Saturday, 18 January 2014

Glass Road to the Ming Dynasty

A fine array of different gaming choices were on offer this week at the Ribs, with plenty of never seen before titles just begging to be played by the Eighteen people that managed to make it.

Pete brought along his yet to be named and yet to be playtested game, and quickly found another three to help give the thing its first run through. Inspired by Race for the Galaxy but mixed up with a board / topological map, the game is a sci-fi exploration and exploitation tile layer. Take a lot of Race for the Galaxy, a pinch of Eclipse, a pinch of Steam and a pinch of Suburbia, and you arrive at... <insert game name>.
Chink In the Galaxy ? Pete's new prototype game.

Each round a player gets to select an action ( Research / Develop / Settle / Trade / Influence ), and then once everyone has revealed their chosen action, all have an opportunity to use any of the called actions. So far so Race. Unlike Race however, your systems, developments and goods are not placed in your own private solitaire area, instead they are placed on the galactic map - where in theory they are open to use and abuse from all players. So how to work out who controls what ? Influence. Players can add tokens to systems to indicate increasing influence over a system, and access to its capabilities and its end game victory points.

Goods can be Traded between systems, netting card rewards or end game victory points, and with each trade, influence in the target system is increased ( presumably as your cultural goods flood the market ... McDonalds anyone ? ).

For an untested prototype the game plays remarkably well right out of the box without any hiccups or imbalances whilst also being fun - and all who played enjoyed the experience.

On the next table, super game bargain hunter Stu brought forth Notre Dame for a whirl. Notre Dame is an older Feld-ian title where players compete to hold sway over... Notre Dame - or as some would have it, it's a game about managing medieval rats.
Notre Dame

Both of those statements are true.

A simple card drafting / action selection / area influence game, your task is to build a suitable strategy from the influence you already have in your borough, and the cards you have finally got your hands on whilst also keeping an eye on your 'rat level' to avoid it getting out of hand and the plague befalling your neighbourhood ( with a loss of VP and influence ).

Not sure who won this, but I did hear Nicky complaining at one point about her lack of decent options, the accusation being her fellow players were stitching her up.

Over on table three, Sam brought along the tactical sci-fi dungeon crawler fest that is Level 7 Omega Protocol. In a very familiar theme setup, one player gets to play the numerically superior but power challenged bad guys ( Aliens ) , whilst the other player(s) get to take control of an elite team of gun toting good guys ( Marines ). The theme of a butt kicking marine squad from Cameron's Aliens franchise has been done many times in a variety of guises, from things like the classic Space Hulk or Space Crusade, through to hellish inspired Claustrophobia and Doom, robotic Legions of Steel or to the WW2 skewed Incursion.
Level 7 [Omega Protocol]
This game leans on the side of a personalised dungeon crawler feel, with characters that are customised at the game start with a number of kits - giving each marine unique capabilities ( somewhat like Space Crusade ), and rooms that offer 'treasure' and surprises that plays very much like Descent / Space Crusade / Doom, and very little like Space Hulk / Legions of Steel. Not sure what the opinion on this game was at the table, although I overheard a passing 'alright' comment.

Mechanics or not the game is presented beautifully, and if you are into the whole sci-fi shooting hordes of things type trope, or like the idea of opening a door into an unknown room of horror gun in hand, then this game must be at least be slightly appealing to delve into.

Finally, upstairs Glass Road and then Ming Dynasty were given a bash. Glass Road is another Uwe Rosenberg game which has definitely been inspired by his other titles - notably Ora and Labora. Glass Road however is a fast stripped down experience that offers the familiar flavour of developing your own synergistic board, but in a very short frame of time with very little fiddle factor.

A set of fifteen duplicate cards are given to each player - each card giving the player one or two actions to take when played. From these fifteen, five are chosen and then over three rounds, cards are played and their actions taken. At this point the game could be an utterly solitaire competitive Euro build malarkey, but here is where the clever bit comes in. If you select an action someone else has in their hand, they get to take that action too out of turn - but both of you get to perform only one of the actions ( out of two ) listed on the card instead of the usual two. Also, the card *must* be played - so any grand plans you had of using that build card when you had built up enough resources might just go out of the window when you are forced to play it early.

Astute readers will also notice that with only three rounds and five cards, you can only pick three of the five to play. Guess correctly however and you could be playing all five of your cards as others trigger your 'spares' out of turn - giving you more bang for the buck, and the initial selector less.

Glass Road - Resource dials eliminating the usual
Rosenbergian chaotic token piles
Uwe is a fan of loading his games with a bazillion different resource types. And Glass Road is no exception - there are eight basic resource types to collect, but unlike his other games he has finally hit upon an utterly elegant almost no bits mechanism for it, where all your goods are kept track of on two dials. Resources never feel clunky or fiddly, and it's actually very easy to keep track of the eight different things ( plus there is a clever auto build mechanic for both Bricks and Glass )

Points are rewarded for developing buildings on your board - but to get those buildings you will need empty land ( clearing forests ) and a whole bunch of resources. The game is short and sweet - four periods of three cards - meaning anywhere between 12 and 20 actions in total for the entire game. Into this you will need to be building extra resources, harvesting, erecting buildings and synergising your setup.

All in all this game is lovely - it's refreshingly tight and quick, and yet offers some of the nice things in other Rosenberg games of developing your own little area, and getting satisfaction of a steadily improving infrastructure. The card / action mechanic works fabulously well and introduces a great deal of interaction - buildings are unique and in a shared build pool, so it really does matter what gets called when and by who.

Everyone enjoyed the game, although Tom reflected it could do with being four times as big and taking four times as long to really sink your teeth into it - but then it would be something like Ora and Labora I think. Dean put it high on his list and a possible future purchase item.

Lastly, Tom also a connoisseur of the bargain game bin shuffled a recent purchase - Ming Dynasty into sight at the end of the Glass Road. Quite a bonkers game of area control and Princely movement, your task is to dominate the various neighbourhoods of the city and ultimately earn more victory points in doing so than everyone else. As you can only place members of your family ( influence ) wherever your Prince is, it matters where you are, and where you can move to - these factors controlled by the movement cards you have, and where everyone elses Prince is ( only one Prince is allowed per region ).
Ming Dynasty... or Poop Wars, depending on your pov.

Dean after a while managed to retheme the game into some City Sanitation game as his Prince 'walked around the city pooping blocks' which the city then cleaned up for victory points.

Uh huh.

Fun game, somewhat susceptible to the winds of luck, cool to play, probably a bit on the long side for what it is.


Mr Bond said...

Mammoth posting, John. Did you play everything? Scuttling between tables to take turns at each game?

Mr Bond said...

And if anyone wants Ming Dynasty it's theirs for a pint.

Minitrue said...

Heh, played two, and kinda knew the rest, and as I couldn't remember any of them being explained....