Okay, let’s try to get back into the swing of actually writing about games for a change! After many, many absences over the last few months, I hope to have now returned to a more consistent attendance. I made a couple of visits back in November that I’ll touch on, but most of these games were played this very week, but the rest of the backlog will just have to be lost to the void of time. So, let’s get on with it!
Ora et Labora [BGG]
The main thing I played in both of my November visits was Ora et Labora. I had heard good things about it before, but between its length, its cost, and some reports about sub-par components, I hadn’t even picked it up or found the opportunity to play before. But Sceadeau had it with him and was pretty hot to get me into it.
In both games, I focused a lot on the map-building portion of the game, and the “dwelling” score that you get for the placement of the settlement cards. In the first, that’s really all I did, and didn’t have any appreciable VP goods to add to it. But I did a little better both in being efficient and in having a little more of an “engine” to make some VP near the endgame in the second.
Time: 145 and 121 minutes
Game 1 (11/13/12): Sceadeau 201, Chip* 163, Scott* 163, Norton* 150
Game 2 (11/20/12): Sceadeau 250, Norton 189, Keith* 151, Jay* 103
Ratings: Sceadeau 9, Norton 8.5, Chip 7, Scott 5, Keith 6, Jay 6
But what do I think about Ora et Labora? Just by my rating, I obviously liked it a lot. In comparison to Le Havre (which I played 2 or 3 times before trading it away), it seems both more efficient and more interesting. They’re very similar games, but Ora et Labora definintely seems to be more refined and improved.
In comparison to Agricola, though, I’m not sure who comes out on top. It’s definintely heavier than ‘Gric, but it also feels notably less oppressive. There’s still some good tension about not being able to do all you want to do, and some pressure about being ready for the settlement phases, but it also feels a little more open to variable strategies. I just wish it were a little shorter, but I still put it at the top of my wishlist, so maybe I’ll even get my own copy for Christmas!
Wrong Chemistry [BGG]
So then, I started this week off with a play of a new game from Mage Company, a small publisher out of Bulgaria. I was interested in this when it was on Kickstarter (due to my background in chemistry), so I was glad to receive a review copy this past week.
Basically, it’s an abstract puzzle game where you’re trying to reconfigure the “molecule” to match cards in your hand. Using 4 actions each turn, you can remove, add, or move tokens and tiles to other positions, playing any cards to your score pile when you accomplish them. There are 3 difficulties of cards, worth 1, 2, or 3 points each corresponding to how hard they are. And then, if you can score cards with adjacent atomic numbers (which are next to each other on the periodic table), you also score a point for each card in the “run”.
The other main twist with it is that you can also discard one scored card per turn to get 3 extra actions, which then lets you use a lower-value card or one that you can’t fit in a run to have a better chance at accomplishing more difficult molecules.
I liked the game pretty well, actually. The main thing you’re doing is sort of spatial manipulation in your head, where you have to look at what the molecule is at the beginning of your turn and figure out how efficiently you can turn it into one (or more) cards in your hand. And if you like that kind of puzzley play, it’s a solid and quick little game in the genre.
There are 2 main drawbacks that I see, however. First is that luck has a pretty huge impact on the game. If you draw cards that are next to each other, or just draw cards at the right time, or the person in front of you just happens to leave the molecule in a configuration that you like, then you’ll probably do better. And the other thing is that there’s really no way to plan ahead, even from turn to turn, because you never know what the person in front of you will be doing. In a lot of ways, it’s very similar to the Steve Jackson game The Stars are Right, except that this plays in far less time and doesn’t hurt your head as much.
Still, I could see it being a decent filler or family-weight game. I’ll definitely introduce it to Gwen, since she sometimes likes spatial puzzle games (like her beloved Ricochet Robots).
Time: 28 minutes
Score: Kenny* 13, Jay* 11, Chris* 9, Norton* 9
Ratings: Chris 5.5, Norton 6
While I’m talking about Mage Company, I also need to mention their newest Kickstarter project, 12 Realms. It’s a cooperative card ‘n board game that looks really good, and will be live through January 29. They sent me a prototype copy back in November, but it wasn’t all cut out and assembled, and I just haven’t had the time to get it ready to play. But I’m going to try my best to get it all fired up and played as soon as I can, so hopefully that will be well before its campaign ends.
Scott and Shawn were deep in a battle of X-Wing Minis at this point, so the rest of us pulled out Medici for a quick game. Despite its age and reputation, this was actually just my second play of it, and I did just about as well as I did the first time around.
While Kenny was filling up his ship in the first few auctions each phase and doing great, I held back too much and focused too heavily on just one or two goods. And then Kenny and Jay seemed to almost be working together for a lot of the game, splitting the 1st and 2nd place points in 2 or 3 goods. And Chris was staying competitive by spending less than everyone else while still getting some really effective lots.
