After 2 weeks of missing game night and, regretfully, near complete gaming abstinence, I made a glorious return to the Hypermind Boardgamers this past week! Gwen even took pity on me and came to Burlington to pick up the girls so I wouldn’t have to drive home (a 30-minute commute) and back. So, after a nice family dinner at Chili’s, I made my way to my FLGS and hooked up with Chris to play…
Way back in the days of pre-parenthood, I used to get to game night at 5:00 or so. And from time to time, Chris and I would partake in challenging each other to a 2-player abstract game before most others arrived. Given my availability this week and Chris’ apparent recent acquisition of both YINSH and ZERTZ, we once again went head-to-head over a table filled with elegant plastic components in shades of black, white, and gray.
ZERTZ itself is very simple, really. On each turn, you just place any available marble onto one of the little plate-thingies in the hexagonal array you built before the game. Then, you remove one of the plate-thingies. If, however, you are faced with a jump (two adjacent marbles with an empty plate-thingy behind one of them), you must take it and claim the jumped marble for scoring rather than making a normal move. The goal is to collect either 4 white, 5 gray, or 6 black marbles, or alternatively, to collect 3 of each color. So essentially, the game is all about placing marbles, removing plates, and setting up your opponent to jump marbles into positions that you can use to gather what you need to win.
In the first game, I sort of played randomly quite a bit just to see how things worked, and by the end of the game, Chris has set a trap that I couldn’t avoid. But in the second play, I had a much better idea of how things worked, and I was able to do a little setting-up of my own, eventually grabbing 5 gray marbles for the win!
Time: 17 and 22 minutes
Score: Chris* – 1 win, Norton* – 1 win
Ratings: Chris 9, Norton 8
I really wish that I had more of a place in my gaming time for 2-player abstract games. I just traded away my copy of YINSH (which hadn’t been played since Chris and I last worked at it almost exactly 4 years ago), in fact, because I could never seem to get it to the table. But if I did have more opportunity for them, I would definitely invest in getting all of the GIPF project games. ZERTZ is yet another excellent part of it, and given the chance sometime, I’d love to play it again.
Sentinels of the Multiverse [BGG]
Seeing that a number of other people had arrived or finished up other games by then, Chris and I decided not to break our tie and instead pulled out Sentinels of the Multiverse. Stacy hadn’t played before, so Chris explained the rules as we all chose our heroes and set things up. We faced off against Omnitron in the Ruins of Atlantis, and since we had 5 players, we went with using the villain’s “advanced” power.
At the very start of the game, the first two cards flipped over for Omnitron were its two big bomb/mine things that start with 15 hp and deal damage equal to their remaining hp every round. Since it was the start of the game and we didn’t have anything in play yet, Chris (as Fanatic) used a power that destroyed every card in play except for us and Omnitron. But since the big O pulls cards out of its discard pile every other round, we weren’t necessarily done with them for the rest of the game.
But while the mines and other damage-dealing drones did some amount of damage to us, the biggest annoyances were some of its ongoing effects, which did things like deal damage to us for each card we drew or made it immune to the type of damage it was last dealt (which really put a crimp in my plans to turn the world into a blazing inferno, since I was Ra). The single biggest damage dealt to all of us was probably the card that destroyed every equipment card and dealt damage to their owners. Plus, the advanced power of either dealing extra damage or preventing 1 damage (alternating each round) was pretty huge.
This was the first time I’ve played in Atlantis, and overall, it was a pretty cool environment. I like how most of the environments have the potential to cause a lot of harm and headache to the heroes, but they also seem to have ways or circumstances that the heroes can work to their advantage, and Atlantis definitely excelled at both.
Through the game, we all got pretty beat up, and Kenny (playing Bunker) even bought himself a farm. But it was actually very close and pretty tense at times, so I think we had a really nice time with it.
Time: 65 minutes
Score: Heroes (Chris – Fanatic, Norton – Ra, Keith – Haka, Ken – Bunker, & Stacy* – Tachyon) – Win; Omnitron (advanced) in the Ruins of Atlantis – Lose
Ratings: Chris 9, Norton 7.5, Keith 7, Ken 8, Stacy ?
I’m still a bit of two minds about Sentinels of the Multiverse, but I think that I’m starting to come around a little and seeing more consistency in the mechanical/difficulty aspects of the game. Like a lot of coop games, there can often be sort of a little meta-game before the real game about setting it up to be just the right level of difficulty. There’s not quite as many options for tweaking that in Sentinels (just the number of heroes and whether or not to use the Advanced power of the villain), but I’m also beginning to see that the interaction/synergy of the heroes can make a difference, and that some villains seem to be more difficult that others.
