GCL Amoeba 159 – Four views to a theme (2014-03-10)
Mikko Saari
Finland
Tampere
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I was drawing blank for the list topic, but then a blog post gave me one. Ok, we're talking about themes, which is an old topic, but
Markus
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Helsinki
Uusimaa
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had a nice four-faceted view to board game themes, which I found interesting. What do you think? The list is a bit short on questions, but please discuss and come up with examples, either for or against the idea.
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1. Board Game: Ticket to Ride [Average Rating:7.43 Overall Rank:167] [Average Rating:7.43 Unranked]
Board Game: Ticket to Ride
Mikko Saari
Finland
Tampere
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Overall theme. This is the back story of the game, and tells you what you do in the game. All games, except the purest abstracts have one.

Why I chose Ticket to Ride here? Well, name the overall theme of the game. Quick!

If your answer is "building railroads in USA", then BZZZT, you're wrong. The game is about group of friends who have a bet on traveling by trains and whatnot. It's totally silly, has nothing to do with what you actually do in the game and I bet just about everybody who hasn't read the rules or the box back doesn't even know about it. It's a rare example of a game where the overall theme clashes with the actual theme of the game. Can you come up with other examples?
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2. Board Game: Agricola [Average Rating:7.96 Overall Rank:29]
Board Game: Agricola
Mikko Saari
Finland
Tampere
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Mechanical theme. This is the theme of the game, on the level of game mechanics. This is related to the overall theme, but as can be seen in the case of Ticket to Ride, the mechanical theme can be more important to the feeling of what the game is about.

Since I'm being negative, let's take Agricola here. Agricola has some issues with the mechanical theme, which generally supports the overall theme. However, many people find the limits on actions breaking their suspension of disbelief. Why am I not allowed to have a baby just because the other guy had one? That doesn't make sense thematically (for game mechanics, it makes lots of sense, of course).

In many themed abstracts, the mechanical theme has absolutely nothing to do with the overall theme. Markus mentions Hanabi, which is about fireworks, but where the mechanical theme... well, the game doesn't really have a mechanical theme.

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3. Board Game: Suburbia [Average Rating:7.53 Overall Rank:138]
Board Game: Suburbia
Mikko Saari
Finland
Tampere
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Component theme. How the game components support the theme. Of course, this requires an overall theme, but not a mechanical theme. Themed abstracts usually have thematic components to represent the otherwise thin theme.

Many euro games have a fairly weak component theme. Markus mentions Suburbia, which has a good overall theme and strong mechanical theme, but where the components look really boring.

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4. Board Game: Mage Knight Board Game [Average Rating:8.10 Overall Rank:24]
Board Game: Mage Knight Board Game
Mikko Saari
Finland
Tampere
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Background theme. This is the back story behind the game. It appears in manual and in flavor texts, and makes the game world appear bigger than it is. Licensed games set in ready-made universes get it easy, of course. Real-world settings are similar, as well - just think of the different crayon rail games or Age of Steam or Power Grid expansions set in different countries - that's background theme to you.

I'm mentioning Markus' example of Mage Knight here. I thought the game was Ameritrash, with a strong theme - but Markus says the game has basically no background theme at all. You don't really know anything about the world the game is set in. Dominion is another fine example of almost totally background-less generic fantasy world.
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5. Board Game: Nations [Average Rating:7.65 Overall Rank:141]
Board Game: Nations
Max DuBoff
United States
New Haven
Connecticut
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_9.5_ Here I Stand: This was a short 3-player session. I had France/Ottomans, and we started in the 1532 setup. The Ottomans were afriad of the nasty Hapsburgs and gave peace, only to watch as the Schmalkaldic League went up in flames on the second turn to assure a Hapsburg victory. On the bright side, my powers's scores were second and third when the game ended.


_8.5_ 1989: Dawn of Freedom: I won a 4-turn game as the Communists after netting points on Hungary (twice) and East Germany.


_8_ Dominion: Last week, I played the second round of the current GokoDom tournament (after winning my first round), and I ran into an expert who massacred me. He built an engine to multi-Province in each of our three games. Hopefully I'll have some better luck this week!


_8.5_ Maria: My PBEM game finished this week. My Austrians were overrun by the French (played by the most experienced player of the group), who managed his hand better and took the Pragmatic Army out of contention, leaving Arenberg in a hopeless fight. The game ended on VPs in Turn 11. I just upped my rating of this from _8_ to _8.5_, and there's a chance it could even go up to _9_ (a level currently only held by Virgin Queen and exceeded by Here I Stand and Chess).


