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Thinking Out Loud

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

4th of July Weekend Gaming...

I didn't get to spend as much time gaming as I wanted to over the weekend, but overall, not a bad weekend. We traveled to Iowa to visit my wife's family. Normally, I'm not too thrilled at the prospect of a long weekend with the inlaws, but I was really, really looking forward to spending time with my niece and nephew, who love gaming with Uncle Jay.

Unfortunately, once we arrived I found out that my nephew Spencer wasn't going to be around. He was attending a slumber party Saturday night, and had a baseball doubleheader Sunday. He came over after his baseball games, around 10:30 Sunday night, right when we were crashing for the night, and we didn't have any time to do anything Monday morning before we hit the road to head back to St. Louis.

On the plus side, we stopped by a game store on our way to my inlaws, and I finally snagged a copy of Ingenious, which was a big hit over the weekend. We played 5 games of Ingenious overall, and my brother in law and niece both really liked it. Blokus also saw the table a few times, as my mother-in-law really took to the game when she played it at our place over the spring -- so we brought a copy along for her. We also played Wizard, which always goes over well. I wish we had played more than just one game, but I can't complain too much since we did play other games. I also snagged Corsari on the way there, thinking that might go over well, but we never got it out.


Upon returning Monday night, Eva (DeiTass) called saying that she, Jorge (hibikir) and Chester (cornjob) were gaming, and wondered if I was available. After a long weekend with the inlaws, Trish graciously agreed to watch Benjamin so I could go play.

Chester was pleased to finally get Age of Steam to the table. He's played before, but it was my first game, and I'm pretty sure the first game for Eva and Jorge, too. While there's been a bit of a running joke about missing key rules lately when teaching a new game, Chester assures us that he didn't forget anything with Age of Steam... I guess we'll have to take his word for it! :) The final score was:

Jorge: 101
Chester: 69
Eva: 64
Jay: 56

I did horribly, as I expected after seeing the first 2 turns unfold. I was pleased that I avoided bankruptcy, as seems to be a real concern for first time players. The game took about 3.5 hours, including setup and rules explanation. I'd hesitate to say the game would go faster as you're more familiar with it -- in fact, I'd argue the game would take longer as you're more familiar with it, as the level and degree to which you can analyze everything increases.

As I said, I expected to do poorly from the get go. I was woefully disappointed with how much down time there was in the game. I would try to plan out my moves during other people's turns, but found that to be an exercise in futility, as the plan (or plans) I tried to map out were invariably thwarted by the plays of others. So when my turn did finally arrive, I made moves as quickly as possible, with little thought to fully optimizing my actions -- if the move made more money than it cost, that was good enough for me.

About an hour into Age of Steam, I felt like I was back in college taking a statistics course, not playing a game. Had I spent more time evaluating my position and trying to optimize my budget and my actions, I think this game would easily have taken over 4 hours.

Perhaps that perception would change after a few more playings, but it's really hard to say.

My rating: 5.5

My take: Very disappointed in the game. I've played very few games with more down time. Game rewards over analysis, and has no pace or cadence. Each turn can be analyzed to the Nth degree, and it boils down to mathematical projections and an ability to locate mathematically superior moves on the board. I'm not good at these types of games, as I'm not willing to spend the time (ie, drag the game out) to map out every possible permutation of my turn actions. Horribly unforgiving game, as it seems like early mistakes can doom you from the start. That wouldn't be bad in a short game, but for such a long game, you could easily find yourself playing with no motivation for a long time. I can also see how one player feeling out of it could simply call it quits and declare a winner by shipping along another player's route, as the game features several elements which could be exploited for kingmaking. There are a great many better games where I feel more involved and have more fun along the way.

For the time investment, I'd rather play Wallenstein (twice), die Macher, Road to the White House, A Game of Thrones, El Grande (twice) or Twilight Imperium 3rd Edition.


Afterward, we played Clocktowers, which I was interested in checking out. I don't know what caught my interest in the first place, but recall hearing something positive about the game. I don't recall the scores, but I think the order of finish was Jorge, Eva, Jay, Chester... Although it seems to matter very little, as we only played one game -- and scores in an individual game can be heavily influenced by luck.

My rating: 5.5

My take: Eh. Cute cards, interesting idea, but the game is too chaotic, even for a card game. Blind luck can set up phenomenally good moves for people that can't be overcome in such a quick game. Perhaps if you played to a higher score, like 50 or so, but the game lacks strategic depth to play for an extended period of time.


Finally, we rounded out the evening by introducing Chester to Ingenious. It was a close game (Eva beat Jorge by virtue of the tiebreaker, with Chester and I only a few points behind) with a strange cluster of orange at the beginning. I drew 1 orange tile and was able to get 6 orange points early on, while the others drew several orange tiles and soon maxed out orange, then proceeded to seal it off before I ever drew another orange tile.

Once that section was sealed off, only 3 more orange tiles were ever played on the board, all by me, so orange was my weakest color by far with only 8 points, which was pretty frustrating... While orange was fairly low, it was never my lowest (except at the end) so I couldn't discard my tiles and draw a new hand in hopes of jumping in on that huge mass of orange at the beginning.

Toward the end of the game, I think the light went on for Chester, as he started to more easily count the scores, and see the benefits of defensive placement to seal off areas, create widows, or hold back on completing an Ingenious scoring track until you can really make the most out of your free turn. That's quite an accomplishment for the very first game!

My experiences over the weekend in Ingenious haven't dampened my spirits on the game, but have shown me how crucial turn order can be with 3 or 4 players. A defensive person can shut down the player to their left while reaping the rewards of casual play from the person on their right. Partnership will probably address that fairly well.


  • Try Age of Steam once more. It rewards repeated play as the concepts are a little tricky to understand first time. In fact, many of the game's decisions become automatic after a while.

    The first time I played I was destroyed from the start and was similarly unimpressed. After learning how to avoid the obvious pitfalls, this game became a gem.

    By Blogger Iain, at 3:18 AM  

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