Monday, 20 October 2014

spending my time

How do you actually spend your boardgame hobby time?

I started asking this question when one day I realised I might be spending more time blogging about boardgames than actually playing boardgames. That's sounds sad, but when I think further, I realise it should not be that surprising. My only regular weekly gaming time is Friday nights. Sometimes I play with the children on weekends. You need to find time and people to sit down together to play a boardgame. But blogging? It's an alone-time activity. I can do it any time I like, as long as I have a computer handy. I do enjoy my blogging. I enjoy writing down my experiences and thoughts. It's like reliving an enjoyable experience. And keeping records is something I find satisfying. So time spent blogging is time well spent too.

Here's how I think I'm spending my boardgame hobby time:

  • Blogging: This includes a bit of managing the photos I take. Time spent blogging is split between my two boardgame blogs - both this one and the Chinese version.
  • Playing games - in person: Mostly with the folks at Boardgamecafe.net or with Allen.
  • Playing games - electronic platform: I still continue to play Ascension almost everyday, with Han and Allen.
  • Reading games news / blogs: I use Feedly to subscribe to boardgame news feeds. I seldom search for new feeds to subscribe to nowadays. The ones I follow are more than enough for me. I still visit BGG, but not as often as before, and I don't read as much as before.
  • Reading rules and making summaries: To me, making those one-page rules summaries is almost inseparable from reading rules, unless I only intend to skim the rules to get a feel for the game, and do not intend to teach or to play the game yet.
  • Organising / maintaining games: This includes sleeving cards, bagging components, laminating reference sheets and so on. I generally don't sleeve my cards, and I don't buy many games lately anyway, so I don't spend much time on this.
  • Hand-crafting games: I rarely do this now, but this year I did self-make that Adventure Time themed version of Love Letter, which I thought was cute.

I don't hunt for the next new game to play as eagerly as before, but I still get to play many new games, many suggested by friends I play with.

Other than the boardgame related activities listed above, here are what I imagine other boardgame hobbyists do too. What else should I add?

  1. Shopping for games
  2. Selling / trading games
  3. Playing boardgames - against AI's
  4. Playing boardgames - solo
  5. Traveling to play games
  6. Making print-and-play games
  7. Pimping up games / customising games, including painting miniatures
  8. Organising game sessions / activities
  9. Boardgame photography
  10. Watching videos
  11. Making videos
  12. Listening to podcasts
  13. Making podcasts
  14. Designing boardgames
  15. Playtesting boardgames
  16. Deck-building (e.g. Magic: The Gathering and Android: Netrunner players)

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Level 7: Omega Protocol

Plays: 5Px1.

The Game

Level 7: Omega Protocol is part of a series of games by Privateer Press which share a same backstory. The individual games have different mechanisms and are about different parts of the story. An alien race fleeing an enemy race has sought refuge on earth. They made a secret pact with the American government, sharing their alien technology in exchange for human test subjects for their experiments. In Omega Protocol, something has gone wrong at the alien lab, and the government now wants to destroy it and all evidence of its existence along with it. So a team of elite soldiers is sent in to get the job done.

This is a dungeon crawl type game, similar to Space Hulk, Claustrophobia, Descent: Journeys in the Dark, Earth Reborn and Castle Ravenloft. One player plays the dungeon master (called the overseer here), and the rest are part of the same team trying to fulfill the objective of the scenario, killing monsters and exploring the map along the way. The game is scenario based, and the map, the mission, the types and number of monsters, and the events differ by scenario.

The monsters in the game, mostly the results of experiments on human subjects performed by the alien scientists.

Every round the soldiers decide their turn order and then take actions, e.g. moving, shooting, melee-attacking, opening doors, healing. Each action has an adrenaline cost - you take adrenaline tokens - and depending on the Stance card you've picked for your character that round, there is a limit to the number of adrenaline tokens you can take. The Stance card you pick (out of three) determines your walking speed, defense values and special abilities for the round. All the adrenaline tokens you collect when executing actions are eventually handed over to the overseer, and the overseer later spends them to take actions, e.g. activating monsters to attack the soldiers, and triggering his special abilities allowed by the scenario. This is very much like Stronghold - the more actions you take as the soldiers, the more actions the overseer gets to do too.

