Thursday 30 September 2010

boardgame collection Sep 2010

Once in a while I take photos of my game collection, capturing a snapshot of how my collection has grown. I enjoy comparing the snapshots of different periods. It is like watching history unfold.

Overview. This photo covers 95% of my collection.

These are some games not in the overview shot. They are here on a lower shelf of another bookshelf, so that my children (5 and 3) can reach them. Most of these are games they can play. Some are games they can play with, e.g. DVONN, hidden beneath Blokus.

Han keeps some games at my place, since he usually comes here to play anyway, and he'd be playing these games with me anyway, e.g. Dungeon Lords, Warriors of God.

The tall boxes and the long boxes.

Some of the Axis & Allies games.

9 Blue Moon expansion decks are in that red box.

The one at the top is (roughly) my hot shelf, i.e. games that I'm currently most keen to play. At the bottom is Axis & Allies Pacific 1940, a recent purchase that I'm very keen to bring to the table again. Please pretend you didn't see the toilet paper next to it.

There are quite a few expansion boxes that I have hidden away, because I usually try to put the content of expansions into the box of the base game, e.g. Carcassonne, Lord of the Rings, Galaxy Trucker. In the case of Keltis, I put the content of base game and expansion into the expansion box.

Wednesday 29 September 2010

boardgaming in photos

9 Sep 2010. Old Town Kopitiam, Cheras. Han and I played Taluva while waiting for the other players to be ready to start playing. Taluva is a game that I like a lot, but unfortunately I can't find anyone with the same level of enthusiasm. Maybe it's too much an abstract game.

11 Sep 2010. Han and I visited Allen's home for the first time. Samurai was one of the games we played. This game looks good.

My tiles.

Nearing game end.

12 Sep 2010. My starting farm in Agricola with Farmers of the Moor expansion. I literally lived in the forest. My two room hovel was surrounded by forests.

Halfway through the game. I had used the Slash-and-burn action to convert two forest tiles at the bottom to fields. I had expanded my house quickly, because I had the Wet Nurse Occupation (pay 1 food for a child whenever you have a vacant room).

End of the game. I had a nice big stone house, but unfortunately I didn't plan for heating properly, and 3 of my people fell sick. That's bad. They earned 1VP as opposed to 3VPs, i.e. 6VPs lost. I had one unusual Minor Improvement (see extra card at the bottom right). It was basically two extra spaces to my farmyard. I lost the game to Michelle by a 7VPs, i.e. even if my people hadn't fallen sick, I would still have lost.

My Occupations, Minor Improvement and Major Improvements.

Tuesday 28 September 2010

Stone Age

The Game

I have never had much urge to try Stone Age, despite it being one of the more popular games released in the past few years. It's a medium complexity worker placement game, and I have played quite many worker placement games. Another one of higher complexity may interest me, but not one of medium complexity. When I visited Hong Kong, my friend Ben had this game (which he had not played and had not read the rules for), so I decided this was a good game to introduce him to worker placement games.

In Stone Age, everyone starts with a tribe of 5 people and some food. In every round there are three phases - placing your people, executing their actions, and feeding them. In placing people, the players take turns to choose one location on the board to place his people. The number of people placed can vary. They do this until everyone runs out of idle people. Then the players execute the actions of their people according to where they have been placed, and finally the people need to be fed, 1 food per person.

On the board there are spaces to collect food and various resources. Depending on how many people you have placed, you roll a certain number of dice, and then divide the result by a certain factor. E.g. if you are trying to collect wood, divide by 3. If gold, divide by 6. You always round down. So it is much harder to collect gold than wood. Other than collecting stuff, you can also:

  • Have a baby - Place two workers at the love shack and gain a new worker from the next round onwards. You can have at most 10 workers.
  • Build a farm - Every farm that you own reduces the need for hunted food by one during the feeding phase. Max 10 farms.
  • Gain a tool - Tools help to boost the results of your die rolls, helping you to collect more resources (or food).
  • Claim a hut - Huts are how you score points during the game (as opposed to scoring at game end). Each hut specifies the combination of resources required to claim it, and also the victory points awarded. Some huts need specific resources, e.g. 1 wood, 1 brick, 1 stone. Some huts have looser requirements, e.g. 5 resources of any 2 types, or up to 7 resources of any type. The victory points rewarded correspond to the value of the resources, i.e. wood 3pts, brick 4pts, stone 5pts, gold 6pts. There are 4 stacks of huts and the top hut is available until claimed by a player.
  • Claim a card - You need to pay resources for cards. There are always four cards available every round, just like the huts. Cards have many variations. Generally they give a one-time bonus and also give bonus scores at game end. The one time bonuses can be food, resources, tools, farms etc. The end game bonus scores can be for the number of farms you have, number of workers, number of huts, number of different special civilisation icons.