But just as it has from my very first play, the theme continues to jump out at me; as I can always step back a bit and just imagine how the action you’re describing through play would totally come to life in a comic book or as an animated TV show. Now I’m getting more and more excited about Rook City!
Popular Front [BGG]
So then, Popular Front is our Game of the Month! for February. I didn’t vote for it, but that was mostly just because I’d never played before, and I don’t like voting for things that I know absolutely nothing about (except local judges, of course, because really, who ever bothers to research them anyway). But regardless of all that, I was open-minded and excited to sit down this week and finally try it out for the first time.
If you don’t know anything about it (and really, I wouldn’t expect most of you to), Popular Front is a game about the Spanish Civil War, which I know just enough about to sound really stupid if I started trying to explain it here, so I’ll choose to leave that instead to Wikipedia. More importantly to me and probably most of you, however, it’s a light-to-medium-weight euro/wargame hybrid that can accomodate up to 6 players split into different factions of the two main sides in the conflict, the Nationalists and the Republic.
Gameplay is actually quite abstract, with players placing colored wooden discs on different cities to represent their forces, and then using cards drawn from individual but identical faction decks to muster more troops, move them around, attack other cities, and invest in politics. Play order each round is randomly determined, and teammates may even be taking turns back-to-back, and from round to round, you could even end up taking two turns in a row. But the amount you can do on any one turn is pretty limited, so in this one play anyway, I didn’t see any insurmountable deficits caused even when one team was able to take a number of turns more or less in a row.
As I said, the decks of cards for the different factions are all identical, except that they are all illustrated with real propaganga posters for that faction from the war. They each have a number in the corner (from 1 to 6) that can be used for any of the 3 actions you can do, plus they all have some little power that makes them more useful when played for one of those particular actions. You can play as many actions as you want on your turn, in any order, as long as you have cards to power them (which is usually something around 2-4 actions, depending on how many cards you’ve built up and which actions you choose).
So, one thing you can do on your turn is to play a card to Muster. You get points equal to the value of the card to spend either to bring out new armies (discs) or to move an entire stack of discs one space (to a connected city you control). The most important thing about mustering is that you can only add discs to a city if your side (you and your partners) control a majority of the connecting cities, which does an amazing job of creating a real sense of supply (especially in such an abstract game) and sort of lends itself to forming “fronts” where each side has areas of networked support coming together in a point of conflict. Each city can only contain at most 4 discs, but they can actually be of different factions of one team (which isn’t always a good idea, but can work out at times).
Combat is really interesting as well. If you want to attack a connected city, the base value of each side is the number of discs in each space. Defenders also get 1 extra value if the attacker is moving across a river or a sea-line. But then, each side can take turns committing cards to add to the value of their force. The attacker begins by placing one card facedown in front of them, and then the defender can do the same. The attacker can then choose to add another card (giving the defender the same choice), or they can move on to resolution. Defenders actually reveal a card first, then the attacker, and then alternating until all cards are faceup or removed. What makes the combat really cool, though, is that many cards have the ability to either remove a faceup (deployed) or facedown (reserve) card from their opponent’s forces, so there’s a nice little element of hand-management and timing at work.
The lowly Partisan, for instance, only has an attack value of 1, but when it’s revealed, the other player must discard a facedown card of their choice. Therefore, when it’s played by the defender in a 1-card battle, the attacker’s only card is then discarded before it even gets played! And as long as the base value (number of discs) of the two armies are only one apart (since the Partisan adds 1 to it, and defenders win ties), the defender will come out victorious!
The last thing you can do on a turn is to commit one or more cards to the Political side of the conflict. The way scoring works is that each side has a marker on opposite ends of the score track. In the middle (more or less) is the target space, represented by a black disc, and the first team to get their marker onto or past the target space is the winner. Teams get points for conquering cities (valued 1-4) on a turn through combat. But at the end of each round of play, however, the cards played for Politics are totalled for each side, and the one that wins gets to move the target one space closer to their side.
So, anyway, I didn’t really mean to go that much into detail about the rules of Popular Front, but unlike a lot of other games I talk about, I didn’t figure that most of you would know quite as much about how it’s played. But in thinking about our particular play, it’s a little hard to really remember or recount exactly what all went down.
