Home > general, review, session report > a games roundup, part I

a games roundup, part I

November 22, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

Playtesting and developing Lemuria has been taking all my game-designing (and unfortunately most of my game-blogging) energies lately, but my game-playing and game-discovering energies have remained largely undiminished.  :-)

Up for your consideration today are a diverse handful of games representing a broad slice of the modern gaming world.  From Cities on one end of the spectrum to Imperial on the other, with stops along the way for Uptown and Container, there’s something here for just about every taste.

First up: Cities, by Martyn F.

A clever tile-laying game / puzzle, it’s a cross between Carcassonne and Fits.  Players play tiles in their own personal 4×4 grid, deploying meeples on their features and trying to score as many points as possible.  It’s not a heavy game by any means, but it’s an enjoyable filler.  My inner designer thinks it would be fun to play around with it a bit:  what if you could deploy meeples on the grids of other players?  What if meeple placement were harder?  What if you had fewer meeples, or meeples with special powers?  What if you could see two or three tiles into the stack?  I didn’t think I’d be crazy about the multi-player solitaire aspect of the game, but it’s actually quite relaxing — sort of like doing a crossword puzzle.  It’s been popular when we’ve brought it out at game night, and my wife likes it, so I imagine this one will be hitting the table often.

Next up:  Uptown, a.k.a. Blockers.

Uptown is another clever tile-laying game that reminds me (a bit) of Blokus.  Roughly that same level of play, roughly that same length, but maybe not quite as elegant.  The basic idea is that you have a bunch of tiles in your color (with a hand of 5 at any given time) you can play down on a 9×9 board.  Each tile has either a number (1-9), a letter (a-i), or one of 9 symbols on it.  The letters and numbers constrain the tile to either a specific row or a specific column, while the symbols constrain the tile to one of the 9 3×3 areas of the board (laid out in a 3×3 grid).  If any of this reminds you of Sudoku, it reminds me of that, too.

So what’s the point?  Everyone is trying to play their tiles down in such a way as to keep their tiles together, connected orthogonally in a single group.  Barring this, they want to keep their tiles in as few groups as possible.

You can block other players, and you can also remove their tiles from the board (so long as you don’t split one of their groups) by replacing the tile with one of your own.  These removed tiles count against you in the final scoring.

What do I think?  It’s clever, quick, and interesting.  I can’t help but think the goal of the game could be tweaked a bit, somehow, and the game marginally improved.  But it’s a fine game as it is.  Supposedly the new version (Blockers) has better components and a slightly improved ruleset, so if you’re going to get a copy, that’s the version to get.  I haven’t been motivated (yet) to upgrade my set, though I’ve considered it.

[shameless plug] If you like Blockers / Uptown, check out Scatterland — it also uses the Sudoku board concept, but since there are hidden islands that players are trying to discover (and link together in groups), a bit more of the puzzling aspect of Sudoku has been retained.  It also has roughly the same weight as Blokus. [/shameless plug]

Next up:  Paris Connection.

I bought Paris Connection just to see how it worked (I do that, sometimes, as a designer).  And it’s very interesting.  The idea is that a number of different railroad companies are building track on a map of France.  Links are denoted with little train engines of various colors (1 color per company), and these engines double as stock shares in the company.  Note that players aren’t building track, companies are building track.  And a player can have stock in as many companies as she wants.

So on your turn you get to either build track for a company (if you own stock in it) or trade one of your stocks in a company for up to two stocks of a different company.  And the number of engines is limited.

Like most games where players own stock in companies, the payout at the end (in points) is dependent on both the value of the stock (dependent on the number of cities connected) and the number of shares held.  Because the number of engines is finite, however, players face an interesting dilemma:  the more shares a player holds of a given company, the fewer engines there are for building track (and thus the lower its maximum value will be).

Just imagine what happens when, in a five-player game, each player owns 5 shares of stock:  because there are only 33 engines total, this means that there are now only 33-(5×5)=8 engines available for building.  The company won’t be worth much, because it won’t have enough engines to connect many cities.

There’s a lot of potential for screwage in this game, with players deliberately running companies into the boonies.  There’s a lot of inter-personal dynamics, with players trying to out-guess and out-think what other players are likely to do.  There’s a bit of randomness, especially with more players, because a lot can change from one turn to the next.  And there’s a bit of fiddliness, too, especially in the initial setup.

That was actually my game group’s biggest gripe with the game:  first you have to put all the cubes in a bag so you can deal some out randomly as stock seeds for the players, then you have to sort the remaining cubes and arrange them neatly.  Next time we play we’re going to keep all the cubes sorted by color, grab only a handful of each, shuffle the handfuls together, deal some out randomly, and return the rest to their respective colors.  This will mean that the bulk of the cubes stay sorted, and setup time will be reduced.

Other than that, though, it’s an interesting game with a very interesting mechanic.  I definitely want to get it to the table again.

a games roundup, part II

I’ll go ahead and post this now, but stay tuned for Chicago Express, Container, and Imperial.

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