Recap: Tobago First Play and the Expanding Irondale
This week, I had the good fortune to get together with my gaming group and test out some more gamey goodness. This Friday saw games of Mr. Jack, Pandemic, Irondale, and Tobago. I also was able to throw in the expansions for Irondale and was pleased to see how well they added to the base game. On Saturday, I attended a Hanukkah celebration where I introduced Pandemic to a gaggle of non-gamers. Some interesting results there. Follow after the cut for the full rundown.
Mr. Jack. So one of my gamer pals shows up a little early. Not to worry, says I, for I have recently acquired Mr. Jack. We break it out, go over the rules, and start the game up. As I reported from last week, Mr. Jack definitely takes a few games to understand exactly what is going on. As a result, I had a serious advantage over my poor friend.
It’s not that it’s a complicated game at all, it’s just that there exists a synergy between the abilities of all the characters. Knowing their abilities and how they practically impact the game is key to success. Without that knowledge, the game ended when Mr. Jack was able to escape on turn four. And, by that time, more people had arrived so we moved on. I’m not sure that he was thrilled with Mr. Jack, but maybe with more plays he’ll see how good it can be.
Pandemic. Pandemic got two plays this weekend, each with five players. The first was with my gamer group and included the mutation strain. I was worried that coordination would be exceptionally difficult with five players. It was harder to be sure, but having the additional special power available helped a bit. However, the cards ran out on us and we were only able to cure four of the five diseases. Blast! When it became apparent that we didn’t have enough time to win, I flew my character to the blue area – where the disease had been eradicated – so that I could spend my final years in relative peace before the other diseases ravaged humanity.
The next night, Pandemic came to the non-gamers. Since non-gamers were at the table, we did the basic game with only four epidemics. Once again, we ran out of time with one disease left to cure. The real insidious nature of the five player game is that it takes so long for your turn to come around again. Eight cards have been drawn before you get to go. With so few turns per player, curing diseases needs to be a higher priority. Even if some diseases have three cubes in a city, it may be better to risk an outbreak or two in order to get the needed cures.
As an aside, it was awesome playing with the non-gamers. One of them really got into it, started strategizing, and was all about winning the game. Planting the seeds of board game geekdom, maybe? One seemed a little lost, but he was open to suggestion. The third, well he had ADHD so his turns were a little … disjointed.
Irondale. Irondale hit the table this weekend. The game says it only goes up to four players, but we had a fifth and dealt them in anyway. Irondale took it like a champ. In fact, unless there’s a game balance issue with some cards (such as Thieves Den), I don’t see why you couldn’t play with five. There were plenty of cards to go around and we stopped the game at the same level as the four player threshold. The first game went a little slowly since everyone had to read each of the cards, but the pace quickly picked up. Soon, cards were being placed here or there and two or three special powers would go off at once. Everyone enjoyed it and favorable comparisons were made to San Juan, another group favorite.
On Sunday, I got my wife to play with the City Expands and The City Complete, the expansions to Irondale. Both are significant improvements to the base game. While Irondale is a good game, there were little items here or there that could have used some help. As one quick example, the base game allowed you to complete a Master Plan for points or cards. Since points turn into cards, but cards don’t often turn into points (at least not directly), it was almost always better to take the points. After all, if you needed the cards, you could turn the points into cards on your turn anyway. The City Expands adds new abilities for Master Plans making them far more strategic. It also adds a way to dump unhelpful cards from your hand as well.
Best yet, both expansions add a plethora of new buildings. Awesomely, these cards really enhanced the base game with a large number that affected the play of other cards around them. This lead to some really interesting strategic decisions. Likewise, the City Complete adds some cards, including Gardens, which will allow you to draw. I’ve previously noted that expansions generally only add to a game but do not make a bad game good. Irondale, while by no means a bad game, was made infinitely better by its expansions. Similar to how Cities and Knights made Settlers of Catan a better game, even though Settlers was good to begin with.
Tobago. Tobago had a lot of hype behind it. A lot of hype. It was nominated for tons of awards and snagged more than one. Opening the box, I was immediately impressed by the components. The Easter Island heads were great. Palm trees and huts further added to the game. And the board set up is fantastic. The modular board can be assembled in 32 unique ways (according to the game manual) and then the huts, heads, and trees are added anywhere you want. Thus, every game is entirely unique.
From there, the players add to treasure maps and eventually secure treasure. A read of the rules seemed like the game might be a bit too simple for serious gamers. Luckily, I was totally wrong. Knowing when and where to place your treasure map was heavily influential. Each player tried to narrow the treasure down to his or her location. The distribution of treasure cards, where each player has partial knowledge of the pot, is also a great mechanic. After our first play, my group all looked at each other, smiles beaming, and started immediately complimenting it. I’m looking forward to many more plays of Tobago.
How about you? What were you up to this weekend?