Monday Night Tabletop Round-up – 17/11/14

Lost Legacy

Players: 4 (Plays 2-4)

Duration 20 minutes

When I started these round-ups my original vision was that when a game was first played I would mostly explain the mechanics but on subsequent plays I would concentrate on any deeper insights that I had gained into the game itself. This is tough with Lost Legacy due to the simple draw a card, play a card gameplay and small card pool but there was one card that made me rethink about how I played this game and is worth looking at.

After playing more rounds of Love Letter than I care to count my first instinct in this game was to find the Lost Legacy card, get hold of it and keep it as long as possible. This was a mistake. The Guardian will wreck that plan as once it appears it randomises players hands meaning you are probably going to lose the Princess, er I mean Lost Legacy. The Guardian encourages you to play a bigger game by dumping the Lost Legacy into the ruins to keep track of it as much as possible. After all, the game is not about having it but knowing where it is. This is a tricky balance. Do it too early and another player might find it but wait too long and that Guardian might show up and you will end up losing it into a random players hand.

The Guardian also tells you that the player who played it almost certainly doesn’t have the Lost Legacy card so if you saw it in their hand earlier then you can guess that they have put it in the ruins and may know where it is. Have you been watching them? I hope so as if you get an earlier guess then you might be able to get the card before them. Putting this plan-busting random effect card in the game encourages two important things, using the ruins (making you play the full game) and watching other players like a hawk. With binoculars.

Bohnanza

Players 6 (plays 2-7)

Duration: 45 minutes

Bohnanza is a fast trading game about growing, harvesting and selling beans. At the start of the game, players are dealt five cards which each feature a variety of bean (red, black-eyed, soy, stink etc). They also have two bean fields in front of them where they will plant beans but each field can only contain one type of bean. Players get points by harvesting a field which means taking all the beans out of it, keeping some cards to represent points (different bean types have different distributions of payouts) and putting the rest in the discard pile. The game ends when the deck has been exhausted three times.

On their turn, players must first plant the top card from their hand (potentially forcing them to harvest if there is no spare field) and then they reveal the top two cards from the draw deck. They must then plant these unless they can trade them with another player. All trades must be immediately planted. Then the player draws three cards and puts them to the back of their hand. Additionally a player can buy a third bean field but it costs them 3 points.

I really enjoyed Bohnanza and the fast trading and intense player interaction make this the perfect noisy filler. The fact that you have to keep your hand in order and plant the top card on your go makes for some wild deals including giving cards to other players for nothing. However its greatest quality is the fact that it generated the unintentionally rude ‘I’ll give you two black-eyes for a stink’ which puts it alongside Agricola (‘can we convert children into food’), Pandemic (‘we need to address the black problem’) and, of course, the classic Settlers of Catan (‘I got wood for your sheep’). Illustrious company indeed.

Betrayal at House on the Hill

Players: 6 (Plays 3-6)

Duration: 90 minutes

You know those horror films where a group of dunces get stuck in the wilderness and decide to take refuge in a menacing haunted house built on an Indian burial ground? Well, Betrayal at House on the Hill is that. Up to 6 players get the chance to blunder deeper and deeper into an obviously hostile mansion before ‘The Haunting’ triggers and one of them turns bad. Real bad.

Players select from one of 6 characters (each having a speed, might, sanity and knowledge trait) and on their turn they can move as many spaces as their speed trait allows. The game starts in a 3×1 hallway and when a player moves through a doorway they draw a random room tile and resolve its effects if any. Some rooms are just hallways which mean the player can continue moving but on reveal most trigger a card draw meaning the player must finish moving and resolve that card.

Item cards provide you with various weapons or buffs but event/omen cards can be anything. You might get bitten by a shadowy creature, get a raving madman companion or fall down a mystic slide. The main difference between event and omen cards is that omen cards force you to make an omen roll. If the dice total is greater than the number of omen cards drawn so far then nothing happens but if not then the haunting starts, the game changes completely and players must consult the two scenario books (one for the player that just went bad and one for the rest) to see what their objective has become. Scenarios are incredibly diverse and can be a player turning into Dracula, raising an undead horde or racing to get magical items.

This game is all theme. The gameplay feels very rudimentary especially before the haunting when players are just stumbling about the mansion gaining items and encountering spooky events. Basic dice rolls are used against the four traits each player has and the characters all seem pretty much the same but when The Haunting occurs and the story kicks in then the game turns from a tame exploring game into a fun and exciting race. Betrayal at House on the Hill is one of those games that is more about the players than the game. Mechanically it’s very simple but it creates a great structure for 6 people to sit around a table, use their imagination and just have fun. Tabletop did a good playthrough that’s worth checking out.

Hansa Teutonica

Players: 4 (Plays 2-5)

Duration: 2 hours

The problem with playing so many different games is that sometimes I forget which ones I have and haven’t played. I thought that recording my plays on Board Game Geek (BGG) would clear up some of the confusion but even though I am sure that I have played Hansa Teutonica, BGG says otherwise. This means that either my brain is wrong or BGG is wrong but considering my appalling score on Monday it’s probably the former. Sobs.

Hansa Teutonica is set on a map of Northern Europe (predominantly Germany) and features around 25 named cities and various routes between them with each route containing 2, 3 or 4 smaller spaces (mostly 3). On their turn players can do two of 5 actions: take cubes from the general stock into their supply, put cubes from their supply on a space, displace another players cube from a space and take it from them (they then get to move it to an adjacent route along with another from the stock as compensation), move a number of their cubes to a different route, or claim a route.

The first four actions are just about getting cubes on the board but it’s the last one that is the most important. To claim a route players must have a cube on all its spaces. Once they do they then put those cubes back in the supply and choose one of a number of bonuses. Depending on the city on each end of the route they can either claim it (controlling a city gives you points when somebody claims a route attached to it and bonus points at the end) or improve their abilities (more actions, a greater number of cubes from the supply, open up more city spaces for control etc.). Additionally some routes have additional tokens you can collect that give you a one-off instant bonus or points at the end of the game. Once a player hits 20 points they trigger the end game where points are awarded for routes, developing skills, cities occupied and any other bonuses. There are a few additional elements but that is roughly it.

This game is a tough balance. There are a lot of ways to get points and it’s easy to get dazzled by choice. I paid the price for not focussing on a clear goal and being distracted by opportunities that lead to very little reward. Of course you need to be flexible as other players will often be chasing the same thing (especially the city that grants you additional actions) but before you can do the thing you really want there is often a number of prerequisites (each with their own prerequisite) so each action must be played as efficiently as possible. A very good game and one I would like to explore more strategy for in the future. Or just cut my losses and play 250 rounds of Lost Legacy.

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