It’s freaking August… And more than halfway through it, even! As I write this, thousands of lucky gamers are all cavorting around Indianapolis in the midst of GenCon, while I can barely find time to catch up on a game night report that I’m almost two weeks behind on. Not to mention how I also theoretically have a podcast that hasn’t seen a new episode in nearly 4 weeks. I had some time last week to do a little recording, but it just didn’t go that well (mostly do to a lack of preparation) and I wasn’t happy enough with what I had to actually release it. And then I was going to finish up re-recording it last night, but the Mexican food I ate for dinner wasn’t at all agreeable to either a recording session or even a decent night’s rest, for that matter. So, let’s all just be content, for the moment, with some light discussion of a few games I’ve been playing recently…
~ August 7, 2012 ~
Our new Game of the Month! for August is 2011 Kennerspiel des Jahres nominee Lancaster. Going in, I had only played it once before, but was impressed enough by that play to ask for and receive it for my birthday. Ostensibly, Lancaster is a worker-placement game, but it brings a lot of innovation to the genre, mostly in that your workers (Knights in this case) have different strengths. So some of the spots for workers actually have a prerequisite strength that is required, and more importantly, a higher-strength knight can always displace a weaker knight from most any spot. There are also some other twists about sending knights to fight battles in France, completing sections of your castle to get ongoing bonuses, and collecting nobles to give you more voting power in the political side of the game, all of which come together in a really nice, mid-weight game.
I actually did pretty well in my previous game, so I thought I would replicate my previous approach by recruiting and upgrading my knights as quickly as I could. Ian and Chris jumped right into collecting nobles in any way they could, and Keith just seemed to be collecting money and squires (which you can use to add to your knights’ strength) over and over.
Keith’s “plan” (if he had, in fact, planned it at all) came to fruition a few turns later when a law came into being that let us turn in 1 coin and 1 squire for 3 points per pair. Most of us got 3-6 points in this way, but on one turn alone, Keith turned in 6 of each for a whopping 18 points. He also got another 6 ot 9 points on the next turn as well, and then pushed for most of the rest of the game to get points as directly as he could (through collecting nobles and one particular board location that gives you 6 points).
My plan worked pretty well, but wasn’t quite enough to catch Keith and his crazy point-generating strategy. I (and some others) was sort taken off-guard by the end of the game, actually, since it’s only 5 turns long. I definitely spent a little too much energy in establishing my “infrastructure”, though, and should have looked a little more towards the endgame sooner.
Time: 71 minutes
Score: Keith 62, Norton 57, Chris 56, Ian 54, Shawn 32
Ratings: Keith 7.5, Norton 7.5, Chris 7.5, Ian 8, Shawn 7
I’ll talk about Lancaster more when I get to my second play of the month a little further down.
Zooloretto Wurfelspiel [BGG]
I’ve talked about the Zooloretto dice game a couple of times already, and there’s not much more to say about it now. The big thing that came out of this play was that we were all sort of blindsided by how quickly it ended, which no one really liked. And in our initial comparison of it and Coloretto, the dice didn’t fare too well.
Time: ~17 minutes
Score: Norton 11, Ian* 8, Keith* 8, Kenny* 5
Ratings: Norton 7, Ian 6, Keith 6, Kenny 6
We also managed to play Strasbourg, the other, non-winning 2011 Kennerspiel des Jahres nominee, last week. No one was really new to it, but I definitely had the best grasp on how it goes, and so right from selecting our end-game mission cards, I think I was at some advantage. I think I remember keeping 3 missions and completing all of them, as well as getting several dudes around big-score edifices, so I scored pretty well.
Time: 66 minutes
Score: Norton 64, Ian 49, Keith 46, Kenny 45
Ratings: Norton 8, Ian 8, Keith 8, Kenny 8
I’m actually reviewing this game (along with Stefan Feld’s other auction game, The Speicherstadt) on my next episode of Exploring Games, so tune it there to find out my opinion about it.
