Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Session Report 4/17: Double-You Tee Eff?

I arrived around 15 minutes late to witness the tail end of a San Juan game, won by Michael by around 40,000 points. As the game was cleared, I heard the grumble, "At least it's shorter than Puerto Rico." This cheered my heart, as that's never been my favorite game either (I think there's an illusion of control; I once chose roles at random and lost by two).

Next up was Ra, which quickly budded into two games, with mine also occupied by Patrick, Ted, and Jeff (yes, I'm finally learning names so I'm showing off). Patrick expressed great enthusiasm for the game, but by the end of the rules explanation we learned that he had been playing a completely different game, which I shall call "Rhaa", and which might be fun to try sometime. In epoch one I sacrificed my future for four monuments, three pharoahs, two gold, and a god tile in a pear tree, for 13 points. Fortunately no one had a good second turn except for Patrick, who jumped from last to first in pharoahs. Patrick kicked into overdrive in epoch three, scoring in every category including highest suns. But I was left with the last sun tile with five Ras left to draw, and got enough monuments for a 42-38 win. Good times.

Now it was time for the ultraviolence portion of the evening, starting with 8-player "Bang!". After taking one turn, I had a "Final Destination"-style vision as soon as Simon's dynamite hit the table. Sure enough, it had my name on it, and Regenado Uno was out in record time. The next dynamite turned into the turn order marker for 45+ minutes, as Ted, Patrick, and Packrat Jeff whittled away the competition one by one. Still good, but definitely better with High Noon. I'm not sure how I feel about the green cards yet, either; not sure they added anything.

At this point I eschewed my own copy of Fury of Dracula to try something new: Duel of Ages, a game full of design decisions that I would label...curious. To wit:

- Oddly for a game with "Duel" in the title, there's practically no fighting for the first hour, as nobody but Spartacus could fight effectively without equipment. In fact, 80% of the victory points (and thus the game) revolve not around fighting each other, but rolling dice against a card.
- Rather than being pulled to the center where they can mix it up, the characters are constantly pulled to the edge of the map by the labyrinths.
- Since characters get a bonus in the labyrinth that matches their time period, the characters naturally segregate themselves, and the "Genghis Khan versus the Martians" matchups that seem to be the game's main draw rarely come about.
- A few of the characters evoked some personality (again, Spartacus), but most of them felt very flat. There was absolutely nothing to distinguish my Future Guy (his special ability was "+1 in every labyrinth"...yawn). And two of my other characters had special abilities that relied on very specific equipment, which I didn't even see until the last 15 minutes of the game. Otherwise, they are all just a list of very average abilities.
- There's almost no planning possible in attacking the adventures. If one is face-up (and they rarely are), it's almost certain to be gone by the time you get there, and even if it's not, assigning the right character will only gain you a few percentage points, as nearly every ability on every character was yellow, green, or blue (or rarely more significant than just sending the character from the right time period).

Surprisingly, the game felt almost identical in mechanics to "Candamir: The First Settlers", except that the latter game has much nicer components, more control, and (sadly) fewer satchel charges. We called the game with Ted having a small but growing lead, when he was having trouble managing an entire team of characters. I found that by getting all of my guys killed, I was having no such trouble.

With Admiral Dracula setting out to sea for the 8th time, the Fury of Dracula game was called as well, and the six remaining hardy souls gathered 'round for some Richochet Robots. I apologize for becoming insufferable (or, more insufferable than usual) at this point, but this game makes me hyper. I'm used to playing with RR savant and fellow BGGer Mike Mayer, who could slaughter us all with his left brain while humming the "Meow Mix" tune with his right, so I'm accustomed to setting the engine on Ludicrous Speed when playing this game. We played with a catch-the-leader rule that gave the point to the solver with the fewest points scored. The problem was that this was a particularly good group -- on only two out of 17 rounds was the optimal path found by only a single player. So we were pretty much guaranteed to have an N-player tie, where N was everybody but Michael.

Next week is the last week of classes for me, so I'm hoping to be more available for non-Monday gaming. I should also have probably mentioned this some time ago...

Homemade, baby. 8'x4' of casino-ish goodness. Anyone up for a game?


At 8:28 PM, April 18, 2006, Blogger Simon said...

I think Rob was the shaftee, if you will (and you will), in Ricochet Robots. The catch up mechanic is usually great EXCEPT when every friggin' route drawn is 5 or less moves which is exactly what happened. I think this highly lessened the experience.

San Juan was so-so, better than Puerto Rico for sure. I guess I am really disinclined to the PR set of mechanics and theme though, because I don't see the hype in the slightest.

