Throwback Thursday: Splendor, Marc André

Splendor

Design: Marc André   

Artwork: Pascal Quidault

Publisher: Asmodee, Space Cowboys 

Players: 2-4

Duration: 30 minutes

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This week I’m taking a brief trip back to Splendor. I never thought a card game about accumulating wealth (stuff) to buy further wealth (more stuff) would be as damn good and bloody difficult as it is, but apparently I was wrong. Splendor is a set collection game, where each turn players collect ‘gem’ tokens in order to purchase gem cards of varying levels. Some simply give you a coloured gem, others give you points- but once cards are in your play area you can you use them as currency to buy the higher value cards. The first person to score 15 points wins the game. On paper this sounds all fairly straightforward- dare I say… easy? Trust me when I tell you that, for me at least, 30 minutes of brain burning & nail biting ensues.

More accurately Splendor is a ‘triple whammy’ set collection game. You are collecting the gem tokens to buy cards, the cards to enable higher purchases and sets of cards to buy the favour of royalty (the objective tiles on offer- spot the depictions of historical favourites such as Queen Victoria and Henry VIII). The rules around how many gem tokens you can collect and how you collect them brings an additional layer to the mix. Reserving a card allows you to take a gold piece (one of those wonderful ‘can-be-used-for-anything’ type tokens) and is a great way to snare an expensive gem card. Becoming unseasonably peeved that your opponent has taken the gem/card/royalty you wanted is also a given fact in Splendor. 

This is why it works so well for me- there is a certain amount of conflict, but not so much so that you’re butting heads at every turn. After all there are plenty of gems for everybody! But some minor conflict is present and I like that. I very much enjoy the different elements of set collection within the game, and how damn tricky it is to get the cards you want. I also love when your wealth starts to accumulate and it feels like you’re getting cards ‘for free’, as you’re no longer relying on just the gems to purchase with.

I admire Splendor because of how well it works. I like set collection games, but some click with me and others don’t. I think the ones that don’t are often due to a piece of the design being a little…off. In those cases set collection can boil down to nothing more than ‘getting the things just because’. And then you don’t have that nice sense of satisfaction, or fun. I believe (from my experience) that it’s often a result of a game being ‘rushed’, perhaps not tested enough, like an almost finished story- that if pushed just a little bit further could have been wonderful. Splendor is a simple game, and a good gateway game because of how easy it is to learn. But it’s a polished piece.

Am I any good at it? Not massively. I take a ridiculously long time deliberating my turn and if I’m feeling a little beat I sometimes forget which card I was aiming to buy. Then colours and numbers blend into one and I forget what century I’m in. So focus is key. Early afternoon games are optimal (chance would be a fine thing!) and remembering what card you want to buy is a huge plus, obviously.

Lastly I’ll leave you with what stood out for me the most when I revisited Splendor (after a long time period of not playing). The artwork. I guess at one point I was so focused on the game I would only see the colours and numbers, and everything else was just background (which is a testament to a game not needing fancy artwork, if the game itself is a fine one). When I played recently I noticed just how detailed and vivid the artwork was, and how well illustrated the portraits were- really lovely stuff.

I’m so pleased that Cities of Splendor is to be released soon. This is a quartet of expansions in one that interact with the base game and individually. I don’t know too much at the moment, but I’ll be investigating at GenCon and will absolutely be reporting back.

Thanks for reading!

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Throwback Thursday: Once Upon A Time

Once Upon A Time

Design: Richard Lambert, Andrew Rilstone, James Wallis    

Publisher: (My copy) Atlas 

Players: 2-6

Duration: 30 minutes

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This Thursday is a bit of an unusual choice. Once Upon A Time is considered a ‘party’ game, which is a genre I’ll usually avoid if possible. It’s not that I don’t like fun. I love fun! Really. But it’s the connotations of the party game that make me a little…uneasy. What I do like however is social interactions with people I know, in an environment which I’m comfortable in. And i’m sure that this is what most games in the genre are aiming toward. It’s just that the term ‘party’ is synonymous to me with ‘organised fun’. But all that aside I have occasionally enjoyed a party game. Because I like good games, and sometimes a good game comes in a form that I’d usually balk at.