Chris probably would have won, but he mis-remembered how many extra tiles there were in each phase, so he passed on a lot that he could have gotten cheap that would have certainly gotten him more points than the 2 empty spots he had that turn. But Kenny still played a great game in what was a close finish by all.
Time: 38 minutes
Score: Kenny 102, Chris 96, Jay* 95, Norton 89
Ratings: Kenny 8.5, Chris 9, Jay 8, Norton 8
I obviously don’t know what the heck I’m doing yet in Medici. But it’s quickly becoming one of my favorite “pure auction” games. It’s just so elegant and single-minded, but still has a lot of subtlety in balancing the different payouts and the largest ship bonuses. Plus, it’s really hard to argue with a 30-45 minute game that packs such a punch.
Sentinels of the Multiverse [BGG]
I was just thinking over the last couple of weeks that I haven’t played nearly enough Sentinels of the Multiverse lately. It seems like Sentinels tends to be one of those “early” games that are already in progress (or finished up entirely) by the time I get to game night, so I rarely have a good opportunity to engage with it.
So while Scott and Kenny started up their learning game of Space Empires: 4X, Jay, Chris, and I pulled out the newest heroes (which I hadn’t even seen yet) and faced off against Plague Rat in Atlantis (for some odd reason).
The theme of the latest expansion (Infernal Relics) is sort of magic and mystical stuff, and I thought that my hero, Nightmist, was pretty cool to play. She had a lot of lifegain for herself, and could put together a number of neat effects in which she could redirect damage dealt to her (often even by herself) onto someone else.
But Plague Rat is a difficult villain, and none of us were really big damage dealers, so it didn’t go so well. Chris probably has the most chance to build into doing a lot of damage, but his arsenal of interdependent little robots kept getting eaten by Krakens or stepped on by Plague Rat.
Time: 45 minutes
Score: Plague Rat (in Atlantis) – Win; Heroes (Chris – Unity, Jay – Argent Adept, & Norton – Nightmist) – Lose
Ratings: Chris 10, Norton 8
Yep, I really need to play more Sentinels. It’s a ton of fun, and every time you have a new team of heroes, it’s like playing a new game. It’s not necessarily the best game mechanically out there, but it’s definintely one of the most thematic, and it creates some really cool and unique experiences.
At this point, Jay and Chris abandoned me, but Scott and Kenny were still neck-deep in some hot XXXX action. I brought along Pandemic this week, though, and since I haven’t played it in forever, I decided to just set it up and play a solo game or two.
As I normally do with solo Pandemic, I played with 2 roles, randomly choosing the Scientist and the Troubleshooter. I used 5 of the Virulent epidemic cards, though, because I wanted a challenge, but I’m also pretty rusty at the game. And like normal, things started off pretty well. I did have some early outbreaks that I couldn’t do much about, but I was making good progress with curing the diseases (as you’re wont to do with the Scientist in play). As the end grew near, though, and only the virulent strain (which was black, and now required an additional card to cure) remained uncured, it got pretty tough. When that last, unexpected epidemic hit and caused the fatal chain-reaction in another color, I was holding 7 black cards between my two hands, but just hadn’t been able to get them into the right place to ever cure it.
By this time, Kenny and Scott were nearing an end point. They weren’t completely finished with it, but they could see the probable outcome and had pretty much gotten what they wanted out of the learning game. So as they wrapped up, I set the board up again for a 3-player game using just 5 regular epidemics.
I thought we had a pretty good team, with Kenny being the Medic, Scott the Dispatcher, and me as the Field Operative. There were a number of tmes that Kenny pulled us back from the edge of disaster as black threatened to use up all its cubes on more than one occasion. But as it often does, the game came down to drawing one particular card that caused another fatal chain-reaction just one turn before I would have been able to play the last cure and win.
Time: 29 and 27 minutes
Game 1 (solo): Virulent Pandemic (5 epidemics) – Win; Norton (Scientist & Troubleshooter) – Lose
Game 2: Pandemic (5 epidemics) – Win; Humans (Kenny – Medic, Scott – Dispatcher, & Norton – Field Operative) – Lose
Ratings: Kenny 9, Scott 6, Norton 8
Yep, it’s still my favorite game. Even Scott (who doesn’t particularly like coop games and disliked Pandemic the first time he tried it) had a good time. In two games under 30 minutes each, we had a thrilling experience that came down literally to the last turn or two both times, so what else could you ask for?
Other Games Played
Time: 55 minutes
Score: Chris 101, Jay 98, Shawn 69
Ratings: Chris 10, Jay ?, Shawn 10
Time: 35 minutes
Score: Chris 179, Kenny 107, Jay* 75, Bob* 56
Ratings: Chris 8
Space Empires: 4X
Time: 155 minutes
Score: Not completed – Learning Game (called on account of space rain)
Ratings: Scott 8, Kenny 7.5
Star Wars: X-Wing Minis
Time: ?? minutes
Score: Scott – WIn; Shawn – Lose
* First play for that Person