand, can see wanting to play this regularly with the same few people to explore the different strategies. This seems like the kind of game where you might become “known” for doing certain things, and I think it would be very fun to match wits over this game with some of my gaming group.

I need to figure out a way to make this game a bit more accessible (as the teacher of the game), but I can see this game being played quite a bit. I definitely would welcome seeing it hit my table again.

Score: .8

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OVERALL: 2/4

Phoenicia certainly deserves the reputation it has, whatever that might be. For some it probably does suck – whether that is because the rules prevent entry to the game, or because once started the game is brutal and unforgiving. If a player feels that way, there is nothing to change that perception. I tell my friends that I don’t like Coldstone Ice Cream because it is too creamy and they always say “That’s the whole point of Coldstone – it’s supposed to be creamy!” I always reply that that seems to be a perfectly legit reason not to like it, then! Similarly, Phoenicia is a game that doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a quick and fierce auction/civ game that you should approach with caution. If you like that kind of thing, though, Phoenicia is brilliant. It is overlooked and the bashing it receives overshadows the fact that there seems to be a pretty great game hiding there. I’m excited to try it again, and having purchased it for under $20, I will definitely be getting my money’s worth out of this game!
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Mon Apr 2, 2012 3:48 am
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Tigris and Euphrates - I wish I had a clever subtitle

The Dave
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La Jolla
California
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Wow, well it’s been a long time since I’ve updated, but the months of February and March have been very hectic. As some of you may know from my current auction, I am moving to San Diego to pursue a PhD in mathematics education, and The Wife and I have spent February and March in deep discussion/planning about where to move and if we can afford to drop our income level to that of a poor graduate student. In the end we’ve decided to step out in faith and head to the Dirty Waffle*.

It hasn’t been all serious talk and no play, though. I have since played Kingdom of Solomon a few more times, and it continues to shine. I’ve taught it a second time, and I will readily admit that teaching the game after having played it is much easier than teaching it before you’ve played it. In all games I’ve played, a different strategy has led the way to victory, which is really cool to see! I think KoS will have a lasting place in my collection.

I’ve also played Macao a few times with The Wife and Luke the Orange. It continues to be engaging and fun, and it too is finding a nice cozy spot on my most prominent game shelf. We’ve also introduced Luke the Orange to Castles of Burgundy, which he enjoyed as evidenced by the sheer amount of AP it invoked in him…

Also, The Wife’s sister Mikki visited for spring break, and we got in some plays of a few games, including a first-play of both Tigris & Euphrates and Phoenicia.

Up first is Tigris & Euphrates, but a disclaimer** – I purchased the iPad version awhile back and learned to play the game that way. I will try to reflect that in my scores, but I admit scores may be skewed a bit, since it was not technically my first play.

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I will now review Tigris & Euphrates according to the following criteria. Keep in mind this is a review of the game after only one play**.

Accessibility (1): How easy was the game to teach and learn? Is it complex and/or fiddly? Are the rules easy to understand and follow? How long did it take to go over the rules?

Fun (1): Is it fun? Included in this might be a theme-to-mechanics metric, or a player interaction metric.

Length of first play (1): Some games say 60-90 minutes, but the first play might take you 3 hours. Not included is length of rules explanation.

Desire to play again (1): Typically I would rather play a new game than play a game I’ve already played (with some exceptions). I know – I am crazy. This will be a good measure of how much I like the game.

Review:

Accessibility:

I know that T&E gets a bad rap for having a pasted-on theme, but I also read (and I can’t find it right now, argh!) how if you really marry the theme to the mechanics, that teaching, learning, and playing the game becomes much easier. I taught the game via the theme – we were different empires vying for influence in four spheres – merchants, farms, temples, and the people. We each had leaders we could position in places of power, but that all leaders must rise up out of the temples. And so on…Mikki quickly grasped what was going on, so the rules explanation was finished in about 15 minutes. We rarely had to refer to the rules once we were playing.

Score: .7

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Fun:

I wouldn’t say T&E is fun. It is good, and I enjoyed playing it, but it definitely isn’t a laugh-and-chat your way through the game kind of game. T&E is a sit and think how you can best annihilate your opponent’s stronghold with a catastrophe tile, or how can I convince my opponent to not start a war because I know for sure she’ll take out my farmer and man I really need blue points from that temple right now kind of game. There is very high player interaction, and I felt the theme fits the mechanics nicely (and vice versa).