This is a character board. The two sections on the left are the basic ranged and melee weapons, the cubes indicating what type of dice you roll when attacking. The three icons at the top right indicate your max health level, intelligence and strength. The right section is actually a Stance card placed onto the character board. The Stance card determines movement speed, ranged defense and melee defense. It also determines your special ability for the round, and the maximum number of adrenaline tokens you can take. The four blue cards at the top right are skills that I have picked for the game. The two orange cards on the right are items I picked up during the game.

This grid is the overseer's special actions, and the types of actions is determined by the scenario. When the overseer executes an action, he places the required number of adrenaline tokens into the appropriate square. At the end of every round, some tokens are removed. After all are removed, the action can be executed again.

A scenario is set up with each room having some event cards. The event cards are predetermined, but the overseer gets to decide which ones to be placed in which rooms. The doors which the soldiers need to open may contain events too, e.g. being unusually hard to open or having traps. The soldiers have some options too as part of setup. They get to pick which special abilities and weapons to use. Some are unique for their characters, some are generic.

Trying to explain all the rules details will be a long and boring exercise. Let's talk story.

The Play

Ivan had read the rules, and taught Jeff, Dith, Sinbad and I the game. Naturally, Ivan played the overseer, and the rest of us played the soldiers. Jeff very innocently and conveniently slipped the team leader role to me, while he claimed the support role. Wait, what...?! Little did he know that the team leader was not necessary the one to do all the hard work, and the support guy was not necessarily the one to leisurely stay behind at a safe distance from the monsters...

The character I played.

This was the scenario we played. The soldiers (dark grey) started at the entrance on the left (the larger middle room). Our mission was to find the ventilation control room, turn on the ventilation for a few rounds to purge the toxic air in the lab, and then turn it off. We did not know the exact location of the control room yet. It was either at the top right corner of the map, or the bottom right corner. We had to make a guess. The red cards in the unexplored rooms are the event cards.

At the start of the game, we decided to head towards the right. The first door had just been opened, and now we were waiting to see what events Ivan had placed there. Monsters, of course!

We were quickly surrounded by monsters. Jeff (the guy in the middle in heavy armour) had strong firepower, and Ivan decided he was the biggest threat. Ivan focused his attacks on Jeff, ignoring Dith who was in front.

As the game progressed, we found that we were quite bogged down by the wave after wave of monsters. We spent too much effort swatting these pesky flies, and we were not moving swiftly enough. The more effort (i.e. adrenaline tokens) we spent on killing monsters, the more resources Ivan would have in sending more monsters at us and doing bad things to us. We decided we had better start running and ignore some of the monsters. These were small ones anyway and did not always attack successfully. An opening had just been created at the top left, right next to us, and four fresh monsters popped out. We had opened the door to this corner room on the right, but the control room we needed to find was not here. We now had to head to the other corner room.

Now Dith had sprinted ahead and taken up a defensive position in the control room, at the lower left. The rest of us were on the way. As dictated by the scenario rules, both of Ivan's big monsters were on the board now. One came in through the opening at the upper right. The other came in through the main entrance. Both were heading towards us. Imagine the Jaws theme music. We needed to turn on the ventilation as soon as possible. One annoying thing for Ivan was he had a bunch of small monsters at the top left blocking the way of his big monster. He had to spend adrenaline tokens to get them to step aside to let the boss through.

Now imagine the music of the Star Wars Imperial March. The little monsters had stepped aside to let the big one through. The green tokens are poisonous gas. They were triggered by Ivan's big monster, so we the soldiers were not affected. We didn't come through this way. The poisonous gas did not affect monsters, so no harm to Ivan's minions.

Jeff the slow and heavy had to spend effort healing himself and had not caught up with the rest of us. He was feeling the pressure now, especially when the group of monsters on the right started dancing to Michael Jackson's Thriller.

Now I had reached Dith's side, and the few monsters near the control room had been shot to pieces. Dith had deployed his sentry - an automatic machine gun that shot at any enemy that moved.

