Monday, March 11, 2013

Collected Game Day: "Spring!"

This past Saturday, I had my first hosted board game day at Collected: Your Pop Culture Headquarters.  He suggested I choose the games I was bringing to have a common theme, and I thought that was a great idea, so I opted for a Spring theme.  For the day, I set up or played:

Agricola: for 2-5 players, this is a deep boardgame in which you are running farms.  This game involves role selection from a common board, in order to perform common tasks, such as acquiring grain seed to plant, plowing fields, picking up yearling animals to breed, baking bread, building fences, etc.  To do well, you are expected to fill your farm board with pastures, fields, and your farmhouse as much as possible, while making sure you do a little bit of everything -- don't put all your eggs in one basket, so to speak.  This game is complex, but I favor teaching it by starting with the family game (no occupation or minor improvement cards), and just go through the 14 rounds of play.  After scoring the first game, people will generally have a good feel for the mechanics and general strategy, and will be ready to play again.  Be warned, though, this game takes a while to play, and uses a lot of table space for all the boards.  If you like it, there are many optional decks and expansions available.  Sadly, none of the people who stopped by were able to hang out in the store long enough to learn to play this one.

Agricola - All Creatures Big and Small: for 2 players, this is like the younger sister to Agricola.  You still have the role selection, but the farm will focus on the animal husbandry aspect of the game, so your goal is simply to breed as many of the 4 types of animals as possible. The catch is that you will have to spend actions gathering resources, in order to build stalls, stables, feeding troughs, fences, and a few other buildings in order to contain them all, since animals run away if you don't have anywhere to put them upon gaining one.  This game is an excellent, rich experience for a couple of players wanting to play a game that feels like it requires some decent planning, and you know a game is designed well when you just don't have time to do everything you wanted to do.  I played this with my wife while we were in-between people wanting to learn, and I did get to teach it to a woman who seemed very interested in learning it.  Unfortunately, she had to leave about halfway through the game -- maybe next time, though!

Bohnanza: for 2-7 players, this simple set collection game has people playing bean farmers, planting bean cards into two (or 3) "bean fields" in front of them.  It also uses a unique mechanic in that your hand order matters -- you MAY NOT sort the cards you are dealt, as your hand has a front and a back.  You are required to play "plant" the front card, either in a bean field containing the same kind of bean, or by "harvesting" (selling and discarding) an existing field to make room.  Some beans are more rare than others, and are worth more coins when harvested and sold.  You may then choose to plant the next card.  You will ten reveal a couple of cards from the deck, and this is the chance for players to optimize their hands through trades, allowing them to remove cards that block them from having sets.  Once all the trading is done, all cards on the table must be planted by all players (harvesting beans as necessary), and the active player draws cards to the back of their hand, one at a time.  This game plays fast, and handles a lot of people.  There is a well-thought-out two-player variant, but I've found that with 3 or 4 players, it may stall a little, as people just may not have the right beans in their hands to make trading worthwhile.  Get a bunch of friends to play, though, and this one's a winner!  I played this one to refresh my memory on the rules early in the day, and then my wife wanted to play the two-player variant, so we ran through that.

Cloud 9: for 3 to 6 players, this is what is called a "Press Your Luck" game, because if you don't stop at the right time, you may lose all the points you've gained so far.  Themed around a balloon flight, players have their pawns in a basket sitting atop a cloud worth 1 point.  The current player is the "pilot" and rolls a number of dice pictured on the cloud (2 at the beginning, but as many as 4 dice later).  Each die pictures a few different colors of balloons, or a blank side.  After the pilot rolls the dice, the other players have to decide whether to stay in the basket or jump and take the points on the current cloud (I guess everyone has parachutes at all times).  They make this decision by guessing, based on the number of cards in the pilot's hand, whether he will be able to make the balloon rise.  You see, after players have made their decision, the pilot will play cards out of his hand to match the colored balloons that rolled on the dice (or a single wild card to cover the whole roll).  If he can't play the right cards, the balloon falls, and nobody left in the basket gets any points.  The pilot is not allowed to jump unless everyone else does first (since they know whether they can make the balloon rise or not).  If the pilot is the only one left in the ballon after rising to a new level, they have to decide whether to jump BEFORE rolling the dice (so as to not know whether they can do it before they jump).  While a simple game, this one is a lot of fun for a quick pick-up game.  We had someone come in and play through this, and there were a few very exciting rolls, especially when, unbeknownst to us, he has two wild cards in his hand, and after we jumped, he was able to rise 3 more times on his own, allowing him to jump from last place into a solid lead, which he maintained until the end.

Tutankhamen: for 2 to 6 players, this is another simple pick-up game.  A pyramid is placed with a trail of tiles leading out from it, composed of several different artifacts in three colors each.  Players are given a number of "tribute coins" that serve to keep score when sets of tiles are collected.  Starting at the end of the trail, players move their token toward the pyramid as far as they want, picking up the tile they land on.  The catch is that you can never go backward, so once a tile is passed by all players, it is out of play.  As soon as the last tile in a set is collected (or passed), players score for that set.  The player with the most tiles of that type gets the full points, dropping that number of coins into the pyramid.  The player in second place for that set then drops in half the total number of points.  If players are tied for first place, they each get half-points, and if players are tied for second place, they each score nothing.  There are also a couple of wild tiles, which can be used to gain majority (or tie) in a set, and some bags of gold coins, which allow you to steal a tile from another player (provided you have at least one of that type in front of you), at the cost of allowing them to score one point immediately.  There is no hidden information in this game, and yet it is still possible for someone to sneak up from behind and win, as my wife did when we played with a customer at the store, just because a set with a tile near the end is finally scored, and their coins suddenly drop to nothing.  Overall, I'd recommend this game as something simple to play, or that's what your other players prefer.

Pickomino: for 2 to 7 players, this children's game is themed around chickens having a worm barbecue.  you may have seen it on Facebook, rethemed with dragons and having some other features, such as bonus dice levels.  This is another Press-Your-Luck type of game, although your turn doesn't usually affect other players, as it does in Cloud 9.  In Pickomino, there are 16 tiles laid out, with values from 21 to 36.  Each tile is worth a number of points, represented by worms, from 1 to 4, going up in value as the tiles go up in number.  There are 8 dice, numbered 1 through 5, with a picture of a worm on the 6th face.  On your turn, you roll all the dice, then set aside (score) all the dice of a single number (or worm).  Your goal is to roll the dice to get a high enough score to take tiles from the board or your opponents, but be careful!  If you bust, you score nothing, put back the top tile from those you've collected, and the highest tile on the board is turned over, out of play.  Our guest player really liked this game, saying that the people he normally played with would love the "take-that" option that lets you steal tiles from other players.  It goes quick, and is a good way to teach about risk and reward to young gamers.

While we were at the store, we bought a copy of the Pathfinder RPG Beginner Box, for which I'll write a more detailed review in my next entry.   Suffice to say, we were impressed when we poked through the contents, and it looks like an excellent way to introduce people to tabletop role-playing games, both as players, and as a GM.

My next theme will be "Connections," and I plan to bring games to demonstrate such as Ticket to Ride, Power Grid, Clippers, Elfenland, and a variety of others after I've had time to peruse my collection.  The planned date is Saturday, March 23rd, 2013.  See everybody there!

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