Pre-Helcon games

Helcon is history and it’s time to write another lengthy epic on the games played. The event was a wild success, with over 50 visitors during the two days. The place we had was practically full during the Saturday afternoon. There’s definitely new event next year, but we might be forced to look for a new location as the current one can only hold 75 people (well, more would fit, but fire restrictions limit first).

As usual, I headed south Friday, to spend the evening with Tommy, Laura and Stefu before the event began. Tommy had brought a nice pile of new and old games from Essen and his overflowing game collection was even larger than before. I first thought I’d take only few games with me, but I ended up hauling a large bunch of games — mostly for sale, because this was a wonderful opportunity to sell some useless games.

But, games! Our first game was Michael Rieneck’s Spiel des Jahres -candidate Around the World in 80 Days. Many who played it in Helcon dismissed it as light and stupid, but Tommy is a big fan. I liked the game, too. Sure, it is light, but it also has interesting twists. I wouldn’t buy it myself, right now, but would recommend it to someone looking for a nice family game with a bit more to it than in the usual mainstream games.

The goal of the game is to go round the world, spending as few days while at it as possible. The winner is not the first player to reach London, but the one who spends least days. The mechanics are simple, but there are some neat ideas. The best one is probably the actions. Each turn, players choose a card to draw from the table. Each card is connected to an useful action, so players must make a decision: do I need a good card or a good action? Luck has a role here — if you have a good card with good action, the decision is straightforward.

It’s a light game and clearly in the family game genre, but I think it’s a good game for such. I had a good start in our game, but at some point things just didn’t go my way. I really screwed it up crossing the Pacific Ocean. Laura was first to make ít to London in 75 days, but Tommy beat her with 73 days. I was, unfortunately, last one in London and thus an automatic loser. I wouldn’t have won anyway… Our game took an hour, and would’ve been faster if we had known the rules better.

Tommy had a copy of Eiszeit (aka Mammoth Hunters) he wanted to try, so why not! I’m always in for an ALEA game, even one of the not-so-well-liked ones. Eiszeit turned out to be a decent game, actually. It’s an area control game, where players run around with their men, trying to place them in areas with mammoths. Once the phase is over, some of the pieces starve (there’s a random element involved, majorities rule here) and then the survivors are scored. Each piece is worth one point plus one point for each mammoth in the area. Glaciers cover an area of the board making things more intimate and the game continues.

The idea is pretty fun and there’s a very clever mechanic in play. Players actions are driven by two kinds of cards. Light cards are positive things, stuff you want to do: place more pieces, remove opponents’ pieces, move mammoths, things like that. You pay the light cards with stones. To get stones, players must play dark cards, which give actions to other players. Each dark card played also moves the game along, as there’s only a limited supply of stones. That’s tremendously clever and works really well. That was a really good, fun part of the game.

However, where the game fails is the chaos of it all. Eiszeit is a chaotic game, where beat-the-leader is very much the flavour of the month. Two players can ally against third, using both light and dark actions against the leader. Nasty. That makes the game both close and exciting, but also a bit pointless. It was no wonder our game ended with a very close score: 43-42-41. I had the lead through the whole game and won, even though I got some heavy flak on me most of the time.

The game is also a bit too long. There should be four phases, but we only played three (shorter game, as suggested by rules). That took an hour and was certainly enough. The game is so repetitive that playing over an hour would be too much. Despite it’s shortcomings, I think Eiszeit is a fun game and I could recommend it to anyone who likes a bit of chaos and beat-the-leader mentality.

Next on the list was Geschenkt, one of the games I had expected most. Oh my, it was fun! I even won the first game I played (that would be my last Geschenkt victory for the whole weekend). The idea of the game is very simple: either pick up the card on the table or add a chip. The player who takes the card gets the chips. Cards have numbers ranging 3-35 and count as negative, while chips are each one point on the good side. And here’s the twist: if a player has a series of cards with consecutive numbers, only the lowest card is counted. Brutally simple, but very addictive. Of course, to add to the excitement, nine random cards are removed from the deck.

Geschenkt is a must-buy for the fans of quick little card games. It’s a very enjoyable game and the game I’m most looking forward to adding to my collection. If I can’t get it before the next board game club meeting, I’ll have to improvise — I want to play this game so badly.

After that it was a step up in the complexity scale. Einfach Genial is Knizia’s latest offering. It didn’t get the Spiel des Jahres (with a theme, perhaps it would have), but the Austrians gave their award to it. Sure, it’s an abstract game, but very accessible one. The rules are very simple and the twist is already familiar from Tigris & Euphrates: players score in several colours and the lowest score counts. Other than that, it’s just tile-placing over and over again. It’s simple, but exciting. Tommy likes the game a lot and is contemplating a 10 rating. While I’m not that excited, I do agree it’s a fine game. Simply genius! Ours was a close game, which Laura took home with just 11 points.

One more game before hitting sauna: Da Vinci Code. I already asked Tommy to bring me a copy from Essen after reading the Games Journal review. However, then I got the news there’s going to be a Finnish edition, so I canceled my order. Now I got to try before I buy, which is always nice.

I’m buying. Da Vinci Code (which has, of course, nothing to do with the book) is a clever little deduction game. Each player has a four-number code. Players try to guess their opponents’ codes. Correct guess opens their code, wrong guess opens yours. Last man standing wins. It’s a luck-heavy game and nowhere as challenging as for example Black Vienna, but sometimes lightness is a good thing.

Da Vinci Code makes for a good filler and while it’s light, it’s far from stupid. I think it’s a very pleasant little brain exercise. What’s best, I won our game! Laura was first one out and Tommy followed soon.

Last game of the evening was Flowerpower. Tommy beat me, once again — I don’t think I’ve ever won him in this game. It’s a fun little game nonetheless.

Continue to Helcon III — Saturday.

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