Thursday, May 17, 2012

Firenze: 267 games on Yucata later

A recent BoardGameGeek thread solicited game reviews on games that you played at least 11 times. As the title of this post indicates, I have met that and much, much more for Firenze (German for Florence, since Germans don't speak Italian very well, evidently) over on Yucata. Florence needs more towers, and 2,3, or 4 players take up the challenge of building the best towers. Usually, that means the tallest, but not always.

Boring rules rehash:
On your turn, you must select an action card out of six available, all of which will have 4 blocks selected from a bag filled with 6 colors of blocks of varying rarity.  Good cards goes to your hand, bad stuff plays on you and possibly others immediately. The hook: if you don't select the first card in the row, you must put a block from your supply on each card you don't select that came out before it, similar to Small World's race selection.  You can then optionally trade three blocks of any colors for one block still out on the action cards, and move into the fun phase: building two bricks onto towers for free, and possibly paying more bricks to the bag to build more.  See, Euro-games are exciting!

Tricky point:  the "Glengarry Glen Ross" ABC formula: always be completing. Any tower not increased in height on your turn falls down, losing half the bricks in it to the bag. Yes, rounding losses up!

Once you've built, you can choose to score any or all of your towers, but once someone's built a tower of a brick color to a specific height, no one can build that height in that color again as the fickle folk of Florence frown fearfully at frivolity, etc.

Actual analysis:
The tension in the game comes from several goals.  You can build two blocks a round for free, but building more cost triangular penalties. If you build too slowly, another player will get the 5 point bonus for completing a certain number of towers first.  If you build too hastily, you'll either not have enough blocks to build, not claim the best cards when they come out, or not get the bonus for the most/best tower of each color. On the other hand, if you have plenty of blocks and trade them in for the right color, you're putting them on action cards which others can claim.  There are also cards in the deck you really want to take, and cards you really don't, cards that punish moving slowly, cards that punish moving quickly, and just a lot of tricky evaluation to make, overall.

So, Firenze is, for me, a sleeper hit. The first time I screwed someone over by playing Smuggler to trade them a white block for their last purple block, then selected a Tribute card to demand they pay a purple block they no longer had, causing their 6-block-high purple tower to fall down, I knew, "This is my game."  The simple rules have complex implications, and players with an understanding of the deck's composition and how probability works will have a good edge.

Complaint: Racing often isn't fast enough by itself to matter.
Whoever gets rid of all their seals (by completing a number of towers that vary by player count) will get a 5-point bonus at game end.  That's big, but frequently not game-breaking, since completing even the white tower with 8 blocks will net you 7 points instead of using 3 blocks to get 2 points.  However, when you factor in that your opponents only get one more turn to try and complete their towers, controlling the game and not letting your opponents rack up more towers is useful.

Complaint: The Recognition card is pretty powerful, and can win games by itself.
As it gives the owning player a point for each 2- and 3-point tower built, it frequently is worth at least as much as the bonus for racing to finish first, and is infrequently worth even twice as much.  I value it very highly, and try to get at least one, or both of them.  The second one does nothing for me directly, but does keep my opponent(s) from scoring it, which is probably still worth 5 blocks to me. However, I often give up many blocks to my opponents, hampering my short-term abilities.  If your opponents get Recognition, then you need to focus on playing taller towers, to extend the power of triangular scoring against them, and play to claim the bonus for blue and purple towers, hopefully.

Complaint: Playing with opponents of unequal skill could favor one player over another.
Most likely.  However, since there is randomness both in the action cards coming off the deck, and blocks coming from the bag, it's hard to construct a can't-miss scenario that's also both block- and card-efficient. When you do, it's terribly satisfying, which I think is a feature, not a bug.

Complaint: Playing with different number of players feels different.
Another feature, not bug, in my opinion. Firenze feels a lot like poker, to be honest.  You're making some judgement calls to improve your odds, and then hoping they work out.  With more players in the mix, randomness is increased, which keeps the game from being too calculable and stale, as Puerto Rico would.  That said, I've found 4 player games on Yucata to be too unpredictable to be fun.

Complaint: Some of the cards are better than others.
Absolutely.  A third feature, not a bug, or players would always take the first card in line except negative ones.  Princess and Patrician are much better, while Wholesaler is mediocre in most scenarios.

Complaint: It's not in English yet.
Fair enough, but you can play it at Yucata for free, and paste-ups are available over at the BGG page, presuming you've already ordered a foreign-language version... and if you have, it's not like you stumbled into the purchase accidentally, so you have no one to blame, except yourself.

Complaint: Yucata, aaargh
It's actually pretty good.  It's free, and has a large number of games to play.  Their meta-game can (and should) also safely be ignored.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Pimp my boardgames: 18AL, looking sharp!

I've become a fan of the 18xx rail games in recent years, including building some of the games from scratch.
My interest in the series began with Mark Derrick's 18AL, which is available as a print-and-play game from his original publisher John David Galt.  I constructed the components two, and in some cases, three times. 18AL and sister-single-state-game 18GA, also by Derrick, are widely accepted to be good introductions to the series, with most of the same opportunities for devious stock manipulation as longer predecessors 1830 et al.. When I originally constructed my copy, 1830 was out of print and regularly sold for $100 or more.  Mayfair reprinted 1830 with some additional material this spring, other evergreen favorites like 1870 are still available, and a wild cacophony of variety is available to be custom-ordered from John Tamplin's Deep Thought Games (with a several-month backlog that represents the labor-intensive and high-quality nature of the construction).
Here are a couple shots, showing the fronts and backs of the 18AL company charters, trains, stock certificates, and uncut tiles. The cereal-box origins actually produce a pleasing heft:

In the shot above, in the left corner, you can see the front and back of a train tile, with the special rules for it shown on the back, so no table need be consulted during play. The private companies have been assembled in the same way.

My latest incarnation of the tiles uses Cory Williamson, a.k.a. "Koryo,"'s redone graphics. These were color laser-printed, glue-sticked to dollar-store foamboard, cut out with a utility knife, then trimmed with scissors. They're much thicker and heavier than the usual 18xx tiles, and fun to place on the map... though my map is definitely the weakest part of my copy.  We owe Mr. Derrick much appreciation in allowing Cory Williamson to try his hand at re-drawing the 18AL tiles, and Mr. Williamson much for making the attempt.

Of course, what would crafting be without a specialized tool recommendation?  There's a lot to be said for the orange half-inch circular metal punch in the picture above. Definitely one of my better purchases, it lets you get a near-perfect paper circle almost every time! It was under $5, and allows me to create sharp-looking company tokens quickly by pasting the cut-outs to 1/2" wooden plugs. I once nearly ordered 100,000 of those plugs for mass-producing my own 18IA, before doing the math and asking myself where the many, many unsold copies would go.
To learn more about 18AL, check out the BGG page.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Pimp my boardgames: Wine Box Card Case

1. Give your special someone a fancy wooden wine box:

2. Open it to reveal Magic cards!

3. Run away, as fast as you can!