Our formation was almost complete. We just needed Jeff to take his place. The ventilation was now on. We needed to hold on for a few rounds, and then turn it off, and then we would win. Turning the ventilation on or off required a die roll, and it was not exactly easy. My character only had an intelligence of 2 (don't ask my why the team leader is dumber than his team members), which meant I could only roll two dice if I were to attemp turning the ventilation on or off. We needed someone with intelligence 3 to do this to have a better chance.

Our formation was now complete. I stood at the corner at the top, touching four monsters. I had a Stance card which prevented monsters from attacking me as long as I was adjacent to another soldier. They must attack him instead. This effectively made me an unbreakable shield. It's legal, but it's rather gamey. In this particular situation it was very handy. The two large monsters were almost upon us. Ivan could afford to let a row of small monsters surround us. The big monsters could stand behind the small ones and still attack, because they had a melee attack range of two. Normally the melee attack range is one.

Dith's character was replaced with a token now, because he was heavily injured and had passed out. One more hit and he'd be dead. Ivan was very close to killing him. Ivan focused his attacks on Dith, using not only the big monster, but also the gunner at the far right. In this game soldiers and monsters do no block line of sight for ranged attacks. Dith could not do anything now. One of us would need to revive him first, and only then he could start healing himself. We were surrounded and trapped, but the toxic air was almost fully vented. Eventually we managed to hang on until the air was clear, and we succeeded in making the roll to shut down the ventilation. It was a difficult roll, and all of us (well, except Ivan I guess) stood up and cheered when we made the roll.

It was a very enjoyable game. It's partly because I didn't have to read or remember the rules, so I could fully immerse into the story. It was also fun to be able to discuss the tactics openly while playing, since I was on the soldier team. It was fun to work on a problem together. We watched one another's backs, we reminded each other about dangers. I hope I don't make this sound like some silly corporate team-building activity. It's much much better than that.

The Thoughts

If you ask me what's different about Level 7: Omega Protocol compared to other similar games, I would say not much. It does have some interesting mechanisms, e.g. more actions by the soldiers translates to more actions by the overseer too, the overseer's grid of special actions, and the soldiers' Stance cards, but I think the overall feel when playing is not significantly different from other games of this type. I can say it is well crafted and it works. I certainly had a lot of fun.

The scenario setup allows variations. The overseer has some flexibility in how to place the doors and the event cards. The soldiers can also customise their abilities before the scenario starts. They can try to come up with a strategy specific for the scenario, and pick skills and weapons appropriate for that strategy.

Monday, 13 October 2014

family outing to Meeples Cafe

It had been quite a while since my last visit to Meeples Cafe. The outing before this was last year! We were planning to spend about two hours, but we ended up playing for four hours. Just nice for an early dinner at Burgertory which is nearby. As usual, I read up quite a few sets of rules beforehand, hoping to introduce the children to more new games. We have plenty of games at home. Visits to Meeples Cafe are always for trying out new stuff (at least new for the kids).

This is Baker's Dozen, a game by Reiner Knizia. There have been many versions published. I think the first version was Poison. The latest version is Friday the 13th. There are three donut flavours - chocolate, strawberry and vanilla. At the start of a round, all cards (donuts) are dealt out to all players. Then you take turns playing a card to the centre of the table. Cards of the same flavour must be played to the same group. If your card will push a group's total value over 13, you must claim all donuts in the group into your face-down eaten pile before playing your card into the now empty group. Donuts you've eaten are -1VP each at the end of the round, unless you have eaten the most donuts of a particular flavour. You are exempted from the penalty for such flavours. So you either want to eat the most of a flavour, or none at all. The green donuts are rotten donuts. They are jokers and can be played into any group, but if eaten, they are always -2VP each, no exemptions.

Michelle and Chen Rui (7). At this point all three groups had one rotten donut, so none of them look appetising now.

The round cards look good, but are not practical. They are a pain to shuffle.

Chen Rui applied a simple strategy called nom-nom-nom. She tried to eat the most donuts of all flavours, so that she could completely avoid all penalty points (of the normal flavours). She was going against the flow. She kept telling us not to take "her" cards from the table. Michelle, Shee Yun and I played in a more conventional way, so Chen Rui ate a lot of donuts. Her strategy didn't quite work, because she was not trying to force some of us to eat some donuts and get penalised. Also she wasn't trying hard enough to avoid the rotten donuts. She was more keen to collect as many donuts as she could than to avoid the rotten ones. She was having more fun doing that than trying to win. So she came last, and she had a great time.

