Since putting together my Top 11 Favorite Game Mechanics list, I’ve continued to think more about some of the games I mentioned. So my pile o’ games last week contained a few of them that I’d like to play again soon. And as I walked in, Kenny and Chip said that they were just talking about Metropolys, which was probably at the top of my want-to-play list. Taking the serendipitous hint, that’s what we jumped into first!
Everyone had played before, but it had been a while, so running through the rules was a good exercise for all of us. Kenny started out by being very aggressive, using some of his high-value buildings early on to get important areas and sort of stake a claim in a couple of districts. The way he threw them around sort of reminded me of how you can almost bully people in Ra by calling “Ra!” a lot and using certain vales of suns. Keith played similarly, and for a while, it looked like one of them might be able to run the table and end the game before I really got started good.
Chip and I held back a little bit more, though, even though I did lay down a couple of big buildings to get some of my preferred neighborhoods that also happened to have “trendy” tokens on them. And I’d say that as the game progressed, the main consideration I had in mind was always what position giving up a particular building would put me in compared to what Chip had.
In the end, though, Keith and Kenny ran out of steam a little once they ran out of big buildings, and I managed to finish out the game by playing down my last buildings. On the strength of winning “largest building” in two districts and claiming 8 of my preferred neighborhoods, I managed to secure the win!
Time: 50 minutes
Score: Norton 41, Keith 35, Chip 33, Kenny 25
Ratings: Norton 8.5, Keith 8, Chip 7.5, Kenny 8
Metropolys is just so darn good! It’s a totally unique auction system that makes sense and moves quickly, and the decisions you have to make in each proposal are really hard and interesting. I still stand by my review, and need to keep bringing it more often to game night. (Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that I’ve only lost the game once, giving me an 87.5% winning percentage!)
Salmon Run [BGG]
My friend Shawn actually Kickstarted Salmon Run, but hadn’t ever had the chance to play it with us before now. But since I’m such a big fan of it, I was glad to jump in when he asked to play his copy. It was one of the closest sessions of Salmon Run that I’ve played, actually, with all of us being within a turn or two away from the Spawning Pool when Keith finally made the final jump to win.
Time: 23 minutes
Score: Keith – Win!; Chip, Norton, and Shawn* – Lose
Ratings: Keith 7, Chip 6, Norton 8, Shawn 8
Merchant of Venus [BGG]
It’s almost become a joke at game night that, in almost any discussion about what to play next, I raise my eyebrows and ask, “How ’bout a quick game of Merchant of Venus?” Many times (as in, when it’s 11pm or later), it truly is a joke. But even then, there’s at least a glimmer of hope that someone will bite and I’ll be able to whoop out what is quickly becoming one of my favorite games.
And that’s exactly what happened last week. After I popped the question, both Chip and Keith looked at each other and nodded. So within minutes, I was gleefully pulling cardboard from its big ole’ box and setting the game up. During my last play, I determined that the game was “Plano worthy”, so my efforts were aided by a nice plastic organizer I had used to hold all of the goods and other stuff (which, ironically enough, was not actually a Plano box, because a bead organizer I had fit the pieces better), conveniently arranged by race, of course. And to make “the cup” even better, I had picked up a spiffy little bag to hold all the demand and passenger tiles as well!
Three is a really good number of players for the game, because there are 3 basic directions that you can go in as you leave the Galactic Base. For whatever reason, I headed “east”, plunging headfirst into the Nebula since I didn’t much care where I ended up at that point. Before long, I had made first contact with a random race or two (including my home race, the Humans, which were on the stupid Multigenerational Ship and therefore didn’t have a Spaceport that I could buy for cheap), and spent almost all my money picking up a juicy trade good. But then in my quest to find someone that actually wanted the freaking doo-hickey I had in my cargo hold, I started to run into a really big string of bad luck.
Chip and Keith get stuck in the Nebula…
As I moved around the War-Torn System and then into the Asteroid System, every freaking Encounter token I landed on turned out to be a freaking hazard, and since I only had 10 freaking credits, I did a lot of stopping along the freaking way. But eventually, about an hour into the game, I made my first freaking sale. And then, due to being at the right place at the right time, I managed to pick up a few passengers that turned me a tidy profit as well.
