Monday, June 05, 2006

Hot or Not - Boardgames

Played two new boardgames on Friday night.

The second one's called Caylus - it's very much in the Puerto Rico/St. Petersberg school of design - there's a basic premise (you're building a castle for a King and, in order to do so, you have to build up the town surrounding the castle) and a nice economy - you can gradually build up a more sophisticated town that'll give you money, victory points and the raw materials needed to contribute to the castle.

I didn't enjoy this one so much - it felt very samey to me - in that it's really nice and playable, but similar in concept to many other 'German' boardgames that I've played over the last couple of years.

The first game was Fury of Dracula - the game covers all the major cities of Europe - one player controls Dracula, who moves from city to city, trying to breed new vampires and laying traps for the players hunting him. Everyone else plays the Hunters - we don't know where Dracula is, so we have to use deduction to track him down and fight him, while avoiding his traps. There's lots of nice stuff in here: a co-operative game, a nice combat system, a real sense of threat on both sides.

And I really like this. So, comparing the 2 games, I've decided that I like games with strong colour that mean something to the game. To clarify - in Caylus, when you buy a Stonemason so that you can build a Bank, it feels to me the same as buying a Wibble to build a Neek. There's nothing in the process of buying and strategising that makes me feel like a construction worker, or that I'm building anything.

In contrast, in Fury of Dracula, every element of colour is designed to either create period detail or to engage you in the conflict between Dracula and the Hunters - the backs of the cards, the emphasis on combat and tracking, the way the map of Europe works, the unreliable rail system, ... there's even a ticking clock that counts down the hours till nightfall ... at which point, Dracula becomes more powerful (mechanically) in the game.

7 comments:

Luke said...

:) I am exactly the same. Abstract board games are often built around innovative and sublime mechanics that some people really enjoy. I tend to find them less interesting as a result as they feel much like a mechanical exercise. I tend to play games with atmosphere even at the expense of mechanics. Recent examples are Fury of Dracula, Betrayal at the House on the Hill, Arkham Horror and War of the Ring.

As an aside, I highly recommend Betrayal at the House on the Hill as probably the best example of a board game that successfully conveys atmosphere (in this case a horror movie).

Seraph said...

puI can see your point on Caylus - but the beauty of that game is in it's fluidity. There are a LOT of different approaches you can take to win. Do you focus on building the castle ( getting lots of points QUICKER, and possibly more rolay favours - at the sacrifice of spending all your resources on it ) or do you go for buildings ( lower VP's initially - but with the added bonus of cashing in when other people use them ), or how about them prestiege buildings ? I also like that no two games will be the same. Your initial strategies will have to change consistently. Not by a great margin - but enough to be interesting. However - I will admit that I LOVE interesting mechanics !

Don't get me wrong - I am loving 'Fury' too ( you and Richard hounding me over Europe was pretty damn freaky - especially when you came close to getting me during the day ! ) - but Caylus does seem to me to be the stronger game of the two so far.

But that's just me. =)

Don't get me started on BATHOTH. I like it - but have you read the errata on that sucker ? There were so many errors in that game it wasn't funny ! Still cool though I guess.

Luke said...

Errata, this is a topic on itself :)

I played about 30 games of BATHOTH without errata and never once had an issue with game play. As with many RPGs, errata can appear much worse than it actually is IME

I think this highlights my earlier point though. BATHOTH is loathed by a number of board gamers as it has the odd hiccup from a purely mechanical POV. However, the game is also loved by others as it oozes atmosphere and the traitor mechanic is perhaps the best atmos creating mechanic ever written IMO.

I love the game even to the creepy throw away bios in the book. You can tell the game was written by a group of RPGers who were also writing CoC d20 at the time.

Luke said...

As an aside, Serpah have you downloaded the revised books for BATHOTH? It has all the errata included. Check it out at http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=ah/downloads.

hix said...

I'm obviously going to have to check out Betrayal at some point.

As an aside, I came up with a board game* in the early hours of this morning, and am now wrestling with these sorts of issues - does the colour reflect the mechanics? Does the game have an interesting point?

*Working Title: Alien Prison Escape. I think it's my entry into the Badass Space Marines sub-genre.

Luke said...

Definitely check it out.

For your interest the wondeful "traitor mechanic" works as so:

At the start of the game each player controls one character exploring the House on the Hill. At a random time in the game, the Haunt starts in which one player becomes the traitor. The game then turns into the traitor vs the survivors. The specific Haunt is determined by a cross reference between an item and a room each forming a part of the Haunt's story.

The game advises that no player read the Haunts before the playing them, leaving each haunt a complete surprise. With 50 Haunts in the game, the unepxected yet inevitable betrayal and the variety of games is tremendous.

My favourite was one where a character found themselves invisible and realising the power they could have provided nobody knew i.e. they had to kill all the other characters. The ensuing melee of one invisible character stalking the others was very creepy and unique to this one haunt.

We have also had inheritance disputes, interdimesional jumping, chess with death, mummies, the Worm Ourbourous, organ inducing madness, alien mind control rays and zombies :)

Seraph said...

I was not aware of an updated book. I MUST obtain one !

The traitor mechanic is certainly a very cool idea. And like I said - I do enjoy BATHOTH. Viv HATES in on the other hand... I'm not entirely sure why.

Hix - you must come round and we'll have a game. You'd like it.