First Sentinels of Manhattan


So, this past week saw some return to normalcy.  I was back in North Carolina and back at game night; where I ought to be, I suppose.  And the really cool thing is that I actually received a couple of packages on Tuesday containing some new games.  One of which was my Kickstarted copy of Sentinels of the Multiverse: Rook City, which is pretty convenient considering that SotM is our new Game of the Month!   

Sentinels of the Multiverse [BGG]
with Rook City Expansion

I hadn’t even broken the shrinkwrap when I got to Hypermind, but others were still finishing up their games as I tore into Rook City and organized the different decks.  Soon after they finished, Chris, Darren, Keith, and Sceadeau all jumped at the chance to try out the new shiny.


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We used pretty much all the new heroes (Mr. Fixer, Expatriette, and the two promos replacing Legacy and The Wraith that I got through Kickstarter) and faced off against Plague Rat in, of course, Rook City.  From the get-go, it looked bad for us.  We were taking Irrevocable damage every turn, which was increased due to the Plague Focus that came out at the start of the game.  And we also realized that the card I had played that increased all our damage was not working out too well since we were all dealing ourselves the toxic damage.

We were all getting infected left and right, and eventually the Plague Rat flipped over and got even uglier.  But what we then realized is that Plague Rat doesn’t really have any minions or long-term effects that stay in play.  And after we started focusing all our fire on him (and Haka got online with some big beating stick or another), he actually fell pretty quickly.

Time: 34 minutes
Score: Heroes [Chris – Mr. Fixer, Norton – America’s Newest Legacy (Promo), Darren – The Wraith (promo), Keith – Expatriette, & Sceadeau – Haka] – Win, Plague Rat (in Rook City) – Lose
Ratings: Chris 9, Norton 7.5, Darren 8, Keith 7, Sceadeau 8

So far, I definitely like what they’ve done with Rook City.  From an art/graphics standpoint, there’s been some notable improvement, both in the appearance of the card backs for the different decks and, especially, for the layout of the environment decks.  I don’t really know why they didn’t do this from the get-go, but the new environment decks (Rook City and the Chemical Plant) now follow the standard format of all the other cards, with a picture on top and the card text on the bottom (which is a crap-ton more readable and attractive).  I’d love it, in fact, if they’d offer some sort of upgrade kit eventually including the errataed cards from the base set and a reformatted versions of the original environment decks!


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As far as the actual gameplay goes, I was pretty impressed there as well.  While we still won with relative ease, the game felt a little harder (and we should have probably been using the advanced version anyway with 5 heroes).  But the idea of having a scalable symbol on some cards (which has a value equal to the number of heroes in the game) is a really nice touch.  And again, it’d be cool if they revised the base game to include it as well on some of the original cards.

I really like when cards and situations can be either good or bad depending on different circumstances.  We’ve definitely seen that in environment cards before (with effects that either deal damage to all targets or increase damage that everyone deals), but whether they did so intentionally or not, having the Plague Rat’s power make the heroes deal themselves damage really turned my “increase all heroes’ damage” power around on us.  It was tough, but really cool and interesting at the same time.

The promo version of Legacy (which is the other Legacy’s daughter, now with atomic eye beams) was pretty nice, mostly because I felt like I could be a little more active and involved with my power to actually cause some damage to bad guys, rather than the more passive/support role that the other Legacy tended to fall into.  And while the other new heroes were also in the battle, I didn’t see enough of them to really be able to talk intelligently about them.  But Sentinels (especially in just 34 minutes!) is really fun, and we’ll keep on playing!   

Power Grid: The First Sparks [BGG]

Okay, so obviously, I hate Power Grid.  So when I heard of a new game coming out called Power Grid: The First Sparks a while ago, I wasn’t exactly excited (and is why I’ve also never played PG: Factory Manager).  But Sceadeau had it at game night this week, and the other guys at the table wanted to play it, so I hesitantly acquiesced and joined in as well.

