In my last blog entry, I mentioned that I would probably end up playing Eminent Domain a bit in the near future, but there was also a chance that I would try out 51st State. Now, I’ve been mulling over 51st State a bit in my mind lately. It seemed like it should be a game I should at least take a look at. After all, it is a tableau-based combo-building game, and those games have done fairly well with me in the past. So with that in my mind, as I was out yesterday I stopped at my FLGS, Coolstuff Games, and swam past the Pokémon kids to grab a copy of 51st State. I also got lucky that a local gaming buddy, John, was looking for something to do that night, so he came over and we got in a few games of 51st State before moving on to other games.
51st State at its core is a relatively simple game. Each round players draft from a selection of cards, with the end result being three new cards ending up in each player’s hand. The draft is pretty straightforward, with each player taking a card from the selection into his or her hand and the cards refilling from the deck if the number of cards on the table go under a certain threshold. It ends with each player drawing a random card from the deck. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the game’s interaction comes from this drafting step and, because the advantages of hate-drafting diminish over time as individual players get access to more resources, this interaction is really pretty minimal.
The next step is a simple resource generation stage, where a large number of transitory tokens are produced for use in the player’s actions for the round. I’ve seen people complain about the fiddliness of this step, but considering that I greatly enjoy Merchant’s of Venus, and was able to get 33 plays out of Through the Ages before boredom hit, this did not bother me much.
The next stage, and the one that has the bulk of the game’s decisions, is the action phase. This is really the stage which will make or break a game and, unfortunately, it is not that interesting. What you have is a pretty bog standard resource conversion game where the “three uses” for the cards essentially end up being, “do I want a big one shot of resources,” “do I want a steady income of resources,” or “do I want a special ability related to resources and a victory point.” There is a small bit more subtlety and cleverness to it than that, but essentially all you are doing is converting resources between themselves and turning them into victory points.
This is actually where the large number of resource tokens is particularly telling, since it shows you what the main focus of the game is. This in of itself is not a problem, except for the fact that the resource conversion is really, really uninteresting. Maybe this is fatigue over resource conversion games talking, but if I am going to play a game focused on resource conversion these days I want it to be doing something new and different that gives me something new and meaty to do with the genre. If it doesn’t, why am I not playing Agricola, or Caylus, or Le Havre, or the various other resource conversion games that have some degree of interactivity or innovation? Granted, this one is a bit shorter than those, but I am absolutely willing to spend more time on a game if it is entertaining rather than an exercise in tedium.
So many components, so few interesting things to do with them.
So in conclusion, this one is definitely a pass unless you have a deep-seated enjoyment of resource conversion games no matter how solitaire or indistinctive, or want a resource conversion game that has an apocalyptic theme. This will not be a game that stays in my collection.
Wherein I Discuss Those Games Described As Gamer's Games
- [+] Dice rolls
In addition to being a big fan of the grand, meaty board games after which this blog is named, I also have a strong appreciation for another sort of game that is popular on this site: combo-building card games. I feel that these games share some of the best features of the meatier gamers’ games, and because of this I would much rather play them then almost any other lighter/shorter game in existence. When something like Hansa Teutonica proves itself strong enough for me to want to play it over one of these card games, then it is a pretty solid accomplishment, and I reward it with an appropriately high rating. So because of this, I tend to try most of the new combo-building card games that are released. Deck-builders are slightly less likely to see play because so far I’ve only found one example of the genre that I’ve liked, but I’ve still managed to try a lot of them. For reference, here are my current ratings for these games:
* This one is currently undergoing review. It may become a 9.
** I only played this one once. Consider this rating preliminary. Though I may never play it again.
So I played a few games of Eminent Domain back at BGG.Con 2010. While I thought the first few games of interesting, I ultimately decided to dismiss it as uninteresting and probably not worth my time. This is what I said back then in my entry for New To You Games for November 2010:
“Eminent Domain, by Seth Jafee, is a meaty card game that shares some lineage from Dominion, Race For the Galaxy, and, most noticeably, Glory to Rome. I went to BGG.Con with the expectation that I would play it, like it, and pre-order it through the Kickstarter program. That did not happen.
