Jan. 12th, 2014

quarrel: (gaming)

There was a slew of new games to be had at the first game night after the gift-getting season.

While another group broke out String Railway, three other players and I tried Love Letter, which I’d heard a lot of good talk about. It’s a quick, simple game: everyone gets dealt a one-card hand from a deck of about sixteen cards. Each card has a number and an effect. On your turn, you draw one card, then play one card (many of which can knock someone out of the game immediately). The last player standing, or the one with the highest-numbered card in hand when the deck runs out, wins.

It’s quick, brutal game — so quick that you can be knocked out before taking a turn, and where you have to win four games before really winning because each individual “game” is more like a hand of poker.

Frankly, I don’t see why the game is praised. It’s extremely luck-dependent. One player was knocked out three rounds in a row by the one card in the deck that auto-kills you if you ever hold it and another high-value card in your hand together. I won, scoring four victories after only five or six total rounds, and I can’t say what I did to deserve it. I even made a statistically poor play on my last hand, but it won me the round.

Unless there’s some über-deep level of triple-reverse psychology involved in deducing what cards other players have, and we were all so green that we missed it, I don’t see the appeal here.

Next we tried Smash Up. Actually, first we tried Seasons, but determined it was too complex for all of us to learn from scratch.

Smash Up is about capturing bases for points. Players form their attack decks by shuffling together two unrelated factional forces, like Pirates and Fairies or Dinosaurs and Magicians. (There is some theming to the factions: Pirates stress movement, Fairies hurt people who hurt Fairy cards, Dinosaurs have strength boosts, Magicians have more card draw, etc.) On your turn, you play one unit card onto a base of your choice, or play one action card and do what it says, or both. Once there’s enough total unit strength on a base, it’s captured and gives varying victory points to the players with the most, second-most, and third-most strength on it. First player to score 15 wins.

Shaterri won, with me at 13 and the other two players at about 9 and 6. A big part of Shaterri’s success came from two Pirate units who can shift to another base after they help capture one instead of getting discarded with it as usual.

The game felt slow. There’s a good deal of analysis paralysis from the fact that every card has a special effect. There are no vanilla units, and even bases have added effects while they’re in play or when they’re captured. Capturing one base feels like it takes ages when their defenses are in the low 20s and most units only have 2-4 strength. Bases do get captured faster when multiple players compete for them, but not that much faster since your opponents don’t just race to pile on their units too — they also play actions that knock your units off. It left me with a feeling that progress is hard to make and isn’t reliable.

On the flip side, I see lots of room to find clever combos between cards, in a Magic booster draft sort of way. That’s the sort of thing that rewards repeat play and skilled players.

I need to play this one more before I form a solid opinion of it.


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