Friday, September 24, 2010

Cheap Game Month Continues- Fairy Tale

My copy of Fairy Tale arrived yesterday and happily it has been a big hit. Fairy Tale is a small card game that has won high marks online for its speed and ease of play. After hitting my friends and family with Eclipse Phase and Malifaux I thought it was about time to step it down a notch. Happily the result has been many quick, fun games.

In Fairy Tale each player is trying to play a set of cards which win her the most points. Each card has a points value on it. Some cards give you a bonus if you have played certain Other cards. The "bard" gives you a bonus for each "Elven Warrior" you have also played. Finally, some cards give a big bonus if you have fulfilled some requirement- playing three dragons And three fairies for example.

A game Fairy Tale has two steps. In the first the players get a hand of five cards. They choose one that they want and pass the rest to the person on their right. Then they choose again from the four just passed from the person on their left, pass the rest to their right, and so on. In this way you end up with a hand of five cards which you have had some role in picking. This is called "drafting."

In the second step of Fairy Tale each player picks a card from their hand and flips it up simultaneously. That card now lays in front of you and is worth points. Over the course of the game you'll run through four drafts and have a total of twelve cards in front of you. You add the points from your twelve and come up with a grand total.

The fun of Fairy Tale comes from several factors. For one, drafting is fun. You have some control over your hand and can try and accumulate certain cards that suit your plans. Your control isn't perfect but chances are you'll have a hand that you're at least content with. Secondly, some cards allow you to affect your opponent's cards. You can sabotage their hands and wreak some mild havok with their plans. Players may also find themselves competing to collect the same sorts of cards and then one or both may have to think quick and change their plans.

Mainly, we enjoyed Fairy Tale because it was a very speedy and simple card collecting game. There is enough card interaction to create a variety of scoring strategies but not enough to cause competitive spouses to freeze and spend the next ten minutes trying to assemble the ultimate killer hand. Fairy Tale really strikes the perfect balance between ease of play and strategy. Anyone who can perform simple math can play this game so it's a good choice for older kids and families as well. Players can influence each other to a slight degree but I don't think there is potential to really demolish anyone- another positive quality for family play.

I was personally very happy with Fairy Tale. It's a good filler, a bit deeper than Court of the Medici but still quick and simple.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Thoughts on Dungeons and Dragons

I was recently reading a discussion on the Victoria, BC gaming forums regarding Dungeons and Dragons. A person had posted and asked the group if there was an interest in an old school D&D game. The response from Malcolm McCallum included the following:

"As much as I found myself personally dissatisfied with the miniatures focus of D&D from 3 on, a number of us disgruntled grognards tried to go back to 'old school'. It was unasatisfying. :/

DM: Six Orcs round the corner. They appear violent and bloodthirsty. What do you do?
Elf: I fire my bow.
DM: Roll to hit
Elf: 17!
DM: Roll damage
Elf: 4!
DM: The Orc falls. Fighter, what do you do?
Fighter: I swing my sword.
DM: Roll to hit:
Fighter: 5
DM: you miss. Wizard?
Wizard: I throw a dart. I roll a 12.
DM: You miss. The orcs swing. Three points of damage to the wizard. You're dead.
Thief: I loot his body. His next character will want the gear.

What a great commentary on D&D! As they say, it's funny because it's true. Malcolm very accurately points out that combat in D&D can be insanely dull. That's fine. D&D is a role playing game.

This seems obvious but adult players sometime describe some frustration with D&D and when you ask for details they almost always involve the very mediocre combat system. It's both simplistic and time consuming if you can imagine that. But there's a message there- keep your combats limited and infrequent. If you want to play skirmish fantasy combat then play Mordheim or Warlord or Warhammer.

The beauty of first edition D&D is it's simplicity of character generation and lack of skills and abilities. Does your character need to sail a ship? Come up with a compelling reason why she should be able to. Does your character need to identify poison ivy in the woods? Explain to the DM why he can. That's what role playing is all about- creating that character through story rather than relying on a "sailing" skill. The lack of defined skills, abilities, and feats makes combat a bore but is a huge role playing bonus.

Anyway, thanks to Malcolm in Victoria for putting into words what our group has been experiencing recently. They don't call it a role playing game for nothing.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Cheap Gaming Month! Court of the Medici

Recent events being what they are we'll be concentrating on cheap games for a while. Specifically let's look at some inexpensive and fast games, which are not a bad thing when playing with kids or when foisting another set of rules on the long suffering spouse.

Court of the Medici (CoM) got good reviews at Boardgamegeek and for less than $20 it seemed well worth a look. The product itself is very attractive. CoM is a card game and each card features a painting of a noble or personality from renaissance Italy. The paintings are really superb, something I suspect the artists are well aware of as they sign only their first names a la' "Brad" and "Angelina." So if "Raphael" and "Titian" feel entitled to first name celebrity then more power to them.

Each player in CoM has a deck of cards featuring a noble on each card. Each card also has a number value ranging from one to ten. In a given turn you place a card from your hand upon the table. If you place it on top of another card you have made an "alliance." When you make an alliance you may then eliminate a different pile of cards which have the same total number value. For example, stack a Painter (value 3) on top of a Poet (value 4) and you can eliminate any card or cards whose value adds up to 7. The goal of the game is to eliminate your opponents core group of cards and be left with the higher total of survivors on the board. The twist is that you can stack your cards on your opponent's cards and you may eliminate any stack on the table.

Our playtests revealed a number of positive things about CoM. For one, this is a fast game. Fast as in ten minutes of play. I reminisce about games of Civilization lasting eight hours but that was back in the age of dinosaurs and now a ten minute game sounds pretty fine. We also discovered that there is quite a lot of strategy occurring in those ten minutes. A player must create a cache of survivors as well as knock off the opponent to win. You can stack one of your cards on your opponent's and see if they'll eliminate both. We tried a game in which one player simply tried to eliminate the other as quickly as possible- that was a failure. A winning strategy has some bluffing, some sacrifice, and some luck as well. This was certainly a game that declared it's good qualities only with play.

Finally, the play of the game suits the theme. When you stack your card on an opponent's card you Have made an "alliance" of sorts. And in the next turn you may have to ruthlessly eliminate a stack that includes some of your own cards. Just like life in the courts of the Medici! The whole thing has a pleasingly sneaky and conspiratorial quality to it.

CoM doesn't have the level of awesomeness that Ticket to Ride does, but it also costs one fifth as much and can be played in one fifth the time. There's some basic math skills that are required but it's simple enough for young children. The game looks fabulous and has a certain cut throat quality that does evoke the era of the Medici. As our first cheap game of the month, this was a great success.