11 September 2008 was a disappointing night: I didn’t really enjoy any of the games I tried. But then, one can’t know without trying.
Ben kindly gave me a lift and we arrived at 7.30. He went straight to his Starcraft game with Paul D., Damen and Michael. André, Nigel, Keith and Matt had already played 4 rounds of Ricochet Robots, and I joined in, although it was immediately clear that no one was terribly enjoying it except for André (who had won two rounds and Keith another two). The game was quickly explained to me. Robots move orthogonally within an area with some walls. A robot only changes direction when it hits a wall or another robot, and it's the player’s choice whether the robot being moved turns left or right upon hitting the obstacle. In each turn, the goal is to move a randomly chosen robot to another field of its colour. Simultaneously, all players think of a way to do it. After a player announces how many moves it will take, other players have one minute to also announce how many moves they need. The player announcing the fewest moves (and able to demonstrate how it’s done) wins the turn. It’s basically multiple players trying to solve a solitaire puzzle faster and better than the others. Not really a ‘game’. I won the turn I joined in because Keith announced 6 moves but took actually the 8 moves I had announced to do it. With Nigel complaining that he couldn’t solve a single puzzle, and realizing nobody else was coming tonight, we decided to start another game.
Matt had three 5-player games: El Grande, Power Grid, and Tribune. Except for Matt, nobody had played Tribune before, so we decided to have a go. The rules took some time to explain, due to the various sub-mechanisms in the game, and there were a couple of doubts during the game, but largely by the 3rd round we had understood the rules. We played the longer version (4 winning conditions) and Matt won. Everyone else had only accomplished one or two conditions by the end of the game. Nobody disliked the game, but neither was anyone enthused by it. Lots of ways to get cards, lots of cross-benefits (controlling one faction gives some benefits but contributes to other winning conditions). Not a very elegant game for what one gets out in the end. Pillars of the Earth is more streamlined, for example. As for the strategy, on hindsight it seems that controlling the blue, green and Vestal Virgin factions is key, because they contribute to at least two victory conditions, the Tribune and the eternal favour of the gods, and are mutually related. Also, getting leaders is crucial because their special abilities accelerate the path towards the conditions. For example, I had the Gladiator leader and hence received a 2nd legion, while Matt had the Virgin leader and hence got the eternal favour immediately without needing the Temple.
With still one hour to go, and with Keith leaving us, we decided to play Ice Flow. Bad choice, on hindsight. It took us ages to get all rule details explained and clarified: although Nigel and I had played before, we had to consult the rule book several times. We also did a clumsy initial layout, with several floes close together. Ice flow is a race game: first player to bring all their 3 explorers from Alaska to Siberia across the Bering straight wins. The problem is, the Bering straight is always changing as floes move and turn, as explorers move around and pick up or drop resources (ropes and fish). Due to the constant change, you can’t plan ahead your move, and spend several minutes per turn figuring out the best moves among the many options. It’s a very slow moving race game with much analysis paralysis, which is kind of an antithesis of what a race game should be. For me, Cartagena still rules in this category. By the time Starcraft ended, André had managed to bring one explorer across, I had one halfway stranded in the middle of the straight, and the rest was rather close to Alaska or even on Alaska. It was clear the game would still have to go on for another hour. We interrupted the game and everybody went home.
Summary: two interrupted games that weren’t exciting, and one so-so game. Definitely among the least enjoyable game nights so far, but let's take it philosophically: one can’t always play 3 great games in one session, and the not-so-good games make us appreciate the good ones even more.