The power of the written word is indeed mighty! So mighty, in fact, that when I recently wrote that I still hadn’t managed to play the hot-new-thing-of-this-time-last-year — Eclipse — Olly promptly offered to fix that for me at the next Newcastle Gamers session.
Me vs Olly, Owain (who, like me, hadn’t played before) and Kyle.
Eclipse is a 4X (eXplore / eXpand / eXploit / eXterminate) space game. You start off with your own little home planet, in an unfashionable spiral arm of a nondescript galaxy… and promptly set about exploring new star systems, making revolutionary scientific breakthroughs, seeking out new life and ancient space-faring civilizations …and then attempting to massacre the lot of them.
I got off to a slow start… all my eXploration seemed to turn up empty sectors with nothing to eXploit …or ancient starships which looked far too formidable for me to eXterminate. Meanwhile my opponents seemed to be surging ahead gobbling up resource-rich planets by the dozen. Things really didn’t seem to be going well for my race of little wooden space cubes. Perhaps I wasn’t cut out to be an intergalactic overlord?
Fortunately — after a couple of rounds of ineffectual floundering and cursing of the galactic sector draw pile — I managed to put together a small fleet of spacecraft that was capable of taking on the NPC “ancients”. My reward? …some sweet alien loot drops: a +3 combat computer, and a hoard of money. This facilitated a fairly rapid catch-up, and a sudden injection of slightly more cash into the coffers of my would-be space empire than than I really knew what to do with.
Not for long though… I was just starting to mull over the idea of building a few monoliths (VP generators) with my new-found wealth when the evil blue Kylian empire broke through the galactic central core and made a move on my territory. This meant my previously-peace-loving, eXploration-focussed people had to make a sudden and tactically-necessary switch to the aforementioned eXtermination.
I sank all my new cash into a crisis-driven fleet overhaul (easy come… easy go…) and — to the surprise of everybody (not least myself) — I successfully fought off Kyle’s onslaught. “Hooray!”, thought I … “maybe I’m getting somewhere now!”
Well, I’m sorry to say that my previously peace-loving race of little white wooden cubes now had a taste for blood… and an advance into Kylian territory for the final round, armed to the teeth with plasma missiles, neutron bombs, and a genocidal hatred of little blue cubes was inevitable.
“Well… why not??” …I pondered… “after all, I’ve got nothing to lose now!”
As it turned out, I had an entire fleet to lose. And promptly lost it. Oh well… at least I got a few random victory points for the senseless acts of violence.
Olly won the game. While Kyle and I were knocking seven bells out of each other, he was sitting on the sideline spending all his money on monoliths, and harvesting a huge chunk of veepees for doing so. An important lesson to be learned there, I think …
Eclipse is a very popular game… over the course of the last 12 months it’s climbed its way to 5th place in the BoardGameGeek charts.
But is it *really* the 5th best boardgame in the world, right now?
No. I don’t think so. Don’t get me wrong — it’s a very good game, and if you _want_ to do some 4x spacey stuff, then you won’t go far wrong by selecting Eclipse as the medium through which to do it. BUT… I don’t think it’s quite at the “masterwork” level that its high BGG ranking suggests it should be, and I can’t help thinking that the initial supply problems, high cost / high demand, and grail-game-of-the-first-quarter hype have caused early-adopters to rate it a tiny bit higher than it maybe deserves.
A couple of days after we played, Owain blogged that the dependence on dice for combat resolution (and luck mechanisms in general) was a big problem for him. I partially agree… not so much that the dice themselves are the problem; more that the combined level of random factors in the game pushes it away from being my perfect kind of game.
I don’t actually mind the use of dice; the dice add a lot of tension to deciding whether to go to war — a feeling which wouldn’t be there if benefits and losses could be cold-calculated in advance. So yeah, I can swallow the need for dice. The thing is, on top of the dice, you also have the completely random draw of territory hexagons when you move — which, essentially, equates to a completely random draw on how your income/resources are going to change each time you do an explore action, and completely random chance of what alien tech (if any) you’ll get access to. And there’s a random draw of victory point chits when you take part in a battle… and yeah, you can do things to mitigate your luck in all these aspects (get modifiers for your dice rolls / place the hexagon that you draw back in the draw pile and hope you do better next time / do stuff to increase the amount of chits you pull from the bag in one go), and I can kind of see where they were going with the probability maths behind collecting those combat award chits… BUT… I dunno. One of these mechanisms in a game would be fine… 2 or 3 together makes me less keen.
