This past weekend featured a long-planned venture by The Abner clan to spend the weekend with me and mine for a couple days of some quality boardgaming in Indy. After kevetching over Dragon Age 2 for over a week, it was rather nice to unplug and get back to basics. Bill brought a boatload of titles with him, far more than we would ever make time for, but we definitely gave it our all. Here’s a breakdown of what we played and, most of them being games I’ve experienced for the first time, what I thought…
After a four hour drive from Columbus to Indy, with the clock already ticking past 9:00, you need something that doesn’t take 40 minutes to explain and can be played in about an hour. Innovation fit the role nicely. Bill did a pretty thorough write-up of this one already, so I’ll just sum it up as this: If Civilization were exclusively about its tech tree, and a card game, what you’d end up with is Innovation.
We knocked out three games of it before calling it a night and, as an appetizer or tasty dessert, I can see its appeal. Once you get around the table the first time you immediately get a feel for the game and, like Fluxx, the rules are mostly all laid out on the cards in front of you. We played another game of it on Sunday before The Departure and I never did settle on any kind of strategy for it. If you go for points early (to get towards the four achievements you need to have in order to win), as I did, it appears that you stunt your ability to score in subsequent turns by not having enough techs laid out in front of you to prevent the other players from doing horrible things to you. And they did do horrible things to me; with great frequency.
It’s worth pointing out that you do have to be very careful about the fine print on each tech card. It’s easy to forget or misread a rule and have that break the game. Mrs. A put out a card in game three that we were all too bleary-eyed to interpret correctly that resulted in her drawing and playing a ridiculous number of cards, leaving her with multiple big stacks of techs that, when shifted, quickly left us all in the dust.
Fire and Axe
This was, no doubt, my favorite game of the weekend. This one’s basically all about loading up little plastic Vikings, and maybe some trade goods, on a Viking boat and sending them around Europe to do Viking things: Trade, pillage, and conquer. You cannot go wrong with a game about Viking shenanigans. Impossible.
For whatever reason, boardgames with particular strategy mechanics are easier for me to grasp than others. Four games of Innovation and I still had only the barest sense that I had learned something that would help me win against other players. (It showed in that I didn’t win once.) This game appealed to me on the same level as does one of my all time favorites, Rails of Europe (Railroad Tycoon; Railways of the World). You’ve got a big cardboard map, plastic pieces, you claim land in a variety of ways, and you need to think two to three moves ahead. Where are the other players going? Will they interfere with my plans to trade at a port, conquer a city, or settle a port? How do I manuever ahead of a player going the same way? When do I cut and run, finding a new strategy? You have to really evolve your play as the game unfolds. I live for games like this. Perhaps it showed, given that I won and all.
My only disappointment was finding out the game is no longer in print and is extremely pricey to obtain if you can find it on the used market. Maybe I can trade Bill a can of kidney beans for his copy?
A Brief History of the World
A Brief History of the World is a game in which each player takes six turns, or epochs, playing out the rise and slow fall of a different civilization each time. You get your turn, place your units (possibly also playing a modifying “Event” card), and determine your score for that turn. When it’s done your Civ is retired; the pieces remain on the board, but you can do no more with them. The next player does the same, often seeking to take away or conquer land one of your Civs currently occupies. You can successfully defend, but it gets harder with each successive attempt; ultimately all but the end game civs are doomed to fall. That said, the longer each of your civs lasts, the more points you’ll get at the end of each turn. The player with the highest score at the end wins.
I had invited a few other local buddies to come out and game with us for Saturday; two of them arrived in time for this one, giving us a solid six players. The whole civ retirement aspect of the game gave me a strong Smallworld vibe. Smallworld was another one I’ve played multiple times and still haven’t really figured out how it ticks; not really a fan. I liked this game better than Smallworld, but not by a whole lot and ultimately it showed in the results since I finished dead last. It wasn’t that I wasn’t trying to compete, but there’s a strategy to choosing your civ and event cards at the start of each turn that I really struggled to grasp. (It didn’t help that I had to drop off my daughter and pick her back up from a birthday party during the start and end of the game.) It also seems like there’s a bit of a rubber-banding mechanic to the game that keeps a player in the lead from staying there. Nor is a player trailing the pack unable to mount a comeback, though I did my level best to disprove that theory. Although I certainly don’t hate them on spec, I’ve always been luke warm to games that do this. (Powergrid comes to mind.)
Battlestar Galactica + Pegasus Expansion
For the particular group of people who made it out for the night, this game of humans versus Cylon was a big reason why. The gist of it is that the humans have to survive out in space, Cylons pursuing them, trying to make enough hyperspace jumps to reach the relative safety of the planet Kobol. (Am I remembering that right?) If Team Human loses enough food, fuel, population, or morale they lose. If Galactica is damaged too much, they lose. If Heavy Raiders board Galactica and advance too far without being stopped, they lose. Humans lose a lot in this game.
I’ve got some local buddies who flat out love the game as does our buddy, Billy “Baroo” (who also made the trip). I’ve seen some people grow tired of the constant accusations that come from playing a co-op game that features multiple traitors in the midst (Cylons in this case), but with the right group of people the game is more fun than it has any right to be. The last time we played it nearly ended Bill’s marriage (not really) after I asked Mary (who was human) point blank, “You’ve known your husband more than a decade. Is he lying right now? Is he a Cylon?” She didn’t miss a beat in saying, “Yes!”
Not so much. Team human didn’t last particularly long after we put Bill in the brig.
The drama wasn’t quite as high this time around, but we did get to experience the seven player variant made possible using the Pegasus expansion. In this variant you use a revealed Cylon Leader along with six regular players. The leader is revealed from the start, but their goals are nebulous. Some want the humans to win, some don’t. Even if the leader is on the side of team human they may have to do things to sabotage the humans, like ensure that the population is below six or that Galactica has three damaged locations. It’s an interesting variant, but it does seem like the Cylon Leader (me in this case) has less participation, since you’re very often excluded from the decision making of the distrustful team human. Just ’cause a guy all but wiped out most of their race he’s not trustworthy? Sheesh! Also, in a seven player game, you spend a lot of time waiting for your turn.
Still, it was the highlight of the evening. The accusations flew, including a near in-game execution as dramatically presented here:
That’s my son’s Star Wars laser blaster in Bill’s hand, if you’re wondering. It was an attempted execution of a suspected Cylon. Sadly, it didn’t get to serve its purpose; if it had it would’ve helped my cause. I’m the one on the right in the comfy chair. What can I say? Even from that angle I’m gorgeous.
The two Cylons managed to stay hidden deep into the game, but that was in part because nobody got a Cylon loyalty card until the game’s mid-point, not to mention that they reached said mid-point after just two jumps. Usually it takes at least three and it does make a big difference. I think I also blundered badly by infiltrating Galactica following the game’s first jump. It was a wasted turn getting there and another wasted turn getting back later on when I realized there was too little going on around the ship to do much damage (my victory conditions were predicated on the humans losing).
All in all, a very successful day and weekend of boardgaming that provided a much needed break from, well, everything else. It’s always a good time when the Abner clan rolls into town. I’m just glad Bill managed to win a couple games this time. Believe you me, that is not a given.
If, by the way, you’re interested in a deeper look at some of these games, check out some of Mike’s past Cracked LCD columns:
- Battlestar Galactica
- BSG Pegasus Expansion