Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Two Eagerly Anticipated Games

Well, GenCon has come and went (I really need to get there some day) and with it, a bunch of eagerly awaited new games have arrived.  There are two that have been on my radar for a quite a while, and I've been fortunate enough to try them both in the last week or two.  They are the Lords of Waterdeep expansion, Scoundrels of Skullport, and the newest offering from Gale Force Nine, Firefly:The Game.

Let me start with Scoundrels of Skullport (SoS) Lords of Waterdeep has become a favorite at my house - my wife loves it, and it's just as fun with 2 players as it is with 5.  If I were to bet, it would be that LoW is my most played game in the last year (I've now started tracking my plays on BGG, so next year I'll be able to definitely see what I've played the most).  That being said, you can only Rescue the Magister's Orb or Domesticate Owl Bears so many times before you're ready for something a little new.  I worry a little about how tuned in my FLGS is to the overall gaming scene, and when I pre-ordered SoS from them, months ago, I was nervous that they wouldn't quite follow through.  So, I pre-ordered on Amazon as well.  Imagine how excited I was when my FLGS called me on the Thursday that GenCon had started to tell me they had it on the shelves.  I immediately ran over and picked up a copy...I think I got my copy before GenCon attendees got theirs!  Also, that gave me enough time to cancel my Amazon pre-order, which is fortunate, because apparently Amazon was unable to fulfill quite a bit of those orders.  So...+1 for my FLGS!

But, on to the expansion - SoS provides some new variety, with not one, but two(!) expansions in one box.  The "Undermountain" expansion adds new Lords, new quests and new intrigue cards, but generally does not alter the game that much.  The "Skullport" expansion adds a little more variety - again with new Lords, quests and intrigue...but also a new "resource" - corruption - which is worth negative points at the end of the game.  SoS also comes with agents and tokens for a 6th player, and some extra agents for the original 5 colors, so you can play the "long game" with more actions per turn.

Things aren't fitting quite as nicely
SoS has not been without some controversy, as apparently someone at the Wizards of the Coast quality control department fell asleep when this expansion was being made.  The cards are all a hair bigger than their counterparts from the base game, there's some slight color difference in the card backs, the quest cards are printed "upside down" with respect to their back and the box insert, while mimicking the insert of the base game, is of substantially lower quality (feels flimsier and doesn't hold the pieces as well).  I don't think any of this is a deal breaker, but some of it is mildly annoying, particularly from WotC, who have been publishing identically sized Magic:The Gathering cards for over a decade now. 

The new starting buildings in Undermountain
I've had a chance to play SoS twice now...but both times I've only played the Undermountain expansion.  So I haven't had a chance to play with the corruption yet...but that looks very interesting to me.  I've seen some concern online that the lord that gives you points for your corruption tokens is underpowered.  But how about Undermoutain?  The three new lords give you points in the following ways: 4 pts per Undermountain quest, 3 points for any (non-mandatory) quest and 5 points for any quest that was already valued at 10 or more.  Some big highlights of the other new items include 40 point quests, intrigue and buildings cards that force you to seed other parts of the board with money or adventurers, and intrigue cards that allow you attack (i.e. remove) other players buildings.  I should also mention that a side board brings three new buildings into play from game start (as does a similar board in the Skullport expansion).

Some nasty corruption tokens
In general, I've liked the expansion in both my plays.  The new quests and buildings and intrigue cards are adding some variety to the base game.  I have a slight nagging feeling that some things may be unbalanced, though.  In both games I've played (one 2-player, and one 5-player) the person with the lord who scored 5 points for every quest > 10 points won.  The 40 point quests are a huge advantage if one player gets one, and no more turn up.  The 40 point quest did not seem particularly hard to complete either - about on par with the 25 point quests in the base game.  The player who won in both games also played an intrigue card that immediately allowed them to draw 2 more intrigue cards and play them immediately.  That being said, in our five player game, we knew the eventual winner was more or less running away with it, and we did nothing to hamper him.  So, we have ourselves to blame - at least partially.  I will not be making any rash judgements after only 2 plays, but I will be keeping an eye on how things play out in future games.  I was also thinking of using the expansion in the final of next year's Prezcon LoW tournament, but I've cooled on that a bit.  We'll see...

