Monday, March 7, 2011

My Brain Hurts Part 2

Yesterday I shared my impressions of games including Agricola, Kingsburg, and Ascension.  Today I'm finishing up the 'convention' post with a few more games, though not as many new ones - at least to me.  Starting with...

1. Fürstenfeld
I had never heard of this game before, and i don't know what the name means.  However, this was a pretty darn good game.  At first glance I wasn't sure how well it was going to play, but after 1 or 2 rounds it was clear that it functioned excellently.

The game works like this: each player has a sort of "Town" with room for six buildings.  It starts empty, but producing 1 of each of the three resources in the game - water, wheat, and... some sort of green leafy thing that I forget what it was.  Each turn players would collect the resources from their town, and then have a chance to sell these resources to one of five breweries.  However, the demand of each ingredient is taken into account for each brewery.  That is, if less of a certain resource is sold to a particular brewery than it desires (based on cards randomly distributed at the beginning of the game), the cost of that resource will go up for the next turn.  If too much of a certain resource is sold to a particular brewery, the value of that resource will drop.

Once sold, the player collects money, and then can use that money to build new buildings in their town.  Buildings range from better farms that produce more resources, to special buildings that can temporarily store resources or that provide extra gold, or even that make buildings cheaper to build.

There is another type of building too - the palace.  There are 6 parts to the palace, and to win the game you must be the first to build all 6 palaces, taking up all 6 spots in your town.  The catch, however, is that the Palace buildings have no benefit.  This means you must replace a productive building with an essentially useless one.

The other catch is that you have a hand of 4 cards each round, which are the buildings you may build - but at the end of each turn, you must discard 3 of them which go to the bottom of your own deck.  This means if you have to discard a Palace piece, you have to wait until you go through your entire deck again to be able to build it. 

This game was pretty solid fun, with some serious strategy - when to build palaces, what buildings to replace, and which card to save for the next round.  We played a "light" version designed to teach the game.  A more advanced version can be played with some additional buildings and a few extra restrictions (for example, each palace building would have to be built on a particular square in the town).  Definitely worth looking into.

2. Smallworld
Not a new game for me, smallworld is one of my favorites.  I'll have a full review sometime, but this was the first chance I had to play with more than 3 players.  Smallworld is zany fun, with a series of races that combine with special abilities to form humorous-sounding civilizations - "Flying Trolls," "Seafaring Ghouls," "Bivouacking Hobbits" and the like.  The game involves choosing a race, invading regions on the map until that race is spread too thin, then sending that race in decline and choosing a new race to invade some more.  It's mechanics work excellently without dice rolls (there is one die that is specialized and only used occassionally - and rarely effects the outcome of the game with any significance).  It's impressive how funny a game can be with zero flavor text and some decent art.  Literally the only text in the game is the titles of the races and abilities.  The board doesn't change each game (although there is a different board for each possible number of players) but the way races and special abilities combine does, making each game somewhat unique.

3. Cosmic Encounter
This is another one of my top favorites.  A deviously complex game (that will also be recieving its own full review shortly), Cosmic Encounter involves colonizing the other player's planets with your ships.  Of course, they're not just going to LET you colonize their planets, so you have to attack (and win) or negotiate a successful deal.  The cool thing about this game, though, is that each player gets to choose a race, from a base selection of 50 (expansion packs add 20 more each).  These races are not simple surface chances, or small bonuses.  Each race has the power to break a single rule (in a specified way), ranging from simple changes (such as, the ability to steal cards from the discard pile right after they're played) to extremely complex (can win the game by getting all of its ships destroyed).  The way race powers combine dramatically changes the way each game must be played.  You can't formulate a single strategy, because that strategy will not work against every alien power, and especially combinations of powers.

The odd thing is, despite the wild variance in powers and the seeming unfairness of certain powers, the game manages to balance out pretty well.  Not every race combination works perfectly, but they pretty much all work to a degree.  And, because powers are revealed (and each race has only 1 power) you can change your strategy to target the race's weaknesses, or avoid their powers.

