Sunday, 20 September 2015

Card Drafting Heaven

"If you find yourself alone, riding in the green fields with the sun on your face, do not be troubled. For you are in Elysium, and you're already dead!" - Maximus Decimus Meridius from his cavalry warm up speech.

This week Dean brought along the new and swanky card drafting, pool building game Elysium to NoBoG with its lovely art and Greek mythology theme. There is some fluff and nonsense about you competing with other demi gods to compose the greatest feat of narcissism by collecting artefacts, heroes and composing legends about yourself all in a bid to impress Zeus and have him pick you, X Factor style BC ( oh the horror ), but what it boils down to is collecting sets of things to score more victory points than your neighbour. And yeah. They all have Greek mythological things going on. Imagine Canasta, or some variant of Gin Rummy, but instead of the Ace of Hearts you have Persephone, 3 of Hades.

Elysium - pic courtesy of BGG
Elysium is pretty much what we've seen before from such games - every round a pool of cards is placed in a central area for everyone to draft from. There is no real purchasing going on of the cards at this point - everyone has an opportunity to draft four things in turn, the only constraint being whether you have the right colour selection left to take an available card ( which by and large you always will have ). A small twist on the typical drafting shenanigans at this point sees your card pool split in two - those that are active and possibly earning you capabilities and gold, and those that are inactive and that score you end game points ( for sets of things and special VP multipliers ). Timing when you push an active card into a scoring card is a little of what the game is about - you get limited opportunities to do so, and every card you push down costs an amount of gold, so getting your ducks in a row of how many cards you want to push down, covering the costs, and getting enough actions to do it is the order of the day - not that it is particularly taxing to do so, this is not a game that's going to beat you over the head.

The game offers a mild point salad in how to approach things, there are bonuses for being first or the best in particular category, and you can also engine up into raw points early game, or go for the long game and invest in sticking stuff into your scoring area.

There are limited opportunities to dick with other players ( Poseidons cards are all about the dicking) but by and large the gameplay is not terribly cut throat, something like say Core Worlds is a much more explicit fight and race for crucial point scoring opportunities. Elysium is way more laid back, build your own area up, graze from the deck pool. It's also not a heavy synergy lead game like say Imperial Settlers where that drafter is all about the ramping up of interaction - you will be turning cards into inactive point scorers throughout the game which keeps the interaction and complexity rate low ( imagine if at the end of every round of Imperial Settlers you widowed cards into an end game score pile where they no longer took part in the game - and you only scored end game points from that pile, not your open tableau ).

Elysium, pic courtesy of BGG
All in all the game is a nice example of its genre, lovely theme, nice artwork, good production and is a cool addition to a collection if you have a need to scratch a card drafting itch and don't already have something like Abyss or Core Worlds ( unless you are Dean who seems to collect *ALL* the card drafting games ), but ultimately doesn't really bring anything new or innovative to table and is something of a Me Too game.

For my money, Elysium would probably edge out all the other card drafters - it's a bit more relaxed, simpler, quicker, streamlined and open to newbies doing well, as opposed to experienced players slicing and dicing in Core Worlds, and on the whole I probably prefer the Greek theme to anything else - even sci fi. Gasp. Blasphemy. Then again, I have two mutts and their names are Ares and Athena. And I dig the Iliad and the Odyssey. And I can fan girl when I know the stories of the characters I am picking up. So. You know. Bias. YMMV and should arguably pick Core Worlds instead ( Imperial Settlers is different enough here that imo, they are just enough of a different game to stand apart ).

Martin won this by possibly a single point - Richard IV got the end turn order over me and stopped my glorious victory. The points were very close all told, everyone was within a point or two of everyone else. Dean, expert and shoe in for the win came last. Surprise !

On Her Majesty's Service
We also busted out a game of On Her Majestys Service earlier which was all round pretty funny, and incredibly back stabby. I went from a single turn away from victory all the way down to last place, Martin, stole the single turn away from victory spot away from me, before I managed to stab him a few times, leaving Dean in the oh so close to winning position before Rich IV came from nowhere and pipped the win. Ridiculous. Funny. High points include Dean exclaiming that I had dicked him twice in one turn, and Martin's face when it went from the smug, I have won next turn it's all downhill to the backstabbed, shit, now I can't win. Priceless. The game has enough going on to make you think in a turn, and enough backstabbery to make that journey sometimes painful and usually funny.

Med Ed was in the house and decided to play one of my new things Isle of Skye - which amounts to Carcassonne on steroids. But this is Carcassonne with someone taking a deeper look at the scoring, sorting out the tile placement and putting in a better way of interacting with players. In short. It's a whole lot better. In fact. If this game doesn't at least get nominated for an award I would be surprised - it's simple yet offers a surprising degree of variation complexity on what you should do in your turn, and has a very high replayability factor.

