Boardgaming 2022: the year of "point salad really isn't very filling"

This is regarding Terraforming Mars and playing it with drafting as per the official variant. I have two response to this, one about game mechanics and playing, and one about the way that interacts with the group of people at the table. I’ll post each separately.

First off, as to the fact that Terraforming Mars is only a great game if you play with the drafting variant. Basically, the non-drafting variant is dramatically dependent on card draw to the extent that most games of non-drafting Terraforming Mars with competent players is going to be determined by card draw.

Drafting does not eliminate this randomness, but it does reduce it, substantially, to the point where a combination of good play and good drafting control the outcome rather than card draw. Terraforming Mars with drafting is still a bit more random than some of the other great Euros but I would still classify it as a great Euro due to its excellent commitment to the theme and the strong emergent gameplay.

Specifically, in Terraforming Mars, the cards are not remotely equivalent, with very significant variation in how useful some cards are compared to others. But that’s actually the smaller issue. The bigger issue is that Terraforming Mars is susceptible to tremendous synergies, such that if a player has some cards, other cards become exponentially more powerful There are card combos that break the scoring curve and produce the kind of unbalanced outcomes mentioned upthread where other players just don’t have a shot at victory.

And with the non-drafting game, getting those cards is primarily impacted by random card draw. There are cards that will let you draw more cards but getting those cards and putting them to use is part of the underlying randomness. There is no built in mechanic that lets a player cycle cards or enhance draw so non-drafting Terraforming Mars is an exercise in randomness. Even though I love the drafting variant, I actively try to avoid the non-drafting variant.

As to the complaint of Shieldwolf’s friends:

As to the latter part of that sentence, counter-drafting by other players is a perfectly valid strategy and more importantly, a CHOICE - it means the other player will be choosing NOT to take a card that could help them. Now, the distribution of cards in the draft is still random, which is why I say drafting reduces but does not eliminate the randomness.

HOWEVER as to the issue of taking more time… (see next post)

So now we get to the issue of not every game mechanic works with every group of gamers. Basically, as a veteran of timed MTG drafting, I’m perfectly comfortable with fast drafting and when I play Terraforming Mars with drafting it does not slow my play down much at all.

HOWEVER, the main group of heavy Euro gamers I play with cannot handle that, at all, so for years we played Terraforming Mars without drafting. I grew to dislike it rather intensely but it was the only choice.

I will illustrate the issue with that group not with Terraforming Mars but with Tiny Epic Galaxies. Tiny Epic Galaxies is a very good light to medium strategy board game with action selection mechanics that includes a “follow” mechanic: when a player on their turn chooses their action, the other players can spend a resource to follow that action and also perform the action. It’s a way of both balancing action choices and also increasing player interactivity on others’ turns. For the people who enjoy Tiny Epic Galaxies, it’s a huge positive. And in keeping with the light to medium game style, it’s clearly intended as a “swift choice” by the other players - either follow the action or not, chop chop motherfuckers. It doesn’t prevent a player from taking their main action and is a sort of “supplemental action” that can yield nice boosts but is in all honesty not something that requires Deep Thought.

And yet, with my Heavy Euro group, we tried Tiny Epic Galaxies once and 2 of the guys just took their sweet time, cogitating multiple minutes on every Follow decision. Imagine a 4 player game: Player 1 takes an action and spends a couple minutes, then Player 2 needs several minutes to think about following then a couple minutes to follow, then Player 3 does the same deal and… Instead of rounds taking 5 to 10 minutes and a game taking 30 to 60 minutes, you end up with rounds taking a half hour and a game taking 2-3 hours. Two to three long, slow painful hours, to play a game that BGG says plays in 30-45 minutes (I feel 30-60 is more accurate). And when we tried to get the guys to be a tad more dynamic, they just had no fun. They felt rushed, they felt the game was super random b/c they were being asked to make choices without enough time to think, and they hated it.

Needless to say, after one play, Tiny Epic Galaxies was banished from the table for that group.

