Sinister Soups Serving Musings On Game Development and Play


Boarding Party: Part 2 of 2

Check out Part 1, to read about Pandemic, Chrononauts, and Dominion.

Race for the Galaxy

Race for the Galaxy is another competitive solitaire game, and if you've never played similar games like Puerto Rico or San Juan (as I hadn't when I first sat down to play it) you may find it incredibly confusing. The rules to Race for the Galaxy are not easy to figure out if you're not playing with someone who's played before, and while the instructions are thorough, something about the way they're written makes it really hard to piece together what you should be doing.

Ironically, once you figure it out, it's the simplest game on this list to set up, and not a very difficult game to play. It is deep however, deep and satisfying.

The basic idea of the game is to build a space empire. It's a 4x computer game like Master of Orion in card game form, allowing quick, fascinating rounds of empire building. All players draw their hands from a single deck, and proceed to settle planets, build developments, and trade resources.

Ingeniously, all these mechanics use the same cards: to settle a planet, you put down the card for that planet, and you pay for it by discarding a certain number of cards from your hand. Developments, which are like buildings, improvements, or technologies, are built in the same way, while any planets that produce resources for trade are simply marked by putting a card face down on top of them when they have produced a resource.

The game proceeds in rounds, divided into phases, during the Explore phase, you can draw cards to replenish your hand, during the Develop and Settle phases, you can build, and during the Consume and Produce phases you can exploit resources to get victory points, or to trade them for extra cards for your hand. What makes this interesting is that not every turn will have all these phases, each player must select a phase at the start of a turn, and only those phases which were selected will be played. Additionally, while all players will get to play those phases, only the player who selected it gets a special bonus during that phase.

That's pretty much the gist of it, but it gets complicated in that most cards that you have played and added to your empire have special abilities that you can use during specific phases. Therefore, you can pursue different strategies for victory by building the right things. You can attempt to win by settling worlds, conquering military worlds, or building an economy to crank out victory points.

The deck has specific ratios of different cards, so if you're hardcore about it you can learn about great synergies between different cards and play the odds, but even if you don't really know what you're doing, it can be fun to see what all the different cards have to offer.

Part of what makes the game so interesting is that because cards are the fundamental resource, every decision you make is meaningful. If you decide to place a powerful card, you will have to spend much of your hand to be able to do it, and you will lose out on whatever benefits might have been waiting there.

I haven't had a chance to play that much of the game yet, but I really liked what I saw when I did, and can't wait to get a few more sessions in. I'd recommend it to anyone interested in deep strategy in quick, bite-sized games, but try to find someone who's played it before to teach you your first game.

Arkham Horror

Arkham Horror comes in a large box filled to the brim with cards, tokens, dice, and a gorgeous map of the town of Arkham. It's a strongly themed cooperative game, set in the Lovecraftian 1920's, where a team of investigators try to uncover and stop an ancient evil from awakening and swallowing the world.

The pieces that come with it are wonderful: little decks of item cards, spell cards, skill cards; player character portraits and character sheets; monster squares, life and sanity and clue tokens; all of them look great and give you something to hang on to for dear life.

You'll need that. This game is brutal.

Pretty much every mechanic of Arkham horror is designed to make you feel like a person royally fucked. Every turn, a new portal opens in town, and monsters come pouring out. Closing a portal not only takes at least 3 turns, but requires a rare item or one of your resources (clue tokens) to seal permanently. On top of that, whenever a portal opens, other bad things usually happen, like an environmental change that makes certain checks unlucky, or a rumor, which gives you a certain number of turns to meet a condition and prevent something horrible from happening.

I've only had a chance to play it two-player, and I definitely don't recommend playing with so few people.

With only two, you have to focus pretty much all your time to closing portals, which means you don't have a lot of time to do any of the other fun things the game has to offer, and which you probably have to do if you want to be able to survive. Moving around the map, you can participate in unique encounters in every location, drawn from one of the location decks, which can net you money, items, allies, healing, or any number of other useful things.

They can also lead to a horrible death, but pretty much everything in this game can.

I have to say that despite playing with only two people (and subsequently having to... modify the rules a bit, especially since it was the first time either of us was playing), I had a lot of fun with Arkham Horror. It's a long, epic game, more like a contained RPG that doesn't need a GM than your typical board game. The attention to detail is simply fantastic, with great art and writing to get you in the mood.

I would recommend it to someone looking for a long, epic cooperative game, and with a group of at least 4-5 people willing to stay for the long haul. With the right group and the right attitude, this game will give you a suitable simulation of fighting for your life.

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  1. I play Arkham with 2 other people, and even with 3 it’s brutal. Sometimes we add on one of the expansions and each play two characters. It makes what is already a long game take even longer, but with the extra characters you have a lot more options. I’d recommend playing 2 characters each if you’re only going to play with 2 players.

    Race for the Galaxy is awesome. Even if you don’t win you can have a ton of fun. One game I started as Old Earth, and promptly settled Earth’s Lost Colony and New Earth. Then, I formed the Pan Galactic League so that all of humanity could have a say in interstellar politics, regardless of location. Unfortunately this isn’t even close to a viable strategy, but the shear luckiness of drawing all the cards to play thematically correct made it awesome.

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