The gameboard, from the east angle. The top half of the board are the locations for resources - hunting ground for food (the round chips), forest for wood, clay pit for bricks, quarry for stone (they look blue but they are actually grey) and river for gold. At the centre and left of the board are the farming spot (occupied by a blue worker), the baby-making spot (occupied by 2 blue lovers), and the toolmaker spot (occupied by a red worker). At the bottom are the spots for huts and cards. On the left, just inside of the score track, is the farm level track. Green has progressed to Level 1, but the rest are still at zero.

So in summary, babies and tools help you gain more resources, farms help reduce the "maintenance cost" of your tribe, and huts and cards are how you score points. The cards reward you for being strong in specific aspects. E.g. cards with builders score points based on number of builders multiplied by the number of huts you have. So if you have many builders and many huts, you will score a lot. Cards with civilisation symbols score based on the number of different civilisation icons squared. So the more you have the better. You are rewarded for specialisation. During the game you can easily see what your opponents want, and you need to decide between helping yourself and denying them.

The player board. You keep your people and resources here. On the left are 3 spots for you to keep your tools. At the bottom are spots for your huts. They are not a hard limit. You can stack your huts if you get more than five. At the centre the value of the resources are listed. The table on the right is a reference for end-game scoring.

The game ends when either one of the stacks of huts runs out, or the card deck runs out. So the players have some control over it. If you want to game to end sooner, try to claim more cards or claim the last few huts from the smallest stack.

The Play

In the two games that I played with Chung, Ben and Moh Yen, the hottest spots were usually the farm spot, the baby spot (love shack) and the tool spot, roughly in that order. These are the things that improve your infrastructure. Sometimes the card spots were competed fiercely, when the right cards came up. The game could be played quite quickly, because many actions could be taken simultaneously by the players, without strictly following the procedure as described in the rules.

Red and blue in a gold rush.

In the first game that we played I won by a big margin, because it was the first time for everyone else in playing worker placement games. I had a lot of civilisation icons which gave me a lot of points. Also during the game there were a few times when I made use of the "up to 7 resources" huts to sell a lot of gold bars, and noone stopped me. In the second game the scores were closer. Chung focused on a hut + builder strategy and gained 72pts for that. He also had a high in-game score, i.e. he sold a lot of resources during the game. Ben did well in two end-game scoring categories, but his in-game scoring was poor. I took quite many cards and did moderately well in four end-game scoring categories. By quantity, as opposed to quality, I managed to overtake Chung to win the game.

The Thoughts

I liked Stone Age more than I had expected to. The game is smooth and easy to teach. It is a very good game to introduce non-gamers or casual gamers to worker placement games, or even the modern Eurogames or the boardgame hobby as a whole. There is strategy and competition, so this is by no means a too simple game for veteran gamers. The worker placement mechanism creates a lot of competition among the players. You need to watch what your opponents want. The dice can spoil your plan sometimes, but you roll dice so much that luck evens out somewhat. Also you do have the tools to help mitigate the risk of bad die rolls.

Monday 27 September 2010


The Game

Dixit. Spiel des Jahres winner of 2010 (Game of the Year award in Germany). It's something very different from past winners. It's a party game, a social game. When I made a rule summary for the game, there was so much space left on the half page space that I normally use for rule summaries, that I had to enlarge the font to make it look less empty. So the game is one with very simple rules, but the actual playing turns out to be not that straight-forward, and there is a lot of freedom for the players to use their creativity.

Here's how the game works. Everyone gets 6 cards. Every card in the game is a unique drawing, often with a few different elements. Every round one player takes the role of the Storyteller. He picks one card from his hand secretly and says a word, a phrase, a sentence, or even tells a whole story. Every other player then picks a card from their hands to give to the Storyteller. The Storytellers shuffles all cards and then reveal them. Now all other players try to guess the Storyteller's card.