That said, we both enjoyed the game precisely because it was strategic and unforgiving. Mikki at one point had a nice advantage of farms over me, and as we cautiously crept closer to one another’s kingdoms, I knew she was going to join them together and wipe out my farmer. Then she made a huge error – she converted four farms to a temple, giving me the edge (especially since I was holding two farms in my hand in case she attacked). I quickly attacked, taking out her farmer and snatching a ton of blue points (which was exactly what I was lowest in, by a wide margin), and also stole the temple she just built. She was ruined, and what had been a nice lead for her evaporated like a whisper. I ended up winning on the THIRD tie break – which was farms for me!

Score: .5

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Length of first play:

T&E moved along quite nicely. We finished our play in about 90 minutes, and it didn’t feel too long in the least.

Score: .8

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Desire to play again:

I want to try this again with The Wife. I think she’ll enjoy plotting my demise and she enjoys tactical games much more than strategic games. I think T&E is a game of tactics, since you can never be sure exactly what your opponent is doing, nor can you be sure which tiles you will draw. I also want to play with 3 and 4 players just to see how the board tightens up with more players.

Having said that, I also want to play Macao again, and Luna. And I’d choose either of those over T&E. In fact I’m perfectly content to play T&E on my iPad and spend my precious face-to-face gaming time exploring something else. T&E will make it to the table again, I’m sure, but it is in line behind some other games at the moment.

Score: .5

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OVERALL: 2.5/4

Tigris & Euphrates has a high ranking here on BGG, and I believe it is well-deserved. In my plays on my iPad I have found it to be very engaging, and by returning to play it again and again I am rewarded with new tactics, strategies, and ideas about how to effectively play. This might be a game that makes its way into the common rotation, but I can also see it being too dry for some of my gaming group (or too confrontational – perhaps that’s a better way of putting it).
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Fri Mar 30, 2012 3:28 am
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Kingdom of Solomon - HEY! Where did that KNIFE COME FROM!?

The Dave
United States
La Jolla
California
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Two Fridays ago I first-played Luna with two friends. You can read the review/session here. Since then I’ve played Luna solo a few more times, only winning once. My worst game was when I tried a strategy in which I deny the dummy player any tiles in the temple, using lots of bribes. I was CRUSHING it, until the last two rounds. I just didn’t have enough novices to keep pace, and the dummy player was winning 5 Luna points while I was taking zero because all of my novices were in the temple. I’m going to try it again, but maybe spend the first round recruiting as much as possible to try to sustain the engine a bit longer.

This week I knew The Wife was in for a game, especially since she didn’t play last week. Also, N & L have decided to switch off Fridays until the new baby is a bit older. Thus, L was on her way over, along with Rachel, N’s sister. We had four players total, and I knew that Rachel wasn’t an experienced gamer – she’s played Settlers and 7 Wonders – so I was trying to be careful with my game choice. I thought about Keythedral and possibly Walnut Grove, but in the end I decided to try Kingdom of Solomon. I had punched/sorted it the night before and read the rules. The rules seemed ambiguous, so I checked out Ender’s excellent FAQ and followed the various rabbit trails leading away from it, so I felt like teaching it wouldn’t be too challenging.

I poured out the underwhelming components, unfolded the board, and we jumped in.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

I will now review Kingdom of Solomon according to the following criteria. Keep in mind this is a review of the game after only one play.

Accessibility (1): How easy was the game to teach and learn? Is it complex and/or fiddly? Are the rules easy to understand and follow? How long did it take to go over the rules?

Fun (1): Is it fun? Included in this might be a theme-to-mechanics metric, or a player interaction metric.

Length of first play (1): Some games say 60-90 minutes, but the first play might take you 3 hours. Not included is length of rules explanation.

Desire to play again (1): Typically I would rather play a new game than play a game I’ve already played (with some exceptions). I know – I am crazy. This will be a good measure of how much I like the game.

