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Kickstarter Considerations and Gamer's Games of Essen 2012

Jesse Dean
United States
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Pound for pound, the amoeba is the most vicious predator on Earth!
Ground Floor
While I greatly enjoyed Homesteaders until I realized I was no longer interested in economic snowball games, and played it to the limits of my interest regardless of my overall appreciation for that style of game, most of the other games Tasty Minstrel have produced since then have either been completely outside of my area of interest or mild disappointments. Thus my interest in Ground Floor was initially pretty low. However, despite my poor brand association with Tasty Minstrel, there was enough factors indicated that this game might be one that I would potentially like that I finally say down and read the rules today. While I am still not completely certain that Ground Floor will work for me in the long run it was sufficient to cause me to back it with its Kickstarter campaign.

Ground Floor is thematically about the building of a business up from the implied ground floor up, with actual success being represented by expanding, and upgrading floor space. The mechanics seem to follow this theme pretty effectively, and I felt myself appreciating some of the cleverness involved in this thematic binding while reading through the rules. I also appreciated the cleverness of the mechanics themselves, there are quite a few clever little ways that the game forces the players to make trade-offs, and its methods of competition and ways you are incentivized to help your competitors. Beyond that the game is largely about managing the game’s five main currencies (time, money, information, popularity, and materials) in order to generate victory points. I do not consider this a bad thing per se, as some of my favorite games are about currency management, but there is not particular distinct about this aspect of the game beyond some interesting ways the currencies interact.

This lack of distinction in the currency interaction is perhaps my biggest long-term concern about the game. I tend to prefer my currency conversion games to be extremely expansive and the slightly smaller scale of Ground Floor compared to something like Ora et Labora or Agricola is something that might hurt its long term potential for me. Of course I am not hugely concerned with it, otherwise I would not be backing it, but that is probably going to be the main thing I keep an eye out for when I eventually play it in preparation for my inevitable review.

If you like medium to heavy euros that are focused largely on currency conversions, this game is worth checking out. If not, then stay far, far away. There is nothing for you here.

Road to Enlightenment
The other Kickstarter game I am considering, though I think I have talked myself out of supporting, is Road to Enlightenment. Road to Enlightenment despite its large expansive map of Europe appears to be well within the Special Power Card Game (SPCG) genre as the board merely provides a context for the card play that drives the game. Each card provides bonuses in a number of different categories, each of which is used to either resolve a particular type of contest or as an action resolution system. I do enjoy multi-function card games and the tension between deciding whether to use a card as part of an invasion, to generate income, or for its special power looks like it will be rather enjoyable.

In a given round, players are typically only able to choose between three actions: war, diplomacy, and deck management. The rules state that some cards provide additional action options but, the samples of these sorts of actions are unfortunately a bit thin right now, so it is difficult to accurately analyze how the deck composition will affect how the game plays. Battles are resolved by comparing the values of players combined war card values, applied money, and “enhancements” with the attacker using the difference between their value and the defenders to determine the number of dice rolled to allow for capture of a location. Diplomacy requires the use of political points and allows you to spend your cards in order to support other players in resolving battles. Deck management allows you to trim cards out of your deck permanently and added new cards to your deck. This is vaguely reminiscent of the sort of deck management seen in deck building games, but the only resource you spend is an action, and you do not know the specific cards that you will be adding to your deck, only the type.

There are two main reasons I am currently hesitant about kickstarting the game, and may wait until I get an opportunity to try the game out (probably at the WBC) before I make a purchase decision. The first is a vague level of unease about the two levels of randomness involved in the conquest of locations. First you have this costly contest to determine how many dice you will have an opportunity to roll, and then you have to make a successful and seemingly low odds, unless you bring overwhelming force, check in order to see if you actually take over the location. This does not seem wrong per se, I am sure there are very good balance reasons, but it seems to take away from the overall cleanness of the design to have to make a successful challenge in order to have a chance to make a check.

The second reason is the lack of an apparent arc. Based on the mechanical structure it appears that the sort of decisions you will be making will stay a bit constant over the course of the game, and while this may not be a problem for me in a SPCG that takes an hour, it is more problematic in a game that looks like it will take 3 hours. Now it is likely that this will be neatly resolved by the sort of politicking and direct interaction supported by the game, but my group has shown a disinclination to be involved in the heavy politicking that would be required to make this sort of thing work. Either the game fails spectacularly for us it just ends up being fairly mediocre as it just lacks the sort of spark that would be required for the game to be successful.