My next challenge was trying to upgrade my ship, because my string of bad luck continued in that almost all of the races I discovered or made sense to deliver to were freaking primitive races, thus giving me no opportunity to buy a new and improved ship. Meanwhile, though, Chip made an early upgrade to the Clipper (2 holds and 4 speed dice). The Clipper’s extra speed itself is really nice, but since we also had 4 of the Telegates in play this game, having another die for Navigation spaces and Telegates was really beneficial for him as well. And pretty consistently through the middle of the game, Chip emerged as the definite person to beat.
Repeating his strategy from an earlier game, Keith attempted to go the complete other path by upgrading to the Freighter (5 holds and 2 speed dice). To speed him up, he also picked up the Combo Drive (which skips both red and yellow spaces on the board), which he was able to use pretty well. But unfortunately, it seems like the cost of the Freighter and combo drive (600 credits total) is a really huge investment that would be really difficult to turn a profit on. I mean, maybe if you had a really juicy trade route that involved 2 or 3 systems that were right next to each other it might could work out, but then maybe the drive wouldn’t be necessary either. If things work out, maybe I’ll try it sometime.
But anyway, I finally had the chance to upgrade to the Clipper as the game neared an end. I’m not sure it was the totally best move at that point, but I also knew that Chip was getting close to 2000 credits, and I wanted to try and race him to the finish. It didn’t totally work out, though, because he managed to cross the threshold just about 2 turns before I would have been able to cross it myself.
Time: 152 minutes
Score: Chip c2020, Norton c1666, Keith c1420
Ratings: Chip 8.5, Norton 9, Keith 8
I said it above, but let me say it again. Merchant of Venus (the “Classic” version anyway) is definitely becoming one of my favorite games. Yeah, it’s got a lot of dice rolling and other random stuff going on with it, but at its core, it’s still a really solid, economic pick-up-and-deliver game. And especially with the campy sci-fi theme, it seems to strike just the right sort of balance between crazy (but cool) swings of luck and hardcore gamery number crunching.
The roll-‘n’-move mechanic can certainly cause some frustration at times. But at the same time, every player rolls the dice on pretty much every turn, so it more or less evens out throughout the game. And on top of that, there are enough ways to mitigate the randomness (by the route you choose, the ship you’re using, and the upgrades you buy) that I still tend to feel like the choices I made still had a real impact on the end result.
And probably more than anything else, it’s just plain fun! Like I mentioned, it was around an hour into the game before I even made my first delivery in this play, but I still had a great time flying around the galaxy, making first contact with new races, and running into all sorts of wacky misfortune in the meantime! And when the game ended after 2 and a half hours (which was shorter than we thought it would be), all three of us said that it didn’t seem like nearly that long because we were having such a great time.
So anyway, I’ll talk more about it again, I’m sure, and I’ll review it on the podcast before long. And hopefully, I’ll get to play the Standard version sometime soon as well, just so I can compare the two and make a more informed decision about which I like better.
Other Games Played
Ascension: Rise of Vigil
Time: 26 minutes
Score: Chris 87, Steve 55, Shawn 45
Ratings: Chris 9, Shawn 9
Time: 11 and 11 minutes
Game 1: Ken 11, Derek* 10
Game 2: Ken – King; Derek 10
Ratings: Ken 7.5, Derek 7
Time: 28 minutes
Score: Ken 16, Chris 12, Darren* 7, Shawn* 7, Steve* 4
Ratings: Ken 8, Chris 6.5, Darren 7, Shawn 8, Steve 7
Castles of Burgundy
Time: 91 minutes
Score: Chris 225, Steve* 214, Shwn 192, Darren* 188
Ratings: Chris 9.5, Steve 8, Shawn 8
Guilds of Cadwallon
Time: 28 minutes
Score: Darren 45, Ken* 42, Derek 31, Steve* 18, Chris 12
Ratings: Chris 8
Time: 50 minutes
Score: Steve* 3, Kenny 2, Derek* 1
Ratings: Steve 9, Kenny 8, Derek 8
Race for the Galaxy
Time: 17 and 25 minutes
Game 1: Chris 42, Ken 34, Steve 29, Derek 19
Game 2: Ken 56, Chris 43, Derek 30, Steve 25
Ratings: Ken 9.5, Chris 10, Steve 9
* First play for that Person