January is shaping up to be a really bad month for game nights. For some reason, Tuesday has been the official “dump winter weather on central North Carolina” day of each week lately, so I’ve only gotten in one and a half regularly-scheduled game nights so far this month. But what I have been able to attend has been pretty great, so let’s get right to it!
Koi Pond [BGG]
I had prearranged to play the next game on this report, but once it was all set up, I needed a little filler for a few of us waiting for others to wrap up another game. Coincidentally, I had just received review copies from Daniel Solis for the games he has up on DriveThruCards, so I pulled out Koi Pond to try out.
Now, I actually got to play a prototype version of Koi Pond with Daniel several months ago, and was pretty impressed with it then. The basic idea is that on each turn, you draw three cards and have to play one card to your Pond (face-up in front of you), one card to your River (your discard pile), and keep the rest in your House (your hand). And since your hand builds up over the 6 turns in each round of the game, you can play cards to your Pond or River later in a round that you kept from previous turns, so there’s a little hand-management going on as well.
Most of the cards picture between 1 and 3 fish of a single color, and the main way you score at the end of each round is to have sets of like-colored fish in both your Pond and House. In other words, if you have 5 blue fish in your Pond and 4 blue fish in your House, then you score 4 points for blue. And of course, you can score in every color for which you have fish in both your Pond and House.
In addition, there are also “predators” (Cats, Turtles, and Cranes) in each color that score based on the number of like-colored fish in your opponent’s House, River, or Pond (respectively). Plus, there are also some Ribbons that score based on how many fish of each color you played to your River each round.
In our game, I did pretty well in both fish and ribbon scoring, but James and Chip both beat me soundly by making much better use of the predators.
Time: 28 minutes
Score: James K* 59, Chip* 50, Norton 42
Ratings: James K 7, Norton 7
Much like my first impression from before, I once again found Koi Pond to be really good. It has a similar feel to Biblios (which I love) in that you’re drawing these three cards each turn and having to make some (mostly) irrevocable decisions about where to play things. The scoring is a lot more complicated than Biblios, but the fact that everyone is playing cards simultaneously keeps it moving very well. And I also like that hand-management aspect where you can hold cards in your House early on that you may eventually play into your Pond or River based on how the game progresses.
So for now at least, I’m definitely enjoying Koi Pond. I can see it being a filler/light card game that we come back to a lot in my group (and with my wife, for that matter).
Freedom: The Underground Railroad [BGG]
The “big event’ for the evening then was a play of Freedom: The Underground Railroad. Britt and I had talked on the guild about getting this to the table, and after my first play at MACE, I was very excited to do so.
We randomly dealt out roles, and I ended up being the Conductor, which meant that I was able to move two slave cubes each turn even without using a conductor token, as well as being able to move 5 slaves on my turn once in the game. If my nearly-40-year-old memory isn’t failing me, I think we also had the Preacher (Britt), Stock Holder (Stacy), and the Shepherd (Chip).
As I’m sitting here trying to write this report, I’m finding it hard to really come up with a “narrative” for the game. But I don’t want that to sound like a negative or anything, it’s just thematic in a different kind of way. Rather than telling a “story” through play, it more offers an “experience”.
So to describe that experience a little, things started off pretty well for us. Early in the game, there’s lots of room to move slaves up out of the plantations, and money comes pretty easily from the fundraising tokens. But then as you finish up with the first phase of the game and move into the second phase, things get really tight. It seems like every move you want to make has a slave catcher breathing down your neck, and there’s always a whole pile of new slaves waiting in the next Slave Market for empty spots in the plantations, so there’s this building pressure to clear things out.
It seems like we kept from “losing” any slaves for the longest time, but then in the last couple of turns, as we also began to face the pressure to buy all of the support tokens we needed to actually abolish slavery, we finally acknowledged that there’s no way to save every slave. And then a little later on, as we were once again needing those last few dollars to buy support, we even made the decision to move a slave that could have been taken into Canada backwards to Boston in order to make more money for the cause. And in the end, it all worked out since we were able to pick up that last support token and win the game in the last turn.
