Aha! If you come here often, you know that 12 days is a long time for me to go between posts. So why did I go that long?
Because I was at Atlanta Gamefest, playing the shit out of some games!
The list of games I managed to get under my belt between Thursday (the 5th) and Sunday (the 8th) is relatively short, because - as all of my gaming friends and acquaintances know and remind me incessantly - I prefer longer, deep strategic games. I would rather play one kick ass six-hour game than six one-hour ones. Besides, it seems to me that a lot of those shorter games are simply iterations of the same mechanics. So if you’re playing those, you’re playing the same game for six hours anyway. The way I do things, I don’t have to keep putting the game back into the box and then getting it out of another box.
So… here’s some of what I played: Sid Meier’s Civilization, Alien Frontiers, A Game of Thrones, Cash n’ Guns, Chaos In The Old World, 7 Wonders, Battlestar Galactica, Dominant Species, and Shogun. Not bad for four days of dice rolling, card counting, beer swilling, and smack talking.
All of those are excellent games, well worth trying if you want to play a board game besides Monopoly, Risk, Chess, or Sorry!, which is what sooo many people in America imagine when they hear the words board game. But what I’d like to focus on here are two of the “hot” games of the Fest, and how I feel about them.
First there’s Eclipse, the latest Euro-ized version of the epic ”space battle and exploration” game. Now, here’s the thing about Eclipse: I’ve heard many, many gamers saying in the past few weeks since Eclipse’s release (it was actually published in 2011) that FINALLY there’s a trimmed down version of Twilight Imperium, 3rd Edition - one that’s playable in three hours or less. Well, let me go on record as saying that Eclipse is, at its most distilled essence, NOTHING like Twilight Imperium. If you bought it hoping to get your TI:3 fix in half the time, you’re gonna be disappointed.
Sure, they both have hexagonal tile pieces for space systems, and plastic spaceships called Dreadnaughts and Cruisers. Sure, you have to explore and fight and advance your technology to better your society and naval capabilities. But as far as scope and mechanic, the games don’t compare at all.
Eclipse has a clever mechanic, and I REALLY like the modular way you can add on to your various starships to “beef them up”. I bought it and I played it and I like it enough to keep it, but it’s no Twilight Imperium. By sheer virtue of its streamlined mechanic, it simply lacks the variety and scope of TI:3. I imagine that after a few passionate plays, it’ll get shelved, and then only hit the table once every 3 months or so when me and my buddies get a hankering for that particular flavor of play.
The same thing happens with a lot of Euro games, as well as other games with slender but interesting “plots” - you play it, you figure out what works, you do that. And if you do anything else - anything outside of the “solid” strategies, you’ll probably lose, because the game’s dynamic can’t adequately support originality and diversity.
TI:3 and a lot of the games I play CAN support oddball strategies, and therefore they have high replayability factors. I’d play them every week if they weren’t so long (and like I said, length isn’t an issue for me, but it is for other people).
Gamers who know me associate me with Twilight Imperium, and if you haven’t guessed - it IS my favorite game. It may still be; I’m not sure, because it is exceedingly possible that Mage Knight might supplant it, if only for a while.
Here we go. Me on record again, saying that Vlaada Chvatil’s Mage Knight might possibly be the most brilliant fantasy adventure board game EVER. Practically every cool thing about the ancient game Magic Realm, without the overburdening minutiae. The conceptual ambition of Runebound and Talisman coupled with actual strategic depth. The variety of Magic: The Gathering without the need to always be buying new shit. And it scales well: you can play it by yourself - it’s that challenging and engaging. Or you can get a friend or three and take turns sweeping the countryside, killing orcs, leveling up, and bending the locals to your will. I can only imagine how HUGE this game will be once an expansion or two comes out.
It has only two problems as I see it. One is that if a player takes too long on his turns, the down time may seem exhorbitant. But you only get a few cards to play each turn, and I think once we all “get the hang of it” we’ll be zipping through turns like it’s second nature.
The other problem is length of play, which could run into 6 or 7 hours with certain scenarios. (Yeah - as if the game didn’t offer enough variety in its structure, there are about a dozen different SCENARIOS you can play.) For me, though, the time I spend playing isn’t really an issue. See what I said above.
Mage Knight was also published in 2011. Between it, Eclipse - which is solid even if it’s no TI:3 - and all the other awesome games published recently, 2011 was a great year for new titles.
Which I intend to play the shit out of in 2012.