The Sunday Night Group (here after referred to as TSNG) has been going on a streak of Legend of the Five Rings for about two months now. L5R the RPG is a pretty interesting system, one that I think prevents players from trying to min-max their character overmuch. Most of the rolls in the game are comprised of adding up the score of a skill and the score of an attribute to determine the number of dice you roll for the check. The player then get to choose a number of dice equal to the attribute used, out of ones they rolled, to total up. The attribute system is likewise a unique one with five main attributes (corresponding to the game's "Rings") Air, Water, Earth, Five, and Void -- each with two sub-attributes. Stuff like you would normally find: Strength, Agility, Perception, etc. Save for Void. Which sort of makes sense, it is "Void" after all.
We have been playing through many of the pre-created modules. Our GM used to work at a now defunct chain of gaming stores in town and has gotten to know the writers pretty well, so he has a lot of the materials to use for this. On the whole, these modules have a nice mix of social and combat tasks to have to complete. For the most part, experience points are a secondary concern for the players. Exp is still needed to advance attributes and skills but is only rewarded in 3 to 5 point chunks, making it a long process to level up the characters. The main rewards are in the "status" scores: Status, Glory and Honor. Each of these are an abstraction of the "character" of the character. The higher they go, the more the character is going to regarded and the more of the world they have access to play in. The modules have made things interesting in that, for the most part, they do expect the character to adhere to the code of Bushido pretty strictly in order to achieve any lasting marks in those three rewards.
One we got as a Christmas present is Dicecapades.
It is as goofy as it sounds. The game boasts a couple hundred individual dies to be used for various mini-games. Wining the mini-games advances you on the board, like Trivial Pursuit, to the center where you get to face the task or quiz of the other player's choosing. The board has three different ares for you to travel through on your way there, each with a different style of mini-games. Trivialand for example, has all sorts of trivia questions to answer. The dice in those situations often determine how many state capitals or Elvis songs you have to remember in 30 seconds. The other areas have similar mechanics. There are a few exceptions which are purely based on luck. The poker dice are used to see who can roll up the best hand and there are contests to see who can get the highest or lowest of scores given a huge handful of dice to roll. There are also a few charades-like contests which the dice aren't even used at all.
Games can go by pretty quickly if you don't allow yourself to get caught up in the fairly nonsensical way in which many of the contests are set up. I can see where kids under 12 might really like this game because of it, too.
Arkham Horror is one we got our friends for Christmas. It exists in that awkward space between board game and RPG as it has extensive elements of both. RPG wise, it has the players keep track of health, sanity, avatar stats, and items. Board game wise, it has you strategizing the placement of your avatar on the board and the obtaining of tokens to put towards eventual victory. Players are expected to cooperate to a large extent making some choices pretty contentious. The game can also last for hours if the right conditions are met. This is not the only drawback. The rules are pretty complicated and are stacked against the players, making it rather frustrating at times when it seems like victory has just been snatched from your very hands. There is also the large amount space needed to play the thing. Our dining room table was barely sufficient with tokens and stuff stacked to the edge (things were pretty frequently knocked off and had to be reset before play could continue). This is not a game to play where the threat of table-diving cats is a real concern.
The game has the potential for great fun but it is a very involved process. Not for the light of heart or for those who want to pick up and play.
Ticket to Ride was another Christmas gift our friends got.
On the whole, fun, simple to play, and easy to get into. The downside is that you need almost no strategy to win. The game is pretty well determined by the draw of the cards the players get.
The point is to fulfill the objective cards which in turn gives you points. The player who has the most points win. The cards you draw from the deck are used gin-rummy style to get links between the various cities on the game board which are color coded. You have to match up the same color of card to the color of the link and the same number of links on the board in order to score it. There are several gray color links which means any color of cards can be used to score them. Players can either take from a pile of discarded cards or from a face down pile or a combination of both. You can spice things up by taking on additional objectives in the middle of play, but unfulfilled ones can come back to haunt you by decreasing your ending score.
This is where the luck of the draw comes in. Get a bad objective, one that can't be fulfilled because of other players having already claimed certain routes and you can get screwed on points pretty badly. Get one that you've already completed and its on to winsville. But since there aren't rules for trading routes or objectives or anything like that you're at the mercy of the cards. Because of the lack of strategic play options, I get the feeling that this was meant to be a coffee-table game. Something for people to simply do while talking to one another over tea and coffee.
Last and certainly not least is Carassonne: The City something I picked up at half off from the now-defunct gaming store chain that our GM worked at for a while.
Play is pretty much exactly like Carassone. You have tiles and you arrange them and your minions to score points. This variant allows you to built a wall around the tiles and place towers and more minions on the wall to score additional points.
This is a strategy game I can sink my mind in to. While the tiles are chosen at random, it can inspire that Catan-based need to see how you can place yours while simultaneously making everyone else groan in frustration. There are also the devilishly created claiming rules where building outside the main area and then linking it in can be a good way to sneak extra minions onto what is otherwise settled territory. Of course, if all you want to do is to sit back and have fun building a city, you can. The artwork is fun to look at and the right imagination can easily come up with a story as to how this particular town got to be the way it is.
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