Friday, September 27, 2013

Takenoko: A Better Deal for Victory Points

After being burned by the calculator monster, I am somewhat refreshed by playing the decidedly smooth Takenoko.

There are still victory points. But they are earned in exactly ONE way…through the play of objective cards. You are tasked with growing specific areas of land, specific dimensions of bamboo, or feeding the wandering panda.

Cards grant a single digit victory point quantity. And the game is over as soon as some plays their eighth victory point card, so the end total remains in the lower double digits. A quick scan of the table can tell you how everyone is doing.

At first play, the game seems incredibly random. You and your fellow players play a mean game of tug-of-war with both the gardener and the panda, maneuvering these high-value figures to where they will help fulfill your objectives.

However it is evident some skill is involved, since the experienced players I encounter end the game with almost twice as many victory points as myself.

Gotta put my nose to the grindstone…err…bamboo!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Rise of the Casual Try-Hard

I've found few labels to apply to my level of MTG interest, but "caual try-hard" might be one of them. Magic pro coverage is pretty fun to watch. But I never suspected casual magic might just be even better, provided the personalities involved have the verbal jabs, witty comebacks and general goofballery to make it interesting.

Tabletop (Wil Wheaton's show) has been great to watch for 2 solid seasons. Now this "Day 9" guy is doing something awesomely similar with Magic. I already checked Youtube, there does not appear to be any earlier Days, Day 9 is the first.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Glen More could have been Glen Less

In the past, I've gotten fed up with the constant pursuit for victory points. After playing quite a few games of Glen More, my mind now travels to some of the same places.

Glen More starts out simple enough. You and your fellow clan members are trying to amass territory and produce resources. Every time you play a tile, you get to activate all the surrounding tiles. This generates more resources, or victory points or whatever.

The tiles are pulled from an every-changed rondel. Grab a tile and a new one shows up at the end of the line. You want to have the fewest number of tiles at the end of the game, so there is a push/pull between sucking up the less valuable tiles your pals didn't want and zooming ahead to grab the really juicy tiles everyone is eyeing.

To stir the tile rondel up a little, there is a little gremlin who steals tiles randomly in the 2/3 player game. This is the fastest and most streamlined "dummy player" I've seen in any game yet and I like the extra chaos it adds.

Finally, there is a cool little market where you can buy and sell your resources. When people buy a certain resource, the price of that resource in the market goes up. When people sell that resource, its price automatically goes down. I like that too!

To get even cooler…one of the tiles you can pick up is a Refinery, and you can activate it to produce whiskey.

How can you not like a game where you spend some of the time trying to out-race your opponents in whiskey production?

The answer is, you can't. I love activating tiles in Glen More. I like making the market go up and down. And I love distilling whiskey. I even like raising cattle and sheep. But the shine is definitely starting to wear off. A lot of the subsequent dullness has to do with the many, many victory point calculations you have to do during the game.

In each of the 3 scoring rounds (yep seen that one before), victory points are awarded by comparing

1) number of chieftains (meeple you reserve off the board)
2) number of tam o' shanties (these are magic hats that also count as chieftains)* 
3) number of whiskey barrels
4) number of unique location cards
5) number of tiles in your tableau (you get negative points for having more tiles than the lowest player)
6) and probably other ones I've forgotten about

You also get victory points during the round by activating buildings like taverns, butchers, markets and such.

And you get victory points AT THE END of the game thanks to special unique location cards.

The end result: Glen More makes you really think in order to figure out who is actually winning this game. And much like 7 Wonders, you probably want to download some kind of "App" to calculate your score so you don't have to.

Sometimes I really miss Settlers of Catan. Roads, Soldiers, Villages, Cities, (does he possibly have a victory point card?), and you are DONE!

Glen More also suffers from another disease epidemic in eurogame circles…the individual player board. Other than competing for tiles, there is nothing you can ever do to affect your fellow players. Each person builds a Alahabra-style kingdom in from of themselves, and just tries to figure out the optimal moves from there.

There really needs to be a game where your tableau has to fight other players tableaus. Then you'd really build them to last! 7 Wonders had wars, so you at least had to watch army build up from your 2 neighbors. Galaxy Trucker is probably the closest, because your tableau is under constant attacks from meteors, slavers, space pirates and the occasional random explosion.

So you can definitely enjoy Glen More, but it could have been so much more without all these victory point conditions hanging out everywhere. It doesn't make the game any more "fun" and it kinda makes my head hurt.

Glen More could have been Glen Less. And even better, it could have been Glen Ross.

Check it out online and see for yourself at!

*ok the tams go into the same pile as the chieftains, but its still confusing!

Great Moments in Board Game Advertising

Hasbro's been chasing me around Facebook for quite a while, and I think they finally have my number. The cat lady next door has rebuffed game night in every case up until now, but the classic game of real estate bankruptcy finally has the "catnip" I need to resolve the situation.

Monopoly fills the cat-shaped hole in my heart.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

London: Martin Wallace Superior, I am Inferior

I had the opportunity to play London a few weeks ago.

To protect the names of the innocent, I will use aliases.

On my left was Rygar, on my right was Brod.

Ahead of me lay the city of London, smoking still from the ravages of the Great Fire. The city must be rebuilt! But buildings and districts are never cheap, and the stink of poverty whiffs around every corner. My poverty stunk worse than most.

