Friday, January 23, 2009

Various & Sundry

I apologize for the absence of new material here on this blog in recent months. Part of that is having been caught up in the holidays, thought part of it is also not having played anything that has inspired me to write. Actually, that's not quite true; I did write a comical fictionalization of my one play of Battlestar Galactica: the Board Game (found here), but that seemed a better fit as a boardgamegeek session report than as a blog post.

I had high hopes for one particular new release, namely Municipium, designed by Reiner Knizia and published by Valley Games, but I've only played it twice and I'm not sure I have anything coherent to say about it yet. Sadly, I don't how quickly it's going to get to the table again, because it got a lukewarm reaction from the people to whom I introduced it. Specifically they felt that there was too much luck in the endgame—in both games several players were one step away from the win and the game was decided by who turned over the right common card for their situation. I'm not convinced that this is something that is necessarily going to happen every game, however. Moreover, I'm wondering whether it had anything to do with the fact that both games had four players; in both games the twelve-card common deck was reshuffled right before the end of the game, whereas it seems that three players would finish their game before the common deck was reshuffled. This would mean that players would have a better idea of what was left in the deck and could plan for it, thus reducing the feeling that the outcome was dictated by blind luck.

I should probably make an all-out effort to get the game to the table again so I can write something up about it, but there is another goal/obsession which tempts me even more, so much so that I am willing to set aside a brand-new Knizia game so that I can pursue it. What it is is that I am finally within striking distance of getting rid of my much-hated "unplayed" list, which is to say that I am only two games away from having played every game in my collection. The first offending title is Die Sieben Weisen—German for "The Seven Magi," I think—which is a partnership card game about dueling wizards. I bought this a little over two years ago when I was collecting Alea games; at that time I already owned at least two Alea games that I had never played, but it was an out-of-print title that I found for a reasonable price, so I snapped it up. The other hold-out is Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, another partnership card game which I am embarrassed to say I bought five years ago and which I still haven't played.

Speaking of card games, I might as well throw out a mention of the one game I've enjoyed the most lately, which is Die Sieben Siegel, or "The Seven Seals." This is a trick-taking game similar to "spades" in which players try to predict what tricks they will take, though instead of receiving victory points for correct guesses they receive penalty points for incorrect guesses. Additionally, one player per hand gets to be the "saboteur"; this player does not have to make a prediction, but rather starts the round with four penalty points and is allowed to reduce that total by one for each extra trick that another player takes. The idea is that you try to avoid taking tricks that you ordinarily "ought" to take—for example, by holding back high cards—so that your opponents take tricks that they didn't expect to.

The game is one for veteran trick-takers only, I think, because tyros will be content to simply fulfill their predictions, whereas what the game is really about is screwing up your opponents, even if you're not the saboteur. There is a delightful nastiness to the game, delightful because it's not arbitrary—you can't necessarily stick it to a particular player just because you feel like it, but all sorts of opportunities arise where you can throw metaphorical cream pies in your opponents' faces.

Perhaps most importantly, I like Die Sieben Siegel because I'm kind of good at it.

The one criticism of the game that I've heard is that the saboteur has it too easy; the maximum number of points that the saboteur can take is only four, whereas otherwise a really unlucky player could conceivably take many more. I think this is a valid criticism, but the issue doesn't bother me. I don't automatically take the saboteur just because I can, because unless I have a hand that's well-suited for the role (which is to say a hand that has high cards and which has a disproportionate number of cards in one or two suits), I find it more fun and interesting to be a regular player.


Mister Scratch said...

While I can hardly wrap my head about the dizzying mechanics of "Punto."

Joe Gola said...

I love Punto! As you well know.

Anonymous said...

I've only played Sieben Siegel once, but enjoyed it a lot. I've never played Spades, but it does have an air of advanced Ninety-Nine about it :)

I am among those that think the Saboteur needs some tweaking though. The fact that it's not as much fun doesn't deter players focused on winning. What makes it ticklish is that the value of the Saboteur varies some with the number of players, so it's hard to nail down a fix.

MarkCsigs said...

Hey, I'm still pretty interested in trying out Municipium myself ...

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