Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Raanana Session Report in which we play Container and I win somehow

For the moment, Raanana Game Group session reports will go here, until Ellis tells me what to do with them.

Games played: The Kingdoms of Crusaders, Container, The Enigma of Leonardo

Participants: Abraham, Jon, Ellis, Peleg

We played at Abraham's house. Ellis is the usual host, but he is in the process of moving.

The Kingdoms of Crusaders

Abraham 3, Jon 2

The Kingdom of Crusaders (and The Enigma of Leonardo) are two of the four games that I was sent to review from RightGames - Russian Board Games. All four games come in boxes whose size is comparable to boxes containing software CDs with manuals. The inserts are white foam. The pieces contain lovely art, but the quality of the components is rather flimsy. In some cases, it's hard to separate the pieces without ripping them.

TKoC is the only 2-player only game in the lot; however, it plays for 3-4 players if you buy two copies of the game. The rules are, in fact, written for 3-4 players and not really for 2. Speaking of the rules, the English is obviously by a non-native, but the rules are short - generally two sided of a single page with graphics - and written well enough so that the game play is readily understandable.

TKoC is a stripped down card-driven area-control game akin to Battle Line. The theme has something to do with the Crusades - a celebration thereof, actually, which I find distasteful; luckily the theme is entirely non-existent in the play. Cards have between 1 to 5 symbols in the 5 colors of the game. Each player has a hand of 5 cards.

On your turn, draw a card and play a card into one of the five areas. You will play exactly 4 cards into each area, for a total of exactly 20 cards. The game is over after each player has played their 20 cards.

You win the area if you have the most complete sets: a complete set is when all four of the cards you played in the area match in a symbol. You can achieve more than one complete set in an area if all the cards match in multiple symbols. If there is a tie for most complete sets, the symbols are ranked (like artists in Modern Art) to break the tie. If there is still a tie, compare incomplete sets with only 3 symbols (one of the cards didn't match). Etc.

The player who wins the majority of the 5 areas wins the game. In the case of multiple players, you get 3 points for first place, 2 points for second, 1 point for third. Highest score wins.

The game is pretty straightforward, as are the strategies: hold your best cards for when you need them, know when to give up a fight and use that space to dump weak cards, try to not be first to show strength in an area, etc. Naturally, you're at the mercy of the cards you pick. One game proved sufficient for an experienced adult. For kids or people a little slower on the uptake, the game might be enjoyed a few times. As it is, you wouldn't buy it in favor of other, better games such as Battle Line or Lost Cities. However, there is an expansion available that adds some special abilities and may spruce up the game,

In our game, I had two areas under control and thought I had a third as well, but I forgot about symbol ranking. Abraham kept dumping cards into areas he had already lost until he found what he needed to win this area. Abraham didn't enjoy the game.

Since "Play-Draw" is a better mechanic than "Draw-Play", we played with 6 cards in hand, drawing at the end of the turn, instead of 5 cards drawing at the beginning of the turn. This presents no change to the mechanics other than when you draw your card.


Jon 99, Peleg 93, Abraham 79, Ellis 70

First play for everyone except Abraham. I had played about two rounds of the game previously. My memory of the previous game didn't match up with this game. In my previous game, I felt a complete loss as to what to do and how things worked. In this game, I understood the economics completely, and all that remained was to calculate the benefits of expenses versus income and convince other players to buy from me at a high price and sell to me at a low price.

You pay 1 to produce goods, a small amount to buy good into your warehouse, a larger amount to buy them from a warehouse, and a similar amount to buy them onto your island. You make the most money selling them to someone who wants them on the island (earning double, because you also get from the bank) and acquiring goods on the island, but only in a certain way.

It's the latter mechanic, acquiring good on the island, that caused me the most grief. Island acquisitions always seem to not be worth it; however, the sum total of many acquisitions is worth it. You have to look at the first purchases as a foundation for future purchases. Only in the last few rounds of the game should you be particularly concerned about what you do, or don't, acquire. I didn't grasp this until mid-game, when I was well behind the other players. Finally I acquired some items, keeping them low, even, and accurate. I earned less than the other players on the island, but I made up for it by selling far more goods to them, which gave me by far the most cash in hand by the end.

It's certainly a tough, but interesting game. However, I am bothered by the gaping flaw it has - not dissimilar to other games - that a single bad play by one person can completely hand the game to some other person, thus making the rest of the play irrelevant. In Puerto Rico, it's usually a series of bad plays that can do this; here it can happen in a single auction. Ellis netted $30 from a single auction in which Peleg payed him $15. Luckily, Ellis was far behind.

Furthermore, your production and warehouses won't empty until other players decide to empty them; you can offer your goods at attractive prices for this to happen, but there's no guarantee that it will; and until it does, you're kind of stuck. That keeps me from liking the game unreservedly. Too much depends on other players regardless of what you do.

The Enigma of Leonardo

Ellis 7, Jon 6, Peleg 6, Abraham 5

The second game from RightGames, this is a card driven pattern forming game. Each card has 2 symbols on it, out of a total of 12 symbols altogether. Some of the cards are duplicates (have both the same two symbols), while most cards either match or don't in one of the two symbols. The card quality is poor.

The game also has a number of small tiles with one symbol each. You collect these during the game, trying to get 7. You can't have more than one of the same type. Oddly, each tile has one symbol on one side and a different one on the back. In order to find the symbol you need when you have earned one, you have to flip the symbols over and around, and you must hope that they are not already on the backs of symbols you or another player already collected. This was a bizarre, highly annoying production choice. We managed to always (eventually) find what we needed, but I haven't checked to see if this is always possible.

Each player has a "cross" of five cards in front of him. On your turn, play a card into your cross, take the card you replaced and replace the card in the same location of the cross on the player on your left, and then discard the card you replaced from that player. When you form a line down or across on your own cross with one of the symbols matching on all three cards, you take the matching symbol tile. You can't take the same symbols twice. However, should you ever have all five cards with a matching symbol, you can take one symbol of your choice; but you can only do this once per game.

At first it was hard to notice or care about other players' crosses, and fairly simple to gain symbols every turn or two. As the game went on, we began to a) mess with the player on our left, and b) anticipate what we would get from the player on our right. Eventually I was looking across the table to see what he would give to the player on my right and whether that same card would then end up in my cross.

So there is some interaction, and a little planning and hoping. But it seems to be a crap-shoot as to what cards you pick and whether they will help you. I would like to be able to skip my turn in order to toss out all my cards and pick five more. But with four players holding 10 cards each (5 in hand and 5 in their crosses), the deck contains only a few more cards, so we had to mix half a dozen times, which is too many. A larger deck would have been nice. Apparently an expansion to the game is available.

Abraham liked it more than the previous game. I thought it was OK. Ellis and Peleg weren't impressed. Again, the game would be more appropriate for a younger audience, and not for experienced gamers.

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