It’s not often that I have a night where I think that I would like to play the exact same games the following week but Monday was one of those nights. It’s nice to make a little bit of progress on understanding a game even when I know that I may be scratching the surface of something incredibly complex.
Players: 5 (Plays 3-5)
Duration: 10 minutes
Coloretto is a simple card game where players try to collect sets of cards of the same colour. The larger the set the larger the score but players only score positively for their largest 3 sets. Any sets outside of this score negatively. On their turn players can either draw a card from the deck and place it in a row in the centre of the table (the number of rows is equal to the number of players) or take all of the cards from one of the rows (closing the row for that round). Players who take cards are then out for that round. Each row can have a maximum of 3 cards and when every player has taken a row the round ends, the rows are opened and play starts again. The game ends on the round in which there are only 15 cards left in the draw deck.
I love this game. It can be a tough decision whether to draw or not on your turn and if so then where should you put that card. You want to leave it with other cards that you might want but also make it unattractive to other players. Perhaps you should just take a row but ducking out too early means you won’t get many cards but then again waiting too long could get you stuck with a row that is losing you points … or maybe not. Rounds go by nice and quickly and although you are only making decisions on your turn you are still invested on other players turns too. Coloretto is the sort of filler that I think I could play every week – rounds are short, it takes no time to learn and has just enough complexity to make you ponder but not pontificate.
Players: 4 (Plays 2-4)
Duration: 30 minutes
With most games you can generally get a feel for how to do well, it’s just a matter of figuring out the best route to the goal but even when you haven’t balanced your resources, controlled key territories or collected the best cards you can usually see where you went wrong. Dominion is not like this. To me it’s a kind of magic. A primordial card soup of shuffling and deck-building where creative card combinations seem to scatter out skilled players hands like pixie dust. On the surface I know that this isn’t the case. Despite the empire building theme it’s a pure exercise in puzzle solving and statistics but seeing all those cards is like opening the back of a clock. An impossibly sophisticated sum of mechanical parts. However, Monday’s game let me tug the littlest corner of the curtain aside to see how the magician works and I think I saw Debbie McGee falling through a trap door.
Dominion is a deck-building game where players start with a common deck of ten cards and then buy cards to add to their deck, reshuffling and redrawing as they go. Generally cards are of three types: Treasure cards (currency in values of 1, 2 or 3 gold), Victory cards (worth 1, 3 or 6 victory points) and Kingdom cards (special actions). On their turn players take an action using one of the cards in their hand and then buy a card from the common pool of Treasure, Victory and Kingdom cards (adding it to their discard pile). Finally they discard the rest of their hand and redraw up to 5 cards. The game ends when either the 6 point Victory cards are all bought or any three others. Players add up all the victory points in their deck and the one with the most is the winner.
So where’s the magic? Each game uses only 10 types of Kingdom cards that are chosen from a pool of around 250+ (with all expansions) which is a huge amount of potential combinations. While it may seem like the best course of action is just to buy more Treasure cards until you are filthy rich and then buy all the Victory point cards, this will take a long time and investing in a neat combination of Kingdom cards will get you there a lot faster. Straightforward cards let you take more actions or draw more cards but others let you upgrade cards or mess with other players. A crucial ability lets you trash cards from your deck which thins it out meaning that killer combo can come up more consistently. The latter is the one that I only fully grasped the other night.
The last bit of sleight of hand is knowing when to start purchasing victory point cards. They don’t have any bonuses so clog up your deck meaning that you only want to buy them at the very last minute. There will always be a moment in each game where one player has their deck clockwork running and will start a points rush. After this tipping point players will then start their own rush hoping that their own decks are strong enough. If you haven’t managed to get yourself in a good place when this switch occurs you may be in trouble but games are fairly swift so you won’t have long before getting another shot at cardboard alchemy.
Players: 4 (Plays 2-4)
Duration: 2 hours
I have featured Alien Frontiers in a previous Round-Up so I won’t do a full rules explanation but to sum up it’s a worker placement game where the workers are large dice that represent spaceships. They are rolled at the beginning of a players turn and then assigned to various orbital facilities to gain resources and ultimately land colonies on the planet that makes up the majority of the board.
Like my last game of Alien Frontiers I was slow getting off the mark and despite a healthy late game I just couldn’t catch up with a leader whose strong start meant he could coast into victory. Like the previous games winner he won with only a few spaceships (dice) and was not shy about using the Terraforming Station to sacrifice the ones he did have. I am going to have to rethink my strategy for this one a little. Next time I am going to have to try not to spend so much time building a fleet that will arrive late at the party. More Alien Tech too because it gives a lot more options like special powers to manipulate dice or move other players.
I really like this game but it does suffer from a lot of down time in between turns. Thanks to the last group though I have come up with the idea of buying a second set of dice meaning we will be able to roll and plan for our next turn as soon as the previous one has finished. I am looking forward to testing this in the next few weeks. Fingers crossed that the last two slow games haven’t put everyone off!
Players: 4 (Plays 2-5)
Duration: 30 minutes
Why is it always the novelty games that are the highlight of the evening? String Railway takes place in a large loop of string stretched out on the table. Two extra pieces of string are added into the board to represent a mountain range and a river. Each player has a home station in one corner and is given 5 pieces of string in their colour. On their turn a player draws a card and places it within the boundaries of the game somewhere and then has to place string to join it to a station they are currently connected to. Points are awarded for any stations they pass through and lost for crossing other bits of string. After 5 rounds the game ends and the one with the most points wins.
Fairly straightforward but it was really interesting to see how the play area developed. Stations can go anywhere so each game is totally unique and seeing the whole game grow was amazing. It being a spatial game there was a fair bit of jostling around with players insisting they were touching more stations than seemed feasible but this was all part of the fun. String Railway was definitely a great closer and anything that has players engaging in friendly argument about such creative boundary disputes is always a lot of fun.