Eminent Domain is centered on role cards, each of which serves both as a tool for performing an action as well as a means to lead with a role or follow someone else’s role. These cards generally serve to allow a player to add planets from the draw deck into the play area in front of them, claim these planets to get their benefits produce and harvest resources for victory points, or research new technologies that give special action powers and cards that are available for multiple roles.
On each turn, a player optionally plays a card for an action, leads in a role, thus adding a card of that role to the deck, discards any cards from their hand, and draws new cards until they hit their hand limit. This repeats itself over and over again until the game comes to a completion by either depleting the victory point pool or until a number of decks run out based on the number of players.
I found my plays of Eminent Domain to be enjoyable, but a bit repetitive. I am sure that there are all sorts of interesting strategies to be found in the game, but the lack of character in the cards, particularly in comparison to the games which it is similar to, held me back from really liking the game. With all of the other meaty card games that I own and like (7 Wonders, Innovation, Glory to Rome, Race For the Galaxy), and the amount of time I currently spend on these sorts of card games (not much), it just doesn’t belong in my collection...”
I rated the game a 5, and expected I would probably not play it again. That proved to be an incorrect assumption, largely because a review copy has arrived at our game store, allowing us to play it at will and people have been generally interested in exploring it. I’ve since played it six more times across player counts and my opinion of it has improved mildly. I am still not going to get a copy, but my reason for doing it is a bit different then it was before.
So first off, I no longer feel the game is particularly repetitive. Deck composition, and technology card purchases have a pretty big impact on how the game plays out, and further play has allowed me to develop a further appreciation for mixed strategies and how to properly take advantage of the produce consume cycle. I’ve spent most of my recent games focusing more on fast colonization strategies, but even with that there has been plenty of variation in how the game plays out based on the above noted sources of variation. So as I implied in my initial comment, there are interesting strategies to be found in the game, and I have been slowly and steadily finding them. Thus I have raised Eminent Domain’s rating to a 6.
Why only a 6? Well, while I find the decisions to be found in Eminent Domain to be more interesting than I initially thought, it lacks one of the things that I think really sets my favorites apart from the rest, and that is the ability to really cut loose and, through careful preparation and manipulation of the deck, do pretty crazy and amazing things. Innovation and Glory to Rome have these wild and crazy things built into their DNA, Puzzle Strike implements thanks to how the deck-building interacts with the fighting system and the wonderful cascades that result, Yomi can have wild swings in fortune that are built on a combination of proper planning and leading your opponent into believing the situation is under their control when it really is not, and Race For the Galaxy pulls it off thanks to the sheer wildness of the variety of things you can do in the game. Eminent Domain has some of this in a few of the upper level technology cards, but for the most part it is a bit restrained. It feels like it is tacked on the end of the game rather than written into the game’s DNA itself like it is for these other card games that I prefer.
Compared to most of the other card games I’ve played, a 6 is not bad. As of now its ranked sixth of seventeen card games, and has little likelihood of going down. I fully expect to play it more, as I do not mind it and it is fairly popular at game night right now. Who knows, maybe it will grow on me even more over time? Then again, I still haven't tried 51st State and I have some new people I haven't taught these other card games to yet... So we'll see what happens.
- [+] Dice rolls
So I love stats (and trend analysis) and I love board games, and thus I have a bit of fondness for stats and trend analysis of my board game tastes and habits. A very useful tool for that, particularly if you record plays, ratings, and ownership levels on BGG, is the spreadsheet that is available for download on your games page. It basically combines all of the information present in your profile statistics into one customizable document that you can use to determine all sorts of things about your gaming history and preferences.
So how do I determine that a particular year will be a good one for board gaming? In the past I’ve looked at my average rating for that year, average rating for the game I own, or simply how many 9s and 10s I own from that year. Those are all reasonable metrics, and ones I’ve used in the past; they provide part of the picture but not all of it. Lately I’ve mostly been looking at how many games I own for a given year to determine whether I think of it is a good year or a bad year.