Neither of these items is enough for me to completely reject Road to Enlightenment. I am still quite curious about it, but it is sufficient that I think I am going to hold off from backing off the project. If your group is prone to games that encourage heavy negotiation, and particularly if you are interested in SPCGs, then this one is probably worth investigating.

Gamer’s Games of Essen 2012
Some of the first Essen 2012 lists are starting to appear, and with them are a number of games that are suitable for my Gamer’s Games of Essen 2012 list. I am tightening up my requirements for the list this year; if the last year has taught me anything it is that there are very few games in the under 90 minute mark that I have the patience for, so I am pushing it up from >60 minutes to >=90 minutes. I will probably also do some coverage of SPCGs and tactical miniature games, but will probably examine those primarily through my blog rather than from that Geeklist. I will continue to ignore team and cooperative games, but will attempt to play, if not, buy every single game on this list. I will be providing my thoughts on them as I read their rulebooks and play them, with blog entries and, if I play them enough, reviews.

These are my current thoughts, on these games, though most of them are pretty vague at this point, due to the lack of available rule books. Are there any Essen 2012 releases that fit the above criterion that I am missing from this list?

Caverna: The Cave Farmers
Interest Level: High
Play Time: Unknown (Predict it will be at least 90 minutes based on previous games)
Categorization: Worker Placement; Resource Conversion
Uwe Rosenberg has proven himself to be excellent at implementing older ideas in new and interesting ways, and I have high hopes that Agricola: The Cave Farmers will be another example of this skill. At the very least I am interested in seeing how he implements questing, but I expect there will be a lot here to like.
5/22/12: This one will not be making Essen 2012.

Interest Level: High
Play Time: 90 minutes
Categorization: Negotiation, Secret Objectives, Exploration
The designer has earned a bit of goodwill from me after the excellent job he did on Earth Reborn, but I admit I am uncertain how well the heavy negotiation element will work for my group. Hopefully the designer’s tendency to provide highly innovative games will make up for that.

Belgium 1831
Interest Level: Medium
Play Time: 90 minutes
Categorization: Area Control
The description implies that it might end up being another “Generic engine building game #1231234123” but once again there is enough possibility for them to do something interesting, depending on how much they use the foundation of a country to create a distinct mechanics and dynamics. The fact that I am travelling to Belgium in 2013 is also sharpening my interest to, and hopefully this will prove an effective means to create a richly thematic look at an interesting point in history.

Clash of Cultures
Interest Level: Low
Play Time: 180 minutes
Categorization: Civilization
I am not sure this is going to be sufficiently different from other civilization games I have played to actually overcome my general disappointment with the genre. That being said, it is in my primary area of interest, and I think I have played enough civilization games at this point that I should be able to talk about it intelligently, so I will try it out for sure even if my expectations are low.

Interest Level: High
Play Time: 90 minutes
Categorization: Area Control
My appreciation for Vinhos has only grown as I have played an increasingly large number of “Let’s Put On A Show!” games, and what I have heard, and seen, of the rules of this game has left me very intrigued. My only real question is whether I will pay to get an early copy imported from Europe or if I will wait for the inevitable US release.

Interest Level: Medium
Play Time: 120 Minutes
Categorization: Hand Management
I do not have a great deal of faith in AEG, though I have enjoyed Thunderstone Advance, and I do not understand the need to create a fantasy setting to make games that could easily have been sent in Renaissance Europe. However, the idea of being a puppet master in a conspiracy is appealing, and based on the general description there is some potential for this to be very interesting. Hopefully this shows the same level of polish seen in Thunderstone Advance, and this ends up be a brutal and effective game. It seems likely that the rules for this one will be up soon, and I expect to be diving into them pretty soon afterwards.

The Great Zimbabwe
Interest Level: Very High
Play Time: 150 minutes
Categorization: Economic
The description alone would almost certainly catch my attention, but the fact that it is a Splotter game, its theme, and the rather striking pictures of the prototype are all enough that this is my most anticipated game of 2012. As soon as it becomes available for order, I will be doing so.

