Nice to be blogging again! It's been a while, but I have an excuse -- I've been playing games! Really played some great stuff recently and had a lot of fun with a lot of groups of friends. A few things stood out for me, however, and I plan on focusing on them here along with sharing my thoughts on a host of other titles I've enjoyed this month.
But first and foremost was a day I was looking forward to for quite some time. Mike had scheduled a gameday entitled Diplomacy Day, complete with breakfast, that I had circled on my calendar three or four times in red. I mean, what could be better than having a good hearty breakfast and then settling in to what I had heard was an epic game experience with some good friends? Now, we all knew the reputation of the game going in, but I didn't know much of the actual gameplay. I figured it would be a one-and-done type of experience, a game that I always wanted to play and then, having played it, move on. I guess I wasn't quite prepared for the awesomeness that is Diplomacy.
Now, if you know me, I have always been a great admirer of games that have simple rulesets but still provide an engaging experience. Metropolys is the first example that comes to mind. But Diplomacy just might take over that spot. For a game that could last six hours or so, Diplomacy has a ruleset that can be learned in 5-10 minutes. After you play a round, the rules are set in stone for the rest of your life. But then if it's that easy to learn, and that simple to understand, why were my hands shaking after writing my orders down just an hour into the game? Let's go back and revisit the session.
I'll start this off by saying that our game of Diplomacy only lasted three hours. WHAT?!? That's what I said. Granted, we had strict time limits for discussion and order writing, and I think that worked out well. Okay, so I chose Russia and it's large borders to start the game. I honestly had no idea they started with four supply centers, but with all the empty areas I had to walk through I wasn't quite sure things were going to be so good after all. The initial discussion talks were terrific. I learned a lot of what was going on pretty quickly -- France, England, and Italy had aligned, and Hungary would align with them as well after Turkey was gone. Of course, Hungary was relying on me to help him. Well, I saw the writing on the wall, and pretty much guessed that they would just be using me to get rid of Turkey and then jump all over my back. So I stalled, and let Turkey and Hungary fight each other. From there, I strengthened my northern borders and moved north of Germany towards England. By this time, France was fully supporting Italy to move across the world, and it looked like Germany and England might be teaming up as well. My plan was simple: Delay Turkey/Hungary for as long as I could, letting them both think I would help them, and build up enough forces to bully Germany to turn on England.
What ended up happening was that Hungary had Turkey on the ropes, and Turkey begged me for assistance, offering up a blood pact for the rest of the game. It was then and there that I realized I had to put some trust somewhere in this game, and I put it into Turkey. So essentially Turkey and Russia were one country, his forces supporting mine to the south -- and I put my full force into England and Germany. At this stage of the game, I had amassed a lot of power. It was a brief talk with Germany that sealed the deal on England's fate, as Germany backstabbed his alliance and cut off England's supply chains to me. From there, it was one more round of asserting control and both Hungary and England were toast. I then had to make the choice of either turning on my allies to try and win singularly, or take a joint victory with 18 supply depots. Russia, Germany, and Turkey agreed to co-exist and win.
Certainly, the game could have lasted many more hours. But there's a reason why I can't rate Diplomacy a 10, and it's because it contains one of my most hated game mechanics: player elimination. But there's a LOT of reasons why I could rate it a 10, and that's what I took away from the experience. Because the game is so amazingly simple, I'm just incredulous at how much tension and fun it had. Simultaneously revealing your orders and wondering if the person you just made a plan with is plotting your demise is wickedly cool. We had a terrific time, and were fully invested with just the three hours. It almost makes me pine to experience a six-hour game sometime in the future. So here's hoping that Diplomacy Day makes its triumphant return in the months to come!
There's two other topics in the title of this blog and I don't want the awesomeness of Diplomacy Day to overshadow them. I've often toted Ghost Stories in this thread as one of my favorite games, and it always will be. It gives me just enough skill and luck and combines it with beautiful art and a rich theme. Being co-op to boot is just a fat bonus. A comparable title for me, one I also rate a 10, is Pandemic. I used to think Pandemic was a perfect game, and then I got to purchase Pandemic: On the Brink and found out that you can add to perfection. On the Brink was the second expansion that I rated a 9 (Descent: The Road to Legend was the first) and I rarely play a game of Pandemic without it. So when I finally got the opportunity to purchase Ghost Stories: White Moon I had to do it. Much like OtB, White Moon attempted to add to a (IMO) perfect game. I can only imagine how hard that would be for the designer -- to make an expansion that makes your game better. Or, phrased differently, I think it would be difficult to make an expansion that adds to the gameplay but doesn't bog down the original game or make it a worse experience. Trying to find that niche is something that Pandemic succeeded in, and something that I can now safely say White Moon achieves as well.
In one fell swoop, Antoine Bauza (quickly becoming one of my favorite designers) added several more layers of good and bad to Ghost Stories -- there are things that can hurt you (devouring villagers, villager curses) and things that can help you (villager blessings, Su-Ling, Mystic Barrier). In my estimation, it felt quite balanced. Best of all, it gives you more choices without bogging down the gameplay. That was my ultimate wish, and it was granted. The bonus Incarnations of Wu-Feng is just icing on the cake, and in my two plays with the expansion so far, we are 1-1. Both games were a joy to play. If you like co-op games, and you haven't tried Ghost Stories yet, you are MISSING OUT! I'll even go so far as to say that if you like Pandemic, you will like Ghost Stories. The key is to have someone teach it to you that knows the game. The rules at first are a barrier, but after just one play you really can get a feel for the game and the symbols, much like Bauza's 7 Wonders.
A few other quick hits since I've been away for a bit.
++ Some of you remember that I placed Chaos in the Old World in a rather high spot in my recent Top 10 Thematic Games entry. And now the unthinkable has happened -- I've been contending for over a year that there's no way there will be an expansion for CitOW. I should not have doubted Fantasy Flight. So as much as Chaos in the Old World: The Horned Rat Expansion surprised me, color me excited! I'm a *little* concerned how the expansion will affect the game (see how I tied this back to the previous discussion?) but still super excited. This is about as "must-buy" as it gets.
++ Kirk and I recently dusted off Taluva and played it twice. It had been over a year since I played it and I considered trading it several times since then. Glad it's still here. Gorgeous game and a whole ton of fun. Probably the most theme-packed abstract I can think of. Plays different but terrifically with 2-4. Highly recommend you give it a shot.
++ A bit ago I posted a blog about my decision to purchase The Golden City and related banter. Since then I've played it twice with four players. It's truly a typical Schacht game, and I find it very enjoyable. I rate it a 7 for now, but I still very much want to play it, and I expect that it has a home here for quite a while. I will say that I find the successor in the series, Valdora, to be a bit more enjoyable. But not by much.
++ One of my favorite designers is Stefan Feld, so I pretty much have to play any new Feld games that come out. I tried out Luna at our local con a bit ago, and Kirk liked it enough to buy a copy. So glad he did! It's prone to a bit of AP, but once you start rolling it's really fun to future-plan and maximize your points. I really like it! Gorgeous game to boot.
++ Finally, my wife would have an issue with my blog if I didn't take a moment to mention Perry Rhodan: The Cosmic League. This has become our new favorite two-player game, and I'm not quite sure how! I knew when I heard "pick up and deliver in space" I'd be interested (as I'm a fan of Space Dealer), but I was surprised how interested Jasmine has become with it. We've played it 6 times now, with each of us getting three wins. The rubber match is going to be epic.
Next up I might actually get those Top 5 Strategy Games published!