June 16, 2011

Participants: Jon, Gili

I thought that missing a week would bring extra people this week. Instead we get a number I don’t expect unless it’s August (when everyone is on vacation). Actually, Nadine is on vacation.

Guardians of Graxia

Jon 65, Gili 26

A bit of a blowout, as you can see. This was the second play for both of us. Gili won her first game against two other people at Games Day. The one time I played, my opponent and I discovered the numerous rules we were playing incorrectly. So this was my first play with the correct rules.

I think. The rulebook it lacking. Many simple and obvious questions are not clearly answered. For instance, there are four decks of cards, and four cards from each deck are face up in the “draw area” at all times. The game ends when a particular one of these decks (the monster deck) runs out. Does that mean “the deck”, or does it also include the four face up cards from that deck? There’s a spell that lets you draw cards when you play it during combat; can you play it and then play the rest of your spells, or do you have to play all spells at once (and therefore can’t rely on drawing more spells as the result of this card)? How many cards can you buy each turn? Etc.

In a two-player game, when the monster deck consists of an entire 10 cards, this makes a big difference. We played that the deck and all four face up cards had to leave play for the game to end. It seemed too short, otherwise.

In this game I found that an early heavy money strategy worked well. It worked, in fact, rather too well, as you can see from the end scores. If you can buy early high powered cards, not only are you far more powerful, you also have more early victory points (which, unlike Dominion, don’t hurt you). I expect that you could try to attack rich players, who have probably neglected some offense or defense capabilities in order to get their money. But the window of opportunity for doing so is very tight, since, owing to the limited size of the initial deck and the vast amounts of cards you can draw due to early purchases, you can play your high powered cards by turn three or four (like I did).

That’s not the big problem with the game, if all players can do the same thing, more or less, and I expect that some other strategies will show themselves after additional plays.

The problem with the game is its reliance on a “these cards are available for purchase, and each card is replaced by one from the deck” mechanic, a mechanic that has destroyed (or nearly destroyed) countless games. La Citta is an example. Unless you have some ability to pay to cycle away all of the cards on the table in favor of a fresh batch, you eventually end up with the great dead pool of low-powered cards that nobody wants. Therein lies stagnation.

Owing to my early wealth, I pretty much sucked the pool dry by mid-game. Only by sacrificing myself (or by my opponent doing so) was there any possibility of buying new cards, and each of these appeared one by one. We then immediately bought the good ones when they came out, if we were lucky, or left a good one for our opponent if we were unlucky enough to turn it over after we had finished buying our own cards. Ho hum. Please, designers: don’t do this.

I’m thinking of allowing players to cycle one or more cards as an action. In fact, I’m definitely allowing players to do so.

The “bonus”es earned from killing the monsters are additional cards from the dead pool, which wasn’t thrilling. I ended up buying any card with a victory point on it just to keep things cycling. Of course, eventually none of the cards even had victory points on them.

What kept the game interesting was planning attacks against monsters and fellow players (I wouldn’t have attacked Gili, but Gili wanted there to be at least some inter-player combat during the game, so I killed one of her armies). The success of these attacks relies partly on the play and partly on what spells you drew, which keeps it fresh.

The game went down a point in my ratings. However, I would still play it to explore other kinds of strategies; though it’s hard to see how you can complete with early, repeatable cash.

Jambo

Gili 63, Jon 61

I wasn’t a fan of Jambo, nor am I a fan of the other two-player Kosmos games (having played two others). Gili likes the series more than I do. I hadn’t played Jambo in a sufficient amount of time to make me wonder if there was anything I should be missing. Actually, there was. Well, there’s more to the game than there is to Odin’s Raven, in any case.

Again I took a commanding lead, and both of us were pretty sure that I was going to win by a fair amount. We both had three items working for us, and Guardians exactly when we needed to prevent others from destroying them.

I was a bit luckier with some of my draws. I reached 25 quickly, and then (dropping down and up again, of course) went to 30, 40, and finally 46, while Gili was only slowly climbing to 25 and then 30. She had a marketful of goods, though.

Finally, on my turn, Gili had a choice of paying me 2 coins or letting me take two cards. She paid me the two coins, bringing me to 48. I played a card that let me dump my remaining 6 goods for 2 each, bringing me to 60. And I took 1 more coin instead of my final two actions, for a net of 61. Gili still had 30.

Gili top-decked the 6-good card. She cashed it for 18, and then another for 12, tossed her last good for two more (with the same card that I had used), and somehow earned one more on her last action. Net total: 63.

I bowed to her superior play.

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