Nine games in three days. Four heavy games (Liberté, Imperial, Die Macher, Antiquity) and five light games (StreetSoccer, Lord of the Rings - The Confrontation: Deluxe Edition, Bamboleo, eBay Electronic Talking Auction Game, Chairs). It all added up to a fun and brain-burning weekend.
Liberté – Radical Landslide Crushes Royalists
I had been wanting to try Liberté for over a year now, but it’s out-of-print and I didn’t know anyone who had a copy, so I’ve been patiently waiting to give this game a try for a long while. I was originally attracted to this game for three reasons. First, the photos of it on BoardGameGeek intrigued me. Second, it seemed like an innovative twist on the area control mechanic. Third, it’s by Martin Wallace of Age of Steam fame. After finally reading the rules for the game, I was very eager to give it a try. I especially liked the idea of two alternate ending conditions, which could trigger the end of the game prematurely, causing you to ignore the victory points that players had accumulated and instead look to an alternate winning condition. The basic idea is that each player can deploy Royalists, Moderates, and Radicals to control any of the 27 different regions of France. Over the course of four turns you aim to have the most control over the faction that ends up being the most powerful in the country by playing cards to lay down blocks of a particular faction. What makes the game really interesting are the two alternate ending conditions, which can occur if either the Royalists or the Radicals gain a certain amount of power, in which case victory points are ignored and the winner is determined by who controls the most of the faction that triggered the end of the game. This element make the game especially engaging because in addition to the traditional concept of area control, you have to always keep on eye on the different ways the game can end, and you have the possibility of manipulating the game (and your opponents) to achieve whichever of the three ending conditions suits you best. I should confess that I’m inclined to be a fan of just about any area control game you stick in front of me (such as El Grande, San Marco, and Louis XIV among many others), but that being said, Liberté is certainly another in this long line of fantastic area control games. The components leave something to be desired as the color of the cards for one region doesn’t match that region’s color on the board (which is not surprising for a Warfrog publication considering the printing errors on their Age of Steam maps), but if you can get past that minor quibble, this is certainly a game worth trying and a game that I hope to have a chance to play again sometime soon. My first game ended on turn three (out of a possible four turns) due to a Radical Landslide because the Radicals controlled over 16 regions on the board, which meant that whoever had placed the most Radicals that turn won (I’m simplifying the winning conditions slightly). While this wasn’t me, not by a long shot, I thoroughly enjoyed the two hours nonetheless. One other interesting and unique thing about the game is the way it focuses on breaking ties for control of regions, which is important because many of the regions do come out tied, and this forces players to use their limited resources to decide which ties they want to win and which they’re willing to forgo. I will say that next time I intend to play with a variant that I learned after the fact, which allows the pool of cards to choose from (think Ticket to Ride) to cycle faster, which is that when you select a card that only allows you to play a single block, you can take a second card that only allows you to play a single block (similar to the rule in Alhambra that allows you to take multiple money cards if they add up to less than five).
StreetSoccer – Don’t Forget to Roll High
After finishing my first game of Liberté, I played my 48th game of StreetSoccer, which is now my fifth most played game ever (behind Crokinole, Tigris & Euphrates, Carcassonne, and Ingenious), and just ahead of Hey That’s My Fish, Ra, Reef Encounter, Caylus, and Can’t Stop, which round out the Top 10 for games played. In case you couldn’t tell, I’m a big fan of Corné van Moorsel’s soccer simulation. It’s a fantastic light two-player game that is easy to learn in two minutes and play in about fifteen minutes. The board is a simple 6 by 10 grid on which each player positions 5 soccer players. The game lasts 25 turns, with a turn consisting of each player rolling a 6-sided die, selecting one player to move that many spaces, and moving the ball any remaining number of spaces leftover if the player runs into the ball during his movement. It’s obviously not a very lifelike soccer simulation, but it is a very fun and quick game. It also obviously involves a significant amount of luck, but also a surprising amount of strategy. I’ve found over my 48 games that even though rolling a 6 never hurts and rolling a 1 almost always does hurt, the luck tends to balance out over 25 turns, and the game is primarily about arranging your 5 pieces into a configuration that makes it as difficult as possible for the opponent to score while still maximizing your own chances of scoring. I’ve learned to play defensively to prevent the opponent from scoring and to only strike at certain key opportunities. I’ve also learned that it’s important to overcome the temptation to always move the player closest to the ball so you can kick the ball each turn. Just like when kids play soccer, there is that constant temptation to run for the ball each turn and cluster around the ball, when in fact it’s more useful to keep your player’s spread out and focus on positioning even more than controlling the ball. It’s generally much better to move a player from the periphery back into the center and separated from his teammates than to run a different player right up to the ball so you can kick it downfield a few spaces. All that being said about strategy, the game is still very dependent on luck, and consequently very tense, often surprising, and always fun.
