Thursday 12 July 2012

Another Birthday...

It's been a while since I posted any news about how my collection was expanding. There were two reasons for this:

1. I haven't had a lot of time.
2. The recent additions to my collection were gifts for my thirty-th..... twenty-first birthday, and I didn't want to admit I was getting older.

But you can only put off the inevitable for so long, and at least I can console myself with the fact that I may have more grey hairs than I used to, but I also have more board games.

Although my main interest is in out of production games, I also have an interest in current titles. All of the gifts I received this year were modern titles, and that suits me fine, as it is about a year since I last added anything modern to my collection.

First up, a gift from my brothers: Lords of Waterdeep, a worker-placement Euro game all dolled up in a Dungeons and Dragons theme.

Dungeons and Dragons: Lords of Waterdeep
Lords of Waterdeep - has almost nothing to do with dungeons or dragons.

I don't have many Euro games in my collection. I enjoy them, but I tend to find I prefer games with a good theme. So, of course, plastering Dungeons and Dragons all over a worker-placement game is definitely going to get my interest.

I have now played this game twice, and I would say it is one of the most fun games in my collection. It is quick to set up, plays smoothly, and it took no more than five minutes to explain the rules to my group and get our first game underway. On your turn, you are placing a single worker ("agent") on the board in order to get a benefit that may allow you to solve a mission, so turns move quickly, and there is little in the way of analysis paralysis. The game also adds a "screw you" mechanic with intrigue cards, that can be played to mess with your opponents' plans, and this really helps the game to shine when stacked up against "purer" Euro games, that can sometimes feel a little bit like multi-player solitaire.

However, it should be noted that the Dungeons and Dragons theme, while well-implemented, is relatively thinly applied. For example, you solve quests by sending off fighters, mages, clerics, and thieves. These different types of adventurers are represented by wooden cubes in different colours. Once you are deeply engrossed in the game, you tend to stop thinking along the lines of "how many fighters will I need?", and instead you start thinking "how many orange cubes will I need?"

A special mention must also be made of the games production values: They are through the roof. All the components are beautiful, and the game looks amazing when set up. The box insert is also a marvel, with specially designed wells for all the different pieces. Even the recesses where the card decks go are designed so that if you press one end of the cards, the entire deck flips up, allowing you to remove all the cards with ease.

Dungeons and Dragons: Lords of Waterdeep - box insert
A picture doesn't do the box insert justice.

The only thing I am not keen on is the design of the box. It has a split running around the edge that reveals a nicely illustrated gold bar. It looks nice enough, but it means the lid of the box does not fit all the way over the bottom half of the box, and as a result the box is less secure and is more prone to warping. It's a tricky thing to explain, so here's a picshure:

Dungeons and Dragons: Lords of Waterdeep - the box
The lid of the box sits on top of the bottom half, rather than covering it completely.

The second game I was gifted came from my beautiful wife: Thunderstone Advance: Towers of Ruin. The name is slightly misleading, as it makes it sound like a more complicated version of Thunderstone, but really it is just a second edition.

Thunderstone Advance: Towers of Ruin
Thunderstone Advance: Towers of Ruin

This is a deck-building game. I've never owned a deck-building game before (never even tried one), and I thought it might be interesting to give one a go. In this sort of game, you start with a basic deck of cards (everyone has the same), and over the course of the game you "buy" more cards to add to your hand, and occasionally "destroy" cards you no longer want, thereby honing your deck until it is totally efficient and full of useful things. On your turn, you draw a hand of cards, do what you can with those cards, and then discard the lot. If you "buy" a card, it goes straight to your discard pile, so you don't get to use it until the next time you reshuffle your deck. It's actually quite an unusual concept the first time you play, especially for people who are used to playing card games where holding on to cards for later turns is part of the strategy. However, after two games, I pretty much know what I'm doing, and I'm really enjoying it.

Of course, the reason I picked Thunderstone Advance rather than a deck-building game such as Dominion is because of the theme. In Thunderstone you are building a party of heroes to send into a dungeon to fight monsters. I never seem to have enough games with that theme.

The second game from my wife is the one I was most excited about: Mage Knight.

Mage Knight Board Game
Mage Knight - Complicated and beautiful (like me).

This could well be the best game ever made, and I say that even though I have only played the game solo (something I rarely do, because I believe playing board games is a social activity that should be done with other people). It is also probably the most complicated game I own. It combines elements of deck-building (you expand your basic deck of cards through the course of a game by earning new ones), and world exploration (in the style of Runebound or Talisman). How far you move, how strongly you can attack, and almost everything else in the game is based on the cards you can play in your turn, and combat is entirely deterministic. With very little randomness, you can plan out each of your moves, and the game feels like an intricate puzzle, with your aim being not only to solve it, but to solve it in the most efficient way possible.

The fact the game feels so much like a puzzle is probably why it plays so well solo. I actually get the feeling that solo is really the best way to play it, as there could be a tendency for turns to go long if a player has analysis paralysis, meaning downtime for everyone else at the table.

The game does have lots of fiddly rules, and there is a 20-page introductory walkthrough booklet that you are supposed to read before you even get to the (20-page) rules book; but if you can handle the steep learning curve, this is a highly-recommended title.

The component quality isn't as great as in some other games (the cards are so thin they really do need to be sleeved, and I normally hate sleeving cards), but everything looks great when it is set up. I particularly like the pre-painted mage knight characters, who even have see-through bases so you can see details of any tokens or map spaces they are standing on.

Mage Knight Board Game characters
The mage knights. Don't they look like a fun bunch to hang out with?

I know I am going to get many hours of entertainment out of Mage Knight, and I am excited to hear there is already an expansion in the works.

Rounding out the collection of games I received for my birthday was a copy of the co-operative game Forbidden Island and two of the print-on-demand expansions for Fantasy Flight Games' Space Hulk: Death Angel co-op card game, all given to me by a very good friend. It is interesting to note that everything he gave me was for co-op play: Guess he must be getting fed up with the number of times I trounce him.

So that's it: Another birthday over. Time to pop out the dentures and take a nap, I think...

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