If everyone guesses right, or everyone guesses wrong, the Storyteller gains no points and everyone else gains 2pts. If some guesses right and some not, then the Storyteller and the correct guessers gain 3pts. Non-Storyteller players whose cards are chosen gain 1pt. So the Storyteller wants to make his riddle not too easy and not too difficult. The other players want to guess the correct card, and also wants to pick a card from their hand that others will guess. This can sometimes make it quite a challenge to guess the right card, when all the card revealed seem to match the clue given by the Storyteller.

The box is nice and is used as a score track.

I love the artwork. The artist is a very pretty French lady.

The Play

I played a four-player game with Ben, Chung and Moh Yen. It was the first time for all of us. We didn't do any fancy stories, and mostly did single words, or phrases, or names. Chung was pretty good at making the right guesses, and took the lead throughout the game. I think he read us very well. Some interesting situations came up, e.g. when Chung picked the name of a colleague whom only Ben and Moh Yen knew. I had no idea who Greg was or what he was well known for. I could only randomly pick a card from my hand. When all cards were revealed, 3 out of 4 had musical notes or musical elements. Obviously Greg was a musician or composer. They could easily tell which was the card I contributed. But I almost made the right guess too. In another situation the clue was the name of the Hong Kong governor. They all live in Hong Kong and know about the local politics, but I had no idea about this guy. However in that round I actually made the right guess, whereas not all the rest did. I picked the card with an anchor icon, because that meant port, and Hong Kong being an important port, its governor probably was involved in some controversial policy related to the port. It turned out that this wasn't the reason, so although I had a solid reasoning, it was luck that won me the 3pts, not reasoning.

There were a few rounds in which one card matched the clue very very closely. It matched so well that it felt overly obvious. The Storyteller should not have made the clue so obvious. But then maybe that was intentional, sowing doubt in the other players, thus making some of them boldly make the right guess and some conservatively make the wrong guess. There was a bit of psychology in there.

Often when a round concluded it was fun to ask the Storyteller how the clue related to the card selected. It was also fun to ask the wrong guesser (or even the correct ones) why they picked those specific wrong (or right) cards.

The Thoughts

Dixit is a game that is easy to teach, and can be played with casual players. I think it is better with more players, at least 5. It gives a lot of freedom to the players to create their own fun. The clues can be silly, humourous or completely crazy. They can also draw from the group's past experiences or shared in-jokes. If you want to, there's nothing stopping you from making your clue a poem, a song, or even a scene acted out.

It is possible to make use of knowledge that only some players have as your strategy, but I feel it is not good because the players who do not share the knowledge will feel left out. I was a victim of this strategy in the game we played. I prefer the clues to be based on something that everyone has an equal chance of guessing. E.g. some abstract concept that everyone can try to associate with the particular drawing.

Calling Dixit a party game may be a little unfair, because sometimes people tend to think of party games as quite mindless and chaotic. Dixit requires a bit of thought in coming up with an interesting clue. If played mindlessly it would not be much fun. It would defeat the whole purpose.

Sunday 26 September 2010

boardgame marathon in Hong Kong

I recently visited Hong Kong on holiday. The main agenda was Disneyland, for the children, but I also planned to catch up with some old friends. My old friends - Chung and Ben - are not regular gamers, but Ben had bought a bunch of games from China on a business trip, and never sat down to read the rules or play them. So while I was there, we had a gaming marathon, going through many of his games.

Over the course of four days, we had a total of 33 plays (mostly on the weekend) of 10 different games. We played: Carcassonne x1, Dixit x1, Stone Age x2, Cash-a-Catch x3, Pandemic x13, Battle Line x3, Pick Picknic x4, Lost Cities: the Boardgame x2 (but I taught them the Keltis rules), Agricola x1, Lost Cities x3.

Dixit box, which is also used as a score track. This version uses discs instead of wooden rabbits as scoring markers. I think I would prefer the rabbits. I kept forgetting which disc was mine.

Some of the cards from Dixit.

Since Chung and Ben (and Moh Yen who also joined us for some of the games) are not gamers, most of the games that we played were light to medium-complexity games. I normally like heavier Eurogames, but I found that I had a lot of fun anyway, because of the company. It amazed me a little. I had thought I was a more game-centric person than a company-centric person, i.e. the games being played were more important that the people I played with in determining how much I enjoyed myself. I had a fantastic time playing with my old friends. We made a lot of silly jokes, just like the old days. It was like going back in time to when we were still students. We had a lot of fun.

