Friday, March 18, 2011

Glen More: A Wee Bit O' Scotland

Glen More, designer Mattias Cramer's first game, is set in the Scottish highlands.  In this game, two to five players compete to create the best laid-out countryside using tiles selected from a circular track.  The game is played over three scoring rounds and generally takes about 60-90 minutes to play in my experience.

There are several factors that make this game interesting to me.  First and foremost, there's the circular tile track where players leapfrog each other to grab the tiles that interest them most.  Some of these tiles must be purchased with resources, while others are free, and the tiles vary in ability.  Some are pure resource production tiles, others grant the player a new clan member who can rove around the countryside, while others give victory points for different conditions.  They increase in power as the game progresses over three scoring rounds.  However, the leapfrogging comes with a catch: skipping too far ahead may get you the tile you really need, but it will give other players additional turns and the opportunity to grab more tiles until they catch up to you.  Counter-balancing this is the end game scoring (see below).

Another factor that makes the game interesting to me is its spatial element.  Players place the tiles taken from the track in front of them, while respecting various tile placement rules that mainly center around how your clansmen wander from place to place.  I like the idea of creating my own Scottish countryside, replete with villages, fields, pastures, lochs, castles, fairs, and suchlike.  To some players, the fact that players have their own individual landscapes demonstrates a lack of player interaction, but I personally feel there is ample interaction on the tile track.  Also, I am always watching how my opponents are laying their tiles, because of the way scoring works and because it sometimes affects what I select from the tile track.

But more interesting to me is trying to lay my tiles in the best manner possible.  Placement is strategically important for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that every tile placed activates the benefits of its neighboring tiles.  I like the fact that nice combos can be created by placing tiles next to each other that work in tandem, such as one or more wheat fields next to a distillery that produces whisky from the wheat, or a butcher next to cattle pasture.  Also, the placement of each tile can also affect how many times it can be activated in the future and also where subsequent tiles can be laid.

In addition to the tile track and placement mechanics, there's also the resource market where wheat, wood, ore, sheep, and cattle can be bought and sold in limited quantities.  As the demand goes up, so does the cost, with the supply running out after three resources of each type are sold.  The market is only resupplied as players sell resources back to the market in the opposite order they were bought, meaning the first resource sold of each type brings the highest price.  And since money is worth victory points at the end of the game, selling resources to the market can really help a player's position.  You really get a sense of supply and demand with the market, along with a realization that resources are not inexhaustible.

Lastly, I find the scoring interesting. Three times during the game, players earn points based on the difference between their acquisitions and those of the player with the least, in three different categories.  The greater the disparity in the number of clan chieftains, whisky barrels, and lochs/castles between you and the player with the fewest, the more points you'll score.  Gauging when these scoring rounds will take place can be important.  At the end of the game, additional scoring occurs.  Special bonus tiles add their points, leftover money scores points, and players take the difference between the number of tiles they own and the number owned by the player with the fewest, losing three points for each extra tile.  This penalty gives players the incentive to not build too far ahead of their opponents.  It can also create a strategy where one player may frequently take fewer tiles, forcing other players to lose points at the end of the game.

My only real complaint with Glen More is the downtime with four or five players.  Two or three players is the sweet spot, in my opinion.  With fewer than four players, the game adds a six-sided die acting as an extra player without adding any downtime.  I won't go into details, but it's cool how this works.  Beyond this, my only other complaint is that the printing and iconography on the tiles is way too small.

The love/hate divide on this game seems to be about 50/50 from what I have seen.  Personally, I like it a lot, though I don't love it.  I do think it's a great first offering from this new designer and I'll be interested to see how his future games play.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Saying Goodbye to a Few Games

All who've come over to my house have seen that my games live on a medium-to-large Ikea bookcase in my study:

Unfortunately, as you can see, it's bursting at the seams.  When it was getting close to 75% full, I made a promise to myself to only own as many games as will fit.  It's already overflowing now, with games on top of, underneath, and beside the bookcase.  I'm not going to have extra caches somewhere else in the house.

The reason for limiting my collection is two-fold.  Primarily, it's because 80+ games is more than enough for me.  It's a way to force me to value "quality over quantity", and to ensure my hobby doesn't turn into "collecting games" rather than "playing games".  Also, purely from a practicality standpoint, my wife and I live it a very small house.  So until I get that elusive gaming room in the basement finished, I'm going to have to make do with the Ikea bookcase.

It's because of this that I'm saying goodbye to a few games this month: an erstwhile friend, four acquaintances, and two complete strangers.  I've already boxed them up and will be sending them off to their new homes today.

The Strangers

Modern Art - I bought this game solely because of its provenance - it's designed by Reiner Knizia.  I've never even played it, and I've decided I don't really feel the need to own a game based primarily on an auction mechanic.  The idea just doesn't appeal to me.

