Apr. 5th, 2014

quarrel: (gaming)

Game one was Seasons, with four players using the basic component set. It's a drafting-based game, though not so purely drafting as 7 Wonders. Players compete to achieve the highest combined value of crystals scored and cards played over the course of three four-season years. They also constantly collect and use elements, which are needed to pay for most cards and which can also be sold for crystals. Seasons affect which elements are available and what their trade-in values are.

The drafting comes in two layers. Layer one is determining your first nine cards at the start of the game. Layer two — which isn't really a full draft — happens every turn, when dice are rolled and each player only gets one. Their various faces provide some combination of elements, crystals, permission to sell elements, increases to your cards-in-play limit, extra card draws, and how fast the game clock advances.

It was rough to pick up on the mechanics cold turkey. When you don't know a game, it is a challenge to have your very first task be "select which cards you will get this game, and decide which you'll receive early, mid-game, and late". (And this was with the simpler, basic cards. There are more complex ones.) Crystal count is public knowledge and it looks like a running score, but it isn't. Too many bonus points come from played cards and those aren't reflected on the crystal track, so there's no way to see who's ahead short of doing a ton of arithmetic in your head. Cards vary greatly in strength but don't seem to vary much in cost. A card like "gain 9 crystals" or "draw X cards, where X is the number of players, and give one to everyone" is simply unimpressive next to "all your cards cost 1 less element to play for the rest of the game". Finally, more than one player had a quibble with element colors. Fire is yellow (for the sun, I suppose?), with red used for air.

On the positive side, I never felt like I didn't understand a rule or didn't have a goal in mind. Icons are clear, the components are solid, and the dice drafting is satisfyingly tense. The game didn't feel overly long, and turns were quick except when players strung out rediculous 4-card combos — which, given that you normally only draw 3 per year, I can understand.

Final scores were 124, 123, 122, and 117, with me in last. I can identify only two strong plays I made: I played one card early that automatically stole one crystal from everyone else each season, and another that let me spend any number of elements to drop everyone else's score by 4 crystals each. (And I didn't capitalize on the latter as much as I should have. Spending any element to hurt everyone else's score by 4 on any turn is better than selling that element to raise my own score, since that's normally worth at most 3, and for only one element type each season, and I can only do it if I draft a die with the sell-back symbol.) Given that other players were dropping big-swing combos every two or three turns for 15 to 30 point gains, I can't say how I ended up scoring so close to them. It truly puzzles me how the other three players all scored virtually identical points when there are so many major swings. Most likely it was simply a freak coincidence. Only further plays will tell.

I was yet again frustrated by my continuing inability to transfer skills from game to game. I seem unable to remember or recognize concepts as simple as "combo a 'play a card for free' effect with a card that has a huge cost and major benefit" until someone plays them against me, regardless of how often I see them or how obvious they are in hindsight.

Game two was another run of Euphoria, this time with the full retinue of six. Nothing much to report here. As I'd planned from last time, I went aggressively for getting in on unlocking markets. They're the cheapest VP in the game, resource-wise, and you suffer penalties if you don't help open them. It got me close to the lead, but other players edged me out in the end by drawing a few more artifacts and sitting in very nice positions to get free extra VP from their followers when the faction tracks invariably maxed out. Final scores were 10, three 9s (including me), a 7, and a 5.

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