Thursday, October 24, 2013

Blinded by Science

Well, our latest Tuesday night session was all about science!  We got in another play of The New Science, but before that, we tried out an eagerly anticipated arrival....

Earlier this year, I finally jumped on board the Kickstarter wagon, backing a number of projects.  One of them was the latest iteration of Alien I wasn't exactly going out on a limb with that one.  However, one that I backed sight unseen was Compounded, from Dice Hate Me Games, by designer Darrell Louder.  Now, I decided to back this for a number of reasons.  First, I've gotten to know the folks at Dice Hate Me a little bit, and I've enjoyed the games they've been putting out - and I'm always happy to help a small independent publisher.  In fact, I met Darrell at this year's Prezcon - and marveled at how he restrained from throttling some younger players during a game of Pitch Car.  Second, I loved the theme, I'm a science guy - though I'm more comfortable with orbit mechanics than chemistry - and I loved the idea of a game based on science.  Third, the game got a thumbs up from my buddy Paul Owen, who had played a prototype at one of the UnPub events.

Well, as fortune would have it, Compounded arrived on my doorstep this past Monday.  I punched the pieces, and put on the stickers that night, but falling victim to an oncoming cold, I didn't get a chance to read the rules.  Not wanting to miss game night, I went to work snuffling and sneezing, and I threw Compounded in the game box, "just in case".  After medicating myself, and buying some hand sanitizer in an attempt to not spread my disease to my fellow gamers, I showed up at the Game Parlor, and since Paul was also joining us, and knew the rules, we quickly decided to give Compounded a try.  Setup was fairly quick, as I had each players components sorted into the test tubes (centrifuge tubes, really) that came as part of the Kickstarter campaign.  Paul quickly dealt the various chemical cards that would initially be up for play. 

My initial start with in 1 hydrogen, 1 carbon and 2 oxygens
The game consists of four phases per turn - "Discovery", in which you draw "elements" (i.e. plastic colored "jewels") from a bag - and importantly, make deals with other players; "Study", where you lay claim to chemicals that are in play; "Research", where you play your elements onto chemicals; and "Lab" where you can score for completed chemical compounds, and perform some actions to set you up for the next turn.  As you complete chemical compounds, not only do you score points, but you can increase your prowess in the various phases of the game, and also collect tools that will be useful.  But beware - hidden in the deck are Lab Fire cards, which will cause certain compounds to catch on fire, possibly exploding, scattering their elements to other compounds.  In such cases, it is always handy to have completed your fire extinguisher (needing carbon and oxygen).

Completing my extinguisher early in the game
So how would I rate my first Kickstarter "blind purchase"?  In short - a resounding success!  Everyone at our table enjoyed the game - there were several quotes along the lines of "this is a lot funner than I thought it would be!"  As for my part, I really enjoyed the game.  The game components are, for the most part, top notch.  The artwork and graphic design is fabulous, as one would expect from Dice Hate Me - using the Periodic Table as the score track is brilliant! The wheeling and dealing that happens during the Discovery phase is chaotic fun - more chaotic, than Settlers of Catan for example, since it's a free for all - and I see the chance of the game getting bogged down a bit there...but I think it's critical for player interaction.

If I had a couple of nitpicks, it would be that I found a few things to be on the small side.  The game is nice and compact - I was expecting a Ticket To Ride sized box, instead it measures a hair under 9" square - which is in itself fine, it just necessitates that everything else be a little smaller.  Specifically, the text on the player boards is tiny - although after a few plays, I doubt you'd be relying on that text.  The flame tokens to place on compounds after a Lab Fire are very tiny - make sure you don't lose them.  The centrifuge tubes that came as a Kickstarter bonus are a little overkill - they take up too much room in the box for the amount they store.  However, that's the nittiest of nitpicks, considering they were a bonus, and the folks at Dice Hate Me went through quite an ordeal to find something that they promised during the Kickstarter campaign.  In fact, from fragile materials, to size issues, the test tube issue seemed to cause the most headaches, and they very well could have just canned the idea, but they stuck with it and delivered on their promise - and I can't help but respect that.  In fact, for my first Kickstarter experience, I can't help but feel this is the way it should be done - constant updates, explanations for hiccups (i.e. the test tubes) - I never once worried that my "investment" was in trouble.  Now...bring on Brew Crafters!