Chip and I worked together on the Nationalist side, and we started off controlling the southwest corner of the map (around Sevilla) and the islands off the eastern coast, as well as controlling a majority of the connections into Madrid in the center. Keith and Kenny (the Republic side) controlled Madrid itself as well as most of the major cities in the north.
Even the order of what happened is a little sketchy to me now, but I remember that we lost the conflict for Orense (I think?) and the whole area around it in the northwest corner of the country. But at the same time, we managed to shore up control of the islands and major cities (Barcelona and Valencia) to the east. We fought back and forth over Madrid, but Chip and I also managed to keep a pretty firm control over the southwest as well.
The thing about the game, though, is that you don’t get points for controlling cities. Scoring (and drawing extra cards, for that matter) only happens when you take over cities, so the mechanics of the game definitely drive you to be aggressive and push the action. In this particular play, we were very close the whole game long. Chip and I seemed to get a bit of an advantage at one point and thought we could end it quickly, but then turn after turn, both sides just continued to inch our way towards the end. On what turned out to be the last turn, Chip and I managed to score enough points to land on top of the target space and then dump one more point than Keith and Kenny into Politics (15-14, I believe) to keep ourselves in the victory condition and win!
Time: 115 minutes
Score: Nationalists [Chip (Carlists) & Norton* (Requetes)] – Win (+1); Republic [Keith* (Anarchists) & Kenny (Communists)] – Lose (-3)
Ratings: Chip 8, Norton
I really had a great time playing Popular Front, and maybe even more importantly, I’ve thought a lot about it since then. As a wargame, I could see a lot of people being a little disappointed in how abstract and relatively themeless it is. But thankfully, I’m not a wargamer and don’t have any sort of issue with that. Instead, I’m very pleased with how quick and balanced it is, and quite surprisingly, I actually find that some of the very abstract mechanics in the game do a really good job of modeling some elements of actual conflict.
I talked a lot about it above, so I won’t go on further here, other than to say that I like it and want to keep playing it and seeing what else it has to offer.
The Resistance [BGG]
For whatever reason, there was a Resistance-shaped hole in my gaming history prior to this past week. After getting it for Christmas, I finally found the opportunity to get it to the table with the 5 people. And in the first game, it totally bombed. Through a few odd circumstances, it became pretty clear to everyone that Kenny and I were the traitors, and since the first three players to serve as leader were not us, we lost in straight missions.
We almost gave it up on it right there, which would probably have relegated it to a lonely corner of my game room never to have been played again. But thankfully, my group was easily convinced to give it another try. And then, over the next 2 games, we came to appreciate and enjoy it. I’m sure that, in just the first 3 games and with only 5 players, there’s a ton more to learn about it, but I’m glad at least that I should be able to get that chacne.
Time: 5, 15, and 12 minutes
Game 1: The Resistance (Alton*, Chip*, & Keith*) – Win, The Spies (Norton* & Kenny*) – Lose
Game 2: The Spies (Chip & Keith) – Win, The Resistance (Alton, Norton, & Kenny) – Lose
Game 3: The Spies (Alton & Kenny) – Win, The Resistance (Chip, Norton, & Keith) – Lose
Ratings: Alton 7.5, Chip 7, Norton 8, Keith 7, Kenny 8
And finally, to finish off both a great game night and this inordinately epic report, we played a quick game of Biblios. I thought I was pretty good at it from earlier plays, but totally blew it and didn’t take a single color in a rather pittiful loss. It’s still a fantastic little filler, and will also continue to be a staple in my gaming.
Time: 26 minutes
Score: Keith* 6, Kenny* 5, Alton 5, Norton 0
Ratings: Keith 8, Kenny 8, Alton 8, Norton 8
Ascension (Storm of Souls)
Score: Shawn 86, Mark* 84, Alton* 69, Sean 58
Ratings: All 10’s
Time: 110 minutes
Score: Sean* 86, Mark* 79, Alton* 78, Shawn* 46
Ratings: All 8’s
Race for the Galaxy
Time: ?? minutes
Session 1: Mark – 2 wins, Alton – 0 wins
Session 2: Alton – 2 wins, Mark – 1 win, Chris – 0 wins
Ratings: All 10’s
Time: 85 minutes
Score: Josh* 87, Chris* 75, Stacy* 54
Ratings: Josh ?, Chris 7, Stacy ?
* First play for that Person