Friday, September 27, 2013

The New Science and Time N Space

Well, it's been some time since my last blog post.  I made the decision that I didn't necessarily need to blog about every single game I've played...that was just turning into weekly recaps...instead I'm just going to post whenever I encounter something new and different, or there's something particularly compelling to talk about.

This past Tuesday, at our weekly game night, our group played two new games that I thought I'd spend some time discussion.  Actually, we played three games, the first being one of our favorites - Hansa Teutonica.  I want to mention that briefly, because Mike R. pulled out the victory with a very clever strategy that was semi-new to our group.  Usually in Hansa, the early game tends to be a struggle over people completing routes to the city of Gottingen in order to gain extra actions.  Inevitably someone claims an office in Gottingen in order to score points on all the folks completing the route for extra actions.  In our game, the very first person - Brian - to complete that route claimed the first office of Gottingen - and shortly thereafter Grant took the 2nd office.  So, the fight for Gottingen was more vicious than normal.  But Mike...he stayed out of that mess and quietly claimed the offices all across the north, include the towns of Groningen, Stade, and Lubeck - which open up Liber Sophiae, Privilegium and "Bag" actions respectively.  When the rest of us got around to using those routes, Mike was vacuuming in the points.  We all saw it, but no one did anything to stop him, and he won by a comfortable margin.

Alright...the first "new" game we played was The New Science, from Conquistador Games.  In this game, you take on the role of one of the famous Renaissance era scientists - Newton, Galileo, Kepler, etc.  You have 3 "energy cubes" for each turn, which you place on certain actions on the side of the board - re-arranging turn order, claiming "happening" cards, increasing your influence in several tracks, and most importantly - researching, experimenting and publishing scientific discoveries.  After everyone has placed, the actions are resolved, top to bottom, left to right - very similar to Dominant Species.  The bulk of the board is taken up by the "tech tree" of various scientific discoveries, which are broken up into 5 disciplines - astronomy, physics, mathematics, chemistry and biology. 

Each discovery is represented in a box with 3 levels - one for researching, one for experimenting and one for publishing.  In order to do those three actions successfully, you have to have a certain number of points in those areas - which are dictated by how good your particular scientist is in those areas, points that you can gain (or lose) on the action track, and in the case of experimenting, a die roll.  You can also use "rest points" that you have gained by using the turn order action space.  Lastly, to successfully publish, you must meet the requirements of having influence in different areas - government, religion, enterprise and science.

Now, I called the scientific discoveries a "tech tree" earlier, and that's what it is.  The higher level discoveries depend on the player having information on earlier discoveries.  The player can get that info by successfully experimenting on earlier per-requisite discoveries...or if they have been published by any player.  That's right...when you publish on a subject, you potentially open up higher level discoveries to other players.  So why publish?  Well, that's just about the only way you gain prestige (i.e. victory points).  In fact, that's really the core of the game, in my opinion...that decision on when to publish, and when to keep your discoveries to yourself (although someone else can certainly research and experiment on the same discovery as you).

One other thing I want to mention - starting with the 2nd round, 2 "Happening" cards are available each turn.  These can be "events", which affect everyone for that whole turn, "play" cards which take affect as soon as they are claimed or "laboratory" cards which give the player who claims it a continuing advantage for the rest of the game (or until he replaces it with another card).

I should mention that this is actually the 2nd time I've played this, but our first game a few weeks ago was rushed and cut a little short.  This time we played a full game with 5 players.  I'll say right up front that I really enjoy this game.  The tech tree mechanic is pretty unique, as far as I know.  In my limited experience, it seems to me that diversity is key - I got too wrapped up in the chemistry and biology sciences, and did well there, but then I was really shut out of the other sciences.  The "when to publish" decision is critical...and that also ties in to how you take your actions, and which particular research, experiment or publish action you claim (there are multiple, but they resolve in a very specific can be easy to screw up and select a publish action that happens before your experiment which case you've really screwed yourself.  Everyone at our table was new to the game, and everyone enjoyed it...some of the folks were not impressed with the pastel layout of the game board, but I didn't particularly have a problem with it.  I definitely would like to get this one to the table again soon.

The second new game we played was Time N Space by Stronghold Games.  I'm a big Stronghold Games fan, and last year at WBC owner Stephen Buonocore talked me into buying a ton of his games.  This year I resisted (well...I got Space Cadets:Dice Duel), but Stephen worked his wiley ways on Brian, who picked up TnS.  We finally had a chance to get this to the table on Tuesday.  We were fairly excited about trying this one, as the "innovative mechanic" is the use of sandtimers that each player uses to control their actions, in real time.  Additionally, the game is played to a strict 30 minute time limit (the Stronghold Games timer app for Android was very useful here...).

The theme of the game is interstellar trading.  Each player has 2 spaceships, 2 sand timers, and a player mat that has spaces which dictate how much he can produce, where to put demand tokens, and places to transport them to other players.  The goods/demand tokens are broken up into 4 different colors, and each player has 6 demand tokens of each color (3 1's, 2 2's and 1 3 demand).  The different areas on your player mat can produce goods of those colors, and you have to fly your spaceship to other people's planets, and deliver the amount of goods on their demand tokens to claim those tokens.  The demand tokens that you claim from other players are used for you score at the end of the game...but here's the catch.  You can only score for demand tokens in which you have managed to give away your own tokens of that color.  So you may have claimed a bunch of blue tokens from other players...but if you still have any of your blue tokens left, you don't get to score those.

A prototype pic I found on BGG
The sand timers are used for everything.  You move your ship - move it, but put a timer on it.  Want to create a new good?  Put a timer in that spot on your mat.  Same with placing new demand tokens an delivering goods.  You also have the opportunity to upgrade the various spots on your player mat...they start out only producing one good, or transporting 1 good etc...but you can pick up better tokens to place on your mat, but of course to place them, you have to use a sand timer.  The timers are 1 minute in a 30 minute game, you're going to get at most 60 actions.

As I mentioned, we had high hopes for this game.  At the end...we were honestly, a little disappointed.  We were hoping the sand timers would drive a crazy real-time chaos-fest.  And it was chaotic, but in spurts.  I almost feel they would have been better if each player had two timers that were of different length.  Both of them being a minute long meant that you often take 2 actions right in a row, and then waited a minute for both of your timers to run out.  Our 4 player game also devolved into players A&B trading with each other and C&D trading with each other.  Which was not good, because you score multipliers based on the number of different people who's tokens you collect.  There is a lot of talking and negotiating in this game - "I need brown, put out brown, and fulfill that request for you"..things like that.  So, I dunno...I'm willing to try it fact I WANT to try it again, because this game, more so than most, I think will require multiple plays in order to get a real feel for how you should do things.  That being said...I'm not absolutely clamoring for it again right away.