I was doing pretty well with keeping up there for a few weeks, but now I once again find myself waaay behind in my game night reports. I’m not going to try and get it all back in one fell swoop, but I will combine a couple of game nights that have a similar theme: that of containing one big, meaty game…
I first got into the modern boardgaming hobby in 2006 and early 2007. And since I sort of built my game group from scratch, there weren’t any “older” gamers around with their mature collections hanging around to show us some of the hot games of the recent past. Therefore, even though it was a huge hit just a year or two before I got into the hobby, Caylus had completely passed me by prior to a few weeks ago.
But when I walked into game night that evening, there it was, sitting on a table having been brought by Mark, a relative newcomer to our group. So rather than stick with the bad o’ games I had toted along, I sat down with him and three others to play this venerable classic.
As we got started, I really had no idea what to do. But never being one to let ignorance get in my way, I just decided to do something and thought that building the castle seemed to be as good an idea as anything else. So as we moved through the different stages of the game, I constructed a building or two here and there, but mostly focused on getting resources to build the castle and, hopefully, get the King’s favor as often as I could.
But two things got in my way. First was, again, my ignorance of which favors were the best to use, so I feel like I sort of screwed up getting money and resources, rather than focusing more on getting the bonus points whenever I could. Second, and more importantly, Stacy also chose to make castle-building his main focus. And with a very well-timed entry into the Inn that let him sweep up unclaimed resources on 2 or 3 turns, he was able to get a notable lead on me that I couldn’t overcome.
Time: 146 minutes
Score: Stacy* 65, Norton* 54, Peter* 53, Chris* 50, Mark 40
Ratings: Stacy 8.5, Norton 6.5, Chris 7
Since this play, I’ve also played a number of games on my iPad against the AI opponents in the app. So I definitely feel like I have a pretty good handle on the rules and at least a basic understanding of strategy at this point. And while I’m enjoying the game, I’m definitely not finding myself blown away by it (unlike some of the other “classics” that I’ve discovered later in my boardgaming career).
First of all, it’s pretty long. I’m not necessarily opposed to long, though, but Caylus felt long to me, which is a bad sign regardless of how much actual time it takes. And while I certainly see some of the depth that its proponents love and celebrate, it also felt a little, I don’t know… one-dimensional, maybe? From what I’ve seen so far, you’re pretty much either constructing buildings or castle components over and over. And while there are some differences in the subtlety of those two strategies (or some mix of them), there’s not a lot of dynamic variability between the activities.
A lot of people also make a lot of the whole Provost/Bailiff thing and how much interaction it causes. But I just didn’t feel it. Most of the time, it wasn’t really relevant at all, and when someone did decide to use it to screw with another player, it felt very extraneous to the rest of the game and was a totally spiteful and often arbitrary move. The more interesting aspect of moving the Provost to me is actually the tempo influence that it has to either speed up or slow down the progression of the game (by influencing how far the Bailiff moves each turn).
And of course, all this amounts to my first impressions of the game, which could totally be misguided or incomplete. My opinion of strategy may be mostly groupthink between me and the AI’s in the app, so I’d be very open to hearing from actually experienced human people about that too. And it definitely makes me want to listen to the “How to Win Caylus” episode of Ryan Sturm’s How to Play Podcast.
Bang! The Dice Game [BGG]
After a less-than-mediocre play of Bang! The Dice Game with a group of 4 players a few days earlier, I wanted to make sure that I tried it with a full table before writing it off completely. So with the nearly-full complement of 7 people, we saddled up and got to rollin’.
Now, if you don’t know much about Bang! The Dice Game, it’s very similar to regular Bang! You have secret roles that basically divide you into 2 teams (Outlaws and Lawmen) with a Renegade thrown in there to make it more interesting. You also have a “character” that gives you a special ability. And ultimately, you want to help your team win by either killing the Sheriff (for the Outlaws), killing the Outlaws and Renegade (for the Lawmen), or being the last man standing after facing off with the Sheriff (for the Renegade).
The way you do it, though, is a lot different. There are a set of 5 custom dice that have sides to shoot people 1 or 2 spaces away, beer to heal people, arrows which represent an Indian attack, a Gatling gun that damages everybody else (and drives Indians away from you), and dynamite that can blow up in your face. So like in a lot of other dice games, you roll up to 3 times, locking and unlocking dice as you go, eventually resolving the dice you have at the end.
And I’m sure due to my overwhelming skill and cunning, I was on the winning side in both (back-to-back, which is a good sign) games. Woo hoo! Yee haw!
Time: 21 and 15 minutes
Game 1: Outlaws (Chip, Chris*, Norton) – Win; Lawmen (Keith – Sheriff, Kenny & Stacy – Deputies) & Renegade (ray) – Lose
Game 2: Lawmen (Stacy – Sheriff, Norton & Kenny – Deputies) – Win; Outlaws (Chip, Chris, & Ray) 7 Renegade (Keith) – Lose
Ratings: Norton 7, Chip 7, Chris 7, Keith 7, Kenny 7, Ray 7, Stacy 5.5
So yeah, Bang! The Dice Game is waaaay better with more than 4 players. The problem with just 4 is that you know who everybody is after the 1st round. With that setup, you have a Sheriff (who’s known anyway), 2 Outlaws (who want to shoot the Sheriff every chance they get), and a Renegade (who wants the Sheriff to live until they’re the only two left). So there’s very little mystery or excitement in the game at all.
But with 7, it’s really, really good. I don’t know if I’m quite ready to completely deem Bang! itself obsolete, but the 15-20 minute play time of the dice version is really hard to beat for a similar-enough experience.
