Yesterday, one of the players of the Dwimmermount campaign and I headed downtown to a room above a restaurant to meet up with people we'd never met before to play some boardgames. Before I talk more about this, I should preface my comments here with the admission that, while I enjoy boardgames a great deal, my experience with those published over the last decade or so is quite minimal. I think the most recent games I've played are variations on Risk -- I love Risk -- and Blokus, along with games geared more toward children that I've played with my kids. So, in general, when I think "boardgame," I'm thinking of stuff like Monopoly or even Axis & Allies.
The meetup was organized by people I had prior experience with but with whom my friend got to know online. In the end, there were eight of us, counting myself, and we broke up into two groups of four. My group began the afternoon by playing Summoner Wars, which I'd (of course) never played before. It's a head-to-head fantasy combat game, consisting of teams of players who move cards on a tactical map to fight each other. Since only one of us had ever played before, we decided not to play it as a 2-versus-2 game but instead and 1-versus-1, with each side consisting of two players. My friend and I were on opposite sides; he played elves and I played orcs.
Because each faction in the game -- there are four in the basic game and many more available in expansions -- has certain advantages and disadvantages, one of the keys to winning is playing according to the style that most complements your faction's advantages. My partner and I didn't realize until too late that the orcs are all about getting up close and personal and smashing faces, so we, sadly, lost to the elves, but, despite our incompetence, we still held our own long enough to have some fun. I liked Summoner Wars a lot. My only beef with it is that it seems optimized for 1-versus-1 play. The more players added to each side, the longer the game would likely drag on, especially since players on the same side can share resources and resource exhaustion is what ultimately ends the end.
After that, we played 7 Wonders, which I'd also never played before. This game is, unsurprisingly, playable with up to seven players, but we had just four. Each player is given one of the wonders of the ancient world and his goal, over the course of three rounds (called "ages") is to accumulate enough resources and structures to not only build his wonder but also to achieve other goals that accrue him victory points. 7 Wonders isn't really a boardgame at all, since it has no board, only cards. At the beginning of each age, seven cards are distributed to each player, who selects one from his hand that he thinks will most aid him and then passes the remaining cards to a player on either his left or his right, depending on what age it is. This continues until all but one card is left in each hand and then various events, such as combat between players is resolved, the outcome of which determines victory point bonuses or penalties.
Though I found 7 Wonders fascinating in a way, it was also a very bloodless game. For the most part, the players are playing in parallel to one another rather than against one another. There's minimal actual interaction between players, with the passing of cards being the main way that players have any impact on how well or poorly their fellow players do. Even the combat is resolved passively, simply by comparing combat values against players seated on either side of you. Victory is ultimately decided by how many victory points a player accumulates over the course of the three ages of play. As a new player, this made it a lot harder to get a sense of what I was supposed to be doing in the game compared to Summoner Wars. I'd probably be willing to give 7 Wonders a shot again, but, even so, I think it's fair to say its design didn't really grab me.
Next, we broke up into slightly different groups to play another game. We attempted to play Race for the Galaxy, but soon discovered that the set we had was missing some vital cards, so we attempted a different game, 51st State, instead. 51st State is post-apocalyptic in its setting, with each of the players taking control of a faction attempting to rebuild a fallen USA in its own image. Like 7 Wonders, 51st State isn't a boardgame at all, but rather a card game, with limited interactivity between the players, who spend much of their time accumulating resources, manpower, and locales to use their bid for control. Of all the games I played, this was the one that most disappointed me, in part because I sort of expect a fair bit of bloody combat between players in anything that uses a post-apocalyptic setting. Instead, the game was mostly spent playing in parallel, working toward one's own goals.
Though the game playing continued after that point, my friend and I took our leave. Being old men with wives and families to return to, we had to make our back homeward. I had a good time and would gladly do it again, though, if I were to attend again, I'd be sure to bring along a game that had an actual board and where the players interacted with one another a lot more than most of the games I played yesterday. I don't know if this low-interactivity, parallel play stuff is standard in recent "boardgames" or not, but, if it is, I can't same I'm all that keen on it. Likewise, I missed rolling dice. Only Summoner Wars used dice for its play and dice -- or some other randomizer -- are an integral part of what makes playing a game fun for me. All the games I played yesterday involved plenty of strategy, but I craved a lot more conflict and chance.