Looking at ownership levels alone indicates that 2010 is the best year for me. I currently own 9 games from that year, which is higher than any other individual year. The only one that comes close is 2005, with 7 owned games, and most other recent years only having 4 or 5 owned games. So based on looking at just ownership levels, 2011 already looks like it is going to be a pretty solid year. I currently own four games from 2011, and three of the four have a very good chance to stay in my collection. I’ve enjoyed them a lot, there is still plenty of exploration left in them, and my local player pool also enjoys them. This is even without hitting Essen, which produces a pretty solid chunk of games in a year, and usually produces a lot of the games I think are worth owning*. I also have a pretty sizeable list of games I am looking at for Essen, so even if not all of them end up being winners, I will probably equal or exceed 2010’s number of games owned.
Lately I’ve gotten the feeling that this particular metric still probably doesn’t tell the whole story and I should probably take at other factors in order to narrow in on the what year is actually my favorite and what should be considered when deciding if a year is a good one for games. So in order to expand my knowledge, even without necessarily changing my preferred metric I decided to look at not only ownership levels, but also games that I got rid of and games that I played without ever bothering to buy. The results were striking.
So even though 2010 was the games that resulted in the highest ownership levels for me, it also has more previously owned games than any other individual year. In fact, if you consider the percentage of games owned compared to the total number of games that I played for that year, it is fifth, behind 2002, 2011, 2005, and 2003. Now, it can be logically argued that 2002, 2011, and 2003 can all be rejected because of their small sample size. This is probably the correct decision, as 2011 is still a bit too new to make a firm decision on, and I feel that I have exhausted the games I want to explore from 2003 and 2002. If I can’t find more than a handful of games that are worth going back to try out from these years, then they probably weren’t particularly great years from my perspective. Looking through the set of games played by year I have played a minimum of 20 games from every year since 2004, with the exception of 2011, which is far from over year. That seems to be as good of a threshold as any, so for the time being I can toss out 2011, 2005, and 2003. This still leaves us with 2010 and 2005.
So considering the mitigating factor of previously owned games and played but not purchased games, how can I determine if 2010 or 2005 is better? For this I am going to go back to a metric that I have previously used in order to determine what my favorite years were, but ultimately tossed aside: average rating. There are two different types of average rating that are useful to examine in this pursuit, with both average rating of games played and average rating of games owned providing useful bits of context.
There is a lot of interesting information on this graph, but narrowing in on 2010 and 2005 we can see that 2010 exceeds 2005 in both average rating of games owned and average rating overall, meaning that 2010 is clearly my favorite year thus far. This is mostly due to me getting rid of games released in 2010 that I liked well enough, but just did not see getting played regularly.
2011’s 6.22 average, with 10 games rated, is pretty high. This average will probably decline as I am exposed to more marginal 2011 games or find myself disappointed with games I am currently anticipating. However, based on my rules reading, I suspect that odds are good that I will end up with both a larger number of owned games from 2011 and that my average will end up being comparable, at least, to 2010 and 2005. Considering that those two years are clearly my best years in gaming to date, that is pretty excellent.
So what are your best years for games, and how do you think 2011 will turn out?
- [+] Dice rolls
So with Essen rapidly approaching, I’ve gone ahead and put together my Fall Buy List; this is an overall selection of games that I intend to own that are coming out between now and the end of the year, sorted by rank with an explanation of where/who I am getting them from. I expect that there are some games that I am only vaguely aware of now that I will end up getting, and that there are a few on this list that I will end up not liking after I get them. I am okay with that though, as such is the curse of an early adopter.
1. Colonial: Europe's Empires Overseas
From a new publisher in Switzerland, this one combines some elegant euro mechanics with a lot of potential for direct interaction and conflict. A few people have gotten early release copies (or made their own) and early indications are pretty positive. There is some concern about the overall usefulness of certain technology trees in the game, but I remain unconvinced that these won’t be figured out with more skilled play. I am so excited about this one, that I’ve already written two speculative strategy articles. I expect I will be playing this one a lot, though I suspect it will probably work best with higher player counts. People who dislike dice or direct conflict need not apply. (Pre-ordered directly from Stratagem Ltd.)
2. Urban Sprawl
I really liked Chad Jensen’s Dominant Species last year, and the rules for this one also look to be pretty good. I suspect that ultimately, Dominant Species will turn out to be a superior game, but I see a lot of potential in this one too, much of which I detailed in my rules review. I am expecting it will receive a lot of my attention before the Essen games start hitting since it will be released in early October here in the USA. (Pre-ordered directly from GMT Games.)
