Geschenkt

A new review is up at my Finnish game site: Geschenkt.

I’ve reached ten plays fairly quickly with this one, mostly because nobody is satisfied with just one play. It’s always hey, I got it, let’s play again — that alone is a sign of a good game. And that’s it, pretty much: Geschenkt is a good game.

Well, you might want to know why. First of all: I just adore simple but clever card games. If that’s not your thing, forget Geschenkt. Geschenkt (given, as in gift you’d rather not keep for yourself) is a very simple game, but offers quite enough meat. The decks consists of cards, numbered from 3 to 35. Each card is worth negative points according to its value. Players start with 11 chips, which are each worth one positive point. However, the chips have another, more important meaning.

There’s always one card available. Of course, as cards are worth negative points, taking cards is a bad move. The chips come to rescue here: toss a chip on the card and the turn moves on to next player. Of course, whoever ends up taking the card (either by free will or lack of chips) gets the chips, too. At some point the deal is sweet enough for someone to grab the card, because eleven chips just isn’t going to keep you from taking cards throughout the whole game.

This all wouldn’t be enough to make the game really interesting. A twist is needed. If a player manages to collect a set of cards with consecutive numbers, they get a bonus: only the lowest card of the set is counted in the end of the game. Now, if you have, say, 30 and 31 comes up. Will you take it? Why would you? It’s basically insignificant for you (few positive points, if there’s some chips on it), but hurts someone else a lot (close to 30 negative points).

New players are prone to just grab the card right away. It’s nice to see them realize that, frankly, you’re just doing everyone else a favour by taking a nasty card for free. The others should pay for the relief, really and therefore one should let the card go around the table for few times to collect chips. Eventually you want it, to get the chips and to be able to repeat the deal with the next card in the series. There lies a risk, though, as the amount of chips everyone has is secret. Someone might not have enough chips, which will ruin your plan.

There’s also a temptation to take cards with gaps in the series, say 11 and 13. After all, the 12 will come up and you’ll be able to connect your separate series and save lots of points. Well, it’s not that simple — to keep up the tension, nine random cards are removed from the deck. Perhaps that missing link in your series is one of the removed cards?

Geschenkt is a charming game. There’s lots of tension and a nice dose of luck. The rules are very simple and quickly taught. There are different strategies to try (well, at least two: avoiding cards and collecting lots of cards in hopes of getting lots of chips) and the whole deal lasts just ten minutes or so. No, double that: you’ll be playing it again immediately.

With it’s low price, Geschenkt is another fun filler to add to one’s collection. There are lots of these kind of ephemeral filler games (I’ve played Coloretto just twice this year while it was all the craze last year), but you never know when you’ll find a gem like 6 nimmt which you’ll still be playing ten years from now. Then again, missing a game like this is not a big deal — if it’s spectacularly good, it’ll float around.

Boardgame club session: Intrige, Geschenkt

Erkka and Robert were first to arrive, so we kicked the session off with two games of Da Vinci Code. It’s a good game and really a good choice for the club. It’s easy to learn (even learning by reading the rules is quick and easily done), plays fast and despite being kind of lucky, offers some thinking, too. It’s kind of cerebral quickie, really.

We played two games and unfortunately I didn’t win either one. Erkka and Robert both won once and I think they liked the game. However, at least Robert felt the dashes introduced too much luck. While they make cracking the code a little bit harder, they might give too much benefit for the lucky player who draws them. Perhaps they shouldn’t be used.

As I didn’t have Geschenkt yet, I had to improvise. I took cards from 6 Nimmt and some glass beads and hey, off we went. We played a three-player game and then Ilari joined us, eager to try the game. Everybody liked it. I just wish I’d get a proper copy, I’d prefer that to a "pirated" copy. Playing with hidden tokens, by the way, improved the game. I think that’s the official rule, too — we had that wrong in HelCon. It doesn’t matter much, I like the game both ways, but hiding the tokens adds to the delightful uncertainty of the game.

Next up was the only new game this time: the infamous Intrige. Others hadn’t heard of it — pity them — so everybody was willing to play it. I told them it is called one of the most evil games in existence, but only after we had played a while. We had a full set of five players, which I think is necessary to play the game.

Oh boy it was fun! I wasn’t sure if it’s my kind of game, but it was. I just love the trash-talking involved. In general it’s not good to offer too much advice to other players (especially if the advice is also helping the adviser), because that turns every game to Diplomacy and that just isn’t fun, unless everyone likes it. Most games are much better if they’re not made into negoating games, really. That’s why it’s so fun to have a game, where all that advising and talking rubbish is actually encouraged.

