Sunday, June 26, 2011

Raanana Gaming: Jaipur, Alien Frontiers

I spent my first weekend in Raanana, getting to know some people and the locale - to prove to myself that I could move there. I met a bunch of nice people. So there's hope for next year, even though I won't be living in Jerusalem.

I stayed at past JSGC members Abraham and Sara, who had moved to Raanana about a year ago for the same reason that I will: convenient to work. They have a cute new baby. Abe also just received some new games, including Dominant Species, Alien Frontiers, an expansion for Mecanisburg, and Jaipur. Since I still have a cough, I didn't play with the baby, but I played with the games.

Not Dominant Species, however. I've learned my lesson, which is not to buy long games that no one will play, however good the game is.

We played Jaipur. Jaipur is a simple set collection card game. Five cards, either camels or goods in six types, are flipped up in the "market" at all times. On your turn, you can a) take all the camels in the market and place them in front of you, or b) take one good and add it to your hand, or c) swap at least two goods and/or camels you have with any number of goods in the market, or d) discard one or more of your goods of a single type from your hand to collect VP tiles from six separate piles, one for each good.

The tiles are stacked with the better ones on top, which encourages you to dump early. However, you get bonus points for dumping three, four, or five cards at a time. The round ends when three VP piles run out. You get a bonus for having the most camels at the end of each round, and the player with the most points wins the round. Play best two out of three.

It took us the first round to learn a few of the rules. After the game was over, we also remembered one of the other rules, namely that you can also swap your camels for goods in the market; not something we got wrong, but simply an option that we didn't take advantage of.

I lost the first game for not realizing that the round ended when the tiles ran out in three piles. I had a handful of cards ready when suddenly the round was over. I didn't make that mistake again, and I won the next two rounds handily.

Jaipur is ok from my first play, and I didn't see any major flaws. It's a two player game, but Abe said that an online variant allow for three players.

Sara joined us for Alien Frontiers. AF is a Kickstarter success story from a company that advertised on Purple Pawn. It's now in the top 100 games on BGG. I was curious to see what the hoopla was all about.

Alien Frontiers is a dice rolling assignment game: in this category of games, you roll a bunch of dice and then assign the dice to various actions in order to gain resources, cards, points, etc. You later use these resources and cards to combine with other assignments for more points. It's a descendent of Yahtzee, in a way.

Here, the dice are your "ships", which makes little sense, but is a fun concept. Each ship docks at a station to get the reward. One thing the designer did right is provide places for different dice values, so a poor roll isn't automatically worse than a high roll - one of the things that bothers me about games like Stone Age.

Places let you: get fuel or ore, trade fuel to get ore, get cards which give bonus opportunities to use fuel, get more dice to roll, steal other players' stuff, or settle colonies (using fuel and ore, or just ore). Each colony is worth a point. There is a planet with various locations to settle colonies, and the person who has the most colonies in each location has a bonus point and access to the bonus ability of that location, which is typically a reduction in price in one of the places on the board.

The scoreboard simply tracks what you can see on the board: how many colonies you have and locations you control. Scores go up and down as the game progresses, and whoever has the most when the game ends (someone places their last colony) wins.

Although it was hard to roll "badly", I still managed to do a good job of it, not getting that single 6 that I needed for three turns in a row despite rolling 5 or 6 dice each turn. The game was between Abe and Sara, who jockeyed for the lead position as they placed colonies; Abe finished the game on his turn, and that was that.

The game was interesting enough, but as we moved from the middle to the end game, the major flaw became apparent. The flaw - and I'm not including the luck of the dice - can be summed up thus: a) analysis paralysis and b) nothing to do when it's not your turn. I was actually surprised that a game made in 2011 by game-aware folks such as Clever Mojo Games could fall prey to such an obvious problem. Did no one take any long turns during their playtest sessions?

You can't plan when it's not your turn. Your actions, other than your card actions, are rolled at the beginning of your turn. The exception to this is when you have cards that can change your dice rolls. In this case, you can plan what you hope to do, and then see if the limited change capabilities on your cards will let you get the results you want. If you can't, it's back to the analysis drawing board, so to speak.

Would I play again? Sure, but not with certain people. There is usually something to do, and you can always hope that some new ability combination will give you an edge on your next turn. Though it's a little frustrating simply to watch the score change back and forth until somebody finally wins.


Fellonmyhead said...

I think I better avoid Alien Frontiers then; it would only upset me. However, I would not describe a game which induces AP and leaves you without action outside of your turn as "flawed". It's a problem, which makes the game unsuitable in particular company.

Anonymous said...

Both flaws of AF are true for the same type of people, hence they're both solved by not playing the game with AP-prone players. When turns are short, not having what to do on your turn is not a significant problem.
Probably the best thing I can say about this game is the fact that it has multiple ways to victory - all of them are interesting, well balanced and satisfing...