So many traitors this week. All of which were bookended by some tough push-pull economic games.
Players: 4 (Plays 3-6)
Duration: 45 minutes
Usually the theme of a game really helps to understand it. Build train routes, mine gold, manage a power network, once you start hearing the finer rules you can track them back to this ultimate goal and pin everything together in your mind. Medici is not like this. The idea of renaissance traders competing for contracts to ship goods could be translated to intergalactic hitmen, goat herders or competitive monkey picnicking and actually seemed to make it more confusing. So when asked what the goal in Medici is, just say ‘get points’.
Medici is an auction game played over three rounds where players bid for cards. Cards come in 5 different colours numbered 0 to 5 with two 5 cards, there is also a 10 card which has no matching colour giving a total of 36 cards. At the start of each round 12 cards are randomly discarded and then on a players turn they will turn over 1, 2 or 3 cards and then put them up for auction. Bidding then goes round the table but only once giving that turn’s player the last choice of bid. Then the next player puts cards up for auction and so on until every card is bought. Players can buy a maximum of 5 cards. When the round ends players then move up one of 5 coloured tracks, one for each card they have bought in that colour and score points for being first, second or third in those tracks. They also add up the numbers on their cards (which is supposed to be a boat or something) and those with the most get bonus points.
It’s a bit of a number cruncher but I really liked Medici. Auctions are short and fiercely tactical and you are constantly having to weigh up which cards you or your opponents want. Do I go for high cards and try and get the big bonus? Do I spread myself across all colours or should I concentrate on one. There is a real tug of war between players and a strong lead can be easily lost if you don’t concentrate (as I found to my dismay). The toughest part is that there is no separate score or currency meaning you have to spend your victory points to buy cards (players start with 40) and my foolish overspending in the last round sent me tumbling down the rankings. Partially this was down to being a new player who doesn’t know a cards value but mostly it was down to greed! Medici was a fine game and one I would definitely play again.
Players: 6 (Plays 3-10)
Duration: 30 minutes
Then we were back in the mines for a couple of rounds of Saboteur which I really enjoyed. I have described this before so I won’t go into to much detail but I have a slight balance concern with it. You really need the right number of saboteurs or the game is far too easy for one side to win. In the first round there was only 1 saboteur in 6 and he had no chance as we just steamed directly to the gold. The second round was a bit more balanced with 3 saboteurs but the 50/50 split made it hard going for the miners who failed to reach their goal after I managed to head them in the wrong direction. Then my wicked conspirators nobbled them entirely. At one point every player had a block card in front of them. It was a lot of fun.
Players: 6 (Plays 5-loads and loads)
Duration: 30 minutes
Werewolf is a very popular party game where players take the role of lynch happy villagers who are trying to find the werewolf traitors in their midst through alternate night and day phases. At the beginning of the game players are all given secret role cards which either state they are a werewolf or a villager (some of whom have additional powers). During the night phase, the werewolves (who know who each other are) get to select another player for elimination and the villagers get to use their special powers if they have them (the seer can enquire whether one player is a werewolf, the doctor can protect a player from elimination and so on). At the start of the day phase the dead player is out and then the villagers (including secret werewolves) have to decide whether or not to lynch someone to put them out of the game. These phases continue until all werewolves are lynched (villagers win) or all villagers are dead/lynched in error (werewolves win).
Initially I wasn’t too bothered about playing this as the hidden traitor game isn’t usually my favourite but the group I was in made it worth playing and we made plenty of noise which is what a party game should do. Werewolf is a game that I would love to play with a group of friends who aren’t gamers as there are plenty of laughs from randomly lynching your buddies and more importantly there are a lot of resources for this game online that are free.
Also, statistic loving lycanthropes will really enjoy this analysis on the game from episode 351 of the Dice Tower podcast. It starts at 43.46.
The Resistance: Avalon
Players: 6 (Plays 5-10)
Duration: 45 minutes
Next, yet another traitor game! By this point of the evening I was desperately trying to steer our subgroup into playing something else but my subtle hints were ignored and we ploughed into The Resistance: Avalon. My inward groan became an outward one when I was dealt the most boring role in the game but was saved after a new player misunderstood what was happening and we redealt the roles. I was now a wicked Minion of Mordred and felt a bit better.
The game takes place over 5 rounds with good players trying to successfully pass missions in the service of noble King Arthur and evil ones trying to secretly fail them. One player starts as the king and selects a group of players to go on a mission (he can select himself) then players vote on whether they think it’s a good team or not. If the vote fails the king token passes to the next player but if it passes the mission starts. Players on the mission have a success card and a fail card and secretly submit one in secret to the king. Good players will always pass a success but evil ones can choose whether to fail it if they wish. The king then turns over the cards and if there is just one fail card then the mission fails otherwise it succeeds. The king then passes to the next player and a new round begins. Good or evil players need 3 successful or failed missions out of 5 to win the game.
In a six player game there are four good players, two are normal but one is Merlin who knows who the evil players are and one is Percival who knows who Merlin is. This extra information sounds good but even if the good players successfully complete their 3 missions the evil players are allowed one attempt to assassinate Merlin. If they get it right then evil can still triumph. Enjoying Avalon is very dependent on a few things. You need to like the mechanic, be willing to play a character and have a relaxed group who feel the same. Thankfully I did have those and even more thankfully I didn’t end up as the vanilla good guy which is incredibly dull. I did have a good time but will be avoiding any full on traitor games for as long as I can!
Players: 3 (Plays 2-4)
Duration 2 hours
After all those accusations I was crying out for a change of pace and a couple of new members arriving was the perfect smokescreen to change tables. I chivalrously gave them my spot and bounced into a game of London which was a far cry from the riotous lynching and double-crossing I had been doing up to that point.
London is all about rebuilding the capital following the Great Fire in 1666. Cards in the game represent a miscellany of London and can be dockyards, Christopher Wren, street lights, paupers, fire brigades or a whole host of London themed features. On their turn players draw a card and do one of 4 actions. They can build (by placing cards in front of them), run the city (which activates the cards in front of them), purchase a district (represented by a map in the centre of the table and provides cards and victory points) or draw 3 cards. The game ends when the draw pile is exhausted. Players then add up all the victory points on the cards they have built and districts they have purchased. After deducting any penalties the one with the highest points is the winner.
This game is all about juggling different economies. The first is money which you need to buy districts and to build or activate certain cards. It can be very hard to come by and although players can (and will) take loans they have a steep repayment cost and, if unpaid, have a victory point penalty at the end of the game. The next is hand size, you need cards so you can play them for resources but having too many can hurt the third economy, poverty. Whenever you run the city you gain poverty equal to the cards built and cards in your hand. You can mitigate this by having districts in the city or building over spent cards but this can cost money. At the end of the game high poverty can net you a large victory point penalty.
It’s a tough game and one that puts you under a lot of pressure. You know what you need to do and you know how to get it but there is often a high price attached. I only just managed to pay off my debts at the end of the game and had the lowest poverty but I had not managed to build many high victory point cards and suffered for it. It hurt my poor brain but was a masochistic antidote to all that traitor malarkey.
Next week I am going to try and play nice games about pandas. Fingers crossed.