On Saturday, I went to a gaming party (it was for my friends' fathers birthday, and they invited some of their friends). I finally got a chance to play some of the things I'd been wanting to learn for a while!


_6.5_ Wiz-War (eighth edition): We played a three-player round of this while waiting for people to arrive. I managed to damage my opponents a little bit early, and they fought each other a little, allowing me to swoop in and kill the remaining opponent for the win. This game doesn't have much depth, but it's a good laugh every so often.


_6.5_ Cards Against Humanity: A few hands of this ensued before longer games began. As with Wiz-War, I wouldn't want to play this every day, but it's quite humorous.


_7_ Nations (new!): Since I've enjoyed Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization the few times I've played it, I definitely wanted to learn the game touted as a more streamlined version of it. (We were going to play Clash of Cultures, but that broke up when more people arrived, so I suggested this.) This was a 3-player game, so there weren't as many cards out at one time. The host taught the other two of us the game, and he nobly insisted that he take a handicap (he took two resources in the Growth phase while the rest of us took three). He also played on the B side (of Greece) while the other two of us played the A side. I decided to focus on stability in the early game, and I benefited from some rewards for stability on the early Event cards. Near the end of the second age, I decided to do a total 180 and, with an abundance of coal, I took a 5 strength, -1 coin military producer and saddled the others with a costly war. In the second age, I also increased my food production. Throughout the game, I also invested heavily in Wonders, and I built 5 by the end. I won 37-27-20.

In terms of my thoughts on the game, I quite liked it. I didn't really have the complaints many others have voiced, but I'd need to play more to really determine how this stacks up to TTA. I do like that this game is more streamlined, but my main concern is that it may not be as strategically deep as TTA. The rating I gave it was just a shot in the dark; it could go up or down.


_7_ King of Tokyo (new!): This is one I definitely think I should've learned sooner, but the stars never aligned correctly at the FLGS. (I had seen the TableTop episode for this one, and it seemed like a nice little filler, so I was pleased at a chance to learn it. It was just about what I expected, and I greatly enjoyed it. The game I was in was 6 players. I was the Kraken, out to engulf Tokyo in the glorious waves of evil (i.e. man-eating monsters). In the first turn, more than half the table netted 4+ VPs, and it looked like it would be a quick game, but it soon slowed down as the city became occupied. (Since there were more than 4 players, Tokyo Bay was open in the beginning.) One player jumped out to a large point lead but was defeated in battle. I netted some VPs in Tokyo (after healing up) and conceded the city after a round and a half. I got to 16 VPs and looked ready to win (on my last turn, I had narrowly missed gathering enough energy for a card that granted 4 VPs at a cost of 3 hit points). Before I got another turn, however, someone at 11 VPs miraculously rolled one of each symbol while holding the card that awards 9 VPs for such a feat (even though the person who taught the game specifically said he had never seen that happen) to end the game with a bang. KoT had most of the things I look for in a filler: it was fun, relatively quick, and light-hearted.


_7_ The Castles of Burgundy (new!): It just so happened that Doug was at the same party, and I joined him, Anni, and another new player) for a game of this. Anni taught the game, and we all used the standard boards. I had no idea what to go for early, but I went first and figured I should commit to something, so I took two boats. I filled up my water spaces by the end of the second era, in the process amassing a large quantity of goods. I took small banners on castles (after Doug completed his early), mines (after Anni), and yellow tiles (after Doug). I benefited greatly from what might be termed beginner's luck. Since I had played a load of early boats, I went first for most of the game, allowing me dibs on some of the end-game scoring tiles that gained me a lot of points (e.g. 3 per color shipped and 4 per animal type). Anni built up her mines and made a lot of points on animals but eventually slowed down and suffered from alack of end-game scoring. Doug got a lot of tiles out on the board and completed areas for large sums of points (I'm pretty sure in retrospect he had everything planned and under control even when he was down by 50 points...), all the while amassing end-game points. I had a modest lead after the last turn, but through some great stroke of fortune I finished the game one ahead of Doug. The final scores were 220-219-193(Anni)-219.

I loved the game's system, and I got the sense that it offers a wealth of strategic options. This is definitely one I want to play more, to explore how to use each strategy as effectively as possible. The rating on this could potentially go up.


