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Saturday, December 23, 2006

End of the year games (part 1)

Like I said, no chance to do another podcast this year, but I can fill you in on some recent gaming via the blog. Last night I attended my last Santa Clarita game group session of the year, and we were joined by Greg Parker. He's a long way from home up in Redding, but has family down here so we see him once in a while during holidays. Podcast listeners should be familiar with Greg from his co-star status on Garrett's Games & Geekiness podcast. Although I'd like to have him on MY podcast, too, our time is too short to do that AND play games. So games it was.

I think of Greg Parker as one of the "new games guys," meaning someone that is always getting & playing new stuff. I know he has his older favorites, too, but whenever he's down here there are new games he's touting, and asking about what new ones we've tried. Should I tell him the game sessions at my place are often filled with old standbys like Ra and San Marco? No, I know it doesn't really matter. And we play new ones, too--including Space Dealer last week. (Which I thought was great fun, such an enjoyable gimmick/mechanism, and one I want to try more.)

Greg had a new copy of Die Baumeister von Arkadia with him, and that was a new one I wanted try. Especially since I knew no one in our group had picked it up yet. Just like everyone's been saying, it was good. It looks more involved than it really is, and in our 4-player game it also accelerated to the end more than we were expecting. Now knowing what to expect, I can see this moving right along in that 45-60 minute middleweight category I like. Count me among those who were turned off by nothing more than the Torres memories of those pieces, but hre's they're just game scoring equipment (and a game timer, in a clever combination). If it also plays well with 2 or 3, as I've heard, then it's one of the clear winners from Essen.

After that we tried Reef Encounters of the Second Kind. Turns out I was able to get one after all, due to my high-falutin' podcast connections. (I saw them available through Boulder Games later, too.) Hmmm... Now, I'm a big fan of Reef Encounter. You'll hear more about that in a future podcast or two. I don't typically pay top dollar for games, but this was one case where I splurged. That was for the base game. It was a double-splurge for the small expansion. Especially since I know my usual reaction to expansions: interesting new options, but clutters-up the original game and makes it only for die-hards. And that's almost my reaction here. I say "almost," because I want to try again using only some of the new elements. The rules don't suggest you can "pick & choose" the parts of the expansion you want, but I think it could work better for me that way. I like the special tiles most of all. They don't take much additional explanation, barely tweak the rules, and open up new tactical considerations and opportunities. Especially when drafting more tiles at the end of your turn. The predatory starfish tile is only slightly more involved, but pretty interesting and worth the (minor) effort.

It's the special, rule-bending cards I didn't care for. This is a game mechanism I'm not often happy with. Adds more chaos/unpredictability, and getting the balanced for power is so very critical. It's only one play so far, but in our game we all felt the cards were too powerful, changing the final scoring too significantly for a game that otherwise values clever moves and multi-turn strategy.

The remaining new element are the blue shrimps. I like their modest game effect. They're a collective pool of "bonus" shrimp that can protect more coral--only the tile they're on, not the orthogonal neighbors, but that's plenty to help out. Some of them are printed on the new tiles, and those are the easiest to use. The separate, wooden ones are fun, just like the original "shrimples," offer more opportunities for clever play, but as-is they require that same deck of cards to activate. If I can figure out some way to retain the blue shrimp but ditch the cards, that would be ideal. (Maybe discard a tile in front of the screen to place/move one blue shrimp?)

All in all, a good night of strategy games to complement the lighter fare I've been playing lately, which you'll read about in part 2.

-Mark

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