I’ve been really digging board games lately as some of my last few posts can attest. Just when I’m getting sick and tired of the same old mechanics day in and day out from digital games, I discover this world with a lot of fresh ideas. It’s a new source of inspiration. One of the greatest games of all time is based on a board game. Add to that the results in digital form from Dungeons and Dragons and the entire genre of wargames and you pretty much have 80% of the video game market, but you haven’t scratched the surface of the board game market.
So I’ve been going to these New York City Boardgame Meetups to get my game on and learn about some new stuff. You’ll see more reports from me as time goes on based on these events.
Last night, I got to play two games:
The first was Hansa Teutonica. I don’t know why the Germans have a love affair with feudal daily minutiae but so many of their games seem to be based on merchants or trading or land disputes. This game is based on the former. After a long, complex rules briefing, we were into the game which (one you get over the heavy load of info up front) is really quite digestible.
Actually, this brings me to my first aside. On the player skills board is a summary of the five things a player can do on his turn:
See them there on the bottom? Tell me what they mean. You can’t. I can barely interpret the icons and I’ve played the game. If the purpose of the icons was to teach me what I can do, they clearly failed. If the icons serve to remind me what I can do, they have also failed.
They could have had a player card that said:
On your turn you can use an action to:
– Move cubes from your storage to your usable supply. (See bag for amount)
– Place a piece on a road.
– Displace an opponent’s piece from a road.
– Move pieces. (See book for amount.)
– Establish an office or use a special ability from a full road.
There you go. Now the game is about filling up roads to either increase the skills on your skill list (above image) or claim offices that gain you points. There are some fiddly rules about office ownership and scoring but that is pretty much it. There are five cities on the board with special abilities where instead of claiming an office, you can upgrade the skill on your skill list. These grant things like additional actions per turn, additional cities where one can set offices, the ability to move more pieces per trun, &c., These are useful and integral, which leads me to an issue.
The cities that have the special abilities are so important that the rest of the game seems less so. What is ostensibly a game about building a trade network quickly becomes a game to control the roads nearest these cities, especially the city that provides additional actions per turn. This isn’t an amazingly huge problem in our first game, but since there is next to no randomness in the game (there are randomly dealt special effect tiles, but that is it), it seems like every game is going to play out similarly as all the players battle for the special abilities cities.
The game board itself is ugly. If you don’t want your eyes to melt, don’t look at the image below. For some reason the artist decided that serif-y white text on a grey background was essentially readable. The board is unnecessarily busy and it distracts from the game and makes it seem harder than it is. Maybe that was the point.
If I was redesigning the game, it would be re-themed and the board would be cleaner and clearer. I’d likely simplify the scoring system and make it so that the locations of the special cities moved and/or that there was some mechanic that stopped the game from focusing solely on those cities. Even though it is anathema to the hardest of the hardcore board game nerds, I would add some card mechanic or something more easily parsed than the current tile bonus system. That card mechanic could tie into the moving cities idea. The game needs the pruning shears badly. Mechanics need to be simplified, consolidated or let go.
On the plus side, it was easy to see your opponent’s tactical ideas. Play certainly didn’t seem to be randomly evolving. Since I could tell what they were going to do, I could plan for it. This is the strategic meat of the game and it is excellent. Because of this, the game moves quickly unless someone’s plans are foiled. And if that’s the case, something interesting probably happened so the interruption in game flow is not unwelcome (to use a double negative).
Overall, I had a great time. I had thought I won only to be eclipsed by three points in the final tally because I didn’t fully understand the eight-part scoring system. Again, either needlessly complex or simply presented poorly. I’ll play this again if folks bring it back as I am interested in how repeated plays hold up, but I probably wouldn’t buy it.
I tried so hard to get people to play Agricola with me so that I could play a cube pushing game that I knew, but I got railroaded into a game of Acquire. Never again. The less said the better, but Acquire is a lot of sitting around waiting for someone else to move and then a lot of counting the board and cross-referencing a card. I found it chaotic. It was tough to plan any kind of strategy at all with the board changing. The first player to be acquired seems to have a huge advantage if he plays it well since he will have more resources than anyone else for the longest time. I came in last because I just wanted the game to be over and the winner wasn’t really paying attention the whole game. Since it is an older game, I’m sure there is a lot of nostalgia around it. I still play Monopoly, but by today’s standards, it has similar issues.