I like Space Empires 4X, but I haven’t played it since its initial spurt of plays. The reason for this is twofold: 1) For the amount of time it takes most of my fellow players would rather get in a play of an 18XX 2) We just haven’t gotten around to it (that will change this week, I think my initial fatigue has worn off and I am looking forward to exploring it in more detail). Eclipse looks like it will be another effective 4X game, but with a slightly different focus and what looks like a shorter play time it might also be one that is easier to get on to the table due to it not directly competing for the 18XX time slot. Another advantage of this one is that there is plenty of pre-release information available between the designer previews and the rulebook, so it is pretty easy to get a perspective of how the game plays. I admit I am mildly concerned that the fixed number of turns will not let the game develop a proper arc, but I am willing to give it the benefit of a doubt there. (Copy from Asmodee USA)
4. German Railways
Though my interest in Winsome-style train games has been fading, this one is of great interest to me, both because of what I have heard about how it plays, and the generally positive reactions it’s gotten from my Geekbuddies. The need to plan for a variable (seeded but random) number of turns is something in particular that appeals to me, and I am looking forward to exploring this one. (Pre-ordered LAST YEAR from Queen at Coolstuff, Inc. I am optimistic it will show by the end of the year.)
This is a high-contact euro, with tons of different ways you can make your opponent’s day suddenly a lot worse, ranging from the action system where you can make your opponent’s lose their action, to the tight financial system that allows you to force your opponents to trade their valuable money away for much less useful victory points. The build-as-you-play board and high degree of instructiveness will help ensure this one has a lot of replay value. (Pre-ordered directly from Krok Nik Douil Editions)
I have not played any of Peer Sylvester’s designs, though King of Siam comes highly recommended, but this one looks fairly intriguing. I think what I like the most is the player created board, as each time you play you will end up with a slightly different configuration of both the initial modular board and the tiles that players place as the game progresses, resulting in a different optimization puzzle and a different way to properly take advantage of the resource conversions on the board. Though I admit to being a little tired of the whole resource conversion-style game, this one appears to be distinct enough to be worth getting a copy. (Pre-ordered directly from White Goblin Games)
My initial impressions were that this reminded me spiritually of Hansa Teutonica. While it still does to some extent, in that the game is about the manipulation and movement of cubes with a lot of interesting little twists thrown in, further thought and discussion has confirmed that a better comparison is probably El Grande. Essentially the game is about competing for victory point majorities in a number of different areas, each of which corresponds to a different portion of the board. The most efficient way to get these majorities is to take advantage of available special actions. However, in order to get these special actions you need to help other players get victory points by completing their (victory point giving) buildings. If you have a majority in an area, when scoring occurs you are able to cascade half of your placed cubes into the next area, allowing you to potentially set up killer victory point combinations (if the other players let you get away with it). Fun hilarity ensues. Unfortunately, the board looks a bit busy and I am a little bit worried my red-green colorblindness won’t be able to properly distinguish between the regions. We will see what happens with that though. (Buying from Coolstuff, Inc. when it is released by Asmodee USA)
8. Ora et Labora
This one may move up or down once I actually see some rules. As it stands, I did not find Merkator or Loyang to be great, but initial reports indicate that this one will be a return to form for Rosenberg, with a description that implies that it is similar to Le Havre but with even more going on and a deeper level of decision making. Hopefully these reports are correct. (Buying from Coolstuff, Inc. when it is released by Z-Man Games)
9. Drum Roll
My track record with lighter worker placement games hasn’t been the greatest, and most have not made much of an impression on my collection. Looking at Drum Roll’s rules indicates that it might be a lovely exception. It seems that there will be a lot of potentially tense competition for resources, particularly performers and employees, that many of the other lighter worker placement games lack, and I really appreciate the potential combo-building between different performer types and the decisions involving keeping a performer around or choosing to retire them. (Pre-ordered from giochix.it along with Upon A Salty Ocean)
I really enjoyed Troyes last year, it was my #3 game behind Dominant Species and Innovation, and the rules for this one make it look spiritually similar but mechanically rather different. I have not pre-ordered this one yet, but will acquire it when it is available. A card reference sheet would help a lot. (Will pre-order once this option becomes available.)
