Published on July 17th, 2011 | by Greg0
Summer Games From Rio Grande
Around here, we feel that board games are best played in a group- plenty can be fought by a pair of course, but it’s hard to beat the classics for pure strategy and two-person competition. For larger groups, though, there are constantly new and interesting options that are far superior to some of the classics- Monopoly and Risk had their day but have been far surpassed by a new set. Yesterday, we looked at a couple of word games, along with a lengthy and mixed game from Rio Grande- the weakest of the four from them that we’ve recently been testing. Today, we look at three others from them, one of the best publishers out there and home to favorites like Dominion and the expansions.
First up is Black Friday, as the name suggests, a stock trading and market-based game. Suitable for two to five players, but best with four in our opinion, it’s actually somewhat educational. There is a bust sure to come, and the trick is timing and clever manipulations. You can buy or sell at most any time, but selling accelerates the inevitable crash. And your goal is to convert your shares into silver, which continues to go up in price throughout the game. The artwork didn’t grab us, nor did the packaging, but the core gameplay is pretty unique even among many rivals. It takes about an hour to play, and not long to learn, and the player with the most reserves at the end wins. Each turn proceeds with a player able to take a single action, which keeps the game moving quickly. And there are some special action cards, which felt fairly balanced, not to mention the subsidies. The briefcases are a fun mechanism, pulled randomly from a shared bag, and there are several different workable strategies. There are a few sets of rules floating around out there, and they did feel a bit too complex in a couple of cases. But serious strategy gamers, keep in mind that this is a game based on the market, where luck plays a big role, and it means that the outcome is fairly unpredictable. Best for teens- they suggest 12 and up, but it seems a bit better for 14 and up. Most any ages can play though and enjoy, and even experienced players don’t have a very large advantage it seems. $35, available widely.
Of the ones we’ve tried recently, the best is probably Heavens of Olympus- at least from a gameplay perspective. This is a game meant for 3-5 players, and it seemed to work fairly well with any number in that range, as each takes on the role of a god trying to please Zeus. Our first impression wasn’t positive- the materials are a little cheap and the box feels too big for everything. There are five rings or orbits on the board, and you only use the appropriate number for the number of players (three for three, etc)- but they aren’t labeled and can be confusing.
The board is lovely though, and the theme works really well with the actual mechanics. Essentially, everyone choose what actions to take simultaneously, and if multiple people are doing the same things, then there are penalties. You are trying to place as many planets (and get credit for them) on the map, and connect them if possible. There isn’t much luck at all- but plenty of strategy. And tension is sure to build throughout the game, as you get into indirect conflicts with other players (and the occasional direct one). It feels complex at first, but is straightforward to learn, and can be played pretty quickly- about an hour seems right, but we had one game that was quite a bit faster and another that took closer to 90 minutes. You win with prestige points, but use power points (earned at the end of each round), and can convert them directly at the end of the game or use them to actually take actions (build new planets of course, but also some other things). And there are a few fun touches, like a neat shift that gives a small advantage to players not in first place, and the balance between connections (constellations) helping you, but knowing that putting planets in the same zone has some disadvantages. Overall, a strong recommendation for folks drawn to territory or area control games. Runs $35 or so in game stores and online.
Finally, we were simultaneously impressed and thrown off by the most interesting game in this trio: Mousquetaires du Roy. The theme was the best of any, and we generally hold co-operative games in high esteem- especially when it came be a team versus one other player (best with the full complement of five players, you can sort of play with two or even one, and the factions are split). One to four musketeers combine forces to attempt to defeat Milady, as they simultaneously are forced to manage both an overarching quest (retrieving a necklace) and individual plots, not to mention that Milady can also win by defeating Constance in Paris as simply as getting lucky and playing a Paris card. Each musketeer gets to move, using a cute if unpainted figurine, and the art is top-notch here even if all can feel a bit overwhelming at first.
The only real issue is that the game feels too heavily tilted towards Milady, especially with the ability to remove or negate dice that serve as the combat mechanism for the musketeers. A smaller point is that there is just too much going on- too many different paths to victory or failure, and thus quite a lot to keep track of, as you can see from the game board image in our gallery. You can Mousquetaires in 90 minutes, though our first game definitely took longer than that. And the team mechanics are balanced, so that everyone on the musketeers gets a chance to be active, and everyone is paying attention to the rapidly changing fortunes. Milady has many options to slow down the other side and generally frustrate them, ensuring varied games and replay value. It’s more Battlestar Galactica than Pandemic, and even closer to favorites like Lord of the Rings or Shadows over Camelot. It doesn’t take much to setup, scoring isn’t a burden, and it was quite easy for even new players to get into the roles. At $55, it’s probably only worth it if you like co-operative games, but for those who do, it’s one the best we’ve tried recently.