As for Fury of Dracula I wrote the following over at BGG (you could say I didn't care for it in summary): "I've been told the game I played was atypical but it was still horrendous enough to scare me away from another anytime in the near future. The game was so bloated on 'A-ha' mechanics that locating and holding onto anything worthwhile as a Hunter was ultimately pointless. Finding Dracula was tedious, boring, and irritating and once you finally found him, combat was annoying as all Hell. The effects chart was cool but straight die rolls for success?! Are you kidding me?! Every moment was pain interrupted periodically by a Hunter proclaiming "Hey, we finally got something useful to speed this thing along toward an end!" and Dracula retorting "No cancel that event. I get to control all of you on your next turn and you must discard your best weapon. By the way, I'm also going to sea for the next eight turns to drag this horrible game on forever." Yeah, awesome game..."

Bang! was OK, despite only playing all of two turns with my crappy character. The expansion seemed superfluous as it didn't address a single fault with the base design and instead added the unnecessary green bordered cards (what is the point of those exactly?). I still wonder how everyone knows who to kill right away before anyone does anything meaningful. I'm third eye blind perhaps?

Ra was good fun though...

What? I had to end a bitchy with something nice.

Best Regards.

At 9:42 PM, April 18, 2006, Blogger Ted Kostek said...

Nice report, Dennis.

I liked this game a lot. There's auctions, gambling, planning, and empire building. Cool.

Like Dennis, I noticed that Patrick seems to have been playing a different game. Most of his differences were in minor matters, though. The heart of the game is the bidding.

Duel of Ages
Some of my initial enthusiasm for this game has worn off. There's a layer of gaming-goodness, but that layer is not uniform.

On the down side, as Dennis says, one of the key activities is making a skill check. The cards are amusing, but in this game it quickly devolved into "roll an 8 or less." Boring.

What's the secret alchemy that brings life to the dry bones of ...er, rolling the bones? Some of the characters stand out in my mind: Spartacus, "diamond guy", Tex, slacker guy (from Ben's set). Some others didn't add up to any more than a list of stats. Dunno.

On the up side, the team concept is very interesting.

Also, as you start to get some equipment out things pick up. Until you've got equipment, your options are limited. I've read you really need to play a 2 hr game cuz it starts so slow. I bet we were ~1hr, meaning half our time was spent in the slow phase.

I've read a variant that you play death match. Rather than tracking victory points, you only use the labyrinth challenges as a way to get equipment. This would help interaction a lot. There's a lot of terrain. Seems like there should lots of opportunity there.

Finally, I think starting with a few cards per team, maybe 1 per 2 characters, would help the early part of the game.

In summary, I can see some problems with the game, but I still feel there's a great game waiting to come out.

It's a funny thing about Bang!. I feel like the *idea* is so great that it salvages an otherwise mediocre game.

My version of High Noon isn't magic, but it's a push in the right direction. Another thing that would help a lot would be to have a spaghetti western playing in the background.

At 9:42 PM, April 18, 2006, Blogger Michael said...

I'll chime in. Last night was just a disappointing night overall. After Ra (which always rocks), everything we played fell flat it seemed. I think the High Noon expansion adds so much to Bang it was like we were playing something completely different. I'm not sold on the variant mechanic we were using about no reveal upon death either.

Fury of Dracula was terrible, just horrible last night. That doesn't conform with my prior experiences playing it but it pushes it way down any possible list I have.

Richochet Robots was mediocre as well last night. WTF mate? And then everyone dusted immediately after. Boourns.

The one interesting event of the night was we could have had a 3 way tie in our Ra game (me, Jon, and Simon). In the last epoch I was the last man standing and was drawing for my last sun. It got to a situation where both the Ra track and the tile track were one from being full. If I had chosen the feeble quit while you are ahead strategy, we would have ended up with a three way tie. Alas, I'm too manly to back away from the tile bag in that situation, and a Ra tile ended the chances for that. Jon took the game by 5 over Simon while I was in relatively distant third.

At 9:43 PM, April 18, 2006, Blogger Michael said...

nice simultaneous post there

At 10:39 PM, April 18, 2006, Blogger Simon said...

*I meant to write "What? I had to end a bitchy post with something nice." up there...

Stupid non-editing.

At 10:41 PM, April 18, 2006, Blogger Rob said...

Ok ....my 2 cents

My wife was asking me today...."why did you stay so late last night when u are usually done earlier?" I told her... "I think I kept trying to find a fun gaming moment last night."