I realised that from all the games played, only 2 were completely new to me - Dixit and Stone Age. I had thought I would have played more new games. There were some games that Ben had thought about bringing but eventually did not, e.g. Pack & Stack (which I have not played before). I'm pretty sure Chung's favourite was Pandemic. He kept asking to try it again and again. We started at easy level and eventually made it to hard level, and winning too. However so far the hard level wins had been with 2 players (easier to win than with more players), and had been with the more powerful combination of roles - Medic + Dispatcher and Researcher + Scientist. Next time we need to try with 3 players, and with other combinations. Maybe even add the expansion On the Brink.

I realised why Stone Age is so popular. It's good for casual players. It is relatively easy to learn, compared to other worker placement games. It clicks quite quickly. We played it twice, and even in the first game they were starting to strategise and explore the various possibilities. So Stone Age is a good gateway game, in that it is not too difficult to learn, and at the same time it is interesting enough to make the new players want to explore it.

Stone Age.

Personal player board of Stone Age.

The gold mine was fully occupied.

Throwing three 1's in Stone Age is very very very bad. I thought it was Ben who had this, but he said it wasn't him. I don't think it was me. Must be Chung then.

We did Agricola too, which they both found a bit complex. Good thing I only taught them the family game with no Minor Improvements and no Occupations. While I was explaining the rules, I found that they were approaching the verge of giving up. So I suggested to just get started and play a few rounds, and see whether they liked it. If they didn't we could stop. If they wanted to restart we could do that too. Eventually the whole game went by with no objections or pauses. I think they were probably a little surprised that although I won, it wasn't by any big margin. They probably still felt the game was a little complex. I doubt they'll play this again by themselves, at least not without a few more times of guided plays.

Ghost Stories was a game that we gave up on. Ben was keen to play it because of the theme. However after I had explained 80% of the rules, they felt it was too much, and we decided to give up. The time being 1:30am didn't help either. We had expected to be playing until much later than that, maybe not throughout the night, but probably until 4am or so. However after teaching 80% of Ghost Stories, we all felt sleepy, and decided to call it a night. Ben and I had two short games of Battle Line before bedtime. I think it was a good thing that we didn't try to push ahead with Ghost Stories. I think we would not have enjoyed ourselves.

Battle Line. We didn't play with the special cards, because I didn't know the rules for those.

Cash-a-Catch was a lot of fun. We got so excited that many times someone bought a batch of fish that he (or she!) didn't need at all. Needless to say, laughter ensued. And somehow Ben managed to end up with less money than when he started the game! We all teased him that he sucked at selling fish. Better stick to your day job Ben. Pick Picknic was hilarious too. Lots of cheers when a fox caught many chickens, or a single chicken unexpectedly managed to claim a huge pile of corn. Chung (I think it was him) invented a Cantonese term for the fast fowl (value -2) which I thought was very appropriate: "走鸡". Literal translation is "the chicken than ran away", and in Cantonese this phrase usually means to miss an opportunity.

Ben, me, Chung and Moh Yen playing Cash-a-Catch.

We had to make a rule that all hands must be off the table when the auction started, so that noone had any unfair advantage in reaching for the bell.

Pick Picknic.

Another game we thought about playing but didn't was Race for the Galaxy. I was reluctant to teach this, as I thought they might find it overwhelming. However Ben was interested, so we took the game out. However when sorting out the cards, we found that there were some cards missing. We couldn't complete the recommended starting hands. Probably a defective deck. So we put the game away.

We had one game of Lost Cities between Chung and I when both of us scored negative points! Sometimes we get rather competitive. Our second game of Stone Age was pretty tense too. It was a 3 player game - Ben, Chung and I. By our second game we all had some idea what to do, so the competition was more intense. After that tense game we decided we needed to switch to a cooperative game (Pandemic).

Cards from Lost Cities: the Boardgame.

Lost Cities: the Boardgame. They liked this enough that we played twice. I prefer the Keltis artwork and rules.

Pandemic. Asia is in trouble. These are not high-rise buildings. These are diseases.

I had a wonderful time playing with my old friends. Some people may question: you flew all the way to Hong Kong and spent a weekend playing boardgames?! I say quality time spent with friends is not measured by what you do, but how much fun you had.