Each turn you can do one of 3 things:

1. build buildings
2. run (activate) buildings
3. buy territory


You have a hand of cards in front of you which represent potential buildings. You need a pair of the same color to build a building so there is some collection aspect to the game. The starter buildings are free to play (as long as you have a pair) but the further along you go the most expensive (and more powerful) the buildings in the deck become.

Buildings might earn you money, reduce poverty, win victory points and more. But to get their benefits they must be activated.

Running the Town (Activating)

Instead of building, you could instead "run" your existing structures and use their abilities. Many of the buildings are one-time effects. After you run them they flip over permanently and you can then build on top of them next turn. Other buildings cannot be flipped (and so you gain their benefit for multiple turns) but also provide a much smaller effect.

Money is an odd sort of duck…most of the buildings that generate money represent a one-time windfall. You activate the relevant building, gain a small pile of mega-pounds and then flip the building over, never to see it again.

Its a big step in a different direction from most games, where you are revving up an economic engine as the game moves forward. London gives you money in fits and spurts, and then sends you back to zero when your fishmonger gets paved over to build a school.

Then, at the end of the "run," you get to calculate how much poverty your little slice of london dumps into your lap. Poverty in this game is an ever-present thing. Much like pollution in other games, poverty is a natural byproduct of running your city.

Poverty is calculated as (number of your buildings) - (districts owned) + (cards in hand). You don't want to have a bunch of cards in your hand when you decide to do business!

Finally, the game lets you buy territory. Territory costs a fixed amount of cash, and awards both cards and victory points. And as previously mentioned, territory helps soak up the poverty constantly leaking out the back end of your industrial production.

How the game is supposed to be played:

You are dealt a hand of cards to start with, so everyone starts building first thing. You don't start with enough money to buy a district, so the next thing you will probably do is activate your buildings. But don't activate your buildings until you have gotten rid of most of your cards!

Once you've earned some money, buy territory. You get a bunch of cards when you do this.

Then, build more buildings. Then activate them. And so forth until the game ends and you could up your victory points. This is what Ryan and Brad did, and they earned many many beautiful victory points rebuilding the city of London.

The horrible things I did instead:

Once I have it all typed out, the play of the game seems pretty simple. But when I started it did not seem as such. What you have to watch out for is doing any of the previous activities too early. If you activate your cards while you still have cards in your hand, many different calamities happen. You get more poverty. You get less money. You get less of any ability you could have possibly played. And you still have cards in your hand to get rid of! You will never get that chance back to use your cards quite as effectively.

I was tempted to avoid adding too many buildings to my tableau since each built building adds to your poverty score. But since cards in hand also does the same you should get rid of your cards ASAP. And since each building uses 2 cards to be put into play, you are reducing potential poverty just by playing the cards.

Because I played fewer cards at the beginning, I received less money. And as the game progresses, my perception was that it became harder and harder to earn any money. The big cards you find towards the bottom of the deck all cost a lot of money. And I didn't see as many effects to award much money back into my coffers. So I should have saved, saved, saved!

The single most card I didn't really use to good effect was the Hospital. These cards allow you to copy the effect of another building card once, essentially getting the same benefit twice. If you can find a big enough benefit, the Hospital can be HUGE.

At the end, I had a mitt of 9 cards (the maximum) and no money to play any of them. And at the end of the game, I got 9 more poverty points added to my total because of this, resulting in a poverty score that was actually off the handy chart printed on the board.

When the dust settled, I had 3 points. Rygar had over 60, and Brod had over 50.

Playing London, I am most reminded of my previous plays of Pret-a-Porter. You have to understand the economic system ahead of time, otherwise you will bomb out as you explore its many rules. Of course, both of the other players picked it up pretty easy. But that's neither here nor there! Also like Pret-a-Porter, there's NO forgiveness once the ball gets rolling. Missed opportunities not only punish you for missing them, they further punish you in your ability to develop your city on subsequent turns. Don't do anything wrong, ever.

But in spite of all this, I will call London to the mat if I ever see it available to play again. After sleeping on the situation I had a couple of epiphanies I would love to someday follow up on.

1) Don't be afraid to take out loans! Loans are terrible, it is true. You have to pay them back by the end of the game otherwise you get a 7 point penalty. And you have to pay 50% interest when you DO pay them back. On the other hand, they can sometimes be the least terrible option you have open. They are WAY better than ending up with a bunch of cards in your hand you can't use. Unused cards earn you poverty points and probably provide ways to eliminate poverty, or at least gain some victory points. The absolutely worst thing to do is do nothing.

2) Don't build structures that don't "turn over" early in the game, or build them but don't get too attached to them. Feeling like you are unable to pave over a building hampers your further development, prevents you from getting rid of cards and thus increasing your poverty. Keeping a Street Light that can remove 2 poverty points is insignificant if you can play 2 cards to pave over it with something else that will ALSO get you some benefit, reduce your hand by 2 cards, and prevent 2 extra poverty from being ADDED to your pile at your next activation.

3) Save your money! So many things in this game cost money. And money is always in such sparse supply. You almost never have continuing income. It comes in little windfalls that you need to HOLD ON to until the exact right thing to invest in. You will need cash in the late game to play most of the high victory point cards, and it will be difficult keep your accounts filled until they come around.

Lodon is a don't-mess-around board development game. Don't enter this arena without your thinking hat on, and turned up to level 11. But I still had fun, and I want to play again.