Dominion is an excellent game that I haven’t played nearly enough. I haven’t bothered to expand Dominion or purchase any of the various deckbuilding games that have followed in Dominion’s wake because, well, Dominion is an excellent game that I haven’t played nearly enough. I’ve played some Ascension on the iPad and I have my eye on Puzzle Strike but I’m happy to have Dominion be the only game in its niche in my collection.
I’ve no objection to trying new things, though, so when Dave Etherton rolled out a couple newish deckbuilding games in Andrew Carlstrom’s garage tonight I was happy to give them a go. First up was Core Worlds, a SF-themed deckbuilder that Dave brought back from BGG.Con.
Core Worlds is both more thematic and more complex and longer-playing than Dominion, and the results are a mixed bag. In it’s favor, Core World’s theme is nicely realized, with the players each representing ambitious star lords or space barbarians overrunning a failing galactic empire by building out decks full of star soldiers and dreadnoughts. The game has a narrative arc of beginning, middle, and end worlds and units to experience, and the fixed number of turns mean there’s no surprise climax (always a messy thing). The art is pretty good and the game offers at least an illusion of multiple paths to victory, depending on whether you want to build out your fleet, recruit a big army, or do stuff with robots.
Less attractive were dual currencies of actions and energy, which required a bit of fiddling about, and also demanded that you make a pretty pivotal early-turn decision regarding energy balance versus hand size — I’d either like to have everything up to the luck of the draw, or a lot more information when making this choice. As it was, I felt like I had to grope toward an imperfect plan every turn, which wasn’t a lot of fun. For a game with so much warfare it was a disconnect that I couldn’t attack other players. And finally there was the length of the game — it was fun enough, and told a little bit of a story, but for the time and effort required I’m not sure I wouldn’t prefer to play two or three games of Dominion. I would play again if asked but Core Worlds lacked that immediate, “Let’s play one more” appeal of Dominion, and none of us seemed eager to deal the cards again when we came to the end of our contest.
Much more to my liking was Quarriors, a deck-building game built around custom and colorful dice drawn from a bag. This is a fast-paced and kind of silly fantasy game where you roll dice to summon monsters, cast spells, and trick out your dice pile with special effects that let you break the base rules or work combos allowing additional rolls, re-rolls, and etc. This was a breath of fresh air after the thinky min-maxing of Core Worlds, and with its more direct player conflict, dice rolling action, and table talk it had as much atmosphere, in it’s own way, as the more overtly thematic Core Worlds.
Quarriors was easier to understand than Core Worlds, and didn’t have that paralyzing sense of bad choices yawning like open gulfs on either side of your turn. There seemed little reason not to just grab the dice and let it rip (which we did); the game was immediately engaging and I’d have asked for a second match if not for the lateness of the hour.
The downside of the game is that it is sloppy and swingy in the way of dice games, and the ending wasn’t terribly satisfying — it just sort of concluded when we ran out the deck, without a lot of build-up or sense of impending doom. I’d had liked to see the game end in a kind of king-of-the-hill dice-off, like Monsters Menace America, but that would make it a very different game. As is, I think I’ll get a copy for the kids this Christmas. If this were on an iPad I’d play it until my fingers were raw.
In all, a good night of gaming, and a welcome break from a month of studies, holidays, and crunch at work. Thanks to Dave for bringing the games and teaching, and for Andrew for opening up his garage for play.
(By the way, my Capes & Cowls review is up over at Longbox Graveyard).
(all photos nicked from Boardgamegeek)