Thursday, 17 January 2008

Blue Moon

I first played Blue Moon in early 2004, and found it to be rather so-so. I think those two games were my first games ever played against Han, my now regular boardgame kaki. It was a boardgame event at PanGlobal Insurance. We played two games of the base game (containing two races - the Vulca and the Hoax), taking turns to play each race. After that experience, I decided I don't need to buy Blue Moon. However, I continued to hear good things about it on BoardGameGeek. When Blue Moon City came out, I bought it. It uses the same theme as Blue Moon, but the gameplay is very different. I quite like Blue Moon City. And then at the end of last year, Fantasy Flight Games had a special offer for some of their games, including the various expansions to Blue Moon. I could not resist it and bought 7 of these expansions, each being a deck of cards representing a unique race in the world of Blue Moon.

My seven recently purchased Blue Moon expansion decks. And my concise reference sheet with tiny font, and the three dragons which I took from my Blue Moon City boardgame.

I found this red box which fits the decks just nice.

The six races of Blue Moon (out of eight), and the Buka, who are pirates.

Blue Moon is a two-player-only card game about the races in the Blue Moon world fighting for supremacy. In the game, each player has a deck of 30 cards. They engage in a series of fights, which are conducted by playing cards. The game ends when one player has exhausted all cards from his deck and from his hand. Whoever has won more fights wins the game. If there is a draw, then the player whose cards are exhausted loses. There are three dragons in the game which are used for tracking who has won more fights than the other. If you win a fight, you attract a dragon from the centre of the table to your side, or if your opponent has a dragon(s) on his side, you return the dragon to the centre. If you ever win four more fights than your opponent during the game, you win the game immediately, i.e. you have already attracted three dragons to your side, and win yet another fight.

And how are fights conducted? The cards consist of character cards, booster cards, support cards and leadership cards. Most cards have a fire value and an earth value on it, indicating their strengths. Whoever starts a fight decides the element of the fight - fire or earth, and during this fight, only the corresponding fire or earth value matters (usually). On your turn, you must play a character card, and may play one booster or support card. A booster card is a one-time-use card, increasing your character's strength. A support card stays in play throughout the current fight. Leadership cards are powerful and strictly one-time-use-per-game cards, played at the start of a turn. You must play cards to match or exceed your opponent's fire / earth value. Else you must retreat from this fight (i.e. lose). The fight goes on as long as the players can match or exceed each other.

Some cards have special icons indicating special powers, e.g. some cards when played force the player to end his turn immeidately. Some cards do not count towards the limit of one character and one booster or support card. Some cards can be retrieved back to your hand. Some cards can be played in pairs or in groups. Some cards allow you to not match your opponent (only for one turn). Some cards (mutants) even allow you to change the contested element. This sounds like a lot to remember, but it actually isn't. I found it quick to learn the rules and the icons of Blue Moon. However, getting to know the characteristics of each race will require playing them a few times. Quite a number of cards have text on them, so if it is your first time playing a race, you will need to spend time reading those text.

Game in progress.

Michelle already had on dragon on her side. Naturally, she chose red. That's her colour.

I have now played five games of Blue Moon, twice in 2004 when I played as the Vulca and the Hoax. The Vulca are strong in the fire element. The Hoax are technologically advanced and although not particularly strong, they make good use of their equipment / tools. After buying the expansions recently, I have played 3 more games, as the Pillar and the Aqua. The Pillar are wanderers, and have some nifty gadgets up their sleeves. The Aqua get their strength from the sea. They can call upon powerful sea creatures, and they have one powerful leadership card which allows them to shuffle the discard deck back into the draw deck. I played Pillar against Michelle's Flit (because the Pillar box is green and the Flit box is red), and Aqua against Michelle's Mimix. So far I have won all three games against Michelle. She is not very familiar with the rules and the winning conditions yet. She had one big misunderstanding in her first Mimix game, thinking that you can only play characters in pairs (those with pair icons) when their full names match. It should be only the first word of their names, e.g. Dancing Bear and Dancing Fox can be played together. No wonder she has been complaining throughout the game why she couldn't pair up any of her character cards. And no wonder she lost that game, since one of the key strengths of the Mimix is their paired characters.

So what do I think of the game? I like the game. The game really is not very complex. To me, it's a tug of war, where you try to make sure that by the time one player exhausts his/her cards, you have at least one dragon on your side. Then there's also the tricky situation of trying not to be the one to run out of cards first if all three dragons are in the middle. So sometimes, you want to end the game quickly when the advantage is with you, but sometimes you want to drag it out and make your cards last longer if it looks like the winner will be determined by who has cards left. I have a feeling that it will be rare to have a sudden death victory of attracting 3 dragons and winning one more fight. I may be wrong. One exciting element is that if a fight gets long, and the eventual winner has 6 cards or more played, he/she attracts 2 dragons instead of 1. So, whether to draw out a fight is a tricky decision. Sometimes it may be better to concede defect for one fight, to cut losses, and only try to fight back in the next fight (when you get to choose the element).

I have just started playing and exploring the game, and I find that each race has a different and unique feel. Each race has its own characteristics and its own tricks and powers, and this is achieved by using quite few icons and special text. Although some cards do have special text, I find that it is, on average, only for about one third or a quarter of the cards in a deck, and even for these cards with special text, they are quite straight-forward, i.e. no ambiguity as long as you understand the base rules clearly. The design feels quite "clean" to me. Well, afterall this is a Reiner Knizia design. (yes, I always try to sneak in his name somewhere whenever I write about his games)

At the moment I am just starting to explore the characteristics of the various Blue Moon races. It seems to me that there is quite a lot of variety, and it is achieved using quite a simple ruleset and iconology, which is impressive. In a recent interview with Reiner Knizia which I read on the internet, he mentioned that Blue Moon is a game which he spent a lot of time designing, which, had he not spent that amount of time on, he probably could have designed many more other games. I guess the challenge is in balancing the various races, making sure any combination of two races fighting can work, without any side having an obvious advantage over the other. With 8 races in the game (base game + the 6 expansions), there are 28 possible combinations of two races fighting. So, it is like designing 28 games at the same time, and when you change the powers / characteristics of one race, you have to consider how this one change will impact how this race fights with the other seven races. From a player's perpective, it is possible to experience 28 x 2 = 56 different games, because for each combination of 2 races, you can play as either race. Even with my 6 races (not counting the Buka Invasion expansion yet, which is a further expansion beyond the 8 basic races, and introduces some different rules), I already have 15 x 6 = 30 combinations to play with. I guess I am in no hurry to buy the Blue Moon base game (with the races Hoax and Vulca).

There is a lot more I need to explore in Blue Moon. I am not sure whether I will like it more or like it less after more plays, but at the moment I like it. I guess I was being a sore loser when I dismissed it in 2004 because I lost my first two games.

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