Monday, 16 July 2007

Conan attacks Roman Castle

On Sat 14 Jul I had my regular boardgame sessions with Han. This is it is a morning session (we usually play in the afternoon). I played 3 new games this time - Roma, Conan CCG (collectible card game) and Castle (thus the weird title today). Among the three, I enjoyed Castle the most. Maybe it is because it is the simplest one and has the lightest gameplay among the three. There are definitely more strategies to explore in Roma and Conan CCG.

We started the day with Roma. I have read the rules beforehand so we jumped straight in. Han just had a night shift (being a doctor, he often needs to be on-call at the hospital) and came straight to my home from the hospital after his shift. Just 15 minutes before he arrived Michelle reminded me to offer him breakfast, in case he didn't have any before coming to play. But as soon as he arrived, I forgot all about it and we both dived into the game. Only when Michelle passed by she asked Han about breakfast and indeed he didn't eat anything before coming. So Michelle made a sandwich for him. I think Michelle must be internally shaking her head at these two uncles behaving like 7-year-old boys, only remembering to play and forgetting about everything else.

Roma is a 2-player card game with dice. Every card has a special power, e.g. some allow you to attack the cards of your opponent, some allow you to gain VP (victory points). Each player starts the game with 10 VPs, and there is a common pool of 16 unclaimed victory points. To win, you either exhaust the common VP pool while having more VPs than your opponent, or you make your opponent lose all VPs. At any one time, you can have up to six cards in play. On your turn you roll your three dice and the die rolls determine which of your cards you can activate. You can also use your die rolls to collect money, or to draw cards.


Han and I played very aggressively and kept attacking each other. It was very difficult to earn VPs. It was difficult to even retain VPs. Both games ended with me losing all my VPs. Both were destructive games, both players aggressive force the other to lose VPs. The other possible approach was the constructive approach, i.e. racing to earn victory points from the common pool. In these games the common VP pool would dwindle quickly. The other possibility is one player may play a constructive game, and the other may play a destructive game. These may take the longest, as the players would see-saw between one side grabbing points and the other side forcing him/her to lose the points gained.

I found the game OK. The card powers are not too complex. The die rolls simplify the decisions you need to make, so that you are not bogged down with a too complex decision tree. Yet there are still meaning decisions to make and different strategies to pursue, and to adapt to, depending on how your opponents plays, or what cards you draw. I definitely would play this again to explore more.

Conan CCG was the first collectible card game that I have ever played. The most well known game in this genre is Magic: The Gathering. In fact, it started the whole genre. I have never bought a CCG before, but I think basically the idea is you spend money to buy small packs of cards, without knowing what kind of cards are inside. Some cards are common, some are rare, some are weak, some are powerful. But basically it is a card game that you are playing. I think you do need to buy some starter pack to make sure you have enough cards to play a proper game. I have considered buying the A Game of Thrones CCG before, since I liked the books on which it was based, but when I found out the price of even buying a starter set, I decided no. Many people find that CCGs are too expensive a hobby, because people tend to buy and buy and buy, hoping to get rare / powerful cards, or buying new expansions that come out frequently. So, I probably will not ever get into CCGs, although I am interested to try Magic: The Gathering, just to find out why it is so popular.

In Conan CCG, each player plays his own version of Conan. There are a few variations of Conan, and they have different powers and strengths. On a player's turn, he puts his Conan (OK, I'm being a bit sexist here, but basically I'm saying only boys will be silly enough to get into CCGs) at the centre of the table, and plays out his Conan's story / battles. The other player(s) plays enemies and use these enemies to attack Conan. There are basically two types of cards - enemy cards and movement cards. Enemy cards represent enemies that appear and attack Conan. Conan needs to defeat these enemies in order to earn renown. Movement cards are used by Conan (played by the active player) to attack enemies, and are also used by enemies (played by the other player(s)) to attack Conan. You win by being the first Conan (this indeed sounds a bit strange, as if there is cloning technology in Conan's world) to reach 40 renown points. You can lose by getting killed by your enemies (of course!).

Me (acting surprised) and Han playing Conan CCG

Conan CCG. Conan is being attacked from all four sides.

I found Conan to be just OK. It has the feel of a role-playing game. You are constantly tracking your Conan's health level, prowess level, renown level, scar level. It feels a little like Marvel Heroes, in the way that players take turn to be the hero, and all other players act as enemies trying to hinder / kill you. We didn't finish a complete game. We just played two rounds to experience the game. Han bought this off eBay at a cheap price. He has about 500 cards.

The next game was Castle. This was the simplest game of the day. Players have a hand of cards and a deck of face-down cards. They compete to play all of their cards, from both their hand and their deck. There is a castle at the centre of the table. Cards are characters, which can be played on one of four areas - the inside of the castle, the outside, the walls (or more accurately, the ramparts), and the towers. Every character card has some special ability, many of which allow you to kick your opponents' characters back to their hands (the barbarian archer shoots someone on the wall or in a tower). Some cards protect other cards (the knight is played onto another card and protects it), some cards prevent other cards from being played (if the queen is present, the mistress may not come). So the game revolves around the unique abilities of the cards. In the first one or two games, you'll need to spend some effort reading the text on the cards and to get familiar with the character abilities. It helps a little to know what kind of cards are in the game and what their powers are, but I think it is not a major advantage or disadvantage knowing or not knowing them. Well, I think this is a light game and should not be played too seriously. The only strategy that I use is I try to keep those cards that can be used to kick other players' cards back to their hands, and only use them when I can best use their powers. I suspect players who get many of such cards will find it easier to win. But since this is a light-hearted game, that's okay.

One interesting thing in the game is the soldier cards and the siege engine cards. There are many soldiers, which can only be placed on walls (4 per each of the 4 walls), and there are I think 6 siege engines, which are placed outside the castle next to the wall, and there can only be one siege engine per wall. Whenever a wall is filled up with soldiers, the siege engine (if any) facing that wall will be defeated. However, whenever there are four siege engines (one at each wall), all the soldiers are defeated. I find this an interesting tension. You can play your soldier cards and our siege engine cards, but must watch out for both situations where they can get defeated.

My favourite card in the game is the Ghost card. The ghost scares away any occupant of any tower and claims the tower for itself. The game designer has a sense of humour.

Castle, halfway through the game.

My favourite card from Castle

I played one again against Han, and then Michelle joined us to play a 3-player game. Michelle won her first game. We keep teaching her how to best use her cards, and forgot to hinder her before it is too late.

We also played Taluva. This was my second time playing. First time with three players though. It does have a slightly different feeling with three players. I do prefer it with two players. With more than two, there are more opponents to be careful of. I also find that because it is an open-information game, trailing players will discuss and coordinate to hinder the leading player. This can make it less fun for the leading player, because of the feeling of being ganged up upon. So, I think I prefer to play this with two, slightly over more than two. Michelle feels the other way round. She doesn't want to play this with just two because she thinks there is too much confrontation.

Michelle and Han pondering over Taluva.

Six games (well, 5.5 actually) in one morning. That's not bad.

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