Interest Level: High
Play Time: 90 minutes
Categorization: Worker Placement
After both my enjoyment of Key Market, and how much money I made when I sold it, there was little chance I was going to skip Keyflower. Early reports from gamers who are familiar with my tastes have indicated that this is a game that I would likely enjoy quite a bit. The combination of these things is enough to seal the deal, and I have pre-ordered this game.

Interest Level: Medium
Play Time: 90 minutes
Categorization: Dice Rolling
While the fundamental concept looks pretty basic, there appears to be enough moving parts that I am intrigued by its potential. The game appears to be pretty expansive, and I suspect that my final impression of it will be based on a combination of how much this suggestion of expansiveness proves to be correct and the effectiveness of its mechanisms. I am concerned that the 90 minute play time will result in something that is excessively abstracted, but that will remain uncertain until we get the rulebook.

Interest Level: Medium
Play Time: 90 Minutes
Categorization: Dice Rolling
Alain Epron’s Vanuatu was one of the best traditional “euros” released in 2011 which is enough for me to be interested in trying out Massilia. The actual description of the game looks pretty unexceptional, but I am hoping that there is something that distinguishes it.

The New Science
Interest Level: Medium
Play Time: 90 minutes
Categorization: Worker Placement
While the setting is not unique the theme is, and the designer’s other upcoming game, Road to Enlightenment, is interesting enough that this one definitely has my attention.

Sky Traders
Interest Level: Low
Play Time: 180 minutes
Categorization: Pick-up and deliver
I do not have any strong impressions of this one and have not really examined it extensively. It might be released prior to Essen 2012 (it may even be a Gen Con release), so it may be a game I examine in the time leading up to Essen 2012.

Interest Level: Low
Play Time: 90 minutes
Categorization: Tile Laying
Very little is known about this one, but I can see some potential for the tile laying aspect to be interesting. It could just as easily prove to be as uninteresting as I have found most other Bezier Games releases, but the involvement of Lookout is promising. Hopefully it is a sign that there is something special about the design.

Western Town
Interest Level: Medium
Play Time: 90 minutes
I am a backer of this one, mostly because it is in my area of interest and a local gentleman wanted a partner to reduce shipping costs. I have not looked at it much beyond that though, mostly because there is no need for me to make a decision about it. I am getting a copy, so further research is not currently necessary. This will change as Essen gets closer, and I add it to the games that I am providing covering.

Interest Level: Low
Play Time: 120 minutes
Categorization: Unknown
The description of this one makes it sound like it is pretty firmly in the indirect interaction optimization game box, but I am an optimist and I hope that either I am wrong or that there is enough interesting things going on with the indirect interaction optimization to make it worth exploring.

Added on 5/22/12
Aeroplanes: Aviation Ascendant
Interest Level: Low
Play Time: 120 minutes
Categorization: Economic
Wallace has not produced a game that I was truly impressed by since 2007 (A Few Acres of Snow impressed me briefly before it crashed and burned), and Aeroplane has not given me any indication that it will be different. That being said, it does look like he is breaking into new territory with this one and the cool ideas in AFAOS may be an indication that this one might be interesting. So I will check it out.

Added on 5/25/12
Terra Mystica
Interest Level: High
Play Time: 100 minutes
Categorization: Area Control
The designers have an interesting pedigree, and the concept sounds really cool. I really like the idea of a constantly changing board structure, and how it seems that these changes are going to have a big impact on player capabilities and how they win. It sounds pretty ambitious and I am looking forward to seeing what they do with it.

Titans of Industry
Interest Level: None
Play Time: 90 minutes
Categorization: Worker Placement
I was completely unimpressed with my rules read of this one. While I do not demand extreme innovation in every game I play, I do insist on at least some incrimentalism or an interesting reimplementation. Unfortunately, Titans of Industry has none of that, and is essentially a bare bones resource conversion euro of the sort that are frequently decried by critics of the eurogame genre. I like resource conversion euros and I can not see very many situations where I would see this as worth purchasing an owning over the large number of other interesting resource conversion euros out there. It is overwhelming in its apparent blandness.
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