Now I have played it many times successfully after that with other groups but it just didn’t match the heavier group. That heavier group strongly prefers games with time to deliberate, very little randomness, and very little hidden information. Uwe games, Castles of Burgundy and Brass are all favorites of that group, and I play those with that group with gusto. But I don’t try to make them draft Terraforming Mars, or play Tiny Epic Galaxies, or play any game contingent upon swift and dynamic decision making. That’s not their deal.

So, the big picture is, it takes all kinds. I play thematic games with one group. I play heavy Euros with another. I play lighter games with yet others. What I’m lacking at the present is a group to play my guilty pleasure Ameritrash with. I have Axis and Allies Zombies just waiting to get to the table… I know it’s a shit design by Euro standards but god I do love rolling some fucking dice sometimes you know?

As to Terraforming Mars, looking at it objectively, here is the deal: the best version of Terraforming Mars, if you have the right group, is with drafting. That’s the “Great” version of the game. The game is still “Good but Random” without drafting and is suitable for some groups that way.

That is my 99 cents on the topic.

@Sharpe Thanks for both of those posts.

As a new player to TF, the explanation of drafting mirrors EXACTLY my experience in the previous game. I just lucked into draws over the first 3 turns that gave me the vast majority of microbe cards in the game. My opponent would have needed to draw an even more lucky run of cards to beat me. He tried to fight it for awhile, but after 90ish minutes or so he knew he was beat, so we both just rushed the endgame conditions.

They also allow you to fight in a region to fulfill quest, even if you don’t want to win or to get that forge possibility. And they help you to win a fight by sacrifice and keep you longer in the fight.

Your bag gives you your main strength. I think Wonderlands War has a lot of (little) decissions that keeps the game interesting all the time.

That makes sense. Our first game we botched it and counted supporters for strength which actually worked really well.
Knowing we played this wrong, our last battle for the round
Player A had 9 supporters and 1 leader, 1 madness chip = Strength 10
Player B had 5 supporters and a 2 leader, 1 madness chip= Strength 7
Player C had 1 supporter and 0 leaders, 1 madness chip= Strength 1

When players drew a madness chip and lost a supporter strength got lowered down.
Also Player C had a chip that replaced supporters from one player and he got to move one of his from another area. This raised their strength and lowered the player they took from.

At the end of the battle Player A had 17 strength after pulling chips and and losing chips.
Player C had the lowest strength but through great pulls and managing other battles they ended up with a strength of 15.

On the last pull player A pulled their last Madness token and Player C ended with 16 and won. What was interesting is was if player A hadn’t busted he would have won as player C didn’t have anymoe chips other than madness.

Went to a local board game group today for the first time in three years or so. I brought Inis and taught it to a couple guys. Turns out Inis is still a pretty damn good game!

The other game I played was Marvel United, which did not impress me at all. Though I guess it would be good for playing with kids though.

Playing board games is a tactile experience and with a game like the second edition Pax Pamir and it’s superb components and excellent map that is a game that uses its physicality to its fullest extent. But, what the Rally the Troops website has done for me is allow Pax Pamir to be played quite a bit and it’s allowed me to really discover what I had suspected about this game. It really is the best design in the Pax series and is absolutely outstanding. It also seems to do very well at a variety of player counts. I’ve had a great time in variously sized groups and it is also an intense two player experience. When you have this laser focus on your opponent it’s ever bit the duel that a game of chess would be. It really is a good game for that. My original interest was to play it primarily in small groups and it’s very good for that but this recent experience here does have me wondering. Is two player its best player count? I don’t know and unfortunately I don’t have much in the way of substance in this post but I just had to gush, again, about this excellent game.

Seriously these components are outstanding.

(image taken from board game geek)

Agreed on all counts! I have never played 2p yet. I should.

It’s the only one in the series designed by Cole Wehrle, FWIW.

Plenty of good games the past couple of weeks. Two biomedical engineers with an interest in classical history asked to play The Acts of the Evangelists, which of course I was pleased to agree to. Afterward, we spent a couple hours discussing the game’s historicity. An excellent play. Even better discussion.

