The stream of new board games for me has slowed down, meaning the posts about board games have slowed down. I do have another set of four to talk about today, though, including some risk/reward, resource management, and straight up role playing. To the table we go!
Two players are aiming to become the best merchant in Jaipur, a card game of risk/reward and knowing your opponent’s hand. The game comes in a small, thin box with a deck of cards containing eight types of goods, ranging from diamond and gold to spice and leather, and camels. A market of five cards is laid out, face up, between the two players who each start with five cards. Each player then places all of their camel cards face down, forming their herd, and play begins.
On each turn, you can either take cards or sell goods. Choosing to take cards lets you do one of three things: take exactly one card from the face up market and replace it with a card from the deck, take any number of cards from the market and replace them with cards from your hand, or take all of the camels from the market and replace them with cards from the deck. Selling goods is how you score points. You can sell one to five of the same type of good, unless the good you are selling is diamond/gold/silver, the top three in terms of value, in which case you have to sell at least two. When you sell, you can only sell one type of good. You take one token from the corresponding good’s stack of tokens for each card you sell. The tokens are always stacked in descending order, so making the first sale of a good pays more than the last sale. At the same time, though, it pays to hold onto goods and sell in larger batches because each time you sell three, four, or five of a good you will get a bonus token of random value. This is where knowing your opponent’s hand comes into play. If I know they have four of a card and are probably going to sell for a bonus, should I sell two of that same good to at least take the higher value tokens first? If I see they are going for a certain good, do I block them by taking them myself? Camels are simply scored by giving the player with the most five bonus points. You play three rounds, first to two wins is the winner.
Jaipur has quickly become the go-to game for me and my wife. It’s easy to set up with short stacks of colored tokens and a single deck of cards and quick to play with the entire process taking 30-40 minutes. Either every game or just about every game that we’ve played has gone to a third, rubber match round. The cards and tokens are very bright and nicely designed, making Jaipur a pleasure on the eyes as well. If you’re looking for a quick two player game, you can’t do much better than Jaipur.
The goal of Power Grid is simple — create the best, most efficient power company. You’ll need a pretty serious time commitment of about three hours to do so, but it’s time well spent. I played with four other players on the Europe map. Power Grid both looks and sounds more complex than it really is. You start each turn by bidding on a power plant, each player choosing one to start the bidding on. Each power plant costs resources to run, naturally, so the next phase is to buy resources in reverse order of power plant bidding. Some power plants run on green energy and cost nothing, some run on abdundant and cheaper oil and coal, and others run on the more expensive but efficient garbage and uranium. Resources must be stored in power plants which can store double the resources it takes to fuel them, so if a power plant takes three oil to fuel three cities, it can hold a total of six oil.
Next, you’ll need cities to power with your resources. The map is laid out as a hub-and-spoke model with most cities connecting to two or three other cities. Cities have three cost values on them. In round one, the first person to build in a city pays the first, lowest cost. In round two, a second player can come into the same city by paying the middle cost. A player can come into that same city in round three by paying the highest cost. New rounds trigger when a player reaches a set number of cities on the board and are very important in resource management. After each complete turn, resources are restocked with a set number per resource based on the round. For example, in round one you might only restock five coal per turn but in round two that may increase to seven. Knowing the restocking values along with gauging what resources other players may be buying in upcoming turns can make or break you financially. Back to cities, though. The spokes between each city also have a cost, so it’s important to plan where you want to build your first city and where/when you plan to expand since all of your cities have to connect.
Finally, it’s time to fire up the power plants. Any resource cost you choose to pay is used to power the number of cities shown on the power plant. You want to power the maximum number of cities you can each turn because you get a slightly exponential gain of income for each city you can power per turn. This money is used to buy power plants and resources, which are used to fuel more cities, and the cycle continues. There is a lot of planning and thought that goes into Power Grid, which I really enjoyed, and while it’s three hour playtime is a turn off for most game nights, I’d love to be able to play it again.
Seasons is kind of similar to Power Grid in that it is played in distinct phases and involves a decent amount of resource management. It’s played over three years (in-game, not real years) with four seasons in each year. Players pick nine total cards to use for the game and set aside three to add to their hand at the start of each year, so you begin the game with three cards. To start each turn, a player rolls a number of dice equal to the number of players plus one. Each player picks a die to use for themselves with effects like gaining extra of any of the four elemental energies, gaining victory points, drawing a card, or increasing maximum hand size. In the same player order, players use the energy they have banked to play cards which effectively map to spells and minions like Hearthstone. These cards have effects similar to other card games like triggering each turn, triggering when a card is first played, scoring a big bonus at the end of the game, etc. It’s important to set up your starting hand to include cards that pay off frequently. For example, I played a “minion” early that forced players to pay me a victory point each time they wanted to play a card for maximum payoff.
Each season has it’s own set of die with different rarities of energy. Water is more common in spring than in summer, fire is most common in the summer, etc. The unused die from each turn is used to advance the time marker so the final player has some say in altering how fast the game will progress. By the end of the game, being able to effectively combo cards is key to gaining massive victory points.
I played Seasons with two other players and while I did like it, I think it’s a game that I’d like more each time I played it. Knowing the available cards along with how good/rare they are is a pretty big factor, so going in completely blind was a bit of a disadvantage. But the concept of playing through a set amount of time as a pseudo-wizard with both cards and dice is enticing, as is the nicely detailed art on the cards and substantially sized dice.
Temple of Elemental Evil
I mentioned how much I loved one of the Dungeons and Dragons games, The Legend of Drizzt, in my first tabletop article. Temple of Elemental Evil is another game in the same vein and it plays very similarly to Drizzt. Players choose a hero to fill out an RPG-style party along with any weapons and powers/abilities they want to use for the mission. Everyone starts on a start tile and the game board is built as the game progresses. Monsters are added to the board quite frequently and must be dealt with. Each mission has a unique setting and win condition — stealing an artifact, defeating a boss, the classics.
The biggest difference between this game and Drizzt is that Elemental Evil is meant to be played as a full, 13 mission campaign with the same group of players. Many of the treasure cards gained by defeating monsters result in gold which is used in town between missions. It definitely felt like we were underpowered and getting hit for more damage even on mission #1 compared to any of the Drizzt missions that I’ve played. There’s no doubt that Elemental Evil is harder than Drizzt. We came perilously close to losing a few times, mainly due to the boneheaded play of letting a mage lead the charge into a room that ended up having three monsters in it.
If you have a group that can get together once a week for however long it takes you to complete all 13 missions, Temple of Elemental Evil is probably a great time. The tiles, tokens, and figures are all fairly high quality and the idea of a persistent campaign is definitely intriguing. For me, though, playing a DnD game like this is typically a once-every-three-months type of thing, so I most likely won’t be playing Temple of Elemental Evil again.