Highland Clans

Highland Clans photo
Sorry for the horrible photo quality.

Yesterday we played four-player “Highland Clans”:http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/16500/mac-robber (aka Mac Robber). This game has not had a lot of attention and deservedly so. It is a small-scale cube-fest. Although designed for 45 minutes, we played for much longer. Mostly this was because we struggled with the rules, which were clearly translated by a non-native English speaker and never blind-tested with English-speaking players. A big publisher like Queen should know better.

If you ever play this, definitely use “Innovan’s”:http://www.boardgamegeek.com/user/Innovan three player aids ( “1”:http://www.boardgamegeek.com/image/695562, “2”:http://www.boardgamegeek.com/image/695450, “3”:http://www.boardgamegeek.com/image/695449 ) in the BGG image gallery, as Highland Clans is pretty much unplayable without his clarifications.

The gameplay itself has a nice confrontational element as every turn you have a free chance to raid an opponent. Ironically these constant attacks make the game feel quite friendly as they do not have much negative effect and they are a good catch-the-leader mechanic that can backfire. The rest is quite abstract and unintuitive. Scottish clan warfare deserves a game with the flavour of Pirates Cove. At least it is lighter and faster than most current eurogame cube-fests.

Our friends enjoyed it as they bought it as a birthday present and enjoyed the Scottish theme. I am a bit more fussy and just can’t recommend a game with such poorly translated rules.

4/10

Sternenhimmel

Late last night three of us sat down to “Sternenhimmel”:http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/668/sternenhimmel (Starry Sky), a German 30-45 minute area-majority game from 1995. I bought this cheaply second hand and it was a good purchase – despite the unnecessarily large box. The rules took five minutes to skim through and we all picked it up very quickly. I normally hate open scoring as it slows games down, but in games this short it is bearable. Unfortunately my two friends over-analyse terribly, so it took 90 minutes. I may buy some new batteries for my “G8 Game Timer”:http://www.thegamesjournal.com/reviews/G8GameTimer.shtml. Recommended if you like games like China.

Please forgive the horrible photo, but there are no *free* photos at the BoardGameGeek. Not sure if it is just because my phone’s camera lens is scratched or if there is something wrong with the software or hardware internals.

Sternenhimmel photo

Sid Meier’s Civilization: The Board Game

“Chris”:http://twitter.com/ctd and his son Raphael came over last night to play “Sid Meier’s Civilization: The Board Game”:http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/77130/sid-meiers-civilization-the-board-game. (Why did they have to give this game such a long name and one that is exactly the same as a 2002 game that no one liked? What about Sid Meier’s Civilization V or even just Civilization V?) We had four very enjoyable hours playing it. Apparently it usually takes about an hour per player.

My patience for long efficiency-engine boardgames has worn very thin, but SMC:tBG has the huge advantage of familiarity. I recently played a full game of Civilization IV on my PC and this boardgame is close enough to make learning much easier.

Michael Barnes wrote a pretty negative review of SMC:tBG, calling it a “heartlessly efficient process-driven machine”:http://www.gameshark.com/features/782/Cracked-LCD-177-Sid-Meier%C3%A2%E2%82%AC%E2%84%A2s-Civilization-Review.htm. He says:

bq. If what you are looking for is the mechanics of CIVILZATION more or less faithfully reproduced as a board game, this may be a game for you. I would be inclined to steer anyone so interested toward games where the designers have explored the CIV idea rather than bringing its literal gameplay to the tabletop.

That’s harsh. SMC:tBG does what it says on the tin and does it well. It is forgiving and accessible, unlike Through the Ages. I actually downgraded my rating of Through the Ages after playing SMC:tBG.

I would like to play again. Three players is probably best, just due to the length of the game, but four would be more directly confrontational.

Intrige

I played Intrigue for a second time on Saturday. Without a doubt it’s the most vicious game I own. It feels more like a psychological experiment than a game. We all had a good time, especially my brother-in-law and his wife, but you have to have a sense of humour about it and warn people.

My favourite gaming experience of last year was playing Lifeboats with my wife’s family at Christmas. That was such a success that they wanted something even more vicious, so we decided to give Intrigue a go.

Stefan Dorra (Linie 1, For Sale, Medina) designed the German version Intrige in 1994. It’s a simple game:

Each player has a number of jobs available in his palace, which pay varying income. Players offer applicants for these jobs, offering cash bribes and threats to get their applicants accepted. Players appoint applicants entirely at their whim. The player with the most money at the end wins.

We played with open money, which was a mistake as it slowed the game down, but not fatally. Incidentally, my 100 poker chip set worked a treat.

I have the English language Mayfair version, which is cheap and easy to get hold of. Intrige is definitely worth picking up if you have friends who enjoy intense games where the game is won by the weight of popular opinion and your skill in manipulating that.

UPDATE
“JC Lawrence responded”:http://twitter.com/clearclaw/status/18386450989 to tell me that he prefers Intrigue with *open* money and that I should try “So Long Sucker”:http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/8304/so-long-sucker.

So Long Sucker does look good. You can’t beat “one page of rules”:http://www.boardgamegeek.com/filepage/17351/solongsucker-pdf and free – especially for this kind of game.

Um Reifenbreite

Steve and Mike came over and we played Um Reifenbreite. I have had this hanging around my collection since Essen 2006, where I picked it up for 6€. I thought this was a good deal for a Spiel des Jahres winner, even if the box is twice as big as it needs to be, but leaving it for four years before playing was not in my plans.

We picked Um Reifenbreite because we were tired and Mike and I like cycling. There was some messing around with printing translated rules and chance cards but in the end it is a simple game, which captures the feeling of a bike race well. We spent almost no time printing or cutting the translated chance cards, as they are rarely handled. We played the Advanced Rules plus the swapping leaders and sprint rules.

The art in this game is classic 1980’s continental comedy style that used to be very common on jigsaws, postcards and posters, but has sadly died out.

The game is similarly retro – simple, intuitive, basic fun that captures the essence of the underlying theme. This is what eurogame originally meant to me. Now that definition has morphed into baroque monstrosities like Sceptre of Zavandor or Dungeon Lords. Clever games, but a long way from Um Reifenbreite. If you have played Formula De or Circus Maximus, you will be familiar with the basic race game mechanics of Um Reifenbreite and a game takes between 45 minutes for one-day races to two hours for the Tour de France. The winner is mostly decided by luck, but you don’t play games like this as a test of your intellect.

You can get this very cheap second hand and it’s a good family game that works for armchair biking enthusiasts at the end of a long day.

Flash in the Pan 2

Dungeon Lords was a flash in the pan after all. I still think it’s a good game, but after three plays weaknesses emerged:
* chaos – you can play as conservatively as you like, but it just takes one unexpected decision from another player to turn your plans upside down. Age of Steam has the reputation of being a harsh game, but bankruptcy is always deserved. In Dungeon Lords it’s out of your hands and in a game of this length it gets frustrating. Cute imps and funny monsters can only make up for it so much.
* tough learning curve – Jeff taught the game *brilliantly*, but I was able to teach San Juan and fit in a two-player game while the tutorial was played through.
* duration – despite familiarity this is a 2.5 hour game. Simply too long for a euro.
* fiddliness – there is a lot of shuffling pieces around that gets tedious.

Despite these criticisms there is still a lot to like. You have to plan carefully and the theme is irresistible, but I’m less enthusiastic than I was.

Come back Reiner! All is forgiven – except Beowulf.