Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Seasons- An Awesome and Pretty Game About Something

I typically enjoy games that fuse theme with mechanics well. That's probably a holdover from my miniatures gaming background. I can recognize the cleverness of games like Tsuro or Gosu but they can't hold a candle to theme in my mind. There are always exceptions, Dominion for example, or Dixit. And now Seasons.

Seasons is described as a game in which competing spellcasters rack up points in a contest to see who can be the best wizard of some fantasy land full of competitive spellcasters. The cards and components are stupendously attractive. Each spell and magical item is depicted in fabulous euro style cartoon artwork. The dice are solid and huge. There are a few kilos of cardboard counters and play aids and they're all sturdy and colorful.

There are many factors in the game's favor. They play is extremely fast with very little downtime and few chances for a player to stare paralyzed by their choices. I found myself with enough time to plot and plan well enough but almost never did I find myself sitting and waiting. The rules themselves allow for some strategy, you certainly improve your game with experience, and players can come back from defeat with inspired play and a bit of luck. The entire game can be finished in a bit more than an hour.

The main drawback to Seasons is that it's almost impossible to describe thematically. In concrete terms players take turns picking what sort of resource they will gather each turn. They can then turn in resources for victory points, save them for later, or spend them on "spells" which lead to more victory points, improve the player's game overall, or hurt the other players. Now all this is accomplished via "crystals," "power cards," "seasons," and "energy."

I've played this game several times and won once. I still have trouble remembering what a crystal is versus energy and power cards leaves me cold as I call the things spell cards. When we read the rules for the first time I watched three experienced gamers flail like prehistoric apes in front of the monolith. Ironically the game itself is actually pretty easy to play but for whatever reason the theme is like a blow to the head.

I recommend Seasons as a fun medium weight game. I like any game that you can come back from behind to win at. Further, while you can discomfort the other players it's on the whole pretty non confrontational. The rules are solid and the components pretty. Just don't be put off by the terminology. Set it up, start playing, and it'll all fall into place.

Morels- The Perfect Meal for Thanksgiving

I have a soft spot for mushrooms. The first meal my wife-to-be ever cooked for me was a pair of roasted portabella mushrooms served with vegetables. I have always Hated the taste of mushrooms but she had worked so hard and made such a lovely meal. I wish I could say I ate the whole thing but instead I was a boor. But she had her moment when I introduced her to Retsina so what was good for the gander was good for the goose. Anyway, the Idea of a mushroom meal is now suffused with nostalgia, though the reality remains another story.

Recently I played the game Morels, which is all about collecting and cooking mushrooms. The game is designed for two players and is nice and affordable at $25. One's first impression is that this is one very cute game. The package contains a few decks of cards, some counters, and the rules. The artwork on the cards depicts different types of mushrooms growing in the wild and it's very appealing. It's a pretty game.

In terms of play the game is straightforward. Players take turns collecting mushroom cards and then turning it sets of the same type of mushroom for victory points. The more of the same card you can collect, the more points you can score. Mushrooms are presented in a row and you can choose one of the first two in the row for free and pay resources to obtain one of the rest. Each turn some new mushrooms become available and some of the old mushrooms may disappear.

Cute Enough for You?
The strategy of the game comes from several factors. For one, there is a limited number of cards that you can hold in your hand. Thus, you have to do some planning to make sure you don't clutter your hand with useless mushrooms. More valuable mushrooms are also more rare and so you can either collect low value cards easily or hold out for higher scoring ones. Secondly, you watch as mushrooms appear and try and time when you pick them and when you turn them in. Finally, mushrooms can be traded in for resources which allow you to get exactly the card you want from the row of choices.

In summary this is a game about collecting and trading in sets of cards. The mushroom theme is cute and the rules are simple but do allow a bit of strategy. The game is certainly kid and family friendly. It seems designed for a less intense half hour play between couples or with some relative after Thanksgiving dinner. Non-fanatic gamers can pick it up easily. For the price it's a nice light game.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Fleet Redux

Some time ago I wrote about the game of Fleet and how much I enjoyed it. One caveat I had at the time was that the version I had played had included various limited edition cards that were not found in the standard game. Now I can rest easily because Gryphon Games has started a new Kickstarter which offers the original game, an expansion, and all those special limited edition cards, plus wooden fish tokens.

The basic premise of Fleet is that players compete to acquire fishing licenses and then go out onto the sea and make money from fishing. There is a lot of decision making to be done as you try and find a niche in which to make money, keep your boat intact, and hire crew.

I still cannot decide why I love this game so much. In one sense Fleet is just a nicely done economic game. There aren't any crazy mechanics or unusual components. The art design is good enough. I think it's just a theme that really resonates with me. I find real estate games dull, I Power Grid to be like a cardboard sedative, but the thought of sending a old chugging fishing boat out into the frozen waters to pull in lobsters and tuna is just super appealing. The spray, the wind, the weathered wood beneath your feet and the roll of the decks. Wow!

Not surprisingly I have watched Master and Commander about a million times.

If you're looking for a fun, simple game that is suitable for serious gamers and also for family play, I'd recommend taking a look at Fleet and its expansions.

X-Wing Followup

I Promise to Avoid Further Collision
Now that I've played X-Wing a few more times here are some thoughts on the game.

For one, if you're teaching it to people, try and give each new player two ships. X-Wing is fun enough with a single ship to control but it begins to shine when you try and fly in formation. At first you experience non-stop collisions. I collided with asteroids immediately in my first few games. Not after desperate flying or while trying to evade some attacker. Immediately. Turn one. Crash. Now at the time that was pretty embarrassing, especially since there are six small asteroids across a pretty large board. After a few turns, however, the satisfaction of controlling my two ships and not smashing them into things and in fact flying them in cool wing-to-wing formation made my earlier mishaps fade from memory.

Beyond the thrill of competence flying in formation also gives you a clue as to how strategic a game X-Wing is. Certain ships move better in packs. Certain ships work better as scattered skirmishers. You only get a feel for this when you have direct control of more than one ship. So give your new players two ships and maybe hold off on the asteroids.

Not Obscure!
Secondly, Target is now busily putting the base set on clearance. I found a copy for $20 which is an insane bargain. One box will give you a decent few games, two starters and you are set. The downside to this? Explaining what you're looking for to the seventeen year old employee. First he looked up "Ex-Ring," which is sold out. Then after some discussion he looked up the "X-Ring" game, also not in stock. I guess considering the other ways one can misunderstand "X-Wing" things could have gone worse. Still, isn't the X-Wing pretty much common knowledge at this point? It's not like I was asking about the Bugaloos game. Though if there was a Bugaloos miniatures game I would buy it.