I was being dramatic of course...it wasn't that bad. But Michael, thanks, at least now I feel like we all felt it too.

A few issues:
1. Not revealing who's dead sucks. It makes the game absolutely pointless (echoing Simon's words who was next to me), specially when NO ONE was giving away a single clue by not attacking the sheriff. The game just degraded to random shooting around and killing players. I felt no excitement at all when I finally looked at Michael's or Dennis' role cards. This may work for Werewolf, but not in this game. Next time...reveal as you die.
2. High Noon: definitively adds A LOT to the game. It adds lots of flavor and speeds it up.
3. Green cards: Well, I still think they are cool..... unfortunately the two problems above overshadowed anything good these could have brought into the game. Why do I think they are good? They give you more options to attack other players, going beyond the single-Bang card limit per turn. They are meant to be used as combo cards with your Bang card, but for whatever reason we were just not that into the game last night (probably because of 1 and 2, and 4, and 5). And of course, not everyone is a fan of the game, so that usually sours things up from the get go.
4. Interruptions: Maybe it's me but we were more "focused" playing this game in one of the game rooms.
5. Wrong timing: I think Bang falls in the closing games category, not openers. San Juan on the flipside, is a great opener for example.

I wanted to like this game. I like dark-themed games. Hey, I'm still a fan of Arkahm Horror (3 players only please). But Simon's words couldn't express better the frustration I felt last night. So not much more to add.

Dennis, this game also makes me hyper, and raises my blood pressure. That's why I spoke so highly of it the first time we played. Still last night, I was VERY TIRED from a bad day at work, somewhat frustrated with the previous two games, and we were getting dull challenges on the game. To top it off, yes I was the shaftee.

Til, next Monday.... I'll go play Warcraft now for 3 hours, while having cheesecake factory cheesecake, as I cry like a little girl, playing old Felicity reruns in the background...

At 11:05 PM, April 18, 2006, Blogger Patrick said...

Ted, you were right. I did say that Ra isn't an auction game. I went back and looked at my post, and I still agree with what I said. Its more of a planning game than an auction. Still, a great game. Dennis, it was really nice to meet you. I had a really good time playing Ra with you. I could tell immediately that our group only got better when you joined.

I don't understand the hate for no-reveal. Noone has really said why it is worse, except Rob who said it was makes the game absolutely pointless. Why? I don't feel it was full of random shooting. I was sure that Jeff was a deputy or a renegade, I'm pretty sure that everyone knew I was a deputy. Dennis got kilt before determining his role was possible. If we had revealed his role at this point it would have actually helped the Sheriff. I totally stand by the no role reveal because it makes the renegade a little more winnable without changing absolutly anything else in the game. I would actually change it slightly to have the Sheriff penalized if he kills a deputy. I think the reason we didn't have fun was, like Rob said, it shouldn't be an opener, and it shouldn't be played with 8 players. I think 6 is probably optimal.

Fury of Dracula is close to being a good game. I'd like to try it again. I agree with Simon, there should be less counter effect cards in the game. Clearly, this instance of the game was not fun though. I think that the Dracula player needs to be fluent also, as it seemed that his turn took twice as long as all the hunters combined.

Ricochet Robots is an instant 10 for me. This is exactly my kind of game. Quick, clean competition. Didn't win? Play again!

At 11:50 PM, April 18, 2006, Blogger Simon said...

I would second labeling Ra as a planning game over an auction game. It has a strong auction mechanic but there really isn't a dynamic bidding aspect (it's more like "claiming").

Bang! is so close to being a good game that it pisses me off that I can never have fun playing it. Player elimination, luck of the draw, character abilities; it's like I'm forced to play along a less viable and enjoyable path when my turn comes around. Maybe if everything wasn't dictated by cards? A Werewolf type bang round at the end of every round might work...I don't know, but there is definite potential being wasted.

I didn't mind the hidden roles till the end thing, but it still bugs me that it didn't matter. How do people know who to shoot before anything has happened?! I've seen it happen both games I've played.

I'm glad you liked Ricochet Robots, Patrick. You will definitely enjoy it more when all the routes offer more creativity and planning in strong contrast to the session we played.

Oh and sorry, Rob. It always bothers me when someone isn't having fun and sadly last night was very bothersome. We shall make up for it two fold next time!

At 12:30 AM, April 19, 2006, Blogger Rob said...

Patrick: maybe pointless was a harsh word. I guess I prefer the instant gratification of knowing what a person is as soon as they are killed. I feel that the Renegade victory, although hard, can be achieved by a skilfull player (Jonathan during our first game.... a renegade?! double you tee eff!). Jon didn't win, but even with role-revealing, I was convinced he was an outlaw. When he died, I got to see his card, and stared in awe...

