Monday, November 9, 2009

Game Impressions: Street Illegal, Employee of the Month, Shipwrecked, Romance of Three Kingdoms

Street Illegal is a card game of illegal street racing. I really like this game. You lay out a random course with cards, and there is a system where you use your cards to control your speed while trying to gain chips that let you go faster than the maximum safe speed or help you to pass other competitors. The actual racing is not done in terms of absolute physical position, but rather in terms of ordinal position – what order everyone is at one time. Even though the game is somewhat abstract compared to a board game like Formula De, with a little imagination I feel like I am really racing at high speed along the course, and I like the way the cards work. It handles any number of players from 1 to 7 easily, since you always have 7 cars but there are rules for faceless characters to drive the cars not controlled by players. In fact, I think I prefer fewer players in the game because I have so much fun trying to pass the "Old Pros". I've only really noticed one problem with the game. You can build up unlimited chips, but driving fast and trying to improve your position against other cars tends to cost a lot of chips. But since position is ordinal, you can't get any farther back than last place, which is where the players start. So one strategy is to drive the first half of the race at extremely slow speeds and save up your chips. While this strategy is far from a sure win, it does seem rather too tempting for something so boring. I'm thinking of possible rules variants to put a damper on this.

Employee of the Month is one of those totally abstract games whose theme is printed on the cards but has nothing to do with the play of the game. It is a bidding game where you bid on good cards by deciding what bad cards you will be willing to take with them, then at the end, you calculate who has the highest and lowest totals in various categories, to determine a victor. I set up the game to begin a solo playtest, and discovered I couldn't motivate myself to actually play a game. Each round, each player has to determine their correct play. In a regular card game, this depends on the cards you hold and the state of the game. But at the start of this game, everyone is pretty much in the same position, bidding on the same cards with pretty much the same value to everyone. There doesn't seem to be much to do except "solve the game" and figure out the correct bidding strategy. By the end of the game, this would be totally different as you compare your mathematical totals to other players to determine bidding. But in general, the game just seemed too unbearably abstract and mathematical for my taste. I'd rather write a computer program to play for me.

Shipwreckeded is a card-based bidding game. The key mechanic of interest boil downs to an outguess game (like rock-paper-scissors) – you make secret bids, and the best bid for you to make depends on what bids you think other people will make. The mechanics and design appear to be reasonably interesting. But I don't enjoy outguess games, so I skipped playing and moved on to the next game in my stack of games I borrowed.

(You might think it isn't too useful giving my impressions of a game I never played, but I figure I might as well share the information I have. Maybe if you are a big fan of outguess games, you'll want to give it a look).

Romance of Three Kingdoms is a CCG-style card game where players send warriors into battle to conquer land. You can see from comments in the rules that this is clearly intended to be a Diplomacy-type game, where the card play is just a backdrop to the real game of negotiation between the players. The game mechanics are OK, but the balance is odd. You start with no lands, but controlling any land at all makes you far more powerful. So the two-player game doesn't seem to work, as whoever wins the initial battles and holds a piece of land soon snowballs to victory. The balance needs to come from the diplomacy. Since I don't enjoy diplomacy games, I didn't pursue the game any further.

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