Thursday, September 10, 2009

Pacificon 2009: Other Games

We got to try several new (to us) games at Pacificon, and some of them were noteworthy. Here's a quick rundown on the good ones:

Endeavor: I'd been hearing buzz about this game, and it seems to be justified. Endeavor is an appealing combination of worker placement and area control. That's not an unusual set of mechanics these days (see Royal Palace below), but I usually enjoy this genre and Endeavor had some interesting additional mechanics. It is also a "building" game, where you start with few resources and capabilities and try to build them up over the course of the game, and this is another pattern that Helen and I like. In that regard Endeavor felt much like Through the Ages: you need to develop in several different categories at the start of the game, but it's difficult to do so in a quick-yet-balanced fashion. The start-up process is slow, but there seems to be a powerful snowball effect that isn't apparent in the first couple of rounds. Endeavor hasn't leaped to the top of my must-have list because other games we own (especially Goa) offer a similar experience. But it is also different enough from those other games to stand on its own, and we may well pick up a copy one day.

Royal Palace: This is another game of worker placement + area control, but this one reminded us more of Louis XIV. Partly it's the theme, since both are set in the courts of France. But both offer bonuses to the player with the most workers in each location. An interesting twist is that workers are removed from some areas when they are used, so the area control aspect is very fluid. It is possible for every player to have the majority in a given area in succession, as each takes their turn. But unused workers remain, and in some areas workers remain even if used, so it's also possible to build up a big advantage and keep it. Helen commented (and I think I agree—it didn't hurt my opinion that I won our four-player game!) that while she prefers Louis XIV, Royal Palace has the strong advantage of being a good two-player game. I think we will want a copy of this.

Glory to Rome: Helen tried this one and enjoyed it so much, she practically dragged me by the collar to have me try it. I think she was right. This is a card game similar to San Juan and Race for the Galaxy: the salient feature is that every card has multiple uses, but you can use only one of the options for each card. In GtR the cards can be used as resources for building buildings, to trigger actions (such as building, acquiring resources, or cashing them in), or simply stashed away for their face value in victory points. Also as in San Juan and Race for the Galaxy, when a player chooses an action all the other players have a chance to take that action as well. The bottom line: this game has fairly simple rules yet offers many options. Player interaction is high and can lead to a certain amount of chaos, but in a shortish game like Glory to Rome that's okay. Copies of Glory to Rome are rare and are currently expensive. But rumor has it that many more copies exist and are waiting to be delivered into retail channels, so we'll be patient. We will definitely acquire this one when we can.

The Stars Are Right: We are not usually fans of Steve Jackson's card games, which are far too light and chaotic for our taste. The Stars Are Right looks like a typical SJ game, with irreverently cartoony artwork of Cthulhu and his sanity-threatening buddies from H. P. Lovecraft's horror stories. But this game was not actually designed by Jackson, and it has some genuine depth to it: it's what Helen calls a "chewy" game. Like Glory to Rome, the cards have multiple uses; unlike Glory to Rome, there's an array of tiles on the table (the "constellations in the sky") that can be manipulated with your cards, and this gives the game an element of spatial thinking that's missing from most card games. We bought a copy in the dealer's room, and we've been enjoying it.

Martian Rails: We're fans of the Empire Builder crayon rail series, and we could not resist adding this new entry to our collection. It's notable for its "spherical" map: Lunar Rails also has a spherical map, but the one in Martian Rails is easier to deal with. The designer combined the areography of the real, modern Mars with Schiaparelli's illusory canals and with locales and references from classic science fiction: Burroughs, Weinbaum, Clarke, Bradbury, and more. It's practically worth the price of the game just to study the map, but it is also fun to play. The extreme terrain of Mons Olympus and Valles Marineris are there, and pose some unique and entertaining challenges.

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