Review:

Accessibility:

This game would be a perfect candidate for a “gateway” game, if not for the resource regions and sparse rule book. I had explained much of the game in the span of about 10 minutes, but it took us about another 10 or 15 to really flesh out a few of the spaces (namely artisan – do you get one more resource from a space YOUR pawn is in?) and how the roads/resource regions work. Honestly all of this would have been avoided if the rules weren’t so terse and lacking in detail. Certainly the rules cover the game, but there are some intricacies in the game that require a bit more explanation than the rules provide. The section on building roads is not in the proper place, and some important details like not building between neutral regions could be made more clear and evident. Also it seems some terms are used without really defining what those terms are, and as a mathematician that always annoys me.

Now it may seem like I am really harping on Kingdom of Solomon, but the reality is with those exceptions it really is an easy game to learn. Rachel was making some pretty clever moves almost immediately, and once we understood the rules governing roads and resource regions, there was zero confusion. We didn’t have to go back to the rule book even one time once we started playing, a testament to the game’s accessibility.

Score: .8

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Fun:

Kingdom of Solomon really shines here. This is a fantastic worker-placement game, with a nice dash of press-your-luck and screw-your-neighbor thrown in for good measure. The competition for resources is fierce, and you always have to watch for the perfect time to throw your pawns on one of the bonus spaces. Player interaction is pretty high, as well. I had resources stolen from me on numerous occasions, which completely foiled what I thought were my well-laid plans.

Groups wanting to have even more interaction can make clever use of the Fortune Cards. There were quite a few times when a particular resource was running low (for example gold) and one of us would quickly play a Fortune Card to claim the last gold before the next player collected their resources from their pawns, thereby denying that player a resource they should have received. At times the game brought out some not so subtle animosity amongst our usually casual and kind group. One time I had been planning for a massive temple build to try to swipe the High Priestess from L. The Wife decided to prevent that, since I was in the lead, by playing the Thief to steal one gold from me, then two Fortune Cards in a row that allowed her to remove all the gold and other resources from the Market. My turn was trashed. And The Wife LOVED it.

The beginning of the game was innocent enough. We placed pawns, stole some resources, but in general we left each other alone. By the last two rounds we were at each others’ throats. The game became cutthroat and vicious, and none of us really expected that. I think it caught us off guard a bit, and kind of dampened the mood. The next time we play we’ll be well aware of the possibility of the game turning into a knife fight in a phone booth kind of affair, and that awareness should do wonders to soothe bruised feelings. We just didn’t see it coming.

One more thing the game became in the last two rounds was long, but I’ll save that for the next section.

Score: .7

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Length of first play:

Kingdom of Solomon begins briskly enough. There aren’t many resources to be had with only 5 pawns, and much of what you want to do, you can’t yet afford. There aren’t many resources in the market yet, so there aren’t many decisions to be made their either.

Fast forward to the later rounds – you can do many calculations on what you think your opponents might do. Most information is open (only the Fortune Cards are hidden) so you can analyze your position and best moves vis-à-vis your opponents’ until you’re blue in the face. Should I place most of my resources in the empty market right now – well, let me see that would be X points. Or should I buy that last building and end the game, gaining Y points, but leaving the open market to my opponent who would get Z points. Etc. Etc.

If the first two or three rounds were a sprint, the last two or three rounds were a marathon where you are saddled with a bag of rocks, a twisted ankle, and dog permanently attached to your leg. Kingdom of Solomon bogged down for us to the point where The Wife and L were having full-blown mom conversations (yes, multiple) in the middle of my turn or Rachel’s turn. I was reading reviews to other games while L was calculating her best final move. If your group is prone to AP (and mine typically ISN’T), then beware – Kingdom of Solomon has the potential to bring it out in spades.

In short (haha), Kingdom of Solomon overstayed its welcome by about 30 minutes. In total, minus rules explanation, we spent about 2 hours 15 minutes playing. For a game with a listed time of 60 minutes, that was too long, even for a first play. Much of the blame lies with our group for really analyzing the end rounds, but the point remains it ran longer than we anticipated. I can see it running around 75 minutes, maybe 60 if the group dynamic allows, but not much quicker than that. And you know what? That’s ok! Kingdom of Solomon is good game, worthy of spending time playing it.