I managed to annoy Ari right away. He gave me a 10k job, when I promised him the same treatment he would give to me. Well, I did give him the 1k job, but that’s because he was planning to stab me next turn, giving his 10k job to Erkka. Turn two, and I already have a mortal enemy. It didn’t go much better for the rest of the game, really. That can be seen in the results: I had 80k, others had 110k, 118k and 124k while Ilari got 171k — his last two income phases brought in 42k each. There was some last-turn kingmaking going on, we had a healthy beat-the-leader attitude throughout the game (and very unhealthy beat-Mikko attitude in the early game).

Even though I lost by a large margin, I had lots of fun. Intrige is a very good game, but it takes the right crowd. If people are prone to bear grudges or take nasty game moves personally, Intrige is the wrong game to play. At least these guys kept all the hatred inside the game, which is the right way to play the game. Actually, I’d find it quite immature, if someone would get mad at me because I betrayed them while playing Intrige. Intrige might be nasty, but such things happen in other games, too, every now and then.

The worst thing about Intrige is, come to think of it, the way how you can get screwed for really no reason at all. For a whim. When you are stabbed in Diplomacy, it stings, but if it’s well done, it’s easy to take; you can even admire a skillful stab. Then again, pointless stabbing just makes the other guy look bad. In Intrige, the reasoning behind a betrayal is less substantial. There are no armies on the map conquering supply centers — it’s just someone’s conception of who’s leading the game or what’s his or her best choice. Good positions in someone else’s palace, future job applicants, history of betrayals, all the fuzzy things that matter. It’s much harder to say if a betrayal was a good move or not. It’s immediately a lot more personal.

And if you can’t handle that, you won’t enjoy Intrige. It’s that simple. Even if you can handle it, it might not be fun. Ari didn’t like the game, that was obvious. I’m not sure if he would’ve played the game, had he known what was coming. Robert also said it was the last time he would play the game, but he found the experience interesting. Don’t know about Erkka, but Ilari enjoyed the game and will play again, I believe. And I’m certainly looking forward to playing the game again and I’m quite happy to have the game in my collection.

After that we went Mafia and played Don. After my bad experiences in Helcon, I wanted to try it again. Now we had four players and correct rules and it was much better. We actually played two games in a row, which is fairly rare (but not this time, for we had several good, short games). I still won’t rate the game higher than seven, but that’s a steady improvement. Actually, if I ran into it with a good price, I might buy it. The nice coins alone are a good excuse to buy it.

Then we played some more Geschenkt with different people and belive me I did well! In the first game I scored -10, which in my experience is a very good score. But it was the next game that really blew the top off: I had just one card (26) to score and 40 tokens! 14 points, positive! Amazing. I did have luck with the cards — in the end I had a straight run from 26 to 32. I made good fortune while taking those cards! Usually such a long run is cut short, but with such large numbers, nobody was willing to take the hit for common good. Just one card off my series would’ve dropped me to negative points. Still, it was a wonderful game.

I took my El Grande, which I hadn’t played in ages. Robert had similar revival feelings and we got a game going on. We had just four players, but hey, it’s a good game with four as well. With three, it’s charm begins to diminish. Now, it was great fun, especially since it was such a long time from the last game. Robert got a lead in the first scoring round and pretty much kept it throughout the game. Not enough beat-the-leader, I suppose. The struggle for power was fun, even though I came in third. At least I had a healthy margin over Erkka… Small comfort.

To close the evening we played a game of St. Petersburg. Olli hadn’t played it before, so he was eager to try it. I think he played really well for a newbie, he wasn’t even last. I was. But it was close! Three of us were within five points (70, 73, 75) while Robert got amazing 103 points. Collecting lots of aristocrats, as usual, made the difference.

Summa summarum, it was a very good afternoon. Lots of good new games (very fresh, if not completely new) and a good oldie. What’s more to ask?

Lahti games weekend, Saturday and Sunday

After a badly slept night a new morning dawned. While waiting for the breakfast, I played a game of 6 Nimmt!. We played it differently, using (almost) the Terminal City Gamers variant. Instead of several rounds, we played just two, without shuffling the deck or the cards on the table between them. It was a good variant, too. It makes the game faster and better suited as a filler (as played properly the game can take quite a while sometimes). I recommend you try it.

While we were playing, Munter brought out a hellish device called Lightning Reaction. Despite watching the guys play a round, I gave it a go. It’s … interesting. Each player (from two to four) is given a handle. Each handle has a button. When a round is started, a light starts to flash and a terrible wailing noise is played. When the noise ends and the light turns from red to green, players rush to push their buttons. The last one to react gets an electrical shock. You will also be shocked if you push the button before the light changes. Three shocks and you’re out.