Liar’s Dice [BGG]
And then to finish off the evening last week, we pulled out an old standby that I reminded myself about when I came up with my top 10 filler games. Liar’s Dice is such a great little game, but there are so many ways to play that we had to clearly define rules before we got started.
Ian took an interesting approach to the game, though, and managed to be eliminated from both plays in what had to be nearly record time. Since we were playing that you lose dice equal to how off the bid was, I think I remember him literally going out on the first bid in one of the games. But it’s so quick and fun that we were done with both games in less than half an hour, giving us the chance to head home and get some rest before we were too exhausted.
Time: 11 and 13 minutes
Game 1: Keith 1st, Kenny 2nd, Norton 3rd, Ian 4th
Game 2: Norton 1st, Keith & Kenny 2nd (tie), Ian 4th
Ratings: Norton 8, Keith 6, Kenny 9, Ian 10
~ August 14, 2012 ~
And then this week, I started off my evening in the same way with the Game of the Month!, except that we played just a 4-player game this time around. I decided to try a little different approach, though, going straight for getting as many nobles as I could. But what I found out really quickly (and didn’t much appreciate) was that having less knights made for a pretty frustrating experience and limited my options quite a bit. I more or less did what I wanted, though, ending up with 8 of the 9 nobles and getting a lot of points.
But Chris was just ridiculous with how he dominated the game. He pushed early to build as many segments of his castle that he could, which paid off all game long giving him bonuses, and watched the various laws in play to get lots of benefit from them as well. I don’t know how he seemed to be doing pretty much everything in the game, but he also managed to build up his knights really well, getting the end-game bonuses for both castle and total knight value. By the end, it wasn’t even close.
Time: 68 minutes
Score: Chris 94, Norton 63, Steve 48, Duy* 47
Ratings: Chris 8, Norton 7.5, Steve 7
I’m still a little up in the air about Lancaster. Generally, I really like the different options in the game and think that the innovation of the worker-placement mechanic is really cool. But even with all you can do, I’m a little worried that there may well be an optimum strategy that also brings in a “rich get richer” element. I’m not exactly sure how confident Chris was in the strategy going in, but he worked it perfectly to leave us all in the dust. And even though I tried something “different” in these two games, the game still felt pretty “samey” to me in both plays. It also feels a little short, like the game was refined and stripped down until it is almost too lean to get a really satisfying experience from it.
But I don’t want to come off sounding too negative about the game. It’s still a lot of fun, and it may just be an element of sour grapes talking after the shellacking that Chris gave us. So I’ve still got a couple of weeks in its reign as GotM!, and I’ll know more about it then.
The Great Heartland Hauling Co. [BGG]
The rest of the evening was involved in a couple of games related to Kickstarter. The Great Heartland Hauling Co. is the newest game coming from Dice Hate Me Games, and currently has a campaign up on Kickstarter right now. I was fortunate enough to receive an advance prototype copy, and a few guys were interested in trying it out with me for the first time.
Basically, The Great Heartland Hauling Co. is a really stripped down pickup-and-deliver game about trucking in the midwest. You have a randomized layout of cards that are each cities which provide one native good and are looking for delieveries of two other goods. So on your turn, you have to move your truck, either load or unload goods from your truck, and/or do some hand-management. Movement is driven by fuel cards, but you can also spend victory points to move, and loading/unloading is driven by playing matching cards from your hand as well.
In our first game, we were all sort of feeling things out, but Chip got out to a pretty good lead and then eventually ended it by reaching the target VP level (30 points in a 4-player game). Unfortunately, after we had already started cleaning up, I noticed that his last delivery had put a 9th goods cube in a city, and since cities can only have a maximum of 8 cubes in them, the game got the dreaded asterisk attached to it.