The big play on Friday was a full session of John Company. It didn’t take as long as expected, and managing the company through deregulation and the advent of private firms was more natural than in the first edition. It’s hard to imagine wanting to play one of the short scenarios again.

Let’s see… the other game that’s on my mind is My Father’s Work. Third play last week. It’s too long. At least the text is. But it does some very clever stuff. Watching our town go Mad Max was a real pleasure.

I’m very interested in Ahoy, as I am of all Leder games. Curious how accessible it is, and if it survives at 2 players or requires the third.

Resist! was one I missed backing this spring, so super curious how it plays.

Dice Realms is another that I’m interested in. Who doesn’t want Dominions but as dice? The dice looked kind of fiddly however, and the cost turned me off a bit.

Happy to elaborate!

Okay, so I’m still trying to decide how I feel about Ahoy. Of the Leder catalog, it’s closer in weight to Fort than Vast, Root, or Oath, although that probably sells it too far the other direction. I’ve only managed two plays at 4p, and I have a suspicion it works best at 3p. It wants that Smuggler making the map dynamic rather than letting the Mollusks and Sharks increase region wealth wherever they’re bunkered. Our second play was very smooth, but I’m not sure there’s all that much to explore. Which is probably the source of my biggest surprise, since Leder titles usually have such depth to them. At least it’s very accessible! The rules aren’t much trouble at all.

I wrote about Resist! a while back (you can read my piece here). Solid solitaire game, rather tough, but the option to give up and walk away is integral to what the game is saying about resistance movements, so I wouldn’t change a thing. I like how it portrays the Maquis without resorting to the usual tropes; there’s no map, no resources even, just people. Its approach reminds me a little bit of Peer Sylvester’s The Lost Expedition, although there’s more meat to chew on here. I’m curious if it’ll annoy grognards, but I support these attempts to make war a little more human, not to mention more approachable.

As for Dice Realms… I think I’m the one person who doesn’t like it very much. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s perfectly enjoyable. I have yet to encounter a “bad” play, and there’s no question that Lehmann is a premier talent; I have to imagine he could design a resource-converter in his sleep and it would still be better than most of his competition. But pare everything away and the Dominion comparison feels especially apt, provided we’re only comparing it to the base box and not what Dominion eventually became. Like Dominion, it’s full of deeply abstracted medieval kingdom-building, uses a small selection of faces per game, encourages somewhat obvious combos, and feels like a system in its infancy. Every play has felt like four minutes of gameplay scattered among thirty minutes of setup and swapping out dice faces. Not my favorite.

I kinda felt this way too. I’ve only played it a couple times, but it just seemed like a lot of work for very little gameplay. The game is too short (as in, too few rounds) to really give you any chance to actually build an engine, and the dice mean even if you do it’ll probably never fire. But it’s too long (in terms of actual time) to play it enough times to really figure out if there is any strategy to it, or if it’s just whoever rolls best wins.

I do think Lehmann knows what he’s doing (I really like Res Arcana, for example, New Frontiers, Roll for the Galaxy, Phoenicia, yes, Phoenicia…), so possibly if I played enough Dice Realms, I’d find the fun in it. But I probably won’t. Lots of other things to play. Maybe if it shows up on BGA :)

My group digs Phoenicia. Probably not as much as we like Scepter of Zavandor, but definitely more than we like Outpost. It’s good to scratch that itch, and the games are relatively short- generally once you’ve fallen irrevocably behind, the winner just runs away with it and it’s over.

I’m curious to see if it would bear the adaptation! It’s just so airy. When Cartographers was digitized, it really highlighted how so much of its experience was about physically coloring in your own map. The result is a different game despite containing identical mechanisms. I wonder if the same will be true of a digital Dice Realms.

How’d you get your hands on a second edition copy? I’m still waiting for mine to ship.

He knows a guy.

Game Steward has them.

And, ordered.

I wrote the world’s first preview of the second edition! Cole was kind enough to send me a finished copy a month ago. I’m three plays in.

Or this: