Thursday, 12 December 2013

The Horror of Quarantine

Last night was the penultimate meeting of 2013 before we have a two week break for Christmas festivities - or in the case of John, two weeks of tackling a particularly stubborn beast that has attached itself to his top lip. It’s that time of year for festive cheer and goodwill to all men. So I’m going to say “Bah humbug” and pour scorn on a little game from a small publisher that Paul brought along with him. I will tell you that it’s a pile of crap and should you happen to receive it in your Christmas stocking, then you should hunt down Santa and punch him in the gob.

The game in question is Quarantine, by a small Canadian publisher Mercury Games. The premise is that you’re running a hospital and trying to treat a growing influx of patients. You get victory points for curing the sick, but can spend these points to improve your hospital  - adding new treatment rooms or specialist rooms such as Triage, Pathology, a Helipad or even the mighty Cafeteria, which give you special actions. All good, but you have to watch out for infections that can spread and shut down parts of your expanding hospital. It’s a bit like the old computer game Theme Hospital.

It’s all done with nice bright tiles and cubes. There is a nifty little ‘price-drafting’ system, where
Theme Hospit... err Quarantine
players can set the price on the tiles they want to draft, but other players will have the chance to buy them at that price first. This is makes for a nice dilemma on which tiles to set prices on and how high to set them.  The other big part is managing the queue of patients that forms outside your hospital lobby. Patients can only be admitted to treatment rooms of the matching colour. Patients are admitted one at a time, in order, until the first patient in line is unable to be admitted. Therefore jiggling about with you line or building more rooms is important. All good…

No! This looks like a lovely fun game. It even has whimsical cover and cute infectious disease called Queasy to guide you through the rules. And it has cool hospital tiles to arrange. But this is not light and fun. It is a cruel game of computational processions, arbitrary punishments and solo-puzzling.

The harsh reality is that this a game run by action points. You have four to spend each turn. Action points means optimisation. Slow, ponderous optimisation. Add that you won’t know what patients will be added to your queue at the start of your next turn, so you can’t plan ahead and have to endure the other players optimising their turn based on the draw of four random cubes, all the while hoping they won’t draw infection cubes and put them in your hospital. So added to the optimisation we have an arbitrary take-that mechanism. And we have a system that makes it hard to plan in advance. It even has the dreaded spend an action point to take a bonus action marker to spend in a later turn (affectionately known as Crocker Markers). And the game is incredibly tight. Our final scores were 10, 11, 12 and 12. With margins that tight, a few to many infections, bad draws or a moment of non-optimisation is going to kill your chances. Bondy's verdict: avoid it like the plague.

Newcomer, Debbie had the most points and the smallest hospital, so beat Rich in the tiebreaker. Paul came in third. And I lagged behind with the meagre 10. And I know what you’re now thinking, that I only hates it because I lost and I'm crap at it. Sour grapes. Pah. To be fair the others all enjoyed it and I didn’t hate it. It’s just not really my thing.  I did find myself awake at 1am thinking that if I’d spent less on a dodgy cafeteria, spent more on patient care then... hmm. Maybe Paul will bring it again soon just so I can confirm it is a terrible game…

The other tables all had a whiff of lurking terror and dark eldritch horror about them.
A Study In Emerald

Dean brought A Study in Emerald, which invokes the all-powerful triumvirate of Martin Wallace, Neil Gaiman, and Cthulhu into a fascinating looking deck-building game.

Much enthusing over this.

John gathered Rich, Lizzie, Ed and Nath to play Betrayal at House on the Hill. There were shouts and taunts and enough insane in-game dialogue to fill something of almost unfillable proportions.  As the players explore a haunted
Betrayal at House on the Hill
house, contending with all the usual sort of things you’d find in a haunted mansion, the tension (or silliness) builds to point where one of the characters betrays the others. At this point they must defeat the traitor that has betrayed them all.

They managed to fit two games in on Tuesday and both times the traitor was revealed to be Ed. Evil “I’m a Spy” Ed.

What a surprise. Happily, he was brutally cut down and defeated on both occasions. Poor Evil Ed.

The evening was wrapped up with a game of King of Tokyo, where Paul emerged victorious from the smoking ruins. And, of course, Resistance: Avalon. Once again the good guys strolled to victory with John’s Percival pointing out all the spies. Pete the assassin went for him, but never had a chance of guessing Merlin as it was none other than the evilest of the evil - Evil Ed!


Minitrue said...

I thought Quarantine looked rather groovy, I really liked it's happy shiny tiles. Shame if it plays like a bit of a beast.

The first Betrayal game saw Ed as a deranged clergyman trying to bring Cthulu back into the world. This was a bit of a surprise as the favourite contender for being the evil doer was the little girl, who was convinced that her Teddy Bear was insane as it kept talking to her in maddening ways. Riiigght. She had a bloody knife in the other hand. Someone you definitely didn't want to have an argument with. Good or bad - I beat a hasty retreat from her away from the top floor where she was lurking.

Downstairs, Father Reinhart summoned Cthulu and was promptly eaten by the unspeakable one for his troubles. But before you could say "Necronomicon", the little girl had thrown the awful summoning book into the furnace in the basement and the Elder God disappeared with an embarassing damp pop.

Second haunt was something of a cross between a horror movie and a highly suggestive Carry On film. You had to be there. Frankenstein was re-animated in the basement, but within moments of waking, an angry mob had formed with torches - as they do - and despite nailing a couple of explorers into the floor of the Kitchen, Frank was burnt to death. Huzzah.

Minitrue said...

BTW, for Gaiman Cthulu mashings...

Ewan Craig said...

Quarantine sounds fun. Gutted i missed betrayal of the house on the hill. Any chance of it next Tues?

Nathan Smith said...

I'd happily play some more betrayal. Had a great time with it last week.

Alfonso said...

Count me in if we play Betrayal tomorrow.

Minitrue said...

Ha ha, ok, I shall bring house on the hill with me then.