For review purposes I played Action Cats this week, a micro game currently campaigning on Kickstarter. I enjoyed it, not just for the amusing stories you can piece together about cute cats but because it’s been fully baked and nicely done. As in it’s been well designed and encourages you to be creative and play with words and imagery. It’s not using vulgarity in attempt to mask a poor game.

It got me thinking that the party games I have enjoyed involve story telling in some way. I asked for Once Upon A Time as a birthday present a few years ago. I was just getting into tabletop gaming and I didn’t really know what I liked, or didn’t like yet, so I was testing the waters I guess. Once Upon A Time is a simple card game about telling an original fairy tale. It’s also the oldest (in publishing years) game in my collection, throwing all the way back to 1993. It’s a collaborative group activity where players can win by being the first in the group to play all of their cards, and using their secret ‘ending card’ in a way that makes sense to the story that’s told. The prompts are all classic fairy tale elements that you weave a narrative around. When one of those elements is mentioned you lay the related card on the table. Other players can interrupt when a certain element is mentioned and carry the story forward. The story needs to make sense (even if it is ludicrous, it can’t jump wildly from one thing to another, it needs to make sense within the story you’ve created) so players can challenge one another if they disagree with where the story is heading. So you have the collaboration, you have rules around what you can and can’t do, you have an individual goal to meet, but it’s fluid.

Shortly after my birthday we played Once Upon A Time to finish up evening of gaming. Honestly I can still remember laughing to the point where I was actually crying and my tummy ached. It was so completely entertaining. I can’t remember the specifics of what was so amusing and even if I did it wouldn’t be funny in the present I’m sure. But at the time, in context- it was a really good laugh. It’s the people I was playing with that brought the fun, and I’m so glad they did because thanks to them I have some very fond memories. With games like this it’s all about the blend of people you play with. If you were to play with a group you were not familiar with, or those you weren’t comfortable with it wouldn’t work so well, if at all. If you were to play with people not into it, those who agree to play (with a reluctant sigh) then spend the next 30 minutes checking their phone and taking repeated trips away from the table, then it’s not going to have the same effect. You all need to be invested in the experience.

I haven’t played this game in a couple of years now, which is simply down the fact that with less free time and a larger collection I’m less inclined to suggest this one. The people I played with aren’t around as much and I’m yet to find a similar group of oddballs. But I haven’t given up on it, and I’m sure that at the right time and place Once Upon A Time will get another go-around. It’s a lovely game that you can make sweet memories with. And there’s not much else sweeter than that.

So that’s another week, another Thursday, another throwback. I hope you enjoyed it!

 

Throwback Thursday: Shakespeare, Hervé Rigal

Shakespeare

Design: Hervé Rigal

Publisher: Ystari Games (2015)

Players: 1-4

Duration: 20-90 minutes

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I’m rather enjoying writing these ‘Throwback Thursday’ posts. It’s interesting to draw from past experiences and look back on how my feelings towards a game have altered over time. It’s also nice to have a regular day to sit down, switch everything else off and switch my blogging brain on. Well, for a portion of the day at least. I have a small backlog of ‘current’ games to discuss, and when time allows I will absolutely do so. But it’s nice to have a day dedicated to just talking about a game I fancy that you might as well.

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This Thursday I’m bringing you Shakespeare, which I personally feel is a bit of an unsung friendly tabletop hero. Unlike last week (Food Chain Magnate) where my feelings had quite drastically changed the more I played, Shakespeare has always been a solid and consistent favourite. One of the things I love about Shakespeare is that it doesn’t fit neatly into a category. It’s not worker placement per se, but it certainly (to my belief) has worker placement elements. There is bidding for turn order and card drafting involved and there’s a little set collection. But it doesn’t play out as itty-bitty as I’m describing it, and I believe it fits together rather nicely in a decent medium-weight package.