Time: 124 minutes
Score: Abolitionists (Britt*, Chip*, Norton, & Stacy*) – Win* (67 points); Slavery – Abolished!
Ratings: Britt 8, Chip 7, Norton 9, Stacy 7
Before I get in to more analysis, I also feel the need to point out that I played one rule wrong. I thought that when the Opposition cards said “when removed”, that only applied if the card fell off the end of the card track. But in reading the rules again, they actually trigger when bought from the track as well. So buying opposition cards of that type don’t prevent the effect, it just gives you the opportunity to choose when it applies so you could potentially plan for a more advantageous time. I don’t know if it would have totally changed the outcome of the game, but it was pretty close, so who knows.
But that aside, let me get on to my thoughts about Freedom.
I just got around to finally watching Joel Eddy’s Top Games of 2013 video blog, and Freedom was his top cooperative game and overall top game of 2013. The way he talked about it is pretty much exactly the way I’ve felt in both of my two plays. And in his comments, he told this really cool story about Bob Dylan and how he wanted his music to affect people in the same sort of way that watching an opera affected him. So the parallel that Joel basically made was that while there are a lot of really fun and cool and innovative games that come out each year, they’re all sort of like pop music. Freedom: The Underground Railroad, however, is opera. It’s just different in so many ways.
Sure, first and foremost, it’s a really, really good game. It’s tense and challenging and is full of lots of important and meaningful choices and has room for tons of real cooperation between the players. Because if the actual game part sucked, then no one in our hobby would care.
But more than that, Freedom does something that I wasn’t really sure that a boardgame could do. When I play it or think about it or try to write about it, the game affects me. In much the same way that I’m affected when I watch a particularly powerful movie or read a profoundly good book, I feel a little bit changed by the experience. And unlike the “game” Train (which I’ve heard about before but never personally experienced), it doesn’t rely on trickery or surprise to force you into the experience. As you play, as you do your best to move these little wooden cubes up a track to the top of the board, just a little glimpse of what the actual people represented in the game had to face becomes more real to you.
And I’m just so totally impressed with Academy Games both in wanting to take on this sensitive subject, as well as how amazingly they met the challenge. Because the game walks this perfect line of being respectful and abstract enough so as not to cause offense, but still including just enough reality and details to bring the theme to life. As an example, just take a look at this picture:
What you’re seeing here is one of the Slave Market cards. And what just struck me the other day was the illustration on the card (go ahead, look at it again). It’s showing potential buyers, slave owners, inspecting the slaves who will are up for auction.
I don’t know, maybe I’m just going off an emotional deep end here, but Freedom: The Underground Railroad is already a big deal to me.
Okay, so to lighten things up a little here, the last game we played on January 14 was Spyrium. It was my second play, along with Stacy (who I think had also played just once) and then three people (Chip, Keith, and Kenny) who were new to the game. I felt like I had learning a thing or two in my first play (mostly, not to ignore patents), so I figured I would have a little advantage in the game… But I was apparently wrong.
I managed to get all my workers into play pretty quickly, but also lost one of the patents I really wanted (the one that lets you re-use a building and scores for all your active workers) due to some bad financial planning. I did manage to recover some and get the Capitalization card (that gives 2 extra pounds when you retrieve a worker for money and scores for money at the end of the game), though. But it seems like I waited a little too long to make the transition to working on my actual score, and came up a little short in the end.
Chip, Keith, and Kenny, on the other hand, did a great job of being far more opportunistic and tactical that I was, getting points from all sorts of places all game long. In the end, my “engine” may have been a little better, but it was way too slow in getting started, and just didn’t have enough time to run to be all that profitable.