Imperial – France Gets Squished
I followed StreetSoccer with my second heavy game of the weekend, which was Imperial. This is the second game designed by Mac Gerdts and published by Eggert-Spiele using the same unique “Rondel” mechanic first implemented in Antike in 2005. I was pleasantly surprised by how good Imperial turned out to be, especially considering how disappointed I was with Antike. I had pretty high hopes for Antike after reading about it, but ended up not enjoying the game because it’s the type of game that allows for fighting but made it so unrewarding that players tended to turtle by building up in their own corner to avoid conflict. Games like this that allow fighting but discourage it are a pet peeve of mine. Another problem with Antike was that it was split into two parts, with the first part being a race to pick up the easy victory points, after which point everyone reached a plateau, and then the game dragged and it seemed as if whoever could avoid fighting the longest and wait around the pick up the spoils would win. Despite all this, I did like the Rondel mechanic because it made turns quick and presented some difficult decisions about which action to choose each turn and when to speed up around the Rondel. This is why I was willing to give Imperial a try because I had read that it used the same fundamental mechanic but implemented it in a better underlying game. Imperial turned out to be a fantastic game that I’m really looking forward to playing again and am considering picking up at some point soon. The notion of everyone investing in any of the six Great Powers of Europe, and the largest investor at any one time being able to control the actions of that country is very innovative and clever. The game seems to constantly be in flux as people shift around who they control and what their short-term goals are, but in a good way because it keeps you constantly engaged and interested whether or not it’s your turn. The players are neutral investors who can use their money to purchase bonds in any of six Great Powers (England, France, Italy, Germany, Russia, and Austria-Hungary). The board is a map of Europe very similar to the map used in Diplomacy (Switzerland is even still impassable), except the colors for some countries are now different (actually three countries use the same colors as in Diplomacy and three are different, which was a little confusing to my brain actually), and each Great Power has units on the board, which move around to take control of more territory and attack neighboring countries. The twist is that you play with all six Great Powers no matter how many people are playing, and players are not assigned to a specific Great Power, but instead vie for control of the countries throughout the game. As the Great Powers grow or shrink, the value of their bonds increases or decreases, so there is more competition to invest in the more powerful Great Powers and significantly less interest in the Great Powers that end up becoming weaker. In my game, I started off controlling France (because France is my favorite in Diplomacy) and investing a little in Germany and the United Kingdom, but I ended up being a bit too aggressive, and France got squished between Italy and England when one opponent temporarily took control of both countries in order to put an end to France’s trouble-making. I decided to invest heavily in Germany, which ended up working out much better, but next time I think I’ll try to avoid investing in neighboring countries because with control switching throughout the game, it seems difficult to prevent neighboring countries from attacking each other at some point during the course of the game, and I’d rather invest in two or three countries that are less likely to be doing damage to each other and more likely to be doing damage to opponent’s Great Powers. I should add that the game has very nice components (although you may want to consider using poker chips instead of the included paper money). I’ll also consider using a variant in my next game, which allows a player who doesn’t own any countries to either purchase a new bond or receive some money from the bank, which sounds like it will operate as a slight catch-up mechanic (although it doesn’t actually seem too bad to not control a country, as long as you don’t mind watching others control the pieces on the board, because you can still reap the rewards if you invest well).