The game is played over the course of 5 or so rounds ( depending on player count ), with each game having different scoring things at different rounds, meaning no two games are ever the same ( there are some 20 different scoring items, and only 4 per game are ever selected ).

Isle of Skye
The game itself revolves around your placing tiles to create your own little Isle of Skye fiefdom, with fields, water, mountains, roads and the usual malarkey giving you a modular landscape to piece together, on the face of it like Carcassonne if you had your own private board.

But here's a nice twist. At the start of a round everyone gets to pull three tiles in secret from the tile pool. You then have to decide which of the three you will discard, and for the other two, how much money you will place on them. Once everyone is finished, all tiles are revealed and then in player order you can buy a tile from anyone for the amount of gold they have placed on the tile. Purchased tiles are then added to your pool for you to place, whilst the seller gets your gold, and the gold they placed on their tile back. Unpurchased tiles have the gold removed and go into your placement pool.

Isle of Skye, closer shot of the tiles
This means that on tile pick up there are plenty of things to consider here - where can I place these tiles that gives me good scoring, either now, soon, or later. What state are other players boards in, and can others use these tiles and potentially purchase them away from me. How much money do I have to potentially make some tiles very expensive for others to buy and lessen their attraction. Do I save my money for future in case something really good comes along that I want to keep or purchase.

And on reveal that set of choices multiplies. Who has a great tile for me. Who would really like tile X. Can I afford it. Is it worth it. Yada.

Although simple in principle, the puzzle of where to place, what to buy and what to guard is surprisingly deep, and I suspect this game would be a trough fest of Analysis Paralysis in the wrong hands.

On the whole a fantastic light tile laying game, scratching the itch of building your own little kingdom, enormous replayability in scoring and timing options, and a whole bunch of player interaction with the open tile buying. Great game, well worth having a go of.

Trains : Rising Sun
Elsewhere Tim brought along Trains Rising Sun, which is the second game in the Trains series, which for those that don't know is Dominion with a board and themed solely around ... trains. I very much like Trains, and whisper it, I think it's superior to Dominion, albeit Dominion scores heavily on the breadth of available options making it supremely replayable. Trains Rising Sun is a welcome addition to the line to start giving the whole thing more breadth in what you can do. Either play it as a standalone, or mix it up with the original Trains to expand the number of options available ( just like you get with each Dominion set... ). Davey reported that although Tim was excited about having the rare opportunity to bring something a little heavier this week, he was less excited at getting beaten into last place. Oh dear. Stupid game anyway ! Maybe this is the real reason Tim never brings it.

We also had Lewis introducing new people to Smash Up and beating them all with his... Steampunk Cats, followed by Monty Python Fluxx that saw only Lewis brave enough to adopt silly accents and other ostentatious diplays of ridiculousness. Although to be fair, in Lewis' case that's normal behaviour, where silly Bane accents come as part and parcel of Batman Love Letter, so he has an unfair advantage.

Multiple simultaneous games of Dead of Winter were on the front tables with a whole bunch of new people. Not sure if this is a new trend of the front tables to have multiple copies of the same game going on.

Pete had a Petetastic evening with two games he really likes - Steam followed by Hansa Teutonica. He mentioned getting an early 5 actions in Hansa, so I would presume the game went very downhill for everyone else from that point on.

James and Torres
Old school Torres was busted out, I think James won this by a single point, and then they went on to play James' prototype Robot Robot... which if we aren't playing at least one prototype every week, then we have failed. Perhaps everyone should clump together into a co-op publishing house and raise a new game company from the ground.

The university season has restarted, so, as such, we had a spread of Uni people back with us, including Luke who seems to have had an argument with the barber over the summer and lost his shoulder length hair. He brought Betrayal at House on the Hill back to table, along with some other social crowd pleasing goodness.

Firefly also made a visit - I think its first visit to NoBoG, but slacker that I am, I have no idea how that went down, or indeed much of anything else that went on in the Tuna.

And there were some ridiculous Speed Avalon Resistance games which unsurprisingly was a crushing win twice for the bad guys.

I also failed to get decent pretty pictures of what was going on this week. The camera died. What can you do. Thanks to Tim for a couple of his snaps.

In other sad news the new red gaming cloth has also died. After suffering from the great Eastern Sea Coke spill a few weeks ago, its tangle with the washing machine caused it to shrink to a fifth of its size and declare it was done with being a gaming table cloth and instead had focused on embarking on a new career as a rather fluffy bath towel instead.

56 this week for the count, just one off the record 57.

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