Firstly I guess I should give you a little background (rules are here if you would like to delve further) as to what it’s all about. You have six acts (rounds) to recruit actors, stagehands and other handy help to make your production a roaring success. You bid for turn order with your wooden cylinders, and these become your action markers to spend each round. You spend these to activate your recruits- dress your actors, build your set, use actors for their different abilities and accumulate points (of course). After each act the recruits are rested, meaning that they are unable to activate next turn, bar one recruit. So this is where a little head scratching of whom to use/rest and some light strategy comes into play. Points are based on the ‘prestige’ and ‘initiative’ tracks and it’s the latter that will come in useful for gaining more and not losing any points during the dress rehearsals. These occur after rounds 5 & 6, and this is the time to use your (fully costumed) actors for their ability, as most of them allow you to climb further up the initiative tracks. You also have an ambience track on your player board, which determines how well you do at the end of each round. Ideally you want to make sure that your Company is happy and your production is going swimmingly i.e.- no despair faces or loss of points. The player with the most points on the prestige track wins the game. The Shakespearean theme and artwork is charming, but the theme itself isn’t super strong within the game. However I feel that at times it goes beyond ‘pasted on’, but it doesn’t matter either way, as the game itself is excellent.

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I like Shakespeare because it’s friendly. There’s no heavy strategy or crippling decision-making. There’s no major conflict or a huge amount of ‘take that’. It’s just a nice smooth ride with plenty to think about, some balancing to do and much to achieve. As much as I enjoy strategy-laden games that are cutthroat as hell, I can’t play them all the time. I need alternatives, and Shakespeare provides a good opportunity for that. You’re very much in control of the game, there’s no randomness, and you choose what to strive for in those precious six rounds. There’s not a huge amount of player interaction, but there is just enough not to be in multi-solitaire territory.

As I said earlier it’s not a heavy conflict game but it’s not completely free from any either. E.g.- there’s only a certain amount of set and clothing, so this is where bidding for turn order comes in useful. The most conflict you get here is probably along the lines of ‘but I wanted that bit!’ when someone grabs a piece of high value clothing you had your eye on. There are actors such as Hamlet who allow you to move swiftly along the initiative track, whilst the other players receive ‘despair’ on their ambience track. Which basically means that your play is looking so swish that your opponents’ are a bit sorry for themselves, which could result in point loss at the end of the round. The purple set pieces also have the ‘despair’ consequence. I think these small elements are in the game for the purpose of having some minor conflict, and thematically it makes sense and they work rather well.

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What I’ve come to learn from Shakespeare is that you can’t have it all. You can try. But personally I’ve scored better when I’ve put my focus on a couple of aspects, e.g.- recruit the accomplished stagehand to make my set a mini masterpiece. I’m very particular about my set and get very antsy if I don’t complete it. Or I’ll recruit many actors and kit them out in the best finery on offer. But it’s moving up the initiative tracks that really affect your points, so whatever you choose to do there should always be some focus on that if possible. The question (isn’t to be or not to be) but is rather how are you going to achieve the best initiatives? Again, focusing on one initiative track is a good idea, but ensuring that you don’t neglect the others in the process is a delicate balance. If you already own Shakespeare but don’t have the Backstage expansion I would encourage you to go for it, especially if you’ve played the base game often. It’s simply a new deck of cards that add on to the game and give you alternative routes to conquer the stage.

There is a lot going on in Shakespeare- much to gain and many rewards to reap. There’s stuff to manage, things to do, some healthy competition, a little frivolity and a touch of whimsy. And that’s why I think more people should consider Shakespeare in their collection.

I’d love to end this post with an apt quotation or sonnet …but I …won’t.

Thanks for reading!

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Throw Back Thursday: Food Chain Magnate, Jeroen Doumen, Joris Wiersinga

 

Food Chain Magnate

Design: Jeroen Doumen, Joris Wiersinga

Publisher: Splotter Spellen (2015)

Players: 2-5

Duration: 120-240 mins

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I’m not throwing too far back this Thursday, in fact only to a year ago when I first played Food Chain Magnate. If you’re not familiar with the game I wrote about it last summer, so please have a looksee here if you want to know a little more about the game itself and how you play it (and how I initially felt about it. Hint-it was all hearts and roses).

