Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Friday, January 10, 2014

An evening after work

A number of my friends typically get together after work almost every Tuesday for gaming at our local game store, Game Parlor Chantilly.  I don't typically make it as often as I like, but this week was a pleasant exception.

(c) Rio Grande Games.  Used by permission
I arrived early and met my good friend Glenn W., who happened to have a copy of Lost Cities (designer Reiner Knizia, artist Claus Stephan, publisher Rio Grande) in his car.  I'd played this once or twice at PrezCon years ago, so I was familiar enough with the rules to get reacquainted pretty quickly.  We jumped right in and played one hand while we waited for others to show up, and I think I won by a pretty narrow margin.  Most importantly, this re-exposure has rekindled my interest in picking this up as a candidate for Kathy and me to play during our frequent cocktail-hour games.  For some reason it had fallen fairly low on my wishlist, but now I really think it's a good option - not quite as brain-burning as Battle Line, but still a good two-player card game to try out.

We were joined by Keith Ferguson, Carson, Brian G., and Brian D., so Glenn pulled out Las Vegas (designer Rüdiger Dorn, artists Harald Lieske and Mia Steingräber, publisher Ravensburger), a fun, quick dice-allocation game.  This game worked well for the six of us, and I jumped out to an early lead with some great rolls, but my luck didn't prevail, and I ended up finishing second-to-last in the group.  I might get some dice and try this out with the family as a "homemade" rendition, although at $23 to $27, it might be worth just getting a copy regardless.

The six of us were joined by Tom and Traci, so we split up into two groups.  Brian D., Brian G., Carson, and I played Terra Mystica (designers Jens Drögemüller and Helge Ostertag, artist Dennis Lohausen, publisher Z-man), which I'd played once before at Keith's house last month.  This time I played as the "engineers," who are particularly efficient at building settlements and who, once they construct a fortress, score points every turn for every bridge they have on the board.  I still don't have the hang of this game, although I really like the typically Euro balancing of different actions and resource accumulation to develop victory point engines.  I particularly neglected the four "religion" tracks - again - and came out dead last in final scoring.  I'd really like to continue to learn this game.

Keith Ferguson's prototype, "Santa's Workshop"
I really wanted to try out Keith's prototype, "Santa's Workshop," which he's been working on for a few months and which he plans to bring to UnPub 4 next weekend.  So he and I sat down with Carson, Randy, Traci, and Tom to give it a whirl.  The game calls for 12 turns, but given the amount of time we had left before the store would close, we decided to wrap it up after six turns just to get a feel for the game.  In this worker-placement game, each player has four elves who gather materials to assemble toys called for in letters to Santa in order to score points.  Elves are individually numbered and can be each trained to improve their skills in gathering certain materials or making toys.  The process of actually getting the materials or assembling toys is driven by dice, a mechanic inspired by Stone Age.  There is also an opportunity to take the start player marker or gain points directly by doing your elven duty in the Reindeer Stables, as well as a Coal Mine where elves can pick up cards for doing magic, either to improve efficiency in gaining materials and making toys or for messing with the opponents' elves.

There are some recognizable game design mechanics in play here, and yet they come together in a fresh way.  "SW" is remarkably solid for having been playtested only four times so far.  The Coal Cards are a little imbalanced - some perhaps too powerful, others not very helpful - and Keith is still adjusting how many action spaces to make available depending on the number of players in the game.  But these are all "calibration-level" adjustments to a game that on the whole is entirely playable and, most importantly, fun.  I think Keith stands to gain a lot both in terms of exposure and feedback at UnPub next week.

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