Just my gaming preferences, I guess.
It’s still a really good game though; I’ll happily play it again and I wouldn’t begrudge it a BGG top 30 slot. But top 5 material?? Nah… not quite.
Nevertheless, a completed game of Eclipse means I can knock yet another game off my “top 10 BGG games that I’ve actually played” list. One down… three to go… 🙂
Next we played:
Survive: Escape from Atlantis!
Kyle had to leave, Owain had pre-arranged to join a game of PowerGrid that was likely to kick off within the hour, and something a bit lighter just seemed like an overall good idea to follow Eclipse. Survive! was selected to be that something.
We had quite a high bodycount on this outing; Olly and Myself both ran out of people to rescue long before the final turn (most of our people being transformed into shark food, rather than being transformed into happy survivors) … and therefore had to spend the last few rounds just sinking chunks of island and doing nasty things to Owain. It wasn’t too long before his last guy disappeared down a timely whirlpool though.
By some fluke, I managed to get all 3 of my highest scoring meeples off the island and onto dry land, therefore winning by a pretty big margin. Huzzah!
I still think Survive is a fun game… not too taxing, pleasantly tactical, and a nice palette cleanser after playing something heavy. Good stuff 🙂
* * * * * * *
Quite a few other games were starting/ending around this time, Owain still needed something filler-ish to fill the gap before Power Grid… and while we were pondering our options, Camo and Brad drifted our way, with Camo asking if anybody had brought Hanabi. As luck would have it… I had! 🙂
Hanabi… the game that I’ve mentioned umpteen times already, and also the game that steadfastly refuses to be photographed. I’ve played my copy a few times at Newcastle Gamers now (and seen another one in circulation too)… but people have always been far too engrossed in the game to pause and take a snapshot. Hence a generic manufacturer promo shot again. Sorry!
It’s been a couple of months since I last played this one… and I’d forgotten just how mind-mangling it can be. As usual, much anguish, exasperation, and torment ensued. But in a good way (I think!).
I suspect we really didn’t stand much chance with the way the cards came out this time… we were starved for a “yellow 1” until very late in the deck, and seemed to stall on hands full of 3s and 4s for an awful long time. I don’t remember the final score… but it’s the one that translates as “Honorable, but nobody will remember it”. Oh well… maybe next time 🙂
* * * * * * *
After Hanabi, Owain’s game of Powergrid was finally ready to kick off… leaving Olly, Camo, Brad & Myself to play…
Airships sticks in my mind as one of the many games in the (now infamous) board game stock-dump that took place a couple of years ago at branches of “The Works”. Well… more specifically… it sticks in my mind as one of the (few!) games in the sale that I deliberately didn’t get a copy of. People discussing the sale tended to dismiss Airships as a non-strategic luck-fest, with weak theming — so it didn’t really appeal.
Well, it *is* a dice game, and the theme *could* have been pasted on at the last minute… But it’s nowhere near as bad a game as the write-ups suggested. In brief: you roll various combinations of dice to purchase different airship components (each requiring a particular target value to be rolled)… you start off with white dice, which show the numbers 1,1,2,2,3 and 3 … but by winning various components, you get access to other coloured dice (red dice, which show 2,3,3,4,4,5 and black dice, with the numbers 4,4,6,6,8,8) … or granted the use of “virtual” dice (e.g. a particular component might act as a red dice that’s permanently showing a “5”, or things like that). You gradually climb through a hierarchy of ship components, crew, and other upgrades, obtaining better and better dice, until ultimately you can start rolling to construct big airships (which are worth VP), and make plays for chunks of the Hindenburg (also worth VP). When the Hindenburg is constructed (or all the smaller airships have been claimed) the game ends.
It’s not a bad game… yes, it *is* a bit random, but — thanks to the custom dice — maybe not so much as you’d expect, and there’s an interesting “climbing” strategy involved; gaining the later red/black dice can involve component upgrades which lock you out of options on white/red dice, so there’s some interesting decisions to be made regarding when and where you upgrade (since certain tech can only be bought with certain colours, irrespective of what values you’re rolling), and various tactical possibilities for blocking an opponent from a critical upgrade.
