Friday, 25 April 2008

Why I generally dislike people - part 257

It's been a while since I posted about that day someone tried to burn me and fellow flatmates alive, so I figured I'd knock together a quick update. I'm not aiming for eloquence here, and it's a Friday morning, so there you go.

I had to give a police statement the following day, which involved me going down to the station in Bromley and talking very slowly for two hours. I am not good at talking slowly; I dislike doing so for the same reason I hate training people at work. My patience eventually just snaps like old trouser elastic, and then I wake up to find myself surrounded by bodies.

Mister Police Man was very friendly, and told me:
  1. Dave had admitted to wilful destruction of property.
  2. Nothing at all about a possible assault charge on the landlady.
  3. That they probably would not attempt to press charges for arson, as they would be concentrating on point number 1 instead.
And then I heard nothing until yesterday, when I was told by the landlady's son - who, let us not forget, performed a service to humanity by punching Dave - had been arrested for assault.

Yes, you read that right: Dave, smoulderer of the innocent and a man willing to openly threaten his landlady, his girlfriend and his flatmates, is pressing charges against someone who actually hits back. On the bright side, I guess, all those people back at school who said that "bullies are really cowards" finally got vindicated.

If this sticks, I will not be happy.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

There is now... artist attached to this project.

That is all.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Review: Race for the Galaxy

Image credit: Board Game GeekI developed an interest in games – the non-video variety – last year, after reading the Joystiq ‘Off The Grid’ review of Chrononauts, a card game that is well worth picking up so long as you have at least one friend and enjoy watching Back to the Future. Since then, I have enjoyed Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne – both terrific gateway games – but the game that keeps calling me back is Race for the Galaxy, designed by Tom Lehmann and published by Rio Grande Games and Abacus Spiele.

RftG is a card game. Despite this, it comes in a box the size of a small moon, in a move apparently designed either to hold future expansions or simply to drive environmentalists crazy. Whatever the reason, the box contains 150 playing cards, a bunch of Victory Point chips of various denominations and more rules than an International Space Station toilet. RftG can be played by two to four people, and each game takes between half an hour and an hour.

Mike (my current gaming cohort) and I nearly gave up during our first play through. The rules are well written – and if you speak German, you get an extra set for free – as long as you already know how to play the game. Figuring the rules out for the first time is at best problematic, and at worst a fucking nightmare.

The premise of the game is simple enough: you are a galactic leader with a single planet under your control, and you must develop either the largest civilisation or the most powerful economy in the galaxy. Success is measured in Victory Points, which can be earned by colonising or conquering new worlds, developing a working production infrastructure, or simply by producing goods and selling them.

In order to do this, each player has a selection of action cards, with which they choose what they want to do in any given round. There are five different action phases – Explore, Develop, Settle, Trade / Consume and Produce – and each player has the opportunity to go through any phase selected by the other players.

This is where the game starts to get complicated: there may be only five types of action phase, but each player has access to seven different action cards. If you only have two players and are feeling brave, both of you get another four cards. That’s eleven action cards with which to select five possible action phases. And then a player has another hand for their developments and planets, which can contain up to ten cards.

Unfortunately, the booklet is missing an important page – a page so obvious that I can only surmise it was planned but left out by accident by the printers: a quick start page. A page that sets out not only what you have to do in each phase, but why you might want to in the first place.

Image credit: Board Game GeekTo further exacerbate matters, the game uses a system of symbols to define common card attributes. These symbols are explained in the rules – and, to be fair, they are for the most part logical once you get the hang of them – but they can take some time to figure out for new players.

Once you get past this initial deluge of cranial fluff – usually after two or three games – RftG becomes an arresting gaming experience. Lehmann delayed the initial release of the game several times for extensive playtesting, and this extra effort shows in the well-tuned game engine: RftG is immaculately balanced, favouring no single strategy over any other. Luck of the draw plays a factor, but so does planning and foresight, resulting in a game where no loss feels unfair and no triumph comes cheap.

Each card is a miniature masterpiece, with superb paintings depicting planets, alien technologies and galactic rebels. This creates a unique and consistent atmosphere: while it is unlikely that anyone but the insane will actually believe they are conquering outer space, Mike and I do find ourselves running to an ad-hoc plot as we play. Player interaction is limited, but it does exist: once you figure out an opponent’s strategy, you can rely on them to provide certain action phases while you select your own, essentially giving you more useful rounds.

The ending scenarios – twelve cards in your portfolio or all of the available Victory Points used up – come round quickly, which means that players need to make every card count. Every game becomes a tense race to the finish, as players try to end the game early to deny their opponents the chance to complete a card layout or make a final trade.

For anyone who doesn’t want to invest too much time into a game, RftG is a wasted purchase. The rules require active decryption, while the level of strategy within the game itself means that players should try to develop at least a basic familiarity with the individual cards in order to make the most of it. However, if you do have the inclination to learn and have at least one friend willing to put in the same effort, RftG is a deep, enjoyable diversion that is well worth the money.