No more strawberry flavoured donuts in my hand, so I was safe from taking any strawberry flavoured donuts.

Every player needs to manage many cards at the start of a round, and Shee Yun (9) had to resort to sorting her cards into piles. This was not a good idea, because Michelle and I could easily guess which was which, and what flavours she was short on.

Chen Rui ate so many donuts that Michelle had to help her count at the end of the round.

The packaging is nicely done. The game box (bottom right) is like a real donut carry box.

Although I wanted to get the children to experience new games, sometimes they requested to play games which they have played before and liked, like GIFTtrap. This is a game about picking gifts for your fellow players. You need to know what they like, and you also hope they know what you like. Giving and receiving appropriate gifts both allow you to score points, but if you give or receive a gift which is not appreciated, you lose points.

Shee Yun's (blue) recipient score marker (in the shape of an opened box) has already reached the goal, which means the rest of us have been giving her the gifts she likes. We know her well. Her giver score marker (shape of unopened gift) is still at 0pts, which means she is horrible at picking gifts for the rest of us. At the moment I (green) am the most successful in picking the right gifts for my family.

Michelle (purple) is currently closest to winning. Both her score markers are near the goal. You need both to reach the goal to win.

Michelle (purple) is just one step away from winning.

Take It Easy!, a game I have heard about for a long time, but only now played it for the first time. Every player has his own board and an identical set of tiles. One player takes the role of coordinator, and randomly draws a tile. He announces what tile it is, and everyone else looks for the same tile from their respective sets. Then everyone adds his own tile to his own board. This repeats until you fill up your board. The objective is to complete lines with a single colour. E.g. so far I have completed a yellow line and a green line. The yellow line gives me 9x4=36pts. The green line gives me 7x4=28pts. It's a simple multiplayer-solitaire game, like FITS. I'd avoid likening it to Bingo, because Bingo doesn't require much strategy or planning. Take It Easy! is more challenging.

I have played Hare & Tortoise before, but this was the first time for the children. This was the 1979 Spiel des Jahres winner, and I think it is a very good family strategy game.

It is a race game, but you are not rolling dice to move. The dice are only used when you land on a specific space, to determine whether you encounter good luck or bad luck. It is mostly up to you where you want to move, just that you need to pay carrots (the currency in the game) depending on how far you move. The game is more about managing your carrots (how to earn them, how to spend them) than about blindly rushing forward.

Look how serious Chen Rui is. This game is mostly open information, the only hidden information being cards in hand, so Michelle and I could give the children advice on what good moves were available.

Shee Yun and I.

These are cards from Dragon Parade, a game by Reiner Knizia.

In Dragon Parade, the dragon dance troupe starts a round at the palace (centre of the board). Players then play cards to move the troupe towards either the yellow gate (on the left) or the red gate (on the right). After each card you play, you also place one of your hawkers on an empty space on the board, hoping to guess where the troupe will stop at the end of the round.

At the end of a round, if the dragon dance troupe stops exactly where your hawker is, that hawker earns 5pts. If the troupe stops near a hawker, he earns 3pts. If the troupe stops on the same half of the board (yellow or red) as a hawker, he earns 1pt. For a complete game, you play the same number of rounds as the number of players. The game has a little stock market feel. You have partial information and partial control, and you need to read the group's thinking. You need to guess where your opponents will try to push the troupe, and you have to take into account your bit of control over its movement too.

You start with six cards every round, but you will only get to play four. The surplus two are important, because they are useful information, and they give you options. After playing the first three cards and placing your hawkers, everyone pauses to discard two cards, i.e. you need to decide which one is going to be your last card. Only after that everyone plays his last card to see where the troupe finally lands.

Hamsterrolle was another game we have played before and the children wanted to play again. It's a dexterity game of adding wooden pieces to the wheel and hoping you don't cause other pieces of fall off.