Time: 96 minutes
Score: Chip* 79, Keith* 78, Kenny* 78, Norton 67, Stacy 62
Ratings: Chip 7.5, Keith 8, Kenny 7.5, Norton 7.5, Stacy 7
I’m really liking Spyrium. I don’t know that I have a lot more to add from my first report about it, but I continue to find that the core auction/bidding/action-selection (“pay or get paid”) thing is just brilliant. And if anything, I was even more impressed with the rest of the game this time around, especially in how well you can balance the strategic and tactical/opportunistic sides of play. I’m definitely excited to get it back to the table.
And then the following week, on our “Anniversary” night (which was, as I said, complicated by the snow falling outside and the fact that we’re mostly all no-ice-driving southerners) the only actual game I got in was my first play of Rampage. Since I had brought it 2 or 3 times already and it had never gotten out of my bag, I decided to just go on and set it up while I waited for other games to finish.
But then once all the partying was mostly over, I explained the rules to a few others and we got started. Then, on my very first action of the very first turn of the game, this happened:
So we had to figure out what to do (we ended up pushing it most of the way out with a pen) and then move along with the game. And even with a few other rules questions here and there (which we didn’t stress over too much), we had a really good time.
I thought I was doing pretty well both in my total meeples eaten and in meeting my end-game scoring condition, at least until Chip used his secret power to look into my stomach and took two meeples that I needed to complete my second complete set (which I never managed to re-build). I still thought I was in good shape, but Jay managed to edge my out mostly on the strength of injuring other monsters.
Time: 51 minutes
Score: Jay* 32, Norton* 30, Chip* 28, Kenny* 16(.5)
Ratings: Jay 7, Norton 7, Chip 7, Kenny 8
As I just said, we had a really good time playing Rampage. It’s sort of ostensibly a dexterity game, but not really. More than anything, it’s just a chaotically fun good time. You get to be a big monster that blows buildings down, jumps up and down on them, and eats little meeples that are trying to run away. If that sounds fun to you, then you’ll probably enjoy Rampage too.
Other Games Played
Time: 42 minutes
Score: Chris 90, Ray 89, Shawn 70
Ratings: Chris 8, Shawn 8
Eggs & Empires
Time: 50 and 30 minutes
Game 1: Tina* 92, Shawn* 70, Ben* 47, Sean* 41
Game 2: Ray* 113, Shawn 106, Sean 97
Time: 34 minutes
Score: Forbidden Desert – Win; Chris, James E*, Ray, & Tommy* – Lose
Ratings: Chris 8.5
Time: 29 minutes
Score: Chris, Darren*, James E*, and Tommy* – 12
Ratings: Chris 9
Ra: The Dice Game
Time: 33 minutes
Score: Darren 42, Chris 37, Ray 32, Shawn 30
Ratings: Chris 8
Race for the Galaxy (with Alien Artifacts)
Time: 35 and 60 minutes
Game 1: Chris 47, Ken 27, Ray* 19, Britt 16
Game 2: Chris 46, Ray 39, Ken 35, Britt 33
Ratings: Chris 10, Ken 9, Ray 7, Britt 6
Ratings (Orb game): Chris 6.5, Ken 7.5, Ray 6, Britt 5
Sergeants Miniatures Game
Time: 60 minutes
Score: Ken 21, Britt 11
Ratings: Ken 8, Britt 7.5
Time: 55 minutes
Score: Sean 83, Shawn 56, Tina 34
Ratings: All 9’s
A Study in Emerald
Time: 21 and 62 minutes
Game 1: James E* 5, Chris* 0, Ray* 0, Tommy* 0
Game 2: Chris 30, Tommy 23, James E 20, Tommy 0
Ratings: Chris 7
Ticket to Ride: Nederland
Time: 65 minutes
Score: Tina 175, Shawn 170, Sean 120, Ben 83
Ratings: Tina 10, Shawn 9, Sean 10, Ben 10
* First play for that Person
Since Kenny threatened my with violence if I put a picture of him using the “atomic breath” action, here’s Chip Demolishing the stadium