Thursday, 13 December 2007

Nightmare Before Christmas TCG, Neuroshima Hex

Two other games which I played for the first time on 30 Nov 2007, in addition to Hannibal: Rome vs Carthage, are Nightmare Before Christmas TCG (trading card game) and Neuroshima Hex.

Nightmare Before Christmas TCG is a Nightmare Before Christmas-themed card game. I do not know the movie well, so I can't relate to it much. The game is played over 12 rounds, and at the end of the game your score based on the character cards and treasure cards (I think) that you have played. There are generally 3 types of cards - location cards, character cards and treasure cards. The currency in the game is interesting - pumpkins. But you are not given toy pumpkins. You are given a card with pumpkins on them and you hide / reveal the pumpkins with another card to indicate how many you have. Han and I just used poker chips instead.

So, you have locations, which are revealed one per turn for the first six turns, and can be added to your Halloweentown (i.e. your row of location cards) in any way you like (either to the left or to the right). Locations have special powers which you can use, if you have enough characters with enough values (I mean the numbers on the character cards and not family values or anything like that) at the location you want to use. You can use the power of only one location at the start of your turn. Then you have characters. You play character cards to locations by paying pumpkins. Characters usually have special powers too. Lastly, you also have treasure cards, which you play to score points and also to make use of their special powers. With so many special powers for the various types of cards, there is quite a lot of text to read through, especially when you are still learning the game and are not familiar with the cards yet.

The row of cards in the middle are the locations. Those below are the characters, and those above are the treasures.

The basic things that you can do are: draw cards, gain pumpkins (which you must use within your current turn, or they are thrown away), move your characters, and play cards (introducing characters or treasures). You pay pumpkins to play cards. The powers of the locations are mostly related to these actions, e.g. letting you collect a certain number of pumpkins, or make a certain number of moves. Since you score based on the values of the character and treasure cards that you play, this game is a lot about making the most out of your resources. You try to make use of the special powers of your locations, character cards and treasures, to let you "make more with less". E.g. with the deck that I am playing, there are three characters called Lock, Shock and Barrel. If I can get all three of them played at the same location, when I move Shock, the other two can move with her for free. This saves me some move actions. There are also treasures which you can play at a discount, if you fulfill another condition. So, this game is a lot about knowing your deck well and making good use of the characteristics of your deck.

Oh, and there are different decks of cards. Each deck contains different locations, characters and treasures. So each deck has different characteristics.

One thing that I find is the game feels a little solitaire. The player interaction is limited and it feels like you are mostly trying to optimise your own moves. At the start of every turn, the start player can choose a common action that everyone can take - drawing cards, moving characters or collecting pumpkins, at the cost of one card. The player who fulfills a certain criteria can take the action for free, e.g. a player who has the most character cards in play, or the least number of cards. So, naturally if you are the start player, you will prefer to choose the action which you can do for free, or if not, at least an action that your opponent cannot do for free. But it seems this is the main way of player interaction.

In our game, Han went through his deck of cards very quickly, taking the opportunity to draw cards as much as possible. He developed his Halloweentown more efficiently. I struggled with reading the text and formulating a strategy. By the time I kind of had a feel for it, I was quite behind in terms of going through my deck, and at the second half of the game, I was getting repeat cards, i.e. cards I had already played, which I could not play again. I did not manage to make use of many of the card powers which are dependent on other cards, and lost the game decisively. But I was happy that I got Lock, Shock and Barrel out together, so that when I moved Shock, I could conveniently move Lock and Barrel with her. That was a mini achievement for me. It was handly to move them to another location, so that I could use the power of that location in the next round.

The three good friends (I assume), Lock, Shock and Barrel.

Neuroshima Hex is a science fiction themed game set in an apocalyptic future (I think). However, it is actually quite an abstract game at the same time. It can be played by 2 to 4 players. Han and I played two two-player games, using different factions in the game.

You get a board with a play area in the middle made up of 19 hexes. You get a set of tiles representing the faction you are playing. You have an HQ, you have your soldiers, your modules (which enhance the abilities of your soldiers), and you also have some special action tiles in the mix. The objective of the game is to destroy, or damage as much as possible, your opponent's HQ. At the start of the game, you and your opponent place your HQ on the board. Every turn, you draw 3 tiles randomly, and must play two of them. You can play soldiers and modules onto the board, or you can play special action tiles, e.g. some allow you to move a tile, some allow you to trigger a battle, some allow you to throw a grenade to kill a soldier/module and all those next to him/it. Soldiers have different abilities, e.g. shoot (from long range), hand-to-hand fighting, block bullets, neutralise an enemy etc. They also have a number to indicate the order of battle resolution. Soldiers with number 3 (symbolising speed, I guess) attack first, before soldiers with number 2 (and eventually 1) can do so. So, for most of the game, you are playing tiles and setting up for the next battle. Battles occur when a battle tile is played, or when the board fills up. When this happens, you resolve the attacks step by step, with the number 3 characters first, then 2, 1 and finally 0 (the HQ's are 0 and they attack enemies in adjacent spaces).

The green and red factions. Sorry I don't remember their names. The tile at the top is the red HQ, and the one near the bottom right is my green HQ. On the soldier tiles, the longish triangles mean ranged attack, and the short triangles are melee attack. Some attack in multiple directions, some cause double damage (double triangles), some attack twice (e.g. with both speed 2 & 1). Some have double health (the plus sign), i.e. need to be hit twice before being killed. The red tile with a circle just below the red HQ is a module. This module is giving the three adjacent soldiers an additional ranged attack.

Yellow and blue factions. The two HQ's are next to each other!

The game has a lot of calculations, not as in mathematics, but as in "if I place this soldier here, then when a battle occurs he will kill that soldier, but will in turn be killed by this other soldier, and then this space will be vacant and that enemy soldier in that far corner will be able to shoot at my HQ". So there is quite a bit to study, like a logic puzzle. However, at the same time, your choices are limited by the 3 tiles that you draw. So you just try to do the best that you can with whichever two of the tiles that you (must) choose to play. To some extent, you are dependent on luck in drawing the right tiles in a timely manner. If you are always unlucky with your tile draws and keep drawing the wrong tiles at the wrong times, then it will be hard for you. However, everyone has a finite set of tiles (like in Samurai), which will usually be used up or almost used up. So, weak tiles now mean stronger tiles later. This mitigates the luck factor somewhat.

The factions are colourful (not literally). Each faction has its own strengths and weaknesses, and its own characteristics, which matches the back story well. Each faction will need to be played differently to be effective. In this, the design is done well to match with the theme.

I lost both games. In both games neither HQ were destroyed (reduced from 20 health points to zero), but mine was damaged more severely. In the second game I had a good start, drawing many good soldiers early on. However the balancing factor came into play, as in the second half of the game I did not have many good soldiers to draw anymore, and the tide turned. So Han came back from behind to win the second game. This is one game where I should not always insist on playing green, because green is but one of the four factions, and since each faction is unique, one should try them all.

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