_8_ 7 Wonders: The evening finished up with a 6-player round of this. I invested heavily in blue victory cards (I think I ended with 28 points from them) and did pretty well in military (buying one in each age) to finish with 57 points. Unfortunately for him, Doug finished at 56. The rest of the players didn't do so well, finishing with 49,42,41, and 38 respectively.

(By the way, if you're wondering why I rate 7 Wonders proportionally much higher, it's because I greatly admire the time-to-depth ratio.)
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6. Board Game: Linko! [Average Rating:7.01 Overall Rank:849]
Board Game: Linko!
Mikko Saari
Finland
Tampere
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1 x _9_Suburbia
1 x _9_Machi Koro
1 x _9_Ribbit
1 x _8_Linko! (new!)1 x _8_Viva Topo!
1 x _7_Memory
1 x _7_Fleeting Foxes

W. Eric Martin said nice things about Abluxxen, and since it can be played with two packs of cards and has rules online, I had to try it. It was so good that I almost immediately bought myself a copy.

If you like quick and easy card games, this one's worth trying. The basic idea is fairly simple, but the game will feel awkward at first. On your turn, you can play as many cards as you wish - as long as all of them have the same number.

You must steal cards from other players if you play the same amount of cards with a higher number. For stolen cards, you choose if you want them or not. If you don't want them, the owner can pick them up or discard them. If the owner doesn't pick up any cards, he'll draw new cards to replace the lost cards.

The goal of the game is to get rid of your cards. When somebody does that or the deck runs out, the game is over and everybody gets +1 point for each card on table and -1 point for each card in hand.

Simple, clever and lots of fun, this one.
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7. Board Game: Galaxy Defenders [Average Rating:7.47 Overall Rank:1096]
Board Game: Galaxy Defenders
Larry Rice
United States
North Newton
Kansas
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New to Me:

d10-8 Galaxy Defenders x3
d10-6 Blood Bound x2
d10-7 Autoscooter x1
d10-7 Might & Magic Heroes x1
d10-6 Packet Row x1
d10-6 S-Evolution x1

Return Visits:

d10-9 Age of Assassins x2
d10-8 Sail to India x2
d10-7 Bus x1
d10-8 Candy Chaser x1
d10-6 Cutthroat Caverns x1
d10-8 Guild x1
d10-6 Lost Legends x1
d10-7 Notre Dame x1
d10-8 Terror in Meeple City x1
d10-8 Russian Railroads x1
d10-7 A Study in Emerald x1
d10-9 Terra Mystica x1

Random Musings:

Really enjoyed Galaxy Defenders. Production levels are through the roof, theme oozes out the seams, and game play is relatively simple and streamlined. Alien AI is unique for each alien type and create interesting dynamics in game strategy as well as the different available agents with which to fight them. Took us a couple plays to understand how to counter the aliens but we've done much better after the first two bloodbaths!

Age of Assassins is likely my favorite filler ever...and likely my favorite game thus far that has come from Japan.

Blood Bound is an interesting large group deduction game but I nearly vomit every time I see the art on the cards. Think Twilight...blech!

Autoscooter was interesting to finally play for the first time. Want to play again soon with the advanced variants.

Revisited Bus after quite a few years. I had forgotten the amount of viciousness in what appears to be a gentle game with almost child-like drawing. Fun, but not a game I can handle in bunches. I can only take so many punches to the gut!

Enjoyed revisiting Guild with 3 and 4 players with a person who is fluent in Japanese and could answer all rules translation issues. This is one of the more "thinky" Japanese games I've played.

Lost Legends is fun for me to play, but I still think it has some serious design flaws. I haven't really seen a close game yet.

Might & Magic Heroes was very interesting but there is a ton of down-time. Battles take a long time to complete although I do think the mechanic is interesting. Our short game (learning game) took 3.5 hours.

Packet Row was interesting but I can't imagine ever playing with less than 4. Not sure if it is a keeper. Definitely quick and streamlined.

S-Evolution was interesting but I wasn't blown away. I can see some neat ideas, but there remains likely some development work needed to avoid the rich getting richer. We played with the original rules where people played their first hand blind and it went fine - everyone advanced. I'm not convinced there is much more than 1 way to victory though.

Twas good to revisit Terra Mystica again even if I played somewhat poorly.