Thursday 23 September 2010


The Game

Wizard is one of the games that I helped with English-to-Malay rules translation, but I had never played the game when I did the translation. I didn't even own the game. Only recently I receive a copy. So I decided I needed to get it played at least once, simply because my name is in there, right at the end of the Malay rulebook.

Wizard is a trick-taking card game, like Bridge. The term "trick" means each player plays one card, and one of them will win and claim this set of cards. This set of cards is called a "trick". There are four suits in Wizard, each numbered 1 to 13. There are also 4 wizard cards and 4 jester cards. The game is played over a number of rounds, depending on the number of players. In the first round, only 1 card is dealt to each player. On the second round, 2 cards, etc. The twist to the game is after looking at their cards and before starting the round, each player must predict how many tricks he will win in the current round. A player scores points if his prediction is correct, and loses points if it's wrong, regardless of whether he has overestimated or underestimated the number of tricks won.

Similar to Bridge, there is a "trump" concept. Every round one of the suits will be randomly assigned to be the trump suit. Cards in the trump suit will always beat cards in other suits. When two cards are both in the trump suit, then the higher numbered card wins. The wizard and jester cards spice things up a little. Wizard cards beat all cards. If two players play wizard cards in the same round, the player who plays it earlier wins the trick. Jester cards are the opposite of wizard cards. They are weaker than all other cards.

Some of the cards in the game. The blue suit is humans, yellow giants, green elves. The 4th suit is dwarves. The icons are supposed to be the weapons they use I think, swords for the humans, clubs for the giants, bows for the elves, and axes for the dwarves.

That's basically the game. You try to be accurate in your prediction. But there is incentive to predict higher, because when your prediction is correct, aside from a fixed 20pts, you also earn 10pts per trick won. The penalty for an incorrect prediction is -10pts per trick less than or more than the prediction. When you play, other than trying to make your own prediction come true, you also try to deny your opponents correct predictions, e.g. forcing them to win one trick too many.

The Play

Despite being the rules translator, I taught the game quite poorly and kept getting teased by Han and Allen. The rules are actually quite straight-forward, but there are a few special cases that I forgot about. We played the first few rounds wrong. Thankfully the stakes were much lower in those early rounds, so I think it didn't hurt our game too much.

We had 4 players, which meant 15 rounds. The game probably took us 45 minutes. The game becomes more and more strategic towards the later rounds, because more and more cards will be in play, and there is less uncertainty about whether certains cards are in the game or not. I realise a lot of fun in the game is in trying to make others predict wrong. If you can be the only player to predict right in a round, it is a big boost because you are the only one advancing and all the rest will be penalised.

By looking at the predictions made by other players, you can roughly guess how they will play and what kind of cards they have. Also as a round progresses, and your opponents start winning tricks, you can also guess how they will play based on how close they are to their predicted number of tricks.

In our game, Han did quite well and stayed in front most of the game, while Allen and I were mostly slightly behind, Allen close to him than I most of the time. Yee Ling was not so fortunate with her predictions and struggled quite far behind. I was score keeper and kept announcing the scores after each round. At one point Yee Ling even asked not to have her score announced. At game end, Han won at 45pts. I had 40pts and Allen 36pts. And we all cheered for Yee Ling because she made it to two digits. I shall not say the exact score, but it's the minimum requirement for meeting the two digits criteria.

The Thoughts

Wizard is a clever card game. It is quite a traditional style card game. Nothing very fancy. Forget about theme. Having some artwork is nice, but don't expect the game to tell any story. The game can feel a little long if you play by the exact rules. I wonder whether it will be better to start in round 4 or 5 (i.e. each player gets 4 or 5 cards), especially when you have fewer players.

One variant of the game is that the predictions made by the players must not add up to the current round number. E.g. in Round 8, the players cannot be predicting to win 2, 1, 3, 2 tricks. If the first three players have already predicted 2, 1 and 3, the last player must predict a number other than 2. This ensures that it is impossible for every player to achieve his goal. Someone will get screwed. I think next time I should play with this variant.

The excitement in the game is it can be a very big swing when your prediction is off by only one. E.g. you predict 6 tricks won. If you get it right, you gain 20pts + (10pts x 6) = 80pts. But if you "accidentally" win a 7th trick, your score becomes (-10pt x 1) = -10pts. That's a 90pt difference!

