Witch’s Showdown Escalates over Monopoly in Blue Macao City


We had quite a game night this week, with about 16 or so people involved, including a couple of new people to our gatherings.  Due to getting off work early for Gwen’s ultrasound, I actually made it to Hypermind extra early, which gave me the chance to try out…
 
Monopoly Deal

I had heard several people on BGG and elsewhere praise this little filler-length Monopoly-like game, and I wanted to check it out for myself.  At its core, you’re doing pretty much the same thing that you do in regular Monopoly, collecting sets of properties and charging rent for them, and the winning condition is to complete three full sets.  Many of the cards are the properties themselves, which you can just play (for free) from your hand as one of your three actions each turn.  You can also play cards to your bank, which you use to pay out rent (among other things).  Payments must come from you bank (not your hand), and if you don’t have enough in your bank, you must pay by giving them your properties (which also have a cash value listed on them).  And finally, there are also lots of action cards, which do different things like allow you to charge rent, draw more cards, and steal or trade properties.      

My long-time buddy Steve, Mark, and Michelle joined me for a couple of games, with Steve running away with the first game and Mark stealing the second away from me.

Time: 11 and 19 minutes
Game 1: Steve* 3, Me* 1, Michelle* 0, Mark* 0
Game 2: Mark 3, Me 2, Michelle 1, Steve 0
Ratings: Steve 8, Mark 8, Me 6, Michelle 8


Overall, I was pretty impressed by Monopoly Deal.  If anything, you probably get about as much fun from playing it as you would from regular Monopoly, but in 15 mintues or so instead of 3 hours.  I think that its biggest strength is in its familiarity to non-gamers, though, because it would be a great way to get people into playing something new that still didn’t feel all that new because of the Monopoly branding.

My biggest issue with the game, however, is balance.  Or, more appropriately, the lack thereof.  And specifically (though not exclusively), I’m talking about the Deal Breaker card, which lets you steal one entire set of properties from another player.  You don’t have to trade them or pay them anything, you just take it away and stick it with all your other stuff.  As Chris pointed out while casually watching us play, the name of the game is Monopoly Deal, and the name of the card is Deal Breaker.  So obviously, somebody on the inside knew that the card was a bit too much.

But while the existence of that card cartainly dropped the game a rating point or so in my mind, it still doesn’t ruin it completely.  For $5 and 15 minutes of investment, it’s still a nice little card game, and I’d probably recommend that most of you pick it up if you’re at all interested.     

Blue Moon City

Blue Moon City has been making a bit of a come-back in our sessions lately, and it was the next choice at our table this week.  Chris joined Michelle and I, which was the first 3-player game that I’ve ever played.  It was also the first time I’ve played with the expansion buildings.

Anyway, I did some work to set myself up for the late game with my early contributions (rather than completing buildings myself), so almost by default I missed out on the early tributes to the tower.  I sort of ran with it from there, though, choosing to forego moving back to the center and instead hording crystals until I happened to pass by the tower.  Chris jumped out to a huge early lead with 3 of his 5 required tributes.  I didn’t draw many of the gray cards that helped me move, though, and stuck myself in a corner at one point, and ended up having a few wasted turns.



In the end, even though I dumped lots of crystals for 4 tributes, I was only half-way to what I needed for the last one when Chris won the game.

Time: 47 minutes
Score: Chris 5, Me 4, Michelle 3
Ratings: Chris 8.5, Me 8, Michelle 8

I’ve talked about it some recently, and I continue to think that it’s a really cool game.  In addition to the semi-cooperative element I mentioned then, I also like the “don’t-set-up-your-opponents” aspect that is similar to Samurai in a lot of ways.  But almost in the reverse of that sentiment, you also get some of the “be-second-in-a-lot-of-places” strategy from area-majority games like El Grande.  ‘Tis definitely worth more play.   

Vegas Showdown

We had enough people and copies of the game to play 3 games of Vegas Showdown at the same time, but one table wouldn’t play along (shame on you, Kenny, for leading them astray!)  My table, however, jumped right in.  Tom was new, and Keith (one of our new gamers that found us through BGG) had only played online, so it was good to go through the rules again.  Keith apparently learned his lessons well from online play, though, jumping out to an early lead through focusing a lot on restaurants and rooms that gave fame points directly.  He was also helped out a lot by one event that gave 3 fame points per restaurant, which netted him 12 points at the time it came out.

I focused more on building up my income early, but also picked up a couple of lounges for the fame points and to fill space.  At one point, after I had already built a Restaurant and Buffet, I bid on and won a Five-Star Steakhouse.  As I was happily placing it in my hotel-casino, though, someone pointed out that I couldn’t place it until I had a Fancy Restaurant.  Eventually, one came out and I bought it, but then on the next turn (when I would have taken Publicity and placed it), we flipped three cards out of four showing the large tile, causing the stack to run out and ended the game.

