Been playing a goodly number of new board games lately, and I wanted to talk up three that I found particularly interesting.
Ostia — Played this with Mike, Dan, and Mike’s friend Ben. It’s a commodities trading game, with elements from Puerto Rico, Meuterer, and auction games. Through auctions, you gain goods which you can then trade for victory points, sell for cash, or stock away for later. Doesn’t sound innovative, but it’s the auctioning that’s really interesting. You put two goods up for auction and go around the table getting bids. But the players don’t HAVE to bid higher than the previous bid, and the auctioneer doesn’t HAVE to take the highest bid. So you can give up the tons of cash the guy in the lead is offering and instead sell to the player who’s most behind, to punish the leader, or you can go ahead and take that wad of cash despite his lead if you think it will help you even more. Between that and an interesting “futures” market that lets you see what’s going to be valuable next turn, it makes for a fast, interesting, and unique trading game.
Shadows Over Camelot — We got Mark and Kristin playing boardgames a while back with the traditional Settlers of Catan session. Since then we’ve introduced them to other things, and they have now introduced us to a game. They got this game for Christmas and brought it over, saying, “Would you mind learning how to play this and then teaching us?” Learn a new game? Sure! Friday night, we played it. Shadows is a cooperative game, in which the players work together to try and defeat the game itself. The players are the Knights of the Round Table, and must go off on quests to defeat evil and win relics such as, natch, the Holy Grail. But evil doesn’t just sit back, it gradually (and not gradually enough, it seems) encroaches on Camelot, threatening the knights with doom at every step. (To make matters worse, you can play with one of the knights secretly being a traitor, working against the others. The rules suggest you play together before busting this angle out, so we didn’t do that.) In our first try, we fell to evil in pretty short order. All of the relics evaded us, and eventually Camelot was surrounded by enemy siege engines. We tried again and this time we triumphed — barely, and only with a lot of luck. Shadows Over Camelot is pretty tough, and it’s also pretty tense. I had heard mixed things about it and am generally leery of cooperative games, but I really enjoyed this one.
Mare Nostrum — If anyone out there loves expansive Civilization-building games more than I do it’s…well…anyone. I’m just never good at these things. I guess it’s because most of them usually come down to managing your armies, balancing attacking and defending, and so forth, which is something I just never quite get a hang on. Mare Nostrum, has this element, of course, but it also has other elements. You gain taxes and goods, trade goods with others, and in addition to fighting, you recruit heroes and build monuments. In fact, you win by getting heroes and monuments; the fighting is just one tool you can use to go about doing this. Yet with all these different elements, Mare Nostrum isn’t bogged down in minutiae like other civ games. There aren’t a million different types of markers on the table, and the ones that are there are pretty obvious. The goods trading element is well done, as is the way goods and taxes are used. I played this yesterday with James, Quinn, Al, and Sean, and was able to sneak out a victory by quietly amassing wealth while letting Al and Sean bang war drums at each other. By the time people realized I was about to win, it was pretty much too late to stop me. But really, the only reason I got away with it was because it was the first time playing for all of us, so we didn’t all have a good idea of what we should be doing when. One good smackdown on me halfway through the game would have seriously changed things. I’m eager to play this one again and see how it goes now that we know more of what to do.