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SOG SR: 10/24 in Westford

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  • Josh Bluestein
    We had five people in Westford last night: Mike, Mark, Jeff M., Evan and myself. We started off with a game I had been wanting to play: Ars Mysteriorum. Only
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 25, 2005
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      We had five people in Westford last night:

      Mike, Mark, Jeff M., Evan and myself.

      We started off with a game I had been wanting to play: Ars
      Mysteriorum. Only Evan had actually played before.

      The theme is that of an alchemist's competition. You have a chart of
      15 different goals (Turn Talc into FD&C Red Dye #5, Turn Lead into
      Gold). Each goal has at least three and sometimes four different
      recipes for achieving it, corresponding to a total of 48 recipes in
      all. These are distributed among five tents. Each tent is also
      responsible for providing one alchemical ingredient (quicksilver,
      verdigris, salt, brimstone, realgar)...and each recipe requires a
      given set of ingredients.

      Your goal is to earn money, essentially rewards for learning to do
      these recipes. Each recipe is worth a bonus just for earning it, and
      you also get money for three types of sets: recipe type (such as
      precious metals, gems, dyes, etc.), prince's sets (one from each of
      the type categories) and duplicate recipes (if you can learn all four
      ways to make myrrh, it's worth quite a bit of money).

      The blind bidding takes place for turn order and acquiring
      ingredients. Essentially, you bid to acquire ingredients, move around
      to the tent of your choice, earn a recipe if you can, and then take
      payouts for what you've acquired. Repeat until game ends.

      It's fairly strategic and pretty clever. You can plan ahead (not too
      much chaos here), but you do need a backup plan, since other players
      can get in your way. Of course, if you can acquire big stacks of
      ingredients it tends to be easier to do everything else.

      Evan took the win, earning > 140 Florims. This beat out Mark who was
      second with 131. I was third with 121, and Mike and Jeff were not far
      behind, in the 11x area.

      The game was fun, but it took a long time to play. Definitely two and
      a half hours, and may have even topped three. For a game of this type,
      that's about an hour too long. I'm hopeful that it would play faster
      with experienced players, or just faster players. But I have a hard
      time seeing it getting much below two hours.

      Using standard BGG ratings, I'd give it a 6.5, with potential to go up
      if the playing time can be reined in.

      Mark went home at this point, and so we played Control Nut, another
      game I had been wanting to play.

      This is a partnership trick-taking game. The deck is essentially a
      standard deck of cards (four suits, numbered 1-13) with an additional
      eight Control cards. Each Control card has a special ability, and
      rather than bidding for a partnership contract players bid for the
      control cards. They do this with cards from their hand, with the net
      result that by the time cards are played, you are quite likely to have
      a different number of cards in each player's hand, and to have a fair
      bit of information about what is in other players' hands.

      Scoring is a little precious, with certain cards having stars and your
      basic score being tricks taken multiplied by stars taken. I've seen it
      before, most notably in Victory & Honor (a better game, in my
      opinion).

      But this was quite fun. As with most card games, good play will only
      get you so far, and bad cards will send you in the opposite
      direction. I was partnered with Evan against Mike and Jeff, and we got
      completely hammered. In three rounds, Mike and Jeff managed to score
      > 350 points to our pathetic 150. (Game ends at 300.)

      Jeff managed a fairly clever play in the final hand, bidding for and
      winning the Order control and then staying out of the cardplay until
      the last trick or two. This allowed him to score his hand as tricks
      for his team, which was important because he seemed to be holding most
      of the stars...even though Evan and I ran the table, taking almost
      every trick played, we were still outscored in that round as before.

      BGG rating after one play: 7.

      We finished up with Aladdin's Dragons. This was my first playing of
      it, although I had played Keydom (the predecessor) several times and
      didn't care for it, primarily because of the endgame. Aladdin's
      Dragons fixes the endgame problems and tightens up the
      gameplay...possibly a bit too much for my taste.

      It's hard to really judge this game after this single play, because at
      the end of the first turn Mike had managed to take three of the four
      availalbe artifacts, which put him in a nigh-unstoppable position.
      (To make matters worse, he had three distinct ones -- a doubler, a key
      and a flying carpet).

      I don't know if the game generally suffers from a "rich get richer"
      problem, but it was clearly evident in this play -- Mike was
      practically unstoppable. He did slow down a bit towards the end of
      the game as players started to get their own artifacts...but his win
      was pretty substantial. Final scores: Mike: 8, Evan: 6++ (two
      scrolls), Josh: 5+, Jeff: 5

      Single-play BGG rating: 6.

      Interestingly enough, I see a slight similarity between some of the
      mechanics in this game and one of the mechanics in Vino (which we
      played last week). In Vino, players must select two regions to buy
      vineyards in, and when more than one player wants to buy in the same
      region, the player with the most valuable/expensive investment in the
      region gets to buy first.

      In AD, the artifacts you acquire make it possible for you to rise
      above other players.

      So why does AD do so little for me and Vino so much more? Firsr, I
      don't really see the issue with Vino as being a "rich get richer"
      issue. It's true you have a buying advantage if you're already there,
      but your opportunities for selection are so limited -- you can only
      buy in two regions per turn, period.

      With AD, having eight markers and a set of artifacts, you have a lot
      more flexibility, and the threat of being able to do things is often
      as good as being able to do them.

      In any case, I'd play AD again...but I wasn't, like, totally blown
      away, man.

      I think Richard Breese's games have improved steadily -- Keytown was a
      better design than Keydom...Keythedral was a good bit better than
      Keytown (thematically, and 2nd edition rules cleared up any issues).
      Reef Encounter is, of course, even better.

      I actually think that Keytown is the best of the Key series in terms
      of design. I enjoy playing Keythedral more, but the gameplay feels
      less crisp somehow. (And I've never played Keywood.)

      Josh
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