Simon: Don't worry man. I just had a bad day. I was actually very very exhausted, but still managed to show up....hey, after all, nothing cheers me up better than my buds from SABG.

Ra: You may not be an auction game per se, but you are a cool game. Ra, Ra, RA!

At 12:32 AM, April 19, 2006, Blogger Rob said...

BTW, it's nice to see all this activity again on our site.

Dennis: Can you say Hold'em? I'd play. I suck at it, but I'd play.

At 8:42 AM, April 19, 2006, Blogger Jeff said...

The next time we have 8 players, we should play Werewolf instead of Bang.

Glad to see I wasn't the only person who felt a bit frustrated with Monday's gaming. I think my issues was wih my own poor performance rather than the games failing me, though. I came in dead last at every game I played except for Bang.

I'm currently pondering the answer to this question: Does the quality of the Bang experience depend on a) the position of the various roles around the table or b) the combination of expansions used? I think it's widely accepted that the base set alone is not deadly enough. High Noon fixes that problem. I really like the addition of the green Dodge City cards. I've got the Fistful of Cards expansion, but while it will also fix the 'not deadly' problem, I think it also will add so much chaos to an already fairly chaotic game that FoC is unplayable.

At 8:51 AM, April 19, 2006, Blogger Ted Kostek said...

Simon said [bet you never heard that before...]: "Bang! is so close to being a good game ..."

Yeah, a lot of time I think that, too. Some of what this game needs is a boost in aggressiveness (more Bangs, less beer).

What about this variant: you can play as many Bangs as you want, but you can only shoot each person once. Baring special cards, you can't kill off the guy next to you, but you can get a lot more action.

One thing High Noon adds is a timer aspect.

I looked over some Duel of Ages literature last night. Folks recommend 2+ hrs, with 3-5 strongly suggested. People who like the game say combat is key, and it takes a while to get equipment going.

A big clue on the equipment thing is that there's a limit of 4 items per character, but we hardly touched that limit at all.

Dennis wasn't impressed with his guy who got +1 in all labyrinths. In a long game, however, that's the guy who replentishes your stores. Genghis is your melee bruiser, and the lady with good throw is a grenade/bow carrier.

That's the team aspect that looks very intriguing about this game. Of course, you've got to get equipment, then get it to the right character. That takes some time.

Suddenly I'm fired up to play this game again, but only in a longer setting.

At 10:24 AM, April 19, 2006, Blogger Dennis Ugolini said...

About Duel of Ages -- is it required that the spawn points be near the middle of the map, and the labyrinths at the edges? Wouldn't it stir things up to reverse that, with the labyrinth entrances pointing toward the map center? People could get out of the spawn towers safely, but as they approach the center to do their business, chaos ensues.

At 1:07 PM, April 19, 2006, Blogger Patrick said...

Jeff, I've pondered the variant where people occationally change seats. Seat arrangement can really control the outcome of a game. Simon, have you played with less than 7 people?

At 1:15 PM, April 19, 2006, Blogger Rob said...

Ted, count me in for longer DOA sometime in the future.

At 3:06 PM, April 19, 2006, Blogger Kendahl said...

Well, a night full of not-so-great games ALWAYS beats a night full of no games. Sorry I missed it... I am committing right now to the next DL session. If Patrick can persuade his wife to let him attend, then I know there's hope for me. I have a few games that need at least one play before they end up on Ebay...

I'd like to get a good Holdem game in. I miss playing poker. The problem is that being married and having kids has made me pinch pennies and really poker isn't much fun unless there is at least a little bit of stakes.

At 5:21 PM, April 19, 2006, Blogger Ted Kostek said...

The map for DoA has no set structure, only general guidelines for constructing it.

The rules suggest a process where each team places pieces alternately after you've got your characters but before you reveal them. In theory, this adds some strategy.

For the sake of speed, I put our map together myself. I figured people would get thrown into the center, and would encounter each other as they moved out. Maybe the opposite is better. Dunno. The first time we played, we assembled the map w/ more stuff on one side, and portions never got used.

My current theory is that if you play the death match variant or a similar one giving 1 VP per 2 kills, these problems go away.

We also didn't make use of the 5 towers. You can challenge the towers to try doing things like moving opponents. This is useful later in the game once you've got gear and you're in kill mode. Get rid of the cover fire via teleport, then swarm a vulnerable opponent.


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