Galaxy: the Dark Ages

I was offered “Galaxy: the Dark Ages”:http://www.boardgamegeek.com/game/718 in a trade for “Verrater”:http://www.boardgamegeek.com/game/72, which I thought was a good deal. Galaxy had lukewarm reviews, but that this was mainly from people who thought it inferior to “Titan:the Arena”:http://www.boardgamegeek.com/game/105 or “Grand National Horse Racing”:http://www.boardgamegeek.com/game/1367, its simpler ancestors. I have not played either, so I thought I’d give it the benefit of the doubt.

The theme is of a galactic power struggle between different worlds, welded onto a card game – a strange mix. Epic themes fit best with large, complex games; so naturally, this is a large, complex card game. After playing it, I can see how a relatively simple base game was blown up to this galactic scale.

The *basic* card play, ignoring the fiddly extras, is _classic_ Knizia. Broadly, this is a good thing, but once you have played a few of these games, it’s difficult to feel excited by them. Maybe I’m a just jaded old-timer?

*Good*

* Plenty of backstabbing and tension as the Worlds columns disintegrate into the void.
* Great theme. I wish there were more sci-fi German games and fewer archaeological ones.
* No rules ambiguities (but see the next point).

*Bad*

* The rules are very wordy.
* Complex, it is impossible to learn without a reference sheet.

In summary, there is much complexity for only average strategy. Instead of our normal dummy round, for learning, we had to play an entire dummy game. On reflection, I should have got Grand National Horse Racing instead, but now we have spent the time investment to learn it, we will probably stick with the richer gameplay of Galaxy.

Spielbyweb

I subscribed to the new “Spiel-by-Web Yahoo Group”:http://games.groups.yahoo.com/group/spiel-by-web/. It led me to a “good geeklist for Play-By-Web games”:http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist.php3?action=view&listid=1207, which are my favourite way of playing board games by computer. Real-time board games, like at BSW, require too much of a time commitment. It’s tough to abandon a game halfway through, because your baby is crying…

The first thread at Spiel-By-Web discusses what makes a good PBW game:

* Games where players complain of a lot of downtime, in other words deeply analytical games with few and long turns. e.g. Tikal, Torres, Java. Although some wargames require 30 minutes per turn, which is too long for me.
* Games with a lot of bookkeeping e.g. Wallenstein
* Games with simultaneous action selection e.g. Lord of the Rings – The Confrontation
* Interactive turn sequences do not work well e.g. Puerto Rico
* Auctions do not work well e.g. Princes of Florence

I also joined a game of “Wallenstein”:http://www.spielbyweb.com/game.php?games_id=60, with the guys from the Yahoo Group (including “Mark Johnson”:http://bgtg.textamerica.com). I am impressed with this implementation. It’s surprising how stripped down a game can seem when all the card shuffling and piece moving are removed.

White list spam filter

I have finally given up and subscribed to a $10/year “whitelist spam filter”:www.mailblocks.com. A sad day. Someone *has* to cure the spam problem, or email will be ruined. Probably only Micro$oft have the clout to do it.

I _just_ got my blog comment spam as well. Hopefully “TypeKey”:www.typekey.com will fix it.

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Galaxy Express

I am not normally sad enough to play solitaire board games on a Saturday night, but Ness is ill, there’s nothing on the TV, I’ve read all my favourite websites and my PC is in too poor condition for video games. In desperation, I remembered Mikko’s “recent posts”:http://www.melankolia.net/gameblog/archives/000999.html about his initial experiments with piecepack solitaires, which inspired me to have a go at “Galaxy Express”:http://www.ludism.org/ppwiki/GalaxyExpress, a runner up in the “Solitary Confinement”:http://www.ludism.org/ppwiki/SolitaryConfinement competition.

The rules summarise it well:

bq. Galaxy Express is a solitaire game for the piecepack about delivering shipments between planets in the distant future. It is a game of strategic planning and clever movement. Carefully move your starship to each of the planets, in the proper order, while refuelling as little as possible.

The planets are coins and the starship is a pawn. The universe is an 8×6 board, formed from 12 piecepack tiles. Starships can move from one edge of the board to the opposite, rather like the 1970s video game, “Asteroids”:http://www.squadron13.com/games/asteroids/asteroids.htm.

I had to think a lot, and managed to complete the game and get 115 points on my first attempt. According to the rules this is a good score. I think I was helped by lucky initial placement, which meant that all the planets had at least one shared axis with another planet.

I enjoyed Galaxy Express a lot; in fact it resurrected my dire evening. What I particularly enjoyed was the wraparound board. This reminds me of the Toric Scrabble variant, in _New Rules for Classic Games_. The name and concept come from the “Toroidal Universe theory”:http://www.cs.appstate.edu/~sjg/class/1010/wc/geom/donutuniverse.html.

Puerto Rico Online

Thanks to “a tip-off from Chris Brooks”:http://www.chrisbrooks.org/PermaLink.aspx?guid=725113f6-bb76-4061-b69e-a7dcc2f45e1c, I have just been playing “Puerto Rico online”:http://www.phial.com/puerto-rico/. I am quite impressed. The interface is pretty usable. It is much better than BSW, but that is not saying much as I think BSW’s interface is the _worst I have ever seen_.

Only small quibbles:

* The lobby is not great for meeting people to play with.
* Long download – even on broadband.
* It doesn’t work in “Firefox”:http://www.mozilla.org/products/firefox/ – the best browser around.

Edel, Stein & Reich, Ivanhoe

Playing games for two nights running is exceptional for me, so I decided to keep things simple.

“Edel, Stein & Reich”:http://www.boardgamegeek.com/game/5781
We played a four-player game of this. It went down well, but I am not sure if this was due to the gems or the gameplay. There is some subtle thinking when bartering, which makes this one a deeper game than it first looks. Although there is a lot of luck in the scissors-paper-stone element of the game, I am sure that skilful players will win the majority of the time.
For me, it plays better with three players than four, as there is less clashing of choices. It might play well with five, but I have not had a chance to try it.
I stuck paste-ups (cut out from A4 labels) onto the event cards, which definitely improves the game. It’s light and fast moving, so looking up translations would slow it down too much.

“Ivanhoe”:http://www.boardgamegeek.com/game/883
This is good for when you are feeling tired and just want some light, direct aggression with your friends. I made the mistake of getting too committed with draining battles, and should have picked my shots more carefully. We enjoyed it so much we played twice. Apparently, the battles mechanism is similar to “Taj Mahal”:http://www.boardgamegeek.com/game/475, which I borrowed a while ago, but have not got around to playing. Judging by the consistent success of Ivanhoe, the guys will love Taj Mahal.

Wizard Kings

“Wizard Kings”:http://www.boardgamegeek.com/game/692 arrived in the post last week and was delayed in the post office for over a week and I had to pay an extra £8 in tax, because it came from outside the European Union and it cost over £18. This was very annoying as I cannot easily get to the post office during the week and it was hardly one of Ness’ top priorities on top of looking after Oscar. It also makes an expensive game _almost_ too expensive.

It’s a pity that Columbia only ship from their own website. It would save European customers money and time if they could make a good deal with a European distributor.

Anyway, we played it last night and it was worth a wait. The rules are simple and elegant. It almost feels like an video game like Myth or Warcraft. In fact some of the “multiplayer battle types in Myth”:http://www.gamespot.com/features/myth2_gg/multi6.html could be ported into interesting Wizard Kings scenarios.

We only had time to get a feel for the game and half-play the first scenario. I’m looking forward to exporing this further.