Oi! Hands off...
Ben, JP and Bill formed this weeks trio (note to self: must research games that are best with three if that's all we ever get...), and launched into John's new game collection, which it turns out were all bought for under £10 from some desperate soul selling up.
Still, Chicago Poker has hovered around the fringes of my interest for quite some time, and it seemed a good idea to get it to the table. It's basically not a lot more than a multi-player Battle Line, with patterns of face-down cards for a bit more of a gambling element, only in fitting with the theme. Now Battle Line is one of the very few games which I can claim to be very good at, and it wasn't too difficult to bring my skills to bear here: while John and Bill tried to build up massive hands, I won by simply being aggressive at the right moments and dumping junk on one board out of every two. Not an unpleasant experience, but I think I prefer both of Knizia's takes on this - both Battle Line and Head-to-Head Poker
Our main-eventer came from unexpected quarter. I had been lucky enough to gain a download link for the Print-and-Play version of Kingdom Of Solomon (thanks Chris), and after stocking myself up on bits (thanks Andrew at boardgameextras.co.uk!) had put together a full set which I'd brought along on the off-chance that anyone would fancy it. The magic words 'worker placement' were enough for John and Bill, and I set it up, pleased that I had had a thorough pore over the rules beforehand.
There were aspects to the game that both pleased me and displeased me. The ability to go down different routes of scoring became increasingly apparent towards the end, as Bill built massive regions of resources, I scored mostly by abusing my Ministries (oo-er!), and John freeloaded from the High Priest, eventually winning by a dozen points or so. I think the Favour cards are very overwhelming, though, and looking at the demands on the buildings, I think an early strategy geared towards stone is just too strong. I'm happy to enter into discussion on this one, though.
We finished with Innovation; I game that I find highly enjoyable without descending to inane hero worship like some others (Tony...). I can understand why it's easy to rack up hundreds of plays of Innovation or Glory To Rome. But I don't find the satisfaction in the victories that I would in something like Agricola or Puerto Rico: I can't really push over the randomness and chaos that ensues towards the game end: no matter how fun it is, I've never felt like I've worked for the game.
Tonight? Boy, was that ever a prime example. I did something I've ALWAYS wanted to do in this game, came within an inch of winning and still enjoyed the zany game effects more than any skills involved. Playing against two beginners, I didn't want to make them look too bad, which was a good job given the handfuls of garbage I was drawing. I managed to pull out the Monument and Universe achievement through shortcuts, but virtually nothing else materialised. I had no splay cards, not many scoring cards and could only gain a symbol advantage in lightbulbs at a time when the Perspective card was worse than useless. John steadily racked up the Age achievements until he had four, and the piles were running out. Suddenly, I found myself presented with the Fission card. I dogma'ed it three times in total before creating total nuclear meltdown on the turn before John was ready to claim his fifth achievement. Always wanted to do this!
With two achievements to John's four (Bill had two as well, but he managed to regress himself into the Stone Age following the holocaust), and John abusing basic Agriculture I felt I was in with a fighting chance until I pulled an absolute killer combo - for me! Computers - Software - Globalisation and an automatic win for John. Fun? Undeniably. A great game? Well...the jury's out. For now, it's still a good game in my books, and one that I'll be unlikely to turn down. But as the cards and the combos become more and more familiar, it might be time to look elsewhere.