Star Wars: the Eurogame

Enjoying some free evening time, I was browsing the shelves in the BGG.Con game library.  I’d heard that the new Street Fighter deckbuilding game was pretty good and wanted to check it out.  Deckbuilding is an intriguing mechanism to me and a decent one is always worth a look.

star wars angriff der klonkrieger Box artWe never found Street Fighter but something else did catch my eye–Star Wars: Angriff der Klonkrieger.  Licensed property games have, at best, a mixed reputation.  Curiosity demanded we pull it down and take a look regardless.  And what do we see?  This Attack of the Clones tie-in is focused on the Geonosis battle from the climax of Episode II.  Hasbro/Milton Bradley’s deeply disappointing Star Wars: Jedi Unleashed was also set in that battle.  Might this game be better?

But wait–this tie-in was design by Inka Brand and Markus Brand–these are the minds behind A Castle for All Seasons and La Boca.  Why this tie-in could actually be good.  Four of us found a free table and took it out for a spin.

And I can happily report that Star Wars: Angriff der Klonkrieger is a decent cooperative game.  More importantly, it features elements game designers should be studying.  What follows is less a game review and more an analysis through the lens of a designer.

Like most cooperative games, Star Wars: Angriff der Klonkrieger gives players a large number of ways to lose but only one way to win.  Keep from losing for five full rounds of play in order to win.  At first glance, the number of ways to lose seemed overwhelming.  As designers, we should make our game’s objectives transparent to our players.  Even though we were able to completely understand them by the end of the first round, I would have liked this element to be clearer.

star wars angriff der klonkrieger set upIn the narrative of this game, the end of the fifth round is the arrival of reinforcements and we jedi are struggling to hold out through wave after wave of enemies until those reinforcements arrive.  The game includes a plastic shuttle which is used as a round counter.  This is a nice touch to begin with–making the figurative notion of counting rounds into the literal by showing the shuttle approaching is already a good idea.  Brian Yu’s Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Perilous Parlor Game similarly used Poe approaching the front door as a game timer.

The round track in Star Wars: Angriff der Klonkrieger goes further than just round counting, however.  The shuttle’s path includes a space for each step within each round.  Carrying out a round then becomes straightforward: resolve a step, move to the next space and resolve that step.  This implementation does an estimable job of keeping players focused on the game board and spares them trips to the rulebook.  More designers and publishers should be pouncing on this approach.

Jedi in this game are essentially invulnerable.  Many Star Wars tie-ins take this approach.  Apparently, physical injury is far too mundane for the knights of the old republic.  In addition, jedi are nearly omnipresent.  Nearly.  Each jedi can travel an unlimited distance to attack enemy troops but only through empty spaces.  Thus, instead of being defeated, jedi can be surrounded by troops and thereby pinned.

Enemies swarm the board in one region at a time.  These regions are drawn from a bag of tiles.  There’s nothing particularly unusual about this but the graphic design is again well-executed.  Each tile shows both the region’s number and an image of the game map with the area in question shaded.  Quick and clean.

The most unusual element of  this game is its die allocation mechanism. Each player gets a set of dice to roll and allocate to their play mat or to special challenges surrounding the board.  However, these dice are rolled one at a time.  Each player rolls and places a die before any players move on to roll their next die.  This element forces players to make tough decisions, sometimes committing to a course of action early in a round, sometimes deciding to completely ignore one threat to ensure their odds against another.

While the die allocation mechanism does generate good tension, it has a shortcoming. Like many cooperative games, Star Wars: Angriff der Klonkrieger lends itself to quarterbacking.  One bossy player could easily steamroller the others at the table and generally run the game.  I haven’t yet tried to design a cooperative game but it’s my belief that the best solution to quarterbacking is including a traitor.  Since this game is strictly cooperative, no such stopgap exists.  The players at our table were generally collaborative so we didn’t encounter this issue but I could certainly see where a different group could have a painfully autocratic experience.

All in all, I’m glad we decided to take Star Wars: Angriff der Klonkrieger for a spin.  Should you acquire it?  Is it an essential game for every designer’s collection?  Probably not.  But you should definitely seek it out and give it a play.

SW BGG-CinProud, victorious Jedi.

What do you think of the mechanisms in Star Wars: Angriff der Klonkrieger?  Have you seen these elements in any other games?  Which ones?  Which used them better?  Why? Share with your fellow readers in the comments below.  And if you’re enjoying what you’re reading, create an account with WordPress and follow this blog.  If you keep reading, I’ll keep writing.