As we totalled up, Keith’s lead proved to be insurmountable without the addition of my 5-Star Restaurant.  It would have been at least 7 more points for me (from the room itself and completing a 3/4 diamond), and I think I would have also taken the greatest population from someone else (maybe even Keith himself), resulting in a 2 or 4 point swing as well.  But them’s the breaks, as they say, and so instead I tied for second. 
    


My final hotel/casino, along with the unrealized Five-Star Steakhouse addition

Time: 60ish minutes
Score: Keith 58, Chris 52, Me 52, Tom* 43
Ratings: Keith ?, Chris 8.5, Me 7.5, Tom 7.5


Vegas Showdown is performing pretty well as Game of the Month! for me.  For this week, Kenny had put together a “Vegas Mix” playlist for the musical theme, including approximately 13.8 versions of “Viva Las Vegas”.  And while I was slightly less than ecstatic about the music, I had a lot of fun in the game.  There’s a lot of strategy in how you choose to build your casino, a lot of competition and tactical play in the auctions, and then a nicely appropriate dose of randomness with the event cards to keep it exciting and just a bit unpredictable.  I think that it’ll have plenty of stamina to last the whole month. 

Escalation!

In waiting for one of the other tables to finish up, we played a big 6-player game of Escalation!

Time: 28 minutes (for 6 hands)
Score: Me 42, Keith* 46, Chip 54, Chris 56, Mark 59, Tom* 68
Ratings: Me 7, Keith ?, Chip 7, Chris 7, Mark 7.5, Tom 6.5


I joked with Keith afterwards that my win in Escalation! was just as significant as his win in Vegas Showdown.  ‘Cause, you know, it’s not.   

Witch’s Brew

Nine of us then split into stereo games of Witch’s Brew, one of our favorite fillers.  Daphne had never played before, but you wouldn’t have known that based on her play or her score.  In fact, whether she meant to or not, there were several turns where she was unopposed for most of her roles, and she always seemed to be in the perfect position to get what she needed.  I didn’t do nearly as well, but at least I didn’t tie with Kenny and Steve for last place, ’cause they were just terrible .

Time: 40 minutes
Score: Daphne* 25, Brad 22, Me 19, Ken 17, Steve 17
Ratings: Daphne 8, Brad 8, Me 8, Ken 8, Steve 8


Macao

It was already pretty late, but I really wanted to get Macao back to the table.  When I suggested it, the same three players that played it with me the first time immediately jumped at the chance.  Adam was interested in it as well, but was content to listen to the rules and watch a few turns (with his primitive money brain… his words, not mine) and then leave early.

We were thinking that the game would move quicker for us in a second play, but that wasn’t really the case.  It still lasted right at two hours, but there was a definite improvement in how efficient we all were with our planning (as evidenced by scoring about 25 points more than last time).  I jumped out to an early lead all over the place, keeping myself ahead on the wall and moving out into the shipping lanes while putting together a nice little combo of cards that gave me 2 Prestige Points a turn.  

Chip came on stronger and stronger as the game progressed, however, especially doing well in the city with a card that let him claim quarters for one less action cube, and then shipping the goods he obtained all over the place.  I put together a chain of good myself to claim the 5-PP spot in three different ports.  I actually had the card to double the payout for shipments of paper, but couldn’t get it activated early enough to use it the first time.

I also set myself up to possibly get a huge chain (okay, just 7) of quarters.  But on the penultimate turn, Tom, for no good reason other than to screw with me, claimed the one quarter that could have joined together the two halves of my chain.  I did my best to whine and moan about how he was being a kingmaker and giving the game to Chip, but he did it anyway.  Of course, Kenny could have done it too, and Chip had taken a move from Tom that would have been his obvious alternative to do, but still, I wasn’t going to make it easy on him.

In the end, though, it didn’t matter.  I managed to activate all my cards on the last turn, deliver a paper good for 6 points, raise the money I needed to buy PP from the do-hickey track (investment track? prestige-point acquisition track?  heck if I can remember…), and make sure that I’d finish first on the wall just in case I tied with someone.  One of my cards gave me 1 PP per city quarter I had claimed, so I still racked up 14 points from it and kept myself a good 6 points ahead of Chip for the win.    

