August 15, 2008

Gulf Games 22

by Susan Rozmiarek

Another Gulf Games has come and gone. We've been going for six years now, and we have made it our annual family vacation. It's now less about trying all the new games and more about getting to see all our friends. It seems like with every passing year I spend less time playing and more time hanging out, drinking wine and eating chocolate late into the night. I did, however, manage to squeeze a little gaming in with the socializing. Here are my brief thoughts on the new games that I did play:

Games good enough to definitely make the "buy" list:


This was the "Best in Show" for me. I normally shy away from prototypes, but this one has been fully developed and is due out in a few months. As I'm describing a lot of the new games I play, I often say how they are similar to other games, something that has really burned me out on new eurogames. Dominion feels quite unique to me, a HUGE plus in its favor. It's a fast and furious game of card drafting as you try to build an engine that lets you get the most victory points. You build your deck as you go along and burn through it over and over, trying to get the right balance of money, action, and victory point cards. The types of action cards made available for each game are chosen at the start from a wide selection provided. Each game can play drastically different depending on the mix of cards used. Players can tailor the game to their tastes by choosing or not choosing to pick cards that cause a lot of player interaction. I enjoyed trying to figure out a strategy based on how the available cards would interact with each other. I played it twice with different sets of cards and both games were completely different. One felt like a solitaire race and the other was downright nasty. Believe the hype - I loved this game and will be buying it the second it's available. It's the addictive type of game that you want to sit and play over again and again


This is one of this year's Spiel des Jahres nominees and it is rather hard to find. It's a tactical abstract game of moving pawns around to build and destroy towers of blocks for points. These actions are done with randomly drawn cards depicting different colors that match the colors of the blocks and the spaces on the square grid of the board. The game has a pleasant flow to it and there is a really nice mechanism to alleviate bad card draws. The tower floors are made out of the same nice, heavy material as quality dominoes, and well, I'm easily sold by nice bits, especially if the game is actually good as well!


I adore dice, so I'm loving the current trend of new games that use dice in different ways. This little two-player set collecting game from Michael Schacht has you placing dice, based on the numbers rolled, on a central row of cards similar to the tiles of Roma, although in this game you are trying to have the most influence in order to collect the cards. The dice placed not only affect the cards they are on, but also adjacent card. That and the scoring twist make it a pretty interesting game with nuances I was only just seeing towards the end. It's also very quick to play but alas, it is another German-only game and hard to find here in the States.

I didn't get a chance to play them, but Ed really liked Tribune and a little Adlung game called Palastgefluster.

On the "maybe" list

Stone Age

This game is yet another worker placement game of gathering resources and turning them into victory points in the same vein of Pillars of the Earth, Caylus and Leonardo da Vinci, etc. However, it is much simpler and I liked how it used dice to generate a little excitement and uncertainty to the resource gathering. But, the worker placement mechanism is becoming so overused and Stone Age pales in comparison to my two favorites - Pillars of the Earth and Age of Empires III. So, while I enjoyed playing it, I don't really need it.

Note: Stone Age ended up being our first pick off the prize table so we now own a copy anyway :-)

Big Points

This was cute little filler that reminded me of Tutankhamen. There is a winding path of differently colored wooden discs and there is a pawn for each color. On your turn, you pick a pawn and move to the next disc matching its color. You then collect either the disc in front of or behind the pawn. Discs will be worth points based on their matching pawn's order of finish. There are two special colors that work differently to add a little more to the game. Utter fluff, but it was a fun, quick game.


Another set collecting game with an auction mechanism involving placing your workers on spots of varying costs at different sites on the board to get the most influence in order to be able to collect the things there. What makes the game interesting are the different ways each site resolves, making for some interesting placement and money management decisions. There are also some action cards that add some strategy. This game is very close to making the "buy" list, although I'm worried that it'll just get lost on the shelves amidst our bloated collection of other games of this type and weight.

Cannonball Colony

This was an okay game of building forts, roads and cannons. It has some interesting placement decisions, but it feels very abstract. The cannons are an important part of those decisions, but they also provide for some nasty play that may be off-putting to some people. I'd play it again, but I doubt it would ever be a favorite of mine.

The disappointments:


I really want to like this game. I've played this game twice now and still haven't made my mind up on it which is a very bad sign. I love the theme, art and the nifty monk figures but the game goes too long and is only interesting and fun for the first 2/3 of that time. It's sort of reminds me of a cross between Blue Moon City and Tikal. You are drawing and placing tiles that must be constructed for points, often with the help of other players. You use your allotted movement points to send your monks out to work or pray on various tiles to earn work points. Unfortunately, just as in Tikal, this can bog players down with analysis paralysis as they try to optimize these points. Also, lucky tile draws can have a big effect on the game. There are some clever things in it that I like, but the game as a whole just hasn't been that fun. We did get a rule wrong about the blessings, so I hope to give it one more chance before it hits the trade pile. That would be so very sad, as I usually adore the Ragnar Brothers' games.


This is a tile placement game of trying to form and control groups of like tiles along and near the Nile River. There wasn't anything particularly unique or exciting about it and it just felt rather dull. I'd like to play it again to see if I missed something. Or rather, I NEED to play it again as it is a review copy and I need to give it a fair shot.

So, those were the new games that I played during the week. I did play an old-but-new-to-me classic deduction game - Black Vienna. This is a straightforward deduction game which means that I enjoyed the challenge but totally sucked at it. It is long out of print but it is easy to make a homemade copy.

I also played some favorites - Uptown, Pandemic, Pick-Two, Midnight Party and Ticket to Ride. Sadly, despite loose plans to play D&D 4e and Doom, my only ameritrash moment was getting a copy of the most recent version of Talisman off the prize table in the second round. I was quite thrilled. (Yes, I know it has flaws. I like Fluxx too, so there!).

Posted by Susan Rozmiarek at August 15, 2008 10:53 AM

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