Bananagrams was new to all of us. It's a real-time game. Everyone starts with a certain number of tiles depending on the player count. There will be leftover face-down tiles at the centre of the table. Your goal is to use up all your tiles to make interconnected words. Once someone achieves this, he announces so, and then everyone must draw one more tile from the central pool. This new tile must be added to your network of words. Sometimes it means taking apart your network and rebuilding it.

If you get stuck with a particular letter, you can decide to pass and return it to the pool face-down, but the price is you need to draw three more tiles from the pool. When there are fewer tiles in the pool than the number of players, the game enters the end stage. Whoever uses up all his tiles wins immediately.

Chen Rui was youngest, so we let her team up with Michelle. Shee Yun and I played individually. The game is fun, portable, and easy-to-teach, but I think it doesn't work very well when there is a big gap in English skills among players, e.g. parents and young children. I took a time penalty in our game, but still managed to win rather easily. Maybe I need to find a better way to handicap myself.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

The Builders: Middle Ages

Plays: 4Px1.

The Game

The Builders: Middle Ages is a simple card game in which players race to build 17 victory points worth of buildings. On your turn you have three actions points to spend, and there are only three possible action types, each of which can be repeated if desired. Firstly, you may pick a worker card from among the five available on the table and put it in your hand. Secondly, you may pick a building site from the five at the centre of the table and place it in front of you. Thirdly, you may assign a worker from your hand to one of your work sites. Every building requires specific skill points to complete, and will award money and/or victory points upon completion. Each worker has specific skills which can be applied to building construction. When you assign him to a site, you must pay up front. He stays at the site until the building is completed, after which he can be sent to work at another site (and of course must be paid again because that's a different job).

Five workers and five building sites are available at the centre of the table. The next cards from the draw decks are also visible, so you can plan ahead a little.

This is how you send a worker to a building site to work. You want to fully utilise his skills. This particular worker is a very good match for this building. I am only one roof-tile skill point away from completing this building. When I complete it I will earn $12 (top left of building card) and 3 victory points (crown icon).

Some workers. The numbers at the top right corners are their wages.

If you want to send more than one worker to the same work site within the same turn, sending the second worker requires 2 action points. The 3rd worker costs 3 action points, and so on. It is costly when you rush-build. You may purchase actions points at $5 each, which is expensive, but sometimes necessary.

The game ends at the end of the round in which one player achieves 17VP.

The Play

Kareem taught Jeff, Ivan and I to play. The game is straight-forward and intuitive. It is actually quite evocative. I image running a construction business will be just like this. You need to start with humble projects. After you've built up some capital, you can afford to employ more workers, to take on bigger projects, and to run parallel projects. Cash flow management is important (sigh... trust a gamer to use such big words for such a simple family game...). The game is a race to 17VP, and although there is some competition in grabbing cards you want, I think it is more important to manage your own business efficiently than to hate-draft to deny your opponent cards (unless those cards are useful to you too). Action points are precious and must not be wasted.

Everyone starts with one random apprentice, with only two skill points.

Those two on the left are my completed buildings, worth 5VP in total. I only have one ongoing construction at the moment. It is possible to have multiple projects running.

This is supposed to be a brisk, casual, 30-minute game, but we four hardcore gamers turned it into a thinky, full-hour-plus game. Analysis Paralysis! The game is all about picking workers and buildings that match up well, but it's not possible to arrange perfect matches all the time. We were trying to squeeze out every little bit of savings and efficiency that we could, thinking and rethinking our moves. I don't think normal, sane and healthy families would play like this.

Kareem and I aimed for the minimum requirement of 17VP, and we managed to achieve that in the same round. We also spent money to buy actions in order to build some more smaller buildings for points. He managed to build more than I did, and won the game. Ivan was very close behind. Jeff was further behind because he could not complete his big cathedral in time. It he had completed it, he would have outscored Kareem and I. So it was right for us to rush to trigger the game end.

At game end, I had 7 completed buildings, and 5 workers in my pool.

The Thoughts

The Builders: Middle Ages is a light, appealing family game and casual game. It is easy to teach, and the beautiful artwork will help when introducing it to non gamers or casual gamers. There is some strategy - the pacing, the cash flow management, how to assemble your team of workers, and how to pick buildings. Just don't overthink it!

