July 14, 2015 by Jake
Hail to thee, ousted refugees of fantasy kingdoms! This past weekend my wife Megan and I took the distant, but rewarding drive to the home of our married friends Georgia and Greg. There we feasted on drool inducing pizza topped with feta, spinach, and caramelized onions (although Meg and Greg went for a barbecue chicken and bacon pie) and Megan baked Chocolate Chip Banana cupcakes with Peanut Butter-Honey frosting, pause for dramatic orchestra music. We took a walk around the block, but tried to avoid the heat inside and we got to play some board games.
We all sat down for an Imperial Settlers four player colonizing brouhaha. I had never played the game with more than two players and anticipated discovering the differences brought on by a full table of civilizations. Greg and Georgia had played the game once before so they were a little experienced with it, but the game still scaled to almost forty five minutes multiplied for each player involved. I found the natural flow of the game altered as we raced across the score tracker like track ponies except for my barbarians who spent most of the game behind the pack. When it came to attacking other players I could never be sure which was the tactically sound decision. I usually attacked Greg because his Romans put up a strong presence of cardboard Raze tokens and because it is important to establish male dominance through means other than head butts.. Looking forward I would plan to simply ignore the threat of other players and only raze their villages when I could benefit from their resources, attacking out of revenge or fear seemed unsporting and out of the theme of the game. Despite being behind the whole game in the final round I had amassed over fifteen workers whose efforts brought me about ten points ahead of the second place, though this was due to a very lucky early and end game card draw. The game wasn’t too chaotic with more players and watching our score markers leapfrogging along really seemed to push us to optimize everything closely. A full table did not diminish the game at all which was a big plus for a game that has already grown on Megan and myself.
For his birthday Greg’s wife had gifted him with a new game Arcadia Quest. Greg and I were eager to try this 2 to 4 player game of fantasy heroes. The premise is this; each player manages a guild of three champions trying to compete for the glory of liberating a city invaded by monsters. Each hero has a unique talent and they can equip four pieces of equipment each to customize the team. Every game session involves building a city district map and achieving the most quests before any other player. Rather than work together, each player’s guild considers the enemy teams just as annoying as the orcs and goblins they have been hired to exterminate. Players take turns moving miniatures and using equipment (weapons represented by dice rolls) to achieve these quests. At the end of the game the players can spend gold they earned on the mission for more optimal equipment, making their team more dangerous in the following games. The game has an enchanting story element in that I really felt attached to the progression of each of my characters and was intrigued to find out that certain actions in one mission has thematic reward in later missions. An example was that rescuing a group of messenger eagles in one mission would allow them to deliver valuable information in another that the less helpful guilds might not be granted access to.
The four of us played one game altogether first, then Greg and I played the first two missions in a two player campaign. The differences were not lost on me. In the four player game the board was more chaotic and frenzied with all twelve heroes clogging the board. We laughed and cursed our poor luck and high-fived over statistically uncanny dice results. By the end of the game there was a massive brawl in the center of the District of Hammers, in which Georgia walked out the champion. The two player game was a little more gritty. There were still laughs and jokes, but on certain dice rolls I couldn’t blow a molecule of air through my gritted teeth for fear of knocking Fate off her precarious perch over the table. With half the heroes in the city knocking over monsters like dominoes the board became more dangerous and we had to apply more strategy and guile to achieve dominion. Even though I won both of these duels, Greg walked away from each scrap with a hefty coin purse. I looked across the table fearfully as I watched his weak little mage Maya slowly gain the physique of an arcane siege engine brimming with spells to send my wee heroes darting for cover lest she get them in her sights. The characters almost take on their own personality and reputation as the number of games played increases. One old wizard Hobsbawm developed a track record for blowing up monsters with wild abandon before being brutally hacked apart himself in kamikaze fashion.
This game was fun in both versions. The miniatures were adorable, yet fierce and the artwork on the map tiles was exquisite. I could see little unmade beds, playing cards on tables, and chapels with intricate mosaic tile-work. The setup was a tad long, but with two nerdy fellows working in tandem to assemble each mission map it was almost like a fun jigsaw. The luck-factor did not overshadow the strategy completely, I envision more experienced heroes having less fear from poor rolls every time. The rules weren’t too difficult for Megan to grasp as a person who hasn’t been exposed to a large catalog of strategy miniature games. There was a bit of optional paper work after each game to set up the campaign, but it wasn’t complex and most gamers with roots in D&D and other pen and paper role playing games will jump at the chance to fill in campaign sheets and optimize their cards. My favorite part was buying equipment after each game and trying to engineer an optimal squad of commandos for the next mission. I also really reveled in building the game board, which was supposed to be a drawback compared to actually playing. Putting the game away was much worse, but that is to be expected in any game of this caliber. I really liked the game and eagerly look forward to the chance to progress the story Greg and I started.
What are some games that you have noticed changed dynamically with different player counts. Are there some games you only prefer as one on one or with a fixed number of players despite table allowances? This week I will be going to try out a new game my dad got called Warhammer Conquest. It is his second game purchase involving controlling planets in outer space and I am starting to notice a trend. I will blog about it next weekend, but until then may your critical dice always explode, but never your sorcerers.