The first big difference between the two games is that the “board” in First Sparks is actually a semi-random/modular board of heagonal regions each containing one type of hunting/gathering grounds.  The number of each type of food source determines the refresh rate of that type of food in the “market”, which is otherwise very similar to the fuel market in PG.  


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Instead of Power Plants, there is a selection process on each turn for different “technologies” that are either tools (to collect food) or knowledges (which gives some special ability).  This is done very similarly to the PG auctions, but much more simply.  Players can have to up 3 tools at a time, which are paid for in food but then let you gather/kill a certain number of the appropriate ani-/veggi-eeple, which are each worth a certain amount of food.

The point of the game is to be the first one to spread your clan out to at least 13 different regions, but spreading out to new areas is way less mathy than it is to connect to new cities in PG, and you’re never totally blocked from entering a new region (even though it does get more expensive to do so when more people are there).  

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My technologies (tools up top, knowledge below)

In our game, I had a stupid initial placement (because I didn’t totally grok the rules yet) and had to fight through Sceadeau’s cavepeople to get to other hunting grounds.  That set me behind early, but picking up the knowledge of Fire helped me a lot to be more efficient with my food, and I made a strong run later on.  Chris, on the other hand, picked up a knowledge early on that pretty much paralyzed him, since he couldn’t make immediate use of it to get more food.  Keith, despite it being his first game as well, made a really strong run powered on the carcasses of dead Mammoths, but in the end, Sceadeau managed to win on the tiebreaker of having 1 remaining food after the last turn’s expansion.  

Time: 53 minutes
Score: Sceadeau 13(+1), Keith* 13 (+0), Norton* 12, Chris 7
Ratings: Sceadeau 9, Keith 8, Norton 7.5, Chris 9


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The board at game end…

To be really simple about this, The First Sparks pretty much fixes Power Grid.  The thing that I most totally hate about PG is the repetitive, monotonous, boring, and continual calculations that you have to do in figuring which cities and connections you want to occupy.  The math isn’t hard, per say, but it’s just annoying and repetitive and boring and… wait, I think I’ve already covered that.  But in First Sparks, all that’s been stripped out and simplified.  The whole game is, I suppose, a little lighter and simpler, but to me, I still get most all of the positive aspects from PG (there were some, I’ll admit) without all the unnecessary and annoying chaff that added another hour or more to the play time and just pissed me off.

Should it even bear the name “Power Grid”, then?  It certainly didn’t work in its favor for me, but I guess that it probably would for the legions of obviously misguided fans of the original game.  And really, it seems similar enough to me mechanically that it probably is pretty appropriate to have the same branding on it.  It’s a little funny to have “Power Grid” describe a prehistorically-themed game, though.  Maybe a better title would have been something like “Power Grid: But it’s actually good!” or “Power Grid: Doesn’t suck anymore!”, but I don’t guess anyone asked my opinion when those decisions were being made.    
     

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The Manhattan Project [BGG]

Now, I don’t know why it’s been so hard for me to get this back to the table, but I finally found a few people to jump into a game of The Manhattan Project with me last week.  As I mentioned before, it’s a worker-placement game where players choose to either place one worker on the board (and then more on their own buildings) or pull off all their workers on each turn.  So in addition to all of the normal interaction and tactics of most worker-placement games, you also have this timing element of when you choose to retrieve all your workers without setting up too many others to take advantage of the spots you just left open.


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The main board

Since I was the only experienced player, I set up a pretty nice little engine early on by picking up some mines and then a reactor that let me churn out Plutonium pretty efficiently.  Keith actually beat me to the punch in constructing and imploding the first plutonium bomb, but all that did was attract some attention to him from the other players.  

That’s a big deal because, in another big difference from most worker-placement games, there are a few important ways that you can either use (and therefore block) other players’ buildings, or more aggressively, conduct air strikes to damage the buildings and make them unusable.  Chris J was the only one to actually launch an air strike, taking out one of Keith’s buildings.  Alton, meanwhile, stockpiled tons of fighters and bombers, but I guess maybe in not wanting to jump the gun too early, didn’t even unleash them before the game ended.