So… yeah… a reasonable game. If they were still in circulation for £7, I could easily imagine buying one; I certainly bought *far* worse titles in The Works’ sale, and it’s the sort of game I could see working well when we’ve got family visiting. Not something I’d rush out to acquire at a higher price, but I’d give it a home at the sale price.
(Hmm… that’s three dice-based games that I’ve enjoyed recently. Maybe I’m going soft in my old age…)
* * * * * * *
Brad had to head home after Airships… leaving Myself, Olly and Camo shuffling around looking for something to play. After the trio of light-ish games, I was in the mood for something a bit more euro-cube-pusher-ish. Without a great deal of thought, I’d popped Amyitis in my bag before setting out for the evening — not with any great deliberation, but in more of a “it’s been ages since I played that, and it seemed pretty decent last time we had it out… why not chuck it in?” kind of way. I didn’t really expect to play it… which inevitably means that the next game up was:
Amyitis is a game set in ancient Babylon. King Nebuchadnezzar II is trying to impress his new wife — the aforementioned Amyitis — by building the hanging gardens of Babylon. Players take the part of Babylonian Nobles, attempting to impress the king / queen by wheeling and dealing and contributing to the garden’s construction. Yep, it’s the old nobles-chasing-prestige-for-victory-points trope that’s been churned out umpteen times … but at least the scenery is a little bit novel for this one; Ancient babylon instead of medieval Europe 😉
Mechanism-wise, the gameplay involves three different variations on majority control/area influence … you employ workers to toil in the fields to provide you with resources (with whoever puts the most workers into a particular string of fields getting extra perks), you employ priests to spread your influence within the temples (again, there’s perks for the majority shareholder), and you employ engineers to irrigate the hanging gardens … in a network-building-ish territory control game where whoever provides the majority of the irrigation for a particular chunk of garden gets victory points.
Additionally, there’s a separate rondel-based side-game going on, in which you employ caravaneers to hawk your resources around the lands of ancient Mesopotamia … bringing back exotic plants (to be planted in the gardens) … or providing you with various income / storage / caravanning upgrades.
Scoring in the game was quite close, with fairly level-pegging for much of the game. However, Olly made an 11th hour dash into the lead — thanks to some heavy investment in caravan upgrades — and earned a pretty convincing win.
What do I think of Amyitis? It’s hard to explain. Amyitis is a competent enough game; there’s plenty to do, the different elements interlock nicely / are thematically convincing, it’s got some pleasingly-elegant mechanisms (the way that workers are priced + bought is particularly neat, IMHO), and I do enjoy playing it…
…it’s not a game that I feel desperately compelled to play over and over again. Actually, I think that’s true of a lot of Ystari’s releases (even the mighty Caylus is a borderline case for me) … they tend to be structurally sound games, and I’m very happy to play them and enjoy them when they get an occasional outing … but their titles somehow lack the sex-n-sizzle that compel me to go back for more; I never find myself walking away from one of them thinking “Ha!… NEXT time I’ll try such-and-such-a-tactic”. I know I’ll definitely want to play Amyitis again, and I wouldn’t dream of trading it away… but I’ve probably had my taste for it satiated for a bit now. It’s that sort of game… you wouldn’t want a lot of it at once, but it’s nice to play every once in a while.
* * * * * * *
Aaaaaand… as Amyitis wrapped up, the time was past midnight, so it was time for me to head home. I won’t be able to get to the next Newcastle Gamers session (booo!), but should be back for the first meeting of March.
Best Bit: Eclipse. Not *quite* my perfect kind of game, but still pretty impressive; very glad to have finally got around to playing it!
Worst Bit: Realising Airships wasn’t quite the Turkey that I’d been led to believe … meaning I retrospectively missed out on another “The Works” bargain. That said, my bank manager might have an opposing opinion on whether this was a bad thing or, in fact, a good thing 😉
CREDITS: Session pics taken by Olly and Owain. Newcastle Gamers meets on the second and last Saturday of the month. Usual cost is £3 (or £1 for concessions), but your first visit is free — check our G+ group for more info.