Time: 117 minutes
Score: Me 83, Chip 77, Ken 50, Tom 42
Ratings: Me 8.5, Chip 8, Ken 9, Tom 8.5


Macao is quickly moving its way up into my favorite games.  Two of my favorite elements in games are: 1) multiple paths to victory, and 2) the need to adapt your strategy to what the game and other players throw at you.  And Macao has both of those in spades!

In a lot of ways, Macao actually reminds me of Agricola.  You’ve got the ability to put together combinations of cards to build a little engine, screw with your opponents in non-direct ways, and finish in about 2 hours.  And as of right now, even as much as I like Agricola, I’m feeling that I may actually end up liking Macao even more.  It’s hard right now to even explain why I like it so much, but what I do know is that 2 hours have flown by like 30 minutes both times I’ve played, and I’d play again right now if I could. 



Other Games Played
 
China
Time: 15 minutes (is that right?)
Score: Chris 47, Chip 41, Tom* 37, Keith* 21
Ratings: Chris 9, Chip 9, Tom 7.5, Keith ?

Race for the Galaxy
Time:
 ? minutes
Score: Mark – 3 wins, Alton and Chip (who only played in one game) – No wins
Ratings: Mark 10, Alton 10, Chip 8

Roll Through the Ages
Time:
 15 minutes
Score: Steve 19, Ken 15, Adam 7
Ratings: Steve 9, Ken 8, Adam 8

The Settlers of Catan
Time: 165 minutes
Score: Brad 12+, Beth 12(?), Alton 10, Charles 9, Keith 7, Michelle 6 
Ratings: Brad 8, Beth 8, Alton 10, Charles 9, Keith 8, Michelle 10

The Stars Are Right
Time: ? minutes
Score: Kenny 10, Steve 9, Adam* 8, Michelle 4
Ratings: Kenny 7.5, Steve 6.5, Adam 7, Michelle 8

Tribune (VP variant)
Time: 50ish minutes
Score: Beth 36, Alton 26, Charles 22, Michelle 19, Adam 10
Ratings: Beth 9, Alton 10, Charles 9, Michelle 8.5, Adam 7

Unspeakable Words
Time: ? minutes
Score: Ken 101, Daphne* 78, Brad 69, Steve 58
Ratings: Ken 8, Daphne 8, Brad 8, Steve 8

Vegas Showdown
Time: 42 minutes
Score: Chip 79, Alton 62, Mark 62
Ratings: Chip 8, Alton 8.5, Mark 8.5

Chip actually filled up his entire hotel/casino to end the game.  I’d never seen that before, but of course, I haven’t seen many 3-player games either.  It was right impressive either way, though.

Witch’s Brew
Time: 22 minutes
Score: Mark 26, Chip 22, Chris 19, Tom* 15
Ratings: Mark 8.5, Chip 8.5, Chris 9, Tom 7

* First play for that Person




21 Comments

  1. Jacob

    I told myself not to get Macao, I convinced myself I wouldn’t like it and I’ve done well at forgetting about the game completely . . . then I read this article and I’m starting to want it. Nope, gotta stick to my guns. I’m not going to like this game because I didn’t like his other ones . . . I wish I could try it without buying it.

  2. Chris Ingersoll

    I’m pretty sure that 15 minutes for China isn’t correct (although it is a quick play…), but without seeing my handwriting I can’t interpret it for you.

  3. Eric Martin

    Blue Moon CIty = modern classic. Fun, subtle, and always close.

    Must play my copy of Macao. We’ve been trying out Gonzaga the past couple weeks and it is quite weird, little game.

  4. Chris Norwood

    Definitely make Macao a priority.

    I haven’t read a lot about Gonzaga, but Hypermind has a copy and I’ve been eyeing it for the last couple of weeks.  Is it any good? 

  5. Chris Norwood

    Now, I like Notre Dame and Year of the Dragon (and I need to play them more), but Macao is a whole different thing.  They’re not similar games at all, so that’s not a valid excuse.  But I can also see that some people wouldn’t like it, so just try to make it a priority to find a chance to try it out.


  6. Can you just pull the Deal Breaker cards out of the Monopoly Deal game and still play?

  7. Chris Norwood

    Oh yeah, of course you could.  But like I said, it wasn’t the only thing that was unbalanced.  Let me give you an example of two different cases from the game:

    1) There are two different types of Rent cards.  One only works for two different property colors, but everyone else has to pay you.  The other is usable for any property set, but only one person has to pay.  To me, those cards are “balanced” because one gives a bigger payout, but has less chance of being valuable, while the other is usable by everyone, but for a lesser effect.

    2) On the other hand, there are also two different kinds of “steal property” cards.  One requires that you trade a property of your choice for any property from someone else, which I think is pretty reasonable.  The other card, however, just lets you steal a property outright, with no recourse or appreciable cost.  And then you have the Deal Breaker, of course, which is even worse because you get to steal a whole complete set from someone else.  This, to me, is totally “unbalanced”.  