11. The Manhattan Project
This looks like another fun heavier worker placement, with an interesting race aspect in that whoever reaches the victory point threshold first wins. The exact mechanics of the worker placement, particularly the decision whether to use up your extra workers for your own buildings or to save them for shared actions, and the momentum hit that comes whenever you recover your workers both seem like they would be fun to explore as is the conflict system that they include in the game. The art is also pretty fantastic, and I really dig the retro style. (Kickstartered!)
12. 1830: The Game of Railroads and Robber Barons
I owned a copy of the original game that I sold once the reprint was announced. Since then I have acquired a number of other 18XX games that I enjoy greatly, so I admit I am not that excited about this one. I will get it however, and almost certainly play it once it arrives. (Buying from Coolstuff, Inc. when it is released by Mayfair Games)
13. Upon A Salty Ocean
I am mostly getting this one because it is a package deal for shipping Drum Roll. It looks like it is a pretty solid economic game, but I admit I am fairly concerned about interplay variability. It may be one of those games that different player strategies will be sufficient to differentiate the games, but I admit I am a little skeptical. Shall be interesting to see what happens. (Pre-ordered from giochix.it along with Drum Roll)
- [+] Dice rolls
Alba Longa, released by Quined Games, is a game where players are competing to be the first played to achieve two conditions: 10 monuments and 16 population. One of its central mechanisms centers around the use of dice, and it was hopes about that mechanic that originally attracted me to this game. Dice manipulation intrigues me but, with the exception of Troyes, released last year, I have not found most of the other dice-based Euros interesting enough to explore past the first handful of plays. Unfortunately, it looks like Alba Longa is in the latter category, and at this time I do not plan on adding Alba Longa to my collection.
The dice rolling system is fairly straightforward. Starting with the first player, each player rolls a group of four dice. Each of these dice is associated with the color of a place where you can assign, and thus define, workers as soldiers, priests, merchants, or quarry workers. The player who rolls these dice can then selects one of the dice and then assigns workers to the location associated with that die. Each other player has an option of buying the other dice, and then die rolling passes to the next player. Once it comes back around to the first player again, they can choose to continue rolling, paying money this time, or pass, and this continues until all players have passed or no longer have any workers to assign. This is only changed during a “harvest round” when a player can use any rolled dice to add to the number of farmers they produce.
After this occurs, each player resolves each of the different types of workers, with soldiers being the most complicated and inserting a little bit of interaction into the game. Each player uses a set of cards to determine who they are attacking with their soldiers (the soldiers defend their city automatically) and then, after the attacks are revealed, get to pick a hero card to use to help in their attack and defense. Based on the amount the attack exceeds the target’s defense, the target can have up to 4 workers “sabotaged”, either removing them from their assigned spot, or knocking them down and reducing their capability. This is actually one of the parts that concerns me the most, as I see little reason for trailing players not to simply use any assigned soldiers to relentlessly attack the leader since there is no direct advantage to launching a successful attack and thus no real reason to attack players who are trailing. This is compounded by the fact there is no subtlety in determining who the leader is and thus it is fairly obvious who to attack on any given round.
The rest of the actions are fairly by-the-numbers resource generation. Merchants generate money, quarry workers generate monuments, priests generate worship level, and farmers generate food. How much food the farmer’s generate is determined by whether they are sabotaged, which reduces the amount they generate, and if the year is dry, normal or wet. Worship level can be spent to increase the size of the harvest as well as getting one of three bonuses that is determined by randomly drawing a card from the top of the “Blessings of the God” deck. The food generated is needed to pay current workers, with any excess being used to buy workers for further rounds.
So I am not particularly impressed by the game. The take that city attack element seems to be problematic in its lack of effective decision making, and the rest of the game isn't nuanced enough for me to find it interesting. I am sure that it is does have a market, probably in the segment for those who like lighter dice games with a bit of take that thrown in, but I am not that market. I was hoping for meaty, interesting decisions but Alba Longa is much too straightforward to provide the sort of experience that I am looking for. Too bad.