It’s interesting to reflect on this one because my feelings toward it changed quite a bit, and perhaps I’ve learnt a lesson in the dangers of playing the same game with the same person repeatedly. No offence to him, honest!

This was a much-anticipated game, pre-ordered months in advance to get in on that 4th print-run. A game about managing your own fast food chain in a 50s style setting. Choose from chains like ‘The Golden Duck Diner’ or my personal favourite- ‘Gluttony Burger’. The game isn’t so much about the diner itself but hiring and managing your employees and making as much money as possible by building, advertising and selling around the neighborhood.

I loved the no frills packaging, the retro look, the wooden food tokens and the super cute ‘menu’, which details the line of command within your fast food empire. I heard it was a difficult game, and I was ready for that challenge. But a (small) part of me really did think ‘well how hard can it be?’ I was wrong. Very wrong- it’s tough. There are many agonizing and brain burning decisions to be made every turn, and one hitch can lead to a total collapse in your grand plan. Not to mention this game is cutthroat AF. It’s an absolute must to play with people you don’t mind p***ing off. I can only speak for myself of course but personally I found it incredibly challenging. Which I don’t mind at all, sometimes I’m in the mood for those kinds of games. But to echo what I discussed in my Tash Kalar/Abstract post a short while back, it’s when I can’t seem to improve on my skill that leads to frustration. It’s not so much about winning (although it would be nice once in a while), but more that I like to see my skills develop, not worsen. Which totally happened with FCM. I actually won the first game I ever played; in hindsight it was a fluke. Jon became a master at this game whilst I seemed to be permanently stuck in dire straights. He has since thrashed me every single game. And now I know that’s probably going to happen I’m very conscious of it, and that can put a bit too much pressure on. And pressure=stress=not much fun.

I’ve played using different strategies, and I’ve carefully planned beforehand how I am going to approach it. On occasion I’ve attempted a casual ‘ah, let’s just see how this pans out’ attitude and I’ve also tried balancing the two. But I still haven’t won, or even came close to winning a game in the last several we’ve played. What I usually find is I’ll start to catch up, or at least look like a competitor when it’s just a little too late. What I have learnt is get the milestones first and get the good ones. Get anything that means paying fewer employees. It may seem obvious, but it’s so necessary, because it’s those pesky out goings that really burn your cash. Fire people! Get a fridge! Get CEOs as quickly as possible. Be very cautious where you build a new property. Get a discount manager; you will need the customers to come to you and not your opponent if you’re selling the same product. And give those houses gardens! Houses with gardens pay double the price… because gardens mean money and money means they’ll be willing to pay $40 for a burger and a beer. So these people are definitely crazy as well as rich.

There’s a lot to like in FCM; the design is concise and elegant, the rules are straightforward but the game is complex, and if you don’t mind getting savage it can be lot of fun. So I don’t dislike the game by any means, but I must confess that when it’s suggested to me my ‘yes’ is sometimes laced with slight dread. I’ve come to the conclusion that maybe at some point in the future I should play with a group, or someone else who may not absolutely annihilate me. I’ve also concluded that when it comes to fast food- I’m so much better at eating it rather than selling it. Nom Nom.

Thanks for reading!

 

Capital Lux: Eilif Svensson, Kristian Amundsen Østby

Capital Lux: Eilif Svensson, Kristian Amundsen Østby

Published: Aporta Games (2016)

Artwork: Kwanchai Moriya

Players: 2-4

Duration: approx. 30 mins

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I had my eye on this one for some time, and after hearing about it from Annette on The Instagamers Network (it was one of her top games of 2016) and reading about it through Calvin at Ding & Dent I finally took the plunge and got hold of it. The gameplay sounded like fun and it seemed like a perfect two player. Being a sci-fi fan I loved the theme and the artwork also really appealed to me. Having now played several solid games of Capital Lux, I wanted to share a little bit about my experience.