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8. Board Game: Rise of Augustus [Average Rating:6.74 Overall Rank:950]
Board Game: Rise of Augustus
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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_7_ Rise of Augustus x6 -- My wife played this game while she was at PrezCon and liked it enough that she bought a copy. On Friday night I played it with her, and we played it four times in less than an hour. I quite enjoyed it. There certainly is a lot of luck (one game she beat me by a score of about 60-15, but most of the rest of our games were close.) But if a game is only going to take 10 or 12 minutes, I don't mind luck. It certainly does give everyone a chance to be involved at the same time, since during the tile-drawing/legion-placing part of the game you all play at once. Then on Saturday I taught the game to Michael (who likes games with Roman themes) and Marsha, and we played two more games. This one is almost certain to be a "dime" for me this year.

_6_ Rum & Pirates -- I saw this on the PrezCon auction list, and because I've always wanted to try it, I asked Claire to buy it if it was cheap. She was able to do so, and we played a 2-player game. It has a lot of luck---gratuitious luck, even, but again, it's not a long game. I certainly like it more than most of the recent Feld designs.

_8_ 1862: Railway Mania in the Eastern Counties -- This really is an enjoyable 18xx game. It is different from all of the other games, though it is more like the 1829 branch of the family than anything else. Kevin suggested that we play it, and Kevin, Marsha and I played a 3-player game. I enjoy the fact that we seem to use different strategies every game. In this game I managed to get terrific routes for my local company (don't believe anyone who suggests that locals can't run for big money.) I never ran a single route to London with any of my companies, but I won by a respectable (though small) margin.

_7_ 1835 -- When I realized that 1835 is the closest ancestor of 2038: Tycoons of the Asteroid Belt, I wanted to try it. Last night, Kevin, Joe Rushanan and I played a 3-player game using the rules as written (many people think it doesn't work well with 4 unless you use a variant start.) This is an interesting game with important decisions, even though the dollar margin between good and bad decisions isn't nearly as large as in most 18xx games. You're not likely to go bankrupt in this game, but a 10% mistake is much harder to come back from. Kevin won the game, 1% ahead of me. I was 2% ahead of Joe, so it was very close, but I suspect this isn't unusual. It's just that playing 1835 is more like competing in the luge: there's a track to run on, and your aim is to negotiate that path in an efficient and mistake-free way. Going off and creating your own track isn't likely to work. We finished the game in about 3 hours and 40 minutes, much less than claimed on BGG, but we play everything fast.
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9. Board Game: The New Science [Average Rating:6.46 Overall Rank:3915]
Board Game: The New Science
Joshua Gottesman
United States
Las Vegas
Nevada
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Thursday night we had a 40th birthday party at the FLGS for a friend of mine who is a regular in both Saturday gaming groups. It was s surprise party and he was definitely surprised. Only a couple of games got played by me, one a game of Russian Railroads that I described in last week's column, and one a game of Cloud 9 which was a decent filler.

Saturday morning we started off with Last Will which I'm sure I hadn't played in over a year. It's a pity, as I enjoy the game. And once again I enjoy it, although my strategy fell apart at the end. In a couple of weeks, I think we'll play with the expansion. Then we played Spyrium which I enjoyed on my 1 play in the past. I enjoyed it again, even though I made some serious errors. We wrapped up with The New Science, where I goofed on the last turn and let someone make a 10 point discovery that I could have stopped. I came in 2nd (of 5), losing by about 13. Had I done the right move, I still would have lost by about 4. The guy who won was whining (he does this a lot) when he rolled 1 for an experiment by Newton, complaining how the game screws over all your planning. Yeah, because everyone else isn't subject to the same rules, and science isn't, well, an exact science.

In the evening, we started off with a quick game of Timeline: Diversity, although with 10 people it wasn't super quick. Still fun, though. Then we played a game of Nations, where somebody used a "starvation strategy" (a la Stone Age) taking workers to reduce his stability. It wasn't until we were almost done that I realized there was a penalty for negative stability. This was my glitch, as I was the guy explaining the rules, mostly from memory as I don't own the game. I didn't realize this rule existed since no one had ever done this strategy in the couple of games I had played before. So we set it up with the correct rules and played through Age III. The same guy won, this time by pounding wonder building and not being stopped by others. Very enjoyable, and I hope this guy keeps bringing it and it gets more table time.
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10. Board Game: Tinners' Trail [Average Rating:7.27 Overall Rank:620]
Board Game: Tinners' Trail
Jeroen Doumen
Netherlands
Eindhoven
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1x _7.00_ Tinners' Trail
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1x _5.75_ Mole Hill
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1x _5.50_ Ubongo
1x _5.50_ Ace of Aces: Wingleader
1x _5.00_ Ys
1x _4.00_ Dice Town

Contrary to last week, a week of light gaming .

