Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Board Games IIc

Listening to:

Missa Papae Marcelli by Palestrina. Oxford Camerata conducted by Jeremy Summerly. Naxos 8.550573. Lovely.

More Capsule Board-game Reviews

Monday night gaming continues well.

Condottiere

A quick game (a filler in the jargon), that doesn’t outstay its welcome. It features a neat card-playing mechanic whereby battles for territories on a map of Italy are resolved. There’s a lot of luck involved because each round of battles begins with each player receiving a random hand of cards. The strength of hands can vary quite a bit. That said, there’s lots of opportunity to be devious and cunning in the play of one’s hand (it may have to cover multiple battles), and this is definitely fun. My general principle is that random-ness is not such a big deal as long as the game is short, and Condottiere does play quickly enough.

Guillotine

Another filler, but not such a good one. This also features card-play, but the balance is slightly out-of-whack. The cards you play manipulate the ordering of people queueing up to be executed at a guillotine during the French revolution. (This is made out to be a cartoonishly light matter, so that it doesn’t seem at all grim. Make of that what you will.) Either you play according to the official rules which only generally allow one card per play, leading to a feeling of powerlessness; or you play as many cards as you like per play, leading to analysis-paralysis as people struggle to figure out the optimum order in which to deploy the cards.

Perhaps either mode of play could be made to work, given the right group and the right attitude.

Kremlin

This is a stylish, older game with an awesome central mechanic, buckets of theme, and a neat end-condition (to do with the Party Chief managing to wave at the annual May Day parades). It also plays up to six. On the down-side, it’s fiddly to track all the necessary bits of data (done with little cardboard chits). This could be done so much more elegantly with a computer (an iPad version as a shared, miniature table-top perhaps). It’s also quite possible that players may find themselves with nothing to do because their Politicians are not in positions of power. Some may also find the inter-player viciousness off-putting.

Glory to Rome

I’ve played this four times in fairly quick succession recently, and I’m definitely impressed, even though I have no real idea how to play well. It may be that there’s no real opportunity to decide on a strategy in advance. Rather, the winner will be the person who best manages the cards they draw from moment to moment, but while still managing to combine them with a view towards a coherent strategy.

The central mechanics are fairly abstract and revolve around becoming a big-shot in ancient Rome by building impressive buildings by attracting a big clientele of hangers-on to help with those projects, and perhaps also by embezzling building materials for one’s private vault. The buildings all tend to subvert the core rules to a greater or lesser extent and they can also interact quite wildly. This makes for fun effects, but these and the interactions in the core rules really do work well. (They’re also quite hard to explain so I won’t even try. Once the game is going, it all seems quite natural.)

Glory to Rome is probably the best game of this week’s four. But Kremlin is awesome too, and Condottiere is fast, furious and blessed with a cool battle mechanic. A nice set to have to choose from.