Die Macher – Extortion and Backstabbing Galore
After playing Liberté, StreetSoccer, and Imperial on the first day of this weekend gaming extravaganza, I had a chance to play Die Macher on the second day. This was my fifth time playing Die Macher and my first time playing on the Second Edition version since my previous four times had all been with the newer Valley Games edition. One of those first four times was actually a solitaire playing of the game where I controlled all three players in order to get a better grasp of the rules and how the game phases fit together, but here’s a recap of the other three prior games:
The second time was a four-player game where I just barely won (374-370-365-271). This win was directly attributable to my close match of the national opinion cards on the national board because I received 72 points from matching my party’s platform to the national opinions, compared with everyone else’s 35, 35, and 27 from the same category. We were very even based on seats from the seven state elections, and I was actually behind my opponents in terms of both national media control and party size, but just barely managed to make up the difference with national opinion points. I’d noticed in my solitaire game that the points from national opinion cards seem very important and they can swing significantly right at the end, and this first game with real opponents definitely confirmed that for me, and I got lucky in being able to win the election in the seventh state without much opposition and thus having the last chance to modify the national opinion board.
My third game was a five-player game where I came in second with 304 (321-304-300-299-237). The leader was up 39 points based on the victory points from the seven state elections because he wisely conceded two elections, receiving zero points in both the second and seventh rounds, but receiving a large number of points in almost all of the other rounds. The leader added 30 points to that lead based on matching the national opinion cards better than me. However, I made up some of the ground (28 points) by having more control over the national media and more of the ground (29 points) by having a larger party and receiving the bonus for largest party in the end. In the end though, I fell victim to my failure to match the national opinion cards despite winning more state elections, and this further confirmed my feeling that the national opinions are absolutely crucial.
My fourth game was a five-player game where I barely won (348-339-327-277-255). Interestingly, this was my first game of Die Macher where the national opinion cards did not prove decisive in the end. I was a few points behind based on the state election points (despite getting the maximum number of points from both the 60 and 80 regions), and fell further behind based on the national media points and lagged slightly in the national opinion points, but it turned out that my enormous party size more than made up the difference. I suppose I must have rolled well when declining the publish public opinion polls and when rejecting bribes in the party contribution phase, and it paid off. I must say I was happy to see a game that wasn’t decided by the national opinion points because I was certainly concerned that they were dominating the results.
With that being said, I played my fifth game over the weekend, and had my poorest showing yet, coming in fourth out of five (370-335-305-304-287). I’ll start by saying that I definitely prefer the graphics on this Second Edition of the game because the icons on the opinion cards are certainly more clear. I’m very glad that Valley Games reprinted this gem so I could get a copy, but I agree with the masses that the economic development and nuclear power cards are unnecessarily confusing due to the large crane images on both. Anyway, this game certainly had more wheeling and dealing than my previous four games (especially than my first solitaire game). I think I opened the floodgates when I offered someone money on the first turn not to publish the public opinion poll, and from then on people were constantly trying to blackmail and extort each other. Even though this was my first game where all of the participants had played before, it actually ended up being longer than any of my previous games, which had generally lasted 4 hours, whereas this one was more like 5 and a half hours. I still enjoyed every minute of it because the game is so engaging, and is definitely better than playing four shorter games in the same amount of time, regardless of the results in the end. However, this was another game where matching the national opinion cards proved extremely decisive. I was actually 38 points ahead of the winner based solely on the seven state elections, but he outscored me by 38 on the national opinions, and also had more control over the national media and the largest party. I will say that the winner did win by so much that he didn’t need to beat everyone by so much on the national opinions, and his large party and significant national media control would have been enough. Nonetheless, I’ll keep in mind for my sixth game that I shouldn’t put so many resources into the sixth state election (even if it is the 80 point state) because I need to try to win the seventh state election (which is actually often overlooked it seems) since it will allow me to be the last one to modify the national opinion cards, almost always resulting in major point swings. I’m certainly looking forward to that sixth game, whenever it may be.