Another cool thing about this game - which is something that was fully realized during this convention - is that this game requires a lot of personal interaction between the players.  More than just utilizing the games mechanics, winning CE is, to a large degree, about gaining alliances at the right time, and joining in on the right alliances when you can.  There's occassionally a degree of bluffing or trust involved (say, offering to negotiate but, when the other player agrees, laying down an attack card to automatically win the encounter against them - that is, assuming they didn't try to backstab you), and in general a whole lot of player-to-player interaction.  The game wouldn't work well without Alliances (and, consequently, the 3-player version suffers a small bit) but with this option, it explodes into a whole new realm of awesome.  As I said I will give a full review eventually, but I can highly recommend this game.

4. Armyland
Armyland, if you still somehow do not know, is the game that I am in the process of designing.  It's been in the works for about 8 years and come a long way since the beginning.  It's only been about a month since the first playable prototype was created.  It's been a huge learning experience for me and the game has been further revised and repaired since playtesting started.

This was the first playtest, however, that involved players not in my normal gaming group - people who haven't been hearing me discuss and brainstorm the game, who were not as familiar with the ideas behind it and the story so far.  This was also the first playtest in which I was not a player.

Fortunately and unfortunately, the players managed to break the game on many different levels.  There's plenty of work left in revising the rules, and now all the cards and resources will need updates as well.  However, with some new pieces created by Chris Salzman, one of those players, the game has already taken huge steps forward.  It's good to run into situations that break the game, so that rules and mechanics can be revised to prevent those moments.

Most fortunately, however, despite the many flaws we encountered and the copious amounts of feedback from players for suggested improvements, it was generally agreed that significant parts of the game were very fun.  So, that's always good to hear.  It would suck if my game was generally unfun to play and needed some major rewriting.  Instead, what I have is the foundation for a very fun, very solid game that just needs more tweaking and ironing out of the rules.

So that's that, friends.  It was a great weekend, and I'm glad to have gotten the chance to play a bunch of games I've never even heard of before.  I hope to play Fürstenfeld and Kingsburg again for sure, as well as Agricola.  Ascension is worth looking into, and of course I dig the old favorites as always.

Look for more full-sized reviews coming soon - and hopefully, I'll start getting those video reviews together.  Hey, what I'm doing is harder than you'd think, but I think you'll appreciate the end results.



  1. Furstenfeld looks fun. It looks like it uses mechanics similar to Power Grid.

  2. I think those two games were designed by the same dude. So... it would make sense.

  3. Yup, they were both designed by Friedemann Friese. I'm a big fan of the variable turn order as a nice catch up mechanic. Glad you liked Furstenfeld Wolfie, I'll let you know how it hold up to repeated plays.

    Also, Armyland was awesome and we'll have to organize a weekend sometime in the next couple of months to give it another go.

  4. Ha ha, that would make sense then. :-)
    Snuggles, do you have perspective on which is better--Furstenfeld or Power Grid?

  5. Jonathan, it would probably depend on your game weight preference as Power Grid is a pretty heavy game and will take quite a bit longer to play but preference aside I'd give it to Power Grid hands down. I do like Furstenfeld a lot but Power Grid is one of my all time favorite games. There are a lot of people that agree with me on this as well since Power Grid is ranked #5 on BGG at the moment. Some people have gripes with how mathy it is but since I was a math major in college that doesn't really bug me. As far as economic games go it is absolutely excellent.

  6. Thanks for the answer, Snuggles.

    I played Power Grid for the first time over Christmas, and I loved it. My wife said she liked it, but I'm pretty sure if I got it, we wouldn't play it often. (She didn't like how long it took--part of this can be attributed to one player's analysis paralysis, but it seems like a long game anyway.) If Furstenfeld is a bit lighter and faster, that might be a better choice for us.

  7. Regarding Furstenfeld: I've never heard of the game, but if you were selling the crops to breweries then the "green leafy thing" was probably hops. I'd also hope that the grain was barley rather than wheat, but that's mainly because I don't care for wheat beer.

  8. @Anonymous, you are right, it's water, hops, and barley. I'm just used to "Wheat" being the yellow resource in board games.

    @everyone else, I'd love to try power grid. I'm no stranger to long games.

  9. @snuggles I'm working on a card-redesign and obviously some updates to the rules, but soon Armyland will be playable once again. And much more so. Also I'm excited to get my pillow back.


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