Once I was ready,  I managed to construct two large plutonium bombs over about 4 rounds to gather the necessary points and win.  


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Time: 78 minutes
Score: Norton 54, Chris J* 20, Keith* 6, Alton* 2
Ratings: Norton 8, Chris J 8, Keith 8, Alton 8

Once again, I see a lot of upside for The Manhattan Project.  The perpetual worker-placement mechanic is really cool and different, and the opportunities for player interaction seem to have a lot of potential that we’ve barely scraped the surface of in my two plays so far. 

I don’t know if it’s a good or a bad thing yet, but the game definitely seems to have two phases.  At the beginning, every player is competing to occupy spots on the main board, and it’s really tight for everyone to get what they want (like typical worker-placement games).  But then as everyone purchases more individual building cards, the main board becomes less and less important as players then run their “engine” by typically placing all their workers on one turn and then pulling the off on the next.  My guess is that this is where the air strikes and espionage should really start to maintain the player interaction portion of the game to interfere with each other, because otherwise, the game will accelerate to an end pretty quickly.

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The heart of my “engine”

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Gathering lots of workers (mine are green and the gray ones are generic “contractors”)

Speaking of that, our games have both been well below the 2-hour play estimate on the box.  We usually play rather quickly (in comparison to other groups, anyway), but part of this probably goes back to us not fully engaging with the interactive mechanics in the game.  I’m definitely excited to play this game more and more to see how it changes as players gain more experience with it and start to use all of their options more effectively.

On a different note, it was also really great to meet Chris J this week!  It’s always cool when a new gamer comes to game night.  And the fact that he’s yet another Dude Named Chris (which has a long history in our group) makes him even more welcome to join us.

Other Games Played

Nexus Ops
Time:
 82 minutes
Score: Alton 12, Shawn 7, Keith 6, Chris J* 4
Ratings: Alton 9, Shawn 8, Keith 8, Chris J 8

Ninjato
Time:
 75 minutes
Score: Sceadeau 144, Darren* 97, Chris 73, Chris C* 50
Ratings: Chris 9

Power Grid: The First Sparks
Time:
 51 minutes
Score: Sceadeau 13(+2), Chris 13 (+1), Devin* 11, Alton 9, Darren 9
Ratings: Chris 9

Race for the Galaxy
Time:
 13 and 15 minutes
Score: Chris – 2 wins, Alton – 0 wins
Ratings: 10’s

Thurn and Taxis
Time:
 60 minutes
Score: Chip 28, Alton 15, Chris C 12, Chris J 10 
Ratings: Chip 9, Alton 9, Chris C 8, Chris J 7


* First play for that Person

5 Comments

  1. Chris Ingersoll

    Other than the questionable decision to take the Plow, what really hurt me in our game of First Sparks was the low refresh rate on Bears and my inefficient Bow that needed 8 to double up on them. Oh well. At least I wasn’t actually locked out of the game for good — although if that second Fire had come up any sooner…


  2. Thanks for the review/session report of First Sparks. I love Power Grid, so I’ve been curious about this. Really considering it now, love the theme. Thanks for posting!


  3. “…legions of obviously misguided fans of the original game.” Ooooooohhhhh! Them be fightin’ words, Chris. Every person I’ve ever played PG with has quite enjoyed the game. And I don’t always play games with mathematicians….

  4. Chris Norwood

    Some of them are probably physicists too, right?  

    But seriously, I’ve written a lot about why I don’t like PG, but in the end, it just doesn’t seem fun to me at all.  First Sparks definitely feels like it keeps the best parts and boils it down to a really solid and enjoyable 60-minute-or-less experience.

  5. Chris Norwood

    And if I had been able to get hold of that Speach tile, I may have had a chance to beat Keith and Sceadeau.  Maybe next time…

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