Lord of the Rings - The Confrontation: Deluxe Edition – Frodo’s Demise at the Black Gate
After finishing Die Macher, I decided to close the night with my fifth ever playing of Lord of the Rings - The Confrontation: Deluxe Edition. I own the original Lord of the Rings – The Confrontation and have played it 21 times, but have only played a friend’s copy of the Deluxe Edition five times now. I played as the Light Side and lost Frodo at the doors of Mordor unfortunately. I did just barely manage to keep the Witch King out of the Shire, and had a nice move where I used Smeagol in Fangorn as bait to switch places with Aragorn sitting back in the Misty Mountains who jumped in and decided that no cards were played, but it wasn’t enough in the end. I should have advanced Theoden into Rohan when I had the chance and I also shouldn’t have gone on the offensive Gandalf, instead leaving him back to use his special power of adding one strength in neighboring battles. It was yet another fun game, but further confirmed my feeling that I wish Fantasy Flight had released the variant characters from the Deluxe Edition as an expansion to the original rather than as a whole new game. If the variant characters were printed on cardboard that would fit into the original game’s holders and were sold separately then there is no question that I’d purchase the expansion in my next order. However, there’s no chance that I’m going to purchase an entirely new game in order to get a larger box and board plus the expansion characters and a couple new cards. I’m pretty ambivalent between the old and the new artwork, they’re certainly different but both have their merits, but it doesn’t make sense to re-purchase the whole game to get the 18 new characters. I can understand why Fantasy Flight chose to release the Deluxe Edition like it did, but do wish that I could play the variant characters on my old version.
Antiquity – If Only This Fish Was a Stone
The third day of my weekend gaming extravaganza started off with a four-player game of Antiquity. This was my first time playing a Splotter game face-to-face (with Bus being the only other Splotter game I’ve played but that was online at SpielByWeb), and I was certainly amazed by the number of chits in the game. The sheer quantity of components was overwhelming, and now I can begin to understand why Splotter games like this are so expensive. Considering the price, I don’t think I’m going to actually end up purchasing Antiquity even though I did enjoy the game. None of us had played before and we actually managed to finish in about four hours, which was surprising (although the rules do suggest that the game can be played in two hours by experienced players, but I’m not sure if I believe that). This is not an easy game to explain, so I recommend reading the rules if you’re interested in getting a better understanding of the game. I will start out by saying that I did not think these rules were written particularly well. They seemed very much like someone jotting down whatever occurred to them about the game in no particular order or structure. Sure the rules are organized by the ten phases of a turn, but within those sections the rules simply mention a building or an action and say what that does and then move along to another action, broken down into separate paragraphs that aren’t linked in any way or in any understandable order. I think that the rules could be re-written to be much better by clearly listing each of the buildings, including the cost and ability, and then providing a brief summary of each phase to convey what players will be doing in each phase. That being said, the game itself was surprisingly simple to understand considering the morass of the rules. This is not to say that this is an easy game that you should break out with new players, far from it, but just to say that four experienced gamers should be able to slog their way through this game without too many rules questions. The game itself is brutal as it continuously punishes you by forcing you to add graves to your city and pollution in the surrounding countryside, making it very difficult to collect the necessary resources and build the necessary buildings. Moreover, there are so many different things you want to accomplish on each turn that it is extremely agonizing deciding what to prioritize. I will say that the game is significantly improved by the fact that most of the gameplay can be performed simultaneously. As long as you trust each player to do their actions correctly, all four players can do most of each turn at the same time without waiting for everyone else, at least until the end of the game when your civilizations begin to encroach on each other. In addition to the major advantage of simultaneous play, one of the other notable good things about this game are the four different winning conditions. Players are allowed to select a “patron saint” when they build a Cathedral in their city, and their choice dictates both the advantage they receive from that saint and the condition they must satisfy in order to win the game. The four wining conditions are: achieving a certain population size, constructing every possible building, enclosing an opponent, or collecting three of each resource. I started off building my Cathedral to San Christofori, which is the patron saint with the goal of collecting three of each resource, because the advantage provided by this selection allowed me to store unlimited resources from turn to turn for free. Near the end of the game I realized that I could seize the win quickly if I switched my patron saint to Santa Barbara, which is the patron saint with the goal of constructing every possible building. However, while I was able to achieve the goal of constructing every possible building before anyone else achieved their goals, I was left with one fish resource, and needed one stone to be able to knock down my existing Cathedral and erect a new one dedicated to Santa Barbara instead. This was frustrating to no end, but I thought that I’d be able to win on the next turn since I’d have more than enough to switch my Cathedral. However, it turned out that one of my opponents was able to satisfy the Santa Barbara winning condition in the meanwhile and it looked like we were going to tie and have to go to the tiebreaker, which I’d surely lose because it gave the game to whoever controlled the most unpolluted territory. However, we ended up not even needing to go to the tiebreaker because I received additional graves on the last turn to put in my city and didn’t have enough room so I had to place the graves on top of buildings, which meant that those buildings essentially didn’t exist and no longer satisfied the winning conditions. It was frustrating that I satisfied the winning conditions on one turn but didn’t have the right patron saint to win, and when I ultimately was able to switch patron saints I no longer satisfied the winning conditions. However, I enjoyed the four hours of the game more than enough to make up for this mistake in the end. It did seem like the winning conditions might not be balanced since it seemed much easier to build each of the possible buildings than the other three winning conditions, but I’d definitely have to play more to be able to evaluate the balance better. I do like that there are four different goals and players can shape how they play the game based on which goal they choose. Antiquity is certainly a daunting game with over 500 chits to punch out, sort, and keep straight, but it’s engaging and rewards the effort if you can get past the rules and jump into the game.
