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Thinking Out Loud

Friday, April 14, 2006

Quick Hits >> Ostia (again), Oasis, Fairy Tale and Ra...

Got another good night of gaming in last night with Eva and Jorge. I was happy to get to try Ostia again and see if it was still as pedestrian as before, as well as try out Oasis, which I've been eager to play ever since landing it via trade on Boardgame Geek.

Ostia, the Second Chance

The game is very easy to explain, and the individual player boards are very well done. A second playing confirmed my feelings, though, about the largely lifeless gameplay. Average all around, which is a shame, as with some minor tweaks (posted over on BGG) I feel this could be a very engaging, interesting game -- you just need to add more important decisions.

Jorge won by a landslide, 18-13-12. Considering there's a maximum 22 points to earn if you win every single Senate and all the bonuses, that was a clobbering. There were some close guesses and wrong reads, as several times Jorge beat my donation to the Senate by 2 or 3 points. Jorge also expertly bid and sold in the Forum so he was always flush with money to dominate the cards for donation. Eva and I should have been more aggressive with the auctions. But even then, the auctions felt pretty dry and repetitive.

My rating stands at 5.5/10.

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Oasis (Moon/Weissblum)

This was the clear winner of the evening for me. I had been keen to get a hold of Oasis based on some Geekbuddy analysis, and I was not disappointed. The game was insanely close. Jorge had the opportunity, through the bonus tile action at the end of the game, to end the game immediately by drawing a stone tile. So we had to stop the game and calculate the scores to see if it was close. At that moment, it was Jorge 142, Eva 141 and Jay 139. You can't get much closer than that, so Jorge snagged the last stone tile, and even w/o triggering any scoring with that, won the game.

We spent quite a bit of time talking about the game, drawing some comparisons (most superficial) to Hacienda, Through the Desert and San Marco. It was amazing to note how close the game was, that any one turn with a different action selection could have changed the winner. Jorge and Eva agreed that they each had the bonus action (by having the 1st player select your offer) 2-3 more times during the game than I did, which even if that's only worth 1-2 more points each time you get the bonus, was very influential in our game.

Bottom Line: 8/10 -- So glad this hit the table. Very, very enjoyable. Has a slightly San Marco vibe -- not surprising considering it's another Weissblum/Moon game. Some interesting decisions to make offers to lure people into selecting your offer so you can receive greater priority or bonus actions. Specialize in just a few scoring areas, or try to cover all the bases? Keep to yourself, or get into someone else' region? Lots of nice decisions. Biggest downside is I can how a player would regularly be in a position to end the game with his "bonus action" requiring a complete score count *before* the end of the game to see if ending the game will win the game.

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Fairy Tale (Z-Man edition)

I hadn't played Fairy Tale in a while, so was eager to try it again. We played w/o the bonus/advanced cards, which seem tailor made for 5 players -- with fewer players, the card distribution is so crazy that you'll get some very odd game results which detracts from the drafting strategies, in my opinion. We played twice, and it was easy to get back into the game after a long hiatus.

Bottom Line: 7/10 -- I really like the drafting mechanic, but found the art (in the Z-Man version) squeezed into a cluttered, ugly frame with the large icons. The strategy eludes me. Despite feeling that I make good personal and defensive drafting positions, I tend to come in last. There's something about the game that I just don't get. I'm not good at games requiring memory elements, and I can never remember what's missing from a hand being passed to me to deduce who has drafted what cards, etc.

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Ra (Reiner Knizia)

I continue to be both fascinated and incredibly frustrated by Ra. I like certain elements a lot, but for what is largely a push your luck game, it feels awfully long when a string of bad luck does you in. It's one thing to get bad luck in Diamant, Cloud 9 or Can't Stop. But it's another thing to get karma screwed in the last 10 minutes of a 45 minute game.

In the last epoch of Ra, I was left with 3 unused bid tiles while Eva and Jorge each had 2. No gods, floods or civ tiles were drawn the entire third epoch, and the Ra tiles came fast and furious at the end of the game, leaving very little room to maneuver or react. I had groomed my hand carefully during the 2nd epoch, and held (I believe) the 10, 12 and 13 bid suns for the last round.
Was it poor decision making? I don't think so. There was literally no value in all but one of the earlier lots that epoch for me. My only option would have been to deny Jorge 5 points by using my 6 bid sun to snag the 4th building of a type for him that he ended up getting with his 4 bid sun -- no points for me, though. But after that, the epoch ended before anyone could do much of anything else.

It left me feeling incredibly frustrated. For the length of the game, it has so much push your luck that it can really kick you in the balls, even when you make a good strategic and probability-based decision. Even with clever play, it can be very, very difficult to overcome bad luck. The game still hovers in the 6ish range for me, as I see what I like about the game, but when playing, the role of luck smacks me in the face.

3 Comments:

  • I'd be interested in your technical take on Oasis. I read the rules a while back and was completely underwhelmed. What are the good bits of the game?

    By Blogger ekted, at 4:43 PM  

  • The offering mechanic is quite good. Most of the time you want to have a decent offer on table, to get a good position in the next round. At the same time, you don't really want to make your offer too good, since you could be giving a lot of VPs away. You could also be forced to having to make very poor offers later, when you really want to play early. This element of tension is what makes the game work.

    The push your luck element in the way you make offers is also quite good. The game would feel pretty dry if, instead of having to pick the next card from the stack, you could mini-max your offer's quality level, just like you can do in Tower of Babel.

    Add to that how the offers can have wildly different VP values to different players, and the denial element that it brings, and you get a pretty solid drafting game that. in many ways, feels like an auction game.

    In 3 players the board placements weren't all that important. It was all about blocking players, and most of the time, it was not an issue. Everyone had one bad color, but it really wasn't all that important. Maybe with 5 players the game would feel more like TtD or Reef Encounter than Ra/Santiago/Tower of Babel.

    By Blogger hibikir, at 7:33 PM  

  • Hibikir summed it up nicely. I was very pleasantly surprised how the offer/accept system worked, as you jockey both for drafting position and for maximum points on your current turn. I think this game would play best if you score as you go, to prevent the slowdown I mention in my original blog post.

    I'd add that it feels like 4 or 5 would work better, not just for board positioning, but with the offer dynamic. with three players, it came down fairly often that the first chooser's decision dictated the selections of the next two players (since you cannot select your own offer unless you have no other option).

    IE, Player 1 selects the offer from Player 3. Player 2 (choosing 2nd) now must select Player 1s offer, meaning Player 3 must select Player 2s offer.

    By Blogger Jason Little, at 9:52 PM  

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