Game Recap 9/24/05 >> Farfalia, St. Pete's, Buffy & Palazzo
They were just wrapping up a game of Manila when I got there. It looked vaguely interesting, and hearing Julia briefly recap what had happened and the rest of the crew discussing the game mechanics, it sounded a lot like a casino game of craps, with some additional betting/management elements thrown around a theme. Might have to try it out.
The first game I got in on was a card game I had picked up around GenCon and really wanted to try out for some time -- Farfalia by Derek Carver. Yes, the same Derek Carver who designed Blood Royale and Warrior Knights for Games Workshop. I love card games with conventional mechanics, like trick taking, and since Farfalia was spefically designed for 5 players, I was especially interested. It did not disappoint, even though I came in dead last by a wide margin.
Farfalia: 8/10 ... Innovative, well-developed 5 player trick taking game. The integration of suits and the "spread" that you're trying to match cards from is inspired, and the rotating partnership/solo dealer scoring works incredibly well. Takes a few hands to get the feel for how this plays differently from other trick games with trump, but is the best 5 player trick game I've played yet.
Julia stepped out to grab some dinner, and the four of us played a game of St. Petersburg. I've never played a game that was so much fun the first time (2 player) and so disappointing the second time (4 player). I benefited from sheer luck of the draw by being in position to snag the Mistress on turn 1, and never looked back. None of my other decisions seemed very difficult -- or important -- once I secured that huge VP lead. By game's end, without really "trying" the rest of the way, I still ended up winning by a 15 point margin... I didn't bother recording the actual scores, as it was a pretty dry, uninspiring game.
St. Petersburg: 6/10 (dropped from a 7/10) ... Fairly straightforward, mathematically calculable decisions and quick, simple gameplay. I can see why people grow frustrated with initial draws for cash. At first, I felt the game suffered greatly from "rich get richer" problems. I can see that there are some opportunities to block the play of others by putting cards into your hand, but there seems to be no way to "catch up" once you're behind. I'd play again with 2 players, but it really felt awkward and clumsy as a 4 player game.
Earlier in the week, Justin and Julia had expressed interest in trying out Buffy The Vampire Slayer: The Game. I read up on the rules and pulled this out. After playing musical chairs with the different hero roles, the group finally settled in for the game. Justin played Oz, Trey was Xander, Michael was Willow, and Julia the femme fatale Buffy. I licked my chops playing the Master, thinking I'd wipe them out quickly as they split up early in the game.
A combination of poor die rolling (on my part) a few key combat rolls (on their part) and healing Buffy back to full health from 3 health paved the way to a group victory for Good. I had Buffy pinned between the Master and Drusilla briefly, before a card let her move to any space on the board, then Willow rushed across the map to heal her. I at least killed Xander, but that was about it. Still, a fun game, and I think everyone would play it again.
Buffy The Vampire Slayer: The Game: 7.5/10 ... A much better game than you might expect, and one of the few games out there with cooperation as a core component. Nice pieces, simple rules, fairly good replay value. And a lot of fun, to boot. Luck heavy, but since the game plays so quickly, and the social element is high, it's not an issue.
The night ended on a pretty low note for me, as Justin pulled out Reiner Knizia's Palazzo. I had jokingly commented that I heard it was "like Alhambra, but without the fun." Unfortunately, my jest was fairly accurate. Granted, the day after, Justin dropped us an email to point out that we had missed 2 rules (that the quarries start out populated and you can just ditch a tile you win instead of being stuck with it). These would have helped improve the game, but still, it was a pretty disappointing experience.
Palazzo: 5.5/10 ... Seems awfully clunky and mathematically uneven for an RK design. Odd situations occured throughout the game where your best move was to do nothing, lest you set up the next player for a strong turn -- but unfortunately, you're forced into these spots. Also gameplay easily bogs down in money drafting early on... there's no reason *not* to draft money over and over and over until you're through the entire deck. And without initial seeding of palazzo pieces, whoever "blinks" first and takes a build/auction turn gets less out of their action than others who can benefit from the tiles remaining on the board after that move (corrected from a rules update after our play). And I was disappointed how incredibly derivative the scoring and structure were to Clocktowers and Alhambra. One of the least original RK games I've seen so far.