But since it went so quickly, we just reshuffled the “map” and started again. This time, I got a little lucky to draw 3 “grain” (yellow) cards in my opening hand, so I loaded them up and managed to draw 3 more yellow cards to deliver them in the first 2 or 3 turns, putting me way ahead. I had a little trouble from there, though, giving others (mainly Chip) a chance to close on me. And by the time I could reach 30 points, Chip was actually in a position to deliver 3 green cubes in his last turn to shoot past me for the win.
Time: 33 and 30 minutes
Game 1*: Chip* 32, Kenny* 23, Keith* 18, Norton* 14
Game 2: Chip 33, Norton 29, Kenny 23, Keith 9
Ratings: Chip 8, Kenny 7.5, Keith 7.5, Norton 8
First of all, The Great Heartland Hauling Co. is really fast. Like, it’s totally in the true filler length category of right at 30 minutes. But even though it’s quick and simple, a few little elements made it a lot more than you’d figure at first glance.
The mere fact that you have to move at the beginning of your turn makes planning so much more important. Since you can’t deliver cubes somewhere and then sit around to load from that same location on the next turn, you have to really plan out your route a lot more than you would otherwise. And since you can’t ever go to a city where another player’s truck is, you’re comstantly blocking each other out (intentionally or not). But it also doesn’t feel like you’re totally blocked out of doing what you need to do, but rather, you usually have the choice of either waiting for the really good payouts where you want to go or taking a less-ideal payout now and being able to move on to something else.
I’ll try to get in a few more games as soon as I can and write up a full review soon, but definitely check out the Kickstarter campaign for more information now if you might be interested.
I also got in my copy of Farmageddon (which I backed on Kickstarter) this past week. It’s a neat little card game about (obviously) farming, but it’s pretty different from most other games because you have these two different decks of cards (Crops and Actions) that you’re drawing from. In the middle of the table are 3 empty fields that you all share as you try to plant, fertilize, and harvest your crops. But clearly, the action cards let you do all kinds of screwing with each other in lots of fun ways.
In our play, I seemed to jump out to an early lead, which got both Keith and Kenny gunning for me. They both made a pretty good comeback, even pulling off a really cool move to put two Pesticide cards (which score negative points for the person who harvests that crop) on my Sluggo Corn and then finished fertilizing it so that at the end of the game, I’d have to harvest it and score a net -3 points. But it still wasn’t quite enough and I managed to hold out for the win.
Score: Norton* $45, Kenny* $41, Keith* $34
Ratings: Norton 7, Kenny 7.5, Keith 7
Again, this was a really nice little filler game with some fantastic action. It reminds me just a little of Bohnanza, but seems to be more fun, especially when you’re able to put together some really cool action card combinations to do neat things. I already know that it is well worth the very modest investment I made in it, and will be happy to play it a lot more in the future.
Other Games Played
Time: 66 minutes
Score: Ian* 11, Chris 9, Shawn 9
Ratings: Ian 8, Chris 7.5, Shawn 9
Time: 25 minutes
Score: Chris 131, Ian 130, Shawn 125
Ratings: Chris 8.5, Shawn 9
Time: 54 minutes
Score: Shawn 51, Chris 48, Ian 40
Ratings: Shawn 8.5, Chris 8, Ian 8
Time: 42 minutes
Score: Chris 120!, Duy* 66, James K 59
Ratings: Chris 10, Duy 8, James K 9
Commands & Colors: Ancients
Time: 53 minutes
Score: Chip* (Syracusan) 5, Kenny (Carthagenian) 2
Time: 60 minutes
Score: Sceadeau 37, Steve 27, Ken 21, Darren* 13
Ratings: Sceadeau 7, Steve 8.5, Ken 8, Darren 7
Time: 40 and ? minutes
Game 1: Ken (IJA) 5, Steve (USMC) 4
Game 2: Ken (USMC) 5, Steve (IJA) 4
Ratings: Ken 8.5, Steve 8
Power Grid: First Sparks
Time: 74 minutes
Score: Chris 14, Chip* 13(+3), Jay 13(+3), James K 13(+2), Duy* 9
Ratings: Chris 8.5
* First play for that Person