Score: .5

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Desire to play again:

When we finished the game we all weren’t talking about how bad or long the game was, nor were we talking about how the rules could be clearer. Instead we were talking about how our different strategies affected each other, what we might do differently the next time we played, and how good the game was. The Wife said it was an Agricola-killer (my paraphrase). She doesn’t like Agricola much, so take that with a grain of salt, but I sort of agreed with her. While I don’t think it’s a better game than Agricola, I think I’d probably prefer to play Kingdom of Solomon over Agricola right now. It scratched the same itches, but just felt nastier and more important. There is something about building a temple and claiming territory that isn’t found in breeding sheep or building fences.

We’re going to play this game again. And I think we’re going to play this game often.

Score: .8

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OVERALL: 2.8/4

I think Kingdom of Solomon has a lot of really great ideas and mechanics that blend together to form a tight and tense game. If I was to rate this, it would get a 7, with much room for improvement as my gaming group explores the game in more depth.

Up Next: Well, first a confession. I plan on dropping First-Play Fridays (the event, not the Blog) during March because I’ve decided I want to re-play some of the games we’ve recently learned. I know, I know. But I’ve discovered some really awesome games during these First-Play Fridays, and with limited gaming time, we’ve decided to explore some of these games rather than press on with my resolution. I’m really cool with that too. I want to play Carson City again. I want to introduce more people to Macao, and I definitely want to play Luna some more (and not just solo). So for at least March Fridays will be Friendship Friday – my friends get to choose the game we play.

I’ll still update the blog – perhaps with Second-Play reviews, or maybe even full-blown real reviews. Who knows!?

No gaming plans this Friday, either. We have plans with some friends, and I don’t think a game is in the cards, but I’ll see about maybe sneaking one in…

Thanks for reading!
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Fri Feb 10, 2012 1:49 am
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Luna - easily the best first-play experience since Cosmic Encounter

The Dave
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This most recent Friday was a pretty sweet day. First and foremost, it was my daughter’s second birthday. She is basically the coolest thing ever, and for the first time she came to visit me at my job. I am a middle school math teacher, and Friday happened to be “Alumni Day” when last year’s 8th graders come back to visit. It was really cool to see her interact with current and former students, and she loved all the attention she got, especially the “Happy Birthday!”s.

When we got home, The Wife told me to invite some friends over so I would be out of her hair while she cleaned and prepared for E’s birthday party (which was Saturday). Ok, The Wife kiss. What did I ever do to deserve you?!

So N and Luke the Orange came over. We played the manliest, burliest, most masculine game imaginable – Luna: In the Temple of the Moon Priestess.

Ok, so maybe it’s not manly, but it’s AWESOME. In full disclosure I played Luna solo last week after The Wife and I’s debacle of Seeland. I decided not to first-play review it because most people probably aren’t going to buy Luna (if they can find it…) to play it solo. I will try to be as accurate as possible with my ratings given this review is based technically on my second play.

I explained the rules and we decided it would be constructive to play two practice rounds, reset, and then start the real game.

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I will now review Luna according to the following criteria. Keep in mind this is a review of the game after only one play.

Accessibility (1): How easy was the game to teach and learn? Is it complex and/or fiddly? Are the rules easy to understand and follow? How long did it take to go over the rules?

Fun (1): Is it fun? Included in this might be a theme-to-mechanics metric, or a player interaction metric.

Length of first play (1): Some games say 60-90 minutes, but the first play might take you 3 hours. Not included is length of rules explanation.

Desire to play again (1): Typically I would rather play a new game than play a game I’ve already played (with some exceptions). I know – I am crazy. This will be a good measure of how much I like the game.

Review:

Accessibility:

There is a lot going on with Luna. If I hadn’t played it solo first, I think we would have struggled a bit more, but I would also submit that doing a mock game before teaching a game is a pretty common occurrence (and would probably have done nothing to help with Stronghold!). I struggled through my solo play, but only because I wasn’t familiar enough with the game to really grasp what to do to counter the dummy player (or to really understand what the dummy was doing).

For anyone looking to teach Luna, I really think you should consider teaching the game over the course of two or three practice rounds and then resetting the game and starting anew.

