Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Dinner dinner dinner dinner.. Batman !

Bondy couldn't be bothered turning up again this week. No doubt some weak excuse about having to look after the small New Bondy Spawn. Pah.

We were also bereft of James's, Jimmys. Whatever you like to call them. We had two last week, this week none. Typical. You wait ages for even one of them to turn up - six months in the case of James as he is proud(?) to point out - then you get two, then nothing.

Enough of who wasn't there, who was there ? This week was a magnificent seven, Tom - recently back from his drug muling through Jakarta, Stu, Pete, Ewan, Rich, Sam and myself.

A good deal of indecision and off topic chat lingered at the start of the evening, Pete declaring that this meant Race for the Galaxy should be played. Having conned persuaded others to join, Ewan and Stu - relative Race newbies with a play a piece - decided to take on the almost insurmountable millenia game experienced Pete. It's not so much about trying to come first when playing against Pete at Race, as it is getting into second, and how close you can get.

Two games were jammed in, Pete won the first, and, surprisingly... no, not really, Pete won the second too with a hybrid trading strategy built on a brutal production engine. Ewan managed second place both times, a respectable ten or so points off the master. MmmmMMmmm. Play more you must. Many games appreciation takes. Do or do not. There is no try.

Two games of Kingdom Builder, Pete winning again, but failed to keep the whitewash rolling when Ewan also took a win, hitting a perfectly balanced 10 settlements in each quarter of the board to completely ace the VPs for settlement quarters.

Finally they ended with two rounds of Zombie Dice. A game best played with a Zombified brain. Yahztee with brains ? I have no idea who won this. I'm not even sure it's important or even relevant in Zombie Dice. I suspect the dice makers are the winners of Zombie Dice.

Meanwhile, on the other table, Sam finally got round to putting Batman: Gotham City Strategy Game on the table. A fairly simple area control game, no amazing mechanics to be had here, but if you like the theme, it's going to be a win.

With both Rich and Tom struggling to grasp the relatively straight forward rules - Rich was happily talking to himself for half the evening ( in an Irish voice ), and Tom.. I don't know, let's just put it down to all the travelling - the game progressed in an uneven fashion.

I took a very handsome early lead on turn one, and was subsequently punished by everyone around the table. This seemed very heavy handed spoiling to me ! But as Tom and Rich struggled to get the idea, and Sam struggled to keep any kind of influence in any area, it was left to me to easily breeze around Gotham, putting everyone else to shame.

The game proceeds by placing influence into areas of the city - and cards which are played then reward the controllers of an area as well as the player of the card. If you can be the player of the card and the controller of an area, double benefit for you. This is a tweaked houserule brought in to speed up the otherwise too slow for what it is gameplay. However, the subtle unbalancing knock on effects from this are not be underestimated.
Two thirds of the way through the game - Tom has by this point
succumbed to madness and wants instead to show off his crisp.

Two purely economic resources exist in the game - money and information - which are harvested from money and information areas. Influence is a secondary resource that can be obtained either by trading cards in, or some special actions.

The wildcards in this are the villains - anywhere a villain is located automatically wins influence in the area. And Batman trumps all ( assuming he can beat up the villain ).

All in all the game is a much simplified Chaos in the Old World - building influence in areas, moving around your main Avatar and their attendant little helpers, milking areas for economic boosts, and playing cards that impact certain areas. I don't think it's too bad- but it does have some problems.

The length of time it takes for a not exactly deep game is an issue. Increasing rewards for cards buffs up the economy - and therefore allows you to progress much quicker. But the problem with this is then you can get to a maximised economy about 2/3 of the way through the game, and with everyone in a fairly strong position, the end game scenario becomes just about impossible with a set of competent players around the table - control 7 out of 12 areas for a turn ( with 3 opponents who can guarantee 3 other areas controlled, this means you need to dominate 7 out of the 10 possible areas - or 7 out of 9 if Batman is most likely on the table. Add into this that everyone else at the table gets a clear round to shift their positions to knock out your more vulnerable spots - an almost trivial task given that you cannot cover everywhere and a villain autowins an area - and you can see that everyone else has to sleepwalk or be really *really* badly off for this end victory point to ever be achieved).

With a less hot economy the subtle differences with income will make a bigger difference - but the game then takes a good deal longer. Too long. The game probably has a sweet spot with three players - the end game objective is a good deal easier, and with two players, the end game objective is positively easy. So a game that doesn't scale so well. Is too long. And has old school runaway player win syndrome - although to be fair I don't think this is that big an issue if everyone is on the ball. I am not entirely sure the end game level condition is even particularly sensible for a four player game - I think it's probably the case that it's been designed that it should be impossible to get to unless there are some truly exceptional circumstances. You'd have to crunch the numbers in the cards, but I think the tweak of injecting more economic bonuses into the game means you hit that end game objective pretty consistently with four - and it's a problem. Ordinarily I would guess that the game ends with each player being at a different point along the 'levelling race' with each level much harder to achieve ( I spammed out three levels in one turn ).

Despite this I enjoyed the game, I liked the theme, and the production values were high quality, and I think with a bit of tweaking - or possibly some patience with how long the untweaked game can take, this is not a bad game to slam out once in a while. For me it had a very old school vibe to it - delicately balanced constipated action Euros can go hang.

Tom and Rich did not enjoy themselves. Well, not the game at any rate. Rich was happy muttering to himself / shouting obscenities in finest Father Ted fashion. Tom on the other hand felt it important that the blog should note his Cheese and Onion crisps were made with the finest Somerset cheddar, and had an expiry date somewhere in June. Not sure if this was the result of a particularly keen appreciation of Walkers Cheese and Onion, or that the Batman game / Rich's Ramblings had blown his sanity. And Sam, well, he struggled to get a foothold, tolerated the lively meta game banter and came last.

I won. Both morally - I didn't really screw anyone over, took a huge lead, kept it, and was on the ball - and also actually - I had the highest level at end game, and only didn't get the end game objective because.. it's pretty much impossible. Huzzah.

Oh yes, Alina and Matt didn't turn up to play games either. But they did buzz the Ribs at closing time on their bicycles. Better things to do on a Tuesday evening than play board games down the pub ? Like cycling around a damp and slightly foggy Norwich ? Hmm. I'll take the pub.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You bastard minitrue! I was ROLEPLAYING! Clearly I am sane as horses. I came second and the cards that I was dealt did not add up to anything... Nice write up though, I agree, I think the game is a bit broken - a shame because the theme is so promising. Chaos in the Old World is simply a better game. My love, The Joker