More impressions from playtesting a bunch of borrowed games to see which ones I would like.
Geek Wars is a CCG-style game; while not sold in the collectible format, it does have rules for deck construction. It is a variant of MTG, you put down your "troops" and then fight it out until one player is out of "bucks" (life). The gaming geek theme of the cards is somewhat amusing.
The combat system allows the troops to attack each other directly. Unlike MTG, when a troop dies, you lose life. If the other player has no troops left, you can attack him directly, which is a much more efficient means of taking his life down. I thought this variant of the MTG combat mechanics was interesting. Also interesting was that you don't have any resource other than cards and life. More powerful troops cost only a card to put into play, but if a powerful troop dies, you lose more life than if a weak troop dies.
You cannot gang up on offense or defense, and you cannot attack the other player if he as any surviving troops. This means that one powerful troop is superior to any number of weaker troops. Theoretically this could be made interesting, but in practice I found it frustrating that weak troops don't seem to have any purpose other than buying time.
This is also a game balance issue, in that while powerful troops cost your more life than weak troops if they die, the difference is small and by no means sufficient to make up for the vast superiority of strong troops. In general, it was difficult to see any real balance between the various cards, many are awesomely good or terribly bad.
The basic flow of this game was sufficiently amusing that, if I had some extra time, I'd be tempted to fiddle around with it some more and analyze what is going on. But I'm borrowing it, and I'm not really inspired to buy a copy.
Bankruptcy is a classic card game (in the style of a traditional card game like Gin, except for the exotic cards). The objective is to be the first to empty your hand. You can get rid of your own cards, or give yourself or the other person cards. You may need to give yourself cards in order to have the right cards to keep playing effectively. And there are a few special cards in the mix. When I first read the rules, I was excited, because the game seems very playable. By playable, I mean that it is easy to just sit down and play a few games in a relaxed style, without being daunted by a major investment in time or having to comprehend lots of vital but obscure tactical complexities. You just draw your cards, look at your hand, see a few options, and play one.
Actually playtesting the game, it certainly seems very playable, but not very exciting. Without knowing what was in everyone else's hands, it seemed very difficult to know what to do to interfere with other people – and even if you do interfere, unless you have a rare special card, all you can do is randomly give them extra cards which they may or may not want. And when you are concentrating on looking at how to improve your own hand, there didn't seem to be many exciting options, just a mechanical process of trying to get that hand whittled down. Perhaps, if you mastered the game, you could become fascinated with the knowledge gained by watching everyone's card plays. But I don't plan to play this game enough times to find out.
Top Secret Spies is a board game where any player can move any piece, but the owners of those pieces are secret. Spies is an abstract game (it has nothing to do with espionage) which features an unusual scoring system which I find hard to describe in one sentence. Basically, it seems difficult to put yourself in a good scoring position, without making yourself vulnerable to other players taking better advantage or moving you out of position. No doubt this was a design goal, and it seems to work well, at least to an inexperienced player's eye.
The game rules heavily emphasize the secrecy idea, where you disguise which piece you control and try to figure out which piece other players control. This is certainly a classic and popular game mechanic. Personally, though, I never liked games of this style, where the way to hide the identity of your pieces is to make moves that benefit the other players, and everyone tries to record which pieces were helped by other player's moves. So I wouldn't really ask to play this game. But if someone else wanted to play, it might be entertaining moving pieces around the board and watching the wacky scoring system.