    Maybe it’s just my CCG background and the ideas of balance and fairness that come from it, but it always rubs me the wrong way when cards with identical costs (in this case, the use of one action) have widely different levels of effect.  The “no trade” stealing card (whatever it’s name is) is always superior to the “must trade” card.  And at any time in the game after someone has completed a set, the Deal Breaker cards is absolutely superior to both of the others.  

    A fix, in my mind, would be for the “no trade” card to cost two actions, and the Deal Breaker to cost 3 actions, but that would get way too confusing for such a simple filler.  As it is, like I said, I’ll be willing to play it from time to time, and just write off the imbalance to its weight and length.

    By the way, I have the same problem with the Bang! expansions, which are rife with cards that do the same thing, but with some being more powerful versions.  But I’m sorry to go on such a big rant about such a little game.  Heck, it’s probably taken me longer to write this comment than it would to actually play the game! 


  8. Wow, sounds like quite the game night!

    Gotta say, Monopoly Deal actually sounds like something I’d like to play. I use to love Monopoly, except for the time it took to play (and the whole roll-and-move mechanic). Taking the core of that game and paring it down to a quick length sounds great!


  9. The basic concept is very intriguing to me as well, although from the description here I don’t necessarily think I would like it. The real meat of Monopoly, once you wade through all the random running around the board and community chest/chance cards, is the trading. Monopoly Deal doesn’t really seem to be focused on the trading but is a quick Monopoly-themed card game rather than the essence of Monopoly (the trading!) boiled down into a 15 minute filler…

  10. Chris Norwood

    I agree.  The “meat” of Monopoly is the auctions and the trading, which you don’t get in Monopoly Deal.  But you do get the theme, the set collection, the random events, and some nice little card play added in, all for 1/10th (or potentially less) of the time.  Still a really good deal (in comparison, anyway) to me.


  11. Sounds like a fun night. I really enjoy Vegas Showdown and want to try Race for the Galaxy. I also like the way you write up your session reports. I have had trouble doing these for my blog as I can’t seem to remember enough specifics of a game and actually play the game at the same time. Do you have a system for keeping track of things? I’d love get some insight…

  12. Chris Norwood

    Well, since the very beginning, I’ve been using a report sheet for every game played at game night.  It includes the date, start and end time, players, scores, and ratings.  Everybody’s pretty much trained to fill one out whether or not I’m in the game.  I also use them to keep various statistics about the group and the games we play, as well as using the information for my reports.

    But as far as the actual playing of the game goes, I don’t really do anything specific.  The most important thing is just to be intentional about remembering what you’re doing.  Take mental notes of what’s going on along the way, and review the game, just in your mind, right afterwards or later that night, which goes a long way to imprint on more long-term memory.  Taking pictures also helps me, both to be a visual trigger for what happened as well as forcing me to take an opportunity to pull myself out of the game for a few seconds and look at the big picture of what’s going on. 

    Of course, it’s always a lot easier to remember games that tell a story.  For other games, you’ll find that a lot of my game reports focus more on my strategy and how it worked out rather than on what other people were doing.  Because frankly, I sometimes can’t remember what they did.  Other times, I just tell what I remember seeing them do, and count on them hopefully filling in details or correcting me in the comments.

    Finally, I try to write my reports within a couple days of the event.  It’s not always possible, and the quality of the report usually suffers if I am forced to push it much longer. 


  13. Thanks for your response and being willing to share your knowledge. I will try this out and let you know how it goes.

  14. Chris Norwood

    No problem, Jason.  I actually read your report when it came across my Google reader page this morning! (And I commented on it just now!) 

    I think that where a lot of boardgame blogs fail is that they focus too much on the “stats” of the games.  Basically, the stuff that I have in my little stat block, like time, score, and maybe ratings.  They think that a report is just about listing these things, but that’s just plain boring.  So instead, I try to find the “drama” of the game; maybe it’s the narrative of the game as it played out, perhaps it’s the back-and-forth struggle, or it could just be an exploration of my strategy and how it worked out.  And then afterwards, I like to get into what it “means” in terms of unpacking my thoughts about the game. 

    I’m certainly no expert on blogging, but I mainly try to write stuff that I personally think is interesting.  If I write something that’s not interesting to read, I try to kill it.  Whether that means erasing the last sentence because it’s not going anywhere or cancelling an entire blog entry because it didn’t work out, I try not to bore my readers.  I sincerely hope that they would agree…


  15. I wanted to thank you for this great read!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post


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