It was good to be back “home” at game night over the last few weeks, especially since I have a number of new games I’ve gotten in lately that I want (and need) to get to the table. And more than that, I hadn’t seen my gaming friends for way too long, and it was great to sit across the table from them again. So once I got to the store and mostly settled in a couple of weeks ago, I got started explaining the rules to…
Unfortunately, I didn’t do as great a job of it as I would have liked. While I had played the prototype once before, it had been way too long, there were a number of changes from the version I played, and the rulebook wasn’t the best at being referenced when I tried to look stuff up.
But all that aside, the whole premise of Compounded is that we are all rival chemists, I suppose, trying to get all gangsta on each other as we assemble different compounds, score atomic number points, and blow stuff up. At the beginning of each round, every player randomly pulls a certain number of element doo-hickeys (represented by differently-colored acrylic gems) from a bag, and then you get to trade them with each other for a little while. Next, players claim different compound cards on the table, and then proceed to place the little element doo-hickeys onto the compounds to complete them. Once a compound is finished, it will score for the person that has claimed it, as well as increasing their ability to do one of the core activities in the game (like draw more elements, claim more compounds, place more elements, or store more elements), possibly get some lab equipment, and occasionally have some other effects.
At the end of the turn, the array of compound cards is refilled. But mixed in with the compound cards are also a number of Lab Fire cards, which basically make flammable compounds blow up, showering any element doo-hickeys on them onto other adjacent compound cards.
In our game, I decided to try and focus mostly on building up my ability to draw and place more elements. Of course, that’s kind of what you probably want to do in every game, but I suppose that what I mean is that I tried mostly to build up the 1st and 3rd of the ability tracks, rather than the ones that let me claim more compounds or hold more elements.
It worked out pretty well, except that everything seemed to work even better for Keith. By the end, he had maxed out all four of his tracks and propelled his score well into the Lanthanide section of the periodic table score track.
Time: 102 minutes
Score: Keith* – Terbium (65), Norton – Tin (50), Chip* – Cadmium (48), Kenny* – Cadmium (48)
Ratings: Keith 7, Norton 7.5, Chip 7.5, Kenny 7.5
We had a lot of fun playing Compounded. There’s a trading element that seems comparable to Settlers of Catan that keeps your head up, looking around at your opponents for a good trade deal. There’s also a lot of chance for tricky play and double-think in claiming the compound cards and finagling a good deal, sometimes through the intimidation of holding your Bunsen burner in the general direction of another person’s flammable compound.
The biggest flaw in the game was how freaking many mistakes I/we/the rulebook made in the explaining and interpreting the rules. Probably the biggest one is that we thought the element limit applied only to the end of the turn, but that is totally incorrect. The limit applies to the end of any phase in the turn, which mostly then affects the end of the Discovery phase (when you’re drawing elements). Now, the rules aren’t actually unclear about this, but I’ll claim that I was mislead by the player board. Because the way the thing is set up is that you have the four “experiments” (for the four different advancement tracks) over on the right side, and up above them, they’re sore of mapped to the four different phases of the turn. So the first track affects how many elements you draw, and it obviously affects the Discovery phase (since that’s when you draw them). So when I saw the fourth track underneath the last phase (Lab phase), I assumed that’s the only point where it applied.
But anyway, even with that (and a number of other) error in play, we still had a really good time. It’s a really good example of a light-ish game that is approachable and relaxed, but still has some nice room for thought and strategic decision-making. And it’s about chemistry, which is cool.
I just wish they’d get on with making some sort of Breaking Bad expansion, ’cause I’d love to see C10H15N on some sort of huge compound card at some point.
The other game I played on this game night was from a Kickstarter campaign I had been interested in but didn’t have the funds to support at the time. Canterbury is the first independent game from designer Andrew Parks and his company Quixotic Games. It’s all about the building of Canterbury on the ruins of an old Roman city, starting in the center from the well that remained from it.
