May 1, 2007

Game Day Report for April, 2007

by Susan Rozmiarek

We had a small but good turnout for our monthly game day and I got to play a nice mixture of mostly newer games. I haven't had time to blog much as spring is a very busy time around here, but I did want to jot down a few comments. I'm looking forward to the (hopefully) lazy days of summer when I plan to ramp up things around here again.

Dragon Parade

This is a new little 30 minute filler from Reiner Knizia and Z-man Games. It's themed around the Chinese New Year. The map depicts a city with a winding street. The city is divided into a red half and a yellow half. By playing either a red or yellow numbered card on their turn, players move a dragon along the street that many spaces toward the matching half of the city. They then place a merchant token on one of the street spaces. The idea is to have the dragon end up near your merchants when the round is over. There are a few placement and scoring twists but it's a rather simple game without a whole lot of control. Nothing here to knock my socks off but that said, the game was fun and felt a bit like playing tug-of-war. It certainly made a nice opener while we were waiting for others to arrive. It'll probably get played a bit until the next cute little filler comes along.

The beautiful dragon parades by a group of admiring merchants in Dragon Parade.

Honey Bears

A silly but clever kid's game that shouldn't be as fun as it is. Whoever started the whole "go, red bear!" thing was obviously not talking about this particular red bear. Red Bear failed me miserably. I'm too embarrassed to post scores.

Red Bear lumbers out to an early lead. Alas, he could go no farther.


This was the main course for the day for me. After my second playing, I'm quite taken with the game. I wasn't sure that I liked the head-to-head majority competition for goods the first time that I played, but I really enjoyed it this time probably because I had a much better grip on how the placements worked. And of course, I simply adore route planning so the planning for the second phase of the game is pure heaven for me. In fact, the two phases seem to be so much better intertwined than those in the designer's previous game, Il Principe. That game's subsystems feel totally disjointed to me, as if I'm playing more than one game at the same time. There is somewhat of the same feel in Hermagor but it all seemed to make much more sense together. This particular designer seems to try and cram as much game as he can in the box and it can be a bit much. There are too many fiddly ways to score in Hermagor but with two games under my belt now, it doesn't seem nearly as daunting. I do have to nitpick at the game's appearance. I detest lots of brown and the art has a definite computer graphics look to it. The icons kind of just float on top of the map rather than looking like they are part of it. However, the people who are griping about the fantasy theme need to just hush. It's barely there, for goodness sakes, and it's unique for this sort of game. It sure beats the heck out of trading spices and cloth yet again.

The ugly, ugly Hermagor map. Awesome game, though.

Age of Discovery

There has been quite a lot of discussion on the online gaming forums about how the secret goal cards in this game are very important and possibly unbalanced. Some appear to be much easier to accomplish and upon reading the rules, I was inclined to agree. Armed with this info and repeating the dire warnings of others, Ed and I sat down a little apprehensively for our first go at it along with fellow explorers Mark and Mike.

This is a dressed up card game in which you are buying ships to send off on expeditions for victory points. To raise the necessary money, you will also be sending your ships on trade voyages. On your turn you can do two of four possible actions - purchase ships from a display, buy a trade contract from those available, assign ships to a trade contract or expedition or take money from the bank. Ships come in certain colors and values which have to match the trade contracts and may or may not match the expedition (more points if the color matches and the sum of the ships cannot go over the number on the expedition). Ships that go on trade voyages are tied up for a duration of 1-3 turns (player's choice) and earn more money for longer voyages. The ships go back into the players hand when they come back, while ships assigned to expeditions are there for the duration of the game. The expeditions are worth varying points and score twice during the game for each ship assigned to it. The tricky part of the game is the secret goal cards which are randomly dealt at the start of the game, one to each player. These are bonus points that are awarded at the end to that player if he achieves a certain condition, with the points being higher for each trade contract completed. The numbers of points are scaled depending on the difficulty of the goal.

Mike drew the dreaded difficult goal card which required him to own all the ships on expeditions to get bonus points. Unfortunately, his initial trade contracts that he was randomly dealt required red ships and there were none in the display for purchase. This was quite the hindrance and his strategy was to immediately try to start filling up the cheaper expeditions with ships. We knew exactly what goal card he had!

Mark had what is perceived to be the easy goal card with which you get bonus points for getting at least one ship on an expedition.

My goal card required me to get the majority of ships on expeditions and Ed needed to own at least half of the ships.

I quite enjoyed how the game played. I got into a bit of a rhythm with assigning ships to long trade voyages and setting up to do another one in the meanwhile. On the turn when my ships arrived back home, I'd use some of the cash they earned to place all of them on a single expedition, often securing or nearly securing the majority there. It was quite tense toward the end with Ed and me spoiling each other's plans. With the exception of Mike, the scores were quite close. I pipped Ed by two points. Mark was ten points behind me, but if he'd completed just one more trade contract, he'd have been right up there with Ed and me. Unfortunately, Mike with his impossible goal card trailed by about forty points below me. He had only been able to complete a single trade contract even though he'd claimed three expeditions, not an easy thing to do with Mark plunking down ships everywhere willy-nilly for his goal. We discussed it afterwards for a bit, but never came to any conclusion. Like any obsessive gamer I've been mulling it over since and wonder how he would've fared if, after he'd gotten a few expeditions wrapped up, he'd worked at completing short, cheap, trading contracts while getting a ship out here and there on the more valuable expeditions just for the points. I'm dying to play the game and get that goal to try and see what I can do with it. If it turns out to be more balanced than it initially appears, it's going to make a great lunchtime game with a bit of heft squeezed down into a short 45 minute game.

The end of the Age of Discovery. I'm green. Ed is red, Mark is blue and Mike is yellow.


I guess this game does require some skill to play well because I crushed three new players. Prior experience meant that I knew what I needed to do although I was helped by another player making an early potion using two of my secret ingredient. Even if I hadn't gotten the bonus points for my secret ingredient, I still would have won. I was also pleased that everyone didn't immediately start emptying the bag of cubes as in my previous game. Instead, every player but one made a potion on their first turn. Still, I'm a little under whelmed by the whole thing. I think that perhaps I'm expecting too much and trying to put too much thought into it. I wanted a clever puzzle every turn, dang it. Instead, I just end up going for the more valuable potions even if it means burning a turn or two to get the needed ingredients. I keep hoping to create loops whereby making one potion, I get the ingredients to make another which lets me make the original again, etc. If those types of moves are there though, I'm just not seeing them. Maybe I'm just not clever enough to see them. Oh, well. It's not a bad game at all, but it needs a little more excitement. I wonder if Harry Potter feels bored and unchallenged in potions class as well.

Helen, Susan, Peter and Francesca try to make the best potions in Alchemist.

To Court the King

This seems to be Helen's game. She crushed us like bugs. Again. This was my first this time playing the game with only three players and some characters seemed to go very, very quickly. It kind of threw off my strategy. I guess that's a good thing as I've gotten into kind of a rut going for the same characters every time. I need to try some new combinations before the game gets stale.

Susan and Mike L. get crushed by Helen playing To Court the King. See how smug she looks? Even the extra dice that I'm hiding in my lap can't help.

For more pictures from this gaming session and others, see our Gaming Picture Gallery.

Posted by Susan Rozmiarek at May 1, 2007 4:56 PM

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