Long Hot Summer

It was warm day on Saturday in Southern California. This is a sign that summer is fast approaching, and the temperatures will rise. Myself, and about 10 other lads meet up at Game Empire, in Pasadena.

I like gaming at Game Empire, it has a number of positive attributes. Is central in location for a bunch of guys. It has a British-ish pub, with Belgian beers, over the road. The owner, Chuck, like wargames, boardgames, and is a nice guy. He also runs a well stocked game store, with a large open gaming area.

Things are not all rosy though.

Game Empire can get busy, and full of gamers. This is good for a game store. A thriving game store is a good thing to have nearby. More people = more business, which is good for gaming. Unfortunately, it can get rather warm in the open gaming area, especially so on a warm weekend where the temperature is around 90 F. The store layout is such that the table we normally occupy is not covered by the ceiling fans. I have taken to bringing along a pedestal fan to cover our area. The fan helps, but it just makes it tolerable. This does bode well for the upcoming summer.

This weekend was a busy time is Pasadena, they were predicting chaos on the roads. A little known band called U2 were playing at the Rose Bowl. Nearby JPL was having one of it’s regular open weekends. and some of the local museums were also having special events.  The roads were not bad, I left a little earlier than normal on my way to and from.

The depressing thing is that the U2 tour were celebrating that it has been 30 years since the Joshua Tree album was released.  Yeesh, I feel old.

Lucky Baldwins Trappiste Pub,  is just over the road. It is one of three Lucky Baldwins locations in Pasadena.  It is close by, a mere few minutes walk from Game Empire. It has good food, and great beer. There is no need to jump in a car, or take a long walk, it is very handy having a pub so close by. However, we often joke that it does suffer from authentic British style standards of service. The normal waitresses were not there, they had two blokes who were very busy servicing a full pub with all the lunchtime food, and drink orders. More time in the pub means less time gaming. The service was intolerably slow this time. The Fullers ESB was good though.

After all that moaning, would you be surprised to hear that we actually played some games, and things were not all peachy with them too.

Game played that day included

Struggle of Empires, Battle Above The Clouds x2, Pericles, Giro D’Italia (incomplete), Once You Go Blackmail (Archer Love Letter), and Grifters.

Ken, and Karl had pre-arranged to play Battle Above The Clouds, by MMP. That left 7 of us to play a game. Luis suggested Struggle of Empires. It could play up to 7, and still be balanced. Not all games can do that well.

I own, and have played, the game. It has been a while since I last played it. In fact it is almost 4.5 years since the last time it hit the table for me. Despite the time gap, I had a nagging doubt that it was a long game, and I was proven correct in the long run. By the way, BGG says it is a 3-4 hour game. Ha.

Struggle of Empires
The box front for Struggle of Empires

Martin Wallace is the designer of Struggle of Empires, I tend to like his games, I own most of the games he has designed. He is a designer that I follow, and he usually does a good job in producing a well rounded product. This particular game was, however, published by Eagle Games, now known as Eagle-Gryphon Games. The game includes 3 play-aid sheets, even though it is plays up to 7 players. That is not the worse thing , only one of the play-aid sheets is in English. The other two are in French, and German respectively. Oh, by the way, not all of the tiles are listed on the included play-aid. Nice job, piss-poorly done.

Luis did a good job explaining the game rules, although he was hampered by the fact that we could not all look at the play-aid sheet at the same time. The rules are actually quite straight forward. The key to doing well at the game is knowing, and understanding, the power of the ’tiles’.

Here is a display of the tiles, taken from BGG

The tiles in Struggle of Empires
The tiles in Struggle of Empires (BGG)

That is a lot of tiles, and they are key to the game. Those tiles are the flavor, the power, the substance of the game. They are a game within the game. Knowing them, and knowing how and when to use them is key. They are force multipliers. They are not an unusual element for a Wallace game. Martin Wallace is a devious, clever, and evil game designer. He likes to include nasty little twists in his games. This game has unrest.

Lose a unit in combat = gain an unrest. Oh, by the way, you will lose units in combat.

Need to borrow money = gain an unrest. Oh, by the way, you will need to borrow money, often.

If you have 20 unrest at the end of the game, you lose regardless of how many Victory Points you have. The player’s with the most, and the second most, unrest, will lose Victory Points at the end of the game. Did I not say, but how much Unrest each player has is a secret. Unrest comes in counters with denominations of 1,3, or 5. You keep the counters face down to hide how much you have from the other players. Not only that, but you try and track who is getting a lot of unrest. There are a limited number of Government Reform tiles in the game that allow a player to reduce their Unrest. He is a devious man, that Martin Wallace.

The other Wallace-ism in the game is the lack of actions. The game has three Wars, each war is essentially a game turn. Each war has 5 action rounds. In each action round, each player takes two actions.

Struggle of Empires = 3 x 5 x 2 actions = only 30 actions per player, per game.

As I often exclaim “Damn you limited action euro-games”. This game certainly feels like you have a limited number of actions, and you have to make them all count. With the 7 players, and excluding the teaching, we must have played the game for 5 hours. With the 30 actions per game, this results in an average of 1.42 minutes per action, almost 3 minutes per player turn consisting of two actions, one action immediately after the other.

With the limited number of actions, the large number of players, and the personalities of those present. This would be a long game. This could be a game for Analysis Paralysis.

Knowing that time would be a problem, especially early in the game I acted as the drumbeat. Calling out each players turn, making sure they knew it was their time. This game could drag if that did not happen. There was plenty of down time between turns to analyze the game state, but so much happens in the other players turn that it might all change by the time it came to your turn. A player’s first action, of the two, might fail; thus requiring a change in strategy.  React, reanalyze and move on. Quickly.

Of course, some players take longer to carry out their turn, compared to other players. I will mention no names, but I know their gaming style. They frustrate me at times, so I probably annoy them when I remind them that it is their turn. So I guess it evens out.

Even so, I enjoyed the game. I would play it again. There are some good user designed player-aids on BoardGameGeek that could to be added to the game. At the very least photocopy the English play-aid, so that each player has a copy.

Click on an image to view a larger version

 

After Struggle of Empire finished we had a re-jiggle of personnel. Some left, and some jumped over to a 4 player game of Pericles.

Giro D'Italia Card Game
Giro D’Italia Card Game box front

The real disappointment of the day was our abortive play of Giro D’Italia: Card Game.

I have always been fascinated by bicycle racing games. Compared to other facing games there appears to be lots of strategy, and tactics, in long distance cycle races. Pacing, endurance, breakaways, the specialization of different classes of rider, plus the drafting both in, and outside, of the peloton. All these factors make for a good candidate for a fun, strategic race game.

I have played Flamme Rouge a few times, but have been unable to get my hands on a copy. It is also only 4 players, and from my experience is best with the full 4. It is on the lighter side of the difficulty curve, but it is fun, and fast. I wanted something meatier.

The Giro D’Italia: Card Game game seemed to meet the criteria, but reality was different.

It’s a card game, where they have used cards in place of other possible game components, like a game board. There are about a bazillion different decks of cards in the card, and they are not well defined as to which are used for which purpose. The rules are in multiple languages, but the diagrams are only shown once in the Italian rules section. The rules appear to be condensed to fit on a single small sheet of paper. The rules suck, big time.

The only people who have played the game, and appeared to understood it, had also played a similar board game called Giro D’Italia. There are some similar mechanics in both of the games, so knowing the board game helps to understand the card game. Unfortunately, I thought I understood the card game. Neither myself, nor Eric could work our way through it. Which was a shame. Now I have to tackle the rules again, in an attempt to understand them. And the rules still suck, big time.

 

Tim

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