The board is divided into 25 different districts that players can build into. Each district, however, has certain services that must be supplied to it, which are (in order): water, food, religion, defense, commerce, and culture. To construct a building in a district, all services below what it provides must already be in place. So, for example, while you could build a well in any district (since it provides water), a Watchtower (which provides defense) can only be built in a district that already has access to water, food, and religion from other structures.
Structures also come in different sizes, though. Small buildings (1 square in size) serve only the district they’re in, while medium buildings (2 squares in size) serve their district and all orthogonally adjacent districts, and large buildings (4 squares in size) serve their district and 5 other districts anywhere else in the whole city. Players get points for constructing these structures as they go, they get points for delivering the majority of services to districts at various stages of the game, and then also score points based on who delivered each service to the most districts at the end of the game.
In our play of Canterbury, I somehow managed to get ahead of the curve and stayed there pretty much all game long. The actual turn-by-turn play of the game is very tit-for-tat, where players sort of go back and forth making small advances over each other, and then the opponents make a move to pull back close together. But I was able to stay in position to trigger the intermediate scoring and the end of the game every single time, which gave me a pretty good advantage.
Chip was very close to me all game long, and Chris made some awesome moves near the end to build some of the large buildings in the most lucrative districts, but I was still able to hold on and use my tempo advantage to take the win.
Time: 70 minutes
Score: Norton* 222, Chip* 206, Chris 202, Kenny* 187
Ratings: Norton 6, Chip 5, Chris 7.5, Kenny 6.5
I found this game to be a lot like when I watched Green Lantern in the theater. While I was playing/watching, I enjoyed myself a great bit. But afterwards, when I started to think more and more about it, I became less and less thrilled with the experience.
But let me be clear that Canterbury is certainly a better game than Green Lantern is a movie, so the comparison stops there, okay?
What I’m getting at is that while the game works really well and has a lot of really cool and clever mechanics, I wonder a lot about how much variety and replayability it will have in the long run. The thing is, it’s a very tactical game. Your decision horizon (a term I’ve heard some people use and like a lot) is very limited by the fact that other players are continually changing the city’s landscape. So even if you have some vague idea of the kind of services you’d like to specialize in or the particular buildings you’d like to build, the actual opportunity and capability to do so is completely dependent on what you and the other players have made available.
And while the whole scaffolding of services is a really cool and thematic element in the game, it’s also going to make the development of the game relatively predictable. You always have to start with sources of water and food and build up from there. The medium and then large buildings really can’t start to come out until the city is big enough to levy sufficient taxes to pay for them (which I didn’t even talk about above, by the way). You can’t really over-specialize in just 1 or 2 services to max out the points from that bonus at game end, because then you’ll lose the area-majority scoring from providing multiple services to different districts. And unless I’m very wrong about the variety available in the game, I would think that all of these relatively predictable elements to the game development will make it play out more or less similarly each time.
But again, I’m not saying that I didn’t like Canterbury at all. Any “disappointment” with it comes mostly just from the fact that my favorite kinds of games often give you the opportunity to make longer-term plans and strategies; to approach the game in a very different way from game to game. But in Canterbury, I see a game that is going to be dominated by small, tactical choices leading to marginal advantages for one player over another, leading to a relatively tight and balanced game that follows a similar progression from play to play. It’s good and fun, but it just didn’t capture my imagination or have much to “haunt” me after we were done.
Other Games Played
Ascension: Darkness Unleashed
Time: 31 minutes
Score: Chris 74, Raymond 57, Shawn 54
Ratings: Chris 9
Time: 12 minutes
Score: Sean 27, Chris 23, Tina 20, Shawn 18, Raymond 17
Ratings: Chris 7
Sentinels of the Multiverse
Time: 63 minutes
Score: Heroes (Chris – Absolute Zero, Darren Omnitron X, Ken – Nightmist, James K – Fanatic) – Win; The Matriarch in the Ruins of Atlantis – Lose
Ratings: Chris 10, James K 10
Ghost Stories (with White Moon expansion)
Time: 70 minutes
Score: Chris – Lose
Ratings: Chris 8.5
* First play for that Person