The Crowded Table – Spring 2012 Edition
I’m not sure what it is about spring, exactly, but board games tend to multiply in this season like a certain cotton-tailed carrot eater that likes to deliver painted eggs. That usually means that more games start hitting the table and more games need to be reviewed – because hey, it’s what I do, and all of you dear readers deserve it. So let’s ditch the dallying dialogue and hop straight to the heart.
I’ll be completely honest – when designer C.W. Karstens first contacted me about Dragon Valley during its Kickstarter campaign last year, I was a bit trepidatious. The combination of art and main title logo made it feel like a throwback to early ’90s PC games when might and magic was all the rage; plus, it was a case of bad timing since Carnival was just about to make its debut. However, the premise and mechanics stuck in the back of my mind like a thorn. And, so, when presented with the chance to be the only one available to learn and teach the game at PAX East, I leapt at the chance. I’m so glad I did. I’ve raved about the divvy mechanic on The State of Games, and it’s really the heart and soul of the game. Each turn, the King’s Favored (basically, the start player) has to divide the available random selection of goods – special action cards, buildings with cool abilities, and resource cubes representing good guys and bad guys – into a number of piles equal to the number of players. What could be an exercise in resource balancing is turned on its head by the fact that the King’s Favored gets the pile that is not chosen by the other players, making that task a very tricky thing, indeed. Admittedly, the game has a tendency to run a bit long in an affair with more than two players, but the length often justifies the means. This charming Kickstarter gem is well worth checking out – especially if you find magic in the mighty power of cardboard and cubes.
Santiago de Cuba
Ah, gateway Euros – how you do entice this particular gamer. After all, how can any cube pusher resist the bantam call of a relaxing trip to a charming, foreign land? Santiago de Cuba is just such a creature with alluring art, plenty of resource cubes, and a giant rondel disguised as a car traveling along a crowded city street. So what could go wrong? Plenty, actually. Sometimes a relaxing trip can be a bit too relaxing; in the case of Santiago de Cuba, that relaxation becomes a burden when the decisions are far too straightforward. The car’s path that seems so charming, at first, soon transforms into a one-way street filled with no signs of analytic thinking – only a repetitive course of singular decisions. One might imagine that the trip would be enhanced with more travelers, but this is not so – a two-player affair feels just as pointless as one with more. This is not to say that Santiago does not have its charms; after all, if any of your group has not experienced the thrill of the Stone Age or the high-flying allure of Airships they may very well enjoy the crowded streets of this revolutionary city.
Off Your Rocker
There are a few gamers out there that feel as if a pure “party game” is often an ill portent for any game company that hopes to keep its library of titles diversified. To me, that seems like an awful narrow vision; after all, quite a few gamers can trace their fascinations with games (and, indeed, the long rabbit hole that often follows) back to a party-like atmosphere where a game captured their imaginations. Stratus Games seems to be banking on this different sort of gateway in their latest Kickstarter release, Off Your Rocker. Based loosely on an old improv exercise often displayed in Whose Line Is It Anyway? as Party Quirks, Off Your Rocker pits one party-goer as a psychiatrist out to glean the truth behind all the other players’ particular neuroses. The neurotic group may be assigned the particular quirk of thinking that the psychiatrist is from medieval times. So, as the psychiatrist asks questions like “How are you feeling today?” he may be greeted with responses such as “I just got over the plague” or “I feel however my lord pleases – just don’t put my head on a spike.” For fans of party games, this sort of atmosphere will be highly humorous, but for fans of improv comedy, Off Your Rocker will be well-nigh irresistible.
It seems as if there has been more controversy over Hawaii lately than in 1959 when it became a state. Tom Vasel lately stated that he “really can’t stand this game,” which has bunched up more gamer underpants than a dryer set to overdrive. It pains me to do so in such an open forum, but I’m here to tell you, dear readers – Tom Vasel is wrong. Yes, yes, I can hear the collective gasps from my secret lair. BUT! Let me tell you why he’s so, so very wrong. First of all, there’s the spreadsheet factor. Many gamers – Vasel included – has stated that the game plays as if you’re tethered to a computer, calculating a spreadsheet. I’m here to state, for the record, that’s not the case. Monkey238 can attest, firsthand, that spreadsheets are my personal Kryptonite, so if playing Hawaii is akin to a spreadsheet experience, then I’d be shriveled and grey and half-devoured by Doomsday by now. Second – there is only one clear path to victory in Hawaii. Not true! In my last game I sat idly by while the silent gamer with about fifty bananas and one stinking island banana god just coasted through without so much as a blink from the power gamers in the audience, only to blast through the scoreboard like Sonic The Hedgehog on your tambourine man’s best crack. All this rhetoric is to say that this particular social-gaming, bid-loving, back-stabbing, plastic-hauling, spreadsheet-loathing son of a gun actually likes Hawaii, and can’t wait for his next chance to pay some feet and a few shells for a couple of tiki masks and a long hut.
5 out of 6
Lords of Waterdeep
Like many gamers my age, Dungeons & Dragons holds a special place in my heart. It was my first foray into the realm of role-playing, and my first love affair with dice that were designed with more than six sides. And, so, it was with great enthusiasm and fanfare with which I greeted Lords of Waterdeep into the gaming world – particularly because it combined that childhood fascination with D&D with my adult fascination with worker placement Euros! Upon my first play of Waterdeep, I was not disappointed with the heretofore unassembled duo. However, it wasn’t until our recent chat with Richard Launius that I realized what Waterdeep was lacking – the dice. Yes, Waterdeep is a well-executed gateway for most gamers into the realm of the Eurogame, but what it does lack a bit is the saucy spirit of its predecessor. D&D lovingly incorporates a sense of wonder in the worlds it opens to most creative-minded individuals; Waterdeep, on the other hand, only serves to offer a taste of a carefully-scripted world beyond the borders of those player’s handbooks. And yet, despite its limitations, the one thing that Waterdeep does offer both the dungeon-dweller and the hardcore Euro lover alike is a fascinating and rich world in which both can indulge – and educate – without patronizing diatribe or controlled concession. This belongs on many a shelf, whether you regularly slay dragons inside your mind or recognize the importance of a resource cube in your daily gaming diet.
- The Crowded Table: April/May Edition
- The State of Games, Episode 27 – The Short One About PAX East 2012
- The Crowded Table: Autumn 2011 Edition
- An Insane Giveaway from Stratus Games!
- Couples Retreat 2012 Recap