It’s an exciting game. The shock is unpleasant enough to make losing unattractive. The noise is horrible, if you’re not playing, but adds to the tension of the game while you’re waiting for the light to change. It’s quite a game. One round was enough for me… I’m quite sure that the game could be quite a craze with the right people.

A game of Taj Mahal was starting and I rushed to join it. It’s a great game I don’t own, so I’ll try to use all the chances I get to play it. At some point around round six or seven I got the idea to collect lots of cards as my game started to look pretty bad. Well, I did. In the end of the game, I had 17 yellow cards and 2 white cards. Thus, I scored 19 bonus points. I thought I had a chance to be third, but other players had so many cards (Stefu had collected cards to win crucial last two rounds, but then won the temples he needed with just two cards or so) I came fourth. Still, it was an interesting tactic.

I was eager to try some of the games from Knizia’s Dice Games Properly Explained. We got seven players for a game of Mice or men, which I instantly renamed as Men or berrypickers. The idea of the game is that all players roll three dice under a cup and then betting starts. Players must either fold, scoring 1-10 penalty points (depends on the number of the round) or stay with the men. Men can either accept current penalty point stake or raise it. After everyone accepts the same number of penalty points, it’s time for showdown. The player with the weakest dice scores the penalty points.

In the first round, the loser had to collect 16 points. In the second round it was 20. Then it got up to 60. Then again 60. Next round it crept up to 80. Suddenly it was 150. On the following round we were satisfied with just 70. Then testosterone started really going and Stefu had to collect 1000 penalty points. After that there was no stopping it — I scored 2000 penalty points. In the final round, there was 2500 points at the stake. If a player had folded every round, their 55 points would’ve gained them the third place as the final scores were 20-46-60-269-1178-2089-2523. It was certainly fun, but the explosion of penalty scores kind of ruined the game. I think there needs to be some kind of fix. Perhaps a limit of some kind, or perhaps the penalty for folding could be related to the current penalty number or something like that. Of course, a good solution would be to play for real money or something else that’s concrete, as that would limit the bets in a natural way.

After that, we tried another bluffing game from the book, Little Max. There was some confusion with the rules, making it a slightly flat experience.

Then it was time for a pre-arranged match between me and Reko. We had agreed to play a game of Hammer of the Scots. Luck of the draw awarded the English forces for me to command. It was an interesting game. The score shifted during the game, I think I was in the lead for most of the game. Reko certainly had his moments. Wallace roamed the land free (well, I was once very close to finishing him off, but he escaped) killing my armies and at one point, Galloway and Bruce (who I converted very early in the game) turned to blue and Scots armies were unpleasantly close to England. I suffered slightly from bad cards, especially when Edward was on board. Then again, I had some luck on my side. The most memorable moment was when Moray and an army tried to convert Comyn. I rolled four dice for Comyn, scoring four hits. Both Moray and his supporting army were defeated. In the end, the game was close but on the last turn, I once again managed to push deep in to the Scottish territory and the game ended with England controlling ten nobles. It was an excellent game.

I had traded my Die Händler for San Marco with Phil and Stefu had agreed to arrange the swapping to save postage costs. There were three of us, so I thought San Marco would be a good game to try. Fourth player joined us before we could start, but we played it anyway. It was an interesting experience, as I hadn’t so much as glanced the rules before we started. I pulled it off well, I don’t think we made any big mistakes. At least I was familiar with the splitting mechanism from Canal Grande.

It was a good game and I enjoyed it immensely. It has certain elegance and tactical richness to it. Some say it doesn’t work with four players, but I didn’t find any problems with it. It’s certainly not the most original game, being a prime example of territory dominance. Still, I like it. I can see it being a very slow game with certain players, but with players who don’t analyse it to death, it should be good fun. I expect to enjoy it much more than Die Händler, so it certainly was a good trade for me.

After that it was the time for a grand declaration of war: A Game of Thrones was to start. I had missed a game on Friday, so I was more than glad to participate in this second round. I’m currently working through the first book of the series and I’m not completely satisfied with it, it hasn’t grabbed my attention properly yet (and I’m few hundred pages in the book!) — however, the background makes for a good game world.

I got the Lannisters, who are the Borgias of the book. The characteristics of the different houses have no effect in the game, they only affect the initial setup. I like the way the combat system is based on Diplomacy — fortunately our game had less negotiations and thus finished in good time. The mechanism of assigning orders to units for simultaneous resolution was interesting and the limited supply of order tokens caused some trouble. I never had huge armies, so I could usually do what I wanted to.