For our game, N and Luke the Orange were asking really good questions about the interplay of the different actions. There was some confusion about the number on the temple tiles acting like “priority points” as opposed to Influence (victory) points, but a quick example in the practice rounds demonstrated it clearly. Luke the Orange wasn’t confident about shrines and thought it reduced the cost of any action from that island by one novice (so he thought you could recruit with one from an island with a shrine for example), but I pointed out that shrines reduced the cost of actions by one novice only for actions specific to that island. That seemed to be a good way to explain it.

Overall it was probably about 20 minutes to explain and then another 25 to play the practice rounds (with stopping for rules clarifications). 45 minutes seems like a long time for explanation, but the practice rounds were engaging, and definitely didn’t feel long or boring.

Score: .7

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Fun:

There was a moment during the second round of the real game when Luke the Orange turned his third candle in a row. He had yet to take more than 3 meaningful actions in the game, and N and I were flabbergasted he was playing so terribly. I was not-so-gently ribbing Luke the Orange about breaking the game, to which he replied something about playing defensively and keeping us from doing anything. I was getting frustrated because Luna was supposed to be awesome (I paid over 60 bucks for it!), and Luke the Orange was ruining it. He was playing with a shrine on Boat Island, and he felt he had everything in place to snatch the majority on whichever island Luna was on. N and I kept trying to explain to him that he needed to be in the temple, but Luke the Orange wasn’t hearing it. N and I couldn’t really get in the temple because the candles were being turned so quickly. N was taking it much better than I, but he also wasn’t the one watching a $60 game turn to crap.

In round 3 with hopes of breaking Luke the Orange’s time-drain strategy I decided to alter my maximum-actions-per-round strategy to making sure I got to take the 3 or 4 most important actions I could before Luke the Orange turned all the candles. This mainly consisted of trying to snag temple tiles and get them in the temple adjacent to as many opponent novices as possible. N was busy setting up a book stealing racket, earning decent points from being in the temple. As a first time player he wasn’t keeping track of his novices though, and he eventually found himself with two novices on the Temple Landing, 4 in the temple, one on Tide Island, and one on Book Island. And no actions to take.

Luke eventually realized how ridiculous his strategy was as he watched N and I both snagged 10+ points from temple tiles/novices-in-the-temple scoring. He stopped turning candles and started playing the game, and I breathed a sigh of relief. I was really worried Luke the Orange found a way to “break” the game by making it really not that fun. I was particularly frustrated because Luke the Orange is such a good game player. He’s a bit prone to AP, but usually he does very well with games. In this case, I think he was really over-thinking everything, and he later admitted as much.

Round 4, we all turned the corner and began to really sink our teeth in the game. By the end we were simultaneously smack-talking each other and then congratulating each other as we all pulled off impressive combos. At the end of the game I came out on top – 69, 50, 50. N’s engine-stalling really hurt him in the final rounds as he just couldn’t compete for Luna points, while Luke the Orange’s early-game shenanigans left him behind the 8-ball.

We all agreed that Luna was awesome, we had to play again, and Luke the Orange admitted his strategy sucked. The cool thing though, was that Luna offered up such an extreme strategy during the first play (even if it failed). I’m glad it didn’t work, because as long as everyone is playing optimally, Luna is a really fun game. Really fun. Check the score if you don’t believe me.

Score: 1

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Length of first play:

Luna ran a bit longer than I think the three of us would have liked, but much of that was because we played a third of a game before we actually played the game. If I can factor that out, I’d say Luna earns a .8 for Length of first play, but I can’t double-dip, as I’ve already scored Luna higher on ACCESSIBILITY because of the practice rounds.

Score: .6

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Desire to play again:

I’ve already played it solo three more times. Luke the Orange and I have talked about playing it again, discussing strategy and optimal placement of shrines. I have looked at trying it on Yucata.de. Right now there isn’t a game in my collection, new or otherwise, that I would choose to play over Luna. I’m sure some of this “puppy love” will wear off eventually, but right now I LOVE LUNA.

Score: 1

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OVERALL: 3.3/4

Wow. A 3.3! I think that most games I first-play review will hover between 1.5 and 2.5 based solely on the fact that many games don’t scream awesome on their first play. But for us, we immediately saw the spark of an amazing game in our first play. The next day during E’s birthday party, N, Luke the Orange, and I talked about Luna for a good 30 minutes. I’m sure Luna won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but there is a beast of a game there.

