Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Of boardgames

The Leeds NightOwls have a steady attendance of boardgamers, however until recently I'd not got involved in any games of such.

Although I enjoy boardgaming, and have a selection myself in storage, they always play second fiddle to moving figures around. However when you are burned out on being cheesed to defeat/cheesing victory every week in Warhammer, and can't seem to get a game of 'proper historicals' going, the opportunity to play a game where the rules are the same every time and for all-comers is appealing.

First up for me was Space Hulk, a game I played once about 15 years ago, but fondly remembered. To say it is a blatant rip-off of certain science fiction films is somewhat baside the point; in a simple game engine it rather brilliantly captures the tension of said film, and with its' map styled board has potentially infinite variety to otherwise simple game play.

I played The marines (neither of those guys are me by the way, wisely, I'm behind the camera), attempting to reach a room in need of a serious burning. As was the nature of the game, this all went very well until the first casualty. Thereafter the managing of troops becomes increasingly difficult; until it reaches a point of impossibility. Winning as the Marines seems to be very hard, despite the fact that they pack vastly more firepower than the attacking Aliens, erm Genestealers.

Overall, Space Hulk falls into the category of 'Simulation' for me, in this case a skirmish/tactical military sim. The other game I've played, and really enjoyed, recently is at the opposite end of the spectrum, being pretty much completely abstract.

Dominion, is played solely with a deck of cards, no dice, no board, no counters. In some respects it is like a Collectible Card Game, though the set itself comprises all the cards available, and there is no requirement to buy other items. Each player represents a petty lord aiming to create the largest kingdom, and this is expressed through the accumulation of a deck of cards.

Each player begins with ten identical cards from which a hand of five is drawn, these comprise money and lands, lands equal victory points, but play no part in the active game, other than clogging up your deck. However to buy land you need money, with which you can also invest in buildings, communities, warriors, events or characters. In game ten different types of 'action' cards are available to buy and these influence what you may be able to do in a turn.

For example, during the turn you may find a hand thus:

Gold (value 3)
Copper (Value 1)
Duchy (land)

You start a turn with an action card - so you may play the village, which allows you another card and two more actions, you might then play the witch - another action card that attacks other players. Then having, used your action cards you may use the cash in your hand to buy new items, with 4 money you might want to get a workshop for example. You then draw a new hand of five cards, and reshuffle all your other cards, including the ones you played and your old hand.

It is really, beautifully simple.

The play takes the form of an acquisition race therefore, whilst some cards will hold up you opponents, the main aim is to rush forward your own strategy. Any given hand is random and essentially dictates it's own play order, but the subtlety comes in how you use you resources to load your deck. At first you will concentrate on action cards, then money and finally lands. The game ends when three piles are expended (out of the sixteen in play).

The other beauty of this is that you can only guess who is winning, based on what you recall them buying, stealing or otherwise. When the game ends the values of lands and limited other special cards are totted up, highest result is the biggest dominion.

It's a totally abstract game, but in the two games of it I played, we were quickly into the character of our preferred tactics, and the sense of rivalry was amiable, but genuine. It's a game simple enough for kids to learn, but clever enough to reward multiple plays.

Also the cards themselves are attractive, and of high quality, but you'll soon want a nice soft surface to play on. All in all though, very enjoyable.

In the next couple of weeks it may be more boardgames as the figures go back to storage, so it's nice to know a few good ones are around.

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