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Thinking Out Loud

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Gaming Snapshot >> Ostia, Mississippi Queen, Succession and More

Finally got some "real" gaming in for the first time in nearly a month. A wide assortment of games, which I generally enjoyed. I was a bit surprised to find out the other gamers were less than thrilled with the selection, though. A well, they can't all be winners.

Ostia (Mayfair Games/Pro Ludo)

First time any of us had played. Ostia is described as economic game of trading goods for cash or donating them to the senate for Victory Points. Sounds like an interesting decision of where to apply your resources, or bluff to secure favor when you really want to earn money now or bide time for a future turn. Not so. The decisions are largely meaningless and bland. Justin and I disagreed as to how significant an advantage a player with superior memory would have, but we both agreed the game was pretty lifeless.

Bottom Line: 5.5/10 -- I was hoping I'd like the mechanics of secretly dividing your hand into trade/keep, and then secret assignment of cards to sell or influence. But in practice, it doesn't matter. The neatest element -- the ship/store card which is placed in your hand to designate which cards are going to be auctioned and which stored in your warehouse -- is completely unnecessary. And the bluff cards are almost unnecessary, as well. I like the concept, I like the components, but the execution does feel quite dry and listless. Even with strong memory of what cards are in whose hands, there's little application for that knowledge.

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Bucket King (Rio Grande)

This was the first time Justin played. Michael and Chris had both played before, though Chris wasn't too thrilled to play again. As this is a favorite of mine, he sucked it up to let me play. Fast becoming one of my favorite card games. I won through a combination of good play and growing disinterest by my opponents.

Bottom Line: 8.5/10 -- Wow, what a great little game. Far more planning, hand management and strategy than it first appeared. A wonderful card game that's easy to teach, plays quickly and is wholly satisfying for its type of gameplay experience. The more I play Bucket King, the more I love it. More than meets the eye, as you have to manage your hand, your bucket pyramid and your opponents to succeed.

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Mississippi Queen (Rio Grande)

I hadn't played in years, despite having acquired the Black Rose expansion. Justin was interested, so we pulled it out. The rules are super-simple, so we played with passenger pick up the first game. Justin and Michael got stuck in an endless pushing loop which forced them into last place. Chris screamed ahead, leaving me trolling for 2nd. By the time Justin and Michael realized the hopelessness of their situation (due to the timing of the mechanics), we called the game since positions seemed fixed. Disappointed it didn't go better, as there's a lot to like here.

Bottom Line: 7.5/10 -- Great production quality, nicely applied theme, simple mechanics. I like the laid back, easy going feel and pace of the game. It plays quickly, while offering some positioning and planning challenges when playing with passengers. Not much of a game using the strictest basic rules -- but with the simplest rule set, it's playable by gamers as young as 6 or 7.

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Succession: Intrigue in the Royal Court (Your Move Games)

My favorite game of the evening just happened to be the least favorite of everyone else. Well, it would have been of Ostia hadn't gone over so poorly. Succession features a lot of free-form, anything goes sort of diplomacy and negotiation, around some very clever ideas: candidates for the throne gain/lose standing with the king, and reward players they feel are helping their cause, while blaming players they think are causing them problems. Each candidate and each player has unique abilities, and the wild range of cards creates a lot of chaos. Despite that level of chaos, though, I love how much manipulation exists in the game... But it certainly demands a lot from the players.

Justin and Chris clearly didn't like the game, and moved to quickly end the game. I have to admit I was a bit miffed that Justin created a vote he knew he both could not win and which he knew gave the game to Chris, to secure second place (but more importantly to end the game). I think Justin had a good chance to win of he would have continued. Arbitrary and ruthless player targeting is a big part of the game -- so be warned. Grumpy players who hold grudges shouldn't play.

Bottom Line: 8/10 -- I really dig the concept and implementation of the game. Great production qualilty (except the peeling cardboard coins). Clever interplay of mechanics and concepts. Everything is for sale -- how you play or apply a card, how you cast your votes, who you assign blame to... everything can be manipulated for a price or the right favor. You need to carefully balance your position so you don't peak too soon and appear that you're doing too well, or you'll get crushed. A lot more nuance and subtlety than I think most people will give it credit for. Has some of the wheeling/dealing and evokes a slight Cosmic Encounter vibe with me (a good thing).

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We also played a few hands of Pit. I won 2 and Justin won 2. It brought back some good memories. It was refreshing to see how dynamic and still engaging a classic game like Pit can be. I also tried Harry's Grand Slam Baseball for the first time, a classic, quick-playing baseball card game republished now by Out of the Box (originally published in 1962). It's a light, breezy way to pass the time with enough of a baseball theme to scratch the itch, and a good back-and-forth pace -- a great game value for about $10.

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