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BGG.Con and Thanksgiving After Report

After a jaunt to Dallas for BGG.Con and a round trip to visit family for Thanksgiving turkey, it’s good to be home again.

Several of my designs made their debut at BGG.Con and I have had the opportunity to try a few of the new releases since then.  Now that I’m back in front of the keyboard, it’s a good time to share the most noteworthy tabletop experiences with all of you.

Thoughts Become Conversations; Conversations Become Essays

Ava Jarvis is an extremely knowledgeable gamer and all-around spiffy person.  We had a lengthy conversation at the con over the difference between explicit themes and implicit themes in games.  Clearly, this was something Ava had invested some thought into.  Her thoughts are now available to all in this BGG post.  At its heart, Ava’s analysis isn’t about game design so much as it is about design criticism.  Ava has found a significant indicator of critic proclivities, offering a lens to understand why certain games are beloved or despised by certain game critics.  It’s worthwhile reading for everyone interested in the world of gaming beyond the tabletop.

A commenter cross-linked to Michael Barnes’ piece Reiner Knizia, Master of Theme–a title not nearly so ironic as you might imagine.  It’s also worth a read.

Dragon Tides – Co-Starring Bruce Lee and Brandon Lee!

Luther and I spent the bulk of BGG.Con demonstrating Dragon Tides. Its reception was overwhelmingly positive, which was immeasurably gratifying.

While teaching, we also made a point to observe players learning the game.  Through observation, we identified several spots at which play could be streamlined and clarified.  Taken these notes came back to the workshop and several components have been changed accordingly.

Mustering the Troops

My meatiest project right now–Muster and Battle (working title)–was played twice at BGG.Con. Fans of broad-scale 4X games gave consistently good feedback.

Like Dragon Tides, I observed the players as much as the game and was able to spots some opportunities to tighten up gameplay.  APE is looking at a 2016 release which gives me plenty of time to polish this one up.

Crossfire

CrossfireThis classic dexterity game from the 1970s has been on my want list for over five years and I finally snagged a copy in the flea market.  Every pretty penny of its price justified itself when it received continuous play at the game club.  If you haven’t ever tried it, I recommending taking this one out for a spin.

Trains Expansion Maps

Trains-Rising SunSince the first release of Dominion, I’ve often wondered if someone was going to create a boardgame to complement Dominion’s Deckbuilding.  Trains is the game that has come closest so far.  I had the opportunity to play the original Japanese edition shortly after its release and quickly grabbed up AEG’s English-language release.

One shortcoming the game had however was in head’s up play.  While Dominion is deliciously cutthroat with two players, the size of the Trains map made it far too forgiving.  AEG responded by releasing two compact maps, perfect for head’s up play.  I haven’t had a chance to get them on the table yet but they look good and tight.

AEG has also released a new Trains core set with a huge number of new cards and I’m eager to see it in play.

Planes

Graphically similar to but mechanically divorced from Trains, AEG has released Planes, a mancala-like game built on the idea of loading passengers onto airplanes.  I played once with an a group of four that included an experienced player.  The theme is fun and the mechanics are no more complex than Ticket to Ride, making it nicely accessible.  The event cards made the game a little bit too light for my tastes however and I elected not to pick up a copy.

Qin

Qin is a recent Reiner Knizia release, a game of area control.  Domino-like tiles are played to create areas and the board also features neutral areas which players can compete to control.  Since your goal is to run out of area-control markers, controlling these can be particularly important to victory.  The game comes with two boards to offer different play experiences which was exactly the right decision.

My wife and I have tried this one and I’m looking forward to giving it another play with three players instead of two.

Chimera

ChimeraRoughly two years ago, Ralph Anderson showed me a three player game he was working on.  “It’s Tichu for three players!” he declared.  What’s this?  A three-handed version of my beloved Tichu?  Why yes Ralph, I would be glad to try it out.  Chimera is now out in general release and Ralph tells me it’s selling well.

Chimera nicely fills a gap in the world’s catalog of climbing games.  For two players, we have Haggis.  For three players, Chimera.  For four players, Tichu.  For five or more players, Dilbert: Corporate Shuffle.  I’d say we’re pretty well set.

Until Next Time…

How about you?  What games have you tried lately?   Share with your fellow readers in the comments below.  And if you’re enjoying what you’re reading, create an account with WordPress and follow this blog.  If you keep reading, I’ll keep writing.