The peaceful expansion phase of the game was over relatively quickly. I soon attacked the Greyjoys by boat, aided by the Tyrells. They avenged by taking the Riverrun. However, as Starks came from the north, Greyjoys were soon on the brink of extinction. I added an insult over the injury by taking over their capital, Pyke. For the last hour or so of the game, Greyjoys had little to do and that is a problem with the game, really — something bad the game has inherited from Diplomacy. There’s little to help it, however, it’s such a natural consequence of the rules and the mechanics. Still, especially in a con or game club environment, getting stuck on a hopeless game for hour or more is much worse than getting eliminated early.

Starks and Tyrells were the powerhouses of the game. I was at five castles at one point but failed to gather more. My trouble was the supply — when the only supply event game, I was at my weakest. There were few musters when I simply couldn’t fulfill my potential because I didn’t have enough supply. That stopped me from winning. Starks had pretty pleasant times in the north, nobody tried to invade their homes or anything. It was an interesting game and while I could certainly play it again, I would not buy it. It has too many problems and I don’t see it getting played very much. It’s nice, but not quite nice enough.

Our game was interrupted by a very good meal. Rice, pita bread, French fries, salad and kebab meat. It was a very heavy and tasty meal and combined with heavy breakfasts well worth the ten euros I had to shell out for the weekend. Munter has lots of experience organising LARPs, so perhaps feeding 30 people is no big deal for him, but still, it was well done, considering the time it takes to prepare the meals and clean out afterwards.

Last game of the evening (this time eleven-ish, after some well-needed time in sauna) was Kogge. I played with Reko and Stefu, but I’m afraid the game was a bit too complicated for the moment. It’s not the easiest game to figure out and thus it probably should be played when all players are fully awake and focused. At least Reko seemed to have trouble concentrating… Stefu managed to storm to a victory by raiding and buying bonus chits when the game was close to its end.

It was a much better night, I slept for almost eight hours. Sunday morning was lazy, I ate a lot and packed my gear. I managed to get a ride to the train station and caught an early train with Olli. I also found out how long it takes to go from Riihimäki to Tampere by train: four rounds of Anathema and a round of Lost Cities. Anathema (or Casino) turned out to be a rather nice two-player game and, thanks to the small space it requires, a good game for limited space, like in trains. Lost Cities takes just about as much as space as the train has to offer.

And that’s it. I’m quite happy it’s over and I’m back home, but I guess I’m heading back next time, if there’s nothing more important going on the same weekend.

Weekend games: Puerto Rico, Gang of Four

I was in Jyväskylä meeting my parents last weekend and games were played, as usual. The boys weren’t home this time, so I chose more adult games that would work with three. Well, youngest of the boys was around enough so a game of 6 Nimmt! got played. Another fairly typical game choice was Puerto … Continue reading Weekend games: Puerto Rico, Gang of Four

Lahti Board Game Weekend, Friday

So, I spent the weekend at the Munter mansion in Lahti, playing games. It was an excellent weekend of games, one of the best I’ve participated in. Not the best, though — I think game events get better the less people there are. The participants were pretty carefully selected, but not enough. The ideal for … Continue reading Lahti Board Game Weekend, Friday

Weekend games, Sunday

Sunday began with a game of Mamma Mia! with the kids. They’ve become fans quickly, I guess I’ll just have to keep on taking the game with me from now on. I’d also throw a guess that it’s going to appear on the next Adam Spielt order, too… Land Unter, here are the kids. Kids, … Continue reading Weekend games, Sunday

Coloretto

Finnish visitors can go read my Finnish review of Coloretto. English visitors can just read on. Coloretto is a rather nice little game. It’s a very simple game, one of those one-minute rules games. You can teach the rules in a minute and once you’ve heard them, you can throw away the rules — they … Continue reading Coloretto

Wednesday Games III: The Last Panther

It was a bit quiet day today, as we only had three players. Well, we still played many delightful games. I was eager to try even some of the Mü & mehr games. So, we tried The Last Panther, which turned out to be a nice little trick-taking game. It is also rather nasty game, … Continue reading Wednesday Games III: The Last Panther

Translations

For the Finnish readers: I’ve been writing lots of translations lately (that is, all the card games in the order, except Mü). Here are the links: Coloretto, Dia de los Muertos, King Lui, Land Unter, Mamma Mia!, 6 Nimmt!. I’m definitely translating the Mü games as well. Let’s see if I bother to do Amun-Re … Continue reading Translations

Wednesday Games, part II: Card games

First: I’m now a proud owner of Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective. I got my game from the post office yesterday and I’m really looking forward to an opportunity to try it — it looks absolutely brilliant. Then: we had a very nice game session yesterday. Six players were there, but not at the same time. … Continue reading Wednesday Games, part II: Card games