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
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
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.)