Prepare to be astounded by perhaps the worst average ratings I’ve ever given in one of these reports! Despite playing games that I assumed would have some pretty good potential for fun and excitement, I was let down time and again this week. Thankfully, there were two shining exceptions that helped restore my faith in all that is right in gaming. But still, this has got to be one of the worst game nights from a “what I played” perspective in recent history.
So, on with the misery!
Space Cadets [BGG]
I had really high hopes for this game going in. Perhaps, they were too high, in fact, which could have been some of the problem. But anyway, I assembled a full bridge crew of 6 cadets (myself included) to tackle the first mission in the rules, and started by taking the weapons station myself as we got going.
On the first turn, however, we moved much farther than anyone expected, attracted the attention of our first enemy ship, and took enough damage to reveal a Shift Change damage card. Since no one else would volunteer to switch, I gave up my job as the weapons officer in lieu of the shield/damage control dude before I even got to fire a single shot.
But we did okay, picking up the first crystal and then losing the enemy ships when we entered a big asteroid field. Since our Engineer consistently underpowered the shields I was trying to power, though, we took a good amount of damage here and there, but we were moving. Pretty soon, we maneuvered to the second crystal and with some excellent piloting from Chris, stopped dead on the crystal as Derek waited for the energy to bring it in as well.
Then, however, things turn really bad for us. Just as we were needing to encounter the hardest enemies on the board, the Nemesis ship entered the system as well. And due to some significant damage we had sustained, effective piloting became a near impossibility, and soon suffered our first core breach.
Then, on the next turn and despite only needing to reveal 3 matching cards to avoid exploding from the breach, the crew did not focus enough on doing so and the mission ended in failure.
Time: 97 minutes
Score: Space Cadets (The Game) – Win; Space Cadets (The people: Chip*, Chris*, Norton*, Darren*, Derek*, & James K*) – Lose
Ratings: Chip 5.5, Chris 6, Norton 6, Darren 4.5
Actually, though, I’m not so sure that the “failure” was totally accidental. After over 90 minutes of play, a number of players were less than excited to continue playing, so I believe it was more a case of accidentally-on-purpose, which is a nice way to say sabotage.
What went wrong, then? I’m not totally sure. There’s certainly a learning curve to the game, and even though no station alone is all that hard to understand, figuring out how to balance them appropriately is probably more of a challenge than we expected.
I also feel like 6 players is just too many for this game. I mean, sure, it gives the biggest dispersement of roles so people can focus more on just one thing, but I don’t really believe that’s a good thing. Because when you’re not doing your specific job, there’s not that much else for you to do. And on some turns, if your job isn’t really needed, you don’t do anything at all (like weapons, for instance).
And finally, as the shield officer for most of the game, I just don’t think that 30 seconds is nearly enough time to actually pull of that (and perhaps some other) jobs. In that time, you have to flip over 6-12 numbered tiles, read and make sense of them, develop some semblance of a plan, and then actually put them in the right spots on the shields display. Now, I’m sure that I would get better at it if I did it a lot, but when you can get a freaking Shift Change card almost any time you get hit, it’s sort of hard to develop any real level of skill.
But still, even with our disappointment/dissatisfaction with our first play, I certainly haven’t given up on Space Cadets. I know that at least a few people involved in this play and a few others in the group would like to have another go at it soon, so maybe our opinion will change once we get our heads around it a little more.
Princess Bride: Prepare to Die! [BGG]
Next, I pulled out a new little prototype that I had been sent. Princess Bride: Prepare to Die! is going to be up on Kickstarter soon, and Game Salute sent out little promo packs to some reviewers to build some buzz around it.
The thing is, It’s basically an Apples to Apples clone using the whole “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die,” schtick as its premise. Which means that you have a deck of “Hello. My name is…” cards and another deck of “You (did something I don’t like). Prepare to die,” cards that you use to impress the judge for the round with how funny or clever or whatever you are in making combinations.
It just didn’t work for us, though. After maybe 1 round of play, Chris went ahead and wrote down “4” as his rating for the game. And then when it lasted a whole 10 minutes, he lowered it to a “3”. And yeah, I agree that 10 minutes wore out what little welcome the game had.
Time: 10 minutes
Score: Chip* – Win; Chris*, Norton*, Derek*, & Josh* – Lose (although some had said that we were all losers for playing this…)
Ratings: Chip 5.5, Chris 3, Norton 4.5, Derek 4, Josh 5
The thing is, I believe that most of us at the table were at least moderate Princess Bride fans, so the premise itself was pretty attractive to us. Unfortunately, it was actually less entertaining than Apples to Apples (which I already find pretty boring at this point) because it was so much more limited in what kind of funny things you could put together. Plus, the thing that totally killed it was that the cards themselves often just weren’t very funny, didn’t make sense (“You absolved my ticket” is a reason to want to kill someone?), or were obscure enough that some (most?) of us didn’t know who they were (Natty Bumppo and a number of videogame-related characters/people, for instance).
The limited number of cards in the promo pack and perhaps some poor choices of which cards to include in it may have contributed to our total disdain for the game, though, because as we read through most of the cards afterwards, some were quite funny (“You Drank My Milkshake” perhaps being my favorite). But as of now, with this being my one experience with the game, I don’t think it’s got much at all going for it.