I have a deep admiration for ‘small’ games. Small games as in physically there’s not much to them- The Blood of Englishman, Mint Works, Dale of Merchants- that you can take anywhere, set up and play faff free and have a jolly good time with. I know I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again for good measure- I love big games. They’re exciting to learn and fun to play, like unraveling a mystery. But it’s the small games, like Capital Lux, that I often find myself admiring. Because every now and then you come up with a gem, like the games mentioned above, that really deliver. Capital Lux is one of those games. It consists of a deck of cards and some wooden tokens (or discs in post-Essen copies I believe) yet there’s so much within it to unpack.

Capital Lux did not disappoint. Thank goodness, because I don’t have the money to waste. This is possibly where I fall down as a ‘reviewer’ as these days- as I vet games so thoroughly before I purchase and tend to only play games I buy, that it’s not often I have anything too negative to say. I think I’m more about sharing the love. But anyone who has read my blog for a while will know that I always point out anything that didn’t quite work for me, or at all, if needs be. It just doesn’t happen too often. So for the next few paragraphs I’m going to give you a brief overview of Capital Lux, sing it’s praises, then be off.

In brief you have 4 ‘capital cards’ central to players and a deck of profession cards. Over three rounds you each begin by drawing 6 cards (in a two player game) choosing two, swapping hands, choosing another two and passing back to each other again, giving you each a total of 6 cards; 4 you chose, 2 you were left with. Each round you will either play these cards to the capital or to your hometown. The cards in your hometown are worth the points that will win you the game, but the value of each profession in your hometown cannot exceed the value of those professions in the capital. If they do, you lose those cards for good. When you play a card to the capital you must use the special action each profession provides. E.g.- a Merchant allows you to pick up gold (discs) and these will come in useful for modifying the value of one of your sets at the end of the first two rounds. Any unspent gold at the end of the game will equate to points. The Agent will let you pick up a modifier card, which you must assign to one of the capital cards in secret. This will alter the value of those cards at the end of the round. Please follow this link to find out more about the special actions and to read the rulebook in full. The player with the highest value of each card type in their hometown will receive the highest value of card in the capital to put aside for end scoring. At the end of round three you notch up all your cards/gold and the person with the most point wins the game.

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Capital Lux incorporates many things I usually enjoy- hand management (i.e.- a game with cards that you figure out what to do with) card drafting (choices that will make or break you) influence of a central area that will in turn affect the flux of the game, and press-your-luck. I didn’t realise how much I enjoyed pressing my luck until recently, but I do have a devil-may-care streak that somehow resonates in my game playing. I loved this aspect of the game, and appreciated the clever balance you have to find to get the game swinging in your favor. For me it’s one of those games that it is what you make it, and that also depends on who you’re playing with. My regular opponent is Jon and we don’t beat around the bush when it comes to messing with each other. We will gladly take the opportunity to deliberately f**k with each other, but we know each other pretty well to guess what the other is up to. E.g.- he put a modifier on the capital Cleric knowing that I was attempting to gain from him. And anticipating that he would do that, I then put a modifier on the capital Scholar that I knew he had his sights on. Meaning at the end of the round we both had to remove our cards from play because we’re a pair of mean idiots sometimes. But we did have a laugh. In subsequent games we played it pretty straight, but there’s always that anxiety of knowing that if you put your last card down and your opponent is holding a few extras (picked up through the Clerics special action) there’s still a chance they’ll either intentionally or unintentionally mess you up at the last minute. Using the capital cards for their abilities is a really interesting aspect, because no matter what you do there is a knock on effect, so you have to be planning ahead and anticipating those eventualities within a short space of time.

I like the fact that the game is short. I find that the urgency in which you have to accumulate points adds to the gameplay. There’s so much to achieve and a brief window of opportunity to do so. And more often than not you’ll say ‘let’s have one more game’.

So to conclude- if you like your strategy streamlined and you like your fillers with bite then you’ll probably love Capital Lux. If you hate numbers, thinking about numbers and balancing numbers (all basic factors in Capital Lux) then you possibly will not like this game. But numbers aren’t my strong suit either but it didn’t lessen the experience for me at all. It’s the goodness it’s wrapped up in that gives those numbers value. It’s a good ‘un.

Thanks for reading!

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Just a little screenshot from my Insta. Sci-fi ladies forever.