Strategicon: New (and New to Me) Games
After playing prototypes and prereleases, it was time to try some previously released games that I haven’t had a chance to play before. Some are newer, some older, but they were all new to me. I got to try out Zulus on the Ramparts, Takenoko, Yggdrasil, and Trajan.
Zulus on the Ramparts. Part of the “States of Siege” gameline from Victory Point Games, Zulus on the Ramparts recreates the battle of Rourke’s Drift where Zulu armies attacked the British fort. In the game, you command the British in an attempt to repel the Zulu and avoid capture of the fort. While superficially similar to Dawn of the Zeds, another States of Siege game, many of the mechanics were fundamentally different and, on a first play, more satisfying.
Rather than operate off of an event deck which detailed the attacks against you, the player instead drew tokens. That difference is insignificant. However, the player gets a separate deck of cards that allows him to perform a number of actions. That change is fantastic. This gave the impression of being able to adapt to the situation. Instead of having the same static four or five actions every turn, you could launch different volleys, make preparations, or otherwise utilize particular soldiers. If abstracted a bit, I’m not sure it’s really all that different. But having that hand full of options certainly made it feel like I had more flexibility to deal with the enemy.
And the best part was that playing Zulus let me get into a raffle for a free VPG game. A raffle that I won. And, of course, I picked Zulus on the Rampart as my prize. I’m looking forward to quite a few more plays of this game.
Takenoko. I purchased a copy of Takenoko at the con. Yes, I liked it that much. Normally I wait to give myself some time. After all, an unresearched purchase is one that I have often come to regret. Not so with Takenoko. In Takenoko you take actions as you try to grow the Japanese garden, with a panda bear running around and eating the bamboo that grows there. The game has a simple ruleset but still yields a myriad of interesting choices and several strategies.
And it is deceptively interactive. Although much of the game looks like it could be played quasi-solitaire, my play at the con proved otherwise. The highest points are generally gained by getting the bamboo to grow in certain formations. In our four player game, three of us focused on that aspect. The fourth player realized it and started grabbing panda cards and eating bamboo. Since he never had to worry about growing it (the three of us did that for him), he essentially spent the game running around and getting points. He won by a country mile. Playing off your opponents may end up being critical.
At the con, I was able to play with the designer. And that’s where I came to learn that there were some rules translation errors. First, the English rules say to draw three plot tiles, play one, and return the other two to the top of the stack. That’s wrong. You’re supposed to return them to the bottom. The designer confirmed that this was an error and a correction would issue in the second printing of the game’s rules.
Second, the rules say that when matching bamboo cards, it has to match exactly, meaning a picture of three bamboo needs to be three bamboo high, not four high. The designer said it had to be “at least” three high. When I brought the discrepancy to his attention, he said that that was also “probably” a rules error and that he would check with the publisher.
Yggdrasil. Yggdrasil was a cooperative game that was high on my list last year. But somehow or another, it just sort of fell off my radar. Maybe from co-op saturation or maybe because it uses an action point system. After playing it (which I did four times in a row until we got a win), I can say that Yggdrasil is a very fun game, but not one that I’m in any rush to purchase. It was a good time, but really doesn’t fit any niche better than what I already have.
The players take on the roles of Norse gods, each with their own special power, and then try to combat the armies of evil. There are seven main evils. The players lose if one of them goes seven spaces, or if three go five spaces, or if five go three. The gods must rise up and punch the evils in the face to beat them back. To aid them, various actions can give them vikings or elves, special actions, or weapons against the evils.
What made Yggdrasil a little different was the high level of cooperation needed to win. In our first game, we each did what we thought was best (akin to, say, Flash Point or Pandemic) and were annihilated by evils. From there on, we each took on specialized roles and then tried to help one another. That was better, but still resulted in a loss.
Finally, we gamed the system. We decided to let two of the evils go. We pushed them back only once so that they wouldn’t get to the auto-lose position. Then we ignored them. We focused instead on the remaining five to ensure that they didn’t get past the five line. And we kept Loki back in the stage one area the entire game. Frost Giants are serious business, and if you keep him in stage one, you only get one at a time. More than that, and it’s a nightmare.
Trajan. The more games I play by him, the more my man crush on Stefan Feld continues to grow. Stefan, if you’re reading this, call me. Although I’ve played Trajan once before, that was a first play for everyone and the rules were not all correct. This time, we played all of the rules correctly.
The mancala method of taking actions is amazingly awesome. It’s a game within a game, and one that requires not only planning and foresight, but also forces tough decisions between doing something now or setting yourself up for something more later. I felt that my Trajan game had stepped up a ton and I scored far more points than my last game. Of course, both of my opponents still scored more than I did, but it was a good game nonetheless.
I am enthralled with the action mechanism of this game and when it again becomes available, I’m going to obtain it. Oh yes, I will make it mine.