Eagerly anticipated game #2 was Firefly:The Game (FtG) from Gale Force Nine.  Long known as a purveyor of cool little tokens and trinkets for miniatures and board games, GF9 hit a home run last year with their first in-house game, Spartacus: A Game of Blood and Treachery.  For their 2nd game, they had taken on the universe of Firefly, one of the most beloved (if short lived) franchises in Sci-Fi history.  I must admit, that when I first saw pictures of the game back at Prezcon in February, I was underwhelmed with the board layout.  But's Firefly, right?  Unlike SoS, FtG will not be available to the general public until the end of September or so, mostly due to a production error with the Alliance ship, I understand.  However, they did have limited numbers available at GenCon, and one of our gaming regulars, Carson, snatched one up.

You can't take the sky from me
FtG is, at it's heart a "pick up and deliver" game.  You're the captain of a Firefly class transport ship, and you fly from planet to planet and your goal, to quote Malcolm Reynolds, is to "find a crew, find a job, keep flying."   At the start of the game, you pick from a number of "stories", which is basically your overall objective or scenario for the game.  Each story has 3 goals, and the first player to complete all 3 wins.  Now, you won't have enough skills or money to complete those goals immediately, so you have to take other "jobs", which allow you to earn money, which in turn allow you to hire crew, buy equipment, get ship upgrades,etc. - which in turn allow you to tackle tougher jobs, which get you more money, enabling you to get more crew, more equipment etc. - until you feel you can start tackling the main goals of the game.

My ride!
Our game was a 4 player game - which is the maximum amount of players - unless you picked up Game Trade Magazine Issue #162 which came packaged with "The Artful Dodger", a 5th ship.  Let me say right off the bat, that FtG comes as close to faithfully representing it's source material as any game I've played.  I think Gf9 did an outstanding job of getting the "feel" of the Firefly universe right.  You had to dodge the Alliance and Reavers, hope your ship held together as your go from one end of the 'Verse to the other, maybe take on some less than savory jobs just to stay afloat, make sure your crew stayed happy, watch out for the likes of Saffron - all great stuff!  My main concern after my one play is play time.  We played with the recommended starting scenario - and it was listed as 2 hours.  After 3 hours, we had to pack up because the FLGS was closing - and only one player had completed one of the goals.  I estimate we had at least another hour to go.  And that seems to match up with the comments on BGG, which are estimating an hour per player.

The 'Verse
Along with play time, and maybe related, I have a concern about downtime.  This, of course, is more concerning with higher player counts.  But, there's not a lot to do while the other players are taking their turns.  There's no direct conflict in the game, although players can move the Alliance or Reaver ships towards each other, and trade with each other.  But, by the end of the game we were getting better about speeding things along - for example if a player takes his last action as "going shopping" at one of the markets - fine, while he's deciding what to buy, the next player can start moving his ship.  And I will say that I thought as we started to get the hang of the game, we were playing faster, which is to be expected of any new players.  We were also starting to get the hang of how to earn money, which is key.  After about the first 2.5 hours, most of us still had the same amount of money we started with.  But we were getting there.  If we had started again, I feel we could have probably finished the game in 3 hours...but probably not the 2 hours they estimated in the instructions.

Bottom line - despite concerns of play length - I am eager to get this one to the table again.  I think just being prepared for a longer game, plus with experience in the game, will help a lot.  And there's a lot of fun stuff going on here.  I will say that this game takes up a lot of table space.  This game has the most cards I've seen other than maybe Arkham Horror.  And a lot of tokens for cargo, contraband, fuel, passengers, etc.  Each player needs to have their stuff laid out so they can see it, too, which means a lot of space.  But, I'm anxious to get my copy in a month or so and play it some more (one of the "stories" allows for solo play, I believe).  Until then, I'll be in my bunk.

1 comment:

  1. Good to hear some positive press for our FLGS, Game Parlor.

    I'm definitely not burned out on the LoW base game yet, but the SoS expansion sounds good, too.

    And I'm very interested in trying Firefly, despite the game length concern. Perhaps a Saturday afternoon would be a good opportunity to get a game in.

    Great stuff!