While I was in doubt about getting Eight-Minute Empire: Legends, I'm glad I did - I like it much better than Eight-Minute Empire. Having special powers on your cards instead of set-collecting (and direct points) makes for a much better game.

Stak Bots is a nice and quick take-that! game. Insane amounts of luck, swingy cards, but it is over soon enough for it to remain fun.

Revisited quite some oldies again .
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11. Board Game: Québec [Average Rating:7.14 Overall Rank:1341]
Board Game: Québec
Doug Faust
United States
Malverne
New York
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On Saturday, I traveled down to NJ for my friend Don's birthday party/game day.

_7_ Concordia - This was with me, Anni, Jay, and Lee; only Lee was new. Everyone was able to claim two cities with their opening move, mine happened to be brick and wine in two different provinces. Therefore, my strategy for the rest of the game was to focus on brick, wine, and different provinces. I picked up the brick bonus card right away, and was aided early on with my wine city being in a region that had bonus wine (my brick city had bonus wheat, which was helpful too). From there, I set out on my quest to occupy every wine and brick city on the board, which I did by the end of the game. Got all but one province, too. I had to work a little to get the wine bonus card, trading for cloth, but I did that too, and tried to get a bunch of different province bonus cards. Jay, meanwhile, had really gone after cloth, and had the advantage of being the only player in Africa until the very end of the game. The last card in the deck cost cloth, which no one but Jay had, so he was content to stretch out the end of the game knowing he could end it when he wanted. However, Lee ended the game by running out of cities. It was a really close game at the end, and I honestly don't remember who won. It was probably either me or Jay.

_7_ Québec (new!) - Same group this time, but everyone was new. This was a game I had traded for back at BGG.Con, and was anxious to get it on the table. Both Jay and I started from the get-go trying to claim a really big group of valuable buildings. Anni, on the other hand, had the area control mechanism figured out, and focused on putting lots of cubes in the correct buildings. As a result, she jetted way into first after the first scoring, cascading her cubes at least three times. Since I had been moving my architect around so much to claim the right buildings, I always had a ton of cubes in my hand, and ran out of cubes in my supply on multiple occasions. Anni was in the opposite situation, and kept running out of cubes in her hand. Eventually, in the third century, I caught on and tried to be aggressive in getting my cubes out (that century wasn't that important for my architect anyway), and I ended up doing very well in that scoring. In the last round, however, I had two sizable building groups that were still split by two unbuilt buildings. Jay immediately saw that I needed both of them to connect, so right before I was ready to move off the first one, he took the second. In the end, I ended up coming in second place--by one point--to Lee.

_9_ The Castles of Burgundy - This was with me, Anni, Max, and Joe; Max and Joe were new. We played on the basic boards. I started as last in the turn order, and of course Anni jumped on all of the mines from the 3-seat before I could get any. Max grabbed a bunch of boats early on and there were never any goods available by the time it came to my turn. Since I flat out refuse to place boats without goods, I had to deal with being last for a large part of the game, which put me out of contention for mines too when people realized how valuable they are. So I decided to forgo mines entirely (something I never do), and instead started stocking up on yellow tiles: a tile that gave me 2 silverlings instead of one per sold good to help with my income problem, a tile that let me take from the board at +/- 1 to help take the edge off my turn order issues, and bonus buildings for city halls and watch towers. I managed to squeeze every last point out of the bonus buildings, getting 4 city halls and 3 towers, and I filled up my big pasture with all sheep. I ended up getting a pretty impressive score for the base board, but lost by one point (again!) to Max.

_7_ 7 Wonders - This was with me, Anni, Max, Don, Alyssa, and Joe; I think Joe needed an explanation. I was playing B-side Olympia, and my neighbors were Anni's B-side Rhodes and Joe's B-side Babylon. Since I could get resources cheaply from my neighbors from my wonder, I stopped taking resource cards as soon as I could build all of my wonder stages. I buoyed that with the Age II yellow card that gives you a free resource, and I didn't have any resource issues the entire game. I made some investments in military (without going overboard), and managed to beat Joe three times, but only beat Anni in the first round because I kept forgetting about the military points she got from her wonder. Otherwise, I just went heavy on blue cards, and was able to scoop up both the 8-pointer and 7-pointer in Age III. However, I couldn't find any guilds that scored very well for me, and my "copy a guild" power from my wonder only resulted in 4 points. All of this resulted in me losing by one point (again again!) to Max.
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