Love Letter [BGG]
But on the other hand, the way I started off the next week was with a “quick” game of Love Letter to buy time until another game ended. Unfortunately, things went almost as long as they could before any of us could accumulate the 4 necessary tokens of affection from the Princess to win. And as much as I enjoyed being with the other players around the table, 40 minutes of Love Letter is becoming less and less tolerable for me the more I play it.
Time: 40 minutes
Score: Ian 4, Norton 3, Stacy 3, Mark 2
Ratings: Norton 4, Stacy 6
I just totally don’t get why everyone gets all giddy as a schoolgirl about Love Letter. I mean, heck, it won something like 3 Golden Geek awards just a few weeks ago (mostly for categories that it really didn’t fit in, by the way, but that’s a whole different rant that I don’t want to get into right now)! So sometimes, I almost buy into the hype and start believing that there really is some measure of depth and meaningful choice in that magical 16-card deck.
But then I play it again and realize that it’s all a lie.
Most of the “choice” is randomly guessing who a person might be, and the “deduction” is as simple as looking around at the cards that have been played and guessing from those that you don’t see. Half of the time, you really don’t have any choice at all, especially if you hold two of the same card or have either the Princess or Countess in your hand. Yeah, each hand is quick. But one hand is random and irrelevant, and putting them together for a full “game” is painful and outstays its welcome.
So please, people, just shut up about this stupid game and move on to a game that actually has something… anything valuable in it.
And then, despite my pleas to Chip and Stacy to please play Russian Railroads with me, we “decided” to try out Madeira instead. Now, I had heard a lot of good buzz about Madeira every since Essen, and since the reports of its weight had me both wary and interested, I was still willing to give it a fair shot.
The main thing that I got from the game, however, was an overwhelming urge to punch Chip in his freaking mouth. Because it seemed like every single time that I really needed to do something to salvage a pittance of a score from the game, he would gobble up the last spot that would let me do that most necessary thing. So he won, of course. But at least I beat Stacy.
Chip (to the left) barely escaped without serious bodily harm…
Time: 152 minutes
Score: Chip* 79, Norton* 50, Stacy* 49
Ratings: Chip 6.5, Norton 7, Stacy 7
The masochistic thing about the game is that I actually liked playing it for the most part. There’s this neat worker-placement element that uses dice to determine which areas you can go to, but still has a way to manipulate them if you didn’t what you wanted. You have to populate fields to make resources to build ships and goods to ship in those ships to colonies to get special actions and markets where you can make money that you can use to buy food to feed your workers and wood that you need to build more ships and pick up special helper people that give you more special powers to make more resources or get more wood or do other things to eventually score points and win.
And I like that kind of thing, generally.
But let me get back to the punching in the mouth thing. Because while I actually do like tension in games most of the time, I found the screw-you-over factor of Madeira to be a little out of place for the kind of game it is. I mean, obviously, it’s a game that requires a lot of planning and orchestration of a lot of moving pieces to score points during 3 scoring rounds of the game. But since you have an average of only about 3-4 viable dice placements each turn, each one is really important. And then, since only 3 dice can be on any one of the 5 areas (and the areas can be used for different things), it is very possible that someone will take the last spot that you needed before you can accumulate the resources you had to have to go there and get its effect. And unlike something like Agricola, where you can probably just pick up that resource a round or two later, missing a placement in a scoring round can be crippling and more-or-less impossible to mitigate.
As I said with Caylus (and probably even more so, actually), I know that I could certainly just have a limited view of the game from this one play. But as much as I liked so many of the elements of the game, it was also the single most frustrating (in a bad way) game that I’ve played in recent memory, and that’s not good at all.
Other Games Played
Combat Commander: Europe
Time: 90 minutes
Score: Ken* (Red Army) – Win; Scott (Wehrmacht) – Lose
Ratings: Ken 8.75, Scott 9
Sentinels of the Multiverse
Time: 27 and 60 minutes
Game 1: Villains (Fright Train, Friction, & Proletariat) in the Final Wasteland – Win; Heroes (Chris – Dark Visionary, Darren – DW Expatriette, & Ray – Nightmist) – Lose
Game 2: Heroes (Chris – GI Bunker, Darren – Omnitron X, & James K – ?) – Win; La Capitan – Lose
Ratings: Chris 10, James K 10
Time: 50 minutes
Score: Chip 340, Keith 218
Ratings: Chip 9, Keith 8
King of Tokyo
Score: Ray – Win; Keith, Chip, & Kenny – Not Win
Ratings: Keith 6, Chip 7.5, Kenny 8
Time: 13 and 11 minutes
Game 1: Chris 61, Darren* 59, Ray 56
Game 2: Chris 59, Darren 55, Ray 53
Ratings: Chris 8
Combat Commander: Europe (Scenario 2)
Score: Scott (Germans) 35, Kenny (Americans) 0
Ratings: Scott 9, Kenny 8.5
DC Deckbuilding Game – Heroes United
Time: 60 minutes
Score: Darren 58, Ray* 56, Chris* 32
Ratings: Chris 6.5
Time: 27 minutes
Score: Chris, Darren, James K, & Ray – 23 (of 25)
Ratings: Chris 9, James K 9
Time: 15 minutes (for 3 games)
Score: Ray* – 3 wins, Ken – no wins
Ratings: Ray 8, Ken 7
Time: 75 minutes
Score: Ray* 103, Chris 97, James K 97, Darren 95
Ratings: Chris 9.5, James K 8.5
* First play for that Person