I like Wizard well enough, but there is one other similar card game I'll always choose to play over it - Sticheln, simply because the penalty in Sticheln can be much worse than in Wizard. I find the penalty system hilarious, even when I'm the victim.

Wednesday 22 September 2010


The Game

Grimoire is a Japanese card game that Han bought on his recent business trip to Taiwan. Components are bi-lingual. We played it for the first time when we visited Allen. This was the first time we did a game session at Allen's place. It's very near my home, so it's convenient.

Grimoire means spellbook in French. Everyone starts the game with a spellbook and a bookmark. Every round you use the bookmark to select a spell you want to cast that round. At the start of every round a number of cards are dealt to the centre of the table, all but one face-up. Players will take turns picking up a card. Turn order is determined by the spells cast. Smaller numbered spells are usually weaker, but they let you go earlier. However if two or more players pick the same numbered spell, they will all go after all other players who have picked unique spells.

The spells let you do various things, e.g. collect victory point (VP) chips, rob another player's VP chips, rob another player's character card, protect yourself from attacks, buy an item card, meddle with turn order. The cards collected every round consist of two types - characters and treasures. Characters are played face-up in your area and provide various benefits, some related to scoring, e.g. collecting 1VP if you are last in turn order. Most are also worth VPs themselves. If anyone collects 10 characters, the game ends. Treasure cards are basically copper (1VP), silver (2VP) or gold (3VP) coins. They are kept face-down in a stack in front of you. Similarly the game ends when one player has 10 treasure cards. Most item cards provide some benefit, but there are some junk item cards. However the player with the most junk item cards at game end scores 5VP, so they can turn out to be valuable.

My spellbook and bookmark. The spellbook is bilingual. The left page is Japanese and the right page English. This is the number 1 spell.

The Spy card allows you to peek at the face-down card at the centre of the table. Every round there will be a number of cards placed at the centre of table to be claimed by the players. One of them is always face-down. Spy gives 1 victory point (number on lower left).

So there are three main ways of gaining VPs - treasures, characters and their powers, and VP chips. The tools you have at your disposal are your spells, your characters, and your items. Which kinds of tools to use, and how you want to score, will determine and restrict your strategy. E.g. I had a high valued character card, but it penalises me for having VP chips. So I wanted to avoid collecting VP chips. One of the character cards rewards having sets of copper + silver + gold, so if you have it, it'll affect your decision when selecting cards.

There is a bit of a story arc to the game. At game start, less than half of the spells in the spellbook are available to be chosen. With each subsequent round, one more (usually more powerful) spell becomes available.

The Play

We did a four player game - Allen, Yee Ling, Han and I. Up front I decided to go for a character-heavy approach. I had the Prince character which rewarded having many characters. I also had the Rogue card, a 6VP card, which penalised me for every VP chip earned, so I tried to not get any. However, I somehow got myself the Mercenary card, which gave me one VP chip every time I selected the same spell as another player; and I kept earning VP chips because of him! Since I had many characters, I was quite worried about attacks against my characters, so I kept choosing defensive spells.

Allen went for items most frequently. Han mostly went for VP chips. Yee Ling mostly went for treasure cards. At game end, I managed to achieve my goal of reaching 10 characters. The VP chips I earned caused my two Rogues (there are 3 copies of each character card) to be worth 0VP. Thankfully I had the King character card, which awarded 5VP per 5VP worth of VP chips. I had 10VP of VP chips, which meant a bonus of 10VPs! Unfortunately that was not enough to beat Han's score. He had 41VP, I had 40VP. Allen and Yee Ling both had 37VP.

My play area at mid game. I have collected 6 characters. Characters are always displayed face-up in front of you. Treasure cards are stacked face-down so that other players cannot see what they are or count how many there are. I have turned one of the Gold treasure cards (3VP) face-up for this photo. The white round discs are victory point chips. So here are the 3 main forms of victory points - characters, treasures and VP chips.

Thief and King. King is very powerful if you are going with a VP chip strategy. He gives 5 bonus VPs for every 5 VPs you have in VP chips. The artwork of the game is quite good and very Japanese manga style. However the box cover is surprisingly bad. I wonder what they were thinking.

The Thoughts

It's a double-think game. You are trying to guess what spells other players will choose, and hoping they don't foil your plans. You try to build a consistent set of characters and items that will help you score well. By reading other players' play areas you can try to guess their strategy and the likely spells they will pick. Do you want to play offensively or defensively? Will someone be trying to attack you this round?

