Game Night Recap (May 12, 2015)

Once again, boys and girls, it’s time to recap what games got played last night. And by whom.

Ken showed up first, then Jim. The three of us began with Lost Legacy: The Starship, a card game from the designer of, and along the same lines as, Love Letter. Players are dealt a single card, and one additional card is placed face down beside the deck as the “Ruins”. On a player’s turn, they draw a card from the deck and then play one of the two cards they are holding. Each card has an effect – some of them may eliminate an opponent, or allow the player to look at opponent’s hand, the deck, or the Ruins, and so forth. If all of a player’s opponents are eliminated, they win. Unlike Love Letter, though, Lost Legacy has an endgame phase that comes up if more than one player is still in the game by the time the deck runs out: Investigation, in which players try to find the Lost Legacy. If a player finds it, they win; if not, everybody loses. There’s some deductive reasoning and cardplay strategy, and a lot of “Oh, shit” when you get caught with the wrong card in your hand. We played once with the base game, then broke out the Second Chronicle: Vorpal Sword & Whitegold Spire expansion, which adds two completely different decks (cards with different effects). Whitegold Spire also has a different victory condition, with a point scoring system. The decks can be mixed and matched to customize the game. It’s a fast game, suitable for multiple repeat plays in a single sitting. We played three or four times in about 30 minutes.

Next we set up Orcs Orcs Orcs, from Queen Games (and whatever you do, don’t ask Jim the story of his ordeal in finally getting it, unless you like twitching eyes and head explosions). The game is primarily a tower defense game: players are wizards standing atop a hexagonal tower, trying to take out goblins, orcs, and other nasty critters before they can get into the tower. It’s also a deck-builder: each player starts with a deck of eight cards, drawing a hand of four at a time, and can add more powerful cards – heftier attack spells or useful support spells – over the course of play. Each turn, new monsters enter the field, and the wizards move around the tower trying to do enough damage to defeat them. Players collect defeated monsters, which will be worth points at the end of the game. If a monster gets into the tower, the point value of that type of monster decreases; and if it gets into the tower on a side occupied by a player’s wizard, that player loses one of his previously captured monsters of the same type.

Oops. Forgot the camera until we had packed it up.
Oops. Forgot the camera until we had packed it up.

It’s a pretty fast-paced game, very simple to learn. There’s not necessarily a lot of “take that” interaction, but players can snap up spells their opponents want, or block their opponents from getting to a particular side of the tower. There are also randomized events that affect which monsters advance on the tower and may also screw up your plans for the round (e.g., by prohibiting wizards from relocating on the tower).

We played with an optional expansion that gives each player a secret goal to earn bonus points at the end of the game. Mine was that I would get three points for every four monsters I captured – which gave me incentive to go after a lot of the low-level/easy-to-beat monsters (goblins and orcs), which of course are worth fewer points.

In the end, Ken wound up being able to capture way more of the highest-value monsters and won going away. Overall impression: I want to play this again, now that I have seen how the cards work together. I think it’s a great game for younger players too. Jim has played it with his kids, and reports that they have had a blast with it.

While we were playing, JR, Jesse, and Julie arrived and played Valley of the Kings, a set collection card game. I watched the end, in which Julie apparently ran away with the victory.

Now we had seven, so we had to split up. Instead of a 4-3 split, though, Ken and Jim decided to play Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage, a two-player strategic area control/war game that Jim and I have set up twice but never actually played.

The rest of us played one of JR’s recent purchases, Dirk Henn’s 2009 game Colonia. This one is fiddly, but quite good. Each player – it can play up to six – represents a family trying to acquire valuable religious relics. The game is played over six rounds, each round representing one week. Each week, each day from Monday around to Sunday is associated with a different action. Monday is the turn setup. On Tuesday, players play one of six cards numbered 3 through 8 to decide turn order for the week. On Wednesday, they collect resources, which get exchanged for goods on Thursday. The goods are loaded onto ships on Friday, which sail on Saturday, providing players with money. The money is used on Sunday to purchase relics – which are virtually the sole source of points in the game.

The really fiddly bits are: the number of goods that will be produced by craftsmen on any given Thursday is limited; only one to three of the four available ships will sail on Saturday; the money comes in four different currencies – each ship will pay in one of them; and each relic can be purchased with only one of the currencies.

What a week!
What a week!

At the end of the sixth week, everybody adds up the point values of the relics they managed to purchase. (It may also be possible to purchase a shrine along the way, which will double the value of one relic.) The player with the most remaining money in each currency will get a corresponding stained glass window worth two points.

This is not a high scoring game. Joe won with 11 points; JR had 10, and the rest of us had 8. There’s a high degree of randomness in the game – random resources in the market; random number of goods requests that will be filled; random available ships; and random available relics. It makes the game very unpredictable and hence more tactical than long-range strategic. There’s no engine to build; you try to match what you can get to what is available on the board for the week. Some thought has to go into deciding when to make a play for top of the turn order. Because of the way ties are handled in that phase of the game, it is possible to wind up going very late in the turn order despite using a high-value card; and conversely, it is possible to end up going relatively early with a low-value card. There’s enough mental juggling the players have to do – figuring out the resources -> goods -> ships -> relics cascade – that there is some risk of analysis paralysis. It works well with five players, albeit a bit long; as many as six can play, but that might be a tad too many. Overall, despite a certain level of fist-shaking frustration, I had a good experience with it and would definitely play again.