Runebound: The Frozen Wastes - Initially, the theme of this expansion to Runebound both appealed to me and revolted me.  I liked the idea of an adventure in the frozen tundra of the North, but the "alien race" aspect of the game seems completely incongruent and entirely unnecessary.  Ultimately I just couldn't move past it far enough to play.  Instead, I should have gotten the Sands of Al-Kalim or The Island of Dread, both of which I've played and liked.  Another reason I'm selling it should be obvious when you read on.

The Acquaintances

Aton - I played this game a few times and liked it initially, but ultimately I just ended up being bored by it.  The Egyptian theme I had hoped for simply isn't there.  While I have plenty of other games with "pasted on" themes, with this one, the lack of theme is blatant.

Last Night on Earth - This is a game I really wanted to like; what's not to love about zombies?  I actually do like one of Flying Frog's other games, A Touch of Evil, but this one just didn't do it for me.  I played once and liked it, but subsequent plays just didn't seem fun.  Other players in my gaming group didn't like it either, so it just hasn't seen much playing time.  I'm hoping I'll find another zombie-themed game I like better, and have been considering making a copy of the print-and-play game Dead of Night.  I'll also be trying Zombie Plague at an upcoming game night.

Witch's Brew - I liked this game OK at first, but then the "I am Herbie", "Not I", "So be it" script lost its charm.  Also, I am terrible at simultaneous action selection games.

Loot - This game may also have been purchased because of the designer.  I was really impressed with Tigris and Euphrates and decided I needed to try others, thinking they'd all be just as excellent.  So, I bought this game to play with my wife, and let me just say for the record, it's very ill-advised play this with two - not fun.  Lost Cities is a great two-player game by Knizia, for sure, but Loot is not (even though it is advertised as such).  This one is actually headed to Goodwill; no one bid on it.

The Friend

Runebound - It was much harder to say goodbye to this game than any of the others.  I've played it many times and always found myself getting lost in the adventure.  However, I have always had three major complaints about this game that ultimately led me to playing it less and less frequently.  First, the playing time with more than three players is intolerable.  Even with two or three, the game is long.  Secondly, the movement dice can be needlessly frustrating at times.  Lastly, over time, I began to find that the combat resolution became a little rote after a while.  In addition to the complaints, my tastes have shifted more towards Euros anyway.  But as I boxed it up yesterday to ship it off, I had some regrets.  In an almost wistful way, I counted up all the health and exhaustion counters.  And as I put the lid on, I even told myself that I could always buy it again later if I wanted to.  But it's going to a good home to a buyer in Iceland, along with The Frozen Wastes expansion.  Adieu, Runebound!

And now I'll end this blog post rather abruptly:  Who wants to help me finish off a gaming room in my basement???

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Why Start a Blog about Modern Board Games?

First of all, welcome to my new blog about board gaming, Making Moves.  Thanks for stopping by - it's nice to have a new reader.  I hope you will enjoy my musings enough to come back later for another visit.  Comments would be greatly appreciated, and I'd be even more honored if you were to subscribe.

As quick background information, I have been active in the modern board gaming hobby over the past four years.  It started out slowly, with a couple of games like Runebound and Descent, but my passion has gradually and steadily increased to the point where I own and have played around 80 different games (which is not many by some standards!).  I also formed and organize a board gaming group in Winston-Salem, NC called Camel City Gamers.  We currently get together about six or seven times a month, and the group has grown from a handful of members in late 2008 to over 150 members this year.  But enough with the background information... I said I'd keep it quick, didn't I?

For my inaugural post, I would like to relate several reasons why I want to start a blog about board gaming in the first place.  First, it's a way for me to express and share my passion for the board gaming hobby, to meet others who share this passion, and to hopefully promote the hobby to others who are less acquainted with it.  A second reason, equally important to me, is that it will enable me to develop my writing skills and hopefully acquire my writer's voice.  I really enjoy writing and would really like to become better at it. Lastly, over the past year or more, I have squandered many hours reading many posts on BoardGameGeek, a fair percentage of which have been of questionable value.  Beginning now, I would like to spend my time much more constructively.  For certain, I'll still visit that site, but I am hoping that by joining and contributing to the board game blogging community, I will greatly reduce the amount of time I spend there and make some new friends along the way.

So, what will I write about?  The answer to that question is a resounding "I'm not entirely sure yet, but I know I will write!"  I will definitely post reviews of games I like or don't like. And I intend to write introductory posts for those new to the hobby, to welcome them through the door.  I will probably write opinions about game genres or mechanics (to the extent that I understand them).  I may post session reports.  In short, I hope to write about a lot things and just see where it all evolves.  If you have a particular suggestion about topics for a new blogger, or about blogging in general, I'm all ears!

In closing, welcome again, and I hope to see you back soon!