The game feels polished. The various aspects are well integrated. I feel that every decision made impacts how I do later in the game. You interact with other players via the offensive and defensive spells, and also in the manipulation of turn order. It is important to watch what your opponents are doing.

My only problem with the game is it doesn't have a hook for me. Nothing really grabs me. I don't see anything wrong with the game. There is strategy. There is interaction. There are meaningful decisions. There are card combos. The spellbook is a novel idea, and it does work well. Much better than having to manage a hand of action cards. Maybe I am turned off by the offensive spells. I may be too conservative. During the game, when I found myself in a vulnerable position, I tended to play solely the defensive spells to avoid getting attacked. This approach took away a lot of the fun in the spell selection part of the game. So, maybe I'm the problem, not the game.

Sunday 12 September 2010

Nuns on the Run

The Game

Nuns on the Run is another game played with the Old Town Kopitiam gamers. This is a game for 2 to 8 players. Most players will play novice nuns, and one or two players will play the abbess and the prioress. Let's just call them novices and nuns. It is evening at the abbey. The novices are supposed to be in their rooms. But each of them has a secret wish. To fulfill her secret wish, a novice needs to first locate a key, then proceed to a secret location, and finally make it back to her room safely, all without getting caught by the nuns. Whoever manages to do that first wins. If time runs out before any of the novices can complete her mission, the nuns win. If the nuns manage to catch the novices a certain number of times, they win instantly.

There are only 15 rounds in the game. Every round the novices move first by selecting one of four movement cards. They can run, or walk, or sneak, or even stay still. Once done moving, a novice rolls a die to determine how much noise she makes, and checks whether it is heard by the nuns. The only way to reduce your noise is by moving slower. However even if you stay still, it is still possible for you to make some noise and draw attention to you (no farting jokes please). This is a hidden movement game. Each novice uses a movement sheet to note down her location. The two nuns are always on the board, so the novices will always know where they are. If the noise made by a novice when moving can be heard by a nun, the novice must indicate the direction of the noise on the board. A level 6 noise can be heard up to 6 steps away, a level 5 noise can be heard up to 5 steps away, etc.

The novice I played, Margaret, and the four possible movement cards I could choose from.

My blessing card and secret wish card, both randomly drawn at game start. The blessing card was a one-time-use special ability card. The secret wish card was basically my secret mission. It specified two locations I need to visit in order to fulfill my mission.

The prioress and the abbess. The abbess looks like a man. Like a weight-lifter. Look at those huge hands.

When the novices move, they also need to check whether they can be seen by the nuns. If they enter the line-of-sight (ooh... wargame term in a Eurogame...) of one of the nuns, they must indicate so on the board. When they disappear from the nun's line-of-sight, they must indicate the direction they have moved towards.

The nuns normally have to move along some pre-determined routes on the board. However if they hear or see anything suspiscious, they can leave their normal routes to pursue the novices. The nuns can move faster than the novices (max 6 steps compared to max 5 steps). After a nun moves, she rolls a die to try to listen for any nearby novices. This works the same way as the novices making noises. E.g. rolling a 6 means the nun can hear a novice up to 6 spaces away. Any novices heard this way must indicate the direction of the noise on the board.

The game board. The novices' rooms are on the right side. The coloured lines are the normal routes that the nuns will take when they make their rounds.

That's basically the game. There are quite a number of other small rules, but the basic gameplay is very straight-forward: novices move, novices make noise, nuns move, nuns listen.

The Play

In the game that we played, we had 6 players. Henry read the rules and volunteered to play the two nuns. The other 5 of us played novices. My secret wish was to retrieve a love letter at the garden gate. In the first round, all novices can move twice. I made a mad dash to collect the blue key that was a prerequisite for collecting my love letter. It was precisely 10 steps away from my room, and 10 steps was the max distance with a double movement. Heng was the first to be almost cornered. In the first round when he was still in the novice quarters area he was already heard by the tall nun. His choices were rather limited, but somehow he managed to escape.