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Mat Goceng

Plays: 4Px3, 6Px1, 3Px2.

Mat Goceng is published by Manikmaya Games, a company from Bandung, Indonesia. They gave Meeples Cafe a few review copies, and Log asked whether I wanted one. I skimmed the overview at BGG, thought it sounded interesting and harmless enough, and said why not.

The Game

Mat Goceng is a secret-identity card game using Batavia (now Jakarta) of the 1920's as the backdrop. At the start of the game, every player is dealt a secret identity card. To win, you need to fulfill the objective of your character when the game ends. There can be more than one winner. The game ends when one player loses all three of his life points. He automatically loses. The others check whether they have fulfilled their winning condition.

A face-down identity card. The three glasses of coffee facing forward means you still have three life points. Rotate your card each time you are injured. Silver coins are $1, gold coins $3.

On your turn, you must challenge another player to a duel. He may decline by paying you $2, and after that you must challenge another player. If your challenge is accepted, you move on to the duel. You start the fight by playing a card from your hand. You and your opponent take turns playing cards until one side is not able to or unwilling to play any more. That side loses the fight and loses one life point. Each card has two link colours - the top colour and the bottom colour. From your second card played onwards, the top colour of the card being played must match the bottom colour of the previous card played. In the best case, you can chain up all five cards in your hand. If you are very unlucky, you may only be able to play one card. Now here comes the twist - you can ask other players not involved in the fight to help you by playing a card from their hands. They can help you out of kindness (i.e. for free), or they may ask for some, aah, coffee money. At the end of a fight, both combatants draw back up to five cards. However the busybodies helping out don't get to draw cards. They only get to do so at the end of their next turn, or after they get involved in a fight as a combatant. So helping others is risky, because you are depleting your hand, and a weak hand may attract attention of the unwanted kind.

You don't need to worry about the Indonesian language text on the cards. Some cards have icons representing special abilities. There are only four such icons to remember.

During a fight, every card played must link to the previous card by colour. White is a wild colour and can be used to link to any colour.

If you are down to your last life point, you must reveal your character. Now this is not necessarily a bad thing. You may attract attackers, but you may also rally defenders because some players may not want you to get eliminated, or at least not yet.

To picture the game better, you need to understand the character objectives. I can't recall the names of all the characters, so I'm going to give them nicknames.

Mat Goceng is the Hero (bottom centre). His goal is to make sure the Lady Boss (bottom left) doesn't get killed. The Lady Boss' goal is to be the richest when the game ends. The Foreigner's (top centre) goal is to have the Lady Boss dead (either killed by him or another player). The Arab's (top left) goal is to be the richest. Darkie's (top right) goal is to have the Hero or the Chinese dead. The Chinese's (bottom right) goal is to have either Darkie or the Foreigner dead. At the minimum player count of three, the Hero, the Lady Boss and the Foreigner are in play. When the player count increases, the other characters are added in this order: the Arab, Darkie, the Chinese.

The Play

I first played Mat Goceng with my family, as a 4-player game. We had a lot of fun with it. In the early game no one knew who was who, so we challenged one another to duels rather randomly. However once someone was injured twice and had his/her identity revealed, things suddenly became much more interesting. Teams formed naturally, some wanted to kill off the exposed character, some wanted to protect him/her. Somehow during our games, elder daughter Shee Yun tended to ally with me, and younger daughter Chen Rui with my wife Michelle. Chen Rui became so accustomed to this convention that in a later game under a quite different situation when she should have helped to finish Michelle off in order to win the game, she came to Michelle's rescue instead and fended off Shee Yun and I. What a loyal daughter she was. She was not playing to win. She was playing to have fun. I can't say that's wrong. There is no rule against saving your mum.

Chen Rui and Michelle were not supposed to be a team, but they teamed up anyway because Chen Rui said so.

Chen Rui jumped up and down happily when she won the fight.

Initially we never declined a fight, and everyone held on to $5. This was good for Lady Boss and the Arab. Everyone having the same amount of money meant they were both richest and they were in a position to win. The Hero and the Foreigner probably should have intentionally declined fights to make another person richest, to upset this balance. Sometimes when you are weak, it is actually good to decline fights. Getting killed means you lose. If your objective is something other than being richest, you don't really mind spending money. Well, unless you want to confuse others, which is a valid strategy.

