I did a tour of the Metro Halifax Region’s FLGSes yesterday with two of my best friends (and gaming buddies). Over the course of six stops, I made two purchases, both Fantasy Flight releases of Reiner Knizia designs, one a classic and one brand spanking new. I also got in a couple of plays of the classic. Here are my early impressions.
This, of course, is the Fantasy Flight reprint of the classic Avalon Hill game Titan:the Arena, lightly modified. I was forewarned from comments on BGG that the cards were horrifically fragile, and required immediate sleeving to avoid distinguishing white marks around their edges, so on the way home from Halifax I stopped and grabbed 300 card sleeves (to have a few in reserve for other games). Storage is going to be quite impossible in the original box unless I chuck the (mediocre at best) box insert. After quickly condomizing the deck and scanning the rules, four of us sat down for a couple of games.
CA is a blend of a Take That game and a Betting game. Normally, that combination would be a formula for chaotic tedium, but this is a Knizia design. If anything, it feels a tad damped down, with the special powers rather limited and tactically difficult to use on a regular basis. On the other hand, that dampening allows CA to offer genuinely meaningful decisions, with strategy almost as important as tactics. These pleasant surprises give CA enough depth that I expect it to remain interesting even after the special powers become familiar. Already I have learned a painful lesson about the importance of first round bets. As is normal for me, I saw the risk more clearly than the reward. Also, no one voluntarily revealed a secret bet to seize backer status for one of the monsters, so that is an obvious place for future experimentation.
Based on what the other players said, my reaction, while quite favourable, was the least enthusiastic, so I expect Colossal Arena to hit the table quite a bit for the foreseeable future.
Right now I have CA rated an extremely tentative 8 on BGG.
Ever since Joe Gola, Rick Fawkes and Gil Hova got together to play THE MYSTERIOUS GAME OF MYSTERY™ (and Joe wrote up a report on it that was up to his usual marvelous standards), I’ve had Blue Moon City on my wanted list. While I haven’t played it yet, I have read the rules and some time spent gazing at the components, and I am convinced that I made a wise choice, even if Fantasy Flight is trying to pull a bit of a fast one with the box size.
Aside from the oversized box, and possibly the most atrocious box insert I have seen in a modern boardgame (one component literally cannot fit anywhere in it), the production values for BMC are almost beyond reproach unless you have an irrational hatred of plastic. The tiles that make up the play area are thick, and feature a wonderfully textured linen finish. The artwork is universally above average—the blueprint-like sketches used for buildings that have not yet been completed are especially interesting. The rulebook is marvelously laid out and a pleasure to read (although there are a couple of small ambiguities in the text itself, and one or two more examples might have been useful). The cardboard tokens for the crystals and dragon scales are (pleasantly) oversized and attractive. I even like the pastels chosen for the player colours, simply for the sake of breaking out of the primary colour rut that German games are in, although colourblind players may not share my enthusiasm. The plastic player and dragon tokens are nice enough and few in number, so they are not as distracting as the hordes of minis in some of Fantasy Flight’s other releases.
Aside from the box insert (again, I say blech), the only disappointment was the lack of linen finish on the cards. I was spoiled when two of the first three German Games I bought came from Hans im Glück (by way of Rio Grande), and I have yet to come to terms with the fact that other German publishers don’t share their unconditional love for linen. The fact that each card has a unique, high to superior quality, illustration, even though the cards are not all functionally unique, almost makes up for this, but not quite.
Oh, right, all of these beautiful things are used to play a game.
Actually, BMC looks like it should be a nice middleweight gamer’s game, with some potential for crossover appeal to non-gamers. The theme is an interesting (so long as you are science fiction-tolerant) twist on the overused building genre that builds nicely on the established Blue Moon continuity (City features the species of the card game coming together to rebuild after the conclusion of the war featured in the original card game). The dragon scales add an extra tactical dimension that promises to raise BMC to a game worthy of Knizia’s record for producing quality middleweights that feature interesting, often difficult, decisions.
The multipurpose character of the cards is an interesting twist on the card driven concept seen increasingly in wargames. The design mindset is different, however. In card driven wargames, the designers seem to aim for having card powers that are of equal utility to the card’s operational utility, generating interesting decisions about how to use each card, but creating noticable imbalances in the power of diferent cards and relying on the length of the game to balance out the luck of the draw. Knizia has instead given stronger special abilities to cards that are poorer at constructing buildings, creating a greater overall balance between cards. Which is a better approach is probably a matter of taste, and to a lesser extent the context of the particular game.
Sadly, BMC appears to be a tactical game rather than a strategic one, but that is not unusual in German games.
I can’t wait to get it on the table.