I ran a lot, and in one of the earlier rounds was seen by one of the nuns. However I was quite far and she never bothered to come after me. Alvin had a close encounter, being seen and then chased by the short nun. He was rather unlucky with the die rolls and kept being heard. At one nail-biting moment the short nun stopped precisely one step away from him. Nuns run faster than novices, so a one step gap usually means you are in big trouble. In Alvin's case, he was lucky there were quite a number of doors (which block line-of-sight), rooms and corridors nearby, and he managed to run and hide in one of them. Henry had gambled on the wrong turn and missed Alvin. That was really close.

That "Vanishes" token in the foreground was where Alvin was last seen by the short nun. Alvin had just collected the green #4 key at location 107 the previous round.

The short nun had been chasing Alvin, and found him squatting in a corner of the chapel. The novice token is placed on the board when she is in the line-of-sight of a nun.

I mostly stayed quite far from the nuns, and had no problem reaching my destination and collecting the love letter. However, I had to walk through a garden to go back to my room. This was where the short nun had been chasing Alvin. Also this was a very open area and I could be seen easily if any nun was nearby. So I waited for my chance. Eventually the short nun gave up chasing after Alvin, and decided to go back to her regular route. It was time for another mad dash! I sprinted across the garden. I was far enough from the short nun (who was now inside the chapel - out of sight) that she couldn't hear the noise. Then suddenly Heng placed a noise marker near the chapel door leading to the garden! WHAAAT?!! I was standing in wide open space, and this?! The short nun immediately came out to take a look, and caught me, in a manner of speech, with my pants down. Big. Fat. Red. Target.

I had hoped to pull off something like what Alvin did, but after some assessment of my surroundings, I realised I would not be able to trick the nun and escape. So all I could do was to lure her to catch me at a position further away from my other fellow novices. We all had a good laugh over my unexpected capture. When the nun stepped out of the door and caught me in mid-stride crossing the garden, Heng wasn't even in sight at all. He had just stepped inside a doorway and had closed the door behind him. Talk about twist of fate!

I was sent back to my room. I could attempt to achieve my secret goal again, but unfortunately there wasn't enough time. Although I didn't need to get the blue key anymore, to visit the garden gate again and make it back to my room would take too long. Eventually it was Jeff who managed to achieve his secret wish and win the game.

I was cornered by the grumpy-looking nun.

This is the log sheet used by novices. The number is the location. You also record how quickly you move, and the instances when you collect your key, or achieve your secret wish.

Location 110, just before the garden entry, was where my love letter was.

The Thoughts

The game seemed complex at first, when we went through the rules. It was a new game and we had opened it on the spot to learn and play it. Probably not such a good idea. Better to have someone read the rules beforehand, or to have someone who has played before. Some things were a little confusing when going through the rules. However once the game started, I realised it was actually very straight-forward. Every round was quite quick. Being a novice is quite exciting. Being a nun is probably more challenging.

Nuns on the Run is a family game with an unusual setting and gameplay. Some call it a reversed Scotland Yard. I find Scotland Yard to be more heavy on deduction. The detectives discuss openly their options and the possible locations of the fugitive. In Nuns on the Run the novices have no idea where the others are. There's probably a bit more luck, because of the noise die rolls, but it isn't something you can't mitigate. I find the higher uncertainty (when playing a novice) and the risk-taking exciting. The game also has more flavour than Scotland Yard which is simpler. Nuns on the Run is more similar to Pyramid - the single mummy trying to catch the multiple treasure hunters. It has more elements - the noise, the line-of-sight, known paths for the nuns etc.

Some downsides that I can think of - once a novice gets caught, it may become very difficult to achieve her secret wish. Also, it seems the game is quite hard for the nuns. I wonder whether they are the fun-provider for the rest of the players, like how it is in Pyramid. I think the game will be most fun with the max number of players. One good thing is that novices can take their turns simultaneously, so having more players doesn't increase the play time much.

13 Sep 2010. Important correction (thank you Bay for pointing this out): If a novice gets caught, she has to walk towards her cell. However, once out of sight of any nuns, she can already try again to go for her secret wish (or her key if she doesn't even have it yet). In our game, we misunderstood that by placing my novice token back at my room once out of sight I was being teleported there. The novice token is actually meant to represent the last known location of the novice to the nuns, not necessarily the real location. This means I actually still had a chance to win the game, because I wasn't too far from my secret wish location when I got caught. It also means getting caught is not really as big a disaster as I had thought.

If you are in Malaysia, you can order the game here. No, I don't get a commission. Yes, it's a friend's online store. Discount? Why do all Malaysians ask this?