Sunday, January 12, 2014

First Impressions for January

I've been branching out into a few more games over the past month or so.  Games which I haven't had the opportunity to work on a full review for, and may not for some time.  But I really wanted to say something about them, so here are my first impressions.  I'm expecting to have a full review again next week, and am aspiring to an every other week schedule on full reviews this year.

Red Winter

I got this wargame mostly because of it's solitaire potential.  What I found was a game that easily ranks up there with No Retreat in terms of simplicity, and relatively reduced counter clutter.  It is a far more deterministic game however, with slightly less of a resource management aspect.  It is tactical after all.

I love this map!
What most impresses me however is the gorgeous map, the novel terrain, and the fascinating role reversal of the Finnish winter being too brutal for the ill equipped Russians.  The chrome for the night turns, and the ensuing Soviet bonfires and Finnish night raids really makes the conflict unique.  The fact that LOS is only clear across Frozen Lakes also adds a very interesting dimension.  What is dead terrain is nearly every other game, you begin to view similarly to eye's in Go.

I also loved the detailed designer notes, and all the explanations for why the mechanics are the way they are.  They are even sourced!  Not like I'm likely to ever read the sources.  But it is fun knowing they are there.

I can't wait to play this one a few more times, and maybe even rope in an opponent if I'm lucky.  As soon as I get through No Retreat: The Russian Front... and the North African Front...and Sekigahara... and Andean Abyss...

I guess Red Winter might be a solo game for a while.

Zulus on the Ramparts

I've managed to get in 4 plays of this one.  So far I'm enjoying it.  I immediately enjoyed it more than Empires in America.  Though there have been a few issues in the reference material which have turned me off.  It uses a chit pull system for the Zulus' actions, but many of the special events are extremely special.  Special in that difficult to memorize kind of way.  It just breaks up the flow of the game to constantly check to see what these special events do.  I would have loved a reference card for them or something.  Especially the Seniority Debate event which sends a bunch of character cards back to your hand.  Extremely specific characters.  I also found even the normal counters completely unreadable due to my color blindness.  I had to pull up a picture of the counter sheet, which thankfully had higher color contrast than the printed sheet.  Then I did my best to sort out the pieces by it.  Once that was done I used a marker to make them more readable for me.

I just limped across the finish line in my last game

So component issues aside, what Zulus has going for it is an incredibly robust card play system.  Every card has a discard special ability, a return special ability, and often a few more.  You use a discard special, and it's just gone for good.  You use your return special, it comes back to your hand, and you'll have to spend another action putting that card back out in the future.  But some cards you'll use over and over in that fashion.  Like the guy you can return to your hand for a +1 DRM.  That's just too good to pass up.  I'm slowly learning to utilize the cards unique abilities better and better, and it's the first States of Siege game that I felt I could get significantly more skilled at.


This is certainly a fun little game.  Once again, I haven't played it enough to form too strong an opinion of it.  The bluffing aspect can be a ton of fun.  But sometimes you find yourself in a situation where you missed your chance to bluff, and the other player has you dead to rights.  It's definitely the sort of game anybody can play though, and I love watching people sweat over calling someone's bluff.


This game was on my wishlist for a long time!  I finally got it, and had my first play, and was incredibly impressed.  The rules are extremely brief, with ample examples and a nice reference for the cards.  So far the only card which jumped out as being ambiguous was the Architect.  Everything else has been quite clear.

What I can appreciate most about Firenze is that it revolves around a strong core mechanic of taking bricks, and building your towers.  To make that central mechanic more interesting, you are taking cards along with the bricks.  The least attractive cards will have bricks piled on top of them as they are passed over until it's worth it to someone.  It's an elegant, self balancing, sort of auctiony system.

The scoring system also impresses me.  Not all colors of bricks are equal in terms of scoring opportunities.  Additionally there are bonuses for certain levels, the first person to build to a certain height, the first person to finish all their towers, and whoever owns the majorities in each color.  Plus there are cards which will also mess with scores at the end of the game.  So there is enough going on that most people can score off of something, and scores actually come out pretty close, with the winner being a surprise.  So it's eurogame scoring done extremely well in other words.

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