No Thanks! [BGG]
In order to salvage some semblance of fun from the evening, we next turned to a sure-fire hit for us, No Thanks! And other than the fact that I failed miserably and not sucking all game long, we had a lot of fun with it.
Time: 40 minutes (for 5 hands)
Score: Chip 111, Derek* 180, Josh 187, Chris 193, Norton 220
Ratings: Chip 8, Derek 8.5, Josh 9, Chris 9, Norton 8
But I was still a glutton for punishment, so the next thing I pulled out was Courtier, which has already gone down the road of disappointing me in the past. But the main thing I wanted to do was to give it one more chance to redeem itself by using the “No Cheese” variant recommended in the rules (which prevents you from claiming a Petition using Courtiers that only have neutral influence cubes).
Chip had played before, but Josh was was new to it, so I thought that would be a nice mix to test out the variant. It was pretty close all game long, with lots of fighting over the Minister (since you can use his ability to replace control of any other Courtier). In the end, though Chip pulled it out by finishing the last Petition and revealing the “Queen is Arrested” card, taking the win based on the 2nd tiebreaker.
Time: 46 minutes
Score: Chip 33+, Josh* 33-, Norton 29
Ratings: Chip 5.5, Josh 5.5, Norton 5.5
I’ll start with the most positive things I have to say and work my way down. First of all, I think that the start of the game is actually getting more interesting for me. In my first play or two, I thought that the initial buildup to completing the first petition or two just took too long and was sort of a drag. But now, it seems like that’s the point where players really have to make some decisions about fighting over Coterie abilities and what their approach to the game will be.
As for the “No Cheese” variant, I think it’s pretty much a must-use variant at this point. And in fact, I’d go a lot further than the rules even suggest. In the book, “No Cheese” means that you have to have a cube on at least one of the Courtiers you’re going to use on a petition, but we played that you had to have actual influence over every Courtier you use. That way, rather than lucking into a Petition that you hadn’t even worked for at all previously, now the neutral cubes will only help to speed up achieving the Petitions you’re already working towards. Without it, the game is just too random and swingy, where completing a Petition is likely to help out the person to your left (by handing them a huge petition they don’t even have to work for) as much or more as it helps you.
And finally, the feeling I’m left with after 4 plays of the game is that it’s just not as good or interesting as I’d hoped it would be. The basic premise of influencing specific Courtiers that then let you complete certain petition cards is pretty cool, but something about the actual implementation of it just doesn’t work for me. Conceptually, I’m not against using cardplay to add the influence, but maybe it’s the actual mix of cards that bother me.
For instance, if you draw from the top of the Influence deck, you could potentially get a wild card that lets you put a cube on anyone, or you could get a card that lets you put a cube on anyone in one particular coterie, or you could get a card that only lets you put a cube on one particular person. That just seems wrong to me, that a random draw from the deck could give you such widely varying benefits. Maybe if you had a lineup of 5 available cards like in Ticket to Ride and could choose which one to take, or if the single-Courtier cards gave you 2 influence in them, or anything else like that to even things out a little, it would be better to me.
And of course, the whole Fashion card thing is probably still (even with “No Cheese”) the most random and chaotic element of the game. It seems like the impact of the cards vary so much that it still sort of feels like a winning the lottery for the next player when a good one comes out.
And finally, having the game end immediately when the “Queen is Arrested” card is drawn seems wrong as well. The fact that it can happen literally any time in the second “half” of the game (since it’s randomly inserted into the bottom half of the Fashion card deck) is bad enough, but then not even giving the other players a chance to have another play (even if the starting player happened to be the one to draw it) seems pretty ridiculous. Why not just let everyone finish out the round so that all players get the same number of turns?
I really hate to say such not-nice things about Courtier (especially since I’m a big fan of Philip duBarry and his other games), but I just can’t find enough in the game to keep me excited about it. I don’t actively dislike it at this point, but I also don’t particularly like it, which bad enough with all the games there are to play out there.
To finish off the evening, I cajoled Josh into learning a new game far later in the evening than was probably wise. But since Arkadia has been in my top 10 for a long time now, I figured it would be a good experience for him at least. Because, goodness, we certainly needed a little something more to redeem the evening for both of us.
If you haven’t seen or experienced Arkadia before, I wrote a full review of it a while ago that I think is pretty good. While it had been too long since I last played, I managed to shake off the rust pretty well to sail to an easy victory. But we both had fun (I think) and it only took an incdredible 37 minutes to play.
Time: 37 minutes
Score: Norton 169, Josh* 97
Ratings: Norton 9, Josh 8
Arkadia is just so cool, especially because of the timing and market-manipulation aspects. And it’s always great when you play a game that you remember really liking, and then it totally lives up to what you remember about it.
Other Games Played
Score: Tina 75, Sean 60, Shawn 56
Ratings: Tina 9, Sean 9, Shawn 8
Time: 307 minutes
Score: Scott* & Dan* (French) – Tie; Ken* & Keith* (British) – Tie
Ratings: Scott 8, Dan 6, Ken 7, Keith 7
Sentinels of the Multiverse
Time: 38 minutes
Score: Heroes (Chris – EWAZ, Darren – OX, Derek – Unity, & James K – Bunker) – Win; Spite in the Tomb of Ancients – Lose
Ticket to Ride: Switzerland
Time: 65 minutes
Score: Sean* 126, Shawn* 102, Tina* 51
Ratings: Sean 10, Shawn 9, Tina 9
* First play for that Perso