Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

UnPub 4 Part II: Heartland Hauling and Ten-acre Farming

"Great Heartland Dice Game" with Tiffany Bahnsen
and Adam O'Brien (r.)
Great Heartland Dice Game
I was tremendously pleased to get to meet Jason Kotarski (Great Heartland Hauling Company) in person.  I got to playtest his dice-game spin-off, "Great Heartland Dice Game," with Shawn Purtell, Adam O'Brien, and Tiffany "Socially Inept Gamer" Bahnsen.  This was a fun variation on GHHC, kind of Yahtzee with cows.  Actually, there is an element of resource management, since having a gas reserve makes it possible to re-roll dice and score more effectively.  It's also possible to sell of extra dice to other players for gas.  The result is a clever little filler game that deserves a publisher's attention.

(Left to right) Randy, Elizabeth, and Kurt playtesting
"East India Company"
East India Company - three-player playtest
My local after-work gaming group in Chantilly includes a regular named Randy, who learned about UnPub from Keith Ferguson and came out with two of his friends, Elizabeth and Kurt.  They were kind enough to give "East India Company" a try, and as experienced gamers, they picked right up on the important elements of the game.  The result was a solid playtest that clocked in at just over two hours, which Elizabeth (59 points) won narrowly over Kurt (56) and Randy (46).

An interesting little hole in the rules turned up with a recent change I made to the pirate rules.  I had simplified the tie-breaker rule to say simply that if two ships have the same value cargo, the player with the start player marker chooses the victim.  Such a situation came up, with neither tied player holding the start player marker.  So the question that came up was whether the start player should have to identify the pirates' target before the tile draw, so that only one of the two players would have to decide whether to buy insurance.

French and Portuguese ships ready
to buy tea in India
Kurt also proposed that players be allowed to transfer cash between ships to allow a small ship to ferry money back to Europe while a large ship makes runs back and forth between (in this case) East Africa and China.  As it stands, the rules do not allow transfers because I consider it very difficult to plan a rendezvous between ships traveling thousands of miles in the 18th century.  Still, it's an idea worth considering.

All in all, it was a very valuable playtest.  I always appreciate a fresh look at "EIC" from experienced gamers, and they really seemed to have a good time playing it.

Nathaniel Levan and Anna Rutledge
10 Acres
The surprising hit of Congress of Gamers last October was "New Bedford," by Nathaniel Levan and Anna Rutledge.  At UnPub 4, I had a chance to play another of the couple's games, "10 Acres."  Players each manage a ten-acre farm by planting different crops and husbanding different livestock.  Each has its own unique growing and scoring characteristic, so the challenge is deciding which crops to add, in a kind of action-drafting mechanic that is further complicated by the unique geometric constraints of the individual farm. I played "10 Acres" with Eric Handler and Patrick Thunstrom.  The mechanics and scoring took a little getting used to in terms of strategy, but once I got the hang of it, I could really appreciate the nuance of this game.

Saturday night at the hotel
After a full day of prototyping, Keith and I returned to the hotel lobby and broke out a few published games.  We started with Mr. Jack Pocket, a portable version of the deduction game Mr. Jack, which Kathy and I like as a two-player logic challenge.  MJP is a nice compact version of the original.  In our session, Keith as Mr. Jack managed to get away; my detection skills were insufficient to bring him to justice.

I introduced Keith to 1955: War of Espionage, a NATO-vs-Soviet tug-of-war with dual-use action cards.  Kathy and I have played a few times, and it hasn't caught on with us despite some strong reviews on boardgamegeek.  Keith and I came away thinking the game wasn't all that exciting, so there must be something I'm missing there.

Keith had picked up Gravwell from the vendor at UnPub, so we thought we'd give it a try.  We were unboxing it just as Ben Rosset showed up.  He graciously volunteered to teach it to us, and we were joined by another fellow (whose name I don't remember) for a four-player game.  I can see why Dice Hate Me picked it as Game of the Year 2013.  It is an elegant design with simultaneous card play and second-guessing opponents in an effort to be the first to escape the vortex.  Ben and I were neck-and-neck at the end, and I really thought I'd guessed correctly the card that Ben would play, but of course I was wrong, and he ended up winning the game.  I think Keith will be bringing this one to Game Parlor for a few rounds after work this year.

We were joined by Matthew O'Malley and Doug of "Meltdown Games" for a couple of games of Coup, which is quickly becoming my favorite social game.  Fifteen cards, secret identities, constant bluffing - what's not to love?  The first game opened up with Ben claiming to be a Duke and me challenging his claim on the very first play, because I had two Dukes in my hand.  Son of a gun if Ben wasn't telling the truth.  He built up a reputation for truthfulness before long, as one player after another challenged him, and every time he proved to have the card he claimed.  He won the first game, and he made it the final showdown in the second game, but Doug won out to deny Ben the second Coup victory.

Next post:  Publishers' Panel, one more playtest, and what's next for "EIC"

No comments:

Post a Comment