Couples Retreat 2012 Recap
It’s been a quiet few weeks here on Dice Hate Me, but that certainly hasn’t meant much quiet on the homefront. Quite the opposite, actually, as we’ve been gaming through the holidays and working like mad to get VivaJava wrapped and ready for its Kickstarter debut (Wednesday, Jan. 25 – mark your calendars!). If you listened to the last State of Games podcast – and if you haven’t, it’s right over here – you dear readers already know that we took a little gaming retreat with our friends Shawn and Jacki. I also promised a little closer look at some of the titles that hit the table, some for the very first time, so here they are for your reading pleasure.
This unassuming little title from Donald X. Vaccarino (he of Dominion fame) was at the top of my Essen wishlist for the mad scientist theme alone. Game Whisperer Richard Bliss was kind enough to loan us his personal copy so that we could discover, thankfully, that the game is as fun as the theme. Nefarious has received mixed reviews since its release, but Monkey238 and I have had an enjoyable time exploring its simple and subtle nuances, and it makes a fantastic and quick-playing four-player game for casual gatherings. The mechanics are pretty straightforward and the basic strategies not terribly complex, but what keeps the game fresh and exciting is the use of two Twist cards that are revealed at the beginning of the game. These cards turn some of the mechanics and goals on their heads, mixing up gameplay, and often creating combos that can be downright devious in their machinations. It’s family-tested, as well – my mom had no trouble picking up on the basics within a couple of turns. It’s a safe bet this subtle gem will be a hit at your next science club reunion.
Speaking of quick-playing, I finally caught the tail-end of the 7 Wonders bandwagon and ordered it for the holidays. Monkey238 and I had played it once before with a full table of 7 players and enjoyed it quite a bit despite the often head-scratching moments of deciphering the myriad iconography on the cards. To familiarize ourselves a bit more with the icons and varied strategies, we tackled the “advanced” two-player variant and found it surprisingly satisfying even with Bob, our dummy third player. Once Shawn and Jacki were added to the mix, the game really began to shine and it became incredibly easy to justify a wild strategy change mid-game as we knew that if it didn’t work out, we could just shuffle up and play again in 30 minutes. The short play time can be deceiving – you might expect lighter fare from 30 minutes and a deck of cards – but 7 Wonders is wonderfully satisfying, especially with a smaller group.
Homesteaders is next on the list because we first encountered this lovely down-home title at the same game party where we first played 7 Wonders. I remember a flurry of poor choices, a lot of overbidding and tons of negative points in that first game, but that didn’t curb my fascination. And, so, when the vastly-improved second edition was released this fall, there was much rejoicing at Dice Hate Me HQ. It’s no secret that I love games with a robust bidding system, and Homesteaders delivers that along with a rich engine-making mechanic that allows for a ton of varied strategies. Some gamers have lamented the semi-dry theme, but Homesteaders‘ charming art and easy iconography make it a pretty immersive and memorable gaming experience. A fair word of caution to casual gamers, however – underneath that unassuming exterior lies a multi-spoked cog that may leave a few grinding their gears trying to assess and absorb the nuances.
And now that we’re on the subject of games with a lot going on, allow me to present Macao – again. As I mentioned in my Mace 2011 wrap-up, Macao is one monster brainburner. Having left the table after my first experience with the game a bit shaken, I was stirred to actually buy the game for the holidays in the hopes of twisting a certain Monkey’s mind with lots and lots of tiny cubes. Naturally, she caught on quick, and by mid-game of her introductory foray she was already giving me a hardy run for my money. After my second game, I could safely say that the game made a lot more sense; what I can’t safely say is that my strategies became more focused. By our third game, Monkey was doing as Monkey always does in Euros – lingering in the back of the VP track until final scoring where she nets a 100 points and makes everyone eat her dust. This time, however, she was doing so while grinning widely. This is always a very good thing – the game got her seal of approval. We played another later in the week with four players and found it even more competitive, cutthroat – and wickedly good. It may have taken two years to finally get Macao to the table, but it’s clear now that it was well worth the wait.
Brainburner number three in the mix is the recently-Kickstarted Fealty from Asmadi Games. Fealty’s campaign ran about the same time as Carnival’s, and we thought it looked like an intriguing and fairly-unique blend of area control and hand management. As it turns out, it’s much, much more. In Fealty, each player has control of a set of nine servants, nobles, generals and such that can be sent into the countryside to spread influence and convince the peasantry to support your cause for the kingdom. Each of the servants exert influence over different terrain types and with different reaches – the Agent, for instance, can exert influence over towns that are within two squares of its token, while the Ranger can exert influence over forests that are within three squares of its token. Each servant also has a speed, which determines both its turn order in relation to other players when selected, as well as the order in which influence is spread and scored at the end of the game. Placement restrictions (no placing a token in the same row or column as another token of your forces) and special actions that are activated when the card is played (moving already-placed tokens and such) really amp up the strategic thinking. Fealty’s gameplay taps into that tiny gap where you have to balance a long-term strategy with mindbending tactical savvy when the enemy places their forces in just the wrong place at the right time. Fast-moving it’s not, but the rules are fairly straightforward leaving the true complexities where they belong – squarely on the game table.
A tiny step down on the mindbender scale – but no less fulfilling in strategy and fun – is our next Kickstarter project and Euro darling, VivaJava. Monkey, Shawn, Jacki and I took the Intern Inspansion for a couple of test spins to check out some last-minute balance tweaks and the new Flavor card mix. As we pushed ourselves to explore new avenues for game-winning strategies, the game seemed tighter and more focused than ever. We discussed a couple more tweaks to get the engine purring like a fine sports car, and we were recently able to test those out with designer T.C. Petty III and a slew of new players at the recent Unpub2 in Dover, Delaware. The more we play, test and refine VivaJava, the more excited Monkey, T.C. and I are to share this wonderful game with all of you. January 25 is VJ Day on Kickstarter – it’s almost time to Get Caffeinated!
And now, more games with more pictures!
- The State of Games, Episode 22 – The One About Two Pairs
- The State of Games, Episode 9 – The One About Getting Kickstarted
- The State of Games, Episode 21 – The One About Gaming Memories of 2011
- The State of Games, Episode 20 – The One About Family Ties
- The State of Games, Episode 11 – The One About the Last Game On Earth