Another thing that we didn't really explore was asking for bribes when offering support to the combatants. Later on when I played with the gamers at Boardgamecafe.net, we made better use of this mechanism. Spare cash can be a life-saver for badly injured characters. They protect you from challenges. Money flowing around can greatly upset the plans of the Lady Boss and the Arab. Observing who cares most about hoarding money is important to guess who are playing these characters.

The BGC folks had tried Mat Goceng before, and were not particularly impressed. However I found out that they had played some rules wrong. They didn't realise that white is a wild colour. That made things quite tough. Also they thought each player had four life points instead of three. I was interested to see how the game played with the full six players, so I persuaded them to give the game another try.

Our game was quite lively. Rowdy, in fact. They said the game worked better with the right rules. Our game culminated in a final fight between two teams - the Hero and the Lady Boss (Wai Yan and another player) versus the Arab and the Foreigner (Dith and I). Both combatants had one life point left so we knew this was the finale. One of the pairs would definitely win, and the other pair would definitely lose. Unfortunately for the other two characters, Darkie and the Chinese, no matter what they did at this point, they would lose, because neither combatant (Arab or Lady Boss) was a character they wanted dead. They would not be able to fulfill their win condition. However they still jumped in to support the final fight, just for the heck of it. After a long and noisy duel, the Lady Boss kicked the Arab's butt, so the good guys won.

The Thoughts

Although this revisit left a better impression, the BGC folks were not bought over. The card play mechanism works well enough. Their main complaints are the randomness and the character balance. Challenges in the early game are pretty much shooting blindly, and sometimes a player can feel rather helpless, like Darkie and the Chinese in our game. I personally am not convinced that the game is flawed. At least not yet. I think in the early game when information is scarce, players need to tread carefully and avoid injuring anyone too much, which can easily lead to the game ending abruptly before one can react. However me making such a statement brings out another issue - isn't a game flawed if it is fun only if played in a certain way? Then the counter argument - well if you play randomly without thinking about consequences, don't blame the game becoming random.

I quite like how the characters are designed. This is meant to be everyone for himself. There is no predetermined teams like in The Resistance, Bang, Werewolf or The Message: Emissary Crisis. However, due to the possibility of multiple winners, alliances form naturally because the situation encourages it. Win-win situations arise, and they are opportunites players want to grab (unless you are Chen Rui). Alliances can break easily and shift quickly, when the game situation changes. I find this volatility interesting. When the Lady Boss or the Arab is leading in money, they will be happy to help anyone trying to kill off another character; and vice versa. In the case of the Lady Boss, she should even betray the love of the Hero who is always trying to protect her. She can win even if he dies. Despite Lady Boss and the Hero seeming to be a natural alliance, it is not always the case that they will form a team. The Hero can win while the Lady Boss loses. The Hero will want to kill off any character in order to end the game, because he wins as long as the Lady Boss is alive. He doesn't really care whether she is the richest.

I do think the game has a significant dose of luck, in whether you draw a good combination of cards, whether you draw those valuable special ability cards, and whether you are making the right guesses (sometimes you do have to make guesses based on limited information). You can negotiate, threaten, bluff and form alliances to mitigate luck and improve your odds of winning, but this is a light card game, and sometimes bad luck just strikes and you can't wriggle your way out. It's not that there's nothing you can do, just that sometimes despite your best efforts things still don't work out. I think that is fine, given that this is the rowdy party game type. This is no Battlestar Galactica.

Too bad this game didn't work out with my gamer friends. They may not exactly be the target audience, but it would have been nice if I can bring this out to play with them once in a while. My kids, especially Chen Rui, like the game a lot. She doesn't see the nuances above like I do, but she does have fun with it, even if it's just teaming up with mum to beat dad up.

I think Mat Goceng has some unique elements to offer and is not just another secret identity game. The only thing which I don't think works is the 3-player game. It seems to usually result in a 2-vs-1 with the Hero and the Lady Boss teaming up against the Foreigner. The 3P game seems a little dull.