Up Next: I’m really hoping to get Bootleggers to the table. I also just got a preorder shipment in including Louis XIV, Ora & Labora, and Walnut Grove. On Tuesday another preorder including Troyes, Kingdom of Solomon, and Dakota should be arriving. shake Man I’m so addicted to games…
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Tue Jan 31, 2012 4:08 am
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A Second-Play of Seeland - I don't SEE another play in my future...

The Dave
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La Jolla
California
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I convinced The Wife to try the advanced tactical set up along with the Governors variant of Seeland. She LOVES Vikings, so when I first mentioned that Seeland shared some similarities with one of her favorite games she was very excited to try it. Unfortunately I picked the wrong night to try it with her. You see, she's half way along with our second child, and last Friday she was not feeling the best. But she is a great Wife and wanted me to get in a first play Friday, especially since my other gaming buddies flaked out on me couldn't make it.

I say all this to note two things:

1) This isn't technically a first play review, since I've already done that.

2) I will try to give an honest opinion of the game, but I am admitting that may be hard because The Wife really wasn't into the game at all.

You see, The Wife is a good gamer. She usually does really well in games (all the while complaining she has "no clue" what is going on, but whatever The Wife, I'm on to you now). On this night, because she wasn't feeling well, she was really off. She didn't fully explore the decisions available in the game and made poor tactical choices. She kept complaining that she didn't understand why you would take any tile other than the one in front, she wasn't racing for the revealed farms to keep stuivers from me (which resulted in me getting 6 or 7 extra turns), and in general she played sub-optimally. I tried to help her, even pointing some pretty killer combos (which she took, but only because I had pointed them out), but overall she just really didn't care.

I can't help it, but this definitely clouds my judgment since I found this particular game to be almost as bad as my first game was, but in this case it was my lack of competition, and not the game, that made the experience not so great. I think.

(And if you happened to muddle through that last paragraph, God bless you! Ms. Brigoti would not be happy with that grammar or syntax!)

I won by over 50 points. I did almost anything I wanted in the game. It was boring.

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I will now review Seeland (with the advanced random tactical setup and the Governors variant) according to the following criteria. Keep in mind this is a review of the game after only one-ish play.

Accessibility (1): How easy was the game to teach and learn? Is it complex and/or fiddly? Are the rules easy to understand and follow? How long did it take to go over the rules?

Fun (1): Is it fun? Included in this might be a theme-to-mechanics metric, or a player interaction metric.

Length of first play (1): Some games say 60-90 minutes, but the first play might take you 3 hours. Not included is length of rules explanation.

Desire to play again (1): Typically I would rather play a new game than play a game I’ve already played (with some exceptions). I know – I am crazy. This will be a good measure of how much I like the game.

Review:

Accessibility:

Again, this is a high point for the game. I was able to teach The Wife the basics in less than 15 minutes. There was some initial confusion regarding the Governors, and also some confusion when the possibility of a mill not meeting a governor's expectation came up, and the next closest mill already had a governor on it. But all things considered Seeland is an easy game to teach and learn.

Score: .7

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Fun:

Well, at least I can say I tried. I will be honest and say that the tension that basic Seeland is lacking, is probably abundant in this variant. Unfortunately The Wife didn't get Seeland at all, so I had the run of the game. If I was rating on this play it would be a 0. As it is, I can see a much more fun game here, so it gets a .4

Score: .4

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Length of first play:

Not much different here, except that there was a bit more thinking about what to do during my turns. It dragged a bit longer than my first play, and that's taking The Wife's suboptimal play into account (which was taking the first tile and immediately placing it).

Score: .6

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Desire to play again:

My desire to play again isn't very high. I certainly wouldn't suggest this over a new game, and I think the only way I try it again would be if The Wife requested it. At this point I see Seeland going in the for sale/trade pile.

Score: .1

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OVERALL: 1.8/4

So even though the score fell, I think I enjoyed the game a tiny bit better. Unfortunately that isn't saying much, as I really didn't like my first play. I had such high hopes for Seeland considering my love for Vikings, and perhaps that's the problem. I guess that kind of hope is like loving the Beatles and then expecting to love Oasis just because they too are from England...

For me, I'll take Vikings.

Up Next: LUNA, aka one of the coolest games I've ever played.
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Mon Jan 30, 2012 5:37 am
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