Bamboleo – Dexterity Debacle #1
After finishing my fourth heavy game of the weekend, I finished the weekend with three light games in a row. The first was Bamboleo, which was also the first of two dexterity debacles. I will be happy to admit that I am not particularly coordinated and am thus a pretty inept opponent when it comes to dexterity games. I’ve managed to get better at Crokinole after significant practice, but others like Villa Paletti and Polarity have always eluded and challenged me. Bamboleo was no exception as I managed to come in dead last and managed to knock over the contraption more times than I can count. It was an interesting game as it involved a bunch of strangely shaped wooden blocks on a round platform, which was balanced on a cork ball on top of a pillar. However, the whole thing was very wobbly and seemed wont to go toppling anytime I got near it (and we were even playing with the easier and supposedly more stable larger cork ball). I couldn’t even setup the thing usually, let alone start removing the wooden blocks. It doesn’t help that I couldn’t figure out which side to take from or how far from the center I could afford to take from. In the end though, I did enjoy the game simply because it was light-hearted and fun, if a bit frustrating. It’s not something that I’m eager to get for myself, but it’s another in a line of silly dexterity games that are certainly great to break out after a four-hour game of Antiquity.
eBay Electronic Talking Auction Game – Furiously Fast Fun
The second light game was the eBay Electronic Talking Auction Game, which I was very skeptical about at first. I’ve always had a bias against licensed products, especially licensed video games, so I didn’t think that a licensed board game like this could be any good. I was definitely wrong. This is a real auction game and not a frivolous effort to exploit the eBay license. It’s not high on strategy because it mainly involves needing to make split-second decisions and bid quickly, but it was actually very fun. It also had pretty solid rules as it involved set collection to double to value of items won if you collected three in a set. The components were also solid, if a bit amusing because the electronic voice had to tell you when it was your turn to bid and when each auction ended. The unpredictability of the bidding and value of each item makes the game involve a lot of luck, but there was something very enjoyable about a speed auction as player’s frantically tried to get their bids down. Ironically, the only place you can get this game now is eBay I believe, but I did go home and order a copy of this on eBay after trying it out over the weekend, and it’s actually only a few dollars on eBay.
Chairs – Dexterity Debacle #2
The ninth and final game of the weekend gaming extravaganza was also the second game of my “dexterity debacle.” Chairs was another silly and fun dexterity game in which each player has a set of little plastic chairs. The goal is to be the first player to get rid of all your chairs, and the game involves going around and around each adding one chair at a time to a growing stack. If you knock the stack over then you have to take all the knocked over chairs into your pile, making it harder to run out and win. It’s a silly game, but actually pretty interesting because each player has eight chairs, and they’re all slightly different with differently shaped legs, backs, and such. It was another game where I managed to lose horribly, but definitely enjoyed myself in the process.
It was definitely a fun weekend of nine games. Two of the games I already own and am glad I do (Die Macher and StreetSoccer). Three of the games are on my wishlist (Liberté, Imperial, and Chairs), with Liberté having been on the list for years, and Imperial and Chairs both being added after my first play. One of the games was already purchased after the weekend because it was only $4 on eBay (eBay Electronic Talking Auction Game). I’m glad I had the chance to try the other three games, but probably won’t be getting any of them (Antiquity, Lord of the Rings - The Confrontation: Deluxe Edition, and Bamboleo). It all adds up to nine good games and one great weekend.