Monday, 9 October 2017

#ReducingThePile - new (to me) games played in September 2017 - Part 1

Welcome to the latest in a series of blog posts where I talk about my quest to reduce my pile of shame.  You can find the other posts under the hashtag: #ReducingThePile.

Today I look back at the new (to me) games I played in the month of September.

September was a much better month for gaming for me. I got in 24 game plays through the month. Of all those plays eight of them were brand new games for me. Below I take a look at four of those eight games.  You will have to wait for part 2 to see the other 4. 

Century Spice Road - I have been hearing about this game a lot this year. Many people are calling it The Splendor Killer. Having now played the game I can see why. The games are similar.

In Century Spice Road is all about collecting resources to buy cards that let you collect more resources or upgrade those resources so you can buy other cards worth points. See, very Splendor like. Each turn players either use the cards they have to either collect or upgrade resources or they purchase a new card to use later. There's also one-third option, and that's to pick up the cards you've already played. This is one of the best mechanics in the game as it's a really hard decision as to when to pick up and when to keep using the cards you have. This reminds me a bit of Concordia.

Overall I liked Century Spice Road more than Splendor. There's just a bit more going on and a bit more depth and both I found very welcome. There is one problem with the game though. The designer put out two versions of the game. The Spice Road version which I played and a Golem version. The Golem version, to me, is so much cooler but you can only get at Cons and Special events. This means I will probably never pick up this game as I would much rather have the fantasy-themed version.

Take this as a lesson designers: for some people, me being one of them, theme matters.

Roll Player - Over the years I've said many times that some of the best times I've had with RPGS is just making characters. My wife and I used to head down to a local pub just to sit there and make a slew of Traveller characters.

Well someone in the board game world realized this and decided to make a board game that's all about making an RPG character. That game is Roll Player and it's fantastic. I really like this game. It's going to be up there in my top games of 2017 for sure. I've already played 5 times and enjoyed every play.

In Roll Player, you are making a D&D style character by filling in a character sheet with six-sided dice. Like in an RPG three die sets get you stats of 3-18. Race modifies these number. Each player gets a class card which tells them what they want their stats to be when done and the points given for hitting those numbers. So you could get 4 fame for having exactly 18 STR for a fighter. In addition, players get backgrounds which determine which coloured dice should go where. Each character also has an alignment goal that awards or subtracts points based on where the character's alignment ends at the end of the game.

Gameplay consists of drafting dice then placing them. Where you place dice gives you a way to modify your existing stats. For example placing a die in STR lets you flip one of your dice to the opposite side. DEX lets you swap two dice and so on. After drafting players go to the shop and spend gold to buy traits, skills, weapons, and armour. Traits give alignment modifiers and end of game scoring. Skills modify alignment as well and are abilities you can use mainly one per round. Weapons give continual abilities and armour adds a set collection element to this game.

If you are a fan of both RPGs and board games you really need to pick this one up.

Stratos - It's not often you find board games made right here in Canada. Earlier this year I was approached by Board and Table games out of Guelph Ontario asking if I would be willing to review their game, Stratos. It was sold to me as a mix of Dungeons & Dragons and Catan. I finally got to try the game for the first time in September.

While I wouldn't say it's D&D meets Catan I can see where that comes from. In Stratos, each player starts with just a couple of Peasants on a very abstract but well-made world map that is created through sets of 4x4 tile grids. Each tile representing a different type of terrain. Players take those peasants and use them in a race to get 10 victory points.

The peasants themselves can harvest resources. Resources can be used to upgrade character, buy new characters, purchase spells (used by the Mage character) or traded in, in full sets for points. New characters bought can be more peasants or other fantasy character types. Mages can cast spells which break the rules in some way (with each new spell cast giving one victory point). Archers can attack other characters at a distance (with kills giving victory points). Fighters can attack adjacent characters (also earning victory points for kills). Explorers can explore the various terrain tiles on the board which leads to a somewhat Talisman like feel as you draw cards and have an encounter from an exploration deck which can be either good or bad). Every character action involves rolling dice with a chance of failure, upgrading your characters removes this chance.

Really it's all far too much to get into in this short review. Overall all the various characters and options mean that there are a ton of different ways to get those 10 points. Some victory points are temporary as well which means there can be some nice back and forth. The components are a real mixed bag and the huge amount of options makes the game a bit finicky. Overal, at this point, I would say it's neat and that I need to play it a few more times before I have a solid idea of what I think.

GIPF - I recently hosted an auction in support of a good gamer friend passing away. I picked up this game at that auction. I've been curious about the games in this series for a long time. DVONN, YINSH, TZAAR, etc. I have heard really positing things about all of them over the years but never actually gotten to play any.

What I didn't know is that all of the games are part of the GIPF project. A rather ambitious deal where all of these games, which are all stand-alone abstract games can all also be used to improve and expand the base game: GIPF. A rather neat idea. At this point, I only have GIPF though, so I can't talk about how well that project went. I did think it was neat that the first game in the series I bought was the 'base' game.

GIPF itself is a very solid two-player abstract strategy game. It's a perfect game for one of those: If you like Connect Four (or Tic Tac Toe, or insert X in a Row Game Here) you will love ... lists. In GIPF you have a big hexagonal grid of lines. Players are placing checker like discs onto this grid from the edges. Pieces follow the lines and stop at intersections. What's neat is that you place from the edge and when a piece moves onto the board it slides all of the adjacent pieces in that line down as it moves on. The goal is to make a set of four of the same colour. Another neat bit is that a set of four doesn't win you the game, instead, it has you remove that entire row from the board. The set of four is returned to its owner but the other pieces in the row are captured.  This bit takes a while to wrap your head around as it's a bit counter-intuitive and it's what makes the game great.

There are two sets of rules included in the game, both a basic and an advanced game. The only real change in the advanced game is that you now have GIPF pieces that start on the board, these are just two standard pieces stacked. When these should be removed from the board the players who own them can instead choose to have them stay instead of removing them. It's surprising how much such a simple rule change like this changes the game.

Check back here for Part 2

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