- [+] Dice rolls
So in order to add some context to my furture posts, I am going to go over the sorts of things I like to see in games. Note, I don’t necessarily expect to see each of these items in any given game, however most of the games that I truly enjoy have one or more of these components.
Non-zero sum decisions
While I like games where all of your decisions reduce the number of decisions your opponent's have available to them, I prefer games where many of the decisions you make can also help opponents and you have to work on either mitigating the likelihood that they are going to benefit your opponent or make sure they benefit you more than your opponent. Shareholding games such as Imperial 2030, and the 18XX series are good examples of this, but even games like Dominant Species, Hansa Teutonica, and Race For the Galaxy have this present to some extent.
Generally, I am not a big fan of "nice", pleasant games that you can just relax and play. I tend to prefer games that are brutal on the players or where you have the potential to be brutal to your opponents, destroying their positions to your benefit. Both Age of Steam and Agricola are examples of games with a great deal of brutality. Age of Steam has both the fact that you are struggling to overcome the constant pressure the system and the attempts by other players to cut off your build options or steal your cubes, Agricola has the constant, climbing struggle for food and the harsh consequences that come if you can’t manage it. The fact that the major sources of food production are limited adds to the tension, particularly in games with more players.
High information content/Combo building/Hand Management
These three generally go together. Agricola, Race For the Galaxy, Innovation, and pretty much all war game CDGs fall into this category as they all tend to be based on being able to digest and process large amounts of information which are then used to build combos, or whatever else the game does with the cards. I tend to particularly enjoy games where cards have multiple uses, so you are left with tense decisions about whether you want to use a card for a) or for b). This is why Washington's War ultimately failed for me. The single use cards were a lot less interesting then having the ops/event decisions that you have with Hannibal, Twilight Struggle, or Hellenes.
I try to (and generally succeed at) gaming a lot, so a game needs to have a pretty wide decision space to explore if it is going to be worth my time. While a game that has about 10 interesting games in it might be a perfectly fine purchase for someone who tends to only play a given game once or twice per year, It is significantly less useful for me. Thus games tend to be better for me if they are either complex and thus have a lot of interesting nuances to explore or are deep, and have increasing levels of game play to investigate. This ties a little bit back to 1), as many games with non-zero sum decisions tend towards deeper game play as the cost/benefit ratios involved in them tend to be a lot more complex and thus interesting. This also makes me a bit of a fan of expansions as good ones are able to add a whole new level of replay value to my favorite games.
- [+] Dice rolls
Hello and welcome to On Gamer’s Games!
My name is Jesse, and this will be my blog. I’ve been into board games since the beginning of 2008. Before that I played collectible miniatures games competitively (Dungeons & Dragons minis and Dreamblade) and CCGs non-competitively (Magic, Star Wars) for years and years before that. In 2007 I decided I wanted to try board gaming more, since I had heard there were some good games out there and had liked Settlers of Catan so I took the plunge. I started with Carcassonne, Tigris & Euphrates, and Puerto Rico but have rapidly accelerated in prefered complexity since then. Most games I play are longer with quite a bit of depth, but I also quite like some of the more complex shorter card games.
You may have seen some of my contributions around BGG. In the past I mostly focused on session reports and geeklists, but these days I enjoy writing reviews the most. If you are interested in checking them out, here are a few of my more popular items:
Gamer's Games of Essen 2011
Gamer's Games of Essen 2010
Vote For The Best Year Of The 00s
The Economic Eight
Two Years, 200 Games Rated, and 1600 Plays: My 2nd Geekversary
Top of the Food Chain
GMT's Foray Into Space 4X Games
7 Wonders at Gen Con
The Ultimate Dice As Resources Game
The Next Level In Political Card-Driven Games
A Tale of Two Strongholds
Doubtofbuddha and Missmeeple's Deluxe Agricola Session Guide
I Think Three Player Indonesia Is My Favorite
Wargames (Minerva’s First Win)
I intend to use this to post a variety of things here, mostly a mixture of ruminations on older games as I come to realize new (to me) things about them, mini-reviews of new games as I play them, and mirrors/links to other content I produce for this webs item. I am not quite sure the rate at which I will be posting items but I suspect that it will be at least two or three times a week. Enjoy!
- [+] Dice rolls