RogerBW's Blog

Thirsty Meeples March 2017 15 March 2017

Back to the boardgame café. With images; cc-by-sa on everything.

The first, and longest, game of the evening was Agents of SMERSH, which combines Arabian Nights-style narrative resolution with a vaguely Pandemic-ish movement and opposition-growth mechanic. You move around, track down Intel tokens, and fight the big bad guy's henchmen; once you've won a certain number of henchman battles, you end the game and see if you had the right tokens to stop the villainous plot. After each of your turns, the villain gets stronger, and airports are closed, making movement round the board slower.

The basic mechanic is a three-way combination of encounter card (which is usually a fairly general term like "Car Chase" or "Torture"), the stance you choose to take (perhaps "Better Part of Valor" or "Overreact"), and a random number. This leads you into an entirely arbitrary situation: maybe you'll be helping a fellow agent, chatting up an uninvolved party, or assassinating Idi Amin.

Um? The tone never quite settles down: is it groovy sixties spy-fi, or terribly serious with doomsday cults all over the place? In any case, most encounters boil down to some sort of skill test which rarely seems to have much to do with the options you chose, and it's Eldritch Horror-style rolling of multiple dice, usually in the hope of getting at least one success. Here the dice are dissimilar, with some giving you better odds than others, a complication that I'm not sure really adds to the game since you have to pick them at random.

There are some odd design decisions. Surviving the random encounters is the most varied and interesting part of the game; the henchman battles are rather more predictable, and therefore dull. But you can't really plan for them or send the best agent for the job, because you don't know which of the four henchmen you'll meet.

Once we'd got the hang of it we did reasonably well and won handily. I have to say that the rulebook is terrible both for teaching and for reference; most of our early struggles arose from its failure to lay out a clear turn sequence.

It was good fun overall. I don't think I have room on my shelf for both this and Arabian Nights, though this was quite a bit shorter.

Next we tried Jump Drive, intended as a quick introduction to the universe (and iconography) of Race for the Galaxy.

It does a reasonable job, and my starting hand certainly suggested routes I could take.

However, each scoring card scores every turn, and by the time I was just starting to get my setup working another player had the victory.

A pleasant experience but I'm not sure how much depth there is here; I can't see myself playing it even as often as proper Race for the Galaxy.

Our last game was Cheaty Mages, where monsters fight in an arena while magicians cast spells on them so that their preferred one wins, while trying not to catch the attention of the judges. It's very chaotic, with a fair bit of secret information; we enjoyed playing but I don't think we'll rush back to it any time soon. Still, not bad as an digestif for the end of the evening.

[Buy Agents of SMERSH at Amazon] [Buy Jump Drive at Amazon] [Buy Cheaty Mages at Amazon] and help support the blog.

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